ChrisLee

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Kerouacian intent

I once read the phrase ‘Kerouacian intent’ and it lodged itself in my head as the go-to adjective for labeling hare-brained adventure plans. 

“About 25 years ago, I took a bicycle across the United States. I soon found out that the greatest item of clothing was the trusty bandanna. There were dozens of uses for a bandanna – as a pot holder, a chain cleaner, a sun shield, a headband, a snot rag, a declaration of Kerouacian intent

While cycling recently, all I could think about were all the times people asked what career I wanted to assign my life to and I flippantly answered ‘Bill Bryson’.

I always wondered whether it was a legitimate response.

It’s far from a ‘real job’ but there’s a definite attraction to his lifestyle of travelling, writing about it, and earning money from the writing to allow him to repeat the process seemingly ad infinitum (or at least for most of his adult life: he’s still going strong at 64).

With a few years under my belt I now realise I’d rather carve out my own style than imitate Bill; my answer now probably wouldn’t be as punchy. Bill Bryson mixed with a bunch of others – Dervla Murphy, Ted Simon, Alistair Humphreys, Mark Beaumont, any of a million other people who decide to see the world, experience it, and write about it to try and inspire other people to do the same.

I realise while writing this that I’m standing at the feet of giants, and waxing lyrical isn’t enough to get me any closer to their shins (let alone shoulders).

Currently though, I’m in a position to make something involving travel and writing happen. 

And while the phrase is evocative, an adventure of Kerouacian proportions – characterised by stream of consciousness reports of recklessly enthusiastic experimentation with drugs – doesn’t appeal. Perhaps Brysonian intent would be more fitting?

Murphyian?

Simonian?

Or maybe even Jovian, after Simon’s account of his 78,000 mile, 4 year motorbike odyssey.

Whichever adjective sticks, this is my statement of its intent.

Neil Gaiman

In this speech Neil articulates better than I ever currently could my thoughts about work, life and the balance between them. He also speaks from the position of having made a living by living accordingly, which is always nice reassurance.

Some highlights:

“I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and stop when it felt like work. which meant that life didn’t feel like work.”

“Nothing I do where the only reason for doing it was the money, was ever worth it. the things I did because I was excited and I wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.”

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you’re getting away with something, and that at any moment now they will discover you”

And my favourite:

“more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”

Still best to aim for all three though, I reckon!

Watch it here:

tax returns:
time vs. money

I’ve been wading through the necessarily convoluted process of self assessment for over a year now (no exaggeration), and today I’m finally registered, activated and ready to file my first tax return.

However despite Moira Stewart’s reassurances from the old tax adverts that “tax doesn’t have to be taxing”, I’m sceptical. (But very grateful she isn’t loitering under my stairs).

This year I’m filling it in myself despite warnings from friends, peers, and even Buzzfeed (the cultural barometer of our generation) that it’s worth hiring an accountant to avoid the annual rigmarole.

With questions like this it’s easy to feel you’re being led into a trap.

Tax avoidance question

All in all though, it wasn’t as bad as expected. A fact that leaves me with a lingering sense of dread that I’ve done it wrong and will be hunted down and destroyed by the Tax Man.

Paris, 29 November

We attended an unauthorised but initially tolerated human-chain protest at Republique this afternoon, and ended up standing just opposite Bataclan. There were police everywhere; even though the official protest was cancelled and public gatherings are technically banned, they were happy to turn a blind eye as long as things stayed calm. That said, there were fleets of police vans and scooters and buses everywhere and we couldn’t tell whether the latter were for shipping police in or rowdy protesters out.

Facing Bataclan in a human chain of 1000+ people with the memorials behind us and flanked by police was a pretty stirring experience. Different groups had been told to meet at separate metro stations along Boulevard Voltaire depending on their overarching causes so as to avoid any groups becoming too large. Our group joined the ‘Climate and Environment’ crowd at Oberkampf.

Further down the road at Republique a more conventional protest was brewing: chants, drumbeats, and lines of shielded police ready to block all the roads exiting the square. There were more police buses here and that special energy was in the air: excitement mixed with the acute awareness that the atmosphere could change at any moment from cooperation to conflict.

I resisted temptation to stay and chant and instead joined the group for quiche and coffee in a nearby café, which turned out to be a good decision. Between us being there and me writing this it descended into violence and the police cleared the square with tear gas.

Tear gas

Caroline and I then rode to a church 6 miles east of Paris for the next event which I opted out of, instead meandering inefficiently back to the centre via side roads, partly to soak up miscellaneous Parisian streets but mainly to test out the ‘cyclists can jump red lights in certain directions’ signs by going whichever direction I was allowed to at each red light regardless of its usefulness.

I’m writing from Centre Cultural Pouya, an Iranian cultural centre and café which perfectly suited my mood and served me cardamom tea and Heineken and nibbles. Pictures of Iranian women without veils from bygone days struck the same chord that a similar café in Toronto struck back in 2011 and rekindled my desire to visit the country, especially after reading Devra Murphey’s experiences there has trivialised the ignorance-based warnings I’ve received from various places.

Departure,
23-24 November

Evening

I caught up on some work in a Southwark pub, nursing a half pint of mulled cider that cost me £4.50: a decidedly un-festive price. 

Ali and Bill were waiting on the platform for the train down south so we sat together and talked about cool projects going on in Leeds, our conversation occasionally interrupted by having to move our fully laden bikes out of the way of the doors. We also lamented the lack of dedicated bike carriages.

In the dark drizzle at Lewes station I asked a lady for directions to the hostel and tried to memorise them, but promptly forgot and took a wrong turn which led to a hair-raising night time ride along a busy A-road. I was convinced I was lost for 90% of the ride but kept pushing on anyway, not really sure of an alternative. 

I arrived at the hostel shortly afterwards looking like a haggard tramp. I’ve been told before that when I arrive at places after rushing I look frantic, and the ladies in the hostel reception seemed to agree. Regained composure while joining the YHA, then bought a beer and went to the café lobby to mooch some free wifi.

Morning

Woke up to rain lashing on windows and wind blowing. I tried to convince myself that it was just sounds from the A-road outside the window, but the rinsing I received on leaving the building proved me wrong.

Rinsing continued all the way to Newhaven: fast cars, low visibility, crap ride.

I raided a newsagent for flapjacks and snacks on arrival, then met the group and took them to the 1970s time-warp ferry via a brief wait in the lounge (with warming vending machine coffee) and the laxest security check ever.

Everything on the ferry was spelled wrong – bred, vehicule – which combined with the rocking to create a surreal crossing. I took my chances on a half-assed breakfast built around under-cooked eggs, deciding that the immediate gratification provided by greasy food outweighed the risk of feeling a bit sick later.

Arrived in France a few hours later after comparing notes with other cycling groups on the ferry, ready (and less terrified than expected) of leading my first professional bike ride.