Still here…

… still working. Apparently the weather back in ol’ Blighty is shocking. Sort it out can you, I am kipper smoking back for breakfast tomorrow. That does pre-assume I am allowed out of the building before dark (which hasn’t happened at all this week), the inevitable car jacking doesn’t take me out on the way to the airport, I can find the airport and the plane doesn’t plunge into the ground in a flaming plume of death when hit by one of the fierce electrical storms forecasted.

This morning, a local told me not to run from muggers. Why Not I asked trying to establish the rationale of standing still and getting beaten up, because they’ll shoot you he replied. 2 minutes later, I was asked if I could stay for another week.

I could have been no less keen if they’d offered to shave me naked and apply an all body jalapeno massage applied by an angry hedgehog. I feel this may have come across as ungrateful.

Right fiery death not withstanding, normal service shall be resumed next week. You can confidently expect the same drivel but now – at least – it will be drivel with an international twang.

Car Hire..

… South African Style. Aside from the cheery note “Driving in SA is as safe as any other country BUT DO NOT ON ANY ACCOUNT UNLOCK YOUR DOORS, LOOK AT ANYONE IN A FUNNY WAY, OR PARK ANYWHERE THAT IS NOT SURROUNDED BY A SWAT TEAM” from the South African Tourist board, there was also this nugget of usefulness:

At a 4-way stop intersection, vehicles from all 4 directions must stop at the stop sign before proceeding to cross the intersection. With more vehicles stopping at the intersection, the rule is first one to stop is first one to move. If vehicles stop at the same time, common courtesy applies and either vehicle may proceed first.”

Now I’m English and multi skilled in queuing so I am going to be there for DAYS. “No, No after you, I’m fine here and anyway you’ve got a gun rack, so that definitely gives you priority

Due to almost everybody flying to Johannesburg this weekend, my journey to our office starts at midday tomorrow and finishes sometime early Sunday morning. There are many things I love about living here, but I will concede that Birmingham is not a proper international Airport.

South Africa?” replied the shocked looking travel person “From Birmingham?” “Weeeel, you could if you left last Tuesday and are happy to cross Nigeria by Camel“. That’ll be a trip to Heathrow then, with an alledged upside that the Virgin lounge is like no other on the planet.

Apparently you can even get a haircut. Well that’s clearly sold it for old “MonkTop” back here.

So look after the old Hedgy while I am away. I shall be suffering in 28 degrees, under Summer sunshine situated in a hotel with an outdoor pool and bar. And probably being car jacked, worked to within an inch of my being, and crashing into innocent citizens as I attempt to orientate the map on the steering wheel.

The Reykjavik Express – Part 2.

Today I have travelled home via another country. This would not be unusual if I were airily spanning oceans after being seriously inconvenienced by airports. Or if my train had Chunneled to France to hunt down some smelly cheeses and fine wines.

But no, my journey from London to Ledbury ignored the traditional route of Reading, Cotswolds, Home, instead choosing to detour via Abergevenny. Interesting piece of social mobility there I thought as we passed our fourth hour searching for clues to where we might be.

Much of the problem was that little could be determined by squinting into the rainy darkness. Although our “train host” – where do they dream these names up from? – hardly aided the process as she came over increasingly sulky and refused to explain our random itinerary.

She started well to be fair offering up apologies and excuses as an increasingly number of stations were lopped from the list of stops. But after two hours of the shirts of extreme stuffedness demanding that they be let off right now and helicoptered home at the train companies’ expense, she somewhat lost interest in being polite and helpful.

They were finally abandoned at Didcot where they could be found calling their lawyers, and asking if anyone realised how important they actually were. Not me, I was cheerily giving them a forehead hosted “L” betwixt thumb and forefinger. Mature Response? No. Appropriate response? Oh yes.

Eventually we rolled into Swindon only to roll straight out again after discovering the station was flooded. Surely that’s something you’d check beforehand “Hello Signalman? Yes got 200 pissed off passengers here, anything I should know? Station flooded you say? Right-o, well best carry on until we get there and then reverse straight out eh?”

This reversal of fortunes triggered a tremendous shunting exercise which put me in mind of Thomas the Tank Engine on speed. This worrying grinding went on some way past Cheltenham Spa which first woke and then surprised the bloke opposite me who thought he was heading home to Oxford. He was grumpy enough, when finally let off for bad behaviour at Newport, for me to silently award him a “possible Northerner” badge.

We did finally arrive at Ledbury – albeit by some circuitous route – before the sun came up, but the final scores on the doors were “Working 8 hours” “Commuting 8.5 hours“. It failed the alien test* a million times over, but did give me time to write to First Great Western with suggestions on renaming all their train engines. For this one I’m sure they’ll accept my proposal for “The Reykjavik Express

* try explaining something you’ve done to an alien recently arrived on the planet. If they look at you strangely and then blast straight back to their home planet, accept you’ve just done a very stupid thing.

The Reykjavik Express – Part 1

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be entombed in the graceless catacoombs of the tube system, pushing and shoving to gain access to an office that seems to need me more than I need it. But I’m marooned just outside Reading after the train failed to stop at a platform.

Let’s examine that statement shall we. How the fuck can you miss a platform? The vocational sphere of a train driver is surely little more than pressing one button marked start, and another one labelled stop. So rather than abandoning the three confused looking passengers expecting to alight at Charlebury, we backed up 8 trains on the single line and added thirty minutes to a three hour journey.

Which I could have spent reading the paper if they’re were any or working, assuming my oh-so-clever 3G connection would connect to something, anything really. I wasn’t alone in the connectivity isolation as demonstrated by the Crackberry generation grumbling around me. They switched their attention deficit to calling sleepy colleagues, so noisily confirming what a bunch of self important cock ends they really are

Ah Good Morning Peter, sorry not too early is it? Thing is, I’m a little bored on a late train, so can you listen for a bit while I chunter on about pointless shit to show these other chaps what a thrusting executive I really am.”

I am an imposter here, a cipher in actions but not in thoughts. We all look the same, uncomfortable in suits and encumbered by technology stuff, but these are not my people. The reality of work is just because you’re good at it, is not a fantastic reason for carrying on doing it.

It’s taken me twenty years to work that out – which is a bit rubbish really since it’s quite a simple concept – and the obvious conclusion is that the trappings of a well paid job have absolutely nothing to do with any actual enjoyingment of carrying it out.

In the end I just gave up, plugged white noise into my ears and dribbled off into a broken sleep. The only upside was the volume of my mp3 player must surely be leaking into the general population. And so while they tapped vigorously, clipped brusque conversations and tried extremely hard to out-important each other, what they were really thinking was “I KNOW that riff, is is Tom Petty or the Beatles?

Answer, neither – but since you only had a tinny base line to work with, on the return journey I’m going to augment it with some air drumming. Musical Charades to puncture the pomposity of the business carriages. We’re going to take the train back. C’mon whose with me?

I’ve never met a nice South African..

as the old song goes. Actually that’s not true, a very high percentage of South African’s who have crossed my path are not even as annoying as fellow Yorkshiremen. So let me be more precise, I’m not going to meet a nice South African this week.

Starting Saturday, when I broke my own Rule#1 (Life is too short to drink with arseholes) and spent the goodly part of a day being Corporate Hospitalitied – an experience that should cause you to happily chop your own leg off, rather than spend even five minutes in this dreadful ‘Jeans’n’blazer’ experience.

And sitting high up with a commanding view of the pride of English Rugby being comprehensively stuffed by the Southern Hemisphere bullies, was in no way improved by a happy Saffer chuntering “Another try, oh this is SO GOOD, I LOVE beating the ENGLISH, It’s BETTER than SEX” [Receive Beery Prod] “Can you HEAR Me, How SHIT are your team? Totally SHIT that’s WHAT”

Eighty minutes of that got a little wearing. It’s the kind of cold strutting arrogance, iced with cruelty, but thinly veiled by Jingoistic flag waving which reminds me very much of another nation. Who would that be? Ah yes, the English.

Luckily I am able to escape the unbridled mirth of anyone who practices extreme schadenfreude whenever English sport has been humiliated- (so that’s every other nation based on today’s experience) – by leaving the country for a week. One could powerfully argue that the country that is to receive me may well continue to heap ridicule on the nation of my birth.

Yes that’s right, with perfect timing, next week I shall be travelling to Johannesburg, before which I shall be desperately practising my Australian accent. This and the terrifying schedule that has just slithered into my inbox is likely to preclude much in the way of hedgehog stuffing for a bit.

Until them, throw another shrimp on the barbie for me!

I wrote something…

.. it’s over there at BikeMagic where Mike was again chronically short of content. I was due to go back and have another go at mincing downhill with truckage the other way, but work got in the way. Which was, too put it very mildly, quite disappointing.

Not quite as disappointing as the train falling to pieces AGAIN this evening, resulting in about 200 people crammed into the two remaining working carriages. And while it resembled the black hole of Calcutta in there, at least the doors didn’t randomly open and spit you head first into some Cotswold stone.

The rest of the train offered that and many other faults including broken heating and a whistling sound which could only have been a precursor to something exploding. I was so grateful to finally get home, only four and one half hours after I’d left London, I fell to my knees on the platform and snogged it – Pope like – to announce my arrival.

I’m starting to get all ‘Chiltern Railways’ about that train journey.

Updated the bike page..

again

Looking for a picture of the Jake, I typed in “Kona” to my Flickr Photostream. What was returned reminded me of lots of dead relatives turning up unexpectedly for tea. I think I’m up to about 30 frames now in seven years. I don’t know for sure as a) I dare not look and b) the spreadsheet of shame has been mothballed onto a memory stick labelled “Pandora’s Electrons”

Can’t afford any more bikes. Have walls to knock down.

Kona hits the dirt!

Kona Kilauea by you.

Although hit the mud would be a more accurate description of the first meeting of old bike and recently squelched trail. It’s a build completed through the scavenger process of beg, borrow and reverse-steal*. The wheels are borrowed, the outer ring offers no toothy service other than stopping the chain falling off and the tyres are a cheeky combination of old and useless.

A lovely warm morning greeted my childish pre-ride enthusiasm. And while I was ready, the Leigh brood were not. And in accordance with the law that any actiivty with Children – up to and including a week long holiday – takes twice as long to prepare than actually participate in, it was rain not sun which greeted our cautious slither onto the trails.

It’s been nearly eighteen months since the kids rode out on proper dirt. A gap only just long enough to ease the trauma of Verbal’s repeated facial braking experiments last time out. And although they both had little falls and the biting back of hurty tears, they also made their old man properly proud with no whinge mud sloppage, some fine turns in leafy singletrack and brave attempts at muddy roll-ins.

At the end of which, demands were coming thick and fast for grippy pedals, mud tyres, cooler riding togs and bigger wheels. All of which were apparently “holding them back”. I cannot imagine where they learned such things.

As 3/4 of the family retired to the inside of the love bus to munch snacks, I took the Kona for a fast run through some sweet rider built singeltrack. The handling is on the lively side of involving mainly due to a stem a full two inches shorter than stock. But the whole experience was about as I remembered it – instant pickup from a pedal stroke, look-corner(tm) steering negating the need for any obvious muscle movement and a wrist battering experience vaguely remembered from 1995.

I’ll leave you to decide exactly how such an experience came about 😉

If I close my eyes, I can see long summer evenings offering up dust and hardpacked singletrack in equal amounts. Riding something like this through the trees toward a dropping sun and a well earned pint could very well be a path to cycling nirvana. Although not until I can find a tyre that is a) less than 2 inches wide and b) points in the same direction as the front one.

* This is where you enter a shop, request a small but vital component only to stagger out some five minutes later having been legally mugged.

I used to think..

… I could just about ride a mountain bike. This fantastically filmed bonkers headcam follow shows me I’m only slightly above ‘recently removed stabilisers’ in the cycling food chain.

Great camera as well. Most of the headcam stuff is horribly pixelated and further ruined by changes in light blowing away the contrast. And that’s before the generally shit riding destroys what quality is left.

I had a fantastic night ride yesterday. All two wheel grassy drifts and opposite lock tractionaless descents. By the end of it, I really felt quite good about my standard of basic bike control.

Having watched that, I’m off to get a shopping basket and a Sam Browne belt to properly position my cycling prowess. You watch these guys basically taking the piss, and sometimes you feel inspired, sometimes humbled but always assuming something alien is going on.

This time I just felt scared 😉

You can dance..

Murphy 6 months, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

You can jive, having the time of your life*

I am mired in a pile of shit here. Not literally, although our weekly night ride later in the lamping rain will probably turn metaphorical into the physical. What it certainly means is I have no time to share with you my latest ranting at the world in general, and the railways in particular.

So In the meantime, here’s Murphy at six months demonstrating his:

a) Dancing skills
b) Willy.

I have a picture of me doing the same. I’ll not be posting that just yet 😉

* Yeah yeah you may be pointing and laughing at my homage to the Swedish Gods and Godesses of Pop. But I bet you are humming along.