them and us

milan-sanremo parcours

in 1998, a cycling friend and i headed across to northern ireland on a ferry sailing from campbeltown to ballycastle (a service that no longer exists), with the intent of riding south to dublin for the start of that particular year's tour de france. we had a rough notion of just how far the ride would be and an approximation of how long it would take, but on day two, setting off from just south of the border, the distance shown to dublin gave serious cause for concern, before realising that southern ireland measures distances in kilometres and not the miles that prevail in northern ireland.

i believe that every bar-mounted gps unit offers the opportunity for the owner to choose between miles or kilometres when first setting up the device out of the box. and though britain and the usa are still embroiled in the imperial measurement system, personally, i have always opted for kilometres, for two perfectly good reasons. firstly, as age begins to get the better of my top-line speed, telling those in the office my weekend cycling distance and, perchance, my average speed, it is far more beguiling to do so in kilometres than miles. and secondly, since virtually every cycle race broadcast on eurosport/gcn is portrayed in metric measurement, having set my garmin in similar fashion allows me to witness the substantial difference between them and us.

during the early stages of saturday's milan-sanremo race, the members of the early breakaway were shown conversing and joking with each other in a very relaxed manner. the on-screen display showed that, at the time, they were riding at 47kph, a speed of which i (and by implication, you), can only dream. yesterday's pelotonic discussion, held at a considerably lower, yet less relaxed pace, concerned whether the professional ranks were filled with riders who feature a genetic disposition towards riding at such speeds, or whether such ability is directly as a result of hours and hours of training?

though i have drastically reduced the target distance in recent years, for the first ten years of rapha's festive 500, i would arise at the crack of stupid o'clock, breakfast, then head out for around 70 or 80km, mostly on the basis that at least one day of the challenge would be lost to galeforce winds in which it would have been dangerous to ride. that would leave me seven days on which to test my mettle, not only in terms of pedalling, but in fending off the frequently unpalatable elements. and following the festive kilometres, there would then be the new year's day ride, adding yet another 65km to the total.

i cannot deny that it was usually something of a disappointment to end the sequence, just as i was beginning to get in the groove, but can't say that i noticed any increase in tenacity or average speed on my behalf, when the festivities came to an end. however, that may only prove that not only am i probably less than genetically favoured in the velocipedinal stakes, but there's a better than evens chance that my physique is highly resistant to training. of course, it may also point to the efficacy of modern training and nutritional techniques, as opposed to fausto coppi's "ride a bike, ride a bike and ride a bike", which is essentially all that i, or many others, are achieving.

and as if we hadn't already learned enough from milan-sanremo, the revelation that wout van aert was not only riding with a single front chainring, but that said chainring allegedly featured 52 teeth, pretty much put everything in a much closer perspective. though msr is relatively flat for the bulk of its parcours, the cipressa and the poggio are usually the two gradients where the final selection is made. opting to risk both on a 52 chainring surely demonstrates not only wout's great faith in his abilities, but surely puts us mere mortals very firmly in our place. granted, van aert was not victorious on saturday, but i doubt that was entirely the fault of the size of his single chainring.

though things may have changed over the years, ostensibly the average, reasonably wealthy cycling fan still has the opportunity to replicate the equipment used by his or her favoured rider. jumbo visma sell replica team kit, while cervelo will be more than happy to relieve you of a considerable sum to ride a bike just like wout's. i believe the same can be said for mathieu's canyon, ganna's pinarello, or fourth-placed tadej's colnago v4rs.

there is, of course parallels to be seen elsewhere. for instance, i own a snare drum that features a remarkably similar spec to that of vinnie colaiuta. but, unfortunately, i still sound like me.

monday 20 march 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

how long has this been going on?

voghera cathedral

when i was considerably younger than i am today, i always found it very disappointing to discover that the 'monumental sculptors' whose signs usually appeared close to cemeteries, were just the same size as every other adult at the time. there was, disappointingly, nothing moumental about them. however, it would be a naive and entirely unforgiving person who disputed the apellation of the word 'monument' to yesterday's milan-sanremo. with a distance of 294km and a ride time of well over six hours, and at speeds most of us would struggle to achieve on a steep downhill with a galeforce tailwind, well does it deserve its nomination as the first 'monument' of the year.

however, the length of the parcours seems to give rise to incomprehension on behalf of those less well-versed in the art of road racing. not for the first time have i heard it suggested that races of such length are boring and/or pointless. in fact, in one of the pre-race interviews prior to yesterday's event, i heard one participant refer to his team-mate's contention that the race is, indeed, boring. certainly, in excess of six hours racing would require a fairly steady attention span, not only on behalf of the riders, but from those of us with our eyes glued to eurosport/gcn.

unlike the riders charged with competing in the race, who are prevented from taking a mid-race break in a nearby café, eurosport/gcn's commentary team consisted, by my counting, of five individuals, none of whom were required to go the full distance; and at least three of them were former professional bike riders. though i don't envy them the need to be creative during the early stages of milan-sanremo, when, to be honest, very little actually occurs, you would perhaps be forgiven for thinking it an easier ride (so to speak), to sit in a commentary booth for over six hours, than to be in the saddle for a similar time, while expending a great deal more effort (carlton kirby excepted, of course).

but amongst the great unwashed, i have been asked on several occasions, why they don't simply start from 25 or 30 kilometres from the finish and simply race to the line. the implication, erroneous or otherwise, is that the same favourites are as likely to stand on the podium after the shorter distance than over a race distance ten times as long. though their contention may actually prove to be true, i fear the start list would have to be considerably shorter to avoid absolute chaos as every team member felt capable of adding to their trophy cabinet. maybe it would be a great idea, at some time or other, to give it a try?

however, at race speeds, a 30km race would take little over half an hour, scarcely enough time for the phalanx of team sponsors to gain their much-prized airtime, and very much to the detriment of the televisual experience. the fact that major events such as milan-sanremo feature extensive coverage from helicopter cameras, means that, aside from being a cycling spectacle, the race provides a cultural appreciation of whatever part of italy the helicopter happens to be. aside from the wide variation in vintage and contemporary architecture, the pace of the event in the early hours, affords plenty of time for a flyover of many ancient and, quite frankly, beautiful old buildings, the majority of which featured on-screen descriptions, attesting not only to italy's turbulent and religious past, but for just how many years that has been the case.

though i confess i wasn't taking notes, from memory, the notable historical aspects stretched from pre-1000ad, all the way to the early part of the 20th century, if nothing else, demonstrating the cultural and architectural aesthetics of the past that it would be very hard to equal in modern times.

i agree that such diversions are not intrinsic to the competition unfolding on the roads below, but it is often the backdrop which lends not only a national flavour to the event, but is every bit as important in imbuing the race with its character as have been the competitors both past and present. and to be honest, cycle racing must be one of the few televised sports that have the ability to do so. europe, comprised as it is of so many different nations, has experienced a past that is surely unequalled anywhere in the world, and although those experiences can be taught in the classroom, to see them in a setting such as milan-sanremo, places an altogether different aspect on not only cycling's rich heritage, but that of its various locations.

if we bowed to the non-believers, and restricted the racing to a mere handful of kilometres, it's entirely possible that the record books would look pretty much the same as they do now. but imagine all that would be lost in the process.

sunday 19 march 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

day to day

record shop day

we are, it's fair to say, not that far from this year's fèis ìle, commencing on the last weekend of may. this will be of great delight to many of the world's whisky aficionados, with the potential to add to their exclusive collections of exclusive festival bottlings. in order to capitalise on the planetary interest in such expressions, it had, at one time, become possible to acquire said bottles via the interwebs, something of a godsend for those unable to make their way to the hallowed isle.

as you may understand, this worldwide availability had a tendency to rankle with the great and good who had been successful in setting foot on islay's shores during the designated week. therefore, in order to head off the naysayers at the pass, several distilleries have taken to offering two or more festival bottlings, available with various limitations, and at least one of which can only be acquired during a personal visit to the distillery of choice during the festival. exclusivity at its best.

hopefully in common with many (because i'd hate to be alone), i have an annoying habit of opening e-mails and failing to close them down after they have been read. thus, when navigating the embarrassingly large number of application windows open on my macbook air, it's all but impossible to see the metaphorical wood for the trees. however, this technological bad habit, it would appear, has its upsides, when unexpected discoveries can be realised, one of which pertains to this year's national record store day to which 260 national retail outlets have apparently signed up.

this unexpected discovery, however, brings with it potential and unheralded difficulties, the principal of which is the complete lack of any record stores on the island, and possibly any closer than glasgow. this promises serious dismay, for it transpires that one of those open e-mails depicted the album cover of a record store day release due from gearbox records. featuring ramon morris, andy bey, isao suzuki and junior cook, the release is entitled 'art blakey and the jazz messengers at the jazz workshop 1970'. it will surprise you not that i simply have to acquire a vinyl copy of this album.

and yes, i'm as much of a luddite when it comes to recorded media as i am with regard to bicycles.

national record store day in the uk, will take place on saturday 22 april, and it is my fervent hope that there will be a record store somewhere, that will be willing to pay lip service to contemporary life, and post me out a copy. even though, i believe, the whole point of record store day is to attract personal visits to said record stores. with luck, one of the aforementioned will take pity on a stranded islander. i daresay it is possible that this art blakey album will eventually also appear on streaming platforms, if only to allow the record company to partake of increased revenue, but like i said, it has to be vinyl.

entirely coincidentally, i'm sure, a matter of seven days later, comes the 2023 incarnation of britain's local bike shop day, an event that parallels that of record store day in that neither are there any bike shops on islay. curated by the association of cycle traders, according to the dedicated website, 'Local Bike Shop Day is the one day a year when independent bike shops across the UK can come together to celebrate their distinctive culture. It's the day for local bike shops to showcase their passion, knowledge and personalised service they offer to their local communities.' quite how that is achieved, i'm afraid i'm unable to say, never having visited a bike shop (local or otherwise) on the specified day.

however, given the number of cycle and component manufacturers who have recently adopted a customer direct approach, effectively missing out the tangible joy of visiting a bike shop, local bike shop day is surely one that all those within walking or cycling distance ought to participate and celebrate? but it occurs to me that, rather than simply paying lip service to the importance of local bike shops, cycle, component and apparel manufacturers could place their money where their mouths are, producing items for sale only via said bike stores and not available through any other channels of distribution. just like islay's distilleries and record companies.

given very recent history, perhaps colnago could prepare an exclusive tom boonen version of the v4rs, or campagnolo could offer a box set of their purportedly new wireless super-record groupset, but featuring the downshift buttons that have reputedly been omitted. or maybe rapha could release a black, white and pink sportwool jersey.

because, like many an annual velocipedinal event, this one seems to offer little in the way of incentive to the ordinary cyclist in the street.

sound familiar?

local bike shop day | record store day | islay festival

saturday 18 march 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

the boys are back in town

2004 saw a reversal of the visual strategy employed in the movie 'the wizard of oz', where the early monochrome scenes introducing dorothy and toto and the tornado that brought them to the land of oz, subsequently morphed into full colour. cycling apparel prior to that point had often languished in a luxuriance of colour, sometimes arguably overly so. however, rather than such colour being employed in the service of visibility, more often than not it was either at the behest of replica team clothing, or as a long-lost hangover from the late sixties. that was essentially the situation that faced rapha founder, simon mottram, when searching for cycling apparel in which he'd be comfortable riding his bicycle.

i realise we've been over this particular piece of ground more often than is seemly in polite company, but bear with me while i digress from the point i hope to make.

many of us belong to the make-do culture; we might well have faced similar circumstances to those of mr mottram in the early part of the 21st century, but the majority - and i include myself within that category - are more than likely simply to settle for what's affordable, what's available, and what we think we could get away with in the sunday morning peloton. unfortunately, like the sort of itch experienced behind a plaster cast that is all but impossible to scratch, despite being clad in a make-do jersey, with quarter-zip and three rear pockets, there's that nagging thought that it could not only be better, but, perchance, a tad more stylish.

despite cycling's history portraying the sport as that of the hardman, estranged from the finer aspects of daily life, a more than modest proportion of the sunday peloton are avowed to adhere to more aesthetic concerns. as i have quoted to the point of obsession, in his book one more kilometre and we're in the showers, author tim hilton contends that there is a higher than average percentage of designers, artists and aesthetes who follow the way of bendy bars and skinny wheels. and those artistic pretensions need to be satisfied, even when in the saddle.

thus, mr mottram, predicated by his apparent adherence to the concept of pain and suffering, was inspired by the greats of the fifties and sixties when opting to bypass mediocrity and bring his own perceptions to market, convinced that the rest of us would be similarly enthused by his apparent revelations. as it transpires, that's almost exactly what happened, with rapha sliding into home base almost un-noticed. when first i came across the original classic jersey, featuring the now iconic hoop on the left sleeve, as one who thought himself more than well-acquainted with the world of cycling garmentage, i couldn't understand how i'd never previously heard of them.

it's a situation that scarcely applied solely to myself. simon once told me that, on release of that first sportwool jersey, he received a phone call from a gent who claimed to have been a long-time fan of the brand, and was most encouraged to see rapha products available in the uk.

rapha's black, white and pink world may have been appraised as something of a velocipedinal revelation at the time, but it also became one that was frequently lampooned. there was once a spoof american website, also constrained to simple black and white, which took a humorous, yet well-aimed satirical shot at what we once lovingly referred to as imperial works. rapha subsequently reprinted the book kings of pain from which mr mottram had taken his inspiration for the monochrome viewpoint, the very book he presented to photographer, ben ingham, to have his vision translated into a comprehensive marketing coup. (not for nothing had mr mottram been a brand consultant prior to his life with bicycles).

but, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end.

depending on your point of view, things probably changed for the worst when rapha became clothing sponsors of team sky. at this point, the rapha website altered from predominantly black, white and pink to black and blue. i was once moved to contact former rapha north american manager, slate olson, to helpfully point out that rapha's website resembled little more than an offshoot of the satellite tv behemoth, portraying more black and blue than black white and pink. by comparison, the sky tv website sported not a single reference to rapha by way of compensation.

while rapha's own pro-continental rapha-condor race team had been happy to espouse the virtues of sportwool within the peloton, world tour riders were apparently considerably more demanding; nothing less than skintight polyester and lycra would suffice, materials that subsequently dominated rapha's catalogue. in the process, they attracted several often dubious colour choices, many resembling the sort of tie-dyes, once again reminiscent of the late sixties. having previously curated world acceptance for the delights of monochrome with a hint of pink, rapha had become the epitomy of part two of the wizard of oz.

full circle.

if you wonder from whence has come this monochromatic burst of nostalgia, i can but admit that it has been the subject of recent pelotonic conversation, particularly from those of us old enough to recall the halcyon days of yore, of pain, suffering and a pink sofa in kentish town. in short, we yearn for the perceived simplicity of those bygone days, convinced that rapha may have lost their way, becoming an integral part of the establishment they once sought to undermine (or enhance). rapha roubaix ad early rapha ads in the once-aspiring rouleur magazine, identified them as a company in tune with their intended customer base: cleat equipped leather brogues and the campagnolo peanut butter spanner.

do not mistake my critique; the renamed rapha works is still a purveyor of quality (if expensive) cycling apparel, but a common opinion amongst the self-styled cognoscenti was that rapha, as a brand, had lost its way along the parcours.

but all may not be lost. i believe the advert reproduced here, one that appears on the back page of the recently reviewed superstore wilderness may indicate that reports of the demise of pain and suffering may have been premature.

kings of pain once again.

friday 17 march 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

made it

e-bike in basket

when i arrived on the hebridean island of islay, there existed an organisation identified by the acronym i&jcvs, letters that signified the islay and jura council for voluntary services. the organisation existed to provide services to the almost endless number of voluntary organisations constituted across the two islands. at one time, the latter were thought to comprise the largest number in any rural island community anywhere in scotland, based purely on the number of advertisements for annual general meetings.

however, the i&jcvs was also the founder of the island's local newspaper, originally setup in 1973 to serve as a means of disseminating news and information across both islands. one of the items that featured on an annual basis was, effectively, a hebridean retail price index. having chosen a staple number of items available in the local averagemarket, an employee of the cvs would peruse the shelves and aisles of said retail outlet, taking note of item prices. year-on-year, it was possible to compare prices, to better understand how one's income might fare against static, rising or decreasing prices of so-called essential items.

though i have frequently thought of reinstating this feature, to date, i have yet to do so.

this rudimentary system replicates in a smaller way, the economic nous of the office of national statistics, who regularly compare the prices of a hypothetical national shopping basket. in the case of the ons, however, the breadth of its investigations are spread a tad further than food retail. their basket is theoretically filled with 700 items, which are constantly reviewed to ensure their relevance to actual life. according to the ons, these are "representative of the goods and services on which consumers typically spend their money."

in what seems indicative of modern society, three notable items have found themselves discarded from the basket. non-chart compact discs, compact digital cameras and 'alcopops'. these are no longer considered to be an intrinsic part of contemporary life. however, in a sign that cycling might conceivably have gained greater import in the modern-day lexicon and become a subject of financial largesse, the office of national statistics has seen fit to include the ubiquitous e-bike, even as some corners have queried whether the majority of the uk population actually understands just what an e-bike is.

however, the clincher that makes less sense than might otherwise appear, is a quote from ons director of prices transformation (?), mike hardie. justifying why the e-bike has joined the merry throng, he reputedly said, "With many people looking to reduce their impact on the environment, we have also introduced e-bikes, the popularity of which has risen significantly in recent years.".

though i believe that the analogue bicycle has regularly featured as one of the 700, is why the gentleman from the office for national statistics regards the e-bike is seen as every bit as environmentally sound as a regular bike? for starters, it's a mode of transport that, by its very definition, requires regular charging with electricity. and currently (pun intended), there is no way of ensuring that electricity will always be sourced from renewable sources. secondly, every e-bike of which i'm aware is powered by a lithium-ion battery, an item that will not only require an expensive replacement at some point in its career, but some safe means of disposal. and then again, taking a closer look at the sourcing of lithium would hardly be viewed with green tinted lenses.

there may be more individuals acquiring e-bikes than regular bikes these days, but i would seriously question whether they're doing so for environmental reasons. and if the 'basket of goods and services' is intended to bear some relevance to contemporary life, why has the e-bike not been joined in that basket by peloton memberships, zwift subscriptions, and smart turbo trainers. those all use electricity too.

gary numan was right to question whether friends are electric.

thursday 15 march 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

the monuments. updated second edition. the grit and the glory of cycling's greatest one-day races. peter cossins. bloomsbury publishing paperback. 441pp illus. £15.99

the monuments updated edition - peter cossins

bloomsbury first published peter cossins' 'the monuments' a scarcely credible nine years ago. to me, and possibly mr cossins, it seems like only yesterday. but it is the nature of every sport to find a new audience, account of which is surely the responsibility of every self-respecting author, a happy situation that has brought to book an updated version of 'the monuments' only days before milan-sanremo. and since this updated edition is every bit as good, if not better, than the original, i have opted to reprise my original 2014 review below. if there is any justice in this velocipedinal world, no-one will be allowed to buy a new bike before proving ownership of a copy of 'the monuments'.

if you missed it first time round, do not, under any circumstances, miss it this time. the word 'essential' is one arguably overused (by me in particular), but this time, i really mean it.

the uci's globalisation of the sport of cycling is, at best, somewhat misguided. with the advent of the pro-tour and subsequently the world tour series, distinctly non-traditional cycling nations have been brought into the fold. this in itself is hardly an iniquitous situation, for who are we in the western world to deny the rest of the globe, participation in what many of us regard as 'the beautiful sport'? however, many of the more recent innovations in this respect, such as the tour of china, the tour of qatar and the like, have been imposed upon the international racing calendar as part of a series in which pro-tour teams are required to participate even though their sponsors may have no commercial interests in those countries.

the downside of this imposition from on high is the loss or downgrading of many classic european races which have lost the commercial sponsorship necessary to continue. these losses most often have occurred at the hands of a governing body which has often seemed to care a tad more for its coffers than for the good of the sport. if several of these long-standing one day races and multi-day tours have been effectively de-listed, there is no compulsion for the world tour teams to take part. with an already overfull calendar of often conflicting race dates, this means that if the world's top riders are no longer entered for such events, potential race sponsors no longer see the likelihood of a return on their investment.

hence the loss of so many.

as peter cossins demonstrates in this superb and substantial book (almost a monument of its own), more than one of what are now regarded as the monuments of cycling's one-day classics, took several years to become firmly established, unaided by a governing body that could make participation compulsory in even a brand new event. the saying 'water always finds its own level' is particularly pertinent in most of these cases. nowadays water is being pumped to whatever level the offices of aigle dictate.

so well researched are these historical narratives of liege-bastogne-liege, paris-roubaix, the tour of lombardy, milan-sanremo and the tour of flanders, that i'm sure mr cossins knows the ins and outs of modern cycling politics far better than i. which is why it was something of a surprise to read in his epilogue to the monuments that "The thinking behind this season-long series, which used Formula 1 as a template, was sound". i'd be inclined to counter that the preceding 365 pages were proof of quite the opposite. he does then go on to say "Yet the Monuments have lost some of their status by being lumped in with lesser events from a points-winning perspective".

'la doyenne', the longest surviving one-day classic, and undoubtedly my favoured second behind paris-roubaix, commenced its long career in 1892. its entry into the cycling firmament was not, as the author is keen to point out, a straightforward affair. "Thanks in part to the desire of French bike manufacturers to establish new markets beyond their borders, the first edition of the Tour of Flanders took place in 1913, by which point Liege had also re-emerged, though rather shakily."

by this, cossins is referring to an amalgamation of the 'peasant club liegeois with the liege cyclists' union in 1908 to relaunch the race as an amateur event. paris-roubaix though undoubtedly also suffering the ravages of time and occasionally the tarmacing of many of its cobbled sections, came into being in 1896, predominantly as a means of raising the profile of roubaix and its new velodrome built and owned by textile magnates, the perez brothers. they even attempted to position it as a preceding training event for the longer and arguably more demanding bordeaux-paris.

the reasons for starting what we now refer to as the monuments are varied, though frequently involved newspaper sales and rivalry somewhere along the line, commercial interests that inevitably shaped each event in different yet similar fashion, but ensuring a depth of feeling that contrived to ensure their success in the face of often trying circumstances. in those days, there was no overall loading of the dice (so to speak).

"That plush enclave in the tiny principality of Monaco had been connected to the railway in 1868. Ten years later, it boasted one of the grandest casinos in the world. In 1905, Sanremo hit back with the opening of its own Casino Municipio, a magnificent Liberty-style building that still dominates the western end of the town. Yet tourists, and particularly those from Britain, still favoured the French end of the Riviera." thus, one year later, several with commercial interests in the town met to discuss the possibility of a single event that would give sanremo the profile they and their money felt it deserved.

it would be counter-productive, i believe to list the birth marks of each of the monuments that form the contents of this marvellous book. peter cossins is a far better narrator than i, having turned what must be years of research into a treasure trove for the committed cycling fan. each race has its territory marked out during the introductions, followed by a historical account of its life to date. not unexpectedly, this involves many of the great riders and rides of this and last century. that cossins has refrained from making this a series of critical essays on the fortunes of each monument plays well to his favour. subjectivity is left at the start-line allowing us to wallow in the magnificent part each has played in cycling lore.

the races read in order of their inception, but in a self-contained manner, they can be read in whichever order the reader so desires. it is, in truth a most amicable format, one that is by turn intriguing, informative and a pleasure to devour. and though i have often been led to disparage one or other aspect of the recent crop of cycling book covers, the monuments makes up for pretty much all of them, depicting as it does a style reminiscent of british rail posters from the 1920s (a facet continued on the cover of the updated edition.)

with a comprehensive index at the back of the book accompanied by a list of each and every winner of each and every monument up until 2022, this is a book that truly ought to be a compulsory purchase for anyone with a drop-bar bicycle in the shed. with the uci seemingly hellbent on spreading the word in ever wider and thinner fashion, it is heartening to read of the european backbone of the sport, even if read with rose-tinted oakleys when races survived and prospered by their own merit and tenacity.

did i just say that out loud?

the updated second edition of 'the monuments' by peter cossins is published by bloomsbury on thursday 16 march.

wednesday 14 march 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................


active travel

today's digression has tendentious local relevance purely on the basis that this coming saturday, i will be attending the opera. but rather than the latter consisting of elaborate stage-sets, flamboyant costumes and an orchestra comprising top-flight classical musicians under the baton of a celebrity conductor, this will be a more low-key affair. scottish national opera's opera highlights last visited the island in 2018, prior to the covid pandemic that prevented subsequent visits.

these highlights performances generally consist of four singers (two male, two female) and a pianist, presenting a narrative that inludes material from several well-known and lesser-known operas. it has previously made for an excellent evening's entertainment, and i see no reason why that will not frame this week's event. meanwhile, south of the border, the english national opera is breathing a tad more easily on learning that its arts council grant will no longer be reduced to zero; at least, not this year.

the government-funded arts council had informed eno in november last year that it could kiss bye-bye to its annual £12.6m grant. this news was tempered by the addendum to said drastic cut, by informing that this would be replaced by the greater amount of £17million, receivable only if they relocated from their london base to somewhere farther north. that rather draconian situation has been temporarily lifted during a "one year reprieve", but the opera company insists that the current deal leaves a 'huge amount of uncertainty'.

the insistence that the eno move north was constituted as part of westminster's pretty much non-existent levelling up strategy.

there have been many reasoned arguments put forward over the years, questioning the level of subsidy afforded certain arts sectors, while others languish at the behest of their own, generated income. most of us would think it highly unnecessary to offer government funding to rock and pop bands, given the often lucrative popularity of the genre. others have queried why so much money is laid at the doors of classical orchestras and, indeed, opera, when similar minority genres, such as jazz, survive with only a fraction of such funding or, in many cases, no funding whatsoever?

and to move the debate just a few steps to one side, though central government is responsible for piling billions into road and rail services, there still remains indignant outcry that any funding is apportioned to cycle facilities. and these outcries have persisted, even when climate change pressures and realisations have indicated that cycling might potentially prove more effective than the much-troubled hs2 rail project, for instance. there seems to have been little placed in the way of transport london's elizabeth line, an underground route that ostensibly serves only the population of london residents, yet cost around £20billion.

and in direct contradiction of the ultimatum presented to english national opera, demanding a northerly shift in proceedings, already this week, westminster has announced its decision to cut active travel funding, but only that applicable outside london. yet again, a move that would appear to undermine any pretence of really attempting any sort of levelling up. though perhaps not the best comparison, the seriously delayed and much criticised choice not to complete the dualling of scotland's a9 northerly route (a choice admittedly made by holyrood, not westminster), was originally expected to cost £3billion, a figure equalled by westminster's alleged spending on active travel across englandshire. however, westminster's £3billion is stretched over the five years of the current parliamentary period.

and while we're bandying around large numbers, let me just mention that the hs2 rail project has already exceeded £100billion and unlikely to achieve much of what it originally set out to do. ahead of the upcoming budget, the government declined to place a figure on the active travel cut, but sustrans expect it to be around £200million. that makes even less sense if you believe that active travel contributed £36.5billion to the uk economy in 2021.

despite the above paragraphs, numbers are very much not 'my thing'. but it seems remarkably disappointing, to say the least, to hurtle headlong into a climate change that has already brought a commitment to phase out petrol and diesel engined cars within the next seven years, by undermining proposed travel facilities to assist with britain's reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and any efforts to have the population improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

the best conclusion at which to arrive from this latest governmental inconsistency, is that there is no overarching definition of what constitutes minority or majority interests, nor any means of making independent assessments as to their relative merit. however, i think it safe to consider that, sitting less than pecefully under the minority heading, is cycling. and by this i refer to cycling as transport; cycle-sport can probably (and will probably have to) take care of itself.

tuesday 14 march 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................