Category Archives: Miscellany
Hardly serendipitous, more a question of misadventure. Life throws up many happy chance encounters, but some encounters are a little less welcome.
My wife, Jenny, recently had the dubious honour of requiring the services of the blue-flashing-light taxi service to our local heart hospital. The initial ECG readings taken by the paramedic flagged up enough concern to call the ambulance. Further checks in our local A&E prompted a quick phone call to Papworth Hospital……and without more ado, the blue-flashing transfer took Jenny to the HDU of our local distinguished heart hospital.
We had to wait 12 hours for the blood test that would reveal the critical enzyme pointing to a heart attack. And yes, it was there, and a heart attack was confirmed.
But behind every misadventure, there will be a few positives. We had caught Jenny’s condition at the very early stages, and didn’t make the mistake of imagining the pain was just heartburn or indigestion. The blockage turned out to be in a minor artery, too narrow to take a stent, but which can be unblocked through medication. The prognosis is very good, too. With the aid of continued medication and a gentle return to exercise, she will be able to return to most of her previous activities.
And given that in the few days previous to her mini-crisis, she had attended an exercise class, ridden 33 miles on the tandem, and had been swimming and nordic walking on the morning of the mishap………. we all have to come to terms with the certain knowledge that, however secure we feel about our own lifestyle and health, life will always be full of twists and turns.
I would like to extend my gratitude to all who have bothered to drop by this humble weblog in 2013, for leaving your welcome comments and ‘likes’, and for giving me the reason and inspiration for ‘putting pen to paper’ or fingers to keyboard.
Blogging is all about the pleasure of sharing with a readership of willing volunteers. There is no major literary achievement in the art of blogging, but if you compare it with other social media (and I do confess to using them myself), there is a level of engagement which puts it in a class of its own.
Facebook is for chatterers, Twitter for witterers, and blogging is for…………..(enter your own appropriate description)? Communicators, perhaps?
I particularly enjoy my engagement with readers when I’m on one of my cycling expeditions. As a solo traveller, sometimes trekking through open empty landscapes, to be in contact with people thousands of miles away, and from the confines of my little tent, never ceases to be a wonderment to me. Not surprisingly, it is also when I engage with the greatest number of readers. Many, many people have a thirst for adventure, and if their circumstances prevent them from sallying forth themselves, from kitting out their bikes or donning their rucksacks, they love to do it vicariously by reading about the adventures of others. That’s what I love doing in my ‘down time’. And through the medium of the blog, you can get first-hand experiences from people as they are engaged in their adventures. That’s the power of the internet.
In the wider field of blogging, this blog is very much a minor player, but I have still had the benefit of over 29,000 hits in 2013, with one post in particular (No bluffing……… this is the end) attracting 348 hits. If you have been a regular (or even occasional) visitor, thank you. Your company has been very much appreciated.
It now remains for me to wish you a happy and adventure-filled 2014. And if you really want to know……. yes I am planning a couple of cycling adventures in the coming year. Watch this space……
So, if you ride a bike…….happy pedalling, and may the wind be (nearly) always at your back!
One or two of you may have wondered at the lack of activity on this web page in recent days. Well, let me recount a true story with a salutary lesson……. of course, it happened to me.
A few weeks ago, I was preparing my laptop and projector to give a slide presentation of my cycle ride Down Under. I had an expectant audience waiting for the start. I had checked that all leads were connected, the PowerPoints were functioning normally, and the Windows Media file of music was set to play at the appropriate moment. All was working as expected, and I was about to indicate to the assembled audience that I was ready to start……… then:
“The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain, for promis’d joy” (Robert Burns).
My laptop crashed……. not just temporarily, but terminally (hence the lack of activity on this blog). I spent twenty minutes trying to re-boot the blasted thing, but absolutely no response. The prospect before me was either to bail out completely, or to fill the whole hour with words only. I thought to myself: the committed professional would never bail out, but then they weren’t paying me (so bail out!). The expert wordsmith would be able to paint word pictures (but then, I am not a wordsmith). I finally asked myself: am I really going to wimp out, or should I just take control of the situation and play down the importance of the technological lapse, and pretend it was only a minor inconvenience? What would you do?
In the end, I calmly pulled up a chair, sat down, meekly apologized for the delay and the lack of slides, and then proceeded to treat the whole hour like a fireside chat. I imagined the slides in my head as I pieced together the story: I was able to engage with the audience much more directly, respond to their questions and observations, and be much less tied to the sequencing imposed by a series of slides.
Thirty one years in the classroom had equipped me with the gift of “waffling”, and they liked it, apparently. For at the end they made a generous donation to the Syrian Appeal.
Message for me at the end? Well, first of all, go equipped with a plan B (ie. another device for showing slides). And secondly, it’s a mistake to think that your visuals carry the ultimate message. It’s you, the speaker, who carries the message. And interestingly, I didn’t see a single pair of drooping eyelids in the audience (a common factor in slideshows…..powerpoints do provide a trigger that sends listeners off to the land of nod).
So now I write this post on a new Windows Surface, having spent a couple of weeks familiarizing myself with the game-changing software of Windows 8…………..hey ho…..
I have to say, if it hadn’t been for the excellent guidance from a neighbour, and my earnest need to solve a technology issue on my last cycling expedition (New Zealand and Australia), I probably would never have entered the world of smartphones.
My day-to-day need for a mobile phone is very limited. Like many, I carry one around for convenience and safety. Only a handful of people know my number, so I expect few calls. However, in my quest to keep my luggage super-light on the bike, I jumped into the smartphone environment and, to my surprise, I found I could (learn to) do all the things I needed to do on this tiny hand-held device: email, blog, facebook, skype, take photos, read e-books, use GPS, send SMS texts, surf the net, listen to the radio, catch up with the news headlines…….. In fact, though
called a smartphone, the least useful facility turned out to be the phone itself……..
Many of the great mysteries of modern communication can be solved by the burgeoning App market. It would seem that, whatever you want to do in life, there will be some App to provide a solution. Although ‘Latitude’ is now a ‘retired’ facility on Google, my wife could track me on my journey on the sub-continent via this layer in Google Maps. When my phone was connected to 3G, she could see where I was (though a margin of error was detected when, one night, she thought I was somewhere offshore!).
From the tiny confines of my tent, in a remote corner of New Zealand, if I could pick up a 3G signal, I could communicate with the world. And it required no more than the touch of an App to call up my blog and write the day’s post; to open Facebook and catch up on the latest messages; to open Google Maps and find my way to a friend’s house in Sydney; to log on to the BBC and read the news headlines, and get a weather report for the following few days. Instead of carrying books, I connected my phone to my Kindle archive; with a built-in camera I could take photos and directly upload them to my blog or Facebook; and with WiFi connection, I could Skype home without incurring any cost.
For those of you long-distance bike riders who feel bereft if you aren’t carrying (in addition to a smartphone) a netbook, GPS, SLR camera and MP3 player, with all the required leads and transformers, learn to detach yourselves and have faith in that small hand-held device that goes
with you everywhere. You will experience a surprising level of liberation.
And if you have a challenge with a local language, the Google Translate App has VOP (Voice over protocol) which allows you to say something in English and will provide a written version of what you say in the foreign language. Though frequently inaccurate in its detail, it should be readily understood by any sympathetic listener. Try it. It is surprisingly good.
Somethings go together perfectly: cheese and wine, chocolate and orange, cycling and downhill……. Somethings, on the other hand, do not make a perfect partnership: politics and religion (?), drinking and driving, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry……..
Out on my morning ride today, I came across a startling revelation: some cyclists actually smoke!!! How does that work, I wondered……?
I saw a group ahead of me standing by the side of the road and, thinking they had suffered a mishap, I stopped to ask the if everything was OK. Then I noticed that two of the four riders were actually puffing away on cigarettes…..by the side of the road…..wearing club lycra……..holding onto nice carbon bikes……..looking to all intents and purposes like serious club riders…….and the other two were indulging their companions with their patience. Now, this got me wondering. Do cycling and smoking really go together?Well, do you recognize this gentleman? Yes, the famous Eddy Merckx, known in the cycling world as The Cannibal. Some would contend he was the greatest cyclist of all time. Maybe he knew something about the oxygenating properties of tobacco……… Obviously there was a time in history when the power of the weed was understood better than it is now……. and the guy crouching down in the second row wanted to be included in the promotional shot as well!And being a tandem rider myself, it’s good to know that the famous Player’s brand of yesteryear even had the welfare of twosomes in mind, when the company’s scientists beavered away behind closed doors to make their product not only a legal stimulant in the cycling world, but a desirable health product.
And if you still don’t believe me that Eddy Merckx smoked, here’s another promo he did….and contemporaries at the time will vouch that, at the end of a race, he would regularly light up as part of his recovery from the stresses and strains of the day.
Walter Raleigh…..you have much to answer for! But we do thank you for the potato.
If the bookmakers Ladbrokes have cut the odds of snow at Easter to 4/5, after taking a flurry of bets in the last 48 hours, what is that saying about the chances of a white Easter?
But then Ladbrokes are not meteorologists, and they have no greater insight into the possibilities than the average punter on the streets. But there must be some quasi-scientific base on which they calculate their predictions………or is this just fanciful thinking?
A bit like the actuarial tables used by insurance companies to calculate the likelihood of key occurrences like traffic accidents, flooding and (dare I say it) death. Or, as in the case of the financial markets, we always calculate the future performance of investment funds using information on past performance, even though we are told that this is seldom a safe guide.
So, if it does snow on Easter Sunday, it will be the very first time in…………………..well………… only five years. As a lay person, that sounds to me like a distinct possibility close to certainty…….worth putting a tenner on it?
Now I know my 2,500 mile cycle ride in the Antipodes did not elicit much sympathy from anyone out there……nor did I expect it, given that I had chosen to do it. There was always an element of “serves you right” that had to be addressed, whether it was in the face of appalling weather conditions, tough terrain or serious mechanical issues. But there are some things in life that should elicit sympathy, even from the most hardy of comfort-zone dwellers……but then they might argue along the same lines: ‘you chose your bed of nails, so lie on it!’.
The day before I left Melbourne, the mercury had registered 38 degrees C. Back in the UK, the mercury hasn’t risen above 5 degrees C in the last week, but today (just a week before Easter) the country has been brought to its knees with heavy downfalls of snow, whole communities left without electricity, and flooding in some areas.
Whereas Melbourne was registering all-time records for heat in March, and this time last year the UK was registering the driest winter on record, we seem to be ready to set yet another record for the latest snowfall on record.
The bookies are raking in the money from punters backing the possibility of a white Easter this year. After all, it only takes one flake of snow to fall in the right place………on the Met Office?
Lots of cyclists do a very boring thing when they get to the last day of the year: they total up their annual mileage. Now some of you are already breaking into a sleep-driven yawn, and saying things like: “C’mon, you can’t be serious….you mean you note the mileage of absolutely every ride throughout the whole year? I mean… how sad is that?” My answer is : “very”.
But, of course, it has to be done. Someone has just got to do it. It may be the only bit of news worth listening to at the last minute, of the last hour, of the last day of the year. C’mon let’s lighten up a bit! The only news to dominate the airwaves was the possibility, at 23.59 Eastern US time, of the whole of the USA falling over the ‘fiscal cliff’…….and probably taking the rest of the world with it (fulfillment of the Mayan prophecy?). There had to be a diversion to distract us from that.
Cyclists, like myself, spend most of our cycling lives going round in circles. It is similar to the insanity manifested by joggers, rowers, skiers, ultra-runners, and a host of others. Namely, we use a mode of transport (be it feet, bikes, skis..etc) basically to go nowhere. We set off from point A, which is frequently home, and end up at point A on the return. In other words, we go round in circles. Seldom do we use the mode of transport to go from A to B, where B is possibly several miles from A.
I have to admit that the bulk of my mileage in 2012 has been circular, even though I spent a week in Mallorca at a training camp, and a week in Shropshire at a Cycling Rally. All the rides at both events were circular. So the result of all these musings is: though the bicycle was invented as a mode of transport, many simply revel in the activity for its own sake.
My total mileage for the year was 10,288 miles (16,558 km) which, visualised as an A to B ride, would have looked something like this: Bodo, Norway (north of the Arctic Circle) to Cape Town, South Africa. That might have been a great deal more fun…………………
Go to Krakow in December and you are certain of a wintry reception….by the weather, that is, not the people (who are universally warm and welcoming). Snow, freezing temperatures, wind chill to -9C. The trick is to wear half the clothes in your luggage on the outward journey, take only a carry-on bag, and save the extortionate cost of check-in luggage. It’s the KISS philosophy of life: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Now I will let the ancient city of Krakow speak for itself:
I hear leaves drinking rain;
I hear rich leaves on top
Giving the poor beneath
Drop after drop;
‘Tis a sweet noise to hear
These green leaves drinking near.
And when the Sun comes out,
After this Rain shall stop,
A wondrous Light will fill
Each dark, round drop;
I hope the Sun shines bright;
‘Twill be a lovely sight.
William Henry Davies 1871-1940
……bathed in the warm glow of the autumn sunshine as it filtered through golden leaves that were gently jettisoned by trees heading for the slumber of winter hibernation………..
Words lifted from my previous post……and I was asked by a reader why I hadn’t included visuals of the ‘warm glow’ and the ‘golden leaves’ being ‘gently jettisoned’ from the trees in front of our house. Well here they are. Our large picture-frame lounge window give us a perfect view of the cherry blossom in the spring and the falling leaves in the autumn.
Every day is exciting……you never know what will come in the ‘post’!
Very many thanks to Dear Kitty for nominating Serendipities of Life for the VERY INSPIRING BLOGGER AWARD.
It is great to be singled out amongst the plethora of offerings in the mighty blogosphere.
The rules of this award are:
1- Display the award logo on your blog
2- Link back to the person who nominated you.
3- State seven things about yourself.
4- Nominate fifteen other bloggers for this award and link to them.
5- Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.
Seven things about myself are as follows:
1. I love riding bicycles…….a lot!
2. They provide me with an important gateway to travel……….long distance travel, sometimes crossing continents.
3. Travel has to be accompanied by extensive reading………and I enjoy reviewing books.
4. I was excited when a new author (living in the USA) sent me a courtesy copy of his first novel….and I will be reviewing it forthwith.
5. Raising money for a good cause always concentrates my mind…….the refugee children in Syria are currently on my mind.
6. Planning the next journey always ‘gets me off the couch” and kicks me into fresh activity…….independent travel is by far the best.
7. And….I like riding bicycles a lot……(have I already said that?)
The 15 blogs I would heartily recommend are as follows:
Sitting with group of cyclists in a village hall, in remotest Northamptonshire, enjoying a light lunch prepared by the local ladies of the village. During a lull in the table conversation, I said:
“Anyone know a cure for ear worms?”
The lull continued for another minute or so, until someone lifted his face out of his soup and said:
“What was that you said? A cure for ear worms?” Then, suddenly, they all lifted their faces out of their soups, realizing this wasn’t a rhetorical question………………..I was actually expecting an answer.
“C’mon, you can’t be serious. There’s no such thing as ear worms………….how can you get them in your ear?”
Five minutes of lively banter ensued, most of it a mixture of mockery and concern. “Why don’t you go to the doctor then?”. “I have”, I said “but he told me he can’t help”.
When it became apparent that no one at the table could help, I told them the story of when it all started.
When we were in Santiago de Compostela, two street opera singers (a baritone and tenor) kept singing the top ten most popular operatic arias, their voices resounding from the acoustically perfect confines of an ancient arcade, and carrying for hundreds of metres in all directions. When you have heard multiple renderings of Nessum Dorma, let me tell you, it sticks in the brain. It steals its way into your subconscious and defies all attempts of eradication. And that is the personal travail that has now besieged my life, especially my hours on the bike.
It appears that the tempo of Nessum Dorma perfectly accompanies the cadence of pedalling and, with its rousing crescendos, is the perfect stimulant for making those cranks turn just a little faster.
I tell you, EPO, testosterone, blood transfusions, double expressos do not compete. Maybe that’s what Lance Armstrong, and the cohorts of cheating cyclists, needed to know before they committed themselves to activities that brought about their downfall.
On a recent visit to Holland, in the town of Haarlem, I was dazzled by the immense variety of bikes, as well as the immense number. People cycled everywhere, carrying almost anything, and in all weathers. The Dutch attitude to cycling ensures that bike-design serves specific needs. If you need to transport 2-4 children to school, then design a bike that can do just that. If you need to carry unwieldy luggage, adapt your two wheel transport to cope.
The overall common denominator in Holland seems to be a universal element of ‘sensibility’ in design. You know what I mean: upright, sit-up-and-beg riding posture, big load-carrying basket on the handlebars, kickstand for parking the bike, built-in locking mechanism on the back wheel……………….. the sort of bike people ride, not to break into a sweat, but to break into conversation with whoever is riding near them. The Dutch look majestic as they ride through city streets in their organized ‘pelotons’, and other vehicles respect their presence and give way to them as a priority.
On a bike-buying sortie with my daughter recently in Cambridge (the cycling capital of the UK?), we found a little back-street business dealing in Dutch bikes, and enjoyed having a little ‘pootle’ test ride. Despite being a road cyclist of many years experience, this riding position did not come naturally to me, and I have to admit to a certain sense of insecurity. Although your riding posture is upright, to someone who is used to leaning forward over the front wheel, it almost felt like leaning backwards, and its relaxed magisterial style encouraged a relaxed pedalling cadence, ideal for general city riding.
But then in Cambridge, you don’t really get anywhere above a moderate pace………………
The last several posts have been a serious distraction from the real business of cycling……but life is like that, a motley palette of hundreds of different hues and colours, which take you along “the roads less travelled” in life and invite you along diversions to witness eyeball-popping surprises around many corners.
I began this blog two years ago, swept along by the inspiration of a major trans-continental cycle ride, following the ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome. It has since morphed into a web-journal, much broader than the original cycling-specific musings of the first few months, and with a title as generic as Serendipities of Life, it has given me the space to wander freely along the roads less travelled, and dip in and out of a variety of ponds of inspiration, even ‘skid off ‘ the corridor-like roads through life and explore what lies in the fields and hills behind the tall hedgerows.
When I cycled through the endless forests of Les Landes (France) last year, I spent three whole days understanding the true meaning of “not seeing the wood for the trees”. Our day-to-day routines are a bit like that; they become the tall impenetrable forests that block off the panoramic views of life. After three days of continuous forest riding, I began to feel something akin to ‘cabin-fever’. If I had kept this web-journal to cycling-specific topics, within a
few months I would have experienced some kind of early-onset cyberspace claustrophobia, and writer’s block would have been an inevitable symptom.
The delight I now have is that people visit these web-pages from a huge variety of backgrounds. Many are cyclists, of course, but perhaps the majority have other interests in mind: book-lovers, aspiring authors, travel enthusiasts, historians, geographers……..a whole variety of people who use a search engine seeking information about some topic. Visitors to the site are predominantly English-speaking (from the UK and USA), but there has been a surprising number visitors from several countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. My knowledge of world geography has expanded proportionately!
People have contacted me to help them in their search for lost relatives. Aspiring authors have seen that I do book-reviews and have offered to send a copy of their latest opus. I’ve had offers of accommodation and meals on some of my cycle journeys. I have shared experiences with like-minded cyclists on a whole variety of topics. And I have appreciated the kind comments and advice about taking my writing to a different level, perhaps becoming a published author.
If you have been a frequent or occasional visitor, thank you for your support. Readership keeps writers writing.
Is this really art?
After spending a couple of hours meandering through the exhibits of the current Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern, I have to admit I remain ambivalent about Hirst’s competence as an artist. The exhibition is an astonishing journey through the developmental phases of Hirst’s career. He is a master at capturing your attention, he has an extraordinary sensitivity to the use of colour, space and material, he is a master in the use of shock-tactics, but my lasting impression is one of an entrepreneur who has successfully exploited a niche in the market, supported by a team of jobbing-artists, who have patiently pieced together a range of exhibits that position Hirst more as an expert museologist than a creative artist.
However, his exhibition is still worth a visit. You will be talking about for weeks afterwards.
Please excuse the trivial meanderings of the last post. The entirely altruistic foundation of the Go-on initiative in no way intends to cast aspersions on the golden-agers in our society by intimating they might be ‘goons’, but it’s a fact that many of them are intimidated by the world of technology, and fear the prospects of taking their first faltering steps into the digital age. The big question is: how to gently open the door and usher them in?
In our own little community, a few enterprising people have stepped in and commandeered the use of an existing facility to create a cyber-café, which has progressed to include a book-exchange and craft workshop. With the lure of coffee and cake, people are encouraged to come and try their hand at manipulating a mouse, opening an email account, downloading photos, signing up to Facebook, finding their house on Google Earth………or even (at a more advanced level) how to create a powerpoint show.
To see the looks of delight and excitement on the faces of some of “our students” is a reward in itself. Some of them go home and practise furiously on their newly-bought laptops, come back and ask for more tips, and find (even now) they might really be ‘wasting’ too much time on this new hobby. One lady in her 80s is excited at being able to Skype distant grandchildren, and loves being inundated by daily comments and photos on her new Facebook account. She tells me she has little time for anything else, and must get this ‘thing’ under control!
But more than anything else, Bytes Café has become another little focal point of village life, where people sit and chat to each other, share a cup of coffee, and learn some new skills in a friendly setting.
It’s always good to begin a post with a title that engenders a bit of curiosity. Some of you will know about the government-sponsored initiative to help 8.5 million UK residents (who have yet to go online) to go digital. Most of these people are, perhaps understandably, amongst the older generation. People who missed out on the early wave, that created the crave, for having the world at your finger tips and only a click away.
The body empowered to bring this initiative to the nation gave it the title of “Go-on”, (www.go-on.co.uk) which we all understand to be text-speak for “Go-online”. But it does surprise me that some astute mandarin at a higher echelon did not spot the possible “lapsus calami” that could result in a ham-fisted senior typing http://www.goon.co.uk into his/her browser. I mean, amongst friends, why should a hyphen (or its absence) make such a difference? In the good old days of the fountain pen, far bigger mistakes (indeed, whole blotches and smudges) happened on every other line, and no one got their knickers in a twist.
Fortunately, if a less-than-dexterous third-ager does make the critical mistake of omitting the hyphen, they will be greeted with a blank page. However, if a .com is typed in instead of a .co.uk, the result will be rather different. When I typed in http://www.goon.com, this is what I got……………………… interesting!
If you are not immersed in the world of cycling, you may be bemused by a few inside observations. Like every field of human endeavour, the world of cycling may seem like a coherent, unified body of enthusiasts from the outside, but on the inside it is riven by different hues and shades, contrasting logic and doctrines, diverse goals and targets…….. in short, people will argue for and defend their corner regarding a host of subtleties and nuances, such as: carbon v titanium, nobblies v slicks (tyres), 23mm v 25mm (tyres again!), 2 wheels v 3 wheels, shaven or unshaven legs, energy drinks v water, gels v bananas…………….. and it goes on. And the $64,000 question is: for an enthusiast, how many bikes are enough?
Spending a week in Mallorca, in the company of a bunch of friends in training for the racing season,a number of these issues came under the spotlight. I personally like to ride a lot, and to ride hard. I love especially to be riding in the high mountains, challenging myself to maintain a constant cadence in the highest comfortable gear. If I am in a group, I like to hang onto the back wheel of the strongest rider, until I hit the red zone (heart rate). If I happen (unusually) to be the strongest rider, I like to stay out at the front. But the world of racing is of no interest to me at all (except as a spectator, of course). When people ask me what I’m in training for, I like to say “for the next piece of chocolate cake”, and wait for their bemused reaction.
So, if I find myself in the company of roadies in training, I love to stir up discussion on issues such as:
- Scientifically developed sports nutrition (gels, power bars…) v natural products (bananas, dried fruit…..)
- Whether or not to train/ride in the wind and rain (might get the bike dirty, might pick up a chill…..).
- Whether or not to go for a big ride the day before you fly back home (apparently, a depressed immune system can make us open to infections on planes………)
- To shave or not to shave your legs (referring to the guys, of course!). Never heard of Wilkinson Sword sponsoring a professional team!
- To measure, or not to measure, all your physical stats and ride data (ie. be a Garmin junkie…..)
- And, the answer to the burning question: to the enthusiast, how many bikes are enough? Answer: just one more!
Whatever reasons you have for riding your bike(s), make sure you continue to have fun ;0)