Every. Pedal. Rev.

I’m trying to convince myself it’s for a variety of reasons that I struggled. I rode my bike yesterday for around three hours. I felt every single pedal stroke. Most were just an effort. Some smarted like sciatic pain. Only my lungs were spared. Everything else hurt.

It genuinely could be attributable to various things.

It was windy. Extremely so. The first three miles leaving my home are uphill, starting at 25% for a good three quarters of a mile, but easing to less-than-false flats that arc westerly into the teeth of yesterday’s prevailing gusts.

When your last three miles to home takes around five and a half minutes, it tells you something about the ride out

I was generally tired, and this local terrain doesn’t afford one an easy start. I am also plodding around on 38mm Challenge Gravel Grinders which, although unimpeachable for the various road surfaces one encounters around here, aren’t the most sylphlike when it comes to ripping up hills, without having to gear down.

I’m also now using — fitted as standard I must add to this kind of all-purpose machine —  (holds breath) — a compact… So, instead of my once effortless shifting of gears from my datum of 53:17, I now have to navigate gigantic leaps across ratios. These are as jarring to the legs as they are to the eye; straight through blocks are pretty, large chainrings, graceful.

There is also my recent dislocation. For almost twenty years I had the luxury of choosing bespoke routes that accommodated levels of free time and tiredness/enthusiasm. Now my rides are more limited. Beautiful, but definitely limited. I’m still finding my feet around these parts. A few widely scattered cafés would help…

Yet this myriad grasping don’t quite explain the fundamental reason I struggled: I’m getting old. I’m getting soft around the edges. I’m getting comfortably lazy. There is one, and only one, remedy for this current condition: to “get out of my chair” a little more. It’s easily alleviated  (well, easy in theory). Ride more.

Be like Coppi: “ride a bike, ride a bike” ad infintum.

Be tough. Be cool. Embrace the cycling life I once immersed myself into. Early to bed, early to rise, makes the rider happy, healthy, chiselled and bloody hard.

It’s fair to say that I’m at an impasse in my career, and those closest to me know the consternation, and anxiety this has meted out. There are future opportunities, some of which may come to fruition. Yet when regulars in the brewery tap house helpfully suggest that I should take up coaching I smile and politely deflect the conversation. If pressed I have to assert that not only is the market saturated with ‘coaches’, many of whom have no more than a 2:2 in some peripheral academic discipline and a fail-safe business plan — oh…and an internet connection, but that I’m currently not the best man for the job — being a bit soft of late.

It is indeed time to get out of my chair.

Pride and ambivalence: notes from an ageing cyclist on the Tour de Yorkshire.

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Grimping a North Yorkshire berg, c.1988.

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Almost 30 years on. Scaling a similar nearby ascent.

In the summer of 2014 a bold move to bring the Tour de France’s Grand Depart out of the major cities and into the provinces, as part of its biannual excursion away from French soil, was realised. The ambitious project to start the iconic event in Yorkshire, and route the first two stages through some of the most visually stunning landscapes this island has to offer, created excitement across Europe, and not just for cyclists. On that sunny summer weekend, Yorkshire’s towns, cities and rurality were bathed in the light of a million eyes, smiling at the spectacle of our ministerial majesty, dry stoned, sheep-lined dale providing the pastoral backdrop for a sport which successfully encompasses that tricky continuum from tradition to modernity. Graphene, carbon and titanium carved this ancient topography, propelled by athletes precariously pushing their biological provenance to physical, legal and ethical limits. Local businesses harnessed this opportunity to showcase their surroundings with relish. Many benefited significantly from being situated on the race’s parcours, taking several month’s worth of profits on just one day in July. One other notable outgrowth was the Tour de Yorkshire.
That one time occurrence, ‘when I rode from my doorstep and back to watch Le Tour’, was to be replicated in a fashion, albeit on a considerably smaller scale. The lower profile stage race would take in local roads that myself and many of my cycling acquaintances had ridden countless times, in various states of exhaustion. It would swoop past cafés we’d sat ensconced in for hours, and it would scale the minor mountains that had tested us in training and in racing. We knew how physically demanding these roads were. We smugly differentiated our hard northern selves from our softer, southern other; who even cared about Ditchling Beacon when there was a climb like Rosedale to negotiate? Our hills provided that Holy Trinity of cycling challenges: gradient, crosswind and ‘grippiness’, a nebulous term used to sum up all manner of difficulties in road surface and general rideability. This new Tour of Yorkshire would illustrate just how tough us northerners were, are. We’d bask in the reflection of the sweat wrung out by these Continental riders. We would study their gearing, comparing esoteric notes. For those technologically switched on, digital GPS applications such as Strava measured the efforts and provided a numerical, though meaningless, hierarchy from which one could gauge levels of ability. It helped that we all knew someone participating who we rode with on a regular basis. A chance to rib and tease, but ultimately to respect.
More importantly for old-timers like me, the route provided a chance to congregate on hillsides with faces of shared, past endeavours. I stood on a cold, anonymous climb during the inaugural 2015 event only to be beeped and waved at by past team managers and teammates as they drove their lurid, laden team vehicles at speed along the twisty gravelly lanes. It brought a smile to my face knowing I had a tenuous place in this race’s nascent history. At pubs and cafés I encountered semi-familiar faces in varying stages of greyness and fitness, shaking hands and remarking upon appearance and well-being. It was reassuringly nice, to be rooted in some local community that was now brought to an international audience.
This year I’ll be indirectly connected again. One of my son’s bands is playing in a well-known local village as the the race passes through . He’ll be pumping out funky bass riffs to visitors and residents alike in celebration of the event. By virtue of my local knowledge, I’ll be able to watch the race in at least two places, relying entirely upon my bike, and ailing legs, to get me there.The inevitability of seeing ex-teammates by the roadside will mean I’ll once again be able to reconnect with my personal cycling heritage. Yet my deep love and history with cycling has been exposed to a bittersweet threat.
The increased popularity of cycling has been a product of many factors, many of which are external to the growth of this event. Yet there is a common outcome: the increasing numbers of cyclists taking to the roads, especially on weekends. This is of course great in itself. Mixed abilities now don cycling garments and both sexes participate in an activity which until recently had been the domain of the working-class male. There is a beauty to this burgeoning heterogeneity of cycling: it has become less impenetrable, more cosmopolitan, more Euro, and in some ways (though only some) less cliquish. However, this wave of popularity has spawned reaction. The centre-right press have fuelled the tirades of parochial residents averse to large groups of cyclists travelling, often discourteously, through their suburban and semi-rural communities. The gulf between motorist and other has grown, and it is growing. There is of course a certain irony here: most cyclists drive, and many motorists now own a bike. Yet the antipathy towards my kind is reaching a worrying hostility. I hear it a lot, especially as I reside in a small market town associated with this year’s event. Roads have been repaired, though much to the chagrin of disdainful drivers having been held up at temporary closures, and the day itself will incur frustrating diversions for those not bothered by the event’s imposition. I’m preparing myself mentally for this backlash.
There is one other facet to the swell of interest in cycling that irks. I’m no longer different. I’m lumped together with other middle aged men in Lycra. For almost thirty years I’ve been nonchalantly arriving in race headquarters and cafés personally harbouring that thrill of exoticism that was perceptible to me as a young lad, eyeing up the disciplined formations of shiny aluminum silently escaping the urban grime on Sunday mornings. The narcissistic vanity of cultivating the tan and tone of muscle still appeals, but the rest has evaporated. When asked about any aspect of my cycling, I feel compelled to add the rejoinder, “I’ve been doing this a while!” Yet like the miles I’ve clocked up in my legs, I’ll continue to slog those ribbons of tarmac that grace the Yorkshire landscape for long after the event, and perhaps cycling’s popularity, has passed.

Big Tees Sleepout Nov.’15 MIDDLESBROUGH AND TEESSIDE PHILANTHROPIC FOUNDATION – JustGiving

On a night that will be remembered for the awful, soul-destroying events in Paris I just need to air my garbled sentiments on sleeping ‘rough’ for charity with Joe, and how those atrocities inevitably informed the experience.
It boils down to this. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere other than beside him, regardless of lack of shelter.
To be there talking about the big stuff, the universe, friends, family, relationships, school work… is a million miles away from the alternative: not being with him.
I’ll ensure he’ll never be at the mercy of the elements in this way. I’ll also ensure that although there’ll be times when he is elsewhere, doing his own thing, he’ll still be talking about the ‘big stuff’; never one of the misinformed, disenfranchised, malevolent and malignant that perpetrate and perpetuate such actions against humanity.
X
#BigTeesSleepout
https://www.justgiving.com/antony-mckenna1?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=antony-mckenna1&utm_campaign=pfp-tweet-mobile

Tony Benn interviewed by Eric Hobsbawm (1980)

Hatful of History

Hobsbawm Benn

The death of Tony Benn this week is the second major loss for the Labourite left after the unexpected passing of RMT leader Bob Crow. As usual, the internet is already filling with obituaries, tributes to and commentaries on Benn, so I’m not sure what I can really add. So I thought readers of the blog might be interested in an interview with Benn conducted by Eric Hobsbawm in 1980 for Marxism Today. It makes for very interesting reading and highlights some of the tensions within the Labour left in the early 1980s, as well as the hope that Labour could mount a serious challenge to Thatcherism during her first term.

And for those looking at the Labour Party today, Benn made an interesting argument for how to rejuvenate Labour – through deeper trade union involvement – which seems to be the opposite to what Miliband and others are…

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Grant applications, early 20th century style

Computing: The Science of Nearly Everything

warburggrant

Facsimile of a research proposal submitted by Otto Warburg to the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft (Emergency Association of German Science), c.1921.

The application, which consisted of a single sentence, “I require 10,000 marks“, was funded in full.

(read the full Nature Reviews Cancer article)

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We Wish You a Merry Shostakovich Christmas

The Exhaustive Shostakovich

Christmastime is here, just about.  Shostakovich, however, didn’t write much seasonally appropriate music, being an atheist in an atheist state.  Yet connections between his work and the holiday can be found!  For one — a very tenuous one — the opening lick of the D-flat major prelude from his Preludes and Fugues, opus 87 bears an abstract sort of resemblance to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”:

That excerpt comes from an album of sharp opus-87 wind arrangements played by the Calefax Reed Quintet.

Closer still to a carol is a piece in Act I of The Limpid Stream, which, as noted previously, starts out sounding quite a bit like “O Come All Ye Faithful”.  As a sort of Christmas bonus the quasi-hymn is followed immediately by a few repetitions of the short-short-long “Jingle Bells” pattern, although it reads less as “cheerful holiday tidings” than as…

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One-off hardships and life’s luxuries.

My day tomorrow looks like this. Bike ride with nice coffee, read, fall asleep to Mogwai. Tea, then, sleep rough
Evidently, we have it easy.
All of our days are filled with little luxuries.
Many people don’t, and the reasons are so manifold it is becoming increasingly difficult for our stretched public sector to address the root of these issues.

So, please contribute to the @bigteessleepout at my Just Giving page.

Thanks.
Tony.