Monday, June 29, 2009

Breaking The Deadlock

The excellent sports writer, Simon Barnes, recently wrote a piece in which he assessed the modern innovations in our major sports and gave his opinion on their effectiveness.

He looks at limited overs cricket - 65 over games started in the 60s, while Twenty20 was born in 2003 - the tie break in Tennis (born 1970), the introduction of petrol breaks in F1 (1994), the many intricate rule changes made in rugby over the years and in football, the penalty shoot-out (also 1970).

I'm not informed enough about cricket to have an opinion and Formula One leaves me mystified at the best of times - whatever they do to it I can't get past the fact that the man with the best car seems to have something of an advantage. Besides, while I know the drivers are doing something remarkable I don't feel able to perceive their skill as a spectator. I mean, I know how fast they're going but on a TV screen it simply doesn't look that fast. The rules of rugby have changed so much since I was being kicked all over the school playing field that I've given up trying to understand it properly but can still sit and enjoy an international because good rugby is still mightily impressive to watch.

The most interesting assessments to me were those made on tennis and football, not least because they're both rule changes brought in to achieve the same goal: to break a deadlocked game. Here he concludes that the tie-break has been an unqualified success but that the penalty shoot-out has had a negative impact on football. And I think he's right.

While a penalty shoot-out is undeniably exciting it's not football. A tie break is undoubtedly tennis. The presence of a tie-break doesn't encourage players to play for a draw. A penalty shoot out does, if not from the start, then at some point.

Surely there ought to be some other resolution to a drawn football game that's better than the toss of a coin, fairer than a penalty shoot out and that still involves playing football... all of it, rather than just one particular part of it.

Here's my suggestion. I'm probably not the first person to come up with this. I won't be at all surprised if I find dozens of people telling me where hundreds of others have discussed it in the past. If that's the case, my apologies for not having my finger on the pulse. Here goes:

Currently they play a period of extra time and then go to a penalty shoot out. I'd suggest that when a game is drawn at 90 minutes they should play ten minutes of extra time - but that each team should withdraw two players. If it's still drawn after that, they should withdraw two more players each and play another ten minutes. And so on. Ten minutes of 9-a-side, ten minutes of 7-a-side, ten minutes of 5-a-side and if needed, ten minutes of 3-a-side. Rugby Sevens is a more free-scoring game than its grown-up counterpart because there's more room for players with pace to exploit and I would have thought the same would be true for football.

It would reward fitness, make it less of a mindgame and more of a game, maintain the fact that it's played by teams and not individuals and involve a manager making tactical decisions based on his players strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, it doesn't address what happens if, after 40 minutes of extra time and with only 3 players left for each team it's still a draw. So, um, well, then you, er, um... have a penalty shoot out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Putting Two And Two Together

In a behind-the-scenes stairwell at the BBC I used to see these paint marks on a window ledge and wonder what they were from...

Then one day, in a BBC corridor, I passed this picture in a frame:

It all makes sense now. Obviously.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thanks To Human Sat Navs

So this is my Boardman bike, rigged pretty much as I think it's going to be when I tour. I've changed the saddle, got some luggage from Carradice (ace stuff), changed the pedals and got comfortable clipping in. I'm very happy with it.

A couple of other Boardman bike riders spoke to me when I was in Brighton and they were all singing the praises of theirs too. Lovely stuff.

But the main reason I'm writing this is to say a big thanks to everyone who's responded offering their services as a Human Sat Nav.

I've been really surprised by the response. I've tried to send an e-mail to everyone who's written although I haven't yet been able to go through them all in detail and organise who will be my guide on any given day. There are some days where I've got as many as twenty people offering and plenty of others where there's only the one. Where there are several I'll probably go for a lucky dip of sorts. Or maybe it's an unlucky dip. It's not as though guiding my lumbering body through a 50 mile ride is a particular treat.

I won't know for sure until I go through them all properly and filed them in some kind of order but I'm pretty sure I've got almost every ride covered. I reckon there's only two or three of the routes that people haven't volunteered for and they tend to be in the least populated parts of the ride... where there's likely to be only one road carrying me from A to B in any case.

Anyway... I'm going to have to pull the shutters down and ignore any new offers until I've sorted out the current inbox. I'm hugely grateful to everyone who's written and only sorry that I'm not more organised. Ta.

Monday, June 22, 2009

From London to Brighton to... London.

So... yesterday was the annual British Heart Foundation London to Brighton bike ride. I took part in the event four years ago. That was the first time I'd taken on any kind of distance. I loved it. When someone asked me to join their team of cyclists in the event this year I thought I really ought to do it again... with my tour looming I didn't really have any excuse not to and I figured it would be a good training ride.

At the time I hadn't done any serious training rides and wasn't used to cycling out of London on the open roads. I know a lot of people think that cycling in London is scary but personally I feel pretty safe in that environment. So long a syou look ahead and assume people are going to open their car doors in front of you and so on it can work to your advantage. The average car is travelling at less than 10mph and while they might not like the fact that cyclists are there, there are so many of us out on two wheels that drivers are kind of expecting your presence. It's out of town that scares me more. It's in country lanes that boy racers take bends at 50mph and with no expectation that there might be someone on two wheels ahead of them.

So while I knew that London to Brighton would be a good work out I was also aware that it would be a slightly artificial situation because there are marshalls all along the route and plenty of sections where the roads are closed or the regular traffic is at least separated. So I decided that I would cycle home too. I figured I had to get used to going from town to town without the assistance of several hundred volunteers in high-vis jackets. (Incidentally: I don't think the people who marshall the route get enough of a thankyou from the cyclists. It's a huge event that the BHF organise incredibly well and the volunteers who line the route are amazingly good humoured and supportive. Thanks.)

By the time the ride came round I'd already done a few town-to-town, city-to-city rides and got used to it but training's training and I knew another one couldn't hurt. Or rather it could. But in a helpful way.

My plan was very much to play it by ear. If I felt tired after the ride I'd stay in Brighton and then tackle the return journey the next day. If I felt up for it I'd do it all in one day or, and this seemed to me to be the most likely, I'd do 30 miles of the return journey on the day and then complete the trip on the Monday. As it was I ended up doing it all in one day... I was bushed by the end of it. But pretty damn pleased with the achievement too.

I'm also really pleased with my new Boardman bike. I've changed the saddle and the pedals and got some excellent luggage from Carradice and I reckon the way it was configured yesterday was pretty close to the way it will be on tour. It felt very right. I loved it.

I plugged some of the toys in as well. I set the new bike-cam running as I left Clapham. I know that by the time I had got to Brighton it had stopped recording. Whether it had run out of juice or memory or both I don't know. It doesn't have a preview screen so until I upload stuff I won't know how long it lasted. It' a shame not have caught the whole ride but at the same time, I need things to work in a way that means I can just hit a button and forget about them. If I start obsessing with how-to-record-the-journey or stopping every hour to change a memory card it will change the actual first-person-experience of the journey into something else. Something worse to do... but nicer for other people to look at. Which isn't what it's about, really.

I also had my Garmin Edge 705 on the bike, timing myself and recording the route - and for the return journey, choosing the route. Thanks to the magic of, I can show you where I went... here's the London to Brighton ride:

... and here's the journey back:

You can open them full screen and zoom in to see the minute detail of where I went if you like. (I turned it off before I got to my front door - I'm not mad.)

The first third of the ride to Brighton is always very congested. There are loads of bottlenecks in small lanes where you're forced to stand and wait a while or walk but slowly as the ride goes on it thins out a bit and you can get into it properly. Ditchling Beacon is the stiffest test... a steep and long, long hill about 6 miles from the end. The good thing about it is that when you get to the top you've pretty much finished the ride. It's all pretty easy after that.

Four years ago Ditchling Beacon was a pretty disorganised mess. Loads of people end up walking up the hill and they can block the path of those who are still cycling. My main memory is of the really hardcore cyclists screaming at people to walk on the left. I don't think I would have been able to pedal all the way up Ditchling Beacon last time but I didn't get the chance to find out as I ended up losing momentum behind a group of four walkers who covered the whole width of the road. Once off the bike there was no choice but to walk myself.

This time round it seemed far more organised. I don't know if it was just because I'd started earlier or if people have spread the word but the walkers all cleared out of the way and left a channel to the right for the cyclists. I cycled all the way up.

I've always been quietly dismissive of those people who claim to have an exercise-high... but yesterday as I topped the beacon and continued into Brighton I felt properly euphoric. I must have been because on the flat section across the top of Ditchling I got up to 31mph. On the flat I can normally get a little over 20mph if I make an effort... so it must have been down to some kind of adrenaline rush. Better still, on the long descent, even with my fingers stabbing at the brakes I got up over 42mph. I spoke to several people afterwards who'd got over 50mph. It's an exciting part of the ride.

As I came down the hill I looked at the clock and realised it was possible to get in to the finishing line in under 4hrs. I got snarled up with traffic lights coming in to the city centre and then with a large group of riders on the home straight but I made it. Just. 3 hours, 59 minutes and 50 seconds.

I made a bit of a cock up then. I should have gone to have something to eat but instead I hung around waiting for my team to arrive. I knew they were going to be doing the ride at a more leisurely pace and would be stopping en route for refreshments but I stupidly didn't realise that this was my best chance to eat and recuperate. When they did turn up - every one of them equally delighted to have cycled up Ditchling - they then went off for a celebration drink which I didn't do because booze seemed like a bad idea before taking on another long ride. So not only did I start my return journey quite late in the day, I knew I'd be stopping on the ride to get some food that I could have dealt with while I was waiting.

It was hard. Much harder than the ride to Brighton and that's not just because of tiredness. The sat-nav seemed to take me on an odd and circuitous route and there were more uphill sections. Nothing as steep as Ditchling but a damn site more of them. I was getting frustrated with the road surfaces too. A bad road slows you down so much and it left me unsure as to whether it was down to the conditions or me. But then about 40 miles in I suddenly hit a nice new road and found I still had plenty of juice in me and got up over 25mph with ease. Which is kind of when I decided to complete the job and get all the way home.

I took two refreshment breaks on the way back - totalling an hour - and all in the return journey took five and a half hours. Even if I just take into account the actual cycling time it's half an hour slower and that's without having any of the bottlenecks that plagued the first part of the outward journey so it was definitely harder going.

But I did it. And I'm thrilled. Taking into account the journey from mine to Clapham for the start of the official ride I totalled just over 120 miles of riding yesterday. The longest I've done in a day before being 90ish miles.

When I did my three day training ride a wee while back I was aware that I started out being very bad at making myself take on enough fluid. I lost a stone in the first two days as an unhealthy result. I bought a Camelbak backpack to help me to drink more and it was great. I must have got through 5 or 6 litres of water, possibly more... and the result was that I lost only 2 or 3 lbs in the day. Much better.

I don't think there's been any time in my life before this when I could have done these rides in one day. Without wanting to come off all mid-life crisis about it, it's pretty damned satisfying to be fitter at 38 than I was at 34. Or 24 for that matter. How odd. And lovely. And by criminy do I feel it in my knees today.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Radio Ga Ga

Thank-You Stranger, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

I've not long finished recording the last of my three shows for Absolute Radio. It's been a while since I did any of that kind of radio - y'know, talking and playing records - and I'd forgotten just how enjoyable I find it. It's been a blast.

It's a really lovely, close team who make the show and Absolute have been really supportive too. When we made the first show I had no idea that there was going to be a podcast too. It wasn't until after the first show was over and the producer showed us through to another studio to record an intro for the podcast that I realised such a thing existed.

Which makes it doubly sweet that the podcasts have done as well as they have. This last week we were number one on the iTunes chart. That's just silly. I'm not quite sure how that happened. If you tuned in to the shows or downloaded the podcasts; big thanks.

The final show will no doubt be online soon... and even though my supply teacher's stint is over, we recorded another silly chat that I think they'll make available next week. The Absolute Radio website is here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Bicycle Never Stops

I've got a new toy. I'm not sure how toyful it's going to be yet... but I figured that the bike ride I'm taking on this autumn is a bit of a once in a lifetime thing to do and it would be a shame not to take some kind of record away from it.

So I've bought a GoPro Hero Camera - the idea being that you can mount it on the bike, or a helmet and just let it get on with taking video or photos.

My first thought was that still photos might be more useful than video - as much as anything because I'm not sure how long the camera can record for in one go - it's tiny and loves eating batteries - and I don't fancy having to stop too often to attend to it. Having tried it today - automatically taking a still every few seconds - I'm not convinced by it... but I will continue to play.

I've put them together though. Be warned. The result is very jerky - not especially easy on the eye - but it's an experiment so what the hey.

I'll give it another go with a different set up as soon as I can. Maybe on Sunday when I'm doing the London to Brighton ride for the British Heart Foundation. If you'd like to sponsor me - and I and the BHF would really appreciate it - my JustGiving page is here.

Incidentally, the music in the video - Never Stops Never Rests Never Sleeps is used with permission from the lovely Misty's Big Adventure. They're ace.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Aerials, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

Up early this morning - a 5.45 start - in order to be at Absolute Radio in time to cover for Frank Skinner (8am-10am) while he's away.

Apart from the early start it was thoroughly enjoyable. There's a very nice team working on the show... but then I knew that because I was a guest on Frank's first show a few months ago. We had loads of input from listeners which really helped to make it zip along. If you sent an e-mail or a text - thanks. If we didn't read yours out - sorry.

I'm there for the next two Saturdays. Hope it stays this much fun.

The best thing about doing some "work" so early is that it allows you to waste the rest of the day without guilt. Lovely.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fancy A Day As A Human Sat Nav Anyone?

UPDATE: **I know there are a few places linking to this post and so people are still coming to it anew... so it seemed worth writing this little update to say that I reckon I've got pretty much all of the days covered now. Thanks to everyone who's offered their services, it's really appreciated.**

When I first mentioned that I was going to do this upcoming tour by bicycle I was surprised by the number of people who got in touch asking if they could accompany me on this day or that.

I was very wary about saying yes for various reasons... for one I wanted to avoid a feeling of responsibility. I'd get an e-mail from a stranger asking if they could accompany me and I obviously wouldn't know anything about them at all. What if they'd never cycled on the road before? What if their bike was unsafe and falling to pieces? I'd feel horribly responsible for their safety all of a sudden... and I definitely didn't want that.

But more importantly... I had no way of knowing how I'd feel about the ride when it was months away. People I didn't know were basically getting in touch in April to ask me if they could spend a day with me in September and I had no way of knowing what mood I'd be in by then. Maybe I'd be craving company? But then again, maybe I'd be craving solitude? It seemed impossible to predict when the whole thing was months away.

Of course, that was before I'd done any meaningful training...

But then, a short while ago, I did a training ride - 90 miles a day for three days - and I discovered quite a bit about myself, my bike and my attitude. I wrote about it at the time and one of the things that was most apparent was how different I felt when I was cycling on familiar turf. I cycled from Bethnal Green to Witney, from Witney to Stafford, from Stafford to Northampton and then I got the train to Euston before pedalling home.

For most of the travelling I was relying on my sat nav... but when I got off the train at Euston my instincts and local knowledge kicked in and I realised I'd been missing that out on the open road.

Which is why I've decided it would be useful to tap into other people's local knowledge. I don't want to invite strangers to accompany me - making me feel like a tour guide and giving me a responsibility that doesn't sit easily with me - I want to see if there's anyone out there that feels like being my guide for a day instead.

If you're a regular cyclist and you know your way between any two of my tour dates and you fancy being my Human Sat Nav for the day then get in touch. I'm not necessarily looking for the shortest or quickest routes - it's not a race after all - but the best route with the most to see and do. (One that avoids killer hills would be good too.)

There's obviously no real flexibility about the dates and destinations... the gigs are booked after all. It starts on August 30th when I'll be cycling from Lizard Point to Grampound near Truro.

From there it's as follows:
Aug 31: Grampound -> Liskeard
Sept 1: Liskeard -> Exeter
Sept 2: Exeter -> Taunton
Sept 3: Taunton ->Bristol
Sept 4: Bristol -> Swindon
Sept 5: Swindon ->Wycombe
Sept 6: Wycombe -> Cambridge
Sept 7: Cambridge -> Ipswich
Sept 8: Ipswich ->Lowestoft Ness
Sept 9: Lowestoft -> Kings Lynn
Sept 10: Kings Lynn -> Peterborough
Sept 11: Peterborough -> Leicester
Sept 12: Leicester -> Stoke on Trent
Sept 13: Stoke on Trent -> Salford/Manchester
Sept 14: Salford -> Preston
Sept 15: Preston ->Lancaster
Sept 16: Lancaster ->Kendal
Sept 17: Kendal ->Threlkeld (nr Keswick)
Sept 18: Threlkeld -> Carlisle
Sept 19: Carlisle -> Dumfries
Sept 20: Dumfries -> Cumnock
Sept 21: Cumnock -> Glasgow
Sept 22: Glasgow -> Dumbarton
Sept 23: Dumbarton -> Ardlui
Sept 24: Ardlui -> Fort William
Sept 25: Fort William -> Ardnamurchan
Sept 26: Ardnamurchan -> Glenfinnan
Sept 27: Glenfinnan -> Fort Augustus
Sept 28: Fort Augustus -> Inverness
Sept 29: Inverness -> Dornoch
Sept 30: Dornoch -> Lyth
And then finally, on October 1st I'll complete the journey by reaching Dunnet Head.

If you fancy being my Human Sat Nav for the day - and you're an adult of sound mind - drop me a line via my website.
It's going to take some organising and I might well get three offers for day 6 and none for day 7 (or none at all) so please put in a bit of information about how much you cycle and how you've tackled the journey in question before. And put in as many contact details as you can... that'll help me to get myself organised and to be in touch to work out quite how this'll hang together.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cat Laughs

Kilkenny At Night, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

Thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kilkenny. Four nice gigs. In one I could feel the rust in my joints but I don't think the audience were aware of or worried by it, in two others it felt like business as usual and in one it felt like business-better-than-usual. Good odds. I can't complain.

It's an incredibly beautiful town but my life it's got a Jekyll and Hyde quality to it as well. The weather was amazing so by day the place was bathed in glorious sunlight only heightening its picture postcard appeal. But I went for a midnight walk on Saturday and the all day drinking had taken its toll.

You could see who was a visitor from their more casual attire. The locals were all dressed to the nines - party frocks and shiny shirts were the uniforms of choice. And sunburn. Everyone looked like they were attending the wedding reception of a rich cousin they didn't like all that much.

On that walk I passed three girls in tears with broken heels, three girls being helped out of the gutter by angry men, four men being helped out of the gutter by angry girls, one couple drunkenly helping each other out of the gutter, two people throwing up, two sets of lads squaring up like rutting stags preparing for a you-want-some scrap that probably never transpired and one fella clutching a blood stained hanky to his face because, I assume, he'd found someone who actually did want some.

Somehow it wasn't quite so picture postcard.

That doesn't sound like much of a recommendation. Which is a shame because I really do recommend it. I certainly wouldn't let a half hour stroll through a spot of drunken carnage colour my view of the place... indeed I only mention it because it was in such stark contrast to my overall impression of the place... which was overwhelmingly friendly.

It's a beautiful place. And it's a really lovely festival. Th fact that everyone's doing short sets on mixed bills takes a lot of the egos out of it and the shows - or certainly all of the shows that I saw - are really well set up. Lovely.