Mick Gambling On Cycling, Mick Gambling (1981)

Humorous articles depicting the life of a provincial tester originally published in Cycling (Weekly) in the preceding sixteen years

Forest Publishing Paperback 66pp

Mick Gambling is one in a succession of writers who have provided a funny column in Britain’s most important cycling magazine, Cycling (known as Cycling Weekly in recent times). Others have included Ragged Staff, Tony Bell and the current incumbent Michael Hutchinson.

Looking back over them as a whole, the striking thing is how similar is their choice of subject matter. Much of their copy focusses on the slightly obsessive relationship many keen cyclists have with cycling with comic juice squeezed from the difficulties that this creates in relationships – particularly those with wives and girlfriends.

It is a seam that Gambling works with considerable craft – although, emblematically, as a cycle racer and a writer, he was an amateur. Indeed, his character – a long-in-the-tooth racing man who feels every effort – is far from original. But, in part, he is successful because there was scant contrivance. When he complains about moving house and his superstition about the street number of his new home – he was writing about his actual home. Likewise, the roving cast of supporting characters he introduces – most notably, wife Sylvia and son Fraser – give every impression of being pretty close to the real thing.

The scenes he conjures up are enjoyable precisely because they are common place – at least to club cyclists: long drives to events, training snuck into busy family schedules, home workshops that provide a private domain and, the inevitable club dinners. His great skill is to induce smiles, and the occasional belly laugh, while steering a carefully course to avoid the offensive – even considered by today’s much changed standards.

Here he is complaining about the weather during the summer of 1977.

“Well how many really good mornings were there? You could count them on your brake levers rather than on the teeth of your small cog. Even the forecasters were getting their predictions in a twist. Several Saturdays, after checking carefully with the TV weatherman, newspapers and the local RAF, not to mention putting my head out of the door every half an hour, I went to bed with a selection or fine promises and in a euphoria of what I call July optimism. Then, in the still watches of the night, when the brain freewheels, it has been jerked into action by a shrieking in the telephone cables. Later, at the event, there has not been a sky in the clouds and a gale has soon had my frail body pleading for relief.”

Occasionally his contrivances show signs of the effort of a weekly slot to fill, but for the most part his original turn of phrase and confidence with his material carry his tales rolling along. His pieces are enjoyable today, as they were when they were minted, as distractions from everyday life in the company of one whose world view is very close to your own.

PS November 09

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