Saturday, 4 July 2009

From Poltava...






















I'm not even sure how long it's been since I last wrote anything here, perhaps around ten days, perhaps a little less... I am certain, however, that Romania came in between now and then, and Romania feels like a very long time all of its own... I think it must have been French nonchalance, British sarcasm and a German practical joke that got them into the EU, and now that they're in, it seems not much has changed since three years ago.

It's strange, because I actually really quite like Romania, and I certainly find the place fascinating, and I met quite alot of really nice people there, that said, I spent almost the whole time looking forward to leaving.. which will always slow things down... I think there are a lot of arts and social-science students who could benefit from a trip there; the poverty is just as good as India, you'll get some really good black-white photos of crumbling huts and kids in rags, save carbon by flying half the distance, and get chased by dogs... which is about as authentic and life-affirming as cultural experiences get. It's wrong of me to be so glib, but it's dark in the internet cafe, and sunny outside, so I'll save cultural appraisal for another time.

The last few days, since Romania, have been great. This has been, in part, because I was worried that my Romanian blues might have been just the beginning of what my deprivation was going to feel like, so it's great to be in the Ukraine, with even more deprivation, and a big smile. I don't know why I like it so much here... The place is beautiful... it's enormous, just wheat field after wheat field, no longer the bread basked of the Soviet Union, but still quite a bread basket nonetheless.. everything seems to grow so well, the trees are so damn green, sunflowers, wildflowers, fruits, etc. etc.... use your imaginations.

This morning, packing up my tent, some old Russian fellow came creeping towards me from beneath a tree... A little alarmed at first, he transpired to be Anatoly, and once he had moved aside, I saw a bicycle beside him. We talked for about fifteen minutes, him in Russian, me in English... he is riding a thousand mile trip around Russia and the Ukraine.. his bike is nothing flash, none of this Rohloff nonsense that I have going on, and he's riding it for a thousand miles around the countryside... And he's 72!!!! He recoiled in disbelief, hand clasped to forehead, pissing himself laughing, when he figured out that he's thrice my age... He then slapped his saddle, told me it was Italian... I slapped mine, told him it was English... and he said "DA!!! Brooks!" .. which were about the only two words we both understood in our whole exchange (I didn't trouble him with the fact that Brooks are now also Italian on account of a buyout by Selle Royal... not sure that the language barrier would have stretched so far.)

Either way, it was great to discover that this old, traditional English name in the saddle world had made it all the way to Russia... I have a particular affinity for Brooks because they started in my local town, Hinckley, in the nineteenth century, before moving to a bigger location in Stratford. It's funny, because Brooks are now turning-out really stylish, prestigious, world-reknowned saddles..... and Hinckley is not much more than a bit of a dump really... A friend went into officer training with the Navy a few years ago (he left after a month, incidentally) and in all England, Hinckley came 4th on a list of towns officers should steer clear of in order to avoid violent confrontations. There simply isn't anything in the town; homogenised highstreet, wetherspoons pubs, vomit in the streets on Friday night... Real England.... It's not glamourous deprivation, just deprivation... Jamie Oliver won't be starting a restaurant there to give opportunities to youngters, and Barack Obama's wife won't be visiting the primary schools... Still, at least Comic Relief had a good year.

OK... enough rancour... The bicycle.... Is feeling amazing... I raised my saddle by about an inch yesterday, which I had been reluctant to do for fear of overextending the ligaments/tendons (whichever part it is that sometimes hurts behind my knees)... Either way, I should have done it ages ago.. I'm not getting any pain, and I think I've increased the efficiency of my pedal stroke by a really noticable proportion... This whole world record malarky... I don't really look at it as a race... Is it possible to race for 6months? I don't know, basically, my mileage will be the greater, not from thrashing it, but from enjoying sitting on the bike... Raising my saddle is perhaps giving me a little bit more in speed, and it's giving me a lot more in enjoyment... so I'm feeling good, and feeling very in control of my speed

So much so that I'm even considering some madness... for Bastille Day... July 14... The French riders will all be going for a stage win in the Tour... I'll try and do something impressive, in homage to a little bit of Revolutionary ardour... I've always wanted to do a 200mile day... 170 is my current best.... The time would be right.

Photos... the Danube in Romania, by dusk and by sunset ... It really is a stunning place, whatever mood it leaves me with... I've also photographed one of Romania's many village-sized failed factories... Go and read up on Ceaucescu if you get bored moments online... a fascinating crackpot. Also pictured are the little filing cabinets that they fill full of bees that then fill the cabinets full of honey... Also pictured is me, with the Ukrainian border sign, and, just incase any of you were doubting the sex appeal of This Is Not For Charity, I am proudly displaying my not inconsiderable farmers tan for all to see. You also see me bundled up, in spite of hot, humid evening, with a healthy tick-fear that I have since gotten over... the statistics are in my favour.

Not sure when I'll next be blogging... I'm in Russia tomorrow, and there for about 10days before Kazakhstan, from whence I have no idea what the availability of internet will be like.

Today I found something in a little Ukrainian store, very much like a bad eccles cake, and whilst I'm no advocate of bad eccles cakes, a bad eccles cake is, surely, a far better predicament than no eccles cake at all, so i brought a kilo of the things, and will be dipping them in my Pooh-bear sized honeypot. I want all of you eating great food on my behalf tonight. With warmth

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