Opening night in Salford

As forecast the snow fell, meaning travel disruption across Britain on the day we needed to make it to Manchester for the opening night of The Cycling Podcast’s book tour at The Lowry Theatre in Salford. François was flying from Marseille, Richard from Paris, and Orla and I were travelling from London on the train.

As I was waiting for my train into London, a text from Richard arrived to say François was stuck at Marseille airport. For several hours I didn’t realise that this was a joke because the snowpocalyptic weather had made me wonder if any of us would make it north.

‘The contrast in tone in yours and Orla’s travel updates is 😂,’ said Richard in another text a few minutes later. [That's a crying-with-laughter emoji, by the way, in case it doesn't come out on your computer or phone].

‘Yes, but has she been looking at the actual travel information? In the past hour, Virgin Trains have cancelled two Manchester trains,’ I replied.

‘Of course she hasn’t. She runs on pure optimism and positivity.’

It made me think of what happens when you fill a diesel car with unleaded. If I tried to run on optimism and positivity I’d just break down irretrievably. It’s just not my natural way.


Orla’s optimism clearly cancelled out my Eeyoreish tendency and then some because we left Euston on time and we whistled through the whitescape with a Marks and Spencer’s bag of train tapas to help speed the journey along. Train tapas, and its equivalent car tapas, is a phrase coined by Simon Gill. It’s a simple definition for a lunch bag purchased from M&S (or Waitrose). A good train tapas consists of some or all of the following – a sandwich, perhaps some sushi, sausage rolls or a samosa, crisps or sometimes pistachios, fruit, chocolate, a smoothie, and no change from twenty quid. It's designed to be grazed through over the course of a good journey.

Before heading to The Lowry we made a quick stop at the Rapha cycling cafe in Manchester where we signed and sold the first physical copies of The Cycling Podcast’s book and then it was off to Salford Quays and the striking theatre building. It was particularly nice to be at a theatre named after LS Lowry because I've absorbed a liking for his paintings. My parents have a print of Lowry’s A Country Road on their wall and he is one of my mum’s favourite artists. I remember drawing my own versions of Going To The Match when I was a child, copying Lowry’s little figures and adapting the football ground so it looked like Watford’s Vicarage Road.

I won’t write too much about The Cycling Podcast event just in case anyone reading this has tickets for one of our other shows but my feeling was it went well and people enjoyed themselves. I certainly did, and that’s the main thing, isn’t it. After all, I take the view with anything – whether it be a podcast I’m making or something I’m writing – that if I’m not enjoying the process on some level then I can hardly expect anyone else to.

Of the four of us, I seem to be affected by nerves and an impending sense of doom more than the others. Daniel, who is not with us on this leg of the tour but will join us next week, once said something after a live event that summed up the experience for me. ‘Another catastrophe averted.’

François is incredibly relaxed about absolutely everything and in the dressing room beforehand he said, ‘I don’t get nervous about speaking to an audience anymore. I used to get a little bit nervous about going on television, but everyone’s on television now.’ Orla laughed at that, possibly because she actually is on television. Richard has the added pressure of being the host, the one who has to hold it all together and jump start things if we lose our thread but in his buffalo-like way he stands firm and absorbs this without giving off much sense that the nerves are getting to him.

As eight o’clock neared everyone got just a little bit quieter, perhaps running through a few last-minute ideas or half-lines in their head (I know I was) so perhaps I’m not the only one who feels a bit jangly around the midriff on these occasions.

My highlights of the evening were that Mandy Jones, now Mandy Bishop, the 1982 world road race champion, was in the audience and François’ rendition of La Marseillaise, which he had done so brilliantly on our Bastille Day podcast during the Tour de France.


It was a great crowd, particularly considering the terrible weather, and there was a long line of people waiting for us to sign copies of the book. To have people come up and say they not only enjoyed the evening but had also enjoyed particular episodes of the podcast still catches me a bit by surprise but it's always very nice.

However, a quick check on my phone told me of the weather warnings for Scotland overnight and made me think that not even Orla’s optimism would carry us on to Edinburgh the next morning.