Sunday, February 19, 2006

You've got to have a hobby

If you'd asked me a year ago what my hobbies were I would have struggled to answer the question. The things that interest me; reading, listening to music and so on aren't really hobbies because they're things that everyone does. Aren't they? I probably thought that hobbies in general were a bit strange. It occurred to me tonight that I can now legitimately claim to have three hobbies: cycling, photography and poker.

I started playing poker about a year ago when I was invited to take part in a televised tournament. I got very interested after the show and started to play online occasionally. Recently I've played more frequently online and in person on a few occasions. I've even won a small amount of money of late and while I'm certainly not in profit overall, I have made a profit in 2006.

I've been an occasional cyclist for a long time but it was always just a practical best-way-from-A-to-B kind of cycling. Then last year I started to go for bike rides just for pleasure and to get away from things. (There's a great 10 mile round trip that takes me through the Lea Valley - it's beautiful, quite a bit of it is a nature reserve and you wouldn't have a clue that you were in London) While I was in the States towards the end of last year there were a few occasions when I hired a bike in order to disappear and see some stuff. You see things differently on a bike than you do from a car. Partly I suppose it's just the difference in pace but also I think you pay attention in a different way. When you're driving you're looking out for things because you don't want to hurt anyone. When you're cycling you look out for things because you don't want to get hurt.

It was while I was in the States that I started taking photos with a different eye also. I started because of the rock balancing but once I'd discovered the photo-sharing website flickr it wasn't long before I was putting more thought into photography as well. (Oo... rock balancing; that's four hobbies - I've clearly gone hobby-crazy!)

I was thinking about this because tonight I indulged in three of them and they all left me feeling strangely fulfilled. A friend was hosting a poker night. It was out near Greenwich/Blackheath and I decided that while I didn't really know the way it would be a decent bike ride. I'm guessing that it's about a 6 or 7 mile ride from Bethnal Green (I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong) and I know my way over to the Isle of Dogs pretty well but after that I'd be guessing or, more likely, referring to maps.

Because I haven't done the journey before I wasn't sure how much time I should allow so in the end I decided to put my camera and tripod in my bag and leave early. That way, if I made good time I could dawdle awhile and take some photos and if it was further than I thought I could just keep cycling. If only I'd thought to take a detour via some balanceable rocks too.

It meant that I used the Greenwich Foot Tunnel for the first time in my life. I pushed my bike through because I am a law abiding citizen but even so it was a great reminder of why I love cycling. I had no idea the tunnel was there a short while ago and yet it's an amazing part of the city I live in. It's 1217 feet long and around 40 to 50 feet below the water. It's impossible to walk through it without wondering about the weight of all that water overhead - the River Thames. But the tunnel has been in use since 1902 so I guess it's likely to last a while yet.

All in all it was a good night out. I've got to be a bit healthier for a 13+ mile bike ride, I've had a nice time in good company and it hasn't cost me a thing. In fact I made a small profit. I've also discovered something new about London, connected parts of the city that weren't really connected on my mental map and taken a few pictures along the way.

It occurs to me that maybe one of the reasons I've got into scrapes in the past might be that I had time on my hands and nothing to do with it except look for trouble. Maybe now that I'm hobbied-up to the max there'll be less strife.

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