Sunday 24 August 2014

How to fry electronics...

Why,  that's easy,  just give them to me!  I seem to have an amazing ability to kill electronics,  merely by being around them,  and God help them if I touch them or give them any attention!  The latest apparent victim of my luddite death rays seems to have been my tablet,  which is currently occupying real estate and weight in my bag as a dead grey thing.  I'm typing this on my phone,  which is probably going to somehow bring down the power grid in southeast England. Anyway,  as per usual when I can be bothered to actually write something,  I am on a (rather slow) train,  plodding westward towards Exmoor and possible rain. I have a bike again,  finally,  after 6 weeks.  It's amazing how much my mood is lifted by being able to buzz around town,  sucking in pollution!  I put on a good show of the aggrieved customer (I was actually pretty aggrieved) and got a free £120 service,  which they mostly didn't f up... That and because we seem to have gone into insta-autumn (global warming),  my mood has perked up.  I love autumn and I am always happy to be away from any threat of heat or humidity.  Anyway, my opinion of London seems to be directly inverse to the temperature (until it snows,  which is always terrible).  I really am a delicate flower.  I suppose I've picked a good place for it.  Right,  I'm getting annoyed by typing on my phone.  More thrilling adventures later,  I'm sure...

Wednesday 13 August 2014


Wow. So, a year ago I was making almost this same journey, to Switzerland, to meet friends and then cycle, literally and I suppose figuratively, over the hill. I'm heading back to Switzerland to meet friends, maybe a bit further over the hill, but sans bike this time. It was supposed to be another big bike trip, but thanks to my propensity to crack frames and the the total and complete incompetence of Evans Cycles, I've not had a bike since 2 July. Maybe next week. I am so putting horrible reviews on every website I can find and writing to the head of the company once I get it back! So no, no bike, which feels like it has limited my world a bit. But I will hang out in Bern tomorrow and then go do a Julie Andrews on Monday. Not bad. I shouldn't complain. I'm flying back Tuesday. Train trip one way is fun. Both ways is a bit tedious. I thought about going back to work on Wednesday rather than taking the rest of the week off, but then thought no, f... it, I want the time off. Hoping to cycle on the east coast next weekend, if they could be so kind to give my bike back. I'm surprised actually how much it has stressed me out not having a bike. I feel limited in my motion and perpetually irritated by public transportation and the people on it. I suppose I like urban, but only on my own terms...

Heading across Switzerland now on a very clean double decker train with the Alps to my right, clouds glowing over them in the sunset. I'm very happy to be here for a bit but I have to admit I'm really upset about not cycling. I know, minor first world problem, but I am still pissed off beyond belief at Evans, who have now taken six weeks for a two week max job. I've wasted several hundred quid on Tube passes and travel tickets I couldn't cancel and yet they just dick around and do nothing unless I bother them constantly. Anyway, I just need to enjoy the trip I have and then be a relentless pain in the ass to them from the minute I get back.

Next morning, 830. Sitting, bleary eyed on a train at Bern station, not much sleep the night before thanks to the heat. So many slightly granola looking white people in Goretex! Hmm, the train actually left early. Having a slight panic I've somehow managed to get on the wrong train. I suppose I will see! That's because it's a special train. I have to get on another, local train which then splits. Honestly, you think they would announce these things in English! 😛 Still though, the trains are very clean and very zippy.

OK, all is forgiven. Well, Evans isn't, but coming here without a bike is. I'm sitting 9000 and some feet up on the side of an mountain, next to a glacier, looking out over the world. The only sounds are wind, water and a group of Americans who think each wind gust merits a hoot. It doesn't. Leaving the train, I took a small bus pulling a trailer up an absurdly steep and narrow road to a guesthouse. From there it was a few miles walking through forest, grazing land, open grassland and scree slope, all at increasing steepness. This being Switzerland, there were wooden stairs up the steepest part and a small hotel and teahouse (unfortunately closed) at the barren and extremely windswept saddle summit. That looks out on a glacier with enormous and rather imposing looking mountains behind, storm clouds hovering just the other side. I walked across the rocky, cairn strewn moraine to the glacier and walked out a few feet. First time in about 24 years. Anyway, I only managed about 4.5 hours sleep because of the heat. While tired, I actually feel OK and very relaxed, for once. I think nature is very much missing from my life, especially nature of the really mountainy kind!

Another bleary morning on the train, heading under the Alps to go see a glacier and maybe hike if the weather holds out. My feet hurt from yesterday. There isn't much hiking around London. I figured out I climbed and dropped about a mile yesterday. Not too shabby. I missed the train I wanted this morning. Got confused by the ticket machine, which gave me far too many choices. Even though the instructions were in English, the little pissant town names were in German. Honestly. They should really come with a label (in English, of course), "Dear foreign tourist, graciously supporting our economy, you would like to take this route, which is the least extortionate." One for next time, maybe... 😜


Ooh, awkward, the only person on an entire bus! Still though, the climate nerd loves the fact that I went under the Alps to a more southern European climate. Still though, it's raining and icky. My hike may be more of an ooh pretty stroll...

Well, I think I have just experienced the most peaceful thing so far in my 41 years of existence (though, just as I wrote this it was interrupted by some nearby animal making a noise that sounded a lot like an orc (sp?), nearly making me wet myself. Anyway, I'm sitting on a rocky outcrop on the side of a mountain. Its perfectly still, with clouds hanging on the tops of the mountains. There is no wind and the rain has stopped. Save for an orc and the occasional bird, the single and only sound is that of the torrential river a good thousand or more feet below, milky bluey white with glacial flour from the Eiger Glacier, whose length I can see up. The melting ice has its summertime striations of rock and dirt and wends its way back into the white clouds. I have been sitting here for maybe half an hour and not a single person has walked by. It is, honestly, perfect.

And by chance as well. I decided to head down from the top. The weather was horrid. Rain and 100 foot visibility. Even the hotel with the panorama view was closed. So I walked down, back into the larch, pine and spruce forest. I saw a sign for the trail heading back towards the glacier and thought, hmm, why not. Came around a bend and there it was in the parting clouds. I don't say this much, but I'm happy now.

On the train back to Bern, somewhere under the mountains. My feet hurt, my contacts are trying to jump out of my eyes, I'm a bit smelly and generally wiped out, but actually completely content. I've not had at all the trip I planned, but rather, it seems, exactly the trip I needed. Life does that occasionally. I guess I've never actually done two days of hiking in a row, especially not in huge mountains. Today was about a drop of 6000 feet with almost no uphill. Not hard on the quads. Very hard on the calves, and, as it turns out, the tops of one's feet. Ow. Every life zone from treeless tundra to mid European broadleaf and everything from cold rain to mist to warm muggy sunshine. A geo-nerd's perfect day out. So yeah, today was fab. Will try to remember that when I go tomorrow to battle the evil forces of the world at Evans.


On the plane home from Geneva Swiss Air flight annoying 1, full of horrid British and Arab children treating the plane as their personal jungle gym. Much to my amusement in a plane full of Muslims, they are serving ham sandwiches. I had a really nice train journey, nearly empty and very quiet, with the Alps in the background, along with a morning run along the swollen Aare. I do like Bern. It is, to me, the perfect blend of urban and wilderness, not to mention pristinely clean and well organised. If this trip has told me anything, it is time to start thinking about what to do next in life, for both of us. Only this time it needs to be our adventure, planned together, rather than just mine.

Monday 26 May 2014

Rocketing westward

Guud morneeng, ladies and gentleman, I am Claude, your train managaire... And so ends my lightning tour (OK, very slow lightning tour) of Belgium by bike. What was particularly surprising to me was how difficult it was. I thought, eh, one kind of difficult day of hills then two easy peasy days of flat. 83 mi, 69 mi, 75 mi. Hah. I wasn't counting on having the wind against me or having a strong crosswind every day, especially the last day, nor had I properly remembered the soul destroying nature of Belgium's crappy concrete roads, cobbled roads or mandatory bumpy brick bike paths. Still though, with the exception of the cobbled roads, one of which I had to walk to avoid killing my skinny wheels, the trick is really just to slow down and accept that it is going to take a long time. That can be a hard proposition. Much as I bitch about the shitty nature of British roads (and drivers) there is actually a lot more freedom to ride like a bat out of hell. That said, in Belgium I was passed by a number of very fast groups of road cyclists and saw one road race. Where the the roads are good, they are very, very good, which is more than I could ever say of Britain and with the exception of Brussels, which seems to be a bit like cycling through Tijuana, the drivers are pretty universally courteous. It probably helps that a lot more people cycle... One of the things I love about cycling across Belgium is the complete hodgepodge of building styles. There seems to be a complete lack of any planning consistency. Sure, put your castle next to my supermodern house next to that barn next to a faux chalet attached to a brick Victorian house with a windmill in the front garden. Anyway, I was very glad to get to Brussels, quite late, as I was about to fall over by that point. Off course, I was a bit disappointed to not be cycling the next day. I did have a lovely relaxing day with Alex though. Went with him to vote (compulsory, automated and tied to his ID) then did the gym, had a very yummy lunch, coffee and chat while watching passersby. Spent a slightly surreal evening watching Flemish election results, which a little bit like watching very Dutch looking people speaking Glaswegian after suffering a stroke that affected my ability to comprehend language. So, a good time! And now I'm heading back west on a delayed Eurostar full of irritating Australian tourists that don't seem to comprehend the idea of an "indoor voice". Ah, back to Britain!

Friday 23 May 2014

Blobbing in Bruges

So, in a slightly surreal twist, I'm listening to some Southern girl twanging away on a Flemish language station blaring from across the street. I'm in the very spacious attic room, on a king bed, in a tiny b&b I seem to be sharing with a group of Parisians. Today was day two of my three day ride from London to Brussels. 83 miles of hills, rain, headwind and traffic yesterday, 68 miles of flatland, one 9 mile dead end and hiding out from monsoon rain today. I think I got here just as my resolve crapped out. Yesterday was just relentless. It really is gorgeous cycling to Dover, but it is insanely hilly and full of annoying southeast England drivers on tiny roads. I sat out one thunderstorm only to be utterly and completely drenched as I reached Dover with the setting sun. It did make for an impressive arrival at the waterfront, but it would have been a little more impressive were I not shivering. The hotel was right on the water. Nice enough, with, well, a ferry crowd. There were a lot of people at breakfast at 630 this morning. The ferry, that's always an adventure. Weaving through the labrynthine loading area, playing dodgem with Polish truck drivers. The bikes all get on first, ahead of the mass of cars and trucks. It's kind of a bizarre experience pedalling into the cavernous and empty car deck, this time with two packs of cyclists visiting war sites across Belgium. One of them I kept seeing all day today. They were faster than me, but I had a Garmin. The ferry ride itself is quite relaxing, 2 hours. The crowd is an odd mix off Eastern European truckers, families with small children and the sort of people that would take Greyhound. Little chance of drowning in that gene pool. It's a bit of a Kodak moment as the ferry pulls out of Dover, white cliffs bright in the morning sun. It's not quite as glamorous when the ferry pulls into Mordor, I mean, France. For one, it's dead flat, with scrubby dunes and 10 miles of flame belching refineries, brick plants, shipyards and general industrial horror before the marginal improvement that is Dunkirk. It really is the ass end of France. Still though, the roads are smooth, which is more than one could say of England. Thinking I was being clever, I took the coast road up the dunes, only to discover a very stubborn automatic drawbridge that wasn't going to respond to my bike. Given that I hadn't seen another car for about half an hour, there wasn't much choice but to schlep back 4.5 miles against the wind and head inland. Anyway, heading northeast again, I think I was cruised in the dunes by a dogwalker when I stopped to pee, but he was French, so you never know. Then on to Belgium, past a bunch of burly looking French customs agents waiting to pick off brown people at the border. I'm not sure, but that area seems to be like Belgium's Florida, with an endless line of atrociously ugly condos fronting the sea, backed by farmland dotted with small towns and churches. Quite the contrast to France. I had to sit out two thunderstorms. Nothing quite says suck like cycling across a flat plain in a heavy thunderstorm. Eventually, I turned inland from the coast, finally making it onto a small, sensible road. It is always nice cycling out of the UK, where they actually put in sensible infrastructure. I got to Bruges just as I was about to get delirious and possibly even crabby. Lots of money and excessive cuteness here. And a very expensive and seriously delicious dinner, made possible by a sudden downpour. Funny how that works. Walked around Bruges some after and resolved to come back. It is very hard to imagine the pleasant farmland around here as the final resting place for millions. Suppose that's why it's important. Anyway, must go to bed before brain falls out. More tomorrow!

Sunday 18 May 2014

Backwards, southward

So, I'm on a train again. Sounds like a country song. It does seem to be the only place where I actually get around to writing anything. My well meaning attempts to keep a regular tab of the daily ridiculousness of life in local government seems to have gone approximately nowhere. So anyway, I just spent the past two days cycling over hill and dale in the north of England. It was officially a trip to go see Jerry in Newcastle, as he's over to dig holes in the ground, but it was also a thinly veiled excuse to get out of the smog and curse at but secretly love monster hills. Jerry is over to take part in a archaeological dig near Hexham. I cycled past it, by chance. It looked a bit like a small castle with an allotment next to it, tucked in amongst sheep and tour bus parking. No data service on mobile phones. Not sure how Jerry, who is as big of a Facebook whore as am I, will survive. We shall see. Anyway, it sounds interesting but also sounds like a bit like Tom Sawyer and the whitewashed fence. Sure, come dig holes in my field and pay me. Anyway, I am always struck, on these cycling forays around this silly island, both by the fact that the road must go directly up the hill rather than around it, by how desolate one can feel in the middle of a densely populated island and by the fact that cyclists really do seem to all congregate around certain, well known routes and in packs rather than branching out and exploring the thousands of little dinkyshit roads to nowhere. I stopped at this overcrowded teahouse at the top of a pass in the Pennines (it's Britain... There has to be an overcrowded teahouse at the summit) and there are huge packs of cyclists and motorcyclists. Short of some usually disappointing potential serving (motorcycle leathers really should be banned as misleading under the trading standards act) I don't get the thrill of riding a loud smelly machine over a mountain. Either be comfortable and drive a car or test your endurance and ride a bike. A real bike. Maybe I'm just disappointed that most of them looked like overstuffed sausages. Whining aside, I have to say these bike rides tend to restore my faith in Britain and make me confident I picked a good place. It's hard to remember that sometimes amongst the benefit scroungers and general ickiness of Woolwich. I met a retired couple from Australia cycling the length of Britain, two middle aged guys doing a coast to coast cycling Tour du Pub and a rather dishy individual today who just did a 112 mile race in the Yorkshire Dales. Much respect. I also saw probably a few hundred squished animals along the road. Mostly bunnies. Serious critter carnage. And got rather little sleep last night in Newcastle, as my hotel room, which came equipped with earplugs and a fan, couldn't compete with the general drunken mayhem that passes for classy entertainment in Newcastle on a Saturday night. And back to work tomorrow for a big two day work week before the Chelsea flower show and cycling to Belgium. Yeah, I suppose life is OK. ☺

Sunday 2 March 2014

Poodling across the Atlantic

GSo, I've upgraded from my usual travelling backwards on a train to forwards in the steerage section of a very large plane, equipped with a Starbucks sandwich and girl scout cookies. The entertainment system is shot, so they have gone all retro and are just showing movies. So far I've seen Thor and Despicable Me 2 for the second time on this trip. Woohoo! Thor, much of which takes place on a dark planet, is very difficult to watch on a six inch screen, especially when the flight attendant keeps interrupting every 5 minutes. I know. First World Problems. Anyway, as I can't sleep on a plane, I thought it would at least be vaguely satisfying to keep others awake with my light. It is a little hard to believe it's been 2.5 weeks. It seems both like a few months and five minutes since I left. I'm always exhausted after these trips, emotionally and physically. Physically it's because I cram so much into a short time period but emotionally I guess for the obvious reason that I'm so far away and people end up noticeably older each time I see them. It's a bit like living life in fast forward. It does actually make me wonder if I made the right choice in moving so far away. I think I did, but family is definitely the one thing that could ever tempt me back. I'm dreading going back to work. 2.5 weeks away from pointless whining drivel, which will, of course, just reach a crescendo when I get back. I suppose one normally feels this way on return. It's just really damn inconvenient that I'm worrying more about family and friends as I get older, or that I can admit that even places like Sacramento have their charm. Growing up is stupid. Well, I thought I would somehow chronicle all the daily activity of my trip, but somehow I was too busy doing it. I guess that is a hallmark of a good trip. Going to read the paper now I think. Make some rustling noise to add to my annoying light. 😁
Ah, well, here we are back at Heathrow where the single and only gate at the airport is in use and we have to sit for another quarter hour on the tarmac after circling endlessly. Welcome back to England, land that efficiency forgot!

Sunday 16 February 2014

Lingering at LAX.

So, I'm sitting here in a rather depressing Starbucks in the international arrivals area of LAX, waiting for David. Unfortunately, his flight is delayed, so I'm going to be here for some time. I stopped here on my way in, two days ago, and managed to part with $8.34 for a yogurt and a coffee. Ouch. This time, I was a bit more clever and purchased my Starbucks meal in Pasadena, which I am now eating here. I'm so tired I just want to keel over and die. The first night I slept thanks to the wonder of sleeping pills. Last night was au natural, which meant dipshit sleep and waking up at 3am. Really looking forward to a 100 mile drive to San Diego. Anyway, sleep or no, I had a really great time seeing Maggie, Kurt and Tee. I really enjoy just sitting around and shooting the shit. I think it gets more and more enjoyable as I get older and as I appreciate family more. Much as I am finally actually beginning to accept that I made the right choice in picking London after 10 years, it doesn't make it any easier to leave people after a flying visit. It is, indeed, very far away. It's always funny coming back to Southern California as well. As well. As time passes, I notice more and more things as just seeming odd. The fake friendliness. It's a bit much in Northern California, but omg in Southern, as Robin put it, "hi, my name is Cynthia and everything is fucking terrific!" I think that with 16 years of New York and London, I just end up thinking, "gaack, go away, you're scaring me!" The other thing, CA is having the worst drought in like 500 years. So, I go running around Riverside. The natural landscape is the colour of dust. Even the eucalyptus look sad. But I was heartened to see everyone bravely confronting the drought by continuing to water the grass in the middle of the day, by flooding the road, by having a broken sprinkler shooting 20 feet in the air. Water conservation? Water rationing? Hell no, we are going to drain the Colorado River dry! Oh, other random thing, I was oh so very pleased to have to pay an extra $200 to get a non shit car with an mp3  jack, which also, as it turns out, comes with a GPS. Good thing I paid £35 to update the TomTom! Anyway, I've now slightly shortened the amount of time I need to wait. I wonder if they would notice if I crawled under the table and went to sleep? Hmm

Monday 3 February 2014

Bleh - migraine

So I managed to cobble up a pretty decent migraine yesterday and today. No barfing or fainting or even that really cool feeling of having a red hot poker shoved through one's head, but rather the full bells and whistles aura on the train followed by a day of general headache, brain fartedness and general pissoffgoawayness. I was coming home on the train from a bike ride out to Ashford (generally a nice ride, though somewhat marred by a large piece of glass that decided to go through my front tyre, just as the sun was setting). Lots of hills, scenery and one very flooded road.  Anyway, I was on the train back with a friend and noticed - great - everything is getting all wavy/shiny and I'm having a very difficult time looking directly ahead.  Nothing says "I'm not suspicious" like trying to navigate one's way through a busy train station and pay for something at the supermarket while having to look at everything askance to actually see it. Anyway, I got most of the way home on my bike (the darkness and physical activity actually help - I frequently get migraine auras while running and just run through them).  I got as far as Waterloo, about 3 miles from home, and was getting increasingly concerned by this sort of thump thump thump feeling coming from one of my tyres. I pulled over to discover that about 6 inches of the tyre had come unseated from the rim. Wow - that could have been a blowout - on the front tyre! I walked and took the train the rest of the way home, not really wanting to have my bike upside down in heavy pedestrian traffic.  Then, this morning, after waking up from what felt very much like having my brain left to run in idle all night (ooh, parsley, shiny, toads!, avocado, perforated toothpaste!), I set off to work to discover that the rear gears weren't shifting properly.  All I did what I got home was to wash off a small mountainful of grit from my bike - apparently that was what was allowing it to shift properly.  So - off to the bike store today before work - how embarrassing, to go to the bike store because your gears don't shift properly. Today was mostly a big waste at work.  Headachey, crabby, feeling like my brain had been left out in the sun a bit too long.  I wanted preferably to hide under some couch cushions or in a meadow of tall and very soft (and very quiet) grass, or at least underneath one of those beekeeper helmets.  What do you mean I can't put a big sign on my desk saying "fuck off and die"?  So, not the best day of all.  Anyway, I survived and did various worklike things, though I don't remember what most of them were (ooh, short term memory loss, fun migraine symptom!).  Got the bike, hung my head in shame for having to pay for such a silly thing and came home and ran.  It's amazing how running actually helps these things.  It sucks great big donkey dong (and not in a nice way) during, but it actually helps push the headache away.  Maybe it's just because it sucks so much during that I am grateful that my head isn't bobbling around like a water balloon full of rocks (sharp rocks).  So, good day...

Monday 27 January 2014

Backwards through Belgium...

Wow, it's been ages since I've done this. Seems like the last time was also heading backwards on a train, though that would have been with my bike. No bike this time. Just wrapping up an extended weekend in Bonn with a friend, which made a nice change from London. It's funny, I don't really think about how high my stress level is on a normal basis, but then I go away and realise that even though I get very little quality sleep, I still feel vaguely awake, don't have trouble remembering things, don't feel depressed, etc. I guess it's comforting that I'm not actually turning into a cabbage. Still though, it does speak a lot to how stressful things have been and how poorly I've been dealing with it. Most of he stress has been work and most of it has been stupid. Eight months of probation in an Alice in Wonderlandesque environment of petty jealousies, backstabbing and special meetings called to discuss the fact that I eat more than some of the more Rubenesque senior managers. Don't gay it up too much. Well, I made it through the probation, my team got moved to another area and oopsie, they have a very gay manager with a large appetite, a sharp tongue and little of the southern English tendency to not say what he thinks. My intention is to successfully turn around what is really a pretty mediocre team of people who do things just because that's how they've always done it and that's what it says in their JD. Much of this will be done in spite of the organisation, which is generally adept at blocking anything looking suspiciously like independent thinking or change. I intend not to fail, in part because it became clear that there was a strong desire amongst some for me to fail.  Won't give them the pleasure. Hmm, I think I may see the source of some of my stress. Still though, it was a lovely weekend away. Five trains to Germany and five trains home. Much lower stress than flying. Anyway, once again I am going to try to do this on a regular basis. Life zips by at an increasingly alarming pace. My six monthly dentist appointments seem to be occurring on a nearly monthly basis. I have an interesting thought and poof, it's gone. Well, that took the distance from Cologne to Aachen, though admittedly some of that was farting around with the WiFi. Ah, technology...