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.