abendgules: (fierce)
This weekend Robert is away and I'm entertaining myself grocery shopping and assembling shelves. Doesn't sound like much, but it feels very different when Robert isn't here because he typically takes the lead on these things, and I don't rush to discourage him.

The nearest Sainsbury is a bit of a trial because it's uphill both ways, so to speak - a long slow hill between me and the shop, on a busy street. There's no real alternative route; no bike paths, no park routes. It's Kingsbury Avenue or nuthin'.

This part of London is definitely not as used to cyclists as Hackney is; the Sainsbury's has regular parking, handicap parking, parents of young kids parking and motorcycle parking...but no bicycle parking. With a HUGE parking lot. Stupid.

The last time I got plain bare wood shelves at IKEA the shelves were already assembled - it was just a matter of grabbing the least knotty ones and using big hex bolts to attach them to the uprights. Here, my Argos bare wood shelves arrived as two long skinny heavy packages of wood slats and a whole lotta screws - even the shelves needed assembly, waaaaay more work than I banked on. Whoops.

So late in the afternoon I decided to test the local Screwfix shop and see if I could get more Philips head screwdriver heads for the power drill, which might speed up assembly. The shop turned out to be a bit like Argos, or Lee Valley Tools, where you write down your order number and the staff go find it for you.

I'd braced myself to be nice to male staff, who would smile indulgently about a woman wanting tool advice. I swear they breed retired hardware store men just for Lee Valley.

I was delighted to find the middleaged staffer advising builders in the shop was an Indian woman with a broad London accent. The staff behind the counter were 20-something black women; there were no men staff in sight. Noone batted an eye, I didn't hear even a hint of doubt in their abilities. It was awesome.

The hell was cycling back from the shop. Apparently holiday traffic on suburban streets is even worse than regular traffic; there's less of it so drivers feel entitled to go faster.

In the course of the trip there and back, 10 mins each way, I was
- passed as I was approaching a narrowed roadway (concrete island for pedestrians) 3 times
- passed on the roundabout once
- honked at twice, while riding in primary position (close to the middle of the lane)

This is after riding in Hackney for years, and never being honked at once.

The thing is - the road is evenly surfaced, *except* for the bits directly in my wheel's path where the sewer covers, patches and divots are. It's genuinely safer to stay in the middle.

But the risks people were taking just to get ahead of me were breathtaking. I was shocked, because the traffic is much more sedate on weekdays.

I'm seriously considering keeping my fistful of keys in my right hand, so every bonehead who passes me gets a scratch in their paint. Jeez man, you were way too close!

The longer I cycle the more militant about better road design I get; well designed roads keep drivers and cyclists from conflicting over space. Increasingly I think the real solution is the Dutch and Danish one, where you consciously put the cyclists first because you can get so many more people on the road with bikes compared to cars - and cut the emissions in half, or more. Copenhagen shows you can do it successfully, by choice, and not sacrifice the life of the city.

(The Dutch chose to too, but it's long enough ago that most people don't realise it was a choice, and assume it's always been that way.)

I'm intending to write the local counsellor and tell them I'm voting strictly on the cycling space issue in this ward. This borough is shockingly far behind other parts of the city on cycle space, with acres of room on roads for bike lanes and separate facilities.

It would be easy to improve the cycle options here - I can see some easy wins north and south of my flat. The really ugly obstacle is Staples Corner, where Edgeware Road crosses the north circular and there's precious little provision for either cyclists or foot traffic. But north of that, you could make a huge difference.
abendgules: (womaninmotion)
Back to commuting cares in the big smoke.

The paralympics are on, and we're once more being asked by TfL to collectively reconsider our commutes. Kids are back in school next week, or very soon, and the usual rush hour crush will return. 

In this light you'd think I'd be leaping back onto my bike.... but no, I'm struggling to get up the enthusiasm. Why?

There's a lot going for a part-cycle commute - it's cheaper, it's invigorating, it's same time-spend as a walking+Tube commute. But I find myself dragging.

Part of the answer is the path of least resistance. I biked because it was easier than wrestling potentially serious delays by Tube and avoiding crowds. 

But from where I am, it doesn't look like anything like the volume of traffic and visitors are involved in this second event, so there's not the same pressure to change my route.

Part of the answer is my energy levels; I managed the hour on the bike daily, but at the expense of doing anything constructive most evenings. I felt tapped out, and didn't want to do much but sloth on the sofa, even with my creative pre-Raglan deadlines pressing. 

Part of it is - I miss running, and I feel I can't both cycle commute to work, and run at lunchtime. 

I ran yesterday at lunch for the first time in weeks, and man, have I missed it. I miss the midday break outdoors, I miss feeling pushed by running (in a way I'm not pushed by cycling) I miss stretching afterward. Running, even my short distances, and my slow times, makes me deeply happy, and feel centred and calm.

Shooting my bow also creates that deep sense of centred happiness, where I find myself just grinning like a goon, for feeling so completely, exquisitely content and 'right' in my place.

I beam at every passing archer, who is grumbling and moaning in their typicaly ways. (Sent off a note to ask about rejoining London Archers this AM.)

It's a rare feeling, really, and I need it.

So as virtuous as it might be, for all sorts of reasons, I'm back on foot and on the Tube for my daily commute for the autumn. 

I'm likely also flogging on the cheap folding bike, as an unsuccessful experiment for me, and sticking with the old trusty 10 speed of my yoof.
abendgules: (downhill)
...though the cheap folding bike might be proving a lemon. 

There's just no comparision between how easy, smooth, rewarding and responsive my trusty old 10 speed is to ride, compared to this new foldie.

The old one was my dad's dream bike - that is, the Al-alloy bike he'd have given an arm for in 1947 as a competitive cyclist, which by mid-80s was perfectly run of the mill. It's now positively old-fashioned-looking, with a modified straight handlebar, and all the signs of benign neglect of 20+ years.

By dint of a couple of weeks' practice, I've shaved 3-4 mins off the trip time on either bike, but the difference in the amount of physical effort involved to push the foldie around vs the old trusty is striking. 

On top of that - danged thing got a flat yesterday on the foldie, almost exactly halfway home. Sigh.

SO: for the duration, I'm on my trusty, and locking it securely at the Tube stop halfway to work. 

If I end up flogging the foldie on the for sale list at work, it won't be fatal. It's not a lemon car or computer, which would have set me back a great deal more.

I haven't been running at lunchtime of late (figuring that 1 hr on the bike roughly equivalent to 1/2 hr running towards fitness regime, if less stressful on the joints) but I'm hoping my stamina hasn't fallen behind as a result. 

At Raglan next week(!) three gents are challenging into the highest level of the rapier academy rankings - includes an hour's worth of fighting all comers. I'm hoping to contribute my share towards these bouts, and not embarrass myself entirely, even if I'm out of fencing practice.
abendgules: (rearview_runner)
First full week of cycling halfway to work done (well, when I get home).

Yesterday, taking my previous route to work to avoid the torch relay palaver, it took 49 mins to reach Chalk Farm stn. This is 5-10 mins longer than it took to ride a couple of years ago on my regular bike. Unimpressed Genevieve was unimpressed.

Today I took my 25 yr old 10 speed, instead of the folding bike - the folding bike developed a worrying creaky noise in the left pedal (I can feel squeaking and protesting through my foot), and I don't want to make it worse. I locked up at the Tube station. 

On the new route and on the regular bike - 29 mins to Chalk Farm.

Pros of new folding bike:
- can take it on the Tube, and store at work, on a secure site
- upright posture for riding - feels like sit-up-and-beg

- heavy, unwieldy when folded
- slower than regular bike
- stupid seat still sliding (more slowly but still doing it)

Pros of old reg bike:
- light, smooth ride, 
- speedy

- hunched posture, and felt like I was going headfirst over the handlebars - I know this generates backache long-term
- left at Chalk Farm through the day

I've been very fortunate so far, and my bike has not been targeted, but bike theft is endemic in London, and Chalk Farm is close to Camden Town, a very busy trendy market. Leaving it there daily, I suspect it would just be a matter of time.

I'm intrigued that I haven't changed locations, but 2 years ago I got a completely different mapped route from home to this station using the TfL journey planner.

Since then they've extended their cycle journey planner options significantly - you can get a dedicated cycle route, leave bike at a station, use boris bikes options. I don't know if it's better algorithms, or change in road facilities, or what that has prompted the difference. 

Happily: I'm not as tired, sore or generally worn out as I'd feared I'd be, significantly increasing my activity on a daily basis. It's been sweaty this week in the heat, but otherwise...result!
abendgules: (womaninmotion)
Another ride to work this AM. Only mild pain in posterior from saddle.

I've improved the ride by investing in bungy-cord 'cargo netting', a small net made of bungies to strap my backpack onto the pannier frame. It's a bit clumsy, but at £5.99 was darned sight cheaper than investing in a 'rack-pack' (the bag that sits on top of the rack above your rear wheel, as opposed to panniers that hang from it). Now my backpack is on the bike, not me.

The bicycles4u mob, it turns out, sell panniers to fit the bike. Doh. Should have bought a set when I bought the bike, but I'd hoped my MEC trusties would fit, which they don't.

Still struggling with the seatpost, which is sliding down as I ride. Very vexing. I cannot seem to get enough tension on the clamp that holds the seatpost in place, to keep it still - I had to readjust it 3 times in a 40 min ride.

I cannot think that I am the heaviest rider these bikes have encountered. I'm wary of tightening it too much while I'm on a ride, for fear of snapping the threaded bolt that holds the clamp, which would leave me entirely SOL. But I can't really ride comfortably when I'm wrestling the seatpost every few minutes.

I was able to don my chamois-bummed shorts for the morning ride. Today, and this week, is forecast as sunny, mild-to-hot (by English measures) up to 30 deg C, but promises rain in time for the opening ceremonies, so as not to disappoint. 
abendgules: (monsters)
Today I made my first foray into getting ahead of the Games by cycling halfway to work.

I've done this before, but found that my road rage with obnoxious drivers and clueless oblivious pedestrians took the pleasure out of the cycling, and I arrived/got home much agitated. I chose to put up with the Tube over raising my blood pressure.

Now: there's a new reason to avoid the Tube, at least within Zone 1 and our neighbourhood.

Our manor in 'ackney is directly in the path of the stampede to the main Olympic venues, and the first four stations I travel through are described as will be exceptionally busy, defined as 'wait 15-30 mins for a train'.

This projection assumes noone changes their travel routine, and carries on as if there were no Olympics.

SO: today I tested out my road route on my new bike - a cheap made-in-China folding bike, in red.

The cheapness is evident: the gears don't change smoothly, many components are cast metal or plastic rather than bent/rolled metal, or otherwise made more robust. It smelled of plastic, very strongly, when I pulled it out of the box.

But I'm hoping that it gets me to and fro without actually falling apart; it could pay for itself in cheaper Oyster cards in a month.

First observation: seat is rock-hard. Ugh.

Second observation: I should have brought my Leatherman, because both my seatpost and my handlebars crept downward over the journey, requiring me to stop to undo the screw and hoike them up again. This is pesky when you don't have a set of pliers to hold one side of the screwing-tightening-thing (technical term). Something to remedy tomorrow.

I'd tested the route once, on a Sunday morning, on my trusty smooth and desperately unfashionable 10-speed. It was a very different experience at rush hour, on the folding bike, and it took me quite a bit longer than my first go.

Hoping to gain speed as I gain comfort with the route, and no longer have to check my A-Z every few minutes. Would also like a small pannier, that fits on the  small parcel rack - my ancient and trusty MEC panniers (which have served me lo these 15+(?) years) do not fit. If anyone knows where to find or bodge such an item, please drop me a line.

abendgules: (womaninmotion)
Cyclists in the City reports that bikes are banned from the VIP Olympic lanes, AND from bus lanes, in parts of the city.

The bike lanes AROUND the Olympic park have been closed. WTF? 

Olympics organisers don't want people to cycle to the venue, and don't want people to drive either (in theory). How the hell are you supposed to get there, unless you're a VIP?

Thank goodness this will be the 'Greenest Olympics Ever'.
abendgules: (Default)
 For our last day Ooop North (now armed with OS maps borrowed from Haakon's dad) we started out with a ride along the coast to the village of Craster and Dunstanburgh castle. Craster is tiny, and has basically been consigned to the tourist industry, lacking a real fishing industry anymore. It feels a bit sad to me - fishing villages shouldn't be retained simply to remain 'quaint' entertainment for others.

It's maintained partly because it's en route to Dunstanburgh, a huge ruin on a shore peak, built by Thomas of Lancaster, one of the cousins of Edward II, as one-fingered salute to the king. It's within sight of his Bamburgh Castle, further up the coast.

We couldn't quite make it to Bamburgh, much as I wanted to - my Dad was evacuated to the town during WWII, and remembers it very fondly. It's now flogging itself as the premier wedding venue of the North East. 

Dunstanburgh requires a half-hour + walk from the village parking lot (no parking within the village, at all), past the houses, through the two cattle gates (freeing a couple who were trapped by a bullock who was blocking the gate,  using it as a scratching post), past the grazing cattle and the sheep, up up up the hill. Building this pile must have been a hell of a lot of work, hauling stone out to the point.

What's left of Dunstanburgh is the perimeter wall and the barbican tower. The sandstone used for all these sites has eroded in wonderful sculptural shapes, gradually giving way along the lines of the layers of stone.

Robert noted that the barbican wasn't very well fortified; the one portcullis was positioned at the inner end of the arched entryway, well within the walls of the barbican, and there was no sign of hinges or attachment points to hang an outer door. Perhaps there had been wooden doors hung on wood posts outside the walls; without them, once any attackers had gotten inside the archway, they could attack the portcullis unhindered. We wondered if it had actually seen any action, or if it had been mostly symbolic.

Even on a mild autumn day, it was pretty bleak and windswept; I couldn't see anyone staying there willingly.

One of Craster's features is its kippers, and the Jolly Fisherman pub has a firm reputation for its crab soup and kipper pate. The pate was off, but the crab soup (with cream and whisky) was brilliant, and the pub was packed at lunchtime. 

Back onto the bikes (groooooan!) and off, slowly, back to Alnwick, this time to take in the castle. Alnwick is a pretty town, but is also driven strongly by the tourist trade, and has preserved a lot of its Ye Olde Towne Looke with low-rise shopfronts and old-fashioned streetlamps. 

Alnwick castle is not cheap - £25 for two adults for the castle alone. It's owned by the Earl of Northumberland, has been the set for Harry Potter and many other films, and by God, there's money to be made from family days out, parents towing kids who arrive already wearing their knights and princesses costumes.

If they didn't bring one, they can borrow one from the Knight's Quest area - a courtyard set aside to show kids how squires trained to be knights, but mostly an excuse to dress up in a tacky costume, and beat your brother up with a boffer sword. The display armour was rusty, and the 'magic potion' area had no staff this late in the day. Maybe it does meet the demographic it's aiming for, but any SCA kid would be pretty disappointed.

There are big display boards to illustrate the glories of the Northumberland dynasty. It begins with a hiss and a roar when the first Percy bought the castle in the 14th c (absolutely no mention of when it was actually built, who owned it, or how it came to be for sale, though I see the website provides a teeny smidge more detail). The intros emphasised the heroes and the benevolence of the family; always portrayed as being considerate of their underlings, looking after their peasants, training them in militias, supporting local charitable works. Apparently Percys are still held in high regard locally, as the family is still the biggest landowner in the NE.

The main residential hall, which is promoted as 'still used as a family home' was just about the tackiest interior I've ever seen, 'lavishly decorated'  by a Victorian-era Italian designer. Picture the worst combination of Victorian -over-the-top decor with hunting-lodge accessories (a lifetime supply of 19th c weaponry, powderhorns and stuffed heads), and you begin to touch it.

Creepiest of all: the stuffed pet dogs sitting on the chairs in the entrance hall and the library - I counted at least four. I know that tastes were different in the past towards taxidermy, but I don't understand why you'd keep these reminders of past dubious choices, when you're trying to present your family as hip and with-it modern royals. Talk about ghoulish - ick ick ick.

One gem in the hall was a small display about the gardens, that included a 15th c grant from Northumberland, giving the local priory the right to keep bees and to sell bee products. It was a beautiful document, with a huge great seal that was stitched into in its own leather pouch to protect it, and a great swishy Renaissance signature of 'Northumberland' at the end.

So Alnwick was, at the end, a bit of a let-down. It's in good shape, and is probably paying for itself, but seemed to cater to a slightly different market than the average English Heritage/National Trust pile. 

Our last northern ride was getting from Alnwick back to the train station. Alnwick doesn't have its own station, it was closed in 1968 (madness, leaving a town this side with no direct service!) - the nearest is Alnmouth, about 4 miles NE. The ride, though hilly (another push up the biggest hill required) was not as bad as I feared. Either I was adapting rapidly, or it was improving with familiarity. 

Haakon and his dad came to see us off (and bring our biggest bag), and our train home was peaceful, finished with one last 20 minute ride from King's X to our flat. The bike paths are better lit than I expected at night, and are almost deserted. 

Next trip: Robert needs panniers, and we have to arm ourselves with our own OS maps. They're works of modern art all on their own.
abendgules: (Default)
Our first modest cycling holiday was a success.

The point of the trip was to attend the christening of Haakon and Odindisa's little boy J, with Robert standing as one of the three godparents. Looking at the map, we saw that several castles were within fairly short distances of the village we'd be visiting, but were a bit too far for walking. So we decided to try cycling - short distances, regular breaks, and no offroading required.

We have now returned from Ooop North oozing with virtue (literally out our pores), only moderate achiness and discomfort, and a sense that we've gotten a break with a minimum of stress on ourselves - in fact, it was far more relaxing a holiday than I expected.

Early start Sat AM, to reach 8am departure from King's X station. But before 7.30 on a Saturday morning, the pedestrian paths are empty, even in London. We rode almost straight into the baggage car.

Arriving at midday we found that Haakon had sent his dad to collect us, not knowing we were on bikes. However, this worked out well - we had someone local to advise us, and we could leave the big backpack at the family house, and carry on to Warkworth castle unencumbered. And so we did, testing our legs on the first part of the trip. Most of the hills on this stretch were gentle (though the road proved a smoother ride than the designated bike path), except for the last one, the one that Warkworth Castle is actually perched on, which left me gasping.

At the bottom of the village, we stopped for a picture at the bridge. The modern bridge dates from the 60s, so the 14th c stone bridge with a keep at one end is, I think, the one my dad would have known when he was a keen amateur cyclist in his youth, along with my grandad.

Warkworth is one of the Percy family castles, and features an all-mod-con three-storey keep that was the latest in 15th century efficient design for lighting, heating and supply management. It's even featured in the recent Brears book about kitchens and dining in the middle ages; all the food supplies stored on one floor, with careful accounts kept by the comptroller, and the kitchen and living space on the top two floors.

The earlier ground-level hall and kitchen are now gone, with just a single tower to show where you once entered the duke's hall; aside from the excellent tower, most of the castle is perimeter walls only.

After lunch in the pub (someone has a sense of humour here, having installed leopard skin print toilet seats in the ladies' room - not certain what it says about the owners), we rolled on, back south towards Alnwick. 

Jeeeeeez - who put all these hills in the way??

I had to stop and get off a couple of times (once in each direction). It wasn't so much that a given hill was too steep to ride, but it was too steep to ride after the three previous hills had sucked all the strength and stamina out of my legs.

I spent a couple of hills just panting, unable to catch my wind. After the first stop, I tried to concentrate on breathing more deeply and exhaling just a bit longer than before, to try to make the most of the work my lungs were trying to do for me.

Alnwick came not a moment too soon (yet another wretched slope! you wouldn't even notice it in the car). Spotting [livejournal.com profile] ormsweird 's excellent suggestion, Barter Books, we pulled into the former train station and flopped on a bench. 

The bookshop is a delight; huge, eclectically arranged, with both current fiction and non-fiction and antiquarian books. It has a model railway circling above your head, and a coffee station with an honesty box (apparently with a 120% return on 30p coffees and biscuits). Comfy chairs and padded benches throughout, to encourage you to browse. What a pleasure!

We spent at least an hour there, before tackling the route back to the village  - which proved later (consulting an OS map) the hilliest route between Alnwick and Longhoughton available. Sigh.

However, we found that our B&B was absolutely luxurious. £40/night buys you a lot more in NE England than it does in the SE; like huge bedroom, high-quality bed, huge ensuite bathroom with large tub and separate shower, and a well-stocked paperback bookshelf - even puzzles and board games in the cupboards. 

The whole suite was very stylish - well lit, beautifully finished, with thought put into all the details.

Maybe I've just grown accustomed to our mismatched china and cutlery in our cluttered, decor-free flat, but the elegant bone china and cutlery seemed to complement the colour scheme and the very restrained decor. 

And...it was beautifully quiet. No neighbours' noises, no screaming matches, no babies. Just birdcalls. Amazing.

We fell into bed and I dozed off looking at the OS map.
abendgules: (Confesse)
We found out about the huge earthquake in NZ on Saturday, but a call home to Robert's family determined that everyone was fine; large tools danced across the shed, a car crunched by a fallen chimney. Sounds like Southron Guard has escaped with just interrupted power, water and internet, though the cleanup of the city centre will take awhile. Remarkable photos available from [livejournal.com profile] basal_surge's post.

After a reasonably lazy Saturday, and being treated to a select menu at Alaric and Nerissa's on Sat PM (Alaric just plain likes cooking for people) we cycled to Knightsbridge/Sloan Square area to visit some pusscats (one of R's gaming friends is on holidays).

This is usually a 40 min ride for me south to South bank, then west across Westminster bridge towards the posher part of town. Unfortunately, we chose the day that the Mayor of London was running the Sky Ride, a day of cycling around the city, with closed streets, marshals, and tons of families herding very small cyclists down main roads. So our easy cycle route was made into a series of detours by... cyclists. Argh.

However, said kitties are well, and were glad of attention.

Where Hackney kitties play with butcher's string and consider themselves well entertained, West Kensington kitties play with ribbons off Hermes boxes. :-) However, the play is just the same - kitties are happily oblivious of status other than their own.

Had a very pleasant visit with Basilia, helping to warm her new flat in Leyton. Just about the nicest rental flat I've ever seen in London, and she looks well and happy. She really deserves some good karma, she's had such a crap run of bad. 
abendgules: (rearview_runner)
Tube strike starts just before 7pm.
From my workplace, at the pointy north end of the Northern line, the last train available leaves at 5.28 pm so it can end its journey at 7pm at the south end.
So if you're Tubing to get home today, confirm the last available train on TfL well before you leave.
I'm checking today to confirm that I can log in from home, so chances are I can work from home.

The bright side: LCC is running guided bike rides to 'Bike the Strike' along some major bike commuting routes, to show nervous cyclists the way. I think it's a brilliant way to introduce folks to commuter cycling. And extra bike parking is available during the strike at major Tube/train stations.

It feels like there's a serious, sustained push to get more Londoners to cycle. It's rather cool, really.


abendgules: (Default)

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