Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Thursday, 23 December 2010


THis is from a cycle blog I read:

""..One London newspaper thought it would be best to give their readers a warning as to what lies ahead.

On Tuesday, The Guardian published a guide to walking on snow and ice. In fact, the paper even consulted a doctor for their list of expert tips.

In the introduction to the article, the editors wrote “that only penguins are really designed for the snow and ice” – a huge surprise to those of us dealing with those conditions a good six months of the year.

Dr. Luisa Dilner advised the obviously delicate residents of Britain not to “talk on your mobile phone or even reach into your pocket,” as that could trigger a fall.

“If you are pregnant,” Dr Dilner continues, “You have already shifted your centre of gravity and should be tucked up at home with a box set of Mad Men.”

That’s right, Canadian women – you thought you could make it through the winter without much change to your regular routine, but it turns out you actually need to hibernate like a bear.

Tell your boss the doctor said so.

And forget about biking. The Guardian doesn't mention it, for fear of causing the English to clutch their pearls in horror, certainly - but it's likely not recommended.

The same goes for carrying heavy boxes and a host of activities many Canadians undertake without much thought at all.

“People who know about snow (climbers mostly) say that ice grips worn over shoes can prevent falls,” Dr. Dilner concludes.

Actually, that’s Canadians, mostly – and most of manage to get around just find without resorting to warnings like these: “However you have to take ice grips off on smooth indoor surfaces and they don't work on black ice because nothing does. Except being a penguin.”"

It is very funny. I have been cycling throughout the winter and have noticed the numbers of cyclists drastically reduce as it has gotten colder. It's not actually that cold - averages about minus five, daytime, and cycling is possible. There are a couple of England-specific dangers though, particularly drivers of motorized vehicles. English drivers do not change their driving habits for anyone, anything or any condition. It seems related to the old War spirit that gets referenced in the media far to often for a healthy national psyche, and is almost as if they are saying:

"Hitler could'nt make us surrender, there's no way I'm going to give in to a bit of snow and ice".

THis extends, in many cases to taking absolutely no precautions whatsoever in winter - there are now snow tyres, no one alters their tyre pressure and apart from volume purchases of windscreen de-icer, driving habits stay the same. The result of this is that the sight of a 'boy-racer' in a souped up Mini, wheels spinning furiously at standstill, engine revving and a bead of sweat trickling form under the brim of his (reversed) baseball cap and going absolutely no-where is not unusual.

Mostly, this is amusing, but for cyclists, it can be very dangerous. We get no extra space, no consideration for the fact that roadsides are very icy and many ( I would say most) drivers still overtake millimetrically with almost zero tolerance. Every time there is a particularly close shave, I revive a fantasy I have had number of years, which is to capture the offending driver, tie them to a chair and then get a big hammer attached to a piece of string and swing it at their heads, trying to get as close as I can without actually hitting. In the case of many 8 wheeler drivers though, the intention would be to make contact.

Unfortunately, I am to become a driver for a few days, as we are renting a vehicle today for the holiday period. A big part of me fervently hopes the weather is too bad for travel, as these roads scare me. And, I have to admit, a big part of me, despite everything said above, loves driving.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Towards a theory of Cycling; A Post Modern Discourse

"Ah" I thought to myself, "Based on the truth that our world is socially constructed, and because no-one appears to be watching, this wont hurt a bit".

A second or two later, I had discovered the limitations of that particular post modern discourse as I splattered face first into a road surface made even more unyielding by a three inch covering of ice.

Of coiurse, like all things, it began with interior decoration, and the observation that at least one scientific law was, despite having been de-constructed ad nauseum, immutable, that law being of course that for every action , there is an equal and opposite re-action. In this case, the carpet that had languished in our front Survivor-watching room, had been moved to the rear room. RHB, applying all action research skills at her disposal critiqued my reaction:

"Looks great" I said "Watcha think?"

THere was a pause. At this point, I should comment on pauses. Over a long, and, in the main bloodless, relationship, I have learnt - possibly through reflection, neural pruning or the actions of mirror neurons (take your pick) - that a pause can be as eloquent as any of the Psalms. Pauses (issued by my partner) can mean "Good idea but I dont agree" (ie 'You have the wrong idea '), they can mean "I am about to explode with fury" (ie "You've done something wrong") or they can mean "What happened to ..." (ie "Whatever you are about to do is wrong"). In the instance of this conversation, the pause was quite long (thats a good thing), did not involve pacing ( even better) and there were no flailing arm movements (phew!), and was simply followed by

"Hmmm... the whole kitchen's the wrong colour now. It doesnt match the carpet."

It was my turn to pause. ALthough not personally endangered physically, this was terrible news. Paint colour selection at Large Mansions is a lengthy process. Colour swatches that I simply cannot tell apart are presented at the breakfast table for my opinion, and I invariably pick the one that "only an idiot would pick". The epistemology behind the process - a joint decision taken by consenting adults - is reasoned and inclusive, but the execution is less so. I cannot see the difference between many paint colours and get bored rapidly. RHB not only sees the differences between paint colours but makes associations between colours that are close to eachother. I think in my case, this inability is the product of being raised in a 1970's wallpapered home, but whatever the reason the only redeeming feature of the process is that the paint store is right across town, a good forty minutes bike ride away.

Which is how I came to be approaching the railway lines near Chanterland Avenue Cemetary at a speed approximating that of a scared cat, bearing several lites of paint in my panniers. AFter sixteen previous trips for samples, the final colour had been decided. Despite the snow, unprecedented in this part of the world, I had been indoors all week, writing term papers and had seized the opportunity to get out on the Crosstowner and have a good old play. En route to the paint shop , I had seen no other cyclists, but had successfully navigated snow-covered side roads, a field and a couple of slippery major roads. THe return route took me over the railway lines.

THere are two ways of crossing icy railway lines in sub-zero temperatures on a bicycle equipped with 'slicks' (in my enthusiasm I had neglected to change the tyres and have been still riding on my summer tyres). The first approach(described retrospectively by a critical friend as 'the only') is to get off and push the bike across, calmly and sedately. The second approach(described by the same friend afterwards as 'sheer stupidity') is to be imagining that you are a resistance fighter in a post-apocalyptic world couriering a vital message, and that despite the travails of snow and ice, the message must get through at all costs, quickly. In the second scenario, the ONLY way of crossing the railway tracks is to accelerate, attempting bunny hops over the icier bits.

"Had a little spill" I am forced to announce as I return home. The limp from a badly bruised knee cannot be disguised. Nor can the dented tins of paint, bruising and minor chip to the bone of the right elbow and torn waterproofs. RHB pauses. I am temporarily alarmed. "Did you get the paint?" she asks. I nod. She grins "You had fun, didnt you?". I nod again, and we laugh. SOme things dont need an explanation.

Friday, 3 December 2010


As one who believes that a good picture of snow is vastly improved by the inclusion of a pink cat I am, naturally, an apostle for these pictures. Nothing, I feel, illustrates a good snowfall than a blurred picture of a twenty pound cat that has just pounced, adorably of course, on a snowball.

Which information should lead you to conclude that some, or other, entity has been fabricating said snowballs in order for the aforementioned pouncing to occur. This is on account of how cats paws are eminently unsuited to the task. If a reader has any intelligence this string of logic should provide a clue as to who, or whom, the snowball maker is. And given that it is I who writes this blog,and posts photographs and has no friends, and am currently at home writing because the University is closed, and have an unusually (but not suspect) relationship with said cat, I should remove you from your misery and confess: I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last week making snowballs in the back yard and throwing them. Toshack, responds with loud "MIAOW" then chases off into the snow covered moraine of our rear garden before plouging face first into drifts, frantically clawing at the snow. It is a behaviour more akin to that of a dog

During a short lull earlier this week, his sister Callisandra, who hates the cold, possibly on account of the amount of titanium in her feet (with resultant increased conduction) briefly joined him. She shot across the yard after a smallish ball of ice. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the only reason she was outside was the slight warming. This warming had softened the layer of ice on top of the pond, although it was still masked by snow. Calli charged, intent on her snowball, the ice gave way, she fell in the pond, leapt out looking like a sodden calico pretend toy and carooned into the house up the stairs. I felt a bit guilty, and slightly concerned in case she had been frozen solid, so I went to find her, and she was lying on the bed grooming as cats do, as if nothing had happened. Which in her world, it hasnt.

In the grown-up human world though, the weather has been, for England, unusual. Hull has laboured under a 12" blanket of snow. Food has begun to run out in stores (this in NOT exaggeration) as pensioners have bought up every loaf of bread available (this is both an exagerration and unfair as I have no idea who exactly has been buying all the bread. But there is none). Even the liquor stores have not been restocked. In the media the extent to which this country is unprepared for most of the weather it receives has been the subject of screaming headlines - Every year there are a seasonal round of stories about people dying of the cold. Motorists get stranded for days in 'mountain' passes that are no more than 1500 feet high. Droughts and water shortages follow winter and springs of unprecedented rainfall. People die of heatstroke in temperature approaching the mid thirties (centigrade). The weather in the Uk is nowhere near as varied as most of the countries on the planet - its one of the reasons our climate is called temperate - yet the country seems prepared for none of its seasons.

This however, is not the complete picture. In our street, for the last week, kids have been having snowball fights with adults, the elderly folk have had their drives dug out by slightly less elderly folk, birds have been fed and the overall mood has been one of joy and celebration. THere has been a party atmosphere because practically everyone has been off work.

So who is complaining? Actually, I am. But not about the weather - it is what it is and snow is particularly beautiful. BUt also, I am not complaining too much about the lack of prepardness this country consistently demonstrates. It means more days off work, and in truth, English people are not the Protestant work fanatics they pretend to be. My complaint is the English media - possibly one of the lowest forms of life on the planet. There is one modus operandi in the English media and that is partisan point scoring. From the mighty Times to the lefty Guardian to the Tory Telegraph and the scumbag tabloids, point scoring may operate at various intellectual levels, but it is all the UK press have, apart from lifestyle pullouts. Journalism has a number of capacities which various individual have done very well - change (a lot of Vietnam war photography), observation (Alistair Cooke's letter from AMerica) comment (Charlie Brooker in the Guardian still does this). But the majority of contemporary UK journalism is not these capacitieis, it is whining, niggling and inconsequentialism. ANd although this can temporarily appear to be analogues of good writing - sharp, witty, hip, modern, referenced - they are not good journalism, they're just bad novelisation. So cliched themes,the stock in trade of bad airport novels, are what we get for the majorty of our news. And the recent snow has definitely resulted in the wheeling out of all the 'old ones'. Personally, I would rather play snowballs with a cat than read the British press.