Observation

Wine Box Bike Racks

I’ve been doing cycling tours on and off for years. Bike, couple of panniers, tent, sleeping bag, set off, see where I end up. They’ve always been great fun, either alone or with a friend. Total freedom, plus a clean and cheap way to see the world. But where do you put your wine?

There’s nothing more invigorating than drinking a bottle of wine while cycling. I normally keep it in the water bottle holder on the frame, so that when I come to a difficult hill, it’s within easy reach. A slug of Pays D’Oc decreases the gradient of any hill. Even a tortuous Alpine pass turns into a gentle climb.

I’ve loved touring since I was kid. Me and my school friend Duncan used to cycle round Cornwall in the rain and hail of the British summer. We stayed in youth hostels back then and didn’t drink wine. Just the odd fag now and then to fire our lungs up before an ascent of those ludicrously steep Cornish hills.

My smoking days are done, but the cycling continues. And so does the bottle of wine. Even though it has never been particularly secure, jammed into the flimsy metal wire cradle that was originally designed for a light plastic water bottle and not a heavy Bordeaux.

It of course goes without saying that over the years a bottle of Claret has broken free and shattered all over the road. Total disaster for me and any cyclists bringing up the rear in their skinny wheelers.

Despite the water bottle holder’s shortcomings though, I’ve kept on using it as my wine rack. Until a few years ago, when I found an old champagne crate in a dustbin up the road from where I live.

‘Oh Lord,’ I thought as I measured up the dimensions. ‘It’s perfect. Not only for wine, but beer as well. I wouldn’t even have to stop. Just a quick reach around into my portable bar for a chilled beer or a slug of wine.’

It’s not just that it fits exactly twelve cans of beer and two bottles of wine in it. It’s the utter simplicity of it that I find astonishing. A old box strapped to a bike. And yet it serves its function perfectly. Not just for alcohol. For anything. Books, groceries, vegetables, fruit, wood, dogs, fish.

I’ve seen bikes with boxes on them for years. Even on those Cornwall trips I saw crazy cyclists with gigantic trunk like containers on their bikes as though they were heading off to Africa. And yet I never thought of having one myself. Even as an adult.

Two years ago I cycled 2000 kilometres to Santiago from Nantes with my wife and the wine box went with me. As you can see in the photo it slots in perfectly between the two panniers. My tent went on top longways and was held together by a bungi. Sometimes I stopped in a town or a village and I’d share a glass with some other pilgrims. Then after we’d finished, someone would buy another bottle and put it back in the rack ready for the next people we might meet. Times like these made everything worth it. Not just the wine rack or the wine or the trip, but everything. Everything fitted perfectly, which is the way it should be.

That was the last trip I’ve done for reasons most of planet earth is aware of. I can’t wait to do another. I’ve still got the rack and a cellar full of wine. Allez!

wine box
Photo/Elizabeth Milligan

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Bordeaux

185 – Weather Update (revised), James Dean and Gauloises Cigarettes.

Sitting outside a café this morning sipping an espresso, I wished I still smoked. The figure of a James Dean look-a-like opposite me smoking a Gauloises, reading a book and sipping an early morning brandy almost got me rushing to the Tabac next door.

I resisted. My lungs were wheezing anyway from my first cold in years. The last thing I need was a fag. Continue reading

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Bordeaux

171 – Gare de Bordeaux Saint Jean

gare jean

Bordeaux’s main train station built in 1898 at the south end of the city symbolizes how opulent and exciting rail travel once was. The old arrival and departure halls alone are as big and as grand as any art gallery or museum I’ve seen. A full scale exhibition of Dutch Masters or T-Rex skeletons wouldn’t look out of place in the slightest.

In the evenings I often go down there to admire the architecture and twenty metre neoclassical colonnades of the main halls. The marbled floors, wood panelled ticket halls, old fashioned patisseries, newspaper stands, silver service restaurants, rustic waiting rooms make me feel like I’m walking back in time. To a time when taking a train to Paris was as luxurious as taking Concorde. Continue reading

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Bordeaux

170 – Saint Émilion

Yesterday I bought the most expensive bottle of wine I’ve ever bought. A Château Labatut Saint Émilion at €9.50. Three hundred percent more than I normally pay. But I had no choice. It was the cheapest in the shop. I was in Saint Émilion.

Famous Saint Émilion: a roadshow of geriatric Americans plugged into their tour guide headsets like they were life support machines. Tiptoeing down the steep cobbled paths cautious in the knowledge that one misplaced step could be their last. All desperate to drink a bottle of 1996 Clos de Menuts at €350 a bottle before they expire and their sons and daughters gobble up their cash to spend on Hummers, Botox and Dr. Pepper. Continue reading

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Bordeaux

168 – Job Centre Interview

For thirteen months I saw the same view every morning from my hideout in Queaux. While incredibly beautiful and pleasing to the eye, the physical contours of the image never changed from day to day. Month to month.

Now in Bordeaux every step throws up new scenes. Every corner awash with right angles and curves. Every street exhibiting a new set of uprights and horizontals for my mind to gorge on. There’s so much information. So much data. I feel like a computer plugged into the internet for the very first time.

And that’s just the architecture. Throw into the equation a quarter of a million people walking, running, fighting, drinking, smoking, thinking, laughing, dying, burping, shouting, crying. And it’s no wonder my mind is having a sensory overload and my blog is running out of paper.

On top of all of that I’ve burdened myself with looking for work. Or rather my bank has burdened me. My balance popping up on the screen last week saying OGGERS OLD FRIEND, YOU’VE RUN OUT OF MONEY – JOB TIME!!!! Continue reading

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Bordeaux

167 – Victor Hugo, Ice Creams, and Lyonnais Waiters

The Bordeaux tourist guide quotes Victor Hugo on its front page:

‘Take Versailles, mix it with Anvers. You have Bordeaux.’

I know nothing about either town but from what I’ve seen here there seems enough good cheer and sparkle to go round both of them with some to spare. Furnish Lyon with a bit perhaps? Continue reading

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Bordeaux

166 – Velos, Homelessness and The Great Escape

What’s the first thing I did in Bordeaux?

Drink a glass of wine? See the sights? Take a coffee in a leafy square? A small beer in a courtyard bar? Eat a Charolais steak?

No. I hunted out places to sleep in the unlikely event of being made homeless. It’s an odd obsession of mine and stems from a childhood dream of escaping from boarding school and becoming a fugitive. Steve McQueen from the Great Escape, only in this version it’s Oggers on a 30 year old Peugeot cycle haring up the Welsh Hills being pursued by Potter the housemaster in his 1970s Citroen waving his walking stick in the air like a demented general. Continue reading

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Bordeaux

165 – Blogley in Bordeaux

After 13 months in the countryside I’ve finally returned to the city. I was reminded of this yesterday when somebody in the street asked me where I was from, thinking I was a tourist. I said Bordeaux.

It’s been a funny few days moving from Queaux to Bordeaux. Moving from a hamlet of 124 people to a city of a quarter of a million. It’s a lot smaller than Lyon, yet it feels bigger. Lyon sprawled up and down and around and over the Rhone valley like a big puddle after a heavy storm. Bordeaux feels more compact and rounded. Like a chocolate biscuit that’s begging to be dipped in a cup of freshly brewed tea and then eaten up in one mouthful. Continue reading

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Queaux

162 – Blogley in Bordeaux…almost

The book sale went well. I sold three copies. But that was before The Cement Manufacturers of Great Britain nominated me for their Annual Blog award – third category, second division.

Luckily you can still buy The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France – The Book! at £3.18 by clicking on the picture to the right of this post. Of course, once I’ve won the award I’ll have to increase it to £40, so best buy now and get yourself a bargain. Plus I won’t be here for much longer. Soon it’ll be Blogley in Bordeaux and I’ll have to release another book, so you better get cracking. Continue reading

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