Keirin? Madison? Make mine a Derny!

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Yes, I’ve finally lost it. Or, rather, found my true vocation.

This Blog previously contemplated a career in politics (too angry), travel writing (too much competition) and brain surgery (too paroxysmal), but now it has discovered that what it’s really wanted to do all along is be a Derny driver. Like being a blood splatter expert (Blog 31), a toboggan pusher in Madeira (Blog 54) or a minor royal, this was an avenue that our school careers adviser omitted to share with the class. Either that or I was absent, being interviewed for the job of oligarch or — being that kind of school – as Head of Really Irresponsible Risk Taking with an investment bank.

unidentified boys'school Date: circa 1905 Source: postcard

Boys, hands up if you’re interested in a job as Partnerships Liaison Management Consultant. Coalminer?  Flying Picket? Ballet dancer?

But now I’ve seen the man who drives the Derny at the Olympic velodrome and I’m smitten.

While watching the Tour de France pass by (unless you’re really in need of a free paper hat or your local traffic lights have failed so there’s nothing more interesting to watch) compares unfavourably with inter-county basket weaving[1] as a spectator sport, track cycling is just the opposite. Brilliant competition, fantastic spectacle, races actually decided in front of you rather than later that afternoon in some distant part of the country. Horribly expensive hot dogs too, mind, but you can’t have everything.

Mrs. Blog and I tried without success to get tickets for the velodrome at the London Olympics and again at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but we struck gold at the World Track Cycling Championships last week at Stratford. Brilliant!

Not that we always followed what was happening, which probably accounts for some inappropriately timed whooping from Mrs. Blog[2]. Neither, to be fair, did the PA announcer, who regularly confused his Repechage with his Derailleur.

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With the Olympics fast approaching, the Russian men’s pursuit team get a clean bill of health from the drug testers but suspicions remain about the specification of their bicycles

We, along with the rest of the 6,000 crowd, sportingly cheered competitors from all nations, though not too much. Unless it was the Australians or the Americans of course, who seemed most likely to beat “us” – there are limits. Plucky New Zealand got a good cheer – incidentally, bearing in mind that one of that nation’s sporting greats, cricketer Martin Crowe, had died the previous day, what do All Blacks teams wear instead of black arm bands?

We only had one medal ceremony during our session, for the men’s Kilometre Time Trial, won by a German rider. I’m not sure what my Dad would have had to say about standing for that national anthem: I happily stand for all of them out of proper respect. Mind you, I haven’t sung “our” national anthem since I was at primary school, or cubs probably, and I don’t intend to start now. When did that become compulsory at football internationals and cup finals?

Naturally we reserved our greatest support for the Battling Brits, including no less a national hero than Sir Bradley Wiggins in the men’s team pursuit. Sadly, by the time the crowd had worked its way through “Give us an S, Give us an I, Give us an R, Give us a B……………and what have you got?” what we actually had was the start of the next race.

Anyway, I was forgetting about the Derny driver.

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He’s brilliant – he (I don’t know if there are any “she”s but it would be nice to see it done sidesaddle) sits on a powered bike and trundles round the track, leading the competitors in the Keirin and one or two other events, controlling and gradually increasing the pace of the race before pulling off the track and leaving the cyclists to sprint to the finish. Apparently they used to have a petrol driven bike but the fumes didn’t really help the cyclists and I suppose the smog might have made them lose their way. What I assumed to be a pouch near the handlebars for his packed lunch turns out to be some sort of power pack. The driver — most are in their 60s and 70s and have been pacing for more than 40 years – sits upright and close to the back of the bike, providing an “envelope of low wind resistance” for the cyclists slipstreaming behind. (Apologies if you’re an experienced Keirin competitor yourself and know all this but, if so, you should be too busy to read this.) I gather there’s a small group of semi-pro pacers who travel around the various events during the “season”. I don’t know if they’d have me but, with the right amount of training, I think I could give it a shot. I could provide for the competitors behind me an “envelope of low wind resistance” second to none. It would have made my mother proud to see me on telly and she wouldn’t have had to worry so much about the traffic.

Blogfamily also notched up the Olympic Park’s Copper Box over the weekend (“The Box that Rocks”, for goodness’ sake) for a Netball Superleague (how easily I adopt the hype) encounter between Surrey Storm and the Hertfordshire Mavericks. Bearing in mind that the eight team league also includes the Manchester Thunder and Loughborough Lightning, what’s this thing they’ve got going with meteorological conditions? And, if they have to go down that route, what’s wrong with something a bit less aggressive, like, say, Home Counties South Sunny Spells? Or, for those of a more historical bent, the Soke of Peterborough Pleasant Warm Front?

Australia v New Zealand netball


Meanwhile, preparations continue for my Great Trek, or coast to coast walk, from Merseyside to Humberside. Just over three weeks to go now, and I’ve been getting cold feet. What if I don’t know anyone?

Mrs. Blog is keen to kit me out properly and has been Googling “What should an imbecile old enough to know better wear when he’s up north?”

I’ve invested in a pedometer – it counts your feet, apparently. As Mrs. B will be keen to tell you, I’m not great with gadgets but I reckon I should be OK using this to measure how I get on each day. According to the display, in the last three days alone I’ve clocked up nearly 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

How much to take? I remember when I first went abroad, hitchhiking round Europe back in the sixties, I was so worried about being away from home that I took a writing case with me – envelopes and everything. I was away nearly two weeks.

Less so nowadays. Now it’s more a case of whether a change of stuff is really necessary for a month’s walk if I avoid standing too close to people. I read one travel writer who ripped out and discarded each page of the book he was reading once he had read it – no point in carrying unnecessary weight, he said. Apart from the fact that I invariably forget everything I read by the next day and would undoubtedly need to check back, anyone who saw my blog about World Book Day will be aware that I’m as likely to put a coffee cup down on a new book as eat my own liver. Tear out the pages? I don’t think so.


Mrs. Blog is keen that I take everything I need for my walk.  In case they don’t have shops up north.

Plenty of research is going into this walk, I can tell you. It’s not just a case of turning up and wandering off. I now know more than most of you will ever know about the Museum of the History of Policing in Cheshire, the annual Pontefract liquorice festival and the only – probably – museum devoted to the memory of Kay Kendall.



Happy days! The nostalgia of policing…


'Chicks with Sticks' dressed as Liquorice Allsorts at the festival.

I really want to be at this year’s festival…

I have also become something of an expert (Mrs. B has been using a different word, which I won’t repeat) on sponsored naming rights at rugby league grounds in my search for a fixture that fits my itinerary. There will be a choice to be made between the Mend-a-Hose Jungle (Castleford), the Big Fellas (Pizza) Stadium (Featherstone – and also with naming rights to “Pontefract’s top night spot”), the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium (Batley) or Rapid Solicitors Stadium (Wakefield). Tough call but I’ll keep you posted.

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Does that really say “More Yum per Crumb”? I’m afraid it does.


PS I’ve just set up a sponsorship deal of my own on JustGiving. The deal is, I get to visit all these brilliant venues on my walk and you get to cough up money to the British Heart Foundation in the hope that I’ll then leave you in peace…    Deepest thanks in advance.





[1] Ref “Round the Horne” BBC Radio c. 1965

[2] In the spirit of evenhandedness Mrs.B would like it known that a school netball match attended by me, in which Blogdaughter was playing, was once halted so that the referee could reprimand me for “coaching” from the sidelines. And this a sport for which my knowledge of the rules was, and remains, non-existent.


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