Preparing For London To Brighton #3: All The Way To Brighton

Early evening in Preston Park, coming into Brighton

Early evening in Preston Park, coming into Brighton

This time next week, me and James will be near the end of our London to Brighton ride; we may even be tackling Ditchling Beacon, striving to make our way to the top and questioning the very meaning of life and why we would ever choose to attempt such a thing. As such, we have now reached that point in training where we are still keeping active without stretching ourselves too much ahead of the big day; the peak has passed, and now it all rests on keeping motivated.

Over the last few weeks I have been gradually increasing the distance in my weekly rides, to the point where Wednesday’s journey covered over 45 miles. Having become thoroughly acquainted with Cycle Route 21, I decided to branch out and venture down Route 20, which runs from London to Brighton and crosses Route 21 as you approach Three Bridges. Starting on the regular jaunt along the worth way to Crawley, I turned off at Maidenbower and made my way into Tilgate Forest. As the suburbs give way to tranquil, lush woodland, you can’t help but feel relaxed by the general peace and quiet- save the occasional clip of golfers on the nearby course.

The only downside to Tilgate Forest lies south of the M23, where you enter a section dedicated to logging. Suddenly the woodland thins and the path becomes harsh and unrelenting, even boggy in a few places. Sadly, there was even one occasion where I had to dismount as I did not fancy ruining my bike with the big event so close. Apart from that episode, my cross bike just about handled the terrain. A mountain bike would be fine, but it would be a nightmare for a proper road bike.

Route 20 through Tilgate Forest

Route 20 through Tilgate Forest

GOLF! SPORTS! FLAGS!

GOLF! SPORTS! FLAGS!

Well, that sure looks welcoming...

Well, that sure looks welcoming…

This is a shame really, because once you are beyond this section, the rest of the route is beautiful smooth road; the stuff that cyclist’s dreams are made of. The gradient is either downhill or very gradually uphill, taking you through Handcross and the villages of Staplefield, Bolney and Hickstead, before following the A23 to Brighton. There are some truly fantastic views of the South Downs as you approach Brighton, and if you can forgive the occasional din of the dual-carriageway on some of the sections, then it makes for a lovely ride.

Once in Brighton, I briefly took in the marina before making my way to the train station; there is an immensely smug kind of satisfaction as you walk against the general stream of exasperated commuters as you casually walk along the platform. My plan was to get the train to Gatwick Airport, and follow route 21 back into Crawley and along the Worth Way. For some reason I naively believed this would be a piece of cake, but after getting thoroughly lost in the North terminal I had to ask for directions. It was probably quite a remarkable sight, watching a bemused cyclist fully clad in lycra wandering around arrivals and departures, gradually getting more and more desperate.

Once I was finally back on track, the route was relatively straightforward, save the ache in my legs which was gradually intensifying. I’m aware that 45 miles must sound a very daunting prospect to many, but as I have been adding half a dozen miles each week, it only seems a little bit further than my previous ride, and as I finally arrived home that evening, I felt like I could just about handle nine more. After all that cycling, you would probably imagine my body has transformed into an impressively athletic build, but as I used the ride as an excuse to get through half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, I realize I still have some way to go with my willpower.

Village life, Handcross

Village life, Handcross

South Downs in the heart of Sussex

South Downs in the heart of Sussex

Brighton is love, Brighton is life

Brighton is love, Brighton is life

So far me and James have raised over £300 in sponsors, which we are immensely proud of, but given we are riding on behalf of such a fantastic cause it would be amazing if we could raise even more. On one Christmas Day, one of my close relatives suffered a heart attack, but thanks to the quick response of those that treated her she is still with us and just as jovial, nearly ten years later. Every penny towards the British Heart Foundation goes towards the fight against cardiovascular disease, and would be greatly appreciated- not just by myself, not just by James, but by everyone involved in the British Heart Foundation’s work and the recipients it benefits.

That’s it then; all that lies in between now and the ride is stretching, healthy eating and a bit of light training. Do I feel ready? Bring on the beacon is all I’ll say!

Jack The Lad #2: You’ve gotta fight for your mike

If you were given a moment in the spotlight, how would you use it?

I'm certainly a "vocal hero" of my town at least!

I’m certainly a “vocal hero” of my town at least!

Cities offer an abundance of opportunities for emerging musicians and artists, but for youngsters in the small towns and villages dotted across the country, it’s a completely different picture. As I argue in my second column for my local newspaper the East Grinstead Courier, whenever the circumstances are in your favour, you have to use it and hope with all your might.

The lights flash on and you’re ready to go. Centre of the stage with a guitar in your hand, you step up to the microphone and find yourself staring out across a sea of bemused faces, all ready to be entertained. Forget who’s played before, forget any previous context; the atmosphere, if not the night itself, now rests on you. Does that fill you with horror? Dread? Or perhaps excitement?

If it’s the latter, then perhaps it’s time to start doing some vocal exercises; now has never been a better time to be a musician in East Grinstead. My teenage years in the mid-noughties were punctuated randomly by the occasional showcase of local bands… usually whenever someone could convince the Wallis Centre or the Parish Hall to give them a shot.

Real opportunities for adolescents to demonstrate their musical talents were a rare treat. Who knows how many hidden gems slipped under the radar? Sure, it’s to be expected with small towns and villages, but the sad result is an abundance of proficient youngsters who are unable to utilize their skills and learn the craft of the live setting. After all, there’s only so much magic that can be wrung out of garage rehearsals and bedroom demos.

But now, things are certainly on the up. The Crow’s Nest, already reputable for putting on a diverse assortment of live acts, hosts a weekly Open Jam Night on Tuesdays. You can bring a group, perform solo or even join the resident band; if you’ve got the enthusiasm, there’s nothing to stop you. Or how about The Sussex Arms? Often overlooked, the pub is becoming a prominent location for emerging acts to break in their boots.

And then, there’s Ashstock. Last September saw the inaugural edition of the festival, where over a thousand revelers descended on John Pears field in Ashurst Wood, to enjoy a packed schedule of local acts and twenty kinds of ale from the surrounding area, including a batch brewed especially for the event. Suddenly, a quiet corner of Ashurst Wood was transformed into the most enjoyable event in Sussex; sometimes, the simplest of ingredients work wonders.

But asides from bringing the local community together (and a bit more besides), Ashstock’s aims was to give local youngsters a much needed platform, to give them their own moment in the spotlight. How they use it is up to them; the point is that there was one there in the first place, actively encouraging youngsters to have a go. Now back for a second outing, Ashstock is looking to fill its roster as it did before, and it’s not a prospect to be sniffed at.

Everyone knows how hard it is to catch a break in the music industry, and none more so than the wannabe musicians themselves. But if you can captivate a group of passing strangers, then surely you can take on any crowd that comes your way? And you never know who is going to stumble across your set; maybe someone with just the right connections to help you on to the next step.

It’s a shame there aren’t more of these events often. The buzz Ashstock generated shows that there’s certainly the demand for it. You can never guarantee how long these events will be providing an open door for, or whether that sea of bemused faces will be there in the first place. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes along, you have to make the most of it.

Merriment on Meridian

meridian fm logo

Just a quick post ahead of today and tomorrow’s escapades!

I’ve got a lot of love for my town’s community station, Meridian FM. When I first joined back in 2013 it was teetering on the edge, desperately clinging on for life as it fought against the odds. Now, the station is thriving, with more members and listeners than ever before, and as the station has now overhauled the play-out system, it truly feels like Meridian is moving forward, step by step.

I’m covering the drive show today from 3 till 6, talking to Kathleen Shuster from local amateur theatre company Rising Stars about their latest production Sweet Charity, which opens tonight at Chequer Mead. I’ll also have all the latest local news, weather and travel updates.

Tomorrow, I’m doing my own specialist show from 6 till 8, playing a mixture of more intimate and laid back sounds- from acoustic to electronic and R’n’B, new releases and old. Your favourite new song could be hidden away in the track listing, you never know!

Listen live in East Grinstead and the surrounding areas on 107 FM or via meridianfm.com

Pulling The Plug On YouTube

Can you ever turn it off once you’ve started?

Hard to believe it's less than nine years old, right?

Hard to believe it’s less than nine years old, right?

Last week, I finished my latest videogame walkthrough on YouTube, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2;” all the duels, all the collectibles, all the spells. It was my 1181st video- not bad for what I suppose is an unusual hobby- for my YouTube channel “ZeppelinG1993”, and while that might not think of that as a particular milestone, uploading the file felt like signing off the end of an era. Through the various projects I have pursued on my channel, my videos concerning “The Boy Who Lived” have always proved the most popular. It’s come to define my channel as much as my own personality.

In fact, it’s incredible how much of an impact the series has had. I joined YouTube on a whim in the summer of 2008, bored silly on one of the days in the long summer between the academic school year (and if that doesn’t sound like the nerdiest thing ever written, I don’t know what does). Having seen another YouTuber cover one of my favourite videogames, I decided to give it a try, thrusting my webcam in front of our living room TV to record some shoddy quality of whatever I fancied playing at the time. Oh yes, I had some wild and crazy summers during my teenage years.

After experimenting with a few projects, a walkthrough of the PS1 edition of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” started to draw an audience. Looking back, it’s hardly surprising that was the case- four years after the last film, the legions of fans following the franchise is still remarkably strong, and back in 2008 I was one of the few users playing the games on YouTube. Since then, my channel has grown to over 10,000 subscribers and I’ve had 11 million views across all of my videos. Now THAT’S magic.

Now, with the explosion of the vlogging form and a league of twenty-somethings having vast influences over all manner of things, YouTube has pushed the boundaries of how personal a media channel can be. Say you watch a TV show like Friends, and you follow it for several seasons. Gradually you get to know each of the main characters to a level where you feel like YOU know them on a personal level. Imagine that, the seventh Friend? I can’t be the only one that’s had that fantasy before.

YouTube takes that notion one step further, in the sense that you’re right there following someone’s day to day activities; whatever they do, its like you’re experiencing it alongside them, like a close friend or relative. Because of how deep some users get into this, it’s hard to know if they will ever call it a day. A slump in viewing figures on television usually signifies it’s time to wrap things up. But when you have users who are so invested in the channel they follow, is that as easy an option?

I’m not saying I WANT to call it a day on YouTube for a minute, but finishing the last Harry Potter game has felt like I’ve bid farewell to a vast series of work that took up most of my late teens, and it’s hard to know where to go next. One thing my channel has taught me is that you have to maintain it with regular content- just like any kind of blog- and if you don’t, the curiosity will slowly dissipate. There are some days when I absolutely love my channel and others when I’m just not in the mood to create content- and should I really do so just for the sake of it?

Now look at the vloggers, the most popular of which are caught up in an incredible breakneck ride at the moment as they hurtle from one project to the next. Because this medium is unfolding for the first time in front of our eyes, we have no idea for how long this will go on for- whether they’ll get even bigger, whether they will slump, and what they will do after they call it a day. In a way that makes it all the more exciting, like trying to plot a map on a blank page without a compass.

But what if they do decide they’ve had enough? Sure, the actual task of closing your YouTube account is remarkably simple; I’m not so sure about the emotional upheaval, putting all your creative endeavors- and followers- to rest. At the moment, as long as I have ideas, I will continue to push my channel forward. But as with anything where you are so heavily invested- be it a relationship, a job, or staring at a TV screen and talking to yourself for half an hour- you shouldn’t be afraid of pulling the plug.