What happens when you begin to forage in your own skull? Nature and the great outdoors offer plenty of fruits for the picking, and what better way to enjoy them than pitching a tent up in the middle of a peaceful Lake District valley for a couple of months? But is camping really all that nourishing for thyself or will you end up eating yourself alive?
Quack quack quack! Quack quack quack!
It’s still just dark as the alarm of my phone wakes with the call of a duck. A single tent in the corner of a now almost deserted campsite. I chose the duck alarm because I thought it would be the most natural sound for other campers to hear in the campsite, because it isn’t to harsh on the ears, and it is better than most of the loud robotronic noises that are the alternative choices. Sometimes, to avoid sleeping in after getting used to an alarm sound, I switch it up. This may be to a dog barking, which works for a bit, but the actual sound of the farm dogs barking throughout the day means that after a while my brain just filters it out, and I begin to sleep in. So I change it again, most likely to the sound of cascading church bells. The clarity and attention grabbing-ness of the ringing makes it a good alarm, and for a short time I am prepared to forego my own rule on using sounds you might find in the surrounding environment, there is no church, and let it nudge my lucid imagination into gear first thing on those days. By now, the mornings are dark and noticeably colder, and so I set a combination of four or five alarms at random intervals between the time I want to be reminded to wake up and the time when I should already be half way to work – somewhere between 6 and 7am. Any time before 6.45am is good going and rare. 6.55am and expect to see a rushed mouthful of electric listerine splurting out the window of a blue Toyota somewhere along the B5289, possibly infiltrating the below shores of Derwent water . Anything later and listen out for the flustered sweeps, revs, and splutters, of the 1 – 4 – 5 progression through the gearbox’s tonal register as Skiddaw pokes a brutus face through the morning cloud.
This morning, sitting up on the half deflated double air bed, I feel refreshed after struggling to get to sleep after racing thoughts and feeling generally worn down last night. Aiming to make the most of this morning mental calm I reach for my phone.
An app I downloaded a couple of months ago, which has to this point sat dormant, promises to offer users ‘mindfullness’ in everyday life. Forgetting stuff at work, feeling fidgetty, wanting to do a million different things, rather than do one thing properly, I reckon a recipe to take a second to simmer down would be worth a squirt. Well, let’s jump all aboard the Mindfulness band wagon, if it’s good enough for Richard Gere it’s good enough for me.
My previous mindfulness experience is only from books, and I am cautiously aware of its meteoric rise in the California Self-help cannon. When I was teaching a group of the youngest year 7 girls at school last year, they found a book called The Beginners Guide to Mindfulness on my desk one lunchtime band practice, bought as a present. Quick to find anything they could use against me to rip the piss, they took huge pleasure in reading sections of the book in mock self-help voice-over styles. For example, on drinking wine mindfully,
‘As you lift the glass, feel the weight in your hand. Concentrate on the sensation of the liquid being lifted towards your mouth…. allowing the gentle wafting of the aromas in to your nose… HA HA HA HA HA,’ Doubled over and cackling like hiyenas.
‘Do you actually read this?’ One manages to question between the creasing up, as I sit awkwardly on the piano stool at the other side of the classroom.
‘Shhhhhh!!! Sing the song!’ I try and distract them, and begin to play the piano again. No use.
‘Ha ha! Whilst sipping a glass of wine?’ This one mimics what I assume is me sipping a Pinot Noire whilst sat on a cactus.
‘What is this?! It is just telling you how to think. Just think. It is so stupid! Why do you need a book to tell you how to think?!’
Seeing so brightly and clearly, the freshness of their own thoughts make me feel very worn out and past it. It probably is just as easy as deciding to do it, to live ‘mindfully,’ but I don’t. The famous philosopher and part-time shoe maker Nike said, cut out the bullshit, and ‘Just Do It.’ The App presents it’s options in a wheel of different possible selections to match your particular emotional needs of the present situation. Failing to spot Tired and a bit mardy I spin through Back to nature, taking a walk, just meditating, On a break, round the on screen wheel to ‘Difficult Emotions,’ in an effort to pre-empt any possible stumbling blocks throughout the day. Planning ahead, anticipating upset, yearning desperately for a quite unattainable perfectly peaceful future! Very wise, I know!
‘As you feel the different emotions swirling in your head, your chest may be tight, or perhaps your stomach is knotted. Simply acknowledge them….’
Oh actually come to think of it, I do feel that knot in my stomach from last night again now, the one I just slept off, and…..
‘And give the sensation space to breath, to grow, and to let it just be for a moment,’
Hmmm…. something is definitely stirring down there. Have I eaten anything dodgy recently? Ah! Quick, best Google ‘Can you eat Heinz Beef Ravioli cold?’
‘And as you acknowledge each feeling, give it a label. Hello jelousy… Hello joy… Nice to meet you generalised sense of unease…’
Ahhh … what shall I call this one? Ohh how about this other one? It isnt quite self-pitty…. but neither is it hopelessnes… and what’s this sneaking in from behind, oh it’s a surprise burst of excited anticipation… and there is… AGHHHHHH!
What a load of sheep dung.
I switch the phone off and toss it aside in significantly unmindful manner and open the tent door and look out up towards the bulging shaping of the dramatic Glaramara ridge. How has it come that this little assistance from a self-help drivel spouter has driven me to wanting to crawl back into bed for the rest of the day! What am I doing, on my own in a tent, in the middle of the nowhere in the Lake District, in a pretty much abandoned field next to another field, outnumbered by sheep, at 6.45 am, as the temperatures have dropped to single figures, listening to a recorded American bloke telling me how to focus on my in and out breaths, to realign my zen by making pet names for everything I think, and to make sure when my feet touch the ground I also really feel the ground touching my feet too?
I do make it into work, and it’s OK. Just Ok. Ash and Eloise have worked every single day for months on and and must be tired of being there all the time, they never have a full day off. So I am grateful with the Tuesdays and Wednesdays I get off, and find the routine quite helpful for productivity, and it gets me out of bed, which will usually lead to something more useful happening later in the day, rather than pissing about with apps telling you how to appreciate the world whilst in the process alienating you from it.
Time to run. That will press refresh. Break the cycle. Revitalise the day.
And yes I will record it on Strava, and yes I will spend the rest of the day on yet another App, clicking frenetically through anything clickable, and looking at the various segments and times of other people in yet another bid for connectivity and contentment via handheld gadgetory.
At around 2pm, I label my following thought ‘RUN QUICKLY’, and run absolutely as fast as I can out of Keswick and up the path my the radio mast to the top of Walla Crag, and it feels just great. A nod of Hello to the couple of walkers who stood astonished over the view of Derwent Water, and straight back towards the bottom. Down the stupidly steep Cat Ghyll cliff like climb I clamber a quick descent, and feel more confident than ever on this tricky topping of the earth’s crust. The days out running and cycling are good for believing it is possible to run up and down hills more and more quickly, and do just right in sorting the days melancholy right out, and I am almost now beginning to look forward to the looming Langdale Horseshoe Race next weekend.
The stress and knee busting run does some good, as does a healthy phone call with Lucinda afterwards, and in a very cosmopolitan way I receive another phone call on a separate line whilst speaking with her. The only thing missing is a bluetooth headset to take the call on.
‘Good afternoon Daniel, this is Carly from Deliveroo calling. I’m ringing today to tell you that we would love to put your application through to the next stage for the role of Cycle Courier, and we would like to just ask you a couple more questions so we can do this.’
This sounds promising. What could beat being paid to ride a bike? The chance to learn the ins and outs of a new city, the seaside offering long evening runs as the sunsets over the burnt out pier, and enough vegans, pasta rastas, indepedendent record shops, Doc Martens, and dreadlocks to generate a lorry load of alternative goings on to get stuck into (Edit: As we will later find out at a later date most/some of these prejudices about Brighton are fully/partially shed). This phone could be the a clue as to where I may end up heading next (Edit: As could the previous Edit note, and now of course this one).
Spent the afternoon sat in Booth’s Car park, it was great. Booth’s is a slightly swanky up market supermarket, like M & S or Waitrose, but only found in the North West of England. The brand is fiercely patriotic, demonstrated for example in their festive catalogue, which gives Argos a serious run for its money, and is already available to pick up in their Keswick store. Embossed in gold lettering, with decorative holly patterns, on a hard green cover it advertises ‘The Great Northern Christmas at Booths’, and contains profiles of the local farmers, gardeners, and crocheters that they sources their turkeys, cranberries, and pigs in blankets from, with names like Derrick Ramsbottom, Betty Carlisle, and Fred Bennet reading proudly in script above a high quality photo of them doing whatever their thing is. The ode to the North is an invite for buying both food, drink and a slice of Northern grit, and tells of how early mornings, hard graft, and the overcoming of constant drizzle, makes their produce the best in not only Cumbria, or England, but the whole world, and you too can be a part of it if you’re prepared to depart with just £8.99 in exchange also for 6 slices of honey smoked wafer thin ham.
Realising that my self-imposed experiment of living an alternative tent-based approach to life is in jeopardy due to the financial strains of eating at Wetherspoons most days, and bar a couple of frugal days of poached (stolen) eggs and bread from work, it is time to tighten the purse strings. Yes, I know, At Booths?! The up market Northern supermarket a bit like M & S or Waitrose? You say. Yes. But and however where there is a will there is a Deli counter, and this week a new luncheon pattern has been skilfully whittled for the increasingly deepening overdraft aware. This has included for the past four days a £1.75 jacket potato with either coleslaw, chilli, beans and cheese on top, and a large bottle of smoothy, usually a purple one as they are on offer. This is followed by a big bag of Haribo, which I tend to begin in the car and finish at work, with the sugar aiding energy levels through the evening shift.
The cafe at Booth’s is just about big enough to remain anonymous in, and so is quite handy to take shelter in the corner of whilst eating aforementioned snap. Sometimes between shifts I buy the paper, try and fail to do the puzzles in the back, although am alright with the maths ones, and have a fully immersive alternative eating and entertainment experience, for a cut price. It would seem this riles some of the other customers, who watch slightly irritated as they spoon £8 of Thai green inspired chicken broth into their disappointed and tightly clenched feed holes.
Today, potatoed up to the brim, and in a post penny pinching euphoria I decide to clean the car. As the car holds pretty much everything I call my own at the minute, a bike, all my clothes, a few hung up shirts, countless empty water bottles, discarded food wrappers, smelly cycling clothes, rotting running trainers, a box of about 30 books, and so on, it soon becomes a health hazard, and a reorganisation of resources is much overdue. Though it hasn’t quite got to the stage which it did whilst in the hectic year of teacher training, where to my surprise one morning a few too many lay about Big Mac boxes, fuel between lesson planning and essay writing, led to a not insignificant family of maggots deciding to set up home in the front passenger foot well. Two hours and on, and a rubbish bag is filled up with the various crappage of the car’s interior. Whilst I am always quick to sing the praises of the Toyota Yaris Verso, or The Team Car as it is affectionately known by cycling friends, the boastful space and practicality is occasionally undermined in its ability to inconspicuously fill up rapidly with the litter of my excesses. A case of the proverbial bad work man maybe?
The decluttering clears both car and mind, and the additional reward of £7.25 found in loose change down the back and underneath seats is a nice cherry on the top. Two pairs of mud caked trainers are even cleaned, quite ingeniously through the use of a wire brush, gravity and a Camel Back water bladder hanging off the roof rack, providing a steady stream of shit rinsing water. Maybe I’ll do this more often! But then again, maybe not too often, need to give some time for the coin shrapnel to build up a bit.
Basking in my own Dettol soaked glory, I get an email on my phone.
We would love to get you ready to ride and work with us as soon as possible. Please get in touch with us via the telephone number below to confirm when you can attend a trial shift in Brighton.
A wasp in the car briefly distracts me from excitement, ushering out the unwelcome guest through an open passenger window with the day’s newspaper, I reread the email. Wasps in a given space create the same sort of mood as someone with a BB gun in a small room does. The thrill of the opportunity to become in effect a professional cyclist causes me turn the sound of Classic FM presenter and former newsreader John Suchet’s voice down to inaudible- his most flattering volume. I decide to wait to talk with Lucinda about it first and see what she thinks of it all, and am of course hoping that she is as excited about me turning pro as I am. Alongside the job itself, living in Brighton will be brilliant as it will mean we can see each other more easily, with more time, and without having to hand over £100 each time! The £100 being the average cost of the train ticket from Penrith to London or vice versa, I must emphasise, not because there is any exchange of money for either of our roles in the relationship, or at least no that I have been made aware of thus far.
Awaiting the call back, I sit and stare at the phone screen in driver’s seat, marginally impatiently. I flick through short term accommodation options in Brighton on the internet, planning the next venture to tie me over for a couple of months, but with plans to make sure there is flexibility to do more and different things afterwards. It is pretty expensive down in Brighton, London by the Sea some people call it. I can see why, and from my modest £6/night in Borrowdale, for the promise of warmth and an actual bed, though probably bunk, in a hostel, triple that amount will be required. What about if I can’t afford to live there? Will it be too cold to cycle in the winter everyday? There might be ice, and you can’t cycle on ice. Can you? How will I earn money then? Suddenly the excitement has turned full circle into anxious self-questioning. Looking down at the hopeless blue glow, I watch my fingers tap away desperately and without any thought going into it I am on the Buddify App screen again. Jesus! Excuse me. I mean, Buddha! Get a grip!
An hour and half of car park self-helporary later and the phone finally rings. The line is at first crackly and we can only hear about 50% of what each other is saying. We reconnect. The line is clearer. Of course there was nothing wrong, there never is, and the panic subsides into pale and past insignificance. Happy, secure and supported, I ring the Deliveroo number and confirm availability for a trial shift. The future is bright, the future is Bright-on!
I have a look about the car again and to see if I can route out the extra £1.74 for a celebratory pack of honey roast ham.