Monday, September 22, 2014

Tour of Britain in Brighton and Lewes

'I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike, I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like' Queen
Cycling has always been an interest of mine, so I was delighted to learn that the Tour of Britain was coming to my two favourite places: Brighton and Lewes.

Studying the predicted race times and the railway timetable, it seemed just about possible for me to see the race in both places.

So, on my own for the weekend for once (my girlfriend Laura had to work), I went to Lewes on the train - and checked out the celebrations.

It was great to see Lewes all decked out to welcome the cyclists. The old Harveys depot, next to the station car park, I have never seen in use before (over the past dozen years). It is generally a great, gated empty building and large yard without any activity going on whatsoever. So, it was a joy to see it in full swing - turned over to the religion of cycling.

The chap at the entrance did not want any money from me. He simply needed to know how I had travelled there.

The answer was cycling from my flat in Hove to Brighton Station, taking the train to Lewes and walking the short distance to his portal. To keep it simple, I said: "cycling", which seemed to please him a great deal.

Inside was a chaotic combination of cycling and sustainability stores, kids cycling round in circles, burgers grilling, an energetic lady taking an exercise bike fitness session, and the race live on a big screen in the old Depot (with a lot of children's noise in the background). A delightful Lewes scene. 

Judging by the live coverage, the Tour of Britain was at that point tearing through a housing estate somewhere near Horsham. It did not seem real that within 40 minutes or so it would be with us, streaming past the Depot.

I went out to inspect some of the route. On Southover Road and Priory Street (my former address for 10 years), little groups were gathering. The Kings Head pub was almost empty, the barman hardly aware of the race.

However, outside, the excitement gradually grew. A chap and his friends started chalking "Viva Lewes" on the road.

People came out of their houses. Almost no one I recognised.

As the time drew on, the Tour of Britain "circus" made its first appearance: tour motorbikes that whizzed round the block at high speed, the rider sometime showing off by standing up; a tour car, a bit battered, also passing at speed; the sense of a whirlwind approaching.

When the first of the riders appeared, they were gone as quickly as they came.

It is hard to appreciate a few racing cyclists charging along at 30 miles an hour.

They are a blur as they pass.

After a surprising gap, the main group - the so-called peloton - arrived. It is easier to enjoy because there is more of it.

What you don't appreciate watching on the telly is what a circus the race is.

As well as a large group of cyclists, at least a dozen support cars and as many powerful motorcycles also pass at speed, breaking the Priory Street 20mph speed limit just to keep up with the cyclists.

And then they are gone.

It did seem incredible the Tour of Britain had just gone down the street.

I hopped on the next train to Brighton and popped on my mum's old bike and caught at least some of the race again arriving at Brighton seafront.

The crowds were bigger than the ones I had seen in Lewes (although I did not go up to Lewes High Street).

It appeared the cyclists were now in several groups, several minutes apart, so there was plenty for all.

There was a lot of flag-waving and excited commentary in Brighton.

The presentations which, strangely, took place while some of the cyclists were still racing, were an odd spectacle.

A pretty, young woman helping the grinning, victorious cyclists in jerseys of various hues. Plenty of staged kissing.

The race was a great spectacle, a real joy to watch, and it was wonderful to catch it in Lewes and Brighton - thanks the use of my mum's old bike.

As always, it has been a mixed time for me. 

In among the occasions I enjoy, such as the Tour of Britain, there is the ceaseless search for work, worry about my ailing father and, of course, missing my two children.

It is three years ago today (22 September 2014) that my life fell apart. In those three years I have been allowed to see E and F just once - at my parents' house in December 2011.

What is most sad is that my Dad, Robin, is now very sick with Alzheimer's Disease and rapidly losing his memory and powers of recognition.  He and my Mum have not been allowed to see their granddaughters, E and F, for almost three years. There is no apparent prospect of this changing.

We used to talk about E and F constantly but now when I visit, as I did yesterday, my children are not even mentioned, although they are never far from our minds.

Life goes on. I have put a lot of effort of late into building and painting an allotment fence made out of pallets.
What I thought might be a relatively easy job took several days and evenings to complete.

It is pretty well hurricane proof and, if I say so myself, beautifully painted, the same colour as the shed, with the compost bin enclosure also matching.

To paint around the compost bin, I had to cut down the ivy, put it into bags and take them to the nearby Lewes Dump.

There, an unfortunate incident occurred with my ex, who by sheer coincidence, was also dumping some stuff and swore at me just for being there.

 I have absolutely no quarrel with my ex. 

I just want to see my girls, E and F, and for my mum and dad and my brothers to be able to do the same.

My other aims are to find work and get on with my life in a peaceful way.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Graffiti of Brighton & Hove

'I only speak for myself, But the word around town, Is that something's shaking, In the underground.'  Michelle Shocked, 1988

Brighton & Hove is blessed by a whole bunch of talented graffiti artists and also by the fact that almost everyone seems to appreciate their work.

Perhaps it is partly because the citizens of the city are remarkably tattooed (something I am not into at all) that they take such a laid-back attitude to the inking of the buildings.

In my current workless state, I have taken quite a lot of images of the art. I do not intend to go on about it. It speaks for itself: imaginative, beautiful, sublime.

My life seems to be constantly changing. Four mouths ago I was still a suit. Now I am a jobless, wondering: "What next?"

For as long as I can remember, I have heard people complain about the Labour Exchange, aka Job Centre Plus.

However, I have found the people there delightful.

Once you have passed the heavies on the door, the staff are very interesting.

My adviser has an alcoholic dad who she cares for part-time. She loves Florida but agrees that people there eat too much.

She seems a very compassionate lady. I hope I can bring her some solace.

The Labour Exchange is also helpful with training. I am hoping to do a digital marketing course to enhance my skills.

I have sourced the course, filled out a form and, today, had an interview with a lady who wants me to complete a chunky verbal reasoning test online to prove I am capable of doing the training.

Since failing my 11-plus (an error that was quickly emended), I have never been very keen on verbal reasoning.

But, as the Labour Exchange lady said, it is just a hoop to jump through. Once I have done it, I will have to email the file to her and meet again for an assessment of my performance.

Obviously, bureaucracy has taken over the world.

Really, though, I don't care.

I will probably find doing the test fun and it will fill an hour or two.

Even if I fail the verbal reasoning (again), I don't care, either.

It has nothing to do with my life.  

I own I do not miss going into the Smoke every day. It is lovely being in Brighton & Hove. I love every day.

Surprisingly, I am busier than I have ever been. Looking for work is a constant concern which keeps going eight to 10 hours a day.

It is not great out there. The UK is pulling out of recession pretty slowly.

International turmoil and the Scottish question are not helping. On the latter, I am getting tired of reading about how close it will be, when one feels that on the day the Scots will vote with their wallets to stay with their English brothers and sisters. Not to do so would be most un-Scottish.

However, I am worried Gordon Brown is being wheeled out by Dave Cameron for the 'No' campaign. Is this wise? I am not sure it is.

Still, hope springs eternal. I have been trying to build up my network of contacts. No decent work seems to be advertised these days.

It is interesting to see how many of my former Fleet Street mates are also in limbo: many have set up PR companies, some have changed careers completely, some have emigrated. A generation is adrift.

Of course, I miss my kids like mad.

Losing a well-paid job is nothing compared with losing my children.

It has been almost three years since I last saw them. There is no sign of this situation changing. Eveything has been been tried. There is nothing left to do.

I can understand why it is so difficult for them, but at least it would be comforting to get a message,
an email, a text. . .


I do work really hard. I am battering away on my computer keyboard all morning, all afternoon and often during the evening as well.

Breaks occur: basketball, trying a build an allotment fence out of pallets (harder and more time-consuming than I imagined it would be), time with Mr Cheeky, housework et cetera.

Mr Cheeky, to my surprise, has become the local pub cat.

I was walking past the Bottom's Rest and looked up to see him staring at me through the window.

The barmaids treat him like a boyfriend and even the pub dog does not appear to bother him.

Often, he heads down the local with his mate Django at around 6.30pm and stays there playing until we collect him at dusk.

Through Mr Cheeky, I have been become friendly with Django's owner, Nick, a boulevardier VATman and biker, and his characterful housemates.

What to do? Sometimes it feels all too mad.

I have been spending a lot of time reading self-improvement books, assaying to bolster my chances.

It is important to stay positive and to keep going.

Mr Cheeky often curls up on my desk as I am writing. I think he instinctively understands.

It was hot today at times. Yet in just two months' time it will be Bonfire - dark, possibly wet, cold - and fiery. Then Christmas - the worst time of year for a dad separated from his kids.

My dear friend Midders phoned two days ago. He is ill and lonely. It made me very sad to hear about it.

Consolations come in small ways. For some time I have been thinking about playing 78s and last weekend I acquired a player.

In Lewes, people would sometimes put unwanted stuff on the street with a note asking for payment (into a box or through the letterbox) if anyone wanted anything.

In Brighton & Hove, people go further. They often put out things for others to take - pro bono, gratis, free.

It is infectious. I have given away quite a few good things. It feels so much better than trying to sell them.

So, I acquired a 78 rpm record player and stereo tape deck for nowt. All I had to do was get two-quid speakers from a charity shop and wire it up. It works brilliantly.

What an irenic place Brighton Hove is!

Maybe, that's why the graffiti artists do what they do. To share their genius with us for nothing.

If only there was more forgiveness and understanding in the world. 

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