Thursday, 17 October 2013

A shallow piece of dignity

My paternal grandparents were both born in working class Bedminster in the 1905. Generations of the Mendip Rouleurs came from working class and maritime occupations in and around Bristol, and I won't bore you with it all.

My grandmother worked in the Wills cigarette factory, while my grandfather patrolled the perimeter as what was then called a night-watchman. Nowadays it would be "security" or something else more complicated.

They met in their, and the, early twenties, got married, and moved to Swindon in 1929 when Wills opened a new factory there. My Uncle was born in 1930 and my Dad five years later. The convenience of being born in 1905 meant Grandpa missed the war, and they settled into a solid life of work, sport and cigarette-smoking. The latter ably supported by their employer who doled out the free fags.

A pretty unremarkable lineage that I'm particularly attached to, along with my Huguenot antecedents on my mother's side, and some stone masons and glove makers from in and around Yeovil. If they made one of those family history programmes about us, everyone would be yawning after 10 minutes, because nothing particularly remarkable ever happened to any of us.

But I was listening to the line in "Design for Life" today. Not the ones about bottles although that's pretty apposite too, or scars (more me than him) but the one about these temples of working class learning.

My Dad was told that University was not for the likes of him. By his own parents. But he didn't listen. And though he had to go and get a job at 16, he enrolled in evening classes, and got himself some qualifications. And a better job. And another one. And eventually he ended up with recognition from the chief of the establishment.

Not bad, considering from where he came.

So if you, or I, are sitting around amusing yourself to death, and wondering where to go, take it as a sign. Don't be told your own limitations, get off your arse and do something. It doesn't matter what, just as long as it's something your kid might one day blog about. If they still have blogs in 30 years time that is.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Turns me into a gutless wonder

It was great to hear Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers say that he was still full of rage and anger this week. Sometimes there is a tacit acceptance that people mellow and calm down as they get older. I would prefer to believe that some people just get better and concealing their feelings and passions about the world, to fit in, to be socially acceptable.

I was watching a Robert Peston drama, sorry documentary, this week, about retailing of all things. Not really my thing, shopping, but it was an interesting interlude between a shared watching of Waterloo Road and Dad's Army. The programme focused on Philip Green before straying into the story of the rise of Primark. When they showed a woman saying she didn't really connect the collapse of Bangladeshi sweat shops with her pleasure at wearing clothes twice before she felt able to throw them away ("because they are cheaper than a bag of chips"), it was almost like watching someone else as I let out a stream of invective and profanity.

I think the work vacuous came into it, to give it some kind of moral intellectualism. I felt good though, that I could still feel the outrage, even if I can't actually do anything to stem the tide of rampant consumerism and pointless celebrity culture. Now where is my HTC kit, oh, it's hanging on the hypocrisy hanger.

I was due to ride Ken's Autumn colours Audax today, a 100km undulating ride on Exmoor. But family circumstances dictated I needed to be around the house in the afternoon, so I had to bail. I'm sorry if I let anyone down, hope you all had a great time. Instead I decided to cycle up a few hills in the near vicinity, and do my 100km more locally. I even got to see some real mountain goats in Burrington Combe, looking down on the pot-holers and cyclists below.

The final route had a very pleasing rule of three to it. It also fulfilled the no-doubling back rule, and at over 5500 feet of ascent (Garmin & Strava seem to dispute the actual climbing figure so naturally I'm claiming the bigger number!) it was not short of effort either. Still haven't got to grips with Strava, can't summon the competitive spirit for this one either.

It was nice to have time in my own head as well for a few hours. I am an introvert by preference, and as it says we like being on our own with our ideas and thoughts. In so far as 100km is ever relaxing, it was a very refreshing change to have a conversation with myself instead of you lot. Nice though you all are sometimes I just have to be on my own.

Of course it was very wet, pretty cold, and at times windy, but I mixed up my direction, route, hedges and exposed bits, and there wasn't an awful lot of flat in this ride, so I kept pretty warm for most of it. Winter is coming though, that's for sure.

So the cycling calmed me down a bit. But it's still there you know.

It's time we all did something, isn't it?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Enough to last a lifetime through

On the outskirts of the village of Butleigh Wooton, near Street in Somerset, is a small lane called Westfield Lane. It's a fairly innocuous narrow lane, single track, with verges and fields either side.

Today I saw one of the most stupid, as opposed to malicious or aggressive, bits of driving that I have witnessed for many a time. Doubly unfortunate because it came in the middle of a fantastic ride that I was part of, eight of us doing an undulating loop around that part of Somerset, enjoying some very pleasant Autumn sunshine.

Steve, Martyn, Russell, Stu, Rob, Mike, Paul and me had set out from Axbridge around 9AM and meandered over the land, via Cheddar, Westbury-sub-Mendip, Easton, Wookey Hole, Wells, Shepton and Evercreech, before rolling over the topsy-turvy landscape that stretches between Ditcheat and Glastonbury.

Our plan had been to head for Somerton for coffee, before heading back via High Ham and Pedwell Hill. Then came the incident on that lane.

The road in question is long and straight, about 4-500 yards clear visibility in fact. We were heading up a very slight gradient as we came onto the straight bit, as a white van rounded the corner at the other end, coming slowly towards us.

I was riding in the second position behind Stu. I thought the van was going to stop at first, at the big clear area at the corner, but no, he kept coming towards us. He was going so slowly that I thought he would pull over onto the grass verge to let us pass in single file. He did not. He wasn't going that fast, but there was so little room on the road, and any manoeuvres would be complicated as the road was coated in very thick mud.

Ahead of me Stu got through a tiny gap, I was going to pull over at a gap I could see ahead of me, only to find when I got there that the gap was filled with deep potholes on either side, a terrible camber and about three inches of mud/puddle. Somehow I squeezed through in the gutter, just after the said gap. I was about six inches from the side of the van.

Five second later, Steve must have also got through, but the rest of the group encountered the van with no gutter to squeeze by in. Whoever was first just had to break, and on that slippery surface, he had no chance of staying upright.

I heard the resultant crash as four went down into a collected pile of bodies and bikes, and fortunately the van-driver then decided to stop. If he had been going much faster he would have hit them, as it was a couple came to rest up against his vehicle.

Paul had banged his head on the ground, split his helmet with a follow through impact that had cut open his temple above his eye. Mike had a cut and swollen elbow and leg, Russell had cut his leg and Rob had cut open his elbow. All had varying degrees of mud over their kit, and the odd tear or too, a few minor adjustments needed to be made to the bikes.

Martyn had managed to unclip and stayed on his two feet, but the four most affected were all naturally shaken to some degree. Eventually all were dusted down and on we went, regrouping at the top of the hill, and decided to head for home the most direct way we could. As we were doing this the van appeared again, having turned around and come back up the hill.

The driver? Well it turned out he was driving some kind of works van, he was probably about 20-25 and he seemed to have no idea what was going on, or how he had contributed to the accident. His passenger, a young woman, offered us the use of a first aid kit, which I'm sure was well-meant but we politely declined. I did calmly point out to the driver that next time it might be an idea to pull over and wait, but I don't think he really took it in. The lights were on but no-one seemed to be in.

So we decided to do what cyclists always do in these circumstances and head for Sweet's café. As usual there were loads of other cyclists about, including some who had been participating in a hill-climb competition on High Ham, so just as well we hadn't gone there after all.

It's amazing what coffee and cake can do for you. The injured four all headed off together across the levels for their respective homes, looking for a chance to bathe their wounds, and get the sympathy of their families, no doubt. Rob head for home, and the Martyn, Steve and I decided to do some hill-climbing of our own. We all safely dispatched the steep ramp round the back of Mudgley, but shamefully Martyn and I had to climb off our bikes 100 metres before the top of Draycott Steep.

Hats off to Steve for holding up our honour with a fantastic climbing performance. There was just time for another near-death experience involving a mobile-phone-using driver of a people carrier as I went down Cheddar gorge, before we all headed home.

My route looked like this. You will have to connect with me on Garmin to see it, but I can confess that I have finally come over to the dark side and joined Strava, more for the comparisons with myself than anyone else. It's very interesting to know that I am ranked 329th of 600 or so people up a steep climb on the outskirts of Shepton Mallet, but I am more interested to know if I'm getting better or not. I hope it's moderately interesting as a way of  displaying routes to readers like this one!

Anyway, here is the gang, relaxing and recuperating back at Sweet's! Fortunately, I decided not to photograph any of the MAMIL blood!

And of course, open goal and all that, this post wouldn't be complete without this.

Stay safe out there.