Monthly Archives: October 2011

Hit the ground riding

Since I got my first bike in a decade last summer, I’ve ridden well over 3,000 miles, far more than I have ever ridden in all my life before now. Over 1,200 of those miles have been ridden since I got my second new bike at the end of this July. So it’s pretty remarkable that I’ve managed to avoid having to be rescued by my wife and the car thus far, either through mechanical failure or accident or injury. Doubly remarkable when one considers that I know next to nothing about bicycle maintenance.

Until Sunday morning, that is.

My troublesome left shoulder flared up again a little the weekend before last, but then, thanks in part to diligently sticking to my physio regime, it improved dramatically on Wednesday and Thursday, and so I went out for a 25-miler on Friday after work, and felt, for the first time in several weeks, like I’d completely recovered. I followed this up with a 32-miler on Saturday morning, heading down to Dawlish and then back via Haldon Hill, capping a 1:59 mile on the descent (and twigging, late, that the road you come down is always going to be near as damnit 100% car-free, because it’s been made redundant, and a dead-end, by the A38 to Plymouth). It was hard work dragging up to the top of the hill after a cold 7am start and with legs stiff from the previous afternoon, but the descent was worth it.

Feeling chipper, and wanting to sail past the 300 mile mark for October so far in order to give myself a chance of hitting 400 by month’s end, I went out yesterday morning, too, a little later and a little warmer than on Saturday, but the sky a touch darker and more overcast. I battled against the wind down the east side of the estuary to Lympstone, and then turned north up Strawberry Hill, crossing the A376 and then taking Harefield Road, Tedstone Lane, and then Stony Lane for a long slow climb to the B3180, which I used to get some speed up and fly over the top of Woodbury Common and Aylesbeare Common, crossing over the A3052 at the Halfway Inn, and then forking north-west down Village Lane into Aylesbeare itself.

In Aylesbeare itself I hit a patch of impacted cowpat on the road at exactly the same time as a gust of wind hit me, just before turning west down Marwood Lane for the fast downhill homestretch to the airport. And then I hit the tarmac, hard, on my right-hand-side, at about 15mph. My head bounced gently off the road as my right thigh and shoulder took the bulk of the impact. My first thought was “my riding clothes are going to be ruined”. My second thought was to pause my GPS tracking so as not to lower my average speed as I lay on my back in the middle of the village. My third thought was that it was going to hurt in the morning. My fourth thought was that I should change to my winter tyres before going out again. My fifth thought was that I might need a lift home. My sixth thought was that it was stupid and ironic that I’d got over my left shoulder only to mash my right one into tarmac. Your brain does odd things when you come off your bicycle.

After a moment or two supine on the country lane, I got up, dusted myself down, was pleased to see my touring shorts, ¾ knicks, jacket, jersey and arm-warmers were all in one piece (if a little soiled), and was equally glad to see that my bike had suffered only minor scratches to the right pedal and gear-shifter. The gears seemed fine, the brakes too, and the wheels spun. The hoods were twisted out of alignment but were still usable. So I got back on, clipped in my cleats, reached forward, and felt my shoulder complain at me. I rang Emma and arranged a rescue from the airport, two miles away and downhill. I coasted those two miles one-handed, and stood on a grass verge for fifteen minutes while Em drove out from our house to save me.

Nearly 36 hours later, my whole body aches, especially my right shoulder. My neck aches. My hip and ankles are sore. I had an enormous egg-shaped lump on my left ankle which hadn’t even hurt initially and only revealed itself to me when I took my socks off at home. I’ve been dosing up with ibuprofen again, and will have a bath later tonight to try and make the evolving ache less awful in the morning.

But that’s it. My first proper bicycle crash as an adult. My first rescue in over 3,000 miles of pedaling. I lived, and I’m fine. I got home to news of Marco Simoncelli’s fate, and felt my aches and bruises and grazes put firmly into perspective. I’ll ride again, if not for a little while, and tentatively at first. Marco wont.

So The Stone Roses have reformed…

When I wrote yesterday about favourite albums, I could easily have picked the debut album by The Stone Roses as an example. I loved it like no other record for a big chunk of my teenage years, had associations attached to the music from hearing it played from my elder brother’s bedroom when it first came out and I was 10, too young to understand but not to absorb. By the time I was 15 I wished I was older, from Manchester, had been around to experience the growth, the gigs, the anticipation waiting for the records to be released, the interviews, the magic, at the time it had actually happened. I remember searching through CDROMS (remember them?) of old newspapers in the school library, scouring for articles, reviews, anything that would give me more of a sense of what it must have been like to not have been a ten-year-old in south Devon at the time. I’ve never learnt to play an instrument, never wanted to, but I did once get a friend to show me how to play the bassline to I Wanna Be Adored. I had a t-shirt with a lemon on it (Emma still sleeps in it sometimes!) bought in HMV on Oxford Street in London during a school trip to the Houses of Parliament. I bought flares. Wore a stupid floppy hat. Had weird experiences while listening to the record, which I played over and over and over again, the way one does as a teenager. Do we not do that now because we lack the same passionate identification with a record? Or because we have so many records to choose from?

But apart from a flirtation with it when the remaster was released two years ago, I’ve barely listened to The Stone Roses’ debut album in the last decade or more. The infatuation was half a lifetime away. I played Second Coming the other month, with the windows open and the sun streaming in, and enjoyed the baroque excess of it, the riffs, the grooves, the seriousness. But I didn’t love it like I used to, though I never felt quite the same way about it as the debut album and the handful of singles and b-sides that surrounded it. It felt like a relic.

I’m intrigued by The Stone Roses’ reunification (as always they use more grandiose language than their peers, dropping in terms more associated with the resurrection of nation-states torn asunder by communism and genocide), but I’m not excited by it. I don’t know if I want to see them play live; I never did back in the day, but I heard enough bootlegs to know that Reni’s drumming, mercurial and beautiful though it was, wasn’t enough to eclipse the muffled foghorn of Ian Brown. I fear the crowd will be comprised of bellowing, beer-fueled, pot-bellied, 40-something Mancunian males desperate for a nostalgic hit of reflected glory. Something I wanted to be a part of at 16 doesn’t quite hold the same appeal as me now. I’ve changed. So has it.

The Stone Roses were the beginning of a journey for me, rather than the end of one. It seemed logical to follow lines from their music (and The Beatles) to dance and electronica, to 60s psychedelia and jazz, to indie and post rock, to a thousand different things. It became obvious quickly that I’d never get the same sense of magic from the reams of soundalike bands, but I’ve found similar sensations in Orbital, Caribou, Talk Talk, Can, Patrick Wolf, Wild Beasts, even if the sounds are radically different.

A company run by an old friend of mine, who I’ve not seen properly in years until his wedding in May, has done the website for this reunification, and he’s, rightly, pleased as punch (even if the navigation plan can’t have taken long at this stage!). Another old friend, who I’ve seen twice in the last eight or nine years (at my stag-do and at my wedding) emailed me out of the blue because… well, because we both loved The Stone Roses when we were 15.

Of course Emma is from Manchester, and knows the park they’re playing in. She says she could fancy a weekend up there next summer. Who knows.

My favourite album

I’ve been keeping tabs on The Guardian’s My favourite album series of blog posts, where their writers and contributors of a musical nature celebrate the records they love the most, the ones that have touched them, defined moments (or epochs) of their lives. Would any of them pick albums I love? (Yes, they would.) Would any of them pick any canonical favourites that I don’t rate? (Yes, they would.) Would any of them put a deeply personal spin on a record I otherwise couldn’t give a damn about, and make me consider it in a new light? (Almost.) (I’m resigned to never “getting” Pink Floyd now, and am more than OK with this.)

The reasons why people chose the records they did were almost as varied as the records in the specifics, but broadly speaking they were personal, the albums in question being used as emotional batteries, loaded with associations with times past, people gone, experiences that impacted deeply on the listeners’ lives. It didn’t matter if the record in question was a compilation of pop singles by different people that had been played to death as a child, or a recent(ish) critical favourite that just happened to soundtrack a rite-of-passage break-up; what mattered was the connection, between the music, the event, the time, the person, which had become indelible.

All through the series I’ve been pondering what I might choose if I was still throwing words at The Guardian, what album I’d anoint in public as my favourite. And I have no idea at all. If it ever comes up in casual conversation with someone new that I’ve written about music, they invariably ask me what my favourite record is. I used to have a stock answer that I’d trot out (Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk), but although I love it to bits, I’m not sure it’s the favourite, just a favourite, one amongst many.

The genuine answer to “what’s your favourite record?” is probably “the last one I listened to and loved”, which seems pragmatic to the point of pointlessness. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, that I adore enough to call a favourite, and wouldn’t want to ever be without. For end-of-year lists and announcements I used to try and figure out which record I’d played most through choice in the previous 12 months, reasoning that this must, by default, be the one I liked the most. But when the time limit is exploded, tastes change, reactions develop, memories fade, and criteria like that don’t quite work. Do they? There are records that can’t be played often but which have enormous power and impact when you do roll them out; records you have intense love affairs with and then file away, never to play again; records that are default go-to choices, which never fail to hit the spot; records that function as epiphanies in the development of your taste, which inspire huge u-turns and explorations but which exist only as records and not as emotional investments or signifiers; there are records which you don’t “like” aesthetically but which, for whatever reason, are hardwired into your emotions and trigger a response no matter what.

And, occasionally, if you’re lucky, there are records that combine many, or most (but probably not all!) of the above…

RIP Steve Jobs

Emma’s mum doesn’t like computers. She’s never used one. She’s never shown any interest, whatsoever, in the internet. None at all. She does like playing games though, and has played several Gameboys that have been in the house over the years; a couple of years ago we bought her a DS of her own, which she loved.

At Christmas Emma’s dad bought her mum an iPhone. We thought it might be a white elephant, that she would play games on it and make calls but pretty much nothing else. After all, she’s never shown any interest in computers, or the internet, or emails.

Last night we were round at Emma’s parent’s house for dinner, and Emma’s mum mentioned that she’d read the word “contusion” in some medical text, and not known what it meant. (I only know what it means because of an At The Drive-In lyric.) “I looked it up on the internet and it means ‘bruise’; why not just use the word ‘bruise’?” she said.

Emma’s mum has been sending photographs by email. Photographs that she took on her iPhone. It’s pretty mind-blowing that she’d be doing this. She’s still, as far as I know, never sat down at a computer. She’s bought herself apps on her phone. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before she starts buying real items from real shops via her phone. 10 months ago this was beyond unimaginable. Steve Jobs made it happen.

I’m writing this on a MacBook Air. Emma and I each have an iPhone. We also have an iMac and an iPad, which we bought in New York before they were even available in the UK. We’ve owned a couple of other iMacs, a Mac Mini, and another MacBook. Neither of us like computers. Neither of us want to have to build them, program them, struggle to make them do what we want them to do. We just want to use them. When I first got an Apple iMac in 2006, I suddenly felt like I didn’t have to struggle with a computer anymore, like I could actually do things with it, like it was built for a regular person and not for someone with a certificate from Microsoft.

I, like millions of other people, found out Steve Jobs had died via my phone, which his company conceived, designed, and made, at about 6am, in bed. I find out a lot of news this way now. I work this way, play this way, plan bike rides this way, shop this way, am reminded of my family’s birthdays this way, and a million other things. Steve Jobs, like him or not, has changed the way that we live our lives. I didn’t expect to feel a twinge of sadness at the death of a billionaire CEO of a huge multinational corporation, but I did. RIP, Steve.

Why do some motorists hate cyclists?

I blasted a quick 10 miles down the estuary and back through Exminster this evening, leaving just before 5:30pm to take advantage of what I suspected might be the last of this unseasonable sunshine and warmth. “The last hot ride of the year” I said to Em when I got back, and sure enough I arrived home to clouds and premature twilight. It had been about 25 degrees when I left. It wasn’t exactly cold when I got home, but a breeze had begun, and was fanning the trees ominously.

That 10 miles leaves me five shy of 100 for the month of October already, only three days in. Last October I managed 200 for the entire month. Evening rides are obviously going to be less frequent now, but I’m determined to keep up my big weekends mornings, even if I set off at 10am rather than 6:30am. I’ve bought arm warmers, winter socks, a snood, and ¾ bib knicks in an effort to equip myself properly.

If Sunday morning, out at 7am, is anything to go by, I’ll need them. 35 miles of fog, forests, foxes, and farmsteads from Exeter towards Tiverton, east to Cullompton, back south again, the wooded upland areas preserving warmth, making me sweat beneath jersey and wind jacket, but descents to areas close to water, even the tiniest streams, seeing temperatures plummet, and rapidly. I was glad of the wind jacket and the winter socks, but by 9am, as I neared home again, the sun was up, the sky blue, the fog turned to mist and then evaporated completely. I cleaned my bike after lunch and spent an hour or so at the allotment after that, and it was steaming hot.

I’d done 50 miles on Saturday morning, setting out at 7:30am, through golden river mist at Topsham, over Woodbury Common, meeting up with Monstershark for a dozen miles or so at Ottery to Feniton and then Whimple, before heading back towards Exeter, over the crest at Little Silver, and along the estuary home. Along the estuary an impatient guy in a classic car, who was forcing his way past a family out on their bikes and wanted me to stop and jam myself into a hedge for him, called me an idiot.

That was only the second or third time I’ve received abuse from a motorist. It was a tiny, quiet lane from Exminster to the estuary trail, the most popular cycle path in the area. It’s busy with cyclists, especially when the weather’s good. The driver didn’t have to stop his car, I didn’t have to stop my bike, there was clear space between us; I was confused. But then, today, I saw Danny Care’s comment about cyclists retweeted. “I hate cyclists. Get a car!” he wrote. I’d link to it, but he’s deleted it now, seemingly. I shan’t link to his profile, either, because he seems like a moron. He’s a professional rugby player, apparently. I’d never heard of him; I’ve no interest in rugby.

The antipathy that motorists allegedly have for cyclists confuses me. I’ve barely ever experienced it, but I generally ride on the roads early at weekend mornings, when they’re quiet. It confuses me that motorists would think that cyclists don’t own cars, too. I do. I love driving. I think I prefer cycling, though; in August I rode over 500 miles. I’m pretty sure we didn’t do that many miles between us in the car. I’m not a fanatical cyclist. Not yet anyway. But I agree with this guy, that we could really do with yet more encouragement from the government, as a nation, to accept cycling, both in terms of other people doing it and as something to do ourselves. Some friends rode to Amsterdam the other weekend, when we were in Ibiza, and the stories of glorious, busy, well-maintained cycle routes have me wide-eyed with jealousy. I must go there with the bike next year.

Cyclists don’t always do themselves favours. On campus today I saw two ignoring one-way systems. On the way to work I saw one mount the pavement and cycle through people rather than wait for traffic lights. Don’t do this! It gives us a bad name; it makes people hate us, both motorists and pedestrians. Don’t jump red lights either; we saw two cars smashed together tonight as we headed out to buy cat litter and bike grease, presumably because one had jumped the lights. If one had been a bike there’d have been a worse outcome than whiplash and insurance claims. I admit I jumped a red light on Sunday morning, but there wasn’t a car to be seen in any direction, it was 7am. Excusable? Maybe not. No one would know if I hadn’t written it here.

The photograph with this post is by, who’s a lovely guy and great photographer. That’s me, by the Exe Estuary, last Wednesday evening.