Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The pleasures and sorrows of work

"I like work, I can sit and watch it all day" said Jerome K Jerome. Yeah, but somebody's got to do it.

I was paying attention at school in a physics lesson when I learned that  "work = force x distance", and the careers advice I had was that if you can avoid real work, you'll earn more and have a comfier life.  Vincent Van Gogh may have celebrated the labouring classes, but he didn't actually do the physical work that he so admired in others, however splendidly he recorded it.

So what's all this got to do with Big Swifty? It has all been a bit frantic recently, hence my relative silence on here. My best paid job is very busy, and so is my second best paid job. But I've had a week's holiday in Denmark with my older son, so work got even further behind. Plus at home we've taken on far too much in the house and garden with our urban homesteading, and all the activities we have with the diabetes support group, stand-up spoken word, carnival float, fundraising and food and drink. Oh yes, "work is the curse of the drinking classes" said Oscar Wilde.

My second biggest earning job is working, on piece work, for the local authority, delivering information to households about the electoral register and about waste collection and re-cycling. A basic delivery job, with some admin and intelligence gathering on the round. A job that is useful, and that I understand, and is "task and finish", unlike many aspects of modern life. I find it satisfying, doing the job during the different seasons, observing the changes in nature. Most of the task is in suburbia, but I also cover a couple of sprawling rural parishes, with villages, hamlets and isolated houses.

At one of the latter I was greeted by the middle-aged resident with the suggestion "So they force you to deliver these cards on a bicycle?". "No", I explained, "I choose to use a bicycle; I like the fresh air and the exercise, and it's the most efficient way to do the job", me sounding like the pompous bicycle nerd that I am. He responded with "What's on these cards anyway?" I explained about the new rubbish collection arrangements, and was given a look that suggested he felt that my job was the most degrading and demeaning task imaginable. "Well that's a waste of time and effort, sending you out here to do this" he said. Clearly he didn't value the task.

It got me thinking about "the pleasures and sorrows of work", which is also the title of a recent volume of the philosophy of Alain de Botton. It makes me laugh, to think of skinny pasty Alain, being an authority on work; I imagine his delicate hands would be ripped to shreds by a day on a shovel. I love my delivery job, and feel sorry that some people are unable to acknowledge the pleasure in such a task. Most other people I met seemed to enjoy my quick visit, as I gave service with a smile and a happy heart.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Bike Racing Part 2 - some new heroes, Phil Southerland and Tony Cervati

For information about my fabulous career as a racing cyclist, see my previous blog. As an update, I had walked away from the sport, feigning no interest, but still keeping an eye on what's happening. And slowly, the riders that were doping were getting caught, and in the case of one of my favourites, Bjarne Riis, (Tour de France "TdF" winner in 1996) he decided to confess his many years of EPO use. So when the likes of Lance Armstrong give us the "most tested athletes in history and never failed a test " spiel, forgive me when I cough.

And along came our then two-years old son's diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, and our personal introduction to the world of shooting up with hormones just to keep him alive, the cyclists disgusted me even more with their doping choices. On the other hand, our handiness with the needles gave me an insight into how humans can quickly get used to abhorrent practices with a bit of practice.

Yet, despite it all, I still loved the traditions of the TdF, the supreme efforts and achievements of the riders, the beauty of the scenery and of the peloton. And even if they were doping, they were still incredibly fit strong people, wrestling with machines that don't ride themselves round the two thousand mile course, climbing over many thousands of feet in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Some of the bike riders have now broken the omerta (an agreement not to talk about drug taking), and the authorities seem more keen to act, and the sport is pulling me back. The TdF starts tomorrow, and I'm keener than I have been for many years.

Plus there are some very positive forces out there, and I'm going to mention just two. First up, Phil Southerland, the leader of the "Type 1" cycle racing team, who have steadily risen up the pro rankings, with some splendid results in the wake of Phil's leadership. The team are not all T1D, but they wave the flag for the condition, and show that it is possible to exert yourself to the extreme as a pro bike rider, and succesfully manage T1D, at the same time.

And there's Tony Cervati, from, who had the ambitious plan of the extreme Tour Divide ride, riding for himself as a T1D, and all the diabetes community. Unfortunately he met a bear on the road fairly early in his mammoth ride, shot into a ravine, got flushed downstream by icy water, dragged himself out, hitched a lift, and got taken to the hospital.

Guys like these, and the clean riders speaking out in the peloton, have given me back my love of the sport. And no, despite their inspirational stories, you won't catch me back in my lycra gear, it's a wonderful material, but it can only stretch so far.......


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