Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Last Man Out

Heavy snow hit the south of the UK yesterday afternoon. We had heavy snow last week on Thursday too and although it was hard it didn't last very long - long enough to cause problems though and with a layer of snow and ice still on many back roads. However yesterdays conditions were exponentially worse.

I was at work in High Wycombe which is basically located in a valley in the Chiltern Hills. This means that to get to work I have to drive up a steep and long hill before going down the other side to get to Wycombe. I got an e-mail from someone passing by Reading whee I live that the snow was falling and that it was 2-3 inches deep. I tried calling home to validate this but could get no answer. Nothing from their mobile phones either, so I waited. 30 minutes later snow began to fall increasingly heavier at work and so I bailed out and headed for home. This was at 4.30pm.

I made it about half a mile, which was all up hill, before I got stuck with the wheels just spinning. People walking down the hill were saying it was like an ice rink at the top and so after trying a little more to make the car go up I gave in and eventually managed to turn around - although it was more like "slide around", and headed back down the hill. I was going to try the main hill out as I figured it would be in better condition but traffic was gridlocked where I was and I couldn't even get back to the office. After parking up I trudged back to work and reached it around 6pm. I found it locked up, no one there. Fortunately I have a key so I let myself in and called home to tell them of the problems. Apparently Reading was similarly gridlocked, all buses cancelled and abandoned in the roads and mobile phone lines jammed.

On a hunch I headed over the road to the local pub and found 4 colleagues in there who were in the same predicament. We sat and drank, chatted and looked out of the windows until around 10pm. The others said they were going to try getting out through the valley which obviated any hills, and I decided to get some food then try the main hill out. If I couldn't make it then Id be staying the night at the office! My main concern was my evening & morning medication, neither of which I had with me.

For speed I went to McDonald's - decidedly dry food even with a coffee to wash it down with. I got a call from one of the guys to tell me that the main hill was closed by the police so I walked back to the car and tried the other hill out that I had attempted previously. No joy; the police had closed that too. Apparently there was too much snow and drivers were leaving cars and lorries everywhere blocking off the escape routes and it was too icy.

On a hunch I tried the next road over the hill along but that was impassable too. Along the way I nearly rear ended another car. There was about 5 car lengths between us as he went to turn a corner at the bottom of a slope and slid, so I applied the brakes gently, lost all traction and slid on down towards him. I was only going about 5 mph but the car just kept sliding and after yanking the hand brake up, jamming the foot brake down, praying to Mustapha I stopped not even a foot away from him. I don't think he even noticed me.

Somehow I got onto a road - don't know its name or even where it was - and a pedestrian told me that it was closed ahead but that I could take some turns and get around the blockage, so I followed his directions and ended up going up a hill in the general direction I needed to get to. Well all I can say is a heartfelt thanks to the residents and pedestrians who were there as there is no way I could have made it without two people pushing the car and another with a shovel clearing the snow from under my front wheels when I got stuck. At about midnight I made it to the top of the hill and the M40 crossover. Snow was hellishly deep at the top. No roads had been gritted and the only possible path cleared was via previous vehicles, but even these tracks were filling up with snow.

I couldn't take it above 20mph maximum before control was lost so I slowly drove down the other side of the hill on a road virtually empty of traffic except for abandoned vehicles and the massive queues the other way. On eventually hitting the M4 motorway I joined it and was pleased to see it had been gritted - the only road I saw gritted that night - but that it was 3 lanes of gridlocked traffic and the hard shoulder crawling with stuck or broken down lorries, cars, etc I must have passed over 100 of them on my way home. I eventually walked in the door at 2am this morning...knackered but quite highly strung.

Needless to say I decided it was prudent to work from home today. We've got about 5 inches of snow on the ground, maybe more. Cars outside our house are stationary again. Kids are going out to build a snowman and have snowball fights in the garden. Happy Christmas :)

Friday, 18 December 2009

The love for your children

Its hard being a dad. No I correct that; its hard being a GOOD dad. This doesn't mean that if you don't try your best you're going to be a bad father as its a little harder to explain than with statements like those.

Take me as an example - and lets be honest about it, this is really all about me! I have Chris who is 19yrs and Ben who is 12yrs. I know I made many mistakes as a father with Chris as he grew up and I deeply deeply regret that I cannot undo those wrongs or make up for them. Despite all of this I love him (and Ben) so much that I would sacrifice my life for them if it was necessary and I hope they love me to a similar - although not quite as reckless self sacrificial - degree.

I got angry with Chris a few times when he was young and I smacked his bottom with my hand. I made him cry, and even though I felt very very bad about it, at the time I felt the reason was justified. I rarely smacked his bottom - maybe only 4 or 5 times in over a dozen years. When I was brought up my mother used to put me over her knee and smack me repeatedly with a wooden spatula when I was naughty. That hurt like hell, but I think the hurt I did to Chris was more emotional than physical. He loved me so much that we would both be crying as we cuddled after it all calmed down, saying sorry to each other and apologising. It used to break my heart to see him so upset but my wife made it clear that I was the one who was supposed to do this discipline stuff in the household with a "wait until your father gets home" kind of attitude.

And yet I have always felt that just beneath the surface hes afraid of me, even today...a bit like layers. The top layer is nonchalance. Just beneath this is fear/concern/anxiety, and then the third layer is love. I see the top layer on a daily basis - heck hes still a teenager, they're all like that. I seldom see the second layer and I hardly ever see the bottom layer.

The other night he was making a cup of tea for us and there was something in his mums cup he was trying to get out - some speck or other - and the continuous "chink chink chink" noise of the spoon was getting on my nerves so I went into the kitchen and said to leave it and I would sort it out. I picked up the mug and threw the contents down the sink and proceeded to make her another cup of tea. I lost my rag with him. I didn't get angry or anything, just told him to leave it and that Id sort it out. He was confused and quite obviously hurt but I was blind to this. I guess I get frustrated and something takes over. It's nothing like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining", its more of a need to sort it out without caring for the other persons feelings. Again it only seems to happen with Chris, but its a failing in me and not him.

My wife took Ben to bed shortly after and came downstairs to tell me Chris was in his bedroom crying. I knew right then that I had hurt his feelings. I realised that I had been an arse and that I had had no right to take out my frustration on him & I went upstairs and we cried together in each others arms. I told him I was a poor father and that I was being nasty for no reason and I was very very sorry. It was nice to hug him as we haven't done that for many years and it was good to let it out. It doesn't make me a good father in any way, but its nice to try to explain to him that I know I am not to him and hopefully help him understand that I try and will in future attempt to try harder.

The reason for his upset turned out to be because his friends had all moved away to go to university, but I think that our tea incident was the impetus for his upset. I really hope that he can make new friends and I am trying to think of something he can do to broaden his social activities. I appreciate his problem and realise its harder than just saying "go out more" but I really want to help him. I love him, even though I may not show it on a daily basis. That part is a man to man thing and men don't really show these emotions well with other men.

As for Ben, well Ben is Ben. He's learned by having an older brother to look up to and I have learned a lot from my parenting with Chris, although I am still learning.

So is there really any such thing as a "good dad"? I'm sure I'm not the only father in the world to lose his temper, to smack a bottom, and is to do such a thing being a bad dad? Is being a good dad something which encompasses more than this? Something which is the whole experience of knowing your children from birth to long after they leave home and unto your death? I don't know the answer, but I know that I want to be better. I also know that no matter how good a dad I am I will always think I could be better, and most of all I want my children to know that I love them with all of my heart until my very last breath on this earth.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Weekly Weigh In & Bike Stripping

Last week = 222.4lb
This week = 222.2lb

The irony of it is that I weighed myself on Wednesday prior to my Diabetic Clinic appointment and I was 220.6lbs.

Whichever way you slice the bread its a crappy weeks worth of weight loss. I didn't go riding at all this weekend which is probably the main reason, as Saturday was spent in town x-mas shopping and today was spent stripping down Ben's forthcoming bike.

So...must try harder! as the teachers would say.

As mentioned, I stripped the bike down. I didn't have a chain breaker tool and I had to split it because the derailleur and front changer thingy had to come off, plus the chain was somehow inside the chain stay. The chain was rusted to death anyway so after trying to use a drift and hammer to knock a pin out I gave in and resorted to chopping it in half with my Mole Grips.

The only thing I haven't managed to suss out is how to get the drive chain cog, crank arm & pedals off. I can undo the crank arm from where it enters the bottom bracket on the opposite side to the drive chain cog and the whole thing is loose and would pull out if the peddle wasn't on but for the life of me I cant get the bugger off. I feel its one of those inverse thread affairs but I've tried both ways. The problem is that now there's nothing really I can grip hold of to put enough leverage onto as the whole bike tries to spin away from me.

There's a guy at work who has stripped and rebuilt bikes before so I'm going to take it into work tomorrow and ask him if he has anything I can use - or better still see if he'll take it home with him to do. The crank arms are in fair condition and a bit of chrome cleaner will take off any of the minor spots of rust so I'd like to reuse them and just buy some blinging peddles.


Ben and I stopped off in Halfords (our local multi-national bike & car shop) on Saturday on the way back from town and we got a tin of spray on primer ready. I also showed him the huge range of finishing colours available and after looking at some of the bikes in the shop he seems to be interested in a blue colour now, although red is still his favoured finish.

I had an idea for a custom made badge for the frame too if I can get a piece of copper plate. I can make a nice design for it using printed circuit board etching fluid and Araldite epoxy it to the head tube.

Temperature today pretty much stuck at 4 degrees C (39.2F) without considering the breeze as well. Working outside on the bike was cold enough let alone going cycling in it. Still I need to do it. Must try harder!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Diabetic Clinic Appointment

I took a trip to the Diabetic Clinic this week for my 6 monthly check up. I was a little concerned as I think I am close to being placed on Insulin instead of the current pill control. I can't think of much worse than having to stab myself with a needle instead of popping a tablet. It just seems like the final corner of a race I really don't want to win. There's no going back onto pills if Insulin injections are started and so it would feel like Id have lost some of my personal control - as much as it is. This is one of the reasons I have started cycling, and I hope turn myself around so I can carry on taking pills for some time to come.

However, getting back to the appointment, I was intending to cycle to the clinic but my crappy cold thwarted that plan and I resorted to driving. I was surprisingly gutted I had to take the easy transport option. It seems that every time I go there I see a different doctor, and this time was no different. After weighing me, measuring my stomach, asking the usual questions about lifestyle etc I was sat in front of a young lady doctor who was really only concerned about my blood pressure being high. Even though it is down on the last test that was done its still something high over something high and she prescribed me a pill to lower it.

I cant take them yet though as after 2 weeks of them I need to get a blood test done to check my kidneys are okay. It seems that in some people they can be harmful and with the forthcoming x-mas period she advised I don't start to take them until after hospital staffing is back to normal after the festive season.

So all is reasonably good. They didn't comment on my weight loss (bastards!) but I don't have my next appointment until May 2010 so I reckon I can lose some significant poundage by then. Recently I have been making mini salads to take to work to eat mid morning in lieu of crisps (potato chips) etc and a Mackerel & cucumber sandwich for lunchtime.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Sods Law

Why is it that in the overwhelming majority of cases, when I book a holiday, that I get sick? Its fundamentally unfair.

I book time off work in order to do things. Plans are made. Destinations plotted and time's agreed. Then as if in the blink of an eye you're full of snot, headaches and its as if you've turned into a moaning hunchback with barely the strength to get up to piss.

On Monday I knew I was getting a cold because I had that raw feeling beginning that's located roughly where you expect the back of your throat meets the nasal branch off passage. I'm sure there's a medical term for it that I cant be bothered to look for. Anyway I expected a cold to occur and by the evening it had developed, but that was nothing compared to what I awoke to on Tuesday morning. It was like I'd aged 50 years. I could hardly breathe and was worn out just turning over in bed.

I spent the whole day - my day off - on the flipping sofa under a blanket. I've lost a layer of skin from my nose because of blowing into tissues. My head still feels like someones thumped it repeatedly and no matter how much I blow and cough I cant get rid of the glop.

In fact I don't think Ive had as bad a cough for some years. Last one I can remember that hurt as much was when the nurses had some kind of tube down my throat and when I coughed they'd whip it up and out to remove the mucus from inside me. It was very painful.

You'd think with 2 Flu jabs in recent months that my body would be at least a little bit immune. Sods Law!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Snack-a-holicking

If I was to attend a meeting of S.A (Snack-a-holicks Anonymous) I'd have to stand up in front of everyone and confess in my humblest voice "I eat snacks".
Fortunately I don't attend S.A, nor do I go to any other dietry meetings such as Weight Watchers, Fat Busters, Lardy Arses or whatever they're called. However I do know I have a problem with snacking. Not at home mind you. If I was to take the day off work I'd not need to snack, and I do less work at home. However at work I nibble like a mouse.
Usually its crisps. For some reason as I sit at my desk, at around 10.00 or 11.00 I need to eat a packet of crisps.
Following on from the "meat free weekend" I have plenty of humous, salsa & carrot sticks left and instead of taking packets of crisps to work I took a selection of the above. Sure enough, come 10.30 I was in a nibbling mood and dug the pots out of the works fridge and started nibbling. Much more pleasant. Much less fattening.
All I need to do now is work my way around to not needing nibbles at all.

A Meat Free Weekend

This weekend I decided that we would go meat free. Just for the weekend mind you!

For Saturday evenings meal I made a thick Leek & Potato soup which we ate sandwiches with.

Sunday was a little more extravagant, and took a darned sight longer to prepare for too. I made Falafel pitta's, stuffed with salad & tomato salsa, and also Hummus dip, salsa dip with carrot and celery sticks.

The pitta's were shop bought wholemeal ones. The carrot sticks were easy to make with my Nicer Dicer. The Tomato salsa was easy to make (also with the Nicer Dicer). I've never made Hummus before and cant remember what consistency its been whenever Ive seen it. It turned out quite thick...thicker than wood filler even, which I think is a little too thick tbh. I also found the taste of it a little bland despite chucking in some Paprika & 2 tsp of Marmite. chick Pea's are fine but have little actual flavour. I could taste the Tahini I added to it but there was something profoundly "absent" which I needed and cant put my finger on. The rest of the family said they liked it though.

The Falafel burgers are basically made from chick peas blended with some herbs. I added some curry paste to the mix for some added flavour and they weren't too bad. Unlike normal beef burgers they refused to solidify in the frying pan so I had to be gentle in putting them into the pitta bread when they were cooked. I then added some sliced Cucumber, Red Onion, Jalapenos, Red Pepper & shredded Lettuce.

In all it was "okay", but I don't think I could go totally meat free. I mean I just couldn't go without my Chili Con Carne...I'd die!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Weekly Weigh In

Last Sunday 223.4lb (15st 13.4lb)

Tonight 222.4lb (15st 12.4 lb)

Another miniscule drop in weight, but its still on the right side i.e going down. I wish it was faster and more of a drop though. Also it seems which website I use to do the lb's to Stones conversion makes a difference to the weight! Theoretically if the difference in pounds is the same then so should the difference in Stones. So in theory if I go by the Stones figure I've lost more :)

Saturday ride & a bike project starts

Saturday was a fine day so Ben and I went for a bike ride. We hadn't been for one for almost 3 weeks so it was great to get out (as Ben said "at last!"). Problems with Ben hurting his leg after a minor accident at school, then he had a bad cold had meant we were jonesing for a ride.

I chose a completely different ride this week, going for a bit of "off roading". We rode about half a mile to the village of Shinfield and then cut down a muddy footpath, around some ruined farming research buildings and came out into a churchyard, then through a small housing estate and across some fields which were really muddy and into the village of Ryeish Green then back across some other fields and muddy footpaths, encountering the largest puddle in Berkshire which we attacked at full speed.

As we came to the end of the second field we were next to some woods and I spotted a rusty old bike. I said to Ben that it might be a bit of work but that it could be a good bike for him if it was done up. The wheels are smaller than his current one - which is really a bit on the large side for him - and it looks a bit like a BMX type bike although I'm no expert on these things.

Anyway it turned out that the ride was shorter than we thought - only 4.97 miles round trip. although it took us an hour and a half. We felt fine until we got indoors, then we both felt like rubber legs had been swapped for our normal ones. We just made back it before it bucketed down too.















Today we took the car up there hoping to chuck it in the boot before anyone spotted us. Unfortunately an old couple walking their dogs came by but we chatted with them in between petting the lovely Golden Retriever and the other whateveritwascalled dog. They said that the bike had been there for some weeks and agreed that it was good that it was taken away and put to good use.


I was busy the rest of the day so didnt get a chance to strip it down but my thoughts are going along the lines of:
- strip it down
- sand down the frame
- spray prime, top coat and lacquer it
- new handlebars, grips, brakelevers, cables, callipers
- fit a handlebar lever action 5 speed (Its currently 10 speed but broken)
- new chain and any other little bits

The saddle actually looks half decent and well padded, plus the wheels and tyres look to be in fair condition. The only bit I will need to read up on is the gearing stuff as I've never had to bother with any of that in the past.

I have a couple of days off this week and so provided x-mas shopping can be done away with quickly I should get it stripped down and start on giving it a rub down with some wet and dry.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Outbid & Future Plans

Well if you read a previous post of mine a week ago you'll remember I was bidding on a rather nice racing bike on e-bay. Bidding ended at 11.30 last night, and throughout yesterday it seemed to be down to myself and one other who were interested in getting it.

Bidder 2 got the bastard thing!


I was determined to only have a max bid of £50.00, and he/she won it at £53.00. People at work have said "ooh you could have got it with another bid" but they fail to see the long game, which would have seen it increase in price exponentially until it got to the other bidders maximum limit. Without knowing that figure, I could have gone on and on and I would have broken my promise to myself to not spend more than £50.00. So I am not really too unhappy, as there will be others I can bid on and perhaps win.

As a side effect of all of this, my wife said to me last night that the New Forest has cycle trails all over it and that it would be nice to do that in the Summer. For those that don't know, the New Forest isn't new at all, but was planted (I think) back in Henry VIII's time as a place for him to hunt. I guess it was new then and so the names just stuck.

The New Forest is just above Southampton & about 1.5 hours drive from us. The astonishing thing is that apart from 10 minutes around the park when we were teaching Ben to ride, she hasn't been on a cycle since she was a kid. She doesn't own a bike and in past years when I have suggested her riding the 10 minutes to work instead of taking the bus or me collecting her she's always poo-poo'd the idea.

Maybe I'm rubbing off on her.

So right away I looked for women's cycles on e-bay and pointed out to her a nice ladies mountain bike. She said "I don't want one off e-bay. I want to try it first". Jeez!! "But it's going for £30.00 dear" I said. "It's a bargain and looks in good condition" but she was adamant about it so I gave up...for now.

I would be reluctant to buy a new bike for her, considering her eagerness will probably fade in a few months. It also leaves me with the dilemma of storing them. 2 bikes in the shed is a tight squeeze. If I get a racing bike it wont fit, even with KY Jelly smeared all over it, and 4 bikes doesn't even come close. I have considered building an extension to the shed at the rear just to store the bikes, but the plans in my head are going to have to get a bit larger.

Monday, 30 November 2009

How Annoyed Can You Get?

Well I can get pretty annoyed! The trouble is that I don't generally let it show and I bottle it up. This isn't a good thing, but that's me I guess.

I was supposed to be off work today on a day off. Instead I'm in work sitting at my desk because last week I discovered I had a tender bid to be submitted to a client today. On this occasion I wasn't actually the one pricing it - it was being priced by another division - but the tender was being sent via myself so to all intents it was my bid to deal with, so I said to my boss that I would come in to sort it out and reschedule my day off until another time.

I switched on my PC this morning to find that I had been emailed the completed bid by our other division and saw that there were some changes needing to be done so cracked on with it. A few minutes ago I asked one of the girls in sales admin' if she had received the programme showing what was going to happen when and she said she had and that it had gone.

I looked at her baffled for a second before questioning her a bit further about it. Apparently my boss had forwarded the completed bid to her and it had been sent to the client at 08.00am this morning!

Is it just me? Am I right to feel a bit pissed off? I mean I walked right past his frigging desk when I came in & said "good morning". I sit within spitting distance (literally, and wish I could spit at him right now), plus he knew I rescheduled my day off to come in to do this. Everything else I have on my desk, although important, is not urgent. Sure I can take the day off another time, but that's not really the issue. NO ONE SAID A F$*&ING WORD!!!!

So not only have I wasted a day off - and thsi is the day I wanted off, not another different day - but I've wasted 2 hours of my time because people can't communicate.

Treated like a mushroom; fed on shit and kept in the dark

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Weekly Weigh In

223.4lb (15st 13.4lb)

Pretty shabby but at least its the right side of last weeks weight, although its been bucketing it down all weekend, wasnt too chipper yesterday & so I havent managed to get out riding all week.

I just wonder what it would have been if I had managed to get in more exercise...any exercise.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Swine Flu Jab II

This morning I feel like my upper arm has been hit by a truck. No swelling or signs of bruising but it feels very "muscular" in nature. The other thing is that I feel so drained of life. Its like when you have a really bad cold but without the runny nose and coughing fits.

Just going to lay down on the sofa for a while under a blanket and doze for a while I think. The Sun is bright although its windy & chilly so not sure about going for a ride today. On the one hand it might wake me up some but
I just feel so lethargic.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Swine Flu Jab

I had today off as a holiday. At 11am I went to the doctors to get my Swine Flu jab.

I cant say whether I was either way fussed about it. Ben had told me one of his friends at school had been given it a week or so ago and it was one of those multiple needle things, and that wouldn't have been pleasant tbh.

As it transpired it was the fastest service Ive ever had there. I walked in, told the receptionist who I was, sat down for about 2 minutes and was called in to the nurses room. All they asked was whether I wanted the left or right arm done - I opted for the right, rolled up my sleeve and they stuck me with the bugger.

It was just a normal looking needle and I have to confess it was the least painful jab Ive ever had. I almost didn't feel a thing. They didn't even ask if I was allergic to anything, like eggs, bacon, snicker bars, whatever (maybe they should have, I dunno).

I rolled down my sleeve, asked if there was anything else and when I was told "no" I walked out. Now that's what I call efficient. Shame my doctor wasn't there to learn a few things. The nurse told me that I might feel a little sore later on, and starting around about 5pm my arm began to ache around the area of the injection. It feels like a bad bruise or they hit the muscle or something but hopefully it'll be better my morning.

The good news is that I think I might have managed to get the house insurance sorted out. It'll take until next week to know for sure, so here's hoping.

The bad news is I didn't manage to get out on my planned bike ride today. I feel pretty bad about that, but I really did have to get this insurance stuff sorted and it just took time.

On the very positive side of today I was up with the larks this morning and took Ben to school in the car. I think its the first time Ive actually seen him in his new school uniform and he looked really smart. I was pretty proud of him, looking all grown up.

Both of us are hoping to get out for a ride this weekend - we already have a new route planned which involves some gentle offroading. Should be real fun if the weathers good.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

First & Second Weigh-ins

I will endeavour to do this each week on a Sunday night. Probably that's too frequent considering its Winter and x-mas is coming so not only will the goose be getting fat but I'll be busting. I'll see. If I weigh in on a 2 week basis then I might lapse back to laziness so a weekly one is hopefully the best one for consistent monitoring and progress.

I weighed myself on the 18th Nov - exactly a week ago - and was 229.4lb (16st 5.4lb)
This week I am 225.6lb (16st 1.6lb)

The scales looked good and impressive when I saw a drop of nearly 4lb, but converting it to Stones makes it look crap!

I'm not fooling myself. It's probably a blip as I only went cycling the once in the week. Lets see what it's like on Sunday night.

The root of this evil is two fold. In the main its because I like my food. Nah I LOVE my food. Don't get me wrong though, because I don't eat burgers, chips, greasy food etc. Although I have to say I love them, I very rarely eat them. Can't remember my last McDonald's (sadly) or the last time I had chip shop chips or a (drools) Full English Breakfast. On the rare occasion we eat chips at home they're oven ones and "relatively" healthy compared to deep fried ones.

Dinners at home consist of a main course only and is a varied diet of good meat and veg, often white meat rather than red, pasta's & rice with a healthy side salad almost all the time. Once a week I'll make a soup for us all from fresh ingredients. The problem is the quantity of the food. A main course in a restaurant would probably be 2/3 or 3/4 of the size of the food on my plate. I have had times in the past when I have loved the flavour of the meal so damned much that even when I was full I wanted more and would have taken it if there was any left over.

Its not totally eating the food because its there in front of me, although I was brought up in a home with parents who were in the R.A.F & had to endure WWII rationing, a mother who used to admonish me at the dinner table about "there's starving children in Cambodia who would die to eat a meal like this" if I didn't like something or was full up before the plate was empty. No my problem is the flavour and texture of the food. I live to savour the combination of tastes on my tongue. Sod sweets, deserts, etc, I can live without them all, but savoury food is like a drug to me.

The second reason I am fat is due to my illness. Sure I was overweight before I was ill, but after they sliced me from gut to gizzard then failed to stitch me up for over 6 months I had/have no stomach muscles across my abdomen and no feeling there any more. No longer can I suck in my stomach when I want to appear butch; it just don't work! Consequently I have a stomach which looks like "Son of Goodyear Blimp". It stops me rolling over and out of the bed though so there's a plus side eh?

Anyway enough of my wanderings for now. Onwards and upwards...or downwards if we're talking weight.


I placed a bid on a vintage racing bike on e-bay today but its got 6 days left on it. If the bidding gets above £50.00 then I'll look at another, as that's my limit I think. Nice looking bike though
.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Changing Tack

I had an epiphany today. My slap in the face came with reading someone elses blog & realising that I'm basically a sheep in wolf's clothing. Hell Im not really even disguised as a wolf, more a poodle (but not a pink one). Oh yeah I guess I need to be a little less cryptic so I'll explain; I only recently began cycling and it coincided with the change from "pleasantly mild" weather to "jeeez its cold" and changing the clocks so that its dark in the mornings and at nights. None of these facts are condusive to a beginning cyclist getting out there. Sure there are weekends but I know thats not enough for me to lose weight.

Then there's the bike. I have my eldest sons bike which we bought him some years ago and he rarely used. Its an MTB with sprung forks, rear suspension and offroad tyres. Its good for trials I guess and okay for getting from A to B but its essentially a bike which is built for riding a couple miles on Sundays and eventually getting bored with when I need something I can increase my daily mileage on and not become a factor in me becoming bored with the activity.

I dont want to sell the MTB (I still want to do some proper off road stuff) but I now realise I need to get a proper road bike or touring bike. I dont need anything special so cheap second hand is what I am now definitely going to be looking for. I know its going to cost money we cant really afford to waste, but at the end of the day if it improves my health I see this as a bonus for myself and my family and thus money well spent.

The other thing is I will be noting my weight on this blog so as to maintain my new sense of direction. I think I'll change the name of the blog too. I need to make it more "cycling" orientated. This is probably the hardest thing - need a good name...hmmm.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Radi-cycles

I should be working. Yeah I know it's Saturday but I do actually have stuff to do. Instead I was browsing some websites and saw a lovely bike, which got me to thinking "I wonder what other beauties are out there". So knowing Google is my friend, I did a search and found these great bikes:

Not exactly a workout riding this one, but it would go on my x-mas list





The IF Mode, while not quite as compact, has all the right looks



The "On-Concept" below from Cannondale includes an integral SRAM 9 speed hub...and it folds up too!


Not sure Id feel very safe on this thing, but its only a concept, and unlikely that Id ever be able to afford it even if it was in production.


"Wood"n't say no to this either, but woodworm might be an issue.

Matt Clark, an industrial designer from Southern California, has designed this new recycleable inversion-1 bike, made from recycled plastics its the ultimate in eco friendly. Not only are you helping save the planet by cycling, you're saving it by reducing the production and manufacturing of raw materials.


And then on the flip side of the eco friendly coin theres this


Thursday, 19 November 2009

Blood n’ Bikes

As part of my “use it or lose it” holiday initiative, I took yesterday off work. I had a blood test in the morning at the hospital anyway so I didn’t get a lay in, and even though I was there at 7.45am I was still 5th in the queue. With only one nurse working in the Pathology department I was there waiting for 45 minutes. I can only think that the others before me must have had veins so deeply hidden from sight as to warrant the use of a special crowbar needle.

It confuses me slightly as to why the whole “taking your blood” department is called the Pathology Department. I mean a similar term is also used to describe compulsive liar’s aka pathological liars, so does that mean that these liars are really “bloody liars”?

I digress though, because in my somewhat vast experience of the people who work there, I’ve never had a bad jab from them. Over recent years since my illness, my veins have become kind of hermits who like to keep themselves to themselves, and at any sign of a needle will wriggle into hiding. I’ve had doctors and nurses who have struggled to find a vein in my arm with over 10 minutes of thumping me to death to “bring one up”, and sticking me like a pin cushion, when a Pathology Nurse will find one within seconds. It’s almost like it’s a tribal thing. I’m sure they could do it blindfolded, drawing a syringe from the hip holster and whupping a needle on and into a gnat in mid flight.

Worst one I ever had – apart from multiple cannula’s – was in my groin. It was the middle of the night on a ward and they needed some blood for a test, and with no one “pro” available, no vein in sight, they stuck me down there. Fuck me it hurt. They new it was going to as well because the female doctor (quite nice from memory) offered for me to squeeze her hand while the needle went in. I declined that though…too macho! I must have ground a few microns off my tooth enamel though.

So back home for breakfast (I’d had to fast since 7.30pm the night before) and then the structural engineer came round to look at our house.

The morning was a combination of rain and heavy gusting winds again. I had planned to go out for a long bike ride, but didn’t fancy it in that weather, however I was lucky in that the rain stopped in the early afternoon. It was still blowing a gale and threatening rain so I decided to do a shorter ride, looping back via the supermarket to get ingredients for a curry for the family meal.

The ride took me around the back of Madjeski Stadium where Reading FC play. Behind the ground is a relatively new industrial park called Green Park and they have their own wind turbine, then it was through the old Gillette industrial estate and onto Morrisons supermarket. I'm surprised I didn't get collared by the security guard as a potential shoplifter because I was wearing a fleece coat and was sweating a bit. I then discovered the joys of trying to operate grip twist gears while heavy carrier bags are hung over them. Mental note to take a back pack next time. I tried to keep it to 12mph but the wind was too much for me and an average 9mph was the best I could do.

Cycling over the river.

The Symantec offices. I wondered why they were so dark on a midweek afternoon.
Maybe they got a virus?

There's even a tennis court beneath the turbine.
Wonder what the fastest downwind serve has been!

The blades were going like the clappers.

This is supposed to be the wind turbines interactive
board with LED displays. I've never seen it working!

Madejski Football Stadium - not the best of views I'm afraid.

The wind turbine from a distance.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Storms, Spiders & Stir Fries

(Or should that be "Fry's"?)

This weekend Tropical Storm Bubba Gump hit the U.K. Well, maybe not a tropical storm as such seeing as we aren't in the tropics and I guess it didn't have a name, but we had wind blowing between 60 and 90 mph & driving rain. Fortunately the chimneys on our house seem to be fixed on with some of the highest strength but crappiest looking cement possible to find. I have no idea how they are still there and not embedded in the next door neighbours van roof like some cheap version of a steam ship.

All that I had to repair was a panel of our timber fence in the back garden which had come away from the post. The repair itself took a matter of 5 minutes, it was locating the hammer, nails and crowbar in the shed which took the longest time, not aided by my fear of spiders.

Everywhere I turned there were cobwebs, making me twitch and brush against another cobweb. I didn't see any spiders though and the memory of the webs in the barn in the film Arachnophobia was ever in my mind. Any second I expected to see The General leaping at me and my lack of a bottle of 1940's Vermouth, lighter and a can of deodorant was annoying to say the least.

Saturdays meal was a recreation of my sisters thick vegetable soup with Pancetta we had devoured last weekend. I was unable to get any Pancetta so decided that smoked streaky bacon would suffice, and I fried it with Paprika sprinkled on it until it was crispy, then cut it up and added it to the full soup bowls. Everyone voted it one of the best soups I had made so far. Honestly it was one of the easiest and quickest too.

On Sunday I had been asked to do a stir fry. Chris is okay with these but he says he isn't keen on Beansprouts. Ben, my wife and I all love Beansprouts! The obvious way around it was to do them separately but I'm not a great multi-pan cook so I came up with another solution - make the meal nice enough that they don't care there aren't any Beansprouts in it. Simples!

KungFooSausage's Stir Fry

Ingredients - Serves 4

3-4 chicken breasts (roughly cubed)
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 large handful of savoy cabbage, shredded.
3 carrots, peeled & chopped into batons
6-7 spring onions, peeled & chopped into 1cm lengths at and angle
1 handful of Mangetout beans, chopped if too large
6-7 baby sweetcorn chopped into 1cm rings
1 handful of halved cashew nuts
3 packets of straight to wok egg noodles (Amoy)
1 tbsp paprika
1 pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp light extra virgin olive oil
150ml chicken stock
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp plain flour or cornflour
2 tsp ground nut oil

1. Heat the olive oil in the wok and add the chicken. Sprinkle it with the paprika and chilli flakes and fry until browned all over. Remove from the wok and set aside.
2. Add the chopped vegetables to the wok and stir fry for 3 minutes.
3. Make the chicken stock & to it add the light soy sauce & tomato ketchup & whisk with a fork until smooth. Then sprinkle the flour into it and mix it in well so its not lumpy (this may take some elbow grease but Ben did a brilliant job).
4. Add the noodles to the wok and mix them and the vegetables together.
5. Add the chicken back into the wok and mix.
6. Pour the chicken stock mix over the contents of the wok and mix to ensure everything is coated. Allow to fry or another 3 minutes.
7. Just before serving drizzle the groundnut oil over the top and sprinkle the cashews over.
8. Serve into bowls.

While perhaps not the cheapest stir fry you can make, a lot of the ingredients are probably already available from the cupboard. I would have loved to add mushrooms but my wife has an allergy to them, and you can really use any vegetables you like.

The dressing/sauce was a "taste sensation" and we were all very surprised at how great it was - thanks to Ben my assistant chef for making it.

While on the subject, I chopped the carrots with a new device I bought called a "Nicer Dicer" - as advertised by "Chef Tony" (add a Bronx accent when you say his name). Its a godsend for these things. All I had to do was peel the carrots, chop them into about 1" lengths and stick them in the Nicer Dicer, push down and out comes loads of mini batons. It must have saved me an hours worth of work.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Holiday Fun

I get 25 days holiday a year at work and often I have a couple of days spare coming up to x-mas that I've kept as contingency planning in case of any last minute things which I take off to do my present shopping.
This year for some reason I have 7 days left to take. We aren't technically allowed to carry them over to the New Year nor do we get paid for them if we don't take them i.e its a case of "take 'em or lose 'em".
I guess I've just been so damned busy this year here that I've not had a chance to take the odd day off here and there. Still busy too so I had a chat with my boss, told him I didn't mind taking them in one go or spreading out about a day a week until x-mas eve, I just don't want to leave the department in the lurch.
We came to an agreement where I take a couple of long weekends and tack the remainder onto either the front or the end of the x-mas holidays - obviously if its in the New Year I have to keep schtum and not let on!
So all told its either going to be a great few weeks with days off here and there, or a really crappy few weeks because if its busy here then I have less time to price the work in.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

No cycling at work so far this week. I've had a lot to do at work and so worked through a few lunchtimes and late evenings plus I've also had some personal things to sort out so the time to ride has not been available to me.


On the plus side, I have managed to compile my x-mas list for my family. I certainly don't expect to receive ALL of the items listed, but my wife and kids clam they need ideas so I have to do a list for them.
Just so long as I don't get socks!


There's never anything I really need, however this year the cycle carrier would be a real blessing for me.
  • A cycle carrier for the back of my car.
  • A rear mudguard for the MTB.
  • A bicycle maintenance book.
  • A new bumbag.
  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 for the PC.

    I've given up the thought of buying a cheap road bike for now. My thoughts are that following x-mas there may be a few more available or cheaper deals to be had.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Sorting Out The Richard's (Gear's)

So yesterday while grumpy eldest son Chris and my beautiful dishy wife (she might read this!) were at work Ben & I went around to my sisters house. Her hubby is currently on a project overseas and we chatted to him via Skype and webcam. It turns out he's pretty good with bikes so I explained the problem with my gears only seeming to mesh on the rear largest and smallest cogs and he tried to explain what the problem could be to me. Sadly I'm a numpty and most of it went in one ear and out of the other.

But this morning I was determined to at least try to do some of what he said. My first challenge was to get the bikes wheels to rotate while stationary. Paul had said that turning the bike upside down possibly wouldn't work so I came up with the following - probably due to me watching too many A-Team or McGuyver episodes*

"Tell me your secrets or you'll hang like a dead dog forever"

Well I soon sussed out that it was the read derailleur which was the culprit but couldn't see any way of adjusting it, so making a note of the make I consulted Google and found a very helpful website that told me there was an adjustment (trimming) barrel on the gear lever. Setting the gear to the smallest cog and switching up a gear can be trimmed by rotating the barrel so that this fine tuning enables all of the gears to be selected. Took a while but I succeeded. I then remembered Paul had told me pretty much this the day before. See? I'm dense!


Adjustment barrel / trimmer shown just below the gear selector.

Just to show how dense I can be, I then thought I'd tinker with the front 3 cog selection. I'm still not sure what the two spring loaded screws do on the front selector cage thing but they seemed to do nothing whether I screwed them right in or right out. Ignoring those for now I tried to do the same with the front trimmer barrel as I had with the rear.

Its at this point I buggered things up and found I could no longer select the biggest cog. I was turning that barrel like a lumberjack rolling a tree down a river but to no effect. I decided to concede that having gears 1 to 10 was better than I had before and left it at that.

Strangely, on our ride into town that afternoon the full 15 gears started working again - and NO SLIPPING. Yeah I know - I'm bloody great! I don't know how I do it sometimes. No really! I have no idea how I did it!


* Just like to add that Mc Guyver was waaaay better than the A-Team.

Sunday Ride

Today we (my youngest son Ben and I) planned to ride into Reading town to go visit a new cycle shop that has opened there. There were a number of routes we could have chosen but we settled on what we thought would be the nicest which was part cycle path and part following the River Kennet. The bonus to this was that the river passed right by the cycle shop.

Weather wasn't particularly brilliant; we'd had rain early morning, but that cleared away just leaving a windy and cold overcast afternoon for our trip and we set off around 1.45pm.

I was a little cautious of Ben cycling by the river and so I was either between him and the river, or if it got too narrow to do that I was behind him so I could get him quick if he went "skew wiff", however I shouldn't have worried as he was great...still a little wobbly in places but hes improving each time we go out.

"Hurry up Dad!"

From the pained expression on his face, you can probably tell Ben's
just had one of those "balls meets crossbar" moments

The extreme mountain biker contemplates the route

The path on the right is the last stretch we covered.
All that's left is to cross a couple of roads and we're at the shop.


The new cycle shop is Evans Cycles, and it's pretty big inside, with some lovely gear and bikes of all kinds. I saw stuff in there I can only dream of dreaming about, let alone owning. I particularly liked some - to me - new style handle bar grips which are moulded with a kind of paddle look to the outer edge where the pad of your hand would be. I only saw them pre-fitted but trying them felt really comfortable. Brilliant idea.

The Holy Grail

I was also looking for a bike maintenance book (more on that in my next blog post) but what they had wasn't ideal for a retarded cretin like me, and I also asked about read mudguards. It seems they clamp onto the seat post these days. I commented to the assistant that this was not a great solution as if I leave my bike somewhere I want to take the saddle with me as its a quick release and don't particularly want to take a grotty mudguard with me too. His answer was "well they fold up", which wasn't a solution as they didn't fold up by much and there's still the dirt and crud to deal with. I'm sure I can develop or adapt something which is a permanent fixing to the frame when I get the time.

We did buy something though :)

Ben got a bell!! Whenever we were riding and came upon someone walking the same way Ben would "cough". Unfortunately they rarely heard him so he said he needed a bell. They had two types and we got the one with a compass in the top which I said might be handy for future expeditions.

After a good look around the shop I noticed it was 3.30pm so we wiped the drool off our chins and headed back a slightly different route. I'd hoped it would be quicker as it was more paved but I think it actually took longer as it was more indirect.

A well earned rest

Ben had another interesting "experience" on the way back where we cycled down a road which was blocked off at the end by bollards and a couple of large concrete rings. Most normal people would be able to navigate between the quite frankly HUGE gap. Not Ben! His handlebar clipped the ring which I think made the front wheel hit the ring too and....yup his poor little happy sacks squished. Of course I was more interested in capturing the moment for my blog than I was in rushing to his aid.

"oooooh"

The rest of the cycle was uneventful and we got home at about 4.30pm. Funnily we were fine when we were riding, but as soon as we got back indoors we were both quite tired. However we both agreed that we were cool extreme mountain biker dudes and that it had been a really enjoyable ride.

Friday, 6 November 2009

U.K Cycling Accident Stats

I was listening to the radio on the way into work this morning and a news item mentioned that new statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) show a worrying rise in the number of cyclists injured on Britain's roads.

In the second quarter of this year, the number of riders killed or seriously injured rose by 19% compared to the same period last year, from 688 to 820, while the overall number of reported cyclist casualties rose by 9% to 4,860.

There was a spokeswoman from the DfT interviewed and she put forward two interesting facts, which probably holds true for a lot of developed countries feeling the recession. Roughly from memory these were:

1. Taken in the context of a significant rise in the number of riders, people are ditching their cars and turning to bikes because of the recession, environmental fears and schemes like Cycle to Work so the figures aren't as alarming as they first appear.

2. However with the reduction in the amount of motorised traffic on our roads caused by the above, it is possible to also suggest that some car drivers are seeing clearer roads and increasing their speeds.

She also said that provisional estimates for a single three-month period shouldn't be taken in isolation as the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the roads each year has fallen by 31 percent since the mid-1990s. The number of people cycling is increasing. Cycle traffic rose by 12% between 2007 and 2008 – and this is likely to be a factor in the estimated number of casualties for the beginning of this year.”

Carl Christopher, spokesman for RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), said it was too early to say how significant the 19% rise was because it was only a quarterly figure.

He said: "It could be a temporary thing, or it could be because of a longer-term trend of people swapping their cars for bikes due to the recession. Also, heavy goods traffic has decreased, and if there's less congestion the traffic can travel faster, and that puts the two-wheeled community at risk".

"It concerns us because it's such a high rise – almost 20%. A lot of people are put off cycling because of concerns about their safety. It would be a shame for people to hear these figures and be dissuaded".

"We'd advise people who are new to cycling to get some short rides in first, some practice in the park, before braving the roads. The key thing at this time of year is to make yourself visible by wearing reflective clothing and using lights."


Chris Peck from UK cyclists' organisation CTC told The Guardian newspaper that the rise could be due partly to more inexperienced riders taking to the road and a "deterioration" in riding behaviour, particularly in London.

Noting that Transport for London figures showed that in recent years around five percent of cyclists killed in the capital had been jumping a traffic signal at the time, he told the paper: "It's not a big factor, but it could be something. It is fair to say that particularly in London, riding behaviour has deteriorated in recent years."

The CTC could not provide BikeRadar with further proof to back up this claim, but a spokeswoman said anecdotal evidence from their SMIDSY campaign ('Sorry mate, I didn't see you") suggested it could be a factor.

Mr Peck said: "I expect that the increase in casualties 2009 is probably a consequence of a substantial increase in cycling. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to improve the safety of cycling – especially by reducing speed limits and improving both driver and cycle training.”

Personally I think all of the above are valid points, however they forget to mention the "steam gives way to sail" or as I call it the "I don't give a damn" attitude I see a lot of riders taking, especially when I'm in my car or on foot. The amount of cyclists I see - admittedly young males mostly - who at pedestrian crossings & vehicle junctions don't stop, jump on and off kerbs at junctions to get around lights and blatantly ignoring the lights altogether is more common than seeing them actually stop and give way. They seem to think that because they offer a low profile on the road that they are easier to miss or can weave in and out to get by with minimal looking around at the conditions.

Just last Friday night I was driving my eldest son into town after dark and at the bottom of our road there's a mini roundabout. I saw 2 kids shoot down the pavement, straight off the kerb and across the road. They were all in black or dark clothes, no lights and if I hadn't slowed down I'd have hit one of them for sure. My comment to my son was "they haven't long for this world at that rate".

Thursday, 5 November 2009

My Best Macaroni Cheese & Ham.

No cycling today as I'm going to work through lunch on this damned tender I have to get out, so time for another recipe I reckon.

My wife makes a mean Macaroni Cheese with sliced Tomato's in it which I love. For a change a few weeks ago I found the following recipe on a website and fancied I could do it for the family. Its a lot different to the way my wife makes it and the result is a lot lighter (not as thick and filling) this way. I made the mistake of chucking a whole 500g bag of Macaroni pasta in the pot and our family of 4 had enough of the meal left over to feed a platoon of highly trained pasta eaters from the spaghetti nebula. And thats with everyone eating seconds too! Maybe for this reason the sauce was lighter, who knows.

I changed the recipe around a bit from what it originally was as they had the flour added before the milk and stock. I found that when I added the flour it went very lumpy no matter how slow I added it or hard I stirred. I reasoned that there wasnt enough fluid in the pan to seperate the mixture so I've swapped that bit around which should work better. It'll save a half hour of cursing with a spatula as you try to pound the lumps out anyway.

Oh and two more things; I add a glug of Extra Virgin Light Olive Oil to the pasta water to stop it sticking and boiling over in the saucepan. It actually works. Also make sure you have a big enough tray to put all the pasta in when you come to putting it in the oven or you'll have the problem I had - loads left in the pan (which is still edible the next day. woot!).

Ingredients:

300g Macaroni
50g Butter
1 clove of Garlic, crushed
1 tsp Mustard
1/2 tsp Paprika
50g Plain Flour
400ml Milk
200ml vegetable stock
300g ham hock, cooked or ham slices shredded.
80g Cheddar Cheese, grated
80g Gruyère Cheese, grated

Serves 4 (but just adding more pasta makes enough for 6)
Preparation time about 5-10 minutes, Cooking time about 40 minutes.

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. However our fan oven is like a mini nuke so I do it at 150C.
2. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Cook the macaroni until it is al dente. Drain and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a pan, add the garlic, mustard and pimentón. Cook well.
4. Add the milk and vegetable stock then add the flour and cook until the sauce thickens
5. Turn off the heat and add half of the grated cheese (40g of each type) and stir it to melt. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Shred the cooked ham hock into the sauce. I couldn't get this when I made it so used cooked ham slices torn up which worked great.
7. Add the macaroni and mix well. Put it into a baking dish and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
8. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
9. Serve and enjoy.