Sunday, 12 October 2014

Old Ports - Eastbourne Weekend

As the Indian summer finally gave way to Autumn proper it was time for the Old Ports Eastbourne Weekend. Billed as a detraining ride, it is an easy going and indulgent weekend that gently closes the door on the formally competitive cycling season. I had to miss the group ride down on Friday, but Gary and I girded our loins in the face of dreadful weather forcasts and set out to join the gang at Jevington on Saturday.

Gary has put me in charge of navigation (in the land of the blind....) so it we took possibly the least picturesque route via the B2026 to the foot of the Ashdown. Ok simple pleasures. The climb to the top of the Ashdown Forest via Chuck Hatch is probably one of my favourite climbs, regardless of the season. Have done it against iron grey skies, in warm sunshine and with rain so hard I had long reached terminal wetness. But every time it has been a pleasure. After that we followed my time trialing nose onto the A22 for a frankly unpleasant ride to Hailsham. What is tolerable for a TT as 6.30 on a Sunday morning, is darn right nasty at 12.00 on a Saturday. Once off the A roads we had navigation challenge. Given that between us we had two Garmins and Two Iphones but still ended up asking for directions from a man who was carrying a large tyre across the road, probably says something not good about us.

Anyway we reached the 8 Bells in Jevington to be welcomed into the bosom of our club mates, and the worlds smallest portion of battered cod. We had enjoyed a mild and dry ride, they had been treated to a good soaking which to be honest I was quite smug about. As ever is was great catching up with people and meeting a few new faces (Joe and Terry - great to meet you.)

Now, Terry seemed very chipper and full of beans and as we rode back to Beachy Head had plenty of zip in his legs. I had 50 odd miles in mine, but was still impressed. It was only later he explained that he hadn't actually ridden down on Friday. He had been feeling a bit poorly so brought his bike down in his cab. So, he managed the sum total of 25 miles on a cycling club weekend away. Gold star for Terry. The upside was he drove our bags back so I shouldn't complain too much.

The return over the Ashdown coincided with a vintage truck event which meant I got to enjoy lung fulls of exhaust fume nostalgia as I slogged up to the garden centre, where Say rode out to meet us. Now the cafĂ© at the garden centre does lovely coffee and a tasty tuna baguette, and the people who work there are delightful, but as we arrived one of the staff said 'I forgot you were coming.' The place was full and we knew that this meant we were in for a long wait. My previous visit had resulted on a 45 minute wait for a coffee and a sandwich a record that today they were striving to beat. To add insult to injury once Bash had got the final mouthful of his coffee down, we were asked to note that people were waiting for our table and could we sling our hook. erm thanks for that.

Mentions in dispatches - Michael 'Dion' Howe if you could climb like you can descend the world would be your oyster. Joe C- great to meet you, strong ride. Vino - looking stronger than ever, off the front yes, not so much out the back anymore, and thanks for stopping me and Say ploughing off in the wrong direction. Alan - looking good, getting stronger on the uphills all the time. Julian, a man whose overshoes will inherit the earth, and big thanks to Bashers for making the whole thing work and herding that the cats that are the Old Ports.

After peeling off at Edenbridge, Say, Gary and me arrived at the top of Clarkes Lane in time to see the awesome David Millar heading to start his final race. Nice little end to the day. Made it back home in time to watch the rain start. Excellent stuff.

Millar and Schleck - Both retired but very different legacies

Ok, Julian I know I should be writing about the Duo and such things, and I will get round to it. But seeing the twitter feeds about David Millar's final pro race at the Bec Hill climb made me reflect on how different an end to career Millar is enjoying to that of Andy Schleck.

Both Millar and Schleck appeared as massive young prodigies, huge talents that the cycling world could barely wait to see unleashed. Both promised great things, before circumstance, reality and personal flaws kicked on. One never recovered the other found a way of coming back, maybe never achieving the athletic heights he and we dreamed of, but a better man than we could ever have hoped. The other slips away with a palmaris that boasts a TdF win, that  I imagine he will never bother watching on DVD.

Today Millar came full circle, with a storytellers sense of a narrative, back to the domestic TT scene that launched him over 20 years ago. Some of the people there today, we there for him all the way back then. He journey is well documented, but that he is able to return to his roots and be received with such unambiguous warmth is a testament to how complete his recovery as a man has been.

Schleck on the other hand is all ambiguity. A talent, greater than Millar, but one who just didn't seem to enjoy leading. The knee injury that has been put forward as the reason for retirement seems almost symbolic. This is a man who retired seasons ago. He always seemed happiest riding for other people, especially his Brother. When Frank got busted for doping, Andy didn't seem to know what to do with himself. As a young domestique riding for Satre he cheerfully worked over Cadel Evans with a clarity of purpose he never seemed to find when riding for himself. Yes, the record books will show he won the TdF in 2010. Yes, Contador was done for doping. But Schleck never really looked capable of delivering a knock out blow racing against Bertie. Bertie is a winner, he was one of the few who would incur the wrath of Brunyeel and Armstrong to ride his own race. Schleck came second in 2011 but since then, for a rider who should have been maturing into his prime, he has all but vanished.

For the future,  suspect that Millar's legacy will be a large one, and that continues to be a force for good. Schleck's will only live on in other peoples stories.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

About The Chain Race

I have posted on the blog a story I wrote a couple of years ago, The Chain Race. It is  based loosely on the life of Choppy Warburton and his stable of racing cyclists in the 1890's. The main sources was Gerry Moore's 'The Little Black Bottle' but the story of Choppy crops up as a footnote in a few books on the history of cycling though I suspect that Moore's book is the principle source even for them.

The story takes us back to the point where the sport was just beginning to take the shape we know today. The case of Choppy is often sighted as evidence that there was never and age of innocence in cycling, that doping has been part and parcel of it since day one. But maybe what is more surprising is how Choppy assembled a world class team of British riders, the nucleus of which came from one family and their friends in Wales.

For anyone who has the stamina to read it, thank you.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Mad About the Boy - Bridget Jones - Send her back to a simpler time

Bridget Jones appeared in the mid 90’s, an optimistic and frivolous time. The economy was on the up, the Berlin  Wall had come down. There was a fresh young government on its way, Brit pop had won the war, and Brit art had conquered the world. The grim 70’s and the grasping 80’s were supposed to be giving way to a better time, less boom and bust, more ethical. It was starting to look like things were even going to get better even for Palastine. Football was going to be great and women were free to get just as pissed, and be just as sexually indiscreet as they wanted to be.

With that backdrop the light comedy romance of a young(ish) angsting woman making her way in the media kind did fitted the mood of the time. It was a satire, but an affectionate one on a certain type of person. Much could be forgiven in a world where Loaded was flying off the shelves and porn had gone mainstream. The reappearance of the now widowed 50 plus Jones is a much more problematic. Much is to do with the times. Brit Art’s place not only in the world but our popular conscience is much diminished. Brit pop can now been seen as the defeat it was. But much more we have been living through seven years of austerity, at time that has seen many people (and not just the poor an ill educated) face real hardship. We are faced with what feels like eternal rolling conflict in the middle east, and the old superpower tensions are back. It’s a far harder, meaner world than the one where Bridget was left last time out.

Of course you will know none of this from the pages of Mad About the Boy. Bridget and her circle of (extremely) well off relatives and friends seem completely untouched but the troubles of the intervening 18 years. Even the detonation of Mr Darcy in Darfur does not seem to have given Bridget any insight into the world beyond her immediate experience. Nobody, not even the boho Rebecca appear to have any money concerns, as they move between private school functions, edgy London Nightspots, parties and gatherings. They are oblivious to any world beyond this. And we were told, we are all in this together. Helen Fielding has, if we needed it laid bare that lie.

So where do we find Bridget and why should we care? Now over 50 and widowed she is raising her two children on her own. Well on her own with the help of family, and wide circle of very nice friends and no shortage of cash. Mr Darcy had to have been killed. For him to have taken the more familiar exit route from a marriage, infidelity and divorce, would have harmed the brand of the earlier books. But his death allows us and Bridget to embark on yet another featherlight search for love. In this she seems to have gained no knowledge or wisdom, but re-enacts the innocent abroad that appeared in the earlier books. It proceeds, following an updated version of the diary format through a series of set pieces. These have a familiar pattern where unlikely social catastophy leads to short term grief and humiliation before turning out alright in the end.

While one is led to believe that Bridget is chaos on legs she does also seem remarkably and effortlessly talented. She manages to acquire and agent for her screen play, a screen play that actually starts getting made, without this being a burning desire. Her creative career is placed a long way behind her children and her search for a man. And here we stumble onto more dodgy ground. It feels like one of those British comedies from the 1950’s with Dirk Bogard. The kind of film were despite being a genius all a woman want is a man. This image is hardened by a supporting cast and plot that determinedly follows this path. While in the 90’s Girl Power and Ladette drowned out many feminists, this is no longer the case. But Bridget’s circle seem untouched not only by austerity, but have not heard the rising voices of feminists either.

I presume this book has not been written to be the catalyst for some violent uprising by the have nots. So who is it for? Who empathises with Bridget enough to come away from this book warmed inside. I guess there is an element of wish fulfilment. If Fielding’s readership has grown with her, then yearning for the excitement and pleasure of new love must have a big appeal. It is also reassuring, everything turns out ok, even though the children get nits and pick up leaflets on venereal disease and tell the school embarrassing things. Its also at times quite funny. Fielding creates some nice moments. But its not enough. Like Loaded and Oasis, Bridget Jones belongs in the 90’s, something we can look on as typical of its time. Reheating now sees a book that struggles to rise above the crass.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

SCCU 100 G100/60 - Round and Round we go

Back at the start of the season I had some fine ambitions of doing a 4.30 in the SCCU 100. Reality had dawned in the recent ESCA 50 when  I came in with the 2.15, maybe 4.30 wasn't going to happen, but I nursed dreams of something around the 4.40 mark. Then I saw the course. Hmmm.

This one kicks off as did the SCCU 50 with a run out to Bolney, a trip to Henfield and then onto the A24. I had an early start 6.16 and that meant the traffic hadn't built to much by that stage. It the heads down to Washington, before turning back on a lumpy twisty bit of road through Partridge Green and back onto the A24. We had 41/2 laps like that to do. While I had been on reasonable schedule up to the start of the first lap  I was losing a couple of minutes each time I went through. I kept a consistent pace, and was doing a reasonable job of maintaining the heart rate and decent position on the big.  I just didn't have the power. I held my own on the A24 but found strong guys spinning past of the return.

Other G100 courses use this for a couple of laps, and I have never found it easy, but with the loss of the course after Southwater this was pretty much the only option. Finished with a 4.50.22 that was some way from where I wanted to be, but as they say its the race of truth. Only one other Port entered today, John Mulvaney and faired much better with a 4.42. That said for those who can it isn't that tough a course. The winner Steve Kane of Brighton Excelsior romped home with a 3.54, which is frankly incredible.

Big thanks to Jacqui Champion who was there to encourage and hand me a bottle, and another big thanks to Sam Ramsey of Lewes Wanderers. Sam had been clever enough to park his car near the finish, and generous enough to offer me a lift back to the HQ, sparing me an extra 4 miles I didn't need. Anyway, glad its done, and kind of accepting that this is a season of rebuilding after two fallow years.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sham 69 Punk (disappointingly not) Footnotes # ??

A couple of days ago browsing facebook I came across a link from the Dead Kennedys page to an article where the write reflected on the most disappointing punk albums ever. This was as balance to praise for the first Ramones Album.

Clearly to be disappointing the band in question must have achieved a level of success and had a reputation. However lacklustre I may have found Peter and the Test Tube Babies, I don't even think they would list 'Pissed and Proud' amongst the greatest. The author of the article picked on Rancid (Clash lite and hype), My Chemical Romance (Emo isn't punk) and the Misfits (just not that good). All fine choices in my view but I think fall short of my selection.

With a nice 35 year gap, the greatest gulf between reputation and the actual quality of the output has to fall to Sham 69 for the 'That's Life' album. Actually I could have picked on any of their albums but That's Life just got unlucky. Some bands have enjoyed positive critical reappraisal  over the years (X-Ray Spex for example) Sham's havn't. However they were massively popular at the time and had a devoted army of skinhead fans (which has a lot to do with their rather ambiguous legacy).

However that they racked up a string of chart hits and was generally taken seriously does seem remarkable when one listens to this record. Firstly its a concept album, about some numpty bloke's day. To link the songs into sub quadrophonia story between tracks you have little bits of dialogue. I found this toe curling when I first heard the album and it has curdled with time. One thing to note is how cinematic Sham's influences were. Films like A Clockwork Orange, and Scum, along with kitchen sink dramas and Spaghetti Westerns seem to feature large.

The album contains Sham 69's best song, the cheery and very silly Hurry up Harry. Its a cracking tune and the lyric is light and fun. These are qualities largely absent on the rest of the album. Jimmy Pursey's approach to lyrics seemed to be come up with a half decent opening couple of lines, or a chorus and then any old drivel will do. Frequently this drivel is delivered as mighty social commentary, that then collapses under the slightest scrutiny. exhibit A

Running for the bus in my flash blue suit
someone shouts out poof so  I put in the boot
I don't want to wear it, its my boss that tells me too
So when you laugh at me, you only laugh at you

Er no Jimmy we are laughing at you.

Again maybe the world was different back then but their depiction of working class life seems to skate pretty close to Chas n Dave (actually I feel a thesis on the influence of Mrs Mills on hardcore punk in the late 1970's coming on). Such classics as 'Everybody's Right, Everybody's Wrong' and 'Win or Lose' or 'Is this me or Is this you' (can you see a theme here) bring little inspiration to the world. The song 'Evil Way' may have sounded like laddish knock about fun in 1979, now sounds like a battle cry for date rape.

Sham69 did have huge influence. The whole Oi/Street Punk style has its roots in Sham 69, not just on this side of the Atlantic. On the sleeve liner of Flex Your Head, members of the nascent Minor Threat wear Sham t shirts. When Sham's thick chords and terrace chant choruses are twinned with Wire's velocity and brevity one has reached hardcore. But Sham's great tunes are thinly spread, and  what sits between quickly becomes tiresome.  Its not rubbish, there's the aforementioned Hurry Up Harry and a few good lines here and there. But it just isn't that good, and worst of all, actually quite boring.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fake Sheik, Rattle and Heads that Roll

Whatever actually went on between Tulisa and the Fake Sheik what puzzles me is why it was seen by the CPS as the kind of case worthy of taking to court. I may have lost my moral compass but attempting to supply £860 worth of coke doesn't  seem to me to place Tulisa in the Napoleon of Crime category. We live in a world where the middle aged daughter of a former Chancellor uses a little charlie. Whatever his motivations, the scale of Mazher Mahmood's investigation went way beyond anything the alleged offence justified.

From my perspective it would have seemed the kind of offence that would be handled with a caution if anything.  So  I took a look at the CPS site to see what kind of sentence Tulisa could have expected. I was surprised by weight of the sanctions. Some years ago I came across a woman who had been stabbed by her partner and the Police would not take the case forward because she was not willing to testify against him. He was a thoroughly violent and nasty man who soon after stabbed a friend, and had an appalling history of violence and antisocial behaviour. In the context of this the sentences around drugs seemed heavy. However but to Tulisa's supply case.

Against her is that Coke is a class A drug so it all gets very punitive. However there are significant mitigations. He role as a supplier seems to fall into the 'lesser' category. She seemed to be involved through naivety, her influence of the supply chain small and could be said to have been pressured into doing it. Then is the quantity, I am not expert but my assumption is that £860 would place it in the lowest category in term of volume. In addition the purpose of the supply is also relevant. She was not dishing it out in school playgrounds. Instead she obtained a small quantity for what she would have believed was a business associate (maybe even friend) to use on a lads weekend. On this basis if convicted Tulisa, who doesn't have a long history of drug dealing, and who from the evidence was having massive carrots dangled before her, it is likely that it would have ended in a community sentence.

On that basis I do wonder whether some of the CPS motivation of pressing ahead with this case (where they would have been aware of all the entrapment challenges etc) was not in some way driven by the celebrity not of Tulisa but of Mahmood, the fake sheik. To have left the case on file, or issue a caution would have not satisfied. Given the high profile of the investigator and the huge operation he had undertaken was this a pressure to go ahead with a case that seems to lack value. Interesting to the public yes, in the public interest, dubious.

There are cases where Mahmood's tactics have been of value in capturing genuine gangsters. If that is where he focussed his talents few would have anything but admiration for him and the papers that employed him. The choice (especially in the post Leveson world) to use this weapon to embarrass and humiliate mid range celebs for minor wrong doing seems foolish, both on the part of the paper and Mahmood.