I would ride five hundred miles…

…And I would ride five hundred more

Today I hit 1,000 miles cycled for the year. This means I’ve managed to maintain regular rides since January1. Who would have thought it: I’m back on the bike.

Last Christmas I was over 13 stones in weight which pushed me into the ‘overweight’  zone on the BMI calculation. This made me unhappy and was rapidly reducing my potential wardrobe (including my official kit at work). Something had to be done, I thought, and then forgot about it.

Luckily a few days later Strava, an on-line training log I use, sent me one of those automated emails that links to a video of your achievements for the year. I didn’t expect it to be riveting viewing but I was interested to see what my annual mileage for 2014 was. It was zero. I had unintentionally created a Beckettian YouTube piece.

I suppose it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. I’d finished my season early in 2011 (2,634 miles) and 2012 had petered out in April (only 1,338 miles for the year). The new job didn’t sit easily with a regular training and racing schedule. Still, I’d got a few rides in during 2013 (well, 80 miles worth) and I assumed that I’d done the same in 2014. Not so. It looked as if I needed a New Year’s resolution: ride your bike and lose weight. Except I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike. - Fausto Coppi2

Despite this, on the 3rd January I rode my bike for the first time in over 12 months, admittedly only for 13 miles. The roads were icy and it was raining and blowing a hoolie. After that I felt virtuous, tired and a little apprehensive. Luckily they were the worst conditions I’ve had to endure so far or I don’t think I’d have persevered.

The ‘plan’ was to try and ride two days a week and to reduce what I ate. Since then I’ve dropped 34lbs in weight and put 1,009 miles on the clock. I did miss a couple of weeks with a cold but recently I’ve started to add an occasional third ride a week. Now the weather is better I aim to ride 80-100 miles a week3.

I’ve found that the short rides and extra recovery time have allowed me to build fitness gradually. My stamina has improved but my strength is still not good (though being lighter helps on the hills). I’ve enjoyed seeing the progression in my fitness and my Strava friends have encouraged me from a distance. On-line support isn’t as good as the banter of riding in company though. I’m too slow for most group rides but I did treat myself to a day at the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit riding with old friends. I didn’t hang on for long, but with a lap of less than a mile I had plenty of company (and there’s a club house with tea and cake).

One thing I didn’t want to go back to was the turbo trainer when the weather was bad. Instead I bought a set of rollers. I’ve used them twice and have only fallen off once, which is not too bad. I do recommend them for comedy effect if nothing else.

I’ve recently bitten the bullet and joined the local Eastbourne Rovers Cycling Club. I’m not fast enough for club rides yet but hope to get there in the next few weeks.

I don’t suppose this new enthusiasm will last – the second part of the year has the potential to be a lot more complicated than the first half – but I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of cycling again, which is good. I enjoy the way it pulls you into the moment and puts everything else on hold (something to do with oxygen debt and present tense risks I think). I hope I manage to keep the wheels turning and the miles ticking over.

1 This distance would not have impressed Tommy Godwin who averaged over 200 miles a day in 1939. Nor would it be significant to Steven Abraham and Kurt Searvogel who are trying to break his annual mileage record this year.

2 Coppi is supposed to have said this when a reporter asked him what it takes to be a great champion. My aim is somewhat lower.

3 This compares to 150-200 miles a week when I was racing earlier in the millennium and 300 miles a week when I was a young rider.

Bodiam on the telly and another year’s work

A new TV series ‘Castles: Britain’s Fortified History’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t9h6l) starts tonight at 9pm on BBC4. The series is presented by Dr Sam Willis. The programmes trace the story of Britain’s castles and their unique role in our history, art and literature (it says).

Bodiam Castle features in next week’s episode on 11th December. I was there when they shot the scene but I don’t know if I make the final cut!

Also on TV (but not featuring Bodiam) is ‘Secrets of the castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom‘ on BBC2. Episodes 2 & 3 are still available on iPlayer and episodes 4 and 5 are still to come. It’s an excellent series set at Guédelon in Burgundy. Guédelon is a fantastic project – they are building a 13th century castle from scratch using (as far as possible) original techniques. The project is scheduled to take 25 years to complete. We saw a scene being filmed when we were there in September.

Meanwhile December at the castle means lots of work. It’s also a lot colder all of a sudden. We’re not grumbling though* – Winter can be a lonely time of year for a live interpreter at the castle. Most shifts at the moment are solo affairs and visitor numbers naturally drop away. December means working with colleagues and lots of excited visitors. I hope it sets us up for our first January with 7-day-a-week opening for many years.

This season has seen many changes at the castle, many of them in live interpretation. We’ve stepped up what we offer and on the whole it has been successful. The increased live interpretation element has been extended through most of next season. This will, I hope, allow us to consolidate and improve what we have achieved.

* Not too much.

A Taste of Britain

Bodiam Castle features in episode 1 of BBC1’s new programme ‘A Taste of Britain’ with Janet Street-Porter and Brian Turner. You can catch it on iPlayer here for the next 13 days. I get a walk on part at about 18 minutes in!

Inside Kent Magazine

The team get a mention on page 106 of May’s Inside Kent Magazine, which is nice. The relevant paragraph says…

To add to the charm of the castle, there are a number of volunteers [sic], dressed in era-appropriate  garb, who will inform you of the life within a busy castle and tell tales of many interesting things that would have occurred within. I was surprised at how these colourful characters added such significant depth to the overall experience.

I particularly like that last sentence. I add the [sic] as the team has a core of staff live interpreters working in conjunction with volunteer live interpreters.

The team is working hard on presenting our ‘May Games’ programme of presentations this month. We’re also preparing next month’s programme which will consist of some ‘Untold Stories’.

It’s been a hard few months building the new team and trying out new ideas but we’re learning a lot and, I hope, interpreting the castle imaginatively and entertainingly. I look forward to having a bit of time to reflect on it all.

Onderox Magazine

The live interpretation team have received a review in Onderox Magazine (in Flemish). I’m not quite sure how significant Onderox is, but it’s nice to be international.

Google translate renders the section on Bodiam as…

The medieval castle
For a portion of history we pull back inland. Bodiam Castle, in a small village, dating back to the Middle Ages, was built by Edward Dalyngrigge, a wealthy soldier. He constructed it as a residence for his family, but also as a defence against predators. The outside walls still look as they did, but once inside you will notice that only a few of the rooms are left. That is more than compensated for by theatre pieces that actors [sic] stage here daily. With the ringing of a bell, the visitors are invited to sit and see – of course in English – a scene from the life of several hundred years ago. Children from a primary school visit and watch with fascination. Since 1926 Bodiam Castle is part of the National Trust, which ensures the continued conservation and keep it accessible to the public. After your visit to the castle, you can take a walk in the estate and relax in the Wharfside Tea Room.

Sussex Life

The new Sir Edward Dallingridge outfit © 2014 Helene Marler

The new Sir Edward Dallingridge outfit © 2014 Helene Marler

My work as a live interpreter at Bodiam Castle was mentioned in an article in Sussex Life magazine recently.

In other news the new outfit for Sir Edward Dallingridge has arrived (see left) and I’ve tried it out on a couple of occasions. It is a magnificent piece of work by Black Swan Designs. We now need to find accessories and shoes that will do it justice.

It’s been an extraordinarily busy last few months – hence the lack of recent posts. I’ll write more if things quieten down.

Another book on the way…

Proposed cover

Proposed cover

UPDATED 8/1/14: The script has now been published (ISBN: 978-1-291-62773-2) and is available from from lulu, Amazon and possibly from other booksellers.

I’m planning to publish the script of my 2005 play Upside Down and Back to Front as a book in the near future. I’ve sent off for a proof copy and this is the cover I’m thinking of using.

The play tells the story of a photographer travelling around Worcestershire in 1913 and the present-day story of a batch of pictures being found in an attic. It has loads of characters, which means the cast of three have to work really hard!

The play was commissioned and produced by artworcs at the Number 8 Community Arts Centre in Pershore. It was fun to do.

The cover image features my Gran in the hop yards when she was a girl.

More news on this soon.

The other storm

After the ‘St Jude’s Day’ storm came the ‘not quite stormy enough to be named’ storm on the following Sunday. Apart from scaring me silly while driving home it didn’t have much of a lasting effect. However, these things must be documented…

Shingle flung several inches on to the promenade

Shingle flung several inches on to the promenade

Storm damage leads to Bexhill's first restaurant dedicated to male extra terrestrials

Storm damage leads to Bexhill’s first restaurant dedicated to male extra terrestrials


At work

It’s been a tough couple of days at work.

At the weekend Bodiam ran an All Souls evening event called The Red Lady – a kind of adventure game / theatre piece. I was the audience’s guide as they strove to solve a series of riddles. It was great fun and wonderful to be working in the castle after dark.

The Sunday night late show was a pretty damp affair, though the worst of the wind and rain was only really winding up as the show finished. It was a pretty frightening drive home.

A great deal of credit to producer Laura, writer Simon, the cast (including the Heathcliff Heroics contingent) and the guys from the Premises team who set up the lights to make it possible. Do look out to see if the event is repeated in Bodiam’s 2014 calendar.

New images

A visitor to the castle – Jim Barker – sent me some pictures of me in action as William the Forester. I have very few pictures of me at work and I really like these. These pictures are displayed with Jim’s permission. Click on an image to see the gallery.


Bodiam Castle Bits #5 – The Gatehouse

Bodiam Castle Bits is a series of posts looking at details of the castle that may have passed you by. Bodiam Castle is a NT property in East Sussex, England.

This post considers the main gatehouse


Apologies – It has been a long time since the last post but the winter season at work will allow a bit more time to re-engage with blogging, though probably not as regularly as before.

During the summer I managed to buy a couple of eighteenth century prints of the castle from eBay. This one shows the castle courtyard looking north towards the main gatehouse.

Bodiam Castle Gatehouse

The gatehouse viewed from the courtyard

The seller described it as “A plate taken from Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales. London Printed for Hooper & Wigstead, 212 High Holborn facing Southampton Street, Bloomsbury Square. Published 27th May 1785 by S Hooper”. This would be the era of Webster ownership. I suspect the original image dates from a few years earlier.

It’s a good impression of the castle – fascinating to see the trees, bushes and ivy which were only eventually cleared by Lord Curzon after 1917. The earth seems to pile up against the wall on the left (west). The reason I’m interested in the image, however, is its depiction of the gatehouse. I know that it is not a photograph and cannot be read as fact, but it is not just an artist’s impression either. At the very least it begs some questions.

The gatehouse today is recognisably the same building…

The gatehouse today

The gatehouse today

The crenelations have been restored and a couple of chimney pots have gone but the images (taken from slightly different angles) line up pretty well.

The differences

There are a couple of differences, though, that are worth a second look. Here’s a close up from the 1785 engraving…

Close up of the gatehouse (1785)

Close up of the gatehouse (1785)

The proportions inside the arch seem a bit awry but the rest is pretty good.

The gatehouse’s stair turrets are rather odd. The main turret which goes from ground level to the summit is set in the first (further) bay and is largely the same in both images. The shorter turret butts up against the main turret but only goes to the first level above the second (nearer) bay. The second bay was added late in the building process and is of a poorer quality of construction. The second stair turret seems to be a late addition to the design and blocks some of the lights to the main turret necessitating the construction of through lights.

The photograph shows that this second turret is now ruined. The first few steps are visible (one of only two staircases in the castle that turn anticlockwise) but are cut in half by a large buttress (19th or early 20th century?) added to support the second bay.

The 1785 engraving shows this turret still intact. It has a flat top and only goes as far as the platform above the second bay. No door is visible from the courtyard. The remaining stairs do not start until a few feet above ground level so it might be that access was from the chambers on the ground floor of the east side of the north range.

There are no lights shown in the face of the turret, so it is not clear how daylight could have got to the through light in the photograph.

The other major difference between the two images is a large buttress projecting from the left hand side of the arch into the courtyard. I can see no evidence of this in the photograph or in situ. Was this an early repair since removed?

Of course, all of these ‘differences’ may be the result of the engraver misinterpreting or simplifying an original watercolour made by an artist who felt at liberty to ‘improve’ the original to make it more picturesque.

I hope to find time this winter to look through some archive photographs of the castle taken in the early twentieth century. Maybe there will be a few more clues there.

Previously on Bodiam Castle Bits…

  1. SW corner of the courtyard
  2. “The Lady’s Bower”
  3. A chapel window
  4. Chimneys