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You don’t have to be an Olympian to feel the joy of meeting a sporting challenge

Posted on 20 August 2012 | 9:08am

It is technical uselessness, rather than modesty, that prevents me from putting on here the photo I tweeted yesterday from the summit of Mont Ventoux. Now I cannot claim to have got up this legendary Provençal mountain quickly. Indeed, my times over the past few years represent something of a study in ageing. But I was overtaken by 5 cyclists, and overtook 4, all of us doing it amid a heat wave, so all in all, not bad, and though I did the ascent in a personal worst, I did the descent in a new record.

However, there is another reason I was particularly pleased to reach the top yesterday, and that is that the last time I tried, I failed. Some of my twitter followers and Facebook friends may recall that I skipped a couple of days of The Olympics ‘to take on a sporting challenge of my own.’ It was to climb Ventoux by moonlight. Yes, it takes all sorts, but when there is a full moon, it is possible – though not very sensible – to get to the top without so much as a back light, and that is what I planned to do with a small group of fellow clearly troubled people!

A cough bad enough for me to see a local doctor beforehand was not the ideal preparation, but he prescribed me an inhaler I had never seen before, said it was stronger than the one I was using, and would help. And as my fellow moonlighters were much faster than I am, we agreed I would get a head’s start. So Fiona and I had dinner in Malaucene, at the foot of the mountain, and when the clock reached 10pm, off I set.

Here the story gets all romantic, and one begins to wonder whether people can know each other so well that they become almost like one person. Because half an hour later, a few kilometres up, I was hanging over the side of my bike, coughing and wheezing, and feeling lactic acid like I had never felt before, and what should appear around the corner, but a car, driven by Fiona, who had had a ‘sixth sense’ that all was not well.

Now I do not like starting things and not finishing them, but this was an asthma attack as bad as any I have had since childhood, so for me, the moonlight challenge was over. We went to the local hospital, but it was, rather like a lot of UK A and E departments, rather full of Friday night revellers, so instead I called an asthma nurse I know in London. She was intrigued by the medication the French doctor had given me, so I rooted through the bins, and did something I have never done before – namely read the pages of notes that went with the medication. And there, on page 3, in large letters, was a warning that this medication should not be given to asthmatics!

Now I am not the litigious type, and can’t stand all that ‘we understand you had an accident, we can help you get compensation’ culture, but had I been so, I imagine I could have caused a bit of bother for the French doctor. Instead, I asked the nurse what to get, went to see him (for the last time in all likelihood) and asked him to write out a new prescription. Then back for the Olympics.

But as I watched all those wonderful sporting achievements, a little nagging sound in my head was telling me that I had my own outstanding sporting challenge to be met. Ventoux had beaten me, and though I could blame a bad chest, and a bad diagnosis and prescription, that could not be allowed to stand.

So what better day than yesterday, the day lots of our Olympians were taking part in the JoinIn campaign to boost sports participation as part of the legacy of the Games, to get back on the bike, get into a low gear, and grind my way up the mountain?
Hence the rather self-satisfied look on my face, which you will have to visit twitter or Facebook to witness.

Meanwhile, I have still to hear an explanation from Michael Gove as to why school sport took such a hammering when he first took office, and when it was blindingly obvious that the Olympics would fuel a demand to increase rather than cut investment. Reading between the lines, he is busy preparing how to talk down any success in GCSE results this week as a way of justifying the latest idea to emerge from his potty ideas factory, namely a return to the O Level.

I think a reversal of his abolition of school sports partnerships might hit the moment rather better.

  • Mooks1977

    As a teacher awaiting the inevitable downplay of our GCSE and other ‘Mickey Mouse’ results ( DM’s new buzz ), I whole heartedly concur. When our students completed exams at the end of June, having surpassed the challenges of learning in a deteriorating school site, (BSF funding binned) we had to cancel sports day because of the rain. “Teacher anti-competative/refuse to get a bit wet’ I hear Gove cry? Our school field is a mile from our site, at the bottom of a hill with post-war drainage and council are saving cash by mowing every three weeks. Inspiring the next generation needs a ‘Govelessment to invest in the next generation.

  • Libdem

    Following on the wheel of Tommy Simpson is a bit silly for an asthmatic Alastair….you’re lucky Fiona was on hand!

  • Anonymous

    Well hello Alastair, glad you enjoyed your journey up to the top of some francais mont.
    Yes, we all all superstars in our own way, David Hemry or not.
    Remember him, in the first beeb Superstars series, winning it by a mile? See if I can find a clip or article of it…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7rPU3vBtdw
    That will do, not from British Superstars, but the world champs of it. Anoyne remember that brit boxer going for it, and David Coleman, or was it Pickering, saying “he is in the lead, miles ahead of everyone, but oh dear, he has rowed right into the trees on the river bank”. What was his name again, must search, cockney fella, umm, Chris Finnegan it was, was it? Went hell for leather, well in the lead, went forty-five degrees up the course, and ended up in the trash, short of the winning line. Brilliant memory in my head it is.

  • Anonymous

    By the way, furthermore, made my day to see Dai/David Hemery on brit beeb telly before the 400m men hurdles final , even if Dai Green, as it turned out, was not on top form. David put it right, Dai’s injury turn of this year affected his stamina in this games.

  • Anonymous

    Alastair, spoke to my long life friend, Bry, yesterday, and we were discussing his mam, who he had home from her rest home, body nintty year old in tact, but mind playing elsewhere, if you get my drift, and I said, if I get like that, cancer or mind, I will jump off Carmarthen bridge, tide going out to sea mind, got to sort these things out properly.
    So what was up with Ridley’s brother to do so? Cancer? Or just basic hardcore depression? Watch and shoot, is all we have to say and think, see what the LA coroner finds out, and Columbo… best clips of Columbo was with that old welsh actor, from Neath, South Wales, of all places, Ray Milland,
    watch?v=4-5GAY7JfWU
    Remember Ray being a fuck in the Love Story, right cunt of a dad he was,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i75piQgUKa0
    Great actor, Ray was. Oscar winner, for the lost weekend…

    Might as well post The Love Story Massive chutts New Englanbd song – get your hanky out gents, maybe you to ladies, but I doubt it, you hard fuckers!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A1KZKksGKE

    prrraaaapp, sniff, just something in my eye love…that is all

  • Michele

    Quite so, raising the heart rate is one thing, doing so at some distance from help is another.
    I’m sorry to sound like the voice of doom but a Dad (and a partner) has to act as if he’s owned. So there.

  • Gilliebc

    I didn’t know this Scott bloke who’s just topped himself, is or was related to Ridley Scott? Apparently the one who has just died had been diagnosed with brain cancer. So it’s sort of understandable why he did what he did.
    Another thing I didn’t know was that Ray Milland was Welsh! I only vaguely remember him and always thought he was a yank. You are educational Ehtch đŸ™‚

  • Anonymous

    Knew it was something like that, Gilliebc, but if I was in the same position, as i said, I would have chosen different, maybe playing with electrical pylons even. I wouldn’t want to hang on either, morphine and all that shit, I would take a long walk on a short pier, or a walk into the top of Greenland in winter, without a jacket on – or something like that.
    It is nice to display dark humour at times, ey, Gilliebc, to spit in the face of the end. Hope I am not coming across too miserable, but the light at the end of the tunnel comes to us all, so enjoy ewerselves, while you can, but live within your means, unlike this present tory fucked up government!
    : )

  • Anonymous

    Yes Gilliebc, Ray Milland, first oscar winner that was born in Wales – there has been others, but they were from welsh parents living in the US.
    Good clip here, where three-quarters way through here, mentions Ray Milland here, by Gwyn Thomas in an early 1960’s documentary on the itv stations then,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvG3HWvYASo
    Brilliant clips by the poster there, if you fancy a look around.

  • lucy

    I think Fiona deserves a medal but well done from me stuck in a chest infection/asthmatic torment.
    Gove is still an idiot and the reason I’m worrying as the boy starts school in a couple of weeks, I don’t want him ruining my children’s education, he seems hellbent on it so far.

  • Anonymous

    Notice you mentioning Alastair that you are doing a bit of Gielgud on the telly next week in The Accused – some people will do anything for an equity card!
    Anyway, you’re returning on the telly in a few weeks with this, you could say, in essence,
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/aug/22/the-thick-of-it-politicians
    Yes, Malcolm Tucker, the fu*%er. : )

  • Anonymous

    And anyone remember Kevin Keegan coming off his pushbike in superstars? Some could say he hasn’t stopped coming off his pushbike since. I had one of the bikes they used in it, the red with yellow and black trim Raleigh Europas. Barry John the rugger player was impressive in it. No doubt the beeb has “lost” all the old tapes of Superstars, as they did then, Doctor Who and Dad’s Army like. The silly billies!

  • Nigel

    I used to subscribe to the localschoolsnetwork which has sadly become defunct.
    Of the 17 individual gold medallists, 13 came from comprehensive schools including Charlotte DuJardin in equestrianism.
    There were no private school medallists in swimming or track/field athletics, sports where the independent sector have a huge advantage over their state school counterparts due to their luxurious facilities and specialised coaching staff. All 7 medallist came from the comprehensive sector (the reverse analogy is the England football team being exclusively represented by public school men who attanded rugby schools).
    Not only does this show that comprehensive school products appear to have more of a competitive spirit but the most academic Olympians were Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins, both graduates of Russell Group universities now studying for PhDs.
    The Slalom canoeist pairs, Etienne Scott and Tim Baillie who won gold medals were graduates from the established Nottingham University.
    Hopefully Fiona is aware of these landmarks. Is this not proof that together with Mo’s fantastic victories there is a place for egalitarian education which enables those with potential to maximise their talent and attain success at the highest level?

  • Duncan Phipp-macintyre

    This was the day of my “quick” ride of 83 miles to Settle – ghastly weather, no breaks. Felt a bit like ascending a hill in the dark. I am in no ways ready for such a legend as Ventoux – frightening. Chapeau for managing it!

  • Anonymous

    Seems Gove is batting on a sticky wicket again – what is wrong with the lad?
    I have long accepted my C grade in O level english from 1978, and at first time of trying, is worth two in a bush these days, a B star maybe.
    But moving the goal posts so much in one year sounds the work of a maniac, a megalomaniac. You have got to question who is propping him up, you could say. Another “the boy’s a fool” moment for me with these tory twits.

  • Anonymous

    Good grief! Watched the latest episode of Accused early this morning in full, on iplayer, since I was watching something else when it came on, and only caught the last twenty minutes or so on Tuesday night.
    Blimey, how depressing? But I have experienced and noticed when local communities get this way. But funny beeb always choose to base it in oop north? Lived in South London in my past, and I have seen and met young lads like this, and always glad to go to the offie to get them cigs and booze when they asked me, just to show I understand. They were all over sixteen, so it was legal for me to do so. And they always said “hi mate/taffy” when I passed by them after. Even met a load of them on boxing day afternoon in the boozer when some of them were allowed home for xmas from you know where.
    Sad it is, how we have got this way. Anyway, looking forward to next week’s one, and since you are on the boards in it Alastair, I promise I will watch it live, not a couple of days later. It is all due to iplayer, I know I can watch an hour programme on it without it being filled with ads.

  • Anonymous

    Where are you Alastair, thought you would attemp to spout on about Gove today.
    Anyway, as i told the New Statesman and the Guardian about weathily is going on, nice to see they have dug their heads out of the sand, after they banned me, the flipping Islington numbskulls,
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/aug/23/arctic-sea-ice-record-low
    This will mean, on average, colder winters in this country, with more snow and ice, as if no-one has noticed the last few winters, due to fresh water artic ice melt affecting the gulf stream, so we will have more weather akin to Newfoundland, which is on the same latitude as us, where it is well well brassy in winter.
    Sort your winter tyres for your chariot soon, chains I recomend, got a stock of them, going up soon, get them before the rush.
    Arthur Daley.

  • Anonymous

    Altitude comes into it, even if it was going up to “only” 6,000ft. Certainly does make you cough and splutter and go a bit foggy in the brain.
    Remember going skiing in Tignes in France, and on the first morning there we didn’t mess about, and went right up to the top station on the Grande Motte, a mind buzzing over 12,000ft – our heads were all over the place, lungs heaving away, frost bitten nose and everything. Interesting experience. Cracking couple of weeks we had there, there and Val d’sere next door.
    But heard of a few of us lowlander tourists there that had to go home when they became ill, and yes, diagnosed with asthma even if they never had it in their lives.

  • Anonymous

    Ach, might as well post an Edinburgh fringe joke I just made up, since things are a bit boring here, Alastair.
    Prince Harry goes into a bar, finely dressed, even with his crown on, and orders a pint.
    The landlord says, “I will serve you, Prince Harry, if the coppers with you could put some clothes on”

  • Anonymous

    Alastair Alastair Alastair – the secret footballer, could have easily been me, but it isn’t, but, I could have been called the secret rugger player, which produced results, when I bothered online new storm of welsh rugger forums, just ask around, I have certainly shook their trees, and apples have falled, as in three times six nations Grand Slam, and not just top of the table, since 2005. Think this lad has heard me speak, and now does footie. There needs to be one on cricket, to get the fun totally back, and not be staid in starched underpants, as the longroom of the MCC in Lords tend to be.
    Here is the fella, the secret footie, and I well known depression being linked to sport, when I saw my Cymru going down hill as Thatcher progressed through the eighties, understanding myself why it is going wrong for us, socially and community, when hammered on from all angles, off the field of fair play,
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9746000/9746558.stm
    By the way, spoke to the WRU these days big brilliant fella Roge, chief exec, anon, , and Rupert Moon, marketing director at the Scarlets in Llanelli in my time, online, with positive results, more or less.

  • Dave Simons

    How did the landlord know they were coppers? Body language? Attitude? Were they all going “‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello”? Or does the wag you mentioned need a police escort when he goes to the loo?

  • Anonymous

    Hope Gavin Henson enjoys himself today, he has been through the same as the Secret Footballer, where after training being a prisoner in his own home.
    Yes, London Welsh, where Gav is now playing outside-half for, is coming down by here, to play the Scarlets in a friendly in Llanelli, 2-30pm KO. There will be a good crowd there, since it use to be a traditional game in Llanelli against the London Welsh, home on boxing day, in the amateur days.
    Used to go more or less every boxing day when I was young, and it was quite a party, and the ref always was good fun – Clive Knowling I remember well, the ex-international ref, who sadly had his battles too with the mind demons, especially when he gave up top-flight reffing.
    Took a kiwi mate, who I shared a flat with in Croydon, to one of these boxing day London Welsh matches, when I dragged him down to Wales for xmas, which he enjoyed – Andy McIntyre, from top of the south NZ island, from an old farming family there. He was astounded with the huge size of the crowd there, for a friendly.

  • Anonymous

    Oops, Gav was carted off to hospital at half-time with a suspected broken jaw I heard. Oh gawd, what next.

  • Anonymous

    They showed their, ahem!, warrant card.

    By the way Dave, been away? Any rain, if so? Been peeing down in Blighty, as usual.

  • Dave Simons

    Only been as far as Louth in Lincolnshire. Yes it did rain but it didn’t matter much. Look up the Louth Panorama on Google – marvellous story, predates L. S. Lowry.

  • Anonymous

    Is that near The Wash Dave? Poor dab, you must be soaked, have my towel!
    Nice people in Lincolnshire, but it has been well pissing down there too, I’ve heard.