Holiday day 1: the funeral

Iron and cassock

There’s a lot on today, so I’ll keep this brief — not least because I need to drive to Edinburgh shortly.

Today is Jane’s final day of work at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. I know that she’s looking forward to the challenges ahead with Aberlour Child Care Trust but she’ll also miss the Award too. Prayers please for her.

Today is also the funeral of my Great Aunt Mary (she was 93) at Warriston Crematorium. And I’m taking the service: the first funeral service of a family member that I’ll have taken. Again, your prayers for that too.

I’ve even ironed my cassock and cotta. Aunt Mary would have been pleased, I’m sure. 🙂

The observant amongst you will have already realised that had we been heading to Monaco we’d have missed the funeral, and to be honest I’d much rather be with my folks just now at this time than jet-setting off in the direction of the south of France. Is all worked out for the better, methinks.

Le Tour de France

Vladimir Karpets
Vladimir Karpets – he’s not a cheat and he has a cool name

So … shortly after Le Tour de France passed the final stage over the Pyrenees it now finds itself with an even steeper climb: rebuilding people’s confidence (should that be Cofidis?) in cycling and the complete expulsion of drugs and doping from the sport.

Out of the tour

I woke at 06:00 this morning to the surprise news that race leader Michael Rasmussen had been forced out of the tour for lying about his out-of-competition drug tests. Yesterday Moreni’s bloody sample proved positive for testosterone, on Tuesday Vinokourov left when a routine test showed that he’d been indulging in the dangerous pastime of blood doping. What news will we wake to tomorrow?

Vinokourov and Moreni

In the case of Vinokourov we have still to await the results of his ‘B sample’ to see whether he really was blood doping or not. But if he was — and certainly in the case of Moreni — how could they possibly think that they’d not get caught out?!

Rasmussen

The speculation around Rasmussen’s missed tests has been going on for a couple of weeks now, so it’s disappointing (not least for him) that it took this long — after 76 hours of cycling and more than half-way round France — before the decision was finally made to kick him off the tour.

Rasmussen claims that he was and is clean of drugs,

“Of course I’m clean,” Rasmussen said. “Like I said, I’ve been tested 17 times now in less than two weeks. Both the peleton and the public, they’re just taking their frustration out on me now. I mean, all I can say is that by now I had my test number 17 on this Tour and all of those have come back negative. I don’t feel I can do anymore than that.”
(Source: Yahoo!)

I have to be honest and say that I believe him. That may explain his more relaxed (though some might argue ‘unprofessional’) attitude to it all. I don’t, for example, pop into my local Police Station every morning just to report, “Just to let you know, officers, I’ve not committed any crimes since yesterday!”

So if you’re clean and miss a test you might easy say, “Ah well, it doesn’t matter so much: I’m clean anyway”. But with a sport so desperate to clean up its image that excuse obviously doesn’t sit well with those on the sport’s ruling boards.

Rasmussen originally claimed that he was in Mexico at the time of the out-of-competition drugs test, when in fact he was really in Italy. Maybe he’s just really rubbish at geography!

A question of sport

No doubt we’ll now find some pundits looking back at various stages of the tour and question his abilities (as they have done aleady with Vinokourov) and try to attribute every sign of talent, ability or unexpected achievement — such as during the time trial — to the effects of drugs.

The truth is that, even without the boost that testosterone, EPO or a syringe full of your best friend’s red blood cells is going to give you, these cyclists are better than you or I will ever be on two, self-powered wheels; and they are all human and will all have good days and bad days. The champions, and champions-in-the-making, just know when to up the pace when they need to, and from where to draw the energy to do so.

My solution

The folks I feel most sorry for are the innocent members of teams that have had to withdraw from the race entirely because one of their team has spoiled it for the rest of them: team Astana, for example, and Cofidis. I think the non-guilty members of the teams should be allowed to carry on.

I also think that the guilty cyclists should be forced to carry on too. The guilty, proved-positive-for-drugs cyclists should have to complete the rest of the tour, with the following humiliating consequences. They should have to choose from one of these options:

Option 1: Batman and Robin

  • The guilty cyclist must be dressed as Batman, with the words “I’m a big, dirty cheat-bag” emblazoned on the back of their cape.

  • They would have to complete the rest of the tour on a 21-speed tandem, with an obesely fat man dressed as Robin on the back.

  • The rest of the team would have to wear specially-made team shirts with a giant hand on the front and the words, “I’m with STUPID!”

Option 2: Pick a bike

  • The guilty cyclist must be dressed just in ‘gym pants’ and an old t-shirt plucked from a wicker basket in a PE teacher’s office.

  • They would have to complete the rest of the tour on one of the following bikes:

    • a BMX (no gears), or
    • a Raleigh Grifter (3 gears), or
    • a Raleigh Chopper (3 gears), or
    • a ladies’ bike (14 gears; with a wicker shopping basket on the front, piled high with drugs)
  • The rest of the team would have to wear specially-made team shirts with a giant hand on the front and the words, “I’m with STUPID!”

I think with that strategy, we’d see drugs cleared from the sport in a matter of days!

Cool names

I’m just delighed that my two favourite riders (for obvious reasons) are still in the race: Vladimir Karpets and Christian Knees.

Vladimir Karpets just has the best name ever! That’s a name that goes off the end of my cool-o-meter. That’s like calling your kid something like Sebastian Fridge-Freezer, or Aubrey Dashboard.

Christian Knees is a name in a league of its own. Other members of that league might be Buddhist Thighs, Satanic Spleen and Taoist Wrists.

Highlights (and low-lights) of the tour continue tonight on ITV4 or online at www.itv.com/tour.

Dancing at Falkland Palace

Falkland Palace
View of Falkland Palace from the lawn.

Ask me how I’d like to spend a Sunday afternoon and I’d probably not even think of including “watch an international folk dance festival in the grounds of an ancient Scottish palace”, but that’s exactly what Jane and I did a couple of days ago.

Jane’s sister Pauline and family were staying for the weekend — a fantastic and relaxed weekend was had by all, despite the inclement weather — and on Sunday we decided to visit Falkland Palace, “a once favoured place of retreat and leisure for the Stuart Kings and Queens of Scotland, including Mary Queen of Scots and home of the oldest Royal (Real) Tennis court in Britain, built for James V in 1539.”

Buzzing

When we got there, however, we discovered that we weren’t the only people to have decided to visit Falkland Palace that day.

The town was buzzing with visitors, tour buses were double-parked on every corner decanting colourful people wearing Scottish, Czech, Austrian and Lithuanian national costumes. It turned out that the Dunedin Dancers‘ 19th International Folk Dance Festival was being held in the palace grounds.

Lithuania dancers Rasa
Ooh! My hernia!

Are ye dancin’?

So after a spot of lunch in the palace gardens, and a look at the Royal Tennis court, we settled down to watch the dancing.

When introducing one of the more modern Scottish folk dances the compere said

Scottish folk dancing doesn’t stand still …

Indeed! That would just be musical statues, and I’m not sure that the 19th International Folk Musical Statues Festival would hold the same attraction for people.

Impressive

I have to say — as metal as I am — it was all very impressive indeed. I was particularly impressed with Rasa, a folk dance group from Lithuania, and not least because the young women appeared to be dressed in a cloth not dissimilar to Burberry, and the young men all looked like Colin Baker-era Dr Whos!

Rasa’s dancing was energetic and joyful and enthusiastic and meaningful: their dances told stories (I wish we’d been told what the stories were about) and actually made me want to join in. On second thoughts, maybe it wasn’t the dancing, maybe it was the pretty girls! 😉

The children were getting a little restless and we had tickets to visit the palace too, so we managed to stay only for the Scottish and Lithuanian dances, leaving just as the Austrian dancers came on. We caught only a glimpse of the Czech dancers from a vantage point on the Palace battlements.

More

My first iTunes iMix compilation

iMix screenshot from iTunes

This evening I compiled my first ever iMix: The Original Songs From The Mirror (link requires iTunes to be installed).

What is an iMix?

With iTunes and the iTunes Music Store, you can publish your music recommendations for friends and family anytime.

When you publish a playlist at the iTunes Music Store, it’s called an “iMix.” iMixes allow others to preview your favorite songs and purchase the ones they want. Creating your own iMix on the iTunes Music Store is as easy as clicking a button.

Creating an iMix

Creating my compilation was pretty straight-forward:

  1. Create a new playlist of tracks
  2. Go to File > Create an iMix …
  3. Add a few details
  4. Click Done
  5. Er …
  6. That’s it!

The Original Songs From The Mirror

Yesterday I was listening to Fish’s 1993 album Songs From The Mirror, a recording of some of the songs that inspired Mr Derek W. Dick as he was growing up and getting into this thing we call music. These were his songs from the mirror — we’ve all sung along to our favourite bands while miming into the mirror … haven’t we?

Well, my iMix compilation pulls together the original songs:

  1. Question by The Moody Blues
  2. Boston Tea Party by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
  3. Fearless by Pink Floyd
  4. Apeman by The Kinks
  5. Hold Your Heady Up by Argent
  6. I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) by Genesis
  7. Solo by Sandy Denny
  8. Time and a Word by Yes
  9. The Seeker by The Who
  10. Jeepster by T. Rex
  11. Five Years by David Bowie

Update: I’ve now included Jeepster by T. Rex.

The real St Andrews

There was a comment at the IWMW2007 conference in York last week about how deceptive many photographs on university promotional websites are; for example, they always show deep blue skies with hardly a cloud in sight.

So today I decided to put it to the test.

The frontpage news headline on the BBC News website says “Flood crisis grows as rivers rise“, and the UK’s bad weather has been the number one topic of conversation for weeks (besides Beckham’s move to LA, of course. And the release of the final Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Lucrative Franchise).

So of any day this ought to be the one utterly, 100% honest photograph of the real St Andrews.

St Salvator's Quad, St Andrews

As you can see: glorious sunshine, blue skies, hardly a cloud in sight and the green, green grass of home.

It’s like this all the time!