Sunday, 28 May 2017

Never hard enough to wash away the sorrow

It's mid-morning on a Sunday in England, or Britain, or Europe or whatever takes your fancy. I don't care anymore. All is quiet in the Mendip Rouleur household, and despite the knowledge that the last of the holiday sunshine will have gone in a few hours, I'm not disposed to get out of my pyjamas and head for the hills.

I'm not a believer in truth. That is to say, rather like the album title, we all have our own versions, and if something defies descriptive objectivity, it can't be real. A bit like those people that say "you know it when you see it". Idiots. So my truth, and please keep yours to yourself, or blog about it if you must, is that I'm a bit of a wreck this morning.

It's a culmination thing. The good news, on my part, less so for you, is that I'm doing something about it. Or, for today at least, to be precise, I'm doing nothing about it. Rest. A very underused strategy in the training regime. For MAMILs such as myself, it can be hard to fit our over-vaunted cycling ambitions into hectic lives. But rest assured that our lives are comparatively easy, so these things are relative. First world problems and all that.

Do not be fooled by this picture, taken by Steep End Down (whose kindness was unremitting yesterday) of me smiling on our ride in the Welsh hills yesterday.

 Whilst I can look back at the day and say I enjoyed it, I had undoubtedly bitten off more than I could chew. I do look very stylish though, despite the grim weather.

Work is pretty busy at the moment, and my celebrity-charged attendance at a local business awards ceremony, full of sparkling mineral water, and polite and friendly conversation had taken its toll.

That and a last-minute change of plan to actually go to Wales, after a couple of extended commutes on the bike this week, and the inevitable stresses and strains of middle-class, middle-aged life in May's middle England (not Britain, not Europe, not nowhere) meant I was shattered before the first pedal stroke, and exhausted after it.

And I had perversely chosen a steel bike when all about me chose carbon. And they are fitter than me. I was off the back a lot. But just like everyone else, I pressed on.

For that is what we do isn't it? Occasional defiant shows of support, minutes of silence, but ultimately anything for a quiet life.

So time for a rest. Remedies. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Come back refreshed and I hope stronger. Do a lot of things that I know will work, whilst apply my thinking to come up with new ways to tackle some of the issues. And revisit history to ensure I don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Make sure I understand what is different about now, and what is the same as then.

That's how constructive change works, a bit of marginal gain, a bit of transformation. A bit of tried and trusted and a bit of thinking the unthinkable.

When will you learn? This is not about me, it's about you.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

I'm clearing out old cycling kit

Back in 2010 I ventured abroad on a road bike for the first time, completing the Raid Pyrenean in the late Summer. A few weeks after that I rode from Bristol to Land's End to raise funds for the Children's ward of the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Since then I have done quite a few charity bike rides, I see it as the ideal way to combine things that matter to me - cycling and raising money for charity. But this year I'm taking a break from asking for money from everyone I know, and instead, I'm clearing out some space in my cycling wardrobe. You see, I am a natural hoarder and so it takes a focused effort of will to dispose of anything, let alone cycling kit. But needs must, the new Rapha collection is on its way and it has to hang somewhere.

So I thought it would make a mildly interesting blog post (for me anyway if not for you) to list what is for sale, along with a running commentary about what each piece means to me. And in return, you can contact me and let me know which clothing item you would like, and make the accompanying donation to Children's Hospice South West the charity supported by my employer this year.

If you would like any of these items (which all fit a 5 foot 8, 11 stone male, with shortish legs), please contact me. Although I'm willing to listen to offers for things, particularly if you want to buy multiple items, I'm not going to be negotiating, they are all priced to sell, and it's for charity. So behave accordingly please.

Item 1: A red Endura showerproof jacket. £5

Not that showerproof, but it will keep the chill off on a cool Summer morning before the day has warmed up. I remember one such lovely ascent of the Col du Port out of Massat, just post-dawn with mists in the valley and sunshine breaking through. Later on I'd absolutely boil in the Summer heat. (see my Pyrenees 2010 Facebook album!)

Also has some nice reflectives for the morning commute, and folds into itself for storage in a rear jersey pocket.

Item 2. An Endura Gridlock Mark 1 Rain/commuter jacket. £10

Not worn this one that much, preferring the hi-viz yellow for the mad rush hour that sometimes Bristol can be.  remember taking it to France a few times, it stood me in good stead coming down the Aspin once, although soaked to the skin, it did just about stave off the hypothermia, it was a rainstorm unlike anything you will ever see in the UK.

It's pretty waterproof, reasonably warm, and has underarm vents, lots of reflectives.

Item 3: Assos Mille shorts, red at the front and black at the rear.  £20

In reasonable nick with a fair amount of life left in them, and very, very comfortable, if a slightly naff colour. Not worn since 2012, when I first red the rules. Would suit a more flamboyant character than me.

Item 4. A purple Somerset-branded jersey, full length zip, 3 pockets etc. By Half-baked brand (now defunct so a collector's piece!).  £10

I have tried to like this, but the gender-conditioning is too strong for me. It's a girl's colour. Otherwise fantastic, I wore it in Tenerife, where people didn't know me so wouldn't judge me, but otherwise it very good condition.

Item 5: A pair of Castelli bib shorts (don't know the name, but they cost a lot new, are lightweight so suit Summer riding). £40

These are in excellent condition because I've only worn them once. The Italian size large equates to a small child in the UK, I rode them up the Tourmalet on a hot day, and I swear the circulation was cut off to my feet. I'd love to keep them, but I am too fat.

Item 6: A Castelli lightweight jersey, size large but bizarrely comfortable £40

Also in excellent condition, and originally very expensive, it goes well with the shorts above. But I've taken against it and haven't worn it since 2013. A couple of nicks but otherwise good.

Picture of me in both bits of kit, looking ragged at the top of the Tourmalet that day in 2013.

Item 7: Giordana jersey and shorts, vintage 2011, Good quality in their day, seen a bit of wear but still good for commuting. Priced as a set to sell at £15.

I remember finishing my last Tour of Wessex in this jersey, 2014. Not worn since.

Item 8a : Altura Night vision short-sleeve commuter's jersey. £15

As bright as you could possibly need. Not worn that much and in good condition. Would go as a pair with the next item (£25 for both).

Item 8b : DHB Medium bib-shorts with flouro leg grippers, good quality for their price, £15.

Item 9: Altura flouro long-sleeved fleecy jersey. £20.

Somehow falls in the same territory as a short sleeve jersey, gilet and arm-warmers, so good for Spring and Autumn, or under a coat for Winter.

Item 10: Altura pocket rocket shower proof jacket. £15.

Very useful for heavy sharp, short rain showers, it folds down into a small bag, which is why it's a bit creased. It's a bit too small for me, which is why I have used it on only a handful of occasions, buy very good piece of kit.

Item 11: A Northwave Winter jersey with only two rear pockets. £15

It breaks my heart to sell this. I wore it on my LEJOG in 2009 and it was my first Winter jersey. But it's been in the drawer for over 6 years and I'm never go to wear it again. Still in good condition though, would suit someone who doesn't realise you need three pockets!

 Item 12: A cycling fleece. £10

Very warm. It's from my mountain biking days, and would also suit commuters who care nothing for style.

Item 13: A pair of Flour gloves. Worn a lot. £3

Item 14: A pair of Castelli mitts. £5

For the Summer. Thin but stylish.

Item 15: A pair of DHB long-fingered gloves, suitable for Spring/Autumn. £5

Hardly worn. Would fit someone with quite long fingers. Longer than mine anyway.

Item 16: Unused pair of Assos lightweight socks. £3

Item 17: A pair of waterproof commuter trousers. £15

I didn't know any better. Worn them for walking a few times, but not suitable for road riding these days.


 And that's it for now. Not that interesting but hope I can get rid of the lot and make a bit of cash for a good cause. If you wish to buy, please email me, or reply to this on Facebook. All stuff will go on first-come, first served basis. At my discretion, and as I said, don't take the mick please, it's for charity.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The story was quite clear

When I was young (about 1979 in case you are wondering), there was, as in most provincial, semi-rural English villages of the time, a youth club. What a ghastly concept that now seems. But there you go. Because there was nowhere else to go in the seventies and early eighties if you were 15, unless you count park benches or gravel pits. The seventies were, as we all are about to find out all over again, totally shit on so many levels.

Anyway, in that youth club was one, single, solitary record-player. Which played these things called records. Circular and flat pieces of vinyl, with a tiny groove that brought either validation, joy and meaning or pomposity, self-indulgence and ridicule. Depending on which camp you were in. Every week, because the wretched place was only open on Tuesday nights, there would be a turf war for control of the musical backdrop for the evening, between those that liked heavy metal/heavy rock/pompous rubbish, or new wave/punk/the only music that could speak for our generation.

Rush, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Rainbow and Led Zeppelin were particular targets of scorn and derision, along with the long haircuts, denim patches and biggest horror of all, flared trousers of their supporters. Their music seemed old and for the old, irrelevant and interminably long, likely to go on for ever. For me, it was all about three minutes, three chords and the truth. Along with drainpipe trousers, spikey hair and lots of badges.

This particular song was on wraparound whenever I occupied the turf, summing up just what it was like in that tiny, provincial backwater. Maybe it was something to do with being born when I was, part of the generation that rejected the Baby Boomers' cosy little world, and was intent on smashing it to pieces before creating something better.

Then again, my generation has of course allowed the world of Marketing to run amok, painting pictures and turning the inherently simple and straightforward into impossibly stretched creative nonsense. Yesterday I was in a local branch of a famous Bank, looking for a Savings Account leaflet. Poor old soul, I had to have it pointed out to me that it was the one with the word "Wish" on the front.

I'd love to have seen the meeting that decided that was a good idea. "Yeah, the Baby Boomers will love it, because it'll hark back to their golden age of sexploitation, while Millennials will see it as a statement of female empowerment and freedom".

What's wrong with just printing "SAVINGS ACCOUNTS" in big letters for those with long sight.

A browse through the leaflet finds it full of other patronising and stupid pictures, culminating on their implicit view of their own customers.


 By and large these are the people now running the world, and they believe what they want to irrespective of the evidence. If they think this type of stuff is good for you, you are going to get it. Too much time and imagination and rewards in all the wrong places have created this. Behind it sits some very questionable ideas that people born in different eras are different from those that went before. If unchecked it gives free rein to all sorts of uncorroborated theories that are accepted as fact despite the complete absence of evidence.

Two ways of looking at the same thing, one with evidence, the other without.

The truth is, people are very similar, and share very similar concerns at the different stages of their respective lives. You think 15 year-olds never worried about their futures or how to break free of their parents? Or that kids in the seventies weren't self-absorbed and selfish? The only differences are around the periphery. Whereas we had record players and vinyl, kids today have downloads and apps. Apart form that, it's much the same. Don't let people who just want to make money out of you tell you any different. Don't take my word for it, Adam Conover's well-researched talk fills in the detail in a very entertaining way.

I'm not one of these people that decry the role experts should play in our lives, if anything we need more people who know what they are talking about, and I like to think that the Age of Reason is just taking a break right now, and will return stronger than ever.

When I was 15, of course I was angry. Angry with my parents, angry with Thatcher, angry with the Heavy Rockers, but most of all angry with myself. Which normal 15-year old isn't? Of course now I realise it was all about my perspective, and my life, rather than the place I was living. My brother still lives there and it is actually quite nice.

I like to think I've moved on a bit, and you know what? I'm also open to the use of new-fangled technology too. Like the Internet (I know that's not exactly new, but you get the gist) Thank God for YouTube for one. And when you hear Plant, Page and the rest talk about how they discovered music, they sound pretty much the same as me. Maybe we were just divided by a common language at the time, or the people running the youth club were creating their own entertainment by having just one record player.

The older I get, the more I want to be like Jimmy Page, especially as he clearly still doesn't give a monkeys what people think of him. I only wish I had his talent. It may have taken me nearly 40 years, but I now know it's OK to like Led Zeppelin. I fervently hope that somewhere in rural England is a 58-year old former Rush fan, looking at YouTube and saying to himself, "that Jake Burns really knows how to express himself".

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Get on the bus

Anxiety. Stress. Depression.

I am surrounded by it.

If you are reading this and thinking this post is going to be all about you, then I'm sorry to be the cause of some disillusionment. It's not about you. It could be about me. It's not about me either. It's peripherally about cycling, in so much as everyone knows, that cycling is the cure for most known ailments, and a lot that have yet to be discovered.

I have just read some really interesting evidence-based, properly-researched factual information about resilience. Contrary to popular belief, the level of our resilience is not primarily determined by our ability to press on in the face of adversity. It's about our ability to recover, and in true Coveyin fashion(I made this adjective up, not just from a noun, or a proper noun, but from someone's name - the sort of thing I complain about, a lot), to be really good at recovery, you have to do it proactively. Practice. With a plan, and measure the impact of that recovery.

Here's a random picture of some happy people.

Great night that was, and of course, we put ourselves in the position to enjoy that happiness by making a plan.
Most people expect happiness to be an outcome, but of course it's actually more of a process and an activity. It's not a destination, it's a journey. All that old bollocks. What's that, easy for you to say? Well yes obviously. My friend asked me yesterday how I got my job, (we have only known each other for 28 years, and most of our conversations have been about football, so we're just breaking the ice), to which I replied it was a combination of several relevant qualifications, 15 years of experience and a 30-year career in commercial environments. Other than that, and the application to get the job, I just fell into it by pure luck.
So it is with my mental state.

A period of depression, a lot of worry that all came to nought, periods of self-harm and a shed load of work with expensive therapists (but good value), all gave me some experience to know what I'm talking about. And for the stuff I don't know about yet, I make up for it with my opinions, the same as everyone else.

And one thing I do know. The only person who will get you out of it, is you. It's like that 20% hill, when you've clicked down to your last gear, and you're still 200 metres from the top. Sure you can grind through it and push through, or you can get off and walk. But no one is going to push you. Unless you have asked for them to, and made sure they were there when you needed them. You can roll back to the bottom and stay there if you want to, no one will be cross. But it's all your choice. Getting angry rarely works either.

Someone I know is very gravely ill, having watched other people with similar conditions I am very worried about him. I watched my own parents die in a short space of time a few years ago, and I am acutely conscious of how precious life is. There is a tendency in our over-inflated society to miss the point of what is important. I'm going to spell it out for you.

Life is important. And that, for me, means living. It means being honest, with myself at least. And with you if you want it. Poor George Michael never seems to have made that transition from his depression to the light. Do not confuse this with levity, being happy is a very serious business. And it is different for us all.

So do you choose life?