Thursday, 31 July 2014


Well, thank goodness for that:

Though I couldn't help but notice that even between John Kerry's announcement of the ceasefire last night at 11 and it coming into force this morning, more people have died. I hope that everyone involved makes full use of the opportunity to build a lasting peace that the ceasefire represents.

I was reading this by Ali A Rizvi last night while I was listening to the news on the radio. I think it's one of the sanest things I've read on the conflict. See what you think.

King (of the Mountain) for a day

I logged on to Strava after tonight's ride - of course, of course - and scrolled through the segments. It looked pretty swift - PB, PB, Second, BIG SHINY GOLD CROWN - Oh my word! My first ever King of the Mountain! I jumped up to go and get a bottle of Unicorn - mmmmm, lovely Unicorn - with a vague idea about checking the entry criteria for next year's Tour de France (looks pretty manageable, I thought). I stopped mid stride, half way across the kitchen.

"There's something not quite right about this sudden display of world beating athletic prowess." I thought to myself.

I went back and double clicked on the segment.Oh dear. First out of four riders. And the segment was created today. And actually it's all downhill. And I think I was trying to sing "14 Years" by Guns N' Roses, after yesterday's rediscovery of the band, while I was riding it. Which I don't think I have ever seen riders in the TdF doing, now I think about it.

I have still been back to look at the shiny gold crown about ten times though.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Guns N' Roses

Mrs Langsett's upcoming new job in a whole new bit of the country has prompted multiple trips to the tip, with the aim of leaving us with no more belongings than can be accommodated in a single knotted handkerchief on a stick. Prep was underway for yet another run, and I was emptying the cupboard in the living room. There was an old stereo in there, and I popped the cassette deck open.

"Oh YES!" I shouted, dropping to my knees and waving the tape that was inside at the heavens, "YYYYYYES!!!!"

It was "Use Your Illusion 2" by Guns N' Roses.

"Huh?" you might be thinking.

You know, "Use Your Illusion 2"! Part of the most unlikely outburst of musical productivity in the history of rock music (just how did they manage to be naughty on such an epic scale AND write all those songs? etc)! Very nearly the best album ever.

This was more or less the first album I ever got bought. OK, so a long time before there was not only an Ah-Ha album, but also a Walkman to play it on. And then there was that whole Phil Collins thing which I don't like to think about. But it was the first album I got in my teens, after realising that there needed to be a first album and lots of other music to follow it. I remember unwrapping it and generally treating it like a plasticky version of the the tablets that God wrote the Ten Commandments on. I was particularly awed by the black and white "Parental Advisory - explicit content" sticker on the front. As it turned out, Geffen need not have worried because in my case at least that explicit content went straight over my dubiously styled 1993 hair...

Of course, Use Your Illusion 2's already awesome levels of awesomeness are doubled - no cubed - by the use of You Could Be Mine on the soundtrack to the awesome-in-its-own-right Terminator 2. A few weeks ago, I'd found myself driving my small black Volkswagen in my dark grey suit towards my professional job and wondered whether there'd been some missed turning point in my early teens where I could have started riding a motorbike to school, smoking a lot of cigarettes and generally been more badass. A bit more like John Connor.

There was a Tuesday when I left Mrs Kennedy's history class and went down to the leaky Portakabin for my violin lesson (ok, so I know that on any rational assessment, the fact that I've just had to include the words "violin lesson" in an exploration of whether I could have been a rebellious yet heroic future leader of humanity probably answers the question fairly conclusively, but come with me on this) and my violin teacher had just not turned up.

"This is interesting, " I thought, " because no one's going to be expecting me back in class for a good half hour." I was hanging about in the bike sheds - no really! My secondary school actually did have bike sheds which really did lend themselves to being the setting for minor infractions of the school rules - thinking about what I could do with all this spare time I'd been given, when Fliss came down the path. Wow. Fliss. I worshipped her in a slightly unnerving way which would really take off a year later, after I decided that mixing Woodpecker and Guinness in a 1:1 ratio with my friends on a dark playing field was a legitimate social activity. But for now I just vibrated slightly and tried to look laconic. I might have leaned.

"Where's Mr H?" asked Fliss, furrowing her brow slightly, but smiling in a way that suggested she'd realised she been gifted a pass out of lessons too.

I shrugged. If I'd had a Zippo and a packet of red Marlboro, they would have been utilised at around this point.

"So are you skipping lessons?!" asked Fliss cheekily, joining me in the bike shed. And - that's it! Right there. That's the John Connor moment. That's when I should have procured the keys to Mr Phelan's Yamaha by any means necessary and wheelied it across the playing fields with Fliss on the pillion.

Well, maybe.

Anyway, I was keen to stick "Use Your Illusion 2" in the Volkswagen's tape player and try it on for size. So that's what I did.

A few things struck me:

1. I should have given it more thought before playing this round at my nan's house.
2. Wow! Axl certainly had a lot of bad luck with girlfriends.
3. Actually, the fact that Axl is the common factor suggests that Axl's girlfriends had a lot of bad luck with Axl.
4. And even if 2. is correct, I would probably have been a bit more circumspect than Axl about writing songs about it, whilst being a member of The Biggest Rock Bank In The World.

But then I went straight from a radio news bulletin about Gaza to "Civil War". And there's a bit where Duff's peacemaker is answered by an end of the world chord from Slash's Gibson Les Paul and Axl's reluctant soldier growling "My hands are tied! / The billions shift from side to side / And the wars go on with brainwashed pride / For the love of God and our human rights..."

This is genuinely legendary, I thought.

I've come down off my giddy nostalgia trip a bit now, but I am still absolutely over the moon to have this epic slab of guitar heroism back in my life. Here's a quick blast to finish up with:

You Could Be Mine

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


I don't know whether it's my age or the fact that I'm a father now, or something else entirely, but the stupidity of the latest bout of killing in Gaza has struck me - and by "struck me" I means struck as in being on the receiving end of a blow, rather than struck as in "it struck me that I'd left my keys on the sideboard" - more than any other conflict I can recall. I don't think I'm alone either - my Facebook news feed is full of Youtube videos from Gaza showing apartment buildings being turned into rubble and re-posted news reports of Palestinian deaths. There is table after table listing Palestinian deaths and injuries opposite the much smaller numbers of Israeli deaths and injuries, as though some sort of horrific games is being played which the Palestinians are both winning and losing.

But there's something else. The vast majority of social media posts I've seen avoid any mention of the bombardment of Israel with rockets by Hamas.

That's understandable, to an extent. Hamas's attempt to kill Israelis has so far failed, more or less. I think as I write this that two Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets since the conflict escalated. Israel's attempt to target Hamas has failed in the opposite sense, killing people who probably have little or no involvement in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

But not mentioning what Hamas is attempting to do gives Hamas an implied moral authority that it has done absolutely nothing to deserve. Hamas wants to kill Israelis. Its public statements on that subject seem to have varied over time, and if you have a look on the website of the military wing of Hamas at the moment, it is careful to refer to its rocket attacks as being aimed at military installations. But to be honest you do not need to look at why Hamas says it is firing rockets at Israel. You only have to acknowledge the fact that it is firing rockets at Israel; rockets which can be aimed with no more precision than a bonfire night firework. And every time someone posts or publishes something describing the Israeli attack on Gaza without also mentioning Hamas's attacks on Israel, Hamas is being given a little pat on the back and being told that because it is doing such a poor job of achieving its aim of killing civilians, it is ok to go right on trying.

I can't imagine a more stupid approach to take in relation to Hamas. This is an organisation which prides itself in dealing with absolutes. It isn't a plucky underdog, fighting against overwhelming odds to secure a fair deal for Palestinians. It is a bunch of idiots betraying the trust of the people that it shares the Gaza Strip with on a daily basis, perpetuating the awful, cynical lie that attacking Israel will somehow make things better for Palestinians.

Let's look at that in a bit more detail: As far as I can see, Hamas's thinking follows two strands: First, it knows that firing rockets at Israel might kill Israelis. As I've said above, I think the fact that Hamas pursues this goal when it has the opportunity to do so is evidence enough that is is an aim of the organisation. Second, it knows that firing rockets will lead to an Israeli response, which in turn will lead to Palestinian deaths, which in turn will give Hamas headlines that it can use to weaken Israel's international standing. I'd hope that if you're reading this, you are hoping that you will live to see either a Palestinian state and Israel existing peacefully next to each other, or better yet a single state where Palestinians and Israelis both participate in a government and civic society that meets everyones' needs, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. And I'd also hope therefore that you'll follow me when I say that the last thing that you, I or anyone else should be doing is encouraging a lying, murderous, nihilistic organisation which glorifies the deaths of Palestinians but takes action directly leading to those deaths to believe that is it fires enough rockets and kills enough people, it will be able to dictate terms to Israel.

Hamas is morally bankrupt. It lies to everyone - to Palestinians and to the world at large. It knowingly perpetuates the idea that a military struggle will lead to victory over Israel, rather than the impoverishment and suffering of everyone in Gaza.  Hamas responded to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal first of all by continuing to fire rockets at Israel and second of all by suggesting that it was rejecting the ceasefire agreement because it would not allow it to claim a victory over Israel and it didn't like the way that it found out about it.

"In times of war, you don't cease fire and then negotiate." is how Hamas's spokesman Fawzi Bahum put it. Referring to the fact that the current Egyptian government no longer has the level of contact with Hamas that predecessors did, Sami Abu Juhri (described by the Washington Post as a "senior Hamas leader") said "We are holding in our hands a proposal that we got off social media. We refuse to be dealt with in such a way."

No-one should be encouraging Hamas to behave in this way. The establishment of a safe, prosperous Palestinian state  is going to take guts, wit and intelligence. Its going to need an ability to build bridges and accept compromises. It's going to need people who will start talking to their counterparts in the Israeli government and stick around to discover what they have in common, not throw their toys out of the pram because someone suggests negotiations without preconditions. I am sure there will be idiots in the Israeli government who will do their own bit to make things difficult. There will also, I am sure, be steps backwards every bit as bad as the Omagh bombing that followed the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998.

But the best way of dealing with setback, however terrible, is to engage and negotiate constructively. Every contact between Hamas and the rest of world should be aimed at encouraging and rewarding this approach.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Tour de France

You might have been wondering when the Tour would put in an appearance. Well, I'd better own up right now and say that the Langsett household's interaction with The Most Watched Sporting Event in the World was pretty tangential, but enjoyable nonetheless. It went like this:

Thursday 3rd July
"We should go and see the Grand Depart!" said Mrs L, surprisingly. Mrs L does have a bike. It is a Raleigh Pioneer, from the heartbreaking period in Raleigh's history where they had learned to build bikes that were absolutely bulletproof, but sales declined nevertheless. It is The Bike That Will Not Die. For five years, my mum didn't ride it. And during all the time that she didn't ride it, it stood in the back yard of mum and dad's house getting snowed on, baked in the sun, refrigerated, blown over and drenched in rain. I borrowed it for Mrs L to have a go on. It needed a wipe down and some new tyres in order to be ready for the road again. It basically looks like new. Unfortunately Mrs L shows no more respect for the Pioneer's fierce will to survive than my mum did, and it is enjoying a comfortable semi-retirement in the shed outside. So I was, as I say, a bit surprised that she wanted to go and have a look at the Tour, which I imagined would be a bit like being hit around the head with a bicycle while someone bellows the Marseillaise at you, if you don't like cycling. Still, I jumped on Destination Yorkshire's website to have a look at how we might manage it. I wanted to see the peloton climb Holme Moss, the bleak and beautiful Pennine pass between Woodhead and Holmfirth. I had a bit of a moment, and couldn't work out a way to get up to the summit - all the roads seemed to be closed for miles on either side of the route. I thought about trying to explain to my daughters why we were hiking through the Pennines to the top of a windy hill to watch a race pass, when the passing would be over and done with in a few minutes at most. I imagined it raining while I was doing this. I wrote it off.

Saturday 5th July
I honoured the Tour by getting up early and sneaking out of the house for an early morning ride. It had been raining, so I needed mudguards but I was (naturally) feeling all roady, so I took the Sludgy Green Bike rather than the Inferno. The Sludgy Green Bike is a relatively recent arrival in the Langsett bike cave, and it is another Viscount. However, it occupied a less illustrious position in the catalogue than the mighty Aerospace Pro when it was new, and mine is a bit dog eared and tired. In addition it is, as the name suggests, a sludgy green colour. And as you can see, it has all been co-ordinated pretty thoroughly to create a slightly camouflaged effect:

In the right conditions, the Sludgy Green Bike can actually disappear entirely, merging seemlessly with the greenery behind it.

It was a great little ride - out past the paper mill at Carrington with its weird freshly braked bread mixed with sweaty socks smell, up the hill after Oughtrington (with the gradient issuing its customary reminder that a bit more self control when it comes to late night snacks and all-Pasty lunches would be no bad thing) and then right on to the empty A56 and the long run downhill into Lymm. Through the S bend down onto Lymm Dam at a positively conservative 29mph, through Lymm village and then home.

I got back and stuck ITV's wall to wall coverage of Stage 1 on. Kate looked at me askance, while I excitedly rattled off a series of unrelated Tour facts, the closest I could come to actual conversation.

" Look, there's Ned Boulting!" I said excitedly, bouncing up and down a bit. I read Ned's book about the Tour de France earlier this year and it was nice to see him doing his day job.

"Daddy, why do you like bike races so much..." said Kate in a pitying tone of voice.

We were in and out for the rest of the day, so I caught bits of the coverage. I heard about how the stage ended, but I didn't see it.

Sunday 6th July

The Bike that Will Not Die's former owner came over in the middle of the day to visit my uncle in hospital, and I had a secret mission to a classified location in North Yorkshire to complete later that afternoon, in connection with Mrs Langsett's new job. The Tour was impossible to avoid completely. It was on whenever the television was on. My uncle lives up the hill from Langsett, and my aunt described seeing the peloton coming down to the hill before taking on the Cote de Midhopestones when we spoke to her from the hospital. Later on, when I set off for North Yorkshire, the westbound lane of the M62 was full of cars with bikes on the roof or hanging off the back - more than I'd ever seen before - all returning from watching the Tour. Crossing over the stage route outside Huddersfield, there was a brief glimpse of blue lights and the debris that was the race's aftermath being scrupulously collected.

Checking Facebook later, it seemed that everyone in the world had managed to catch the race. Helen and Martin had made it to Holme Moss with their lads, as had Kate and Rick. The sun had shone, and this bald hilltop between Manchester and Sheffield looked thoroughly tamed, with thousands of people (accompanied by thousands of bikes) spread out along the final few hairpins to watch Blel Kadri storm the last ramp before the summit.

Monday 7th July
I got to work on my TdF television coverage backlog, watching the bits of stage 1 that I'd missed. The speed that Yorkshire whipped by at was eye opening. Familiar landmarks and places that we've been meaning to visit for years tripped by in turn as the peloton rolled onwards, until it felt like there wasn't a bit of the county that I'd seen where the TdF hadn't also swooped past. There was that side road on the way to Malham where Mrs Langsett demanded a comfort break, only to be surprised by a farmer on his tractor! There was the bit on the Harrogate road where, in the minibus on the way back from Kate and Rick's wedding, I'd realised that getting stuck into the chocolate fountain was going to have toilet consequences! And then there was that stage finish....

I haven't watched that much cycle racing. So the way in which the peloton sorted and distilled itself as the last few kilometres wound down was like a magic trick done in plain sight. One minute, there was a huge, chaotic, multicoloured group of riders rolling along in a way that looked almost relaxed. The next minute, the speed was up, and the group had separated into neat little lines formed of the riders of each team, each working to move their sprinter into the best position.  Mark Cavendish's Omega Pharma-Quick Step team in their black and white jerseys came hammering down the right hand side; Cavendish was tucked away third from the front. I instinctively wanted to duck out of the way. The Katusha team jinked and swerved to the left, trying to find a way through but had nothing. They were coming up on the last kilometre. I knew what would happen next. Those first two Omega Pharma riders would fall away. Cavendish would engage warp drive, treating the whole peloton like his own personal launch pad. The background would blur. The Manx lad would scream across the line and punch the air. Except nobody had told Cancellara that: he put the hammer down over on the other side of the road, racing ahead of the pack so fast he looked like he was leaving his bike behind. Omoega Pharma's hold on the front broke. I lost Cavendish and only saw him again when the crash happened, Simon Gerrans' bike going under his front wheel. Mark of course, was trying to find a gap to get himself back to the front.

Here's the thing: I knew the end result before I sat down to watch. But it was still the most exciting bit of televised sport I've ever watched. It was just incredible watching the peloton form up for the sprint, and just as incredible seeing it suddenly come unstuck.

Like I said - tangential, but enjoyable.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Death Fork Rally

I'm writing this, of course, in the euphoric aftermath of the Tour de France bobbing and weaving though the hills that are the heart of my bit of England. Superb as it was, it doesn't overshadow the mighty lane conquering bike behemoth that was the Second Annual Death Fork Rally. But before we get to that, you might be thinking to yourself, why "Death Fork"?

Well, there's a story there of course.

The Death Fork Rally is for Viscounts, like my blue and silver Aerospace Pro. The first generation of Aerospaces were built with a fork made out of a very beautiful bare aluminium casting, joined to a steel stearer tube. The persistent rumour that follows this design of fork is that the aluminium casting can separate from the steel steerer tube. If you tap "Viscount" and "Death Fork" into Google, you don't have to go very far before you come across stuff like this, from bicycling legend Sheldon Brown.


There was a recall of Aerospaces in the US too.

Which all sounds a bit scary. doesn't it?

Fortunately, Viscounts have a quietly spoken hero on their side. His name is Steve, and he lives an hour or so up the A6 from me. Steve loves his Viscounts, and when faced with this death fork legend, he dealt with it in the best possible way: he found and spoke to the people that made these bikes back in the seventies. There were, in short, three versions of the aluminium fork and the last version (which is the version fitted to my bike) has no recorded failures.

Still, that recall notice and Sheldon's stern warning add a certain something to the time I spend with the Aerospace. Just occasionally, when I'm on a fast descent, I'll sneak a look at the fork flexing and moving to take up all the bumps in the road and wonder about whether it and I understand each other's requirements...

So that's why its called the Death Fork Rally. Jem did the organising this year, and sorted out a brilliant route through the beautiful countryside to the north of Burton-on-Trent.This turned out to be a land of steep little hills, oak woods and villages built out of warm red brick. In the middle of the ride was a very good pub, and at the end was another one along with tea and bacon butties courtesy of Mrs Jem. My day pass from Mrs Langsett expired at about tea time, but I left behind a campsite full of Viscount owners planning their second pub mission of the day.

Stella brought her top secret, newly restored pink "Viscountess"; John rode his incredible 24 karat gold plated Lambert; and Whippet's essentially brand new, ruby red Aerospace Sport proved once and for all that if you make your bike clean enough it will eventually become so clean that dirt just slides right off it. There were plenty of other beautiful bikes there, but also a brilliant, kind and warm hearted group of people riding them.

Here are a few pictures from the day:

Team photo. Keen eyed readers will spot The Langsett's confused pairing of shorts with long sleeved top. The weather hadn't made up its mind yet and neither had I.

John and Rhona, quite possibly thanking their lucky stars that the sun wasn't bright enough to light up John's golden Lambert.

Whippet's beautiful, better than new Aerospace Sport, set up for time trialling: the cogs on the back wheel ready to provide five slightly different sorts of pain and suffering to the rider.

Rhona and Stella's bikes having a rest before the off.

Jem and his world tour ready Deore 18AX.

Thirsty Viscount owners being attracted by the gravitational pull of the pub, Timothy Taylors' Landlord and lovely, just made pizzas.

The Aerospace getting its post ride wash.