Riding the Etape du Tour as a very average cyclist

— This beast was part of a double challenge including RideLondon on 29th July. A group of us are riding to tackle homelessness by raising money for SPEAR – your donations would be massively appreciated! Find out more here —

So, there it is. After months of mildly intense training, very intense worrying and extremely intense consumption of pork pies, the Etape is officially conquered!

170 kilometres long, 4000 metres of vertical gain and temperatures touching 30 degrees meant this was about the hardest thing I have ever done – a sentiment echoed by my equally ill-prepared comrades Harry and Andrew, who raised boatloads of cash for Macmillan. So in no particular order other than that which my still-recovering brain can produce, here are some thoughts and tips for any eejit thinking of doing it next year.

Document from Mark

The lady next to me has absolutely smashed this picture

It’s really hard

No sniggering at the back. This was a very tough event (understatement alert). The distance is one thing, but it’s the climbing that really cranks things up, as well as the heat of an Alpine summer.  You are out there all day, literally – I completed in a majestic 9hrs40 while my buddies rolled in after about 11 hours. I’m a skinny waif and I burned 5000 calories during the ride. 3000 starters didn’t finish. Admittedly the winner did it in 5’15 but presumably they were aided by a good-sized motorbike engine and enough salbutamol to knock out a Tour de France favourite (joking, I am just bitter). I also met a guy later who did it in 6’55, but he had shaved legs and thus I consider him a professional.

It’s a constant battle to stay fed and watered. Hundreds of people were walking the climbs. Things will start to ache that you didn’t know existed. Your soul will hurt. You may occasionally weep uncontrollably, perhaps for example on the final descent, where the combination of blurred vision and going downhill at nearly 50mph really adds a certain je ne sais quoi. You almost certainly won’t want to get on a bike again afterwards, unless you have foolishly signed up for RideLondon shortly afterwards. However…

It’s amazing and you can and should do it!

Pain and misery aside, the Etape was an incredible and rewarding experience. It was a massive challenge, but it’s achievable for anyone who puts their mind to it. It’s extremely well organised, with the same support setup as the actual Tour de France stage which follows a few days later. The crowds of people who line the streets in support all the way are incredible and give you a big boost, and the occasional spray of a hose to cool you down. There’s a great sense of camaraderie among participants; everyone is in the same, painful boat so you help each other out, chat to others, egg each other on and work together to get through it.

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This sort of thing

The setting was nothing short of spectacular. Even on the toughest climbs there were breathtaking mountain views all around which take the edge off the hurt. All the roads are closed which makes a big difference.

At the finish the sense of achievement was really quite overwhelming. Your legs ache, your brain is foggy, you smell, you need new teeth from all the sugar you’ve consumed and you’re bleeding because an insect got into your jersey and tried to eat its way out.

You’re at the bottom of a mountain, but you feel like you’re on top of the world.

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How you pose vs how you feel

Top tips

Train – or don’t. I trained for about 6 months – a couple of short indoor classes at H2 Soho paired with a longer ride at the weekend of 50+ miles. Conversely, Harry did no training whatsoever and still finished 2 hours behind me, albeit by running away from a gendarme who told him he was too late to the last climb and had to get in the ‘recovery vehicle’. So your options are do some training, or disobey the police.

Fuel – I carried 8 energy bars and ate them all. Half a bar every half an hour seemed to work. Learn from my mistake and get more than one type unless you REALLY like the flavour of artificial apples. Clif Bloks were my go to towards the end; they’re like gels except without the sensation of warm bodily fluids. Keep drinking and refill at every feed station. At the stations, drink the Coke they offer and have some sugary or carby stuff, but the ham and cheese platter will not be your friend.

Pace – It’s 4 marathons, not a sprint. If you find yourself pulling a peloton of 100 people at 40kmh in the first 10 minutes, as I somehow did, you have become over-excited and need to calm the eff down. Sit on wheels and save energy. Be sensible on the descents: there are thousands of you and only so much road so there are a few nasty crashes.

Chat – especially going uphill. Talking to other humans drowns out the dark, existential questions in the mind as you go. I met a friendly Dutchman on the first climb and we chatted about pure nonsense for most of the climb until his vastly superior fitness left me for dead. Talking also stops you from over-committing and burning out.

Optimism – generally, but also specifically when you sign up. They’ll ask you for an expected finish time, go for about an hour quicker than you think is realistic. I was perhaps too honest and thus went in the very last wave, meaning loads of standing around, increased threat of getting swept up and more time in the heat of the day. You want to be in a slightly earlier wave if possible, but be a bit careful – too early and you will spend all day being overtaken which can’t be fun.

Chamois cream – if you value or simply want to keep your nether regions.

Loo roll – nature will probably call, and the portaloo or bush you visit probably won’t help you answer. It’s also cheaper than sacrificing your gloves.

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To be clear, they’re the freaks, not me

 

 

 

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Back in the saddle: the Etape 2018

A few years ago, I went through a slightly odd phase of signing up to long distance cycle tours. You may remember the general gist of how these things went – badly. If you don’t, here’s a brief recap:

12 weeks to event – I’ve signed up for this event! It’s 500 miles of mountains, yay!

11 weeks to event – Start of training phase

10 weeks to event – This will be a piece of piss, I did a lap of Richmond park today and it was quite easy

9 weeks to event – End of training phase

8 weeks to event – Tapering and carb loading phase

1 week to event – Dawning realisation of imminent failure. Prayer.

Event – Failure

Repeat annually.

I thought, having passed the cavalier days of my mid/late-20s, that a more sensible side was emerging. Perhaps I could finally accept that, fun though it is, cycling fundamentally does not like me. Perhaps I would find solace in more genteel pursuits like tiddlywinks or endless FIFA tournaments, at peace with my spindly chicken legs and ryvita-based knees.

Perhaps, perhaps.

So to bring you up to speed, the older, wiser me has foolishly signed up for the Etape du Tour in a little under a month’s time.  

Whilst I don’t need to reiterate what a poor decision this was, I will enlighten you with some of the hilarious challenges that this ride will throw my way.

The Etape

The Etape du Tour is an annual one day ‘race’ (lol) which follows the same route as a stage of the Tour de France. More precisely, it follows the ‘Queen Stage’ route of the tour de France, which is a pretty piece of phrasing which actually means ‘hardest stage’. Given that this is meant to be the hardest stage which is meant to test the limits of professional cyclists, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that this is going to be a ‘challenge’. Google suggests that it should be quite easy – top article titles include ‘Etape: the agony and the agony’ and ‘Etape: how much pain can you take?’. So yeah, lots of fun there.

A quick glance at the route confirms and compounds the fear. At 169km it’s already long enough to be a challenge, but what’s really, really going to hurt is the climbing. This year’s edition has a cool 4,017 metres of climbing in the day – put another way, it’s got Box Hill but for 100 kilometres. Just typing that makes me feel quite sick. What the route doesn’t really mention is the nature of the climbs. The Plateau des Glieres is not only an 11% average for 6km, but has a top section which is entirely unpaved, just for laughs. The Col de Romme and the Col de La Colombiere join forces to form a sort of double act from hell right at the end, like Ant and Dec. For context I was once overtaken on the Colombiere by two Americans pushing 70, on touring bikes, not putting in any effort, possibly smoking. I classed that as quite a successful day too.

How we laughed.

Thankfully, I won’t be taking on this challenge alone. As well as 15,00 wiry, angry French cyclists I’m pleased to say that the non-famous, globally un-renowned Mackenzie brothers have also signed up to this suicide pact fun, wholesome event. Together we make a great team, and each bring something different to the group. Harold brings height and a digestive system that could kill an adult moose at 40 paces. Andrew also brings height and an air of mystique, as I have not seen him in the best part of two years. I’m not sure what I bring but I know that it is different to the above. Our team aim is to finish in front of the rather ominously titled ‘recovery vehicle’, i.e. in under 12 hours.

Training

In truth, our group training has been somewhat hit and miss. On one hand, we’ve sent each other a lot of messages about cycling which has surely done some good. On the other, we haven’t been on any actual rides. Harold and I tried to go for a ride but were beset by two minor issues – he had a slight physical issue in that he’s not been on a bicycle in a year and his legs stopped working almost immediately, I had a slight mechanical issue in that my pedals fell off. Overall it went well.

I have been doing some actual training for this, much as that goes against tradition. I can cautiously say that I’m in the best cycling shape ever, although admittedly this is a particularly low bar to beat. As well as the occasional long weekend ride, I’ve started doing a fair amount of indoor cycling (or, y’know, spin as it’s otherwise known). I was a bit apprehensive about indoor cycling as every class seemed to advertise terrifying promises: ‘pumping beats’, ‘mood lighting’, ‘sense of community’. I had visions of suddenly spending all my time lifting small weights above a bike and getting really into kale.

Thankfully, I found H2 in Soho instead, which has been brilliant. All the bikes are hooked up to power meters, so you can actually track your progress against your own abilities. You also gain the ability to instantly become the most boring person in any given room by talking about power, watts and FTP – handy when you want some alone time at a party or family gathering.

Seriously though, this has made a big difference to my fitness as the classes are taught by knowledgeable coaches who consistently push you. It does translate massively to how you cycle on the road. As an example, I went on a weekend trip to the Alps a couple of weeks ago with the ever excellent Traverse Aravis (who are setting up an alpine cycling club by the way) and was pacing up climbs in half the time it took in 2016. As mentioned before, the bar is low so I’m still not fast, but it’s made a difference at least!

Training has been somewhat curtailed in the last couple of weeks due to my bike being stolen. I’ve tried putting on cycling gear and running to Richmond mimicking a cycling action but it hasn’t really worked, so I’m probably moving into the carb-loading and tapering stage. At 4 weeks out I am hitting this perilously late by my own standards. As I understand, my cycling pals are just getting into their training phases now, so we’ll see whose approach works better on the day.

I suspect neither.

Bonus ride

Given how easy the Etape looks, I thought I’d add a Brucie (RIP) bonus and have a crack at the RideLondon 100, which I’ll be taking on alongside some great people to support SPEAR, a homelessness charity based in West London. Harry and Andrew will be riding the Etape to raise money for Macmillan cancer support.

To skip to the obvious destination of the past few sentences, it’d be eternally appreciated if you would like to sponsor either (or indeed both if you’re feeling particularly generous) of these events and the very worthy causes they’re for!

Asking you to pick between fighting homelessness and fighting cancer feels a bit morally iffy, so to make your life easier, just pick link A or link B if that’s easier. Or if you want to choose one specifically, click wildly and randomly on these links until you find what you’re looking for.

Stay tuned for more tales of ineptitude and poor preparation in the coming weeks…

 

Holiday special: Ksamil, Albania

In Corfu, the taxi driver just laughed at us.

“Albania!” He chuckled through his third cigarette of the 20 minute journey. Suddenly serious, he continued. “You don’t go there for holiday, you go for survival. Don’t go out at night, not safe.”

Outwardly I laughed. Inwardly I was mentally leafing through the ferry timetable for earlier return journeys, and wondering whether the two lessons of jiu jitsu I took when I was 8 would be enough to ward off the danger that awaited us.

Needless to say, had I needed to use aforementioned martial arts moves, I would have been immediately killed. Also needless to say, the taxi driver was full of shit. We got there, it was lovely, normally I wouldn’t bother you with the details.

However, given its relative unknown status, especially amongst us Brits, there’s not a great deal of good recent information about Ksamil, we only really heard of it when working out what to do in Corfu and then looking at pretty pictures. So in an attempt to rectify that, here’s what we did.

Getting in

The easiest way to Ksamil is via Corfu. In fact it’s pretty much the only way if you’re coming from western Europe – Albania is not exactly laden with airports. We split our trip between Corfu and Ksamil, with about 5 days in each, and it worked nicely.

There’s a regular ferry between Corfu town and Sarande on the Albanian coast. In the summer months there are 3 or so a day, check out Ionian Seaways for a timetable. We booked tickets on the website, but don’t bother. The price is spectacularly incorrect, you don’t actually pay for the tickets in advance, and you can buy tickets from the port in about 5 minutes from the Ionian office.

Tickets cost about €24 per person one way as of 2017.

The boat takes about an hour for the slower ferry, but it’s a nice trip and dolphins often swim next to the boat – we saw them going out and coming back, and I used my magical camera skills to capture one in all its glory for your viewing pleasure. I think this picture ought to win some sort of award:

Majestic.

On arrival in Saranda/e/ë, whichever you prefer, breeze through passport control and out onto into the port.There’s a taxi rank just to the left on the road (not down the slope), but we didn’t spot this. You can also take a bus if you go right out of the passport office and down to the roundabout with the big tree. I saw two buses in Albania- one of which was large, crisply air-conditioned and generally awesome as far as buses go, and another which looked like the kind of minibus you see burnt out in fields, only in worse condition. Now admittedly the bus is very cheap at 80 Leke (55p), but do you want to take that chance?

We decided to splash on a taxi, and were immediately collared by a man who was fairly insistent that he was a taxi driver. I had my suspicions given that he was almost definitely selling postcards seconds before we turned up, and these suspicions were only heightened when he had to borrow a car from a friend to drive us.

We agreed a fee of €20, which was tantamount to robbery but we admired the man’s hustle. €10-15 is about right, and taxis/random blokes will gladly accept Euros.

It takes about 20 minutes to get from Saranda to Ksamil, and I couldn’t tell you which side of the road cars are supposed to drive on.

On arrival, you’ll notice that you’re not exactly short of hotels to pick from. Apparently owing to a glorious lack of planning, Ksamil has just sort of sprung up all over the place. There are probably more hotels than people. To be honest it’s not a particularly pretty sight – especially as the official response to illegal building appears to be tear down most, but not all of the building, leading to such stunning vistas as this:

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#nofilter

Thankfully, there do seem to be plenty of hotels available that aren’t falling down. We picked Villa Ideal, and were glad that we did. It’s well located about a 5min stroll to the best beaches and town amenities. It’s run by a very friendly family, it’s the cleanest place I’ve ever set foot in, and 4 nights at peak season for a big, comfy room with occasional complimentary lemon ice tea will set you back a princely €130. There’s also a glimpse of sea view and the 3 islands of Ksamil from the balcony:IMAG0872.jpg

 

Stuff to do

Ksamil is famous for its beaches and has the perfect climate for sunseekers. This patch of Albanian coast is only 10 miles from Corfu, so has the same Mediterranean wall-to-wall sunshine and 35 degree heat. The beaches are so famous though that they are consistently rammed throughout July – think Italian-level busy. It’s very much a sunbeds and parasols affair – almost all the beaches are private, but two beds and a parasol for the whole day will only cost you 500 lek (£3.50), so it’s not hideous. The best private beaches we found were in front of Korali and Guvat restaurants. You can also order food and drinks from your lounger and there are lots of men, women and the occasional toddler (genuinely) selling snacks on the beaches, so you can spend an entire day without getting off your arse if that’s your bag.

Busy though they are, the beaches, water and general surroundings are very pretty, and again startlingly clean. There are little islands just off the coast that are in easy swimming and pedalo reach.IMAG0866.jpg

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We prefer a bit of peace and quiet, and this is achievable with a small amount of effort. The islands are almost deserted compared to the beaches. You can either rent a pedalo or hire a man and boat to run you across, or you can swim across yourself (it’s very easy) from the main beaches. Invest in a cheap dry bag (this one worked a treat and was also a good general rucksack) and all of your stuff will bob gently on your back while you serenely float to an island. There are two close by, and a bigger one about another 300m out – swimmable if you’re strong but probably easier to take a boat. We opted for one of the close by pair and more or less had it to ourselves all day:

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If beaches aren’t your thing, how about some history? Butrint National Park, of which Ksamil is a part, contains the ancient Roman city of Butrint. It’s about a 15 minute bus from Ksamil, and the bus runs every hour or so from next to the post office (on the main road close to Tirana Bank, outside a small bakery). It cost us 100 leke for 2 people. Ignore the taxi drivers when they say it takes an hour and goes via Saranda. It doesn’t.

The ruins are really good and definitely worth a day trip and the entry price (700 leke), it’s a huge sprawling city and took us the best part of 4 hours to see everything. On the other side of the lake there are bison roaming about and a chain ferry. Basically it’s all very exciting.

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I think it’s possible to walk to Butrint from Ksamil via a load of olive groves, it should only take an hour and I could see paths from the bus. If anyone wants to share a route of how to do that be my guest…

Eating

Back in Ksamil, there are plenty of food options, and it’s all laughably cheap. The best restaurant we found was Korali, on the promenade bit on the waterfront. The food in Ksamil is pretty heavily influenced by the rest of the Med – lots of fresh seafood and grilled things. We had the seafood platter for two, some starters, three beers each and some raki as a liquid dessert, and that came to the grand total of about 30 Euro. Like everyone we met in Albania, the staff are super friendly and all spoke English.

Guvat, next door, was also nice and did some more pasta and meat type dishes which were pretty good. All of the restaurants double as cafes and beach bars so it’s easy to find beer, wine, coffee etc.

We tended to get breakfast and lunch goods from the small supermarket at the top of town (next to the fast food restaurant). There’s good selections of fruit and snacks. There are also any number of delicious bakeries (Furre I think) which do sweet and savoury baked goods for no money. There’s a great one on the road to the right of the bus stop. Have what everyone else is having, or the chocolate bread, and you won’t go wrong.

Our other favourite, and I’m not ashamed to say this, was the fast food place at the top of town. You can get a delicious pork or chicken souvlaki (with chips actually stuffed into the sandwich – genius), and it will cost less than a pound. And you’ll be delighted. We ate there twice.

Misc

Cash is king. There are two cashpoints but only one takes Mastercard. It’s in the petrol station on the main road (left as you go down the hill). It does charge you 700 leke per withdrawal so use it wisely…if you have a Visa there’s a couple more machines around town, including by the bus stop at Tirana bank.

You can buy ferry tickets from the office at the top of town near the supermarket, this saves you getting in a flap when you get back to Saranda like we did. Hotels should be able to sort out a taxi, or just give you a lift like ours did.

The ability to speak even any words of Albanian goes down a storm, and helps calm some of the crushing embarrassment of being English abroad. We managed to get by with ‘Falemenderit’ (thankyou), ‘Tyeta’ (hi), and ‘Mah falni’ (Sorry). Also ‘Po’ means yes and ‘Yo’ (spelt Jo I think) means no, or vice versa, which isn’t at all confusing.

May, June and mid-August onwards are apparently much, much quieter.

Tirana beer is better than the other beer.

If you’re looking for a sunny holiday that’s a bit different and won’t trouble your bank balance, you won’t go too far wrong with the Albanian Riviera and Ksamil for a few days.

The General Election Player Ratings 2017

As I have literally nothing original to add to this squalid, tawdry election, and certainly nothing that will change any of our bitter, ingrained mindsets, I thought I’d waste some of your valuable time rating various politicians and entities for a few cheap laughs. You’re welcome.

Main leaders

Theresa May – 10/10

Could not have asked for better from the PM. Since calling this election, May has diligently set about the task of tearing down her own facade with surgical precision. A visionary who has elevated the humble gaffe from a misplaced word in a speech to an 8 week rolling barrage of ineptitude.

In all likelihood, will still win, but with reputation permanently damaged. Has displayed so little strong and stable leadership that the party have had to ditch that entirely and try to swing back to Brexit, even rolling out Boris for good measure.

Highlights: Trying to position as the person to defeat terror and reduce immigration, having spent 6 years doing that exact job and achieving precisely nothing. Threatening longer prison sentences for terror offences to deter suicide attacks. The thing with the police. The thing with the elderly. Most of it really.

Jeremy Corbyn – 8/10

Decent man with sensible policies and easy manner proves surprisingly popular. Seems to have startled many, including his own party, by not referring to everybody as ‘comrade’ and proposing collective farms in the manifesto. Has made several high profile errors, admittedly in the 1970s, and this is apparently relevant. Is against nuking people, which is a bad thing. Will not make a good leader because he makes his own jam, listens to others and doesn’t shout constantly.

Highlights: Inspiring the youth, none of whom will vote tomorrow.

Other notable toerags

Diane Abbott – 30,000/10

I based this entire piece around that gag. In hindsight it was not worth it.

Paul Natalie – 2/10

Worse than the above, if that were possible.

The Daily Mail – 10/10

Vintage Mail. 13 whole pages in a single issue dedicated to attacking Labour. Paul Dacre must be on the verge of a heart attack or an orgasm at almost all times, which an image you won’t be able to unsee. His 3 readers must lap it up.

The Guardian – 1/10

Organised a year long hatchet job against Corbyn and then backed him. Who needs enemies when you have friends like these?

The internet, and most of us, including me – 1/10

Rare indeed is the discussion that doesn’t descend into a slanging match. There’s a familiar narrative to most online comment threads about politics in this country. Pro-Labour? Well, you’re living in a fantasy world, your lot are going to crash the economy, and you’re a soft little snowflake. Pro-Tory? Well, you’re scum and you want to murder the poor. Pro-anyone else? Wasting your vote, get out.

Rinse. Repeat.

We need to do better than this really, otherwise the Duplo bricks are going away and you’ll be grounded for a week. Oh, and also all elections will be as interminably miserable as this one forever more as nobody can countenance the merest hint of an opposing view and we all just hide behind our confirmation bias, hurling insults and whatever facts support our blinkered arguments, because there really is no better way to convince somebody you’re right than to call them an arsehole.

All we need to remember is:

Left wing does not equal stupid.

Right wing does not equal evil.

Opposing views can both be right.

We’re still not America.

Happy days.

“Strong, stable leadership”, confirms May

“For the avoidance of doubt, strong, stable leadership”, continued the prime minister. “And if you’re unsure what I mean by that, I mean strong, stable leadership.”

And so it continues. On and on and on. What about the NHS? Strong, stable leadership. Brexit? Strong, stable leadership. What are you having for lunch? Strong, stable leadership. Anything else to add – any policies or stuff like that? Strong, stable leadership.

It’s unclear whether May is following a grand strategy or has simply suffered a stroke, but even by political standards this is getting a bit much. Slogans and soundbites are part and parcel of elections, but there’s a point where ‘message discipline’ starts to look quite a lot like bullshitting. We’re yet to hear anything of substance about what this actually means, as May and her MPs are too busy deflecting questions with this inane, meaningless line.

More than that, it’s actively damaging for people trying to make an informed choice on who to vote for. It’s hard to form opinions on who’s better-placed to take the country forward when the incumbent leader has morphed into Hodor from Game of Thrones.

“Strong, stable leadership”

Labour aren’t exactly succinct in summing up their positions, but at least they have them and try to discuss them, the commie bastards. The Lib Dems are crystal clear on theirs, they just happen to also, fatally, be the Lib Dems. Even UKIP have ‘policies’, sort of, in a kind of ‘shouty drunk family member everyone avoids’ sort of way. But the Tories? Strong, stable leadership.

To combat this in my own increasingly tortured mind, I’ve taught myself a sort of Pavlovian response. Every time I hear ‘strong and stable leadership’, I immediately think ‘Hodor!’, which I figure is equally meaningful. Give it a go. It’s oddly calming.

 

Hodor!

Voters caught between rock, hard place, various pointy objects, and large turd

And that’s exactly where Theresa May wants them.

“Mock my red, white and blue Brexit will you? Fine, but don’t be upset when I CRUSH you”, the Prime Minister probably didn’t say.

But possibly did.

So here we are then. Who do you pick from this cornucopia of idols, this raft of gods made human? Which of the deities on offer shall we humble Brits choose to part the waves of the Channel and give that there Europe what for? In case you’re in any doubt about the runners and riders, here is a quick summary:

  1. Theresa ‘fuck you all’ May – Champion of Tory ‘Battle Royale’ 2016. Victorious through a combination of backstabbing and Andrea Leadsom. Would stab own mother in back for small piece of cheese.
  2. Jeremy ‘fuck all chance’ Corbyn – Principled man with number of well considered policies. Gives balanced answers. As a result, will get annihilated.
  3. Tim ‘who the fuck’ Farron – Your guess as good as mine
  4. Paul ‘fuck off’ Nuttall – Fuck off. Only included him to say fuck off. Fuck off.

However will we pick from such a bountiful harvest? Christ, it makes Sophie’s Choice look easy.

Right, that’s the sweary bit over. Let’s try and extract something useful out of this farce.

On the plus side, this is funny

The reaction to the snap election – presumably called because we don’t have anything more pressing that we ought to concentrate on – has been interesting. If May has achieved nothing else, she has at least succeeded in at last uniting the country, albeit only in a long, weary, apathetic collective groan.

 

One of the biggest dangers of this election could be apathy. It feels like people are tired of politics, of the bickering, the infighting, the lies, the bullshit. I certainly am. A lot of people won’t want to vote for May and her band of Brexiteers’ vision of a future Britain. At the same time, people aren’t exactly going to be rushing to the polls to vote Labour or Lib Dem. We’re sorely lacking in politicians to get behind, politicians to trust and follow. The sentiment of ‘what’s the point, nothing changes, they’re all the same’ feels increasingly commonplace, and is understandable.

That said, I think it’s misplaced. Things do change. Political parties aren’t the same. Votes matter, and who you vote for matters too.

Think back to 2010, when the Tories came to power. Ever heard of a food bank in 2010? Nobody had, because they barely existed. The Trussell Trust gave out 40,000 emergency food supplies that year. By last year, they were giving out in excess of 1,100,000 – an almost 30-fold increase in just 7 years.

Homelessness? Doubled since 2010. Homelessness funding? Halved since 2010.

Can’t get a doctor’s appointment? This government has strangled spending increases in the NHS at an unprecedented rate.

Everywhere you look, public services have been cut for the most vulnerable. People we should value in society – teachers, doctors – are constantly asked to perform the impossible and consistently improve provision on less and less money. Who gets the blame when they can’t pull that rabbit from the non-existent hat? Certainly ain’t the government.

Have the Tories managed to cut the deficit as they promised? Have they fuck. It’s accelerated at a prodigious rate.

People have never felt poorer. More families are in poverty than ever. We’re a meaner, pettier, more hateful society than I can ever recall. We are big on rights and small on responsibilities. We rely on charity to do what the state ought to.

We kiss the arses of the worst men in the world because they might buy some guns off us. Our PM holds hands with the World’s Greatest Dickhead in the hope they’ll trade with us. British values? Please.

But don’t worry, the economy is in good shape. Record numbers of people can’t feed their kids, but hey ho, that’s just the market for you.

All the while, we’ve been merrily letting the richest off their taxes, and letting the most powerful corporations pay barely any tax at all. Given that tax is where the money for those doctors, teachers and other non-essentials comes from, this seems like an oversight at best.

And let’s not even get started on Brexit. What started as an attempt to quell an entirely Tory argument has led the country into a hilarious shitstorm the likes of which may of us have never known. No Tories, no Brexit. Simples.

So it’s wrong to think that votes don’t matter. It’s wrong to think that nothing changes whoever you vote for. Things change, massively – they just don’t change overnight. Now I’m not suggesting that a vote the other way would lead to a glorious Utopia whre we all hold hands and sing songs – but there is a lot in the above that simply would not have happened with a Lib/Lab government. Sure, there would have been other problems, undoubtedly – but I can’t see how we would be in quite such a mess with any other party.

The Labour/Lib Dem options are hardly appealing. But they’re better than what we’ve got at the moment, they could hardly be more damaging. So much as I would like to sit this election out, eating tiramisu with a long spoon, I’m going to vote for one of them. I don’t even mind which – just whoever is stronger in my own constituency. And it will be a wholly joyless experience.

Yay, democracy!

Satire pointless

One of the unexpected downsides of the world going collectively insane is that it affords very little opportunity for comedy.

You’d have thought that the rise of the far right and the various knuckle-dragging goons who represent them would have offered ample scope for a bit of satirical blogging. Apparently not.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few decent gags to be had – you can make about eight solid jokes out of Nigel Farage’s grinning ascent into Trump’s golden tower alone – it’s just that no parody is any weirder than the actual reality.

trump

He’s very happy in the Donald’s shaft

Real events have spun out of control so quickly that lines like “May offers human sacrifices in exchange for Peru trade deal” don’t sound out there enough. “Brexit means cabbage” is probably one of our actual negotiating positions, while “Farage blasts EU gravy train whilst holding two other jobs, one of them in America” is actually true, so there’s no mileage in that.

Not only that, but the characters now ambling around centre stage are so thoroughly dislikeable that they’re almost piss-take-proof. They’re the sort of people you invite to a party but really hope don’t come. Imagine asking who’s coming for dinner and hearing “Theresa May, David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson”. You’d have to burn your house down on the spot, wouldn’t you?

That said, these miserable, boring, joyless bastards have a respectably tight line on discipline and sticking to the party line, so we can expect them to be sticking around for the foreseeable. The right have been peddling some impressive linguistic conjuring tricks of late – none better than the ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ line. Forget alternative facts and fake news, that one is an absolute belter, and it’s well ingrained. In reality the elite are as far from liberal as I am from winning World’s Strongest Man. Ditto with ‘liberal media’ – utter, demonstrable tosh, but effective tosh nonetheless. Hats off to the gits.

All the while the left are doing what we always do – tweeting furiously and fracturing like Ryvita. Labour are involved in an infight to the death, the Lib Dems continue to be the Lib Dems, the Guardian is mainly worried that the polenta you’re eating could be misogynist. None of the above seem to have cottoned on to the fact that there might be bigger issues to worry about right now, and that perhaps a spot of joiny joiny forcey forcey might not be a terrible idea.

All in all it’s been a rather depressing few months, and will probably continue in that fashion for some time.

On the plus side, Netflix is putting out some great shows right now. So we’ve always got that until Trump blows up the internet.