Time of the Season

I’m not one for looking back on the past year very often nor am I one for making new year’s resolutions but for once I’m proud to look back on a year just gone.  Looking over the 363.5 days just gone I can honestly say I didn’t think I would be at this point right now. Back then I was still off work, I hated my job and would have done anything to get out, I was scrabbling around trying to find some sort of purpose in life with little success and generally finding only fleeting moments of pleasure in an otherwise bland and disorientating mess.  Fast forward to today and though I still have my hang ups and foibles its great to look back on the progress I have made.  Not long into the new year I started taking pictures again for the fun of it. Now I’m about to launch a photography business. I went back to work in March. I went back part-time and though that return was handled far from well by my employer things now are quite exciting with a change of department, new projects to undertake and new friendships in the making. 12 months ago if you’d talk to me about change I’d have hidden double quick in terror.  And the bike is most thoroughly reclaimed, settling back into my life and giving me the freedom that deep down I crave.  Its all a balance and been won through taking initial tentative steps, facing up to what had previously seemed daunting and over bearing and grasping new opportunities.  I’m still a way off the balance I’d like but on the whole feel more positive about what the future holds. Merely writing this now is a real help in lifting the onsetting January blues which I’ve felt descending since the snow melted and the Christmas Capon was finished off. And I suppose that is what it is all about and my bigest lesson learnt to date – that its balance we are seeking not utopia. That doesn’t mean a serious of awkward compromises. Far from it. It takes courage to find out and acknowledge what you want and to pursue it but knowing you can’t have it all. It means prioritising about which bits to have now and which to save for later.  That might sounds selfish and self-centred but for me the lesson has been giving myself a little more of what I need whilst being able to meet some of the needs of others. That is the balance and we all need to learn to move in one direction or the other.

So, its almost new year. This one Mrs AB and I are staying in with some hearty food, some great company and maybe a few glasses of something nice. Tomorrow we’re off for a walk. I can’t think of a better way to start a new year.  Thanks for sticking with me this year and I hope you continue to enjoy the stories in the year to come. Happy New Year folks and as a guy from my childhood cycling used to say, “Forza!”


ProTour Co-operative not UCI/ASO Cabal?

Ok, back to the cycling commentary. I’d usually leave this to the likes of The Inner Ring or Festinagirl but couldn’t help feeling there was something in this that spanned my love of cycling and a professional interest in co-operation.  In his latest blog on Cyclingnews.com Jonathan Vaughters describes the potential withdrawal of Geox as a team sponsor in the light of their failure to secure ProTeam status as:

an example of an absolute failure of cycling to arrive at a cooperative system that encourages stable, long term sponsorships to exist.

It is interesting he uses the term co-operative, particularly given all the positive talk that co-operatives have received in the UK in the last year. But I suspect JV is not talking about the Rochdale Principles here. Having said that, and in light of some work Charlie Leadbeatter and Ian Christie did 11 years ago, that the most resilient form of mutualism is its softer form, i.e. people coming together with a shared interest. Now if the survival of professional cycling isn’t a scenario requiring the collective and concerted attention of the governing body, the teams and the race organisers to develop a shared way forward I’m at a loss to suggest what is.  So a co-operative way forward makes sense for everyone.  The problem is that it never has and in the last 6 years the power battles have left some powerless within this scenario – is this story starting to sound familiar.

Over the last few years I have been researching housing co-operatives. What I have found is that in the UK housing co-operatives too have been relatively unbalanced in terms of the power possessed by the various stakeholders. The housing co-ops themselves have been increasingly under the control of other governing and owning institutions such as housing associations and the government’s regulator to the extent that housing co-ops themselves have been co-opted into other people’s strategy and game.  The same appears true of professional cycling these days: the UCI and the major Tour organisers wrestle with each other for power over the sport, the teams find a shifting playing field on which to sport their outfits and ultimately the riders , especially the non-stars, lose out in the uncertainty that is created.  Vaughters highlights just one scenario of the potential doom to hit the sport but he is right. Only in developing a solution of mutual benefit to all parties can a sustainable future be carved for the sport. This requires co-operation rather a cabal of interests. Co-operation requires trust an in so developing certainty becomes a very real providing the foundations on which to build and expand.  At the end of the day instead of one winner and several dissatisfied followers, a genuine win-win-win for all involved.  This is what the Rochdale Pioneers envisaged for a co-operative movement and as I have argued in a professional capacity it is the purpose and principle rather than the legal form that will drive the success.  So here’s to JV’s co-operative solution and a chance for cycling to show the world it is groundbreaking for the right reasons.

Ice, ice baby

Maybe I blogged too soon about the weather. Although generally I don’t believe in fate and superstition, perhaps this once I have overstepped a mark (what that mark is I’m not entirely sure with this strange belief system!). After the start of the slow thaw I thought I would be safe on the bike. I know how to handle winter roads on 2 wheels… or so I thought. I should take a long hard look at myself in future and a) trust my first instincts and b) not spout on about the winter wonderland being so benign.  This morning folks I fell off my bike in spectacular style less than 2 miles from home.  I broke only my pride but have the scrapes and bruises to show for it, including the nice shiner seen below. At least it will start the conversations tomorrow.


Even lions need courage

All the lion needed was courage, but that wasn't so easy to find without the right help.

I opened the sports section of yesterday’s paper and in amongst the postmortems of England’s failed World Cup bid and the jubilation over the England cricket team’s successes down under was this advert for Time to Change featuring former England batsman Marcus Trescothick. It’s interesting that it is in the Sports section and in some ways follows on from last weeks post about Bradley Wiggins. Firstly, Trescothick received a lot of flak for leaving the last Ashes Tour down-under after he came home early as a result of what was then described as “home sickness”. To appear amongst the very same sports pages obviously was meant to provoke a reaction amongst readers. And so secondly, who are the main readers of sports pages? Men. And who are least likely to admit to suffering from depression, anxiety and stress? Men! I admire the way that Trescothick has not only acknowledged and started to deal with his problems but has fronted this campaign.  We admire our sportsmen and women when they are winning but love to bash them when they are down, never accepting the excuses and dismissing as unacceptable weakness the underlying reasons.  I’ve been as guilty as the next fan but I’ve started to rethink this.  It takes courage to make a stand, be that to yourself and to the outside world.  Each of us can play our own part in beating the stigma of mental health issues: those of us who suffer can take the courage to admit our problems – life will only get better when you do; to those on the outside, look at how you can support family, friends and colleagues best in feeling less “odd” (even if its just an ear to bend and shoulder to cry on, that often can be the biggest help).  Out of it all we can begin to share our experiences,  in this way we can break down the myths, give others the inforamtion they need to take their own steps and so begin to fight the prejudice. I hope I’ve managed to do my bit through this blog and would encourage others to do their own thing.

And if you want further information about the campaign go to www.time-to-change.org.uk and make your own pledge. This is something I have become passionate about changing as a result of my own experience. And in the words of the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, courage can make slaves into kings. Let’s all be lions this winter and lay these bigger ashes to rest!

The weather outside is frightful?

Yes, everyone is going on about the snow but am I the only person who likes it? Maybe this is the kid in me but I love it when it snows and I have a slight sinking feeling when it starts to melt.  For all those who think the economy is losing money because of it all I can say is “Get a Life” – what isn’t done today will be done tomorrow, or maybe the following week. So kids have missed a bit more time on the exam conveyor belt but I bet they’ve learnt a lot more from the fun they’ve had outside.  And you can’t get to work? Great. Isn’t this the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to be with your kids/to be a big kid? I remember when we had a period of snow every winter and we lived with it. I actually was disappointed at the can do mentality of our headmaster who never closed the school whilst the other local comps did.  To me this episode (on top of last year’s protestations) just goes to show how our priorities in life have become so maladjusted. Last night I went to see the Scottish Folk band Lau and their singer, Kris Drever, highlighted this quite well: whilst we’ve become a secular state, we’ve given this thing called the market a life of its own and seem to worship unquestionably at its feet. Now isn’t that strange (or is it the lapsed catholic in me?)?!  By all means make sure that any vulnerable relatives, friends and neighbours are ok (surely that is just part of being caring) but if they are, just get on and enjoy, it won’t be here forever!