“Are we going round to Dave’s to get the spears?” “Yeah, might as well.” Probably not quite how the Norsemen of yore prepared for battle.
It was a dry, overcast afternoon in the mid Welsh university town of Lampeter as I stood on the pitch facing my opponent, Gerard. He certainly looked the part with his long hair and solid body, wielding his sword in one hand and shield in the other. I faced him with axe and similar shield, surprised by the weight of the wooden disc. He told me to hold it as I thought I should to defend myself, so I raised it directly in front of me and stood braced. “No!” Thwack! Ting! Bang!He came at me suddenly and scored a couple of hits before I knew what was happening, then showed me the correct stance; the shield held forward at an angle and axe braced diagonally against it. This forms a maneuverable defensive block which can be transformed into an attack instantly.
The band of students had taken me in the previous day when one of their number found me stretching by a tree in the university grounds. I’d been terribly sick all day, something I put down to a combination of possibly contaminated river water and the egg+bacon sandwich from the Co-Op bin the night before. I suppose it might’ve also been the icecream from the same place. I figured it wasn’t such a big deal, given that it’s the first time I can recall getting sick in almost 4 years of eating from dumpsters. I’d cycled feverishly for about 20 miles before reaching town then thrown up violently in the public toilets, and was just regaining my energy when Scott adopted me for the evening, taking me directly to the armoury where a gang was preparing for battle the next day at an international historical re-enactment in a castle.
While Scott valiantly got a ride to the Welsh Border to do battle, the others promised I could join them for training if I hung around, an offer I couldn’t really refuse. After my brief induction on the axe and shield, the five of us formed a ‘circle of treachery’ and battle commenced. Although the weapons are blunt and there are some rules (no hits above the shoulders, please don’t go for the groin etc), people don’t hold back! I felt myself get in the swing of things, quite literally, immediately, as I relished the feeling of duelling worthy opponents. The sound of steel on steel as swords clanged, of spears on wood as shields blocked their thrusts, the satisfying feeling of penetrating my enemy’s defences and scoring a hit. “Oh shit, that’s four. I’m dead!” We carried on for a couple of hours with training exercises, one-on-one duels and all in battles. I inferred that people were accustomed to seeing these warriors at their university as not many heads turned. After hefting those weapons and shields about my respect for anyone who did battle in that way has increased. I usually feel fairly fit on a bike but not as a viking; they’re bloody heavy! And I wasn’t even wearing chainmail. By the end of it I was sore all over and remained that way for a few days.
Historical Re-Enactment (not to be confused with Live Action Role Play, or LARP, lest you wish to find a dull swordpoint at your neck) battles take place around the world, attracting hundreds of international participants. Some choose to adopt their role not only on the battlefield, setting up camp, eating seasonal foods and living as they would have done in that era. The various groups span thousands of years worth of history, with some opting to act out Roman battles and others firing guns from WWII. I found it a brilliant medium to get out and fight, channeling that urge which many, if not all of us have inside. I know I’ll jump into battle again if the chance arises, so why not have a go yourself? Try searching and see if you find a local group – you never know where it might take you!
“I’m really not a very good cook. It looks bad but I reckon it’ll taste pretty good.” said Martin Dorey apologetically as we sat in his kitchen near the beach in Bude, Cornwall. It was the first omelette I’d eaten made my a TV cook and he was right about the taste. The curly haired surfer, writer and father of four (including Bob the dog and Dave the van) is an author with two published books and presented the BBC2 TV series ‘One Man and his Campervan‘. When I met him though he was picking up bits of rubbish from amongst the pebbles on the beach, a reflection of his focus more recently – the 2 minute beach clean.
“It’s nice, simple and a great idea because people get it, and it understands that people are lazy. The 2 minute beach clean is just that. That’s it. The idea is that every time you go to the beach you do two minutes. People complain at the beach, saying ‘this is disgusting’ then do fuck all. It’s easy to rant and rave but harder to get off your arse and do something about it.” He tells me the idea stems from an old one of his which was to pick up a bottle from the beach for every good wave he got surfing; a way of thanking the beach. It’s so simple and bypasses beaurocracy, insurance and any other obstacles that can get in the way of public events. He hopes that through the use of social media, picking up trash will become not only socially acceptable but an activity to be encouraged, and suggests taking responsibility for your own bit of territory at your local beach, your own patch. Of course this applies anywhere, whether you live deep in the forest, by the coast, in the desert or at the foot of a mountain.
I’m amazed at the amount of plastic bags full of rubbish I pass by the roadside whilst cycling, thrown out of car windows. I always strap my trash to my bike and carry it until I reach a bin, whether that’s 3 or 30 miles down the road; it’s not hard. So why can’t people driving cars, using fossil fuels instead of their own effort, do the same? While cycling in Sweden my friend and I made food money by collecting cans from the side of the highway, which adds up at the end of the day considering each can or bottle has a 1kr (10p) deposit on it. We met a fellow cyclist with the same idea who made £ 35 from one 120km stretch of road leading from a national park to the nearest town with very little human settlement along the way.
I hope the idea spreads. And as Martin says, cleaning up the beaches is effectively cleaning up your food.
Rolling along the city streets of Portsmouth on a Sunday evening the place felt almost empty. How peaceful a place can be devoid of traffic. Rather than the revving of engines by impatient motorists, we heard the clatter of wood on pavement as skaters attempted kickflips off an office wall. We arrived at the ferry port with minutes to spare before the next sailing. “Where are you going?” “Australia.” “Uh, I think you’ve got the wrong ferry..”
After a mere 40 minute ferry voyage across the Solent (“Tell your mates to get down from there. Would you climb on the wing of an aeroplane?”), punctuated by the deck soundtrack of car alarms continuously alerting us to their presence, we disembarked on the Isle of Wight, or ‘Vectis’ as the Romans called it. That night came the beginning of Phil’s bike troubles in the form of his front brake cable snapping. We spent hours in the darkness trying to find a suitable camping spot before lucking out and making our home that night under a tree by a stream flowing down a gully. I slept out under the powerful light of the near-full moon while Phil and Ellie kept warm in his new deluxe model tent.
In the morning I improvised a front brake for Phil using the spare friction thumb shifter I was carrying amongst my awfully heavy kit, and then he got a puncture. He got lent a map to help us find our way to the closest bike shop, apparently on a farm. When we arrived at The Bike Shed about 10 miles and many dirt track footpaths later, I laughed as we saw a ‘Closed’ sign hanging inside the doorway. We sat in despair on the grass and made our way through yet more bread and marmalade (the food situation wasn’t great, I will admit) as our new acquaintance regaled us with trivial tales of driving on England’s roads. I particularly liked his story about taking the wrong exit near London’s south circular, the A205 I know having cycled on it myself, and finding himself in a part of town where “I didn’t see a single white person, only coloureds and loads of them Muslims. I hoped to god I didn’t get a breakdown.” I enquired as to whether he thought Muslims weren’t very good car mechanics but he didn’t seem to hear.
It was then that Phil noticed that we had right before our eyes that holy grail – a bin! We rummaged to our heart’s content, fixed Phil’s brake properly and affixed two new bells to my HUD (Heads Up Display). To the Garlic Farm! Which was of course closed. We ran into a fellow who worked there though and whilst sipping on some garlic beer heard his tales of Japan, “I noticed that handles don’t feature in their products, for example teapots and mugs..and I saw an adolescent girl shit in a box.”
That night we came to the coast again, camped in a field, and Phil’s rack snapped.
I awoke in the wee hours to a breathtakingly vivid sunrise and allowed myself a second look at the hues of orange and red expanding outwards before pulling my hood tighter and drifting back to sleep. I helped Phil join his rack together with cable ties before we left and acquired old motorbike inner tube for a stronger repair. That day we reveled in perfect conditions along flat (!) ground along the southern coastline, where we stripped off and romped in the ocean before going uphill again.
We said goodbye to the friendly little island and took an evening ferry back to the mainland, arriving in the New Forest where we decided to make camp. We found a spot with a magical feeling to it. A deer bounded out from a bush 5 paces in front of me, a stream flowed over sand and rocks to the side of us and the leaves underfoot provided a great floor. Yes, it felt good to be back in a forest. The tent was getting set up when put, put, put drove a golf buggy about 75m away. It seems that wherever you are in the south of England there’s always someone close by.
A pictorial of my first every ‘homemade’ bike. I highly recommend having a go if you have the opportunity, just be prepared to compromise when things don’t work out quite as planned! A huge thank you goes out to the Broken Spoke Bike Co-Op in Oxford, one of a network of open community bicycle workshops springing up around the world, enabling and empowering people to keep on the move using their own hands and very little money. It is through their existence, kindness, wisdom and patience that I was able to realise my goal of setting off on this fantastic journey on my own creation.
So there you have it! I spent a lot more than I would’ve liked because of time constraints, and so bought things that I could’ve found in bins or on old bikes had I been prepared to spend more time looking.Including a nice new leather saddle. all the bags, racks and accessories, the total is around £500, but includes a huge amount of knowledge gained! I now feel much more confident in tackling the problems which will undoubtedly arise.
See you somewhere…