Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Day I Met The Beatles

Hey, I've just met one half of The Beatles, and the cool half at that. But more about this in a paragraph or five. Until then, please permit me to beam out a gushing beacon of optimism and good will to all mankind. Why? Because I'm feeling joyously happy about what happened last night and because I've recently heard that there's a certain primary school in Blackburn following my blog and I want to try to set a good example.

A while ago I was reading another cyclist's blog, a guy who was biking through the former Yugoslavian states, which I won't reach until the end of next year. When he was in Bosnia he was warned that the Croatians were a bunch of bad 'uns. When he was in Croatia, it was the Macedonians he was told to be wary of. Each country believed another was full of the wrong types. And yet, as he cycled through each of these lands, he met only friendly, helpful people. None of 'em were bad 'uns.

The thing is, everyone wants the same thing. Whether you are an Iranian, or a Massai, or an Inuit you want to live somewhere comfortable, you want enough to eat, you want your children to thrive and you want as little friction as possible from those around them. This is the reason why racism is silly. Because regardless of our physical and cultural differences we are all, at the most fundamental level, exactly the same. We are human. But, that said, some of us fear the unknown, and this fear often manifests itself as mistrust of strangers. Hold that thought.

Now, a brief but relevant diversion to Southsea. If you don't know, Southsea is right next door to Portsmouth, the starting point of my ferry trip to Jersey. Southsea is a special place for me because had it not existed I wouldn't be here at all. In the late 60s, my Mum was holidaying in sunny Southsea all the way from blizzardy Blackburn when she met my Dad, a sailor on shore leave. Had she chosen Bognor, or a different time of the year for a break, baby Steven would never have come gurgling into this world a few years later. So, thank you Southsea.

Back to the gushing. Now, there are friendly, helpful people in this world and there are people who go beyond. Last night I had the absolute privilege to meet two of the loveliest people on this planet. Georgie, an Open University student, had read my whinings on here about a leaky tent and sent me an email saying that there was a bed - a dry one - in Southsea if I needed it. She was there with her fella - philosopher John - and super-bright teenage son, Howard. To invite a stranger into your house shows a high degree of trust. But to accept such an offer also requires trust too. After all, they might have been in the process of setting up a Sweeney Todd-style pie company. But had I not trusted them, I would have missed out, not only on the friendship of two great people, but also on the weapons grade ginger beer served in their local and on a magnificent mushroom risotto that Georgie cooked. So now I have another reason to thank Southsea, or at least a few of the people who live there.

This bike ride might seem to be about places - about cruising into Rome or cycling over mountain passes in Switzerland - or it might seem to be about silly challenges that involve my eating deep-fried eyeballs or newts on toast, but it isn't. It's about the people I will meet. So far I have close to forty invitations, mostly for a coffee or a beer and a chat rather than a roof over my head, but that's enough for me. For a roof I have my tent. If the people I meet from this point onwards are 1/100th as fantastic as Georgie and John, my life on the road will be a golden dream of shiny unicorns, dancing fairies and rivers of honey. You get the picture.

As you know, George and John were the two cool ones from The Beatles and so when I said I'd met The Beatles that was a bit of a fib because I needed a title for this blog post. Ah, I'm not setting such a good example. Sorry, children, but there are times when a fib can be fine. Only Kant thought otherwise. Go on, ask your teachers all about him. (Sorry, teachers.)

Anyway, Georgie and John haven't been together that long but I really, really hope that things work out for them. They deserve all the happiness in the world. All You Need Is Love.

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