Running out of time

That's a foot in case you were wondering

There are a collection of noises you wish remained silent. Clustered around aural stimuli triggering involuntary gasps, cries of pain and classic anglo Saxon verbiage rhythmically assembled around the extensive use of the word ‘fuck‘.

Instant awakening to a night creak on the stair, dread comprehension of a car/immovable scenery interface and the sound of ligaments tearing themselves from their biomechanical norms.

What a noise that is. Somewhere between the creaking of a Man-of-War tortured under full sail and the snap of a door slamming. Other senses tumble in; the sharp flash of pain, the smell of the earth rising towards your stumbling frame, the view of the world going sideways.

It’s gone sideways alright. In more ways than one. And while this extends barely past a second of misjudgement, the story starts some ten days before. A happier time when an uninjured Al ran 15 kilometres at a pace that’d easily meet the goal of a sub two hour half marathon. After which the whole ridiculous enterprise, of a fifty year old man pretending there were still athletic achievements worth striving for, could be firmly shut down and never spoken of again.

Riding bikes – people who fail the risk/reward test say – must be dangerous. Well yes and no. Yes because the chance of physics and geography coming together in a bone crushing manner tends to the probable, but no as that’s mitigated by the experience of twenty years gaining adequate skill to avoid doing so.

Running though is essentially Russian roulette with no empty chambers. Metabolising diesel fumes in the traffic offers a similar level of serious injury as lying in front of it may provide. There’s a one to one correlation between my last two runs and the number of limbs seriously compromised.

Firstly that 15km had consequences; the visible one being a pathetic limp when my left knee took umbrage at ground pounding,  so striking out in a slightly different direction to the rest of the leg. I’m not a medical man but I’ll do my best to describe it. Scrape-y – each step sanding a little off the wonky bit of my patella.

A weeks recuperation based entirely on a Christmas cheese and wine diet failed to ease the abrasion, so my long suffering physio was called in to deal with this latest incident of hypochondria. The summary of that diagnosis was ‘being old but not wise enough to stretch properly‘ and a caveated green light to go and try again.

Rather than risk a further ninety minutes of asphalt percussion, I collected my proper running mate Ian and his ridiculously rapid tiny mutt in an eight legged assault of the lower slopes of Penyard woods. Woods that have been the subject of brutal logging leaving a barren landscape of ankle deep mud and fallen trees.

The latter represented my nemesis. The former merely pissed me off for the 40 minutes or so of us making slow progress* on flooded trails abruptly terminated by felled trees and trench like double track. We headed away from the arboreal carnage choosing instead some choice singletrack laced with happy two wheeled memories.

Not anymore. Now when I think of this trail it contracts my inside as synapses zap dendrites taking me right back there and THAT noise. The one following a stumble over a fallen log, a desperate attempt to stabilise a falling body, a moment of disentoriation as my head torch illuminated first the ground and then the stars, followed inevitably with my entire weight rolling my right ankle to ninety degrees.

I wasn’t going to run this off. But I had to try as the option was to give up, limp to the road and wait for Ian to fetch me back. He’d have been fine with it, I really wasn’t and the bloody dog was giving me the eye. So we jogged gently home, I grabbed a bag of ice and a box of Ibuprofen and some internet self diagnosis.

Really not required. When your frankenankle(tm) is the size of a grapefruit and you can barely get a sock over it, it’s probably reasonably to assume bad things have happened. Not quite sure what. The full horror will be revealed when my on-speedial-physio can do a proper evaluation once the swelling subsides.

Until then the best case scenario suggests 2-4 weeks. The worse case one… well let’s not go there as that suggests riding bikes in Spring might be happening to other people.

What it definitely means is no half marathon for me next week. I’m genuinely pissed off because a) I was on course to be on the course for less than 2 hours and b) I’ll have to carry on bloody risking injury to run the same race sometime in April.

I could just give up. It’s not like I don’t have form here. Not going to happen. For a few moments in the last two months I’ve genuinely enjoyed making progress by foot.  And I’ll be buggered if all the horrible bits interspersing those flashes of a runners high won’t count for something.

Whatever. That’s for later. Right now I’m reflecting on what a stupid bloody idea it was to give up drinking this month.

*that’s pretty much my running pace. Ian could easily lap me at least once but is far too good a mate to even suggest it. His bloody dog looks keen tho.

Hello future. I’ve not really been expecting you.

As a nation, we’re increasingly shunted onto the global railroad towards autonomous cars. I find myself pretty much unconcerned about that as an end goal, but my personal crossings are flashing orange at the interim states considering a marketed future and the chaos of right now.

Much of this is a recognition that I am not a good driver. See what I did there? Admitting a deficit in a capability which is normally grouped with ‘being great in bed’ and basically ‘operating as a proper bloke’. Shielding that truth is for younger fellas; I’m far too aggressive, make poor decisions under pressure, have fists of ham when it comes to understanding handling and balance, and really can’t park for shit.

Technology may rescue me. Handing over a suitcase of cash for the ‘Bavarian Bomber’ triggered a couple of things; firstly, being blindsided by the salesman who’d secured his commission, then receiving all sorts of media based introductions to our new car.

One of which was a 25-minute video on operating a mechanical contrivance of which I’ve driven derivatives around a million miles in the last 30 years. The first 90 seconds helped the educationally troubled unlock the vehicle, while the remainder attempted to resolve a juxtaposition of mechanical savagery versus a number of computer systems which thought they may now better.

Most of which were controlled by what I’m calling the ‘Wheel of Fortune’.  A bonus of such definitional amusement was how it upset the product guy in the passenger seat, who’d been on all the training courses while missing out on how fucking annoying the old bloke might be. Ignoring his exhortation that it’s important to follow a terribly German process, I was more your dialling, flipping and random selection of options seemingly mostly marked ‘self destruct’

Things happen when such digital anarchy prevails. Probably not the things you want to happen or things without unforeseen consequences but certainly things. It is kind of intuitive though, so I fully expect to learn it fully on the exact day the car is due to go back.

There’s much more, but that’s missing due to my inability to click on options for which BMW charge you an arm and leg, before demanding a deposit of the rest of your body at a very reasonable rate of interest. What’s left is an app attempting to insinuate itself in your life worryingly similar to HAL logically explaining ‘I can’t do that Dave’*

An app for a car? Oh yes. Confirming things that your mark one eyeball does for free. Are the windows closed? Did I lock the car? Have I had my tea? Oh fuck off. Shall I warm the car up for you before you have to leave? Shall I send your life story via the onboard SIM so I can market the shit out of your for evermore?

We’re deep into decadence being served up by technology while worrying if our privacy is being violated for the privilege.  As a data guy, this worried me a bit until I realised that ship had long sailed with Facebook, twitter and the Apple ecosystem.

So instead let’s focus on the shiny; a satnav that is almost sentient, a needy interface which grabs your phone before striving to do way more pipe the audio through hidden speakers. There’s even a CD Player allowing me to burn all my rubbish 80 rock onto the internal hard drive. Hidden further behind many clicks are further pointless apps built entirely because BMW took an insane decision to write their own code for news, places of interest etc. You’re never going to view those while you’re driving,  and once you’re stopped then a useful smaller device connected to the whole web resting happily in the centre console. So Meh.

What else? A start button. Really? Is this some kind of pointless fucking F1 trickle down? In the Skoda there’s a handy receptacle to usefully hang keys from the steering column. Now I’m wasting time and space attempting to find a repository for the loaf sized key that’d ruin the line of even the cheapest suit. This doesn’t feel like any kind of upgrade.

There’s a final technology solution which you can’t even see. It’s a network of sensors and cameras monitoring the space around the car to perform threat analysis. Meaning if a pedestrian randomly stumbles into the road, the car will brake at about half a G before you’ve even had time to utter a ‘where the fuck did you come from?

I’ve summarised this technology for you. It takes far to long to get to this point, and that point is when you’ll need to abandon the motherlode of the dealer. Which involves pressing this, tapping that, ignoring the other so aligning multiple computers allowing you to start the car.

And when it does, it’s quite the thing. Our current Yeti is probably the best car I’ve ever owned but this one has 55% more horsepower and 60% more torque in exchange for a small weight increase. Diesel is demonised now but this is a brilliantly muscular engine paired to a seamless 8 speed auto box. I did drive the nutter version accessorised with a hyperspace button and a donor card. Decided it wasn’t for me.

It’s also two foot and change longer than the Yeti. And re: previous comment on parking I’m bloody glad it has amazing sensors visually and audibly warning you that yes indeed you cant park there. The really posh ones have auto parking which would have been a) great and b) financially aligned with buying a space shuttle which the computing power allegedly matches**

There is one thing I really don’t like. A driving mode which essentially critiques your ability to anticipate events beyond the edge of the bonnet. It chides you for braking late or accelerating early. Icons flash and carefully modulated tones direct you towards being a safer, more economical driver. While I’ve fine with friends and Carol – especially Carol as that poor woman has endured 25 years of my lack of special awareness while riding shotgun- telling me I’m not a great driver, I draw the line at a 4 wheeled iPhone with the smugness package installed.

So I’ll put a bit of tape over that switch. That’s my kind of fix to a technology solution for which I’m struggling to find a problem. I’m feeling increasingly analogue in a digital world. Maybe I’ll get some kind of tin foil hat.

BMW branded of course 🙂

*if I have to explain this, you’re wasting your time here. Stanley Kubrick is your man and he’s both a) dead and b) far more worthy of your eyeballs.

** and the price. I’m massively disappointed it won’t launch itself into orbit

Done and clustered*

Does it come with a matching suit and optional coffin?

It’s close to that time of year when we reflect on the past twelve months, critically examine the decisions we’ve made and paths we’ve chosen. We may wearily raise our heads from whatever desk currently represents our vocational speciality, and wonder aloud if ‘ I want to be doing this same shit next year?

Well opportunity may indeed be knocking. If you’ve considered a sideways move into the amusingly unregulated sector of double glazing, but feel their salespeople are just a little too constrained by ethical concerns, you may be ready for a shot at the big time.

Get yourself a branded suit, an edgy haircut, a book full of ‘oh fuck me are we still in the 70s’ sales techniques, and start lying so hard you’ll forget the discombobulated individual melting under the furnace like glow of your self belief is something other than a scratch on the commission bedpost.

It may be clear from my opening remarks that I’ve not much enjoyed the car buying experience. That’s not entirely accurate – I’ve really fucking hated it, from start to bloody finish with only a couple of mild highlights preventing me going full-arson on every twat populated glass shrine to shafting the customer in all of Herefordshire.

Let’s consider that for a minute. In at attempt to wrest some kind of control back from a small child charmingly suit-clad in some kind of bring your precocious cock-infant to work day, I developed a half decent statistical model to unpick a number of manufacturers discount structures. Regardless of the name emblazoned above the door, they correlate around floor price and entropy.

Essentially this is a direct sales model with limited latitude for each franchised dealer to shift volume. And that is all they care about. Oh sure you’ll get the full tedium of something termed long term relationship neither of you believe, and some additional bollocks trumpeting the qualitative cosiness of a local buyer, but it’s all just shit added to the heap marked ‘there’s one born every minute’

This one was born some 50 years ago. And in a perfect storm of year end targets, a plunge in diesel values and a stroppy, stubborn northerner my customer classification was apparently ‘price sensitive and rational’. Clearly they were referring to Carol , who I dragged into every showroom and, unleashed once Mr Special Relationship started talking real cash.

I don’t blame the dealer. I really don’t. In a world of sharks, there’s no room for a nice friendly seal. Lawyers pretty much are the wikipedia citation for that. I blame myself for feeling guilty when saying ‘no I’m sorry but paying list price for something of which there are many and yours is no different makes me a little uncomfortable. Could you reduce it by a whole pound?

Light dawned deep in the night when my wide awake mind stopped circling around the problem and started devising a better strategy.  Morning saw me furiously tapping this keyboard demanding best and final offers from anyone with an internet presence. Such was the level of horse trading, I sort of lost track of it and at one point the informational tornado overloading my inbox suggested I had indeed bought a horse.

The result of which was being one minute from buying a car from a man I’ve never met 200 miles away at a discount which negated these things being an issue. In between ending that call and checking figures, the local dealer lit up my phone with some kind of phony butt-hurt that I’d somehow let him down.

Oh-fucking-contraire. I don’t bloody thing so. You’ve attempted to sell me everything in your showroom up to and including the coffee machine through manipulation, blatant lies and – it has to be said – breathtaking chutzpah. I even began to admire his tenacity in the face of Carol’s stonewalling and my pained expression.

He offered me a final car – from the rambling pantheon of when the fuck did this one just turn up then? – with options I didn’t want and wheels that were clearly stupid. At least it wasn’t white. I’d already rejected about 900 of those.  It was however cheap, for a given value of cheap, having been pre-registered to hit some spurious target a couple of months previously.

I cracked and schlepped over the Hereford one more time. Drove it. Sat down exhausted opposite the grand inquisitor as he talked numbers. Brilliantly he and the sales manager then had a pretty much stand up argument on what those numbers might be. I exchanged a non-plussed glance with Carol before sitting back to enjoy the show.

Result of which we ended up in a place where they continued to lie about how much money they were losing, and we screwed them into the ground over every detail. I’m not entirely lacking lucidity tho – at no point in the transaction did I think we’re coming out anywhere close to on top.

Still 25% off a new car isn’t a bad place to end up. Even when knowing waiting a little longer would have increased the discount. That however would have brought my continuing sanity into play. So when, on collecting the car, his parting shot was ‘well at least we had fun’ I couldn’t agree.

Maybe you fella. Not me. Not a bit of it. The car tho? It’s really very nice. In all sorts of ways. I might be back to that. Right now tho, I’m just bloody delighted not to voluntarily enter another car showroom for three years.

And I’m still not sure about those wheels.

*fucked. Obviously. Might as well warm you up to this post being quite sweary.


This is just getting ridiculous…

Are we there yet?

….. which best summarises my thoughts on viewing video of my tragic middle aged jogging.  Third time I’d been ejected from the treadmill into the orbit of a lovely fella, who promised the application of running technology – and a splash of cash – could magically upgrade my running style to something beyond its current incarnation as an ‘amateur pantomime hack milking the scene where he’d just been shot in the back’

We were lucky to get this far. Well I was certainly after peering through the product festooned window of the local running shop with dread in my heart. Sure any vestige of dignity was exhausted many years ago, but it still required an effort of will and a muttered ‘fuck it, it’s just a shop’ to get me through the door. I mean someone was going to start laughing very soon and it probably wasn’t going to be me.

No danger of that as the amusingly shonky treadmill accelerated from 0 to 8 MPH  at a velocity that’d shame a mid sized sports car. Thirty seconds later my flailing limbs faced the opposite challenge of a stop sequence best thought of as smashing head first into a wall.

All of which was more dignified than viewing the video of my gait. ‘Ah what you have here sir is a classic case of over-pronation‘ soothed the man knee deep in expensive running slippers. He’s the expert, but to me it appeared a triumph of biomechanics not to have catastrophically tripped over my own feet. Each stride ignored any forward motion- instead converting that effort into kicking myself in the opposite butt cheek.

It wasn’t pretty. Three pairs of increasingly othopedic footwear sabilised the image past the point of me caring how much the bloody things cost. Just don’t put me back on that rocket powered treadmill or present another video of my big arse. We parted happily – him with a chunk of cash, me with a pair of something that may once have been called shoes before the marketing thugs beat up on it.

They have DNA’*, blown foam** and a 10mm midsole drop apparently all in the pursuit of responsive cushioning, quick transitions and the ability to launch into low earth orbit. Only one of those things isn’t true. Well not written down on the instructions accompaning the shoe. Yes indeed we live in a world where shoes need instructions, What a time to be alive.

Clearly all total marketing bollocks. I was especially keen to prove that hypothesis after their sniffy response to my current choice of running footwear. There was much blowing through hipster beards, some pointing, the occasional pointed question mostly answered ‘I like the colour’ and ‘they were bloody cheap’,

What we need here is a race. Marketing V Me. Emperor wearing no clothes V me wrapped tight in appropriate gear to repel the 40 KMH winds and fat rain joining us for a run. Which greeted my proper running mate Ian and I as we tacked away from his front door.

I can deal with the fact Ian is a way better runner than me. He’s younger, way more athletic, has actually run some proper races, and has insufficient body fat to allow his fatter mate to get a decent draft. What I struggled with was his tiny dog clearly modelled on a mouldy bog brush, with barely finger long legs, also showing me a clean pair of heels.

Splashing through a wild night*** Ian was comfortably maintaining a decent pace and an untroubled conversation, while I was acting as a human turbine sucking in wet gusts and blowing them out of my arse.

The remaining 51 minutes and 42 seconds are mostly lost to middle aged memory and expensive therapy, other than the encouragement of my fellow lunatic and that bloody dog giving me a ‘is that all you’ve got fatboy? Man that’s lame‘ look every time I staggered dangerously.

Lame is nearly where I ended up after some fucked up atmospheric mechanics matched that headwind to our every turn. The last 2km were particularly unpleasant where my conversational contributions were mostly grunts interspersed with ‘fucking hell, is this ever going to end?

It ended eventually. Some 2 minutes faster than I’ve ever run 10km before. 5 minutes in I’d forgotten the shoes, but after a brief lie down in Ian’s kitchen I recalled my scepticism to the bullshit psuedo-science and suddenly didn’t feel quite so sure.

It didn’t really end there because today there were hill sprints which I’ll not dignify with a description other than bloody hateful, and an extended visit to my sports physio who declared I have the hamstrings of a 9 year old. In length, rather than flexibility.

57 days to the race. As ever I’m being pointlessly melodramatic. No change there. More worryingly I’m starting to relish the challenge.  I’ve dumped beer in the week and salad into my pie’n’wine diet. I’m not massively missing night rides in the mud. My plan is to go full cold turkey Jan 1, so to just run myself into some kind of 2 hour form before the 21st.

After which I’m going to get properly shitfaced. The consequence of which is likely to be a very expensive bonfire of the stuff required to every consider contemplating anything so bloody stupid every again.  I hope so anyway as there’s a nagging worry this running stuff may become become habitual.

We can’t have that. It’s even worse than being a roadie.

*Crick and Watson are rolling in their graves. Probably in the arc of a double helix if the universe has any sense of humour.

**Don’t google that. Not if you’re at work anyway.

*** Which triggered another expense. A bonkers clever light that comes with it’s own app. No really it does. I’ve no idea why either.

Is this a marathon or a sprint?

That's me. Except with snow on

An oft asked question which, in the netherworld of work, is generally met with groans, passive-aggressive tuts and a weary request from the allegedly knowledgeable old bloke to declare the meeting over as we’re merely bayonetting the dead.

Back in the real world, I’ve mostly been about the marathon. Many reasons – a lack of athleticism being the root of most of them.  But as a weedy asthmatic at school, cross country running was happening to the similarly untalented leaving me to play football* with the gifted kids.

So running – other than chasing down pub closing hours – has been a fairly desultory activity subsumed to the proper sport of Mountain Biking. While arguments may rage over whether riding round in muddy circles is a sport, it bloody well qualifies when compared to my middle aged jogging.

And it is in this middle age that running has been downgraded from ‘utterly hateful‘ to merely ‘bloody hard work’. Into this window of apathetic acceptance, I have chucked an entry to the Gloucester half marathon (not a proper marathon, sure I’m an idiot but not completely bloody nuts) a mere terrifying two months away.

Other events are available. Ones not likely to be materially affected by snow, ice, freezing winds, hypothermia or possible be-nightment. However, none of these would in any appreciable way mitigate my bacchanalian approach to the lauding of the sky fairy. 4 additional kilograms of anything marked high cholesterol or fortified wine is about standard for that two week period, where I only leave the house if we’re running dangerously low on Stilton.

Never run 13 miles**. Never run more than about 8 if I’m absolutely honest. After which various members of my family were wondering if to call an ambulance or a mortician, as I lay face down and unmoving in a flowerbed. No point worrying about that now, so reverting to type I’ve ignored any kind of actual training and have instead gone shopping.

First order of business – running slippers.   Who knew there are at least four shoe types in a million variations accessorised by miracle material promising to shave literally microseconds off your piss poor performance? For which deranged individuals are prepared to be fleeced well over a hundred quid for.

Clearly that’s ridiculous. When did running get this complicated? Back in the day a pair of plimsolls*** and a flappy t-shirt passed muster as race kit. All of which led me going on a bit about how gullible those runners must be to get caught up in such shallow marketing nonsense. At which point I was quietly reminded a similar MTB related search returns around 500 different mountain bike tyres.

Yes but that’s different. Look it just is. Anyway I too have become a believer-  almost booking into something called a ‘gait analysis‘, before imaging the horror and sympathy of staff and customers alike as a man apparently only recently introduced to a pair of legs falls off the treadmill.

It’s hardly going to be a dignified spectacle is it?

Instead I’ve downloaded a training plan. It appears to require bending of space-time in at least two directions, one to halve my age and the other to add six months to the training duration. So I’ve deleted it and instead installed blind optimism supported by my almost sentient Garmin which tells me my mean SPM is 173, my vertical oscillation a majestic 8.3cm and my ground contact time averaging out at a spectacular 256ms. On those stats alone, I think we’re good to go.

Except one thing, apparently it’s almost a religious observance to have some kind of target. Hard metrics seem to be very important, finish under two hours,  maintain a consistent pace, achieve perfect form and some kind of bloody karmic balance all while not sacrificing an efficient stride length****.

I’m not interested in any of that shit – instead I’ve set myself just two targets. 1) finish on my feet not in an ambulance and  2) never attempt anything so stupid again. Obviously with it being Gloucester, an implicit goal based on location is ‘don’t be mugged or eaten‘ by the locals for only having five digits on a single hand.

On reflection, a further target should be actually turning up at all. I don’t have an unblemished history of appearing on the start line of races when faced with the potential of cold/damp/occasionally difficult. I expect the prospect of eternal self loathing shall probably get me out of bed, plus the companionship of other hardy individuals. Who I am desperately hoping suffer a similar temporary bout of insanity to sign up, so keeping me company/being available to administer the last rites.

Currently I’m torn between ‘how hard can it be?’ and ‘hold my beer and watch this’. Mostly tho I’m working out how best to go long on cheating and short on training.

Best go out for a jog, I do my best thinking there.

*only not really. The only coaching advice I ever received was basically ‘tackle anyone heading towards our goal and then pass it to someone wearing our strip who is a proper footballer‘.

**well I have. But it was so long ago I’m fairly sure I was racing against real dinosaurs not ‘characters‘ in suits 😉

***or if you were a proper Yorkshire, bare feet. While chewing on a coal nugget.

**** I wish I were kidding. A single browse of ‘Runners World’ has made it absolutely clear it isn’t mine.

Are we there yet?

I can see you all nodding

Conversations. Marvellous things. A triumph of sentient behaviour. Except not really –  as the recipient has no truck for considering the loquaciousness of the speaker, because they’re far too busy spooling up far more important stuff waiting for clear air to broadcast*

Car salespeople are like this. They’ve ignored the two hour ‘listening to customers’ seminar on induction to whatever shiny brand they are  pedalling. Instead they embark on the questionable strategy of ignoring everything the pointless old bloke offering real cash may consider important.

Even if this irritating individual refuses to be swayed by prepared speeches on brand values and unique selling features, instead opening a small notebook and stabbing repeatedly at stuff that has the power to keep him right here.  As opposed to option b) which involves beating that salesperson to death with the glossy brochure before flouncing off with a ‘I’ve done the gene pool a favour‘ thrown over an insouciant shoulder.

Fuck me I’m bored of this. As are the salespeople, but that’s their job. Rather than adopting a confrontational strategy of striding into the showroom demanding an interaction with ‘someone old enough to shave as long as no obvious beard grooming is evidenced, and absolutely no waistcoats, I want to buy a car not a fucking country house‘, I’m all about guerrilla tactics.

Mostly this involves turning up in the cheapest clothes I can find**, poke about in expensive cars with a tape measure, wonder out loud if a mountain bike wheel would fit in there, prod, poke and scratch expensive fabrics until an individual from the candy crush generation wanders over and asks what I’m interested in.

At which point I gleefully awaken the kraken of requirements carefully recorded  in a notebook until boredom overwhelms them and they offer me a test drive. This activates phase two where I insist on pairing my phone with the i-think-you’ll-find-sir-this-infotamenet-system-is-class-leading before unleashing my dreadfully uncool play-list.

Not because I’m even peripherally interested in the quality of the audio system. No, I just want to see them squirm as a track 1 of ‘a 100 hits of the 80s‘ blasts out of 10 speakers. God I cherish that moment, but they soon get their revenge explaining virtual cockpit this and four wheels steering that which are essentially narrowing pathways to me signing my life away for Coke can with an ego problem.

Once the test drive is done, we move onto numbers. An area I’ve had about 30 years experience which is 29 more than the beard oil postulating bollocks opposite.  He offers averages, I counter with standard deviation and regression to the mean. Not for any other reason than I’ve lost control of any possible transaction on walking into a 26 million ‘brand facility‘ which clearly this conversation may end up paying for.

I’ve also become increasingly suspicious of my motives. For all my ‘oh fuck off, really it’s just  a car‘, I could easily buy something for half the price that’d be better than functional and nowhere near as financially destructive.  Driving breaks down like this; 15% running the kids around on a daily basis, about the same transporting me and mucky bikes to places Matt’s van isn’t going with the remaining 70% navigating to end points of our wonderfully diverse higher education sector.

For that you need a car that’ll reliably get you there, not make you look like a dick if you’re offering a lift, not mirror my fiscal insanity when considering mountain bikes, take one of those inside in an emergency and act as a family transport when I remember that’s my tribe.

Rationally I’m all in with that argument. The problem – possibly unsurprisingly to regular readers – is indeed mountain bikes. I have so many of those whose form trumps their function, and even that’s not something I’m pushing at the edge of.  So much as my amusement when confronted with  ‘advanced ride dynamics‘ has led to many awkward moments when one person looks shocked and the other is doubled over pissing themselves laughing, the guilty truth is I’m almost as much a tart for cars as I am for bikes.

If the car after this will be electric, I might as well have one last fling raging against the light. Due diligence sprouts many spreadsheets with pivot tables. Graphs are prominent. Statistical hypothesis inerpret the raw data. Which tells me everything and pretty much nothing.

But I need to do something. The Yeti is accelerating towards the contract hire event horizon. They really want it back. I really not want to give it back. Only one person is gong to win that argument, so Ive decided to avoid having to step into another of those matrix-style showrooms instead putting all our money in a bucket and inviting those wearing the suits of shiny to bring their trinkets for review.

It’s not going to work of course. But it’ll work better than hiding under the duvet thinking dark thoughts about one sales-dick who was keen to explain that ‘buying one of our cars sir will certainly make you look quite a lot more important’.

I don’t feel important. Manipulated possibly. Confused definitely. Enthused not at all. I am genuinely concerned if and when we need to move house I may have to renew my shotgun license.

*for those at least tangentially aware of social norms. Those lacking an iota of self awareness are pretty much in permanent transmit mode.

**Or as I like to think of it my ‘everyday wardrobe’

Daylight Craving Hours

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017
Oh smashing. Five months of perpetual darkness. Dark driving to work, dark driving home, with slashing rain carving up the few grey hours when the sun is allegedly above the horizon. Hidden by dirty clouds keen to pile on the misery.

Two options; hide under duvet with a hip flask or do that stiff upper lip British thing and live the lie there is no bad weather merely inappropriate amounts of alcohol*. Not today tho, the light may be short but we’re going long on a classic Wales loop.

Normally ridden the late December. For the last ten years or so it’s been fantastic/stunning/perilous/hypothermic in various combinations from a brilliant day out to an urgent booking with an expert treating advanced frostbite. Last year I tilted the odds towards probable death with a hangover sharp enough to shave with and a helmet value engineered by the lowest cost bidder.

Matt tells me his first proper mountain bike ride was on this very route many years ago when sleet, snow and possible benightment were served up on an epic day. This may explain his mild obsession with pushing any ride towards a death march.

No chance of that with double digit temps, clouds without rain and trails benefitting from a two weeks of conditions entirely un-TransCambrian. Riding with most of my favourite bunch of idiots means while we have faff, it’s familiar faff and we’re appropriately breakfasted, unloaded and ready to go by 10:30am.

First up a lazy 6km climb only notching 400m of ascent. My kind of thing – especially without even the smidge of a hangover and back on the 29er wheels of the Smuggler. It’s not a light bike but nevertheless a good climber, especially on the dry hardpack winching us past increasingly distant views to the reservoir.

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

Still muddy on top. Before we got there, most of the crew cracked the code of a steep climb on slippy rock. My failure was entirely due to a poor choice of rear tyre, terrible line choice and questionable technique. Luckily there was a chance a little later with a second tough pitch to redeem myself. Cocked that one up as well.

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

Mud navigated, we’re accelerating on that kind of trail where the rocks chase you down the hill. Or are fired on a personal trajectory by the bloke in front having far too much fun. 115mm of travel doesn’t sound like much for a modern mountain bike, but this wasn’t the thing holding me back. I don’t think we need to delve much deeper into the mystery of why ‘Al isn’t as fast as he’d like to me’.

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

Fun, fun, fun – more so as I’ve ridden this route in shitty conditions. Which is a fine adjective for my co-riders attempting some kind of middle-aged TeleTubby parody during a brief stop for sandwiches.

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

A stop which provided sufficient time to see angry clouds rolling over the saddle some 250m above us. Best get on with it then. And while we’re riding in t-shirts, Wales still has rules – one of which is this climb is 20 minutes directly into a headwind. That wind pushed the clouds into the valley leaving broken blue skies over the summit. Can’t remember the last time I saw that.

We lingered. Warmed by Autumn sun and filing that view in optic nerves which never get tired of big mountain days. Until ‘Right then, shall we?‘ broke the spell and it’s all suspension jiggery-pokery and battening down of body protection hatches.

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

As H was taking photos, I hung onto Matt’s back wheel following him off a frankly ridiculous line, before just hanging on as loose rock battered the bike from all directions. Speed really is your friend here even if feels like a fickle one. Suspension – both the bike and you – is optimally configured for free movement which grabbing a shitload of Shimano upsets in a way marked ‘over the bars/nil by mouth’.

We regrouped – waiting for Haydn – some of us more shaken than stirred but still with some fantastic descending to come. Firstly off the spine and into the fall line – done this 20+ times but it still is invigorating to the power of mild terror. I made mistakes, took crap lines, wasn’t as brave as I’d want to be, but memories of my mate Russ breaking his back here nearly 15 years ago still passes as an excuse.

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

Then it’s giggling and pointing and fish-y hand movements, and we’re off again into a narrow gulley with diverting spine shaped rocks trapped between claustrophobic edges. This used to be properly hard but the bikes are so good now and my head is in that place where you can ride anything. Until you can’t. Stayed on the right side of that today.

Done. Finally a fast sunken singletrack ridden with all of the joy that swinging a sorted bike between bends as fast as you dare brings.  Hitting the road, the van is still 5km distant from a canal towpath that’s muddy purgatory in December but today it’s firm, fast and bathed in sunshine.

Classic Gap - MTB Oct 2017

It could have only been better had Cez fallen into the water which was a distinct possibility when he misjudged the height of a bridge. Sadly he stayed dry on the outside giving us plenty of time to get wet on the inside.

This is a perfect day. Rationally I know it’s all going to shit on this side of the planet for the next few months. I don’t need many rides like this though to get through it.

Dark at 5? Is that the best you can do? We’ll be riding mountain bikes in proper mountains. There is pretty much nothing better than that.

*or trousers. But being a mountain bikers we’re rocking the four season shorts culture embedded in the sadistic schools of your youth.

Plane stupid

Plane Stupid
I might if that’s okay

The Captain has abandoned his approached to Birmingham airport…. there is no need to be alarmed“.  Academic debate might usefully plot that sentence on a line between ‘not terribly congruent‘ and ‘Non Sequitor‘.  Time was pressing though so I went with ‘I’ll be the judge of that and my ‘x’ intersects somewhere close to hysterical panic

Travelling to Scotland always presents a dilemma. Slow and easy on the train or fast and irritated on the plane. Virgin do a half decent service up the west coast but it’s not unusual to arrive home with appreciable stubble*, so I switch depending on mood, travelling companions and the vagaries of someone elses booking system.

Flying generally though has become a problem. Being a data-geeky kind of guy, professionally I understand the odds on falling out of the sky to a fiery death are both extremely low, and reset on each flight boarded. Personally I’ve been handed control of real aeroplanes and chucked numerous model ones from windy cliffs. Subconsciously though, I can’t quite understand how the buggers stay in the air**

It never used to be this way. Aeroplanes shuttled me to all sorts of interesting places with a glass of fine Gin in one hand and a throwaway novel in the other. Sunrises and sunsets from 30,000 feet can be rather splendid especially if the viewer is a little pissed. Landing 5000 miles from where you started with only a mild hangover and a vague sense that breakfast is now dinner felt like a fine tradeoff.

Not now. The tipping point can be isolated to a single flight during the first Gulf War where, the US company paying my wages, laid down a travel decree insisting only neutral carriers could be booked. Reasoning was the worry of missile strike on belligerent flag carriers, regardless of the military advice that the ‘enemy‘ couldn’t hit the country next door without fifteen attempts while defining sand as a ‘hard target’.

Which is how I found myself flying over the French Alps, in a prop-equipped puddle jumper, through an electrical storm with the soothing tones of the Captain explaining the explosive noises we could hear was merely ice cracking off the wings.  We rough and tumbled over those forbodding jagged peaks for far too long before eventually landing heavily at Lugano – in a direct homage to the strafing runs dominating the 24 hour news.

My colleague refused to get back on the plane the following day. He took a train back to the UK and form then on could be found taking a keen interest in international railway timetables. I just hit the bar and shoved destiny into the driving seat. Didn’t bother me much then, bothers me much more now.

There was a minute between the wheels slamming back into their housings, a full power climb to a safe altitude, an entirely British response to the crisis – grip book a little harder, press candy crush keys a little harder, strive for the wikipedia citation of stoic*** – and the pilot explaining in calm terms what had happened.

Time is strange. The way we divide it cannot be simply be categorised by a fixed notation of hours, minutes and seconds.  60 of those should not be enough for me to record every noise our little twin prop was making, the flashing of a red light in the ceiling and a brief but thorough review of what the hell was going on.

Three possible options; Birmingham had been abandoned due to terror threat, the plane ahead of us suffering catastrophic failure so splattering itself and its passengers on the runway, or something equally broken on ours.

That minute spanned a duration in no way sliced by normal time. Finally the throttles eased off with a laconic telling of a bird strike triggering some emergency protocol for the poor buggers a minute ahead of us. All of which made be feel both mighty relieved and a bit of a coward.

My emerging view of terra firma is the more firma, the less terror. Which had me wondering why, as I hurtled down the motorway, this felt so much safer than being 300 feet above. The statistics suggest I’m kidding myself. There’s something about being in control, which when strapped into a thin seat sticking the ‘V’s to gravity isn’t something I feel for a single second.

Whatever. Next time, I’m taking the train. And packing a razor.

*or – after being abandoned to stare in awe at the majesty of Sandwell and Dudley – a full on bushy beard. That was a long day.

**amusingly or not, there doesn’t appear to be a weight of scientific opinion backing a peer reviewed option either. Something to do with pressure, the Venturi effect, lift profiles, witchcraft and sorcery.

*** although when catching the eye of the bloke opposite, he raised a single laconic eyebrow. Clearly he’s lost it I thought.

Chasing Cars

Chasing cars

An activity far removed from those halcyon days of London commuting, where one re-enacted medieval gladiatorial combat in that time honoured battle of over medicated motorists and under armoured cyclists. It reminds me tho of one puce faced, slabby stomach’d, inappropriately entitled fuckwit attempting to rub me from existence by simple application of his shiny porsche to my grimy mountain bike.

I never took time to understand if he’d been denied the dead cyclist he’d asked for Christmas and taken matters into his own hands, or was merely distracted by the reflection of his own ego. Far too busy ripping the keys from the ignition before a one way deposit into the sewers of the Bayswater road*

Back in the room and in that middle aged acceleration of the planet where three years appear to be directly correlated to a single heartbeat, desperate marketing emails insist the blameless car ‘proactively sustaining a customised transport solution” ‘** is coming to the end of its useful life.

Or its useful life with me. Being constrained by a financial instrument insisting I punt it back to Skoda early next February. With the advances in manufacturing, the just in time supply chain, the computer controlled assembly lines and the global stock control systems, the salient point appears to be I’d best order something in the next few weeks unless being a poster boy for The Proclaimers approach to sustainable transport forms a major part of my 2018 goals.

Been there. Hated that. Buying bikes is fun. Buying cars is not. My requirements – while simple – are not well aligned to the narrow scripts pedalled by sales people who conflate cost and value. Actually that’s nonsense, they confuse what someone wants with unit targets desperately signed up to at their interview.

Which makes my insistence on inserting a muddy mountain bike into their showroom polished demonstrators a little awkward. Not helped by my dismissive attitude to ‘advanced ride dynamics‘ and ‘performance analytics’ refusing to accept these are nothing more than A to B tools. If I wanted a lifestyle statement, I’ll buy another mountain bike.

I care not for performance or handling. Couldn’t give a flying fuck for marginal gains wrapped up in this years’ colourways. Disinterest overstates my apathy for design intent.  All these thing matter for two wheels. Four? Stop talking, hand over the keys.

My purchasing strategy has only two tenets. 1: simple requirements: how do I fit a 180cm mountain bike into that riot of plastics without wearing the front tyre as a novelty hat in the drivers seat. 2: Can it be bought without a clutch pedal and does the brains of our family operation calculate it’s not going to bankrupt us.

Yeah. But. I really wanted a Jaguar F-Pace. Just because I’ve always wanted a Jag. Fails 2: by about a million miles and frankly there’s a question of dignity hovering in the background. So attempted to bypass the social difficulties of interaction with idiots by test driving the bigger version of what I have now.

Expected just to order one of those. Arrived back at the dealer struck somewhere between bored and catatonic. Three years of that particular experience would result in a fair parody of Jack Nicholson in One flew over the cuckoos nest. Social awkwardness it is then. The spreadsheet at the top of this post represents an intersection of a best guess of stuff that might work, and a synthesis of many dull people who apparently enjoy testing cars for paid employment.

We live in a world where our choices tend to the infinite. No one has much truck with regression to the mean. Major purchases are our time to be special. For bikes yep, for cars oh please just fuck off.  Still I’m not quite so secure on this moral high ground once I found you there’s a big estate with a zero snob badge hiding what appears to be a nuclear bomb under the bonnet.

That may be the smart buy. I’ve no idea at all. I pretend not to care a jot for the thing I spend far too much time sat inside. Then I look at what that simple functionality costs and wobble a little. But I’m already all-in on the mountain bike equivalent of a red Ferrari. Best to step back from that kind of dangerous nonsense.

So I shall be stoic. And sensible. And given the right environmental conditions measured and calculating. Still a good chance of going postal though if the clip-on tie brigade feel the urge to tout their goods as something other than ‘ a bit better than trains’

If they do, a chubby bicycle tyre may be used to move the discussion on.

Wish me luck, I’m going in.

*explaining this to my colleagues at our rather straight laced London consultancy provoked two distinct responses; one group backed gently away making soothing noises while the other called security.

**these are not my words. But someone at Skoda wrote them, nodded sagely and declared ‘these are good’.  The Scorpion Pit cannot come too soon.

Sunday Service – go ride a mountain

Black Mountains MTB - June 2017

These bikes Matt, they’re bloody amazing aren’t they?” represented my opening gambit on finishing a classic rocky Black Mountains descent. First ridden with almost no composure and much trepidation during a Dorothy-esque ‘We’re not in the Chilterns anymore‘ moment some ten years earlier.

Moving here rapidly widened my riding horizons and provided motivation for a lazy person to manage physical decline a little more aggressively. At 40, this stuff scared the crap out of me; steepish, loose, committing, switching between deep ruts barely clinging to a wind swept hillside, and stabby rocks buried deep into the water tables fall line.

At nearly 50, they’re nothing more than interesting technical exercises to be ticked off by thousands of practice hours, brilliant bikes and fast friends. Even after climbing through a rainstorm borne on a bastard headwind ramming droplets into every un-waterproofed* crevice.

Summer in the mountains then. Backside of a 30 minute climb drops you into a steep traverse cut deeply by eons of proper weather. Swirling wind attempts to throw you off the hill in the manner of an irritated horse. Whatever – ridden this kind of shit for a decade, been beaten senseless on multiple winter death marches, found  courage in the strangest places.  Roll the planet forward six months though and my insouciance would be replaced by tripod-ing uselessness and an all mountain dunking- but close to the longest day, just my laughter is carried away by that summer wind.

So when Haydn arrived sans a good part of his transmission, I was reminded of a couple of things; one don’t be a cleverdick – this isn’t a big mountain but it’ll still bite you in the arse if you install ego in the driving seat, and two just don’t be a dick period – you’re an insignificant pixel on a massive geological canvas. You’ve brought nothing and you’ll leave nothing. Get over yourself.

The rock strike cannoning through H’s rear wheel had blown away most of the mech and a couple of cassette cogs. Matt unleashed her mobile workshop on the problem while I lay in the first sunlight of the day and wondered why nothing makes me happier than being in the mountains. I failed to come to any useful conclusions other than high places were first claimed for the spiritual not the religious, the knowing that it’s a privilege to see the forests and the fields lying on top of nature’s wrinkly tablecloth, and that little bit of not being quite like everyone else my age.

My reverie was broken by the sounds of tools being re-holstered and we’re back to skating over loose rock, gliding under trees and – basically – finding fun bits go geography to punt the bikes off.  It’s already been a hell of a day; going trail feral from the start so climbing for an hour with bikes on backs to crest a 450m ridge promising much fun back on the pedals. It didn’t disappoint.

Then laughing at Matt as he missed a steep exit only for him to repass me when I missed the next one. Eating jelly babies to the sound of pinging disc rotors. Arming the tyres with sheep shit ammunition ready to fire at the innocent bloke line astern come the next downhill.

There’s another 300m of almost vertical between us and home. Another push and carry which merely opened up the prospect of a further twenty minutes peering through the cloud base on mostly remembered tracks. My GPS read 35km and 1400m of climbing. Bit only 1050m of descending. Time to get home and hosed.

First ruts, then loose rocks, then a stream bed so everything south of the rear tyre is now pissing wet. But a little less covered in sheep shit.  Dropping past the reservoir under stubborn slate grey skies, dampening our shadows all day, in no way diminished it’s ability to drag your eyes from the trail.

We’re nearly done but tired limbs must be ready for a single minute of action before resting in the van. Close the sheep gate, quick pedal ratchet, pick a line under an encroaching tree canvas and trust these awesome bikes to surf plate sized rocks long since wrenched from the bedrock.

Pick the bones out of that. It’s not scary nor technically that challenging. What is is is bloody fast, nearly 50kph of trail, forest and sky being hurled at the grinning idiot being the bars. Reminds me a little of reading the memoirs of the last ‘stick and rudder’ aviators flying by the seat of their pants.

It must feel something like this, not fighting the trail nor bending it your will, more modulating it through the pedals and the grips, micro drifting the bike into line, building a personal runway from random rocks and playing at being good enough to avoid a prang.

Roll up to the van with the conceit you’ve finally got this mountain biking thing pretty much sorted. At which point, a million midges feasted upon our moist persons. That’s nature having the last laugh, right there

*too warm to ride in a jacket so that’s everywhere then. At least it was warm rain.