"From 1915 to 1918, Paris-Roubaix was not run and it was on its resumption, while surveying the war's devastation of the muddy flatlands, that a newspaper correspondent coined the name 'Hell of the North'.
it seems to be the way of the modern world that soon to be married, would-be grooms, head off to continental and other far-flung parts of the world to experience nights of unashamed debauchery, all in the name of what used to be referred to as a stag night. granted, the word stag suggests the tradition to have emanated north of the border, but such is the cosmopolitan demeanour of brexit britain, that i'm sure that doesn't count for much nowadays.
with washingmachinepost jr. soon to wed his fiancée in less than two months' time, he and his fellow revellers have left the principality to board an aircraft en-route to a european destination which must, for the time being at least, remain a closely guarded secret. they may not yet have landed and it wouldn't be wise to alert the natives.
having managed to avoid such pleasantries prior to marrying mrs washingmachinepost, i cannot offer any first hand knowledge of precisely what transpires during such expeditions (which, at one time, took the form of a simple pub crawl). but prior to departure from islay, a couple of his friends enquired whether i might possess gaudy items of cycling apparel in which they might dress him, all the better to embarrass in public. it may or may not surprise you to learn that, midst the drawers of velocipedinal sartorial excellence, there were a number of items that, should a cyclist have had need of ditching in the sea, the helicopters would have had no trouble in rescuing him first.
those very items are currently on their way to the previously mentioned undisclosed location, safely ensconced in the best man's suitcase.
historically, cycling appears to have had a love/hate relationship with dye-sublimated exuberance; i can think of more than just a few pelotonic jerseys that have necessitated the wearing of heavily tinted spectacles and i'm pretty sure you can think of a few more. but, despite the invention of colour photography, things were not always so, despite portraiture of the era existing almost exclusively in monochrome.
max leonard, rightly renowned for his 2015 publication, 'lanterne rouge' has delved into the archives of france's national library to retrieve an array of original glass negatives produced by sports photographers of the late 19th and early 20th century. the images are of those who participated in the world's finest one-day cycle race, paris-roubaix. produced as a superb, pocket-sized book of detachable postcards, the opening image is of those ready to do (quite literally) battle with the cobbles on the first running of the race in 1896. however, many of the subsequent photographs are of individuals in either their sunday best, or posed with very heavy looking velocipedes before the cobbles had taken their toll.
in black and white, it's always possible that one or two of them were clad in fluorescent orange or lime green, but to be honest, that seems highly unlikely. what is particularly of note is the astounding quality of the imagery, reproduced here on quality munken 330gsm paper. in a modern age when the smartphone has conferred photographic prowess on all and sundry, it is something of a revelation to once again appreciate what quality portrait photography really looks like. these are masterful and we owe a large debt of gratitude to mr leonard for not only bringing them to light from relative french obscurity, but having the smarts to publish them in this desirable format.
though it is a simple matter to detach each postcard and blu-tac it to the office or bedroom wall, i will retain the format in which the book was delivered and have it resting on the arm of my chair as i delight in this year's paris-roubaix. i doubt if the word exquisite makes itself known in book reviews very often, but in this case, it would seem wholly appropriate.
thursday 9 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................