Brexit and memories of divorces personal and political


Jutta saying “Yes” on Machu Picchu, Sept 13 2013.

Three thoughts – one positive, one neutral and one apocalyptic – as Jutta and I prepare for a month’s tandeming through Central Europe from the Baltics to Bavaria.

To start with apocalypse (but please read on for two alternative views), listening to Farage and his kind I’m afraid I can’t help thinking of the late 1980s when I was covering what was then still peaceful Yugoslavia for BBC radio.

In the autumn of 1988 it seemed far-fetched, but I still have Serbian firebrand Vuk Draskovic on tape warning that “If Europe want Lebanon [as in, civil war, and there’s Europe again…] it can have it.”

And of course, we did, and how.

I’m emphatically not saying the Brexit vote will or even could lead to a Yugoslav-style civil war in these islands. But demagogues willing to build their own power on lies and blame should know that they play with fire.

And as in Yugoslavia (Northern Ireland again, anyone? Or Ukraine? Or Transsylvania? Or civil war Spain? Or Civil War England?) there is in Europe quite enough historical explosive buried in national psyches and waiting to be stirred up.

Thought two now, somewhat more benign.

A couple of years after that interview with Draskovic, and with the wars of Yugoslav succession in full bloody progress, it was Czechoslovakia’s turn to fall apart.

Of course, the Czechs and Slovaks were wise enough to negotiate a velvet divorce, but there is much in common between Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson here and Slovakia’s pugilist (literally – he was a former boxer) then Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, stirring sentiment against the big, powerful and resented neighbouring Czech Republic.

Then as now, economists and experts warned that separation was a really bad idea – economically, politically, socially.

Ordinary working Slovaks (rather like the less well-educated and poorer former Labour voters in the UK) would have none of it. Resonating as our own anti-EU politicians do with his nation’s gut feeling of being pushed about by powerful, arrogant neighbours, Meciar rapidly drove what came to be known as the Czechloslovak Velvet Divorce.

In the end after all, politics (and economics, and indeed all human behaviour) is about emotion, not reason.

In Czechoslovakia, divorce was rapid, painful, but reasonably amicable. Slovaks today remain poorer than the Czechs, but on the whole it worked – in no small measure because both new republics felt themselves to be part of Europe, and indeed relatively quickly joined the EU.

I can’t help feeling that our own British experience of divorce will be a lot more protracted and painful, given that with Scotland and perhaps even in Ireland it will almost certainly lead to internal UK divorces too.

And talking of divorces, a very personal third point.

First, I know all too well that once a party to a marriage has said they want out, it’s entirely reasonable for the other party to say, and insist, well, in that case, go now. End of.

Been there, experienced that, and fair enough….

As Jutta and I know, parties to a dysfunctional relationship sometimes need to separate, sort out their priorities, grow up a bit.

But also sometimes – sometimes – after a break they can find that it was with the old partnership that their true priorities lie.

Could it happen that once we Brits recognise the mess we’ve made of our European relationship so far, we too might one day wake up, say sorry, and ask our neighbours if they will have us back.

In 2013, after 13 years apart, Jutta took six months to test me out before she trusted me enough, to say, out of the blue on the top of Machu Picchu (as one does, hence photo above for the very moment it happened), “OK then, I commit. It’s a yes.”

So, miracles can happen. But it takes humility, and the long, protracted and hard work of personal change.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not at all sure our British body politic will have the will or the ability to embark on that path.

Continue reading

Braynes’ Tandem Tour of Aotearoa New Zealand – Jutta’s final stoker view looking back

DSC02522.JPGAs we watch the South Island fade into the distance, swaying with the Bluebridge ferry’s wave-riding, my thoughts float back over our rich, smooth and eventful 2900-kilometre tandem journey the length of New Zealand from the very North to the very South, with thanks to the Weather Gods and what must be a chorus of angels that watched over us and Katie and Mela these past seven weeks.

And thanks too to all those who supported or accompanied us, or rooted for us, or donated to the Rory Peck Trust to make this journey so incredible and enjoyable.

My own huge thanks to Mark, who organised all and every step of the way, blogging determinedly as we progressed.


Mark blogging furiously outside one of NZ’s many public libraries, all with free and fast WiFi

He took the lion’s share of manhandling the tandem and our 30kg+ of baggage up excessively steep stretches and through the narrowest of gates and tracks, fixing and refixing Daisy2 lovingly and successfully as we went. Continue reading

#TandemTA Tour of Aotearoa/New Zealand officially over, with 2900km on the clock

Safely arrived at Stirling Point in Bluff, just in time to catch the last of the evening light.

Safely arrived just after seven on Tuesday March 22 at Stirling Point in Bluff, just in time to catch the last of the evening light.

So this looks like being Mark’s last post (Jutta’s is still to come) from our Tandem Tour Aotearoa of New Zealand, with warm thanks to those who’ve followed our progress these past six and a bit weeks, a most rewarding 2900 kilometres from Cape Reinga in the far North to Bluff in the far South.

We’ve raised more than £1700 for the Rory Peck Trust, to support the important work they do for freelance journalists and their families.

Translated into Kiwi dollars at just over two to the pound sterling (quick accounting trick), that’s nicely over the 3000 mark we set ourselves as a target. Continue reading

We made it!


We made it! Hard, hard day’s 140km final ride to Bluff from Mossburn for Daisy, Jutta and skipper, but after very nearly 3000 km,  the #TandemTA #Touraotearoa is done, and we’re celebrating at the oyster restaurant overlooking the Bluff signpost at the very bottom on New Zealand.

What a journey,  six weeks and a bit from Cape Reinga at the very top. And so, so many thanks to Katie Brayne and Carmela Snooks, and very especially to the best partner, spouse and stoker I could ever have wished for, Jutta Brayne,  for the inspiration to do this amazing journey.

Full report shortly!

Wanaka to Queenstown, and the 3500-foot Crown Range.


Were we pleased with the ride down from the Crown Range? Or is the Pope a Catholic? A stonking ride up, and an exhilarating ride down, with a LOT of braking, as the bends needed a lot of respect. I’d told Jutta it was just 3000 feet. Turned out to be 3500 feet, and a hard, hard push to get to the top. So worth it. — with Jutta Brayne, Katie Brayne and Carmela Snooks at Crown Range Pass.

So, Daisy’s first full day seriously cycling with the girls was just amazing – 90 km over the Crown Range from Wanaka to Queenstown (a cool 3500 foot pass, scaled with elegance and ease, and a bit of pushing) and some of the most amazing views of the trip so far.

Lovely to be pedalling with Katie Brayne and Carmela Snooks for the first time properly since they set off from Cape Reinga 27 days ago and we did two weeks before that. Continue reading

Braynes/Snooks reunited. Milford Sound, and a Week’s Downtime for Daisy in Wanaka.


Tour Aotearoa 2016 team Brayne/Snooks reunited at last. After 35 days cycling and 2500km for Mark and Jutta, and 25 days/2600km or so for the girls.

YAY! as the girls would say.

They made it, and we had a magical reunion moment yesterday, Friday, 51km out of Wanaka back along the road to the Haast Pass almost exactly where Daisy broke down last Sunday.
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Why the Rory Peck Trust


Rory Peck

As we approach – amazingly – the end segment of our Tandem Tour of Aotearoa/New Zealand, with some  2400km behind us from Cape Reinga and only 400+ to go to Bluff in the south, some words on why Jutta and I are raising money for the Rory Peck Trust.

And with those words an encouragement to readers to dip into their pockets to sponsor us, if not already done, as we make the final push towards the 3000km mark (though we will end up a few km short of that figure) and its sister £3000 target (where we don’t at all want to end up short.) Continue reading