Portland

We stopped at the Healthy Food Centre, a cafe in Portland, on our way along the southern coast. It was a Saturday but the town was completely dead apart from people coming to look at the Sperm Whale and her calf sheltering in-shore near the shipping port. The cafe was completely empty but outside there was a chalk board with untypical food – wraps of chicken and vegetables, couscous and Thai pumpkin soup. As there was nowhere else to go to for food, except a fried food joint, we locked up the bikes and went in.

A friendly women, the owner, served us wearing a head band and long dangling earrings. We had the soup, the Caesar chicken and tandoori wraps, followed by coffee and lemon polenta cake. As I’ve said before – we can eat – and as we did so the place filled up with regulars coming in for lunch time takeaways. Joan Armatrading was playing and I was immediately transported back to 1983 with ‘Love & Affection’ and ‘Show Some Emotion’. The cafe had shelves of alternative foods, soaps and detergents and seemed miles away from the town’s main business of shipping wood chips to China.

A man came in for a takeaway and, as he waited for his food, we got talking. He had a big silvery beard, spectacles, an outback green hat on and was tall and thin. We quickly passed through the usual conversation of what we’d been doing and began to talk about cycling. 

“We’ve seen no other touring cyclists on our trip so far” I said “We’ve been riding for a month and it’s surprised us. It feels like we might be the last of a dying breed for this kind of travel. Everyone is in a car or camper van.”

“Yes” he replied. “When I was young a mate and I had plans to go cycling and camping. We built wooden trailers for our bikes. We did a couple of short trips but never a big one. They’d never have lasted – the trailers. I always wondered what our parents thought we were doing building them in the garage. They just let us get on with it. When my son finally started to have other interests, like going out to play in a disused quarry, I was so relieved. At last a spark of independence. A desire to explore the world. Of course I said ‘yes, as long as you’re careful’. I don’t think young people do this kind of thing anymore. I’ve no idea what they do. When I was young we used to go to Cape Nelson, with another school friend of mine, who’s Dad ran the light house. We’d ride up and down the cliffs on our bikes which was seriously dangerous. If you got it wrong you were finished but nothing ever happened. We were careful. We had a great time.”

“Do you still ride?”

“No. My old cycling buddy moved to Western Australia. He’s massively over weight now. Ridiculous really. He was the fittest in our class. He’s become a renowned ‘Scrimshaw’, a carver of whale bones. He flies around the world on private commissions.”

Really?”

“Yeah, exporting bones is banned now because of the Ivory trade. He travels to where people keep their ‘collections’. It’s not illegal to have them but it is to trade or export. It’s a massive market for him in the States.”

His takeaway arrived and we said our good byes. 

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