(NO) Ticket to Ride :(

The builder is a jolly chap. He called us up a couple of nights ago and announced “Ready to start on your barn Wednesday. Can you make sure it’s fully cleared“. Oh how we laughed. This “structurally dangerous outbuilding” as the surveyor was want to sneer was resuscitated three years ago through a combination of new timbers and an industrial nail gun. Since then we gleefully stuffed it to the rafters with bikes and life crap. Until this evening anyway when a concerted effort stripped it back and unearthed forgotten items including ancient photo albums: “Daddy, that’s not you, you’ve got hair. And you’re thin“. Kids eh? Not overburdened with much social veneer.

For reasons too painfully convoluted to document here, we decided to do a second conversion adding plumbing, heating, insulation and a whole bunch of cost. The predicted but in no way definite result would be a new home office for me and a new workshop for, er, me as well. We’d lose a garage we never used and my current office becomes somewhere we can lock the kids away. But only for a couple of days at the most otherwise that’s just cruel.

We finished it tonight in the rain. Well nearly anyway.

Top Row: Stuffed in the shed: so many bikes, so little room.

Shed#6Shed#5Shed#7

Middle row: New office and workshop. Current office 🙁

Barn#2Barn#3Office

Wife’s bike gets what it deserves.

Carol's bike

How the hell am I going to go riding? A logistical planning exercise that’d tax even veterans of an Olympic bid . Short of going in thru the window, it looks as if I’ll have to reverse the entire process to even unearth a bike. And as for the tools, they’re buried behind gardening accouterments and rusty pots of suspicious liquids – could be paint, could be abandoned wine making. No way I’m opening one to find out.

Still considering my record of tool based disasters, (motto: If it isn’t broken don’t fix it, if it is broken send it to Sideways Tim before you fuck it up beyond all possible redemption) this is probably No Bad Thing. I can get to all my other gear tho – that’s in my office although unless I develop a late developing long jump talent, the book case is off limits for a while.

Assuming the builder is working on the same Julian calendar as the rest of us, this project should be finished before Wembley. I chose that analogy carefully as the price is similar and I’m hoping to get the Queen to open it. Failing that the queen down the road’ll do just fine.

Then I’ll have a rather splendid office and even more splendiferous workshop. Just think of the damage I can do with that much elbow room. And the piece de resistance? ‘The TOOL WALL’ with proper ‘dead tool’ outlines and millions of sockets for scary powertools; purpose unknown.

With hot and cold running water, coffee machine, sofa, DVD player and Internet access, I shall never need to go in the house again.

H’mm no wonder my wife was so keen on the project.

The Light Fantastic

British Summer Time is here even if the great British Summer is not. From a riding perspective it’s a milestone eagerly anticipated by both those who have grown fat on a winter’s cycling hibernation and the rest of us who are just sick of the dark.

It had less than auspicious beginnings though. Setting off at 6am this morning it was both dark and wet. These conditions generally demand the big lurid rain jacket that has served me so well through the last three months. What I’d failed to factor in was the Spring temperatures testing and failing the previously unbothered breathable layer. Still sweaty limbs generally act as an informal seat reservation system so got to look at the upside.

Getting off the train this evening was akin to troglodytes emerging from their caves and blinking in the weak evening sunshine. That’s the great thing about the change of season; Spring brings light, double digit temps and gale force winds. The third is normally a fair price to pay for the first two but today showed all it’s fickleness by changing direction between my outward and return legs. Having struggled in against a thirty knotter, it was disappointing to find it’d swung 90 degrees and was playfully surging me into the path of oncoming traffic. Wind is like taxation – it gets you coming and going.

Not that I was going very fast losing the battle of the big breeze, but at least provided ample time to have a good look around. Like a man coming out of a coma, I was astonished at the level of detail brought into the light. Early spring buds juxtaposed against a backdrop of dormant vegetation, a long abandoned car “police aware” but still rotting it the ditch and half finished DIY projects. House building in Winter has to be up there with slamming ones wedding tackle in a desk drawer – pointless, painful and – on reflection – quite silly.

It was like welcoming an old friend back, slightly annoying but a huge improvement on the squatting Lords Of Darkness who’d overstayed their welcome by 3 months. Once summer arrives though, we’ll crack open a few beers together and toast the light fantastic.

Wet ‘n’ Windy

And that only begins to describe the weapons grade munitions being deployed by four mountain bikers enthusiastically endorising a diet of full English Breakfasts and hourly carbo-snots. Thank God for the great outdoors and the skill of misdirection. These photo’s are mildly interesting because:

a) They are taken on my crappy PDA/Camera/Phone/Sonic Screwdriver thingy.
b) They are in no way representative of the riding/canoe-ing we did this weekend.

CwmCarn #1Cwmcarn#2

They are in fact, a wistful snapshot of trail conditons two days before. After days confined in a hermetically sealed hotel, fresh air became a priority. CwmCarn was 20 miles away and enough pre-BST light remained for a quick lap. Shortly after these pictures were taken, I was ploughing a rapid furrow into uncharted off trail foliage thinking that one day I’m probably laugh at this misfortune. That day was not today.

Having passed a bunch of riders dithering on the final downhill to the car park, my velocity soon turned to shrubbery as a carelessly extended seat post punted me over the bars. The precursor to this has been a brief sojourn of “phin air” rapidly followed by a somewhat longer and more painful appointment with the flora and fauna of South Wales.

While I tried to pass off this misfortune as the daily lot of the wanabee freerider, it’s uncertain if I pulled it off. My gut reaction is not; a hypothesis backed up by whimpering (me) and aggressive pointing (those riders previously behind me). Still after some heroic bleeding I retired injured at the hotel bar and received almost no sympathy and many beers.

The following day, the lovely owner of the B&B was extolling the infamous South Wales superb winter weather emphasising blue skies and a noticeable absence of rain. It hardly seemed fair to point out the sheets of what looked like rain to me were hammering the windows at 40MPH. Undaunted by this biblical hail of trout, we planned epic routes emboldened by beer and a holistic view to weather forecasting – “clearing up shower this one, you can see that by the way the hillside has just suffered a major landslide”

When we made it out onto the trails, the riding was surprisingly enjoyable considering the constant rain and wind. At least it was warm rain. However getting lost on an exposed section is something I’ll probably have to consider therapy to get over. The second ride was apparently far slippier, colder and on the “why why why did I leave a warm cafe for this” side of unpleasant. I wouldn’t know as Jason and I had a note from our mums (him: assault and battery from a pine tree after an airborne trail excursion. Me: Seized cables, sore knee, Alcohol dependency) so abandoned rivers of trails for hot showers.

The guys came back from the ride looking like the survivors from the movie “Deliverance”. We embarked on mass for comfort food and – in my case – comfort lager. What followed was a slight concern for Jason as he’d never met my riding buddies before and soon became embroiled in stories of their slightly checkered history. It could be summed up by “Trained Killer” meets “Amateur Psycho”. I think his eyes would have less resembled dinner plates were it not for the small fact they represented his lift home.

I’ve not heard from him but I’m sure he’ll be fine 🙂

BST is welcome. Trails on top of the water table does not seem an unreasonable request.

St. Patricks day kind of passed me by…

While Guinness fuelled wannabee Irish wore silly hats and fell over in gutters, a far more important Saint was quietly watching the world without any celebration. I speak of St. Shrivel, the patron saint of frozen testicles. Canonised around the time of the first bicycling winter and raised to Sainthood once a thousand inappropriate garments of the trouser had been pierced by frozen winds.

This morning’s commute was a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Shriveldom. The loss of sensory perception to both fingers and toes was terrifyingly extended to my wedding tackle. A frantic inspection in the station toilets – which has hardly enhanced my reputation what with me rushing into the bogs clutching my bollocks and whimpering – confirmed my worst fear; they had taken on the unedifying appearance of unwanted plums exiled to the darkest corner of the fruit bowl. And let me tell you that this is possibly the most painful place to get chill blains. That’s the testicles not the fruit bowl.

Too much information? Apologies.

Professional northerner as I am, I’ve always delighted in the Weatherman’s analysis of the “Cold North Wind” – Traditionally a meteorological event accompanied by a respectful sharp intake of breath, the rubbing hands physical metaphor and a facial expression promising frozen testicles later.

Well there is a new kid in town; the Freezing Easterly. Capital letters absolutely appropriate. Unhindered in its’ passage across cold oceans, it collects sub zero air and dumps it as snow in high places and as a catalyst to the Shrivel everywhere else.

Nobody on the train seemed to mind my radical approach to extremity warming. I – for one – am glad we live in a world where slipping you hands down your shorts and whispering “Yes, OH YES” in the manner of ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is not cast with any social stigma. Although it did attract a number of shocked glances and it’s not clear if a vain attempt to explain my actions helped any when the ticket inspector arrived. It must be said he wasn’t mad keen to examine my credentials if you get my drift.

Short of a dynamo powered, bar mounted fan heater, it’s hard to see how to solve the problem. Still on the upside, I don’t really want any more kids anyway. However, I would quite like to find who is the patron saint of willy’s though as mine seems to have disappeared.

Next entry I intend to write something classy involving toilet humour. Always a gag in there somewhere 😉

Now that has got to hurt

Another occasional series showcasing the result of ego over talent. Sometimes this gap can be bridged by a very expensive bike or a nod from Lady Luck but thankfully not in this case. The stunned fella in the pictures is James Dymond – nice bloke, good rider and relatively uninjured from his flawed pathfinding instincts.

In the model of all good accident sequences, I can present a “before” and “after” photographic evidence.

This is clearly not the trail.

The trail clearly goes hard right. Except for James where it went straight on. He managed almost a complete roation before landing flat on his back in the stream. Bust his helmet and knocked him about a bit as can be seen here.

See? Told you.

A pretty big stack and he’s the first to admit he’s lucky to get away with a dislocated finger and some heavy bruising. Stiil on the upside the bike was fine. I couldn’t help noticing that earlier we have further evidence of buggering about.
This is not a sled.

But as always when you stack, it’s never on the soft stuff.

Cheers to James for letting me publicise his “Big Huck that was never right and went badly wrong”.

24

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 😉

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 🙂

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.

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.