Ticket To Ride

I’m sitting in the bar at Preston station with a pint of Newcastle Brown. I could have bought Aldi Brown at a fraction of the cost five minutes down the road and swigged it out on the platform in the freezing cold. But the bar offers the attraction of global warmth so I’m using that as justification. This’ll be the slowest pint I’ve downed in many a long day.
The tannoy is announcing delays on all manner of services: I just hope mine in ninety minutes time doesn’t join the list: my train did at least leave Euston on time half an hour ago.
I’ve been down south for the last twenty four hours, courtesy of my work Christmas night out: there can’t be many people who travel 200 miles for a team swally but that’s basically what happened yesterday. Our team is tight knit but widely spread; we work by screen sharing, conference calls and intermittent meetings: we call it agile. But Liverpool is our hub.
When yesterday’s storm acquired a name (Caroline) earlier in the week, I made a strategic decision to best guarantee my night out. My train ticket had me travelling on the local rattler from Stewarton to Car Loyal, then changing for a booked seat on the Virgin (Landan) train, exiting (as opposed to merely being excited) at Preston. That Car Loyal to Preston jaunt was the leg that defined the whole journey because all the other trains were any choo choo.
Our line out of Stewarton (going either way) is arguably the most unreliable in Scotland. Station skipping to make up lost time is an everyday occurrence, with full blown cancellations not that far behind, especially on the longer cross country route down to Car Loyal.
So it was with some trepidation that I planned my journey for yesterday morning. My natural train out of Stewarton was the 10:40, leaving a fifteen minute changeover at Car Loyal. However with the wind blowing at 50mph through the night, I wasn’t for chancing that. I briefly contemplated going for the nine o’clock but when I woke at 6am, I thought “sod it, let’s push the boat out and make it the 07:38”. Even it was late….
Halfway down the line to the border, I got first wind of trouble ahead. “Obstruction on the line between Penrith and Oxenholme: services suspended until at least noon”. This is the very definition of why you need a contingent mindset and be able to think on your feet. Cue old trainspotter mode. In the hour between Sanquhar and the border, I’d sussed that there were emergency replacement buses operating between Car Loyal and Preston. A more relevant question however was whether a ticket that stipulated a one o’clock booking would entitle me to a bus seat at 10am. I needn’t have worried….
Virgin staff were plentiful on arrival at Car Loyal and I quickly sussed that their only objective was to see people on their way: no questions asked about tickets. “Just follow those barriers, sir, and you’ll find a bus waiting”. Almost right… there were two! With no ticket checks on the buzz either, we were on our way within minutes, whizzing down the M6 with the West Coast Main Line silent. There was a moment of fleeting interest just after Penrith when we entered what appeared to be a rolling road block. I’d clocked a squad car on the hard shoulder five minutes earlier but thought nothing of it. What then transpired came straight out of Wacky Races meets the Sweeney. A motor flew down the outside lane doing about 80-90, hotly pursued by two polis ice cream motors: lights, sirens, the full works. The pursuee dived across two carriageways followed by the polis: one polis shot across the bow of the dude in the middle lane in front of us while the other polis took him by the stern: bet he near shat himself: scary stuff in a rolling roadblock. The last I saw of all three motors was the polis chasing the pursuee up the hard shoulder over Shap at a rate of knots.
After that, Liverpool was a gimme. I was there two hours ahead of schedule and just as today’s bottle of Newcastle tastes good, so did the pint of Exmas in ‘Spoons opposite Lime Street Station. From thereonin, the night took care of itself, as these things have a habit of doing, although I would like to mention that you couldn’t shut the bathroom door in my Travelodge dig with the toilet seat down. I guess the builder guy had just one job (see what I did there?) and fucked it up: there was a millimetre between the swinging door and the pan.
This trip has been my second epic jolly of the week. On Sunday I Megabussed it up to Aberdeen (and back) for the inaugural trustee meeting of the Eileidh Rose Rainbow Charity Trust. I guess I’m still coming to terms with having been asked, but it was nice to finally meet up with the other guys n gals who are helping Gail to create a lasting legacy for wee Puddles. As luck would have it, I travelled up the way on a City Link Gold coach which I’d previously read about but never experienced first hand. Padded leather seats and a table for every passenger: how’s that for starters? It’s a shame the WiFi didn’t work but I wasn’t expecting the free coffee (x2), scones (with butter and jam) and cookies that came as part of the deal. I hadn’t got the heart to tell the cookie man that I was travelling on my codger’s buzz pass. All that for a 50p booking fee was a remarkable deal indeed.
As you may have gathered, all this galavanting about on trains and buzzes has messed big time with the LCFN schedule. Two weeks of hee haw miles going into this week was all I needed to keep the intermittent nature of my current attitude intact. I did manage out on Monday and Tuesday, banking something akin to my normal workload, but Wednesday was a write off as I’d to wait in for a delivery man after some pressing work commitments.
I haven’t got back up the road yet (obviously) but I’m expecting some ultra low temperatures that might invariably keep me off the wheels in the coming days. Gone are the days when I was prepared to risk life and limb on ice. Almost two years on from the thumb incident that wrecked my calendar year of two hundred milers, I still have residual pain from that black ice crash. There is little incentive to repeat that going forward.
In any case, Goldie is still off the road, awaiting a new box of tricks for the gear changer that sits outside the hub. My old road bike (now the reserve) is back on the road but I’m loathe to report that the gears are all over the place: they’re jumping, the chain is ripping round the front chain ring if you give it too much welly and riding out of the saddle is a no-no for both of those reasons. In its current condition, hills are to be avoided (difficult round our way) and speed has to be kept in check. Frankly, riding the reserve bike has become a balancing act of effort versus output.
What is going to happen however, assuming I can get out the door a couple of times over the coming days, is 9,000 miles for 2017. It’s a shame that the 10K dream went swirling down the plughole but hey ho, I’m still in one piece, even if my machinery isn’t. I’m also only three or four outings shy of 1.8 million feet of climbing since the off: that equates to over 400 ascents of Ben Nevis, or one every two and a half days if you prefer it that way: that’s on top of the miles.
Going back to this trip for a moment, while I was legging it to the night out last night, I passed the Beatle Experience at Albert Dock. I stuck my nose in the Fab Four shop and thought for a nanosecond about doing all my Christmas shopping in a wanna. Did I? Ask yourself whether you would risk trailing a load of poly bags around while you were getting progressively more wrecked. That’ll be a no then. I guess I’ll never know whether Jane would have appreciated a pink tee shirt with The Beatles emblazoned across the front.
Not to worry, despite that fact that I’m worn out and will probably sleep on the train back north (which is now due in a mere fifteen minutes), it was good to have a Ticket To Ride.
I’m sitting in the bar at Preston station with a pint of Newcastle Brown. I could have bought Aldi Brown at a fraction of the cost five minutes down the road and swigged it out on the platform in the freezing cold. But the bar offers the attraction of global warmth so I’m using that as justification. This’ll be the slowest pint I’ve downed in many a long day.
The tannoy is announcing delays on all manner of services: I just hope mine in ninety minutes time doesn’t join the list: my train did at least leave Euston on time half an hour ago.
I’ve been down south for the last twenty four hours, courtesy of my work Christmas night out: there can’t be many people who travel 200 miles for a team swally but that’s basically what happened yesterday. Our team is tight knit but widely spread; we work by screen sharing, conference calls and intermittent meetings: we call it agile. But Liverpool is our hub.
When yesterday’s storm acquired a name (Caroline) earlier in the week, I made a strategic decision to best guarantee my night out. My train ticket had me travelling on the local rattler from Stewarton to Car Loyal, then changing for a booked seat on the Virgin (Landan) train, exiting (as opposed to merely being excited) at Preston. That Car Loyal to Preston jaunt was the leg that defined the whole journey because all the other trains were any choo choo.
Our line out of Stewarton (going either way) is arguably the most unreliable in Scotland. Station skipping to make up lost time is an everyday occurrence, with full blown cancellations not that far behind, especially on the longer cross country route down to Car Loyal.
So it was with some trepidation that I planned my journey for yesterday morning. My natural train out of Stewarton was the 10:40, leaving a fifteen minute changeover at Car Loyal. However with the wind blowing at 50mph through the night, I wasn’t for chancing that. I briefly contemplated going for the nine o’clock but when I woke at 6am, I thought “sod it, let’s push the boat out and make it the 07:38”. Even it was late….
Halfway down the line to the border, I got first wind of trouble ahead. “Obstruction on the line between Penrith and Oxenholme: services suspended until at least noon”. This is the very definition of why you need a contingent mindset and be able to think on your feet. Cue old trainspotter mode. In the hour between Sanquhar and the border, I’d sussed that there were emergency replacement buses operating between Car Loyal and Preston. A more relevant question however was whether a ticket that stipulated a one o’clock booking would entitle me to a bus seat at 10am. I needn’t have worried….
Virgin staff were plentiful on arrival at Car Loyal and I quickly sussed that their only objective was to see people on their way: no questions asked about tickets. “Just follow those barriers, sir, and you’ll find a bus waiting”. Almost right… there were two! With no ticket checks on the buzz either, we were on our way within minutes, whizzing down the M6 with the West Coast Main Line silent. There was a moment of fleeting interest just after Penrith when we entered what appeared to be a rolling road block. I’d clocked a squad car on the hard shoulder five minutes earlier but thought nothing of it. What then transpired came straight out of Wacky Races meets the Sweeney. A motor flew down the outside lane doing about 80-90, hotly pursued by two polis ice cream motors: lights, sirens, the full works. The pursuee dived across two carriageways followed by the polis: one polis shot across the bow of the dude in the middle lane in front of us while the other polis took him by the stern: bet he near shat himself: scary stuff in a rolling roadblock. The last I saw of all three motors was the polis chasing the pursuee up the hard shoulder over Shap at a rate of knots.
After that, Liverpool was a gimme. I was there two hours ahead of schedule and just as today’s bottle of Newcastle tastes good, so did the pint of Exmas in ‘Spoons opposite Lime Street Station. From thereonin, the night took care of itself, as these things have a habit of doing, although I would like to mention that you couldn’t shut the bathroom door in my Travelodge dig with the toilet seat down. I guess the builder guy had just one job (see what I did there?) and fucked it up: there was a millimetre between the swinging door and the pan.
This trip has been my second epic jolly of the week. On Sunday I Megabussed it up to Aberdeen (and back) for the inaugural trustee meeting of the Eileidh Rose Rainbow Charity Trust. I guess I’m still coming to terms with having been asked, but it was nice to finally meet up with the other guys n gals who are helping Gail to create a lasting legacy for wee Puddles. As luck would have it, I travelled up the way on a City Link Gold coach which I’d previously read about but never experienced first hand. Padded leather seats and a table for every passenger: how’s that for starters? It’s a shame the WiFi didn’t work but I wasn’t expecting the free coffee (x2), scones (with butter and jam) and cookies that came as part of the deal. I hadn’t got the heart to tell the cookie man that I was travelling on my codger’s buzz pass. All that for a 50p booking fee was a remarkable deal indeed.
As you may have gathered, all this galavanting about on trains and buzzes has messed big time with the LCFN schedule. Two weeks of hee haw miles going into this week was all I needed to keep the intermittent nature of my current attitude intact. I did manage out on Monday and Tuesday, banking something akin to my normal workload, but Wednesday was a write off as I’d to wait in for a delivery man after some pressing work commitments.
I haven’t got back up the road yet (obviously) but I’m expecting some ultra low temperatures that might invariably keep me off the wheels in the coming days. Gone are the days when I was prepared to risk life and limb on ice. Almost two years on from the thumb incident that wrecked my calendar year of two hundred milers, I still have residual pain from that black ice crash. There is little incentive to repeat that going forward.
In any case, Goldie is still off the road, awaiting a new box of tricks for the gear changer that sits outside the hub. My old road bike (now the reserve) is back on the road but I’m loathe to report that the gears are all over the place: they’re jumping, the chain is ripping round the front chain ring if you give it too much welly and riding out of the saddle is a no-no for both of those reasons. In its current condition, hills are to be avoided (difficult round our way) and speed has to be kept in check. Frankly, riding the reserve bike has become a balancing act of effort versus output.
What is going to happen however, assuming I can get out the door a couple of times over the coming days, is 9,000 miles for 2017. It’s a shame that the 10K dream went swirling down the plughole but hey ho, I’m still in one piece, even if my machinery isn’t. I’m also only three or four outings shy of 1.8 million feet of climbing since the off: that equates to over 400 ascents of Ben Nevis, or one every two and a half days if you prefer it that way: that’s on top of the miles.
Going back to this trip for a moment, while I was legging it to the night out last night, I passed the Beatle Experience at Albert Dock. I stuck my nose in the Fab Four shop and thought for a nanosecond about doing all my Christmas shopping in a wanna. Did I? Ask yourself whether you would risk trailing a load of poly bags around while you were getting progressively more wrecked. That’ll be a no then. I guess I’ll never know whether Jane would have appreciated a pink tee shirt with The Beatles emblazoned across the front.
Not to worry, despite that fact that I’m worn out and will probably sleep on the train back north (which is now due in a mere fifteen minutes), it was good to have a Ticket To Ride.

Goldielocked

I guess if this game was easy, everyone would be doing it. I guess I knew deep down inside that the great run through the twilight months of 2017 wouldn’t last forever. You’ll remember that last week I was being plagued by farmers and their thorns…

This week has been worse: much, much worse. In all honesty, I’m not sure it could have turned out much worse.

Last week, remember, I got puncture in the dark, in the rain, ten miles fae hame and accepted a lift from Jane to get me back in one piece. Goldie was off the road for a few days, not just because of the repair, but because there were some snagging issues to sort out on the bike (with it being a custom build and still relatively new) so Neil had it for most of the week.

The writing on the wall, if you get my drift, lay in the fact that I still had three more bikes in the shed and didn’t go out on the intervening days. I ask myself, quite sincerely, is that the wee hole in the wall, the wee leak in the dyke? For four years, I’ve fought against moments, thoughts, negativity like that, and I’ve always managed to come through. But last week got to me. Rubbish weather, low temperatures… and missing Goldie.

It was like I’d forgotten my roots and it didn’t sit well with me.

I need to put this into some kind of perspective: for the past four years, I’ve kept on upscaling my machinery in order to keep the show on the road: I started out with a folding bike, then swapped onto a mountain bike, followed by a tourer, then a road bike, which I wore out inside the warranty period, then I got another one, and now I have Goldie. There is no corporate sponsor of LCFN.

Goldie is to do me until the end.

The whole point of Goldie is that it’s meant to do away with gears that change of their own accord, sometimes two or three at a time: there’s been a certainty in the gear change that I’ve gown accustomed to, and liked…

Until last Sunday.

The Rohloff Speed Hub cost me an arm and a leg: it was our mam’s lasting gift to LCFN. She would have been 92 today, and the fact that she was dismissed for 91 owes as much to a fight with a member of staff while she was looking for the toilet in the wee small hours, as it does for her dementia and frailty. There are a few in our family who saw her going on to raise her bat and open the telegram.

The major snagging issues with Goldie were to do with finding the optimum handlebar position and curing a difficult gear change from higher to lower gears midway through the range. So while the bike was in getting Smartguard bombproof tyres fitted, I asked Neil to sort the gear change.

I was short of time on Saturday, predominantly because of work and ice on the roads. I only got out for a short spin and because time was of the essence, I made it a #ForeverFive. That will always be my get out card if I don’t have time to do proper miles. #ForeverFive miles will always be forever Eileidh.

Sunday: got the bike out of the shed and set off: the gears wouldn’t change down. Because there’s no dial to tell you what gear you’re in, you’ve no way of telling except by feel. In normal operation that doesn’t matter because feel is fine: a specific number isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. But I was stuck in a big gear and no way was that shifting.

Panicking, my first thought was “has the hub gone”? That would be disastrous. Rohloff hubs are supposed to be good for 60K miles and this one’s only done 800. I had no option but to curtail the outing because if I’d got out of town, there’s no way I would have got back up the the hills.

What did I do? #ForeverFive. Again

Goldie went into Neil’s shop on Monday, and together we spent about two hours trying this, reading that, exploring this, tweaking that. No joy.

The only thing we do know is that the Rohloff hub changes gear fine using a spanner (not much use when you’re out on the road mind). When I went for the Rohloff, I also opted for a set of Cinq 5 gear shifters because I wanted traditional drop bars. The default twist grip Rohloff shifter is for flat (straight bars): I didn’t want them.

It didn’t take us long to work out that the clever wee box of tricks in the Cinq 5 controller was seized. The beauty of the Cinq 5 shifters is that one shifter moves the gears up: the other one moves them down. But these ones would’ve move either way. Stuck in 12th

So the box of tricks is away to whence it came for repair/replacement. I don’t want it to be a repair. My confidence in that unit has gone. From hero to zero in the blink of an eye. You know how it takes forever to build up trust and a nanosecond to lose it? I want that unit replaced. I cannae take that bike to Australia with the thought sitting in the back of my mind that the next gear change might be the last. Nope: this needs sorting, and fast. The shifters are doing the Rohloff hub a great disservice.

The downside to all this is that my other road bike, the one that’s done more LCFN miles than any other, was still in Neil’s lab, waiting on a whole host of things getting fixed. I’ll be honest with you, I ran that bike into the ground over the summer, knowing that Goldie was on the way.

Neil messaged me midweek to say that he’d got the old’yin roadworthy again so I could stay in the game. Even Neil must have sussed that I’d been spoiled and didn’t want to take out the MTB or the tourer. I’ll admit it, I’ve gone soft.

I’d planned to go back out on Wednesday, even though the temperature was minus something and there was ice on the road. I just lectured myself that back in the day, when it was dark and -6C, I couldn’t see the ice so why should it be a problem now. I’ll readily admit that I’ve become something of a Wum overnight, and it doesn’t sit well on my shoulders.

However Wednesday was a write-off for a completely different reason. As promised, after I graduated from the SNOMED-CT implementors’ course, I bought a beast of a PC for my forthcoming development work. If you’re at all technically minded, the SNOMED buster is a quad core icore 7. Its job it to enable me to run seriously complex queries against a virtual GP practice that I’m building, to allow our wee team to go after diseases. I’m just their data man: my job is to design the toys.

Well on Wednesday morning, I couldn’t get the beast to see the internet. I’m on t’internet all day long when I’m working out how to do new stuff (or stuff I’ve forgotten). So this was kinda serious. I fired up another laptop and it was working fine so diagnostic logic told me that it had to be something to do with the network configuration of the new one: why was a different matter altogether.

Six hours passed: tried this, changed that. I was even on the phone to BT for half an hour at one point.

That’s why I didn’t get out to do miles on Wednesday: in the two hour window of opportunity that I’d given myself, when the road surface temperature briefly rose above zero, I was mired in the Windows 10 Control Panel.

You really don’t want to know what the problem was, even though I’m going to tell you: see the WiFi password that’s printed on the wee tab that sits in the back of your router: on my new PC, its definition was corrupted. I know that Big Wullie’ll appreciate this, but see when I realised that that’s what it was…

And to this day I don’t know how it happened: but I sure as hell know how to fix it the next time.

So I’m afraid on Wednesday I didn’t actually get any real work done until tea time: then it became a bit of a late one.

I’m still not in a good place bikewise: the gears on the old bike are constantly reminding me of why I went for the Rohloff: but at least in my other life, the work one, the SNOMED one, I’m starting to feel like a pig in muck: dynamically generated SQL coming out of cyberspace, a great big database to test it on, and all of it running on a rocket machine.

Now I need to shake myself out of this malaise. I need to be hitting the high notes again. Having climbed to the top of the mountain, I dinnae wanna be Goldielocked: not now, not ever.

 

The Chain

If you’re a follower of F1, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the scenario where one of the donkey teams has a mechanical in practice and/or qually, and is still trying to sort the problem when the rest of the cars are on the grid: you start from the pit lane. They then pit the car after a few laps, but rather than just retire the car, they send it back out to run round at the back of the pack just so they can have some data to play with back at HQ.

That’s been pretty much my week, except I chose not to send the bike out today, more of which later.

I went into this week on the back of a great run of miles: eleven double hundreds in a row and my sights firmly set on ten thousand for the calendar year.

Cue the bloody farmers…

I have never known a hedge cutting season as brutal as this one. I’ve probably got a mental checklist of around twenty routes that I can pick from when I head out the door, mixing and matching, and depending on the weather, and very much the wind direction/speed, I can pretty much choose to go wherever I want. The problem, these last few weeks, is that the farmers have been throttling my routes one by one with their incessant hedge cutting machines, leaving spikey thorns as long as half a centimetre lying all over the road. Half a spiky centimetre is plenty enough to smash its way through a bike tyre. Been there: read the book, seen the film, bought the T shirt, got the video and now they’re releasing a bloody box set.

And as I kept thinking about that F1 theme as the week unfolded, so the lyrics of The Chain were stuck in my head, like a race car on repeat…

“Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise

Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies

And if you don’t love me now

You will never love me again

I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain”

Yeah, I know that when Stevie Nicks wrote that song, Fleetwood Mac were in emotional turmoil. But this week, I just felt like twisting those words to fit the love I feel for this bike ride with the contempt I feel for the farmers.

Riding the LCFN bike has always been about the motivation, the commitment, and believe it or not, the fun. But there is no fun riding fifteen miles out of town to find that the wee country lane that you’re on, a designated Sustrans cycle route, is littered with feckin thorns. I’ve had that experience not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times these last seven days. And I’m sick of it.

So, let’s set the scene: Monday…

Monday was a manic work day (yes, I do get them occasionally, even though I work from home for masel’). My job is my life, apart from family and the bike ride: I can’t explain in words how privileged I feel to be doing something I love, for a (small) team of people who appreciate me for what I can do. The bond between our wee team is as strong as any that I’ve ever worked in, even though we all live and work hundreds of miles away from each other. So I’ll basically do anything for those guys n gals, and especially so when push come to shove. On Monday, well it started on Sunday actually, push came before shove.

If you’ve ever worked in a line of business where you have deadlines that matter (IT software releases are the best example I know), then the lead up to D-day is manic. I had a manic Monday: finished work on Sunday night at 1am (Monday) and was back on the keyboard at 7am. Monday was a straight through development shift that ended twelve hours after it started. Then I thought “right: LCFN: let’s get some miles in the bag”.

Dark, cold and raining: nothing I’d ever any desire to run away from in three years of commuting the Fenwick Muir in winter. So out I went at 8pm. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to be splishing, sploshing and splashing round the country lanes in the pitch black with 800 lumens of searchlight power on the front…

Then I got to Irvine and I thought “is this road extra bumpy or is that the valve in the back wheel I can feel”? I pulled over and sure enough the back tyre was almost pancake like. Feck, feck! Feck, feck and feck! A few expletives passed my lips: and some.

Ten miles from home, raining and I really couldn’t be arsed getting the tyre off and fixing it. For just once in my life, I just wanted picked up. I phoned Jane but her phone went to voicemail. She was, ironically, doing the Monday night football run with the young (Taylor) team to Ross’s place: in Irvine!!! I thought of phoning one of the lads but I knew she’d be in the wee car anyway. So I messaged her instead: and set off to ride slowly home by as quiet a route as I could come up with, as slowly as the incessant bump, bump, bump would allow. A couple of miles along the bike path to Killie, the Skids “Into The Valley” kicked in. That’s my ringtone. It was Jane. She’d picked up my message and offered to be my lifeline. I did indeed get that lift home in the big car just a couple of miles further on. Only twice in 36000 miles have I chucked an LCFN ride: this was one of them.

I thought for all of three nanoseconds about fixing the puncture myself before pure economics kicked in. When you work for yourself, you don’t get paid sick leave, you don’t get paid holidays and you don’t get paid breaks. Basically, if I’m not working, I don’t get paid. Simple as. So I took the expert’s way out: I dropped the bike off at Neil’s shop first thing on Tuesday morning and saved myself an hour of cursing and swearing. Fixing bikes is Neil’s bread and butter: mine is writing computer code: so we both did what we do best and agreed to share the spoils. There were also a couple of wee technical things that I wanted looked at on Goldie too, so knowing that Tuesday was likely to be every bit as manic as Monday, I told him to take his time. And as he’s still got my old road bike in the garage for its 12,000 service, I was effectively without road wheels in any case. I thought fleetingly about taking the MTB up the Windfarm but bottled that one too: just this once, I thought, I’ll work and take the cash.

My ten thousand mile dream let out a wee gasp of air in that moment: spirit effectively broken, reality acknowledged and a timeout accepted. No miles Tuesday through Wednesday. I got Goldie back yesterday and got back in the old routine but that was only to discover that two more of my favoured routes had been farmered. All you can do when you encounter one of those minefields is get off and tiptoe the bike through the bombs. Or carry it.

And that precipitated today, when I really lost it. It’s been a long, long… long time since I decided not to go out because I didn’t fancy it. The weather was rubbish from the off, with intermittent sleet cum snow showers and a top temperature of maybe two or three degrees. The temperature didn’t bother me one iota, because double layers of everything blocks out the cold. No, what was bothering me was those feckin’ thorns being covered in a layer of slush on untreated roads, and me not being able to spot the danger. Limping the bike home under those conditions was not on my to do list: not today, nor any day.

Tomorrow, I will take a rain check (see what I did there?) before I decide what to do. I don’t fancy the main roads on pure safety grounds, but I cannae sit out a second day of what is effectively giving in to the lazy farmers for not clearing their sh*t. I’ll find somewhere to go, even if it’s only twenty miles. Being out is key: two fingers to the tractor boys, two fingers to whatever the weather has in store (a balmy 4C is on the cards by the look of it) and two fingers to cancer, because at the end of the day, this gig is still about the kids and never giving up the fight.

So finally, back to the song…

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

Change Is Gonna Come

Never forget how difficult it was. Never forget how you felt in that moment, when you thought it was all slipping away. Life has a habit of doing that to you, often when you least expect it, and your response defines you.

I want to take you back to the morning of 16th March 2016.

It started out like any other LCFN day: 5am, out the door, just under 30 miles into work, got changed, got fed and got piled into the work I was doing to automate the bills of material for one of our sister companies in North America. It was all going swimmingly until about 11am when I got an instant message through the corporate messaging system (the one that’s faster than email), inviting me along to the thick pile carpet end of the floor where our open plan office was: the director’s suite. I’d been up that end of the floor many times: usually for meetings that matter and/or made a difference. This one was no exception.

I walked into the Head Dude’s office and there was a bloke sitting in the corner who I didn’t recognise. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. This didn’t feel like it was going to end well: it didn’t. Ten minutes later, I was out the door. Made redundant in the blink of an eye after 25 years: “The company doesn’t need your skills going forward”.

In Adrian Mole terms, I was 62 and 364/365ths: in plain English, it was the day before my 63rd birthday. I went back to my desk, visibly shaking, and announced to my mates, some of whom I’d worked with for a quarter of a century, that I was out the door. But before I left, I went downstairs to see Anna and Fabiana. They had been my mentors in all things positive thinking ever since I ran the Wellbeing course for Weir Pumps back in 2010. Hugs all round, they said to me that being released from the chains of SPX would be the best thing that ever happened to me. I love those girls for the way they see the world…

The LCFN bike ride home was as thought provoking as it was direct. No frills, no extra miles, just get home and try to come to terms with what just happened. And make some phone calls.

Six hours later, after a bit of networking, I got a phone call from Liverpool:

“you do Excel programming, don’t you?”

“I do”

“And you’re looking for work?”

“I am”

“You’re hired”.

That was it. No interview as such. I needed work and they needed a punter. I got a three month deal, enough to bide me over while I looked for something in the shelf stacking line, which is basically where I saw myself for the last two years before retirement. IT is supposed to be a young man’s game and I guessed that my time was up.

The job was working from home developing spreadsheets for auditing GP practices. I’d been programming Excel (in VBA) for the previous ten years so this was water off a duck’s back to me. I quickly realised that not only could I deliver what they wanted, but I could take the functionality to a new level. Business rules and dynamic picklists (based on selections already made) in Excel: they’d never seen anything like it.

After two weeks, my deal was extended to twelve months.

It didn’t take me long to discover that the Read Codes, that have kept the NHS on its feet for the last 25 years, are being phased out and replaced by SNOMED-CT. If I can put this into some kind of perspective, the Read Codes are our ICL to the rest of the world’s IBM. Yet another piece of Britain’s crumbling empire gone, replaced by a foreign, albeit international power.

SNOMED-CT is a beast. It’s a relational database (and an expression language) of millions of related clinical terms. It’s a database with a medical slant. I’m a software guy with hee haw background in the clinical stuff. But it was clear, twelve months ago, that if we wanted to futureproof our business, then we had to embrace SNOMED-CT. And the clock was ticking. D-Day is April 1st 2018 (don’t laugh).

I put myself forward for the Foundation course: it was my new year resolution to get a grounding in the new technology. Three months later, I realised that I’d just seen the tip of the iceberg, seventy percent of which was still submerged deep below the surface. The day after I downloaded my Foundation course certificate, I applied to take on the bad boy: the advanced implementation course. A quick swatch at the course material suggested that if I could say on the course long enough, I might just get to the good stuff and get my hands on the software: in reality there is no other way: SNOMED-CT is only available through official channels, one of which is being deemed worthy through accreditation.

The routine was pretty straightforward: six modules, all done by distance learning, and each about a month long: an online exam at the end of each module, homework to be done separately in three of them, and a set of final exams at the end. Oh, and you’ve to achieve 70% or more in every assessment to stay on the course: one slip up and “you’re fired”.

I nearly had that slip up in June. I’d breezed Module A with 86% but then our mam died just before the Module B exam was due. I was trying to sort out her funeral arrangements (and all the other stuff) when I posted a 69.6% attempt. Re-sit territory. I gave myself a kick up the arse, had another go the next day and scraped 70.2%. I’ll be honest with you, if I’ve got kicked off the course at that moment, I probably wouldn’t have worried about it: I was not in a good place.

Three weeks after that, Eileidh passed away, and I stayed in that dark place a good while longer. Module C spanned the period either side of our family holiday in Naples so I had to take the laptop to get both my assignment and my assessment done. I came through both.

Having made it halfway through the course, I started to get a sense that I might actually make it through to the end. Nothing was ever easy, but as the coursework moved away from what I might term clinical bullshit to software development, I felt it coming my way. Module D wasn’t exactly plain sailing but E was a relative breeze. When F, the final module, came along, I inadvertently did the presentations way ahead of the exam so by the time that came around, I was rusty (I was too busy with the day job to do much revision so I winged it). Another scrape…

But into the finals!

I’m not gonna dwell on what happened next, other than to say that the 70% rule still applied. Despite what had gone before, even if your cumulative course total was already in excess of 70%, you still had to achieve 70% in the final exam to graduate. The exam was in three parts, each one hour long, and you had a maximum of three attempts in each. Your score in each part was the average of how ever many attempts you took. In part one, I got 69.2%, 74.3% and 77.2% for a combined average of 74%. So far, so good. One down, two to go.

Two weeks ago today, I sat part two, the practical: five questions, to be answered by doing research using an array of SNOMED-CT tools. Look, if you work in this stuff day in and day out, you get to know where all the tools are and what they do. I didn’t and I flunked it: 39%. That was my darkest moment. I saw six months of hard work going down the drain because I only had an hour to answer the questions. But at least I now had (a copy of) the questions. I made attempts two and three, having done my research offline, and I managed to get that 39% up to a more respectable, but still not good enough 66%. It all hung on the final exam, in which I needed 68% to pass the course. But secretly, I hunkered after something much higher than that, for 84.5% was going to grab me an 80% grade B pass overall.

I wanted that exam done, dusted and marked before I went down south for the Solving Kids Cancer parents’ conference last weekend.

I woke at 4am on the Wednesday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I got up at half four and made a giant cup of coffee in one of those Sports Direct mugs. Then I logged on. The part three exam was ninety minutes: eight questions. The first two were a piece o’piss. Nerves settled. Keep a focus, keep the heid and just let the brain do the rest. Half six, answers in, all done. Relax… and wait.

I waited a week.

Then on Tuesday night of this week, having logged onto my account every couple of hours since the weekend, there was a tick in my part three box. I opened it with trepidation.

I needed 68%

I secretly craved 84.5%

I got 87.5%

I had done it. I had fucking done it. Against all odds, I had somehow come back from that dark place two weeks ago today, and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

SPX: that one was for you. That was for your corporate accountants deciding that I wasn’t good enough for you.

Lee Panter and Neil Connor: that one was for you too. That was for having faith in me when it would have been easier to look the other way.

I have become only the third accredited SNOMED-CT developer in Scotland (and the 39th in the UK). I am immensely proud of having come back from the proverbial dead, but believe me, this is only the start.

For my next trick, I’m going to buy a beast of a laptop: I’m going to unleash the power of Excel VBA, Dynamic SQL and SNOMED-CT to go after disease. Top of my hitlist is kids cancer, but first I have to address Atrial Fibrillation, Heart Failure and Diabetes in order to repay the faith that Lee and Neil have showed in me these past eighteen months.

Disease, I’m coming for you…

Change is gonna come.

Oi Mush!!!

I apologise in advance if this week’s rant is a bit down in the dumps, but my brain is mush. I’m slap bang in the middle of my SNOMED-CT final exams and my head feels like it’s going to explode.

Let me set the scene:…

SNOMED-CT goes live across the NHS in April of next year (although it’s pseudo live just now through the hard work of some software vendors) and I want to pass this course in order to give some street cred to my development work in hunting down disease through what I’ve termed data detective work. In my day job, I do two things: I write software and I ride my bike (while thinking about writing software): in pretty much that order.

SNOMED-CT is very, very heavy duty gear, and this course, the (advanced) implementation course, is all about implementing software systems to use the de facto global standard in clinical healthcare. I’ve come at this from a background in software development with zippo experience of all the medical jargon.

The course has six modules, and to keep the numbers easy, let’s say there are ten presentations in each module. It’s all done by distance learning in your own time, and at the end of each module, you have to sit an exam in which you have to score 70% or more to stay on the course. I had one or two close shaves along the way, me having no medical background etc, but I made it through the final Module F exam on Tuesday, which got me into the playoffs for the big prize: a course certificate!

 

The collateral damage of being on this gig is that I haven’t been the easiest person to live with these last few weeks, and for that I apologise. This course has been as difficult as any that I’ve ever undertaken, and while a wee part of me is whispering “why are you putting yourself through this at age 64, another part of me is shouting ‘just keep the heid’…”

So to the final exam: it comes in three parts, and they count for 8%, 4% and 8% of the final course mark. But the same constraint that applied all the way through the course, that 70% benchmark, also applies in the final exam. You have to average 70%+ out of those three exams to pass the course. The fact that you actually made the playoff final in the first place is because you’ve proved all the way through the league programme that you can knock off these 70%ers, but this final hurdle comes with a special twist…

Each exam that came at the end of a regular module had 20 questions in it, and of course it covered just the material that you’d studied in the most recent block of the course: so you knew from the off that the answer to each question lay deep within one of those ten or so Powerpoint presentations that you’d sat through, and taken notes from (of course you took notes!). In every one of those exams (bar one, I recall), you had four hours to answer the questions, submit your attempt, and cross your fingers that you’d done enough. You always had the option of a re-sit if you failed to get the required 70%, but the rules of of the game have always been that your final attempt (of two) would be the one that counted. So in the case where you scored, say 72% and wanted something higher, you really were risking it for a biscuit if you did a re-sit because you’d know way of knowing where you’d lost 28% and 72% is way too close to the trap door to take the chance. So basically you took the hit and moved on the next round.

There’s one thing to remember from that wee story: 20 questions in four hours, based on ten presentations of source material.

Cue part one of the final exam yesterday: ten questions, covering the whole course, ie drawn from around sixty source presentations, to be completed in one hour.

Panic attack!!!!

I kid you not: I went out on my bike after the first attempt, in a state of shock. I reckon I must have spent a good two to three minutes per question, just searching through the source material just so I could make reference to the relevant theory stuff. And that was after I’d translated all of my notes into one giant spreadsheet so that I could do keyword searches to save time. I reckon I must have used up at least thirty of those precious sixty minutes hunting for stuff: so that meant I had to wing my way through half of the answers.

The result of that, of course, is that you can expect a truly rubbish score, which is precisely what I got (but nowhere near as today’s rubbish in the practical exam, I can assure you). But get this: you have up to three attempts, each of one hour, and your final score from that exam is the average of your attempts.

So… for the league programme (the six regular modules): twenty questions in four hours based on ten presentations. For the play-off final however, it’s ten questions in one hour based on sixty presentations.

Now do you see the fear in my eyes?

Strategy plays a massive part in this game: you get to see the questions in attempt one, and you screenshot them. You get a rubbish score because your eyes are constantly drawn to the clock when you should be thinking, and then you go away to do your research offline and come back for another go.

Remember you get a maximum of three attempts, and all you get at the end of each attempt is a score: you’ve no way of knowing which of your answers are right and which are wrong. It’s entirely down to your own judgement.

So suppose that in your first attempt, you get 60%. Remember you need to average 70+ to stay in the game. You go away, armed with the questions, change the answers that you think are wrong, then come back for another bite at the cherry. Say you get 75%. Now what do you do? You’ve already done your homework and changed a load of answers, but you’ve only gone up by 15% and your average is still under the trapdoor. Do you change some more, ones that you thought were right from the first time, and risk slipping back down a snake, when actually you’d like to climb a ladder? No, what you do is you get scared, change as little as possible and throw your well researched attempt back in again as attempt three. Defensive, but needs must. 60% plus 75% gives you an average of 67.5% which is in the relegation zone. 60%+75%+75% averages out at 70% which keeps you in the game.

The numbers were fictitious, but the strategy is not. This has suddenly become a game of survival and I’m not enjoying it one bit. It feels like six months of hard study has descended into a game of rabbits in headlights. If I fail to get the required 70% average from the final three assessments, I will fail the course: that much is simple. The fact that my cumulative score for the course overall is already above 70% counts for nothing.

If I was a football manager who was doing a press conference right now at the end of a game in which he disagreed with the way things had gone, I’d be saying “y’know, I think we were a bit hard done by out there today”. Anyone that knows me knows that I like to do my research, take my time, even knock up a spreadsheet or two, then state my case. If I’m right, then good, but if I’m wrong, I’ll take it on the chin and move on…

I don’t feel comfortable with a system that encourages guessing the answers against the clock, then playing catch up at your leisure. It feels fundamentally wrong. I would much rather the FIFA of clinical systems had given us the questions as an open book assignment and said “there you go, go away and do your research: you get one shot at the answers”. Or in the instance where they want to persist with the one hour rule (which is a joke because attempts two and three take five minutes because you’ve done all the work offline), then just take the final attempt as your score.

I may well fail the course, because of a wee clock ticking down in the corner of the screen, that I can do nothing about. But you can be sure as hell that between attempts one and two after today’s dismal showing, that I’ll be researching (and repeat researching) before I press the big submit button on the second take. I desperately want to stay in the game till the fat lady comes on stage.

But alas, tonight, my brain is pure mush….

A Change Is As Good As A Rest. Not…

You know that term “a change is as good as a rest”…. it’s bollocks.

I took charge of the new gold dream this week and basically swapped bikes: out with the old and in with the new. I should have known better. I know only too well from my running days (albeit 30 years ago) that you never change 100% from old gutties (running shoes) to new ones as a high mileage runner because your legs are used to the way that old ones work. You have the phase them in.

Ditto the new bike. Thought I’d get away with it: I was wrong.

Legs hurt.

Lower back hurt (yesterday until I made some adjustments).

But the back of my neck really hurts. And that’s not good.

A long, long time ago, in June 2014, I wrote a blog called Getting Yer Angles right: it was the story about how I’d swapped my old mountain bike that took the brunt of the Fenwick Muir during the winter of 13/14, for a heavy touring bike. That happened in March ’14. I then spent the next wee while tweaking stuff in order to find a comfortable riding position for my upper body. Back then, it took a couple of months to realise that I’d got the saddle maybe half an inch too high and it was killing the hamstring tendons in the back of my knees.

This time it’s taken just three days.

I’ve been messing with the geometry since I left Neil’s shop on Wednesday but it’s clearly not yet right. The good news is I don’t have a sore (lower) back anymore: that’s something I dread. I’ve had enough back problems down the years to last me a lifetime so this is not the time to start that game again. No, this is about getting the handlebars sorted in relation to the seat. I like riding with my hands on the drop bars (90% of the time) but the way the gold bike’s set up just now, it’s quite literally a pain in the neck. My guess is that I need more elevation from the stem. We swapped the original (new) one yesterday for something longer and higher but two and half hours on the road today told me that the configuration isn’t right. So I guess it’s back to basics: measure all the distances between the seat, the handlebars (top and drops) and the pedals to see where it’s different…

I could swap back to the old bike of course, but it’s in desperate need of a service. The gears change of their own accord, the tyres are totally worn out, and I need to change the brake pads. I’ve been hanging on for about a month until the time came to take the Goldie, thinking that I could maybe squeeze another five hundred miles out of it, but really, it needs some TLC in the pits. I could swap back for maybe a couple of days (and maybe I should) because I really, really want to nail another 200 mile week, the 92nd, and I’ve no intention of letting it slip now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take the old wheels out and let the mind massage it through another 35 miles for old time’s sake. But it really does need to be in the workshop come Monday.

Back to the new wheels for a minute: there’s no other bike like it in Scotland. It looks gorgeous but that’s not the half of it. It’s the Rohloff gears in a gold frame that set it apart. There’s no rear derailleur: instead there are 14 gears hidden away in the hub. And if you decide to do a spot of freewheeling, then the whole world gets to know because it sounds like a diesel bike. Who needs a bell on the Irvine to Killie bike path when you come up behind the dog walkers: just stop peddling…

And it’s heavy: Not as heavy as the tourer that gave me a hernia back in 2014 when I was trying to smash KOM’s (King Of The Mountains) on a set of 33lb wheels but it’s not far behind: it’s all that metal sitting in the middle of the back wheel. I haven’t weighed it (I will, by the way) but I guess you won’t get much change out of 27 to 28 lb). Compare that to the 21lb I was on before: that’s what killing my legs.

C’est la vie…

But I’ve been here before (but hopefully never again because this will be my last new bike) and I’ll get through it. I have to.

Changing the subject completely, we had a bloke in this week to talk about pensions. I’ll be 65 in March and everything’s due to kick in. But there was something he said that really hit home and maybe it affects the long term future of the bike ride. He said that in his (long) experience, the years between 65 and 75 are your best retirement years: they are the ones where you have to do all of things that you want to do: before it all goes downhill. So here’s a question: do I really want to be cycling 200 miles a week for the next five years? Sure the exercise is probably doing me the world of good, and maybe it’s keeping my brain sharp too, but with his words ringing in my ears, I’m thinking that maybe one more year of the big time will be enough. Maybe 50,000 miles will be time to call it a day. Then just tootle about on the Goldie for pleasure instead of punishing myself. Enough may finally be enough…

Doing the sums, 2017 has produced the biggest bag of miles since the start: 8000 before the end of October for the first time. I don’t see me getting to 10K before Hogmanay for the reasons described above, but another 9K by this time next year seems very much within reach: that would take the clock to 44K. I think if I could close LCFN out at 50,000 miles inside six years, having originally set out to do 25,000 in four (and a half) years, that would be a decent result. And that would still leave me another nine years of quality retirement years before I lose my marbles.

And see that stuff about never giving up: that stuff about taking a step back when shit happens, and working your way through it: well that was yesterday. By 7am, I’d bricked my Galaxy S8+ by reading an article on LinkedIn then clicking on one of the comments. I wasn’t exactly in panic mode, but for about fifteen minutes, I was contemplating refunds and the like. That was before I logged on to the laptop and Googled ‘Galaxy S8 won’t power on’ or something like that, and I found out how to do a soft reset (as opposed to a factory reset): that got me up and running again. So you know what I did then… I went back to that same article, because by now I was suspicious (there is no bigger cynic in the world than me). I clicked on the same comment at the foot of the same article, and guess what: it bricked my phone again. Same recovery procedure. I didn’t do it a third time.

As if that wasn’t enough yesterday, I took Goldie out, intending to bag a day at the seaside, and instead happened across a famer cutting his hedge. I should have stopped and turned around: a schoolboy error. I foolishly assumed that with a brand new pair of Marathon Pluses on the bike, I’d be okay: nope, I got a puncture. Actually, make that two. Those bloody famers do my head in: sure, I know they’ve got to cut their hedges, but Shirley they should also be required (by law) to remove the shite off the road before they head for home. I was in Neil’s bike shop today and he was telling me that he’d had five cyclists in today alone, all victims of the dreaded thorns from lazy farmers. My resolution from hereonin will be to dismount as soon as I encounter a farmer’s minefield in future, and walk the wheels through the mines: or just pick the bike up and carry it: up the middle of the road and make the motors have to wait (in protest).

I kind of hoped that heading out on Goldie would have been a celebration of sorts: but it’s not turned out that way. I’ll be tinkering again tomorrow: I might even drop the seat by a quarter of an inch to reduce the stress in the back of my neck. And I suspect that when I get home, the measuring tape will be coming out in earnest: old versus new: just where are the key differences. Putting the Rohloff on the old bike wasn’t an option because of the big fat spindle that it comes with: it’s not compatible with the frame: so I guess I’ll just have to work through the transition instead.

They say that a change is as good as a rest: far from it…

Goldielooks And The Three Bears

See every time Lewis Hamilton wins a Grand Prix: the first thing he does is thank his team for all their hard work. Yeah, I know they probably get well paid for it but at the end of the day, he’s just the guy out there on the road putting in the miles. Back in the garage, and at Mercedes F1 HQ in Brackley, there are probably hundreds of guys who put in the hard miles to make his job easier.

I don’t have hundreds of guys: I have one: Neil Kinnaird. Neil is my technical designer, he’s my purchasing director, and he’s my man in the garage. He does the lot. Neil is the quiet man who keeps LCFN on the road. I had to look back at the log to find out when we first hooked up and it was in the summer of 2014 when I was on my third bike and sitting at around 8,000 miles.

We’ve been together for 27,000 miles!

Neil’s a thinker, and he’s always half a dozen steps ahead of me, or to put it another way, one bike ahead of me. I remember when we first got together, I was riding a still new Dawes Tourer. I got it for my birthday because I reckoned I needed something heavier duty than a mountain bike for the long haul over the Fenwick Muir in the winter. Heavier duty right enough: the Karakoum weighed in at about 35 pounds, and that was before I loaded it up with supplies every day. That bike was a workhorse.

But every time it was in his shed (as it was back then), he used to say to me “y’know, you could really do with something lighter. For the hills that you’re dealing with, this is way too heavy”. Neil wasn’t trying to sell me a new bike (although he does sell bikes), he was simply trying to tell me that as a mile muncher (I do love that term) I was making life hard for myself.

So the next birthday (back in those days y’see, new bikes only ever happened on birthdays – is that not a tradition anyway?) I took his advice and went for a road bike. Ultra light at 21lb, to me it felt like a Ferrari. I had a Flying Scot 25 years ago (mine was a replica – Jane had an original) and this gave me a similar kind of feeling on the open road: if you’ve never ridden a road bike (at speed), then you’ve not lived. Twitchy as fuck but exhilarating. Simple as that.

I broke that bike inside twelve months.

If going to Neil in the first place (to get bits replaced on a bike that was less than six months old) was a sign, then the failure of the road bike frame eleven months later was a real wake up call. But because the bike was still within warranty, Trek replaced the frame free of charge. The failure, and this is probably significant given the beating that LCFN gives its machinery, was that the screw hole where the derailleur hangs on the frame had wobbled loose. So many gear changes, so many potholes, so much shit coming up off the road: in less than twelve months, the (external) derailleur would no longer sit true.

The replacement frame has seen 12,000 miles of action, the longest served of all of the LCFN bikes. But the gears go out of true within a few weeks and then you have the choice of messing about with tools (and getting it wrong, putting the next day’s ride at risk) or living with it. By living with it, I mean clicking the rear shifter about three or four times and feeling it only shift once. Eff knows what gear I’m in half the time. It’s a serious issue if you’re halfway up a steep one and you go click, click, click and nothing happens, I can assure you.

That’s the downside of derailleurs. Cheap, easy to mess with, and even easier to go wrong.

Remember how I said that Neil was always a bike ahead of me?

He could see the rate at which I was going through components. New jockey wheels, new hangers, new chains, new complete drive chains. Been there, done that. That’s been the norm for about three years. Every time the bike goes in the workshop, it costs me a hundred quid. That’s the real life cost of LCFN: it’s not Neil’s problem: I’m a mile muncher and I break stuff.

Cue a conversation that he and I had around the turn of the year: ’16 going into ’17. “You need to consider going for hub gears. They’ll cost you upfront, but you’ve save a fortune in the long run”.

The only thing I know about hub gears is that my brother had a (new) bike with a three speed Sturmey Archer gear when I was a kid. Sturmey Archer were the name in gears back then: we’re talking 40 years ago. They had a three speed hub and five speed hub. I think our kid had a three.

The big advantage of a hub gear is that everything’s internal: everything sits inside the hub on the rear wheel and the shit cannae get at it. I’m led to believe that as long as you do an oil change every 3000 miles, the gear will run, free of failure, for 60,000 miles. I’ve only done 35K miles so you’ll get my drift.

So Neil and I bounced a few ideas around over a few months, but they were all expensive. I don’t do expensive. I do functional and get by: and in any case, I was still on a bike that that only twelve months old.

Then our mam died.

I was brought up to never ever buy anything unless you’d saved up for it. My folks never, ever bought anything on tick. If you don’t have the money, then you can’t have it. That was the message.

But our mam was a charitable old dear, and she would have approved of LCFN if she’d not lost her marbles to dementia. So I decided to invest the pennies that she’d earmarked in her will for her errant son in a bike that will see me through till I’m too old to do this anymore. Our mam was not a woman of means. Everything she earned, she’d worked for, and everything she’d earned, she put away for a rainy day. The day it started raining, she moved into a nursing home, and in a flash, all her money was gone. Except for the last few pennies that the Tories couldnae get at.

I’ve invested those pennies in the gold LCFN bike.

It was Neil’s idea. He suggested Rohloff. They’re a German company: a family run business: they make the Rolls Royce of hub gears. Guys who tour the world over extreme terrain in extreme conditions, thousands of miles from any kind of support, swear by Rohloff. Their marketing blurb says they’ve never had a failure out in the field. How Lewis Hamilton would love that, eh?

So my mind was set: a Rohloff speed hub it was. On a Gold cyclo cross frame that Neil had already got his eyes on. We were on our way. Again. But the Rohloff normally comes with a twist grip gear changer on flat handle bars and I wanted drop bars…

Cue another suggestion from the ideas man: there’s another company in Germany that do a traditional thumb shift changer for Rohloff gears: left shifter up and right shifter down. “I like that”. Let’s do it. So in the grand scheme of things, with Brexit supposedly just around the corner, we have:

  • Bike frame: Netherlands
  • Hub gears: Germany
  • Gear shifters: Germany
  • Everything else: probably China

I road tested the new bike today, albeit on mountain bike tyres. Neil offered it to me for the weekend but I didn’t want to get it dirty before he’s finished building it (we’re still waiting on bomb proof tyres and mudguards): how vain am I?

I had been hoping to have the wheels in the house at the start of the week because…

Gail, Callum and Cerys came for their tea!!!

When Finn (who’s a chef) found out the night before, he asked what I was making: “Spag Bol of course”. I always make Spag Bol. I’ve probably made Spag Bol two hundred times and never made the same one twice. “Dad, you need to use a recipe”. “Fuck that, I just make it the way I make it: every one different”.

Cerys and Callum went back for seconds: that’s all I’m saying. 😊

But before I started cooking, we all walked up to Neil’s bike shop (Cerys walked on the wall by the way – I think every kid in Stewarton has done that, on that wall), with Eileidh Bear riding piggy back on Cerys’s shoulders. Eileidh Bear has two sister bears, and each has some of Eileidh’s ashes in a wee pouch. And if you squeeze their toes, then Eileidh starts giggling. It’s as adorable as it is gorgeous.

So Eiliedh Bear went up to the bike shop and got to ride the Gold bike before the LifeCycle Man. Totally apt: Eileidh and I have been together for 25,000 miles, the same number that I set out to achieve when I started.

Y’see the future of LCFN is a gold bike: a bike of hope for kids with cancer everywhere…

Goldielooks and the three bears.