05 Jul 2004, Brentford, London
Above: My new home, the good ship Alvracht
Life has been busy. Lots of interesting things happening, and I wanted to see how it was all going to start shaking down before I posted an update to my weblog.
Many things are still up in the air, but certain themes are starting to emerge - first and foremost, BOATS!
After 3 months of living in a Dickensian little garret above an antiques shop in central Richmond, I've now moved into a cabin on a 130 foot Dutch barge moored in Brentford. The good ship Alvracht is somewhat unofficially moored just north of Kew Bridge (OK, so we're squatters!) but it's a gorgeous boat, in a tranquil location, and just a stone's throw from my old stamping ground of Kew Green.
I share the boat with four other humans and a very large dog. The captain of the ship is a one-eyed ex-mountaineer called Caie - the story goes that he lost his eye as he was skiing down off the Eiger. He stopped to adjust his skis with a screwdriver, and slipped, and. eurgh. Nasty.
We have our own generator, solar powered lights, and water purification unit. It's a great opportunity for me to learn all about self-sufficiency, which will be handy, as I'm in the process of buying my own boat and want to get it set up to be totally self-contained and 100% eco-friendly. I won't jinx the purchase by saying too much now, but after a couple of years of being a nomad, it seems I'm shortly to be a home-owner again.
It will be the best of both worlds - once I learn how to navigate my boat, I'll be able to up sticks and move whenever I want. but without having to pack my bags!
04 May 2004, Richmond, Surrey
Above: Steve (NOT a convicted killer, I hasten to add) with me in the Green Café, which stocks cakes produced by my new business venture, Harmony Wholefoods
Last time you heard from me I was planning to ride a motorbike around the Four Corners region of the USA to meet the Hopi tribe to find out more about their philosophy of living in harmony with the planet.
Since then life has been busy, and the plan is now looking rather different. After failing my motorbike test (for going too fast - story of my life at the moment) I decided that it really was just a matter of time before I came to a sticky end on two wheels. Also, that I'd learned all I needed to know about the Hopi philosophy, was already living the lifestyle, and anyway, there are already enough books out there reporting what the Hopi have to say about the environment and our impending doom.
Around the same time, I was sitting in a coffee shop (as I do most days), and got chatting with the owner about his cake supplier, who apparently had very selfishly not only moved down to Devon, but at the age of 80 was about to retire, leaving him cakeless.
And so was born Harmony Wholefoods of Richmond (spot the Hopi influence), which will specialise in wheat-free cakes and breads, using mostly organic ingredients.
I've been in business just 10 days, but am already supplying 4 local coffee shops. My stall at the Richmond Farmers' Market last Saturday did an encouraging level of trade on a generally rainy and quiet day. That's the good news.
The not-so-good news is that I'm currently a baker without a kitchen. My tiny flat has no cooking facilities, so for a couple of days I was getting on my bike, rucksack and pannier fully laden with baking tins and groceries, and wobbling perilously (still determined to kill myself on two wheels) over to my landlord's place in Twickenham.
Then I found out I needed a properly certified kitchen, and my friend Steve very generously allowed me to bake at the Green Café in Richmond, which he manages. A basement kitchen with no hot running water, and not enough room to swing a cat (even if the environmental health officers permitted such a thing), but it was fine. until the owner changed her mind, overruled Steve the manager, told me there wasn't enough room, and evicted me.
So for now, I'll be using the oven at a local soup kitchen, but only have access to it for a few hours a week. Fortunately I've got an extension on my chucking-out time from 4pm to 6pm this Thursday - the reason being that there's a prisoner on day release coming in, and he doesn't leave until six.
'Erm, what's he's doing time for?' I asked.
'Murder. A gangland killing. But it was a long time ago. He's a nice chap.'
So it's not exactly ideal, but one day I'll look back on these humble beginnings and laugh.
11 Apr 2004, Richmond
In the Green Room: (L to R) me, Jeff, Alex (the presenter), Alicia, Barry.
'I know it's short notice.' A phone call from Endemol Productions had come through on my mobile. 'But could you come in for this Thursday's show? We go out live at 11am. It'll be the last time we record the show in Oxford, which will save you having to travel to Bristol.'
Not much time to prepare, but not much time to get nervous either. 'Sounds good. I'll be there.'
I'd applied to appear on a Channel 5 quiz show called BrainTeaser. via a website called www.beonscreen.com set up by my entrepreneurial friend Samuel-Dean. But I'd never actually seen the show. I thought I'd better watch it a couple of times to find out what I'd just let myself in for.
So Tuesday and Wednesday mornings found me glued to the TV screen, trying to calm a growing sense of panic. This was no dumbed-down daytime TV. These word games and general knowledge questions were, in fact, going to be rather more tricky than I'd realised.
And even if I got through to the final, which only one in four contestants did, it seemed there was a good chance I'd come away with nothing - on both Tuesday and Wednesday the finalist gambled their winnings on reaching the next level, and then blew it, coming away empty-handed.
Thursday morning arrived. As I waited in the Green Room at the studios in north Oxford my apprehension grew. A TV set in the corner was showing a videotape of previous editions of the show, and my co-contestants were firing out the answers at incredible speed. Jeff, an 18-year-old student, was especially impressive. 'He's got a virtually photographic memory,' his mother proudly confided to me. I bolted outside for a calming cigarette. I considered running away, but it was a live show and they had no spare contestant. I had to go through with it.
Alicia was the unfortunate cannon-fodder for Jeff in the first round. He racked up an enormous score. Barry, my opponent, was a very entertaining contestant, but he kept buzzing before he knew the answer, giving me valuable extra seconds to figure it out.
So I found myself going through to the second round.. where I would meet the boy genius Jeff.
I'll have to watch the video to see what happened next - my memories are a bit blurred - but somehow the right questions came up, questions I just happened to know the answers to.
I couldn't believe it. Somehow, I was through to the final - the Word Pyramid - and the chance to win some cash.
The Word Pyramid would present me with 7 rows of anagrams. A 3-letter word would appear on the first line, then an additional letter would appear in one of the 4 positions on the next tier, and I had to drop down the 3 letters from the top row and rearrange them around the new letter to create a new 4-letter word. The clock would start counting down from 45 seconds as soon as the new letter appeared, and would stop when I figured out the anagram. I'd then have the opportunity to decide whether to gamble my winnings so far on progressing to the 5-letter word and more cash, and so on down the pyramid.
'What's your strategy for this round?' Alex the vivacious blonde presenter asked me. 'Strategy? I don't exactly have one - I'm just going to wing it,' I replied, truthfully. I was counting on my instincts to tell me when to quit.
The Word Pyramid appeared on the screen. I squinted at the letters. The word in the first row was ART. 45 seconds on the clock.
'Are you ready?' Alex asked.
'As I'll ever be.'
An N appeared on the next row ( _ _ N _ ). The clock started ticking.
'Errrm. RANT.' The clock stopped. 41 seconds left.
'Well done. You've won £250. Do you want to carry on?'
'Yes.' A letter appeared on the next row down.
_ _ _ I _
'TRAIN.' Easy one - it had taken me just one second. 40 seconds left.
I was on £500. 'Do you want to gamble your £500 and try for £750?' Alex asked me.
'Are you sure?'
'Yes.' I nodded.
'Here you go then. For £750.'
_ E _ _ _ _
I froze. Total numbness of the brain. I stared at the letters - nice, normal, innocent-looking letters - but they refused to resolve themselves into a word. My lips moved as I tried out various combinations, but nothing was working. I could picture the other contestants, sitting in the Green Room, shouting the answer at the screen while I struggled. The seconds were counting down for what felt like an eternity. 126.96.36.199.15.10.
Suddenly, out of the blue, inspiration struck. 'RETAIN' I shouted. I still have no idea where that answer came from. It came straight out of my mouth without passing through my head.
'Yes!' cried Alex. I almost collapsed in relief. I clung onto the contestant's lectern for support, trying to believe my luck. I'd just won £750. Against the odds, against my expectations. I couldn't have been any more ecstatic if I'd just won a million.
And not only had I just pocketed some useful cash, but with Alex's help, we'd managed to plug my book and briefly outline my plans for Arizona this year. The phone hasn't rung off the hook yet with offers of book deals and sponsorship, but you never know.
04 Apr 2004, Back in blighty
(The tranquillity of Ireland - which now seems a long time ago.)
I came back from Sligo a week ago with a restored liver (month of no alcohol) and a headful of new philosophical ideas (month of intensive reading). I was happy and healthy, but mentally I was away with the leprechauns, ill-suited for the avalanche of reality that awaited me.
Homelessness loomed. I'd outstayed my welcome with my great mate Phil, especially after I inadvertently locked her out last Saturday and she had to spend the night with friends. It was time to move out, but I had nowhere to go, and no money to pay rent.
I had a call from the police to say they'd found my car, 4 months after it was stolen. This was bad news, as I'd already spent the anticipated settlement on my laptop. Instead of a substantial cash injection, I was now facing insurance premiums, MOT costs, and financial disaster.
And there was a major project due to be completed in the next 2 weeks - I'd initially rejected the job as incompatible with my more important objective of organising my next expedition, but now it seemed it was financially necessary.
For the first few days, life was a challenge. My head was up in the clouds and there was so much to cope with. I had to take it one moment at a time, and keep asking myself, 'What would a normal person do now?' I was faking it.
But I am happy to report that everything has worked out beautifully, and with no compromise to my new ideals.
I now have somewhere to live, as a result of a chance conversation in a shop where I was trying to sell a couple of items to raise cash. I have to be discreet, as it's slightly unofficial, but suffice it to say that through someone's great generosity, I have somewhere to live, in Richmond, rent-free.
With the car, I agreed with the garage from whose forecourt it was stolen that they would recover it (now sadly trashed) and pay the agreed settlement. The car is now theirs to repair and dispose of as they see fit.
And with those two things taken care of, I was able to turn down the unsuitable project, Someone else has already taken it on instead.
As a bonus, there's a sniff of interest from a literary agent who has read the sample chapters of Three Peaks in Peru and now wants to read the rest of the manuscript. I'm still a long way from the book deal, but it's an encouraging sign.
So life is good - welcome to the unpredictable but wonderful world of Roz!