Saturday, 27 December 2008

Out of Pants

I had the best intentions when I woke up this morning but sometimes for your own sanity and to try to kid yourself you're still a functioning human being within the confines of society, you just have to resign yourself to the mundane life stuff and get on with it. So instead of riding my bike for a bit, getting some training in and doing some exercise, I made a rather startling discovery - I was out of pants. And for all those foreigners out there (I mean the Americans), I'm talking about underwear, not pantaloons.

What a sorry state of affairs. All the working and dashing around and planning and diary organising and this is what I'm reduced to - being pant less. In fact, as I looked around the house to take stock of things, I realised I'd let things slip quite a bit with all the extra hours I've been doing. This is the scourge of the single person: if you're not there to do it, nobody else will. Piles of washing everywhere, unopened post, washing up on the sides, perilessly thin tubes of toothpaste on the sink. It's generally not the done thing to do washing or clatter pots and pans around before 6am or after midnight when you live above someone and seeing as these are the only times I have been inhabiting my house, you can see how things got to this state.

So the morning was spent doing the washing and the washing up, tidying up a bit and I squeezed in a trip to the local shop to replenish some of the basics. I did manage to get in a half hour on the turbo trainer though, so all was not lost. And the house looks a million times better. (How long it will stay that way is anybody's guess!)

Friday, 26 December 2008

"You Got A Friend In Me"

This is my mate Jodie on Christmas Day at work (she was a bit tired):
Jodie catching zs
I didn't realise until she said, but we've actually spent the last 7 Christmas Days together, and it will be the last one we spend together in this job. Says a lot about the relationships we form in our line of work I think, how many other people can say they've spent 7 Christmases with a work colleague? Cooked each other breakfast? Shared Christmas dinner?

We made a day of it again. We've been known to go a little crazy in the past, possibly cabin fever due to the amount both of us work over Christmas - it normally involves a dance session of some kind. It started whilst we were watching a music review of the year one Christmas, we danced our socks off until we couldn't dance any more! Everyone thought we were mad, but you have to do something to make the day feel a bit different, a bit special, try and enjoy it even though you'd rather be somewhere else.

It's become an annual tradition now and this year started with Radio 2 and by a funny twist the Disney song "You've Got A Friend In Me", very appropriate, followed by a listener request for "Nelly the Elephant". It soon moved on to a full on YouTube request session: crazy dance moves, a few twists and jives, lots of jazz hands and tears of laughter. In all honesty it was a pretty good Christmas Day, one of the best, just me and Jodie messing about again in fits of laughter. I'm going to miss my Christmas Dance Sessions with Jodie.

Dance like nobody's watching. Sing like no-one can hear you. Work like you don't need the money.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

I thought I'd get in nice and early, plus I'm bored at work. I do love Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and Santa Claus the Movie this morning was great; I'm trying to avoid the playout of Mary Poppins as I don't want to peak too early and I've got all day tomorrow to get through as well. Shouldn't complain, plenty of people have far worse Christmases than me, even though I spend the entire time at work, hardly strenuous (I basically do what everybody else will be doing on Christmas day - eating, drinking and watching TV, except I get paid).

The start to life as a 30 year old has gone fairly well, things are kinda falling into place, stuff is getting organised, diaries compared and plans discussed. There were a few stresses at the start (though technically I suppose I could class that as the last few hours of being 29, maybe I deserved it. Maybe it was life's way of getting it all out of the way before I turned 30.) But all is moving along in a jolly festive spirit - long may it continue I say!

So, the first event I'm organising is sort of out in the public domain now so there's no turning back. There are big plans afoot and The Slick n Knobbly is just one thing I'm involved in next year. Obviously everybody is invited, the more the merrier! (And yes, this is a blatant plug, but it's my blog and I can write what I want ;-)

Hopefully my blog will become a bit more interesting again and a bit more bike orientated, otherwise I'm going to have to start reminiscing about the good old days of adventure and stupid ideas. (Steve, what happened to all the stupid ideas anyway?!)

Anyway, have a very merry christmas everyone!

S x

Thursday, 18 December 2008

30 Not Out

So it's my birthday tomorrow. I'll be 30 years old. To be honest, I never thought I'd make it this far, too many stupid, drunken, risky decisions as a teenager and student. But I somehow always managed to come out of it smelling of roses and stumbled through a series of tricky, sometimes dangerous situations. And here I am.

And just lately I've been thinking quite a lot about where exactly that is. I'm 30 years old. I'm single. I've never had a proper relationship. Most people I consider friends don't even know it's my birthday tomorrow (for many years a lot of people didn't even know my surname, I was just 'Sara'.) And in a couple of months I'll be out of a job during the worst economic crisis the world has ever seen. I find myself waking up in the morning and wondering what the bloody hell I'm doing, where am I going and what's the point of it all.

I think about those questions a lot. I've had discussions about them with far off 'friends', sometimes even strangers. And however negative and depressing and self-pitying this sounds, it's actually not. I'm 30 years old but everybody says I don't look it, I certainly don't act it. I'm young, free and single (and a terrible flirt!) I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I choose! I'm headstrong and independent. The world is my oyster.

I have friends all over the country and all over the world and over the years these have been whittled down to the ones that understand me. They know they're only going to get a phone call or an email once every 6 months, they know they won't get a birthday card, they're aware of the fact I just may turn up in their town one day and send them a text telling them to put the kettle on. And they accept it. They know that's me. I don't have any hangers on. All of the people I currently consider my friends are true friends no matter how infrequently we speak. They will be my friends for life. And just recently I've started to realise the importance of these people - Gina, Em, Mike, Miggy, Tom, Davies, Jodie, Chris, Dan, Steve, Tony and a few more. Friends are good, I know that now. (I'm normally a fairly quick learner but this seems to have taken me a while - better late than never though.)

As for the rest of it, I love my life. At times it's not been easy, the early years were difficult. But the way I look at it, everything I have ever done, everything that has happened to me, everybody I've met and every experience I have ever had, good and bad, has led me to where I am now, to this very point in time and made me the person I am today. And I have to say it all feels pretty good. 2008 has been a difficult year, the most stressful I've ever had in fact. But I'll be leaving 2008 as a better person. I've been coasting for far too long, never really challenging myself, and now a convergence of events has given me the kick up the backside I need.

Tomorrow feels like the start of a whole new life. 2009 is completely unknown and my life is going to change dramatically, but I have the opportunity to make it one of the best years ever. I could wake up tomorrow and change anything or everything, the same as anybody can any time they want to. The first day of the rest of your life is probably a good time to do that obviously, though I wonder if you have to do it first to realise it's the first day of the rest of your life. Hmm, I'll have to ponder on that one... a chicken and egg scenario by the look of it.

And there we have it, my reflection on the first 30 years - in short, it was brilliant. (God that sounds weird saying that; 30. And I know some of you are feeling really old now, I met a lot of people who read this blog back when I was a teenager!) I'm really looking forward to the next 30, I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about next year. So many opportunities, so many things I want to do - and there's really nothing stopping me. Nothing at all. You can't see it but I have a cheeky smile on my face at the mere thought of the possibilities.

Tomorrow is a whole new world and I can't wait to go and enjoy it with you all!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Riding Keeps Me Sane

A friend of mine mentioned the other day how bored he gets doing the same routes over and over again and because of this he was losing the enthusiasm to ride. At the time, I agreed with him. It can be rather dull doing the same routes, especially road riding by yourself. I often try to vary the routes that I do or take a map out with me and try a new lane or track, just to see where it goes and to keep things interesting.

But sometimes, doing the same old route can be very therapeutic; you can just drift off into your own little world without having to think about which way you're going. It's a good time to think about things without any distractions and for me, it's a good opportunity to get rid of some of the pent up stress I'm feeling at the moment.

This week I only did one ride, but I certainly needed it. It's been a rubbish week and I've been going crazy. There's a lot of moaning, stress and in-fighting going on at work and it's not a very nice place to be. Starting the ride I was angry, annoyed and fed up - why are some people just so damn right nasty?! I kept running through various confrontations in my head with an 'I'll show them!' attitude; planning my revenge.

At some point though, it all disappeared. I was riding my regular 25 mile road loop and noticed there was a filming location down one of the lanes. Then I started to look for that trail head I'd found in the Summer, that was a fun little track. Next came the oh so perfect little coppice which would be brilliant for either kids racing or a really fast night cyclo-cross race! A track on the right with the dodgy root that can catch you out if you're not careful. On down the hill past Ivinghoe Beacon and my legs were still spinning without effort, the cold wind blowing through the vents in my helmet. Up the steep hill, legs feeling good, heart pounding, breathing heavier than usual (unfit, I'm not surprised but it's good to expend some extra energy and effort).

By now I was more interested in the scenery and spotting new trails in the woodland. I slowed down to fully appreciate the crisp morning as I passed a herd of deer grazing by the college and watched the squirrels darting around in the leaves. I smiled. Angst? Stress? Moi?! Who gives a damn about some of those fools I work with, what are they in the grand scheme of things? Nothing. As long as I can get out on my bike and do the thing that I enjoy the most, I can cope with the rest. No matter how infrequent or short a ride, just getting to ride now and again and everything else just drifts away.

I went to work without a care in the world and a spring in my step and let all of the problems pass me by. Maybe if everybody rode bikes, the world would be a better, happier place?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Peak Riding

I finally managed to get away for the weekend and spent a great couple of days around Ladybower Reservoir in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire. It was to celebrate the occasion of an old university friend turning 30 and as such he'd gathered a group of his cycling friends together as well as a couple of old faithfuls Mike (aka Miggy due to the confusion of two Mikes being best friends) and Tom who I also met at university.

Laura and Lisa on the dirt track to Mike's parents.

Sadly Tom couldn't make it as he's off making his fortune. And sadly, Miggy almost didn't make it either with a rather lucky escape involving the dark, winding lanes around the reservoir, a missed turn, some slippery roads and some poor judgement. But we've promised never to speak of that again. It's not the kind of story a wife wants to hear in detail. So moving on swiftly...

The weather wasn't great on Saturday and I haven't ridden for a while so decided to go on the easy ride with the ladies, rather than the testosterone fuelled gnarl-fest I sensed was going to occur with the boys. I don't often get to ride with a group of women, actually I don't often get to ride with a group of anyone, but hey ho. So a gentle trundle around the reservoir sounded like a good way to spend a dreary Saturday afternoon in November.

I couldn't believe how many groups of riders of all ages and abilities we bumped into. In some cases, literally. (Ahem, Laura!) Whilst me, Kirsty, and Lisa played 'child dodgems', Laura was still using the old novice excuse and playing 'child bumper cars'. The three of us all managed to negotiate our way through hoards of weaving, unsteady children, then there's a "ooh, ah" doof! I turn around to see Laura standing in the middle of a group of stationary, confused and annoyed looking children. 75 beer points to Laura! (Bloody beginners luck if you ask me... ;-)

Kirsty above the reservoir close to the house.

Lunch stop at Mike's parents overlooking the reservoir was all very civilized and then it was back to the fantastic Ladybower Inn to scrub up into my Sunday Best for the birthday dinner and less civilized consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.

Much laughter, fun and mickey taking was had with friends old and new. Even though Mike, Miggy and I only get together once every couple of years, (and I have to point out how much we were all missing Tom!) I've known them for 10 years now and we soon slip back into the old student ways. I should see them more often and we should really get together more often; busy lifestyles, different interests and separate groups of friends seem to prevent it though. But we all understand this and make the most of it when we are together (Tom! Where the hell were you?! Why weren't you there?!)

Still, great friends, great riding, great digs, great food and great beer. Great weekend all round.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Plumbers Squashed!

Plumbers under bath

This was the scene in my bathroom the other night. It wasn't pretty. All I can say is, it's a bloody good job they'd decided the bath needed to be raised or I might have an accidental permanent resident by now! (Sorry Mark ;-)

To be fair, everybody put in a fantastic few days work - electricians, plumbers and poor old Paul, who used to be the plasterer but has now turned into a builder, chippy, painter and tea boy. It's funny to think that if I wasn't a mountain biker, none of this would be happening; I'd never have met Paul at Mountain Mayhem and would never have taken on such a renovation project without his help, advice and contacts.

So after some longs days, a lot of hard work and a fair amount of head scratching, things are moving along nicely. With any luck it should be finished within a few weeks and then I can sit back and relax for a bit. Well, actually, when I say 'sit back and relax' what I actually mean is instead of spending every spare minute doing DIY, I should actually be able to find time to ride my bike, socialise, have some adventures, tidy up the website and get on with the little project I'm doing next year - in between ridiculously long working days.

Actually, I might stretch the DIY out a bit longer - it sounds much easier than doing the other stuff!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Not very exciting...

This week, I will mostly be working. In fact, I'll be working so much, that the working time directive has told me I have to take a lunch break every day. So I'm listening to these words of wisdom and have decided to put the enforced break time to good use - I went for a run. It was only a short run because I haven't been for a run for about 2 years. But it's a start. And in the absence of any riding possibilities, it's better than nothing.

Working time directives suck. Enforced break time is painful. I'd much rather sit in my chair watching afternoon television drinking cups of tea. But I'm not allowed. So tomorrow I shall don my running gear once again, and head a little further down Old River Thames (that's assuming that I can walk obviously). It's no real hardship though as I'm having to shower at work anyway (see the post below ;-)

Running time today: 25 mins

Sunday, 2 November 2008

This week, I 'ave mostly...

... been demolishing my bathroom:

To this:

No, I'm not making an en-suite, but I am making it bigger. Fortunately Paul Davis was here to help - though why he wouldn't let me loose on the wall with a huge hammer I don't know! (Secretly I think he was really enjoying it, I mean how often do you just get to totally demolish something and take out all your aggression using a really big hammer without any consequences?)

Also rather fortunately, Paul is an excellent plasterer. After the initial hiccup of cutting off a large cast-iron pipe in the middle of the new bathroom, to find that the tap had stopped working many years ago and I had a lovely trickling water feature in the middle of the room (with nothing but my beautiful, brand new kitchen ceiling and halogen spotlights stopping the water dripping right through to the new kitchen), the walls were knocked out, new walls built and Paul set about plastering the whole room.

I still don't have a bathroom, that's being done next week. But I do have a larger, newly plastered room. I now have to go out and buy all of the things that constitute a bathroom, and that is a very, very, long list. Somehow I have to do this whilst working double shifts every day next week. I feel some serious internet shopping coming on... to be continued...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


Sometimes I find it hard to get out of bed and go and do something. This morning I found it hard not to get into bed and do nothing (the first night shift will do that to you). I didn't last long. An early start yesterday and a trip across the country for a meeting with Epic Cycles in Tenbury meant by mid-morning today I'd already been awake for 30 hours. Sleep was needed. Sleep is good.

It seems I'm not the only one lacking motivation at the moment either. Work is in chaos and showing no signs of improvement. I won't go into full details but the brief background is my department was outsourced last year and a plan started to relocate in June 2008 - missed that deadline. The relocation to Chiswick involves working somewhere nobody wants to work, doing a job nobody wants to do, working for a company nobody wants to work for. So much so that in this current climate of economical turmoil and unemployment, most staff are actually thinking of leaving. (They're offering us a 'finders bonus' if we recommend a new member of staff for God's sake!)

So with this in mind, and the fact that staff morale is similar to the FTSE100 (just when you think it can't go any lower, it drops a few more points) and stress levels at an all time high, (8 months ago we had 30 engineers running the place, now we have about 12) this was a scenario that came about the other day:

- The Vice-President of the company was standing with a group of managers at the new location. Deadlines are whizzing by like traffic on the M4 outside - you know it's there but it comes and goes without any real impact. A new deadline is approaching and, remembering everything I've just said, the VP comes out with these motivating, inspiring, pearls of management wisdom, "If we don't get this place up and running in two weeks, we're pulling the plug!"

Apparently the minor management were seen giggling in the corner and the staff let out a loud cheer; the biggest improvement in morale and staff solidarity that has been seen in many months. With this renewed vigour for the ailing project, they then went and put the kettle on...

I do love the people I work with sometimes.

Monday, 13 October 2008

October Already

It's been a busy couple of weeks, really busy. And it doesn't look like slowing down any time soon. So, in brief:
Dusk til Dawn - wet, muddy, dark, miserable. One lap. Lots of chocolate.
Work - dusk til dawn. Overtime-tastic. Yay!
Shopping - bath suite, lights, electrical bits and pieces, tiles, paint, tools, I could go on, but this list is exceptionally long - I never realised a bathroom contained so many bits.
London Cycle Show - 2 days, 25 sponsor proposals for a new event we're running next year. Lots of patter and a sore throat.
A new iMac Intel Core Duo - yay!
An iPhone - double yay!!
Riding - today, 20 miles.

That's October so far in a nutshell. It's nice to be busy and finding time to ride. There's lots of work to be done over the next few months, both on and off the bike. Exciting though.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Enough now... no really

September has not been my month. Whilst some of my friends have been clocking up hundreds of miles, having fantastic holidays and generally enjoying themselves. I haven't. It started well with a committed and determined start to a 30 in 30, and at times there were glimpses of the good life, but it didn't last for long.

My boiler was fixed after 5 visits from the gas man and 6 weeks without hot water. My radiator is leaking.

I sorted out the insulation in the loft. The fuse blew on the lights downstairs. The hallway light blew on the upstairs ring main - either downstairs lights with no lights as I came in and out of the house, or upstairs lights and cooking by the light of the hob.

My week of convalescing in the Lake District was all very pleasant with a good mountain walk or two; in dreary weather. My only ride of the week resulted in the biggest crash I've had in many years. A big, hard, fast crash. Bruised and scraped from my right shoulder down to my right knee, including my ribs. A good chunk out of my right elbow and a lump the size of a tennis ball with a rainbow coloured bruise on my hip. I hit my head and cracked my helmet. Fortunately Hyacinth, my Maverick ML7 only suffered superficial damage to her handlebars and brakelevers and a slightly buckled rear wheel. Fortunately her fall onto the jagged rocks was broken by my stunned and helpless body. Lucky her. I gave the Grizedale Mountain Bike Challenge a miss the following day.

Traffic on the way home on Sunday night was dreadful so I got back in the early hours of the morning to cram in a few hours sleep before an early start to some long days at work. A heavy schedule over the next few days, coupled with a repairing body, the continuing course of antibiotics and the damp from sleeping in a tent all week gave me a wrotten cold. I still have a wrotten cold.

On the way home from work on Friday various pedestrians, cyclists and drivers seemed determined to kill themselves and/or me, by completely ignoring every single line of the Highway Code and their common sense. My journey time home was doubled by roadworks and heavy traffic on the M1.

Ah, my front door by midnight. But no hallway light. Time for a shower. The shower head flew off and hit me on the forehead. I sighed. A deep, shoulder-dropping sigh. I looked around for someone to give me a hug, one of those "don't worry, everything's going to be alright soon petal now dry your eyes and be a big brave girl" hugs. There was nobody there. I sighed and put my head under the pathetic dribble of warm water that was coming from the remnants of my shower head.

One more long day at work and then a day off. I think I'm just going to curl up on the sofa and try not to hurt myself, break anything or burn the house down.

Bring on October, please...

Monday, 15 September 2008

Getting Better... more ways than one. I seem to be on the mend, still another week of antibiotics to complete though but more importantly a variety of things have happened over the last couple of days to really turn my week around. I've changed my plans for next week as well. I've read many a classic novel which tells of Victorian ladies retiring to the countryside to convalesce. I shall be doing the same for most of the week with a camping trip to Beatrix Potter country; just me, some good books and some better wine.

On Friday I found the energy to have a complete spring clean of my bedroom, kitchen and lounge. The bedroom is now immaculate and I plan to keep it that way - a tidy house is a tidy mind as they say and I always feel a lot better when my bedroom is looking clean and tidy.

On Friday evening I found out registration is open for the 2009 Tour of Ireland, hurray! It's not often I get excited about entering an event but the Tour of Ireland is different, it's special - you just have to read my previous TOI blogs to find that out. I'll be entering it as soon as I get back from my holiday and it's really given me a kick to get back on the bike as soon as humanly possible and will be my motivation throughout the long, cold, winter months (I'm actually giggling with excitement about it).

Everything else just seemed to fall into place over the weekend and was topped off in style with a 20 minutes firework display on the way to work to mark the end of the Thames Festival. Now I'm not one to sing the praises of city living and I'm normally bleating on about how I can't wait to go and live in the countryside, but I have to say it's things like this that, just for a second, make me love London.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bad Timing

Well I finally have to report that I have been beaten by the 30 in 30 challenge. Again! I've been putting it off for a couple of days in the vain hope that I would be able to pick it up again without anyone really noticing, but it wasn't to be. I'd made such a good start, even riding in the rain, even enjoying riding in the rain! I'd been eating well and only drinking moderately and had an excellent set of rides lined up for the following week. 30 in 30 was going to be positively joyful.

On Saturday I was supposed to do a race over near Windsor, but as my alarm went off at 6am I could barely drag myself out of bed and I didn't surface until 1pm - I still managed to squeeze in a ride though. (Who'd have thought early Friday nights out on the orange juice could take it out of you so much?!) By Saturday evening I really wasn't feeling great.

Sunday came and went and I barely moved from the sofa. Fast forward to around 4pm today and I'm doubled over in pain in the front seat of my car, mouth watering, head resting on the steering wheel and unable to focus. I managed to stumble across the car park and into the GP's surgery. A confirmed infection, some painkillers and two weeks worth of antibiotics prescribed. Still too light-headed to drive I was given a cup of tea and some biscuits. Forty-five minutes later I'd finally gained enough strength to make the drive home, and spent the rest of the day on the sofa.

Hopefully I'll be well enough to ride next week, though my motivation to ride, in fact my motivation to do anything at the moment, has completely gone. I'm well and truly fed up.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

"30 in 30" Days of Rain

This looks like it could possibly be the wettest 30 in 30 ever, it seems determined to rain every day. But so far it hasn't put me off (which has surprised even me), and I have been riding - despite a few setbacks.

Thursday, Day 2 and the rain was hammering down. Undeterred, I donned my trusty rain jacket and overshoes and set off. The flooding was so bad in the lane that I couldn't see the perfectly sized divot in the middle of the road and seconds later my rear tyre was flat with a pinch puncture. I swapped the tube but my motivation had gone. I stood on the road side trying to decide whether to carry on - my planned route was an out and back that would take me up to 12 miles away from home, and now having no spare tube and a rather soft rear tyre that would be prone to more pinching. I reminded myself why I had embarked on another 30 in 30 and jumped back on my bike to explore some lanes closer to home, just in case. So, 1h22m and 17 road miles completed.

Day 3 - a simple hour on the turbo trainer. Boring, but necessary due to work commitments. I had a rather lovely pint of Bombardier at the Mulberry Bush at a leaving do for some work colleagues. So far so good on the alcohol front then.

Day 4 - more rain! (If this carries on, I'm selling the bikes and building a flamin' ark!) Yet again the weather was testing my resolve with heavy showers throughout the day. Still, I've just put the original forks back on the Surly 1x1 and it's been years since I rode a rigid mountain bike so it gave me the little kick I needed to get out there and explore for a bit - 1hr10m and 10 miles in the rain and mud. It'll do.

Totals so far - 5h17m, 42 road miles, 10 miles off-road.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The New Regime

Things never go as planned do they? Originally I'd planned to kick off another "30 in 30" at the start of September using the momentum from my holiday - adding in a healthy eating plan, some weight loss and cutting back on my alcohol intake.

Obviously, the start to this was delayed due to various DIY set backs with my house again: the boiler still isn't working (that's 5 weeks without hot water); I've changed the upstairs plan and can't find lights so the electrician has been postponed; my hoover has broken and to top it all off now a fuse has blown in the fuse board so I don't have any downstairs lighting (just as the nights are drawing in). Owning a house really sucks sometimes.

So there was no time for riding on Monday and Tuesday but finally yesterday I managed to squeeze in my first ride and start my Autumn "30 in 30". And boy oh boy, is it Autumn! The first 10 minutes of the ride were met with strong winds and a heavy shower. It's very unusual for me to actually start a ride in the rain, I normally wait until it stops. So this shows a new found tenacity and enthusiasm for riding that I haven't had for some time. (It's also a good start to what could be a very wet and miserable winter.)

So, Day 1 - 1hr45m, 25 miles.
I think I might also start keeping a mileage and hours ridden log, just for a bit of motivation...

Saturday, 30 August 2008

A Nice Cup of Tea

That's the first thing I have when I get back from holiday. Not very exciting, but a necessary evil when you've been drinking coffee in California for 10 days.

So my holiday to the SingleSpeed World Champs in Napa California was great fun - great friends, great wine, great conversation, great laughs, great beer, great whisky sour, great trails, great weather and the most amazing food I have ever, ever eaten!

I'll write more and put some pictures up on my adventures page when I get some more time. Due to flight delays and time differences it was a full 28 hours between leaving San Jose aeroport and arriving home Friday afternoon. A 4.30am start this morning has plunged my body clock into meltdown.

For now, just to show you how awful the weather was so you're not too jealous, here's a picture of us riding in Wilder Ranch, Santa Cruz on Tuesday.
Santa Cruz riders
That's Chris's backside, Jessica, Laura Bontrager, me and Raquel.

You see, the sun was so bright we could barely see the Pacific ocean in the background because of the glare! It was so hot I kept having to stop to reapply factor 30 sunscreen, and the dust was really getting in my throat as well. Damn NorCal trails...

Monday, 11 August 2008

Not in the Saddle, Just Sleepless

And so Endura Sleepless in the Saddle is wrapped up for another year and it also marks the end of my trail crew duties for 2008. Sadly it also marks the end of an era for our regular and most experienced endurance Commissaire, Anton Florek.

Anton has been working with Pat Adams from the very start of 24 hour racing so knows more about the sport than most people. He's been fantastic to work with over the years and everybody has learnt a lot from him, especially me. It's an absolute pleasure to work with somebody who is so passionate and insightful about your sport without the slightest hint of arrogance. He'll be missed by all of us.

Obviously with this being Anton's last event, it was going to be the most eventful. The weekend threw everything at us! The weather was atrocious, again, and there were other totally random hiccups occurring. (I won't go into some of them here, they're those secret little problems that most people at these events don't know about, mainly because the organisers don't want people to know about them, so I'm not going broadcast it here.) But it basically meant the trail crew spent the whole of Saturday running from one problem to the next.

The main problem was the rain. It started raining Saturday morning, it rained for most of the morning. The course turned to wet slop and riders were coming back a consistent shade of brown but still riding their mud spattered bike. Then it stopped raining and the course started to dry out. This turned it into a 7 mile death march slog that many were comparing to conditions of the Somme. I don't blame them. I saw the bikes as they crossed the timing mats: I saw the now 4 inch wide muddy tyres that weren't turning; I saw the dangling rear mechs and a lack of chains; I saw blocks of mud where chainrings should be; I saw the tears of riders who had just slipped, trudged and battled their way around the treacle filled course dragging their broken, heavy, mud covered bikes. It didn't look fun. In fact, it was bloody miserable.

Just as the course started to dry out enough to be rideable, it rained again. More hassles and problems to sort. Some 'course grooming' as we call it to try and re-route some of the more problematic areas. It had been a tough day for all of us, it was getting dark and we weren't even a third of the way through. It was going to be a long weekend. The rain stopped, the mud got stickier. It rained again, the ruts got deeper. (Repeat this pattern throughout the night.)

Still, no matter how bad things got, some people seemed to be enjoying themselves. Some people actually found it all really good fun and very amusing, a real test of endurance. Each to their own I suppose...

I managed to get a couple of hours interupted sleep around 2am but was still answering the calls of the Marshalls from my tent. Sunday was a lot quieter and just involved the usual finish duties and tear down at the end. It had been a very hard weekend - Friday had been very hard work doing the course preparation, Saturday was out to prove Murphy's Law and by Sunday I'd really had enough. The things you do for the love of mountain biking...

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Urban Cycling Stories

I caught an episode of The Montel Williams Show this morning, (an American chat show on ITV3 for the majority who have probably never heard of it - and it's my job to watch it ok!) and as a picture of two women on mountain bikes was shown, I turned the sound up. We went into the commercial break and I noticed the theme of the show was "When Animals Attack", hmmm, this could be interesting.

When I first went out to ride in California I heard a horrific story about a mountain lion that had attacked some cyclists on the trail - this couldn't be the same story could it?

Back to the show and Montel was talking to Anne. She'd been out riding with her friend Debbie one day on their local trails somewhere in America. Anne had ridden ahead slightly and came across a man who had stopped in an inconvenient place on the trail and was holding a second bike. He asked Anne if she knew whose bike it was because he'd just found it lying by the side of the trail. Anne thought he was joking and that his mate must be somewhere in the bushes answering a call of nature, and rode on.

A hundred yards on, just around the next corner, a 120lb mountain lion pounced on the back of Anne and bit down on her head and cycling helmet, dragging her to the floor. The cat was constantly readjusting its grip and grabbed onto Anne's cheek, tearing it partially off. At this point Debbie came around the corner and heard her friend's screams. A 'tug-of-war' ensued, as they described it, with the lion trying to drag Anne down into the gorge by her face, and Debbie desperately clinging onto her legs! Some more people came to help and threw whatever they could find at the cat to get it to let go. Finally it did, and ran off.

Anne was air lifted to hospital, and as the helicopter took off the pilot spotted another body, the owner of the abandoned bike. The mountain lion was hunted down that night and shot, only to find that it had attacked and killed the other rider, Mark Reynolds, earlier on that morning before the attack on Anne.

It's easy to forget just how easy we have it riding bikes in the UK sometimes; apart from our own stupidity and maybe the odd nutter, there's nothing we really have to worry about. I often pop out for a ride, especially in the summer, in shorts and t-shirt with just a water bottle and a basic tool kit safe in the knowledge that my life isn't in danger.

I'm sure this complacency will bite me in the arse one day. It's come close a few times (especially the Downieville incident a few years ago!) and for a while I will make sure I take food, a long sleeve top, first aid kit, space blanket and other sundry essentials with me on every ride. A dozen rides later and I'm back to the minimum.

I'm heading out to California again in a few weeks so this was a poignant reminder to retrieve a few survival essentials from my winter walking rucksack and throw them in my Camelbak. You never know what might happen...

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Bontrager Twentyfour12

So I popped down to Newnham Park near Plymouth this weekend for the third Bontrager Twentyfour 12. I've had a good run of success with this event; 1st place 24 hour solo woman in 2006; 1st place mixed team in 2007. For 2008 I would be going solo again but only 12 hours this time. ("Only" 12 hours...)

I quite like Newnham Park and raced there for the first time last year at the NPS. I'd never been before but had heard a lot about it as the World Cups were held there in the 90's. The course was absolutely blinding and the weather was excellent. All in all it was a really good weekend and seeing as I finished racing at midnight it gave me chance to catch up with a few people over a mandatory glass of vino (or two).

My full race report is on the Races page here. (You see, I've purposefully not told you where I finished so you have to go and look!)

Sunday, 20 July 2008


I like DIY because there's always a real sense of satisfaction, a sense of pride in your work, a feeling of instant gratification and noticeable results; the feeling that all the hard work you've just put in has all been worthwhile and time well spent.

Today was a DIY day and in honour of Joolze Dymond's birthday, I have named my pantry after her. Dymond's Pantry: Before and After. (After hours of filling, sanding and painting.)
Dymond's pantry before
Dymond's pantry after

You see! A job well done and a day well spent!

Saturday, 19 July 2008


I'm a great believer in the natural balance of life. Similar to a commercial that was on TV a few years back, I believe that for everything good that happens, something equally bad will happen; for every high in life, there will be a low of equal proportion.

My life is full of fantastic experiences and exquisite moments of fun and happiness, there's never a dull moment. But it did take me a while to figure out that every time I was having loads of fun, at some point this would come crashing down and plummet to some very low places; 'heading for a fall' is a phrase I often hear. Still, you can't have the highs without the lows, so I wouldn't change it for all the world.

Anyway, I've digressed slightly and this philosophy stuff can all get a bit heavy. But the theory is also carried over to intelligence - for every moment of genius, there follows one of equal stupidity: my boiler broke down during the week and I didn't have any hot water. I called some plumbers and heating engineers and after 2 days none of them had returned my call. So I looked up the problem on the internet and within 15 minutes I'd saved myself a call-out charge and fixed the boiler. I also bled the radiators and balanced the system. Oooh, look at me! I was very pleased with my new found plumbing skills and carried a rather smug grin for the rest of the week.

Fast forward a couple of days to the morning of Saturday the 19th of July (i.e. today) and I jump in my car early this morning to drive to work. Turning out of my road I can't quite remember whether I normally take the main route or the windy back route to the A41 when I drive to work. As I drive down the road and join the A41 dual carriageway, the reason why I can't remember which route I normally take suddenly dawns on me: I don't actually take the A41 to work. I take the M1, which is on the other side of Hemel Hempstead. I was going the wrong way!

All local road knowledge abandoned me and it took a good twenty minutes to find the M1 and get on my way to work. I smiled to myself with the calm realisation of what had happened; my moment of boiler genius had been equalled by getting lost half a mile from my house and going the wrong way to work.

Balance has been restored.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Fair Weather Cyclist?

The elements were against me today. The non-Summer was determined to get the better of me.

After quite a long lie in (I'd forgotten just how tiring being back at work and doing double shifts actually was) I had brunch whilst watching yesterday's Tour de France highlights. It spurred me on to ride my bike - a pleasant spin on the Surly Cross-Check around the usual loop was in order. Or so I thought.

I put my cycling shorts and jersey on, filled a water bottle, got my bike out of the shed, pumped up the tyres and went back upstairs to get my helmet and shoes. No sooner had I shut the front door than it started to pour with rain, and I mean really hammer down; sheets of sideways rain drops were blown viciously across the green in front of my house. I bought my bike inside and went back upstairs to wait it out, it would only be a shower after all.

Five minutes later and the rain was battering against the window. I took my helmet and shoes off and sat down. I wasn't going to be beaten and I'd put the time to good use by popping to the Post Office, wearing head to toe waterproofs!

It had stopped raining as I walked back from the Post Office, the 'Summer shower' was over. it was time to go for a ride.

Back upstairs and put on 3/4 length tights and a long sleeve top, grabbed a light weight showerproof coat, turned on my GPS, put my headphones in and fastened my helmet. I turned my back to the window to walk down the stairs and heard the familiar sound of rain hammering on the window. It was 3.30pm and I thought I would wait until 4pm. If it stopped any time before then I would go for a ride, if it was still raining at 4pm I would give up and do something productive.

4pm - the trees were bending sideways, the raindrops were bouncing six inches back up off the ground and the thunder rumbled down the valley. I put the kettle on and gave in, my motivation had gone. I tidied the huge pile of junk in the dining room instead (so THAT'S where pedals went!)

By 5.30pm I was proud of my new tidy dining room and it hadn't rained for half an hour or so - aha! I shall squeeze in a sneaky hour! Maybe the clouds heard me but I didn't even finish planning the proposed route in my head before it started bucketing down again. When the Gods are so blatantly against you like this it's best just to cut your losses and save your energy and enthusiasm for another, drier, day. If ever we get one of those...

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Love of Cycling

So it's been a while since I last posted. Partly because I've been busy, but mostly because I've been avoiding everything to do with the internet, emails, computers and cycling. There's a reason for that - Mountain Mayhem.

I've been working for Patrick Adams for 9 years at Mountain Mayhem and it has always been a fantastic week, the highlight of my year and something I always look forward to. This year was different. I wasn't looking forward to it. I'm not even sure why. There were various reasons but nothing in particular, just the amalgamation of lots of issues.

As many of you may know disaster struck on Friday before Mountain Mayhem when Patrick was taken to hospital leaving his beloved event, the biggest 24 hour mountain bike race in the world, in our hands. This made an already bad week, worse. But we got through it. (I'm not going to dwell on all the ins and outs of this week, it just wasn't as fun as usual.) There was the usual torrential rain on Saturday evening which turned the course to unrideable sludge and then gail force winds on Sunday morning tearing the arena and the campsite to pieces! But we got through it.

Two days tidying up and litter picking and by Wednesday I had totally lost my enthusiasm. Niggly things were getting to me and there was too much residual bad feeling hanging around. There's just too much politics involved in cycling some times. I've been saying this all year and Mayhem is no different. I'd had enough.

Then when I finally got home I made the fatal mistake of reading the forums about Mayhem. I always tell Paul Davis the course designer not to do this and I have no idea why I did, maybe because I had more input this year and just wanted to know what people were saying. Still, it wasn't a good idea and I got even more fed up! This was when I stopped looking at the internet. It was either that or go off on a big rant. But the damage was done. I didn't want anything to do with cycling.

Now I'm sure my indifference to cycling would have continued to fester if it wasn't for the fact that I'm a slack cyclist and when I unpacked the car I put Olive the dekerf in the dining room. There she sat all shiny and beautiful: incredibly neat welds, the trademark dekerf seatstays, stunningly designed XTR components, precision engineered beauty of Hope Mini calipers and the neat, slimline stiffness of the Rock Shox Team SID suspension forks. How could I stay mad at her?! It wasn't her fault after all.

I resisted for a couple more days - grumbling and moaning and being generally fed up with the world, and cycling and cyclists. Then I cracked. A cosmic alignment of circumstances occurred with Cyclenaut coming over for a few days from America, Deano popping over for a couple of beers, the funniest waitress in the whole world warning me about the 'blue cheese burger' and a beautiful day; I just had to ride my bike.

And it was ace!

I love cycling!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Malvern Meandering

Went for a quick spin over the Malvern Hills today in Worcestershire. It's somewhere I've been intending to ride for years now, but every time I'm in the area I get caught up at Eastnor or just end up passing through.

My new dekerf, 'Olive', is urging me to ride though. I can hear it taunting me from the back of the car: "Let me out... let me out to do what I was built to do. Get off your lazy fat backside and justify the astronomical price you paid for all of these shiny new bike parts you flamin' idiot!"

With that kind of motivation, how could I resist! I had to drop some bits off at Back on Track bike shop in Malvern. I should also say a great big thank you to Paul at Back on Track for doing a fantastic job of building my new bike at short notice a couple of weeks ago. And for letting me take over the whole shop for the 2 hour discussion involving four people and three members of staff to figure out what forks and wheels I should have. I swear Posh Spice, Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez could have picked an outfit for the Oscars quicker! But you have to get these things right, right? And it does look ace now! (Photos coming shortly by the way.)

So I parked in the car park just above the shop and asked Paul for some route advice, bought the waterproof Harveys map he sells and disappeared into the hills. It's fairly hard to get lost to be honest. The Malvern Hills is just one ridge line a few miles long encircled by roads - you can either traverse along the hill or climb up to the top, descend to the road, then climb back up another track and repeat. When you get bored, you just head back. Though it would be hard to get bored here. Even looking at the map there's a myriad of legal bridleways to be explored, and who knows how many unmapped trails!

A couple of hours playing on a wide variety of trails - gravel, stoney, grassy, rooty, muddy, steep, steady, technical, tight, wide and fast, the Malverns seem to have it all - and I decided to head home. Olive had done me proud again on her second outing and I'd had a blast riding new trails. Can't wait until I have another spare day to get back and explore some more. I think I have one in October sometime...

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Dogs Resemble Their Owners?

I'm dog sitting this week for my Mum who's gone on holiday. I'm actually dog sitting my dog Sox, at least he was my dog when I lived at home. Then I moved out and having a pet when you live on your own is quite difficult, so he stayed. But he's definitely still my dog.

People often say that dogs look like their owners and I've always thought this to be true in a majority of cases. I'm not sure whether Sox looks like me. He's a 16 year old Border Collie, so he's black and white but greying. He's also fairly rounded now thanks to foot & mouth a few years back when the dog walking field was closed. I'll try and get a picture at some point, you can judge for yourself.

But it has been said that he has my personality too. Again, I will let you judge for yourself:
1) When he's fed in the evening, he stands and looks at you with a "yeah, and..." look. Then promptly wanders off somewhere for a while and returns when he's hungry. He does things at his own pace, not when other people want him to.

2)He barks at everyone who comes to the door and will continue to growl at most people who make it into the house. It's only really some family members who can stroke him without him constantly growling with a mad look in his eyes. He doesn't do that thing where he shows his teeth and gets really upset, it's more of a low grumble growl, just to let you know he's tolerating your presence, but doesn't really like you.

3) When you tell him to go down the garden to do his business, he just lies down outside the back door. He lies there and watches you as you walk down to the bottom of the garden, and when you call his name he looks the other way. He certainly has the ignorance to back up his stubborn streak...

4) We thought he was going deaf due to his age. He's not. He's selectively deaf. And brilliantly so. Stand and call his name to get him in, or to send him out, or to move him from one room to another, in fact any kind of instruction, and he won't listen to you. But every single evening, when the truck pulls up outside my Mum's house, just before it pulls into the driveway, he barks. He can actually distinguish the sound of the truck arriving amongst all of the other traffic on the busy road. And he can hear the scraping of his food bowl as you pick it up off the floor. He can even hear the distinct tone in your voice during the word "Sox" that means 'come here I'm going to give you a treat'. He truly is ingenius.

5) Last, but by no means least, and the thing that I most admire about good old Sox, is his ability to hold a grudge. A 15 year grudge. 15 years! The story goes that 15 years ago, only a few months after we got him, there was an incident involving my 5 year old brother. We're not sure what, but they were both in the car, there was a yelp, a bark and then some screaming, then the dog ran off and hid. Sox had bitten my little brother on the cheek, narrowly missing his eye (personally I think he was provoked and was defending himself, but we'll never know. I know). He got the beating of his life as a punishment and never went near my brother again. My brother kept his distance too. It was only after about 10 years my brother could actually get within a foot of him without Sox growling and walking away. And still, to this very day, 15 years on, Sox will growl every single time my brother touches him. Now that's a grudge.

God I love that dog! And all his familiar quirks...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A Perfect Bank Holiday Monday?

So another bank holiday rolls around (aren’t there a lot in May?) and the dilemma of what to do. Actually it’s more like a quad-ilemma but I don’t think that’s a word, so we’ll go with double dilemma for now.

Option a) Cancel your leave and have a long lie in followed by a relaxing day at work with no office staff or managers around, take it easy, watch some TV and drink as much free tea and coffee as you can manage, get home around midnight then have another day off.
Aha? Interesting. It’s a possibility but it is still work. And it does mean travelling into central London on a Bank Holiday – there’s probably engineering works on the train line, replacement bus service, tourists everywhere etc etc and I hate all that!

Okay, option b) Don’t cancel your leave. Have a long lie in followed by a relaxing day on the sofa, eat what you want, watch want you want and listen to the rain pounding on the window from underneath your cosy, warm duvet. Just generally kick back, relax and take it easy.
Oooh! Like your thinking. Now that does sound like a good way to spend a Bank Holiday, because I am still ill obviously…
Well, obviously…
And that sounds like just the kind of thing I need – but I’ve been doing that for the last couple of days really and I’m a bit bored of it now.

I see your point, so how about option c) Go on a mountain bike holiday to the lovely Swiss alpine town of Verbier – take in the fresh mountain air, stay in a luxury chalet, drink lots of ice cold beer, ride great trails all week and just admire the views.
Hey! Now you’re talking! Just one problem – there was a slight error on my part when booking the flights and now they’re going to cost a fortune and I can’t really afford it at the moment because I do have a new bike to pay for…

Fair enough. So option d) Get up at 6am, drive 100 miles in the pouring rain and spend the day doing building trails on a steep, slippery, muddy hillside, hacking through shoulder high bracken and thistles, getting scratched by thorns, stung by nettles and give yourself blisters on your thumbs whilst desperately trying to stay upright in the thick mud and the driving wind and rain. Get soaked to the bone, covered in dirt, freezing cold and totally wear yourself out.
Well apart from the obvious…
You mean the early start, the mud, the rain, the cold, the wind, the manual work, the blisters, the thorns, the nettles, the slimy bugs…
Oh yes, I’d forgotten the slimy, nasty little creatures, well remembered…
Thanks, so where were we? Oh yes, nettles, the slimy bugs, that nasty little drip that drops off your sodden woolly hat and down the back of your neck. So apart from those…
Yes, apart from those… Oh, arse!
(sigh)I’ll get my car keys, you fill the thermos, it’s going to be a long, long day…

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Wild Boar 24

Finally managed to put a race report up for The North Face Wild Boar 24 that I rode last weekend. You can read all about it on the Races page. It wasn't my best attempt at a 24 hour solo - I've never, ever ridden with such heavy legs! The Tour of Ireland obviously took a lot more out of me than I realised. Also proven by the fact I've been off work sick for the last week. Time for a little rest and recovery before the summer kicks off properly...

I did pick this up while I was there though. Some Scottish guy had made them specially for the event and bought a few down in different styles and rotor sizes. This is a 203mm one with silver colour detail rather than black. The centre piece is stone. Nice huh!
Wild Boar 24 clock

Thursday, 22 May 2008

It's Here!

My spangly new bike frame! (giggles like a small child) It was like Christmas morning when the delivery man knocked on the door, even though it was stupid-early o'clock I couldn't wait to open the box. And here it is:
Dekerf frameDekerf frameDekerf frame
Dekerf frame
Sweet huh! Have to say a great big thanks to Michael Golinski at Dekerf Cycle Innovations for getting it to me so quickly. It really is a thing of beauty and I hope the build I've got lined up does it justice (sadly my photographs don't). Hopefully it should be built in the next couple of weeks, but I'm still waiting on a few parts.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Kellogg’s Tour of Ireland – Final Stage Kilkenny to Dublin

Tour of Ireland Stage 4 map130miles, 10000ft of ascent! 9h14 ride time
Avg speed 14mph; Max speed 44mph
Avg heart rate 133bpm; Max heart rate 167bpm
Calories burned 6600

Monday and the final day started with a short walk back to the college in the morning sun. It was promising to be a lovely day. My legs were slightly sore this morning after yesterday’s epic and my aim was just to get through the day, no matter how long it took. The route would take us up and over the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin with the hilliest profile so far.
Tour of Ireland Stage 4 profile

The first hill came after just 4 miles and though we had been asked to stay as a group until we left town, there was little point trying to hang on to any big groups as the field would split the minute we started climbing. We started and I was definitely going through a rough patch for the first 20 miles or so as we climbed up onto the moorland. Luckily I was alongside my trusty riding companion Julia again, we’d spent most of the Tour riding together now so it seemed only fitting that we would do the final stage together.

It was a school day again and after the quietness of Sunday’s country lanes and deserted villages the cheers of the school children lined up along the playground fences was a welcome sound. Paul was slightly up ahead with Mark and Dave, two of the Irish guys we’d also spent much of the past few days with and we formed a small group of familiar faces to get to the first feed station at 50 miles. Each dragging climb was followed by a long, fast descent but it still took three and a half hours; this was shaping up to be the longest day of the whole event.

Stocked up again with energy drink, gels and bars we headed out to start the real climbing! Mark and Dave were local and knew the area well, we had four very big climbs ahead including Wicklow Gap and Hollywood. Slow and steady would be the order of the day in the baking sun. The first climb was 1100ft over a few miles with an equally long descent back down in to the valley followed by another similar climb. Our group was spread out, each taking the climb at their own pace, but we’d soon come together on the flat. Thankfully my legs had come back now and I was feeling pretty good.

It didn’t bother me that we still had a long way to go with lots of hills and it was going to take a few more hours, this is what I did each day now. It’s funny how your perception changes so quickly. Only three days ago I was daunted by the idea of riding 115 miles and being out on the bike for six or seven hours; now it was normal – get up, have breakfast, ride bike, eat dinner, go to bed. That was it, that was my life.

One by one we ticked off the big climbs, with the last one marked by a feed station at the top of Wicklow Gap. I put a windproof gillet on for the final descent as it was apparently a bit of a monster. On the way down we gathered more riders to form into a larger group along with the Dulwich Paragon guys to get us the last 40 miles to the finish. The scenery was stunning. We were riding around some lakes and the water glistened in the bright sunshine – what a perfect final day.

We were riding at a fairly steady pace, though this was all relative now. Previously my steady pace was about 12mph, it now seemed to be somewhere around 18mph. There was still lots of chatting and laughing and the two-up through and off had become second nature, considering I’d never done it before last week. Just as the Dulwich guys decided to up the pace slightly I turned around to see Paul, Dave and Mark had dropped off the back of the group of 10 or so. As I’d been riding at the front for a while I wasn’t sure what had happened and somebody mentioned there’d been a mechanical problem of some sort. I assumed this was them and that they would soon join back on.

After a few miles there was still no sign so I pulled over to wait for them, Julia kindly waited with me. It had been such an incredible challenge that I wanted to cross the line with IP, and if there had been a problem it was going to be easier to ride in with five of us rather than leaving just the three of them. If there’s one thing I have learnt during this trip, it’s the difference riding with a group can make to your overall speed. A while later the three of them came around the corner and we started off so they could join onto the back of us. Mark was really suffering and we were handing him all the energy gels and drink that we had left. He was shocked when Paul had waited for him, he was even more surprised that Julia and I had waited for them to help them home. I don’t leave anyone behind when I go mountain biking and I’m not going to do it on the road either.

We still had 20 to 25 miles to go. These are Irish miles remember and it had become clear over the days that distances could vary: 1km could be anything between 500m and 3km; 50miles would be somewhere between 45 and 60! So after 105miles, knowing the stage should be 125 miles, plus the fact we had a detour of 8km (but nobody knew whether this was 8km more or 8km less) we had anywhere between 15 and 30 miles left.

It was a pleasant evening and the four of us took our short turns on the front, all the time keeping an eye on Mark at the back. At 5pm I hoped there wasn’t much further to go, this was the longest day, but also a fantastic day. One last short climb (just what I didn’t need!) and the 20km sign. Finally! A little bit further on was the 10km sign – I told you we were using Irish miles. And then we saw the finish at the Westmanstown Leisure Complex. But today there wasn’t a sprint, it wasn’t every man for himself in a final bid for glory. Instead there was a real sense of achievement, the completion of a tough challenge that each of the five of us had played an essential part in. One last glance made sure Mark was with us. Dave and Julia had gone slightly ahead on the last climb, but as we turned into the car park they were standing by the timing mat, waiting for us so we could all cross the finish line together.

Compulsory hugs and handshakes took place just beyond the finishing arch. There was an overwhelming feeling of relief and satisfaction from everyone milling around packing their bikes away and it wasn’t long before more new found friends who had already finished came over to have a chat. Then it was time to collect our medals and watch the Presentations whilst having a roast dinner – not presentations for first place or fastest riders or any of that rubbish, just thank you’s to everyone involved and a few special momentos given to people for their help. I had a couple of pints of Guinness to celebrate, swapped email addresses with some people, thanked the organisers for putting on a first class event and headed off to my hotel in Dublin to meet up for drinks with an old friend – but that’s another story…

Monday, 12 May 2008

Kellogg's Tour of Ireland - Stage 3 Galway to Kilkenny

134 miles, 8000ft of ascent, 8h18 ride time
Avg speed 16mph; Max speed 33mph
Avg heart rate 138bpm; Max heart rate 175 bpm
Calories burned 7000

What a day! I’m exhausted! Things started off really well when I managed to get down to breakfast on time and get a decent meal; I knew that was going to be important today. Then it was back to the NUIG Campus. To try and keep the finish times a bit more condensed they were setting off the slower groups first today. Don’t ask me how, but this meant I found myself at the very front of the fast group and set off first, leading the peloton through the streets of Galway. I was so excited I had butterflies, but it also meant my legs turned to jelly. Fortunately my new found friend Mark Harding was on the front with me and told me just to take it steady and relax, they would come past if they wanted to. It was an awesome sight, I managed a quick glance back as we went around one roundabout and saw the 100 strong group snaking behind us! We sat behind the Lead Car for a full 6 miles before some idiot came and moaned at us to get out of the way – it’s not a race ya know.

Having started at such a steady pace meant by the time riders did start to overtake us and pick up the pace (only very slightly I may add, we weren’t slacking at the front) I was nicely warmed up and even managed to stay in the middle of the pack for the first 25 miles. Again, to be riding this quickly in the peloton for such a long time was exhilarating and a fantastic experience; it really does make such a difference to the effort needed to maintain a fast pace and somehow feels like ‘proper’ riding.

Sadly it wasn’t to last and my new found legs couldn’t quite get me over the first small hill at the same speed and I dropped slightly off the back. I maintained the gap but couldn’t quite get back on. I passed a rider who had stopped and when he came up behind me shouted for me to jump on his wheel, he’d get me back to the group. He flew past and I barely managed to hold his wheel but we did close the gap – just as we got to the bottom of the next climb.

I decided I would just let the peloton go. This was far too long a stage to keep being left behind on the hills and then putting massive effort in to chase down the peloton, I actually wanted to finish this stage! So I cruised along for a few miles by myself as we started the climbs up and over the moorland. A familiar voice shouted from behind; it was Julia, one of the people from the group yesterday.

We rode the next 20 or so miles nice and steady, riding alongside each other chatting. At around 50 miles I.P caught us up and we stayed together until the hot food station at 58 miles. Our intention was to try and find a group to ride with, this would make the remaining miles go a lot quicker and easier. We set off with six Dulwich Paragon riders but they soon split when the road climbed up out of town and into the hills.

Then came the worst part, the incredible steep climb out of Silvermines up to the second feed station, 1000ft climb in around two miles! The gradient was too much for my 39:27 gear and I had to stop three times to catch my breath, heart pounding and legs screaming. I had a long break at the feed and lots of food. The descent was no better – steep, slippery, covered in pine needles and gravel with sharp hairpins. Then another hill! I got off and walked this one, I had nothing left in my legs and we still had 60 miles left to go. It took almost two hours for me to recover.

Julia, Ickle Paul and I just kept spinning along, counting down the miles. “100 up” said Julia. I hoped there would be another feed station somewhere but nobody had mentioned one. Luckily at 102 miles there was, I was so grateful. The prospect of having at least another two hours, if not more, of monotonous pedal spinning along undulating straight roads was soul destroying. A lone rider came down the road and joined us at the feed stop. Now we were four, it might at least be a bit quicker.

I'll have to continue this one later. I was too knackered last night and now I have to go rider another 125 miles over the Wicklow Mountains! Safe to say I finished yesterday, it was really, really hard, I was exhausted. But at least I did finish, many didn't and apparently the broom wagon had to go back numerous times to pick up riders. Eek...

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Kellogg's Tour of Ireland - Stage 2 Cavan to Galway

120.5miles, 4133ft of ascent - 6h33m ride time
Avg speed 18.4mph; Max speed 37.1mph
Avg heart rate 138bpm; Max heart rate 170bpm
Calorites burned 6500

Another early start and after breakfast at the hotel the coaches picked us up at 7am to take us to the bikes at Cavan town leisure centre. The food truck arrived and everyone stocked up on the plentiful supply of Kellogg’s nutrigrain bars, Rice Krispie Squares, Hi-5 energy gels and drink and of course, bananas.

At 8.20am the peloton rolled out of town again and soon picked up the pace. Today had been described as an undulating stage with no real hills. I had planned to get into the middle of the pack and try not to do much work today. I’m not used to such long and sustained effort when riding and didn’t want a repeat of yesterday. Within a few miles there was already a split starting to form between a huge and fast rolling main peloton, containing over 100 riders, and the rest of us. I found myself on the front of another big group, desperately trying to chase them down. There were three of us doing all the work and after a few miles making little progress one of them decided we should stop trying and form our own little group of around seven riders. There were sighs of relief. Maintaining the 23mph pace was starting to take its toll and we all knew we couldn’t keep it up for much longer.

They weren’t wrong when they said the course was undulating and the seven of us soon found a happy rhythm spinning along the roller-coaster like roads. I’ve never seen so many long, straight roads. We would ride for mile after mile, each taking our turn on the front of the group, only to turn at a junction onto another long, straight, undulating road! We picked up a few stragglers from the front bunch along the way – some were so tired they just went straight out the back of our group.

Just past the big road crossing on the N4 and it was my time for my 15 minutes of fame. One of the media cars pulled up alongside us and seeing as we had four women in the group riding at the front (there seems to only be about 15 of us in total) they chose a particularly short, sharp climb to have a chat to me on camera. I think I made sense through the heaving breathing, but I’ll have to see if it turns up on the event DVD or not.

At 53 miles we reached the first feed station in under 3 hours. The first group of the main peloton were just about to leave, making us the second group to arrive – so we weren’t exactly taking it easy. I was glad of the soup and roll and took on as much fluid as possible. The problem I have riding at that intensity is I forget to eat and drink. I knew this would be a problem later on on such a long stage. We didn’t stop long and our merry band was joined by a few more riders who had decided the peloton was just too much for them. We decided we were the ‘poursuivants’ group (a la Tour de France) and set off again.

More long, drawn out, undulating roads and a hard working group of 10 riders chatting and laughing whilst clocking up the miles – I haven’t done much road riding but I don’t think things can get much better than this. Each rider seemed to go through a rough patch at some point but was allowed to sit at the back for a while to get their legs back. Those who were feeling good worked on the front and swung off whenever they felt like it. Nobody was left behind and we even slowed up to wait if a rider had stopped for some reason – pretty good for a random group of riders who didn’t even know each other.

There was one big hill for the day and it came at 75 miles, nothing compared to yesterday though and we were quickly over the other side. The usual warning shouts of “gravel”, “hole”, “dog” (don’t ask me why there are quite so many bike chasing dogs in Ireland but most of them seem to have death wishes), “left”, “cows”. Cows?! There was a screech of brakes and skidding tyres – three cows had escaped from their field and were standing in the middle of the road. The farmers were trying to herd them back in but we spooked them and one decided to try and Frosby Flop a 5ft high stone wall – no small feat for a fully grown cow! We moved aside and ushered the other two into the field.

Being an unofficial and small group we had very little in the way of motorcycle marshalling but the Garda were stationed at most of the main junctions. As we approached the final feed station at 90 miles the rough riding surface was making it tough and I was flagging somewhat, starting to drop off the back. One of the guys dropped back for me and I sat on his wheel until we reached it. I shoved handfuls of Nutrigrain bar into my mouth, topped off with energy gels. This must have worked; along with the fact that we only had 35 miles to go and it wasn’t even 2pm, we’d been blasting along without realizing it.

Finally signs for Galway and a motorbike marshall escorted us into the busy town centre full of Saturday afternoon shoppers. He did a fantastic job of stopping traffic on the busy roundabouts and the Garda controlled traffic on all the junctions. Thank God they did because we were now steaming along like a freight train and nothing was going to stop us. Again, this was a very unique experience for me and the special treatment added to that feeling of being a pro rider that the event creates.

It was every man for himself around the final few winding streets and into the university campus to pass under the Kellogg’s arch. Dave won the sprint, with me 50 or so yards behind. The rest followed in quick succession. Our little group had ridden together for most of the 120 miles and enjoyed every minute of it. A group photo was in order and the official photographer obliged, followed by another interview with the cameraman. The official time is probably closer to 7 hours, but I had a ride time of 6h30. The peloton that included Jamie Burrows, former Lance Armstrong team mate; the ParkPre professional sportive team and a young Irish pro rider, not forgetting Ickle Paul Davis, arrived a full hour before us but we were still the second group in and there were smiles, handshakes and pats on the back all round.

A shower on the university campus, plenty of tasty food in the union bar and then coaches over to the Days Hotel for an early night and some well deserved rest ready for tomorrow – the longest day of the Tour and the day the hills start. I’ve prepared myself for a good 10 hours in the saddle, anything less will be a bonus.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Kellogg's Tour of Ireland - Stage 1 Lisburn to Cavan

116miles, 8544ft ascent - 7h16mins
Avg speed 16.3mph; Max speed 65mph!!
Avg heart rate 146bpm; Max heart rate 184bpm
Calories burned 6500

So after last nights food, registration, bike setup, introductions, riders briefing and general praise of sponsors at the Lisburn Leisureplex by the organisers Joe and Marc Barr plus various representatives, it was off to the Premier Inn in Belfast for a well deserved nights sleep before the first stage.

A buffet breakfast at the hotel and then everyone was bussed back to the Leisureplex to leave bike bags and drop off kit bags before trundling down to the official start line. It started to rain. As I approached the large red inflatable Kelloggs arch there were plenty of supporters lining the streets and there was a real sense of occasion. The organiser's speech had said that we would be treated like professional riders - with all the logistics, food, accomodation and mechanics taken care of. All we had to do was turn up and ride and as the 230 something riders lined up it felt like a proper peloton; A peloton which is actually bigger than that of the Tour de France.

We would be accompanied along the way by numerous motorbike marshalls and some of the route would be accompanied by the police. Riding through the middle of Lisburn all the traffic was stopped, red lights ignored and the peloton filled the road. Now this is bike riding.

The flattish start meant large groups stayed together and moved along quite quickly. The adrenaline was pumping and it was a whole new experience for me. We started to climb up into the mountains and there was a long line of riders stretching into the distance. It had stopped raining but was still misty and grey - perfect conditions as far as I was concerned.

At the top of the reservoir just 5 of us were together with me and Ickle Paul Davis doing most of the work on the front, maintaining a respectable 18mph in fairly windy conditions. The first feed station couldn't come soon enough as this was the longest I had ever spent continuously in the saddle. Having marshalls stop traffic at all the junctions meant we didn't have to worry about stopping, something very rare in everyday cycling. After 3 hours and 50 miles we finally pulled into the feed station to stock up on Kellogg's nutri grain, rice krispie bars and Hi-5 energy drink. No sooner had we arrived than group 2 were leaving. We decided to try and sit on the back of group 2 to make things easier. I never really realised how much easier it was to ride in a group, but as I cruised along in the middle of the 50 strong group, doing a steady 22mph with my heart rate barely reaching 140bpm, the benefits became apparent.

Again, the climbing quickly split the huge group and I found myself stuck at the back, climbing in single file through heavy traffic. As soon as the road opened up I tried to get our straggling group of 20 or so back together and then chase down the quicker group of 20 in front. Riding from the back the others soon jumped on and realised what I was trying to do. The going was tough sitting at the front and we still weren't closing the gap. Suddenly my bottle cage came loose and fell left, jamming itself between the frame and the crank arm! I came to an abrupt halt but fortunatley didn't cause an accident. The group powered on and I was left by myself with 50 miles to go. This was going to be a long, long day.

A few more flattish miles and then a very steep climb. Thankfully I.P was waiting at the top for me and we rode the rest of the day together. We had no chance of catching the group in front and I took it fairly easy for a while. My legs were heavy from chasing down the group and I needed some time to recover. The miles passed slowly now on undulating roads. We picked up another guy who kept getting cramp and towed him to the hot feed station at 90 miles. By now it was raining again.

Just as we arrived, group 2 was leaving. We let them go and waited for group 3. This would be much easier than riding the final miles by ourselves as we'd all been working hard on the front of various groups all day. Hot soup and rolls were a welcome snack and then we were on our way in a group of 20 or so, rolling at a steady pace. Again the roads were straightish and undulating and hiding in the pack was a welcome relief.

I was glad to see the road sign for Cavan. Except for 24 hour solo races, this was the longest ride I have done in about 10 years - and doing over 100 miles in 24 hours is a lot different to doing it in 24 hours!

Each member of this group took turns on the front and we reached Cavan about 5pm. I had a narrow escape at 30mph avoiding a water bottle that fell from a bike just in front, the back wheel fish tailed and I came to an almost complete stop, but soon caught the group on the final run in.

Ah finally, the finish line. At last! Then it was a short ride to the leisure centre to pick up our gear, shower and head off on the coaches for food. If only it was that simple.

My kit bag was one of the last to be loaded on the van in the morning and they'd decided there was no room so put it in another van. Sadly, this van hadn't arrived at the finish and nobody could contact the driver who was somewhere out on the route. I was soaked to the bone and freezing with nothing to change into. They didn't even know when my bag would arrive. I.P was in the same position. I wasn't happy.

Now having worked on many events for organisers throughout the years I understand more than most that problems and mistakes happen, it's life. The mark of an organiser is how they deal with those things and I have to say that these guys are first rate! Three of us were soon in one of the swanky BMW event vehicles being chauffeured straight to the luxury Cavan Crystal hotel for a hot shower; they even bought us dinner at the hotel restaurant rather than having to make another trip to the offical food venue. As they said, it's all about the rider.

My bag turned up and I went for dinner. Then an early night, ready for the 3, longer stages still left. I have a feeling this is going to be a long weekend...

You can read all about the event and see the route on the official Kellogg's Tour of Ireland Cycle Challenge web page.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Back to Earth with a Bump

All good things must come to an end; it was inevitable that after my great week playing about on bikes, that it would end. In fact it came to an abrupt halt.

I read somewhere not so long ago that Noel Edmonds believes the universe is constantly trying to give us exactly what we want, but we either ignore the signs, don't listen or fight against it. I've always be someone who goes with the flow and happily cruises along through life taking whatever it throws at me and not really worrying too much about anything else. This may be one of the reasons why I enjoy life so much - I have no inclination to fight against the universe and it obviously appreciates this and leaves me alone. Most of the time...

Now and again however it gives me a little reminder that it's still there, watching, waiting for me to start a rebellion. There was a small skirmish on Sunday but my pathetic attempt at a power shift was rapidly overthrown. I should have known. All the signs were there, I just didn't see them.

It was the Forest of Dean Classic sportive and I'd decided to drive over to Monmouth at 6am as a last gasp attempt to get fit for the Tour of Ireland. (I know, I know, it's far too late to gain any fitness but at least I'd give my legs a spin and I had to feel like I was doing something.) Anyway, 6am, the sun was shining. Pah, what do the weathermen know - rain my foot! I picked up my kit bag and as I loaded into the car I felt a sharp pain shoot across my lower back. Ow! Sitting in the car was uncomfortable to say the least. But I persevered.

Somewhere near Oxford it started to rain. I turned on the windscreen wipers and they started smearing an inch wide strip right in my eye line. After a few miles I had to stop to clean the wiperblade and as I leant over to pull it up I felt another sharp pain in my back. This was going to make it a very long and painful day. I looked back up the road and thought about going home. But no, I persevered.

On the A40 approaching Birdlip there was a huge black cloud somewhere over Gloucester and three, large, consecutive lightning strikes! Now if that isn't a sign from a higher power to turn around now or face certain doom, then I don't know what is. But still, I persevered.

I finally arrived at Monmouth and set off on the 85 mile route. Just minutes into the first of the fourteen climbs my heart rate was unusually high and after riding out of the saddle for a few minutes around one of the hairpins my shoulders went dead; a sensation I usually only encounter at the end of a long ride on a steep climb. Being a finely tuned athlete (ahem!) I knew there was something very wrong, and persevered...

Just a couple of miles later my recurring knee problem started. For some reason I thought I'd be able to ride it off the way I had done on the last couple of rides. After 15 miles it wasn't easing. After 20 miles I was dropping into the lowest gear on any incline so I could spin up rather than having to put pressure on my knee. At 25 miles I was wondering which was the shortest way back to the car. At 30 miles I was standing in a torrential downpour, removing my number and getting directions home. I quit. I was beaten. But the worst was yet to come...

I started the drive home and soon got tired. I couldn't seem to keep my eyes open. I was feeling slightly unwell by this point and even though I clocked up 46 miles on the bike, hadn't felt like eating anything. Traffic was slow and it was taking longer than usual. I pulled over to take a snooze, jumped out of the car and promptly threw up. Another deluge started as I was standing by the car.

So there I was, standing on the side of the A40 in torrential rain, throwing up, with a bad back, a sore knee, a headache and the first signs of flu. The universe had reasserted its authority without any room for doubt about who's boss and it's not a theory I will be testing again in the near future. From now on just stay quiet, watch, listen, and the universe will take care of the rest. Trust me!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

It's A Good Life

700 miles, 6 days, 5 cycling venues, 4 hotels, 3 bike rides, 2 new beers and a curry with an old friend - throw in a machete, an Army Major or two, some old trails, some new trails, some 'are you sure this is going to work' trails, lots of mud, more beer, even more rain(!) and Joolze Dymond hanging out of the back of her car taking photos and that was last week.

It kinda reminded me of my student days and my first years at work, when I'd take all my cycling and walking gear and disappear for a few days. It's been a long time since somebody asked me where I was staying that night and I said I didn't know. Thankfully my friends still realise that I could turn up on their doorstep at any moment wanting a hot meal and a bed and are very accomodating.

I like that; That feeling of going where the wind takes you for as long as you want and doing what you want. There's a certain sense of freedom that comes with it. It's very simple freedom but can be hard to attain these days (especially once you've bought a house and got a proper job - though some would say I've yet to get a proper job).

So now I've got the taste for it again, hopefully there's more in store. Though where on earth I'm going to find time to wander off for a week this year is anyones guess. My next couple of months and the logistics involved have been planned with military precision; Something I've only had to start doing over the last few years. I still prefer the old way, it's so much more fun.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

End of an Era

Another weekend passed working at a Pro-Velo Support mountain bike event - Enduro 6. I've been working with Pat for 9 years now, well, 9 years this Mayhem anyway. It was a chance meeting at Sandwell one June when I turned up for a drink with Chipps at the hotel, the rest as they say is history.

Back then I worked with Ivo, Chipps, Paul McConnon and Ken Ward. A couple of years later a tall, broody Scotsman joined - Chris Duncan. We shared some interesting times as well: the corn field fire, the crazy knife wielding schizo and the SWAT helicopter are just a few of the things we dealt with at mountain bike races!

By the time the event moved to Eastnor only Chipps and Chris were left and we picked up a few more people - Quad Ben and Ickle Paul Davis. This was the infamous Pro-Velo Trail Crew and we were working at more events throughout the year.

There's an odd relationship formed in this kind of family. We only saw each other for one week and two weekends a year and not at all over winter, but the time spent together is intense, especially for the 36 hours over a 24 hour race! After a few years, we'd still only met 6 times, but every time we got together we all instantly clicked and it was as if we'd never been away; Even more unbelievable if you know what a motley crew we are.

Sadly, this weekend was Chris Duncan's last as a member of the Trail Crew. He's still going to be at the events but doing his normal job for Endura who are event sponsors this year, so it won't be quite the same.

I can safely say we're all going to miss working with him. He's got a wit as dry as the sahara and can take the mickey with the best of them - crucial attributes when it's 6am, you're covered in mud, soaked to the bone, it's been raining for 4 hours with no sign of it letting up and you know there's no chance of getting out of this damn field for another 12 hours!

So apart from the odd appearance from Chipps at Mountain Mayhem, there's just me left from the old Sandwell crew. I wonder how much longer I'll be around?

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Happy St George's Day!

"God for Harry, England, and St George!"
I had a million and one things to do today, but decided to go for a few pints of real English ale to celebrate St George's day instead - I've always got a million and one things to do, but today only comes around once a year.

I love St George's day. There was a great atmosphere in the pubs today with plenty of people wearing St George's flag badges and red flowers in their button holes. Apparently the paraphernalia has out-sold the paddy's day stuff this year - maybe the Union Jack and St George flag are no longer the sole property of the BNP and other such extremists but can be worn with pride by all English people everywhere.

Talking of busy, if the last couple of weeks are anything to go by, it's going to be a long summer. I've already done two races in two weeks (G2 Revolver report coming soon) and I'm spending the weekend at Enduro 6.

I don't even have time to unpack these days, but that seems to be working in my favour. Bags of snacks are still strewn across the kitchen floor and almost everything else I need should still be in the car from last weekend. My kit bag resides at the top of the stairs and every time I walk past a piece of used, muddy, smelly kit comes out and is thrown into the washing machine, being immediately replaced by a new fresh piece of kit that had been lounging on a radiator for an unspecified length of time. So apart from sundry day clothes and essentials, I'm pretty much ready to go at the drop of a hat. Very handy when I only seem to be spending an hour at a time at home.

Better go. Lots to do before the weekend!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Don't Panic

As I said the other day, it's not very often I talk about work, I don't often have anything to talk about seeing as my job entails watching TV - no really, it does. But we have our fair share of fun and maybe our unfair share of cock-ups: like the time we accidentally put porn to air during the Richard Littlejohn show; or someone sat on the machine and rewound Coronation Street whilst it was on-air; or the time we switched out the local news rooms too early, at the very moment the news presenter was chatting to the director about the affair he was having (that one made the newspapers).

The problem is, is that if normal people make a mistake, press the wrong button, pop to the toilet at the wrong time, then maybe they'll miss a phone call, or send an email without the intended attachment. If we make a mistake, millions of people see it.

That happened this morning. I pressed the wrong button. The studio PA did the usual countdown to the local news and instead of doing nothing (which is what we do now, due to aforementioned cock-ups of switching out loose-lipped news readers), I pressed the button (which is what we've done for the last 10 years).
"What did you do that for?" exclaimed my colleague, Jodie.
"I don't know," I said.
"What do we do now?" she asked.
"I don't know!" I said.
"How do we get back?" she screamed.
"I don't know!!" I screamed back.

Panic was in the air. "Two minutes left on the news" said the studio PA. Right, two minutes to save our arses from the diabolical mess we were now in. We looked at each other with a look that said "you bloody idiots, I can't believe it, what are we going to do, I don't know, hold me, help, I'm glad you're here, pull yourselves together" all in the space of a nanosecond.

"One minute on the news." The PA was counting down to an imminent catastrophe with her calm and unwaivering voice of doom, still oblivious to the chaos we were in.
Jodie threw in her suggestions and like a chess grand master (ahem) I assessed the impact of each possible button press - nothing so far. "30 seconds..." came the voice. Frantic typing put an event into the electronic schedule that would buy us some time - "3, 2, 1..." I pressed the button and we were back.

But we weren't! But some channels were, and some weren't. More frantic button pressing and all looked good. Numerous phones rang and were all answered with "yes, we know, bit busy right now". Our makeshift would only get us out of jail for so long, 3 minutes in fact; the time we had to the next commerciall break. Lose one of these and you're in big trouble!

The PA rang, my hands were shaking and my voice was quivering, still unsure what we were going to do. So far, the viewer at home would hardly have noticed there was a problem. In reality, we were in a mess, and our next actions would either save our bacon, or land us right in it. This is where professional studio crews really come into their own and my garbled explanation of what was happening didn't even phase the PA.

We made the decision to use the backup tape for the next commercial break, realising we would lose commercials (that alone is way more than my annual salary, never mind the fines incurred!), put makeshift events into schedules, pressed emergency buttons and were basically flying by the seat of our pants. "Two to the break." I pressed the button. Please God, let it work. It worked! I could hear Luke Skywalker in my head, "almost there, almost there" as he's flying down the centre of the Death Star.

Calm and collected we knew what we had to do and got on with it, reloading schedules, checking and double checking automation information, events, timing, durations, everything in fact. We might come out of this ok if we could just hold it together for the next 3 minutes and 53 seconds. "Ten on the break...2, 1..."

The GMTV studio sting came up, on all the screens, on all the channels, across all outgoing lines, on all the satellite boxes - it worked! We'd made it! We were back on track! A nervous sigh of relief. And only 30 seconds worth of commercial losses with minor collateral damage on the programme - jesus, how the hell did we manage that?!

Manic giggling ensued. That could have gone a hell of a lot worse and been a complete disaster. But we'd somehow saved the day, somehow. Bizarrely, through the initial panic and not doing anything, we'd saved ourselves. And through that moment of panic, we'd reached a state of calm, clear headed thinking.

Another story to add to my (long) list of 'times I've taken the ITV off air'. Oh you wouldn't believe how many times that actually happens! Professnioial? Us? Yeah, course we are...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Trying to be a bad day

Still buzzing from Sundays surprise podium place, Monday was a day off to relax and enjoy the sunshine. Or so I thought. My mobile phone had been covered in coffee Sunday morning and had stopped working. It had been on the radiator all night in an attempt to dry it out. It still wasn't working and my mobile phone company were less than helpful. I tried to check the internet for tips to sort out the problem, my internet connection was down as well.

I made myself a cup of tea and a good breakfast and settled on the sofa to watch a bit of daytime TV - my digital receiver had packed up. This was a technological conspiracy. I know I rely on my mobile phone a lot, but this was getting ridiculous - my mobile phone breaks and the rest of my house throws a hissy fit.

So, DTT box unplugged I set to work on the internet connection. Some fiddling and frantic searching for long forgotten passwords and it was up and running. Yes! My website was down. No! More internet faffing with passwords and the website was back up. Yes! Technology 2, me 1. No! I was still losing the war against the machines.

I went to do something more basic that didn't involve anything with a chip in it - a bit of DIY. I started assembling the flat pack set of drawers for my bedroom. After rounding off the ends of two Philips screwdrivers, one of which was an electric one, I was reduced to assembling the furniture with a freebie multitool from the front of an issue of MBUK magazine! My hand was getting sore and sweaty and as I put pressure on one particularly tough screw I slipped and a flathead screwdriver on the other side of the multitool went into my palm! I jumped back in shock and banged my head on the corner of the chimney breast.

It was definitely not my day. Inanimate object 1, me 0. Time to quit while I still had some dignity and drown my inadequacies in the bottom of a large wine glass. It was at this point that trusty, reliable humans stepped in to save the day.

I received an email from an old university friend, Niall Varley, who'd googled me and found this website. I haven't heard from him for at least 5 years, but hopefully we'll get to meet up in Ireland when I'm there in May. Maybe technology isn't all that bad after all. Then some great news I'd been waiting for from another friend in Canada. I'm not going to say too much about that just yet, it'll be a surprise! But I am very, very excited. I went to bed happy (with a throbbing head and sore hand, you can't have everything I suppose.)