Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Cancellara or cancelled? What will it be?



Finally the evenings have gotten long enough to cycle for hours before dark and with it come the midweek time trial leagues that crop up all over the country. Always a great way to get safely into cycle racing, these local, good humoured events are a gem. Yet rocking up to your very first can be a daunting experience. Don’t know your tri-spoke from your aero tuck? Here then, is a guide to help you get started against the clock.

Firstly, do not be intimidated! It is easy to feel inadequate at the dazzling cycling jewellery on display. And yes, there’ll be a dozen bikes that each cost more than your car. However, the dude astride more carbon than the HAAS F1 team might be able to quote savings of 10 watts over 20 kilometres but he was eating Red Cheddar by the pound last night so don’t be worrying! Time Trials are a test of yourself, not Cervelo’s latest offering. Your local time trial is nothing like Eurosport, so some riders may look like a Pepperami but most are far from typical. Portly, middle-aged, school-goers, 8 feet tall… the evening time trial has it all. So don’t let the one with the sports-balm slathered legs or ego the size of their gluteus maximus put you off.

Secondly, while aerodynamics are very important, it’s what you do with it that counts. So don’t be fooled! Of course there are helmets that resemble a stealth bomber over Iraq but if you constantly turn around to see where your rivals are then you may as well be wearing a hat like Doctor Seuss! If like me, you find all your jerseys have turned into skinsuits in recent years, then you are fine. However, there will always be the looks-like-a-gnarly-ex-pro fella pried into his extra small aero suit one size above a baby grow. He may look fast but he’ll be speaking like an 11-year-old Aled Jones in the weeks ahead. As regards overshoes, a recent study in the Mongolian Centre for Yak and Sports Research has shown that one millimeter of sock sticking out over the top of an aerodynamic overshoe will cost you half a second per 100 kilometres in a tailwind. Fact.

Thirdly, fitness is where it all starts. Ask yourself the following questions to test your fitness; Have you had the top-tube of your bike re-sprayed recently because your gut is rubbing the paint off? When you stand in front of a mirror does your frontal profile look lean yet your side profile look like you are in the second trimester? When standing, can you see your shoes? If, having answered these questions truthfully, you still want to race this evening then at least you are not lacking the fourth step;

Confidence; Did I tell you about the fella that regularly gets placed in the time trial leagues around here. On a standard road bike. With standard wheels. Wearing a standard helmet. That is confidence. Or as Boonen said, “Sometimes you don’t need a plan, you just need big balls.” You see, if you feel strong, have put in the work, believe in yourself, then….  You see, newcomers are often put off by the swish of disc wheels, the death-stares, the deep-veined legs resembling a map of the Mekong Delta. That’s all for show. At evening’s end, talent will out.

Fifthly; Time Triallists are an eclectic mix. Prepare yourself. When you roll into the carpark you’ll be accosted by every conceivable type. Just observe while describing them to yourself in a David Attenborough accent. There are the sixty-something retirees that do a hundred miles every other day and probably have an ass a blacksmith could use for an anvil. In the corner is the one doing it for fun with the handlebars higher than the saddle. These are the Fidos, as they sit up and beg. You’ll also find the Praying Mantis types, their fore-arms an inch from their heads as they ride their tri-bars in a scrunched up, unique style. You might meet Mister Bean, the agitated young fella on his eighth espresso; a man so caffeinated he can’t talk, sit or hold eye contact. And he won’t sleep tonight either. And don’t forget the Lisinopril candidate, stress central. Yes, there is always one with high blood pressure. Is my brake rubbing?!? Are the tyre pressures wrong because there is a cold front on the forecast?! Should I have gone for the 80mm front wheel instead of the 50mm?! Why is the Garmin not syncing?! Yes indeed, one man’s simple decision can be another’s tachycardia.

And you! Yes you! The newbie! Fresh to this game. First night at a TT and you will either A] Warm up too much and be empty after the start line. B] Talk too much, do no warm up and calve within a kilometre. C] Ask the organizer on eight occasions what your start time is. D] Lean too far over when the starter holds you and ride into a parked car when you hear the word ‘go!’ E] Overdo the pre-workout drink the muscle-bound silver-back in the gym swore by, and jump a five bar gate to slurry a field. F] Take a wrong turn and do the fastest time until someone realizes what happened. G] Really enjoy yourself, find your calling and wonder why you never did this before.

A few agonizing miles later and you cross the line buckled. The colour has drained from your face, your butt is shredded, the last time your heart rate was this high your doctor had mentioned a prostate exam. Yet suddenly, uncontrollably, that grimace transforms into a grin and you realise that pain has given way to a contentment rarely found. Turns out, everyone there has a similar story to your own to relate. On the way home you transform from a newbie to a member of the Time Trial Community, eagerly counting down the days to next week’s race.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Rude awakenings

 Today was some day. It may have been colder than a polar bear's bottom, windier than the morning after a tandoori and tougher than Chuck Norris' biceps, yet it was epic. What was it? The Barrow 100 Sportif. Last year's event had been scuppered by the bat-bug and with a later than usual April date this year, the crazed, lunatic-fringe of gladiators in lycra were away racing. Yet it was one of the quickest 100 kilometres any of us had ever done.

But like any good tale, there has to be a back-story. Mine was a quick spin on Friday evening to check that the bike was functioning correctly. I call it a weapons check. Long story short I tried to corner like they do in speedway on a greasy corner and wound up on the ground leaving a nice rare-steak tattoo on my hip and elbow. [Yes, the bike was fine]. Saturday I wake up to what a medic calls a haematoma, a sizeable swelling on the hip. Cue a heady mixture of nurofen, lines of antiseptic powder and enough plasters to start my own A+E. I crossed more than my fingers.

And then I wake up today to an overcast, scaldy-cold and ominous day. My road rash stings like an ex-girlfriend's memory. Two coffees and a bucket of Weetabix later I'm up to the sign on. And out of the woodwork and a grey sky came dozens of cyclists. Damn near a hundred. And with them came the smiles and laughs and happiness that comes from a bunch of half-crazy, cycling-mad brethren. You have to be slightly eccentric to face an event like that on a day like that and actually like it.

All the old faces were there too along with the wrinkle-free, whippet-bodied carefree youths that could be my adult kids. The safe hands had already sign-posted the route, done all the safety stuff and stocked the kitchen for later and as the sign-on closed the road opened in front of us. Once out the gate I could see the bunch stretched out like a conga line of Sunday warriors. Brave souls to face the biting wind. And we were treated like pros. A motorcycle outrider, a Garda car at every hotspot, respectful motorists and a lead and service car. Tour de France treatment indeed.

Then a chance to catch up with people I hadn't spoken to in ages. There are new babies to be discussed, new clubs, new tandem partners to be congratulated too. And there is of course the shared relief of being there, after surviving a Global pandemic. The cycling community is awesome. A chance too to ogle flash new bikes like Wayne Rooney would a granny. There I was surrounded by bling yet I felt immeasurably proud on my older machine, not just because I was there but because I was passing and leaving behind a few of them.(Really I felt like a local boy racer rubbing shoulders with Lewis Hamilton) And when we turned after 25km and had the wind with us I was sure I would be dumped ignominiously at the road-side, heaving for breath while being passed by a procession of beautiful steeds and their smirking I-told-you-so jockeys. The group whittled down and down and finally the speed died a little just before my legs did. I ate like an episode of Man vs Food. I held on tighter than Jack to that piece of wreckage in Titanic. I chased like Liam Neeson in Taken. Every kilometre north was another box ticked because the last time I'd been here I'm pretty sure I had Covid. I hadn't been able to breath back then and was out of the game quicker than a Ukranian farmer robbing a tank.

Onto the sinuous back road with so many bends and gut-churning twists I thought I was at Alton Towers. I was in a group of ten and desperate to make up ground. I cut every corner as long as I didn't hear screams of 'car!', 'oops!' or 'shiiiiite!' from those that had rounded the bend first. Soon in Bennet's Bridge I made the mistake of rolling through too hard to give the lad at the front a dig out. I over-estimated him and under-estimated the headwind and found myself hitting the wall soon after. 70km of happiness was followed by 30km of the man with the hammer hitting me everywhere. I got cramps in my cramps. My eyebrows were parted by the headwind from hell. If I sat too long my legs screamed 'stand up!' and if I then stood for too long they shouted 'Sit down!' Yet despite how ragged I was, when I saw PJ the motorbike outrider on a bend in Thomastown, I gave out to myself and cornered nicely, smiling of course, all for show you understand! The lead car soon passed and if Seamus had lowered the window to say hello I'd have been sitting beside him before he'd have gotten the window back up. I was passed by a couple of clubmates later, just slightly less beaten up than me but still on the ropes. The silence said it all.

And then I realised I was nearly home. I was still top twenty, still moving forward, still going. And that euphoria crept in. Like a soldier who's leave comes through after a month in the trenches. A sense of survival. A sense of achievement. Okay, I'd be walking like a hermit crab until Wednesday but....

And then I was home and dry and the crew was there and the pain disappeared and I had the chats and realised that the club had looked after everyone so well from start to finish, leaving nothing to chance. And I felt like the luckiest fella around. Soup and congratulations, biscuits and commiserations. Either way everyone was smiling. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Single track mind

As an event title,  'Nire Valley Drop' just doesn't do it. I suggest calling it 'AWESOME' instead. Let me explain;

To start with I need to confess to my ignorance. Not only did I not know what the event entailed, I didn't even know where it was really. My sister had done a lot of walking up around there but really I knew nothing. I was to learn fast. In no time I was slack-jawed at the hospitality, the camaraderie and the scenery. The Nire Valley is God's country. 

But don't let me bore you. Ever met an Irish DJ stripped to the waist in October and getting the crowd going like a night out at Manumission? Me neither. Ever met one at 9.30AM of a Sunday in Ballymacarbry, County Waterford? Definitely not! As we rolled into the carpark we were greeted by the smiling faces of 200 like-minded mountain bikers being entertained by said epic DJ. This may have set the tone....

 Everyone was smiling, some out of innocence, some from knowledge of what was to come. Sign on was a similarly light-hearted, uncomplicated affair. Chipped number attached to our bikes, we just soaked up the craic and the familiar faces until roll out. In terms of participants, of course there were the whippets ready to eat up the tracks and trails and be back before the last cyclist left the start. Behind them were the seasoned knobby-tired crew that did this stuff most weekends anyway. Then there were us. Myself and Mick were both going to treat this event with respect. I'd never done 'The Drop' and just knew it was a long event and climb-heavy. I had no idea there was a huge amount of single track. Mick knew the event but was worried about his fitness. I was to find out that we both needed each other's encouragement a lot that day.

Of course, rolling out towards the first trails two things struck me. One, the equipment around me made me nervous about my 480 euro Halfords hard tail. Would my Cambodian-made 29er be up to the second thing I noticed? Water. The rivers and streams we criss crossed were in flood. What would the trails be like? My budget tyres had limited grip. Think golf balls. Anyhoo... no turning back. We climbed slowly for the first third, chatting and encouraging with only occasional relief showing up in the form of easy bits. But once that first hour was done it was single track craziness/ fire road climb/ single track craziness/ fire road climb for nearly 3 whole hours. 

Mick had started out as a downhiller and as we shuddered uphill, fatigued and flat, as soon as single track snaked off into the woods he was on it like a mongoose. He came alive and I had to follow. Walking your bike was simply not an option so I switched my inner chimp off and dived after Mick into the undergrowth. That's ok but did I mention it had rained? Incessantly? Biblically? I actually don't know how I stayed up. Probably speed. A couple of early sections were probably made by a turf cutter going in a straight line for hours. Six inch deep ruts, six inches wide. With mud, Remember when you nearly lost your welly in a sucky, sloppy quagmire at the Ploughing Championships when you were ten? Yep. That. On a bike. And just when physics was about to stop you dead, the woods spat you out onto a fire road and up you went again. Smiling. You just had that feeling that you were being pursued by slop and water and gloop and it would get you if you slowed. Honestly, the hairs were up on the back of my neck for most of the afternoon.

Wet feet. Miserable wet feet. Nobody likes wet feet. And then you get on a mountain bike and you're disappointed at spin's end if anyone can identify the brand of shoes you began the day with. If they ain't brown and squelchy you really should be golfing. I knew there were a number of stream crossings. I'd seen YouTube videos and everything was fairly conservative. Nothing 'GNARLY' as Mick put it. And then I shot into one that wasn't a stream but a torrent in full spate. Ever watch your tyres disappear, quickly followed by your brake discs, chainset, shoes and both gear changers? Only for momentum I'd be washing up in America around about now. I'd passed a fellow competitor a minute before and as I tried desperately to climb up and over the other side I was treated to the blood-curdling shriek of her surprise at the depth and cold of said crossing. I laughed out loud. And promptly hit a tree in a wet, wooded, rooty section. This Nire Valley gift just kept on giving.

After some incredible little loops we realised we were  getting there, but getting cold and getting hungry. Mick rifled the banana stop and refilled on water while I wolfed jelly babies. A friend of mine reckons 4 jelly babies equals a gel. A quick calculation with ten kilometres left said I had eaten 13 gels at the last stop.

Some of the trails were high up now, flat and 100% rideable. Some were low down trails through wet pasture, slinking around saplings, logs and roots. You got the feeling your body could go on but your concentrated mind was tiring, the alertness to danger flashing red lights constantly. There was a fantastic last real run of nearly a kilometre with rocks, water, drops and a stream and it was sublime. We knew we were getting to the end and everything just fell [literally] together. I felt proud as hell of my budget bike as we passed more than one dual-suspension jewel. We both let loose down there, gravity being our friend for a change, and headed off to the last, super-mucky challenge through the woods. 

About 150 participants had gone through ahead of us and slowly the last section through those woods had been churned to a bad butter consistency. Now don't forget that I'd mentioned that my tyres had the grip of an eel on speed. So I watched in horror as Mick [Whose tyres were really knobbly] sailed down in slow motion and headed through the ticker tape at the end without being able to stop. I grabbed both brakes to prevent myself sharing the same fate. Too late! I shimmied to the left and kept her up, dabbing my foot to regain balance. Honestly, Strictly Come Dancing hasn't seen a similar move. My weight shifted to the other side, while my tyres laughed at my hopes they would grip anything. Over I went, and down I went... into the shite and pine needles. My only fall in nearly 40 kilometres! The bike was a bit twisted but ran perfectly and I got going again 10 metres down below where it levelled. 

And then we were out and directed onto the hardtop road to the finish. We laughed and congratulated each other for we had both had bad moments up there where the self-belief had deserted. But we'd come through. We rolled back into town where we could wash the bikes, shower, have a meal or a catch up. Everyone in the queue to wash the bikes laughed and congratulated and couldn't believe their luck. That had been an AWESOME day! We laughed as we hosed ourselves clean as much as the bikes.

On the drive home we got to thinking about how the event caught the imagination. The setting and challenging terrain obviously. But really it was the community. Every group or club in the area had something to gain from our entry or our presence. That explained how everyone got involved. From the trail makers to the caterers and commitee, to the marshals standing in multiple middles-of-nowhere to direct or feed or encourage us. Everyone smiled. And as a result I haven't stopped smiling myself since.

Anyhoo, when does next year's entry open?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Dig me a plot

 Standing outside the church in Rathgarogue in a pool of my own sick is not how I spend my average Tuesday lunchtime. If I wasn't wearing Lycra or straddling a bike I could just be the local alky. Instead I'm a heaving, wrecked shell of the man I was eight minutes earlier. 

You see, I was trying to beat a record time on a Strava segment. And I'd nearly lost my mind. 

For the uninitiated, Strava is an App where you can record your exercise. I cycle, so I can see the distance, elevation etc. of any spin I go on. And to make it interesting there are segments, point-to-points that pop up, allowing you to try and beat them. The fastest are called KOMs. I like this element and I use it to measure myself against other cyclist's fitness or quite often, to see where my fitness is compared to other times I've ridden that segment. Strava is great because it can liven up training and really challenge you. 

So why did I nearly lose my mind? Segments are often named. And my nemesis just happens to be called 'Dig me a plot'. Not surprisingly it passes two graveyards, has a vast array of elements, conditions and elevations to deal with, is the hardest segment I've ever done, the most rewarding, the scariest, the one that finds your weaknesses. And until this morning I was obsessed. Obsessed because I wasn't the fastest. In fact, I'd given up on it. I'd fired every marginal gain at it in order to find extra seconds. Over the last while I'd had a few shots at it and fallen in love with the toughness of that stretch of road but felt it was beyond me. I reckoned I needed a westerly gale, tubulars, weight loss, no bottles, a skinsuit and luck to get it. I was wrong.

Let me explain why this strip of road drove me crazy. Firstly it starts up a rough, pock-marked, pot-holed hill that is hard to sustain any effort on. It eases a bit but then bites back. Over a false flat at the top it turns into an eyeballs-out screaming-along classics back lane that must be hit at top speed, for here is one of only two rapid sections. So the Amstel Gold climb has been followed by a Ghent-Wevelgem streak that saps any chance of recovery. Turning a tight right and hoping not to get hit by a car you are into a smooth boreen, passing the first graveyard. This road doesn't wait long before starting to rise in increments. At this point, passing the lodge entrance to a stately home, your body breaks down or breaks through. The hill hits hard and digs in, a real Ardennes effort... you either come to a standstill or get a rhythm and battle on. I usually blow halfway up. 

If you survive the hill then you must once more floor it as the road levels and then winds slightly downhill and runs to the second church. For the 90 seconds you are on that section you are ostensibly Flandrian.  You can't see the open fields and shelter belts but they are there. You, only see the next 50 feet. 

It all ends there. The pain, the doubt, the white noise. And I'd grown sick of not being good enough. So today I met Paul, a college student that I've been mentoring over the Winter and we went out there with a plan. He started before me and was waiting patiently at the top of the first climb. Instead of me burning all my matches before halfway I hung on behind my Baracchi Trophy teammate and was delivered onto the second climb with something left in the tank. It wasn't wind, tyre pressure or caffeine. It was teamwork. I never cycled as fast in my life and as I write this I'm paying for my efforts. Vomit is one thing; jelly legs, wheezing lungs and muscular pain another. The relief of just finishing eight minutes of horror is forgotten in the frenzy of hoping you are a (temporary) God and the afterglow of psychosis. It has filled your waking hours for weeks and really isn't healthy. 

But Strava KOMs are not trophies you get to keep. In fact quite the opposite. They become targets. I aimed to beat the fastest time and it stands to reason that will be my fate too. We don't own segments, we just keep them (virtually) polished for the next winner.

 But I learned a valuable lesson today. I am not as good as I thought I was. I threw everything, absolutely everything at it and at some point all my efforts will come to nothing. Cyclists aren't normal anyway but the focus and time needed to achieve even small goals borders on mental illness. And as early as tomorrow I might get that notification that someone has taken my KOM. I can think of a bunch of locals that will wipe the floor with that time. I'm gonna give trying to top leaderboards a break and look over the ditches for a while. When my breathing gets back to normal. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

The day I beat Eddy Merckx. (updated)

 True story.

In 1994 Sean Kelly finally hung up his wheels after one last paycheck and disappeared into the anonymity of life near Carrick on Suir. Or so he thought. Except a whole generation of cyclists had been reared on him. Like babies on SMA, any kid of the eighties grew on Kelly's exploits in France, Spain and of course... Belgium. And there was no way they were going to let him disappear without a celebration. 

Let's not mess around here. Belgium is an absolute bitch to break. If you can read, race and retaliate in any Flandrian bike race you are a GOD.

And he did. Rode the northern classics with cobbles and climbs like they were his local loop.

Yes, he placed in the Tour de France over 3 weeks, won a heap of green jerseys and defeated Spanish combines to win the Vuelta in '88. But in truth every shitty, Belgian-toothpaste race he rode in the '80s struck a chord in every Irish cyclist 'coz there was always shite roads, rain, nasty locals and ridiculous politics. We could relate. But in '94 he'd said goodbye. 

In previous years there had been hamper races,  Christmas spins to showcase local talent and to keep the heart lit through the winter months. On his retirement, a slightly more amped up version was organised. A day of farewell and thanks for the quiet fella who'd carried the love of a nation.

Although it was more than a quarter century ago I remember it like it was this morning. Funny, I remember my club mates being there and the atmosphere. Tension. Expectation. Split into two parts, over a thousand were there just to say hello and thanks but towards the end the minority were there to race. 

Kelly? Sure thing. But there just happened to be a few continental whippets along for the celebration. Fignon, daSilva, Roche and his younger brother Laurence. Hinault, de Vlaemick, Criquilon, Earley and Kimmage. Oh, and Eddy Merckx. So what was I doing there?

 I'd been surviving in Dublin on Koka noodles and KVI bread and was hitting the Dublin mountains on my bike to escape reality as often as possible, coming home beaten by the climbs of the Hell Fire Club, the Sally Gap or Enniskerry. And when I cycled those climbs I was Kelly. If you've seen me cycle you'll know I lack the smooth style of Roche. I am someone fighting my bike. I am Kelly. 

  A whole bunch of us were down from New Ross. My besties and the oldies. And it was all fun and games until a flag dropped on the run back to Carrick. Out of nowhere the speed trebled. Kelly and his peers were up front and gone while the rest of us tried to get on terms. There were crashes and quitters and catastrophes. Bodies everywhere. Yes I did think I would die and yes, it was like that scene in Forrest Gump. Remember? He is ambushed in Vietnam and runs with the wounded while mortars are exploding left, right and centre? Well in Carrick I was Forrest. But I didn't get a Congressional medal of honor, my medal was staying upright. 

I was ok. I was light and ignorant. At one point someone went down hard in front of me and slid along, removing skin. And I'd normally pull over and figure it wasn't worth it. But that day was special. I'd switched off my common sense button. I bunny-hopped the poor fella on the ground, stayed up and got on to the back of the bunch drilling into Carrick. I was part of the group that was last onto the circuit before they pulled over the barricade to close the circuit. Or so I thought. Coming around a kilometre later I noticed the barricade being opened to let a certain Eddy Merckx through!

I cannot remember how many short circuits there was over the 2 bridges but I remember having a short circuit while sparring with Stephen Roches brother every lap. I would climb quicker off the bridge and he would roll faster on the flats. He wasn't long after retirement and I beat him to the finish after a ding-dong, elbow-to-elbow into the last corner. And I beat Merckx. That's not a boast really, he was as beer-barrel-bellied and slovenly then, as I am today. But still it was knees out on the corners and feeling like a pro turning onto the main street every lap. No air in my lungs, out of my mind with fatigue. I loved it. Top gear for 90% of each lap. It hurt real good.

And half a lap ahead the real men were winning. Kelly first of course. And there was an enormous crowd in the square and Kelly was hoisted on Fignon's shoulders I think. Phil Ligget did MC.

But it was the buzz. 1500 cyclists just wanted to thank Kelly. The feeling of goodwill was enormous. The colour, the anticipation. I can't remember what I wore or said or how I just made the cut but I do remember the feeling of relief at making the circuit being short-lived as it just got faster and faster. And the spin home and banter afterwards, feeling part of an event and a sport that was enormous. And only now do I realise that it was the zenith of cycling for me. I never ever felt as alive on a bike as I did that day. Or as a part of something. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

No man is an island.

 I was never a big fan of the poet, John Donne. That's not to say he wasn't a cool dude and all-round magic wordsmith. It just so happened that he was one of those poets that I was force-fed in school and he became a hate figure along with pythagoras and James Prescott Joule. In short I refused to understand them and mentally I fell out with them. 

But this isn't a journey back to my adolescence, the bruises and blackboards. In fact John Donne has only sprung back into my life twice since 1988 when I finally collected enough brain cells to escape secondary school. Donne showed up in a Hemingway novel I read in 1999 and in the Lidl car park yesterday. 

Lidl? Well, it was a quick conversation I had with an old friend. And as we parted, that line of Donne's, 'No man is an island' popped into my brain. Because in this time of Pandemic and uncertainty and media-manipulation I had come to feel isolated. In eight months I, like many others, have lost direction. And before you slam down your device,  I'm well aware that worse things have happened in those months. However, I've lost a little too. Lidl got me thinking. No, not about battery operated drills and cheap bread. About feeling like an island. I cycle on my own. Do the shopping to keep the risk to my family at a minimum. I jump when the doorbell rings. I cross the street or step off the path to avoid people. Nobody has come in for a coffee in damn nearly a year! I've become comfortable with short, distanced chats. As a family we go out of our way to walk alone. 

But this isn't about me. 

I teach spectacular kids and have a lot of fun. But if it took a conversation in a Lidl parking space to help me realise I'm not alone and I'm a useful cog in the world's workings, then how are my students feeling? From my half-century-old perspective I can only begin to imagine. I have no concept of the depth to which mobile phones and social media have devastated the social ability of those I teach. I don't even want to accept that every single time I see teenagers together or alone in the street they are looking at the phone, guided by it like it's a map. Technology has become the focal point. And this is hard for me to take. When I was sixteen a sense of humour, a taste in music, a knowledge of motors or football or a fashion fad defined us. If you couldn't keep a conversation going or tell a story against yourself, then you were dull. 

Now? You have to laugh at what everyone laughs at. The awkward silences are filled by instant internet gratification. A machine provides the laughs, likes and memories. And media makes people scared.

And if you throw a Pandemic, lockdown, homeschooling and isolation into the mix then where are we? At least the students I teach could have the banter when in school. Feel part of something. Have an identity in some way. Now I worry that those formative years will be at best a case of arrested development. Kids trying their best to be assimilated into college or work won't have the natural abilities that come from interaction and socialization. 

I can meet a friend randomly at the supermarket and reconnect. At one point in my life I was connected. But what if you never have? College by internet? Jesus, I'd have jumped ship. No kicking a ball in the field or sneaking out to share a slab of Dutch Gold with the lads as a right of passage? Will the world soon be remote working, remote thinking, socially retarded individuals?

Maybe I'm too juiced up on caffeine, fear and old age. I need to remember that my fifth years make me laugh and relentlessly put me in good mood. They show up to online classes and use that energy that only they have to up the ante every time. They don't know the positive effects they bestow upon me.

And the other thought that plays on my mind; war. The Irish never had a war of their own. Is that a bad thing? I dunno. Always struck me that the further east you go, the quicker people mature. Think about it. All the Baltic states, Russia, those places saw atrocities and barbaric sights that gave the survivors a critical sense of living and getting on with it. To them, life is fleeting, tenuous at best. Maybe this will be the outcome for our present young people? Maybe this is their war? Maybe Covid is a monster reality check that will kick start a whole new mindset? Maybe they won't be a lost generation. Maybe they'll be the first Irish generation that are really alive and switched on and devoid of all our Irish generational baggage?

I can only hope. I think this whole mess will make us stronger, help us switch on. Some of us anyway. 

Maybe I lost sight recently, maybe I'm not an island. Or at least, I hope to always be in sight of the mainland. Maybe if the young make it through it will be a balm for all of us? They might just drag us all ashore. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Urban myth 10

We were having too much fun to notice. The DJ set was sublime for the venue, the crowd was hopping considering it was mid-week at the Ormond, Club UFO. I'd come from work via the pub and I was letting loose, knowing I'd pay for my few hours of physical efforts on the dance floor the next day. 

I wasn't high. Probably half the crowd were the same. Anyone that had a job to go to wouldn't be high in a club on a Wednesday. I was there that night because I worked with one of the DJs, John D. And he had spun up an old-skool storm. I don't have rhythm on a dance floor but I can move to rave 'til the lights are switched off. 

And that was how we didn't notice them. Two near the speakers and two near the toilets. Wearing an Hawaiian shirt uniform. I had a pain in my face from smiling, my mates were giving it large and then the music stopped abruptly just before the bass dropped on a 'toon. There were shouts of disappointment followed by shouts of disbelief followed by fear. In ten seconds we were face down on the floor, hands by our heads. Bass buzzed in my ears still. I remember thinking how stupid the drug squad was to raid a midweek rave with hardly any ecstasy. Big clubs were awash with the stuff at weekends. Nobody I was with had necked a pill except Baz. And that was Aspirin because he had a toothache. I felt relief.

Then I turned to my right. Ed. A sheer look of horror on his face. He was a motorcycle courier from the westside and had been involved in a few dodgy moves around town. I'd seen him at the rave but we weren't hanging out together. I could see he had a right to be horrified. He was gripping a tiny bag, one of those you get the tiny IKEA washers in now. The bag contained 3-4 pills. He was going down for possession, no doubt about it. The guards were going through the crowd, getting everyone to empty pockets. They were getting close. I stared at Ed, feeling sorry for him although not too much because I was pretty sure he'd helped stage a robbery weeks earlier when the wages drop in work was taken at gun point.

He looked to see where the four Magnum P.I.s were in the room. Closer. And with a sleight of hand you wouldn't see in a poker game, he flicked the tiny bag at my head. Now I was going down for possession. Ed's head turned away from me. He had just completely done me over and didn't want to look at me. My peripheral vision told me I had five seconds before the cops would get to me. I covered the bag with my hand, and moved it down by my side  I glanced for that one second to make sure there were no eyes on me. With a twitch that resembled the tiniest frisbee in the world being thrown I skimmed the bag through the air and watched it land between Ed's legs. What had probably taken a couple of seconds felt like an eternity. My heart rate was so high it was as though I'd swallowed every one of those pills.

Ed twitched and moved his legs in panic. His face was turned away from me but I could picture his expression. And because he twitched and spasmed with pure fear, the detectives were on him quickly. Latex-gloved hands found the baggy. Ed was hoisted to his feet. He managed to give me a brutal heel into the ribs as he stood, without the cops noticing but the damage was done. He and two others left in cuffs. 

I helped John D pack up his stuff. Our sullen group discussed the whole episode. I thought about Ed as I nursed my ribs. Couldn't believe he'd do that. But then reality woke me up and I knew he could do worse. 

I freewheeled into work the next morning, called dispatch over the radio as I sipped my coffee outside Bendini and Shaw. As I waited for my first job Ed pulled up on his clapped out Honda, fag in mouth. I glared at him. I put my bike down and started across towards him, red rage guiding me. Another motorbike courier pulled up beside him. I stopped. Ed spoke.

"Ah Jaysus! How's the ribs?" He flicked the fag out into the oncoming traffic and drove away.