From Hackney to Leeds

We were on a fairly early train from Nottingham to London and from there I went home for a couple of hours before travelling back into London and heading to the Round Chapel in Hackney.

Weeks ago, when I looked ahead to these two weeks on the road, I assumed I’d have all day to do things – write, keep on top of my admin, plan stuff, read – but the days have been full, mostly with travelling or fretting. The important part of the day is the hour and a half on stage in the evening but I had not taken into account just how much the prospect of going in front of an audience would come to dominate the rest of the day. For me the nerves kick in sometime in mid-afternoon, and then the adrenaline that gets me through the event followed by a late drink and meal inevitably lead to a patchy night’s sleep.

It’s an alien routine and it’s given me a glimpse of what it must be like for people who go on stage every night. Our colleague Ned Boulting did about 25 performances of his Bikeology show last autumn and I really don’t know how he did it. I’ve done four nights now and the rollercoaster of emotions is taking some getting used to.

On Thursday afternoon, as I sat at home watching the clock, I’d have given anything for a phone call to tell me a localized snow storm had made Hackney inaccessible.

Before the start, a couple of podcast listeners presented us with incredibly thoughtful gifts. A huge thanks to Stewart for the tins of fabada – the Asturian bean stew we ate at the Vuelta that is similar to cassoulet – and to Marc who had brought us some bottles of Belgian beer.

As it turned out, the event could not have gone better. When I first arrived I felt quite intimidated by the Round Chapel. It was big, atmospheric, with an imposing pipe organ looming over us behind the stage. It also had a very hipsterish, Hackneyish shabby chic vibe. Not necessarily my natural habitat. It proved to be the perfect venue for us. There was a big crowd – on a par with our sell-out event at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square in November – and a couple of early icebreakers went over well. There were some great questions from the audience, some very funny moments and it was really nice to know my parents were in the house, even if I had a suspicion that it prompted Richard, Daniel and Orla to make even more jokes at my expense than usual.

Photography by Simon Gill.

It was coming up to 2am by the time I got home and the next morning I was back in London to catch the train to Leeds. The Carriageworks theatre in Leeds was a very different venue to the Round Chapel and it brought home to me that when doing this sort of thing no two nights are the same.

I can’t call myself an expert at this but from my experiences so far, the layout of the room has quite a bearing on how the evening goes. There was another big crowd in but because the seats were steep and there was an upper tier very high up it looked like a wall of faces in front of us. When I first walked out I felt my heart-rate rise, the butterflies took longer to fade away, and a couple of the early icebreakers that had gone down so well in Hackney didn’t get quite the reaction I was hoping for.

I also got my first heckle. After reading a passage from Richard’s Tour de France diary in The Cycling Podcast’s book about our unusual evening in Lure last summer, we also touched on my dislike of Lourdes. I made a (possibly ill-judged) joke about my least likeable towns beginning with L – Lure and Lourdes, and the inference that Leeds might follow in the sequence. I meant it affectionately, of course!

‘You’re losing the room!’ said Daniel.

Someone shouted, ‘You’ve got to get out of here yet.’

I replied, ‘Don’t worry… I managed to get the two Scottish events postponed.’

That got a laugh and on we went. The questions were great again, with a few more serious ones about the Sky stories than we’ve had at some of the other events. Fortunately, the comments from people afterwards – including from Sir Gary Verity, the man behind the Tour de Yorkshire – were very positive so it’s entirely possible I was just reading the room wrongly.

Next stop Sheffield.