Today

The older I become the more painful today becomes.

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The battle of Trafalgar

On the 21st October 1805, 27 British ships under the command of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson lined up against 33 French and Spanish ships under the command of the French Admiral Villeneuve faced each other just off the Cape of Trafalgar, in South West Spain.

A few hours later, 22 ships of the Franco Spanish fleet had been lost, without a single British ship suffering the same fate, Nelson was dying, Villeneuve was captured and a decisive victory had been struck, halting French invasion plans in their tracks.

As an aside and in a show of chivalry and respect for his adversary, Admiral Villeneuve attended Nelson’s funeral whilst out on parole after being brought to Britain as a prisoner of war.

The final toll makes grim reading, 1587 British sailors either killed or wounded and whilst the Franco Spanish forces losses were never made public historians estimate that around 16000 of them were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. This victory was said to have been the catalyst for British mastery of the oceans until the Second World War, although economic prosperity probably has a part to play.

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This is Trafalgar lighthouse, at Cape Trafalgar, not far from Cadiz in south west Spain. Which means that out there:

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nearly 18000 men of many different nationalities had their lives changed forever just over 200 years ago.

What does all of the above mean?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just over 200 years ago nearly 18000 men died, were wounded or were taken prisoner and no doubt treated very harshly indeed, and yet, today in 2017 man still cannot live with man.

History teaches us that history teaches us nothing.

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Madonna del Ghisallo

Just to the north of Lake Como in northern Italy is a small hill that received its name from a legend coming from Medieval times when the Count Ghisallo was saved from robbers by an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The apparition become known as the Madonna del Ghisallo and eventually the name was given to the hill.

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Dwarfed by the Alps that surround the entire area the hill is topped by a small church, which over the years has become a shrine to bike riders after a local priest proposed that the Madonna del Ghisallo become the patron saint of cyclists.

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Inside there is a wealth of cycling memorabilia, leaders jerseys and bikes from the greats of the sport, bikes donated by Merckx and Fausto Coppi amongst others. There is also an eternal flame that burns for cyclists that have died.

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There is a very poignant item on display too, one that I remember seeing live, lying on the floor next to its dying owner. Fabio Casartelli, a resident of Como died in a crash on the Tour de France in 1995 on a descent of the Col de Ported d’Aspet. His bike sits between others, but somehow seems to transcend everything else around it. The debate rages still about whether a crash helmet would have saved him, its true that the following year helmets became compulsary in the Grand Tours. I remember vividly too the stage being neutralised the following day and the entire Motorola team led the freewheeling peleton across the finish line in respect of their fallen comrade.

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There is a small cycling museum about 100 metres from the church, its nothing to write home about but if you’re there and a cyclist, its certainly worth an hour of your day, although not sure its worth the entrance fee.

For a cyclist the church is a must visit if you’re ever in the area, if only to see bikes ridden by the true legends of the sport and to pay reverence to a fallen rider.

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A pyrrhic victory

The dictionary definition that I read this morning is:

Adjective. (of a victory) won at too great a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor.

A recent victory for someone very close to me has come at an incredible cost.

I cannot help but think that perhaps the cost has been too great.

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Whilst I am very sad for the people concerned, at least this post allowed me to learn the history of this particular phrase.

Every cloud, as is said by whoever “they” are.

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Anders Lassen VC, a man amongst men.

On the 22nd September 1920 a baby boy was  born in Copenhagen in Denmark. Nothing remarkable in this fact, but the baby boy grew up to be an incredibly remarkable man, almost definitely unheard of outside of military circles and his immediate family, but that doesn’t make him any the less remarkable for it.

I suppose that looking at his close family members should give at least a little indication, he was a cousin of Axel von dem Bussche, a German resistance member who tried to kill Hitler in 1943.

Anyone who wins the Victoria Cross is an incredible person, to have been the only non Commonwealth soldier to have been awarded it, to go along with his three Military Cross’ give some indication to what sort of person he was.

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Anders Frederik Emil Victor Schau Lassen, VC, MC and 2 bars, lived a short but very eventful life, leaving legends behind that seem scarcely credible, yet most are backed up with documentary evidence.

Once the Germans came into his native country and he left to come to the UK and join in the fight against them, revenge was the uppermost thought on his mind. It is said that his hatred of the Germans was impossible to believe, even once seen.

As an ex soldier it had long been on my bucket list to go and pay my respects to him, and once I’d done so I had wanted to write something about it, but words appear to be little reward for such a man.

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Killed on the 9th April 1945 leading a deception raid against German sentry posts at Lake Comacchio, his postumous VC was the very least he deserved for such courage. I shan’t recount his tales of derring do here, but his citations for his awards are easy to find with a little help from a search engine.

He lies in the Argenta Gap War Cemetary in North West Italy, one of the far too many War Cemetary’s administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they are always impeccably kept on land donated to the UK in perpetuity as thanks for the sacrifice made.

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The word “hero” is terribly overused in today’s society, but in my very humble opinion the subject of this post deserves the word and much more to describe him.

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San Marino

A curious place, a country within a country, the fifth smallest country in the world, the smallest republic in the world, great stamps and a rubbish football team.

This tiny enclave perched high in the Apennine mountains and surrounded by Italy is a relic of history that has somehow surived, being the oldest constitutional republic in the world.

After leaving what is today called Croatia and working in Rimini as a stonemason, Saint Marinus had to escape from persecution due to his Christian sermons and headed for the hills, Monte Titano to be precise, where he built a small church and so was born the city and state of San Marino, the date given is 3 September 301.

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It’s really just a city on a hill, like so many other cities on  hills, fortified, towers, cliffs although this one does have a crossbow corps and their ancient training ground which is quite exciting,

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and fantastic views on a sunny day.

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The beer costs the same as in Italy, there is no longer a border control post although you can get a ceremonial passport stamp in the tourist office if you choose. Walking through the ancient streets is worth the trip, but today they are sadly full of tourist tat and fast food outlets. Although not part of the Euro zone, there is an agreement for them to use Mr Junkers money, so no need to change currency.

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If you’re in the area and you like collecting countries its worth the stop, I enjoyed my day here, history always interests me, but being only 24 sq miles big there isnt a huge amount to see if truth be told. Be prepared to walk uphill. A lot!!

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Casa Batllo

Odd. Very very odd.

I don’t know what was in the cigarettes being smoked in Catalonia around the turn of the 1900’s, or just how strong the mushrooms were, but there are clear signs of madness in the works of Gaudi, Casa Batllo being a prime example. It’s a hideous, monstrous carbuncle of a place, although this is clearly a personal opinion, others will love it.

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Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to renovate an existing building, which he did between 1904 and 1906. The facade is odd, the interior is odd and the roof terrace is odd. Even the heating and plumbing systems are odd.

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I didn’t actually want to visit it once I’d seen it from the outside, it’s truly vile, but I was there to see it so I paid my dues and entered one of the most visited sites in Spain.

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From the beginning your eyes are assaulted by various vile visions. I’m as much a fan of individuality as the next person, but honestly, this place is truly individual.

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No bad thing some may say and I agree. No bad thing if you don’t actually see it with your own eyes.

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I suspect that Town Planning would have something to say these days if you tried to do something similar.

I went to see Casa Batllo and I saw it. I found it as vile as the Sagradia Familia, of which more to follow another time. I can say I’ve seen it. I can’t think of anything else to say.

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You can go off people you know.

Here I am, sat at a desk, in the desert, fed up at the start of yet another four weeks of misery and a so called friend is busily riding up and down my favourite hill on his bike and posting photos of it everywhere.

Yes Mr Hammond, I’m talking to you!!

Jealousy is a nasty thing but I suppose I should be happy that my suitcase arrived in one piece here to Africa whilst KLM couldn’t even get his to France. (I dont know how to add a smiley face thing but if I did there would be one here).

By the time I get back home it will be too late in the season to risk a 7 hour drive to see if I can still ride it or not, so now it wont be until next year.

Ah well, I shall just have to concentrate on my tan instead, its only about 43C today.

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The King is dead, long live The King

40 years ago today the world received the news that Elvis Aaron Presley was dead. Aged only 42 he was the undisputed artist of his generation and one of the best selling performers of all time. As is often the way he is richer now in death than he ever was alive, and by Odin’s beard he was rich enough then.

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When he died I was old enough to have heard of him and his music but too young to appreciate just how massive a star he was, but to see grown ups crying over the death of someone they’d never met puzzled me deeply.

In my young teenage mind I could understand how you could weep over the loss of a family member (pets included) but not for someone who didnt even live in the same country as you, let alone someone you’d only seen on the television. It didn’t really add up.

Many years later, I couldn’t love his music more than I do, I am a huge fan and will belt out his music in the comfort of my own shower, I have even been known to throw out a few songs in the company of close friends, much to their chagrin.

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Looking back now at performances over his life it’s painful to see his fairly rapid deterioration as the ravages of drink and mainly prescription drugs, as well as the general superstar lifestyle he led, took their toll and it’s no surprise that he took the well walked path of famous musicians before him, one that is still taken far too often today.

There have been global icons that have died since I’ve been old enough to understand stuff. Musicians, sports stars, world leaders and others but I’ve never felt anything akin to what those who cried must have felt when he died. Its still a phenomenon I can’t comprehend but he clearly must have had an influence far beyond his music.

I shall sit in my  office today and listen to many of his songs, listening to a voice that transcended colour race and creed, knowing that millions of others will be doing the same the world over.

The King is dead, long live The King…………………..for more than just a day

 

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The Tour of Wessex, aka Their Trade is Treachery.

With apologies first to Chapman Pincher.

It’s very easy to become ambivalent towards your home town or country, even if, like me, you live a long way from it nowadays. A three day bike ride around the area of my birth was a great way to see countryside I’d never really seen before, as I’d left the area well before my first birthday.

Just a quick three days pedalling around Somerset, Devon and Dorset, each day over 100 miles and a fair bit of climbing. Nothing too strenuous then. The day before the event started I had booked into my hotel just outside Yeovil and had a gentle ride around, even seeing the hospital where my little nose first saw the light of day.

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Myself and three friends were all signed up to do the long routes on each day, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but was looking forward to it being finished. I had come all the way from France to do this, to suffer with like minded friends and to “enjoy” forcing my aged body up impossibly steep hills for around six hours a day.

Day one dawned nice and bright, little wind with the promise of a dry day. As the four of us lined up alongside the 1200+ other riders I didn’t realise just how hard this was going to be, but any three day sportive that pretty much begins with the Cheddar Gorge climb can’t be a bad thing. Can it?

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The night before, three of our merry band had eaten in a local pub and were joined by another cyclist who regaled us with tales of how he’d not yet finished the full three days because of various misadventures and how Cheddar Gorge was a hideous thing, so when, after a few miles we rolled into the bottom of the climb to say  trepidation was in the air was akin to saying the Hindenberg suffered a minor incident.

To be honest, after “that” hairpin, the rest of the ascent was just a drag. A long drag but not one that was overly difficult. So not hard in fact that I was able to admire the stunning scenery on my way up. I’d never been up here before but I shall definitely come back again, it really was beautiful. I was smiling on the inside, thinking to myself that “if thats as bad as it gets, I’m in for an easy three days.” Oh my days, how wrong I was to be proved. By the time we reached the top of the gorge our band of 4 had already dwindled to two pairs of two, the front pair waited a while.

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The course was fairly well marshalled and signposted, with feed stations every 30 miles or so, toilet breaks and food taken on board the front pair waited a while for the second pair but as they didnt turn up they headed on. Turns out that one of them had taken a tumble at the start of the gorge which meant they had to wait whilst he repaired his bike.

The day continued in our two’s, at one point we were stopped as cows crossed the road to be milked and another time we rode down a hill, turned left and saw this:

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Wells Cathedral as my knowledgable partner informed me. A stunning building.

Over the three days there was a lot of fairly empty roads, moorland, stunning views

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and bonhommie amongs the fat lads at the back, which I was firmly a part of.

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Between us I think we managed four falls, one of them right at the end of day two as we entered back into the arena, various bits of flesh were scraped and showers were a little sore back in the hotel.

The four of us at the end of day 2 I think.

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It may have been day one, or day two. I KNOW it wasn’t day three though, and I’ll tell you how I know.  Day three was a Monday, this being a bank holiday weekend event. I had a ferry booked to go back home on the Tuesday, with the hotel still booked for the Monday night. I had planned to finish the event then recount our tales of derring do over a few beers on the Monday evening.

But no. My plan was rent asunder. Unbeknownst to me, my three partners in crime had cruelly made plans to abandon me. If they had decided to leave for home straight after the event I could understand that. People have jobs and families etc, I get this.

BUT NAY, NAY AND THRICE NAY. Monday morning dawned a little grey, but warm enough and with not too much wind. Monday is the longest, hardest day of the three and I wasn’t looking forward to it, I’d already had over 220 miles in my legs, with lots of climbing, but today promised to be an hour longer in time due to the climbing involved. We assembled at the start line, ready to tackle The Longest Day.

The four of us left the start line together and headed into the unknown, legs a little heavy, sore bums and various cuts and bruises after the falls, but in good spirits. It was at this point that I began to hear conversations that worried me. There was talk, amongst the three traitors, of only going to the first feed station and then turning left, heading back to the finish and leaving early to avoid the traffic. WHAT?

WHAT HERESY IS THIS?

I’d been sold the deal by my cycling buddies for a THREE DAY RIDE, not two and a few km’s. What on earth? Well, we rode on, the first feed station arrived after around 30 miles. By now I was looking very suspiciously at my comrades. Still not a word had been officially directed to me as to their cowardly departure. We stopped, as was our want, partook of some of the goodies offered up in the feed station and … well, I partook of some of the goodies and put a few things in my pockets. The band of losers I was with just filled a water bottle and then told me they were heading off. I didnt remind them (not that much anyway) that I had come all the way from France to do this, whilst they only had a couple of hours to drive home!

Right then. I bade them farewell and wished them all punctures and made the decision to continue on my own.

Which turned out to be a very bad decision. It was rightly billed as the hardest of the three days. I have long known it to be harder to ride alone, and today was no exception. From feed station one to feed station two I rode up and down, up and down, probably never more than a mile that was flat, it really was lumpy. And I rode the 30 miles alone. Hard. Mentally and physically it was hard. Feed station two came, I ate an egg sandwich, sat on a grassy bank looking over at the beautiful azure blue sea cursing the band of deserters that had abandoned me to my fate.

I set off towards feed station three, straight up a very steep hill. Luckily I saw another person just in front, a man a few years older than me it would have appeared at first view. I caught him and then stayed with him for the next 30 miles, I dont remember his name but I remember him being a dentist from Manchester, a very competent rider who dragged me up most of the hills and a thoroughly nice chap.

And somebody who hadn’t decided to stop riding.

The last 30 miles were again started alone, the dentist was happy to feed a little longer, I was worried about getting in before the deadline, so set off. At one stage I was tucked in behind two girls who were riding at a good pace before they stopped to repair a puncture and I finally arrived, mentally and physically very tired, at the finish line where they were about to start taking down the barriers and the electronic timing. Just made it.

The prize, after nearly 350 miles on the bike was this. The medal. Sat on my own (as my partners had left me, I may have mentioned this before), with a bacon butty and a coffee, medal round my neck, I had a sense of achievement, a sore backside and a hatred of this particular event, but I´ve mellowed and may even do it again in 2018 as training for other things.

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It was a really good event, I thought it was well organised, well signposted and marshalled although we did go slightly wrong on day two somewhere but only by a few minutes. It was great to share the first two days with friends and I learned a lot about how stubborn I am on day three.

I have of course forgiven the three of them, I’ve seen a couple of them since and not mentioned it. Well, not that much anyway.

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