Friday, 14 June 2019

Not today

If you have ever read any of my posts before you will know that this is a blog that uses cycling to lure you in, then bombards you with stuff that these days bears little resemblance to my original metier. The central message of this blog is that Death is the enemy. I was with both of my parents when they each took their last breath and both were profound experiences.

Even if you are Beric Dondarrion you die eventually. Britain's oldest person died this week, 112 apparently. See, no one is immune. But in the west, (I don't mean Somerset, or even Cornwall, you know what I mean), no-one likes to talk about the inevitability of our ending. Uncertain in timing and form it may be, but the God of Death is coming for you all.

This Sunday is designated Father's Day in the UK. An excuse to sell stuff of course, cards and cycling kit mainly. I chose mine a couple of weeks ago at the Rapha outlet store, I know it takes the surprise away, but it's more convenient and everyone is happier. Anyway, I insisted it be hidden away until the anointed time.

But commercialism aside, there is a nice side to honouring your father if you can. My Dad and I had a complicated relationship. I'm told he was intensely proud of me, but he never told me, strangely he told my wife that he was. He drank a lot. No, a lot, like you can't imagine. And yet he seemed so sober most of the time.

I remember lots of stuff all maudlin and sentimental, that believe me, you don't want to read. He was capable of great acts of kindness and charity, and also capable of some pretty nasty behaviour too. He was compulsive, I'm a watered-down version of that, he could be incredibly generous, and also worry intensely about money.

In other words, he was a human being. He helped shape my politics. Of course I argued and railed against him when I was a teenager, but I'm probably quite similar to him politically. He loathed small-mindedness of the Daily Mail variety, we agreed on that. And he hated petty incompetence. Sound familiar? Loved football too, took me to West Ham when I was seven, which I do genuinely thank him for. It's also unfashionable to appreciate it, but he provided for me, his family, through love and a strong sense of duty and obligation.

But family life was difficult, although I only realised that many years later. As a kid, I thought it was all normal, I guess everyone does. We had our ups and downs, I didn't really talk to him for about ten years, but we became close later on.

But of course he died, and although the edge has gone from the grief by now, and we had made a kind of peace by the time he died, some of the emotional impact of that complicated relationship sometimes returns to mess with my psyche. Sometimes consciously and obviously, at other points it's a more insidious and unconscious thing. That said, all of that stuff did help me to be quite resilient and good at bouncing back from tough stuff. I hope it also gave me some empathy and compassion, but you can be the judge of that.

But I think I've had enough of it now. I won't forget, but that clock is ticking, and I want to feel the rest of my life is not constrained by its past. Because one day I'll be just dust, or ashes or some such, and all this stuff will have stopped me from living.  No, really living.

Next week Steep End Down and I are off to Dartmoor for the annual classic. All thoughts of fast times are gone, my cycling form and weight are both far too poor for that, but it is an excuse to enjoy ourselves. There is no better place in England to cycle than Devon. Then in two weeks' time The Mendip Rouleur family are going to a wedding in Fermanagh, and they don't come much more fun than that. Dancing will be done. I promise.

Then a week later comes the ultimate in leaving do entertainment. A new chapter in my professional life is about to open. Much as I've enjoyed the last one, this one is going to be much, much better. So on 4th July, in Bristol, there will be fireworks. Wild hysterical laughter will be compulsory. Because, for now, what do we say?

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Come in, come out of the rain

One day in November 1983 I arrived back from my day in the Biochemistry lab at University, to the fourth floor of a Gothic Victorian monstrosity of a mansion. As usual. It was about six weeks after I had finally escaped the battlefield of emotional confrontation and turmoil that constituted my parents house. AKA my home.

I was revelling in the freedom. The alcohol. My new-found friends. The academic stuff was unfortunate, but it was a price that was well worth paying for the freedom. That day, although I didn't know it at the time, was different.

As I pushed the swinging double doors of the corridor open and walked down the threadbare carpet, a single note hit me. Then it hit me again. And again. And again. Hundreds of times. Actually, by the time my Hall of Residence neighbour finally stopped playing it, sometime in February 1984, I probably had heard that single D-note, millions of times. He played that record over and over, every nights for months. At the time it drove me, and all the other residents of the corridor, fucking nuts. He was not playing it quietly either.

But now, nearly 36 years later, I realise what a great experience that was. I do like Simple Minds of course. They are in my top 20 bands probably. I especially like "Waterfront". There may be better songs on New Gold Dream, but it's up there. But I don't love this story for what it tells us about music.

For that day, even though I only realised it many years later, I was finally free. I could do what the fuck I wanted, and as long as I did no harm, no one could stop me. Don't expect this to be a complex Millsian treatise on liberty, I'll leave that to others, and anyway it's been done. Nor was the rest of my life plain sailing. But it all started there.

And the live version is brilliant.

We all need beginnings. All the time. Over and over. Maybe it's just me. Sometimes we need events that are traumatic and shit to really show us how the future is going to be better. Because if you approach it with the belief that you will persist, that you have a small number of genuine people in your life, and that things can and do get better. It is always OK. A new chapter will always open, and it will be better than the last one.

And I like to think I looked a bit like Charlie Burchill.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

How do you solve a problem like Arnie?

This blog is of course all about cycling. Really. Anyway, today, for a change I'm going to give you a short post about something else.

Marko Arnautović is currently a West Ham player. Not that you'd know it. As I write the teams for tonight's capitulation to Salford United have been announced. He's not even on the bench. He has some kind of sick bug apparently. Yeah, right.

Since his abortive move to China in the last transfer window he's barely featured for us, scored no goals, sulked a lot and generally been out of sorts. His form has mirrored that of the team to an extent, only occasionally turning up, putting in minimal effort, and getting very mediocre results for such a talented squad. Were it not for the excellent form of our player-of-the-season goalkeeper, Łukasz Fabiański we would be facing a decidedly tense end to the season.

As it is, we will finish in the middle of the table somewhere, in an underwhelming finish that splutters over the line. Last year Marko was without doubt superb, smashing in the goals, leading the line and harrying opposing defences mercilessly. The club was offered £35 million to sell him in January, and he was reportedly keen to go for a huge uplift in salary. My neighbour at the taxpayer-funded London Stadium tells me that there is a rumour Marko has a gambling debts problem and desperately needed the cash that the move would bring him.

But we didn't sell him, and he apparently signed an unspecified contract extension. Therein lies the dilemma. A great player when he can be bothered, when he's fired up and motivated, and you might say that a good manager could get the best of him. A lot of fans want him to stay, our attack looks pretty toothless without him, and strikers of his ability are hard to come by. Perhaps he can be re-energised over the Summer and persuaded to stay.

But I'd say that at that level, his motivation has to come from within, he needs to want it. China may have given him the cash, but I doubt he would have given of his best. No, he needs a move.

For a move to be successful, he's got to know what is in it for him, respect and admire his manager, and really be up for the challenge. The club and fans may be sorry to see him go, but they will be well-rid of him in the Summer, for go he will. This form is part of a pattern, and we should have spotted it when we bought him, for he does this kind of thing a lot.

Image result for marko arnautovic

I just hope he can find a challenge that motivates him, and he finds some kind of inner peace. Preferably in another country, otherwise the next time we see him will be bearing down on our goal and smashing the ball into the top corner after leaving the defence for dead.

As ever then, self-awareness, that's the key to it all. Unfortunately Arnie has very little of that. I do however know a good Coach/Counsellor, now that would be a worthwhile challenge...

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Something else

"Is it true I'm an eagle? Is it true I can spread my wings?"

Is there a better country that Sweden?  Successfully managed the transition from berserk blood-soaked conquest and pillage, accompanied by rabid Protestantism into peace-loving, militarily-neutral social democracy and a liberal approach to love, peace and something else. And general acceptance of beards.

When I was a kid I used to get a lot of enforced bed-rest every time I got a cold, it triggered asthma that used to last for a couple of weeks. Before I discovered The Clash, Boomtown Rats, U2, XTC and a whole load of other credibility (spiky hair, leather jacket etc.) I still enjoyed simple pleasures. Riding my bike for fun, and jumpers for goalposts. and listening to Abba.

How was I to know that life would come full circle? For it turns out that the Mendip Rouleur family have somehow managed to acquire whooping cough. Unfortunately the only vigorous exercise I'm allowed to do, well actually capable of doing, is walking out to my car and driving to work.

I am grounded. For an unspecified indeterminate period.  Never mind flying like an eagle, I can't even stumble like a partridge (Alan or Andy). In a way it may turn out to be a blessing. I haven't watched as much TV for years, and I get to watch every bit of the Brexitshambles unfolding in front of my disbelieving eyes. Lucky me.

But I have also dived deeply into YouTube, surfing from Larkin Poe to Jimmy Page, from Taylor Swift to No Doubt, and from Joe Strummer to The Dead South, and of course from Bono to Agnetha Fältskog.  I still can't even grow a beard.

I'm all over politics. I'm all over work. And I'm all over music. Sort of.

But the bike, well it'll have to wait.

Image result for bishop daly bloody sunday

Friday, 1 March 2019

When we dance in the light

There are quite a few people alive today who not only can't remember a world before the internet, they also think there was no football before the Premier League. It's as if the world started in 1992. What? Yes of course it's a metaphor, I don't deal in anything else. Come here, get big picture, other blogs are available.

My cycling this year has been rubbish, well not rubbish exactly, but sub-optimal. I've been ill, with varying degrees of severity, in the respiratory department since 9th January. For three weeks, my bike languished unloved and without use in its high-security steel shed. Even without these latest setbacks and indignities 2019 was going to be hard. When you've been to the top of the world, it's quite tough to scale new heights. Whatever new people think.

I've been here before, in 2008 after quite a few years of mountain biking, I felt I'd taken that oeuvre as far as I could.

Likewise my stand-up comedy persona. Even if no-one really knew I was doing it. And you thought it was real. No one could really be that grumpy in real life. Or that clever. 

So I switched to the road. What a long road it has been too. It didn't necessarily take me to where I thought it would, but I have enjoyed the ride. And my achievements, albeit downplayed, have been remarkable. And there have definitely been so many good people along the way, as well as a few trying to knock my block off. But it's time for another change, and quite a few people could be annoyed if I do. But the angels won't.

But it was always about changing the world. Of course. And when the road is no longer steep enough, or just a mild false flat into a headwind,  and people who know nothing of the 1980s belittle those achievements, it's time to look for a new country to ride in. I don't know where that country is, but I'm sure there will be plenty of options. If I can't ride or run, I'll just walk, because the spirit is in the house.

So big question for this weekend, to take to the road or not, despite the frequent coughing and wheezing from within and the rain and wind from without. But just as the life inside my head belongs to me, so the road belongs to us all. We are all on it, even if some of you are trying to run me over. You just don't realise. But little by little you will.

Here I go then. New goals time.

And if you don't understand this, well, you need to stop talking and be quiet. It's all right in front of you, you just need to listen.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Do you know my name?

Someone pulled their car out yesterday into the path of my (quite) fast-moving vehicle. There were lights in my eyes I can tell you. I'm not quite sure how, but I avoided the collision. It wouldn't really have mattered if I was right if I'm dead. But this time no harm done, bit of a shock. But small beer.

This year, wow. Cruise ships, Family, Friends, Mountains, Dublin. Experience. That covers it.

But, and yet.

I'm not one for all those reviews of the year, and circular letters. And yet, of course, this is one.

So take it to heart. Again. You may think I'm weird, but really I'm just being me, different to you. I'll just be me Vincent, no more no less.

People that know me, and where there is a reciprocal and beneficial self-interest. AKA Love. AKA respect, etc. You know the rest.

Free yourself.

To be yourself.

If only you could see yourself.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Someone like me

What do you do when you've completed the hardest thing you've ever done? After cycling for 10 days out of 11, it's now been 3 whole days since I sat on a bike, which feels like a relief and a confusion all at the same time. Obviously far too early to plan and set new goals, but Cent Cols was by far the hardest and most amazing cycling trip I've ever been on.

It was indescribably hard. Fatigue like you can not imagine, waking up hungry at 3AM, and all kinds of aches and pains I'd never had before. I'm an average cyclist, and my talent is limited. But I was inspired and cheered by the comments and support of my fellow travellers, as well as the support from friends back home via social media. Together, they kept me going. Thank you.

It's pivotal too.

For almost every day I wondered how I was going to get up in the morning and ride my bike again, never mind over distances of 100 to 200 km, and 3-5000 metres of climbing. At the foot of the Port de Pailheres, in a raging thunderstorm, I despaired of finishing before dark. But I did. Bombing down 20km of mountain in the gloaming, lights flashing, and corners taken, hoping no animals were lurking around them.

If I can do all this, what else can I do?

In 2009 I came back from LEJOG, my first trip on a road bike really, and understood how I'd settled for a life of mediocrity. It begat changes that have meant a very different path to the one I was on.

Beyond the people, the stunning scenery and the cycling challenge, there is something else.
Image may contain: mountain, cloud, sky, nature and outdoor

Cycling up the Aubisque on Tuesday morning was a very deep spiritual experience for me. The visceral and emotional on the inside was reflected by the snaking upwards of the road and the soaring peaks of the mountains on the outside. Maybe it's epoxia, maybe I was just a little bit tired, but I don't think so.

Something has changed.

My friend Monmarduman (link to the right) has written an excellent piece on our trip. As I remind him, I am the fat one that makes him feel better about himself, and he was the most excellent companion anyone could hope for. A real Frodo to my Sam.

But in the middle of the night,  feeling those pangs of hunger matched by the anxiety of another impending day, when I turned to music, was it a coincidence that my most-played album was Songs of Experience? This was the song that kept me going.

I don't know what's next, cycling or otherwise. But there will be something. Until then, there's this.