Friday Nutter..

An occasional slot dedicated to those individuals whose skill/bravery/lack of imagination both inspire and diminish any watching rather than doing.

Nutter bike videos are fine. I’ve reconciled myself that the pleasure one can illicit from watching such wheeled perfection is in no way lessened by feeling of jealousy or frustration. Because, as I’ve espoused before, anyone that good* is clearly an alien and there are many amongst us.

Gliders are slightly different. Smashing up the toy ones is obviously a home grown skill that would translate badly to the full size. Having flown many such engineless behemoths in my youth, I’ve a vague idea of exactly how dangerous/bonkers/physically demanding that stuff going on in the video is.

My favourite bit is either when the huge loads on the airframe (that’s a Swift which can stand 10G and -7G Inverted… find me a powered plane that can do that) sound out in creaks, groans and aural implications of impending doom. Or when a pen flies up into the cockpit under massive negative G and the pilot calmly grabs it.

Various Air Forces around the world use the Swift to teach fighter jocks aerobatics. Proper bonkers.

* or, let’s be honest, that much better than me

IVR

An acronym to strike fear into the heart of any innocent attempting to pay for the privilege of wasting their own time. It’s not – as you might suspect – shorthand for It’s Virtually Rude or even I’m Very Rustrated*, but the rather more semantically challenging Interactive Voice Recognition.

Worked with these things a bit in what passes as my professional life. Fairly sure they’re designed specifically to ensure that a) you slam the phone down in righteous anger having pushed 1,3,7,6,3,2 waited for half an hour and then hit gjhfu97874 with your fist and been immediately disconnected and b) you enjoy a significant contribution to the non-customer-service service line profits by dint of a premium number.

Today, I’ve been lucky enough to batter through the electronic barriers to real people – who obviously don’t give a shit either but at least they answer back, albeit in monosyllabic grunts farmed from non-helpful scripts – in order to give them some of my money.

Firstly Vodafone. They have a “customer experience” system designed by a sadistic lunatic with a specialism in repetition. Dialled the access number, prodded my way through to “any other enquiry” – because you’ll always end up at the same place so no point shunting through multiple queues to get there – exiting the numeric maze by entering my mobile number.

I get Gary: “Can you tell me your mobile number please?” I explained I had just done so to his electronic IVR colleague. “We have to ask again” he tells me. But he can’t tell me why. I provide it so we move onto the address. Which one? Head Office, My Office, Home? Either, or, all apparently. No, still not sure why.

After a dull game of “no not that one, try again” we establish it’s the firms’ head office. “Do I know the post code?” Obviously not because I am not some kind of mnemonic memory man. “I need it before we can go on“. Don’t ask why, I did. It wasn’t a conversational branch finishing in an epiphany.

Apparently it’s for “Security Reasons“. All I’m going to do is Google it so it’s unlikely this would deter any thief with access to a) the Internet or b) an IQ of more than 11.  This triggers a surly response from an increasingly grumpy Gary that this is not his fault, and – power crazed with the opportunity to deal some small minded smackdown – he refuses to proceed until I’ve pony’d up the six digit code.

I fail to do so. We agree to disagree. Up to the point when I mark him as a “script based monkey with the customer facing skills of a baseball bat“. I hang up before he does. So I win, right? Okay probably facing imminent phone cut off, especially as Vodafone – with staggering ironic timing – then called me asking for any feedback regarding their services.

Probably wished they hadn’t.

So flushed with failure, I attempt to wrest control of my administration nightmare with a multiple-no-choice assault on the DVLA. In a rare and welcome example of joined up Government, it seems my gurning passport photo can be seamlessly transferred to my driving license with nary a filled in form or extreme post office queuing all for the princely bribe of £20.

Except I can’t. The electronic form burped me out once it established a tiny discrepancy between names on the two documents. We’re not talking much here; Alex Leigh on one, Reisling J. Pineapple The Third on the other that kind of thing, but no amount of 20-year-IT-Man-and-Boy shouting at the screen garnered any progress.

So back to the hated IVR. Boredom ruined my first attempt with random button jabbing leaving me in some repeating cul-de-sac. For some low-rent entertainment, second time round I counted the number of menus, sub menus and options. I ran out of fingers just before I ran out of enthusiasm but was shocked from my increasing torpor by a human saying one thing and meaning something else entirely.

Try it next time you hear “Hello, how can I help?” have a proper listen to gain the real meaning which is “reading OK magazine, go and read the web site, call back if you’re still stuck, it won’t be me you speak too“. I explained in great detail the issue I’d had, how I’d tried to work around it, what options I’d considered and a proposal that would save me from a possible stabbing in Hereford Post Office.

For all my hard work, reasoned argument and lucid rationale I received a response from the best of the best that the DVLA can offer.

No”.

IVR? I think it’s probably call centre short hand for “That half an hour of life you had? It’s ours ALL OURS MWWWAAAAHHHHH

* I couldn’t think of an angry work starting with R. Rapscallioned? Rucked off?

That’s not a forecast..

.. that’s somewhere between a wild guess and an electronic shrug. Obsessed by the weather as I am, three sites lurk in my favourites offering – generally – biblical visions of the prevailing conditions come home time

1) between -3 and 8 degrees

2) Between -6 and 1 degree

3) Between -2 and 4 degrees.

The final one is the venerable beeb, the first two are clearly programmed by some stoner quiche-eater stroking a hamster. I mean really, potential statisical inacurracy of 11 degrees bounded by a total of about 30.

I could do better leaning out of the window and declaring “h’mm chilly, potentially parky later“. In fact I just have. I think the workers from the building opposite were crowded round thinking it was a suicide attempt.

It may well be if forecast 2) is correct. I appear to have contracted “frost-willy” after a sub zero ride in earlier.

I spent ages dithering this morning trying to find stuff. I failed to uncover my motivation which has been lost for the last week. Apparently it was last seen holding Spring hostage.

Large reward for its’ return.

Marginal Madness. Added dog.

VCA 2010 RACE RUN from changoman on Vimeo.

This appears to be a man riding extremely fast on the absolute cusp of painful stackery, all while wearing a suit. Probably just the sort of thing most of us would have a crack on during an otherwise boring lunchtime.

He’s got a mate as well who is slightly less sketchy, but still has to somehow not fall down a 100 steps at a million miles an hour, with two thirds of bugger all clearance on both sides.

Then, he too is attacked by a dog that is either deaf or rabid. Probably both.

This was very similar to my ride last night. Except for the terrain, sun, warmth, absence of darkness and skills on display. The “nearly crashing” part was all there. As was the ice and freezing cold winds. If this is some kind of cosmic weather joke, I’d just like to say IT’S NOT FUNNY ANY MORE.

Right back to work. Too much of it currently.

Mostly Human

Birmingham International airport has one very big thing going for it,  it is not Heathrow. So the experience is marginally less unpleasant, slightly quicker and dispatched under the generally cheery auspices of officiating brummies.

But I don’t want to accentuate the positive here; it’s still fundamentally a dreadful way to travel.  Not only did I map out the ten hour trip to Amsterdam by car, I very nearly grabbed my passport, a wad of tunnel funds and some pro-plus in order to drive there. I’m still not sure it was the right decision to fly.

Of the many horrors awaiting anyone careless enough to be trapped in a major Airport orbit, a prize for the most demeaning, pointless and wasting of time has to be the security checks.  First let’s do pointless – actually let’s not because Bruce Schneier is significantly better informed and qualified that me.

Demeaning? Absolutely. It’s actually kind of interesting to watch a self-referential business person transformed to mumbling apologist on removal of their suited armour. Clothes maketh the man (or – and possibly – more noticeably Women) eh? There’s something in that I think, from all the research thirty minutes of watching it happening to other people.

Also briefcases? Definitely old school business accessory that. I counted more squashy man-bags than plastic Samsonite squares and this is the West Midlands, not some sophisticated metropolis. Because I knew what was coming – although by Christ I didn’t think it could possibly take so long on a Winters’ morning at 6am – my clothing, electrical accoutrements and hand luggage had been carefully chosen.

No laptop for a start. Two days with corporate lifeblood squeezed through the restricted optical arteries of a dumbphone. No suit because the Dutch office is of the opinion that a tie is not terribly important*. No little baggy for my toiletries either. An oversight mocked by the looping videos on how to remove your jacket – I guess to better show any concealed firearms – and the appropriate presentation style for exploding shampoo.

I had plenty of time to dream up a range of excuses ranging from “No shampoo, check out the thatch, can we compromise that toothpaste isn’t a liquid?” to “That man over there, yes him, he stole it, and he was messing about with his shoes as well“. Second one should have distracted the dozy staff enough for me to hurdle the barrier and make a run for it. Possibly ending with being shot by less dopy armed police, but embarrassment saved from having to beg for a ziplock.

The airport used to have two terminals. Now it has one. The upshot is a phalanx of herded passengers pressed into not-so-neat queues all waiting for one working scanner. On remarking at this apparently obvious bottleneck, my reward was a long suffering “well the new machines are slower and we’re not allowed to have any extra staff” followed by what I can only describe as a “trade union snort of derision“.

So we queued and queued in that uniquely British “musn’t grumble” approach to organised stupidity. Except for the expensively suited tribe who tapped Blackberry’s and watches, demanded to be upgraded to first-in-line, before being reduced to sheepishness by scanner wielding busybodies in a strange game of strip poker.**

My turn tut-tutted those behind, once my polite request for a bag was met with a large bellied man demanding to know if “he was a bloody bag salesman” to which one can only respond with “I don’t know, are you? If so, I’m in luck eh?“. Rather than the cavity search such cleverness probably deserved, he cracked a weary smile and fetched something rather less threatening than the rubber gloves I expected.

I made the plane with about 30 seconds to spare. Through the departure gate essentially mooning at the shocked gate staff, with my still unbelted trousers showing a fair slab of builders arse. Honestly in future, I’ll just get my ticket tattoo’d on there.

Next month France beckons. I’m going on the train.

* So easy to bore you all with a diatribe on the laughable conflicts of corporate uniform. But  I shall not. As future employment is important to me.

** If you read this in a certain way, it does sound like an exceedingly hasty form of foreplay.

Equations.

Take: “It’s been pissing down with rain for three days“. Add “it still is“. Multiply by “It is not going to stop

Subtract “Motivation“. Divide by “eyelid dropping tiredness”

Solve “Hardly Ridden Hardtail“+“2.35 DH tyres“+”Rubbish Brakes” = “Perfect bike for slippy and shitty conditions”

Apparently this all equals “Yes! A Night Ride. BRING IT ON, I CAN HARDLY WAIT, OH HOW LUCKY AM I

Yes I know there may be an article in Singletrack that talks up the joy of muddy rides when you can’t see and you can’t steer, and you can stop but only by hitting a tree. And yes, I accept I wrote it. And if it makes you happy I’ll further concede that exactly one post ago my extollation on the joys of four season riding was unbounded.

That was when I was inside and dry. Anyway, this time it’s a public service as my riding bud reckons he’ll be forced to strike out on his road bike if I don’t go. That’s the lowest form of blackmail. He’d better have got the tea on and primed the hose pipe*

I’m sure it’s going to be lovely.

Afterwards.

* for post ride bike cleaning. In case you were in any doubt.

Anyone tells you..

… how much better Mountain Bikes were when the world was a simpler place needs to watch this video.

It’s not just the crashes – which are ace, some proper corkers there and gloriously acknowledged by a hyena crowd – it’s the way nothing works and everything breaks. Nothing brakes really either as you can just make out four finger death grips on the levers reducing velocity not a jot.

We’re so damn lucky to have people like that to make sure MTB companies made stuff like we ride now.

Blown out.

Finally my experimental* nutrional approach to create a God Like cycling persona is paying off. This morning me and Wog completed the inbound commute a massive 15% quicker than the one only three days previous.

I’m going to be RICH. That kind of performance improvement is only normally available to those nose down in a bag of Bolivian Marching Powder. People will be flocking to my door demanding I furnish them with a Bacon Butty and a bill for a thousand pounds.

As I was contemplating the myriad ways to spend my impending windfall, I couldn’t help noticing that “Wind” and “Fall” seemed to be playing merry havoc with the trees. Bent almost double under the power of an Autumn gale, it would seem my velocity gains may be horribly reversed come home time.

I was going to write some more but then realised I aleady had some time ago

Instead, let me share a quote from our train driver this morning: “I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen about the late running of this service. Railtrack appear to have been surprised by Autumn, and we are operating at restricted speed so we don’t pass through our next scheduled stop at 40mph”

Apparently the train operating company has a £1m leaf cleaning machine. This was not in evidence, although two blokes in high viz jackets alighted at Worcester carrying a pair of petrol leaf blowers.

If they’re available during the return journey, I’ll nick ’em and strap ’em to the frame to create a poor man’s rocket-bike. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “What could possibly go wrong?”

* Beer, Wine, Bacon Sandwiches, Pringles, Occasional lettuce.

Wibble

Woger Wibble

Meet Woger, the latest step on my journey to bike nirvana. Lately I’ve managed to convince almost no-one that the days of random bike purchases were long behind me. A strict one-in one-out policy was being ruthlessly augmented with a “cost per use” equation. Once I’d run out of wall hangers, I’d run out of excuses to buy anything new and shiny.

It’s important to understand these hard and fast rules were in fact no more than guidelines. And a lack of wall space can be simply solved by either leaning this one against a handy bench, or chucking Carol’s bike into the shed.

There is some method to what may seem absolute madness – especially to those whom I confidently explained that any instance of Lucifer’s preferred personal transportation device would burn up on entry into my cycling atmosphere – to why I now have two road bikes.

It’s about cash. Sort of. Mostly. In parts. If viewed from an oblique angle. By an alien. Every trip to our offices in England’s second city offers me not only a zero MPH view of the M5 most days, but also the fiscal opportunity to blow the thick end of FORTY QUID on petrol and parking. You could run a Space Shuttle on that, although I except it’s harder to find a space for it in the multi-story.

Riding 12 miles to Ledbury station costs nothing but a bit of commitment, planning and refusal to accept that dark and cold automatically equal cars with heaters.  From about now until the world revolves slowly round to BST, wibbling to work via the train will pay for Woger and some. And the time I spend slumped in the carriage of London Midland’s finest trundlers can be spent reading, writing, looking out of the window, or dribbly asleep.

Try that on the Motorway and see what happens*. And yes I could make that journey on my lovely Carbon boardman that’s seen 850ks of commuting and not much else this year. It’s not like I’m even a proper roadie**, it entirely fails to deliver the visceral pleasure of mountain biking, the pleasure is more about retaining fitness not actually what’s going on during the process.

So why buy another bike to do something that’s meant to be about saving money. Logic so twisted it requires a couple of extra dimensions. And yet,  my justification based entirely on the shitty state of the roads here, the cost of replacing expensive components the Boardman is hung with, and a guilt-free laziness of a bike that has “shed chuck” written all over it. Only way that bike is being cleaned before spring is if it gets rained on.

That was my rationale before I rode it. Didn’t expect to enjoy it at all, it’s cheap and that’s reflected everywhere with heavy stuff adorning an unsophisticated alloy frame. Surprisingly it’s pretty good fun once winched up to speed.  Lardy wheels make that a bit of a chore and the gearing is a bit aspirational when presented with the local geography, but get a wriggle on and there’s a racy little number trying very hard to get out.

It has the persona of a fat lass, downstream of a few Bicardi Breezers and looking for a good time. While the Boardman is all efficiency, lightness and power, Wibbly Wog is labrador-esque in its’ need to please.  Will I feel the same way at the end of winter?

Not sure, but there may be a road bike up for sale. Possibly two.

* Disclaimer. If you die horribly in a mass of twisted and burning wreckage, don’t come looking to me for sympathy.

** To fat, head not permanently stuck up one’s own fundament, occasionally noted for a sense of humour, has man-hairy legs, that kind of thing singles me out.

Return of the rant

On the one hand, there is my well reasoned discourse – forensically arguing the case for universal benefits with reference to the unfairness of the proposed changes to Child Benefit, and more specifically the devastating financial impact on my secret bike buying funds, on the other a short sweary note on some welly-booted twat trying to kill me.

I have always maintained that a shared passion for something does not automatically engender kindred spirits. Many – in fact most – of my friends ride bikes but that doesn’t represent anything but the slightest dent in a world of cycling cocks. Nor does everyone who lives outside London* assume the gentler, kinder, less hurried characteristics of many we’ve met since heading west.

Last night point entirely proven. LandRover with massive trailer rattles up behind as I made my exit from Ledbury. Set of lights 300 yards ahead on red, but he can’t wait even tho I’m the far side of 20mph and pedalling hard. No, he pulls out to pass, realises there isn’t room for me, him, his trailer and the co-op lorry approaching from the opposite direction, and so removes me from the sizing equation.

How the swinging death metal of the trailer missed me I do not know. I did ask him though – politely knocking on the window before demanding a explanation quickly followed by an apology of exactly what the fuck he thought he might be doing.  A standard response I’ve learned well from my time in our fine capital was again trotted out “didn’t see you, didn’t realise you were going so fast, wasn’t that close was it?”. “Blind Idiot, Stupid Idiot, Yes it bloody was, I was there, honestly I know” was pretty much my comeback only with lots more swearing.

I went on at some length that the highway code applied equally to us all, and that “no his road fund license was not funding some secret cult where it was okay to kill cyclists for being in the way“, at which point the lights changed, and I decamped haughtily down a one way street. In the wrong direction. Throwing my moral high ground behind me.

If we meet again I shall hope he is suitably chastised and has learned a hard lesson. More likely it’ll be a shotgun out of the window and picking pellets out of my arse for weeks.

For the sake of balance, my reasoned argument went something like “tax those bastards who got us into this first, yeah you know the ones paying themselves six figure bonuses for lending more cheap money. The gits that don’t need child allowance to prop up their boarding school fees“. I feel it’s a populist cause I’m fronting here.

* almost all those inside are nutters tho.