Sometimes you feel the need to go to the ends of the Earth. This month I settled for the end of England. Struggling with a feeling of constriction, harried by the demands of life in the city, I felt like getting on a plane and going… somewhere… anywhere. I thought about just turning up at an airport and buying a ticket to wherever took my fancy on the day – but apparently this is quite expensive. So I took the money I would have spent and went to the bike shop.
They must have seen me coming. The shop owner, spotting a walking mid-life-crisis coming through the door, rubbed his hands in glee. Glossy brochures were produced. Accessories were demonstrated. A phone call was made. A couple of days later, my bank account significantly lighter, I was the proud owner of a shiny new touring bicycle. I had a steed. All I needed now was a mission.
I shall call my bike Roz. After a mere three hours of negotiation at Piccadilly station, a testament to the modern efficiency of the UK’s privatised rail system, I managed to book a place for Roz and myself on a train to Exeter the following day. I determined that my mission would be in three parts:
1) Play with Alice, my niece;
2) Watch England play Germany at football;
3) Cycle from Exeter to Land’s End.
Alice provided cute and diverting antics; my brother provided the Weissbier, barbecued bratwurst and sauerkraut for the match. I provided the ludicrous optimism about the next stage of my plan. The sports commentators proved even more optimistic about our team’s prospects.
Leaving behind the sports result, I hopped on top of Roz the next morning and headed west, sure that on this persistently pedalling pilgrimage, I would achieve new plateaus of epiphany.
I discovered that the ups and downs of life’s journey are quite literally mirrored, in geologic form, in the hills of Devon and Cornwall. I knew, of course, that the West Country is hilly, but
the theoretical knowledge of that fact is academic – like Plato watching by firelight the shadows that Socrates made with his fingers on the walls of their cave in ancient Greece. Socrates might have done a convincing bunny, but the true essence of bunnyness can only be experienced directly. By waiting silently outside a warren, for example, until a twitching nose ventures tentatively into the evening air. Or perhaps from a trip to a Paris brasserie. But I digress.
As with Socratic bunnyness, so it was with the Platonic essence of hilliness, which I encountered on my bicycle mission. Plato, of course taught that the true nature of things can only be apprehended by using the intellect. Try as I might, for the true appreciation of going up and down hills on a bicycle, I couldn’t get my head around it. Quite the reverse, in fact. The lesson I have learned is that some things can only truly be understood by using your buttocks.
Yes, I know, you are shocked. But nobody said enlightenment would always be genteel. And the pain came with its reward. I reached the end of England. I drank an overpriced coffee. I chatted with the coachload of Pinoy tourists. And I gazed out into the Atlantic Ocean. It seemed endless: full of promise, full of mystery, full of beauty, full of…. water.
The water held my gaze for a few brief hours, and for those hours I forgot the pain in my butt.