Two Punchy Days in June

I’m pleased to say that I can deliver a cracking right hook whilst treading water.

The swimming pool has become a battle zone. It is not my intention to get all Ukip here, but there has been a sudden change in the demographic of where I live. The area has been swamped with the very worst kind of people – the young ‘entitled’ middle classes. Their ilk are the most likely to ‘race’ the local Parkrun; be training for their first triathlon and have a friend called Hugo that plays the French horn at ‘supper’ at their ‘edgy’ East End multi million pound flatshare.

My swimming pool used to be full of salt of the earth Eastenders. We did not look at each other in the eye and swimming was conducted in glorious silence interrupted only by the actions of the ocassional sex pest. No more. Now to even get in the pool you need to negotiate your way around fins, snorkels, water bottles, bags I can only assume hold the bodies of those they have shat all over to get ahead, gels, laminated swim routines and the overbearing fug of entitlement. The I Am Here And I Do As I Wish generation have turned up, jumped in and taken over.

I swim at 7am. My east end buddies and I get there at the opening time so we can claim the lanes in accordance with the Slow/Medium/Fast signs. Minimum fuss. Follow the directions. The IAHAIDAIW generation turn up at 7.30-8am. Jump in anywhere and swim aggressively until everyone alters their swimming for them.

On this particular day in June, his name, or, as I have named him, was Twatty. He wanted my lane. My lane is the only lane that you can swim up and down in solo. It is the most sought after lane. It is the reason I have the speed undressing record. I get up in the dark to claim that lane. It was my lane. Twatty wanted my lane. Twatty with his hand paddles and fins wanted my lane. Between strokes and as I began to sight him, Twatty looked directly at me. Twatty watched the pool. Twatty still jumped in. Twatty swam right into me. Not once, but three times. On the third, I monumentally lost my shit. “OIY, Twatty” was how it began.

I went to grab his swim hat – I don’t know why, it seemed appropriate, like unmasking the baddie in a Scoobie Doo cartoon. I missed and ended up punching him directly in the face. My immediate thought was to quickly follow this up with a goggle ping – reaching out to pull his googles from his face and let them slap back against his smug face. It was at this point I was removed from the pool.

I was escorted to the concrete block – one of many that line the pool side where swimmers dump their bags – and asked to ‘calm down, and consider an apology’ I interpreted this to mean – ‘get on twitter immediately to tell of this appalling travesty of justice.’

I refused to apologise. I was allowed to leave with a stern telling off. There had been collateral damage but the battle lines moved forward. We had gained ground.

Arriving at the pool the next morning, I was greeted by clapping and rejoiced as my hearty Eastenders retold the incident to one another – exaggerating my role into stuff of Legend. Children within the Bow Bells would be named after me and songs of my bravery would resonate late into the night in the public houses of Poplar.

But, in the midst of this jubilance, a darkness was falling. In the corner of my eye and with a growing sense of unease, I saw a gamine girl-child glaring at me. Her knuckles were white as so tightly she gripped her hand paddles, flippers and Swim for Tri bag. Her glare never dropped. My heart sank. The Bastards had sent in the Big Guns.

We got in the pool and began to swim. I was nervous. On tenderhooks. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she could see me. She emerged from the changing room and stood by the side of the pool. Shoulders and elbows as sharp as a swan’s wings. She observed the direction of travel in the lanes and then jumped in to do the exact opposite. Banging into everyone on her way, she resolutely refused to stop.

I could see the lifeguards twitching. They knew. We all did. A silence fell. She came charging toward me, I took a deep breath, balled up my fists. This was to be my Shock and Awe. I like to call this move the “monkey punch” – this is a move I perfected on my brother, and has stood me in good stead in most situations that call for casual violence. You basically flail your arms around in rapid threshing circles, flailing fists and hit everything indiscriminately within your arc.

She was smoted.

She crawled away and limped to the Slow Lane. Beaten. I got a mid stroke high five from Terry, and kept swimming.

Buoyed by my success and peaceful swim I went to dress and shower. As I put my clothes bundle to the side, the girl child, with the advantage of youth and speed – surged through the enemy lines and threw her entire soaking wet kit directly onto my dry clothes.

And so it is. There are no winners and losers here, only casualties. Whilst we may win some strategic battles, I know the war is lost. I will keep fighting though – better to go out on a scream than a whimper, even if it means strutting down the streets of Whitechapel at 7.30am wrapped in a SpongeBob Squarepants towel clutching my soaking pants and shorts.

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Pain and reward

I was tangled in the green netting like a massive contorting tuna as a grinning Alison whizzed past on the velodrome boards seemingly miles above me.

This was what I expected, but not what I had hoped for.

The day started at 5.30am being stared at by a man with too much gel in his hair and constant beads of sweat building on his upper lip. He spent the next 3 hours staring intently at me – I assume he was planning how he was going to wear my skin as a dress.

Once arrived in Manchester, I was met by the very beautiful and fabulously fun and witty Alison. The only other woman I’ve met that can happily giggle at the word ‘haunches’ with me for hours.

We danced down to Waterstones to find and reclassify all the Sean Yates biographies under Romance. There was only one left, so squealing, and without a consideration for the consequences, this was immediately purchased then poured over sat on the steps.

Regardless of the distractions, we made it to the velodrome on time.

I’ve never been to a velodrome before. Alison and every other cyclist I’ve ever met gets giddy and excitable at the mention of it.

I was nervous. I’d never ridden a fixed. I was told last week much of my back and shoulder is still mullered. I couldn’t fall. I didn’t have my own clips. The hire bike cleats were stiff and I couldn’t use them on my right side.

A very loud and fabulous northerner with a whistle called us together. We lined up holding the rail. One by one they took off on a recce. Then it was me. I went nowhere. I just shook. Tears welled. Chin (s) wobbled. I was right leg up and completely incapable of letting go.

The Very loud and fabulous northerner (think mancunian Fog Horn Leg Horn – but think with fondness, as he was a proper lovely bloke) gently encouraged me. I was still rooted to the spot. Swearing. The swearing started gently, but was quickly escalating into a foul mouthed tirade.

I pulled myself along the silver rail, swearing at full voice, dragging the bike behind me.

I was fine til I got to the green netting. I started to get tangled up. The swearing increased. Meanwhile, as I was wresting and cursing some invisible foe – Alison and all the rest were gleefully weaving about on the banking.

Having freed myself, I looked up to see my next obstacle, and my heart sank. The Tissord clock. There was no way round other than to let go of the rail. Some 3 minutes of steady swearing and cursing prepared me.

I launched myself, heroically, from the bar. I then proceeded to pedal VERY slowly round and back to the start.

The problem, however, was twofold. 1. The others were coming in for a break and scattered all over the place; 2. I couldn’t slow down or unclip.

As a group of four rested against the rail chatting amiably. I approached, very, very slowly screaming “Fuckity Arse bastards FUCK shit Bastards. . ” as I passed them all, at a very slow walking pace. I could see the pores on their skin and the pity in their eyes as I crawled past.

It was at this point I realised it was safer to man up, close my eyes and get up to the top where it was quieter. This I did. This was approximately 7 minutes before the end of the session. I finally joined Alison for a lap or two.

Having managed to get off, and surrounded by beaming, happy faces, the Very Loud and Fabulous Northerner asked me if I’d do it again. “No” I said. Much to his relief.

But that was it done. The fear not quite conquered and the pain tolerated. Now came the reward and the real reason I’d gone. I got to hang out with my cool mate Alison for the rest of the day. Totally worth it.

Essex farmers are lonely or wise. Or both

The last thing you expect to happen when squatting discretely in a field for a “comfort break” is to have a long conversation about the weather with the Farmer.

For the record, I am not one of those bikey people that feels the need for a comfort break every hour. I have stopped riding with people who do as it frankly irritates me. As a woman, the logistics of a wee break are harder than for the fellas I ride with and as such, I tend to put a cork in it. To illustrate how I feel about this, I didn’t stop once when I cycled from London to Nice with a group of fellas (in an advanced dehydrated state). I admit is it stupid, but there you go. I don’t do group wee’s – nor do I drink from pint glasses, nor do I sit until the men stand up at the dinner table. I may swear like a docker and kick like a mule, but I am a Lady dammit.

However, I have discovered the joy of the solo comfort break. As an unfit chopper I now do all my riding alone, in very quiet lanes, and I have begun to enjoy a little pit stop along the way. A moment of contemplation if you will.

Inkeeping with my obsessive tendancies, it is always the same field, always the same time, always the same spot. It is tucked away from the road – completely unseen. There is a nice gate for me to rest my bike. It is not too muddy, so the cleat situation is fine. It is rather peaceful.

Today, poised early wee, I saw a tractor edge into the field. The driver, the farmer, saw my bike. Then he saw me.

I have no idea why he did what he did next.

The tractor halted, midway in the gate. The door opened, and a man who could have been 40, could have been 70, slid out. He carefully swivelled on tip toes to retrieve a stick from the cubby of the tractor.

Slowly, he moved over to my bike – leaning against the gate post. He tapped the pedal with his stick a couple of times. Contemplated. Looked me directly in the eye and said; “You out cycling then?”

I was mute. “Erm”

But before I could answer in the affirmative, he leaned back on his stick and stated “We get a lot of cyclists round here”

*silence aside from wee*

“Of course, today is a nice day for it” he remarked, looking skyward, “but it is going to rain later, and it is quite blustery. Especially down out the hedges.”

*silence*

By now, my quads were suffering as much as my pride. I was about to speak when he leaned away from his stick, gave the bike a little tap again and, looking me straight in the eye, said; “Well now. Mind how you go” And off he trundled, slowly climbing back into his tractor, out the gate, down the lane.

Last time I wee in a field.

You forget how big oranges are

I went for a chop around the Essex lanes last week. I have been given a Garmin as I tend to get hopelessly lost. This is mainly due to daydreaming.

Having spent at least an hour diligently plotting and loading an epic route, I was Lost in Essex within 20 minutes.

It was on my third recce of one of the many Easters that an old chap, enjoying the late sunshine in his front garden, enquired as to what exactly I was doing.

I pointed at the evil Garmin, then the road, then shrugged. He suggested I join him for an orange.

I padded up and sat next to him as he silently took an orange from its brown paper bag. He balanced it in one hand, took out a small knife and skillfully cut it into segments. He was not a small man, but the orange looked massive in his grasp. I guess I’d forgotten how big they are.

“Do you ever hold one and pretend you are God, controlling a planet” I enquired, earnestly.

He looked at me. Looked away. Leaned back and said; “No”

Oh. I concluded.

“But”, he said, thoughtfully, “I would if it was a grapefruit”

Which, of course, was the perfect answer.

Exposed Testicles

I swim at the local municipal pool. As such, my weekly swim stats reflect meters swum, time elapsed and testicles exposed.

Due to rehabilitation for spinal and pelvic injuries caused due to a disagreement between me, my bike and a car, I spend more time in a pool – often with triathletes – than I would desire. Bombing and the quest for the perfect handstand is frowned upon. There are not even any slides or flumes. This shit is serious.

I was with a prospective client recently. The business side done, we settled into an amiable conversation about training, and local facilities. For some reason I told him of the old chap at our pool who seems to have a habit of letting his lychees out the bag at inopportune moments. This sometimes happens whilst I am coming in for the turn as he stands in the lane – resting. With about 5m to go, I catch a fleeting glance of his testicles. It is always a shock, and I question that I have really seen what I have seen, but by the time I have returned he is out the pool, gone.

The difficulty is whether this is just him having a post swim rummage, – or something more sinister. I was chuckling to myself at the absurdity of both the situation and the conversation when I glanced up to see the client had turned ashen.

Silence fell. He physically slumped on his seat. He looked up, with desperate eyes and said;

“That happened to me as a young man”.

I was distraught. Panic rose in me. I had no idea how to handle a situation like this. A situation of my own making. I gently reached out and touched his elbow – as tenderly as possible. I was practically holding him upright. “I am so sorry. There are no words”.

We lapsed back into silence.

“I was only having an itch and the next thing I knew I was in a police cell”

There are times in your life when you disgrace yourself. There are moments you look back on and wish you were a better human being. I am ashamed to admit that the relief and laughter bubbled up inside me and there was simply nothing I could do to contain it. I sat and laughed and laughed and laughed.

I didn’t get the contract.

My Best Enemy

“It is CREEPY Michelle. No one gives a fuck what you think. I got paid to put up with you and it was never enough. Delete it FFS.”

This was James’ reaction to my blog about The Day I Met Sean Yates. James is my best enemy.

My introduction to James was cowering from his endlessly delivered and very well pronounced obscenities one day in our underground office car park. I used to commute in on my £50 bike – shove it in the racks, amble off for a shower and spend the rest of the day avoiding work.

One morning, I shoved the bike in the rack, but out the corner of my eye I saw a gleaming white race bike. I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. It was pimped. It didn’t even have a bell and this, even I knew, meant it was PRO. I gave it a little tug, and it glided out the rack, not even a noise. I moved in furtively for a closer inspection and ran my fingers along the gleaming white carbon, tracing out the letters on the frame. The saddle was like a razor blade. The white bar tape was immaculate. I lifted it up. It floated.

No one was about. All the cameras were trained on the Ferrari’s and Maserati’s not the bikes. I was late – I had been on a conference call (ahem) at home that morning, so was about 30 mins behind the clock. No one was about.

I figured taking it for a little spin round the car park would be the Right and Correct thing to do under the circumstances. And so I did, giggling along to the gorgeous whirr of the hubb. Gaining confidence and speed on each lap – narrowly avoiding the cars, motorbikes, bollards and racks – I was shrieking like a little girl, all shiny eyed and full of happy when The Skinny Angry Man appeared.

James doesn’t so much arrive as appear. I have always put this down to the fact he has no bodyweight. No one can hear him coming, and I’m fairly sure he leaves no foot imprints in the sand. Hell, I’m not even sure he has a reflection.

He was very angry at me. More so when I, sat on his bike, flatly denied I was sat on his bike.

We were from very different divisions at work. I can’t ever remember seeing or meeting each other before. We were both Directors, but that was all we ever had in common. However, from the day I sullied his bike onward, James took a keen interest in my life.

As a proper cyclist, he was humoured and embarrassed by my attempts to ride a bike – especially my interest in time trials from which point on he just assumed I was a Lesbian.

James was appalled and disgusted that I ate, or drank anything other than black coffee – and used to frequently holler “Chubster” at me across the canteen, throwing rolls. We even got into a fully blown scrap and had to be separated when he stole my liquorice then spat it into my hair.
He is the most bullying, arrogant, opinionated, socially retarded person I have ever met. He is also the most laugh out loud, tears down the face, roll on the floor hurting with giggles, funny bloke. Not that he ever means to be.

He has stood unprompted by my side and fought my corner with me – only to turn around and stab me in the back when the victory was ours.

I am a woman that tends not to take any shit. I can’t. My job has always required me to stand tall. It’s the way my Father raised me. My husband, Andrew, has always been the exception to this. He wraps me round his little finger but this is because I love him and he is incredibly attractive. The only other exception is James. I have no idea why. My PA hated James and his daily roll of insults. My colleagues were staggered that I put up with it. Andrew, my parents, my friends – no one understands it. Neither do I. I can only assume it is some sort of Big Brother thing. We have both moved on in our careers, but he continues to bully and harass me from Chicago on a daily basis. He says go out on the bike again and man up. I protest, I grump, but I do it. He forces me to do the accident counselling stuff. I do it. He says take the blog off about Mr. Sean Yates, I argue with him, but I do it. I don’t know why, but I do it.

I’m not sure why I am writing this character assassination. It is interesting than what I am supposed to be doing and I guess it also gives James something to truly grump at.

I suppose, though, it really should just serve as a warning. If you see a shiny bike, and it’s not yours – walk away. Just walk away.

The Day I Met Mr. Sean Yates

I had a face like a slightly deflated beach ball the day I met Mr. Sean Yates.

My long standing admiration of The Sexy DS has been well documented, if slightly less well tolerated by Andrew. I suppose it is fair to admit that I view Mr. Yates the way a startled preteen does her favourite boy band. All doe eyed wonder, fervent research and unconditional love. He was the reason I wanted to ride/race my bike, and not just to win, that wasn’t always going to be in my control, but to give it absolutely everything.

But to be clear – I never actually wanted to meet him. Unlike the preteens, I am aware that the pedestal – upon which he has reigned for many years – has been built largely on the somewhat unstable foundations of my imagination. If I was ever going to meet him, which I did not want to do, I would have liked to have been calm, collected, holding court with the greatest intellectuals of our time and preferably rocking a McQueen creation with a Martini in hand.
And so it was a rainy day at a depart during our last day in France. Team busses were parked up the road. Crowds of mainly French middle aged men were bustling as riders were moving toward signing in. Steel barriers held back fans ineffectively on one side of the road. I was having a mosey at some bikes. Then I saw him. I saw Mr. Yates.

Involuntarily, I began to holler; “Mr. Yates, Mr. Yates” with an escalating sense of urgency (do please note I remained polite in my address). I was aware of a small crowd that had gathered around the eventual winner, Cadel Evans, who was getting his picture taken with a disabled man. They were in my way.
I don’t think I ever took my eyes off Mr. Yates as I gave them both a hearty shove, or paid much attention to the chaos that followed in my wake after I had barged through. I was clearing a path.

I scaled up the metal railing, arms flailing, squealing for “Mr. Yates”. A startled Frenchman, observing this appalling behaviour asked – somewhat confused/somewhat droll – “Are the Beatles here?”

Nothing, NOTHING could have prepared me for the rising sense of panic when he started to stroll over to us. I just hadn’t thought this through. What in God’s Name was I going to do.

In the end, I am told he let us take a picture and signed a hat. I can’t actually remember either of those things happening. I just stood there shaking. Quiet. Meek. My leg was doing an involuntary River dance, my whole body contorting in random spasms, mind totally blank. I couldn’t even look at him. I was just staring at the ground, mumbling gently. Face like a deflated beach ball.