Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Wiggins, Sky

I don't know any more than the next casual observer about the whole Team Sky, Wiggins 'scandal'. Ok, perhaps just a little bit, but nothing that can't be easily found online or in the press. So I have no insights, and no opinions on his/their guilt or otherwise. I do, however, have some observations:

  1. It seems slightly odd to me that the UCI have only really thought fit to comment on the issue (via Brain Cookson's French successor whose name eludes me and I can't be bothered to look up) after the DCMS committee reported.  Were they not that bothered? Did they want someone else to break cover? Are they only reacting now out of embarrassment?
  2.  It strikes me as a peculiarly British trait for a British Parliamentary body (said DCMS committee) to take it upon itself to denounce a British team and a British winner in international sport for "crossing an ethical line" (note: not breaking the rules). I can't dismiss the suspicion that such an investigation would either never have been instigated by the equivalent Parliamentary body in France, Spain, Italy, and if it had, the findings would either have been kept under wraps, and/or made much less of. Maybe I should be pleased about that, evidence of the continued existence of the British sense of fair play and all that, but I'm not. I don't understand this tendency to seek feet of clay in our own. Especially when the investigating body has no jurisdiction to examine the practices of foreign teams, thus robbing their conclusions of any sense of comparison, context or perspective
  3. Within the cycle sport-following community, there seems to be disappointment, if less outright condemnation. And whichever reaction it is, it seems to me to be driven by the view that the Sky problem exists not necessarily because of what they did, but because of the song-and-dance they made at the outset about being demonstrably clean and different - and they're not. We don't blame them for that - we know that pro cycling is a rough, tough, unforgiving sport, and working with, even bending, the rules is likely to be widespread and a prerequisite for success - but we do blame them for trying to sell us something. And who knows how many hideously-overpriced jerseys, caps and bidons they shifted on the back of that
  4. Those people calling for Sky to be disbanded are either massive hypocrites (Landis), or naked opportunists (other pro teams). Investigate every team that's won a Grand Tour or a Classic in the last 8 years to the same level as Sky, then get back to me.
I'm no Sky fanboy. I've never bought or worn their kit or anything endorsed by them, I don't especially identify them as 'British', and all the preceding isn't to defend them. It's just that I don't like humbug, of which there's a lot sloshing around at the moment.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Stuff wot I think about

Now clearly when I'm out running or riding, if I'm not thinking about what I'm actually doing training-wise, I'm normally to be found reflecting perhaps on the merits of existentialism, reciting early Donne verse, or somesuch equally cerebral matter.

Just occasionally, however, the heavy main course of my considerations requires a mental palate cleanser, a thought-sorbet if you will. When one of these is needed, I have a stock of fallback subjects that I seem to have developed over the years, and I thought it only fair to share these with you. So in no particular order:

  1. Ways of improving sports that otherwise I consider quite dull - horseracing on the flat, for example, could be much enhanced, in my humble opinion, if every 3 furlongs or so, jockeys had to dismount, tie their horses up, crawl through one of those tunnel-type things that are found on dog agility courses, sprint back to their horse, and carry on the race. Who wouldn't love that? The punters would come from miles around, and it could open up a whole new lucrative betting seam for the bookies.
  2. One-hit wonders of the 1970s and 80s who subsequently had to seek an alternative living governed by rhyming nominative determinism - to cite some examples that I've come up with over the years: Leif Garrett's Carrots, Terry Jack's Sacks, Anita Ward's Swords; and to prove it's not limited to solo artists, Baltimora's Fedoras.
  3. Why there's so much damn litter around the place - and more specifically, what kind of person you must be, and/or what must be going on in your head to think, especially if you're sober, "d'ya know what, I'm just going to check the remnants of my Happy Meal [or whatever] out of the car window. There won't be any consequences of that at all". Arseholes. I realise there are greater crimes, but to be honest, few that are triggered by me looking at lots of hedgerows.
  4. What the world would be like if everyone was like me - often brought on by number 3 above, as there would, for example, be no litter. The world would also be more logical, ordered, efficient, polite, and less emotional and confrontational. It would also, however, be a less colourful, inventive, artistic, and - probably, though I don't like to admit it - compassionate place. I add regularly to the adjectives on each side of the equation, and always end up concluding it's just as well everyone's not like me.
  5. The things I'd do and buy if I won an enormous amount of money on the lottery - there's a slight glitch with this one, as I don't actually do the lottery, but nevertheless it's quite fun to fantasise. I'd like to think that diamonds, superyachts and Bentleys would be of no interest - the list extends no further than: a slightly bigger house (UK and France); a large garage to house all the bicycles I wanted, a 2CV, and something very fast and sexy (we're still talking wheels); a chef and a valet; some nice original art; and a bit for the kids. All the rest goes in the Stuart Kinsey Charitable Trust, money to be doled out to worthy causes, e.g learning how to be more like me.
  6. Brexit - oh dear, this is where I have to stop. Suffice to say I'm still disappointed and slightly surprised at the rudeness and vitriol the subject generates. Please don't bother to tell me why it does, why your side is so right, why the others are clearly lunatics, blah blah.
There we are. Rides and runs with just myself for company fly by, as you can imagine. I wish you a Very Happy 2018. (Which, by the way, should now definitely be pronounced Twenty Eighteen, not Two Thousand And Eighteen, in case you wondering).  

Saturday, 11 November 2017


On Wednesday, I travelled from Newbury, where I'm working at the moment, to Chester, to attend the memorial service just over the border in north Wales of Paula, a friend and old work colleague. Paula died a couple of weeks or so ago, aged 47, of a particularly nasty and aggressive form of brain and spine cancer. She leaves behind a husband, who spoke with outstanding dignity and courage at the service, a 9 year old son, and a large circle of family and friends.

Paula was a rarity - a good time girl (I don't think she'd mind me calling her that), a bon viveur, rarely to be found outside work without a large glass of wine, or a cigarette (or both), in her hand, and yet somebody with the ability to be a true listener. She was the person to whom I turned for comfort and an ear on a particularly grim night in January 2003, and her extraordinary forebearance through the early hours that evening created a debt I never really repaid during the 10 years or so we worked together, despite the many times she sent me to the bar for another round of drinks. I and countless others will miss her greatly.

After the memorial service we retired to a local hotel, where the mood was as sombre as you'd expect at first, but just as Paula always lightened the mood in life, so she did in death - there were upwards of 40 of her work colleagues in the room, most of us well-known to each other, and as the evening went on, so did the drinking and reminiscing. Much of it was about Paula naturally, but there was plenty of re-bonding going on; the evening was a throwback to the days when people in large organisations had local loyalties and friendships.

So many of those local ties seem to have disappeared now, and people's lives are the worse for it. Progress is inevitable of course, and these days that means in large organisations geographically dispersed teams, regular travel, hotdesking, working from home, and remote bosses. But I sense more than that - there's a depersonalisation at work, a lack of connection; engagement between individuals is at a purely functional, rather than at a human level. I could write a PhD thesis on the reasons for this (well I couldn't, but I'm sure an academic type could), but it seems to me there's no wonder in the fact people are stressed, demotivated, and disengaged. I must have talked to nearly 20 people on Wednesday who said "leaving Lloyds Bank was the best thing I've ever done". It's not fair to single Lloyds out of course - their modus operandi is shared by plenty of other big firms.

So kids, yes, maybe it was better in our day. Offices were places where it was ok to have a bit of fun while you worked hard. Maybe it went too far on occasions - the mummification of Ian 'Fish' Fisher at Lloyds Leasing in 1990 with a roll of sellotape while he was on the phone to an important client being a case in point. But it was - literally - painfully funny; a Friday afternoon prank in the days when we were normally too squiffy to do anything constructive after 2pm on a Friday.

Wednesday brought incidents like this, and all that went with them, back to mind. If some of us in the room that evening are reminded to try to re-create a fraction of that fun and lightness of being in our new workplaces - and our lives - as a result of our semi-drunken reflections, then I think that's a reasonable contribution to keeping the memory of Paula alive. RIP Paula - Rejoice In Partying.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Rage against the dying of the light

For the last 12 years or so, I've not necessarily been the strongest, fastest or most skilful sportsperson in the family, but I have been what a lot of people might call the 'fittest' - most stamina, endurance, that kind of thing. This blog has documented some of the things I've been able to do with that fitness.

But I fear that if I haven't relinquished that title already, I'll do so very shortly. T'youngest, you see, was selected at the end of the last academic year to be in Oxford Uni's lightweight rowing squad. These are the young women who have rowing ability, but aren't big or powerful enough to make the full squad. It's still a big deal however - if selected to row against Cambridge they get a full blue (representative honours), and last year 3 of their number went straight into the GB squad. So she's in the squad. But not the final 8. Selection of that won't happen until after Christmas, and between now and then it's a pretty rigorous selection process...

...starting with their training regime. They have 12 sessions a week, 6 on the water and 6 in the gym. Of the on-water sessions, 4 necessitate 5am starts, and the other 2 6.30am starts. The gym sessions vary; one this week was a 1 hour 45 min spinning session. They're training comfortably upwards of 20 hours a week. But that's the only thing that's comfortable. Liv's taken to 10pm bedtimes (she's a student!), drinking irregularly, and an amazingly clean diet. The coaches are hard, psychological, but, it seems, fair. On the one hand, it's brutal. On the other, it's a fantastic opportunity, to truly explore personal boundaries of resilience and performance. As you can probably tell, I'm very proud of Liv, of the achievement obviously, but also for having the guts to embark on that kind of programme. If she fails, I know it won't be for want of determination or persistence, but probably because of the genes her old man lumbered her with. And she will take a level of fitness that she'll struggle to ever match again.

Hence why I'll shortly be relegated. In a week when I passed my 51st birthday (which, in a way, was even more sobering than my 50th, as it was just another unheralded slow step towards infirmity [he wrote cheerfully]), that's just contributed to a sense of going backwards where I've been able to go forwards for the last few years.

Largely, though not completely, coincidentally, however, this was the week when Mendip Rouleur and I agreed between ourselves, and were pencilled in to do, our most ambitious cycling challenge yet. I won't say what it is, because although we've made our choice, we haven't paid our money yet. Suffice to say it's August 2018, and it's long and climby. Our last hurrah before we have to say goodbye to the Matterhorn and hello to the Peak District.

Will it get me my crown back as the fittest member of this branch of the Kinsey Clan? I don't know, and I don't care. Frankly, I'd be happy to be the 4th fittest member if the change were down to others progressing rather than me regressing. But in a week with too much bad news about the health of some of my contemporaries at university and earlier jobs, I'm also happy just to be able to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Discrimination at work

I'm getting so tired of all the identity politics we suffer from these days. It seems that so many issues come down to whether you're black, white, Asian, male, female, gay, straight, gender-fluid, disabled, blah blah...and often the implication, nay, the explicit message is that if you're in any group other than straight, white, able-bodied male, you're at some kind of disadvantage.  You're discriminated against.

Now, I realise that as a straight, white, able-bodied male, I obviously have all the advantages that could ever be available to anyone, and so am automatically disqualified from commenting on anything due to my 'privilege'.  But that's not going to stop me.  And I have to tell you, I see discrimination all the time.  I work as a management consultant, and experience the inside of many companies.  And I see them discriminate...

I see them discriminate against people who can't read properly, or express themselves clearly, on paper or verbally. Against people who are negative, or can't solve problems, or work effectively with their co-workers. Or can't turn up on time and meet the appearance or presentational requirements of the job. Or make it clear they don't really want to be there. Or, at a different level, can't meet targets, or work quickly and effectively.

What I don't see is them discriminating against women, people who aren't white, gay people, disabled people, or any other perceived minority. The vast, overwhelming majority of the senior managers and board members I work with are solely interested in appointing or promoting people who they believe are best suited to the role in question - because it makes them look good, hit their targets, get financially rewarded, etc.

Ah but, I hear you say, what if they have a bias towards their own type because those are the people they believe are best suited to the roles they're seeking to fill?

Again, I just don't see it. It would be taking things too far to say they're colour- and gender-blind, but I see fair and neutral processes that - while flawed in many respects (an interview is not necessarily a good predictor of on-the-job performance) - result in lots of appointments that more right-on people than me would call "diverse".

(Incidentally, in the one large organisation I worked with where there were quotas and targets for getting women job interviews and senior appointments, the greatest critics of the policy were women managers, as they felt it compromised their ability to create high-performing teams).

I'm not saying there's no prejudice in society, or that it's equally easy for everyone to acquire the knowledge and skills that make them attractive to employers.  Parents, schools and universities need to take a hard look at themselves and ask whether they're really equipping their charges with the attributes they need in the outside world.  Resilience, reliability and the ability to accept and work with others' points of view are critical among them. So it's not helpful or productive to give children or students indulgence, safe spaces or the impression that there's only one acceptable 'belief' in any circumstance; that's going to lead to the kind of behaviour that employers shy away from. With good reason.

So these days when I hear or read reports about gaps in achievement or reward between genders, or races, or people of different sexual inclinations, I turn off or tune out, laced as they always are with some sense of victimhood, or "it's not their fault".  Again, to repeat, I'm one of many straight, white, able-bodied males in British industry, making the private sector money that the taxes on create the wealth that pays for public sector spending, and do you know what? We don't give a monkey's about the gender, race or any other identity politics-based characteristic of the people we need to fill our jobs - we just want them to do a good job, and if we don't think they've got the attitude or ability to do so, well frankly, it's not our fault, whoever they are.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Another French Summer.....

My time in Brittany is drawing to a close for another summer. I hope to make it out for a few weekends before Mrs M comes back to the UK at the end of September, but work starts next week. Initially it's only a 6 week contract, in which case I'll be back here for the second half of September, but these things have a habit of extending themselves.

It's time, therefore, to reflect on the last couple of months, the things that'll stick in my mind, and, I hope, give a bit of flavour of what it's like out here. I'm going to have to work backwards....

Cycling: I seem to have fallen in love with it again. However, it is, I suspect, a holiday romance. Sure I've done some indoor training, but really, I've been riding on the best road surfaces in the world, with the drivers who are most courteous to cyclists, in always warm, and sometimes properly hot weather. It's mostly been in Brittany, but add in a week in the Pyrenees, including a day riding a Tour de France stage that went over the same ground 48 hours later, and really, what's not to love. All my bikes are here in France now, and while I'll be taking the best one home for some proper attention for the first time in a while, I don't think I'll be riding it in the UK; running beckons again.

Thrills and spills: the latest was just last Saturday. Pyrenean cycling buddy Mendip Rouleur was stung by a (we think) hornet. He suffered an anaphylactic reaction - most of his body was covered with hives and swelling. We were in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately his airway stayed open, so we managed to descend out of the mountains to a town, where the original plan was to find a pharmacy. The situation was beyond that by the time we arrived in Luzenac, so an ambulance had to be called, followed by a blue light run to hospital. Once the right drugs were inside him things were fine, but we definitely had 90 minutes or so of proper concern.

Earlier in the week I had incident that was over in not much more then 0.9 seconds rather than 90 minutes, but which was still pretty scary. Descending a mountain called Plateau de Beille (a 16km ascent at an average gradient of over 8%), I was approaching a corner at 65kmh, but hands on the brakes fortunately, when I car overtook a cyclist going up the hill on said corner. I had about 1 metre to miss the car; my back wheel locked up and drifted towards the side of the road, complete with 50 foot drop. I have no idea how I recovered it and missed both the car and the drop, but miraculously I did.

Nature: there's just so damn much of it here. Aside from the very happy event of peace breaking out between the cat and the dog, there's been all sorts. The dog sniffing out and chasing rabbits and hares across fields (without any success it has to be said). Many, many different species of butterflies on the track down to the stream - more than I knew existed. Red squirrels, birds of prey, the dead voles and shrews every morning that they've dropped, and last night, dozens of bats at our back door feasting on a plague of flying ants. [Talking of bats, there can't be many people who have to clear their 'gym' (exercise mat and ball, a few weights) of bat poo each time they go in to use it. That's what I have to do in the uninhabitable-but-still-ok-for-a-gym house next door.] Unfortunately we also had a less welcome wildlife visitor - Colorado beetles, which wiped out our potato harvest.

Harvest: to date (fruit) - raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries in modest quantities. Blackcurrants in vast quantities - upwards of 20 hours it took to pick them all. Vegetables - adequate amounts of red peas, ordinary peas, runner beans, red beans and chard; vast amounts of squashes and courgettes, with (hopefully) tomatoes, onions, okra, maize and chilli peppers still to come. Most culinary herbs are a permanent feature of the veg plot too. Keeping the weeds under control is a near-daily battle, but it's worth it.

Walking: the dog's slowing down a little at the grand old age of 5, but he's still got boundless energy. We walk a minimum of 4.5 miles a day with him; he must do double that as he charges across potato fields, corn fields, pasture and anywhere else where there's interesting sniffing to be done. So we've comfortably walked over 200 miles so far, and none of them flat.

A 'proper' summer: I've rarely worn long trousers in the last 8 weeks, and when I have, more often that not it's been due to a social occasion rather than the need for warmth. We've had about 3 rainy days, and even on those it's been fine for the most part to trundle around in T-shirt and shorts. [I'm writing this outside under the veranda by the back door as it drizzles a bit]. I have a decent tan. We've eaten outside as much as inside. The cat's voluntarily stopped using her litter tray in favour of the garden (though this is not a wholly good thing, as I found out when weeding one night). In short, it's felt like a summer of the sort they always seemed to be when you were a kid. Perhaps not to 1976 standards, but not far off.

I think that's about it. There's nothing particularly glamorous or high-rolling about life out here, but I wouldn't swap it for the world. The peace and quiet, the early morning dog walks, the constant chatter of birdsong, gentle labour in the garden, the (mostly) gentle hum of agriculture going on around us, and the rolling, bucolic bike rides combine to act as a sort of lifestyle Prozac - I'd defy anyone to spend a bit of time here at Le Millet and not go home in a better mental state. But as I said at the start, in a few days' time that's it for me for a while, but mercifully, I won't be returning to either Lloyds Bank or central London. Summer 2017 in France then - rather good I'd say.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Lingo bingo

Judging by both my Twitter and Facebook feeds, everyone's got an opinion on politics at the moment, and to slightly mis-quote Brian Clough, I'm welcome to it. Reason, balance and respect all seem to have temporarily disappeared too, so I'm going to avoid politics for a while.

Instead, I'm going to have a moan about something else that exercises me. I'm a middle-aged man, so lots of things exercise me of course, though one of the joys of middle age is that the grumpiness subsides as quickly as it erupts. This one is to do with language, and the unnecessarily complicated or jargony way of using it that so many people and companies seem to engage in these days. It was a Highways Agency tweet yesterday that set me off.  Two lanes on the M6 had apparently been "compromised" by an accident. They meant two lanes were closed.

I've got plenty of other examples from work and beyond. I could go on about the many times I've been asked to "reach out to" somebody (quite often they're not there). But I think I mean something slightly different, or at least extra, to the usual corporate bullshit. I've just read a very fine book by a neurosurgeon called Henry Marsh called Do No Harm. One of his practices was to have a morning meeting, at which he'd ask a junior member of his team to describe the overnight admissions that might require surgery. On one occasion a junior doctor described a 72 year old woman as "self-caring and self-ambulating". He meant she looked after herself and was able to walk unaided. Marsh took him to task for not saying so - his point being that in this instance that particular use of language de-humanised the patient.

The Highways Agency point is slightly different I think. Corporate jargon exists principally as a parallel language, where by using it, employees are implicitly nodding and winking to each other and saying "I'm in the club, like you". Describing motorway lanes as "compromised" is effectively saying "we've got our own special language because We're Professionals". It's the same when police forces issue statements saying they're taking "a multi-agency approach" to sorting out a particular problem. On the BBC1 programme"The Met: Policing London" a couple of weeks ago, a 50-something copper announced that when he was in a crowd he was "constantly undertaking dynamic risk assessments". He meant he kept his wits about him.

The people who use this type of language may think they're being very grown-up and professional, but actually they're failing in one of the most basic requirements of their job - to communicate simply and effectively. I fear it's also a sign of the de-humanisation of the bureaucrats and corporations that run our lives, but discussion of that is maybe a step too far for now. So a plea to all those who communicate on behalf of their employer, whether that's through press statements, Twitter, or whatever - use the Mum Test, i.e. would you use those phrases, that vocabulary, and so on if you were explaining things to your mum? Would you say the motorway lanes were compromised, or would you say they were closed? Would you ask her to reach out to your dad to ask him what he wanted for his tea? Would you self-ambulate to the shops, or would you just walk there? I think you know the answers. Use the Mum Test, and you'll probably make lots of grumpy middle aged men just a little bit happier.
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