Twenty years on since Tony Blair’s moment in the sun…

MAY 1, 1997. The sun shone on Tony Blair on that now distant day when he overturned 18 years of Conservative rule, achieving a record-breaking majority of 179.

Twenty years on, the sun rarely shines on Tony Blair. His youthfulness greyed and his reputation has long since been tarnished by Iraq and the slow disappointment of time. Yet how good it was to be alive on that morning. Say what you like about Blair – and I liked him more than many now do – he was an inspiring figure then, and he remains the most successful Labour leader ever.

I don’t wish to make excuses for Blair, but it is interesting to compare his youthful vigour with Jeremy Corbyn’s grizzled, stubborn integrity. And to wonder at this barbed irony: the disciples of Jeremy mostly regard Blair with the sort of hatred earlier generations of lefties – talkin’ ’bout my generation – regarded Margaret Thatcher

The gap between now and then also reminds us that elections come and go; that winners become losers; and that the world won’t end when Theresa May wins. Not everyone thinks Mrs Maybe will win. Jeremy from Islington thinks that theory is got up by the conniving establishment. I wouldn’t be sorry if he turned out to be right; not sorry but surprised, as just about every opinion poll would have to be wrong.

Twenty years is a long time and yet a blink of a bloodshot eye, too. It’s worth remembering that as this election campaign bores on. Theresa May doesn’t deserve to win but almost certainly will. Her campaign is sterile and boring, an endless round of dull speeches held at ‘community’ events from which the community has been excluded; or factory visits from which all the workers have been banished.

Sometimes it looks like you have stumbled into one of those post-apocalyptic films where the streets are empty, apart from Mrs Maybe and her band of blue zombies, all holding the same placards, and all not doubt muttering “strong and stable” as they shuffle along.

And Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t deserve to win and almost certainly won’t. He doesn’t deserve to win because having decent enough opinions – even if they haven’t changed in dusty decades – that appeal to your supporters doesn’t speak to enough people.

Or maybe it does and I have joined that establishment plot, even if one man on a ledge hardly constitutes an establishment.

Whatever the case, I still remember that distant day in May, a day when hope buzzed through the air like a bee on a pollen high.


What sort of a middle-class text message is that?

A TEXT arrives from my wife. It reads: “Have we got any quinoa in the drawer?”

I look and discover that we are right out of quinoa, whatever that is. I text back: “What sort of a middle-class question is that? But no.”

That drawer is a lucky dip of ingredients, some used often and others used once, knotted and forgotten. There is brown rice, pulses, seeds, a newly opened bag of caster sugar, some dried chillies in a jar, assorted bags of herbs and spices, and a box of matches. I wonder idly if the matches are there in case one day we need to start a bonfire of orphan ingredients.

I discover this from a glance. If I was brave enough to jump right in there, I would probably find other lost things, an archaeological dig’s worth of forgotten ingredients layered in time. You could send Indiana Jones into that drawer – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Drawer.

My wife the vegetarian brings home many of these ingredients from the health food shop where she works. Some days it looks like she could start her own shop in that drawer.

There is certainly brown rice in there; there is always brown rice. I don’t remember spotting it at the time, but I think brown rice must have been in the marriage vows. You will love, honour and obey the command to like brown rice.

I have spent years moaning about brown rice, complaining that it tastes as nice as stewed carpet. But lately something alarming has begun to happen to me. I tried some and quite liked it, even cooking some for myself to go with a curry (chicken – hurrah!). Perhaps I am going native after all these years.

There are always green lentils in that drawer, but you won’t hear me complaining about that, as I love those things. They go particularly well with bacon, which is a disadvantage when you are married to a vegetarian who works in a health-food shop.

The bacon stays out of my favourite recipe for spiced lentils, much in the same way that anchovies are banished from my pasta recipes, unless I am cooking for myself. Sometimes I fry breadcrumbs in melted anchovies and sprinkle them over my dish.

Anyway, quinoa. It’s a grain of some sort that is popular with South American natives and people who work in health-food shops. It’s been trendy for a while now and the new bag my wife brings home from work is British-grown. That’s just as well because all the quinoa-munching worthies were in danger of seeing those South American natives going hungry. Perhaps they got lucky and discovered baked beans instead.

The quinoa is an ingredient in what we will be eating tonight after I get back from work – a Green Pea Falafel Bowl from the Green Kitchen Stories website, somewhere my wife dips into on Facebook.

I like to grumble , but it will probably be lovely. These veggie meals often are, even if I do seem to be turning into an accidental vegetarian. Fortunately, there are some emergency supplies in the freezer from the sausage shop in Shambles in York, just in case I should come over all faint one day.

What sort of a dunderhead thinks the BBC is biased against the Tories?

I see that MailOnline has dredged up a row about the BBC being biased against the Conservatives after a nurse who was interviewed about NHS cuts was revealed to be a Jeremy Corbyn supporter.

Now this is only a guess, but perhaps the three nurses in the country who support the Tories weren’t available.

Maybe they’d all joined one of those Theresa May rallies you see on the BBC news every bloody night, where handpicked supporters carrying placards are arranged in an adoring huddle to gaze in wonderment at She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Honestly, the other night a young man in a blue tie stared so hard at his leader he looked like a stalker. I reckon Mrs May should check her washing line to make sure that man hasn’t been stealing her underwear.

The BBC has an almost impossible job during election times, attempting to be even-handed while covering weeks of wall-to-wall politics, most of which may be important but it’s hardly news in the strictest sense of being new. It’s just an empty-vessel political charade in which politics is reduced to a vacuous slanging match. No one really discusses anything; they just shout.

This latest row erupted – that’s if one Tory MP moaning can be called an eruption – after a nurse called Danielle Tiplady appeared on the BBC News Channel’s 5pm bulletin last night and endorsed Labour’s plan to end the one per cent pay cap on NHS rises.

Presenter Huw Edwards introduced her as a ‘community nurse from London’ but made no mention of her being a Corbyn supporter during the five-minute interview. According to the MailOnline: “The broadcast was seized upon as an attempt by the BBC to promote Mr Corbyn and his policies.”

If you are wondering what sort of a dunderhead could possibly think such a thing, let me introduce you to Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who told MainOnline: “The Conservative Party gave up expecting balance and impartiality from the BBC a long time ago. The fact is, however biased the BBC is, even they cannot possibly get Jeremy Corbyn across the line and into No 10.”

This is the same BBC that is constantly harried by the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, who feel certain that the Corporation is horribly biased towards their man. I guess the BBC must be doing something right if both sides accuse it of bias.

I would say that the BBC has a bias towards small ‘c’ conservatism, but other than that mostly tries to be fair. Bias is often in the eye of the beholder anyway

In the case of Nurse Tiplady, the BBC did tell MailOnline that it should have made clear she was a Corbyn supporter. That’s fair enough, but it hardly amounts to a BBC plot against the Tories, as Mr Bridgen maintains.

During elections, the newspapers are free to say what they want, and as most of them have right-wing affections, they constantly rant against Labour. This has been going on just about forever. In April 1992, Neil Kinnock was placed in a lightbulb on the front page of the Sun next to the headline: “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.”

While most newspapers are rampantly partial, the BBC tries to tread a cautious path down the middle. Yet the newspapers have a lot of clout in setting the news agenda, and sometimes the BBC seems to be following a line or story got up in that morning’s newspapers. That isn’t exactly bias, but it is allowing itself to be pulled along in the gale.

What you can expect between now the election day is that the anti-Labour papers will portray Jeremy Corbyn as unfit for office while also stressing how dangerous he is. This double approach is because the Conservatives want to obliterate Corbyn – but they still want him to look like a credible enemy, otherwise their supporters might think the election is a done deal and not bother going out to vote.

As for Nurse Tiplady, perhaps the BBC should round up a collection of doctors and nurses who support the Conservative Party and truly believe that the Tories have the best interests of the NHS at heart. Mind you, there are only six weeks left and they might have trouble finding any in that time.

She Who Must be Obeyed vs Citizen Smith…

WHO does Theresa May remind me of? It took a while but then the answer popped up. It’s Hilda, not that she was ever called that. Hilda was mostly known as She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Fans of John Mortimer’s novels, and the TV series they spawned, will recognise Rumpole’s fearsome wife.

For some reason, it is a comfort to find a fictional parallel for our party leaders, and I shall get around to Jeremy Corbyn in a moment. Partly this is because the game is mildly disrespectful. You see, at election times politicians tend to be more than mildly disrespectful of voters, treating us to cartoon versions of life.

May and Corbyn had their last pre-election clash at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, and the ding-dong lasted nearly an hour, twice the usually allotted time. Working out who ‘won’ any given session is a poor sort of sport, as the partial can usually find something that favours their man or woman. Yesterday May and Corbyn were more vigorous than usual in the exchange of insults, but other than that it ran as expected.

Corbyn delivered his usually gloomy prognosis of life under the dreaded Tories – the world’s about to end, basically – while May boringly repeated her “strong and stable” leadership slogan so many times the words appeared to have become lodged in her brain like a deadly virus.

I imagine that over breakfast May must turn to her husband and say: “Philip, would you like a strong and stable piece of toast?”

How patronising it is of Theresa May to believe that simply repeating that dull slogan will somehow win the country round. She has clearly been drilled to repeat “strong and stable” at every turn.

As for the She Who Must Be Obeyed label, she earns that for her clear disliking of opposition. Remember that her stated reason for calling a surprise snap election was basically that people would keep opposing her wish to get things done the way she wanted.

This dictatorial tendency she has seen John Crace, the Guardian’s political sketch writer, calling the prime minister Kim Jong-May. If she turns that sensible grey cut into an alarming black quiff, then we should start to worry.

The real She Who Must Be Obeyed rarely wobbled, but the May version gives the impression of panic, and at times you can almost see the nerves jangling beneath her skin. Just look out for her momentarily startled face. Maybe that’s why she won’t take part in a TV election debate. She is, to use a word Margaret Thatcher favoured, ‘frit’.

But whenever panic strikes May swallows those pills, the ones from the bottle marked ‘Strong and Stable’.

As for Jeremy Corbyn’s fictional parallel, perhaps it’s a bit obvious of me, but I still can’t resist Citizen Smith, the late-1970s sitcom character created by John Sullivan, who went on to write Only Fools And Horses.

Quite a lot of what Corbyn says makes sense to me on one level, but he does over-do the ‘dreaded Tories’ line – and take that from someone who has done the same for years. While his beliefs may be true, this approach risks reducing him to a caricature of the Tooting revolutionary. It also leaves his listeners thinking they’ve heard it all before.

Incidentally, David Cameron is apparently going around saying that his referendum ended the “poisoning” of British politics. And there was me thinking it was the burst appendix of British politics.

Switched on the radio and there was my brother…

IT’S strange hearing your brother on the radio, talking politics. But if you want to know about French politics, my brother is the go-to man.

He’s a professor of French politics who lives in Lyons. We Brits are not always that interested in the politics of France and sometimes his speciality is not called on so often over here. But when an election looms – and especially such a close and quarrelsome one – he is in demand again.

Last night he was on the BBC PM programme, explaining to presenter Caroline Quinn what might happen after May 7. Caroline is good, but it’s a shame my brother wasn’t talking to Eddie Mair. Eddie is a true star of the airwaves.

Like most people who know about these things, my brother thinks that Emmanuel Macron is likely to beat Marine Le Pen, but believes that difficult political deals may lie ahead in fixing a presidential majority, or something. He spoke well and confidently, but the trouble with hearing your brother on the radio is that you just hear your brother, not the expert in French politics.

There he was, going on about French politics, like he often does. Only this time he wasn’t addressing his family but the nation, or those parts that tune into the PM programme.

There are three Cole brothers and I am the first but perhaps not foremost. Two of us went to the local grammar school, and the third went to the secondary modern. This meant that the professor-in-waiting walked in my shadow for a while, although not for long. At school I was nicknamed Duke, and sometimes my brother was known as “Duke Cole’s little brother”, at least according to memory.

Soon enough he made his own way, and he’s been doing so ever since, far out-running his big brother. And it’s been a while since anyone called me Duke.

That’s the strange thing about growing up, the way you start in a line and end up in such different places. The brother on the BBC is the same little blond boy who went on camping holidays in the back of that Mini-van in the 1960s. The same brother who liked to play football as a lad and was photographed dipped in mud during one match, a picture our mother has on her wall at home.

Anyway, I hope my brother is right about Le Pen not winning. I don’t know much about French politics, but I do know a ruthless right-wing opportunist when I see one.

Never mind the new paint job, Marine Le Pen remains a nasty piece of work, with all her cries of closing borders, stopping immigration and putting France first. It’s tempting to wonder if she pinched that slogan from Donald Trump, but in fairness she’s been saying that acrid stuff for years, long before Trump’s unlikely swerve towards world domination.

Incidentally, I see that Trump is still struggling to raise the funds for that ridiculous wall with Mexico. The Mexican finance minister, Luis Videgaray, has said that his country will never agree to pay for the wall, calling it “hostile” and an “absolute waste of money” – “Under no scenario will we contribute economically to an action of this kind,” he said.

So hopefully that’s another brick not in the wall.

Brain boosts and the Queen on a horse…

MODERATE exercise a few times a week can keep the minds of the over-50s sharp, according to reports this morning. This is good news for those of us who try to keep fit by running away from what Andrew Marvell called “time’s winged chariot”.

That chariot was “hurrying near”, according to the metaphysical poet and man of Hull. It wasn’t death on his mind so much as sex: he was, to put it crudely, pleading his case in the hope of a shag.

And if he had been aiming to dodge death, there was a final irony in the poem To His Coy Mistress: Marvell was dead by the time it was published.

The poem was on the A-level syllabus back in the dusty desk of time, and perhaps it still is today. Anyway, I liked the poem – and the poet’s name, which I half-inched for the first crime novel I wrote (sadly never published).

Marvell seems to have distracted me from my starting point, which is an Australian study reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study draws on 39 trials involving 13,000 adults and found that thinking and memory skills were most improved when people exercised the heart and muscles on a regular basis.

This improvement could be seen even in those who were already showing signs of cognitive decline.

Exercises such as T’ai Chi were recommended for those over 50 who couldn’t manage more challenging forms of exercise. I couldn’t see horse-riding mentioned anywhere, but our Queen seems keen on that form of exercise, as the front of today’s Daily Express reminds us.

Now I don’t know if this was happy juxtaposition or just one of those things no one noticed, but the Express carries this story under the headline: “EXERCISE TO BEAT DEMENTIA” right next to a photograph of Her Majesty scowling on a horse. “Queen gets wrapped up as icy blast hits Britain,” reads the headline.

By making companions of those two stories, the Express celebrates various common obsessions: health being one and the weather another. That ‘icy blast’ can be literal in that the day was unduly chilly, and sometimes it can be political and ideological: the invading hordes of foreigners the newspaper sees over every horizon.

The trouble with relying on the newspapers for health alerts is that you never know if you are coming or going. One minute the over-50s could be eyeing their bus-pass to eternity; the next they could spot that Marvell’s winged chariot was about to run them over.

The zigzagging extremes of good and bad news can be exhausting, and someone ought to conduct a study into whether reading health stories is bad for your health.

Anyway, I like this study. No time to put on the running shoes today, but if exercise boosts the brain by increasing supplies of blood, oxygen and nutrients, as well as a growth hormone that helps form new neurons and connections, well that can’t be bad.

What York could learn from Altrincham…

YOU might not think that Altrincham on the southern outskirts of Manchester would have much to teach York, but you’d be wrong.

To be fair, until yesterday I would have been wrong about that, too. But a visit to Altrincham’s now acclaimed food market put me right. It also made my mind up in favour of the Spark:York plan for Piccadilly in York, where the aim is to use old shipping containers to house a collection of shops and food outlets on the old Reynolds Garage site.

We drove to Salford to visit our middle boy and his girlfriend, then hopped on Manchester’s top tram system for the trip to Altrincham, where nearly four year ago the old covered market was turned into a foodie hub.

You enter the market to see different franchises arranged around the four sides – a pizza parlour, a burger stall, cakes and coffee and so on, with a pub in one stall and a wine-bar in the next – and tightly packed tables lined up in the middle.

I first heard about this place in October 2015 when it cleaned up in the Observer Monthly Food Awards. Our boy thought we would like it, and boy was he right. This is a fantastic place, with the only downside being its heaving popularity.

All the franchises are one-off and local, so there are no chains, and next to the main food area there is a larger covered market, filled with stalls offering everything from crafty things to antiques to tea and coffee and bread, with more food franchises around the far edge.

Further stalls and more permanent shops, bars and cafes are arranged around the market, including an area where a row of basic wooden cabins house more food outlets. All the stalls are run by enterprising young people and the place was buzzing.

We had a coffee there first, then later ate there, too. The coffee was truly good, as was the food. You choose a table and then buy from different stalls: something veggie for the non-meat eater among us, and two big sandwiches from a meat stall for me and the boy, plus a dish of roast potatoes for his girlfriend.

The sandwiches were greater than that word sometimes suggests, about half a locally made baguette – beautifully charred and crusty on the outside, and properly tangy and bready in the middle – filled with pulled chicken, pickled red onion and tarragon mayo. Just about the perfect meal for me, although low on the veg count (that’s for the veg counting one in my life).

Anyway, we left with a positive impression of Altrincham and its market, which is well worth a visit, and has turned the town into an unlikely foodie destination. Yes, it’s trendy – but so what? Trendies usually help revive places. And this was place rammed with mostly young people working hard and producing street food worthy of more established restaurants; and it’s fun and vibrant.

Not everyone likes trendies, but we should embrace them. Yes, areas can change but they are going to do that anyway, and not always in a good way. Altrincham wasn’t much of a destination until the trendies took over the old market, and now it’s a place well worth travelling to.

As we ate outside those wooden cabins, I thought of what Spark:York wish to do. At first I wasn’t sure about this idea, perhaps put off – as others have been – by the thought of shipping containers. But no more. If they can pull off something like we saw in Altrincham, then it would be a boost for York, as our middle boy, who lives in York, has been saying on Facebook for a while now.

So, let’s not grumble. I may be too old to be a trendy but don’t count me yet with the grumblies.

York has tried to do something similar with the makeover of what is now called Shambles Market. A few foot outlets are huddled together at the cold end of the market. A lot of money was spent on smartening up the market, sadly to mostly underwhelming effect.

I know that York doesn’t need to attract visitors, while Altrincham did. But if they’ve not been already, I suggest that whoever looks after such things on City of York Council should have a day out to south Manchester. They certainly won’t go hungry.

An Airbnb catch-up from your accidental host…

THERE’S a man asleep some feet above where I am sitting at my laptop. I’ve not met him yet as I was working when he arrived in the afternoon.

Another man left in the morning, but I did meet him. He was a Canadian musician who was playing in a show at York Theatre Royal. He kept mysterious hours and looked the part of the touring musician, artistic and rumpled, but he was pleasant and chatty, and he stayed four nights without ever wanting breakfast.

From what I could see, he lived off frothy instant coffee and cigarettes (although not smoked in the house).

As for the unmet guest, I just heard him go into the shower, and now I can hear the purr of the boiler and the plashing of water. One guest cancelled after I told him about the old boiler, which clanked rather than purred. It went on the blink and I thought I should warn him.

We keep having to shed old possessions: estate car, boiler, fridge-freezer. That car was made to last until it didn’t; same with the boiler, too, although the fridge-freezer was only a few years old, a stripling by comparison.

The man in the shower doesn’t know it but he is helping to pay for the boiler, as that’s how we are using our Airbnb money until the credit card cools down.

This house has been full of strangers for nearly two years now. The Airbnb thing fitted the jarring moment when I lost my job, and although the moment has moved on, we are not yet bedding down on used £20 notes or anything. Besides, we still enjoy the passing company.

Most guests are pleasant and interesting, and any who aren’t are gone soon enough – not that we’re had many horrid guests. One or two eccentrics or weirdos you feel relieved to see out of the door, but hardly anything for two years.

This month we have 79% five-star reviews from guests, and although I have no idea whether that is good, it seems okay.

This modern habit of having to rate everything you buy, use or consume is odd. I have reviewed plays, CDs, books and concerts in my time, but the other day a strange request arrived from John Lewis. An email asked me to review a lampshade; yes, a lampshade. Well, it’s a very nice thing, so nice we have two, but it was chosen by my wife, who takes all those decisions with an all-important nod from me. Where we would be without that nod just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Anyway, the man I haven’t met yet will be down soon for his breakfast. Unlike the bass player, he wants something to eat.

Brenda from Bristol meets Jeremy from Islington…

IF this is a snap election, where is the crackle and pop?

The best reaction to the news that Theresa May had called a surprise election came from Brenda from Bristol when she was interviewed by the BBC’s Jon Kay. The clip of her saying: “You’re joking? Not another one. Oh, for God’s sake” has gone viral, partly because of the Bristol twang to her incredulity, and partly because her exasperation speaks for many people.

Brenda, who is 75, is said to be enjoying her accidental moment in the spotlight, even though she doesn’t understand social media or the ways in which her words have bounced around the internet.

Elections, even unnecessary ones, have their slogans and memes, so perhaps this election should belong to Brenda. Maybe we could even vote for Brenda instead, as the alternatives are not that enticing.

It is even possible that Brenda could turn people against Mrs May. We had an election in 2015, the referendum vote last year and another election this year: we are in danger of being all politicked out by a prime minister who pretends she doesn’t play political games.

But this is an election, even if we didn’t need one, so I suppose we should look at the politics. Jeremy from Islington was also in the news the other day after he gave his first speech of the election. To be fair, the Labour leader gave a good account of himself and looked less  of an electoral liability than usual.

The trouble is, his attacks on the establishment and the ‘cosy cartel of politics’ still seem aimed more at his supporters than a wider audience. He certainly spoke well and some of his beliefs are ones that anyone who leans to the left ought to embrace. But if he doesn’t convince all lefties, how in a short election campaign will he attract floating voters?

To those of us who have been around a while, Jeremy Corbyn has similarities to Michael Foot, whose manifesto for the 1983 election was described by Gerald Kaufman as “the longest suicide note in history” – a view which turned out to be spot on.

From the same era, the Labour MP John Golding – the sort of centrist who would be booed by the disciples of Jeremy – despaired of Foot’s chances as Labour were doing so badly in the polls. He told his leader this and Foot is said to have countered: “You’re wrong. There were a thousand people at my meeting last night and they all cheered.” To which Golding said: “There were 122,00 outside who think you’re crackers.”

The danger is that Corbyn is replicating that pattern, and that like Foot – a good and decent man, but a man who had no hope of winning – he will continue to woo his fans and followers, while others are turned off by him.

One problem with Corbyn’s attacks on the establishment and the media is that this can sound like getting in his excuses first; it’s almost as if he is laying the ground for his defeat by saying that the system is stacked against him.

And, yes, there is the Citizen Smith difficulty, too. Even if some of what Corbyn says is true, and even if he hits the mark occasionally, he can sound like a caricature leftie. And that observation comes from someone who has been a bit of a caricature leftie down the years too, although without joining any party

As a leftie who has always worked in the media, Corbyn’s constant moaning about the media grates, too. He has a point but it’s always been that way. Instead of regarding the newspapers and the BBC as his enemy, he should learn to play the game a little better, shouldn’t he?

Anyway, that’s enough politics for now. I’m off to run that clip of Brenda from Bristol again. I like her style.

The ups and downs of a cycle ride…

“YOU should write a blog about this,” says my cycling companion. And since Nick is kind enough to read these jottings most days, I will and here it is.

Two men in their sixties are heading for a ride, but we get off to a shaky start as I misunderstand the pick-up arrangements. I wait in the wrong place and amuse myself by watching my legs shiver. What’s April doing being this cold?

Eventually a spot of emailing, Nick in his car, me just around the wrong corner, sorts everything out and we put the bikes on the back for the boring miles out of York. It’s still cold when we unload the bikes and those shivers start chasing each other around my body. It takes a while for the chattering to stop as we start to cycle, chatting side-by-side where we can, and sometimes earning a disgruntled toot from a passing car.

The first hill of the day is the one out of Crayke. Nick is a keen cyclist who’d done 25 miles the day before. I only occasionally venture out of the city for a longer ride, so that hill makes me nervous. I give it a go anyway and pedal away.

Somehow, I stay ahead as we mount that hill. “God, you’ve got an ordinary bike, you don’t go out cycling much and I go out all the time – and look at you,” grumbles Nick from behind.

His bike is built for distance; it’s also new and shiny. Mine is built for this-and-that forays into York and was, until an hour or so earlier, shamefully dirty. I did a quick clean before leaving home and now you can see the scratches and rusty bits even more clearly. But I love that bike, or at least until I can afford another, when money might make an unfaithful man of me.

It is good to be out cycling and chatting and catching up. We usually talk about ordinary life stuff: grown-up children (four between us), wives (the expected number between us), politics, television programmes, books and the ups and downs of life.

As we chat, or sometimes fail to thanks to the wheezing, the hills come and go. Those that go up then go down, and Nick speeds off, more confident on the descents that I am, head down and whizzing, while I follow on the old Marin hybrid, head up and fingers flexing on the brakes. I know it’s best not to bother, best to surrender to gravity and go with it, but that takes the sort of courage I don’t seem to have

At the bottom of the hills, I catch up for a bit of free-wheeling, until someone puts another hill in the way.

We cycle to the café in Kilburn, have coffee and sandwiches, then do the journey in reverse, so the friendly hills turn nasty on us and the unkind ones welcome us with a shrug and point out the view.

It’s good to be out on a bicycle ride, good to be outside doing anything, cycling, walking and even, as I surprised myself to discover twice last weekend, gardening. I like being indoors with music on, a newspaper or book to read, or some cooking or baking to do. But you can see why the outdoors is called great.

Two men in their sixties out for a cycle ride. A ride and a chat, and a grumble about the snap general election, but that talk can wait for another day. Back at the car, we put the bikes on the back and drive home to York.

“How long does it take to write your blog,” Nick asks. This one took an hour and it’s for you, although others are of course welcome to read about two sweaty ageing men if they wish.

Talking of which, one of my squash partners in five years older than me, and he has a squash partner who is five years older than him. I have decided to approach turning 60 the same way I approached all those other anniversaries: just keeping on keeping on.