Fluffy flotsam

Actually, today came good.

  1. Did my taxes first thing this morning, so am now up-to-date on the 2014-2015 financial year.
  2. Picked up my prescription without any hassle.
  3. Got, if not a good result at the GP, at least a non-horrible result, and Dr L2 is really nice.
  4. Best of all, got a post-illness kilometre PB – 14.07 freestyle. Doing 39 racing turns in a row will make you dizzy though.
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Love is in the air.

Today haws been a win.

Other than one wrecked hip, one wrecked shoulder, and a rolling migraine that felt like having an icepick rammed into my eye socket but without the soothing lobotomy, today has been fabulous. Borrowed a friend with a van, and made the four-hour round-trip to pick up Brrrm from the other side of the Pennines.

Got home, refuelled myself, then after a few minutes of oohing and aahing at Brrrm with the Downhill Neighbour, I went for a quick five-minute pootle around the village. I followed the route of the bus, which circles the village before going into town, then instead of going into town went up to the garage and refuelled the bike as well – Five pounds to fill the tank, over the reserve. At that point, it started raining, so I turned around and headed home. Not a long ride, half a dozen miles at most and none of it over 30mph, but it felt good to be out. The GZ125 is, as I’ve mentioned, slow and squidgy, and this one seems to want to be in third gear to go at twenty miles an hour. But I’ve mastered the stalling-at-every-stop thing, and I no longer insist on slowing to an absolute crawl at the slightest bend in the road, so I think I’m on the right track. And more to the point, sitting on it is comfortable. Like, the posture that the seat encourages – Arms relaxed, shoulders back, knees apart, feet straight and supported from the soles – is actively good for me. Add to that the sudden blast of fresh air and being genuinely on my own with my thoughts was invigorating. One of the things I really miss are my long walks – Before I got ill I would do my long walks, ten to twenty miles at a time, always just setting off from my house, or a friend’s house, or just deciding to walk home from whatever far-flung point I was at. Preferably in the cold, on the kind of day that’s got a low, white sky and still air and the promise of snow. They were my time to think – To just let the body deal with itself (one foot, then the other foot, nice long strides that take no energy at a pace that I could keep up for days) whilst I let my mind run wild, solve whatever problems I had, write reams of prose, soak in the surroundings and just generally exist without anyone bothering me. And now this has opened up the possibility of feeling like that again.

I got off the bike and felt more awake than when I’d got on it.

Tomorrow, I have grand plans – Maybe do a short stint at work, then go out into the hills for a bit to take photos of sheep. Or cows, maybe. I saw an amazing belted galloway calf, About two foot tall and for some reason in a field full of full-grown anguses, so might try to find him again. Also, further away there was a field full of cows (friesians, I think – Black and white and ddairy, anyway) in orange high-vis vests, which was a special kind of special. I know it’s practical, but the poor beasts looked so undignified.

And now I can just go out and see where the road takes me. A sensible trip might be to the local biker cafe, where if nothing else, I can basically guarantee someone to put the bike back together if it comes to bits, and also where I can get something to eat mid-journey without being looked at askance for being in leathers.

Here’s to enthusiasm.

Do you believe in valkyries?

So, today was Bike Trip One – Going to see Bike One, in Orrell, 50 miles, three trains, a bus, and a short, muddy hike away. Thankfully, I was spared most of the short muddy hike by the bike’s current keeper driving down to the railway station to collect me. Whilst out, I also dropped off the change bucket that I’ve been storing up since 2007 at the bank, and found myself £106 richer than I thought.

It’s a good looking bike – 2005 Suzuki Marauder (In a colour I can only describe as “Utter twattock red”, and thus perfect), 30,000 miles on the clock (owch), Cat Ced more than five years ago for “something cosmetic” which has since been repaired (The painted parts of the bodywork are pristine), lost most of its chrome (mope), but it’s like riding a Shetland pony – Short and fat and heavy, not particularly quick, but comfortable, comfortable. It’s got saddlebags and a sissy bar, so at some point it was evidently someone’s two-person long-distance ride, even if recently it’s been a to-university-and-back vehicle for a lone student. It’s promising, and it’s a few hundred quid below market value, due to it taking up too much space in the owners’ garage.

There’s basically a slack handful of companies that I’m looking at (Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki), either a custom-cruiser or a commuter bike, but since at 125-size the difference is negligible I basically mean “Any unfaired or minimally-faired bike, with a comfy, upright-ish riding position, room to carry stuff, and preferably a teardrop fuel tank and wire-spoke wheels because I am a complete fool for pretties”, and with a budget under about a grand, since that leaves me with money enough to pay my tax and insurance, get my theory certificate, and some Big Bike (Direct Access) lessons before taking my test.

My travel radius to find said bike is, apparently, about fifty miles – That covers my city, all the other cities and towns in its conurbation, and the nearest big cities to the north, south, and west. This of course leaves the problem that I might have to do my first solo ride, on a new bike, on unfamiliar roads and up to a distance of fifty miles, after a rail journey of, apparently, up to about three hours once I’ve allowed for the bus to my railway station, changing trains in little towns and taking branch lines into adorable villages where there’s only one train an hour.

Suddenly, it’s all the more obvious why I want a bike, and it’s not just about the fun of actually riding it – I want to be able to leave the city without having to take a whole day just to get to and from my destination. Today I spent seven hours travelling, for a half-hour of looking at a bike. This, in my world, is about normal. I used to travel two and a half hours each way to spend two hours a week volunteering at the Greyhound Trust. Likewise, I used to happily travel two or more hours each way to go to naginata or iaido practise, in three different cities. When I did roller derby, that was an hour’s commute, on two trains and a bus, three times a week. I can’t afford that much time now, but I bet that if I was a bit more independently mobile, thus with shorter journey times and less pressure (The difference between “ten minutes late” on the train, when missing a connection by a minute can make an hour’s difference at the other end, and “ten minutes late” in private transport, where that ten minutes is the same ten minutes at the end of the journey), I would get back into doing that sort of thing. Hence, bike.

And, after the ridiculously long day (Which started with me waking up at half past five to deal with the dog vomiting everywhere – He was fine, in the end, but it was terrifying for all of us) I decided to go for a swim. Well, it turns out that “Three bottles of Lucozade and a flapjack on the train” isn’t exactly the breakfast of champions, so tonight’s swim was slow and disheartening. On the other hand, I’m now sleepy and warm, and have license to go to sleep. Tomorrow, all I have to do is phone a couple of bike sellers (Two more GZ125s, one of them closer to home) and maybe think about ringing around for double glazing, since the house is starting to leak.

And the day after that, I might be going to Cleethorpes on holiday. Three holidays on the beach within the year – Look at me being decadent!

The Illustrated, The Wicked

Today was my regular-irregular meeting with the rheumatologist, Dr D. D is lovely – He remembers what I’ve been up to (Or at least keeps very thorough notes), and fiercly advocates that my GPs are generally idiots, that I need to get into Stanmore as soon as possible, and that I’m right in just being my own physio now.

On the “GPs are ignorant” front – He thinks it’s ridiculous that I get 16mg of diazepam a month, especially since it’s so much better for me than taking lots of morphine for the spasms. He’s sent them a letter to complain and tell them to stop being so ridiculous and hidebound.

On the Stanmore front – He says that I’ve held up my end of the bargain, and got into improbably good shape (He was a bit cautious about asking if I’d put on weight but, when I said gleefully that I had, he enthused about how much healthier and stronger I looked now) so that the NHS should hold up their end of the bargain and get me into inpatient treatment. He was impressed with the amount of swimming I was doing, and said that he wasn’t sure if he, or most other abled people, would do the same, even if they likewise didn’t have day jobs. He’s promised to bother Stanmore for me, so I don’t have to keep doing it myself.

He’s also promised to follow up with the gastroenterologist and the hip surgeon – We both agree that I really want to avoid surgery, but that having someone look it over and give an expert opinion is a good idea.

And then, as seems to be increasingly traditional for me – I came out of hospital and went straight to the bike garage. I’d not been intending to buy anything, but they had in the exact helmet that I’d been looking at previously, reduced to half price, so I bought it. And then I got home, rang someone that was selling a Suzuki Marauder on the other side of the country, and am heading over there tomorrow to have a look at it. Not to buy it – Not even to promise to buy it – but to get plenty of photographs and have a better look at it.

Not sure if this is hubris, or things just all going well for a change.

Tomorrow night is swimming – Definitely looking forward to it, haven’t been since Friday. Six days is far too much of a gap. Admittedly mitigated by spending three days with Best Friend in the gap, but still.

Full Chrome Awesome

I finally passed my CBT, thanks to an incredibly patient and understanding instructor. A six-am reveille, the nervy panic of getting back on a bike, finding myself glued to my leathers by gallons of sweat from sitting astride an engine in twenty-seven degree weather and seemingly endless physically and mentally exhausting manoevres on the practise pad were all worth it for two hours of glorious driving down twisty country roads in a boiling thunderstorm. There’s nothing like lightning flashes and towering blue clouds over a road lost in heat-haze to add a bit of drama to an otherwise fairly gentle and responsible ride. Also there were chickens in the road, and highland cows, and at least two llamas. And many, many tractors, most of them dragging hay-wagons, one of which was about twenty yards away from turning me into the Late Laminated. The most common instruction in my headset was “Is there not a little green light flashing on the panel?” since my only notable problem, by the end, was forgetting to turn the indicator off after a turn.

I was nervous – Really nervous, nervous enough to keep stalling and not make progress beyond about twenty miles per hour – for about the first ten minutes, then gradually my confidence picked up and I started managing the speed limit (or, in the case of national limit roads, managing about what was sensible on them) most of the time, and had my slow-speed control in the innumerable traffic-calming zones down to a tee (Right down to driving around the speed bumps and potholes) by the end of the session.

It was all managed with two short breaks, more to let the engines cool down and check how I was feeling on the bike than to stop myself falling apart in pain. (Thanks to the one-way radio, I could hear M, but he couldn’t hear me. This is possibly useful, since he would have got a stream-of-consciousness ramble of “Fuck fuck fuck fuck AHAHAHAHAAA THIS IS AWESOME fuck THINGY! what the? COMBINE HARVESTER! ooh what a pretty NOOO I’m not ready for the national speed limit FUCK road full of apples OH MY GOD EVERYTHING IS AMAZING”)

My major problems seem to be stalling at junctions (Always recovered quickly enough that I’m not holding up traffic), not cancelling my indicators (probably an overlearn of “don’t look at the instrument panel”) and not quite having the confidence to pick up speed quickly. I also only had to overtake once, a cyclist, so I imagine that overtaking anything bigger or faster might prove interesting – I opted to stick behind a bus which was pulling away from its stop, since I wasn’t confident how big its blindspot was, and there was a yellow bollard island in the middle of the chevrons. Not a terrible choice, but a cautious one.

Next steps… Well, sensibly, the next step is to re-work out my budget, and buy the remaining gear (Gloves, helmet, boots), and buy, tax and insure a bike. This will, obviously, require a mixture of “Saving up basically forever” and “Taking out a loan”. I can square this with myself because, over time, having a bike will both save me money on bus, taxi and train fares, as well as giving me more flexibility on, well, everything. This is what I wanted it for, really – Freedom. Being trapped by a mixture of public transport timetables and the goodwill of my friends is starting to drive me up the wall.

Longer term – The next step is probably to aim to have my theory test done by Spring, so that I can make the most of the long days and drier weather to do my test in, after having ridden over Winter in much harder conditions. I’ll do the New-Bike-Familiarisation with the same school, pretty much as soon as I get the bike itself, then maybe give it a month before deciding what I want to do about extra lessons. I imagine I’ll want at least a few, if nothing else just to make sure I’m not picking up too many bad habits.

But, all practicalities aside; Being out on the bike gave me the same calm, focused feeling as swimming. That’s something that’s worth spending money and time on. Not sure how I can explain it to anyone who isn’t in constant pain, but having a state in which you can be aware of your whole body without being mostly aware of the pain, and – even better – being aware of how well it’s functioning at the thing that it’s doing, rather than being aware of its complete inactivity. I am not being hyperbolic to say that it’s the active version of the passive whole-body-flicker that a morphine high imparts when you’re lying perfectly still and doing nothing but letting your brain wander through the turquoise lights.

I need more of this. I much prefer the feeling of being energetic and productive than feeling like I’m melting into a pile of feathers.

Of course, now I’m suffering for my hubris. Nobody will be surprised that eight hours on a bike has, now that I’ve allowed myself the luxury of feeling it, taken a bit of a toll on my joints. My hips feel great, but my knees and ankles are stiff, the strength is gone from my wrists, my hands haven’t stopped shaking, and my right shoulder has the familiar “Someone has put a red hot steel ball under my scapula” feeling. So I’ll sleep for a week, and then I’ll go bike shopping.

Cherry Menthol Sea Monster

So, my two days up North were actually awesome. I’d packed light (Everything I needed fitted into the pockets of my leather jacket, including a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, medication, soap, a support bandage, phone, wallet, keys, passport, notebook, multiple pens and a selection of empty vials for emergency use) meaning that I didn’t have to worry about where I was staying – No need to check in to the hostel, or commit to catching the last train to Algernon’s or back home, or to staying with Sambuca, I could just see where the night ended up. One of my big fears is of being socially stuck with people for extended periods, so having a handful of options which would let me have the option of sidestepping society was an important part of persuading me to travel. Even knowing that Sambuca always has a spare bed made up for me, I’m still always going to book a hostel bed in advance when I do this again, just in case.

Met up with Sambuca outside the railway station, and immediately launched back into the same conversations we’d been having in 2006. I seem to have a damn good record on having long-time friends who are really good at taking all of this in their stride (Other than the obvious exception, who will probably get his own blog post one day). We went up to Westgate and ogled about a million bikes. I have seriously fallen for a secondhand Suzuki VanVan; 2014, just over two thousand miles on the clock, previously owned by a couple who used it to pass both of their CBTs, then their Direct Access, then sold it back to the dealership and bought two Triumph Tigers. Every review of the VanVan that I’ve seen has included the words “Squidgy”, “Easy-handling”, “Gentle” and “That back tyre is verrrrry interesting, it’s good on dust and cobbles and makes the low-speed handling really forgiving”. So it’s not just a bit of pretty arsecandy, it’s a sensible machine for a nervous novice.

After that, we got a quick curry, then retreated to our old table in our old pub and sat until one in the morning, drinking a dozen bottles of brown ale and looking at photos of Tokyo (Wow, my ability to read Japanese goes downhill fast when I’m drunk) and photos of our mutual friends’ innumerable children (All, mysteriously, ginger). It turns out that, other than me, everyone still lives within half a mile of the river and east of the bridges and other than a couple who have gone into coupley hibernation, everyone still goes on on a Saturday night. Bliss.

Anyway, by time we got back to his house I was both very, very drunk and had put about a quarter of a bottle of of morphine down my neck to try to stop my hips and clavicles from completely destroying themselves. I’d nearly passed out from pain a couple of times in the pub (More alarming for Sambuca than for me) and had struggled to manage the steps down into the cellar, so I slept in the living room in what could only sensibly be described as a morphine coma, finally being woken up at ten when, in Sambuca’s words “The house woke up”.

I went up to get a shower, and found that my towel still had the tags on it. I came down for breakfast, and there was a whole breakfast bar set out, with four kinds of cereal, multiple teas, and toast. I was informed that the family had gone out, but that all of this had been laid on entirely for me. Basically one step behind buying a hat. And we sat and had a very civilised breakfast, with toast and marmalade, then he drove me down to the far side of the river to catch up with Algernon.

Algernon turned out to be very much trapped at work (match day, in the one pub in the village with satellite), so instead I wandered down to the seafront and managed to get caught up in a massive charity drive on the main street for the long-abandoned saltwater swimming pool – Built in the 20s, used as a pool until the 80s, turned into coldwater scuba training until the 90s, and then filled in with sand and rocks in an attempt at turning it into an “artificial rockpool”, which failed miserably and the whole thing continued to gently rust and corrode into the sea. So I decided to take a walk and went down to the abandoned pool itself and had a good look at it – Amazingly, I’d never seen it before in my life (There is a massive cultural divide between the north and south sides of the river) and it was more than a little eerie, thus perfect. Two massive tanker ships loomed prow-on, turning before they came into the river, but at the moment looking alarmingly like they might smash into the white-painted metal railings. The sea lapped up against the concrete base of the structure, the odd wave crashing over the side, and more water flowed in through the old infill pipe. I stayed for a while, standing where the old diving blocks would have been and sighting along the fifty-metre stretch which was once the main tank, sitting on the concrete steps which made up the viewing gallery, and trying to work out where the old changing rooms would have been. The whole site was strangely resistant to being reclaimed by nature, and it felt more like a ship in a breakers’ yard than anything else. I bought a T-shirt from the fundraisers on the way home, shared what I knew about its long-destroyed sister pool on the south foreshore, and promised to keep in touch.

From there  it was just a matter of getting back on the local train, then the regional train, then back home within three hours. The migraine was kind enough to wait until I went to bed to strike.

Today I am completely destroyed. My clavicles, which were complaining about being upright for so long, have gone on strike and crawled up my throat, my right hip is an immobile wreck, and my wrists are making a noise like a succession of bathroom sinks being thrown off a towerblock roof. But it was worth it.

And lo, that’s the end of the stressful week. Now I’ve only got two things to do in August left – Meeting up with Best Friend for his birthday, then doing my CBT on the 22nd. I think I’ve survived it.

Fighting Autumn

Basic training is now booked for the 22nd of August, with the same school as last time.

Hopefully, the weather will have held up (We have been getting some nice indian summers the past few years) and my original plan of “Take CBT, pass CBT, buy bike immediately, ride as much as possible, two lessons a month for six months – either on my 125 or Direct Access, then take the full test for the first time about six months after the CBT, then again every three months until I’ve passed it.” will go into action. It’s going to be expensive (One 3-hour lesson is £80, so to do this I’m going to have to drop my other hobbies, like “Eating” and “Washing In Hot Water”) but I have no vices* so I’m allowed just the one.

Right now, as much as Direct Access would be useful, just to open up which bikes I could ride, I’ve got no real ambitions beyond a 125. They’re cheap to run, Ubiquitous Japanese Bikes have basically-interchangeable parts, I won’t be assumed to be likely to race off by other road users, and they’re not going to rip my arms off.

Though one day I will have a Honda CB400F, and it will be crane yellow, and I will love it to pieces.