Sunday, 30 September 2012

Air ambulance.....

Despite a gloomy forecast the morning started dry and calm. I was up early and, somewhat worryingly, decided to eat some left over pasta from the previous evening's supper. My rationale was sound; riders at the big events on the continent always eat lots of pasta.... simple as that really. I topped up my bottle with a couple of tabs of electrolyte replenishment and I was away.

It was a wise choice to opt for long-pants. Even though the thermometer suggested otherwise it was most certainly cold. Moving through the air at around 15mph exaggerated the problem. My legs though remained warm - the rest of me was another matter. Why hadn't I chosen some proper gloves?? - Why didn't I put on thicker socks?? - these were the questions that preoccupied me for the 6 or so miles up to Thornton Reservoir. They remained unresolved as i pulled into the car park of the 'Steam Trumpet' pub.  Already there was a collection of bikes of all shapes and sizes and likewise their owners. I signed on and collected my route map, a T-shirt and a banana. I found a seat at one of the outside tables and waited for the group of work colleagues who had arranged to be here. We were joining a sponsored ride, raising money for Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance. We were riding approximately 45 miles and visiting 7 pubs. For me, with the ride from and too home it would be around 57 miles.

I was surprised how many people were turning up for this event - the car park was full of cars, their owners unloading bikes, some could be seen through vague, foggy windscreens wrestling with lycra and thermal vests. And as we neared 9.00am, the designated 'official' start time there was no space at the Inn. Cars were strewn along the roadside as even more riders arrived. The banana skins were becoming a problem and I was relieved when my friends arrived and we were able to get underway.

The route was complicated. The organisers thought it would be a good idea to Google the various pub addresses and offer a route between each. The result was the entire decimation of a forest somewhere and we were all issued with 400 sheets of paper. Luckily Dave had his trusty iPhone and a most excellent app that gave him a detailed turn-by-turn route - soon we were off, heading on a lumpy up and over route to Loughborough. We got a little bit lost in the town centre but not for long,  we arrived at The Paget Arms just in time to enjoy a bacon sandwich, courtesy of the organisers - and another banana. Then we were off again, heading now for The Horse and Trumpet. After narrowly avoiding more discarded banana skins, and topping up energy levels with orange squash and a snickers bar we set off again. Our next target being the Dog and Gun. From there it was a short run to the Cow and Plough - here the organisers had laid on lunch, a choice of crusty cheese and pickle or roast chicken cobs. Oh and plenty of bananas to wash it down. After a break of about 20 minutes we set off again, on the homeward stretch now, heading into the city of Leicester and The Time Bar. After that, another city pub - The Western, this one was interesting, particularly because it had the biggest box of bananas we had yet seen. The sky was darkening now, rain was on the way. We set off, upping the pace just a little as we made our way via cycle tracks to Thornton, pushing up the final steep hill and arriving back at the Steam Trumpet just in time to see the landlord load up the barbeque with banana splits. We enjoyed a free pint of Billy Bitter and a burger - and the banana splits were good too.

We helped raise over £2000 for the ambulance appeal - the organisation at each pub was really good - the pubs were all interesting and, we thought, worthy of another visit. I just wonder what will happen to all those bananas?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Cycling's 'Roger Bannister'....

Ray Booty - Fixed wheel speed merchant
Ray Booty was the Bradley Wiggins of the 1950s.
A pre-eminent British time-trial cyclist, famous, above all, for becoming the first rider to complete a 100-mile event in under four hours: the equivalent, it has often been said, of Roger Bannister's four-minute mile. 
Unlike today's generation of celebrated British cyclists, however, Booty, who has died at the age of 79, retained his amateur status, spending his working life as an electronics engineer and using the daily ride to and from work as part of his training regime.

He made a distinctive figure in the saddle of the fixed-wheel Raleigh Record Ace which he used for both competition and commuting. "The Boot" was a powerful man, standing 6ft 3in, weighing 14st, and wearing a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles on and off the bike.
His great 100-mile ride came in the Bath Road Classic on a hot August bank holiday Monday in 1956. Using a fixed-wheel 84-inch gear, and with cold porridge in his drinks bottle, he finished a circuit taking in Pangbourne, Shillingford and Abingdon in 3hr 58min 28sec, more than 11 minutes ahead of the second-placed finisher, Stan Brittain, and the rest of a formidable field. 
The only drink available as he finished, exhausted and parched, was a bottle of sour milk, but he drank it anyway. A month later, using a three-speed hub gear at the behest of Raleigh, whose managers were always conscious of a marketing opportunity, he set a new record for a "straight out" 100 miles in a time of 3hr 28min 40sec, which stood for 34 years.
Ray, still riding at almost 80!!
He won the national 100m championship every year between 1955 and 1959, and was the 12-hour champion from 1954 to 1958. His consistency and prowess over the longer time trials earned him the coveted title of British Best All Rounder in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Many believed that he had the talent to compete as a road cyclist with the continental greats of the time, and that only a lack of ambition held him back. In 1958, while doing his national service in the army, he won the British Empire and Commonwealth Games road race in Cardiff, using his power and endurance to overcome filthy conditions. It was the last of his great achievements, although he continued to ride in club events into the 1970s. He retired from Rolls-Royce shortly before his 60th birthday, but was still riding until pancreatic cancer was diagnosed in January this year. From his hospital bed he watched Wiggins's victory in the Tour de France with great enjoyment.

Monday, 17 September 2012


Without even looking at the bedside clock I knew it was early when I woke up this morning. The warmth of the night has roused me several times making me kick off the last remaining sheets from my body. It is dawn and I have awoken alert and aware. I lie for a moment listening to the final fading hoots of an owl somewhere distant. I leave the house without any refreshment. No breakfast, no drink. The new morniing sky catches my eye as I make my way through empty silent lanes. As I arrive at a high point I have a panoramic view stretching before me. The scene is bathed in a light grey blue haze, like bonfire smoke. The sky is changing with every breath, a red glow thickens and forces its way through the canvas, haemorraging around the clouds’ silhouettes, dispersing sunlight and illuminating the landscape. daylight is now on full power.

Occasional glints of intense sun sparkle through the shifting sheets of cloud, there are golden shafts beaming down to the bare earth, while blackbirds sing from leafy perches. There's more of a wind today - it provides a consistent and obstinate obstacle as I ride up my first hill. The lateral lines of the landscape interest me; from on my bike I glimpse at the view over and through the gaps in the hedge. The scenery looks like a picture painted by some giant artist, perfect parallel lines of umber, ochre, green and yellows upon sloping gradients and rising seams of rotovated earth. The sky is like a distant seascape, clouds as white as horses with the sun a bright, clear perfect disc. It is liquid -flowing and blending. 

For many years I was lucky enough to live with a river running along the bottom of my garden - there is immense pleasure to be gleaned from quiet contemplation close to water. Each day, each hour would offer something of interest, the passing swans, a visiting heron, the flash of a kingfisher, coots, moorhens I even saw snakes swimming one hot summer afternoon. I watched butterflies, saw dragonflies perform that miracle of emergence on still water surfaces among water lillies in high summer. I paddled, fished with nets, and did much dreaming by the river - idyllic and generous stream. the memory nourishes me still, although the best thing about a river is its permanence. You may cherish the memory of a house you lived in only to find it has changed beyond recognition, but the river remains the same.Like hills and the sea, rivers defy change - they are indestructable, they have something eternal about them, a thing of wildness and tranquility, of motion and stillness, of music and silence, of life and solitude, simplicity and secrecy. It is a complete world. It not only has its own life but attracts an astonishingly diverse life from other places and things. 

The best of a country's history might be written its rivers. Water has a powerful mystery about it. Still waters, moving waters, dark waters; the words themselves have a mysterious ring. Roads, meadows, towns, villages, gardens, woods are man-made: a river is a primeval piece of work, ageless, perpetually young. It travels and yet remains - a paradox of eternal age and eternal youth, of change and changelessness, of permanence and transcience. 

If there is a certain flavour to these words it may be comforting to reflect that they will be true, roughly speaking (barring astronomical accidents) in a thousand years time.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Look out Royal Mail!!!....

There's a man in Cornwall who delivers the mail.... on a Penny Farthing.

With the hike in stamp prices most of us have no option but to stump up the cash - but Graham Eccles of Bude has decided to offer his local community a cheaper, alternative postal service.

'Postman' Graham Eccles on his Penny Farthing
The Penny Farthing post is a mail service with a difference; letters around town are personally delivered by Graham on his penny farthing bike. The stamps, designed and printed by the postman himself, cost 25p - a saving of 35p on first-class Royal Mail stamps!

"When i heard about the rises, I realised that my idea, which was initially just aimed at tourists, had legs" said Graham. "Three weeks in I deliver around 100 letters a day"

Graham initially printed only 480 stamps - within 2 days he'd sold out and the local shops that act as his 'post offices' selling stamps and collecting items for delivery were clamouring for more. "At the end of my first week I was dropping to bits" added Graham "I wasn't used to cycling 15 miles a day and my penny farthing needed a new back wheel"

The reaction has been nothing but positive - Graham is now working on designing his own post boxes made from converted gas bottles and painted bright yellow. For the time being Graham is sorting the mail in his kitchen - but his dream is to have his own post office centre with his partner Jayne as postmistress - "I want to encourage the younger generation to love the written word. Everyone's growing up with texting but receiving a letter is special"

Saturday, 15 September 2012

September ....

September has turned into the best month for riding – the shortening days however, impart an urgency as well as inspiration. Or perhaps it is just that the muse is more bird than goddess: she shakes herself and takes wing now, as the hills change tones and the leaves colour and no day is a settled thing. In September they are all kaleidoscopes of lights and moods.
If there is nothing so disappointing as a treat cancelled, then nothing so exhilarates like an unexpected pleasure. So farewell to the wettest summer in a century, good riddance to soaking, sodden August, and welcome, sweet September, time of colour, variety and invigoration. I am back from a ride of 20 miles or so, the air was warm and the sun strong if low. Nothing in the way of wind to worry me, just the happiness and freedom of being out.
September is a wonderful month. If years are rivers then the season’s turn to autumn is a widening, bubbling confluence, that point when currents mingle, reaches broaden, when the light flares like a candle before it gutters out. Now there will be new faces in classrooms and offices, fresh starts, new seasons of programmes and new films. Here come new clothes, new fashions and new books in the shops. Parents can relax while teachers take over. Airfares tumble, hotels have vacancies, beaches unclutter and lovers steal weekends and take city breaks. Weathermen can drop their apologies: suddenly the country is a mosaic of microclimates. Gardeners will tidy up, salvage what remains and burn the refuse. Between the flies dying off and the cold closing in, farmers can ease up for once. Here come days with suggestive scents and skies of many blues: pale azure and cool cerulean.
You might not feel like admitting it now, but if you really wanted to live in the land of the midday sun, where one screaming summer day is the same as the last and the next, where the nights are all sweat and mosquitoes, then presumably you would have moved there. Instead you choose to live in our temperate latitude, in a country of anticyclones, maritime winds, fleet brilliance and gallivanting cloud. Nevertheless, it would be very kind if we could have some more Indian summer weekends now, when the sunlight feels like the blessing it is. Lack of sun has bowed us a bit: a lady outside the chemist’s told my mother she feared she would get rickets. She is thinking about going away. That is one option. Or you could cycle - into our hills or out to the lakes, looking up to the sky and sun and tracking the year’s change as it comes.
The swifts are gone already, the cuckoos, chiffchaffs and nightingales will follow. Their departures are good signs, signals that the globe is still working. In their place the geese will come, the waders, redwings and fieldfares. Rooks will switch to their autumn roosts and starlings band together at dusk. The winds will rise as the light angles more obliquely: a sailor told me he has noticed many more gales around Britain in the past 20 years. There will be mad-flung days when children are as skittish as kittens, and there will be still, clear ones, with bonfire smoke streaming straight up.
If the Gods are jealous of us it is because we die, and therefore live more vitally. Watch people walk under tumbling leaves, observe the swallows gathering on the wires, see the strewn skies and feel the first pinch of cold in the wind. Life is not a summer of rains nor a winter of snows. But it might just be a jumbled, dappled thing like a September day, changeable, vigorous, blowing and tilting between one thing and another and full of sensation.
I'll be going out again tomorrow.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Belper Arms...

The indian summer has arrived at last – bringing beautiful rose pink sunsets. The fields are alive with activity as farmers scrape in the remaining summer harvest. Out on the bike the shimmering heat mixes with dry dust clouds as the farm workers toil and swarms of insects bellow along the lanes tormenting cyclists like me.
This week our beer ride is ‘off the record’. Our official Wednesday evening pub rides finished in August – but we decided to make the most of the conditions and, aptly, make hay whilst the sun shines.
The Belper Arms
Our target for the evening was The Belper Arms at Newton Burgoland. Reputedly the oldest pub in Leicestershire. I didn’t know it, but apparently ‘Newton’ is the most common name for a village in England. The ‘tun’ at the end is the Anglo-Saxon meaning a settlement, so Newton means, quite literally, new settlement. The Burgoland was added when McDonalds opening a branch in 1983 – No – not really. Burgoland was added in the 14th century and comes from the Burgilon family.
The Belper Arms dates back to the 1200’s and was reputedly built prior to the building of the village church, to house the masons working on the construction. Known originally as The Shepherd and Shepherdess, the deeds to the Inn and the surrounding land were purchased in the 17th century by Lord Belper. The pub is said to be the oldest in Leicestershire – most likely along with many more. It is a pub that displays much in the way of Olde Worlde charm – and mostly it looks and feels very good. Many ancient timbers, a lovely old tiled floor, a couple of open fires adorned with various shiny brass artefacts. It’s the sort of pub that every village would be proud to have – it really looks the part on the inside.
The letdown is the beer. Sour, flat and unloved it spoils the party with a resounding bang. It seems remarkable that the owners can’t see it and, more importantly. Do something about it. However, like many village Inns, The Belper relies heavily on food to earn a living. And it is quite probable that food has taken precedence over the more traditional, but less lucrative wet trade. I tried a pint of Black Sheep, it tasted tired and was lifeless. Next it was Taylor’s Landlord – marginally better, but definitely below par. No matter though, it was an enjoyable evening ride and, to be fair, the chips at The Belper are amongst the best you’ll ever taste. Beautifully evenly golden with a slightly crisp exterior and then soft and fluffy inside. We enjoyed a couple of bowls to take away the taste of the beer.
At 9.00pm we set off for home – by now it was pitch black in the country lanes, but a beautiful clear sky meant I ambled home with one eye on the stars – it was so cool to start that my teeth chattered before I became acclimatised. A couple of sharp hills warmed me enough to convince myself that the evening was worthwhile – but the evenings are drawing in – there’s more than a whiff of autumn in the air.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Mad Idea....

I have the answer. No more money worries - I've started a bank.

I shall be seeking a bailout first thing next week.

What can you expect from 'Bank with Paul&Gary'?

Well, I will of course invest your money wisely.

For example, I shall only back horses with spookily prescient names. Take 'Old Git on Bike' in the 3.30 at Redcar. That sounds as though it'll be worth a flutter.

Plus, I have had some exciting new banking ideas. There's the underdraft, the extremely personal banker and the no-credit card (your inflexible friend).

I shall be paying myself a modest million a year before bonuses. Why not come to your local branch/my garage and fill out an application form?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Audax ride - Camelia and Canal Bridges....

It's been a while since I have posted a 'proper' blog - apologies! - the demands and restrictions of work have resulted in less time out on the bike unfortunately.

Firstly though I must mention a couple of things that Gary has been involved with of late (cue a rare blog from Gaz perhaps???) - This last Wednesday he went on the beer ride, I couldn't make it, at the meeting point in Burton on Trent there was a man at the bus stop carrying an Olympic torch - a real one. It transpired that he had actually been a carrier and got to keep the torch - Gary and Paul from over the road were quick-witted enough to make the most of a brilliant photo opportunity and duly coerced the bloke into passing it over for a photo - wow - I wish I'd been there - how many people do you know who have held an Olympic torch? (Gaz will load picture, I hope!)

Secondly, Gaz went to a bike fitting session on Saturday morning - these are available pretty much all over the country, however our local one has the advantage of being administered by Adrian Timmis - an ex professional cyclist who rode in the Olympics and also The Tour de France back in 1986 (I think? - anyway it was the year that Stephen Roche won it) - so, a good bloke to help with getting you and your bike set up properly. Gaz texted me after he'd finished the session. His position on the bike had been dramatically altered - saddle up 4cm handlebars down 7cm - this sounds drastic - but Gaz informs me he has never felt better on the bike - I'm sure he will add further details (come on Gaz....).

Okay, so with his new bike set up, and me struggling with what I think is a cold, but could be some sort of hay-type-fever with all the harvesting that is going on at the moment, we met at Moira Village Hall to ride the 'Camelia and Canal Bridges Audax' - 107km. We did it a couple of years ago, missed last year because we went to see the vintage bike riders (check out blog from this time last year). The weather was good - I rode from home, by the time I'd got there I'd covered 18 miles on the route I took - so I was well warmed up. We headed out through Overseal, up to Grangewood, down to Clifton Campville  and on through Thorpe to Alvecote. From there we took a cycle track through to Whateley and crossed over the motorway to Wood End. We were moving at a pace! - we'd started with the first group out and  they weren't hanging around - it felt good though and riding in a 'peloton' was fun. Traffic was considerate, giving way to us and being patient when stuck behind us!!

We progressed to Hurley Common and then to Nether Whitacre for the first stop at the garden centre - there we got our cards stamped, had a quick drink and a bite to eat before heading off to Hurley and then Baxterley - nice pub here with a village green and a duck pond. Then it was through Pinwall and on to Ratcliffe Culey. I was struggling by now - each hill saw me drop off the back, luckily I was able to catch up on the downhill or flat sections, Gaz in the meantime, remained firmly towards the front of the group - that new set-up has obviously added something!

Onwards now to Wykin and from there through Dadlington and a stop for another card stamp at Sutton Wharf - a lovely canal side cafe - a coffee and a slice of cake went down very well. We carried on into Sutton Cheney, down the hill past the Bosworth battlefied site and on through Shenton to Far Coton - we were on my home turf now and I was feeling knackered - I decided to drop off and ride home from Carlton - well I'd ridden to the start so my excuse was I'd already done the mileage! - I got home, aching, sweaty and tired - but it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride - I coved 71.2 miles in total - Gary texted again when he got home - when I left him he rode along with a man of 70 who had completed Lands End to John O'Groats in May and was heading to ride up Mont Ventoux in 10 days time - how spooky is that? - apparently he wanted to ride the course again!!! - I say he should be drug tested!

P.S. - I get the canal bridges of the name of this ride - but Camelia??? - any ideas?