Cycling in a skirt

One life, some bicycles. A million possibilities, zero clue!


Stripping to Music

I take far more time thinking about my choice of music than I do about the decision to start stripping in the first place.

Before we go on I must clarify that I’m talking about wallpaper here and not clothes (loses half of readership). As you may have gathered this isn’t strictly a bike related post but I feel that in these strange times it’s good to branch out. It’s good too, as it turns out, to have another Lockdown project to get stuck in to.

Here in the UK we’ve just re-entered a 4 week period of lockdown in an attempt to bring the infection rate back under control. Having completed a minor avalanche of home and bike and self improvement projects during the original restrictions in the spring and summer I’ve been at a bit of a loss for things to do this time around, especially as the dark evenings draw in and a year’s worth of rain begins falling.
Like all good things this project came about accidentally, as a result of sit ups. Following a programme to shape up muscles, grown squishy from too much home working, I’ve been attempting a daily regimen of sit ups. To vary this activity and provide some much needed motivation I’ve been moving my core workout around the house, bedroom, kitchen….

During a session in the seldom used spare room, sticking out like a papery tongue  a corner of wallpaper caught my attention. With every crunch I completed it was staring at me, daring me to do something, taunting me to just pull at it. At this point I should have just left well enough alone but, like that loose thread or that big zit I just couldn’t leave it be. I tugged at the corner, a bit. And a bit more and….With a satisfying, sighing sound a whole strip about an arm’s length sheared cleanly off the wall leaving a large, sticky looking gap.
At this point I could conceivably have glued the strip back in place and walked away. But I didn’t. I carried on. In a small frenzy, about 10 minutes later I’d decimated an area of wall about a metre square. Two things had now become apparent however.

  1. Only that first strip would be coming off cleanly – the rest left a papery backing residue welded to the wall.

2. The wall beneath was not in good shape, shedding large, powdery chunks of plaster along with the paper. It looked a complete mess and there was no chance of repairing it. 

And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist  

In this case, going forward involved borrowing a wallpaper steam-stripper, scrapers and selecting enough music to distract from the task ahead. For years now the only time I seem to make to listen to music is when driving and since there’s no need to drive much nowadays music gets missed out.
My playlist is an eclectic mix involving a back catalogue of long forgotten artists from my childhood, teenage years and beyond. Brought up on a diet of folk, classical music, country, protest songs and power ballads it’s a strange soup ranging from opera, though Dolly Parton, Dory Previn and Meatloaf to Billy Joel.

Kicking off the stripping, as Dolly bemoaned her “DIVORCE”, scraper in hand I attacked the first wall. Classic Dolly, first listened to long ago on my parents old 45 vinyls, has me waving the scraper around like a microphone, far less stripping is done than dancing. I need some serious work songs so switch to Opera, “O Mio Babbino Caro” I fire up the wall paper steamer and then blast the volume for the “Temple Duet”, songs and steam rising to a crescendo and probably deafening the neighbours. After 3 hours of Dolly and opera classics come to an end wall number one is now naked save for some ingrained wallpaper patterns and patchy holes. My patience and arms muscles pretty much give out at the same time too. holding up 2 kgs of wallpaper stripper and scraping like a loony have left them feeling like limp bits of string. Clearing up after day one takes a further hour peeling the sticky scrapings from the floor coverings, my feet, the furniture, my hair.

Days 2-4 progress in a similar fashion. I can highly recommend the power of power ballads to get some swing into your stripping and the same with rock. Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner lent their support along with Bonnie Tyler and Celine Dion, Meatloaf however proved less helpful as “Bat out of Hell” coincided with the worst plaster collapse yet where a significant part of the chimney breast came off with the paper leaving dust, debris and several large holes to be dealt with (another day).On the bright side I am developing my technique and, whilst I’ve currently lost the feeling in my puny arms, I may yet come out of this with biceps of steel?

The final 2 days are a struggle, the room is a half stripped mess and most areas of the house are carpeted in sticky scraps of paper despite my best efforts to contain the mess. The big guns are called for. Luckily I dig deep through my music collection and discover a whole back catalogue for Dory Previn (former and much put upon spouse of the great Andre) she wears her heart and her emotions in her songs. “Lemon Haired Ladies” and “Beware of Young Girls” are sung with much feeling. As Dory describes, with heart-breaking simplicity, her husband’s affair with/desertion for Mia Farrow I join with her in song and push on.

But, for the last stand, the final stripping, nothing is going to beat some Billy Joel. I’ve already shown my age with the admission of vinyl records and can vividly remember saving up for some of Billy’s singles as a teenager. Excited at the first playing and of hearing the song on the B side! “We didn’t start the fire” joins classics like “Uptown Girl”, “Always a Woman” and “Piano Man” to accompany the final hiss of the steam stripper and clogging wheeze of the vacuum as the job is, at last, concluded.
Every muscle I possess aches and I have enough bags of rubbish to fill several week’s worth of bin collections. The room, whilst bare of wallpaper is looking pathetically shabby with chunks of plaster missing and several large cracks. These are things for another day however as there is a real sense of satisfaction in a project completed. In a way it’s not so dissimilar from cycling either. Long days spent exerting the body in perpetual motion, but the repetition is also soothing, meditative, allowing the mind to wander free. Physically it has certainly been a pasting (no wallpaper pun intended) but I’ve loved the opportunity to get lost in music I haven’t heard in decades. Each song brings memories and often emotions back in full force and I’ve discovered some new tracks too. On the whole the result has been surprisingly therapeutic. Now if anyone can recommend a good plasterer and decorator…..?!

What music would you strip to?


If you enjoy reading about adventuring, travel, cycling or all 3 why not check out my book: How To Cycle Canada the Wrong Way.


It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.

Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.

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Cake, cycle-couture and the art of suffering

There’s a great quote from the even greater cyclist Eddy Merckx, something along the lines of:

The race is won by the rider who can suffer the mostContinue reading


The Slippery Slope to Strava Addiction

I’ll let you in to a secret, I think I might be developing an addiction. I’m becoming a little hooked on Strava.

It’s the classic pattern, I tried it as a one off, via a friend, for a bit of a laugh and out of curiosity. I should have walked away right then but I got quite a buzz from seeing where I might be ranked on a leader-board of other users.

So I tried it again, and then once more, I thought I was still in control at this point, that I was nothing more than a casual, curious user. I was kidding myself of course, because that’s when I downloaded the App.

Just for training purposes obviously, for my big sportive, to log mileage. I’m fooling no one.

On the very first ride that clever little App knews just how to hook me in. Arriving home, sweaty, tired, before even taking my helmet off I’m logging in to see how I’ve done.

My legs of course are telling me how the ride’s been, quite a few hilly miles, but my new friend Strava seems to have the only opinion I care about. And it’s a good day, I’ve been given few little ‘Cup Icons’ which tell me I’ve done ok in the scheme of things, going a bit faster than few other people, somewhere in the vicinity.

Sadly, looking at these little pixilated cups makes me disproportionately happy. I don’t want to think too closely about the fact that my 4 year old niece looks at the stars on her homework in the same way.

Ride two and I log in again, eager for the same reward, the same electronic validation of my cycling ability only to find no little cups waiting for me. My happiness dissolves, surely I rode better than that. A series of little PB medal icons tell me I did in some places. Of course, having now ridden parts of the same route twice I am comparing my performance twofold to both myself and to other cyclists. Two ways to see if I’ve gotten faster or slower, to feel good or bad.

And so it continues. At the start of each ride of course there’s the choice whether or not to switch on my little Strava tormentor and yet already, it seems I can’t leave home without it. Why is that?

The randomness of reward

Like a veteran gambler I keep coming back because of the promise of that potential ‘reward’, a Personal Best’ or a little cup which says I’m on the top ten leader board of other Strava addicts for zooming over an arbitrarily designated stretch of tarmac somewhere.


Unlike other movement tracking Apps, Strava’s ingenuity and success is that it not only records your vital statistics i.e. speed, distance and much more but that, most crucially it also pits you against other Strava cyclists. A worldwide virtual community. This means that any Strava user whose ridden in your vicinity will clock a time over the same stretches of road that you do. These results are then pasted up for all to see (excepting the odd privacy setting) and more importantly ranked. It brings out the competitive monster in us (or certainly me).

The hallowed QOM

The gold standard for Strava users is the QOM (or KOM for men), Queen (or King) of the Mountains and the number 1 slot for a ‘segment, (random stretch of tarmac).

What a great incentive you might think, and it certainly is. Measuring improvements in performance not just against yourself but this huge, virtual community can be really motivating but can it also be something else, destructive, anti-social, deceitful even?

There have been minor scandals regarding the latter with reports of amazing feats of cheating and subterfuge to gain that hallowed QOM/KOM. It seems that people will go to great lengths to gain these virtual accolades including anything from riding E-bikes to running riders off the road to even driving the segment and recording it as a ride.

Really folks?!!

On a smaller scale, how many of us (until recently non-Strava initiated) have been on a group ride when suddenly, without warning all of your fellow riders shoot off down the road leaving you bewildered, in a cloud of dust. Half a mile later they’re all massed breathlessly in a layby, waiting for you. ‘Sorry’ someone mumbles sheepishly ‘but it was a Strava segment’!

Most fundamentally, does this form of categorization and competition actually make people better riders? Personally, probably not. After only than a handful of rides with the App I already find myself obsessively analyzing my performance. A perfectly good ride can be tainted when I get back and see that I’ve ridden slower than I’d hoped or failed to gain a PB on a section I was flying along. This is of course totally subjective and self-induced torment but I find that my enjoyment of cycling is much greater when there is no indicator of my performance. I also ride in a much more constructive and sane manner. Instead of going all out and winding myself for that early segment, non-measured rides see a much better paced effort.

The wake-up call for me came when I pushed myself to the brink of insanity on an hour long ride of intervals and recovery only to get home and find I’d forgotten to start Strava. I nearly cried, real tears. It made me take a step back.

In the rational light of day what mattered is that I’d done the ride, I’d felt good, the training miles were in my legs and I felt strong. It really really doesn’t matter if I don’t know how fast I went over Strava’s ‘wobbly bridge section’, or what my ranking may have been going up ‘gnarly hill’. The world will not end if I gained a QOM and never knew.

Strava is of course just a piece of electronic kit and can be whatever you make of it. It can be either a helpful training tool or complete liability. However, despite all of the above musings I’m embarrassed to admit that I will probably keep using it for now. Addicted, who knows, but competitive, certainly. Hopefully though this use will be tempered with a (slight) change of mindset and a pinch more sanity. It’s been a learning experience. The best things always are.