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
 
 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The life inside your head we give to you (Avalon Sunrise 400km Audax 2016)

Sometimes things just go right.

Bustling start in a rush down to Tiverton, solitary climb up the Exe valley under a cloudless moonlit sky, blast with a tailwind along the A39 to Bridgwater, crazy mayhem outside a nightclub at 3AM, levels full of foxes, empty roads near Glastonbury, climbing the Mendips at dawn to a fabulous sunrise over the lavender fields, swooping down through cobbles of Frome in company, through the Two Tunnels, across THAT bridge, cake and ice-cream in Wickwar, hills and more hills (thought I couldn't do any more but Brian coaxed me into it!), duck races in Bradford, pasty at Beckington, warm winds, great company, audaciousness and camaraderie, sunshine and a rousing finish.

Yep, that sums it up. If you haven't done it, sign up for 2017 now. It's magical.


Thanks to all the organisers (especially Jamie Andrews), helpers, controllers, fellow riders, especially Brian Atkins for tremendous company and dragging me around the route, and up that hill!

Honourable mention for Noel Gallagher, whose words kept me plodding on. Because that's why we're really here.