Mad March Hare revisited


So, after a week of ecstasy at the theatre, with six shows and a dress rehearsal, late nights, a lot of hard work and not much sleep, and an after party on Saturday night that leads to crawling into bed after 2am, what would be your first choice activity on the Sunday morning?

Not, I would imagine, getting on a bicycle at 8am, and cycling 83 miles to Chipping Camden and back. But due to the wonderful snow we had in early March, the Mad March Hare ride was rescheduled to today, and I didn’t want to cancel my participation. Firstly, because I’ve done it for the last two years, and building up a pattern like that is something that appeals to me. And secondly, because I’m desperately short of time in the saddle this year due to six weeks of almost continuous rain.

The first decision was whether to use my new bike (with nearly brand-new wheels, which I’m keen not to subject to wet, muddy roads), or my old bike (now showing its age, and with various components gumming up due to a lot of wet weather riding of late without having time to clean it up properly). So old bike it was, which was the right decision for the first and last 10 miles, but not for the 60-odd miles in between, where the roads were dry, and I suffered trying to keep up with those around me. At one stage, I was actually hoping it would rain just to justify the decision. It didn’t, despite me singing ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ to try and jinx it.

However, my exhaustion aside, the ride was fantastic – exactly what I needed after an emotionally draining week. Four and a half hours of being ‘alone’ is a perfect recharge (but yes, I did speak to one other cyclist en route, in case you’re wondering, but no, I didn’t get his name). The route was glorious, with a couple of nasty hills in the middle to look forward to, and some tasty choc chip brownies at the feed stop. It felt a bit weird not having miserable weather to battle with (didn’t even need any waterproof clothing! – how disappointing), but I’m not really complaining.

Oh, and instead of a medal, they gave out chain wear indicators. I’ve been meaning to buy one for years, but have never got around to it. Bingo, problem sorted. Thanks, Dan – excellent idea. Just do something different for next year, please!

Update: I meant to link in to Relive, which shows a nice little video of the ride:

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Caught in the Act

I realised a day or so after my recent blog about beards that I hadn’t actually mentioned my dilly dallying with a theatre group up until that point. This is probably more to do with me not mentioning much at all over the past 8 months than any deliberate attempt to hide anything. But there was possibly also a sense of impending doom (or at least, impending embarrassment) that I at least subconsciously wanted to hide.

But now seems like a good time to come clean and admit to what I’ve secretly been involved in since September last year. It started with a friend’s mention of the fact that her theatre group were putting on Spamalot this year. I didn’t really know Spamalot, but I’ve been a long time Monty Python fan, of the ‘memorised most of the scripts’ ilk. So I thought I’d go along to the launch evening and see what it was all about. After all, if I was ever going to get involved in anything like this, madcap comedy was always likely to be the drawcard.

That night in itself was an experience. I felt like I’d stepped into a different country, full of people who speak a completely different language. They were effusive, and touchy, and feely, and greeted each other loudly across the room, followed by hugs and kisses. I just sat quietly in the corner, trying to avoid the mêlée, cursing myself for having got a lift, rather than propelled myself (as I’d probably have escaped post haste).

But my barber happened to be there, and every 6 weeks thereafter she collared me (literally and figuratively) with questions, and it got to the point where I didn’t really have a choice but to go to the start-up meeting, which then led to auditions, which then led to me getting a part. Not exactly the part I wanted, but a very close second. And then, suddenly, it was too late. Hooked. Trapped. Too late to escape.

Over the course of the following seven months, my engagement with the group rose and fell. There were times I really enjoyed it, and there were probably a few more where I seriously wondered what the hell I was doing there, because I clearly didn’t belong. But generally, the more I went, the more people I got to know a bit better (generally the slightly quieter ones, it must be said), the more I enjoyed it.

And then, all of a sudden, there was the rush of this last week, with costumes arriving, props appearing, dress rehearsals, the set being built in the theatre, tech rehearsals, the orchestra arriving to join us (which, I must say, with my background, is the part I really related to. Nothing adds more to the richness of the experience than the additional complexity of the music). After months of slow, drip, drip, crawl towards being ready from the acting, singing & dancing point of view, the blistering dash to get it performance ready is a real head spin.

But writing now, the day after the first performance, there’s an overwhelming sense of achievement. This is on three fronts – there’s me not stuffing up my part, as well as the coming together of the whole group to produce something fantastic (standing ovation! rousing applause! delirious laughter!). But there’s also the little bit of me feeling chuffed that I’ve tried something completely new, out of my comfort zone, and managing to get through it, and come out the other side better for the experience. I can’t yet say I’m  fluent in their methods of communication, but at least I understand what they’re saying. And it’s not ‘them’ any more, either: it’s us.

And now I get to do that all over again, five more times. Five more times to say “Below me…” with no hint of double entendre (honestly:), five more times to get the footwork in the Finale slightly wrong in (no doubt) five subtly different ways, five more times to sing along backstage with the brilliant Backstage Oral, and help out the exuberantly efficient props manager). I’m already wishing it was a bit more than that, but I guess I’ll have to make do with that until next years’ production.

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In Need of Urgent Hair Growth

I have been forced over the past few weeks to ignore the multitudinous sexist adverts to get my body beach ready (ok, so maybe those adverts haven’t been aimed at me, then). The reason being, of course, that I’ve been hard at work trying to get my beard Spamalot ready. This is not as easy as it looks. Because this is the current situation:

There’s only two weeks to go, so unless something drastic happens, I’m going to be falling well short of emulating my hero.

Bring on the Bob Martins*? And some terrible stress to make it grey?

Alas, I suspect I’ll have to make do with what I have. Unless I pluck the grey hairs from my chest and make extensions out of them? Hmmm… there’s an idea that will be significantly less enticing in the morning.

If you made it this far, and you’re wanting to see this spectacle, tickets are available here.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

* Bob Martins are dog vitamin supplements, which are widely believed to contribute to vigorous hair growth. I suspect strongly that this is a uniquely South African affair, which is rather embarrassing. It may be an urban legend, although sites like this would indicate otherwise. You be the judge…

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The Road Strikes Back

On my way to work, when I’m not trying to keep my bike pristine, I ride along Houndsfield Lane. This has a dip where it crosses the Cole River (of Tolkien’s Sarehole Mill fame), and because it’s a small country lane, there’s a ford instead of a bridge.

Well, there’s a ford for road traffic, at least – pedestrians (and bicycles, of course), have a little bridge, which is nice. Anyway, every now and then, there’ll be some serious rain, and the ford will flood, and smart people will turn around and go another way. It puts 5-10 minutes on their journey, but it’s not a hard decision to make.

Or so you’d think. It turns out that this little ford is the third worst in the country for rescue call-outs, according to this page. So there are a lot of stupid people around. I have seen people being helped out a couple of times over the years.

This is what it looks like when there’s a normal amount of water:

Ford on Houndsfield

There are helpful flood guides on each side which let you know exactly how deep the water is.

So, yesterday morning, the snow is all melting, and the water level has risen, and some twit in a BMW has decided that his 3-series has a road clearance of more than 2 feet. Here is his car:

2018-03-06 07.41.56

Pity the Fool who owns this car…

Not only was his car immobile, but he’d left the front door open, and just left it there. Wonderful. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to see what was obviously a typical BMW driver (if you look closely, you can see it’s an upgraded M-series version) get his comeuppance.

No, sir, BMW drivers don’t own the road. This time, the road owned you.

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Mad Dogs and Englishmen…

… might go out in the noonday sun, but they generally have the sense not to venture out in the Beast from the East.

I, on the other hand, have no such qualms.

I’m never sure, whenever the topic of my cycling to work comes up, whether my colleagues at work think that I’m mad because I cycle, or that I cycle because I’m mad. On days like today, it’s probably a bit of both. Because the long awaited Beast from the East struck this afternoon. Granted, its teeth were well worn down by the time it had made its way across the country to the Midlands, but still: 40mph winds combined with snow can combine to make life on a bicycle something not entirely unlike hell. Here’s the forecast for my commuting slot:

2018-03-01 08.43.28

Thankfully, I’m bright enough to delay my departure to the period when the wind speed had halved, leaving only a light, pleasant breeze blasting the snow into my face. The result was an invigorating tootle through picturesque country lanes covered in snow. Like this:

Gorgeous. Delightful. And for a change, the few cars that passed me were going really slow because they were terrified of the white stuff. Or they were BMWs with rear wheels spinning wildly. Poor things.

As for me, I was hoping for a dramatic photo at the end of it all, in the ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ genre. Alas, ’twas a bit of a let down – barely an icicle to be seen in my hairy chin. I should clearly have taken a detour and made it a longer ride, in order to genuinely comply with Rule #9. Maybe next time.

2018-03-01 16.22.30

The only downside of this weather is that my early season staple, the Mad March Hare, has been cancelled. What do they think we are, slackers? It snowed two years ago on the start line, and it was raining at 1° last year, and that’s half the fun of it. Perhaps a slog down the canal over the weekend would serve as a suitable recompense.


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Missing the Point of the Smiths

People who have watched both US and UK TV programmes will know that there’s a fair bit of difference between them. Most obviously, in the fairness of face of the actors (and especially actresses). UK TV tends to be more ordinary, full of people who don’t sideline as models.

There’s a similar effect in UK music. Nothing to do with looks, but rather smoothness. UK bands tend to produce records that are slightly rougher, and rawer, while US bands get their albums polished to within an inch of their lives. This is, of course, an egregious exaggeration, and I probably deserve to be ignored for this unforgivable episode of stereotyping, but you know what I mean.

But I digress. The point of this is that whenever I think about this sort of thing, once I’ve worked my way past Madness, I think about the Smiths. Because ever since they were recommended to me nearly 17 years ago, and I bought their Best Of album, I’ve never quite been able to understand quite what they were on about. If they were a US band, I don’t think they’d ever have made it big. Their melodies are just too monotonous, they don’t seem to have much cohesion, and their lyrics are bordering on the inane (“Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to“). They’re crying out for a bit of polish like the guy in 127 Hours needed a hand getting out of a tight spot.

Ok, I’ll grant you that “Girlfriend in a Coma” is a bit on the catchy side, but is there anything else out there that doesn’t leave you feeling along with “Heaven knows I’m miserable now”? The songs are usually disturbingly morose, with bland tunes and melody lines with two or three notes to them that develop like a stream of consciousness and are nearly impossible to sing along to because they never develop into anything of any structure whatsoever. The one positive thing about their music is that it tends not to stick in the mind, so you’re not subjected to it for any longer than you’re able to keep it playing.

However, I know there must be more to it than this. They’re so highly rated by the average music commentator in this country, and phrases like “one of the most important bands to emerge from the British independent music scene of the 1980s”, or “the one truly vital voice of the ’80s” are common. They split up over 30 years ago, but still get significant airplay. Which just leaves me feeling like the Jazz newbie who doesn’t quite ‘get’ John Coltrane, and if I only listened to them some more, I’d suddenly twig what it is that they’re doing. So every now and then I go through the painful process of subjecting myself to some more of them. “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does”. No, please, make it stop. “Driving in your car, and I never never want to go home, because I haven’t got one any more”. I never never want to hear you sing about that again.

I can only think that their impact was in a counter-revolutionary sort of way. As an anti-statement, against the standards and norms and structures of eighties music (whatever those were). A protest, saying “By making the worst possible music we can, and getting it played on radio, we’re showing just how artistically bankrupt the music industry is.” “Hang the blessed DJ, because the music they play constantly says nothing to me about my life.”

Alright, so I’ve put myself out in the open here, so if you’re a fan of the Smiths, please, I’m begging you, educate me as to what it is that is appealing about them.


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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Cyclist

No Borstals were harmed in the writing of this post… 

A few weeks back I wrote about long term cycling  goals. I probably finished it up a little too early, because there was something I wanted to say, but just ran out of energy and time to expand. Shortly after that, though, I went on an Audax ride, which changed things a little bit.

Audax is, in its own words, the “Long Distance Cyclists’ Association”. They run a large number of long cycles all over the country, throughout the year. ‘Long’ usually means at least 100km, ranging all the way up to totally ludicrous events such as London-Edinburgh-London (1,400km). There are two types: calendar (organised on a specific day, where you do it with a load of other cyclists); and permanent (where you just get the route, and you do it on your own, or with a group you organise yourself).

I did one of the latter. 200km, starting a few miles away in King’s Norton, and taking in Tewkesbury and Ludlow as the two points of a triangle. Like this:

SaracenMap Clicking on the map should take you to the activity on Strava. 

Now, I’ve done a long ride like that before, but it was organised, and involved about 100 people (the CFC Stratford 150 mile Sportive). The route was arranged so that you passed the start point at 100 miles, giving you the option to bail. So this one was an entirely different experience.

Firstly, there’s the fact that you’re on your own, tens of miles from home. Nobody to come fetch you if something goes wrong. I haven’t felt the thrill of that anywhere else besides swimming in deep water.  You’re also bereft of the assistance of other cyclists, or feed stations, or . On the CFC ride, the first 30-odd miles were in the company of a bunch of semi-pro guys, who dragged me along at an average of 22 miles an hour. I was also in a group of around 7 that helped each other do the last 40 or so. It makes a huge difference.

Secondly, there was no real point to this. I wasn’t raising money for charity, or getting a medal at the end, or anything like that. I just decided that I should do it, and so I did. I took a day off work and disappeared. I’ve never done that before. It’s just a little bit intoxicating, and I yearn for a chance to do it again.

But anyway, the realisation I got from this is that as much as I’ve developed the people-facing part of my personality over the years, I’m still an introvert at heart. Dealing with people is the only tiresome part of my job. But I only spoke to two people that whole day – one at a pub to order a drink, and another cyclist to tell him I didn’t know whether there was a bike shop in the town. With only myself to talk to, I had the chance to work through all the issues I don’t generally get around to thinking about. Normally, I find my weekly Saturday morning cycle to be like a battery recharge, but this was like a complete spring clean. In fact, I said more to these chaps while passing than I did to humans all day:

Sheep in the road

Sheep in the road passing by Hollybush

And so, getting back to those goals I mentioned at the start. I now have two. One is to join the Audax club next year, and do a few more of these rides. The other is a lot longer-term: to get my Eddington number to 100.

To those who don’t know, Eddington is the number of times you’ve ridden that distance in miles. Mine is currently 52, meaning that on 52 days, I’ve ridden at least 52 miles. This doesn’t sound too hard, but in spite of all the cycling I’ve done this last year (just over 5,000 miles), I’ve only increased that from 48 at the end of last year. To get to 60, I need to ride over 60 miles 17 times. To get to 100, I need <cough> 88 more. At my current rate of about 5 or 6 a year, I’m looking at nearly 20 years to get there. So yes, a long term goal. I’ll let you know how far I am when I retire…




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