Saturday, September 15, 2012

6 days to go...

£2,063 raised so far for Cancer Research; click here to go to my fundraising page

We have smashed the £2,000 mark! Thank you all for helping me to reach this fantastic milestone. It seemed unlikely a month or two ago but we have cruised past the post with a week to spare.

"Dear Lesley Davy

I'm delighted to tell you that Oliver Davy has renewed your Tate membership…"

I have yet to navigate the block capitals, black ink maze of Royal Mail procedures and re-direct Mum’s post from her house to mine, so regular trips to collect letters are a necessity. It’s not a task I mind too much as it gives me a chance to be in her house and to reflect. I feel I must make the most of these opportunities as the house is on the market and won’t stick around for long. So, it was after one of these visits that I sat, confused, with a letter from the Tate in my hands, shiny new membership card attached. And then, with a smile, I remember the birthday present from last year. It must be on a rolling renewal, I realise. The cheeky sods. Nothing for it but to get the name changed and enjoy the benefits on Mum’s behalf.

Friday night ride

I procrastinated about buying a new bike and now it is too late. It turns out that triathlons are an expensive pursuit with various pieces of specialist equipment required but the main cost is the quantity of food I have been buying. With vast amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables being consumed daily, along with eggs, sweet potatoes, chicken, porridge and coffee, I have been spending between about £80 per week on food just for myself. That does not take into consideration the frequent mornings when I leave the house without eating, head straight for a session in the pool, and then enjoy bacon, scrambled eggs, and a mound of beans (no toast) in the canteen at work. Eating at work is not expensive (£2.50 for that little lot) but it all adds up. 

So, my bank balance is thanking me that I never made the time to do the research and test riding necessary to find a shiny new steed. Bikes are wonderful things; an engineering marvel and often beautiful to look at. The genius lies in the simplicity of design and their persistent popularity over the years proves the value of their function and the joy that they bring. From the pure, unalloyed pleasure of a child ‘going solo’ without stabilisers for the first time with a proud and nervous parent watching on. To the cutting edge technology employed in the finely tuned thoroughbred that Bradley Wiggins tested to its limits as, teeth gritted, he powered to glory over the two weeks of one of the toughest endurance tests known to man.

Bicycle messenger; copyright Richard Todd
I have had my bike, a Specialized Allez, since 2007 when I bought it for about £500 with a bonus from work. This one object has brought me more enjoyment and been more useful than anything else I have ever owned. This bike (I have never named it due to a superstition that once you name a bike it is more likely to get stolen. I can think of at least one example where this has happened to someone I know) encouraged me to make the transition from depressed tube commuter, to beaming tarmac chewer; liberated from the confines of the sweaty, metal, human-transporting box to see the sky once more. To feel the sun and the rain, to risk one’s life and breathe the polluted air but also to enjoy the benefits of increased fitness not to mention savings on public transport. No longer shelling out £100 per month on my Oyster card, it didn’t take long for my bike to pay for itself. When I left GCap Media, the bike became my livelihood as I made the daunting leap, or should that be wheelie, into the world of bicycle couriering. It is difficult to explain exactly what is the appeal of enduring the elements and the perils of London’s streets day in, day out, earning a pittance in the process but I think the key to it was a sense of freedom. At first glance this is not immediately apparent. For starters you are no longer known by your name but by a number; my call sign was three-zero. And on the busy days the ‘controller’ will be breathing down your neck if you so much as stop to sniff your sandwiches...

‘Three-zero, three-zero?’

-garbled response through a mouthful of pasta salad-


An increase in the volume of the controller’s voice was normally indicative of indignation at a perceived indiscretion from a rider. In this case, my indiscretion was having lunch. As I attempted to shovel down some desperately needed calories during a stationary moment between jobs, I was fully aware that at that very second the controller was reclining on a chaise longue having a King Size Twix dangled into his mouth by the office junior. This radio-wielding demon is about to send me from Tower Bridge to Notting Hill to collect a filing cabinet, booked as a ‘rush job’ to be in Barnet in 20 minutes. So, I had better eat something first.

Cycling up to 80 miles a day everyday was exhausting. In the first couple of weeks as my fitness improved I would collapse through the door at half 6, eat a pile of food as big as the manure heap in an elephant enclosure and be in bed by half 8. But I got used to it and skinny as a rake I clocked up the miles and earned my keep. I endured many long waits on freezing winter days, thawing numb fingers while nursing an Americano in Costa with my radio turned down low waiting for the magic numbers to crackle over the airwaves. These pauses would be followed by frenzied periods of manic cycling kamikaze at high speed down one-way streets. Recklessly running red lights and weaving through crossing pedestrians. I felt outside of the mainstream hum drum of the daily slog with a righteous obligation to break the rules. The wary stares of security guards and preened receptionists tends to give one that feeling as on entering a polished office block, literally steaming from exertion with oil covered hands and snot strewn chin, you are told for the fourth time that day to ‘go around the back’.

There was a grinding, relentless effort to the job. But there were also moments of pure joy, free of meetings, computers and to do lists. Flying over Waterloo Bridge at sunset, remembering what a beautiful city London is, and catching a lucky run of green lights and gaps in the wall of buses along Oxford street, or tearing down Park Lane towards Hyde Park corner, legs spinning at an impossibly high cadence with a manic grin fixed to my face. Or plunging into the depths of Kingsway underpass at 30 miles an hour, the roar of trucks behind echoing and ominous in the confined space; don’t slip at the corner, Olly. Before emerging into the light, shifting the weight of parcels on my back and powering up the slope and on towards Marylebone Road.

And then I went to work in Africa and my bike was stored under a sheet in mum’s shed for nearly two years. Occasionally I would ask after my bike in an email to mum as if feeling scorned by the lack of use, trapped and unloved at the bottom of the garden, it might have inflated its tyres and escaped in the dead of night to roam the streets as a stray, beholden to no one, surviving on scraps of chain flung from the back door of bike shops and lapping at pools of oil in the road. But it was still there when I got back. And now we are a week away from tackling the London Triathlon together. It has been quite a journey.

Since I bought the bike I have gone through 4 bottom brackets, 3 headsets, 6 wheels, 5 chains, 4 cassettes, 8 chain rings, and handfuls of brake pads. In order to add to this list I took it for a once-over at Push Cycles on Newington Green (highly recommended for friendly service and quick turnaround) this week and, resplendent with bright yellow bar tape, it feels like a new (ish) bike.

On Friday evening I politely declined offers to attend payday-drinking sessions and cycled home to undergo my transformation into a Lycra lout. It is unfortunate that the male appendage is quite so visible in skin-tight sportswear but the benefits of the heavy padding in the seat of my cycling shorts cannot be overestimated as the combination of the aluminium bike frame, tyres inflated to 120 psi and potholed London roads take their toll on my delicate money maker. I weaved my way through the tail end of rush hour traffic along Holloway Road, through Archway and up into Highgate Village before completing 5 repetitions of Swain’s Lane. It is not a long hill but it is suitably steep and a good section of relatively quiet road, passing the famous Highgate Cemetery (the final resting place of Karl Marx) on which to build strength in one’s legs. As the light began to fade I sped down through Kentish Town and Camden to put in some laps around the Outer Ring of Regent’s Park.

I rode into the park off Camden Parkway behind a serious looking cyclist on a decent bike but I soon overtook him as he adjusted the courier style bag on his back. As I settled into a steady rhythm at 22 miles per hour, he sped past me and fell in just off my front wheel. He then began to have a conversation with me using only his hands. I am not overly familiar with the etiquette and signals of group cycling and I felt like a weary traveller being denied permission to enter his destination by a furious official shouting in a tongue he doesn’t understand; confused and frustrated. And then a pattern began to emerge and I could see that he was indicating when he planned to move out to avoid another cyclist or a parked car or if he was warning me when the traffic lights ahead were red. How enthusiastically polite of him, I thought. I can see the merits of this sign language when cycling in a large group, racing through the streets, but it is wholly unnecessary when there are two of you going around a quiet park with hardly anyone in sight. I overtook him at the lights and as I indicated to turn left just north of where the Outer Ring joins Marylebone Road I heard ‘Yep!’ from behind me. I hadn’t asked a question, I required no answer and so I was baffled. I enjoy my training as a solitary pursuit, alone with my thoughts and the road, and this unnecessary communication was disrupting my flow. And then followed the most blatantly loaded line I have heard in all of my gay adventures in triathlon training:

‘I can pull you if you like. I’m only doing one.’


‘I can pull you if you like.’

Half expecting the man to get off his bike and head for the nearest bush, gesturing me to follow, it slowly dawned on me what he really meant. By ‘pull’ he was indicating that I should cycle close to his back wheel and benefit from the reduced air resistance, which I duly did before he peeled off grinning with a friendly wave; ‘Have fun!’

Crikey, you do meet some characters.

Trauma release

When a group of people undergo a traumatic event, such as a car crash or bereavement, the body records the incident and stores it as tension, which can later affect our physical and mental health. A man named David Berceli noticed that when a group of adults and children experience the same stressful episode, afterwards the children shake physically but the adults do not. It was this observation that led him to develop his revolutionary theory and techniques to allow traumatised people to release their anxiety and regain equilibrium and strength in their lives. Guided by a skilled practitioner I underwent the trauma release process recently and it is one of the most remarkable things I have ever experienced. 

It began with me standing barefoot on carpet in my councillor’s living room before completing a series of simple physical exercises on his instruction, such as touching the floor with the hands or standing on one leg. Nothing strenuous but simply designed to prepare the body for the end result. I then lay on the floor on my back, feet touching, knees bent and held slightly apart. I lay this way, concentrating on deep and steady breathing, feeling self-conscious and unconvinced that anything was going to happen, for about 5 minutes. I began to notice a slight tremor in my legs but dismissed it thinking I was creating the sensation myself. I was embarrassed at my inability to develop the expected reaction and I blamed the large amounts of running and cycling for creating a stiffness in my legs that was insurmountable by even this unusual process. I was worried that it was a desire not to disappoint that was causing the quiver in my knees and nothing else. 

‘Be patient’ he told me, and so I lay there quietly, breathing in and out and trying not to think about what I was going to have for dinner. As I debated the relative merits of vegetable curry and smoked mackerel fish cakes with myself, something unusual happened. A wave of powerful shaking swept over my legs, rushing up through my body and into my core, before subsiding into a constant but gentle tremor. ‘There you go’, he said encouragingly and I was pleased that I was not immune to the powers of trauma release. The sudden and powerful vibrations rushed in once more and my legs were visibly shaking as if I was standing naked in sub-zero temperatures or trying to maintain my footing during an earthquake. Each time the shaking would subside into a much gentler high frequency resonance, like an electric current running through my body. This process continued for 15 minutes or half an hour, I can’t be sure, and then seemed to naturally come to an end with the waves of vibration becoming less frequent. 

I remained lying on my back as instructed, agreeing that it would be unwise to hurry to standing after such a powerful and unique experience. And then I was struck with great clarity of thought, a feeling of joy and an uncontrollable desire to weep all at the same time. The next day, with the tightness in my legs gone and a new lightness in my mind, I ran a 42 minute 10km; a personal best. Right now I have no desire to fully understand what I experienced, although there are books available to unpick the mystery and it is no witchcraft, but I value it and feel better for it. That is enough for me. And the effect on my body was clear from the fluidity with which I ran.

Expressing pain

I rarely cry in company because I feel uncomfortable sharing my deepest emotions with others. Perhaps this is a male thing but much of my grief is expressed alone. That is when I feel able to unburden myself as I no longer need to put a brave face on or maintain the famous British stiff upper lip. I do cry and I normally feel better afterwards so I don’t believe I am trying to bottle anything up, but I choose my moments and practice an element of control over my sadness so that I can continue to function in this bustling modern world with myriad pressures and commitments. Mum would always say, and this is a classic truism of the type that all departed loved ones have attributed to them, ‘If you’re going to do something, then do it properly’. And that resonates with me now more than ever. It applies to my triathlon training which I have dedicated myself to with a desire to honour mum’s memory by achieving my dreams, and it applies to the shedding of tears. So, if I am going to cry it won’t be a little sniffle on the bus but rather a full-blown, snot bubbling, 45 minute weep-fest, complete with hand-wringing and shouting which leaves my eyes so red and puffy it looks like I have been on a 3 week skunk binge with Cypress Hill. And nobody wants to see that.

Nearly there

There are only 6 days to go now and I feel ready. I will continue to train next week but only for relatively short periods and I will spend most of the time thinking about what I should eat on the day and whether attaching nitrous oxide to my bike is a step too far for an amateur triathlon.

Thank you all, once again, for your encouragement. By supporting me you are honouring mum’s memory and for that I am truly grateful. I will be sure to let you know how I get on.

And finally, let’s hope I don’t end up like this

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