Then we could be heroes for more than a day

A fantastically insightful and enlightening book about a true champion. Steve was to the 1980s what Mark Cavendish is to today's cycling scene - and hence his nickname! But not only is the book interesting in its recollection of a golden age of British cycling, it is also a real story of human frailty and strength in recounting a warts and all journey of tackling addiction. Though Steve openly talks about his alcoholism, the story is one that is familiar to anyone who has suffered their own addictions and doubts. It shows that with hard work you can come out the other side. Click on picture to order a copy.

One of the most frequent things I’ve heard said about heroes is that you should never meet yours. Apparently, they are only a disappointment when you meet them. Well last week I had the privilege of meeting someone who I watched in the sport I love beating some of the world’s best. His name is Steve Joughin.

For those of you who are cyclists you will probably know Steve as the 2-time British professional road champion, 1-time criterium champion and winner of most of the classic races on the British calendar.  For those who aren’t cyclists and read this blog for the mental health side of things, Steve is a recovering alcoholic, something which he openly talks about in his autobiography and which we spent a long while talking about last week.  Although on the face of it the two might seem to some incompatible, it’s interesting talking to Steve about the need for a buzz in life.  Some of you will have read my piece in November about Bradley Wiggins. My conversations with Steve last week seemed to reinforce some of that thinking for me.

He described how cycling is an all-encompassing career, it can be lonely but that the rush of excitement and satisfaction from it is immense – especially when you keep winning things as Steve did.  The only problem is that this doesn’t last forever. Every rider has their last race and what happens after that to replace that buzz can be very hard.  In Steve’s case it led to alcoholism.  In others it leads to other obsessions. And you don’t have to be a professional cyclist to suffer from that.  So whilst I interviewed Steve for a book project that I have ongoing we developed a genuine bond over our own addictions and mutual recoveries.  At no time did I feel I was teasing a story out of or being spun a yarn by Steve and equally I never felt that I was putting a burden on him explaining what I had been through. There was a mutual understanding, his generosity and kindness the first thing I have told people about our meeting.

So in a way this is a lesson for us all that we can need to watch our obsessions, that we can with hard work and determination get through the bad times and that we can offer something to others in those situations beyond platitudes.  But it’s also my way of saying thanks to Steve – as a cyclist he was a role model, but after last week he is definitely a hero of mine. Maybe you can become one too.

If only it was so easy.

I’m trying really hard not to be so negative. It’s something MrsAB would love to see happen and when I’m not I really do feel the benefits. But ever once in a while something comes along to break that effort and I relapse, sometimes for trivial reasons, sometimes quite rightly. And so it was the latter that stirred my ire last week when I spotted this article in the Daily Mail tweeted by Rethink: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1348114/Want-beat-depression-Do-I-did–just-grip.html. Now I don’t want to get political in this blog as it’s not the place nor does it do me much good, but I loathe the Daily Mail. Ever since I was young I remember my Nana having it delivered and slowly becoming aware of the particularly myopic view of the world that it choses to portray. I read the article and it has to be said that it was quite fair in its description of the lows of depression, that finding an inner calm does help. What fails to help in any way, shape or form is the Mail’s decision to run the article as seen below.

Telling people to “get a grip” is far from constructive and is the thing I feared the most when I first admitting to having a problem. Deep inside, getting a grip is what you want to do but you want others to help you find the way of doing that. In fact, when I explained this to a good friend he told me that was precisely what I was doing – being signed off work, seeking the help of professionals and, yes, taking medication was getting a grip, it was pulling myself together. I wasn’t wallowing in self pity, I was trying to work out why I was in this state and what path(s) I might take to get out because, when you are in there, the exit is hard to find. Even now, 18 months on I can’t look back and identify any one exit or moment of “getting a grip”, they are probably many. And so for the Daily Mail to deliver a sneering panacea of a headline is not only disappointing it is insulting.

Given the Daily Mail’s editorial tendencies to blame everybody else for the problems they see –  be that asylum seekers, people of a non-Anglican religion, Labour politicians, Lib-Dem politicians (even Tory politicians), homosexuals, students, the BBC, ITV, Sky, the Guardian/Times/Independent reading middle classes, the Sun/Mirror/Star reading working classes, the EU, the French, the Germans, the Welsh/Scottish/Irish…….you get the picture – telling those of us who have complex health problems merely to “get a grip” seems to me a little hypocritical. So next time you see a Daily Mail headline which blames others in a fit of hysteria why not spend a few seconds dropping a quick line to Paul Dacre: here’s his email address – paul.dacre@dailymail.co.uk – and just put “get a grip”. If only it was so easy.

Think literal, think lateral, then use google.

For the last 7 years on or around Christmas eve the annual cerebral challenge of the King William Quiz has begun.  For those unfamiliar with the quiz it is a general knowledge “exam” paper sat by the pupils of King William’s College on the Isle of Man and is published by the Guardian as a Christmas brain teaser. For years I had looked at it and after a few fleeting and perplexed moments had always given up.  It wasn’t until MrsAB and I had started seeing each other and my now father-in-law introduced me to the quiz proper that I took up the challenge.  Given the cryptic nature of the questions it is no wonder that the answers to the “Christmas” teaser are not revealed in the paper until at least February. Nor should it come as any surprise that, although the pupils undertake this as an exam (this I would pay good money to see!), research is essential. Given the internet MrsAB and I are able to do this from the comfort of the house and swap answers with the in-laws and it is something which can occupy the long January nights, sometimes until the small hours, but MrAB-in-law can recount hours sepnt trawling Manchester central library in search of some answers.  Its becoming a tradition and I’m both hooked and scuppered.

Therefore I’m putting out an appeal to link some minds (and computer power) to share in this task. If you do the quiz yourself or even are just curious to have a look please get in touch through the comments section and we’ll see if together we can’t crack this year’s quiz.  MrsAB has told me we have to beat her folks into completing sections 1 to 6 so there’s a collective challenge to you all.  Just to give you some clues:

  • Each section has a theme: some are obvious (sections 1 and 18), some are cryptic (section 3 is really stumping us this year!) and others are to be revealed by the answers.
  • The themes will help in finding the answers: section 7 this year is answers which incorporate Irish counties. I realised this after the first answer was Dominic Cork
  • You can use whatever means possible but don’t look up the other forums where others post answers, it spoils the fun and, hopefully, our debate here.

So, who’s with me and MrsAB this year?