Daughter’s first shooting stars

Over the summer the council replacing and sometimes removing the streetlights around us. When the old ones went, they took with them their sickly orange sodium glow which so used to stain the night sky. Now, the night skies are much improved by their absence; darker and more starry.

My eldest daughter is still very much into all things space, and with the Geminids Meteor shower due, I promised her that if it was a clear night I would wake her up to watch them. At midnight, I looked out of the window and saw a hard frost and starlit skies, so I went up to her room and gently woke her. The poor child was in a deep sleep and slow to stir, mumbling incoherent sleep babble as I tried to wake her. Eventually though I got through to her and I asked if she still wanted to see the meteor shower. Yes came the reply as she rubbed her sleepy eyes.

We went through to the back bedroom, all in darkness, and looked out of the window with her mum. For a few minutes nothing, then my wife saw the first bright white streak. So did my daughter and her face lit up in the starlight. It was her first shooting star!

We decided to wrap up warm and sit outside for a better view (from the back window, Gemini was a stretch to see). I dragged a bench on to the lawn, facing south. My daughter sat on my lap and lay back against me, wrapped in a heavy blanket. While we waited we ran through the constellations and the stars. The Great Bear sat almost overhead, to the east Jupiter shone brightly, then higher in the sky sat Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, below sat lonely Procyon. Orion the Hunter stalked in the south; we traced his stars, Bellatrix, Rigel, Saiph and Betelgeuse then saw a another burning streak, then another and another. We sat and watched the leavings of a comet as they burned through the atmosphere until we grew cold my neck went stiff.

The galaxy is teeming with planets and no doubt some are like Earth – warm enough and wet enough for life as we know it to thrive. Perhaps on one evolution, nature’s blind watchmaker, has thrown up a species similar to us; another intelligent and minute species able to gaze upon the stars and wonder at their enormity. And I wonder, is there among another father and daughter, or whatever passes for such in their alien life history and are they also gazing up at their own night sky, naming the stars and one asking the other, are aliens real?


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It’s good to rise early for the Sunday Ride

November Mists

November Mists

My Club meets for its Sunday run at 8.30am, but my body clock is still running on weekday time, so I’m often awake by 6am or not long after and once I’m awake, I’m awake. In the past I’ve aimed to be out of the house by 8am for the 20 minute ride into town, yet somehow I always end up taking the first hour and a half too leisurely then leaving late and rushing in, arriving in a sweat. Recently I’ve been sticking more to my weekday routine; just getting on with stuff then leaving. It’s worth it. I get at least a good hour for riding in.

A good hour, that’s not less than 20 miles and if I’m particularly efficient 30 miles, time being measured in the distance I can ride; a simple conversion of 1 to 20. Rather than hammering down the same direct route, I’ve now got extra distance to play with. The opportunities grow for more interesting, meandering rides into town. And the earlier I rise the more variety there is.

This time of year I’m leaving in the dull light of a winter dawn, and this Sunday the skies were heavy with low cloud, sinking into a mist, holding the day back. Not a thick fog, the kind which coats my glasses with a damp patina, but enough to fade the trees marching down the lanes.

First thing on a Sunday morning is a quiet and beautiful time to ride and always the best of the day. Heading into North Bedfordshire, for that is the direction I took, and no breeze moved through the mists to stir the last yellow brown leaves clinging to the trees. No birds sung, no traffic sped by, dogs didn’t bark and the county slept. With the noise of an owl, I saw a fox cross ahead. England was empty and I was king on the road, riding my domain of lanes.

By the time I reach the Market Square, 20 and a bit miles from leaving home, just four cars had passed me.

I rode the short club route. I was well paced, well disciplined, social and puncture free. It was a good ride, exactly what a club ride should be. I had the best of both worlds; a tranquil solitary ride on the last day of November followed up with a social run in good company. I took an indirect route home and rounded the ride off at 100km. I was back by 11am.

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Time with the kids

I wrote this post about a day of just me and my daughters over a year ago. For some reason I never got around to publishing it. It’s a bit a fragment –  I thought there was more to it. We’ve had more dad days since, especially over the summer holidays and today is another. School is closed for a training day, so it’s just me and them again…

When I woke up the skies were grey with rain, so I wasn’t too disappointed to be missing my Sunday morning ride. Over breakfast, while my wife prepared for a day out, leaving me at home with the girls, the clouds broke and the sun came out with the warmth of summer. Mid-September and autumn is waxing, most likely today will be one of the last, glorious days of the waning summer. Definitely a day to make the most of.

After breakfast we went out blackberrying, my eldest has been hankering to do this for a couple of weeks. We were out all morning and we collected a pound of fruit before stopping  of at the cafe for lunch. I’ll admit to being slightly envious of the Cambridge CC riders stopped there for a coffee, but only slightly. Aside from a few grumbles towards the end, the girls had enjoyed, what is for them, a long walk. And as they had enjoyed it I had too.

After lunch we went back home. Over the last couple of years I’ve come to enjoy Sunday afternoons spent in the kitchen. Listening to Huey Morgan, then Jarvis Cocker on BBC 6Music, the girls either play or do something messy/crafty while we prepare dinner and some food for the week ahead. Today they painted while I turned the blackberries into a crumble (not as good a topping as my wife’s). Once painting got boring they played in the garden. I went outside too, pottering ineffectually around the garden, more as an excuse to be in their company. At first it was a dolls tea party, but then it turned into being eaten by monsters, coming back to life, then catching, cooking and eating said monsters. A family of dinosaurs were involved too, but I’m not sure how.

It sounds idyllic and it was; a day to savour. Another time they might be bickering and I’ll wish I was on my bike, or at work, at the same time knowing that this time is precious and shouldn’t be wished away.

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New Paul Smith gilet mate? We saw you coming…

A couple of years ago I blogged about looking for that most basic piece of cycling kit, a new gilet. At the time I was bemused by the high pricing of certain high end brand gilets, but today, fashion designer Paul Smith has rocked me with a paradigm shift. I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that Rapha’s £125 Gilet is now mid-range clothing. Don’t be daft I hear you say, to which I answer, then you’ve yet to see Mr Smith’s £350 531 range Gilet.

Yes, that’s right, a GILET for THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY POUNDS. I recently bought a Gore Goretex rain jacket (which is a superb piece of kit) for a £151 less than that. For £350 you could get a good single speed bike to see you through the winter. Worst of all, the 351 Gilet is a dull looking orange, it doesn’t even look nice.

Paul Smith is an enthusiastic cyclist, he has a passion for the sport and now he, or at least his marketing team, want to take you for a ride too….if you’ve the money to burn.

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Autumn Breeze Sportive 2014

Saturday had been hectic. The morning was busy, spent checking over paper work, collecting things together, responding to emails, and a few other little, but necessary, chores. At midday I was on the road first to drop off some food with Andy and Mandy, the feed station coordinators. Mandy was in the kitchen, hard at work baking for feed station, and I’m sure Andy was busy with something too. Then it was off to fetch Gary to help sign the middle section of the route.

Staś and Olly, in the north, and David and Andrew, in the south, had signed their respective sectors in the morning. We cracked on and made a good start, chivvied along by the pouring rain, but after a while we slowed a little – with his window wound down, I think Gary was still feeling Friday nights club visit to Auntie Thai’s. But, Grazing on the blackberries growing around the signposts he kept his strength up and the job was done.

When I got home Staś had left a message regards a route alteration. One of the roads on the northern sector, which the 100milers would ride, was closed. Fortunately the detour was relatively trivial, taking you along the other two sides of a small diamond. It still meant the risk assessments needed updating and a new route rushing out. The turd of a website that is Garmin.connect was as uncooperative as ever (pale grey back drop with slightly paler roads, not the best UX), but on Sunday morning most of the pre-entered riders had either got the new route or at least knew of the change.

Sunday was little more than a red line on the east horizon when I arrived at the HQ, once again based at St Neots One Leisure centre. At 6.45 the first rider arrived, and by 7am the car park was steadily filling, even though sign-on didn’t officially open for another half hour. Ian B and Leah arrived to man the sign on, the marshals and club riders were briefed and then we were ready, or at least as much as we thought we would ever need to be.

A steady trickle very quickly turned into a rush. We had 149 pre-entered riders, what we weren’t quite prepared for were the other 50 who turned up on the day! The forecast was good and clearly a lot of folk had been weather watching. For a while, with dozens of riders cramming into the sign on area, we were a little overwhelmed. We ran out of cable ties for the numbers – I thought 600 would be enough – and then we ran out of numbers! We were full.

Shortly before 8am we started to get the first riders on the road. Ian L went on ahead to marshal where the route crossed at Wilden. The riders had a briefing and then they were off in small groups, a few minutes apart. Quickly a thick column of them were lining up along the cycle way to the start, shivering in the early morning coolness and eager to be off.

Soon enough all the riders were off and for a while calm returned to HQ. A couple of people returned early, suffering with aching limbs, and there was a slight panic when Ian L phoned in to report he’d taken a wrong turning to the course crossing. A few of the first riders made the same mistake, but they were all brought back on track with just a few extra miles added on.

Ian B and Leah tidied up the start list while I rode out to transfer signs from the start of the route to the very end. It turned out on Saturday that our 300 signs hadn’t been quite enough. When I got back Ian drove off to perform broom wagon duties, following the course for any stragglers and collecting up signs. It wasn’t long before he was called into action by the first call on the emergency phone – a broken rear mech climbing the short and sharp Belton’s Hill. This was followed by a broken spoke and Staś unfortunately suffered a snapped drop out and some nasty mech meets spokes mangling. Hopefully they will all get their bikes road worthy again with little fuss.

Andy and Mandy reported a very busy 45 minutes as the 200 passed through the feed station, then things settled down and we waited for the first 100km riders to return.

The first arrived shortly before midday. I went outside to grab riders as they arrived and to make sure they signed in with Leah before getting their voucher for beans or eggs on toast at the centre’s cafe.

By and large the feed back was good, everyone had enjoyed the ride with special praise going to the feed station and signage. People had enjoyed the route too, although a few had been taken by surprise by Everton Hill and it’s 15% gradients. I heard a few reports of people walking but only one admitted to it, still if you’re going to organise a sportive you can’t not include your areas nearest, biggest and steepest hill, can you?

The hundred milers started to arrive in the early afternoon, just as the 100km were winding down. Again, they had enjoyed the route, and I was pleased to hear people say they had found the course harder than they were expecting. Judging from some of the glazed stares over untouched plates of beans that I saw some riders had, by that criteria, it was a successful route!

Late afternoon and the emergency phone rang for another mechanical, this time at Wilden. I drove out to collect the rider, joining the route at Tempsford and following it backwards. I saw no other riders on the road and when I arrived back all but the last few had returned and were accounted for. I and several others checked the course while taking the signage down, but no one was seen, so the last few outstanding numbers were called to establish their whereabouts. That done, we packed up and headed home.

There are a couple of things about this years sportive that I am pleased about. This year we had minimal advertising and entries opened later. In the end that didn’t dent the numbers. Talking to people as they arrived back, a lot had either ridden the event before or been recommended to ride it by others. I don’t think you can beat that sort of loyalty and word of mouth attraction.

Secondly, a number of riders commented how good it was to see the event being so well supported by the club members and they were right, it was. No one is paid to run the event, everyone who gives up their time does so freely and many have. For some it was baking a cake, others gave up the better part of the weekend to put up and take down the 300 signs, man the feed station and HQ and marshal where it was needed. And it does make me proud to belong a club that can do that. We have also raised a good bit of money too. In previous years this has gone to develop the club, especially coaching, this year though, we’re making a donation to Magpas instead.

Autumn Breeze Sportive 2013
Autumn Breeze Sportive 2012

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First meeting with a post referendum Scot

Sitting at the traffic lights on Farringdon road, a drunk Scot with a beaming smile, a can of lager in one hand and a plastic bag containing more in the other, walked over and complemented my Boris Bike (and it was in good condition). I don’t know if he was an accepting Yes or a celebrating No, although I was disappointed to see the lager was Stella not Tennents. Still, Salmond does claim the Scots are more pro-European than the rest of us.

I’m glad the Union has held, but I hope we’re now in line for root and branch political reform, not just for Scotland but every nation in the Union. I don’t know what is best, really I just hope the post referendum political fallout isn’t the status quo. A federal, decentralised state appeals. It seems like a good opportunity too to address the anachronisms in our political structure. Time for a written constitution and the unelected House of Lords must surely go. As for the Royals… If there was one time when they should have cast aside political impartiality this was it. But did they speak out to defend the political unity of their Kingdom? No, and for me that demonstrates their impotent irrelevance – tourism will survive without them. Time for a Republic; a head of state we can choose and remove.


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Are Sustrans Masters of Irony?

The harvest is nearly in and my fears about how well the new gravel/hardcore surfaces, on NCN 12/51, would withstand the combined weight of harvesters and tractors have not come to pass. Perhaps just as well, Sustrans are planning a celebratory ride along this section on the 17th August.

This newly resurfaced section of the NCN 51/12 has even made it into one of the local papers. The article describes the new surface as high quality (yes really). It also makes reference to the section by Highfields farm, now with a Tarmac surface, as being previously almost impassable, especially in wet weather. This was definitely the case, but then it was just an unsurfaced and very muddy bridleway. The part of the path nearest the road was in the worst condition; having no where for water to drain away to, it was prone to flooding. However, with a new high quality surface you can imagine the flooding problem was simply addressed by building up this part of the path so that it sat slightly higher than the surrounding verges and field margins. You would think…

The following picture is of the new high quality path, taken on Monday 11th August, after rain the previous day. Let’s hope, for Sustrans sake, it stays dry for the weekend, or else this new high quality cycle path might be a bit of an embarrassment…

An all year surface? Sustrans think so.

An all year surface? Sustrans think so.

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