The Great Teacher



It's a depressing feeling when you realise you're full of shit.


At the end of July, on the eve of a ten day jaunt through France, i wrote something about the joys of going away on a cycle tour. I'd droned on about how discovering the world from the seat of a bicycle was the most illuminating thing on God's earth, and three days later i found myself at the top of a hill just south of the Loire valley wanting to cry.


The sun had beaten a migraine into my head, my sweat had dried into a film of salt that caked my jersey and was beginning to chafe, i had run out of water, i felt a shadow of my physical prime, and i wanted to be anywhere but in a nest of roundabouts on the outskirts of the town of Thouars anchored to a fucking bicycle, that i now resented because it had got me here. As if to goad me, as punishment for the lowness of my thought processes, Nature sent an emissary from the skies to plant a kiss on my lower lip.






And something dawned on me.


You see, historically i'd always taken off on these bike trips as a means of escape. I'd be in the grips of a depression and in need of any change whatsoever, of a reset button. And my reset button would be cycling. As a means of falling back in love with the world, and with life in that world, it was an unfailing tonic. I'd go away lost and come back found. I'd go away pasty and numb and drowning in monotony and return fit and brown and full of experience. For me cycle touring was a symbol of coming back from the dead, of crawling out of hell back to the land of the living.






But now i was happy.


I wasn't looking for a magic bean. I wasn't lost, things in my life had meaning. And as i approached the same roundabout for the third time in the 35 degree heat of a French afternoon, feeling my bottom lip slowly inflate like a bicycle tube, all i could think was...


what the fuck am i doing


The rocket-fuel of finding meaning in life wasn't in me, the road ahead felt twice as long and twice as steep and wasn't leading to any kind of redemption. I'd waxed on about falling in love with nature and feeling the wind on my back, about forests and streams and silence. But i was full of shit. I was metronomically pedalling along A-roads and stopping at French Morrison's to down Perrier and eat emmental and jambon brioche buns out of a packet. Nothing was as it had been. I was seeing through it all, and i wanted to be back in London.





I'm back now, and i think i get it. 


Some things are best understood not in the moment but in their aftermath. In the ten days it took me to cycle 1300km from Saint Malo in Brittany to Toulouse near the Pyrenees and the border with Spain, i was running from nothing. In that way, it was my most instructive cycling trip. I saw the world not radiating the glow of my own salvation, but as it was. It taught me that running away might take you out of hell for a little bit, but hell will keep coming for you. Running out of hell is a trip, but nothing feels that good if it's not directly pushing away something bad. You'd be better off addressing the reasons that are making you run in the first place.


The cycling itself was less of a drug, the motivations for being on a bike were more opaque. I had to look harder for them. But find them i eventually did. And i was left with the same conclusion as always:



Touring by bicycle is The Great Teacher






It is more than just cycling through a country. The bike is a confusingly wise thing, with a living beating heart. If you put your ear to the cold, scratched surface of the metal and concentrate, you'll hear a whistling through the hollow tubes, and if you learn to listen carefully this whistling will whisper the wisdom of life back to you. Below are some of the lessons that hunk of steel has imparted to me over the last ten years.


*


EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES


Cycling through a nine day heat wave in early August can take its toll on your head and affect your mindset to the point where something that should be enjoyable can become really quite un-enjoyable because you're so fucking hot all the time. But you think it's your fault, and you're getting old, and falling out of love with something that is precious to you, and you start to worry what that says about you and how you're losing your wonder for the world, and for adventure, all these things, and it's really just the fucking heat. More often than you'd think, the reasons your life is a disaster have their roots in something incredibly superficial.



SIMPLE THINGS


I stopped by the side of a road in New Zealand once and opened my water bottle to look down into it. Baked all morning by the sun, it was tepid, stagnant looking, and had bits of dirt floating around in it. I put it to my lips and sucked it up and in that moment it was the most delicious sweet thing to ever pass through them, more than smooches. The same thing i'd spit out on any normal day tasted like the water Indiana Jones downed in one from the Holy Grail. For that to happen i thought, i'm either very thirsty, or the bike is whispering to me.





On a cycle tour tepid water and a hunk of bread is a feast. A shitty campsite shower, clean socks, and a packet of Haribo and i feel like praying to a divine power to give thanks. Seneca told of the importance of depriving yourself of the things you think you need, and realising you're completely fine. Of realising how happy you can be with very little. Not just happy, maybe happier. Which doesn't just mean we should nurture an ability to go all Robinson Crusoe from time to time. It also means we spend our lives shackled to things we simply don't need.



CONNECTION


One of the things i claimed before about the importance of getting back into nature, wasn't so much the idea of becoming a tree. It was also about the places nature could take you away from. I try not to go on my computer that much when i cycle, which leaves me with sending and receiving texts on my beat-up nokia. One afternoon i found myself deep in a wood in Aquitaine looking down at my phone showing zero bars of reception, and some weird deep instinct rose up in me and a smile broke across my face.






A weight lifted, and i realised then my anxiety was one of being connected, not the other way around. After all i had everything i needed, i wasn't lonely. And the liberation from this little plastic thing with this immense power to claw me away from being present in my surroundings was winged anxiety soaring off into the trees. Freeing me to enter into a connection with things directly in front of me, the ones living and breathing in the real world in front of my face. I'd foregone one type of connection to enter into another, one i could share with me, myself and my own memory, and it was making me a damn sight happier. 



HISSY FITS


Below is my bike wheel sunk half way through the floor of La Puna, a plateau sitting 3,500 metres above sea level in the Andes. I was 80km from the nearest town when i was hit with a 6km stretch of this thick sand which made cycling impossible. The winter sun was beating down on me, i felt helpless and scared, and falling over for the fifth time in as many minutes i lay by the side of the trail with my head in my hands and screamed at the top of my voice as loud as i could. Expecting it to echo out over the vast valley like some strangulated death rattle, strangely enough to my surprise, after half a second my scream cut out abruptly, as if someone had ripped a plug out of a socket. 






Something older and wiser inside me was telling me to get on with it. No-one could hear me scream. It was somewhat PG13, but i was in a survival situation and i was wasting energy i needed. Something inside me far smarter than i was, was making me go from problem to solution without the interval of a hissy fit. The seriousness of the situation required me to get straight on with solving it, leapfrogging my frustration completely. Which is kind of remarkable. If there's one lesson the bike has imparted to me over the years, the wisdom of which i find it hard to fathom the extent of, it's this one.



KEEP ON MOVING


When you're cycling for seven to eight hours a day, you go through every single emotion possible every single day on a bicycle. If you spend over a week doing this, accumulated fatigue ups its ante, and odds on at some point you're going to find yourself at a massive intersection during a rainstorm with a flat tire wishing you'd never been born. Or you're out of water with the mercury pushing 38, and a resolve firmly mounting in your head to roll over and die by the roadside flash-fried by UV.

This is when you move. Take one more step, and you will find that doors will appear in walls you didn't know existed, and you can walk through them. A bend in the road will become a small hamlet, a tap will reveal itself half-hidden around the side of a church, you will throw yourself under it, and it will feel like a thousand power showers pumping limited edition Evian all over the furnace of your charred melon. See Simple Things above.






NATURE


You get pretty tanned on a bicycle. You're in the sun almost every hour of the day. It might not feel that way because you're always moving, in and out of shadow, up and over hill and dale, the wind hitting your face, making your eyes stream, but the sun's effect is the same on your skin as if you were lying all day on a beach towel. It gets you whether you like it or not. Go cycle touring for even a short amount of time, and the effect the sun has on your skin is the same one Nature will have on your mind. By just being in it, immersed in it, it will go to work on you without you even realising.


And Mother Nature will begin to speak to you in her ancient language, and she will call you into her arms.



What she has to say, you have to find out for yourself.







*


Stuff that didn't make the cut.


If you can bear your own company, travel alone. Your experience will be richer for it. Wave at old people when you pass them by. They dig it. Don't torture yourself, but don't make things too easy for yourself either. You don't need a Garmin super-computer or booking.com to cycle round a country, you can get by with paper maps and sign language and you'll have a much more memorable adventure. The combination of a mind free to wander and an optimum heart-rate is breeding ground for some really decent thought processes. Write them down or you'll forget them. Cycling is the only drug i know where coming down might be even better than getting high. 


Lastly, be sure to accidentally make a beeline for a friend's palatial holiday home, even one that might be empty, a friend whose family have placed enough confidence in you to tell you where the keys are hidden, also encouraging access to their fridge, from which you could extract an ice cold beer, or two, or three, to accompany you as you while away an afternoon by the pool, staring out over the vast forests of the Lot valley, and fall into a deep peaceful slumber...






... transporting you to other worlds.



The Mountains And The Rivers




I had been pounding my mountain bike through dense forest for over an hour.







The sinuous track finally straightened and i crested the pine-coated hill. I looked over at Wilma and grimaced, then stared out across the vast unending lands stretching out ahead of us and channeled the last of the Mahican in me. These were the territories of the Native American tribes who had roamed freely over these hills and prairies for tens of thousands of years, existing in a deep spiritual communion with a sacred earth they called a mothering power.






I was born in Nature's wide domain! The trees were all that sheltered my infant limbs, the blue heavens all that covered me. I am one of Nature's children. She shall be my glory: her features, her robes, and the wreath of her brow, the seasons, her stately oaks, and the evergreen.



George Copway Kahgegagahbowh, The Ojibwe People 1848


*


That was in 2016, near the beginning of a 2,800 mile bike race that ran the length of the Rocky mountains from Alberta in Canada to the US border with Mexico. That trip was about as far from normal as a bike trip can get, but is an example of the fact that for the last decade of my life, it's become clear that i can't really do any travelling anywhere if i don't have my bicycle with me. I wouldn't really know how.






In 2007 when i was 24, my mate Guy and I took some bikes to Japan on a journey into the unknown, and thenceforth spent the next few years chasing the two-wheeled dragon wherever we could. We braved the southern spaces of the Arctic circle and unending daylight in Norway, and traversed Eastern Europe from Poland through Slovenia, Hungary and the Ukraine, crossing the Carpathian mountains into Bucharest.


In 2012 i took up the reigns alone, and went to the Andes for six weeks. That was the first trip that really scared me. 43 days at 3,500 metres above sea level, nights so cold water would freeze inside my tent, migraine-inducing altitude, you can read an account of it here. Closer to home my bike took me through Italy, the Alps of Austria and Switzerland, it showed me the length of Germany, there were forays through Holland and Belgium, and France many times over. And a month exploring New Zealand.






I've been eaten alive by sand-flies in a river near Dunedin, suffered third degree sunburn in the shadow of Mount Cook, had 3am hallucinations in the deserts of New Mexico, slept in a village on Japan's east coast that has since been destroyed by a wave, was run off a mountain road by the Romanian mafia, and bought apricots off a 60yr old Ukranian woman with a handlebar moustache. I've looked down roads i can't see the end of, camped out in the middle of them, got more lost than you can ever fathom, i've felt the most sad, tired, confused, and by turns the most at peace, elated, and alive i've ever felt in my life.



All from the saddle of a touring bike.















*


Discovering the world by bicycle has become my favourite thing in life. It is something i crave when i feel distant from it. It is something i feel a physical pull towards. And is something that fuels me for months once i have returned from it. Until the point where that flame has weakened and splutters and i look for the next chance to go again.


I thought long and hard as to why i felt this so strongly, and i came to a realisation. This physical pull, this joy, this peace of mind, this aliveness, this residual contentment in its aftermath, none of it is actually about the bicycle. Not really. It's about where the bicycle deposits you. I realised that it was about something far bigger than just the bike. It was about getting the hell away from cities, and getting back into nature. It was something wise and ancient inside me, calling me back to the mountains and the rivers and the birdsong and the silence.






In 1845 the American writer Henry David Thoreau, in his late 20s, built himself a small cabin among the pine trees on the shores of Walden Pond in Massachusetts, wanting to see what it would be like to live cut off from other people, in communion with nature. He summed up his experiences in the book Walden.


He went for long walks, read, mended his clothes, gathered fruit, went fishing and mused on what holds us all back from living in this way. Amid the trees with only birds and badgers for company, he ate and lived simply, but felt like a king. At the end of his time in the woods, Thoreau returned to the modern city sceptical of its so-called achievements and determined to live according to the wisdom and modesty that is the gift of the natural world.






Thoreau was tapping into something innate. This need to be in nature, i have come to believe is deeply nested in every single one of us, thanks to the seven million years of human evolution, and the hundreds of millions of years before that, when we lived in the world and all of the world was just trees. What Thoreau was saying was the same wisdom the Native American tribes had passed down between them since time immemorial.


Nature's features, her robes, the wreath of her brow, shall be our glory.


I remember one morning lying against the trunk of a giant Eucalyptus in the South Island of New Zealand, looking up and watching its branches and leaves silhouetted against the sky dance in an almighty summer wind. And an intuition came to me that i've never forgotten. Straight out of left field. Nothing is wiser or cleverer than nature. I remember thinking it clearly and indelibly. Nothing has been here longer or is more perfectly designed or knows more. It was here before us and will be here after us, and we should pay attention to what it has to say.


Getting into one environment can also get you out of another. And the world of screens and status updates and vibrating alerts and inadequacy, the world of rush hour commutes and screw faces and carbon monoxide and fear, i think we could all use getting the hell away from for a minute or more. It's not just what nature can give you, but also what it can take you away from.






I wanted to write this because i'm off on my bicycle tomorrow evening at dusk, my ferry lands in Saint-Malo on the north coast of Brittany at eight in the morning, and for the next ten days i will trace a path as far down the belly of France as i can get. I have my tent, some reading material, a notebook, some clothes to mend, some fruit to gather, the company of birds and badgers, and some fishing to do.


I was going to make this a detailed account of the tiny things that make cycle touring so majestic, but i thought i'd use the next two weeks for research. So here's Wild Geese by the poet Mary Oliver, if you want you can find her propping up the bar with Thoreau and Kahgegagahbowh, the fellow with the feather peaking out above his head at the start.


They're all singing from the same hymn sheet.






Wild Geese


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and i will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.




Pool Fulla Liquor Pt 3



It's Wednesday today. 



I'm hungover. 



Not a completely incapacitated hungover. I'm the level of hangover where i can take thoughts by the hand and toddle them to a conclusion, but my sight. If i don't make a choice on what to focus on my vision doesn't hang attentively in the middle-distance, it blurs into a soup of light and shadow. I've drunk so much water to flush out the alcohol that i need to relieve myself every twenty minutes, which is a drag. And still my mouth is dry like a desert at three in the afternoon. This has become an ordeal.






A pretty good state in which to finally conclude my trilogy on alcohol. I wrote the first part fifteen months ago, in the grips of sobriety. The second part this time last year, having jumped off the wagon at high speed, and now the denouement, one year on, sitting here staring out of the window at summer unrobing herself, sozzled, fed up, and in fervent need of unsozzling.


I don't have a problem with alcohol. 



Honestly.



*


In the first two parts, which you can read here and here, i detailed the stages i passed through in the aftermath of giving up drinking. First came the unbearable smugness of waking up on the right side of the bed, not just on the odd morning, but permanently, without a trace of hangover. Of seeing people in supermarket aisles with shopping baskets laden with tinnies, and shaking my head disdainfully as i watched them throwing their lives away. Of turning into a sanctimonious dick. Of increased productivity levels, increased self confidence, of glass half-fullness. I was the me i wanted to be.







But the thing is, it didn't continue. After four weeks the novelty wore off. The mist cleared, and the abyss that had been there in front of me all along revealed itself. And i realised why we drink. I think we drink to not feel alone. Over night, my self-satisfaction had morphed into something very sinister. As if loneliness had crept up behind solitude and tapped him in the shoulder discreetly. My turn. And they had switched places. It still felt like me against the world, but my outlook was no longer one of defiance, as it had been when i was basking in the glow of my own righteousness sipping San Pellegrino. It was one of fear.



I was alone.



It wasn't that i needed to be with people, it was more in the sense of an awareness of the crushingness of how totally alone i was. Every single thought process which led to another thought process which led to another, was mine alone. If i had employed someone to a permanent position of listening to me speak my mind for twenty-four hours a day, an ocean would still have remained present between us. Which led me to feel an ocean away from everyone.







The wool had been pulled back from my eyes, and i saw what was actually going on. Without the drink, the distraction, the mood-altering elixir, i was forced to sit there with my demons. Instead of reaching for a pint whenever things got heavy, i had to welcome in my darkest thoughts and sit in them. I had to meet and greet the worst parts of myself and befriend them. Just a little something to take the edge off please. But i didn't have access to that. And i learnt that a lime cordial doesn't take the edge off. At all.



That first plunge into a cold, crisp, obscure craft beer, medium-hopped, easy-drinking, the one with that cool lick of condensation running down the outside of the glass, invaded my dreams. 







I read somewhere that we ask ourselves the wrong questions. The question is not why do we drink. The question is why aren't we all lying on street corners drowning ourselves in booze around the fucking clock. The question is not why do we get anxious. The question is why aren't people terrified out of their skulls every second of every day to the point where they can't even move. Anxiety isn't a mystery. The mystery is how we ever achieve brief spells of calm. The point of drinking is to relieve us momentarily from the unbearable suffering of being alive.


And so the second month of my sobriety was characterised by a month-long depression. I had broken the shell, and i stared out across the cinders of the world with naked eyes. I got up to 8 espressos a day, my San Pellegrino intake quadrupled, and i went into isolation. I no longer looked down on drunks, i envied them. They had taken what i so coveted, and i was jealous. Swilling their cheap malbec and baring their sediment-stained teeth, they laughed at me.



*



My mate Tom said that when he stopped boozing, he didn't miss the drinking so much. What he missed was the binge-drinking. He missed the oblivion. Some people need an escape from their brain much more than others. In his brilliant autobiography The Story Of The Streets, Mike Skinner, no stranger to self-destruction, said the following:




That’s why i insist that my psychic deterioration was down to a lack of drink and drugs, rather than anything else. As bad as those things might be for your longterm health, they’re still down-time. Which someone who gets as caught up in his own head as i do, desperately needs.


I had drawn back the curtain, and i was encountering exactly what it was to be caught up in my own head, all the time. I had eliminated the most obvious, in your face, socially acceptable, by far and away most entertaining way of achieving down-time, and in its absence i was left pacing the floor of a room without an exit, and the inescapable, slowly creeping feeling that...



This is all there is.



Once i'd processed this, i came out of my depression. And my hangover from it, was this fundamental understanding of how alone we all are. Totally and completely alone inside the prison of our own minds, going over and over and over the same thought processes, the same ways of seeing the world, the same anxiety and paranoia and the same fear of never being enough. Small wonder we need a fucking drink now and again. These are mood-altering substances for a species in desperate need of having their moods altered.







I lasted another couple of months, with less and less enthusiasm, and one Friday i went for dinner with a friend in Soho, sat through a litre of Highland Spring, something in me broke, i screamed E N O U G H  O F  T H I S  M I S E R Y and went and got annihilated. I've never looked back.



*


I said before that the whole experience of giving up drinking was one of the most confusing things i've ever done. The reason it left me so confused was because i didn't learn anything from it. Well i kind of did and i kind of didn't. But strangely the lessons i did learn seemed to vanish into the ether pretty quickly. The whole exercise had some point to it, whilst simultaneously proving in the end somehow pointless. Like a joke that you get, but just don't find funny.







I have a feeling it belongs in the company of those lessons we have to learn over and over again a number of times in our lives, because we'll keep forgetting them. The clarity that sobriety brought was terrifying, i preferred the murky lie. I still do. The truly insidious thing about alcohol is that it is blinding. It blinds us to the truths waiting there for us to stare them square in the face, but don't have the courage to. Mental discomfort is an alarm bell signalling we're getting closer to the stuff that truly needs our attention. But who the hell wants to go there when you can shuffle down to your local instead. As Giles Coren said...


Alcohol is addling the brain and persuading people in awful jobs with dreary lives that everything is okay and there is no need to get up and challenge their status quo.



*



I never thought sobriety would be so difficult. I never thought i'd have to get so lost to find myself. And then realise i preferred being lost. I never thought i'd have to start drinking again to save myself from being sober. And more than anything, that alcohol has very little to do with any of it in the first place. 


The tough thing about booze is that it's the angel and the devil. The beautiful and the lethal in equal measure. And life without it is a bore. Of course, there is such a thing as drinking for pleasure. There is such a thing as moderation. But those who don't admit that line is a blurry one are probably the ones who need the most help. Or just another drink.



In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wrote:






When i stopped working on the races i was glad, but it left an emptiness. By then i knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good, you could only fill it by finding something better.



You could only fill it by finding something better.



*



That's about it really.



Am I a Clown Pt 1





In one of the great scenes in GoodFellas Henry Hill, Tommy DeVito, Tony Stacks, Frankie Carbone and a few others are sat round the table in The Bamboo Lounge, drinking. Tommy is recounting getting a beat down administered to him by the feds and has the rest of the table in stitches. He finishes his story and Henry, in between hysterics, tells him what a funny guy he is.



What you mean i'm funny?



In the blinking of an eye the mood switches.






Funny how? What's funny about it? Am I a clown? I make you laugh? Am I hear to fucken amuse you?



It's just the way you tell the story, Henry protests. It's.... funny.



*



It's just the way you tell the story.



Some time back in the noughties my brother and i found ourselves on Shaftesbury Avenue a little bit past midnight, having just been to a gig in the West End, waiting for the night bus to take us home from Piccadilly. Just by the bus stop, opposite the old Trocadero which is now a fancy cinema, stands one of those late night pizza takeaway outlets. With no bus in sight and both peckish my brother thought it'd be a touch to get a pizza for the ride home. By the time we'd paid the number 19 was upon us, and pizza box in hand, we headed up to the top deck to soak in the panoramic backdrop of a twinkling London night as we gorged.






We made quick work of the first two slices as the Routemaster trundled along Piccadilly and down the hill towards Hyde Park Corner. It was a hot summer night and i opened one of the small windows to let some air in, weary of stinking out the top deck with the smell of pepperoni. After the third slice our greed showed signs of waning, and by the time we reached the Kings Road our stomachs were signalling that all down there was tip-top, and maybe even in danger of tipping over.


Chelsea's main artery lay empty. As the night bus rattled down it ramping up to speeds it could only have dreamt of whilst paralysed in daytime traffic, a last lonely slice of tepid double pepperoni lay languishing in the corner of the box, and my brother offered it to me. I'm done, i said. What happened next follows such a strange turn of events that it needs to be broken down into stages and relayed in the present tense.






T U R N  o f  E V E N T S


1. Displaying a logic that to this day i struggle to comprehend, my brother gathers up the slice of pizza, and showing a snap of the wrist familiar only to ardent frisbee enthusiasts, launches it out of the window of the moving bus.


2. I follow the trajectory of the pizza backwards as it flies through the night sky away from us, pulled downwards all the while by its gravity.


3. A man is standing by a lamp post just outside the big Marks & Spencer.


4. The pizza's odyssey through the night sky comes to an end and finds a resting place, slapping hard against it, sticking to it.


5. That resting place is the man's face.


6. Signals begin to forge a path from my retina along my optic nerve in the direction of my visual cortex, and the realisation of what exactly has just happened begins to dawn on me.


*


You know those high-speed trains that scare the life out of you as they careen through train stations with no intention of stopping, breaking the sound barrier as they go. Imagine if laughter was said-station. And if laughter was such a station, then watching a man getting slapped in the face by a slice of pizza thrown from the window of a moving bus was that high-speed train. This juggernaut wasn't stopping at laughter. It was never going to stop there. Whatever was going on in my brain, laughter was an insufficient way of processing what had just taken place. 



*



7. In a split second i went from perception to computation, leapfrogging laughter like evolution had never cared to dream it up, and something else happened, something deeper and more meaningful.


8. I shat myself.


9Aggressively.




10. Then and there, sitting on top of that night bus on that balmy evening of late summer, as a tide of heat began to move across the seat under me, my life took a strange turn.


My brother, who had been oblivious to the world since launching the pizza out of the window only seconds before, looked at the expression on my face and asked me what the hell was up. I don't remember what i replied. I remember the feeling that washed over me as the smell of pepperoni on the top-deck was usurped by a different one. I remember the last four stops on the route 19 taking ten lifetimes. I remember the five minute walk back from the bus-stop that became a fifteen minute improvised shuffle. I remember tears in the shower, binning my favourite Y-fronts, i remember going to bed with the light on. I left a part of me behind on that bus.





I want to be very clear. There's the expression i pissed myself laughing or at a stretch that was so funny i shat myself. But what happened didn't happen because i laughed so hard. There was no laughter. The pizza hit the guy in the face, my eyes opened very wide for a split-second as i harnessed all the visual information i could, and i straight-up soiled myself. No sound came out of my mouth.


I want to speak to a doctor about this. Can things be so funny that your central nervous system encounters system overload, and you lose control of your insides so totally that your only recourse is to shit yourself. Evolution has a reason for everything. 


*


That's my best story. 



I have another one about cycling into the Regent's canal without meaning to, but i think the night bus pizza story tops canal-gate. The reason i told it at such length is because it's a case-study. A precursor to some things i want to say about the distinction between content and delivery. Because the thing is, i can't tell that story half as well as i can write it. Content vs delivery. Sometimes content is so good that delivery is secondary. But rarely i think. This is the first part of an investigation into story-telling, the power of oratory, how maybe what we say doesn't matter as much as how we say it.



Nabokov, the guy who wrote Lolita, once said...






I think like a genius, i write like a distinguished author, and i speak like a child.



*



Hot on the heels of this will be part 2, where i talk about story-telling traditions, stand-up comedy, history's greatest orators, and i wonder if you can actually tell anybody anything if you only say it in the right way. In the words of Henry Hill sitting there in The Bamboo Lounge, cold-sweating, protesting his innocence and the best of his intentions to Tommy DeVito...





It's just the way you tell the story.