mythical state of

during the initial days of lockdown, through no fault of my own, i was arriving home with an average speed notably higher than had erstwhile been the case. though i'm not a numbers sort of chap who keeps copious notes concerning such matters, casual observation showed that i was at least 3kph faster than usual, yet i had made no specific attempt to ensure this was the case. the most likely excuse for such untoward happenings was the considerable reduction in motor traffic on the island.

though you might think this to make little difference to velocipedinal trajectories, with most of the days' parcours crossing the substantial network of singe track roads, meeting oncoming traffic would usually entail stopping at a passing place to allow safe passage. the trick, if i remember, is to come to a total halt; at such point, the garmin stops counting. however, in order to refrain from unclipping, most of us usually roll slowly along the passing place, accelerating when the road is clear. it's the latter practice that most affects an average speed.

mythical state of

with fewer cars on the roads, passing places could be insouciantly passed, leaving the garmin to record higher numbers at the end of a day's cycling. since 15 july, when tourism was once again encouraged in scotland, the traffic increased exponentially, and the average speed descended to its former embarrassingly low number.

but, in the words of ronnie corbett, appearing in the frost report many years ago, "i know my place". watching stages of le tour, the onscreen telemetry would advise that the peloton, frequently led by wout van aert, is often to be seen riding tempo in excess of 50kph, chatting to each other about garden sheds, the price of supermarket food, or whether that creaking noise is from his bike or their bike? and during friday's enforced echelons, with a cross tail wind at one point, the peloton were riding at 70kph.

mythical state of

i feel no shame in admitting that i have never in my life, reached 70kph, even downhill with a galeforce tailwind. were i to somehow reach that velocity on flat roads, i guarantee i could not hold it for longer than a few seconds. the difference in power between the professional riders in the world tour and you and me (more specifically, me) is within the realms of mythology. despite their youth and training schedules, i have no idea how they can achieve such speeds day after day, no matter the terrain across which they're cycling.

though the northernline have named their 2021 calendar 'the gods have spoken', it's a description that scarcely seems as far fetched as you might think. at the top level, the professionals are living in the mythical state of...

mythical state of

which is why, i'm presuming, that portland's daniel wakefield pasley, he of 'yonder journal' and manual for speed' has entitled his current venture mythical state of. ostensibly, mso consists of an online shop, offering jerseys and shorts, t-shirts, socks, caps, bottles, prints and other necessary cycling paraphernalia. in essence, that's no different than many other online offerings, except daniel's mythology offers a tinge of eccentricity.

a quick look round the velo club peloton, and i tend to think we're every bit as conservative as are you, demonstrates a range of cycle clothing unlikely to attract the attention of the uci's fashion police. but, assuming that we're all comfortable with standing out as cyclists in the first place, surely in today's society, classed as at least mildly eccentric, should we not be willing to confirm the suspicions of the civilian population? presuming you agree, allow me to introduce the garmentage purveyed by mythical state of. riders of a nervous disposition may wish to approach the website with trepidation, and it could be a case of plucking up the courage to a) click the buy button and b) feel confident enough to wear it when it arrives. and should you fancy a 15% discount, just sign up for the free newsletter.

of such idealism is mythology carved.

mythical state of

monday 7 september 2020

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that was my idea

look out. they're behind you

the company for which i worked as a student, offered a monthly 'chairman's prize' awarded to the employee who came up with an idea that could potentially benefit the company. in most cases, these revolved around methods of improving certain services, or a notable means of reducing costs at some point of the food chain.

at the time, i was in the habit of posting a weekly cartoon on the staff canteen noticeboard, usually poking fun at the company management (with which, thankfully, they were usually ok). however, as the time neared to judge the month's chairman's prize, i posted the very notion that would surely have saved a considerable amount of money over the course of a year.

'the waterproof tea bag'.

instead of the waiters and waitresses filling a silver teapot with a couple of ordinary teabags for each post meal order, they could now simply dunk a waterproof teabag and retrieve it for use in the next pot. obviously enough, this could continue pretty much all year, freeing up untold space in the storeroom, and reducing the weekly tea bag order. you can only share my astonishment when the prize was awarded elsewhere in the company, while i received not a single word of approbation from the directors' boardroom.

some people are just so hard to please. and you'd think that those responsible for all manner of strategic and economic decisions affecting a multi-national enterprise would display a tad more business perspicacity.

the situation severely dampened my entrepreneurial spirit, and any other sure-fire ideas that have occurred in the interim have simply been left to wither on the vine. though i have read often of rounds of funding benefitting the likes of facebook, twitter, tesla and netflix, not for me the potential humiliation of inventing the successor to the post-it note. it's a little known fact that i invented the handlebar-mounted gps unit in the late 1980s, but with dampened spirits, i left its commercialisation to garmin. (i might have made that up)

however, my latest cycle-related invention may surprise you just a smidgeon, given that it concerns the current flavour-of-the-month indoor cycling genre. though i have never once experienced the delights of watopia in the flesh, careful observation (of their tour de france advertising) has flagged up what i believe might be a glaring deficiency in the system.

regular outdoor cyclists will presumably recognise the travesties engendered by riding even at half-throttle into a headwind. the roar of fast moving air passing the ears, pretty much obliterates recognition of any sounds coming from behind. on two-lane roads, this is less of a problem, but on islay's single track roads, one has to employ the tactic displayed by track sprinters in riding forward while looking behind. in this case, far from judging an opportune moment to make a break for the line, this has more to do with self-preservation.

tattooed onto the inner eyelids of the velo club, are the locations of every passing place on the island. a well-timed rearward check will save the likelihood of a motorist attempting to pass at an unsuitable moment. there have been many variations on the rear-view mirror brought to market, but i have yet to find one that works as advertised. we in the pelotonese prefer the tried and tested method of simply looking back every now and again.

yet, i have noticed that the watopiated on-screen animations featured on your favourite indoor cycling app, show only those riders leading from the front. my extremely clever idea about which i will surely enter negotiations with commendable zwiftness (see what i did there?), is to site a second screen behind the smart (ass) turbo trainer that will display the riders coming up from behind, or those whom you have left in your dust. seemless animation will bring them into forward view as they pass. there's no real reason why the whole scenario couldn't be moved inside a ventilated box, displaying a surrounding view as if you were actually there in the simulated outdoors. suddenly, there would be no reason to ever ride outdoors ever again.

you're welcome.

sunday 6 september 2020

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we are being served

new drumset

admit it. how many of you would know how to tune a drum? it's a question aimed not only at the great unwashed, but at drummers themselves. however, you ought to feel perfecty safe, because i have no intention of explaining how to do so in these black and yellow pixels. however, if you'll bear with me for a paragraph or two, i'll explain why this is relevant.

i'm sure i've made previous mention of my occasional role at the local high school, where i tutor higher drumming once a week. now that the schools have returned following summer holidays, i have once again resumed my rightful place on a stool beside the floor tom. this year, at higher level, i have only one student, who i thought, preferred playing guitar (it's necessary to study two instruments at higher level), but who surprised me by having purchased a brand new drumset between last week's lesson and this.

maybe i'm good at this after all?

that drumset, purchased through the school, was delivered earlier this week, and the music teacher called to ask if i would be so good as to assemble the kit and tune each drum, prior to its collection by the boy's parents. not one to turn down the opportunity to pretend it's christmas, i attended school an hour or so earlier to commence construction of the metallic blue drumset from its pile of boxes. and here's where it becomes relevant.

in the early 1990s, a friend and i expanded our cycle repair business to incorporate bicycle sales, ordering early models from the giant bicycle corporation and from the original muddy fox. bicycles from both arrived in small cardboard boxes, inside which they were wrapped in miles and miles of bubble wrap. once removed, each cycle required the fitting of stems, handlebars, gear levers, bar grips, front wheels, saddles, seatposts, pedals and often the brakes. in essence, this ultimately led to my discontinuing offering bicycles for sale.

correctly assembling all of the above and offering a post sales, six-week service to tighten gear and brake cables etc., added probably a couple of hours' work that was essentially unpaid. due to my slightly remote location, carriage was often higher than it would have been for a similar mainland operation, yet the bicycles had usually to be sold at the manufacturer's rrp, meaning it soon became more of a hobby than a commercial business.

though i am no longer involved in the buying and selling of bicycles, i do have occasion to receive them for the purposes of review on thewashingmachinepost. in the early years, these arrived in the boxes in which they had sailed from taiwan. but almost invariably, they had been pre-built and checked by the uk distributor, often only necessitating a straightening of the bars, affixing my own pedals and inserting the seatpost and saddle, after removing the often minimal packing materials.

but things have improved even from there. nowadays, review bicycles - and, i'm led to believe, customer purchased mail-order models - arrive in enormous cardboard boxes on which it's probably necessary to pay council tax. inside, the bicycle is pretty much ready to go, with no packaging whatsoever. only the handlebars need slotted into the stem and the saddle lowered from its frequently elevated position. thus, assuming you can remove and replace the four allen bolts on the stem faceplate, or know someone who can, buying a new mail order bicycle is easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

receiving a mail order purchased drumset, it seems is dramatically less user friendly. the bass drum, the largest of any drumset, is sent devoid of both front and rear drumheads, drum hoops and tuning bolts, simply to allow the floor tom to be sat inside. the drumset mentioned in my introduction, was an entry level model, more often than not, i'd imagine, bought by those with little experience, yet left not only to fit both drumheads, hoops and hardware, but to tune them once complete. though all three toms were fitted with heads top and bottom, they were not 'properly' tuned, and the snare drum, probably the most difficult to deal with, was not tuned at all.

there is a strong case for advising both bicycles and drumsets to be purchased from stores dealing specifically with either. they have the expertise to set them up properly and advise the buyer about the best way to enjoy their new purchases. however, real life being what it is, bargains can always be had online, in which case, whatever you buy, is going to arrive in a box. as cyclists, for what it's worth, we seem to be considerably better served by the bicycle industry, than is the next generation of vinnie colaiutas or thomas langs.

saturday 5 september 2020

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nothing to see here

contemplation of nothing

there have been numerous releases from various cycling bodies, ostensibly concerned with cycling as a commuting or leisure activity, where they, presumably inadvertently, described cycling as a sport. obviously enough, there is a sporting component, but unless there's an official finish line somewhere along the parcours, the rest of it is 'just' an activity.

but what if cycling could be considered a non-activity? i am not advocating wholesale freewheeling; adopting the downhill mountain biking method of rolling to the foot of the hill before catching a ski-lift back to the top. i was thinking of considering cycling as a sort of meditative practice, where the physical aspect is still involved, but as a secondary aspect. in such a case, the principal purpose would thus become philosophical, considering bike riding essentially as a means of essentially 'doing nothing'.

to a certain extent, that is already the case for many participants on the sunday morning ride, given that such is rarely given over to the betterment of one's physical aspects, or improvements such as rouleur or grimpeurship. or perhaps sprintship. if i might dissect this sabbath activity, there is most often a meeting point, an intended route, a coffee stop and a warm shower at the arrivée. essentially, it is the art of cycling in circles, with no specific objective and no particular time in which to do so.

i ask this question in the knowledge that the university of fine arts in hamburg is currently offering scholarship places to students intent on 'exploring and developing the concept of 'active inactivity'. i'm rather hoping that the university department will be flexible enough to allow a modest rearranging of the directive, perhaps allowing for 'inactive activity', a phrase that i think better describes the average sunday morning bike ride. that way, it would be permissible to ride hard (i'm thinking of the headwinds that will inevitably arrive, sooner rather than later) yet maintain a head that excludes the whirring cadence below and does, essentially, nothing.

think of it as a tour de france time-trial, where riders and audience are in similar accord.

of course, it would be seriously iniquitous if we were not to be financially rewarded for the strenuous task of doing nothing. successful applicants to hamburg university can expect to receive a one-off stipend of €1,600 for their non-existent duties. yet it's scarcely simply a case of riding your bike devoid of intent; there are four questions to corral this inactivity. what do you not want to do? for how long do you not want to do it? why is it important not to do this thing in particular? and finally, why are you the right person not to do it?

i think, by this point, i have offered sufficient in the way of advice to those of you keen to apply for this potential period of indolence. but should you find yourself dithering, overseen by design theorist (?) friedrich von borries, the scholarship will be accompanied by an exhibition entitled 'the school of inconsequentiality: towards a better life.' by january next year, scholars will be expected to deliver an experience report into their particular aspect of inactivity.

for those unsure as to the point of what seems like a total waste of time (in every sense of that phrase), it's hard to escape the observation that cycling has become obsessed with with measurements, rankings and the quantifying of activity. this can be adequately illustrated by the on-screen telemetry seen during the belated three weeks in france. at one time, it would have been thought more than sufficient simply to view each day's racing. now that we are modern-day sophisticates, we (allegedly) demand more. and should you avert your eyes from the screen even for a moment or two, social media will forcefully intervene. no longer (if ever it was true) is there any emphasis placed on learning to sit still.

for instance, during the lengthy intermediate stages of any grand tour, where the breakaway will be left hanging until 15 kilometres to go, those with little or no interest in sprinting at the end, and who have not been handed mid-race team tasks, can be seen chatting amongst themselves distractedly if not conscientiously. you have to agree that this is hardly conducive to a stillness of mind. yes, that telemetry may convey the peloton's speed to be in excess of 50kph, but there is also too much activity going on up top. whatever happened to directed passivity and untrammeled tranquility.

those of us who have no great desire to relocate to hamburg, might still wish to aim our concentrations in directions such as those described above during the sunday morning ride. granted, such concentrated tranquility might not ingratiate oneself with the rest of the peloton, but when there are higher aims and €1,600 at stake, a few hours isolation is surely worth it?

friday 4 september 2020

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commercial brake


there are few sports in the world that could survive without commercial sponsorship. to all intents and purposes, this has created a 'symbiotic' relationship between commerce and sport, where the former desires to proselytise its range of products or services by having it emblazoned on jerseys, bicycles, helmets and team cars. with an increase in televised coverage of cycle sport, at the top end at least, this often becomes a cost-effective way of passing on the message, ostensibly to a receptive audience. presumably cycling fans are suitable consumers of petroleum-based products (ineos) or land rover defender substitutes (ineos grenadier), pvc door and window systems (deceuninck), healthy food (jumbo) or even cloud software (visma).

and they're probably right.

the cost of fielding several race teams under the same title in order to fulfil the demands of the uci's world tour membership is considerable, though not necessarily as considerable as the reputed team ineos annual budget in excess of £40 million. in comparison, peter sagan's bora hansgrohe (cookers and bathroom fittings) spends a mere £10 million, roughly the same as alaphilippe's deceuninck quick-step. peak-rate advertising on uk television can be priced at up to £40,000 for a 30 second commercial. it's simple arithmetic to figure out how many 30 seconds worth can be achieved for the annual budget.

if your logo appears on one of the eighteen jerseys guaranteed entry into the three grand tours, all five monuments and several other high-profile races, the return on investment via the televising of all the above could be considerable. added to that, though soccer, rugby, football and baseball teams retain the team names, no matter whose branding features on their jerseys, the same is not true of cycling teams, all of which are named after the sponsor. thus, not only are sponsors guaranteed visual exposure, but audible exposure too, via the inevitable accompanying television commentary.

and one of those commentators quite rightly took exception to a throwaway tweet uploaded by yours truly on tuesday evening. despite regarding it as the cheap shot it undoubtedly was, his riposte was remarkably courteous in its composition. having watched highlights of tuesday's stage of the tour, i humorously (i thought) tweeted "i'm enjoying watching the evening's advertising highlights, interspersed with occasional minutes of cycle racing."

i have always maintained that i generally use twitter for 'smart ass one-liners', frequently tweeting without actually considering whether the remarks are funny or not. i can't say it hasn't got me in bother before. however, television programming usually demands a specific amount of advertising in any given hour, usually exercised every fifteen minutes. however, as justifiably pointed out by the responding commentator, in order to preserve uninterrupted coverage across the final twenty-five minutes, the producers generally 'front-load' the first half hour with the bulk of the advertising minutes. tautologically, that would entail initially, a higher frequency of advertising than expected, thus leading to my ostensibly whimsical tweet.

this particular situation highlights yet another way in which advertising helps support our particular sport. as pointed out in the reply, coverage of cycle racing is an expensive business which the host broadcaster hopes to recoup by selling internationally to national tv stations. thus, any channel showing, in this case, each day's stage of the tour de france, finances this free-to-air coverage by selling a specific amount of advertising space. i seriously doubt any of those advertisers would be overjoyed if the producer left them out because 'it was a really exciting stage.'

what made my insolent tweet even worse is the fact that i knew all this; i am hardly a newbie at this. being aware that the cycle racing with which many of us are obsessed, relies entirely on the financial whims of corporate advertising budgets, is not an altogether happy one. in an ideal world, sportspeople would be able to demonstrate their athleticism on a sound commercial basis. a bit like the next 'take that' world tour, a living could be made from ticket and t-shirt sales alone. fortunately/unfortunately, most, if not all cycle racing is free to watch, while the fee paid for broadcast rights tends to be acquired by the race organiser, none of which makes it anywhere near the participating teams.

to put all this in perspective, peter sagan is reckoned to earn around £5 million per year.

i have since reconciled things with the commentator via direct message on twitter.

thursday 3 september 2020

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i've said it all before

passing place

aside from the joy of a sunday morning bike ride, we have added an additional frisson by having each member of the peloton decide how many cars they think we'll meet on the road between kilchoman distillery and foreland road end, some eight kilometres distant. that particular stretch of road is popular not only with holiday visitors to the distillery, but for the expansive, sandy beach at machir bay, on the atlantic west coast. numbers have varied substantially over the weeks, from eleven on week one, to a mere six a couple of weeks later.

the single-track road itself borders loch gorm, only several metres higher than the water's edge, and for the first few kilometres at least, offers a clear view of any oncoming traffic. as is the case with all of islay's single track roads, the verge is punctuated with passing places, in this particular case, signposted every step of the way.

on sunday past, the headlights of an oncoming vehicle were clearly visible in the distance and, recognising that we'd be hard-pushed to reach the next passing place before meeting the car on the road, we opted to stop at an adjacent passing place and wait. as the car approached, we realised that, pedalling furiously only a metre or so in front, was a cyclist. as both reached our static position, we waved to both the velocipedinist and the car's driver, both of whom returned the greeting. however, despite the passing place featuring space on both sides of the road, the cyclist continued on his merry way, still hanging off the front of the car by those selfsame centimetres.

before you ask 'what's wrong with this picture?' you can join me in asking why.

from the point at which we'd first caught sight of the car, there had been at least two passing places, plus the one identified above, yet the cyclist, obviously a tad slower than the car, and still a few kilometres from either the distillery or the beach, seemed in no hurry to let the vehicle past. and even after apparently noting that we had stopped en-masse to allow them clear passage. even after years of observation, i am still no closer to learning whether such behaviour is the result of arrogance, ignorance or both.

as cyclists, despite having no requirement to pay any specific road-related taxes, or display a licence, or, indeed, mandatory insurance, we have every bit as many rights to the road as do motorists. but what is undeniable, is that cyclists, on the whole, are a lot slower than motor cars. and, assuming you're on islay (or anywhere else on scotland's west coast) on holiday, it would be hard to make a specific case for having to be anywhere in a hurry. in which case, that still beggars the question why anyone on a bicycle would be unwilling to move over and let a car past, even if they too could hardly be said to be in a hurry.

however, as i have iterated in the published guide to 'cycling on islay and jura', anyone in a truck or tractor at any time of the week, is more than likely to be gainfully employed, quite probably tied to a timetable of one sort or another. in which case, assuming you form a part of a sunday morning peloton or are simply visiting for the weekend, it is morally incumbent on you to get the heck out of the way. in situations such as this, i have become answerable for my people, so to speak. no matter that i do my very best to be as courteous to motorists and cyclists as i can be, any local drivers who come across intransigent visiting pedalists, will be sure to seek me out and castigate me on their behalf.

recently, i have begun to get a bit fed up with this.

i realise that the above will probably affect only a small minority of cyclists, though the past two weeks have shown there to be a steady influx of cyclists to islay and jura. however, with 'staycationing' having possibly become de rigeur, and set to continue into the future, by next year, this may be you. in which case, please don't make me repeat myself. and please do not follow the example of the cyclist i'd to bail out earlier this week. he was touring on islay with no spare inner tubes, no puncture repair kit, no tyre levers and no pump. but he did have a puncture.

wednesday 2 september 2020

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the gods have spoken

the gods have spoken

though secretly i doubt she may have changed her behaviour to the extent that she would have me believe, my daughter claims no more to be in thrall to the celebrity magazines available in blatant cmyk on the shelves of wh smith. when younger, there was scarely a day passed without yet another variant on the quest for celebrity culture appearing beside the sofa, offering the only interruption to hours of iphone gazing. i wouldn't be at all surprised if the latter had been concentrated on websites concerned with the selfsame celebrities. nowadays, my daughter claims such gossip and trivia is no longer of concern.

in my first year at art college, the walls of the ground floor corridors were hung with monochrome images of movie stars from the forties and fifties pictured smoking cigarettes. such imagery is probably no longer considered politically correct, and it is only in retrospect that i wonder quite what the point of such an exhibition actually was? i do not recall it being of any relevance or influence on the artworks carried out within the college walls.

the gods have spoken

what it did impart, however, was that these often unidentified movie stars were considered to be influencers on us mere mortals. it's an odd stance to portray, given that the art of delivering lines of script in short bursts while surrounded by camera, lighting and production staff hardly confers any intellectual status. it's quite possible that the original intention of the photographs was simply to associate each star with a particular brand of cigarette, in the likely scenario that ordinary joe soap would do likewise and transform their own fortunes into a verisimilitude of holywood.

and we all know how that turned out.

it would be invidious of me to look down upon such individuals from above, safe in the knowledge that such distant sycophancy could never be one that i would affect myself. in fact, there can be few who have remained immune from the oft-times transformative thoughts of being able to recite epithets uttered by the rich and famous. i cannot deny having searched google for pertinent quotes by drummer buddy rich, to casually repeat in front of my young drum students. the fly in that particular ointment is the fact that almost to a boy and girl, they have no idea who buddy rich was.

the gods have spoken

statements such as "primarily, the drummer's supposed to sit back there and swing the band." has little relevance to youngsters for whom the concept of 'swinging' is something of a lost cause. and the quote "if you don't have the ability, you'll end up playing in a rock band." probably engenders nothing but confusion, considering playing in a rock band is precisely what most are hoping to do.

however, no matter buddy's influence on drummers of a certain age and musical taste, and a tendency to treat him as something of a percussive demi-god, you and i know that it is only the velocipedinal greats who truly accord with deity worship. take even a cursory look at images from cycling's great heritage, and it's not hard to see the pain and suffering endured by the greats. riding heavy steel bicycles, equipped with componentry far less technologically advanced than the average modern-day leisure cyclist, they often grasped victory by a substantial margin across roads for which tarmac was a forlorn dream. the teamwork often espoused by the likes of 'ineos', 'bahrain-merida' and 'jumbo visma' was often less than fully formed in the days of black and white photography.

the gods have spoken

but yet despite the external trials and tribulations experienced during competitive careers, the gods of cycling still took the opportunity to benefit mankind with a series of salient expressions. attributed to il campionissimo is the phrase "it's a little like wrestling a gorilla. you don't quit when you're tired, you quit when the gorilla is tired." i cannot report that the two children occupying the croft after school found that particularly enlightening, but they'll learn.

and never a truer word was spoken by eddy when he proclaimed "cyclists live with pain. if you can't live with it, you will win nothing." and i'm pretty sure we can all agree with cav, when he said "it doesn't matter whether it's raining or the sun is shining, or whatever. as long as i am riding a bike, i know i'm the luckiest guy in the world." i fact, i'm sure i've said something remarkably similar myself, though i doubt anyone was listening at the time.

the gods have spoken

so, where would one find the above words of wisdom and more, always assuming no desire to spend hours of spare time trawling google's inner sanctum? fortunately, possessed very much of our best interests, the northern line once again have our backs and our walls firmly in mind. entitled 'the gods have spoken', the northern line's 2021 calendar features images and quotes from cycling's gods, cleverly superimposed upon walls of the realm (actually doing so is not such a bad idea).

imagine the delight of your workmates throughout the coming year, either in person behind a facemask, or virtually on 'zoom', when, at the beginning of each month, you can regale them with wisdom such as "if you brake, you don't win." (mario cipollini), and "everyone must choose one of two pains. the pain of discipline, or the pain of regret." (peter sagan).

your popularity will soar to heights previously only dreamt of.

the northern line 2021 calendar

tuesday 1 september 2020

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