Are MPs delegates or representatives?

I ask the question because Jeremy Corbyn appears to be raising it again. An article in the Guardian has the following;

Corbyn urged MPs to let him know of their views by the start of next week, as well as to canvass the views of members in their constituencies. (my emphasis)

This returns us to a debate that I thought was over and settled.

Back in the seventies and eighties many Bennites 1 and members of Militant Tendency 2 (I see Momentum as their spiritual heirs) believed that an MP was not the representative of all their constituents, including those who had not voted for him or her, but the delegate of their Constituency Labour Party’s General Committee (GC) and bound to speak and vote as it had directed.

It would appear from his instruction to Labour MPs to consult their party members rather than their constituents that Jeremy Corbyn thinks that Labour MPs are delegates rather than representatives. This in my opinion does not bode well for the future of the Labour Party.

It is a fact that in all political parties the members tend to be more extreme in their views than their supporters (UKIP may be the exception that proves the rule). Allowing the GC to control the MP means that we are heading down the same (or at least similar) blind alley as the Republican party in the United States. Where, in order to appeal to the base and get on to the electoral ticket you have to be seen to be so extreme that you make yourself unelectable by the general public.

1Disciples of Tony rather than his son Hillary.
2An entryist Trotskyite group.

How many days are there in October?

From xkcd
"There's a cool mental calculation hack I recently learned for this: If you open the calendar app on your phone or computer, the highest-numbered box along the bottom is equal to the number of days in the month!"

The Racer – David Millar


The Racer is David Millar’s second book. His first “Racing Through The Dark” dealt mainly with his and the sports dark period when doping was more or less de rigueur.

Quoting the book;

We know a lot about that time now. I’ve written about it, and so have many others. I want to write something else, a book that years from now my children can read and see what it was like, what their dad actually did all those years ago, the racer that he was. But not only that, I want my friends from this generation to have something that will remind us of who we were. There was more to it than doping. We lived on the road because we loved to race.

What he has given us can be read on one level as a diary of his last season as a professional cyclist, but on another it can be read as a love letter to bike racing. One that acknowledges that bike racing brings joy and heartache and not necessarily in equal measure.

He writes the book as a series of vignettes. The subjects range from the difficulty of getting an ageing body ready for a final season, through a theory of crashing, to his final race which as he says completed the circle of his career by going back to where he had started as a competitive cyclist.

He wasn’t expecting to win many if any races in his final year. That wasn’t his job in the team. His job was Road Captain. Calling the tactics, making sure that the rest of the team were where they should be, encouraging riders who were having a bad day and pacing team leaders back to the front after a mechanical or a crash. He gives a particularly insightful look at how this works in the chapter on the Tour of Flanders (or Ronde Van Vlaanderen to give it the proper name).

The book divides two halves. Pre Tour de France and post (non selection for) the Tour de France. I don’t think I am giving away any spoilers by telling you that David Millar  was not selected for the Garmin Sharp Tour de France squad in 2014. Read the book and he tells the story better than I can precis it.

Post (non selection for) the Tour he had four events on his schedule. The Commonwealth Games, the Enoco Tour, the Vuelta d’Espanga – which was to be his last race with Garmin and the World Championships – his last ever race as professional.
The Commonwealth Games was a disappointment, but as he explains not an unexpected disappointment giving that he lacked the conditioning of three weeks racing the Tour de France. He deals with La Vuelta, his twenty-fourth and last Grand Tour, in day by day accounts of the highs and lows of bike racing.

So on to his final race as a professional. The World Championship Road Race. National teams race The Worlds not professional trade teams like all the other races during the season. He makes a point of comparing how the British National team treated him coming in to the Worlds carrying an injury from La Vuelta to how Garmin treated him before the Tour de France. As it turns out, because of the injury, he can’t actually give a lot, other than getting the tactics right and ensuring that the riders who might win are where they need to be when the attacks go. He did his bit then pulled out. His last race was a DNF.

Except it wasn’t his final race, he still had one more race to complete; one that brought his career full circle the ‘Bec’ hill climb.

The book gives an honest and insightful look into the life of a professional cyclist. It is well written, not by a ghost writer as with most sporting “autobiographies” but by the man himself. It is quite a book and well worth reading

Cycling in Dorset: Part 3

 On the Friday,after we had returned from our Thomas Hardy day out around Dorchester, I decided I wanted to explore a bit more of NCR26.


As we had ridden most of the route south of Cattistock I decided to head north to see what was there. It was a little bit easier ride than the last two, all of the ride was on tarmac and there were no super long super steep hills. It was still up and down a bit though.

The views weren’t quite as spectacular as the other rides because I stuck to the valley road, but there were a few interesting things on the way. I came across this sign mounted on a bridge just north of Rampisham:

So I hope leaning my bike against the bridge while I took the photo didn’t injure it.

I decided that I wanted to do about an hour, which on my touring bike at my current state of fitness is about 20 km or 12½ miles if you still use imperial. However please see Rule 24

  1. Rule #24
    Speeds and distances shall be referred to and measured in kilometers.

    This includes while discussing cycling in the workplace with your non-cycling coworkers, serving to further mystify our sport in the web of their Neanderthalic cognitive capabilities. As the confused expression spreads across their unibrowed faces, casually mention your shaved legs. All of cycling’s monuments are measured in the metric system and as such the English system is forbidden.

The ride itself was enjoyable but as Grace decided to stay home I didn’t have anyone to pace me up the hills. I stopped on the way back to take a few photos of the Frome Valley.

Frome Valley
Frome Valley
Frome Valley
Thomas Hardy’s Cottage

Cycling in Dorset: Part 2

Our second cycling adventure took us on a 33 km loop to the east of Cattistock, taking in Cerne Abbas and Charminster. Still no episcopal recommendations, but Cerne Abbas grew up around the Benedictine monastery Cerne Abbey and the church at Charminster must have been at least of moderate importance in medieval times to warrant the title “minster” .

On to the ride:

Cerne CerneElv

Again there were some  long and steep hills involved, more or less right from the start of the ride. With this ride however all the killer hills were in the first third of the ride. I’m not sure if that made it easier or not.

At the foot of the first descent there was a ford. Fords always present me with a dilemma when I am on the bike, do I ride through at full speed spraying water everywhere, or should I stop and assess the ford before either riding, through walking through or pushing the bike across the footbridge. Fords can be deeper than you might think and the underwater surface can also be more slimy than you might thing, both of which can lead to you becoming wetter than you might think. In the end Grace had stopped and decided that the footbridge was the better option.

So it was onwards and upwards towards Cerne Abbas. We decided to forgo the advice of the guy who showed us into the cottage on Saturday. He told us that there was a very good pub in Sydling St Nicholas should we need sustenance for the climb up and over to Cerne. However by the time we arrived in Cerne it was time for lunch. We stopped at Abbots Tea Rooms where they do a really good lunch, reasonably priced, at least to someone used to paying London prices. Opposite the tea room was this place which raised a question in my mind –

So how long has this been
So how long has this been “The New Inn”

The main thing that Cerne Abbas is known for is the “Cerne Giant”, a hillside chalk carving of a naked man brandishing a large weapon as well as an outsized club. The origins of the Giant are obscure. It looks as if it should be an ancient fertility symbol, but there is no record of it having existed before the c17th. This has led to speculation that it was originally intended to be a political satire on Oliver Cromwell, or possibly made by the c17th equivalent of a bunch of drunken Young Farmers or students. Cerne Abbas was famous for its brewing industry in the past.

There are many local legends associated with the Giant. One says that if a couple are having problems conceiving then they should make love on the Giant’s penis to guarantee conception.

We finished our lunch and it was onwards and upwards yet again. This time up Piddle Lane (as opposed to Cow Poo Alley).

Many places in this part of Dorset have Piddle as part of their name; Piddlehinton or Piddletrenthide for example. In some cases the  Victorians bowdlerised Piddle to Puddle, as in Tolpuddle or Puddletown, though in the latter case I have it on good authority that the locals still refer to it as Piddletown. This is because the River Piddle runs along the valley that we were climbing up and over the ridge to.

From the top of the ridge it was a long and fairly fast drop down to Charninster. The map indicated an unclassified road  , so I did not expect the amount of traffic that we encountered. The road was quite wide (a full two lanes) for an unclassified road so it wasn’t particularly dangerous, but we were both quite glad to get away from the traffic when we got to Charminster.

The last leg of the journey was back up the Frome valley to Cattistock following National Cycle Route 26. The part the we followed had varied sections, from a cycle path along a busy “A” road, a cycle path that was too narrow to allow two bikes to pass without at least one of them stopping, to reasonably well surfaced minor roads with little to no traffic, to farm tracks and one section through a wood that could probably be best described as moderately technical single track – well it was if you were on a road bike. The signage was reasonably easy to follow, though in a few places vegetation obscured it. However I must admit that my Garmin did help with finding the way. In short the eight mile section had everything that I love and hate about the National Cycle Network. At least the off-road sections made sense on this route, unlike some where the route deviates from a perfectly good, lightly trafficked road to take you down an overgrown goat track only to bring you back onto the self-same road about two miles later.

Rant over.

All in all it was an other great ride in stunning Dorset countryside. The hills are steep, but they are worth the effort,  and anyway you can always push up (or buy an e-bike).

Cycling in Dorset; Part 1

Last week we were in Dorset cycling (among other things). My post on Cycling in Suffolk mentioned that the former Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich wrote a book on cycling in the county. Sadly I can find no such Episcopal recommendations for Dorset. Perhaps because the area, or least the area we were in doesn’t lend itself to cycling on a typical vicar’s (or bishop’s) bike.

The first route we did started and finished in Cattistock (where we are staying) In fact all the routes started and finished in Cattistock

Probably the main difference between Dorset and Suffolk is that Dorset has hills. It was the first one that I noticed anyway. The ride started off innocently enough, just a gentle meander down to Maiden Newton following NCR 26. It was climbing out of the Frome valley that reality hit home. A wall suddenly appeared in front of me. A hill about 1.5 km in length with gradients up to 15% and generally averaging over 10%.

I had my sixtieth birthday a few weeks ago. I have decided that now I am sixty I can get off my bike and push if I think that a hill is too hard. So about half way up I concluded that I had a choice; I could get off and push, or have a heart attack. I got off and pushed.

imageHowever the view, when I got to the top was worth the effort.

Grace of course was already at the top waiting for me. The joys of having an e-bike.

The next section of the ride followed a Roman road along the ridge so we had brilliant views all the way along. The route continued going up and down, fairly steeply, but not quite as dramatically as the first hill. We would descend into wooded valleys then climb out to the open downs. Until we got to a place called Mount Pleasant.
Just down the lane I could see a tractor. Not a problem, modern tractors go about 30 to 40 m.p.h. then I noticed that we were catching it quite quickly. I also noticed that the road conditions had changed to slippery and slightly smelly. It, and its driver, were herding about sixty cows to the farm for milking. I always irks me to push down hill, but we didn’t really have much choice. Constantly riding on the brakes with the road surface well lubricated with cow poo would almost certainly have ended with one or both of us locking a wheel and ending up in it.

After the cows turned off to the milking parlour I thought it would be plain sailing, albeit up a reasonably steep hill. However just before the start of the hill a woman in a very old four-wheel drive vehicle came past us trailing a cloud of dense black smoke. We decide to let her go, although I thought that I preferred the exhaust from the cows to the exhaust from her vehicle.Grace set off up the hill, which was narrow and fairly steep with a promise to wait for me at the top.I was about half way up and thinking that I might get away without invoking my sixtieth birthday resolution, when a van appeared behind me. There was no room to overtake so I pulled over to let it past and discovered that the hill was too steep to get started again, so I had to push. Up ahead I noticed that Grace and the FWD appeared to have come to a halt as well, the van that had just passed me stopped as well. The hill was too much for the FWD and it didn’t even have the excuse of being over sixty. We managed to squeeze by and pushed on up the hill to where it was less steep and carried on, leaving the van and the FWD to negotiate their way past each other.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, a downhill (mostly) run along the Frome valley to Cattistock. Despite the cows and the FWD it was a lovely ride, with some great scenery. The only minor problem was that there was nowhere to stop for a cup of tea or a pint. The only tea room  and the only pub on the route were in Cattistock (though there are probably pubs and tea rooms in Maiden Newton I wasn’t looking for one at that stage of the ride).

The Cattistock Tea Room, however does a good cup of tea and excellent fruit cake.

Old Labour Old Problems?

Having elected Jeremy Corbyn as it’s leader the Labour Party now has to work out what to do with the result. There does seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for his policies among the party members, the Unions (though whether the enthusiasm extends to Union members is more debatable) and especially the £3.00 clicktivists.
Roughly half a million people were entitled to vote either by being members of the Labour party, by paying £3.00 to become a registered supporter, or as in my case, registering as a member of an affiliated organisation. Apparently only about 60,000 people took my route of registering as a member of an affiliated organisation. Registering as an affiliate cost nothing but about five minutes of your time. My Trade Union, Unite, has 1.4 million members alone, hence my skepticism as to whether the members of Unite share Len McCluskey’s enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn.
Leaving that aside, what concerns me more, is that in order to win power and enact those policies we will have to convince at least some of the 11 million people who voted Tory in May to switch their vote next time round. I don’t think that many of them decided to keep David Cameron in No.10 because Ed Milliband wasn’t left wing enough.
In addition there is also the minor problem of wresting forty odd seats in Scotland from the Nationalists. A more left leaning party might help there, at least slightly. However, as I read it the problem for Labour in Scotland wasn’t so much the politics of the politicians as their general uselessness. (The term “Numpty” was invented to describe a certain type of time served Scottish Labour politician.) The SNP will take a lot of shifting. Next May’s Scottish Assembly elections will be one of his first tests.
As for his policies, anti-austerity is a popular battle cry from John O’Groats to Athens. whether it is as popular as some people think is yet to be seen. One of the reasons that Labour lost in May was that a lot of voters didn’t see an alternative to austerity as possible and didn’t trust Labour with their taxes. Making the case against cuts will be difficult, especially as Corbyn’s preferred method of deficit reduction appears to involve higher taxes. There is an argument that the United Kingdom is under taxed, but that has to be weighed against the fact that tax rises are not popular.
How many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, from scrapping Trident (something that is not necessarily a bad idea) through limited sanctions against Israel to nationalisation of the energy companies will actually make it into the 2020 manifesto remains to be seen. The public however may take a bit of persuading to vote for some of them.
The impression that I have is that the key to a Labour victory (as far as the Corbynistas are concerned) is voter re-education and getting people who don’t vote and up to now couldn’t be bothered to vote, to get off their sofa in May 2020 and vote Labour. In the meantime Cameron and the Tories will be gerrymandering the constituency boundaries and making it more difficult to register to vote.
We are stuck with an old white male leader, who I do not think knows how to compromise and who has alienated a large section of his M.P.’s already. We had the chance to elect a woman, Yvette Cooper, who would genuinely have brought a fresh perspective to leading the party, but we blew it. We decided we preferred the feelgood politics of protest to the politics of power. After all you can keep your principles unsullied if you never have to put them into practice.

Cycling in Suffolk

The British comedian Hugh Dennis’ father John was until 2006 the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Hugh Dennis was once asked if his father had ever been considered for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. He replied;
“I wouldn’t have thought so. To become Archbish you have to write weighty theological tomes with titles like ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’ or ‘Reimagining the Eucharist in the Light of Women Bishops’. To the best of my knowledge the only book that dad had published was called ‘Bicycle Rides in Suffolk’.”

If that was the only book the Most Reverend John Dennis wrote then he chose his subject well.

As we already knew, but discovered again, Suffolk is a lovely county to go cycling in. The roads are quiet and while it is not flat, climbs tend to be short, so with 30 seconds to a minute’s effort you are over them. (Especially if you have an e-bike like some people but not me) Most villages have pub, and if that isn’t your choice of refreshment then there are plenty of tea rooms and farm shops that also sell tea and cake. This makes it a county suitable for tourers and pootlers rather than hard-riding col bashers. Grace and I fall into the touring and pootling category, so we love the place.
I’m not sure why I did it, but a while ago I joined the M.A.M.I.L.’s* website of choice Strava. I doubt that I will ever be top dog on any of the sections, but you can compare yourself with previous efforts and it also records the routes that you covered.

The rides we did:
Around the Saints
Wandering from Waldringfield

*Middle Aged Man In Lycra

Voting Reform Revisited.

I haven’t said much about Voting Reform since we lost the referendum back in 2011. The results of our recent general election tell me at least that it is time to revisit it.
We need to get from this:

To something like this:

(This ballot paper is from New Zealand)

Electric Bikes at the Giro????

“It’s the stupidest thing. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.”

This is what Ryder Hesjedal said after officials seized his bike at the finish line of today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia to check for any hidden electric motors. The full story can be found here at Velonews.

There have been rumors of some riders using electrically assisted bikes for a while. I think it started after the 2010 Ronde van Vlaanderen when Fabian Cancellara rode away from Tom Boonen on the Kapelmuur. (round about 2:40 on the video clip)

Strangely this is not the first time that Ryder has been suspected of having a motor in his bike

Electric assisted bikes exist. My wife Grace has one, and it works well. It also weighs 22 kg, of which the battery accounts for about 3 kg and the motor probably about another 3 kg. In other words the motor and the battery weigh about as much as the average pro’s race bike.The maximum power boost is probably about 120 to 150 watts, using it at that level the battery would last about two hours.

An Electric Bike
A Cannondale Race bike as ridden by Ryder Hesjedal

I think the important part of the bike to focus on is the bottom bracket area (where the cranks are) If you look closely at the E-Bike you will see a grey rhomboid shape just in front and above the front chainring. This is the motor housing. Do you see anything remotely like this on the Cannondale – no. Electric motors produce power roughly in proportion to their size, so to get a significant power boost you need a reasonably sized motor, something which I don’t think could be hidden in the seat tube. Another thing worth noticing is that grey box on the lower tier of the rack, that is the battery. It is conceivable that you could fashion a battery that would fit into the down tube, but I’m not quite sure how you get it in and out without cutting the frame nor can I see how you would charge the thing without leaving evidence of a charging port. Also note the wires everywhere on the E-bike and not so much on the Cannondale.

On top of that why would a professional cyclist want the penalty of the extra weight of a battery and motor on a mountain stage for a five or ten minute boost?

However some professional cyclists, in particular the Dutch female rider Marjin de Vries think that all electric bikes, especially the type ridden by my wife should be banned completely.

A similar incident last summer was even more traumatic. I was training in Zuid-Limburg, in the Dutch hills, doing efforts on a climb. Efforts mean riding up a hill as fast as possible. Again. And again and again. When I did the effort for the fifth time, gasping for oxygen and with legs about to explode, I suddenly saw an aged couple two corners above me. They were pedaling up as well.I should have realised immediately that only Super Granny would be capable of riding up a climb like that. For ordinary-aged people it was far too hard. But doing efforts blurs ones vision. I could just notice that this aged couple’s pace was pretty high. Actually, they seemed to be flying up. I was giving it all and I hardly came any closer. WTF?, I thought. WTF, OMG, BBQ?!?! I squeezed out every bit of energy I had left in my body and found myself back in the slipstream of the couple. And there I saw what I should have realised minutes before: electric bikes.

Having tried to follow Grace in full boost mode up a hill, I tend to agree with her.

Random thoughts, ramblings and rants


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