Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Homage to Liam Killeen

Oh dear. The Malvern Marvel Liam Killeen did it again; wiped out in the opening two minutes of the Olympic mens' mountainbike race.

In the frantic melee of riders trying to get a decent position before the track narrowed, his bike touched another wheel and he went over the handlebars. We've all done it (well, technically my over-the-handlebars-experience was due to a malevolent tree root and there wasn't a soul for at least fifty yards and it wasn't in a race but I was still well winded, I can assure you).

If Liam hadn't wiped and spent several minutes remembering who he was and getting the bent bike straightened, he might well have had a medal because, despite spending what seemed like an eternity before he got back on the circuit, he managed to zip through a field of internationally brilliant riders to finish seventh. Fourth place is first loser but his catch-up attempt was nothing short of heroic and we must look forward to success and stability for 2012 even if it means glueing his ass to the saddle.

As far as I'm concerned, his efforts were worth it because he inspired me to tempt DT man out for a lengthy mountainbike ride; an Olympic achievement in itself, especially as there was Very Important Lawn Mowing to do before The Rain.

In the true spirit of Olympic ideals – faster, longer, higher, wider, wetter, floppier etc – I devised a challenging route to test a whole range of mountainbike skills.

It included some busy road, some quiet road, plenty of off-road, a horrible hill, loads of lifting bike over gates and one ancient wooden gate, which when opened, disintegrated into pieces necessitating hasty, inadequate reassembling and sharp exit. Goodness knows how many miles we covered but it took more than three hours, what with refuelling and everything - much longer than the Olympic version.

There were additional, specially negotiated, obligatory elements of three pubs and a chinese restaurant. The pubs, as you can imagine, were especially gruelling, with their riverside views, g&ts, real ales and chips (not as scientific a diet as the Olympians, admittedly).

Interestingly, at the second pub, we were able to watch a proper tree pass by on the river which we'd noted from a picnic table vantage point at the first pub, upstream. Then the ex-swan floated past that we'd seen at the first pub too. There was some controversy about the swan. Without my specs, which were quite muddy, I thought it must just be head down and dabbling but remembered that swans don't dabble while heading downriver, upside down, at 4mph. The afternoon was turning into a giant version of Pooh sticks. I reflected that the Severn had undoubtedly taken a shorter, quicker route than we had, so we must have cycled quite fast – an achievement worth celebrating with a second round.

Then there were extra-hard elements which would have been too unreasonable to include in the Olympic course – impossibly steep uphill with the wrong sort of grass, long tricky sections of horsey-churned thick mud with lacerating brambles either side and then a further mud surprise at the top of the hill, just at the bit where one would normally pause to admire the 360 degree view of glorious Glos. Those geography teachers lied when they said that water percolates through rock and spurts out of little springs. It doesn't all do that. A lot of it falls from the sky and stays put. It reminded me of the Langdales where, on top of one of the mountains, my dear departed doggo went to an innocuous puddle for a refreshing slurp and promptly disappeared into a morass of evil black water. Moments later he struggled out and came to me for reassurance. Only a spaniel can look heart-rendingly upset before peppering you with bits of peat bog.

This time it wasn't a peatbog but wide, foetid green/brown puddles which are the unappealing consequence of farm vehicles carrying much animal excrement to nourish our wholesome organic crops.

As night follows day, this kind of terrain is always followed by a stony downhill which might be enjoyable if not for the hefty gobbets of mud flying into your face thanks to the self-cleaning action of the front wheel.

Faces and legs were liberally splattered. Being far too gruesome for dim sum, we decided to give the Chinese restaurant a miss.

And then it began to rain. DT man yelled something and put the hammer down, as they say in cycling circles. I didn't catch what he said but it could have been 'Last one home's a cissy' or “The mowing! The mowing!”

Anyway, as I watched his ass disappearing into the distance and a tropical storm ensued, I couldn't help thinking that final burst of speed had probably been inspired by Liam Killeen.

Like Liam, DT man didn't medal but he went one better. By the time I got in, he'd kettled and left me an Olympic-sized mug of tea.

Saturday, 9 August 2008


En guarde
Swords drawn,
they battle
those two young friends
dancing along a narrow seawall
in the bright yellow-blue afternoon

Fizzing, spitting energies erupt
lunging, clashing, parrying,
all burgeoning strength
and brimming aggression
until the loser falls
hard on to sand below

Time shifts.
Deeper voices ring out
Laughing across a midnight ocean
Long-muscled legs give chase,
tearing dark, closed water
to frothy shreds

A spluttering head caught,
plunged deep for silent drowning
until a hand signals release
Then the peace; the night swimming.
Beautiful reckless youth,
never to be reclaimed.

Toe curling

Why does no-one ever blog about embarrassing moments? No idea. Anyway, mine was yesterday.

I have this bag. It has work files in it, backup tapes and other work stuff. It also has Classic FM magazines and sunglasses and cycling gloves and packs of oatcakes and a carton of fresh eggs and cards and pens - lots and lots of pens - and half-filled notebooks, letters and small parcels for posting and elastic bands.

No-one touches my bag. It's pretty heavy and it's big so it gets dark early down there in the deepest recesses. Well anyway, i'd finished the oatcakes and I'd planned on having a banana half way through the afternoon.

So I reached into the bag and groped around, as you do, (no point in looking in there as there's far too much stuff) and ew, the banana had been replaced by something softly yielding and warmish. It was still banana-shaped but had the feel of a soft leather pouch filled with batter.

It wasn't a good sensation and I realised it shouldn't stay there a moment longer in case it suddenly splattered over the important stuff.

I withdrew it with the same care I might give to an unexploded incendiary device and was astonished to see that while my banana hadn't actually exploded, it had definitely gone off.

It had not gone off to the extent of being freckled. To me, freckles are indicators of banana perfection and they are quite attractive on some people too. It had not even gone off to the extent of being a bit freckled but frankly quite brown. It had gone off to the point of putrefaction. It was an ex-banana. Completely black.

My colleague, Ocean (not her real name but how do kids cope with names like that?) who is so seriously weird that she loathes and detests bananas, began to retch in a melodramatic way.

"Oh Jan that's so gross."

Honestly, you'd have thought I'd piled elephant dung all around her naked body.

I was hoping she wouldn't notice the blackness of the banana if I held it kind of close to my black trousers on the way to the waste bin. But she did. And I was embarrassed. My protests along the lines of "Well, it was all right yesterday" did little to stem the growing suspicion that all I carry around in that bag is a ton of rotting fruit.

It's a strange thing, embarrassment. I spent much of my young life in a semi-permanent state of embarrassment. My blush mechanism was set on a hair-trigger to go off at the slightest thing or even imagined thing.

I blushed for Wales. People - particularly boys - used to compete to see how deeply profusely crimson I would become. It was a psychological handicap as tangible as a wooden leg. My shyness was there for all to see - vulnerably and hotly displayed.

Fortunately, as I got older, began working and became more worldly-wise and at ease with people, the tendency to colour faded and now, thankfully, I don't blush unless someone says or does something which takes me completely by surprise.

It probably helps that I'm not embarrassed very often. There are lots of "Ooops" moments but those are low on the embarrassment index. I feel a compleat twit when people point out my careless spelling errors but that's bearable too.

They don't compare with the truly toe-curling incidents.... like the time I got a bracelet hopelessly tangled in the back of some lacy underwear in a ladies loo. I'm right-handed so the bracelet was on the right hand and caught in a position where the left hand couldn't do a lot to help.

After much tugging and fiddling and getting hot and bothered, I had to emerge to seek assistance - into the wider ladies area not into the restaurant itself, that would have been pure attention-seeking. Anyway, I'd have torn said underwear to bits rather than be compromised in public but would still have been wearing a bracelet unusually decorated with finely-shredded designer knicker.

Several ladies tried to help but it transpired that on a night out, not many women wear the spectacles they need to see clearly. That could be the feminine version of beer goggles. Same result anyway. Finally, one woman with 20/20 vision disentangled everything successfully, bless her.

There was another loo-related awkwardness in Stratford-upon-Avon when I became so desperate that I raced into the nearest pub toilet, gratefully sought a free cubicle and reflected, rather too late, that I'd rushed past several machines on the wall offering packets of condoms. It occurred to me that perhaps the girls of Stratford upon Avon ladies were particularly forward-thinking with their contraception, able to choose from an eye-watering variety of Durex.

It might have been convincing if the smell had been right but it wasn't. There was a distinct whiff and I'm not talking Domestos. Then the voices confirmed my fears that, like a fool, I'd rushed in where angels fear to tread.

It was about 45 minutes before it was clear to escape without being seen. My saving grace was the start of a televised football match. The boyfriend hadn't even noticed my unnaturally lengthy absence being entirely occupied with in-depth lager studies and then the soccer. It didn't last.


Not velvet

nor satin

or close-brushed silk

but fingertips


lightly as caressing feathers

of softest down,

tender as a baby's cheek

yielding as a fresh-sprung leaf



cool against the heat.

A shiver,


in the shimmering,

secret dark.