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?

Friday, 16 December 2016

The wheels of your life have slowly fallen off

What a year. It's only the 16th December but I've already crammed enough into it to fill one of those round-robin Christmas letters. Believe me, no-one is interested. Judging by the fact that only 41 people read my last post, no-one is interested in this either. I'll have to start slagging off the Chinese and the Russians, that will bump the numbers up a bit.

Anyway, all my creative writing is being channelled into my work. The stuff I do for money rather than just love. Last week I wrote a script for three role plays, it's more of a mini-play really. It's so good that a professional actor complimented me on the quality of the writing and characterisation. And I've not even paid his invoice yet.

One of my friends wrote a very funny email today, had me laughing out loud. Not just the pretend social media LOL either. And I made my boss laugh on the Tube when he read one of my (deliberately satirically funny) emails last week. But aside from that, laughs have been few and far between recently. It was the desire to do something deliberately funny that prompted me to contemplate taking part in a Santa cycle.

But then I acquired a power meter and my world has been turned upside down. In the "first-world problem" kind of way.  Those people who claim that numbers and stats take the joy out of cycling, turn a beautiful art form into a science of marginal gains are of course right. But how great to be able to reduce something so complex to the pursuit of just one number.

So I'm wavering on the Santa cycle. Because I need something totally all-encompassing for a few hours, take me away from all that laughter, families enjoying themselves (who are these people?) and instead engross myself in an obsessive, single-minded fixation. One where it matters not if it rains, blows, or if the road is steep or flat. Power is the alpha, the omega and all points in between.

As long as you're wearing Rapha.

And with friends and family.

And still smiling.

Especially to my Person of the Year, take a bow Junior, the most resilient one of our line, you'd bring a nod of approbation from your grandmother, that's for sure.



Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Hope is for the Hopeful

My, my, there's a lot going on isn't there? But having said that I don't think I'm overly-qualified to comment on it, still less have an opinion. I know what you are thinking, that this has never stopped me before. You are right, and it is true that I'm probably more qualified than you to have an opinion on most things, because I do know a lot of stuff.

But just lately, well, so many people have been encroaching onto my territory, the one of unqualified opinion about anything and everything, that I have even begun to bore myself. And no-one wants that. It is also a circular argument that I'm fairly certain I have used before, saying that I am not going to pontificate, or make a song and dance about it, is a fairly paradoxical when you are blogging about it on a Google-owned social media site.

But it's a bit more than that. I'm not sure I like the direction I've been taking myself in.

When I was young, I worried about a lot of things, with what I felt was a kind of quiet intensity. I occasionally discussed these with my friends, but for the most part, just got on with the activities available to young people in the late seventies and eighties. Or the land of "three television channels" as I like to think of it. The drab, everything-closed-on-a-Sunday world, inhabited by nothing-to-do and "we made our own entertainment" nostalgia freaks. But it was OK, and it seemed a slower world, where there was less edge to everything.

But at the time, open warfare in Northern Ireland, Apartheid in South Africa, the Cold War and constant threat of imminent Mutually Assured Destruction, all seemed like pretty big and intractable problems. Nowadays we have Brexit, ISIS and the election of an Entertainer-in-Chief to worry about. I know I'm now 52 instead of 22, but somehow these 21st century things don't seem worth the worry and energy that even I've been putting into them. Given my eighties worries are, if not solved, at least less of a concern, I'm fairly sure things will turn out OK in the end for the trivial matters we have now. Or failing that we can just ignore them and hope they go away.

I had a lovely bit of escapism yesterday. Took the day off work and rode my bike with a great bunch of people. The day did go on slightly longer than I expected, and I was glad to finally make it home just before my front light's battery gave up the ghost. It involved hills, frequent (maybe too frequent!) stops for cake, chips, fudge (which isn't breaking my current no-chocolate rule and was justified on energy grounds), hills, gorges, dark and exposed moors, wooded valleys, views of the Bristol Channel (the night-time one was particularly fantastic from the top of Elworthy Hill), watching the local carnival floats on trucks in convoy to North Petherton, (their destination today I believe) and the local Friday nightlife of Taunton and Bridgwater.

Here are some great pictures taken by Paul Rainbow of Audax Club Bristol.

Whilst it's pretty true to say that while today I feel physically jaded, it was the first 200km+ ride I'd done for a couple of months, so was always going to be a bit hard, mentally I feel fantastic. It's not just the endorphin rush either, though that helps. I think it was the wonderful spirit everyone had on the ride, everyone really enjoying themselves, lots of laughs, and, the most important bit is this. Absolutely no sourness, sarcasm, clever-cleverness, just fun, good cycling and well, joy. Remember those three - fun, good cycling and joy.

Since I started my gratitude journal a couple of months ago, I would say that my perspective on the everyday has changed. Have you noticed the leaves in the UK at the moment? I don't know about you, but they are the most colourful Autumn spectacle I have ever seen. There were lots on display yesterday. And sunrises? And the food on the table? There is no end to it. This may seem a trifle sanctimonious to you. If that is the case, well, I'm sorry for you. Of course I still care about access to the Single Market, and the fate of the people of Syria, and the life my cousins will lead in America.

I've just got to the point where I have to look on the bright side a bit more. Who knows, maybe we can all get along without the cynicism and aggressiveness that seems to characterise so much of our discussion on these issues.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Thanks for all the Birthday wishes

"Blimey it's hot in this house". If you have ever uttered those sentiments on entering the abode of a relative of the, umm, older generation, it might resonate for you. Like getting up in the night to go to the (American-inspired euphemism alert) "bathroom", feeling the cold, like becoming increasingly grumpy at the state of everything, is a sure sign that time is accelerating.

But I'm not quite ready to dream it's over just yet.

On this, my 52nd Birthday, I feel more than ever In-between Days. I'm not old exactly, after all, 52 is the new 42. But then, I can't really claim to be particularly young either, although I'd still say I am young at heart. Especially as this has clips of music from the 80s that were made when I was supposedly an adult.  Before Facebook was invented. Or even the Internet.

So thanks for all the Birthday wishes. I'm dancing around to Clare Grogan right now. I'd encourage you to do the same.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Like an angel on a balcony (Cingles du Mont Ventoux)

OK. Cycling. In the heat of Provence. The sunshine, albeit windy. More hilltop villages and lavender fields than any self-respecting woolly liberal can shake a packet of goat's cheese at.  

Then there's Ventoux. The giant in my room for the last six months. Ever since we tilted our caps at it, full of holiday brio and Winter bravado, before the flus of January, and the earaches of Spring, both of which reduced my enthusiasm and form to shrunken olives of their former selves. Not to mention the four horsemen of the Brexopalypse.  

I know I made that word and metaphor up, and it doesn't quite work as a device, but I had to have some reference to it in here. By dressing it up as a fancy allegory it becomes a parody of my own enormous literary pretensions, and a clever way for alluding to the in-built topical tension in the context of the relationship between Monmarduman and me. It wasn't much of a tension to be honest, we spent much of the time just having a laugh, and riding our bikes. Mostly at the same time.  

But that day really was a "watershed day" for me, in the way that Land's End to JOG was. It's a step change when I realise I can go further or higher than I thought possible.  

Before last Friday I had huge doubts that I could do it. Through the day I had a few moments and arguments with myself, when I thought I was going to fail. It felt as though it was impossibly hard. But I did it. And I did it through mental will as much as anything. Of course I had years of cycling experience and fitness to draw upon. But you don't succeed or fail as a result of those things. You succeed or fail because of what is in your head.  

But doing things like cycling to the top of Mont Ventoux three times in a day is not crazy. In response to a crazy world it sometimes feels like the sanest thing in that world to do. After all, the perspective from there is vast. You're a mile above sea level. Sometimes you need to get to places the hard way to actually appreciate how easy things are and how endless the possibilities can be.

Friday, 24 June 2016

I'm going to take that tiger outside for a ride

Oh dear, there's a lot of anger and recrimination flying about isn't there? And I keep seeing loads of comments on social media like "everyone is entitled to an opinion, no need to attack me" or "Everyone likes democracy when it goes their way". It's almost if they feel guilty and can't quite justify what they have done with any real opinions or facts.

I admire my friend whose blog has a link on the right who made a decision based on his principles (and probably knowing him, some research) and was bold enough to defend his position. Even if I disagree with it.

The people I despise are those who can't really understand why they decided to shit the bed, and now are looking at the pile of poo of their own making, and just want some kind of acceptance from me and the other Remainers. Well you won't get it. It's a stupid decision actually driven by misguided notions by some, unconscious or conscious fear of difference by others, with no real knowledge of the implications.

But I will move on, and watch with glee the negotiations to come, safe in my moral superiority and the certainty that I will profit from the chaos. The people I feel sorry for are actually those that voted to Leave, because I suspect you will be disappointed and the mythical 1950s Britain will not emerge.

What a life eh?

Anyway, here's that historic speech and my interpretation of what he might really be thinking:

I want to begin this morning by paying tribute to David Cameron
Fantastic, I’ve played a blinder, only Gove to beat, I’m a shoe-in
 I know I speak for Michael (Gove) as well when I say how sad I am that he has decided to step down
Oh crap, if he’s gone Govey and I will have to do the negotiations, then I’ll have no-one to blame
I’ve known David Cameron for a very long time

Those were the days, you could do all sorts in white tie and tails and no-one put it in the papers
A brave and principled man…with his own brand of compassionate conservatism
What a sap, judged that one wrong didn’t he, and tried to pretend he was one of the people
All of us politicians should thank the British people because in a way they have been doing our job for us
Just got to keep pulling the strings on that Farage chap before he starts talking about "betraying the British people"
This question is about the very principles of our democracy
And how I can manipulate them for my own advantage
There is now no need for haste, nothing will happen in the short term, apart from some thought on how to extricate this country from the supranational system
And I don’t want to get blamed for that when it all goes tits up, so better slow it down till the heat's off a bit
There is no need to invoke Article 50
Otherwise people will see the chimera for what it is and actually want to have their cake and eat it
This does not mean that the United Kingdom will be in any way less united
Let’s face it how could it possibly be that?
Nor indeed that it will be any less European
We are all Little Englanders now, even me with my Turkish ancestry
I want to speak to young people, who may feel that this decision is in some way pulling up a drawbridge or any kind of isolationism
A tough one this, they do so love to go travelling….just keep talking and with their short attention span they'll go back to the x-box
We can pass our laws and set our taxes entirely according to the needs of our economy
When I say “our” and "economy" I’m being very specific so it’s not really lying, just don't mention any real figures or facts
We can control our borders in a way that is not discriminatory
That sounds good doesn't it, I wonder what it means?
And look forward to a wonderful future for our nation
All my posh mates are going to absolutely love me