Two by Two

Despite recent rainfall, this post will have nothing to do with my role as the new Noah (I am still far too young – but just 448 years to go!) or any construction project involving gopher wood.  Referring to my trusty King James edition, it seems that the original Project Initiation Document for anything surviving the flood was rather poorly drafted and variously requests two of each animal, or two pairs or seven pairs of each animal to be included in the ark.  I think this rather poor QA and the weak compliance with the principles of PRINCE 2 may go some way to explaining the mess the world now finds itself in.  I feel the roles of Project Manager and Team Leader are largely implicit in Genesis but it is less than clear on the user representative and establishment of a steering committee: and frankly I suspect a better defined project would have seen a lot of push back from the users long before the implementation phase.  I like to imagine that the later formation of the Trinity was a response to criticisms in the End Project Report.

However, I did promise myself after the last gargantuan outing of GofaDM that I would try and rein myself in and wax less prolix (at least once).  So, here goes my brave attempt to try something new…

It should be well known that my primary form of transport for journeys of non-trivial length (and those that will not involve an inconsistent level of alcohol consumption) is the bicycle. This has been the case for more than a decade now and throughout that period I have journeyed on several variation on the theme of the hybrid bicycle.  Some have had more of the road bike about them than others – though I have never managed to get on with drop handle bars – and others have been more tuned for bad weather.  I have had bikes made of aluminium, steel and titanium – but all have had the basic geometry and comfort characteristics of a hybrid.

Over the period of serious cycling as a practical mode of transport, and particularly after the move to Southampton, the quality of the road surfaces on offer has made the process of moving around ever more painful to a chap’s undercarriage.  A situation that may have been exacerbated by my general lack of padding: both downstairs and up.  I remember many years ago riding a horse through Monument Valley using a cavalry saddle, which went by the discouraging nickname of “ballbuster” (I think down to the shape of its “prow” and the likely effect of the steed stopping more rapidly than its rider and the ensuing conjunction of a genetleman’s agreement with said prow).  However, this provided a level of comfort that a legume-sensitive princess would find more than acceptable when compared to cycling on the roads of my chosen city: I fear any chance of siring offspring was lost years ago (for which the world is no doubt grateful).

After my recent excursion to Eastleigh to further my aerial circus ambitions, I decided that enough was enough and that I needed a more comfortable conveyance to coddle my nethers into their twilight years.  I could live with a little loss of efficiency in the transfer of energy from my body into its forward motion in return for less impact damage to my buttocks and that which lies between.

After some research into the options, I have acquired a new mountain bike – despite the lack of proximate relief which could claim the status of anything more than a foothill (if we exclude accessing the General Hospital) – which has rather different geometry, massive wheels and thick tyres (it’s a 29er – but I can assure readers has neither been baked nor treated with vinegar to achieve this status) and some solid suspension for the front forks.

IMG_20181109_121258

My pristine new mount: laughing in the face of rain…

Despite its rugged looks – and I’m hoping performance – it is still surprisingly light and quick on its wheels.  A little slower out of the blocks perhaps (that’s inertia for you), but otherwise I have not noticed any major loss in performance.  It does offer me a rather commanding position on the road and I can now laugh in the face of all but the largest of potholes.  Indeed, as a small child with new Wellingtons is irresistibly drawn to puddles, so I am drawn to imperfections in the road to see how little they affect my smooth progress along the Queen’s highway.  I finally understand the smug sense of superiority evinced by four-by-four drivers as I too now have this feeling of broad invincibility as I cycle around town – though sadly without the protection offered by hundreds of kilos of steel, a crumple zone, roll cage and multiple air bags: so I continue to operate on the principle that everyone else (including ginger cats) is out to kill me.

I like to imagine this new purchase will encourage some more excursions into the New Forest, but on my current performance of one such excursion in more than five years hopes should remain damp (or even soggy).  For now, like a true 4×4 driver, I will be using my new toy resolutely within the only mildly rugged terrain offered by urban Southampton.

Gettin’ nekkid

The alternative title for today’s tome was “Tender moments”, but I went with the option which I felt provided better “click bait” (well, it’s a competitive market for readers’ eyes out there).

So far as I can recall (and my parents may correct me here), I have never felt any pressing need to spend any more time in my birthday suit than is strictly necessary.  When required – usually in a medical or changing room context (nothing to do with Carol Smillie) – I am not shy about removing my kit: I see no benefit faffing around with a towel in an attempt at concealment (or increased titillation).  Indeed, as made clear in an earlier post, I can be quite brazen about the whole process – especially for comic effect.  I work on the principle that on such occasions everyone else in the room should be familiar with the male physiognomy in its entirety.  I am also reasonably confident that I have the standard set of equipment issued to the adult Y-chromosome holder with no obvious deficiencies or unexpected extras.  In an attempt to keep the sauce levels in the post up, I could point out that I have a big nose and large hands and leave readers to draw their own conclusions about the rest of my anatomy.

I am aware that some people do like to divest themselves of their clothing for extended periods and to do so outdoors: one supposed benefit is the increased feeling of freedom.  I am willing to concede that, if practised over the long term there could be a degree of freedom from laundry, but I’d take the physical protection provided by my clothes and shoes any day (it’s not as though I have to take my washing down to the river and beat it with sticks).   Still, it takes all sorts (if you want a bag of liquorice-based bon-bons) and I have no objection to this life choice – as long as they can cope with my childish tendency to snigger.

One chap, famously, is an incorrigibly nude rambler and is constantly arrested and jailed – at huge public expense.  I fail to see who the involvement of the criminal justice system benefits.  Some might say “think of the children”, but in my experience children would either point and ask tactless questions of a nearby parent/guardian or take my own approach and giggle.  Either way, the rambler seems to suffer far more potential harm than the child.  (I should perhaps remind readers that I am not a parent, though was recently allowed to be in charge of a pram and baby for a little while).  This tendency to refer everything which we don’t like (or our xenophobic, misogynistic, reactionary, soon-to-be chip wrapping of choice tells us we shouldn’t like) to be handled via the creation of a criminal offence seems to be out of control.  On this week’s Thinking Allowed I discovered to (even my cynical) shock that in the last year for which data exists, 42(forty-two!) new criminal offences were added to the statute book (and this was not an unusual number – just ask Douglas Adams).  No wonder the police and courts are collapsing under the strain.  We really need to find a better – and cheaper – way of expressing our disapproval of other people’s lifestyles (or better yet, in many cases, mind our own business).  How about tutting?  Or an extra hard stare?

Anyway, as I set out yestere’en (like a low rent Laurie Lee) to see Tiernan Douieb and Bec Hill “make with the funny” (to use a ghastly modern phrase) at the Arthouse Cafe, I sighted a gaggle of cyclists riding up the road towards me (I was afoot at the time, much like the game).  Nothing unusual you might think, but the entire gaggle of cyclists were naked (OK, not entirely, one was missing a bike but wearing trainers).   Obviously, I found this rather amusing – though resisted the urge, which overtook almost all my fellow pedestrians, to capture this moment for posterity using my mobile phone.  However, I could not help but wince: of all the activities which I might consider doing in the buff, cycling is pretty low on the list, especially in the Southampton area.

The previous evening, I had cycled over to Eastleigh (a town with the misfortune, or perhaps destiny, to rhyme with “beastly”) to see Alex Horne build a mouse (sorry, squirrel) trap.  Previously, I would have made this journey by train, but the planned rail strike made me investigate alternative options and cycling seemed eminently viable.  The train strike was called off, but they had already lost my business (a warning there, perhaps) and I took myself the roughly six miles to Eastleigh en vélo.  A twelve mile round trip, with a couple of hours rest and a reasonably-priced ice-cream in the middle, should be as nothing to an athlete such as myself.  Indeed, the physical endeavour was not a major issue – but the appalling state of the road surfaces in and around Southampton caused a problem.  The following morning, when once again I mounted my titanium steed, I discovered that my nether regions were decidedly tender.  This was even with the not insubstantial protection offered by my trousers and under-crackers – I’d rather not imagine the state of my undercarriage had I undertaken the trip in the nude.  I would strongly suggest, even to the most committed of naturists, that naked cycling – unless on the most glassily smooth of road surfaces in the absence of any other traffic – is really not a great idea: unless the desire to be naked is strongly correlated with masochism (which isn’t impossible, I guess).

The moral of my tale, if such there be, is that perhaps our ancestors knew what they were doing when they invented clothing and it wasn’t entirely down to the munching on the fruit of the tree of knowledge or pressure from “the man” to cover up.

Keep your hat on

I am a sometime wearer of the milliner’s art, and I would like to do so more often (as with the scarf, I feel it makes me look raffish) – but there are two issues which stand in the way of my intent.  Firstly, in recent years this country seems to have become a lot windier than I remember from my youth (though this may be down to my perception moving from that of a pedestrian to that of a cyclist) and in the strong wind it can be rather tricky to keep one’s hat in contact with one’s bonce.  The second reason is related, in that I tend to regularly travel by bike and this generates wind (even if mother nature is not supplying her own) and leads to the hat and cyclist parting company.

I have noticed that young people (or at least some among their number) seem able to retain their hats under what seem to me to be very challenging conditions.  They seem unaffected by strong winds which is all the more impressive given the positioning of the hat upon the head.  Modern youth seem able to perch a hat on only the rear 30-40% of the head – a position from which I would struggle to retain my headwear even with the wind at 0 (flat calm) on Mr Beaufort’s scale.   How do they do it?  Has a new head shape evolved since the 1980s?  Has the hat pin made a comeback?  If any young person should happen to stumble on this blog, please put an older codger out of his misery and divulge the secret.

While on the subject of the covering of my head, I thought I’d raise another cycle-generated wind issue that vexes me.  The issues relates to my hair, which frankly has always been a source of disappointment to me (indeed, I have often pondered disposing of it altogether and using a wig when necessary).  Each morning I spend a considerable amount of time styling my hair using some sort of goo to reach a rough approximation to its Platonic ideal – some days I can take as much as 5 seconds on this process (I know, my excessive vanity will be my downfall).  However, I have no idea why I do this as within 30 seconds of cycling all my efforts have been rendered as naught.  Purveyors of hair styling gunk advertise their wares suggesting that you can do anything – including bouncing up-and-down on your head (not something I have ever been tempted to try) – and nothing will shift your hairstyle.  I am loathe to believe that corporations would be economical with the truth so why, despite the supposed hold of my hair product, is its effect render null and void within 100 yards (or metres) of distance travelled on my velocipede?  I’ve tried gel, wax, fudge, mud and more – but none can retain its hold on my barnet.  Do I have defective hair (well, even more defective than I thought)?  Do I have some strange immunity to hair products?  Could I commercialise this new and rather unexpected super-power?  Or failing that, is there any way to control my hair so that it stays controlled?  Answers on a postcard to the usual address…

The heat is on

Not, I should make clear, the heating.  That hasn’t been on for months – I am either very green or cheap, take your pick!

No, South Cambs (and much of the rest of the UK) has been basking in what I think we used to call a “summer”.  This is a season I vaguely remember from my distant youth, but haven’t seem much of in recent years.  So long has it been, that I have had to dig out long forgotten clothing, from the places I had squirrelled it away, appropriate for temperatures touching the eighties (Fahrenheit).

I must admit that I’m not terribly keen on hot weather – and hot, sunny weather even less.  I’m fine up to around 70°F, but much above that I grow rapidly less keen – though with very low humidity it can be acceptable in a holiday destination.  As a result, beach holidays do not appeal – I can spend about 5 minutes on a beach before I’m bored, you can’t even comfortably read a book because of the glare, and what something else to do.

I realise this is not a common view in the current era, where we are all assumed to want hot, sunny weather.  I have no particular aesthetic objection to acquiring a modest tan – though recognise this view is very much of my time, a few years back I’d no doubt have been coating myself in white lead to appear as pallid as possible.  Whilst exposure to sunshine is probably less deadly than lead-based cosmetics, it still isn’t terribly good for one – even ignoring the potential cellular and DNA-damage, it is terribly ageing and I’m looking quite aged enough already thank you very much.  As a result, I feel I have to coat myself in foul, titanium dioxide based gunk to protect my alabaster limbs and face from the sun’s ultry violet rays (I know, I’m not a proper Englishmen – must be my Welsh roots showing, we of the Principality are much better in rain than sun).  As this blog may have mentioned before, I hate getting my hands dirty (literally, I’m fine with figurative filth) and suntan lotion makes me feel dirty.  Roll on MAA-based lotions – well, it works for coral and seem much less objectionable (well, at least according to the late lamented Material World).

Cycling in hot, sunny weather is also a terribly sweaty experience – one is relatively fine while moving as a result of the natural, forced-air conditioning.  However, as soon as you stop at a junction, one is instantly rendered rather wet (and not in a nice way).  This is not the ideal state of arrival at a concert or theatre – few of which provide showering facilities for their patrons (or probably their performers in some cases!).  As the government seems to have money (ours) to burn on infrastructure projects, can I suggest public showers in our major towns and cities?

So, all-in-all, if we are going to be changing this climate (and we seem very keen to do so) could I put in a request that we cap the temperatures for the southern half of the UK at around room temperature with light winds and easily forecasted rain.  Otherwise, I may have to defect to Alex Salmond’s new kingdom.

Egocentric? Moi?

As a single, white, middle-aged man living in the West I am probably at quite a high risk of coming to believe myself to be the centre of the universe. Despite the risk factors involved, I fondly like to imagine that I mostly avoid the worst excesses of the egocentric (but then, perhaps this is true of all egomaniacs?).  At least I have been spared the horrors of fame which seems to substantially raise the risks.

Usually, if my ego threatens to break loose of its bonds, my habit of travelling by public transport quickly disabuses me of any notions of being the centre of the universe.  When travelling by Greater Anglia, it is usually pretty clear that no passenger (sorry, customer) is even remotely near the centre of their corporate universe.  Last week, even a stray swan was further up the pecking order then we mere customers – I know that urban myth suggests swans can break your arm, but I’d never previously heard anyone suggest they can break a train.  Other than some of our larger waterfowl, I’m not entirely clear for whose benefit Greater Anglia is run.  I suspect one objective is just to be marginally better than First Capital Connect and so stay off the bottom of the rail satisfaction league tables.

In my more paranoid moments, I do wonder if the fact that Greater Anglia is owned by the Dutch may be relevant (let’s face it, much of our critical infrastructure is owned by Johnny foreigner).  By keeping a significant portion of the UK’s working population regularly heavily delayed and so tired and frustrated, they are helping to keep the country from economic recovery to the benefit of our competitors in the Netherlands (and elsewhere).  However, my more rational mind tends to remind me that the people of Holland really don’t need to exert themselves to delay our recovery when our own government is doing such an excellent job on its own.

Whilst Greater Anglia is doing its best to keep my feet firmly on the ground (well, it’s often cleaner than the seats), my life a-wheel oft has the opposite effect.  On Friday, I headed into Cambridge to visit the flicks and then go on to a soirée to celebrate mid-summer.  The weather forecast said “dry” – so I took some precautions – but nevertheless headed out into dry sunshine.  Within 100 yards of leaving home, the sun departed and the rain arrived.  I put up with this for a mile or so, but it became more insistent so I removed by shades and put on my jacket before continuing onwards.  Within 100 yards of this wardrobe change, the rain stopped and the sun re-appeared and so I found myself squinting and sweating.  After a couple of miles of this, I changed back out of my jacket and replaced my sunnies.  Again, within 100 yards of me re-starting my journey the sun once again disappeared and it started spitting.  This spitting grow stronger and after a mile or so had become torrential rain, and so I was once again forced to change my attire.  This time it took some 200 yards before the rain vanished and the sun returned – but I’d had enough and so sweated and squinted the remaining three miles into town.

It would seem that the rain and sun were following me with an explicit plan to be as irritating as possible – a plan they delivered on with admirable thoroughness.  It reminds me of a story from childhood where the sun and wind have a competition to make a passer-by remove his coat.  Perhaps I am the centre of the universe?  Or of someone else’s nursery story?  Or at least a VIP in the world of earth-based weather phenomena?  Lest we forget, when I last visited Florida it snowed – for the first time in 80 years!  Coincidence?  Well, quite possibly yes.

Yesterday, I headed down to Lewes for a concert – and so had to cycle to the station to catch a specific train.  The day was dry except for one (relatively brief) period.  From the earliest time I could sensibly leave for my train until just after the last time I could leave and hope to catch my train it rained.  Well, more than rained, it hammered down with Biblical intensity.  As with the previous day, the extraordinarily tight focus on my own outdoor movement plans is highly suspicious.  This time, the plan failed – I made it to the train with nearly 30 seconds to spare.  However, I did have to ride like the very wind and endure significant initial moistening on departure.  I think this failure did rather knock the wind out of the weather’s sails, and for the rest of the day it only made very lacklustre attempts to drench me.

The way things are going, I fear I may be entirely lost to solipsism after a couple more times out on the old velocipede.  Then again, as a philosophy it doesn’t sound much fun at all given how much fun the world outside the self can offer!

On Friday, my slightly damp body was delivered to the quite excellent Before Midnight at the Arts Picturehouse before I then went on to a truly marvellous party (one I feel Noel Coward himself may have approved of).  Fine company and conversation were accompanied by a little gentle music provided by some of the guests.  Added to this, I managed to eat a truly prodigious amount of cheese washed down with more than a little white wine.

Yesterday, good company and fine music were once again on the cards as soon as I reached East Sussex (by now having dried off), this time thanks to the Esterházy Chamber Choir and their summer concert.  The concert had a strangely appropriate first act closer (as I believe they say in the business known as show): a setting by George Shearing of “Hey, ho, the wind and the rain” (by old Bill Shakespeare, but placed into the mouth of Feste).  Does someone if the choir have the second sight?

So, I shall try to resist the rise of my ego and maintain myself at a suitable distance from the centre of the universe – something which I’m sure any decent cosmologist would tell me doesn’t even exist.  Whilst I’m pretty sure I’m not the centre of the universe, I do sometimes wonder if I am (in fact) a minor character in a very long running sitcom.  As a result, I do always have half an eye out for the studio audience…

Time for a diet?

Diet is a concept I always find inseparable from the words “of worms” – a less than tasty option, but one which might well lead to weight-loss.  I do seem surprisingly prone to such foolish memes.  Earlier today, I learned that part of the scherzo from Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D was used in the musical Kismet (or should that be Kiss Me?) as the basis of the ventriloquist’s least loved song, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads”.  I now find I can only think of the composer as Gorodin (best said with the teeth clenched): yes, a mere 62 years after Educating Archie hit the BBC Home Service, I am now trying a vent act in text (and I bet you never saw my lips move!).

I would seem to have digressed further from the plot than is traditional, even for GofaDM, for this was to be a post about cycling.  A little earlier in the week, the Guardian reported (as I’m sure did other organs of the fourth estate) that there had been a rush to the cycle shops of this sceptred isle following Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France.  Whilst wishing to take nothing away from Mr Wiggins – as a cyclist myself I’m frankly amazed that anyone can perform to that degree for that long and can only imagine the state of his knees and backside – I do wonder if this is really the correct explanation (or at least, the whole explanation).

This last week I had reason to have some work done on the warhorse: my heaviest duty velocipede.  Doing so, I discovered that my local cycle shop – the excellent Cambridge Cycle Company – had seen a major (and much needed) upsurge in business.  They had a much more convincing explanation: viz the sudden cessation of continuous heavy rain and the shamefaced re-appearance of our local star in the skies above South Cambs.  It may be that the fortuitous combination of victory in France with this shift in the weather increased the effect, but I would hazard that had the Tour de France taken place a few weeks earlier, the exploits of Messers Wiggins, Froome and Cavendish would have had a much diminished impact on the cycle traders of the UK.

Anyway, my reason for taking my cycle to the shop was unrelated to the Tour de France or the weather: I know what happens when warhorses are taken to France and I continued cycling through the recent record-breaking moistness.  No, I went to take advantage of a serious discount on Ridgeback titanium bike frames and so the aluminium of the warhorse has now been transplanted with light and durable titanium (proof against sea water, chlorine and aqua regia – not that I plan on taking it near any of these as my own frame is rather less durable).  So strong and corrosion-resistant is titanium that this frame should “see me out”: a phrase I wasn’t expecting to use for a good many years yet  (though, it is some comfort that the same would have been true had I acquired the frame when still a teenager).

As part of the delicate surgery on the warhorse, a couple of other issues with its existing components were discovered.  I had somehow managed to break both the saddle and the bottom bracket (oh yes, I have all the jargon): and also contrived to remain blissfully ignorant of both facts.  I like to imagine that my frame is somewhat sylphic, but both sets of damage would be expected to arise from a rider of more than usual girth and mass. Perhaps it is down to the power of my pedal strokes?  Or am I just like catnip to the Higgs boson?  If so, then perhaps a dream job at CERN is closer than I think: even if only as an experimental subject.  I suspect that more prosaically, it may only be an indictment on the condition of the roads of South Cambs: where’s the Olympic regeneration when you need it?

The quality of mercy

is supposedly like the gentle rain from Heaven, though recent events would suggest that celestial mercy may be rather strained.  Recent precipitation brings retribution to mind rather than mercy, and suggests a vengeful deity with an itchy trigger finger.

In the last 15 days, I have been soaked to the skin on three days (though four occasions) and have have been rendered pretty wet on a further ten days.  This is despite attempts on my part to use intelligence from the Met Office to travel at times of lower risk wherever possible.  In an attempt to restore the much-missed drought, I never leave the house without being laden down with waterproofs and an umbrella.  I have also purchased additional waterproof clothing (which gives my existing waterproofs longer to dry after each drenching) and even scarified the lawn (which has always generated desiccating weather in previous years).  What more can any man do?  If reverse psychology has stopped working on the weather then we really have wrecked the climate.

A recent article in the Guardian (or at least its headline, I refused to read further for fear of raising my blood pressure) exhorted cyclists to enjoy riding in the warm summer rain.  With temperatures struggling to reach my age (in Fahrenheit) and with 10-40mph of wind chill to add to that, I don’t really feel the rain is terribly warm (though one of the Inuit or Saami might take a different view).  If warmth were on offer, I might consider an alternative approach and swap the waterproofs for an absolute minimum of clothing (though cycling naked strikes me as a very dangerous and painful choice) and some shower gel: my skin would dry quicker and I’d save both on time and my water bill.  The only downside is that arriving in little more than my birthday suit at a theatre, concert hall or railway station, I would probably be considered a tad under-dressed however clean and sweet-smelling I was.

Whilst recognising the dangers of solipsism, on several occasions the weather has been dry for an extended period before my journey, with the first spots only appearing as I leave the shelter of a building.  I begin to think that rain-generation is either a third, unwanted super-power or to wonder if the fact that I called God a lousy lay in a previous post might have returned to haunt me.  On the plus side, I suppose I could hire myself out to drought-stricken regions of the globe or join the Fire Brigade (though they’d have to relax their eye-sight requirements and I’m not good with heights) and, of course, I should only be used for some types of fire (adding rain to those involving electricity or very hot metal would not be advisable).