The House by the Railroad

The day after John and I pootled/sprinted our way to a cup of tea I rode to work in Salisbury and back. The first time I did that, I thought it was an epic ride, this was the third time I’ve done it this year and it’s incredible how quickly it has become just another journey, absorbed into the day-to-day riding. That’s not to suggest that the ride itself is in any way ordinary and unremarkable, I would be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque and pleasant ride of that distance locally, it’s just that to me it no longer seems epic. I am making the journey to Salisbury in about one hour fifty minutes now, and the return journey in two hours to two hours fifteen. I was once told that the top of the spire on Salisbury Cathedral is level with the bottom step of Warminster town hall. I’m sure this is a Wiltshire old wives’ tale as that would imply an incredible rate of climbing over twenty four miles, 404 feet to be reasonably precise. In any case, it is significantly harder on the way back compared to the way there.

En-route, I have come to recognise and anticipate certain landmarks, one of which is a house in Wylye village which fascinates me. I call it The House by The Railroad, as, although it looks nothing like Hopper’s famous painting with that title, it has a sort of melancholy feel to it that I associate with Hopper’s paintings. And of course it is actually by the railway line. A while back someone posted a comment on this blog that led me to an article about Hopper’s love of cycling and particularly track racing, so there is a little bit of synergy here. Anyway, here is the House by the Railroad:

The train track runs scant feet behind the back of the building. I like the fact that it’s on a hill and has a lot of steps up to the front door. Although there are other houses around it, it seems somewhat isolated from them, having an aura of its own, indeed I cannot recall what the houses around it look like, so unremarkable are they to my mind. For some reason I would love to live there. Both my wife and I find the clattering of trains in the night to be a soothing sound, on this line the trains must sound their horns as they pass the myriad crossings that are scattered throughout these villages in the Wylye Valley. It has a faint whiff of the gothic about it, from the artlessly scattered chippings the mound seems to rise from, to the pillar supported porch and the open window, not to mention the cat lurking on the driveway. The house is small and set back a little from the road, yet its presence is huge and it demands, and commands, my attention every time I ride past.

A serious house, on serious earth – as it says in the graphic novel Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison. Interestingly, this subtitle in turn is taken from the poem Church Going by Philip Larkin, which also contains the words:

” …Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence, ”

My view of the house lasts all of ten seconds, yet I am ready for it a good mile in either direction or so from where the house stands.

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 10:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Ride Journal – Featuring Greg Lemond, Victoria Pendleton and… blimey! The Highway Cycling Group!

Have you been looking for a cycling publication that talks more about the pleasures of riding than the latest kit? A magazine that isn’t stacked full of adverts, but instead is beautifully designed and elegant? A journal that covers all aspects of cycling, from BMX to cycle chic, via singlespeed and track racing? Yes?

I should very much like to draw your attention to a new cycling journal called The Ride. It is a thing of astonishing beauty, more akin to a book than a magazine, the design work alone makes it worth the £8.50 cover price in my opinion.

What about the content? Well you won’t find many adverts at all, and no technical reviews or ride guides. Surely every modern cycle publication must contain information on fitness, technique and nutrition for cyclists? Not this one. What it contains is a series of terrific articles, artwork and photo-essays that explore the feelings associated with riding a bike. There are BMXs on the Lower East Side, essays on the hunt for the perfect brakes, the birth of mountain biking, cycling through the snow, a tour of someone’s workshop, even articles from Greg Lemond (on his incredible Time Trial that won him the Tour de France) and a piece by the always excellent Victoria Pendleton.

There is even an article by yours truly, The Highway Cycling Group. The Editor Philip Diprose contacted me at the beginning of Spring, having read this blog and wondered if I would write a piece on the origins of The Highway Cycle Group. I gladly did so, producing a piece specially for the journal that has not been featured on the blog. I didn’t know if it was any good or not, but it seemed to fulfill what Philip was looking for in producing a bicycle journal with soul. To my surprise and delight, they published my article, along with a couple of pictures from the archives of the Group, including one of the badges my father made.

The Highway Cycle Group in The Ride Journal - apologies for the quality of the image

The Highway Cycle Group in The Ride Journal - apologies for the quality of the image

I hope my piece stands up to scrutiny when compared to the other articles, there is some really good writing in the rest of the journal.

It also turns out that someone else from the village has also written for the journal, Debbie Burton is well known in the world of mountain biking, not only for her journalism but also for her clothing company Minx stylish cycling gear for girls. Philip had no idea that we live in the same village when he commissioned us and Debbie and I only found out we’d both written for it after the journal was published. Debbie received her copy first and showed it me during the school run. Small world.

Get over to The Ride’s website and snap up one of the limited first editions – each one is numbered and there’s only 1000 copies available.

*** Stop Press *** It’s sold out already! They may be going to reprint and are taking emails to gauge interest – get your name down now and ask for a reprint, these are going to be collectors items. I cannot stress how beautiful and soulful this journal is, it makes Rouleur look like Cycling Weekly, and that seriously takes some doing!

Apocalyptic Bike Cam

Novemberfive is up to his old tricks again, tinkering with electronics and creating new and amazing uses for things beyond the vision of the manufacturers. This week he put a tiny TV camera on the back of his folding bike and rode it round the garden. The resulting video is to my mind slightly apocalyptic and disturbing, it has shades of The Ring about it, all that distortion, white noise and flickering. Or on a more uplifting note, it also looks like early spaceflight footage from an apollo mission.

Read all about it here on Novemberfive’s fine blog.

Published in: on June 25, 2008 at 10:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Oranges and Lemons

Though the shop and post office in our village makes a manful effort to supply the needs of the village and surrounding environs, (homemade plum jam filled victoria sponge anyone?) there was a distinct lack of oranges and lemons to be had there today. I came away with a cucumber, some local lettuce and a very small lemon – but that wasn’t going to help me make elderflower cordial. So, having finished work, I took to the saddle of the Brompton and headed for The supermarket. I decided that I couldn’t face the Wingfield straight so I went via Tellisford and Farleigh Hungerford. It was very hilly indeed, but on a Brompton it doesn’t matter, a leisurely pace is all that can be managed so there is no need to sweat, strive and strain up hills. I crested the tallest hill at the point where I used a photograph I took to make the Highway Cycling Group poster:

Many people have asked how I did the painting of the landscape in the background, but I assure everyone that it is real. The only things that weren’t there in the original photo are the words and the clouds which I added from another photo.

Easing over this hill saw me take a fast descent via some sharp corners and a final climb to Farleigh Hungerford. I took a right onto the main road and passed the castle. Then on into Trowbridge – only to discover that the Tesco Express had neither oranges nor lemons. So it was down the cycle path to Bradford-on-Avon and the Sainsbury’s there. Soon I was departing the supermarket with a riding bag full to the brim with fruit and goodies, but that also meant an enormous amount of extra weight. Never mind, it sped me up on the downhills and gave me a work out on the uphills. I took the same route back again – stopping now and again to pick more elderflowers for the cordial. At the bend by the bridges at Farleigh Hungerford I stopped to read the rules of the Farleigh Swimming Club. This group own a field next to the river in a spot ideal for a bit of wild swimming – but it’s strictly members only.
Farleigh Swimming Club

I liked the texture underneath their information sign where the new poster had been stuck over the old, which was probably stuck over an even older poster.

Swimming club sign

The number to call for membership having been noted, I started the ascent of the hill by the castle. Oh this was a bad one, I could have done with the drop nose Wilderness Trail Bike saddle on my Mountain bike, the Brooks on the Brompton, although being a fine and beautiful saddle, does not give you much scope for sliding forward. I have also found that standing up a Brompton only really works if you’re going downhill. I struggled up and turned left into the village itself, another hill but out of the traffic and the heat it was fine. I carried on along the road, up and down up and down, broken up with sporadic forays into the hedge to pick elderflowers. My arms, slick with sweat, were now dusted with yellow pollen. The air itself was thick with it. As I sped down the final descent I passed a tandem going up the hill, a man and woman gave hearty if breathless hellos as we passed each other.

Back at the house – all goods were unloaded and once the kids were in bed, stage one of the cordial making commenced. Now the flowers are soaking overnight in the zesty water – the smell is delicious.

Today’s ride was gloriously warm and bathed in sunshine. The sights and smells were that of an English summer, lazy looking horses in fields, heavy pollen, fresh-mown grass and wildflowers gracing the verge. The sounds were the ticking of a sturmey archer hub, the distant drone of lawnmowers, the rich and lyrical singing of blackbirds in the hedge and the joyous shouts of children splashing in the river.

It was a perfect ride, and I dedicate it to the memory of Noah.

Why I Have Not Blogged

I’ve been working on The Prince’s Rainforests Project website. The last two to three weeks have been absolutely non-stop. I think it was worth it though. Here are two films from the website, produced by A Productions of Bristol. The first two are short animations (under a minute) each highliting one aspect of rainforest destruction. If you visit the website there is a five minute film featuring some amazing rainforest footage and The Prince of Wales welcoming you to the site and explaining why he’s set up the project. The site will grow and become more interactive over the next few months, but there’s already a lot of rainforest information on there and the chance to sign up and make a (non monetary) pledge. Take a look.

Bristol to Rode by Brompton part II; The Ecstasy

A mural by Bristol Temple Meads

I was hugely relieved to arrive at Bradford-on-Avon train station, I bought my ticket, folded the Brompton and hauled it over the footbridge to the opposite platform. The ride to the station had left me feeling very down, it was the first ride for ages where I had just not enjoyed myself at all, not even the sight of some pretty nice looking cruisers in the bike racks on the other platform could cheer me up. There was plenty of room on the train so I kept the Brompton next to my seat, it sat there folded up like a sleeping pet dog, resting against the bag. On arrival at Bristol Temple Meads I carried the bike down into the underpass and through the ticket barrier to the front of the station. There in the shadow of this epic temple to Brunel’s mighty railway, I woke the Brompton, unfolding it and launching myself onto the cobbled road.

Turning right, I headed towards Old Market via the gargantuan new developments towering over the road and dwarfing the remains of the old Victorian buildings. It started off well, nice clear mixed use pathways with bike symbols, bike lights added to the crossings, but then suddenly I wasn’t sure if I was on a pavement or a bike lane, it just ran out or something. At Old Market I got off and pushed the bike up the pavement past drifts of paper and litter until I found the studio. Once inside I was able to use the bike racks. As the studio director is a cyclist (Rapha kit and a Condor bike) cyclists are very well catered for.

I worked until gone three, then the director drew me a map of how to reach the station via the back route. I set off again through a maze of building works and half completed flats, dodging cranes, front loaders and works vans until I reached the station, only to find I had just missed a train and there wasn’t another for an hour.

strange drifts of litter how to get to the station by bike racing past the building sites on my brompton

I had seen signs to The Bristol to Bath Railway Path on the way to the station and noted that it was fifteen miles to Bath. No, that it was only fifteen miles to Bath.

Now obviously if I waited for the next train it would be an hour, then half an hour on the train, then twenty minutes on the road, a grand total of one hour fifty of traveling time. If I rode the thirty miles back to the village it was going to be two and a bit hours if I was lucky. Plus there was a distinct headwind and it was a bit squally, with showers racing in. Putting logic aside, as I often do, it was obvious that I was going to ride home by Brompton. If nothing else, I needed a cathartic ride to remove the memory of the mornings slog to Bradford on Avon (see previous post). So I set off for Bath, it took a little bit of time to find the entrance to the railway path, I ran out of signs quite quickly, but realised that the number 4 I was seeing on lamposts denoted cycle route 4, the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. For those not in the know, this is considered to be the flagship cycle path created by Sustrans, and, another reason why I wanted to ride it as soon as possible, it’s under threat. The West of England Partnership plan to install a Bus Rapid Transit along this green corridor, to send hybrid diesel buses down the path next to walkers and cyclists. This smacks of what I like to call SAHOGI (Someone At Head Office’s Good Idea) – it will be a colossal waste of money and time and severely degrade the experiences of walkers and cyclists. It will carve up some fantastic wildlife areas not to mention push pollution and noise down this path. What’s interesting is that Bristol is a hotbed of radical activity, so the communities had claimed the cycle path as their own. The protests and petitions were immediate and pretty effective.

So what’s it like to ride? Very nice, no slope too steep, the tarmac is in pretty good condition and public artworks pop up all down the path. The area is rich with wildlife and greenery, and there’s not much litter, not compared to the road anyway. The path was pretty busy with walkers and cyclists despite the cold wind and sudden showers, I lost count of the number of times I exchanged nods with cyclists going the other way.

The tunnel - great fun

One of my favourite stretches was the tunnel, this is lit for most of the day and it’s great fun to ride through. I could also mention the station halt that has been converted to a cafe so you can sit with your feet over the edge of the platform while you chew a bacon roll – I see I have just mentioned it, great. For steam railway fans there is a stretch of track with steam trains and rolling stock in various states of repair (and disrepair). Rust, charred wood, steam, the smell of bacon from the ‘buffet car’, a carriage with an internal light on and what looks like a home made office in it. A splendidly chaotic place that I feel much be explored fully in the future.

Then through some bluebell woods as I neared Bath, all too soon I was spat out into a residential area and industrial estate at the back end of the city. I followed the cycle network signs through the city centre then puffed up the hill to the beginning of the tow path for the next stage of the journey, the Bath to Bradford-on-Avon canal path. The Brompton is not really designed for this kind of rough cycling and to begin with it was like riding the cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix – my arms were jarred so much that I had visions of them suddenly popping out of the sockets. Luckily the path became smoother.

Ah the canal path – often when you see imagery of canal life you’ll see pictures of retired couples or families laughing gaily as they ease their pristine narrowboat through the lock, or wandering lightheartedly down the towpath, net in hand, big healthy grins. Thus:

The reality is often more radical – this stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal is a hotbed of alternative lifestyles, from the the filthy-faced smiling old man in a santa had pulling a squeaking trolley of wood, to this boat here:

narrow boat on the Kennet and Avon canal

Look at that figurehead! Check out the doors, the tarp, the trike parked next to the craft! You don’t see that in the Canal Holiday’s brochures do you?

I continued onwards, fewer people on the towpath than on the Bristol to Bath stretch, but a few brave souls were out on bikes. There was also a lot of wood chopping going on next to the boats. On and on I went, by now my shoulderblades were aching a bit from the pummeling. The magnificent Aquaduct at Dundas was a pleasure to ride over, breathtaking views. Round the corner, a heron had had just been disturbed by a passing boat and was flying down the river at eye level. I matched it’s speed and for a good fifty or so meters we kept pace with each other before the heron headed for the left bank and stood looking for fish. Now the Aquaduct at Avoncliff, this one is quite exciting as there is a steep hill to go down and another to go up, right by the Cross Guns pub. Now on the final stretch of the towpath, and soon I could see the twinkling lights of the Lock Inn. Unfortunately there was no time for an epic Boatman’s Breakfast or the Captain Pugwash (smoked mackerel and eggs) as I had to hit the open road.

So there I was, on the final five to six mile stretch, possibly the most dangerous section of the ride in traffic. But now, strangely, going home, drivers seemed less willing to try dangerous overtaking, seemingly content to wait until the road was clear. I guess it must have just been bad luck on my ride in earlier that morning.

And so, purged of the memory and bad feeling from the morning’s ride I arrived home, tired but happy having ridden around twenty eight to thirty miles on the Brompton.

Of Occult Cyclewear, Slayer, RPGs and Cycling

Last night I came across the website of a cycle inspired clothing company. If you think you may have a penchant for cycling tinged with elements of the occult (Laura), I’m talking Process Church of the Final Judgment reliance on neat graphics, then you have to get your dammned self over to http://www.everybodylies.net/ and see the fantastic t-shirts, caps and patches on offer. It appears to be a one man operation – rooted hard and fast in the SF courier/fixie scene. Here’s a photo displaying Lies’ influences:

Lies clothing influences

More than a sniff of Freemasonary and hey! Slayer’s first full album Show No Mercy. Often derided as ‘immature’ and even ‘laughable’ I have a massive soft spot for this album, I own it on cassette and as far as I’m concerned it’s all killer and no filler, in fact I’ve just realised it’s the only cassette I still play. I even like Metal Storm/Face The Slayer.

“You see me lift the axe and it plunges through your shield…”

and my favourite line…

“Now, I can freeze your burning eyes!”

The song, about a warrior who is trapped in some sort of twilight world, locked in combat with a demonic being that prowls through a mist-filled maze, reminded me of Role-Playing Games.

Bear with me here, this is only a slight digression from cycling as you’ll see in a minute. I wish to salute the late Gary Gygax. Gygax was the co-inventor of Dungeons and Dragons – if that interests you at all, then read this brilliant article about his passing from the NY Times that futurist and publisher Betageek sent me. I’m not going to write an obit or anything, partially because I didn’t get on with D&D, I was strictly Warhammer and Call of Cthulhu, but I acknowledge that he pretty much created the fantasy roleplaying game and as such is worthy of great praise from me. RPGs had a huge effect on my life, but in order to play them with any regularlity I had to get from Hilmarton to Calne, where our gamesmaster lived.

At the age of fourteen, hammering down the Swindon Road was pretty much out of the question, there were regular accidents on that fast and in places narrow main road. So the way to get to Calne by bike was via Compton Bassett. The rider would have a pleasant pedal through gentle country lanes, finally to be spat out onto the Marlborough road just as it hit Calne at the start of the 30 mph zone, relative safety, but it did make the journey about five miles instead of three, and put in a pretty serious hill to the equation. As I got bolder, and my player character (a psychotic dwarf called Mad Morgan Khazias) entered deeper and deeper into the fiendish campaign poured out from the mind of our gamesmaster (Mark Johnson), I began taking my life in my hands along the main road. Many’s the time an artic lorry would scream past me having just emerged from behind a bend, so close that I could have reached out and run my hands down its side. I had no helmet, the only protection my head had was provided by a cushioning of imaginings; orcs, elves, dragons, daemons so that I cycled along blissfully and didn’t consider the perils of the road. The too fast traffic, the blind corners, the massive, clanking lorries that seemed almost out of control as they hurtled along.

The way back was the old route via Compton, a slow meander home, time to think on the day’s adventuring. The rattle of D10s across Mark’s mum’s kitchen table, the acidic taste of cheap lemonade, banter with friends, battles won and lost, fat purses of gold pieces. My mum wasn’t too keen on the RPGs, there were numerous scare stories in the media about kids commiting suicide or murder as a result of playing them. So my mum thought they were dangerous. Ironically she thought I was going for three to four hour rides on my own on Sunday afternoons, an activity much more dangerous to a 14 year old (pre mobile phone) than sitting down with my mates in Mark’s kitchen, battling through a fantasy world using the power of our collective imagination, a rulebook and some many-sided dice.

Me: I draw my sword and point it to the heavens, I lean back and shout to the sky “Gary Gygax I salute you!”

GM: [rolls two d10, consults rulebook and notes] hmmm, the tiny readership of your blog has no idea what you’re talking about.

Bicycle Film Festival London 2007

Tickets are now on sale for the London events at this year’s Bicycle Film Festival – looks like some good films and events.

Click here for details.

Published in: on October 2, 2007 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Novemberfive Bikecam

My chum Jez (author of the blog Novemberfive), built a mount for his camera to go on his bike. Here is the latest of his bikecam films, join him as he rides to his allotment and back. Nice views of Salisbury’s leafy streets, green areas and underpass system.

I found Salisbury to be a really nice city to ride round, there are a few hills but nothing unmanageable. There is fairly reasonable provision for cyclists although the boxes at nearly all the traffic lights could do with a fresh lick of paint; Often I would arrive at the lights on my brompton to find 4x4s occupying the space, crawling forwards with drivers on the phone. Also a monster pothole outside Waterstone’s once ate the back wheel of my Brompton, necessitating a complete rebuild and a fresh tube. Apart from that, Salisbury is a bikey city.

Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

What The..?

Olympic Logo

Above is the new logo for the 2012 Olympics. The BBC are reporting a certain level of unreceptiveness from the public. Well… duh! It’s awful! I’ve just been having a look at Wolff-Olins site, the brand organization who came up with this. The site is slow and over-reliant on Flash and I find the rest of their design work pretty uninspiring to say the least.

While I’m on the subject of the Olympics, from a cycling point of view, it looks like the promised and much anticipated Velopark is being downgraded (see story here) though a £50m investment in cycling for London is much needed and will hopefully be well received. From the look of the plans they’ve done their consultation with people who know what they’re talking about.

Still…

Crap logo.

Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment