Everything in cycles

Bike wheels suspendedTerm 6

London in 2018 is a riot of red, orange and yellow as bikes for hire hit the streets. The first to arrive a few years ago were Boris bikes, named for London’s then mayor.  They began their life decked out in blue, now they paint the town red to match new sponsor branding.  These are lumbering heavy creatures, elephants of the bicycle world. When not in use they idle in fixed docking stations across the capital. They never get punctures, are almost unbreakable and highly reliable.

'Boris bikes' at their docking station

Two lighter competitors have recently flown in: bright yellow Ofo from China and luminous orange Mobikes.  These have no fixed home, but flock together like parakeets in designated resting places, or sit cheerfully outside coffee shops and pubs. I’ve found them waiting singly and hopefully in parks or by the canal, never there for too long before being picked up and taken for a ride.

Orange Mobikes

I too progress through town on a bike. I learned to ride in childhood, and still delight in balancing and moving on two wheels. As student and commuter I cycled for many years to cover distance cheaply and independently.  I had no sense of how I moved and just wanted to get from A to B.

In the midst of pregnancy and family life I upgraded from bike to car. Back and neck problems duly put paid to regular bike rides and I stopped calling myself a cyclist. By the time I returned to my drop handlebar bike I’d begun Alexander lessons and nothing was quite the same.  My back was stronger and longer, I moved differently and saw myself, and cycling, in a new way.   My bike and I, after 27 years together, didn’t have much in common and parted company.

Since then I’ve played the field and been out on quite a few Boris bikes. Mostly these have been short functional experiences. Sometimes there are several in a day, though I’ve never seen any bike more than once. Just occasionally one of the family borrows my bike ‘key’. Then weekends perk up, and my journey history shows me returning in the early hours from the other side of town.

Last summer I had a longer fling on a German cycling holiday.

My holiday bike

Through cobbled streets and stormy nights we were very compatible, and I knew I was ready for something more permanent.  I returned home, and after much online searching thought I’d found ‘the one’.  We moved in together a couple of months ago and seemed right for each other.  By now Alexander thinking and improved body use was part of me, and it felt easier and less effort than before.  But it was not to be.  After just six weeks of bliss my bike was stolen from me by another, and I’m on my own again, older and wiser.

I chalked it up to experience, and decided I needed advice before putting myself out there again. I went for a lesson with cyclist and Alexander Technique teacher Barry Collins.  We discussed bikes and cycling while he worked with me in the chair and on the Alexander table, before moving to the standing bike set up in his teaching room. I came away from the session with a wealth of practical wisdom: what to look for in a new bike, how to set it up, where my weight should be as I ride, how to position myself on saddle, pedals and handlebars, and how to keep freedom and length as I cycle.

Back on Boris bikes, I’m riding with greater ease, hills are less challenging, I enjoy cycling more and I’m moving faster with less effort. I understand better how my body works in cycling and I’m ‘thinking in activity’ as I go. I’m ready for a new bike, but looks and performance don’t matter as much as before. When we finally get together I’ll know better what to do, and it’ll be as easy as …

Bikes parked in London

Bike on canal boat

Bike storage in central London

White ghost bike commemorating a cyclist who died at this road junction
Not all cyclists return home
Bike trailers on the car-free German island of Hiddensee, waiting by the quayside for the ferry
Bike trailers wait for the ferry on the car-free island of Hiddensee

 

Wall work

Head of a woman
Tracy by Dreph (Neequaye Dreph Dsane) – putting unsung lives on view
Bad Hombre
Bad Hombre

Walls have had a bad press lately, but this post is about two more benign uses – street art and Alexander wall work.  The first has long been a personal interest – I enjoy its physicality, edge and humour in the midst of the capital.  I like it when dull walls acquire a personality overnight, inviting a chuckle or quick photo in the morning.

Lie Lie Land by Bambi
Lie Lie Land by Bambi
Dom Un-ation
Dom Un-ation by Pegasus
Harry's Girl
Harry’s Girl by Pegasus

Jimmy C (below)
James Cochran aka Jimmy C has a signature ‘aerosol pointillist’ style, skilfully mixing urban grit, art history and social comment, mostly using real people in his work.

Joe's Kid by Jimmy C
Joe’s Kid by Jimmy C

Street art by Jimmy CStreet art by Jimmy CLike other street artists, his walls are visible in many countries –  Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the UK. For many, Instagram acts as an internationally accessible gallery for displaying street pieces and earning money via print sales.

SHOK-1
SHOK-1 is a chemist by background, spray-painting X-ray art on walls worldwide. Technically difficult, these are done freehand and comment on popular culture, contemporary life and science.

SHOK-1 street art
MasterPeace by SHOK-1 – a white poppy on a barbed wire stem done for Remembrance Day 2017
SHOK-1
Detail from SHOK-1’s The Future is Rubbish (the other half is a discarded drinks can)
Elvis by SHOK-1
Elvis by SHOK-1

Artists are often commissioned by building owners or allowed  to paint on their property. An activity that was once underground, illegal and dangerous is now part of the street fabric and the London visitor experience. Using outside space in a city that’s receptive to street art provides newcomers with profile and recognition. With luck they pick up commissions or access to more formal galleries. The stories of their subjects, also often outsiders, can gain wider currency, as with Dreph (at the top of this post).

Zabou
Zabou is female and French, now living in London and active on its walls. She works with the spaces she paints, moulding subjects to surroundings.Wonderland by Zabou

Dali by ZabouZabouThere’s a contradiction at the heart of street art – the paintings are brash and direct, the artists often private and shy.  They’re rarely noticed, producing new pieces quickly or roaming the city to scout locations and observe reaction.  Their art can seem banal, but often has political edge and wit. It looks spontaneous but has been planned in detail. It’s also physical in the extreme – working speedily outdoors surrounded by spraypaint fumes, often at height, and at risk from falls, traffic and public or official reaction.

Alexander wall work
Wall work in an Alexander context is much smaller scale.  It’s a simpler and quieter way of observing and improving body use on your own or guided by a teacher.  You stand slightly away from the wall, just touching, gaining feedback as your body adjusts or making small movements with thought and direction.  Like street art it helps you become aware of what’s going on and what it is you’re really dealing with.

As for me, I’m somewhere in the space between the painted and the living. I’m no longer stuck and immobile unable to move far from the wall. But I’m not fully formed as a teacher either.  I’m slowly moving from two dimensions to three. It’ll happen, just not overnight. And no spray cans will be involved.

The Street Art Walk by London Walks runs weekly. The route changes regularly to include new pieces as they appear.

Street art woman's face

Street art

Muhammand Ali
Muhammad Ali
Bearskin capoeira by Martin Ron
Off-duty guardsman does capoeira, painted by Argentinian Martin Ron
Don't Shoot by Bambi
A response to the Ferguson shooting – Don’t Shoot by Bambi
Ben Eine
“Sell the house, the wife, the kids, it’s bonus time” by Ben Eine, close to the City of London

Non-doing

Fountain pensEnd of Term 5

One of the key Alexander Technique concepts is the idea of ‘non-doing’, the opposite of ‘doing’ or ‘trying’.  It’s not doing nothing, but a way of doing less, so we match the effort to the task.

To do less, we have to stop doing things in the normal way and allow ourselves to find a better one.  The stopping or ‘inhibition’ means we intercept ourselves just before we proceed with an action. In the pause we have time to choose whether and how to continue.  This allows us to think more about the ‘means whereby’ we do something, rather than ‘end-gaining’ to achieve a given result.  By pausing we also stop our usual ways of acting and start to ‘unlearn’ our habits.  This allows new patterns to develop over time, as old ways start to be replaced by easier and more conscious ways of being.

I’m about to apply the idea of non-doing to this blog. I want to continue writing, but with less effort.  Non-writing.  Or maybe writing in a more thoughtful, more sustainable way. Gradually I’m discovering that the activities I undertake have to be sustainable.  This means looking after myself – working for shorter periods, taking breaks, and noticing when I need to stop, rather than carrying on regardless.

This term I’ve gone through some large ‘undoings’ in my body, and the process continues.  In line with Alexander’s concept of psycho-physical unity (that the body and mind are not two entities, but one integrated self), it’s having an effect on my sense of myself and, in turn, on how and what I want to write. My response is to apply Alexander thinking not just to movement but also to how I approach other areas of my life, including this blog. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but that is very much the point.

After nearly nine months of weekly posts, I’ve decided to take a break over the Christmas holidays, and after that I’ll be posting monthly rather than weekly (on the first weekend of the month, with an email going to subscribers on the Monday immediately following).

The next post will be on the website in early January 2018 -until then, best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year.