On sport(s)

I discovered the other day that The Guardian refers to sport as “sports” à la americaine for some unknown reason, and it brought out the little Englander in me. Well, I made a comment on the article. People power!

I’m struggling a bit with sport(s) these days. I’ve spent 30 years being a football fan, but this season, even more than last season, and that much more than the season before, I just don’t really care about it. I’m thoroughly sick of reading about football – there’s the odd article that uses humour as its fulcrum, rather than trying to find anything interesting or edifying about the game, but that’s about it.

(NB if anyone i still reading this and doesn’t care about sport, I’d skip to the puppy posts, it doesn’t get any more interesting).

I could write a whole nother post about football journalism but I’d just get bitter and unhappy and annoy both you, the reader, and myself. Most of all I resent  the fact that I don’t really have any desire to read the sports pages any more – or at least I flick to the tiny, anonymous articles about cycling or skiing or things I do still more or less care about, even if most of the readership doesn’t.

What bothers me most, though, is that I don’t really want to watch football any more. Match of the Day used to be a massive treat, a distillation of skill and passion into a perfectly-timed 90 minutes on a Saturday night. Nowadays, I seem to use it as a soporific.  As for actual games, well. Even during the World Cup I didn’t really make an effort to watch them, despite, during previous finals, getting all excited about watching the Costa Rica vs Saudi Arabia type matches.

I also don’t like the England team, which doesn’t help (they’re all dicks, it seems, dicks who need one billion words written about them – move on, Mark, they ain’t worth it), and this year Italy were rubbish, basically, so I had no-one to root for. Or rather I found myself following Germany, of all teams – what the hell must have gone wrong there?

I support a wonderful little team who have had massive success (on a small scale) since they were formed 8 years ago, and yet I don’t go to their games any more. I don’t have anyone to go with, admittedly, but that didn’t stop me before – I made loads of friends on the terraces, a bunch of lovely and diverse people who I no longer see or speak to.  It’s all a bit of a shame.

But it’s not just football. I’ve always liked many sports (NB the plural is acceptable in this usage), to the extent that my ex-gf’s mum called me a “jock”, of which I was secretly very proud. But nowadays the number of sports I take an active interest in, to the extent that I will go out of my way to watch and read about them, is two. Cycling, as previously mentioned, is one (though I’m missing the London stage of the Tour of Britain tomorrow to go to a party, bloody fairweather fan), and it’s not like that’ll be a surprise to anyone. And baseball’s the other, which probably deserves a whole post of its own. Watch this space.

I guess I should give honourable mentions to tennis (which I do enjoy following, if not watching so much), and athletics (the reverse), and to special events like the Olympics which don’t really count because even people who don’t like sport suddenly perk up every four years. I’m also intrigued by American football for some reason – getting to actually see a game last year (Tampa Bay vs New England at Wembley) helped a lot, ditto Aussie rules (West Coast vs Port Adelaide at Subiaco), but they’re not *my* sports.

It makes me sad that, for example, cricket only interests me these days when England play Australia. They’re playing Pakistan today, which I had no idea about until I saw the news headlines – I don’t even know what form of the game, and I don’t give a monkeys. That’s bad, right? Rugby (Union, I mean – League is for people who aren’t quite right) is another that I have really enjoyed in the past (and again I lost my virginity earlier this year when I saw Wales vs South Africa in Cardiff), but apart from the Italy games in the Six Nations, I have to rely on the infectious enthusiasm of others to get my attention levels up.

Oh, I still like motor racing. Does that count? Something tells me it doesn’t, not really – it’s more of a circus than a sport. Ah well.

Sleep Cycle (not a bike post)

Among the stuff I’ve downloaded for my precious (and I mean that in a Gollum way) iphone 4 is the cod-scientific “Sleep Cycle” app. It purports to track your levels of sleep during the night with the intention of waking you up in the morning in a window of light sleep, so you’ll feel refreshed instead of groggy.

Problem is, I’m a bit anal about timekeeping and if I need to wake up at a specific time, I like to manage it to the minute so I know how much I can snooze or laze before getting out of bed. So the alarm’s not much good to me (though it is a lovely, calm, relaxing alarm – I’m not 100% sure it’d actually wake me up, mind).

What I do like are the graphs (I like graphs almost as much as I like maps) that it produces to demonstrate how you’ve been sleeping. You put the iphone next to your pillow as you go to sleep, and it records how much you toss and turn with its built-in accelerometer. And produces results like these:

On the left is last night – a good night’s sleep, on my own, with one loo break. On the right is a night with B and with the puppy. And while it’s obviously so unscientific to be almost worthless, I did think the latter graph was quite an amusing illustration of how much less restful it is with a small creature padding around, pooing where it shouldn’t and leaping onto the bed at regular intervals!

I wonder if this app is really any use – I’d need to be willing to operate according to fuzzy alarm timing, and the graphs are really just pretty pictures. But in terms of inventive and original ways to use the iphone’s capabilities, I’m impressed despite myself.

Bikes and bruises and puppy dog tales

So own up, who came to this blog searching for “strip club floor plan”? I like your business acumen, if not your taste.

This week’s new things were my first stab at single track mountain biking, and worrying about my pet’s health. Ludo managed to find half a bar of chocolate I’d put “out of reach” on a high shelf, forgetting that a determined, growing whippet means pretty much nothing is out of reach.

Luckily, B was on the scene soon afterwards and took her to the vet for a purge. On the plus side it was a relatively small amount of milk chocolate; on the minus, it was Green and Blacks, so relatively high cocoa content, and fruit and nut – raisins are also toxic to dogs, it turns out! But apart from shakiness and malcoordination for a while, she seems to have suffered no further ill effects.

You can read about the dangers of chocolate poisoning in dogs (and cats, who may be even more prone, though they don’t tend to like chocolate as much as they can’t taste sweetness) here, and here is a list of human foods dogs mustn’t eat. It’s a bit of a wake-up call – I’ll avoid being such an idiot in the future. Well, I’ll try.

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Onto the fun stuff. I’d always wanted to ride a bike off-road properly, and bought a lovely ice-blue Felt MTB on the cycle to work scheme to do so – uh, I mean to commute to work on, Mr Tax Man sir. Unfortunately, this bike was promptly nicked, so I gritted my teeth and invested in another Felt, a macho matt black Six Race, determined I wouldn’t just let it stand around cluttering up my hallway (currently featuring four bikes – not what the estate agent would recommend).

I already had an offer (well, I say an offer, I think I just badgered him till he agreed) from my friend Tom to take me out, and on Sunday we went to Swinley Forest in Berkshire, which has a great set of trails for all kinds of riders (it was occasionally galling to struggle to the end of a particularly gnarly trail only to find a 7-year-old girl on her pink cruiser in front of me). But I by and large got the hang of it – I say by and large because I didn’t get on quite so well with certain bumps on the trails, which had a habit of taking my front wheel on one side, my bodyweight on the other, and all of me crashing to the ground about half a second later.

Note the scratches in two directions evidencing two separate tumbles on exactly the same part of my elbow. Ouch.

Despte my teething troubles – and I had expected to eat dirt at least once, despite ignoring frinedly suggestions to wear a long sleeved top – it was fantastic fun, scary and exhilarating and demanding and exhausting. We only covered 13 miles in the two and a half hours or so of riding, but it felt like doing 50 miles on tarmac.

I could only marvel at Tom’s skill and confidence, especially descending – I’d get out of the saddle, brakes tentatively squeezed, only to see him shooting off at unlikely speed down the most horrifically rutted, rooty, rocky, narrow tracks, while I picked my way down rather too carefully – it’s more than possible to go  slowly and lose all sense of balance and momentum. I did also accidentally manage to get a bit of air on a surprise hillock, which was actually totally rad but perhaps next time I’ll be prepared for it.

Do I look pleased with myself? I think I do. Can’t wait for next time!

Weekend

So, Sunday-by-default evening and as usual on a bank holiday, that end-of-the-weekend feeling is in full effect. Especially after a weekend which demonstrated incontrovertibly how insane a 5 day week is and how we should all work slightly harder for 4 days and then actually get to wind down a bit for the final three. Stupid western civilisation. Though I do have some hope that the 4-day week might happen soon, given the ever-shortening length of the working week over the last century or two. I hope my grandchildren appreciate it.

It was a lovely bank holiday weekend, involving as much Doing Stuff as relaxing. I kicked off the weekend, as you do, with an eight-hour cycle to Whitstable with @ceepeebee and 75 other like-minded individuals, some of whom were normal people. I’d not done a night ride before (getting lost in sub-zero temperatures in the pitch-black backcountry of the Isle of Wight doesn’t count, due to being unintentional and a memory I’m trying quite hard to repress) and although I was very skeptical, I can see the charm – sunrise over wheatfields and hedgerows was so gorgeous and life-affirming it was worth every one of the 70 miles we covered.

And there were other pluses – empty roads and a spirit of adventure, an “all in it together” spirit, and a disproportionate sense of achievement, as well as the night sky away from light pollution and the smug feeling of satisfaction at being up and ready to enjoy the new day (passing swiftly over the collapse into extreme tiredness that rendered the rest of Saturday ephemeral at best).

The rest of the weekend was spent doing lovely things with friends, family and loved ones (though coming out a whole 40p down at poker was not part of the plan). I also got to have my first proper day out with Ludo, now that her injections have taken hold and she’s allowed to go to the park and sniff other dogs’ bums.

We got the bus to Notting Hill (yes, on the final day of Carnival, nice timing) and when we found the fancy dog shop we’d been hoping to patronise boarded up (oh COME ON pet people, Townends and Natwest is one thing but you sell sawdust and bull penis, for god’s sake). So we strolled down to Holland Park and gave Ludo her first ever public un-leashing, on the understanding she wouldn’t eat any peacocks. She preferred the pigeons anyway, and I don’t think anyone would have minded.

Everything’s going well for Ludo – she seems to be learning most of the things she needs to (or *we* need her to) even if she’s not likely to get straight As at puppy school. I’m still utterly besotted with the puppy and although I’m bearing a fair few punctures and scratches from her overenthusiastic nipping and biting, I don’t think anything makes me happier than having her stretch out on my lap (or my legs, or stomach, or face). How did I never have a dog before?

Shutt VR Pro Bib Shorts

After a post cute enough for everyone to enjoy, here’s the opposite – a review of perhaps uncomfortably intimate bicycle clothing. All but the half a dozen cycling fans and the three or four fetish perverts who read this blog, look away now.

Shutt VR are a proudly British company, and one that’s smart enough to actively engage with the posters on the Bikeradar cycling forums on that internet – and smart enough to give as good aftersales service as they do with self-publicity, answering questions from posters and dealing with returns and issues with speed and good humour.  So I’ve been looking for the opportunity to try out their gear, and their current sale gave me the opportunity.

Shutt have a signature colour and style that actually doesn’t really do it for me (not that I’ve tried the gear on yet), but when their classy looking Pro Bib Coolmax Shorts were recommended on the forum, I decided to take the plunge knowing at the very least that if I didn’t like the product, the makers would be keen to hear why. So here’s a quick review now that I’ve worn them a couple of times.

Bib shorts offer several advantages over regular lycra shorts, the most obvious being that the bib area prevents the shorts from sliding down or bunching at the waist. This is a result of choosing the correct size – I have a pair of Adidas bibs where I was underestimating their generous size, bought the XLs and have had to resort to safety pinning the front straps to shorten them by 4 or 5 inches.

Not so with the Shutts – size L is perfect for an averagely proportioned 6 foot male, with the straps comfy and form-fitting without either feeling too slack or too aggressive (someone once confidently told me that if bibs didn’t pull your shoulders down to the extent you were in a bent over, humpbacked position they weren’t doing their job), and there was no slipping whatsoever.

There is quite a lot of top-half material here, which adds comfort but also makes them rather less cool than some other bibs. The shorts are close-fitting but extremely comfortable, with perhaps a slightly ungenerous thigh width. They are slightly shorter than most comparable shorts, made more obvious by my cycling tan line an inch below the cuff, but that’s not a complain by any means. The shape is excellent and ergonomic, and the shorts and pad combo keep the gentleman’s area supported and comfortable without any rubbing or bunching.

The pad is on the generous side, and may be the most comfortable I’ve tried. I’ve not done a long ride in them yet, but on the commute they couldn’t be comfier. It is also wide and substantial enough at the front to provide the necessary modesty, a key aspect which a surprising number of lycra shorts ignore entirely (the aforementioned Adidas ones and a pair of high quality but pornographic bib three-quarters from Descente could literally get me arrested).

This modesty provision is a big deal, as it turns out, because although the lycra is not in the least threadbare, but solid and substantial, it’s weaved in such a way as to give a sheer effect wherever it’s pulled taut. Thanks to the pad this is little more than disconcerting, but could be a negative for those who already feel far too revealed in lycra as it is. And of course I have no idea how it makes my rear look to anyone fortunate enough to be behind me, but I have my concerns.

I don’t have any other criticisms of these shorts at all. They look good (as much as bibs can look good, which is pretty much zero), they have no itchy seams or labels, another incomprehensible failing of some of their rivals, and they are keenly priced in a bloated market – in the sale they cost me £66 including postage. Which is particularly impressive as they are a small, British company competing with some corporate behemoths on one side, and the bespoke, boutique brigade on the other.

In short, this is an enthusiastic recommendation. With an item with such responsibility for a rider’s comfort, I’m learning it doesn’t make sense to make false economies, but for £66 I feel I’ve got a real bargain as well as an excellent product.

Puppy

So, anyone who knows me or is even remotely acquainted with me will by now know that I am the proud owner (indeed I am the Registered Owner, I have a certificate and everything) of a twelve-week-old blue whippet bitch called Ludo (we’ll ignore her slightly embarrassing religious-themed Kennel Club name for now). Here she is as a tiny pup, before we’d even met her, at her breeder’s in Torquay:

We had to wait an agonising three months between making the purchase – while she was still in the womb – and when we were allowed to go and pick her up. Indeed, she was the last of her litter to be dispersed apart from her sister Gracie, who’s staying with the breeder.

First thing we did – no, I tell a lie – the first thing we did was accumulate many hundreds of pounds worth of treats, chews, toys, leads, bowls and the ubiquitous small black biodegradable bags which I could barely look at for the longest time – much to B’s amusement, I bought a special spray that freezes poo for easier handling. I have never used it.

I have also become extremely au fait with pee pads – like a handkerchief crossed with a nappy – and several forms of anti-bacterial household cleaning product. And we spent weeks arguing over what to call her. My suggestion , which I argued for quite fervently, with zero traction, was “Dracula“.

Anyway, first thing we did was take her to Burger King, if I’m being accurate, on the way back from Devon. She had a Whopper. But I digress.

So, the first thing we did was get her vaccinated (part 1 of 2 – part 2 happened only this morning, though it’s still a week before we can let her run free and unfettered around other dogs and their various doings) and weighed. She was 4.25kg as a ten-week-old, and she’s put on 800 grams since then (she’ll probably be 10-12 kg when she’s grown up). Mostly, I expect, thanks to that one occasion where she got into a big bag full of pup treats and ate a bucketload – although she was pooping practically on the hour for a while thereafter, so maybe not.

She’s living with B at the moment while we hunt for a place to live (I’m sure there’ll be a blog post on that bundle of laughs at some point), and it’s a tiny flat for a very energetic puppy. It’s made it absolutely clear to us that we need a garden – we both wanted one, but now we have a third creature to think of it’s become an obligation. Which makes it that much harder and expensive to find somewhere that’s right.

Over the last couple of weeks she’d become a bundle of energy and enthusiasm – she was so meek on the first day we had her, but it seems that was fear and nervousness. Technically she’s in the phase when pups become most fearful, and when we take her outside – in a bag like I’m bloody Paris Hilton or something, as she’s not allowed on the ground yet – she does sometimes get wide-eyed and shaky. But she seems to quickly come to terms with her surroundings, no matter how loud or busy, and I think/hope she’s going to love it when we can start taking her to the park, for proper walks and runs and all the things dogs, especially whippets, are supposed to do.

We’re also taking the training thing semi-seriously, with Tuesday night puppy classes in lovely Brentford. We’ve only been to one so far, but Ludo was, of course, the cutest dog there (and I’m not just being biased – there was a universal sigh of longing from each of the other pup owners, no matter how cute their own dogs were!). It seems really well organised by the very sympathetic Emily Mazon, and the results are quickly visible – it’s a bit of a revelation compared the bundle of bitey energy we deal with at home.

Ludo’s behaviour is pretty much either feast or famine – when she’s in the mood, she’s mental (and we do need to get the biting thing under control – even in the last week she’s become so mouth-obsessed during play, and her teeth and jaws are getting that much stronger), but when she’s relaxed, she is horizontal, literally – though she seems happy to kip at pretty much any angle. It’s such a pure joy to sit or lie with her, stroking that fine, smooth fur and feeling her warm little body breathing, her head resting on your lap or in any convenient hollow.

I’d never had a dog before, or any kind of pet, and the responsibility is a bit of a jolt – most nights I’m having puppy anxiety dreams, and once or twice I’ve had horrible “what if…” thoughts about my beloved pup. But the good bits are so fantastic, even now when she’s a mischievous, unpredictable beast with an inconvenient body clock and limited house training, and I love her utterly and unconditionally. Puppy!

For more Ludo-themed pictures, please have a look at my Flickr set – it’s public, so I hope you don’t have to be a member to view!

Little one

Hello!

I have a dog now, which is definitely worth a blog entry. So I’ll write one, soon. She’s VERY cute. I love her.

In the meantime, here are the google searches that have led to this blog:

gross broccoli farm, pygmy hog advantages, funny floor map, smoked cod south, polystyrene affects fish

I think we can all understand the deeper issues at stake here.

Update post

Time for a quick update about moi. Now that we’ve had our summer*, it’s time to sell my flat. As readers of this blog will know, I’ve been following this course for a few weeks now, choosing the hottest days of the year to empty my house of all stuff, whether rubbish or treasured belongings (the latter now being stored in my parents’ garage. Their well guarded and heavily locked garage, in case any of my friends or followers fancy a bit of larceny). One of the side effects of decluttering, it turns out, is I can’t find any bastard thing.

*not a very positive prediction, I know, but I’ll look clever if I’m right. Clever and bitter and cold.

The house is now shiny with a coating of brand new barley white paint, the odour of which is almost a memory (it would sort of feel like cheating to show potential buyers around while it reeked of recent decoration), and it’s “minimal”. Which, roughly translated, means that I’ve given up on it being a home, which feels a bit weird. The photos for the glossy estate agent brochure have been taken, the floor plan is done – which certainly adds to the minimal – read “boring” – quality.

Hmm, just noticed – I took the sitting room door off years ago to give a bit more of a sense of space, and as a result it doesn’t appear in the above. Hope this doesn’t mean I get sued.

As well as trying to sell my flat, B and I have been actively looking to buy a 3-bedroom period house with garden in a fashionable and pleasant area of West London. Yes, you read that right, that’s what we’re looking for, but we’ll be very lucky (or end up living in Southall or Feltham or something) if we can get more than one or two of those conditions for the price we can afford. Which, in itself, may be less than I hoped and expected. It seems there’s a bit of a fall in house prices at the moment, which could be a problem, but hopefully if I can sell the flat soon it might even work in our favour.

We did put in an offer for a cottage in Hammersmith, for a figure I can’t even bring myself to mention, but after a week’s anxious waiting our best price was turned down. Fair enough. Since then, we’ve rethought what our priorities are, and indeed, that’s been a feature of our househunting – an oscillation of our various priorities, from location one day to size the next to outdoor space the next. On the plus side, it gives us a lot of scope and a lot of choice, but on the downside, it’s frustratingly vague and how on earth will we know when we find the right place? (by the way, this is a non-rhetorical question – does anyone have a real answer?)

One aspect we have to consider when looking at places is that soon there’ll be three of us! Yes, in a fortnight’s time we’re going to Torquay to collect the cutest imaginable addition to the family:

The fact that I am terrified about owning – and training, and walking, and looking after, and collecting the excrement of – my first ever dog is completely overwhelemed by how cute she is. She’s called Ludo, she’s a blue whippet, she’s 6 weeks old and she’s about to change my life.

Richmond Park cracks down

The above sign was on the side of the road through Richmond Park (which has a 20 mph speed limit for cars), and the one below was on the gravel path, presumably aimed at the mountain bikers. It’s not a race. Honest.

World Cupdate

One of the pluses with feeling more distant and less enthusiastic about this World Cup – and football in general, now that baseball has become my favourite sport – is that I feel more capable of rationally analysing the games, the players and the surrounding brouhahas. And then, just as I’m feeling all coolly cynical, something really, really gets my goat.

I watched the first England match, vs USA, in a pub in Southwold, Suffolk, last weekend with beer, friends and a few dozen fervently nationalistic fans. And I really struggled.

I’m not an England fan when it comes to football – I’ve always supported Italy, the 1982 World Cup being one of the most euphoric and influential of experiences of my childhood. The build-up to the finals had already left me feeling dirty and unenthused, but when Adrian Chiles – and I like Adrian Chiles – started spouting ITV-by-numbers jingoistic toss I felt my residual sympathies pour away until, by the time the game started, I was comprehensively supporting the US. The thought of John Terry and Ashley Cole suffering gave me far greater pleasure than the thought of 50 drunkenly triumphant England fans going mental around me.

Fast forward to the BBC coverage of the group games. Needless to say ITV’s is rubbish, but the BBC is rapidly catching them. People may remember my anti-Mark-Laurenson tirade of a few months ago – he may be a cancer, but there are plenty of tumours that are long overdue for excising. Lineker – smug and bland but with an unhappy side order of bitchiness. Alan Shearer, dead-eyed and tedious – showed unusual promise with a surprise rant about the uselessness of France, but otherwise all he could become is a second-rate Laurenson, and no-one wants to see that.

But the worst – the absolutely most offensive, sick-making, forehead slapping uselessness – is Mick McCarthy. I’m not surprised Roy Keane preferred to let down his entire country than play for that clown. If I’m generous (and I don’t feel like being generous), his mind-numbing lack of knowledge or intelligence may just be innate, deserving pity rather than contempt (but still not deserving a TV gig).

But I’m not generous, and I haven’t had a good rant for a while. McCarthy is a bitter man, wallowing in his own prejudices (which tend to revolve around tackles not being like they were in his day, and referees disgracefully applying the laws of the game correctly) and not being able to let go if something offends his wrong-headed sensibilities.

In the Germany vs Serbia game, Miroslav Klose was sent off for two yellow cards, both clear fouls from behind. Not necessarily demanding a card, but Klose can’t have any c0omplaints. The second foul was from directly behind, a foot hooked round the front of the ballplayer (which you’re not allowed to do) which failed to make contact with the ball. It’s a truism that you don’t make that kind of tackle when you’re on a yellow card, especially when the ref has a) already proved heavy-handed in the game and b) has a history of card-flourishing. So, don’t make it, especially not in midfield where there’s no goalscoring chance.

McCarthy, though, was so disgusted at this decision, which “ruined the match” (it didn’t, as it evened it up intriguingly, and in any case it’s not his job to fake it “for the good of the game”), that he huffed and puffed for literally the rest of the match – almost an hour – and turned into a disgustingly biased anti-Serb for the afternoon. Jonathan Pearce, his co-commentator, even called McCarthy out on it live on air, and that never happens. But he was right to.

So, McCarthy, you bigoted, clueless, unlistenable cocknocker (smug and wrong is no way to go through life), I hate you and want you to shut up. Please?