On the Road!

During my years at university I had a dream of visiting a certain bar in London. You might think visiting the bar is the dream and daily practise of most students, but this was a very particular bar, and I wasn’t planning to go there for the beer. No, this was Bob’s Blues Bar in North London, which boasted the claim of being the only bar in Europe that had live blues every night. Rumour had it that the musicians weren’t just local musos, but if you got the right night you might be entertained by the likes of Eric Clapton. Naturally as a guitarist and lover of this form of music, this was a must visit location! Finally, not long after my course finished, I managed to round up a few friends and off we went, hiking in hunt for this mystical venue. It took some tracking down, which surprised us – until we found out why. It had been closed down a few months before over some licensing issue. I was absolutely gutted…

Today (Sunday) as you read this I will trying to fulfil another life’s ambition and pilgrimage, taking part in the London to Brighton cycle ride. I’ve always wanted to do this, and hearing that a group were doing it from St. Cuthbert’s gave me the excuse to do it – please forgive my absence this morning! Hopefully by the time you read this I won’t be too far from the infamous Ditchling Beacon, the killer climb just before the descent into Brighton. We’re getting up for a 5am departure from Hoddesdon in the hope to make an early start from Clapham, so don’t expect me to be with it Monday morning.

Two pilgrimages. There were or will be obstacles on both, and yet in both, the end of the journey and the companions on the road will provide the motivation to keep going. One of the themes we’ll be touching on over the next couple of months at church, especially in the evening where we’ll be looking at the Exodus story, is this theme of being people of pilgrimage. We’re on a journey with God, a daily adventure of faith. We have times of great delight and laughter, and moments of despair and frustration too, but just as I hope I’ve found today, we’ll have each other’s company to keep us going. More than that, we’ll have the glorious presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us and provide us will the energy and desire to keep going. There’s also a finishing line, God’s Kingdom in all its wonder, where all wrongs are righted and all made new.

If I’m honest, I’m a little worried that I’m not as fit as I’d like to be for today, somehow August flew by in a fit of busyness and the bike was left lonely most days. Let’s not embark on this journey without being fit, but train ourselves through prayer, Scripture and sharing our stories of God at work with each other, encouraging each other with hospitality, a listening ear, and travelling companionship.

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Time for a Service

I had an interview at Spurgeon’s for my college course on Monday and so after our weekly pastoral meeting I cycled into Cheshunt and took the opportunity to drop my bike in at the cycle shop at the Pond to have it serviced. The bike is a bit of a hybrid; the frame is a Trek frame, a fantastically light frame which I was given by my Dad and the rest of the kit came from my previous road bike, transferred across over a few weeks effort with a book from the library, whatever tools I could lay my hand on and literally blood, sweat and tears! I’ve been really pleased with it expect the brakes didn’t really fit properly, they sufficed for a start but weren’t a long term answer, and the gears were a little crunchy. I’d been told the shop in Cheshunt and their sister store in Waltham Cross were very good and cheap and so I thought I’d get them to give it a once over and fit some new brakes – just as most people would put their car in for an annual service. I’m looking forward to getting it back and taking it for a whirl.

Regular servicing can be a bit of a pain and expense, but as we’ve learn from our car, it is important. Our car as some of you may remember from past sermon illustrations, has a habit of clogging up over time, and if this isn’t dealt with regularly the performance suffers, sometimes, as we found out on fateful Christmas, quite dramatically! (I’ll never forget the sight of black smoke in the wing mirrors…) It isn’t just vehicles that can benefit from a service, however, we can too, and this is what the current season of Lent is all about. At its heart it is not about giving up chocolate, alcohol or social media, or whatever you feel your vice is, but is a time to strip back some of the junk we pile on our lives and get back to basics, to step back for a while and examine ourselves and refocus our hearts and minds on God. We might not follow the Church calendar in the same way that more formal parts of the church do, but the season of Lent is a very helpful annual reminder to do this like a service warning light that might flash up on your dashboard from time to time. Similarly, like a service it can be painful, maybe not on the wallet but on our pride as we realise that there are areas where we need to confess our failings or seek God’s renewal, but this is constructive pain as we will run all the better for it.

Make space to be with God this week and let the master mechanic do his work in and through you!

Review: On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation’s Cycling Soul 5/5 stars

On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation's Cycling Soul
On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation’s Cycling Soul by Ned Boulting
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Boulting’s ‘How I Won the Yellow Jumper’ (see my review here) which I devoured and loved. What is it? It’s not really the story of how we came to win the Tour de France and quickly rise as a cycling power as a nation over the last few years. It’s not a systematic history of British cycling either. It’s the account of a number of our cycling greats – a say number because it is in no ways complete and looks often into either those who are alive and forgotten by the mainstream or the more idiosyncratic. Interwoven around this in Boulting’s easy to read style is his own story of falling in love with cycling and becoming a MAMIL (middle-agged man in lycra), something I can readily relate to. Again I loved it! It’s not a heavy weight book, it’s language is accessible to the non-cycling buff, which successfully conveys something of why we take to the bike and ride and how many Brits have done this despite it being unfashionable and eccentric to do so. Others may not rate it 5 stars, but I smiled my way through it, a knowing smile from both enjoying the jokes and realising that I have come to see cycling in much the same way as Ned has.

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Faith on Two Wheels

A few weeks ago I went for a ride with a couple of friends of mine. We hadn’t ridden together before, but had talked frequently about our love of cycling both as a sport to watch and as something to do. After months of saying we must go for a spin together, the alarm clock woke me early on a Saturday (early for me that is – we don’t tend to do early on Saturdays) and I slipped down for a quick breakfast popped on the cycling strip (yes I am a MAMIL – ‘middle aged man in lycra’) and pushed out the bike to meet them. Cycling with someone you’ve never ridden with before involves ground rules, for example, what do you do if one of you is lagging behind? How about hills, do you go your natural paces and then meet at the top, or do you strike up a shared pace and stay together? And maybe the most important question of all, who sets the pace? I consider myself a good cyclist. I’ve cycled all my life, and it’s one of the few sports I have a good physique for with little body weight to drag along, even if the legs look ridiculously skinny beneath the shorts! Agreements made, off we went, and boy was it fun. We did some 30 miles up and down the hills around Essendon, Brickendon and Bayford and were home for a mid-morning cuppa.

I discovered a few things about myself that morning. I might be a good cyclist, but they were better. Whereas I tended to ride at 16mph on the flat, they preferred 20mph, and so I had my work cut out to keep up. I was fine on the flat but towards the end I was struggling on the slopes, and every pot-hole sent my legs to jelly (strange phrase I know, but if you’ve been there you’ll know what I mean!) I kept feeling that I had reached my limit and soon they’d stop noticing I wasn’t there and leave me behind in a crumpled heap on the floor! Fortunately they were gracious and kept stopping for me and I made it around, promising myself that I’d have to put in more practise and pedal harder and faster so that next time we rode I would be able to stay with them. And that is what I’ve done. On the flat 20mph is no longer the test it once was, and the slopes are getting easier. If I keep at it I am sure that next time I will find it comes much more naturally to me.

Our recent Bible notes in James started with Paul’s attitude towards suffering. He wrote, in James 1:2-4, ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ I wonder if in some small way I have found the truth of this on two wheels.

Church newsletter article 25.05.14

Clip-less pedals – I’ve now had ‘my moment’

Switched my bike pedals to clip-less pedals the other day and installed cleats on my cycling shoes. This means that my shoes click into the pedals a bit like skis and ski-boots. This gives security in knowing your foot won’t slip off the pedal at a crucial moment and also greater efficiency in pedalling. Approached this with some trepidation, you see there is apparently for every clip-less cyclists ‘a moment’ that needs to be endured when you slow to a stop, attempt to get your foot out of the pedal, wobble and fall over. Had that moment today cycling into Cheshunt. A wonderful slow motion topple onto the pavement with everyone watching! Mercifully no one pointed and laughed, although I certainly did – seemed the easiest way to cover it! Hmm, more practice needed…

Review: The Man Who Cycled the World. Mark Beaumont

The Man Who Cycled the World. Mark Beaumont
The Man Who Cycled the World. Mark Beaumont by Mark Beaumont
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another recommendation for my friends who like either cycling or travel. This is the autobiographical account of Mark Beaumont’s successful attempt to cycle around the world faster than anyone else had done before him.

I recognise that this won’t be a book for everyone. The writing isn’t necessarily the best. The details can get repetitive, there’s only so many ways in which you can describe mechanical issues and saddle sores before it gets a little tedious, but as a keen cyclist and lover of discovering about other cultures, this had me hooked from the start to finish. Not only did I admire the challenge and cycling feat undertaken, but I found that the book gave a great account of the differing cultures that Mark swept through , especially the more Middle Eastern countries about which I knew very little. It is satisfying to learn that the world isn’t homogeneous, but differs from locale to locale in both appearance and customs. Made me want to get out to some of these places myself. Also invigorating and a great antidote to the moans of the media were the many stories of little and big acts of kindness that Mark witnessed, those who stopped and gave him food or drink, or invited him to stay with them, even or especially in the poorest of countries.

An uplifting read, a must for bike and travel fans everywhere!

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Review: How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France

How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France
How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France by Ned Boulting
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book!

Grew up watching the Tour de France with my Dad, and have seen virtually every stage televised in the 80s, 90s, 00s and 10’s to date. Throughout this time the commentary team of Phil Ligget, Paul Sherwen, Gary Imlach and more recently Chris Boardman and Ned Boulting have been my travelling companions as I’ve learnt how this gruelling sport works. I’ve watched heady days of dramatic climbs, ongoing duels between champions and of course the gloom of drugs cheats envelop the Tour. Most excitingly, I’ve watched as British Cycling has emerged from the occasional glimmer of hope to being Green and Yellow Jersey winners! Heady days indeed.

Boulting’s book is a wonderful behind the scenes read. His style is conversational, witty and easy going. He covers the big topics and the small idiosyncrases of life following the Tour with humour and personal insight. This isn’t a book about the racing – if you want to learn about how the race works, the tactics and regulations, this isn’t the book for you – but let’s face it, the Tour is so much more than just the race but is a movement, a lifstyle, an annual pilgrimage even. This is a book of the life around the Tour and the challenges of presenting it.

I would certainly recommend this book to all sports fans and anyone interested in the world of road racing. Look out for the edition that includes the update ‘How Cav Won the Green Jersey’. I wonder if there will be an update to include the unprecedented British Tour win by Bradley Wiggins?

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The Fall and Rise of Lance Armstrong?

As a cycling fan 2012 was fantastic. 2013 has got off to a mixed start.

The good news? The route for the 2014 stages of the Tour de France in the UK has been announced, and on the third day it starts in Cambridge, comes down to the Olympic Park and ends on the Mall. Will it come through Wormley? I hope so, that would be fantastic! Regardless of whether or not it does, I shall be there at the roadside cheering my sporting heroes on.

The bad news? The public admission by Lance Armstrong on Oprah Winfrey’s show that he had doped on all of the Tours he won. I remain a keen Tour fan, but am left me questioning the Tours of that time that I loved so much. Were the monumental athletic achievements what they appeared to be? I also feel very sorry for those who weren’t doping at the time.

In a key exchange Winfrey asked: “Did it feel wrong?

Armstrong replied: “No. Scary.”

“Did you feel bad?”

“No. Even scarier.”

“Did you feel that you were cheating?”

“No. The scariest.”

Armstrong continued: “The definition of a cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field. I didn’t understand the magnitude of that. The important thing is that I’m beginning to understand it… I see the anger in people, betrayal. It’s all there. People who believed in me and supported me and they have every right to feel betrayed and it’s my fault and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologise to people.”

As we live our lives as Christians today, Lance’s description of his perception of what he was doing is perhaps a warning for us. It is all to easy for us to measure our behaviour by the behaviour of those around us. The standard we should measure ourselves against, however, is Christ, a measure I know I fall short of, as do we all. Is this a reason to change our standard or deny where we’re at? No, it is only as we bring our failings into the light that we open the way for God to work in us by his Spirit. And this is why, saddened as I am by what Armstrong has done, that I am pleased that he has come clean, for now, if his confession is genuine, he has opened himself to God’s redemptive power.

Review: It’s All about the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels

It's All about the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels
It’s All about the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels by Robert Penn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I inherited a love of cycling from my Dad. I was encouraged to cycle as a child and found I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom and exercise. Living in the Fens at the time, you could go for miles without too many slopes to climb – although now I love the challenge. We also watched the Tour de France together, an annual ritual that has continued to this day, which I have in turn passed onto my son. This year was a year I never thought I would see as a cycling fan – building from Mark Cavendish winning the Green Jersey in 2011’s Tour and the Rainbow Jersey of the World Champion, to the heady heights of Bradley Wiggins winning race after race after race, winning the Tour in 2012 and the Olympics Time Trial – magnificent!

This is the context into which I was lent Robert Penn’s slim book, a no apologies celebration of the bicycle. On the surface it is the story of his quest for a bespoke bike, with parts bought from specialists around the world, but at heart it is a celebration of the history of this great invention, exploring the past of each aspect in turn and the people behind it. His passion shows through on every page and reveals many of the forgotten names behind not so much the races, but the invention and refinement of the bike, and it’s impact on social history. A fascinating read. It’s light in tone, short and easy going, but between its covers lie a substantial amount of information. If, like me, you are a fan of cycling, I’d say you couldn’t go far wrong by giving this book a spin.

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