Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Adventures of a Cycle Path

I rode my bicycle today.  Now, many of you will not be at all surprised at that fact given that I am quite keen on doing so.  Today, however, there were a couple of notable differences.

Firstly, I was riding on the road on my mountain bike.  Well, I say mountain bike, 15 years ago when I bought it, it was certainly classed as a mountain bike but your average spotty teenager will now look at and go "Pfffft, you call that a mountain bike?"  Well, let me tell you young trendy person, it may have smooth(ish) tyres and no suspension but this used to win proper mountain bike races, you know the sorts where you have to pedal not just point the shiny suspension downhill and it is still (more or less) original and still going strong and probably weighs half as much as your £70 Asda super special that you can't put together properly.

Second piece of unusualness is that I was riding at night.  I recently bit the bullet and bought a set of LED lights, the rear is capable of many a pretty Knight Rider formation (although I prefer the solid 'on' option), the front light more akin to a white (with a hint of blue) laser that will burn your retinas out if you look in to it for more than a second or so.

Thirdly, and most surprisingly and, indeed the main thrust of today's blog, is that I decided to take a very leisurly bimble and use the cycle paths and other assorted shared facilities that Gloucestershire County Council have kindly provided.  Sit comfortably and allow me to regale you with three incidents in the space of no more than a mile that must convince you that such facilities are truly a crap idea.
Shared Use PathFirst, I cross Eastern Avenue, an urban dual carriageway with a toucan crossing (so named because two can cross, I kid you not) that is, of course, designed for cyclists and pedestrians alike.  Reaching the other side, I join a shared use path as indicated by a sign a bit like this.  I also join a young woman complete with a hoard of about 40 kids.  I don't have a bell (I'm far too much of a rebel) so I give a polite "Excuse me".
"You shouldn't be on the fookin' path"
"Excuse me, but you will find this is a shared path"
"Yerbut you're still on the path"
"The shared pedestrian and cycle path.  There's a clue in the name there"
"Well just be more fookin' careful in future"
"Trust me, in future, if the circumstances dictate, I shall show all necessary care.  Good day."

Shared Cycle/Pedestrian PathA few hundred metres further on and the shared facility changes to the type where there is a line down the middle doing a jolly poor job of segregating cyclists and pedestrians.  I encounter two older ladies walking the same way as I am travelling, not proper old but definitely older than me.  I, good, law abiding fellow I am, am cycling on the designated cycling half of path as is one of the aforementioned ladies, her companion on the pedestrian bit.  I'm not particularly perturbed by this but, in the absence of a bell, give another jolly "'scuse me" on my approach.  Initially, no response.  A good 20 metres away, I give another call "'scuse please".  At which point, right hand lady turns to see me, grabs her comanions arm and, quite theatrically, drags her out of my way apologising profusely.  Dragged lady, places hand to heart saying "Goodness, I wasn't expecting anyone on a bike."  Not vindictive, so gave a cheery wave, and bit my lip "shouldn't walk on the bloody cycle path then" stayed under my breath.

Finally, I come towards the point where I need to cross the road again.  There is one car on a kilometre stretch of road approaching from the direction of the far carriageway.  I choose a point to cross where there is a small traffic island and stop on it, half way across the road waiting for the aforementioned car to pass.  But no.  The dick stops the car right alongside the island, impeding my progress, to enable the kiddy in the passenger seat to alight.  Which he did in a painfully slow manner.  Heaven forbid any kids should have to walk any further than necessary.

So what have I learnt today?
Well, nothing if truth be told.  It has, however, reinforced my firmly held belief that the only place to cycle is the road.  And I may by a bell.  Or an airhorn.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

I am, therefore I think

I haven't blogged for ages.  My dedicated, though disappointed followers may have noticed.  So there will be two questions in your mind, I'm sure.  Firstly, why have I been away for so long?  Secondly, what has prompted this resurgence in blogging?
I shall try to answer both questions in one go and therefore introduce today's blog.  A message popped up in my inbox the other day.  Someone with the curious name of Anonymous had posted a comment in my previous blog saying:
"Only just read this. Sounds Like You Think WAYY too much?"
Now, ignoring the excess of Ys in way, what is man to do when he receives such a comment?  I'll tell you what he does.  He sits and thinks about it.  And do you know, Anonymous is right.  Which led me to thinking some more.  Is all this thinking a good or bad thing?  I don't mean procrastination for its own sake, that's not healthy.  I mean proper thinking with potential results.  I remember back to when I was working in electronic communications and we used to have technical meetings with technical people that would last 6 or 7 hours at a time.  At the time, we had a contractor working with us, we shall call him Paul (largely because that was his name).  We would sit in the meeting discussing a particular issue and Paul would sit there saying nothing.  Thinking.  You could see the man think.  He would even graze on the limp sandwiches that were wheeled in thoughtfully.  Then, about 15 minutes from the end of the meeting, he would get to his feet, cutting across the meeting, armed with a white board marker pen and sketch out the entire solution that no-one else was close to after 6 hours of talk.  Right, thanks Paul, meeting over.  That's some good thinking.

Then there is the other sort of good thinking.  I'm talking Plato, Socrates, Voltaire, and any other philosopher that comes to mind.  Great thinkers.  I may have found my perfect career.  These guys just sat and philosophised.  They thought for a living.  They came up with great perceived wisdom.  And the very best thing; you could be terribly vague and because of the hypothetical nature of the business, you won't be proved wrong.  Or if you are you can counter it by being philosophical.
These people also spawned many quotes that you may have come across at some time, in closing, let me share a couple with you:

“Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do” (Voltaire)
"Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself." (Plato)
And, finally, from one of the greatest thinkers of all time "Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?" (Winnie The Pooh)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Happy Anniversary

Those of my readership that were avid readers of Russ' Redundancy Blog will notice the significance of today's date, assuming you read this on the day that it was written.  Also assuming that I post it on the same day I started writing (not always the case).  Today, as I write is 28th August 2010.  It is exactly one year since I was unceremoniously bundled out of  made redundant from Vertex.  I know, time has flown by and, on the whole, I have rather enjoyed the last year.  
Naturally, a year ago I was commuting to Cheltenham every day (more or less) at rush hour (more or less) and I have less than fond memories of spending best part of an hour schlepping the ten miles between Gloucester and Cheltenham only to find the car two milliseconds ahead of me was taking the last parking space.  A couple of days ago, though, I again had to drive to Cheltenham at a similar time of day.  The night before and into the morning we had some quite significant rainfall and, as a result, the local radio traffic news reported that Shurdington Road (my preferred route) was covered in standing water, stacked with traffic and passable "with care".
It's times like this when one has to bite the bullet and make a carefully considered decision.  Or at least a wild guess.  Which way to go?  If you are local, you will remember when Gloucester imitated Atlantis for a week or so a couple of years back.  In fact, if you live in the area, you won't forget it because it is probably still the most discussed topic in the local rag.  It is to the Gloucester Citizen what immigrants are to the Daily Mail or Royal conspiracies to the Daily Express.  It is easy lazy journalism.  It brings to mind a discussion I had with an eminent resident of Gloucester some time ago that went along the lines of:
Me "Yes, I saw that story in Citzen" (sorry, don't remember the story in question)
Him "Indeed, finally a real story."
[Polite laughs]
Him (continuing: "In fact the last few days the paper hasn't been too bad" [pause for effect] "I think the editor may be on holiday.
I digress.  The point is, I had images of Shurdington Road looking like it did on that day.  More reminiscent of a river than a road.  But, I decided that maybe people would heed the warning and stay away.  It was in fact, possibly the quickest weekday journey I have ever made to Cheltenham.  There was no traffic and the "standing water" had obviously cleared away remarkably quickly - there was barely a puddle.  My brake pedal was as redundant as I became that day 12 months ago.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Where there's blame

If you know me, you will be aware that I ride a bicycle.  In fact, I ride a bicycle quite a lot.  If you read my bike blog you will be aware that I will ride tens of kilometres at a time and in all conditions.  Indeed, I will, when the mood, conditions, my fitness and the aid of a good descent all work together then I ride quite quickly.  At a guess, adding up my blog rides, a bit of commuting and pootling about I have ridden well over 1000 miles this year.  I am also having a stab at riding a unicycle.  All without incident.  Until yesterday that is.  Let me paint the picture for you:
I drove Tina, my good lady wife, to work in Barnwood with my bicycle in the back of the car.  As is my wont, I cycled to my place of work just a couple of kilometres further up the road leaving the car in Barnwood.  I was scheduled to finish work earlier than Tina so decided that I would perform some necessary errands in Gloucester where, incidentally, I was pleased to see that the Animal travelling cycle display team were in Kings' Square doing there demonstration things using the ramps and quarter pipes bolted to the sides of their vans.  They didn't have any accidents either.  Despite doing some particularly stupid stuff.  Having completed my tasks, I headed back to Barnwood.  That's some 10Km completed today.  Without incident.  After saying hello to Tina I went to ride the 200 metres or so to the back of the building where I would put my bicycle in the back of the car and wait to drive home.  Weather is good.  Visibility excellent.  The road in the car park is dry.  There are no obstacles on the road.  In many ways, perfect conditions.  Except for one thing.  Deciding I was just going round the corner, I hadn't adjusted the straps on my rucksack, causing the right strap to slip down my arm pulling the handlebars sharply to the right, into my thigh and dumping me unceremoniously onto the tarmac.  Possibly my first accident in 20 years and I am travelling at no more than walking pace.  Tina dressed the wound on my leg and off we go to the accident unit.  After waiting an hour or so, in we go to see triage.  I am limping and holding my chest, having bounced off it when I landed.  There is blood oozing out of the dressing on my left leg, clearly visible through the ripped trouser leg.  Sitting down with triage and having been given pain killers, the first question the nurse asks is 'was I wearing a helmet?'.  No I wasn't, and anyway, it's my legs and chest that hurt.  My head is unscathed.
So, after being prodded by a doctor, x-rayed and seeing my daughter, Victoria, who, coincidentally, was in with a friend rather than going shopping with her mum, I am informed I have a clot in my leg, bruising and soft tissue damage on my other leg and a broken rib or two.  Take pain killers and take it easy for a bit.
Fortunately, when I got home and checked my emails I have the usual plethora of emails offering me drugs over the internet from pharmacies in Canada.  I won't be taking them up on that.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Sporting Prowess

It may have escaped your attention, but some time around now, a whole bunch of footballists are having a bit of a kick about in the sun and after four weeks they will decide who is best.  Except if the country you support doesn't win in which case be prepared for such comments as "we was robbed".  Now, I don't really follow football so as a result know absolutely nothing about it.  Except one thing.  Under no circumstances ever should the players of this sport be ever ever allowed to speak in public.   Maybe whisper it to an English speaking interpreter who can elucidate or at the very least speak English.  Allow me to demonstrate from a radio interview I heard on the radio today.  To set the scene, Johnny Sports Saunders, esteemed Radio 2 sports presenter explained that some player had been injured in an incident with one of his team mates during a routine training session, friendly fire if you will.  The ensuing comment by the injury causing player went something like this:

"So I said to him Sorry mate, there was nuffink I coud do about it and he said "It's alright mate, there was nuffink you could do about it".

It's absolute poetry I'm sure you will agree.

This blog, however, isn't here to moan or rant about the world cup, the never ending TV coverage, the pubs being turned over to World Cup venues, those bloody silly flags on people's cars, football results taking the news headlines or a million and one other irritations.  In fact, I have to thank the opening of the World Cup for such a clear drive home today.

Then, of course, at the other end of the spectrum there is the school and grass roots sport.  Remember back to your school days.  If you can.  Were you the 'jock', always chosen first or the bookish one left till last?  Or worse, if the games teacher knew you were always picked last he may elect you as one of the team captains in a kind of inclusive patronising type of way.  Now the dilemma.  Would you pick your equally bookish mates and risk humiliating defeats or the athletic kids and risk alienating yourself from your mates?  I went to a rugby orientated school and wore glasses.  The two don't go together well and my rugby career was put on hold for some ten years until I wore contact lenses and went to play for a team where the pitch was flooded for half the season and frozen solid for the other half.  I never really did get to grips with the rules either.  Many games the referee would be shouting "Number four, your off-side in the ruck" or words to that affect.  It took me about three seasons to sort this out.  The first season was just realising that I was number four and resisting the urge to respond "I am not a prisoner, I am a free man".  Still bookish.  Or at least slightly surreal.
Football was another game altogether.  I was quite a good defender or goal keeper when I was allowed to stay on the pitch but apparently kneecapping isn't in the rules.

Essentially though, I have always been better at solo sports so I don't embarrass team mates.  I was a good cross country runner at school but my real sport has always been cycling, you don't have to rely on a team unless you are proper good and know what you're doing.  Which I'm not and I don't.  In fact, some people have commented that I am half good at cycling, so I am now the proud owner of half a bike.  My good lady has bought me a unicycle as a birthday present but it has taken ages to get it delivered.  Therefore, this weekend, I shall be mostly making a tit of myself and causing injury.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Teaching to cycle or drive

I ride a bicycle.  In fact, I ride a bicycle quite a lot.  If you have read my other blog you will be aware that I ride my bicycle sometimes for long distances and on roads that are quite busy and sometimes have lots of scary traffic on them.  In addition, everybody in our household also rides a bicycle and we rather enjoy it.
Last weekend, we went shopping to Tesco in the car.  Not unremarkable, it happens most weekends.  And, in common with many weekends we got home and said "bugger, just look at all this stuff we forgot to buy".  Totally undeterred, I decided to link the idea of riding my bicycle with collecting the other stuff from Tesco.  My daughter, Victoria (aged 9) came with me on her very funky, recently acquired 1980s proper girls pink Raleigh 'racer'.  Being quite the demon cyclist, it seemed appropriate to give her a little coaching on going round roundabouts so I chose the one that leads on to Tesco at Quedgeley as it isn't terribly busy and the exit before ours is a bit blocked because of the traffic lights holding up the traffic.  We take the proper approved Highway Code route for the learner or nervous cyclist, round the outside, only to be cut up by a woman (yes, really, I'm not just being sexist) going nowhere into the stopped exit.  We took evasive action, there was no drama but I did suggest to the lady that she ought to look where she was going.  She retorted "You should be wearing a helmet".
Now, I do own a helmet.  It is 15 years old and immaculate.  I don't want to do the whole helmet argument here except to say that until that moment, I was firmly with the no to helmet legislation camp.  I have now learnt my lesson.  There I was thinking they were a pretty useless lump of polystyrene but no.  I have learnt the error of my ways.   This woman has taught me a valuable lesson.  They are - Harry Potter eat your heart out- a reverse invisibility cloak.  She couldn't see me without one.
This could have so many ramifications.  Imagine those times when you are stood at the bar for hours waiting to be served, you must be invisible - wear your cycle helmet, the bar staff will now see you no doubt.  Although the bouncers may see you first.

In other news, I am still learning to teach people to drive.  I have now had some 24 hours tuition with my instructor (and now Facebook friend) Dave.  Dave obviously isn't invisible.  He has a whole digital TV channel named after him.  The training is invaluable.  I need forty hours before I am allowed to apply for my trainee instructor licence and start teaching but without this excellent tuition I would be stuffed.  Dave is a good chap and an excellent tutor, we do have a similar sense of humour, possibly borne out of a common geekiness.  The training, make no bones about it, is hard work.   Don't think you could go to a training company, pay your fee and be an instructor, it just won't work.  I think I have forgotten or at least take more for granted about how to drive than I could have known before a couple of weeks ago. 
All this talk of invisibility puts me in mind of one of my instructing faux pas.  I will say "Be aware" or "mind out for" that pedestrian.  To Johnny learner one needs to be far more explicit "Be ready to slow, stop or change direction for the pedestrian in case they walk into the road"
My instructor goes to great lengths to point out that you can be 'aware' of aforementioned pedestrian as they bounce off your bonnet, the roof and land in a heap behind you.  Still, it's their own fault.  They should wear a helmet so we, the motorist, can see them.

Next time you are doing a three point turn or reversing into a parking space, try and pretend you are teaching someone that has never tried it before.  Still, hopefully, watch this space, we should be up and running soon enough so, if you're after some high quality driving instruction it shouldn't be long now.

Monday, 3 May 2010

It's a sign

Might I apologise to all my loyal readers that it has taken me so long to write the latest instalment of my blog.  I have had trouble with my creativeness.  I put this down to writer's block.  My brother suggests constipation.  From which, he may be inferring I am full of sh*t.

You may be aware that between my bicycle and driving, I am quite a regualar road user.   As such I have recently noticed a few signs on my travels that make you think, whether for good or for bad.
First thought is how useful are road signs really?  During my driving instructor lessons, to test my observance of the road, my instructor would, on occasion, ask what the last road sign we passed was.  The number of "dunno" and similar responses suggests that they are largely ignored.  So what would happen if we got rid of them all?  I'm not alone in thinking this.  Much research from such august organisations as the AA (that's Automobile Association not the one my brother ought to know) and RAC has suggested that we are bombarded with them.  Apart from that, it can ruin some of the scenery that we all gaze at while we are driving.  Then of course, there is the simple fact that we haven't really got a clue what they mean.  If they were that simple we wouldn't need the Highway code book of signs and have to be tested on them before being allowed to drive.

However, I want to concentrate on a couple of signs that I rather like.  

If you travel around rural Enland, you will, inevitably, see the sign "Please drive carefully through our village"..  Damn.  there I was planning on driving like a nutter at warp factor 3 and you've ruined my fun.  Now I have to be careful.  Sneaky little thing though.  Doesn't say what to be careful of.  Is it just the kids on their way to school walking in the middle of the road or do you have snipers ready to take out the stranger?  Then, at the end of the village you are met with the sister sign "Thank you for driving carefully".  Aah, how do you know I did?  Maybe I did drive like a nutter and left carnage in my wake.  Or maybe we were just lucky.  You'll never know....
Then there is the No Motor Vehicles sign.  You know the one, a motor bike above a car.   I still wish that sign meant no motorcycle stunts or Evel Knievel banned.
Have you driven through a ford?  I mean, of course water across the road not another car.  On the other side, there is often a sign that says 'Test your brakes'.  Wise counsel.  However, you may want to take a quick glance in your mirrors first.  You don't want to force the driver behind to test his.

I know it isn't a proper Highway Code recognised sign, but I would like to know what the purpose of the "Baby on Board" sign that people stick in the back of their car is.  I can only think of a couple of reasons.  Have you ever been driving behind a car and thought "I know, I'll just ram into the car in front for a laugh" then had your plan scuppered when you saw that they have a baby?  No, nor me.  But you never know.  The other possibility is that the gentleman of the car is desperate to prove that the tackle is all in working order.

Finally, I'm sure you're all thinking "What's going on with Russ learning to be a driving instructor".  Well, a couple of weeks ago, I met my new instructor.  A fine chap by the name of Dave and we had our first lesson. It's surprising just how much you take for granted, right from putting the seat belt on.  This is pretty much how my first mock lesson, how to adjust your seat went.  You'll get an idea of the level of maturity:
After getting Dave to adjust the seat forward and backward, we discuss the rake of the seat, or the angle of the back:
"Put your hand to the right of the seat, there is a large knob you turn to change the angle".
We move on to the adjustment of the head restraint (never, ever refer to it as a head rest):
"Press the knob on the side of the headrest and it goes up and down.  There's a couple of knobs in the car".

It's hard to take things too seriously.  Part two and three are coming up this week.  I'll let you know if we grow up in the meantime.