Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Estage agents, and into a flat...

So, my tenancy has begun - I have moved into a flat, for a year at least.

Or, more specifically, I have moved all my things into a new flat. I came home for one more night, to return the car i had borrowed for the move. Today I must cycle in with the final trailer-load of stuff. (two parts practical to one part fun; like a very wet martini).

Our estate-agents, who have responsibility for the flat (as it's a managed property), confirmed my thinking on the estate agent business model yesterday. That is, to turn a profit, an estate agent should do as little as possible while collecting in money. IE, they should use as few staff as possible to run as many properties as possible. This seems to be true.

I'd phoned ahead, asking about my keys, and was told to turn up any time after 12 noon. I left it until 16.00 - and they still were not ready. I think my arrival was what prompted them to get keys organized for me - because i was told that someone had gone, at that moment, to have a set cut. I was to meet said person outside the flat - which I did, after another wait. Perhaps they didn't realize key-cutting is a non-instant process.

That said, the flat itself is excellent. Quirky, with small stairs between the split-level floors. It's laid out not quite all on one level, but with insufficient stairs to call the different bits different floors. Confusing, yes - I have no idea what you'd call such an arrangement, but i like it!

Now, to the bike-and-trailer.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

One week pre- new flat...

Hmm, yes - about to start a 12month living in Headington, beginning next week - mildly excited.

I think i might even be ready for it in time, more or less. Am not ready now, of course; that would be premature. But by Tuesday? I should be.

Trying to plan ahead, today, it struck me that the telecoms companies are really poorly geared for what must be a relatively common event. That is, new people moving into a flat, within a larger building, and attempting to set up the phone line, line rental, broadband package etc ahead of time. This is made very difficult. In fact, BT were unable to tell me that the phone line already installed was one of theirs; i deduced this from the non-availability of their competitor, Virgin Media, in the OX3 area.

Or, are my expectations somewhat unusual?

When i arrive in a new house, i'd expect:

- Electricity
- Water
- Heating

all to work from the moment i arrive. I'd expect most people would, too. But to that list, I would add:

- Phone line / Broadband

as a utility, more or less. Yes, I'd expect to need to tinker a little with hardware and settings to get a wireless network up, but in my mind i should have this finished in the first day.

Is this too much to ask? One pointer would be this; when the Education (i think) minister promised a few years back that highspeed internet would become ubiquitous, commonplace, a necessity of 21st century life etc (I'm paraphrasing), going so far as to suggest that government should ensure its provision in every home, the subsequent backpedalling, the U-turn, was an impressive sight.

The sentiment was dialled back. They didn't mean it. That bit about it helping UK industry, about it increasing our competitiveness on the world stage? (paraphrasing again) Oh, that means it can pay for itself. Us? Pay? No...

Ultimately, reliable internet access in the home was classed as a luxury (on the dichotomous necessity/luxury continuum, then being used to assess which items are required to participate in modern society). Except for those families with secondary-school age children, of course; they need it to do their homework. (No, I'm not making this up). The rest of us can go to our local library (9-5, Mon-Sat) and get it for free (really, I'm not).

This might have had some merit, had they not put a TV, and accompanying license therefore (color), firmly in the 'necessity' category. TV would provide an inexpensive source of information on a wide range of things, allowing the citizen to participate in 21st century UK, so the argument went.

So, to be a good citizen, I should have TV but not necessarily internet? I should consume information as it's fed to me, but not seek it out?

Oh dear, my third decade, and I'm still not with the program.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Ah, rain!

Finally, the weather breaks. Heat and humidity give way to proper rain. Fantastic.

I'm right up under the roof, my desk up against a wall which follows its slope. So when rain comes, I get the best of it, and the full sound hammers through the slates.

I have vacuumed what feels like a whole worldful of surfaces today, interspersed with logistic driving-my-family-around. The reward is that I can now sit back, all civilized-like, and read or type under the slate roof. A luxuriant way to end the day.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recipe - modified Ramadan food

This tasty thing came about from:

- my possessing a bag of glutinous black rice, and almost no knowledge regarding its use

- a google search for "glutinous black rice"

- and the subsequent retuning of a Ramadan breakfast recipe I found.


150g glutinous black rice
200ml water
200ml whole milk
1 cardamon, ground
1/2 tub chopped mixed peel
~50g sugar (brown/white to taste)
salt to taste

Soak and rinse rice. Put in pan with water and milk. Bring to boil. Add sugar. Simmer, covered, as gently as possible, for >30mins, stirring occasionally. When thickened, add mixed peel and ground cardamon. Salt to taste. Thicken further until desired consistency is achieved.

This is a long way from the Ramadan recipe (which, among other things, called for a 1:1 relationship of rice to sugar), but it makes a delicious rice pudding with more fibre than most. And, it's purple! (This looks especially cute next to a good coffee).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Grasshopper on a cactus

This evening, a rattling sound came from my windowsill. On the 3rd floor.

Somehow, there was a grasshopper stepping carefully over a cactus. What a masochist!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Norwich to Oxford! Camping!

This was fun. A 165 mile trip, spread over 3 days. By bike!

To Norwich, by train, on 13/07/2008. This is an experience in itself; taking a bike on a train is still not an entirely ordinary thing to do, in the UK. Yes, the train companies promise it's fully acceptable, on paper, and to the government ("look, we are green, honest"), but when it comes to actually allowing it... they do, just. But they don't make it easy. One needs to be fairly pushy, and pretty strong.

But, one gets to Norwich, anyway. And there, people live on boats! With campfires, and space for tents - and a relaxed way of life. Perhaps information-poor (no internet), but idyllic, otherwise.

Then, back to Oxford. Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire. Six counties! England changes, when you travel this far. (Fields of spinach become fields of wheat). And, put a ruler on a map, Norwich to Oxford, and you hit Cambridge halfway - so that's what we did. Half a day to get to Mildenhall, camping under a flightpath, another day to Ridgemont (and amazing lunch in Cambridge), then the rest of the way, to MD's home, on Wednesday.

Afterward, we recovered more easily than the bikes did. (Mine had a repair on the Thursday). And with no ill-will towards them!

Idyllic existence is nice, sometimes.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

An incident, spun thus...

When the headline begins "Death Crash Cyclist", the details are usually all too familiar.

A cyclist and another road user meet. Physically. This does not go well for the cyclist. Cue, in approximate temporal order:
  • lurid imagery
  • apportioning of blame,
  • rationalization of the causes,
  • and a promise that lessons will be learned. Often in the form of an undertaking to redesign the road, the junction, or the cycle facility; rarely in the form of a promise to change future behaviour, from all interested parties.
And so we proceed, much as before.

Today, however, the Metro headline was more sour than sanguine. In full:

Death crash cyclist 'mowed down teen'

What does one say to that? A seemingly complex case, reduced to 'Cyclist did bad thing STOP cyclist inhuman, cyclist bad STOP', perhaps with an undertone of 'cycling bad STOP' thrown in too.

From the few facts in the piece, it would seem that both cyclist and teenagers were acting as humans do. Imperfectly. This death seems a terrible mistake - that the cyclist was on the pavement near these people (why?), that he perhaps could not tell they had been drinking, that one of them would step out at the last minute, unaware of the potential danger, and that he could not avoid the collision once that had happened.

But to equate that to 'mowing down' the bystander, to suggest he meant to cause this injury, this harm, this loss, is monstrous. And unbelievable. Ask any long-standing cyclist; when someone steps out in your path and you collide, it hurts. For both of you.

I've done this, colliding with a pedestrian who stepped into the road without looking. We both had only minor injuries - but i wouldn't choose to repeat the experience. No sensible person would; if this cyclist was insensible enough to, he'd be in need of psychological help, not a sentence.

More facts over at the Daily Mail's article, 'Cyclist killed teenage girl on pavement 'after refusing to swerve to avoid her''. For example, that the cyclist was doing 17 - 23mph. And that the teenager had drunk 2 cans of Stella (5.2% ABV).

And a helpful reminder, from the Daily Mail: "It is illegal to cycle on the pavement". These, the last words of an article which makes it clear, witnesses cannot agree where the cyclist was, road or pavement, when the collision occurred.

But no matter, 'Bad cyclist did bad thing STOP' still sells papers. Who reads this, and feels better for having done so?

(Those links, if reading without html -

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oxford - Cambridge (and back again)...

I visited Cambridge over the weekend. By bike! This was amazing fun, and I'd encourage anyone with even the most minor reason to make the trip, to go for it. It's 85 miles each way, though, so best to be sure you'll make it, or know where there are buses / trains along the route.
Saturday, I left Oxford at about 10.15. The route i used, for anyone keen, was borrowed from Richard Griffin (and is online, at ). He's plotted a pleasant course, using little country roads, avoiding the main ones. That is, imagine that if cars travel along two sides of a triangle, bikes go along the third side, a ~straight line. Which is also incredibly picturesque.

It took about 8 hours, stopping for lunch, to reach Cambridge (pulling up outside King's). There I met PW, a friend of mine from primary school, who's just finished a Law degree there. We ate out with a Historian and some Comp-Scis, all of good (/strange) humour); all-you-can-eat Chinese food, which is ideal for someone after 85 miles by bike. Then took in a Cambridge pub. (Their city's really not that different to here).

Slept on a floor in Corpus, then had breakfast in their (v v ornate Victorian) hall. Then, at about 10.15 again, set off for Oxford! Making it there about 8.5 hours later. Having had an excellent weekend, doing a (mildly crazy) thing - 170 miles in 2 days, for an overnight visit - which i'd planned and looked forward to during my Finals.

There are many photos; ask if you want them!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

CTC Cycle ride 01/03/2008: Oxford - Waterperry - Chearsley - Oxford

A moderate route this time; just over 40 miles. Still more than a year's cycling for an average adult in the UK, though - I should remember that. So, this pastime is a little out of the ordinary, a bit unusual. This weekend, I tried to understand why people do it, why those people spend their Sunday out on quiet roads, on their bikes.

The first thing to note is, they can't all have the same reasons; these are dissimilar people, aged 12 to (um, 70?), brought together by a single shared interest. That said, there is a common thread.

Apart from the 12 yr old, all have jobs, or family, or other commitments to the world. Not one of them is alt lifestyle or itinerant; i'd guess every one of them is on the electoral register. Respectable people! So, on Sundays, they get to act like children. Out in the air and sun all day, looking at the trees and listening to the birds, plodding up hills and whizzing down them on their bikes. (Um, that would be healthy well-behaved children, then, not the C21st UK variety).

Who can blame them? It's fun, even before you add in meeting people with non-overlapping knowledge / specialist fields. There was a new Classics senior lecturer and a physicist out this Sunday, for example, so conversation can include both electromagnetic induction and Pompeii.

Maybe it is escapism. But once a week, why not? This month, Monday to Friday, I'm on an anatomy course, 9 to 5; if i get on a bike at the weekends, who's to know?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

An end

Calm! An end - to exams. For a while. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and i am pleased, but unlike in previous years it didn't sink in immediately. Last Saturday, I walked out of Ewert House exam schools, to meet nice people wishing me well (and bringing garlands and iced cream), but could do not much more than stare straight ahead, bright colours catching my attention. It's taken a week to become functional again. Most of the data in my head has been poured out onto paper, which is a relief.

Recovering I have walked places, cycled, seen my family (and MD's), and seen the steady trickle of people becoming free of Oxford finals. This is great; it's perhaps even better to be present when someone else finishes, than when you do. One is in a state to appreciate the thing, anyhow.

And have had time for all the things that fall to the side during finals; cooking real meals (a different one every time! Not the same thing for 5 days!), staring into space doing nothing, crosswords, human company (plus visitors with news from out of town, always welcome), and even some gaming.

Have been playing Darwinia; it's a really very captivating god game, simple at first and complex as you progress. Today I revelled in finding how to protect the frail little 'Darwinians' of the title; they can be directed in a chosen direction, like lemmings, but once there they mill around, and some get into trouble and die. By setting up directions that loop back on themselves, you can set up an endlessly repeating ring of marching creatures, to keep them safe. Like an airport holding pattern.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


This was my view for a few seconds, out of the window here on Rectory Road. Fireworks! I like these.

They must also be a sign of prosperity - if people are 'feeling the credit crunch', as the papers have it, why are they letting these off? Generous people, anyway - the rest of us benefit from their... um, profligacy?
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 15, 2008

View from my window...

The rain is back. This is wonderful; being cooped up inside doesn't feel so bad. In fact, there's something very reassuring, being warm at a desk inside, looking out at the sky.

Maybe i find this weather familiar. Where I come from it's like this most of the year; the South of England and its months-long summers are something different, something I wasn't born to. Of course, they are comfortable - soon I'll have lived here as long as I did in the North. They're becoming more comfortable every year.

But light rain is still very special, especially with a warm mug / jumper. It makes one more aware of how privileged this time, in this place, really is.

Now playing: Ilkae - Rusty Mittens (Talve Remix)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Queer cycling, or why i like my women's bike...

I'm about 177cm - just short of 5 foot 10, and I ride a girl's bike. Or, as the serious bikey people encourage me to call it, a "stepthrough" frame. My height is exactly average for the population, androgyne, so why do i like this frame?

Turns out, the big difference in a "female-specific" frame (another carefully-worded phrase) is geometry. They're made for "relatively longer legs and shorter torsos". Which describes me!

Hooray for queer bicycling.

And before it's mentioned - no, i don't like it for the wide, squishy "female-specific" saddle. I swapped that for a narrow firm one almost at once. This seems to be a "male-specific" preference, but like many people I can't understand why.

(source -,,2167976,00.html)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cyclists helping cyclists...

I met a kid on his way to school. It was about 10.30 (the community school starts late), and I was just passing him on Magdalen bridge. As I was on the pavement (US) and he was on the pavement (UK), i expected to pass without incident. However just as I came level, he tipped over suddenly and fell off. Not into my path, but I had to check he was ok.

So I pull over, ask him if he's hurt and what happened. He'd caught his trouser-leg in the rear wheel, then tried to brake and stop to free himself. His front brake hadn't worked, and he'd gone down sideways. I offer to take a look - he was only about eleven, in need of help - and he was so surprised! Even more so when i pulled my (very basic) toolkit out and fixed the problem.

The problem - just a worn-down brake pad. It had finally torn open, and wouldn't work at all. The quick fix was to swap it for one of the intact rear ones. The rear brake on most bikes (including my own) is so stiff it's not worth having; my fix should keep him relatively safe until he gets home.

And it made me think, about why he was so surprised at the help. Seems a stupid question at first; in any city, we expect passers-by to pay us as little attention as we pay them. Even when we're in need of help, we expect to have to ask for it, and often a few times before we find someone who will.

Except for when cycling. Because how can you ask people, when they're passing you at 10-12mph or more? When what you need is so specific - a cyclist with tools, and time to share them - that you can hardly hope to find one at random? So the arrangement is, you don't have to.

I learned this when I stopped on the Oxford ring-road cycle path over a year ago, to check a strange noise from the bike. I can't remember what it was, but i know i was looking the bike over. I had tools, but hadn't taken them out as i'd not yet found the issue. A cyclist with no luggage passed by without stopping, just looking to see i wasn't injured. The next one had panniers - and they stopped! He offered help, and his toolkit. I explained i was fine, had everything i needed, and had just found the (non-)problem. And I was as surprised as the kid i helped today.

Since that day it's happened again - the first cyclist with tools to pass me, stops. And now i do it, too. Usually nothing comes of these exchanges, but sometimes people help other people. And that can only be a good thing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

38 miles a year...

Turns out that's how much the average British adult cycles. 61 km if that's more familiar. Data comes from Friday's Guardian - -
and it gets me thinking.

How out of touch have the self-defined cyclists become? How can they, or we, advocate cycling when they / we have forgotten what it was like when we started? To better understand, I measured my most recent shopping trip. The results surprised me.

Cowley Road, Botley Road, Summertown, then back to Cowley Road via Marston Ferry road. Stopped in 3 shops on route. A trip I'd think nothing of, now. Clocks in at - just under 9 miles!

"Jesus, 9 miles? That's like a quarter my annual distance, right there. And I did it without thinking. Maybe I'm not so odd, maybe urban people average higher? [checks regional data] No! Even Londoners average only 53 miles a year! Jesus, I'm an outlier!"

Outlier - that's not good. Falling into the 'cyclist' stereotype would be all too easy from here. I'm white, young, male, healthy - already sounds closer to lycra-clad hedge-stops than relevant cycling advocacy.

Perhaps I should explain how i got onto the bike, and why. I was not a sporty child. My family taught me to ride a bike, but I lived too far from any of my friends to use it. They drove me to primary school, and I took the bus to secondary - again, too far to walk or cycle. Again, too far from friends. I had a steel mountain bike - uncomfortable, with steel rims, bad brakes, heavy, wrong dimensions. I came off it once. I didn't like the thing. It sat in the garage, I sat in the house - I was a gaming and reading teenager. And no way could I ride a bike on the roads.

Then I went to university. I insisted the bike was coming with me; my family indulged me, though i think they doubted i'd use the thing. They were right, at first. I'd insisted it came with me, because that's what Oxford students did - they had a bike, they rode it to lectures, etc etc. I didn't - i walked. I couldn't ride a bike.

I walked at first. 9AM lectures, five days a week. Eventually, when the weather was good, and I knew my way, I cycled. I was slow, unsure, wobbly, and it tired me out. But i knew where i was going. I didn't cycle anywhere i couldn't have walked. I'd start pedalling and be tired almost immediately. But it was definitely getting me there quicker!

Thanks to the bike, i could leave college 5 minutes later. Which meant getting up 5 minutes later. Even unlocking and locking the bike, it still made sense. So i kept going. I rode the same short route hundreds of times, and learned to cope with roads. From college to lectures, i had to:

- turn right from a side road onto a bigger one
- turn right at a crossroads
- and turn right from a side road again

(There were other bits, but these were the hard ones). I learned to cycle doing that, over and over. I'd learned to drive at 17, which helped; i knew how cars behaved, the Highway Code... but it took a long time before i didn't wobble, didn't swerve towards the kerb when traffic passed.

Eventually i realized I was cycling more. I was making journeys i wouldn't have, if I'd had to walk. In the same time, i could go further; I went places i didn't have time to before. I could carry shopping, or go buy stationery, outside the center of town. Cycling gave me the freedom to do that.

Freedom - by cheap, independent transport. It's that simple, and that's why i like to cycle. I shouldn't forget that it wasn't always easy, when I started. Cycling as second nature took a full year, at least, to learn. All too often cyclists forget this, forgetting that dusting off a bike and getting back on it, learning to ride on roads and in traffic, takes time and effort.

So perhaps we need to say not "it's easy, and fun" but "it's worth the effort". For many people, at first, the former just isn't true. But hopefully, the latter will be.

Now playing: Ott - From Trunch to Stromness

Monday, May 5, 2008

Adsense - not on the same, restrictive linear space-time continuum as the rest of us...

So, the sponsored links at the top of my inbox tell me - yes, me, a person who's never lived in London, nor written or received even one email about their election - about this site:

Mayoral Elections 2008 - - Wondering Who To Vote For In The Next Elections? Your Answer Is Here

Today, they tell me. Perhaps, if i'm a Londoner, I should just drop in on last Thursday?

If so, Ken's site is very encouraging; it seems time is permanently stuck at 21.29, May 1st 2008. Half an hour's voting left! Better get there soon - or not, seeing as time's no longer our problem.

Nice to see Adsense is getting paid, anyway.

Things which help in finals

For sanity, for calm, for comfort, during this time:

- Get out! Walk, cycle, run, swim, whatever you can
- Eat properly
- End the day with something, anything, which isn't work

These are helping me, so why not list them?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hugger Mugger

Usage note - this is answer to crossword clue (In confusion (6-6):

Hugger Mugger. Odd, yes. Strange etymology over at Weird Words.

Now playing: Black Dog - [Bytes #1/06] Clan (Mongol Hordes) + Phil (4)

Violence doesn't come out of nowhere...

Wow, so two teenagers have received life sentences for, as the judge put it, "feral thuggery". (BBC link - Sophie Lancaster murder). I'm not going to summarize the case here.

There's another 'out of nowhere' case in the papers - Google A. Joseph and R. Whelan. But that phrase covers up whatever failings were involved, just as the passive "mistakes were made" has come to replace "we made mistakes".

Anyway, my prompt was bumping into my old associate, Oriel's ex-barman. Will not name him here. He now has a lease on his own pub in an Oxford suburb; he's the license-holder. So, he should be on top of the world, yes?

No: he's much quieter than I remember him. He's lost that expansive, trusting friendliness. He's gained a six-inch, curved wound crossing the scalp over his frontal and parietal bones. Oh, and an A&E haircut, accessorized with staples. The result of a "customer" with a >12inch knife.

Human behaviour; what's that about?

Now playing: Black Dog - [Bytes #1/01] Object Orient

Monday, April 28, 2008

CTC Cycle ride 20/04/2008: Oxford - Benson - Maidensgrove - Waterperry - Oxford

64 miles, as an intro to the Oxford city section of the CTC.

This was twice as long as i'd cycled in a day before. But oddly i didn't really suffer! Not for the first 45-50 miles, anyway. (Plug plug plug - Kellogg's cyclometer is about as accurate as the non-free equivalents).

So why do this thing? I've been a student member of the Cyclists' Touring Club since ( Google Mail for receipt...) 29/07/2007. Up until last week, all that involved was reading the magazine every couple of months. In that time i've become more of a cycling zealot (bike maintenance, righteous indignation, proselytizing, the works), and i suppose being fitter than last year helps. Spring, and a good weather forecast, swung the issue.

Sunday, 09:30, I met the CTC section on Broad Street outside Balliol. 12 friendly people! And not all in lycra, as i'd feared. (Ok, the majority were, but not all). Average age maybe 45, range 12 to (maybe) 70? Fit-looking, non-athletes. I'd heard they took it fairly easy, 12mph or so, but still, would I keep up?

They waited until assembled, then headed east out of Oxford. Cycling en masse is a strange feeling; it's still a personal activity, but you gain a reassuring "safety-in-numbers" feeling when you know the group is looking out for you. And the leader takes a regular count to ensure no-one's left behind.

Morning tea stop - Benson services. Full of lycra'ed cyclists! I'd had no idea there'd be so many of them out (or even that this community existed), but it's welcome.

Lunch - Maidensgrove, in (i assume) the "5 horseshoes" pub. With CTC company; v welcoming people. Discovered one of them is a morris dancer; not sure what i'm in for.

Afternoon tea stop - Waterperry Gardens. Yes, they took tea twice. Thoroughly, unapologetically English behaviour - but welcome. I'd have been hypoglycaemic without it.

And a final leg home. Countryside, all day, and good air. Mmm, food afterwards was incredible; real hunger is worth feeling once every so often. And a full day's exercise; it puts a ridiculous grin on one's face for a long time afterward. (Getting outside the Oxford ring road helps, too).

---------------- Now playing: blamstrain - [stress and consequences] holkop max

No more Ordinal numbers. Cycling with Oxford CTC...

Hmm. So a paper record of events is nearly unnecessary. It's slow and inconvenient, too. Will nonetheless persist for a) writing practice and b) recordkeeping where technology is still C20th.

(Redundancy, too. Weekly summarized hard-copy backup. Put like that, handwriting still sounds useful).

So, thing to report: Cycle with Oxford City CTC

This was last Sunday's ride, 20/04/2008. Deserves its own post. Will get it, after the break...

Now playing: blamstrain - [Lowblow #1/15] 17 Days (Prince) BLMSTRNRMX

First Post!

Hmm. Now,
Let's see....