Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Leave it behind

 I once went on an extended pub crawl dressed as Yoda from Star Wars. It was a very long evening as I recall, and sadly before the days of ubiquitous camera phones. So no digital pictures exist that I can share with you, although I’m sure some of my fellow participants, some of which I am still in contact with, may have some paper ones somewhere. 

In my professional career there are a few film analogies and stories that I have milked to death, and this is one of them.

It was actually an organised work event, early 2000s as I recall. Nowadays the idea that a major employer would encourage that kind of thing - allowing, no promoting, the idea that hundreds of its People go round the pubs of Bristol and get paralytically drunk, (for charity) probably cuts across good Wellbeing practice. Who knows, maybe the event persists, I know it’s recalled fondly as evidenced by frequent Memories on Facebook.

In the light of 2020, the whole idea of Wellbeing has assumed massive proportions. I’m sure our ancestors, cave-dwellers, peat-walkers, and subsistence farmers etc would laugh at how we have moaned and griped our way through what is a fairly minor bit of pestilence, historically-speaking anyway. But then again, they probably had more resilience than we now have, and hadn’t yet figured a way to contrive their world into such an inter-dependent, convoluted techno-bubble. 

Bubble, a word only previously associated with “I’m Forever blowing” etc. Yes, I was in that crowd singing, a great day out it was too. Although watching football from the warmth and comfort of your living room has many advantages, it’s nothing like the real thing, particularly in the cold and damp of December. But yes, I have missed it. As for these other Jonny-come-lately “bubbles”, what’s wrong with just using the word “Group”? 

And DGMS on “self-isolation”. We used to call it quarantine which I’m almost pleased to see named as Word of the Year by the Cambridge Dictionary. What an honour. Back when a name was first given to it, it meant 40 days away from people, Italian and ships I think. Nowadays it means whatever the latest set of complicated local restrictions says it means. In whichever tier you are in.

There was also a time when the word “mute” wasn’t offensive, whereas now it’s just become one of those hilarious things to say to the person who can’t figure out the controls of whichever video platform they happen to be using that day. Or who has become so engrossed in reading emails that they’ve lost sight of the fact there was a conversation going on.

But behind all of my tongue in cheek cynicism, there are some serious points of course. We have all had to deal with a lot. My public face might look all cheerful, plain and professional, but outside of the sight lines of the camera it’s a mess. 

Cables and junk absolutely everywhere, tasks half-started and never finished, whilst lurking in the background is a bit of Christmas promise, to be quickly followed by the gloom of the New Year. 

Yes, it’s been tough. Yes that’s a metaphor.

I’m sure many of you have also struggled, and I’m no exception, but, in time-honoured fashion, I don’t want to make a fuss. Nor am I comparing my challenges with yours, or saying I know how you feel.  Our normal, bearable day-to-day struggles have been tipped over the edge by isolation, illness or the threat of it, but above all, by uncertainty and novelty. Not in a good way.

But just for once I’m going to break Shirley’s rule and make a bit of a fuss. Because finally my own poor choices have caught up with me, not in a big way, more in an early-warning way, face this or die horribly in the future way. Much as I’d like to bury my head in the sand, my heart won’t allow it.

I have been diagnosed with something called pre-diabetes. I’m 77kg, 171cm and have slightly elevated blood sugar than is good for me. I won’t give you all the detail about glycated haemoglobin, suffice to say that I’ve just slipped over the border into bandit country.  

Despite a fairly active life, and reasonably good diet, it has not come as the shock you might expect. For one, experts (them again) reckon about a third of the UK adult population is walking around with this condition, undiagnosed. That’s on top of about 10% who knowingly or unknowingly have full-blow Type 2 Diabetes.  A figure that is expected to rise quickly over the next few years.

My condition is far away from serious, it’s the beginnings of an early-warning sign. It was only picked up in me by a serendipitous  blood test. And whilst I have only just snuck over the line in terms of the figures, I have been fairly sedentary for the last three months, and been absolutely caning the chocolate. So in truth, I was not surprised that the last few months of 2020, on have this on.

My weight has been creeping up for years, gradually, stealthily, and I lazily ignored it. After all, I can still cycle 100km without really breaking a sweat, 200km in a day fairly easily, and my VO2 and FTP are superb for my age. But it’s not enough. Unfortunately, despite what the Daily Mail will have you believe, our behaviour isn’t the only factor at play here. Stress, genetics and lack of sleep can all play their part in influencing our blood sugar, so it’s not all down to lifestyle. Whatever the cause, I am going to have to deal with it, and look at eating more healthily, getting more sleep, reducing my stress and being more active. Easy eh?

Now is the time for me to follow Yoda’s advice. With any luck I can mobilise my compulsive gene to become a full-on healthy-eating and focussed exerciser. But in my heart of hearts I know that’s not me, I will just have to find my own way and do the best I can to reclaim my health, and push the numbers in the right direction.  

Right now I feel exhausted just thinking about it, and I am longing for the next week to pass so I can have some time off at Christmas. Much as the Rapha 500 appeals, I probably should have a break from setting myself tough challenges and concentrate on eating dust and grass. But then again, if this year is to have anything good come out of it, I should look on the bright side. I have the opportunity and the resources to do something about it, and the brains to make the right choices. 

As it goes I have been wrestling with a few other consequences of choices I made in other areas too. It’s time to let those anxieties go as well. I just don’t want to carry that baggage around with me any longer, so along with the chocolate, they will just have to go

                                                                            Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Courting opinions

 Today has been a very odd day. Surreal in places, but ultimately immensely satisfying. It is all about cycling and not about cycling at all. Let me explain.

Back in July I put a Go Pro on my handlebars so that I could edit together a short “film” about one of the 200km rides that Martyn and I did around Somerset. The film was OK, the ride was better, but it was vaguely interesting as my first foray into making YouTube clips. As is the way of these rides, I got home pretty tired, it was the first 200 I’d done since before the first lockdown. So the bike went away for the night, unwashed and the camera mounting still under the Garmin.

Because that weekend had what I can only describe as “perfect cycling weather” (warm, but not too hot, light breeze, sunny skies etc etc) I decided to make the most of it on the Sunday and ride over to Rodney Stoke to see, and then ride with, Steve on a gentle leg loosener. All compliant with social distancing of course.

On the way there I was involved in “The Incident”. I briefly mentioned it in a blog post, which for obvious reasons I had to subsequently take down from this site. The Incident was of course a close pass. I thought it the most dangerous one I’d ever experienced, and one of the worst pieces of driving I’d seen for a long time. I had to take avoiding action to avoid being hit.

Because of the camera being on the bike, the whole incident was captured in HD footage and was soon winging its way to Avon and Somerset Police. Two days later I found out that they’d issued a Notice of Intended Prosecution. In early October I was called as a witness in the driver’s prosecution for Driving without due care, and today that case came to trial. The driver was convicted, given 4 points on his licence and fined £482 inclusive of costs.

I don’t want to say too much about the actual trial, and all the details that go with it, you can ask me if you see me and are that interested.  But what did strike me about the whole thing, was how utterly unnecessary it all was. The driver did not have to behave as he did back in July. He could have used some logic and entered a guilty plea, or taken some advice from a wiser friend. He is not a man of means, and is now in the invidious position of having to repay that fine over the next year. His licence will carry those points for a few years, and affect his insurance premiums.

But will it change his behaviour? Well, maybe he might think twice for fear of future retribution and punishment. But I’m not convinced he really, truly understands how dangerous his driving was. It may be this is one small victory in the battle against our terrible “car-obsessed, got-to-get-in-front-at-al-costs” driving culture. A few recent events have brought out the best and the worst in people, and I think so much of our society has become too polarised, too quick to argue and too slow to listen.

Maybe court cases and “calling people out” are the way to tackle the ills of our world. But as 2020 draws to a close perhaps we can take some time to think of ways in which we could all get along with each other, and ideally, not come close to killing anyone whilst driving a car. By the way, 2020 has been bad, but ask Cambodians, Southern Slavs, Rwandans, and many, many more people all over the world, if there have been worst years since 1945 and I’m sure they will say yes. My 22, 916 minutes of engagement with Spotify do not signal a bad year either. 

I was shaken by the Incident, so much so that I acquired two new cameras (the original GoPro fell off on a descent on the Mendips, into a long-grass verge, never to be found), but I have yet to fit them to my bikes. Partly because I want to feel that bike riding is about fun, friends and fantastic views. Partly because I don’t need any more extra weight than the second lockdown has given me. It’s amazing how much chocolate you can eat in a month. 

Cycling largely is so joyful for me, and right now we all need more joy. I do for sure. But engaging with all that bad driving just doesn’t feel like any form of joy, and I can’t help but think there must be better ways to change things. Too much fighting

For once I am at a loss to know what the right thing to do is. In the meantime, here’s Bristol, in the dark of lockdown, from the bike ride I did last week.


Saturday, 7 November 2020

A Newtonian distraction

 For once I am going to write an unashamedly geeky post about cycling. Nothing about politics, life and death, films, music or the lockdown. For those of you struggling with big world events, or local issues, or family crises of any kind whatsoever, this post is the ultimate escapism. 

Back in March, for reasons I promised not to mention, I found myself with a bit more time on my hands. Time that of course I used productively to do more cycling. Now, as the dark approaches and the weather turns more inclement, that time is being whittled away and I have to take my opportunities whenever they present themselves.

Still, back to March. As I had all this time for riding, I decided I would ride when the weather was nice. A sunny Spring and the lengthening of the days, meant that was quite often. A further benefit of this fair-weather riding, coupled with the fact that I was riding on my own, and so I didn’t have to worry about spraying anyone with water and Somerset’s finest mud,  meant I could ride my Planet X bike all the time. The lighter bike. 

And the results, and bear in mind the only person any of us truly competes with is ourself, were very encouraging. After a tough year in 2019 with the whooping cough, and an early bout of that illness I can’t mention in March 2020, I saw both my VO2 and my FTP steadily, if not spectacularly, increase in line with the lengthening daylight.

Even when our life-affirming cycling trip to the south of France fell by the wayside, a quick pivot to the Land of his Fathers, allowed me to keep some kind of mountain-focussed goal in my head, to spur my motivation. This was particularly important as that available time started to shrink, for reasons I can’t mention.

Then, on the evening of 26 August, I found myself with a couple of hours to spare till sundown, so decided to head out on a loop of the airport, Bristol airport. Now, for Strava aficionados, I give you the Wrington-Redhill climb. One of my most climbed segments in the whole of the world, as I write I have done it 273 times since I joined Strava at the start of 2014 (an average of 39 times a year), but in 2020, Relatively hardly at all (only 15 times). The simple reason for this is because this climb is on one of my favourite commuting routes, and for reasons that I can’t mention, I’ve not been going into our Bristol office much since March. It was also a lovely evening.

It’s a very benign climb. The full route from the actual village of Wrington to the top of the hill at Row of Ashes, includes five steep sections (of 8-12% each), but this segment truncates that longer climb by chopping off the first and last two ramps. Consequently the segment has an average gradient of only 3.6% over the course of its 2.11 kilometres. Because most of my efforts are done whilst commuting to work I tend to bimble up it, enjoying the views and the sunrises, depending on the time of year.

When I was reviewing my Strava results after that ride on 26 August, to my astonishment I found it was my 3rd best ever climb of the segment, at a stunning 7 minutes and 9 seconds. Look, I know what you are thinking, and I know my place and ability. I’m competing against myself remember? Even if I wasn’t, despite there being 2,103 better performers on this hill than me, And my best was a few years ago, there are still 2,393 people who are either slower or can’t be arsed. Honestly, you Type A people, just relax. There are worse things going on, but I cant mention them.

Anyway, this “performance” was something of a surprise. It hadn’t been a commuting ride, but I hadn’t been making any specific effort to blast up the hill, so I put it down to a bit of good form (don’t you all?) and forgot about it.

Fast forward a few months to Wednesday of this week, and so much has changed. It’s cold, it’s dark, windy, and worst of all, it seems to be perpetually raining. And all that time I mentioned? Mostly gone, as I’m having to use my waking hours for things other than cycling. So a dry and still night Prompted me out the door in the direction of Bristol. I also had a small errand to deliver something to a colleague on the Wells Road. It now being November, and my Planet X being off the road for wheel repair, I was on the chug-a-long steel bike. Actually, it’s beautiful to ride, looks amazing and is equipped with just about everything you need for Winter riding. Which means that as well as being very comfortable, it is also very, very heavy. 

Needless to say my ride up Wrington-Redhill did not pull up any trees. At 8 minutes 40 seconds it was very firmly towards the fourth quartile of my own personal performances. Although it was a very lovely evening, with mist down in the valley, stars up above, and a nearly-full moon to illuminate proceedings. If I was allowed to mention it, I’d say it made me feel glad to be alive.

But the wheel I was using also has a Power meter in the rear hub, and I was equipped with a Heart rate monitor (and yes I do have a Heart) so enabling me to make some direct comparisons with that climb back in August. Brace yourself, it’s about to get geeky.

So why was my November ride nearly 20% slower than my August ride? What had caused such a dramatic decline in the speed of my climb? The obvious first choice would be that I was just bimbling as usual. Not putting in as much effort or worn out from a day at the coal face or ground down by the events out in the wider world. Well, actually no. Power output and average heart rate, at 211/163 for August and 212/164 this week were practically identical, if anything slightly more effort in November. There’s a possibility that the meter has been calibrated differently, but I’m pretty sure my heart hasn’t.

Students of physics, and specifically potential energy, will have seen one obvious answer. The energy require to move any mass uphill is a function of its mass, the amount of vertical ascent and the Gravitational constant (as I’m sure you knew). The latter two obviously haven’t changed in three months, although it does feel like the world is shifting on its axis sometimes. But obviously the mass has. Not the rider, no, despite what you might be thinking. I’m actually about the same as I was then. It’s the bike. Equipped with mudguards et al, as well as more and thicker clothing and lights galore, my Winter ensemble tops out at around 15kg, whilst the Planet X is a mere  8.7kg. So a proportion of those watts would have been used to carry lift that extra weight up the 85 metres of the climb, and the speed would have been sacrificed.  But how much of the fall in speed is used to do that? The equation to calculate the sacrifice is :

Energy = mass x height x gravitational constant [9.8 m/s] - for the truly geeky. 

It’s not a huge amount of energy though, 5248 Joules which equates to 1457 Watts being used to lift up the extra weight. Now, the figure from my power meter, of 212Watts, actually means I’m putting out 212 Watts per second on average. So in 8 minutes 40 seconds I am putting out 110,240 Watts in total over the whole climb. Which means that just 1.3% of my power output is used to carry the extra weight, which would make a difference of just 7 seconds.

The one caveat I’d put on these calculations is that it is 37 years since I did A level Physics, brighter minds and geekier cyclists may know better and I’m open to education.

If my Maths are right, what else would account for such a slower speed when the engine (me) was working at a similar level of output? We need to do a Sean Kelly and made the calculations. So what other factors are in play here? Well, for one, there is air density. As it’s a relatively shallow climb wind resistance plays more of a role in determining speed, and in the Autumn with a temperature of 7C the air would have been more dense than in the Summer when it was a relatively balmy 17C. 

Also consuming a few watts would have been my dynamo hub, not much I grant you, but those lumens have to be powered from somewhere, so the illuminating light of Exposure would have been paid for in speed.

And for those of you that know the local area and follow me on Strava, and are finding it hard to sleep in these troubled times, take a look at my angle of approach. Momentum is everything, unless you are Fleabag or Jeremy Corbyn. In August I was hitting the start of the segment at about 20 mph as I’d come from Congresbury, whereas this week I’d approached from the 10% ramp out of Wrington itself, so had no impetuous push from the landscape.

But the real big determining factor here, and I’d claim, without any evidence, (who would do such a thing as that?) that it’s the case for all PBs on Strava by middling cyclists where the gradient is less than 6% (that’s a pretty bold and specific claim isn’t it without a research-based study to back it up, but oh well, that’s modern life) Is the speed and direction of the wind.

August, tail wind - westerly- of 15.8 mph. It may not sound much, but if you are a cyclist, you will know it is. A full-on, right-behind-me tailwind. Whereas on the misty night of November, - northerly 2.2 mph - and with the side of the hill sheltering me, that’s as near to cycling in a vacuum as you are going to get.

So there you have it. Physics eh? Bloody hell. If anyone would like to work out all the parameters in detail, be my guest. I’ll even pretend to be interested. I’m just pleased to have taken you minds away from all the real-life shitshow at the moment. But, this shows the importance of critical mass, momentum, power, heart,  competitiveness, data, how to use your time, and having something behind you. Those and density, always important. Oh and being good at Maths too.

What’s that? I promised It would be about geekiness?  It is, isn’t it?

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Time is a train

 Life operates in phases and cycles, that are not always apparent at the time. It’s only when you look back with hindsight that you can see things have changed and you are into a new phase of your time. But sometimes there are events that knowingly come towards you, like a train.  They approach slowly at first, before they hurtle into the station and you have no choice but to watch them smack you in the face. I’m ready.

Nearly twenty years ago I was reading all the books about childbirth and how to be a father. Oh, how I laugh at the naivety now. The real thing was even better than I could have imagined, but also so much more difficult. You just have to ride on the waves that it brings. Now, as I write this, another very real thing is happening.

For those of you that haven’t guessed, Junior Rouleur is off into the big world on Monday, to University no less, to “study”. No matter how much we care for him, he’s leaving us, and rightly so. Being a parent is a complex thing, it never, ever stops. You really do just get to carry them, even when they don’t want you to. Now is one of the moments, he and I may be one, but we are decidedly not the same. It’s time for him to find his own way, his own paths and his own phases.

Of course, it’s not the end of the world, far from it. There will, I hope, be periods when we don’t see him in quite a while, he’ll no longer be just down the hall in his own room. Covid notwithstanding, I hope he’ll be out meeting new friends in low-lit rooms, drinking wine and having a good time. But no matter what happens, he’ll always be my son, and I will always love him. 

There are dangers out there of course, not least honesty. None of us really know at that age what we want, hell - I still don’t sometimes. But you can rely on us to tell you, what we think. I hope we will continue to tell each other everything -even those those things we are not supposed to. Because that is the core of our bond.

He will make mistakes I’m sure, cross lines he shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter to me, even if it matters to him. You have to learn these things for yourself, and although I can provide a safety net, I can’t protect him every time he crosses the road anymore. That may seem cruel, but letting your children go is the best thing a parent can do when the time comes.

They have to fly. It’s no secret that our world is in darkness right now. It feels like a difficult time to let go, and I feel I could have, should have done more to prepare him. But my pesty conscience isn’t much help right now. He’s going to have to embrace it all, and know that our love will be there for him if he falls off the wall.

And I’m sure that most of his life will be joyful. The last six months must have felt like he was living underground what with all the restrictions. He’ll get into all those late night conversations talking about things you can’t explain, as well as kissing the sky with lots of new friends. From the child will mysteriously emerge a fully-rounded man.

He will throw his arms around all of it, and even in the times he is still up at six o’clock in the morning, and having to get to a lecture by nine, he’ll see the sunrise of possibilities, and travel a long way from us. And one day find his way back home.

He has had tough times in his life already, and has developed a resilience most of you can’t imagine. He can’t always be strong. But he’s wiped the tears from his eyes, coped in the dark, trashy days, and always finds his own treasure somehow. 

In fact he’s a bit of an acrobat, I think all young people have to be these days. He doesn’t always believe things in the naive way I did at his age. He’s more questioning, but he’s also a lot more level headed too, he doesn’t let the bastards grind him down.

Above all else he is my, our, son. I am already deeply proud of him. That may be a common sentiment amongst parents, but just as no one can prepare you for parenthood, no parent can viscerally feel any child is loved more than their own, by them. So there will be a little mourning as I drive away from the University, but at the same time, I want him to embrace this dangerous idea, that he doesn’t need us anymore.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

What else can I do?

 Cycling then, as promised, read all about it here.

This morning, as is my compulsion, I had a quick trawl of social media before getting out of bed. As usual, Facebook memories reminded me of all the petty things I was doing on this day over the last few years. Today, amongst the holiday memories of Japan, and other equally great times, was one from two years ago, reminding me of quite a day. The one I spent in the Support Vehicle. 

This memory followed hot on the heels of yesterday’s - the evening I spent with severe cramp in all three main muscles in each leg, whilst simultaneously vomiting into the toilet of a Spanish Hotel. Fun it was not. What made it worse was the fact that the onset of the cramp had come just when I was trying to do a number 2. My friend Stuart, co-occupier of said hotel, said that it was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen, at the time I was not that generous with his reaction. But of course now, oh yes, we look back and laugh.

I’m still a bit miffed I missed that day, the climb up out of Andorra, to the top of the Port d’Envilira had been one I was looking forward to - it was the one 2000 metre pass in the Pyrenees I’d not done before - and also it put my qualification into the Cent Cols Club at risk. Fortunately, the organisation took pity on me, took into account my prior riding and climbs, and let me in. 

I am looking forward to the next two weeks of happier memories to wake up to. I said when I came back from that trip that it Was the hardest thing I’d ever done on a bike, and if I can do this, what else can I do? In a way it marked the beginning of a watershed, not the point of one. A combination of factors, initiated by the massive comedown after that trip, exacerbated by a horrible dose of whooping cough, and finished off by a big mental crash in my mood, meant 2019 was a year to forget on the bike. Until September anyway. 

The trip to Brittany last year was actually the watershed moment, I returned renewed and looking up at the peaks again, instead of into the gutter. So I was pretty disappointed to have to cancel our trip to the Cevennes, we had some amazing rides planned, and I do love the heat and sunshine - just got to hydrate properly and not get stung by wasps. But I was determined to get a week of cycling in, and worked out the four main criteria to pick an alternative destination. 

I didn’t want to carry my own luggage, nor want the faff of touring. I also know myself well enough to avoid the distractions of staying at home. I also wanted it to be fairly testing terrain. Whilst not seeking the desperate fatigue of Cent Cols, I thought I needed more than a few easy days around Norfolk. No offence East Anglicans. And sunshine, please give me some heat and light.

As I write the thunderstorms are lashing down, and earlier this week, our house was battered by gale-force winds. Welcome to Summer in the UK. We are going to mid-Wales, the Cambrian Mountains to be precise. Three out of four criteria is the best I’m going to get, and weather is the compromise. We may get lucky, the sun may shine on us.

Either way, the roads will be steep, the food good, (because we are self-catering), the location looks amazing (no mobile reception!) and the laughs will be hilarious. Just got to watch those Welsh wasps And make sure I drink enough fluids. Then again, maybe I can discover something new about my body that gives everyone a laugh!

Monday, 27 July 2020

World turned Upside down

There’s not much cycling in this one either, but next time, I promise!

It’s been quite a month.

Obviously, the roller coaster of the relegation battle, now successfully, if somewhat anti-climatically concluded. We are clearly a good team, we took all six points off the Blue Filth, and four from Salford United. But most of the time the team looked like they couldn’t be arsed. But I’m really not complaining.

I know there’s all this COVID stuff going on too. I have watched the news when I couldn’t avoid it. In fact, I am watching it ever more closely now Spain has been cut off again. I, naturally, the voice of doom (as my kid brother rightly labelled me yesterday) was very pessimistic about our chances of cycling in the Cevennes in September, until abracadabra all the countries Johnson liked suddenly became just fine to travel to. I was, no am, getting all excited again, with books about Camisards, and maps of new landscapes being pored over.

Now I’m wondering if it’s going to happen again. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Just like being a West Ham fan, so I’ve lots of practice.

Then there are all these masks to be worn. I first thought this might be a good look.

But then someone made the comment that it looked kind of “Creggan estate” circa 1975. So instead I’ve gone with the standard white low-grade builders, with nose piece. Still gets the glasses steamed up, but less controversial.

Back in the Autumn of last year, I finally had confirmed what I thought I knew already, namely that I have some hearing loss. About 35% in fact, no doubt genetic and age-related. But is was the spur to investigate hearing aids, and enable myself to actually hear the shouted instructions from other parts of the house. My first attempt were vanity-related in-ear buds. Looked great, and I could hear very well but unfortunately gave my ear canals eczema. For I am a sensitive soul, with many allergies.

With masks becoming ubiquitous, I could hear even less, especially as all people under 35 seem to be mumbling all the time. But with lockdown over, if you keep Two metres apart in your social bubble, with social distancing, using common sense, or one-metre plus in pubs as long as it’s less than four hours and pay contactless, in a one-way system, and make sure the mask covers your nose, I resolved to get some hearing aids I could actually use.

Phonak - remember them? Turns out they weren’t just a cycling team with a slightly dubious reputation (didn’t they all?), they make hearing aids. With hands-free Bluetooth and a lifetime guarantee. Obviously a Bono Vox one would have been perfect, but Boots Hearing Care don’t do them. Gone with Phonak instead, there’s an app too.

Actually they are great, Not only can I listen to Spotify and take phone and Zoom Calls through them, I can hear things I forgot existed. Indicators are particularly loud I have just discovered. But there are some things I still don’t want to hear. Nothing political, something every cyclist will understand. I’m certainly not going to ride a bike with them. I’ll hear creaks and clicks from the bike that will drive me insane.

I have already had Covid-19, confirmed by obvious symptoms back in March and a subsequent positive antibody test. I’ve been giving blood for 30 years, having recently passed 50 donations, so I fought through considerable NHS bureaucracy and intimate questionnaires about my sexual history (I kid you not) and booked an appointment to give plasma.

All was going well, During the donations, except the needle was quite big and hurt a bit as the machines did their thing Took my plasma, and returned my platelets and red cells to my veins. But something wasn’t quite right and I told one of the team I felt a bit odd, and then, bam, next thing I know I’m coming round, upside down, (as the donation “chair” had been pivoted to get blood back to my brain) and with three sets of very concerned-looking eyes looking over the tops of their masks at me.

Most likely explanation was some kind of reaction to the anti-coagulant that they use in the process. Once my lips had stopped being blue (apparently) and colour had returned to my cheeks, I was allowed to go, having managed a paltry 150 ml of plasma. Not enough for medicinal purposes, but it will be used in their research into antibodies in Covid-19. Best of intentions and lets hope for the best, while we, I won’t say it.

All I was left with was this nice bruise under my scars. I don’t want to put anyone off donating plasma, it’s rare to have a reaction. My existing list of allergens is long, this is just one more thing for me to avoid, but you are unlikely to have a reaction like this. I’m looking forward positively.

To the new football season, a life of Zoom calls and less driving, and some time in deep France.

Let’s hope we get there, stay rubber-side down, and don’t need the services of the Cevennes Health service, with or without anti-coagulant.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

A gold guitar

I went out for a walk last night, something I’ve been doing a lot of since the Lockdown started. Instead of the usual random choices from Spotify, this time I chose my companion. “Songs of Experience”.

“The end is not coming, the end is here”

Now I know it’s a metaphor, and I know what a lot of people think about U2. But. My brother and I often talk about what it must be like to have done your best work by the time you are 31, and know it’s almost impossible to get any better. Great for him and me, because in Achtung Baby, there is a multi-layered library of musical and lyrical completeness. Don’t bother arguing.

But. With Songs of Experience, now nearly 3 years old by the way (which in the 80s would have felt like another era, but now, just feels like yesterday), I think they’ve made their second best album.

“Every grand illusion, I would win and call it losing”.

Anyway, the walk was a short one. Just three miles around my block. Things to see beyond the sublime.

Although it was a lot greyer than that last night. But you get the general idea. Idyllic countrysideness. I also had to get back in order to torture myself by watching West Ham lose to my/our arch-rivals. Or “The Blue Filth” as I like to refer to them. I can’t write their real name, children might be reading.

And it was torture, because this was one of those rare occasions when our players could be bothered. It’s never the despair, always the hope. Which made it all so much worse. Denied a good goal by the wonders of modern technology. Went behind, unusually went in front only to predictably squander the lead. Defeat now looked certain.

But Holy Shit, wonder of wonders, a stunning move of incredible beauty, and my now favourite Ukrainian bangs in the winner.

Mayhem in the Mendip Rouleur household. 

Of course we are not safe from relegation. We’ll probably lose to Them for the next 10 times in a row. But last night that didn’t matter, for once the double had been done and someone, somewhere was as unhappy as I was happy.

Being deeply, passionately in love can never be explained. It’s a love that lasts a lifetime, from when you are five to when you are fifty-five. And beyond. It waxes, wanes, becomes more measured, involves anger, tears, frustration and loads of bad emotions too. But it will never leave me.

If the moonlight caught you crying on Killiney Bay
Oh, sing your song

Let your song be sung
If you listen you can hear the silence say
"When you think you're done
You've just begun"

I wrote about this album nearly two years ago, peripherally when I came back from the Cent Cols. I knew change was afoot, and sure enough it has come to pass. But even as I was changing jobs last year, I never imagined all of this. 

“If there is a light
We can't always see
If there is a world
We can't always be
If there is a dark
Now we shouldn't doubt
And there is a light8
Don't let it go out”

Now. Times have been tougher. But not much for many of us in our western, privileged cocoon. But everything is relative, and a viral pandemic causing massive global misery and economic carnage is not the actual end of the world. But for many it feels close. But it needn’t be. Really.