stranger things have happened

stranger things have happened

I’ve called a lot of things wrong this year.  The unexpected has caught me out time and time again.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so shocked/surprised to get a puncture in the rear tyre of the bike currently doing Indoor Training service.

But come on – who has ever heard of an ‘indoor puncture’?!

It wasn’t caused by the rear tyre overheating, my wattage is mediocre at best.  Nor the usual pinch flat that my shoddy tyre changing skills are prone to.  The only evidence is a small pin-prick in the inner tube.

I don’t want to cast aspersions and as ashamed as I am to even think it, I can’t look past my 4 year old daughter as a likely culprit to test the pretty blue tyre with a pin.  She has form – previously dispatching a blow-up mattress with a BBQ fork just before bedtime whilst camping.

She’s the easiest target after all and I don’t want to risk accusing my wife, things would really blow up then.

What strange and unexpected events can we expect in 2017?  Trump brokers a lasting peace in the Middle East supported by his ally Putin?  Assuming that US Election isn’t declared null and void when Trump is revealed as a Russian ‘Sleeper Agent’ – a puppet of Putin.

Maybe the European Union disintegrates when a new Government in Germany – elected in reaction to Merkel’s open-door immigration policy – refuses to prop up the failing economies of Italy, Spain and Portugal (maybe that is not so strange/unexpected).

What kind of 2017 do we want/need?  Dull and predictable or for the crazy to continue?  I’m not making any predictions (except that Chris Froome will win his 4th Tour de France – assuming Team Sky isn’t kicked out of the World Tour for TUE abuse).

sweat out Brexit

sweat out Brexit

I’m loving indoor training.  I get it. It’s my new favourite evening (in).  A cycling variation on Netflix & Chill.  Just sweatier. For 1.

Netflix & Spin.

It’s OK to change your mind.

Select interval training program, clip in and sweat.  I’ve always loved a good sweat – somehow cleansing.  This is sweating of a different magnitude – puddle on the floor sweating, I’m considering wearing a McEnroe-esque head band.  Just considering, I’m not there yet.

It helps that I can overlay a box-set on to the trainer control panel, positioning it over the ever slow ‘time to go’.  An episode (or 2) of Vikings later (I’m fully up to speed on Game of Thrones) and with total mileage spun loaded up to Strava.com, keeping the annual mileage ticking up – it’s an hour well spent.

I admit I was wrong about indoor training.  I’m not going to stop now even though my hand is healing and ready to get back on the road.  As I mop the floor, I ask myself what else might I be wrong about?

Might I be wrong about BREXIT?  What if…

Britain is a trailblazer (BREXITEERS would love that), the sparks of the EXITEER-movement shows signs of catching alight in Continental Europe.  Amongst the post-truth hysteria there are some incontrovertible truths.

  • The EU is a project that needs a reboot for our times. A post war concept born out of disaster it has served to preserve peace for 70 years.  But nothing lasts forever.  European Federalism looks tired and outdated.
  • Globalisation needs the brakes applied. Globalisation is super-efficiency, super-low-cost, super-I-want-it-now.  Is it worth it?  Are the jobs lost making jeans in the UK* to 3rd World Sweatshop using child labour worth it?  Globalisation isn’t by the people for the people.  The Globalisation we have allowed is for the ever-demanding consumer by the stateless corporations.**
  • Political and Civil Bureaucracy needs trimming a back. Central Governments are weighed down by unnecessary self-fulfilling bureaucracy that has lost sight of its original purpose.  The gravy train is running at full speed, no one can jump off (even if they wanted to), it’s impossible to get on.  Maybe it’s time to drain the swamp.  Just not if it’s to build a parking lot (that’s not progress).

We don’t need the same-old capitalism, liberalism, socialism (see above outdated project needing a re-boot), we can’t turn back the clock but we can work out a new modern international dynamism.

I hope the UK can be at the vanguard, sweat out the clowns (boris, farage, rees-mogg) and show the right way through smart thinking, hard work, no cutting corners.***

*Substitute with any Developed World country

** http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/12/05/mark-carney-warns-first-lost-decade-150-years-brands-eurozone/

*** I’m not convinced we’re heading in this direction.

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

For no good reason, I decided to deviate from my usual route home.  Have you ever taken a wrong turn and instead of turning back you won’t/don’t make a U-Turn – you plough on regardless? Stubbornly making things worse when a quick pride swallowing U-Turn now could limit the damage.

Instead of riding home along the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, I went sightseeing, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to see St Paul’s Cathedral at dusk.  I don’t know the roads well.  It started going wrong as I dodged pedestrians and traffic down Ludgate Hill, waited for slow traffic lights to cross Farringdon Street and on to Fleet Street.

Ignoring the danger signs, I struggled through closely squeezed, crawling traffic, red tail lights glaring, narrow gaps between cars.  The value of Sterling down 20% since the Referendum.  I could’ve cut left down onto the Embankment but I’d gone this far, with the Pound at is lowest value against the US Dollar since the mid-1980s, an easy change of direction seemed like whimsically leaving the casino early.

It felt lonely on the Strand, 1 bicycle struggling to survive amongst the bigger, stronger cars, vans, trucks.  Most cyclists are likely on the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, which is not without its risks or difficulties but is significantly more sensible than trying to go it alone between the Australia House and Somerset Houses. I was on my own.

Waterloo Bridge offered me an escape route. Straight on regardless, heading for a Hard BREXIT.  Instead I chose getting caught out by unfamiliar traffic flows and being blocked by kamikaze pedestrians launching off pavements as I track-stood and scooted through Theatre Land.

I hit Trafalgar Square and the weight of my wilful selection of the hard way home hit me, disorientated, worn down, frustrated.  Inflation rising to 1%, nowhere near a historical high but the highest month on month rise since June 2014 and forecast to hit 3% next year.  When Inflation hits 2% that’s when incomes are felt to be falling in real terms, with an upwards squeeze on the cost of living – mostly food, clothing and other household goods.  It hits the lowest income families first and hardest.  EU Referendum analysis suggests they wilfully volunteered.

From Buckingham Palace, I found myself at Victoria, then roughly headed South West, I wasn’t lost per se but making it up as I went along.  Battling to dissect lines of traffic, repeatedly putting myself at risk.  Cutting across the flow, rather than going smoothly with it.  I had no plan.

Admittedly, there was some fun, adventure, drama, challenge to be had in my divergence.  But it wasn’t rewarding fun, adventure, drama, challenge.  There were a lot better things I could be doing with my time and energies rather than taking the long way home on a pointless, tortuous, self-inflicted journey.

Best not mention Marmite.

let them wear lycra

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It’s not gone away yet and it will probably never go away, the knowledge, the feeling that when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror as you head out the door for a ride – there is something very amusing about cycling attire. The shoes that make you walk precariously, less graciously than a pair of 6 inch heels (I’m guessing here), the resulting wobbliness accentuates the lycra-clad form, opening up cyclists to further ridicule.

If that wasn’t enough, the whole looks is quite possibly worsened by garish colours, topped off by big sun glasses (even in winter) and a bulbous helmet, which even though it unquestionably saves lives doesn’t help the overall look.  Sure, some guys and girls look great in head to toe lycra but most of us don’t.  It can be a uniform: I’m a cyclist and proud. Or it can be a statement of intent: I know I’m out-of-shape but I’m doing something about it.  Or it can just be the most comfortable and practical clothing to wear on a  bike.  But it’s our choice.

Imagine if we couldn’t choose what we wanted to wear on our bikes. If politicians decreed that wearing lycra is offensive and not in the public interest (there are many I am sure that would argue that this is the case). Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet to the minority group known as: Cyclists.  But it is happening in France to Muslim women – probably one of the most subjugated minorities in the world.

I’m not wholly sure why, Muslim women are not allowed to enjoy the beach, to sunbathe or swim in the sea whilst wearing a burkhini.  I do understand that France is a secular society and that the ban is not national but locally imposed on the beaches of the South of France.  I also know that the burkhini was designed to promote inclusion, to allow Muslim Women to join their non-Muslim friends on the beach whilst not falling foul of the religious rules that they abide to.  That’s got to be a good thing, right?

Instead it is being used to further repress a small minority who need help rather than persecution and humiliation.  Surely there are better ways to target Islamic extremism. The ban on the burkhini and the public bullying of the women who wish to wear them by the authorities can only exacerbate rather than cure.

Next time I waddle into a pub or cafe in my lycra, sweaty and bulging, attracting the inevitable amused side-glances and giggles, I’ll return the grins with my own, safe in the knowledge that the police are unlikely to force me to publicly remove an item of lycra clothing perceived as undermining national identity.

homage to farage

Inevitable: sun in / rain home. As my cycling shoes fill with water I begin to think that I need to diversify my subconscious cycling thinking away from a) the weather and b) Brexit.  So I consciously think of c) how rubbish my legs are at turning the wheels and how nice it would be to lock my bike to a lamp post and get the train home. I don’t have a lock. So back to the weather: did I mention it’s raining? Not the good summer rain that washes away the sticky, uncomfortable humidity – but the ‘cold, chills your bones’ type of rain – in June (must be time for Wimbledon).

With each cold wet sideways launching gust I’m closer to giving up.  nigel farage didn’t give up.  Whatever your politics you have to admit farage has got stamina, determination and bucket loads of cussedness.  In most walks of life if you successfully dedicate yourself to a cause for over 17 years you get a medal.  Singlehandedly – pretty much, boris and gove jumped on his bandwagon late for their own personal gain – he’s taken the UK out of the Europe Union, incited over 17 million Brits to follow him over the top or off a cliff depending on your view.  Not many people alive can say they’ve achieved or even thought momentarily of achieving such a crazily monumental act.

Duly he got his moment in the sun yesterday.  I bet he wrote his speech to the EU Parliament years ago and rehearsed it in his head a thousand times but if he was honest with himself he probably never thought he’d actually get to deliver it.  How he chastised his MEP colleagues, starting with a triumphant “17 years ago you laughed at me – you’re not laughing now” (I’ve slightly paraphrased here but accuracy has become a casual casualty of late), followed by a stinging “you’re in denial”.

He threatened that the UK wouldn’t be the last member state and that their European project was failing.  There may be truth in his words and haven’t we all wanted to throw rocks at an all powerful establishment at some point in our lives?

But farage couldn’t help himself, in his moment in the sun – he got sun stroke.  He insulted his colleagues with the ‘none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives’ damnation, thus undermining any credibility his speech may have had. Like a gurning bully he swaggered and swung out, but he wasn’t finished, he still had the effrontery to suggest that everyone be “grown up” and promise to be “friends”.  He had done all of this selflessly in the name of “the little people, the ordinary people”.

Hey wait a minute. Since when was ‘little’ good? When did ordinary become good enough? What happened to being extraordinary?  This feels like our Star Wars moment. The small and the ordinary have had their sway, led by the Dark Side.  Those that aspire to be big, larger than life, extraordinary need to find their opposite of the Dark Side. The trouble is we don’t even know what that’s called let alone what it looks like or who it is.

Newsflash: It’s not boris.

it’s not democracy (when you lose)

it’s not democracy (when you lose)

I looked at my phone in disbelief, looked at it again, decided that 6am was too early to contemplate what Great Britain had just done. It’s a dream right? It wasn’t. It isn’t. Life goes on. Those strange bedfellows Farage, Boris and Gove can’t stop me riding my bike (yet…). So I rode from London to Brighton with the Bicycle Moaning Collective and let the pedal strokes and banter with my mates order my thoughts.

I started angry. Navigating London rush hour traffic was tiresome, difficult, dangerous. Like life from now on. It wasn’t fair. London had voted overwhelmingly (60:40) to stay in the EU and as the paymaster of the UK is going to have work even harder to subsidise a people so out of step with its collective belief.  The Young voted overwhelmingly to stay (70:30) and it’s their future that’s been hijacked.  That made me angry. And sad.

Clapham Common to Tooting Bec by bike was jaw grindingly slow. Much gnashing of teeth. As my anger simmered on Cycle Super Highway 7 I thought of the heavily EU subsidised areas of the UK that had just shot themselves in the foot, cut their noses off to spite their faces and because…because? I couldn’t answer the question because it just didn’t make sense. It could only be that they had brought into the negative, small minded, intolerant, scaremongering dangerously preached by the Out campaign. A negative nasty message had won out.  That doesn’t make a positive message in anyone’s language.

The going wasn’t getting any better, Brighton ever distant, we’d not even dissected the M25 in 2 hours. I was becoming disillusioned.  My suspicion is that the Outers had taken a leaf out George W Bush’s Iraq War approach to planning: Shock & Awe and wing-it.  Then helpless, not in control of my destiny, feeling cheated by democracy. Yes, I had a vote, I’d used it, expressed it and lost. Like democracy the blue tarmac was letting me down, falsely promising a smooth ride but interrupted, cut up and blocked by buses, pedestrians, traffic lights.

The roads opened up, the traffic was getting faster as we got closer to the edge of town, we were on dual carriageway, with roundabouts to navigate and fast moving traffic coming at us from right to left. It was scary. I’m scared that we history is repeating itself, are we in the 1930s again? Where acceptance and of racial scaremongering and intolerance was capable of gripping hold of a nation and causing mass evil.  We hadn’t just turned the clock back that far, had we?

When you reach How Lane, a climb that says goodbye and shakes the City out of your legs and High Road descent that ducks under the M25 and the ride is on, the country side lit by a setting sun beckons. Why the long face?  Maybe today was our era’s defining political back lash, the people striking out at the establishment and giving them a bloody nose that they hadn’t anticipated, that just might’ve knocked the political class of their pedestal and now what next? Had Out foreseen Scotland voting overwhelming to remain in the EU and now threatening to leave the United Kingdom?  Was their vision of Out really England alone?  The UK now looks like a fragile House of Cards.

Politics in freefall, like me on my bike on Coopers Hill. Feeling like a kid again at 60kmph. Youth had lost out today – but maybe this is the catalysts for mobilisation and engagement of the young and open minded.  They won’t make the same mistake again of not making the effort to get to the polling station if they don’t want their parents’ to f#ck them up again.

As the minutes ticked by, the headwind had still not given up, I was tiring, yearning for the end.  There wasn’t much talk in the peloton. The ‘enraged of London’ chat had subsided.  Our own journeys were all that mattered now. With the freedom of a post-work Friday night ride in a setting sun, lighting up the South Downs in a golden glow. I didn’t feel so angry, frustrated, worried.

Maybe it’s about time we backed away from the World stage, for too long we’ve hung on to our imperialistic past (viewed through rose-tinted glasses), harboured ideas above our station and believed our own hype that we’re a ‘special’ nation deserving of a place at the table of the Global Elite. James Bond isn’t reality.  As former partners laugh at our impotence and we can no longer afford to take on the self-appointed role of policeman to the World, life might be simpler, safer.

It could be exciting. The last global disruption to our lives was the Financial Crisis in 2008, at the time that seemed cataclysmic but largely due to the Central Banks creating benign economies through interventionist monetary policy resulting in a low interest rate environment. Even the bitter pill of austerity has been easier to swallow as we’ve all been able to keep paying our mortgages. Crisis what crisis? Move on nothing to see. But this time who knows what is going to happen?

Who knows? Who cares? I’m too busy struggling up Ditchling Beacon, no record time tonight. It’s taking everything just got to get to the top and then enjoy the long fast descent down into Brighton.  Enjoy myself.  Besides we can just leave it to the politicians that created the mess to sort it out. We’ve not left yet. There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen for it to happen.  Our soon to be former EU partners might yet muck things up by following the UK with their own referendum and precipitating the collapse or re-design of the EU project

Ultimately I arrived in Brighton convinced that the journey has actually just begun and that no one knows where it will end.  I suspect that the architects of Out may not get the result that they imagined or desired.  Their promise of short term pain for long term gain may actually translate into short term political instability leading to a transfer of political momentum to a younger, more flexible, more global, more tolerant, more engaged electorate thus turning full cycle, negativity to positivity. I’m In.

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Footnote: On the rider tonight – a few Brits, some Aussie’s, Irish of course, Namibians, 1 Slovak and a Greek. I hope that doesn’t stop.