April 23rd, 2010

When nothing in my world is making sense, it’s all violin strings and piano wire, when my heart is bruised and bleeding and for all those moments in between. A savoured sunset, fresh air, big skies. The exquisite pleasure of self-inflicted hurt.

The joy of occasionally getting it ‘just so’. Nailing a corner or the softest of treads.

Giggles that pull my face into a smile, shared with friends or just the birds, no matter which. Adrenalin, unfettered freedom, unadulterated, untarnished *just because* bliss.

Riding makes my heart sing. Nothing else comes close. Unlike life, loves and the weather it rarely fails me.

Dear Orange

April 1st, 2010

My trusty Nokia is on it’s last legs, putting it face down in a pool of water the other day didn’t help and to be fair it’s had a hard life.

As if my magic I get a text from Orange as I’m walking past the local Orange shop so I pop in as the gods are telling me it’s time to upgrade and a contract has got to be cheaper than ‘fleece as you go’. I’m travelling light as I’m planning to fill the courier bag with shopping so I’ve just got a debit card and a tenner, rather than a huge wallet taking up valuable room. We don’t get past the telephone/ address check seemingly because I’m ex-directory. No bother, perfectly reasonable. I’ll pop in next week with some utility bills as requested.

This is next week, it’s cold, brass monkeys cold. Two layers below the waist, three up top including a waterproof and I’m still cold. I’m also very tired and sicker than I’ve been in a while but I decide that parking and my waistline are both the stuff of nightmares and the fresh air and some pedal turning will do me good. It’s the only reason I’m riding 12 miles to Amersham and back instead of doing bits and bobs in the village. I’ve got a letter from the bank and a phone bill both with my name and address for all to see and a full wallet as per last week’s instructions.

Strangely the young lad remembers the small girl clutching a cycling helmet wearing a fine splattering of mud. I get through the phone check this time (huh?) and then apparently I have to choose from one of various credit cards I know for a fact I either don’t have or are not sitting in my wallet under the names on the screen. So they ask for the letters. No it’s not a bank statment we can’t accept that. Well I’ve got on-line billing but this letter has my name, address and an account code on it. No dice. Well here’s my phone bill. No that’s an broadband bill we can’t accept that. No it’s my phone bill – Pipex bought out Homecall and like Orange who provide broadband AND landline calls so do Pipex. We’ll we’re sorry…

Okay well I’ve been an Orange customer since 2000 and this card, that you do accept is mine is registered to my ‘pay as you go ORANGE account’ surely that’s enough proof of me and my address? No, we can’t accept that? Why not? They can’t provide a satisfactory answer. I’m losing patience now, not least of all because the shop is freezing. Apparently they have to leave the front door open (so much for globabl warming) for reasons I never get to the bottom of. Perhaps Orange can tell me why they feel it necessary to freeze their staff and customers and heat the outside world?

I leave them photographing the not-utility bill (which is odd as you’d think broadband in this day and age would be classed as a utility) to email it to Orange who ironically they can’t reach on the phone. And here’s me thinking they’re a telecommunications company. Nip round the corner to my bank who helpfully print a page of my on-line statement with my address on it and stamp it with today’s date. The cashier gives me an understanding nod and says that’ll do it.

They’re concede that will do it. How much time has this taken? Nearly an hour or thereabouts, including waiting to be seen. Oh but the phone you want is out of stock. Well given that it’s the one you suggested last week, it’s written on the brochure by you, that I waved at you when I came in and is clearly stuck to your wall suggesting it’s in stock why the (insert expletive of choice) didn’t you tell me before we started this process?

To to add insult to injury you offer me a phone that you actually admit is inferior. Now common sense would suggest you’d offer me the next one up and that way you get a ’sale’ and a signed contract. But no. I ask if you can tell me which of the local Orange shops has *my* phone in stock. No, we don’t have access to that information. Any offer to phone around to check or even to tell me where the nearest branch is well, you’ve guessed it is not forthcoming. Communication breakdown…

I’ve been an Orange customer for *10* years and 3 months. I don’t ever want to know how much money I’ve spent with you. I still don’t have a fully working phone and I’m wondering if I can transfer to another network and keep my number, but thank you Orange for inspiring me to finally update my blog.

The International Dark Sky Association..

October 27th, 2009

From the Times Online:

”At the end of a garden path, in a home-made observatory overlooking Wee Glenamour Loch, there is an air of expectancy among a gaggle of astronomers.

Better late than..

October 16th, 2009

The radio’s still faintly playing the slow, lazy, heat-haze pick n’ mix of songs. Summer slumbers, still making blue skies and sunshine in her sleep. But there’s no mistaking Autumn. She’s already been in and put the first cup gently down, tip-toed out dropping drifts of leaves from orange skirts, exhaling damp earth, drawing cool mornings with long pale fingers.

So make the most of it whilst Summer still sleeps, breath deep the slight scent of lingering sunshine, scatter your tyres with dust whilst you can because Autum’s in the wings, ready with that second cup. And then Summer will peer blearily at the season’s clock, stretch out nut brown arms to gather in her skirts, and with them the sunshine and the flowers. The warmth will seep away, the heavy indigo will fade making way for brittle blue. She’ll leave softly making way for Autum to soothe the trees to sleep, rustling quietly past, cold breath hanging heavy in the air. She’ll have her moment and she has pleasures of her own: the cold start snapping you from your sleep and the pleasure of the still just warm afternoon.

Then in the blink of an eye Winter will be hammering on the door, dragging mud across the carpets, rain running off his great-coat, depositing cases full of doom and gloom. He’ll stomp on the trails in hob-nailed boots, freeze your toes, scratch frost across your window panes and drag the skies with grey. Just once in a while a smile will crack his craggy features and the skies will spread with blue, the sun will sink low and spread the land with ice cold honey from bees with frost coated wings.

Random Travelogue #1

October 11th, 2009


Italy 1992, 2:00 am

Living hell boarded the train somewhere between Aora and Bologna. Where there was tranquility, darkness and the ignorant bliss of sleep came light, chaos and undignified waking. The noise and attitude of seven, very black, very female with a capital ‘F’, foghorns raised in tribal chaos burst into our compartment and proceeded to make themselves comfortable whilst making us very uncomfortable. Carol rapidly retreated into her sleeping bag and I conducted a non-verbal battle of wills over the window, light and silence. All of which I eventually got but not quickly enough…..

Later that day:

We learnt the hard way if some one offers you accommodation at a reasonable price, close to the centre of town just take it. By the time we’d walked half-way across Rome in the searing heat and queued for a room we weren’t allowed to take (it was a YHA and we weren’t) then found another, after a hair-raising whistle stop tour of the city in a taxi (traffic lights have no practical use in Italy aside perhaps for ornamentation) there was little time or energy left for exploring. So we set off in search of a swimming pool with the hostel ’staff’ (ie a stalled traveller) Simon the ‘water-diviner’. His divination was 100% accurate, but unfortunately it didn’t extend to opening times. As you’d obviously *expect* on a national holiday, in mid summer in the capital of Italy, all of the pools, including Mussolini’s grand masterpiece, were well shut, very shut.


August 7th, 2009

There’s a blue fug coming out of the study. Deep breath, tentatively proffer help. My Dad appears to have broken the Ryanair site.

Give up on IE, download Firefox (if in doubt try another page) and we’re away. His gnat like attention span rapidly wanes and he hasn’t got his glasses so can’t read the numbers off his credit card. Ask his disappearing pride what his mobile number is for the contacts. He doesn’t know. No surprise there then, but I’m bemused by the instruction to look at the back of the phone.

Deep joy……  both parents have labels stuck to the back of their phones with their ‘address book’ (including their own numbers) written in tiny wee writing….

Contemplate the fact they’ve mastered the light switches in er a new light. Muse further on the fact that my Dad’s allowed to operate complicated medical machinery and doesn’t appear to have killed anyone yet.

Finally understand where my deeply ingrained Ludditism (sp) stems from… as much chance a a cat versus a pitbull.

Mission Impossible: Afan

July 23rd, 2009

Oh lordy, the bar’s been set high. I can’t possibly reach. Stress-bunny hoppity- hop and worry through the week. Braved ‘hell in four walls’ for the shopping. Promptly obliged to spend several ‘packing’ hours de-stressing, with a tube of Autosol and a tub of Turtle Wax. All dressed up and finally ready to rock.

Makin calls not convinced, my reputation for concertina-time keeping preceding me. ” No really, on the road an hour, but I’m in the ‘minor. ” “Oh well we’ll see you tomorrow ” he says. “Sod” I said, but the sod was right. Performance anxiety out the window in the face of simply trying to turn up.

Bad time to do ‘girl’. Stranded on the hard-shoulder in a skirt and inappropriate shoes. The local ‘garage’ not the AA arrive. They’re not fooling anyone, I’ve got a bigger tool box. Flat-bed to Reading to meet Keith. He did his best. After every patient fettle I putter round the lorry park trying to get Euston to cruising speed, dodging HGV’s and their bemused occupants. No dice. We were supposed to get back on the motorway heading for home. In the mess of the moment I didn’t notice we’d neither gone over or under it.. Keith took it well and we had another fettle in Newbury before trying to head back in the right / wrong direction. Eventually we do, attached to the back of the van. Keith got a hug. It was that or tears.

Five hours after leaving and back to the beginning. Frantically disengage the Moggy, unload and load up the Subie. Inevitably we’re running on empty, double back for petrol. Midnightish and finally on the road (again). Total disbelief , we have full beams or side-lights, what else can possibly go… Ramp them down. To no avail, for 200 miles I’m upsetting everything with functional lights. “I know! If could explain you’d understand, but I can’t and I’m sorry but there’s nothing, absolutely nothing I can do”. Fog rolls in nose glued to the windscreen hearing chords on well thumbed CD’s I’ve not heard before. Given that I’m stone cold sober and the only thing I’m high on is coffee this is not good.

It’s 50mph for what feels like most of Wales, hunched over the wheel a ball of stress. Finally, gratefully turn off the M4. My insides lurch remembering what my mind thought it had forgotten. Head up the valley, unsettled. There’s a low shadowy shape in the road. Thud. I should go back, but I can’t face it. Pray it wasn’t someone’s dog, try not to sob. Lost halfway up a forest road my mobile runs out of credit (well it would wouldn’t it).

The cavalry arrive in a spray of headlights, noise and gravel. Tim’s a ray of sunshine and a hug. Despite the fact that his car is wearing a landrover shaped dent he’s happy, as is everyone else. Phew. It’s 2am, two-hundred miles have taken nine hours. Raoul produces food, wine’s poured. Then it’s seriously silly o’clock , we’re down to three. Makin pulls the ‘lets wait for the sun to get up’ card. Brain shot through with lack of sleep, travelling and gin. And it’s wonderful in it’s insanity and it’s beauty.

Some snatched sleep and eventually we head out. The fast boys long gone. And oh to be back – the trails had matured and laid themselves back into the landscape. A gawky teenager all grown up. The cafe full of people and bikes. Re-united with old friends, not quite forgotten but lost along the way. Folk are met, people randomly arrive, skin gets lost, ribs get broken. A long way from perfect but still oh so lovely. Monday clinging on by my fingernails and a long, lazy, gentle chat in the blistering sunshine (is this really Wales..). I’m not ready to go and somehow I’m in a cemetery overlooking the steelworks, hugging a stranger both of us welling up. Bitter-sweet, salt and honey.

As someone said “hugs hunny, it’s been emotional”.

If in doubt..

July 8th, 2009

Woke up to find Mr Shattered was still in town and the come down from the weekend was still whirling through my mind, alongside the usual rubbish. Too much dust crowded in too small a sliver. Fretted and fought through the day.

Told to deploy bike. Feigned exhaustion, the usual excuses but nipping out on the grounds that it was quicker than walking made it a done deal. Home to grab the necessary and as per instructions , pedaled slowly through the heat to loosen up the legs and slowly unfetter the mind*

Sub-marine green woods. Blue skies. Heavy, comfortable blanket of heat. Bonus: baby black bunny and a pair Red Kites soaring over a just nude field. Sun sitting in the river. Grass grown long enough to hold hands between hedgerows. Dragonflies. Long-horned cattle cooling their feet for Constable. Balm.

If in doubt, any doubt, simply apply bike.

*There’s a streak of poetry in that Scottish soul and just occasionally a smattering of sense

(gentle smiley deployed)

Polar opposite: a tale of two rides

June 22nd, 2009

I met up with Mr Morley for a day on the Downs. The words below, pilfered from his corner confirmed what I saw as he nailed the single-track like he was on rails and climbed like an oddly shaped, but efficient mountain goat:

‘the first steep confirmed my legs were good, it all felt a bit detached to be honest, just floating up the climb, the sensation continued on the climb to the top of Leith Hill, amazing, down the other side and the climb back over the top the nasty techy singletrack one despatched in the middle ring, no hurt no pain just gliding?’

Things weren’t so lovely in camp Allison.

There was no indication at the start of the misery to come. None at all. We went straight to Leith from Holmbury rather than the usual circuitous route. My legs thought they done the harder yards and continued in their misbelief.

Half way up High Ashes I waved the flag, sat down, ate half a Torq bar. Crawled miserably up to the Tower. The other half went down in desperation. Things picked up a little and reached something beyond mere survival. Summer lightening et al were despatched, ditto the climb back to the top, albeit slowly. And that was it.

From then on I trailed in Raoul’s kind and ever-patient wake. Weighed down by anvils, with legs full of lead ‘n vinegar, drenched in sweat of Hunter S Thompson preportions. Leaden, empty, just wanting to be put out of my misery.

Raoul told me take ‘a moment’. Immediate and grateful collapse face down into the grass. Unable to move, or focus on anything except the suffering going on inside my shell. He’d ridden a climb with aplomb that I’ve no doubt struggled up but never walked not once, not even in the broken years. I hadn’t even tried. I couldn’t.

Not a rider, just a passenger and a sodden, lumpen and sorry one at that. And an insult, an insult to quiet dry trails, who’d murmoured soft nothing’s, beckoned and enticed, laid out their lovelies in anticipation, deserving some justice. They got nothing from me. I owe them and my bike an apology.


June 3rd, 2009

Funny old day Sunday. I woke up to blue skies and sunshine but with only one thought in my mind and the utter conviction that it was the right time but I procrastinated and dithered. I’d missed the moment and I knew it.

So I fussed and flapped and got myself in a right old two and eight. Then it came to me that although I was tired, dog tired with quietly throbbing legs that I needed to ride and that I’d somehow salvage something from the day. So I grabbed the courier bag and crosser and set off to do some errands. And I was right. It was hot, the skies and sunlight were postively Mediterranean. Everywhere looked and felt ‘unfamiliar’. Slow and sophorific like the world and it’s contents were saturated, slowed and heavy from the sun. And it wasn’t just the rose tinted glow from wearing shades. The usual trails felt different, looked different, the folk I met were different. I felt like a tourist in my local town which was quiet, slow and strangely lovely even in it’s ugliness.

Was it special or was in just in my head? Who knows, but I’m glad I made the effort just to get out there and wander, explore it a little. Moments like that are to be savoured. Supped slowly to let the flavours resonate. I have the luxury of time, time to take that moment, cup it in my hands and wonder at it. For that I’m grateful (and quite possibly barking).