Category Archives: Happenings

Cycling Proficiency For Total Nerns*

First please understand that I am not Jeremy Clarkson and I am not a total killjoy and I am in fact a cyclist myself. ‘Am’ may be a slight inaccuracy given that I had my bike stolen two years ago and have been borrowing my sister’s ever since. But I did used to cycle everywhere back in Old Home Town, and I come from a family of People Who Cycle. My grandfather used to race, I believe. So I’m definitely qualified to have this rant. Obviously.

Anyway, there are a lot of people out there who just shouldn’t be allowed to ride bikes. Ever. At all. Anywhere. At least not without reading this handy little list of Things You Bloomin’ Well Ought To Know first. So – here it is.

  • A basic, boring point, that I wish I could say I think all cyclists in Britain already know. You cycle on the left-hand side of the left-hand lane on the road. Not in the middle of the lane, certainly not in the middle of the road, no – you cycle exactly a foot from the kerb if not less. If you don’t have the control over your bike to stick to this, go and practice in your local supermarket car park in the dead of night. Or a school playground. Or your local park. When no-one else is about and assuming that you’re lucky enough to live near a park in which you probably won’t get knifed or mugged whilst trying to do this.
  • Stick your left arm out when you want to go left and your right arm out when you want to go right. Technically you should also flap your right arm about when you’re slowing down to a stop but no-one does this so you’ll probably just confuse people. You should also indicate when you’re pulling in and pulling out too, just like you would in a car.
  • This one is so insanely obvious that I could cry. Yes, you’re making me cry. You do not have wing-mirrors, OK? So you’re less reliant on visual cues than most other road-users. You’re also bloody vulnerable. So WEARING EARPHONES IS KILL-ME-NOW LEVELS OF STUPID. Okay? Do I need to go into this in more detail?
  • On the wing-mirror thing – look over your shoulder. Seriously. Whenever you do anything. As if you were in a car. Remember?
  • Technically it’s illegal to ride on the pavement. If you’re a total idiot, though, I think most people are probably happier if you stick to the pavement on big roads at busy times – as long as there are absolutely no pedestrians or plenty of room to ride round them. If there isn’t room to ride round get off the bike. You’re too stupid to deserve to ride it anyway and it’s best for all of us otherwise I might just lose it and beat you to death with my shoe. You’ll have to wait while I take it off though.
  • The legal position on lights is that you have them full-on when you’re riding in the dark, and flashing while you’re walking your bike along. You have to have a white front light and a red back light. You should not ride with flashing lights, this is just stupid, people will have no idea that you’re on the road and actually cycling at a decent pace.
  • Bags on handlebars really aren’t terribly clever. I have learnt this from personal experience. Handbags over the back or shoulder aren’t great either. Really your options are to get a basket or panniers or leave your possessions behind or wear a rucksack because otherwise the off-balance weight and swinging of the bag will, someday, pull you off your bike, or get caught in the spokes or something. Not ideal.
  • If you are sharing space with pedestrians – there are, after all, plenty of shared pedestrian/cyclist paths – get, and use, a bell.
  • Please use your brain, idiot. If you have one of those New Cameregg child-trailers that basically turns your bike into a mini-rickshaw (personally I think these are daft, I mean, at what point is it a good idea to put your toddlers a foot above the ground, on the road, with nothing more than a tent and a large flag to warn other people of their presence? You wouldn’t put your kid’s play-tent up in the middle of the road, would you – so how is it suddenly a good idea just because it has wheels?) then please remember it is not a fucking snow plough and don’t use it on narrow pedestrian/cycle routes. The whirring of your wheels really isn’t sufficient warning to me that I’m just about to get swept off my feet and knocked into the brambles and to be honest I don’t really want you to use your bell in order to warn me that this is about to happen so that I can voluntarily hurl myself into the brambles instead. So. Baby-trailers. Not a good plan on the roads for the sake of your children; not a good idea on the pavements for the sake of everyone else in the entire world.
  • If, as a cyclist, you’re not sure how to negotiate a big junction or a roundabout or something, get off and walk. Seriously. It might just save my blood pressure if I don’t have to stand on the pavement and watch you improvise your way around the junction, narrowly avoiding death and causing thirty cases of road rage along the way.

I think that’s probably about it. I would like to point out that I have witnessed examples of all the above today (or at the very least, this week) on my walk home from work. I didn’t actually end up in the brambles, if only because Mr New Cameregg Trailer Guy just happened to cycle past me on a bit of the path which was mercifully surrounded by green and verdant lawns. I had to do some fairly nifty diving to avoid him, though. And no, I didn’t get a word of apology. After all, Mr NCTG was being super-environmentally-virtuous and we mere mortals, just walking, which somehow doesn’t have the same environmental caché, these days, does it?

Sorry, chaps. I mean, I’m all in favour of cycling. I think it’s a quick, enjoyable and environmentally sound way to travel whilst getting fit and seeing some nice scenery (if you’re lucky enough to live or work or socialise somewhere pretty) but I do think there are ways of doing it, and ways of doing it seriously wrong. And I know I’m not perfect as a cyclist I’m sure – I can be overconfident, I almost certainly ought to wear a helmet, and I have a terrible habit of ending up trying to cycle in inappropriate shoes or skirts and therefore concentrating more on not flashing approaching drivers than I am concentrating on the serious business of Neither Dying Nor Killing Anyone. But at least I know what I’m doing and now – with my handy guide – so do you.

*Nern is a family in-joke. It seemed appropriate here and is roughly equivalent to total and utter retard, without any of the non-PC connotations of that word, being as how my mother made it up one day under no provocation whatsoever.

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Herding Cats

Having friends is a bit like herding cats. You’re all busy, there’s lots going on, so you can’t communicate as much as you’d like and anyway you don’t really know if you’re even in the country next Tuesday, and there are things you all want to meet up and do, it’s just a question of when, and what is the critical mass of people – the fewest number of attendees you need before this stops being fun. So surely everyone hates organising stuff just as much as I do because it’s actually more akin to playing chess in your head but you don’t know for certain how many pieces are on the board or how big the board is. And then most of the time it actually all works out – enough people coincide in place and time in the right clothes and the right frame of mind and it’s all dandy. But goodness it’s hard work getting to that point.

You’re all my friends on the Internet *creepy smile* so we never have this problem, do we *even creepier smile*?

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Eternal Sunshine

If you haven’t seen this film and want to, look away now. It’s not really about the film as such so much as the concept. But what I’m going to say in this post will almost certainly tell you everything you really didn’t want to go in to watching the film for the first time knowing.

Right, you’ve had your warning. Basically it’s about memory, and about a service which removes peoples’ memories of a certain person or event. So of course it is primarily used by distressed ex-lovers trying to get their beloved ex-girlfriend or -boyfriend out of their head in order to move on with their lives. And as you know, I hope, two characters erase one another and then one way or another discover that they have erased one another, discover where all their old memories are, and fall in love again. I can’t remember whether they actually regain their old memories of each other, or merely discover that they had them – it wasn’t made clear, and I wasn’t concentrating. Anyway, there you go. I was watching this recently whilst doing some boring room-sorty thing, and it made me think a bit. One obvious question: if there’s a reason why you broke up, surely if you can’t remember anything about your entire previous relationship history is basically doomed to repeat itself and you’ll end up going through the same break-up and then probably discovering this memory-wiping service again… and so it goes on.

But the other thing that really troubled me was this: every time I’ve really fallen for someone, they’ve usually had a big influence on my life, as a friend or a partner, whatever. I’ve learnt a lot from those people and experiences about myself, and I’ve learnt some valuable lessons and changed a lot as a result of those relationships. Anyone you’re close to like that, be they a best friend or a boyfriend, will change you in some way, not necessarily in a bad way, just in that everyone we meet affects the course of our lives and the way we think about stuff in one way or another. We learn valuable lessons from the people we encounter all the time. So if you wipe the memories of that person, who or what do you become? If, as a result of your relationship with a person, you’ve become more confident and trusting, say, do you carry on being more confident and trusting – or, with no known reason to have those characteristics, do you lose them because they no longer tie in with your personal narrative, do you forget those lessons because you no longer have the memories of having learnt them and therefore to all intents and purposes never did learn those things? To be honest, I think the latter is more likely, though I couldn’t say why.

I wouldn’t change a second of my life, really. I’ve made some stupid choices and I’ve met people who have hurt me a lot and whom I have allowed to hurt me. I’ve had bad days and good days, bad years and good years, I have regrets, we all do – but in a world where all of those things hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So, given the choice, I’d keep those memories. What do you think?

P.S. I’m getting confirmed today. So that’s the subject of my next post, when I get the time… .

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Motorbike

Say what you like – about people who ride motorbikes, about how dangerous it is, about the clothes and the culture and all the rest of it – you’re basically almost entirely wrong. I’ll admit that if you ahve an accident on a bike you’re more likely to end up horribly injured (I would have thought) or perhaps it’s just that you’re more likely to be involved in an accident because of all that leaning and wheeling about you do on corners.

So let’s forget all our preconceptions for a few minutes. The other day I rode on a motorbike for the first time. A friend (confusingly, A – although a different A from the A I’ve usually mentioned before under that initial) came over with cookies and strawberries and prosciutto and bread rolls, and I provided some leaves (well, salad, actually), and we headed over to the park and had a picnic in the sunshine (why have I never done this before? it was beautiful). We spent the afternoon there, my face burnt, there was an adorable baby in view for several hours although that said I also realised how much hard work is involved in even having a pleasant family day out for four when two of you are still less than two foot high – you can’t just relax around the barbecue, there’s constant chasing and cleaning and entertaining and feeding and soothing to be done and it didn’t look like either parent got much time just to sit and stare. So maybe I won’t have children just yet… .

So we had a beautiful afternoon, and then I had somewhere else to be going, and we had arranged that A would take me to the pub which was where I was going, but if needs be I could take the train and be picked up by another friend if I wimped out on the bike front. I didn’t wimp out. We did a little test drive – out on the main road to the edge of the city and along to the next small village, mainly sticking to quite slow speeds, a route that took in a few experimental roundabouts so I could get used to cornering, which is quite hard – if you’re riding pillion, don’t move your head, it’s the heaviest bit of you. Sit on the back of the bike like a sack of potatoes, don’t lean one way or the other but just follow exactly what the person you’re hugging is doing – basically, deliberately, don’t do anything. Ignore everything your instincts try to tell you about Physics – they’re wrong.

The scariest bit, actually, was the helmet, just because I’m a touch claustrophobic. As I put it on I kept thinking, oh god, what if I want to take it off? what if I need to take it off? despite not having any good reason to wish to do so. I don’t like pulling things over my head that are so tight that I have to take my glasses off to get them on.

But then once on the bike, in the sunshine, speeding along, engine thrumming seemingly all around me, children gawping, adults glancing out of their traffic stopped cars in obvious envy, wild and fast and, well, wow. So we ate some more of our picnic, had a few cups of tea, got a bit more sunburned, and set off.

Faster, further, the sun setting and the scenery stunning, more envious, amazed children, and the fantastic revelation that you can get TomTom on your iphone and listen to the directions through earphones, which was pretty cool. For A, I mean, not me, and obviously it was kind of standard to him, but there we go.

And finally, having got a little lost, we pulled into the pub, a bit late, and there was everyone else in the pub garden, and me waving from the back of a motorbike, and the complete amazement of at least some of my friends because who would have guessed in a million years that secretly Jenny Mohan had kind of always wanted to ride on a motorbike, and now she had, and perhaps her hair was flattened but her grin most certainly was not.

Sadly given the way I live and the things I do it makes a lot more sense for me to have a car than a bike. But I’m definitely up for riding pillion again, at least.

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Today…

…I swam in a river, went to a spectacular pub I was not old enough to appreciate when I was there last, watched the football, did some useful work, and fell asleep unobtrusively in corners. The Budget featured lots in the news and I’m still making up my mind about what I think about it. Reactionary leftie self objects, sensible middle-of-road self approves cautiously, Tory incubus is grinning in a dark corner somewhere. I need to know more, first.

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Success

I wasn’t sure if it was him, walking towards me. He had the same arrogant lumbering gait, all testosterone and shoulders, and the friend with him also looked familiar, and I was somewhere where I would not have been surprised to see him. For a few seconds all I was aware of was how my heartbeat seemed to be making time slow down, every sound muffled, my mouth drying out. I nearly turned round – wanting to run I would instead have just walked, fast, in that way you do at school because you’re late and you’re not allowed to run in the corridors. But I thought, no, don’t be daft, and I kept on walking, and it wasn’t him, and gradually the rest of the world flooded back into focus.

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So This Is Where We Are

Home now – building works. A three-storey tent (C and I both independently coined this description so it must be true). A loo in the attic, cold tap in the kitchen three floors below, brick dust everywhere, shoes on all the time, cats traumatised, tempers fraying, and a vanful – all my wordly goods – on the front room floor, no route to the piano even, until they’ve put my new skylight in and me and my room are left in relative peace.

Shadowing researchers round the university. Labs, day old mice pups, killed quickly though I won’t tell you how in case it makes you squirm. Microscopes, centrifuges, familiar technology, techniques (Western blotting, cell culturing) heard about and now to be seen and learned, Nanotechnology, collaborations across all kinds of fields of expertise, building condemned though to my eyes stunning. Showers (and thank goodness – options at home = washing-up bowl, kettle, what a performance) in the basement, splashy, motion-sensitive timer-switch controlled and a little chilly but heaven as far as I’m concerned), day flashed past. Sister, tears, tension, fear, homecoming, guilt; I never tell her how proud I am of her, how I tell all my friends about all the things she does, how much I love her – but I never say these things to her, it’s not my way, I suppose.

American quilts, trains, buses, food, drink, pubs and friends and plans and hopes and sunshine which I am rarely able to go out in. New year, I feel, every summer, not winter – I mean, here it all is, being new.

I’m mainly just glad to have clean hair.

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Geeks & Nerds

So XKCD’s current strip is on the difference between Geeks and Nerds. According to XKCD you’re a geek if you’re specifically into something – so you can be a music geek, a baseball geek, a maths geek, etc.; nerds are ‘(often awkward) science, math or computer geeks’.

I don’t agree. I think you’re a nerd if your interest in one specific thing (preferably something nerdy, but then everything at an obsessive level is nerdy, perhaps?) is verging on the all-consuming; you’re a geek if, well, it’s hard to explain, but I think it’s about being intelligent and interested in a number of things to a level which surpasses decent small-talk with your grandmother – you know, she’d never understand whatever you told her about your degree or your new computer or the films you like watching. Your degree subject only counts if you talk about it a lot when you’re not talking about actual work you’re doing or have to get done. So A is a geek because he’s always telling me to read this or read that or about some philosophical thing he’s studying and he’s obviously mainly interested in those things; my housemates, two of whom study politics, never talk about that when they’re not ‘on the job’ and only talk about drunken gossip and so on.

Perhaps it’s about being comfortable with your intelligence and intellectual curiosity and thinking that getting engaged with something interesting and out of the ordinary and not just about what’s for tea or who’s sleeping with whom* is an acceptable way of having a conversation. I think it is. But then, I’m a geek.

What do you think? Also, are you automatically a geek if you keep a blog?

*Not that these things aren’t fascinating. I love gossip, clothes, scandal, stupid humour and what’s-in-the-fridge as much as the next person. But then, you knew that.

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Mad World

There are some strange things out there. That doesn’t mean all Christians are strange. But I think this is pretty strange, and this is even stranger, and if you need a good giggle, or just to raise your eye-brows in mild shock and consternation, or just the excuse to stop reading about mast cells, Major Histocompatibility Complex proteins, anything with weird greek letters in, or your packing list (yeah, you think your day was bad?), well, click on those links. You’ll get the idea pretty quickly.

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So Today I Need Reminding Of All The Good Stuff

I could bitch about all manner of things right now I’m sure if I tried, and because I’m in such a bad mood, instead, for my benefit rather than yours, you’re going to get a list of good things:

  1. I’m not dead.
  2. I have a rather nice tan.
  3. I don’t have skin cancer yet.
  4. I’m not utterly terrible at the violin.
  5. I have a beautiful new jacket.
  6. The heatwave was lovely although I could do with more of it.
  7. My exam isn’t tomorrow.
  8. I have the best work experience ever (never mind that I haven’t otherwise planned anything for the summer, I’ll just assume it’ll consist of pubs and the odd barbecue and hopefully a festival or two and in fact my 21st birthday).
  9. I’m not actually panicking about my 21st yet which is definitely a good thing. I’ve even formulated a vague plan or two.
  10. I live on a planet where there are such things as hammocks, which is good, even if I don’t actually own one. I will.
  11. I like both being busy and bitching about how busy I am and currently I am doing quite a lot of both.
  12. I have plans. Evil, wonderful plans. Involving madrigals and cake and probably a salmon.
  13. I still haven’t found the time for this week’s Doctor Who, which means that I still have that treat left to come.
  14. Apparently the entirety of Whose Line Is It Anyway is on 4od. I’ve never watched it but if my sister thinks it’s funny she’s probably right. Not thatI’ll ever get time to watch it, but hey. It has to be cheerier than Ashes to Ashes, right? Although that was pretty brilliant.

Hey, look, I thought I was going to struggle to reach ten. And there. Fourteen, easy.

Yeah, you’re right. Testicles.

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