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.)

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Race Day

Been an interesting but busy few days - last couple of days at work were actually quite a good laugh. Mainly due to my/our own stupidity. It's not often I say that, it's not often I talk about work either, but every now and again it is good fun. Still, yesterday was a long day and I was looking forward to getting out on my bike today. Though in saying that, I almost didn't get out of bed this morning. I'm glad I did though.

You can read all about my racing antics on my new Race page. It's going to get pretty busy over the coming weeks!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

New Steed

Time EdgeFirst road bike
Well actually it's not mine, I'm borrowing it for a while to get used to it before I take it to the Tour of Ireland at the start of May. So I have to say a great big thank you to my friend Paul Gibbons from Ludlow who has ever so kindly let me borrow it, especially as it's new. Brand new. I mean, never been ridden, picked up straight out of the shop and brought to me, new. I am the first person to ever ride it and I have to say it's a whole hunk of carbon goodness - Time EdgeFirst carbon frame and forks with Ultegra kit, Easton bars, stem and wheels; saddle (riders own.) I've got a swanky USE carbon bottle cage to go on it as well, just as a nice finishing touch.
Paul Gibbons

Paul 'Gibbo' Gibbons
Photo: Joolze Dymond

It's the first time I've ever ridden a proper road bike any kind of distance, and the first time I've used proper road shoes and pedals (those things only work from one side! I can't remember the last time I picked up an injury from cycling but since last Thursday I've had numerous crotch-on-saddle incidents from sliding off the wrong side of the pedals and I've fallen down the stairs because road shoes are all smooth and slidey underneath. Typical!)

I have renewed vigour to ride as well, I did a lovely 100km last Thursday, followed by 25 miles Friday and another 40 miles today. It's partly due to the bike - which goes like stink by the way - and partly due to the fact that since prematurely ending the 30 in 30 after 20 days, I now actually want to ride my bike. It's kind of a habit now. The day doesn't feel right without going for a ride or at least doing some sort of exercise. I suppose that's a good thing considering what I've got coming up in the next five weeks, I need all the training I can get!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Happy Anniversary!

There's been a flurry of activity down here over the last few days finishing off some bits of DIY in a vain attempt to stop my house looking like a building site/laundry room. It's been a whole year since I bought my first house and I had big ideas of what I wanted to do and how long it should take.

A year of racing, travelling, holidaying and generally faffing about somehow got in the way, as well as an enforced 'do nothing' couple of months when I had a chest infection. (This cunningly came right at the point where everything was waiting to be sanded or stripped - the very things that had caused the chest infection in the first place!) So everything just sat, static without progression, just waiting to be prepped for it's final stage of decoration.

By the time I was well enough to start again, I couldn't be bothered. The motivation had gone. Realising that excusing the state of my house with the line "I've only been in a couple of months" was starting to wear a little thin, as well as becoming rapidly untrue, I decided to get on with all those fiddly little jobs.

So, in April 2007 my list of jobs consisted of:
1) decorate master bedroom
2) fit new kitchen and decorate
3) extend bathroom and fit new bathroom suite
4) decorate second bedroom for visitors
5) do the garden

Right now, my list of jobs consists of (and this is massively abbreviated and generalised because somehow every time I finish a job I create 3 news ones!):
1) Finish decorating master bedroom and paint door and door frame. Patch up scrapes etc
2) Finish painting kitchen, woodwork and fit new door etc
3) Get carpet for second bedroom, finish decorating.
4) Start bathroom
5) Stare hopelessly at the massive task that is going to be keeping the garden under control again this summer whilst racing, travelling, holidaying and generally faffing about.

Hmm, best laid plans and all that. I think I'll just open another bottle of champagne to celebrate the fact that I actually managed to get a mortgage and buy a house - which doesn't seem to be that easy these days - and continue to write my enormous and ever-growing list of jobs to do.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

A Trailbuilders Lot...

Not riding for an hour a day hasn't freed up any extra time over these last few days - if anything I've been busier. (And talk about broadening your horizons, one minute I'm building mountain bike trails, the next I'm building websites; two things I'd never even done until a few months ago and now they take up all my time.) I'm so busy in fact that I seem to have given up sleeping. Three days last week I went without sleep and I must have only averaged two hours a day.

FACT: Working nights is bad for you.

I find the best way to get back to normal after nights is to stay busy after the last night - exercise always helps. So three days at Eastnor Castle was just what I needed. And after much head scratching, trail searching, bramble-tripping, branch-flicking, mud-sliding, thorn-pricking, pick-wielding, dirt-shovelling, exploration, I think we have a Mountain Mayhem course! (Well, when I say that, what I mean is we have a slightly less vague idea of where a route should probably go under the right conditions and you can ride all the way round it instead of stopping after only 4 miles, taking off your helmet, throwing your bike down the hill and sitting on the floor crying, whilst mumbling "I hate bikes" over and over again. So that's a bonus.)

I made a quick trip up to Rock Cottage Tuesday. It's lambing season and Tony had invited me over to see the cutesie-wutesie lambs that were only a matter of days, or even hours old! Now, I'm used to walking into Rock Cottage and being pounced on by 10 stone dogs and tripping over various cats, but even I was surprised to see little lambs trotting round the lounge - aaaaaaahhhhh! Hercules, the 10 day old Ryeland was particularly cute, and the two 4 day old hill sheep were particulary stupid, but that's sheep for ya.