A poem a day, keeps the doctors at bay

As someone who is very driven to change the status quo, sometimes I find it difficult to just sit back and take in the world: an ingredient which research shows is important for a healthy life

So this week’s experiment is take some time every day to take notice of my surroundings, feelings and thoughts, and carve them into a poem.

I feel rather vulnerable putting my first one up here but here you go:

Day 1:

Sounds of the Southbank

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‘Can I have my shoes?’

‘It’s only two stops’

A discordant conversation

Surfs the public airwaves

 

 

‘They’re comfy’ the woman cries

‘It’s just that they’re high

Is it a long walk?’

Oh, how the people talk

 

 

Screens glow

Illuminating faces

Awash with concentration

Fingers tip tapping

Directing attention

From page to link

To new windows

Exposing thoughts

Behind expressionless facades

 

 

A tannoid announcement

‘Mandy Marr, Mandy Marr

Report to the Green room please’

Sticks out of the airwaves

Like a cruise ship slicing through the sea

 

 

Sounds ebb and flow

As people come and go

This is the Southbank Centre

Where people rest, work and play:

Leave and enter

 

 

Day 2:

Swaddled

A city skyline: swaddled,

In perpetual light and din

London: its veins riddled,

With mysteries deep within

 

 

Anonymous cars shuttle people from a to b

Few signs of life on streets of residency

O, where did all the people go?

Check Primark on oxford street’s row

Of shops beckoning forth people’s debt and insecurities

Tempting money-stained impulsivity

Hailing a fleeting feeling of reward:

Having what you didn’t

Appearing better than before

 

 

But the feeling is extinguished

Like a tealight neath a fireman’s hose

Out, gone, rarely remembered

Amongst the sea of urban clamour

Of advertisements, subconsciously

Capturing our attention

‘Buy me or else you’ll end up in a mess’

Their empty message is clear

Even when dressed in a glossy veneer

 

Standing alone looking out o’er Tower Bridge

I wonder what lies beyond this momentary ridge

For we whom live today, oh what it will take?

For us to leave this dangerous wave

In our wake?

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Cycling the End to End: Q and A with Myself and I

What on earth inspired you to try cycling the length of Britain again?

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 Having ‘failed’ in my first attempt to cycle the length of Britain in October I can well understand why you would question my decision to embark on this adventure again.

 When I read the description of the Brake the Cycle trip in November, I felt a bolt of  excitement ‘YES- this is the kind of travelling experience I had hoped for in my first attempt to cycle across Britain!’ It promised a wonderful blend of visits to inspirational communities and projects, cycling, yoga, meditation and learning – all within the context of a dynamic and diverse group of people.

I then realised my first trip had not satiated my hunger for directly experiencing Britain’s landscapes and its pioneering communities so I thought, why not try the challenge again! But rather than repeating mistakes, this time I would attempt the cycle challenge in different conditions  -with 20 strangers for company, and in the spring!

You say that you were motivated by a hunger for directly experiencing Britain, what do you mean by this?

My appetite for directly experiencing projects and people in Britain was born out of my work in communities across London over the last four years. My work at the grassroots has made me aware of how the picture our predominantly negative mainstream media projects of society and human nature simply doesn’t accurately reflect the world out there.  I know that for every story of paedophilia and terrorism in the media there are countless stories fo humans dedicating their lives to making the world a better place. I felt driven to meet these people and help share their stories with the world, so that the world can have a more balanced perspective of itself!

What did you make of the communities you visited across Britain?

Each community had its own character and was inspirational in its own way. We stayed with 17 different communities in our 20 day trip. These ranged from family farms such as Riverside Organics in Cheshire and communities rooted in permaculture principles such as Landmatters  in Devon and Offshoots in Burnley, to cooperatives like Talamh in the lowlands of Scotland and retreat centres like Anam Cara in Inverness. Whilst each of these communities had a broad focus of experimenting with healthier ways of living in this finite and fragile world, they all had their own flavour. Anam Cara, the retreat centre situated on a hill overlooking Inverness, sticks out in my memory as tasting particularly divine. It felt incredibly well designed, with each of its houses built into the hill with south facing windows and light filled rooms. It was here that we first came across rooms made out of Whisky barrels from local distilleries!

A house made out of a Whisky Keg in Findhorn

A house made out of a Whisky Keg in Findhorn

   A common thread which sewed all of the communities together for me, was how calm their inhabitants appeared in contrast with the buzzing citizens of London I had left behind. Time seemed to play a different role in these communities. Unlike in mainstream society, in these communities there was no anxious checking of watches or smartphones, or rushing from one appointment to the next. In fact the numerical aspect of time seemed irrelevant. What appeared to matter more was its changing quality. Inhabitants were more in tune with their everchanging surroundings in these communities; from the opening of buds in spring to the migration of wild geese in the sky. In these communities, time was not suspended in a calendar of appointments, but in the observation of the natural changes in your surroundings.

geese

Wild geese flying over Culloden in the Highlands

How has the trip left you feeling and what will you take forward from the experience?

I feel left with an uplifting awareness of a world out there that is so much more inspiring than the  media stories that are rammed into our minds..  There is so much more to people and the planet than what we read about in our newspapers which present a dangerously skewed negative persecitive on the world. My thirst has grown for hnting out and sharing the untold stories of our world, the stories which don’t make our front pages, but yet if shared, would empower the audience rather than making them feel unable to change things for the better. The trip has left me bubbling with ideas of how to approach this issue, some of which I am beginning to experiment with. These experiments include designing treasure hunts which connect people to inspiring projects right in their own neighbourhood, to recording podcasts and sharing unheard stories through group listening sessions with In the Dark.


What other aspects of the trip would you like to have shared here in this blog piece but did not due to time restraints?

Oh there are so many;

  • the contrast between cycling alone and as part of a diverse team of 20 people
  • the inspirational characters in the team that I travelled with
  • the wealth of landscapes that we travelled through from Cheddar Gorge to Glen Coe,
  • cycling as a form of travel and meditation,
  • our superb support team and bus (a red rooster which has been to Iraq and back!)
  • the experience of cycling through sandstorms in the Highlands and how these may be linked to climate change and monoculture farming
  • And last but by no means least, the wonderfully inspiring cooperative, Building Man, that we are all fundraising for.

In relation to my last point, I would really appreciate it if you could sponsor Building Man through this crowdfunding page. Everyone who cycled the End to End trip needs to fundraise £500 each to fund Building Man, which was founded by Joe and Marcus – two of the cyclists who also organised the End to End cycle challenge. A new type of festival, Building Man is a pop up festival, and will reinvent festival culture by bringing  volunteers together in different neglected spaces to for a festival of making things together, from refurbishing derelict buildings to making food growing sites by clearing and planting in neglected land.  The resources made will then be celebrated at the end of the building period with a 3 day cultural festival and then used and maintained by local communities after the festival is finished. So unlike your typical festival, Building Man will be productive rather than wasteful!

Building Man will be happening throughout May this year and it really needs to make its £10,000 target by the end of this month to break even, so anything you can afford to give would be really welcomed. Thanks readers.

http://www.sponsume.com/project/end-end-building-man-fundraiser

Our red rooster support bus and circus tent!

Our red rooster support bus and circus tent!

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Experiment No 1: A review of what it means to fail

My first experiment didn’t pan out as expected.

After spending 7 days cycling 350 miles from the northern tip of Scotland to its southern county Ayshire, I found myself no longer wanting to continue and my legs stopped pedalling. After much inner debate I put myself on a train to London and am now writing this from the dry warmth of my bedroom.

The reasons I chose to postpone this experiment are as multifold as an origami model bike.  Some folds play a more significant role in shaping my decision than others.

The main rationale I chose to change the direction of this experiment was it ended up being more of a cycle race than an exploration of cultural values. This was because I was spending most of my waking hours in the saddle in order to cover the budgeted 50 miles per day. This left little time for interacting with people and places along the way which was the main reason I had embarked on the journey! In order to explore values en route I felt I needed to move more slowly and this was incongruent with the mission of travelling length of Britain in 3 weeks.

The weather (it rained every day except one!) also played a key role in my decision, as it made both camping and cycling extremely challenging. Putting away a freezing wet tent and getting into damp clothes is a gruelling start to the day believe me!

The poor weather was also not conducive to meeting people as most people were huddled indoors rather than relaxing outside in public places.

So after careful contemplation I have chosen to postpone this experiment and continue my exploration of values across Britain at a slower pace over a longer period in warmer, drier times. Perhaps I will walk week long stretches every year for the rest of my life and get to Penzance in my 80s! If you are interested in walking a stretch of Britain with me please do let me know and we can plan an adventure in spring 2013.

One significant thing I have learnt from my journey is that it is perfectly ok to acknowledge reality as different from your expectations and change your plans. I was at first afraid of stopping my journey because people might see me as a failure. However then I realised that my whole blog is about challenging what failure means through embracing the unknown through experimentation.

So whilst this journey may have failed in terms of my attempt to map out values across Britain, I have learnt a lot from the experience. And this will help me prepare better for future endeavours.

And so I have no regrets, only learning curves.

‘That’s what learning is, after all: not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way, is winning. ‘                   

                      Richard Bach (1936 -)

I will leave you with some photos of Scotland that I took on my only sunny day of cycling. It really is a wonderfully rugged and wild country – I high recommend a visit!

Scotland really is THIS beautiful. No need to go abroad for beauty!

 

At the foot of the giant.

Sunset overlooking the isle of Mull.

P.S I will happily reimburse anyone who donated to my Just Giving Sustrans page – just let me know if you would like me to do so! 

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Experiment No 1: A Pilgrimage to Values

My first experiment is a bit of a wild one.

Literally.

I will be making a Pilgrimage to Values across Britain.

Let’s break that somewhat questionable expression down.

Tomorrow I will arrive in Dunnet Head, the northernmost tip of mainland Scotland, to begin a 1200 mile cycle trip across the length of Britain to Lands End in Cornwall. 

 En route I will document what matters to people I meet through a variety of media, from photography and writing to video and podcasts.

All experiments begin with a question and mine is this.

‘What kinds of things do people value across 21st Century Britain?’

This question is on my mind because I think it is an important one to ask any point in time but especially in the current era that we are living.

 With declining oil reserves, 50 months to save the world from climate change, and widespread economic and political unrest, we are living in times of monumental change.

 I feel strongly that we need to create space and time for everyone to think about what we value about life on earth and what values we would like to retain in the uncertain future.

I know that I could try to answer the question by solely reading books and countless papers on the matter. However, life has taught me that there is significant gap between what I read about an issue and direct experience of it. And so I am going to go out and engage with this topic in person by having meaningful conversations with as many people as I can across Britain over my cross country journey.

In terms of my own personal values, I really value kindness from strangers, and so am going to attempt to be a kind stranger myself! Inspired by Action for Happiness, I will thus be doing a ‘Kind Act’ every day, which I will also document en route. These may take the form of giving out vegetable seeds to pedestrians on the street, helping someone repair a bike (if I can!) or helping a local person with a project by sharing my community organising skills.

If you have any ideas for acts of kindness that YOU would love to experience on the street, please do share them. Perhaps you would love someone to come up and give you a free coffee whilst you are waiting in a rainy bus queue? Whatever your idea, however big, small and wacky, please do share it — I may well act upon it! You can contact me by email on embracingexperiments@gmail.com or on twitter @experimentist 

Since I will be cycling approximately 1200 miles, many of those along Sustrans cycle paths, I will be raising money for the excellent home-grown charity Sustrans through the following page.  If you believe that cycling needs to be made safer and more accessible in Britain, please do donate whatever you can afford to this wonderful charity.

 

  

 

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