Archive for December, 2014

Back on the track

14 December 2014

imageThe weather was good and I found myself, unusually, with a free Saturday morning. So I cycled over to the Herne Hill Velodrome to take part in one of their Saturday track sessions. There’s nothing quite like the “burn” on a fixed wheel bike, where, if the wheels are going round, so are your legs. Or the pleasure of using the banking to accelerate down to catch the back of a group as it goes round below you.

The open-air Velodrome is one of the oldest cycling circuits in the world, and the last time I wrote about it here it was under threat of closure. Since then the Trust that has taken it on has done a wonderful job. The track surface has been relaid – it’s far more rain-resistant than it used to be, so cycling is much less likely to be rained off. The trackside barriers have been upgraded. And they’ve built a small circuit in the middle of the track for kids to practice on, with a multi-purpose games area.

There’s more to be done: the Pavilion, which has been shuttered for more than a decade, is due to be replaced over the course of the next year, which will also reinvigorate the place.

Because it was so close to Christmas, it was quite a small turnout for Saturday’s session. The coaches said it was like “the old days, before cycling got popular”. And it was striking how many kids were around, taking part in the other cycling activities the venue hosts. VCL Londres, the club that manages the track activities, has a model that allows kids to start as young as two and grow up with the sport. And actually, cycling is quite unusual in this, and in maintaining the social infrastructure (the clubs and the coaches) needed to support it. Elsewhere organised grassroots sport is under pressure, especially where it’s associated with men spending time away from their family.

And apart from the success of Britain’s new cycling stars, at the Olympics and on the road, and the funding that has followed from it, this might be part of the secret of the cycling boom – it works for families. You can do the serious stuff with the coaches on the track, and you can put the miles in to improve your fitness or prepare for a sportive. But you can also just go out for a ride along a towpath or a Sustrans route with the kids, or your partner, or both. It has social pathways.

The image at the top is from the Herne Hill Velodrome website, and is used with thanks.

Song to the siren

6 December 2014

This post is about a single line:

“I’m as puzzled as the oyster.”

It’s from the original version of Tim Buckley’s song, “Song to the Siren”, seen at the top of this post: the lyric was by his former band member and regular co-writer Larry Beckett. Buckley, of course, had a brief, uncommercial, but influential music career in the late 1960s and early 1970s before he died of a drugs overdose at the age of 28.

“Song to a Siren” is probably his best known song, but initially Buckley played it once, on The Monkees TV Show (seen above) in 1967, and then set it aside after the singer Judy Henske, who was also the wife of his producer, made fun of that line. By the time the song appeared on Starsailor, in 1970, Buckley had changed it to,

I am puzzled as the newborn child.

You don’t need to be Shakespeare or Seamus Heaney to see that this doesn’t scan as well, or fit so well into the lyric, which is inspired by the famous Homerian sequence in which the Sirens try to lure Odysseus and his ship onto the rocks by their singing.

In fact, the whole lyric is infused with the sense of sea and water. The original stanza continues:

I am puzzled as the oyster
I am troubled as the tide.
Should I stand amid your breakers?
Should I lie with Death my bride?

Beckett’s answer to Buckley’s concern, shared in an article in the Guardian, a couple of years ago:

“A pearl is an object of great beauty caused by a grain of sand getting inside the oyster’s shell, which seemed apposite to me, what with the sea imagery and the sailor and siren confronting each other. Will beauty or pain rule all? But Tim believed the song was flawed and could never be performed, even though he agreed it was the best song he ever wrote. But then Tim always self-sabotaged his career.”

Starsailor wasn’t the success that Buckley had hoped for, and he died in 1975. “Song to the Siren” became visible again in 1983 when This Mortal Coil (actually the Cocteau Twins covered it, as a B-side. This version quickly became an A-side, and sold half a million copies. Since then it’s been covered by everyone –  Robert Plant, Bryan Ferry, George Michael, Sinead O’Connor, even Alfi Boe, are all on the list.

But the oyster has long been washed away.