The Light Fantastic

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

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

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

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

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

Wet ‘n’ Windy

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

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

CwmCarn #1Cwmcarn#2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IT: A breed apart

I am attending an IT conference in Wales. It is a parallel universe where the Geeks Will Inherit The Earth. Think of a techno-bubble where pen protectors and Christmas Jumpers are a serious and respected badge of office. It’s like that only much, much worse.

There’s a high ratio of “Beard to Personality” quotient amply demonstrated by crushingly embarrassing in-jokes and long lost food carbonised in unruly facial hair. There are no women. Well possibly one but I’d not wage any of my own money on the lady in question actually being female.

Apparently at 6PM this evening, I shall be enjoying an optional interview with the snappy title of “Rarefied Unified Modelling – a short history” with the founder and much respected guru of RUM (surely a slight misspelling). I have a strong feeling that in fact I’ll be enjoying a somewhat shorter interview with the bar staff at that time:

“Evening, do you serve a good Merlot?”
“We do, Sir

Interview over.

The fact I’ve managed to post anything is in no way a tribute to the “Seamless Remote Access” solution offered by the hotel. That has been a trial of strength and frustration from which my laptop barely escaped from with its’ major components intact. Those privileged to work in IT will probably recognise the following phrase:

Sorry, Outlook has disconnected your session
Low battery warning

They nearly had to call security. I am readying the pidgins.

The content of the conference is actually very interesting. No, really it is. But my fellow IT professionals are way too scary. Dribbling passionately when evangelising on the benefits of “Service Orientated Architectures” is – in my humble view – right on the cusp of a mental sectioning.

Later this evening, the pleasure of a ‘group hug’ dinner awaits us. This provides “the opportunity to network and synergise with our fellow professionals” and (the blurb goes on) “It’s time to drive the debate”. Oh Lordy. I shall probably rock up drunk, hide my badge and go and make fun of fat people.

So there may be more later unless I’m carted off to the local cop shop for assault with a phone battery if anyone dares drop “low hanging fruit” into a conversation or feels the need to engage me in a conversation relating to his pen protector collection.

St. Patricks day kind of passed me by…

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

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

Too much information? Apologies.

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

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

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

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

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

The price of guilt..


That’s the exorbitant cost of abandoning one’s car at the station. It’s also the price of guilt for abandoning one’s bike based good intentions in the barn at home. A skewed parable would be “The road to poverty is lined with frosty mornings”.

Since I bottled it the first time, various sly amendments or controversial loopholes have been applied to the rigid philosophy “I’ll ride every day regardless of prevailing weather conditions”. Oh yeah, I’m still in the game but only by cheating.

The list is complex and every expanding but can be simply grouped into the following categories:

  • It’s cold
  • It’s dark
  • I’m tired
  • I’m hungover
  • The Cat’s not been well.

So what that list cleverly staves off any guilt, the resultant karma implosion is less easy to deal with. Mainly this concerns the ability or otherwise of Chiltern Railways to delivery a train on time. Except if I’m running late then they’re running early. Yet in the last month – while I have been stoically riding and getting progressively sicker – the actual trains and published schedules have co-existed in the same time zone.

Coincidently I met a friend of mine who works for the Railway. I explained how well things had been going lately and how I’d stopped nailing a horseshoe on the main traction unit or carrying the entire “lucky rabbit” into the carriage. He smiled carefully – I think he knew that the weekend engineering works would badly overrun. Possibly until June or when the overtime budget was exhausted.

Well it was either that or my serial non riding that ground us back to the bad old days. Based on historical evidence I’m placing the blame firmly in the camp of ‘The most successful train franchise in the UK’. Lucky I’m not forced to use a crap one eh?

After an extended rail trip that would have benefited from a red cross food drop, I was keen to see how this morning’s commute compared. It was a huge improvement; I was sat at my desk at 07:30, there was no queue for the showers; the entire journey was warm and dry and the coffee was much improved.

I really must work from home more often.

Now that has got to hurt

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

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

This is clearly not the trail.

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

See? Told you.

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

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

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

Wibby round up

An occasional post serving the dual purpose of sharing some of the darker corners of wibblyverse and to act as padding until I can be bothered to write something interesting. Yes I know you’ve been waiting a long time. No it’s unlikely to be anytime soon.

Firstly something good from those whose corporate philosophy is either “don’t be evil” or “Capitalism and Capitulation” – I can never remember. The Pedometer builds on their mapping to provide a nifty tool for calculating routes and distances anywhere in the UK. I nicked it off a Cycling Plus thread where it had gone Nova and everybody was sharing their route with nobody who cared. For me the joy of finding my computer under-reads by 10% instantly upgraded my cake intake by the same amount.

Now something not quite so good – Car Crash InternetVision. Possibly the dullest man in the world resides here. A rather unbecoming mix of hocum management maxims represented through the medium of sports, and righteously anal offerings on snow shovelling and how to pack your wallet. It’s either very very subtly ironic and self parodying or it’s pretentious nonsense. Since he’s a wannabe sci-fi writer, my money’s on the latter.

By the power of dull, I invested further time in winkling out sites with far more content than hits.

Take time to browse in these chambers of horror; you can learn stuff. Did you – for example – know that a sand collector is actually called am arenophile. Well it sounds close to what I thought one might be called.

All these and more are available at the dullman site where you can lose hours of time better spent doing almost anything in slack jawed amazement at the vast array of special interest and no interest at all groups. I know Mountain Biking can be a bit obsessional and geeky but we’re not even on the radar of a bloke measuring grass length.

I don’t want to judge but let me say this; in the bad old days there was only so much damage you could do with a slide projector and open toed sandals. The Intenet has changed all that. And maybe not in a good way 😉

I want an Ig

Stolen from the BBC website. An Ig-Nobel is defined: “The Ig Nobels – the guiding principle of which is to reward research which makes people laugh and then think – celebrate the unsung highlights of academic research” says Mr Abrahams.

He continues: “There are 10,000 academic journals out there which publish original research and which are mostly ignored by everyone except those who wrote them

This year’s winners include papers revealing in depth information on:

  • Salmonella Excretion in Joy-Riding Pigs
  • The Effects of Unilateral Forced Nostril Breathing on Cognition
  • An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep Over Various Surfaces.

And my personal favourite:

  • The Effect of Country Music on Suicide

This is clearly research money well spent. A further quote caught my eye:

Every prize winner has a story worth telling but they wouldn’t get that attention from anyone were it not for these,” he says. He draws on the example of John Trinkhaus, an octogenarian Ig Nobel winner who had rigorously written more than 80 detailed academic reports about things that annoyed him

So essentially an Ig Nobel is a prize for scientific blogging. It appears my stuff meets all the criteria of uninteresting, unread nonsense so I should be a shoe in for an award.

Ace. The last award I won was a bronze swimming certificate. My mum is going to be proud.

I promise I am not making this up – from the venerable BBC no less.

Just fantastic 🙂


To span the gap between office and train requires a carefully sequenced plan optimised by critical path analysis. Sounds fancy, huh? Hardly, it merely ensures the task “don appropriate trouserage� precedes one of “ride bike in a public space�

The plan has been finely honed through seventy iterations and the occasional cock up. Only once do you arrive ready to ride at your bike, only to pick this exact time to remember your lock keys are ten minutes and eight floors away – safely secreted in your desk drawer.

On a fast day quickened by light traffic and compliant lights, it takes approximately 32 minutes. In time that could probably have been better spent, I’ve calculated scenarios in which entire minutes could be saved by ditching lengthy tasks. Since these include “Lock bike at station” and “Remove and hang Suit”, they lack a certain implementable practicality. Yet by collecting multiple savings of a few seconds each, I could do a little better. It’d rely on a ruthless streamlining of process and possibly abandoned underwear but it’s probably realistic to chop it down to 29 minutes

Tonight, I have 24.

Continue reading 24

Quantastically muddy

As the snow drifted across the outside lane of the M5, and the police escort for the snowplough made noisy if slow progress, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would set the tone for riding after a six hour round trip.

It did but that was fine. The Quantocks were lightly dusted with snow and heavily laden with slick mud. Tyres gripped in as much as they were going forwards a little more often than sideways. Smiths Coombe was rather involving on a hardtail sporting IRC “suicides – a fine tyre in all conditions except these. My journey downhill was enlivened by several unplanned sideways shunts into the shrubbery charted by a voluble disagreement between me and said tyres: “Left, Left you b@stard, if I’d wanted to go straight on into that spikey bush, I’m sure I’d have mentioned it”. Eventually I stumbled upon a survival strategy somewhere between ships captain and motorcross ride.

Approach the turn, shout out “all ahead RIGHT RUDDER”, whip out the inside leg and let it slide. Aside from the numerous occasions where the front wheel threatened to tuck under, this was a definite improvement on the prevous approach of desperately hanging on in a style known as “rigid with fear”. My life flashed in front of my eyes so many times, I started fast forwarding to the interesting bits.

It looked a bit like this:

But it wasn’t miserable. Okay the weather was; streaming rain, hilltop cloud and gale force winds combined to test the most waterproof of riders and gear. Soon my socks had switched roles and were now providing a watersport park for lemmings and the tinglings from my finger ends promised frostbite in the near future. Yet it was strangely brill, sliding about in the mud is fun to do and even funnier to watch someone else do it. Especially when the inevietable face plant emerges as “Swamp Monster with added mud pack”.

And at the end Tea and Cake take on almost mystical healing properties. You’ve earned that brownie and by God you’re going to enjoy it. And the one after that, you’ve possibly earned that as well.

The plan was to go out again for a second loop. But the rain slashing at the windows discouraged leaving the sanctuary of the cafe and anyway the size of the portions had reduced us to – at best – walking pace. Riding went from possible to unlikely to “Another cake Alex? Go on you’ve only had three and remember we’ve covered an epic 12 miles already”. When the going gets tough, the tough get confectionary.

As we began the long journey home, Sod’s law came into play and the incessant rain was replaced by weak late winter sunshine. But we didn’t care; We came, We Swore, We ate huge slices of cake. Sometimes low expectations make the best of days.

A few more pics here but in deference to my soaking camera, I abandoned photography quite early. Not before however capturing Andy’s high technology approach to wet weather foot management. I give you the ‘bagshoe’ ™.

I mean, really 😉