Right On Commander!

RIght On Commander!

That phrase and this picture are only going to appeal to readers of a certain age. That age is mostly forgotten – sandwiched between basement sized, punched card munching transactional monoliths, and the birth of the Internet which swept in a digital generation to whom an App is a nicely rendered icon of usefulness accessed with a cursory swipe.

Kids today eh? Back in what was laughingly referred to as the ‘information age‘, the pioneers of micro-computing had broken out of crusty data processing rooms – largely filled with massive multi-million pound suites of humming electronics knocking out the power of todays $200 smartphone. We’d swapped lab coats for mullets, terrible jumpers and trainee moustaches. Nothing worked. Everything was custom built. Soldering irons were mandatory. The vanguard of personal computing in the late ’70s and early ’80s was not a place for the faint hearted.

Or the fashionable. Or the slick and smooth. Or anyone who might at some point consider members of the opposite sex more interesting than motherboards*. No staying abreast of emerging technology was of course more important that, well, breasts. There’s a whole other post on ‘what pubescent boys did for porn before the Internet‘, but for another day I think.

Ah we may have missed many things, but what a time to be a geek. Nose pressed to Tandy’s windows** excitingly pointing out the cutting edge of mobile computing. In a historic marketing event, Osborne honestly described their suitcase sized solution to small data a luggable rather than a portable.  And every month a new funny shaped keyboard appeared, running some operating system knocked up in a bedroom just like ours.

No big vendor owned the market. There wasn’t really a market to own. All sorts of weird stuff made it into production, and of course none of them would talk to each other. Turf wars were rife, were you a ‘BBC Man‘ or one of those ‘Plastic Spectrum kids’? Which led to some of the most pathetic fights ever ‘Ooooh that ruler REALLY HURT‘.

Anyway I digress. Up there in that tiny little screen, almost hidden behind a massive keyboard, was the seminal micro computing game. It represents many things; an amazing technical breakthrough creating endless worlds in bugger all memory; real graphics of the vector variety drawing you into that tiny VDU,  and about a year of my life.

Elite was a truly amazing bit of software. Not that we called it that back in the day. It was a game you spent about 20 minutes loading off a disc drive with as much storage as a single contemporary message thread,  and in no time at all you were deeply immersed in deep space trading your way across an infinite galaxy.

None of this linear gameplay which pretty much defined 99% of what passed as passing time with rubbish computers. Smuggling, bounty hunting, smart trading – all of these roles were yours to choose. And with it being an entirely internet free decade, the concept of on-line gaming was more having a few mates round  taking turns on the keyboard.

It looks rubbish tho doesn’t it? Well it is 30 years old, and we should all reflect how much better we presented ourselves back then. Having encountered this National Computer Museum working exhibit at a dull trade show, I was desperately keen to reacquaint myself with my lost youth.

I didn’t tho. We all know what happens when you meet your heroes. After a year of frustration attempting to earn my ‘elite‘ rating, the early thrills of mere survival were long behind me, and my ship had more upgrades than the bikes now hanging in the shedofdreams. Eventually I drifted off to other pleasures which has never really included playing games of any vintage.

Apparently gaming now is an older persons pastime. Mid 30s is the sweet spot, or – as I think of it – still pretty much in short trousers. And while I’m happy to piss countless hours away on Internet forums. the prospect of a virtual shoot ’em up doesn’t hold much interest. Even the brand new – and apparently epic – version of Elite isn’t something I want to be involved in.

Heady days my early teenage years. Messing about with acoustic couplers and teletype terminals.  Put me on a path I’ve never managed quite to fall off. It’s all a bit easy and yet somehow hellishly complicated now – ensuring my approach of treating all technology as essentially elven magic serving me well.

Still wish I’d had a go tho. I’d have happily spent a few desperate hours to earn that low resolution message flashing on a rubbish screen praising my piracy prowess. “Right on Commander” indeed.

It was no Angry Birds. For which I’m rather sentimentally grateful 😉

* and it was all men. Well boys really. But no woman. Strange really considering that cohort of young gentlemen fiddling with their ram packs.

** not a euphemism. More an electronics emporium,

DIY – making idiots feel stupid since about 1995.

Remember those makeover programs?  Rammed the TV schedules before Britain discovered baking. Lawrence pretentious-git-twat stencilling Tigers arses on lime green walls then declaring it ‘modern and zesty with an undercurrent of primal longing’ or some such shit? I do, and not much has changed in 20 years other than a ever lengthening list of in house projects which have gone horribly wrong.

Previously on the hedgehog, my inability to engage with how other believe Sundays should be wasted has been put down to guileful rubbish-ness and a somewhat more basic laziness. More recently, it’s become apparent my missing DIY gene is not a displacement tactic – no it’s just that I’m really shit at it.

Picture a Venn diagram with circles representing cack handed, clumsy, impatient and clueless, and find me marooned at the intersect point. Spitting out screws, while absent-mindedly emulsioning the dog.

Yet even knowing the result of even a smidgen of home improvement action will result in either calling out the fire brigade or the bomb squad, I’m always ready* to have another go.

We’re not talking artisan furniture creation here; beard stroking craftsmanship whittling this and shaping that before a wardrobe – imbued  with such rustic authenticity it comes supplied with the original tree – emerges triumphant from a  flurry of shavings.

What we have instead is something a little simpler; one plank of pre-drilled wood to be attached to one flat wall. Supplied complete with screws, raw plugs and, because I was intricately involved, an idiot.

This woody ordering of chaotic coats required three drilled holes to receive what I believe is known as the ‘mounting equipment’**. Instantly I dispatched myself to the shedofdreams(tm) to dust off terrifying power tools, each accessorised with whirly-death-metal eviscerators straight out of the Mad Max props department.

Encouraged by having the tools for the job, I even broke out the spirit level to reinforce my tool handling proficiency. The first hole was a triumph, almost round and ready to receive a stiff rawplug to its diameter. A fine start barely diminished by it occupying a location some 50 millimetres from the optimal position.

Easy mistake to make. Drilled three more in quick succession, which from a distance (say space) had horizontal alignment written all over them. Believing the worst was over, I was stuffing rawplugs like a man desperate to discover if the giblets had been left in a dead chicken. The difference being what went in refused to come back out.

Professionalism now out of the window and accelerating fast from the scene of the crime, the prospect of understanding why this might be never got close to usurping some light hammer action attempting to rectify the problem. Leaving  me with three rawplugs which still didn’t fit, but were now nicely splayed across some freshly cracked plaster.

Not being one to give up when the odds are against me, I scuttled back to the shed in search of a big sodding knife to hack them flat. This was – to my mind – the perfect solution until, some days later, the whole edifice crashed from the wall creating a localised coat tsunami.

Luckily, and before I accidentally hacked my own head off, Carol came to the rescue removing them using some kind of arcane magic. Smoking newts the lot. No way there was a simple solution that didn’t involve – for want of an example – manly warnings of ‘fire in the hole’

Determined to reassert my DIY authority, I cleverly repurposed the drill as a custom ‘hole enlarger’ which, while triggering a ‘Beavis and Butthead’ snigger, didn’t really solve the problem.

Well it did in that the plugs-of-bastard now fitted into the enlarged aperture for a given value of ‘fitting’. Fitted in, fell straight out.  Like throwing sticks down the Mersey Tunnel (I might at some point get bored of crude sexual references but we’re 500+ words in, and it’s not looking likely)

Still pleased with my work, we offered up this ‘simple to fit coat-rack’ which went well to the point where the last screw failed to engage with that tossing raw plug, and instead inserted itself insidiously into the rather wider hole I’d made to get the bloody thing to fit in the first place.

With a heartfelt ‘OH FUCK THIS’, I sulked off back to the shed and instead attempted to fix only mildly broken things on my bicycles. I think we can all guess how well that went.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from all this is some people are born with a generic ability to bevel, while the rest of us are left to frustrating muddle through in impotent useless-ness.

The solution is staring us in the trades directory; get a man in whose easy competence and balletic power tool operation leaves me both in awe and irritated.

I console myself with the thought that I’m quite good at doing the stuff that makes me money, even if nobody can actually identify what that might be***. I can even write stuff that desperate content seekers will pay real cash for. But put a screwdriver in my hand, and it’s just going to be disasters wrapped up in chaos until someone loses an eye.

So I’m giving up. Accepting I am just shit at this kind of stuff, and admitting it’s not going to get any better. Buying more tools or taking more time is merely throwing good cash and time at bad technique and stupidity. Even paintbrushes are probably an implement well beyond my meagre ability.

So I’m off the mow the lawn instead. Assuming I don’t set myself on fire starting the lawnmower. 50/50 chance I reckon.

* Assuming it’s raining, there nothing on the Internet, and I’ve failed to escape the  questioning glare of the house’s only proper adult.

** had to check the instructions quite carefully at this point. Expected them to be rated 18. Some disappointment followed especially when reviewing the diagrams.

*** I’m not being enigmatic, I  don’t know what it is either.

Yogic Trying..

Tonight I’m back on the mat for the first time in a while. A long while in fact – while harvesting the original post for my single previous experience of what I’ve come to think of as low impact yoghurt, the date was back in 2007. I’m sure it was really about two Fridays ago, or maybe the week before that.

How can it be 2007? Anyway I expect I’ll be even more useless and quite a lot more sweaty. Attempting to stand up after the Monday spin class sometimes feels like I’m overachieving, so I expect to find myself slumped in the corner of the Gym with various joints popping and clicking after about five minutes.

Which is about all you need to read that article from 2007.

Anyone for Yoda?


In preparation for a date with a destiny, that I would happily have run over broken glass to break, my early evening reading was the refreshingly kaftan “Mung Bean Times incorporating ‘What Lentil’. Yes, dear readers, I’m going to admit on an open blog – or Chronicle of Angst as I’m increasingly thinking of it as – that a relatively healthy and not totally mental bloke went to Yoga. 

The vision that’s impossible to shake is made up of a room full of Cassandras’ and Skys’ clothed in tie-die shirts and leg warmers, chanting runic base lines and inserting purple painted toes into jewellery infested ears. Add a dash of dreary music easily categorised into “relaxing tunes to slash your wrists by” and some way out hippy imploring us to locate our inner child, and the whole foot laceration begins to look like the less painful option. 

Obviously there were no blokes except me and a few of the women were certainly of the original bra burning generation. But not all of them – one of which was my wife as I cravenly refused to go on my own. In case someone gave me a jostick and insisted on adorning my person with occult jewellery. And as for the instructor – well let me tell about Darcie, who is supple enough to throw a leg carelessly into the next room while elegantly rotating on a single finger. And – apparently I didn’t really notice as Carol was yoga-matted right next to me – she was pretty damn hot too. Fellas, consider this – extremely athletic, the perfect figure and probably susceptible to the odd recreational pharmaceutical. Quite a combination I should think, if I were thinking about it. Which I’m not but the rest of you, go fill your boots. Or something. 

Anyway it was bloody hard – stop sniggering at the back – and while ladies who lunch stretched languid muscles with irritating ease, I was all trembling veins and slouchy posture. Twenty years of cycling has reduced my hamstrings to a length better suited to a 10 year old child. Whereas my flexibility would be better matched to an 80 year old man with arthritis. Or possibly rigour mortis.

Blokes generally like lifting big weights or sweating in a manly manner while sucking in their gut and thrusting everything pelvic in the opposite direction. But this isn’t like that at all, it’s all the pain you can handle by pitting opposing muscles in an uber bitch fight and there really aren’t any winners. Except – and it’s not without some grudging am I writing this – an hour later, all sorts of previously unseen rotational vistas had opened up. 

Thankfully for all my stereotyping, mung bean made a late entry into proceeding when we all had a much needed lie down with the lights off. Someone even brought a blanket. I was doing my best to relax but… (edited for reasons of not wishing to die horribly by cheese grater) instead found myself thinking that this wasn’t quite as silly as originally envisaged.

As the great man/dwarf/Jedi may once have said “Practise the art of Yoga or touch your toes you will not”. I had a far better line for the old loppy eared one but the thought of the cheese grater made me reconsider.

Real life choices

Most of Cwmcarn.. the bits they weren't logging

There’s an apocryphal tale telling the story of buttoned up IBM suits arriving for an interview with Gary Kindell, who’d single handedly written a PC operating system. He then decided the most appropriate response was to slack off for the day rather than entertaining a squillion dollar contract with the man.

Here was single individual presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness his shonky wagon to a corporate monolith, ready to ship twenty million personal computers. Instead he flew his aeroplane, leaving the suits to throw their lot in with Bill Gates. The rest is recent history. I always though the bloke was an idiot, but now I’m not not so sure.

Kindell’s action stand as a metaphor for slacking off when the real world demands commitment. I’ve always enjoyed deadlines  – mainly the sound of them whooshing above my head, while I’m buried in something far more important. This feels as close to anarchy as a bloke who slavishly followed corporate hours in a monkey suit could ever go.

Today we rode mountain bikes. That’s pretty much the default state for a Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll go ride some more, which really isn’t how you should spend a Monday.  The joy of being paid by outputs not inputs means you get to pick the times to work and those to slack. It’s easy in winter when sideways rain slashes at the window, somewhat harder when the trails are dry and there’s a freshly lubed bike giving you the full Labrador.

I should be better at this. I’ve been at it for twenty + years,, and still there are too many moments  regressing into a Risky Businesssomedays you just have to say what the fuck’.  And here’s why; it’s not simple displacement activity or cognitive dissidence – no what we’re mining here is the tired ‘no man ever went to his grave wishing he’d spent more time in the office’

Obviously not. As he’d be spending it with his family. Or his Church. In my case the latter lacks rote, hymns and timid stupidity, but is full of trees, trails and epiphanies. I know what desperate repetition feels like, and I know better what tortured tires sound like so there’s nothing that’s going to make me spend a Sunday under the pretence that somehow Christian values are a conduit to a better place. I’ll risk the here and now, thanks for asking.

And not family either. Well not entirely. There’s a line of excuses mirrored by pretending that riding bikes makes me a better person. Send out grumpy, get back normal, caring human being. Yes, and indeed not really. Sometimes I’d rather than play with my bikes than play with my kids. Does that make me a rubbish parent? Probably. Am I alone? Probably not.

Two weeks ago I received multiple texts from good people who had the misfortune to work for me. They told me one of our team had died suddenly  while sitting in a meeting. 150 miles from his wife and two kids. Working his arse off to provide for that family. Four minutes between a massive heart attack and the world going black.

He was two years older than me. and I’m pretty venerable. He was the perfect contractor, skilled, hard-working and interesting. Taught me a lot. Put more into his community than I could ever be arsed to. Told me a great joke how his clan would rather put a Mercedes on the drive than food in the kids mouths. Funny, clever and extremely competent. Taken way before his time.

Today was great. Riding with my friends and trying to keep up with them. Feeling fit and warm in the occasional sunshine. Looking into distant valleys and not wanting to be anywhere else. Taking the piss and getting it back in spades. Pushing it a bit and caching in on dopamine. Having a beer and wondering why the real world isn’t like this.

This isn’t about riding mountain bikes. It’s about working out what is important. It’s thinking about a bloke tuning blue being desperately attended to by the designated first aider. It’s wondering if this is as good as it gets, and trying bloody hard to find out.

Life is about choices. You can vacillate but that’s still making a choice. The older you get the more important it is. Pretty sure that work deadline is going to slide.

Crash, Bang, Trollop

MC "dropping the grellow"
Martin doing it right

I don’t find writing difficult. I accept you may find reading it a bit of a mission, but that’s far less interesting to Mr Self Absorbed here.  Who suffers – literally – seconds of angst to create pithy titles summarising a thousand words of half baked ideas shotgunned by occasional punctuation.

That ^^ one is great – cram in a literary reference to man who, until his death in 1882, was knocking out Victorian bestsellers in a canon of work snappily entitled “Chronicles of Barsetshire,”*. And I can pretend Trollop translates, in the Al-Babel-Fish universe, to ‘Amusing Idiot’. A quick google suggests a rather more established definition is that of a ‘ A woman regarded as slovenly or unkempt’. I honestly thought it meant idiot. Which probably makes me one.

150 words in then, and it’s all going splendidly. Anyway this is merely a semantic sleight of hand displacing the simple truth that I got a bit cocky**,  before fate handed down an appropriate punishment of a bit of ground rush and quite a lot of pain.

Stupid really. That’s me in case you were searching for context. After three days of lobbing ourselves down steep Welsh hillsides and one actual mountain, I returned to my local trails lasting approximately 500 yards before genuflecting at the shrine of Mr. Mong.

Confidence is a fragile thing. Bolstered by those days of dodging bullets on trails full of vertigous gradients and gravity travelling scree slopes, the combination of a great new bike and a not so great aged rider felt as if they should up their game a bit.

Hence crashing so early. Second attempt at an up and over rock obstacle, opened up a barely discernible trail perpendicular to the normal fireroad. Off camber and full of roots, this would be impossible in anything but the dry and dusty conditions we rode through today – and it finished simply with a drop back to the main track.

Simple, except my peripheral vision identified a large mount of dog-poo right on the exit, so triggering an instinct to make rubbish decisions. Grabbing a handful of front brake, which on this bike is essentially a personal wall , is not the most considered of responses when cantered over on a steep slope full of drifting dust and bugger all grip.

Inevitably fault follows form, and I’ve excited stage front shielding my internal organs through the sacrifice of an unpadded elbow. It hurt a bit which I may have mentioned it to Martin, who whipped out his camera to capture a repeat effort failing to result in a  spectacular rider/bike/trail splattering. At least one of us felt this was the right result.

My normal response to having some sort of accident is to make it every type of excuse to why nothing vaguely difficult is rideable. Not today tho, the conditions were so perfect, that bike is so damn good and even the wobbly neurotic on top came together in a ride that had much throwing oneself off stuff, while laughing at Martin’s inability to capture anything other than the odd blurred wheel.

We moved on to a descent unique in being equally terrifying in winter and summer. During the season of dark and slop, the steepness and roots inevitably lead to abandoning the impossible task of a tight switchback in favour of a headlong plunge into a handy bush. In Spring, it’s pretty much the same except the speeds are higher and the bush has been upgraded to a tree.

Being understandably cautious of the front brake, switching to the rear merely locked that retarded wheel in an instant, and an instant later it was sashaying  through all sorts of dance moves I came to think of a ‘The Tango‘, ‘The Jive‘ and ‘The Accident‘. I stuck a foot out, and leant hard enough on that for the rear to break away completely, leaving me both surprised and somehow facing in the right direction. At which point I left both stoppers well alone so nearly t-boning an unsuspecting car on the trail/road intersection.  Failed to crash, but it wasn’t through lack of trying.

I don’t crash much nowadays. Because I’m getting a bit older and whole lot more careful. Less brave if you will. But rides like this remind why I should carry on pushing it a little bit. It’s not progression, it’s regression. It’s being eleven years old with your mates in the woods when you should be doing something rather more institutional. It’s knowing – for this day at least – you are not the same as those valley full of people observed from these high places.

My elbow is sore. I expect a whole lot more will join in tomorrow to remind me bouncing is a young mans game. But I shall ignore it through the power of delusional and nurafen, instead getting back on the bike and riding a whole lot more before the weather breaks.

Chronicles of Herefordshire isn’t likely to be much of a bestseller, but then old Tony T wasn’t much of a mountain biker 😉

* I’m not entirely ignorant. It’s Trollope of course. God I should know having suffered the pain of having his great works explained to me by a man masquerading as a teacher, while committing corporate manslaughter on one of the 19th century great novelists.

** not with the Trollop tho, Just so we’re absolutely clear.

Going, going….. gone

Les Gets MTB holiday - June 2014


Had to happen.  Too many bikes, most of them very similar and one of them not going to get used now the new shiny thing has arrived. Financially the Mega is a basket case – was meant to be a cheap build, but predictably ended up draped in high end bling. Not ridden that far or that often, so dividing the 2nd hand value by the miles covered would result in a number you could comfortably run a Chieftain tank on.

That’s not the point tho; the places that bike and I shared and the experiences we had are pretty much priceless.  I liked the Mega already having ridden it locally and at a couple of trail centres, but after a week in the alps, I just loved it. It’s so much more capable than I will ever be, which normally makes bikes like these a bit dull to ride at slower speeds.

Not that one. It was fun everywhere with it’s super fat tyres,  awesome BOS forks and a whole load of lightweight but sturdy kit finishing up a bike you could ride up hill all day, because you knew how bloody brilliant it’d be when you cashed in those gravity credits.

Split into individual components would have returned more of my investment. But breaking that bike up felt like the wrong thing to do; it needed to go to someone who has the space, time and aptitude to get the same or more enjoyment than I did. It’s not going to provide that in pieces, nor hanging on the wall in shedofdreams(tm).

So today I’ll be packing it up and sending it on to a very nice fella called Mark who was unlucky enough to lose his two bikes through theft.  He tells me it’s going to be going back to Morzine, which makes me very happy.

So it’s lasted fifteen months in my ownership. But hardly been ridden in the last six.  I’m kind of sad to see it go, but I’ll be glad it’s gone to someone whose going to use it for how I built it.

Well is this the rationalisation I keep talking about?  Solaris sold three months ago and the Mega goes today. I’m down to two mountain bikes. That feels about right, but not a little worrying. Maybe I need to chase a new niche; what are those fat bikes like?

Do Say (a)Gain

DSG – three letters to strike fear into the heart of anyone likely to be held financially responsible for a litany of repair costs, best thought of as ‘We’re gonna need a bigger printer

I am not one of those people, having secured the gearbox in question as part of a lease deal which allegedly transfers the risk of mechanical catastrophe back to Skoda, which is – I think you have to agree – beautifully ironic.

My very new and still quite shiny Yeti is festooned with these mysterious acronyms stuck usefully between the tiny engine and the driving wheels. It was a happy – if naive – bonding experience where I pressed the accelerator and all manner of shafts, pulleys and bearing slotted perfectly into line offering up the next gear with zero driver involvement, other than a happy nod to the advances of automotive technology.

Until the point at which the hidden, efficient and – importantly – entirely silent mechanical genius began to exhibit an audiable tick. Press accelerator, receive gear and a click, ease off the loud pedal and a rather noisy second click would suggest all was not well in the world of elves and magic underneath my seat.

I ignored it for a while hoping it would get better* but obviously it didn’t. So a quick Internet search predicted  a range of outcomes from ‘they all do that sir’ to ‘take cover immediately, explosion imminent’

Schlep over the garage then to leave the bloody thing in the care of the experts who wield spanners and laptops with equal competence. The very next day I receive a call explaining all is well, and the car was ready for collection. Being an inquisitive sort, I made enquiries on exactly how this mechanical issue had been so quickly resolved. I feel a transcript is required here:

Workshop: “We upgraded the firmware on the  ECU and rebooted the gearbox”

Me: “What? Why?”

Workshop: “No warnings off the ECU, we couldn’t find a problem so that’s what we always do

Me “Yeah but it’s a mechanical click, it’s not a software problem. Trust me I know about software problems. I’ve been responsible for hundreds of them

Workshop “No sir, really that’s all it needs, when you pick it up, we’ll put the mechanic in the car with you to put your mind at rest

Me: “My mind is never at rest, especially now it appears the fault resolution protocol for modern cars appears to be ‘turn it off and turn it on again

With a mind opened no more than a crack, I collected the mechanic, jumped in the car and was ready to turn the key, when he carefully enquired if I had the slightest inkling as to how a DSG actually worked.

I started to explain that a man of middle years, steeped in all manner of mechanical tomfoolery, would obviously had a working overview of all things automotive. Then I looked at his questioning face and admitted I really didn’t.

We then passed a happy few minutes as he dropped into layman’s terms and explained exactly how two gearboxes mesh together in a whirling engineering dance, before engaging exactly the right ratio even before you knew you wanted it. He looked at my face for understanding and I winged it while silently admitting he’d lost me at ‘Now Sir, the DSG is really quite simple…’

But, I whined, rebooting it? That just seems, well, to lack ambition. You wouldn’t I continued- warming to my theme – stroll up to a knackered old Cortina and politely ask it which bit was hurting would you? No you’d lay out the Landrover Maintenance kit** and give it a good twatting until something moved or shattered. Either of which would suggest a way forward.

Times have changed he told me. Somewhat pityingly it must be said, with a face that was striving to be ‘customer focussed‘ but to me was more ‘spotty and barely out of short trousers‘. Apparently – and he did become quite passionate at this point – the new top spec Audi’s used the SatNav to preselect the next gear depending on gradient, corner arc, temperature etc. ***

This, he told me, was ‘our future’. It’s not my bloody future I can assure you. We’re sleep-driving into cars that don’t need us to direct them. Even my low rent Skoda has an auto setting which turns on lights, wipers and all sorts of other useful things I’d previously prodded random buttons to activate. Leaving me just to turn the wheel – so basically trapped in a rubbish computer driving game without the chance to reboot, which again has an ironic reek to it.

Anyway the test drive was absolutely fine, the journey home was also fine. A further journey later that evening was not fine at all. The clunk is back with a vengeance . And so will I be to the garage in order for the mechanic to diagnose the noise, and probably recommend a further software upgrade.

I think it needs a hammer instead. If only to show it who is still the boss.

* Because that’s what blokes do. Interventions are for those who have time, rationale and entirely better things to do than grab a beer from the fridge.

** 8 hammers. Different sizes. Toughened steel.

*** I refer you back to my previous comment re: software. One glitch and it’s a 100 MPH plunge over a mountain pass because the SatNav and Drive-by-Wire throttle were having an electronic barny.


Turn it up to 11

MTB - Black Mountains April 2015

How do you catalogue a ride? Is it simply plotting an intersect of time and distance on an XY scale? That feels like a flat representation* –  because then how should climbing be represented? Weather conditions? Trail state? What’s going on under your wheels and inside your head? Maybe it’s all about Strava and beating all those people who don’t know you, and care less how fast you are?

Maybe it isn’t. We need to add some richness to the canon of riding experience. And I’m here to help introducing a new metric covering all those things and more**. it’s  a simple base ten scale bounded by a further ten integers encompassing many characteristics which can be rated, and a few more that are somewhat more qualitative. Ladies and Gentlemen I proudly introduce ‘The Doran Scale’

Named after my riding mate Matt whose surname is often suffixed with ‘Death March’ as pleasant enough rides descend into benightment, brokenness and a belief you may not see tomorrow.   That might be a local ride which starts at 9am with the innocent question if one is packing lights, or some ridiculously optimistic plan to summit half of South Wales in Midwinter having started late because someone fancied a coffee.

There are many, many examples where a little part of me cravenly promises to stop being quite so stupid if you’ll get me off this mountain, uninjured, just one more time.  At least one more where, after a day of slithering darkly though midwinter sludge, we found ourselves at twilight some 10 kilometres from home with a single light between us. On the downside that was a rear light, on the upside there was a lot more light in the nearby pub so we went there instead and kind of winged it from there.

All of these rate about an 8 on the Doran scale. I’ve yet to encounter a 10 because a) ambulances would be called and b) the collateral damage would be in the vein of ‘No sorry Dave didn’t make it‘.  If we’re not completely lost under sideways hail on a big hill somewhere far from home with a major mechanical and the closing in of the night, it’s barely more than a 5. Special consideration can be given for a new fusion sport of via ferreta and mountain biking as difficult to carry wheeled objects are passed hand to hand across treacherous slopes.

Which reminds me of the Black Mountains quest we attempted last year in early Feb after it’d rained for the previous month. It didn’t rain on the day we rode it because, somewhat predictably, it was already snowing. Poor old Steve hadn’t yet been inducted into the Doran scale and only once we’d bog snorkelled for 30 kilometres did he get the chance to hurt himself properly while falling off the side of Y Das.  Slippery? Put it in a suit you could call it David Cameron. Yes, it really was that slimy.

I rescued him through the simple process of repurposing my bike as a rope and throwing it downhill while firmly grasping the other end. Winching him back took a while but eventually we reacquainted ourself with solid if soggy ground. ‘Welcome‘ I said, ‘this is about an 7.

This time round the ground was quite a lot drier. The temperatures though had dropped from early Spring highs to an alarm-bonging 3 degrees, the sky and ground met in grey clamping cloud, unshifted by a bitter wind.  A solid 5 with potential for a 6 or even a 7 as two new navigational gambits were in play***.

The first saw us rather boringly climbing a long fire road with absolutely no bike carrying, chopping down of fallen trees or multiple U-Turns. At the top, the sun shone briefly on a dusty landscape full of possibilities but not puddles. Very odd indeed. It was like a rubbish b-movie when the hero exclaims ‘it’s too quiet’ seconds before the thing eats him.

My box-fresh bike was lovely though the medium of ‘new purchase glasses’ but still didn’t feel quite right – easily diagnosed by those who ignored my fantasy that I was about 10 stone fully kitted up. A bit more air lead to a bit more air and quite a bit less clattering of pedals, as we dropped through a descent that, last year, had seen me picking an increasingly desperate line ending somewhere miles from the actual trail.  Slick Mud will do that.

The rest of the ride was a combination of marvelling at real dust in Wales in April and shivering whenever we turned into wind. The fast bits were really very, very fast indeed while the long, slow climbs took about the same time as ever. Except without having to float your bike between the boggy sections.

I was concerned that with all that available light and superb conditions under tyre, we’d barely register on the Doran scale. I mean no one required medical treatment for hypothermia, nor suffering some ride ending mechanical to zip tie our way around. Luckily we were saved from an easy ride by a second navigational triumph dragging tired bodies up a peat ridge infested with wheel eating divots.

Even dry as it was, this route sucked the joy out of pretty much everything and after twenty minutes of it, I was found sheltering from the wind muttering ‘5, it’s a bloody 5 and I bet they’re suggesting we ride to that stupid summit miles up there. Gonna be a 6, maybe a 7. Best check my affairs are in order‘.

The needle fell back into the amber though after a group decision to drop off the ridge onto grassy singletrack thankfully heading away from what I now thought of as Mordor, and into a friendly looking little wood a few hundred feet above the car park.

A few hundred feet with a few thousand wet rocks strewn threateningly in a moist riverbed. Water being what it is, followed the fall line as did we with varying levels of success. I dabbed with both feet and nearly my head, all the time upgrading the ride to a solid 6 as bodies were pinged from side to side bouncing off the steep ravine edge.

We hit a fire-road and immediately selected a trail home which lacked the water but doubled up the rocks and gradient. The great thing about six inch travel bikes is they still work when you’re a) tired b) scared and c) riding them with your eyes shut tight.

I arrived at the cars shaken and quite a bit stirred, but still limbed with a full set of trembling appendages. The talk turned to our next epic which is a five man ascent on the summit of Cadair Idris this weekend.  Checking the rocky terrain, weather forecast, potential for navigational confusion and a level of exposure suggesting blinkers might be required, I think we can safely say the Doran Scale might need to go all the way to 11.

I might be back next week. If not, you’ve made a happy man very old.

* clearly a concept stolen from the quite brilliant Dead Poets Society. This bit specifically https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjHORRHXtyI

** except for the Strava thing. Really? Get over yourself.

*** Thankfully none of them had anything to do with me. I brought a map and instantly handed it over to a responsible adult.

A critic is just a man in the crowd

It probably does.

Vanity publishing has much to recommend it. Not if you’re looking to eat regularly, or maintain the pretence that your output has any actual value other than virtual cat litter. But because it’s self centred and self censored, you can live off the occasional crumb of positivity, while entirely ignoring the somewhat larger biscuit of disinterest.

In a 1000 posts and 2000 comments, exactly nine people have had a whinge. Three of those were religious nut jobs who called down localised server smiting after a single article poked fun at an outmoded belief system. Four – and I kid you not because that count made me go back to check – took side splitting umbrage after I accidentally strayed into the fundermentalist universe where the plots of Star Trek apparently represent some people’s reality.

The final two were employees of Chiltern Railways who felt my lampooning of a service failing to meet the twin objectives of ‘timetables ‘ and ‘value‘ should – in the Starzi state their uniforms suggests utopia might be – result in being tied to the line and eviscerated by a passing train. My response, suggesting they’d probably want to pick a competitors track to make sure a train actually turned up, failed to defuse their angst.

I let those comment run because a) I’m waving my hands in the vanguard of free speech wherever it takes us and b) well it’s another hit isn’t it? And us self publishers are whores for that. It’s not like anyone is going to notice*

Hit whorage can be the only explanation – other than a bit of walking about cash** – to why the armies of bloggers crave recognition by a proper publication. Of those 1000 articles, 20 or so have tested the grammatical integrity of the hair pulling sub editors before passing into print where us literary wanabees are desperate to see our words.

Somehow your crap on a page is not the pidgen deposit others may see – it feels special and important. Back in the day when commuting to London appeared to be a great way to waste my life, I dodgem’d back from the loo only to find the man seated next to me reading an actual article I’d written. As he wasn’t tutting, ripping the page out or self flagellating with the entire magazine, I was close to venturing a semi apologetic waft that I was in fact the very man who’d penned the piece.

But I bottled it. In case he didn’t like it. A bloke I’d never met, whose values I didn’t know and whose prejudices might disgust me. Which didn’t stop me fearing his criticism of something that’d clearly exercised me and – false modesty aside – had been deemed good enough to fill pages of something others paid money for.

Years ago I wrote an article about the joy of the evening ride unwinding the angst and conflict of a difficult day. Buried in too many words was a throwaway comment on driving home in bare feet and a beer to the good. So it was surprising to receive a message, via the editor, from a very angry father castigating me because his mountain biking son had died in a drink driving accident. I wasn’t condoning it, I wasn’t even making a point either way, but that’s the thing when you throw stuff out there, you lose control of a narrative woven tight through pencil sucking blocks and much rewriting.

I had no idea how to respond so finally I just didn’t. Which makes the fact I can’t leave this alone pretty fucking amusing. The standard response from the wronged author is ‘show me what you’ve written, so I can come back and tell you how shit your work is. Especially your spelling. And lack of verb conjugation. Hah that’s showed you

Which is stupid because the critic doesn’t provide an alternative. It’d be nice if they offered something other than ‘well that’s a load of shit, what were you thinking?” but you don’t get to control the crowd. You stick it out there and for everyone who silently has a little nod and a chortle, they’re are 10 guys*** who hate it. Even those whose didn’t actually read it.

I try to be ambivalent to criticism, and that’s fine until some smug arsewipe  reads one sentence before informing the world there’s no point reading any more. Do me a fucking favour and plough through the rest of it. I know there’s a lot of stuff out there making me cringe, but there’s also quite a bit less representing the best words coming from this side of this keyboard.  I appreciate it’s  not E.M. Forster but it’s the best I can do. At least read the bloody thing before telling the world it’s killing innocent electrons.

In the stuff I do to pay the mortgage, no one behaves like this. We’ll have disagreements, conflicts and discussions on what good looks like. But in 30 years of actual paid work, no one has ever said ‘read the first line, shit, so that’s what you must be

I shouldn’t be so sensitive. Because I’m really not. People I’ve never met complaining my metaphorical constructs are too difficult to understand should make me feel quite a bit superior. But it doesn’t, I still feel the urge to explain why and – this is the heart of it – they are just wrong.

Many years ago the lesson of ‘every crowd is full of critics and there’s nothing you can do about that‘ was hard learned long before it was well understood. The stuff you write is part of you, so strangers poking it with a stick does hurt a bit. It shouldn’t but it does and this is why – even if I had more than a modicum of talent – I could never try and make real money out of it.

I appreciate this is a self referential polemic on why life isn’t fair, and how the big boys keep picking on me. That’s the joy of self publishing. And if you don’t agree, I’ll just delete your comment. Self esteem doesn’t have much truck with democracy.

* except my mum. Who worries about my mental state, while at the same time expressing her disappointment that her 47 year old son still feels the urge to use the word ‘fuck‘ quite so often.

** and this wasn’t the case ‘back in the day‘. Getting your name in print and the odd random tyre turning up for review was more than enough for the crud, sweat and fears of lobbing semi literate stuff into the 4th estate.

*** It’s always blokes. Right and Wrong. Black and White. Shades of grey are for those who don’t understand the world. Pub Bores on the internet.

Is it? Yes? It really might be!

Yat - April 2015 MTB

Oooh Spring. About blooming time. Evidence was all around as we passed plants bursting into flower, trees risking a little leaf and stretchy t-shirted fat people wearing sports sunglasses while contesting narrow byways*

It’s been a week of glorious sunshine since our last slippy ride out here. The four hardy perennials gathered early – except in my case late, frustrated**,  post too many beers, and a bit chilly riding into a season switched back from a phony summer.

Progress was therefore understandably sluggish with the moaning one lugging a crippling heavy hangover in his backpack, and demanding relief for two spin classes and three rides in the previous four days.  Sympathy was not forthcoming.

This self inflected load crushed my spirit as we ambled up the bitch*** blissfully out of the chilling wind, but deep into ‘I may soon be messily sick‘ territory.  Sometime much later a confused looking man rocking some 90s rigid bike action wondered if a responsible adult might point him in a direction of home.

I wandered off in case my involvement would direct the blameless individual to Reykjavik or the moon, and instead practically experimented the theory that ‘Sweat is just Butty Bach leaving the body‘, which trumps Lance who intimated Fear but really meant EPO.

Eventually the up stopped triggering a game of ‘A tree? there? I wasn’t expecting that’ as the drunken delay between my optic nerve and steering muscles extended beyond a second. I slavishly followed Haydn’s rear wheel in the hope a) he knew where he was going and b) if he did crash I’d have something a bit more squashy than bark to crash into.

Even in a state of physical and mental brokeness, the perfect trail conditions couldn’t pass me by. No, it’s was more about getting right in there, feeling at least one half of the bike/rider combo come alive, and hanging on to those faster people who’d decided internal poisoning wasn’t on their Friday night agenda.

There is very little in life which can mirror the joy of letting the bike run. What in winter are stiff, steppy individual impacts on a phalanx of steep roots become a glorious unbroken dart between apexes, with the bike matching the terrain and arms and legs beating to a similar rhythm.

This is the physical representation of that mythical quest for flow.  It’s committing to everything learned riding around in circles for twenty years, whilst at the same time dumping the doubt, fear and anxiety cataloguing your many failures.

It’s a belief system of sorts. The tyres will grip, the suspension will control, the brakes will stop, the big lump of vegetable on top can be brave. Believe and all shall be well.

It kind of works but nothing is infinite, especially grip as my rear tyre spat traction on a fast turn. For a second I thought I’d caught it, but this thrill was short lived as a stout tree hove into view. Making the split second decision to abandon the bike saved me from a crunching arboreal halt. The bike caught it with a tyre as I tumbled past giving a relieved wave.

No damage done and the quiet gratification I’d pushed the rear tyre so hard, it actually broke traction. Could have been rubbish technique, could have been proper commitment. Probably somewhere between the two, but it matters not as it is a story to tell without an injury to show.

The great thing about having average ability but unlimited ambition is it always feels that you can improve. So when occasionally flying perfectly over a jump – fully committed but still in control, or properly driving your hips into a turn and flinging the bike through an accelerating apex, this feels like real progression. Then you case a smaller jump, drop into a rut and almost stall into the next corner – so dropping  you back to the baseline of about average.

No problem with that at all. I’m probably way past whatever represented the high water mark of my mediocre ability. But I am nowhere near close to finding the edge where the simple fun of riding mountain bikes with like-minded people feels like something I no longer want to do.

And on that note, it’s worth asking myself why I’ve bothered to buy a new bike. The Pyga is more than enough for my ability and ambition. It’s also a whole lot better than that. For a few brief seconds yesterday I sensed how brilliant it really is, and how much more it could give under the hands and feet of a proper rider.

I’ll never be that rider. But for the next few months, I’m going to have a lot of fun pretending I might be.

* route between the pub door and the bar. These vital commercial arteries must be kept clear!

** lost my wallet. Spent 20 minutes looking for it. The first 10 carefully retracing my steps, the second angrily throwing random stuff in the air and glaring at the non-walletless hole below. Arriving home, I found it in about 30 seconds. Alcohol is bad for you kids.

*** There is a similarly horrible climb on the other side of the valley which is – somewhat predictably – named ‘the bastard’