Friday, 21 December 2012

Cruisin' for a bruisin'

Today I have ridden my bicycle. Yesterday I ran with my legs. Nothing too energetic in either case as I've still got a rattly chest, but 6 hilly miles today and 32 fairly flat ones today is ok. And heck is it wet out there - we've avoided the worst of the rain so far this winter, but our luck seems to be running out. On at least three occasions today on minor roads my bottom bracket was skimming the top of the flood. With another very wet day forecast tomorrow I can't imagine what it'll be like on Sunday - but I'm planning to go and have a look. Tomorrow will be a running day I suspect.


Anyhow, to today's subject; I've started doing something potentially more dangerous than descending a Pyrenean pass at 75kmh in the rain - getting involved in public situations. Not walking on by. As a kid I wanted to be a policeman, and the urge to intervene when intervention is necessary is still there it seems. In recent times I've suppressed it out of a sense of self-preservation, and I suspect there are plenty of times I would and will still suppress it - in London, with obvious psychos and so on. However, there are other times when it feel like the right thing to do. Edmund Burke's quotation that "when good men do nothing, evil triumphs" has become over-used and a bit of a cliche, but it's no less true for that. And frankly, if a reasonably self-confident but not threatening middle-aged bloke can't intervene, who can?


So far there have been two incidents. The second was a little earlier today when I witnessed one of a group of kids (probably 12-13 years old) throw an empty can of pop into the hedge as I got back from my ride. I didn't actually see who did it, so I asked the group who it was. To my utter astonishment one of them put his hand up. I - quite calmly - asked him first why he thought he had the right to litter my neighbourhood (he said he didn't), and why didn't he take the can home with him to bin. He said it was too far (it was a mile). I said it wasn't and he should pick up the can and take it with him. Again to my astonishment he did. If only they were all so easy. However, there was no shouting or swearing on my part, and I don't think I humiliated him in front of his mates. I possibly also looked like I wasn't going to be messed with in my bandana and mirrored shades. Stop laughing, a chap can fantasise....

The first incident was on the train home from London last week. For a change the client wasn't paying so I was in Standard class. (I know, I know, the sacrifices...). I was also in the quiet coach. And as per normal there was someone with a too-loud ipod (instead of the normal phonecall-maker or taker), just in front of me. She was pretending to be asleep, so I tapped her on the arm and asked her to turn it down. She did. And duly emboldened, two other passengers in different parts of the coach then asked their fellow travellers over the next half hour to, in one case, do the same, and in the other, to leave the carriage if they wanted to carry on their phone conversation. And both of the requestees also did as asked with no dramas. Considerate people of the world, fight back!

My two targets so far have been a woman in her 30s and a kid of 13; it'll be interesting to see when I come up against a harder target. If it goes badly then it's been a pleasure to write for you dear reader. If not, then there'll probably be more of this drivel at the start of 2013. In the meantime, a very Happy Christmas to all my loyal displacement-activity seekers.



Monday, 17 December 2012

Quotidian deflections

No riding and no running since last we spoke. There are any number of reasons for this. In no particular order......

Work; but quite frankly, I've written about this so many times it's dull and repetitive, so I'm going to move swiftly on to.....being ill. I've had a cold for a fortnight now, which is very unlike me, but probably not surprising given the number of environments I've been in over the last few weeks - holiday parks and mass crowds in Wales, the usual trains, tubes and buses, Christmas parties, racecourses, and hotels. Then last weekend I felt truly awful and had to take to my bed for a couple of days. I ached all over, felt nauseous, and slept constantly, waking only to run to the bathroom for ghastly horridness to occur. At the time I didn't realise norovirus was doing its usual winter rounds with more vengeance than usual, and I hesitate to say it was definitely what was going on, but there was a strong resemblance between its reported symptoms and mine. Hey ho, it's gone now, but for a while the world did indeed full out of my bottom.

As previously advertised, Mrs K and I flog Christmas trees too at this time of year. It started as a bit of a joke almost about 5 years ago when we bought just a few from the local agricultural market for family and friends, but when we realised what we were buying them for, what garden centres and the like charge, and how we could still make a healthy profit by undercutting the usual outlets, we decided to expand. We now do 4 - 6 ft trees, potted trees for our Green customers (environmentally-conscious I mean, rather than Martians), of which there is steady increase in number year on year, wreaths and tree stands that we acquire on ebay in January for £1, and sell on for £10-15. Last year we sold 137 'things' off that list, and whilst we won't be retiring on the proceeds, the profits comfortably cover the cost of Christmas and our trip to Brittany. Apart from the financial aspect the main reason we do it each year is that it's a really good way of meeting the neighbours, being seen about the village, and generally getting in the Christmas spirit. Our reputation now precedes us - several people have knocked at our door this year on days when the signs haven't been out to enquire whether we're selling trees. We won't hit last year's heights this year - we only bought 105 trees in the first place, but it's been as enjoyable as ever, and to be honest does stop me from going for a brief ride. Carrying the damn things from the back of the house to the front in the morning, and reversing the job in the evening does, in any case, constitute a pretty good gym alternative.

Then in the last few days I've had the eldest two with me, having finished at their respective universities on Friday. This happens all to infrequently these days, both because they're obviously at uni, but also because their out-of-uni time has to be split between me, their mum, and respective boyfriends and girlfriends. That means I tend to drop everything to do stuff and generally hang round them like an annoying smell. We had a cracking walk though yesterday to my favourite spot in the UK, Shutlingsloe, a hill at the arse-end of the Pennines just 5 miles from where I'm writing this. Here's proof:


The only thing that would have made it better would have been the t'youngest being with us, but she was at home in Plymouth preparing for another in the seemingly never-ending round of GCSE exams. I will see her, and the other two, on Boxing Day however, when we're en route to Brittany.

I will ride my bicycle in Brittany, but I'm also hoping to get out a couple of times or so at home before then. I love pootling round on my rubbish winter/touring bike, built by me, total cost £175 (£135 for the frame, £40 for the wheels, everything else begged, borrowed or cannibalised from old bikes), mudguards, 7-speed only and all, and just, well, taking in the sights of the countryside that you don't get in summer when there's full leaf cover on the trees.

At some point I will become a disciplined training machine again, but at the moment I seem to be finishing 2012 the same way as most of the rest of it turned out as far as exercise is concerned - letting life get in the way.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Working 9 till 5

...what a way to make a living...it's enough to drive you crazy if you let it. Oh Dolly, you were a wise woman, but you only sang about half of it. Yet again, this blog veers away from running and riding, and more towards, well, runners and riders today as it happens as I spent the day in the Royal Box at Kempton Park racecourse, but generally, work.

In a way, I can't complain; I quite often don't do a lot of exercise at this time of year, and the work I'm doing is QI. For example, I was at Kempton today, and will be tomorrow, facilitating a session with the Board of a major finance company sorting out their strategy and structuring the programmes they need to support it. It's not rock 'n' roll I grant you, but neither is it watching Jeremy Kyle. Or worse, being on Jeremy Kyle.

It's just so all-consuming. I haven't had two consecutive days in the same place since the start of November, I genuinely can't count the number of hotels I've stayed at, I quite often can't remember where I am geographically, and my travel wash bag is so dirty my mother would be ashamed. And all that is still just about cope-able with, until something out of the ordinary takes place. Last weekend I was supposed to be at Hard Rock Hell [annual heavy metal festival for the uninitiated] for the 4th time, and only managed to make it for 1 of the 4 possible nights. It was a really good night as it happens, but 8 hours of rock, half a litre of vodka, and a 3am bedtime were just enough to push me over the edge into sore throat and general knackeredness territory.

Normally Mrs K and I just crawl off home and spend a few days recovering after HRH. (For the dubious, it's fantastic fun, some bands you haven't heard of are great, and it's attended by some of the funniest-looking but nicest people you could wish to meet. My highlights were Quireboys and Ugly Kid Joe, who you might know. I was also truly gutted to miss Dr Feelgood on Sunday). This time however, I was on the road south at 5 am on Monday, taking over 5 hours to get to work, courtesy of motorway idiots crashing into each other. So work started at 10.30, till 7, when I had another hours driving. Yesterday was a 14 hour day in central London.

So, it's with enormous delight I'm writing this from my hotel bed, doing nothing, fed, watered and with the prospect of 8 hours sleep. Even better, Friday is our Christmas Do, which is less of a Do, and more of a Day. We're at the palatial Cliveden, which is so posh it was mentioned in one of Harry and Paul's 'when life was simpler' sketches recently. We've got spa treatments, a private dinner, and our personal drinks trolley in the library afterwards. HRH to Cliveden in 5 days, talk about ridiculous to sublime. Or is it the other way round?

Then, on Saturday, we open up Kinseys Khristmas Tree Emporium for another year. There's 100 of the buggers waiting to be flogged. 99 to be precise, Mrs K did one today. That too, is good fun. Sunday - a miracle may happen; a bike ride for me. Let's see, huh...watch this space.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Pussy doesn't taste nice

One of the most unremarked upon, underrated and enjoyable aspects of riding a bicycle in the countryside is the ability to creep up on nature when it's not looking. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago my close encounters with deer. Today was better. At one point I rounded a corner, barely a couple of stone's throws from the Jodrell Bank observatory, to see a bird of prey pecking away at an object about 20 yards into a field, but without much enthusiasm. He was obviously a bit unconvinced by the carrion on offer.

Taking a leaf out of the Cycling Mayor's book of blogging photography I decided to capture the moment. At first I thought I was going to be thwarted - the bird (which I assume to be a buzzard, as I don't think anything bigger habitually frequents the Cheshire Plain, though I'd be delighted to be corrected by any passing ornithologists on the basis of the limited evidence below) flew away, but to my delight decided to perch in the tree above my head. Accepting the limitations of the iphone camera, here's the very chap:


He seemed happy enough there, and I was intrigued about what it was he'd been contemplating for his lunch, so I decided to investigate. Limboing under some barbed wire, and risking getting my cleats seriously muddy, I wandered into the field. This was what he'd been semi-interested in (squeamish look away now):


That's right, a dead ginger cat. I couldn't tell how she/he had met his muddy end, but I suppose it was feasible he'd been hit on the very quiet road not too far away, and crawled off to expire. Poor little thing. At least she/he wasn't going to suffer the indignity of being eaten by the buzzard, and at least you now understand the gratuitous innuendo that's the title of this post.

I did a 53 mile tour of the Cheshire Plain today, and it was a-hunting and a-shooting and a-fishing-tastic all the way round. The hunting and fishing is not unusual round these parts, but seeing four separate shoots on one day is. The beaters were out of course, but sticks and whistles are clearly the wrong tools for the job. A few times pheasant emerged unexpectedly in front of me and flapped tantalisingly at a very shootable height for a couple of hundred yards - those beaters need to hop on their bikes.

It was nice getting out there today after five days of London and its sprawl. Head clearing and all that. Apart from the proliferation of flora and fauna there wasn't a lot that made the ride remarkable; perhaps the most unusual thing was that it was a ride that started mid-morning and finished early afternoon - I normally like to clearly delineate my rides into 'morning' and 'afternoon'. Must be the low level OCD. Perhaps I 'grew' a little bit.  Eergh. But the forecast was for frost first thing and rain from 3, hence the timing. It worked.

I'm descending into weather discussion. Time to stop.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

No Ride Week, Month, Year.....

A confluence of things means I haven't been on my bike, even the turbo trainer, for 8 days now. This does not make me happy.

Part of the reason is ok however - Mrs K and I had a very pleasant weekend away in North Yorkshire, Skipton in fact. It's a lovely town, packed with non-chain shops and outdoor outlets, and a cracking market on a Saturday. We stayed in one of these new-fangled restaurants-with-rooms, and whilst some of the service was a bit idiosyncratic, shall we say, the room itself was lovely, and Saturday night's meal was excellent. The place specialised in steak, local and hung for 28 days, and Mrs K ordered one; magnificent it was too - you could have eaten it with a spoon. My venison was pretty good as well.

And we did get a good hike in - up Embsay Crag - on Sunday morning. Mrs K was quite discombobulated at the top, as the pic shows.

However, outside of those nice things I'm stuck away from home with work - 5 days a week at the moment unfortunately. I'm in Redhill in Surrey, which is no worse or better than any other crappy commuter satellite town. I won't moan any further, but life is on hold as usual between weekends. This is not, to use a vastly overused word these days, sustainable. Talking of overused words and expressions, I'm now learning to interpret "we take X very seriously,...." (where X = anti-social behaviour, health and safety issues, etc etc), as "we cocked up quite badly, but we're going to hide behind an officious cliche of the bleeding obvious".

So, no cycling or running for some days now. I'm hoping for good weather at the weekend however, as I should get the chance to get out both days. More on that story when it happens...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Tour of the Cenotaphs

Here's a novelty, I'm going to write about cycling. I rode just under 50 miles this morning, getting out at 7.45, reasonably early for the winter months, and this is just going to be a series of unconnected ramblings that occurred to me as I rode.

First, the title. Well, the route inadvertently turned into a tour of churches, parades and cenotaphs where cubs, guides, ATC, Army folk, ex-servicepeople, local dignitaries and brass bands were marking Remembrance Sunday. Actually, one of my encounters was deliberate - my stepfather was in one of the brass bands, playing and marching through Macclesfield, so I stopped off in the square to video him. (Do we still say 'video' now it's all digital? What do the kids call it?), and very impressive and moving he and his band were too. I felt a bit guilty I wasn't participating in a proper service myself, but I did have more than two minutes of quiet reflection as I pounded the lanes.

OK, what else? Well, I hadn't really been out for a decent run on Cheshire roads for a while, and sad to report, among the hordes of other cyclists, and there must be a fair few new ones in there, the practice of acknowledging each other seems to be dying out. I still raise my hand, tip my helmet or otherwise cheerily greet my fellow veloists, but I must only get a response from perhaps 20% or so these days. And that 20% seem to either have beards, or be over 50, or both. I guess it's a combination of the culture not being there with the new riders, and the sheer ubiquity of cyclists, especially at the weekends. After all, we don't acknowledge other cars when we're driving do we? It still feels as though we're losing something good however. I have a suspicion, nevertheless, that 46 year olds have been writing stuff like this paragraph since about 1945 - "Ee, these youngsters Bert...."  "I know Ernie, no respect"....blah blah.

Training - I went like a train today for some reason. The sunny weather and last night's mighty fine homemade curry played their part, but I also think it's something to do with the fact I did a short but hard session on the turbo trainer yesterday.  Out on the road, I never use a heart rate monitor, preferring to ride on "feel", but I do like to train reasonably scientifically on the turbo. During the winter I use Coggan's (the original 'training by powermeter' guru) old favourite 2x20 minute session, where after a 10 min warm-up and with a 10 min break for easy riding recovery, you do 2 lots of 20 mins at 85% of your Functional Threshold of Power (FTP), where FTP is the highest power you can hold for an hour.  You obviously have to find that our first; fortunately there's a 20 min test you can do rather than the full hour, so that's what I did yesterday afternoon. The idea is that 2 of those 2x20 sessions a week is enough to increase your FTP without unduly stressing your body. Sounds good to me, and I have to say, it seems to work. Turns out my FTP is 299w, measured yesterday, on my turbo, with yesterday's tyre pressures etc etc. What's less important than the actual number is the trend, and I'll measure myself again in a month's time. I know it sounds a bit boring and geeky, but it's just lovely getting to a hill out on the road and knowing you've got the capacity to go up it without too much stress. With most British hills, you don't have to train on them to get good at them, they're just not long enough, so turbo training can be really effective. Pyrenean or Alpine ones, however, are a different story....

Part of my route today took me through Tatton Park, a lovely traditional estate complete just outside Knutsford with ancient trees, meres, and deer. And oh my goodness, how those deer have got comfortable with humans. They didn't bat an eyelid as a bowled through within yards of them, and one big fellow was sitting down on his haunches so close to the road that if I'd tried to indicate left my hand would have brushed his antlers. I'm not even sure he'd have been that bothered. Normally when I'm that close to them I'm eating them. Venison, mmmmmm.

All in all, a good ride. In fact, it was one of those rides that are so good they turn me into an unbearable tigger for an hour or so when I get home, bouncing round the house, gushing about how brilliant cycling is. After that I turn back into an unbearable old git, at which point it's time to write the blog.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me....

I hesitate to call him a hero, but someone whose writing I really enjoy for its prickliness, originality, provocativeness, and when it comes down to it, its common sense, is James Delingpole. He's been a writer and blogger for the Telegraph and Spectator for some years, and recently stood (but has now withdrawn) as a candidate in the Corby by-election on an anti-wind farm platform. Anyway, he talks and writes fearlessly, to the frequent derision and abuse of others. I'm going to take a leaf out of his book, and risk hate mail forever more, by saying this - I'm really not sure about the Help For Heroes charity, and I kind of wish people didn't support it. Or more accurately, didn't feel they needed to support it.  One of the guys on our London to Paris ride last year was raising money for it, and I had to keep my thoughts under my helmet for 4 days.

Let me explain. I'm absolutely not saying for a moment that the poor buggers who come back from Afghanistan with mental or physical injuries shouldn't receive the best possible treatment. (Though frankly, I'm not sure what they're doing there in the first place; I'm not sure we've ever had the case made to us persuasively). Quite the opposite in fact; whether it's an income to support them for the rest of their life, state of the art prosthetics, long term psychiatric care, or all of this and more, the British government has a moral obligation to provide whatever's needed. It's the government that put them in harm's way, it's the government (which is all of us) that should deal with the consequences.

But there's the rub. The government should provide the best, and it should foot the bill. But it doesn't do the former, so it ends up not doing the latter either. It relies on a charity stepping in to do the things it should be doing, like providing emergency grants to servicemen and women. And when, in my view, we give funds to Help For Heroes, we're effectively letting the government off its moral duty, which in turn means it can continue to provide the second rate support it currently does. Whilst that's just my opinion, it is, ironically given my other politics, strikingly similar to the Marxist view of charity in general, which contends that charity is degrading and demoralising, and perpetuates and institutionalises inequality.

I'm not entirely sure why I'm picking on Help For Heroes. I suspect there are plenty of other charities where government ought to be playing a more prominent role, but realistically at the moment, that's not going to happen. Equally, one of the great uncommented scandals of the current age is the number of charities that only continue to exist because of central and local government funding, their public donations being negligible.  But Help For Heroes is different - a clearer line of sight between expectation and obligation would be harder to find. So next time you're tempted to put a couple of quid in one their collecting tins, don't. Spend the money on a stamp and some paper, and write two letters (because they still have more impact than e-mails). One to Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence, Whitehall, London SW1A 2HB, to make him aware of your disgust that he, his predecessors, and the British state break the moral contract with our armed forces every day of every month, year etc. And the other to your newspaper of choice, telling them what you've done and inviting them to expose examples of the inadequate support that's provided to wounded servicepeople.

Next week I really will write about cycling, promise.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

50 Shades of Exercise


It was better in concept than execution perhaps, but here goes……..

“He reclined seductively in the psychiatrist’s chair, lycra shorts riding up his leg to reveal the alluring boundary marking the cyclists’ tan, thinking carefully about his answer to the question:
‘So why do you have two lovers?’
‘I don’t know doc, they both seem to give me different things, and I can’t do without either…’
‘Like what?’
‘Well, the first, let’s think about it….the action rarely lasts for more than a couple of hours, but I’m panting all the way through.  I never hit the heights of ecstasy, but then again, I can get more from an hour than I sometimes can in two hours from the other.  The problem is, I’m sometimes quite sore and beaten up afterwards – she’s very hard on me.  I can go for days afterwards without feeling like it again.  She is a very cheap date though; she only costs me a few quid each month…
‘And the second, well, she’s anything but cheap.  You could spend thousands and thousands on her sometimes without really knowing if you’re going to get satisfaction.  And there are days, boy are there days, when you suffer so much you really don’t know if it’s worth all the bother.  But then, if you go away somewhere foreign with her, there are times where you can experience joy like you’ve never known before, you sore like an eagle and you want to do nothing else but be with her, even though your arse can end up unbelievably sore…
‘Hmm….moving on…have you ever tried to give up one of them?’
‘Oh yes, many times…but then, there’ll always be a situation where one of them just feels so right, and I can’t help it, no matter how much I know I’ll regret it later.
‘And do you regret it?’
‘Immediately afterwards, yes, often.  I get these feelings of disloyalty, and think that I really ought to put all my eggs in one basket – settle down with one of them and just have done with it.  But then later, when I’ve thought about it, I don’t regret it at all; I love them both in their different ways, and I’m not sure I could live without either…
‘How do they feel about each other?’
‘Fine actually; they don’t meet very often, but I’ve been to gatherings where I got to do both one after the other, and that felt great!
‘Then, Mr Monmarduman, I recommend you find a way to keep both of them in your life’
‘Thanks doc, I will’ "

That’s right, I rode my bike on Saturday and went running on Sunday, and very much enjoyed both. J

Friday, 19 October 2012

Life's great gamble

If life were a game of roulette, we'd all get to stand at the table with a pile of chips. Some people would have a bigger pile of chips than others, but all of us who made it through the door of the casino, at least most of us in the developed world, would have some some.

The red squares and their numbers would represent variants of living for today, and letting tomorrow take care of itself.  The black squares and their numbers would represent variants of living for the future - making sacrifices today in the hope of a better life in the future, or at least a secure life in old age.

When it came to placing our bets, most of us would probably not use all our chips at once, and those we did use would be split across red numbers and black numbers, to varying degrees. Complete hedonists who spend what's in their pocket would probably only have a single chip on black. Parsimonious dullards would probably only have a few chips on red. The rest of us would be somewhere in between.

Whilst that might be true, there's plenty of us who, having been playing the game a while now, have always tended to put the majority of our chips on black rather than red. That's what we've been encouraged to do by parents, employers, society. Work hard, save hard, play a bit along the way, that's the key to a long and happy life.

The problem is, just like the real game, the ball doesn't get rolled until we've made our final bet - and by then it's too late to change the bet. The ball being rolled of course produces the date when we shuffle off this mortal coil. Many people bet right - they have a long and happy life.

The problem is, as I get older I see more and more people get their bet wrong, and nearly all of them wish they'd had a few more chips on red numbers. The obvious answer of course is to shift a few chips across whilst you can. But therein lie the bigger problems. How many chips? To which squares? To the 'spend now' square? To the 'don't spend now, but jack in your stressful job' square? To the 'downshift all round' square? To the 'keep the stress but enjoy the fruits' square?

Life's instinctive gamblers know their answers, place their bets, and probably never regret their choices. Those of us, however, who find themselves saying quite regularly "I had a hunch about that, I wish I'd put a tenner on it", find it much less easy. If we do nothing, however, our chips get placed anyway for us, and the default bet for many is more chips on black. Putting them on red takes a bit of courage, not least to not reproach yourself if the bet goes wrong. It's difficult, particularly when you've got the next generation to consider too.

Lord above, I can see why people turn to religion, particularly as for those fortunate souls their belief means even if they get their bet wrong they'll still find eternal happiness. For us more agnostic types, the answer lies within us, and finding it isn't easy. I suppose we should just be grateful that when bad things happen around us, we are least prompted to think about where our chips should be.

Apologies, a cycling- and running-free post.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Une semaine en Bretagne

Well, life rumbles on in its own strange way. Part of me never expected to get to France in the first place, let alone spend the whole week there, and get plenty of riding in. The reason for that lack of expectation will become clear in future weeks; it's just not appropriate to rehearse the reasons now.

I'd always intended to spend the first few days alone, and indeed the first full day was my birthday. It didn't go as intended. Within 2 hours of arriving at the house I was round at the neighbours being plied with beer, wine and curry. I was, apparently, a willing participant, but I saw my birthday in hogging a bottle of red, having got through plenty of beers first. We all know the old adage about never mixing grape and grain, but I flouted it that night, and paid the price. The hangover took a good 24 hours to subside.

That didn't, however, stop me getting out for my first ride of the week on my birthday itself, Saturday 6th. It was only a couple of hours, but that was enough to either a) wholly disprove Jacques Anquetil's theory that the best preparation for a race is "a bottle of champagne, a brace of pheasant, and a good woman", or b) much more likely, prove that notre Jacques was much more of a man than I'll ever be. Climbing the few hills that day made me feel thoroughly vomititious.

Not having ridden "properly" for a year, I decided to build up the distance and miles. My original intention had been to intersperse riding and running, but a combination of Life and sciatica means that the ultra-marathon planned for the end of October isn't going to happen, so I decided that a solid block of base miles (ie nothing too exerting), would be just the ticket to build on over the winter.

So, Saturday's 2 hours were followed by 3 on Sunday, 4 on Monday, 5 on Tuesday, only 3 on Weds (the only day that being alone meant motivation was hard to find), 6 on Friday, and a warm down 2 yesterday. Thursday was a day off, deliberately, for rest, gardening, dog walking, and generally being Gallic for a day. I walked round the garden shrugging at the weeds and saying "boof" a lot.

My routes, the places I saw, the villages I rode through, are all of interest to nobody but me, so I shan't bore you with them. Suffice to day I know the Cotes d'Armor departement (to be pronounced in the same way as Sean Kelly says 'classement') better than most.

That said, there were some recurring themes. Number 1: undulations. Brittany has no mountains, in any kind of proper sense. It also has, however, almost no flat roads. I truly wished I had a Charlie Garmin this week to record the ups and downs, for there were many. Number 2: rain. But then again, it was October in Brittany, so what the heck did I expect? To be fair, most days it was so mild I rode in the rain with bare arms and legs; it was reminiscent of being caught in a shower in Singapore. And on Friday, when I rode 100 miles for the first time in over a year, not a drop fell out of the sky.

Number 3: the sheer bloody joy of riding a bike in Brittany. I've gone on about the roads and lack of traffic before, but there's so much more to it than that. The skies are enormous and the horizons seem to permanently be visible through a full 360 degrees. So many villages are perched on hills, with their churches reaching skywards in the centre, that route planning is both easy and impromptu - you just spot the next village and head towards it. I also did days where the route planning rule-of-thumb was simply to choose quiet roads I'd never ridden before. Sometimes I inadvertently retraced my steps, but by and large I found one previously-undiscovered gem of a village after another. There was something very special about riding through one called Tregenestre last Monday afternoon; it was a typical mid-autumn day in northern France. The drizzle was coming down, the streets were deserted, maize-harvesting was going on just outside the village, and the distinctive smell of woodsmoke found its way up my nostrils as I pedalled through. It felt a million miles away from working and being in central London, and was all the more wonderful for that. It couldn't have been more French if Michelle from the Resistance had stepped out from behind the church and said "listen very carefully, I shall say zees only once".....

Each day my post-ride routine followed the same pattern; bike clean, deep hot bath, real food whilst dusk drew in. If I'm beginning to sound a bit misty-eyed, I make no apologies - it was a brilliant week. The only regret was that Mrs Monmarduman couldn't join me at the end of week, as was the original plan. That would have rounded it off nicely.

As it was, the only other possible regret was cycling nearly twice as far as I drove in the hire car; it would have been cheaper to have put my touring bike on Ryanair and cycle to the house. I'll know for next time, and yes, there will be a next time.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Peering at the seabourne military

Normally when I start to write these posts I have a vague idea in my head of what I want to say. Today, however, my thoughts are a jumbled mush of confusion, less coherent than an inebriated baboon. So at the risk of this becoming a non sequitur-laden stream of consciousness, off we go.

Well, it's a beautiful morning here; the fields are white with frost, the sun is up, and the fact it's still September means the leaved-trees take away some of the bleakness that's there on a frosty January morning. A fantastic morning for running, so up I got and off I went. I only ran 3 miles; one of the the two reasons I haven't posted for a fortnight (I'll come to the other in a bit) is that after the last run my left Achilles bruised and swelled very impressively; in the language of Formula 1 I've had to take a drive-through penalty, coasting through the pit lane when I should have been out on the circuit. So today I just wanted to get my legs used to running again.

But, bugger. I'd like to use a stream of invective at this point, but we're before the 9pm watershed, so I won't. The sciatica has raised its ugly head again. Not dramatically so, not enough to not be able to run 3 miles, but enough to have the random right leg pain that stopped me in my tracks earlier this year.

The worst of it is, both the Achilles and the sciatica are my own fault. I shouldn't have run 28 miles on a slightly sore Achilles, that was simply stupid. And in the last fortnight I've spent many, many hours sitting badly in cars, on trains and at desks that weren't my own, in all cases not giving two hoots for posture. What was the last thing the Physio said as I walked out of his door in June? Ah yes, "make sure you sit properly or it'll come back".

The Achilles problem was pure idiocy. The sciatica problem is neglect. Both are lifestyle-driven. Trying to do a job as a management consultant in the south of England but living in the north means a lot of travel and a lot of sitting at desks. These things restrict the number of days I can train, or to be more accurate at the moment, take exercise (training implies a planned and considered programme). In turn, when I do get the opportunity to run or get on my bike, I seem to massively over-compensate and try to do something really challenging. Here's the news; at the age of (nearly) 46, you can't, simple. Bad things happen. If you have a good base of fitness, you might be able to get away with it. For the last couple of years I've subscribed to the theory that targeted high impact sessions can produce good results. And so they can if you've got that good base. But after 12 months or so, it begins to diminish, and then you're exposing yourself to trouble. So whilst trundling round on a bike for 15 hours a week, or jogging 30-odd miles, without really breaking sweat in either aren't going to improve 'event' performance, regrettably it seems that you need to do those things to build the foundation for those days when you see stars, get pins and needles in your hands, and sweat explodes out of every pore.

Looks like I've got a choice then - change lifestyle (job), or be condemned to spending my life as 'trim', but not properly fit, like I was from 2005-11.

Anyway, before I get too self-comtemplatory, let me get on to the second reason why there have been no posts for a couple of weeks, and why there might be a similar gap after this. Without going into the detail, my mother-in-law is very, very ill, to the extent that Mrs Monmarduman is spending all her time in Plymouth looking after her at the moment. I was down there too last weekend, and am likely to be there next weekend as well. Clearly it's not a great situation for anyone, though mainly obviously my mother-in-law, who's bearing her obvious suffering with her customary cheerfulness and robustness. She's an object lesson in not-feeling-sorry-for-yourself, and one I suspect I should emulate a bit more.

Anyhow, it's probably now late enough for me to be able to start using a variety of noisy garden tools without irritating the neighbours too much, so off into the chill morning air to murder some lawns and hedges.

By the way, 2 points who solves the crossword clue of the title...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Sore nipples

The title of this post is, I confess, a shameless attempt to boost my viewing figures. Pregnant women, mastitis sufferers and the plain perverted will stumble across my humble blog, and to a man and woman, be roundly disappointed. But if that's you, read on! You never know what you might find.

Actually, the title isn't completely gratuitous. I was standing in the shower earlier today with the warm water coursing across my body (steady, this could get a bit 50 Shades...), warming me up after my cold bath - the reason for which will be revealed later, not that it's especially exciting to be frank - reflecting on the differences in injuries, pain and discomfort you get between running and riding a bike. I can honestly say that I've never had sore nipples after a bike ride, whereas after any run over 20 miles or so, even when they're dosed up with lashings of vaseline, ooo, they do tingle a bit.

In fact, I apply so much petroleum jelly (I'm too tight to buy vaseline when Bodycare do a bumper-size jar of the generic stuff for 89p) to my feet, ankles, hips, war wound (big scar on my waistline, dating from 1977 when an inch-wide drain was installed to siphon pus out of my peritonitis-afflicted stomach cavity), perineum, and of course, nipples, that I do wonder what the nice lady in that very Bodycare shop thinks I do with the stuff.

I'm not sure there are a lot of common injuries for cyclists and runners, at least if I take myself as an example. OK, it's a sample of one, but that's all that's to hand. Cycling generates stiff hamstrings and back, particularly if it's been a big uphill day, tenderness in the undercarriage of course, and, well, assuming you don't fall off, that's about it. Running, on the other hand - well, everything below the waist (plus nipples of course) is a bit sore. Left Achilles tendon is especially troublesome tonight, and indeed was so when I was out running this morning....

.....the soreness came on at about mile 10, but it wasn't till I stopped on the canal towpath just past Little Moreton Hall, in the shadow of Mow Cop, did I realise quite how sore it was. It made the return 13.5 miles quite a trial. I should have felt fantastic out there today - after the early mist had burned off the sun came out; dog walkers were minimal as I was out so early; there was nothing pressing to get home for; nature was rampant with spiders' webs as far as the eye could see, and countless herons fishing for their breakfast in the canal; and the countryside was idyllic. However, the reality was the Achilles wrecked, I sweated something rotten in the morning sun, and I ran out of energy - baked beans on toast the night before a big run probably not the best thing to biggest boost your glycogen stores. But I still bagged just under 27 miles, a decent training run, and that cold bath helped ensure that I haven't started hobbling around the place just yet. I'm aiming to do marathon-plus distance every couple of weeks now till my ultra-marathon on 20th October. I have no idea whether that's a sensible training strategy or not (I am doing other, shorter runs) - time will tell.

It always seems a bit odd writing the kind of nonsense like that above when there are bigger things - much bigger things - going on in the rest of your life. They all affect others much more than me, but you're not normal if you too aren't touched by those things. So in case any of them read this, I hope you don't think it's crass or insensitive, it's certainly not meant to be. And if this has been even mildly diversionary for a couple of minutes, job done...

And finally, the Tour of Britain comes to town on Monday. Actually, it turns off the main road just before it reaches Macclesfield, but I've managed to organise things to work at home, and I've got a top secret place which probably only a couple of hundred others will have thought to stand to get a great view of the riders. Should be good.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Synchronous

If I had more time to think about it, or was getting paid to do it, or was just generally wittier, I'm sure I could come up with a Private Eye-style mixing-them-up joke about the two Armstrongs, and the fact that each of them made big news on consecutive days; both for wrong, but different reasons. You know the sort of thing: "Armstrong says 'I didn't dope....I walked on the moon using only adrenalin'", or perhaps "It's one small step for man...because the rest of the peloton were at it already..."

I'm not though, so I'm going to have to content myself with a paragraph on Lance. What's my angle? After all, everyone else seems to have one. Well, my angle is that I think this is a bigger issue to the wider sporting but non-cycling public than it is to cyclists. There are certainly the die-hard fans and the Lance-haters in the latter, but I don't think most of us care that much. Why? A few reasons. First, it doesn't surprise us that much, if you take his refusal to defend himself against the charges as a tacit admission of guilt. So many of his competitors failed doping tests and/or were banned for that and other reasons, it doesn't astound us that he was at it too. Second, it already feels a long time ago now. He and his competitors were the last generation of cyclists; we've got a new bunch to excite us now, and quite a few of them are British, which might create a parochial reason for our apathy. Third, although there are a few pro-wannabees out there, I would say that the majority of us aren't inspired to ride our bikes because of what we see any particular pro doing - yes, we admire them, yes, we want to ride the roads and classic climbs they do, but not because they in particular have done those things; we know we'll never be as good as them, and we know that where they ride are some of the best places to ride. Ultimately, we ride because we love it, not because we're trying to emulate someone else, so if they're proven to have cheated, particularly if it was a long time ago, well, so what?

Not that I'm riding my bike very much at the moment - I've got a week pencilled in at the start of October in Brittany to ride and run, principally to build fitness for my ultra-marathon later in October, the training for which is going ok.  The bank holiday weekend has helped of course, plus an unexpected day working from home on Friday, which has meant I've been able to train 4 days on the bounce for the first time in ages. Over the 4 days I've run 42 very hilly miles, without too much trouble. I did discover yesterday however when I was out on some rocky trails that I probably need some appropriate running shoes for the trails - road shoes felt a bit flimsy, comfortable as they are.

And finally.......the latest in my series of rants against misuse of the English language. I let the odd faux pas slip past uncommented on, but when I see something 3 times in the media I can't help myself. The latest abomination is saying/writing that something is "imminently sensible" (as opposed to eminently of course).  Grrr - it's like saying something isn't sensible at the moment, but hold on a sec.....just wait a moment....here it comes.....it's sensible now...hooray!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Curate's egg

Writing a blog increases your knowledge about things you didn't realise you needed to know. Take this week for example. It's been a bit mixed, as I shall describe in a moment, hence why its title is curate's egg; we all know the line that follows someone's description of a thing being like the curate's egg is 'good in parts'. What I didn't know, however, until I wikied, was that the term derives from a Punch cartoon from 18 hundred-and-a-long-time-ago, the purpose of which was to to suggest that some things simply can't be partly good or partly bad, a bit like you can't be partly pregnant, and thereby expose the obsequiousness of the eponymous curate. So if my interpretation is right, when we describe something as a curate's egg we're misusing the term; it's not good in parts, it's unequivocally bad. Which wasn't my week at all, which begs the question as to whether my title of this nonsense is right. But it's there now, so away we go...

Good things first. Offspring #2 got straight As in his As, meaning he gets to go to Exeter Uni to do History & Philosophy, his first choice of place and subject. Phew. He worked very hard and deserves his success.

Second, the boy and I celebrated by a weekend of walking in the Shropshire hills, along Wenlock Edge and up and over the Long Mynd. This is becoming an annual trip for the two of us; we park in Church Stretton and walk a 30 mile circuit, staying somewhere near Craven Arms overnight. We walked clockwise rather than anti-clockwise this year by way of a change, which meant Saturday was the shorter leg, walked in warm weather. We had half an hour or so of rain on Sunday, but it didn't dampen our spirits - we had a great couple of days. Well I did anyway, you can't always tell with 18 year old boys can you? We drank beer, ate fish 'n' chips and ice cream, and watched Match of the Day though, so surely it can't have been all bad?

And then to complete the hattrick of son-related good things, he worked like a demon in our garden on Monday, clearing a massive, unkempt border. What a star.

Other good things have included HMRC cancelling a fine for late submission of a tax return (which wasn't justified in the first place, but that's not the point is it?), finding out just how close Brad and Cav will come to my house on the Tour of Britain (very), and the Vuelta being covered on poor person's telly (mine).

However, all that has been tinged with a bit of worry and sadness, nearly all of it involving the older generation. Howie Johnson wasn't that, but there's still something shocking about the premature death of someone you've known, even only slightly. Mendip Rouleur has blogged about his mum's circumstances. My mother's digestive problems don't compare to those, though we are waiting to establish the results both of her invasive medical tests, and the seriousness of my mother-in-law's liver problem. The next couple of weeks should tell us. Those are the worries.

The sadness concerns my stepmother, who, I learned, seems to be conducting a campaign among her and my father's friends to badmouth the conduct of my sister and I since our father's death couple of years ago. Ho hum. All the earlier things put that kind of pointless, destructive behaviour into context. I haven't the slightest intention of responding to it, and I'm not quite sure what she hopes to achieve. Learn and move on.

I can't end on that note though. The sun is shining, cycling is on tv as I write this, and a Bank Holiday weekend is imminent. The silver linings are re-asserting themselves.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Tom Kenyon

People with far more time, ability and insight than me have written countless column inches in the last few days about the wonderful Olympics that finished yesterday, so I don't intend to try to add any more thoughts. Not least because my involvement has been peripheral at best; I've watched it on TV of course, I've been in and around London whilst it's been happening, I know lots of people who've been to events (including the Murray and hockey finals), a gold medallist lives a mile or so from our house in France, and a good ex-Lloyds colleague was a Games Maker, but these are piffling things compared to being there in any form.

Well, go on then, perhaps just a couple of thoughts. First, a spectacularly banal one. I was struck by just how damn nice most of the Olympians were. There was no grunting, no obviously media-trained inanities, no avoiding the question, and no blaming officials, the weather or the price of cheese in the Congo for sub-standard performances. Just direct, simple, humble answers full of gratitude and in the case of the winners, joy. It was wonderful to witness, and I confess to having tears in my eyes and sometimes on my cheeks more times than I can recall in the last couple of weeks. In the first week of the Games I was in France, and in our little hamlet one of the TVs was always on, and we'd dash from house to house to see the latest triumph as roars erupted out of our open front doors. Cue kissing, clapping and celebratory curries. A small part of Bretagne was Grand Bretagne.

The second thought. Tom Kenyon. I was at school with Tom till we finished A levels. Tom read Physics at Oxford. He was an intellect, a radio ham, an eccentric. I've no idea where he is now or what he's doing. I do remember however than he hated football. A less obvious sportsman you couldn't wish to meet.

And yet he had a talent beyond his academic gifts. He could spin a cricket ball. He would never, and did never threaten to trouble the scorers when it came to representing his school at any sport other than cricket, and yet for 5 years he was a mainstay of the team I was proud to captain and take to the final of the county competition in 1982. We were the first comprehensive school to achieve that in Cheshire, and whilst we lost, our presence there alone was a massive triumph. And Tom was one of the factors that got us there, spinning his way through opposition batsmen. And had it not been for the fact that he and I sat next to each other in maths lessons he probably wouldn't have come to the nets where his talent was discovered. I scoffed when he first told me he was coming to those nets when we were both 13. I was wrong to of course, and it was my then PE teacher (Mike Brown; isn't it amazing how you can remember the names of influential teachers?) who observed that nearly everyone had a talent for something, which could blossom if it was nurtured and developed. That talent might not make us an Olympic champion, but it just could be a massive source of pleasure and sense of achievement.

And that's what I thought as I watched some of the Olympians in the so-called lesser sports; how did you get into that? How did you discover your talent? In some cases yes, money and privilege. But in Nicola Adams' case and countless others, I somehow doubt that. Most of us, I suspect, could find our own little niche if we wanted to, and I am talking about physical endeavours. So whilst it's brilliant that Team GB won so many medals, I really hope that one of the Games' legacies is that grassroots mass involvement sport develops, as well as the elite programmes being maintained. Those who are never going to win a medal need to be welcomed and encouraged just as much as the worldbeaters.

I'm in the no-hopers category of course, but I still love doing it. On Saturday I got up and out running for 7.15, and the canal towpath was finally dry enough for a decent run. And the weather was superb. I hadn't really done a meaningful distance for a good few weeks, so when nothing started hurting, and the weather held good, and the water supplies were still there, I just kept running, eventually running 25.5 miles in 3 hours 40. Ie just under a marathon, just over 40km. And after a cold water bath when I finished, and some quality protein in the form of homemade turkey burgers, I managed to do another 6.5 hilly miles on Sunday. Still I wasn't lame, so I've entered my first ultra-marathon, a 50km trail run in the Lake District in October. The distance isn't that much further than a regular marathon, but there's 2000 ft of climbing and some pretty tough surfaces. Time to step the training up, as far as work allows anyway.

That'll give me something to talk about over the next couple of months...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Coming very soon...

...to a computer / tablet / smartphone of your choice, a 'proper' blog entry.

This one is just to say I'm cranking back into action after a wedding, a quiet week in France, a busy week at work, and lots of Olympics watching.

I've got a barbeque to prepare, packing to do, and much, much more fun right now, but with 3 nights in a hotel this week and no Olympics to distract me there's no excuse for not getting back in the swing of things...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

'ere wiggo, 'ere wiggo, 'ere wiggo

Was there ever a more apt marriage of moronic English sporting chant and the affectionate diminutive of our latest sporting hero? Probably not. But that, along with cow bell, whistles and cheers, was pretty much all you could hear in the English enclave that was the exit of the hairpin at the top of the Champs Élysées today.

I'm not going to produce a blow by blow account of the weekend I've spent in Paris with t'eldest, and still less our day on the Champs today. Last time I was there/here was last September, celebrating my own personal and team achievement of riding from London to Paris in one piece without any terminal arguments, and today I was celebrating someone else's personal and team achievement of riding from Liege to Paris in one piece (pretty much anyway) without any terminal arguments. But then, we had to take our own pictures; today, there were hundreds, thousands of others doing it for them. And their arguments weren't about route finding or letting their drying pants drip on the bunk below (unless there's a Sky documentary exposé down the line), but who had the right to stand on top of a podium in Paris. Mr Froome will tell us there were no such arguments, but don't you just wish you were a fly on the wall of his and his girlfriend's room? And I mean that in a completely non-pervy way.

Talking of the Froomedog, as David Millar seems to have christened him, check this out (taken by aforementioned eldest) in case you missed it on Twitter:

So no, there'll be no dull narrative about our "I was there" story. You know where we were. It was fun. I had tears in my eyes at times - though slightly oddly, it was the publicity caravan that inspired that; the unalloyed joy of those on the back of the crazily swerving motorised water bottles and loaves of bread somehow captured the essence of the event even more than the racing itself.

Two last words. When the teams did their lap of honour, the British fans, who I feared were going to lapse into the kind of booze-fuelled partisanship of their footballing compatriots, heartily cheered all the teams, regardless of their nationality or levels of success. They added colour, atmosphere and laughter. Just for a day, we were the fans everybody liked.

And finally, I lapsed. I sold out. I thought I'd never do it. I bought some Sky merchandise...shame on me. But you know, when the greatest sporting show on earth (and I brook no argument on that, regardless of anything that might be happening dairn sairf next weekend for a bit), is won by an interesting and seemingly decent British fella, what can you do?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Joy

One of the main reasons I cycle and run, apart from the fact they both keep you fit-ish, provide some time for quiet contemplation, and give you that satisfying feeling of justified fatigue, is that they can produce sublime moments, perhaps lasting no more than 30 seconds, of complete and utter joy. It's a hard feeling to describe precisely - it's not the kind of ecstasy you might get from finding out you've passed a difficult and important exam, or the deep satisfaction and amusement that comes with a sociable night with a good bunch of mates, or the relief from sorting out an urgent bodily function. It's more a feeling of knowing that at those precise moments, there are no circumstances that could make you feel happier, or more alive, or anything else you'd rather be doing.

They don't come along very often, and for me they nearly always happen when I'm riding a bike or running down a hill. The best days I've ever had have been spent on a bike, ranging from going up to and down from Tourmalet in 2010 to the more quotidian riding through the Pas de Calais last year. But thankfully those moments of joy happen more often, and I've had two this weekend.

Now, nothing can compare to the thrill of hurtling down a mountain pass on two wheels, but one of the advantages of running, especially in the hills, is that you can put some music in your ears without endangering yourself or anyone else. And my two moments this weekend were probably accentuated by the iPod. The first was yesterday, when I was attempting to stay on my feet as I ran down a really steep incline. The only way I could do it was by taking baby steps at a cadence, to borrow a cycling term, of probably 200 rpm. In my ears at the time was Earthquake by Labrinth & Tinie Tempah, a recent occupant of what I believe is known as the Hit Parade, and there was just something about the combination of the music, the crazy running, and the sunshine that just made me laugh out loud. There was no-one else around bar a few bullocks to witness the madness fortunately.

And then today, as I crested a small hill by Macclesfield Forest Chapel, the countryside opened up - Cat & Fiddle road and pub to the left, Macclesfield Forest straight ahead, and the Staffordshire Moorlands just beyond and to the right. Again, for a second morning running the sun was out, but it was pretty early so no other people were, and it was just fantastic.

But it wouldn't have been if I'd driven up there. Writing this now my lungs hurt if I breathe in too hard. At the risk of sounding a bit Orwellian, the joy of those moments is enhanced by the labour of getting there in the first place, and I'd sure laboured to get up to nearly 1500 feet. Over the last couple of days I've run 32 miles, with 4,500 feet of ascent. That would be a fairly respectable mountain bike ride. And I've loved every single one of those miles. Not all the ascending feet necessarily, but definitely the miles

Opportunities in the next few weeks are going to be few and far between, though the bike was cleaned yesterday and I'm to get a few miles in when I'm in Brittany in a couple of weeks.

But first, Paris awaits next weekend. Barring accident, illness or any other misfortune, I'm hoping, nay expecting, to be there to see the first British winner of the event crowned. I'm just not sure of the identity of that winner yet. I'll be there with my eldest daughter - look out for us, we'll be waving...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

"I'd rather have a go and fail than be a successful moaner"

Thus spake John Bishop, comedian, ex-sales and marketing executive, and professional scouser (though aren't they all?) on Desert Island Discs last week. I'm not having a go at him, in fact quite the opposite; he spoke words that resonated with me more than any others in recent times. He was talking about his transition from deskbound salaryman to successful entertainer. He took a chance; it worked. He gave up something secure and went into something competitive and insecure. He did it because he was passionate about it. He and I are were born within a month of each other, and despite his accent he actually grew up in Winsford, Cheshire, not too far away from me. It's set me thinking....(even more)..........

But on less radical scale, it's surprisingly easy to let life get in the way of the things that really matter. What do I mean by that? Well, now I've got the freedom to exercise again, I need to be out there, hitting the trails, the roads and the forest. I've managed decent runs every weekend day for the last three weeks, but that pattern's going to be interrupted badly over the next few weekends, what with trips to London (this weekend), Paris (two weekends after), Plymouth (the weekend after that), Brittany (the weekend after), and the Shropshire hills (two weekends later). However, I fear I may have mentioned that before, so I'll move on...

Last weekend I managed a run of just under 20 miles on 500 ml of water and one energy gel. Which was good, though the step up from 13 was probably a bit too radical to be sensible. However, I've been reading one of Dean Karnazes' books (possibly the most prominent ultramarathoner of recent years), and just as when I read Ranulph Fiennes' autobiography, I was inspired. I also got out early, and it was cool, but not too cool, and still - perfect conditions. As I've mused before, and fool can run one marathon (hello...), but real fools want to do more. And why not go further? Ultramarathons start at only 50 km.

However, to do that you need to be running more than just at the weekends. Sure I do plenty of core exercises, squats and stretches during the week, but it's not the same as getting the miles in. And there's one major barrier to that - work, and the integral accompanying parts of that for me; being away from home, and long hours. Unpredictable hours and locations - it's not conducive to running. I did get a few miles in last week doing circuits of a cemetery just off junction 4 of the M4 by Heathrow, but it was like eating dry crackers and stale cheese - it served a basic physiological need, but it didn't go much further. It would be tempting at this point to link this back to the first paragraph, but it's a temptation I'm going to resist.

Instead, I shall recount another painful lesson learned. Earlier this year I bought my third consecutive pair of Saucony trainers. I bought the first two pairs from Up and Running, a specialist - you'll never guess - running shop. They were the Saucony Triumph 7 and Saucony Triumph 8 respectively. They were marvellously comfortable. So when I needed a new pair at the start of the year I decided to cut a corner, and buy a pair of Saucony Triumph 9 directly off a leading internet sports retailer, who had said articles priced most competitively, quite a lot of Wiggle-room between them and the next best price. However, those naughty product designers at Saucony had, for reasons best known to themselves, increased the size of the part of the shoe I now know to be called the front box, making them more suitable for the wider-footed gentleman, but loose fitting on a lithe beast such as myself. The consequence - on a long run, little toe blisters (that's big blisters on the little toes, rather than small blisters randomly located). So, I'm having to retire them early, probably to France for shorter runs. I've been forced to change brand - it feels like treachery - to New Balance. Which, this time, I did go to an actual shop to take advice on, try on, and do a deal on (free pair of quality socks). Lesson learnt. And that is a good place to stop.

Monday, 25 June 2012

OK Go...

An interesting week....apart from the most challenging week at work for years, I had an appointment with my physio on Wednesday. The great news is that I'm free to resume doing what the heck I like on the sporting front. (Without boring you with the detail, my two conditions can, we concluded, continue to be managed, just as I've got them both under control, through a strict and unending regime of exercises, and care with the diet, in terms of both inclusions and exclusions [ok, next level of detail; the inclusions are salmon, turmeric, green tea and ginger; the exclusions are non-organic dairy products as far as possible, red meat more than once a week, refined sugar]).

My first reaction, apart from massive relief of course, was that I should resurrect plans from earlier in the year to join Mendi Prouleur in the Pyrenees at the end of August. Then I realised that was madness - not only have I done no riding of note this year; not only do I not have access to a bike during the week at the moment (and for the foreseeable future), but I've also got plans for many of the weekends over the next couple of months. Weekends in Paris and the Shropshire hills with each of my two eldest kids, sister-in-law's wedding in Plymouth, another Brittany visit, and a posh and free weekend in London, all mean that I have no time to do the kind of extended rides needed to equip you for a week in the high hills. So, things must stay as they are, more's the pity.

I was bemoaning the fact last time that 2012 is a bit boring compared to previous years. Well, there might not be many landmark events, but there are plenty of smaller ones. This weekend was an example of that - it was 'Barnaby' weekend in Macclesfield, a 3 day festival that celebrates the olden days, when all the silk mill workers and their families decamped to Blackpool for the week. And what a fantastic amount of effort had gone into organising a multitude of events. Mrs M did loads, including a 2 hour paleocalligraphy course, otherwise known as how to read 15/16th century handwriting. I accompanied her to an evening of ludicrous cabaret-type magic on Saturday night, which was bonkers, enjoyable, and the filling in a half-marathon sandwich.

Yup, I managed 13 miles on both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning in the hills, so 2000 feet of climbing each time as well as the distance. That's nothing on a bike, but it got the ticker going when I was trying to run, I can tell you. And there's going to be a whole load more of it...it fits in with the new work-dictated lifestyle, and I have to say, I enjoy it. Time to go and look up the marathon calendar for the rest of 2012....

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fastidiosam anno

The title approximates to something like "a boring year". Queenie had her 'annus horribilus' back in 1992. Twenty years later, I'm just having a dull year. That's part of the reason why this blog has been pretty quiet over the last few weeks - there hasn't been much to write about. However, even the dullest period eventually yields something interesting, so here goes a random selection of things......

Let's start with the dull year bit. Every year since 2001 I can point to something relatively major or interesting that happened in that year, not all of it necessarily sport-related. I know you'll be fascinated, so the list looks something like:
2001 - moved to Chester, 9/ll, acquired the injury that stopped me playing football and eventually started me cycling
2002 - spent a month in Germany doing MBA, took kids to Disneyland Paris
2003 - split up with 1st wife, lived on own for 6 months, met current wife, started cycling
2004 - Etape du Tour, moved to current house, proposed to current wife in Barbados
2005 - got married, Gran Fondo Campagnolo, holidayed in Singapore & Vietnam
2006 - loadsa sportives, fantastic activity holiday with kids in wet mid-Wales
2007 - loadsa sportives, last time I bought a new roadbike, Etape de Legend, holiday in France with kids
2008 - loadsa sportives, watched 4 stages of TdF at roadside whilst doing a mega-tour of France
2009 - Lands End - JoG with Mendi Prouleur, decided to buy a house in France, watched end of TdF in Paris
2010 - bought a house in France, Raid Pyrenean
2011 - Monmarduman year: duathlon'd, marathoned, brilliant charidee ride from London to Paris
2012 - er, well, hummm, changed job? being injured?

So as you can see, 2012 does not sit particularly comfortably just yet. Actually, I shouldn't complain, for lots of reasons. First, having the eldest two kids just down the road, relatively speaking, in Wolverhampton, has meant lots of unexpected opportunities to see them, which will sure as heck disappear later this year when one goes back to Bath Uni, and the other toddles off, with a bit of luck, to Exeter Uni. Today, for example, we had a cracking 4 hours hill-walking together. And last night we watched the football and ate curry together. Humdrum, workaday events perhaps, but very precious to me, made particularly so in the knowledge they won't last much longer. So to those of you with young-ish / younger children, it's a terrible cliche, but do enjoy them now, because time does disappear before you know it. That said, they're a hell of a lot more entertaining at 21 than they were at 11.

Other reasons not to complain - I've not just participated in sportives, runs and so on in previous years, but I've trained quite hard for them, and towards the tailend of last year I was truly knackered - long term exhausted. Having a few months off, which has partly been necessitated by the injuries, is helping to address that. Though that could just be me retro-fitting facts to theory.

The other thing that's forced a relatively low level of training in recent times is the change of job - I'm finding it very tough, partly because I don't really know what I'm doing (mid-life change of career - I'm not sure yet whether it's advisable; watch this space), and hence working lots, but also because I'm away from home most of Monday to Friday at the moment, and I'm not working in a part of the world where I can just nip out for a quick run.

Yes, that part of the world is about 400 yards beyond the end of runway 1 at Heathrow. It's just a phenomenonally busy, noisy and not especially safe-feeling area. It's not where I'd choose to spend my life, and truth be told, I'm becoming very jealous of those of you who get to sleep in your own bed most of the time between Monday and Friday. I don't regret changing job at all - the petty bureaucratic nightmares and corporate groupthink have been removed, and for that I am mighty grateful. It's just that I'm questioning if this is what I want to do till I retire, where 'this' is solving other people's problems, being away from home, and sitting in a stinky air-conditioned office making up clever powerpoint presentations to justify being charged out at a ridiculous daily fee. I mean, the last roadbike I bought was cheaper than my daily rate (which I only get a fraction of, I stress). Hey ho.

Anyway, dear reader, I'm back in the saddle metaphorically and the TdF is only 2 weeks away, which always raises my spirits. Courage to those of you getting in the miles at the moment, I hope to re-join you mentally and physically over the coming months.  

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The egregious case notes of London cyclists

Er, title means what?

Well, there's three main threads to this week's post, and I decided to combine them in the title so that I don't forget them....

Egregious won't take long....it seems to be le mot de choix at the moment, that's all. I think someone at the Leveson Inquiry used it a few weeks ago, and there seems to have been a rash of public figures using it since then. I haven't heard it at work yet though, but that's possibly not surprising - one of the benefits of the new job is that I seem to have moved into a largely jargon-free zone. That's what happens when the people you work with both have brains and are allowed to use them.

Case notes - I'm begging your indulgence again with this one, but I got my X-ray results last week. Mixed news. Pleasingly, there doesn't seem to be anything too dramatic wrong with the back, at least in the sense there's no immediate need to consider surgery; the sciatica seems to be calming down nicely. A slightly revised diet, exercises to open up the sciatic nerve, and a better posture at work seem to be combining to produce gradual improvement. The hip, however, is different. There's evidence apparently of cartilage damage caused by the ball and socket not rubbing together properly. It's a condition known as femoroacetabular impingement. The physio puts it down to the volume of sport I've done over the years. It's quite common, it's associated with low back pain too, but it's treatable. I'm seeing the physio again on 22nd June to decide where we go from here. In the meantime the advice remains the same; moderate running, minimal cycling.

London cyclists - I spent quite a lot of time in central London last week, and the weather was so glorious I decided to walk between Euston and Aldwych, both ways on two separate days. It gave me a good opportunity to look at lots of things you certainly don't see if you're Underground, and not that likely to see from a bus, but the thing that occupied me the most was the cycling. It's insane! I think of myself as a pretty confident cyclist, but I think I'd hesitate before cycling regularly in London. It's not the motorised vehicles, though they can be a bit unpredictable; I'm used to that. It's the other cyclists - I could go on, but I won't. I'll just say that what did amuse was the fact that cycling seems like a drag race from one set of traffic lights to the next, but with the added complications of a) you don't have to go in a straight line - in fact weaving about is de rigeur, and b) you're never too sure whether your competitors are actually going to stop at the next red light. Did you know that in London 16 cyclists died on the roads in 2011, whilst in Paris the figure was zero? I think that's what's know as statistically significant, and if I were Boris I think I'd be having a look at what I could do about it, as I don't believe that Londoners are either significantly worse bike riders or car drivers than Parisians.

Off to France for 4 days over the long weekend with wife and t'youngest, so next post will probably be mid-week next week. A bientot.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

White Peak (Matlock) Half Marathon

This is the half version of the full marathon I did last year. It's such a nice course, and t'eldest had shown a bit of interest in running recently, that we decided in January to do the half marathon together, give her something to aim at and all that. I've been a really good dad, not interfering in her training, not getting on her case about the number of runs she's been doing (or, ahem, not).

And so the day dawned, and it dawned darned cold and wet. The wet let up on the drive across to Matlock, but dear Lord, the temperature - admittedly it was the Cat & Fiddle road we had to drive up to get across to Derbyshire, but 3c??!! In May? It was only 6c when we parked up, registered and stripped off. When can I move to the south of France? Ah yes, when the € has collapsed and I can buy a shack in the hills behind Nice for the price of ripe Brie. 

Back in the real world we took the coach to the start in the middle of somewhere along the High Peak Trail, and a couple of minutes past 11 we were off, down a puddle-strewn gravel and cinder path. In the clouds. Brrrr. But then, disaster!! Within half a mile of the start, Georgina disappeared from my side. I stopped, went back; she was stopped, stretching her right leg. Cramp she reckoned. Not a chance, said I, this soon in. I forced painkillers, gels and water down here, but things didn't improve. She was managing to jog about 400 metres, before she had to walk for 150 or so, which seemed to ease the pain enough for her to run the next 400. This was not rapid progress. We carried on in this vein for the first 3 miles, which took 40 minutes.

By then, we were stressing each other out. Her to me, because I loathe and detest changes of pace, and the walking was driving me nuts. I was prepared to run slowly, but not to walk, and even stop at times. Me to her, partly because she could sense my frustration, and partly out of guilt. After those 3 miles, we established that first, she'd finish, even if it took her 3 hours, and second, it was going to be better for both of us if we went our separate ways. We were rank last in the field at this point.

But I was seized by a mighty anger, and as I left her the mountains of frustration came pouring out. All of a sudden, I was Lance Armstrong in the 2003 Tour de France on the way to stage victory after being brought down by a spectator. Er, perhaps not, I didn't win my race. But I did run the 10 a bit miles to the finish in 1 hour 12 minutes, spectacularly fast my my standards. I tore through the field, not bothering to eat or drink anything. Crazy. I crossed the line in 1 hour 50 minutes, pretty respectable, but what could it have been but for those first 3 miles? 1 hour 35 perhaps, who knows. It might have been crazy, but it was a lot of fun - nothing hurt for the first time in ages, but that could just have been the masking effects of adrenalin.

After collecting my fabulous commemorative mug (mustard yellow being this year's colour of choice), popping on a fleece and collecting a camera, I decided to hike back up the route to meet George. Truth be told, I was expecting it to be a fairly long hike, but bless her, less than a mile back up the route there she was. I jogged back with her, accelerating only to get to the finish line in time to get some decent photos. Given that she a) had her thigh pain, b) had a stinking cold, and c) it's her (squeamish look away know) lady's time, and d) was her first half marathon, getting in under the 2 hr 30 mark was good going. She already wants to do it again next year. Which is a pity, because it'll be about the same time her Finals will be starting at Bath Uni. 

So, today wasn't quite as I intended. I'd sworn we'd stay together (certain readers will be sighing in resignation; "yes, yes, you always say that"). I'd thought that one of my ailments would cause pain. (They may yet; a 35 minute session on the bike trainer on Thursday made the hip feel quite spiky and uncomfortable for 24 hours after). But it was still a blast. There's something about an event, sharing an endeavour with other folk, that just makes it better, somehow. I'd love to say it's the comradeship, the sense of overcoming a challenge together, or perhaps seeing others battle the odds (a 79 year old, a guy who had open heart surgery 6 months ago). But it's not - it's the mustard yellow mug. The one that says: "I did that".

Friday, 11 May 2012

Dr Finlay's Casebook

This blog is rapidly becoming a journal of my medical travails rather than anything that approximates to a record of sporting pursuit, but if that's the only subject matter I've got to work with, what can I do?

Have had a very sobering visit to my physio. He prodded, manipulated, questioned and listened, just like he usually does so well, and came to these conclusions and bits of advice:

- there are probably two problems in my right leg, the sciatica and a hip issue
- the sciatica is probably caused by a herniated disk, which isn't clearing up, so I need to have an MRI scan on that to decide the best treatment
- the hip issue could be 'impingement' - there's naturally a fancy medical name for it that I can't remember, but basically it's the growth of spurs of bone on the hip. I need to have an X-ray on that, so I'm armed with a letter and I'm off to Macclesfield General Radiology dept in the morning to wait my turn to have a picture taken of my middle regions
- the back issue is probably caused by years of bad posture (which we already knew), whereas..
- the hip issue is probably caused by wear and tear, particularly the fact I did so much sport as a kid
- I shouldn't cycle other than just leg spinning
- I can run, but not on consecutive days, not if it hurts, and not too far
- I have less than half my usual power in my right leg, and I've got to monitor that
- the sciatic nerve issue is hindering rest and recuperation all over the body, so I need to sleep more than usual. (This would help explain the tiredness I've been feeling since last autumn).

Apart from all that, I'm ready to compete in the Olympics.  There are a lot of 'probably's in everything the physio said - he can't be certain, which is why I'm on to the next stages of diagnosis. Since 2003 I've been able to mark every year down as "the year I did the Etape, rode Lands End-John O'Groats, ran my first marathon" and so on - it's looking like 2012 is going to be "the year I did sod all", but also I hope "the year I got some stuff sorted out".

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't slightly miserable about all this. It's the open-ended nature of it I think. However, on the positive side and not being self-centred for a moment, I have a child (Liv) who's doing the classic Ten Tors challenge on Dartmoor this weekend, and a friend (Rachel) doing a skydive. I'm very jealous of both, and intensely proud of Liv - she's trained for months, not only in the physical side of things, but also the navigation and route-plotting skills needed. Chapeau et courage mademoiselle.  Even the weather's looking pretty favourable. Though out on those moors, I doubt it'll be quite so congenial.

Sitting here writing this, I've realised I've got a role model for the next few weeks - Ledley King of course. The man never trains because of his "dodgy knees" (I've never quite understood the medical niceties of Ledley's knees' "dodginess"), but still manages to put in sterling performances (for the most part) at the heart of the Tottenham defence. There we go; I can be the inverse of God during his creative phase, I can sit on my ar$e for 6 days a week, and run half-marathons like my trousers are on fire on the seventh day. Praise be.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Philosophical, or supine?

A few weeks ago I drove from Macclesfield to the Wirral to look at a car I was keen on buying, picking my stepfather up along the way, on the basis that two sets of eyes are better than one when spending a few grand of your own money with one of those charlatans known as second-hand car dealers. It took the best part of 90 minutes to get there, and when we arrived, said vehicle was standing out the front, all shiny and lovely, with all the bits I wanted, and at a very reasonable price.

However, as I went into the showroom to meet the shifty scouser of a salesman, he met me at the door and announced that the car was in fact, sold. This was 11.30 am on a Saturday morning, and I'd specifically called at 5 pm on the Friday night to ensure that the thing was available. It seems that someone from south Wales had liked the look of the thing so much he'd put a substantial deposit down over the phone. I was, shall we say, quite cross initially, an emotion which subsided into a general air of hacked-offness within half an hour or so.  During that half hour I sat in quite a nice pub overlooking the Wirral and part of north Wales with said stepfather, who very kindly bought us both some surprisingly fine coffee, and who consoled me with words along the lines of "these things are meant to be, don't worry about it, something just as good will come up". At the time I appreciated the sentiment, but didn't believe it. But lo! A few days later I thought I'd get a price from the lease firm who ran the company car I was driving at the time for its purchase, what with me leaving the employer who furnished me with vehicle. It turned out to be very reasonable indeed, much more reasonable than I'd dared hope, with the result that I'm now the owner and driver of the car that I didn't want to give back in the first place. So, Jim (stepfather), maybe he was right?

The point of that story is that my incapacity is coming and going at the moment, and I'm trying to stay philosophical about it. Yesterday, for example, I ran just under 14 miles. Today, I can't run 14 steps. Some would say the two facts might be linked, and they might be right. However, I didn't feel enfeebled at 7 am this morning, when I awoke to unexpected sunshine, and I resolved to do a gentle run. The cat was howling for food as it usually is at the time of day, so I went downstairs to feed her before getting changed into my running gear. As I walked in the kitchen I heard one of those dispiriting noises that usually means something's gone horribly wrong. This particular one was "psssssssssssssss". It turned out to be a split hose to the cold tap at the kitchen sink, and as a consequence the cupboard under the sink was in several centimetres of water, everything in there was ruined, and the kitchen floorboards were beginning to soak up the excess. "Yes!", I cried, "I can think of no finer start to my bank holiday". So all thoughts of a run were banished as I set to turning water off, soaking up the mess, diagnosing the problem, removing the offending item, and beginning the Great British Bank Holiday Tour of DIY shops to find the right part. (None had it; I'm off to Plumb Center [sic] first thing tomorrow).

And yet......philosophical bit....maybe I'd have buggered my leg up properly if I had gone for a run......and also, would it have been better to have discovered the problem on a working day? Clearly not. Which leads me on to think that this problem I've got at the moment - yes, it's a darned nuisance, and yes, it's stopping me doing some things I'd like to do (should have run Shakespeare Marathon last weekend), but maybe it's meant to be. I've had seven years of training hard and doing challenging events, and perhaps this is just an enforced breather. Who knows? Maybe I should even do no exercise whatsoever in an attempt to get the thing right. I'd buy that if it weren't for the fact that the problem's been caused more by driving a desk than a bicycle.

The risk with being philosophical of course is that you accept everything life throws at you, and instead of fighting back where you can, you turn into a supine bundle of patheticness. I don't think I'm at that stage yet, and I'm certainly going to be pressing for some more investigation into my problem at my next appointment on Friday. (Look away now if talk of bodily functions upsets you: the old sciatic nerve can affect one's plumbing, and regrettably I seem to have reached that stage - standing up egress-based activity is occurring more often than average, whilst seated egression is at its usual frequency, but the parcels being delivered are larger than usual, placing some strain on the transportation system, and more specifically the actual point of exit. If you know what I mean).

Looking back, there hasn't been enough scatological discussion on this blog over the months, so I'm going to take my leave now, knowing I've gone some way to putting that right. If it's upset you, I apologise, but in line with my mood I shall be philosophical about your distress.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Un vent à décorner les boeufs

I love the literal translations of foreign idioms, and today's language of choice is French. The title of this post means literally - and I'm literally using the word literally correctly here, but more of that in a moment - "a wind to pull the horns off the ox", and does of course mean a jolly strong wind. Which is what I experienced a little earlier.

But some background first. In three weeks' time I'm supposed to be running a half-marathon with t'eldest. I'd really like to do it too, a nice father-and-daughter-type thing. Now, because of the old back/sciatic problem, I've not been doing much of anything recently. So this week I've been experimenting to see what the body can tolerate and what it can't. The results basically seem to be: prolonged sitting and anything that involves bending at the waist (like cycling) are big no-nos, whilst walking, running and anything else that involves being erect (stop sniggering) are kind-of OK if I'm careful. So I'm now in the slightly odd position whereby sitting on trains for 8 hours (as I did on Friday going to and from Glasgow) presents a bigger health risk than running 11 miles, as I did this morning. Yesterday therefore consisted of ibuprofen and constant hip pain, whereas now I'm feeling pleasantly exercised.

The weather here today is as mental as it seems to be in the rest of England, apart from the fact that although it's raining, the wind has been the true star of the show so far. The real deluge is scheduled to arrive a little later, so I was up and out by 7 am to try to miss the worst of it. And though I got home mildly damp rather than shoe-squelchingly wet, I went up and over Shutlingsloe, which at 1,660 feet above sea level isn't exactly the Eiger, but is exposed enough to catch the weather, and the weather it was catching this morning was the north-easterly wind. I genuinely couldn't stay on the feet at the top, and my descent was slowed partly because I risked being blown off the path at any moment, and partly because I was having to use one hand to to hang on to my fleecey skullcap to stop it being blown off; yes, it was that windy. I'd chosen not to take a mobile phone with me because of the risk of it getting wet, and I have to say that at 8.30 this morning, descending Shutlingsloe in what must have been 60-70 mph winds, with a gammy leg and no means of communication, I wasn't sure I'd done a very good job of my risk assessment. But as you can see, I made it back. I passed a selection of sheep on the way down, but no ox unfortunately - but if I had I strongly suspect they'd have been hornless.

I mentioned I spent 8 hours on trains to and from Glasgow on Friday. I encountered the usual selection of characters on the various trains that you usually do on long journeys. Friday's selection included two Scottish lads sitting in the seats in front of me who managed to get through so much beer that they didn't have the foggiest how to get off the train when it pulled into Glasgow. On the way back, however, the Preston to Manchester leg was on a train destined for Manchester airport, so naturally had a bunch of folk going to catch flights. Among them was a group of three students off to Ibiza for a long weekend. I had no option but to listen to their conversation for a while, and it was like, literally, so full of the words 'like' and 'literally', that I nearly like, literally, wanted to literally kill myself. Oh my God, I was nearly, like literally sick. This lot were final year students. Is this how they communicate all the time, or is this style reserved for when they're among their own, and it's some kind of Cool Code? I don't know about that, but I do know that if they don't change their style they're going to be pretty much unemployable in any profession that needs even a modicum of communication skills. And here endeth today's episode of Grumpy Old Men.

Right, off to stand up for a bit...

Monday, 23 April 2012

With apologies to Private Eye....

"Posts on this blog may have given the impression that the author liked cycling (qv "I love cycling", "why cycling is the best thing since sliced Soreen", ad nauseum), and that its pursuit represented one of the finest options a man, or indeed woman, could pursue in their hours of leisure, being in turns, graceful, challenging, and an excellent excuse to dress up and own shexy kit.

The author would now like to correct any impression that may have been gained by readers that cycling is a Good Thing. Indeed, he now thinks road cycling is:

- expensive
- boring
- cold for 10 months of the year
- likely to harm parts of your body you didn't know existed
- fundamentally incompatible with the quality of road surfaces in the UK
- fundamentally incompatible with the culture, mindset and concentration levels of a minority of British drivers, and, ergo, moderately dangerous,

...and it is, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. Thank you".

My tongue is planted in my cheek of course, but, you know what, not completely. Who truly understands our psychological complexities - not me for sure - but I've had a pootle round on the bike today for the physio-recommended hour or so, and it didn't light my fire. That could be for any one or combination of reasons, ranging from:

- I've no overall goal at the moment
- I'm depressed about the cycling because it's looking highly unlikely I'm going to be able to join Mendi Prouleur in the Pyrenees this year
- road cycling's lost its slightly underground image in the last few years
- I'm more un-bike-fit now that at any time since 2004
- I'm distracted by the thought of the new job
- I'm suffering from "been there, done that" syndrome

Anyway, whatever, with a big capital W made my 2 forefingers and 2 thumbs. (Which reminds me, in the Netherlands, their equivalent phrase of trying to do something "with one hand tied behind your back" is "with two fingers and your nose".  Ah, those crazy Dutch people already for shure).  I'm not feeling this about running however, and I took my first tentative steps back on that particular path today with a definitely-not-physio-recommended 400 metre run. That complemented yesterday's 11 mile hill walk, which was fine too. Though I did get monumentally, biblically wet. These hills have a micro-climate all of their own. Just like any other hills I suppose.

This all comes at the end of a fairly momentous week for me personally. As previously advertised I left Lloyds Bank last week. I celebrated that fact with three consecutive nights out in London; Tuesday night at the theatre (Noises Off; very good indeed), bed by 11 am (sober); Wednesday night leaving do at a lovely bistro in Marylebone followed by assorted hotel bars, bed by 4 am (not very sober at all, though not embarrassingly inebriated); Thursday night to the annual Management Consultancy awards at the Hilton on Park Lane with my new employers, bed by 2 am (more sober than the previous night, but on top of the previous night enough to make me, erm, a little jaded on Friday - fortunately I was doing nothing more challenging than handing back kit to Lloyds and getting myself to Euston for the journey back 'oop north').

And so begins another chapter this week, blah and indeed blah....tales from the dark world of consulting to follow.

Tweets by @skinsalive