The Boyfriend is a cyclist. He thinks nothing of hopping on a bike and heading off to Paris or Amsterdam of a weekend. Now, I have no objection to heading off to Paris or anywhere else for the weekend; it’s the masochistic mode of transport that has me bothered. Sitting on what is in effect a razorblade for hours at a time holds little attraction for me. That being said, I do have great admiration for the Boyfriend’s cycling feats. Last year he covered 10,000 miles in eight different countries for charity, the longest being the Ride Across Britain from Lands End in Cornwall to John O’Groats at the tip top of Scotland. The ride covers 990 miles in nine days (phew). It rained, really rained. Almost every day. It was the wettest RAB ever. The Boyfriend does not do well in rain. Many a text threatening abandonment of the whole project was received. In a fit of girlfriendly enthusiasm and support, I said I would meet him at the finish line. Flights were duly booked and cars were hired. Being a bit witless when it comes to geography, though he has a good excuse as he’s not from around here, we managed to book the flight to Aberdeen, and not to Inverness. I got to Aberdeen, picked up the car and drove north. For hours. Five hours. With barely a stop in a layby to eat a sandwich. There was no time even to think of peeing. And still I didn’t make it. He completed the ride just as I was driving along a very straight and seemingly never-ending stretch of road, about 30 minutes from the finish line. In the telling of the tale of RAB 2017, he says that as there was no one at the finish line to greet him, he had no option but to hug a startled co-cyclist. The ingratitude of it! I have (just about) forgiven him.
We loaded all his stuff and the bike into the very small car and headed south, overnighting in Perth. Yet another five hour drive. Yes, indeed! The following morning dawned sunnily and after a surprisingly good breakfast for a budget hotel, we continued our way south. Around lunchtime, we passed signs for the Lake District. I had always wanted to visit but had never got around to it. Lunch was a perfect reason. We left the motorway and followed the road, a final left turn bringing us to Pooley Bridge on the River Eamont at the northern end of Lake Ullswater. Once a busy market town, Pooley Bridge – named for a pool and a bridge – is now quite touristy but pretty nonetheless, with beautiful views down and across the lake. The eponymous bridge, dating from I believe the 18th Century, was swept away in the floods of December 2015. There now stands an ungainly metal temporary replacement; how temporary is temporary only time will tell. I had brought my camera ostensibly to record the victorious completion of RAB but which was now deployed in a fever of photography of the myriad of textures accorded by old retaining walls and the village buildings, some flood damaged and now standing empty, resplendent in moody greys, warm pinks, sunny yellows, and cool blues. Driving followed by photography is hungry work. We made the mistake of ordering houmous and both suffered the Revenge of the Chickpea all the way back home. Did I mention it was a very small car?
Some time later, on reviewing the photos from that trip, I was reminded of life’s impermanence and of the very human need to be remembered after we are gone. Being as we are fragile creatures and easily swept away by the tide of history, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat notwithstanding, we each of us long to leave some small trace in the world. At least I do. It’s one of the many reasons I started designing textiles – to create something tangible that may well outlive me. It’s why I am fascinated by old walls and ancient scripts, and why I love linen. That they persevere inspires me endlessly to keep on creating. The Boyfriend too of course. Anyone that can cover 10,000 miles while sitting on a razorblade deserves emulation. Though I draw the line at a bike.