My Gear Cable is Smarter than Me

At the beginning of the year, long before the mad idea of cycling around Wales came to fruition, I signed up for a few local Audax rides. One of these has the very inviting name of The Kidderminster Killer. It’s 210km of hilly roads, totalling 3,750m of climbing. I’ve been wanting to ride it for a couple of years, but never get around to it (given that it’s at a rather busy time of year).

The only fly in the ointment was Wales – as much as I wanted to do the ride, going all out four days before the trip was probably not going to be a good idea. So when it rained the night before, I thought it might make a good excuse if it carried on. No luck there – nice and dry in the morning. And the scoffing of a colleague at the weak excuse of another that announced he was pulling out due to a party the night before put paid to any similar ideas on my part. So, it was with a bit of misgiving that I set out early this morning, heading for Belbroughton, But my bike had other ideas – six miles out, the gear cable snapped.

A limp home, a bit of repair work, and it’s back to being good as new, but with a little less mileage on it than expected, with hopefully a commensurately higher quantity of miles left in the legs.

This does mean that my training distance isn’t as great as I was hoping for, but I should still be in good enough nick to make it through next week alive. Now for a couple of days off, and then Tuesday sees me ride to Shrewsbury for the start early on Wednesday morning.

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Is it really coming home?

Gosh, where have we seen this before? Only at nearly every major international football competition over the past, say, 50 years. England turn up, either with high expectations (because they’re obviously the most brilliant football team in the world, ever), or with no expectations (because they’re the most overhyped diva-esque footballers in the universe, ever).

In the first case, they struggle against a mediocre team (they’re just warming up!), beat a really weak team (see, told you they were great!), and then muddle through until they’re beaten in the knockout stages. Usually in a penalty shoot-out.

In the second case, they scrape a win against a somewhat reasonable team (hey, maybe they’re not that bad after all), beat a really weak team (not bad? they’re getting good!), and then muddle through, raising expectations up into a frothy lather with every half-baked, misfired goal until they’re beaten in the knockout stages. Usually in a penalty shoot-out.

This time, it’s the latter case. Young, inexperienced team, with nobody really giving them a chance. Scrape through against Tunisia. Thrash Panama. And suddenly, up comes the froth. It’s coming home! Colombia! They’re going all the way! Sweden! They’re unbeatable! Even the loss against Belgium was just a plan to get to the easier half of the draw.

The question is, do they actually have a chance? Granted, the victory in the penalty shoot-out against Colombia was out of character, and the win against Sweden was bordering on the impressive. And something about the tabloid headlines this time has a different character. There’s genuine pride in these youngsters, and Southgate and Kane between them are almost entirely unlike the holders of their positions in the past.

What I do know is that it’s going to be a lot easier living through the next week as an outsider: for the die-hard England fan, it’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster.

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How to Fix Football

Well, I just managed to last through a full 90 minutes of a World Cup football game for the first time this tournament. England 2 Tunisia 1. Yay. The atmosphere at work tomorrow will be positive and productive, and there won’t be too much complaining about the rugby tackle Kane suffered which didn’t lead to a penalty.

One good thing: Football has finally joined the 21st century and is using video replay for penalty and goal decisions. More than 25 years after Cricket did so. Not that it makes that much difference, or that it’s being used consistently – from the evidence of this match, and the France / Australia one earlier, they still have a lot to learn about how to make the most of it. But at least it’s one step closer to a more enjoyable game. But there’s still a long way to go.

So here are my suggestions, as I’m obviously a world-class authority on the sport, and my opinions should be heeded forthwith:

  1. If a player is judged to have dived in an effort to win a free kick / penalty, it’s a yellow card offence.
  2. A yellow card is penalised by a 10-minute suspension from the field. Two yellow cards remain a red.
  3. Let the video team be headed by an official, experienced referee.
  4. If a player argues with the referee, play moves 10m closer to the goal. If the player argues again, it’s a yellow card.

That should remove the acting, pretending to be mortally wounded, the rolling on the ground, the time wasting, and the endless remonstrating. I mean, one of the Tunisian players held up the game for about two minutes after getting a ball kicked into his ribs. Seriously?

Actually, here’s an extra remedy: All footballers should be forced to play 80 minutes of rugby at the beginning of each season to find out what it’s like to play a real contact sport. That might reduce the amount of time they spend as cry-babies.

Edited: And another idea, as a tweak of something that was tried in the 1994 World Cup: any player remaining on the ground for more than 10 seconds after the whistle has blown will be required to leave the field: either to be substituted (if they’re genuinely injured) or to undergo a mandatory 5-minute medical examination (to ensure that they’re not).

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Things to Do in Wales When You’re Dead

There is a well established practice of charity fundraising here in the UK. Not only is the country one of the few in the world that lives up to the foreign aid target of 0.7% of GDP (much to the disgust of the Daily Mail), but its citizens are notably generous as well.

I don’t know the reasons for this (Post-colonial guilt complex, anyone?), but it’s very common for people to raise money on the back of running marathons, or half-marathons (or 10k runs (or 5k runs!)). Or skydiving, abseiling, or the like. Personally, I’ve struggled with this a bit – it feels like a bit of a cheek asking people for money on the back of doing something I fundamentally enjoy. So my 5 or so 100 mile sportives have gone unsupported in this way. I did a 150-mile ride which was organised by a charity, and so that kind of forced my hand. But I’m not very good at this asking for money thing, and only brought in about £40.

However, in a quest to find something more challenging this year, I came across one that is so far beyond what I think I’m capable of, that I think it deserves to serve for a bit of fundraising. It’s the Mille Cymru Audax ride around Wales, covering 1,000km in 4 days. (I couldn’t get a place on the ‘proper’ one which does it in 75 hours, but this is the next best thing I could find.) The route is as follows:

384b

It’s that elevation profile which scares me the most. That works out to an average of 11,000 ft of climbing a day – where the most I’ve done is just under 9,000. And I couldn’t do much the next day that time. It’s going to be brutal. There’s more than just a nod to the old Andy Garcia movie in the post title…

So, to make that pain worthwhile, I’ve set up a Just Giving page here, where you can donate to the Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia affects something close to a million people in the UK at present, and it’s significantly underfunded compared to other diseases. Even if you don’t donate, it’s worth finding out about it – become a Dementia Friend, or read this excellent book.

I’ll probably do one or two more blogs on the training schedule (as anything that includes a ride called the Kidderminster Killer is worth writing about). And of course the ride itself will be covered (even though I just feel like I’m giving you advance notice of posts to ignore).

 

 

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H&S, One More Time

I promise, after this one, I won’t mention Health & Safety until next year. It’s just too easy a target.

So anyway, at our office we have a large open green area – originally intended as a cricket field, it more often plays host to a series of football pitches of varying sizes. There’s a stream that runs around the edge of it (ok, a manufactured stream) with a path along the edge that the Powers That Be encourage us to walk around at lunch (10,000 steps and all that). Now, there are four places where this path crosses water, and there are wooden walkways in place. But over winter, when it’s wet and rainy and cold and dark all the time, the wood gets rather slippery. So they rope off these sections and make us walk in the road instead. Like this:

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Note the “Danger – Deep water” sign as well. The water is deep. At least a foot, maybe two. Definitely possible to drown in that if you’re a particularly small hobbit.

Now, you’ll note that the wooden slats look dry, and this is, believe it or not, because they are dry. At the time of taking that photo, it hadn’t rained in weeks. So I got hold of our friendly facilities folks, and inquired as to whether they had a plan to open up the walkways again. They said, and I’m typing this slowly to make sure you get it, that they were waiting for it to rain again so they could see if it was going to be slippery when wet. But it’s not wet! It’s dry! And therefore it’s not slippery! And there are ways of getting water onto a path without waiting for rain. Listeners with keen eyes and socks to match would have noticed a ready supply in the photo above. Sod the Beatles: a bucket is all you need.

Since that exchange, it has rained, substantially. And the path was dry the next day, and not slippery. But I just don’t have it in me to go back and ask again, so I just move the rope out the way and walk on the boardwalk. You know me – taking my life in my hands, living on the edge – I’m all about that.

However, this got me thinking: surely there has to be a way to take Health & Safety at the office so far past the bounds of what is acceptable that the whole system will break down in a flat spin? Witness the following:

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Exhibit A

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Exhibit B

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Exhibit C

We have the space, the tools, and the obstacles to make an amazing office chair racecourse. Those ladders could be put in Vs to funnel and guide, causing bad decisions and accidents galore.

However, having written this here, I’m afraid I can’t be seen anywhere near it. So if you’re reading this, and you recognise those pictures, go on and do it. I’m thinking the afternoon of 28 June would be ideal…

 

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Cambridge Tour, Day Three

All’s well that end’s well, when it comes to mismade hotel bookings. Sleeping four in a room in a budget Travelodge is all very well when you’re doing a holiday on the cheap, but a surprise uplift to the Old Bull Inn, with Super King sized beds, and a separate room for the kids, was a very welcome change. Not to mention a decent breakfast. Starting out with stuffed stomachs at 9:30 was very different to our 8:30 start yesterday after a Starbucks panini. Wonderful.

The route for the first 20 miles was great too – small roads, winding lanes, and countryside more akin to what we’re used to – wheat fields instead of vegetables, and gently rolling hills instead of endless flats. However, it did skip out on an excursion to Bury St Edmunds, which denied me the opportunity to scratch something off my bucket list: to stand in the town centre and boldly proclaim

I have come to Bury St Edmunds, not to praise him!

Yes, I know, it’s weak. I didn’t say how high it was on my bucket list, and I’m not particularly bothered by its continued presence. The reason for the change was due to the overrun yesterday – it seemed the least I could do to reduce today’s tally by about 6 miles in recompense. Ah well, next time.

Well, lunch in Newmarket was followed by a second stint which took us back to Cambridge, where an ice-cream truck beckoned. In the end, it’s just the urge to finish that keeps you going, and as much as I’d have loved a walk around Cambridge in the sun, it just didn’t happen.

And that was that. Nothing too exciting, just a gentle ride that had a beginning, and a middle, and an end. In total, just short of 130 miles of cycling over three days. Which may not feel like a lot for me – but with pretty much all the luggage packed on my bike, I certainly knew about all the uphills. And it’s quite an achievement for the kids, especially since we didn’t get around do doing any training with them this year. Apart from one trip down to Henley Ice Cream, which is one of our staple routes…

Anyway, here’s a video of the ride:

And one or two photos:

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Cambridge Tour, Day Two: Detours and Tours de Force

Today started much as yesterday finished: it’s flat on these here fens, and once you get up and rolling, the miles just pass by without too much effort. Especially with a tail wind.

There was a section where we went off road, so to speak, taking a narrow single track farm road across fields of vegetables. Wonderful, but a harbinger of what was to come, as our route planning app had actually led us through a private no access road. Which signage we ignored…this time at least.

The villages of Feltwell, Brandon and Thetford came and went, each with a stop for a snack, a lunch, a coffee. Or rather, given our early start and rollicking pace, second breakfast, elevensies and lunch.

And then the route planning came back to bite. The way from Thetford to Mildenhall goes along a dual carriage A-road. So we’d plotted what looked like a country lane through a forest. It turned out to be a genuine forest track which got rougher, and rougher, until we gave up, exited left and took the long way around. 50 miles instead of 43 will not make for happy campers at the best of times…

…only to find that our hotel booking was for the previous night. Yes, I’d made the mistake of booking two hotels in two different places on the same night. Try telling two tired teenagers that they need to cycle 7 miles back to the next budget hotel… So we’ve splurged on an inn a few hundred yards away, with the added bonus of not having breakfast in Starbucks.

Here’s the video for the day’s ride:

 

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