Monday, March 30, 2009

Red Cortina

The sun is so low over the proverbial that it is hurling shafts of incandescent fireball-white straight into the eyes of the incautious.

The dappled ripple effect caused by the intermittent tree leaves serves to make this luminous cocktail more unsettling than all the experimental strobes, lasers and oil wheels could possibly have conspired to for an audience of mashed hash-heads during a mid-Sixties show at Middle Earth.

This is a far cry from Tripping Daisy; this is setting your controls for the heart of the sun at an average speed of about one hundred and fifty miles an hour – for about ninety minutes or so.

Welcome to last Sunday’s world according to Jenson Button (a dead-ringer for Coldplay’s Chris Martin or hasn’t anyone yet noticed) et al as ordained by the elf-like Bernie Ecclestone.

The extremity of an extreme sport; Formula One – and don’t we just love the spills and thrills; the noisy scent of scorched rubber from the fragrantly perfumed high octane gasoline alley-ways. Danger as danger is; the gladiatorial skills; 21st Century warriors fuelled by adrenaline to the power of x+ within the extravaganza that – this last weekend at least – became a Cirque du Soleil that bordered on the illogical… all in the name of television.

Barring the predictable tedium of the middle section, it was a fabulous race. A relatively clean start that saw the lad-Button sprinting into the middle distance in his hastily new-logo’d white and lime uber-beast as, in a beards-R-us way, team boss Ross Brawn strategised from the pit-wall as Virgin’s founder-saviour looked on from the pits themselves; only a couple of hugely expensive casualties got taken out early in a hail-storm of Teflon shards and roaring engines.

As the finale unfolded, with Button having the race pretty-much sown up, we had the spectacle of one car doing its three-wheels-on-my-wagon New Christy Minstrel impersonation; Red Bull proving it had wings after all when it got all tangled up and blue in the apex of one corner with Kubica’s BMW requiring significantly more than a new paint job for the Malaysian rendezvous next weekend.

During all of this, however, the sun’s traverse across the cloudless Melbourne sky reached a point in its parabola when it both caused long shadows and blinded at the same time. Imagine coming out of near darkness and being hit straight in the face by a hundred-thousand watt shaft of light. Imagine that at the kind of speeds that these guys manage to coax out of the four wheeled beasts they drive. Health and safety anyone?

This isn’t by way of engendering debate or seeking to comment on the inherent dangers of Formula One racing… since these guys extreme money to race at extreme levels in extreme conditions the entire time; rain and hail will, undoubtedly, become a factor that they’ll have to contend with at some point in the forthcoming season just as it always has. Indeed, its forecast for next weekend in Kuala Lumpur.

No… its simply asking this question. Why make it any more dangerous than it actually is – for the drivers – by altering the time of the actual race in order to (apparently) satisfy television viewers in Europe?

The later time in Melbourne on race day itself meant that the race itself was broadcast at a more amenable time – for the viewers in the comfort of their armchairs, slippers and dressing gowns – than it was for the blokes who actually provided the spectacle.

A curious conundrum when the televisual audience is deemed – by the organiser(s) as being of more importance than the athletes themselves.

In amongst all of that, I’ve been trawling around the www looking for the hitherto elusive cycling feed and… following one click (link) after another came across a truly remarkable site. Probably not for everyone but, it kept me happy for a bit… PBR which stands for Professional Bull Riding.

Which – I’m guessing here – means that for the line on one’s passport which asks what one’s profession is, you can put down Professional Bull Rider. Immigration at airports around the world really must see it all, don’t you think?

Anyhow… seems this is something of an extreme sport too… the deal being that you climb onto the back of the Bull – which’ll weigh in at considerably over the two ton mark – and hang on to the rope that is tied around the Bull’s belly while the Bull is let out of the chute and into the arena.

You’re meant to hang on for eight seconds.

Needless to say, the Bull has other ideas and does its level best to dislodge you by bucking… hard.

These guys must have balls of reinforced steel… imagine… just imagine what… oh hell, its making me wince just thinking about it. Tick off eight seconds on the fingers of your hands and it doesn’t seem long – for these blokes it must seem like a lifetime.

In any event – from what I discover – it appears that not many of them last the course… The Bulls within this particular circus revel under truly splendid names such as Cross Wired, Commotion, Scene Of The Crash, Mad Yeller; there’s even one called Voodoo Chile… slight return anyone?

However, just as there is in Formula One, there’s mega-money to be made in this… the top guys earn in the millions. Frankly, I think they deserve it although I can’t help wondering just how many amongst the likes of Stetson Raspberry (from Texas), Spook Wiggins, Stormy Wing, Buck Bona, Bud Swallow or Lucas Dick have actually fathered children.

I also haven’t quite figured out if there is a draw for the Bulls that they are to ride or… just how it works but, it did occur that many might read their horoscopes each day as some kind of mental pre-amble prior to the main event.

Strange, isn’t it how often we all look at things like that – they’re online everywhere; in every newspaper and magazine one cares to mention.

And yet… they’re all different.

Which begs the question – who out of all the published astrologers actually gets it right?

Yet another of life’s little imponderables similar to that one which concerns the washing up.

One bowl full of soapy water; pots and pans are done; knives, forks, plates and cups all neatly stacked away; bowl is emptied and always… always… there is one item of cutlery left in the bottom.

Strange... but true.

Be that as it may – and I’m firmly of the opinion that there has to be some kind of scientific explanation that a boffin in a white coat brandishing a clipboard could offer up a reasonable explanation, its time to concentrate; to get my bits and pieces in order and prepare for tomorrow’s Project-X meeting.

And yes, I did read my ‘stars’ earlier – and they’re less horrorscope than they could have been…

Friday, March 27, 2009

Clare Island (Will You Meet Me On...)

I was running a tiny bit late… what can I say but admit it… not too late as to be hugely rude but… just enough to bring about that level of self-annoyance with which one berates oneself from time to time.

Left bang on time but kyboshed by that law unto itself – public transport… hey, what can you say..? Doubtless the same the world over.

Added to which, while the address to which I’d been bidden had been carefully written down in my diary that, in turn nestled deep within the bowels of my trusty basket-weave shopping bag – I still managed to bowl up at the wrong place.

Shopping basket is actually more appropriate for trawling around the markets at Brantome or Thiviers as I did in days of yore; eager to meet up with Asparagus-bloke in early-April – one kilo of his very finest, a baguette from sing-song lady’s Boulangerie just opposite the Puy Joli café together with a bottle of nicely-chilled out of the fridge and Luncheon used to be well and truly sorted.

Nowadays, shopping basket serves as my de-facto briefcase; the proper one has been gathering dust down in the dungeon at Merle Hq for many months now.

In any event, coat-tails flapping bat-like behind me, I stride purposefully into the building to which I believe I’m due to arrive; clickety-clacking my way across the anticipated marble floor and… brilliant… there’s a sign saying ‘information desk’.

Shopping bag, sexy sexy boots and self then encounter the first missing-link of the day.

Blokey-bloke who manfully mans this haven of knowledge is bent over, stuffing leaflets and other frightfully important things into pigeon-holes; he’s clearly intent on his task as a polite cough to attract his attention fails miserably.

I opt for the more direct approach… Hello..? Again… no response as the bent-over figure in his lair stuffs more and more leaflets into their respective pens. Hmmm…

Excuse me… could you help me, please?

Que…? He stands upright, massaging his back… Que..?

Oh shit, I’ve met Manuel.

Hello… I grin somewhat foolishly… I’m looking for the offices of… and could you direct me please?


Drat… he’s a Mexican-Russian… I know… I’ll speak v e r y s l o w l y.

I ask again for directions, pronouncing the words ever so carefully… single syllable stuff; my mouth making shapes like a landed Salmon gasping for air.

He grins… nods… shrugs his shoulders… grins again and points… Que..? Niet… Police… there…

Damn… I’ve no chance. Glancing over my shoulder in the direction in which Manuel has pointed I can’t help but notice an enormous Policeman wandering in the distance, flanked by a squatter colleague who is talking confidentially into a hidden microphone attached to his jacket; one is as tall as the other is wide and both are carrying sub-machine guns. Maybe they're staking out Manuel?

I wander over… Do you think you could help me, I’m looking for..?

Out the door, turn left… left again… straight in front of you… ok? His colleague is eyeing me up and down, caressing his carbine with more than due attention as I thank Police-bloke # 1.

Time to about-face, retrace steps, head through the revolving door and out into the outside world again. Three minutes later, I’ve dodged the rushing traffic and made it to the sunny side of the street and finally found where I should have been a few minutes ago. The Security Guard here has been trained at the school of nonchalance. He has no gun (that I can see) and is reading his newspaper. He glances up and merely nods as I walk by – destination the sixth floor.

A little over seventy minutes later and the tall-bloke in the black drainpipe jeans with whom I’ve been discussing Project-X is walking with me as I leave. We’re still discussing all the possibilities of X but pause in their secondary reception area; the walls are festooned with posters… images from my own past… that black-drainpipe-jeans-chap has collected over the years.

Pride of place are given to three, two of which I know really well – the first has become one of the most iconic images of Jimi Hendrix ever shot; Gered Mankowitz’s original 1967 black and white of Jimi wearing his trademark military coat staring straight into Gered's camera at his Mason's Yard studio.

Some years back, this became the image that was used as the front cover for the uber-selling compilation, The Ultimate Experience as well as the flagship image for the exhibition that toured the world… The exhibition that began with not one but two preview nights in a skinny little Notting Hill Gallery in London… the crowds so vast that the entire street had to be closed off by the Police and people queued to get in… the day that Q Magazine published their one and only retrospective Hendrix cover story.

Rob and I framed two copies of that cover… both blown up to 30x40 size – his hangs just outside his old – soon to close down – office at Coalition, mine hangs on one of the back walls of the barn at Merle Hq.

An artist’s proof – of which I believe only two were manufactured – of the David Costa / Gered Mankowitz colourised and manipulated black and white original used to hang at the top of the stairs at every home I’ve owned since. A positioning that used to annoy the hell out of my (aged) Mother who complained bitterly every time she came to stay… I wish you’d move Jimi… it scares the life out of me every time I go up to bed. That now lays face to the wall in the attic at Merle Hq.

The other is a hand-coloured Adrian Boot image of a Bob Marley black and white; Bob sitting with a half-smoked spliff hanging from his lips strumming an acoustic guitar. It’s early Bob – probably from the mid-seventies… dating his pictures is usually pretty simple as they’re always governed by the length of his locks. In this instance, they’re pretty short so, it’s probably from around the time that the Burnin’ album was recorded. And, another that we used in the globally touring Marley Exhibition.

The Irish quartet are represented (a picture that I erroneously first identify as being by David Corio) but almost immediately realise is, actually, an image that looks suspiciously like an outtake from a Paul Slattery shoot that, I suspect, would have originally been commissioned for the now defunct Sounds – one of the UK weekly inkies that long since bit the dust… the days of Melody Maker selling hundreds of thousands of copies each and every week being long long past.

Indeed… one would have thought that periodicals as crucial as the likes of Melody Maker would have been properly archived. Curiously enough… not so.

A number of weeks ago and a flurry of back and forth e-mails between the production company that are putting together the forthcoming Island50 tv programme and self started up again. Did I have any idea where old pictures could be found of 22 St Peters Square since Island, themselves, had nothing on file. Oddly enough – yes. In fact, two places…

Steve Taylor’s article in an early-eighties edition of The Face and Rob’s own early-seventies Melody Maker article (referred to here in an earlier Voltaire); the former I have – the latter I’ve lost along the way. No matter… maybe a chance to get hold of it all over again.

Spot of research and… everywhere I looked drew blanks. Hmmm, bollox. I can’t access my own copies of The Face so… surely I can get a hold of a copy of the Melody Maker from… shit, I can’t exactly recall when… this is the kind of research that needs one to be a bit more precise than vague.

Ultimately, I hit paydirt… Melody Maker do have a sort of archive and finally I find someone who’s prepared to trawl through old bound editions and… locate what I’m after and… email over photostats turned into .jpegs.

It was quite curious re-reading that article after so long… the style of writing for instance very much in the seventies vein… but yes, the images were there and the photographer was easily identified and… contacted by the production company and… even better, it appeared that he still had the original negatives. Jobs a good ‘un.

Not only that but… Rob’s being posthumously awarded with the hugely prestigious Strat Award at the forthcoming Music Week awards in a couple of week’s time… and, the headline in that article – Island Of Dreams – came out sufficiently well to be sent over to the editorial bods there for them to add it (or not as the case may be) to the images that’ll be used in amongst the talking heads waxing lyrical about Rob for when Tina steps up onto the dais to receive his award.

Which is what all these pieces to camera that I’ve been doing have all been about… and, while its been a bit fraught getting files of the size they came out at FTP’d over… job’s now done.

Actually… no… Its not quite safe to head out of these particular woods just yet because… just back from my Project-X meeting, brimming with positivity and what am I greeted with? An e-mail in-bound from the ever-so-patient lady who runs the production company who are putting all these talking head interviews together that tells me:

Hi Neil, I’m so sorry, but the saga continues! It would appear that 3 of your files have been created at 8frames/second:
Chris Blackwell G
Rob A B C
Rob & the Chicken
Would it be at all possible to have them re-supplied selecting 29.9 frames/seconds. Otherwise we will have the Benny Hill affect on all the footage from those three sections. I’m so terribly sorry about this, hope I don’t make you want to through the computer out the window!!

Oh dear… its her incredibly courteous way of informing me I’ve fxxxxd up; I’d not re-set the bit-rate gadget within Final Cut Pro – plus, her adjectival use of Benny and Hill makes me wince. Darn… the chances of my looking even more foolish than usual have shot up like an over-excited priest’s robe stumbling across a gaggle of skimpy-sunbathing-behind-the-high-walls-of-the-convent novice nuns.

Time to get to grips with technology. Firstly, Fetch – which is the software that I’ve been using – appears to crash horribly with any attempt at overloading it past the 100Mb rate… hmmm… time for a spot of Googling… there has to be a FTP thingie out there that’ll take and transmit and not trash all this work… surely to goodness there is.

And, sure enough there are, dozens of the blighters. But… while certain ones download terribly easily, they don’t always open as applications. And, when others do, one finds the interface about as user-friendly as Jenson Button’s steering wheel – not to be approached by the faint-hearted or clinically incompetent, the latter category in which I currently reside.

Dammit, its enough trying to figure out the latest Facebook interface without having to learn an entirely new computer language. Talking of which, what on earth were the boffins behind that doing when they chopped and changed something perfectly usable into… total shite.

Anyway, eventually one FTP thingie both downloads and launches. Cape Canavaral… here I come.

The application that promises to do all I require of it (other than make me a bacon sandwich) is called… CyberDuck… I feel better already.

The icon that appears on the desk-top is a rather good imitation of a Rubber Duck… gloriously yellow with a little red beak; more properly suited to aqua-pursuits for a young child than computing for adults. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into this little blighter.

Double-click – as one does… and it sparks into life. So far, so OK.

Next step… find the up-load gadget… that’s easy enough… transfer file from one folder to another… easy-peasy… and depress play. It starts to transmit – in just under an hour it’ll hit the magic marker of 100Mb so, nothing much to do until then… time to cook a spot of Red Cooked Pork.

Rubber Duck doesn’t just get to the 100Mb marker, it passes Go like a machine fed on Emu oil and collects its 200 squiddlys. This is all looking really rather promising and… ultimately the first file – the one which is marked up as Rob and The Chicken – heads off into the ether and… so far as I can work out, lands the other end.

Whether this is a usable bit of Storey-waffle for the Music Week Awards, I’ve no idea but… they (patient-lady at the production house and her gang) now have the tale of Rob and self attempting to hail cabs in the middle of a bleak midwinter somewhere along the Goldhawk Road, destination St Peters Square, W6.

We'd had a couple of preparatory bracers chez Rob & Tina Hq... and... Rob had decided he'd hide in the bushes while I’d been dispatched kerb-side to hail the cab.

None stopped although quite a few slowed down.

Proof positive that its not that simple a job getting a cab to stop and actually pick one up while dressed as a Chicken as Rob adjusted his Darth Vadar outfit… the one with the close fitting helmet that meant that his glasses as well as the visor steamed up every time he breathed out.

It was a bit better the next year… we tried the same trick… Carmen Miranda hid in the undergrowth, the Nun hailed the cab… they began queuing up when I started flashing a be-stockinged leg.

Next up… the missing Blackwell file. Follow the same procedure and… bollox…

Rubber Duck refuses to get its feathers wet.

Try again… same result. Try for the next two hours… same again and again and again; I’m turning into a TeleTubbie.

Right, you yellow-bellied swine… I’ll download you all over again and try it that way. Another hour later and I’ve got Rubber bloody Duck’s breeding all over the screen… One little yellow bxxxxxr is there and there’s another down at the bottom of the screen and yet another hiding under that application over there. And, none of them are prepared to play. Start to delete them but… the bloody things keep breeding and won’t go away. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaagh.

Time for an excessively large vodka that comes perilously close to the bottle of tonic that I’m waving at it. This does the trick because, within a few moments, one of the cousins of the original Rubber Duck, sparks into life, accepts the connection and the second transfer starts up. Phew.

I delete all the other Rubber Ducks and, as the transfer wobbles away, hit the hay. Magically, Rubber Duck – first cousin, almost removed – behaves in the morning and the third transfer heads off into the ether with barely a backward glance.

All of which, of course, has little to do with Project-X.

So, come on Storey… what happened… its all very well being entertaining with stories about Chickens, stockinged Nuns, Darth Vadar getting all steamed up, Carmen Miranda and Rubber Ducks but… can we get to the meat and potatoes… please?

Oh… very well then.

It was a very positive step forward overall; it was great meeting with someone who – unlike the Education Strategist – got the plot from the off and didn’t seek to unravel it with a fistful of ‘wouldn’t it be better if you approached it this way, that way or any other way’. Someone who cut to the chase from the opening salvoes and who saw all the inherent possibilities and wanted to explore them further by sharing with his colleagues on a near-as-dammit immediate basis.

All to the extent (though without revealing too much that occurred behind closed doors), that I’m cautiously optimistic that it won’t be the last time we meet by any stretch of the imagination.

He’s a thoroughly good bloke too – music courses through his veins like the elixir of life; he knows his stuff… and… yeah… I'd say a great step forward.

Added to which, next Tuesday’s noon-time meeting has also just been confirmed – which means that the sexy sexy boots will probably come out to play all over again.

I pretty much know where I’m heading to and… baring further encounters with Mexican-Russian illegal émigrés, aim to be there at the appointed this time around.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

To Win Just Once

Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know… I’ve not written (posted) a darned thing in what seems like ages.

Actually, I have (honest injun) been writing – I’ve begun two or three and more of these little Voltaires but… nothing got finished off as somehow or other nothing much seemed to flow… writer’s block? Mmm, maybe – more like the block and tackle weren’t fusing like I wanted.

Besides, I’ve been caught up in a few other things… such as the boys in Blue and White hoops displaying such a dreadful lack of home form at the Mad Stad; Reading’s finest – who’ve been staring at immediate re-promotion back to the Premiership – are now looking like a team who don’t know where the goalposts are.

Perhaps if Chocolat hadn’t eaten most of my Reading FC bobble-hat a year and a bit ago, the team’s fortunes may be different… who knows?

Maybe… just maybe… its been down to the fact that I’ve – of late – pretty much eschewed caffeine. My normal daily intake of too many cups has dropped dramatically. Do I feel better… not really noticed much of a difference actually…

And then there’s been the little matter of filming myself… with those clips to be edited into short, talking-head, bite-sized chunks that’ll play part of the John the Baptist role for two awards at the upcoming Music Week awards in early April.

Shouldn’t be too much of a problem, couple of quick pieces to camera on both Rob and Chris Blackwell… a bit of a quick edit and then a rapid computer-to-computer ftp up-link and Bob becomes your proverbial.

Didn’t quite work out like that. Did you expect it to..? No, I thought not.

Place camera in position A, adjust focus having remembered to shave and brush bits of my hair (ok – a fib… I ran my fingers through it) and slide into position B and get ready to talk. Bollox…can’t think of a single thing to say; well not anything coherent anyway. Press pause.

OK, right… a script is needed. Sit down and write script… takes longer than I imagine it will – basically because I don’t want to sound like a complete imbecile. Eventually end up with something that’s half-decent. Print it off and attempt to prop it up in front of the camera; paper falls over and nothing works until I start tearing into a stack of post-it-notes and use only the sticky bits to attach said bit of paper. Its attached by so many bits of post-it-note that it resembles a piece of paper that’s cut itself shaving.

Settle back, press record and… Bollox the second time around… I can’t see a thing I’ve written since I’m way to vain to do anything like this with my glasses on. Try it with my glasses on – its still a blur. Bollox third time around. Back to the board that’s being drawn upon.

Print it out again having set the font-size at enormous. Bollox for the fourth time, its now three pages long. Ok… camera is on tripod in position A and… how the hell am I going to attach three pages to that? I know.... up-end a chair, find a tray, reverse tray, attach three pages with afore-mentioned sticky-bits from post-it-notes and… settle back into position B. That’s better, I can – at least – see what I’ve written for myself to say. Make sure that the stuffed cat is in view and… press record.

After thirty seconds and I know I’m sounding like a newsreader who’s – at best – under rehearsed. This is absolute crap. Start over again. Second time around I get to the end of the piece and still its rubbish… as dry as a bone, bereft of emotion and… I’m starting to get frustrated.

Time to adopt the Robert the Bruce cave and spider approach … if at first you don’t succeed then… you know the rest. Press record once again and all is going great guns… it even feels good… I’m looking pretty much straight at the camera and not making a balls-up of my lines… just a couple of sentences to go… and then… oh dear. The tray – attached to which are my three pieces of paper covered in large writing – slides slowly forward and falls noisily off the chair.

Big Bollox. I make a few adjustments to the set up that Heath Robinson would have been proud of – by which I mean employing a few more cushions, another chair’s legs to hold the damned tray in place.

Double-check that the stuffed cat hasn’t moved – it hasn’t – and finally, settle back into position B once again before pressing record.

I pressed it a further twenty-one times as each attempt was as lousy as the next.

Damn – I’m about to surf a few deadlines and… this isn’t going terribly well, even by my standards.

Finally, it dawns on me that I need what Rob would have called an attack monkey – assistance. One ‘phone call later and I’m in business, the photo-shoot is set for early evening. Only, a minor miscalculation since we forgot to factor in the fact that the light was fading fast as well as the camera’s microphone picked up all the extraneous noise around – meaning that take after take after take was required.

Nothing much was helped by the fact that we kept on getting fits of the giggles when either I stumbled over what I was trying to say or joggers ran past; each emitting large volumes of wind with every passing stride like so many race horses out for early morning exercise.

Eventually it go done and loaded onto the machinery meaning that I could start to edit it into some semblance of shape. There is a lesson to be learned here – don’t ever attempt to master a new piece of software – so complicated that it’d take a Professor of Complicated Things months to unravel its many complexities – whilst on a deadline. In short, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. Investment was made in the book of words and progress went from slow to sluggish.

In the end it got done – and not before fielding one e-mail after another asking… have you done it yet? The FTP address is proffered and its time to transfer all my files across. No difficulty there – surely?

Oh yes there was… because, since this was all shot in HD, these weren’t small files.. even with an ultra-high-speed connection they were taking upwards of an hour… not just that but… the FTP connection kept on disconnecting minutes before the transfer was completed.

By this time, not only e-mails but ‘phone calls were flying back and forth and boffins the other end had to be coerced into explaining – in single syllables – precisely how this minor hiccup could be rectified.

I pretended not to be entirely stupid while they exhibited patience beyond that which I deserved. It took two days before, eventually, the last file – entitled Rob, The Chicken and Darth Vadar – landed safely.

In the meantime, two more key Project-x meetings had been confirmed and needed to be prepared for.

In the interim though… was Saturday… and La Primervera, the first real rendezvous of the cycling season; the first of the five great ‘monuments’ – the single day classics – is upon us. Global warming may be causing an unseasonal chill but Spring has officially sprung in Italy at least.

The course has varied little in a century or so of racing and comprises a wee jaunt in the order of a smidge under 300 kilometres. It kicks off from right underneath the arches and improbable domes of Milan’s magnificent duomo before heading due south and then west all the way to the final, twisting kilometre of tarmac, that runs alongside the via Roma in San Remo.

The initial long southbound sojourn will undoubtedly witness the obligatory break (escape) of the day comprising lesser-lights from lesser teams, all eager to repay their sponsors with a little bit of prime-time tv exposure, and gain time on the main protagonists as they roll toward the first big climb of the day – the Turchino Pass.

Then, following the long descent from its snowy heights, there’s that right turn onto the coast road – where the hare and hounds properly begins and when the slumbering peleton (the main pack of riders) wakes up. Lights, camera… action.

At this point, helicopters are chattering incessantly overhead; their tv crews being whisked out low over the Mediterranean sea to swing their cameras back and forth, taking in one glorious panoramic view after another as the huge peleton made up of 200 and more whippet-thin riders snakes its multi-coloured way along the coast… forbidding granite cliffs to their right; an inviting azure sea lapping gently against sandy beaches and craggy inlets on their left shoulders.

In front, within and behind are a phalanx of jostling motor-bikes containing more tv-crews and stills photographers – all eager for close-ups of the action. In amongst them are the race-referees also on motor-bikes… organising the chaos to ensure that no illegal pace-making or other infringements occur – whistles are constantly blown, there is a good deal of shouting and gesticulating… after all, its Italy.

Behind the main group of riders are the team cars, each dressed up in their sponsor’s livery and all festooned with immaculate spare bikes and glittering wheels a-top roofs and boots; the spit and polish lovingly given by the mechanics who’d have been working all through the previous night, glints back in the mid-March Mediterranean sunlight.

Close up or from a distance or viewed on tv, its one hell of an impressive sight.

While the entire race is a war of attrition; this part of the grinding down process and elimination of the weak takes on a new meaning as the domestiques (the worker bees) scrap and fight for position on the roads leading to the final hills with their team-leaders glued to their wheels – the domestiques role is purely to get their leaders into position to mount the final assault to the line. Domestiques don’t win, you see… that’s the job of the team leaders.

The race hots up here because this – the last 60 kilometres – is when the three capi are encountered; three short sharp ascents that serve as mere hors d’oeuvres to the final two climbs; the Cipressa and the Poggio, as legendary in cycle racing as Alpe D’Huez or the Col du Tourmalet in France are.

The former comes about 20 k’s before the end and the latter tops out at just 6 to go. If you’re not in the top thirty or so when cresting the Poggio its forget it time. Both are savage – not due to the gradient but because of the infernal pace that is set as the incline increases toward the small chapel at the top.

A number of years ago, one of my Belgian-based down-under buddies, Allan Peiper, was riding for the Dutch Panasonic / Isostar squad. A classics specialist himself – though, essentially, a domestique – he crested the Cipressa in what was left of the main field, attacked on the descent and, in company of one of the German pre-race favourites, made it onto the lower slopes of the Poggio with about a thirty second advantage over the chasing pack.

A few days later, we spoke on the ‘phone. Bloody hectic mate… on that run in to the Poggio we were giving it full gas and hit the bottom at over 55k’s an hour. It doesn’t look that steep and its not really, its just that… you’ve gotta go deep mate; its full gas the whole way up… I got to the third hairpin and my legs just started going… it’s a horrible sensation, knowing you’re going to get caught, knowing you’re not going to win.. ‘cos, up to then I really thought we were in with a decent shout.

I knew they were coming… you can feel it when they’re breathing down your neck… the helicopters are right over head, the people on the side of the road going mental…but… they’re looking just behind you as you go by… that’s how you know they’re on you… that’s when the motorbikes start coming by… the fxxxxxg noise mate. Jeez… it was like I was standing still, the speed they went by…they were all attacking each other… one went… then the next… it doesn’t stop and its full bloody gas the whole way up… I hung in… just… got over the top in the second group… but… y’know, it’s the speed that they go up it… fast mate, bloody fast. Got back on… and… descended like a kamikaze and still they were coming past me… made it… but… fxxxxd for the sprint… got caught about 8 k’s to go and…I can almost feel his Aussie-Gallic shoulder-shrug of disappointment tinged to reality coming down the ‘phone line. Ah well, Flanders in a couple of weeks eh?

Peiper went on to win stages in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and many other significant races. Nowadays, he’s one of the director sportifs (team managers) for Columbia / High Road, one of the top teams in the world and, for the last two years, one of the boy-wonder Mark Cavendish’s mentors.

Throughout its illustrious history, La Primervera has been dominated by the Italians: schoolboys from Rome to Rimini dream of sprinting to victory in San Remo, their arms flung high and wide as the crowd, ten-deep behind the barriers either side of the road scream their name while the commentators shrill in expectant ecstasy like so many eunuchs in this cauldron of shaven legs.

To win this or any of the other four ‘monuments’ such as Belgium’s Tour Of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, the Hell Of The North that’s run across the worst cobblestones in Northern France (both of which occur in the next few weeks) is to be immortalised in global cycling.

There’s only ever been the one British winner – the late Tom Simpson who claimed the victor’s laurels in 1964 but this year, the boy Cavendish – just 23 summers under his belt that have witnessed multiple Tour de France and Giro D’Italia stage wins among numerous other victories – is making his debut in Milan-San Remo.

Without question, Cav is the fastest road-sprinter in the world today but newspaper pundits across Europe haven’t put him amongst the list of favourites that’s dominated by… yes, you guessed it… a shed load of Italian stallions all eager to flex their well-oiled stretchy sinews and shaven quads in anticipation of sea-front glory-daze.

There’s a few much-fancied Belgians, Spaniards and Russians as well as a German or two and the odd Scandinavian eager to spoil the Italian party unless… the young upstart from the Isle Of Man can upset the bookies.

I’ve been reading all of the pre-race internet news which has been filled with a lot of posturing from the pre-race big cheeses – most especially the Belgian Tom Boonen who’s been claiming Cavendish won’t be anywhere near the leaders when they get to the Poggio – errr, for why? According to Mister T, Cav’ll get dropped when the road goes upwards.

I’d have thought it rather depends on Cav’s team getting him to the start of the Poggio intact and in decent shape as much as anything else but… we’ll see.

Rai TV in Italy cover this spectacular spectacle although their coverage is limited to that nation… something to do with a huge falling out with other Euro-countries and stuff like that over the years… so… knowing that… and what with one thing and another, one’d have thought that access via the good old www would be easy-peasy. After all… its free – for now at least – so why not make hay while the sun shines.

Not quite. I’ve figured out what time transmission is due to kick in – despite the fact that my Italian is about as useless my ability to transfer files via ftp. Rai’s own web site has a snap of a bloke on a bike next to a word that looks suspiciously like cycling – equals… that looks pretty much like kick-off for their transmission… So far, so OK.

Thus, once that’s been established, I start the trawl through one PtoP web site after another, searching for the elusive feed. And, am stymied at every attempt. Bollox… all the time, I’ve got a live text update running in the background from giving minute by minute progress reports… and, while the riders are hurtling toward the Cipressa I’m jumping from this to that forum chasing the impossible. Looks like Cav is too as each report is showing that he’s sitting comfortably in the leading group of riders.

Plus, it seems its not just me who’s searching for this needle in a European haystack… Dozens of other folk all over the globe are posing the same question… where do we find the link..? All manner of possibles are posted – but the golden thread that’ll transport us to that long road along the coast leading to San Remo eludes me.

In between the Cipressa and the Pogio I give in… this isn’t gonna work… drat. I’m left with a live text feed that… eventually… shows that the boy wonder nails it by a tyre’s width on the line… he just about got over the Pogio… descended like a maniac… got hauled to about 500 metres to go by slip-streaming his one remaining team-mate and… burst out of the handful of riders still in contention and just… just beat the German, Haussler on the line.

An hour later and a YouTube link is up for all to see… bloody brilliant. So bloody brilliant that I replay it time and time again. Sad eh?

But not so sad as the following day’s British papers that – by and large – ignored this level of extraordinary achievement… yes, Chris Hoy – winner of that many Gold Medals in Beijing – rightly claimed all the accolades that he did during the last few months. No one, but no one could deny him the acres of newsprint and the many public honours that his extraordinary achievement deserved.

Yet… how is it that Cav’s own remarkable triumph – that made the front pages of very many European papers – barely got a mention in his home country. The first British winner for 45 years… his first attempt at the race itself – some debut, eh… showing a clear pair of heels (or should that be wheels) to the world’s elite and… more or less nothing.

A fact borne out on seven-time Tour winner, Lance Armstrong’s Twitter feed… a tweet (which is an individual Twitter so I’m reliably informed) that he posted the day after the race while en route to Spain from his BlackBerryTwitter device at 8.17am on March 22nd which said… Read the Sunday Times Sports Section on the flight and pages and pages of rugby, soccer and cricket yet barely a mention of Cavendish. Pitiful.

Exactly 45 minutes later, Armstrong’s next Twitter tweet was about Jane (sic) Goody… ah yes… the strangely strange but oddly normal soap opera that became a nightmare.

Oddly normal – yes… who else but the British could see fit to pump this level of drivel into every home via every conceivable form of media feed. So much so that even the BBC are under fire… people complaining about the blanket coverage.

Can I comment… dare I comment… damn right I can and shall… because, the next again day what do my beady eyes see… that self-righteous prig, the first minister of part of England, some of Scotland, not much of Wales and even less of Northern Ireland wades in with an – oh, dear isn’t it awful about poor Jade… such an example… so much missed… etc et-bloody-cetera.

Bollox, bollox, bollox… dangerous precedent you’ve created there old fruit… since, by going as public as you have about a non-entity, doubtless you’ll be acknowledging every single person in the British Isles who dies of any cancer-related disease in the future. Won’t you..?

Or… were you just trying to be a ‘blokey-bloke of the people’, in touch with the average man and woman on the street? Don’t kid yourself, you’re so far out of touch you wouldn’t know contact if it was inserted where John Sach’s grand-daughter suggested Jonathan Ross’ BAFTA should live within Russell Brand.

And then, thanks to the Grauniad, I discover something almost as disturbing. It appears that this government have a beezer new scheme afoot… they not just content to release convicted felons so that they – someone called Tweed in this instance – can go off and spend their marital night with their ‘so-called celebrity’ bride.. yet another hugely dangerous precedent wouldn’t you say… but… wait for this… because its almost as incredible.

Apparently… Primary School children are about to no longer study things like the Second World War, the Nazi terror, the Holocaust, the rise and fall of the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria and later but… instead…wait for it… yes, they’ll learn about Twitter and blogging; Wikipedia and pod-casting.

I mean… c’mon… when is someone, anyone, going to get real?

It appears that this – draft (shouldn’t one say daft in capital letters) – curriculum has been drawn up by a Sir Jim Rose. He’s a former schools inspector and his plan is to replace the traditional bakers dozen of subjects with just six for five to eleven year olds.

How terribly modern.

Apparently… the six ‘core’ areas of primary education are: English and languages… mathematical skills… science and technology… humans and the environment… physical health and well-being.

Hasn't anyone told this ijut that Wikipedia is about as unreliable and inaccurate as its possible to get. What a superlative, properly thought through, medium with which to teach the next generation.

Is it any wonder… I wonder… that very recent statistics also prove that the vast majority of kids suffer from ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder.

Oh… and while we’re at the Theatre of The Absurd and on the subject of the non-sensical here are two more little gems… first, bars and pubs across the UK may soon be forced to sell wine in smaller glasses. For why..? Obvious, isn’t it… its all part of a new Government initiative to curb binge drinking. Yeah… like that’ll really help. Now, I may well be in a minority of one here because… someone called Dawn Primarolo – what a cracking surname… Dear, dear Ms Prim (and terribly proper) – reckons that… Glass sizes have increased over the years and so has the strength of wine. Too often the only size available is a large glass – that’s a third of a bottle of wine – which takes a woman beyond the recommended daily allowance of two to three units. That, by the way, is / was a direct quote and its clear she doesn’t got to French France on her holidays…

Gosh… what larks… I mean to say, do any of these people live in the real world?

Oh… and the other… almost as much fun this one…

A truly magnificent piece of irrelevance that I spy with my little eye… something beginning with SB… oh yes… Spandau Ballet are going to reform… hold my breath? My lungs aren’t big enough.


Does anyone care..? I can but assume their egos believe that people actually want to pay (again) to hear the dreadful Tony Hadley vocally challenge himself (and loose disastrously) by warbling True… Gold… and all the other tosh that they plagued the airwaves with twenty-plus-something years ago.

Take a note out of Paul Weller’s and The Smiths’ and the Stone Roses’ notebooks lads… disband and don’t bother re-forming… the legend is far more becoming when kept at a distance.

At least the MEP Daniel Hannan is on the right track – he gave a truly brilliant speech in Brussels within the last twenty-four hours that – I’d imagine – had the piggy-eyed Scottish emigrant premiere squirming in his hot-panties… its well worth a squint and can be found on YouTube.

And Project-X… ah yes (as if I’d forget)… I did meet with the Education Strategist… we had a pleasant lunch although my choice of the chilli-burger was ill-informed – the chillis being of the red-hot, pain-inducing, nostril-cleansing variety. We talked for a couple hours beside an inner city river in a blaze of sunshine but his somewhat blinkered take on the whole didn’t come close to coinciding with my vision of the onward march… No matter, you win some, you loose some.

The new name is more or less formulated; the next of the key meetings is tomorrow and there’s another equally important one being re-scheduled from today into next week… budgets have been revised and… tomorrow, the sexy sexy boots may very well re-appear to clickety-clack their way across the marble floor atrium that houses… wait and see.