Windy Filler

Matthew's Luna

Ah the simple joy of feeling the wind in your hair. Except it wasn’t really a wind, more icy gusts punctuated by moments of flat calm. And my little remaining thatch was well hidden under a hat last worn by “Benny from Crossroads“.

So more Arctic blast freezing my eyebrows interspersed by periods of mild terror when the wind decreased in velocity and the model in altitude. I am still not entirely through the trauma of my favourite glider being significantly inconvenienced by rather more ground than expected at the moment of crushing impact.

If, however, there is ever a market for piloting skills to surprise the earth with a beautifully disguised vertical plunge, I’m in the money.

The glider in the picture is exactly the same as the one I destroyed. Except that it a) isn’t mine b) was flown rather better and c) wasn’t removed from the slope in a brown bag.

In the time it has taken my friend Matthew to buy, build and get around to flying his Luna, I’ve wrecked my way through a distinguished lineage of previously enjoyed gliders in a spookily similar manner to my bike collection.

I even managed to crash my latest acquisition before it had actually flown. Three times it had been to windless slopes, and three times it came back unflown. Yesterday would have been the perfect opportunity to commit it to aviation had I not accidentally launched it from the rafters in my workshop.

Broken? Yes. Repairable? Probably. By me? Take a wild guess.

So aside from the odd glider slipping gently below the slope and being retrieved by the “trudge of shame”, much fun was had by many with nary a smashed anything. After some Olympic class dithering Matthew finally converted his expensive desk ornament to flight with only mild encouragement – “Come one what’s the worst that can happen“*

The bugger not only flew it with an aplomb entirely missing from anything vaguely controlled by twitchy-thumbs here, but landed it in a manner that made the glider entirely available for re-use. Lucky, that’s what I call it 😉

So no time for riding this weekend. Too much time on underpinning the chicken house so preventing local rat population from helping themselves to both the food pellets and some rather tasty shed door. Only way those buggers are getting in now is if they install a flailing masonry bit on their noses.

Couldn’t even ride in today with the train scheduled to arrive some thirty minutes after I needed to be here. It would seem that the entire population of the West Midlands has seized upon the same New Years Resolution “YOU ARE NOT WORTHY OF THE ROAD. I ALONE AM BEST“. This is trying my Christian Motoring approach to the traffic.

* Answer “it’ll all go wrong and be smashed into a thousand pieces”. Response “Okay, fair point, what’s the SECOND worst thing thar can happen?

“I remember when this was all snow”

CwmCarn Jan 2011

When was that?” / “Last Wednesday“. I had that line prepped and ready to go for this mornings’ return trip to Cwmcarn. Them the driving sleet bouncing off the windscreen turned to snow pretty much as we arrived.

It carried on until we left some four hours later having availed ourselves of two fine trail laps. First time round, significant rammage as New Year Resolutions met middle aged guts and heavy puffing drowned out the sizzle of the snow.

Not us tho – four fine athletes in the prime of their life rocking round in seventy minutes. Well not quite, in fact not at all. Well I was not, rasping away on Ashtma’s cusp while my HRM categorised me as a soon-to-expire Hummingbird.

CwmCarn Jan 2011 CwmCarn Jan 2011

The cheery banter of long-riding pals was happily at the fore. Firstly Al the Motivational Speaker “With all that suspension, surely you should be going faster” and then Al the Yorkshire Whinger “Can we just slow down long enough for me to find a nice piece of forest to die in?“. Then Jezz fell off and that cheered us up even more 🙂

CwmCarn Jan 2011 CwmCarn Jan 2011

The reward for my legendary wit and repartee was to be sent down first to ascertain levels of grip. With my face if necessary. Backing off 5% brought some long forgotten smoothness, carving perfect berms while giggling like a gassed-up loon. A fast, last descent into the now eye watering snow had us running for the warmth of the cars and a spot of random lunch. Because obviously the cafe wouldn’t be open to feed hoards of hungry mountain bikers.

Dry and comfortable as it was, a second lap wasn’t going to happen from the passenger seat so we struggled back into waterproofs, engaged easier gears and set off again. I expected it to be horrible but with Martin and I setting an “old duffers” pace, it never really ratcheted up beyond mildly unpleasant. And this time mostly deserted.

Cheeky rest stops masqueraded as point’n’click camera opportunities. Most of which seemed to be Rob on repeat trying to clean a snowbound section with a slippy crux*. Descending for the second time, we backed off a little more with the snow increasing while grip was heading the opposite way.

CwmCarn Jan 2011 CwmCarn Jan 2011

Still fun, fun fun clattering over rocks on fast bikes that somehow climb, lean and plunge without being too heavy, too remote or too fragile. But my mind was getting a little frazzled with the speed, so when the magic began to fade I was left a bit panicky and target fixated on nasty stumps.

CwmCarn Jan 2011 CwmCarn Jan 2011
Last descent. “Get Down Alive” mode engaged. Disengaged when Jezz looked like he might get away. “Seat down, elbows out, be brave see what happens” is always exciting, especially when the non snowy ribbon of trail is less than a foot wide – either side of which is going to have you creating interesting new topographical features probably with broken limbs.

Of all the jumps in this section, only one was going to get the treatment. Lowest risk being on a straight section of trail, and not too much air time to think of what might go wrong. Apparently an entire FOOT of air was recorded beneath my wheels, which only happens nowadays if the bike is tumbling in a sky-ground-sky-ground-hospital manoeuvre.

So happy with that. Not happy about going back to work tomorrow. Still after today,at least I can have a lie in. No way I’ll be commuting by bike.

* Does that sound rude? Excellent.

Progression

It is said that you should never meet your heroes. And that’s probably right, because a simple human can only be an imperfect reflection of perception. I think the same is true of finding yourself face to face with a younger version of you.

I will quickly concede that such an event is unlikely. And we should be thankful for that, what with the certainty that meeting a doppelgänger face on will inevitably firm up a suspicion that you are a a whinging blowhard.

But the partnership of everything digital and low cost storage shoves a trillion pixels deep into the foetid outreach of your hard drive. Last night – while cataloguing kids videos* – I found that lot amateurishly spliced together up there.

Most are from Chicksands bike park – in an eighteen month period starting mid 2005 – except the bit where I’m terrorising the good citizens of Oxford. First visit to Chicky scared me half shitless just looking at brightly coloured Stormtroopers throwing themselves into bottomless voids apparently of their own violation. Then I tried some of the allegedly easy stuff and the other half of being shit scared kicked in.

North Shore wasn’t for me. Singletrack in the sky the non vertically challenged would say. I would stare at the unholy union of a Scalextric track and a hamster cage in wonder, but could only see pain, humiliation and A&E. I had a go of course, and scored two out of three.

The drops tho – they were easier. Again advice was always at hand “Just ride off the fookers” a tongue-ringed denizen of the dirt articulated while waving in the general direction of a handy abyss. Tried that, found it okay if I disengaged any part of my brain involved with brake levers, progressed onto some bigger ones, got scared again, compensated with a bigger bike and finally took flight off the big fella.

That’s so far behind me now, it seems to have happened to someone else. Paradoxically I have convinced myself that – should the opportunity present itself – there would be absolutely zero issue with lobbing myself back into space. Sure I’d need to get used to flat pedals again, but it’s just riding a bike isn’t it? And I’ve been doing a lot of that.

240 hours in 2010 to be precise. Into which I’ve squeezed 3012 kilometres of pedalling including 80,000 metres of climbing. Commuting accounts for about a third, night riding for about the same and only two of my six bikes feature heavily. Apparently 165, 000 calories have been burned along the way which probably explains why my clothes still fit in the face of a diet made up largely of beer, wine and pringles.

In my gravity phase of 2005, I probably didn’t ride half of that and was entirely un-bothered – walking uphill was the new cross country we used to say. It’s hard to plot any kind of progression in all of this because while today I’m not mad keen to go back to tweak the nose of vertical terror, that’s not to say I never will.

What I have concluded from this navel gazing is this; last year was a fantastic year in terms of frequency, company, fitness and variety. 2005 was genuinely awesome in that I massaged my cowardice through a whole year of going bigger. Clearly an annual recalibration of maximum personal terror then working backwards persists a belief you’re still pushing it a bit.

And I am. Pushing it a bit. Mainly in age and ongoing decrepitude. Left knee, left shoulder, right ankle, asthmatic lungs, short hamstrings, lack of moral fibre, etc tell me only one thing. Not to stop, but to bloody well get on with it while I still can.

Happy New Year to you all. I’ve already go a ride in 🙂

* On New Years Eve. The 2010 version of boring your family with a holiday slideshow. Soon I’ll be drinking sherry and eating vegetables.

New Years Bleed.

Haugh Woods NYE Ride
Once I’ve shoehorned one dog, two children, three bikes and my long suffering wife into the truck, any actual riding feels like a bonus. But even before the geometrically puzzling angst of loading the trailer has begun, first we must repair what is broken.

Abi hasn’t ridden much this year. And when she has managed to get on her bike, it’s not long before she’s off it again, furrowing a trowel line with her head – stopping only on contact with a painful stump. This may account for her noticeable lack of enthusiasm when offered an opportunity to hurt herself again.

Still game enough this morning, leaving me with to fettle hastily on her dusty steed* so bringing hammer no.2 to bear on a bent mech with the kind of satisfying twang promising component purchases soon.

The woods could best be described as ‘encouragingly moist“. I know this to be true because they were the exact words I chose in my motivational opening to the children. I didn’t feel this was the right time to ponder the adhesive qualities of slick-wet roots cambered at bike-punting angles. They’d find out soon enough.

They both showed some proper bravery clearly not inherited from my DNA. Jess christened her new bike by throwing it roughly to the ground at least twice, but was usurped for “best crash award” by her Sis who attacked one particularly nasty set of wheel sucking roots with innocent vigour. The tyres held on for – oh – nanoseconds before letting go and starting a sequence of events that could only end in one eleven year old lying on the track.

Again I kept my council other than to offer parental sympathy while checking surreptitiously for unattached body parts. Probably for the best as it is unlikely that a blow by fall account of our two days Welsh “Slush Puppy” tour focussing on exactly how hardcore, skillfull and downright manly their old Pa is would have had the desired effect. Unless that effect was to receive a couple of yawned “Yeah Dad, whatever

As it was – and even tho we’d had to finish with a rather testing ten minute climb – both kids are now mad keen to get out ‘every weekend when it’s sunny‘. I know this to be a fallacy, which in no way shall stop me reminding them of it every Saturday come the Spring.

Riding with your kids is ace. Much as the Wales trip was fab fun, and much as I am properly excited by oodles of mountain biking here and there come 2011, I’d happily give up my weekends to ride with these two.

If only to get the crashes on video next time 🙂

* In my younger years, I would assume that sort of thing would annoy the farmer if he caught you at it.

Play

Play

That’s the essence of my plan for the next week. If we can expand the definition to include “drinking“, “more drinking” “and “probably too much drinking“. Other duties include the controlled explosion of an increasingly excited smallest child, sledge-captain and fitter of inappropriate tyres.

My play week includes two days at Afan, for which I’m considering replacing a perfect serviceable tyre pair with something entirely untried. The reason for this reboot is simply that the new rubber is looking at me in a funny way, and I’ve contracted a bad case of itchy-thumb-itis.

What I’ll not be doing is spending much time in front of a screen. Too much of my life seems to be wasted on that particular occupation. So before uncorking my lunch, I’ll bid my loyal – if disturbed and clearly lacking anything better to do – readership an extremely Merry Christmas and a new year not entirely covered in ice and snow.

In terms of presents, I shall again be receiving an extremely large hangover from Santa, generally accompanied by two children jumping on my sore head. 6am or thereabouts if history is a marker.

Snowbody here

Not so much a bike ride, more a two hour tank slapper. Riding in snow is fun. It’s also bloody hard, and can be simply summed up by “Grip, Grip, WOW Amazing Grip, no grip, Tree”

These photos are from Jim’s iPhone which did its best considering a) it was dark b) it was about -2 and c) it’s not really a proper camera is it?

The FoD riding cluster climbs into double figures come Spring and isn’t much reduced during the months of mud, cold and darkness which precede it. Last night tho, only Steve, Jim and I made the more than a little exciting trip to the FoD.

The key to staying on was speed. Sufficient velocity delivered a wheel straightening gyroscopic effect to your track. Getting up to speed was tricky with bikes being rear wheel drive and we’ve all seen how well cars of that configuration go in the snow.

And if you should even twitch the bars or touch the front brake, the magic was gone and so were you. My 2.35 tyres floated well but you couldn’t really steer. Jim and Steve’s narrower nobblies seemed better suited but maybe they’re just a bit better than me!

We played about a lot. Skids were harder than expected tho with the powder snow offering up oddles of grip. Right up until the point when it didn’t. Ummmph generally followed.

We seemed to spend a lot of time climbing and not much descending. Although that perception was all about the sad fact we were pedalling downhill as well. No matter, a final three sections of singletrack where we were lucky enough to be carving freshies made up for the fireroad slogging.

Anyone who decided to stay at home missed one of my favourite rides of the last few months. And afterwards, the beer tasted better than good 🙂

It’s a new bike. And it isn’t for me.

Jessie's new Islabike Beinn

The last of the little wheelers has gone. In its place is this rather Fab Islabikes Beinn bought today under cover of snow. Random’s little hotrock has passed from third to fourth hand, and I am sure it’ll carry on being a much loved wheeled sidekick.

Islabikes are great people to do business with. Everything they sell is for kids; from the ickle balance bike up to 3/4 size smart road bikes and everything in between. I was tempted by the rather fetching kids full-on MTB with a suspension fork but Isla talked me out of it.

Apparently unless you’re hucking major rock fests and shredding like Sam, you really don’t need anything but the fully rigid. I didn’t think this was a good time to try and justify my extensive suspended mountain bike collection.

The Beinn is lighter that the Spesh it replaces, has more gears with a far wider ratio, some proper off road tyres and oodles of clever designed-for-kids stuff. It even has her name on it – that’s proper factory.

Unusually I am even more excited than when a new bike is for me. Really looking forward to riding with Random (and hopefully her sister who also has a lovely bike but this has so far failed to spark her interest over anything more scary than forest tracks) when we can see the ground again.

It was also more than reasonably brilliant to see her face light up when she realised we could take it home today. It is on this cheery note I shall end, possibly forever due to the high likelihood of certain death on tonight’s FoD ride.

I’d tried being sensible about bikes and riding. It’s a lost cause to be honest.

All I want for Christmas is…

Snow. Finally. Oh Smashing

…. well quite a lot considering. Considering the endless collisions of my legendary impatience and rampant kleptomania are realised in roof to rafters shiny things. Even so, would it be unreasonable to ask Santa to provide an overall’d man to knock jauntily at my door come January 2nd?

And before I could even enquire of his business he would declare “Hi, I’m an out of work painter and decorator. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to use my skills in every room of your house. No payment will be accepted, and there is only one condition before I start. That you let my mate Bob here” [reveals tool wielding sidekick] “to re-plumb all your bathrooms“.

Bit of a stretch for Santa do we think? In that case I shall settle for Christmas to be a bit less Christmassy. Oh I’m not asking for miracles; rampant consumerism is a tide that cannot be turned, Slade on repeat from October appears institutionalised and I’ll even accept that the odd medically dependant may miss nativity plays, BUT I’m pretty damn sick of the weather.

Nothing wrong with a bit of snow at this festive time. No problem with that. Pelting family members with snow isn’t without merit. Snowmen with humourous attachments never fail to raise a smile*, and a world decorated in virgin white is worth a second look.

But this is starting to get a bit sodding tedious. Only a few months ago, a gaggle of us were risking hypothermia at Easter. And tonight was my tenth cosecutive dog walk at below zero. In fact this evening’s stroll was a balmy -2 which compared favourably to a couple of close to minus double digit trudges last week. And while not suffering “trench todger” is welcome, the four inches of snow that’s fallen since lunchtime is not.

The dog tho – he bloody loves it. Snow is canine catnip, and nothing short of the full field trudge is going to do. 7pm the dog is nosing my elbow and giving me a look I’ve started to think of as “clubbed seal pup“. It’s another ten minutes before I’m suited up in the entire contents of my winter wardrobe, old motorcycle gloves, two pairs of socks, wellies and ‘Benny from Crossroads” bobble hat.

Murf already has his coat on and shows his impatience by launching out of the door, failing to remember how icy it is before aqua-pawing straight across the drive and into the opposing hedge. That’s kind of how I feel about riding my bike right now. Yesterday we decided it was too icy, and tomorrow will probably be too snowy. It’s the safe decision, but I’m damn sure it’s not the right one.

I can’t even commute to work unless the ambulance could drop me off on the way to A&E. If it’s too damn slippy to remain upright in your size 10 chunky welly, I don’t hold out much hope for massive traction from 23cc mostly slicks. So it’s walking the dog, night after night in the freezing bloody cold. And it’s three months until Spring.

So here’s an idea. Christmas is all about giving isn’t it? Thinking about what the receiver would like, and how that might – and there’s always a little bit of this – make your life better as well. On that basis I’ve decided to buy Murf a treadmill.

* or a carrot. Or whatever else comes to mind. I’ve always been a fan of the broccoli wanger myself.

Fridge Magnet

In news uninteresting enough that even the Hereford Times would refuse to run it*, we’ve had to spend so much money on a new fridge/freezer there is no cash left to fill it. Finally though, my beer fridge has been released from a two year captivity where it was forced to freeze dangerous vegetables . I had taken to calling it Terry Waite, while fighting a losing battle to locate even a single micron of non brocolli’d space being available to cool a much needed beer.

The new fridge is a bit of a loomer. First Carol insisted on the blitzkrieg washing machine and now we have a floor to ceiling nightmare blocking out most of the available light, and intimating it is somehow more intelligent that me. Yes, this latter day HAL must be at least partially sentient with the instruction manual having a similar page count and level of technical detail as the operating procedures for a Boeing 737.**

Anyway the vastness of the words is mirrored by an internal space that’d easily – and happily if I’m any judge of its evil fridgey face – swallow a small child. Not having one to hand, I was forced to poke my head into the snow white abyss to get a first hand experience of the latest cold storage technology. Immediately obvious were TWO separate compartments to house stuff that’s meant to be green. And I’m not talking beer bottles here.

One of these hated vegetable repositories – in the words of those knowledgeable in fridge-speak – is a humidity controlled ‘crisper‘. Now that is indeed clever, and to prove I’m not some five-a-day denier, it is now brim full of the finest King Edward tubers and a shaker of salt. The curmudgeon of doubt shall only raise his voice should the promised cripsing not deliver my favourite beer accompaniment first thing tomorrow. I’m not even asking it to put them into a packet.

Anyway back to the point – or in this case bottle – in hand. Having been deprived of the beer fridge for all this time, not only has entirely necessary repository for ice cold beverages been cast adrift, the cultural*** loss of performance art in an entirely new media genre could be even more significant.

I was working in the vanguard of a previously under-represented fusion of history and moist glass re-enacting great historical battles through the medium of domestic appliances. I know, when laid out in such simple terms, it’s hard to believe that even with all the internet hosted shit nowadays, no one else is inspired by such a beautiful juxtaposition.

For example my “Dunkirk” had the plucky British beers retreating rapidly but steadfastly to the rear of the fridge being pushed hard by hard charging Becks lagers. Artfully placed were the occasional 25cl French beer lying on their side with a little white flag on the cap, while a couple of Budweisers’ were torn on which side to fight for. As for the Belgium beers they were nowhere to be seen, and a crate of Kronenbergs could be seen loitering in the salad tray changing their labels to something with umlauts.

Even better was my “Yalta Summit” which had a complex distribution of all the major European beers. Sadly I decimated the Polish section one night after a particularly thirsty ride. Art imitating Life eh?

Worryingly even on receiving the freedom of the fridge, I’ve nothing but nasty lagers to celebrate its return to a proper purpose. All my liquid therapy nowadays seems to be grape related with occasional forays into warm beer generally with “organic” in the title.

I’ve thought about this for a bit. Wondered if maybe there’s something deep and meaningful in matching drinking preferences to mental states. Statistically grouping the poison you imbibe to make some kind of sense of the world. But, after due consideration, there is only one conclusion I can draw from this disinterest in gassy lagers.

I am getting old. In fact I may already be there.

* While exposure to the banality of local papers partially prepared me for this fine weekly publication, it was still shocking to read “Old Person Dies. After Illness”. I kid you not.

** This stuff is beginning to worry me. Where will it end? “No sir that’s not a radiator, it’s a personality enhanced heating system augmented with the latest AI, and for a small upgrade the on board raconteur chip can gurgle like Peter Ustinov”

*** I cannot call it art. My friend Dave – who is a proper galleriest – tells me art can be anything you like. Most of the engineers I know insist “it is only art if it includes colouring something in“

The Aluda Triangle

It wasn’t long ago that I bought a new camera. It wasn’t long after that when I lost it. It’s either nestled in the woods below the Malvern hills, or trousered in some scrote’s pocket up top.

Entirely in keeping the Law so well espoused by Sod, it was ejected on the only descent post which I failed to check for continuing velcro encasement.

Frustrating as the loss certainly is, a new phenomenon it certainly is not. For ever me and my stuff have suffered geographical separation at an escalating rate of “oh shit not again“. The current trade deficit must run to thousands, with only marriage and occasional outbreaks of common sense to keep it below eye wateringly tragic.

I cannot – and dare not – catalogue the Generation Game carousel of carelessly abandoned chattels, but let’s run a whistle stop tour of the highlights; five pairs of Oakleys’, three sets of expensive prescription glasses, a library of books abandoned in all corners of the world, a bridegroom in the UK, a good friend in France*, a car and then nearly my life at Universal studios, myself a hundred times in the woods, expensive watches, cheap watches, other people’s watches, two pairs of shoes in one week, money, credit cards and my wedding ring.

Twice. In one week. That week being our honeymoon. Not possible to do something more dumb that that you may think? Try offering “Yeah sorry, but it doesn’t mean anything” in mitigation.

On reaching a million, I stopped counting lost car keys and although there’s a rumour my random redistribution of possessions is somehow less chaotic than previous years, this is analogous to an arsonist only setting fire to one building at a time.

I may lose less, but it is worth more. And while there’s a part of me somehow proud of such ineptitude, the bit with the wallet in it craves a solution, a system, some kind of magnetic personality into which I can orbit cherished things.

God I’ve tried. Systems, post it notes, the three-pocket-pat “spectacles, testicles, wallet”, not leaving the house with anything valuable. None of it works, this year I’ve lost both the kids at some point, and once properly abandoned the dog in a Forestry car park.

And it shouldn’t be hard really. I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but I have clothes with pockets and bags with zips. Coping strategies include the tool wall in my workshop which was designed not for proud display of an extensive hammer collection, but to provide a fighting chance of locating the backup mallet once the first one has disappeared.

I have a theory and that is that none of this is my fault. Surprised? No, me neither. But let me hypothesise a little more. Last week my security pass was on a desk in a small room. At no point was the door opened**, no obvious thievery was at play, false floors and hidden compartments entirely failed to materialise.

But the pass still de-materialised. Gone. Not on the desk, not in my bag, not sucked into an air conditioning vent, not reduced to atoms by a passing death ray. No, just gone, away with the fairies, flipped into a different dimension, very possibly pining for the fjords.

Not even a man skilled in the art of being entirely flipping useless could manage that. So I give you the only possible answer, what we’re talking about here is nothing short of “THE ALUDA TRIANGLE“. Exactly like the famed Bermuda Triangle only not quite as big, not in the same place and with less planes in it. Otherwise, a spitter.

I shall just pause for a moment to bathe in your open mouthed amazement. Slap-Headed you shall be – as was I – when struck by the simplicity of the solution.

Somewhere in this shadowy void swirls all that has been lost, forgotten, discarded and abandoned. I fully expect to be re-united sometime when I am appropriately worthy and/or dead.

If it is – and I am every hopeful – the former, make your way to my virtual doorstep for some previously enjoyed items. They’ll be nearly new, barely used and of no use to me at all.

As even someone with six bicycles and only a single pair of legs can see that nineteen pairs of sunglasses, fourteen watches, five hundred and eleven socks and a four foot cuddly model of “Roger the Rabbit” is far too heavy a personal inventory.

* For two days. He found me eventually which considering that a) there were no mobile phones back in those days and b) I was not only in the wrong train station but the WRONG COUNTRY was a bloody outstanding effort. For which I rewarded him with a small Yorkshire sized beer.

** Even tho it was a very small room, too full of people operating hot electronics in the pursuit of some boredom challenge. Anyone opening that door would have been crushed by a few of us making a run for it.