March 23rd 1984

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The decision in the morning was, football match or no, we should leave tonight.  Even so, I felt some regret at missing out on the game, so was selfishly pleased when I heard later that it had been called off.  We did nothing today, our laziest day yet.  Around about noon, I decided something should be done, so set about rolling a j.  Quite a landmark, being my first ever, + much more notable for being first than for its own intrinsic qualities.  By exercising huge willpower, it didn’t fall apart, but it was a close-run thing.  Miraculously, we were both able to inhale enough to make the exercise worthwhile, even if we did have to use unconventional methods – when the thing had fallen apart so much there was nothing left to hold, we still breathed in the smoke from the mini-bonfire.  I have rarely been stoned in the daytime before, but I must say I enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to listen to any music, the Walkman packing up after 5 mins.  The thing has a whole catalogue of ailments right now, the latest + most serious being one of the pairs of headphones only playing on one channel, +, as  now, a tendency simply not to produce sound whenever it feels like it.  One can’t complain too much really – it’s a couple of years old now, + has taken a hell of a battering.  Annoying nonetheless, especially when taken in conjunction with the camera’s ailments. 

Later, when we had returned to earth a little, we began to get ready for moving on once again – washing, packing, etc.  At our request, Alan made us a joint to take with us, to smoke before we got on the boat – we donated the rest of the BH to him.  Then off we went.  The lady in charge said thank you + goodbye, checking that we knew the right way.  Yes, yes, we said, we’ll be fine, + off we went.  We hadn’t gone 150 yards before we heard a yelling + shouting – she’d been watching us, which was fortunate, for we’d already gone the wrong way.

At the 2nd attempt, everything went well.  In fact, with the afternoon sun sinking + fading, it was a pleasant walk.  Rather than arrive in town ridiculously early, we killed some time by having coffee at the last bungalow, watching the sunset, then moving on before dark.  Even so, we had plenty of time, so sat in the sort of bandstand-like shelter, common throughout Thailand.  Feeling slightly nervous about the whole thing, we smoked our j.  At first, I thought it was a bit of a washout, but it crept up on me, + in 10 mins I was my usual gibbering wreck.  The next stage, naturally, was the munchies – as if on cue, a lady wheeled her barrow in to the square in front of us, + set to work, obviously preparing food of some kind.  We didn’t know what it was, but were sure it would be wonderful, so I struggled down the steps to buy a couple.  It turned out to be a roti-like pancake, spread with sugar + condensed milk.  If that sounds revolting, you are doubtless entirely correct, but they seemed wonderful at the time – we had 3 each.

We were so absorbed in conversation, we didn’t notice that the tender for the ferry had come in, + all of the people had disappeared.  We rushed out in a panic to join the throng – we were last aboard.  It almost seemed a mistake to have gotten so wasted with the nightmare journey that came.  First, they couldn’t shift us off the dock – with the weight of all the passengers, we were wedged hard on the slipway, tho’ eventually sheer muscle got us moving.  The next 5 mins were weird.  Someone was whistling, giving Val the image of us being a boatload of Negro slaves being taken to our new owner, while I saw us as the cast of one of those dreadful lifeboat movies: you know, a bunch of disparate people who somehow learn to love one another + survive the elements.

The next + final stage was the worst of all, transferring from the tender to the ferry.  The sea was very choppy, with both boats bobbing violently… + not quite together either.  I was almost the last to scramble across, making it successfully, + then had to crawl on hands + knees with the pack on my back, like a deformed tortoise – the ceiling was so low on the lower deck it was the only way to move.  Not very dignified, however.

The boat was similar to the one we had crossed to Ko Samui on, tho’ not quite as well equipped.  The mattresses were harder, flatter, shorter, + there were no fans.  We made ourselves comfortable, nonetheless, + prepared for the journey.  Not that it came for a while – we didn’t leave until well beyond the 9.00 ETD.

A day of drugged excess, for the most part; it dies seem likely that this would be our last opportunity for a while, but it did make for quite a surreal journey.

March 22nd 1984

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A different enterprise today: a walk to town.  That’s what it turned out as anyway – I had thought we were just heading around the beach to eat breakfast at a different restaurant, but once we’d done that (and a particularly unsatisfactory breakfast it was too) Val proposed carrying on to town, + I agreed.  It wasn’t at all a bad walk, even tho’ we headed around the beach, + so didn’t take the most direct route, it really wasn’t very far.  It had seemed much further the other day on the motor-bike.  For the final stretch, we had to share the beach with rack after rack after rack of drying squid.  It’s the big catch here – every night one sees the lights from the squid boats ranged around the black horizon.

Our first glimpse of town – we’d been whisked onto the bike before we realised we were on dry land when we had arrived.  A remarkably clean town – the fishy smell can’t be avoided.  Like the other places we’ve seen here, it reminds us most of a cowboy town – narrow streets, wooden buildings.  The shops too are closer to what one has seen in the films about provision stores in the wild west – bags of grain, a few tins, a bit of this, bit of that.  We didn’t do much there – there isn’t much to do – except have a coke.

We headed back to OK via the inland trails – they can be a bit confusing, but we reckoned we could manage.  In this we were sorely mistaken, forgetting or ignoring the rule we had been told, which was to stick to the coast.  We asked people along the way – there are a surprising number of houses in the jungle, but the language barrier was a problem.  Eventually, we found ourselves on a road.  It was a bit of a rude one, just dirt, but good enough to carry cars – one zoomed past us… several times.  This, we remembered, was the way the bike had come – no wonder it had seemed so far, it was one hell of a long way round, + under a burning sun at that.  Worse, it deepened my already foul mood, + soon enough I infected Val too, who had previously been enjoying it.  But after what seemed a very long time, we arrived back, having paused to buy a cold lemon + a packet of grass from the restaurant next door – B10 buys a healthy amount, rolled up in a page from a school exercise book.

With our return came that of our good humour, fortunately, but we did nothing for what was left of the day.  Val lay in the hammock, hung across the doorway to our hut, her favourite spot.  It’s a pity the hammocks here are so uncomfortable, compared with the Central American ones.  They have too big a weave, meaning not so much stretch.  We went up to the restaurant early, first of all to write, before moving on to more sensual delights.  It was quite an evening.  We had a plate of fried peanuts, washed down with Mekong whiskey + coke.  Alan joined us + rolled a joint, after which I fetched our newly acquired goods with which to reciprocate.  Not so fast.  Before the stuff could be smoked, it had to be de-stemmed, de-seeded, + cut up small.  In my condition this quickly acquitted the dimensions of a nightmare task, bent over this little pile in front of me, weeding + sorting, my mind converting it into a military manoeuvre.  Eventually, however, it was done, + could be enjoyed.  Very nice, which wasn’t surprising, since it came from the identical stock as Alan’s.  You won’t be surprised to discover we both found our meals wonderful.  I had chicken + chips, Val fried squid – you can tell the adventurous one, can’t you.  There was talk of a football match between locals + travellers, which sounds good, but would mean us stopping an extra night.  Have to think about it.

Another attempt to find some activity to fill the day; there really isn’t all that much to do here, but we needed to get away from the bungalow, and a walk did seem to do the trick, even if it did lead to one of our all-too-frequent arguments, the only plus being that we always seem to patch them up pretty quickly.

March 21st 1984

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They have a boat here, an antique sailing dinghy of curious design – traditional perhaps?  We decided to take it out – if we did well, we thought, we might even sail it along the coast to town.  But whether or no, we made a promise to each other not to become angry with each other, to shout rude words.  All to no avail.  At first, we didn’t appear to be doing too bad, even tho’ we didn’t really have control over the sail, fixed up in a rudimentary gaff rig, but it was soon obvious that the initial success was only because we were going where the wind wanted to take us.  Any attempt to head back was simply ignored.  Not that we were being thrust into physical danger, as the water was never more than 18 inches deep, but out of the frustration our somewhat ludicrous situation engendered came anger, directed at the elements, the boat, + finally, one another.  I have heard other sailors ranting + raving, + been upset myself at their loss of control + dignity.  For the first time now, however, I can understand that rage.  All our efforts did nothing to bring us back to base.  Val reviled me for my passivity – I railed at her for her furious + useless activity.  To make things worse, the tub was leaky as well as difficult to manoeuvre – in the end we were brought to the ignominious final solution of climbing out of the thing + dragging it back to shore.  We were thoroughly disgusted with each other + ourselves, but those emotions soon faded, fortunately.

We whiled away the rest of the day.  I am reading Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.  I thought it began splendidly, but it lost its way, or I lost mine, as it became enmeshed in Catholic dogma.  Over our meal, we smoked a little + chatted with Alan, an acquaintance from last night.  He is pleasant enough, but rather a bore.  Which is one of the problems – one craves company, but so often finds it unsatisfactory.  But we got nicely stoned, which was at least some compensation for the evening.

Yet another of those incidents when, in retrospect, all I can do is hang my head in shame. I can picture it now: Val trying to get the thing to do something, while I did what I frequently do in times of difficulty, which is simply to give up. No wonder it lead to a row (as in argument; actually, some oars might have been a good idea.) But of course I was able to resort to chemical stimulation.

March 20th 1984

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The OK bungalows

We took the easy way out + rode into town on one of the taxi-trucks.  At B15 it was impossibly expensive, but we were feeling lazy.  We had travelled into town early so that we wouldn’t be in any rush, but in fact we erred on the side of caution, + were marooned in town with nothing to do – except eat – until 3.30 when the boat left.  So eat is what we did.  Breakfast, yogurt, hamburger, banana lassi – super wonderful.  Val also bought herself a new T-shirt, a much needed + much urged acquisition, but it didn’t amount to a day’s worth of effort.

The boat journey was short, just half an hour or so – we sat on the roof, which was no cheaper but much pleasanter.  When we arrived at the island, instead of pulling up at a dock, we were forced to transfer to 2 old + creaky lighters to carry us to shore.  They were both very crowded + uncomfortable, + the transfer was precarious, but to add injury to insult, they then charged us an extra B3 each for the privilege.  Waiting on the dock was a throng of people eager to snare the incoming travellers, + whisk them off to their particular bungalow.  Hearing the name “OK”, I nodded my agreement to go with them – OK had advertisements in Na Thon on Ko Samui, + sounded alright, so I reckoned we might as well go to one I’d at least heard of. 

Our transport there was bizarre in the extreme however – we were ushered over to one of a team of waiting motorcycles + drivers, + told to climb on.  At the front was the driver, resting my heavy pack on his handlebars, then me behind him, + Val behind me, wearing her pack + sitting on the luggage rack.  I’d often thought of Val riding pillion behind me, but never dreamed I wouldn’t be driving.  It was a crazy ride – we hurtled along what was not much more than a narrow track thro’ the jungle, frequently being bounced off the seat, but always managing to come down again – he was a skilful driver, with what must have been an ungainly load.  We were glad, finally, to arrive at OK – at first it had been huge fun, but soon enough, like most such experiences (long boat trips, aircraft flights) became tedious.

First impression of OK was disappointment – the restaurant + surroundings were shabbier than Chaweng, the beach was a mud-flat abandoned by the tide, the water rather murky.  Gradually however, one was able to adjust.  The place was certainly easy-going, + they had facilities around to spend the time enjoyably – free snorkelling gear, lorry inner-tubes, a sailing dinghy, even free coconuts.  Our hut too was bigger, airier.  We had only a light meal in the evening – after a day’s feeding we didn’t need more – + Val went off to bed quite early.  I sat around, reading a little, then listening to the various conversations.  I’ll confess my eyes pricked up – if eyes can do such things – when a bong was brought out, charged, + passed around first one table, then another, all quite openly (unsurprisingly, since I later discovered OK sell the stuff over the counter.)  Eventually, after quite a bit of sitting there feeling sorry for myself, I introduced myself to an English-speaking table – if you see what I mean – just as they were re-charging their bong.  They had no objections at all to my joining them, + tho’ the conversation did not sparkle – they were very stoned, + I soon joined them – at least there was a conversation, an exchange of information + ideas.  Eventually, I managed to say goodnight + find our hut – no small achievement.

So, exchanging one form of hedonism for another – trippier (especially that motor-cycle ride!), less developed – noth that Ko Samui was overdeveloped at that time, but this was that bit more remote, closer to what it must have been like a few years previously. But obviously, with an even looser attitude to dope, I was quite happy.

“I’m hungry…”

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No Sasha today, as he was involved in some sort of preparations for the Iranian New Year, but no real concerns either, as he texted in advance to say he would be missing, and he has always seemed very positive.  I very much hope he stays on board, as he makes a huge difference to the play, acting as a sort of on-stage, mostly silent but very expressive, commentator.

But it did mean we could concentrate on Didi and Gogo, Vladimir and Estragon, Hamed and Roji.  We were back in our old room, the Home Office having apparently moved on, but it was also serving as a general recreation area, so no more privacy than before.  We picked up from where we left off last week, and blocked this out until the end of the play.  Which means there is now only one scene – a movement section that will be played out over a silent movie-type backing – that we have not yet tackled.  So I am pleased with the progress we have made, my one concern being the fact that they stil have made virtually no progress on learning their lines, and there is very little that I can do about that, beyond exhortations.

But much of what they are doing is very funny, and I am optimistic that it will make for a good show.  I have been in contact with Compass Collective, the group with which we shared a stage at the Beck Theatre last year, and they are keen to collaborate again with us, offering us a slot in Refugee Week, at a brand new venue that they are opening in Hammersmith – very exciting.

March 19th 1984

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Another of those lazy, nothing days.  We’d had vague thoughts that we might move on today – there’s another island nearby which sounds pleasant – but by the time we’d had breakfast, + then moved on to another place + snacked some more, + taken our time at both places, it had somehow gotten to be 2.30, + we clearly weren’t going anywhere.  And I’d barely got into writing a bit of diary when it was volleyball time once again.  Enjoyable enough, tho’ my own standard has improved not at all.  The most disappointing thing is that lack of any social spin-off – all the fun + joking on court does not seem to translate to any partying afterwards.

I managed to work myself into a bad mood for the evening, allowing myself to become infuriated by the lack of organisation in the place.  The result was that Val + I rowed.  Luckily, with patience we were able to turn the evening around, + it turned out quite well, supping whiskey + coke + enjoying the evening.  We do wish, even so, that we could share it with someone else, old friends, new friends, whatever.  But it’s definitely time to move on – tomorrow we go to Ko Pha-Ngan.

And back to the hedonism, though not all that enjoyable, as it led to an argument (when I say we rowed, it does not mean we took out a small boat.)

March 18th 1984

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We planned some activity again today, but this didn’t involve any up-at-the-crack-of-dawn stuff.  As usual, we had a leisurely + substantial breakfast – we really are living like kings at the moment – + then set off.  We planned to visit Big Buddha, a temple set on its own small island a few kms around the coast.  If possible, we wanted to walk to it along the beach – it didn’t look like it could be too far.  It seemed, however, that we’d bitten off more than we could chew, for when, after a long hot plod, we finally rounded the point at the far end of Chaweng, we were confronted by another huge sweep of a bay, no Big Buddha in sight.  We were undecided as to what to do – in the meantime we had a swim to cool off.  It was not pleasant, however.  In direct contrast to the sparkling clear water just around the point, the water here was thick + unpleasant – it felt oily, tho’ not polluted.  Then we decided to go on at least a little further, + soon came to a building fronting onto the beach.  At first we thought it must be a lavish private house, but it was soon obvious that it was another resort, similar in style to all the others around the island, but aimed at a much more affluent group.  A lot more care had gone into such things as landscaping – the individual bungalows, tho’ of beach hut exteriors, were larger +, I would guess, more luxuriously furnished.  We went in, both to get some directions + to buy a coke if the price was reasonable.  It wasn’t – it cost $12, exactly twice the normal price, so we didn’t bother.  They were, however, able to direct us on to the road to BB, assuring us it was impossible to walk around the coast.  The road was a bit of a shiock, however, + not a particularly pleasant one at that.  It was a dirt track, obviously bulldozed thro’ some years before, presumably to service the coconut plantations, tho’ we couldn’t be sure, + still getting enough traffic along it to keep it well open.  So it was an easy enough walk, apart from the heat + the dust, + the fact it was very boring – it threaded thro’ the stunted palm trees with not very much in the way of rhyme or reason, without passing many houses, + without any beauty.

We were just about wilting, when, like a surreal mirage, around the corner ahead of us came, tinkling his bell, an ice-cream man on his motorbike.  And in 2 minutes he was gone again – only we were left, clutching our ice creams, + feeling somewhat stunned.  It was, in fact, pretty revolting stuff, with a flavour of cheap bubble-gum, but it was cold, + wet, + welcome.

We had plenty of time to build up a thirst again before we came to the next watering-hole.  We came to a sign advertising a beach bungalow down a track; after a brief debate, push on or have a break, I won + we went down there.  Luckily, it was not far; it was also pleasant, secluded on its own beach.  We slaked our thirst, + then, succumbing to temptation, I ordered a hamburger.  It took quite a while to arrive, + when it did so, it was just meat + salad – no bread.  It was very difficult to explain to the bloke that a reasonably vital ingredient was missing, but when he finally got the idea, he took my plate away for 5 mins.  There was a happy ending, however – when I finally received my complete burger it was delicious.

From here it was another 2 kms to the temple – more hot, dusty walking.  We were very relieved when it finally came into view – + impressive view at that.  The temple itself consists of a 30 ft statue of the seated Buddha, sat on top of a hill on its own island – connected to the main island by 2 small causeways + approached up a long staircase.  It is more impressive from a distance than close up, actually – closer inspection reveals it to be on the tatty side.  We had a coke at a stall (I have become a fizz addict) + then set off back, this time by the main road.  We were lucky enough to get a lift al most straight away, on the back of a coconut lorry, out to the round the island road – precarious + uncomfortable, but helpful.  We had to walk a couple of kms along that road before being picked up by a Chaweng taxi-truck.  He only charged us $5, which isn’t at all bad. 

And I arrived back in the nick of time to get in on the volleyball game.  Too many people this time, so not so good.  The majority of the people here are German.  Over on Bophut everybody seemed to be French, but that must be where they all head, for they don’t have a noticeable presence here.  And there were a few of each of the common travellers’ nations – English, Canadian, Swiss, etc.  There are more Americans than one would expect, + fewer Australians.  After the game, (we lost 1-2) I sat down with a Kiwi couple I’d met before.  Val joined us when she’d finished her book, + we spent the first part of the evening with them.  The conversation didn’t sparkle however – despite some superficial similarities, we really had little in common.  My meal was dreadful too – wiener schnitzel that was stringy + gritty.  The first culinary let-down.

In contrast to the lazy hedonism of the past couple of days, quite a trek. I suppose the first resort we came to was a harbinger of what was to come – a more exclusive (and thus more expensive) offering… though nothing in comparison to what there is now, by all accounts.

March 17th 1984

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So little to report today, it hardly seems worth the effort.  Still… we lazed in the sun today, taking care, we hope, to avoid sunburn.  The sun is incredibly fierce, too powerful to endure for long.  Val already has white marks from lying in the sun with her bikini on.  Such things are pretty much dispensable here, bikini tops certainly + any costume at all in more secluded spots.  It’s strictly speaking against the law, so to circumvent it one can buy a sort of garment which covers just the most vital bit.  It’s so insignificant a garment that I would never consider buying it, let alone putting it on.

During the afternoon I went on my video hunt, tho’ again without discovering anything that excited me terribly much.  On the way back, however, I happened to pass by the volleyball just as 2 sides were forming for teams, + was prevailed upon to join in.  I did so, + had an enjoyable couple of hours – our team lost 2-3, + I couldn’t say I played very well but nonetheless enjoyed myself.

We had our dinner at Munchies bungalows – we were able to sit on their covered terrace + watch the big orange moon come up – much more interesting than David Essex in “Silver Dream Racer” on the video inside.  We retraced our trudge along the beach to the Chaweng guest-house for dessert, + by chance were there just in time to see “Mad Max 2”, lone of the films on our must-see list.  It wasn’t, actually, all that good – it suffered considerably from being on a small screen, plus both Val + I were rather stoned.  We did consider, briefly, going to the disco even further down the beach, but succumbed to fatigue + apathy.

Another day of relaxation, though I suppose the volleyball did constitute my exercise for the day. But you can probably already sense our restlessness; we are preparing ourselves for life back on the road.

March 16th 1984

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Chawang beach

We made the move straight away this morning – it we’d waited until we’d had breakfast, that would have taken us to lunch-time or beyond.  We were assured by the people at the restaurant that a) Chawang was impossibly expensive, + b) to get there we would have to take a taxi to town and then another one round the other side of the island.  As Chawang was only a few kilometres down the road we didn’t accept this + lugged our bags out to the road, where we hitched.  We got a lift in no time with a truck ferrying some workers about, + tho’  we stopped once along the way for them to disappear into the fields + return with lengths of what looked like young palm trunk which they’d hacked down + then into pieces, we were soon enough dropped off at the junction.

We had some breakfast at the first bungalow we came to, + after a brief look round at the competition, decided to stay there.  It was called, with English boarding-house unoriginality, Seaside Bungalows.  And that marked just about the extent of our activity for the day.  We swam a bit, relishing the sky-blue sea, + for the rest of the day we lazed around, or’ like dogs, patrolled our new territory.  Chaweng is more developed than Bophut, + many of the places have videos, so I tried checking out the restaurants for what particular treat they had on offer tonight.  Not as simple a task as it might appear – the effort of trudging thro’ the soft sand was difficult enough, + getting information, even relatively straightforward information, from the guys in the restaurants was worse.  So that even when I thought I had it all sorted out, + we went off to the appropriate place at the right time to see the film I’d chosen, it wasn’t on, + we had a stressful time rushing up + down the beach.  Fortunately, by the time we’d given up on the whole idea + gone to one of the non-video places, the grass cookie I’d eaten earlier was beginning to make itself felt, + was calming me down.  And then when we’d had a couple of Mekong cocktails, the local whiskey with fruit juice, the world was beginning to look much rosier.  The meal too was out of this world, our second such one within a few days.  I just had fish + chips, but it was so fresh + well-cooked.  Pineapple fritters for pud.  Ironically, they did have a video on here (the Chaweng guest-house) + it wasn’t really their fault it was a rubbish film – Mel Brooks’ “History of the World.”

More indulgence – sun, sand, food and dope; I suppose I can justify it by saying we were recharging our batteries after the rigours of longhouse life.

March 15th 1984

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Deciding that it was time we did something more energetic than lazing on the beach all day, we hired 2 bicycles this morning in order to ride around the perimeter road of the island, + see what the other beaches had to offer.  The bikes were respectably new + modern, not the antique bone-shakers I’d expected, but they were without gears, + this turned out to be a serious lack.  We’d more or less expected a ride similar to the one we’d taken around Moorea, which had stuck close to the water, + thus pretty much at sea-level all the way round.  In contrast, the road here is hilly, or at least has 3 or 4 hills too steep to ride up.  The downhill parts were exhilarating + exciting of course, but the hills were bloody hard work.

We didn’t visit as may of the beach resorts as we would have liked, since the main road was so far inland that to get out to the coast often meant a long-ish ride down a sandy track, no easy matter on a bike.  But we made the effort a couple of times, + were impressed particularly by Chawang beach, which had gorgeous soft white sand + crystal-clear blue water.

Having ridden most of the way round the island, we were too tired to make the detour to the first + most spectacular of the island’s 2 waterfalls, tho’ we did go to the second.  It was not at all spectacular, so little so in fact that I now have doubts that we actually went far enough to see the real thing.  We arrived at Nathon, the town, at about 3, + I found the place curiously dingy and depressing.  We stayed long enough to post our letters, to have a yogurt at one place + a banana split at another, + then tackled the 17 kms back.

Back at Bophut, we had a coffee shake at Peace bungalow – it was nothing special, proving presumably that it was the dope which had made it seem so wonderful before.  Ate a final meal at the French place, having determined to move round the island tomorrow.

Some slightly more purposeful activity today, though I do have to confess that I nearly always find the idea of riding a bike more attractive than the real thing.