Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Frenchman on the roof.

The drive south to Bordeaux is nearly done.  It’s been a long drive for chauffeur and friend John Partington who has put up with playing catch, plop trumps and wearing silly spectacles made from pipe cleaner. 


John and the girls

During the journey we stopped for a picnic and the girls made a beeline for the hedgerow.

I recalled my own childhood when we travelled the length and breadth of France, four kids in the back of my dad’s  old Mercedes. I remembered too that my family considered ‘outdoor peeing’ a particularly French activity. Any leaking gutter or active cistern overflow was attributed to a ‘Frenchman on the roof’.  I  wonder if we were alone in this small act of xenophobia?

Now Nicky, as anyone who ever saw her in maternal action was a brilliant mum. Patient and loving.  However,  and she’d be the first to admit this, the were a few omissions on the life skills front.  In this instance I am talking squatting wees. Neither of my children can squat and pee.  They can squat and they can pee but it seems not at the same time. I suspect this may have to change over the coming weeks as we adapt to the characteristics of the French and their countryside.

At Symon and Sam Hammacott’s tonight just North of Bordeaux. They’re Old friends who Nicky adored for their ramshackle french farmhouse and their fantastic, funny and kind children. 

Nicky in a bottle


Nick in a bottle.when we reach the Med we’ll let that genie out.

And here she is. Ready to travel.  Nick’s ashes in one of the kid’s old water bottles.

Ashes.  Ashes. What remains. That someone so warm, so vivid and so vital is but dust is hard to comprehend still. I want to scoop her up in my arms, feel her skin, her breath on my neck. Now she falls through my fingers, wisps of grey powder fleeting in the breeze.

She’ll be with us as we ride. Her body in a bottle but her spirit pushing on. She’ll be smiling, chiding,  encouraging,  loving,  laughing, but at least not navigating. We must be grateful for small mercies.

A homeopathic sea of Nicky

As Nicky was dying she told one friend, Laura Danks, “Phew, I think I have managed to get out of cycle camping.”

Illustration by maddie mcclellan

Life is too short for Cycle Camping

Nicky tolerated camping, she got used to (and even began to enjoy) cycling but she simply couldn’t abide a combination of the two. Cycle camping was an anathema to her. It inhibited the freedom of the ride with luggage, and it meant camping became a Spartan, puritanical affair. Living without toiletries, pillows, extra blankets, books, camping chairs and hot water bottles was not a holiday for Nicky.  On the contrary, for me, the reduction of luggage to its basic functional minimum was almost an obsession. I carry  only what is necessary for sustaining life; warmth, shelter and food. Ridiculous, how on earth did we come to love each other so much?

The prospect of this ride across France and cycle  camping for a month would leave her aghast. “No way I am doing that,” she’d say, “Over my dead body!” Well, Nicky. Ha! You are coming with us. Here’s why.

As she was dying she told me first that she wanted her ashes to be scattered under a tree, but because a location for a tree seemed hard to find she changed her mind and asked to be scattered on the sea. Her rational was simple,  “The sea is everywhere” she said, describing a single connected entity.  “Put me in the sea, and I’ll be in all seas”. We talked a lot about carbon and energy (another cycling post to come here).

I’ve been thinking about her  sea theory and it occurred to me that even though I’ve never been a fan of homeopathy and the ‘more dilute the mixture  the stronger the effect’ school of science, there’s a parallel here, somewhere. I am about to drop half a bucket full of Nicky into the sea. Will her molecules therefore inhabit the whole sea?  What would the homeopaths say? A dilute homeopathic sea of Nicky. Sounds good. But what of the Mediterranean with it’s infinitesimally small tidal change, surely even the most ardent homeopath would balk at such a dilution? This is an unacceptable risk, what are the chances that she comes up the Suez or crosses the straits of Gibraltar? Not great. Surely? We’ll visit the Med in Future and we’ll want to KNOW she’s there, dammit.

So I am going to take a little of her remains on the ride.  If ever there was a reason to get over my Spartan camping orthodoxy now is the time. It means that I must for a month pack and carry an unnecessary vessel. Useless, Lifeless, Precious. I will carry in my panniers my wife, in death, like she often carried me in life. When we reach the Med the girls and I will scatter  these ashes on the azure waters of the Southern French coast.

Of course it also means that Nicky will after all get to go cycle camping,whether she likes it or not.


Life is Too Short for Cycle Camping

We’ve done a few test rides


A test ride with no trailer but a troll on the back. The bike handles really well. Obviously you need to take corners pretty wide and there’s quite a lot of “all set?” questioning before we can move off.  We have yet to be beaten by a hill and bizarrely Betsy has fallen asleep twice whilst in motion.  Need to watch that when canalside.

We can comfortably travel 40km in a day which is pretty good going.  It’s way further than a 10 year old could comfortably cycle solo.


A big bent disc.

One weak point on the bike is the big rear disk brake.  It’s really vulnerable to getting bent.  I have had to replace one disk already after a loose pannier strap got snagged.  I’ll be annoyed if Betsy falls into it in a sleepy reverie.

Planning a rolling recovery – distraction therapy for the bereaved.

Grief is a miserable fucker. It’s variously been described to me as a black dog, an old coat or an ocean. Whichever metaphor you choose the fact is you can neither kick it out the house, take it off , or swim across it. In the immediate aftermath of a death it’s just there, a constant.  Gradually you learn that if  you occupy your mind fully enough with something else you can take a break from it. Distraction Therapy.  It’s not a long term answer because once the distraction is over you are right back where you started, walking the dog, hot under the collar or caught in the undertow. However it does help to release the mind a little.

I am bereft, four months ago I lost the love of my life and the beloved mother of my children. I have decided I needed a big plan to take my mind off this unhappy circumstance, some major distraction therapy. So my plan is to cycle our girls, Tilly and Betsy, from Bordeaux to the Mediterranean. We will cycle along the canal du midi, the canal lateral and the Garonne. We will camp where possible. We are cycling on a Thorn Tandem Triple, I’ll write more about our kit another time. We’ve christened the bike the Meand’em. It seems to work.

We will leave on the 30th of July and thanks to the kindness of John Partington we’ll be driven, Meand’em, trailer and kit to our starting point just north of Bordeaux. Ferries are booked. Maps are bought. We are ready. Ish.