Sunday, 17 August 2014

Les vacances commencent!

Ok, so I've only done three days work in the last two weeks, but I've never been completely untethered from the laptop. So the real holidays start this week, Wednesday in fact, when I a) pick Boy up from friends in Wolverhampton following his attendance at V Festival, and deposit him, his stuff and his bicycle in Plymouth, where I then b) pick up his younger sister, and c) take a ferry to Roscoff, from where, six-and-a-half hours later, d) I drive to our house at Ploeuc-sur-Lie.  T'missus is there already, and I would be too if I'd been willing to pay double the price of Wednesday's ferry to make the crossing today. I wasn't.

Anyway, it'll be a treat to get across there, for many reasons: spending some time with youngest, feeling like I'm living in France for a bit rather than just being on holiday, the food, the wine, our village's Potato Festival, the few extra degrees of temperature, and last but not least, their roads. Oh, their traffic-lite, pothole-free, glorious roads.

French roads aren't perfect by any means - you get small sections of rough, slightly broken surfaces. But what you don't get are sunken grids or other metalwork, or sodding great potholes. I did the White Peak Grimpeur audax on Friday, and on two occasions in the second half of the ride I was reduced to bellowing some very bad words indeed after I made the mistake of looking at my route sheet or the Garmin for no more than three seconds, and in those three seconds of inattention to the road surface, clattering into a disgusting hole, of the like our Gallic cousins just don't allow.

In France, you also don't tend to get lorry drivers pulling over to the gutter aggressively when in a queue to stop cyclists coming up their inside,as happened to me in Knutsford this week. And don't tell me he was doing it for my own good so that I couldn't put myself in a position where he might squash me; it was a very stationary queue.

Anyway, I'm not going to let this descend into a moan about what's wrong with riding in the UK. Two weeks today I'll be doing a sportive in France that's cost me the princely sum of 13€ to enter. I was also on the Paris-Brest-Paris website last night - the fees for that 4 day, fully supported event were 110€ last time, and I suspect won't be a lot more next year. Contrast that with the price of UK events. Anyway, it's to that civilised world of rural France to which I'm now taking my leave. I'm also taking laptop and internet though, so I will be blogging over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

In praise of the Middle Lands, and other delights

In my idle moments, of which there are going to be many in the next few weeks (more of that in a moment), I sometimes ponder what alternative existences I might have enjoyed. There's nothing wrong with my present one, quite the opposite in fact, but might a gendarme in rural France in the 1950s have enjoyed a tranquil, but not dull life? Might an English aristocrat in the early 1930s have been the ultimate in carefreeness? Has anyone ever been closer to the land than a Shropshire farmer in the 1890s?

Don't worry, I'm not going to go all PG Wodehouse or AE Houseman on your ass; these are, as I say, just things that float through my head when I'm our riding or, as per last weekend, walking. The Shropshire thing is an obvious link of course - me and The Son made our annual pilgrimage to the hills that rise either side of the A49 in the south of that county. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, no more than 10 minutes rain across the two days, and probably 20 times that of warm sunshine, which made for a load of enjoyment. As I've mentioned in years past, we take the same basic route each year, but chuck in minor variations for the sake of keeping it interesting.

This year, one of the variations was a visit to the very splendid Stokesay Castle, no more than 250 metres off the A49 just south of Craven Arms. It's a fortified manor house dating from the 13th century, lovingly restored over the last 100 years by locals, and now in the very safe keeping of English Heritage. The audio tour was excellent; I can't recommend a visit strongly enough, not least to all the many dozens of Lands End to John O'Groats bike riders who pass within a freewheel coast of the place.

Anyway, from the more elevated points of our work we could see deep into mid Wales in one direction, and large chunks of east Shropshire, the West Midlands and Worcestershire in the other. At this time of year, with harvest underway but not complete, the patchwork of colours across the fields and hills was a thing to behold; I know many parts of the UK are worthy of comment and admiration, but in the moment last weekend with the perfect temperature for walking and without a care in the world, it was fantastic.

Both The Son, who's going to aim for a job in Birmingham post-graduation this time next year, and Daughter No. 1, who at the time of writing looks as though she might settle on Stoke-on-Trent as a suitable residential compromise for dealing with the conundrum of her being posted to Manchester and her boyfriend to Milton Keynes by Network Rail, are continuing the family's ties to the midlands, first started by my grandfather in the immediate pre-war years when he commuted from Hereford to Wolverhampton, (Hence the title of the post). 

But I'm deviating from sport and exercise-type stuff. This week I've got a solid block of bike training in, slightly unexpectedly. I was due to keep working till 18th August, and then take a decent chunk of time off, but a long and boring story resulted in me finishing last Wednesday. For the first time since 1988 I've started a break with genuinely no idea of where, when or at what I'm going to work again. That's nice in a way, but I'm already getting a bit twitchy. Still, as I say, it's affording plenty of cycling opportunities, just as well with the Devil's Pitchfork ride next month. The training week culminated today in me opting to stay out of the rain, but re-create a hot Pyrenean day by riding hard in my shed for two hours with the doors closed and with limited water (don't try this at home kids). I was suitably dehydrated and exhausted by the time I emerged. Mrs Monmarduman puts this performance down to self-flagellation caused by eating approximately 3 gallons of Mr Whippy soft ice cream after several dozen salt-and-pepper king prawns at a 'world buffet' in Manchester last night. The truth is I haven't got many cycling miles in this year, so need to kickstart the training.

Ok, it's time to go and see how the pros are getting on at the Ride London race thingeemajig. More later from this gentleman of leisure.
Tweets by @skinsalive