I have always feared getting older, obsessively. It worries me; it renders my sleepless as the early hours tick by, as I drive to work, as I run past semi- detached suburbia in the fading evening light. It bothers me as I gasp for breath cycling up steady inclines, inclement weather lashing, clouds spitting. As I moisturize my skin, repeat repetitions of sit-ups and leg-crunches, and as I slump in the still darkness of an out of town cinema complex listening to the good people of Wiltshire crunch handfuls of popcorn.
Where should I be with my life at the age I am? I am a first time buyer, about to purchase, about to commit, about to squander my savings. I have been snared into the trap, held under, head down, arms fixed. Water bills, electricity bills, council tax, car tax, income tax, TV tax, phone tax, food tax, petrol tax. What’s left for me?
Should I buy this pile of bricks so I am on the ladder? No longer a free tenant to spend my money as I wish on frivolous late night purchases from the entertainment aisle of Asda. Is this what I need? So I can finally grow up and join the master race who make children, sell houses and take yearly holidays abroad. One foot in the camp, but hey, wait, I want to be young forever, tearing up music festivals, smashing up ski resorts, carving up the surf on a moonlight Atlantic coastline.
But a warning! Be careful Peter Pan or you may lose it all.
1 hour in casualty and its 18:00 in Swindon, Great Western Hospital. Children screaming, noses bleeding, cuts to eyes, burnt limbs and stomach clutching pains. Indifference at the front desk, vending machines hammered by chubby fingered tweens, infected tattoos, polished floors, anguished faces and a sense of perpetual waiting.
3 hours in casualty and the badly drawn mural on the cubicle walls mixes African plain animals with ocean predators, a terrifying image for any toddler mildly concussed from an aggressive snatching incident in the sandpit. Pensioners hobble silently past as doctors float breezily from patient to patient dispensing hope and pain relief from healing, surgical gloved hands.
5 hours in casualty and they take my blood. Heart rate of 50 beats per minute. A true athlete laid out on a narrow steel framed bed. When will I walk again? When can I go home, back to smashed glass and the thick coating of inky crimson blood dripping like an alpine glacier onto the charcoal tiled kitchen floor? Another man is admitted to my septic ward. Skin like tracing paper. He lies motionlessly, accepting his role as a languid passenger on the lifeboat NHS.
8 hours in casualty with 60 stiches in my foot and nausea spreading from my tingling fingers to the freshly sown gouge on the sole of my right foot. Dr Marshall looks pleased with his embroidery and recalls his water polo playing days with Prince William as the needle pierces 3 inches into oozing organic tissue mass. “Not bad for a boy from Preston”, he self eulogizes.
I’m stood in a dive bar with my Birmingham friend, huddled as far away from a group of Aston Villa fans as we can be without actually leaving. ‘I want to talk about your Brighton years’, says my Birmingham friend, ‘it always makes me feel better about myself’ says my Birmingham friend.
‘Was it the most desolate period of your life?’ demands my Birmingham friend. ‘Was it an entirely wasted experience?’ my Birmingham friend asks. ‘We’ve been through all this before, there isn’t any point talking about it’, I say as I try to stop gulping my pint and to sip it instead as we stand in a deserted corner of an otherwise packed bar. My Birmingham friend is not to be deterred.
‘Was there anything positive to take from the experience?’ ‘Art is hard’. ‘That’s what you learnt isn’t it? Art is hard, best to just sit it out and try and piggy back off of someone else. He can picture me’, my Birmingham friend says, ‘sat on the floor in my furniture-less flat, clutching a can of tramp cider, muttering art is hard and I am weak to myself as I watch Diagnosis Murder on the black and white portable tv’. ‘What exactly did I think I was going to achieve’, my Birmingham friend asks, ‘he isn’t being perverse, he just wants to know?…’
You already know all of this, I say to my Birmingham friend. I did the worst thing anyone can do, I gave up on creating anything myself and I looked to piggyback on somebody else’s work. That’s why I am here, here being mocked by my Birmingham friend, here to talk about my grubby little book about the burning fires of creation that live within some people, here to over-intellectualise, by which I mean ruin, the listening experience of the most important British record of the last 20 years.
My Birmingham friend downs the dregs of his beer and looks straight at me. ‘Just tell me I’m wrong’ says my Birmingham friend. I down my beer. I wipe the froth off my uneven facial hair. ‘Just tell me I’m wrong about you?’ my Birmingham friend says more insistently than before. I look into my Birmingham friends grey eyes and say nothing at all.
It’s August already and cyclocross season is only just around the corner! I’m excited that the season is here, that I’m finally free of physical problems and I might actually be able to race again this season (even if I am even worse than before). I’m also excited that I’m heading off to the Cyclocross Worlds in January, held this season at Hoogerheide in the Netherlands.
I thought I’d post the photo with this story as for me it sums up cyclocross nicely – the conditions, the intensity, the skill and balance required to race cyclocross at the highest level. The picture not only looks fantastic but you can see the madness of the sport – racing in the toughest conditions (and using a braking design that’s not changed in 40 years, until disc brakes became legal last season) that most people probably wouldn’t consider going out in or be able to complete a lap without taking a spill. You can see the excitement of the fans, roaring their hero on in the background, fuelled by a combination of beer and frites – and this is probably the best format for watching cycle racing with a short course meaning the riders will lap and pass the fans a number of times in each race.
The short and intense nature of a day of racing means that you’ll not only see the Elite men race but usually at least one other race but more likely there will be the full gamut of Juniors, Under-23s, Women and Seniors to see. Now all we need is parity in prize money for the men and women and we’ll be all set for some awesome racing for the next 10 years. Who wants to bet on a British World Cyclocross champion in that time too?
Yes, this picture is a progressional shot, not taken by me. Unfortunately it’s been sat on my laptop for months and I have no idea where I acquired it. If you know, or it’s yours and you’d like me to remove it, please drop us a line at email@example.com. Thanks.
Here’s a piece I started writing on the way into work on June morning. It’s been languishing in ‘draft’ status, unfinished for some time as I got swamped with work, partly as a result of the dropping numbers of staff in some (or perhaps that should be every) organisation.