Category Archives: Reflections
Under a pale watery winter sun this afternoon, I passed a target that I thought would have been impossible 11 months ago. My cycling target for this year was to reach 5000 miles (8000kms) by the end of December, and I hit it today with 4 weeks to spare. Now I know some of you mile-eaters out there will sneer at this, wanting to point out that you’d do that sort of annual distance just on your pre-breakfast rides. And I would understand that. But 11 months ago to the day, I had an ‘event’ that I thought was going to put paid to my continuing ‘bad behaviour on a bike’………and it almost did.
Getting out of bed too quickly one morning, I experienced a catastrophic drop in blood pressure and collapsed, fracturing a few vertebrae in my back and, in the process (although this had nothing to do with the collapse) I discovered I suffered from paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (arrhythmia), a condition that happens to be quite common amongst endurance athletes. Like a lot of long-distance athletes, a scan revealed an enlargement of the upper atrium of the heart which, in itself, may be of little consequence, but coupled with Afib, needs to be controlled and monitored.
Two months after the event, I remember climbing painfully on the bike for the first time and managed to squeeze 4 miles (6kms) out of the legs…….but it hurt. At the beginning of March, I started some serious but gradual cycling ‘re-hab’, and my rides progressed from 7 miles (12kms) to 27 miles (44kms), reaching a total of 280 miles (450kms) for the month. I rapidly progressed to 600 miles per month (1000kms), hitting the usual high in August of 1000 miles (1600kms), the longest single ride of the year being 65 miles (104kms)
So, after a few years of hitting annual mileages in excess of 10,000 miles (16,000kms), this year’s total of a mere 5000 miles is way off the mark, but for me this has been a minor victory on the road to recovery.
Amsterdam beckons for reasons far beyond its legendary tulips….believe me.
Now you may be thinking this a thinly veiled reference to its notorious red light district (…and yes, visitors do flood there in their thousands) and the equally famous cannabis supplying coffee houses (the only places in the whole of Holland where foreigners can indulge legally). But no…..Amsterdam is much, much more than that.
If you want to get to the palpitating heart of Amsterdam, and understand its very essence, you have to take in some of its excellent museums and the grand houses where the great and the good (and not so good) used to live. Spend an hour in Rembrandt’s house, then go to the superbly refurbished Rijksmuseum, and spend another hour in the golden age gallery, absorbing the masterpieces of the 17th century, until you are confronted by Rembrandt’s dazzling Night Watch…….trust me, you will be bewitched.
When Amsterdam underwent its huge religious earthquake, with the Alteration of 1578, when the city converted to Protestantism from Catholicism, the genre of painting almost immediately changed from expensively patronized religious art, to the secularism that became so famous of the succeeding century. Even formal portraits gave way to relaxed smiling couples on their wedding day, and drunken behaviour within families……..in the world of art, this was akin to a tornado sweeping through the population.
Then move forward in history and take a 10 minute walk to Van Gogh’s museum, and allow your mind to be rudely switched from the darker, sombre colours of the 17th century, to the bright colours and vivid brushstrokes of an artist who was hardly recognised in his day, who struggled to make a living through his art, and whose ultimate insanity drove him first to cut off his own ear, then to shoot himself…..at the absurdly young age of 37.
The museum has put together a joint retrospective of Van Gogh alongside the Norwegian Edvard Munch (famous for The Scream)…..two contemporary artists who learned their trades in Paris, who never actually met, but both betrayed an astonishing similarity not only in their artistic techniques, but also in their psychological and emotional states. The contrasts are enlightening.
….every seat is taken, even the available space on the floor.
But there, sitting on his school bag, a uniformed teenager
So obviously dragged out of his bed before time,
Hair uncombed, face unwashed, tie unknotted, flies unzipped……
He will complete his attire as he walks through the school gate.
School file open, he pretends to complete last night’s assignment
All the while checking the latest pics on Instagram……..
…..sitting next to me, a dapper gent
Neatly turned out in pinstripe suit and patent leather shoes, but……
…no bowler hat and umbrella (yet another stereotype shattered).
Aggressive financier or model banker?
Lives on a salary or has the champagne lifestyle of the mega-bonus earner?
Do I detect evidence of excessive city greed?
He scrolls pages on his iPad……surreptiously I take a peek
….ah yes, checking the stock market in preparation for the day.
Will he make a killing today……..?
…..over in the corner sat a young lady
A perfectly manicured 20-something,
High heels, high cheekbones, highlighted everything…
Probably ‘labours’ in Selfridge’s perfume department
Alluring fragrance, alluring soft tones, alluring everything….
I guess she earns just about enough to finance her car,
Her train season ticket and her wardrobe
So that she can define who, and what, she is.
With lightening speed she thumbs tweets