Life lessons

I had another cycling lesson tonight, and it was great. I spent the week dreaming that perhaps one lesson would be enough and that today I would just cycle off into the sunset, but I know it will take more work than that. Already I’ve learnt that good things are worth working for, and have certainly reinforced the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. I did well today, and still no injuries, but I do have a long way to go.

My cycling teacher said something tonight which really rang true, and I don’t know if she realised how deep and meaningful it was when she said it, or if she was simply offering me cycling advice. To paraphrase, she said, “It’s no good looking in one direction forever as you’ll only go that way. You have to remember to look where you want to go.”

Those are the words I’m going to take with me this week as I ride in to the second half of the year. I have a very different perspective on life now than I did when the year began, simply because I started looking in a different direction, towards where I wanted to go. I’m quite happy going the way I’m going at the moment, but I mustn’t forget to look around me too, and to keep my eyes open for all opportunities that come my way, whatever the direction.

Hello Kitty riding a bicycle

(Image source)

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Like learning to ride a bike…

The phrase “it’s like learning to ride a bike” is one I don’t think I have ever uttered. It’s a common phrase used to explain how easy it is to master a skill. Everyone can ride a bike, can’t they?

No, they can’t.

I’m 31 years old and have never learnt to ride a bike. For various reasons I didn’t have one when I was growing up, and by the time I was an awkward, overweight teenager it was just too embarrassing to even consider trying to learn. I did briefly have a go once, but failed quickly and found trying to teach myself was actually really hard. I’m not usually one to quit something because it’s hard, but I just figured I would muddle through life without wheels, and I’ve managed pretty well until now.

I haven’t written this blog for a while, but if you follow my other blogs you’ll know I’ve been settling in to my new life in Bristol really well and loving every minute of it. I can now walk to work (rather than using public transport), and it only takes about 30 minutes, so I spend a lot of time marching across town, getting lots of exercise. Every day I’m passed by countless speedy cyclists, whizzing along without a care in the world, and I admit I do sometimes feel pangs of jealousy. Not only is it a fast way to get from A to B, cycling looks like fun.

But I’ve lived in places with lots of cyclists before. In Japan people can cycle on the pavement and pretty much everyone rides a bike, it seems. I was a bit jealous then too, but I managed fine on my feet. By the time I had become an adult I had well and truly convinced myself that I wasn’t meant to be a cyclist. I was too big, probably had no sense of balance, and didn’t really need to cycle anyway.

Then, a few weeks ago something snapped inside me and I realised I was missing out. I was reading about an island in Japan that I’d like to visit someday, and how you can have so much fun if you just hire a bike there and cycle around, and I just thought “this is ridiculous”.

A quick Google led me straight to Life Cycle, a “small, energetic, innovative and committed Bristol-based charity helping local people transform their lives through cycling”. It said they offered free cycling lessons for adults living, working or studying in the Bristol City Council area, and I immediately signed up.

Signing up alone took a lot of nerve – this was a hell of a mountain I was about to conquer – but I knew I still had to actually go through with the lesson. In order to make sure I didn’t chicken out, I told everyone I was going to the lesson. It was embarrassing to not be able to cycle as an adult, but it would be worse to not even try to learn and have to tell people I hadn’t done it.

So, tonight I went along to a park to meet a woman with a bicycle. I was terribly nervous – scared that I would fall off and hurt myself, worried that I would look a fool, embarrassed about being an adult who couldn’t ride a bike. Fortunately my teacher was really kind, and reassured me that hundreds of adults can’t do things that other people take for granted, like cycling and swimming, and that she taught adults to ride bikes all the time. She really put me at ease and, although I was quite distracted by how silly I thought I must look, I managed to get on with it and have a go.

And, do you know what? I can do it!

I actually managed to ride a bike today, for the first time in my life. Of course, the teacher supported me at first, but before even half the lesson was up I was able to do it on my own (albeit with a bit of a wobble, and not necessarily in a straight line). I have two more free lessons, and I intend to make good use of them! Of course, at some point I shall need to buy a bike too, but I’m not going to try and run before I can cycle. 😉

I feel so proud of myself, not just because I could ride a bike, but because I was brave enough to have a go. I’m not writing this blog post to blow my own trumpet though, I’m writing it because I’d like to inspire others to get over their fears and jump the hurdles in their lives. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you can’t do something, for whatever reason, but there’s bound to be someone out there who can help you learn that skill or get over that fear. I’m so pleased that I didn’t just bookmark the page as “something to do one day” but that I actually went straight ahead and booked a lesson.

I’ll end with one of my favourite inspirational quotes:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it… Boldness has genius, magic and power in it, begin it now!”

(Quote attributed to Goethe, but possibly from another source)

Girl cycling through the park

(Image source)


The Rise of the Non-Conformists

When I was a teenager I didn’t fit in. In fact, as soon as I realised that I wasn’t like most of the other kids, I actively tried to do everything I could do be different from “the norm”. I thought other people were sheep, and rebelled against wearing labels or doing anything that was seen as mainstream. I dyed my hair every colour you can imagine, and got quite a lot of piercings. For anyone who’s interested, I looked like this.

My friends and I used to talk about how one day the “freaks” like us would rise up against the rest of the people. I had dreams about people coming up out of the sea like an army of pirates, ready to stand together and do battle against the people who tried to put us down.

I know now that I was just being a teenager, for the most part, but there is still an element of the non-conformist in me.

Today I spent most of the day in Shoreditch, and I had two things on my agenda: to attend the Whitecross Street Party, and to see the Olympic Torch Relay.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I really don’t care much for the Olympics. However, I felt that, as I was going to be in the area, I really ought to try to make the effort to be interested and watch the torch go by. It was, after all, probably the only chance I would ever get. I arrived at Great Eastern Street about half an hour before the torch was due, and there were already people lining the streets. I tried to feel their excitement, but couldn’t quite get in the mood. People banged on Coca-Cola sponsored drum things that were being handed out, drank free Coca-Cola and waved flags.

Olympic Torch Relay, Shoreditch

Prior to arriving, I had been at the Whitecross Street Party, dubbed “The Rise of the Non-Conformists”.

Whitecross Street Party

I had wandered up and down the street, happily snapping photographs of street art and artists at work, and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I chatted with the artist DON about his recent work and watched him stencilling a new piece out on the street.

DON

DON at work

Then I popped in a gallery and a lovely girl dabbed glitter on my face and took my photo to put on Facebook, and I felt like I belonged.

Standing waiting for the torch, I listened to some people talking next to me. They were full of almost obsessive excitement for the Olympics, and I felt like turning around and just asking them “why?”, but I didn’t. They wouldn’t have understood me any more than I understood them.

When the torch came by, it was all over in a flash and something of an anti-climax. I barely saw the guy who was carrying it, and didn’t have a clue who he was anyway.

There goes the Olympic torch - shame you can't see the guy carrying it!

There goes the Olympic torch – shame you can’t see the guy carrying it!

So I headed back to Whitecross Street, back to my people. When I got back there, the streets were buzzing with life, colour, good smells and great sounds. Eating a delicious chocolate brownie, I happily mingled with the non-conformists, and watched an artist called INKFETISH painting this somewhat anti-Olympics piece…

INKFETISH

INKFETISH

And another artist called FETCH painting this:

Whitecross Street Party

FETCH: Inspire a generation…

Enjoy the Olympics if that’s your thing, but these are my people, and this is where I’ll be.

“Belong to where you are” – Kemistry Gallery


Olympic Cleansing

Olympic rings

The Toaster Crew – this piece didn’t last long

The Olympics are coming, and boy do we know it. Here in London it seems to be all anyone can talk about. Forgive me if I sound a bit bah-humbug, but I’m afraid it doesn’t interest me at all. Yes, I know most of you will probably ask “How can you not be interested?” and tell me things like “It will only happen once in your lifetime!” and “It’s going to be spectacular.” I’m not about to argue with you. You’re probably right that it will be spectacular and I’m sure I will never forget that London 2012 happened in my lifetime. I’m just saying, I’m not really interested and I’m not planning to watch any of the games. It’s simply not for me.

I don’t really care what other people get up to though. Go crazy. Enjoy it. Fill your house with odd one-eyed mascots and union flags if you so desire. I won’t be joining you, but that shouldn’t stop you having fun. (Although I have noticed a strange tendency in many folk to try to urge me to join in – much like a colleague urges you to drink in the pub when you know you’ve had enough, but he still wants to get more wasted and can’t bear to do it alone.)

When it comes to the Olympics, while I am mildly fed up with hearing about it all, and wish the newspapers would talk about other things a little bit more (rather than the two-page spread the Evening Standard had tonight showing Twitter photos of Olympic athletes’ bedrooms), there’s only one thing that is really bothering me…

I love London. It’s a brilliant, diverse place to live. Each area, north, south, east and west, and each of the 32 boroughs, has its own personality and character. Whatever the Olympics brings with it, I have been crossing my fingers that it will only help to add more diversity and interesting culture to London. However, in a last-minute panic to “clean up” London, Hackney Council appear to be destroying the soul of my beloved Shoreditch.

On Sunday I was having one of my wanders around the Old Street/Shoreditch area, looking for new street art, when I rounded a corner and saw something that made me sick to the stomach. Hackney Council vans parked up next to gleaming white walls. I don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but I can tell you for one thing that the piece below is gone, and that was enough to make me really angry.

Mo'Pegz, Shoreditch

Mighty Mo & Gold Peg – It’s because of Mighty Mo that I started to get interested in street art

How dare they go around “cleaning up” the streets in this way, destroying art that has for so long made the area what it is? Who are they to decide what art should stay and what should go?

Not far from where this piece has been removed, I noticed a new mural by “Olympic approved” CODE FC on the somewhat questionable Shoreditch Ad Wall.

'Walk For Truce', Shoreditch Ad Wall

'Walk For Truce', Shoreditch Ad Wall

'Walk For Truce', Shoreditch Ad Wall

This wall on Great Eastern Street, I have recently learned, is “available for both Art and Commercial projects” for a fee “starting at $750 a week”. The wall has, in the past, been used by 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures and The Disney Company, as well as Beck’s Beer and the launch of Soul Calibur V. I unwittingly took photos of the Soul Calibur ones myself, wondering if it was in fact art or advertising, and now I know. (Actually, the pictures in that case were really cool, whether they were advertising or not – I guess there’s a whole other blog post I could write on that topic!)

So graffiti artist CODE FC (who holds a degree in Public Art and Design from Chelsea College of Art) and graphic artist Jack Haslehurst (also from Chelsea College of Art) have participated in this ‘peace mural’ project, to celebrate Lord Michael Bates’ ‘Walk for Truce’ and broadcast Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson’s ‘Plight of Britain’s Disabled’ for the London 2012 Paralympics. CODE FC, who had an exhibition entitled “20:12” at the Curious Duke Gallery in London in June, has been creating Olympic-themed street art for a couple of years. What I don’t understand is why his work is deemed acceptable (and, in fact, legal according to this article), and other artwork on the streets is being destroyed.

Code FC

CODE FC

For me, CODE FC’s work is pretty bland, although I guess the “cameras for heads” thing is making some comment about the media’s role in the Olympics. The mural is for a good cause, so I’m not saying it shouldn’t be there – I’d rather see this piece of art than some billboard featuring those bloody mascots or that awful 2012 logo – but why should CODE FC’s work be promoted in this way while the streets are being “cleansed” of other art which doesn’t quite fit the image the Hackney Council are trying to portray to the rest of the world?

Other street artists have also been making Olympic-themed art, but I suspect none of these pieces will last long if the Hackney Council “anti-graffiti” mob find them…

Graffiti - Ronzo does Olympics, Dalston

Olympic pigeon – Ronzo (www.ronzo.co.uk)

Shoreditch street art - Olympic graffiti

Illuminati Olympic- Mr Moustache

I wonder what would happen if Banksy decided to paint something for the Olympics? I suspect, like his Jubilee piece, a sheet of Perspex would be smacked over it immediately and people would flock to see it. But what makes Banksy or CODE FC any different from Mighty Mo and Gold Peg, whose piece above was recently painted over? Surely the concept of “freedom of speech” should apply to the artists who work on the streets of London. I want to hear what they have to say – don’t you?

Teddy Baden

Mandeville by Teddy Baden (www.teddybaden.co.uk)