Why we shouldn't have a European Referendum

I've just got back from a couple of days in Belgium. Whilst I was over there I got used to hearing the phrase "you're just a little island across the sea". This phrase wasn't used once, but several times throughout meetings over there. It surprised me. Despite being an hour's flight away (faster than if I actually went to London), it was felt that us UK lot were disconnected from Europe.

It was our understanding of policies and ways of life in European countries which really worried them. What did we know on our little island across the sea? The meetings finished in good spirits as we were able to demonstrate our understandings but it did make me think about their question.

I can understand it. We are a pain in the arse in England; we drive on wrong side of the road, our numberplate looks funny, we have a different currency which is stupid because even just getting a coffee and muffin on the plane was a problem (Brussels Airways not liking my ragged Stirling note and opting for fresh Euros only). Our houses are weird, they are dead small and, not being faced with a dramatic re-build as needed by the majority of Europe after World War 2, much of our housing stock is quite old and built to our own particular standards. Standards. We have so many fucking standards, layers of health and safety, environmental bureaucracy which adds to the specifications of our property developments which our European counterparts don't have, And yes we also buy them, we don't rent.

We're crap at languages, 75% of us can't speak one. We can't even help out by slipping into a bit of sexy French or straight line German if a colleague is a bit rough on his English. We design ads which can't be translated because we don't appreciate character length for say Czech or German. You have to plan ahead just to have a meeting. We have to book tickets, find our passports and fly to an airport before faffing around with taxi's and trains. We can't just hop on to a train in say Germany and arrive in Belgium a couple of hours later, no problems. Our trains don't even run on time and stink of piss. And our economy is booming; why can't we just fight it out together with the rest of Europe?

Because we need to be. Significant amounts of business would be lost if we left the EU. Imagine how hard it would be to go for a meeting, waiting in line at the "Outside of EU" passport control. Imports and exports would generate extra paperwork. If our European colleagues ask "what do you know, you're just a little island across the sea", what will they ask if we are no longer part of the EU? I don't think many people understand just how much of UK business, especially budgetary, is controlled centrally in Europe.

I like being part of the EU. I enjoy working with our European colleagues. I think we should collaborate with them much more. Share ideas, learn from each other, remove barriers. Never mind a referendum, we should be seeking ideas on how we can get more out of Europe.

This Girl Can Ad

I love this ad raising awareness for getting Women active in sport. It's a national campaign being pushed by Sport England. Increasing participation of Women in sport is close to my heart as I organise a National Women's road race called the Cheshire Classic. It takes place in April and attracts folk like Dame Sarah Storey and Laura Trott. Part of me wanting to organise the race was to raise awareness of Women's cycling but also to also inspire others to get on their bike, which we've been very successful in doing.

Huge credit to FCB Inferno for putting it together. I love the humbleness of the ad. I love how it concentrates on those moments we've all been in, puffed out after an effort, the grit of the teeth and sweat pouring from the face during it. It captures the raw essence of exercise beautifully. I love how it celebrates curves and wobble, nobody male or female should be ashamed of it. Get out there and get fit. You'll feel so much better.




Mitsis Ramira Beach Kos Review

The Mitsis Ramira Beach hotel is a fantastic all inclusive hotel in Kos. If you're a couple, looking for a quality hotel on a decent budget together with good food, a good range of drinks, a decent pool together with a beach, Ramira Beach is well worth checking out. It is right next to the beach (with it's own beach bar part of the all-inclusive, free sunbeds and also the opportunity to pay for a massage), it has two bars, two pools, a buffet restaurant with a huge amount of choice and a Chinese and Italian waiter service restaurant which are both excellent.

We went for a week in the last week of September which went into the beginning of October. If you are looking for some late Summer-Autumn sun, considering the Greek islands should definitely be on your list. Temperatures were 25-28 degrees C and we only had one bad day. We booked through Thomas Cook and we paid £600 each for the week which included flights.

What I will say from the outset is that if you are looking for an active holiday, be it with a range of sports, sightseeing or an active night life then you'll probably give Mitsis Ramira Beach a miss. It's definitely more for a relaxing holiday, chilling out by the pool or on the beach. There is an entertainment team and there is mini-golf, archery, volleyball, aquagym, waterpolo, tennis and football pretty much everyday for free so you won't be bored. You can also hire bikes for a couple of Euros which we did, and the ride into Kos Town is only 15 minutes. Kos Town is a typical Mediterranean harbour (if you have been to Menorca, think of it like Ciutadella), very pretty to look at however there isn't a huge amount to do or look at.

The hotel is situated next to a couple of other hotels but other than that the area is quiet, which is nice as you have the whole beach to yourselves for a long walk. For us it was exactly what we were looking for. Not having to worry about money, a couple of pools to choose from and loads of space just to relax, read, listen to music and play cards. Bliss.

Top tip: it's the old adage about the German's reserving the sunbeds however it took a couple of days for us to understand the "etiquette". Basically if a sun bed has it's back folded down (or obviously has it's towel on it) it is in use. We didn't realise this on the first couple of days, thinking it was how the sunbeds were kept tidy and "folded up". A couple of arguments with German and Polish guests later and we figured it out. There are plenty of beds and you do find people only use them for a couple of hours at a time.

The staff are excellent and work really hard. The hotel was spotless. One evening I caught a maid cleaning the outdoor lights such is the effort they put in. Waiters and waitresses are constantly walking around taking a drinks order. I don't think there was a time where I was without a drink during the stay.

The food is excellent. Everything is made fresh and is home made. There is a lady who solely does pancakes and crapes, I spoke to her and she only used ducks eggs and milk due to the quality. It meant a lot to her. We ate in the Chinese restaurant one night and the food was delicious, as was the Italian, with pizzas made in a coal pizza oven. Becky and I ordered a pizza each and shared a plate of pasta. Delicious. You have to book to use these restaurants. The buffet restaurant is where you go for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Breakfast includes everything you could wish for, full English, continental, a huge array of breads, doughnuts, pancakes, juices...you name it. Dinner and lunch had a selection of hot meals which changed every day. There was normally a selection of 6 meals you could choose from, then there was a huge hot plate where you could order steaks, fish and sausages cooked to your liking and then a show cooking area. You chose which meats and vegetables you wanted (ham, sausage, peppers, mushrooms etc), which sauce you wanted together with which pasta and it was all flamed cooked in front of you. It was so tasty. If you were still hungry, you could then choose a pudding.

The drinks were all non-brand but were fine. The lager was refreshing, there was a huge range of cocktails, gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, sambuca, fresh juices, Pepsi...you name it. If you are a big wine lover than I'm afraid there isn't much for you. The red was dry and tarty, the white would be more appropriate as window cleaner. A chunk of ice helped it out though.

The room was fine. Typically Mediterranean with marble floors. I found the bed really uncomfortable. There is a mini-bar which has soft drinks, beer and champagne in it which is re-filled every other day.

Conclusion.

All in all for the price it was great. It seemed to be a good choice with couples as there were lots there of all ages. Would I go back again? Probably not and it would only be because Kos was a bit too quiet for us. It was a great hotel but not one that I would go, "oh my god we must come back here as soon as possible". Would I recommend it? Most definitely. The staff and food are excellent. The hotel is great to spend time in and very clean. We aren't the only ones who rave about the hotel, just check out the incredible reviews.

We had a great week and we were really happy. If you are considering a holiday around June to August, I would probably recommend Son Bou in Menorca more. You'd probably spend the same if a little more, and it would be self catering but it is paradise, especially for families.

21 Bar and Grill Knutsford

For those of you heading out to Knutsford and fancy trying something meaty, make sure you check out 21 Bar and Grill. Jon Green of Australasia fame is Head Chef and you'll find a small but sufficient choice of menu. 

We had the 21 Fried Chicken Bucket for starter which was a sharer for two. It featured 3 pieces of chicken each with a pot of chips, BBQ beans, gravy and coleslaw. The chicken was gorgeous. The seasoning was fantastic: the chicken falling off the bone with a touch of a fork such was it's succulence.

For main we went for the 21 Gourmet burger. Gorgeous beef in amongst BBQ pulled pork sat on a brioche. It was the crumbled, half melted Cheshire Cheese which took it to another level. Chips accompanied and were tasty. Perhaps the mayo was a bit tasteless and the side salad was a bit of a let down (just rubbery lettuce with not even a dash of dressing) was perhaps the only downside.

A friend had a posh Fish and Chips which was gulped down and another had perhaps the best linguine she's ever had with mussles and all that malarky.

Service was fantastic as was the surroundings. Nice background music and good vibes. The beer was good too, the Birra Moretti on draft was fresh, refreshing and ice ice cold. The ciders on offer were fantastic too.

For those of you in your late twenties having just moved into your first house, the menu is more on the expensive side of your budget but it worked out to be around £50 a couple for us which wasn't too bad at all. Well worth checking out.

The Season So Far

Well it's not been bad. 2 minutes off my 25 mile TT PB, over a minute off my 10 mile TT PB and 30 seconds off my club 10 PB using the slower two lap circuit. I've been amazed by the times. I've hardly been able to get training in due to organising the Cheshire Classic Women's Road Race (which saw 2 weeks back to back off my bike alongside not much in terms of quality miles leading up to it) alongside helping out a recent cycling festival and numerous social activities.



I started my season 2 months earlier than last year which has helped. My first event being a 10 in early March, 2 weeks after the Llanberis training weekend. I was aiming to get into a 24 for a 10 later on in the season but never ever thought I would post a 24.13 for a 10 in April! I couldn't believe it. I crossed the line gobsmacked. I just kept saying "I can't believe it" again and again at the HQ. 

I've been happy with my times in the club 10s too. It's a tricky circuit and to get early 25s has been nice. We are using a different circuit due to roadworks on the normal circuit. The temporary circuit is two laps which contains 8 90 degree corners. It totally takes out any momentum and kills your legs. I posted a short 25 last week feeling pretty tired which got into the top 10 so hopefully there is more to come. We shall see!

Many have asked what I'm doing. As I've said above, nothing much! Very little training that is for sure! I just got out and ride my hardest to represent the club. A good Winter has really helped, losing 2 stone together with the new bike which is just incredible. It's incredibly stiff (making it near impossible to turn at the same time) and the position is perfect. Being able to change gears on the tri-bars makes such a huge difference. I'm also using a skinsuit with shoe aero covers. A lot is said about aero helmets, skinsuits and shoe covers, especially by Chris Boardman, I believe it has helped me for sure.

Anyway a lot of riders are only just starting out with their races so their form will come. I hope I can keep improving and I haven't peaked too soon. The focus will be to get some more 25s in and look towards the Cat & Fiddle Hill Climb and Cyclo Cross in the Autumn.

For anyone looking to get competing this season, Time Trials (or testing) is a great way to get involved. It's really friendly and the thought, science and margin gains beneath it all is fascinating. Although everyone competes across the same distance, everyone has a different story to tell back at the HQ afterwards. Dig deep and get competing.


Budget 2014

2014’s budget for me was all about installing confidence. The Chancellor introduced a number of initiatives designed to not only demonstrate that Britain is currently in a strong period of growth but to try move away from the current narrative of "tough economic times we are in". It was an interesting budget which really focussed on middle-class working families.

A penny off a pint always goes down well. Freezing of fuel duty is also a good move, especially at the pumps but also the knock on effect through goods. A sexy £2000 childcare tax break will be well received by hard working Mums and Dad out there. Up to a limit of £10,000, for every 80p you put in, the Government will add in 20p. Simply put, if your childcare adds up to £10,000, you’ll pay £8000; the Government will pay £2000.

There is a lot of work still to be done. Nurses in particular have recently come under the spotlight as one example. However the increase in the personal tax allowance to £10,500 should be a great help. It’s interesting the amount of people that don’t either know or remember that from April this year it will rise from £9,440 to £10,000. Next month’s rise alone should see us having £40 in our back pocket. This is important as it helps install confidence, either by having some extra money available to pay the bills, save or spend back into the economy. Many will point to taxes being raised in other areas and the government “taking with one hand and giving with another”. Well of course he is. He wants you to spend. More money on products with VAT equals even more money to burn off the deficit.

For me. looking at it behaviourally, I think it works. You make the decision on whether you spend it or not. Increased numbers in the pay packet will be noted far more than increases on goods. Look around your office at the end of the month; note the amount of people who open their payslip to check the amount. This time next year, you will have £80 in your back pocket than you have right now. That will make a difference.

Growing Confidence: but is it Shared By Everyone?

Listening to 5 Live yesterday morning, there is still scepticism over whether the UK growth can be maintained. The 1.8% growth last year raised eyebrows and was three times the size of the original forecast by Office for Budget Responsibility. In November it raised it to 2.4% and today it has gone up again 2.7% (some are say more than 3%). Some sceptics are concerned that the Chancellor’s austerity measures could be contributing to this growth, rather than it being organic.

One for the Swingers

Osbourne’s attempts to win back older voters who swung away at the last election is interesting. While the main reason for introducing a new pound coin is down to the 45 million forgeries out there currently, the new twelve sided pound coin, which looks like an old threepenny bit, touches on nostalgia. A cut on Bingo tax is another.

Reforms to pensions, such as being allowed to out lump sums over the age of 55 and not be heavily taxed, alongside the ISA limited raised to £15,000 are nice wins and largest reforms we had for years. It is an interesting move and could change consumer behaviour to how these products are viewed. If the affluent, downsizing, empty nester, silver surfers weren’t already a prime target for many brands, they sure will be now with easy access to large volumes of money to spend.

It all adds up to an underlying conservative narrative to encourage families to be married (there was talk in the last budget of a tax break for married couples, which seems to have gone quiet), work hard and save for a brighter future. You can almost see and smell those sunny, oak tree lined suburbs.

Whether it works we’ll wait and see.

Llanberis 2014

I've just got back from the annual Weaver Valley training weekend to Llanberis. The trip which starts from Northwich heads out for 98 miles to Llanberis taking in Ruthin, Denbigh, the 15 mile climb of the Sportsman before descending to Betws-y-Coed to then climb for a further 15-20 miles to Llanberis via Capel Curig and Pen-y-Pass. The way home is slightly shorter at around 95 miles, bypassing the climb of the Sportsman to continue down the A5 and cut through the forest to Ruthin before heading for home via Loggerheads.

It's a tough weekend on the legs but a good opportunity to finish off winter training with a solid 200 miles before a diet of racing from March to September. It is also a good benchmark of where you are following the long Winter.

Pre-Llanberis - Training & Weight Loss

Following a break (ie: lots of eating and drinking) in October and November I started putting a plan together and watching what I ate again in December. I wasn't too worried about miles as my racing consists of 10 or 25 mile Time Trials but I wanted to get the weight down to 12 stone. My lightest in 2013 was 12.5 stone and I felt good riding at that but an extra half a stone while maintaining power would really help.

The early part of December was pretty light in terms of miles, enjoying the shorter rides and cafe stops. I started adding more miles and quality to my training the week before Christmas once all the Christmas commitments with work were out of the way. I put in a ride on Christmas day, an easy 20 miles to see my parents and took part in the Boxing Day 10. This was good because I controlled more what I was eating and drinking on the Christmas Day.

From Christmas Day onwards I committed to Wednesday spin classes with the club and Saturday and Sunday rides. My rides on Saturday were 40-50 mile solo rides without any breakfast (glycogen rides) to get the body used to performing from it's own energy stores. I made sure my rides on Saturdays took in 3 or 4 hills too which really helped.

 I only really missed 2 days out on the bike in January and February, instead doing some Watt sessions on the spin bike and weights. These were really handy as it allowed me to see that despite losing weight I was also increasing power output.

Llanberis

So there I stood ready to leave Llanberis. My weight 12 stone exactly, down from 12 stone 8 when I started in December. A stone and a half lighter than the same point back in 2013.

All I'll say is that the gains from the weight loss throughout the whole weekend was incredible. My heart rate was about 15 beats per minute lower going up the climbs, I don't think I went into 180-190bpm (my usual heart rate zone when I'm really working such as in races) at all. Rewind back to 2013 and most definitely to 2012, I was in that zone pretty much 50% of the time such is the amount of climbing done.

Being able to work like this meant I was able to conserve a lot of energy. I remember in 2012 feeling really ill at the hotel from the amount of effort I had put in. It was a good confidence building exercise as I now know I had that bit extra to play with.

If the weather had been more favourable perhaps I would have dug a bit deeper but in the time I've been cycling I've never cycled in those conditions before. We faced a 28 mile an hour headwind on the way out, reducing speeds to 3-5mph over the Sportsman at times. It was just an energy zapping battle from start to finish, even having to work hard on the decent to Betws-y-Coed. I managed to get to Llanberis without stopping at the cafe at Capel Curig which many took advantage of, the Guinness tasted so good at the hotel!

If you thought Saturday was hard, it was a walk in the park compared to Sunday. Throughout the night, the wind shook the hotel. It didn't sound good. We woke to trees bent horizontally, rain sleeting down. The wind speed of 30 miles an hour wasn't to be the issue, the 60mph (later found to be 95mph according to the BBC) gusts were to be the main problem. Us 60 riders had to get home, there was no other way, we were going to have to do this.

I've never known anything like it. Going along the A5 was one of the most scariest things I've ever done. Two riders were blown off their bikes. At times I was on full, opposite tilt to the bike, being blown across the carriageway. Unlike the wind from Saturday where you could control it (due to it being a constant), the gusts were occasional and you didn't know when they were doing to come. It was really hard going. We all fought on, the field split to bits.

We survived and all got home in one piece. It was most certainly band of brothers. Would I do it again? Of course. Can't wait!