Part of the narrative of the new book is ‘experiential’, for want of a better phrase. Maybe ‘narcissistic’ is the better phrase I’m for want of. I’m doing the End to End in a couple of mighty chunks in order to get a greater sense of the challenges, but also the topographical and cultural changes across the UK.
The first step is a big stage across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, planned for half-term. It comes in at about 200 miles, give or take. I was quite impressed with this as a projected distance, right up until audax season kicked off and my stravr feed was suddenly alive with the sound of ultra-nutters carving out 300 mile rides across Wales and back, at which point I felt inadequate.
However, I’m doing it, and because I’m doing it I felt it might be a good opportunity to try and raise some money. And I’m utterly un-ultra-nuttery so it has all the hallmarks of being an absolute catastrophe.
I’m raising money for Off the Record, a group who work to support young people who are struggling with their Mental Health.
They work closely with the NHS and help vulnerable people.
I’m sure in 30 years time when we’re all burning up in post-BladeRunner 2020 dystopian furnace, we’ll all remember that at least we had that February week when it was 20 degrees and everyone was frotting around in shorts. What a time to be alive.
Except I’m barely alive because of this vile ‘flu which has crept into the house like a medieval pestilence. And I haven’t ridden my bike in four weeks. It’s possibly the longest lay-off in 15 years.
The only silver lining is that by not eating I have somehow lost a tiny bit of weight.
I neglected to update the details, but Alf is back in stock. We shifted about 1100 copies in three months, which was pretty amazing for an independent publisher and a niche, unmarketed book, aside from my slightly haphazard efforts.
I’m now embroiled in the details for my new book which is all about the insane, psychedelic horror and joy of the End to End. I’ve even managed somehow to get a literary agent to represent the book, which was definitely more luck than judgement, and I had the first of I’m sure many flat-out rejections.
Other things I have done:
I went to Champions’ Night and presented the Bidlake Award to Michael Broadwith, was theatened with legal action by Martyn Roach, ate breakfast with Michael Hutchinson. He said he liked the title. I got drunk and chatted with amazing people like Dan Bigham and Rachael Elliott and Dick Poole and Graham Huck and many many others.
I managed to convince my local bookshop to stock Alf and ACE. They took two, and sold them both in two days, so took four, then sold those, and then when I went back they’d taken to ordering it in from their distributor and were selling them too.
I hurt my neck somehow so haven’t been riding.
I sold my time trial bike.
My mum made a limited run of two pottery mugs with ‘I Like Alf’ on them. I gave one to Alf and it now has pride of place in his house.
It’s been a slightly demented few weeks. From a standing start, suddenly a job lot of reviews dropped in, almost all positive. None were negative, I guess what I’m trying to say is some reviews weren’t very good as reviews. I think maybe there should be a threshold for people writing reviews; possibly starting with functional literacy, then moving on to reviewing the text, rather than the reviewer’s ego or ideas of what should be in a text that they didn’t actually write.
As per usual, some of the loveliest words of praise came have come from readers, who have been very open in sharing their opinions of the book. For this, I’m always grateful and it means a huge amount. Sometimes, in the dark of winter, when you’re trying to finish a tricky chapter and failing, all writing seems like a ridiculous exercise. By the time the book comes out you’re so close to it you can’t even see the words anymore, it all just seems like so much hot air, wasted paper. It is therefore lovely to be told otherwise, especially when people use phrases like, “a wonderful cadence”, or “lyrical, flowing prose”, or even better still, “a magnificent achievement”.
The best of the formal reviews has come from Feargal McKay; he’s very much the reviewers’ reviewer, by dint of the fact that he takes his time and gets into the book like an archaeologist, looking for layers of meaning. He’ll then tell you if it’s there or not.
There have been other reviews, but I’m not going to link to those right now, I’m sure they’ll come up in a google search. They are all fine. Simon Smythe at Cycling Weekly ran a super three page spread on Alf Engers, then linked it to my book with some really lovely comments. I’m informed it’s getting a second look this Thursday coming as well:
The Comic has stepped up a gear this off-season with a string of really well-written articles, including this week’s Michael Broadwith special. Highly-recommended, particularly for the brilliant photos…
William Fotheringham, The Guardian, author of “Put me Back on My Bike” and “A Sunday in Hell”, general cycling sage and good egg, tweeted about the book recently, which was a fantastic and formative moment.
And Herbie Sykes, author of Race Against the Stasi, a really great book, mentioned that it was on his Christmas list. What a treat!
All in all, a great couple of weeks. I’m now fully immersed in a new project and have spent the past few weeks putting together a proposal for a new book. It’s done, and sitting on someone’s desk, leaving only the incipient fear of rejection. Someone will publish it. I think.
I haven’t made the annual pilgrimage to a bleak northern hillside for a few years now, so it was great to get up above Stocksbridge last weekend to see the National Hill Climb. The climb was a late substitution for a southern massif where some kind of confusion and delay doomed the event before it had even begun. There was much speculation as to the reason why, the usual armchair anarchists with their withered fingers pointing at various people in fits of incoherent rage, but as with most things, the truth is typically very simple and underwhelming.
So/Hwæt I found myself on a hillside, desolate. Although it wasn’t that desolate because the sun shone and it felt almost balmy. I had to take my coat off at one point. I observed the following things:
Large numbers of participants and spectators. The event has grown in size from a field of 120 to a full field of 300. That’s quite a leap. It makes the event last a heck of a lot longer, in fact, you are watching cyclists from 11am until 3pm. This is both good and bad.
The event is in some sort of refractive meta-world, where people take amazing pictures of people doing amazing things and this makes more people want to take more photos and more people want to ride and do amazing things. The narrative of the national hill climb is gloriously simple and very photogenic.
The spectactors are getting ever more visceral and gladiatorial. It has always been thus, but there is a newer sense of the mountain stage, the madness of mankinis and of demented scarves.
There are a number of people riding fixed, which represents a resurgence of sorts. It’s as though they read some overly-romanticised chapter in a book and thought it would be a great idea but didn’t really see the downside until it’s too late.
The community surrounding the hill climb is unlike any other. It is uniquely convivial. The only thing I’ve experienced which is close to it is, paradoxically, the 24hr and End to End bunch of nutters.
Fiona Burnie and Andrew Feather were the outright winners. Glyndwr deserves a mention for winning the vets prize. From a slightly biased point of view, it’s always a treat when the out and out climbers win this event.
Here are some amazing pictures by Martin Wilson of Rare Mags fame.
I took a roll of film with me, keeping it nice and old school. I opted to double expose. It came out with some lively juxtapositions.