Itchy feet were well and truly banished in the weeks following my return to sunny old England. In fact, being grounded felt pretty good – knowing where I’d be sleeping each night was a long forgotten luxury. I’d tinker around the edges of Candy Indy (my bike), finally getting around to replacing the rear brake pads. It wasn’t a simple swap out – the old pads firmly caught beneath a substantial lip – a grim reminder that I’d worn back to bare metal the other side of the Italian Alps. I bullied it off in a mist of sweating, swearing and crushed digits.
I was also becoming painfully aware of all the money I owed my parents and girlfriend. As weeks turned to months the £70 a week job seekers allowance turned from a benefit into a ball ache. I was required to present at the job centre so frequently my phone, ever the smart arse, assumed it was my home address. Sitting on my parents sofa it would flash up a notification, politely letting me know it was 40 minutes to get home in this traffic… I scoured the internet job sites with renewed vigour.
Then, in early August I found the golden ticket, buried amongst all the chaff of online job sites. 6 minutes commute from my parents house, a reputable company and a decent salary. At the very least I could squirrel away enough money to stop my parents sending the bailiffs around. The role? ‘Innovation Lab Designer’. I didn’t really understand what that was either, but there were elements of the job description that linked pretty well with my background in product design. It seemed the potential employers thought so too, because I was at the interview the week after and in a job the week after that. No worries.
I joined a team of three renegades who’s job it was to seed and grow innovative products/services across the business. The team and company are incredibly welcoming and before I knew it I was part of the furniture – on stage at the ICC promoting the lab to 1’500 colleagues.
I saved up enough money to pay off all the debts within a few months. Back in the black I made the executive, albeit not very adult, decision to keep bunking at my parents house – a 6 minute commute and very reasonable rents were hard to come by. By February I’d saved up for a snowboarding trip to Romania where I’d fall over so often I discovered the horrors of sebaceous cysts… on your sphincter. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great time for motorcycling.
Being an innovation lab designer means you occasionally haunt train stations early in the morning. One journey I was bleary eyed and stuck for something to do so I picked up a motorbike magazine to read on route. A thin mini-feature fell out of the plastic wrapping and onto the floor of the train. That mini-feature would be the bane of my life for the next couple of months…
It was a travel supplement, detailing the exploits of bike magazine readers over the summer and beyond. But the last page, in two small columns overlaid over a blue sky of a full page photo, was an invitation. Bike would be running a travel writing competition, entries for each category (article, photos and video) would need to be in by April. I reflected on all the work I’d put into the blog while I was away. Surely an article would write itself?
But no – the feature would migrate around my room every couple of days – flicked through then put to one side. I couldn’t get the motivation to just start it. As the deadline pulled closer and closer I was finding progressively more fruitless ways to procrastinate, eventually becoming too ridiculous, jolting my fingers into type. Even so, progress was slow and fraught with frustration. There was a 5000 word limit. Exporting all my blog posts to word reported more than 25’000 extra words. There was no way I could fit the whole three months in with a useful level of detail – not just a list of the roads I was on and where they took me. No one had ever won a travel writing competition with a list… I started at the beginning, rolling down the ferry ramp into Santander, and decided to take from there.
The day before the deadline I fired off my piece, generally unhappy and sceptical with my work but relieved at having finished at last. I carried on my normal contented working life. Soon after I was sat at my desk when an email popped up. My entry had been short-listed for the supplement – it was getting published! I had to send over some more, higher resolution photos. Unbeknownst to me but Google plus had minimised everything I’d uploaded, so nothing would blow up large enough for print any more. I sent them the pictures within half an hour – totally buzzed at the prospect of being printed – albeit in a competition and a supplement. If I was being printed it meant someone somewhere thought what I wrote was worth reading. All the hours spent meticulously reconstructing the same paragraph, over and over, were vindicated. It had been worth it.
Communications from Bike magazing had gone dark once I’d given them the pictures. I busied myself at work and played the waiting game. More than a month later, the days considerably lighter and warmer, found me in Manchester, helping with a two day social housing hackathon. I’d bought a copy of Bike magazine for the train journey north and was surprised to find an advert for next months edition – which would apparently include a supplement of travel competition winners. News to me! I hadn’t got long to wait, the release day was in two days just as we’d be wrapping up our sessions in Manchester.
Everything had gone uncharacteristically well, our guests genuinely enthusiastic to steal away some innovative thinking and apply it back in their own housing associations. Job well done our team converged on Manchester Picadilly train station for the trip back to Wolverhampton. With five minutes on my hands I wandered into WH Smith and felt my fingers tingle as I picked up the new edition – sleeved in plastic to keep the supplement attached. I went back to the team, slumped onto a metal bench and ripped the supplement from its casings, discarding the magazine for now. After thumbing nervously to the contents page my heart sank – some of the finalists had been on some incredible adventures that I wasn’t sure a quick jaunt around Europe could really compete with -China, Laos, South African deserts.
Then, there I was on the central page. They’d clearly saved the most attractive rider for the centrefold (Hah!). I re-read my own words with a smile on my face, flicking the page over to continue reading only to find the next article. Clearly the 5000 word limit had been massively over-egged, my piece cut down to a thousand or less and finishing after my particularly dismal arrival in France. They’d also slapped a reasonably homoerotic title on my article – searching for ‘that guy’ – it was enough to warrant a quick grimace and was quickly picked up by everyone who looked. I had to shrug it of, at least I was in the supplement…
Arriving in Wolverhampton I handed the article to my mom who’d kindly offered to run taxi service from the train station.
“Oooh – well done!” she said, flicking her eyes over the text. Like me she thumbed the corner and checked the page after. “So what do you win?”
I blinked at her for a second, confused. “No – they’re just the finalists. I don’t think they’ve announced the winners yet”.
She looked back, questioningly. “What about this then?” Finger left pointing at some small orange text above my articles title, she held the supplement up in front of me. ‘TRAVEL WRITING WINNER’ it said.
It took me a few seconds to re-read the sentence again, unsure of what I was looking at. Then it hit me like a firework. I jumped out of the car and ran over to Vicky and Paul who were getting into a car a couple of spaces away.
“Guess what?” I held out the supplement with my finger trailing over the orange text. “I’ve won!” Like me, they erupted quickly in celebration. I guess we must have all been so distracted by the homoerotic title to have noticed…
So – not only had someone thought my writing was worth reading, they’d thought it was worth winning the travel competition – against some stiff competition to boot. I was over the moon.
Now I had the prize to look forward to – an all expenses paid motorcycling trip to Peru.