Maranatha

A poem that I wrote last week and performed last night:

I’ve been experiencing a flush of creativity recently – sparked and fostered by weekly open mic evenings at a local (The Bull and Sun in Bridlington, every Tuesday night from 8pm – be great to see you there!).

I’ve always found creative writing a good way to express myself – especially for capturing and processing strong feelings or experiences. But I’ve not been very disciplined at making space for this – and I’ve only rarely shared anything that I’ve written – until recently. Open mic has become a weekly point of inspiration for me as I listen to others perform, and a fantastic space to write and perform for.

Over the last few weeks I’ve taken to carrying a note book with me pretty much everywhere I go – using it to capture flashes and ideas, to play with phrases and feelings and shape them into meaning. I’m loving it. Inspired each week by hearing others perform, and having a point to aim at for regularly sharing something of my own creative efforts has been really life giving. Its such a friendly and encouraging community, and always a great night out – I highly recommend it!

This poem started life during an evening gathering at Christ Church. I love the space when everyone around is singing – I join in, I stand in silence, I sit in contemplation. For me, writing poetry is always a kind of prayer – and this poem is absolutely a prayer. Maranatha is an ancient word (or rather a joining of 2 words) that means something like ‘Come Lord’, or ‘Our Lord has come’. It was used by early Christians in this dual kind of way – as a reminder of hope (‘our Lord has come’) and as a sort of longing prayer that is looking to Jesus returning to make all things new (‘Come Lord!’). For me this isn’t just an interesting ancient word – it captures an important element of my living faith:

“Like the early Christians who used maranatha as a special word to express their longing for Jesus to return, the “blessed hope” of His Second Coming (Titus 2:13) still burns brightly in our hearts.”

https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/what-does-maranatha-mean

My thinking on this has shifted from the ideas I was brought up with, which could probably be summarised as ‘the world is bad and one day Jesus will come back to rescue us from it’. But through some of my study, hearing new ideas, and my own growing sense of who God is and how God interacts with creation (if you want a list of references then drop a comment) I now have a much bigger picture of what maranatha means, and who (or what) might pray this word of hopeful longing. My thinking now draws much more on Bible verses like Romans 8, which talks about all creation groaning for redemption, and a bigger vision of what it could mean that ‘God so loved the world’ (could it really mean the whole world – not just humanity, but the more than human world too?).

My poem, Maranatha, imagines the whole world – not just humanity (though we are included) – crying out with longing and hope for redemption. When writing it I was thinking about the global climate crisis, our human habits of extracting resources for our consumption rather than treasuring and tending, our reckless destruction on massive scales. I was also thinking of the specific local outworking of this: the council workers who sprayed weed killer on a patch of earth outside my house (where I have sown wildflower seeds 3 times now), leaving it bare and empty; the trees that we walk past every day on the way to school, only planted recently most of the saplings have now been snapped and broken. I feel the prayer, maranatha, welling up in me – a longing for justice and peace, for restoration and wholeness, for right relationships, for love to reign. And I imagine the trees, the seas, the earth itself joining in that prayer – ‘groaning for redemption’.

Amen.

Branches

My apologies dear reader for a quiet few weeks. I have had loads of ideas of things to blog about – degrowth, lawns (let them grow!), sea swimming… But it has been a bit of a busy time recently, not least because as a family we are part of a new thing that has just started – a new church called Branches.

This has been a long time in the dreaming, and is so exciting to be coming together!

Firstly – for anyone who isn’t familiar with the idea, I would define a ‘church’ as a group of people who are following Jesus together. This could look like almost anything, and could happen pretty much anywhere – a dedicated church building, a coffee shop, or in a garden (like Branches). Following Jesus is a whole life thing, but we gather as ‘church’ to share this journey together – getting to know God better, encouraging and caring for one another, and loving and serving our wider community (because that is what Jesus said we should do). Jesus once said “where 2 or 3 gather in my name, there I am with them” – that’s a pretty generous definition of church from the Boss Himself I reckon!

For those who hadn’t yet picked it up, we are all christians and I (Oli) am a priest in the Church of England. My current job is an exciting ‘connect with young adults and start new stuff’ kind of role, which I love, and gathering a new church community has always been on the cards at some point. Because oikos living is so much part of who we are it felt like this would likely be part of whatever we started – care for creation, enjoying the beauty of the natural world, being outside and connecting with other people who love these kind of things too. And so, after lots of praying, thinking, chatting and dreaming Branches was born: church in a garden, being family together, connecting (with God, nature, one another, and our wider community), growing (literally growing stuff and growing as people too), finding second chances (a Jesus speciality), and discovering peace together.

So far this looks like hanging out together, eating, playing, sharing stories, pausing for quiet moments, breaking bread, simple prayers, treasuring the beauty around us, making stuff out of old pallets, picking rhubarb and eating it, making a shelter out of a tarpaulin, making dandelion tea, sitting around a fire pit and eating s’mores, planting sunflowers and watching them grow… We love it.

If you live around Brid and would like to check it out you would be so welcome (and no expectation that you would commit to anything!). We are down in the Christ `Church gardens every Thursday 4-5:30 (including having tea together), and Sundays from 12:30 (bring a picnic) – drop us a message to say that you’re coming, or just rock up. And watch this space for more on this exciting new part of our oikos life. Peace be with you 😉

Celebrating

Happy Easter! We had some much needed holiday last week and had a fantastic time in the sunshine.

With the joy of Easter in full flow, this week I wanted to share some things to celebrate – little wins, everyday blessings, places where we’ve found joy.

Firstly, looking back to just before the Easter week, we went along as a family to join in with some tree planting. I spotted the opportunity on Facebook – a group called ‘Plant a Tree Today’, in conjunction with ERYC and Humber Forest, sent out an invitation to help plant 1746 saplings. The plan was to add to some previous planting in a space just down the road from us, which we walk through pretty much every day. Brilliant!

We wandered down and got stuck in – especially Joanne (who planted a hedge pretty much on her own!). It was so exciting to take such practical action, and to connect with others who want to invest in our environment too. There was some really fancy kit for doing it, but the most exciting part was gently pressing down the earth around the tiny saplings – gentle fingers settling fragile young shoots into the good earth. This was soul work and it was wonderful.

Ribbit! Say ‘hello’ to Jeremy!

Back in our own garden we’ve had some very exciting moments too. Firstly, while doing a bit of gentle work in our ‘wild corner’ – where we put a pond in last year – I spotted that we have a new neighbour. A frog has moved in to our pond! We’ve called him Jeremy, obviously. (We are assuming it is a he, I’ve no idea how you would tell). No frog spawn this year – don’t know if that is because Jeremy has been unlucky in love or if our pond isn’t quite right… I know it is quite dirty (largely because I didn’t spot how many leaves had been falling in until they had all sunk and gone really slimy and yuck at the bottom), and it needs a couple more plants to help clean up and oxygenate the water – I don’t mind a trip to the garden centre though 😉

The gentle tidying I was doing when I found Jeremy was all about nettles. Essentially, the ‘wild corner’ had gone wild with nettles – my fault for spreading home made compost that was full of nettle seeds. But don’t despair! We are learning to love nettles.

Did you know:

  • Nettles are a really important habitat for some butterflies, other insects and wildlife (for laying their eggs, as well as food and protection)
  • Nettles are very nutritious, and pretty tasty – we’ve been eating some and drinking nettle tea (super easy and full of good stuff)
  • You can even make thread and cloth out of nettles (bit more complicated, but amazing right?!)

From one ‘weed’ to another – let’s talk about dandelions. What a wonderful flower. Don’t believe me? Let me give you some highlights from my sermon on Easter Sunday morning, in which I proposed the Dandelion as the perfect Easter flower (definitely better than Daffodils).

SO. Daffodils pop up, the golden child of spring time – but who is up and shining yellow first? Yep, dandelions. Daffodils stick their heads up tall and proud, but just one fat flower – and for how long? A week, maybe two, and then they droop and go all sad until next spring. Dandelions though – bam, bam, BAM – non-stop flowers for almost the whole year! Daffodils are lazy plants that just sit waiting to be tended to. But dandelions are incredible pioneer plants – throwing up not just their fantastic yellow flowers (great for pollinators), but when the flower is done up goes the fluffy dandelion clock. What child doesn’t love finding these beautiful globes of joy and blowing the seeds everywhere?! And what wonderful seeds – off they go! Plant pioneers, taking root in the hardest ground, breaking it up and fertilising the soil around them to make it ready for other growth – how wonderful!

You tell me which lawn looks better.

I didn’t realise until I started reading up, but it is only quite recently that we seem to have taken against Dandelions – they have been actively cultivated for centuries all around the world, treasured especially for their medicinal properties. As one friend recently said – Dandelions are nature’s multi-vitamin! (Not like Daffodils, which are poisonous). How incredible that something so beautiful and so good is so relentless in growing and spreading!

And my final reason why the Dandelion is the perfect Easter flower. Have you ever tried to kill a Dandelion? The tiniest bit of root left in (and they go incredibly deep!) and before too long you will see resurrection at work – a bright yellow Easter Sunday!

So much to celebrate, and more to come. Happy Easter and God bless 🙂

Turning over tables

It is Holy Week – the days leading up to the high point of the Christian year: the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a week of high drama, as Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem and faces off with the powers and authorities – the corrupt religious leaders, the oppressing rule of empire, and the fickle shouting of the crowd…

Today in the timeline of this great week we see Jesus going to the Temple – the heart of worship in the Jewish faith – to throw out money changers, turning over the tables. This was a deeply symbolic act – purifying the place of worship and connection with God. But the corruption Jesus was challenging went far deeper than tradespeople swindling people with inflated prices. The money changers were there to provide an essential service for pilgrims who have travelled to worship – Jesus knew this, on a different day He might even have done business with them. But today he turns over their tables – not because He is angry with them, but because they are the front line of a system of religious collusion with the oppressive might of Rome. This was about politics, economics and a few people (the Temple leaders) controlling and exploiting the people. Jesus rides a donkey into town and proclaims a different kind of kingdom – the Kingdom of God: justice, right living, peace, restored connection.

Make no mistake: Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple is a protest. Non violent direct action. “Jesus was a social revolutionary, a radical.”

There are other protests going on this week. Extinction Rebellion and other affiliated groups are back out on the streets of London. Just Stop Oil have been halting work at oil refineries around the country. Groups of people taking a stand against the politics and economics that value profit over people; against systems of oppression and injustice that are driving our shared home to destruction. Some of the action has been very disruptive. Can doing this kind of thing be justified?

The United Nations group of climate scientists (the International Panel on Climate Change – IPCC) released another report last week. It is sobering reading. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutteriez, describes it as ‘a litany of broken promises’. You can watch his speech here (5min watch).

When the head of the United Nations says that governments and corporations who are investing in fossil fuels are dangerous radicals, then personal changes and signing petitions isn’t enough. The moral thing to do is to protest – to exercise the democratic right and responsibility to call government and business to account.

Getting involved in protests doesn’t come naturally to me. I am British, and as such I tend to avoid ‘making a fuss’ where possible. When frustrated I normally bite my lip, or carefully express myself – even balancing my strong words with an attempt to empathise with the other person. I still firmly believe that one of the most important things we can all do is to have better conversations about the Climate Crisis – but I also think that there is an urgent need for a change in the posture of our political and business leaders towards this challenge. This needs attention, time, resources – commitment now and for years to come. This is not happening (who can say why – ignorance, vested interests…) and it needs to.

And so I have found myself protesting.

The decision to get involved came for me around Autumn 2019. I remember watching the news of the Extinction Rebellion protests in London and having a deep sense that I wanted to be there taking a stand too, but that it was too far away and felt too big and intense. I bought a small book of Greta Thunberg’s speeches and read it in one sitting – in a small cafe in Bolton on my day off, my hands shaking and my eyes tearing up as the clarity of her words connected with the instinct in my gut. I spoke with Joanne, I searched online to see whether there was a local XR group (there was, I went, they were lovely). I connected in with the Christian Climate Action network – ‘the Christians of Extinction Rebellion’ – and made contact with a couple of excellent people in Manchester and beyond. And before long I plucked up the courage and went out to the streets.

Our first protest march was in Manchester, February 2020. We joined in with a big ‘Fridays for Future’ march as a family – even taking child1 out of school for the day so she could be there (we asked the headteacher first – said it was an important opportunity to learn about democracy and citizenship, which it was). It was loud, full on, thrilling, terrifying, excellent and wet (well it was in Manchester!).

Not long after I decided to make a stand in the town where we lived (then Bolton), and did a solo protest in the town square there, where I nearly got a fine for drawing on the pavement with chalks but managed to charm it out – flashing my clergy collar at them helped too I think!

I’ve since been part of protest gatherings in Bridlington on my own and with others, and most recently in Beverley.

These protests have all been different – in size, people, and feeling. Being part of a crowd of thousands is SO different to being one man with a cardboard sign – but the smaller scale things have been fantastic opportunities to actually talk to other people. Normal people. To explain why I am giving my time to stand around making a point. To ask and answer questions. To hear their perspective too, and often to find common ground.

I’m still feeling my way forward, this is still all very new and feels quite vulnerable. But I look at the example of Jesus, at His passion for justice and right-ness, and at His willingness to take a stand – even when the shadow of the Cross was already looming. For me this is part of what it means to be following Him.

I don’t expect everyone to close their computers and rush out into the streets. But I do think that how our systems and structures are acting towards the world needs your attention. Read, watch, listen to content from trustworthy sources. Talk to your family, friends, co-workers, church about what you find. Talk to your MP, find a local action group, make a sign, write a letter. And maybe, find out where a group will be gathering and wander down to find them…

If this has sparked your interest you can watch and read personal stories from a range of different people on the Christian Climate Action website, and read about recent actions and responses on the comment page.

Tour de Wales

Back in January I shared that I am going to be taking part in a cycling challenge later this year in memory of Kip Freshwater. I will be riding the length of Wales (Cardiff to Holyhead – approx 220 miles) with a group of others, including my excellent friend Ed, to celebrate the life and memory of his son Kip. Kip tragically died last year after a heroic battle with leukaemia, so in his name we hope to raise £10,000 for the international children’s health charity Love the One. You can read the #TeamKip blog here.

Since January the weather hasn’t been great for training – cold, wet and consistently very windy. But Spring has sprung and I’ve had my first bit of a stretch out, guided by another local cycling enthusiast on a short jaunt out onto the Wolds. Beautiful! I’ve got a few older guys who have offered to help train me up – my only concern is that they will completely out do me! Really looking forward to spending more time in the glorious natural beauty of East Yorkshire and building up my stamina ready for the big ride. Will have to remember to pause and snap a few photos to share…

I haven’t been out for a few days though. Not just on my bike, I haven’t been out of the house at all. Last week covid19 finally got to our house. First Joanne, then child2, then me… Child1 seems to have managed to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge the virus, and as of Sunday I’m the only one who is still positive (very grateful). Thankfully not feeling too bad, just fed up.

Yesterday evening I had some very welcome relief though – a zoom call with some of the other riders from #TeamKip. We caught up to chat training, ride routes, and to make the difficult but important decision to delay the ride – partly because covid is still really high (and several of us have got it), and partly because one rider sadly had her bikes stolen the other week (which will take a couple of months to replace because of supply chain delays).

So the new date for the challenge is Friday 19th-Monday 22nd August. Put it in your diaries folks and get ready to cheer super loud when we sprint (/crawl) the final mile into Holyhead!

I will post some route plans and training updates in the coming months. I’m looking forward to training up to cycle for distance rather than just as a replacement for local car miles – building up my stamina is definitely going to be the key challenge. But we aren’t just doing this ride for the challenge and fun – we hope to raise some serious moola for a good cause too!

Kip was a beautiful, joyful boy who loved to look after other kids.  That’s why we know he’d support Love The One.

Love The One has a vision for supporting every aspect of a vulnerable child’s life, from education, medicine, nutrition and supporting families. They work in some of the most vulnerable and poorly resourced villages and towns in India, making an enormous difference to the lives of children and their parents.

Thank you for supporting us, for cheering us on, for keeping Kip’s name alive.

Please do consider making a donation through the #TeamKip Go Fund Me page. Thank you.

Fell off again

Last Wednesday evening as the rain poured down I pulled up my waterproof trousers and turned on my bike lights. It was a grim night to set off into, but I normally do the short ride down to Christ Church in about 7minutes (9 if the wind is against me), so I knew I would be back into the warm again soon.

Alas, it was not to be so.

Even though I took the route I cycle almost every day (often twice a day) the rain and darkness was plenty enough to mean that I didn’t spot a pothole that I must have seen (and carefully cycled around) tens – hundreds – of times. Pulling quickly away at a traffic light junction (because the junction is wide and uphill so it can be a challenge to get across before the lights change again) I suddenly felt the whole world lurch. The bike went one way, I went the other, and we both skidded out over the tarmac.

Image care of https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46444109

Thankfully it wasn’t busy – no queue of traffic rushing towards me from the other lane. The car behind me (thankfully turning the other way) stopped to check that I was alright – “Yes, fine thanks. Just bruised pride.” [and a bruised hip too, as I found out when I tried to lay on my left side later that night – and every night since!]

I picked my bike up and walked over to the pavement. In the glow of the nearest streetlight I could see that the thumb shift lever on my gears had popped open – something that has been a recurring fault for a couple of months now. On previous times I had managed to pop it back together ok, using my keys as make shift screwdrivers and applying a bit of force. After 15 frustrating minutes of poking, prodding, pulling and pushing I admitted defeat – this was not something I could fix by the roadside. In the dark. In the rain.

It used to look like this… Not any more!

Now late for the meeting I had been on my way to anyway, I limped the bike back to our garage. A quick text to my colleagues to send my apologies, and then a proper look at the thumb shift lever in the more reliable light (and dry) of my garage. I quickly realised that a small piece of the mechanism had snapped off. Bums. One knock too many, this fall had finally done for it. My bike was going to be stuck in top gear until I could get it replaced.

I’m grateful that there wasn’t more damage – to me or to the bike. Skittering out across a main road intersection could have ended much worse! But when my bike is my main transport it is very inconvenient not to have it in good working order. Thankfully there are a couple of good bike shops in town. I managed to drop my bike in at The Bike Shop the next day, and Dave did a great job at fixing it up – 24 hours later, and only £15, I was back on the road and flying again 🙂

So, just a short grumble about potholes – jumping on the Rod Stewart bandwagon! But according to Cycling UK I am far from the only cyclist to fall foul of a pothole. They say:

findings confirm that while potholes can be an inconvenience for motorists, they are more likely to cause injury, and even death, for cyclists.

https://www.cyclinguk.org/press-release/potholes-true-cost-cyclists

I mostly love getting around car-free, but every now and then it hits home that cycling is definitely a more vulnerable way to travel, and that other road users and even the roads themselves aren’t always that hospitable. Our road network would be much friendlier and healthier for everyone if there were fewer cars on it. Just saying…

Six

The social media algorithms have clearly got me pegged, because last week this article from Positive.News came up in my newsfeed: “Six lifestyle changes that could help avert the climate crisis“. I’m a sucker for a list, and always on the look out for some positive news to balance the stream of reasons to be terrified (war, famine, climate breakdown, general human awfulness…). This article didn’t disappoint.

I will leave you to read it for yourself (only a few minutes of your time, nice pictures), but the main point (for those who are too lazy) is that there are a few fairly simple (though still challenging) changes that individuals or households can make to their lifestyle and habits which really can make an impact.

If everyone in the developed world rung in these changes, emissions would fall by a quarter

‘according to researchers’

The research in the article is from ARUP, The Jump and C40, who make an encouraging case for how citizens can have a meaningful impact – the potential of people power! The situation might be massive, and much of the change needed is in the control of governments and big business, but around a quarter of the carbon reduction needed by 2030 can be achieved by individual choices. Wow.

Here they are – in a funky graphic that I have screen-shotted from the ARUP/Jump report:

So to list them:

  • eat green (plant based, local, seasonal)
  • cut out flying
  • get rid of personal vehicle if you can (cycle, walk or public transport)
  • reduce the amount of clothing you buy new (3 new items per year)
  • keep electronic goods and household appliances working for longer (7 years or more)
  • and the last item (cheekily) is to do something to influence the other 75% (influencing government and businesses to make changes too)

I don’t mean to boast, but: tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and tick. Reading this certainly did feel like a positive news story!

And please don’t imagine that we are some kind of super family, or that all this happened at once. If we can do it so can you.

The challenge in this (alongside the good news) is that being able to make a difference gives us a real responsibility to act. The most responsibility sits with those who are most wealthy (in general the more you spend the higher your carbon impact – there aren’t many ways of spending your money that break this rule of thumb). And the changes have to be part of a long term shift – not a one-off flash, but changing our habits of living for the long term. Individual changes won’t achieve all of this, but they can make for a good start (25% if everyone does it), and create momentum for meaningful political and business changes too.

swift and robust action by individuals is not just helpful, but is needed, because without it we are unlikely to stay within carbon budgets.

3.1 THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE ACTIONS OVER WHICH CITIZENS HAVE PRIMARY INFLUENCE

If you fancy being part of the change you could check out The Jump website – for more ideas, to sign up, to start living with “less stuff, more joy”.

Disneyland Flight Free

So I didn’t post last week because we went away as a family for half term – to Disneyland Paris!

This probably wouldn’t have been our first choice for a holiday, but we have a group of really good friends who we try to get away with at least once a year and some of them wanted to go. I’m so glad we did – what a brilliant adventure, and such wonderful memory making!

A trip to Disney isn’t the obvious eco-holiday choice (a yurt in a field with a long drop toilet perhaps?), but we did our best as we went to make the most oikos friendly choices we could.

The big one was not to fly – a decision we first made as a family about 3 years ago. It has been pretty easy to not fly during covid – not many opportunities! – but was a bit of a rub when we were planning this holiday. Our friends (3 other families) initially assumed that we would all be flying – I suspect many other people also have flying as the default option. Unfortunately flying is often the most carbon intense way to travel, by a long way. This BBC article goes into detail on why and how “mile for mile, flying is the most damaging way to travel for the climate”. When we said that our family would be taking the train at first our friends weren’t convinced. But after a bit of research we worked out that Eurostar travel was not going to be vastly more expensive than flying (we all assumed it would be at first), and wouldn’t take much longer (London to the centre of Paris in 2.5hours) – before long everyone else agreed to join us on the train!

It was a really exciting journey – our kids love trains, and being able to get up and wander around made the journey so much easier. And seeing this graphic pop up on a screen on the train made me punch the air a little bit 🙂

Confession – the journey there was pretty good, partly because we broke it up by travelling down to London one day, staying in a hotel near St Pancras, and then doing the rest of the journey the next day. On the way home we tried to do the whole journey in one go – about 12 hours door-to-door – which was exhausting and pretty stressful. One of our friends posted in our message group (after their train from London home was delayed by 2 hours): “Train delayed 2 hours. Screw the planet, we are flying next time.” I don’t think he means it (?), but I feel his frustration – especially with the train network within the UK (the international trains, and connections in France were a dream – including double-decker trains in France!). I’ve had another look though, and I don’t think that flying would have actually made our journey much shorter either – the long bit for our family would still be the internal UK travel… Much higher carbon impact to fly, but for around the same cost in time and money. Easy choice for me!

Choosing not to fly does mean that there are some options that are no longer open to us. Our last foreign holiday as a family (before this one) was to Gran Canaria in January 2018 – a journey that is technically possible without flying, but prohibitively expensive (this blog post on Flight Free put the cost of travel at around £1000 per person!). Child 1 was pretty disappointed when we said we wouldn’t be going back to Gran Canaria (not anytime soon), but she has since loved our holidays in Scotland, Northumbria, the Lake District and Disneyland Paris – there are so many wonderful places to explore without ever taking your feet off the ground!

I do recognise that the travel industry has created a situation where cheap foreign holidays (for many people the only way they can afford to enjoy this luxury) have flying built into the model. Big hotel complexes to keep prices down and infrastructure to support massive tourism, but all built around the premise of cheap flights – partly with the goal of getting somewhere warmer. We are grateful to have the resources to be able to choose differently and not just have to go without holidays away, but recognise that not everyone has this option.

But with the climate crisis growing ever more apparent it seems certain that all of our habits must change, or destroy us. The most recent update from the IPCC (reported by BBC News here) makes for sober reading – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres describes it as an “atlas of human suffering”, and goes on to say: “The facts are undeniable…. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”

I have lots more thoughts and ideas from our holiday, which I might share later, but for now I need to catch up on some sleep – holidays with young children are exhausting!

Part of the information for guests in our accommodation – the beautiful Villages Nature Paris.

Electric bike!

This weekend I had my first go on an electric bike, and goodness me is it whizzy!

Shout out to Dave and Debrah for an excellent lunch on Saturday, finished off beautifully by letting me zip up and down the street on the bike – only to be topped by offering to lend it to me for a couple of days!

The main reason for borrowing this little beauty was because I needed (/chose*) to cycle to Hornsea today for a meeting. [*No train, and no functional bus service. I was offered a lift but kind of liked the idea of the challenge… I did need to get there, but I chose to cycle – even when it was raining. Totally self-inflicted discomfort]. This is a distance of about 15 miles each way, which I reckon I could probably manage with my regular bike but I would definitely arrive as a hot and sweaty mess – not such a professional look. If there was an option of getting a wash and changing at the other end then it might not matter, but there wasn’t today. So cycling on my regular bike wasn’t really an option. But on an electric assist bike… Well now, that is a different matter.

Most electric assist cycles (including the one I borrowed) help you along – adding drive from an electric motor to your regular leg energy. It is excellent fun! It also means that you can easily keep up a steady pace of 15+ mph (the motor cuts out at 15.5mph, the UK speed limit for this), even up hills or into a headwind.

On my ride today I powered along very nicely. Hills and wind were no problem. The ride took me nearly an hour, but it wasn’t strenuous effort – just steady, gentle pace. The weather wasn’t with me though, so my hopes of arriving fresh and dry and looking professional were a total wash out. I knew within about 2 minutes of setting off that I probably should have accepted the offer of a lift (I did take a lift home – gratefully). My waterproofs did ok I suppose, but even they couldn’t cope with the constant rain. My feet were soaked through (literally squelching), as was the bottom 6inches of my trousers, and my bum! Even with all this though it wasn’t an unpleasant ride – especially once I got off the major road, which had a lot of heavy goods vehicles (a little hairy at times).

Having a go with one electric assist bike has set me thinking again on whether to invest in an electric bike myself – probably a cargo bike to keep up with the capacity I’ve got used to with the Elephant bike, and to keep the option of carrying the kids along. In fact a bike like this would make it even easier to carry the kids along! I love the Dutch designs – like this Babboe ‘Big E’:

I love the idea of zipping around town with the children in the bucket on the front, or piling in everything for a day at the beach while they ride by my side. Having the electric assist would also stretch out the distance that I could cover. The only big downside of this style of bike is that I could definitely not take it on a train – which really limits its use to our immediate area.

Then there is this one – the Tern GSD S10 – which I can only describe as the bike of my dreams:

It is cool, it is efficient, it is adaptable, it is brilliant – and it is expensive. If you aren’t already sitting down then please do take a chair before you look at the price… It is a lot (in fairness so is the Babboe, but the Tern really pushes the boat WAY out). But from where I’m standing it looks like it could be well worth it. I think. I just need to finish convincing myself (and my dear wife) that this would be a good and responsible way to spend all our savings. On the plus side it would let me carry not just our toddler but essentially most of the family (either both children or a second adult) on the back, or a massive amount of cargo. And with the frame being basically the same as a normal bike I reckon I should be alright to take it on a train too – which opens up a whole world of possibilities.

After today’s adventure on an electric assist bike I’m one step closer to at least going out to book a test ride… What do you think?

Sacrifice and frustration

I’ve been asked a lot recently how it is going without a car, and honestly it is mostly great. We’ve found so many positives from just getting rid of the car (expected and unexpected) – slowing down, appreciating journeying more (individual journeys and The Journey), fitness, mental health, and a greater sense of connection with ourselves, our community, the weather, the seasons… It really has been great.

But not having a car makes it very difficult to go surfing. And that sucks.

I started surfing as a teenager, and after a significant break (when we lived in various places that were a long way from surf beaches!) picked it back up again with relish when we moved back to the Yorkshire Coast. I really love it. I’m not very good, but that’s not the point. It is GREAT fun, and such a visceral and vivid experience – connecting with the flow of the ocean for a momentary exhilarating rush, plunging into the cold salty waters of the North Sea, and in between sitting in quiet, peace-filled beauty. I’m not often inspired to write poetry, but during one surf session last year I composed a short piece call ‘Liquid Prayer’ that captures some of why I love to surf.

But not having a car makes it difficult to go surfing. And that sucks.

We live almost as close to the beach now as we ever have – just over a mile, totally walkable (even with a board). But unfortunately our local beach is rarely surfable (I’m not going to go into the reasons why of coastal and wave details, you’ll just have to trust me on this). Some of the best beaches in the country – certainly on this coast – are really close by, relatively speaking. Just not walkable. And not really a distance I could cycle either (especially with a surfboard on the side – I do have a bike mounted board rack, but wouldn’t dare try to ride on anything except a side road with it!). Which leaves me a bit stuck.

Now if I want to get out for a surf I have to tag in with a buddy, or persuade someone else that they want to go too (not so easy when the air temperature is only just above zero, and water temperature not much more than that…). There is a certain kind of beauty in this, but it is also a serious limitation. Because surfing is one of those sports that you can only do when the conditions are right it isn’t really an option to put diaries together very far ahead and book in a time – you kind of have to be ready to make a plan and crack on pretty spontaneously. Tough enough when you’ve got a demanding job, even harder when trying to coordinate with other people too.

I still check the surf reports, normally at least 2 or 3 times a day – teasing myself by making sure I know exactly what I’m missing out on. I watch LOTS of videos of other people surfing – big wave madness, super chill sliding, everything – getting a vicarious fix.

Not having a car hasn’t stopped me buying a new (second hand) board. I’ve had a glorious few hours cleaning and prepping it, now I just need to grab a buddy with a van or a roof-rack so I can go and give it a try!

I haven’t been able to get out for a surf for months now… I think I will probably head down to the beach soon for a swim in the sea instead, but I’ve been holding off because I just don’t think it will be the same. It’s not life or death, but this is a genuine sacrifice for me. I knew this would be the case when we got rid of our car, but it is still frustrating.

Living with less to walk more gently on the earth.