Like a Stone

Chris Cornell died today.


Many many years ago, when I was a very mentally ill young man, I was sectioned for a week. That week of sectioning happened to coincide with Audioslave playing, and I had tickets to go with my partner. I could not go. I gave the ticket to his best friend, and the two of them went, and I stayed in the hospital.


At nearly 2am I got a phone call. Not a voice I recognised, or rather, not one that I recognised on the phone. A voice a bit knackered from singing a set, but still full of crackly good humour and encouragement.


My then-partner had got backstage, found Chris Cornell, and Chris Cornell’s response to “Actually, my partner was meant to be here, but he’s been sectioned” was to phone me and say hallo, to tell me to keep my chin up, trust the doctors, take my meds, and to reassure me that I was doing the right, responsible thing. Apparently he did that a lot – Just generally encouraged his fans to look out for their mental health.


A couple of years ago, Terry Pratchett died. He was an old, old man and it wasn’t a shock to anyone, not least to PTerry himself. I still get a bit misty-eyed reading The Shepherd’s Crown, but it’s with the acknowledgment of a life fully lived, that reached its close, and thus ended.


As far as anyone can tell at this time, Chris Cornell made his own way out. He was fifty two.


If Chris Cornell, who was grounded enough fourteen years ago to be able to chat to a suicidal stranger and make them feel like they could keep going, who had all the money and physical health and ability to access treatment that’s available in the world, who had all the biggest, loudest, most amazing distraction techniques available to him, who spoke up for years about what it was and how to face it head-on, was still killed by the terminal illness that is depression, what hope do the rest of us have?


I have more to write about. I’ll write later. Today I want Soundgarden and a nice wool blanket and to go back to yesterday and somehow persuade someone to ring Chris Cornell right after he finished playing his set.



I had a bizarre dream yesterday about riding a horse down the central motorway. I can’t remember if in the dream it was also a bike, or if it turned into a bike (or if a bike had turned into it) but it was a horse – And of course, this got me thinking about the eternal horse-bike comparisons. You care for them. You spend long hours with them, travelling, otherwise alone (I powerfully suspect that a modern Aslög, invited to meet Ragnar “Neither alone nor accompanied, either fasting nor eating, neither dressed nor undressed” would arrive with a motorcycle, a cup of tea, and wearing full leathers but no helmet). You feel like they have a lot of personality but, as with a horse, a lot of that personality is what you project onto them, or expect, or is a non-human behaviour given a human motivation (I insist that my beloved GZ, which hasn’t been able to be moved due to an electrical fault since the day that I passed my full test, is sulking). They’re valuable, beloved companions to their riders even if to a total stranger they’re “Just a means of transport”. They range from barely-clinging-to-life and worked to the bone, to pampered near-pets, to the core of their owner’s livelihood.

The big place where the comparison breaks though, is maintenance. Obviously, you have to keep both of them in their favoured environments (Actually, warm and dry with low salinity and not too much ambient dust or spores is ideal for both, as is giving the option to take the weight off their heels, in the form of soft straw or artificial bedding for a horse or a paddock stand for a bike, and a fleece blanket to prevent scrapes and surface chill and moisture for both of them… Hm) and you need to fuel or feed both of them commensurate to how much work they do (With the horse obviously doing work just to keep respiring – A horse’s engine basically constantly idles – and the bike should either be left with a full tank or winterised so that it doesn’t rust up) but actual maintenance – Vet med or service and repairs – is totally different. On a horse, leaving it with a problem is cruel. On a bike, as long as you don’t try to ride it, and it’s kept in those ideal conditions, it won’t get worse.

I’m not saying that every part of a bike has already reached the minimum of molecular complexity and thus the heat death of the universe – You can, literally, make matters worse – but you probably can’t do it casually, if you’ve taken the time to read ahead in your Haynes manual and apply a bit of common sense. Bikes may have diaphragms that can perforate and crush washers that can deform and fuses that can pop, but most parts of the machine, once taken off and cleaned and bent back into shape, are pretty durable and as long as they’re not either deliberately broken or corroded beyond use by time on the road, they can be fixed. If the worst comes to the worst, they can be replaced, piece by piece, either from the factory as a legacy part, or as parts from a donor bike. If you (and I know people who have found this) tighten up the mixture screw in a carburettor the whole way, you’ll only have to replace that screw. If you go off half-cocked and try to ride it after you’ve done this, you will literally blow the carbs off the engine and probably destroy either the carbs or the engine or both.

Effectively, if you have a problem, you notice the problem, and you fix the problem, you can’t go wrong. If you need to stop in the middle of disassembling the entire machine, you can just throw a sheet over it at night and leave it for weeks at a time, provided you’re in a relatively clean, dry, temperate environment.

Working on a bike, the worst that can happen is that you have to replace a component. Blow a fuse, shear a screw – You’ll be able to buy new ones. Strip the thread out of a socket – You can do amazing things with blobs of hot metal and the appropriate tap. Even go as far as fouling up the inside of a cylinder – It’ll take skill and money, but you can re-bore it and keep the engine block. My own EN was condemned in 2002 with a structurally corroded frame – Fifteen years later, given a strip-back, structural welding, a few new support bars, and a nice glossy black powdercoat, it’s thriving. It sat SORNed for at least two years at some point. You can’t SORN a horse. At worst, the component will be a large one – Like an engine, or an entire wiring harness. There are people who’ve brought bikes back to life from nothing more than an empty frame, a photograph, and a collection of classified ads in their local bike magazine. There are bikes where every component has been changed enough times that they’ve been handed a Single Vehicle Assessment form and told to re-register as a new vehicle.

As one of my machines is currently sitting awaiting a cure for carb icing (The effect of the venturi and the resulting vacuum, along with rapid heat transfer, in producing ice crystals under certain atmospheric conditions would be fascinating if it didn’t also cause my bike to drop to one cylinder at high speed and make a noise like tinsel being used as a carwash) and the other is awaiting a pickup so that I can work on it in the warm and dry, it is extremely reassuring to me.

Somewhat relatedly; It irks the shit out of me that in British English we only have one word which can in various dialects be used to mean bikehouse, bikehospital, bikegreengrocer, bikepetshop and bikehotel (That’d be a garage, a mechanic’s workshop, a petrol station, a showroom or a used bike dealer, and an underground multi-storey car park, in the dialects that differentiate). So basically, I can get my bike out of the garage and go to the garage on the way to the garage, then garage it there whilst I go to the garage to look at new bikes, then ride it to a garage in the city centre for a cup of coffee before going home and putting it back in the garage.

Totally unrelatedly – I’ve not slept for fifty-odd hours. Bugger insomnia.


As (some of) you know, I am a bit of a closet numismatist. What, in proper numismatic parlance is called a “change checker” – I won’t run out and buy coins, but I like to have a look at what’s in my pocket and odd coins – mis-strikes, rare designs, fakes – really interest me. And thus, obviously, in the UK at least, the love of my life is the round pound coin. (My favourite coin out of all the world’s currencies of all time is… debatable. Possibly the old 5 yen piece, with the calligraphic lettering and the gear, grain and ocean design).


And the round pound is about to no longer be with us, pulled from circulation on my birthday.


[Image: WIN_20170409_222456

[Image: Pound coins in a tray laid out in vertical columns. Left to right; The four union badges, the four floral designs, the four city crests, missing Cardiff and Edinburgh, the four bridges, the four animal symbols, the four crowns]

I’ve not managed to collect every year, but I’m only missing three; The city badges of Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the 2016 unique crest, which was only ever available in collectors’ sets anyway. The only other design which was only minted in one year is the crowned royal shield, which I have (top left in the picture) and which I found in my piggy bank when I was about five, and have hung onto ever since, through twenty-odd house moves. That was the coin that got me really interested in the physical properties of coins, and into the idea of collecting them as objects. I remember the animals series being new (And why oh why couldn’t they have been properly consistent, and had a single lion for England, a unicorn for Scotland, the dragon as-is for Wales and the stag for Northern Ireland?) and being tremendously excited about them because they were so different from the crowns, which were the only other ones in circulation at the time.

The bridges series to me are pretty much mentally synonymous with going to university, since they were first released whilst I was there, and their choice for England was the Millenium Bridge, over the Tyne (And I am nothing if not proud of the North, I know people who worked in Wallsend to assemble the pieces, the parts were made in Manchester, and Europe’s largest floating crane was piloted by a Geordie to lower it into place, with a tolerance of less than three inches to make it line up properly. Crucially, locally, the bridge represents Newcastle and Gateshead being joined, in an era when it looked likely that Newcastle would proverbially move to London and leave Gateshead to flounder).

The cities are the odd ducks – I rarely see them (or saw them) in circulation, since they were released whilst I lived abroad and they seem to have been snapped up by collectors far too quickly.

The flowers are probably the most ridiculously beautiful coins in circulation today. Naturalistic, clean lines, lots of open space and beauty, it’s a shame that they won’t get a very long life as coins (And it feels a massive shame that the mint just plans to melt down the ones it takes back).

But anyway, pound coins. And then there’s the non-legal-tender pounds; The ones from the various overseas bits and dependencies and places that few British schoolchildren can be certain are definitely “British” or “Not British”.


A much less good photo because my hands are shaky;



[Image; Pound coins, slightly blurry. Top-bottom left-right; Isle of Man triskelion, Guernsey ship and crest (as in, it’s got two tails, no head), Isle of Man St John’s Chapel, Isle of Man mobile phone, Falkland Islands crest, Jersey “The Resolute”, Gibraltar Neanderthal skull.]


For possibly obvious reasons, I don’t expect that I’ll be able to get a pound coin from every territory that uses pound coins, and certainly not one of every tails design. As much as I would like to. I love the Neanderthal skull one, and the mobile phone – Both of them basically saying “Hey, you know what we do here? SCIENCE.” And the Guernsey with two tails is incredibly useful for winning coin tosses with.


I also have a slack handful of interesting fakes which I’ve drilled holes through both to see what they’re made of and to wear them as watch fobs. Some of them have lead cores. I’ve not yet found one of the vaunted plastic ones, but I have got a rather beautiful and crisply minted London badge which is completely black with tarnish after only a couple of years of circulation, and a couple with amazing hand-lettered edge inscriptions.


But, basically, this is just me doing what I do best; Obsessively cataloguing a thing that I like.


I might come back and bore you all to death with Japanese coins at some point too.


Anyway, short version – If you find a Cardiff or an Edinburgh in your change, or even a really interesting fake, give me a shout…

Not enough prayers to Vulcan

So, my beautiful secondhand (Thirteenth hand) Kawasaki EN500 has now been in and out of the garage on and off for six weeks.


Part of me is pleased that the problem with it is completely stumping the professional mechanics, since it means that I wasn’t just stupid and shortsighted when I couldn’t spot it on my own. Part of me, obviously, wishes that it was something incredibly simple that I just overlooked and that they could have fixed in a second.


Part of me is pleased that the problem is only apparent once the bike is hot and being ridden hard, because there’s no way I’d have spotted it in my first test ride so I’m not just stupid for buying it. Part of me wishes it’d been incredibly obvious, then I’d not have bought it and not be having this problem.


Part of me is very happy that I have a rare, beautiful, strange, old bike, with a lot of character, and that even if I sell it after a couple of months, I’ll still at least have briefly owned a fire-breathing sweetheart. Part of me wishes that I’d bought one of the fifty million 535 Viragos still pootling around the b-roads of England, because I’d not be so attached to it, or if I was attached to it, it’d be rare that I found a problem in it that I couldn’t fix.


So now, with the bike back at the garage for the fifth time, having needed a pickup, running lean – a problem which could seize up the whole engine, causing a disaster that would write off the bike, destroy the engine and probably throw the rider if the bike was in motion at the time – and with a problem in either the pulsar coil or the carburettor, I’m stuck in a conundrum.


My other bike, my trusty and beloved GZ125, isn’t starting up. Some sort of electrical fault has killed its ability to ignite, so it’s been sitting under a tarp since the day I passed my bike test, waiting for me to find the time and the energy to fix it.


My partner’s bike, which I’m also insured to ride, a sweet and nippy Suzuki VanVan, has no battery, and needs a new battery purchasing before it’ll start up.


Currently, I have literally no means of transport, other than begging pillion rides off my best friend.


How long do I wait, and how much money do I throw, before I call it a day on the EN500 and sell him as a project? Time is ticking down.

Vegan thoughts

Mildly irritated by the now-constant assumption that “Vegan” and “Understands farming” have to be mutual opposites, and that all vegans have to constantly be at war with pastoral farmers, and seeking converts.


So, my pitch, since people keep basically asking that this be set out like some kind of stall. I’ve been vegan since 2011 and vegetarian since 1997. I went vegan on my second “attempt”, after a previous try in 2008, which didn’t work due to needing to live off mostly vending machine chocolate and milky tea whilst working in a teaching lab.

**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. I honestly consider that being vegan or being carnist (Or vegetarian, or pescatarian, or fruitarian, or following a religious diet) are basically irrelevant personal choices, and that many people will pick a diet based on similar morality which looks totally different to someone else presented with the same operating criteria. There is no moral absolutism on who is doing the “right thing”. It’s no better or worse to make food choices based on how many animals were killed to make the meal, or how the workers at harvest and processing were treated, or to only buy things from the corner shop where the owner doesn’t mistreat his dogs, or to not buy goods imported from (Regime), or to only buy food that’s produced locally, or to only eat roadkill or culled meat, or to only eat supermarket waste, or to only eat at restaurants where the staff keep their tips, or to only eat food that you know you can share with your housemates.


**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. People’s dietary choices are constrained by their financial or geographical location, by their cultural expectations. It’s no better or worse to decide that you want to eat something to continue your grandparents’ food traditions, or to feed yourself cheaply enough that you can put away a fiver a week, or to pick food based on what your kids will eat as well, or on what will keep without needing to go in the fridge, or to eat something because it reminds you of somewhere or someone that you love, or to pick food based on it being a cheap and pleasurable way of improving your day.


**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. I know that people pick their diets based on their health, whether they need low-adhesion, low-fibre, low-fat, low-sugar, low-FODMAP, high-protein, high-fat, short-peptides-only, TPN, a rush of sugar to get them out of bed with the first can of Irn Bru, a rush of sugar to keep them out of a diabetic hypo, a ready meal or instant mash because it doesn’t take hand strength, instant noodles because they don’t take washing up, hot jam doughnuts because sometimes all that will keep you sane is comfort food, or the exact same bowl of rice every day prepared in the exact same way because it’s all that’s safe.


**I know that a lot of people see someone else choosing not to eat animal products as a threat, or as a moral challenge, or as a bit of one-upmanship. It’s not, at least not in my case although I am certain that some people do it purely to be holier-than-thou, because someone will try everything eventually.  Most people seem to get some sort of near-orgasmic rush of pleasure from consuming meat or dairy products (Either that, or they’re all lying when they say “Oh but a bacon sandwich? Really? Not even slightly tempted? How can you not want a bacon sandwich, one bite and you’ll be down the chicken shop at 2am, eating out of a bucket…”) – I don’t, and I never have as far as I can remember. I’ve never really prized creamy, cheesy, fatty flavours, or soft or juicy textures; As an adult I’ve grown very fond of coconut fat,  but the thought of the traditional “vegan converting” foods like fudge sundaes or bacon-double-cheeseburgers does pretty much nothing for me. I eat plenty of “frivolous” stuff (But really, why do we have to assign moral value to foods anyway?) but they all tend towards being sugary and sour, or spicy – fizzy cola cubes, bubblegum flavoured stretchy not-exactly-liquorice, Skittles, achaar pickles, vindaloo with whole hands of ginger, deep fried mirchi bhaji stuffed with stuff. Stuff like that. I basically have the tastebuds of a seven-year-old. Where animal products do give me greater benefit than they would to the average person, I still use them (I believe that some of my pills have lactose as a binding ingredient, and even though my bike leathers are secondhand, they’re still leather). I feel like it’s a waste of an animal’s life to give its meat to me, who won’t appreciate it, as opposed to giving it to someone who feels that a meal is incomplete without it, or who badly needs the easily-digestible protein and fats.


**I know that a lot of people who have chosen not to eat animal products see people who’ve chosen to eat them as morally backward. Those people are, if not outright idiots, then at least ignorant and probably acting in bad faith, other than maybe a tiny few who really do have a mental illness that should probably be treated with some kind of CBT in order to allow them to interact comfortably with the rest of society. You can’t have grown up in the UK and pretend to be completely shocked and scandalised by seeing a packet of sausages in a communal fridge. There is no great moral benefit in pretending to have a fainting fit every time you pass someone wearing a fur collar or putting milk in their coffee. If it really does horrify you to the point of nausea to see someone making a fry-up or eating a block of cheese, concentrate hard on your own reactions, identify that another person eating meat will not personally harm you, and (if you really can’t control it) calmly move away from the situation. Screaming and lashing out and crying and generally making a scene won’t help, at all.


**I know that most pastoral farmers care about the welfare of their animals – I’ve stepped in to help at enough calvings and lambings, and have put down more than my fair share of ducks and chickens who’d either passed their laying prime, or who’ve just been destined for the table. I still believe that it’s a waste of the farmer’s good work to expend energy on trying to sell their meat, eggs, or milk to me, since I’m unlikely to enjoy eating them. Wool, hides, horns, bones or feathers, I will happily buy by the bucketload since I always have a use for them. As I write this, I’m sitting with my feet on a deerskin rug which I tanned myself, from a hide which was otherwise going to waste at the local butcher’s (Most small butchers who process game don’t have the facilities or client base to use the skins, and will gladly give them away to anyone who can reliably pick them up. The same applies to antler and large bones which are great dog treats or carving blanks, depending on their condition).


**I know that arable farming also kills animals and damages the local ecosystem, as well as having poor human rights records – But I don’t think that I could reasonably afford to eat enough good-quality meat to significantly reduce the amount of grains and vegetables that I eat, and it’s debatable whether humans suffer more in picking crops under a gangmaster, or processing cattle in a slaughterhouse.


**Most arguments about veganism boil down to classism – Either that the “Ignorant working class” should bow to the superior knowledge of their enlightened middle-class vegan counterparts, or that the “Pigshit thick coddled townies” should gaze in awe upon the superior wisdom of their salt-of-the-earth rural meat-eating farmers. Neither is 100% accurate (A hill farmer in Yorkshire doesn’t necessarily know more about the environmental or human cost of prawn farming in Vietnam than his London-based vegan adversary) and honestly given the nature of global trade, of how poor the accountability trail for so many foodstuffs is (Unless you know the farmer, you don’t know that your “British beef” is really British – It could just have been slaughtered or processed here, and that’s even before we get into food scandals), and how deeply emotive and based in what feels right rather than what is logical the notion of what is or isn’t wholesome food is, there pretty much can’t be “One right and true Objective Picture”.


**There doesn’t seem to be much conclusive proof either way for whether a vegan or a carnist diet is better for the majority of healthy adults, and a lot of studies have been skewed either by picking the most health-conscious vegans (the type who plan meals, take vitamin supplements and measure their blood pressure) or by picking the least health conscious carnists (archetypally, a commercial driver who eats at Big Lil’s Cafe for breakfast every morning and then doesn’t eat anything but strong coffee until nearly midnight). Or vice versa – There’s plenty of vegans who live on instant ramen and bourbon biscuits, and plenty of carnists who carefully measure out their steamed chicken breast portion (the size of a pack of playing cards!) and match it up with brown rice.


**The paradox that the only vegans you ever hear about are the annoying shouty ones really isn’t helping anyone.

Skies littered with five pointed stars

The last few days have been beautiful, exhausting, and frankly just the kind of lovely chaos that I’ve been needing.


The last few weeks have been hell. As most of you know, my Grandmother has fairly late-stage Alzheimers now, and has just been taken into respite care after a whole load of nigh-impossible tasks. She’s up North, in the homeland, I’m a hundred and fifty odd miles away. Other than phoning and chatting and trying to keep everyone else on an even keel, I can’t help. My one hope on “helping” is getting my bike functional again, getting up North and running errands. I can’t do emotional stuff, I’m shit at talking about problems, but I can pick up groceries and hassle doctors and make sure that the right meds go to the right people and argue the pros and cons of memantine and quetiapine and citalopram and all that.

My bike, which got home three days ago, has thrown a back wheel bearing. Went out for a first shakedown ride on it with Best Friend, and within eight miles of home it had thrown the bearing, leaving us stranded out in a residential street in a village between the town we left from and the one we were aiming for. Fortunately, help was at hand; First and old gent who’d had a Honda 90 and was more than happy to lend us his extensive toolkit, then a family who all owned Triumphs and classic Minis who offered advice and hand wipes as we stripped the bike down to find the problem (Initially, of curse, assuming the fuelling was the problem, again).


Whilst at Best Friend’s house, we rescued a Staffordshire bull terrier. She was lost, stuck out in the back alley in the middle of a downpour, at midnight (I spotted her when checking on the bikes before going to bed). She came into the house when invited, and only when invited, and ate everything given to her (About eight pouches of cat food), but nothing that we didn’t give her, and then sat down happily on a sheepskin to be fussed over and checked for an identity tattoo, a chipping scar, or a name tag. Admitting defeat, we kept her until the next morning, when we went to seek her owners (She slept perfectly well in the guest room, and held her excretions until she got outside).  Taking her to the local park, nobody recognised her. Asking a column of schoolchildren and their teacher, nobody recognised her (The teacher told the children to come forwards and look at the dog to see if they knew her. The classroom assistant, near the back, grabbed three of the children from the back who had come forward to see if they recognised the dog,and told them off with an “Oh aren’t you three nosey!” – I think this sums up classroom assistants really. Total lack of curiosity and blind adherence to routine and love of wielding heavy authority over the powerless.) Eventually I found people who may have been her owners… But they hadn’t noticed that their dog was gone until the morning. I took her to the vet, who scanned her chip and said that they’d take her back to her owners, who’d now have to pay a fine to get her back.

And, to top it all off, I’m now nocturnal again, just when it’s the least convenient. Oh well, there was an hour change a couple of days ago which might hurry me back towards diurnality. At least I’ve had the impetus to tidy out my nest, make some lace (And still get to lace school at that) and make a second bed for myself.

The man in black

The week before last, I booked in a GP appointment to ask to have my tubes tied.


It felt like I was being cross-examined, and like whatever I said my answer would be wrong.


“Do you have a long-term partner?” (Yes) “And what does he think about you getting this done?” (It’s none of his business/he’s supportive) “But what if you were in a different relationship, with someone who wasn’t supportive?” (Why would I be in a relationship with someone who wanted something so different out of life/Are you saying that you want a future partner to be able to reproductively coerce me?)


“What do you understand by the term tubal ligation?” (I describe the procedure, the effect on hormone levels -ie, none – the possible side effects) “Oh, but don’t you understand that it’s permanent?” (That’s the point. Literally the whole point.)


“Why don’t you want a coil anymore?” (It’s not permanent.) “But you’re not having any side effects?” (IT’S NOT PERMANENT.) “Why do you think you’ve had difficulty with coil insertions?” (Because it had to be done under a general anaesthetic and then it fell out and then it slipped upwards and IT’S NOT PERMAMENT.)


Why don’t you want children?” (I never have. It would be dangerous. I don’t want to pass on my illness.) “Oh why do you think that you’re ill?” (Have you read my notes?) “Why do you think that it would be passed on to a child?” (Do you understand the meaning of genetic?)


She wrote down all of my answers then said “Well, since you’re so young, I’m going to reccommend a very long course of counselling first, before you get the referral.”


I’m so young. SO YOUNG. I’m thirty. My grandmother was through menopause by 35. I’ve miscarried and know that I can’t carry to term due to an intersex condition, atop the EDS making it so dangerous. I’ve lived all over the world, taken a dozen career paths, worked with children, and just know they aren’t for me, but it’s assumed that a few hours of sitting in front of a happy maternal girl in a quirky dress with a sympathetic expression who says “But… Babies? Babies?! BABIES!!!!” will make me throw my life plans and physical reality up in the air and risk my life, my sanity and my ability to support myself and want to spawn. Or that a hypothetical future-partner deciding that he wants to whelp onto me is more important than my lifelong wishes.


Fucking amazing.


Anyway, first session of counselling is at 9am on the 10th of May. 9am. The poor counsellor is going to come out of that session not only not wanting children, but being pro-extinction-of-the-human-race.