Back in the room

Back in the shed!

Back in 2008 we had a new house, lots of ideas but not much money. Therefore the priority was some form of heating to combat the inrushing winter. That form ended up hoovering up all our funds, and lots more beside as, in the process, we created an authentic WW1 trench experience*

Having swerved difficult conversations with social services**, thoughts moved to freeing the house of bikes, bike stuff and the primary bike rider. My thoughts anyway which envisaged a cycling cathedral soaring high into the Herefordshire skyline.

After all we already had a 50×25 foot slab laid for an unbuilt stable. We didn’t however have the budget to fill it, so instead commissioned a modest*** structure satisfying both ‘bike storage‘ and ‘home office‘ requirements. Some dithering, a stud wall and a purchasing strategy best summarised as ‘lowest cost bidder‘ brought forth the ShedofDreams(tm).

Considering it’s not build of the highest quality materials, it’s survived remarkably well. Apart from the roof taking flight last winter and the fascia boards demanding a monthly paint refresh.

Emergency roof repairs

The bike side has seen extensive use. It’s looking a little tired but is still home to many of my favourite tools, all correctly labelled and mostly unused.  Actual bikes tho they’ve all been campaigned extensively. If – in most cases – somewhat briefly.

Annual ShedofDreams deep clean

Annual ShedofDreams deep clean

The office side has seen rather more sporadic occupancy.  When the kids were young, my attempts to project a thin veneer of professionalism were often punctured by noisy sibling rivalry and occasional violence. So a ‘safe space‘ had many things going for it- a good part of that was its lack of said rumbustious offspring – but a decent internet connection wasn’t one of them.

Back in the day not a massive issue. We weren’t 100% dependant on the Internet and even if we were, our broadband bandwidth was somewhere between dial up and despair.  The phone worked tho, and occasionally I’d be delighted to find an email dated within the last month pop into my inbox.

Other issues need to be surfaced though. We’d gone a bit insulation mad when building the shed. This kept it lovely and warm in winter – even with the wind whistling between most joints, I refer you back to lowest cost bidder – but come summer it was an unpleasant fusion of a grotty Sauna and the Hot Boxes best known from the ‘Bridge of the River Kwai’.

I gradually migrated back into the house. The office became mainly an auxiliary dumping ground for shit we’d never need but you know just in case. It also became home to a rodent population gorging themselves on said crap. Not an attractive proposition in terms of moving back in.

Then COVID. Before which I was on the road so much of the time, my ‘home‘ office was generally a hotel or a train. Now 6 months after snaffling Carol’s craft room, my marching orders were received, notarised and absolutely not to be considered a request. Which is entirely fair since I’d annexed a decent chunk of the house.

We cleaned out the mouse-poo, had the painting finished we’d abandoned some ten years before, assembled a ‘zoom wall‘ of cheap Ikea bookcases and attempted to fit everything around the turbo by accidently burning it. Sadly it appears both bloody annoying and inflammable.

Testing the new WFH second monitor :)

Internet tho. My weeks now are filled with a minimum of 50% ‘you’re on mute, I can’t see your video, can you see what I’m sharing?’ While the cosmetic upgrade was impressive, the digital footprint was still mired in the sand. Turtles racing through treacle best describes the pedestrian opening of a web page.

Not to worry, we’d foreseen this problem during the excavation phase, so burying a hosepipe route between shed and house. Sadly no-one could quite remember where it might be located. As ever my friends rallied round my incompetence with practical solutions; a box of externally rated Ethernet cable from Matt, A crimp tool and a bloody big drill from Rex*** and some strong managerial support from yours truly.

In my defence I designed the not-very-complex non physical network stuff. On the grounds I’ve built some proper fuck-off massive global networks in a previous career, so I’ve got this. Nobody cared. Quite right too.

Back in the shed!

All a bit anti-climatic really. Cable laid (insert your own joke here), outside wall drilled with a bit barely fitting in a LWB transit, cables crimped, slight fuck-ups corrected, connections snapped in and we had all the good lights. ‘Communications have been established from the MotherLode‘ I bellowed triumphantly from the shed. Again, nobody cared.

Now that's a proper internet connection :)

Makes me happy tho. 50 meg from the shed. 50 bloody meg. On the downside Zwift will now never drop out so that’s that excuse gone for good. Upsides tho? Many, out of Carol’s hair for a start. A door to close so I know when to stop working, a chance to flex my Sonos speaker without upsetting – well – everyone really.

https://flic.kr/p/2jLKU5w

There’s more. I have a double zoom wall, one containing the BEST PICTURE EVER commissioned for my 50th, the other stuffed with my favourite books and a few lego offcuts. I might have cracked that professionalism thing, Until I start talking obviously.

And I haven’t even got to the best part. Smart-Plugs. Why was I not told about these digital sorcerers? We’ve run out of space this time, but a thrilling post is in the works. I know, I know you can hardly wait.

Until then, I’m back in the room. For a laugh I might move the laptop to next door so the customers can see what their custom mostly pays for 🙂

*300m of ground source pipes dug to a depth of 1.5m. I’m sure we had more pets before we started.

**both of your young children have called us asking for heaters, blankets and some proper parents.

***it’s still bloody enormous compared to normalised shed dimensions. Yet I look out on 8 feet of slab and feel a bit sad 😉

****who last year risked life and least one limb wrestling the 4G antenna on our chimney. Goodbye shit ADSL, hello 50meg off the the local transmitter.

What do pictures paint?

Words allegedly. Many of them. Yeah about that.  Let’s kick off with some honesty. Appreciate this challenges the norms of this blog, but just trying to keep things fresh.  When film was king, the shutter release demanded some respect. 36 images represented a couple of pints and a week of waiting for the postie*.

Now it’s spray and pray. Well just spray and post really. The photographers art has been mostly lost to a signal to noise ratio long on notoriary and short on quality.  Honest admission number one: I’ve been the noise to that professionals signal. Too many taken not enough deleted. Relied too much of photoshop. Seb’s – www.cranked.cc – words ring loud in my head. Composition not compensation.

Here’s number two. I’m mostly done with writing about riding bikes. Fuck me I’ve mined that seam well beyond exhaustion. There is so much more riding behind me that before me. That’s just bloody depressing. So as a muse it’s suffused with melancholy and pity. No one wants to read that flowery-wank. Not even me.

But we’re not dead yet and I’m giving Dylan a beery hug when he tells me we must fight the dying of the light. Fight yes, write no.  Back to those flickering images. A moment catching something special; golden hour light, snatched facial expressions, sustained bravery, momentary pratfalls, ride-end tiredness, glorious companionship. All this and so much more.

Casting aside planetary orbits charting 53 years of my wizened fizage, let’s move right to the the good stuff. It’s been a strange year. Dreadful in so many ways but life affirming in others. Dragging the focus back to my tribe and the stuff adjustable in my purview, there have been many fantastic moments.

Time to stop talking.

Heading out after a day of Zoom calls.

Solo riding in the bluebells.

Crappy Selfies during lockdown

Riding past our favourite pub. Closed for four months.

From driving every day to working at home with help from pets.

Back to riding with mates. A video still of my good mate Martin.

Riding with the offspring

Back in the room! H enjoys Wales being opened.

Wales doing its big sky things. What a day that was.

The pubs open. Dave and I make haste.

The Saracens head reopens – rejoice!

Riding with Seb in the mendips. Good times.

12 years old. Big dog bossing the lawn.

Riding with Jess. The best of times.

Walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path with Carol.

Travelling with the family, not for work.

Riding my favourite trails with my favourite bunch of idiots.

Adequately distanced, relatively relaxed 😉

So what does this tell us? That I missed my friends but remembered my family. That Inbox Zero ended up as Inbox Zero Interest.  That however down you may feel, you must always look up. That loving what you can do is a fuck load more productive than lamenting what you cannot**

What else? I dunno. There’s likely some crappy metaphor peripherally linking riding bikes with more important things.  That doesn’t feel right. It’s not one or the other. Multifaceted problems are not solved through the power of a pedal revolution. You may feel better, but the real world is oblivious to that. It’ll drag you right back in.

All is not lost. Bikes have a superpower. They are binary. There is no nuance. No degrees. No strategy. They drop you in the moment and you can grab that by the balls or walk the excuses line. Either is a simplification, a choice, a moment in time. One of those 36 exposures.

I’ll never stop loving it for that.  The world feels a pretty scary place right now. But in two pedal strokes that’s someone elses problem. Let’s go ride into those pictures. The words can wait. But I won’t be.

* followed by disappointment. Flicking through – shit, rubbish, crap, over-exposed, under-exposed, oh and a random picture of a strangers arse.

**my mum is 88 and not having a great time. This is her advice. It’s definitely something to live by.

What Car? Wrong question.

None more black

Buying bikes is fun. This is not idle conjecture. I can back it up with real-world experience.  Buying cars is shit. Another position I’ll die on a hill for even when my vociferous defense is based on 40 less examples.  I’ve written extensively on my hatred of the whole shebang.  Research, dithering, salespeople, more dithering, multi-paged spreadsheets, test drives, boredom, frustration all ending in buyers remorse.

All which represents a highlight reel of the best bits. The rest is time-lapse misery. As I approach my 53rd birthday surely the flip side of increasing physical decrepitude is tolerance, patience and the ability to take the long view? Nope. With great age comes great rage. Not so much raging at the dying of the light, more wishing that light was a full showroom fire shadowing an angry form mutering ‘I’m trapped in the movie ‘total fuckwits’, everywhere I look another fucking spunk trumpet’

Let’s break this down. I’m actually okay with bike marketing. They are pitching a lifestyle that – while obviously unobtainable – is appealing. Cars tho, no fucks given for what’s being pitched. I’m at that difficult age – our own kids can drive* so the ‘active family’ schtick is lost on me, as is the ludicrous assertion that ‘something sporty’ will somehow roll back the years.

I make this position extremely clear when entering the den of the slimey. This is no way nudges them an iota off script.  “Look‘ I plead “I get you’re excited by sports suspension because you are 12 years old, but did you notice how long it took me to get out of that chair?” and “any car with a sill lower than my knee is going to need to come with a hoist and a burly attendant“.

I’ll give them something tho, they are bloody accomplished liars. I’d love to chart my journey through a couple of “prestige marques”** but honestly it’s just profanity with occasional punctuation. I didn’t know what I wanted, but it wasn’t what they had to sell.

Okay let’s get into that. I don’t need another massive car. The Bavarian Hearse has offered an interesting ownership experience. Brilliant engine, amazing brakes, shit stereo, average air con and apparently a state of the art electronic brain. Yeah right, I’ve never trusted that smug bastard after, on our FIRST JOURNEY together, the SatNav directed me down a steep, narrow icy track. 10 minutes of slithery death that’ll live me way longer.  And I’ll never get those brown stains out of the faux leather.

The next three years were significantly less exciting, Summary of which is one average sized bloke driving 20,000 miles a year in a vehicle designed for at least three more is a pretty stupid enterprise. And that’s before we get into the realm of parking anxiety***

So if not that, then what? Brand loyalty is obviously over-rated yet I’ve always identified as ‘Skoda Man‘. Some of which is because I am so clearly not ‘BMW Man‘ even after attempting to improve the image of the marque one indication at a time. This earned me suspicion from most drivers and pity from the rest.

Now we have a manufacturer, let’s set a budget. Post COVID-19 that 20,000 annual mileage is going to be halved. Maybe more than halved. Whatever happens next there’s no way I’m going back to 4:30am starts and 10pm finishes. That’s not a trajectory which sits well with a slide into semi-retirement.

Rather than actually speak to anyone – based on how well that’d gone so far – I fired up a browser, tapped in some details and sat back with a well earned beer. The whole reverse-auction/blood in the water dealer bitch-fight is my new favourite thing.

Buying bikes is an investment in time and people. Buying cars is strictly transactional. There’s no value in loyalty when operates in a single direction. There’s pretty much no differentiation between identikit showrooms. I’d argue not that much between different manufacturers either.

So it came down to simple maths and a dither over full electric (next time for sure), a bit electric (transitional technology at a hell of a price uplift) and planet killing IC (petrol at least this time, I shall salve my environmental angst by driving a whole lot less).

With that done, I ignored all the ‘we want a relationship‘ bullshit and stabbed a ready credit card at the lowest cost bidder. They were surprisingly lovely but I’m still fucking suspicious this is merely a front to rip me off sometime in the near future.

I also signed up for a longer lease. Because making cars is environmentally destructive. Because driving isn’t going to bookend my working days. But honestly because I cannot be doing with this fucking shitshow in the next four years.

What car? Who cares. It’s done and I can go back to looking at bikes.

*well someone somewhat incautiously presented them with a certificate saying they could. Since which we’ve named their car the hedge magnet.

**their framing not mine. I’d lump ’em all in with ‘bunch of larcenous rapscallions‘. Where do they get these people from?

***It fitted nowhere without at least one end sticking out. I suppose that explains why I came back to one night to find it a couple inches shorter on the back quarter.

We need to talk about Corona.

Welcome to the zombie apocalypse. Dystopian fiction made real. Hunger Games re-imagined for toilet roll battles in Morrisons. The very end of days indeed. Grab a bottle of your favourite medicine, a copy of The Road and consider which household items might be reclassified as food.

Or not. Let’s not trivialise the facts here.* People are dying. Many more will follow. As ever the poor, the marginalised, the desperate will suffer more.  History teaches us disease has no class vector, reality suggests otherwise. The virus has snared royalty and heads of government but let’s not confuse their treatment with some poor bastard on a sink estate struggling for breath.

But we have new heroes. No that’s not right, we have old heroes properly dragged into the light. Sure there’s a government, whose welfare policy can be neatly summarised as fucking the NHS up the arse for ten years, is now apparently in awe of what’s left.

Forget them and their frankly embarrassing attempts at empathy.  The irony that the saviours of our world are not running banks or financial scams, rather those on the front line of what is essentially a war without ordinance. Doctors and nurses, thousands of committed researchers, decent souls stacking shelves, school ‘failures‘ driving trucks, ranks of forgotten minimum wage slaves stepping up in a way their more privileged contemporaries entirely fucking avoided.

And they are dying as well. Because ‘getting Brexit done’ is a ‘look at me’ slogan while basic PPE is a bore. Still got to give the ruling class some credit for a bail out that’s basically nationalisation and socialism hidden under the banner of an emergency measure. A tory government massively expanding the welfare state? Fuck me it’d be funny if it wasn’t for the whole people dying thing.

At some point in the distant future, there needs to be a reckoning. Not just finger pointing of who didn’t do what,  but also if we learned anything. This is what I’ve learned so far.

Most humans are decent individuals. Those who don’t monopolise the news media. Stuffing blogrolls into trolleys, picnicking on the beach and essentially mainlining the selfish gene. Through stupidity or hubris, who the fuck knows. But these people are not important.

Who are important is everyone else.  Mostly everyone else is synonymous with not being a dick. Quietly doing the right thing and not wanting some kind of social media medal for it. Of course I counted myself amongst their number until around 3pm today.

After 10 days inside** most of which has been lost in virtual conferencing*** or finding new friends on on-line platforms, I cracked. So all my virtue signalling up there isn’t worth shit when, after FIVE MONTHS of riding in the grim, the trails dried up.

Oh irony again. It’s been literally seconds since we last met.  Our freedom gave us Carte Blanche to slog about in a festival of slurry. And when that freedom is rightfully restricted it’s all bloody lovely weather, t-shirts and dust, dry lines and new flowers. You know the gig. Spring spinning the season ratchet. But like most things it’s less fun watching than doing.

I’m no rebel nowadays. I get the social distancing thing. Both because it’s absolutely the right thing to do and – as an asthmatic – I’m keen to swerve a dose thank you very much. So riding now isn’t like riding used to be before all this started. Was it only a month ago? Already feels like a lifetime.

I’m opening any gates with a jauntily angled elbow. I’m making judicious use of a small bottle**** of hand sanitiser. I’m acknowledging my fellow trail users with six feet of good natured hellos.  I’m two hundred miles and a million light years from my brother living in a small flat in Ealing.

I’m also not a total bloody idiot. The NHS is kind of busy right now. It doesn’t need entitled mountain bikers to rock into A&E with wonky body parts.  So riding downhill is more about precision than speed. Crank not, brake not, find some flow. Pump the trail, don’t bend it to your will.

Then stop. Sit on a stump. Pig out on a bag of sweets. Listen to the birds. Remember all this will pass. We may lose a summer but most people are losing a shit load more. Maybe the world turns so we can learn those lessons about what’s important. And who. And why.

Maybe we don’t. Maybe it snaps back to survival of the assholes. I just don’t know and there’s nothing I can do to influence that. But we are not powerless. There are things we should do.

Spend time with your own family. Catch up with everyone elses. Help out those who may not even ask for help.  There’s something about the stripping back of our vocational and social veneer which feels important. I’m not sure there’s any such thing as over-sharing right now.

Above all observe rule#1 ‘don’t be a dick’. Closely followed by rule#2 ‘be kind’. We’ll get through this. Even though the other side looks pretty scary.  Still anyone making predictions is merely selling snake oil.

So let’s stick together. These last three years the politics of division have set the agenda. All of us should feel pretty bloody motivated to do something about that.

*a Venn diagram not including experts on Facebook, conspiracy theorists and shouty nutters. The media is doing a decent enough job aiming at the heart of the periphery.

**and we’re very lucky. Healthy family, large if unruly garden, walkable paths into open fields, customers who still want to buy things, significant stocks of alcohol etc.

***We’ll so be back to this. Many years ago I wrote a very cutting article on the desperation of ‘second life’ and now I’m living it. Karma is indeed a bitch.

****Like bitcoin it’s worth about a million pounds today. And peanuts in two months.

Winter is a state of mind

Yat - The mud and sun edition

It’s hardly California is it? That’s a climb, come Spring, we yomp up with nary a care. And then freewheel down the other side.  None of that is happening this winter. Or any winter really, but endless wet has replaced proper cold and the Forest is dead and sodden.

Which doesn’t mean it still isn’t some kind of type 2 fun. It must be because that climb is part of a 55km route I’ve already ridden 4 times in 2020. It started off a bit wet and has seamless transitioned to what you see there. Climbing is a proper physical challenge, descending more of a mental one.

As my mate Steve summed it up rather neatly ‘the mud adds mass to your bike while simultaneously reducing grip’. There’s been much sideways action, and not a little crashing. After some initial grumpiness at the endless clag, I’ve found myself almost enjoying it. Especially when someone else is crashing. Or we’re in the pub.

The bike/kit/human cleaning process is getting pretty old though. The floor of the ShedofDreams resembles a very large planter with soil from all corners of Herefordshire covering every surface. The greasy conditions have weaponised the Solaris’s drivetrain as its segued from worn to knackered. Sharp edges shot blasted with grit still somehow rotate under power. I’m hoping it’ll last a bit longer as replacing it now is about as fiscally prudent as setting fire to tenners.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Yesterday was another tough ride. Because I’m an idiot with delusional meteorological aspirations, I re-introduced the new Ripley to the Yat. Four rides that bike has had and never has it been clean for more than 30 seconds. Not helped by my refusal to furnish it with anything other than token mudguards.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Not a problem I thought. It’ll be a drier than last week. Which by a narrow definition it was. The mud had dried to that most horrible of slop which fills tyres and clings to the bike.  Motion under pedal power was primarily in any direction other than the intended one. Motion under gravity was more of the same except with significantly more terror and crashing.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

We’d barely ridden a downhill trail before man and bicycle parted company in the most comedic of circumstances. The grip was variable. By which I mean between ‘not much’ and ‘absolutely fuck all’. You had to commit to get the tyres to bite, but if they didn’t you’re eating that same dirt.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Having already thrown himself rather ostentatiously to the ground, Deano couldn’t wait to re-interpret mountain biking through the art of creative crashing. I had just navigated a tricky steep and greasy chute when behind me there was the sound of accelerating rider interfacing with local shrubbery.

I then had to dab as I find riding and laughing hard to do at the same time.  Deano emerged blaming a lack of rear brake. Usefully a tree had provided a second front one. Learning from his mistake, he then abandoned any form or retardation firing courageously into a small rock garden. I was right behind him and, while keen to have a go myself, couldn’t see an option that didn’t involve riding over a now prostrate Dean!

Haydn being the caring sort of chap he is, decided that Deano really needed the kind of company that only misery can supply.  So he collected most of a tree in his front wheel before physics did her thing and pitched him over the bars and into the soft earth. He was unhurt having luckily missed the rocks either side of his landing spot.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

This sort of set the tone for the rest of the ride. Struggle uphill on trails deep-rutted in viscous nastiness before descending with all the grace of a fridge on a roller skate. This was fine because the sun was shining and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Even me. I’ve still no idea what the Ripley is like to ride ‘properly’ but it held it’s own – and more importantly it’s rider upright – over four hours of slop-induced silliness. This silliness peaked after Cez performed a ‘bicycle tango’ on a steep loamy corner.  While not hitting the ground, we couldn’t help but notice he appeared to be pirouetting around his bike with no obvious end in sight.

Eventually he wrestled the recalcitrant steed back into some form of known dimensional space. The dab committee did not need to sit. He had not so much dabbed as danced down the trail inconvenienced by bicycle.

Which seemed an apposite time to head to the pub. First tho the last two descents including a perilous stream crossing and a rocky gulley filled with damp limestone. I followed Steve down the latter asking him if it was a bit bumpy on his hardtail. It was lovely riding a full-suss again even if every bearing was crying out for mercy.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Seven riders were muddied by unbloodied as the pub hoved into view. Two were celebrating the end of dry January*. All of us were toasting the start of Web February.

It was a good day. We’ve had many good days already this year. Riding in winter is mostly a state of mind.  Set the bar low and you’re almost guaranteed to have a great time. And every week we do it brings Spring seven days closer.

Until then, bring on the slop.

*not me obviously. I thought about it. Over a pint.

End of season clearout.

CwmCarn with Seb

Not a sly reference to some kind of fire-sale in the ShedofDreams. I mean like that’s going to happen. It’s more like a black hole. Stuff goes in, nothing comes out.

No this is more end of year admin. With predictable hilarity, I’ve attempted to justify the many and varied examples of the modern bicycle residing in the shed. This time livened up with a spreadsheet (calm yourselves down there!) summarising my bike rental scheme going back 20 years.

The Bike Page

It makes sobering reading. Even to me. And I’m sober already. Thanks for that January.

I’ve also updated the choice, or at least less grizzly, cuts from last years stream of consciousness.  Some even acknowledge a world outside of Mountain Bikes. I’ll try and nip that kind of seditious postings in 2020.

The best bits page.

First ride of the year tomorrow. Proper ride anyway. I don’t count going nowhere in the shed. It’s like cabbage, I know it’s good for me but it doesn’t mean I have to pretend it’s real food.

On that happy note, time for a non alcoholic beverage and some YouTube escapism where the sun is always shining and the dirt is always dusty.

That’s as close to a resolution as I’m getting to this year.

Love them, limit them, leave them.

Jess moving into Uni day

Advice from my mum a few weeks after our first child was born*. A combination of sleep deprivation and the lack of any manual to operate a crying baby put proper critical examination of this aphorism on hold.

Since then I’d like to think we pretty much lived it right up until the point when they leave you. Strip the emotion out, and the endpoint for parenting is punting your offspring into the wider world. Be that nursery, school, sixth form and then higher education.

This gives you ample time to embed the skills and values they need to thrive in an environment lacking a family safety net. Let that emotion back in and you’ll never feel they can be ready. Which is clearly so much more about you than it is for them.

So, there’s a final dance before you go home alone. A rushing chronology bounded between results morning and moving in afternoon. On the surface nothing changes but bubbling underneath everything feels broken. Even displacement activity, mostly focussed around toaster selection, fails to stop the clock.

It’s a hoary old chestnut to hark back to your own educational experience. This is in no way is going to stop me doing so. Mostly to measure how much better it is now. Except for the crippling debt and uncertain economy. But regardless of your views on the marketisation of university education, it has fundamentally moved the dial on student experience.

I see this most days what with it being my job and everything. But you don’t really see it until one of your own engages with it.  Back in 1985, I moved myself into a condemned block of flats with absolutely no idea what happened next. What happened next were four amazing years where I fell in with a good crowd and harvested enough self-esteem to find I was pretty damn good at the whole learning thing.

Jess moving into Uni day

Oh but to be an undergrad now. Technology makes a difference; architecture makes a whole lot more. Jess is on the 17th floor of a building not yet three years old. Rooted in beautiful parkland and cupped by overlapping student services we used to call pastoral care.

Jess moving into Uni day

So we had a moving in slot, a daughter flicking between anxiety and excitement, a car full of possessions old and new, an acceptance the world had moved on and, for the least self-aware member of the family, an understanding this wasn’t about him.

Moving in was cheerfully managed chaos. The Vale is a fantastic venue for new students. 3000 or so of them distributed across a green space centred by a lake and criss-crossed with pathways leading to a social hub including three restaurants, two bars and a shit-load of confused looking parents and their soon to be separated sons and daughters.

Jess moving into Uni day

Everyone trying to play it cool. Almost no one is pulling it off. For one reason, it’s bloody hot even in late September** which sort of explains the sweaty vein busting exertions of the high viz crew trying to find us a place to park.  We were soon swept into the arms of the pink shirted helpers proffering trolleys and calming smiles.

Jess moving into Uni day

17 floors up the lift pinged and we rolled into Jess’s flat. Blimey. I’ll leave the hoary chestnut at the door, and instead provide a quick virtual tour of her new home. Room, not huge but amazing view over the always-surprisingly green city, big bathroom, Wi-Fi speeds unlikely ever to be seen in rural Herefordshire, massive picture windows in the shared kitchen/living space, shy flatmates, sense of discombobulation.

Jess moving into Uni day

Jess moving into Uni day

Jess moving into Uni day

Hasty unpacking followed by a walk into Edgbaston for food now and supplies to make simple meals in the first week. A bit more mooching about and then it’s time to say goodbye. No one is ready to say goodbye. This is the bit they don’t tell you about. When you know what the right thing is, but you’re kicking over touchstones of what right used to feel like.

What we’re talking about here is abandonment. 18 years of nurture. Keeping your kids safe. Watching them grow. Wondering how they’ll turn out. Being proud, surprised, astounded, annoyed, occasionally angry but always through a lens of love and caring.

A timeline punctuated by regular events; school terms, skinned knees, birthdays, sad times, holidays, great times, exam results, memories. And some firsts; watching them walk, dress themselves, take themselves to school, drive on their own, first night away, doing loads of stuff without you. Making choices, striking out, finding their way, leaving you behind.

My standing joke is – from a parenting perspective – I’m been mostly irrelevant for the last five years unless someone needs a lift, or the Internet is broken***. Hence, I fully expected Jess starting her next great adventure would be way harder for Carol than I. For all sorts of reasons. Me being a bloke covering most of them.

Jess moving into Uni day

But sat on that park bench running out of things to say, I felt as lost as I ever have. Had we done enough? Was she going to be okay? Would she get homesick. And if she did, what should we do?  And more practically, could she even find her way back to the flat? Not a given with Jess’s navigational anxiety.

Jess moving into Uni day

That leaving them thing. Now I get it. I wish I’d got it just a bit earlier. We had a hug. Tears were shed. Then she had to go. A wave over her shoulder and she was gone. Sure, she’ll be back but that’s not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.

90% of me is so proud of Jess. Worked bloody hard to get where she wanted to be. University will be a brilliant experience. I expect she’ll come out the other side a fully rounded individual ready to mark her place in the world.

Jess moving into Uni day

The other 10% of me worries. About everything a parent worries about. And that other thing about being irrelevant. About what happens next.

I guess we’ve three years to find out. It’s going to be an awesome ride.

*she also reminded me that while you always love your kids, you will not always like them. She is a wise woman 😉

**one of Jess’ flatmates hails from Dubai. She was wearing a thick jumper on a day recording 24 degrees outside. I have a feeling she may not enjoy winter in the West Midlands.

***my NEW standing joke is telling Jess if she wants to come home, she’d best check AirBnB to make sure her room hasn’t been rented out.

It’s a dogs life

The 'Amber Bath'

There is no easy way to write this.  We chose to put Amber to sleep. That’s a sentence loaded with emotion and fired at proxies for hope, despair and death. Humans are generally pretty rubbish at understanding there is nothing penultimate about this life. We avert our eyes and grasp sentimental metaphors.

Passed on’, ‘Gone to a better place’, ‘Found peace at last’.  That whole afterlife construct might work for some*,  but behind the veil is a somewhat more brutal truth.  It’s not where something has gone, it’s the huge fucking hole it leaves behind.

So let’s deal with the something shall we? Those charmless fucks who label animal lovers as confused supplicants with anthropomorphic tendencies. It’s not like a elderly relation has died? Or a child? Or someone close to you? Close as in bipedal, self aware and mostly bloody terrified of death.

No it isn’t. It’s something a little different, but no less heartbreaking. I’m a dog person. Always have been. Always will be regardless of the shitty cards fate plays. Dogs weave themselves into your life. They offer unconditional love. They show that love in their joy of you walking through the door. They do not judge. They bind together a family and have no bloody idea how they do that.

And then they get sick and old. Rule one of being a parent; never outlive your kids. Fuck me I can’t even imagine how that would feel. But I’m far too clear what an Amber sized wound in my heart does to an allegedly stoic Yorkshireman. I know what walking downstairs and missing a waggy tails feels like. I know what walking past a box of half chewed toys feels like. I know what a house normally full of joy and noise feels like when silence is the last product of tears.

Sentimental horse-shit? Maybe. Let me tell you how that feels. Watching a dog not yet three years old struggle to breathe because anaemia has robbed her of red blood cells. Watching that same dog try and be the dog it used to be. Watching those sad eyes. Listening to the local vets, then listening to the specialist animal hospital we sent her too. And trying to find a good outcome.

Because money doesn’t buy you love. It buys you hope. And that’s what fucking kills you. A rollercoaster of ‘she’s going to die/she might make it’. One kid a week from her first A level, one apparent adult wondering if the bike trip to Italy is somehow relevant. Another proper adult missing her best mate and not dealing with it at all. And another offspring trying to work out how an outwardly healthy hound can barely get off the floor.

That sucks. Don’t for a second confuse that  unconditional love to surrogate parenting. We had a last weekend with her at home – still with an outside chance she might get better – but watching her get weaker pretty much broke my heart. I have that bloke ‘got to be the strong one’ thing going on, but I was totally fucked, wide awake and weeping at 2am.

She’d had three blood transfusions and two sets of drugs. Complications were legion. Everything pointed to blood cancer but they couldn’t find it. So we went for more and more invasive tests desperate for a diagnosis. Because a diagnosis might mean a cure.

Then there is the moment. When you accept you’re keeping her alive for you, not because you think she might get better. She’s not really suffering but she’s dying by degrees. Unless you heart is forged from stone, you cannot do that to anything or anybody. Especially something that is an integral part of your family unit.

So you do the right thing. The hardest thing. The call you never want to make. Sign the forms, authorise the injection. Let them sleep for ever. I’ve led a pretty easy life because that’s absolutely the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. It was a family decision. Not an easy one. I’m very proud of how that quorum coalesced around a decision made for Amber. Not because of her.

Even so. It was shit.

Grief apparently has five stages, I’m going with fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck and fuck. Sure I’m angry but this isn’t a linear transition between denial and acceptance. This is a hurt which mugs you with happy memories, before creeping up on a pre-dawn raid.

You wonder if you could do more. Maybe spotted it earlier. Given her another transfusion. Tried some experimental drugs.  I don’t know. I never will. But my friend Nicky mailed me with this ‘There were only two choices left – leave nature to take its course however long and painful that may have been or let her go peacefully and gently. That’s not failing, that’s putting her first, that’s love.  My Dad always said we’re kinder to our animals than we are out humans

Wise words. I’m really glad she sent them to me. Because I have no more.  Other than to say Amber was taken way too early, but in the time she had, she pretty much defined why we cherish animals we know will never outlive us.

Even knowing how much that will hurt. And fuck it does.

*but not animals apparently.  No such thing as doggie heaven. So goes the dogma of the new testament. Faith must be a wonderful thing. Plausible deniability for every wretched act we perform on each other.

Go on then, tell me why.

September the 8th. September the fucking 8th. We could all save ourselves some time by just re-posting this, so not re-inventing the wheel. Or at least not buying it again.

Summary of that post back in Autumn of last year; spares needing a home, full suspension bike required for winter, fool and his money soon parted, dreams to be chased. TLDR; The idiots’ idiot makes things up and buys another bike.

Which I didn’t ride. Not much anyway. And not with the joy associated with dicking about in the woods. Obviously I spent money to improve that experience. Equally obviously, it made no fucking difference whatsoever.

This swearing is really proxy for faux anger. I’m not angry at all, I’m just disappointed. That bike ticked all the boxes in the virtual world but not enough in the real one. Despite the available evidence, I rationalised the problem wasn’t the logic that three bikes were somehow better than the two I loved riding, but merely I had chosen poorly.

Right then. Let’s check out the latest arrival. 150mm of travel which is more than the RipMo out back. Tyre clearance that’s somewhere between Dry Spain and Bloody Ridiculous. A 2.35 in there and we’re in wafer thin mint territory*. And a frame made entirely from Carbon – a material that’s not exactly matching the remit for a hard wearing winter hack.

Less travel than the RipMo then? No. Can be ridden in winter when the RipMo needs is hibernating in a warm shed? No. Perfect for being abused in shit conditions and ignored between wet and muddy rides. That’s a no as well. So in terms of meeting the niche requirements set out for its predecessor, it’s a bloody triumph.

It was cheap tho. That’s a £2800 frame I paid buttons for. It’s a lovely colour. It’s very light. Reviews suggest it accelerates like a stabbed rat. All the bits I stripped off the Aeris fitted perfectly. Except for all the new parts which somehow slipped into this low cost build.

Building it wasn’t the usual stress free exercise of handing it over to Matt and waiting for a bike better than new to spawn out of the garage. Between Matt and I we have most of a single healthy adult. I’ve augmented extensive soreness from last weeks crashes with a ton of snot punctuated by a hacking cough. Matt’s had proper flu and remains standing only by holding onto usefully located furniture.

Which explains how it took most of the day to turn the frame into the lovely looking bike in the image above. At least a third of that was re-doing tasks we’d failed to fully think through. Many of which involved internal cable routing. I wasn’t a fan before today, and right now I’d file that design decision on the far side of ‘fucking hateful’.

Whatever it is though, it isn’t a straight replacement for the Aeris. Just riding it up and down the lane and popping it off a curb put that idea to bed. In spades. It’s way more poppy, super involving and – despite a slack head angle – really agile in the turns.

Or that could just be new bike placebo. We’ll find out tomorrow when I’m taking it for a hack(ing cough) in the local woods. Two objectives; don’t cough up a lung and don’t crash. The latter is going to slow me down a lot as I keep replaying last weeks stack in my minds eye. And each time the bit where my face smashes into the ground hits, I want to go and hide under a table. While rocking gently and sobbing.

I’m sure it’ll be fine. Anyway, anyone new here might be wondering what the hell I’m doing buying a bike which is very similar to one I’ve already got. Stick around, you have much to learn 😉

*which if I don’t get out and ride some more soon, I shall be requesting as part of my homage to Pythons’ Mr Creosote.

 

Work stops play

      

In the last issue of www.cranked.cc, I ran a snake-oil eye over the crashing protocol. Espousing a hooky theory that crashing isn’t entirely random. It can, at least, be categorised between ‘good ones’ and ‘bad ones’.

I’m still pedalling that line although – after today – I feel I didn’t give quite enough weight to how they both hurt equally. This is the fault of dry trails and brilliant bikes. Last week we were travelling mostly sideways in post winter slop offering the grippy assistance of shaved sea cucumber. Which was fine- slide about, stay happy side up, pine for Spring.

Spring turned up right on schedule and those same trails are now perfectly tacky. Sunshine burst out the hardy perennial of my favourite bike which I’d totally failed to crash at Bike Park Wales last Friday. I still somehow broke myself tho – seven runs in – retiring grumpy, wrist sore and hurt as my mates rode a few more.

Bit worrying. Taken most of my box fresh purchases on the uplift truck to test their metal* and not once has a combination of arm pump and cramp sent me home early. Tired I thought, long days, lots of travel, brakes a bit soft, probably holding on too tight, one of those things.

So it was the RipMo again today on a mission to rid myself of that memory, and reassert its place in the hegemony of the ShedofDreams(tm). 10 minutes it and the bike of doom – as I’m starting to think of it – took umbrage at some cack handed riding. Wheel goes one way, rider the other, bish-bash-bosh, over in a flash.

Dusting myself down with a fervent ‘what the fuck just happened there?’ it became clear a minor misjudgement pinged the front wheel off the loamy loveliness onto a patch of angled moist dirt barely clinging to the side of the trail. Yeah okay could happen to anyone, another one of those things.

Knee pads saved precious articulating joints. Elbow pads would have done similar had I been wearing any. Mildly abraded from shoulder to wrist and a sore calf sporting infectious looking dirt rash completed the injuries. Nothing to stop me riding on what felt like the first day of Spring.

Dry lines everywhere. Terrible lines from me. I’m riding okay while not being entirely present. The speed isn’t a problem, it’s not that buffer overload you get when too much stuff is fired at too little brain. It was more being so distracted by other stuff, I wasn’t even vaguely attracted to the trail in front of me.

There are benefits to this approach – mostly as a mitigation to my endless overthinking of what might happen next. However giving serious consideration on how to deal with overlapping customers without letting anyone down had me checking out of the MTB world completely.

And nearly checking into A&E. After a trail I’ve ridden at least 50 times tripped me up as I drifted off line again. It’s not even a narrow bloody trail, I just wasn’t really looking where I was going. Left pedal struck a low tree and that whole potential to kinetic transition slammed me face first into the dirt.

We weren’t hanging about meaning a frontal assault on a local tree was a possible near future experience. Luckily I trail braked with my face while improvising other body parts to aid the deceleration. Finally coming to a stop, I decided I didn’t want to go again so lay there having a little moan until help arrived.

It arrived in the form of Cez and Haydn who reassured me that ‘Yes, I did still have all my teeth’**, my nose was pointing mostly straight and my legendary good looks had not been ruined‘. Ah humour, always kick starts the healing process.

Aside from a split lip and blood running down my face, damage report was checking in with lot of hurt-y bits clambering for attention. Definite reds for a(nother) forearm skinned – and painful to move – plus stabby pains in my ribs which instantly had me worried I’d cracked a couple.

Can still laugh about it tho, so looks like I’ve dodged that bullet. Rode the 30 mins back in some discomfort wondering what the hell was going on. Tried to look over my right shoulder backing the car out. Won’t be doing that in a hurry. Or shaving. Or being polite when someone says ‘Aren’t you getting a bit old for this kind of thing?’’***

I want to blame the bike. Two crashes in one ride. Not doing silly stuff. On the best trails we’ve had for months. Can’t be me, I’m not brilliant at this mountain biking thing, but over the years I’ve developed an adequate range of skills.

Except that’s not quite true. Switching from the ridden for months chubby hardtail to the RipMo which is just so fast everywhere. Swapping slow, wet trails for rapid dry ones. All with one eye on next weeks work and the other on the one after that.

That’s not a bike problem, or a trail problem, that’s an Al problem. This is what happens when you cross those streams. Two many variables, not enough bandwidth. Mistook familiarity for competence. Had an easy lesson, didn’t learn it so a hard one inevitably follows.

Two things then; 1) I need to sort my bloody work-life balance out. It’s absolutely within my gift to do so. Got to stop saying No to the wrong people. 2) Need to get back on the horse as soon as possible. It’s somewhat ironic my riding has been the best I can remember all through the winter, and on one sunny day it’s Mr Crashtastic.

First tho, I need to find some way to lie down without it hurting 😉

*or increasingly expensive plastic.

**first thing I did was check for toothy shards. It was that kind of proper face plant. Genuinely expected to be rooting about in the undergrowth for my incisors.

***No. Thanks for asking. Now fuck off.