Joshua Page has lived in London for just over a decade. These days he rides an hour across the capital from his home in Croydon to his work at the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square. He tells of a city put in perspective by cycling, offering a view not obscured in the underground but in full colour and motion at street level. No stranger to starting afresh in a new field, the thread of his various projects is a commitment to craft. The cycling rag he founded The Domestique brings together a like-minded community of “nutters” to inspire Londoners to get on a bike. At a moment in time where virtual takes on a new reality, Josh's story throws physical things into relief. We cast our minds to things that last – things with touch and tenure – whether they're crafted from wood or the stories of an impassioned community of riders.
Tell us about your work.
I'm a framing conservation technician at the National Gallery. I work on antique frames, say they need a repair or resizing to fit a Cézanne or a Van Gogh they would have originally gone with. The gallery makes its money from pictures going in and out on loan and I glaze the artworks and get them safe to travel.
There must be times you can't believe you're up so close. Of the art you've handled, which piece impressed you most?
There's certain works that whenever you get up close, they have an effect on you. A Goya always strikes me, you're just so aware of what you're handling. The use of colour, and it's just got a quality – I don't know, it's hard to explain. These pieces are quite special. There's an element of knowing your craft – woodwork is an essential skill in what I do.
Of course London is great for exhibitions. Do you go much yourself?
For a while, I didn't go to any at all because it was too much like work. It's kind of come back now. With my National Gallery pass I get entry to the Royal Academy and they always have special exhibitions there. I'm a huge fan of Picasso and we were lucky enough to catch that show last year. That was one of the best I've ever been to. They had not only the finished printworks but the plates and the whole process documented in this exhibition. For someone involved in the mechanics of art, it was nice to see.
It can't be bad calling The National Gallery your office.
It's cool because I cycle every day up Whitehall [home to UK Government buildings, lined with iconic landmarks]. You can see the National Gallery the whole way up. It's shown a lot on TV and it's cool to say I work there. I'm based in a woodwork shop in the dungeons of the gallery. [laughs]. It reminds me of wood-working studios at school where I'd think “I might want to grow up and do this”. That's kind of come round now and I'm working in this amazing building in a studio that suits me, so it's pretty cool.
Right there in the heart of things, there's a lot at your fingertips.
Yeah. If it's a nice day I'll go for a walk or maybe to a gallery or the many shops round there. It really depends on the weather. In my spare time I make my own furniture and sometimes in my breaks I use the tools from the shop to chip away at something I'm working on.
Is that a side project of yours?
It's just an interest really. It's taken off in the last year or so as I have the time with lockdown. I wasn't working for a good few months so I cycled a lot and made furniture at home. I make good presents too, it's handy for that. I'm currently making bedside tables and I made some stools for Christmas presents.
My uncle used to start his carpentry at 5am every morning. For my mother's 40th birthday, he made a swinging seat with her date of birth in roman numerals. She's had it twenty years.
I think that's just so special because you do end up keeping these things your whole life. You know the work and craft that went into it. The carpenter made it exactly how they wanted it to be and these pieces will stay in your life. These things last.
Let's talk bikes. Have you always cycled to work?
Yeah I cycle to and from work every day and I live in Croydon so that's quite a commute. It's an hour each way and it definitely keeps me fit. I've lived in London 11 years and biking is the best way to get around for me. Even if it's raining outside, I'd much prefer to cycle than be on a bus or feeling claustrophobic on the Tube.
Did you cycle as a kid?
Actually when I was younger, I used to build bikes. Fixies and single-speed bikes as they had in Red Hook Crit, but I didn't ride much. Then about seven or eight years ago I got into biking and it's kind of taken over. It's my weekends and my evenings.
There's this perception that cycling in London could be safer, that the infrastructure hasn't caught up with other parts of Europe.
I think it's a mixture. There are way more lanes than there used to be. My girlfriend recently started cycling and she was nervous about going on the roads to start. Confidence is a part of it and always being aware. Once you start, it quickly becomes second nature.
Do you use the new lanes put in place for lockdown?
Yeah, although I find them quite annoying actually. They feel like an afterthought. By contrast, the Superhighways are really well done. The best bit of Superhighway in London goes the whole way along the embankment. You don't come into contact with cars at all. It's a really lovely ride.
London's so sprawling, we need these quick routes across.
I think London seems massive too, but when you're on a bike it reduces the size of it. Depending on your pace, you can reach most places in thirty minutes. That's the good thing about riding in London – it makes the city feel closer. You get to places comfortably – especially when you've got a motor behind you.
Yeah, I don't mind that extra kick.
Definitely. You can feel like you're chopping and changing with buses and tubes. Whereas if you're on a bike, that's the one thing you do. From your doorstep all the way to work. I find there's something cool about riding to go for dinner and then cycling home. There's something in that self-sufficiency.
How do you know our photographer, Matt Ben Stone?
It's a nice evolution. I met Matt at a road race in East London six years back. He took some pictures of me just by chance and I used them in the cycling blog I was running. It grew from there. A year or so after, I wanted to make something physical you could have and hold. So we got together and launched a magazine, The Domestique, centred on the London cycling scene and the community around it. Here he is again, years later, getting shots of me on a Cowboy.
What's behind the name of the magazine?
Say your team has the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, everyone except the frontrunner would be a domestique. So, if the rider in pole position needs a bottle of water, the domestique gets it and circles back to him. If he needs to be paced up a mountain, they'd be in front shielding him from the wind. The name is inspired by the notion of community. Our idea of The Domestique is to back anyone to get on a bike and ride.
What's a typical story you might feature?
It's really for the London community, the average Joe like me who rides to work every day and sometimes a bit further afield on the weekend. We feature anyone who has a story to tell on their bike. Once I spoke to a 70-year-old who was still racing. That's just the coolest grandad you could ever wish for. Any inspirational story like that drew me in.
I'd love to get my hands on a copy.
Yeah I'll post you one.
Thanks. I know cycling communities can be pretty passionate.
Yeah, we're a load of nutters. [laughs]. Certainly enthusiastic. What was great about that community is that everyone was chipping in. Matt would input his amazing photography and there were a few designers around who would keep the magazine looking good. The whole thing came together through cycling. The community is quite radical in some ways – always pushing limits, always seeing what else can be done.
On that theme, when in your life have you felt the most cowboy?
Well, to keep it to bikes – I'd wanted to go backpacking for ages, I'd read so many books on it, and last year I went for the first time in the Peak District. I went on my own with my mountain bike, my tent, and my cooking gear strapped to it and to me. There was something that felt good about just being on my own and doing it. I'd never found the time for it, but this weekend just became available where I could.
And you did it.
Yeah. It was cool. I had a plan of sorts, but I kept it loose and changed on how I was feeling.
Any hairy moments?
Yeah, plenty. [laughs] I'm new to mountain biking – and it's scary up there. The trails are gnarly and I had a tonne of hair-raising moments involving large boulders and steep cliffs you're tracing up and down. After a while, I had a trick. I let mountain bikers go ahead of me and I watched what they did. Then I'd cheat and follow them down afterwards. [laughs]. I felt every time I did it that I got better and better. By the end, every time I got down the mountain without putting my foot down or falling off, it felt like an achievement.
You're inspiring me to go and do something like this.
Yeah, it's fun. I definitely recommend it, especially having all your life attached to you and your bike. Where you live, where you sleep, where you eat, everything is tied to you. You pull into these remote places, set up camp and make dinner for the night, completely self-sufficient. All you need is your bike.
That's a good Cowboy moment. And I've heard a few.
Okay, good. There's pressure on that. [laughs]