Saturday, 24 November 2012

kanitta meechubot

one of the strands i look for in visual art these days is something that captures a sense of what it is i see and do at work. so i was browsing an old copy of granta this morning and came across kanitta meechubot. you can see more in this series here, catch up on her blog here and if you're in that london you can see her exhibition at the book club until january (should you want to send me the accompanying catalogue i would accept it with some gratitude!)

in contrast, and seeing as how i'm never going to get round to it, i've had a blog post kicking about in my head that's kind of jeanette winterson, kind of virginia woolf and a bit of a lament about the state of writing at the moment. maybe this is because i'm just after reading woolf's the waves, which if it was written today i'd hazard wouldn't have chance one of getting published, and a fair bit of la winterson, who i'm always surprised gets published at all.

there seems, to me (!), to be so much really excellent, thought provoking and generally wow-ish visual art knocking about these days (all hail the internet) in contrast to the written word. is it just because reading takes longer? are there repositories of genuinely dazzling writing that it just takes too long to get to? who knows? me, rather than reading i'm going off out on my bike with a head full of kanitta meechubot. that'll do me!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

needless objects of desire

xmas is rearing its ugly head once again and the shops are full of tat. naturally (despite the fact that my head is still set around the traditional time of xmas being around the third week of december) i'm being questioned about what things i don't need or want that i 'hope' to get and what'll i'll be getting t.

to the latter any shrug of the shoulders is met with the inevitable 'get her jewelry/perfume' response quickly followed by frank bewilderment that t wouldn't want or need either of those things. 'she says no but she means yes' my female colleagues tell me with no hint of irony before, i am sure, discussing t's failings as a woman.

hardly more acceptable in their eyes is my contention that i don't really want or need anything beyond, if i'm lucky, some decent time off (t loves xmas with all the trimmings) around the festives so that we can kick back, make some decent food and maybe go for some walks. this year, assuming t can stay out of hospital,  most likely we'll do some work in the shop, which will be great but a fact i probably won't share as my work colleagues will think it's even odder.

all of which was fine until i happened upon the derringer site. oh my goodness. how much do i want one of them? no matter how i might rail against useless consumerism, that they aren't practical and very likely not even legal here i would love one of these just to look at. maybe if i'm back in the states i can get a shot...

in the meantime check out the bit about board track racing. who knew?

Monday, 19 November 2012

the fire lookout

A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout. from Gary Yost on Vimeo.

every so often t will go off on one about us needing to be out and about more, usually after a long day at the felt mine or somesuch. i point out that there's only so many hours in the day and we can't, in that stretched time that's required for making anything that requires imagination, be out lolling about in various guises when we could be doing the stuff we prefer (and, for me, actual work, being on the bike and the like). imagine, i suggest, if we could only be shut away with no distractions, how much we could get done. t, always the more sociable, will point out the many ways in which human contact might be beneficial. as opposed to isolation she will point out and then, looking at me, say, but that all sounds great to you doesn't it?

since i was wee i've always fancied those isolated lives - lighthouse keeping and the like - and i remember being very taken with the idea of being a fire lookout. true, i think  maybe back in my teens there was a big element of just being away but these days i could quite fancy the routine and rhythm of it all but most of all the quiet. last year, after days on the bike and no more noise than the wind, the sea and the tent we came back home to be deafened by all the racket, dazzled by the intrusion of the tv.

i remember too, the disappointment the first time i read about jack kerouac and desolation peak. me and jack, who were never really close, parted ways i think at that point. possibly i have more insight now but i still have the same sense of amazement that i had then, that he just couldn't hack it. disappointingly tho, i never did suss out how to do a stint myself to see if i would fare any better. seeing the above tho, i think i might...

Friday, 16 November 2012

the swedish

the learning of the swedish drags on. i'm willing to accept that maybe sometimes it takes a while for a language to reveal itself but so far, swedish is taking the biscuit. i have, for example, yet to find a word that just sounds better in swedish* than anything else and that's before the bewildering number of words that have just been adopted straight from english, or german or even a bit of french. but that's the swedes for you - get a word, put att in front of it and an a on the end and hey presto a whole new verb! and that's before the you see them using their famous economy. why have two words when you can have one - just add a diacritic. then, just when you think you're getting it, welcome to the world of dialect. ost you say? no, oost. oost, no, ost? no, oost, you're in gotland now son.

or just speak english. mostly i thought all the english speaking was due to the export of all that uk daytime tv, a daily diet of midsummer murders and general swedish politeness. but perhaps not.

*i should point out that while i may not have discovered a swedish word that encompasses a thing better than any other but i do love the vowel sounds. the best bit of flying is being in the queue at the airport, hearing the sounds, right before realising i can't understand then! (hint - internet radio is your friend!)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

the armstrong thing

if i have a guilty magazine pleasure then it's rouleur. from the moment it hits the mat i'm looking forward to settling down and opening it. the coffee will go on, i'll wait for a quiet moment and then out it will come. it's not so much what's in it but the instant hit of the smell of fresh print. then there's the mix of top quality images, articles so niche they're niche in themselves and a refreshing lack of ads. of course there are things i don't like. there can be no illusion that this is anything but a boy's club even if, and they've been better at this recently, the odd woman does crop up now and again. not so very long ago they had a brilliant article on women's racing, an article that reflected the very set of values that you'd expect rouleur readers to be into. indeed were it not for t's change of circumstance swiss lounge would've have been punting some sponsor money to a woman's team this year.

but cycling for rouleur will be a man's sport. you can hear this in their podcasts. this being rouleur, obviously they don't just talk about cycling. here, they hold forth about cartier-bresson, the social nature of velodrome racing and photography in general. not the stuff you get in your regular bike magazine! but, it being rouleur, the lance armstorng issue creeps in. and it's here that johhny green (whose column in rouleur is probably my least favourite - something that may well change with this podcast) steps up. going on from cartier-bresson the discussion comes around to the nature of memory. johnny green was, he says, at luz ardiden and no amount of revisionism can make him remember it differently. but armstrong they say. i don't care. says green. you can here the intake of breath.

armstrong is the bogey man of cycling at the moment, a cypher for all that 'went wrong'. except that in order for it to have 'gone wrong' one would have to ignore pretty much the whole history of professional cycling where 'preparation' has been in use since the first decade of the 20th century, manufacturer and sponsor manipulation (it's the kindest word) have been, if not the causative factor, then intrinsic to the races we so favour today. i got asked last night what i thought of it all. i love watching the bike racing i said, but i take it no more seriously than american wrestling. for me, as barthes far more eloquently put, it's a metaphor, not a race.

but what then of the doping? and what then of armstrong? armstrong i don't much care. i saw armstrong the other year (apparently, in some circles, this makes me an 'enabler'!) and i realised that i could never know what it was like to be him, to make the choices he's made. it was like being in a pressure cooker and i didn't like it. but the doping is a whole other thing. aside from the great mystery that it's cycling that is the 'dirty sport' (did no-one watch the olympics this year!) there are only two questions i would ask as a result of the whole shameful debacle.

firstly, where's all the money coming from? top cyclists earn but not that much, and their domestiques are just getting by. in which case all that needs be done is look for the money. but of course to do that would expose sponsors, for example, and they'd be off out of professional cycling like snow off a dyke. and then no more sport. a governing body of such a thing - where would that leave them?

and then there's the drugs. if, i used to ask, there are so many drugs in sport, where are they coming from? and, as if the cycling thing wasn't depressing enough the true horror that is big pharma seems apparent here. so they might be facing 780 million dollars in settlements. against what profits? and then you might think about these expensive drugs that have marginal effects that somehow keep cropping up in the media. do you honestly think that's a coincidence?

it may be yet that armstrong and possibly even others, have to pay back their prize money. but what about the people who made the drugs and by their practices allowed them to be used for these purposes. what about corrupt salesmen and medical professionals? will they ever be held to account? of course not. not in a society greased with money where all that's needed to market the latest snake oil is to hold up a picture of someone with cancer and put a headline of 'scandal' rather than look at the evidence.

maybe it's just easier to point the finger at armstrong. that we way we can 'believe' in the sport again rather than look at what lies behind it and the realisation that what we think doesn't actually matter at all.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

strava - getting quicker

twelve o'clock you say. surely time you were off out on your bike rather than typing up some blog post about cycling? maybe so but i'm burst after yesterday and there's always that thing that, particularly the more 'mature' rider, you need to kick back and listen to what your body's telling you.

not that it hasn't been a good set of days off (aside form almost continuous punctures but that's a whole other story). yesterday was my road/mtb combo day so i went out in the morning to get some miles in and generally have a slow rollout. as soon as i was out tho i noticed the favourable wind - when i say favourable i mean that the segments that have been resistant to time improvement due to a general battering from the wind, might just be a bit more do-able.

first off, some personal strava rules. wind assisted times are not kosher. drafting behind a car is equally not kosher (tractors are more acceptable as they're too slow and here your payment for this favour tends to be a faceful of some form of agricultural effluent). riding in a group while i suppose is okayish really isn't the same. and sniping? you're only cheating yourself. sneaking off on a wind assisted day to that one segment and only that segment? never whine about lance again!

anyway, i'm burling around and i come to a wee hill that i've found problematic in the past so i decide to give it a bit of pace (a slight aside here - andy murray's recent pronouncements on cycling lacking skill? if it wasn't already obvious and, as he come to realise - he's talking bollocks). the conclusion i'm drawing with the hills is that my approach to them is fundamentally wrong. I come in too fast, stay in too high a gear for too long, have bad cadence, go too much into the red zone and arrive at the top too burst to put in any decent speed.

i listen to these inner voices. i take three seconds off my pb.

further up the road, coming onto my favourite straight i see a cyclist. and not just any cyclist. he looks the part. good form on his bike, better bike, non-compact gears. i see what he sees when he sees me. dodgy winter bike, back pack, mountain bike helmet, overweight and kind of old. ha! i say. i don;t want to draught him but i sit, mudguards rattling, about 2 metres off his wheel. he knows i'm there, yes he does. he drops a gear, gets himself down on the drops. me, i'm up on the bars, biding my time. he looks back. yes, i'm still here. you'll need to try harder to shift this old geezer!

there's a wee combo of uphills in the centre and it's here he eases away. i see him do it and it's great to watch - this is exactly how i lose time. what is it that does this? is he just lighter? do i not just have the power to shift this much lard? or is it the hill itself, is the incline the thing that beats me before i've even started?

what i do know is that when we're back on the flat there is no doubt in my mind i will be faster. even now i still believe that, that i am the strongest and no-one, but no-one is faster than me in a straight line. i still believe this even when it's not true. i still believe this when i've run out of gears in a pursuit. looking back on strava i can see this in the segment profiles when i look at comparisons. on the flat speed isn;t an issue. as soon as the road goes up i fall back and worse, when i hot the top of the hill i don't push as hard.

i don't catch the guy. another mile and maybe. as it is he has about ten seconds on me btu i've taken back enough road to maintain dignity. more telling i've up'd my pb by fifty seven seconds. i'm happy about this but also profoundly depressed. what's going on in my head that i can't push this hard on my own? am i lazy or just scared? but then i smile. i've max'd out at 37.6mph on this stretch, picking up speed rather than losing it. yes, my technique's crap. but i'm not slowing too much just yet!

it's this type of question that's starting to come out in the strava wash. the whole segment racing thing, while okay for some, seems to me ultimately pointless. times are great it's true bt what i'm really liking is the intervalness of it all, the continuous pushing (some might say marginal gains but i so wouldn't!) towards some sort of state of cycling grace, when everything works, the tyres and the chain are singing, my legs will go where ever i want them to and my style is just that.

because whatever else, being out on the bike right here, right now is something glorious. true the roads ar a bit muddy, leafy and just a bit slidey but the autumn is just sublime. i took t out on the route i did the day before yesterday. light, lochs, hills but above all trees. what i couldn't tell her was the feel of the air as you go thru it all, the way the air feels in your lungs. this route i wasn't caring about the strava other than logging the miles. all i was doing was what i started doing away back when, when i was wee, just getting out on my bike, going down the roads i hadn't been, seeing the things i hadn't seen. since i've got the strava i've been doing much more of this. was that the sort of performance improvement they meant? i'll take that!