Friday, 17 July 2015

Up close & personal

I think we all have that streak of parochialism in us that means that no matter how much we like to think we're unshockable, urbane polymaths with a healthy world view, stuff still means more when it's close to home or you see it with your own eyes.

Two very contrasting events have brought that home to me this afternoon as I've worked and amused myself on what, for most of the next few weekends, is my rather exotic commute - Trowbridge in Wiltshire to Ploeuc-sur-Lie, via Portsmouth and Brittany Ferries. The first is very sad, and seems to be today's lead news story (at least on the BBC News site) - the explosion at the wood mill at Bosley just outside Macclesfield. Not only is this very close to home, but the dramatic pictures are shot from a tiny back road I've cycled down many times (there's a cracking climb soon after) - it just seems strange to think millions of people are seeing that little road. Even the canal towpath that runs close to the factory, and on which I do much of my running training, has been closed. The first thought, of course, is that things work out as well as possible for the poor buggers involved who are either injured or missing; but that thought is more intense than it would be were the incident in, say, Dundee rather than Macclesfield. Wrong, but natural I think.

The other event was the three days I spent last Friday to Sunday watching the Tour de France with Neil. It was good in many ways that he cam over to watch - first, it's always nice having guests over (though he was one of the several who had already experienced the delights of Le Millet). It's also a pleasure both to show people the joys of cycling in France, and to ride to the race route with somebody. However, having someone across prompted me to go that bit further than I would have done had it just been me (and possibly Mrs M). I certainly wouldn't have driven on my own the 100km to the outskirts of Fougeres last Friday, and then fought my way to within 120m of the finish line - but we were richly rewarded for doing so by seeing a late Cavendish surge to see him take the stage win. I probably wouldn't have left so early to bag my place at the top of Saturday's categorised climb (other than Mur de Bretagne itself), but again, we managed to get a prime spot right under the King of the Mountain banner (which meant I could get excited when we were on the ITV4 highlights). And on Sunday, whilst I'd have gone down to Plumelec for the Team Time Trial, I probably wouldn't have pushed through the crowds to get a cracking shot of Froome and Sky in the last 200m. Nor would I have seen Cavendish high-five-ing the crowds as he rolled in behind his team mates.  So, thanks Neil (he also brought the best housewarming present ever - speakers, amp and ipod dock; how cool's that?!).

Being close to events does two things for me - on the one hand it de-mystifies them (pro cyclists are clearly fine specimens, but neither are they all Adonises). On the other, it can intensify the experience and create more questions than if you watch from afar (how do those same cyclists go up hills so rapidly?).

Actually, mention of Adonises reminds me that I saw Lord Adonis (ex-cabinet minister in the final Blair government) on Monday. He was at Exeter Uni to receive a honorary doctorate, as part of the same ceremony my son Seb picked up his degree in Philosophy. Both were conferred, anointed, whatever the right word is, by Floella Benjamin (who also sits in the House of Lords these days); she insists on giving all participants in the ceremony (of which there were many) a massive hug and headstroke. Seb's not the most tactile person in the world, but he didn't seem too appalled.

So, chuck work into the mix, and it's been a busy and varied week, which will be topped off nicely by the visit of the Macclesfield Lawtons to the France gaff this weekend, assuming the horrors of Calais don't get in their way tonight. Which means I need to be on form for some drinking and barbequeing, which in turn means it's time for a little snooze before we dock....

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