You will know when it exists -- Obscure journalism direct from our man on the ground.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Suffering Is Jamming - Part 3 - Unicycle adventure

(for parts 1 & 2 look lower down the blog)

Day 7: Malgrat de mar – Barcelona
Woke up on the ground.
It appeared I had slept on a patch of dirt next to the pavement. Men were playing Petanca (a game similar to Boulless) nearby. Matt was asleep on a bench. I knew the alcohol hadn’t worn off and knew the most important thing to do was to take a few photos of Matt before waking him up. When Matt came around he realised all the cash had been taken from his wallet but thanked the kind thief for leaving him with his debit card. The situation called for a joint. After smoking it and sitting on Matt’s bench for a while we found direction and decided our next move should be to eat some food.
We both ordered bikinis: the name for toasted ham and cheese sandwiches in this special part of the world. An old woman on the table behind us kept clapping her hands triggering a plastic toy man to open his toy coat and flash his erect toy penis whilst saying something like “I don’t need Viagra!” It made her giggle every time and sitting there feeling half insane it eventually made us giggle every time too. She and we knew then that everything is, and should be, ridiculous.
The sun was out and the beach was in front of us so we lay on the sand and smoked more marijuana. Then we went for a swim in the sea and I got grabby with some girl’s lilo. We were getting very playful but weren’t we supposed to be getting somewhere?
After eating again (eggs and bacon) and drinking some coffee - starting to feel like standing-up citizens again - we picked up the asshole bike and took a train in to central Barcelona.
Albert was hiding and gave us terrible directions for how to find Sarah. When we did she was at a table drinking beers with all of Albert’s eight other ‘interns’ (only one of them was male.) After a few beers Sarah showed us to her flat. It was down the darkest, narrowest alleyway in the entire city; a grimy passageway that smelt of piss and was inhabited by swarms of flies and junkies. The flat itself was a converted stable and had barely any windows, it became affectionately known to us as THE CAVE.
Sarah left to meet other friends so we took the opportunity to shower and clean ourselves. It was now about midnight but a nearby bar was still serving spaghetti. Albert finally showed up and took us to the trendy bar Sarah was at with her friends. We began talking to two of the girls. Girl number one was from Spain was attractive but plain and worked as an illustrator. Girl number two was from England with tortoiseshell glasses and a denim jacket and said she was a waitress.
Girl 1 “Oh you’re not just a waitress. Tell them about your Podcast.”
Girl 2 “ Well I do Podcast yes.”
Matt “Oh cool well maybe you can give me a shout out. I am have been unicycling from Calais and am going all the way to Gibraltar to raise money for Cancer Research UK. I could do with some publicity.”
Girl 2 “Oh no I don’t talk on the Podcast. I haven’t got a microphone. My friends from London have said they will all chip in to get me one. What's funny is a microphone only costs around 12 Euros so I could just buy one anytime.”
That’s not at all funny and your Podcast is basically a playlist. I make playlists too, but I keep them to my facking self. No - any friend of Sarah was a friend of ours. We even allowed her to train us in being hipsters. We learnt that to feel real self-important you had to produce some obscure piece of trash, give it a vintage tweaking and then make it public. But the fewer people that look at it the better; that way it’s more underground. And that’s why in all these blog posts the photos have been enhanced with a retro filter.
At the same bar another girl was succumbing to public arousal and writing like a demonic snake. Licking limes erotically, pouring water over her T-shirt, wrapping her legs around her male partner and finally exposing her beautiful breasts. Trendy as fuck! Sarah was very drunk so Albert took her home. Matt and I sat up smoking weed and recording Blokes’ chants – watch this space – first single soon to be released.

Day 8: Barcelona
Had some freshly squeezed orange juice bacon and eggs. Walked into Barcelona the long way (Albert and Sarah were gone in the morning and we still had no map and no idea where we were). We both needed new shoes: Matt because his had worn due to the past few months constant wear and tear; Me because, like with the tent, I insist on buying the cheapest form of everything. Matt found some red ‘Non-Verse’ high-tops for 7 Euro and to his disgust I decided I wouldn’t find a better deal and got the exact same shoes. We met a guy from the USA who had the same unicycle as Matt. A cash machine didn’t give me my cash but charged my account – I always get robbed in Barcelona! We took some tourist photos for Matt’s thinking it would be good publicity for Matt. At the Sagrada Familia and admired the scaffolding “Blokes doing Blokes shit!”
It was Sarah’s last night in Barcelona, soon she would head back to England and resume her university studies. She had been here for a year working as an intern in the marketing department of a global translations company where Albert was the boss. Albert in his own words was ‘in love with her’, which is strange as the last time I spent time with him he had cheated on his then long-term girlfriend with a drunken old age pensioner. Tonight Albert had taken Sarah out for a meal so when they returned Matt and I thought it best to make ourselves scarce. We sat in bars drinking beers that we didn’t want. We needed a break.

Day 9: Barcelona
Fixed The Cave’s coffee machine and threw away some of the dead cockroaches that were lying around. The beer flies wouldn’t leave though, even when I did the washing up. I took a walk but Matt stayed in the darkness of The Cave avoiding the light and feeding the mosquitoes. In the evening we met Albert and his brother Xavi we sat around drinking beer and smoking cigars then went on a pub crawl, buying tiny bottles of beer from bar windows as if they were drive-thrus. We ate a selection of fine tapas. We played football in the street. Matt climbed a Catalan Tower to recover the ball when it landed in a first floor balcony. We got to another trendy bar. Xavi disappeared. Albert disappeared. Matt was talking to a well-fed girl and the bar then he too disappeared. I returned to the cave and there was Albert with his friend ‘Danny the Vulture’ cutting up lines of cocaine. After a few lines we were discussing Cataluña and politics and changing the world. The vulture left as the markets opened and Albert bought some frankfurters bread and cheese. Back at The Cave I slept, somehow.
Day 10, part 1: Barcelona
Albert had gotten ill, diseased tissues lay all over the coffee table. He was sneazing but instead of sounding like ‘Atchoo!” it sounded like “Cheese!” Matt was back. We ate the Frankfurters then went back to sleep.
Day 10, part 2: Barcelona
Albert was trying to clean the flat but was progressing slowly due to the illness, marijuana and the sheer amounts of filth. We started drinking beers, eating pizzas, smoking joints, burping, laughing at the cockroaches and jamming. To begin with Albert played ‘Hotel California’ and we improvised words:
“Welcome to the cave of Barcelona,
It will make you sneeze,
You can smoke the weed,
You don’t need to leave”
Then Matt took the guitar and many songs were sung, the lyrics changed to make new rude versions that are to vulgar to be written down. Albert got the absent flat mate’s keyboard and played Super Mario compositions then started jamming jazz with Matt picking the strings of the guitar and me hollering acapella. Into the night we jammed until the beer ran out and we fell asleep again having not left The Cave for the entire day.

Day 11: Barcelona
We got out and ate a fried breakfast at an English café called Fish & Chips. Then we went to the Gracia district and at Xavi’s flat got dressed up in freaky masks for it was Saturday night. Matt’s old guitar was at Xavi’s flat so we took it but soon discovered it was useless as an instrument. It looked good though and people flipped out when they saw us dropping it and smashing it about like clumsy fools. Xavi left after a few beers and we went to eat at Woody’s; a bar owned by an Arabic old man whom Albert was friends with. The food was good but there was nobody else there. We walked down the road and stumbled across a group of girls from Belgium looking for a place to eat. One was particularly striking and it turned out she was voluntarily mute; communicating purely with her smoldering eyes and subtle facial expressions - she was far too sexy, it was hard not to force yourself upon her. We took the girls to the Woody’s bar but decided to leave ourselves before we did something stupid. A decision was made to go and get the good guitar and perform our well-rehearsed foul-mouthed songs to an audience that would believe them to be sincere love songs.
We performed on a street near to The Cave called Paral-lel and within five minutes a group of Catalan girls had joined us and were dancing and singing along with us. By now Matt could play the Snuff Box theme tune perfectly and I could belt out the lyrics like they meant more to me than my mother. Soon some guitar geek came and borrowed the guitar whist the girls told us about a club they were going to that they had some free tickets for. We dropped the guitar back at the flat and went to the club that played cheese music all night long. Dancing rock and roll style with the girls. Singing along to Chumbawumba – Tubthumping. Matt came up to me and said “I’m having a good time!” then got dragged back to the floor by some different girls. I was wearing my tiny turquoise shorts and had to laugh when the Y.M.C.A came on. The club got very busy as the night got later and somewhere, somehow Matt hurt his shoulder. I went to sleep in The Cave at 6am.

Day 12: Barcelona - still
Matt returned and crashed on the sofa. Albert and I went and bought the silicon used to fix bathroom tiles and some duct tape with the intention of fixing the wheels so that they would last long enough for me to accompany Matt to the next town. There I would ditch the bike for good. Our repairs didn’t work. We got a pizza each for breakfast. Then went back to sleep. I woke up to Albert cleaning the flat again, this time more successfully. I walked to the Port and back to get some fresh air. When it got dark I woke Matt up. We ate the remaining pizza and magnum ice-creams. Albert left. Matt and I walked to Las Ramblas and watched a Chinese man dressed in a tatty monkey suit creep up behind people. Back at The Cave I wrote notes for this bloody blog and Matt watched Youtube clips. Oh what a day!
Day 13: Barcelona
Matt was now very sick plus his damaged shoulder was getting worse. What had I done? I had ruined his mission, I had dragged him down into an unhealthy pit of filth and excessive boozing. I felt so bad I began ready a copy of Steppenwolfe that was in the bookshelf. We realised all we had eaten for a long time was either bacon & eggs or pizza. Some vegetables from the market and medicine from a pharmacy was the answer. I cooked an amazing meal of oven roast vegetables with rice but Matt was too sick to leave The Cave and I was beginning to catch the cold. I got news that the flat I was meant to be moving into when I returned was no longer available even though I had paid the deposit. This meant when I got back I would have six days to find a place to live or be homeless. The debacle with the bike, the bank stealing my money, the flat falling through – everything was going wrong at the same time.
I took the absent flat mate’s shitty trendy antique bike and rode along the waterfront – we had been in Barcelona for a week, it had been sunny everyday and we hadn’t even considered going to the beach. The bike ride cleared my head and I felt began to mellow out: suffering is jammin’.
When Albert returned he took us to eat gourmet burgers. Then we returned to The Cave and smoked hash. Tomorrow Matt would hit the road once again, ill or not. Tomorrow Albert would have to begin catching up with the couple of month’s worth of work he had been neglecting because of Sarah. Tomorrow I would return home to face a host of evil bastard estate agents and piles of bills and bad luck. We all looked out of The Cave and saw brown clouds forming on the horizon, there was a shit storm brewing but we were finally ready once more to face it. Just one more night of innocent carelessness: the jamming before the storm.

Day 14: Barcelona – Valencia – London
I wake early and muster Matt and Albert from their slumber with coffees. Matt and I take the underground to Sants train station saying farewell to Albert on the way. We both have a McShit then I say “Goodbye and Good Luck” to Matt. I sunbathe outside the station for a couple of hours waiting for the train to take me to Valencia. It is a high-speed train shaped like a spacecraft. I get given headphones and the train’s radio station fills my ears with moving songs from film soundtracks. I look out and I see the roads I failed to conquer – if only. The track runs on the flat stretch between the green mountains and the glittering sea. Past purple flowers growing on hedges, past huge ploughed fields, past warehouses and desolate industrial estates, past castles, past small towns crowned with Arabesque church steeples, past holiday resorts and campsites. For a time a cycle path runs alongside the flat of the train track then it veers off and ends in one of those unknown towns waiting to be circled on a map.
And that is where Matt is still. Out there, on some road – the most direct one he can find on a route to Gibraltar. Staying alive and keeping going, as bewildered faces catch a glimpse of a bloke on a unicycle out of their car’s window. Suffering is jammin’ Matt – you will get there in the end.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Suffering Is Jamming - Part 2 - Unicycle adventure

(for part 1 see below)

Day 4: Port Bou – Bascara

Matt takes great pleasure in circling the towns he has stopped at on his large fold out road map. This morning he was especially pleased to be circling the first town on a new map. He had crossed France, now there was just Spain left. The bed came with breakfast but it was awful – we had to tell the fruity and inquisitive old man on reception otherwise, out of politeness – but the water and the coffee both tasted like turf.
I received a message from Albert after complaining to him about the asshole of a bike he had landed us with, informing him of all the tyre repairs we had had to do. This was his reply:
Ja ja ja... buaaaa, buaaaa... don't cry. The live is hard, I thought your arms needed some exercise too. 3rd night and fuget hotel, is it? Suffering is jammin'. Keep me updated.
Cheers mate! Soon we started off again up another incline on the mountain road. Cruising in the midday sun past sparkling waters and cosy beaches, steady rolling. On the outskirts of a town called Llanca we stopped for the perfect coca-cola (branded glass full to brim with ice, slice of lemon, topped with coke direct from the fountain.) As Matthew Brookes once said “Don’t waste your thirst on water.”
The road we were on was the N260 – freshly tarmac’d with a wideish hard shoulder / cycle lane. In the near distance we were surrounded by the blue specters of mountains. Sunflowers grew all around in fields and flocks of birds twisted into the sky like the breeze before landing syncronised again to eat the seeds. Corn rose high over our heads giving us some shade and occasionally a cloud or a tree did the same, and we thanked Nature “Cheers Naytch.”
We passed a woman wearing a short skirt and lots of make-up sat in the sunshine by the side of the road listening to an i-pod. We thought it strange until about half an hour later we saw a similarly tarted up woman sat next to a lay by. Day-time prostitutes sat tempting truckers and cyclist but all they got from us was a smile and a wave as we clocked up the miles. We stopped at Figueres for some energy drinks and a rest. And failed to take a photo of a Dali painting reflected in a mirror. Ooops. We stumbled across a Tourist Information whilst looking for a McDonalds where we could take a McShit. The friendly girls told us about a pilgrimage trail running all the way to Giorona. So we set about looking for that (stumbling upon the McDs on the way). The trail was very badly surfaced and the lack of signage meant it was near impossible to follow without taking a few wrong turns. We had quiet enough of that and got back onto the road – the now faithful N11 and made it to a small village called Bascara before dusk. We spotted a place to pitch tents then went tot the only café/pub open for a meal and one beer. The ground was hard in the open field but it smelt good – Lavender plants were everywhere. Which was a welcome break from having to smell ourselves who both smelt like a days hard graft. This had been a good day – a normal day – the kind of day I had imagined this trip to consist of, a days worth of cycling finished off with camping at dark.

Day 5: Bascara – Malgrat de Mar
I woke up shouting “What Fucking World Is This?” … Not.
This morning was normal. The dawn call of crickets woke me and I lay in my crappy tent allowing myself to come around slowly.
“Matt are you asleep?”
He wasn’t anymore so we got up to find hundreds of tiny snails all over our tents and we ate them raw… not, sorry no we didn’t eat them; we brushed them off and went to town for an omelette on toast.
We stretched and set off early hoping to make it to Giorona by early afternoon to rest in some shade out of the day’s strongest sun. Running low on water we stopped at a hotel as a guy was leaving on a racing bike. He asked us what we wanted. Like zombies we breathed “AQUA” and he gave us an ice cold bottle for free. We saw more prostitutes at disused petrol stations and lonely roadside pit stops, and by midday we had made it to the outskirts of Giorona and a gated overnight parking for lorry drivers that was also a trucker’s titty-bar cum roadside brothel called the White Dove. We stopped here for a sip of water and a cigarette and a voice over the intercom asked what we wanted. I had to restrain Matt from asking for a job and remind him he had to make it to Gibraltar.
Just after this the N11 split. Should we take the N11 or the N11A? Matt’s i-phone was playing up and the map couldn’t help us. We had to guess and hope for the best. We got the worst. First up a huge incline into mountains full of firs and nothing else. At the top we could see Giorona and we knew we were skirting around it the long way. But we also knew it was too disheartening to turn back and that this road would eventually take us into the city. We went through tunnels and over bridges getting passed by huge Lorries going at top speed making both of us wobble in their slip-streams. The sun was now at it’s peak and we were sweating like pigs on judgment day. After a good hours cycling finally there was a turning. It appeared all of Giorona was just outskirts. We needed a break and stopped at a nondescript roundabout. Matt spotted a nice looking wooden box lying on the ground and on inspection found that it was full of home grown Marijuana. Mostly leaves but "Cheers Naytch!"
Giorona was a let down. It was Sunday and nothing was open. We were exhausted, and did the best we could to recover with what little the city had to offer. We left Giorona around 4.30pm when the sun got more bearable. The road out of the city soon split into two running parallel – one of which was almost disused. Our own private road! Again we were rolling well. Eventually the private road took the wrong direction and the main road by now was a motorway so we looked for alternatives. This lead us to a dirt track where we were flagged down by a car full of girls. Matt’s face was incredibly healthy looking at this stage. They asked if we were lost and tell us they are going to an old church because it is very beautiful. We take some time out with them and the church is old (1665) but there is no time for horsing around so we take more dirt tracks and a road of mud that is under construction to get back on the trusty N11. The sun is getting low when we head off again but we are determined to make it to the coast. Matt starts unicycling very quickly, at times it is an effort to keep up with him but darkness descends and the oncoming headlights and subsequent blinding darkness make cycling too dangerous. Yet we will not give up. We push our vehicles for miles. Stop at a restaurant for a coke and they tell us it is 12 kilometers to Tordera the next town.
Pushing and walking my brain turns off and I continue on autopilot. By the time we reach the outskirts neither of us are speaking any more. We get to a roundabout and stop. There is a sign for the town on the beach saying 9 kilometres; we thought it would only be 5 from this town. Boo hoo. We sing the snuff box theme tune in depressed tones and change the words from “You thought it was gold but it was bronze” to “You thought it was 5 but it was 9” Feeling sorry for ourselves we push the bikes further, it is already after midnight and the only thing we can think of is to keep going but it feels like such a dreadful task. Then we hear loud music and see the lights of a bar. And genius strikes us both simultaneously “Couple cheeky tequilas?” We take the shots with lemon and salt and our spirits are raised instantly. We have a smoke and a beer and start a normal conversation for the first time in hours. We get one more beer for the road load it in the bags and are off. Never before has an alcoholic drink been such a good idea or worked so many wonders in my life.
Now we are singing and there are dogs barking at us left right and center from behind fences and we chant at them “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!” and discuss how in one-on-one combat we could probably beat any dog in a fight and we talk such rubbish non-stop and without knowing it reach Malgrat de Mar – the beach! Matt realises that today he has covered the longest distance in a single day throughout the whole trip and we cycle around the town looking for a bar to get a celebratory tequila but nothing is open – it is around 3am. The Camping is a further few Kilometers out of town but it is nothing to us now - we are ‘ard as nails. Once there it seems stupid to pay for a pitch because the beach is right out in front and we aren’t one of these campers who shame the name of camping with huge tents that may as well be a friggin’ houses. We roll the first joint from the box and slip away into la la land. And for once my tent looks half descent.

Day 6: Malgrat de mar – Arenys de Mar – Malgrat de mar
All morning we sat recovering in a beach café about 50 feet from where our tents had been - drinking coffee, coke and water and eating Patatas Bavas… brave bastards. I went swimming whilst Matt, the geek, typed his blog. Around 4pm we set off down the little road sided directly by the beach. We prayed this road would stay like this (quaint and at sea level) until Barcelona. We had some breaks on beaches full of attractive German girls. After working on our tans we sat for a coffee in preparation for a long stint of cycling. When we paid and left the back tyre on my bike was flat. Fixing it we found out it was an actually puncture this time from some sort of sea shell and easily repaired. A few kilometer later near Sant Pol de mar the back tyre deflated again and this time it was on the valve. Sad face. We bought bread, cheese, salami and a bottle of local Anis spirit called Badalona. After eating the food we pushed the bike to Arenys de Mar but were less than impressed with the place. We got the seaside train back to Malgrat de mar. Chained my asshole bike up and took to the beach to roll a joint from the box and drink large quantities of Badalona seeing faces in the clouds. Then we hit the main drag. It was lively. Beers! MaTt UnIcYcLiNg TiPsY. More beers! Some local African drug dealers helped us roll joints and smoke them and tried the unicycle. Then the two most horrible Welsh people I have ever had speak to me started barking ugly sentences through their gold teeth so Matt and I escaped to a club that allowed us in with his unicycle and the large bags on our backs. Tequila! We talked to the waitress and ordered lots of shots until I was sick straight back into the shot glass and subsequently handed it back to her. After that we were out on the streets swigging the Badalona like it was water. Then all goes black. Blank memories.
You can find the One Wheel Across Europe blog here - the same stuff happens but in more matter of fact words: less fruity.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Suffering Is Jamming - Part 1 - Unicycle adventure

I just got home. My nose is dripping like a leaky tap and I am sneezing like a machine gun. I have a head full of feverish temperature and unhealthy memories, the cause of which I will get to. But let’s start where most stories do: finding motivation to begin.

Matt Downing was in a pub in the town where we both grew up. He was talking boldly like many under alcohol’s influence will. He told a lot of people that he was hardy enough to pedal from the top of France to the bottom of Spain on a Unicycle! Later it struck him that he wasn’t one to just say things. He was a man of action and the training began. Life is full of challenges, why not set them yourself? At least then they are on your own terms.
When he left early in July 2011 I decided I should join him at some point. I would enjoy the summer’s sun, get fit and healthy doing a bit of cycling (on a normal two wheeled bike) and boost Matt’s morale. I booked a flight to Perpignan on August 24th and arranged for my friend Albert to get me a bike and meet me on arrival. I had a flight home booked from Valencia two weeks later – a relatively easy fortnight’s cycle: for a guy on two wheels.

Day 1: Perpignan - St Cyprien
Perpignan airport is the kind I like; small and shoddy. I didn’t wait long outside before Albert arrived. He had with him a girl who I took to be English and a ‘Peugeot - Tim Gauld - Mountain Bike’ a relic from the 80’s. I jumped in the car and we sped off. Matt was waiting but we stopped for pizza and beers regardless. At St Cyprien strolling down the beachside boulevard we caught a whiff of sweat and sure enough there was Matt sat on a wall smoking. He looked tanned and healthy even though his clothes were filthy. He had shaved recently but his hair was long, curly and greasy. At the nearest bar Albert asked him why unicycle all that way? Matt told him he was raising money for Cancer Research UK – “A good investment” Albert laughed as Matt smoked another cigarette. We walked back to the car and took out my bike, both wheels were flat but Albert handed us a pump and soon they were full and bouncy. He was careful to show us how the pump attached to the frame with velcro and ensured we took the puncture repair kit and two hooks for removing tyres. I thought nothing of it: just sensible precautions. Albert and Sarah left for Barcelona.
Matt and I left for a bar and found a small cafe where we befriended the flirty middle aged bar maid – let’s call her Sharon (Shazza for short). Shaz gave us free Tapinade, bread and peanuts and drinking wine herself lost track of how many beers we had and rounded it down when we finally paid. Walking back along the beach we found a Christmas disco; everyone dressed in Santa Claus get-up and a full blown snow machine. Joyeux Noel! When Christmas ended we cycled down to a deserted patch of beach and set up our tents. After boasting to Matt how mine was so light and had cost very little, I promptly found out why: Whoever had designed the tent had obviously never tried using it. The two vertical poles forming it’s structure fell down if you even lightly brushed against them meaning I had to crawl backwards into the tent like some kind of fleshy hermit crab. The tent was called ‘High Peak’! You would be royally screwed if you had climbed a mountain before unfurling this joke of a product.

Day 2: St Cyprien – Collioure
In the pale morning light I did some crude stretches to scare away a man with the metal detector. It had been a good nights sleep regardless of the tent. We returned to Shazza’s café for a coffee, she filled up our water bottle and bid us adieu. We fuelled up with a large supermarket breakfast – ham, cheese, baguette and Yop! Then we were on our way heading out of town past the circus, past the port and onto a dry-mud bike track. For twenty minutes Matt lead the way, I was surprised how fast he could go and enjoyed the bemused looks of other cyclists and people out walking. Suddenly I felt my bike wobble unusually and heard a sound like and extended, high-pitched sigh. The front wheel had deflated.
Matt had been on the road for over a month now and he was used to dealing with whatever was thrown at him. He grabbed the tools and set about taking out the inner tube. We found the puncture in the most annoying place, like a cut on the crease of your finger. The hole was on the base of the valve where it met the tube and because the protruding valve is set at a right-angle it was near impossible to patch up. We did the best we could but after five minutes cycling it was flat again. After searching for a bike-shop in the near vicinity to no avail we stopped for another coffee. Camping in the open Matt had become accustom to frequenting cafes not just for their coffee but for the toilets. We both took a dump at this one amidst shameful looks at the other patrons who I imagined knew exactly what we were up to.
The French police told us the only bike shop was back in St Cyprien. The speediest solution would be for Matt to unicycle back and buy two inner tubes (one spare), which he did. Fitting the new tube and feeling like problems were just there to be fixed we looked at our hands – black from the tyre’s tread – and chanted “BLOKES DOING BLOKES SHIT” football terrace style. In a positive frame of mind we hit a straight stretch of road and managed to cover some distance. Then I heard that sound again ‘Pppppppppppphhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ and my heart sank. Again it was the front tyre. The sun was at it’s height beating down overhead. When we removed the inner tube the puncture was in exactly the same place. We surmised the hole in the metal part of the wheel that let the valve through was sharp and quickly rubbed through the valve’s rubber coating. In short it was the wheel itself that was popping the inner tubes. There was nothing around except a huge sign for ‘Aqualand’. We tried covering the wheel’s metal hole and bandaging the last inner tube around the valve’s base to protect it. I was now riding on tenterhooks. On the outskirts of Argeles – the next town – the dreaded sound pierced the air once more ‘Pppppppppppphhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ and my optimism deflated too. We pushed our bikes into town, cyclists flying past us, rubbing salt in the wound. In town healthy bikes were everywhere. Argeles was the sort of town with no past, built solely for the summer months; all children’s fun-parks, mini-golf, restaurants and hotels. We decided that this wheel was beyond redemption and that the only solution was to switch it for a similar one. We ate steaming ‘Moules Frites’ waiting for it to get dark. But when it got dark there were a lot less bikes and our courage was lacking. We decided to drink two large bottles of Sangria and allow fate to take hold. And fate took hold, or at least the Sangria did. Sitting on the beach talking to some local French girls they pointed out the huge green laser shooting into the sky and said it was the biggest open-air club in France: ‘Indigo.’ They left to go there and we left in that direction on the look out for bikes to ransack. Through the town, through the port and out into the darkness. Nothing. We got to a campsite and Matt went in looking to steal a wheel. Nothing presented itself but we were on the road now getting closer and closer to the laser. Getting further and further away from civilisation. On the edges of cliffs. On little paths. Danger signs everywhere. Along roads hung with trees. Down hills with Satanist paintings on huge rocks. Under disused bridges. Into another campsite with no one on reception.
Leaving our bikes at the entrance we went in. Should we sleep here? We see the perfect wheel and decide to take it. We leave our bikes by the side of an escape road. A skinny black dog runs across our path and we hear strange singing in the distance and see the flickers of fires. After the Satanist paintings these omens only add paranoia. But we are on one, there is no turning back because there is nothing to turn back to. With the wheel almost off the nearby caravan comes alive with coughing sounds. We vacate fast and push our bikes away from this weird dark corner of French coastline. The laser’s closeness is a geographical illusion. We keep pushing leaving it all behind us. Sober again in the night’s harsh emptiness. Finally the road spirals down into an ancient town. Huge old houses tower over us their window’s shutters slamming in the ghostly gusts of wind. It is now around 5am we have almost been awake for 24 hours. I spot a nice patch of lush green grass sheltered by a wall and some bushes. We get in our sleeping bags and lay down to sleep.

Day 3: Collioure –Port Bou
Psst Psst. I am woken by a strange noise,
thinking where am I and who is trying to get my attention. PsstPsstPsstPsstPsst. Then I realise what is going on. Sprinklers are spraying this patch of ground with water and Matt and I are about to get soaking wet. “Matt! Get up! Go! Go! Go!” I shout whilst grabbing my bag, shoes and sleeping back. Now with damp clothes and nowhere open we wait. A tabac shop opens and matt buys cigarettes, then the shop shuts. It is around 7am. After a while we get a coffee in the first café to open and sit drying off. The town in the light of day no longer looks like a set of a horror film - in fact it looks picturesque. I take some photos of the fortifications that loom over the quaint little beach, and then it hits me, an irrepressible movement in my bowels. Matt was lucky, he remembered to use the facilities at the coffee shop, God damn professional! I think logically, naturally - why not shit in the sea? Everybody pisses in there. Fish shit in there. There’s nobody around except that old man on a bench and he wont know what I’m up to, he will just think I am going for an early morning swim.
Floating out there I see the old man staring. Ha ha old fool you don’t have a clue. I see Matt on the bench folding up with laughter. And then as I squeeze I see a torpedo turd float up to the surface and off to my right. A long curved brown banana with blunt ends. The lack of gravity has made me able to produce the perfect poo! I feel great like a trainee astronaut. I wash my crack and swim back to shore. The old man’s eyes follow me judgementally. He suspects something but he can’t know, can he? Matt is talking to a girl now and trying not to laugh as I dry off and give him a thumbs up.
A guy who runs a bike hire shop and glides around on a Segway tells us that he can’t help and that the only place to get new parts to repair the wheel is in Banyuls which is very far to walk but there is a bus that only costs one euro going there every hour. The bus drops us directly outside the tourist information so we ask where this shop is. Apparently it is not a regular shop, just a house of a professional trail mountain biker who might be able to help.
This town seems like a bikers mini Mecca with lots of cyclists passing through dressed fully in lycra, streamlined helmets, wrap around sunglasses and with water bottles attached to their bike’s frames. Pushing my wobbly flat-wheeled bike in front of these people I imagined myself a guy whose cock had gone flaccid at an orgy. I feel I am starting to flip as the sun gets hotter and hotter and crazier. I blame it on the lack of sleep. When eventually we arrive at the address we know we are in the right place. A beat-up campervan sits in the drive covered in mountain bike stickers. We knock on the door – no answer. We phone the number – no answer. We walk to the back door where in the patio sits a caravan freshly painted with ‘Casa Monty.’ We knock on that but no answer. We knock on the back door – no answer there either. This pushes me into hysterics. The camper van is open and I can se a bed so I tell Matt I will just sleep here until the owner returns. Not a good idea Matt says. We sit on some scaffolding on the side of the house and try phoning again with no luck. I start laughing at what I am about to say before I have said it, spluttering out sentences that sound hysterical “No seriously I am going to sleep” ha ha “I am going to sleep in his campervan” a ha a ha “Matt I am” aha “I’m going to” ha ha “do a shit in his swimming pool.” Matt verbally slaps me back to my senses but even he doesn’t know what to do.
We decide to go look for a campsite and just as we are walking away we here a voice coming from inside the garage. We shout “Bonjour!” and the shutter raises. The garage is full of brand new ‘Monty’ brand bikes of all sizes, for all ages, there are even a couple of ‘Monty’ unicycles. He is a large man, athletic looking but older than I had expected. He turns out to be very helpful and sets about fixing the front wheel full of concern. He files down the hole with a metal file and lovingly fits a Monty brand inner tube not charging for the work just the part. We cycle off proud of our good karma - no thievery, no, we had done the right thing. After about 200 meters I hear the dreaded sound once more ‘Ppppppphhhhhhhhhhhhh’ This time it was the back wheel that was flat. We marched back to Monty’s. The puncture was in the same place. Again the guy filed the hole, whacked in a Monty inner tube and set us on our way wishing us good luck. It must have seemed like we needed it.
With two good professional wheels all we needed now was some food. We ate crepes and hotdogs and were about to set off when the sky opened up. Out of nowhere the sky turned a dark and the rain was coming down very heavy. We waited it out in some shelter outside a laboratory, and left as soon as it was just spitting. Leaving the town we were soon on a mountainous road but cycling like champions. Up, up, up, cars passing and beeping and waving and cheering Matt on. As the road evens out and starts to drop Matt’s legs spin in little circles like the colourful toy windmills you stick in the sand at the beach. His huge purple and black bag wiggles from side to side on his back. And we are both flying. The rain starts again but we don’t care. Passing pine trees, fields full of grapevines, roadside wineries and little towns on hills above the moody sea. The sky is shifting all over the place – swirls of grey, white and black. Warm wind storms through the gully’s in between the hills and mountains, sometimes we are sheltered then around the next curve it blows against us side-on but Matt somehow keeps his balance. Streak lightning begins splitting the skies and electrifying the hills in front of our eyes. Then the wind is with us on our backs and we are rolling and it all feels fucking amazing and we know the border of Spain is up ahead. We drop into the last town in France along this road: Cerbere. We stop for a coffee and see some cyclist we saw in the last town arrive and take a hotel for the night. There are still three hours of light life so matt and I push on. Up out onto mountains even higher. This is the place where the Pyrenees meet the sea, a geopolitical borderline. The wind increases in strength. The rain lashes but we are hot from the exercise. A gale is blowing in off the sea and some parts of the road are completely exposed. I am thankful for the first time as to the weight of our bags, they anchor us firmly down as we march on. We see a lone white building covered in strange graffiti and then a sign facing backwards. When we pass the sign we see it is to tell people going the other way they are entering France. But we have not yet entered Spain, just the lawless twilight zone in between, where a derelict Police border control station sits smashed up alongside a boarded up souvenir shop. Then reaching the peek of the mountain we finally enter Spain.
At the first town in Spain – Port Bou – we feel we deserve a hotel and find one for 45 Euros, so 22.50 each. A warm shower feels good then we step out into the evening’s twilight to get food. After almost overdosing on cheese from the pizzas we pass out in real beds.
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