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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A vertical garden

I first saw this a few years ago and was intrigued at the time but then forgot about it, being elderly.

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I’ve since seen it a few times, it being in my favourite part of Madrid and the last time, a couple of months ago, I decided to try and find something out about it.

This vertical garden, or living wall was designed by somebody called Patric Blanc (a French botanist it seems) in 2008. It contains over 250 different species with over 15000 plants that all seem to grow well, even in the harsh dry climate that exists in Madrid, especially in the summer.

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Curiously it seems to generate its own sort of micro climate, I had noticed it previously whilst walking around it, but after having done a bit of research, my feelings were confirmed. The temperature around the wall, during the middle of the day, is several degrees lower than from where I took the photos.

Its strange to see this in the middle of a capital city, but its welcome and looks stunning.

By the way, should you ever happen to be there and see it, move 50 yards to the left and there is a terrifying overhanging roof, from memory a civic building, that I avoid like the plague, convinced its going to fall down.

 

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Retrospective testing

And so last night, in a blaze of camera flashes and pulled hamstring, the most recognisable athlete of his generation, the greatest athlete of his generation and up amongst the best athlete of any sport of all time hung up his spikes.

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Its certain that he wouldn’t have wanted to have left his sport like this:

World Athletics Championships

but Father Time (maybe the husband of Mother Nature) catches up with all of us, and he had reached the natural end.

A brilliant showman, a man who, up till now, restored faith in  a sport that had lost a lot of credibility. He provided moments of humour, of genius and of genuine “did I just see that?”

To have a sprinter so dominant and charismatic as him on the track at the same time as a distance runner so prodigously talented as Mo Farah was great for a sport struggling to recover after countless drugs scandals, as I write this Russia is banned, as a country, from taking part in Olympic sport due to an alleged state managed doping program.

I hope Mr Bolt has a great retirement, plays lots of football and cricket, puts back into the sport in his beloved Jamaica and generally enjoys life, I’ve never met him but I suspect he will.

My only fear is the title of this post. The man is prodigously talented, of that there is no doubt, his times have gone down and then back up as would seem normal for a runner who trained hard but then got older, all seems to be normal, he has never had anomolies in his countless blood and urine tests.

But its there. Because of the sport, because of the history of the sport, because he was so good, so dominant, because of answers he gave to the press towards the end of his career, because of the amount of other Jamaican sprinters that have been caught doping. Because of all of those things there is just that nagging doubt that he has been like all the others.

I hope, I truly hope that as life goes on, that as retrospective testing improves and happens for samples given in previous Olympic Games and World Championships, that he continues to restore faith in the sport, that he always tests clean, that nothing is ever found that destroys once again the reputation of a tarnished sport.

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Something I want to do.

As I was talking only yesterday about bucket lists, I happened to ask for help about something I really want to do in the UK. I am really keen to see a kingfisher, the most beautiful British bird in my opinion, in the wild.

I´ve seen one once. Well, I was actually walking alongside a stream somewhere in north Wales  years ago with my dog and I realised about five seconds after I´d noticed that microsecond of flashing electric blue, that I’d just seen my first one, but i didnt actually “see it” if you know what I mean.

So I asked a few friends for advice which came freely, and I thanked all and sundry.

But as often happens on the World Wide Winifred, it just so happens that not only does somebody know something about this subject, but in fact they know somebody who goes and takes photos like this:

Nightingale

AND WHO WILL TAKE ME WITH HIM TO TAKE SOME MYSELF (although nowhere near as brilliant as this one.

Kevin Pigney you are a master Sir, and I am looking forward to spending some time with you to see the little things in their natural environment.

I may have to write my bucket list after all so I can start ticking things off.

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The ubiquitous bucket list.

After having read about Helen Fawkes’s bucket list I had a period of reflection myself about what there is that I’d still like to achieve. I don’t have the same terrible health concerns as Helen had, it was just a flight of fancy.

I decided I’d give myself 100 things I’d like to achieve before shuffling off this mortal coil, and set to work writing them down and then trying to arrange them in an orderly fashion.

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It was incredibly easy to think of 100 things, my passions have always been travel and sport and learning, but once the list was first done I realised that everything I had written down was expensive.

So I wrote another list, trying to think a little of my dwindling fiscal resources, and saw it was still going to be very expensive.

The bucket list is a fairly modern phenomena I’m sure, I’m convinced that I remember my parents and their friends talking about the one thing they would do if they could, which in a generation has moved to an entire list of “things” to be consumed.

Although I’ve been lucky and have travelled widely and seen loads of incredible things, not all good, the world is a huge place, although certainly smaller than when my parents were talking with their friends all those years ago. There are still so many things I want to see and do. I want to see evolution in action in the Galapagos Islands, i want to watch a Lions rugby match somewhere in the Southern hemisphere, I want I want I want.

I’ll have another go at writing the list I’m sure, there are things I want to do still, many of them in fact, and some of them WILL be done, there is no doubt at all, I’m just not sure if I would suddenly become a slave to one should I ever actually publish it.

For now I’ll just sit and dream as I look at miles and miles of sand out of my office window.

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8 minutes 39 seconds.

To a man tied to a chair looking down the barrel of a gun, a lifetime, to an elderly Galapagos tortoise, an insignificant period.

For me, probably the most frustrating amount of time that currently exists. I am obsessed by it, to the point where I have written it on top of my mirror so that I see it daily as a reminder.

A couple of years ago, after several months of training, I rode up the Beast of Provence, Le Mont Ventoux, a full hour faster than the first time I’d tried it. An hour is a huge amount of time to take off such a short distance so all logic says I should have been delighted and the reality is that when I looked at my stopwatch at the top I was euphoric.

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I might not look euphoric, but I really was. That feeling though didnt even last until I’d reached the bottom. I called the friend who’d ridden it with me the first time to tell him the  good news, but very soon the feeling of that time being not quite good enough started to nag away at me.

2 hours, 8 minutes, 39 seconds.

I rode it again last month, for the sixth time, with absolutely no training at all in 2.45 or so. Rubbish, but I got up without stopping and I am aware  that no training doesnt make that climb easy.

But I know that I have to lose those eight minutes and thirty nine seconds. They gnaw away at me like a demented beaver trying to stop the Aswan.

The problems though are myriad. I work away from home for four weeks at a time. There is no possibility of riding a bike during my four weeks away. Once home I could ride most days, but dont as I’m aware that all fitness gains would be lost once I get back to work. I am not getting any younger. People of all ages climb Le Ventoux, and “Chapeau” to each and every one of them. It’s a beast of a climb and reaching the top is an achievement in itself, but its a physiological fact that with each passing day I am losing a tiny amount of my physical capability. I’ve lost my mojo. When I rode my fastest time I was loving my cycling. I was riding every day, regularly over 300 miles in a week, which helps hugely. There are no proper hills where I live, but there are a couple of short steep climbs that I used to repeat until I couldn’t at least once a week. I doubt I rode 300 miles last year, and I know I haven’t this year with the inevitable weight gain that comes with it.

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The only way I will lose those minutes is to spend several months riding my bike every day. Ideally I would rent my friends gite at the bottom of the hill for six months and ride the hill every week, with plenty of miles ridden on less demanding roads for the other days. This however is impossible for myriad reasons.

I read something recently though that applies. If it’s important you’ll find a way. If it’s not you’ll find an excuse.

Watch this space.

 

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Disaster has struck. Perhaps.

So, that book I had finished and was going to leave alone for a while before editing.

Weeeellll, I knew there were a couple of scenes that were missing and that needed to be added for continuity. I didn’t need to blow any dust off, it hadn’t had time to gather any, so I just grabbed it and started to write the two scenes that I knew were missing.

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As anyone who writes fiction knows (or maybe its just me) I write a scene that I know needs to be there, which gives me an idea for something that I didnt know when I started, which leads me down a whole new road that I hadn’t even envisaged 10 minutes previously.

I am now wondering if this single stand alone novel could be the first in a series based around a city.

Curiouser and curiouser said Alice.

And me too.

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El Mezquita de Cordoba

After the scandal caused by my celery post (no, dont worry, it wasn’t visible to most) I have decided today to return to safer ground. A visit to a new city is always fascinating for me and so a trip to Cordoba, all in Spanish if you please, was a good way to spend a day. The mosque or cathedral of Cordoba is an incredible building, steeped in history and a real melange of building styles with no less than five different additions to the original building.

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There has been a religious building of some sort on this site since ancient times, there is still, as far as I can work out, no definitive date for the first use, and has been at times Christian,

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Islamic, shared between the two and a tourist attraction whilst still functioning today as a place of worship. Bits have been destroyed over the years, either by accident or design, other bits rebuilt, with some of the old materials being used in the newer rebuild.

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The columns all over the inside give it a strange feel, almost claustrophobic in places and yet when you are aligned with them it seems as though you’re in a never ending tunnel.

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I visited during the day, but I saw that there is also the opportunity to have nocturnal visits, which must be very special.

I really enjoyed Cordoba but I must offer a word of warning. It is noted as being the hottest city in Spain, and the time I spent there certainly gave credence to this theory. Sun cream and head cover wouldn’t go amiss if you visit during the long summer.

 

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Its true, it does grow again.

I read one of those things about  how to save money, one of them said cut the base of your celery, place it in water and it will grow again.

Dubious, but tighter than a Breton, I thought I’d give it a try.

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Only I misread it at first so put it straight into soil. I reread it again a few days later and it definitely said water, so into water it went and after a few days…

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It got bigger in the kitchen and eventually it went out into the garden where its currently like….

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Living in Bretagne it rains a lot, which is lucky as it likes a lot of watering, but its growing really well. The stalks are currently very thin but will grow thicker and I’ll do the same again with it at the end of this year.

It works. Celery is a cut and come again plant. Me likey.

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