Scientists, generally, are not people who find their way into the spotlight. They ferret away behind the scenes and quietly advance the cause of humanity, asking nothing in return except perhaps the occasional lucrative book deal and a Nobel Prize.
Sometimes, however, eccentric behaviour leads the spotlight to them.
History is littered with example of scientists who, unable to find subjects on which to test their scientific theories selflessly experimented on themselves. My favourite (yes, cycling fans, I have a favourite “scientist who did a bizarre experiment on himself” – it’s a niche area) is Stubbins Ffirth.
Partly because of that tremendous name, but mainly because he took the bold decision to smear himself with…well, erm… Y’know what, I’ll let you look into that yourself.
You might be squeamish.
In homage to our friend Stubbins, I have been experimenting on myself recently in order to selflessly advance the cause of cycling. But with less smearing of substances.
Here in my northern home town we have a splendid market every Wednesday. There are some stalls selling cheap tat, but lots of stalls selling amazing food. It’s brilliant. The smells waft through town as things are roasted, grilled, and fried to order, and on a sunny day the market square is standing room only.
Coincidentally, Wednesday evening is bike-ride night; forty miles of cat and mouse and brutal points scoring between friends.
And so, I consider Wednesday lunch time a chance to gorge myself on street food in the knowledge that I’ll burn it all off later. And then, as I push the f**k it button later in the afternoon and engineer an early dart, I wander home through the dregs of the food market to find the traders winding down and offering whatever they have left at bargain prices.
And it’d be rude not to.
This means that the hardest ride of the week is fuelled by double helpings, in a variety of combinations. I then cross reference this against my performance on the bike, et voila! I am well on the way to identifying the optimum nutritional combination for an evening bike ride in the north of England.
I believe the Nobel Prize is in the post.
But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Hang on a minute there Mr so-called-Ragtime-Cyclist…haven’t Science in Sport and High Five already done the research here?”
Yes, they have. But I don’t trust them. What do they know about my finely balanced 41-year-old digestive system? And is it possible that their science is designed to extract money from the likes of me and you?
I mean, call me cynical, but I’m guessing they have shareholders. Do you think the Chief Executive of Science in Sport cares how much I suffer on a Wednesday night in the face of an onslaught from some of my best friends?
Also, have you tasted a High Five gel?
No. These days I’m fuelled almost entirely by street food, and I believe I’ve identified the optimum combination.
The truth is, I’ve never ridden faster than when fuelled by samosas. And I’m not talking about the kind of limp, beige affairs you find on the deli-counter at Sainsbury’s, but whacking-great triangles of crisp, bubbling pastry, filled with enough spice to have you tasting them most of the way up the big climb of the evening.
Due to the laws of supply and demand these are available late afternoon at criminally reasonable prices, and so form part two of the plan. Part one comes at around 1pm in the form of a piadina. These pizza-esque flatbreads, topped and rolled into a greasy and life-affirming parcel, are made to order by a man from Florence.
He takes his time.
You order, and he rolls the dough.
Being an Italian in northern England he talks with an open-ness and flourishing enthusiasm that leaves those of us in the queue slightly on the back foot. He tells you what you’re having in your piadina, and then he cooks it. It takes about ten minutes because of all the chatter.
And they’re so good that no-one complains and everyone comes back next week.
What he doesn’t know is that he’s responsible for my carb loading. My ability to hold the wheels on our ride tonight is dependent on his ingredients. The pre-ride samosas later in the afternoon then give me the pep to hit the roads with a bit of fire in my belly.
I’ve tried falafels, Jamaican street food, crepes, cake, pastries, Sicilian specialities and donuts. In every combination. My research confirms that no food is quicker than a midday piadina and some late afternoon samosas.
The only thing I haven’t tried is smearing these food-stuffs all over me, because when I do that I think of Stubbins Ffirth.
And then I lose my appetite.