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.
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