Sunday, 27 December 2015

My heart is where its always been, my head is somewhere in-between

Reviews of the year. This small gap of listlessness (try saying that after Christmas lunch) between the mid-Winter solstice and our collective, depressive return to work in January, seem to generate no end of them.

Here's the Tourmalet again. Yawn.

Some people even start them in advance, those truly awful missives in our Christmas cards. They must take some crafting to produce, working out the right order to place your trivia in. But they are a dying breed, mainly because Facebook has so successfully inveigled its way into our addictive souls. The online, constant version of the unwanted, and let's face it, quite dull news, is now so constant and pervasive, that it has made those despised annual circulars a thing of the past.

But not in a good way.

Christmas itself is, I'm happy to say, a pagan festival. Only a bit watered-down. Even Arthur Pendragon (real name Timothy) when he appears at Stonehenge every solstice, looks like a cross between a trainspotter and the chair of the local Am-dram society. In days of old we would have had much more riotous behaviour going on in our halls and hovels, although, to be fair, a lot of this is now transposed to so-called "Black Friday" out on the high street.

Just like apple pie on an Audax. In Wales. Only more so.

Solstice celebrations consisted of riding to work three days in a row in totally shit weather, followed by prodigious eating and trying to match my teenage son in the sleeping department. The latter task was a big "ask" in which I of course singularly failed. A bit like the Avalon sunrise in June. Near Glastonbury. Predictable.

So I hope you will be glad to know that I'm neither going to subject you to tales of what a great year I have had, or about my plans for "moving into another space" (puke NOW). Both are very, very, interesting of course. But only to me. Even Mrs Mendip Rouleur, whose job is the feigning of interest in whatever I'm talking about, is already bored, so I'll not inflict it via this forum on you. You'll have to talk to me.

Predictable metaphor alert. Bridges.


I did buy my dearest some good presents for Christmas, one of which is called, "The Book of Answers". On consulting it about whether I would achieve my plans for next year, its very insightful response was:

"Allow yourself to rest first"
How did it know? So better than reading all about it on here, or there, or everywhere, come and ride the real thing with me.
Happy new year. I don't have to explain all of it do I?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Time leaves us polished stones

This post starts off like it has a serious and profound message, but in the end you'll realise it's about cycling and the same as all the others. It's very clever.

I wonder how many people realise that today is the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of President Jack Kennedy. I didn't see anything about it on the news.I wonder how many people then knew that it would happen. He wasn't the first US President to die like that, he was the 4th, and plenty of others had near-misses.  I wonder if he thought it would ever happen to him.

On the day this picture was taken, I had earlier been in a train that filled with smoke. Brakes jammed on, but for about two minutes I didn't know that and thought it was going to get quite worrying. After the panic subsided people got annoyed about the delay. I was just grateful I wasn't actually trapped in a burning train.

I saw this beautiful sunset on the way home, and though these pictures never look quite as good on an iPhone and a blog-post, you can see where this train of thought is going.

I'm pretty sure there is no God. You are too if you analyse the situation carefully. Of course you'll bridle with indignation about it, but you know I'm right. Spirituality yes. Plenty of that, and plenty of quiet contemplation, but the need to believe? That's just a craving for the dopamine of certainty, and a need to be part of the in-group.

It inspires people to this type of architecture, all that belief. Especially when you have just skidded down a very muddy 15% gradient of a country lane, and have got to go up another one to leave it.

A real Winter's day for sure yesterday, Beast of a headwind, for once Ned Stark's warnings were all correct. I bet he never thought he'd get his head chopped off either. In fact I'm sure he didn't think it would happen to him.

But I knew I'd eventually get to Wales. Or pseudo-England as my real Welsh boss calls Monmouthshire. Although go back three generations and he's from Staffordshire. And I'm from London, Devon, Somerset. And France if you go back far enough. All the same really, there weren't enough of our predecessors for us not to be quite closely related. So wherever this was, we all come from there. Snow or no snow.

Despite the haggard experience, the next picture wasn't taken today, although I look just as bad today as I did when it was. In spite of what you may think, or others will tell you, if you can do something like 140 miles in a day on a bike, it's not that hard. It just takes practice and motivation. Like everything else. It's ordinary.

So what's stopping us?

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Secret

I'll let you into a secret. Come to think of it, I could write a book, never mind a blog post, call it "The Secret" and peddle it to a whole generation of gullible idiots. Make a fortune selling all kinds of associated quotes and mug-merchandise (no surprise or secret there), and live with my troubled conscience for ever.

Anyway, the secret? You have to enjoy the journey because we are all going to the same destination. This applies equally well to Audax as it does to life. Cycling is the easy part, even if, as on Saturday's Trefil Travail, it involves over 100km of cycling, up nearly 8000 feet of ridiculously steep terrain, and down it too, with gravel and gradients in equal measure.

The hard part? Remembering to enjoy it. Actually not that hard on Saturday, the weather, the route, and the fellow riders were all thoroughly enjoyable.

The introductions from Hugh said there were 8 mountains, but after the first one I lost count, as it seemed like one after another, after another  - you get the idea. But in between all this wonderful character-building low-gear, grinding, and brake-clenching descending, was some of the most spectacular countryside you could hope to see on a sunny late-September day.

But also a fair bit of urban and industrial history, deprivation, decay and (I hope) indomitable spirit in the communities of the South Wales valleys, through which our route passed. With great company from riding companions James, Martyn, Alan and our new-found and local guide, Mike, it was a terrific day to do the ride. I hope this mix of pictures, some taken by me some by one of the other 17 intrepid souls that did the ride (thanks to David Hann) , do it justice.

In case you are wondering, it's true, I am the only one not wearing the BK Velo jersey. Partly as a result of poor clothing choices on a day I expected it to be cold, partly because I'm an individual, not really happy blending in. Unless it's Rapha of course.

A fellow rider hits the heights - courtesy of David Hann

In the pub at lunch, glad you can't see my attire at this point - courtesy of David Hann


One of mine on the top of the moor

One of my failed panoramas

I like them anyway

Fellow rider crests a rise & waves!
(photo by David Hann)

You are all individuals

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Elan & Ystwyth 200km Audax

Eleven down, one to go. My quest to become a Randonneur round the Year is now on the home straight, although after yesterday's stunning ride I'm going to have to come up with something pretty special to create a finale.

The Elan and Ystwyth 200km starts and finishes in Gladestry, a village over the Welsh border from the Herefordshire market town of Kington. It then heads off to the north, before turning west to Rhayader, then out past the dams and lakes of the Elan valley. From there it heads across the "roof" of mid-Wales, on a windswept (it was yesterday) and very isolated mountain road, through Devil's Bridge and onto Aberystwyth.

Then it loops south through Pont-Rhyd-Groes and back across the mountain road to Rhayader. Just when you think you are nearly home, the final 40km section takes you though Hundred House and a landscape that is both beautiful and brutal in equal measure. A couple of very steep "walls" just about finished me off before I summoned the energy to roll down the final hill back to the Arrivee.

The only flat thing yesterday was the puncture I got in Capel Bangor.  My route on Strava is accurate but the climbing isn't, as my Garmin couldn't cope with the weather to accurately measure gradient and elevation on the way back. The 3.75 AAA points give you an idea (that's 3750 metres for anyone unfamiliar with Audax).

Weather was pretty blustery, a few hours of rain over by the seaside, but fortunately the wind was with us on the way home. Ross Jeal did a sterling job of organisation and route planning, and the chilli at the end was most welcome. I also take my hat off to those riding Ross's second 200 of the weekend today. The Tregaron Dragon has even more climbing, hopefully they will have a good day!

I can't describe every detail of the day, I've got to go back to bed I'm that tired. So here are some pictures.

See you in September!


Saturday, 25 July 2015

No end to love

I have done something that many of you may see as an extravagant waste of money. I have just spent £510 having my watch repaired. It even shocked me a bit. Of course it's not just any watch. But still.

Back in 1985 I was at the mid-point in my alienation from my parents. When I was clearing out the loft a couple of months ago I even found a letter from my Dad, saying how he felt I was drifting away from them and he was a bit concerned about it all. I'd forgotten about that letter, well you would wouldn't you? At the time I was probably pretty dismissive. I was so up myself.

Almost as an after-thought my Dad asked me what I would like for a 21st birthday present. Money? A gift? I realise now, something I could never had known then, that this was him trying to make things better. Quite beyond him, and me at the time, for we were both in generations that didn't believe in all that guff, love? Do me a favour.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I bought a watch and they gave me the money. In a St Helens jewellers suggested by my then girlfriend, I handed over a cheque (remember them?) for £255 (quite a lot of money for the time) and became the proud owner of an Omega de Ville wristwatch. With Roman numerals and hands. Eventually when I had begun my rapprochement with them, I had a simple engraving put on the back in dedication to the event and the gift.

And time moves on, and times change. The watch became progressively more important to me. It is beautiful, keeps good time and of course it's a connection. Straps come and go, time passes but the face and buckle kept it the same.

Then about a year ago I dropped it on the bathroom floor and it stopped working. I tried a new battery. Nothing. Do you know how hard it is to find a watch-mender in our throwaway society? Eventually I found a specialist firm in Essex, finally gathered up the courage to both spend the money and send the watch through the post and off it went.

Today it came back, and it now sits on my wrist again. Now they are gone I realise how precious our time is. It will soon be gone. You need to remember, but you need to move on.  And this watch takes me back in time as well as being a constant reminder of the time. Which will pass. Things will change, but time is a constant.

More clichés I'm afraid, but that doesn't mean all of this isn't true. So while I may feel I am wasting a sunny day by clearing stuff to the charity shop and tidying up the bag cupboard, I'll be glancing at my wrist through the whole day, and smiling. How times change.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Raglan Castle 200km Audax 2015

I seriously considered doing some posts on my top ten films, or my top ten books. Mrs Mendip Rouleur recently asked me if it was possible for me to ever make money from my blog. "Only if I start writing about fashion or other rubbish people want to buy". Which opened up the intriguing possibility of my top ten favourite items of clothing.

Much as I love the obscurity I think that would have even me falling asleep. So for a change I thought I'd go back to cycling.

I have more or less given up on achieving Super Randonneur for the 2014-15 Audax season. I have learned a lot about what I am capable of, and what the key ingredients are to make endurance riding fun and enjoyable. I know I can do the long distances, but I can't do them on my own, I don't have that special ingredient in my head to ride for consecutive days with no company.

I almost enjoyed the aborted 600km, and to ride 585km as I did, with time to spare, shows that I can do it at a physical level. But the route and other circumstances are going to have to work if I'm going to have a crack at it next year. I can do 200km and 300km on my own, and may just be able to do 400km without company.

The usual things like sleep beforehand, good nutrition are also critical (not a surprise is it?) but the main thing is going to be company. I'm still committed to finishing my Randonneur round the Year, and after yesterday I  have just two months to go. If I'm to do SR next year, it will need to be more carefully thought out.

Which brings me nicely on to yesterday. And this week. I had thought I might ride for six consecutive days, four commutes and to chunky rides at the weekend. In the end the rest of life got in the way, as I had just too much on in and out of work during the week, so just did three commutes. A couple of them were in really foul weather too.

I also have not seen Mrs and Junior MR for a week as they've been visiting relatives in Ireland, so am taking today off to "engage" with them. Although they are both currently asleep. Which is odd seeing as I am the one who rode 210km yesterday! I also have a full-on working week coming up, so I thought I better get some rest today. And as the event was one I'd done a few times before, on local roads, well the idea lost appeal really.

Yesterday was the Raglan Castle Audax, organised by a member of Bath cycling club. Who do have one of the classic club kits in my view. Maybe an idea for a "top ten"! The event started in Bath city centre, before climbing into the Cotswolds, looping down over the Severn Bridge to Chepstow, up to Raglan Castle and then back via the Bridge and villages north of Bristol.

It turned out to be a bit lumpier than I thought, which is actually a good thing given my current focus on getting ready for the Pyrenees, and it was great to ride for a bit with some of  Audax Club Bristol. As with any Audax the vibe was fantastic, relaxed, friendly. It's definitely the way to do events, even the few good sportives are slowly losing what it is supposed to be all about - enjoyment.

True, there wasn't much enjoyment on the testing climb between Usk and Chepstow. I had thought it would be a repeat of the one on the Brevet Cymru, but they managed to find a way up that ridge with prolonged periods of 16%. Ouch. But once up at the top at least I could enjoy the view over to Somerset this time, I swear you can see my house in the picture.

And it's always good to have a castle on a ride, just a shame the café can't cope with serving more than about 5 people at a time.

I have entered this Audax in the heart of mid-Wales for the first Saturday in August, and it looks quite formidable in terms of hills and terrain. Anyone else fancy it? I'm staying in Kington the night before so let me know and I'll send you the details! If the company, weather and views are as good as yesterday, that will help with the motivation, if not the gradients!

Great castle & sky!

Raglan castle in all its glory

Look carefully & you can see my house

The bridge awaits

A friendly fellow rider - what it's all about

Monday, 13 July 2015

Libraries gave us power

Anthem.  "A
rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause." Or "a musical setting of a religious text to be sung by a choir during a church service".


I suppose both those descriptions suit "A Design for Life", particularly when you see it played live in front of the faithful. It's a bit of a cliché again to go with this one when there are so many great Manic Street Preachers songs. But as with all these ten songs there are personal reasons why I didn't go with "Die in the Summertime" or "It's not War" or even "Misguided Missile".


It's a personal and collective redemption - for the band, and also for me. Whatever confusion I had about my history, identity and class in my twenties and early thirties, this song made me understand that they are but thoughts. Whilst the old football chant about "knowing your history" is true, for me, seizing your future will always be more important. This song says that to me.




I quoted the opening line recently. For a song of few words it packs an amazing lyrical punch, the anthemic melody carries them so well. I even saw a version with violins on Jools Holland way back. But that opening line is actually the show finale and the prelude, the essence and the detail.


So whether it's gentle or the original hard-hitting video version, make your choice, get some knowledge and seize your future. It's not the libraries that matter, it's what you do with them that counts.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

When all you've got is hurt

Sometimes you just want to get something finished. A bit like a bike ride that's gone on just that little bit too long, I'm working my way through my top ten songs and really am a bit bored with myself now.

But as I'm on holiday from work, it's quite good to have some time to think and type, so I'm going to crack on. A lot of the songs have been a little bit obscure, particularly for a mainstream audience. This one is not. This one is definitely in the vein of clichéd choice. This one is eminently predictable. This one is One.

So much has been written about this that I feel there is little I can add, if you're a U2 fan you'll know it, if not, chances are you find Bono irritating or U2 an overblown and pompous load of hot air. Or you can read about it, well one interpretation anyway.

Well, I don't care what you think much. U2 have been the band that I've followed the most closely for most of this one life. Achtung Baby, the album from which it comes, is my favourite album of all time. The albums they've made in the last decade or so have been somewhat formulaic and on the whole disappointing. Some good songs, but at best derivative of earlier stuff.

A square montage of square photographs arranged in a 4 by 4 grid. The photographs are mostly blue and red in tint, but some are monochrome. They are candid in nature and mostly show four men in various locations, including in an empty street, a crowded festival, under a bridge, in a car, and standing on sand. One photograph is a close-up of a man's hand wearing two rings bearing the characters "U" and "2".

It's hard to express just what a breakthrough that album was, how different it was and how cathartic it was. They took a huge risk and did something really unexpected, and ultimately it defined them (at least for me) as a band. It's also hard to describe what a time of possibility and excitement it was in the early nineties. Thatcher gone, Berlin Wall gone, a whiff of better things to come with the end of the Northern Ireland conflict and even a possibility of  progressive government.

How were we to know it was all going to turn to shit?

But for a while there was that hope. And the songs on that album, in their tone, their texture and the coruscating distortion of The Edge's guitar, jolted me like nothing before or since. But the lyrics, oh such bile, such scathing and such irony. The combination was irresistible, and nowhere was it so good as in the song One. If you listen to it it's pretty clear it's about a break-up, a disappointment, a song of difference. So I love the fact that couples get married to it, and corporates us it to do that shitty "we're all in this together" bollocks.

 I even love the Mary J Blige collaboration. although my favourite is this live version from Slane castle, sung with conviction and passion a week after Bono's father died.

And yes we do "get" to carry each other, not "got to". As he says, a privilege of obligation, not an act of love.

One to go now.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Most everything means nothing, except some things that mean everything

If you have been reading my previous posts about my top ten songs you may have noticed that most of them were released in quite a short time window. That's because all the best things happen to you when you are young isn't it?

Obviously rubbish, I've actually had most of the best times of my life in the last ten years, done all my best professional work in that time, and certainly had the best cycling time too. I also keep discovering new music that I like and In some cases find artists that I missed.

I love a lot of folk music, and the edgier American country stuff, Steve Earle is a favourite. I discovered Patty Griffin through the whimsical film, Elizabethtown (in my "top ten films" list, for what it's worth, a list that surprisingly has two Brad Pitt films in the top five). I won't bore you with the detail of the film, but it's central plot, after the Kirsten Dunst-Orlando Bloom love story, concerns the death and aftermath of a much-loved father.

Don't worry I'm not going all sentimental about my own parents. But if I said my 16pf psychometric results showed a profound shift between 2011 and 2015, and this song, Railroad Wings, reflects that, would that cover it?

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Just for me to kick in space

Have you ever been to Swindon? It's the butt of many jokes and much derision. A staging post on Brunel's great endeavour to Bristol, and now largely regarded as a somewhat soulless and graceless place. A blot on the landscapes of the Marlborough Downs and nearby Vale of the White Horse.

I've been there countless times for it is the land of my father. The places where all this used to be fields. Where you could go to the shops, have a meal out, two pints, trip to the cinema and still have change from sixpence. Where you could play football against the outside of the wall or across the vegetable patch and receive nothing but admiring comments from the grown-ups inside.

A house full of hugs, total adoration without expectation,  instead of disapproving parental glances. In other words the land of benign grandparents.

So I have fond memories of the place. Especially the walks we used to take along the tops of the downs along the Ridgeway to Uffington Castle. I've never had a tattoo, and I am now unlikely to get one, but for a while I thought about having the Uffington White horse adorn my arm.

The latest in my top ten songs all comes out of that conflation, mixed with some post-punk sensibility, and some of the finest song-writing never to get the acclaim it deserves.

I didn't realise that XTC were from Swindon when I first got into them, but I should have guessed. I think they still live in that vicinity. Dreadful stage-fright on the part of Andy Partridge, one of the founders and effectively the last man standing when they stuttered to a halt in the early 2000s, curtailed their performances after 1982. But I think that probably drove them to even greater heights of studio-based creativity.

Never that commercially successful, Senses Working Overtime (album version - which has extra lyrics and music compared to the shorter single version) is one of their better known songs. And unusually, I just enjoy it for its melodic appeal, it's just a joyful piece of work. How unlike me.

They do good political and cutting-edge stuff too, it's just that this one reminds me of my walk along the Ridgeway, or doing the White Horse Challenge, my grandparents, and all that good stuff. Things that make you glad to be alive, even if overwhelmed. And some of its lyrics do remind me of what goes on inside my own head at times. Oops, there I go with my meaningful stuff again.

Of course it helped that the album from whence it came, "English Settlement" had that picture on it. With only embossed words on the original (which I had and can't find on the internet), not in white writing like in subsequent re-pressings, or the CD that's now available. Only the genuinely obsessive would know that, and for a while I was obsessed with XTC. So I apologise for this non-original picture.

I even managed to find the album version for you to listen to though.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Red is the colour of the new Republic

I remember once having a conversation with my good friend Monmarduman about music. Which is why I found it funny to see him posting all about some crappy heavy metal festival he went to recently in France. I quite like Slash as it goes, he was the best bit of Guns & Roses, particularly the hat, and inspired a bloated second Manics album that in turn spawned the reaction to it that is The Holy Bible (the best Manics complete work - but more of them another time).

But apart from jazz, the one and only form of music I could never abide was heavy metal. It's a long story, with a few nuances to it. But there are two main reasons. The music is shite and the lyrics pathetic. Only joking. It's just not my cup of tea.

But this conversation, well it did have a bit of a point to it. In Myers-Briggs terms, my comrade (he'd love being called that) is a "Thinking" type, whilst I am a "Feeling" type. It's not what you think. But in so far as it affects our musical preferences I think it makes the meaning of songs far more important to me, than him.

Which brings me on to The Men They Couldn't Hang. Mainly from Southampton, not exactly a hotbed of political activism, but musicians from a long English folk tradition, combined with a few seventies/eighties punk influences thrown in for good measure. They had a few minor hits and bobbed about on the fringes of the charts, but to all intents and purposes, they are a not a mainstream act.

But always great live. I had the pleasure of seeing them again last year, after a long absence, and of chatting to Phil "Swill" Odgers in the foyer of the small venue afterwards. A lovely man, even when slightly pissed. Swill I mean.

Back in the eighties I had seen them play a blistering set at my University, and the blend of politics, guitars and folk was something really different, and made quite an impression on me. Their best album in my view was "Waiting for Bonaparte" and contained my favourite track of theirs, "The Colours", a story of the 1797 Naval Mutiny off Spithead and the Nore.

Obviously there are latter-day parallels. But even the most hard-hearted latter-day cynical Management Consultant would have to admit it takes a certain knowledge, intelligence and thoughtfulness to write a song like that. Even if you think the music is shite and the lyrics are pathetic.

Friday, 19 June 2015

At first you never notice then the years go flying by

Oh Kirsty. Many of our music heroes have gone - Curt Cobain, Joe Strummer, Stuart Adamson to name but three. But Kirsty's death was just so awful, run over by a speedboat off the coast of Mexico in slightly dubious circumstances, saving her son's life in the process. Just as she was coming into her musical prime too, with much to look forward to.

For many people she is a slightly quirky minor pop artist that made a couple of offbeat hits in the early 80s. True followers luxuriate in the lush inventiveness of the latin-influenced Tropical Brainstorm. Most people remember her duet with Shane MacGowan and the Pogues (who nearly made my top ten by the way, not with Fairytale, but with "Misty Morning, Albert Bridge").

But my favourite album of hers is Kite, as much for the sound of Jonny Marr's guitar combining with the acerbic lyrics and stories as for anything else.

For years I set myself goals, targets, objectives. I used to have dreams, but most of those are illusions brought about by deluded thinking on my part. But something shifted in me when my parents died, that brought me back to this song, "Tread Lightly". Because although the song is about looking to your hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow, it's pitched as if they will never happen.

And that can't be right, especially not now. So now,  I  feel that I need to have something that's just for me, in whatever I do. Even if no one knows about it, because I will carry those hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow always. You should too.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

It took me a dictionary, to find out the meaning of unrequited

Billy Bragg is one of those artists that seems to polarise opinion, you either love him or hate him. He is probably the most overtly political singer in my top ten, although it's a close run thing. He is not the most melodic singer to have ever recorded, not is he the most subtle of writers. And although I do love a lot of his political songs, it's one of his most sensitive works about love, or more accurately, unrequited love, that makes it into my top ten.

I was not a confidant teenager when it came to girls, so "The Saturday Boy" really struck a chord, pun intended, when I first heard it in my early twenties. Put aside all your preconceptions, your polarised views of his politics, and (as the Bard of Barking himself says in this recent live rendition), go back and connect with your adolescent memories.

This is poetry, whatever way you look at it.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Opens up my soul and torches up a fire inside of me

I first saw the Waterboys at Milton Keynes bowl, supporting U2 in one of those festivals that is only allowed to happen if it's pouring with rain. 1985 I think it was, I remember being slightly surprised that so many people thought it was a good idea to take all their clothes off and slide down the slopes of mud, stark naked. I think drink may have been involved. Or something stronger.

They were a pretty good live band, and I was impressed enough to go and buy their album - "This is the Sea". A blend of expansive loud rock, with some sensitive touches and good, sound eco-politics. Greenpeace I think. But at that stage, thee was nothing to really make them stand out for me. And it had their biggest hit "The Whole of the Moon" which everyone remembers.

Then Mike Scott moved to Ireland, chucked out most of the band, recruited Steve Wickham (who had played the scratchy violin riff of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday"), and a whole host of other folk musicians. What followed was two of the best folk-rock crossover albums ever. I'd always had a penchant for folk music, I think it's that link into my rural past! Seriously, I love the way that folk can seem all nice and cute, but actually contain a sharp message, be it about love, politics or something else.

I can see a pattern developing in my choices, because I chose "When Ye go away" for the top ten, it's just so sad, but also a great example of the Waterboys music of this period. And it's not one that has been covered by a pale modern-day imitator and passed off as authentic. It's an album track, so few have heard of it, I like that too. It also contains the line, "somebody left his whisky, and the night is very young". Make of that what you will.

I was due to see them again in 1989, at the heart of that Fisherman's Blues tour, but missed it because my girlfriend of the time was too sick to travel to Cambridge, where the gig was. I'm sure my unsympathetic and grudging reaction was the start of the end of our relationship. So the song echoes that too because essentially it's about the transience of love.

Mike Scott is of course is truly bonkers, and has gone on to make some fantastic stuff. I've seen him a few times since that aborted attempt, and he has always been highly accomplished and put on a great show. Including abusing the audience at times, which I particularly like. But I don't think he topped that period, his best. And this song, is for me, the best of that best.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Their lies wash you down and their promises rust

Do you think all 15 year old boys are angry? I was, angry about almost everything. That bit is quite normal. I was angry with my parents, for being parents.  I was angry with teachers, in a typical middle class passive and silent way. I was angry with the boys that bunked off school, had fights in the playground (I know there is a contradiction, it doesn't matter, there is no logic in a 15-year old's life)and got the affections of the girls I secretly and silently fancied.

But I was also quite angry with Margaret Thatcher and the bunch of Tory filth that accompanied her efforts to dismember the welfare state and destroy our manufacturing base. Maybe I didn't articulate it quite like that then, but I didn't need to because I had Paul Wellar to do it for me.

I'd been quite into a lot of early punk, but the arrival of the Jam in the late 70s, at the time when my teenage rebellion was entering its most interesting psychological phase was a Godsend. Although of course I was angry with God too. If he'd existed, or I'd realised it was a bourgeois construct.

Was that usual? To be politically interested and engaged at that age? I don't see it in my son, and he's nearly the same age as I was then. Ooh, rebellion's not what it used to be.

So the next one in the top ten list is their finest hour. I'd even say it's Paul Wellar's greatest ever musical creation. The vituperative and scathing nature of the message are encased in a wonderful English understatement, and again, the guitar sound is just superb. The message is simple, but no less powerful for that, and more relevant now than ever. We could do with a few more angry middle class schoolboys these days.

I bought the single with my brother in Woolworths one Saturday morning, and it came with a free copy of another of their records, as was the custom in those days. I think my Dad was with us, and I hope he made some disparaging remark about their look, or some such. I definitely didn't want to like the same music as him. Or was it the other way around?

I never really rated them as a live act, so here is the studio version.  A great video too. And of course all the rebellion, the middle-class guilt, the angst, well, that took years of therapy to unravel. But I got there in the end so I'm sure you don't need me to do it for you.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

If you could feel how I must feel

Big Country. The Crossing. The album that really spurred me to work hard and get the A levels I needed to get into University. So I could leave home. A big influence on the teenage me, that album. It worked too.

But when I came to pick my top ten favourite songs of all-time ever, it's not one of those tracks that I chose. Not an album track at all.

Wonderland. I listen to it still and it means something different. Every day. Like all the songs on the list it complements the others on the list. It is also musically brilliant. How could a guitarist like Stuart Adamson not produce something as flawlessly brilliant every time he picked up his guitar. I have not an ounce of musical ability in my body but I know a musical genius when I hear one.

Just listen to  the first 80 seconds of this. And in his younger days there was a joy to him, almost.

Such a sad demise.

But Wonderland. Lyrically poetic, and of course it's about loss, so I would love it. The first time I heard it blaring out of the speakers in the Union Bar, it spoke to me of how Uni wasn't quite, or even close to, the nirvana I was expecting.

Later it spoke to me about the loss of idealism, hope, even youth. Now it reminds me of my parents.

I don't know what it was really about, I don't want to know. I just want to wallow in the searing edge of Stuart's guitar and his soulful lyrics. You can search YouTube for a studio version, but as with most Big Country music, the live versions are the best.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

I tried to stretch my mind but I just got my body wrecked

This is a tale of hubris, which is also my favourite abstract concept. I'm keen on hope, enthusiasm and love, but I think hubris is so much more educational than all the optimistic stuff.

To be clear I'm the owner of the hubris, although that recognition may mitigate it and make it less hubristic, I'll bow to the philosophers amongst you on that one. A month after my last post, and my first 400km Audax, I attempted my second. In between I have not been idle. Work busy, yes. Home life busy, of course. Inside of my head its usual whirl of random and pointless chatter, naturally.

I have also done a fair amount of cycling. In fact in May I did more in a calendar month than I ever have before, 972 miles. Lots of km. Big events, short commutes.

But you know me, I can do anything can't I? That I set my mind to, I persist, don't give up. I thought that I could actually get up at 6AM on Friday, do a full day's work, off the back of a busy week with not enough sleep, then off to the Blackdown Hills for a 10.30PM start followed by 400 km.

Ever wondered about your own limits? Just keep pushing and you will find them.

But to begin with I thought I was going to get away with it. Outside the Half Moon Pub in Clayhidon, a gathering of 40 or so audacious riders set off down the lanes towards Tiverton on a quite beautiful night.

I'd added a couple of spoke reflectors to my wheels, my dynamo was purring like a cat that got the cream, and we all rode together to Tiverton, 25km in an hour, for the first control.
Maybe it was a coincidence, but looking back on it, I take it as some kind of cosmic warning, as I left the town I very narrowly avoided a bus pulling out on me at a roundabout when I was already halfway round it. I know it's easy to talk about near-misses, but this was one of those times where I went from "silly idiot" to "what is he doing" to "I hope he stops" to "he hasn't seen me" to Fuuuuuuuuuck" in about half a second. It's amazing how adrenaline makes you pedal faster because he missed me by inches. In the moment, I thought I was a gonner.
It may not have been an omen, but the adrenaline certainly helped spur me up the Exe Valley, and I continued to make good time up to Wheddon Cross and down the other side to Minehead. It was getting cold though, as I had seriously underestimated how chilly night-time riding can be over Exmoor and beyond, even if it is June. Summer, remember?
It was also slightly surreal to be in the front room of a Minehead house as two delightful ladies doled out hot tea and coffee to random Audaxers all looking slightly dazed.
The next section was also pretty fast, as a tailwind, a pretty strong one too, blew me all the way along the A39 to Bridgwater and out the other side. Even at 4AM there were still loads of people about, and I didn't linger, heading off into the lanes of the levels towards Glastonbury, where I arrived just as dawn was breaking. The night-time ride had been magical. Despite the cold it had been a clear night, so the stars were at their best, augmented by a wonderful 3/4 moon. At one point a white owl swooped back and forth across the road as I cycled underneath it. Special.  
But as I swung away from Glastonbury it all just fell apart.
I had got progressively colder and colder through the night, but now I was going slower and slower as well, so I popped into Tesco for something to supplement my own supplies. But I was also starting to feel sick, and found it almost impossible to keep anything down. My ITB (the muscle-like structure on the outside of the leg) had been hurting me since Tiverton, and I must have adapted my pedalling style to compensate, for now my knee was screaming in pain. (it's still very sore and stiff as I write this. Although I'm not typing with my knee, I'm not that clever).
I stopped a couple of times to take photos, and tweet my progress, as well as changes to sunglasses, despite the cold and the wind it was turning into a very sunny day.
But with all the accumulated aches and pains, it wasn't much fun. I decided to climb up the Mendips to see if that would help shake things up a bit. It did, but not in a good way. The climb out of Dinder is a tough one, I have done it a few times, but I have never seen the road rise up and down, nor get strange swirly patterns in my vision as I did so. This struck me as being the effect of all that sleep deficit, and though I could nap for a short time, I instinctively knew I needed more.
I carried on to the A37, and stopped for five minutes to decide what to do. I had done 98 miles, with a further 162 ahead of me. I was exhausted, and beyond my deriving any enjoyment from the event, or the pain of the niggles, I was now also worried about falling asleep as I rode.
I decided to bail and head back to Clayhidon, meaning 40 miles into the wind to my car. It took me four hours, although that did include an unsuccessful attempt to get food into me at McDs in Street, and about 30 minutes asleep in Othery churchyard. (it's a great spot for a snooze on a sunny day). Loads of breaks, and painful progress. The final ascent back up to the Blackdowns has me at 797 out of 811 on Strava, mainly because I had to stop five or six times, through sheer exhaustion.
So there you have it. I did about 220km in the end anyway, not a bad overall average speed, or total time. But I didn't get the Audax points. In hindsight it was the right decision and has certainly set me thinking about how I can rein it back without compromising all my goals. I slept for 5 hours when I got home and I'm still tired. But I think there is a deeper and different level of tiredness lurking in me somewhere, one I would be wise to pay heed to, before I do myself some serious damage.
I am not as tough as I would like to think I am.