Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Naked Rambler

So this'll be a bit of a ramble about nothing probably. Normally when I sit down to write something on here I have at least got a semi-formed view of what I'm going to write. But today, nothing. In fact, the only reason I'm writing anything at all is that I didn't blog last weekend, and I certainly won't next weekend. Though I might during the following week.

The reason for next Sunday's blogging absence is that I shall be in France. Me and Mrs M are going across to our house there for the week, to garden, entertain, seek out French antiquities for ebaying back here, eat bread that goes off after 12 hours, and chill. Oh yes, and I'm taking my bicycle for some quality time with Breton tarmac.

There we are, I've got a few threads in my head now. So, thread 1 - we're having to go across to France (make it sound like a chore don't I) because our English neighbours out there have moved back to Blighty, meaning we don't get our lawn mown for us any more. Now, whilst the house is modest the lawn is large, and Bob, bless him, used to sit on his mahoosive mower and do ours when he did his own. When I reconstructed the boundary fence last year I even left a little gap just the right size to drive his mower through. We haven't yet met Arnaud, our new neighbour, so I'm currently pondering the best approach to subtly hinting to him that he might like to take over Bob's cultivation duties. I need to be careful with my French though - I once thanked a Frenchman who helped me mend a puncture halfway up the Ballon d'Alsace by telling him he was very pretty. (I thought 'jolie' meant kind; I'd been on the bike a long time by then, ok).

Thread 2 - we're not going directly to the house next Saturday. To mix our usual routine up, we're crossing to Caen instead of St. Malo, and spending next Sunday 'doing' some Normandy beaches during the day, before we drive down to Plouec-sur-Lie ('our' village), on Sunday evening. I've read something this week about the French tourist authorities not recognising some of the beaches the Brits landed at, so I shall be acquainting myself more fully with that story in the next couple of days, and if necessary, buying a couple of Union flags at an appropriate place to reclaim our history.

As I say, I shall be doing some riding in France. I've not ridden on the road here since the sportive a couple of weeks ago. A bit sadly, I'm quite enjoying the process of getting properly fit through a disciplined turbo trainer routine. I shall keep that up this week, then have a few rides in Brittany going where and doing what I please. I have at least done some exercise outside here - running the local canal towpaths. I managed 21 miles yesterday morning, and nice running it was too, at least till an old war wound flared up. Frustratingly, it was nothing to do with any of my bodily bits that actually do the running bit; it was my stomach. When I was but a lad of 10 I got peritonitis (where the appendix bursts before the medics have had time to whip it out), and so my lower belly is a patchwork of old stitches and drainage holes from the resultant operations. One of those holes is pretty sensitive and flares up from time to time when things rub against it, and yesterday was one of those times, so I had to miss out the last couple of planned miles. The good news, however, is that wearing cycling bibshorts is fine, as there's no waistband involved.

So there we are; as I suspected, this was a bit of a ramble, albeit a short one. And the explanation for the 'naked' bit? Well, I refer you to my previous paragraph - in the interests of comfort and healing, the day is passing without me feeling the need to put any trousers on. And with that image lingering in your mind, that's it from me for 10 days or so.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Igloo Sportive

It's been a weekend of two halves on the exercise front, one delightful, one hellish. Let's start with the delightful one - yesterday. Although I'm firmly back on the bike most of the time now, I don't want my muscles to forget how to run (partly because I enjoy it, partly because I might do some running events later in the year), so yesterday morning I decided to go for a gentle run ahead of today's cycling sportive.

I selected a flat route down the canal towpath, resolved not push myself and set off just after 8. By heck, what a treat. The sun shone, the lambs were out gambolling in the fields, the ducks were getting a bit frisky, the towpath was dry, conditions were, therefore, just perfect. I told Mrs M I was off to do 10 miles, but I just got into a groove and ended up doing half marathon distance. I'd have gone further, but I ran out of water - because, get this, I was sweating. Only doing moderate exercise! Outside! I'd forgotten this could happen in this country. It was terrific.

And then there was today - the Igloo Sportive, a hilly 80 mile circuit of the eastern Peak District, HQ being at Chesterfield. I think the Igloo reference relates to a bike shop in Chesterfield of that name, but the  organisers were Dark & White, who I'd not come across before. A fine job they did too - good signage, well stocked feedstations, cheerful and encouraging people at them, and an excellent route. Unfortunately, they couldn't fix the weather. It was hideous. Strong, gusting, morale-sapping, wheel-bending wind. I haven't conducted any kind of scientific survey, but I suspect a lot of cyclists will tell you it's the element they hate the most. Rain - a nuisance and tests your bike handling skills, but you can dress against it. Hot sun - sensible precautions and lots of water and in the UK at least you'll be fine. Even hills - you know they're there, but it's a system of fair exchange; work hard, you get to the top, nice descent, bish bosh, job's a good 'un. But wind robs you of that sense of fairplay - it's makes the hills harder, and the descents slower and more dangerous. It's the conman preying on vulnerable cyclists, who open their doors and metaphorically say "yes I can see my guttering is a bit dodgy in places...£1,000 to put it right you say? problem". But then we discover that they guttering wasn't dodgy, and maybe we shouldn't have opened our door in the first place.

I think it might also do funny things with your writing style. Anyhow, under normal circumstances today would have a pleasant but hard ride - 9,000 feet of ascent in 80 miles (I count any ride with 1000 feet of climbing or more for every 10 miles as hilly), and lots of pretty places including riding through the middle of the Chatsworth estate (the pretty one in Derbyshire that is, rather than the one in Manchester made infamous by Shameless). But that wind; one fellow using Strava reckoned it was between 20 and 50 mph all day, and it never seemed to be behind us - it was always a sidewind at best. I feel like I've cycled 70 of the 80 miles uphill. It was also hazardous - I saw several people blown off the road, and just staying upright in the exposed sections was the main objective.

Anyway, enough moaning - it was very nice to be driven there and back, by Neil, who very sensibly did the shorter route. That was still brutal enough for him to be doing a pretty good impression of a zombie when I got back to the car. I won't mention his time, but I will mention mine - 6 hours. For 80 miles! Even though that's my lowest ever average speed for an event, I'm not embarrassed. I would have been embarrassed had I done what I seriously considered at Castleton (the closest point on the route to Macclesfield), which was to pedal home and get Neil to drop my stuff off as he went past. But I didn't, and I don't think I regret it. It has left me too tired to accompany Mrs M to a gig today, and I do slightly regret that, as I was looking forward to it, but hey ho.

Maybe it's that tiredness, but there's not much wit and wisdom in this missive, so I'm going to call it day. Just one thing - chapeau to everyone else who was out today for any length of time; we'll all sleep well tonight.

Monday, 8 April 2013

AOR - Adult Oriented Riding

Actually, no. I spent quite a lot of the weekend just gone in Rotherham (the glamour, the glamour) at Hard Rock Hell's AOR (Adult Oriented Rock) and Prog (progressive rock - young people will need to refer to their elders and wisers for an explanation, though listening to a snippet of a mid-70s Genesis album will explain all, albeit in a more time-consuming way) festival.

It was actually at the Magna Science Centre near Rotherham, which turned out to be rather a good venue. The main Prog stage was in a fantastically industrial setting of metal, concrete and high ceilings, and I had planned to spend quite a bit of time in there. Unfortunately, walking through its doors was like stepping into a  blast chiller, so that didn't happen. Even with the relative cool of this weekend, it was colder in there than it was outside. It was the first indoor gig I'd been to where you could see your own breath - that's not right. So apart from braving The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and a little bit of Curved Air, my time doing prog was not only cool, man, it was Arctic.

As for the AOR bit, some of it was more TWA than AOR (They Were Available), but it was enjoyable for all that. I consumed more beer than I'm used to on Saturday, but fortunately not so much that I was disabled from riding yesterday morning. The bigger inhibitor to a decent ride were the facts that a) I didn't really know where I was (I ended up riding from Rotherham to somewhere near Doncaster and back - have to say it wasn't very pretty and the road surfaces were even worse than Cheshire's, which is no mean feat), and b) even though I took delivery of my spanking new Garmin 810 last week - henceforth known as 'Malcolm', after the curly-haired Yorkshire monster called Elliot who only gave up being a pro-rider a couple of years ago at the age of 47 - I haven't had time yet to familiarise myself yet with its many functions, meaning I couldn't just go out yesterday, have a wander, and use the 'get me home' capability that I think it possesses.

So a combination of working the Guinness out of my system and a lack of navigational tools meant that the ride was a bit stately - adult oriented indeed. Still, better than nothing.

And next weekend....breaking news...I'm going to do a sportive for the first time in a long time. I don't think I ever said "never again" about them in the past; I hope I said "be selective". Well I've no idea whether I'm being selective or not, but mate Neil is doing the Igloo Sportive from Chesterfield on Sunday, and as he lives in north Wales is staying here on Saturday night. It seemed like too good an opportunity to have at least part of a ride with someone else, so I've entered too. 80 miles or so, but about 9000 feet of climbing, so should be a reasonably tough ride. Just need to get Malcolm working so that I can collect all the exciting stats beloved of Garmin users.

Being out last night meant that I didn't catch ITV4's coverage of Paris-Roubaix, so that's tonight's entertainment and inspiration sorted - watching it via ITV Player. For those of you who aren't cyclists and still doubt cycling is one of the toughest of all sports, watch it and check out the pain that the route's cobbles mete out. I haven't looked it up, but I think it was Earnest Hemingway who said there were only three genuine sports - motor racing, bull fighting, and mountaineering; everything else were just "games". There wrote a man who'd never stood beside a European rode whilst men on bicycles raced past. In fact, you could argue that pro-bike racing has a bit of each of his three 'sports' - the racing bit is self-apparent, mountaineering = ascending monstrous hills, bull-fighting = riding through the throngs of flags, banners and noise on those classic climbs. I'd never really considered that before, and I'm quite pleased with it, so I'm going to stop right there.

Monday, 1 April 2013

April Fool's Day...ain't that the truth

Just occasionally I'm moved to use this blog to comment on stuff beyond the satisfying but ultimately pretty banal world of my running and bicycling. Today is one of those occasions. There's been such a tidal wave of nauseating cant in the last day or so I can't let it pass.

And no, I'm not talking about the reaction to Peter Sagan's "joke" yesterday, though that was bad enough. The best riposte to it that I've seen is here:

(And having read a few more of her contributions and seen the photo, all I can say is that's it a good job there's not currently a vacancy for Mrs Monmarduman; though why a sassy and attractive twenty-something would apply for it is as much a mystery to me as you).

I'm talking about the reaction to the changes to the welfare reforms and NHS that come into effect today. Now, before I go any further can I make it clear I'm no apologist for this government. It's a disgrace on many counts, and I certainly won't be voting for its re-election next time. I also think there is way too much wealth and income inequality in this country; I've read and buy the arguments expressed in this:

...but it's just that my diagnosis of the causes and effects are different to prevailing wisdom; there's too little free market in this country. Any basic economics course will tell you that one of the conditions for successful 'perfect' markets is full information; my stance is that recent generations of politicians, bankers, big business, senior civil servants and quangocrats have successfully manipulated, obfuscated and rigged the world around us to the point where information is completely imperfect, and that world benefits them very nicely. Our new class of professional politicians (of all parties) so badly need to keep power to maintain their careers that taking principled stands in the best interests of the country is viewed as eccentric at best, and evil at worst. Similarly, it's evident from episodes like the Mid-Staffs NHS scandal that many in public service think the producer interest is paramount, and the consumer interest somewhere far behind. It's not purely a public service problem - the contagion has spread to many parts of the private sector too, notably banking and financial services of course. I was very close to the part of HBOS that caused much of the trouble that Lloyds is still seeking to clean up, and it's to my deep and lasting regret that I didn't blow the whistle (I was asked, along with a relatively small number of others, to close down perfectly healthy businesses in order to free up capital for the insane property lending and taking of equity stakes we knew were happening).

I could go on, but need to get back to the source of my ire today, the benefit changes in particular. I've seen and read the commentary on them, and I'm sure there probably some inequitable circumstances created that weren't there before. But hang on a moment - even Iain Duncan Smith has said that the changes are now about managing the increase in the benefits bill rather than reducing it. So we're managing the increase in our benefits bill at the same time as our national debt is rising at nearly £4,000 A SECOND. And when the bill for the interest on our national debt already exceeds what we spend on education. And before people say we could either a) cut other areas, or b) not cut at all - have you thought that through, really?

So let's look at cutting other areas. Well, the two most significant parts of our national budget are health and social security respectively (16% and 25% respectively in 2011-12). Within reason, everything else, including education and defence, pale into insignificance, and even cutting them by another 20% wouldn't really help. Health is ringfenced (rightly or wrongly), and the likes of defence and police have already faced really significant cuts. So, if you accept the principle that our deficit has to be cut (so as to provide some vague semblance of control over our debt), something has to give, and the obvious candidate is welfare spending. Though I'm not saying that the welfare budget couldn't be used better - winter fuel allowances to wealthy pensioners for example; means-testing it wouldn't save a lot, but it would provide some indication politicians are doing the right thing rather than just scrubbing around for votes.

Maybe you don't accept the principle that our deficit has to be cut, and our debt and attendant interest payments made manageable. Forgive me, but you're either a fantasist, or you really couldn't give a monkeys for future generations. The fantasists think that economic growth will get us out of this hole; it won't, simple. Our population is ageing way too fast (with the extra pressures that creates on the pensions and health budgets) for that to be true. Maybe you know this, in which case you really are saying (and please excuse the language that follows; it doesn't happen often on here) "fuck you" to future generations. Neither Britain, nor many other parts of the so-called 'developed world' have the clear advantage in skills, education and innovation that they used to have; we're not going to get away with paying ourselves more (whether that's private salaries or public social payments) than China, India, Indonesia etc etc, AND pay our debts off simultaneously; we're lumbering our kids and their kids with massive, humungous debt interest payments that they're going to spend their lives paying off via high taxes or incredibly low levels of state spending, whilst watching their living standards fall in real - not just relative -terms. The alternative of course is that the government randomly appropriates private wealth, but that's never going to happen is it? (Just ask the citizens of Cyprus).

So to all those complaining're no better than a whinging teenager, hassling his/her parents for a no-expense-spared 18th birthday party when the poor buggers are already maxed out on their credit cards and overdraft. Engage in a debate about how better you can spend the money that's available, and even how much money is available in the first place, but don't just say "it's not fair"; that solves nothing.

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