Monday, 31 December 2012

New Years Eve 2012....

Today I rode my bike for last time this year. The final bike ride of 2012 - I grasped it with relish.

After the recent rain storms the sky here looked clear and fine - with a kind of pure morning clarity. The wintry beauty of trees is enhanced by it. Trees stand out at this time of year with their own characters; knotty oaks, thready birch, spindly ash - and there is a remarkable grace to them, a lacy like pattern. Yet together from afar they have a solid permanence. 

I rode through quiet lanes for a couple of hours, early, just after the light arrived. There were a lot of dog-walkers out - and then I passed the first of many cyclists; some dawdling along singles and couples and an impressive peloton of fit looking riders all dressed in blue and white matching jerseys. My mind raced from work issues to forthcoming holidays, from what to cook for supper to what books I need to read - a myriad of thoughts all in a few minutes. But the vision of the trees distracted me. They give the land a sense of rich solidity even in the deadness of winter, the rich veins running through cropless fields and vacant pasture - they save the view from barrenness. I marvelled at the water filled ruts across an open field - probably made by a tractor but now displaying sparkling flashes of intense brightness from the low lying sun.

Everything seemed so still today. My bike was remarkably quiet, considering it is in such poor condition, which seemed to amplify the silence. The damp, windless air feining a preclude to spring. The grass in pastures looks thick and rich in places and I passed willow trees that looked varnished with freshness. The soft air and mild weather results in a distant lingering mist, so that the colours of the bare woods on the horizon are dissolved into a tender soft blue wash like still smoke or shadows on snow.As I rode back towards home thinking that the wet stillness and silent immobility of things create a brief sense of spring I realise that, in fact, the land is in suspense. Nothing is happening, but it is as though something is about to happen - like the quiet pause in a movie score that sets you on edge before something jumps out to scare you - the suspense is full of mystery and expectation.

As I neared home I watched two horse riders approach, the clip-clopping sound slightly muffled by the damp air but getting gradually louder. As I passed the two girl riders greeted me with a "Happy New Year" - that made me smile. I do like the festive season.

Sunday, 30 December 2012


Yes! All those things that only a few days ago you would have sold your Grandma for are now dirt cheap.

Santa-slippers, nativity-swimming-trunks, wise-men-punch-bags, glow-in-the-dark manger,  pine-needle-scent eczema cream,  tinsel-thong,  mechanical-reindeer,  myrrh-pie, bumper-sized-wall-mounted-advent-calendar, yule-logarithmic-table, snowflake-jumper, spray-on-snow... all 50% off!

Turkey sandwich anyone?

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas......

....and a happy New Year to everyone out there who bothers to look at these pages.

Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read this blog - sorry that I haven't had time to produce more lately - I will try harder in the New Year!!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas Bike Tree...

Now this is what I call a Christmas Tree.....

Friday, 21 December 2012


Like most of you I have a next-door neighbour. So far he hasn’t appeared on any of these pages. I don’t encounter him all that often and when I do we have a slightly stumbling discussion, about the vagaries of both the weather and the bin men, after which we might shuffle about a bit in the certain knowledge that our small talk has come to its end and one of us will say ‘really must be getting on’.

If I ever snap and embark on a killing spree he’ll be able to tell the press, with all sincerety, that I was a quiet man who went out on his bike - sometimes early in the morning. And I’ll be able to say the same about him - except he doesn’t ride a bike - well he does, but its a motorbike.

But the other day when I saw him he said - ‘You’re a bit of a cyclist aren’t you?’ It seems that because cycling in the UK is now such a massive success, everyone wants to take an interest - okay fair enough, when he asked me about Stan Boardman’s Lotus bike I realised his research was somewhat lacking - but at least he was interested - his next question was: ‘You ever rode a time-trial, like that Bradley bloke?” - its kind of a random question really - a bit like asking a pub footballer if he’s ever tried to mark Wayne Rooney. I told him I had - but many, many years ago, and only 10 miles and I wasn’t very good. “Do you reckon I could do it” he said “I play a bit of golf, and it doesn’t look too hard - if that Bradley bloke can do it I reckon I could”
“Yes" I said - "give it a go - you might think about winning the Tour de France as well”

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Call of nature....

People always seem shocked to know that cyclists, in particular racing cyclists, take a pee whilst riding. There was once a pull-out poster in ‘Cycling weekly’ - a lovely colour spread of a Tour de France bunch riding easy and tightly packed together. It must have looked great when the designer picked it, but I’m guessing he was working with a transparency. Full size it was hard to miss the Yellow jersey wearer in the middle of the picture, taking a call of nature as a team mate pushed him along. His modesty, and probably the designers job, was preserved by the handy intervention of the centre staple.

Then there was an article in a magazine about how to piss on the move. I imagine it was aimed predominately at men. There as a list of bullet points, the second of which read, (and this is true)...  ‘Three ways to tell if you need to go’ followed by ‘ How to liberate the penis’. I tend to feel this was written by an American. It seems to me that if you need bullet point instructions on how to pee you’re probably not yet ready for unsupervised urination.

Getting back to the point - its not so much technique that puts men off the manoeuvre, its more the possibility of arrest, Some shy-bladdered riders will actually go to surprising lengths to avoid causing outrage. Seeking out isolated fence posts or hidden gates, often travelling miles along deserted back roads in their search. But for the racer there is nowhere to hide - a quick rummage in the lycra, lean to one side, let it all hang out and get it done. It’s a scene you won’t see on the TV coverage though.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A ride to the Doctors.....

My run up to Chistmas is a hectic one this year. I am employed, until Christmas Eve evening, taking photographs of families visiting Santa in his grotto and posing with the reindeers. It's a good job and the visible thrill on the faces of the young (and sometimes old) is a constant treat. But this morning, before my alloted start time at the Winter Wonderland at Conkers, I needed to make my annual trip to see the doctor - get a check-up and make sure things are as they should be - blood-pressure is an issue for me so I was hoping things would be okay. I decided to cycle there - although it was damp and dreary, the prospect looked and felt reasonable.

I headed out on a vaguely circular route, well wrapped up against the fresh morning chill. I rode up through Bagworth and round to Thorton before heading for Newbold Verdon. It's a lumpy circuit and the hills soon warmed me. It has been a while since I've been out - my legs felt the strain, especially on any terrain other than dead flat. There was a vapourous softness to the light as I pedalled through open country, the trees in the distance seemed far away, the mistyness giving them distance and smudging their form into the grey sky. The big oak trees on the horizon stand with an extraordinary savage solitude, with the broader woods at each side looking like the discarded black pelt of some wild beast thrown raggedly alongside. As I approached the village and the surgery, the sky transforms itself. There is sunlight and suddenly from the gloom emerges brilliant blue and copper tones, wild and soft by turns. I cycle past a row of cottages and the bright sunlight blinks at me from between the roofs. There is a sutry milkiness to the shrubs and borders as I pass them, and I notice a couple out with their dog further along the road.

My visit to the doctor was a short one - blood pressure check - fine, a quick probe with a stethoscope, fine - weight check - not so good - an increase, which will need to be rectified before London to Paris!!
Soon I was heading back - the route seemed even hillier than the outward journey but it was nevertheless enjoyable. 15 miles in all - not a great distance - but it felt just right.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Wig Mac!

Bradley looking good receiving his award

"It was," said Bradley Wiggins, "the year to be British wasn't it." It was also the year to be a British cyclist and above all the year to be Bradley Wiggins, crowned as BBC Sports Personality of the Year to engrave 2012 as Britain's year of the bike.

Wiggins, dressed in a navy velvet suit, won the public vote – with more than one and a half million people voting – to succeed his former Sky team-mate Mark Cavendish. It is a nation's recognition not only of his historic achievement in becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France and following that by claiming Olympic gold just days after parading down the Champs-Elysees in yellow, but also a personality, sometime edgy, sometimes unpredictable, always worth listening to, that was on full display last night. "I am not going to swear tonight," he said as he collected the prestigious award.

His win in the time trail in London was his fourth Olympic gold medal and seventh in all, leaving him alongside Sir Chris Hoy, also shortlisted last night, as Britain's most decorated Olympian. On a night that unfolded as an unashamedly red, white and blue wallow in Olympic and Paralympic achievements

"When they didn't mention Mo I thought, 'oh God, I'm not in the top three" said Wiggins. "I thought I was in with a chance but when you are up against Jess and Mo and Andy, you never expect it on a plate." With Dave Brailsford, the guru behind Team Sky and Britain's Olympic team, winning coach of the year – not forgetting Yorkshire pitching a winning bid for the 2014 Tour – it caps a remarkable year for the sport in the UK. Globally cycling may be reeling from the impact of Lance Armstrong's unmasking as a drug cheat, but in this country it has never been in better shape, either at grass roots or elite level, and that will be recognised this week when the next round of funding in announced. They will be well rewarded.

The BBC has released some of the voting figures. Wiggins got 30 per cent, Ennis 23 and Murray 14. The cyclist's margin of victory was just over 120,000 votes. At least 6 of those were mine!

Asked how he would celebrate being voted the nation’s Sports Personality of the Year, Bradley Wiggins winked.
‘I will go home and have a cup of tea,’ he said before breaking into a smile. ‘It’s a free bar so it would be rude not to give it a hiding.’ That sounds more like it.

Seven hours later a bleary-eyed Wiggins was photographed in a McDonald’s; his blue velvet double-breasted suit from a Soho tailor looking more than a tad dishevelled. Early rumours suggest that McDonalds are about to rename their signature dish - what's the betting we'll be seeing a 'Wig Mac' on the menu soon.

... and in McDonalds - the morning after!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A short ride...

I've been so hindered by work deadlines, new projects and existing contracts that getting out on the bike is a rarity - in fact I've resigned myself to the fact that the rest of this year is more or less a write-off in terms of mileage. I might fit in 2 or 3 rides more before Christmas if I'm lucky.

Last week I did manage a short ride between engagements - there was a break in the frosty weather and while the rain held off I decided a quick ride in the dark would be beneficial. Having made the decision I changed quickly, and before I could properly think about it I was out there. I decided on a quick and easy circuit, just 8 or so miles, and as I pushed up the first hill my lack of miles of late became apparent. These roads were easy a few months back, I would fly along at around 20mph whereas now 12mph was a struggle - I consoled myself that the darkness and cold made all the difference. Then, as I approached the junction for Congerstone and along a tree lined stretch I noticed something at the edge of the road, an animal of some sort, caught in my lights it halted as I approached - I slowed and watched it for a few seconds before it moved into the trees - it was dark brown or maybe black - like a big ferret - it had lighter tones to its face and maybe underside. I was unsure what it was - I considered that it might have been a mink. When I got back I looked it up on the internet and the closest I could find was a polecat - could it have been? Not entirely sure but the photos I found certainly looked like it was, more so than a mink anyway.

Today I've been photographing again - hoards of families eager to visit Father Christmas, his reindeers and elves at Conkers in Moira. It's a tough assignment - outside, on my feet all day, photographing children and animals - a combination fraught with problems! At 2.30pm I thought the day was moving along quickly - by 5.00pm I thought how much the day was dragging - it is one of those jobs. Interestingly though, one of the visitors today was the TV chef Glyn Purnell. I recognised his broad Brummie accent first (it was getting dark when he came through) - and as he lined up with his friends and family and I composed the shot I decided not to ask them to say 'cheese' in the accepted norm - I went for 'Michelin Star' instead - at least I got them to smile! He apologised for what he thought was a fair bit of messing around from his group (there wasn't really) - That's Ok I said - just give me a discount next time i visit your restaurant! 'No problem' he said.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Rare photo of 1940 Tour de France...

Here is a rare photo of the German team, taken cautiously during the 1940 Tour de France. Being black and white it is difficult to pick out the yellow jersey - but it's the bloke wearing the helmet.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas jobs...

As Christmas approaches and we wave goodbye to another year it occurred to me that as I approach almost 300 posts on this blog there's only so much one can write about riding round on a bike! And it is especially difficult when you don't manage to get out on the bike. So it is that this, the first blog of December 2012 is not about cycling at all. I haven't been out, my cycling has been confined to my imagination, thinking and reading. I have made a couple of new cycling book purchases. A most excellent book about my all-time favourite Eddy Merckx.

Entitled 'Merckx 525' (the 525 being the number of races Eddy won) this is a premium, authorised book, lavishly produced in coffe-table, hardback style with colour and black & white photos throughout. In addition to its authorative text, this beauty of a book contains a unique collection of exclusive photographs including many that have not been seen before. It is the only book authorised by Eddy Merckx on the occassion of his 65th birthday and the first truly complete record of his accomplishments - its worth treating yourself! - come on, it's Christmas!

I have just started a Christmas contract taking photographs of families as they visit the Winter Wonderland at the Conkers visitor attraction at Moira in Derbyshire. I signed up for this back in the summer and suddenly its here and I've just done my first weekend. Basically its a seasonal attraction, part of a much bigger and widely visited forest/woodland attraction. There's a walk through the trees to Santa's Grotto and there's a sleigh that the people climb into and I take a couple of photos of them with a couple of real reindeers, then they carry on to see Santa who is sitting in his rocking chair inside a 100 year old log cabin - with a wood burning stove and elves and all the trimmings. As these things go it isn't at all bad - but I'm out in the cold all day and, sadly, don't have the time to cycle!

If you're paying a visit to Conkers with your kids this Christmas, come along and say hello.