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.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Achievement and challenge

I know my life is easy. Most of my so-called difficulties are of my own making or imagining, and if you are from the UK, there's a fair chance yours are too. I'm prepared to admit that it may not be the same for my Ukrainian readers, or even some in China, but for most Westerners life has become very comfortable in the last 100 years or so.

Of course it doesn't feel like that, but objective reality and subjective experience are never best friends. You also may be thinking that you are not able to control things like depression, anxiety or random thoughts that just pop into your head, like "what happens if I do sell it separately?" The thing is, human beings are hard-wired to see problems not opportunities, and to measure their state against their nearest comparator. Chances are this comparison  isn't always made with someone worse off than you.

As I hurtle towards death I become increasingly concerned with getting the most out of my life, a task that seems beyond me but in reality isn't. On Tuesday I decided to take up that particular cudgel and challenged myself to wash my bike. Of course, I have been throwing down that particular gauntlet for the last few, sunny weeks, so I was pleased to at last accomplish it.

To you, washing a bike may seem particularly easy, but to my time-poor, stressed out and sick brain, it seemed nigh on impossible. I'm not really time-poor, let's face it if I can afford Sainsbury to deliver to my house instead of walking to the well, how can I be? But I like to kid myself, and it does have the added benefit of increasing the post-wash sense of satisfaction.

Unlike today. I'm supposed to be riding down to the Quantocks for coffee, but on waking the rain was pouring from the sky and the wind was whipping from the relevant quadrant, and quite frankly it was a step too far. You know the one, the first one out the door. I let my friend know of my failure to observe Rule 9 & 5, only to receive a cheery message about how nice it was down at his place. Sure enough, it's now brightening up and I'm left sat in my pyjamas.

Back to the bike wash. It was a bit too easy really. It was, after all, a warm and sunny evening, so no great chore. I finished my carton of Muc-off (more evidence of soft living), and I wondered. Could I throw the empty plastic container to the back door, and make it bounce, just once, on each of the six steps in front of it.

I pondered this, and after successfully completing the challenge and fist-pumping the air, I realised how no-one would ever know of my moment of triumph, it would be a secret I'd keep to the grave, secure in the intrinsic motivation of Achievement. Anyway, to tell anyone would risk revealing more Mendip Rouleur dysfunction.

But of course Junior saw me from a window didn't he? He asked me if I'd set out to do it deliberately as he often did stuff like that, and thought it was just him. Maybe it's a Rouleur thing, all in our genetic make-up, seeking out challenge and problems when is none, instead of just enjoying life.

Six steps though! What a life.

Life is getting better too, it's just started to rain again. Let's see if I actually make it out the door next Friday too. That one's unfinished.