Join us for World Refugee Day

They say that every dog has its day—and some marketing departments take that literally. Next Friday, for example, is Pet Sitters International’s Take Your Dog to Work Day.

A quick scan of the internet tells me that Tuesday was Bloomsday (I’m listening to Ulysses at the moment as it happens). Wednesday, meanwhile, was World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought and yesterday was National Freelancers Day (I took it off work).

Today is World Sickle Cell Day. A sprinkling of sickle cell facts: sickle cell diseases are most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and kill over 100,000 people a year—but the sickle cell trait offers some protection against malaria. An iron fist in a velvet glove.

But tomorrow is World Refugee Day. Ah—that explains my headline!

Why should I care?

If you’ve ever crossed a border without being beaten up, then, in my own personal opinion, you are in credit. The closest I’ve come is a hard stare from a Serbian border guard. I owe it to my passport to care.

There are now nearly 80 million displaced people in the world, including nearly 30 million refugees. That’s a lot of people—but not in a Daily Mail kind of a way. Pretty much zero of those people have come to the UK.

Okay, not zero: precisely 0.43 percent of the world’s refugees have found sanctuary on this ‘sceptred isle’. For comparison, Turkey hosts nearly 13 percent of those humans.

Uganda, a country with a GDP a hundred times smaller than the UK, hosts ten times as many refugees. I don’t know about you, but I did not know Uganda was that poor—or the UK so rich.

I don’t think we’re doing our bit, do you?

Yay, progress! (Except not for people fleeing war, sorry)

You might not believe it from the headlines, but many indicators of global quality of life are improving: the number of people escaping from extreme poverty, for example, or the number of girls accessing education, or child mortality rates.

In fact, take a few minutes to play around with all the good news using the awesome Gapminder tools. It’ll put a smile on your face. Then come back for the bad news…

Things are getting better. Source: Gapminder.

Unfortunately, for refugees, the world is a more hostile place today than it was a decade ago. As the latest UNHCR report states:

Over the last decade, only four million refugees were able to return to their native countries, compared with 10 million the previous decade. Roughly 0.5 per cent of the world’s refugees were offered resettlement in 2019.

0.5 percent?! Wow. We need more than one day to solve this problem. But let’s face it: there are other problems in the world, so…

Seeing as we’ve only got a day—let’s ride our bikes?!

This Saturday, in solidarity with refugees all over the world, Thighs of Steel and Help Refugees are riding their bikes all the way from London to Khora’s home in Athens—about 2,000 miles.

I’m asking—nay begging—for your support. As cyclists, as donors, as megaphones.

If you or your friends would like to join us for the day, then you can set up your own fundraising page here: https://help-refugees.secure.force.com/aroundtheworldsignup

Or you can easily join in without setting up your own page by sending your lovely donors to the main fundraising page here: https://help-refugees.secure.force.com/aroundtheworldmain

The theme for this year’s World Refugee Day is Every Action Counts. Whether you ride 1 mile or 100; whether you raise £1,000 or simply chuck in a tenner from your own pocket, every action really does count.

It’s only one day of the year, but your contribution tomorrow could make a real difference to refugees—people who truly understand the meaning of the trite saying ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’.

What will happen to the money?

We’re fundraising for Help Refugees, a grassroots organisation that grew out of the upsurge of empathy for migrants in 2015. Here’s what they say about how they spend the money raised:

Together, we are supporting hundreds of thousands of people—with access to medical care, sanitation, food, emotional support, and much much more. This isn’t the world we want to live in, and we are working to change it, but while refugees are forced to live like this, we will be there for them. Thank you so much for making this possible.

Thighs of Steel is the major donor to Khora, a voluntary organisation in Athens that exists to support displaced people, refugees, asylum seekers, homeless people and vulnerable groups in general.

During the Covid crisis, Khora volunteers have been preparing and delivering food to around 2,200 vulnerable people every other day. All this extra support costs money—as much as £24,000 per month. This remarkable act of solidarity relies entirely on money given by strangers.

Imagine…

I’ll finish with this little poem from Lemn Sissay, which the legends at Refugee Week are sharing as the jumping off point for the first of eight Simple Acts you can take to stand with refugees.

I will not limit myself
I will not be afraid
If it were not imagined
How else could it be made?

If it can be imagined, it can be made. Another world is possible.

This isn’t the world we want to live in, and we are working to change it, but while refugees are forced to live like this, we will be there for them.

Join us. Thank you.

Border Breakdown

As you may have heard, Turkey has opened their border with the EU, giving refugees the chance to try their luck at crossing.

This has very little to do with humanity; it’s a power game Turkish President Erdogan is playing, trying to leverage either more money or more support for his military manoeuvres in Syria.

But humanity will out, just as the 2016 EU-Turkey deal never will.

The EU was supposed to give Turkey loads of money and ease restrictions on free movement for Turkish people. In exchange, Turkey would accept returns of ‘irregular migrants’ and enforce the EU border in Turkey.

In the meantime, those who break the line of defence will find their journeys stopped in the five ‘hotspot’ islands of the Aegean: Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros, where their asylum claims will be processed (interminably slowly), like as not destined to be returned to Turkey.

The deal has trapped millions of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond.

This was never going to work really, was it?

1) There’s no amount of money you can throw at a problem like this.

The only solution is to flip the script and give refugees the right to work for money themselves from Day 1.

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees accords refugees the right to work — but most countries don’t fully honour this commitment. It’s insane.

People are working to have this absurdity overthrown in the UK. You can join the campaign here.

2) Hard borders are unenforceable.

Even the Iron Curtain was permeable. The folly of a hard border demands a Turkish coastguard that is omniscient and omnipresent. It’s not. So boats get through to the island hotspots in Greece, inside the EU.

A hard border also demands that the Greek island communities repulse the new arrivals. But humans don’t do that. We have too much in common; too much solidarity.

As mushy-minded flimsy fools, we are too touched by the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have done unto you. Despite reports of black-clad militants in speedboats, Greek volunteers rush the boats with water and warmth.

The xenia of welcome can’t be sustained, of course. Conditions in the island camps are sickening and, see point one: there is still no amount of money you can throw at a problem like this. Let people work.

We’re leaving the EU, not Europe. In theory, we could use our new status outside the supranational bloc to opt out of the collective punishment of border brutality and welcome refugees directly.

I’ve got to say, though: that seems unlikely to happen.

More likely is that we can continue to show faith in humanity. Sign a petition. Or…

Let’s tackle it together / AKA: Why I’m cycling 3,000km+ this summer

With Thighs of Steel this summer I’ll be cycling 3,000km, across the Carpathian mountains, through Transylvania and the Balkans, from Bratislava to Athens.

It’s an odd way to remember that our borders are trapping millions of people in intolerable conditions. But it’s my way.

Today, there are more than 42,000 people living in horrifying camps on the Aegean Islands — stuck there until such a time as we collectively choose compassion over nationalism.

Read this story, told by a woman living in Vial camp on Chios, to find out what life is really like in a Greek refugee camp.

And, of course, that figure of 42,000 is dwarfed by the 3,500,000+ Syrian refugees trapped in Turkey.

It’s easy to feel hopeless, but I think we can make a difference.

That’s why I ride with Thighs of Steel and why, as part of the core team this year, I’m doing all I can to help the other 100+ cyclists raise tonnes of cash for Help Refugees.

The main beneficiary of the money we raise will be Khora, a grassroots community centre in Athens that offers displaced people hot food, legal support and friendship. The centre is run entirely by volunteers on solidarity and donations.

I visited Khora last year and met a wonderful bunch of people who are already making a difference. The work they do is of immense practical and psychological support to actual human beings every day.

Alee is a long-term volunteer and refugee from Pakistan who found Khora after the factory where he worked was shut down in 2016.

‘I didn’t come here to volunteer,’ Alee told me. ‘When I came here, I was homeless, I was jobless, I was penniless — even hopeless, to some extent.

‘I was at the verge of mental collapse,’ he says. ‘I mean, I could have been suicidal. I could jump from the fifth floor. The Khora volunteers kept me alive. Honestly, I’m telling you, they kept me alive.’

Fluent in multiple languages, including Greek, Alee started volunteering as a translator on the Khora info desk, during refugee hospital visits and with the legal team.

Now Alee spends most of his volunteer time at the Khora Free Shop, where refugees and others can pick up clothes, shoes, toiletries, books, toys and other things they might not be able to afford.

‘Khora is about giving hope as well as help,’ Alee says.

If you think that helping refugees is a generally good idea, then there’s loads you can do.

  • If cycling is your cup of tea, join us! We are three-quarters full, but there’s still space for you. It’s a great bunch of people, passionate about making change happen.
  • If you can afford to donate to the Thighs 2020 appeal, then I promise you that even the most modest gift will do things that simply wouldn’t happen without your contribution. Honestly. Like paying the motorway tolls so that a library van can get out of Athens to the refugee camp in Corinth. Without that handful of Euros, the van doesn’t go and the kids in the camp kick cans in the dust instead.

Thank you.

How to play Thighs of Steel Joining the world's longest charity relay bike ride

If you don’t know how the world’s longest (and bestest) charity relay bike ride works, then here’s a quick and dirty guide on How to Play Thighs of Steel:

1. Don’t worry – you’re not cycling the whole thing, this is a relay. Pick one week that fills you with butterflies of excitement rather than dread. There’s something on this route for cyclists of all abilities and we are totally non-competitive.

Historically, more than half of our cyclists have been women – I only mention that because cycle touring has a shit reputation of being lonely, miserable and macho. It’ll be challenging, but you’ll never be alone and, with smiles, songs and snacks, everyone helps everyone through. Most people only do one week of the relay – some crazies do two.

2. Do logistics. Book your time off work and your transport to and from the start and finish cities.

3. Train like heck. We have training rides every month in London and there are now over 200 current and former Thighs cyclists you can meet up with for beers and bikes. (In reality, you’ll probably only train a bit and then panic unduly. It’ll be fine. We all do this.)

4. Fundraise like heck. All the money goes to grassroots refugee organisations and we suggest you aim for a minimum of £500. We’re always on hand for fundraising advice. Putting on a party or a dinner is always a winner, but don’t forget the simple stuff like charity pots in your local cafes and pubs. Over the past four years, Thighs cyclists have raised over £320,000 for projects that are making a real difference to the lives of refugees in the UK and Greece.

5. Cycle a really long way. Wahay! Adventure and the unknown is our standard operating procedure as we wild ride, wild camp and wild swim our way across the continent.

People focus on the cycling, but what makes Thighs special is the people. Nothing bonds a campful of strangers like climbing a mountain in 40 degree heat, or getting sprayed down by a farmer with a power hose, or handing out a pannier full of figs picked straight from the tree, or mending a puncture in a thunderstorm, or just sitting by a lake at the end of a long day and watching the sun set in silence.

6. Come home with a suntan, steely thighs and stuffed full of stories to share. It won’t be the end unless you want it to be. Repeat with friends in 2021?

Signups open for real on Sunday 1 March, but you can get early bird access on Monday 24 February by joining a special mailing list. This is good because places go fast and no one wants to miss out!

Merry Thighsmas!

We are thrilled to announce that together this year Thighs of Steel have raised a staggering £87,184.40 for grassroots refugee organisations.

A big thank you to everyone who donated – it means a lot!

Guided by expert advice from Help Refugees, that money has been granted to five organisations we believe will do justice to your hard earned cash.

Picking projects to fund is a tough job, and of course we wish we could support every project with everything they need, but we’ve tried to cover a wide range of refugee needs, including emergency aid, legal assistance, social integration and human dignity.

Here is a pretty pie chart showing where the money’s gone:

You can learn more about all these projects, exactly what we’re funding and why by reading The Reason page on the Thighs of Steel website. Thanks again.

Thighs of Steel arrives in Athens, all together

After more than 6,000km and 90,000m of climbing, Thighs of Steel is done and dusted for another year.

Over the past 9 weeks, more than 90 cyclists have covered every single inch of asphalt between here and London. As part of the core team for 4 weeks this year, I have cycled 1,670 of those kilometres (8.9 laps of the M25) and climbed 18,600m (2.1 ascents of Everest).

I also shared 7 van days, supporting the incredible sweat-work of the fundraising cyclists, finding wild camp spots, fixing broken bikes, cooking hearty dinners and generally trying to make everything run as smoothly as a transcontinental bike ride can be.

After the glorious hospitality of Albania last week, the final ride from Igoumenitsa to Athens was littered with unforeseen crises.

  • Two bikes arrived destroyed by airlines. On day one, another bike fell apart on the road. On day three, a fourth bike succumbed.
  • On the first night, the police broke up our beachside camp with hard stares and unveiled threats.
  • The starter motor on Calypso (the van) broke, leaving the van team stranded on a beach with hungry, tired cyclists rushing ahead expecting food and shelter.
  • At the tunnel under the Ambracian Gulf, the whole team were told that the shuttle service for cyclists had been terminated, they couldn’t cross, and should instead make a 100km detour.
  • We had our first serious accident: a gravel slip on a fast descent that left a bruising dent in an elbow.
  • After fixing precisely zero punctures in the past 3 weeks, this week I personally replaced three exploded inner tubes – other teams copped yet more.
  • On the final morning of the ride, a thunderstorm broke. Sheet lightning, thunder claps and hard rain laying waste to the camp we’d pitched among the stones of an ancient archaeological site.

But of all the weeks I have taken part in, this was the one I enjoyed the most.

Albania was the country I most loved cycling through, but this week gave me the sense – nay, the strong belief that no challenge was insurmountable for this motley collection of strangers that had come together to ride and raise money for refugees.

This disaster-filled ride most encapsulated the Thighs of Steel ethos: whatever troubles we face, we face together and we solve together.

It is testament to the resilience and generosity of the human spirit that, when we come together in common cause, anything is possible. I feel like the past few weeks, in the company of so many committed people, have filled me up with good faith in our shared humanity.

On Thighs of Steel we usually ride in two or three groups so that we’re staggered across the roads. It’s easier to manage smaller teams and groups of four or five dodge much of the ire of other road users.

But it was fitting that, after weathering the morning’s tempestuous thunderstorm, Thighs of Steel 2019 ended with the 16 cyclists gathering in a restaurant just outside Athens and riding into the city to meet the van team at the summit of Lycabettus, so that we could celebrate our ride all together.

~

Thighs of Steel 2019 Fundraising Update: £67,736

£10,000 of your generous donations will help fund Pedal Power, a cycle training programme for female refugees in Birmingham. I’ve written a bit about Pedal Power and Thighs of Steel on The Bike Project blog if you’d like to read more.

Thanks everyone!

The kindest country in the world?

There is a word in Greek, xenia, which translates (badly) as ‘guest friendship’. It manifests as generous hospitality to strangers and travellers and is a common theme in Ancient Greek mythology.

I remember studying xenia as a central theme of The Odyssey. As Odysseus is battered and blown from port to port across the Mediterranean Sea, his return to Ithaka is made possible thanks only to extravagant displays of xenia by the people upon whose shores he washes up. (With the exception of witches who turn his crew into pigs and the like.)

One of those to help him (after a seven year delay…) with wine, bread and a raft was a nymph who gave her name to the the Thighs of Steel support van – Calypso.

Thighs of Steel, like the famous Odyssey, is a journey entirely dependent on the extraordinary xenia of those we meet, those who fill our water bottles, find us camping spots, give directions and food and welcoming smiles.

Xenia may be a Greek concept, but there must surely be a similar word in Albanian. Everywhere we went this week we have been almost assaulted with outrageous generosity.

Three cafe owners refused to let us pay for our coffees or cold drinks, and one gave us chocolate bars when we asked if we could use his toilet.

A car wash owner (Albania is full of lavazh car washes) broke off his siesta and fixed my bike while his black-clad mother brought out a watermelon and ice water for the rest of the group.

It seemed that whenever we went to pay, we were met with a touch of the heart and a smile. Such was the hospitality that it became almost an embarrassment.

One afternoon, as the sun crushed us like bugs into the asphalt, we spotted what we thought was a bar where we might be able to buy drinks and eat our leftover lunches from last night’s dinner.

But when we rolled up to the establishment, the bar turned out to be a restaurant. Quite a fine restaurant, with white cloths on busy tables that were piled up with plates of salad and grilled fish.

‘Maybe they’ll let us eat our lunch here anyway?’

At this suggestion, two thoughts surfaced:

  1. This is Albania: of course the proprietor will let us eat our pots of chilli and bread rolls at his restaurant, use his toilet, fill up our water bottles and cool off in the shade of his veranda. He would touch his heart and smile.
  2. If this Albanian man showed up at any restaurant in the UK and asked to eat his packed lunch, use the toilet and fill his water bottles under the shade of the veranda, there is no way in hell he’d be given anything other than an angry clip round the ear.

I felt ashamed and walked off down the road, looking for any corner of unbleached stone where we could sit and picnic. By the time I came back, the rest of the group was pulling out our food as the restaurant owner welcomed them with a fresh table cloth. A neighbouring table of soldiers clinked beer bottles and translated.

As it happened, we ended up buying quite a lot of extra food, so I think it worked out pretty well for the kind restauranteur, but that’s not the point. I have never known such unrelenting generous hospitality from an entire citizenry on my travels before.

Chapeau Albania!

Thighs of Steel 2019 Fundraising Update: £65,587 which puts the total raised over the past four years at more than £300,000. Frankly ridiculous.

Why Mahmoud wears cologne

The incidental benefits of cycle touring are well known: fitness, tan-lines, an insatiable appetite. But I think I can say without fear of contradiction that cycle touring isn’t particularly famous for its promotion of good personal hygiene.

This year, I am proud to be a part of the Thighs of Steel core team for the glory run to Athens. During those last three weeks of riding, I’ll probably have only 8 showers and wash my clothes twice. Most days, I’ll wake up in the sweat I accumulated the day before, and step into the clothes still encrusted with grime from yesterday’s riding.

Most days, our only chance to scrub will be in rivers, lakes and perhaps under a bucket. Shampoo, perfume and pomade are, for most of us, redundant.

But not for all of us.

~

Mahmoud couldn’t actually cycle, but joined the van team for two weeks from Paris to the Pyrenees. He couldn’t ride because of a long-term knee injury sustained during the Syrian war. He now lives in Germany.

One thing you should know about Mahmoud is that he is very particular about his personal hygiene. Every morning, he combs wax through his styled hair. He applies perfume to neck and wrists, and coats himself in a layer of antiperspirant.

Where most of us have perhaps one change, Mahmoud seems to have a bottomless wardrobe of crisp, clean clothes. He refuses to swim in our wonderfully wild rivers and lakes because the water is dirty. It’s a fair point, and one that he emphasises with good old soap and tap water.

He does everything he can to hold back the inevitable tides of sweat and grime that two weeks’ camping set down. His careful preening is a good-humoured joke. Good-humoured because he wears his fashion lightly; a joke because, standing next to us cyclists, he looks superb.

~

‘I had days where I slept with the blood of other people on my body,’ Mahmoud says. ‘Because you sleep when you are tired, you don’t care about yourself. You can’t imagine the dirt – sometimes I slept in some shit.’

We’re sitting on an artful block of concrete on the banks of the Garonne in Bordeaux and Mahmoud is explaining why he is such a stickler for cleanliness.

‘Because of this trauma – why do I have to be dirty? Why do I have to smell?’ His voice rises in incredulity that anyone would choose dirt.

‘Everything is in my hands now. I don’t want to go back to those days. I have a developed nose and any smell could bring me flashback – I don’t want any flashback.’

~

‘I feel like cleanliness makes me trust myself more,’ Mahmoud explains. ‘If somebody smells in front of me, I take a step back.’

As a refugee, Mahmoud feels like ‘the whole society has taken a step back from me already.’ He doesn’t need to add bad hygiene to the repulsion.

Mahmoud met Harri and Annie, two of the brains behind Thighs of Steel, at a grassroots community centre in Athens. ‘At Khora, everyone was lovely,’ Mahmoud says. ‘Fucking amazing lovely people. But Khora was a small world, really.’

The small world of fucking amazing lovely people doesn’t care whether you’re a refugee, whether you’re dirty or smell bad, or are dressed in cheap clothes. But the big world does.

~

‘The big world really doesn’t like you, really doesn’t want you, and doesn’t accept you,’ Mahmoud says. ‘So I have to do what other Syrians do. They spend money to wear Adidas, to wear Gucci – why? To fit into the society, so people know they have money, so people stop judging them. You cannot afford Gucci if you are not working.’

‘I could lie to myself and say everyone is nice – no. People smile in front of your face, but they don’t like you. They smile in front of your face for the society. Do you think that everyone talks to me nicely?’

‘For me, to look good and to be clean could help me in front of society. People might accept me.’

~

Thighs of Steel is Europe’s biggest charity relay bike ride, taking 9 weeks to cover the 6,000km from London to Athens, with a frankly silly detour via the Pyrenees to make it more than 90,000m climbing over three of the continent’s toughest mountain ranges.

Over the past four years, Thighs of Steel supporters have raised more than a quarter of a million pounds for grassroots refugee organisations like Khora. Already this year we’ve raised more than £50,000.

If you want to help…

If you have any trouble donating, let me know – the website isn’t always the friendliest. Thanks!

The Trials and Tribulations of Van Days Thighs of Steel 2019

Being part of the core team for Thighs of Steel this year is a very different experience to riding the full week as a fundraiser. Mainly because I spent two of the six days driving Calypso, the team’s support van.

That’s not to say that van days are easy. There’s an intimidating list of jobs that need to be done:

  • Pack up the campsite
  • Plan a meal and buy food for dinner
  • Drive ~120km (on the wrong side of the road)
  • Find the perfect wild camping spot for ~15 cyclists, not too far from the pre-planned route, but quiet, secluded, flat enough for tent-pitching, and ideally close to a river or lake for swimming
  • Cook the perfect camp dinner

A dozen hot and hungry cyclists depend on the van team getting this right. Oh – and you have to do all of this while feeling like absolute crap.

It is an unfortunate side effect of long distance cycling that your body mistakenly believes that van days are rest days. The body shuts down, the mind follows suit.

I felt like an extremely hot zombie. This was not great news, especially as I was driving and my French was in high demand to help secure us a wild camp site.

But on Thighs of Steel miracles happen. Indeed, the ride depends on miracles, almost every single day.

I’d been warned that finding wild camping for a dozen cyclists and a humungous van is the hardest part of the job. The plan is completely reliant on some kindly farmer, landowner or mayor taking pity on our ridiculous endeavour and letting us camp on their land.

After all, what would you do if you saw a circle of chairs, filled by dirty-faced foreigners, set up in your orchard?

But, in more than 20 weeks of touring, only once have Thighs of Steel been asked to move on. It is a daily miracle. Thank you, kind-hearted people of Europe.

With the help of my co-driver, I rang the doorbell of a likely-looking landowner, not far off route. We’d spotted a campervan parked in a closely-mown field behind his house.

With the help of his excitable dog, the owner was roused. He opened the door, and the dog bolted for freedom.

The man apologised, but couldn’t help: the owner of the field was in Belgium. He suggested that we ask the mayor, gave us directions to the town hall, and started calling for his lost dog.

We drove Calypso up to the quaint village Mairie. It felt like we were parking our tank on their lawn.

I began in faltering French: ‘We are 12 cyclists looking for wild camping…’ And, hallelujah, it was as if he’d been expecting us. ‘I have the perfect place,’ he smiled.

What followed felt like the oral part of my GCSE French exam: ‘At the crossroads go straight on and follow the road for 3km. You’ll see a low, white wall, with a gap in the middle. Go down this track, over a disused railway line through a wood, and then over a small bridge into a field.’

I follow the directions with apprehensive nodding. The mayor finishes by kisses his fingers: ‘And the river is perfect for bathing!’

We took his address to send a thank you card from Athens, and then drive out – slightly nervous – to our campsite.

To my astonishment, I’d understood his flawless directions and we found the field atop a tiny island, split by lazy turns of the river. Fishermen dabbled in the shallows and a paddleboard drifted past.

It was perfect (especially when the insects clear off).

We set up chairs in a circle, looking out at the sun dunking itself into the stream away to the west. We set the pot boiling with a vegetable curry.

Half an hour later, the cyclists arrive, stinking of joy, bells a-ringing. It’s only then that we notice the chairs are arranged in a perfect ring around a single, plump dog turd.


Thighs of Steel is Europe’s biggest charity relay bike ride, taking 9 weeks to cover the 6,000km from London to Athens, with a frankly silly detour via the Pyrenees to make it more than 90,000m climbing over three of the continent’s toughest mountain ranges.

So far, the cyclists and supporters of Thighs of Steel 2019 have raised over £38,000 £50,000 for Help Refugees.

If you want to help keep the lights on at grassroots refugee organisations across Europe, you could do a lot worse than contribute to my page here.

THANK YOU. I promise all donors something delightful by the end of the year…

Talk Migration: Help Refugees

Last Sunday morning, more than 40 people crammed into a wide circle to ‘talk migration’ under the wooden beams of Impact Hub in Kings Cross.

Talk Migration was a day of talks and discussion around the topics of migration, borders and refugee rights, organised by Thighs of Steel.

Every year, Thighs of Steel cyclists come together to fundraise for grassroots refugee organisations around Europe. In 2019 they are aiming to raise £100,000 with their legendary London to Athens relay ride.

A bicycle bell called us to order and the smiles rang out…


We started the day with a talk by Philly, one of the founders of refugee support charity Help Refugees.

Help Refugees started as nothing more than a heartfelt response to the growing humanitarian crisis in Calais in the summer of 2015. A few friends and a crowdfunder aiming to raise £1000.

A week later, they’d raised over £50,000, and were receiving 7,000 donations a day – tents, sleeping bags, clothes, toiletries. They rented a warehouse in London, another in Calais, and Help Refugees was born.

Almost 4 years later, Help Refugees are now supporting more than 80 grassroots projects in 12 countries.

This year, 120 Thighs of Steel cyclists are aiming to raise £100,000 for Help Refugees. The funds will be split between grassroots organisations along the Thighs of Steel London to Athens cycle route.

Campaigns Help Refugees support in the UK


Thank you to Thighs of Steel for putting on Talk Migration, a day of talks and discussion around the topics of migration, borders and refugee rights.

If you want to support Help Refugees, then you could do a lot worse than donate to my Thighs of Steel fundraising page 😀

oh merde it’s a FUNDRAISING LAUNCH!!

Click here to cut the crap and go straight to my Help Refugees donation page…

This summer I’ll be cycling ~1,800km from Rome to Athens because I vehemently believe that borders are really dumb.

Everyone should be able to roam the earth freely and that’s why I support the work that Help Refugees are doing to help stateless human beings get a foothold in life.

As one of the lucky, lucky people on earth who haven’t had their home village bombed to pieces, I like to do what I can to support those who aren’t so fortunate. If that involves cycling an awfully long way in 35 degree heat, then so be it.

If you think that helping refugees is a generally good idea, then I’d be super grateful if you could donate whatever you can afford.

Click this link to make that happen.

Having visited projects supported by Help Refugees all over Europe, I can reassure you that the work they do is of immense practical support to actual human beings every day. (I’ve published a lot of these stories on my blog – drop me a line if you want a direct link.)

Thank you in advance for being so generous! And stay tuned because your donation will get you free entry to a very exciting thingy that we’re planning for the start of July….

Oh now you’re interested! (Donate by card or Paypal…)


+++ There’s still time to join this year’s ride. Maybe London to Paris, or Milan to Venice? If you want to ride with yours truly, then sign up for Rome-Bari or Corfu-Athens!

Thighs of Steel: A Community on Wheels

Today is the final day of the epic seven week cycling relay fundraiser that is Thighs of Steel.

At about 5pm, the latest peloton of steely thighed cyclists will sweep into Athens, hot, sweaty and exultant after an 85km day’s ride – the culmination of a journey that started 4,600km ago in London.

The bike ride, and the 80-odd riders thereon, have already smashed their target of raising £50,000 to pay the bills at refugee community centre Khora – and are pushing on to beat the record set last year of over £100,000.

These are the numbers. On the face of it, they sound very impressive. But, let’s be honest, there are more efficient ways of raising money for charity. Continue reading Thighs of Steel: A Community on Wheels

Thighs of Steel: Ljubljana to Sofia

How do you sum up two weeks of doing almost nothing but cycling and refuelling?

We’ve cycled from Ljubljana in Slovenia, through the hills of Croatia, the plains of Hungary and the free ice creams of Romania to Sofia in Bulgaria. That’s about 80 miles a day for 12 days, with one day off in the middle to stumble around Timisoara in a daze and eat.

Sitting here now, in the cool of the shade of a fig tree, it’s time to wonder what will stay with me. Memories being what they are, what I write in the next 20 minutes may very well come to define my whole experience. So strap on your safety goggles and let’s see what comes. Continue reading Thighs of Steel: Ljubljana to Sofia

A Morning in the Life of a Steely Thighed Cyclist

0505: Wake up needing the toilet. Hold it in.
0515: Alarm. Switch off with eyes tightly shut.
0520: Open eyes. Stretch out back in child’s pose on air mattress. Fantasise about a spa day. Search for glasses.
0525: Struggle into shorts from yesterday. They are damp. Start packing away unused sleeping bag. Keep searching for glasses.
0530: Pack away sleeping mat and other camping detritus in hope of finding glasses.
0535: Emerge from the tent into the morning dew. Wipe hands on grass and rub into face. Fetch shovel and biodegradable toilet paper from Calypso (the van) and find a suitable patch of ground for the morning constitutional. On the way back, make a cursory hunt for glasses.
0536: FIND GLASSES! Conclude that today will be a good day. Continue reading A Morning in the Life of a Steely Thighed Cyclist

Cycling to Syria – Back in the Saddle!

In 2016 I embarked on the somewhat ambitious target of cycling from London to Syria, reporting on the refugee ‘crisis’ from the saddle of my bicycle. In 46 days, I got as far as Vienna, before rushing back to work on Foiled at the Edinburgh Festival. It was a busy summer!

I always said that I’d carry on the cycle some day. Well, some day has arrived. Continue reading Cycling to Syria – Back in the Saddle!