Friday, June 21, 2013

Why I hate cyclists!

I went for a drink with my mate Jonny this week. I’ve known him for nigh on forty years and I think we got as close as we ever have to falling out! You see, Jonny is a mad keen cyclist, and I’m sorry but I just have no time for them. I know it’s healthy, environmentally friendly and a cheap form of transport, but does that give them the right to consider themselves above the law?

....and no friends
Jonny’s argument is that the worse he can do to my car is chip the paint or dent a wing mirror. The worse my car can do to him is kill him. My response is ‘don’t wind me up then!’ If someone has a gun in their hand you show them respect, not look down on them, flaunt breaking the law in front of them and just generally carry on in your own little zone expecting everyone to see life the way they do.

Now, I have to be balanced and, of course it goes without saying that not all cyclists are like this, just as not all dog walkers let their dogs pooh on the pavement (& not pick it up) not all Scotsmen are mean, Irish thick or Portsmouth fans lunatics….ok, it might be difficult to disprove that last one.
I'm sure the lady in black is normal?
I’m sure as a runner there will be things that I do that causes offence, particularly with drivers on country lanes. Case in point: runners with headphones: Wrong, selfish, very dangerous.  

You're a very bad lady
But cyclists, if you are decent human beings, please note the following:

In the car I get wound up by:

Undertaking – every evening I have to crawl through a part of Harpenden because the road is just slightly too narrow to overtake an idiot cyclist on his fold up bike in his pinstripe suit who has just got off the train, if there’s a car coming the other way (& at 6pm there are plenty!)
Having finally got past him you come up to traffic lights that have turned red and you have to wait helplessly as this idiot undertakes and goes to the front of the queue! We then start the whole process again. (Well, not now because I go as hard up to the curb as I can to stop him getting past on the inside)

If there’s a cycle path, why do some cyclists persist in using the road? Don’t tell me, you want to go fast. So do I, but sometimes I can’t because of you. Go fast on your cycle path, but keep your eyes open, I fail to see the difference.

Please don’t cycle two abreast, you just deserve grief. Yes, you still see this!


Red light at traffic light means stop for cyclists to. Particularly in towns and cities.

When I’m running, I am very often startled by cyclists who come up behind me. Where’s your bell? I have checked this out and supposedly it is the law to have a bell on a bike at point of sale but not a stipulation when the bike is ridden, leading to many cyclists removing them. (Perhaps without it the bike becomes more aerodynamic?)

From 20 yards, a hearty cry of ‘bike’ ‘morning’ even ‘run fatboy run’ or a ring of a bell really does make a difference. One day I will accidentally step out in front of an overtaking bike and it wont be pretty for either of us.

Great Film, still an inspiration!
Secondly, and this applies equally to runners. I’m a friendly guy, if you are coming the other way, or overtaking me, just acknowledge me. A nod, a wave, a word is alI ask. I don’t want to hear about your job, your sick aunt or even where you’re going, but you are, like me, someone who has escaped to the great outdoors and this is a joy and a privilege as we share creation. That gives me empathy with you and I don’t think it hurts to acknowledge that. So go on, nod back.


As a little aside on this, I find runners and cyclists ruder the more affluent the area I’m running through. I suppose this is an identity thing, and perhaps politeness or acknowledgement is considered a weakness. Pathetic eh, but true!

I’m scraping the barrel on my last point, but why do some bikes not have mud guards? I cannot stand seeing the backside of someone whose lycra shorts look like they’ve been soiled. I’m sure you had some great fun whizzing through those puddles and dirt tracks, and now you’ve got half of it up your backside!

Sort it out.

Why such a polemic against cyclists? It’s like people who have a fear of dogs will typically have a story of being bitten when they were younger. When I was 18 I was walking home from work along the path which runs alongside the Harpenden to St Albans road, and it was winter and it was dark. Suddenly I was hit hard in the chest and sent reeling to the floor. I was confused and thought I was about to be mugged until I heard this sound of a wheel spinning and some groaning. A cyclist without any lights had hit me at top speed. We both were shaken up, a bit bruised and grazed, and my suit was covered in mud. He never offered to pay! I guess I have a long memory.

Jonny will always be my mate. When we go for a beer we’re always like a couple of grumpy old men ‘It wasn’t like this in our day’ etc, but this is one subject we’ll never agree on.

It’s a natural progression from running, to knees/hips/ankles giving way, to cycling. When my injuries cause me to hang up my Asics I’m just going to become fat!
 Postscript: I've just told my wife that i've had  bit of a rant about cyclists. her face dropped and she told me how she found out today that a chap called Rob who goes to her church was recently knocked off his bike and now has brain damage. Nobody deserves that, and my comments are meant a little to provoke, perhaps amuse, certainly think but NEVER to hurt or desrespect anyone who has suffered a loss or an injury whilst out cycling.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Great Ian Hunter

Those of you who know me well know that an item of clothing synonymous with me is a Mott the Hoople t-shirt! I actually own three of them, and the amazing thing is that there are still three different designs that can still be purchased today, even though this great band split up in 1974!

 ‘In Seventy four, on the Broadway tour, we didn’t much like dressing up no more, don’t want to be hip, but thanks for the great trip’ Saturday Gigs, Mott the Hoople.  

I can still remember, quite vividly, a pastiche of seminal performances by various artists on Top of the Pops: Bowie & Ronson together singing Star man (it was always Ronson who I thought the cool one, I loved his hair style, his gold boiler suit and gold Gibson) the Bohemian Rhapsody video by Queen, and to tie in with all those weird changes from boy to man, a band called Tight Fit singing ‘The lion sleeps tonight’ (those girls were hot!)  
I just can't work out what I saw in them......
But to me, the life changing musical event was hearing ‘All the young dudes’ performed by a  disparate group of sequined, glittered, platform shoe wearing, long haired, slightly camp, ever so theatric, brash glamsters from Hereford, fronted by a charismatic, naturally permed, permanent shades wearing rocker known as Ian Hunter. To me, the man is Mott the Hoople, and the legend lives on, having celebrated his 74th birthday last Monday.
Is that a gun in your pocket ian?
This weekend he played the Isle of Wight Festival  and on Friday, I went to his warm up gig at Leamington Spa 
              Still a Rock n roll legend!
A fan shouted ‘Happy Birthday Ian’ and was rewarded with a ‘ah shut up!’ The master not needing to be reminded that his body, his work ethic, his continued creativity defy his age. He’s never hit the same heights as a solo artist, but to me he’s matured like a good piece of stilton, and theirs a continued rich seam of quality lyrics and riffs running through his veins. Although it pains me to say it, the best thing that could have happened to Ian was to leave Mott although his bank balance may not agree.  

His last two albums ‘Man Overboard’ and ‘When I’m President’ also herald his backing band, the Rant Band as an entity in themselves. This carries over into their live act, and at Leamington, once again, Hunter allowed them the opportunity to show their quality. Some fan I am, I couldn’t tell you the names of any of them (unlike Mott where I could tell you every member of their ever changing line up) but particular credit has to go to the lead guitarist who is just a throwback to a seventies axe hero, getting his Gibson to almost plead as he takes centre stage with his solo on the excellent ‘Black tears’  

I guess I’m at an age where I see nothing wrong with a lead guitarist pulling the kind of face I imagine someone with kidneystones pulls when they pee. This guy is no exception, its pure rock n roll.  
But lets get back to the master. As well as a reasonable smattering of tracks from the latest album, there were still sufficient homage to his earlier solo career including ‘Shrunken heads’ ‘All American Alien boy’ and of course ‘Once Bitten twice Shy’ which has the immortal line ‘You didn't know what rock n' roll was, Until you met a drummer on a greyhound bus, I got there in the nick of time, Before he got his hands across your state line’ 

Hunter the iconerial punk poet. (is that a word?)I love his lyrics, which remain as perceptive today as thirty years ago. Take ‘Man overboard’ a ballad about an alcoholic ‘They’ve got lasers that zap, they’ve got cures for the clap, you can see your insides on tv. They’ve got all kinds of pills for all kinds of ills but they aint found a cure yet for me’ It could almost be John Cooper Clarke (& if that means something to you, you were there in the days of punk!) 

And then of course the Mott years: ‘All the way from Memphis’, ‘Saturday gigs’, and of course no Hunter show is complete without ‘Dudes’ which takes on an almost religious worshipful response from the 500 or so devotees, resplendent in Mott or Hunter T shirts, hiding beer bellies, a smattering of denim and leather and a fragrance of lager and belched beefburger. A roar goes up as those instantly recognisable first notes of that iconic riff begins and we all sing along, arms waving, like a bunch of born-agains on a Sunday, or Fratton enders on a Saturday. My life really is that narrow! 
Got it already thanks
I’ve seen Hunter more times than I care to remember. To me he’s a legend and I treasure each gig as if it’s the last. Sadly at 74, there is the reality that he’s going to have to retire his plectrum at some point, and it will be a sad day when he does. But his music will live on. Its never too late to join the movement, I’ll lend you a CD if you want!
And finally, here's a little known fact (unless you've been around me) A certain band who went on to enjoy a modicum of commercial success only ever were the support band once on a tour before they became the headliners themselves. Mr May (along with Morrisey, Gallagher Brothers, Def Leapord, Mick Jones of the Clash) speak very highly of  the influence of Mott the Hoople. Remember that next time you play them!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Coming up for air

It’s funny how life just seems to pass you by. I hadn’t realised that it’s been quite a while since I last posted, and yet I don’t seem to have done anything ‘significant’ of late. I’m as equally unprepared for the ‘Hitchin Hard Half’ which I’m running with my mate Kev on Sunday. I’ll settle for about a 1:45 as it is going to be hot and there is one hell of a hill at about mile three which is why I suppose it’s called ‘The Hard half’

Anyway, although I love my running, I prefer writing about books which I have read, and I’m one and a half books on from DH Lawrence’s sexually supressed ‘The Trespassers’ The half is a devil of a book called ‘How Novels Work’ by John Mullan which I bought at what I consider to be the best bookshop this side of the Atlantic: If ever you are in Ely or Bath, visit Topping & Co, sip green tea or coffee, pick up a novel, listen to a bit of classical, pretend you’re well read and enjoy the ambience. It’s a booklovers bookshop. Case in point: Dickens classics, all of them by Penquin, next to all of them by Vintage, next to all of them by Oxford Press. They know how us book snobs like to collect sets all with the same coloured spines and all by the same publisher. You’ll end up buying something.

What's not to like!

Anyway, I’m well on the way to finishing ‘How Novels work’, and it’s certainly putting a dampener on my ardour to write a novel! I mean, I would never knowingly include a metanarrative, or for that matter be able to distinguish between plot, narrative and story! But there you are, I’m just a humble pleb who loves a good book!

I sometimes worry that I’m as shallow as the Nick Hornby character Will Freeman in ‘About a Boy.’ It’s like football, I hate talking football with my mates after the game and they are saying things like ‘why didn’t so & so drop into the hole’ or ‘why do we persist with a 5-4-1 and let whatshisface play a little deeper’ and I’m thinking ‘I thought the kit looked nice and shiny today’

Fond memories of this kit!

It’s the same with books. I remember my O Level English teacher Miss Fraser (a very stunning ginger haired lady who helped me get a grade A!!) telling me that during her degree she met a famous author who she was studying and asked him lots of deep questions about the interpretation of his books. Half the time the author would say ‘gosh, that’s brilliant, I never thought of that!’

Sometimes we can over analyse literature, art and football. 

When you think of George Orwell you’ll typically think of Animal Farm (four legs good, two legs bad) and, of course 1984, (no, not the Bowie song!)

But that’s only touching the surface with this author and the other book I have recently finished is a delightful read called ‘Coming up for air’ which although beginning to appear a little dated is a wistful reminder of a childhood long since forgotten and never to reoccur.

The central character, George Bowling is an insurance salesman who is putting on a bit of weight and approaching that mid-life crisis. The book is essentially split into two parts: His reminiscing of the village that he grew up in and the experience he has when he decides to return. It’s the first half that really resonates and will take you back to a childhood of innocence where it never seemed to rain and summer holidays were endless. This is perhaps a book to take to read on a British summer holiday where the fragrance of sweet peas and freshly cut grass in pungent. 

Perhaps this book will resonate most if you are a fisherman. The memory of finding a hidden lake filled with monster carp took me back to holiday I don’t know where or when, but I spent hours sitting on a high ledge overlooking a deep brook, watching inquisitive small roach and perch surface as I dropped small pieces of soil into the water. Then, out of the corner of my eye I became aware that I was being watched. In the shallows, among the reeds lay a massive predatory pike which, with malevolent stare, appeared to be stalking me! I remember the frustration at not having my fishing tackle with me, but back then, I would have only succeeded in hooking the far bank, the bush behind me or my right ear lobe. 


Perhaps after all, some things don’t change!

I don’t remember a time when sewing needles were burned over a candle & bent into a hook, and catgut sounds more like slang for a fur ball, but there certainly was something more innocent, optimistic, even obsessive about fishing as a youngster. I can hardly believe that I used to catch grayling on the river Lea at Marford farm in Wheathampstead. When I’m out running along that way, I still see anglers, but fishing for what? Considering the state of the river in Luton, in which to fall in would result in drowning as a blessing, I struggle to imagine anything living for quite a distance on from that point. Perhaps these anglers are looking to re-connect to their childhoods? Perhaps there has been a run on a certain George Orwell novel? 

But this book has certainly inspired me to get the old tackle out of the shed. Watch out fish, Mr Crabtree’s coming after you! I’ll let you know how I get on.