B of the Bang!

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I wrote this original blog using iWeb, which despite its limitations in terms of SEO was a brilliant free-form content management system. Squarespace, just like Drupal and Wordpress, have settled on a modus operandi that resembles a word processor from the 1980s; pretty dire. The only way I could incorporate this blog into this site was to import it as a jpeg, so of course the interactive links have gone.

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Down by the sea...

  Bird’s Eye View by    Amanda Hamilton

Bird’s Eye View by Amanda Hamilton

In the fine dining room of the French Horne in riverside landlocked Sonning, the pure white table cloths were militarily uniform and pristine. The Aston was parked up outside and the waiting staff couldn’t but help ask questions as an unusual frisson of excitement rippled around the stately room. The Thames flowed past, silently insouciantly gliding under the efficiently ugly bridge. “Do you like oysters?” enquired Richard. A dozen arrived, six each, looking like so much female genitalia set against a smooth pearly white background, in complete contrast to the rough, tough, knobbly dark exterior of the shell, the touch of which triggers a memory... 

... the first oyster slides effortlessly into my mouth, and explodes into a riotous assembly of taste, sound, smell. I am overcome, the tables recede, the restaurant dissolves, black and white magpies become black and white seagulls with their beautiful evocative plaintive cry as they wheel around debris, sea weed and salt water, the river becomes a working harbour, the manicured lawn becomes the sea, hedges artistically shaped by a topiarist morph into boats, the car park to a marina; slimy fish gape blindly in bright plastic coffins as the catch of the day is brought ashore by tired fishermen that have been out at sea for 18 hours; ropes, nets, Rye harbour, crab fishing, the smell of diesel and engine exhaust, the sound of water gurgling as the tide ebbs and flows, the faded once bright paint of fishing boats, the chink chink chink of halyards as they frap against masts, the near universal white of GRP, battered, tough-looking go anywhere deep-water boats with equally battered and tough looking crusty liveaboards.

Barnacle encrusted piles which gouge into rubbing strakes, the anathema of ropes knotted and twisted, the delight in tidy bowlines and round turns & two half hitches, teaching ropework to clumsy beginners, the spontaneous applause from shoreside onlookers as we extricate ourselves from deep in Lymington harbour, a perfect manoeuvre; coffee and cake on deck, chilli con carne for breakfast as we round the Fastnet Rock; outside of Lorient a wall of water rushing towards us from the bow and we get soaked and almost asphyxiate ourselves laughing, poor unfortunates struck down with mal de mer; the chaos of the 10,000 boat Round the Island race, the boat that had no choice but to smack into Spit Sand Fort, the yacht that didn’t get out of our way so we T-Boned it, the mast falling off in a Force 5.

Sand in my shoes, crabbing with Jez on the pontoons in Cowes in the hot sun, Dad cutting his foot on hidden glass, paddling through sea puddles in the sand, rock pools, treacherously wet seaweed, sea urchin’s spines go deep into this urchin’s foot; dance the burning barefoot dance over the white hot black sand of Santorini; white hot golden sand of paradisaic Ramla bay, fat old ladies that make silk souvenirs for tourists wear black, black and black and walk barefoot on the hot black melting tarmac; deep dark dank mysterious threatening exciting caves; crabbing with Ben in Lulworth Cove, red and orange and yellow sea anemones open and close, crabs glide silently through shallow water, small translucent fish dart hither and thither. 

A feast of moules marinere et pommes frites in St Malo, on watch at midnight with a welcome hot coffee from the off-coming watch, making coffee for the on-coming watch at 0350; the pungent smell of fish and chip shops, gaudy amusements halls which are really dungeons of torture, the transience of tourism, the Alladin’s Cave of a quiet chandlery, arriving in Cherbourg at 3am and chilling out zombie-like before the sleep of the dead hits.

Building sandcastles and forts and tunnels and troughs and irrigation systems, Topsy the old Olde English Sheepdog running through the surf and gathering half of Sandbanks into her fur; shooting the sun with a sextant, hiding in the dunes, the quiet of a sand basin surrounded by tough tufts of sharp grass; dried fish, insects crawling through the sand, sandy sandwiches, tar, bottles of luke warm Fanta, smoothly rounded opaque glass, pebbles scrunching underfoot, tipping Dad out of the blow-up dinghy, Zachary Rubenstein, zooming along in a Mini Moke, the open sides and proximity of the whizzing blurred black road more of a thrill than any fair ground ride, my first knickerbockerglory from the Wimpy in Gozo.

Tied up alongside in picturesque Honfleur, Johnathon Livingston Seagull lands on deck and pecks at a scrap, sleepy hotels, sleezy hotels, slick hotels, desperate B&B’s, hopeless B&B’s, homely B&B’s, vacancies, no vacancies, three stars, two stars, no stars; the long long car journey, Mum being goaded into doing 90mph, and I can see the sea! The bow rises and rises and dips, dips, dips, over and over, rhythmically, hypnotically, the wind on my face, penetrating my clothes, exploring my body, cleansing my mind, refreshing my soul.

The wind on my face, penetrating my clothes, exploring my body, cleansing my mind, refreshing my soul, and the Aston is roaring down country lanes, the exhaust sings all the way from bass through baritone to tenor, the percussive rattles and bangs of the bodywork keep harmony, the musical whole orchestrated by Richard as he double-declutches up and down the musical scales. The blue of the sea is replaced by the winter browns and greens of the countryside, the ever-changing water replaced by the solidness of the road, waves become frozen into hills and dales, we pirouette around a roundabout and we’re back, the engine is shut down. 

The day ends, my cheeks are salt stained from wind-induced tears and salt water lingers on my lips.

The Leibig Extract of Meat Company, Friar Benedict and me

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I recently enjoyed a rather splendid weekend in Dorset with some jolly fine chums, I think there are some pics in the photo gallery on the other page. Monday just gone I had one of those wonderful days that crop up every so often that make me think what a lucky fellow am I. Both events are united by steak and kidney...

Friday of last week I was due to film a 1930’s Bentley but by the time we arrived, the Peak District was covered in snow and the roads in salt, both a death knell for such a car; and as the owner was wanted to fetch somewhere in the vacinity of an awful lot of money for his car, he decided he’d rather not risk it and kept it warm and snug in its commodious garage.

Understandable. But irritating.

My colleague and fellow adventurer Richard must have felt somewhat guilty about this as it was a last minute arrangement which really did waste a day. So when we were filming a rather-more-my-cup-of-tea 1934 Aston Martin I was treated to a lunch of oysters followed by steak and kidney pudding at the French Horne in Sonning.

And delicious it was indeed.

The rest of the day flew by in a whirl of exhaust, petrol fumes, shakes, rattles and bangs and admiring glances from Euro-box travelers.

Back to the famous five going mad in Dorset. Over the dinner table I mentioned that during one of my interminable periods of unemployment, I’d managed to convince a very large (though not so large now) telecoms company to pay for me to retrain as a Yacht skipper and so every other weekend for 6 months I’d disappear to the sunny south coast for adventures on the high seas.

The boats, Sigma 36’s, housed nine people and were accordingly victualed, even though the pub was the favoured food stop, especially in the winter. This meant that at the end of each weekend, the entire contents of the galley were emptied into the boot of my car, the other eight salty sea dogs taking pity on this unemployed chap, working hard to retrain...

... the sail training company didn’t have much of a budget for food, being run by ex-para’s, so Michelin star wouldn’t be the first rating you might come up with, but nonetheless when you’re out of work such a bounty is most welcome.

The most popular unused item from the galley were Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies. I wouldn’t want to impute anything viz a viz the good Friar’s name, for Fray Bentos was indeed named after a reclusive priest in the area of Uraguay, a port no less on the river Uraguay itself. The pies themselves, manufactured by the tastily-named Leibig Extract of Meat Company,  were a damn nuisance on a yacht, being in an impenetrable tin, there never being a working tin opener to hand, and they took vast quantities of calor gaz and time to cook... well, a third of a pie got cooked, a third was always raw, and a third provided a surfeit of carbon...

On land, however, things are a different kettle of fish as it were and as long as you don’t inspect the ingredients too closely, these pies are... well with chips and ketchup (Heinz natch), well they fill you up... but they aren’t perhaps quite to the melt-in-the-mouth quality of the Pudding version served up at the French Horne in Sonning.

And that was thetail I told the assemble quintet in Dorset which presumably was the inspiration for them to present a gift to me (for map reading services I believe) later that weekend of a freshly made, still within best-by date, 475gm Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie.

The memories of that career retraining period of my live come flooding back in waves of nostalgia... or is it nausea...

An arabian night

 "Idat Rubinstein and Vaslav Nijinski" by George Barbier (1913)

"Idat Rubinstein and Vaslav Nijinski" by George Barbier (1913)

[In Scheherezade’s head] 

I'm not in love, so don't forget it
It's just a silly phase I'm going through
And just because I call you up
Don't get me wrong, don't think you've got it made
I'm not in love, no-no
(It's because...)

“Tell me a story” said the dusky, spicy, mysterious maiden from the East. We’ll call her al-‘Uzzá. Her multi-coloured brown eyes reflect minarets, rose water and turkish delight; on the stereo, Natacha Atlas’s Ana Hina conjures images of geometrically patterned mosques, the Alhambra, wise men smoking from Hookahs drinking Sage tea; magic carpets and Kalashnikovs. Turban-topped urbane males, females hide in veils.

And so, Scheherezade began. Our hero Jane, a young girl of 9, or maybe 10, lived in a large English country house. Mistreated by her wicked stepmother (they are always wicked), abused by her cousins; locked up in her dead uncle’s room for a crime, a misdemeanour, that she didn’t commit. Injustice abounds, unrestrained.

“That’s shocking” gasps al-‘Uzzá, as she lets her long, luxurious jet black hair fall.

Jane was packed off to a school, a dreadful, dismal, loveless place. Cold hearted, cold heated, cold and distant teachers, owned by a cold, cruel, heartless, self-righteous and hypocritical tyrant who publicly tried to shame Jane by forcefully telling the other poor girls that she was a heathen, a liar who said prayers to Bramha and who knelt before Juggernaut; crimes, heresies beyond the pale in the barking mad mind of Brocklehurst.  

“tzzzz, religion” hissed al-‘Uzzá. Fingers flow through her flowing black mane and she purrs, like one of her five sacred cats. Scheherezade moves closer and they both admire the table, a single slab of elm, from the heart of the tree, their hearts now beating faster, closer...

The story continues: Jane was shown kindness by one of the girls, Helen, with stunning curling long red hair, and they became fast friends. One of Jane’s natural gifts was that of the artist and she offered to draw Helen’s portrait, for which Helen had to take off her bonnet. The sun made Helen’s ruby fleece positively sparkle, and Jane set to. Alas for them both as Brocklehurst made an ill-timed entrance and spied the bonnetless Helen; her punishment for this outrage? Her head to be shawn. Jane staunchly defended her friend and ended up also being cut short.

Shortly after this Helen died of typhus.

“No!” exclaims al-‘Uzzá.

Jane however survived.

I like to see you, but then again
That doesn't mean you mean that much to me
So if I call you, don't make a fuss
Don't tell your friends about the two of us
I'm not in love, no-no
(It's because...)

The first kiss. Tentative. Exploratory. Tender. Bodies become entwined, free of their day to day covering. Flesh on flesh, goosebumps and tingles. Voluptuous curves, ample breast beneath which passion stirs. Firm, manly chest beneath which passion stirs. Gentle hands on white heat, lost in that special place, the promise of paradise not far away....

“Hmmmm.....aaaah.....” She bites. From the hifi, the beat of a derbooka is interwoven with the clack clack clack of qarqaba, in turn overlaid with the pulse of tan-tan playing a duet with a western bass guitar’s Middle Eastern riff. 

(Be quiet, big boys don't cry)
(Big boys don't cry)
(Big boys don't cry)
(Big boys don't cry)
(Big boys don't cry)
(Big boys don't cry)
(Big boys don't cry)

Jane left childhood behind, and the dreadful school too, and found herself as Governess to a young girl Adele, ward of Rochester at his Gothic manor Thornfield. One day Jane went for a walk and helped a horseman who she saw fall from his horse. On her return to Thornfield, Jane discovered that the horseman was in fact her employer, Mr. Edward Rochester, an ugly, moody yet wonderful, passionate, Byronic, and charismatic gentleman nearly twenty years older than she...

“Passionate’s good” murmurs al-‘Uzzá. A khallool, that most ancient of instruments, fills the air with its haunting sound, its slow gentle melody counterpoints the faster rhythm of the bass percussion. The female virtuoso singer’s voice rises, ululating with elaborately ornamented notes, a melismatic meandering across her vocal plane, an ancient style of singing known, appropriately, to drive audiences into ecstasy...

This music is in complete contrast to that which Jane taught Adele on the piano, continued Scheherezade. Whilst pupil and student got on well, there was a frisson of attraction between Rochester and Jane, and they spent a lot of time together. One evening however Jane heard a strange unsettling laugh in the house, a laugh with a hint of madness and later, she rescued Rochester from a fire, a fire which seemed to have had no obvious cause.  Rochester’s relationship with Jane flourished and he proposed marriage to her, a proposition to which she readily agreed...

I keep your picture upon the wall
It hides a nasty stain that's lyin' there
So don't you ask me to give it back
I know you know it doesn't mean that much to me
I'm not in love, no-no
(It's because...)

Her hands are everywhere, exploring every nook and cranny. His hands are everywhere, exploring every nook and cranny. Two bodies became one in perfect union, a single kiss is felt on every square inch of both cream and cinnamon skin; necks are nipped, backs are scratched, the world melts away, all that exists are two lovers lost and oblivious, working their way to a climax of oblivion.

Ooh, you'll wait a long time for me
Ooh, you'll wait a long time

This marriage cannot take place! Rochester is already married! It was true. Previously he had been tricked into marrying a mad woman, and it was she, on one of her escapes from her locked room at the house, that had created the fire, and it was her maniacal laughter that Jane had heard form time to time. Devastated and distraught, Jane ran away, ending up at her cousins where she recuperated. 

Ooh, you'll wait a long time for me
Ooh, you'll wait a long time

By one of those twists of fate that happen in a Bronte novel, it is whilst dear Jane recovered from her ordeal at Thornfield that she learned that she was the sole beneficiary of her long lost Uncle’s will, a soothing and medicinal fortune of some £20,000. She was on the verge of accepting an offer of marriage from StJohn, her cousin, when she thought she heard the voice of Rochester calling her to him; she naturally dashed back to Thornfield only to find nought but blackened remains, a hollow shell, the result of a tragic fire set by the then deceased and equally blackened Mrs Rochester.

“Oh my...” whispers al-‘Uzzá. “This is truly a tale fit for Shahryār”.

Although Rochester himself lost a hand and his sight in the fire, and he was afraid of rejection, Jane readily accepted him as he was because, pointed out Scheherezade, Jane believed that the best thing that you can do is to find a person who loves you for exactly what you are; good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome... the right person will still think the sun shines out of your ass. That’s the kind of person that’s worth sticking with.

I'm not in love, so don't forget it
It's just a silly phase I'm going through
And just because I call you up
Don't get me wrong, don't think you've got it made, ooh

The cock crows. The sun, a bright warm orange orb heats the earth, banishing the unnoticed cool of the night. In the gentle morning light, he is as exotically pale to her as she is exotically dark to him, entangled and naked they bask in the afterglow, at peace, relaxed, lanquidly looking forward to a lazy loving day.

I'm not in love, I'm not in love...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Song lyrics I’m not in Love by 10cc

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Juno written by Diablo Cody

Cut up, pulled over and patronised by the police

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A lovely day for a bicycle ride - though when I started out at 9am it was misty in Maidenhead... but I knew it would burn off and looked forward to sunny and blue skies.

Feeling good I decided I'd do my 55 mile route, Maidenhead>Pinkneys Green>Henley>Hambleden Valley>Freith>Marlow>Bourne End>Beaconsfield>Amersham>Gerrards Cross>Beaconsfield>Bourne End>Cookham>Maidenhead - nice and hilly.

As I descended the "Tesco" hill to Amersham, I clocked a police people carrier entering the same roundabout I was about to enter, from the opposite direction. As they weren't signalling, I assumed they were going straight on, to climb the hill I'd just descended.

I zipped across the roundabout and as I exited I moved across to the right hand side of the lane as in 50 or so yards I was turning right at another roundabout. I did a quick lifesaver check - not by turning my head to my right but by looking "underarm", and was surprised to glimpse the police vehicle that I thought had gone straight on.

I signalled my intention to turn right at the roundabout and did exactly that - positioning myself to turn left in 30 yards or so at the next roundabout. Unbelievably, the police vehicle overtook me and tried to cut in to the gap between me and the car in front, which had stopped at the roundabout where I intended to turn left. They didn't quite make it as there simply wasn't enough time or room for them and they ended up at an angle across the carriageway and I had to brake hard and swerve left into the kerb to avoid smacking into the side of their car.

Totally gobsmacked at such bad driving by a POLICE driver, I expressed my astonishment and frustration verbally...to which the cops took exception. The passenger wound down his window and insisted I pulled over, which I did.

We then had a civil but cordial... discussion... about the virtues of MY bike riding - the incident seemingly was MY fault due to lack of knowledge of the highway code!

I would have pressed my point harder, but there was genuine malice, a steel fist in a velvet glove indeed, in the passenger's voice and of course there were two of them and one of me, any legal action would take time - plenty of time for them to collude, I mean confer, about their version of events, so in the end I felt discretion would be the better part of valour and I let the guy think he was right - besides I really really wanted to get to Costa's for a coffee.

But both of them knew I didn't give a fig for their opinions, as they were clearly bullying me - so they must have known they were in the wrong.

A shameful incident, in my opinion, and I will continue to shout at drivers, whether in fluorescent stripy vehicles or not, if they cause or nearly cause an accident.

Are you the one?

Blonde hair brown eyes blonde hair blue eyes blonde hair green eyes blonde hair grey eyes - unusual - brown hair brown eyes brown hair blue eyes brown hair green eyes brown hair grey eyes, brunette, zappette, nymphette, black hair short hair auburn and long. 

Ginger hair, Ginger Rogers. Elegant. Sophisticated. Creative. Sporty tomboy. Petite. Well spoken. Nice smile. Great laugh. Intelligent. Graceful, Grace - nice name, nickname. Sexy. Sensual. Earth tones, autumn shades; she scrubs up well.

Barrister or Barista? 

Are you looking to meet someone that’s fun, loyal, honest, a very laid back character? Or do you want someone intense, serious... Which am I? 

Do you love to laugh, watch storms, the smell of cut grass; oh, and bacon sizzling in a pan? Crisp frosty mornings, mangoes, music and raspberries, the Ocean. Are you a totally, incredible, remarkable, amazing, fantastic female, that enjoys nights out dining, going to the theatre, concerts and meeting up with friends? 

Do you really like cycling, rock climbing, sailing and the great outdoors? I mean really?

Don’t say you like going for long romantic walks in the hills or by the sea (there must be crowds roaming the beaches and countryside in search of D’Arcy) and don’t say you like curling up on a sofa with a bottle of red and a DVD. It’s always a DVD, it’s always a bottle and it’s always red; but it messes with my head. 

Do you like reading in stripy pyjamas, skimming stones on the sea, pottering around doing nothing very much or staying in bed and being creative when really there are other things that need doing?

So Nina, Tina, Tana, Tara, Xara, Lucy or Jo (Jo!). Angela, Aileen, Sarah and Anne. Rebecca, Sian, Jackie (first love), Jaqui, Ally, Sophie, Jen, Pam, Lauren, Elaine, Louise, Stella, Mandy, Heather, Jill, Gill, Hermione, Holly, Hollie, Molly, Judy, Judes, Sally, Lorraine, Katherine, Kathleen, Kathy, Katie, Kate, Katy and Kat; will you pique my interest with your intellect and wit? Will you charm your way into my life and make my heart do that flippy thing hearts do? Will you make my knees go weak and make my brain stutter so all I can say is "blughshs"? Will you inspire me to great heights of creativity, fire my imagination, be a friend, mentor, lover? Will the sound of your laughter refresh my soul, will your smile make me smile, will your touch calm me? Will I delight in your presence, revel in the afterglow. Will your absence be a dull ache?

All I am saying; is give me a chance.

Zen works for motorcycle maintenance

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Yesterday was a great day.

Had fun filming an entrepreneur for a Focus on Business show, then dashed over to a major publishing company based near Reading to meet the management - a very encouraging discussion and could be very significant for www.pod3.tv

As the weather was sooooo glorious, and as I knew Dave the senior manager at the aforementioned publishing company wouldn't mind me turning up in leathers, I went on my Honda VFR800. For the uninitiated, this is an 800cc motorbike, about 100hp and in this instance, very yellow.

Wonderful ride over to the Reading area.

Joy of joys, after the meeting, I listened to a voicemail - a technology company wants a series of video podcasts to help communicate with their globally distributed sales force - perfecto! The video podcast plus RSS feed is an ideal way to keep distributed workers informed and up to date on the latest product developments.

Another joyous ride home - in a bit of a rush as I have to meet someone in central Maidenhead before they disappear for a couple of weeks. Park the bike up in the garage, get off, grab the key and walk away- but as I do so my glove-dulled grip on the key relaxes for some reason and as the key comes out of the keyhole, it slips away... and disappears!

I can't see it at all! Where's it gone? 

It's not on the floor.

It's not near the handlebars.

It's not on the fairing,

It's not on the frame, in the forks, or on the disc brakes.

I 'shake' the bike - if such a thing is possible - but nothing rattles.

It's just disappeared.

Stumped.

It can't be, surely? I mean the odds of that happening must be outrageously small... But it's the only thing I can think of...

I dig out the emergency tool kit from under the bike seat, find the appropriate spanner, and resign myself to fiddling around with my nuts. Now that's not normally a problem, but I hate getting oily dirty and I just know this is going to be a pain in the proverbial.

So I hinge the petrol tank cover up and peer into the Matrix-style machinery - all pipes and tunes and aluminium. Wow. Just how bike designers cram so much stuff into such a tiny space is difficult to comprehend. 

I get my trusty torch and illuminate the darkness. There's the key! It's resting on...something - but perilously close to a gap between the petrol tank and - a black abyss.

After inspecting the petrol tank I dismiss the idea of temporarily removing it. So how to reach the key - access is via a thin gap between various bits of bike skeleton. I get a metal retractable ruler and some blu-tack - I manage to get to the key and press - oh bugger - it's been pushed down the gap - it's wedged between the fuel tank and some other engine thing.

Metal coat hanger - rearranged forms a hook. But only pushes the key even further inside my bike's body - good job I'm not a key-hole surgeon! There's a faint "clink" as the key falls down some inner cavern, not even my Maglite searchlight can reveal it now.

Bugger! 

Calm. Calm. Calm. Deep breath...... And relax. Robert M Pirsig taught me a lot.

Now the VFR is a great bike - being a "sports tourer" it's faired - the engine is encased in plastic moulding that also protects the rider from the worst of the weather. Which is great - but to access the engine, the fairing has to come off.

To keep the fairing on at 130mph (apparently), about a million allen key bolts are used. Not having the most well equipped workshop, I dig out my bicycle multi-tool, find an allen key that fits and start undoing them. I hate this kind of work - life's too short - I did all this on bicycles as a kid.

Anyway, finally managed to get them all undone, but needless to say it's not as straightforward as that. There are also some plastic poppers helping to keep this lump of plastic attached, for which of course you need the special Honda workshop tool. Bollocks. 

I gently hinge the plastic moulding away from the bike, and once again peer into the dark, labyrinthine interior. Maglight on, searching, probing...and there it is! If I can just - crack! Whooa! I loose balance, land in the dust, on my bum, holding a disconnected bike fairing in my hand - I'd lent just a tad too hard, and the retaining poppers - well they weren't retaining any more.

By now I'm loosing the will to live.

However, I can now reasonably easily retrieve my key, which I do.

And start the tedious process of reassembling my bike. Which is a bit of a faff - trying to align those holes with bolts whist holding the fairing up and an allen key in one hand and the bolt in another...you get the picture.

Finally the fairing's back on, the petrol tank cover re-secured, the key is in my pocket, the seat is re-affixed and tools stowed away and a feeling of a job well done spreads through my body, only slightly spoilt by a nagging feeling that it was all my fault in the first place.

Now, where's my torch?

How to ride a bike: cycle touring

 Hardknott pass in the wonderful, glorious English Lake District (Ordnance Survey map)

Hardknott pass in the wonderful, glorious English Lake District (Ordnance Survey map)

There are many ways to see and explore the world; plane, bus, boat, train, motorbike, foot.  All offer different experiences and have have their divers pros and cons. A cycle tour offers what could be the best compromise for most people - on the one hand not too slow, allowing surprisingly large distances to be covered with relative ease, and on the other not too fast such that obscure pockets of fascination are missed. 

And of course there is the satisfaction of achieving something great under your own steam. Entirely human powered, the humble bicycle provides a green alternative to exploring the greener highways and byways of this green and pleasant land, or any other land for that matter; cycle touring on the Continent is something else again.

So, what’s involved and how do you do it?

Obviously you’ll need a bike, and whilst any bike will do, there is a best design for touring; the touring bike. Still using a lightweight alloy frame, but somewhat ruggedised for the rigours of a tour. The frame angles will be more relaxed than a racing bike, maybe 73 degrees on the seat tube and 72 on the head tube, with a noticeable fork trail. The rear triangle will be longer too. All of this gives a long wheel base and relaxed feel to the bike which will help soak up the bumps and lumps of roads and provide much comfort for long hours in the saddle.

How much gear to take will depend on the style of touring you want to do. It’s perfectly feasible to take tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear and all the other camping paraphernalia for a cycle camping expedition. If this is your chosen option you’ll need panniers that fit on a rack, which in turn should be bolted to the frame on purpose-built mounting points. You’ll probably also need a saddle bag and maybe even front-mounted panniers, again on purpose-built rack.

All of this adds considerably to the weight of the machine, and you’ll need to adjust your riding style to suit; dancing on the pedals racing-style isn’t really an option.

On the other hand you may prefer to travel light, with minimum gear and stay in brick-built accommodation; youth hostels or hotels, depending on budget. In this instance you can get away with a reasonable-sized saddle bag alone.

You’ll need to be self-sufficient for mechanical support, so a tool kit of some sort will be needed, along with puncture repair kit and spare inner tubes.

Having decided which variety suits you, planning the route is key to success and provides a lot of fun too. Winter evenings pouring over maps and guide books allows the imagination to run free of the dark wet nights...

As a rule of thumb, whichever style of touring, I’d allow for planning purposes 60 miles a day. This may sound like a lot of miles, but if you break it down as follows, it’s not so bad, at least for the moderately fit:

  • On the road by 9am
  • First coffee and cake stop after 15 miles.
  • Lunch stop after another 15 miles
  • Second coffee and cake stop another 15 miles
  • Destination final 15 miles - arrive no later than 17:00 hours

There, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? A cycle tour can be a guilt-free gastronomic delight!

Remember 60 miles a day is just for planning purposes - around this you’ll need to plot exactly where you’re going to stop and what you’re going to do when you have stopped. Places of interest can be explored easily along the way, as can other aspects of the countryside. If you’re interested in photography or even drawing, there are plenty, a million, an infinite number of opportunities to create lasting images. 

It takes a couple of days to get into the “rhythm of the road”, so it may be prudent to take things easy at first and build up as you get used to being o the move all day. Some days you may end up doing more than 60 miles, others less. Some days never seem to end and you’ll wish they’d never started, other days you’ll wish would never end, so sublime are they. 

Cyclists on tour are welcomed pretty much by everyone. There have been the odd occasion where the welcome has been less than pleasant though. We once parked up at a pub only for the landlady to come rushing out yelling at us that we weren’t welcome and we should sod off out of it... the name of the pub? The Dragon! 

What makes for a “good” place to tour? Each to their own of course, but I like hills. Hills add interest, the challenge of the climb and the exhilaration of the descent (falling off not withstanding). So I look for lots of twisty-turny little roads on Ordinance Survey maps, ideally featuring those little arrowheads which indicate a steepness of at least 1:7.

But if you have kids or maybe older folk with you, you may want to adapt your route and location accordingly. One family I know of (2 x adults and 3 x children aged from 9 to 4) all go cycle touring in Holland, very flat but very bike friendly. The 9 year old has a super-duper “grown up” road bike, but scaled down to suit a child. The younger kids sit on tag-a-longs which are attached to the adult bikes. It’s amazing the distance even quite young kids can manage, and with suitable encouragement they’ll love the experience. 

Experience will soon teach you what’s best for you; don’t let a bad experience deter you. Indeed it’s the bad or challenging experiences, such as a wheel collapsing under the weight of tent and all the gear, that stay in the mind far longer than wonderful sunsets, and which are the most fun to recount even years later! 

It’s all about the adventure.

Go for it!

How to ride a bike: bonking on a bicycle

 Statue of the "Tired Man" (Megfáradt ember in Hungarian), referring to the poem of  Attila József . The statue is the work of  József Somogyi .

Statue of the "Tired Man" (Megfáradt ember in Hungarian), referring to the poem of Attila József. The statue is the work of József Somogyi.

The Bonk.

It's a horrible, horrible experience.

Usually happens in hot weather - dehydration being a contributing factor. 

It's the total and sudden debilitating loss of energy and onset of fatigue and weakness, the result of the stores of glycogen in the liver and muscles becoming depleted.

When this happens in hot weather, it feels like your entire body is going to melt into the sun-softened black tarmac, every slight incline becomes a major climb, the slightest breeze becomes a full on gale, and your mind sinks into total and utter blackness of despair.

As you become more experienced in cycling, and if you cycle enough you're almost certain to experience the Bonk - even (especially) racers; even pro riders such as Mark Cavendish have suffered with this, you'll get to know your body and pick up the early warning signs. Cycling in hot weather, such as today, is a high risk day if you don't drink enough fluid. On hot mornings, it's easy to skip breakfast - but that boost of carbohydrates is essential, as is eating a good mix of carbs, proteins and fats the evening before.

A couple of weeks ago I did my 55 mile route. Usually this is easy enough to do, elapsed time being circa 4 hours, riding time 3.5, with 2 x 15 min stops for refreshments. On this occasion it was warm - not baking like today - and windy. I got to my second stop, in Amersham, and realised I hadn't taken enough cash for drinks AND flapjack at Costa Coffee, so I went for the drinks. I'd already felt a twinge of hunger in Bourne End, some miles before Amersham, and thought I was going to suffer on the way back.

I did consider shortening the route, but thought WTF, let's just do it... and I was OK actually until within 500 pedal strokes of home, I tried "sprinting" up a slope.. and the legs just refused to go - no zip or zing... I sat up and ground my way to the top of this pimple - pace for pace being matched by a young lad still on stabilisers, his legs whizzing around in a blur! haha!! Bless him... quite comical really, me being all togged out in racing gear...

Not quite the bonk, but my immediate stores of energy were depleted - and even if it was the dread Bonk, I was within falling over distance of my house... but had this happened with 20 miles to go I'd have really struggled to get back. Today I did the same route, back by midday to avoid the heat of the afternoon, and it was a breeze... just by way of additional info I weighed myself before and after the ride. 10st 10lbs before, 10st 7lbs after, even though I'd consumed over a litre of fluid on the way around!

To prevent this form of bonking, stock up on carbs the day before and ensure your breakfast has a good carb base - porridge for example. Eat carbs on the way around, sports drinks are formulated to give a dose of carbs as well as proteins and caffeine is included too as current theory is that caffeine, though a diuretic, speeds up the processing of carbs into energy.

Post ride you should eat something - low GI carbs are apparently favoured - but I really struggle to eat anything for up to a couple of hours after a ride. I can just about manage yoghurt with fruit and mixed nuts. For four hours after riding, the body will convert food into energy at a much faster rate than usual, for recovery purposes. If you are going to ride the next day as well, this post ride eat is therefore really important.

I have nothing to say about any other form of bonking on a bicycle, other than take extreme care ;)

How to ride a bike: time trials

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Well well. Another medal, this time by the diminutive Emma Pooley, who "unexpectedly" clinched a medal. Why unexpectedly when we have such a strong squad? Size matters - whilst her dimensions make for a great hill climber, descending is another issue completely as heavier folk gather more momentum and speed.

According to Chris Boardman, tech director for the squad, they worked on her technique so much so that she actually took time out of previously faster descenders, which is pretty incredible, and also tweaked the design of the bike to better suit her stature.

So what's time trialling about then?

Unlike a road race where the whole field starts at the same time, the competitors in a time trial set off at minute or two-minute intervals and ride on their own - against the clock. The rider with the shortest time over the distance wins.

The UK tended to specialise in time trials or "the race of truth", rather than road racing, for two reasons. One was the then prevailing view of professionalism - there was much easier and earlier acceptance of the professional cyclist on the continent, so links between racing clubs and the professional sport were much stronger. The clubs provided new pro cyclists and raced accordingly - with road racing. The other reason was the great British tradition of banning stuff and lunatic decision making. In an early road race, a pedestrian wandered across the road in front of the bunch and got killed... the logical decision, obviously, was to ban massed start racing. Duh!

So time trials were devised to overcome this ludicrous ban. For many years cyclists wore black alpaca jackets and trousers, looking like "ordinary" members of the public simply out on a ride, as they'd largely be on their own. Events started very early in the morning, to avoid too many eyes seeing what was going on (early starts are still the norm and actually dawn provides some great racing conditions) and all courses were published with codes - E72, G723 and so on to further confound and confuse the uninitiated.

Typically time trial courses in the UK are "out and back" - the turn being as close to the half way mark as possible so that any wind or geographic advantage on one leg is neutralised by the other. It's not always possible to get this right - one course near Tonbridge in Kent was famously known as the "Ski Slope" course as the out bound leg made use of a high slip road onto the A21 down which you sped, but didn't have to climb back up on the return.

Distances for time trials in this country are 10 miles, 25 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles, 12 hours and 24 hours. OK the last two are times, but the idea is furthest in that time wins... "Getting under the hour" was the big achievement for 25 mile rides i.e. averaging just over 25mph... 

Record times in the UK are:

  • 10 miles - 17 min 58 sec
  • 25 miles - 45 min 57 sec
  • 50 miles - 1hr 37 min 21 sec
  • 100 miles - 3hr 22 min 45 sec
  • 12 hr - 300.17 miles
  • 24 hr - 525.07 miles

My first 25 mile race was held on a wet and windy race on the A24 near Dorking (I can't remember the code for this course, G something). My "minute man", the guy in front of me by a minute, was the club captain. At the start you're held by marshals, with your feet well and truly strapped to the pedals (these days clipped). John went, then it was my turn. Held up by starter officials, the countdown 10 seconds. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and an explosive effort to get the bike going, and up to optimum speed and cadence as soon as possible. Got to the T junction and turned left on to the main A24 and headed south... mile after mile, early morning in the Surrey countryside, focussing on rhythm and speed. No bunch to slipstream here - indeed if you do catch another rider you are absolutely NOT allowed to slip stream - it's not called the race of truth for no reason... Suddenly I saw John in the distance - I was gaining!

I caught John and we battled it out - neither yielding - but of course I'd already gained a minute on him... we were neck and neck into the head wind as we approach "the turn", a large roundabout... we went round and the wind came aft, we shifted up the gears and really started to motor... and it was on one of the climbs on the way back that I dropped John, I suddenly realised I was on my own... and just kept going, elated! 

Finally I saw the finish line and got out of the saddle and sprinted as best I could, down hill, biggest gear (about 105 inches I think), past the time keepers to record my time.. then thankfully, gratefully, slowed and bimbled back to the cars...

My time? I can't remember precisely, but it was about 1hr 5 mins and a few seconds, which was a pretty good result for the first event, in crap weather, on a slow course.

We did a lot of time trialling, as they were so conveniently held in the morning which allowed plenty of time in the rest of the day to... ride! Before I could drive, and if I couldn't get a lift, I'd meet other members of the club in Purley at about 4am, cycle the 18 miles to the old "Pompey Rd" course (the A3 near Ripley), ride the 25 mile race, then we'd go for a 60 or 70 mile club run! All part of a normal day...

The photo above is me riding my old fixed wheel bike on the E72, a 25 mile course. I did get under the hour, just, by a few seconds. I was the first rider for the Anerley Bicycle Club, founded in 1888, to do so on a single speed fixed wheel bike. So there.

Just to revert back to the Tour de France... there are some time trial stages in the Tour - the first day is usually a time trial. A few years ago the final stage, usually a standard road race (but not racing too hard that day), was a time trial. the main protagonists were American Greg LeMond and Frenchman Laurent Fignon, who led by 50 seconds. By the end of the time trial, LeMond had won the event by 8 seconds - it was one of the most exciting races I've ever seen!

So, another form of bike racing. Unlike road racing, which is subject to many changes of pace, consistency is key and it's amazing the speeds that people can achieve, even into their 60's or older!

Being part of a club helps, mainly with paperwork etc as team tactics don't apply so much (though there are team time trials, they are less common). Give it a go, it's easy, as long as you don't mind early mornings!

How to ride a bike: road racing

Road race.jpg

Well, following the success of Nicole Cooke winning her Gold medal, I thought I'd talk a bit about bike racing.

The first bike races were held as soon as more than one person had a bike - the earliest of which were thought to have originated in the late 1700's, basically a two wheeled hobby horse. Road racing bikes of today will be designed for lightness, rigidity, but also be comfortable over long distances, and will have a selection of 18 gears. Often made of carbon fibre, a good road racing bike will set you back a couple of grand.. or more!

The essence of a road race is a "massed start" and first over the line at the end wins. Pretty straight forward really. But of course there's more to it than that.

Distance vary from circa 30 miles on closed circuits (such as the Thursday night racing I used to do on the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit), "criteriums" (multi-lap events through town-centre based circuits) to the three week long extravaganza of the Tour De France (founded in 1903). Most distances for single stage day races however are 80 to 100 miles and generally take between 3.5 to 5 hours to complete.

For any type of racing it's much more convenient to ride as a member of a cycling club. It's convenient because the club will handle all the insurance and relevant paperwork viz a viz organisational bodies you have to join, but it's also convenient because it's very handy to be a part of a team in this kind of event.

As we are all different, we each have different styles of riding and different riding strengths too. Some may be better sprinters, or better hill climbers for example, and some races feature competitions within competitions. Take the Tour de France for example - the overall winner is the person that completes the course in the shortest time and to do this you have to be a strong all-rounder. The leader of the Tour gets to wear the Yellow Jersey. 

But there's also a competition for sprinters - folk that can propel their machines and 40mph or more for short distances (a few hundred yards) at the end of a long day... and at various "hot spots" during the day too. In the Tour the Sprint leader wears a green jersey.

Then there are the hill climbers - generally not great at sprinting or long fast days, but are angels in the hills. Again in the Tour they get to wear the famous "polka dot" jersey if they lead that particular competition. 

Eddy Merckx famously won all of these jerseys in his debut Tour, a feat unmatched by anyone since.

Road Racing has always been much more popular on the Content than here, but in recent years it has increased its presence in the UK and we've seen the results of this at the highest levels in the Olympics with Nicole Cooke and in the Tour with Mark Cavendish winning 4 stages.

So what's it like to ride a road race? it's a real buzz - if all goes well. Each race is very different - some are fast and hard from the word go, some take their time to wind up, others never really fizz.... One race I did stopped in a mass pile up after a couple of hundred meters! Another was a hard hard slog through rain, mud, sludge, slippery dangerous corners, punctures and head wind...

Often there is a break away - a group of riders, maybe from different teams, manages to give the bunch the slip - maybe as a result of a hot spot sprint, maybe as a result of a hill climb, or maybe as a result of an attack. When a rider attacks they'll shift up a gear or two and sprint away from the bunch, hoping perhaps that two or three other riders will respond, catch up and work together to get away from the bunch. Many a time this won't succeed, and if there's a succession of attacks, one then another and another... it can push the speed of the whole race up to a sustained 30mph or more...

Riding at speed in a group takes skill and practice - no one wants to fall off, no one wants to be in a crash and no one wants to cause a crash. Not only are they highly dangerous, and the injuries could keep you off your bike for weeks (and hurt!), but your bike might get damaged too... so concentration is critical.

If the group does break away, they'll work together to keep away, if not build their lead on the bunch. They do this by riding "bit and bit" i.e. taking turns on the front, maybe 100 meters at a time then falling to the back of the group and the next rider takes up the challenge on the front, hammering away for the next 100 metres or so. It's very exciting being in a break away, knowing there's a much bigger group somewhere behind you... if you get dropped from a leading group, you'll get swept up by the peloton when that catches you.

If the breakaway stays away to the finish, there might be a straighforward sprint to the line, or the group might just dissolve as no one wants to take the lead - it's often easier to win a sprint from behind... and if this happens and the groups slows down too much, they could be caught by the chasing group! It does happen... 

If there's a massed sprint to the finish, you'd better watch out! Bikes go all over the road as riders put all of their effort into getting the damn thing to go as fast as possible... if you're not prepared for some elbowing argy-bargy with a bunch of other riders all going at 40mph or more, then stay out of it! 

There's a lot more than I can fit into this here post, there are tactics to deal with wind, how to mount an attack, how to use your gears.. a whole mass of stuff, (diet, training, bike) but hopefully there's at least a flavour of the thrills and spills of it all. It's a lot of fun a lot of hard work, but very exciting, rewarding and social too!

How to ride a bike: shaving legs

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Shaving legs isn't essential for riding a bike - obviously.

But we bike racers (I'm a lapsed bike racer) do it.

Why? There are various reasons given:

Streamlining

Theory is that air flows smoother over hairless legs, so even by a miniscule amount, you'll either go faster or save energy. Whether this is actually the case or not, it FEELS faster, and it's often the psychology of it all that makes the difference.

Damage limitation

Falling off is a fact of the bike racer's life, and it hurts. Road rash is the most common injury, though worse can happen. The one thing that a rider can't abide is not riding, for any reason. So if there's a way of reducing time off the bike, or mitigating against it, then that will be taken. The theory here is that hairs trap dirt in abrasions which could lead to infection. Remove the hairs, remove potential infection and time off the bike. Also, road rash heals faster (theory) without the presence of hairs, and the skin is easier to clean (true).

After care

It must be wonderful to have a massage after a bike race - I never experienced it, but all the pro's do. I'm told that massaging hairless legs is easier than hairy ones, but maybe Emma can advise on that?

Aesthetics

It looks neater, at least to the purists' eye. I'm not racing these days so don't shave my legs, but still think it looks neater.

Are you serious?

Even today I'll eye up a cyclist and see whether those pins are silky smooth or not by way of a simple assessment as to how serious they are, even though I don't shave mine any more. But then I'm not racing, seriously or otherwise. It's a statement - more psychology?

How to do it

Ladies may have views on this. I found the most expedient way was in the bath and use copious quantities of shaving foam. It gets through blades like no one's business and blunt blades hurt! Back of the knees are very tender and a small nick there leads to unbelievably vast quantities of blood leaking out - quite astonishing. So take care there. 

Where to stop?

 Cycling shorts as you probably know are quite long, so all you need to do is end where the shorts start - but if those health and massage reasons are true then you need to go higher. It's up to you really - but if you also wear speedo style swim shorts then you'll have "hairy cycle shorts" which might look odd.

Drawbacks - girls

They might think it's odd, a bloke with shaved legs, unless they are from the whacky world of cycling, or particularly understanding. Bristly legs are ... bristly.

How to ride a bike: falling off

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The two wheeled experience is, in my opinion, fantastic. However, as you cycle you are in what physicists refer to as "unstable equilibrium", there are times when gravity and cars will get the better of you and down you go.

Here are some examples, mostly from personal experience, in the hope you might bare these in mind and learn from my bruises and road rash... I have plenty of scar tissue on knees and hips...

Filtering

There is nothing illegal about filtering, as far as I am aware. Filtering is the practice of moving down the side of a stationary line of traffic. Typically cyclists will filter down the near side i.e between the line of cars and the kerb, and motorcyclists filter down the offside, between the car and the other side of the road, though there are times when it's pretty random.

The dangers to watch out for are both occupants and drivers of cars. It's entirely possible that a passenger will fling open the car door, fed up perhaps with waiting in the traffic, and wham! You smack into it - even at relatively slow speeds this will hurt. And damage the bike. Hopefully it'll damage the other person too.

Filtering - mind the gap. Filtering as a cyclist down the nearside of a stationary line of traffic exposes you to the kind and generous motorist. The one that flashes to a car coming from the other direction and wanting to turn right across the stationary line of traffic. As the flashing motorist has flashed his light at the other motorist, the other motorist will assume that it's OK to move across the line of stationary traffic, unable to see you filtering... and of course the flashing motorist hasn't seen you in his wing mirrors..

This happened to me when I was 13. I saw the Mini cutting across, jammed my front brake on. Not a good idea as the back of the bike took off and, fearing I was going to somersault, I released the front brake which resumed my forward travel - which stopped as my bike smacked into the Mini and my face smacked into the front nearside pillar.

As far as I remember, no one was particularly bothered - the woman driving the Mini flustered around and I was too inexperienced to get names and numbers and so on. It was only later that my chum pointed out that my forks had been bent backward and the down tube on the frame bent.

Skips

He was 15. Out on a training run. His name was - is Clifford. Son of one of the guys I worked for. He was on a training run. Back then we only wore helmets for racing. Cliff had his head down as was probably doing nigh-on 30mph when he hit the skip.

The funeral was very moving.

Ice

Riding the Catford Reliability one winter, early season, I was on my trusty Whitehorse fixed (63inch). A couple of "road men" had taken the piss a bit early on in the event, but we dropped them quite easily... so I started to wax lyrical about the benefits of fixed wheel, one of which is, as you don't need a calliper brake on the rear wheel, it's much more difficult to send such a bike into a skid, thus you have more control... I'd just finished the word "control" when we hit a patch of ice and wham! Down I went whilst the others on geared bikes managed to stay upright...

Wet diesel

As treacherous as ice - wet diesel being diesel covered in water. As I negotiated the one way system in Thornton Heath on the way to work in the bike shop, I went around the right hand bend and wham! I remember still seeing sparks flying as the right hand pedal hit the tarmac, then I was down, landing on my right side, and spinning around clockwise on the road surface, still attached to my bike. I remember seeing road, kerb, front number plate of the car (taxi) behind me, the other kerb before I came to a stop, spread-eagled across the tarmac as if I'd fallen out of the sky.

Racing

It was a glorious day for a road race. We had a full field, so 60 riders were up. Sunny, dry, but not tarmac-meltingly hot. Not very windy, but a slight breeze. The peloton started and we were still in "chat" mode. Some races are like that - you see the same people week in week out - especially if you work in a bike shop as I did then. So the beginning is not much faster than a club run. You have to be be alert though, with such a large number of riders... and the young lad, just come up to seniors from school boys wasn't that alert... being on the front of the bunch he suddenly switched from the left hand side of the road to the right...

... the problem was that this caught the people behind him out and they couldn't get out of his way... the edge of his rear wheel caught the edge of the front wheel of at least three people.. and down they went... like dominoes the people behind them went down and so there was a general scrum...

... which I thought I was going to avoid, just, by squeezing down a narrow strip of biker-free tarmac near the grassy verge and ditch, when out of the melee fell a body... a customer of mine actually who was very polite as I apologised for running over him, which I did, and promptly fell off into the ditch... stingers and all..

Bad maintenance

"Proper" racing tyres are called "tubular" tyres or "tubs". Contrary to what some folk think, these do actually have an inner tube - they are not "tubeless". But they differ from standard tyres and inner tubes in that the inner tube is entirely encased within the tyre, which is wrapped around and sown up (literally sown) along the back. The whole is then glued - I really mean glued - to the special rims with a very sticky "contact adhesive" known as "rim cement".

The reason for this is the tyres and wheels are lighter and run at much higher pressures than standard - about 120psi. Also a punctured tyre can be replaced much quicker, once you have the knack, by ripping off the punctured one and fitting on a pre-cemented one.

However... this needs to be done properly. By an expert, someone that works on a bike shop. Dear John Hutt RIP rode for the East Grinstead club and asked if I'd ride second claim for them in their club 25 mile time trial. I agreed and donned the strange colours of that club. The course was a slowish one around Gatwick - with 22 roundabouts!

I was actually on for quite a good time for that course, looking at about 1hr 2 or maybe 3 mins... I'd swooped around all the roundabouts and was 400 yards away from the finish, maybe closer even than that. The finish itself was down a lane, a left hand right angle turn off the main road... and as I went around the corner my rear tub rolled off the rim and wham! Down I went onto dry tarmac and gravel, leaving a layer of skin on top of the black top...

Fucking hell... that hurt! Still I took off my specialist bike shoes, got up, picked my bike up and ran for it... there's nothing in the rules that says you have to be riding your bike over the finish line, you just have to be with your bike...

Alcohol

I did used to drink this wretched stuff. I also used to go to college in Wandsworth, home of the stinky old brewery... one day we had a fire alarm practice so naturally we ended up in the pub. I forget how much was consumed, but there was quite an impressive display of empties on the table...

... I was doing pretty well as I meandered home, given I was deffo plastered. I saw the car door open and swerved to avoid it, normally not a problem.. but as hand/eye coordination was a bit off, I over-reacted and the sudden lurch to the right threw me over the handlebars in a classic “high side” spill and I found myself supine on the tarmac once more...

... I thought if I lie doggo (which was pretty much all I could do anyway) I might be able to ride the guilt trip and get some much needed cash out of this situation. However much to my dismay I heard a right old battleaxe say "here, wot you doin' lying on the floor for? Get up, I never bleeding well touched you, you're a bloody menace anyway, you cyclists..."

Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to abandon my wheeze as being too difficult, remounted and wobbled off home...

Dogs

Cycling home on another occasion from the same college, but this time sober. I was making good progress on a road that crosses Mitcham Common, when a dog ran out from the common and kept pace with me. It then lunged and sunk its teeth into my right leg. Being as I was riding a fixed wheel bike at the time, I couldn't just stop pedalling, though I was desperately trying to stop as quickly as poss. But the damn dog didn't want to let go of my calf muscle! So its head was going round and round as it ran along, I was trying to stop under some sort of control, but failed and ended up in a heap on my left side, bike on top of me and dog on top of bike....

By the time I'd extricated myself from toe clips and straps and so on, the dog was long gone, probably hiding behind a bush with some chums, giving each other "high fives" and have a right old laugh Mutley style...

How to ride a bike: gears explained

All too often I see, at this time of year, people riding bikes in a way that is likely to cause injury, certainly they are not riding at their most efficient possible. This means they will probably give up cycling as "it's too hard", or "too tiring" or "I tried that but it hurts my knees"...

Cycling is a great form of exercise - it doesn't jar or jolt the body in the same way that running does for example and like swimming, your body is supported by something. You are outside - so much more pleasant that being stuck in a gym. Fresh air! The countryside! Discover nooks and crannies of this wonderful island that you'd never see by car... 

With a bit of basic knowledge you can significantly enhance your two wheeled, human-powered experience. You can go further, maybe faster, certainly easier, and really enjoy yourself. And get fitter, quicker too.

How Ordinary

The pedals on "penny farthings" or Ordinaries as they were known, were directly attached to the front wheel - one rotation of the pedals resulted therefore in one revolution of the front wheel - the larger the front wheel the further you went per pedal stroke. So people with long legs could have a bigger front wheel, which gave them a larger gear as they'd go further per pedal stroke - the distance along the road equating to the circumference of the wheel.

Safety first

James Starley invented the chain-drive "Safety" bicycle which featured two wheels of the same size, with the rear one connected by a chain to the pedals by a chain. The chain wheel - the cog directly attached to the pedals - was a different size to the cog on the rear wheel. So, although there was only one gear, the gear could take the bike further, or less far, than a wheel circumference per pedal stroke, depending on the ratio of the sizes of these two cogs. This made the bike into a more efficient machine.

Shifting gears

Derailleurs were invented to provide a way to give racing cyclists the ability to maintain a constant cadence, or rate of pedaling, over variable terrain; bigger gears for going downhill to maximise the advantage and lower gears to assist hill climbing.

Cog confusion

Improvements in technology and materials in recent years has lead to a massive increase in the number of gears available to the cyclist. A modern mountain bike can offer 27 gear combinations, with a triple chain ring and nine cogs on the rear block. Road bikes, with a double chain ring and nine cogs on the block offer 18 gears. Frame geometry has had to change as a result, with rear triangles becoming wider, with flaired chain and seat stays, to accommodate the increase in width caused by these super-wide blocks.

But there's a penalty for all this choice; 27 or 18 combinations doesn't mean that the rider has 27 or 18 different gears because of the overlap of ratios (see diag).

 Gears - cogs, sprockets and ratios

Gears - cogs, sprockets and ratios

There are two setups illustrated - a typical mountain bike and a typical road racing bike. The table show the individual gear ratios, in bold on the left side of the tables are the rear cogs and along to top in bold the chain rings, a triple for the mountain bike and a double for the road bike.

Give an inch...

Although we're talking about ratios, which are unit-less, in cycling terms we refer to these as a given number of inches. It's a bit lazy and is a hangover from the days of the penny farthing. In the body of the table you'll see a grid of numbers, each on the distance along the road travelled for one revolution of the pedals in that gear.

The larger the chainwheel and the smaller the rear sprocket, the larger the gear; conversely the smaller the chainwheel and the larger the rear sprocket, the smaller the gear.

So the lowest gear on the mountain bike will take you 23 inches per pedal revolution, the lowest gear on the road bike 57 inches. Largest are 93 and 199 respectively.

Use and abuse

Mechanically you shouldn't really use small-on-small or large-on-large as the chain cuts across at a very wide angle which increases wear on chain, chainwheels and rear cogs.

In the groove

How to decide which gear to use when? To start with it's a little bit of trial and error. As general guide, on flat terrain, you need to be pedaling briskly against some resistance. Too small a gear and you're spinning quickly without making much forward progress and wasting energy, too high a gear and your straining and simply tiring yourself out. In both cases you look silly.

So try a few gears and see how you get on. Once you've got what feels like the most comfortable, figure out the gear ratio. To work this out you simply divide the number of teeth on the chain wheel by the number of teeth on the rear sprocket and multiply by 27.

From here you'll be able to work out what the next best gears are either side of the most comfortable one, and so on to the rest of the gears available. 

Going incognito

If you cycle regularly, you'll soon become fit enough for the original most comfortable gear to feel too low. But the next gear up may be too high because the jump is size of the next sprocket is too large to provide a good next gear. In which case you'll have to get a block custom made - an easy enough job for a quality bike shop.

With mountain bikes the jumps between gears are quite large anyway, to cope with the rapid changes of pitch of the terrain - which doesn't alter as rapidly on a tarmac'ed road. So a mountain bike gear set up isn't the best for use on the road, and a road gear set up isn't the best for use off road because the gear ratios are too close together.

So, get the bike you want to suit the kind of riding you'll be doing, on-road or off road and really focus on the gears you're using. If you're pedalling uncomfortably fast, or seem to be pushing against massive weights, you're in the wrong gear.

Charlotte Bronte was wrong....

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Charlotte Bronte is quoted as saying, "Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.” How wrong she was to say that... but how do you describe the indescribable?

A motorbike tour is like nothing else on earth and this one, organised by GrandExtreme, promised to be like no other tour. 1,000 miles, 15 riders, 4 days, 1 motoGP; we're off to Le Mans to watch Rossi and other gods of two wheels battle it out...

It's 5am and I'm heading out of Maidenhead. Motorways: M4. M25. M26. M20. Dull. Dull. Dull. It's cold enough for me to keep my vizor mostly shut. Folkestone. Eurostar terminus. A dull place made of dull grey concrete serving dull grey food while we wait for our dull grey train to take us under the dull grey channel... our bikes stand out in vivid glorious vibrant technicolour against all this drabness; we draw envious, nervous glances from bored grey men in their boring dull grey ENCAP-compliant Euroboxes as they think "I would ride, but my wife won't let me..." How many times have I heard that sad and pathetic excuse? 

And why oh why to these transitory terminuses seem to have terminal dullness designed into them? Perhaps the sheer dullness of this terminus a quo helped make the rest of our adventure stand out so much more, senses numbed by designer dullness would appreciate what was to come so much more... but I don't think Bovis, or whoever built this temporary holding pen, this short term prison, is that clever.

On exiting the dull Calais twin, I was expecting to have to rummage around for my passport so to save time I didn't bother with my gloves. Somewhat caught out by not having to do this I ride the first few miles with bare hands, the fairing of my VFR800 does a good job of deflecting the cold 90mph breeze away from my exposed pinkies. 

Bare hands on handlebars. My thoughts stray and travel through time, back, back they go to a much younger me. A tiny me. I remember the occasion well; it's a moment frozen in mind, indelibly stamped, burned into my memory banks. The day I first rode without stabilisers. 

The bike was a crock, not a classy stylish trickster BMX that today's yoof have easy interest-free-never-mind-the-credit-crunch Paypal access to; I have no idea where it came from, whether it was new (not new for me), a hand me down from my brother or second hand from a junk shop. It had a basic U-frame, with balloon tyres, and a single rod lever brake on the front wheel and a totally dreadful sprung leather saddle which had a habit of whacking into my balls.

But it was my bike.

And I loved it.

The first few yards of this neophyte bike rider, this hell's cherub, were tentative, wobbley affairs and a car going down the road put me off. So I had another go and got further. Then I was at the top of my drive, and on top of the world. I looked down Church Way and stared in wonder at the big open world that beckoned - what adventures were there? 

Elation! Joy! Jubilation! Unfettered freedom as only a 6 year old can know! Wait till Dad gets home and I show him! Rules: no further than the bend on the road; OK! Who cares! I'm independent for the first time and it's overwhelming; so much so that the young me doesn't understand it, and the older me can't get enough of it. 

And maybe that's the pull of two wheels for me; reliving the golden moment of those innocent years. I ride with my vizor open as much as I can, as closed is claustrophobic. But maybe the wind on my face is time flowing past, creating a visceral link to then.

We're pulling off the motorway and onto main roads. It's much more interesting here, it's why we're here; the twisties. Like two proud swans; Andy leads and Graham sweeps up we cygnets from behind, making sure none of us gets lost, left, stranded, bereft. It's been a long time since my bowl of slowburncarbohydratecolesterolneutralisinglowGIindextrendy porridge at 4:30am and I'm getting hungry. We cross a bridge which sweeps round to the left, with astonishing views to the left and right, enter a typical French town, and park up in the car park of La Salle Du Beurre.

Proust may have had an epiphany with his cake and tea, but I'm so hungry that the food, a local dish with melt-in-the-mouth pork, isn't savoured; it tastes fine, but I don't appreciate the finesse as the beast that must be fed is fed, and fed quickly. All too soon the plate is clean and I eye up my neighbour's curry with more desire than is right or proper... no time for dessert, but I bag a cappuccino which in this part of the world is made with a mountain of chantilly cream and vanilla flavouring; Starbucks drink your heart out.

We saddle up and ride on out.

Last night down at the climbing wall

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No reply.

Don't you just hate that?

The blizzard of txts has all but fizzled out. Too expensive, burning through the pre-paid account. It's tricky, being a student.

No calls, no voicemails. No emails.

No reply.

Something shifted in the balance of our orbit. But what? Don't know. Thrown into doubt, confusion, depression, despair. A morass of selfish pity; "I want…." what? What does she want? Don't know. But she might be down the wall this evening; so there's hope accompanied by anticipation, worry. 

Teenage first-date nerves at 41, can't eat. Get there early. Warm up, feeling good, grooving, flowing over the holds, but the feeling of emptiness can't be left at the bottom of the routes, it climbs with me, and starts to take over. 

I send a single character txt "?", superfluously as she's suddenly there, a burst of sunlight through the Autumn gloom, looking so utterly, utterly desirable yet unattainable, unreachable; a jewel, an oasis of fresh-faced femininity in the strange world of the indoor climbing wall; a microcosm of stale rubber, chalk dust, sweaty feet: and blokes. Delicate movements from a bone china body belie an increasing hidden strength; my eyes are fooled and are startled to see a gravity-defying sequence of moves at full stretch, hanging from the ceiling, toes searching for the smallest of holds, stomach flat and that gorgeous navel poking cheekily out from under the pastel pink T-shirt. 

Every young blood, and not so young blood for that matter, is distracted and weakened, strength sapped from awkward limbs; how can she have such an effect? A desire to protect, be near, to influence and to be acknowledged; the vertical ballerina holding court with unconscious grace. Push a harder route; a surreptitious glance to see if you've been seen; hope what muscles and talent you've got have impressed, or at least that the effort put in has registered. 

Tongue-tied in her company yet fluid on the wall. It's taken years for me to suss this out. It's not just about making the move, it's about finding the sweet spot that sets you up not just for the next move but the one after that too. The sweet spot is where a number of factors converge; balance, centre of gravity, poise, strength, attitude, friction all need to be in harmony; hang off that 3mm thin edge, sink down, down, shift balance just so, lock off on right arm, delicately reach out to the next disk with left, latch on and move. Match feet, fingers squeeze onto a tiny crimp, swap feet and I'm off the crux; complete the route, solve the problem, feel good. Sweep the room, to see if she's seen, seeking approval. 

A pang of ridiculous regretful jealousy as I see she's mixing it with some other younger guy. Later I show her a way to complete a move she's been struggling on; but my way is too powerful. I watch her again, this time her left hand doesn't slip off the slopey green hold; she completes the first half of the sequence and I see how she can do the next half. Lead up with your left, that'll position you for the next green hold with your right, just so - a warm glow of satisfaction soars through my stomach as she does this and it works.

The evening finished and as before we leave together, but the sense of potential intimacy seems gone. Has the spark of mutual attraction faded, dare I hope that it's not extinguished? The uncertainty is driving me up a different kind of wall, a feeling I've been free from for a long time. Not sure I welcome its presence; it feels like an intrusion; a distraction. All those defences effortlessly penetrated leaving me exposed, raw, a mess.

The incoming message alert on my cell phone has just startled me out of this slough of despondency; fingers tremble as I open the message: it's her! My heart leaps, she finished college early; she wants to meet, to come round, go for a walk, who cares? She wants to spend time with me. With me? With me! An hour and a half. 90 minutes. 5400 seconds, oozing past, digital numbers take an age to change, the hands on the clock are in slo-mo.

A reply at last.

The best reply. A nerve jangling, butterfly-inducing reply.

Life is good.

Umbra-me

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Clouds and the dark of night are the death of me; sunlight brings me to life. I follow you, you create me. I’m a two dimensional you. Sometimes I’m at your side, sometimes behind though you can never leave me, and sometimes I’m in front; though you can never catch me.

 I look at you in your weird three-dimensional world of colour, sound, smell. You look at me and I play a trick on you: as you cycle down the road and stare at me, the road becomes a blur and you appear to move so fast. But when you look away from two dimensional me and focus on where you are going, you slow down and the scale of the task hits you and you despair.

 Sunlight dapples through tree-covered roads and I flit in and out of existence. I flow over the road surface, across the verge and into bushes. Nothing that can hurt you can hurt me, monochrome me; but if you die, I disappear. My legs pump pedals, just as yours do, but I’m silent; you gasp for breath, I don’t breath.

 Sometimes there’s more than one of me, but there’s only ever one of you. Under street lamps at night, when the roads are wet, there’s just you, and me and me and me. Me and Me might be stronger than me, or weaker. A hint of colour sometimes makes me into a reflection.

 We went for a stroll once, you and I. With her, the Dancer. And that made four of us. I liked and miss the umbra-her. It would be so nice for you to be so close to her that umbra-her and me become one, under the sun; less one on top of another but more the two of us merged into one.

 If you can write in a book there’s a penumbra; but there are no shadows in the digital world.

The tomato had to die...

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... there it was. Bright, bloody red, a transluscent ruby set against a dull damp grey asphalt pavement. An inviting jewel, seductive, dangerous, juicy...

I saw it there and saw red, red, red. I felt the anger rising, bubbling from deep down, spilling over into a boiling frenzy of action... the rage, the frustration, the total and utter annoyance and I vented my spleen on this wolf-peach fruit.

I raised my foot and stamped down hard. I showed no mercy. None. Even through my boot I could feel the delicate skin tear and split as unimaginable forces bore down, crushing, crushing, seeking to extinguish the life of this puke-inducing, nauseating, choking spawn of the devil. I could feel the innards of the fruit cave in, totally destroyed, each and every pip shaken from its womb, never to be fertilised, never to grow into another deadly, deadly nightshade.

From being a perfect thing it became a mangled two-dimensional mess. Gobbets of its entrails splattered far and wide, droplets of its blood stained my jeans, which are now in the washing machine such is my hatred of the raw tomato.

I feel no remorse for destroying it.

What though possessed me to do it?

Why?

Because I woke up to find yet another fucking flat tyre on my bike. That must be the fucking fifteenth fucking flat this year, nearly one a fucking week. Fuck fuck fuck. So instead of going out on a fucking wet fucking crappy fucking dull damp fucking Saturday I hoofed it to Halfords - a fucking crappy bike shop if there ever was one - and got three new fucking innertubes. Ha! Some good news - I only got charged for two as the checkout guy fucked it up.

Then of course, the trusty spanner I've been using for years gave up the ghost - instead of turning the wheel nuts, the spanner bent... FUCKING WELL BENT! Fuck, fuck and double fuck. So back into Maidenhead, by which time the decent bike shop was open, and I obtained a decent spanner.

And had Costa Espresso. And did some shopping. And met a mate and shot the breeze.

And then killed the fucking tomato.

And it felt good.

How's your day?

Three men in a boat

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We had to put another tack in; a sudden wind shift would have had us bash into the river bank if we stayed close hauled. I signalled to an approaching holiday motorboat that we were about to cut across his bows and went for it. Just our luck and we picked a complete plonker who didn't know what to do and we had to take extreme action to avoid being T-boned by this blithering idiot; but at least we had the opportunity to do lots of shouting.

This was day two of the second reunion from our secondary school where we revisited the Norfolk Broads. The details of the first epic adventure can be listened to in the podcast "An Old Gaffer, The Whores of Babylon & a Quiche"; suffice to say in this blog that we had more boats with more people on this occasion.

Sons No 1 and 2, Jez and Ben, joined me on Buff Tip, a 20ft "Yare and Bure" one design. A wooden halfdecker, gunter rigged, with no obvious accommodation. We chartered her from Hunters Yard in Ludham, where we'd arrived all those years ago in the old school bus. It was good to see Wood Rose again, the boat we'd been on as teenagers. She still looked very trim despite the hard work, bumps and grinds that consist her lot in life.

We quickly stowed our gear in to the cubby holes under the fore and aft decking and familiarised ourselves with the rigging and other equipment. Rather than quant poles, Buff Tip was equipped with oars to provide ancillary power should we become becalmed.

Night time accommodation was simplicity itself. As Buff Tip was a half-decker, the generously proportioned cockpit became a snug shelter by the simple expedient of dropping a tent over the long, slender boom which was itself supported by boom gallows. I hoped it would stay dry during the day at least, otherwise the cockpit sole would provide a damp bed for the three of us!

We shoved off, one by one as kids, dogs, bags and more kids were all loaded on to the boats. From the boatyard we went down the dog leg, and out onto the main river. Last time we went left, up to Potter Heigham, under the famous low bridge, and up to Hickling Broad. This time our destination was Horning, in the other direction.

The wind was good and steady, but mostly coming from where we were going, so we tacked. And tacked. And tacked. Fortunately Buff Tip slipped along, even close hauled, and we made such rapid progress we decided to double back and find the other larger heavier and slower boats. Although I was worried we would have a damp night and thought longingly of the homely and comfy cabins they had, the way Buff Tip was handling I wouldn't have traded places!

Sailing back again, this time with the others, we got caught up in a local race. To see even larger boats being aggressively raced in the narrow river was quite a sight; lots of calls for water and "Starboard!" as right of way were established in a kind of elementary territorial fight; which is basically what it was anyway. Lovely to see though, beautiful white sails, very tidy manoeuvres, these crew knew what they were doing and we did our best to keep out of their way.

Tack, tack, tack, tack. Buff Tip went about nicely, holding her way as we went through the eye and got herself back into the groove again, just in time to go about o the other bank, just a short distance away. The motorised bathtubs with holiday makers mostly just stayed out of our way, some were bemused by our antics and some were plain confused. But sail has right of way over power, as every one knows (don't they?) so we were quite happy to hold our course and as a consequence mayhem sometimes erupted all around us.

Quite fun, really.

In the latter half of our route, the river became very sheltered with trees either side. We were taking longer and longer to make any forward progress as we became becalmed more and more frequently, so the two boys manfully rowed, our progress became faster as we could go in a straight line. But of course we'd become a powered vessel, so had to pay attention to other sailboats!

Finally we arrived at Horning, we came along side under sail, tied up, and got the tent over the boom before the rain, which had been increasingly threatening to arrive, got us all soaked. Given that there'd been so much rain already in July, we didn't fancy being out in a deluge.

Evening. Pub, stories of the day, memories of school, updates on who is doing what with whom. One funny story for the record; one of the young lads who came on the trip was snatching at the reeds that form much of the river bank, but one he grabbed hold off didn't let go at the root, and with an almighty splash the young lad suddenly found himself in the water! Fortunately he had a buoyancy aid on and was rescued very quickly.

The next day we nipped around the corner and through the narrow entrance into the broad at Horning. We had a wonderful blast around the lake, testing out Buff Tip on all points of sailing. We went around a few racing bouys, careful not to get in the way of the local racing scene and once we'd had our fill of open water sailing, we left, but not without mishap.

The exit is just as narrow as the entrance, it being the same thing. A 200 yard stretch of water, at times not much wider than the length of our boat, surrounded by trees and facing directly into the wind! We waited until the narrow strait was clear, built up speed in the lake and went for it, hoping that our momentum would generate sufficient apparent wind to keep us going.

Our strategy nearly worked, but I hadn't allowed for how much faster Buff Tip was than the other yachts and, as we approached the last few metres before the freedom of the river, we caught up with one of the others yachts that just couldn't get out of our way. Complete chaos as we went into the trees, and a selfish motor launch decided to barge in, restricting even further our ability to move. Fortunately Ben and Jez are strong on the oars, we paddled backwards, managed to catch a puff in the headsail and were out!

We suffered the same frustration on the tree-shielded river, spoiling if not completely and literally taking the wind out of our sails. But this time we had the current with us and continued to make progress, making much use of the apparent wind. Shortly after nearly being T-boned by the idiots in the motorboat, a massive squall came through, deluging us with unbelievably wet water, fresh from the sky, and completely recyclable. We had way too much sail up really, the mast groaned ominously, the bow wave mounted as we accelerated away; we spilled wind as best we could, given that it was now more or less behind us.

The squall went through and things calmed down somewhat, though the wind settled down to a steady force 4 blow. We were rocketing along on the broadest of beam reaches, now gybing across the river instead of tacking. We even goose-winged on occasion, and longed for a spinnaker! Mile after glorious mile of uplifting, soul enhancing, exhilarating, downwind sailing, catching up and over taking the motorised plastic bath tubs, the crews of which stared at us, unable to believe that their floating caravans were being stuffed right royally by nothing more than a sail!

All things come to an end though, and not wanting to beat back by continuing further than the turn to Buff Tip's home in Ludham, we went head to wind to drop the main, so we could approach the home berth under the more controllable headsail. The boys by now were able enough crew, but we weren't quite quick enough to get the rig down before the head of the boat was turned and we started to make way again. I stuck the bow into the reads and we parked up, safe and secure whilst we stowed the main with sail ties.

We shoved off and just to prove that less is often more, we were still making significant speed, even though we were only using the much smaller headsail, though we were much more relaxed and the slightly manic bordering-on-the-edge-of-control feeling had gone.

A left turn had us close hauled as best we could on just the headsail. The reeds further cut the wind, as they are about 6ft high, and we glided smoothly and silently along the deep browny-black water. Right turn into the boat yard, we let the headsail flap and our momentum took us deep into the yard. I timed the turn perfectly so we went port side to, facing back into the wind, and just as the fenders kissed the wooden platform Buff Tip came to a graceful halt and the crew stepped ashore to tether this magnificent creature to the moorings.

All in all the three men in this boat had a great time, and enjoyed a wonderful downwind sail, one of the best of my life. The usual incidents, glad the wee lad that took an early bath was OK, and the winner of the "Dogs" award for best accident was Julian, who managed to broach smack into a Hoeseasons bathtub, with the river police right behind him…

I'm sure we'll be back for more.

An old gaffer, the whores of Babylon, and a quiche

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My old headmaster was, as they say, a character. Known as "Dogs", Mr Akers ran a boys’ comprehensive as if it were a grammar school, mortor boards and capes were de rigeur... and to say I didn't particularly enjoy my time there is a classic case of British understatement. Many are the stories told about Akers, and I had a chance to reminisce about them and learn some new ones this weekend. 

Every Easter the school organised a sailing trip on the Norfolk Broads and chartered a fleet of rather charming traditional wooden Broads sailing boats. I went on this trip only once, with my chum Julian, a chap in the lower 6th who skippered (Paul) and teacher called Angela - I can’t remember her surname. 

Some 30 years later, Paul, Julian and I met up at Hunter’s Boatyard (www.huntersyard.co.uk) in Ludham on Saturday morning. This time I had Ben my younger son (13), Julian his elder son Jeremy (7) and Paul's entire family (wife Zoe, William and Alastair - oh and the dog!). 

Zoe drove their wee motorboat, Paul hopped around on all three boats that made up our modest flotilla. Julian, Ben, Jeremy and I loaded our gear into Wood Sorrel - just next to her was Wood Rose, the yacht I'd sailed on as a kid all those years ago! Astonishing to see here still working and in great condition. In the boatyard was a beautiful new boat taking shape - a Millennium project that's so far taken 5 years....

And then we were away - a shove into calm water with the gaff and jib raised - gently drifting downstream in the sun. With no engine, and very light airs, it wasn't long before we were practicing the quaint art of quanting; all the boats come equipped with a vital piece of equipment for navigating the Broads called a quant pole. Almost as long as the boat, the quant pole is dropped vertically into the water as near to the bows as possible, then, shoving against the pole’s bulbous top, the shover (in this instance a handy 13 year old crew member) walks down the side deck to the aft deck - thus propelling the boat forwards. The pole is then plucked free of the sticky bottom and the exercise repeated and faint echoes of Akers shouting “Quant like a man, boy!” are heard among the reeds. Of course, the rules of the road changed as we had become a powered vessel, though this fine point was probably lost on all the Hoseasoners.

The first and major obstacles were the two low bridges at Potters Higham. The first is a classic stone built hump-back bridge with the central arch offering about 6ft of headroom - clearly not tall enough for a fully rigged sailing boat - unless the mast is dropped. So, a welcome break from the quanting as we tied up and did exactly that – the mast being hinged in a tabernacle and weighted at the base. The boys thought this was great fun, Julian and I recalled how we did this on the move last time, the fixing bar at the base of the mast wouldn't come out, we were approaching this bridge and a major disaster rather rapidly - then with a desperate heave out came the bar and down went the mast and whoosh - we shot through the short low tunnel, just in the nick of time! 

With the benefit of experience, we were much more controlled and sedate.

Much more wind the other side, and a delightful sail across Hinckling Broad, both boys took turns at steering - a reach and down wind, some gybing. A well marked channel down to the moorings at the far side of the lake and a very amusing dinner for 11 in the pub. Later, the two boys experienced their first night on a yacht. With the coachroof raised and the boom tent on, there's quite a bit of room on board, and very snug and atmospheric it is too, with the traditional oil lamp glowing.

A fry up breakfast cooked and eaten al fresco - astonishing weather for the time of year. It was mostly wet and windy that Easter in 1980-whenever-it-was. We were in company this time too - Paul's brother Ian and Andy Griffiths, both Akers’ acolytes, and his 6 year old daughter Jennifer were on Wood Anemone - so needless to say a “match race” was promptly organised. Now it may be that Wood Anemone got line honours on both occasions, but fine interpretation of the racing rules ensured that they were disqualified each time too!

Back across Hinkling broad and into the river. Tack, tack, tack, tack - be nice if we had a depth gauge, said Julian. Of course, just as he said that we discovered exactly how shallow the water is outside of the marked channel, and also just how deep the mud is as the quant pole sunk into it without helping one jot to extricate us from our muddy lee shore. 

Just as we hit on the idea of using the kedge - a dumpy lump of concrete, Paul turned up on the motor launch and pulled us free. My son is somewhat dyslexic and he sometimes gets words confused - it was with great delight I heard him explaining later that we'd tried to pull ourselves free by throwing the quiche overboard and hauling on that!

After lunch we went back through the bridges, re-hoisted the mast and bimbled back, tack, tack, tack - interspersed with quant, quant, quant. Finally the right hand turn taking us back to Hunter’s heaved into view and we were on a beam reach then a reach, on a dying breeze, but with enough momentum to keep gliding along, slicing through the deep black mirror; momentum that took us nicely alongside having dropped the sails neatly on deck - the boys by now working well as crew.

All in all a very satisfying weekend, and with the rose tinted view of hindsight maybe the school wasn't so bad after all. Just one tale about Dogs - as he was driving some boys out of the school in his car to go dinghy sailing, he espied some GIRLS from the GIRLS school just down the road. Now Akers had a thing about GIRLS - he really seemed to think they were the spawn of the devil and would lead all us boys astray - regardless of whether we wanted them to or not (which we did). On seeing these GIRLS, he exclaimed to the lads in the back "Godfathers! See boys see, those - those GIRLS - they're worse than the Whores of Babylon!"

So, if you know of anyone that attended Purely High School for Boys, please let them know that the "Men-boys and the Whores of Babylon" will be meeting again on the Broads next year.