Spirits rising – the familiar made special

Gallery

This gallery contains 3 photos.

I am going to write about a short but wonderful bike ride, a ride that left me buoyed up by the beauty to be found in a familiar landscape. But make me a promise. Before you read this in full … Continue reading

An “I love my job” kind of day – cycling, talking about cycling, looking at bikes – all in a great setting. Eurobike 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk2xaeXnxlM Photo Kevin Mayne

This is the first of a number of posts from my now annual trip to Eurobike, the massive bike show at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance (the Bodensee).

I’ll pick out a few individual stories and of course my professional work at Eurobike is covered extensively on the ECF web site and other media like Bike Europe.

However I have to start with Tuesday.

Tuesday was an “I love my job” kind of day, combining as it did amazing settings, some cycling, a hell of a lot of talking about cycling and even a few moments to look at some bikes.

But first a little context. Some of my readers will have seen my write ups from the previous three Eurobikes so I may have given you an impression of the scale of this event. It is the world’s biggest bike show and by far the biggest event in the area each year so it scatters us far and wide across the region to find accommodation. The good news is that this means I have got so see some of the lovely parts of this attractive region as we sought out places to stay. In previous years this has meant a hotel hidden in the city walls or even a celebrated monastery.

This Tuesday I woke up to sunrise on a fruit farm, tucked away in a tiny hamlet near the Bodensee town of Kressbron.Photo Kevin Mayne

Still and quiet apart from birdsong and offering a 5 yard walk up to the trees to pick a just-ripe apple for breakfast.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Promptly at 6.30am we were collected by ECF President Manfred Neun to take us on the next stage of the day. The “Leaders’ Ride” was our event to get the top people in the cycling business to beat the traffic and commute the 5km from the Friedrichshafen station to the showgrounds on the edge of the city.

Pilot? Experiment? On the morning of one of their biggest events of the year would the captains of industry turn out for a simple bike ride? We didn’t really know until 7.30 am when they flooded into the square by the station – probably 200 by the time we counted them all. We gave out almost 60 hire bikes from Nextbike so determined were they to come along.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Remember that John F. Kennedy said “nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride”? These folks don’t just ride the bikes, they own the companies and here we were putting huge smiles on their faces by having a short ride “to the office”.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Three days later they are still talking about the atmosphere and the networking and when Manfred announced we are going to do it again next year they all cheered! (He could have asked the rest of us first, but that’s the joy of Manfred)

Photo Kevin Mayne

The ride, press conference and photo call didn’t finish until 10ish, so second breakfast felt well deserved even if we had actually only ridden 5 kilometres.

First day of the show proper was then talk, talk, talk but of course I did sneak in a sideways glace at some of the exhibits, although the aisles were packed.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

To round the day off perfectly Manfred promised us that he would use his local knowledge to find us a restaurant by the lake on the way back to Kressbron. We actually overshot a little to get to the lovely island city of Lindau, the historic old town separated from the lake by a bridge. I first came here more than 30 years ago and I thought it was a lovely place then. In the golden hues of a late summer sunset with a tired but happy group of colleagues it was perfect.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

This gives me an excuse to end with one of my favourite songs of the last 5 years. Beautiful day

A song to be played while repairing bikes: – “Shipbuilding”.

Wheelbuilding

When I am working in my bike shed there is a song that sometimes comes suddenly when the music payer shuffles the tunes, then becomes an earworm that stays with me for the rest of the day. It is a special song anyway, but I give it a little cycling twist when I am working on my bikes.

It is the beautiful and moving 1983 song “Shipbuilding”, written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer and first recorded by English singer songwriter Robert Wyatt.

On first impressions this can be taken as a song of optimism. The words talk of possibilities from a new job

A new winter coat,

And shoes for the wife

And a bicycle

On the boy’s birthday

Of course, a bicycle for the boy, who couldn’t love that idea as a symbol of hope?

However the song has a dark side. Because the “Shipbuilding” in the title is the possible return of shipbuilding and repairing to the British shipyards of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North East of England, places that had been hardest hit by recession in the 1970s and early 1980s. The rumour that there might be shipbuilding again came because Britain was sending a military task force to the Falkland Islands, a war that would be fought mostly at sea.

And it is those self-same suffering industrial areas that supplied the much of the British forces at the time. Woven through the lyrics are the pains of war,

They’ll be reopening the shipyard
And notifying the next of kin once again

So Costello had actually written a protest song that reflected the impact on the people who not valued by the Thatcher Government, but were now needed both to fight and rebuild the ships. A painful reminder of one of the most challenging periods of our not so distant past and one where I cannot help but be in sympathy with Costello’s words.

He says in interviews that he wasn’t being alarmist or morbid, but he also says they were possibly the best lyrics he ever wrote, reflecting the complexity and depth that he put into a short “pop” song. “Diving for dear life, when we could be diving for pearls….”

I have added below Youtube links to both versions, you can enjoy the sparseness of the Robert Wyatt version or the virtuoso jazz trumpet on Costello’s own recording that for me just adds to the poignancy. (Email readers may have to visit the original blog post on http://www.idonotdespair.com for these links to work)

I sing these words out loud when I am working, if nothing else because I can. But I do have my own special version that has emerged from the bike workshop. Last year when I was making my first attempt at removing and replacing a wheel rim when the song came on and almost without thinking I replaced the words “shipbuilding” with “wheelbuilding”.

Dropouts 3And I have carried the idea ever since that this song can become a true song of hope when old areas of industrial decline get a glimmer of optimism because they are re-opening old bicycle factories to satisfy the demands of a new society.

Listen, enjoy, reflect and maybe in your bike shed you will sing of wheelbuilding too. I hope so.

 

The perfect song for cycling and singing out loud – thanks to the BBC and the Beach Boys

I do not despair is currently distracted from blogging.

It is bid-writing season again – the process of developing a sales pitch to funders that part exam revision, part interview, part dissertation, part speech writing and a lot of hours locked away with the laptop. There is sadly little capacity left for the blog for another few days yet.

My saving grace is the bike ride to work, an hour or more of tranquility to reorganise my thoughts.

And there is music. This isn’t just while writing. As my regular readers know “Music to Ride bikes by” celebrates the songs that come into my head while riding and just won’t go away.

Today I just have to celebrate the work of the BBC Music department that has just produced a brilliant version of “God only Knows” to celebrate the joy of music. In time to a pedalling rhythm it is even better.

The original was already 3 minutes of pop perfection, but listening to this video has joyously uplifted my morning ride for three days now. My apologies to anybody in the woods near Brussels who has been terrified by a tuneless English cyclist singing out loud to the trees.

Music for cycling – Queen providing the sound track to a stormy Belgian commute

I haven’t had a “Music to Ride Bikes By” post for ages, I don’t seem to have had the muse.

However this morning was my first ride to work for the year, an hour and a half through the dark and the wind to get me into the pattern for the year. As I have written before the ride to work is my meditation so I was actually quite looking forward to having the time to sort my thoughts and prepare for the week ahead.

However in that completely weird way that “Music to Ride Bikes to” always happens a piece of music came from nowhere, took over my brain and excluded all other thoughts.

But why? Why do Freddie Mercury and Queen sing “I want to break free” for a whole 90 minutes. And the video was there too, the completely barking mad video that was Freddie at his most over the top, so out there that a lot of US TV channels banned it at the time. There is no thought in the world that stands a chance of competing with that.

I am a big Queen fan but I haven’t heard that song for ages so no idea why. It is however a good thumping riff for pedaling so it did help me keep the wheels going round so it can take its place in the record list. However I do hope it is gone tomorrow.

For previous music and the background to “Music to Ride Bikes By” click here.

NB – I now understand that a lot of my email readers don’t get any embedded video links because they are removed by virus checkers or email software, if I put them in posts I’ll try to make it clear so you can link back to the Blog to see the originals. Like now!

Over to you Freddie.

Can you identify Wallonia’s most famous citizen? Come to Dinant

Wallonia Belgium

There is a cruel and extremely patronising saying in English “bet you can’t name five famous Belgians” which is a rude way of decrying the impact this country has had on the world.

However when tested sadly most of us can’t. Especially when we discover detective Hercule Poirot doesn’t count because he is fictional and cyclists are banned from rattling off anyone other than Eddie Merckx on the grounds that nobody outside our world has heard of Rik Van Looy.

Hergé, Rene Magritte?

A recent trip to Dinant in Wallonia threw up a name who deservedly needs to be on any list of people who have made an impact on the world far beyond their shores.

Where would my “Music to ride Bike By” be without Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, Pink Floyd’s “Us and them” and the Clarence Clemen’s solo on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “Jungleland”?

What links these seemingly disparate pieces of music? The saxophone. Invention of Alolphe Sax from Dinant in 1846 which makes him by far this region’s most famous son. Best saxophone solos ever? That’s a topic that keeps lots of lists going on the blogosphere.

Dinant itself should be an attractive place in the valley of the Meuse south of Wallonia’s capital Namur but it has a slightly down-at-heel atmosphere which reflects the economic reality of southern Belgium. Things are fairly tough in a region that once depended on coal, steel and shipping down the river which still acts as a freight route. Tourism is doing its best and the riverside is being gentrified to complement the Notre Dame Church and the imposing Citadel which overlooks the town. Belgium

Dinant Citadelle Belgium

The dark grey stone doesn’t help the scene, it looks slightly overcast even on a bright day. By far the most colourful scene in the town was the bridge named after Charles de Gaulle because the future French president picked up a war wound here during the first World War.

Dinant Saxophones

Here Sax was being celebrated with a colourful display of 28 painted saxophones, each painted to represent a country of the EU and the EU itself.

Dinant saxophones  Pont Charles de GaulleIt is nice to go somewhere else this year where you just end up smiling and humming to yourself, it gives Dinant that something special, and I would much rather be in a place that should burst into a chorus of “Jungleland” than the “Sound of Music”.

Web site Famousbelgians.net agrees, they have Sax at number 2 after Eddie Merckx in their role of honour. That is almost perfect for Idonotdespair –cycling followed by music. Bring it on boys.

Wallonia offers up another perfect day’s cycling

Walloon skyline

Cycle Touring Wallonia

There’s nothing unique about today. We didn’t go further than usual, it wasn’t especially hilly. We just cruised the rolling countryside to the South West of where we live. But it was just the perfect way to spend a cycling morning.

CycleottigniesJust over 90 minutes into today’s club ride a thought popped into my head. I couldn’t recall us passing any moving cars, from the front or the rear. There might have been one in Ottignies at the start of the ride by the station, but after that I think we opened up with about 30 traffic free kilometres.

It was almost windless so that the even the giant turbines out in the flatlands were still. And if there is sound I can recall beyond the clicking of freewheels it is the sound of skylarks above the fields which are almost ready for harvest.

Cycling in Wallonia

Some of that was definitely the wonderful network of tiny lanes found by our ride leader but also it reflects how sleepy rural Belgium is on a Sunday morning, especially a hot summer’s day when so many people are on holiday. The villages and farms were no more active than Spain during siesta. Imagine that just 50km from London, or indeed most big cities.

Cycling WalloniaWhen we first came here it all seemed a bit old fashioned. No Sunday shopping. A ban on noisy implements on a Sunday – so no diy, lawnmowers or hedge cutters. Now we welcome the wonderful tranquillity and the fact that there is no incentive at all for anyone to get up early.

Cycle Club Ottigines Louvan La NeuveExcept the cyclists. I wondered if our group would decline during holiday season but when I rolled up to the station meeting point for 8am if anything it was bigger than usual, well over 60. So in addition to the wonderful riding conditions there was lots of company for our 85km spin.

Not much chance for quality photography in a cruising club-run Cycle Club Ottignies Louvain La Neuve at Ottignies Stationso only a few atmosphere shots on the mobile as usual.

Music of the day? When I am spinning in a group I am usually concentrating but to today I was so relaxed the music just flowed. What to recommend for “Music to Ride Bikes By”? Lou Reed and Perfect Day seems a bit obvious, but I did manage a few verses. So that’s a good start.

Much better “Summer’s here and the time is right, for cycling in the streets”. At least that’s what Martha Reeves and the Vandellas could have sung. For sheer exuberance let’s take the 1985 Live Aid version which was running through my head for hours today.

Over to you Mick and David.