Last Post From Calais… for now

–> Read this first! <–

A text message from a friend: “Are you Sans Papiers? Am I going to have to come and feed you?”

After an emotional morning I was overjoyed to hear that my passport had arrived in the post. I could go home! I decided to leave that night as I would still only have four days in Brighton and lots to do while I was there, preparing for my big traveling adventure (more on that soon…)

Cycling down to the ferry I passed lots of Afghan men carrying boxes and bags full of food. I waved from my bike and nearly swerved into the pavement as my front basket was also laden with food. They saw me and recognising me, shouted “Jo! Jo!”

To my shame I’m finding it very hard to remember anyone’s name. I have enough trouble with this under normal circumstances, but my efforts are even further frustrated when I can’t even pronounce the name properly to begin with! I recognise people often, but usually have no idea where from. These people were obviously heading towards the Hazara Jungle – one I spent some time in on my last visit but didn’t go to at all this time. Why had I not gone back there?

I shouted “I’m late! I’m sorry! Goodbye! I’ll be back soon!”
They shouted their goodbyes after me.

After buying my ticket and infiltrating a line of cars with my bike I saw them again, passing by on the other side of the giant white metal security fence. I was painfully aware of how much each of them wanted to be in my place. Why should I have such privileges, denied to so many?

We waved to one another again through the white metal bars and they were gone. I will be back.

Critical Mass

I ride the BMX I’m still borrowing from a friend down to The Level at 5:30pm and wait. I’m very early but after about half an hour I notice more bikes arriving and conglomerating near the centre of the park. I ride over to join them. Three guys sitting together drinking beer have never done the Brighton Critical Mass before, although one has done one in Manchester. Two of them have BMXs, one is just like the one I’m riding and I tell them the story of how the day before I was walking out of my flat with it when a woman who lives below me said “oh, I have a bike just like that. Would you like it?”, which everyone agreed was very fortunate but also rather odd, especially as she then said she actually had two bikes and I could take both of them. They are not in working condition though…yet!

A friend has been doing Brighton Critical Mass for a very long time now. He seems a little bitter. Apparently numbers have been falling steadily, especially since the police stopped providing an escort. Last month there were only 18 people, bit shit considering how nice the weather is, but maybe people are away? I do a head count and by the time we get moving there are 26 of us – bit better than last month then.

Everybody seems reluctant to take the lead, so we start slowly with a circuit around the park before a man up front indicates he is going left towards the seafront. We all follow suit. It’s nice riding with so many other cyclists and seems a lot safer most of the time, especially since we have enough bikes to effectively block the road and stop people coming past us. But as we continue around town and back down to the seafront drivers become increasingly aggressive, first honking loudly, then overtaking us at risky positions and shouting abuse from their windows. Where are they all going in such a hurry?

One man yells at me from his front seat – “Why are you all blocking the traffic? What’s wrong with you?”
I tell him “We’re not blocking traffic – we are traffic!”

I hear the bigger Critical Masses, like the ones in London, are really amazing. You can effectively end up with a huge car-free space on the road and feel supported by one another. I got small tastes of what that could be like but it did seem that a large part of what we were doing was pissing off motorists. Well, they piss me off a lot of the time too, but I don’t really understand why they are so angry with us. The police stopped us at one point too to ask us to go single file (!?!), although the police car did say Crawley on the side. Maybe Crawley police have too much time on their hands?

Riding a bike

It must have been around fifteen years since I last rode a bike… rode one any kind of distance anyway. A few years ago I rode a few wobbly yards along the pavement near Queens Park but that’s about it. Enough to know I hadn’t forgotten (so it’s true what they say) but that I should probably avoid riding anywhere near people, obstacles or roads.

Lately with all of the naked bike rides, critical masses, London to Brightons and bike film festivals, I’ve kind of started to feel a bit left out. It’s like suddenly there’s this whole world of bike riders doing really interesting things and I have no part to play in it.

A friend has lent me her BMX while she’s away. So it was with some trepidation and clumsiness that I carried it out of my block of flats, down the steps and wheeled it down the hill. Safely on flat ground I made some embarrasment for myself out of leaning the bike against a tree by the level and attempting to climb on. I managed the feat but with one clear problem: Antonia obviously has much, much longer legs than me. This is not difficult, I’m barely over five foot.

Fortunately help was at hand and I peddled my way most uncomfortably, climbing (or rather falling in a slightly controlled manner) off at intervals when I was too near a pedestrian, road or another cyclist, to Cranks DIY Bike Workshop. A very friendly man showed me how to lower the seat and I was off again – still uncomfortable but a vast improvement. One thing I don’t remember about bikes is the pain. Friends assure me that your bum hardens up after a while but I really can’t imagine how anyone copes! I cycled all the way to the art squat in Portslade from just by Brighton Pier, only stopping once to eat an apple and discreetly massage my poor bottom.

On the way back I’m ashamed to say I bottled it and took the bike on the train.