Brompton through Bristol

Sorry for the prolonged absence. More work. I now have a new office which has made me more efficient during the day, leaving my evenings free for blogging and other activities, and hopefully giving me more time to cycle.

That last post about cycling in Bristol? I’m pleased to say that the Brompton handled beautifully despite the sheer weight of the animation cel boxes I was carrying in the front bag. The hardest part of the journey was manhandling bike and bag up the steps of Bristol Temple Meads station. The ride to Tom’s house was easy, he lives only just off the Bristol/Bath cycle path. I was waylaid en route when I discovered the pasty emporium ensconced in the archway of a railway bridge, but soon I was weaving my way through the construction traffic towards the bike path. This is a weird area, gleaming new apartments sit amongst decaying scrap yards and builders yards. Here and there are forgotten scrublands, even a lost orchard which in the autumn spilled urban apples onto the pavement. Cobbles give way to tarmac, old tramlines and back again to cobbles sometimes in the space of a few meters. Freestanding walls were once knaves of churches or red brick warehouses, now standing stark against the sky, a facade on a movie-set for a film never to be made.

Into Easton where we were filming. The streets are a mishmash of cultures, East meets West; bollards and houses painted in vibrant colours, the local pub rubs shoulders with sikh temples and fish markets.

When I rode back to the station, dusk was falling fast. Cycling over Temple Quay Bridge was a brief but magical experience as it was lit up from underneath. It hung in the gloaming, floating like an apparition amidst the deprivation and grime-caked hoardings,  a bridge between old and new Bristol.

As it then led me to the station, it was a fitting end to the ride.

bristol bridge temple quay

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 10:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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Award for Light and Dark

Congratulations to Tom Stubbs and Michael Smith, directors and subjects of the film Light and Dark which I blogged about here and here in connection with another film ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (on bicycle)’. They won the Current TV Best Documentary Award at the  Night of the Living Docs event in London. They came away with a rather splendid trophy and a grant to make another film. Both directors had no idea they were in with a chance of winning and were by all accounts suitably gobsmacked when receiving the award.

Light and Dark is a phantasmagorial autobiographic film exploring the minds of Michael Smith and Tom Stubbs, both have alter-egos, but whereas Michael’s Alter-ego is a muscled anthromorphic fox with a taste for sex, dark humour and violence, Tom’s Alter-ego is an earnest, technology obsessed video engineer.

It’s the contrast between the two alter-egos that really makes the film, with Tom’s alter-ego (mustacheoed video engineer Graham Lightside) ultimately presented in a similar heroic framework to Michael’s Dark Fox. Graham Lightside is Tom’s reaction to the overblown technology obsessed male who one meets in the media world. I remember Tom and I seeing documentary photography students at our college wearing military commando vests and SWAT team boots as they photographed old ladies in the streets of Newport, South Wales, we would surmise that in their heads they imagined themselves on the streets of then wartorn Sarajevo. There’s a lovely shot of Graham exclaming “It’s render time!” in a low voice as he clicks a button on his mouse, Cue diving electronic tone and close up of the timebar on his mac.

Michael’s alter-ego, the Dark Fox, is perhaps an outlet for his frustrations as a young man who is somewhere on the Autistic spectrum. Creativity is bursting out of him in the form of his artwork and the attendent stories his characters live through, his humour is dark and unconventional, even socially unaccceptable (we see him delight in the reactions of his youth worker to his artwork), yet he and Tom’s alter-egos have more in common that you might think.

Through a combination of animation and live action, talking heads, documentary footage, the film-making process laid bare, costumes and even a song at the end, the two directors talk about, and act out their alter-egos. All within the space of ten minutes.

I’ve also seen some wonderful extra footage of Tom explaining his teenage artwork to Michael, which I hope will one day be included in an extended edition or something.

Here they are with the award in London.

Tom Stubbs and Michael Smith in London with the award for Light and Dark

Tom Stubbs and Michael Smith in London with the award for Light and Dark

And here is a piece of video I shot of Tom’s band My Two Toms performing on stage after the showing of Rime of the Ancient Mariner (on Bicycle) and Light and Dark at the Cube Cinema in Bristol (October 17th 2008). They are joined by Michael Smith, who is drawing on acetate and projecting the results onto a screen as the music plays. The camera was my old Kodak compact digital, very poor quality, bad focus and noisy mechanism. The quality of filming is not helped by the laughter of the audience in the immediate vicinity. The camera went the way of all circuits later on in the evening when I dropped it on Tom’s kitchen floor whilst trying to take a pic of his household bicycles. Without any further ado, I give you a very poor quality film of My Two Toms Vs Michael Smith. If you can’t read what Michael has written on the acetate due to the poor focus of my camera, leave a comment and I’ll give you a transcription.

If you’re interested in seeing Light and Dark by Tom Stubbs and Michael Smith (and I really recommend you do, it’s funny, moving, funny, beautifully made, inspiring, funny and did I mention that it’s funny?) it’s exactly 10 minutes long and I believe DVDs may be available at an extremely reasonable price. Leave a comment expressing your interest and I’ll get details from Tom.

For more on what Tom does, go to http://www.biggerhouse.co.uk which is the artists collective he works with.

Of railway cats, cycle paths, ancient mariners, cancelled trains, films and rock n roll

Way way back in October I rode to Bristol for a great evenings entertainment courtesy of the Cube Cinema and my chum Tom Stubbs. I advertised the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (on bicycle) event a while back, but I didn’t mention that I was going to cycle there. I thought it would be poetic to arrive at a showing of a bicycle film by bike. Having set off a little later than planned, I realised that I would have to cycle considerably quickly to get to Bristol on time. Not a problem, despite barely cycling at all recently, I made good time on the road between the village and Bradford on Avon, before turning onto the canal path. It’s difficult to get speed up on the towpath, not least because of the danger to pedestrians, other cyclists and wildlife. There’s no reason to go fast on a towpath anyway and I knew I could make time up on the Bath/Bristol cycle path, so I just spun the cranks at a nice even pace and enjoyed the ride. Particularly pleasing was the scent of woodsmoke from the various barges and narrowboats. I was on the Lemond Etape, which provided a none too smooth ride over the various surfaces, cobbles, gravel, dirt, broken tarmac. Suffice to say that on arrival in Bath town centre I was wishing I’d decided to wear padded shorts. I had a change of clothes in my panniers (and a change of shoes), but had elected to leave the padding at home. Bath town centre proved easy to navigate, mainly because the cycle route is so clearly and regularly signposted. Quicker than I expected I was riding along the smooth tarmac of the Bristol to Path cycle way. For a long time this was (and may well still be) the jewel in the crown of Sustrans, a beautiful route following one of the old railway lines, dipping through meadows, woodland, over valleys and rivers, very picturesque in any season. The weather was good and the riding very pleasant. Leaves lay in drifts over the path and crunched pleasingly beneath the tyres. Here are two cats I saw en route:

100_8132dsc00967

All the way along, the route was busy with cyclists and walkers. As I arrived at Staple Hill Tunnel, a postman slotted in behind me and began drafting close on my wheel. I yanked out my cronky ol’ camera, which was giving up the ghost the screen had malfunctioned, and took a bit of poor-quality video footage:

Music provided by My Two Toms, who I was to see playing later on that very evening.

I approached Bristol deep in the gloaming, necessitating the use of my lights. Many, many cyclists were using the path and in places it became quite congested, but unlike being in a car, it felt great. Everyone was all smiles and ‘after you’ ‘no after you’. Hipsters with messenger bags mixed with grannies on Pashleys.

It took me a while to understand Tom’s directions, but soon I was ensconced in The Cube cinema, enjoying some terrific films, chatting to people about cycling and listening to some splendid tunes courtesy of My Two Toms and Bucky. The film maker and artist Michael Smith stole the show with his introduction to the film he and Tom made, and also his drawing along live to My Two Toms music. It was a great evening, and nice to find out afterwards that a Highway Cycling Group reader, Mair had turned up and enjoyed herself.

Back at Tom and Katherine’s, we stayed up until three, drinking and talking. During an attempt to take a picture of Tom and Katherine’s bikes I dropped my ailing camera on the stone floor and destroyed it. Ah well, goodbye old friend. A few hours sleep, then we were out on a visit to the famous Bristol Sweetmart, then on to Tom’s studio. Finally, I cycled to the station envisioning a nice sit down on the train, only to find trains on that line were cancelled due to engineering works. Buses were supplied but they wouldn’t let my Lemond Etape on. Wearily I cycled the thirty two miles home. A great weekend.

Why, here are some pictures:

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Cafe Kino Bristol

Cafe Kino Bristol

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Tom with bikes my smashed camera in his hand

Tom with bikes, my smashed camera in his hand

Street scene - Bristol

Street scene - Bristol

The menu at the old station halt cafe

The menu at the old station halt cafe

It is an Ancient Mariner, and he stoppeth one of three

On Friday October 17th 2008, in Bristol at The Cube Cinema, there’s going to be an event that I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. My good friend Tom Stubbs (one half of the back-porch, West-country, banjo-xylophone-mandolin-guitar duo My Two Toms, one quarter of lo-fi supergroup The Lonely Ponies, community film-maker, artist, animator and alter-ego of Graham Lightside) is showing three films that he has directed or co-directed. They are the following:

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (on bicycle)

Shot in a frantic week in September 2007, and only recently finished ‘The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (on bicycle)’ is a travelogue that cycles in the footsteps of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge whilst also somehow being lost at sea with The Ancient Mariner.

Armed with a photocopy of the poem four intrepid Artists travel a route that Coleridge would’ve regularly walked, from Nether Stowey to Bristol. Along the way they drew as many people as they could into The Mariner’s plight.

The team worked with a primary school, a school for people with learning difficulties, several community groups, two homes for elderly people and a pub.

The film knits together The Mariner’s tale with drama, reminiscence, writing & animation, to make a psychedelic yet perfect mix between entertainment, community outreach and human interest.

Directed by Tom Stubbs, co-directed by Jay Kerry, Jon Nicholas and Joff Winterhart. Produced by Wolf + Water. Running time 50 minutes.

Shape UP

20 min video about healthy eating for adults with learning difficulties

written by Stephen Clarke + Tom Stubbs

A biggerhouse production for Learning Disability Services, Somerset in association with the engine room

Light and Dark

A Phantasmagorial autobiographic masterpiece exploring the minds of Michael Smith and Tom Stubbs, both have alter-egos, but whereas Michael’s Alter-ego is a muscled anthromorphic fox with a taste for sex, dark humour and violence, Tom’s Alter-ego is an earnest, technology obsessed video engineer.

All the films are superbly realised and beautifully produced. At the same time they are laced with humour, yet moving and engaging. I’ve been meaning to blog about The Rime of The Ancient Mariner (on bicycle) for ages, it’s just so marvelous that I want to share it with everyone, but it utterly defies description. It has too many lovely moments – Joff drawing the scenes described by residents of an old peoples’ home as they share their memories, A drunken narration of the poem in a rowdy west-country pub as the locals cheer on the press-ganged reader, a serendipitous meeting with a descendant of Wordsworth come to trace the same route, the way the primary school children throw themselves into the task of telling the tale, the double-booked hall.. it’s all good.

When I saw Light and Dark for the first time I was blown away. It’s very short and as soon as it finished I watched it again immediately. Again it defies description, all I can say is turn up on Friday 17th, watch and enjoy.

Music will be provided by the aforementioned My Two Toms and Bucky.

Admission £6 (£5 concession)
Friday 17th October 2008
Doors open 7.30

For directions and a map to the Cube click on the link below.
http://microplex.cubecinema.com/cubewebsite/directions.html

I hope to see some of you there.

Bristol to Rode by Brompton part II; The Ecstasy

A mural by Bristol Temple Meads

I was hugely relieved to arrive at Bradford-on-Avon train station, I bought my ticket, folded the Brompton and hauled it over the footbridge to the opposite platform. The ride to the station had left me feeling very down, it was the first ride for ages where I had just not enjoyed myself at all, not even the sight of some pretty nice looking cruisers in the bike racks on the other platform could cheer me up. There was plenty of room on the train so I kept the Brompton next to my seat, it sat there folded up like a sleeping pet dog, resting against the bag. On arrival at Bristol Temple Meads I carried the bike down into the underpass and through the ticket barrier to the front of the station. There in the shadow of this epic temple to Brunel’s mighty railway, I woke the Brompton, unfolding it and launching myself onto the cobbled road.

Turning right, I headed towards Old Market via the gargantuan new developments towering over the road and dwarfing the remains of the old Victorian buildings. It started off well, nice clear mixed use pathways with bike symbols, bike lights added to the crossings, but then suddenly I wasn’t sure if I was on a pavement or a bike lane, it just ran out or something. At Old Market I got off and pushed the bike up the pavement past drifts of paper and litter until I found the studio. Once inside I was able to use the bike racks. As the studio director is a cyclist (Rapha kit and a Condor bike) cyclists are very well catered for.

I worked until gone three, then the director drew me a map of how to reach the station via the back route. I set off again through a maze of building works and half completed flats, dodging cranes, front loaders and works vans until I reached the station, only to find I had just missed a train and there wasn’t another for an hour.

strange drifts of litter how to get to the station by bike racing past the building sites on my brompton

I had seen signs to The Bristol to Bath Railway Path on the way to the station and noted that it was fifteen miles to Bath. No, that it was only fifteen miles to Bath.

Now obviously if I waited for the next train it would be an hour, then half an hour on the train, then twenty minutes on the road, a grand total of one hour fifty of traveling time. If I rode the thirty miles back to the village it was going to be two and a bit hours if I was lucky. Plus there was a distinct headwind and it was a bit squally, with showers racing in. Putting logic aside, as I often do, it was obvious that I was going to ride home by Brompton. If nothing else, I needed a cathartic ride to remove the memory of the mornings slog to Bradford on Avon (see previous post). So I set off for Bath, it took a little bit of time to find the entrance to the railway path, I ran out of signs quite quickly, but realised that the number 4 I was seeing on lamposts denoted cycle route 4, the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. For those not in the know, this is considered to be the flagship cycle path created by Sustrans, and, another reason why I wanted to ride it as soon as possible, it’s under threat. The West of England Partnership plan to install a Bus Rapid Transit along this green corridor, to send hybrid diesel buses down the path next to walkers and cyclists. This smacks of what I like to call SAHOGI (Someone At Head Office’s Good Idea) – it will be a colossal waste of money and time and severely degrade the experiences of walkers and cyclists. It will carve up some fantastic wildlife areas not to mention push pollution and noise down this path. What’s interesting is that Bristol is a hotbed of radical activity, so the communities had claimed the cycle path as their own. The protests and petitions were immediate and pretty effective.

So what’s it like to ride? Very nice, no slope too steep, the tarmac is in pretty good condition and public artworks pop up all down the path. The area is rich with wildlife and greenery, and there’s not much litter, not compared to the road anyway. The path was pretty busy with walkers and cyclists despite the cold wind and sudden showers, I lost count of the number of times I exchanged nods with cyclists going the other way.

The tunnel - great fun

One of my favourite stretches was the tunnel, this is lit for most of the day and it’s great fun to ride through. I could also mention the station halt that has been converted to a cafe so you can sit with your feet over the edge of the platform while you chew a bacon roll – I see I have just mentioned it, great. For steam railway fans there is a stretch of track with steam trains and rolling stock in various states of repair (and disrepair). Rust, charred wood, steam, the smell of bacon from the ‘buffet car’, a carriage with an internal light on and what looks like a home made office in it. A splendidly chaotic place that I feel much be explored fully in the future.

Then through some bluebell woods as I neared Bath, all too soon I was spat out into a residential area and industrial estate at the back end of the city. I followed the cycle network signs through the city centre then puffed up the hill to the beginning of the tow path for the next stage of the journey, the Bath to Bradford-on-Avon canal path. The Brompton is not really designed for this kind of rough cycling and to begin with it was like riding the cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix – my arms were jarred so much that I had visions of them suddenly popping out of the sockets. Luckily the path became smoother.

Ah the canal path – often when you see imagery of canal life you’ll see pictures of retired couples or families laughing gaily as they ease their pristine narrowboat through the lock, or wandering lightheartedly down the towpath, net in hand, big healthy grins. Thus:

The reality is often more radical – this stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal is a hotbed of alternative lifestyles, from the the filthy-faced smiling old man in a santa had pulling a squeaking trolley of wood, to this boat here:

narrow boat on the Kennet and Avon canal

Look at that figurehead! Check out the doors, the tarp, the trike parked next to the craft! You don’t see that in the Canal Holiday’s brochures do you?

I continued onwards, fewer people on the towpath than on the Bristol to Bath stretch, but a few brave souls were out on bikes. There was also a lot of wood chopping going on next to the boats. On and on I went, by now my shoulderblades were aching a bit from the pummeling. The magnificent Aquaduct at Dundas was a pleasure to ride over, breathtaking views. Round the corner, a heron had had just been disturbed by a passing boat and was flying down the river at eye level. I matched it’s speed and for a good fifty or so meters we kept pace with each other before the heron headed for the left bank and stood looking for fish. Now the Aquaduct at Avoncliff, this one is quite exciting as there is a steep hill to go down and another to go up, right by the Cross Guns pub. Now on the final stretch of the towpath, and soon I could see the twinkling lights of the Lock Inn. Unfortunately there was no time for an epic Boatman’s Breakfast or the Captain Pugwash (smoked mackerel and eggs) as I had to hit the open road.

So there I was, on the final five to six mile stretch, possibly the most dangerous section of the ride in traffic. But now, strangely, going home, drivers seemed less willing to try dangerous overtaking, seemingly content to wait until the road was clear. I guess it must have just been bad luck on my ride in earlier that morning.

And so, purged of the memory and bad feeling from the morning’s ride I arrived home, tired but happy having ridden around twenty eight to thirty miles on the Brompton.

Bikes Outside Shops (Part I)

bike outside shopbristol bike outside shopmore bike outside shopnice bikebike vs trolleypashley princess with child seat

Recently I’ve started taking pictures of bikes I see outside shops, here’s a selection from Bristol and Salisbury.

More at the Highway Cycling Group Flickr page here.

Published in: on March 2, 2008 at 12:04 am  Comments (4)  
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