Saturday, 28 February 2015

I blame it on my youth

Well done Martyn. Just at the time I needed to start venturing away from the flat lands and into the hills, he came up with a dog of a route for today's ride. Trevor, Ray, James, Jon, Martyn, Peter and me from Brent Knoll to the Mendips and back.

A nice mix of stuff, a few short sharp punchy climbs, a long slog up Shipham and Long Bottom (despite getting dropped it was a PR, goes to show you never can tell), the road not my sorry arse, and some nice flat bits to recover and chat. Some days the best versions of things get discovered by accident, like Maria McKee originals on YouTube.

I even enjoyed the normally gloomy café at the bottom (that word again) of Burrington Combe. Of course it was all about my bike, an old-fashioned steel thing from Argos Racing Cycles in Bristol. Like a kid at Christmas I took out the last present I'll ever get from my Mum and Dad. Designed for Audax primarily, but good enough for bimbles like today. Or anyday in fact.

It reminded me of being a kid again, mucking about with your mates on bikes on a Saturday morning. Lots of abuse and real fun from genuine good-hearted people. Hard to find.
Even if their political ideas and opinions are shit.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

5/12 not 5/8

Have I mentioned I've been ill?

Well I'm back in the saddle now, literally if not figuratively. Yesterday was my third ride in a week, and the first biggie since my three weeks of enforced absence. A 200km DIY Audax, with Martyn, Jon and Ray, the latter for the first half, before he decided the Audax was too easy for him and decided to climb home via Enmore Hill.

It's all part of the plan for Randonneur round the year.

So five down, seven to go for me, a couple more for Martyn, and a lot more for Jon.

The rest of us stuck to our plan, more or less, and after a few gentle climbs on the fringes of the Quantocks, being blasted by a vicious north-westerly wind, contented ourselves with a mud and shit-filled sojurn around Somerset's finest levels.


Washford Inn

Gang of four

We all managed around the 130 -140  miles(208-224km), differences down to differing starting points. We don't actually live in the same house, although I know that is hard to believe sometimes. My Garmin, who ages ago I named Laurens, was behaving with all the inconsistency of a Dutch Man Utd manager. Fortunately it recorded all but 2.3 miles (3.68km) of the ride.

In the last 30 miles (18.75km) I was hanging, as the lack of fitness kicked in, and I was grateful to Martyn and Jon for towing me home. Obviously the lack of fitness is relative, as most people I know wouldn't even understand what cycling 35 miles (56km) takes let alone 135 miles (216km).

Jon is a very stylish cyclist as I have mentioned before, his sartorial disposition just exudes style. Although I still think his saddle is too low, either that or he's a bit bandy guvna. He wears his Rapha coat, albeit in black and looks elegant and slim, while I wear the same one in chartreuse and look like a sack of spuds. Although as Martyn pointed out, that's because Jon is elegant and slim and I am short and fat. Again, this is relative.

But Jon and I had a short debate about something yesterday, and having had the night to ruminate on it, I'm coming back fighting. Much as I love France, I can't get my head around kilometres. It's not me it's you.

Cool dude

My cycling figures this year are a bit like the inflation statistics. Despite losing a chunk of the year to flu, I'm only 99 miles down on where I was at the end February last year. Why? Because last year's February was also low, and I had a good January this year.

Don't be fooled by inflation coming down though. Until it becomes officially minus, prices are still going up. Just not as fast. Just as our overall deficit is still rising, it's just we are borrowing less than in previous years.

I suggested yesterday a single cure-all for the nations major ills. Get everyone who is not gainfully or fully-employed out fixing the roads or bringing them up to a nice smooth standard, in a Keynsian plan to boost the economy. It would make people fitter, lowering the burden on the NHS, put wages in pockets, boosting tax revenues and lowering welfare payments. Most important of all it would make all cyclists happy, especially me.

If doing Winter Audax has proved anything it is the terrible state of our roads. Never mind Ukraine, Greece, A & E targets, immigration, welfare spending or closing of libraries. Fix our roads. That would get my vote.

Them & my shadow

Muchelney Abbey

Late afternoon

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Great Expectations

I've been a West Ham fan for as long as I can consciously remember. Of course, put me under hypnosis and it is possible that there will be a very early and reachable part of my life when I wasn't an Irons' fan, but I doubt it. I certainly won't countenance the idea I ever supported anyone else.

It's one of the many things that makes me an interesting person, this West Ham link. I suspect my parents indoctrinated me in some way, most likely my Mum since I blame her for all the other unfortunate things that happened to me. My Dad did go to a few matches in the early 60s, when my family lived in the East End, before I was born, but he was just a general sports' fan. A breed I view with utter contempt, although my Dad has redeeming qualities.

Given the support of other teams that my male siblings took on, I think there was some kind of family rule to support the team closest to your birthplace, my sister being the exception who probably picked based on the colour of the shirt or something.

But she was a Chelsea fan long before other band-wagon jumping one-time members of my extended family.  His latter day espousal of the Chelski cause was initiated by his desire to please a business associate, and the fact that they couldn't be bothered to go to the European cup final shows a strange way of being a football fan.

It might surprise you to hear I'm quite glad we got knocked out of the FA Cup today. Really. This is not some "clever clever" sixth-form piece of bravado. I would have preferred a 1-0 defeat to a disputed penalty, but actually a comprehensive thrashing will do too, no ambiguity or regret.

I was taken to my first game as a 7th birthday treat, (we beat Stoke 2-1, don't remember much beyond the noise, atmosphere and lots of swearing), and in the intervening years I've learned a predictable pattern to our various types of season.

This season is one of the ones that starts brightly and then fades away in the face of raised, and unrealistic, expectations. Our form is petering out, or top players are getting injured, and our bright September is deteriorating towards a dreary March.

Looking at the recent form of Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd, I know how our cup campaign would have ended had we won today. Sooner or later we would have played one of them, because at least one of them is going to the final. I don't want to spend a fortune on semi-final tickets and travel, and perish the thought, the same for a final, only to see us lose in the final minute again.

I'm haunted by that. It's not really the money. It's the dashed hopes I won't be able to stop myself from having. So, well done West Brom. Hope you get stuffed in the next round.

Not really. I'd quite like them to win. But they won't. One of the afore-mentioned three will.

At least it will allow me to concentrate on more important things. Like re-building my form after three weeks enforced time off the bike. As a result of flu. Real flu. Time off work flu. Like I've not had for years and years. Of course I moan about it to excess, and my incredibly patient and hard-working wife has been a godsend (if there was such a thing as a God, which there most definitely isn't).

And today's ride was the start of that process, and even though it was only 58 flat miles I found it pretty hard. Hopefully my body will remember how to do a lot longer than that next weekend and into the imminent Spring. It was lovely to be outside though, in the fresh air and in the excellent company of Martyn, Jennifer, Paul, James and Alan.

Even getting a puncture didn't dampen my mood. I didn't take any pictures today, so here's one of a group of my comrades changing an earlier puncture with aplomb.

So Spring is on the horizon and marching towards us in a blaze of sunshine. We even had the odd taster today. So lots to look forward to. In particular, we can all look forward to the most complicated election for years. I am fascinated by elections, another really interesting thing about me is that for many years I was a member of the Electoral Reform Society, and I was the Elections officer for the University of London Union. Impressed?

So even if I, like many, am quite disillusioned by all the third-rate politicians, and long for the giants of the past, the psephologist in me is really looking forward to the outcome of the election. I also love a good argument, especially one where I can prick the prejudice of the ill-informed and rubbish the half-baked ideas of the certain.

As I rapidly move towards late middle-age and then old-age and death, I increasingly know that there are very few things that are cut and dried, black and white, right or wrong. Apart from dessicated coconut, Newcastle United shirts and political correctness respectively.

Most of you now are expecting me to say something middle-aged and ranty about PC. But I'm going to leave you with this quote from a man I'm rapidly coming to see as a genius, even more so than Trevor Brooking. Responding to a survey that said 84% of people in the UK thought political correctness had gone mad, Stewart Lee said this:

It really worries me that 84% of this audience agrees with that statement, because the kind of people that say "political correctness has gone mad" are usually using that phrase as a kind of covert action to attack minorities or people that they disagree with. I'm of an age that I can see what a difference political correctness has made. When I was four years old, my grandfather drove me around Birmingham, where the Tories had just fought an election campaign saying, "if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour," and he drove me around saying, "this is where all the niggers and the coons and the jungle bunnies live." And I remember being at school in the early 80s and my teacher, when he read the register, instead of saying the name of the one Asian boy in the class, he would say, "is the black spot in," right? And all these things have gradually been eroded by political correctness, which seems to me to be about an institutionalised politeness at its worst. And if there is some fallout from this, which means that someone in an office might get in trouble one day for saying something that someone was a bit unsure about because they couldn't decide whether it was sexist or homophobic or racist, it's a small price to pay for the massive benefits and improvements in the quality of life for millions of people that political correctness has made. It's a complete lie that allows the right, which basically controls media now, and international politics, to make people on the left who are concerned about the way people are represented look like killjoys. And I'm sick, I'm really sick-- 84% of you in this room that have agreed with this phrase, you're like those people who turn around and go, "you know who the most oppressed minorities in Britain are? White, middle-class men." You're a bunch of idiots.
·         From "Heresy", BBC Radio 4, 16th May 2007

We are all biased. I am biased, so are you. The big question is not about our inherent prejudices, but what are we going to do about them? And if you were lucky enough to be born in Britain, in the late twentieth century, don't you think it might be a good thing to help the unlucky people in the world? How can we do that then?