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


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.