Everesting: the sheer lunacy of my uphill battle.

I’m going to level with you: I’ve barely ridden my bike in well over a month. So why, you may ask, am I even considering doing something fairly extreme like an Everesting attempt? Well, given that I’ve garnered the support from my employer (we’re even releasing a charity beer, to be premiered at York CAMRA Beer Festival 2018) and a few local businesses, I’m in the position in which I’ve backed myself into a corner: the only option now is to come out fighting.

This is proving fairly difficult. I’m trying to ride on a weekend but the nature of my truncated Saturdays (still in bed worn out at lunchtime) affords me just Sunday to do anything approaching a focused ride where metres are climbed, and kilometres ridden, ticked off.

There are possible solutions to this. One is to ride out to meet a club and, while enjoying the wheels and the distraction of the group, I travel further with less effort. Another solution is to spend a week or so ‘conditioning’ myself to become accustomed to once again spending consecutive days in the saddle, something I’ve not done for well over a year. This will ensure the habit of riding daily will return, and fitness levels will improve. That’s the plan. Turn my legs. Constantly. Against gravity…

So, with limited resources, but taking full advantage of the Warmshowers.org community (as a guest for the first time rather than as a host!), I’m embarking upon a mini-tour of all the hilly regions the north of England has to offer. It’ll be my first proper holiday in years.

On Monday next week I head west across the Dales. The route then takes me to the Bay of Morecambe, up into the Lake District, across the high North Pennines, eastwards reaching the Northumberland coast, before heading south to my home in the North Yorks Moors on Friday.

If this proves to be an effective plan it’ll allow me to shed a bit of flab, firm up, and hone my mental toughness. I’m under no illusions that it’ll help me climb as efficiently and as effortlessly as I did only five, or even just two years ago, but it’ll certainly help, and let’s face it, the scenery will be beautiful.

So, in order to complete this challenge I do need to fully adopt the mantra:

“I have a life, and it only goes in one direction: forward.

Like Don Draper, I’m usually trying to convince myself, rather than others, that this is an approach I take, becoming nostalgic at all too frequent intervals which are neither healthy, nor conducive, to progress. Yet whilst I acknowledge that I’m never going to turn the clock back to happier, or fitter times, I will strive to improve my current conditions, and consequently those around me.

It won’t all be relentless toil. I’m planning on redressing the prolonged agony of defying gravity by spending time in the stunning locations of my friendly hosts, and meeting old and new friends en route. There’ll also be some missionary work involved too, spreading the good word of Brass Castle amongst those I meet at my scheduled stops at Hawkshead, and Wylam breweries.

I can’t wait. It’s a significant journey for me, and another forward push to chase the stigma. Let’s hope there are some tanline benefits too!


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.


Grimping a North Yorkshire berg, c.1988.


Scaling a similar nearby ascent, almost thirty years on.

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.


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.

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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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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