Mud vs Sheep vs Bike, the song

Mud vs Sheep vs Bike (MvSvB) is an event that my friend Fraser and I started in about 1993. I’ve written about it on here before. Essentially it’s just a bunch of friends going mountain biking in Wales, but it has achieved a kind of independent existence in our collective consciousness. It’s loosely named after the famous “Man vs Horse vs Bike” race that I regretted once entering in about 1991. MvSvB has been held at various youth hostels and other group rental accommodations, but most often at what was my Dad’s farm near Llandovery in Wales.

Certain MvSvB traditions have been established, most importantly:

  • Banoffee pie
  • T-shirts
  • Getting wet and muddy
  • Getting lost
  • Punctures and disintegrating wheels
  • Being chased by fierce sheepdogs
  • Beer

Banoffee pie is a critical component of the coping mechanisms required to spend much time in Welsh weather, and is a great source of the calories required for biking up hills (at least that’s our excuse). Some terms for the unaware: liquid sun = rain, Welsh not raining = light drizzle.

I’ve designed most of the T-shirts to date, starting in 1995, when I learned that half-toning really isn’t a good approach for screen printing on fabrics. The designs usually tried to have 1 or 2-colour prints using strong mountain bike themes with in-jokes, references to mud, sheep, bikes, hills, etc. This year I came up with a bold design, based on a picture of a friend on a bike, carefully redrawn with an Apple Pencil on my iPad (using Linearity Curve), and printed using a groovy high-tech direct-to-fabric printing process by my friends at Vektor.

Since I moved to France in 2009, I’ve missed out on a few events, Fraser moved to New Zealand, we’ve mostly had growing kids to contend with, the whole age thing, and so MvSvB events have dwindled. But 2023 is the comeback year, the kids are big enough to leave at home, and we can reunite to enjoy a collective mid-life crisis.

To commemorate what we are officially calling the 30th anniversary of MvSvB, I wrote this song about it, celebrating all the nasty weather, excessive eating and drinking, impromptu bike maintenance, and generally messing about on bikes with friends.

I came up with the first line first; always a good start. I wanted to have a sparse, slightly gloomy sounding verse so that I could pair it with an excessively happy chorus. Of course It just would work without rain ambience and bike and sheep noises. Next up came the bass line; I’ve never really played slap bass before (on my Sire Marcus Miller M2 bass), but I am pretty happy with the result – I’m sure it sounds better than when I played it due to the wonders of Logic Pro’s flex pitch editor! Next was the guitar, which is very simple. Drums are courtesy of Logic’s excellent Drummer instrument, which I got to follow my bass part in places. I had quite a lot of lyrics for the chorus, and despite the 130bpm tempo, it manages to sound fairly leisurely. The timing of those lyrics gave me a pattern which led to a melody, which led to some very basic chords, and voila, one functioning chorus!

I’ve been very keen to try out Synthesizer V, which I had bought at fair expense earlier this year, only to find that it’s borderline unusable in DAWs like Logic. However with a little perseverance I found it was workable so long as I didn’t even consider touching the tempo. This gave me the first set of vocals – two backing lines that I made in a similar style to how I worked in Tailwind, except with these synthetic voices. I had planned to sing the main parts myself, but found it just really didn’t work, so I enlisted the help of Lucas H on Fiverr who did a great job with a quick turnaround. With all these working together, I’ve ended up with 5 vocal parts in some places, and it makes for a great ensemble sound that I wasn’t quite expecting, but I’m very happy with.

I don’t care if it’s raining,
get back on your bike
I know you’re hung over
from drinking last night
But that’s not my problem
there’s mountains to ride
and there’s no way I’m
letting you stay inside

Sheep getting restless
and puddles so deep
there’s mud to my elbows
and I’ve had no sleep
but I don’t care
‘cos we’re here to have fun
to every last drop
of this liquid Welsh sun

There’s mud and there’s sheep and there’s rides with our friends
There’s banoffee and T-shirts and hills without end
There’s maps and confusion and roads to nowhere
There’s mud and there’s bikes and that’s why we are here

No punctured excuses
or unspoken wheels
we’re chained to the bars
as we grind up the hills.
We’re spinning for summits
and covered in grime
leaving tread on the tracks
of a great mountain climb

There’s mud and there’s sheep and there’s rides with our friends
There’s banoffee and T-shirts and hills without end
There’s maps and confusion and roads to nowhere
There’s mud and there’s bikes and that’s why we are here

Pedal, pedal... up the hills
Pedal, pedal... up the hills

There’s mud and there’s sheep and there’s rides with our friends
We always come back here, again and again
There’s mountains and rivers and crates of cold beer
There’s mud and there’s bikes and that’s why we are here

My modelling career

No, not that kind of modelling! For a very long time I’ve enjoyed making model kits. The first time I ever encountered them was when I was about 6 when we visited a family and their son (about 9) told me all about this thing called “Airfix”. To start with I thought this was some kind of weird glue, but then he showed me some he had built (the staple WWII fighters – Spitfires, Hurricanes, and ME-109s) and I was quite envious.

I don’t remember building many plastic kits to start with, but I did make rubber-band powered flying models from balsa. These require a lot more care and work than plastic kits, but they are very analogue, and you get more of a feel for the materials. I think the smell of cellulose dope helped too. The problem with real flying models is of course crashing them. Balsa and tissue paper are not very robust, and seeing hours of work smashed in seconds is no fun. Modern equivalents tend to use moulded expanded polystyrene, which is both lighter and more crash-resistant, but rather less romantic, and doesn’t smell as good.

Model makers accumulate a certain amount of junk. I still have plenty in my box of goodies:

This box reveals a certain history of its own. Beatties was a British chain of model shops that closed in 2001 – yet their glue and paintbrushes still work just fine 19 years later! Tamiya’s acrylic paints were so much better than Humbrol’s gloopy enamels, and they have lasted too – some of these are probably 25 years old! Of course, everybody needs a few plastic dinosaurs, starfish, and a Paua shell.

I’ve always been more interested in the process of making models than playing with them afterwards, and to some extent I’ve found much the same about writing software – writing it tends to be much more interesting than using it. Last year I had a great time building a retro arcade game cabinet – I spent far more time building it than I have playing games on it!

Back in the dot-com boom I landed a very lucrative CD-ROM production contract (you know, where all the web technologies started before they worked on the web!) for the Open University, allowing me to buy a very nice car after a mere 7 weeks on the job – a silver 1991 Porsche 944S2:

This was a fun, fast, but expensive car to own. It was surprisingly practical: On one occasion my wife and I drove from London to darkest Wales with our luggage and three mountain bikes inside the car. On another trip the clutch was on its last legs and I managed to drive from Newport in south Wales to Sidcup in Kent (190 miles) without changing gear once. I kept the car for 4 years, until we lived in Paris. I can say quite definitively that you do not want to own a nice car if you live in Paris. After I sold it I built a model of it as a memento.

Some friends (hi S&P!) bought a 944 at around the same time as me, but a cabrio, in “Champagne gold”! To complete the set, I bought a kit of the cabrio, but never got around to building it; This box sat on shelves and moved house 3 times over about 15 years:

When it comes to kits, quality varies a lot – part detail & design, moulding quality & accuracy, materials, clear instructions all go towards making the build a good experience. Tamiya make some of the best models (and I always loved their catalogues), with great detail and excellent quality, but sadly they don’t seem to have made 944 models. I built lots of Tamiya kits – aircraft, hovercraft, motorised tanks, dune buggies, battleships. The best of all was a fantastic Vosper Perkasa MTB (motor torpedo boat), which after weeks of work, I was heartbroken to sink and lose in the Thames in Oxford on its maiden voyage.

These two 944 models are from Italian Italeri (the cabrio), and Japanese Hasegawa. The Hasegawa kit is slightly more complex, with an opening bonnet, pop-up headlights, and working steering linkage. My French back then was very bad (it should be better now, having lived in France for 11 years!) and I liked thinking of Modéle Réduit as meaning “model re-do-it”, even though I knew that wasn’t right. While they were the best known, I didn’t really like Airfix kits; designs tended to be a bit simpler and not as detailed. Much the same goes for Revell. I’ve no doubt some model purists will tell me I’m wrong.

In Christmas 2020, amongst all the COVID-19 lockdowns, I finally set about building the cabrio. I was pretty pleased with the results:

The gold is quite a lot more bling than the real thing was, but I like it. The decals were yellowed with age, very fragile, and disintegrated a bit. I’m particularly pleased with the painting of the rear light clusters, slightly annoyed that I didn’t clean and degrease the body well enough before spraying it, resulting in a slightly uneven finish.

I’ve enjoyed making models for decades now, and it’s been really nice to associate them with good memories too. I’m now tempted to round out the collection with my Dad’s red 944S, my uncle’s succession of purple 968 Sport, 911 993 Carrera 4S, and Cayman R. So much for saving shelf space!