Brighton-Shoreham-Steyning-Devil’s Dyke-Brighton | Alex Donaghy

My girlfriend wakes at 7:05am since she has found some work this Saturday. For an hour and a half until she leaves there is much rummaging to be heard. The rubber curtains are peeled apart to reveal the not yet ripe sun. Light is needed; the bulbs are awoken from their slumber, they cast an attitude of frustration over the room. Clothes take their place for the day, bags kidnap various possessions, and the combs’ teeth are exercised. The lights sigh with relief as the switch is flicked and the room is vacated.

Although so detailed was my awareness, I was at no point really awake. Nor was I annoyed by the drama around me. Instead parts of reality were nudged against me in the manner similar to that of a relationship between a canal lock and a barge.

An hour passes but the barge has mostly run out of reality and is now just light. I get up and search for a cord so I can wrap myself. I then tea my book and book my tea.

One more hour passes and thoughts of cycling cross my mind. Clothes on suddenly. I walk down the hill towards my own house to eat breakfast. The outfit that hugged me was designed for the night; it’s now morning – I am too hot and dark for this morning weather. At home I swap black t-shirt for white t-shirt and black trousers for black shorts.

Coffee spitting foam, soft crunch cereal pisses me off (I only opened it yesterday, can it be stale? It can’t be… maybe I need a better closing mechanism?) Second bite, actually I quite like the texture. Bitter marmalade on dry toast numbs my mouth.

Click-blue light- thumping spun out sounds accompany me whilst I prepare my things. Laid out on a dark blue bedspread are my things for the ride (the contrast is shit, it would make a rubbish eBay picture). Soiled pencil case takes centre role, it contains a small pump, various spanners, various screwdrivers, various Alan keys, chain breaker, patches and zip ties that curl into the blackened corners.

Next to this zipped up bulge is one inner tube, one sports bottle that is forever in need of a wash so much so that it renders water an alien flavoured substance, one limited edition EDL mars bar, one Banana, one point and shoot camera (later this item will make me quite depressed).

Hunched over balancing all my things I descend the stairs and carefully pack my cotton duck saddlebag, regardless of the fact that I know it will be jumbled into an unrecognisable combination during the course of my journey. Lift bike. Close Door. Sunglasses. Sun. Road.

First few pedal strokes and I am hit by smiles from neighbours, who stand outside houses waiting for relatives or friends or girl/boyfriends preparing mentally for al-fresco living, late lunches and early drinking.

In town I tuck behind then overtake four lycra clad friends, who tick their freewheels away joking with their voices and munching on mental brightly coloured protein snacks from endless back pockets.

Third exit on the roundabout, I bypass the cycle lane. It is full of people and I feel I will hit a pram bound baby square in the head and render it void, hot and flat on the red tarmac.

The coast gets less and less sleek past Hove, legs spin and eyes stare at still locked water. Many crates peer at me, some clean, some rust ridden. They prepare to leave their weekend friends and be craned to some new area of endless warehouses. Their life looks calm but out of their control, their industrial expression relaxes me.

To my left two giant conveyer belt machines cross swords and begin to duel… no one’s driving them. I stop and rear up on the pavement, feet locked in. My neck, spine, lower back twist and rummage manically in my saddlebag for my camera. I need concrete evidence of these living breathing machines. It is the last picture on my film and as I snap the machines I become guilty and sheepish. With a gritty whizzing sound the film recoils itself and breaks the staring silence between the towering now bloody dueling conveyers and me.

I later open my camera (to remove the film and develop it) and find that it has malfunctioned and not wound back. I expose all the things I felt memory would not do justice to and wipe them blank. My evidence of the living machine is gone, it seems to co-incidental and suspicious. My god, those cranes are crafty buggers.

I hit the estuary at Shoreham, and roll along the adjacent and turbulent gravel path. I feel Dutch, my bike is wrong. The tide is low; the sharp blue long grass of the banks gives way to shit caramel soft mud. Here lies the paint Exma of beached boats, where old oars wave feebly at disused engines who stick their limp starting cord out at passing strangers.

Amongst them their friend stoops. An old man who looks for razor clams with a soft plastic trug and spade. Thin sun-brown sinewy arms fight like snakes moving through the dense bed of silt to pluck up dripping ejaculating creatures. In the black trug it spends its last few hours before it is forgotten in garlic, lemon and oil.

My legs ache from the gravel so I move to the road. Over the next grassy peak I spot the erect black truncheon of the Old Shoreham cement works. As I move round the corner it drops its pants and shows me itself full on. Heavy low fencing separates the hollow grey monster from the road. Pigeons talk to broken windows. Rows of trucks that have forgotten to move stare endlessly at the tunnel they used to leave through, the free to wander plants check themselves out in their many wing mirrors. A large yellow sign asks whether you’d like to keep the objects of your life inside. This must be the council looking to force tricks out of this sick and dominating object. Or do they want our things inside it to keep it alive? As something for it to eat? It leaves my peripheries and so to are my thoughts of it. A roundabout appears outside Steyning, the third exit is mine.

I hug the arching ridge on my right as I move swiftly on the hot road towards Poynings and the Dyke. The body odour of elderflower fills my head with dreams of sweat and brings memories of early wood and glass rooms crowded with stale duvet covers and praying objects covered in dust cologne. And more recently the eld-cent reminds me of a fresh-faced ginger boy, squinting at abattoirs from endless trendy café-bars in København.

I climb the Dyke like I always do (this is a lie). Not slow but not fast, I sip water from my bottle at flat points and take great satisfaction in the action of slotting it back between my legs in its cage.

As Brighton comes into my glasses, some of the cars desire to see it more than others. They race past, overtaking round tight corners swallowing Dyke Road whole and leaving nothing in their wake. Those behind become lost and infrastructure-less.

Skidding and jittering down the hill at Seven Dials, a routine I used to do more often the year before. I reach the traffic lights and am hit by feelings of Jamaican food and dead soldiers clothes. This triggers me to pop home, pick up lunch and head to the beach.

This done, bike abandoned, I am at the beach. The last time I wrote here it was about the tread of stones and the moisture of quiche. Today there is no quiche, but equal moisture is present in a hefty weight of pasta salad, which sits toppling and sweating in its Tupperware.

First I swim, maybe a habit from childhood.

My black underwear fills with the salty swill of the waves, one high one comes towards me and I choose this moment to become horizontal. Tight skin arks through the lapping water; I remember the barge from earlier. I swim straight out ten minutes and hover for a moment,inspecting the spit of seaweed that sits around me on the surface.

A canoe appears and a Hispanic voice says “hello.”

I copy him. “Hello.”

“Is it not a bit cold?” – I explain I have just been cycling and that this temperature feels just perfect as a consequence of my sweat and heat ridden morning. Later I notice from the beach that he and his friend who was slightly behind drift back and forth along the seafront, never going further away into the sea nor closer to the beach. It transpires that they have paddled from Portugal and have become so used to water and so afraid of land that they would rather be imprisoned off the shore till death through thirst, starvation and exposure to the elements (finally after much protest a life boat comes and saves them).

Calmly I exit the sea and sit on my towel, I realize I am acting as a groin between two rather large and jovial Indian banquets taking place either side of me. My Tupperware lid pops itself off…. It must be time to eat. As pasta coated in peppers, garlic and olives goes in, salty water droplets leave the patches of skin they have clung to. They run off with the sun and disappear into the distance hitching a lift with a reggae wedding boat that blares music into the wind and exits west past the pier.

I lie down and squint at the tiny blurred purple sprouting broccoli heads growing out of my white t-shirt, they feel like crystals in a cave of snow.

I close my eyes.

Alex is a 21 year old from Brighton England. He’s interested in gardening, bikes, performance art, noise music and smut. He tends to write about actual events of his life whilst simultaneously mixing surreal streams of consciousness and plot through the narrative. He’s a passionate touring cyclist, and Brighton-Shoreham-Steyning-Devil’s Dyke-Brighton is a piece he wrote about a ride he went on recently. 

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