Can I ride my bike tomorrow?

Not me. These rather nattily animated cartoons. Brilliant. And clever too, all done through text to speech which is a shed load harder that it sounds.

Only slightly less amusing was the extremely young Doctor apparently looking up my symptoms on Google this morning. Honestly, get the old fella and you’ll be up to you earlobes in leeches but be nicely ignored by the Young ‘uns and it’s two clicks away from terminal cancer. I wasn’t sure whether to be aghast or hysterical when she openly admitted not being able to pronounce the name of a drug she was on the point of subscribing.

This all for a swollen finger that has has the lumpy misshapenness normally associated with a hammer blow. I’d ignore it as long as I could but once my gloves didn’t fit felt it was time to get the might of the medical profession involved. Not sure I should have bothered now.

Anyone know a good source of leeches? Or should I just hack the bloody thing off?

Going Nowhere, slowly.

Today’s little quiz? How many trains does it take to travel from Ledbury to Paddington? Come on, who said “One”? You’ve not enjoyed the legendary efficiencies of First Great Western I take it? “Two”? Oh please, it’s nearly 150 miles and you cannot expect 40 year old rolling stock to bridge that distance with only two engines.

Three?” Indeed. The first one failed squibly due to an electrical fault* apparently disabling the speedometer. Now these trains travel slowly enough to make any instrumentation relating to velocity largely irrelevant. If the driver hangs his head from the window and feels anything other than a small breeze, his reaction is to throttle back so as not to asphyxiate the customers in the cheap seats.

The second coming of the Cathedral Express put in a turn between Worcester and Oxford before expiring with some unspecified engine fault. I can only assume the hamster passed away, and no shoving of dylithium crystals up its bum could revive it.

This third train spent a useful twenty minutes idling in a siding while FGW appeared to forget that the Dead-Hamster Express was blocking all of Platform 1. The back-pressure from ever more cancellations means this carriage is full of tossers shouting their importance down mobile phones. My favourite so far is “I don’t give a fuck if it says 10 o’ clock, the meeting starts when I get there”.

And while I cannot relate to these self-aggrandising empathetic voids, I can entirely understand their frustration as we slow and stop again. The increasingly desperate train manager** explains a downstream train has arrived in the station with an open door, and we’re on a go-slow to ensure nothing has fallen out.

I suggest it’s probably some poor bastard who can take no more and has thrown himself from the train. Various curt nods and grunts put me in mind of the movie Falling Down, only with assault weapons being replaced by aggressive tutting.

Some days you know you are going to be tested every minute of every hour. And when I hear “we’re adding Slough to our itinerary” I know this to be one of those days. Apparently they have to change drivers, which is understandable considering the poor lad’s been at the controls for a good thirty minutes. I overhear a terse “fucking Trade Unionists” and that makes me smile.

Which was quickly replaced by a frown after being marooned in the seventh circle of hell that is Slough Central station for the last 20 minutes. The vox pop train manager is either hiding or has been hunted down and killed by an increasingly feral pack of sweary customers.

Still got the tube to look forward to if we ever get to London. I will certainly run out of life force way before FGW run out of trains. Apparently I am due a refund? What of? Getting out of bed at 5am? Being shuttled between broken bits of ageing and fading rolling stock? Bits of my life that could have been better spent doing almost anything else?

This can’t go on? Anyone know anything about SCRAM Jets?

* Which – in my world – is any engineering quandary that cannot be solved by smacking it with a mallet.

** Will someone – anyone – tell me what the hell was wrong with “Conductor” or “Guard”?

Just lie there..

… and tell me about your mother. Freud* was an odd bugger, of that there is no doubt, but less well known is the awesome nuttiness of his contemporary Carl Jung who – after a somewhat public falling out with his fellow couch-man – embarked on a project to categorise each and every one of us into a personality bucket. All of which he apparently achieved without assuming a default position of an Oedipus complex.

At which point, everyone who was anyone** ignored his dry and dusty research, instead flocking to the Freudmesiter and blaming their parents for everything. Frankly, that man has much to answer for based on the feedback I get from my own kids. Anyway, post war and with a bunch of people needing jobs that didn’t involve killing people, the US government funded a Mother/Daughter combination to resurrect Jung’s theories to be applied to the modern workplace.

Myers and Briggs have stalked vocational spaces ever since with their carefully cloistered sixteen boxes of people types explaining why some of us – when presented with an audience – feel the irrepressible urge to moon while others are found hiding in cupboards. As part of a “group grope” management bonding thing, one of the many delights included completing a questionnaire which, carefully analysed, would inform exactly what kind of nutter you are.

Not being terrible self aware, but having been repeatedly – and tediously – harranged for being too impulsive/too noisy/too direct/too just bloody annoying, it wasn’t exactly a cosmic shock to find what passes as my personality is essentially keen to party, especially if it’s a party where the centre of attention is forever me. What did somewhat prick my balloon of carefully crafted amusement and cynicism was the probable reason for my obsession with lists.

I don’t do lists; I love lists, love them in the way of the incurably OCD. Mere collections of tasks are nowhere near enough; firstly we weave in sub-lists, create lists of lists, assign priority stars, stab linkages, arrows and – I am quite proud of this -mark the first item in BLOCK CAPITALS “Complete To-Do List”. When you’ve written “Find Dog” on a notepad, while said dog is probably playing with the traffic, it is absolutely clear that organisation and structure are mainstays of your life.

Except they’re not. My aspiration goals may be neatly documented but they are never completed. Frustration lies between those two points, especially if you have the ability to understand what needs to be done, but are far too lazy to actually do it. Yet I cannot sit down with a beer and a book in the garden, if the supporting chair has a weed in my slumped eye-line. The reluctant conclusion from all this is that my basic slackness is infected with a work ethic itself inkly verbalised in lists.

Because if I every finish this list, and that list, and the list I wrote at 2am while wide awake trying to order chaos, then I will be free to finally sit down, do fuck all and not feel guilty about it. Waste time without obsessing that it IS a waste of time, stop making changes because they represent a new start, give up on it trying for perfect and accept that good enough generally is. What I may have learned is that list is never going to be done, so I may as well try being a normal person to see how that feels.

Carol’s pretty normal – with the exception she had a rather large blind spot in terms of suitable husbands – and I was pretty damn sure her personality was pegged by my five minute skim of some fifty years of research. And I was mostly right, except for the tiny assumption that she loved planning, lists – natch – being organised and helping organise, sorting stuff out and getting things done right now. It appears I was 100{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} wrong there, which may explain some issues of domestic disharmony in the last fifteen years.

Slow learner, that’s me. There is no point profiling the kids as they are perfectly attuned to any personality trait most effective in annoying their parents. And don’t think by changing the rules that this will in any way wrong foot them, because they adapt way quicker than us old fuckers. And the dog is essentially mad so he’s not getting done unless there’s some hidden category involving a mental type entirely predicated on stealing food, chasing the cat, and – in a perfect world – combining the two.

You cannot read too much into this shit, because we’re all different, yes? We don’t fit into virtual boxes dreamt up by people who apply statistical rigour to something so organically random it cannot be so simply categorised. But for all of that, it doesn’t stop it being mildly interesting if only to make you question just why mainlining the arsehole motherlode comes so naturally. So this weekend I shall organise nothing, my listing notebook shall remain unopened, I’ll let the spontaneous genie back out of the bottle and refuse to accept life will end if that door isn’t painted.

Beer for breakfast then.
* Sigmund. Not Clement although of the two, I felt old Clemmie was slightly more bonkers at the end

** Although by this time they’d been convinced they were somebody else. Probably a Pharaoh, unlikely to be a turn-of-the-domini street sweeper. I wonder what that is?

Today’s stupid photograph.

Where did I find this do I hear you ask? London, of course where all the nutters live.

This bastard love-child of an£100 Apollo special and a lucky dip into a scrap pile is clearly designed for people to lazy too pedal, or too stupid to realise they’ve been seen from a long way off. Can you imagine trying to pedal that when the battery runs out (about two minutes after full charge I’d wager)

That particular cell type has a little-known feature where over-charging leads to significant explosion. It’d be a kindness, really.

Anyway I need to tell you more about the “breakage contigen” which has now spread into members of my immediate family. And if I don’t write what happened in Exmoor soon, I’ll have to make the whole thing up. Rather than just about half of it as normal.

More of this soon, but first: Chilled Medicine, double dose.

Oi You “Clever Trousers”

That’s me. In a weekend packed with potential disasters which included Auto-Mugging on London’s mean streets, surviving Harrod’s toy floor without having to eat the credit card, managing some sleep while ensconced in the same room as two excited children, and remaining sober for absolutely bloody hours whilst others were nose down in the lager trough, I serenely* triumphed over serial adversity with only hints of sulky tantrum.

Talking of the speech as I did for quite a long time, my suit was noticeably un-fruited, my trousers entirely failed to explode, and the guests were kind enough to laugh. Sometimes even out loud. It was a strange experience in many ways; sobriety comes hard to me especially in the face of a free bar – so after my new Sis-in-Law refused all our pleadings, she and my bro were finally hitched and we decamped to a rather lovely Victorian pub full of the desperate-to-have-a-drink.

Here are some of the things I learned during a couple of displacement activity hours; the City of London is a lifeless void at the weekend – shops don’t open, restaurants remain resolutely bolted shut, pubs franchise their entire buildings for the event-only trade, and you cannot buy a box of matches to re-enact the Great Fire or light a cheeky cig. With nothing for tourists and a workforce that is entirely suburban, this square mile is tumble-weed post-apocalypse empty.

My surreal wanderings were interrupted by some random flash of illogic bringing forth the speeches some two hours early. This was good because it mitigated the real possibility of me eating an entire packet of Marlboro Light, but was equally bad as most of the guests still retained the power of speech and thought, somewhat working against my cunning plan to make them laugh. I bet their aim was still pretty damn good as well.

The stage was set if not very big. We ousted the band (their soundcheck having rendered most of us ear bleedingly deaf), nicked the radio mike and looked out on a sea of about a million people shoaled around the oval bar. A place I’d very much like to be in, or – preferably – upside down under. Worse still, my straight laced middle bro was both way funnier than I expected and entirely spontaneous. This from a bloke who carries out risk assessments before tackling a difficult set of stairs. The bride’s father was – well – American but none the worse for it, except when his ramblings nearly had me grabbing the mike and demanding to be put out of my misery.

Before we go on, it’s important (well to me anyway) to understand this is not me making a drama out of something that isn’t a crisis. I know – as many of you do – that I am a terrible show off, ego writing cheques my body can’t cash, terribly economical with the truth and never happier than when the attention is entirely centered on my verbal diarrhoea. But the terms of reference are different, those are my terms and my rules of engagement. Standing up in front of a 130+ people – most of which you don’t know – and having to be funny, that’s something entirely more scary.

And it was. I learned some more things; clever sentence construction translates poorly to the spoken word. Jokes that read well present something a little more ambiguous when blurted out at high speed, crafted stories hard learned by rote sound dry and forced, pauses are good, ah-doc works better, half as much would have been twice as funny. My desperate last minute edit made the whole thing a bit less baggy, so after twelve minutes – of which I LOVED the last five when I dumped the text and switched to something a bit less formulaic – I also found that people are incredibly generous, easy to please and happy not to have been bored.

And afterwards – with a welcome beer now in hand – I thought I had made too much of the whole thing. But I’m not sure; not because it actually mattered that much to me, but because it was my Bro’s wedding, and he’d rather stupidly entrusted me to humiliate him, and I didn’t want to fuck it up. Which is why I cut it, took out the edgy stuff, lost the best jokes but kept the happy vibe of the day. It felt like a mature response to something, and that’s not really my normal mode of operation.**

To that end; I played more with my kids than I did drink with some old friends. I left my extended family to get on with it because I wanted to spend time with my own. I turned down God knows how many beers and left sober enough to walk back to the Hotel. Where I grabbed a shower and much needed cup of tea. You always worry about getting old, but the bugger just sneaks in while you’re busy trying to be different.

Walking the mutt last night, I was struck my how little London appeals to me. Having done some tourist stuff with the family, it’s all fine and occasionally amazing but it ain’t for me. Place is full of nutters I told the kids on the way in, and nothing in the last 48 hours convinced me otherwise. Good to see the bro married off to a lovely girl, shame they couldn’t have done it somewhere less concrete-y or full of arseholes.

The last thing I learned was the worrying fact that almost all of my living relatives read this blog. Some of them find it amusing, many doubt it’s accuracy and most find the swearing a little reprehensible. I promised I’d try not to write “fuck” quite as often. Don’t send me back to London tho, or all bets are off.

* Thanks to some a reprehensible backslide into a single packet of lung unfriendly pharmaceuticals.

** Not sure I should have bothered, because his brave – if rather foolhardy – jamming with the band provided more humiliation that I could ever dole out. He did play most of the right chords, just not at the right speed. Or in the right order. Fair play tho, cahoonies the size of coconuts.

Worst Man.

I spent far too many weekends in my 20s and 30s attending weddings. I always felt it was appropriate to turn up, get pissed, make an arse of myself before lying down in a comfortable gutter for the night. Something I carried seamlessly into our own wedding day, other than the gutter thing but only because the distance between bar and bed was carryable.

And for a few of those lost weekends, the additional responsibility of being promoted to Best Man was thrust upon me. Really, really bad idea. I was forever losing rings, speeches and, on one memorable occasional, the groom. My organisations skills hit the high water mark of assembling a few random people at a place of Worship, before wandering off to check the bar opening time.

I lacked the respect for the job, the willpower to ignore the delights of a free bar, and my speeches were delivered – at best – adequately. And, inevitably, properly plastered.

You would have thought with that history, no-one would ever ask me again and yet I’m sad to report, another disaster is almost upon us. And worse even that, all of my family will be there. Those for which I am directly responsible, and a wider group to whom I related.

My old brother is getting married. In a rash of Senior Moment Insanity, he offered me the opportunity to make a fool of him. In a rather more studied and inspired moment, he split the job between me and the middle bro.

Now playing to our strengths, that’s him with awesome organisational skills and the ability to herd cats and me being a lazy fucker occasionally known for writing amusing words, he took on the job of sorting out absolutely everything leaving me only to craft and present the speech.

This seemed an absolutely brilliant idea right up until the point when I realised what my responsibilities were in this arrangement. This can be summed up by repeating an earlier conversation whilst I was bemoaning the unfairness of my lot:

I am not looking forward to this speech you know

Why Not, you love being the centre of attention, they’ll all be pissed what can go wrong?

They might not laugh. They might all hate me. My trousers might explode. Whole episode is a cluster fuck waiting to happen

What? Total bollocks. I thought you liked writing funny stuff

That’s different, there isn’t an audience

Yes there is, you just can’t see them

It’s not the same

It is


I am shitting the bed. I had no problem writing the speech, but that’s not going to help me delivering it. Because one thing I do know, reading off a prepared text is going to be about as funny as a brain tumour.

It’s too late to back out now. Most of my living relatives, people I’ve known since school and my own little family unit will all be watching. And I’ll be talking too fast, thinking too slow all while trying to stay sober enough to command fair use of my legs.

I hope my trousers do explode; at least that’s guaranteed to be funny.

For this, we had to put up with that?

I know, I know two consecutive posts with a political tinge, but we live in tumultous times. Or do we – because after four weeks of lie and counter-lie, endless rhetoric, vox-pop postulation and the continued cynacism of an electorate, we appear to be back exactly where we started.

As regular Hedgehoggers’ will know, my firmly held view is that voting for politicians only encourages them, and therefore should only be undertaken after much thought or much alcohol. And so you cannot help to be a bit proud of a nation that absorbs a month of political saturation, debates it, ponders it and then chooses to entirely ignore it.

Early indications would suggest the percentages of the vote are pretty much where they started on April the 6th. This after one bloke was apparently more popular that Churchill, another performed the kind of “smile at the front/stab in the back” volte face we associate with our esteemed Prime Minister, while the posh lad did his best to pretend he wasn’t really.

If they weren’t such a alien race of self important, power hungry lunatics, you would almost feel sorry for them. An exhausting, country-spanning, photo opportunic sales pitch glossing over the cracks (although Chasm feels like a better word here) none wanted to talk about, and instead promising a glorious future that looked pretty unlikey to anyone with sufficient mental prowess to, say, feed themselves.

And at the end of it, no one actually gives a shit. Those who could be bothered to vote – which doesn’t appear to include the much hyped surge of enfranchised individuals fired up by the campaign – stuck a cross where they mostly always had, shrugged their shoulders and waited for the world to end.

Deckchairs, Titanic anyone? I feel we would have been better represented by Private Godfrey and his “We’re all doomed” prophesy. Stock Markets in free fall, riots on European streets, panic on Wall Street, Budget Deficit with lots of scary zeros, 2.5 million umemployed, the gap between those with and those with not ever widening and, almost propetically, it’s pissing down.

I think I’ll just go and hide under a blanket until someone trustworthy tells me the worst is over.

That can’t be right.

That post title could cover so many different wrongs; one of those would be refusing to vote in what is probably the most important election since I first proudly presented my voting card back in Yorkshire. Largely pointless really as the Conservative candidate was hunted down and eaten – a just reward for the temerity of attempting to explain ‘rich people stuff’ to a bunch of flat caps, who considered ownership of a whippet and an outside toilet a rather vulgar show of wealth.

Alison Yoghurt – Liberal – survived because “well she’s just a daft lass in a hand knitted cardigan with a wide ranging policy portfolio essentially honed down to being nice to kittens“, the emerging greens had no chance in a town where coal was forever king, so basically you voted for the dribbling nutter with the novelty hat or the Labour candidate. Often this was the same person.

Amusingly, while South Herefordshire constituency is a tight two way fight between Blue and Yellow, up here in the rarefied air of Ledbury (4 Deli shops in a town of about 19 people), the Conservative candidate (and probably land owner of every single voter) has been returned UNINTERRUPTED SINCE 1926. The majority seems to actually outstrip the registered electorate of the ward and, so confident is the fella in blue, we’ve not received even a token leaflet. Carol has collected – and pointedly – placed campaign literature from the, frankly, desperate other political options in easy reach of my desultory browsing.

I’ve had a look from the rational perspective of a cyclist and beerist, and find none of them fire any enthusiasm for much other than cracking open a bottle. But vote I must, if only to silence the tedious “No Vote, No Voice” refrain from bloody worthies and Guardian readers. I’d rather point them to while shouting “1926, 22,00 Majority, tell me again that big idea about democracy“. Churchill had it right, and I’m sure he’d have given proportional representation the kind of short shrift that anyone who wants to be in charge traditionally has.

And he may have been right again, because I can give you only one example in the whole of history where the output of a committee has been genuinely brilliant. Yep aside from the American Declaration of Independence*, it’s all been politicised fudgery, spin and lost opportunities. I’m still of the opinion that the country would benefit from locking all the party leaders in a room, equipping each with a sharp sword and the last man standing gets to run the country.

Either than or install me as a benevolent dictator – let’s face it, at least I’d sort out those with pointless dogs and caravans. Plus anyone with marketing in their title would be either leaving the country or enjoying the company of a thousand scorpions. See, I’m not even single issue.

So I think a spoiled ballet shall register my disgust and weariness at a political class with noses in the trough and heads up their arse. It’s still a private booth isn’t it? That’ll do just fine.

Hmm, that was meant to be a single pithy paragraph. It appears I was slightly more irritated than I first thought. Anyway invoking a bit more Churchill and continuing the theme of extreme irritation, I have made a proper effort to Keep Buggering On regardless of the fact that the mechanical fairies stalk me still. Yesterday I broke something else – Rockshox make a fork that is the suspension equivalent of a Toyota HiLux. Not terribly sophisticated, bit weighty, aesthetically stunted, but with unchallenged reliability in the harshest of conditions.

I was making this very point to my friend Mike, extolling the robustness and performance of a component which I’d never even considered servicing** and yet was still providing unflinching service. When will I ever learn? Twenty seconds later 140mm of plush travel became 30mm of undamped bonginess followed by a hard wrist-jarring stop. The noise of various parts crashing into each other in an increasing cacophony of brokenness can be simply described as “expensive“.

My attempts to fix it by beating it to death with mile after mile of rocky descent proved unsuccessful. So as part of the revolving door policy I now have with my local bike shop, I offered up the offending items to Nick the mechanic while enquiring if he’d fixed my ST4 yet. He had not but only because I’d failed to furnish him with all the parts needed to do so. So I have a bike and a half being repaired, a bill that will probably have some negative effect on the country’s structural deficit, and no space left to write about what a great Exmoor ride we had.

More of that soon. Until then I’ll be desperately searching the pamphlets for some nugget regarding a grant for Cyclists recently inheriting a Jonah complex.

* and even this was more about taxes and whinging about perceived wrongs, the bit about freedom and the rights of the individual was a bit of an afterthought.

** as it was working. And if I’d serviced it, it wouldn’t be working at all. In fact, I would have probably thrown a blanket over the remains in honour of the tdead.

A new riding genre.

Forget your power-XC, aggressive All-Mountain or Riding-round-in-circles-while-dressed-in-silly-clothes, these last ten days have opened my eyes to a style of riding that is entirely attrition based. That sad collection of broken parts represents a litany of trail-based disasters which has stripped me of a whole load of cash, and rendered the barn mostly devoid of spare bikes.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice the high co-efficient of Mech based products to general MTB detritus, but these are symptomatic of a far more serious cause. Before I explain what, let me explain how. First take the ST4 and add a spiteful branch to a fast spinning wheel. Stick hits mech, arrests wheel, rotational energy transferred to drilling the stick into a catastrophe of sheered brakeaway bolts, bent mechs and sacrificial hangers taking one for the frame.

I wasn’t unduly concerned with a flurry of Internet activity procuring fast delivered spares, so ensuring my participation on a ride three days later. This sanguine approach to the rough and tumble of bike ownership soured a little as the clever and expensive air can became a very stupid pogo stick. Without the sophisticated platform damping, a single pivot suspension system returns to the bongy age of early double springers. And that gets old very quickly – it’s only when something breaks, you realise how damn good it was.

What I hadn’t realised was how damn bad it would be getting the bugger out from various close fitting linkages. Weary puzzlement soon gave may to the kind of annoyed grunting and twitching for the big hammer normally associated with an embarrassed trip to the bike shop. But the shock came out undamaged as did a swathe of small and unexpected parts. My life was suddenly full of ball bearings, mashed cases and unidentified broken bitswhere sealed bearing once were. Orange agreed that their promise of “guaranteed for life” probably covered me for Warranty with only 400 miles and 4 months under-wheel.*

Both the repaired shock and a bag full of bearings arrived free of charge over the next few days, but still the bike is nothing more than a pile of bits. Because I own neither a bearing press, nor the skill/bravery to proxy something using a vice and a socket set. “Interference” fit is something my close friends tell me isn’t a long word meaning “smash them out with a hammer and while it’s in your hand, you may as well use that tool to fit the new ones”.

So it’s down to the bike shop, and I’ve asked Nick to take a few other minor indiscretions into mechanical consideration. For a start the brakes don’t stop. Well they do for about ten minutes so lulling one into a false sense of security, before the levers bang the bars and your options are limited to nutting a tree or abandoning ship. The front mech has taken the destruction of its’ mechanical brother rather badly and now has an action so stiff it speaks of Shimano Viagra. It’d be easier to list what is still working…er let me see…. er, no that’s broken…. hmm that’s pretty shagged…right…not much then.

But even after all this angst, I was able to unleash the power of my bike acquisition strategy by dusting down the not-ridden-very-often Pace which proved good to go. Well good-ish, I spent about an hour chasing a knocking noise around the rear triangle only to finally realise the headset was loose. The bike lasted exactly two and a bit rides unbroken, being much fun to ride downhill and only a bit too humpy on the ups. It survived 45ks in the Forest, a good pummelling on some Malvern super-dry trails, and then nearly an hour back in the FoD.

Before an unholy trinity of bad gear choice, a slightly bent chain and a huge sodding – if unseen – root, left with my that familiar lack of drive. And then I realised that Fate has taken against me, although enquiring of a Singlespeeding mate with squeeky breaks why he didn’t just get a proper bike may have poked that particular vengeful God in the goolies. The Butterfly Effect applies here – “Take the piss out of someone elses bike and ruination of your own will be visited within the hour“.

My fiscal misery continued when a close examination of the once expensive parts showed the cheese-dropout ™ hadn’t failed quite quick enough to save ANOTHER new mech. Amazingly this bit of metallic Gorgonzola somehow is worth* twice the£15 forked out for a bit of pressed steel to fix the ST4.

I am left with the roadbike and my Trailstar. I dare not ride either of them because bad things come in threes and if they don’t break I undoubtedly will. Many years ago a friend of mine reckoned “You could get a similar experience to MTBing by running around a forest setting fire to ten pound notes“. A wise man that fella, and he’s a Fulham supporter – two things you don’t normally find in the same sentence.

So there we have it; God hates me, I have found solace in the philosophy of a Fulham supporter, and have spent an average of twenty quid a day to push broken bikes along some lovely dusty trails. I’m off to burn a bunch of cash as a sorrowful sacrifice while taking my therapy from a bottle. I may be some time.

* They also admitted in passing that the cause might be a bent swingarm. “If it happens again send the whole thing back and we’ll sort it out” / “Is it okay if I set fire to it first?

** Depending on your value of worth. As the buyer, I was struggling.

Are we there yet?

The brain is a remarkable organ. Some would say the most remarkable organ in your body, although most of those wouldn’t be men. It is capable – rather unlike certain other appendages – of significant displacement activity especially when faced with much of the same for most of the time.

In the case of one hundred kilometres of not terribly different things happening in front of me, the cerebral loaf sliced up time with the insertion of looped music into a head otherwise stuffed only with boredom. Sadly this synapse sponsored play-list contained only one song, of which I know almost three lines from the entire lyrical ensemble.

Elvis Costello may be a genius songsmith and I have some time for much of his back catalogue, but even his most ardent groupie would tire of hearing a repeat of lines including “Checkpoint Charlie” / “Mr Churchill” and “Johannesburg” interspersed with some desperate humming. Six hours of “Oliver’s Army” has left me with no choice but to dedicate the remainder of my life to hunting down and eating every remaining copy.

Between slapping my head in a doomed attempt to skip tracks, the HONC passed me by in a series of emotions primarily swinging between boredom, misery and dashed hope. I’d also like to record brief periods of fun, humour and generic enjoyment except I don’t think there were any.

It went something like this:

Mile 0:

Arrive in Winchcome at far-too-bloody-early o’clock, and am immediately confronted with arm waving high viz jackets, middle class white people* of differing shapes struggling with the full range of two wheeled accesories from the basically recreational to the achingly niche.

Meet riding buddies and swap excuses. Difference being they a) have ridden the event before and are looking confidently fit and b) are both much younger and competitive that me. I decided right then this would be the last time I see then.

Mile 1:

And we’re off. Instant cockage overcomes pelaton types and there’s some elbow out action down the high street. Wonder if it’s just me that thinks with 59.5 miles to go, sprinty showboating might be a little out of place. “It’s not a race” I want to shout but instead just hand out some lessons in exactly how pointy Yorkshire elbows are.

Mile 3:

First climb and I wave bye to my friends as they carry out their threat to put in some hard yards, so not to be caught behind slow and rubbish riders as the road turns to dirt. As one of those slow and rubbish riders, I applaud their commitment from a very spinny position some way back.

Mile 5:

We crest the first (and longest) climb with testosterone levels still high enough for some knob to save himself one second by rudely pushing in as we approached a gated crossing. Already a bit miserable, I opt for some sport by drafting el-knobbo on the road right up to the point when he notices, then cruising by in the manner of the aerobically untroubled. Then slowing right down so he has to go straight back past. Guess what I did then? I know, I know I just can’t help myself.

Childish yes, and I bored of it after a couple of miles which unfortunately swept us past the exit marked “all non lunatics turn here” and committing myself to the full 100k. Mr Costello sat himself downon a comfy chair for a nice long set.

Mile 10:

First checkpoint. Only thing of note was the first proper muddy section (of which there were thankfully few) where some racey nutter took a bankside route to pass the double stacked riders. The end of which dropped him into a hub deep puddle of vile slop, and – because there is a God – then pitched him head first into a second vat of something similar. To be fair to the fella he did acknowledge the cheers from the righteously avenged.

Mile 15:
“Give it a REST ELVIS” I found myself shouting much to the apparent consternation of some innocent fellows I’d fallen in with. It has to be recorded most of them were significantly quicker uphill showing levels of commitment reflected in their raspy breathing. Show them a bit of downhill though, especially were it enlivened by a smattering of the slippy stuff, and they’d show you their getting off and walking skills.

But with the ups lasting far longer than the downs and the off road being pretty benign, soon they left me to be replaced by the next keen set of riders who would swallow me up and spit me out the back. This bothered me not at all as my plan had nothing at all to do with what what going on with other riders’ abilities.

Mile 20:

Time to execute on Ride Plan. Off the bike, bit of a stretch, force down some ‘orrid energy bar, slurp a few mouthfulls of electrolyte laced water and then stretch some more. Having fallen victim to terrible cramp and general un-wellness on long events before, this time I was going to finish on the bike however long it took. In my mind that was about seven hours, but the GPS told me I was doing a little better than that.

It also told me I still had 40 miles and 4.5 hours to go. I began to obsess a bit about that pleading for the miles to decrement at an entirely unrealistic rate. Paranoia infected my thought processes, and I forced myself to look away believing the evil little numbers would only change if I wasn’t watching.

Mile 22:
It was in this state of mind that I made the first of my navigational mistakes. Obviously it was downhill, and some distance from the usefully placed course marker I’d somehow missed. On the upside, I’d dragged about five riders with me which ensured company on the grind back up to where we could see many riders zipping by wondering what these losers where doing all the way down there.

From now on, I’d forget about the miles and follow the little pointer religiously.

Mile 24:
My GPS says we’ve gone the wrong way” I quietly whispered to a few more riders milling about on a road junction. Back we went a headwind-y mile back up a dusty road with me pretending it wasn’t my fault. Thinking about equipment and its’ appropriateness, it is fair to label the ST4 as far too much bike for the road sections. Even with 40psi in the tyres, I was briefly jealous of those whizzing by on Cross Bikes or light hardtails.

I say briefly because almost every off road section was a washboard field crossing, a rutted doubletrack or a rocky gulley. Here the full suspension bike held sway, and it was with some vainglory that I passed riders who were desperately hanging on to the bars and, probably, their kidneys.

One fella I kept seeing on a cross bike very similar to the one I sold just in time that I couldn’t ride it here, did a pretty solid job of descending on something entirely unsuitable. But every time he caught me up on the next road section, something had broken; his toolkit, a spoke, his eyeballs, etc. It is difficult to show sincere sympathy while at the same time explaining just how smooth the ST4 was down that very decent that had beaten him up.

“You didn’t enjoy it?” / “No way, it was ACE

Mile 30:

HALF WAY. Thank fuck for that. 30 miles still to go? Bollocks.

Mile 32:
Mr C clearly in for the duration “Churchill” “hmmmm, hmm HMMM HMMM hmm hmmm Johanesburg Hmm hmm OH FUCK OFF”. Arse starting to hurt now. Even with sufficient Assos cream to lubricate a Rhypnol evening at a Boy Scouts badge ceremony**, my “sit bones” were becomes jagged bones to the point where I’d started to have a strange fantasy about squatting on a pineapple. Long, lonely rides can do that to a man.

Mile 33:
Photographer attempts to lure me into stream crossing. I’ve heard all about the bike swallowing properties of this obstacle so skirt round the side and freewheel into the food stop. Busy, but I know no-one. I was following up a vague web conversation to meet up with Jo Burt, but didn’t feel I knew him well enough to offer a hand shake when I’d seen him earlier.

To be fair he was taking a piss, but I accept I missed the perfect opportunity – on our next meeting – to open with “Hey Jo, didn’t recognise you without your cock out”

Mile 35:
Quick cake and tea stop and I’m off before the chilly wind saps my motivation to get this thing done. A quick stretch nearly had amusing consequences when I had to be helped back to an upright position. I’m fairly sure no damage was done to either my reputation or dignity, as I remained half hinged and mostly helpless.

Mile 38:
20 to go, last 2 don’t matter as they’ll be back into the village and sheer bloody mindedness will get me there. I know from a route scan there’s some tough climbs and they are almost entirely into a strengthening head wind. Cake Powered, my uphill prowess increased to the point where tired riders were dispatched with a cheery “On your right mate” and for a while I felt like a proper racer.

Mile 42:
Now being passed by same riders who clearly have proper fitness. Pass a few back on a long rutted doubletrack into the valley bottom. Enjoyment tempered by climb out of the far side, firstly through a ploughed field and then over a rocky horror climb bounded by an aggressive hedge. People are pushing now but I’m still grinding on, loving the plushness of the ST4, hating everything else.

At this point my “Greta Garbo I want to be alone” approach was fully tested as an old man riding a bike made new in 1973 – including the original toe clips- breezed by. What was that I said about retaining any dignity?

Mile 44:
Okay quick push now up a bastard climb that sat atop a muddy section which showed just how bad this course would have been a week earlier. Pretty much un-ridable in my view and while we cursed the eyeball pinball that the ruts and tractor tyre artifacts begat, it was still one million times better than a 100 kilometre slug-fest with thick mud under tyre.

Mile 46:
After that climb was done, I was pretty much done. We rode through the impressively manicured grounds of Salperton House on a wide track awash in acres of verdant grass, and my aching body could no longer resist the siren call of the slack. As I lay supine, happy to be off the bike and out of the wind while being gently warmed by a cloud broken sun, hoards of grim faced riders whummed by. The occasional one took my regal wave as affirmation I was not in need of medical attention, and only the prospect of being shot by a rich man with a gun***with a vague idea of what a pheasant might look like, roused me from a slumbering torpor.

Mile 49:

CHANGE YOU BASTARD I requested politely of the GPS. Road, Climb, Field, Bump, Down, Up, “Churchill, Hmmm Hmm Johanesburg, Hmm, hmm, hmm Checkpoint Charlie, Hmm, hmmmmmmm after you Elvis, you know the words, mnnnnnrrrrtghhhhhhmnmmmmm”. Anybody else getting groundhog day?

Mile 53:

Last 4 have passed in sort of a blur. A very slow blur that can only be recorded by expensive motion capture cameras normally filming the changing of the seasons. Everyone in our little group looks a bit fucked and worn out. The views have been horizon-to-horizon lovely all day but now we’re climbing onto Cleeve Common which seems to double as a council tip.

Before we get there, another photographer jumps out and demands some kind of cunning stunt from a man who has lost all interest in cycling. I manage to get one of my ends up while silently Spoonering his request. For a second it drowned out Oliver’s Army, but the bugger was soon back garrisoned in my frontal lobe.

Mile 55:

Jeez, we’re in the epicentre of the world’s largest fly tipping experiment with a difficult juxtaposition of dead fridges, spring-out sofas and surly motocrosses. Bastard rocky climb as well which I ride because I don’t trust my knees for pushing. I pass a few with a tired “how you doing?” generally illiciting not much more than a grunt or groan. The fast boys and girls are done and showered, and it’s all mid pack and difficult now.

Not far to go but it’s properly hurting now, I’ve had a first bout of cramp trying to re-seat a dropped chain that’s disappeared behind the cassette of a rider whose entirely clueless on what to do next. I fix it at the expense of bloodied knuckles and comedy emergency stretching.

Mile 56:

Ah hah, ROTB (Roadies on Mountain Bikes) in matching jerseys and beaten expressions make organic slalom markers on a proper ripping singletrack descent from the common’s top. I spend some happy seconds thinking no one has passed me on a descent all day, before the realisation that about ten times as many have gone past when the trail points the other way somewhat dampens my rampant ego. Not much else is rampant apart from a desperate need to eat, but I’m sick of goo-ey energy bars.

God shows again he’s the beneficent being the Church is always banging on about by placing some young entrepreneurs on the common, pimping out mouth watering chocolate slices for 50p and encouragement for free. Many riders pass while I make multiple purchases and wonder if I can recruit them for Dragon’s Den.

Mile 57:

Hello twatty headwind how I’ve missed you. C’mon Elvis let’s sing it together “Checkpoint” grind “Charlie” Gurn “Churchill” Grimace. Repeat until it’s gone beyond funny, and into that dark place where the cackley demons live. I. AM. NOT. GETTING. OFF. Most of the other riders did as pedalling on damp grass after 55+ miles of quite enough became far too much into the tooth of half a gale. But I’m just not built that way. For all my pretending not to care about the pace of others and sticking to a plan, I still have myself to beat and beat up so I give up trying to find a lower gear and just bloody well get on with it.

It ends eventually and what an ending with the best descent of the whole day opening up into a rocky gully full of mud hidden traps waiting to claim tired riders. And I’m shot, completely, no new Trail Skills to save me here, no “in slow out fast“, no looking round the corner, no outside pedal down, just sheer bloody bravado and joy and this being so good and so close to the end. I know the climbs are done so I may as well put everything into the next mile

It’s ragged. It’s not pretty. It’s not even a distant cousin of smooth. I hear the chain slapping the swingarm, the heavily PSI’d tyres scrabbling for grip and I’m making too many corrections, trying to flow but never getting close. And then Ol’ Toe Clips is marooned in the middle of MY descent doing 4 mph and that won’t do. I have two options, one is polite and correct, the other tells you why instinct and common sense are never equally distributed.

Suddenly Elvis has left the building, the pineapple was a forgotten fruit and my mind was full of “The Italian Job” imagery as they escaped down the tunnels. I hit the bank hard, rocks cascading below me to the drumbeat of the impulsive, railing high and left above Mr. Marin and his Sensible Pace before I’m running out of road and ideas. Got to drop back in, probably clear, probably, definitely maybe, better than an even chance, no choice, it’s crash or turn.

Noises sequence like this: Trail bike hits trail hard, suspension compresses with a loud squish, rider behind makes a noise with an “O” shaped mouth, rider in front is high on adrenaline shouting “YOU WERE ONLY MEANT TO BLOW THE BLOODY DOORS OFF”. Everyone is happy. Well one out of two anyway.

I stopped some time later as muddy dirt met tarmac to clean my splattered sunglasses and still my beating heart. Matey Marin caught up and we agreed to disagree that my passing move was either “Safe, controlled and well intentioned” or “Dangerous, bloody stupid and inconsiderate”.

This is a very friendly event even with 1200 riders, and yet I’ve managed to piss at least two of them off. Ah well, it’s not like I’m coming back.

Mile 60:

And I won’t be. Collecting my time at a smidge under six hours I didn’t feel particularly worthy or content. The car park was more than half empty which shows exactly how good the time really was. My arse hurt, my knees ached but not so much I didn’t ride last night on some sublime, dust speckled woody singletrack. I probably could have finished 30 minutes quicker if I could have – at any point – given a shit, but that never got close to happening.

My mates finished nearly an hour quicker and declared themselves satisfied and sated. They’ll be back next year. I’ll be riding somewhere fun for three hours and then going to the pub.

* All driving 4x4s as well. Honestly, what a stereotype eh? Know anyone like that?

** I apologise for the tastelessness of that joke. You have to appreciate the pain I was suffering at the time.

*** Salperton House is a very expensive retreat for posh people with too many teeth and not enough manners to go and shoot fat birds. I believe they keep pheasants in the shed, not alcopop’d blonde’s from Essex, but maybe someone should check.