Thursday, July 16, 2009

HASTINGS TO THE ISLE OF WIGHT : 31.5.09 - 29.6.09

This cycle ride is the second journey undertaken as part of my Drawing Breath arts and health project. It follows a ride in 2007 between Whitstable and Hastings which is also recorded in this blog. A group collaborative exhibition, "Drawing Breath Recycled" about this earlier ride followed, opening at the Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre in Whitstable in October last year, and this is currently touring hospitals in the south of England.

A black and white version of the Hastings to Isle of Wight blog was posted on the first floor of the Horsebridge Centre, throughout the journey.

The blog has now been reversed online so that the whole journey can be read as a chronological narrative event. Clicking on 2009 in the left hand archive will enable you to view the entire journey blog without break.

The project was designed to be interactive but, unlike my 2007 ride, the site's Forum page has not been functioning well so apologies if you were among the people who tried to post comments there.

24 May 2009 - Preparations

This time, further from home and knowing fewer people on this section of the coast I will be camping about half of the time. Last week my pop-up tent arrived from Filthy Fox Festival Gear in a fetching shade of plum, an improvement on the alternative choice: a Cath Kidson style flowery version of the same model. These tents pop up dramatically, good when you're exhausted, but warnings about the impossibility of popping them down again has necessitated a rehearsal camping overnight in the back garden of friends (thank you Moi+Cath). And courtesey of an online instruction video and lots of help, I am now proficient at re-packing it.

Yesterday I visited an outlet of the National Balloon Association to buy long skinny ones to build a large blow-up bicycle at a Breathe Easy group beach event on the Isle of Wight. They look like a pile of worms and prove impossible to blow up with one's own breath. They will require a pump which somewhat defeats the purpose of the exercise. And it extends the metaphor of breath-created balloon sculptures in the direction of supplementary oxygen.

"Airwall" Interactive audience project during exhibition Drawing Breath Recycle: Maps and Journeys (2008 at Horsebridge Gallery, Whitstable, now touring)

"Community Lungs" Conquest Hospital, end of day 9 April 2009

Recent research trials suggest that when oxygen is given to lung disease patients, it works better when mixed with helium, rather than the "room air" which is currently used. Interesting high frequency soundscapes can be anticipated on respiratory wards if this is adopted as standard practice.

28 May 2009 - The post arrives .....

A good luck card from Connie has arrived in the post. I met her in 2007 at a cycling club for people with disabilitiies before setting out on my previous journey. Within 5 minutes she had asked me to stay with her when I reached Broadstairs.
Connie has survived a raft of medical problems and still manages to visit the cycling club but in former times she would think nothing of cycling 60 miles in one day. When I stayed with her we watched the Tour de France together. She is on the left here with her niece, Kim.

28 May 2009 - Countdown to Sunday

Finishing the last ride at Hastings Old Town in 2007

And now about to leave for the Isle of Wight from the lifeboat station in Hastings Old Town this Sunday 31 May at 11 am .....

30/31 May 2009 - Overnight on Romney Marsh

7.30 a.m.

We are staying with Jo on Romney Marsh.

I stayed with her during my 2007 ride between Whitstable and Hastings, so this seems right. She is a great host, it's very serene here surrounded by the Marsh and too nice to leave.

But needs must, and with Jo's help I weigh myself, then myself plus my load, and subtract the weight I've already been cycling with (weights totalling 22 lbs) in my panniers. My baggage is now 25 lbs, so thankfully not much more than I've already become used to. (Photo: Jo Nelson)

We head for Hastings, past the turquoise sheep near Jo's house, and past people doing Sunday things - boot fairs, joggers, roaring bikers on their way to a convention.

31 May 2009 - Day 1: Hastings to Bexhill

10.15 am

Unloading the bike from the car, the back tyre is flat and won't hold air. Disaster looms, when miraculously Tom and Laurie from my Breathe Easy group arrive to represent our Breathe Easy Canterbury group.

Tom has wine, a Breathe Easy banner, and most importantly inner tube skills. He sets about mending the tyre, while three members of Hastings Urban Bikes arrive - Melanie, Sheena and Bernie - who will be riding with me to Bexill. Brook and Valerie, friends from home, also turn up. While Tom is mending the tyre, I meet folk from Hastings Urban Bonfire Group and exchange details about our plans.

11.30 a.m.

26C, 29% humidity, wind north-easterly but changeable.

O.S. Explorer Map No. 124
Distance cycled: 5.2 miles

We cycle along the promenade, passing Hastings landmarks: the pier which is locked, lonely and unsafe, and Marine Court - flats built in the thirties to represent the luxory of the Queen Mary liner.

We pass rocks called Goat Ledge, and close to Bexhill, My Lord's Rock.

Pedalling feels harder than I expected. I'm not even carrying the weight of the tent as this is being delivered to Bexhill by Rita. With a following wind and a level surface I still don't have enough oxygen to speak. After small but quite steep section of the A259 where I have to get off and push, we arrive for a rest at the Beach Cafe and I realise the front brakes are locked onto one side of the tyre. Bernie adjusts them so after a drink we carry on around Galley Point along the top of the sea defence wall and onto the Bexhill pier, passing the Bexhill 100 Motor Club's vintage car exhibition on the way, with crowds cheering its organiser.

My companions recommend the Colonnades cafe below the de la Warr Pavilion as cheaper by far. And so it turns out to be. This part of Bexhill is alive with a delightful chaos of architectural styles, from the art deco of the Pavilion to nearby minarets influenced by the Maharajah of Cooch Behar at the turn of the last century.

Sheena departs for a Hastings Area Archeological Research Group Roman dig she is expected at, while Bernie cycles on to visit his daughter-in-law who has a beach hut further on. When he returns he speaks of his father, a fireman who never smoked yet died from emphysema, at a time when there was little awareness of the pollutant nature of smoke and ash from fires.

Above the Colonnades is the de la Warr Pavilion where we meet Rosemary and Laurie who have driven out from East Kent.

Laurie Duggan is an Australian poet whose work is grounded in his walks and other travels.

After dropping my bike and baggage with Mary, who I will stay with tomorrow night, we head back for Whitstable, listening to Edward Thomas' "Roads", and "The road not travelled" by Robert Frost on the radio.

There is a party at home in Whitstable that I don't want to miss at the new Salt Marsh restaurant (01227 272955), just opened by Tony Tarratts who also runs the "achingly rustic" cafe - a true community hub at the other end of our road.

A big thank you to the Hastings Urban Bike people - Sheena, Bernie and Melanie, the rides co-ordinator - for supporting my first day's ride. I hope we meet again.

1 June 2009 - Day 2: Back to Bexhill (Sidley)

2.30 p.m.

Returned on the train to Sidley yesterday, taxi to Mary's house. Mary Hooper is an artist who, working in Arts and Healthcare based at Conquest Hospital, first encouraged me to develop this project.

Sidley, she tells me, was originally a clearing for charcoal burners, developed as a staging post for passing coaches and has now been subsumed within Eastbourne's urban expansion.

Mary's house is a visual feast, "just ideas", she says, "a sketchbook". She plays me the soundtrack of work she is doing with junior school pupils about English apples - chidren's voices harmonising rhythms of these old apple names we seldom hear any more.

7.30 p.m.

Mary drives me to a rehearsal of the Battle Choral Society established in 1903 of whom eighty-nine are fresh from a successful concert on Saturday night at the de la Warr Pavilion.

I speak to Tricia who has severe asthma, and Marjorie, who had polio at six months, and whose husband died of emphysema. They and everyone else I speak to confirms the benefit of regular singing for lung health.

Back at Mary's I photograph her youngest son Pete's tattoos, executed by his older brother Thomas who works as a tattooist in Brooklyn, NYC.

Pete is keen racing cyclist. With the sweet fitness of youth he finds it hard to understand my own limitations.

2 June 2009 - Day 3: Sidley to Norman's Bay

3.15 p.m.
Temperature 23.1C, humidity 27%, sunny with light south-easterly wind.
O.S. Explorer Map No. 124
Distance cycled: 8.4 miles

Downhill ride from Mary's to reconnect with the Bexhill promenade where cycling is not allowed. But it's too pretty to leave, with flowers everywhere and glorious sun. But the prom ends with no path, with shingle and no clear route up to the road. But to the rescue Ray cycles up, takes his bike across 100 yards of shingle up a steep, slope and then miraculously comes back for mine.

He asks me about my ride and tells me he's survived throat cancer.

I miss my turning at Cooden Beach station, and cycle an unnecessary extra and very hilly mile. When I get to Norman's Bay station I narrowly miss getting hit by a horn-blaring express train as I struggle to get my bike through the narrow crossing gate and across the tracs. The Railtrack man could have helped but clearly feels he is not there to assist the public.

Norman's Bay is cut off from the world by the railway line which runs parallel to the shore. The houses look shabby and expensive. A glimpse of a Cristo sculpture, and then Ray cycling back again and telling me the campsite is just 10 minutes away.

The campsite is rather genteel, the staff friendly, and I get a sheltered pitch looking across at the marshes.

After dinner I go for a walk.

Fishermen and women tell me the strange object is a martello tower being privately renovated as a home.

I return to mine, and layers of clothes, sleeping bag and thermal blanket.

3 June 2009 - Day 4: Normans Bay to Eastbourne

6.30 a.m.

A morning of pottering, re-packing and making phone calls.
Andy and Della come over with a big fluffy dog called Meda. Andy asks about my pop-up tent, which he calls a "self-erection" tent. They have a proper tent, unlike my nearest neighbours who have something the size of a house and a 4x4 which could single-handedly destroy the ozone layer. Della's parents have recently moved to Whitstable, my home town.

12.24 p.m.
Temp: 19.6C, humidity 42%, wind easterly, strong, and chilly.
Distance cycled: 8.3 miles
O.S Explorer Map No. 124/123

Not far to Pevensay Bay where I stop for a drink at the Beach Tavern newly acquired by Sonia and Steph. It was sadly neglected and Sonia tells me of her plans to turn it around, bit by bit as money allows. She invites me to return in a year's time to compare.

Cycle on through Crumbles and the new marina development, Sovereign Harbour. The architecture is faux wharf-warehouse, and there is a little Italy corner full of over-priced restaurants - Pablos, Piscari's,and Simply Italy. Further on I lose my way, marooned in a complex of new-build mascerading as old.

Further on I get help in re-loading my bike at the top of steep steps from Tony who has serious bronchitus and is out on his daily walk,then cycle along the forbidden promenade into Eastbourne and eat at the Old Bakery,

before training it to Lewes where I'm staying with Penny and Dave.

Dave's group Contraband are rehearsing. Members Ian from Seahaven Cycling Group and Glen from the National Trust help me with my route over Beachy Head and Cuckmere Haven.

4 June 2009 - Day 5: Eastbourne - Beachy Head - Birling Gap

11.00 a.m.

Despite the stress of dealing with a blocked drain, Dave helps me with blogging problems. I finally leave for Eastbourne on the train after lunch.

2.30 p.m.
Temp: 19.4C, humidity: 25%, partial cloud cover, light south westerley wind
O.S. Explorer Map No. 123
Total distance cycled: 6 miles

Leaving from Eastbourne rail station, I cycle out of town passing old folks" homes and private schools. I get help from Helen when lost and disorientated. She walks her dog up the hill with me to show me a way through to a quieter road.
This is a major push job, up and up, made worse by the brakes binding again. Push 40 paces, rest one minute, and so on. Leaving Helen I finally get to the Beachy Head pub, still pushing. but over the top its downhill all the wa – three miles of it, lovely, a screaming experience of pure joy - until i get to the Birling Gap Hotel where friends Janet and Sarah have bought me a night's stay.

I meet Rita there; before dinner there's a minor incident - I've cut myself on a tin of peas I was opening with my penknife as a stop gap snack. It may need a stitch, there's so much blood, but we do our best with what we've got. And dinner is very tasty.

After an East Enders catch-up, a climb down to the beach which is bleakly beautiful in the fading light. Up above, the sea has that sound of waves hissing and pulling on the shingle, somehow magnified by the greater distance. Further exploration of Beachy Head will wait til tomorrow.