In the Shadow of Castles.

In March 2000 when our first child was born, we weren’t too sure about anything, much like any new parents. To ensure we were really stepping into the unknown, we decided heading down to a small village in rural France to house sit for friends having no other transportation except bicycles, was a good idea. So in the second week of April 2000, we arrived with a five week old baby, two bicycles, two bicycle trailers(one for cargo), a baby backpack, a stroller, one of us having an A level (high school level) in French and the other, me, having whatever French I picked up from traveling. 

Week one was mostly spent walking around our tiny village in a daze, but I also had some work to do; getting the phone line working, organizing a diesel oil delivery for heating, and becoming a new dad. With my limited French and intricate hand gesturing I somehow managed to get a truck to come by with some heating fuel and the people in the France Telecom office to promise we’d be connected soon. The latter was a work in progress then, and twenty years later still is.

The old, drafty house was situated directly on the south bank of the Loire River. Being surrounded by the beautiful chateaux in that wonderful fruit-growing and wine-making region of France made the low ceilings and exposed ancient wood beams somehow feel quite exotic, while the drafts blowing through the wooden creaky doors were transformed into romantic breezes wafting the smell of spring blossoms throughout the house. We also had lots more time than money, knew no one at all in the surrounding area and were cut off from any communication until the phone line I had (hopefully) sorted out was switched on. For some of you reading this it may sound like a nightmare, but for us it was a dream.

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The veggie garden, old house and lovely empty roads!

Four years previously Angie and I met when we were both traveling on the Tibetan Plateau, her on a bus, me on my bicycle. I gave her the difficult decision to push further out of her comfort zone, a place I had been living for quite a while by then, when I asked her to join me on my journey into the wilds of Tibet. She decided to take the leap. On our ‘first date’ we found ourselves traversing those desolate highlands, sharing the road with Tibetan rebels and nomadic yak herders and pedaling over mountain passes at altitudes approaching 15,000 feet above sea level. Traveling in such a remote region made anything resembling normality fade into the recesses of our minds. As the 18,000 foot peaks surrounding us loomed large, effectively cutting us off from the rest of our known world, we ate tsampa, drank rancid yak butter tea, stayed in Chinese truck stops and hitched rides on postal trucks when snow covered roads were hindering our cycling progress. Angie was finding it impossible to believe her mates back home were still heading to the pub for a pint and listening to live music.

Like the French countryside somehow transformed ‘old’ into ‘exotic’, and ‘drafts’ into ‘fragrant breezes’, in Tibet being cut off from the creature comforts, eating unusual tasting food and being freezing cold in mid-June also somehow transformed shortness of breath and aching legs into a fascinating quest because we were actually pedaling on the roof of the world, mixing with characters normally associated with movie scenes and sharing food with monks in ornate Tibetan monasteries. We were definitely plugged into the excitement of embracing the unexpected, and feeling fully alive facing the challenges ahead of us with the added zest that comes with adventure.

Back in 2000, four years after that first adventure together, we were once again in a situation far removed from what was considered normal, although the parameters had changed. We now found it hard to believe new parents were getting stressed out, losing sleep, buying cribs, strollers, bottles, sterilizers and who knew what else? While at that same moment in time, we were living in the shadows of Renaissance era castles, walking along the banks in what was known as ‘The Valley of A Thousand Chateaux’ and planting veggies in the fertile, sandy soil of The Loire Valley. Another added bonus of our decision to veer from the well trodden path was spending every waking moment together as a new family. We had no idea how ‘wrong’ we may have been doing it, or how much more stuff we should have purchased to be “proper” parents in the modern world. We had willingly stepped off the treadmill to walk through the unknown jungle of this new phase of our life with machetes in hand hacking our own way through. Many valuable lessons were learned, most importantly not letting fear of the unknown be our reason for making, or possibly not making, important, life-changing decisions. Much like the adventure facing us back in Tibet, we had a certain tingle in our body reminding us of the excitement which lay ahead.

Before leaving England many well-meaning, concerned friends and family asked us if we knew a doctor in the village we were moving to. For us, needing to see a doctor meant someone was unwell – we were all healthy, and if Louis, or any of us, somehow got hurt, fell ill, or needed to see a doctor for any reason, we were pretty sure one could be found where we were headed. Fortunately, with Louis being a healthy baby, our life mainly consisting of lovely bike rides through the countryside, picnics on the grounds of wonderful sixteenth century chateaux, very little stress and occasional visits from friends and family on holiday, we were able to face our new roles as parents confidently never needing to find the doctor’s office for that first idyllic year in France.

The house we were in was sparse as far as furniture was concerned, it was a secondary house for some friends in England which they wanted to sell, and we were there to do some decorating, make it feel lived in and help sell it. I brought a few things down in mid-March with an older friend in a small van who felt the need to let me know he thought our plan was foolhardy and I must admit his constant tut-tutting at the cold house, the small village and being there without a car worked its magic over our few days together. I was starting to second guess the plan – were we crazy? I called Angie to boost my confidence and make sure she was still fully on board with the idea – a role reversal for us, but a welcomed one. She let me know Louis was thriving, she felt empowered as a mother and so the answer was a resounding yes! What a good lesson learned that when you are in a vulnerable situation, such like being a new dad, how quickly just a few clicks of the tongue or two or three random remarks can have such a powerful effect. 

It was a blessing that we didn’t have the internet nor a mobile phone – they were around, but not as ever-present as they are today. We found life without that constant connection was simpler. Just like what happened with my friend over a long weekend, no matter how well-intentioned, sometimes it feels as if we are trained to expect the worst, even after so many life lessons proving the exact opposite. So for us back in the year 2000 it was much easier not to be able to ‘google’ everything that could go wrong with little babies. The few books we did turn to for some guidance focused on the natural, joyful ways of raising children. Many other books which had been given to us never made the final pack for France if they didn’t nurture our better, more intuitive sides.

For the first few weeks we walked to the neighboring bigger village of Langeais which had more amenities than our tiny village of Chapelle-aux-Naux had, which was none! We loved having Louis in the backpack, but walking back with all of our shopping in bags and Louis strapped to one of us was getting a bit tiresome. We did have a stroller, but as beautiful as Langeais was, the sidewalks looked as if the last time they had been resurfaced or repaired was when Louis XVI was building yet another castle. The stroller was okay for walking around tiny Chapelle-aux-Naux on the quiet roads as there was hardly any traffic, but on the uneven, narrow sidewalks of Langeais, with a bit more traffic, it was more a hindrance. So a decision needed to be made.

The bicycle trailer was just waiting there empty, we discussed it for a few short hours, coming up with different ideas and designs, then decided that, propped up in a used car baby seat snugly fitted into the trailer, Louis at eight weeks old in the bright yellow trailer with a fluorescent orange flag visually announcing his position on the road, was a much better idea than pushing the stroller on the uneven footpaths of Langeais. After that decision, we never second guessed our choice to take on this new adventure without a car. Our world suddenly opened up so much more as longer bike rides became a daily activity.

Louis now had officially started his life-long love affair with bicycles. Being gently pulled along, staring contently out at the verdant countryside passing by at a slow cycling pace in the land of The Tour de France, may have imprinted an indelible stamp on his impressionable brain. Now we were free to shop not caring too much about weight nor bulk, it all packed nicely in around Louis, securing him even more. With our longer exploratory rides turning into half-day-long adventures complete with picnics, Angie’s post-pregnancy fitness came back quickly, and the endorphins released while cycling helped her to cope with the huge change becoming a new mother entails. Together we all began traveling our unique road into the exciting future. Shortly thereafter we started meeting some of the locals, received lots of good counsel from our neighbor on how to grow veggies, and slipped comfortably into life as a family of three in this tiny village in the French countryside. When we arrived at Langeais’ weekly outdoor market, the small trailer helped us to take on this strange persona as the royal family arriving with the small prince in his yellow chariot. Maybe it was being surrounded by all those castles!

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A sketch of our Chapelle-aux-Naux house. Given to us as a thank you by a traveling cyclist.

The French outdoor markets are so nice to shop in. As a traveler I was transported to the many other such markets I had grown so accustomed to the world over. For us it meant fresh veggies, a good French lesson, and Louis’ royal welcome when we arrived with him in tow. One of our favorite stands was run by a Portuguese man, Tomas, who sold the best olives we had ever tasted. A lot of our tight budget went into that non-essential food source, but for Angie and I they were pretty high on the priority list, especially his olives. He had a wonderful, delicious selection from salty Greek to spicy Moroccan olives, but funnily enough one item that would concrete our reputation as the strange family with a wonderful yellow baby trailer was his large scale.

On our fourth Thursday at the market, picking and tasting our way through the large variety of olives on display, we casually looked at each other at the same time with cheeky grins on our faces as the thought came to us both spontaneously. So we asked Tomas in a hushed tone, not knowing what to expect as an answer. He was flattered, then beckoned us to come behind the counter and place our son on the scale. Now weighing five kilos, confirmed what we already knew deep inside, Louis had put on a healthy amount of weight since his birth. We all smiled at each other, Tomas was very pleased to be of service, and the small crowd waiting to buy their olives seemed even further intrigued by these odd foreigners.

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That year in France holds many fond memories; me dragging home the occasional cycle tourist to camp in our big back garden, meeting the quirky president of a French cycle camping association who lived in a neighboring village then hosting a cycle camping weekend at our place, exploring the troglodyte caves of the area, eating yummy fruit freshly fallen off the trees, welcoming friends and family who came to visit from England and America, watching the Tour de France speed through our village on a hot day in July and the list goes on.

I feel the reason I’m writing about this wonderful time is to remind myself,  as I sit home in confinement facing an unknown future, that life is still an adventure, the future is always unknown even if we think we have it all figured out, I can still make tough decisions, everyone has an opinion, there is no rule book for life, keeping healthy mentally is as important as keeping physically fit, and the journey should still make me tingle.

Life today is nearly unrecognizable from a short two decades ago, certainly in this current bizarre situation. I need to be careful as the world wide web drags me down rabbit holes of contradictory information while confusing me no end. Smartphones are everywhere, and, like it or not, information overload seems to be the norm. Knowing deep down that every negative item I let seep in affects me negatively, is not rocket science I realize, but so important to constantly keep myself aware of these days. The stories and opinions were all there back in 2000, just like my tut-tutting friend, but it’s up to me to try and keep my perspective healthy. The constant barrage of emails, facebook posts, google news, or a variety of other various pings and dings on my smartphone seem to be here to stay, but they are just diversions and can not replace valuable time with friends and family, being outdoors on a walk or bike ride, still enjoying what this magical world has to offer. I find it’s so much easier to flow through life without being bogged down by too much information, even with all good intentions, it is still just unnecessary mind baggage. One golden rule I learned while traveling the world on my bicycle was try to only take items that will enhance the journey.

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Bad idea!

That trailer still gets used weekly after having quite a useful twenty years. It’s faded yellow color is a testament to the miles it has seen and the different cargo it has carried over the years. Now every time I hook the trailer up to one of our bikes before heading to our local outdoor market being overlooked by the ruins of a thirteenth century castle, I can’t help remembering getting our newborn son out of it’s once vibrant yellow shell in the shadow of different castles for the first year of his life.

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Free Drinks (Tomorrow)!

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I remember seeing this sign in a bar I used to frequent back in The Bronx of my youth. If I found myself there nearing the midnight hour I’d foolishly wait for the hour to chime in the new day so I could benefit from the generosity of the bartender who would then be handing out free drinks. It didn’t take long (even with a few drinks in me) to figure out that tomorrow never comes.

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I think my eighteen year old self (yes, eighteen was the drinking age in New York in that era!) learned a good lesson in that bar dishearteningly ordering another pint of Guinness I’d have to pay for. That lesson being don’t expect something, someone, or a situation to arise to change my life or chase my dreams. If I want change, I shouldn’t wait for tomorrow to ask the pretty girl in class for a date, a job offer to fall into my lap or a bartender to deliver that magic free drink, it doesn’t really work like that. I have to make it happen, get out there, be proactive in the direction I want to head and keep on following my own lead. I also learned that with a little help, the universe does kick in and presents situations helping us along the way. That joking sign lured me in once, or possibly even a few times, thinking, ‘Cool, I’ll come back tomorrow’, but it was actually a sign from the universe saying, “No no no, I ain’t giving it to you that easily!!”

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My university years were a great awakening to myself. My dad died eight months before I started college in the last year of the decade of the 70’s. My mom was pretty laid back with house rules for me, having a lot else on her own plate to take care of; widowed at forty-nine years old with me still at home, two older children out on their own, one grandchild already born and another soon arriving, plus her own life to piece together after the untimely death of her life-long partner. Her tomorrows crept in slowly one day at a time with many unknown twists and turns as she began her journey down the path to her new self. My tomorrow, after that life-changing event on that cold January day, abruptly thrust me into the next phase of my adulthood; get a grip, go to college, find a job, move out, stay at home, but whatever I did, I had to realise there were no free drinks coming the next day.

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I don’t want to paint a grim picture of my life back then. I had it pretty darn good. I was living in a loving extended household. My older brother who had moved out to California the previous year decided to move back to New York after our dad’s death. My sister lived in a leafy suburb in upper Westchester County with her family, my loving aunt and uncle lived downstairs in our small three family house. My area of The Bronx was not the toughest section of that famed boro for its drugs and violence, and I had many friends. Sure you had to keep your wits about you, but that made life so much more exciting and palpable. I now had the family car at my disposal as my mom didn’t drive, so in many ways I was spoiled for choice; a house to live in, meals at home if I wanted, transportation and an older brother going to the same university as me so I could hang out in his circles and find my feet more easily. On the other hand, no one but me was choosing the classes I opted to take. There were also no more Catholic school nuns, priests or brothers telling me what to do, how to dress for school or punishing me if I stepped out of line. That was all gone in one fell swoop by the end of June, 1979. The slate was blank, the City University of New York system was offering me a different kind of education, but it was me with my hands on the steering wheel, something I never felt in my previous twelve years in the Catholic institutionalized system of education. It was all quite liberating.

My mom started working once again. She didn’t sit waiting at the bar till midnight for the illusive free drink, she slowly pieced her life back together, and that of course made my life that much easier. We were two adults living together figuring it out, making mistakes, arguing sometimes then moving on, but growing and respecting each other’s path into the unknown futures we were both facing. Of course, what I didn’t realize at the time, is that the other four and a half billion or so people I shared the planet with were facing those same unknown futures as well. It just always seemed that the world, countries, governments and citizens of the planet were on this preordained path to a known outcome somehow, but not me, I was the only uncertain one, I was the only one trying to figure things out. Wrong! We were, and still are, all in this confusion called life together.

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At least 10,000 people figuring it out right on my doorstep!

Jump ahead to 2020, ironically the year that number indicates is that we have perfect vision. Nothing could be further from the reality. We are scrambling around blindly in the unknown. We are running into each other (figuratively in this time of social distancing), flailing our arms in the darkness of Covid-19 not certain where we will be in two days, two weeks, two months or two years. For the first time in my living memory the whole planet has been given this great big clean blank slate. Many people lucky enough to be living in the more affluent parts of the world are finding new talents, enjoying time with their children, some not missing the career paths they were following blindly just three short months ago, others missing it badly. The free drinks are at the bar of tomorrow, they are poured into the cold moist glass just waiting to be picked up and imbibed slowly, letting the cool liquid soothe our dry throats as we slowly come out for breath in the waking world of new possibilities. The refreshing drinks quenching our thirst with the added effect of the alcohol making us tingle ever so slightly, feeling good and that anything is possible. What drink will you have?

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Those free drinks, as we all know, never really come, it’s just an illusion that keeps us coming back to the same bar. Simply visualizing them makes my mouth water. I can hear the laughter, feel the body heat of others crowding the bar, sense the coolness on my hand holding the glass tightly while music plays in the background as I tilt the glass up to my lips and enjoy the refreshment it gives me. The sense of being totally alive, unconsciously swaying to the music, focusing on the moment I’m in, while luxuriating in the excitement of what lies ahead. The nice thing is, although the illusion of the free drink may be just that, the reality of the drink is still there. It just awaits my entering the bar, putting my money on the counter and ordering. It’s all possible, we have that ability within us at every moment of our lives. If I don’t want a Daquiri or a Mimosa I can opt for a cold beer, a glass of champagne or even a cold sparkling water. My biggest worry in my recurring vision of having so much choice in that bar of tomorrow is that I’ll walk in – even after having sampled all the possibilities of the different cocktails in my current dream like existence – reach into my pocket, pull out a few coins and in a robot-like manner utter the unadventurous words, “I’ll just have the usual.”

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What adventure lies just around that curve in the road?

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Be careful, that’s life you’re living!

In 1983, 4,099 people died in motorcycle accidents in the U.S.A.  In August of that same year two young guys left the streets of The Bronx, New York to head out across America for an adventure. They were on motorcycles. Three days into their trip they soberly looked on as a motorcycle was being hauled up from a crash where the rider and bike left the road in a near fatal accident that ended the voyage of another pair of motorcyclists setting out on their own adventure. A decision had to be made then and there and every other moment of the trip. Give into the fear? Turn and run from the unknown and head back to New York? The answer was a fantastic, life-changing voyage across the continent and back.

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Danger, and facing it down, is something people unknowingly do on a daily basis. Many though, succumb to that feeling of uncertainty lurking in the background, so they never step off the path to explore. Instead they safely walk on the road laid out before them, always carefully looking both ways before crossing, never taking the chance of possibly beating the traffic by running quickly and feeling that rush of adrenaline coursing through their veins on the other side of a risk.

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But life is risky. Even when staying on the path, thousands of unknown chances are taken daily. Simply driving a vehicle down the road at 60 miles per hour (100 kms per hour) with nothing but a painted line separating you from another car doing exactly the same speed in the opposite direction, sounds almost suicidal, but we don’t ever think about how dangerous and trusting that act truly is when we turn the ignition key and drive off. Actually, on average, 1.35 million people die in car accidents world-wide every year, so for so many people the simple act of driving a car ends up being the last action taken in their life. In 2019 there were more mass shootings in America than days in the year. Over 15,000 people died by guns in the U.S. that same year and over 29,000 were injured. In America alone, over 500 children a year wind up in the hospital from balloon related injuries. (Yes you read that correctly!) Close to a million Americans wind up visiting emergency rooms annually from lawn mower accidents alone, never mind falling from ladders, being crushed by furniture and burnt by light bulbs. The list is endless and the numbers of casualties are impressive. Did I mention breathing? Almost forgot about that one. Breathing polluted air kills an estimated 3.5 million people prematurely world-wide every year. That’s nearly 6% of global deaths, some countries suffer even higher percentages. Our world leaders can’t seem to come together to put a handle on that catastrophic statistic, but what can they do? What can they do to improve the quality of life for so many around the world? The current situation is showing us, quite a lot actually. Dare I say, even too much! Do you find all these statistics exhausting? If so have a nap, but be careful, 1.8 million people a year wind up in hospital from falling out of bed.

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Careful now!!

How many people died alone without their families by their side last year? How many babies were born as anxious grandparents remained locked up in their houses miles away not able to cook a meal for their exhausted children? How many birthdays, weddings, anniversary parties, school graduations were missed last year? These numbers I don’t know, but for 2020 the list will be long.

Life, like I said, is a risky business. If we don’t take risks though, life would seem to end, and we shouldn’t even feel safe snuggled up in our bed. I do not want to downplay what is happening in our world right now. People are dying, and the fear surrounding it is quite strong, but we may need to face down some of those fears, because the human crisis we face can be just as devastating in the long term.

If all things were normal, not many people would willingly give up their right to drive, have balloons at parties, mow the lawn, go to the movies etc… Should I have never gone across America on my motorcycle back in 1983, then again in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987? Should I have not traveled around the world on my bicycle because of the statistical danger of riding a bike? Should all of us just stop living, talk on Zoom, play so called “Social” computer games like Fortnite and Call of Duty:Warzone! Shall we all lock ourselves up in our apartments and houses while letting our parents die alone in hospital beds? Shall we welcome children into the world isolated, no happy grandparents, no joy of bringing forth new life into the world, so we can flatten a curve on a graph? Is it safer to let people in their ‘Golden Years’ of life right now, live out their last days, weeks or months alone with no family visits? Is it better to stop our population from exercising, the elderly, the young and everyone in between from getting outside for the much-needed health benefits of walking, cycling and human interaction, especially when we’d benefit most right now with a healthy, active population? Do we stop dancing, making music together and just wait for life to somehow get back to a time when we can leave the supposed safety of confinement? Do we let our children happily play violent video games because it’s considered a social thing to do in this time of lockdown? If collectively we had come to the decision that this is the best way forward for humanity to fight a virus, then it might sit a bit easier. But to accept decisions from above, yes from those same governments and leaders who have helped steer us towards the third economic meltdown in twenty years, climate on the brink of catastrophe, and a war and refugee crisis that is, and has been, out of control for decades – well before Corona was a deadly virus, but just an average beer from Mexico. Has fear taken the driver seat of our collective common sense?

I am only asking questions. Probably like many of you, I find the conflicting news reports completely baffling, conspiracy theories abound, numbers go up, numbers come down, Sweden did the right thing, Sweden screwed up big time. Confinement worked, confinement didn’t work. A vaccination will save the day, a vaccination will track us for life and take away the personal sovereignty of our own bodies. My head reels!!

My biggest fear right now is not questioning to what extent do we put life on hold to contain a virus, because life and death, as we all know, can not be put on hold. Human suffering and death is nothing new. In fact today world-wide upwards of 821 million people suffer chronically from hunger while at the same time 2.8 million die each year of being overweight or obese. We can lock ourselves away and hide from Covid-19, but these other shocking numbers will still linger, or get worse, if we don’t collectively do something about them. Now may be that pivotal time in history when all of this suffering matters.

Refugee camps have not disappeared but the coral reefs in Australia are still disappearing as our collective eyes and energy are focused on the Coronavirus. Why are we looking only to our world leaders for advice when we are all in this together, and always have been? Surely we should be part of the decision making process and help make our own sensible choices at such a crucial time in history, and always ever after. It’s true we might not always make the right decisions, but as the WHO and many other countries of the world have shown in dealing with Covid-19, there is no ‘one’ way to deal with this pandemic. Citizen’s Assemblies would come into their own right now playing a crucial role in steering us towards better alternatives to navigating this awkward time we are currently in and helping to include more of us to be pro-active in how we deal with many of the challenges being a planetary citizen involves.

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Before Covid-19 entered all of our lives with astonishing speed, there seemed to be a big awakening happening. Maybe it’s just blind optimism on my part, but the fact that self-help and meditation was in the middle of such a world-wide boom in the west helped me feel that a change was coming. Climate started becoming a focus our attention couldn’t be averted from any longer, the young were starting to speak up, because they, after all, were being handed the mess we all helped create. Then bam, social distancing, flattening the curve and stay the fuck at home. Can we all have a say in what happens next? No one is absolutely sure where we are headed, so just maybe we should be making these big decisions together before we blindly accept house arrest, economic collapse and social disaster. Can we step up to the plate on this one? Can this be our new beginning, our new involvement with life, not just turning a blind eye and hope technology or a bunch of new laws will pave our paths safely into the future? Mistakes will be made, but we could all be part of the process, instead of the all-encompassing, not quite defined, ‘Them’? In the vast majority of cases people do not willingly swerve across the white line when they are driving at 60mph down the road. We have built-in survival instincts. No-one wants to contract this virus. Give us some responsibility and we will react in kind, but treat us like prisoners with no sense of our own to protect ourselves and others  and we begin to feel oppressed and our stress hormones kick in, affecting our immune system negatively just when we need it the most. Our attention becomes focused on our loss of freedom, livelihoods and independence – the “us and them” of law enforcement and people just trying to live a semblance of a normal life – and drawn away from working together to create a healthy way out of this situation. We must remain a unified humanity in our fight against the Coronavirus. We might now be soon approaching a tipping point where that is no longer the case if governments and authorities keep us locked down for much longer as the fabric of our lives unravels around us with a long hard journey back to our former selves stretching further off into an unknown future we seem to have no say in.

The fear mustn’t take hold. The media and governments are good at selling and instilling fear, manipulating us all and keeping us confused. At any other time in history we would question our leaders and new rules enforced overnight to make us act in ways we would never dream of. I can’t even believe it sometimes when I hear the news of unattended funerals, lonely deaths and joyless births marking the two most important events that connect each and everyone one of us with our common humanity. Can we really let the unknown potential of a virus that is seemingly here to stay for a while dictate our lives in such a way for an undetermined length of time?

As, ‘social distancing’ becomes a new catch phrase, masks become the norm in city streets, and the counterintuitive, unnatural, human isolated condition becomes the new normal (just when we need to be at our healthiest to fight off the Coronavirus), Zoom meetings, virtual concerts, youtube and Netflix watching become the saviors of the day. Yes, it helps us through these crazy times, but does it really save the day? Surely we need a healthy, happy, balanced population to face down this threat to our health. I have heard many people say that they are actually enjoying the forced time at home. Sure, the privileged of us who have lovely homes, gardens and families to be with are benefitting wonderfully. Unfortunately that is not the story for so many others. I ask those who are feeling the benefit of the forced lockdown, change your life when this all ends. If you learned to play an instrument, join a band. If you were lucky enough to have a garden and enjoyed finding your ‘green thumbs’, start a community garden afterwards. If you were frustrated because you couldn’t help more, volunteer with an NGO, give a month of your life working in a refugee camp, become a health practitioner, a yoga teacher, a nurse or a doctor.

This is the time for all of us to take control of our lives. If we like certain aspects of this lockdown, incorporate it into the future. Do we really want to live without hugs, kisses, picnics with friends, live music, celebrating together and all that is part of our social make up as humans? Do we want to be forced to not be able to be at the bedside of a dying loved one, or greet our new grandchild, son or daughter in person? Do we want to have our young impressionable children seeing human breath as bad, touching as unhealthy and socializing dangerous? While subtly implanting ideas that masks are good, distancing is healthy, meeting on screens is normal and isolating is safe? Do we want our slightly techno-addicted population to have a near constant fix of streaming, zooming, texting, gaming, while cycling, hiking, camping, getting out in nature and socializing with our family and neighbors becomes illegal? These are the powerful questions we must ask ourselves. Are we giving into a fear of our own mortality? Have we lost sight of the full picture? Are we so glad of well-needed free time that we are willing to close our eyes to the reality we are now creating? Life, I’ll say it once again, can be risky. But life is ours to live.

We take our chances, we cross those roads, mostly, those of us lucky enough to be reading this, create our own prisons or paradises, but please let’s not be thankful for a month or two where the pressure is off because we’re on forced lockdown. The pressure is on now more than ever. If you hear yourself saying I’m quite enjoying this down time, deeply listen to that and act on it. On the other hand, if you are put into the unfortunate position of not being able to be with a loved one in a time of need, question that as well. We can’t let this pandemic take away our humanity. On the other side of Covid-19 there will be a lot of healing to be done. Suffering from unfortunate losses in our lives, and also looking back at what really happened to us all.

We are in this circle of life and death together. Now we just need to emerge from our slumber and realize that even if our life is so privileged that this lockdown is seen as a good thing and time for a breather, we have lots of collective work to do. Too many of our planetarian brethren are suffering, we can’t just pat ourselves on the back and say, “Wasn’t I such a good person staying at home so others could live!” We need to get out there, be the change we want to see in ourselves and the way modern life is lived. When people don’t die from walking in polluted streets, refugee camps are a thing of the past, and we can all enjoy time being with our loved ones in a peaceful world, then we have done our jobs. Coronavirus will be a blip in our memories one day, or just another virus out there amongst the many others. But how will the world look when we re-emerge from this confinement? It is up to you and I to be a part of that healing moment.

These are important times, the humanity in us all will get us through this, but we will need to detox from the technology and overdose on human contact. Hopefully we’ll all remember how much we missed everything we took for granted before we were all told to stay at home. I somehow feel after we come out of our corners, rub our eyes, stretch out our arms, breath deep and let out a huge sigh of relief, the first thing we’ll want is a handshake, hug or kiss hello without wondering if it is safe to touch that person. Of course it is, it always has been, the question truly should be is it safe not to embrace our fellow human beings? After all, it’s that fall out of bed that we should really be wary of!!

Posted in a town, adventure, America, asia, california, camping, comfort zone, crisis, diversity, europe, fear, france, Health & Well-being, Life on planet earth., live music, Politics, spain, sweden, Technology & Progress, The City, The City, a town, small village or countryside?, transformation, U.S.A. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Locked down, but the doors are wide open!!!

Hello all,

I am pretty sure this finds everyone in a place, or state of mind, you never dreamed you would have been in about two months ago. When I was writing my latest book, Cycling off the Cliff… and How to Avoid it! I found it to be a very difficult journey. It wasn’t the type of writing I normally enjoy doing, but I felt I really wanted to get it out there because deep down the current business/lifestyle models we were embracing and following into an overbusy, technical, less human-centric world was worrying me and had me thinking about where we were all heading. I didn’t want to sound like I was living in a fantasy world in my mind hoping for changes in business that brought all of us back to smaller, more human-scale models, or a vision of more time with our families and in our communities. So when I hit the print button on Lulu.com,(the platform that published my book), I never could have guessed that we’d be in a world lockdown down heading towards world-wide recession three months later. What a crossroads we have all arrived at, now the big decisions lie ahead, which way do we turn?

We all need to navigate the next moves we make into our future carefully and with our eyes wide open.

If anyone reading this has suffered a personal loss due to the virus, my deepest condolences.

Much peace, Joe

Epilogue (April 7, 2020)

Months after I self-published this book, the Corona Virus pandemic seriously challenged us humans to work together for its containment. After being confined for over three weeks as I write this epilogue, we are being shown that we do have the ability to change radically. As the world heads into an uncertain future, humanity is still strongly shining through.

For one example, the bicycle industry has seen companies – from clothing manufacturers to component and bicycle manufacturers – stepping into totally different modes to be part of the solution; making masks, medical gowns, hand sanitizers and batteries for ventilators. These are just a few of the creative ways showing that the industry’s heart is big. Their willingness to turn us away from the cliff can happen swiftly, and the positive impact they will make to our current situation will affect so many in a positive way. For me, it is both heart-warming and exciting to see the bicycle industry using its passion and ingenuity to help in such an altruistic manner. It also makes me realise that deep down people are willing to make big sacrifices for unknown others. To control the spread of a virus we have come together as one big world working for the greater good.

Can a butterfly flapping its wings in Thailand cause a tidal wave on the other side of the world? We may never know that for certain, but what humanity has seen is that a person coughing in China can bring the world to its knees and change the life of everyone in a very short time. We should now not need to question the fact that tiny changes in our lifestyles and business practices can have powerful far-reaching impacts.

We all hold hope that life will get back to a semblance of normality soon, but do we want to go back to the non-resilient, fragile systems we were so dependent on? Do we really want to lose that wonderful birdsong that has returned to some urban areas? Do we want to forget what a delightful distraction it was to walk the dog in our neighborhood, spend time with our families, or just live from moment to moment? Do those drone shots of traffic-free roads make us secretly smile and think, ‘Wow, isn’t that nice!’? Can something just a little bit different be awaiting our return to the normality we all miss very much? This crisis has given us a chance to see how interconnected we all truly are. These are powerful times and unforgettable lessons.

A book that touched me recently recounted the experiences of a war correspondent witnessing many atrocities that human beings can actually visit upon their fellow humans in the name of right, wrong, religious zealousness, political differences or profit and protection of the status quo. His out-of-balance life led him to become a shadow of his former self, riddled with physical ailments from cancer and a broken back to drug and alcohol addiction. A radical change was a necessity if he wanted to continue being a husband, father or just a normal functioning human being. Here is a quote from that book, Warrior Pose, by Brad Willis.

Throughout the ages, all great spiritual texts have counseled against greed and self-indulgence. The Bible warns it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. The Bhagavad-Gita calls greed, anger and lust “Doorways to Hell.” Buddhism warns that avarice and desire are afflictions that inevitably lead to suffering. Yet we never seem to listen or learn. Great empires perpetually overextend, over-consume, and over-indulge – and most eventually come crashing down.”

Together we can all change what seems to be an inevitable outcome. The circle of repeating past mistakes can always be broken. This crisis has brought out the humanity in all of us; from singing out to each other from our balconies to looking out for the vulnerable in our communities. We now have been given a chance to look at the wider world through different eyes and forge an alternative future together. Can the ‘crashing down’ we are now experiencing actually be an open doorway? The man-made systems we have grown so used to are in turmoil as the natural world uses this time to heal. Maybe we humans would be well-advised to look beyond our temporary confinement and ask ourselves some difficult questions. Can we also use this time to heal? Can we emerge from this crisis into a slightly different modus operandi? Is more time actually more precious than more things and constant upgrades? Can we survive with less and still actually have so much more? Can we seize this fantastic moment in time together? These wise and simple words are good to remember in times like these, and always, “This too shall pass.”

Enjoy the journey! Joe

Posted in a town, adventure, America, asia, california, Canada, comfort zone, crisis, economics, Energy Consumption, fear, Health & Well-being, home education, inspiration, Life on planet earth., Money & Economics, Politics, Recycle - Reuse - Rethink, social media, Spirituality, Technology & Progress, transformation, U.S.A. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’ve quoted it before…………

“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like……” Freddie Mercury – Queen.

That’s definitely what these folks wanted to do and man they did it well! Watch and get inspired, hop on a bike and head somewhere different.

Enjoy the journey.

Peace, Joe

Posted in adventure, Africa, America, asia, california, camping, Canada, comfort zone, Cycling, dorset, Education, europe, france, Health & Well-being, inspiration, Life on planet earth., toulouse, Transportation, travel, U.S.A., weymouth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whiling away the miles!

Hello all,

Want some inspiration for a bit of adventure? Well Harry surely inspired me. His story is pretty impressive. For his first extended cycle tour he definitely gave himself a challenge, and all for a good cause! How cool is that?

Hope you enjoy, and let me know about any upcoming adventures coming from your side of the world.

Peace, Joe

Posted in adventure, arctic circle, camping, Climate, comfort zone, crisis, Cycling, dorset, Education, Energy Consumption, europe, france, inspiration, Life on planet earth., Natural resources, paris, portugal, Recycle - Reuse - Rethink, spain, sweden, Transportation, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fiddling to Nashville

Hello everyone.

Nina has played her fiddle since she was ten. Now she’s on her way to Nashville from the small village in Dorset, England where it all started. Catch a bit of her story here as she shares it with me. Enjoy!

Peace, Joe

 

Posted in a town, adventure, America, dorset, inspiration, Life on planet earth., live music, Music, nashville, small village or countryside?, travel, U.S.A. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment