How to cure a cyclist

This week’s blog takes the form of an instruction guide, full of handy hints and tips. I have done this because I know when I joined this strange and unknown world, I would have loved for someone to have been there before me, with the essential do’s and don’ts.

There are three very important things to remember when attempting to cure cyclists and I will outline them here.

The first, and perhaps most important point, is that you cannot cure a cyclist without his (or her) bike. The bike is an incredibly important part of the cyclist. Afterall, without their bicycle, they are just a person and people can get a little funny if you try to cure them without cause, rhyme or reason.

Secondly, whilst cyclists are not an aggressive breed, they may not take too kindly to you chasing them down the street with a butterfly net and a syringe filled with tranquiliser. Try and remember that they do consider themselves to be “human” and as such, you will need to be confident in explaining the key reasons why, as a cyclist, they need curing. Explain to them that everyone else on the road adheres to certain rules, such as red traffic lights and it is their lack of respect for these things, which get children knocked down. If they come back at you, telling you they are reducing their carbon footprint, then explain that they are the ones arriving in the office pink and sweaty. Then take a step back and say “ner, ner na ner ner.” It works a treat every time. It is also worth pointing out to them that strapping a flashing light, the size of the head of a matchstick to the front of their bike, does NOT mean it is safe for them to cycle in the dark. As a cyclist, you are very vulnerable on the road, so ride like it! Don’t just swing out in front of cars, or cycle in the pitch black along busy roads. (It is worth noting that it is more worthwhile curing a cyclist whilst they are still alive. Arriving at the accident scene with your butterfly net can be seen as both tasteless and ironic. Plus, you have the difficulty of deciding who should get the cyclist – after all, you aren’t allowed to pick up any roadkill that you hit.)

The third tip, which I wish someone had told me before I started out on my journey is this: add a spoonful of sugar to the salt cure and to get a really top flavour, consider a honey roast dressing. Cyclists are naturally very salty (from all that sweat), so you need to exercise a little caution about adding too much salt during the curing process. A dab of sugar just sorts the balance out.

I’m sure you all have tried and tested curing recipes, so I won’t patronise you and bore everyone with the details of that. But I have just a few do’s and don’ts for along the way.

Do use a good quality cut of thigh. There won’t be excess fat on a cyclists thigh and it cooks so very well.

Don’t try to knock them down on the road. Firstly, it’s seen as very unsporting to catch one when they are down. Secondly (as discussed earlier) you cannot claim any roadkill you have knocked down yourself.

Do make sure they are clear why you are doing this; as a driver, a cyclist is one of the most irritating of road hazards.

Don’t be tempted to use a tranquiliser dart from a distance when they are cycling; although the results are visually entertaining, it is not sporting.

Now, I think you are ready to enter the world of curing; good luck and most of all, enjoy!

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Hunger is the best cook and food the best doctor.

Being English, I adore food. It is as simple as that. I am tempted to finish this week’s blog there as it needs no further explanation. However, I feel contractually obliged, so I must continue.

I don’t really mind what food as there is a meal for every occasion. There is nothing better than cheese and onion on toast when getting in from a cold, wet and dark winters day show jumping. In the same way, a summers evening is made by a simple steak, salad and a few wedges. I think it is something unique about the British, that we shape every event or occasion we have by food. Spending two or three days with our nearest and dearest at Christmas is just too much for the vast majority of us to take, so we fill our time eating a year’s supply of meat, potatoes and chocolates. By filling our time eating all that glorious food, we barely have time to argue with the family before falling asleep in front of the Eastenders Christmas special.

It is with this love of food that I sit in front of the television, eating any old ready meal, watching Masterchef with such excitement. But of late, the BBC has come up with a new creation, which is just awe-inspiring on so many levels. The Great British Bake Off is a throwback to years gone by, where the most quintessentially middle class people take baking as seriously as you or I would consider world peace or poverty. Now I adore bread, cakes and all manner of baked delights, but I could never take it as seriously as any of these contestants. This is the reality show for the yummy mummy to get excited about. It is not the cooking that you or I would manage; oh no, there is an invention test, which requires them to create something wacky and wonderful, such as violet petal macaroons or choux buns with popping candy in. The next test is perhaps the most terrifying; the contestants are given the ingredients for a classic recipe, but they do not have the actual recipe. Over the past few weeks, they have had to bake all sorts of wonders such as cottage loaves and Cornish pasties sans instruction. Despite this hindrance, there have been no catastrophic cock ups. Of course, there have been the nail biting moments where pastry is soft, scones haven’t browned or bread hasn’t risen, but they have always completed an acceptable finished product, which is more than I would manage.

The contestants have all been wonderfully varied considering the subject matter. I was quite shocked by the amount of men that started the competition; whilst men generally make excellent cooks, I know that it’s a stereotype, but I don’t imagine them on the baking side of things. Gordon Ramsey isn’t known for his delicate touch in pastry making! Right back at the beginning, we had a Welsh bus driver whose cakes were the talk of the depot and true to his Welsh heritage he was pretty emotional about leaving. Every contestant has had their own special little quirk, which makes them so interesting. The most amusing of these was Jas, who had the most amazing Black Country accent, which seemed to disappear and then come flooding back in waves across the sentence.

It is not just the glorious way the contestants get so het up about bread or pastries that makes this programme; it is the timely interjections from Mel and Sue. Hosted by Mel Giedroyc (yes, that’s easier to type than it is to say) and Sue Perkins, this programme brings the southern, female, humorous and entertaining equivalent of Ant and Dec back together on our screens once more. Obviously, they are not comparable to Ant and Dec; Mel and Sue made great lunchtime telly back in the nineties and this is such a hilarious place to see them. Mel gets almost as emotionally involved as the contestants themselves and she looks quite bleary eyed as she tells them who has been eliminated each week. Whilst they are cooking, Mel and Sue float around chatting to the contestants with seemingly little purpose, often accidentally eating their ingredients or asking to try it just as the contestant has discovered they haven’t actually put the 5 beautifully separated eggs into the scones.

Apparently this programme has split the baking society into those who WI and those who don’t. The WI (bakers extraordinaire) has been up in arms about some of Paul Hollywood’s comments and decisions. The lovely Mary Berry seems to have avoiding the controversies, which pleases me for two reasons. Firstly, her salad dressings are the best salad dressings in the entire world. Secondly, I used to serve her regularly at Tesco on a Wednesday evening and she was quite lovely.

But for a naive weekend baker, oblivious to this controversy, the Great British Bakeoff is such a delightful programme. It seems to hark back to a bygone era. Maybe I’m back in my dream world hoping that lovely Middle England could be so lovely once again, but it’s true. They have gone to some beautiful places around the country and baked all manner of goodies that I would love to try. What’s to dislike about that?
Now to the important part; who do I think will win? Ruth, hands down. She has been the strongest from the very beginning, with Edd and Miranda as strong competition. I would say that Edd could pull it out of the bag, but I’ve seen the teaser for next week’s final; he is bent over with a towel to his face having apparently stabbed himself, which I think might reduce his chances a little. Only time will tell, but next Tuesday I will be in the deepest, darkest depths of Devon so there is a chance I will not see the final until Thursday. As long as no one tells me who wins in the meantime, I will enjoy the final when I see it.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile that it happened.

This time, two weeks ago, I was stood on an overcrowded London tube with an overweight backpack on, which had a tent, a sleeping bag and a pair of wellies dangling from it. I had two other bags with me, both containing crates of Strongbow. No, I wasn’t kicked out of home, I was on my way to V Festival. The half an hour spent on the tube was immensely hot, crowded and all in all, pretty unenjoyable. But once we got onto the train into rural Essex(!), we all started to relax, cracking open the first cans of cider. An hour further down the line, I was a considerable amount of cider and a welly lighter. The long walk to find somewhere to camp was painful and agonising, especially as we had to walk past everyone elses tantalising BBQs.
Travelling aside, V Festival was fantastic fun. The mood was set when Nic and Mary went in search of my lost/stolen welly and returned, not with mine, but another random welly. It looked nothing like mine, but quite perfectly it was the right size and the correct foot! How much more serendipity can one find in a field? Each day began (at the crack of lunch) with a nutritious breakfast bar and a cider. We would then meander into the arena and see some of the most appalling acts on offer. The one that springs to mind is Peter Andre. Yes, Peter Andre. Not only did he sing what seemed like a tissue load of drivel about Jordan, he made one of the most fantastically appalling pop faux pas when he dressed up as Michael Jackson and attempted the moonwalk.
As the day warmed up and the scent of stale cider lifted, the music got better and after a lovely nap listening to the Magic Numbers, we set about seeing some of the best bands across the weekend. I saw some bands that I hated, some that I expected to hate but really enjoyed and some of my favourites, but to be honest, it didn’t matter who we were watching because it was all great fun. I don’t know which was my favourite moment. Watching the man stripping and dancing in sick to Baggy Trousers? Singing to any old Scouting for Girls song in a ludicrously posh and tuneless way? Having someone snort something suspicious off my shoulder during Prodigy? Or perhaps it was meeting the lovely guys who got us all the way to the front of Kings of Leon? There were so many amazing moments and most of them were punctuated with one word; “Alan”. Alan was the catchphrase of the weekend. Why? No one knows and to be honest, it’s not worth explaining. But, if anyone says they went to Hylands Park V Festival, just shout Alan and they will smile knowingly.
Quite appropriately it rained like a dog all of Sunday night and my tiny tent wasn’t really big enough for two of us, which meant that we were very wet by Monday morning. Monday morning provided me with my first chance to wear my mismatched wellies in the muddy trudge back to the train station. It is one thing having manky hair and smelling of cider and beer at V Festival, where everyone else looks the same, but going on the tube across London and on the 4 hour train to Edinburgh was somrthing else.
Despite a liberal spraying of dry shampoo over my head and an even more liberal dose of deodorant, I still felt so sorry for the people sitting on the table with me on the train. Thankfully, the person next to me was even stranger; he had a thick Glaswegian accent and 6 IRN BRU lined up for the journey. He also insisted on filming his fellow passengers every ten or fifteen minutes. I tell you what. My first shower in Edinburgh was just lovely – it was bliss. My time at Edinburgh festival was a real whistle-stop tour, but we saw some brilliant shows; Kevin Eldon was as wonderful as his reviews made out. Joey Page was a freebie, but turned out to be really good, despite the fact that he made me wear a veil for the majority of the show. The Impro Chums were as sharp as ever and we really enjoyed the long sketch about Terry and Julian. I’m sure that 99% of the audience were lost, but I applaud the person who suggested that. Oh and how could I forget our evening with Jim Bowen watching Bullseye? That was a truly wonderful time, but I am still a little scared that someone suggested we were fangirls of Jim. Concerning.
The next leg of my journey took me a couple of hours north into the Scottish highlands. The people of Perthshire, or more specifically the villages of Killiecrankie, Blair and Pitlochry, seem to be posher than those who hail from Surrey. I was working at Blair Horse Trials and it was as much fun as V and Edinburgh. The week started off well when we had to chase DHL through the village to get them to drop our machines off. Quite surprisingly, I got my first ride in a police car whilst I was up there. Don’t worry, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, we just convinced them to give us a lift home after we had too much to drink. That is how the people of Scotland roll; they are so friendly and willing to help. I love them.
As always, we stayed at the delightful Killiecrankie House and the food was divine. Whilst I lived on a diet of surprisingly little food and a lot of drink for the first week, I think I must have put at least 6 pounds on whilst at Blair. I had a grapefruit for breakfast and a healthy lunch, but the dinner was too much to resist. Their sticky toffee pudding was immense. I even managed to ask for sticky toffee pudding and not stiffy cocky pudding.
So now I’m home. I’ve got tonnes of great memories and I’ve laughed more in the last fortnight than I have in ages. Now I just have to cling on to those memories and look forward to the next adventure.