Plagiarism

In the back of my mind was a slight niggle that the stuff I wrote about handbags in this post had been nicked from somewhere. And it had. From me. I wrote this about five (five! Bloody hell how did 60 months go past so fast?) years ago when I was clearly less grammatically lazy and possibly slightly more amusing.

Miss Hillary Yoghurt in seat 33d provided a fascinating insight into the oldest of Japanese arts – Feng Shui . Clearly attached to a somewhat bedraggled and whiffy holdall, she refused to file it in the overhead lockers where it would have probably eaten the other luggage. Rather, she spent the whole six hour flight rearranging items from her trivia bag via an extended transit to the table in front of her.

Root, Root, oh here’s a comb, clean off the suspicious discharge from the prongs, place it carefully on the side of the table, rotate it 15 degrees, sit back, frown, rotate it the other way 5 degrees, sit back, suck hair, furrow brows, delve back into bag and start again with a boiled sweet. I watched helplessly in some kind of sick admiration that anyone could be this dull as item after item was plucked from what I now thought of as the “trivia tardis”, arranged, re-arranged and then if it for some reason didn’t pass muster dispatched unloved back into the hell-sack.

After 3 hours, the table looked like the winner of the worst bric-a-brac stall at the village fate. My barks of laughter were covered hastily by phlegmy coughs but even without my impression of advanced TB, she would never have noticed as each item was subjected to a Krishna like chant delivered in a base grunt that would have had most of us calling the RSPCA, or gunning for the person doing something that sexually obtuse to a cat.

This is from a journal written to commemorate a wet, damp, painful and rather uplifting cycling trip to Ecuador raising money for Cancer relief. It’s a roller coaster of a novelette in 14 loquacious chapters and when I’m feeling lazy (so that’s ALL THE TIME then), I’ll post a few of the choicer bits.

Man Down!

Remember this?

Al not falling off

And all my manly posturing on how easy it was on the new bike, and how all that was lacking in my mighty toolbox of skills was a little more style? Today, I tried it with a little more style and rather than receiving the plaudits of my peers, instead I received a helmet full of dirt and a full body battering.

But rewind a little. On a lovely winters day, full of the sunshine and light winds that have so forsaken the South East for the last month, we arrived in the middle of a body armour convention. I’ve never seen the place so rammed with play bikes of all description and a riding community ranging from young Gravity Dwarves to elder statesmen like myself.

The GD’s are born to ride in three dimensions launching small bikes over huge jumps while performing complex yoga moves, such as tapping a grubby ear with a Nike trainer while calmly flying at fifteen feet through the trees. Others of an indeterminable age but sporting ungrizzled stubble and motorbikes without engines were winding them up over the big jumps and drops that define the area. Well that and the air ambulances and broken bodies.

Trying to build on the previous festive ride of absolutely no style, I attempted to ape the skills of those who weren’t method acting a sack of potatoes velcro’d to a fridge door. The main aspect missing from my riding – other than the permanent absentees of bravery and commitment – was, and I’m writing this carefully, Hucking. To huck, one must perform a foolhardy firm compression of the bikes’ suspension to instigate a stylish, salmon like leap over the drop. This is best created by driving your body downwards and then allowing the bike to spring back by lightening the sprung weight. Which is this case means you and in my case is quite significant nowadays.

Now think about this – what we’re talking about is flying off a ledge with around twelve feet of thin air between you and the rather thicker ground while taking the weight off the pedals. There an integral part of what we mountain bikers call “the things that attach you to the bike and stop you getting horribly injured“. And yet, it was all going rather too well until, in a moment of unconsidered bravo, I attempted to go large.

As the ledge approached, I pushed vertically down – hard – with both hands and feet , feeling the tyres digging into the dirt. Then as the bike rebounded rather rapidly, I unweighted everything and flew gloriously into space. It was at this exact point that the total wrongness of style over substance overwhelmed me, as my feet and the pedals became pen pals. No longer were we connected by anything other than memory and as the bike landed hard on the downslope, I remember thinking “well I’m hucked now“.

Apparently you can ride this type of thing out. If you’re any good and don’t instantly stiffen up with the type of rigidity associated with rigor mortis. The “Leigh alternative” is to crash painfully down the slope, with feet acting as buffeted outriggers and bollocks bouncing on the top tube. And just when a small slither of survival gloating shafted low through the trees, my attempts to stay upright went sideways. The bike hit a lump and by the power of kinetic energy I exited sideways in a flat trajectory. Luckily, rather than a pleasant dirt surf down the slope unencumbered by stumps or pointy rock, my velocity was rapidly reduced by the shuddering impact of an earthen wall. The whole painful episode could be summed up with the simple phrase “Deceleration Trauma“.

At least my friends didn’t see that” was my first thought as they ran over the hill to see if I’d trashed the bike. A short period of grunting followed while the full body systems check ran as a priority process. Aside from very sore ribs, a stiff neck and battered pride, the initial damage report was encouraging. Only later did I realise that the stabbing pain in my thigh was a perfect mirror of my car keys. These normally harmless items had burrowed deep into the limb in some kind of futuristic organic/mechanical fusion.

The bike was thankfully undamaged. Which gave me no excuse not to limp back on and ride the drop again. The Icy Hand Of Fear was clamped hard over my nether regions but it really had to be done. And it was, with no huck but a silent “thank fuck” as I landed happily still attached to the appropriate staying alive components.

I rode a bit more, but then it stared to hurt a lot more as befits an old bloke doing a young mans sport. So I quit whilst I still had a head but on driving home, my overwhelming emotion was of bloody annoyance that I’d failed to conquer this simple skill. And it never occurred to me until I began writing this that there will be a time when I break rather than bend. But that’s some way off I hope and through the power of Nurafen Plus, cold beer and hot baths, I’m already planning my triumphant return.

And this time, it’ll be so stylish even the GD’s will whisper “not bad Grandad, not bad“.

PS. Never again will I feel silly wearing leg/elbow pads and a full face helmet. They all took a proper bashing and without their protection, I would undoubtedly be enjoying an extended stay at Bedford hospital.

Sod the expense, feel the quality

Our mini roadtrip consisted of 360 miles, one night in a bed and breakfast, one curry in the terrifying post apocalyptic horror that is Maesteg and various cakes, coffees and beers. Oh and an epic 14 miles riding. That works out about 3 a mile and you could run a Challenger tank on that.

There are mitigating circumstances. Firstly daylight is something that only happens in seasons other than winter. There is a counter argument which goes something like “well you have a set of very expensive lights you could use when it gets dark”. That’s all very well but a dark, cold Welsh forest in the middle of winter inhabited by things that may kill you or at least deliver a light mugging, is not my idea of fun when the option is warmth, light and beer.

Obviously we could have set off earlier but that would have removed one of my excuses for not wanting to ride more than once. MonoLung(tm) and heavy bikes mix as well as Relatives and Christmas. Uphill was actually ok as I’ve learnt to manage my lungs when Asthma strikes. Downhill, working hard to get the most out of the bike, left me breathless and stationary at the side of the trail.

Still it gave me time to wonder how the route could be so dry and so much fun. Man made trails are great in winter, they offer a consistency of experience regardless of the weather. There was plenty of grip and not many people which makes for great riding between desperate gasps for a lungful of clear air.

Winter light. DarksideBrad freepushing.Brad last hairpin. Darkside3PM in Wales. I want BST backBrad black run

One lung, not much ideaBrad Whytes

So once the man with the bike carrying van said no and the night plunged down the hill, we abandoned any thought of riding and instead dreamt of edible recompense for our awesome calorific efforts earlier. A sweep of the local offerings suggested no one in South Wales eats outside their own houses until March. We resorted to a meandering trip through the nearby ex-mining town of Maesteg, which told me everything I didn’t want to know about what happens when an industry dies. Streets full of thrift shops, boarded up buildings and really quite scary eyeballing young people.

Still we ate like kings for a tenner each and were burpingly joyful on returning to the car and finding it still had all the wheels attached. We talked long of a big day out tomorrow and slept the sleep of the worthy.

Unfortunately 8am brought Noah out looking for a lost giraffe.

We bought coffee and watched DVDs in the cafe and silently hoped neither of us really wanted to go out and drown. Eventually we abandoned any pretence of riding in Wales, perambulating in a ziggyzag fashion back to Oxford via other possible riding spots. All of which looked fantastic if your imagination could insert “dry, warm and summery” when your eyes reported “slippy, wet and bloody freezing”.

I felt a little guilty about the whole thing until it occurred to me what a great mood had now rolled over my previously miserable form. I didn’t feel any better physically but mentally the excesses of the holiday period had been properly cleansed.

It’s still cold outside but the rain has stopped and the wind died down to a point where I no longer fear for the fence. I think I’ll take monolung out for a gentle ride.

Too Posh To Push.

My preparations for dragging my post festivities body pedalling a pre festivities new bike have been somewhat hampered by a medical complaint. It’s properly medical and I’ve certainly been doing all the complaining and quite right too. What one hand giveth, the other snatches away which medically transpires to a bastard snotty cold and the removal of a lung. The cold has taken up residence in my nose, head and, bizarrely, ears. It clearly intends to outstay it’s welcome sometime even past that of my in-laws. The lung has gone the other way, ravaged by winter Asthma and offering all the oxygenating possibilities of a moist paper bag.

I’m wondering what the cycling equivalent of a cesarean section is. Although there may not be an obvious parallel with those ladies who insist on having their vital internal organs rummaged through in a “find the baby? game. But I too am “too posh to push? and “riding uphill? in this state is nothing more than twisted tautology. If I am to be spared, the nice man with the uplift truck will be operating, otherwise I feel I may be measuring myself up for something sturdy and long lasting. In pine.

But I’m going anyway. One because there’s at least a single Alex based anatomical feature that resembles a mule and, two,  after a week cooped up with small children and latterly annoying relatives, the option is some extreme body burying patio action.

My role during this season of goodwill to almost nobody has been to remove the kids from the chimney on Christmas Eve while my wife has done everything else. This may seem a rather disproportional split but when you consider our chimney is buried behind a foot of plaster and two expensive kitchen cabinets, the split of resources suddenly becomes fairer.

Still on the upside, I bribed them to clean my bike.

Right dad, which bit do I wire brush?

They didn’t do a great job but at least it gave Carol sufficient time to relocate the remaining strands of her sanity. How’s she survived two small children and one rather larger (lager?) one for the last week is a mystery to me. She seems quite keen for me to bugger off though, which may or may not be unrelated to her studious examination of our life insurance documents.

Christmas Bonus

In that I managed to go riding before the onset of delirium, tedium and bedlam, as I naughtily consider my relatives. When the foggy stopping distances flipped from imperial to metric, we made haste in a northerly direction to the Freeride Mecca that is Chicksands. A pagentastic Saturday worship delivered a little mud, tacky but limitless grip and but a few other apostles. Our tempting apple was a warm car when compared to a cold outside, partially frozen beneath a steel gray sky.

But there’s only so long one can stare vacantly at a muddy field enlivened only by the pinging of a fast cooling engine before boredom takes hold. Closely followed by instant frostbite as cold metal stings warm flesh. Eventually after the ten commandments of faffing (of which more at some later day) had been completed, a worthy band of five went searching for the last ladder before Christmas.

Soon our Judas had been outed after declaring himself broken. In an attempt to protect a recently healed fracture on his wrist he performed an experimental dismount on the wooden Shore. His wrist survived but the deceleration trauma on his chest and face somewhat compromised the benefits. The rest of us complained of a litany of ailments raging from fear to hangover passing through cold, apathy and asthma. I was replete with the full set and things weren’t really going to plan until a quick suspension service at fettle central improves the bike if not the rider.

Nice Trousers!

Close your eyes and pray

Continue reading Christmas Bonus

Wow. A mountain bike post.

It’s been a source of some gratification that I’ve seamlessly transplanted my rambling style from mountain bikes to all manner of other nonsense. Bypassing the old adage to write about what you know, instead I’ve written a shit load of drivel about stuff I know nothing about. What’s even more surprising is that you lot keep coming back to read it. I’m not sure if that’s encouraging or just plain scary.

Anyway, with a barn load of bikes and little excuse not to go riding, last weekend provided the perfect early winters day to detox my pie laden body. For reasons of apathy and antipathy, the core of my riding cluster has imploded to just the “Bracknell Two?. Both riding proper manly hardtails but ensuing the lentalist nonsense that is singlespeeding to the power or retro. Honestly, the car park was littered with these machines lacking suspension, decent brakes and any form of obvious enjoyment.

It’s like the ancient sixties car population in Cuba except without any vestige of cool. Still I soon found myself cursing their simple, if difficult to pedal transmission, as rain soaked trails dispatched my gears to a dark and muddy place. My friend was suffering almost not as all since he has one of these fancy internal hub gears, and hadn’t spent a couple of hours fixing his bike the previous night. Yet again, in the face of all historical precedent, spanners were twirled with wild abandon in the mythical search for mechanical perfection.

Actual result in the cold, sober morning light was nothing more than a loose connection between shifting and gears. Cogs refused to engage as I desperately thumbed the shifter, and then viciously dropped three gears when I stamped angrily on the pedals. Luckily I was saved from a difficult head first dismount by a stout contact between helmet and handlebar.

Meanwhile, Nige having no trouble with the Cannondale “Bastard? (so named because various non standard parts have been carefully angle grinded onto it’s once pristine frame) whooping and swooping through the  slippy singletrack with nary a slip of gear of tyre.


Continue reading Wow. A mountain bike post.

Leading from the front.

I thought a good way to spend a weekend would be to go and ride with a complete bunch of strangers. Clearly giving little thought to how this could affect my wallet, what little self respect remains and possibly a vital internal organ. Here I am:

Flickr Pic of ride

Bristling beard to the fore, hungover limbs and alcohol sweating countenance somewhat further behind. And all those following riders consulting their internal Debrett’s to clarify the appropriate phraseology to elucidate “get the fuck out of the way you great ladyboy mincing queen“. This is tricky because we only knew each other through the grooming of Internet forums.

My friend Dave has written the definitive work on forum cliques and there’s nothing to add other than to paraphrase the hoary “there’s nowt stranger than people“. On the Internet you have the luxury of time to think before you speak and edit if you change your mind. Real life is a little more shop front and all the better for it; in the transition from virtual to physical, these faceless posters became amusing and, mostly, drunken companions. They were all properly odd though but since some of them live almost in Lancashire, that’s understandable.

I learned a few other things as well. If you ride with 30+ people with mountain bikes in various states of mechanical distress, the statistical probability points to much faffing and fixing. This happened exactly as predicted except with the slight anomaly that it all happened to me. 34 riders sailed though the ride with nary a mechanical whisper of complaint, while my bike exploded in a catastrophic chain reaction of expensive components.

Well sort of – the chain did anyway and rather than share out the breakages, instead it took it on itself to serially snap under the power of my awesome thighs. Okay that’s not quite true either, firstly the chain bent itself in an interesting manner around the chainrings and, subsequently weakened, snapped during the most inopportune moments.

This left me with a chain so short, I was almost reduced to the horror of singlespeeding and a added injury via a bruised testicle impaled on a cruelly sharp stem. My new non virtual friends wheeled tools with a quiet confidence while I slunk away for a much needed bollock rub.

Proof, if further proof were needed, that Mountain Bikers are true athletes was ably demonstrated during a much needed food stop. Half of the mud encrusted riders salivated over to the pie shop where the poor old dear running it was almost overrun in the stampede for life saving pasties. The remainder haughtily dismissed our pie fetish as unworthy of their personal training goals and instead decamped to the chip shop.

I also learnt not to mix Stella with – well – anything really. Certainly not White Russians served in full size coffee cups and clearly containing dangerous fluids banned under the Geneva Convention. My education was further enhanced by an alternate view of the humble sleeping bag. This became the “staying awake” bag as the bunkhouse dormitories trilled to the whinny of accomplished snorers and rumbled alarmingly, as partially digested energy bars made a noisy exit via the low notes of the bowel trombone.

So all in all, it was fantastic fun although I sincerely hope the next one is in summer. My year round t-shirt attire and hard Northern attitude to weather has been distilled to almost nothing by living in the South for too many years.

Mud in your eye.

The other day, some cheeky bugger accused me of being a card carrying Daily Flail reader. So shocked at this defamatory slur and so sure of my own hand wringing liberal credentials, I got all mung-bean on his arse. But, obviously only in an inclusive, consultative ‘we’re all in it together donchaknow’ kind of way‘. Honestly if I sat on the fence any harder, I’d get splinters but this one off affront to my wishy washy tenancies soon became a two off when someone lent me a book by Jeremy Clarkson because they honestly believed a little of my style matched his.

What? Middle aged bloke ranting at easy targets to an appreciative audience, chucking in just enough contention to preserve some kind of hipness rating. Can’t see it myself, although clearly he’s made a decent living out of being a pretend-radical arse and has verb conjugating off to a fine art. Not that I’d ever prostitute myself on the altar of commercialism because a. it’d go against everything I believe in and b. I’d be there along time echoing “hello” into an empty void.

Still it’s better than being lumped in with the “who should we hate this week” mob of the Mail and maybe one day somebody’ll say “you know that Shakespeare, there’s an odd bloke with a blog who’s a little like him….“. I’m prepared for a long wait.

Anyway the backside of these perceived slights fired off a righteous article on Daily Mail readers with a focus on their little englander mentally and the paucity of the sports pages. So here it is then – except I brought the wrong writing book home and no-one deserves either the Spanish Inquisition or a lengthy discourse on the inner workings of the firm. So instead, I’ll talk about mud – of which here in the Chilterns we have about a thousand words to describe it. Eskimo’s* would recognise our characterisations of sloppy, thick, wheel arresting, wet, oggy, face splattering and cowshit with further subdivisions of elasticity, flingable range and smell.

And in another thriller like twist, that’s not the mud we’re looking for here. This is what my expensive bike looked like earlier.

That’ll be Wales in the Autumn then; the grass is that green for a reason, it rains a great deal to the point where it’s hard to distinguish between reservoirs and flooded fields. I’m not big on cleaning bikes mainly because of the intense dullness of any job requiring the outside use of a toothbrush but also because my one pristine bike is channeling ScarFace. It looks as if the bloke off the Texas Chainsaw Massacre has briefly moonlighted with an anglegrinder and gone to work on America’s finest.

Never mind, it’s over eighteen months old which makes it the elderly bull elephant in the bikey herd. I could keep it for ever, learn to ride it properly and practice non passive-aggressive maintenance techniques, or I could punt it onto the electronic graveyard and see what new clothes the Emperor is currently modeling.

If two anti ego strokes weren’t enough, a further blight to the crop of self esteem came when posts of non bike denomination were demanded in some kind of multi faith love in. You’ve got to appreciate the limited resources I’m working with here – my last dalliance with attempting to become erudite led to me gluing my fingers together. But the snoop cocking Mail article will follow assuming I didn’t write it up as a set of meeting minutes. In which case I’ll be revisiting the commercialism thing 😉

If you like your mud up close and personal, welcome to the word of the macro

* Yes, I do know that Eskimo’s actually have only a few words for snow. I believe most of their vocabulary is made up of phrases to cover “fuck, it’s dark”, “fuck, it’s cold” and “fuck sorry, I thought you were the husky”.

5 go mad in wales

That’s Frank, Jay, Jason, Nigel, Alex and Timmy the spare liver. We’ll be frolicking around in mid wales with lashings of ginger beer later. In between there may be some riding over glacial remains of high valleys, thousand year old peat bogs and recently crashed mountain bikers. It will look a little like this:

Dry Wales. Not tomorrow

Only not really because the forecast talks of other types of precipitational lashings which may raise the water table slightly over the height of the trails. Never mind, expensive waterproofs and medical insurance should cover most of the bases.

And we musn’t go down the “hidden mechanical, faked injury, tea and cake all day” riding denial, as the Antipodean in our midst has already spotted entire flocks of sheep dressed as,er, lambs and is worryingly excited over the prospect of meeting them.

If at the foot of a descent, there is no sign of him, I expect the following conversation to ensue: “Has Jason Crashed? Nah, he’s pulled”

Assuming there is some improvement in the weather and Jason’s not been arrested, we’ll be off here on Sunday:

Oooh.....

There may be some skills on show if any proper riders turn up, otherwise Photoshop offers the valid alternative.

Before we leave this evening, I need to fix my bike. It barely works now but history suggests, it’ll work even less once I’ve crafted deep wounds with edged power tools. Probably best to leave it alone.

They’re at it like rabbits.

Well jumping bunnies anyway. Bunny Hops? Make sense? No? Never mind, only took me ten minutes to think it up.

I appear to have unwittingly signed up to a skills timeshare. Some poor sod has been saddled – or possibly unsaddled – with two weeks of crashing and excuses while first trackstands and now bunny-hops have been enjoying an autumnal holiday round my place. I’m concerned that soon he’s going to want those skills back.

However, in the meantime, I could best be described as insufferably smug. For veterans (and I thank you for your continued support in this ‘care in the electronic community’ project) of this blog, you’ll be well familiar with the ground state of self parody. I like to get in there first so to speak, but also the crushing embarrassment of ever pretending I was any good at, well, anything rightly kills boasting at source. And yet this time a feeling of smugness remains; it’ll all end in tears of course, and probably injury, ridicule and humiliation at the feet of complete strangers. Well, that’s something to look forward to.

In the meant time – bunny-hops, a skill almost anyone with a bike and a single digit age has long perfected. Extremely useful for clearing obstacles such as curbs, logs and vertically challenged pedestrians. It’s only taken me a year to perfect, not one, but three special adaptations of the traditional style. On approaching the obstacle, either:

1: The front wheel remains stubbornly glued to pavement despite spirited grunting, whilst momentum speeds it effortlessly to hit the obstacle square on. The rider instantly dismounts frontwards to hit square concrete some painful distance away.

OR:

2: The front clears the obstacle leaving, this time, the rear to spend quality time at ground level. Inevitably this wheel clips the obstacle in a pacy, vertebrae crushing manner. See adaptation 1: for likely ending.

OR as happens most often:

3: The front rises, like an arthritic elephants trunk, to an epic six inches. A desperate forward lunge unweights the rear sufficiently for it to scrape over the obstacle. The bike then drops vertically hitting the ground to the sound of screaming components and ankles. Around 50% of this adaptation finish with the rider lying on the pavement demanding hospitalisation for broken limbs.

This has become somewhat vexing so advice was sought from the anti-grav crowd; “Get it up and keep it up” was offered and, while we’re good friends, this felt a little personal. But keep it up I must, so my bunny-hop Viagra was a pedal scooping arc joined by a committed spring backwards raising the front a frighteningly high distance from terra firma.

Once the wheel is scrabbling for the moon, a somewhat lewd rotation of wrists and a retraction of lower limbs unsticks the rear. If you like a righteous life, it will lift and you will fly.

New super light weight helmetRacing CarsThe curse of photoshop strikes againBrad. Too much better than me

Okay it’s not the 12 inch high obstacle I was aiming to clear; in fact it’s barely 9 inches and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to feel disappointed with that but, compared to playing urban concrete head tennis, it’s progress of a sort.

It as Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“. It feels magic, well until the morning brings a spasming back, blistered hands and aching shoulders. Practically identical symptoms to a night of of extreme and possibly illegal animal husbandry while some of the grunting is common.

So I think the irritated looking pedestrians got off quite lightly, considering. On that note tho, I am now officially a two trick pony.