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Op Fietse

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In England they ask: “Is it for charity?”

In Flanders, France, Italy and Spain they say: “What beautiful madness.”

From the 2013 Dunwich Dynamo route instructions.

The Dunwich Dynamo is an overnight bike ride of about 200km from north-east London to the coastal city of Dunwich, in East Anglia. I’d read about it on the web somewhere in February, when I was researching cycling in London. It seemed like a fun thing to waste some energy on, and when July came around I managed to convince two friends and my sister to join me.

We’d left late – my fault, as I had forgotten to prepare my gear –  and arrived for the start in Hackney after a 20km ride that involved crossing central London on a busy Saturday evening. Despite being an hour and a half late, there were fortunately still plenty of cyclists around the pub in the park. The Dynamo Dunwich isn’t organised – it’s just an annual ride from a group of cyclists that got out of hand – but there are some food stands along the route and there are organised buses back to London. We managed to get our hands on some route descriptions, which proved themselves very useful later on.

It was already dark by the time we left, and for the first while we didn’t see any other cyclists. The first bit of the route was as frustrating as the ride to the pub earlier in the evening – an endless stream of cars, and traffic lights every couple of hundred meters. It took an hour or so before we’d left everything you could possibly call London behind, and were out on the dark country roads.

Soon enough we ran into other cyclists, and then more. Before long, we were part of a long snake of endless blinking red and green lights, contracting and expanding as we climbed and descended hill after hill. We had kept it basic – bright front light and decent back light – but some people had gone out of their way with the light shows on their bikes.  The atmosphere was friendly and chatty here, and no longer as hushed as back in the city. Everybody who stopped for a break was asked whether they were okay or needed help by passersby.

After 30 or 40 kilometers we arrived at our first stop: a small village of which I forgot the name, with two pubs packed with cyclists. Not long after that we had our first flat tire, and if that wasn’t bad enough we had to watch all the cyclists we had recently overtaken pass us. After fixing the tire, we paddled on on our own until we hit the first semi-official stop. When we got there it turned out that they had just run out of food and drinks, and the same thing happened at the next stop where somebody was selling hot dogs. As B. was trying to fix the bump in his recently replaced back tire with one of those crappy small bicycle pumps, he accidentally broke the valve and so we had to use our second and last spare tube.

We hit the 85km marker and not soon after, dawn set in. Unfortunately it was kind of drowsy and grim – there were clouds everywhere, and it had started drizzling – so we didn’t actually get to see the sun rise above the horizon. We grabbed breakfast at a truck stop and then continued on. At this point we also started getting cross traffic – some cyclists apparently were tired of the Dunwich beach already and had decided to paddle back to London.

At the next stop we were quick enough to grab the last cups of tea,. The last 20 miles were fairly uneventful. We got to the beach some time around eleven, much later than we had originally estimated. We had a quick glance at the sea, bought an ice cream and then hopped on the bus back to Londinum.

It was a great night, although it seems more like a dream than a memory now, because of my lack of sleep. It had a special kind of atmosphere. I’ll certainly do it again next year, and perhaps I’ll ride back as well.


Written by aristillus

July 26, 2013 at 10:40

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Becoming an ex-nomad

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I love life on the road, but it’s also nice to have a place to call home again. The last six months had me travel across most of Europe in the midst of winter. I’ve slept on the couches and in the beds of my friends and strangers, at bed-and-breakfasts, in a rental apartment, a handful of night trains, several hotel rooms and a couple of hostel dorms. The introvert in me needs a break.

This week I moved into my new place, a single bedroom apartment in one of London’s southern boroughs. It’s not super cheap, or large, or in a great neighborhood – welcome to London – but it’s comfy, near one of the more active high streets, and – above all – mine. In terms of square feet (or square meters – whatever) it’s about a third the size of my flat in the Netherlands.

Before I moved out, I threw out as much stuff as I thought I could. A lot of furniture made its way to my sister, and what was left went to the local recycling or landfill. The remainder was packed “carefully” into three dozen boxes by the moving company, and then picked up and put in storage here in London. It’s sat in a warehouse for 5 months while I was doing my thing roaming about Europe, and I haven’t missed any of it. Perhaps it’s time to throw out more so my next move won’t be such a hassle.

It seems like a long time ago that I lived in the Netherlands. I can see myself staying in the UK for a couple more years, and then move elsewhere.

Written by aristillus

April 3, 2013 at 00:18

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In The Waiting Line

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Dear people of England,

I know all y’all have a big obsession with queueing. The art of people in lines is your thing, like we Dutch are in charge of bicycles and being stoned. Everybody in the world has to queue sometimes, but nobody else can (or would bother to) boast about the skill, variety and finesse with which they do it. And while us foreigners are annoyed with being in an orderly line of grumpy waiting people, you seem to be almost excited about the prospect.

Anyhow, can you please tone it down a bit for the rest of us ? A single line or one queue per register is okay. Queues are optional; there is no need to create an artificial one if customers are being helped immediately (I’m looking at you, local Waitrose). If you have a sign in your store that says “We are using a double queueing system”, then perhaps you’re overdoing it. If you have three people managing a queue for the two registers in your bank, then perhaps you need to rethink your staff assignments. Panic and chaos will not ensue. Not immediately, anyway.

It’s true, there are few things more exciting than experimenting with queues and different queuing systems. As a software engineer, I am well aware of this. But please do your experimenting in private – perhaps in some sort of club? –  in your spare time. Or maybe you can have ceremonial queues on national holidays? Whatever, just don’t bother me with it.

Written by aristillus

March 18, 2013 at 01:08

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It’s week four of my relocation, and things are becoming more routine. I’ve abandoned my optimistic plans to be at the office before 10. Most of the boring and tedious bureaucratic nonsense has been dealt with – I’ve got my UK bank account, health insurance and pension plan set up.

One of my impulse buys this week – the local HMV has lots of good stuff on sale since it is closing down – was the Pineapple Thief’s 10 Stories Down. Strange coincidence then, to come home and find that it features a song titled Clapham – named after the area in which I found an apartment the day prior.

I’ve thought long about where and how to live. In the last couple of years I have shared a flat with friends and strangers and I’ve lived by myself. Flatsharing has been fun, and I’ve been fairly lucky with my housemates. But I’m now in my late twenties and I already spend most of my day around other people – lots of them. I have less tolerance for flatmates who need me to wear pants in the house during the spare moments I’m at home every day.

So I’ve decided on a 1-bedroom apartment, about 20 minutes from the office. It’s not big by any standard, but it is close to public transport and the high street and it is mine alone. It’s got a bed, a bathroom, a washer and a sofabed for visitors. Part of me objects to spending such a ludicrous amount of money on rent, but I guess that’s the price of living in London. I’ll still have to ditch some of the stuff I took across the channel with me since I won’t have space for it, but that’s okay. If I haven’t had a need for something since I packed it up 4 months ago, I really don’t need it that badly.

Written by aristillus

March 6, 2013 at 00:07

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Space Oddity

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I love you, London, but you too have your oddities. None of them are too big to be a problem, but some things are impossible to ignore. In two years time I’ll probably be defending these as perfectly acceptable, once the Stockholm syndrome kicks in. For now, they bother me.

I’ll start with the food. Your chips are weird. Sorry, let me misspell that for you so you understand it. Your crisps are weird. You have crisps made of non-potatoey things, like pears, turnips and carrots. And then you lack proper flavoured crisps. There’s crisps with vinegar rather than peppers. WHY??

For a city that features half a dozen different world kitchens in a single street alone, it is extremely hard to find decent bread. Most supermarkets just have soggy, soft wheat stuff packed in plastic. I’m sure you can’t tell the difference once it’s been toasted.

I won’t bother complaining about the lack of decently priced good cheese. I knew that was one of the things I had to give up when I moved here.

I realize fish and chips is hardly haute cuisine, but what’s that green goeey stuff that looks like guacomole and tastes like unfinished pea soup in my pub grub?

What’s up with the giant powerplugs? British engineers seem to take any questioning of the size of the UK power plug as a personal insult the size of, well, said power plug.

I’m sure there’ll be another installment of this in another couple of weeks.

Written by aristillus

February 19, 2013 at 01:19

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“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.”
― Stephen FryThe Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

I’m in love.

For about three weeks now I’ve been living in London. I knew I liked the place – I chose to move here after all – but it’s been even better than I had expected. Unlike the dozen times I’ve been here before – usually for between two days and a week – my stay here is now permanent, which makes it feel different. I’m not really in travel mode anymore; I cook at home (sometimes, and for certain values of “cook”), tourists have started asking me for directions (what spidey sense do they use to spot “locals”? is it the bowler hat?) and the bloody pedestrians that keep walking on the other side of the tunnel in the tube are starting to annoy me.

Londoners are an international bunch, and not as terribly reserved as their reputation makes them out to be, at least outside of public spaces. There are a handful of people here that I know, which is a great way to bootstrap my social circle. They’re not concentrated anywhere in particular, and the city is big enough that I don’t run into people who know me on every street corner. I don’t think I really understood how important that kind of anonymity is to me. It’s also good to challenge yourself and your insecurities sometimes; if anything can cure me of my shyness, it’s having to deal with lots of random strangers.

Waterstones in Oxford Street is heaven. I really should stay away from the place and stop compulsively buying more interesting books until I’ve worked my way through the current stack.

Beside that, there is enough to do here to keep me entertained. There are a handful pubs with interesting beers and people around the corner, restaurants and takeaway places in the next street over. If I so desired, I could spend every night at a good concert, play or meeting group for an obscure board game or programming language.

Written by aristillus

February 14, 2013 at 00:54

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Holland House Library 1940

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Readers browsing through the damaged library of Holland House in West London, wrecked by a bomb on 22 October 1940.

Holland House, West London, England – October 22, 1940 via bookshelfporn

(they also have pictures of the B2 Boutique hotel in Zürich that I mentioned in an earlier post)

Written by aristillus

February 7, 2013 at 23:01