The Emerald Isle – A Real Green Adventure

The Tandem a few years later, still rolling!

The puzzle was laid out before me. A big long tandem bicycle, a normal bicycle, a baby seat, two bicycle trailers, eight panniers full of equipment; our new family-sized tent, clothes, cooking hardware, a few bicycle tools, spare tubes, books, maps, kid’s toys, and whatever else we would be pedaling around southern Ireland that had to fit in our tiny Ford Escort car, along with the four of us. With an old roof rack from the seventies a friend gave me, a few cleverly made adaptors to create a makeshift tandem bike rack, we shoe-horned into the heavily-loaded car in Weymouth, and drove to within an hour’s pedaling distance from the port of Fishguard, Wales. We spent two nights with some friends of Angie’s parents, went out to a local pub where our car would remain in its parking lot for the month we would be gone. The big day approached, we rode our fully-loaded bikes for the first time to the port, about an hour or so of undulating Welsh country roads. Probably not too different from where we would be rolling off the ferry later in the day – Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland.

The foghorn of the boat announced our arrival. We pedaled out of the bowels of the large ferry amongst the cars, trucks and motorcycles all leaving on their own journeys. The light drizzle, in Ireland known as ‘mizzle’, softly greeted us as we strained with the effort of pedaling our eight-wheeled traveling circus into the hazy light of day. We would be whipping into better shape over the next four weeks, for now we grunted on the first climb of the voyage, the boat ramp!

Our fellow ferry passengers thought we were, “Oh so brave to tackle such a long trip with a young family.” As we pedaled along the first few meters of the upcoming journey bemused onlookers smiled, pointed, and even applauded at the sight of our entourage. Thirteen month old Francesca in her baby seat behind her five year old brother Louis, the stoker, (the back seat pedal position on the tandem) and me in the captain’s position were all smiling finding our equilibrium, and basically for the first time, heading out on a big family cycling adventure. Angie had her own trailer and heavily-loaded steed to maneuver. She was probably thinking once again, ‘What the heck have I let myself in for with this crazy nomadic husband of mine?’ Probably much like our first date all those years ago when we pedaled off into the misty rain on the Tibetan Plateau when we first met in China, or maybe two years later when we disembarked in Bilbao Spain which was the beginning of a four month cycle tour of Europe which ended with a pregnant Angie. Or just maybe the fair amount of moving around we had done since the birth of Louis, and now Chessie, as I have recounted in this blog series. Whatever was swirling through her mind at that specific moment, the reality was upon us, the light mist in our face, the loaded bikes under our bodies, and the bicycle trips pedaling into the unknown still happening. I assumed Angie enjoyed the adventures, because there she was astride her touring bike and still smiling!

After our brief celebrity at the ferry port, the open road lay ahead, unknown adventures nestled in the green hilly countryside, all made so much better by the soft Irish accent we were greeted with everywhere. This trip was going to be new ground for all of us because neither Angie nor I had ever stepped foot on the Emerald Isle – and by default, neither had Louis and Chessie!

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After the mist gave way to a heavier rain we thought a nice hot cuppa would be well-worth it. Of course, it was. Not only for the warm welcoming Irish smiles we were met with in the small tea shop, but the warm pot of tea and soda bread. We’d soon learn the Irish loved their soda bread. The mist was slowly lifting, and the day was drying out. We would dance our way through raindrops, big and small, quite often. Yes, it rains in Ireland, but what we didn’t realise is that meant in one day we could be met by at least three season’s worth of weather, and one of those seasons inevitably was the rainy season, but it did also mean that the rain wasn’t constant, after all it was August, and even stuck out on a small island in the Atlantic, the sun did make its presence known!

Another circus was in town, Tom Duffy was our competition. Whereas we were the beasts of burden in our traveling show, it looked like his circus was still using animals in their big acts. On the promo posters we saw photos of lions, tigers and elephants. I thought those sort of acts were no longer allowed in Europe. Well, I guess we were by definition in Europe, but by all other methods of conscious awareness, it was the Republic of Ireland. Not only was the weather a constant reminder, but the complete throwback in time where hospitality, smiles and a genuine interest in what we were doing made us feel lost in another time and place. The ever-present Irish-ness that the accent accentuated all the more, comes bursting through, and stays with you warmly while facing a brisk wind, or some mizzle as you pedal down a windy road into the hinterland. With more Irish people living out in the world beyond than the three million or so that still inhabit the small, green, wet, isle we were exploring, we were always so pleasantly surprised to find – in the old and young alike – a deep affection for Eire (Ireland to the rest of us not using the Gaelic term). Unbeknownst to us on those first few days of cycling, we would also be calling Ireland home for two years. How did that come to pass? Pedal on with us and find out.

As our fitness pedaling fully loaded bikes quickly came back, so did our love of putting up the tent at night. Thankfully Chessie kept her side of the sleeping bag/pee bargain, if you remember that from my last blog. We were finding our camping groove as our last three years in Brittany had been such an adventure, as well as moving from France to New York then back to France again, and having another child amongst it all kept our tent in its stuff sack for far too long. When we did take it out, it was definitely going to be too small for all four of us, hence, the new family-sized tent we were carting along on this trip, and appreciating every inch of space it afforded us at night. Pure luxury that we paid for during the day lugging it around, but hey, that’s what cycle touring is about – a bit of tough work in the saddle, but constantly being rewarded, with hot cups of tea, beautiful quiet roads, camping under the stars or clouds, and eating generously big guilt-free meals and snacks! Our little foray into the lush green isle had so far been a nice soft landing for us all.

The Irish roads!

It was kind of strange pedaling along on the tandem. Angie would cycle next to Louis and hand out snacks to him and Chessie. It felt like we were in some sort of camping car with all the conversation happening in the back as I was steering and pedaling along. Don’t get me wrong, when Louis did take his feet off the pedals for a rest, I felt the difference, being reminded the internal combustion engine was not propelling us forward. While going along a straight, flat road the trade-off was well worth it, as it was actually enjoyable hearing all the banter going on behind me. That little bit less help because Louis’ feet were up on the bike frame and not pushing on the pedals was fine once in a while, but just that noticeable teeny bit less power in the pedal stroke made me appreciate how much help five year old Louis was actually being, especially up the climbs. Louis and I had to coordinate when the climbs got long and tough. He was such an enthusiastic cyclist that we had a code for when we needed to get out of the saddle to dance on the pedals. We had to both start at the same time or else everything got out of sync, and it would be a disaster having to stop mid-climb losing any momentum we had. So when I tapped Louis’ leg and said Let’s Dance, (a la David Bowie) the next pedal stroke we’d simultaneously get out of our saddles and get into our groove. Luckily Louis and I had spent quite a lot of time on the tandem. It was an vintage bike given to us by an older friend in England, I had to do quite a bit of modification to get it up to a modern(ish) standard. It was Louis’ fourth birthday present, and he had actually helped me with the modifications. So we knew the bike well, and Chessie was happily snacking away in the bike seat, but still a few years off of pedaling in that stoker position that she would eventually occupy for quite few years. Ah, but I digress, to be sure, to be sure!

When Ireland joined the EU and started integrating, miles gave way to kilometers, gallons and pints to liters, etc… The one cheeky thing we found out the hard way was when it was private sign posts, it seemed like the miles magically turned into kilometers in name alone, as it was cheaper to keep the sign and just change the words. You might not notice it too much in a car or on a motorcycle, but one day when we had a feverish Chessie, and a tired Louis, and a constant mizzle accompanying us the whole latter part of the day, the campsite only being ten more kilometers down the road was a blessing, as that translates into a few yards more than six miles. But, when it is the other way around and the sign really meant ten miles with just a word change, that translates into sixteen kilometers, and believe me being at the tail end of a hard day in the saddle looking forward to a hot shower and setting up camp, that extra few miles was disheartening indeed! We did make it, and asked the girl working in the small family-run campsite if she knew about the signpost, she gave us a beautiful shy smile, and the sheepish shrug of her shoulders spoke very loudly indeed. All was forgiven shortly after as we were setting up our tent and a tray was placed in front of us with a hot pot of tea for us and some apple juice for the kids. How can you begrudge a bit of fiddling with a signpost with such a lovely Irish attitude like that?

I mentioned Chessie snacking in her baby seat. Well this was a most memorable moment for sure. We had been hearing of this long climb that we were going to have to crest. Luckily Brittany was a hilly part of the world so we were no strangers to undulating roads. When the climb began, we were mentally and physically prepared. Of course it was one of the sunniest days of the trip to date – sunny and quite hot, just when a bit of mizzle would have been most welcomed. Although in saying that, the scene would not have been as idyllic in the rain. The blackberries on the road side were easy pickings at the slow rate of ascent. We even did stop once in a while breaking our stride to fill up our plastic buckets with lovely juicy blackers. Buckets full, and some blackberries packed away for our evening dessert, we still had a bucket each to enjoy on the continuing road. We were lucky to be on our bikes. There was no way you could have enjoyed the bounty passing at 40mph(65kph) in a car or on a motorcycle, but our slow moving bikes were perfect. That was why the blackberries were so abundant as well. No one was really able to get to them safely, as it was a slightly busy road. As we were in our high-vis-vests, with colorful trailers behind us the cars had to slow down to pass us, and we were able to pick and pedal and occasionally stop. The joys of cycle touring!

On the fast decent, Chessie decided it was a good time to polish off her bucket of blackberries. She happily gorged herself on nearly a whole tupperware full of the bittersweet fruit. The speed and slight bumpiness of the road, jiggled it all up enough so that when we made it to the bottom, Chessie’s blackberry stained lips were quite a contrast to her green face, which quickly led to a fountain of slightly digested fruit spewing from a teary-eyed young girl. It was actually quite comical, Angie and I had to hold back our urge to laugh, while young Louis was just saying, “Gross”, but luckily wasn’t in the line of fire. Chessie finally calmed down, Angie and I did our parental duty and cuddled and changed our daughter with occasional glances at each other knowing we were never too far from a giggle. After she regained her normal swarthy color, and her bizarrely stained, smelly clothes were put directly into a plastic bag to be dealt with later, we were ready to roll. With Chessie’s stomach now empty, she wanted more blackberries. We definitely had enough and gave them to her with a warning to eat them slowly. I was glad she recovered so quickly, and proved to be a true cycling Diomede, feed that stomach while exerting that power on a bike. Okay she wasn’t exactly exerting much power pedaling, but she was only fourteen months old and her energy was being used up just growing!!!

One of the big reasons we were on this trip was to check out an Ecovillage project we had read about in a magazine we subscribed to called Permaculture. An Ecovillage is an intentional community of people who commit to live together in an ecologically positive way, such as growing food, sharing cars, building creative green buildings, not green as the color because we were in Ireland, although that sounds kinda cute, but “green” in the ecological way of speaking. For us the specific destination on the trip was Cloughjordan, a small village where such a project was in its embryonic stages, the biggest of its king in Ireland. They were looking for members, and as the universe had been working with us in our last few moves, so it continued on the Emerald Isle.

So our Irish adventure was slowly closing in on our destination after a week or so of pedaling. We pulled into a small town called Roscrea where we saw an organic food shop. We stopped in to buy some food and snacks to keep us going, and started speaking to the owner. His name was Caoimhín, sort of the Irish equivalent of Kevin. Don’t ask about spelling, pronunciation, or any of it. The Irish language is an official European language, but for me it is still a mystery. Anyhow Caoimhín was part of the project in Cloughjordan, and lived there as well. It was our evening’s destination, and it just so happened as the upcoming weekend was the open house for the Ecovillage, hence our arrival timing, it was also his son’s birthday party. We were all invited, so would get to meet more members as a few people already involved in the project were in town. Potential members like us were arriving as well for the presentation/membership drive, so it was all very exciting!

We pulled onto the Main street of Cloughjordan, appropriately named ‘Main Street’, and our first sight was a picnic bench in front of a pub called Bomber’s. We all took a seat, and started foraging through our panniers for some of those organic snacks we’d just bought in Roscrea. No sooner, a well-rounded, ginger-haired man with glasses came out of the pub and asked us if we would like a pot of tea. We couldn’t say no to that, and, lo and behold, even some soda bread. He asked if we were part of the project and we told him about our journey and he pointed out the Ecovillage office down the street on the left. So I meandered down Main Street for the first time in my life, but certainly not the last, as I would open a small bicycle shop right across the street from where we sat, rent an apartment about twenty yards, oops I mean meters from where we currently drinking tea, and eventually buy a house on this same street, and all in the not-too-distant future.

The first person I met was Helen. She was a local working as the secretary for the Ecovillage project. She was loud, friendly and oh so Irish. She filled me in on everything I needed to know, and some things I didn’t. In our first brief meeting she introduce me to Mick, the chap who would be hosting the open house the next day. It was Mick’s enthusiasm, and, shall I say salesmanship, that changed the path of our lives for the next two years.

We were nicely put up in a room for guests in the office. We paid a small donation fee, and settled in for the next week or so meeting some of our potential new neighbors. Louis, met a few kids at Oisín’s birthday party, Caoimhín’s and Áine’s son. The names were going to be a challenge, but we were all speaking English, and after more than three years in Brittany, the Irish culture in many ways made me feel like I was back in New York.

The open day was full of hope; it was inspiring to see what this small group of motivated eco warriors had put together. As we walked down Main Street after the weekend, I commented to Angie that there were a few empty commercial premises, and no village bike shop. She looked at me with knowing eyes, the small premise next to the post office would house yet another small business one day soon called, ‘Cloughjordan Cycle Co-Op’.

The Small Bike Shop

The week filled us with such promise that we bought into the project immediately. We met so many, soon to be, friends, and Caoimhín and Áine were only part of a small group of folks who were actually living in ‘Clough’, as the locals referred to the existing village. I was now in a different modus operandi. I knew we were coming back soon, and needed to find a place to live. So before we left southbound towards Cork where our departing ferry would take us back to Wales, I needed to switch into my get things done mode. I met the local shop owner of Centra. Which was basically the large grocery store of the village. Murphy’s was across the street, a bit smaller and more family run, whereas Centra was a franchise. Anyhow, Donald, the owner of Cloughjordan’s Centra, had an apartment for rent above the shop. I took a look at it, shook hands on a rental deal, and he promised it would be ready in November. I think I pushed his slower moving Irishness to the limits when I said, “Okay, I’ll be back on November first with all our stuff.” He looked a bit shocked, but as I got to be quite friendly with Donald over they two years we lived there, I would come to know he always had a look of being slightly overwhelmed, but was quite a lovely, likeable guy.

We pedaled out of Cloughjordan a week later feeling like we were pedaling out of a weird dream. As the road we cycled down would be so familiar in a year’s time, we were on it for the first time, saying to ourselves, “Did we really just buy into this Ecovillage project in the middle of Ireland?” Yes was the answer and now we were looking at this small moist island in a whole different light. When we met those Irish people who were so happy and proud to be Irish, we were bursting with the same enthusiasm telling people we were coming back in November to call Ireland home. Wow, it was sort of surreal.

The last week of our journey was going by too quickly. We tried to put out of our heads all the logistics to come. We had been fully moved out of Brittany, and our worldly belongings were in a friend’s storage unit on another small island, called Portland, just south of Weymouth. My life had been quite full of adventures before becoming a dad. All of my travels and moving around the globe had been a lot of fun when I was single, footloose and fancy free. Everyone told me it would all end when I settled down, got married and had kids. Man, they couldn’t have been more wrong. The last eight years of my life had been full of crazy adventures, firstly working in and running bike shops in England and New York, living in two different areas of France, learning to grow food to live semi-self sufficiently, getting married, having two kids, and moving at least three times with a small family, no steady income, and enjoying every minute of it. Now we just bought into an Ecovillage project in the hinterland of Ireland, where in the back of my head the seed was already growing of opening up my first bike shop. Get me to that ferry, I want to get this ball rolling.

The Irish adventure continues……………………

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Just Keeping Perspective!

Like the title says, I am just trying to keep perspective. I want to say this blog is written with no judgment on other people’s choices. I obviously know that when I say big-pharm, etc.. I am not silly enough to think that there are not wonderful, intelligent people working in those sectors. I am writing this because we are not hiding how we live here. We have come to different conclusions, and are now being pushed to follow choices so many others have made, and when other people’s beliefs become rules and laws without proper debate and open discussion, that becomes the danger. For those of us who think differently from the mainstream it can feel like a kind of persecution if we don’t just concede, shut up and obey. I and many others feel it is a dangerous way to live, and history proves this many times over. So please read this with an open mind, and also feel free to disagree, get angry, or whatever, but the one thing I ask, please don’t ask me to feel, think and agree with something just because so many others do. If you can, try to watch some of the links I have inserted as they may show a different perspective to what you have come across in your own personal searches. Be well. Thanks. Joe

To follow up on my Hug Granny blog, covid finally came to our village. A handful of people caught it, and it didn’t spread like wildfire. The main population didn’t stop living like we had been for the past year, (Read my Hug Granny blog) and all those who got over it, did so pretty quickly.

So what might be the reason for this? Maybe the lack of stress, hyped up media coverage not being read, watched nor ingested daily, and accepting the virus as a new addition to the human genome to be lived with, not run from, or give up what makes us human to avoid it. You may balk at that last phrase, but I do not think we were put on this planet, survived for millennia as a species constantly adapting to our ever-changing world, to be ultimately controlled by large profit-making, mega-corporations, or elected officials telling us how to live our lives. Our humanity is much more than that!

I think the Johnson & Johnson labs said it best when they gave their excuse for the adverse affects their vaccine was having on people. They said it was due to stress; people getting stressed before a vaccination is normal, so the FDA made sure their vaccine was back on the market pronto. Gotta save lives. Strangely enough, never once has anyone from the WHO to the CDC, or any of the other acronyms running the planet, ever mentioned stress being a contributing factor to covid hysteria taking over the world. How the world reacted to the covid virus had a lot to do with its citizens being totally pushed out of any discussions on the way forward. A dangerous reaction in an open free world. Might all the media hype, lockdowns, people out of work, countries shutting down, etc.. have caused stress and possibly help lead us to where we are today? Something to ponder, but nope, not a mention of that possibility in the current narrative. But when a multi-billion dollar corporation comes out to defend their product and its adverse effects, everyone nods and says, “Ooh, that makes sense!” Hey wait a minute has anyone read this little ditty? Notice any familiar company names?

The Washington Post: Drug Companies, Plaintiffs Close In On $26B Deal To Settle Opioid Lawsuits Four companies that made or distributed prescription opioids and played roles in the catastrophic opioid crisis have reached a tentative $26 billion settlement with counties and cities that sued them for damages in the largest federal court case in American history. The settlement offer from opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and the “Big Three” distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, potentially brings a large measure of legal closure for the companies and will funnel money to communities devastated by an addiction crisis that claims more than 70,000 lives in America every year. That death toll continues to rise even as it is overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. (Achenbach, Rowland, Zezima and Davis, 11/5)

Wow, so J&J, as I know many like to refer to their drug lords with a more personal touch, (and four other pharmaceutical companies) are implicated with contributing to the death of 70,000 people a year with opioid drugs, settle for a astronomical figure, and people continue to put trust in these same companies to see us out of another crisis? Prison will never be spoken about, just pay the fee, and move on to the next multi-billion dollar venture – covid- government sponsored, media hyped, guaranteed money spinner for all involved. Weird, or I guess that’s just irresponsible me pointing out things I really shouldn’t. Maybe 70,000 dead drug addicts isn’t considered murder.

What about the most recent Nashville, USA woman paralyzed by the Pfizer shot? Here’s Pfizer’s official response.

“It is important to note that serious adverse events that are unrelated to the vaccine are unfortunately likely to occur at a similar rate, as they would in the general population.” 

So, 24 hours after her second vaccine this otherwise healthy woman(with epilepsy), is paralyzed but Pfizer can get away with saying it’s just a serious adverse event coincidentally coinciding with the second vaccine. (As everyone knows people with epilepsy spontaneously become paralyzed)! Actually, they really don’t even have to say anything at all since most vaccine companies have the luxury of not being held accountable for adverse effects, no matter how severe. Man, that’s pretty handy. The debate has been ongoing since the 60’s and adverse effects have always followed mass vaccination programs. These non liability clauses have indeed helped turn the big-pharma industry from multi-million dollar to multi-billion dollar corporations. Not many industries can claim that perk.

One thing I can assure everyone reading this, is that in our village and the surrounding areas, our lack of mask wearing, keeping our interactions quite normal – social distancing rules are as close as a hug and kiss can get you – we haven’t had anyone becoming paralyzed, no blood clots, no fertility issues, or any other possible long-term health problems. Death rates in the area never skyrocketed, (or even happened to any alarming degree to my knowledge in the surrounding area) local hospitals weren’t overwhelmed and fortunately when covid visited we weren’t freaked out, didn’t overreact, and we are all still here to tell the tale. No one wants to listen to our story because it doesn’t fit in well with the current narrative that is unfortunately benefitting a handful of mega billion dollar corporations as we tumble into the light of a new world order staring us in the face. Ah, but only if we let it.

I was called quite a lot of things after my last blog about hugging granny. Irresponsible was one of the most common. Well, our village has survived the covid crisis while we have continued to live in the presence of full smiling faces, hugging and kissing each other hello, faced the coming of the virus like healthy human beings, and we fought off the small visit it paid us without much fanfare. This mass experiment comprising thousands of people has been going on for well over a year now, but that won’t make any newspaper headlines. I’m sure I’ll be lambasted once again, we’ll all be called irresponsible for acting like well-informed healthy adults making our own decisions about fighting a virus, and coming out the other side of it pretty unscathed, and no, the vaccine hasn’t helped, because I hardly know of anyone who has decide to go that route, and the few I do know didn’t participate in our unmasked, hugging experiment, and were never forced to. I know many of you might be saying, sure, a small village tucked away in southern France with limited interactions with the outside world. Not quite actually! If you didn’t go back to my granny blog, here are a few small excerpts explaining our little part of the world since April 2020.

……..The weekend after (the first) lockdown eight house concerts were organised by local musicians and they were well-attended, people in close contact, a few masks here and there, but mostly music, sharing food, kids all playing with each other and the last concert of the weekend had over 250 people as that is where my son and I lost count. (Average attendance for the first seven concerts about 60 people). There were people from all over the area, and one friend had just flown in from England through eerily empty skies and airports.

……..the market was packed, a small percentage of masks to be seen, but mostly it felt basically back to normal, with the background noise of rules, regulations and a police presence that never existed before.

…….July rolled around and we were all in full normal mode by then. Many laws being, umm shall I say, ignored. A local Associative Café opened its doors to weekly Friday music/dance nights. Food available, live music, dancing, sweating in the summer heat and masks were definitely not apparent.

……..It had now been three months of close contact, no masks, hugging and kissing nearly back to normal levels accept for those who took advantage of the situation to drop some social norms they were glad to leave behind. Hitch-hikers, travelers, cyclists, WOOFERs, Workawayers, holiday makers were all arriving in the area, albeit in smaller numbers, but still an international feeling was obvious.

We even attended a weekend-long music festival with well over 400 people over the summer. This spirit never stopped, and until the present, our experiment, clearly showing there are other ways to face this moment in history, has been mostly ignored – no scientific studies – but thankfully we all know what has transpired, our children have seen what a different world can look like, and we have all been empowered to live in control of our futures without feeling we are dependent on big business to keep us alive.

Yes, the vaccine has given comfort to many world-wide but not conferred the promised total immunity. But still it’s been hailed a success. It is a fact the placebo effect works exceedingly well. It is even incorporated into scientific studies and is a well-documented phenomenon. Read this book, ‘You are the Placebo’, by Joe Dispenza. It is brilliant and will maybe change your life forever. Who knows? It is more than likely well at work now, both in our local experiment, and also the mass vaccination experiment. Unfortunately though, collateral damage has happened, and as with all vaccines, will continue to do so, but people around the world who have walked a different path, thought a different idea, and didn’t get nor give anyone blood clots on the way will be seen as the irresponsible ones.

Once again, I want to repeat here before you start saying we spread the virus, we clearly didn’t in our area, and there are many similar stories around the world confirming that. Plus, the numbers themselves have still not proved covid to be a pandemic. Four million dead with a planetary population of over 7 billion, just do the math. Big cities were hit much harder than the countryside, that is for sure, but again, fear, mass hysteria and stress may have also contributed to those scenes we saw get out of control just over a year ago. Also, don’t forget, although a minute number of young healthy individuals have succumbed to covid, it is more the exception rather than the rule, so when the math is further done the percentage of those deaths is nearly too infinitesimal to calculate. The majority who have died are the aged, or those with other underlying health issues. So why would a mass vaccination program of mostly the unaffected, healthy population be seen as the answer? Why are governments and big-pharma touting the same program as such a success? Is it because all of these otherwise healthy individuals are now climbing out of their confinements, walking without their masks, and not dropping dead of covid? Might that have happened anyway? Now nearly impossible to test, but it has been happening all over the world already in many unvaccinated populations. I know that for a fact, I have been living one of those mass experiments. Again, like many times over the past year, my mind boggles.

So in our upside down world, J&J, and other big pharma companies got away with helping to cause a drug addiction problem so widespread in America that small towns, villages, big cities, all still feel the burden of their greed. Where all we have done here is embrace our humanity, refuse to conceal our faces behind masks, (that still have not any hard core scientific proof of their efficacy in open places), and decide to not give our bodies over to an experimental vaccine that has been fast tracked through to be seen as the saving of humanity. Are we really the dangerous ones putting others at risk? I just do not understand! Let’s all be careful to whom we give over our wonderful, magical, powerful bodies, and let our minds be manipulated by. Profit-driven, multi-billion dollar corporations, sanctioned by governments who put billions of dollars into bombs, arms, warfare, environmentally destructive policies, are definitely not on my short list of who I will listen to when it comes to my health.

Oh, yes, how heartless of me not to mention India or Brazil. People are still dying from covid, that’s now making the papers for sure. My big question is why have we in the west generally, in a real big altruistic way, never paid India much attention before when it came to health, or for that matter untimely deaths by malnutrition, starvation, malaria outbreaks or environmental catastrophies? India ranks 136th and Brazil 75th in life expectancy. The USA is only 46th, and many European countries fall under the 20 mark. But of course, the two above-mentioned countries are now making the papers or television newscasts filling our heads with fear. Brazil and India both have problems with health, nutrition, and many other differences to the healthier countries of the west. Read these two clips below to see why these comparisons don’t really make scientific sense.

“But the truth is somewhat more disturbing, for there is no debate at all about the fact that India is home to the largest number of malnourished people in the world. About a third of our children are stunted: As the word implies, their bodies (and, indeed, their brains) are less developed than they should be for their age. And there is one overwhelming reason for this damning observation: They have gone to bed, day after day, month after month, without enough food.”

“Brazil has shown limited progress towards achieving the diet-related non-communicable disease (NCD) targets. The country has shown no progress towards achieving the target for obesity, with an estimated 25.4% of adult (aged 18 years and over) women and 18.5% of adult men living with obesity. Brazil’s obesity prevalence is lower than the regional average of 27.9% for women and 20.2% for men. At the same time, diabetes is estimated to affect 8.7% of adult women and 7.8% of adult men.”

I am not just saying we should forget about the human suffering going on in these places, but I do believe their problems go far beyond just covid. The vaccine might make more sense for them, but big-pharma, Bill Gates and others involved in the production and distribution of vaccines are playing their usual game of profit before people. So inexpensive, widespread vaccines produced in other factories world-wide are being met with quite a bit of resistance from those who stand to gain quite a bit of money and power by keeping control of the technology. Watch this if you have a few extra minutes.

I have always been quite aware of the inequalities of our world. But when I used to speak about Tibetan refugees, the suffering of developing countries, I was met with the attitude that is over there. Now though, all of a sudden what happens there will certainly happen here if we don’t shoot some chemicals into our bloodstream, but at the same time making it more difficult for them to acquire the vaccine more affordably and locally produced. I am just asking we keep perspective, because the way it is all being spun we will start deferring to covid in countries like India and Brazil as it draws some sort of parallels with Europe, America, Australia, etc.. Hmmmm…..

So as we look to big pharma to save the world, let’s turn a blind eye to the fact that these same companies have helped kill so many through opioid addiction, and yes admitted it by paying large sums of money to the plaintiffs, but hey oops, sorry about that, will 26 billion bucks make amends? What about the fact that a great number of drugs are so expensive in America that people die from curable diseases (not mutating viruses that will need boosters year after year, yippee more money!!) while multi-billion dollar need to feed their bottom line. As the patent wars begin, and the earnings from these vaccines hit astronomical levels, my head reels. Read this excerpt from The Washington Post article recently published concerning the whole patent debate on proprietary intellectual property going on right now. Here is a quick excerpt.

“Pfizer estimates that sales of the mRNA vaccine it developed in conjunction with the German firm BioNTech will be $26 billion in 2021, which would make it the highest-selling pharmaceutical product ever, and Pfizer predicts strong demand next year for boosters as immunity wanes and coronavirus variants proliferate. Moderna, the other company with a successful mRNA vaccine, raised its vaccine revenue estimates Thursday to $19.2 billion this year.”

The history of big pharma, big agro, big tech, is not pretty, and very far from altruistic. Somehow perspective gets lost, wars are waged, collateral damage is inevitable. As history shows way too many times, from unjust wars, opioid epidemics, to pandemics, there is always a trail of money to follow, and it mostly goes to a very small handful of those on top.

To give up your healthy body to companies that have knowingly addicted so many innocent people to opioids, kept life giving drugs from those who needed it, have a long history of treating developing countries as their personal R&D projects, and have many times excluded those same countries from access to inexpensive or free vaccines, sounds like a strange plan. All this while having their fingers in mass media like never before, and basically controlling the narrative. Censorship and the suppression of unheard voices is reaching unprecedented levels across social and mass media. A very dangerous situation indeed. Meanwhile our collective brains get so filled with fear that we look to them as our saviors. There are truly so many other narratives and stories to be told, it’s just the platforms to share these positive stories, and alternative pathways to health, are being heavily censored, and much harder to find.

I have had so many well-meaning, loving friends and family pushing the vaccine, singing its praises. I don’t understand how so much faith can be put into these experimental trials. Sure, hail it as one small way forward if you’re so inclined. But for me and so many others I know who share my point of view, to push it as the only way out of this pandemic is just giving over too much power to big business, and that is definitely not a good way to head into a healthy future where we can live harmoniously and healthily while all on different trajectories. Surely this is what life is meant to be on planet earth.

As I write this Vax Live has Rock and Rollers, pop artists, and more performing to encourage even more people to get vaccinated. Scientific experts? Would you sit them in your house and ask them about other health issues? I really don’t understand what it’s all about. Vaccine awareness? I believe we’re all aware of that already. Is it just a big push, by those who should never be spokespeople for how humanity takes care of their personal health, to get more people hyped up and jabbed? You tell me. My mind boggles. I thought these were the people who were supposed to question authority. In the sixties they helped stop an unjust war, they have exposed social injustice, and now they are helping these huge corporations, to shoot what is still an experimental vaccine, into millions of young healthy people’s bodies. All this for a virus that has and will mutate, and in healthy populations has not had a large kill rate. The possible side effects, death, and unknown long term effects from the vaccine are still not known as so many millions line up to get voluntarily jabbed. I sometimes wonder if Elon Musk has somehow successfully chipped everyone’s brain already. (Another scary story yet to be visited upon us)! It certainly feels that way.

As for those of us on a different path to health? Just mask us all, shut us away, only report the negative news, and ban anything that doesn’t tow the party line. Sounds pretty dystopian to me.

Our little village and many others like it across Europe, America and the world have proved that a healthy mind and body is our first defense against a virus. Being human and keeping our humanity well intact is the most important thing we can do to achieve full health. If a vaccination helps you on your way to have a healthy mind and outlook, by all means line up, but please don’t force others to feel like you do, don’t force others to put faith in companies that have proved time and time again that profit comes before people, and please don’t cause yet another rift in society by backing the insane plan to have vaccine passports become normal. That is the most irrational idea I have ever heard of. Look what is happening in Israel.

Keep well informed, keep perspective, follow your heart, not just the mainstream flow, and if possible, take time to look at this issue from many different sides. I am surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds – doctors, farmers, performers, teachers, nurses, therapists, etc…- Our collective different experiences has led us to different conclusions and far different outcomes than many other places in the world. Is it wrong? No, just different. This is a lovely short video by Dr. Bruce Lipton, try to take three minutes to watch it.

Another way is possible, actually so many other ways are possible. The mind/body side of science is exploding, alternative therapies abound, holistic approaches to our health are uncovering the miracles our bodies truly are, nearly on a weekly basis. All the while the mega rich, super powerful, government backed, medical/pharmaceutical model is good at pushing its agenda. The word will get out there, even if the powers that be want to control it. Watch this video and see what the media is blocking out. This event happened in London the last weekend in April 2021, and unbelievably was met with a basic mainstream media blackout. Why?

Let’s embrace life together, show that wonderful healthy smile to everyone walking down the street, stop reading and believing newspaper headlines, turn off mind-numbing, brain washing televisions a bit more, don’t put all of your faith in multi-billion dollar corporations, and most importantly, stay well, eat well, live well, don’t welcome fear into your houses, your hearts or your heads. I feel deep down the outcomes will be far more beneficiary to our overall well being. Our future will look a lot brighter when we stop cowering and start conquering years and years of manipulation by big corporate interests.

Peace, Joe

Posted in a town, adventure, America, comfort zone, coronavirus, covid-19, crisis, diversity, europe, fear, france, Health & Well-being, inspiration, life and death, Life on planet earth., mass media, Modern media & Journalism, nashville, U.S.A. | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Where the heck is Brittany?

Life as a family of three was our key to more adventure than we could had ever imagined would happen after the third pregnancy test in a tent in Holland threw a big U-turn into our cycle route throughout Europe. It quickly woke us up to the fact that things were about to change radically for us as a couple. Continuing our journey we were both confused, ‘Can this be true?’ Once we succumbed to the fact that life was handing us our next adventure, we relaxed and prepared for what was to come.

After the acceptance of the U-turn ahead, it all felt right; I felt calm and so did Angie. I think that is what kept us in the groove, we were both ready, willing and open to where this new phase would lead us. We kept the confidence we had that the universe would still help us on our journey if we let it. As I wrote in my first blog in this series, the adventure continued, but off in a slightly different direction.

Now embarking on the third year as parents we found ourselves in a house on the outskirts of a small village in a region of France called Brittany, a place I don’t think I had ever heard of before I started dating Angie. Maybe it was somewhat prophetic that when we decided to head back to Weymouth, after our new knowledge of imminently becoming parents those few years before, we boarded a ferry that sailed from Roscoff in Brittany to Plymouth in southwest England.

While living in The Loire Valley we were enticed by the house prices in France and the possibility of living a simpler life, so we started looking for houses in Brittany. Its proximity to Weymouth by ferry connections made it all the more enticing. I purchased the small house without Angie ever seeing it; a property on a tiny peninsula jutting out into The Atlantic in the westernmost part of northwestern France. Angie and I previously agreed it would be too hard to make a trip up there together, so she trusted my judgment. At the time we were looking for somewhere to store our stuff as well. Yes, a weird reason to buy a house, but we would be living in America for a year and had moved what few possessions we had down to France. The house being so inexpensive and not far from ferry ports to southern England, it just made sense to buy it.

Jump ahead to March 2002 after living in New York, and cycling to Manhattan on a weekly basis, helping to run the busiest bicycle shop I had ever stepped foot in, we found ourselves moving into the small house in a field on the outskirts of a tiny village called Pont Melvez. Our life as three was taking on this yearly pattern of starting anew. We were enjoying it because it was allowing us so much time to spend together as a family unit. The last two years had been so diverse and incredible, now we walked the empty rural road to the village in a dreamlike trance. Are we going to stay here plunked in the middle of a field? Did I make the right decision buying this tiny house? Were we crazy? Time would tell. First things first, fix the broken window a local lad had helped himself through relieving us of our CD collection and a few tools, unfortunately never to be recovered, but thankfully just a one off incident. Next, unpack our bicycle fleet and clothes from the attic space they were stored in, then settle in and get that back garden producing some food. Soon after we arrived in our ‘new’ Ford Escort car I purchased for ninety pounds in Weymouth and we unpacked, it hit us. Here we are, and we know absolutely no one! We just reassured ourselves that after three months if we weren’t ‘Feeling it’, we would sell the house and move on.

As we walked the loop outside our door and around some fields, over a small train line, we met a young couple who lived up the road, her name was Sabrine, his was Jean-Marie, and their little boy was Glen. Sabrine had lived and taught French in South Carolina, so she spoke fluent English. Jean-Marie spoke English pretty well too. It wasn’t the perfect situation for improving my French, but that young family of three became quite good friends. They weren’t locals, but were living in their Uncle’s house while they looked around for somewhere to start their lives in Brittany. He was from Normandy and she did have Breton roots. They easily could have been in the same group of friends we had made in Bedford Hills through La Leche League. The universe didn’t take too long in helping us out, that was for sure.

Week one in our new house felt like it lasted a month as we were still coming off of our New York vibe. We were missing family and friends being close by and second guessing living in a field after living in Scarsdale. Then after relaxing, meeting Sabrine, Jean-Marie and Glen, working in the garden, slowly finding our confidence once again in a new place, the second week somehow quickly became month two. Sabrine, Jean-Marie and Glen became good friends, and we would eat and walk together often. The loop became our Central Park, not as dynamic, but the train line gave birth to a series of ‘Mouth stories’ I would begin telling Louis about these dynamic duo train repairers called Harry and Larry, they even had a theme song that both of my kids can sing till this day. My mind had a large amount of time to come up with more and more elaborate train fixing episodes around France, and the world. I even surprised myself with some of the intricate plots; they saved disasters in The Tour de France, became good friends with Fidel Castro while revamping the Cuban train system, they had family backgrounds in America and Poland, one was big and super fit, while the other was clever and super fast. In short, they were super heroes with hammers, spades and a mission – keep the trains safe and moving at all costs.

Besides Harry and Larry coming to life, our time-rich lifestyle allowed us to explore the area on our bicycles with Louis still in his baby seat. But whenever we walked the loop he scooted on his pedaless ‘Dresienne’ bike, determined to learn balance and start pedaling his own. Instead of cycling to Manhattan or taking trains up to the northern suburbs of New York, we would head to the local market town of Guingamp every Friday, and Callac on Wednesday. It was in Callac, on market day, where Angie would meet Isabelle. She was carrying her little boy in a baby backpack, much like the one we used in Louis’ first year of life. The thing that drew Angie’s attention to this woman in particular was that her son was a beautiful chocolate brown color, something not very common where we were now living, especially on the back of a woman who looked like a local farmer, complete with earth stained fingers. Angie just walked up to her and said, “Hi I’m Angie and this is Louis, can we be friends?” Isabelle didn’t miss a beat, she introduced her son Meven and our life-long friendship started there and then. When Angie came home from the market that day with a broad smile saying we have new friends on the other side of Callac, it made me smile as well. The New Yorker in me wasn’t lost on the fact at how weird that sentence sounded, Callac, Guingamp, Pont Melvez….. “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto” would be the movie line that would always repeat in my head in situations like those.

Claude, Isabelle and young Meven were really living the off grid dream. What distinguished Central Brittany from Brittany in general was the fact that it wasn’t coastal. Brittany being a peninsula was well known for it’s wonderful northern, western and southern coastlines, but as Angie would always remind me, it was also famous for its artichokes. I don’t know why she had held onto that one certain fact she learned in her school years, but she was quite proud she had intimate knowledge of the place we were now calling home. Whenever she reminded me of Brittany’s most famous crop, a certain Dorothy and her little dog would pop into my mind’s eye. Breton sounding town names, artichokes, and now traditional music of the area and lots of cider drinking were becoming part of our lives. The skyscrapers were fading into the background, and yes, the three month mark passed and we didn’t even remember to have the conversation we promised ourselves on week one.

Summer arrived quickly, with lots of good advice from Claude and Isabelle, our garden started generously giving us veggies. They were natives of the area, but with an adopted boy from Madagascar. We introduced them to our other new friends, Sabrine, Jean-Marie and Glen and they, in kind, welcomed us into their wide circle of friends and family. We quickly gained intimate knowledge of The Breton life, its music, its customs, its food and festivities. Life started feeling like it was moving in a good direction. Over the following months many other friends had come to help us turn our house into a home. Mike and Flo, a couple I had met cycling in Greece back in 1992 with their young family, stopped by on their way to their property in the middle of France, Steve and Sophie, friends from Weymouth who also made it down to The Loire Valley, stopped by with their young son Zach in tow. Margaret, Angie’s mom, who always visited whether in France, New York or elsewhere, was always a willing worker in our garden. She would come with her great friend Ella who also had a green thumb and adopted our kids as her own grandchildren.

Claude and Isabelle had told us of an English family they knew who lived on their side of Callac towards Carhaix Plougher. I was just loving the Breton names. Sometimes it felt as though we were in France, but with the bi-lingual signposts and obvious non French town names it was hard to escape the fact of Brittany’s Celtic roots, right down to the music. The said English family were an interesting troop of five. Mom, dad and three kids. All three kids were home educated, and where their French language skills lacked because they didn’t attend French schools, their creativeness, both individually and as a family, more than made up for it. The Lewis family, became the “Lewises”, and for our three years in Brittany they were also a constant source of local knowledge, good fun, interesting ideas on gardening, education and building. Plus the best cakes at tea time their side of Callac!

Any trepidation we had on arrival from New York faded quickly. Our mindset was different than either The Loire Valley or New York, we owned this place. It was becoming home. In the winter months we would head back to Weymouth and stay with Margaret. I worked in the local bike shop I had helped out in back in 1996 when I first met Angie. We also took advantage of this time to go to New York and keep up the contact with my family, and friends.

Year two on the peninsula started off quite nicely. It was feeling like home. Jean-Marie and ‘Bean’, as Sabrine became known to us because of Louis’ inability to properly pronounce her name, were still our neighbors, Glen was now a toddler and we now knew people from Guingamp to Carhaix Plougher. We met a German couple, Beatrix and Magna, who were quite hard core living totally off the grid. We made cider at their place the year we met them, all with hand generated equipment, no electricity. I even helped Magna refurbish a hundred year old Breton apple press. With his German know how and her determination to live life on their terms, they created quite a place. Fruit trees, veggies, solar hot water and electricity were all ideas getting implanted in our minds. The idea of time richness was taking on a whole new meaning now, and through some of our friends in the area, some practical ideas on how to make that lifestyle sustainable in the long term were being lived out right there in front of us.

In our second year there my old room mate from both times I lived in Australia came out for a visit. He was a city boy, and when he stayed with us our life style and friend base freaked him out a little. When I lived in Melbourne with him we were both single and living in an urban environment. I didn’t realise how much my life style had changed in the ensuing years, but now being a family man heading towards a rural existence, living sustainably in The Breton countryside, it was brought to the fore when he kept on asking questions about how we were living and if I missed the city life. I really hadn’t thought about it very much, life was gently leading me down a different path. Angie and Louis were now an integral part of what was ‘just me’ back in my days of traveling. John was still single, and loved Melbourne living, which was fair enough. I also really enjoyed city living, and Melbourne was a great city to live in, but now Callac, Carhaix and Guingamp were as urban as our life got. John didn’t stay too long, but I could tell the Breton countryside wasn’t his cup of tea. It made me look at my life and realise that yes, the last few years had changed me quite radically. I was glad I hadn’t just jumped in cold though, because if I were to be put here directly from New York, or Melbourne in John’s case, without that year in The Loire Valley behind me, I think my reaction would have been quite the same as his, ‘Get me outta here!’

Our groove seemed to be getting cut easily, I worked for a bike shop in Dorchester, a town near Weymouth in England, every winter for three months. I helped to train staff and gave the owner a break in the colder slower months of winter. We stayed with Angie’s mom for three months, from Christmas to the end of February when we would then head back down to our place in ‘Little Brittany’ as our friend Claude would always refer to the tiny peninsula we were now calling home. The money I made in those three months would help us through another season of trying to see if we could make the semi-autonomous lifestyle work for us. I did a few building jobs here and there, and was gaining skills that would come in handy living the life we have subsequently chosen to live.

‘Fest Noz’ was definitely not a term in my lexicon before living in Brittany, but now it was something so incorporated into our life style. Basically it was a party, more to the point, a night party. The Breton phrase was everywhere to be seen on posters in all the villages. Fest Noz was the lifeblood of The Breton culture; food, music, dancing, drinking cider and a big bonfire were the main ingredients. The season for Fest Noz seemed to be all year round, but supposedly was just a seasonal affair. We went to many a different Fest Noz, but the one we looked forward to the most was Claude and Isabelle’s bi-yearly ‘Organic Fest Noz’ at their place. It was the counter culture event of the area for sure. It was held in their big barn, and the food, cheese, cider and music felt as if it all just came out of the Breton earth, which mostly it did, and from the cider to the cheese it was mostly organic, and the music and dancing was pure Breton magic. It was at these events that Dorothy’s voice would ring loudly in my ears, definitely not in Kansas anymore!

Louis was now riding his own bike thanks to the Dresienne bike he scooted around on whenever we walked the loop, which was often. One day we were confused when a delivery truck pulled up in front of the house and out came a big box from New York. When the owners at Danny’s Cycles heard Louis was riding his own bike at two and a half years old they sent him a real mountain bike. It was a twenty inch wheeled beauty, even had gears. Louis was riding around on a sixteen inch pink bike at the time that we bought in a ‘Vide Grenier’ which in American speak is a big ‘Tag Sale’, British parlance, ‘A car boot sale’. He was big for his age it was true, and his skills on the ‘Fennec’ (a small French fox which was the logo on his current bike) were quite impressive. Even that bike was a bit big when we bought it for him, but he wanted a bike and didn’t care if it was a pink Fennec!! Now his eyes just got bigger when he saw that jet black mountain bike with gears. Those size bikes were for five year olds, not three year olds, but Louis was determined if nothing else. He begged us to let him try it, so we struck up a deal – I would make an obstacle course in the back garden, when he could ride around it with good control and not putting his feet down he could ride the loop with us on our bikes. I made the obstacle course difficult and was working in the garden while Angie nipped up to Bean’s house. To the astonishment of both of us by the time Angie got back Louis was doing the obstacle course without putting his feet down. I honestly thought it wouldn’t be for months. Funnily enough a life-long sponsorship started with Danny’s Cycles on that day as well. Louis, now twenty one, is a semi-sponsored rider for their racing team and still rides bikes from their shop sporting their team jersey!

A new world opened up to us now. Our bike rides as a family started much earlier than we ever dreamed possible. Louis’ bike skills were pretty impressive, he looked awkward kicking a soccer ball, but man could he ride a bike – safely and confidently. It was now 2003. Unfortunately 2002 ended with Angie miscarrying early on in her second pregnancy. We spent that Christmas and New Year in Weymouth, then took a long visit to New York.

After our return to Brittany in March 2003, Louis’ new riding skills, our house looking more like our home, our garden producing nice veggies, and my DIY skills getting much better we put that sad chapter of Angie’s miscarriage behind us and looked to what was coming up next with excitement. Louis and Glen (who was now on Louis’ old Fennec) spent hours riding bikes in the back garden, it was impressive how long they could both just ride in loops. The countryside kept Louis and Glen fascinated with big farm vehicles in the fields and occasionally rumbling down our road.

A young guy Aron, who I became quite friendly with in 2001 working in the bike shop, was living in Spain and dropped by for a visit. My niece Dana and her new boyfriend, Chris came out as well. We were glad to share our new lifestyle with people from what seemed a totally different life on another planet. The best news came when we found out Angie was pregnant again. The timing was perfect. The baby would be due in March 2004. As we spent most of the past two years visiting her mom and staying till March, we asked if she would be okay with homebirth number two at her house. She was delighted. Having been a nurse midwife in her working career was a big bonus as our decision to have a home birth was not met with any resistance from Margaret, a welcomed relief as she had always been so supportive of our alternative lifestyle and choices. So with that all sorted, life just went on smoothly for the rest of 2003. Fortunately Angie’s pregnancy was going smoothly, and our stress-free life was suiting all of us quite well. Lots of local cycling, Fest Noz celebrations, time with our varied local Breton friends plus the Lewises and our German hard core off-gridders was creating a colorful tapestry of life in Brittany.

Our trip back to Weymouth with a six month pregnant Angie, and a bike riding, nearly four year old Louis, made the journey so much fun, yes a bit challenging, but all part and parcel of the much bigger adventure we were creating. After celebrating New Years the winter slid into its normal groove, I did my usual work in the bike shop, and Angie also did some part time work at the local hospital as a Physical Therapist. Angie worked pretty much up until mid-March. Then, three weeks after Louis’ fourth birthday on March 25th, 2004, our healthy girl Francesca entered the world. Louis shared in the birth experience then quickly read her the first book she would ever hear. My sister and mom made it out to England to meet the youngest member of The Diomede clan. Me, mom, my sister Nan, and Louis decided a quick trip to Brittany for them to see the house we had been living in was a great idea. None of us were too sure about how good the idea was on the ferry voyage from Weymouth on choppy seas, but green faced as we all were, we made it to our little house. We did some tidying up because soon enough we’d be back for year three, now as a family of four.

Francesca was a sweet little girl, and Louis being four years old now understood the whole situation much better. It probably helped that he was there to witness the birth as it really bonded him and his little sister in a whole different way. Angie was back to nursing a newborn, and the old trailer was put back to good use once again. We put Chessie, as we called Francesca, in the trailer at five weeks old having had the confidence of Louis’ trailer experience behind us. Then once again a truck pulled up in front of the house with a brand new cycle trailer in it. Once again the generosity of Danny’s Cycles shining through in the middle of Brittany! So now the whole riding vibe totally changed. Louis was on his own bike, I would pull Chessie in her new trailer and Angie would come along and once again find her post pregnancy fitness quite quickly. The Breton countryside was perfect for cycling as a family. Louis’ fitness levels were improving vastly. He handled the hilly countryside well. Occasionally I would push him up the longer hills while pulling the trailer along, but luckily that didn’t last long because of Louis’ determination to ride up on his own.

Year three was going well, but now as a family of four the dynamic was different. Angie and I felt that maybe Brittany wasn’t going to be the place we’d settle forever. We didn’t act on it immediately as it was affording us that time richness we so loved. The time passed nicely. Apple cider season saw us all crushing apples once again with Beatrix and Magna. Our friendships with The Lewises, Claude, Isabelle, Sabrine, Jean -Marie, and all the kids that came with it, were creating a nice vibe for all of us. Jean-Marie and Bean were finally buying their dream property to live semi-autonomously on, Claude and Isabelle had adopted another young boy from Madagascar, actually Meven’s blood brother, and we now had met a much wider circle of friends. We also had met a few English couples in Pont Melvez, they weren’t in our tighter circle of friends, but it was nice to touch some familiar culture and language once in a while. We knew that all the friends we made and experiences we had would be there forever, but deep down inside we also knew we wouldn’t be staying, something was calling to us beyond ‘Little Brittany’. When Christmas rolled around and I did my usual work at the bike shop, I knew it would be my last season doing that as Angie and I had put it out into the wider universe that we would be moving.

Permaculture magazine was a publication we both enjoyed reading, we also bought a book called ‘Diggers and Dreamers’ which had a listing of many intentional communities around the UK. In February of 2004 just before Chessie was born we made a train trip up to Scotland to see if Findhorn might be the place for us to live in community. Ella was living up there, but it just didn’t seem right for us. We checked out a few more communities, but then Chessie came along, life took us back to Brittany and we were being proactive, but still interested to see what the universe would throw our way. Permaculture magazine would be a big help in that next move.

So in April of 2005 we put our house on the market in a local Estate Agent’s in Callac. We were testing the waters. I had done a lot of work on the house from when we bought it. It now had a converted attic space which was a lovely bedroom. The kitchen was now much bigger as I knocked down the wall to a small adjoining bedroom, so when a couple pulled up in front of the house making a generous offer on the house, we shook hands on the street and picked up the phone in reply to an ad in Permaculture magazine about a budding Ecovillage project in Southern Ireland. It sounded random enough to tweak our interest, so with the ball rolling on the house sale, our bike fleet now including a tandem that Louis and I transformed for his fourth birthday so we could do much longer rides, a road trip was in the works.

Our alternative parenting ideas and the books we had come across over the years since meeting up with The La Leche League folks had somehow or another introduced us to the idea of a diaper free existence with Chessie. We also had found out about the joys of early communication with your children through sign language, it worked so well with Louis that he even started teaching Chessie some signs before we did. As we were communicating with Chessie and the diaper free experiment was proving such a big success, we struck up a deal with Chessie at thirteen months old. If you don’t pee on the sleeping bags, we’ll take a bicycle trip through Ireland in the summer, she nodded her consent. The bikes were packed, the house was sold, our stuff was in a friend’s storage facility near Weymouth. So we said goodbye to our life in The Breton countryside. On a hot summer’s day in July 2005 we put our bikes on the ferry leaving from Wales to Southern Ireland and pedaled into yet another adventure on a small green island this time. Were we excited about this new move? As they say in the land we would call home for the next two years, “To be sure, to be sure!”

 

Many Years later, we’re still friends with our Breton mates!!!

Posted in a town, adventure, America, brittany, camping, Children & Parenting, comfort zone, Cycling, diversity, dorset, Education, europe, france, Health & Well-being, home education, inspiration, Life on planet earth., parenting, small village or countryside?, The City, The City, a town, small village or countryside?, Transportation, travel, U.S.A., unschooling, weymouth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hug Granny and everyone else – How radical!

This past Christmas, I saw a headline saying ‘Don’t Hug Gran this Christmas’. How sad for gran, and all her loved ones, but these are the times we are living in. Very hard decisions to make, especially when someone’s life seems to be in the balance. The questions we need to ask, are where are those decisions leading us to, and in the end which choice is the path to true overall health? No easy answers there. I would hope many people did what felt right, not out of fear, but what felt truly deeply correct to them. In these times it is hard to decipher what we truly feel is right, so much conflicting information thrown at us daily. If we wear a mask we are seen as doing the right thing. If we don’t hug our loved ones we are saving or prolonging their lives, but both of those directives seem to push directly against what it means to be human; to hug and caress a loved one, to see the smile on a face passing you in the street, or next to you in the line at the supermarket. So many of the current rules have us acting less like loving caring human beings, but are telling us it is what we need to do to help humanity be safe. All so confusing and conflicting.

Is this really the only way to go forward until some undetermined time in the future? Are we truly going to let others dictate our personal lives and freedoms to the extent we have in the past year, clouding our thinking so much that we forsake the spiritual, wonderful creations we all truly are? I know I sound like I am preaching from a privileged soapbox, in many ways, I guess I am. My life of travels and moving around the world has definitely been privileged. Now in the middle of one of the strangest times in the world’s history I find myself once again being amongst the world’s most privileged. Please read on, think of me what you will, but let me explain…..

We moved to where we are over thirteen years ago. When we went to the market on our first weekend here, we knew there was something special about the place. Thirteen years later this small village broke our pattern of constant movement, the promise the area had given us a glimpse of then has only grown. The diversity of people, abundance of alternative thinking, therapies, and lifestyles dot the area and gets added to nearly on a monthly basis. These criteria may not make this place special for everyone, but for us it was exactly what we had been looking for; community, green space, perfect cycling roads, young people and families with different ideas, people eating well, growing their own food and the list goes on. Is it perfect? Of course not, but to live in an area where so many people from around Europe, and the world, have chosen to live gives the region a certain edge that definitely puts me and all I am surrounded with, in that privileged category.

In our small slice of southern France let’s jump ahead to 2020 with strange dilemmas worldwide facing everyone. Hugging gran on Christmas being just one of so many tough choices people are having to make worldwide… well almost. Thankfully in our region of the world we’ve been hugging, kissing, dancing, eating, drinking, and living closely with each other for nearly ten months, and yes, many grans have been hugged and have lived to recount the tale. I urge you to please read on, I just want to share with all of you a different reality that we have been living. The only reason I want to share it with everyone is because I wouldn’t want too many grans not getting hugs from the people they love and visa versa. Maybe, just maybe, these true stories of the last many months might shed a different light on a world story that seems to be playing out the same all over, I can honestly tell you from first-hand experience, it isn’t.

Quick history since Covid-19 became part of the world’s lexicon. Over a year ago, this strange virus and its stories from Asia started so many of us globally wondering wow, what’s this? Then Italy happened, lockdown, isolation, fear, it had reached Europe! Come March 2020 in many parts of the Western world, confinement, masks, social distancing had suddenly thrust itself amongst us all. Along with that, a collective consciousness of fear and/or consent to thinking, ‘I am powerless’, took grip, and has not seemed to let go. This is where many of you reading this and the thousands of people in our area’s stories will start to diverge.

After month one of lockdown people here started wondering, hmmm, what is going on? Yes it’s true we live in a rural area so confining for us was easy – still didn’t feel right, but at first we went with it, expanded our gardens, painted our shutters and listened. At that same time we had friends in Spain who were suffering as their children couldn’t leave the house – same for those in big cities everywhere with not much access to outdoor space. Something irked in the background of our minds, but all the beautiful stories of people singing out together and the pollution-free industrial parts of the world gave everyone hope. I wrote a few blogs in April and May that had wonderful responses, people writing back about how their lives will change and what a wake up call it’s all been. Well again, in this region the wake up call gave a slightly different ring. By the end of the first lockdown in mid-May, many here were already reaching different conclusions about Covid-19 and the way the world was trying to avoid its spread. In our area we took big chances, no one was forced into the experiment of living life normally again, but many took part freely, knowing the possible consequences.

Conversations were lively, conspiracy theories were rife, criticism of Sweden mixed with praise of that same country’s response made for long heated discussions, but the wonderful part was that although the conversations, conclusions, and reactions were varied, the one common denominator was not giving into fear. Since mass media and television is not so common here amongst our circle of friends, the paths many of us took came from the heart, and not a political stance or overzealous religious beliefs. We were coming to separate conclusions, but going back to a normal human existence seemed to be what drew us all together, and together is the key word.

During the first lockdown we gathered clandestinely at night under the ‘Halle’ in our village to talk about what we all felt. It was so freaky, it felt like we were getting together to plan a resistance during wartime, we all faced large fines if caught out at night, but we also felt it was a necessary procedure to move forward. That night an ‘illegal’ picnic gathering was organised for the first Sunday post-confinement, there we could talk about how we all felt in a much larger group, in the light of a beautiful Spring day not feeling like part of the war resistance, but still not totally legal, crazy!

The first weekend after lockdown eight house concerts were organised by local musicians and they were well-attended, people in close contact, a few masks here and there, but mostly music, sharing food, kids all playing with each other and the last concert of the weekend had over 250 people as that is where my son and I lost count. (Average attendance for the first seven concerts about 60 people). There were people from all over the area, and one friend had just flown in from England through eerily empty skies and airports. Sure, the weekend events had the possibility of spreading the disease, and according to the world’s current thought, it was pretty darn probable. The American newspapers later on in the epidemic had a name for it that made big headlines, “Superspreader Events”. We held our breath for a few days…. nothing. The Sunday market would be telling. How would people be reacting? Timid, in masks, would we feel like naughty kids disrespecting what the teacher told us to do? Nope, the market was packed, a small percentage of masks to be seen, but mostly it felt basically back to normal, with the background noise of rules, regulations and a police presence that never existed before.

At the picnic on the next weekend we broke into groups, talked about the different aspects of the Covid fallout. It was interesting as the theories were all out there to be explored, and many passions were expressed on the crowded small field that day in May, risking possible fines for breaking the rules of social distancing, number of people gathering in public, etc.. but at least we were being proactive and questioning ourselves and the wider world beyond our bubble. June started heating up and our collective guards were definitely getting lower and lower. This small ‘Citizen’s Assembly’ was a nice way to get the feeling of what had drawn all of us to the same conclusions, but on very different wavelengths. It is something I feel is lacking in most of the world now; dialogue, citizen’s assemblies, speaking freely of our fears, differences of opinions, outlooks on the virus and the future, a collective consensus on how to move forward, respecting people’s fears, anxieties, and different ideas while doing so. Top down rules and regulations only builds resentment in the long-term, and in the end, lacks diversity of opinion. We as a human family like to feel part of the solution, not just another statistic to be bandied about on spread sheets.

July rolled around and we were all in full normal mode by then. Many laws being, umm shall I say, ignored. A local Associative Café opened its doors to weekly Friday music/dance nights. Food available, live music, dancing, sweating in the summer heat and masks were definitely not apparent. The market pretty much went back to normal. Many of you may be saying how irresponsible, but were we really being irresponsible? The children in the area were learning a valuable lesson that fear can be faced down and not nurtured, and to listen to government directives without questioning their effectiveness, especially coming from world governments that never really seemed to care too much about the world’s well being before, is an essential part of living in a free and evolving society. Plus many of those same kids were at the ‘Citizen’s Assembly’ watching, between playing with each other, their parents discussing the current situation.

It had now been three months of close contact, no masks, hugging and kissing nearly back to normal levels accept for those who took advantage of the situation to drop some social norms they were glad to leave behind. Hitch-hikers, travelers, cyclists, WOOFERs, Workawayers, holiday makers were all arriving in the area, albeit in smaller numbers, but still an international feeling was obvious. Sometimes I actually had to catch myself drifting off strangely hoping for an outbreak so I could actually put my faith in the lock downs, masks and the other insane ways this current situation had changed the world, but no, still no spikes in numbers, and none of us knew of anyone personally who died from, or at that point, even had Covid. I have a good friend in the village who is a doctor, he has also studied Chinese medicine, and he kept me abreast of the situation in the hospitals he was working in in the area. He questioned testing methods, death certificates being put down to Covid that really weren’t, especially in the beginning of the ‘pandemic’ before testing was the norm. His life was not made comfortable at the hospitals because of it, but since when has going against the mainstream of thought been easy? I have lived most of my life outside the mainstream and having faith in what was being fed to the public disappeared a long time ago, and now, with Covid, the world had entered a new phase of the ‘God Syndrome’ when it came to the media. “Surely if that were true I would have seen it on the news.” Hmmmm!?

In August we attended a music festival with well over five hundred people over the weekend, people camping, music, shows, smiling faces, good food, wine, beer and drinks flowing as freely as the normality of human interaction and life being lived and celebrated. People were being drawn to the area and staying longer than they had planned. Many of them feeling being intimate with others, having physical contact, seeing unmasked faces in public again was healing them on so many other deeper levels. Just the other day I overheard a conversation between my daughter and her friends saying how lucky they felt to be able to have contact and living normally, they certainly are. Their group of friends get together often, ski, hike, horse ride, and have parties, a bunch of healthier kids/young adults than these are hard to find. It’s so nice to see them and hear about their exploits. It is also so nice to see how they have all come to make these strong decisions to continue living their life amongst the constant background noise of fear and control. With being surrounded by these healthy attitudes towards life and all its wonderful possibilities, our collective health is definitely benefiting so much .

Some friends moved up from Spain in the Autumn and their parents came down from England in their camping car. He was a cancer survivor. Left for dead by the medical establishment in England 30 years ago, he took an alternative path to healing, which took him to Mexico and now at 70 years old, is alive and kicking to tell the story. That voyage also led him to our area, where after leaving a socially distanced, masked existence in England, he entered our world. It took a couple of weeks to re-adjust to feeling human again, but he’d faced death before, and knew deep down that you can’t do that alone being masked up and living in fear. He and his wife slowly embraced the lifestyle they found here, and they joined the so many others in sticking around just that little bit longer; their two week journey kept on getting prolonged.

Our village and the many others like it that we had heard of from the travelers coming into the area never got any mention on the news. It was sad. We felt we were all beacons of hope, but instead of being in awe of what was happening, we were treated as rebels by the police and what little media coverage there was. Threatened with the closure of the market, the market sellers kept an open dialogue, the mayor had a tough balancing act to perform, but we survived basically pretty unscathed. My son had friends from the biking world who had come down from the area he would be working in later in the summer. One was a bike designer, and fortunately I did an interview with him in our market. If you are interested in bike design, it might be of interest, but to see the market over the summer maybe take a quick look here. Of course the main news elsewhere was of rising numbers, a second lock down, curfews, possible drone surveillance, vaccines, track and trace apps, and the peddling of fear that the population was being trained to embrace, or at least endure, but why no mention of us and the other areas like us out there in a positive light? Sure, the ‘Superspreader Events’ were making headlines, but that is what media does best, hype, fear and manipulation. My degree in mass-communications took me to the inside of that world in a whole different era, before the instant world of digital communication perfected what print media and television alone had been doing so well. I knew for a fact there were areas around Europe and America that were quietly getting on with life normally with no ill effects, certainly worth a study as a probable other door out at the end of a long dark tunnel. In America we’d sadly be labeled Trumpites or religious zealots. Believe me, we are neither. We are a mixed crowd of world citizens just embracing life!

My New Year’s wish is that our story be told, and more importantly listened to. I was at a party with friends recently. We were all having fun, embracing that special moment together, but when Abba’s Dancing Queen came on, I had an emotional response listening to the words. At 17, and indeed all other ages, we should be dancing, loving, and yes, even hugging gran. How sad that so many young people are missing their rights of passage of being young, carefree and human. Screens and technology are lulling us into a feeling of connection, but again as these tech companies gain more and more access to our communication, we lose just that much more to the false feeling a screen gives us, but can never really replace; touch, intimacy, contact, the true interconnectivity we all share as a species. Let’s not cower in the hidden corners of this wonderful world. Get out there and celebrate life, live it. Yes, Covid-19 exists, but life, more importantly needs to be lived, if not it atrophies in a dark corner and becomes a hidden memory of the good old days. Too sad to even contemplate.

Meanwhile in our area we kept being coerced into thinking it was just luck, and the dreaded virus would come to get us one of these days. It reminded me of my life in so many ways, when I was traveling across America on a motorcycle in the eighties, I had family members holding their breath waiting for it to be over so I could finally settle down and stop that dangerous type of travel. So when I moved to Japan in 1987 and bought a bicycle which started a nine-year-long journey of exploration of the world and my place in it, I was faced with comments, and behind my back grumblings of when I would just settle down and live a “Normal” life. As it turned out, I never did, took many supposed risks, lived in different countries, opened debt-free businesses, and am still here to tell the tale. Another parallel to my life of travel then and what is going on now is, I learned very early on not to listen to stories trying to instill fear, such as the many times I heard, “My best friend died on a motorcycle,” and much the like. When I started traveling internationally I basically stopped reading newspapers and watching the news, man it totally changed my outlook on the world, gave me the power to travel on my bicycle alone in many countries, and most importantly, let me form my opinions of the world through first hand contact with no preconceived fears embedded into my brain cells, a very important exercise for me then as well as now.

Oddly enough, on my 59th birthday in October 2020, the second confinement started. My best gift ever while me and my family were watching the president dictating how the next 6 weeks would be, was when my 16 year old daughter’s eyes, moist with tears said to her older brother Louis, “Okay, we’re headed to the mountains to ride bikes, build trails and live life, call Thierry.” Her and her brother’s lives had been drastically turned around by Covid. Louis had lived in America the previous year, had a job lined up in Vermont, where the car he owned, the cabin he was to live in, and his trail-building job all awaited. After two flights back to that life were cancelled he picked up and continued his life here. Chessie, my daughter and I were heading to America to check out the possibility of going to an American high school, but that idea too, all ended with lockdowns and cancelled flights. So Angie and I had a small tingle of parental pride seeing them being so pro-active and choosing to get out and live vibrantly for the next few weeks. Very cool birthday gift. And that is exactly what they did. For three weeks them and a few friends lived together, road bikes in the shadow of the majestic Pyrenees under blue skies and visited other friends in the area, shared food, broke a few rules, but came back so full of life, ruddy and healthy. Unbeknownst to us their first week found them all terribly ill, but the two weeks that followed were pure bliss. As we didn’t have too much contact when they were gone, we had lots of cool stories and an excellent video recounting their ‘confinement’ period in the beautiful valley far away from police, papers to leave the house, and any and all media.

New information on Covid-19 is coming to light in many circles in the health care professional world nearly weekly. So much more is now known about the virus; possible alternative treatments are out there, and survivors of the disease far outweigh those who have sadly succumbed. Misdiagnoses, faulty testing procedures, data that doesn’t add up, and rising suicide and depression rates are now creeping into the news, but seemingly not making much of an impact. For instance, while my kids were riding in the mountains, in Japan suicide deaths in October 2020 out numbered the preceding ten months of Covid-19 deaths in that country. No front page news on that one. I heard through a German friend of mine that the suicide hotlines in Berlin have reached an unprecedented number of calls in the past few months and was increasing. A pandemic of its own? Maybe. Front page news? Nope! Now, the vaccine, which is not really a vaccine as we know them to work. Could it be a genetic modification being pumped into humanity’s collective DNA? Everything has happened so fast, and it feels like we are becoming the R&D for this current vaccine. In just eight short weeks, it is starting to show its cracks with adverse effects and even some deaths. I just hope honesty prevails on the nightly news, or in the newspaper headlines, if we may be going down a dubious track a little too quickly.

Jump ahead to 2021, and the tides have certainly turned. Now my “Normal” existence is even deemed dangerous. Is it though? Have we achieved a certain herd immunity here? Certainly fits the description in many ways, but that is just supposition as we have had no formal studies done. Though rumors of further lockdowns and currently living with a twelve-hour curfew is the current reality we have to carve our life around. We have had some cases of Covid around, but nothing too radical, we briefly heard stories of people dying in the neighboring villages, but although every once in a while they reared their heads and tried to take hold to instill fear, those stories passed mainly unnoticed and never revisited as we kept on living life normally. My doctor friend continued working in hospitals, two in the region and in other parts of France, he was keeping me filled in on what he was seeing from a medical perspective with a slightly different view – man, it was nothing like the visions painted on the media.

We live in a world where fear and hype is such the norm that we don’t even take notice. It becomes part of our genetic make up in a way. Since when has a snowstorm become a “State of Emergency”? When I was young it was called a blizzard, we got off from school, went out sleigh riding, had snowball fights and probably had at least two or three of those “Emergency” climatic occurrences a year, and guess what, we survived; no frostbite, no one that I knew of dead in a snowdrift, no snowballs taking out the younger population. Just like we all survived measles, mumps, chicken pox, and yes even a few strange flu epidemics. Many in my generation seem to forget they are, in today’s modern lexicon, basically unvaccinated or even an anti-vaxer just by default, because we went to measles’ parties, caught chicken pox and, oh, in most cases, had lifetime immunity conferred naturally, no boosters needed!.

I understand that, as I mentioned before, I write from a privileged seat. I can not understand how it is to be in a big city with many more cases around. The fear factor being more palpable in those situations for sure. Of course I know that people are getting on with their lives in those areas too, albeit, with a big asterisk of the “New Normal” hovering everywhere. These strange times have also empowered people in so many different ways. I have friends swimming in the English Channel every morning – ooohhh, chilly, thanks Wim Hoff, people riding bikes more now then ever, ski-touring in empty ski stations, meditating, working out and running have all seen a big rise for those fortunate enough to be able to move on and do so. There are, of course, always silver linings, humans are good at finding and creating them. These stories gladden mine and everyone’s heart, as they should. Choice is what it all comes down to. Yes, we in the rural areas have a different perspective, but I know of many people being cautious even here. I see people once in a while walking on the empty rural roads around my village and surrounding ones fully masked in the beautiful countryside, I think how deeply embedded fear can make us do some strange things! Everyone needs to make their own decisions and come to their own conclusions, but that is the trick, do we truly come to our own conclusions when everything we read, see or let in to our consciousness arrives from a narrower and narrower perspective. Just like when we raise our children, step out onto a big city street, or travel to an unknown part of the world, faith in ourselves, and the underlying love that humanity thrives on is what allows life to move forward. Fear stops us in our tracks, freezes our ability to think straight, and can lead us to make some very bad decisions. Like anyone reading this who have made different decisions, or those of you who have been working in the hospitals amongst the fear, death and confusion, let us all in any way we can, be empowered by the current situation to find our inner strength, our humanity and enter healthy discourse with others, be open to listen and accept the so many other stories out there being told, division gets us nowhere.

Is our area down to plain luck? Of course that is a possibility, as there are so many other possibilities. Yes, we live in a green area, but we are not cut off from the world. We have travelers constantly passing through, we have been exposed to Covid and have had cases around. Have we built up an immunity the way these viruses normally will? Remember SARS? After 18 months it was basically gone. Look at some of the headlines from back then, masked faces, fear, death and destruction predicted, but yes, we humans pulled through, incorporated the virus into our genome, and lived to see another day. I recently watched an interview with a doctor saying that we need to get out there, let this virus run its course, mutate, get into our collective genomic make up naturally and, by now, we may be living in a whole different world. Unfortunately many of those different voices are being shut down. Censorship on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and many other platforms have been quite efficient at shutting down dissenting voices. Not good for healthy dialogue.

The PCR tests have now been proven to give a high number of false positives and was never developed to be a diagnostic test in the first place. Are the hospitals really overrun with people with Covid, or are there people in there with other health problems testing positive for Covid? With so much different data coming to light, it does need to be questioned. There are a lot of ways to do your own research, but as I just mentioned, dissenting voices are getting much harder to be heard. It seems that much of humanity is living in a pretty unhealthy way right now; locked away, wearing masks, disinfecting our hands everywhere when we do step out the door to go shopping, low lying stress being the default, all combined helping to cripple our immune systems in every way known. We can’t forget that the human genome is made of viruses. We are alive today, reproduce the way we do, have developed over the millennia the way we have because of viruses and our interaction with them, bacteria and of course our fellow human beings. Our immune systems thrive, improve and constantly need to be challenged and primed naturally.

If you feel the vaccine will make you healthy and ready to face the world again, then please do it, but read the long sheet of effects first. If it doesn’t confer lifetime immunity to all strains of the virus present and future, which is impossible, maybe question that. It has also been mentioned by scientific research that as it can possibly modify our DNA(everything still in experimental stages), negative effects could be triggered in months or even years, those long-term effects hard to trace as we change our body deals with this and other viruses. I and so many others feel it is a risky, possibly dangerous path to almost be forcing on the human population. Humans have not evolved over the millennia to become pin cushions for multi-national billion dollar corporations, we are so much more than that. Unfortunately my gut feeling tells me in six months time many of you reading this will know of someone first-hand who had an adverse or even deadly reaction to the vaccine. I personally rather put my money on the human race being strong enough to see this through. Looking to big-pharma with more yearly boosters, as we wait scrambling for a one hit cure, or anything to get us back to normal just doesn’t seem to feel correct. Do we really want to be tracked, traced, and jabbed for the rest of our existence? In California, by the time a person reaches 18 years of age, they will have had 72 jabs, wow!! The average American over 65 years old is on 6 medications, are we really as healthy as we should be with all this intervention? One thing we can’t forget is that first and foremost these mega corporations are not altruistic, they are huge companies that need to make big profits. Merck for example plowed 10 billion dollars into research and development last year while also reinvesting 14 billion dollars back into the company, playing the Wall Street game, and showing by it’s financial priorities where the reality lies in those companies, making money, and from the few examples alone in this paragraph, it would seem an unhealthy society is their best customer.

I am reading a book right now talking about how our futures may look so different if we get back to simple living. A quote from A Small Farm Future, written by Chris Smaje sums up for me the path we are dangerously treading by putting so much faith and power into the hands of a few companies. ” …..profit wants more profit, so once profit-seekers have risen above the checks and balances that normally keep them down, they step in and reorder societies, or the world to create it.” Follow the money, look at newspapers peddling the fear, see where big-pharma is invested, look at big tech and join the dots. It may take a lot of time, and a bit more research, but our future depends on it, let’s not collectively give more power over to those who are so powerful already. I have not even touched on the break down of society in purely economic terms, that is not really what this blog is about, but luckily, once again our region supports the small businesses and are willing to get out on the streets to break the rules and show it. Watch or give a quick skim through my most recent video if you have time to see what I mean.

People die, I won’t say unfortunately, because it is the cycle of life. Sometimes it is untimely, but we can’t run from death, we can’t hide from it either, we need to accept it, especially when it comes to those at the end of their life cycle. We will all be there too one day. Young people dance, kids get colds, we all get ill once in a while, and life moves on. One thing I feel for certain, sitting in our houses, allowing fear on big screens and headlines to be thrust into our collective minds convincing us that life is dangerous, and we are too weak to fight this disease as we let our immune systems get compromised daily is not the way to face the future. I am asking you instead of just getting angry with me because I am sharing a different point of view, to find at least one or two sources of information that don’t come from under the same umbrella of big-pharma-finance-media-tech. It will be hard to do as they are all so closely entwined in each other’s world. Division keeps us all stuck, let the new normal we move into be a “New Normal” of acceptance that there are so many different paths to health.

Let’s envision that future together where we can all walk out our door, hug gran, breathe in the fresh air mask less and guilt-free, listen to live music with friends, talk to a stranger, go out to eat, live in the luxury of seeing a smiling face on the street and return the smile in kind, feel the rise in oxytocin as our immune systems get a real boost of being human, living in strength, not in fear. I can tell you that from where I sit and write it certainly feels like a good way forward. Can we stop polluting our brains with media hype, division and vitriol? Turn off the television, stop looking at headlines? A hard task as it is so imbedded in the modern lifestyle. Google news just a swipe away, every minute, every hour, every day.

To steal a phrase from a movement I may not totally be in agreement with, but like their slogan, CHOOSE LIFE! We are living in times where the prevention has currently done a lot more damage than the illness. I sincerely hope the above-mentioned Japanese and German suicide tragedies don’t become common stories in the next few months and years. There are many other paths we can take, and thankfully many of those are being trodden and explored now.

Love is the answer. That was the overwhelming thoughts and even words in an interview I did with a musician called Steve Sheehan I met a few years ago at a party in a whole different existence, in our local market he told me his story, which is beautiful and inspiring, just as the video above I put in of John who took a different path to cure his stage-three cancer. Let’s leave behind the fear, take back our true power to heal, love and be human. We are so worth it, and the life we will all lead when we make those choices, I promise you, will be absolutely magical, really!

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How did I get here?

I was on a short cycling trip from where my son Louis works in a bike shop deeper in the Pyrenees back home to the foothills of those same mountains. I kept on having these ‘Holy S#!t’ moments saying to myself, or sometimes shouting out loud as I was alone on my bicycle, ‘WOW, I live here!!!!’

Yes, The boy from The Bronx wasn’t cycling under ‘The El’ (elevated trains for you non -New Yorkers;-) Nor was I in the shadow of castles. The green hills and beautiful Pyrenean Mountain chain which separated me from Spain were my constant companions.

I found myself on a famous Tour de France climb which had been on their itinerary for 110 years! It was a hard climb, and I was wondering how quickly the Tour de France racers would be going up this same exact climb in less than two weeks time. Maybe I’ll head back and see, but then again, maybe not. I’ll live in the fantasy that it wouldn’t have been too much quicker than my 9 kilometers (a bit less than 6 mph) per hour pace! Although, that fantasy was shattered many times on the same day as cycling up the Peyresourde seemed to be what all the roadies in the area were doing as well as I was. And yes when they zoomed past they did say “Bonjour” looking at my loaded bicycle and probably thinking, man that dude is nuts!

I was a bit nervous about the name of this one village – the French pronunciation probably makes it sound a lot nicer – but in these days, I made sure to cycle quickly past the turning.

HMMMM!!!

The ride that day was spectacular. My cycling legs were finding themselves and my favourite time of day for cycling was approaching. I was blessed with clouds the whole day, which, in the middle of a heatwave, was much appreciated.

I stopped in a lovely small village named St. Beat, there was no music apparent, but the woman in the tourist office thought I was a bit strange wanting to head up another Col (French for ‘Mountain Pass’) at just gone six in the evening. She didn’t understand about the dopamine hitting my brain, my legs feeling good, and the day still having at least three hours of daylight left. She told me of a village called Antichan where I could probably put up my tent for the night. She bid me farewell, but from her look I knew she thought I was silly not to set up camp one kilometer back near Lac Gery (Gery Lake).

I was starting up the next Col’ but the difficulty of the climb was nowhere near as steep as the 7, 8 & 9% grades of the Peyresourde. It was quite nice, I put on my flashing rear light and enjoyed the empty villages and roads in the soft evening light.

Just the previous day, right near the village of Saint Lary Soulan where our son lives and works, Angie and I climbed up to another lake named Oredon. That really was a long steep climb and it put me off of lakes, because after nearly three hours of climbing, it was a steep drop to the lake, so Angie and I took some photos of the lake and opted for lunch in a lovely spot along the river we had seen about an hour previously and nearly 500 meters lower in elevation! We were glad to have done the climb though, and now today, with those miles in the old legs, as well as the day’s pedaling, I was feeling good on my loaded beast of burden!

I showed up in Antichan, found the mayor of the small village of 180 inhabitants, and asked if I could put up my tent somewhere. With the true French hospitality I always find in small villages, he didn’t bat an eye, pointed to the small orchard across the way, and said, “That land is mine, put up your tent anywhere you’d like, but don’t be late, in an hour we are having apero.” Apero being short for Aperitifs, before dinner drinks, hey, this is getting even better.

I headed to the small market that was taking place, bought myself a melon and had a chat with the woman selling fresh fruit and veggies. An older woman came up to me and asked where I had just been cycling. I told her about the Peyresourde, and she went on to tell me she had climbed many of the Cols around the area, Her husband was out that day riding, (he probably was one of the many who passed me earlier on in the day;-)! I met a few other locals and we had a chat about this and that, then one of them said, ‘Go set up your tent, the mayor will be on time with the apero!” I smiled and duly went across the street into the orchard and started the comforting evening ritual of putting up the tent. A ritual I knew so well from many years of living on my bike.

The apero was delightful. I met some of the ladies I was talking to earlier, Bernard the mayor was there, and the Pastis and potato chips were being generously served. What a perfect ending to a long day in the saddle.

The next morning, after a light rain in the night, I packed up and was on the road by ten. Many cyclist passed me pumping their steeds up the final four kilometer climb to the Col d’Ares. I would obviously never catch them, but I’d see some of them on their way back down.

The map was showing me a few different choices home. It was all closer than I had originally thought. I didn’t think I’d be home by nightfall, but as I pedaled through the small village where this whole thing started I realised I would be sleeping in my bed, not my sleeping bag.

Where did this small journey begin? Angie and her band, Nothing Concrete, had a gig in a small place called, ‘Sengouagnet’. When we looked at the map we realised it was halfway to Saint Lary. So a plan was hatched, we’d camp in Sengouagnet after the gig in our van and visit Louis the day after. Then I thought hey, I’ll put my loaded bike in the van and ride home. Louis and his bike frame designer friend Joel even came to the gig which was an added bonus. I passed through the same village on my way home, looking a lot different than the night Angie and Nothing Concrete were playing, but that’s the beauty of it all, nothing remains the same.

Where’s the band?

The scenery started getting more familiar as were the town and village names. I couldn’t believe this was all literally my ‘hood’, a long way from The Bronx, that was for sure. I slowly cycled home, surprising Angie and Chessie. Then The Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime”, came up on the playlist Chessie was listening to and the thought of writing this blog came to me. How did I get here? I got here by making lots of choices, and riding a bicycle has always been an integral part of the path I made in life.

My son Louis was wrenching on bikes back in Saint Lary, my touring bike was leaning on its kickstand in our front garden, life was feeling good and the scenery was looking even better. I was glad I just had a small taster of that life I once lived full time, and also a small glimpse of more adventures that lie ahead.

Posted in a town, adventure, America, camping, Cycling, diversity, europe, france, Health & Well-being, inspiration, Life on planet earth., live music, small village or countryside?, spain, The City, The City, a town, small village or countryside?, Transportation, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Where’s my pump?

Hello everyone,

Hope all is well. I met Joel yesterday and had to share his idea with the wider world. Bike geeks stay tuned!! Finally bringing the frame bike pump to market and his ideas on self-sufficient cycling are definitely worth listening to even if you aren’t a bike geek.

Enjoy! Joe Continue reading

Posted in adventure, art, camping, Canada, Cycling, Energy Consumption, europe, inspiration, Life on planet earth., Natural resources, Recycle - Reuse - Rethink, Technology & Progress, Transportation, travel, U.S.A. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Shadow of Skyscrapers!

So where do you go after a magical year of living in the shadow of castles? To live in the shadows of skyscrapers! After receiving a job offer of a three day work week, housing included, our life changed drastically when we stepped off the plane in JFK international airport to spend the year of 2001 in the environs of New York City.

Louis was now one year old and we were coming to New York with a year behind us living as a strongly bonded unit of three. We had let instincts take us on our journey as new parents making the bold move to an unknown area of France for our first year together as a family, now amongst family and friends we would find different challenges as parents because our path was an unusual one. When living in the small village in France we were pretty autonomous. If people thought what we were doing was unusual, reckless or irresponsible, no one really knew us, so we pretty much were in a bubble not feeling any societal pressures to conform or ‘get with the program’. New York would be different, we would be surrounded by friends and family, all of them well meaning and loving for sure, but when you paddle against the mainstream, you get met with some resistance. We might have to be explaining our choices more often, but luckily we had had an empowering year behind us navigating the new river of parenthood that had showed us a different way was possible.

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Paddling down the river of life…nice!!!

The juxtaposition of our current life to that of a month before was extraordinary; one moment we were riding our bikes along The Loire River in France surrounded by 16th century castles, and literally a plane ride later and here we were back in the city of my birth, with a perfect work schedule, and not much stress as year two of parenthood commenced. I somehow realised early on in life that a rule book to living didn’t exist. I found following what felt right led me down some pretty cool roads both internally and externally. I had worked in Japan, Australia twice, Greece, both coasts of America and couldn’t get enough adventure when I was young, single and exploring all the possibilities life on this tiny planet could offer. After meeting Angie things changed for me as England started to become a second home. Our relationship radically changed after Louis arrived, but we didn’t let that stop us from living life creating and confronting the unexpected.

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As I recounted in my last blog, In the Shadows of Castles, that first year as parents was so emancipating. To be literally on our own, with not much other guidance except our instincts, was something we knew not many new parents experience.  Now here we were in New York with the unknown road still stretching out before us, but lots of familiar faces and places to change that dynamic immensely. All exciting as well, but in a whole different way.

Although we were in New York, living in the suburb of Bedford Hills was quite foreign to us. Okay it wasn’t rural France, but having no car limited our mobility, and we knew no one in this far-flung suburb. Fortunately, finding like minded people happened quickly when Angie saw a sign in the local supermarket saying there was a La Leche League meeting coming up soon. We had known of La Leche League, it was the group which had published one of the books about breastfeeding we had taken down to France. The book instantly struck a chord with us because of its baby-centric ideals and expounding the natural way to be parents. Angie had the same hopes about the upcoming meeting, and it didn’t disappoint. Week three in Bedford Hills found us making life-long friendships with Patty, Rich and their son Jared who was just two weeks younger than Louis. The synchronicity of it all was quite comforting, and we were slipping into a nice groove continuing the feeling of being able to let go and let life take us in her flow, quite a special sensation. I knew it well from years of living on the road and following the instincts I felt deep inside, it was now so much nicer watching the same current taking us along as a family. This ride was just getting better and better.

Watching Louis finding his feet on the Metro North commuter train line walking unsteadily down the aisle was hilarious. We were willing to let him give it a go in many aspects of his life, as he stumbled down the aisle slowly making his way, we would give him his space and his confidence grew quickly. My brother Larry was a conductor on that commuter train, and if we happened to be on the train he was working on he would surprise us saying things over the train announcements like, “This is the express train to Grand Central Terminal,” then quickly add, “are you ready Louis?” Although I think Angie and I got the most joy out of listening to those announcements as we watched little Louis teeter along just trying to stay upright. Some of the commuters on the train didn’t know what to do when this smiling little boy would grab their arm to steady his position, but it was sweet to see the smiles on their faces as he persevered, and their little bit of help became part of his journey as a walking toddler.

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Larry and Chessie, Louis’ little sister, the tradition continued!

Working at the bike shop kept me on my feet as it was the busiest shop I had ever worked in. It was in the lower Westchester County, affluent suburb of Scarsdale which had a moneyed population, reminding me of the clientele I worked with in New Canaan, Connecticut a few years prior. They both were eye-opening experiences. When money seemed to be no object, it made selling a bike that much easier, but sometimes the privileged attitude would throw me for a loop as it was so different to having grown up in a working class area of The Bronx and spending so much of my adult life exploring the poorer regions of the world. I believe it gave me a deeper appreciation for what I did have, and also helped me become aware of the fact that people who do have such monetary privilege are sometimes not even aware of how powerful that can be. The excess of that lifestyle was ever-present, magnified even more as the shop was on Central Avenue which was probably the longest strip mall in the world. It started in Yonkers and stretched for more than ten miles all the way up to White Plains in a never ending row of shops, restaurants, movie theatres, diners, gas stations, you name it, Central Avenue had it. Whereas the pleasant flow of The Loire River was my daily companion just a short few weeks ago, the constant flow of noisy traffic was what now assaulted my senses on the days I went to work.

On my work days Angie and Louis were up north bonding with our new friends. Patty would introduce us to so many ideas on attachment parenting, free and inexpensive things to do in New York City, other like-minded parents in the area, that our lives would have been so much different if that small notice hadn’t been pinned to that cork board. The oddity of it all was not lost on us, here we were living in a rich Northern Suburb and I was working in well-to-do Scarsdale. Income-wise in this part of the world we were considered to be well below the poverty line, yet we had just spent a year living in The Loire Valley of France where many people we had met traveling in that area came from these same suburbs spending easily my yearly wage for a week long cycling holiday there to come back here dreaming of their next vacation elsewhere.

Patty and Rich lived in Mount Kisco which was not too far from Bedford Hills. Angie and Louis made the bike or train journey quite often to their apartment complex. Angie and Patty would sit by the pool watching the two young boys find their confidence while the two new mothers kept up their mantra of, ‘Let go, let them explore’. A lot of the time they had to breath deep and trust. Luckily they had each other and an uncrowded pool during the day, because with what could have looked like irresponsible parenting was actually a life lesson for all involved, and although they were keeping their distance, both Patty and Angie were being super attentive, but giving the young ones space. A book called ‘The Continuum Concept’, by Jean Liedloff became all of our go to “Bible” on trusting children. It renewed our faith in instincts which seemed to be on the wane in the western model of baby raising. We deeply felt wrapping up a toddler too tightly in cotton wool could not be good for their self esteem, plus we all need to feel freedom to explore, even at one year old. We owe Jean a big thanks for allowing all of us such a big boost in self-confidence.

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The book that radically changed our ideas on parenting.

About four or so months into our settling into this new phase of life, something started going a bit awry with the housing situation. The problem was kind of complicated, and things could have been quite tricky if the manager of the bike shop Steve, who we had become quite friendly with, hadn’t seen what was happening. He told us to find a place to live and he’d honor the free housing promise Danny made to us up to a certain monthly price. We took him up on that offer and started looking around a bit closer to the shop. We had nearly five good months of cycling and exploring up in The Bedford Hills area, now it would be nicer to be a bit closer to work with easier access to New York City. As I mentioned before, Scarsdale is a very expensive suburb, but I put a notice up in the shop that we were looking for a bungalow to stay in if anyone had something that would suit let us know. One of our good customers Jim, worked for the town of Scarsdale and he thought it was hilarious that we put that notice up. He said he works the area, knows it very well, and there’s no way anyone will have a bungalow in their back garden for us to live in. “You’re not in rural France now,” he said tearing up with laughter, “you guys crack me up!” We still thought we’d give it a shot.

The next day my childhood friend Billy invited us over for dinner. Our conversation came around to our current housing situation. We briefly filled him in and said we were looking for something in Scarsdale. His wife Christine then told us her sister used to live there in a small cottage in someone’s backyard. I secretly smiled thinking of all the synchronous situations I had experienced traveling around the world. She said she would get the phone number from her sister and give me a call at the shop the next day. I went around to look at the place after work. Literally a ten minute bicycle ride from the bike shop stood a small one bedroom cottage in a back garden surrounded by a big lawn. And the owners had a young son just about the same age as Louis! Never doubt the power of positive intention! Now here is where even I say, “Oh come on really?” They had an older car in the driveway they hardly ever used and would appreciate if we would run it once in a while to keep it from totally dying! The next time I went to work after we had moved into the new place I saw Jim and he just looked at me laughing and said, “Man I thought you guys were crazy, actually I still think you are, but I can’t believe you found exactly what you were looking for right around the block!” (I saw Jim about ten years later, and when he saw me he started laughing, shook my hand, and said, “The crazy Frenchman in the cottage!”)

The new placement in southern Westchester County put us within cycling distance to the city. It was a fifty mile or so round trip to Manhattan, but with the long days of summer, a child who couldn’t get enough of being on the back of a bicycle, and having lots of free time with my excellent schedule, we actually made the journey quite a few times. It was such a diverse ride down from Scarsdale through The Bronx and into Manhattan. In Harlem we would cut into Central Park to get off of the busier roads. We would slowly be meandering through New York City’s best asset to anyone who wants to stay sane in the concrete jungle. Louis, though, would start pointing out to West End Avenue saying, “Truck, truck,” and kicking his feet. It took us a while to figure it out, but the boy who spent his first year of life on rural French roads picnicking in front of castles wanted out of Central Park and to be in the thick of it getting passed by buses, taxis, trucks and whatever else New York City streets had to offer. Luckily for him I was a confident cyclist, and Angie, the girl from Dorset on the southern coast of England, had cycled in Manhattan quite often when we lived in New York back in ’97 and ’98. So onto the streets it was! We all had a great time on our excursions into Manhattan. Our bicycles got very well used and we took Chris and Deirdre up on their car offer mainly to go visit our friends Patty, Rich and Jared and also my mom and sister who were now much further away. Occasionally we used trains and bikes to make an adventurous trip ‘up north’. We never got bored of figuring out creative ways to get around.

I was keeping in shape with all the riding and also bought a nice road bike to continue occasional rides with some of the guys I used to ride with back in ’97 and ’98. Angie was also happy with all the riding we were doing as a family. One time I joined the Gimbels’ Ride  – a well known fast ride – with Louis in his baby seat. I still knew a lot of the riders from that same period in the nineties and it was sweet to hear them calling out to Louis in his baby seat. This may have been the final straw that pushed Louis into his life-long love affair with bikes. It was definitely quite a cool experience for both of us riding in the middle of the fast racing cyclists flying up Central Avenue.

In late August a weekend job offer came up that was too good to pass. One of our customers was a Wall Street investment banker. He and three of his workmates had planned a cycling  weekend in Princeton, New Jersey. They wanted someone to drive the van, be at the turnings so they knew where to go, be able to keep their bikes rolling in case of mechanical problems and be ready handing them cool drinks when needed. What was in it for me was 300 bucks in hand, two nights in posh hotels, all my meals paid for, and I could bring my road bike along to ride in the late afternoons with them after their morning mapped out riding session was over.

I was met at the shop early on Friday morning by our customer Tom, and together we drove over to New Jersey to meet the other three cyclists. We arrived at the mansion complete with maid’s quarters, swimming pool, huge garden, and a winding driveway that seemed to be a mile long. As we packed the van, we enjoyed a snack by the pool and went over the basic itinerary. As they were all friends and I was the outsider they asked me lots of questions about myself. When it came out that I had spent thirteen years traveling around America and the world by motorcycle and bicycle they were intrigued. When they found out I was now married with a young child and just spent the last year in The Loire Valley the intrigue almost turned into jealousy. George, the guy who owned the mansion said sarcastically, “Wait a minute, I’m the Wall Street lawyer, I make literally millions, have all this, and you just spent a year not working after traveling the world for thirteen years? I wanna be a bike mechanic!” They all laughed, we changed the subject and funnily enough over the whole three days together, Tom was the only one who asked any more about my travels.

We all had a great weekend; country roads, traffic-free riding, perfect weather, interesting conversations and three excellent meals a day in nice restaurants. It was a pretty sweet deal for me. I also learned a lot about the stresses of living life as a high-powered lawyer or investment banker. Although the money was good, the life style was foreign to me. They didn’t spend much, if any, quality time with their kids, and George didn’t have enough time in the week to enjoy all the luxuries of his beautiful home. He even seemed a bit resentful of his wife’s lifestyle; gym, art classes, yoga, and yes cycling, but in a spin class. Actually it was the life he would have preferred, but he had to work eighty hours a week to provide it. Tom was the oldest of our five person crew, his life seemed a bit less hectic, but work hours upwards of seventy hours or so with long commutes seemed to be a common thread between all of them. The other three were younger than me, all of them much richer than me too, but I wouldn’t have traded places with any of them.

After that weekend the feeling that the road we were paving for ourselves as a family was heading in a good direction was overwhelming. With no rent hanging over our heads, my salary was sufficient for us to actually save money while we had so much free time to explore further and wider as well. We’d go on hikes in the mountains while visiting my niece in New Paltz, a beautiful region of New York. We’d visit my brother and his family and even welcomed his youngest daughter to the world in June of that year. He lived near The Long Island Sound which had the added bonus of giving Angie her dose of the seaside she sorely missed because she grew up on the English Channel. A couple from the LLL group had a beautiful cabin in Saugerties, New York that she offered to friends and we had an amazing weekend there checking out an ongoing ecovillage project that was intriguing. I still had friends to visit in my favorite boro of New York, The Bronx, and enjoyed walking around the old neighborhood. Angie’s mom came out for a visit and it was so nice to get the chance to show her my part of the world. Many long bike rides to the city, heading up to Mount Kisco to see Patty, Rich and Jared or occasionally spend overnight in my sister and mom’s neck of the woods kept us busy as a family, and Louis got to explore his American roots for sure.

With all the helpful hints from Patty, who was originally a Manhattan girl, we were getting into museums and parks at big family discounts or for free and visiting places in the city I never knew existed. We were used to living without a constant flow of income, and time-richness seemed to be an elusive goal that many people strived for. Fortunately I somehow managed my whole life to be overabundant with it. Summer was slowly passing into Autumn and the cooler days of September had arrived. Life was taking us on her journey and we were totally enjoying the ride.

The phone rang early in the morning and I rushed to answer it as Louis was still asleep. It was my friend David. He and Angie had plans to go down to the city together that night for Angie’s first night out without Louis. They were going to hear a talk about the link between spiritualism and environmentalism in modern society by a man called Satish Kumar. It sounded like an intriguing topic and Angie was looking forward to her first night out alone since March 4th, 2000! She came into the living room when she heard concern in my hushed tones. I hung up the phone and turned to her saying, looks like you might not be going to the city tonight. I quickly got dressed, hopped on my bike, getting to work well before opening hours, flicked on the television just in time to see the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. After opening the shop properly, staff arriving in a daze, we spent the rest of the day glued to the screen. I called Angie to let her know that her talk was definitely not happening that night and explained what had just happened. As we didn’t have a television, she and Louis came by the shop later that day, and on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, that normally crazy busy bike shop in Scarsdale sold just one bike, and the world witnessed an unprecedented attack on America, an act that would change many things thereafter. The loss of my good friend Charley, who was one of the many fireman that lost their lives that day, was the closest personal impact of 9/11, and our final few months in New York was to be overshadowed by that terrible event in Manhattan.

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The Skyline as I like to remember it.

It was difficult trying to get back into the groove we were in. The next time we went down to Manhattan it was a different place. The population seemed to be in mass shock. Pictures on phone booths, all over Grand Central Station or in subway stations of missing people were always a sobering wake up call to remind us that others were going through far worse pain and loss than just a familiar skyline. Hoping against hope we were all finally facing the sober fact that Charley was among the large count of dead, and not going to show up among the few survivors who managed to escape those crumbling buildings.

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Charley and me, Central Park.

We had been living without a television as a family, that made it much easier not to be overwhelmed by fear and anger in the wake of what happened. We moved on with our lives, letting time heal as it does. It was pretty much impossible to ignore what happened, but to let those images fade into the recesses of our minds was very important to keep balanced and mentally healthy. We hadn’t realised that nearly everyone else around us was reliving that awful event on the nightly evening news, not being able to move on because the images were still being thrust at them every day. This was really brought home to us on Thanksgiving weekend. We were at Steve’s house for dinner and the television was on in the background. When we all retired to the living room we saw the image of the two burning towers and a man jumping out of a window to his certain death on the oversized screen, it was quite overwhelming. I then realised why the fear and anger seemed not to have dissipated at all since September 11th. Here it was the end of November and those were the nightly images still being burnt into the collective mind of America. Not a good way to help move out of what was a very bad space to begin with. To constantly revisit that awful day was what most Americans, and the world at large, did not need at that, nor any, moment in time. I was so glad I had broken the habit of television-watching nearly twenty years prior. It made me think it was probably one of the big reasons I was able to live such a different life. I hadn’t been filling my head with images from the evening news for nearly two decades!

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An image I’d rather keep in my mind.

For quite a few weeks afterwards the feeling in the shop was quite weird. There were repairs that weren’t being picked up and lay-aways not being paid off, as many of the victims of 9/11 lived in Scarsdale and the surrounding suburbs. One thing that was on my mind was that Tom, George and the others I spent that long weekend with in New Jersey worked in the area of the attacks. I gave Tom a call to enquire. He told me fortunately all of them were fine, but the building George’s office was in got completely destroyed. I secretly wondered if he would take a deeper look at his near scrape with death and use it to pursue a more fulfilling life and possibly downsize, simplify or just sell up and enjoy riding his bike more. I never found out, but hold a nice picture in my head of him and his wife doing yoga somewhere on a beach after taking a long relaxing bike ride together.

In early December we went to Boston where I had an interview with a bike shop affiliated with an NGO called ‘Bikes Not Bombs’. I was familiar with their work from riding in Central America in 1995 and thought it might be cool to move to Boston for a totally different American experience. A part time job offer was made, but in the wake of 9/11 we were also tempted to head back to the French countryside to grow our veggies and live a simpler life. We now owned a small house there, not in The Loire Valley, but on the northwest peninsula known as Brittany. We bought the house with a little help from Angie’s mom and our combined life savings while living in France the previous year. It was very inexpensive, literally what people pay for average new cars, but in another place where we didn’t know a soul. It was a short ferry ride to southern England where Angie was from, so visits both ways would be easier. After some discussions about what felt really correct inside, we decided maybe getting out of the current prevailing energy in The States at the moment wouldn’t be a bad thing. Time to refocus, get back into our groove and back to the land. We had tasted that life briefly in The Loire Valley, and that small sampling had us wanting to try just a bit more to see if that was a possible road into a totally different future for us. So we didn’t linger too long coming to the decision that moving to inner city Boston for a part time job didn’t quite feel like where we were wanting to head in our lives.

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Inner City Boston – Not on the Cards!

We weren’t pressed into making any hasty decisions, but it wasn’t straightforward either. We both enjoyed being in New York close to friends and family, but also knew that we deeply wanted to remain time rich. Not an impossible task as my life till that point proved, but coming with sacrifice. That long cycling weekend showed me that every life choice comes with compromise, you just need to weigh up what is important at a much deeper level. Material comfort zones are not immovable. It was the beginning of December and we stayed in the moment. Christmas was fast approaching but we had flights back to England, so even if we never thought another moment about it, things were in place for a return to Europe in February.

Christmas with the family was the lively event it always is. Christmas Eve eating twelve different types of fish, as was the tradition at my Aunt Mary’s house, was delicious, even if, as vegetarians, it meant us being flexible, which I also learned in life was a necessary part of survival and sanity for me. Louis was as content in a high chair as he was on a bike seat. Food and movement seemed to be his pacifiers, and quite honestly it even surprised us how long he could just chill out in either seat. Christmas Day up at my sister’s house with all my other family was a welcome bonus. It was so nice celebrating the holidays with my American family for once, as my nomadic lifestyle saw me spending many holidays away from home. Even though miles separated us, my family and I managed to remain close.

It was a bittersweet holiday season though, so many conflicting feelings; pure joy of being a new dad, sadness of the loss of my friend Charley and happiness of having had so much time to spend with my family and friends in and around New York. Knowing that we would most likely be heading back to France to test out a lifestyle that would be much easier to try there for so many reasons (social medicine, a low cost of living, owning our small house outright and being closer to Angie’s mom) felt good as well, but also nerve wracking as our past twelve months had been quite comfortable. From experience we knew if it was right, we’d know it when we got there. Not to follow that desire to keep on track with having more time than money would mean we’d have to give a lot more up than we were willing to, especially learning how fragile life can be in the wake of what happened back in September.

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Life’s conundrums!

So after ringing in the New Year, we started slowly packing up our New York lives into boxes and sent them out by sea mail to our new address. A week before Louis’ second birthday we boarded a plane in JFK International, and were whisked off to another place, in what seemed like a whole different world, after living in the shadow of skyscrapers!

Posted in a town, adventure, America, Children & Parenting, comfort zone, Cycling, diversity, dorset, economics, europe, fear, france, Health & Well-being, inspiration, life and death, Life on planet earth., mass media, Modern media & Journalism, parenting, The City, The City, a town, small village or countryside?, Transportation, U.S.A., weymouth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 Loire River in our backyard.

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 10,000,000 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?

Posted in a town, adventure, America, asia, california, coronavirus, covid-19, diversity, Education, europe, fear, france, Health & Well-being, inspiration, life and death, Life on planet earth., london, Modern media & Journalism, Money & Economics, Music, paris, Politics, social media, Spirituality, The City, The City, a town, small village or countryside?, toulouse, transformation, travel, U.S.A. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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!!

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