Congestion Charge

Apparently plans are afoot (although maybe awheel would be a better description) to increase congestion charges, car tax and flight surcharges. Such a move should ensure the private companies and government can increase the indirect tax burden by extolling their green credentials. I’m sure if the melting Greenland ice mass had any kind of facial features, it’d be wearing a happy expression and possibly a hat at a jaunty angle. And the again, maybe – if we now extend it’s humanism to include half a brain – it’d realise that this is nothing more than windsock politics mated incestuously to sanctimonious sound bites.

But that’s not what this is about. Although I may return to it later once I’ve calmed down a bit.

This morning the train suffered congestion. Now those of you born after Jimi Hendrix died (i.e. of a proper age) may remember a British Rail advert where an InterCity 125 rolled unconcerned past lines of stranded vehicles unmoving due traffic congestion. Well I’d like to take somebody to task about this although this is extremely unlikely since everyone in so called authority abandoned the failing railway with their fat state funded pensions years ago.

Nevertheless as Viz so memorably put it: someone should be told. Can someone explain to me how a train track can suffer congestion? It’s not like a few extra trains from another operator can be slipped in is it? Or maybe they can “Yeah, Hi it’s Ron from GWR, Paddington is a right shit hole this morning, can we stuff a few of ours in Marylebone? They’ll be a beer and some pork scratchings in it for you”

There can be no other logical explanation other than an alien abduction of a platform or the timetabling software generously allocating terminating berths in some kind of fantasy configuration: yes 4 in the main platform, two on the roof and one in fourth dimensional phase space.

Ah the timetable or “an aspirational vision” as Chiltern Railways like to think of it. Not even lightly bolted to the planet we call reality. The driver this morning differed from our normal happy go unbothered “there will be a three day delay because the executives are sorting out their bonuses but I don’t care as I get paid anyway” being supplanted by Marvin the Paranoid Android on anti depressants “I’m really sorry you’ve been abandoned in this dark dank tunnel, it’s probably congestion but who the hell knows, nobody tells me anything and I’ve read Austin and Keats but they just treat us like robots…” at which point I turned up the MP3 player and waited for nightfall.

This does put me in mind of graffiti scrawled on a platform around the same time of the lying advert. Satirically lampooning BR’s timetable, it suffixed the boast “25 Trains leave from this station for London EVERY DAY” with “Yeah, but only seven get back“.

Graffiti is not what it was.

Hospital Diary: Day 1

In the last five years, Mountain Biking has taken me to many special places. Almost none of these include prolonged stays in hospital. Oh I’ve crashed a lot, escaped painful injury through a combination of lady luck and body armour while ferrying/carrying/laughing at those unfortunates who have collected scars, plaster casts and hospital food as badges of honour.

Of course it’ll never happen to me. I’m too busy/nesh/careful to have an accident requiring hospitalisation. Especially on a day I’d no intention to ride. Realistically hammering a nail through an unsuspecting finger or receiving a paint based toxicology injury were far more likely. Yep, that was me, rebel with a paintbrush.

What follows is chronologically romp through the low and lower points of the following four days. Please don’t misunderstand me here; I’ve not edited out the high points; there just weren’t any.

Sunday

15:30
Received pleading text message from Andy desperate for a beer with a pre-ride chaser. The happy discovery that my slapdash “chuck it at the fence and see what sticks” painting technique had exhausted our paint supplies, created a window of opportunity through which I joyfully jumped and headed out to the trails.

16:30
Since riding was cutting deep into our drinking time, we raced sun baked dusty trails serially excusing piss poor performance through pointlessly high corner entry speeds, poor line choice and fitness grown fat on summer beer. Kicking dust motes skywards silhouetted against a falling sun, we revelled in the rock hard ground – riding fast and loose on trails cartographed into my mind and hard wired into my muscles.

Much much more fun than anything with a paintbrush.

Heading pubwards on a cheeky evening bridleway with only the sound of Andy’s chattering forks inches from my rear tyre for company, the off camber, steep sided flinty trail was treated with lofty disdain which familiarity breeds. I mean this is the benign Chilterns for God’s sake, there’s nothing dangerous here and there is no way I’m letting the old fat fella get past me. Bragging rights over a cold beer await.

16:31
Oh dear. I appear to have crashed rather badly.

http://pickled-hedgehog.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gif

16:33
Andy, fellow professional northerner and trained first aider, took a look at the damage while pointedly ignoring my whimpering. The knee looked dreadful but didn’t hurt much. Well not as much as a wrist to shoulder wound filled with trail dirt and seasoned heavily with AB rhesus positive. And my shoulders were spasming amusingly not due to the original crash rather Andy’s riderless bike smashing into them while I lie prone and winded. Talk about adding insult to injury – the insult was “fucking hell, aren’t I suffering enough?”

16:35
“Tha’ll be needing to get that to ‘ospital lad” Andy offered while pouring cold water into open wounds and fashioning bandages from handkerchiefs. “Can tha ride?” he asked followed by a scratch of the chin and a reflective “Tha’d better be able to cause its fooking miles back t’car”” Who could refuse such an offer as that?

It wasn”t that bad actually as long as I didn’t look at it. Other trail users looked aghast as flaps of skin spitting blood were accompanied by a cheery “nothing to worry about, a mere flesh wound“. Adrenalin is a fine pain killer, it just doesn’t last very long.

16:50
It lasted long enough for Andy to drive me to hospital and to be gently prodded by the triage nurse. “How did you do this then?” she innocently enquired to which I couldn’t help but reply “Badly executed throw at the All-Chiltern Herring Chucking Contest” which earned me a tighter bandage that I would otherwise expected. I’m assuming this was also the reason she spurned my offer to clean up my arm during the expected two hour wait to be treated. Instead I took her advice that “somebody who knows what they’re doing should sort that for you” and watch it form a painful crust infused with bits of tree and rock.

17:30
My knee hurts now. Andy’s taken the car and bikes and my wife and kids’ll be back soon. I feel like an idiot. I also feel like some strong painkillers would be in order. Still the thought of a couple of medicinal Scotches post stitching keeps my spirits up.

18:30
Amazing I mused. Apparently we’ve put twice as much money into the NHS over the last seven years than during the previous period. Is it just me wondering where all the bloody money went? The magazine collection kept me amused if not interested. Aside from the thousand facsimiles of Womans Weekly – content “10 ways to get thin this summer”, “Why Men are Bastards” and “Asparagus – the forgotten vegetable” – I was left with those bastions of the hospital circuit “Coarse Fishing” and “What Caravan“” (answer NONE).

Alternating a page of each which is quite amusing in a “Who the hell leaves this stuff here?” way. Why no playboy even with the pages stuck together? I’m building a theory that old magazines never die, they just shuffle off into a parallel waiting room existence. Go on, try and and find “Carp World incorporating who gives a fuck” in any proper retailer. Never going to happen.

18:50
Finally called with a few others to the “Minor Injuries Unit“. Minor Injury, excuse me I don’t want to go all Tony Hancock on you here but I’ve almost lost a leg. Wife and Kids turn up wanting to see the damage – find pissed off dad/husband wanting to get this over with and go home. Sweaty, tired and in a bit of pain but mostly playing it back through my mind – how did I fall off there right on my doorstep. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

19:30
Still here. Still not been seen. Lots of ill looking people. Want to be out of here more than almost anything. One child accidentally knocks bloody knee. Consider adoption.

19:50
“Oh that’s pretty bad, we may need to keep you in” was the initial assessment of a rather jolly nurse called Peter. Nurse? Bloke? Is it just me? Anyway, the Doctor on call is a bit busy so they’ll send me to X-Ray just in case there’s bone floating about in there. Suddenly this has got a little serious. Keep me in? Jesus, that was like meeting the grim reaper down the pub. Talk about unexpected and scary.

20:00
Arrive at X-Ray. Radiologist is in theatre dealing with an emergency. That’s not me then. I spend some quality time counting bricks in a wall and reading how Kylie conquered breast cancer. Think she probably didn’t have to deal with the NHS, shame a bit of a sing song would cheer the “Non X-Ray’d 4″ up no end. My three companions are in various states of dress and physical fitness. Between us there’s probably one healthy body. Hope no one gets my liver.

20:30
Pontificating on whether I could pay BUPA to pick me up and pamper me senseless even if I have to mortgage the house. Knee swollen and painful, arm not really any use as the blood/scar tissue have set solid. Mind on a loop “stupid, stupid, stupid

20:45
Hot Spare Radiologist arrives. Hurray! Two other cases more important than me and since once is strapped to a spinal board and the other is a young women in serious finger pain (having dislocated said digit prodding her boyfriend – man he’s trying hard not to piss himself laughing), I can hardly complain.

21:10
Third case more important. Irritatingly tap non injured leg and barely contain urge to scream at someone.

21:30
“Can you lay you knee flat?” “oooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwww ohfuckohfuckno” “okay then, do the best you can“. She’s being nice but clearly thinks I’m being a total wimp.

22:00
Back in the Minor Injuries unit feeling majorly injured. Dislocated finger girl screaming as they try to point her digit the same way as the other three. Christ I hate hospitals, they are full of sick people.

Finally Doctor bloke walks in looking knackered and stressed. He’s way younger than me but even more world weary. Takes a look, makes a noise like the car mechanic when explaining that a million pounds might just cover it, and instructs various minions to clean out the wounds so he can stitch it.

22:10
Wow we’re really moving now. Male Nurse (ug, is it still me?) is a top bloke and decides there is no way they can clean it without either knocking me out or giving me a stick to chew on. We agree on a halfway house where he injects anaesthetic into the open wound. I’ll not forget that in a hurry. I ask for the stick anyway. Here’s a tip – when someone wearing any kind of medical attire apologises with “this may hurt a bit“they really are leveraging the power of understatement.

22:20
Bliss. Knee is on planet pissed and I can#t feel anything. Purple haired nurse turns up and cleans it out bringing forth an extraordinary cocktail of trail debris. Any minute now I’m expecting that scene out of alien and something badger sized to leap out of the gaping wound. My disappointment deepened when the non anesthetised arm is at the mercy of what I can only describe as a hygienic wire brush. Bring back the needles. And the stick.

23:10
Anaesthetic wearing off. This is not good as the Doc has to stitch this and the though of him wielding the needle on swollen, tender skin has me on the wrong side of extremely perturbed. Carol’s logistically perfect as ever and grimly endures my whinging monologue happy in the knowledge that Andy – parenting technique: “tha makes any noise and I’ll put pair of ya in t’cooking pot”. is now looking after the kids at home.

23:30
Doc returns breathless apologising for his tardiness. I’m a bit irritated and it shows but he spreads his hands wide and explains “I’ve been dealing with a brain tumour“. That’s me told then. I hope it’s not his own, scars I can live with, a non working knee ruthlessly removes bikes from my future. That’s almost as bad as losing a drinking arm.

Before he can stitch the knee, he must ensure the bone isn’t perforated. More syringes filled with saline are injected into the bone and any sprinkler like results mean major surgery.

Three times he tries and three times he hits bone. Oh fucking hell that really hurts. Really stupidly elbow bitingly hurts. Like a knife cutting into the bone and twisting and then twisting some more. He leaves looking concerned and I’m convinced he’s off to find a bigger needle and Steve Backley to javelin it in from the next ward.

23:45
Consultant arrives. Hes even younger. Jeez, I’m the one wearing short trousers here, surely it should be the other way round? They consult in whispers and then Doc is back to deliver the painful news: “were admitting you, it’s just not clean enough, they’ll have to angle grind it out under a general“. Or something like that.

Great. Bloody Great. Seven hours, not insignificant suffering and only now do you decide it’s too late to do get to theatre tonight. Apparently the op will be tomorrow but I’m wise to the schedule now. If I leave before they send me out in a nice pine coffin, I’ll be lucky.

24:00
Hello? Anyone there?

00:30 Wheeled up to the ward in the new part of the hospital. You can tell as the lifts work and it doesn’t smell of piss and pain. Ward seven is my new home and the bed is clean and comfortable. I wonder if it’s too late for food since the last meal was some twelve hours before. The nurse shakes her head pointing apologetically to the “Nil By Mouth” crayoned on my notes.

But would I like some painkillers. Is the bear a pope? I don’t know what they are but within minutes I’m back on the pain free planet idly wondering if the worst is over.

Yeah right.

Follow this for the diary of Day 2

Progress of a sort

Now there is probably a serious social anthropometric statement to be made here. But we’ll ignore such pretentious nonsense and instead focus on the amusing backlash against product marketing and demand creation. Christ that sounds almost as bad – let me tell you what I’m talking about.

Work gave me one of these.

It’s super clever – a synchronised repository for all my e-mail, text messages and calendaring. Essentially a phone shaped device pretending to be half a PC and if that’s not enough it’s equipped with more communications modes than NASA; Bluetooth, infrared, GPRS, Analogue and an electronic facsimile of morse code. Okay, I made one of those up but honestly, the last time I saw so much amazing stuff in a small package, it was filled with class A drugs.

Obviously that was a long time ago and I was only looking. Ahem.

Oh it’s a phone as well. It has a decent camera and if that wasn’t enough offers several million ring polyphonic ring tones, infinite classes to which you can assign contacts, some kind of smart dialling where the number is whipped straight out of your mind and dialled before you can say “what the fuck is happening here” and other advanced stuff buried deep in a manual that is comically four times the size of the device. I can’t just call it a phone, I’ll get sued.

There is just one incy problem with it. It’s a bloody useless phone. Actually it’s pretty useless as a PC as well and the camera is just an excuse to toss drunken photos of body parts to your mates over a communication medium that was developed for targeting missiles. Is it just me that sees this as a tad ironic? Apparently porn is going to be the biggest growth sector (excuse me?) on these multi media monstrosities with Video taking the lead for those who can’t wait to get home to wank over keyboards. Maybe I’m getting old but it smacks of desperation. Download a 30 second image on a tiny screen and knock one out in the toilets. Maybe it’s time to bring back those tyre catalogues that used to adorn the walls of garages. It’d save a fortune on GPRS charges.

Anyway I’m delighted to hear that it’s not just me that’s whinging at the apparent solutions looking for problems or should that be revenue. The ubiquitous Nokia 6210 is now the most sought after phone on Ebay after it went out of production two years ago.

It has no camera, the battery lasts for ever, you can make and receive calls and – get this kids – that’s it! No Java Games, no cut down operating system running Anti Virus scans and bastardised PC applications. No way of receiving your email but decent size keypads so you can text without playing hunt the key. It is essentially a phone. What a fantastic idea.

Apparently they are now selling on Ebay for more than the original retail price. Now that’s properly funny.

I was going to write some snide comment about what drives product development and how we’re all slaves to marketing in that we don’t care what’s best, we only care what’s new. Still having looked at my extensive bike collection with no component older than a decent wine, it may smack of hypocrisy, so I’ll shut up.

Well for the moment at least.

Management Bullshit

This is a fantastically useful website for any of you poor fools who’ve been beached on the sanity barren corporate sandbank. You know who you are – you’re those who’d swapped changing the world for a barely concealed fist of death when confronted by such bollocks as:

However, developing operational and conceptual learning must work within parameters which address the need for strategic decision-making oriented to market growth vectors. ”

/Waves again.

If you can’t beat them (to death) join them.

I’ll wager a small prize for anyone who straight faces three hits in a single meeting. If you get fired, I’ll double the prize; if you get promoted, except violence.

I’m not going to play. The place I work it’d be “to your left a barrel of fish, to your right, a rifle”. Although the next arsehole who feels the urge “to de-risk the event horizon” will be feeling the flat of my hand.

Commuting Viagra.

It’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself a proper rant at Chiltern Railways. This isn’t because the perilous and difficult journey from South Bucks to London has in any way improved – it’s more about a level of resignation that’s been beaten into me through a year of commuting. But today they pushed me over the edge.

Although to properly stretch that metaphor, you should think of it as being fired into the abyss by cannon. The root of my discontent is not the new platform built so far away from the station that one should be provisioned with sandwiches to fortify you on the journey. Amazing as it is, they still categorise this distant outpost as part of Marylebone station although a more geographically accurate description would be “South Hampstead” The truly awful consequence of siting the platform in the next borough, is the unedifying sight of fat people struggling up the miles of asphalt – wobbly bits to the fore.

But that’s not the reason I was lemming fired into the ranting chasm. Nor was it Chiltern Railway’s total inability to communicate with their customers. They have acted consistently whenever presented with one of my written missives pleading for some rationale to explain their random decision making when it comes to timetables, bike racks and other myriad areas of Mandelbrot policy.

They’ve ignored them all.

I’ve been forced to complain to a ‘higher authority’ although my route there was plotted through terrifying thickets of ear steaming angst on rail forums. Some of the folk on there, as our American friends would label it, have ‘issues’. I prefer to think of them as barking mad and in need of stronger medication.

Although I’m irritated beyond what’s sensible by their apathy is strategy approach to customer relations, that didn’t fire up my inner grumpy either. Even when the other day when the first train never arrived and the second one had hardly left before stopping to admire the leafy London suburbs, I couldn’t even dignify that as blog food. Once it started to move again, it did so with all the speed of glacial erosion – still my boredom was forestalled by the educational delight of the entire Jurassic age passing by the window.

The reason for my rant was the simple announcement that “This train is for London Marylebone“. No it bloody isn’t, that’s just an aspirational vision foundering on the rocks of we really don’t care – an approach which abandoned us at Harrow. No reason was given although I’ve not ruled out a possible lightening strike brought on by a dispute over Bacon Buttie rations.

The undignified push and shunt onto a passing tube seemed like a possible solution but I’d happily forgotten that these wheeled cigars only give an appearance of speed through noise, vibration and the nervous worry that at any point, the tube would career off the rails. Time based reality distils the truth as a ten mile journey spanned thirty minutes and joggers of immense antiquity passed us with hardly a sweat.

Some bloke modelling June’s “Mr. Motorway HiViz Maintenance” had the temerity to attempt to wrest further funds from my good self in exchange for an Underground ticket. Once I’d informed him that, as far as I was concerned, “You’re all part of F*ckwit central stained with the inability to run a railroad“, further conversation deterioration left me with no choice but to out this bon jot “Even in the remotest inbred village, you would disgrace the rank of idiot“. I’ve been saving that one for a while.

We agreed to differ and, vibrating sideways with righteous anger, I strode onto the Marylebone concourse (had to fetch the bike) only to see happy little trains running in and out of the station.

I’m starting to think this is personal now.

Still at least I can claim compensation. In this digital age, form filling should be a rather simple electronic page or, at worst, a quick email. But not this is Chiltern Railways motto: “Fares from 2015, Systems from 1915” – so it’s no surprise that it’s some kind of super complex four page form with carbon paper.

Oh the cruel irony – we know they never respond to any communication that doesn’t involve the size of their bonus cheques, so what do you think the chances of me receiving anything back other than letterbox inadequacy? The form is pretty funny though, I’ll fill you in when I fill it in. Makes you think doesn’t it? Email travels at 30,000 miles per hour yet Chiltern Railway’s administration barely matches the speed of their trains. It’d be quicker to transcribe it on a stone tablet and dispatch it by camel.

I’m feeling increasingly impotent and while the blog is therapy of sorts, I need some kind of commuting Viagra. A man on the inside, a hotline to someone who cares, a targeted thermonuclear strike, that kind of thing.

Flagging

What’s that all about then? Tacky St. George’s flags joyfully festoon each and every mode of transport in London. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much as an armchair supporter as the next man but this looks like Jingoism’s poster child dressed up as sporting patrotism. It’s like a pensioner with a mobile phone – there’s just something mildly unsettling about it, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.

I’ve always distrusted blind allegiance to any flag, so could never really get my head round our American cousin’s daily ritual of hoisting the Stars and Stripes in their back yard, and then throwing it a non ironic salute. Although on reflection, it may have been their right to arm bears and build scary munition dumps which accompany the flag waving that was truly terrifying.

And we’ll lose. Oh we might scrape into the quarter finals before something unsporting happens like a better team beating us or – worse still – penalties. If it’s the latter, the mass neurosis of fifty million nail biting little Englanders will surely transmit itself to our recently clothed emporer’s sporting heroes and they’ll blast the ball somewhere into row Z.

And then all the flags will magically disappear for another four years. Except for the sad few, grubby and frayed, whipping a mocking farewell to a never really achievable dream.

Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon. And maybe it’s just football that ignites my inner grumpy because who could not be uplifted by the sight of our fantastically hungover cricket team parading a small tea urn through the streets of London last year? But then we’d beaten the Aussies. And I’d be the first man out with my flag, rattle and kiss’me’quick hat whenever that happens even if England had recently retained the international tiddywinks crown.

Or maybe I’m just a grumpy bugger resigned to the inevitiability of defeat and the long faces it will cast for weeks afterwards.

That’s probably it.

I admit it – I am a hit whore

Musing away, idly drunk on “Witches Nipple” (a complex fusion of runway cleaner and battery acid with a huge nose and an under-the-table-finish), I was forced to accept that ‘stuffing the hedgehog’ has become something more than a drunken pastime. That’s not terribly interesting but my attempts to insert rude words into every new post until – let’s say – eternity may be.

To this end, I’ve been spending some quality time in the virtual statistics department. Surrounded by electronic beards and electron toed sandals, I fired up the data miner thingy and immersed myself in this dusty and mostly untrodden bridleway of the wibblyweb.

Continue reading I admit it – I am a hit whore

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.