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.

Tweets by @skinsalive