Saturday 31 October 2020

Photo of the day - 31: Scary stuff in the time of coronavirus

Well, for Halloween if we wanted to hear scary stuff all we needed to do was switch on the TV today! After a full lock-down in the Spring of this year, and a very gradual re-opening of businesses and schools over the summer - including indulging in the restaurants doing "eat out to help out" things are now making a downturn again. 

There had been a lot of speculation as places in the Northwest and parts of the Midlands were undergoing a lock-down. So finally, rather than put up with kids turning up at our houses doing Trick or Treat, we had to suffer a worse fate of seeing Prime Minister Boris Johnson making his televised address to the nation. So as of next Thursday we will be in lockdown again. It won't be quite as strict as "Lockdown 1.0" since people will still be travelling to and from their place of work, schools will be open, and people like plumbers and electricians can still attend your home if need be. However, gyms, sport centres, beauty salons, bars, restaurants and all shops selling non-essential items will be closed, and we have been told to avoid non-essential travel. 

It wasn't quite the announcement that we were wanting. So instead of celebrating Halloween and Bonfire Night, which is around the corner we are looking forward to another period of staying at home, not seeing friends and family as a group. We can only meet with one other person in an outdoor setting and maintain a social distance. Apparently this lockdown will last until 2nd December, but people are sceptical and believe this period could be extended. We may not even be able to see family at Christmas at this rate. All this is leaving people scared and anxious. I was meant to do a cyclocross race today, but didn't go because I was not feeling on form to race. That's a shame now as I don't know when next there will be another one. Same for all other races and competitions, plus yoga classes. Personally, I have managed to keep busy and keep the cheques coming in to pay my bills. But it is very scary seeing what is happening to other businesses, and with all these extended closures there is a worry that some of my favourite places my end up going out of business. 

It would have been good to end the month on an upbeat tone, but with the news that was delivered this evening it does look like we are living in scary times. 

Friday 30 October 2020

Photo of the day - 30: Flashback Friday post

The path back to Ings from the Garburn Pass

This is not a trip I did in October, but at the end of August, over the bank holiday weekend - something from which I have happy memories. This year may have been a little different due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but I have done as much as I can to maintain a near normal everyday life, and to find equally fun alternatives to the things which are currently off-limits. I had planned on going to France in the summer, but because I didn't fancy doing a 14-day quarantine on my return I decided not to do the trip. Every Thursday, the government makes an announcement about the latest countries to go on the quarantine list. The problem with that is that Boris Johnson and his government only give two days' notice before the new rules come into effect. This means that while you're on holiday, if the country you are in suddenly gets announced as being on the list you then have to make a mad dash home in order to avoid going into quarantine. I wouldn't want to have that Damoclean sword hanging over me while trying to enjoy my trip or after I have booked my travel plans. So to avoid those issues, I decided to take my summer break within the UK - like most other people. And it hasn't been bad at all. At the end of July I went to the Peak District, and a month later I went to the Lake District. This photo is from when I did a mountain bike ride from Ings, mid-way between Kendal and Windermere and rode over a trail known as the Garburn Pass to reach Kentmere village. Initially the trail was manageable, with lovely views of Lake Windermere, Kirkstone Pass, and peaks like Stony Cove Pike and Red Screes in the distance. The ride became a little bit tough as the path became strewn with lots of rocks and boulders. Being on my 20-year old hard-tail didn't really cut it so I spent a bit of time doing hike-a-bike, including on the descent. 

Eventually, the path became more manageable as I was on a very bumpy adrenaline-filled descent to the village of Kentmere. From there my ride then went over another undulating bridleway that went past heather covered pastures along single track and through fords. The area looked really pretty in the sunshine, and it seemed that this was quite a popular area with cyclists, as I bumped into quite a few - a couple of family rides as well as club mountain bikers. By the time I arrived back in Ings I had a big smile on my face, having enjoyed a really fun ride. 

Ings is quite a handy place. There are wild and wonderful areas to go walking, a popular country pub, and more importantly for me, a mountain bike shop, Bike Treks.
I definitely plan to return there again and ride it with a full suspension bike. Hopefully I will get up to near Ullswater. Or maybe I will just head over with the masses to Grizedale Forest. I don't know entirely where I will go, but as a certain famous pop star said, I promise it won't be boring.

Thursday 29 October 2020

Photo of the day - 29: As featured in Cycling Weekly magazine

Quelle surprise: My review feature in Cycling Weekly magazine

I regularly write articles for different cycling publications. Sometimes it's on-line, other times it's for print magazines. Some are feature interviews, some are short news pieces, long form stories about people or places, and then I review gear and bicycles. This was a review I did on the Boardman SLR 8.9 women's road bike. I saw it go to Cycling Weekly on-line shortly after I wrote the piece, and then I forgot about it and focussed on the next item I was writing. So it was a nice surprise to open the magazine today and see the review in the printed version of Cycling Weekly. Even though the magazine only has a week's longevity before folks go out and buy the next issue, I get more excited to see my article in the magazine, than I do when it is on-line. I think it's related to the fact that the magazine is available in WH Smiths and Tesco, where folks can go out and buy it. There's something quite satisfying about a piece of work that you did being on a shelf in a shop. And today it was even nicer to just suddenly see my words and my photo shining off the page back at me as I thumbed through Cycling Weekly. It's the sort of thing that makes my day! By the way, the Boardman SLR is a good ride and I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Photo of the day - 28: Countdown to my clarinet exam

I'll have this tune in my head right up to exam day!

I am still getting my act together to take my first clarinet exam in just under a month's time. It shouldn't be too hard, as this is just Grade 1. I am not a complete beginner, but I have never taken exams - just been self-taught, playing various tunes and working through my Klosé method book. But earlier this year I decided to formalise my skills as a clarinet player, and work through the grades. The above is one of the tunes I plan to play. Minuets are always quite fun. When playing, I picture couples in a room dressed in Baroque costumes, dancing a waltz and giving each other the eye like in the Dangerous Liaisons film. They probably won't want to dance to my playing, but I like to let my imagination wander! The reality is there won't be anyone dancing, but just an ever observant examiner to make sure I'm tonguing, slurring and fingering in the right place! And then I'll get on with some clarinet playing!
The other tunes on my list are Mama Paquita, and Cantilena.  My biggest challenge, aside from not getting too nervous when playing, is to have the CD player ready at the right place. In the absence of a live pianist to play along with me, the London College of Music board allow us to use backing tapes for songs. Hopefully everything will come together on the day. So I will sign off here and get back to my practicing - both in playing the songs and in pressing the play button!

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Photo of the day - 27: Hospitals in the time of coronavirus

King's College Hospital

At a time when coronavirus is still ravaging our every day lives there is a concern that people are not getting the treatments they need due to overcapacity in hospitals. A few appointments I had booked for earlier this year were postponed due to Covid-19 and the need to keep social distancing. Thankfully now, things are getting back to the usual service, albeit with many appointments being done over the phone. Today, I was actually able to have my appointment at my local hospital. It was five months late, but I still feel fortunate that the appointment was able to take place. I do feel sorry that some people who required appointments or treatment for serious conditions like cancer, or who needed surgery have had their interventions postponed. The need for different members of staff to self-isolate after making contact with a coronavirus person has led to hospitals being short-staffed. Getting rid of the back-log of appointments has meant that hospital staff are working 12+hour-days. It must be so overwhelming. I just hope that the back log can be cleared soon, and thank the NHS workers for their tireless work.

Monday 26 October 2020

Photo of the day - 26: Still buzzing from the hill climbs

Grit and determination on Streatley Hill [photo: Tim Phillips]

Still feeling on a high after the National Hill Climb Championships, I was keen to look at the different websites and see how much coverage the championships got. Considering that it was just an 800m cycle race there was a lot of coverage. I am not sure if this is the usual amount of coverage the event gets, or if the media had gone to town because this was one of only a handful of races that could take place under the current circumstances. Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining. There were also a lot of photographers out and about, and for the first time in a ages I have seen various photos of myself in racing action on different social media feeds. I particularly like this one because it shows my sheer determination, and how I was just focussed on the hill ahead of me.

I have now joined the Hill Climb group on facebook, so I can hear more about hill climb events and such related things. Funnily enough, there is already talk of where the championships will be held next year. The rumour seems to be Winnats Pass, in the Peak District. If the championships really are happening there I will need to start training now. Winnats is the toughest climb I have managed to ride up, and is right on the limit of my capabilities. I don't now how many riders are capable of riding up at race pace and out of the saddle. I definitely among those who can't! Neverthless, I have developed a taste for this, and I look forward to doing more climbs including the Forest Bowland, the Magnificent 7 on the outskirts of Sheffield, and Winnats Pass.

Sunday 25 October 2020

Photo of the day - 25: National Hill Climb Championships - over (the hill) and out!

National Hill Climb Champs souvenir - There was a brownie too, but that disappeared quickly!

Who would have thought I'd be doing a National Championships cycling race, let alone this year! Yes, I did the National Hill Climb Championships on Streatley Hill, near Reading today. With the year being as it's been I was just keen to make the most of any racing that was going on, as I realise that there's nothing that beats pinning a number on and getting into the thick of a competition - even if you're not in contention to win. There is still an adrenaline rush as you try to be the best you can be and chase down your nearest rivals. In these Covid times of social distancing, time trialling is probably the most socially distanced sort of cycle racing you can do. So that has been taking place, albeit with a reduced calendar. So I did one or two of those, and then I signed up for some hill climbs not too far from home. I did a couple around the South Downs - up Steyning Bostal, Firle Beacon, and Mill Hill. I also went further afield to Bank Road in Matlock. I had hoped to do the really excruciating Riber Castle on that same day, but that was full - what a shame!

The National Hill Climbing Championships take place in various parts of the country - from down towards Cornwall and Devon, to up in Northumberland. Having them in the South-East of England was comparatively local for me, so it would have been rude not to go! I actually missed the deadline for entry and had to contact the organisers to see if they could let me in under the wire. Luckily that was possible, so I was able to line up with around 100 other women. This year's competition was noteworthy for the number of female competitors. A campaign had taken place to get 100 women to sign up, and it seems that many people answered the call. That is great to see. For me, I guess The campaign did not necessarily influence my decision to take part, but I guess it meant that I would be less likely to come last given that I have been no stranger to doing races where I was one of only around 5 or 6 women, and I was the weakest link! 

My aim today was just to execute my race as I had predicted in my rough analysis. Based on my results I should finish between 2 minutes 30s and 3 minutes behind the winning woman. Streatley Hill is half a mile long with an average gradient of 13% and a short stretch at 25%. It is less steep in the first 50 metres. Then from there on, it becomes very steep on a bend, then moderately steep, and then after another bend it becomes even steeper before flattening off at the end. The profile was similar to Bank Road, which I had done the previous week, though longer and marginally less savage. I also did a very quick recon of the climb en route to the road race I did yesterday in Abingdon On the basis of my analysis I thought I would do around 5 mins 30. I decided that even if that meant I would come last I wouldn't mind as long as I did the race as I had planned it. I kept focused, did what I had planned and managed 5 minutes 27s, finishing in 90th place out of 93 competitors. The winner, Bithja Jones, did 2 mins 47. That was a record as previous results had shown winners (including when she raced it a month ago) having done 3 mins 5s. 

I was pleased with my result as I gave my best and really left it along with dribbling, snot and sweat on the road. It was a good event, with all the fan fare of a National Championships, compared with other events where the HQ was sometimes just the boot of someone's car in a remote car park. It was great to bump into other competitors that I had seen at other races. There were no airs and graces between the fastest and the slowest. Even though spectators weren't allowed, there were enough marshals, officials and photographers on the hill to shout encouragement and ring cow bells at us. Sadly, I couldn't acknowledge them or say anything back, given that I was otherwise occupied! It was painful at the time, but when I look back at the event I am glad I did it, and have definitely got the bug for this sort of thing.

So, that's the hill climbing season over. Thanks to Christina Gustafson and her team at Reading Cycling Club for putting on this great race. Also thanks to all the other organisers plus the Cycling Times Trials association for putting on the races particularly during this testing (pardon the pun) season. Looking forward to next season!

Saturday 24 October 2020

Photo of the day - 24: My first road race in a gazillion years!

Racing at the Richard Kell memorial race, Abingdon Aerodrome (photo: Steve Cartmell)
As we're having a different kind of year I thought I would do things differently. One of those things has been doing time trials. I did one in July, and I have even taken to doing hill climb races. Another thing I have done has been to restart road racing. The last time I did one of those was in 2013 at the Tameside circuit in Manchester. That was just a one-off I was doing after a gap of almost three years. So even then it felt strange. But I managed to hang on to a group. The era when I did road racing regularly was between 2003 and 2011. So this time, doing a road race just felt like a very new experience. That thing of racing around a windswept racing circuit, or in today's case an aerodrome felt quite alien. But I have done it before, so I figured I should be able to do it again - except that I am 10 years older, on the wrong side of 50 and racing against women less than half my age. There was a full field, consisting of around 25 women, with a sizeable chunk of the field being from Cowley Road Condors Cycling Club, Abingdon Race Team, and other local racing teams. 

The format of the race, organised by Abingdon Race Team, was a bit different. Rather than it being a one-hour race around a circuit, it was three mini races, each lasting around 15 minutes with a 15-minute rest in between each race. The first race I did, I was dropped immediately. The second one, I stayed with the bunch for a lap and then got dropped and rode with a couple of girls for a few laps before dropping back when I realised I just didn't have the strength to contribute to the through and off. On the final race I was dropped part way through the first lap and rode out of my skin to reach another rider who had also been dropped. I edged closer to her, but didn't quite manage it. So it's fair to say I have a lot of work to do. What I realised is that I am not race fit. However, there is nothing that beats this sort of riding as part of training. So I do feel motivated to go back and do more races to get back in the swing of things. I'm sure it's still possible! I must say, there was a very friendly atmosphere at the event, and the women were encouraging, asking me where I was from and if I was new - which I might as well have been! Some even invited me to joint their team. That was jolly nice of them, though I guess given where I live I should sign up with a local outfit. But even though I was a bit rubbish I still feel motivated to do more. 

Friday 23 October 2020

Photo of the day - 23: Giro d'Italia breakaway to Abbiategrasso

Trezzano sul Naviglio, near Abbiategrasso 

As it's Flashback Friday I am casting my mind back to a bike ride I did along the Naviglio Grande from Milan to Abbiategrasso while on a visit to Milan two years ago. That in itself was a nostalgia ride as it reminded me of the two years I spent there between 2012 and 2013. Riding along the Naviglio Grande was a mainstay ride for me in those days, as it was my local run. I was staying close to Corsa Genova, so it was very easy to get onto the fashionable Navigli, ride past the trendy canal-side cafés and continue along the canal path (Naviglio Grande) to Abbiategrasso. This picture is actually taken at Trezzano sul Naviglio, just before Abbiategrasso. It's only about a 45 minute ride from the grand Milan metropolis, but it is pretty quiet, and has a very laid back feel close to the fields of the Milan suburbs. Interestingly, this is the place where today's stage of the Giro d'Italia began. It wasn't planned that way. The professional riders should have started in Morbegno, in the Alps and then headed into Asti (of fizzy wine fame) in Piedmont. But in typical Giro d'Italia tradition, there was a rider protest. The riders had spent yesterday racing in the freezing conditions up the Stelvio Pass, so some decided they weren't prepared to do today's 258km-stage. Instead, the teams were bussed over 130km across Lombardy to a big car park not far from where this photo was taken, and the riders raced the remaining 124.5km from there. Rider protests in the Giro d'Italia are not uncommon. They usually complain about the long transfers between stages, being made to race in difficult climatic conditions, racing over a wet slippery 25% slope like Plan di Corones, or even on the 100th anniversary edition where they were to race around Central Milan, weaving around parked cars on narrow streets! So this protest didn't surprise me - though the director, Mauro Vegni has vowed to take action against the ring leaders. I think rider protests are an Italian bike race thing. I remember in a cyclosportive  we were meant to do a cyclosportive across the Dolomites but it was bucketing down, with snow at the summits. Although the event was reduced to a race up Passo Fedaia, riders still complained that conditions would be unsafe.  On another occasion, at the Giro di Sardegna cyclosportive there was a big deal made about us doing a time trial that involved a long downhill section. After a big open debate between riders and the organiser the stage was cancelled and we did a leisurely ride along the coast instead. It's just an Italian thing, I guess.

Thursday 22 October 2020

Photo of the day - 22: New Bike Day - a lovely Brompton!

Looking forward to zipping around London and beyond on this

So this landed on my doorstep, and it made my day! It was given to me by Brompton as a recompense for a day I had filming and doing a photo shoot with them in July. I had a good day out with their film crew recording footage and taking photos of a group of us cycling around Central London on Brompton bikes. That was the first time I was riding extensively on a Brompton. When I was based in Milan a few years ago I would do the 3-mile commute to work on a folding bike, so I did enjoy using that. I must admit though, that for me a Brompton is the gold standard in folding bikes. So being able to ride around London on that Sunday in July was great, and I was even more excited to know that 6-speed versions exist for those like me, who live in hilly areas. It was a very pleasant surprise to know I would be receiving one. So at lunchtime a young man arrived at the door with a big box, and I ran to the door like an excited child. It's in exactly the colour I wanted, too. Collegiate green is my thing, and I think it blends well with autumn colours. I look forward to zipping around London and beyond with it. 

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Photo of the day - 21: At Cherry Pie Music for my first clarinet lesson

Cherry Pie Music School for clarinet lessons and various other instruments 

This quaint looking place near South Wimbledon is a music school. That's where I went for my first clarinet lesson. I figured that if I have an exam in a month's time it would be good to get in a few lessons and to have an expert assess my playing. I have self-taught myself over the years, using a mixture of You Tube, and years before that ever existed, the great Klosé Method Manual with its gazillions of drills. Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to formalize my level by doing the grades, so in the first instant I am starting at the very beginning, a very good place to start! My Grade 1 exam syllabus seems fairly straightforward with short basic tunes and easy scales; the whole exam only lasts 15 minutes, so I am feeling pretty relaxed about it. I wasn't best prepared when I arrived at the place. I was a little hot and bothered from having done the one-mile brisk walk from where I'd parked at the shopping centre. Then I had to put on my mask on my arrival, which made me quite hot. So I spent a few minutes stripping off my layers of clothing before I could take out and assemble my clarinet. Given that this was only a half-hour lesson I didn't want to waste any more time so I got straight into playing without properly dampening the reed. I was also a bit nervous, and hadn't practiced for a few days. I'm sure I didn't sound that good. However, to my surprise the teacher said that I had played well enough to pass the exam. I would need to do more breathing exercises to support the higher notes better and give fullness - but for Grade 1 that's more like the cherry on the cake. That's very reassuring. I look forward to having more lessons; as it is classed as a school it may well remain open even if London moves into Tier 3 lockdown. The place is set up with social distancing taken into account. You wear a mask until you enter the tuition room. The tuition room is divided into two, with a perspex glass to separate the pupil from the teacher. The teacher has a mask and a personal protection perspex face covering, though she removed it once behind the perspex. So it all seemed pretty safe.  Here's hoping my clarinet playing doesn't get too disrupted.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Photo of the day - 20: Women gearing up for the National Hill Climb Championships


Finish line of Bank Road hill climb: Haddi Conant (with Simon
"100 Climbs" Warren in the background)

With less than a week to go until the National Hill Climb championships there is a bit of fanfare goinng on around the fact that there will be a record turn-out of women competing at the event. A former full-time road racer, Laurie Pestana led a campaign to "flood the National Hill Climb Championships with female entries (ideally 100+ entries), women would have their entry fees paid for them. (Rather like what Helen Wyman did a few years ago to get under-23 women to compete in the National Cyclocross Championships). This was done as a way to encourage a greater female participation at the event, and get organisers to commit to paying equal prize money for the male and female winners. Observers say around 140 women signed up for the event, so folks have been excited at this unprecedented occasion. Some of the entrants were at the Hill Climb at Bank Road. One of the women was Haddi Conant, who has taken to wearing a campaign banner on her back at the races she's been doing. She initially had a banner that said "Equal prize money for men and women!!" But once she heard that equal prize money was being offered at the Bank Hill event and at the National Championships she changed the wording. Haddi has also made a film as part of her campaign. In parallel to this, another rider Gemma Wilks is making a film about women's participation in cycling, as a way to showcase what women do, in a hope of inspiring other women. I am all for doing anything to encourage more women to take up cycling and also to sign up for races. In fact, I have been involved in initiatives, such as the London Women's Cycle Racing League, back in 2010. That has gotten people many women into cycling. It is all very well for women to campaign for equal prize money or better recognition etc in the sport. However, I feel that at grass roots level, women need to step up to the plate more themselves. Sometimes I find it surprising the disparity in the number of women who campaign for various gender issues related to sport vs how many women actually turn up at the start lines of races. I know of race organisers who put on races for women, only to have barely a handful of women turn up. Some even have to cancel races due to a lack of participants - or run the race at a substantial financial loss. During the road racing season, at least once every few weeks a race organiser puts out an appeal for more entrants because at two weeks out from the race he or she has barely 10 women signed up. So while it is great to ask for certain things from those who organise the races, we should also satisfy our end of the deal by participating regularly. Men may be perceived as receiving more favourable treatment, but then again when a race is organised the men always turn out. With women it can be very hit and miss, and high risk especially for people who are running these events on a shoestring budget and organise races as a labour of love. Some folks claim that organisers need to engage with women more, or do more to make us feel welcome. But then I say, why should organisers do more for women than they would do for men? It's ironic to say, "We want gender parity, but can you do more marketing to we women, encourage us more and give us more of a welcome than you do with men so more of us can turn up?" You can't cherry pick what you want equality to look like. I say, if women want comparable returns to the men from race organisers they need to put themselves out there, rather than grumbling from the side lines. I am glad to see that the National Hill Climbing Championships will have so many female competitors. I hope this can be repeated regularly across all kinds of races, and without always needing special campaigns.   

Monday 19 October 2020

Photo of the day - 19: Short bike ride along High Peak Trail


As this was my final day in Matlock before returning to London I thought I would have an "easy" day riding along a rail trail. The nearest one to me was the High Peak Trail, which can be joined in the nearby village of Cromford. So I rode three or four miles along the A6 to Cromford where I could pick up the trail. It wasn't that easy to find, and I did a few a couple of unnecessary detours. But eventually I found a back lane which rose up quite steeply to get me onto the trail at Black Rocks. I guess they don't call it "high" peak for nothing! The trail is very pretty, though I found it tough-going at times, especially in the initial part where the trail dragged uphill to Black Rock. It then dropped down, only for me to start climbing again to reach Middleton Top. This trail also doubles as the Pennine Bridleway, a long-distance off-road path with different sections I have ridden in various parts of the Peak District. The path also goes through Yorkshire, and is quite challenging. This may explain why the High Peak Trail felt like harder work compared with the nearby Tissington Trail which I rode a few years ago. It was possible to continue along this trail to Parsley Hay, where I could join Tissington trail and do a big circuit to get back to Cromford and Matlock. However, being stuck for time I left the High Peak Trail and navigated my way along various un-named bridleways to head towards Grangemill Farm, then back to Matlock via Brightgate. This was a fun route, though at one point I made a wrong turn and ended up on the edge of an industrial quarry - which would have been interesting if I had fallen on track! In the end, this "shortened" route still had a riding time of over two hours, and with extra time added on for map-reading and getting lost the total outing was almost three hours! It had been a good day's off-road riding. Now I know why so many people rave about off-road riding in the Peak District. There is so much choice. Also, there's a chance I will be back here again soon as I have signed up for a cyclocross race in Matlock, which will take place very close to Grangemill. At least I will know what to expect.

Sunday 18 October 2020

Photo of the day - 18: Out and about in Matlock

Matlock as seen from the Limestone Way

I had an active Sunday in Matlock. Doing a hill climb race on the South Downs yesterday meant that I didn't arrive in Matlock until late yesterday evening. So I felt like I had some catching up to do. So the first thing this morning I did a mini ride around the local area, taking in Bank Road, where I would later do the hill climb race that afternoon. I then continued towards Wirksworth and Middleton Top, going via Riber Castle. A hill climb race was going on there too this morning, and I exchanged a few words with one of the marshals. Matlock is a hilly place, I must say. Keen to not overdo things like I had done the previous week at the Brighton Mitre events, and turn up at the afternoon hill climb feeling tired, I kept the bike ride brief. I did do a mini cross country run along the Limestone Way though. I decided that that was round 2 of my personal cross country series. But in fact, this run was not so much as cross country but a fell run! There were great views of the town below, with Riber Castle in the distance. I then returned to my hotel room in time to change into my cycling gear to do the hill climb. After the climb, given that it was a sunny day I felt I had to make the most of the nearby country lanes. So I did a little walk along the River Derwent and then up to the war memorial at the top of a hill. By the end of the day, my legs were shot and I was ready to put my feet up. I slept well. In short, Matlock is a place where there's no shortage of things to do.

Saturday 17 October 2020

Photo of the day - 17: Another hilly bike ride on the South Downs


On the way down from Bo Peep - great to see the paragliders out 
Continuing my hill climbing season, today saw me once again on the slopes of the South Downs. My day started with a hill climb competition up to Firle Beacon. It was similar to the one I did at Steyning Bostal last week, except that in this one I actually had the time to reccie the climb. Well, the sign-on was located at the summit, and given that I had chosen to park in Firle village I had no choice but to ride up the climb to pick up my number. Last week I had been the minute woman to local rider Cathy Wallace. I had managed to stay ahead of her, but she still put time into me and beat me by 30 seconds. This time she wasn't there and I was minute woman to another local rider, Erica Martin of Eastbourne Rovers. She caught me three-quarters of the way up the climb. For me, that was a good result as she is a strong rider and Firle is slightly harder than Steyning. I finished third last in this one, which was an improvement on last place in my previous hill climb! One thing about racing is how you keep bumping into people you recognise from other races. Debbie Percival, racing for Kent Velo Girls was there - she had been at the two races I did last week. Also, it was good to see Natalie Creswick, who I know from other cycle races I have done in the past. It's that that gives cycle racing a community feel too, as you go around the circuit and get to know different people - like in many competitive sports. 
After racing up Firle Beacon, I thought it would have been rude not to pay a visit to the other nearby well-known climb, Bo Peep. So I did a little loop further to the east where I picked up the little lane that took me to the summit. That climb is shallow initially, and there is around a 10% ramp as you turn the first bend. However, the real sting is the final bend, which must be more like 18%. I am glad that wasn't included in the race. Along the way, I saw a couple of guys on hybrid bikes who were really suffering on the slope. We congratulated each other when we met again in the car park. Talk about solidarity in pain!
As well as the company of other bike riders mad enough to ride up Bo Peep for pleasure, we had many paragliders up and above us, making the most of the thermals. Gee, the lengths people go, to reach the summit without pedalling a bike - cheats!

Friday 16 October 2020

Photo of the day - 16: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - Are they working?


Planters in the low traffic neighbourhood in Wandsworth Town
As a way to help social distancing and encourage sustainable ways of transport around London, councils were given the go-ahead by the government to set up Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). Basically it means blocking off residential roads (often used as cut-through routes by motorists) with boxes of plants (planters) so that only cyclists and pedestrians can use these roads. In principle, these sound a great idea. I really enjoyed cycling along this road in Wandsworth Town along with other cyclists, and being able to stop and sit at one of the many cafes with outdoor seats. It definitely gave a continental feel to the road. It was also nice to see families with young children cycling, just like you would see in places like Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The problem is that all the motorised traffic has now been displaced onto main roads, so there is horrendous traffic on the roads surrounding these LTNs. On the facebook group for my local area there has been a massive outpouring of outrage and disgust at these LTNs in Crystal Palace. People report spending half an hour to make a car journey that previously took 5 minutes. Then the car haters turn out and advise people to travel by bicycle - which inflames matters even more as folks very sternly retort that it is totally impractical to work as an electrician, builder, ferry children around or provide community care on a bicycle. I had the "pleasure" of experiencing an LTN as a motorist today when driving back to Crystal Palace after buying some gardening items. I must say, as someone who is solidly sold on the matter of travelling by bike, these LTNs have not been helpful. I did so many U-turns to find alternative routes just to get out of the horrendous traffic jam. All routes into Crystal Palace were chock-a-block. In the end, I chose the least worst option - which was still 20 minutes when it would have taken me 3 minutes. I could have got home quicker if I'd run. But then I would have made myself ill with all the thick pollution generated from the traffic jam. So, unfortunately I have to give these LTNs the thumbs down. I have heard that Wandsworth Council and Lewisham Council have decided to remove the LTNs. My local borough, Bromley made a decision not to introduce them. However, Croydon have been so zealous about them that at times it almost looks as though those folks who live within an LTN may never be able to leave their neighbourhood by car ever again! These LTNs were a nice idea, but I think there needs to be a rethink.

Thursday 15 October 2020

Photo of the day - 15: A good read

I am very interested to know this guy's story
Don't tell me the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have meant you have more time! That's not been true for me at all! Yes, the year has been extraordinary with something one thousandth the size of a pinhead managing to topple economies and bring chaos and consternation to people's lives. I have done my best to keep my head above the water, and keep the plates spinning. This has led to work being busier than ever. Also, setting myself new goals and challenges has meant that preparing for those has also led to things being busy. So I haven't had the chance to order in more beer or gin and do a Netflix box set binge, or spend the day on House Party or Zoom - tempting as they might be! But I have tried to get in a bit of reading - an important thing to do as a writer. These days I enjoy reading biographies, especially those of athletes and high profile people in sport. I always find their stories inspirational, and in many cases the athletes will have had to overcome hurdles and setbacks on their route to achieving great things. They don't always have to be professional bike riders, but stories about all types of sport stars interest me. As a Londoner living in Crystal Palace it would seem remiss of me to not read the autobiography of Ian Wright. Having heard his emotional reflections on his life earlier this year on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs I have been even keener to read his story. I am only at the beginning of the book, where he talks about his early pre-Arsene Wenger days at Arsenal. Talking of Wenger, his autobiography has just been released too. For me, Wenger is a football manager for whom I have great admiration. He was one of the first managers to change the style of football management in English football. It is hard to ignore the work he did to give Arsenal the nickname "the invincibles" during the 2000s. So knowing that book is out actually gives me more incentive to hurry up through Ian Wright's book - not that it won't be an interesting read though. 

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Photo of the day - 14: Pimping my ride!

Found on my ride - at the side of the road!
It's not particularly good form to leave your unwanted items outside your house. Folks are encouraged to take them to recognised recycling venues or charity shops. But in London we are seeing it more and more, especially as the things left outside do get picked up. I once saw a piano left in the street. And that was taking too, even though it looked in bad shape and would have been horribly out of tune. Today, it was my turn to do a roadside pick-up, of an unwanted item. It was left outside a house a couple of streets from where I live. The design of this coat really caught my eye as I rode past, at the start of my training ride. Initially, I thought I would wait to pick it up on the homeward run, but then changed my mind because to me, it looked stylish enough that someone else would pick it up during the hour that I was out riding in the country lanes. Usefully, I had my customary mini rucksack with me, so I was able to stuff the coat into my bag and continue my journey. I have no idea if it really was a high price coat, but it looks like something you don't see very often and that is what made me pick it up. Mind you, it was left outside an expensive looking detached house with a blue plaque on the facade, so that could give a clue of the value of the coat! As I stuffed the coat into my rucksack a Mercedes estate pulled up, and a young couple stepped out of the car. As they looked at me, they greeted me and said "thank you". Then they walked into the house with the blue plaque. I felt a mixture of slight embarrassment, but also satisfaction that they perceived me as having helped them get rid of their "rubbish". The coat proved useful, as later on it got a bit cold so I wore it for the run-in home. It's not quite Rapha cyclewear, but it was just as warm, and stylish!

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Photo of the day - 13: The pain of hill climbs

Grinding up Steyning Bostal at the Hill Climb (photo: Dave Hayward)

This was me struggling up Steyning Bostal, on the South Downs during last weekend's hill climb. I had only had time to reccie two thirds of the 0.9-mile route, but I had an idea of what to expect. Setting off I pushed as hard as I could on the early steeper section of the climb, making an effort out of the saddle. As the middle section was less steep I continued to push a hard gear though with a higher cadence, while in the saddle. Then when the final section steepened again, I had that slightly anxious moment where I thought "Help, I am fast running out of gas here; how will I get up that last 12% gradient??" At that moment I just ground away with my head down. I didn't want to see the road as that would have freaked me out, so I focused purely on turning my legs. Then my breakfast was wanting to repeat itself on me. No, I must not vomit. I could hear the few spectators [in low numbers due to Covid restrictions] cheering and encouraging me, but I couldn't acknowledge them as I was concentrating on hanging in there. Breathing really hard, sweating, dribbling, full of snot, my bike weaved all over the road as I was willing the finish line to come soon. Then at last, as the the gradient seemed to lessen a little, I made a final effort out of the saddle to the chequered flag. Finally, the pain was over and I heaved a massive sigh, spinning my achy legs, and feeling gaga while trying to get my breath back.

That had felt like a Herculean show of force from me, though looking up my result on the Cycling Time Trials website today the result shows that I came second last! In the other hill climb I did that afternoon on Mill Hill, near Shoreham-by-Sea I came last and was a full minute behind the second-last placed rider. So it goes to show, you may be in pain and giving it beans, but at the end of the day the hill climb just slaps down my effort and puts you in your place. One light at the end of the tunnel is my future results can only go in one direction! Funnily enough, there's something slightly addictive about these quirky kinds of races that makes me want to do more! In fact more hill climbs are on the calendar, so I look forward to doing it all again. I'm just a glutton for pain!  

Monday 12 October 2020

Photo of the day - 12: Cyclocross is boss

Cyclocross at Astor College, Dover [Photo: Matt Bristow]

I enjoy that Monday feeling after having spent the previous weekend racing. There were two hill climb races, a bit of trail running, and of course, cyclocross race. After all, it is that time of the year. This was my first cyclocross race of the season (though the second race in the series). So I took myself over to the course in Dover and took the start line. (I had pre-entered, as is now compulsory during these Covid times.) Still feeling tired after the previous day's efforts at the two hill climbs and a bike ride, I didn't imagine I would be able to ride really hard. So, over the 40-minute race, I just raced to get round. There were a lot of twists and turns on the cambers of the hills, as well as a couple of steep climbs and a sand pit. I negotiated my way around these obstacles somewhat sketchily like Frank Spencer, though that was part of the fun. I finished 12th out of 14 women, and was lapped twice by the winner, Emily Ashwood. (22 women had entered the race but there were eight non-starters.) In any case it was an enjoyable afternoon out, with a friendly atmosphere. It was good to catch up with the old faces from last year too.   

Sunday 11 October 2020

Photo of the day - 11: Running along the White Cliffs of Dover

As I was in Dover for a cyclocross race, and it was a sunny day I thought, why not make a quick trip across to the famous White Cliffs, for a quick trail run. I had a hire car, so wanted to make the most of the hire time, and the cliffs were just a 10-minute drive from the cyclocross venue at Astor College. So off I popped. This is actually National Trust land, so you pay a £5 fee to park there, and you have access to well-maintained sign-posted trails, picnic spots, a cafe, toilets, plus lovely coastal views, including of France, 20 miles away. You also see all the action at the ferry terminal right below, if that's more your thing. As I had been racing less than hour earlier my legs wouldn't allow me to run any long distance in this area, but the 4km I did were a good introduction - especially as it involved around 130m of climbing! Yes, this is a particularly favourable area for fell runners! On all the recent times I had been to Dover I breezed through on my bike to get on a boat to France. I had never thought of sightseeing in Dover. But witg this extensive area of the cliffs, the nearby castle, and the old town, there is a reason to do a day trip here. So I will make a day of it next time - before catching the ferry to France!

Saturday 10 October 2020

Photo of the day - 10: Birthday get-together

It was great to catch up with my family to celebrate my sister's birthday. Fortunately, we can still get out to bars and restaurants in these Covid-19 times (albeit with a 10pm closing time), so we were able to go to this gastro pub in South London. My day had been quite fun-packed as my it started with an early-morning train journey to Shoreham-by-sea to take part in two hill climb races on the South Downs. It was early evening when I got back to London. Then it was a quick change to zip across from Crystal Palace to Kidbrook. I was a bit late getting there, but I was glad to have made it for Eromi's special day.

Friday 9 October 2020

Photo of the day - 9: Skipping rope sessions and hula hooping


I always like to find a way of keeping my health and fitness regime interesting. One of the ways is by skipping and and doing hula hoop. I especially like skipping, which is something I have done since I was a teenager. It's the most efficient way of keeping fit as I don't have to do much of it before I am out of breath. It is also the exercise that has kept my legs in trim over my 50+ years! The hula hoop is also a very useful tool. It is great for the waistline and mid-riff in general. The thing about both of these activities is that they are fun, and for me when I do them they don't feel like real sport or exercise - just playing around really. Interestingly, many people have taken up these exercises too since lockdown. So I must be doing something right! While out skipping in my local park today I had a bit of an audience from some young kids, who were quite fascinated by what I was doing. It looked as though they would have abandoned their bikes to have a go at what I was doing! That actually makes me think I must be cool - that's weird! And I always thought it's we oldies that want to do what the young'uns are doing!

Thursday 8 October 2020

Photo of the day - 8: The joy of (waterproof) socks!

 I don't normally get excited about a pair of socks. But I must say I was very pleased to see this pair of Sealskinz land on my doorstep, thanks to Vikki at Aspire PR. We are well and truly into the wind and rain season, so these will come very much in handy for whatever type of bike riding. The would have been particularly useful last Sunday during rainy ride through the Surrey Hills. I guess overshoes can do the job too when it comes to keeping your feet dry and warm, but you need specific overshoes for the different cycling shoes - for mountain biking shoes, road riding, etc. And some have a more optimal fit than others depending on the design of the shoe. But with a waterproof/windproof pair of socks it's one less thing to worry about when riding in this autumnal weather. I look forward to testing them out.

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Photo of the day - 7: My top six South London Hills

Part way up the wall aka Canonbie Road

 As part of my regular set of rides I like to do a loop taking in my local hills near Crystal Palace. I am "blessed" to have these hills right on my doorstep so I can get in some good cycle training and leg strengthening - or at least that's the intention. So once every week or two I do a loop that takes in a few hills. I usually do six, though if I am pushed for time I do four, and if I am feeling motivated and time rich I do at least seven. This morning, I did the customary six - Crystal Palace Park Road, Kirkdale, Westwood Hill, Canonbie Road, Elliot Bank, and Wells Park Road. Crystal Palace Park Road is a nice little leg warmer, with the slopes getting steeper up to the 18% Canonbie Road. I then finish with a "gentle" 10% on Wells Park Road. And after that, I am ready for breakfast! 

This is the route on Strava.

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Photo of the day - 6: Hill climb (no turning back now)!


Full start list of riders for the hill climb is on Cycling Time Trials website

Well I'm in it now! I signed myself up to do a day of hill climb races, and I received confirmation that my entry has been accepted. So Steyning Bostal and Mill Hill here I come!
It's been ages since I did one of these races. The last time was on Swains Lane, Highgate, at the Urban Hill Climb about 10 years ago. They are quite a fun - well more for the spectators than the riders who, at the time, grimace and strain their way up the steep incline while spectators shout into their faces, egging them on. With a bit of distance, I have good memories of these races even if they were painful at the time. There is something quite exciting about these quirky types of races over 800m-1500m with steep gradients. It's not that I am particularly good at them, but I guess living in hilly Crystal Palace has taught me to "like" hills, thus why not test myself out with a race number on and an official timer. So when I heard that the double header of the Catford and the Bec Hill climbs would be taking place in Kent and Surrey I planned on entering them. However, as with a lot of events this year, these races were cancelled. But I found an alternative, in the shape of two hill climbs being organised by Brighton Mitre Cycling Club, along the South Downs. In the morning I will "race" up Steyning Bostal. The fact that I am the second rider off means that I am hardly going to trouble the competition! If I manage to stay ahead of the young local girl, Cathy Wallace, without vomiting at the finish line, that'll be an achievement! Then I just need to save a bit of energy to do it all again on Mill Hill a few hours later. Wish me luck!

Monday 5 October 2020

Photo of the day - 5: Vegetable gratin - good cold weather food

I do like a bit of home cooking. Ever since I got an allotment four years ago, I have been keen to have home-made meals using the crops I have grown. It has made me totally turned my back on ready meals and takeaways. Taking an active interest in my food has helped me maintain a healthy diet and stay off snacking, so that I can appreciate my meals. As the weather gets colder I like to have soups and what I call "warming" food. One of my favourites is vegetable gratin. Sometimes I do a plain old Gratin Dauphinoise with potatoes, sometimes a gratin with homegrown courgettes. Today I went to town a little and threw in various vegetables - courgette, parnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms. Then I put single cream with garlic, onion, and fennel seeds, and cheese on the top. Into the oven for about an hour, and hey presto! The vegetable gratin is nice and filling, without much sugar, and great for appetite control. It's a bit like mountain food that gives me energy to be out on a cold day hiking or skiing. This vegetable gratin gives me the energy to do a nice long run or bike ride on an autumn day. Well, I just need to do a long a run or bike ride now, and not sit on the sofa watching Netflix!

Sunday 4 October 2020

Photo of the day - 4: No cyclocross for me; mountain biking in Peaslake instead

This is the village centre at Peaslake, in the Surrey Hills. The bus shelter and the village shop and post office are normally heaving with mountain bikers at the weekend. On this very rainy and windy day there were very few people out. Just a few hardy souls, and me. I was there as consolation for not being able to get to the cyclocross race I was meant to do in Sandwich. My 'cross bike had dodgy handlebars and I couldn't get them fixed in time. With the race being an almost 2-hour drive away I wasn't going to get there in time, so I had to forego that and instead went mountain biking closer to home. It was good to get out to this part of Surrey Hills, as normally I tend to be on the nearer Leith Hill side. Biking turned out to be a real muddy mess as I splished and splashed over the trails at Pitch Hill and down Barry Knows Best. It wasn't pretty - it wasn't a long ride either given the weather, and it was getting a bit dark. But I am glad I went. Shame I didn't think to get out my camera while on the rain-swept trails!

Saturday 3 October 2020

Photo of the day - 3: My own private cross country running league!

It's that time of year when up and down the country cross country leagues are beginning. With my first claim club, Serpentine Running Club, I do the Metropolitan League in North and West London. Nearer to home I take part in the Surrey League with my second claim club, South London Harriers. I have also run in the East Yorkshire League with East Hull Harriers too. In short, I do like cross country running! Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions have meant that racing was restricted, and although England Athletics have now given the go-ahead for socially distant events, the leagues don't find this workable so there aren't any cross country leagues taking place anywhere near me. But hey, no worries. I'll just do my own So today was my first round of the my own cross country league. And what better way to do it than on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Lloyd Park, Croydon! Actually, by the time I started it the rain had subsided and it was actually quite sunny. The mud didn't disappoint though. I will aim to do 10 cross country races around London, Surrey, and maybe further afield between now and mid-February. I am actually quite looking forward to it.

Friday 2 October 2020

Photo of the day - 2: Playing the clarinet (at least trying)!

I first played the clarinet about 30 years ago, as something to do when I first moved to Paris. Although I got to a decent level, I didn't take any of the exams. As this seems to be the year when people are taking up/revisiting hobbies during lockdown I have decided to get back into clarinet playing and do the grades.  The deadline for applying for the exam is next week, so I just need to decide whether to go with the Royal Society of Music or London College of Music. As the exams are identical, it will come down to the one with the nearest exam centre to where I live. I practice around 45 minutes per day. Hopefully my neighbours don't mind the noise, and I do try at least to make that noise tuneful! I must say, clarinet playing is more physically taxing than I realised. As a youngster I'd play for hours without thinking about it. Nowadays, I have to balance that carefully with the sport I do! Oooh, I'm getting old!

Thursday 1 October 2020

Photo of the day - 1: Cycling on the Wandle Trail

I normally do a "One day, one photo" series during the month of September. This year I have switched it to October, just to vary things. But also because I was so crazily busy in September that I couldn't get on and blog each day! So here goes:

I did a bike ride along the Wandle Trail, a mainly traffic-free route through South London that goes from Croydon to Wandsworth. The route follows the River Wandle, a tributary of the River Thames. It's a pleasant, well-surfaced 12-mile (20km) ride that goes through some less well-known parts of South London, like Beddington, Morden and Earlsfield. You pass through a few parks and go around the back of some industrial areas. I cycled the route with Liv Thrive E+ e-bike, which was very handy as I was pushed for time and wanted to do the ride quickly! This is me at the start of the trail, at Wandle Park in Waddon, just outside Croydon.