Paria & a load of Pollocks

Paria & a load of Pollocks

On September 11th 1971, John Lennon appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, a hugely popular post 60’s, Americana zeitgeist show which was essential viewing due to its hosts easy going, conversational style and litany of A list celebs. Towards the end of the interview Cavett asks Lennon about the true meaning of the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’. The myth was that said song with such a title was a direct nod to the Beatles experimentation with acid – LSD. Lennon however maintained that this was completely untrue and in fact it was his son who had brought home a crazy painting from school; on questioning the image, Julian Lennon had replied that it was a picture of “Lucy flying in the sky with diamonds….” – and thus the tale was born.

 

Now whether this was Lennon trying to deflect any further scrutiny of the Beatles and their drug taking; due to the critical reaction to Pauls open confession of consuming LSD, from the public and the band; or whether it is in fact true, has been lost in translation over the years. Personally, I hope that there is some truth in both and some crazy cosmic connection and double meaning created by some higher power. Either way it doesn’t really matter and like all Art is up to individual interpretation and elucidation.

 

This week I received an essential bit of kit with autumn rolling in – the long sleeve thermal jersey. Paria.cc, sent me a ‘Bleka’ jersey and it’s certainly an eye catcher. Paria.cc, by their own admission, have a passion for the alternative, be it in design or attitude and they make no apology for it – “….it means we’ve sometimes ended up feeling like the odd one out.” Finally, a kindred spirit and a club I have the right shoes for!

 

Sam, Chief Commissionaire, at Paria.cc gave me the background of the thinking and design of the Bleka range;

“It was actually a bit of a 90’s throwback, coupled with the fact that I knackered a Ralph Lauren polo shirt once spilling bleach on it when I was cleaning a floor!”

Now I can totally relate to this; only a month ago I ruined a pair of beloved Vans shorts in exactly the same way while cleaning our shower. I can also see the 90’s theme with that tie-dye, bleached, stonewash thing going on – ‘Bleka’ is in fact Swedish for bleach. It is definitely individual, alternative and cool.

 

The jersey is a standard long sleeve looker. Body fit, full zipper, 3 pockets elasticated cuffs, silicone grippers and reflective piping. The semi fleece thermos lining means you are snug on those chilly rides without overheating or unduly leaking sweat. The shiny geometrically patterned black works extremely well as a juxtapose to the slightly blurred matt white ‘Bleka’ print and the overall look is a definite head turner. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m mainly thinking of the Assos and Castelli purists, but we don’t talk to them anyway!

 

Immediately on seeing the Bleka range, in fact within milliseconds, I had decided on what the design meant, stood for and was a nod towards. To me it had to be Jackson Pollack, the volatile, alcohol fuelled abstract expressionist of the 60’s made famous for his unique style of ‘drip painting’. I have always felt a strong affinity with Pollack and his work, which if I am honest was born out of an obsession with The Stone Roses and John Squires album cover homage.

 

This is what I thought the ‘Bleka’ range was about but as I have explained or rather as Sam explained it wasn’t……….or was it? (It wasn’t, did you not read the above quote?)

 

Just as with Lennon and Lucy, perhaps there was a double, unknown and hidden meaning which was only to be discovered once the range had been released on an unsuspecting public. Without knowing what ‘Bleka’ meant when I received it and not having spoke to Sam I Googled ‘bleka’. What came up only cemented further my belief that this design was based on the Pop artist and as usual, ahem, I was right. ‘Bleka’ is also a Swedish name for an Atlantic marine habitant – Pollachius Pollachius – or as it is better known the Pollock. Weird man.

 

So, by pure accident or cosmic connection, Paria.cc chose a name for their newest range which has two completely different yet valid and inspiring meanings behind the design. Just as the Beatles have ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’; Paria.cc have ‘Bleka’. Now I’m not saying that Paria.cc are as big as the Beatles, you know what sort of trouble that lands you in, but it’s worth pondering what forces were at work that day long ago when the bleach hit the polo shirt. Trippy dude.

 

I think the only thing that we can take from this is that it is yet more scientific fact that cycling and all that goes with it operates on a higher plane than other mundane pastimes. Was it not Buddha who said, “Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, man cannot live without cycling.” (……it wasn’t by the way)

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Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

‘O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.’

 

I think I had heard of Walt Whitman but I can’t be sure. It’s possible he merged into the overabundance of moody and inaccessible poets I was introduced to in my teens via an over excitable GCSE English Lit teacher. Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Robert Frost all glided untouched over my teenage head. I was more interested in what Kurt Cobain, Zack de la Rocha and the Beastie Boys had to say.

‘O Captain! My Captain!’ hit me, like the first time you hear Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’; (which if you haven’t, stop reading right now, sit somewhere comfortable and YouTube it…………………………Are you back? OK well done.) It stirred something in me which as a pubescent boy at an all-boys school had been supressed and ignored in favour of rugby and talk of unobtainable girls. Emotion. I know, for a fact, that the poem on its own would not have done this, it was the delivery. I give you Robin McLaurin Williams and ‘The Dead Poets Society’.

I knew this crackers, 100mph comic from Mork & Mindy; part of the 90’s Channel 4 offering between 6pm-7pm on weekdays. I had seen Good Morning Vietnam also and was struck by the emotionally sincerity in his role when the madcap shenanigans had subsided and the full horror of war had tempered his character into sobriety. I liked Williams; he was a funny guy.

“The Mississippi River broke through a protective dike today. What is a protective dike? Is it a large woman that says “Don’t go near there! But Betty- Don’t go near there! Don’t go down by the river!”… No, we can’t say “dyke” on the air, we can’t even say “lesbian” anymore, it’s “women in comfortable shoes. Thank You.” – Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning Vietnam

 ‘The Dead Poets Society’ siezed me and I identified with its variety of characters. Perry, Anderson, Overstreet, Dalton, Pitts and Meeks; I saw something of myself and close friends in all of them. The day to day school environment was also a familiar one, albeit less preppy and more North East, UK. The struggle for both internal and external acceptance, confidence in a confusing and scripted world. I did have some inspiring teachers at school but we lacked a John Keating. It is still a film I don’t mind admitting that I struggle to watch without becoming a bit wet faced. The ending is a distressing crescendo of coercion by an unrelenting father figure; I will not spoil it if you haven’t seen it………AGAIN, YOU’VE NOT SEEN ‘DEAD POETS SOCIETY’! STOP READING THIS AND GO WATCH IT; jeez have you been living under a rock?!

“Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” – John Keating, Dead Poets Society

So we have established Williams is, in my humble opinion, a legend, one of the luminous few; to make his position even more lofty and enlightened he was obsessive about all things bike. As befits a man of his zany and unconventional existence his considerable and excessive collection of two wheel velocipedes is staggering. You can view part of this collection, in fact you can own part of it if you have the cash money. 87 of his steeds are currently being auctioned off for charity and there is something for everyone.

Some personal favourites of the 87 are;

The Pea Picker Krate Stingray – https://paddle8.com/work/schwinn/124595-pea-picker-krate-stingray-childs-bike/

The Chopper Hog Roadster – https://paddle8.com/work/schwinn/124606-chopper-hog-roadster/

The Derringer – https://paddle8.com/work/derringer/124637-derringer/

There seems to be every conceivable brand covered. Some that are household names and some that have disappeared from existence. This collection is apparently only a fraction of the collection. What a guy. Another quirk of the auction is the addition of the accoutrements i.e. saddle bags, frame bags, frame pumps, bottles and in a few even the cycling computer seems to be included. What a personal touch. What entities of wonder and precious things grace the insides of his Dario Pegoretti saddle pack? What steady routes did he complete on the Pinarello Dogma 6.1? What emergency implements hide in the tool bottle attached to his Calfee Dragonfly Pro?

It is unlikely I will ever know because due to the recent skydive of the pound there is now way I can even contemplate bidding for any of the bikes. But someone will find out, and someone will have a direct connection to the great man himself. I will have to conciliate myself with the visceral connection he made to me all those years ago on channel 4, VHS and latterly in his openness to publicly deal with his failing health, be it physical or mental.

He would be first on my rollcall of bucket list dinner guests alongside Bill Hicks, Bob Marley and Steve McQueen. I think more fitting though, would be to have been able to share a café stop coffee with him, sharing tales of daring descents, questionable climbing and a penchant for ill-fitting Lycra. Thanks for making me happy Williams.

“Well sir; I don’t know how much value I have in this universe, but I do know I made a few people happier than they would have been without me and as long as I know that; I’m as rich as I ever need to be.” – Mork, Mork & Mindy

 

You can bid on the 87 bikes at Paddle 8 until 25th October

Paddle 8 Auction – https://paddle8.com/auction/robin-williams/

Business, Baggies and Biliousness

Business, Baggies and Biliousness

I have recently returned from a business trip to Naples. “Oooo check you; Naples is it; show off!” Well yes it was a decent few days and we got to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum but Naples was not what I thought. There was quite a difference between rich and poor. On the way to the hotel we drove past a shanty/ghetto town which was only a couple of streets away from tourist hotels and shops. It was strange to see this in a country renowned for style, couture fashion houses and renaissance art.

During the trip a colleague forwarded me a short story written by a friend about his memories and life growing up with the eponymous Stone Roses. The story was fantastic and was a mirror image of my own memories and introduction to what in my opinion is one of the greatest bands ever.

I can vividly remember going into Darlington town centre, 1990, with a friend into Court Arcade just off Skinnergate. Next to Ludi’s Joke Shop; where I spent many a happy hour purchasing fart spray, plastic dog doo’s and all manor of ‘blackening’ soaps, ‘snappy’ chewing gum and foaming blood capsules; resided a record shop. Due to the intervening years since I visited there, due to age, time and intoxicating substances I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called (if anyone from Darlington can remember that would be tremendous). I visited the shop with my friend Nick; he was a school year older than me and had been impressing me with talk of a new musical revolution called ‘Madchester’. As an impressionable 13 year old I was keen to find out more and hear this new musical scene. Immediately I was drawn to the 12 inch single cover, the Jackson Pollock inspired John Squire painting stood out among the Jive Bunny, Lisa Stansfield and Milli Vanilli single covers that haunted the UK singles chart in this transitional period between 80’s synth pop to dance orientated indie baggy guitar bands. The single was ‘Made Of Stone’ and it looked and sounded as good as I had hoped. My friend purchased Inspiral Carpets – She Comes In The Fall which also looked cool with its cow inspired psychedelic design. From that moment on I was hooked, I was baggy, I was re-born…..I was slightly deluded!

My next mission was the look. Every town in the UK as this time had a jean shop of the sort I am about to describe. Ours was called ‘Just a Fiver’ and later was to be known as ‘Jean Jungle’ or it might of been the other way round. As Vic Reeves is from Darlington I like to think he used this shop as inspiration for his Shooting Stars skit “Geordie Jeans; right tight round the arse!” Inside the denim emporium were housed thousands of jeans; Levi, Lee, Wrangler all of which were far too expensive and main stream for a wannabe raver. Nearer the back lived the prize possessions I sought. ‘Joe Bloggs’ and ‘Zeus’ jeans were the weapons of choice for discerning teenage youth. The jeans were as wide at the ankle as they were at the thigh and mine were washed out pale blue. To compliment this look I also acquired a t-shirt/hoodie which had a ‘paisley’ neck design very reminiscent of Ian Brown’s Paul Smith designed ‘Money’ t-shirt. I was cool. The hair soon followed and neat shortness was replaced bowl style shaggy locks. I was really cool. Footwear then arrived in the shape of some blue Adidas Gazelles. It’s ok I know you will now be having to have a sit down due to the coolness emanating from me through the media of blog. Darlington did not know what had hit it, hanging out round Binns (department store), Guru and Dressers had not seen anything like it.

Anyway I digress, back to Naples.

After two good days of meetings we had our final meal and drinks where it’s fair to say I may have partaken in one too many dizzy waters. Retiring to my hotel room late and having to get up at 7am for a flight home the enormity of my predicament began to unfold. I was drunk, I had the beginnings of a headache, I had no water and was unsure of the protocol in drinking tap water. A brief drunken fumble (easy!) on my Ipad revealed no relevant info on whether I should or should not. I figured I could handle a hangover but not D & V so I decided not to have any water. Idiot. I packed my bag, of a fashion and retired gracefully to bedfordshire.

I awoke at 7am. Over my right eye I had what felt like a nail sticking in it, on closer inspection I was nail clear but but not pain free. Had I banged my head? Concussion? Skull fracture? As I came round I remembered; oh yeah, hangover. I got out of bed stumbled into the bathroom and surveyed the figure before me in the mirror. My hair was a 360 degree matt of points. The paleness of my skin and bags under my eyes only helped to highlight the redness of my pupils. I was in trouble. I took some headache tablets and fairly quickly brought them back up. How could I re-hydrate myself with no water to drink – easy; long shower and my body would fulfill this obligation through osmosis. Didn’t work. I was beginning to get the fear. Right come on get it together, stages: Stage One – leave room and check out, Stage Two – Bus to Airport, Stage Three – Check In at Airport, Stage Four – Fly, Stage Five – Drive 4 hrs home……the fear increased.

Stage One, Two and Three went as well as could be expected. I had some sick, sweated, panicked and doubted my own ability to cope but I made it to boarding. I had begun to feel better and had at least managed to drink a Powerade and converse with some work colleagues. The flight would be ok, I would sleep and I would be back home before I knew it. Things were looking up and I began to regain control, I even inspected a gentleman’s outfitters in Naples Airport full of tweed, brogues and waistcoats. I boarded the plane and strapped myself in and readied for the exhilaration of take-off.

The engines roared and strained and we thundered down the runway and left Italy behind. As we climbed I felt something twinge in my stomach and then again. I repositioned myself in the seat and tried to get on with the more important business of completing a decent round on Tiger Woods Golf. At around 25,000 ft and 15mins into the flight, I suddenly felt very unwell. I calmly got out of my seat and walked to the back of the plane to the toilet. I spent the next 10mins talking to God and feeling very sorry for myself. I came out of the toilet and came face to face with a cabin crew member called Lee.

“Are you feeling unwell?” asked Lee sympathetically.

“Yes.” I murmured.

“Have you been sick?”

“Yes.”

“Is it a hangover?”

“Yes.” I whimpered, looking forlorn and helpless like a worm on the pavement, “Is it ok if I stand here for a bit?”

Lee said it was fine and he handed me a bottle of water with strict instructions to take small sips. Very soon standing became an issue so a squatted down, then sat on the floor, then kind of slumped in the corner. Then I discovered there was a flip down seat used by the cabin crew and so I flipped and sat. Sitting then became an issue and a quick visit back to the toilet ensured I got rid of any excess water I had managed to keep on board in the last 5 mins.

Word quickly spread through my work colleagues that I was in a slightly bad way. One by one they came to see me offering me advice and telling me I didn’t look good. My chameleon impression went down very well with the transition between white and green being almost instantaneous. Things were bad. With 1.5 hours of flying still to go I began to get the fear badly. I needed to get out, I could not cope with this feeling any longer it was without any doubt the worst hangover I could remember. EasyJet Lee reassured me that hangovers were indeed much worse on a plane due to the altitude and cabin pressure and he assured me that I would never do it again. More helpful advice. The next hour passed slowly. Trips to the toilet and back kept me entertained, as entertaining as that can be. I thought about worse things I could be doing like a 24hr X-Factor Marathon or pulling my own toe nails off with pliers.

Lee had given up with the water and was nursing me better with Ginger Ale, smiles and ‘campness’. On one occasion he returned from a drinks run asking if I wanted a “Greasy bacon sandwich?!?”. I reached out and tapped Lee on the wrist and said, “Oh Lee I think we both know that’s not a good idea!” The campness was catching I didn’t have long! This led me to think about whether hangovers can cause campness? Results to follow…

The last 30mins passed uneventfully, I could see the end and had in fact began to feel normal. We landed and with the seatbelt light off I got up to get my bag. I walked again to the back of the plane to debark and Lee was stood offering his regards and farewell wishes. I approached Lee and he put out his hand. I bypassed his hand and gave him a hug. Lee was my knight in orange armour, my Florence Nightingale, my EasyJet ‘Chatty Man’ and I was very grateful he had got me home!

The lesson to be learnt here boys and girls is not to fly with a hangover. It is an horrific, fear inducing, tear jerking, body twerking experience (for the record there was no twerking between myself and Lee on the flight). It really is not worth it and two days after I am still recovering. Big thanks to Lee and EasyJet and I am sorry for taking up your precious cabin space with my languid and pitiful form.

Keep it unreal

Ben

Cornwall Blog

photo

I am writing this new all singing all dancing, upgraded, streamlined blog from Cornwall. More precisely Perranporth. Even more precisely from the Ponsmere Hotel, room 224. The usual ‘Indian Summer’ has deserted us and we are presented with a vista of sea fret and drizzle. The hotel is a cross between Fawlty Towers and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There seems to be a running theme of hotels where we stay and their relationship to films starring Jack Nicholson (see Honeymoon Blog)….? Unfortunately Cornwall in the wet with grey skies is not a great place and with the surf blown out too it means there is very little to do without getting soaked.

We travelled slightly north east towards St Austell and to the Eden Project. This isn’t the cheapest place to visit but the view from the entrance is very impressive. Massive half golf ball type domes and acres and acres of plants. We followed the zig zag path to the ‘Rainforest’ dome, taking in the Cornish culture information signs and getting soaked on the way; it was that fine rain that soaks you through. Once we got into the dome we de-robed and then got soaked due to the humidity! C’est la vie. Half way round and Elle decided she’d had enough of having to read the signs explaining the different plants and felt that museums that told you the story or let you watch a film were better – like JackaNackaNory! I had to agree but not on that, I feel that although the Eden project is good and yes it’s all about conservation and re-generation of previous sites that have been decimated by man/woman (I’m all about equality when blame is the issue) what it really lacks are animals and/or dinosaurs. Lets face it, Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs would have just been like Gardeners World BC. Wild animals offer that slight edge of danger, mystique and wonder. Not all wild animals mind you, obviously a wild rabbit or sloth offer limited wonder and more boredom factor.

After we finished with the Eden Project we ventured to Newquay. Hmmm what to say abut Newquay. Well it’s a bit like Redcar with loads of amusements, shops selling stuff you don’t need like hoodies that on the back say ‘Life Guard’ (prepare for rant). What is it with people that buy these things? Fair enough if you are a child under 10 then yes it’s quite cute and there is an under lying important lesson about awareness and about the perils of the sea but it is completely unacceptable for anyone over this age to wear them. Especially a married couple with a his and hers grey and blue efforts. Even more especially of you are the female half of this matrimonial partnership and you are in fact not endowed with the body of Pamela Anderson and a body not un-similar to Giant Haystacks. A more accurate appendage to have stencilled on the back would be ‘Life Guard’s Burden’ and an even more accurate appendage would have been ‘Whale Fish’.

We got pasties and sat in the car over looking Fistral Beach. Elle thought I was taking my rant about ‘Life Guard’ hoodies a bit far and had walked off when we passed the couple and I had loudly said “Blimp!”. Although I couldn’t see Elle’s face I knew she’d be secretly grinning with pride.

Although the weather is a bit depressing and dreary my mood has picked up since a few weekends ago – might be the Doom Bar. I even went for a run on the beach this morning. I have been getting the occasional anxiety attack but I am use to these and they begin to get monotonous. I was listening the the king monkey man and lead singer of without doubt the most influential band in the last 30yrs, Mr Ian Brown and his song F.E.A.R. The lyrics are a clever play on the word FEAR and each line of lyrics uses it to formulate a statement…
“For everyman a religion, Face everybody and rule, Fantastic expectations  amazing revelations….etc.” I’ve tried to find out if the song has any meaning and all that the t’internet says is its just a clever play on the acronym of FEAR. I however would like to think it means something different – to me anyway.

With anxiety and depression unfortunately I got the FEAR and it manifests itself in all manner of different ways depending on how it catches me. When my ‘black dog’ arrives if I’m not prepared then it will leap on me, slober, fart on me and then leave hairs that I’m finding days after I think he’s gone. By accepting I have the FEAR I can now as Mr Brown has done change its form to something less threatening and productive. Out of all the lyrics in the song a few resonate with me and they can almost become like mantras.

“Forget everything and remember” – I like this. To me personally it means forget this current depression anxiety stuff that’s getting you down and remember the good times not long ago when you were taking over the world.

“Final execution and resurrection” – again executing this low mood business and resurrecting a the new slightly bruised and bashed but ultimately smart Carlson-Oakes.

“Fantastic expectations, amazing revelations” – says it all really.

Anyway I don’t want to get too heavy or preachy but that’s where I am just now. In fact that’s not true, where I am right now is in the Watering Hole on Perranporth Beach and the rain lashes and the Atlantic wind blows a gale – we moved from the hotel just after the Jack Nicholson paragraph. Elle is nursing an extravagant hot chocolate with all the trimmings and I am carefully sinking a Doom Bar.

Take chums, see you on the flip side.

For Everything A Reason

Open Letter to Triathlon Plus

A copy of a letter I sent to Triathlon Plus magazine with reference to Depression and Triathlon.

Open letter to Triathlon Plus Magazine

Hello,

Triathletes and injuries go hand in hand. Competing at whatever level you attain is often compromised at some point by a niggle, a pull, a strain and if you are really unlucky a break. How many triathletes would admit to a ‘mental’ injury however? Depression.

In my experience the usual answer to feeling low, exhausted and going badly on the bike/pool/tarmac is to train harder…..”I’m riding like a bag of spanners so I should ride harder, faster and longer.”……see Rule #5 of the ‘Velominati’ rules of the road. (www.velominati.com/the-rules)

There are numerous studies and reports looking into high level athletes suffering from post race/post career depression, unable to relive the highs and success in normal life. Depression in normal life? So that would be just depression for us ‘normal’ folk.
What if you are not trying to re-create that winning feeling or the buzz of competing in front of a live TV audience, what if you are just trying to get out of bed to complete a 5k training run or even just get out of bed.

2012 should have been a fantastic year. In the previous September myself and my girlfriend got engaged and had planned a fantastic ‘Winter’ wedding for 22nd December 2012 in God’s country; yes that’s right, North Yorkshire. Although I had not competed in any triathlons that year, I had been doing my fair share of Road Racing, getting my BCF 2nd Cat license and placing well in local club Time Trials. My plan was to have a big year on my bike, keep ticking over my swimming and running, good off-season of training and then in 2013 sign up for an Ironman distance triathlon. I have always been drawn to Ironman, ever since I saw Mark Allen and Dave Scott’s epic battle in the ‘Iron War’ in 1989 and Julie Moss’s amazing fortitude and will to finish.

I am not new to long distance triathlon, in my younger I enjoyed a decent finishing position in the Half Ironman in Llanberis, 2001 and also I represented Great Britain at Age Group level at the Long Course World Championships in both Nice, 2002 and Ibiza, 2003. However the lure of the full Ironman distance has always captivated me. So I figured on the back of a big year on the bike and a solid winter of running and swimming what better way to set me up for an Ironman.

In May of 2012 my Nana passed away after a stroke which left me numb. As a physiotherapist in the hospital she died in I was the point of contact between my family and the hospital staff; looking back I did not mourn. I was merely a medical professional, not a grieving grandson, dealing with the death of a sweet old lady. As the matriarch of my family the loss hit us all hard. So what did I do? I just buried my head into work and training and followed Rule #5.

Work that year was up and down, I was a respected team member in my department and had a great relationship with my bosses and colleagues but had failed at a couple of interviews to secure a promotion. Again the only answer was to do more. If any of you have planned a wedding you will know that it is just a little bit stressful with everyone and their aunt wanting to give you helpful advice on how to create the perfect day; like some crazed ‘Transcendental Meditation’ teacher explaining the levels to true enlightenment. One such meeting with my father and step-mother resulted in a massive argument over our choice to have a double-barreled surname. This argument then spiraled out of control and resulted in both my father, step-mother and all that side of the family – except my brother-in-law & his wife – deciding they would not be coming to our wedding……head in sand, see Rule #5.

In October a chest infection and recurrent colds forced me to cut my training right back, I was trying to complete minimum 12hr training weeks! 12hr training weeks on top of a 37.5hr working week on top of a wedding to plan; October isn’t that the the off-season!?! Looking back the signs were all there. One Wednesday I can vaguely remember a 3hr steady bike ride with some friends and completely struggling to keep up even on the flat. Sat in the cafe I had a strong coffee and contemplated my form, I felt slightly on edge and anxious as I recall but just put that down to the caffeine. I got back home, put my bike away, sat on the couch and began to cry. I think I cried and slept until my fiancee came in from work then the tears started again. On the following Monday I was presenting on an important course in hospital for newly qualified staff. I had been feeling unwell on the morning before I arrived, slightly nauseous and dizzy but again I just carried on. Halfway through the training I had an overwhelming urge to get out of the room, I was hot, sweaty and not thinking straight, the lights in the room became intensely bright and my vision became very disorientated. I made my excuses to the staff and asked a bewildered colleague to cover for me, went down to see my manager in her office and completely broke down.

My fiancee, who fortunately worked in the same hospital, came over to take me home and look after me for a couple of days. I’d be fine in a couple of days, I mean come on what was the matter with me, crying all the time and being soft – it’s not like I just had a nervous breakdown or anything. Days turned into weeks, herbal medicines turned into prescribed medicines and training evaporated into just getting out of bed. In those dark days I began to see a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who was brilliant; she made me break down those negative thoughts and feelings into understandable less threatening messages.

Slowly I started to get back into a routine and I began yoga. I have never been the most flexible individual; never been able to touch my toes and certainly would not stretch out post race….collapse in a heap yes, stretch no! Please do not be under any illusion, yoga is hard. These little old ladies and skinny gym bunnies make it look effortless but it is hard work. I enjoyed it, especially the part at the end where you could fall asleep for 15mins but it was too passive for someone used to endurance events. I began to run again, very slowly at first but regularly. Whereas before I could knock out 1hr runs without thinking, 25mins around the park was my limit. My bike was banished to the garage and swimming was not even on the agenda.Slowly I increased my running distance and added some gym sessions, gym classes and very steady 20 mile bike rides.

Our wedding day was magnificent even if it was very emotional. Our honeymoon in New Hampshire, USA was fantastic and we skied, something I had not done for some 15 years. When we got back fate intervened with a new job and a new start, both very positive and just what I needed. My injury continues to improve and slowly I am returning to my old self. The injury still flares up now and then as would a hamstring or achilles strain after a hard interval set. I go through the same doubt and anxiety as my ‘black dog’ comes to stay for a few days. I feel honoured sometimes to be in the same company as Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan and Stephen Fry fellow injured but not defeated personages. It is hard to cope but knowing that these feelings will pass and they are not real helps me get through. The other thing that helps me get through is the unwavering support of my now wife who is there for me no matter what has happened or how bad I get. She is without doubt my rock to cling too without which I would have fallen long ago.

As I finish writing this letter it is 1st September 2013 and I have picked up a copy of Triathlon Plus. I have just had a really bad day of anxiety and upset however I have just entered the Outlaw ‘Half’ Triathlon and it is exactly 9 months until I will cross the start line. I will finish that race and I will go on to complete my Ironman dream no matter what injuries I have, physical or mental. If I need to race with my ‘black dog’ beside me then I will and he’ll just have to try to keep up and if not he better see rule #5.

If I have learned anything and can pass on any advice it would be not to be embarrassed to admit you are injured mentally. As athletes we can understand and quantify physical injuries as easily as a child understands that 2 + 2 = 4. Mental injuries are a lot harder to comprehend. Simply going at it harder is not the answer and sometimes we need timeout to make sense of what in our lives is affecting not only a sporting form but our way of living. Listen to your body and mind we need both to be in top form to live life and compete in our chosen disciplines.

My name is Ben Carlson-Oakes, a husband, a triathlete and I suffer from depression.

Snowden Xtreme Challenge 2013

This is a write up of an endurance challenge I did as part of a Fisher & Paykel team.

Dearest colleagues please make a drink and allow me to take 10 mins of your day to recount an epic tale of courage, fortitude and men in leggings.

Friday 14th June
From all corners of the country we came and drove through typical Friday rush hour traffic. I myself made excellent time until I arrived upon the M62 and her 50mph zones followed by several 40mph zones and never ending queues. Communication from the other F&P crew members confirmed similar traffic ordeals and all our scheduled arrival times were being delayed by 1-2 hours. On entering Wales the weather decided to alter and the sunny evening changed into driving rain and strong winds, by the time I arrived at the Royal Victroia Hotel, Llanberis the storm had fully set in. Myself and Michael were the first to arrive and optimistically checked in to wait for the rest. Jess, Jade, Sam & Joe were next to arrive. Jess was very quick to get out pictures of her ‘puppies’ for all to see. Briefing for the race was at 9pm and just before arrived Kate with two forlorn and weary travellers, Mr King and Mr Dibley, the latter looking very pale and tired. A bout of Portuguese food poisoning had took its toll on Nick while a hastily eaten McChicken burger was not settling well with Ross.

The briefing revealed the full enormity of our challenge. On paper it looked manageable but seeing the route plotted on 3-D maps with highlighted safety issues became very sobering. We stood at the back listening intently as the chief marshall read out the weather report for race day, “Heavy rain and strong winds throughout the day with a small chance of sunny spells”. Perfick. Laura, James & Bex arrived and we hurried upstairs to ration out the food and equipment to each team and went to bed to sleep the sleep of the condemned!

Saturday 15th June 05:00
We awoke to the sound of water cascading from gutters and rain hammering at the windows. On inspection it was as bad as it sounded! Breakfast was a hurried affair with each of us attempting eat anything to maintain energy levels for the day ahead. Kate forced Ross to eat breakfast, he managed 3 mouthfuls of muesli and then sacked it off for a coffee and a cigarette; the true breakfast of champions. Bikes were issued, kit bags packed and everyone readied to walk to the transition area to store our equipment. Then it happened, the rain stopped. It was still cloudy and slightly nippy but the rain had stopped, at last a good sign. After racking our bikes we walked to the start line of the Snowdon leg. This in itself proved a challenge, the road was steep, very steep, in fact it was more like a tarmac’d wall! Kate ingeniously discovered that walking up backwards prevented excess strain on your calfs ; not just a pretty face that one.

Snowdon
We some how managed to be on the front of the start line and behind us were some fit looking lads with all the gear but definitely some idea. As they started us off these lads started to run, then ran some more and kept running until they were out of sight; nobody likes a show off. It was obvious even at this stage which team was going to win so we consoled ourselves to enjoying the day whatever happened.

The scenery was awesome, straight out of The Lord Of The Rings, high grey slate mountains topped with rolling mist and deep green valleys with dark blue lakes were all around us. The other things that were all around us were sheep, this kept one of us very happy as he conversed with them as he passed. Mostly they looked bewildered, I think it was probably his accent. At this point out of the corner of my eye something scurried passed us hastily scrambling over rocks and avoiding puddles, that’s a big rat I thought but on closer inspection it was in fact a Miniature Pinscher followed by what looked like the end of a mop which actually turned out to be a quadrupedal canine of unknown breed. (Point of Interest: both animals reached the summit before we did!)

As we climbed the mist and clouds closed in and it got colder and wetter. With some team members struggling we worked together and took regular breaks, ate Jaffa cakes and shared the carrying of their rucksacks. We made good time and the views continued to be fantastic. With 1km of climbing to go the clouds completely closed in and it got very windy, wet and cold. We reached the summit, touched the brass marker, refuelled and headed back the way we came. Coming down was much easier and our sense of achievement kept our spirits high. Another thing that kept spirits high were the two female members who desperately needed to spend a penny. We watched as like ninjas they stealthily looked for suitable hiding places; slow moving sheep, rocks or dips in the landscape were all exploited with good effect.

When we reached the bottom and reconvened at the transition area our excitement and joy was overflowing we changed into bike gear and got ready to set off on the 20mile bike leg. As a cyclist I was looking forward to this but I know for most of the team this was the part they were dreading. Still, onwards and upwards how hard could 20 miles on road around Snowdon be, I mean we’d done the climbing part surely this would be a like a ride in the park…..

Cycling – 20 miles
We set off steadily and safely with Jess ensuring we obeyed proper rules of cycling proficiency. Just out of Llanberis came the first hill, then after that another and then just for good measure a third, which was steeper than the other two put together. While some of the group attempted to wheelie up, James, others struggled to get the momentum and were forced to push their bikes. We waited at the top for everyone to convene and this is when the realisation that 20miles around Snowdon was not going to be a flat affair. I think it would be fair to say that this part of the cycling for most people was the toughest & lowest point of the day. Sore bums, aching necks, punctures and ill positioned saddles all played their part in denting our morale but at every check point we stopped and made sure everyone was ok and had enough fluid and food to get to the next one.

As the miles ticked away we were spread out all along the road with myself helping Kate, James helping Bex and Nick being a tail end Charlie with Michael. Me and Kate developed a great system, basically when she swore I gave her a little push to help up the hills. Soon it became like a Bernard Manning gig so I just kept pushing until she stopped! We descended into the valley and as we turned so did the wind, a glorious tail wind to push us all the way to the lake.

Lake (Sea) Kayaking
The lake was choppy. The tail wind that had pushed us here was now a vicious head wind creating big waves, white horses and spray. This was the part I had personally been dreading. I am a good swimmer but lakes in this weather are deep, cold and not to be messed with. We grouped together and came up with a plan. We would split our original teams into more equally matched teams to help us all complete the challenge. With teams allocated we put on life jackets and bare footed, walked to the edge of the lake. James’ team went first made up of himself, Michael, Ross and Jess. My team next; Ben, Joe, Kate & Bex then Dibs, Sam, Jade and Laura.

Immediately James’ boat got blown off course towards a reed bed then a fence that oddly stretched 20 metres out into the lake from the shore. They courageously battled on and managed to get out of the worst of the chop. We set off next and ended up straight in the reeds. Joe jumped out and dragged us from the reeds for us only to be blown and carried back to shore, I jumped out and tried to turn the boat around but the waves were strong and relentless; this added to the fact that we were all soaked did not improve our mood. In the mean time Nicks’ team had gone for it and took the wind head on in a do or die manoeuvre, straight out in the middle of the lake. It was working well until fatigue set in and they too had to make their way round the outside for calmer waters. Whilst this was happening Team James had run aground on the far bank and James giving up on his oar was walking along the bank with boat in tow. Morale in my boat was low and I was about to admit defeat when one of the helpers, a diminutive lady with great enthusiasm said she would help us complete the course. With renewed hope we pushed off and rowed hard. We made it out of the on-shore chop and the water calmed and it actually became great fun. All 3 boats were closely matched as we round the first and second buoys. As we set course for the shore we noticed a rival team which only had 3 members in it who were going round in circles and desperately struggling to get to shore. Our saviour and kayak angel suggested we should go over and help and we agreed. Team Ben paddled alongside and without hesitation she leapt into their boat and helped them get to shore. We all arrived back in one piece; cold, soaked but safe. We only had 8 miles left, 8 miles until a hot bath, hog roast and beer….

Cycling – 8 miles
In the briefing we had been warned about the final bike leg. There are two steep hills; one off road and one on road. They weren’t wrong. The first off road hill saw us all having to push our bikes; either it being a too steep or very bad surface both stopped any riding at least for parts of the hill. With Snowdon directly to our left the views were awe inspiring but nearly 7.5 hours into our ordeal it was difficult to concentrate on anything but 10 metres in front. After a short rest and refuel of Fruit Gums we surveyed the last but long climb of the day, the Pen Y Pass. This road forged its way between Snowdon and the next set of mountains. From the outset the road was steep and busy with traffic. Staying in small groups the team reached the summit in fine form, and I enjoyed the climb so much I decided to do it twice; again, nobody likes a show off. All that remained was a harum scarum 6 mile descent into Llanberis and the finish line. We all finished in just under 8 hrs and 20mins, some 4 hrs behind the winning team, but it didn’t matter we had all completed it, left no one behind and had a brilliant day.

I feel very proud to have been part of this F&P team and what we achieved, there were times when that old NHS tunic seemed very appealing and I know some team members found it extremely tough but we worked together and really bonded. To top it all off we were awarded the Team Award for our unwavering support and teamwork throughout the day. We have strengthened our relationships and have learnt many things about our work colleagues: Ross & Nick really enjoy full length Lycra leggings (perhaps too much), Kate swears like a trooper, Jess does not like you to be late for dinner and I am a bit of a hooligan going downhill on a bike. The main thing I think we learnt is that none of us are quitters, we work selflessly for each other and together we can get through anything that is thrown at us.

Thanks for reading and just so you know you better start getting fit as we’ve signed you all up for next year!

Honeymoon Diary 2012/2013

Below is a copy of my popular Honeymoon Diary that I post daily on Facebook.

Honeymoon Diary

Day 1 – New York. After a long bumpy trip and even longer wait at passport control, 2.5hrs! A sketchy Grand Theft Auto style cab ride through Queens and Long Island with our new african american buddy Noel Saturne; we arrived at our Art Deco hotel ordered room service & crashed. Plans for today are shopping then off to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Elle has yet to fully unleash her American accent on an unsuspecting public…. I fear deportation. Jeah!

Day 2 – New York. Yesterday can be summed up thus; shopping, traffic & high stepping ladies! We shopped till we blistered at Woodbury Common. Elle was on top bargain form & I got some Napoleon Dynamite style moon boots – Dang! The Radio City Christmas Spectacular was as the title suggests & the whole thing was awesome! Today we venture down 5th Avenue with my personal destination choice of Central Park & Museum Natural History; Elle has other ideas and has worked out a route via Macy’s, Abercrombie and H & M. One week married – it’s all about compromise…. Or at least anything for a quiet life. Jeah!

Day 3 – New York – In Dante’s Inferno the poet refers to the 9 circles of hell, after experiences yesterday I can verify that there are indeed two more; Abercrombie & Fitch, 5th Avenue and Macy’s 6th Avenue, New York. (Claire Jones – in response to your question regarding the number of Ugg boots a girl requires the equation is the same as number of bikes = N+1, (where N = number of Uggs/Bikes) is the answer!) Today we hit Central Park Zoo, Hard Rock Cafe and Mary Poppins on 42nd St – Chim Chiminy, Chim Chiminy, Chim Chim Chiree!

Day 4 – New York – Good Morning from the Big Apple. It’s New Year’s Eve and this place is beyond mental! Part of me would like to stay to see the celebrations but the other part is ready to go. The main thing I’ve learnt about New York is that there is far too much to do and no matter how organised you are it’s hard to get round it all. Interesting fact from yesterday from Elle was the best way to distinguish an Asian or African Elephant is to check out the ears! She’s not just a pretty face x So we’ve got a 6hr road trip to The North Conway Grand Hotel and we’re prepared for snow. We will probably be arriving just when you UK types are celebrating so from us USA honeymooners we wish you all the best for 2013. Big love x Ben & Elle x

Day 5 – North Conway – We left New York and bid farewell to the hustle and bustle and mania of New Years Eve. Our cab ride to the car rental was provided by Claudio, of South American origin and he was a royalist! On learning we were British he quizzed us on ‘His Queen!’ and finished off the journey with a rousing version of God Save The Queen that he just happened to have in the CD player! They know how to work the customer over here. Our road trip was uneventful, Elle took to photographing every sign for a place of iconic status or which had a British name. I saw no moose, bears or Bigfoots, maybe they’d gone to NY with the other million party goers?!? I won’t lie, our hotel in North Conway does look remarkably like the hotel from The Shining even down to the crazy coloured carpet. Happy New Year to you all, see you all real soon ya hear x all work and no play makes Ben a dull boy, all work and no play makes Ben a dull boy, all work and no play makes Ben a dull boy…..

Day 6 – North Conway – North Conway and the surrounding White Mountains are stunning, which ever direction you look the vista is straight off a postcard. People up here are much friendlier and they have an amazing knack of being able to mean sincerely, ‘You have an amazing day sir.’ Myself and Elle managed to play the roll of bumbling Brits in a grilled sandwich emporium when the menu was just a bit confusing. Mount Cranmore Ski resort looks great and we have a full day ski pass & lesson lined up for tomorrow (thanks Aunt Pauline Mccallum) Today we continue our hunt for Bigfoot, I have identified some significantly ‘Squatchy’ areas and have briefed Elle on the correct course of action if we spot any. We are hoping to get some Ski Mobiles which will allow us to cover more ground quickly, I am confident we will track our elusive hairy brethren, Elle just keeps rolling her eyes and saying, ‘Yes dear.’ I think it’s a marriage thing?!

Day 7 – North Conway – My most dearest friends and family. I write this message from Mt Cranmore Ski Centre and more specifically the upper level cafeteria where my beautiful wife and I are enjoying hot chocolate and some Babe Ruths after a mornings ski lessons. When we began it was a very cold -8 but has warmed up to a palatable -2. Initially Elle fastened her boots so tight she cut the circulation to her ankles but we sorted that. Elle is progressing nicely and I seem to be able to remember what I learnt 28yrs ago at Willington Dry Ski Slope and up Carlton Bank! This afternoon we attempt first contact with the chair lift, I have checked we have winter sport insurance – tally ho!

Day 8 – North Conway – In 1693 a series of prosecution trials took place in a then little known town called Salem. These became the infamous Salem Witch Trials, ‘burn her!’. We are off to the Salem Witch Museum to get Elle tested once and for all. Then we go to Boston for the day, one of the oldest cities in America; known for tea parties, massacres, revolutions and Cheers. It’s supposed to be beautiful so we are very excited. We are finishing the day off with tickets to see the Boston Celtics vs Indiana Pacers, current Celtic form is mixed so I am going to suggest to the manager they put Elle in at shooter, she would easily score some baskets and if she was struggling could always use her broomstick! Best get going before she turns me into a toad or something even worse…. Piers Morgan! You have a super sparkly day y’all x

Day 9 – North Conway – So yesterday was Salem & Boston and a 4hr round trip. The Salem Witch Trial in a sentence – basically some girls were bored and decided to make up loads of stuff about people they didn’t like being witches, pretend they were possessed and got them executed – morale of the story; don’t piss off women you might get hung! Salem was a weird place, it was straight out of Twin Peaks, desolate and in need of a lick of paint. Elle was distressed by the lack of good clothes shops and increased amount of street drunks – I thought they may all just be possessed. Boston was much better but we only saw bits of the North End & Downtown before it got dark. Elle was much happier as she managed to find some better shops. It is much prettier than NY and a lot slower paced. The basketball game was OMG totes amaze! The Celtics smashed the pacers 94 – 75. American fans are mental: very well mannered but mental. Sitting in such close proximity to so many confirmed my already concrete theory that Americas number one hobby and pastime is eating as loudly as possible with your mouth open; chewing gum, crisps or my personal favourite popcorn where the individual must tilt their head back whilst chewing to prevent the contents escaping their vacuous cavern! On the drive back in the snow we talked about b-ball, road tolls and being a Jedi. I tried to explain to Elle that the main creed of a Jedi was to be awesome and the rest were all about doing cool stuff with light sabers. Although the car was pitch black I could feel her eyes rolling… I didn’t want to press the subject further but I’m pretty sure that is a perfect example if the Force at work. Have a great day.

Day 10 – North Conway – Yesterday in the good ole US of A was an up and down kind of day. Unfortunately Elle’s cold & chest infection she has been bravely struggling on with all honeymoon took control and she wasn’t very well. So as any dutiful husband would I got her some cough medicine, gave her a couple of paracetamol, tucked her into bed and went skiing for the day. I know what your thinking and yes I made sure I was wrapped up well and took some vitamin C. I managed to conquer several black runs and was requested to help chaperone some of the kids in the Ski School up the mountain in the chair lift. I was partnered with 6yr old Samantha. She like me didn’t like skiing on ice and kept falling over too. When I got back Elle had managed to go clothes shopping so must have been feeling a bit better. We jacuzzi’d and went out for pizza. Today we have a day out sight seeing, moose tracking along the Kancamagus Highway and we are going to Zeb’s General Store in Conway. On our shopping list is Root Beer, Sarsaparilla and Twizzlers. Be good.

Day 11 – North Conway – Alas dear chums all good things must come to an end. Today is our last day on Honeymoon. We are flying out of Boston tonight back to the motherland. Yesterday we did not spot any moose but did stock up on an amazing amount of candy from Walmart. Walmart is much like Wilkinsons except they sell shotguns and crossbows. We are currently struggling to pack our bags and hovering on the limits of weight and zip strength. We are very sad to be leaving North Conway, it is a most tranquil and amazing place and we can thoroughly recommend a visit. Last night we were introduced to the delights of Honey Boo Boo which is redneck reality tv and must be seen to be believed. So this is the Carlson-Oakes’s signing off, hope you’ve enjoyed the updates and we’ll see you all real soon. Goodbye y’all, you take care you hear x