It’s the end of the world as we know it

Apologies for the pessimistic blog title but there is a point to the story so bear with me. Its not a blog about the impending doom of ecological disaster. Nor is it a narrative on the shock doctrine economics employed by the Coalition government. No, this blog is about the smaller things which are coalescing to change the world around us.  I was going to call the post “If everybody looked the same” after the track by Groove Armada (in the days before they were aural wallpaper for dummies) which, if you know, you’ll remember suggests we’ll get tired of looking at each other. Far from it it seems in some ways.  Seeing Dara O’Briain live in Tuesday night brought it home.  Part of his routine picked on having a spare evening to himself: what joy and excitement at having some precious “me” time but what to do with it? Should he watch some port on the 14 sports channels he has? Should he watch a movie on the 20 movie channels stream into his home? Or watch one of the many DVDs he’s bought but never watched? Or in the same vein listen to one of the many CDs bought but resting in the pile underlistened?  Decisions, decisions. Interestingly his conclusion that through having too much “choice” he ended up frittering away a whole evening and watching half of a movie on TV instead.  It makes you wonder where choice has got us. I share O’Briain’s dilemma – left with an evening to myself I too will often squander an entire evening on nothing. Given a choice and I’m like the rabbit in the headlights. And wow betide anyone who fills indecision over the initial choice with an increase of options. Paralysis.

Which is all strange to me.  The world is one of choice. Politicians offer choice. Retailers offer choice. Media outlets offer choice. It is our role to exercise choice. Or so we are told.  The problem here is that it is very difficult to exercise choice when these are constrained both by peer pressure and, perhaps more importantly, by a lack of mechanisms to exercise choice.  Indeed some choices aren’t choices at all, it is just more of the same dross.  I’m reminded of Stephen Fry’s comments about the owner of Endemol being the descendent of the inventor of the flushing toilet – one removing effluent from our homes whilst the other pumps it back in.  Which is presently highlighted by the X-Factor – 2 hours of hand-selected identikit karaoke used to sell a premium rate phone line.

Therefore I found Tom Southam’s latest blog entry interesting.  I know Tom as a professional cyclist with a team that I have gotten to know over this season.  We exchange the odd email – initially about photos, then about coffee and now, perhaps surprisingly, about writing.  What I liked about this post was the way in which Tom highlights the very essence of this lack of choice and the creation of a lazy consumer culture.  In it he picks on Jamie Oliver’s over use of the word beautiful.  Once a word which conveyed aesthetics and  praise, it has been absorbed into our lexicon as a means of describing anything, be it nice, horrible or merely mediocre, and in so doing has wasted the choice offered by our diverse language.  When Tom moves onto the post race interviews with professional cyclists the real issue unfolds – they use carefull crafted statements of blandness and in so doing protect their sponsors’ “unique” contributions.  Its funny then that he suggests Mark Cavendish is at his best when the short-circuiting of the immediate post-race brain allows for some colourful language and insight.

This all culminates in highlighting our world of choice as one of fear and constraint.  To go with the mainstream is normal – I suppose it always has with us being pack animals at heart – but this has made us increasingly boring and unthinking in our behaviour.  Coming back to the title, it is the end of the world as we know it because in many ways this behaviour cannot last in the face of growing pressures and those who take risks and plough a different furrow will arguably be the winners.  I say this as I sit in an independent coffee shop in the heart of an city in the English Midlands, sipping fairly and sustainably procured coffee, roasted to the owners requirements. I could have chosen several Costbucks or StarNeros but this place is real choice.  Its hard branching out. I want to branch out so lets hear it for those guys who offer us real choice in a realistic way and support their efforts. If the world is changing this way then I feel fine.

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Apologies for the interruption to our service

Hello all. Its been a while hasn’t it?  I’m not really sure what happened there but I hope you either didn’t miss me too much or enjoyed the break from my ramblings depending on how you view this blog.  I thought it was about time I got back into the swing of things again and try and keep a regular update going.  One of the things I have found hard in my recovery has been making a note of how I feel on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  Somehow the idea of doing so feels silly, strange and daunting all in equal measure and freely admit that I have not managed to do this. Or so I thought. During a recent counselling session I discussed this with my counsellor and I was honestly surprised when she suggested that I had already been doing so (wait for it…..) in this blog!  So there’s me thinking I’m rambling into the ether but bot only do a few of you read it but it is also beneficial in my recovery.

The last few weeks have carried on being tough.  Part of this I can put down to the change of season and this year it seems to have been a strange transition from summer to autumn.  With the big rides gone and out of the way I’ve found myself suddenly at a stop.  I’ve had less to stress over as a result but this has ion some way also been a strange sensation, somehow leaving a vacuum which is yet to be filled. I know that for you reading this you will see the blatantly obvious benefit of this already yet to my warped cerebral machinations this makes only limited sense.  It’s another thing I want to get over and so I’m trying hard not to find a replacement, at least just yet.

Not that I’m saying I’ve been totally happy the last few weeks.  In fact I’ve been facing up to a lot more issues than I was prepared to admit even a couple of months ago.  The elephants in the room are finally being recognised and its time to work on them.  I’ve alluded to parts of this in past blog posting but I think the post I made on identity is closest to the truth.  I’m struggling in a big way to work out who exactly I am, what it is I want and how I can get there.  On the face of it that looks selfish but that is a feeling I need to get over and learn to recognise when it is ok to look out for others and be selfless and then times when I have to be a bit more selfish.  That’s not to say I am going to change everything in my life, far from it, just making changes to some areas which are continuing to sap energy, confidence and happiness.

Last week marked the “anniversary” of me owning up to a problem that was a long time coming. I can look back on it now and realise it was horrendous and awful at the time. I know that I am still on the road to recovery and there is a lot more work to do. Yet in a perverse way I’m glad it happened because otherwise I’d still be careering my life away .

Who says the quiet ones never win?

In the modern world it seems that those who shout loudest often get whilst the quieter ones are left behind.  It’s a dog eat dog world, so we are told (although as I remember reading on Ed Mayo’s blog, when was the last time you saw a dog actually do that?). Nice guys never win.  Personally its a problem I’ve been grappling with for sometime now and when I first had my breakdown it was one of (the many!) elephants in the room.  Am I a success or am I a doormat? Are my achievements worthy of being classed successful or are they just humdrum?  Everything is relative I suppose and, much like the notion of identity being constructed by those around you as much as by yourself, measuring your own success is influenced, if not driven, by peers, friends and family. In doing so we can often be diverted from the realistic and acceptable.

And so I found this blog piece from @39teeth interesting about the erstwhile world road champion Cadel Evans. It was interesting in 2 ways: firstly, it appeared as a rare piece of praise amongst articles bemoaning the demise of professional cycling to dope culture; secondly, the piece highlights the dignified way in which Evans has honoured the world title and reclaimed its meaning in this otherwise murky profession. For those who are unaware of Cadel Evans, he is the perpetual loser, the guy who often comes second and the victim of disaster in the jaws of victory.  Yet unlike other so-called champions he battles on.  This season I too have enjoyed his efforts in a diverse host of races, not always winning but definitely always fighting.  If we judge success on the number of wins then he is a questionable world champion in the eyes of some, yet his fighting spirit has made for entertaining racing, displayed real human emotion and I think makes for a real “champion”.  By not winning the Tour de France, Evans is often written off as an also ran.  I don’t know if he suffers from the expectations of others. What I will say is that in doing what he has done he has become a role model for me and is helping me to reshape my expectations of myself.

From dreaming spires to punctured tyres

Maybe I spoke too soon on Friday. Maybe I have got what it takes to ride the Tour of Britain. Specifically, may I’ve got what it takes to ride this year’s Tour of Britain.  Yesterday’s Oxford-to-Cambridge ride certainly was a contrast to last week’s exploits on the Tour Ride.  The distance was slightly less, the start slightly earlier, the terrain more what I would call undulating than the shark’s teeth of North Staffordshire and the weather… Well the weather was truly ToB 2010: wet, windy yet warm.

The hardest part about riding in the wet is the start.  Who wants to leave the confines of a warm place to get wet and cold. The warm place on Sunday morning was bed and the 6am alarm call was unwelcome. Last week I was suffering from a post Tour Ride cold: sore throat, cough, aches and limited energy.  I hadn’t wanted to admit to myself that I was in this state knowing full well that I had over 90 miles to cover on Sunday so needless to say it wasn’t the best preparation.  However, having committed to rising with my cycling buddy Nicola I couldn’t really back out. Reluctantly I think it’s fair to say that with the added support of Mrs AB we chivied each other up and out and to a very dark car park in south Oxford.  In comparison to last week, yesterday’s “event” was more village fete than major sports parody which was slightly disappointing and somewhat anti-climatic.  The heavy morning rain doing its best to add to the deflation.  And so at just after 7.30 am we rolled out of Gloucester Green with lights and waterproofs on.

The ride itself was fine.  Riding at a slower pace than last week was good and dare I say enjoyable. Despite Nicola urging me to go off at a faster pace, riding together and joined by her colleague Helen not only seemed right it also would be fun.  And it was.  Indeed, as the rain eased (not the wind) and the sun came out, as our thoughts turned to triple chocolate muffins which Mrs AB had procured for the finish it might be fair to say we all sensed achievement. I’m glad we stuck together, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that distance alone nor at the pace of last week and I’m starting to find the joy of cycling with others.  In fact, Helen (who has recently returned from the States) and I were sharing our mutual want to ride with others but a hesitancy over the potential clique of the cycling club. Maybe there’s still some way to go on this one.

And so we finished on Midsummer Common in sunshine. 90 miles under our belts and a nice sense of achievement. My companions were great and despite our couple of technical hitches (and for some the hills!) we had a good time.  Thanks to both Nicola and Helen for the company yesterday and to Nicola extra thanks for being my virtual cycling buddy as its helped a lot!  (Apologies though if I was annoyingly fast at times) On the point of technical hitches though maybe I can send a message to those riders who decided not to bring basic puncture repair equipment to do so next time – good Samaritans only have so much patience when they are getting cold and have chocolate waiting less than 10 miles down the road!

So that draws to a close this phase of the reclaim.  I have completed the challenge I set out to do and added an unexpected bonus.  Now to reflect on the achievement before drawing up new plans.  I’ll keep going out on the bike but try to enjoy some relaxed miles around the lanes and start to find some nice tea shops to stop at along the way.

Who we really are

I could have used the oft cited poem of Phillip Larkin for the title of this blog – “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” – but some how felt this told only part of the story.  What prompted me to write today’s post was a chance reading of a moving piece from this week’s Guardian by Sarfraz Manzor. In it, Manzoor talks about the chance meeting on a train of his future wife but the disapproval of his family that the union is between a “muslim”, British-Pakistani man and a “christian”, Scottish, blonde (an important point for Manzoor) woman and the hurt this creates for his wedding day.  The reason why Larkin sprang to mind is because for Manzoor his identity is partly shaped by his heritage even if for some of those close to him their conceptualisation of this identity isn’t shared by Manzoor himself.  It also struck a chord with me about something that I have had difficulty coming to terms with recently and found impossible to talk about.  I too have created an identity based on what others have wanted of me rather than what I have really wnated myself.  My breakdown is in large part a result of living too many shoulds around an other-pleasing identity.  Therefore I could see where Manzoor was coming from.  Its very difficult to challenge the identity others place on you but I’m glad that Sarfraz Manzoor has taken steps towards doing so. My challenge to myself is to start doing so some more.

(Thanks to my brother @leadout and my twitter friend @MrsBYork for highlighting the article to me!)