I am a hairy man

Before Christmas I was letting all my facial hair grow wild in the hope that it would keep me warmer. Particularly the gotee area because when sleeping out in my bivvy bag in colder weather this is the only part of me left exposed, so as not to expire moisture into my sleeping bag. I think the hair on my head must be better than any synthetic insulator and relatively quick-drying. But having lots of hair has it’s disadvantages so despite it being mid-Winter, last night I shaved it off again.


GIF animation of me shaving my hair off

I decided that the extra warmth of hair could be sacrificed to make washing and drying faster. It’s important for me to have very quick showers as I often have very limited access, and sometimes they’re cold. This also saves a significant amount of water and energy. Must explain all the shaved heads in the army.

I bought a nice balaclava made by Berghaus from GoOutdoors that not only keeps my head warm but my ears and face also. It can be pulled down around my neck as an effective neck-warmer. When used over my head it will also keep my neck warm so long as I have a tight collar around my jacket.

wearing my balaclava

My brothers will testify that I’ve never really cared much about what people think of my appearance. They nick-named me ‘Cave Man’ long before I ever lived outdoors, so the number of their jokes has been increasing exponentially of late. But it’s good fun.

I used to get really embarrassed and blush when I was a little kid, until one day at the age of 9 I decided that feeling embarrassed in public was embarrassing and I should stop. I was surprised how quickly I toughened up. This is important when living as a nomad among the towns and cities because you often have to change clothes and brush your teeth in public or find dry wood and boil water on a park bench. Feeling self-concious is just not convenient. I do catch myself doing things in public too quickly and nervously sometimes, and have to take deep breath, and remind myself of all the benefits of this new life and that I’ll probably never see the strangers around me ever again.

I therefore have absolutely no problem with doing everything differently from everyone else and can understand perfectly well why many old men never cut their hair or beards. When I grow my beard I like it and my girls don’t really mind. However now I’ve shaved it all again, apart from simply making hygiene more practical in cold weather, I often wonder if it wouldn’t be better to look ‘normal’.

This has practical advantages for example if I’m clean and tidy looking it’s easier to get a free shower, charge my phone and generally get help from strangers. Perhaps it’s slightly discriminatory, but I do get served better everywhere. Many remark that I don’t look homeless at all. But there are possibly more important reasons to appear ‘normal’…

I mean, I’m questioning so many things in life and already have to stand out in many ways, perhaps there’s no point in pushing it unnecessarily. If I do most things just like the majority of my countrymen and appear completely sane, perhaps others will be more likely to notice the few things I do do very differently and question the way they do these things. Important things like not running around chasing the consumer culture, having more time for people, and looking after the environment.

Despite all this it’s good to be a hairy man, it makes the base layers on the rest of my body that little bit more insulating!

Christmas Jumpers

Christmas jumpers.jpg

This Christmas I received a very kind gift of two lovely jumpers. However long before Christmas I had made it clear to my loved ones that I didn’t want any gifts unless they were either edible, or a contribution to my new bike fund.

My brothers gave a generous contribution about 5% the price of my dream bike – thanks boys! Now I feel obliged to buy one, which is great! :-) I also received chocolate which has since all been devoured.

But, despite my request, a very kind person gave me two jumpers. Just like last year, and the year before that. There seems to be a recurring trend here…

It was very sweet of her, she just wants me to be warm and handsome. The problem is, being a nomad I can’t carry a whole wardrobe around. The other problem is, I already have a number of similar garments collecting dust at my parents’ house. Crucially, I can no longer wear what ever just looks nice because I don’t always have the luxury of central heating and tumble dryers.

For most of my life I have worn denim, cotton and managed to get by with an average of one visit to clothes shops per year. Even then it was carefully planned – I knew where I could get something cheaply so I was in and out of the shops in 10 minutes. I never saw reason in fashion so I thought all this was a complete waste of time. These clothes did a poor job of keeping me warm and dry. When denim or cotton gets wet, it can take one or two days to dry using only your body heat.

I keep very few clothes now, and all the clothes I carry around have an important purpose:

- The outer shells are waterproof but breathable, and windproof.
- The innermost layers are thermal, moisture wicking, and very quick-drying.
- In between I have optional insulation.

Search the net for the ‘three layer system’ of clothing if all this is new to you – it really does work. On top of all this my clothes have to be comfortable and practical for cycling long distances whatever the weather.

I’ve suddenly come to enjoy clothes shopping. It now has a purpose, and there’s a very good reason for every item that I own. Shopping means spending quality time in outdoors shops oogling at all kinds of cool kit and meeting the interesting staff who are often lovers of the great outdoors with valuable experience. The last one I met at Cotswold Outdoors had just come back from cycling and camping all around South America with her husband. Now they’re saving up to do the Himalayas!

I’ve also leant to shop properly. This means ignoring the urge and pressure to buy the first thing that seems good. I’ve learnt to walk into a shop, have a good look at items of interest, learn something new from the staff, then walk out without buying anything. This is a very good exercise in defying the modern consumer culture, and it means I end up with only the best, saving a lot of money, time, energy and raw materials.

So I’m now very fussy about what clothes I own. Anything new has to be much better than what it replaces, or the old beyond repair. Any more is too much to carry, and replacing something just because it looks better is bad for the environment.

Clothes are responsible for 10% of the carbon emmisions of the average person in the UK.

This includes footwear, and it’s more than the average emissions from flight travel, according to the Independent’s article on the breakdown of our emissions. Almost half these emmisions are from production, transport and packaging, so buying less new clothes is better for the environment. The other half is mainly washing, drying and ironing. However good synthetic or Merino base layers need only be hand-washed and air dried, and I find a substitute for using warm water is to use cold water and just leave it to soak for longer.
So after having received the gift with a smile on Christmas day, I had to explain, apologise and give it back today. If anyone else has a kind urge for my birthday, take note: please don’t buy me clothes! Or stuff! Just food, or beer, or better still good company – this is all a touring piano tuner needs.

Boxing Day

Yesterday Boxing Day was really fun with uncles and cousins in Surrey

with_cousins_Boxing_Day_2011

My gorgeous cousins and a board game called ‘Cranium’ and a spot of trouble with North American vocabulary and so called ‘famous’ songs

 brothers_sing_Boxing_Day_2011.jpg

My brothers sing a song and my dad has 40 winks

A rare occasion when you’ll see me wearing ‘civilian clothing’! My brother always jokes about my cycling and outdoor clothing. I can only carry one change of clothes (what I’m wearing) and the clothes are all breathable, moisture-wicking and waterproof. So on the rare occasion I wear cotton or denim my brother says I’m in my ‘civvies’ :-)

It was also the opportunity for my third and final motor car journey of the year, from Oxford to Weybridge in Surrey and back. It was quite pleasant watching the counties fly by as my brother drove us there. As the car was packed full of people we each had the same carbon footprint as going by train. There was a traffic jam on the M25…long time since I’ve seen one of those without chuckling about it and cycling off into the distance….

Now I’m well fed and rested and psyching myself up for more of the outdoors.

Christmas Day

Christmas day and I’m with my family in Oxford eating, sleeping, and eating some more!
I’m pretty cosy here and living indoors for a couple of days, but not everyone is – I saw this tent by the river Cherwell this evening:

a tent by the river Cherwell on Christmas Day 2011

My camera’s rubbish in poor light but I can tell you the tent looked smart and the stuff highly organised outside in watertight boxes, no rubbish anywhere. Camping on Christmas day… a keen fisherman perhaps?

Sunrise at Green Park

Sunrise at Green Park

Slept very well in Stratford at Mehdi’s who had whole roast duck waiting for me! What less could I expect from a head chef?! Needless to say after all that cycling yesterday my body absorbed that duck like a sponge!

We cycled in together early so he can get to work in Café Concerto Green Park. The streets of London were so empty and beautiful at 7am today.
Time to find a good gym that’s open Christmas eve – I always like a proper heavyweight workout Christmas eve it makes all that turkey go down so well…

Buckingham Palace

Vauxhall to Stratford

I guess the photos had better be landscape then…

Tower Bridge

Meeting old friends today lovely to hang out again.. gonna stay at my mate’s in Stratford this eve, Mehdi the Algerian head chef of an Italian restaurant!

Always a beautiful ride from Vauxhall along the Thames path to Limehouse, and up the Limehouse Cut and river Lea navigation all the way to Straford traffic-free. On a mild dark night like tonight it’s a nice break to look at the lights and breeze on the waters and reflect on what good friends I have.

It's warm

I feel very warm & cosy here in my sleeping bag in Little Venice. It’s such a warm night… 22nd December but minimum +10°C!

Last night I stayed with my old friend Shama in Elephant & Castle. Many a night I have slept on that sofa, but this is going back several years to my last ‘homeless’ phase, when I was basically couch-surfing going to and fro between many lovely patient friends to whom I am eternally grateful.

Sleep outdoors in the Winter

Having spent a cheeky two months staying in my cosy parents’ house in Oxford, I’m on the bus to London where several pianos await me. A great opportunity to try sleeping outdoors in the Winter, especially since today is the shortest day of the year.

If I don’t like it I’ll still be satisfied because I was very comfortable sleeping outdoors from April to the beginning of November, so perhaps there’s only three or four months of the year when I need accommodation.

But if I don’t not like it (let’s face it, I’m not expecting to thoroughly enjoy it) I’ll be over the moon because I’ll never have to pay rent ever again for the rest of my life.

I’m lucky with the weather, it has really warmed up today and I’m just in my base layers. The coldest night will probably be Friday night when it’s predicted to go near freezing; Christmas eve I go back to Oxford to spend Christmas with the folks.

I’m very confident because a few days ago I slept out in field in Oxford and was warm enough, it was about 3°C. I wore warm clothes inside my sleeping bag. I’ve since washed the bag and it has really puffed out and lofted out nicely. I’ve also bought a silk liner to use inside the bag which will make it a bit warmer. This and my inflatable mat all inside my bivvy bag should hopefully make my sleeping bag which is rated comfortable down to 5°C good for a few degrees lower. Note that the average December minimum for London is 4°C.

on my bike arrived at Notting Hill