Adventures in bamboo pt-1

Adventures in bamboo pt-1

September 24, 2018

It’s hot! 

Seriously hot! Horribly hot.

The atmosphere is cloying and I’m gasping for a decent breath. But with every gulp of air I’m inhaling so many fumes I can almost feel it coating my tongue.

The sweat has soaked my clothes to the point I look like I’ve just walked out of the nearby Thames river. 

I’m surrounded by noise and have only artificial light to guide me through this unnerving and claustrophobic environment.

My heart rate is up at it’s theoretical limit, and I’m beginning to think my last few minutes on this planet may come to an abrupt end around about here.

My brain is clearly no longer working properly and however hard I work, the daylight in the distance doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.

Through the noise and the cloud of pollution and thumping pressure in my head, a voice of calm condescension cuts through with diamond-like clarity.

“Daz, WTF were you thinking?”

It’s late June. The hottest day yet of the 2018 summer heatwave, and I’m cycling through the Limehouse Link Tunnel on a poorly maintained MoBike, with an overloaded rucksack and a bicycle frame strapped to my back. Just what the FUBAR heck was I thinking? 

The answer, like the question, I guess, has as many layers as a British Bakeoff showstopper. What was I thinking when I turned onto the bit of road that lead me into this hell hole? What was I thinking when I elected to strap this hefty 29er MTB frame to my backpack and then to myself, before setting of to cycle from Bow to Waterloo on a ropey bike-share bike, with no map or knowledge of the East London roads? What was I thinking when I first set out on the metaphorical journey that brought me to the point of these somewhat questionable decisions? How many other questionable decisions have I made along the way? (quick answer to that one; myriad).

I’ll knock off the easy answers first:

  1. I was hot, I was tired, I thought I knew where I was, read the road sign wrong and the next thing I knew I was in the tunnel. The only way out now was to keep going forward.
  2. I’d already cycled this particular MoBike from London Bridge to outside it’s ‘permitted service zone’ this morning. And if I didn’t return it to a point inside said zone, I’d probably invoke some sort of fine. I also had no idea where that zone line was in relation to any sort of tube station, so what the hell, I might as well ride it all the way to Waterloo.
  3. The bike frame had to come with me. I had no intention of traveling this far back North and East across London another time to collect it. I’d spent the last three days building it, by hook or by crook it was coming home with me.
  4. It was a Monday evening. I had to go to work tomorrow and was 99% sure the highlight of my day would be an ‘out of the blue’ meeting invite, resulting in an early train home to a suitable pub garden in Surrey, redundancy letter in hand. Beer to be drunk, a long summer ahead, plans to be made. This weirdly shaped amalgamation of bamboo poles, hemp rag and plant resin I had assembled, now had to be turned into a fully fledged bike. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to begin.

Hot and sticky in East London, needing to be in Waterloo, my mind already focussed on tomorrow in the office and, with any luck, Wednesday at home. Fair to say, my route planning for the journey across town didn’t get the brain time it required.

And what about the metaphorical journey? Well It’s really long and really does contain more questionable decisions than you can shake a grass pole at, and this isn’t my life story. so I’ll bookend it.


Rewind 33 years…

I’m in mum’s car and they’ve just announced on the radio a huge concert to be held at Wembley next month, called Live Aid. For me it was Work Experience Week at school and one of my best friends had arranged for me to do my week at her fathers boatyard. I loved boats (still do) and although I had no real idea what I wanted to do with my life when in a few weeks time I walked across the playground and out of the school gates for the last time, I knew it didn’t involve sitting in an office pushing bits of paper around a desk.

Work experience week was great. Zoe’s dad was building a river boat from the ground up. A proper old-fashioned boat, made from steam-bent wood with the lovely black caulking to seal the seams between the planks. I was hooked. I knew what I really wanted to do was build stuff. Boats, ideally. 


February 1987:

British Airways is privatised and listed on the London Stock Exchange. 

Edwina Currie sparks controversy by stating that "good Christians won't get AIDS".

The Church of England's General Synod votes to allow the ordination of women.

I start my first office job.


February 2018.

Another year has disappeared without remark. Older, fatter, more lethargic. Disinterest in my job has reached record levels. I’ve given up even pretending. Cycling is my release valve. I own more bikes than there are days in the week and I can justify (almost) every one of them. Every weekend If I’m not riding a bike I’m fixing a bike, or restoring an old bike. Monday morning on the train and I’m already thinking about where to ride next weekend. I used to sit in a classroom and daydream about building boats. I now sit in an office and daydream about building bikes. 

Apparently there’s a place in East London where they teach you to build your own bike out of bamboo. Like most, I’m skeptical when I first read about the use of bamboo as a material for building a bicycle frame. But I’m fascinated by the idea of doing it. My daydreaming flits back to June 1985 and that wonderful week of working with wood, learning a craft. Calendar checked, credit card out, place booked.

I go skiing, there are board-level changes at work, suddenly my dead-end job has a very real dead end in sight.


So there I was.

...pedaling for all I was worth, wondering whether my heart would give out before I got hit from behind by a car. Annoyed at the prospect of missing out on a fully-paid long summer break, because I had a heart attack, fell off my bike and got run over 80ft underground in the Limehouse Link Tunnel.

Seriously! What the fuck?!


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