To span the gap between office and train requires a carefully sequenced plan optimised by critical path analysis. Sounds fancy, huh? Hardly, it merely ensures the task “don appropriate trouserage? precedes one of “ride bike in a public space?

The plan has been finely honed through seventy iterations and the occasional cock up. Only once do you arrive ready to ride at your bike, only to pick this exact time to remember your lock keys are ten minutes and eight floors away – safely secreted in your desk drawer.

On a fast day quickened by light traffic and compliant lights, it takes approximately 32 minutes. In time that could probably have been better spent, I’ve calculated scenarios in which entire minutes could be saved by ditching lengthy tasks. Since these include “Lock bike at station? and “Remove and hang Suit?, they lack a certain implementable practicality. Yet by collecting multiple savings of a few seconds each, I could do a little better. It’d rely on a ruthless streamlining of process and possibly abandoned underwear but it’s probably realistic to chop it down to 29 minutes

Tonight, I have 24.

Continue reading 24

Quantastically muddy

As the snow drifted across the outside lane of the M5, and the police escort for the snowplough made noisy if slow progress, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would set the tone for riding after a six hour round trip.

It did but that was fine. The Quantocks were lightly dusted with snow and heavily laden with slick mud. Tyres gripped in as much as they were going forwards a little more often than sideways. Smiths Coombe was rather involving on a hardtail sporting IRC “suicides – a fine tyre in all conditions except these. My journey downhill was enlivened by several unplanned sideways shunts into the shrubbery charted by a voluble disagreement between me and said tyres: “Left, Left you b@stard, if I’d wanted to go straight on into that spikey bush, I’m sure I’d have mentioned it”. Eventually I stumbled upon a survival strategy somewhere between ships captain and motorcross ride.

Approach the turn, shout out “all ahead RIGHT RUDDER”, whip out the inside leg and let it slide. Aside from the numerous occasions where the front wheel threatened to tuck under, this was a definite improvement on the prevous approach of desperately hanging on in a style known as “rigid with fear”. My life flashed in front of my eyes so many times, I started fast forwarding to the interesting bits.

It looked a bit like this:

But it wasn’t miserable. Okay the weather was; streaming rain, hilltop cloud and gale force winds combined to test the most waterproof of riders and gear. Soon my socks had switched roles and were now providing a watersport park for lemmings and the tinglings from my finger ends promised frostbite in the near future. Yet it was strangely brill, sliding about in the mud is fun to do and even funnier to watch someone else do it. Especially when the inevietable face plant emerges as “Swamp Monster with added mud pack”.

And at the end Tea and Cake take on almost mystical healing properties. You’ve earned that brownie and by God you’re going to enjoy it. And the one after that, you’ve possibly earned that as well.

The plan was to go out again for a second loop. But the rain slashing at the windows discouraged leaving the sanctuary of the cafe and anyway the size of the portions had reduced us to – at best – walking pace. Riding went from possible to unlikely to “Another cake Alex? Go on you’ve only had three and remember we’ve covered an epic 12 miles already”. When the going gets tough, the tough get confectionary.

As we began the long journey home, Sod’s law came into play and the incessant rain was replaced by weak late winter sunshine. But we didn’t care; We came, We Swore, We ate huge slices of cake. Sometimes low expectations make the best of days.

A few more pics here but in deference to my soaking camera, I abandoned photography quite early. Not before however capturing Andy’s high technology approach to wet weather foot management. I give you the ‘bagshoe’ ™.

I mean, really 😉

Chicken in a basket.

I can offer impeccable working class credentials; an outside toilet, hand-me-down everything and a spider infested coal cellar. But for incontrovertible class warrior providence, look no further than my strictly limited eating out opportunities.

Pub lunches were a much vaunted occasional luxury and the main dish was always served in a wicker basket sometimes garnished with the Chef’s discarded fag end.

But hey that’s fine. I’m not in therapy or anything. Well not for that anyway. But it did leave me a little undercooked when faced with proper big city restaurants. The first time Scampi – having escaped the deep fat friar – aggressively wiggled it’s proboscis at me, I didn’t know whether to fight it, fuck it, eat it or run away screaming “It’s alive….”

So the whole car keys in a basket swinger scene kind of passed me by. I’d always assumed it was either an extravagant tip or some kind of executive valet service.

It is fascinating though. I can easily picture myself selecting the keys of some unfulfilled petrolhead fantasy. None of those awkward silence for me; oh no I’d be straight in with “so the Audit Quattro 2.8 V6 with the leather interior – how does it handle on those swoopy ‘b’ Roads?”

Not wishing to be parted from this fantasy, I’d include the keys in a three in the bed scenario and attempt to sequence the main event with the flashing of the remote locking. It’d be like Jean Michelle Jarre’s electronic harp. Only possibly slightly more cheesy. Vorch Sprung Technik Baby!

Lights on, off, on, on, on, oh yes on, (pause, remove pants), offffffff, on, off, onnnnnnnnnnn,off,on,off,on,offfffff (sorry about the elbow), on, on, on and then it’d all go Fibonacci strobe off on off on off on off onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn and ‘lock’

If we could remotely fire up a blast of Aretha Franklin on the 6 speaker stereo, then that’d be about as classy as you could hope for.

And then wouldn’t it be great if the entire swinging party took the same approach? That’d guarantee an audience and possibly a police presence. Pre-dogging dogging perhaps?

I’d love to write some more but Google has offered some fascinating opportunities that’ll need some frantic Ebaying for chest wigs and medallions for me to fulfil

This seemed a lot more amusing when it was composed. There are two likely, and possibly, interlinked reasons for this. First up is the pub based context in which it originated roared on by quite a few people having already had quite a few beers. The second is trainwriting™ which reduces transcription to something akin to a inky spider with broken legs perambulating sideways across the page before entering some kind of operatic death sprawl.

It’s frankly incredible the words form actually sentences. Oh. I see. Right. Thanks for letting me down gently.

Taxation: The scourge of the drinking classes

I have no problem with direct taxation. No really it satisifies my wishy washy liberal thinking.

The goal is wealth distribution between rich and poor. And a laudable goal that is. In my experience that’s all it is with the rich paying accountants to get richer and the poor getting screwed by the evil of indirect taxation. And what’s left is spunked away with such grandiose incompetence it takes your breath away. According to a friend of mine, we’ve doubled the spend in the NHS within the last 8 years. Is it just me thinking “well where the fuck did all the money go then?”

And after direct taxation, we get national insurance and then council tax. And then Car Tax, Airport Tax, VAT (originally a post war tax to boost regeneration capped at ten years), tax on Fuel, tax on books, etc.

The fuckers get you coming and going. And yet as minority shareholders in this incompetent monolithic organisation, we have no vote or right of reply. Oh sure, every four years there is beauty parade that parodies an enterprise AGM, but it leaves me cold and disenfranchised. With less than 40% turnout, we’re our own worst enemy but nowhere on the ballot paper does it say “none of them, I’d like a beneveolent dictatorship”

Your vote is essentially worthless and even if a change of talking heads appears to offer representation, this is merely a honeymoon period where talk is cheap and taxes continue to be expensive and misused.

I remember why I don’t do politics. I can get enough of this impotency feeling at work.

Okay I lied.

Three undisputed truths of our time; Tony Blair is the right man to run this country, Foot and Mouth was just a small rural problem and mudguards are a waste of money for London riding. Sorry did I say truths? Of course I meant great big whoppers.

I may also have told a little fib about winter and it’s cold, crisp caress. I DIDN’T MEAN IT WHAT I SAID, COME BACK, ALL IS FORGIVEN.

There’s a certain type of rain that once started fills the sky with tree hugging cloud and grounds the birds. It flies in horizontally riding on a fierce wind switching between rampaging downpour and irritiating drizzle. But it never stops – well not until you’re inside and past caring.

I cared a little riding up the Mall receiving little damp patches on my arse with every wheel revolution. It was either the rain slicked streets and my aforementioned dearth of mudguards or a very persistent dog who’d mistaken me for a sprightly lampost. From the looks of my fellow passengers and the subsequent exclusion zone they afforded my dripping person, it may well have been the hound of urinary hell.

ClammyShorts™ is not the most pleasant way to pass a train journey but I still found myself smiling at the prospect of riding home. I’ve been bottling it lately due to many pre-banked and audited desposits in the excuses bank. Mainly around it being cold and me being nesh. Today I had the long ride home to test out both my mettle and my expensive yet lary waterproof.

Neither were found wanting. I’m sure those leaving one metal cage for another were thinking “great bloody idiot” but not me no, I was thinking “great, bloody tailwind”. Note the insertion of a very significant comma. I sailed home cocooned in all things gortex and idly wondered if this is what’d feel like to be really fit. It wasn’t cold enough to be actually unpleasant nor wet enough to pierce my layers of water plating.

I had to add a mile to the journey as the mp3 shuffler was perfectly attuned to my mood and the rain was going to quit before I was. For the last week or so, the reason for my everyday riding was strangely ethereal and difficult to remember. But now it’s perfectly clear again.

I just love riding a bike. Any bike, any conditions, any reason 🙂

The War Of The Trousers

This morning, I have suffered the greatest affront to democracy since the traitorous Stanley’s switched sides at the battle of Bosworth Moor. Some direct descendent of that false King, Henry VII, has performed an underhand trouserectemy in the lockers.

The usurper has only gone and moved my kit from a locker that is forever England and exciled it to some lawless region that for the sake of this metaphor can be thought of as Bolton. Now there’s an unwritten law for locker-space where newcomers fit in where they can and respect the heirachy of those of us who came before. Yet this full blooded Lancastrians’ approach has the appearance of ethnic cleansing with all his (and it has to be said rather nasty pink shirt and brown shoes) stuff anchored against a prized wall while my belongings have been banished far and wide.

This will not stand. There are battles worth fighting and battles worth running away before re-writing history to your advantage. So this is where the shifting sands of personal space stop shifting. To this end, I’m prepared to upgrade this minor border skirmish to total war including the use of archers and siege weapons. I’ve re-established the correct front line garrisoning my clothes with a damp towel. His stuff has been roughly re-housed squeezed between other locker users moist smalls. Stretching the metaphor yet further, while my trousers are enjoying an elevated view of the Vale of York, his garments are treading water in the Wigan outfall.

For his sake, this had better be the end of it. Otherwise the changing room will split down regional lines and inevitably an all out conflict will ensue. Except, I expect the southern softies shall mince around in their Calvin Klein underwear whining “oh no don’t hurt each other, I’m sure we can resolve this by talking”. Like hell we can. It may have been 550 years since Richard III was wrongfully deposed but that’s a mere chronological bagatelle to a card carrying Yorkshireman. There’s unfinished business and after this outrageous slur to my personal space, I’m the man to finish it! He’s thrown down the gauntlet and I’ll be picking it up to both accept his challenge and give him a good slapping.

For those unknowing of the “Vietnam of the middle ages”, I can recommend the tragically impartial War Of The Roses site. Others prefering a somewhat more partisan summary of that conflict, let me offer up the line taken by my History teacher back in Yorkshire: “It was a lucky draw and we didn’t want the throne anyway. Plus those cheating b@stards ended up with Manchester so that’s all right then

In other news I’ve been offered a Full-on Tax Simulation from our payroll department which has the hallmarks of a low budget porn movie. Probably worth attending then.

Spring: it’s the new winter.

It’s the talk of the platform; “Oh hasn’t this winter been mild?”, “Hah, what do those weather forecasters know? Nothing properly cold about this winter, now back in 76…”. They rub gloved hands and drone on so I tune out.

Yet through gritted and chattering teeth, it’s incumbent on me to make the non PC case against global warming. Having ridden through the dark and cold of our unloved fourth season, let me set you straight: IT’S BEEN BLOODY FREEZING. I’m sure if you’re entombed in five layers of TopMan’s finest polyester and Christmas thermals, it’s distinctly toasty in the waiting room. This is not actually representative of being “outside” where the incessant cold mischievously plays hide and seek with any unprotected body part.

I’ve been forced to develop a layering system based on the horror depicted by my outside temperature sensor at 6:30am.

5 degrees or above: Assuming no Vietnam flashbacks due to small arms fire on the barn roof (hail or heavy rain), grab any two layers, shorts and go ride.

0-5 degrees. Base Layer, Mid layer, Lined jacket. Buff (that’s the clothing item not some reflection on my fro gut), winter gloves, Porrells, stiff upper lip and heroic bearing. A spot of Shackleton method acting and strike out with ones helmet at a jaunty angle.

Less than 0. Abandon layering system. Wear everything. Consider exchanging bike for sled and husky’s.

That’s centigrade of course. Fahrenheit is for those gullible fools who honestly believe Esperanto will ever catch on.

Once road-borne, thermometers are ditched in favour of the extensive empirical evidence surrounding my freezing body. Although for the first mile, corpse is a more descriptive adjective as only muscle memory and gortex keeps me moving. Frosty hedgerows sport inappropriate spring bloom and icy windscreens dangerously limit visibility for suicidally lazy drivers. That and the occasional inverted Post Office van – wheels up in a ditch – which always reassures me the temperature has yet to creep over the right side of zero.

There is clearly some kind of unofficial race series taking place in the major postal districts of Aylesbury and its’ immediate surrounds. In summer they’re door handling everywhere scattering pedestrians and generally acting in an ambassadorial role for their employers. Come winter, the quest for a personal best lines them up for either awesome van control and peer adulation or an extended spell examining shrubbery from an interesting angle. No wonder stamps are so expensive. It’s almost like sponsoring my own racing driver – Michael Postmaster perhaps. Okay, perhaps not.

Cold is boring. Hot stuff keeps you going; showers, bacon sandwiches, the latest copy of Hustler- that kind of thing. That and the secret knowledge squirreled away in every riders psyche– for every cold and pissy winter commute, there’s a perfect summers’ day waiting only a season away. Call me a seasonal charlatan if you will but it’ll be us creatures of the ice you’re thanking for endless days of sunshine and dusty, dry trails. Pint of lager’ll be fine. Ta.

Okay, okay just occasionally those impossibly blue mornings make it worthwhile; Swallows on the dawn patrol silhouetted perfectly against a climbing sun and random Mandelbrot patterns iced onto spiders webs. And mainlining lungfulls of – what feels like – air on speed which only climatically freezing conditions can produce,

Those days are great. There just aren’t enough of them.

Roll on proper spring with your rain, wind and storms. I’ve about had enough of winter.

Actung Baby!

Behold! The pant crisis is over. Probably.

Look I know that the trials and tribulations of a family forlornly wandering in the land of stinky laundry isn’t terribly interesting, but I’ve paid good money for this bandwidth. And I’ve spared you any photographic evidence for which you should be profoundly grateful.

You can tell this washing machine is German. It has absolutely no truck with the argument “form over function”. It is essentially three mechanical generations downstream of a Tiger Tank. Already the other appliances are twitching nervously – I expect them to be whipped into shape within a fortnight. None of this lounging about, working when they can be arsed or randomly displaying smug red warning lights. Oh no, soon the toaster will be doubling up as a microwave and the tumble dryer as loft insulation or some such thing. I fear for the kettle as the water filter is already wiring itself into a plug socket.

Clearly a detailed and thorough plan has been hatched to annexe the remainder of the kitchen before moving on to other rooms in the house. The machine has a certain fanatical bearing around the chromed drum and an expansionist bent to the simple programming switches.

My wife is diligently following the – very precise – installation instruction whereas I’m lurking around the box hunting for the turret attachment.

I’m getting flashbacks to electric dreams

No Germans were needlessly offended during the making of this post 🙂

Update: Installing it was not without complications. I usurped the missus in the “installation position” as the manual was want to call it, and only just resisted the urge to out the tool belt and fire up the power tools.

Here are some practical tips for any would be washing machine installers out there:

1. Install drainage cable before inserting washing machine. Failure to do so will involve removing both washing machine from its’ orifice and skin from fingers.

2. As tip#1 but this time for cold water feed.

3. Removing a washing machine from a very tight kitchen fitting is analogous to a 3000 point turn. Do not try to rush it. Once you’ve done it twice it gets easier.

4. Pushing in the machine on a wooden floor whilst wearing socks invokes Newton’s laws of motion. The machine doesn’t move while you end up on the horizontal, gamely hanging onto the worktop before sliding gracelessly down – face first – onto the floor. Pretending you meant to is a key part of an anti humiliation strategy.

5. The Freeride gut and extreme grunting are the fro washing machine installation option. “Yeah I just hucked off the worktop, rode the skinny down to bevel height and then, calm as you like, knocked out a “thrucking manouevre” to get the bastard aligned

6. Do not keep doing German jokes. You better half gets bored and the machine seems to have spawned a new setting to go with Rinse/Spin/Final. It’s “Attack

Still when it did slot home, I couldn’t help but think “Battle of the Bulge”

I’ll stop now. I promise. Especially if someone firebombs the Manchester Inland Revenue office. It’d be an act of mercy compared to what I’m considering 😉

Caption competition

Worryingly – for any readers of the blog who have sustained an interest way beyond the mean boredom threshold – there are 10 new entries ready to wibble. It’s getting easier to write stuff but I have this sneaking suspicion that’s because I’m getting lazier in terms of grammer, humour, vaguely contextual metaphors and the use of smilies to replace said, it, me and bollocks.

So in an attempt to buy time to convert drivelling badly informed rant to grammatically correct and appropriately punctuated drivelling rant, here’s a couple of pictures from Spain. Where it snowed. Alot.

Andy “Staying Alive” Hooper

Martyn “The Spade” Buckley

Nigel “Extreme Shaving” Parker

Captions appreciated as humiliation of others is this weeks customer care.

More here. Not terribly interesting but there’s only so much snow, steps and cold, irritated riders you can take pics of.

What one hand taketh…

… the other one snatches away. Last months pay slip was somewhat skewed in favour of the taxman (remember it’s not the Government’s money when they’re funding war by ego, it’s our bloody money robbed via the means of direct taxation). Actually think of it as a financial mugging which rapidly arrested the development of a tidy little upgrade project planned for one of the bikes. Not actually required of course, rather another tweak in the endless/pointless (delete as applicable) search for component perfection.

On enquiring why the Inland Revenue can rape and pillage my wage packet at will, the response was both complex and barely understandable by a man to whom anything beyond log tables requires the use of an accountant. However said accountant summarised it thus: “Because they can, mmmwaaaahhhhhh”. That little financial snippet cost me an additional thirty quid.

As each delivery van roars down the road, removing at source the problem of dog-shit by mowing over the odd dim witted turd producer, hope briefly rises that “the great pant crisis” is close to being over. But no, here we are at lunchtime – hope crushed – with only the smell of canine roadkill to keep me company. It’s cheering me up but has yet to out-stink the pile of smouldering washing.

So far today, it’s been all demand and very little supply. The only sign of the many and varied products recently ordered has been their descriptions in the debit columns on the credit card statement. What a great business model: pay now, possibly deliver in your lifetime. And then only between 8am and 6pm on any day except a weekend or if the van has broken down, or when the shit hot logistics system has accidentally shipped you a dolphin rather than a washing machine. Easy mistake to make eh?

Assuming you can ever get past the cry to barely restrained violence that is “your call is important to us, all of our agents are responding to other customer needs”, your reward is a cacophony of pealing laughter, when enquiring if it’s possible to reserve a slightly less ambiguous delivery slot.

I’m expecting the Milkman to pop round, in a minute, demanding money with menaces to the value of a couple of grand. And we don’t even buy milk off the Milkman but living in the world of less service for more money, don’t even think about arguing. Not unless you want to spend some quality time held in a call queue suffering endless “Music to slash your wrists by” arranged for Children’s xylophone.

Anyone had any experience of shelf stacking? Or failing that, what’s the minimum age you can realistically send the kids up a chimney?