25 May 2007

Return to Liverpool - Part 3 - On The Road

The third day of my visit to Liverpool saw me boarding a train beneath the Mersey to Bebington, to meet Ian.

Ian Tierney was my boss for the two-and-a-half years I spent working at the Liverpool Cycle Centre. He was brought up working with bikes and he taught me most of what I know about cycling. He now runs Cycling Projects, a Manchester-based charity.

We see each other about twice a year, and whenever we meet up we try and find a few spare hours for a bike ride. This is normally off-road, as Ian acknowledges that's always been my riding of choice, so he climbs aboard his mountain bike and humours me for a couple of hours.

But Ian's heart lies in the tarmac. He has fun on off-road, but he's happiest when zipping along on big skinny wheels and drop bars. So imagine the excitement when I arrived on Merseyside accompanied by my new road bike - my first road bike. I arrived at Ian's house with my shiny new Specialized and found him grinning from ear to ear. Not because he was pleased to see me, but pleased to see me "on a proper bike, for once!"

So we set off through the twisting country lanes of Wirral, as Ian guided me and my new bike through a labyrinth of villages and meadows. Our first stop was my inaugural visit to 'Two Mills' café, known to every roadie in the northwest as the definitive place to enjoy a cup of tea and compare handlebars.

Then we made our way to Raby, a village so picturesque you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in rural France, not the suburbs of Liverpool. We enjoyed a couple of pints in the sunshine and reflected on a decade of friendship, ten years of riding together, and the ten years it had taken me to get myself a bike that Ian approved of. It was a great afternoon.

But next time, let's get back on the mountain bikes, eh Ian?

24 May 2007

Return to Liverpool - Part 2 - A Dingy, Smelly, Slippy Place

My visits to Liverpool are infrequent these days. After having lived there for five-and-a-half years, I like to visit once a year or so, to catch up with the great friends I left behind.

On this occasion, my visit co-incided with that of Rebecca and Simon, who'd crossed from Brussels for the weekend, also to revisit Liverpool friends and memories.

It became a foregone conclusion that a visit to The Raz would figure on the weekend's agenda. I only made a few visits during the years I lived in Liverpool, but they were memorable. The Raz is formally known as The Blue Angel (though it takes a leap of faith to consider any variant of the word 'formal' in the context of this place). The grottiest, cheesiest of venues with the nastiest cheapest beer and the worst, most ineffectual ventilation had always made The Raz an aquired taste, but this time, things seemed a little different...

The first clue was the smell. The smell in the street. As we climbed out of our taxi and eagerly made our way to the The Blue Angel's front door, our nostrils collectively caught a whiff of something quite revolting. We assumed it was a drain or a binbag and moved closer to the venue. And the smell grew stronger. And stronger. Until we were in the queue at the front door facing the grim realisation that the smell was coming from within The Blue Angel. As a real sign of the times, a bold notice, not there ten years ago, was displayed at the entrance:
We had indeed.

We entered the foul smelling venue and headed downstairs to the cave-like dancefloor. The smell of stale sweat and vomit grew ever more intense, with the only escape being offered by a visit to the toilet to enjoy the fresh air.

In a previous life, our fellow patrons were more of our own. Students, ex-student hangers-on and university sports teams, all in their early twenties, we would boogie away our cares in youthful abandon. Now, ten years later, we were probably the oldest people there.

Music was a mix of recent tunes and the old classics we used to dance to. Our favourites were seen by most Raz-goers as 'oldies' but we danced along together all the same, drinking merrily from plastic glasses - cheap lager for the boys, and an anonymous flourescent blue alcopop for the girls.

Two o'clock came round too soon, and we made our way back to Glyn and Jamie's flat to catch up on some sleep. We woke the following morning to the funny feeling that something had followed us home. Something smelly. A revolting grey substance identified by Rebecca as 'boogie poo' had smeared itself onto our clothes and was living all over our shoes and trousers. Windows were opened, shoes were placed on window ledges and last night's trousers were plunged into washbasins as we wondered when we'd next make our excitable return to the horrible, horrible Raz.

I took a few photos, but Simon and Rebecca have some great pictures.

18 May 2007

Return to Liverpool - Part 1 - Platform 4

If boarding an Olympic flight at Heathrow, the Greek accents, illegible safety signs and stewardesses' make-up tell you straight away that though you maybe sat on west London tarmac, culturally, your journey to Greece is to a large extent complete.

And so it was that I found myself on platform 4 at London's Euston station, surveying a long red Liverpool-bound Virgin train, looking for the best place to stow my bulky bike bag.

I asked one of the train's uncomfortably dressed 'hosts' for help and the answer came back in a soft scouse accent that immediately reminded me of my destination for the weekend.

"Go right to the end of the train, just behind the driver, and there's somewhere there" she pointed out in distinct Merseyside tones.

"Great. Thanks." I said as I began hauling my heavy cargo to the other end of the long platform."

The friendly scouse voice continued over my shoulder. "What's in the bag?".

I looked back.

"A bike"

"Have I seen you before with that bike? I'm sure I've seen you before."

"I'm not sure."

"No, I'm definate I've seen you on this train before with that bag."

There was no way she'd ever seen me before, but her friendly insistence and lack of London aloofness was unmistakable.

There I was in central London suddenly feeling like I'd arrived Liverpool. I boarded the train and the Ringo Starr intonations of Gerry, our 'catering manager for this jair-ney', confirmed that this train, with an apparently Liverpool-based crew, had already brought me to my former northwestern home, before the train had even left London.

11 May 2007

Flying to Work

Tailwind Commute

Brighton's getting a lot of weather at the moment. After a few balmy weeks, the wind and the rain is back with a vengeance.

Yesterday I rode home along the seafront with a howling wind in my face. As I struggled to make headway on my tired old singlespeed, I wished the wind would let up for me. Then I spotted a couple of guys on road bikes coming in the opposite direction along Madeira Drive. They were going three times faster than me, with the wind behind them and big smiles on their faces.

I told myself that the ride to work the next day would make it all worthwhile. And it was. With the wind behind me I flew along the seafront as fast as my little legs could go to keep up.

New howies Catalogue is Here!

New howies catalogue

The new howies catalogue landed on my doormat yesterday. It's always good when this colourful little book arrives, four times a year.

howies are a clothing company, but the catalogue is more than just a selection of pretty people in good clothes. Interspersed between the jeans, T-shirts and hoodies are a collection of essays, thoughts, letters and stunning photos. Lots of stuff to make you think and make you smile.

It's always worth a read. Their blog's good, too.