My Twentieth Week as a Budding Author
Normally when the government write to me it is a polite but firm request for money, which is subsequently used to kettle students or buy lodges for ducks. Therefore, I was mildly surprised to receive a letter from them expressing concern that I was getting old and suggesting that I get myself down to the doctor’s pronto for a check up. They’d even made an appointment for me to hasten the process. The letter attempted to reassure me that this was normal for men of my age, just to make sure I asked around.
“Ah yes, the old ‘cough and drop’ check”, one of my friends replied. I was immediately filled with terror. I’d managed to get to my ripe old age without ever experiencing a doctor’s hand rummaging around below the waist, despite spending a year at university round the corner from St Barts medical school. As a cyclist I have experienced many and varied forms of pain/humiliation but the testicles have been laergely absent from these experiences, due to the cold.
I fretted about this for days and then expanded my panic further by considering the prostate. As we get older, us males become more susceptible to prostate cancer, so I imagined that I’d undergo some form of test. Which would possibly involve latex gloves and lubricant. To be frank I had no idea what would await me in the doctor’s surgery.So on Tuesday I went for a long pre-humilation bike ride followed by an hour’s worth of scrubbing and trimming in the shower. I spent far too long on underwear selection (for a man) and nervously made my way to the appointment.
Terror was utterly compounded when my name was called out by a young, buxom, blond lady in a nurse’s uniform who firmly gestured towards the outpatients room. I stammered my way through a short questionnaire as she filled me in on the procedure WHILST PUTTING ON LATEX GLOVES. My heart rate must have been somewhere in the 200 beats per minute as I projected forward to a near future where young nurse wondered why she was examining a tailor’s dummy.
Then I heard the magic words:-
“All we’re doing today Mr Barter is blood pressure, weight, height, heart rate and cholesterol”
And within seconds an arm band was strapped to my puny bicep and pumped up so hard it hurt. Some little machine next to it spat out my blood pressure and heart rate, 66 beats per minute. Now, any normal bloke would have been dead relieved at this point. He’d escaped naked humiliation and his heart rate was under 70bpm which is pretty good. But you forget I’m a keen and sometimes competitive cyclist. The last ECG I had measured my resting rate as 52, but the stress of blond nurses combined with the lunchtime bike ride had pushed it up into the 60s.
“It should be 52”, I queried, “Can I have another go? I need to calm down a little”.
“No, 66 is fine for a man your age” was her retort and no matter of pleading could get her to change her mind. She shut me up by stuffing a needle into my arm and stealing a few cc’s of my blood, which I’m convinced go straight into the DNA database. I’m fully expecting to be convicted of a Saturday night urination against a wall that happened in Bristol in 1987. I’ll plead diminished responsibility and call the Fleece and Firkin as a witness along with their premise brewed beers.
This obsession with numbers related to cycling has continued into the week. I’ve sat and stared long and hard at blank pieces of paper in order to figure out how to describe the difficulty of climbs. Well, when I say “blank pieces of paper”, I actually mean my Apple Mac. You’d have thought that the best way to describe a climb would be to simply state its height and length and leave the rest up to the reader to figure out. However, I come from an industry where we constantly strive to “add value”, which put simply means we make things much more complicated than they really are in order to charge lots of money for them.
So, I’ve been sat there trying to “add value” to the descriptions of the climbs that are going into the book. I’ve toyed with a few off-the-wall options which will probably end up discarded, such as:-
- “the shagged out index” - a rating between 1 and 10 of how tired you will be on completion. A score of 1 is given if you can sing “I’m shagged out” like the bloke from the Go Compare advert, 10 applies if you don’t have the oxygen to say it.
- a diagram showing the number of helium balloons that would be required to lift you from bottom to top were you of average weight and height (bit of a problem these days as average weight appears to be hovering around the twenty stone mark)
- a count of the number of Higgs Bosun particles required to break the gravitational force that you will need to overcome in order to summit the climb - this one would have been a flyer but the Large Hadron Collider has not found the Higgs Bosun yet.
Seriously, the diagrams are hard. I’m spending loads of time fiddling about with Adobe Illustrator in order to try and make the book look nice. I’m not really sure if this is what us writers are supposed to do? I’m pretty certain that Barbara Cartland dictated all of her novels prostrated on a pink sofa whilst fondling poodles. I bet she never had to do battle with the complex gradient tool or decide which CMYK to pick from the colour swatch.
In fact in terms of cycling adventures, May has been a bit of a write off for me and when I look at my timesheets for the month they provide the following information:-
As you can see, there is a clear message for any aspiring authors in those figures. If you are going to leave a decent job in order to write a book, whatever you do, do not attempt it in the year your wife is forty. The secret birthday party project was doomed from the start. I painstakingly contacted all of my wife’s friends and family and swore them to utter secrecy. This was immediately undone when one of them texted her to ask what was happening on the 14th May. I think Helen replied “My secret birthday party”.
I then had to counter the text with further distractional subterfuge involving sending her to a health farm for the day and pretending that this was the treat. Meanwhile the proper party was arranged at my house, which came with its own issues as I had limited places to hide all of the food and beer. The neighbours have been very restrained and didn’t tuck into the wine and champagne hiding out in their garages (well I don’t think they did but it seemed rude to count it on the day). The kids were not too impressed with snuggling up to sausages for a few nights and the rat in the shed is now fed up of Doritos.
Hours have been spent running round supermarkets fretting about bread rolls, dithering in butchers about the number of sausages and pissing myself laughing at ancient photos of Helen supplied by my mother-in-law. One of the photos made me laugh longer than others, you can see it below:-
Rest assured I am not laughing at the fact that Helen completed London to Brighton with a broken wrist. Oh no, ....look at my bike! That thing must have cost less than £100. It has cantilever brakes and the wheels are attached with nuts. I had no SPDS, a pannier, a huge lock attached to the frame and reflectors all over the place. There is some sort of weird dangly thing hanging off the handlebars which looks suspiciously like a bum bag. What was I thinking? The rear mech on my current bike costs more than the sum total of that lot...and as for that purple helmet, let’s leave the subject at that.
So I’m taking a leaf out of the government’s book. I clearly have a deficit and it must be addressed. However, my approach will not involve selling forests or closing coastguards. It’s based around a pretty spectacular June. If the plan comes to fruition, I’ll have my first “thousand mile month”, combined with ten thousand words and a whole lot of snaps I reckon I’ll be over half way there..just in time for the summer monsoon.
I spent some time on Friday looking at my google calendar to schedule all of this in. In doing so, I came across an entry that a friend of mine has in his calendar. All I can say is that he had a much more liberal upbringing than I did and his family wash very early. I suspect it will not be long before I am properly denied access to his calendar. The big lesson for all budding authors here is the importance of capitalisation..it can change a sentence beyond recognition.
20th May 2011
Many many years ago I was taken to a family wedding (or something like that) held at my Nana’s house. My elder cousin knew where Nana kept the beer and sneaked out two small cans of Whitbread Pale Ale. He thrust one into my hand and disappeared behind a tree in her back garden. I followed suit and we sat in our shorts guilty slurping away at the horses piss that passed itself off for beer.
A few minutes later an adult’s head peered round at us inquisitively. It was my Uncle Pete who had caught us red handed, guilty of the crime of severe under age drinking. He gave us a mischievous wink and returned to the party. Uncle Pete died a few weeks ago and I went to his funeral on Monday. His family all gave wonderful tributes and underlined a man who reveled in the simple pleasures in life, fixing things, family, music, a pipe and a pint of home brew. Pete, this week’s wafflings are dedicated to you.
RIP: Peter Brown 8th April 1948 - 24th April 2011