Recent Reading: Tour de Farce

Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar

 I’m a huge fan of the Tour de France. But after reading this book, my enjoyment has been mugged by the drug-invested reality of professional road cycling.

David Millar is currently trying to overturn a lifetime Olympic ban. A time trialling phenomenon when he burst onto the scene at the turn of the millenium (he wore the yellow jersey), this is a vivid, pitiless look at how he came to take EPO. Aka, he cheated. Cue shame, a 2 year ban, a French courtroom, am eviction, bankruptcy, redemption, valediction.

It’s excellent on the culture of pro cycling. Which stinks. And it leaves you in little doubt that the chances winning a major Tour ‘clean’ are… well, they’re not as high as one would wish.

In other news, Lance Armstrong was “cleared” by US officials this week, while Alberto Contador saw his 2010 Tour de France victory struck off. The rider who came second in the 2010 Tour says he’s sure Contador didn’t mean to take the performance enhancing drug clenbuterol. Enough said.

This book blows apart the peleton’s ruthless omerta. For that, David Millar deserves our respect.

Bad Blood: The Secret Life of the Tour de France, by Jeremy Whittle

Safe to say this was a classic ‘follow on’ purchase. David Millar’s autobiography opened my eyes to just how prevalent and normalised doping had become in pro cycling. I had to read more; learn about its history, and the science.

Whittle is an experienced journalist, and has covered the scene for years. He is very close to Millar and ‘helped’ him write his autobiography. Millar betrayed his trust, and Whittle’s “Good guys don’t dope” rose-tinted spectacles are forcibly removed.

It’s not a pretty book, this. The litany of cheating. The complacency of the governing bodies. The cynicism of the teams. And the inevitable corrosion of innocence for anyone new to the ‘sport’, be they cyclists or journalists.

I’d like to think Jeremy Whittle’s love of cycling shines through despite all, but he’s too honest a writer for such a cute conclusion. The love has gone. He admits to fearing he’s been complicit; this book a valedictory despatch.

How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France, by Ned Boulting

Ned Boulting is a TV sports reporter, best known for his coverage of the Tour de France for ITV4. And this book tells you exactly what it’s like to cover the Tour de France for ITV4. More’s the pity.

While sometimes painful reading, the previous two books are both liable to be finished in the early hours. The story they tell is too gripping, too appalling to allow sleep to intrude.

This book isn’t like that. It’s dire. Ned and the crew traipse around France, eating well, sharing in-jokes and snatching meaningless interviews in hotel lobbies. It fails to make the making of TV interesting. Mainly, one suspects, because it just isn’t.

Meanwhile, all around him, athletes were corrupting their bodies and souls. Of this, Ned makes little mention.

Reading, and re-reading

War Diaries of Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke.  

Cover of Lord Alanbrooke's War DiariesAn astonishing, ruthlessly honest diary of the most senior British soldier of WW2, and the man who repeatedly – daily, even – dissuaded Churchill from his madder ideas & impulses. It’s a proper diary, this; an unfair, uncompromising, unvarnished receptacle for late night venting. It’s also particularly fine on the loneliness of command.

Brooke was a brave man, not least in standing up to Churchill, with whom he clearly had an intense, fraught, symbiotic relationship. At the very least it’ll change your perspective on Churchill, in my case both for better and for worse.

Fate Is The Hunter, by Ernest K. Gann

I strongly suspect it was Max Gadney who, many years ago, put me onto this memoir of flying commercial and transport aircraft in 1930s and 40s. Whoever did, I thank, for this is an extraordinary, atmospheric love affair with flight, told in a unique style combining American bravado with French spiritualism. Think Antoine Saint-Exupery meets Chuck Yeager. The author knows he is lucky to be alive,  and his relish for living lingers on as a healthy tang long after you close the book.

The day after I started re-reading it, I noticed a 2011 reprint in a bookshop in Ledbury, of all places.

Grayson Perry: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Girl, by Wendy Jones

A Christmas present from my gorgeous designer wife following our visit to Perry’s ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman‘ exhibition at the British Museum. It’s a frank, tender, often hilarious account of Perry’s chaotic upbringing, featuring deeply dysfunctional parents, his emerging transvestism and, as so often, the inspired intervention of a teacher. All set in deepest, darkest 1970s Essex.

Even if you don’t like his pots, or art, read this to understand why some straight men wear dresses.

The Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer

Max Gadney would definitely recommend this one, not least as the definitive ‘there but for the grace of / isn’t this duvet warm and cosy’ war memoir.

The offspring of a French father and German mother, the 17 year old Sajer joins the Wehrmacht barely speaking a word of German, and  duly spends three horrific years as a private fighting on the Eastern front.

A chilly, chilling reminder that ordinary soldiers fight, kill and die not for the honour of their regiment, their army, or even their country, but for the love of their mates.

Kenneth Grange at The Design Museum

Kenneth Grange show at The Design Museum

Last month Jo and I left the kids asleep in bed and dashed off to be first in line for the last day of the Kenneth Grange exhibition at The Design Museum in London.

It was rather like seeing your youth laid our before you. The hairdryer with which my mother dried our hair. The food mixer with which I’d blast imaginary enemies. The camera I drooled over in the Argos catalogue. The parking meter outside the Science Museum in Birmingham. The electric toothbrushes we were never permitted.

And the train. That train.

Kenneth Grange pretty much defined 1970s Britain by designing *a train*.

This decade’s equivalent? I’ll wager  it’s something digital.

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Sailing a Corsair F24 from Essex to Suffolk and back

Have been busy with interesting new work stuff, but the past few days have been mainly spent enjoying sailing my trimaran, Trilogy, a Corsair F24 Mark 1 (1994).

Last Friday I sailed her with my friends Kass & Rupert from Althorne on the River Crouch (Essex) to Melton near the head of the River Deben in deepest Suffolk, a distance across the water of about 50Nm. Was a fine sail, with a very helpful NW wind ranging from F2 to F4. We left 11am and moored up off Melton at 6.30pm, 90 mins before High Water. The last couple of miles past Woodbridge under outboard as the river is very shallow and bendy. We moored up in about 2 foot of water having arrived about as early as the tide would allow.  The video below was taken off Clacton Pier, roughly halfway through the trip.

On Monday evening I returned to Suffolk alone by train, and motored downriver through a rainy dusk to Waldringfield where I moored for the night.  I made an early start the next morning, to catch the best of the tide and wind. Setting off just after 5am, I had a sail to remember, averaging just under 10knots for 4 hours between Felixstowe Ferry and the entrance to the River Crouch. The dawn was idyllic, the sun shone, and the wind was a steady F4, again helpfully offshore from the NW. It was a perfect fetch for a trimaran, and Trilogy hit 14knots at times, am which point she verily hummed with joy. As did I. I was back moored up at Althorne by 11am. She’s one amazing boat, is Trilogy.  Track logs below.

Althorne to Melton, 27th May 2011

Waldringfield to Althorne, 31st May 2011

Found while searching my Gmail archive for a long lost chart…

…I’d forgotten I wrote this. It was done for a booklet given to all senior managers attending a BBC Leadership conference at a posh Salford hotel in Feb 2007.

Learning to Stop
Tom Loosemore
Project Director BBC2.0

We should have closed most of the websites on bbc.co.uk long ago. I believe the reasons behind our failure to do so are institutionally lethal.

Granted, we’ve built a handful of spectacularly successful, much-loved websites, of which we should be rightly proud. But our busy webservers also play host to thousands of smaller sites, most of which actively damage the BBC brand. A third of our websites score so poorly in terms of quality that a commercial business with similarly poor perception would go bust within a year. Yet we leave them up.

This failure comes with hidden costs, over and above the money we spend on these sites. Firstly, they damage our reputation for quality. Secondly, they confuse our users – we have six climate change websites. Finally, the resources they suck up restrict our freedom to exploit better opportunities.

And the more I’ve tried to understand how we let bbc.co.uk get so bloated, the more I catch whiffs of what I fear is an institutional malaise. We don’t stop doing anything unless confronted by hard, external constraints – the scarcity of spectrum as represented by a schedule, or a Foreign Office demanding Arabic TV but refusing to pay for it.

We could get away with this attitude with RPI +1.5%. That left enough slack to keep doing everything we’d always done, and also develop the new services our audiences were demanding. That luxury has gone.

Unless we learn to stop we will under-invest in future services – our best hope of staying universally relevant amid the most profound revolution in media consumption since Marconi, if not Gutenberg.

It is hard to stop doing things. It’s hard to deal with the fallout – from staff, unions, irate opinion formers, a frothy press and audiences angry at having their service closed.

But it’ll be harder still to explain to our grandchildren why we failed one of the few civilising institutions Britain has left.

Let’s be brave enough to stop.

What a sanctimonious, pompous prig. I’d forgotten how angry I was with the BBC by the time I left.

The conference was most memorable for late night whisky with Tony Ageh & Will Lewis. IIRC Tony insisted to the then Editor of the Telegraph that it was the latter’s public duty to become BBC Director General. Funny. The rest of the shindig was usual bollocks.

Back to the powerpoint.

Elegant imbalance, courtesy of Lord Carter

Early most mornings you’ll find me hunched over a copy of The Times, enjoying the friendly atmosphere in Hornsey’s renowned Green Hill Cafe. The regulars call me ‘The Cyclist’. This pleases me enormously.

This morning, midway through his paper, said cyclist soured the atmosphere with an involuntary outburst. The cause? A comment piece on p50 by Baron Carter of Barnes, former boss of ad agency J Walter Thomson, cable company NTL & communications regulator Ofcom. He was also – briefly – a Minister in the previous Government, hence his enoblement.

The Times granted Lord Carter about 600 words in which he explained, in soothing faux-expert terms, why the market for access to Internet in the UK was ‘unbalanced’, with its underlying economics ‘under stress’, and about to suffer a ‘Big Squeeze’ with ‘rising demand for content… colliding with reducing economic returns’.

Here are the key passages:

Communications companies occupy a market where a growing proportion of their traffic is intemet-based, while most of the revenue is still derived from voice telephony. That imbalance could worsen with the combination of unlimited usage plans, the accelerating transition from all things physical to all things digital, and the imbalances on the content revenue and transport and distribution costs associated with internet usage.

The coalition Government has an opportunity to create a policy framework for the next-generation digital marketplace. Areas requiring attention include market definitions, pricing mechanisms and the unnecessarily sensitive topic of net neutrality to balance legitimate access to an open online environment, with the need for service providers to differentiate between quality and of [sic] service, the investment returns available in this market, the conditions for consolidation and the issues of rights and rights management.

Read between the lines. Note the semantics; the elegant spin. There’s an ‘imbalance‘, which could ‘worsen‘. The topic of net neutrality is ‘unnecessarily sensitive‘ and needs to be ‘balanced‘ by the ‘needs‘ of ISPs. Throughout the piece, he talks of ‘superfast broadband’, not ‘superfast Internet’.

In translation: “Now, now, Minister. Don’t listen to that geeky Sir Tim Berners-Lee chap. If you want superfast broadband, you’ll have to let telcos ditch net neutrality.”

This is dangerous tripe. The Internet trumps other closed models of networks because its do-your-best-to-treat-all-packets-equally model acts as a critical catalyst for innovation, and comprehensively outcompetes closed, more managed networks – despite the latter offering a better theoretical ‘quality of service’.

UK consumers, citizens and companies will not get the full benefit of superfast broadband access unless it *is* superfast Internet access. Other countries’ Governments know this.

Yes, next generation Internet access will cost money; it will require investment. Lots. But the answer is crystal clear: charge end users for the amount of Internet bandwidth they actually use. If they use lots, at high speeds, charge them more.

Ditch the delusional, marketing-led, cul-de-sac of ‘unlimited’ Internet access. Just imagine electricity and gas companies offering ‘unlimited’ deals, and then ponder why telcos are facing a ‘Biq Squeeze’.

But this doesn’t explain why Lord Carter delivered his mandarin-friendly missive in today’s Times. What has he got to gain? The clue comes at the end of the piece:

Stephen A. Carter, CBE, is chief strategy and marketing officer for Alcatel Lucent.

I suspect Alcatel-Lucent thinks it will make more money selling expensive traffic-shaping, walled-garden ‘quality of service’ kit to telcos than it will if they were stick to offering clean, pure, superfast Internet access.

Stephen Carter is a very smart man. I just wish he was on the side of the Internet.

“It is not yet known whether Loosemore will stay at Channel 4.”

Chart Illustrating Stranding of the Dulcibella

To answer the above: No, I won’t. I left Channel 4 last Friday.

I’ve been off work for a fair while, suffering from the seemingly interminable after-effects of treatment by reckless manipulation at the hands of an over-enthusiastic chiropractor. Thankfully, I’m very much on the mend now.

4iP was an experience.

The upsides? A truly, truly, fantastic team. The excitement of doing risky new stuff. And the joy of working with so many wonderful small companies. Thank you all.

The downsides? Pretty much as Dan Heaf described, I’m afraid. No-one could ever agree what 4iP was for, a failure for which I must take some responsibility.

But hey, 4iP’s time came and went. There’s still lots of great stuff on the go at C4. For example, check out Alice Taylor & Dr Jo Twist‘s awesome teens slate. And keep an eye out for some nice surprises as the remaining 4iP funded products emerge…

Bold and innovative public institutions are rare, precious & important creatures. They matter.

I wish Channel 4 Television Corporation well.

Next!

Killing Zombies: How to *really* delete yourself from Facebook

I decided to delete my Facebook account a couple of days ago. I found I was hardly using it – certainly not enough to justify upsetting friends who assumed otherwise and were thus unwittingly ignored.

It’s somewhat harder than it should be to *permanently* delete all your data from Facebook. By default Facebook encourage you to ‘deactivate’ your account, which leaves all your data in their systems, albeit hidden from other users. Should you ever log in to Facebook again, even via a Facebook Connect login to a 3rd party site like Digg, then your whole Facebook account will spring back into life whether you want it to or not. Deactivating your Facebook profile turns your profile into a Zombie. You’re forever at risk of triggering it to wake from the dead and take a bite out of you.

Here are 7 steps to *really* delete your data from Facebook:

    Step 1: Login to Facebook.com
    Step 2: Click on the ‘Account’ link in the top right of the page
    Step 3: A menu will pop down. Select ‘Account Settings’
    Step 4: Change your Facebook password (click on the ‘change’ link to the right of the word Password)
    Step 5: Go to this page and click ‘Submit’
    Step 6: Click on the ‘Log Out’ button.
    Step 7: After 2 weeks, your data should be deleted from Facebook.

Make sure you don’t log-in to Facebook at all during the 2 week period – be that via Facebook Connect, the Facebook iPhone app, embedded ‘Like this’ buttons on other websites. etc. Changing your password reduces the risk of doing this by mistake.

Sailing to the upper limit of the River Crouch

Just about to send this dinghy cruise report off to the Wanderer Dinghy Association for their newsletter, but I might as well use it to see if my blog is still alive.

Wanderer Dinghy Cruise Report
Date: 22nd September 2010
Helm: Tom Loosemore Crew: Kass Schmitt
Route: Creeksea to Battlesbridge and return. Total distance sailed: 20Nm

Creeksea to Battlesbridge GPS track log

We meet just in time to catch the 0740 to Burnham-on-Crouch, conversation difficult after racing across London on our bicycles. Was such an early train really essential? my crew Kass gently enquires, as we glide through the capital’s urban sprawl. Tide and time wait for no man, I patronise smugly. Kass has forgotten more about sailing than I’ll ever know, but manages a smile. We have to make it to Battlesbridge well before the 1320 high tide, as there’s only water for an hour or so either side of high water, and even then it’s but a few feet.

We launch W917 from a dew-strewn Creeksea SC at 0930. Creeksea is my kind of sailing club. An all-tide slipway a mile upstream from Burnham-on-Crouch, it has no clubhouse and zero pretensions. Tucked behind a wooded headland, it might as well be a million miles upstream from Burnham’s regal posturing.

The wind fills in as if to order, blowing away the last vestiges of morning mist. It’s a warm F2 from the south, and we enjoy a fine sunny reach upstream. Helped along by the flooding tide, we zip past North Fambridge (great pub with self-catering) and the delightful Brandy Hole Yacht Station (friendly folk, good food) averaging a very respectable 5 knots. We’re well ahead of schedule, but fall becalmed in the lee of a hillside copse near The Anchor (looks posh) at Hullbridge. The plastic paddle was deployed to avoid bumping into moored yachts, albeit for only a few minutes.

The final two miles are a delightful challenge. The river narrows, shallows and wiggles all over the shop. Trees, electricity pylons and the odd caravan park cause the breeze to turn fickle and frisky. Some quickfire short tacking is in order, our half-raised centreboard doubling as a sounding pole – on hitting bottom, we crash tack. As a tactic, it works well in the muddy upper reaches of an East coast river. Please don’t try it in Cornwall. We nearly make it to Battlesbridge, eventually stymied by encroaching reeds and shallows a couple of hundred metres below the low iron girder Bailey bridge marking the limit of the navigable Crouch. We row the last stretch, past an 80 foot barge preparing to leave on the tide (how they turned round I’ll never know) before mooring up alongside the visitors’ landing stage.

Wanderer W917 moored up at Battlesbridge visitors landing stage, near high tide

Truth be told, we are early. It’s only just midday, and there is barely enough water. The real reason I’d wanted to leave London so early was to make sure we’d have time in hand to enjoy the fine view from the café in the top floor of the Old Granary. Now an antiques market, this five-storey structure dominates Battlesbridge, a black, wooden testament to the days when the river was the region’s main trade route to London and beyond. The proprietors and clientele of the café are a sitcom waiting to be written, and provide copious entertainment as we munch our baked potatoes.

The sail back to Creeksea is a joy. The sun is at our backs, the wind abeam and we’re sailing together well. Past Brandy Hole the river opens out into marshland and the wind steadies and freshens to a F4. The odd gust sees W917 lifting her skirt onto the plane. We leave leaden yachts chuntering in our wake, grinning with joy as we munch Kass’ homemade treacle flapjack. All is good with the world.

We take a detour into lonely saltings to explore Bridgemarsh marina, a lovely sleepy backwater of a marina. Rejoining the Crouch proper, the final mile to Creeksea is a properly bumpy wind-against-tide close-hauled thrash. Kass fulfils the crew’s key function of keeping the helm dry. She doesn’t seem to mind a jot. We haul W917 out just after 1500, and pedal off into Burnham for a riverside drink or two before catching the 1709 back to mad, bad London life.

Thank you Kass. Thank you W917 – you may not have a name, but you’re so much more than a number.