Thursday, 26 November 2009

Podcast interview

A podcast interview with me by Dutch journalist-cyclist Friedel, who runs the website.

Please click HERE to listen to it (the interview begins 4 minutes into the show).

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Al's Best Man speech at my wedding

Here is a video of Al Humphreys,the guy I cycled through Siberia in winter with, giving the best man speech at me and Christine's wedding. (He shared the task of being best man, with my other best friend, Robin Harris).

It is a very entertaining speech. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Book out-takes

In the final stages of writing the book, I sat down with my editor in a cafe at the Tate Modern and we went through the entire thing, tightening it up, and chopping out any bits which did not add anything to the overall story

It was quite fun in a way, but also a bit depressing when a section which I had spent hours (or days) trying to write was chopped out and thrown in the bin. Sometimes we even got rid of entire chapters (weeks of work!) with a simple stroke of the pen. But I am glad we did it, and it made the book a lot leaner and more readable in the end.

Below are two short, notable outtakes which we axed at the last minute.

Police in Japan [Al and I are cycling south through Hokkaido Island in Northern Japan when we have another encounter with the police].

One night, as we neared Hokkaido’s capital city, Sapporo, we could find neither a train station nor a public toilet to sleep in. We stopped and showed our new, Japanese magic letter to a restaurant owner, hoping that we would let us put our tent up in his sheltered car park. The owner ignored our request about camping and insisted we sit down and eat. The waiter brought us some slimy seafood. It tasted good though Al and I agreed that it might be better if we did not find out what it actually was.

After eating, the restaurant owner led us outside, up a fire escape and into a warm, carpeted storage room. He said that instead of camping, we should sleep there. We accepted gratefully and bedded down on the floor once again.

In the middle of the night I woke up needing a pee. There were no toilets here, so I put on a coat, pulled my balaclava on, and climbed down the fire escape. I relieved myself quickly in the bushes and clambered back up to bed.

A few minutes later I was awoken again, this time by a light shining on my face. I sat up and saw a silhouette of people outside the window with a torch. I walked over to see who it was. They were in uniform, and as I woke up it dawned on me that it was the police. I opened the door and the five policemen entered apprehensively. They began to ask me questions in Japanese. I could not understand, but I guessed someone had seen me clambering up the fire escape in my balaclava and reported a break-in. I tried to explain with uncoordinated miming actions that we had been given permission to stay here. The policemen looked at me suspiciously.

I then appealed to Al who, after all, was our official expedition Japanese speaker. Al was asleep, so I shook him. He opened his eyes and looked at the policemen staring at him. “Urrggg”, he groaned, “I am fed up with being treated like a freak-show everywhere I go”. He buried his head in his sleeping bag and went back to sleep.

I wanted to go back to sleep myself, but I was running out of ideas. Then I remembered that the restaurant owner had given us a copy of his business card. I presented it to one of the policemen, who called the number and spoke to the manager. The situation was resolved and the policemen apologised and bowed goodnight. They gestured that in future that I should not wear my balaclava when going to the loo outside a store room as it made me look like a burglar. I agreed that they had a fair point.

Sunset at the border between India and Pakistan

The border between India and Pakistan had a history of being a place of high tension. When the two countries had been divided in the partition of 1947, massive outbreaks of violence, especially between Muslims and Hindus, had left over half a million dead. The uneasy peace of the next sixty years had been punctuated by sporadic wars. Both sides were now nuclear armed, though fortunately relations had been reasonably peaceful for a while.

I arrived at the border just after it had closed, at 4pm. I was frustrated to be unable to enter Pakistan that day, but pleased that I could now watch the famous “lowering of the flags” ceremony which was performed here daily. A huge crowd of Indian tourists had also amassed to watch the proceedings.

The troop of Indian soldiers who marched out into the square in front of the gate, were tall, sported gigantic moustaches and wore immaculate uniforms and enormous hats. They strutted intently back and forth giving salutes, and kicking their legs high in the air as if they were auditioning for career at The Ministry for Silly Walks. Just on the other side of the gate I could see a similar ceremony being performed by the Pakistani army.

The crowd cheered, the gates were shut and the flags were lowered. Then calm descended on us as night arrived once more.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

“I will” is more profound than “I do”? (More ponderings on my approaching marriage)

Amidst the busyness of preparing to get married, I have been continuing to try and find a few minutes here and there to ponder on what getting married is all about.
I think the most profound part of the day is the vows which Christine and I will make to each other.
I have been trying to memorise mine, but I think I will be so nervous on the day, that I will just let the vicar prompt me. These are the vows:

“I Rob, take you Christine
To be my wife
To have and to hold
From this day forward
For better for worse
For richer for poorer
In sickness and in health
To love and to cherish
Until death us do part
According to God’s holy law,
And this is my solemn vow”

Wow! This is a pretty extraordinary thing to say to someone!

The other interesting thing, is that the in the preliminary part of the vows, the vicar will say to me

“Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her...?”

I like that it is “I WILL love her”, rather than “I DO love her” – because I think marriage is about promising what we will do – and I think that although sometimes love is a feeling which comes to us easily, often, especially in the long run, it will be a choice. To keep choosing to love, to keep my heart soft, to be a blessing to her… that’s a choice that I have to make every day of my life from now on. So I pray to God for strength of heart and mind to do that.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Words to think about as I prepare for marriage

I'm getting married in two weeks and there is a lot to do, but also a lot to think about. I hope I can find some times to be still before the big day arrives.
Here are two poems and one quote that a friend sent me.

I'll Still Be Loving You
C. David Hay

I'll still be loving you.
When your hair has turned to winter and your teeth are in a plate,
When your getter up and go has gone to stop and wait

I'll still be loving you.
When your attributes have shifted beyond the bounds of grace,
I'll count your many blessings, not the wrinkles in your face

I'll still be loving you.
When the crackle in your voice matches that within your knee and the times are getting frequent that you don't remember me

I'll still be loving you.
Growing old is not a sin, it's something we all do. I hope you'll always understand
I'll still be loving you.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Louis de Bernieres

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being "in love" which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

"The slower day will never come...?"

Well, I have decided to try and keep this blog updated more often from now on!

Life seems very hectic at the moment - my book is out tomorrow (and apparently already in the shops), DVD is in mass production and almost ready... and to add to all that, I am getting married in less than 20 days!

A few months ago, whilst in the midst of writing against a long-missed-deadline I remember thinking that "once I finish this book, I will be able to relax and life will suddenly be easy and far less busy...". However, as it turned out, I have been just as busy as ever.

It reminds me of Rob Parson's wise saying that, however much we may persuade ourselves otherwise, we just have to accept that "the slower day will never come."