I was middle aged and homeless, soon to be penniless, and really and truly no different from that bag lady sitting on the bench over there. I couldn’t jack it in and go home, because I didn’t have a home to go to anymore. The bicycle and the tent were now home. Wherever I found myself on any given night was now home. And that meant, for tonight, Genoa Piazza Principe Railway Station was home.
I was cycling across Europe in search of Utopia, a place I believed was located somewhere in Greece. When I found it, I would start a new life there. It was my big, fat, Greek midlife crisis. But now I was having a crisis within a crisis. What on earth had I been thinking?
The train from Ventimiglia to Genoa was going more slowly than I could cycle, and that wasn’t very fast. When it wasn’t crawling along at snail’s pace, it was languishing in sidings, and men in silly Italian railway hats were rushing around shouting and gesticulating.
The men in silly hats weren’t doing anything useful that I could see and it was in spite of them, rather than because of them, that the train eventually crept into Genoa Piazza Principe Station. Seven hours late, just past midnight.
I was riding on a train instead of on my bicycle, because I couldn’t get out of Italy quickly enough. Technically this was cheating, although, as my maths teacher pointed out all those years ago, the only person I was cheating was myself, especially since I’d have got much further and faster if I had cycled.
I heaved the bicycle out of the carriage, and noted with dismay that the platform was nowhere near the station concourse. This meant I’d have to unload the panniers, the handlebar bag and bedroll, and transport them in two trips down the long flight of stairs into the bowels of the station. Then I’d have to return for the bicycle, reload it, wheel it through the underground passage to the corresponding flight of stairs leading upwards, where it would be a case of lather, rinse, repeat.
I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. I was worn out, frazzled, more than slightly concerned about the lateness of the hour, and earlier I’d had a Financial Disaster of such epic proportions it merited the use of capital letters.
Now if I just nipped across those empty railway lines, I’d be on the main station concourse in no time. No-one would know. The platform was empty. The railway was deserted. The temptation was overwhelming. All I had to do was break whichever Italian law it is that said you weren’t allowed to wheel your bicycle across the railway lines.
They appeared out of thin air, and there were four of them. It wasn’t hard to figure out what the word Polizia on their uniforms meant. And though I didn’t speak a word of Italian, it wasn’t hard to figure out they didn’t approve of people wheeling bicycles across railway lines.
I am a writer without roots. I've lived on three continents and in six countries. In my working past, I've been a journalist, a bureaucrat, a university tutor, a bookseller, and a proof-reader. This unsettled and chaotic life has its drawbacks. The only place I can honestly call home is the seat in front of my computer. But it also has its advantages: giving me a rich seam of experiences to mine--an invaluable resource for any writer.
I've been described as a multi-genre 'writerly heptathlete,' which is probably the only kind of athlete I will ever be. I enjoy exploring different genres, and have dabbled in four thus far, producing a couple of crime novels, a self-deprecating travelogue (The Wrong Shade of Yellow), a trio of children's books, and a somewhat suspenseful romance. .
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