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…

 

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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.

Labour confusing words again

The Labour Party – Britain’s premier right of centre left wing political party – has started mixing up its words and phrases again.

As the Labour leadership election contest heats up, many prominent bigwigs have become somewhat lost in the moment and completely lost track of their vocabulary.

The most obvious and oft-repeated mistake of recent days has been the use of the word ‘credible’, where in fact the phrase ‘an utter bastard’ ought to have been deployed.

Key examples include:

labour

 

As well as a fairly widespread attempt to label frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn as “not credible”. In a lightly more complex misunderstanding, many big beasts within the party have apparently, somehow, been using the word ‘electable’ in place of the common phrase, “exactly like the Tories, except wearing a red tie”. Journalists recently recorded a conversation between Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson which shows how commonplace this mis-speech has become:

Blair: This Corbyn fellow – do we think he’d make a good leader?

Mandelson: Well, let’s see. He’s had about 60% of the vote in his constituency for the last 32 years so he must be doing something right.

Blair: That’s good – is he credible though?

Mandelson: No. He’s not a fan of having a large and costly arsenal of those vital nuclear weapons we so desperately need, he’s against selling off literally everything we have, and for some reason he doesn’t think migrants are the cause of all of our problems.

Blair: This sounds bad. I dread to ask, but which countries does he want to bomb?

Mandelson: None of them Tony. None at all. Not even the really oily ones.

Blair: Sweet lord. Please tell me he’s at least electable Peter?

Mandelson: That’s just the thing Tony – I’ve never even seen him in a tie.

Blair: Well this could be a total disaster, we’ll never attract the UKIP vote with that kind of attitude. Tell you what, let’s use our overwhelming publicly popularity to speak out and bury this rabble rouser.

Mandelson: Great idea. And if for some unthinkable reason that doesn’t work, let’s suggest we cancel the election altogether until Corbyn dies and we get a leader who is credible. That would send a great message and not make us look even remotely stupid.

Blair: You’ve still got it Peter. Now, which one of these orphans should we kick next?

Labour does have form in this area – most notably during the reign of Blair when they started using the term ‘has millions of massive nuclear weapons pointed at us RIGHT NOW’ in place of ‘is totally unarmed’ – so this latest episode is not altogether surprising.

Perhaps Corbyn’s radical ideas are just too scary for many to contemplate – a more equal society, a move away from the pursuit of naked profit at all costs, pointing out that perhaps all the money doesn’t need to be shared between about 4 people, spending more cash on schools than on massive tanks – these are all things that surely no ordinary voter could ever align to.

We don’t need a genuine alternative to right wing politics in the UK. What this country surely needs is a Labour party headed by an identikit politician that works hard for the rich and the middle classes, shows a bit of flirtatious ankle to our hard-working billionaires, and installs a death ray that sweeps over Calais roughly every fifteen minutes.

If they don’t fight for these necessities, who will?

Glastonbury ‘just a muddy version of your office’

Revellers arriving at Glastonbury for days of inebriated mayhem have been shocked to discover that all of their colleagues are there too.

An air of tension hangs over Worthy Farm as festival goers try to reconcile the urge to consume as many narcotics as will fit in them with the need to not expose any genitalia to their line manager, who is camped seven yards away.

Entire reporting lines have sprung up accidentally all over the site, with attendance particularly high among those who claim to work in new media, management consultancy or any form of tech startup. Farringdon is reportedly empty at present.

The situation is especially awkward for the 78% of people who are have told their peers that they are working from home or attending a conference, with many trying to cover their backs by wandering the site and repeating the phrase “this immersive residential course is really going to help me pitch my brand to millenials” to every passer by they encounter.

Networking

“This immersive residential course is really going to help me pitch my brand to millenials”

Festival organisers have expressed fears that the inherently twattish culture of the modern British workplace is having a negative effect on the festival.

“We are worried, yes”, admitted organiser Stephanie Sinclair. “Last night there were only 9 people watching Florence + The Machine on the main stage, while we had almost a quarter of a million attempting to watch one woman talk about why Powerpoint is dead and all your deliverables should be presented in the form of contemporary dance. It might be innovative but it’s not exactly Glasto is it?

“What even is a deliverable anyway? I swear these people just make up words.”

Sinclair did concede that there was some common ground between the spirit of the festival and the corporate hordes who attend it.

“There are literally boatloads of drugs, which is obviously a big part of this whole thing. We’re also pretty sure that Kanye West will be a sellout – when he plays music they all start turning to their friends and screaming “THIS IS MY JAM”, thousands of them at a time. I find this confusing, as they’re rarely actually holding jam at the time.”

It is unclear whether behaviours observed at the festival will impact on workers’ day jobs, although there would surely be mass support for any quarterly review that reads: ‘Overall, Gary’s work has been exemplary, but I did see him chewing a tent pole at Glastonbury. I, however, thought I was a dragon and was wearing only ski goggles at the time, so I’m willing to overlook it on this occasion.’

Meanwhile, Sinclair and her team will have to work out how to attract a more diverse crowd to next year’s event.

“We charge hundreds of pounds for ticket, we open the phone lines at 10am – yet we keep ending up with crowds of people who loads of cash and jobs that don’t sound real.”

“I just don’t get it.”

District Line gains sentience, turns feral

In a terrifying turn of events, it has been confirmed that London’s least reliable Tube line has become a living entity and is refusing to obey its TfL overlords unless a string of bizarre demands are met.

The line, characterised by carriages which pre-date stainless steel and a ragtag collection of empty stations with fancy names, has never been the most efficient of rail networks, but since the turn of the year its behaviour has become erratic to the point where scientists have been able to prove that it has indeed developed feelings, a soul, and the mental capacity of a senile horse.

I have borne witness to these strange unfoldings and can report the following additional features to the service:

Laziness  – The new District Line has yet to grasp the concept of a timetable, adamantly believing it to be a sturdy piece of furniture made of clocks. This means that trains now arrive simultaneously or not at all, as though all the trains have been sent out at once like a massive metal snake. Whilst TfL still insist that your service will arrive at 5,15,25 past the hour etc., the new schedule is random and is currently closer to 3,3,3 and tomorrow past the hour.

All trains lead to Richmond – Much as with the schedule, the neat rotation of destinations is a thing of the past. The thinking District Line has decided that Richmond is very much the place to be and cannot be convinced otherwise. It is said to find the cobbled streets and wildly overpriced boutiques a delight. The pattern that used to run Wimbledon, Richmond, Ealing Broadway now reads Richmond, Richmond, Richmond, and the only services to Ealing occur when controllers can distract the line with a delicious biscuit and quietly change the sign on the front of the train. This happens roughly once an hour.

Will almost certainly go to Richmond instead

Will almost certainly go to Richmond instead

Whimsy

The renewed focus on Richmond as the centre of the District Line’s universe has begun to force out other information taking up space in the network’s mind-carriage which it deems unimportant, such as where it’s meant to go. This morning, while managing to remember the way to Ealing Common, we got somewhat waylaid when the District Line was distracted by a Piccadilly Line train, which it finds highly sexually attractive. Something about the rounder trains and the ability to go into deep tunnels and to Uxbridge leave the District Line all hot and bothered. Unfortunately this meant that our train followed its sexy prey all the way to North Ealing, instead of Ealing Broadway, before the driver was able to wrestle it back under control (I shit you not, this genuinely happened today). In fairness the driver did a wonderful job with his explanation – a masterstroke of brevity – “This train will terminate here”. He left all manner of tantalising questions unanswered, questions like ‘Why?’, ‘How?’ and ‘Isn’t this station on a different line?’

It’s rumoured that unless TfL get a handle on the situation, and let’s face it, they won’t, we can expect this disturbing new beast to continue to act up. Rumours suggest that the District Line has written down a bucket list which it repeats to itself daily in a sort of chant. Items include ‘Punch Victoria Line’, ‘Build new station between Stamford Brook and Ravenscourt Park’ and the more worrying entries of ‘Parkour’ and ‘Joust’.

The only hope TfL have of taming the beast is to wait until it’s briefly out of service, suspended or otherwise not working and administer a series of massive electric shocks to regain control of the line. Ironically, thanks to its own continued incompetence (or as it prefers, tube improvement works), Transport for London will have the opportunity to do this on most weekends, all bank holidays, and really the vast majority of the working week.

It will only be a five minute job, so they’ve committed to having it done by late 2018.

UKIP song heralds hilarious new era of political broadcasts

Nigel Farage and his band of people who are only saying what everyone else is thinking would like everyone to know that they have an MP and a song and they’re going all the bloody way to Downing Street.

Well it works for Vladimir

Well it works for Vladimir

The party, with an average gender of man, and average skin colour of white and an average emotional state somewhere between drunk and angry, have grabbed headlines in the past week by overcoming all odds and gaining an MP in a constituency where their candidate was already the MP, but used to be in another party. If they were on a football team, they would be the equivalent of Santiago Vergini.

Just wanted an excuse to get that in, sorry.

To celebrate snaring approximately 0.2% of the seats in parliament, supporters of the new force in British politics immediately released a song with such classic pop themes as the work pension scheme, tax on the minimum wage and an old white bloke who supports a far right party singing in a Jamaican accent. I’m not going to link to it because it’s one of the more cringeworthy things I’ve ever forced myself to sit through, but suffice to say I thought it was a piss take for quite a long time.

UKIP are now of the opinion that it’ll get to number one, which should give you a fairly good idea of the kind of minds attracted to the organisation.

What they have done, I hope, is ushered in a new dawn of political broadcasts through the glorious medium of song. Whilst undeniably a flying pile of wank, it is still infinitely more watchable than any party political broadcast that has ever been created. For the uninitiated, they go like this:

Scene 1: Fade in – Person who is nothing like you: “I am just like you.”

Scene 2: Person visits old person or minority, talks about something abstract which they then shoehorn back to their party

Scene 3: Party leader says something, slow mo of leader with ‘normals’ to show that they’re down with real people

Scene 4: Smiles, music, fade out. VOTE FOR US.

I feel like these inane 4 minute wastes of airwaves could be jazzed up a bit if everybody went down the musical route. As a starter for 10, for any political PR types reading, I’ve come up with a verse or two for each of the big 3. I think these would go down a storm and also convey key party ideologies, so feel free to use them.

Conservatives – to the tune of You’re Beautiful by James Blunt – sung by David Cameron

My life is brilliant, my funds secure,
I saw a poor man,of that I’m sure.
He smiled at me in my Jaguar,
he was sitting in a van,
but I won’t lose no sleep on it, ’cause I’ve got a plan.
 
We’ll kill them all,
We’ll kill them all,
We’ll kill them all, it’s true.
I can’t stand folk, who are just flat broke,
And I don’t know what to do,
But I do know I don’t like you.
 

Labour – to the tune of Hello by Lionel Ritchie – sung by Ed Miliband

Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?
What do you mean you don’t know who I am? I’m Ed Miliba…hello? Hello? 
Ed? Balls. They’ve hung up.
 

Lib Dems – to the tune of Help! by the Beatles – sung by Nick Clegg

Just the chorus, sung over and over again, maybe with a couple of sobs thrown in for good measure. 

“Thank you for travelling on the Central line”

Eh?

Did that actually happen? Right, status check: Am I still asleep? No. Am I drunk? No. Is the body odour emanating from the man whose armpit I’m now inhabiting causing me to hear things? It’s possible, but normally there are more dancing rabbits by this point.

No, my ears did not deceive – a mode of transport just thanked me for choosing it.

I’m not sure how many of you have experienced the joy of any tube line at morning rush hour, but choice is a concept that is far removed from such an environment. Unless you’re into being half-crushed by leaking strangers in a box that makes a clown car look roomy, it’s very unlikely that you’ve expressed a strong consumer preference to travel on the Central line.

That’s not to say there aren’t options. There are certainly options. I’ve even tried some, a personal highlight being the bus, which assured me it was a 40 minute journey and then proceeded to take two bloody hours. Cycling won’t get me killed but will make me unsuitably sweaty for a work environment which is distinctly lacking in showers. Walking is a stretch at 5 and a bit miles. So yes, in one way I am choosing to travel on the Central line, but in another, much more realistic sense, of course I’m fucking not. Allow me to paint a word picture:

Person: “I’ve chopped my arm off by accident.”

Doctor: “I can see that.”

Person: “Can you help?”

Doctor: “I can. But first I’d just like to thank you for choosing our hospital today. It really means a lot to us that you’ve chosen to have your gushing, terrifying wound treated here.”

Person: “But the next nearest hospital is 30 miles away.”

Doctor: “I know, but still, you’re a valued customer.”

Person: “I really am losing quite a lot of blood.”

That is the kind of thanks you’re getting on the Central line.

No TfL, thank you.

No TfL, thank you.

This sort of unnecessary, simpering, hollow adoration is becoming more and more commonplace – and it’s unbelievably annoying. Somebody, somewhere, has sat around a table and said “Tube users need to feel more valued. Why don’t we thank them every time they step into a carriage?”, and a group of other, supposedly rational and qualified people have agreed that this is not a wholly shit idea.

It is a wholly shit idea. It’s a massive, flashing, neon sign that says that you know your service is horrendous, and the only thing you’re going to do about it is record a short voiceover. The worse a company is, the more thanks they offer. TalkTalk are serial thankers who are unable to provide even a vague semblance of internet for vast swathes of the year, while Ryanair host a small party for their customers whenever a plane lands on the same day it was meant to.

Meanwhile, better organisations spend less time trying on the empty platitudes. (Sadly, this doesn’t mean they’re actively rude to customers – it would be a glorious day when John Lewis unveil the slogan “Shut up – you fucking love it”) What they do do is spend more time on actually doing things to improve how people experience their brand, which is easy to lose sight of when your company is juggling the really important stuff like getting more likes on Facebook. The best brands don’t tell customers how much they love them, they show them. Actions speak louder than words.

In summary, keep the thanks, buy more fucking trains.