Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Ride of Hope 2: The True Story

Forest trails can be excellent - no cars, no people. But watch out for hornets - not only hurty, but positive evidence of genetic hacking carried out by "Them".

Before revealing the truth behind this year's Ride of Hope, I should like to just clarify something. Lindisfarne AKA Holy Island - and I dont mean the late 1970's folk/rock band - mean the geographical location - is crap. If there are ever moves launched by the islanders, or anyone else for that matter, to have that place recognised as a World Heritage Site, I will launch an immediate Facebook campaign with the emphasis on 'against'. For those that dont know what Lindisfarne is, the best description I can provide is that it is a small heap of mud, slightly (but not dramatically enough to be interesting) off the shore of Northumberland, created by the monotonous deposition of tidal silt, and is a place made famous because

Top to bottom: Landscape near the Cheviots, The Bridge of Death near the Infamous 68, The best cycling cafe in the world. Also pictured is a mysterious forest, and the picture of Skarra emerging is a re-enactment of the most exciting thing that happened to us on Lindisfarne.

long ago some monk decided to live there. The best thing I can say about Lindisfarne is that on a daily basis, high tide floods the causeway connecting it to the mainland, making the 'island' inaccessible. It truly is a dull place.

The same cannot be said of the rest of Northumberland, which is by and large pretty spectacular, populated with great people, superb cycling cafes and even better cycling. For a few days we revelled in single track roads that motorists, in their eternal rush to be somewhere, have largely forgotten.

We climbed across the Cheviots, thighs burning as we dragged bikes laden with full panniers up hills that looked impossible, then swooped down the same hills in a fraction of the time they took to climb - an exhilirating, if too brief, reward for the hours of ascent. We argued constantly, befitting an agglomeration of two of the finest brains to have taken this route at this particular time, Liverpool Football club versus Manchester United, will Beyonce quit showbusiness, will it or wont it rain?

As usual, after the first day, the rest of the planet faded and the only thing that mattered was ride- eat- shower-eat- sleep. 'Its a hunter-gatherer existence' I reflected on one gentle section 'doing comes before thinking, and pragmatics way before reflection' then another bloody hill hit and the brilliant pain took over. QED. For a time everything was great. Then we hit the National Cycle Network route 68 after a brilliant, ascent, and descent of the Cheviots.

The UK's national cycle network is a great idea : hundreds of cycle friendly, often car free routes - old railway lines, small country lanes, forgotten paths - which, according to the smiling faces on the website, you can either use as the basis of long distance cycle journeys, pop to your local shops, have stress free daily commute or take your family for a fun day of relatively safe cycling.

The website certainly supports this characterisation of NCN routes - helpful little lanes and by-ways, dingling through the dells and immensely grateful for their rediscovery, gently unfolding in just the right way to allow smiling families in jeans and other leisure wear to enjoying an active, but not too strenuous day out.

The World's best cycling cafe, is near Barrowburn. And that is really the truth. AT the bottom of a very fast ten mile descent, very rarely visited by anyone except cyclists we had a good chat here with other local cyclists, and got some good advice based on their local knowledge. Advice we subsequently completely ignored.

Not so The Infamous 68. It snarls and dips, grinds and rasps, up ascents that Hillary would shirk, and through switchbacks that the latter stages of the Amazon would disown as "too

complicated". Discarded cycles lay on the side of the 'path', mewling pathetically. Snags of lycra clothing hang in the vicious brambles that grew from uncomfortably at mid-chest level to dangerously at eye level and launch attacks your face,, shoulders, arms and back, while thorns, thistles, and worst of all, nettles attempt to make your legs stop working. And these are not the only tricks up its sleeve: at one point it disappears completely into a series of fields cresting a hill, and later three fords wait at the bottom of rutted mountain bike paths that I would argue, only an expert in extreme sports should contemplate. Then there are the gates ..............the eternal fricking gates.

Despite these torments, Skarra and I dont give up, pressing on to our destination of that evening - the little town of Wooler - via the path instead of, as we had been advised the previous day, abandoning the path and using the parallel main highway instead. And it is with an enormous sense of achievement that we finally arrive in Wooler.

"Wow" I enthuse to Skarra "Eighteen miles like that, and with full panniers!! I dont think many other road cyclists get through that you know !"

Skarra nods his head "I know that not many other road cyclists get through that: remember what that local cyclist, Steve, told us last night? He said - and I quote - "You'd have to be stupid to ride that final section to Wooler on a road bike. Really, really stupid. In fact, we've been campaigning to get the route taken off the NCN. They dont call it the Infamous 68 for nothing. No, its just an invitation to ruin your bike and break something. God, the idiots that try it!!!". Then he said...."

"Ok" I interrupt him " I get the picture, we were warned by Steve. But how did we know Steve was not just spinning a yarn - scaring the tourists?"

As a reductionist, Skarra is nothing of not pendantic, and once started on a track, feels the need to investigate it all the way.

"Well, all the other cyclists also said it in the cyclists cafe - the one in Barrowburn that is the best cyclists cafe in the world that we said we'd never forget - and then there's the guide books, the warnings that were posted and those two Dutch cyclists covered in blood that we met who had just tried it from the other direction. Plus...."
"Ok, ok" I concede " fair enough. That second ford was cool though......"

And we're off again, discussing the ride - gears chosen, riding positions preferred, water strategies - all completely boring to anyone listening, but for me, the whole point of riding - total absorption in solving a problem without the burdensome daily drag of normal life, politics, position and awkward human interaction that is often described as 'thinking'.

The technical details of cycling are not something that this blog will investigate, there are other much better blogs that cover cycling for that. But while preparing for this ride, an article on rainment for cycling did come to my attention, which I would like to share. It is an extraordinary article from the normally excellent Independent newspaper's cycling section, and what is particularly interesting is the recommendation within re footwear. I can only be grateful I didnt follow this piece of advice.

Monday, 22 August 2011

RIP Jack Layton

A note to mark the passing of Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, the last political party I ever voted for. For a change, here was a politician who had some genuine intelligence, some humanity and principals. See :

for an obituary.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Two Items on the agenda

THe first being that the sweep came, saw and passed - the chimney that is. Actually, one very irritating thing about the locals is that so many of them say 'chibley', not chimney. At first, when stopping random strangers on the street to discuss the condition of my stack, I thought they were being cutesy , doing 'baby talk' for comic effect. However, baby talk is usually not cute anyway, its just incomprehensible babble, often irritating. The number of times I have been encouraged to listen and try to decipher - usually by a preening adult - the vital revelation a child is anxious to impart only to discover that I've lost ten minutes of my life conforming that circular objects filled with air can be classified as "balls", are incalculable. But as I progressed down the street discussing chimneys and wood burning stoves renovations with anyone who would listen, I arrived not only at the hardware store, but also at the conclusion that the mispronunciation of 'chimney' as 'chibley' is indeed a local effect. This discovery, accompanied by the inappropriate wearing of maxi dresses made want to leave Hull. I should immediately point out that I was not wearing maxi dresses inappropriately, but that Hull is, like many English cities, and I am risking prosecution for underexaggeration here, religious in its adherence to fashion following, and the maxi dress is, for females, the new religion. Unlike the cardigan, I can see how the concept of the maxi dress is imagined - an elegant summer item, lightly swathing the wearer in waterfalls of draping fabric: very attractive- and in fashion shoots, it works very well. But in reality, it only works on certain body shapes in certain fabrics, and in the cheap clothing/bad food capital of the UK, where over-made-up is the norm ans subject to a constant North Easterly, the actual effect on the street is that a stroll to our local shops is like walking through an open air canvas tent factory, staffed by pantomime dames shouting "chibley", during a gale.

The remedy is of course to get away, and the second annual Ride of Hope beckons. But here, a bombshell must be revealed. Cheek to Cheek's Second Annual Ride of Hope will not now be occuring in the Welsh Border regions. This year the ride will bring Hope to Northumberland. AN approximation of the route can be found here.
View Larger Map

I say approximation because this year we have dispensed with the official national cycle network and are striking out on our own, deciding on exact routes on a nightly basis. The reasons for this are many, but one primary reason is that our planned route to Bristol took us through the southern Welsh valleys for at least a day. The Southern Welsh valleys are attractive landscapes, to an extent, but they were also the site of the mining industry of Wales. Great people definitely (judging by the friends I have who derive from the Welsh Valleys), inspirational music for sure(in the form of the classic male voice choirs) and an early site of British Socialism, but the area is scattered with ex-mining villages, museums and all the reminders that this was an area where communities were destroyed by political motivations, not economic or environmental changes. Having lived most of my life in areas similarly affected, and living somewhere now where much the same processes are occurring, and finding the British political landscape deeply depressing, I wanted to go somewhere less recently affected. Northumberland, while not immune to the vagaries of modern politics, is much more remote. It is literally 'getting away from it all'

Finally, on a happy note, I can report that this year's annual plunge into the mire of depression has been successfully negotiated. I know this because a week ago, during a routine conversation re cats, in the middle of a sentence about Toshack's latest exploits (lying round all day, chasing Cheeky Monkey, miaowing frequently), I suddenly noticed that I was blubbing uncontrollably about being a failure, and immediately following said blub, I felt much better. "Hang on" I asked myself, "Better?". "Yes" the other me replied, "Better".

A quick review of the commensurate day revealed that I did indeed feel 'better' having been unblissfully unaware for several weeks that I actually felt 'worse'. Walking to the local store now did not require seventeen checks of the front door to ensure it was locked when leaving the house, and furthermore, that the trip was not now conducted under urgent notice, with a pounding heart as a 'must do' at an exact pre-determined time, failure to accomplish the objective of which (buying milk) would be cataclysmic, but success of which would be grandly ticked off on my 'to do' list under "#3. 14:35hrs. Buy Milk". Walking, riding, talking, going to the toilet or indeed any process involving planning on a higher or lower cognitive functional level no longer resulted in a slow motion sensation that one's brain was full of slow setting chocolate, and the endless writing of lists referred to no longer include as objective #1: 'Get up'.

So now its back to normal - being scared of buttons, watching wasps hunt caterpillars, having long conversations with cats and obsessing about ear hair. Time has once again become a friendly ocean that I bob around in, with a few distant islands as reference points, not a raging torrent full of rocks waiting to smash you to smithereens, and people have, for the most part, become human again, not a series of active malicious thoughts. Once out of a depression, my own overwhelming feeling is one of relief, often associated with relief that I didnt accomplish certain things. This summer that has mainly been that I didnt yet get round to building a fire in my 'chibley', or buy RHB a floral maxi dress.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Red Letter, or rather Black Soot Day

Huzzah, huzzah, the sweep is coming, the sweep is coming. Raise a garland! Plant a flag !

Its actually as exciting a day as I've had for ages - I find out the condition of my chimney. According to my information, it is assessed, after sweeping as either 'good', 'fair' or 'condemned'. Yikes !

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Those with fair to middling memories, or an acute interest in gardens, might recall that the posterior of Large Mansions resembled at one time a bankrupt builder's merchant's yard that had been hit by a medium sized atomic weapon. As the first four pictures here show (all taken about September 2009), our rear was bare, barren and smelly.

And as anyone who has occupied this property may recall, even as recently as Christmas 2010, there remained areas of our territory that were untamed, and frankly dangerous. However and further to this, by way of illuminating the following, anyone who has ever played Settlers of Catan with either RHB, or self, will understand that despite our egalitarian facades, we are both, in our own ways, prone to - nay enthusiastic about - Empire building. And further to that further, persons may be aware that since June, I have been on extended furlough, a term that is impossible to explain the pronunciation of to speakers of other languages, thus remaining sadly underused in my own vocabulary, except in times of need such as now. And, as an aside, and as the foregoing illustrates, this extended period of leisure has not been densely populated with my practising the art of clear writing, as will be necessary in my impending deployment. No, instead, I have spent most of the last few months improving my demesne, or, in more prosaic terms 'messing around in the garden'.

This has not been an instant process. For example, an ugly wooden fence ran the length of one side of the garden. The decision was made, towards the middle of June, that the fence should be removed, and the surplus bricks we had dug up, or remained from Concretia would be used to rebuild a traditional English garden wall. The decisions were also made that:

a) Yrs truly would be the one to rebuild said wall, depending on
b) A consultation with Darren, the expert Master bricklayer who built our extension to determine level of skill, feasibility and unforeseen problems.

I found Darren in the Bull's Arms, propping up the bar, and bought him a drink. Polite conversation established that work had been hard to come by recently, and he was interested in taking on a new project. I told him about my plan, and, in view of his situation, invited him to join our enterprise.

"Not a chance" said Darren, ordering another pint " I'm too busy".

"But you just said....." I protested

"Well I suddenly remembered that there are a million things I have to do, including tearing my own arm off and beating myself to death with it, sticking unsterilised needles in my eyes, and chewing a metre of barbed wire for a bet, all of which are vastly preferable, and probably better for my reputation than building a wall out of those particular recycled bricks in that location".

"So you think there might be a few problems with the job, then?" I asked.....

A few hours later, armed with the knowledge that the rebuild in the manner I proposed to do it was "a stupid idea, especially if you Mart - no offence but I have seen your plastering and you just dont 'get' stone products - are going to be the one doing it" , I ordered the mortar. It has taken me three months, although not constant. And I have had to pretend that the Gaudi-esque wobbles are deliberate, theatrical interpretations, adding character. BUt the wall is at least built and I fihure if I get enough ivy to grow on it quickly enough before it falls over, the ivy will hold it together.

We have also acquired a wood burning stove, priced at 60 pounds. This, as anyone familiar with British prices will be aware, is very cheap, as these devices usually cost about 500 pounds for a similar size. However there are a few reasons this particular stove is cheap as follows:

1. It is competely rusted having been left outside for two years
2. There is no glass in the front.
3. One door is broken
4. THe flue has fallen out
5. One of the vent covers is broken.

It looks like this:

we figure with just a bit of work, it'll look brand new. Also it will reduce our heating bill enormously this winter. And also, as the global economy fails, bringing down our beautiful civilization with it (many people think these two things are the same, but I can assure you they are not), and rioting in England spreads, we figure we'll have a way to heat ourselves and get water.

Finally, the eagle eyed among you will have noticed that we are growing Brussel Sprouts next to our pond. I have no idea why I decided to plant this crop as i hate them. Brussel Sprouts are, in my opinion, up there with cardigans and tanning salons in my private list of completely useless things, and are certainly not going to be missed at Large Mansions when civilization does collapse.

Finally, when society does collapse, we will be heading for Nova Scotia, via Scotland, The Faroes, Iceland and Greenland. This is because I think you could just about live in the Bras D'or Lakes Region.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A cautious whiff of optimism

I have never posted on the beautiful game before on this blog, perhaps because the most succesful club in the history of English football have been rather disappointing over the last few years (apart from a fifth European Championship in 05 and runners-up in 06).

But watching the magnificent progess through pre-season , I think every English, and European club should be very afraid of Liverpool Football Club this season.

There, I've done it, I've made a prediction. Now all I need to do is persuade Nel to let me gamble the proceeds from our house sale on Liverpool success this year. It's a sure bet, a dead cert.