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My 50th

Aida at the Arena in Verona

Aida at the Arena in Verona

I’m spoilt.  I know I am, but does it stop me from being a little Diva and demanding more?  [Sigh] No, of course it doesn’t.  I’m not stupid!

For the last couple of decades, whenever the question of ‘big birthday’ celebrations have come up my one and only desire has been ‘to attend an opera at the Arena in Verona’.  My lovely, wonderful, adorable husband listened (okay, I may have written it all over his whiteboard and planner and sent him emails and FB links ‘Ooh’ing over pictures of the Arena, but some men need the odd hint written on sledge-hammers).

Last week, my little family and I returned from a fabulous uber long weekend to…you guessed it.  Verona!  Bella Italia: the land of heady wine and pasta; pizza and parmigiano; sinfully glorious landscapes and one of the sexiest languages to grace the human tongue.

The trip was everything I wished for and more.  ‘More?’ You ask, ‘what other wonderous delights did your fabuloso husband pull out of his hat?’  Well, let me tell you the tale from the beginning.

First, let’s start with the accommodation.  It was a B&B within spitting distance (dependent on a strong wind) of the Pizza Bra’ where the Arena sits, on a quaint little side road in a lovely old building.  Now, the word ‘old’ may cause you to wince but let me assure you the owners of Veronantica B&B, 9 Via Tazzoli, have spent a few Euros and modernised the top floor of this delightful building.  When you enter there is a cute courtyard with some stone planters (alas, all the flowers had been removed) and you turn left to climb several flights of broad stone stairs (no lift!).  It really is a wonderful looking building.  You enter straight into a lovely fitted out kitchen area (where breakfast is served). All the rooms are en-suite with TVs and A/C.   Our children had the first room which was twin-bedded  and ‘snug’ but boasted a balcony with lovely trailing flowers.  Our room was much larger with a double bed and sofa which we found pulled-out into a bed, but no balcony.  Breakfast: with such a lovely kitchen I would have expected more than a croissant, fruit, cereal and brioche (unlimited supply of tea/coffee), but it was filling and, the best bit, they didn’t stop serving until 11.  ‘Wow,’ I thought on hearing that…but it makes sense (tell you later).  5 out of 5 stars for the B&B.  I have no idea how much it costs.

Tip 1: DO NOT eat at the restaurants on Liston – the broad stretch going from the Arena towards the old city wall.  The buildings will make your heart melt and it is undeniably everything you want in a busy piazza.  However, if you must spend a pleasant evening people-watching from the pretty little tables, then sit and have a mellow bottle of Soave, a punchy Valpolicella or a hearty Bardolino, but do not eat there.  These guys are busier than rabbits at Easter and, because the majority of their customers are one-offs, their food is plastic and mediocre (they really don’t care if you don’t go back).  There’ll always be another starry-eyed tourist waiting for a table.  BTW we tried four of these restaurants and were disappointed with all of them.  The only thing I will say is that Mamma Mia will let you sit and drink until 2am, at which magical hour they will whip away the tablecloths, substitute your stemmed glasses for plastic cups and switch off the lights.  Still, as long as you order another bottle or two before they do that you can giggle away for another couple of hours in splendid solitude with a few other insomniacs under the mellow street lights, watched over by the local Police.

Our first night in Verona we, thankfully, avoided Liston – because it was seriously busy – and finally found a restaurant down a side road that had a free table (yes, it was that busy!).  I cannot remember the name of the restaurant (somewhere just past Via Teatro Filarmonico), but the food was good; overall it was a lovely welcome to Veronese cuisine and service.

The next morning we decided we would go to see Juliet’s Balcony, which brings me to….

Tip 2: Juliet’s Balcony is so busy that if you suffer from claustrophobia or crowds then either avoid it or go so early in the morning that the rest of Verona is asleep.  Also, if you must add your own love story to the already plastered walls I would suggest that you come armed with a plaster (yes, that’s what I said, a plaster such as one you would wrap round a papercut) you’ve already scribbled your message on and, on your way through the tunnel (it feels like that although in reality it’s just a little arch) slap it on the wall as you squeeze past all the camera-snapping enthusiasts.

Anyway, back to our day.  After the bustle of the balcony we tripped into Piazza Erbe which has a lovely bustling market selling souvenirs, fresh fruit and veg (great if you’re self-catering as supermarkets seem to be non-existant).  They also sell little pots of freshly cut fruit just in case you cannot decide between the blooming peaches, swollen strawberries or juicy melons.  In the middle of the market there is a weird stone fountain/altar/pergola with manacles hanging off some of the columns.  Apparently, in days gone by, the council would sit and pass local judgments – the manacles were obviously used frequently.  There are lots of tourists snapping their girlfriends, wives and children hanging from the manacles.  It made me blink.

The market flows right through the main part of the square – lots of cafes, again residing within more glorious buildings – stopping at a pretty fountain (there was something historically important about the fountain but I can only recall the cute sight of children splashing about to cool off).  From there we wandered to wards the river and over Ponte Pietra with a view to climbing up to Teatro Romano.  Please let me say at this point how deeply disappointed I am that the  very first cafe that you see, the only one directly facing the bridge, sells the most basic fare (they microwave the hamburgers, for goodness’ sakes).  Again, it was a real case of ‘don’t need to do more because there’s nowhere else to go’, and we fell for it because we were hungry.  I wish we’d bought some bread, plump tomatoes and cheese from the market instead.  After our disappointing meal, the children and I wandered to the right and climbed our way up, up , up and up towards the Teatro only to encounter scaffolding and barriers.  Stunning views, but no visible way to get into the old roman theatre, so we continued round and back down again, consoling ourselves with our first gelatos.  We strolled along the river back to the B&B.

While the children went inside (to play on their phones and skype), hubby and I wandered along, over the main road and espied a covered table and two chairs at the end of Via Tito Speri, a dead-end road (many of the other out-lying cafes were closed for the afternoon).  We wandered over and found ourselves directed into their garden which was overflowing with beautiful plants and crowded with tables and parasols – no two tables were the same.  A higgledy-piggledy mash of old and new which was cosy and soporific.  Only one other couple has decided not to snooze away the hot afternoon and were partaking of a meal with some very bizarre dishes – we thoroughly enjoyed trying to work out what they were eating.  We sank into our armchairs and ordered two beers.  The waiter duly arrived with a bucket of ice, two beer bottles and two huge stemmed beer glasses.  He filled each glass with ice and my husband and I looked at each other in confusion – neither of us wanted ice in our beer!  By this time the waiter was popping the caps off the bottles, strategically placing coasters and napkins on the tables and removing plates, etc.  He then began to swirl the ice in the glasses.  Swirl, swirl, swirl.  I felt like a panting dog: the beer was so close and yet so far away!  With a flourish and a flick the ice was dumped back into the bucket and the beer began to flow – finally! He deposited the first glass, one fifth full of beer in front of me and the rest of the bottle just within reach before pouring my husband’s.  ‘Grazie, Signor,’ was as much as we could mutter before we grabbed our glasses.

The waiter was extremely attentive and brought us (gratis) a plate of bread with some sort of vegetable chutney.  It was delicious.  We ordered another two bottles before we left.  No idea what the name of the restaurant was but I recommend it for entertainment value alone.

After those beers and all the fresh air and walking, we managed to sleep quite soundly for an hour or two.  My husband had booked La Lanterna, a vegan restaurant – what a love! – for that evening.  I was so touched.  Before we left my daughter asked repeatedly if I was sure I didn’t want to dress up a little more, perhaps put on some jewellery and make-up?  Bless her, she did try and I would remember her encouragement later.

We had to take a taxi as the restaurant was all the way over on the other side of Verona…or so my husband said…  When we arrived there I let my husband speak to the lady at the desk while I peered around at the decor.  OMG!  There was a table full of Elvis enthusiasts!  Did he know?  Is that why we were here?  I was so excited.  How did I know they were Elvis fans?  Because they all wore Elvis masks.  Wow.  From the corner of my eye (because I couldn’t take my eyes off the Elvis table) I saw the lady point to my left and I noticed an empty table for four.  Slowly I hedged round – all the while ogling the Elvisians and wondering why they were so quiet; yet so desperate to talk to them – and began to sit (facing the other table).  There was a cute little boy at the end of the table who didn’t have a mask on.  I vaguely thought he looked somewhat familiar, but I didn’t have my glasses on and ignored my fanciful thinking.  But before I could position my bottom on the seat, the lady was urging my husband towards the end of the Elvis table.  There?  She wanted us to sit with them?  Holy Shit – he’d arranged for us to sit with the Elvis contingent?  We were here for a special Elvis thingy?  Oh, I was seriously excited now and loved him so, so, so much – my meat-loving husband was putting himself through a vegan meal and Elvis (he’s not a fan) and opera (hates regular musicals with a passion so opera was his version of hell), for me!  (BTW I am a huge Elvis fan).  But the Elvisians were all looking at us; staring; and still not talking…  I couldn’t tell you how it happened but it began to dawn on me, especially once the masks began to be removed, that we weren’t here to dine with the local Elvis fan club.  I first got confused (God, I am sooooo stupid!) as the scene before me just didn’t make sense.  The people behind the masks were family and friends who had flown all the way over to help me celebrate my birthday!  I was stunned speechless – or almost speechless – as each face was revealed.  Way, way better than Elvis!  Not only had they come over to Verona but they were all booked to watch Aida as well.  My heart was so full I thought it would explode.

No wonder my daughter wanted me to ‘dress up’!

By the way, La Lanterna is not miles away from our B&B!  It is near the river in the Castel Vecchio area.  After our meal (interesting and worth the visit) we wandered along the river to Signor Vino (or something like that) for a couple of bottles.  When they said they were closing we found Mamma Mia and, as you’ve guessed, ordered a few more and left way past two in the morning.  That evening, we were on whites – Soave and Prosecco.

Wine: You must try the wines.  You really must.  So many of the best Italian wines are grown in the surrounding area that it would be sacrilegious not to.  If you can fit in a vineyard visit, even better.

Lake Garda: We didn’t go but everyone who did say it’s a must.

The next day we woke up late, but still in time for breakfast.  The Opera doesn’t finish until after midnight, which means many people sleep in the next morning, hence the late breakfast closing.  We were very grateful for it, and the extra paracetamols I’d packed.

We met up with friends (friends!  In Verona!) for coffee – at a cafe on Liston (lousy food) – and went on the bus-train before having lunch at a Pizza Tratorria which was at the end of Via Tre Marchetti.  Delicious food, wine and company, then returned to the B&B to recover for that evening’s performance of Aida.  It was truly magical.

We all met again that evening, before the performance, and dined at Liston (Mamma Mia).  The food was mediocre.

Opera: We had all booked our tickets via websites but one of our friends had chosen a website that wasn’t recognised by the Arena and their tickets were not waiting for them (as had been promised).  So, beware!  Please, if you have seats in the middles of the area or along the bottom few tiers, wear something nice.  There were some lovely evening gowns (I wore a two piece bronze embroidered set).  We winced at the t-shirt jeans combo.  Also, take water (it is extortionate in there) and a blanket (the temperature can seriously drop).  Our B&B lent out seat pads and I would take advantage of your hosts’ generosity if it is offered; alternatively, buy a padded seat from one of the vendors outside (also makes a nice souvenir).  If you are on the stone seating further up it can get cramped so don’t get in too early or you’ll be squished up in the middle of a row.  Also, our question of why the flower hawkers along Liston were selling lighters was answered: they are for the little candles (handed out only to those on the tiered seating).  A lovely little tradition where the opera is started by everyone holding up lit candles.  Magical!  A huge ‘Aah!’ went up when the candles were lit and the lights went out.  But be careful as, once the opera starts, your attention is completely caught up and you are at risk of either burning your fingers or – Heaven forbid! – dropping it onto the person sat in front of you.  People are flammable, especially if they are clothed!

Also, please don’t use the flash on your camera during the performance – the plonker behind me kept doing that it annoyed the hell out of me.

We were lucky that this summer they went back to the original set design (for almost a decade or so, apparently, they have been using a contemporary set design that is more reminiscent of Star Trek…or did he say Star Wars?).

Little touristy bus-train thing: At 5Euros/person it should have offered more.  Seriously.  It isn’t a HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) and the piped information, what there is of it, is almost drowned by the sound of the bus-train rumbling over the roads.  And the ride – my teeth, head, and bum hurt by the end because all those cute little stones that make up the roads is crap for the bus which jostles and jolts constantly.  If you have bad hips or a headache just use the HOHO.

Buses: These roam all over the place and our hostess kindly explained how to use them.  Once you get on, go to the yellow box, press the red button and insert 1Euro 50.  This gives you an hour of travel.  Brilliant!

Trains: The train station is not far.  You could walk, but at 1Euro 50 you’d be mad not to take the bus.  A train to Venice takes about 1.5 hours which is perfect for a day trip – which had been my plan originally – and costs about 20Euros return.  Pisa, Rome and Florence take longer, obviously, but are worth considering if you have a yearning for leaning towers, the Vatican, the Colosseum or David.

Locanda della Secunda Balena: A little out of the way tratorria we had lunch at one day.  Well worth a visit – quaint, unusual decor; wonderful wines; freshly cooked food and great service.  Vicolo Balena, off Via Quattro Spade which is off Via Mazzini (the main thoroughfare from the Arena to Juliet’s Balcony.  In fact, whenever you can, eat at out of the way little family-run trattorias that serve fresh food.  I think that has ot be a general rule in Italy.

The Arena: Something I found very bizarre is that the sets for the various performances are lying about outside the arena – great photo opportunities.  I don’t understand why – they are constantly changing the sets because they mix up the performances.  From a time/labour-sensitive point it would make more sense to have a couple of weeks of Aida, followed by a couple of weeks of Carmen, etc.  Fabulous building, so if you aren’t going to see a performance then take a tour.

I won’t say much more about our trip except it was everything I hoped for and more.  So very much more.  If you ever get the chance to go to Verona then do it.  Don’t think twice about it.

 


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Bikini Lines

My strimmer’s broken – and yes, I did replace the wire!  This is the fourth one in as many years.  I know they’re not expensive but what a waste!  I’ve mowed the lawn but there is a definite unkempt look to the garden still which would have been helped greatly by the strimmer.  I call it the bikini line syndrome.  When the sun comes out bikini lines are the first thing that get tended to!

Men of a sensitive nature ought to leave this blog entry now.  The others will tut and… less said, I think.

Now, on a personal level I have decided that I am going to go down the laser route.  I hate shaving, waxing is sooooo painful and that sandpaper thing really just rubs me up the wrong way (pun definitely intended).  So, the next option is ipl.  Well, I made the decision and then realised something – while I wax, shave, etc at home, by myself, when it comes to ipl someone else has to do it!  So, eyes glued to the floor, I explained to her why I’d suddenly changed my mind, despite having showered, douched and showered again.  I’m shy when it comes to ‘that’ part of me.  It takes me months to work up the gumption to see the nurse for my smear test and I have to do that.  Of course the ipl lady thought I was a real nutcase.

So, the sun is shining and I’m going to relax, enjoy the rays and see how I feel on Monday.  Bikini Lines all intact – mine through shyness and the lawn’s because I’d rather pull the tab on a fizzy drink than shop for a strimmer.


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Where are my keys?

Keys-in-Fridge

As a child I was interested only in getting away from my parents, having fun outdoors, being allowed to stay up late and getting my hands on as many sweets as I could carry – I lived in a sugar-filled bubble. 

Friendships were only marginally important – as long as Ihad someone ot play with – until my teens and then it was incredibly important that I have time to see and talk and be with them, second only to my angst over failing exams, the death of the world, population explosions, and human tragedy stories – the world was a dark and violent place. 

We’ll skip over college because, apart from knowing you have to pass the finals, there is only one thing on our minds.  Well, three things. 

Then, studying was over and I worried about my job, size of my company car, my salary (in relation to everyone else’s), my holidays…whatever happened to my concerns about the dying planet and carbon emmissions?  I’d gone from deep to shallow in the space of one contract.

Then came mortgages and children – with sticky children nothing else has a chance to cling.

I never once worried about my decaying body but now it is my first thought as I creak open my eyes, roll over – because sitting straight up is now uncomfortable – hunch right over to search for my slippers – I can no longer stretch first thing – consider putting in a winch (or a contraption similar to Wallace’s) to haul me upright and shuffle into the bathroom, all the while trying to remember what day it is, how long I have to wake up properly and whether I’d foolishly promised to do something for someone first thing.  Morning sex is now restricted to holidays. (Okay, this is a lie).

My mother, at the age of 74, is extremely active.  I can see how tired she is, how much her bones and joints ache, but she never says a word.  She and her little coven regularly vanish off to the wilds of Gloucestershire to a meditation retreat where they have to lock away their mobile phones and problems for nearly two weeks at a time.  During that time the only contact we have with her is either via the centre itself when I have had to call and let her know her brother has died (yes, I did this more than once) or if she’s broken down on the way.  These women are amazing.  They just never stop.  They’re up with the larks and planning while my head is still trying to work out what day of the week it is.  How do they stop themselves from lying-in?  I feel as bemused by this as my eight year-old self wondering how adults stopped themselves from spending all their money in sweetshops. 

My body is already showing signs of wear and tear – take my hilarious decision to do the London to Brighton bike ride with my overweight body (what’s the point of forking out extra for a bike that is 20lbs lighter when I’m four stone heavier?), dodgy knees and anaemia?  But if it wasn’t for my decision to sign-up for the ride I wouldn’t be forcing myself out of my comfy bed at stupid O’clock on a cold, drizzly Sunday morning to ride 24 miles with friends.  And it is for my friends, because I don’t want to let them down – or so I tell myself – that I do it.  So, maybe I do know why my mother hauls her little group up to Gloucs ever few weeks.  They chivvy each other along. 

I still don’t get why she doesn’t moan about it.

So, while my brain is slowly forgetting everything it’s every learnt and the glue that allows new information to stick has dried to a fine powder, while my body screams at me that it’s not time to get up yet and while I can barely bend over to tie my shoelaces, my friends and family tell me I can do this and get up with me to slog our way over mile after mile of beautiful countryside.

In this week’s New Scientist is an article about brain degeneration and, being of an age when physical deterioration is very important to me, I flicked straight to it.  ‘If you believe fading brainpower is an inevitable part of growing older, think again,’ says Michael Ramscar and Harald Baayen.

They also say, ‘contrary to popular belief, neuronal loss does not play a significant role as we age.’

I shall have to find time to read this article in more depth.  In the meantime, that tea’s gone right through me…

(NB: picture from http://www.insightfortheblind.org/blog/?p=216)

 


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Tri Lubes and padded pants

I did it.  I went and signed up for the London-to-Brighton bike ride in June. 

fat_lady_on_bike

What was I thinking?  My average speed is 5.5 miles and hour and I puff and pant up every single incline (they can’t even be classified as hills!).  I have 12 weeks to prep and I started off by scaring myself silly by pulling down elevation stats and training schedules that would see me killing myself within a week.

I was thinking: I turn 50 this year and I really ought to get off my arse and do something before I have to start looking at the price of wheelchairs.  But perhaps I have overstretched myself.  Last year’s London to Windsor at 30 miles was a great ride, if tiring, but this one is a doozer in comparison because it goes up, up, up and then, when you think your calves, knees and lungs are about to collapse, Ditchling Beacon rears its pretty head. 

I’ve bought a new bike and have been reading blogs by ‘beginner’ riders who say if you start early you can get to Brighton by 10 am, have a lovely breakfast and head straight back.  Yeah, right.  Beginner, my very sore arse!

The weather has been glorious(ish) the last couple of weeks and I’ve ridden to work and back a couple of times.  Nowhere near enough.  It’s only 4 miles each way but it takes me close to an hour (which means an hour less much-needed-beauty sleep in the morning) and I’m exhausted by the time I get home.  I can’t even begin to include the hill and interval sessions.

I have a feeling the ride is going to take me a good 10 hours to do and I’ll be a sodden wreck by the end of it…and the finish line will have been packed away.

So, I shall record my less than awesome journey into the mind-fuck that is training for London-to-Brighton, so you can laugh your arses off at my expense.

I have a woman’s (apparently a euphemism for wide) gel saddle, with gel cover and padded cycle shorts.  The comfiest days are when I’m on so I have that extra bit of padding.  TMI? 

I bought a new bike (which I have to take in to be serviced because it’s stopped going into first – I have a feeling the bike is rebelling) and it is a lovely blue colour – colour is extremely important.  An ugly colour would be demoralising.  I bought a new windproof (lies, all lies) jacket and tight long trousers (because, you know, I just have to display all my wobbly bits to scare the other riders off the road) – except I forgot that I’d be riding on the roads and these new clothes are all black.  Not a hint of fluorescent piping in sight.  I therefore need a fluorescent tabard as well.

I went and bought a puncture repair kit.  Now, I have to wait for someone to show me how to use it.  I’ll need a puncture as well.

I’m going to need lights.  My daughter’s idea of using the torch on my touchscreen phone is not, I think, a sensible idea.  Part from which I’d need another to go on the back.

My friend Sarah shared her lovely seed cake (energy booster bars) recipe with me.  I made some and let my friends try it.  It was unanimously decided that Sarah shall henceforth make all the seed cakes because they have to be edible.

We’ve booked and paid for a hotel for the night before the ride and I’m already wondering what we’re going to do for breakfast (my stomach and my brain are very close; like BFF close).

My friends and I went on a lovely long bike ride along the shore front in Brighton a couple of weeks ago, ending in a ride up a very long hill back to my friend’s house.  She’s lucky she doesn’t get nosebleeds living so high. 

Last weekend I rode around locally and covered approx 16 miles.  This weekend I’m hoping to cover 24 miles and learn how to lube up gears and stuff.  Unless it rains. 

If it rains – and the weatherman assure us that this non-winter weather is about to slink back to it’s correct month – then I shall get onto my special trainer.  A triangular device that clamps onto the back wheel of the back and turns it into a stationary bike so you can train indoors.

If nothing else, it’s got me out of doing housework…except no-one else does it either so the house looks a complete tip…

By the way, can anyone tell me what to do with chamois creme?  Is it for your bottom or for your saddle?  Pun unintended.


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Companions Quartet Review

companion

For three years my daughter has been urging me to read the series (more so since Finding sky by Joss Stirling [alias pen name] became a hot favourite of mine) and I finally agreed. After the very first chapter I went to her and asked, ‘Are you sure I’m going to enjoy this? I mean, the main characters are in Year 6!’
Her reply: ‘Mum, you’re always asking me to give things a go, so please do the same. Go away, read and don’t come back until you’ve got to chapter 8. Anyway, the kids grow up!’ She didn’t see me for the rest of the evening.
I whizzed through those books, one straight after the other (the companions quartet is a series of 4 books) and am pleased to say they enthralled me to the point where I was very sad to read the last word.
The series covers everything I like in a teen book: paranormal, mythical beasts, magic (sort of), suspense, misunderstood teens, friendship struggles and, of course, the teeniest hint of romance (teeny because the hero and heroine are in their early teens and anything else would be inappropriate).
I’m now reading Dragonfly and after that The Ship Between Worlds.


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I cannot sing

Yes, it is, sadly, true.  Like so many of you out there I thought I had an okayish voice – despite being the only girl to be asked to sit out of the end-of-school song – until I heard it played back to me.  What an ear-opener.

But you know what?

I may not be able to sing, dance, play an instrument, paint or sculpt, but I can read and that is my door to freedom.

Now, I try to kid myself that I am able to write.  Whether I am a good writer, bad writer or merely competent is irrelevant because, like my singing, instrument playing and painting, I do it to assuage a desperate need in me to express myself.  If, by sheer fate, someone enjoys my efforts, then I shall smile and feel a happy little glow.  If not – ah well, that was not my aim and so I have lost nothing.

Do not let your apparent inability to perform hold you back.  Let your soul free for you lose nothing in the effort and gain everything in the experience.

 


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More sore arses

Richmond to Windsor 2013!  Yes, I did it!  Well, most of it, anyway.  Bike Events said the route was 29 miles, the commentator at the Finish Line said 27, but Map My ride, with its superior GPS, clocked me in at 33 miles – and that is discounting the additional 2 miles to get from Sarah’s house to the train station. 

The title of this blog is a lie: actually, my bum is perfectly fine mainly because I upped the padding factor using an overnight sanitary towel (sorry boys, a girls only thing) – many thanks to my darling daughter for giving me this handy tip – although after about 20 miles I did begin to feel uncomfortable.  It’s my right knee that took the brunt of it despite the brace I was wearing.  My man (thank you darling one) cheered us through the Finish Line armed with a fleece jacket (damn it gets cold when you stop), anti-inflammatories and an ice-pack.  We headed straight to Sarah’s (amazing stamina as she just kept going while I flaked out on the sofa) where she dished up burgers and some of her glorious plum crumble with ice-cream.  When I finally got home I dragged myself up the stairs and was greeted with a steaming bath.  [warm sigh]  I felt cherished.

So, I said earlier I did most of the course.  That is because at the first major hill my chain slipped off (no path to stop and deal with it).  I managed to get up the second hill in second whilst cursing my chain as I tried desperately to click to first and, before I knew it, we were at the top.  At the third hill I had to dismount halfway up because of traffic and walk up the pavement.  The final hill (I have my own personal name for it) was a doozer and I walked four fifths of it – even if I had been able to get my gear into first (yes, it was still playing up) I wouldn’t have attempted it – I could barely walk up it as it was.  So, I would say about half a mile was walked.

Humongous thanks to Sarah Ward (team leader and provider of the most delicious homemade energy bars – the carrot to my donkey arse) and Catherine Lawrence (if she hadn’t booked us on it we’d still be pootling around Windsor Great Park).  A little more hill practise and we’ll be ready to tackle London to Brighton…or at least we can kid ourselves we’re ready.

Do I have any tips?  Yes, if you’re new to cycling work out how to make the most effective use of your gears.  I thought I knew all about it, being used to driving, but I spent nearly half an hour yesterday reading about gear efficiency and boy was I wrong…now I just have to test it out.

Happy cycling.

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