Tag Archives: cycling

A Dozen Days

About this time last year, I went to the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival with a few friends.

We were there to see a friend of my friends, Andrew Murray, but had tickets for the whole afternoon programme.

One of the films shown was Paul Pritchard’s The Journey, about a cycling trip across the Himalayas via Everest Base Camp.

His was a name from the past for me, from my rock climbing days when I lived in Manchester. My own climbing career was short and ultimately rather painful, but it further indulged my love of high adrenaline adventures, gave me a freedom I’d never felt before and I loved being in the mountains.

I climbed small crags in the Peak District, bigger ones in the Lakes, my first proper mountain in Snowdonia and I thoroughly loved sea cliff climbing in Pembrokeshire. I loved everything that went with it, the planning, the friends, the kit, the weather, the stories, the travelling.

In March 1998, I had an accident when I fell from my first lead, a VDiff called Pocket Wall in Hobson Moor Quarry. I didn’t fall very far, but made a dreadful mess of my ankle on the way down and the accident had a pretty big impact on my life for a long time afterwards.

A few weeks later, Paul Pritchard had a much more serious accident on the other side of the world while climbing a sea stack, and suffered a major head injury. His was a much longer recovery. I remember hearing about it at the time, being a name I knew but not someone I knew if that makes sense. Everyone had an opinion about it, just as they’d had about mine, and I hated that part of it all.

And then, as I drifted away from climbing, and from Manchester, and from who I was back then, I forgot all about it.

The part of the film that stood out for me was where he talked about a part of the trip that had been unexpectedly brilliant, not the actual getting to the end but a step along the way, one of the days that becomes a defining part of your life.

His words were something along the lines of “you only get a handful of days, maybe a dozen days like this, where you really feel… in tune….., but you should maybe aim for that every day”

I had a couple of these days last year, and when the chips have been down over the winter, as they seem to have been perhaps a little more than I’d realised this year, I’ve enjoyed thinking about them and wondering when the next ones will come around.

There was also a very funny part of the film, where he talked about being able to look at and appreciate the beauty of the mountains and the relief of knowing that he doesn’t have to climb them any more. I could relate to this as it’s kind of how I feel about rock now. I climbed Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis last year, because I’d wanted to do it for years and I wanted to see if I still loved it as much as I had. I really enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold what it used to for me, and it was strange realizing how much things had changed.

The film is here, it’s about life, and about change, and it’s excellent.

The Journey – Paul Pritchard and Carol Hurst

This photo was taken while cycling down Mont Ventoux with my dad last year. It’s one of my own dozen days, and I’ll be writing about these over the next few months.

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And…. Action!

Inevitably at the start of the year, we look back on what was, and start to think once again about what might be.

2014 was a pretty transformative year for me. I set myself some monster targets running and cycling wise, and achieved all but the very last one of them.

Everything else was left more fluid. For the first year in a while, I had just a small handful of harp gigs in the diary and I played much less than normal. This was deliberate, for reasons I’ll talk about another time. At the start of last year, I was in a brand new relationship, in a temporary job, with no commitments beyond demolishing a serious debt mountain, looking after two big black furries, and working my way through a long-held list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I deliberately flung myself face first down a Munro in the snow to practice self-arrest with an ice axe, on my first day of proper winter hill walking (under supervision I should add).

I ran my first ever marathon. On Easter Saturday, I had a brilliant run on the West Highland Way with a favoured running buddy. A few weeks later, I ran my first ever ultra marathon.

I put myself forward as a support runner for the West Highland Way race, potentially running through the night in the Scottish wilderness with someone I’d never met, to help them achieve their goal. I wasn’t needed in the end sadly, due to them becoming injured, but the fact that my offer was accepted was wonderful and a huge honour! Instead, I spent my second Summer Solstice at the top of Meikle Bin, and this time I ran almost to the top.

I cycled up a truly brutal, epic Tour de France climb, in horrendous conditions, again to help someone else achieve their goal. Two days later we did it again.

I took part in my first ever club cycle race.

I had a minor tantrum in the middle of my second ultramarathon and was rescued by crystallised ginger and kind people, and the combination of both enabled me to finish the race.

I spent my birthday weekend in a forest just outside Aviemore, getting rained and hailed on, running/staggering round in circles, and sleeping for approximately 2 hours, to support someone through a big race.

I got my revenge the next week by dragging him up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (along with a fab guide) for my alternative birthday weekend.

I ran 38 miles in a day, 20 of these through the most extreme conditions I’ve ever encountered. The first 18 miles were horrendous for other reasons, but somehow when the weather turned, something magical happened. Then the day after, I DNF’d in an event for the first time.

I spent an incredible week exploring the north west Highlands, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for almost twenty years.

I bought a new-to-me harp, and signed up for an online course with an inspirational teacher.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my harp journey started again.

I’ve been to some incredible beaches.

I’ve had lots of time and space to think about lots of things.

I achieved a lot in 2014, and I am incredibly proud of all of it. I’m particularly of getting up Mont Ventoux.

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Photobombing the Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe – 12 miles out from Bridge of Orchy with 12 miles still ahead on the first truly hot day in months.

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Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for the above fab photo, taken along the bonny banks at the Highland Fling.

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Looking surprisingly glam given how knackered I was here – second ascent of Mont Ventoux in three days (Malaucene route this time)

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This was the first time up Ventoux. We could see…. nothing. Both very tired and very cold but full of beans.

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Spidean Coire nan Clach – Beinn Eighe, November in Scotland. Who’d have thought it. Blue, clear skies.

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I think of these words often now – the Tom Simpson memorial on the Bedoin ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Getting to the top of the big hill at Loch Katrine, for the first time.

But there is more to come.

2014 was really about trying to escape from previous failures. I can confirm that if you run far enough and cycle up enough big tough hills, you will find some answers. They probably won’t be what you expect but you definitely won’t forget them if you learn them the hard way.

When you find the things you truly love doing, it becomes ever more important to make space for them in your life.

The fact is that now, there are not enough hours in the day for running, cycling, hill walking, motorcycling. Let alone looking after pets, seeing friends and family, earning a living.

In my previous life, I didn’t know what to do with myself much beyond working.

As a result of a lot of thinking while covering a serious amount of self-propelled miles last year, I have everything I need in terms of ideas and plans for the next step of the journey.

Now, they need action, and commitment, and confidence and the drive to see them through.

But the last year has taught me that if you are brave and keep trying enough big bold things, sometimes they will work out after all.

PS just to prove it’s not all highs and happy faces, here’s me remembering just how much I hate chossy damp dark slimey chimneys! Thanks to guide Dave Chapman for the photo and a brilliant day despite a few squeaky bits.

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Mountain climbed

A month ago I arrived home from trip of a lifetime. I accompanied my Dad on a cycling trip to Provence, to help him celebrate his 60th birthday by realising a lifelong dream to ride up Mont Ventoux.

Quite simply it was the biggest, hardest thing I’ve ever done. Then we went back and did it again, on an even hotter day. I learnt so much along the way and I still haven’t been able to get it all into words yet.

It’s not uncommon for me to dip a little after a big event, be it a race or a concert or other performance. I’d anticipated a bit of a low but I find myself struggling to pick myself up, keep my emotions under some sense of control and get back to normal.

I find it helps me to set another goal, something substantial that will really challenge me. But at the moment I can’t seem to think of anything sufficiently epic that fits both the minimal time and budget I have available.

I wonder if perhaps I’m not quite ready, and whether I need to pause a little and enjoy the phenomenal sense of achievement. It was by no means a fast ascent but it was life changing for both of us and I am glad I was able to share my Dad’s big day.

Back to the drawing board, to plotting, to dreaming, to wondering “Could I?” and more importantly “How?” and “When?”

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Transition….Transmission

Often, when people make big changes in their lives, you hear lots about the good things. There is a lot of pressure (mostly put there by you) to demonstrate it’s all working out and was the best move you ever made.

Sometimes, it goes catastrophically wrong. Whether the signs are there or not, actually realising and accepting that things are not how you thought they would be, and aren’t going to be no matter what you do, is incredibly difficult and very very painful.

Three weeks ago, I had another one of those defining moment phone calls, of the variety that I haven’t had since 2010 and before that, 2007. The news was devastating – another buyer had pulled out of the sale of my house, at the eleventh hour, and after months of waiting for them to sort everything out with lots of reassurance from all sides.

The feasibility of the Scottish adventure rested on the sale of the house. I’d fought very hard to keep afloat over the last year, and it was becoming harder and harder to keep going, both financially and emotionally. This was a house I’d bought with my ex husband expecting to raise a family in, and then worked hard to keep after we separated as it was the longest I’d ever lived in one place and the most ‘at home’ I’d felt anywhere.

Gradually after some bad news at the start of 2012, I came to realise that life had moved on from the hopes that took me to that house and had kept me feeling at home there. Nothing was going to change without a pretty drastic step, and I felt sure I could make the break, with just the house situation to deal with.

I’d hardly eaten in the two weeks before as everything became more and more stressful. Constant requests for ridiculous paperwork, phonecalls to and from so-called professionals every 5 minutes. This was the day when an exchange had been promised and it hadn’t happened. It got nearer 5pm and it became obvious nothing was going to happen that day, but I missed a call on my mobile and then it was returned later on.

Now it was all broken. In the grand scheme of things, nobody died and nobody else had cancer. In terms of the immediate impact on me and everything I’d worked for, it was pretty significant.

But I was on my way to Applecross, one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, for the duathlon I was so excited about. I don’t know how, but somehow I managed to get enough of the distress out of my system to promise myself I wouldn’t let it spoil the weekend.

I slept but barely ate. I was excited about the event itself but at the same time as this, I was dreading the run and was extremely apprehensive about the ride. I knew I needed to get some food down my neck but didn’t want to risk the upset of being even more sick.

On the run, I couldn’t get into a rhythm for the life of me. I’d run a lot in the preceding weeks – I was wary of doing too much after being ill the month before, but I was loving my running and didn’t want to stop. Whether it was the lack of any meaningful food or too much running before, even after my requisite 3 mile warm up period, nothing was happening and it was all I could do to keep walking. Sometimes this can be an asthma issue, but not this time – just nothing in the tank.

I’d swapped to the Challenge to remove the pressure of possibly missing the cut-off time, which meant I didn’t need to worry about getting back and could take my time.

The wildness of the landscape was staggering. I’d been to Skye before, and to the Summer Isles just a fortnight before. But I’d never been that far off the main road, let alone the beaten track, and I’d had company. Now, I was out on a sunny day pretty much on my own. A couple of people behind me, and a good few a fair way in front. But if I’d had Inspector Gadget style arms, had I reached them out to both sides, they would have gone for miles without touching anything other than sheep and mountains.

At one point, I looked behind me and the mountains around Torridon took my breath away. I wanted to stop for a photo, but knew this would mean seeing the time on my phone and I didn’t want to look at that. I promised myself I would come back, and would remember the sight for a very long time.

Geographically, I was completely isolated, probably the most alone I have ever been. But not lonely. Conversely, the most lonely I have ever felt was sat in a traffic jam on the M25, surrounded by people and cars as far as I could see, on my way home from a wedding I had played the harp for on what should have been my own wedding day.

I realised I was getting nearer the Transition area. At the start of the run, I’d wondered if I would make it round the bike ride. The humiliation of not getting up the hills and/or crashing trying to get out of my pedals was worrying me after a rather embarrassing incident up the Tak ma Doon nearer home.

By the time I got to the last mile of the run (on tarmac which felt very strange), I had calmed right down and was excited about the ride. The thought of those beautiful hills around Torridon had really lifted me, and I felt so lucky to be where I was. No thoughts were of the wider situation – I was truly enjoying the moment and loving every second.

Transition gave me a further lift – there were a few more people there than I had thought were immediately ahead of me, and I managed to head off before them. I even got a very unexpected sweaty sloppy kiss (not from a stranger I should add). I was really buzzing and looking forward to getting going after I’d fished my bike out of a small bog.

(The Transtion area at Applecross is not an average one!)IMG_2045

The hills came, and some of them were quite sharp, but I got over them. I talked to myself a lot and surprised myself with how much I could relax and still keep going. I went past a couple of people up a couple of the hills which amazed me. I guess being a few pounds lighter really does help!

A Eureka moment occurred when I finally realised the difference between tension and effort, something that is critical when playing the harp. I have been affected by tension-related injuries for a while, and my playing has often been restricted because I’ve become too tense. Feeling my legs working hard while my shoulders were completely relaxed was a pretty bizarre thing to get my head round, and I actually chuckled out loud.

I felt very connected with my bike and my body, and with the scenery which I just can’t describe adequately, and I was really, really enjoying myself.

Gradually I realised I’d probably done the last climb, and I cycled round the Bay towards the finish. The pipes at the end brought tears to my eyes, probably combined with the fact that I was shattered.

Although I’d had a good head start, I was one of the later finishers and it didn’t take long before most people had wandered away in search of tea and (wonderful!) cakes at the village hall.

This is my bike, doing a pretty good impression of how I felt afterwards. In need of a lie down. (Note the lucky Rossi turtle stickers had actually proved lucky this time by keeping me going)

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The evening brought some fabulous food and company in the Applecross Inn, having had a wander across the beach on the way to the pub. Finally I got my toes in the sea, for the first time since the Clacton triathlon last September. It was cold but there was no way I was missing out. For a girl who loves to be beside the seaside, it had felt like far too long.

Excellent beer, wonderful food and even more excellent whisky after a fantastic day spent in such a special place with someone you love is something to be treasured.

The Applecross leg of the Scottish adventure was over all too soon, but I know I will be back, and for longer next time. Crucially, the experience of being there, and the release that it brought, will keep me going for a good while yet.

I surprised myself by just how much I could leave behind when I really needed to, and when in such an incredible place.

Admittedly I was very very far from home, and I know this adds an extra dimension. Sometimes it can feel like going away won’t solve anything, that the same problems will be there when you return.

But this trip gave me a lot of strength to face the truth of what had happened, and to cope with the fallout that will come. Accepting you’ve made a mistake is very hard. Moving on from it and not letting it hold you back is even harder.

It might have taken a lot of strength to keep going physically (and I am really not sure where this came from!), but the emotional strength that comes from completing a significant physical challenge should not be underestimated.

September has been a difficult month. It started with such promise in the wilds of Achiltibuie, dancing (indeed shoogling!) insanely after the consumption of ‘some’ whisky and staggering back from a gig in utter darkness. It ended with another new start back at the RCS for the second year of my course. This had looked impossible even just a few days before, but sometimes even the most stubborn of us have to ask for help in difficult times, and it often comes from unexpected places.

(Thanks to Graham for this photo – if you look carefully, you can just see a person with her toes in the sea…)

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PS The post title is one of my favourite lyrics, from TVC15 by David Bowie. I loved the thought of going from transition where you are effectively faffing about and changing, to transmission and getting going again.

Bad Week/Good Week

Lots of things affecting my life are completely out of my control at the moment, and given my chronic lack of patience and general control freak tendencies, this is pretty hard going. Added to the feelings of anger and hurt following a break up (even if it was my choice), this was not shaping up to be a good week.

However, in order to retain a sense of balance, I’m concentrating on the good things and have enjoyed some of the little things in life this week.

On Monday, I decided to make my first attempt at the mighty Crow Road. Even at 10am on a Monday morning, there were some other cyclists going up it. Such is the notoriety of this climb, even the local bin men and roadworkers were offering to time me as I started up the road. Before long I had company and a friendly chap from one of the local clubs sat with me on the first bit (despite me telling him not to wait). He had a few kind words – most importantly that the start was the worst bit. This helped me dig in, and before too long I was up at the car park for a breather.

I’d intended to grab a quick drink and keep going, but I got chatting to another chap who was out on his motorbike and had stopped for a cigarette. He was a good few years older than me and looked not unlike Sean Connery. He’d had quite a life but we had a lot in common and we talked about some serious stuff for a long time. Being newly single, it was nice to be reminded that there are still possibilities when you least expect them, however when he told me he’d just realised he didn’t have his teeth in (not safe when riding a motorbike in case you crash and choke) we had a good chuckle and I realised he probably wasn’t the man for me.

After this, I had no oomph left for the rest of the climb so headed for home back down the hill.

On Tuesday night, while the dogs were out for their last visit to the garden before bed, I was stood in the corner by the garage and caught a hint of the most beautiful smell (quite surprising in this area of the garden!). I moved closer to the flowers nearby and found the source. I have honeysuckle in my garden. This is one of the many pleasures of the first summer in a new garden – when previously unknown flowers and plants finally emerge after the winter.

On Wednesday morning, I was greeted with the most beautiful blue sky and blazing sunshine (showing off the honeysuckle beautifully).

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I decided to try the Crow Road again and made it to the top this time, keen to make the most of the sunshine before the rain was forecast to return the next day. I had a brilliant ride and really enjoyed the freedom of being alone in the hills again. And there were a LOT of hills.

As promised, the rain came on Thursday and rather than being annoyed, I welcomed it. It felt like weeks since I’d needed a brolly, and I looked out of my spare room window to see a slightly Himalayan scene of greenery and mist. My hill had all but disappeared (normally you can see the Crow Road from this window) but it felt so fresh and alive and I opened the window to breathe it in.

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This room was repainted this week and is now a beautiful shade of duck egg (pale green). With such a stunning sight out of the window, I’m very tempted to swap bedrooms and move in here instead!

On Thursday evening I went to a promotional Ladies Night at one of the bike shops in town. Normally this kind of event would send me cringeing but I needed some bike shorts so decided to pop along – my lovely mum had sent me a little bit of pocket money and so I decided to use it for bike shorts. Gin was a close contender.

Trying on bike shorts proved utterly, utterly soul destroying. Believe me, even size 8 people have those moments in changing rooms and I spent most of the evening crying about it when I got home. I found a pair that didn’t create any extra bulges thankfully, but definitely needed the gin, which I now couldn’t afford.

However, as well as coming away with a pair of shorts and a well stocked goodie bag, I found out about some great things going on and I hope to be trying some of these out over the next few weeks.

Last night I made a wonderful curry (4 portions for less than £2 thanks to some cheap beef from the co-op) and enjoyed this while catching up on all the highlights of the day’s sporting events. A long-awaited win for Rossi at Assen, Scott Redding retaining his championship lead, an entertaining and controversial day at the Tour de France and a hard-fought win for Laura Robson at Wimbledon made for quite a day.

I’m also thinking of my family in Canada – they live in Calgary which has just seen some horrendous flooding. They are safe and their house is still standing thank goodness, but their city is going to have a hard time bouncing back. I am proud of their efforts to support their community and help others rebuild their lives. Looks like the Stampede is going ahead too – Hell or High Water is their call and it’s a great one.

Overall? Despite the undercurrents threatening to overwhelm at times, good things have happened so I’m calling it a good week.

Troy…. meet granny.

This is Troy, my little red bike. (The seat is a lot higher now, this was when I was still a bit nervous last year)

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Troy was only given his name this time last year, but I’ve had him for 15 years this year. He was built and given to me by my dad so I could get some vital rehab done after my climbing accident in March 1998. At the time, cycling was easier than walking and also proved excellent for rebuilding the strength in my wasted right leg.

In his previous life, he sported some very smart star-spangled banner handlebar tape, Lance Armstrong style. After I moved away from Manchester though, my poor bike sat outside ignored in the garage until early last year, when he was called back into service for Nightrider 2012.

This time, he was given back to me with blue handlebar tape. By this time, the doubts were well-known about the integrity of said Mr Armstrong, although the full story hadn’t come out. By the time it did, I was very glad to have new handlebar tape (choice of colours – blue, blue or blue).

He’s named Troy after Troy Bayliss, all-round super Ducati rider.

I was already besotted with him, a lovely smile and beautiful blue eyes and gutsy riding was enough for that. I knew he was a big cycling fan, but when he won the WSB championship in 2006 he wore a set of customised rainbow jersey leathers with a matching helmet. That was me, head over heels… although I did slightly go off him after I saw how scrawny his bum was after he showed the TV cameras his recent bike crash scars on the MotoGP coverage at Assen in 2007.

So when I started riding again, I decided Troy would be named Troy. His only performance-enhancing mod has been the addition of two lucky turtle stickers. When I raced motorbikes, I decided that since Valentino Rossi had turtles for luck, so would I. Before my first triathlon, I figured I needed all the luck I could get, and had two stickers left in my toolbox.

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Depending on your opinion, they either brought me no luck at all as I didn’t do very well, or they were very lucky indeed as I survived a big panic in the sea thanks to the RNLI at Clacton.

Anyway.

I’ve been running lots recently, but I hadn’t ridden since New Year’s Day when I did the triathlon in Edinburgh. Just as when I haven’t ridden my motorbike for a while, I get awfully nervous and jumpy about going out and so I tend to wait and wait for the right moment.

Cycling is in my blood, thanks to my dad. He is a hard as nails road cyclist, as thin as a whippet, and he has been riding for over 50 years now. My childhood was spent watching him race across the south east of England, and every July we would gather round the TV at 6pm every day for the Tour highlights on Channel 4.

Words such as peloton, tete de la course, maillot jaune, King of the Mountains, maillot vert, Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Champs Elysees are as much a part of my vocabulary as the Italian musical terms that come from my mother’s influence.

On weekends when my mum was away playing in concerts, we went to see the Milk Race and the Tour of Britain.

One year he took me to watch the Paris Six Day races at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. I’d never seen track cycling before and it was quite a spectacle. There was a crazy accordion player in the centre of the velodrome, and when a sprint was on, the siren would go to signal the start and he would play and dance faster and faster with his band until it was over. I saw the Men’s Pursuit Final from the Beijing Olympics, and of course as much of the London Olympics as possible, and they were very exciting but nothing has quite matched up to Paris for me. I couldn’t speak a word of French and only recognised a couple of rider names – Tony Doyle and Laurent Fignon being the two I remember, but I loved every second. And of course, I am a daddy’s girl so the fact that I saw all this with my dad made it extra special.

So when I get out on a bike, I feel like I can’t just get on and have a little trundle about. It’s the same as music for me, yes it’s fun but it’s also so much more than ‘just’ getting on your bike or playing your instrument. It’s part of who I am and I take it terribly seriously.

I now live in very serious cycling country, where you cannot escape hills wherever you go. No slogging up Tenpenny Hill (in Essex) and being done with any more.

The cyclists I’ve met on my rides have generally proved to be much more friendly than the runners I’ve met. When I’ve been passed, it’s always been with a bit of a chat. I know no-one bats an eyelid how fast I’m going, but I really really care and it really bothers me that I’m not very fast and I’m frightened of the inevitable falling off process that comes with wearing proper shoes, so I’m still wearing my trainers despite being on quite a tasty bike.

Today the perfect moment finally came, I finally managed to shut my head up, and I had a good spin around the roads near my house. Nothing terrible happened, unless you were the poor Asda lorry driver that had to wait an eternity for me to climb the hill into Bardowie.

In fact I really enjoyed my ride today. As in many other areas of life recently, I’ve relaxed a lot and calmed right down. I like hills. I like the fact that there is only one way to beat them. I like that if you stop, it’s harder to get going again so you might as well just keep going. I find them agonising but in a sick way, I really enjoy them. Today I stayed relaxed on the climbs and it felt brilliant. I wouldn’t say I breezed up them, but they felt so much easier than the last time I’d been up them.

A few of months ago, I entered a competition to win a place in the Etape du Tour on 7th July. This is an amateur cycle event that is basically a stage of the Tour de France, before the main event occurs. It would have meant some serious training, but I was up for the challenge and I live in the perfect area to give it my best shot.

Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I had hoped to take part in the Rapha Women’s 100 on the same day as the Etape du Tour. This is a worldwide event aimed at getting female cyclists out on the road all on the same day and completing the same distance – 100km. I’ve ridden this far before, on last year’s Nightrider event. My procrastination was making this look unlikely, but today went well and so I have decided to definitely do it (unless it is honking down with rain). I missed out on my half marathon in March because of my knee injury, and suddenly the thought of another big target is very appealing.

And so, over the next couple of weeks I will be making a more concerted effort to get out and do some proper hills. Granny gears or not. At least I have a good excuse for riding like a girl.

I’m also finally going to have my first go up the Crow Road. It’s not the same one as my favourite Iain Banks book, but it seems like as good a time as any.