Anyone who has ever been involved in planning anything will know that there are two types of plan. Tactical and strategic. Tactical plans are supposed to be about dealing with the “now”. In reality they should really be classed as documentation because they are usually a case of writing down the things you are doing today that you should have done ages ago. Strategic plans are done by people with useless jobs who deliver nothing. These muppets sit in their offices and pronounce that in the future we should all be doing things “like this”. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’ve had the word “Strategy” in many a job title.
These pronouncements are based upon evidence gathered at highly expensive conferences paid for by their companies and populated by a similar vein of useless guessing future pundit. The speakers rattle on in a visionary manner describing a future where we’ll all have cars that fly, but this future is never delivered. I watched every single episode of Tomorrow’s World and nothing proposed is now in my house. You may argue that the CD is, but Kieren Prendiville spread jam on one and it worked, not in my CD player it doesn’t. (This may be because he used a Bee Gees CD that would sound the same regardless).
So given that strategic planning is only done by useless layabouts you will now have a complete lack of surprise to know that I’ve been doing some. Specifically I’ve been cogitating next year. There will eventually come a time when I’ve finished writing this book and I will need to look for my next writing project. Admittedly that time may well coincide with the delivery of my state pension, but that’s what strategic planning is all about. It’s important to prepare for the future no matter how far away.
In the brainstorming session of one, we wiped the whiteboard clean and the chairman asked for some themes for the next writing project. All assembled looked at each other blankly for a while, until one brave soul approached the whiteboard and wrote “Cycling”. A collective sigh of despair was heard and we had a long debate around alternative subjects. Subjects such as “tropical climates”, “Clare Grogan”, “luxury hotels”, “classic train journeys” and “wankle engined cars” were mooted, but all discounted by either cost or lack of availability. One bright spark suggested “learning to fly” but was assured in no uncertain terms that whilst Helen would probably have a severe problem with Clare Grogan as the study matter, she’d tear the whiteboard into a thousand pieces and hide the savings account book if “flying lessons” were to be proposed.
Therefore, “Cycling” was unanimously agreed and we then moved on to specifics. Another long and turgid debate ensued with a certain individual continually trying to bring Clare Grogan back into the frame. The others laughed at his suggestions of combining this wee Scottish lass with two wheeled shenanigans. This is not really in the spirit of brainstorming where every idea should be allowed its say. Eventually we were in agreement and I can now proudly announce that the next project.....is a secret. But I will state that it’s got much harder rides in it, will take more than a year to write and will not be done full time or maybe even as a book.
Now that we’d agreed on the principle, we started on the plan which led to a list of things I need to ride next year. One of them is a twenty four hour mountain bike race and I am required to ride it alone. My friend, Russ, knows this already and he face palmed himself as he remembered the epic that was our last twenty four hour race. I’ll spare you the detail, but it ended up with me sulking behind a bush waiting for the whole thing to end.
Clearly I need to toughen up a little and another friend called Nicky knows this as well. She had read one of my recent blogs where I was moaning on about my lot on the bike and how hard it was. To shut me up, Nicky mailed me a little gift.
You’ll probably not be able to make out the inscription. It reads “Toughen the Fuck Up”. Now I know I said I would try to swear less in these blogs, but Nicky made me do it. And she’s right. I need to TTFU a hell of a lot more if I’m going to complete a 24 on my own.
Consequently, I’ve resolved to ride my bike all the way through winter. Thus ensuring that I arrive in 2012 with a good base level of fitness and a complete absence of chocolate around the waist. This is not as easy as it sounds when the country is being assaulted by hurricanes. Hurricane Bawbag put paid to my Scotland trip and hurricane Barse is doing everything it can to stop me training down south. Bike rides have to be done when opportunity presents.
At the weekend I was down to marshall at a cyclocross race twenty five miles from home. I could have driven to it, but Nicky’s bracelet screamed “TTFU” and so I decided to bike it instead. Looking at the map, the roads wound their way to the race but a huge great byway forged a direct line from close to my house to the event. I rummaged through the garage for a suitable bike and popped out armed with a singlespeed cyclocross bike, last seen at the Three Peaks race. I was a bit worried by the lack of gears, but the TTFU mantra shouted me down and off I gurned to the race.
The problem with maps is they’re so neat. Look at the picture below. Nice orderly byway marked in green, like an off road motorway ready to speed the progress of an idiot singlespeeding cross rider. Actually, an idiot, singlespeeding, hungover cross rider who failed to refuse wine and champagne at a party the previous evening. When planning the route I did not envisage that the local farmer would have ploughed this byway with his tractor’s great big wheels. I had no idea that the subsequent ruts would be filled to brimming with cold, dung laced water. I’d also missed the contours and forgotten that the non-mud bits were chalk devoid of any kind of friction whatsoever.
Twenty five horror strewn miles later I made it to the race, covered from head to foot in clay, chalk, faeces and blood. A few competitors signing on looked at me in abject horror in the belief that I’d returned from a recce of the course. I’d lost the ability to speak and managed to mix grunts with sign language to indicate that I’d simply ridden to the race and was a marshall. Their worry moved from course based to that of supervising personnel.
I then stood for four hours in the freezing cold watching people ten times more mental than me try and survive a cyclocross race. Only one bloke smiled and he came last. I silently un-ticked cyclocross races from next year’s todo list. At around 4pm it was time to go home. It was raining hard now and the wind had picked up. Helen had texted offering a lift, two others at the race took pity as the lift offers began to flood in. But yet again, Nicky’s bracelet spoke, “TTFU Dave, TTFU”.
In the fading light I burnt my bridges, affixed lights and squared pedalled up the steep hill leading to the trail. Soon it was properly dark and I switched on the bar mounted torch bathing my wheel in a glorious light. That’s right, the wheel, the trail ahead was as dark as ever but the light fitting was not playing ball. Gravity pulled the light quickly to the floor and a new pedalling rhythm ensued. Pedal, pedal, pedal, dark, lift light up, adjust, pedal, pedal, pedal, dark....etc. To add to my problems it was really cold making me reluctant to remove my gloves which was necessary to properly adjust the light fitting velcro.
Stupidly I carried on like this for miles until I fell neatly into a ditch whilst adjusting the lights. Point taken, I removed my gloves, fixed the mount and then struggled to replace the gloves as my hands were so cold. By now the rain was properly beating upon my head and arms and legs and chest and arse and bike and camera (which subsequently expired). This wasn’t any rain, it was TTFU rain designed to test the limits of idiot riders stranded in the middle of nowhere in the dark on a singlespeed. It found it’s way to everywhere that is Dave, no crevices were spared and the only remedy was to remount and ride.
But now riding was an order of magnitude harder. The ruts and mess mentioned earlier were even worse in the dark. It was harder to anticipate which rut to choose, some led to mid-track-lakes, others closed in claustrophobically and one contained a huge rat that scared the bejesus out of me as it dived into my light. The GPS mileage countdown slowed to a crawl and I fought for every mile. My hands became inoperable, mercifully the bike was absent of gears and the brakes near useless in the wet and slime. Hands were not required only legs were in demand.
Hours later I forlornly knocked at the back door, well when I say “knocked” I flapped my hands against it in some sort of camp face slapping parody. Helen opened it with that age worn look of “You bloody idiot, what time do you call this and why on earth do you look like a recently dug carrot with a fetid rucksack on its back?”. We managed to extract me from my clothes, ruining the kitchen floor in the process and I was despatched to the shower to raise core temperature above freezing.
[ARTISTS IMPRESSION MINUS WATER, DARK AND FAECES]
As I dried myself I glanced at the TTFU bracelet. Maybe it had begun to work. That was without doubt one of the hardest rides of the year and all I’d set out to do was get myself to a race and back. I’ll be wearing it for the rest of winter, a stark reminder every time I begin to wane.
In other news, my career in media has now gone stellar. Ok, another exaggeration, I made it onto Radio Stoke for a few minutes on Wednesday interviewed about my interest in Tommy Godwin. The full piece is here you will need to fast forward to 2:09:34 where I butt in after “A Hard Day’s Night”.
The Tommy Godwin project has been crystallised further by all of the recent interest and the fact that another bloke has written a book about him. I knew this was happening, but he has done well to get his research done so quickly as it has taken me an age. I’d set out to document the Year Record in its entirety. But like Captain Scott I’ll be second to the pole which means I probably should wait to see what the other book is like before committing mine to print.
I guess this is a problem endemic in writing non-fiction, you can never be sure that someone somewhere isn’t tapping away at the same book as you. I was going to get all down about it but then Nicky’s bracelet told me to TTFU. The Year Record needs to be documented for the sake of cycling rather than Dave. I’ll carry on regardless with my research and the mad plan to ride a week of it. Let’s see where it goes but most importantly let’s tell as many people as we can about it in the process.
16th December 2011
ps. To the driver of WM10 TXS at Seagry on Thursday morning 11.30am. My gesture was “Get off the phone dearie you’re driving”, not “Hello, nice day isn’t it, please veer all over the road with an iphone glued to your ear, I’ve got nothing else better to do than be killed today” FFS
I had an almost rationale debate with my teenage daughter a few weeks ago that went something along these lines:-
“Dad, why do you watch Countryfile? I can’t see the point in it.”
“Well Holly, it is an extremely valuable programme on a number of levels”
“Firstly, I am regularly brought up to date with the best farming practises carried out by plumb voiced farmers”
“Next, I get to see Matt and Ellie trying to make fat ramblers look interesting. Followed by John Craven getting over serious about some controversy that nobody can do anything about”
“But finally, and most importantly of all, I am told the weather outlook for the week”
“Dad, it’s still pointless”
“Isn’t, isn’t, isn’t, isn’t, no returns”
Holly filled her ears with iPod earphones, mouthed “Pointless” at the television and flounced off upstairs for a skype session with Justin Beiber (or so the Skypee claims?). Don’t tell her this though, but she is mostly right. Fifty minutes of Countryfile are completely pointless but I have to sit through it in order to get to the forecast, which is the best on the box.
I know this because I have watched it all year. I use the Countryfile forecast to plan my week, deciding where to ride or whether to forget it and have some quality shed-time instead. Last week I’d planned a trip to Scotland in order to plug a few of the photography gaps. The tension built as the clock moved towards 7.15pm Sunday night, would Countryfile’s weather forecast underwrite my trip?
Simplistically, the answer was “No”. The forecaster dispensed with any charts, science or isobars. He simply pointed at Scotland and shouted “Run away! run away!”. I interpreted this to mean that a storm was coming. The BBC News channel were a little more lucid and calmly advised me not to travel. I turned to Helen and asked “What do you think?”. She told me that I would be fine, but she was holding my life insurance policy at the time so I discounted that.
To make things worse I had been really organised for once and packed for the trip in advanced. Clearly I had to cancel and thus spent Sunday evening forlornly emptying well packed bags of cycling gear onto the bedroom floor.
Cancellation meant I had to spend this week at home and in the absence of any other distractions, do some proper work on the book instead. Consequently I don’t really have anything interesting to write about at all. This is not down to a complete lack of output, there’s been loads. It’s mainly down to the fact that there is only so much blogging you can do about hitting a keyboard a lot and wiggling a mouse. Which is all I’ve really done for five days. But I will attempt to construct a few highlights as it distracts me from proper work for a while.
Firstly I’ve invented a new diagram, it’s pictured below. I spent ages on this in Adobe Illustrator and then showed it to some cycling friends.
They all responded with the same phrase. “What the f**k is that Dave” (damn, I’d promised myself a swear free blog this week). I chuntered on about wind direction and route directional statistics but they were having none of it, so we’ll be redesigning that one then.
Next, I laid out my route guide pages. This had already been done in a draft form but needed some proper precision and consistency adding to the pages. “Proper precision and consistency” comes hard to someone like me, so I spent days on it. I now have a new respect for graphic designers and arty/marketingish type people. Previously, I thought that all they did was wear niche T-shirts, eat Quinoa based salads whilst pressing a “Make this thing look much better” button in Adobe Photoshop.
Now I’ve been through it myself, I properly appreciate how hard and time consuming consistency is. Make the slightest change over here and suddenly over there looks completely wrong. So you change over there to look right, but now over here is looking dodgy. So you spend ages working on over here and over there together, sit back with a satisfied grin only to realise that whilst they both look cool the rest of the document is now a complete mess.
I’ve also been working on route statistics, both the display of them and the data capture. This comes with its own set of problems especially when you look at how I gathered them. Most route information has been captured using a GPS, this is a great little tool that logs your position every few seconds. I’ve carried one on all of my rides. The problem is that on these rides I’ve been taking photos using a process that goes something like this:
-set camera up on tripod and press self timer
-frantically ride up road
-ride back wearing gormless face
-repeat many times until almost acceptable picture achieved
Now any sensible person would turn off the GPS logger during this process as you don’t want the photo-miles included in the route. Re-read the first three words of the last sentence and guess what I did? So all of my routes are a bit of a mess, which in turn blows my statistics and requires that somebody patiently edit the file and remove the errant logs.
More hours spent clicking at the mouse whilst staring at the screen. I think this is similar to how Air Traffic Controllers work these days, I hope they’ve banned social networking sites and forums from their computers? I’ve been tempted to ban them from mine in order to elicit some focus.
On Thursday I cracked and sneaked out for an afternoon bike ride as only us freelancers can do. The wind had other ideas, consequently cranking itself up to “11” in order to deter my skiving. But after doing a little work on my Tommy Godwin FAQ I felt obliged to persist. On that day in 1939 he had ridden 162 miles, so it would be rude of me to stay at home.
I straddled the Cross bike (it’s a technical term non-cyclists, all my bikes are delirious with pleasure) and sped out into the hills. Then I turned West and track-standed my way to Avebury in a gale. The wind was strong, cold and blustery which made things much worse, like pushing against a locked door that suddenly gives.
Riding past Hackpen Hill I spotted a Chinook Helicopter on low level manoeuvres. I have no idea what it was trying to do, but how those pilots keep those great big things in the air in blustery gales is beyond me. I’m sure it’s all done with computers, but so is most of my book and the previous nine hundred words are testament to it not being a walk in the park. The return journey would have been stupidly fast but the Cross bike is a singlespeed. So only my legs went stupidly fast, the rest of the body and bike ambled back pleasantly.
Sitting here on the forty ninth Friday of my project I’m reasonably pleased with the week. I can actually print bits of the book out now and am almost ready to approach publishers with a “What do you think?”. The spreadsheet says at least 35 more man days required to finish the content. That translates into 3 Dave months. The savings account is in denial about the impending date called Christmas and doesn’t want to hear “3 months”.
Would anyone like to buy some bikes? One previous owner, only slightly abused, and the bikes are pretty knackered as well.
I’m sure you are now familiar with the name Fenton. If you are not I will direct you to this Youtube video of a bunch of deer being chased round a park by Fenton the dog. The video’s gone viral mainly due to Fenton’s owners clear and public horror as to what his dog is up to. “Jesus Chris” he exclaims, as the pack of deer are loosely herded by what looks to be a black labrador.
Now this video has really pissed me off. And this has nothing to do with coming from a generation that spent Sunday evenings glued to “One Man and his Dog” in the olden days of three channels on the TV. I could definitely present a case against the “dogs of today”, their lack of patience and unwillingness to serve an apprenticeship. Plainly the dogs of today simply dive in and herd things, whereas the dogs I used to watch on TV shepherded properly with lots of lying down and “come bys”. They went through years of training before the reward of a TV appearance. Fenton simply acts like a dick in Richmond Park and millions are in awe of his antics.
But my beef is different, the reason I am pissed off is because it’s gone viral with no effort whatsoever. The owner simply uploaded it to Youtube and suddenly they’re famous. I saw them on breakfast TV on Monday, a father and son team lauded by the presenters for their fantastic ability to press “Record”, “Stop” and then “Share”.
Clearly I am bitter, and I will admit to that. I sit in this shed day in day out trying to think of ideas for self promotion and publicity. I’m going to need them if I’m ever to sell a copy of this book. I also need some help with research for my “Year Record” project and the more people that know about it, the more help I can get.
In April I had a brainwave, I’d create a Twitter account as a tribute to Tommy Godwin, from it I would tweet his daily mileage and cyclists all around the world could follow his progress. The cycling press would pick up on it and the whole thing would go viral. What could possibly go wrong?
Last Sunday the account had nine followers. I’d sent links to the cycling press, tweeted various cycling celebrities, discussed it with journalists and they had responded by emailing me pictures of tumbleweed. Nevertheless I maintained the account in the vane hope that one day somebody would see it and take an interest.
Last week I took a call from the BBC. A very nice lady asked me about my interest in Tommy Godwin as they were doing a short programme about him that would go out on Monday night. I waffled on a bit about how inspirational the year record was whilst ignoring her loud yawns down the phone. Then I mentioned the twitter account. The yawns were eclipsed by scribbles, turns out she was from BBC online and I’d said a magic word.
We finished the conversation and I thought nothing of it, maybe I’d get one extra hit on the website as she made sure I was telling the truth. But on Monday I went viral. Well, maybe viral is a bit of an exaggeration, let’s agree that on Monday my website and twitter account did more traffic in a day than they usually manage all year.
I was getting “pings” every minute as people signed up to the twitter account and all sorts of emails asking questions about Tommy and the year record. It turns out that the nice lady had written a story about it and put it up on the BBC website, you can see it here. The cycling press and journalists had read it as well and copied it to their websites (fascists, won’t listen to me..but Auntie Beeb mutters and they are slathering). People were tweeting left right and centre about the year record account and telling their friends. Cycling forums were discussing it and linking back to my site. Traffic was at an all time high.
Then I got a phonecall from Lee Stone at BBC Wiltshire Radio, would I pop down to the studio now for a quick over-the-air interview? I pretended that I had all sorts of highly important meetings, but he persisted and I agreed to wander down to their offices at 5.45pm. I told a few friends about this and one asked if I felt nervous about going on air. I nonchalantly waved him away with the information that I was joint winner of the Wootton Bassett School drama cup in 1982. Secretly I had one overriding fear, I was scared that I’d say “f**k”.
Regular readers will know that I am a little sweary. As will anyone who has passed within 500 yards of my garage. Walking down Victoria Hill I chanted a little mantra “Don’t say f**k, don’t say f**k, don’t say f**k”. But this made things worse. It was now front of mind and taking over all rational thought, I should have been preparing myself with statistics and unique insights into Tommy’s rides but the front lobe was clogged with the word I’m not allowed to say.
A few minutes later I was buzzed in the door fully expecting to be whisked into a meeting room and fully briefed on how to act and behave on air. I imagined them giving me some sort of loose script and carefully reminding me that profanities are not to be uttered within BBC premises, especially the word “f**k”. I was hoping for a green room similar to that enjoyed by the guests of Jonathan Ross, maybe with complimentary wine or a few M&Ms.
Things were rather different though. I was taken straight upstairs into a room full of recording machines and computers. A guy called Mark was twiddling knobs, talking to callers on the phone, typing into a computer and waving through a glass window at somebody. It was almost as if I’d walked into a multi-tasking seminar for men. Mark put me at ease, offered me a drink, told me I’d be on in ten minutes whilst simultaneously answering the door, programming two idle computers and writing the script for next week’s show. I pretended to look busy by writing my name fifteen times into my notebook.
All too quickly I was ushered into an empty studio and sat near a microphone. The door was shut and I was left to my thoughts. “Don’t say f**k, don’t say f**k, don’t say f**k”. these were interrupted by a ball of energy that erupted into the air from nowhere and morphed into a Radio DJ. Like Mark, Lee had clearly taken multi-tasking to a new art form. He shook my hand, welcomed me, went on air, queued the news, asked me a few questions, queued a desperately bad record from the seventies, introduced it, played it, gave the listeners a nice introduction to my story, smiled very broadly and then turned in my direction.
“Don’t say f**k, don’t say f**k, don’t say f**k”, was thumping in my ears as his first question came forth. I felt a mixture of mild panic mixed with curiosity. “What would happen if I did say f**k?”. Would I get even more twitter followers? Would this elevate me up to Fenton level?
This made things ten times worse as I’d moved from a quest to be polite, into a rude social experiment. But the temptation was there, nobody had told me not to say it, they only had themselves to blame. I paused momentarily, analysed his question, leaned forward towards the microphone and answered with “f**k”.
No of course I didn’t. I gave a relatively lucid performance and managed to keep the “umm” to words ratio in the low fifteen percent. I wanted to say it though and it is only now that I can reveal to Lee that whilst he was showing an interest in my turgid blatherings about cycling, all I really wanted to say was “f**k”.
I’m sure a few people heard my interview, If you are terminally bored, it can be heard at this link, fast forward to 1:48, but Radio Four have not been in touch. So it was back to the grindstone for the rest of the week, bashing my head against chapters of the book and trying to understand the mad bloke on the Dictafone waffling on about sheep.
I went through my ride notes and realised that a set were missing. I’d ridden a route round the Isle of Wight before working out my book writing methodology. No notes, no photos, no GPS traces, only distant memories. I really needed all of these to stay on track, thus made the decision to ride it on Wednesday regardless of the weather. Wednesday was set to be a national strike, we’ll come to that in a bit.
Leaving the ferry at Yarmouth I noticed the wind. It was hard to ignore due to the lycra enema I was receiving from the unusually violent westerly gale. Stoically I threw myself onto my steed and bravely set off into the wind. The “don’t say f**k” rule does not apply in these conditions. I said it a lot as the wind delivered a meteorological condition known in the trade as schizophrenia. Simplistically, the weather cannot decide what it wants to be, so it tries everything in an attempt to settle on a suitable personality. Rain, sun, cloud, hail of frogs, mist, monsoon and calm all passed over in a single hour.
Turning to get the wind on my back was a mild relief, but the hilly coastline of the Isle of Wight negated that. Photos were difficult as the camera kept getting blown over and my lunchtime sandwiches had decided not to make the journey with me, the fridge at home seemed far too cosy.
After a well fought fifty five miles I arrived at Cowes eagerly looking forward to a brief rest on the floating bridge. It was shut. “f**k, f**k, f**kity, f**k, f**k, f**k, f**k it”. the bridge operators were out in solidarity with the workers. I sat forlornly and pondered my lack of pension. They were stood around braziers, eating chestnuts and shouting slogans to get theirs. Me, I had to ride an additional ten miles in this wind in order to have a hope of earning something towards mine.
The “f**k” rule was again disregarded as I desperately time trialled back to Yarmouth cruelly chased by the fading light. Three quarters of the job done, but a return trip to the Isle of Wight still required.
This setback left me determined to rescue the week, which I’ve done in a flurry of words. Two more book chapters ready for final editing and I’ve also done a commission for a magazine. There was a mild amount of stress attached to that though as it concerned a trip I undertook in 2005. I struggle to remember my name, so casting the mind back six years has required a lot of pacing around the shed.
Next week is in the hands of the Countryfile weekly forecast. Three rides and twelve sets of photos outstanding means every weather window counts. Unfortunately one of the locations is Inverness, not looking good as we speak.
Buying birthday presents for males can be a frustrating process as my wife, Helen, fully understands. Ask a man what he would like for his birthday and the response will undoubtedly be stupidly expensive. TVR’s, high end Apple Macs, wide screen televisions, Ted Baker jackets are all common reposts and all require the aid of a financial advisor to sanction. If said man is a cyclist, things get even worse. The birthday present list will consist entirely of bikes made from carbon, that are neither required nor practical. They simply look lovely and have been cleverly engineered by marketing boffins who have worked out a set of shapes that cause uncontrollable salivation in males over the age of forty.
Therefore, last month when asked what I would like for my birthday, I kept my gob shut. In fact I think the question requires rephrasing along the lines of, “Please give me a list of cheap things that would make up for the disappointment of me not purchasing you a penis substitute this year”. I fully expected socks, a jigsaw puzzle and maybe an orange if I was lucky.
The day of my birthday was spent in the motorhome as it gently rocked in the heart of a Scottish tempest. Helen proffered a present that appeared to be square. It was too thin for an orange and stayed silent when shaken, hence I opened it ready to look “made up” with my new day-of-the-week branded socks. Instead I pulled out a box with “Ultimate choice for high flyers and speed demons” written upon it. Fed up with my indecision and overambitious bike lust, Helen had bought me an experience day.
Flicking through the contents I appeared to have the choice of hooning round a race track in something expensive or flying. I’ve already done the hooning round a race track thing at the Nurbergring in my mid-life-crisis car (since sold). Truth be told, I utterly shat myself and decided that I was more of a “mirror, signal manoeuvre” man than an Alan Prost. So I plumped for the flying lesson. My Dad is a retired RAF pilot who fought in many of our recent wars, gallantly aiding the liberation of small frozen islands or the search for big bombs in bigger deserts. His finest achievement was the low level bombing of a Cornish barbecue held in his honour, but we’d best not go into that story as there are still Padstow based residents recovering from the exhaust burns left by the Canbera’s exhaust.
So, surely flying must be in my blood? I’d never done it before and Dad was always able to trump my degree in maths with his flying certificate in arguments gone by. If I got one of my own, he’d have to retreat to gardening prowess leaving us to compare the size of our marrows instead, and I’ve got a secret fertilizer.
Anyway, this week I reported for duty at Bournmouth airport, all present and correct apart from a small patch of hair that had been dislodged during the weekend’s paintballing (never again). I signed the various disclaimers and promised on my heart not to fly any planes into skyscrapers with my new found knowledge. The guys in the office spoke in some sort of strange code, peppered with acronyms and Eton school accents. One of them said “Wilco” when asked if he’d get a key. I wanted to add a “Roger that!” but buried my head in Aviation magazine instead. Helen, you think us cyclists are bad? You should see the stuff that aviation nuts can buy! Pages and pages of electronic gubbins, engine monitors, wing accessories, red baron decals and even shares in each other’s planes. I wondered if this model could transfer to cycling, but discounted the idea as I doubt anyone would pay me for a share of my fleet. A share in my local bike shop repair department would be a better investment.
Then I was introduced to Chris, my instructor, and prepared myself for a lengthy briefing covering aerodynamics, rudders, joysticks, chocks and kippers.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, Chris marched me to a tiny looking winged object with wheels and levered me into it through the passenger door. The plane was tiny! I felt like I’d climbed into a child’s fairground ride and was desperately scared to break wind in case it caused a catastrophic fuselage bulge. It also had worryingly few instruments and those that it did have seemed to be affixed with pointers rather than reassuringly modern electronic displays. I noticed a complete lack of airbags or parachutes, there was no life raft under my seat and the nearest exit was the tiny door that Chris had squeezed me through with his boot.
As I nervously pondered my predicament, Chris ran through the pre-flight checks. This is basically looking at things and saying “Yep, that seems OK”. I was very unsure about the “seems” word, I was hoping for “Yep, that 100% definitely won’t break” Worry was intensified when he tapped the fuel gauge, I was too scared at that point to ask why?
Then he pressed the engine start and the plane coughed a bit and the propeller made a feeble rotation then stopped. I fully expected to be sent out to give it a shove, but some more twiddling of knobs and starter pressing fired it into life. Bloody hell it was noisy, sort of like putting your head in the lawnmower grass box whilst moving some gravel. Fortunately we donned headphones and listened to air traffic control chatter, basically the entire phonetic alphabet repeated in random combinations:
“Bravo foxtrot delta position one niner fiver proceed to hotel mexico zebra”
Chris translated this to me as :-
“Dear rather large jet over on the left of the runway you can now inch forward to the take off place but don’t do any taking off yet as we’re having a latte in the control tower for a few minutes”
He then asked me where I wanted to go. My response of “Up in the air” received a long stare so we settled on the Isle of Wight. I was very pleased by this as I’d anticipated just doing circuits of an airfield, the addition of some scenery was a real bonus. Also, we were to fly over some sea ..a potential soft landing if things went horribly wrong.
Soon we were taxing round the airfield engaged in idle chit chat as us aviators do. I found out that Chris was a qualified airline pilot looking for a job. He’s sadly caught in the trap of having very few big jet flying hours which many of the airlines require. His training had cost him £70,000 to complete! I compared it to mine which had consisted of my first boss handing me a C programming manual and telling me to code “some stuff”. I hope Chris never crashes as much as my computer programs have over the years.
Finally, air traffic control issued us with a “tango alpha kilo echo oscar foxtrot foxtrot” authority and we rolled onto the runway, which was huge! Our tiny little plane was swallowed up by this massive intimidating tarmac highway. Chris nonchalantly set the throttle to max and our toy plane lurched forward up into the sky.
Pre-flight visualisation had made me imagine this moment as euphoric. A long drawn out moment as our wheels departed terra firma and we became one with the sky. I envisaged a rousing orchestral score rushing through my mind, along the lines of the theme tune of the Onedian Line, sun glinting from the pilots bleached tooth smile.
The reality is that one minute we weren’t flying and the next we were. Chris tapped the fuel gauge again and told the control tower that we were at 700 feet and heading right.
“Heading right!” - another illusion shattered. I expected us to be on bearing “one niner four” or something equally more incomprehensible.
We climbed to one thousand feet admiring the views of the Solent. Then Chris handed the controls over to me.
He’s clearly never read this blog. I cannot believe that the controls of a moving aircraft would ever be put into the custody of one who’s life is littered with minor catastrophe, yet they were. Suddenly I was flying a plane. Chris gave a brief bit of guidance on the “column” and then suggested I head towards the Needles over to the left. I looked at my fingers, they were white as all hand based blood was used to furiously grip the controls in fear of them leaving my hand. I was concentrating like hell to keep the plane level with small adjustments required by the wind. Chris tried to distract me by pointing out things below. I feigned nonchalance whilst fixated on the artificial horizon control, altimeter, forward speed, vertical speed and machine-that-goes-ping.
Flying appears to be a maelstrom of multi-tasking. There are so many gauges to keep an eye on, so many planes of orientation and whilst all of this is going on there’s “whisky, bravo, foxtrot, niner” in your ears and breathtaking scenery down below. I have no idea how my Dad managed to do all of this and throw bombs out of the plane at the same time? I’d have to take Helen along and get her to do it (in fact I’d need her to find them in the first place).
But I must confess that I loved it. Flying seems to be a lot more informal than I’d thought. There were lots of other small planes buzzing about the Solent and I asked Chris how they prevented crashes, did they have radar?. “No, we just look out of the window”, he replied. We seemed to be able to fly where we wanted, so I banked us left and along the coast of the north face of the Isle of Wight. From a thousand feet the island looks tiny and I wondered how on earth I’d got so knackered last time I rode my bike around it.
All too soon it was time to go home. “Head for Lymington”, Chris said, “then I’ll talk you through the approach”. I mildly shat myself again, surely he didn’t expect me to land? The controls were gripped even harder as I prepared for the humiliation of him ripping them from my grasp as we entered a terminal dive.
There was no need to panic. Our approach was simple, I flew along a river which took us to the airfield and Chris landed the plane. It all seemed to go to plan, apart from a terrifying noise from the back that occurred as wheels hit tarmac. I still don’t know what it was, it sounded like a large ferret being castrated mid-air. I caught it on video, see if you can work out what it was?
Then we taxied back to base, slightly delayed by a learner driver in a helicopter who was having difficulty landing and veered across our path. Chris seemed non-plussed, I pressed myself close to the floor attempting to avoid a terminal haircut.
Back at the flying school I was greeted with acronyms and a certificate. Basically it says “Dave’s flown a plane”. So next argument with my Dad I can wave that one at him, hopefully he won’t retort with a challenge to do some calculus as I’ve forgotten all of that!
Driving home I was relieved that I’d managed to survive a very dangerous encounter. This was nothing to do with crashing planes and everything to do with a slightly obsessive bloke being introduced to a new and seriously expensive pastime. I’d left without taking any leaflets, enquiring about future lessons or looking at shop windows full of shiny new planes, well, that’s what I’ve told Helen.
25th November 2011
ps. I know this blog is supposed to be about writing a book. Please be assured that I did do some book writing this week but nothing of any interest. All of the book related activities were actually terminally dull, apart from the text which was the purposeful inspiring prose you would expect. Next week I may be on the road, weather permitting.
Writing’s hard, I’ll make no bones about that. The act of sitting in front of some electronic gadgetry and distilling the thought process into electronic bits actually takes some doing. When I tell people that I’m spending the year attempting to write a book, I often hear the “Oh! I’d love to do that” retort. But would they? Admittedly writers are not required to clock in at nine and toddle off home at five pm. They don’t have to queue for coffee machine or write a business case for entry into the stationery cupboard. There is a degree of flexibility. But the grass is never greener on the other side as they are required to sit down and write.
Sometimes this is difficult.
I was sent an excellent piece by Andy Kirkpatrick [This isn't it but gives a flavour], a climbing writer, who writes with heaps of good advice for those resisting the temptation of authorship. I read it all and have nicked a few of his ideas but it has made me sit back and look inward at my own approach and I’ve quickly realised that I am at the mercy of a mysterious spirit who governs my writing productivity. In order to exhibit this I’ll let you into a typical Dave writing session, it goes something like this:-
Firstly, I sit down at the desk, switch on the computer and fire up the word processor, determined to hammer out several thousand words. I’ll confidently type the chapter title and lean back in my chair, pleased with progress to date. Then I’ll save the document to the hard disk and prepare for a deluge of words. They won’t come, so I tidy the desk a bit more and sharpen a pencil instead, who knows why? It’s some sort of psychological effort to get me into the zone. In the absence of words, I’ll reformat the title changing it to bold or a different font, then it’s off to Twitter/Facebook/Google or Angry Birds for a bit of inspiration.
The verbal constipation will often continue for a while. A cup of tea provides a welcome distraction as does spilling it all over my desk and clearing it up with post-its. Looking out of the window occupies a few more seconds followed by some further desk rearrangement and chair height adjustment. I check my mobile phone, but no new texts have arrived, there are a few more tweets to read but they are all about coffee, illness or another pointless, inane blog entry (usually mine). An inner voice shouts at me to return to the document, so I reformat the title again and save the document just in case.
This can go on for hours with words per minute measured in small fractions until suddenly he appears, Doppleganger Dave, my productive literary double. He’s a sneaky bugger as well, I cannot summon him to order, he just turns up. I’m forced to the back of my conscious mind as Mr Doppleganger elbows his way in and takes over. While I sit in a synaptic reception he takes control of my fingers and thraps out several thousand words into the computer. Exhausted, he departs and I regain control of my conscious mind and survey the wordfest he’s left behind.
Sometimes I have no idea where it came from, I can see what he was thinking but would love to replicate the chain of thought that led him there, but I can’t as he’s buggered off for a cup of tea. Occasionally the words make sense and I’m pretty sure he’s been nicking my ideas. Once he’d simply written a shopping list consisting entirely of bike parts and I felt obliged to purchase them as he’d written them so nicely in a neat little list.
There’s a problem though, this Dave is only available for a few hours each day. When he’s not there progress is glacial and I’m forced to focus on other tasks. I’d love to be a word factory, but I’m not. I’ve read through some of the “forced” writing that I’ve tried and it’s bilge. Out of Dave and Doppleganger Dave, Doppleganger’s the best writer by far and I’ll be needing his services to get to the end of the book. This revelation leads to a number of conclusions that I’m happy to state. Firstly, a career as a professional author does not await. I’m productive in fits and starts and simply cannot focus on writing as a full time job. I’m the luckiest bloke on the planet to have been given this year, but a year is all it will be. The next writing project will be a hobby rather than a vocation and will probably take me ten. Then I have to look at the stuff I can write, and the truth is I think it is limited to personal experience, so novels, short stories, biographies and encyclopedias are out of the question. Doppleganger Dave is crap at them as well.
Therefore, I’ve got the 2012 planner out and come up with a plan. It basically involves getting the book finished by April 2012 ready for publication then deciding exactly how I am going to do that. Simplistically there are two routes; self publication or approach a number of publishers and see if any of them bite. I took route two tentatively early this year and gained a lot of useful feedback. Most of this was around personal hygiene and dress sense, but it was mooted that the book could have commercial appeal and there would certainly be interest. The main problem for me is commission. It was a real eye opener to understand the kind of rates we’re talking about. Think of a number close to 100% on one side and a fraction of it on the other and guess which side applies to you?
My cunning plan is to rock up at their door with a finished product which I believe is unusual. Most authors are wizards with the word processor but leave layout and design to their publisher. I’ve put a lot of effort into researching competing offerings and working out the size, shape, layout and content I need to make mine stand out. However, German measles stands out as well, so this may not necessarily be a good thing. But it is a useful time filler for the hours that while away whilst Doppleganger Dave is out drinking with his mates.
Self publication has its own issues. Mainly the fact that the word “self” applies to financing as well. I will have to bear the costs of printing, marketing, sales and distribution myself. Which comes with the “How many copies can I shift” gamble along with who shall I shift them to and how shall I tell them that I would like them to act as shiftees? Therefore, I’ll explore option one whilst keeping the door of option two firmly open in the instance of rejection or failed negotiations.
Up above I said “a number of conclusions”, so here’s another one. I need to develop some revenue streams that don’t rely on books. This is countered by conclusion number three, no way am I ever getting a job again. Luckily opportunity presents itself to he who waits and as the year heads to a close I find myself involved in a number of discussions that all involve making a living whilst not wearing a tie. This week has been particularly frantic as I’ve had meetings concerning wedding napkins, railways, communities of welsh people, quirky things, pickled hedgehogs and Devon based falling down houses (every one is true). None, some or all of these may turn into opportunities but it’s nice that they’re there and hopefully there’ll be something for me to do that earns money.
I’ve also been thinking about this blog. I’ve really enjoyed writing it and am determined to see it to week 52. However, beyond that we’ll see..and this isn’t attention seeking, it’s just that there’s so much going on I can’t commit to writing some bollocks every week. I’ll not stop writing bollocks though, that’s a guarantee. The bollocks quota shall continue, but at a slightly reduced level into 2012.
I hope you don’t mind me spouting about my week of reflection. Next week I’m going flying, so normal service shall be resumed as I’m sure there will be some aerobatic based mishap worthy of a laugh. Helen should know better than to buy “Mr Obsessive” a flying lesson for his birthday.