Could Do Better

This has been exam results week in Scotland and for a lot of kids it’s the most important week of their lives (so far). I say that but every week in the lead up to the exams is actually the most important, and the pressure builds one week after the next. You are literally only as good as your last effort.

I wasn’t particularly academic at school, although I did scrape into the Grammar School. The problem was, once I got there, I always found the pace of learning too hot, with the result that I was forever languishing around the relegation zone. 25th out of 30: “could do a lot better”, “needs to apply himself more”, “Stephen needs to study more if he wishes to succeed”. These phrases appeared all the time on my report card. Y’see the problem with being down the bottom of the league is that it gets to you: you know you’re never going to be up there with the brainy kids so you channel you energies into other stuff, which for me was football, snooker, Tamla Motown and trainspotting.

When none of that achieving stuff actually mattered, there was always something else more appealing to catch my fancy. I still remember Parents’ Night after my O Level prelims like it was yesterday. It was 12th February 1969, a Wednesday night. The folks went off to get the lowdown on my wretched performance while I headed off to the Hawthorns with 46,000 others to see the cup holders (that was us by the way!) take on an Arsenal side that was to do the double just a couple of years later. If you don’t know the score, there’s no need to look away, you can watch the highlights (all two minutes of ‘em) here:

https://youtu.be/HJlW62epb7c

When the olds got home, I got savaged. The predicted outcome from five years of grammar school education was one O level pass. I think that was English Lit, which is hugely ironic cos I think I’ve only read about five books since (and two of them have been about The Troubles). It would not be an understatement to say that the old fella was ragin’ when I got in, fish supper still in hand. Soon took the smile off my face.

I’m not sure that day/night was the start of my renaissance because I struggled just as badly two years later when I got to my A levels, but the rocket up my backside from the old fella, which strongly resembled KT’s effort the other night, at least salvaged something from that dreadful exam season. The highlight was undoubtedly the grade 1 (75%+) in Biology, having bagged a grade 9 (25% or less) in the prelim. I’d like to claim the credit but I have to admit that as I’d already given up on the subject, I did zero revision and spent my time scavenging elsewhere for scraps off the table. I do know however, that my saving grace was the fact that two of the questions were to do with interpreting graphs to do with plants n stuff and I wasnae bad at graphs. Those two questions were a tap in.

But that wasn’t the only “see, I can do it” moment of that summer: I got another grade 1 in English Language, primarily because the essay bagged about half the marks and I remember the question to this day “recount an event that you’d been looking forward to, that turned out to be a disappointment”. Easy peasy, lemon squeazy: FA Cup semi final at Villa Park: City v Everton. Yes, yes, I know West Brom were in the other semi against Leicester at Hillsborough but the old fella wouldn’t let me go cos of my academic grounding. So I got a ticket for the game at the Villa instead. Not sure he even knew till the day of the game. Anyway, the game was rubbish, I was still about 5 foot nothing in the middle of all these six foot scousers, so I had the bright idea of getting right behind the crash barrier at the ‘cross the way’ gangway halfway back up the Holte End. That was the day I realised how dangerous football terracing was when loadsa people actually turned up. That was never an issue at West Brom. When the play was down our end and the surge came on, I got both wrists pinned under the barrier. I could barely write for days. Anyway, the silver lining to that day was that it got me top marks in English Language.

But the real game changer for me didn’t come until I got to Stafford after I left school.

University was never on my radar: even back then, Uni was for the kids with brains. I got the scraps off the table and my C in Physics and E in Maths got me a place at Polytechnic: it was a place that the also rans went to: the secondary modern of higher education. It was there that I finally got the bug for learning. The first year went okay, sufficiently okay in fact to get me launched onto an honours degree course in Computer Science. The second year went even better. The third year was out in industry to get some experience so I moved to Manchester and basically had a ball: work, socialising and running: that was basically me. But those twelve months cost me a first class honours. My final year back at Stafford went something like lots of A and a B but the C from that year out in the big city cost me big time.

And I never forgot it.

Now the reason I’m telling this story, apart from the fact that it’s exam results week, is that sometime, you need a right good kick up the arse to get yersel’ going again. My old man gave me one that February night back in 1969: I recall I gave wee Rossie a watered down version after I’d been at his standard grade parents’ night about twelve years ago.

Well I can tell you now that I gave myself one a month ago. Off the back of two passings, two funerals, two weddings and a holiday, I was all over the place. But LCFN has taught me one thing above all else: every day is a new day. Every day is a new opportunity, and if you can manage to string something together from the depths of despair, then sometimes, good things happen.

That was me in the middle of July.

I decided that the only way out of this emotional mess was to string summat together. That Tuesday afternoon, driving back up the road in 28C and no air con, I’d already decided I was going out the door when we got in. I left the house at 7pm. I never go out that late, ever. But I did and I brought it home: a 30. Thirty’s are crucial cos they’re out of yer comfort zone. Day after day, they make yer knees hurt. Every single day, they make yer quads hurt, especially round here where it’s all hills and strong winds.

But day after day, those 30’s kept coming. First it was one, then two, then three. Three’s good, cos it’s better than two. But not as good as four. No problem, let’s make that four, five and six. Tonight, that run stands at twenty five. The most 30’s I’ve ever done in a row is 28. That record’s going on Tuesday. That boot up the arse was as much my frustration that neuroblastoma had taken Eileidh as it was that I knew I needed a new goal. As it turns out, that goal, albeit a short term one, is going to be achieved next weekend.

Next Saturday is the fourth anniversary of LFCN. I’ve looked at the numbers and year four has not been good. I damaged a quad muscle twelve months ago going for a King Of The Mountains gig on Strava and it cost me seven weeks out injured. Today, that same injury is even more sore than it was when I did it. I’ve just become accustomed to the fact that it’s probably never going to heal until I finish, which is at least fourteen months away. Having said that, taking this injury into the Australian gig, where the workload is going to be around a hundred miles a day, does concern me.

However, let’s celebrate something, just this once…

I know I keep going on about these two hundred mile weeks but they are my blue riband metric. Believe me, they are feckin hard to do. So whenever I bag one, I tell myself that I’m still doing okay. Late last week, I started to realise that if I pulled my finger out, as in really pulled my finger out, I might make a cake day anniversary next weekend for 33K miles: except the asking rate was sky high. Sky high means a tad under 35 miles, every day, for 24 days in a row. See when I say that those 30 milers kill yer legs: 35’s are worse.

But two weeks of 230 followed by 240 at least kept me in the hunt. But they didn’t bring the asking rate down. Not one bit.

Cue this week…

It’s easy to discount daft excursions, like cycling to Inverness fae Motherwell, or cycling back down the road from Forres to Glasgow, on top of the regular LCFN stuff, but parking those for a minute, top of the pile is 277, although in reality it’s only third on the real list. Second is 300 and that’s out of reach.

There are two days still to go this week and the 82nd double hunnerd is already on the sideboard. I’m gunning for that 277. To wipe that off and park this week on the third step of the podium would be some result. I’m thinking that 280’s on the cards.

See this boy?

Could do better….