Jun.21, 2015, filed under Planet Sam
It’s Solstice, which means I should have just finished riding from Kirkcaldy to Aberdeen, but a medial collateral ligament injury put paid to that. It’s also Father’s Day and my Dad’s birthday.
Last year was the first of his birthdays he missed, and things were so raw it was a speed bump in an ongoing road of sadness. This year it has been harder. The run up to Father’s Day, with the endless advertising to remind me of what we’ve lost, has been more difficult to handle than I predicted. There are all these things I want to share with him. My first pro sale as a writer. Our new house and my somewhat small dream of being able to host the family for Christmas in a home that we own and is big enough to accommodate them. His excitement and happiness on meeting my niece, his first grandchild.
I’m sad because we were only just starting to make up for all the years I was away and barely had opportunity to speak to him, never mind spend time with him; because I have scant few happy memories of him to treasure after the age of 16; because we had plans to do something about that which will forever remain plans.
I’ve cried a lot, at random, occasionally in awkward places, and hidden it not just out of that deep British reticence when it comes to expressing emotions or seeing them expressed, but because it’s deeply personal and he wouldn’t have wanted me to be sad.
This too shall pass.
A few years back we were riding the Dumb Run and it was his birthday on the Sunday, as it is this year. The route took us past my parents’ house and I made everyone stop so I could post a birthday card through the letterbox. In it was a nonsense poem about sorry to have missed him, but I didn’t want to wake him up because it was 6am and:
…we are just passing through
on a bicycle ride from Dumbarton to St Andrews
Missing you today, Dad. Missing you every day.
As yet, communication is still reliant on either voice contact or a mobile signal that never improves beyond General Packet Radio Service.
Great news! After much patient discussion with the choirs of internet angels, we are to be reconnected to the virtual world on Wednesday the 29th of this month. This is later than we had hoped, but earlier than I have come to expect from previous experience of reinstating such nebulous lines of communication with the outside world. Better yet, the connection will be one of these ultra-modern, exceedingly quick affairs I have previously seen advertised on the moving picture box, but not experienced for myself. A wonderful woman called Christine explained to me that the standard copper cables in this part of the world had proved so inferior to the company quality standard, the company had taken the decision to replace them.
Such is the speed of this new connection, which I understand is made of some type of silk — Christine used the term fibre, and as this is for connecting to the web one is led to infer it must be extruded from the abdomen of some kind of arthropod, perhaps perforce, as one cannot imagine such a thing being domesticated — we are obliged to replace our now antiquated equipment with new equivalents. No more tin can attached to string, although one cannot help but note that string is also a type of fibre.
A conversation with another angel, this one from the choir of appliances, has produced an appointment with an engineer to whom the relevant spare parts for our oven have already been dispatched. In less than a fortnight we should once again have full use of our cookery station, and I greatly look forward to our first fresh loaf of bread in what is now month. A mere two days after that a gentleman from a nearby town is arriving to sweep our chimneys and inspect the wood burner with a view to offering a quote for repair.
With the arrival of a replacement steam generator, and these appointments in place, we can see the end of the initial phase of transition. By the end of this week we hope to have removed all trace of our presence at our previous locale, lest our enemies use it to find us and wreak terrible and unjust revenge for imagined slights.
I have now acquired the relevant maps for the new location, and have undertaken a small amount of exploration. The velocipedes are eager to exercise, disappointed as they are that riding to and from work each day is now an impossibility. There may be a compromise involving utilising the railway service for part of the trip, but that experiment is for a later date.
My mother has been to visit, presenting us with a magnificent birdbath. She knows how important it is to us that we rapidly form excellent relationships with the local wildlife, our first line of defence. Already the resident blackbird, a fine fellow called Edgar, has shown his appreciation for this wonderful and thoughtful gift.
I think we could be very happy here.
Day 5 of no internet and but intermittent mobile signal.
Spiders, woodlice and centipedes have accompanied us on the move and already find new homes in the crevices and corners. Thus far no mice or rats. We have reason to believe the semi-feudal rodent society in our previous abode had reached the terminal stage of decadence. Chocolate and sunflower seeds turned gateway substances to pharmacy grade drugs, which proved, ultimately, to be too much for their tiny, furry bodies. All that remains is a stained skirting board and faint regret about man’s inevitable and inseparable influence on nature.
Our bodies are broken and weary from physical labour. Every strange noise sounds as if an alarm call of something wrong we did not notice when viewing the property. I would be unsurprised to find a crackling tape of a hitherto unknown language concealed beneath a floorboard, and can only trust I would have the sense not to play more than enough to recognise the hazard.
There is evidence the previous occupants hid their penchant for animals and cigarettes under a layer of hastily applied paint. We find feathers and fur in unusual places, wiring duct-taped as if bound for kidnapping, strange marks on and gaps in the skirting.
The stove, too — a great iron beast that has been dirtied and cracked, its interior parts disintegrated from application of heat more intense than it was intended to endure. One wonders what was burnt in there that required so intense a flame. The imagination sets forth down many twisted paths and recoils, peering out from behind parted fingers in ghoulish fascination.
The dishwashing appliance — Oh triumph of modern engineering! — is usable after focused cleaning. The laundry device is functional, but the rubber seal is encrusted with the dehydrated fossil of some black ichor I have thus far been unable to remove. One can only hope it is not the oocyst colony of some terrible, carnivorous slime mould. I almost wept in discovering the steam generator I acquired for such eventualities was defective.
The oven is worse news. Although there is power, the switch on this futuristic, overly complicated machine does not function. I lack sufficient learning to tackle the repair myself. It may require a specialist engineer, an expense for which we had not planned.
More later. I have distracted myself for long enough from the trial of unpacking.
Sep.20, 2014, filed under Miscellany
I’ve been silent on the issue, and will remain so as far as which way I voted — that being a matter between me and my ballot paper — as there is a political sensitivity to my day job profession. As a writer, it has been an interesting experience, to be both part of the process but also, because I was obliged to remain apart from the arguments, to be an outside observer.
I’m with Irvine Welsh, as much as I’m with anyone. No matter which way you voted, no matter how you feel about the outcome, what was achieved was almost 100% voter registration and a massive 85% turn-out. The one thing no one can accuse Scotland as a nation of being is apathetic or disengaged.
I’m distressed to see people I know posting insults about “No” voters, accusing them of being traitors or feart*. The one thing that really would see Scotland as a nation lose from this exercise is if the population were to be split down the middle, with one half hating the other. As the campaign went on, and the polls came out, I knew only one thing was certain: whatever happened, approximately half the population was going to be extremely upset and pissed off by the result.
I didn’t need hindsight for that.
I hope, with every fibre, that this split does not come to characterise our nation as we move forwards. I don’t think this matter is settled. As the promises of three old Etonians, made in their panicked run-up to the referendum without any backing from Westminster, crumble to dust in the cold light of the morning after — as we all knew they would — there is every chance that Scotland will see another referendum before this generation has made way for the next.
There are already disappointed Yes campaigners organising themselves to go again, and do it better this time.
I’d make a plea, to anyone trying to fathom how it is someone could have voted differently from them, whether Yes or No, to bear some things in mind. These are things I learned during my years of cycle campaigning, things that were often ignored by my fellow campaigners.
- DO accept that other people have different opinions from you, and it’s not because they are bad people; it’s because they have reached a different conclusion from you after assessing the evidence available to them.
- DON’T assume you know the reasons why people who feel differently from you feel that way. If you could see valid reasons for them to feel that way you might feel the same. You will therefore be forced to imagine invalid reasons for them to take that position, which will only lead to arguments and frustration.
- DO try to engage with people who feel differently from you, and do so in a constructive and open manner. It might be worth starting with what they thought of the question they were being asked in the first place. For a great many people, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is neither straightforward nor easy to answer.
- DON’T assume people who were quiet about their decisions will give you a heartfelt answer when asked why they feel the way they do. There is a degree of peer pressure and fear of judgement when it comes to positions that have a social impact. Everyone has a Social Survival Mammoth, and for a great many, it’s the mammoth answering the questions. People are more likely to answer honestly about their primary reason for their opinion to those who feel the same way, because additional reasons for feeling that way will cement their acceptance in that peer group. If asked by someone who takes an opposite stance, people will probably give one or more of the commonly reported responses.
- DO stay positive and keep agitating for change. This wasn’t, no matter what the media might say, an overwhelming outcome. Very nearly half of all those living in Scotland voted to leave the UK. That’s a near miss, not a routing.
- DON’T be surprised by a catankerous old boys network hurling scorn and reneging on last minute promises. Politics has become a hive of playground tactics, and the only surprise should be that they haven’t yet yanked their shirts over their heads while running around with their arms out as if doing an impression of a fat aeroplane.
- DO try to remain civil, open, understanding, non-judgemental, co-operative and forward-looking, no matter how hard it is. Defeatism is the last thing we need. The No voters didn’t vote that way because they are traitors; nor did the Yes voters. Fear characterised much of the campaigning on both sides: if it had gone the other way, plenty could have said it was because Scots were afraid of being forced to leave Europe, or losing the NHS. As it is, there are those saying the No vote came about because selfish people were afraid of losing their pensions. It’s just not that straightforward.
- DON’T let what happens next be informed by spite, bitterness, hate or revenge.
Rather than focus on what might have been, let’s look at what we can do to make things better now. At the end of the day, that was what the No campaign promised: “Better Together”. Well, okay then. For a whole host of reasons, slightly more than half of the people of Scotland believed that was true, or at least more plausible than better apart.
Never mind the details for the moment. Just think on this: while the Scottish referendum was decided by the 5 million people north of the border, the rest of the world was watching. If, in fact, “Better Together” turns out to be fabricated entirely from tissue paper and lies, false promises and wishful thinking, a dying sense of empire and an archaic, tight-fisted grasp on historical precedent, then what are the 56 million other British people going to think of promises made to them?
This has been a wake up call. Let’s make the most of it.
*Please don’t assume this tells you how I voted.
bench fat /bɛn(t)ʃ fat/
Unwanted weight gained by an athlete when taking a break from training as a result of injury or illness. Caused by the failure of permanom to go away and bacon to cease existing just because training has been suspended. Not to be confused with normal, healthy weight gain that occurs when an endurance athlete stops training so goddamned much she barely has time to brush her hair in the morning. Neither should it be used pejoratively. This term is reserved for athletes to vent about the frustrations caused by being unable to participate in one’s sport.
Aug.10, 2014, filed under Word Guide
witching hour /ˈwɪtʃɪŋ ˌaʊə(r)/
22:00 hours (10pm) local time. All bicycle repairs should be completed by this time. Any repair or fettling taking place later than this has a substantially increased risk of going terribly, horribly, dreadfully wrong. Replacing bar tape will result in severed brake cables, spoke tensioning will result in pringled wheels, etc. The only exceptions are emergency repairs carried out while on a ride that is not due to finish until later than this time.
#1 in a new series of random definitions.
permanom /’pɜr mə nɒm/
A hunger that exists perpetually, without significant change, no matter how much food is eaten. Generally assumed to arise from significant daily calorie expenditure. Can continue for a significant period after daily exercise has stopped (c.f. ‘bench fat’). Makes all foodstuffs more appetising, especially bacon.
I know I owe a couple of race reports, however let’s ignore the triathlons for a moment and reflect on this year’s inaugural Aberdeen Assault.
I posted about it previously — as is usually the case with LGC events, the route was carefully thought-out, considered in detail and ridden in advance to ensure it would be enjoyable, pleasant and practical.
Oh, no it wasn’t. They never are. All LGC event planning consists of me, some maps, Google, a few G&Ts and an over-riding sense of, “Fuckit, what’s the worst that could happen?”
I arrived at Kirkcaldy station on my recently polished Pinarello (that’s not a euphemism), where I met with my two intrepid companions, M & V. They admired my bike (who wouldn’t?) while I availed myself of the facilities in the Platform 1 waiting room, knowing that all the coffee I’d been drinking that day would mean I was going to be counting the miles to the next set.
It was M’s first night ride, first century, first ride on a new saddle. It was V’s first overnight century. It was my first ride of more than 30 miles in about 3 years. What could possibly go wrong?
Not much, as it happens. M & V showed an odd lack of desire to stop at The Ceres Inn for a wee dram, even though it was a beautiful evening and the beer garden looked friendly. (Can any Dumb Runners imagine not stopping at the Kirkhouse? It would be weird and wrong.) Dura Den was interesting — it has been closed to motor traffic ever since floods took out the road, but when I checked on the Fife Council website there was no listing for it, so I thought it would be open. Friends confirmed that it was closed to cars but bikes could get through. When we got there, the big concrete barriers left just enough room for a bike to squeeze onto what’s left of the road, and the signs saying “DANGER, KEEP OUT, UNSTABLE GROUND” lent a frisson of excitement. Bats swooped around our heads as we picked our way nervously past the orange fence lining the devastation, the gloom enhancing the prickling sense of moist verticality off to our left.
The waterfall, sadly, was invisible behind thick, verdant vegetation, but we could hear it.
Onwards, then, and up to Tayport and thence the Tay Bridge. I was pretty glad for V’s familiarity with the roads here — the car park I was expecting to appear on the right turned out to require a left turn first, so I’ll be adding that note to the route sheet for next year.
We stopped at the big Tesco’s on Riverside Drive for a rest break, where M bought snaplights and I bought beef jerky (having come amply provided with snaplights). After a slow start we’d got back on my tentative schedule, and were feeling good.
Swooshing through Broughty Ferry, we passed a few Herberts who had been pulled over by the police. I wasn’t sure if they’d been stopped for speeding or if it was a stop-point for random breathalyser tests. I asked the woman officer if we should stop too, but she waved us on. We were then onto the only part of the route where I wasn’t 100% sure of my directions, and, as always when the turn isn’t familiar, it seemed to take longer than I was expecting to reach the turn onto the Arbroath road.
There we found ourselves on a dual carriageway, but at 1am, in a group of three, with serious amounts of rear lighting, it was perfectly safe and probably one of the most enjoyable sections. Straight, clear, fast, and with the refreshing nocturnal chill that leaves your skin feeling like a shell over the thermonuclear core of your exercising metabolism. I love that feeling, and it’s one of the many reasons I do overnight centuries.
We stopped briefly on entering Arbroath to add some layers, as the chill was starting to become less enjoyable. M set his helmet down on the wall there, which was to have unexpected consequences later.
On the Dumb Run it was always dark, but with a faint orange glow just above the horizon. On this route the sun was a dirty stop out, and it didn’t ever get properly dark. We took the required jelly baby shot at 3am in Montrose, and the sky in this shot is only a little lighter than it had been an hour before:
I’d raced in Montrose only a few weeks previously, and had driven home via most of the route we intended to take from here, so we were back on familiar roads. We stopped again just outside Montrose to answer the call of nature, more bats flitting around our heads. I disturbed a badger in the undergrowth (sorry!) and M made a terrible discovery: when he took his helmet off there were slugs on his head. It would seem they’d hitched a ride in Arbroath. I don’t think they expected to end up the other side of Montrose.
The next section was a beautiful, undulating coast road up past St. Cyrus and Johnshaven, with bunnies fleeing from the verges. Into Inverbervie, then the slow climb up to the dual carriageway before a right turn and a fast, twisty descent into Stonehaven. Although Frood had agreed to come and bring us breakfast in Stonehaven, we agreed to press on in an effort to make it to Aberdeen before the rain hit.
The climb out of Stonehaven was the only serious climb of the ride. I made it with some swearing, and waited for M and V to catch up. M was suffering by this stage, not being the kind of person who routinely stays up all night (see, there are advantages to being an insomniac). V had gone into motivational mode, and I followed suit. I confess to a few little fibs about the lack of uphill bits in the next section (I’d never ridden it, but I knew we’d just done the only hard ascent, so the rest of it couldn’t count as proper hills). But we didn’t have far to go, and the rest of it was relatively easy.
Through the drizzle and the odd early morning lorry overtake, then down and down onto the South Deeside Road, where it was a flat run straight through to the beach. At the first sign that said “Beach” I started yelling “BEEEEEACH!” and kept yelling it every couple of minutes as encouragement, while biting back the urge to sprint hell for leather for the end.
We arrived at the Pirate Dolphin to find Frood waiting with bready comestibles and hot coffee, the absolute superstar.
Why do I do these things? It’s for that sense of cold skin around a hot inside. It’s for the banter. It’s for sights you would never see otherwise — noctilucent clouds above skittering bats, rabbits bouncing white and brown up the hillsides, hares accelerating across a field, a grown man wiping slugs from his head, crows calculating whether it’s worth stepping away from roadkill to let you by, bike lights shattering in dawn rain. It’s for the nocturnal silence broken only by the huff of breath and the ticking of freewheels, the hum of tyre on tarmac. It’s for running around a major supermarket at midnight in skintight lycra and socks, and no one paying a blind bit of notice because anyone shopping at midnight on a Saturday is a bit out of the ordinary anyway.
I do it because I get a primal sense of satisfaction from turning the pedals for hours on end. This ride provided all these things, and I’m definitely doing it again.
It’s a great ride, and with the regular Dumb Run crowd I reckon it would be a fast one. It’s an easier route, the scenery is fabulous, the midnight sun amazing, there are more bridges and the roads are quieter. It’s on a par with the Dun Run in terms of ride effort, and although we rolled to the finish at around 07:30, I think you could get to the end by 06:00 with fewer stops and more experienced riders.
I don’t know that I’ll never do the Dumb Run again — anyone who wants to do it can pitch up at LGC and ask for the route sheet, we don’t mind) — but the difference in light means that the Aberdeen Assault is now my favoured Overnight Summer Solstice Century.
Next year it will be on Saturday the 20th June at 8:30pm (20:30). See you there!
In previous years, we’ve done the Dumb Run, and it has been good. It has been great. I have splendid memories from those rides, from Will yelling “WILDFLOWERS AND SHAME” at the sleeping citizens of Linlithgow at 3am, to the little guy in hi-viz who threw a total hissy fit at us for taking pictures of jelly babies on the Forth Road Bridge at 4am.
But this year is different. This year I don’t have the motivation to ride a train all the way to Dumbarton, ride a bike to St Andrews, then ride in a car all the way back up to Aberdeen again. Frood doesn’t have the motivation to drive all the way down to St Andrews at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, just so we can have coffee and beer at the side of a golf course. He’s not keen on being the calamity wagon if it’s going to take him 3 hours just to get there.
So we’re changing.
If this is as nice a ride as I think, this is likely to become my replacement overnight Solstice Century. Most of the people who have done the DR in the past are either east coast folks or have been staying with me as a guest, so this is equally convenient. Aberdeen has better transport connections for the return trip than Leuchars, and the scenery will be much better.
I’ll report back and let you know how we get on.
May.17, 2014, filed under Planet Sam
My Dad. Scientist, engineer, aquanaut, racing driver, yachtsman, adventurer, philanthropist. Ambitious, driven, restless, passionate, romantic, generous.
I mean ‘hero’ in the sense of Odysseus battling gods and monsters across the sea in his quest to return to Penelope and Telemachus. When I was young, he was this amazing figure who was as handy in a laboratory as he was under the bonnet of a car, and as useful under the sea as he was helming a boat over it. He encouraged me to participate in things most girls were too busy swooning over boy bands or collecting Cindy accessories to consider — I dived, sailed, snorkelled, beachbombed on uninhabited islands. I learned to track, to fish, to build fires.
He taught me to be independent: to have faith in my ability to learn new skills and look after myself. To be sensible and pragmatic in unfamiliar and scary situations. To think critically and not panic when things don’t go to plan. I wasn’t pressed into pretty pink dresses or told I was going to be a princess; my parents gave me wetsuits, snorkelling gear, ski lessons, a sailing dinghy. He gave me the support and encouragement I needed to step outside my comfort zones and rely on my own strength to get me through. It is possibly the most valuable lesson a father can give his daughter: to stand up for herself and know she can be strong and has the intelligence to work out solutions to her problems herself.
He raised and cultivated a family of do-ers, but do-ers who were also thinkers. My brother and I had an amazing childhood, and my Mum has never been the kind to sit in a kitchen discussing cakes and knitting while the men smoke cigars and talk about cars. Like all true heroes, he expected those who stood and worked with him to be loyal, courageous, practical and clever, and helped them achieve it.
Above all else, beneath all else, running through all else like butter gluing pastry layers in a mille feuille, I’ve always wanted to make my family proud, and never to disappoint them. This has been the compass in my cockpit, helping me navigate life. I have looked up to my Dad with the kind of hero worship young girls reserve for celebrities and women leave behind as they age.
Despite of, or perhaps because of, his foibles, imperfections and frailties, I never left it behind.
I owe him more than I can possibly recount, and he will always set the standard to which I hold myself.
My Dad died in a motor-racing accident at the Jim Clark Revival at Hockenheim, on 11th April, and while the phrase “he died doing what he loved” is of little comfort to those who have to carry on without him, in this case it is very true.
I am extraordinarily grateful to the people from the motor-racing community, both British and international, who came forward to support my Mum and my brother during that difficult time. A more generous, kind, thoughtful bunch of people I’m not sure you could meet. Their help and contributions, big and small, made a very difficult time that little bit less so. The friends and family who have given us their support and a steady shoulder are hugely appreciated by all of us.
I’m also grateful to all those who came to the funeral. It made me incredibly proud of my Dad, to see so many come to pay their respects. My thanks to those who gave so generously in support of the RNLI in his memory — it meant a lot.
I’ve written several poems in my efforts to navigate this experience, but none of them does justice to the man, nor is a tenth as good as the piece my Mum wrote. The following poem was left in the book of condolences. It’s by Adam Lindsay Gordon and expresses something I will set next to my compass in memory of my hero.
Though the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill
Too oft gets broken at last,
There are scores of others its place to fill
When its earth to the earth is cast;
Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,
But lie like a useless clod,
Yet sooner or later the hour will come
When its chips are thrown to the sod.
Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,
When the vessel is crack’d and old,
To cherish the battered potter’s clay,
As though it were virgin gold?
Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,
Though prudent and safe you seem,
Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,
And mine by the dazzling stream.
Dr Al Fleming
21 June 1944 – 11 April 2014
(Photograph courtesy of John Allan, used with permission.)