August 28, 2011

One day I feel I'm ahead of the wheel

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

14.28. Back to idle writing on the train. This time it's the Lightning that's tucked away, but right at the other end of the train. Turns out that the quiet coach is next to the power car - presumably First Class doesn't have to put up with the whoosing, but is also first to crash into anything when southbound. I still think the Mk4 carriages are overly stiffly sprung.

It's kind of nice not having that tight an itinerary, aside from the Shildon bit. But I'm beginning to think that I'm finding it increasingly hard to improvise in situations, or rather that I can cope perfectly well but prefer to be as well-informed as possible. Perhaps trains are a bit of an exception because timing is critical and any delays from time spent thinking, like trying to get a bike onboard, are not acceptable.

I've sort of gone to town with supplies, as I've packed a towel, my hairdryer, shampoo, about four top layers but on bottom only the Endura bike shorts I'm wearing and my lightweight 'desert' trousers. I ought to have included my lycra tights ... perhaps some leg warmers might be available in Cycle Heaven.

I need to find out why the train lurches every so often, as though the driver dabs the brakes and then floors it again. It rather mucks up my handwriting. Timing, it's about three or four minutes between lurches but not totally predictable. Just coming into Morpeth and there's almost no wind whatsoever, and the wind farm isn't doing any business today. My stolen half-window seat is only good until Newcastle so I'm sort of watching the world slip by like a hawk; a hawk who's half-asleep perhaps; a hawk with a GPS unit. The orange brick barn in the middle of fields has collapsed a bit more some last time too - now both walls of the nearer half have gone. The roof's rafters are still there though. Gosh, this bit of track is really bumpy and lurching, and we're only doing 105mph. Through Dudley and Brunswick Village ... they really do like their bricks here. Ok, time to pack up a bit.

21.16. Predictably, no-one arrived for the seat, so I was able to stretch out diagonally at least. It's hard to concentrate to write when someone's mobile phone is playing a slightly honky-tonk rendition of The Entertainer, with a small mistake in it, round and round and round. And round again for good measure. Surely no-one can be that desperate to call someone.

We arrived at York and I spent some time looking at all the bikes parked, and taking the odd photo. I then went to Cycle Heaven and looked at Birdys and Bromptons, thought about buying the third edition of Bicycle Design by Mike Burrows, but didn't: it's not all that different from my first edition, except he wrote about recumbents more. I did get Mike Carden's new book about his Scotland tour. A bit better written, more narrative. Then I got checked in and stowed the bike in the usual place, then went out for food. Since I was on foot I thought I'd stop by Jessops and the other camera shops but every one of them was shut! In the end I wandered back to get a pizza, noticing an enormous motor trike passing by, and chatted to the Turkish guy serving me in the kebab/burger/pizza place. On reflection, a smaller pizza would've been enough—this 13 incher has done me tea and supper and I've drunk about two litres of water: BBQ chicken is good but more sweet than sour, and not enough peppers. Bacon is nicely crunchy. I've spent the evening watching Film4; I came in halfway through a film about secret agent children (weird, especially at half volume so the dialogue didn't really work), then Fool's Gold, which was fun but very silly. And Donald Pleasance is a good actor but here he really looked a bit lost.

21.33 and that phone is still ringing, and that pizza was just too big.

22.02 and almost to the hour, The Entertainer has realised his audience—Mr iPod and Mrs Earplugs—isn't interested and has stopped playing. Hurrah! Now I can read my book properly.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

13.03. Sitting on the steps outside Shildon railway museum, near the children's sandpit, and seven mums with about eight children. The sun is shining but was raining in York when I left. I thought York to Darlington would be a Class 185 but turned out to be a XC Voyager, so at least I knew what to do with the bike. Plenty of seats at 10.00 too! Then onto a Class 142 rail-bus thing of concertina doors and two carriages with tip-up seats. I had a quick ride around Shildon—not a big place—looking for a shop that sold OS maps, but nothing doing. Not even a supermarket here. I don't think Shildon gets too many recumbent bikes either. There didn't seem to be any bike parking at all here, but I managed to get things stowed in a Staff Only cleaners' cupboard. I took my camera and bag, but didn't need any GPS—but wish I'd taken my sunglasses, which it seems I've already scratched today. So, the sandpit is doing a roaring trade, the sun is lovely, and I have a little under two and a half hours before my train back to York. I'm in absolutely no hurry.

20.04. I enjoyed the museum, almost immensely. I actually spent a lot of time looking at the books and DVDs before the exhibits, but decided not to buy any—but The Waverley Route and The A4s' Final Years were tempting, though not at £20 each. I sort of saved the best 'til last and photographed the APT-E and DP1 together, in a sort of 'the future' pose. And Henrietta Brompton is very close in colour to the latter. In the end, I bought a little Rail Art picture and a mug.

By the time I was waiting for my train I'd decided that while architecturally 'nice', Shildon is also full of neds. On the platform, a group of five who delighted in taking a shortcut across the tracks several times. The bike was an extreme curiosity. I got to Darlington easily enough and then found no-one to unlock the luggage door of the Class 91 DVT. A platform person eventually came to help but I had to make a fuss. I spent the 30 minutes standing in the vestibule of First Class rather than wander the entire length of the train for my seat. I was off and running quickly once at York with an East Coast person waiting to unlock the door. I pottered over to Jessops but after all that they didn't have the lens case I needed. The good news is that the new air-padded strap from Calumet works great.

Looking at the OS map I thought I could see the sewage works north of the station, that was Art Deco styled, so I went round the block onto the A19 and then onto the Ouse cycle and footpath (NCN65 I think). I followed it—cattle grids and everything—beyond the ring road and although I smelled it, I didn't see it. It turned out that it was a filter bed and not a sewage works at all. So I went a bit further before joining the A19 again to bomb into town. I paused to photograph a 'Deco cinema, but there are lots of them and the like. Back at the hostel I had a long chat with Aussie guy Duncan, who was about to steal my bed, and then met another Brompton rider who I saw yesterday evening. I ended up getting a load of pasta and salad from the supermarket, rather than more pizza or other junk food, but kept the side up with more chocolate milk. Feeling a bit headachey so I'm calling it a day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

16.37. Today ought to have been 'my' day, for ambling and enjoying and I'm somehow feeling bummed out. It took me ages to get ready to go, then on and off with layers and waterproofs. A quick ride down the road to photograph another Art Deco cinema and then out for the A64 cycle path to Tadcaster. It might be fairly flat and direct but it's bloody scary with 70mph traffic a few metres away with only a metre-wide strip of grass separating road and path. I had to work hard not to sprint along at 21mph or more as I planned to do more than just to Tadcaster and back. The rain came on and basically got steadier.

I spent some time in Cyclesense. I decided to buy some legwarmers (in a thrilling 'extra-large' size) and then looked at Moultons and Bike Fridays. The Pashley Moultons seemed entirely too small for me, while the Bike Friday Pocket Sport with drop bars and telescopic seat tube actually fitted me well. Not that I really want a Bike Friday sort of machine. Would I end up using one in preference to the Brompton? I already know from experience that it stows in places where the Dahon-sized Birdy doesn't, and that was why I bought the Brompton in the first place. Besides, I can't see any unsuspended small-wheeled bike being that much better in Edinburgh than the Brompton. After finishing there, I asked if there was anywhere I could eat my sandwiches out of the rain, and they let me use their kitchen, and made me a cup of tea. I chatted at some length with one of their mechanics who was having lunch. I didn't want to outstay my welcome and left in a bit of a hurry. Again it seemed to take ages packing my panniers and then I realised my back light was missing. I'd ridden a few yards and turned back but there was no sign of it. Nothing for it but to leave, so I started retracing my steps along the crappy bike path. I didn't see my light anywhere. I think my extra bungee must've tripped the release catch on the bracket.

I tried to divert to the quieter path marked on the map, and I did find it, but it was a path across a field and not biking territory. I eventually took the Copmanthorpe turning, to Acaster Malbis and Naburn. I 'photted' the bike on the swing bridge, and noted that they'd painted the bridge all grey; it was rust coloured last time. Then it was a simple matter of following the Velovision route to the race course and back into town, for about 25 miles. Not that far and yet I felt quite tired, and my knee was twinging at about 20 miles. At least I wasn't cold, as I'd put on the leg warmers about five minutes down the road from the shop.

Back in the hostel I was all set to wash my hair but the shower only did cold water, and as I fiddled with the handle it turned in a way it wasn't meant to and then wouldn't turn off. It did once I'd turned it a bit more, but I'd had enough by then. I'm thinking about teatime and what to have. More pizza? It never occurred to me to buy anything while I was out.

Quite frankly, if my train home had been at 16.00, I would've gladly taken it. I've sort of enjoyed myself and sort of not. I've met several 'nice' people, all fleetingly like ships in the night. No-one else seems to have shared a need to chat or for company. And so I carry on my merry, singular way.

Here's a thought. A Bike Friday uses ISO406 wheels, so generally the same sort of machine as my Dahon was. And I got rid of the Dahon because I didn't like its riding position anymore (although BFs are made to measure). It folded to largely the same size as the BF, but didn't pack into a suitcase. A Birdy has the full suspension, and folds to about the same as the Dahon. A non-folding Birdy is kind of what a Moulton ought to be like. And what niche is one of them meant to fill? Not folding, because I have a Brompton. Not longer distance comfort, like today, because I have the recumbent bikes. The Bike Friday did feel impressively rigid. If I was without Annie, what would I use in winter when it snows? If I was doing passenger trains—busy stuff in cities—then the Brompton would win hands down. Do I need a (B+1)? That is perhaps the real question.

21.15. Having read a good chunk of A Bit Scott-ish, it's nice, in a schadenfreudey kind of way, to know that I wasn't the only B&Ber ever to have a bad experience. I had pizza for tea: ham and pineapple as a trust failsafe option, from Chico's a bit further down the road. Almost half the price, half the service, two-thirds as good food as the kebab place. A bit thin, but nice enough though.

Tomorrow's plan is to be up by 8.00 and out before 9.00 with enough time to photograph the other Art Deco buildings I saw in town, and the windmill on the far side of the station. I meant to do that today but ended up on the wrong side of town, but I've marked it as a waypoint in the GPS. Dumbass gave up the ghost in 2009, so maybe I should call this one Dumbass 2, or Divvy, or maybe Dropkick... No, too daggy. The dorm seems quiet this evening: me, the guy with the cratered face who I think is Scandinavian and who never did tell me his name, and maybe one other judging by the luggage, perhaps the Egyptian guy from yesterday whose name I did learn and immediately forgot.

I jumped on a computer for half an hour yesterday to check stuff; I think it was long enough and I wasn't going to pay more for the privilege given my luddite status of non-interconnectedness. Time does fly when you're writing e-mails. I'll head over to Cramond once I'm home tomorrow and see if anyone is around, and if it's not raining. Nearly ten pages of notepad since Wednesday: I must have too much spare time.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

13.16 and Berwick-upon-Tweed is a little way behind and back to bumpy, twisty track. Had a generally lovely morning. I was up early and out to photograph those buildings, and then wandered to York Minster. I took some photo of the outside, then locked the bike and went inside to listen to the organ. Some odd pieces being played: discordant and textured. I looked at the stained glass for a while, and might've mouthed the word 'wow' once or twice. Then out to see the windmill, marooned on its little hill amongst houses. Back at the station, I took the opportunity to make sure the platform staff know I needed the train's luggage compartment open, and then the train was delayed because of engineering restrictions a block or two south. So I chatted with a couple of Australian people and a guy from East Coast, so there were no problems in the end. After all that!

I'm now relaxing at a vacant table so there's plenty of legroom compared with being wedged in before. What are tall people meant to do? Sit and suffer? Or drive cars perhaps? Huh, and motion sickness beckons now, less than ten minutes of writing, but I did read a lot earlier on. Yuck. Cramond later? Time to find out.

I made it to Cramond in a fairly efficient half an hour or thereabouts, but as I rather suspected all along, the group had been and gone. I sat at a bench to eat the remaining half of my cereal bar before taking to the promenade again and wending my way home. Although the bike ride calmed my stomach a bit, it only suppressed the nausea, and a day and a half later I'm still not feeling right unless I'm either eating or working out. All in perfect time for my return to work, too!

A few minutes on the internet revealed that the film with the secret agent children on karts was apparently Catch That Kid, from 2004. I'd never heard of it either. And according to ChrisCooper on RailUK, the lurching or jolting that I've noticed on the Class 91 trains is probably related to the automatic speed controller and the application of the rheostatic braking system. I shall need to have my GPS recording a journey and then later annotating the speed profile with the occurrences of the jolts, but that's for another day.

August 11, 2011

All along our days

For far too long, it seems, I've been staring at a blank piece of paper with no particular inspiration to write. That's not to say that I've not written anything at all, but as someone who takes an active stance against both the endless commentary of microblogging and the rather relentless accumulation of what Mr Zuckerberg rather zealously describes as "friends", and yet who subsequently poked her nose into the whizbang new replacement that xkcd so accurately termed "Not FB!", the more short paragraphs, or even shorter one-liners, that I dash off there through such convenience the more it rankles that I'm serving a network in precisely the manner I never intended, and even worse, not spending time here. Here is where I'm supposed to write about stuff: the music I listen to, the trips I make, the thoughts I have. And yet it's that convenience of not writing a lot that is half the attraction. Of course, both this site and New Social Network are of the same parent so my allegience is already misplaced; but my time and my energies are drawn in other directions too much.

Progressive rock, as a genre, was tied strongly to the new technology of the day, and sought to combine musical styles in new, unthought of ways, through the raw talent of hairy young men. But to carry on performing 30 or 40 years later the product of those early years is not properly progressive, as much as it may pay the bills. It's regressive rock, Mister Emerson. Music evolves even within bands, but other artists of the time made a conscious effort then and now to change as much as possible and to always look forwards, experimenting constantly with influences both personal and prevailing, which is why Wendy Carlos tried out reinterpretations of classical pieces and moved onto microtonal composition and ambient records and scores, and why Rush has taken itself from bluesy hard rock to full blown sword-and-sorcery prog to intertwined sythesiser rhythm heaven to grunge and back to hard rock. More than ever, and perhaps not entirely unconnected with one too many setbacks, I'm becoming aware that I'm not the progressive, forward thinking, forward living creature I want to be, ought to be. It's as though I'm stuck in the past, somewhere, whence my life ... stopped. Sometimes it feels like I've been a passenger, slightly disconnected from the world around me and forever mindful of what once was, as though I haven't achieved all the grand plans in my head while the rest of me makes a good enough go of everything. One might be forgiven for thinking that has all the signs of a mind and body always busy doing and being, never taking enough time to reflect; a whirlwind of ideas never fully realised and filed away in the corners of the memory, or yet another notepad and sketchbook.

My day to day thoughts are no longer full to overflowing with a singular goal, and perhaps that's the problem. I can write, if I put my mind to it, and if I have something to write about. And therein lies the paradoxical beauty of constructing entire paragraphs about it.

I ought to be writing about the ongoing task that is the repair of the rusting piece of junk in my garage that serves as a reminder of both a more foolish and cheap me and the event that still haunts me two and a half years later. At the same time the more recent stablemate, old enough practically to be its Mother, has never properly settled in, forever sounding just a little too notchy on the downshift; unappealingly loud to the idle, with a muffled raucousness in neutral; it's the whisper of a clonk when taking a handful of front brake. The increasing eagerness to ride after taking so very long for that confidence to return is being tested sorely when one is always afraid that something else will go wrong. Gentle and infrequent commutes in the dry and the wet cannot build confidence in a rider, nor of her steed. The project to return the big machine to the road has become a black hole of time, money, enthusiasm, and misplaced ratchet straps. I fear that only when the lazy twin finally coughs into life after sleeping so soundly will that spark return. Meanwhile I carry on raiding the parts counters, electronic and bricks-and-mortar, and chip away at the work that remains. By the vice a new pair of those massive forks sits shiny and reassembled, gaiters scrubbed clean, stanchions polished, while the patient sits ever longer propped on its hydraulic jack and, canted over slightly because its fairing frame is twisted, its huge innocent eyes look forlornly towards the workbench.

I ought to be writing -- indeed I made a plan, subsequently ignored -- about trips across to Glasgow to explore the canal and the railways and the River Kelvin, and to meet friends for lunches and a 30 mile cycle here and there. To take the train through lands unknown, to stations rarely tried; the girl with wheels awaits alone the company her counterparts provide. A social gathering certainly, with a participant at once athletic and effusive, yet tired and shrinking. "Friends" is perhaps the wrong word in this particular case, or at the very least perhaps, not the best word; while "acquaintance" fits the situation, to me it still carries a more impersonal overtone than I feel is desirable. At any rate, a guiding hand to what is still a relatively new community will inevitably mean more exposure to newcomers who, with the occasional exception, by definition one doesn't know. Forever welcoming and meeting becomes taxing to those whose energies are recharged in quiet. But simultaneously the sheer need for small doses of that company is a driver that I find difficult to ignore and also difficult to act upon.

Inasmuch as today I'm lacking inspiration, we'll finish with a joke. Actually we won't, not because I have no joke to tell, which is in fact true, but because these were the toe-curlingly cringeworthy words of a lecturer whose name I would have to look up, and, sounding not a million miles away from Seven of Nine's flat instruction, "Fun will now commence", which I intend never, ever to use. The need to put something down on paper however began several days ago but was prompted today by the desire to put into words some thoughts on one of the loveliest pieces of music I've ever heard. It's not another damn prog thing, is it, I hear you ask? Yes, it is, although strictly it isn't Yes. After the first Relayer tour in 1975 the band faffed around for a time, each member working on a solo project. Alan White made Ramshackled, Patrick Moraz made I, Steve Howe made Beginnings, Chris Squire released his tour de force, Fish Out Of Water, but unsurprisingly it was Jon Anderson who stole the show with the beautiful Olias of Sunhillow. Although radioio and tend to play one or another individual song from Olias, to me the album only works as the whole. Anderson may or may not have had help from Vangelis, and may have been completely out of his mind with the concept and the harmonies, but his outlook on life -- then as now -- of the sharing of love and happiness was so carefully wrought that the narrative often becomes another musical instrument in the production. It's the textures of the music I find so appealing: unlike Wakeman, Anderson didn't simply wheel in the old Mellotron for the flutes and violins we all know and love; his toned sounds were mostly the gentlest synthetic kind with a flute-meets-string-meets-oboe, along with his trusty acoustic guitar and beloved harp, and only occasionally did he bring in the rasp of a Moog on sawtooth with the filter cranked up. Anderson layered percussion upon multitracked chants of himself in the vein of We Have Heaven, with accents of glockenspiel and bell trees, all wrapped up in lots of echo. But it's the melodies themselves that are so absolutely gorgeous. Late in the album, Moon Ra segues into Chords, into Song of Search, and the exposed flutey string plays a simple, slow, slightly ethereal line, accompanied by a just-audible stethoscope heartbeat. Bum ... ba bum ... bum ... ba bum. The quiet of the piece is in such contrast to, and so well timed after, the rousing climactic Solid Space and the majesty of Moon Ra and Chords that one is caught in sudden reflection while the music washes over and around. The last minute and a half of the album is a reprise of sorts, with just the sparsest of arrangements that finally bade the listener goodbye as though the music was floating to the sky itself.