I grew up in the 1940s-1950s, a world unrecognisable today. Fausto Coppi was my hero. Now, I know that those ‘soigneurs’ were probably injecting riders with all sorts of substances. Nothing has changed. When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012, I felt I was witnessing something I never imagined I would: an English winner of the Tour. Now of course it is all mired in suspicion. The glory has totally evaporated.
I still half believe in Brad’s innocence, but there are too many questions unanswered for more than half belief. Above all, in his autobiography, never any mention of being asthmatic. How strange, in a story about overcoming all the odds.
Apart from Brad, it is undoubtedly all in ruins: the weasel words, the fudge, but above all the use of TUEs and steroids in questionable circumstances, and now, almost unbelievably, months going by while Chris Froome’s positive dope test remains unresolved.
Marginal gains indeed, and desperately dismaying for all of us older cycling fans as we strive to come to terms with the fact that all our heroes were probably unworthy of our admiration.
But there is still one area of cycling untainted: club time-trialling. The thrill of Ray Booty becoming the first man ever to ride a 100-mile time trial in under four hours in 1956. An ordinary chap who rode down south from Nottingham to ride the Bath Road 100, stayed in a B&B, rode the event on a Bank Holiday Monday, making cycling history, then got on his bike and rode another hundred and seventy miles back to Nottingham and an ordinary job the next day. A hero worthy of the name.
A game every birder likes to play is naming their favourite birds. Here are mine. My intention was to name my top five, but whittling them down that far proved too difficult.
This summer-visiting small falcon is surely the most breathtakingly elegant flier in the whole bird world. It twists, turns and tumbles with the utmost ease as it catches dragonflies on the wing. I defy anyone not to find it thrilling.
Another bird with a beautiful flight, fluid and graceful. One of birding’s great pleasures is seeing the year’s first Swallow flicking through the air, with its lovely blue back and long tail streamers. The archetypal harbinger of Spring.
Another migrant visitor to Britain. It’s always a delight to find a newly arrived Wheatear on a headland, with its lovely grey mantle and conspicuous white rump. They fly ahead for only a short distance before landing again, always giving you another look. Among the earliest Spring arrivals.
Not an easy bird to find in southern England now, this charming relative of the House Sparrow has declined dramatically in recent times. I can no longer find one in Hampshire, but I know a couple of sites in Kent. The trouble is, they’re so reluctant to let you look at them, flying away as soon as they know you’re onto them and seldom returning until you’ve given up and gone. ‘Little so-and-so’s’ – that’s my name for them.
With its muted plumage, the Spotted Flycatcher may not be an obvious choice for a list like this, but its subtlety has a charm of its own. When I was a child, almost every orchard seemed to contain one. Now they’re much harder to find. Their insect-catching sally from a low branch is distinctive. One of the last summer visitors to arrive.
A lifetime of holidaying on Exmoor made me love this delightful bird. Find a fast-running stream going through woodland, look for a prominent rock standing out above the rushing water, and there’s a fair chance you’ll see a Dipper, bobbing up and down like a giant Wren. Always a treat to see.
The parish church of All Saints, Fawley, is handsome, and prettily nestled among ancient yews, despite being close to Fawley’s giant oil refinery. Inside, the church is surprisingly large and rather bare.
Built in about 1170, it is on the site of an earlier 10C church, according to an information sheet in the church. No booklet was available.
The original dedication was to St Nicholas, the patron saint of seafarers. It was the last church they would see as they left Southampton Water.
The graveyard, too, is large, with an extension below the church to the east.
This church is included in both Betjeman’s 1958 Collins Guide and Simon Jenkins’s England’s Thousand Best Churches. It is described at some length (by David Lloyd) in the Hampshire volume of Pevsner.
These poppies were growing from the shingle at Dungeness. The photograph was taken in July 2005, and I post it now in memory of my dear wife Jill, who died on 28 October 2016. Poppies were her favourite flower and Dungeness was one of her favourite places.
Nico Rosberg’s retirement from F1 only days after becoming world champion driver is unmistakably a snub for the ‘sport’, though I’m sure it was not so intended.
F1 is in crisis, and everyone outside its inner circle must know it. Only Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg had any chance of being champion driver this year, because their Mercedes cars were the only ones remotely capable of winning. Neither Hamilton nor Rosberg could conceivably have become world champion in any other car. On the other hand, there were several drivers who might very well have become world champion if only they had been in a Mercedes. So it is not actually the driver who conquers all others: it is the car.
But F1 is in a much bigger bind than that. More and more, races are decided by obscure and totally contrived regulations governing car design, tyres, refuelling, and Lord knows what else. Many casual fans like me can no longer understand what is going on, most of the time. But it certainly isn’t interesting.
Step up to the podium for wrecking F1: Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA. You all got rich in the process.