Whee!

Queen – Bicycle Race

11 months and 13 days after I last rode my bicycle, I picked it up yesterday from North London Auto Cycles yesterday and rode home. Plenty has happened since last I hopped on the oddly-narrow saddle (which is now replaced with a broader, ventilated model) and attempted to ride home. Including:

  • Flying through the air from the handlebars of said bike immediately after last riding it.
  • Landing with a thud on my hip
  • Very first trip in an ambulance to the very pleasant Whittington A&E (subject of scurrilous and strongly-contested closure plans)
  • Very first x-ray
  • Very first operation (dynamic hip system, don’t you know)
  • Very first overnight hospital stay
  • 8 weeks off work!
  • Quitting work!
  • Commencement of MA at King’s College, London, and pretty much continuous study since then.
  • First essays for about ten years.
  • Good times in all things.

No more bicycle races though: no timing my journeys and mapping them on Tumblr, no more Blackstock Road. Instead, I spent lunchtime cycling like some sort of hippy around Tottenham Cemetery looking for the grave of John Eliot Howard. I found it!

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A Day In The Country

 

Concrete, steel and tar by Paul Forsdick

Concrete, steel and tar by Paul Forsdick

Yesterday I had my wrists thoroughly slapped by Essex Police: for the heinous crime of driving 7 mph over a speed limit, I was faced with a choice. My day in court. £60 and 3 points on the licence. Or a speed awareness course (costing, coincidentally enough, £60).

 

 

Having three points on the form already (Haringey Borough Council are clearly substantially less forgiving than Essex), I didn’t fancy the extras – although points expire from the licence in three years, insurance takes note for five years, and I don’t like the increased premiums that come with 6 points… So, I booked myself in to a course in Chelmsford, the nearest still available, presuming that it would be a nice simple journey in the wagon. Then the car breaks down and plans have to change. Having hung around in the morning for the tow-man to wheel away my car, I set off for Tottenham Hale on my bike, braving taking it on the train for the first time.

Having finally, circuitously, reached the venue (riding in Chelmsford makes me look a lot more fondly at London cycling conditions), I find my way to the reception. It’s in the sixthform block of a large high school, so already I’m put off a little. I’m five minutes early, so I stand (sweating, as always after a ride), putting away my helmet and gloves. On being ushered into the classroom, I’m faced with two driving instructors, the Johns, an East Anglian equivalent of Office Space‘s Bobs – a sort of skewed, good-cop-bad-cop sort of set-up. John1 is a typical Essex bruiser, a big man, but out of shape. He’s smart and engaging, but no nonsense. John2 appears to be a reject from Phoenix Nights  – all dapper moustache, and round guppy-headed Northernisms, delivered in a slightly grating voice. He takes a back seat for the first half.

First we write our names on name tags and stick them on our chests, or, in resident ancient man’s case, on his baseball cap. I’m sat with the gruff, hard-done-by Alan, caught at 37mph, at 3:30am. Other reluctant participants include Nigel, a dead ringer for David Cann; Dave, a grizzled, sarcastic, HGV driver, the Cool Hand Luke of the scenario; one or two mouthy Essex girl types, and the two who got stopped in 4x4s but are keeping schtum.

John1 reads the lesson. Statistics and percentages fall from his lips as readily as any driving advice. Admittedly effective are the frank and serious statistics relating to speed, but also useful are some reminders of the nature of speed limits, means of enforcing, etc. John1 is forceful and aggressive, but abounding with witticisms. More fun than my own (incidentally moustachioed) driving instructor.

After an awkward, quiet break – this is unlike most social situations, in that no-one knows anyone at all… – we’re back for the more interactive part 2. John2 takes over, his bizarre, quizzical voice skipping about as does his head. We joke about the reasons why we speed. Lateness; hunger (that was my suggestion, surprise surprise); the open road… we are asked whether we’d be satisfied if someone knocked on our day saying they’d killed a loved one. John2 is dramatic.

Three and a quarter hours later, and I’m back into the frostbitten Chelmsford air to ride to the station. The vans and cars depart the school, and I follow in their dusty wake. I’m out by £60, I’m free of points and prosecution, and I’m thoroughly re-educated. Far from being the Simpson’s-esque horror show, the programme is quite enlightening. But you don’t half see some odd specimens of humanity here in the sticks.

Whizz……….

 

Lomo cycling by fabbio

Lomo cycling by fabbio

I cycled the whole way into work today. Blah blah blah, you say, it’s not all that. And reasonably so, yet I’m still proud of the fact. And here is why.

 

When I was young, I was quite the athlete. I was centre of defence in the (almost) all-conquering 1993 season Owslebury County Primary School football team (under the management of the Keegan-esque svengali Ian). True, I wasn’t all that good, scoring more goals in my own net (2) than in the other team’s (0), but that’s not really the point here. I won the sprint at Sports Day leading to a famous Robin victory over the Yellowhammers (it was a countryside school…), and was active in all the right ways.

Then one year, at cub camp somewhere near Oxford, I fell off the monkey bars onto my backside, and I mark this as the beginning of the end. Although a glorious comeback was completed with said sprint victory, there was always a soreness in the posterior, which swiftly led to excuses, and general withdrawal from the world of sport. By secondary school, the cricket/football teams could do without me easily enough, and my burgeoning basketball career never made it past a sympathy spell as captain in the inter-form tournament, and a near career-ending, wrist-breaking body tackle on Smith. I never looked back, and sailed into a sea of physical apathy, full steam ahead.

Throughout sixth form, I can’t remember a single incidence of physically strenuous activity, yet I plied myself with a daily canteen hotdog (red and white wrapper) or barbeque rib dog (green and white),  as well as a Galaxy Caramel. A gap year job saw me eating both a full dinner (with hot pudding) at lunch, and my mum’s full dinner in the evening. Weight was gained.

Moving to London saw a cut in the quantity of food perhaps, but more pertinently the quality. Pot Noodles were consumed at not irregular intervals, and breakfast turnovers from Costcutter, North Road N7, after all night recording shifts were a frequent feature of my culinary life.

On starting work my exercise was limited to the occasional walk to Southgate (20 minutes), or from the office to Finsbury Park (20 minutes), very occasionanally further. The odd game of badminton told me that my calves were not really in a position to compete. 

I’m not a very fat man, and I’m not heroically unfit, however, I’m not a very fit man, and I’m not anywhere near an athlete. So cycling to work represents something of a triumph for me – will I soon be rid of tubby, short-of-breath Simone for good? If I get up to riding a full 15 miles a day, I think so. 

You can get the blow-by-blow account on my tumblr page. Some good blogs for cycling: onionbagblog, Urban Velo.

Updates

Just FYI y’all… I’ve updated the blogroll with a couple of new comics, and some more…

1) Celebrations: new toaster at work, this is going to revolutionise my life.

2) I’m keeping track and maps of my cycling on my Tumblr, so you can see how slowly I’m progressing – come along and buck me up.

3) I added Pictures For Sad Children and Alien Loves Predator and Sky First Then Shoes and Kottke and Boing Boing to the blogroll.

4) New Used Adventures In Hi-Fi over at No Ripcord.

Just like riding a bike

 

Smithfield Nocturne, by newformula

Smithfield Nocturne, by newformula

Today I ventured out on my pushbike. Bought through the infinitely wise CycleScheme (explained by Pete Baker or Joe Waugh), and thus saving about £200, I was now ready to hit the road. Accordingly, at the weekend I took my first tremulous pedals onto the roads of Wood Green (riding around Noel Park doesn’t really count, and earns me the scorn of real cyclists) and mimbled up to the Post Office to collect my copy of Doreen Massey’s World City. I also ventured out in the evening to the shops on the High Road and Lymington Avenue, and that was it. 

 

I was (rightly) informed that I should not try riding all the way into work yet, but to get used to the roads and traffic of London first, and thusly I formulated my scheme – I could start early (before the major traffic commenced) and go halfway, parking at the Finsbury Park Cycle Park. Perfect! However I forgot to set my alarm and am woken at 7:20am, far later than I’d planned. But! Still in plenty of time, so off I set, down the residential avenues of Noel Park, under the flyover, negotiate traffic at Turnpike Lane, whizz down Green Lanes (bus lanes are flipping great! Who knew?!) then cross over into Finsbury Park itself. I made the mistake of taking the slightly gravelly, slightly up hill path through the park.

I am unfit.

Once at the bottom, I ride up to the cycle park and… it’s all locked up. You need a swipe card to get in, and there was no one there to sell me one. Blinking brilliant. So, I set off, and aha! I can park it outside my old workplace, London Met on Holloway Road. Lots of people around, proper bike racks blah-de-blah. So I get there and… I’ve forgotten the key for the lock. I is a fool.

I’m left with no choice. I still have enough time, so it looks like I’m in for the long haul. I hadn’t planned adequately for this eventuality, so my mental map is hazy, but I’m off up through Barnsbury and down to Caledonian Road – a little hilly, but it’d be worse going that way on the way home… Over at Kings Cross and I’m flying. I’m not dying of exhaustion, I’m not super-overheating, I’m in the groove and the actual riding has come right back to me. I can work the gears now(!) and I’m used to the traffic, I can ride slowly without wobbling, I can weave between cars (when stationary – I’m not nuts), I can indicate, I even found opportunity to ding my bell…

The only thing that let me down was my navigational skills, I was shocked to learn. What should have been a fairly straightforward jaunt down Kings Cross Road then Rosebery Avenue turned into a twisty, windy trip around Clerkenwell and Smithfield, so I didn’t really go the most efficient route… With the stops and the detour, it took one hour, which I think is pretty good going. I felt great after, although as soon as I got off the bike to walk, my legs nearly gave out from under me.

So now I’m planning my route home – maybe Blackstock Road will suit me this time, we shall see. I’m really confident – I have to confess I did not expect to make it the whole way in without a lung collapsing, although I was fairly upbeat about my personal safety. Bus lanes and cycle lanes are really effective, and I felt totally safe the whole way. Good old London, we do some things right.

Cycling Links I found today…

Velorution

OnionBagBlog‘s London Lidos Tour (and his photos)

TFL Journey Planner (you can set it for bikes only)

My route – judge for yourself.