Ive just been done over by the big nasty Dogs
"I've just been done over by the big nasty Dogs"

That was my response to the dog’s expression as he slunk back in, having been put down in the mud by the bigger dogs. He’s such a wimp though, anything from an aggressive shrub upwards will have him lying down supine and looking to be loved, rather than duffed up.

Can’t imagine where he’s learned that behaviour from. Although it wasn’t in evidence during a terse conversation with a certain on line retailer. “Hello, Just wanted to congratulate you on a superb website, excellent prices, next day delivery and easy to contact customer support. Shame your picking system is a one armed blind bloke who breakfasts from a brown paper bag

My new shiny forks arrived less than 24 hours after ordering. A triumph of logistics and navigation only slightly let down by them being entirely the wrong sort. And even a man with as much hammer-time as I can see no may to make this round peg fit a square hole. It would have been less vexing had I not gone to the trouble of RINGING THEM UP BEFORE I ORDERED TO AGREE THEY HAD THE RIGHT STOCK!

Now I’ve been forced to buy from a place who have no telephone support, an email reply service rated in epochs, and a chequered history of on time delivery. I fully expect to receive half an elephant wearing a Santa’s hat at a jaunty angle. In February. 2011.

I order myself ONE miserly present and all I receive is aggravation and excuses. It’s clearly not fair, and in that vein I shall be drowning my sorrows in about, oh, 3 hours. Day isn’t a complete right off then.

* Dog the F*ck up. The cannine variation of MTFU – a phrase seemingly used to describe any activity that does not involve ripping the head off something large and toothy, and then eating it raw.

Christmas Presents – Part 1

80s inspired retro tinselling!
80s inspired retro tinselling!

With the Spreadsheet of Doom having been re-assigned to house rebuilding duties, it’s hard to know how much – or little we should at least consider that – I’ve spent on bikes lately. Not much is the suprising answer, although that must be placed into the context of the almost criminal approach to shiny-part-syndrome of which I’ve been guilty for far too many years.

Sure the Kona was new (to me) but many of the parts were recycled or some cast off from a kindred spirit (buy, procure excitement, open box, engage disappointment gland, sell for half price) and aside from consumables, it’s all been mostly quiet on the quite Western front.

Until today. Obviously the tinselling of the Cove is not really its’ real Christmas present. That’s akin to stuffing an orange into the stocking* on Christmas Eve and pretending that Santa has taken the rest of the year off. Only when the kids are googling for “adoption by nice parents” do you pony up with the pointless tat they’ve been listing for months.

Amusingly Random cannot quite see the dichotomy between the myth of Santa** dropping down the chimney and weeing on the mince pies, and the fact that certain boxes have been stashed way before the fat man cometh. Verbal on the other hand has a knowing smile and chastises her sister for being so gullible.

I deal with such conflict by a) telling them they are both wrong and b) if they don’t stop RIGHT THIS MINUTE, NO ONE IN THE HOUSE IS GETTING ANY PRESENTS. NADA. NOT ONE. OR ANY FOOD.

So far this has done the trick. Anyway the bike, well it’s sort of had some new forks and wheels ordered . And only because a) bolt through forks are much safer (and shinier) and b) the marketing blurb talks of increased sexiness and decreased girth.

Obviously I am no need of such things. But, you know, it’s always nice to have them in reserve.

* Now I know what you’re thinking. Or at least some of you. And I’d like you to stop as I’m about to introduce my children into this sentence 😉

** No he is not real. Don’t blame me if you didn’t know that. It’s all a marketing scam by Coca Cola anyway.

Meet Colin

That tree is nekkid!
That tree is nekkid!

This is our first live Christmas tree for many years. Previous attempts, when the kids were much smaller, generally led to frantic calls to NHS direct requesting the correct medical procedure to safely remove pine needles from a child’s internals.

Colin* was dug up by nice, if bemused, man with a spade and dumped in the truck. Where it gave me a nasty dose of “pine rash” every time I changed gear before dumping most of it’s prickly bounty on the seats and assorted children. I’m still finding the vicious little spines this morning – hence the concern of my fellow rush hour motorists on being serenaded with by a a middle aged man thrashing about, and making noises associated with significant pain all while still strapped into the driving seat.

It did provide sufficient distraction to ignore all the desperate marketing hiding behind the season of giving. Or receiving – overdrafts, final demands and the like. I know it is all a bit bah humbug, but Christmas is such a rubbish time. You just sit at home getting fat and wasting your holidays.

Round the other side of the world they’re tossing another barbie onto the shrimp**, catching some rays and thinking “hey it’s warm and sunny, what shall we do with the remaining ten hours of daylight“. Back on this storm tossed and icy rock, we’re left with reruns of rubbish films and the queen looking almost as bored as the rest of us.

Carol and I decided not to buy each other gifts this year. And considering the amount of shit we seem to have accumulated over the years, this feels like a good decision. We did – however – buy ourselves a joint present which should stave off dull days boredom, more of which when it finally arrives.

Anyway considering the never ending fiscal big bang exploding around us, I’ve decided to go long on “big biffin birds, new world reds and sufficient confectionery to silence an entire classroom“. This is a short term strategy I’ll admit, but next year we’ll be investing in timber futures and recyclable energy.

Yes the new years resolution appears to be to dig up the entire house, chop down most of Norway and somehow fuse the two together on top of some right on heating system, which also curiously involves digging up the garden. Well the car park that may one day be a garden.

I can see almost nothing going wrong with that, and as such have gone with my own premature New Years resolution to ram raid Majestics’ warehouse.

Bah Humbug, grumble, grouch, wake me up in spring.

* Yes I named our Christmas Tree. 3/4 of the family found this quite amusing, Carol hid her head in her hands agahst at my Peter Pan inability to grow up. Although I think she was just sulking after her name-that-tree entry of “Bruce the Spruce” was unanimously lampooned by the Colin Jihad.

** Surely this can’t be legal. Even in Australia.

When wall rides go wrong

Silly, but made me laugh. And let’s face it when Christmas is nearly upon us, we need all the cheering up we can get. Looking out of the office window yesterday, I saw a procession of miserable looking brummies, huddled together for warmth. Either that, or they were engaging in some festive pickpocketing.

I’ll have a proper whinge later, but the traditional slacking off the week before celebrating some old joiner’s birthday has been upgraded to full on work and deadlines. I was going to find someone to complain to, before I realised that might be HR and you don’t want to be seen in their offices at the moment 😉

Well that didn’t go quite as planned…

If a kind soul were to place me in a comfortable chair and administer a double measure of warming medicine, my response to the concerned question “What’s wrong?” would read something like

Most things. Not quite everything, but many grumpy intersects on a linear scale of increasing wrongness. Sometimes to understand why things are so rubbish right now, you must backtrack to the first point of “when stuff goes bad“.

The first trace of the element fuckup had clearly been hoovered up by the endo-Murph who then promptly exploded in the manner of his first day with us. Of course everything is bigger now, his stomach, his range and the volume of multi-coloured yawn to be founnd pebble dashed across most of the house.

This 5am wake up call provided me ample time to notice a gap where once a wheel stiffening spoke had once proudly stood. I had both a spare and the frankly unhinged tool to effect a repair, but the mechanical knowledge was lacking, and – even when faced down with cold, hard cash – the local bike shop was breathtakingly uninterested until about a week on Thursday.

Thankfully my far sighted policy of acquiring random bicycles harvested up a spare, and I was ready to drive myself all the way to Wales where some nice person would continue to do so for the rest of the day. So ready in fact, the bike was in the car, the full set of body and head protection was packed, and I’d gone all a bit OCD counting pedals and shoes.

A last check of emails showed the uplift service was anything but ready. In fact a state of cancellation had overcome it on the grounds it was too dangerous. HANG ON, I’ve been telling everyone how dangerous it is and – viz a viz -why I am so damn brave to go and ride it again. This held no truck with those driving vans on icy forest roads, and I was left with a chilly 8am dilemma.

One I hedged by using every 21st communication method to establish contact with Mike (my fellow downhiller for a day), all of which failed, and I was fresh out of pidgins. In the spirit of ‘fuck it, I’ve booked the day off, may as well go riding“, I carefully chucked the big boys collateral onto the floor to make way for xc stuff that was significantly more gay*

While all this was going on Mike was replying using the exact same talk-to-AL technologies I’d been bothering him with. Which would have worked extremely well had my dumbphone taken to doing what I’d paid it form rather than display a state of passiveness that convinced me it was actually working. Understandably Mike gave up, and I was left to a couple of solo laps of the Cwmcarn XC course.

Which was frozen solid, deserted, occasionally sleety, slightly more frequently cheekily icy on corner apex’s, and probably just what old snug-trousers(tm) needed. But not what I wanted, and even the magic of Titanium was beaten by the unforgiving ground. Although not as beaten up as the pilot who – after 20 miles of this – was suffering from cramp of everything including teeth.

So I didn’t get to go and pretend to be brave. I had to ride uphill and do so uite often. Many other small things were shittiest enough in frequency to to become big things. But on the upside I still got to ride my bike and didn’t have to go to work. Although time enough was left for me to service a set of working brakes that – after 3 hours – were ALMOST as good as when I’d started.

But there’s still a week of 2008 before Children’s holidays cull the riding season so if this sodding ice age would bugger off for 24 hours, I’ll be having it small on a mountain near me. You see while a lack of talent and a delusional complex may hold me back on the hill, bloody mindedness will damn well get me there.

* I’d like to point out the hedgehog is an equal opportunities annoyer. Sexual preference, colour, creed, religion or advanced animal husbandry techniques are all equal here. But I draw the line at trekkies, anyone using air quotes or ownership of folding bicycles. I mean all the hits are welcome, but a man must have some standards.

Nativity plays: the rules

I feel well qualified to document the rules that govern every school play performed during the Christmas Term. I’ve now into double figures of watching the little cherubs fall over each other in a not terribly amusing manner. So here goes:

1/ Wherever you are sat, someone will apologetically wheeze in late encumbered by two screaming toddlers, and a babe in arms. The next hour will be spent receiving apologies, finger flung snot, sharp toys to tender parts, and endless screaming just below the pain threshold.

2/ On the other side, competitive dad will be extorting his little princess to barge her way past friends so he can take a better picture. The fact that we are some forty feet from the stage and his flash barely reflects the balding heads in the next row bothers him not at all. If you’re lucky a sticky sweet from the devil child next door will bypass your face, and instead attach itself limpet like to his lens.

3/ The X-Factor/Bone Idle/Who gives a fuck you can yodel in Yiddish TV shows have made this “me, me LOOK AT ME” so much worse.

4/ Hip flasks are not encouraged. And that’s probably right as some of these children are only five for heaven’s sake! And even if you water it down, it’s still a bit harsh for their little stomachs 😉

5/ You will leave the hall with a new and viscous airborne strain of something terminal. It is like being locked on the inside of a quarantine ward. Honestly they should give us all bells before we leave “UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN” we could cry whilst expectorating a pint of phlegm.

6/ The air will be thick with moral messages parotted by kids who ignore them almost as often as their parents.  But they’ll be encapsulated in nice songs, so that’s alright then.

7/ You will be ex-communicated from every future event if you fail to buy less than 20 raffle tickets at a quid each. Don’t harbour even the slightest expectation that a boozey prize may be your reward. Basically the whole thing is fixed by the PTA – only they have winning tickets, so recycling all the prizes from the Harvest Festival and trousering the difference.

8/ Some unlucky bastard always get dressed up as a donkey. He’s the poor sod who would hand over his own underpants just to be one of the sheep instead. For the next 5 years, he cannot pass another pupil without hearing the sound of braying.

9/ However many kids are on stage and regardless of the number of musical instruments being played, not one note will ever be in tune. Children can’t carry a tune, but they do have the vocal armoury to drag it behind the bike sheds, and give it a good kicking.

10/ The last song is always the most uplifting, and many people thing this is why it gets the greatest round of applause. Us old hands know the real reason is this is the clapping of the mightily relieved and soon to be released. Hence, when the kids start milking it, the hissing breaks out.

Here’s some advice. Go in with a lively smile and dead brain, and be happy if you can escape before inter class fighting breaks out. And if a stage frightened little girl implores you with teary eyes to give her the name of the messiah, the bringer of the light, the new hope, the Son of God, do not – WHATEVER THE TEMPTATION – offer up “Bwwyyyan“.

I mean sure it’s quite funny, but that child is going to be permanently traumatised. Honestly who’d stoop so low as to ruin the whole event just for a cheap laugh?


Slip sliding away

Yesterday I inadvertently entered the “All English Rubbish Driving Competition“. There were some real title contenders especially those enclosed in high chassis’, riding on 4×4 transmission systems, supported by complex electronics and the power of marketing.

Their faith in the brilliance of their vehicles was somewhat undermined by a cruel lack of knowledge pertaining to how the words “Ice” and “Grip” rarely fall into the same sentence. Unless someone inserts a meaningful “no” in the middle.

So I watched in amused horror as ditches became car parks, roundabouts became straight on’s, and a strictly come pranging combination of spins and pirouettes played out in front of me. The downside was it took me three and a half hours to reach Milton Keynes – a place I didn’t really want to go in the first place.

Tomorrow’s journey is both shorter, and the destination far more exciting. I’m tweaking the nose of terror back at the Cwmcarn downhill course to see if I can be this lucky twice. The ice on the roads shall be seamlessly transported to big roots, forbidding rocks and an entire section best labelled “Death by off camber

I shall report back with manly tales of riding skill and just simple down to earth bravery. That’ll be the other guy obviously, while my contribution shall be nothing more than great excuses and a nice pot of tea.

Some sports psychologists tell their clients to visualise success and “BE THE BALL” whereas I am more of the cowardly “BE ALIVE” school of thought.

Mad dogs and Yorkshiremen.

Dog meets Man. Man loses.

If a man is knocked over in the woods when no-one else is there, does he still make a sound. Yes he absolutely does and the noise is “uuuumpppphh”. Murphy has learned “Come” but has yet to master “Stop” or even “Swerve

Still he does reward your comatose form with a form of slobbery mouth to mouth that would resuscitate any human with even the merest flicker of life left within them. To the commentary of “Geroff, GEROFF, Yuk, Ugh, GERRRROOOOOFF“. This merely seems too encourage the pup who fails to understand that 25+ Kilos and a decent link of speed is likely to flatten anything with less structural integrity than a good sized building.

Low sun You never learn.

Either that or he just doesn’t care 😉 Properly icy this morning which made this afternoon’s ride swing between amusing and bowel clenching. It’s a good job the brakes don’t really work on a CX bike or I could have been in some real trouble.

Just walking the dog Bright light

As it was, I hurtled down frozen roads and scared a few dumb birds in the local woods with some ad-hoc cycle based beating. Not sure they are entirely legal trails, but since no one shot me I have added them to the list for further investigation. That’s the woods, not the birds. I shall be likely investigating those with a nice side of roast potatoes.

Talking of food, two weeks off the bike and a diet based entirely on whatever crap is placed in front of you, while you’re working your tail off, has not given me the turbo sprint or immense stamina I was hoping for. I feel some of the blame for this must be laid firmly at the door of full fat Coke.

You see, the South African’s refuse to accept the existence of fizzy drinks without a thousand calories in them. Or parts of a dead cow that don’t overhang the plate on both sides. “You want vegetables with your steak sir?” “Where do you suggest I put them?* Tell you what bring me a spare plate and a larger pair of trousers and we’ll be good to go

A man came today and tried to introduce a sub prime bathroom experience by designing a “water based luxury experience” that would have cost about the same amount as the whole house. This did not sit well with my self imposed temperance approach to the weekend.

Still wine is basically one of your five a day isn’t it?

* Thankfully the waiter failed to offer the obvious alternative receptacle at this point.

Out of Africa…

.. and rather pleased about it. There are many things about the place (Jo-Burg especially) which I’ll miss not at all. For example, the barbed wire topped residential conclaves housing the white middle class and guarded by armed black guards. H’mm can’t see that ending well in any revolution.

The endless panhandling wasn’t much of a thrill either. Their is a strong directive not to drop a few coins into the hand of a young mother who is using the other one to cradle a hungry looking baby. The argument advanced is to donate to one desperate person will merely attract many more to the same spot tomorrow.

But this is missing the point, surely? The solution must be for the state to provide a safety-net for these young black – and of course they all are black – women. But get into that conversation and a whole slew of barely contained anger laments the state of the country, the way in which it is run and the feeling that it is no longer fair. That’s from the white minority of the population, obviously.

The end of apartheid was so obviously something to rejoice, and yet it doesn’t feel like it has quite gone away. Anyway such weighty debate is not really at home on the hedgehog, so I’ll leave you with this. I never really felt safe out there but what really bothered me was it seemed no one else did either. Not just the constant threat of low level violence (with counter measures you couldn’t make up), but the underlying friction of many different social groups all feeling as if they were the victims.

In completely unrelated news, the site just had another update, after a benevolent hack that probably was exploited through an ancient version of code from someone even lazier than me on this shared server. I don’t think it has enbusted anything but if so, consider it custom code 😉

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.