Monthly Archives: August 2009

Car Trouble (again)

According to a website that knows about these things, low mileage “shoppers’ cars” are liable to exhaust rot in my make and model of car.  There was me thinking that low mileage rocked!  Since I have only just recovered from the months of anxiety from stone noise, my nerves are again shredded on account of having a fancy wig hanging out the back of the exhaust pipe.  This is a problem that, unlike the stone, will not respond to my bringing my considerable powers of ignoring to bear upon it.  I have pulled lengths of the grey fibreglass out and left a couple of these dead in my wake between Devon and Essex.  Let’s hope that the spoilt shopper’s exhaust hangs tough all the way back home tomorrow.

Damn and blast, I need a new exhaust!

Motorway Chaos

I’ve been driving for a long, long time today.  Which gives me a chance to think, referee the cage fighters in the back and worry.  I am a great worrier.  By the time I’d got, not to Phoenix, but to Bridgwater I was having a hissy fit about the expense of running two cars and the need for one new, fast and German car.
I have, in fact, worried enough recently to crack a tooth through teeth-gritting.  This goes on in my sleep as well, hardly surprising given my recent dreams have comprised the death of my neighbour from my bathroom falling on his head and my needing to choose between two death jets between London and somewhere oop north.  Which got me thinking – why am I so tense?
The answer is simple.  There is even a mathematical theory to explain it.  My twenties were lived as per the Chaos theory.  Easy come and easy go, the biggest concern was enough funds for a big night out.
My twenties = Chaos & the Butterfly Effect

My twenties = Chaos & the Butterfly Effect

Now my life looks like this:
Family, Home, Work...

Family, Home, Work...

I love my ducks, but chaos was less risky.

A Good Book

I finished “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun” by Peter Godwin today and found the book very different from anything I have read for ages.  I can’t review things too well so I had a look for some reviews and I found the following two links online – neither are terribly satisfactory.  The New York Times lifts too many phrases out of context and cheapens them and the reviewer at the Guardian simply wants a slap.  His assertion that his (Godwin’s) father’s backstory is not that interesting is insulting and his admonition that the author should have moved back to Zimbabwe to deliver the kind of book the reviewer wanted to read shows that a) he was reading the wrong book and b) he wasn’t reading it properly.

Grrr.

So I will have to add a mini-review.  The book covers the personal and the political of the Godwin family, Zimbabwe, Africa and what it can mean to be a black or white Zimbabwean under the twisted Robert Mugabe.  The language is such that at times you feel you are reading a novel and yet it so firmly rooted in the horrors of 21st century Zimbabwe that its reality is sitting opposite you as you read.  This is not a light book, but it is a testament that deserves honourable witness.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/18/books/18book.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2007/mar/04/society.politics

James Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture

http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/comment/james-murdochs-mactaggart-speech/5004990.article

The full text above.

Are we witnessing a spoilt plutocrat’s heir apparent throwing his toys out of the pram, or a well-crafted diatribe against a towering state monopoly in the free market of digital media?

He annoyed me for sure, but some of what he says makes sense, but in the final analysis (mine) I don’t buy it.  Sky charge through the nose for tv content which we think we can’t live without and because the online news media have not had the wit to correctly value their journalistic content to date, Murdoch now seems to bemoaning the organisation that had the nous to build their online presence without reliance on advertising revenue or subscriptions.  Yeah I know we fund them, but I think they are WAY better value than Sky.

He also chucks in the BBC Radio 2 red herring.  That’s nowt to do with tv anyway and his Jonathan Woss wefewences are now incorrect in terms of the latest listening figures, with old stagers like Ken Bruce pulling in the punters!

What in hell did Sky expect the BBC to do.  Twiddle their tax-payer paid for thumbs?

Verdict: A sore Aussie, turned Yank, blaming Auntie for his own travails.  Tough cheddar matey.

London to Paris – A Tale on Two Wheels – Day 3 but no ending!

Actually, I don’t want to write the end.  Not sure why really.  Maybe it is because it is probably the very beginning of the many, many miles I hope to cycle in my life with great groups of people and on my own too.  Maybe it’s because although we rode all that way and raised over £100,ooo for the Big Issue, homelessness doesn’t end and the days are growing shorter.  I don’t know.

Of course this wouldn’t be a makemeadiva blog post without a bit of self-obsessed and misplaced vanity too!  Despite my having visited the site of the “official” photographer more than once and having been told his name a couple of times, I can’t find it this morning on the old Google to buy a respectable snap to accompany the finish.  Leave it with me, I’ll get there in due course.

In the meantime I thought you might be interested in the links to Sean Gaskell’s story, a Big Issue vendor on the ride.  He stuck it out in speedy (but technically challenged Group 5 that I started with) on his Tesco bike which, if you read the first link below, was a vast improvement on his training model.  Sean’s chain gave up the good fight on the morning of Day 3, snapping at the summit of a sheer granite cliff face covered in gravel that he had likely cycled up and I had merely tottered up like a lady.  My pride cast aside on Day 1 (although I only walked up one a day!) Sean’s remains very much intact.

All was fixed with our star guide’s extra chain links eventually, but it meant Groups 5 & 6 had a twenty minute sojourn in the woods and the competitiveness was put aside in exchange for some sun-dappled camaraderie in extremis.  Sean was also a star for lending me his whisky before dinner on the last night – medicinal and very welcome, thanks Sean 🙂

http://www.thisisbath.co.uk/news/Big-Issue-seller-s-bike-ride-Paris-way-saying-thanks/article-1026895-detail/article.html

http://www.justgiving.com/seangaskell

The unofficial snap where after the “official” photo at the official finish line they cruelly made us ride a few more miles to the hotel.  Hence my discombobulated expression – ok!

11 hours in the saddle and 1 biere later I've gone wonky!

11 hours in the saddle and 1 biere later I've gone wonky!

Search Terms – “commas never”

How that term cries out for a little bit of punctuation!

My personal favourite would be

“Commas – never!”

Wrinkle Cream

The Daily Mail newspaper is a bit like some mad old great-aunt with whiskers, who lives very far away and you hope never to have to have to (repetition – tick) stay again.  She wags her finger at the kids of today and is totally out of touch with things that matter to me (and to you I hope).  By the way, this is hardly a post, it is just an irritating thought I want to be free of – call it a confession!

So obviously I don’t buy it.  No, if I buy it will be the hideously expensive but far more enlightening Racing Post, or occasionally a Guardian or Independent or Times.  I would not part with money for the Mail (and if Emily pops onto the comments to say she’s seen me do that more than once – well don’t believe her ;-))

But, in an attempt to infiltrate our unsuspecting homes you can get the Mail free @ the gym and the OH drags it home with him.  Or maybe it just jumps in his gym bag.  Either way it sits on the coffee table, like the elephant in the room peddling its right wing, illiberal values until eventually you pick it up for a flick just to check what is going on in that whiskery old head.

I can report back – not a lot, the usual, so vapid and vacuous that I can’t even remember a word of it.  And then (and I know I am starting all kinds of sentences with conjunctions but it’s ok because it is coming back into fashion and I seek to maintain an easy conversational style) the killer punch – in the Femail (ughh) section because we need our own bit as the big news is far to manly for us – an article on wrinkle creams that really work and wait for this; they AREN’T always the most expensive ones!  Well there you have it I was hooked. 

My OH has another habit too.  Not only does he cart the Great Aunt home in his stinky gym bag, he also boots her in the bin the very same day.  Don’t most of us let the newspaper hang about a day or two at least?  The upshot is that I can’t remember which was the cream I should be buying to iron out my wrinkles and the bearer of glad tidings (this once) has gone off in a pink sack for recycling by Cory.

Don’t worry though if you don’t read the Mail (or remember what you read in my case) I have found the source of the story here:

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/bargains-and-rip-offs/article.html?in_article_id=489852&in_page_id=5

which all goes to show it is a waste of time reading the Daily Mail (even the free copy) and I should start a subscription to Which?  Like my Grandpa did.  And nip and buy some Simple moisturiser for £3.21 before I forget.

A Makemeadiva Breakthrough!

I bought some nail varnish.  Have you seen the price of the stuff?  Not wishing to be undone by the cosmetic company daylight robbery merchants I managed to get a “well-known brand” in Poundland.  I used to be too posh to shop there, but many drains on few resources have seen me get well acquainted with these places and then the challenge is not to buy sacks of the living crap as it is all only a pound (or in the 99p shop, even cheaper).  If you are interested I can also write a paean of praise to LIDL another time…

Yesterday I passed on by the temptations of enamel bowls (too expensive only one for a pound) and one pound porn dvds – can you imagine?  We were completely beside ourselves when we found our cat’s favourite tinned food for not 72p per tiny tin, but 4 tins for (you guessed it) a pound.  So we bought eight.  Anyway I could carry on, but the contents of the placky bag, they don’t charge you for, would not be overly riveting after the dizzy heights of the great savings on Gourmet tins of duck with garden vegetables.  When we shared the victory over the supermarkets with the OH he commented wryly that at that price we should all start eating the stuff.

The breakthrough was the nail varnish.  I was going to paint my nails.  I painted a thumbnail and got distracted.  I also bought a glitter eyeshadow pen (I can’t resist glitter anything but I state categorically that errant glitter is mighty uncomfortable) which I slathered on myself and the 5 year olds eye-lids.  I then painted all her toe-nails except the little ones which are a strange horn like extrusion and defy decoration and descend directly from the paternal line.  She is now old enough to wonder why her friends don’t have devilish little toe nails like hers, which made me a bit sad as I don’t have all the answers.  BTW is it toe-nails or toe nails or even toenails and eye-lids or eye lids or eyelids?

I’d better go and wash off the glitter that has got in my eyes. 

Our gourmand stuffed in basket

Our gourmand stuffed in basket

London to Paris – The cast

Day 3 is in the post.  That is how it felt to me whilst pedalling away in my altered state.   In fact, at times, I concentrated very hard on staying in the moment, not thinking beyond the next bend in the road and if things were hurting I thought about something else entirely.  I can’t think what though.  As my sister has pointed out I was obviously altered and we did not land in Le Havre at all, but Caen.  To me, a complete route Nazi if you will forgive the rather brutal term, to not know where I was, or show much interest in where I was going (beyond the next bend etc.) was completely alien but scarily easy to do.  On reflection it is an insight into the world of people (my other half being one) who have no sense of direction and do not engage with maps, distances, or even geography.  It made me feel slightly detached, I wonder if it is like that for those in the permanent state of being ever so slightly lost?  I’ll have to ask him.

I digress, I wanted to introduce some of Group 6 because they were a good bunch and worth the keystrokes. I shall use false names to protect modesty.

Emily (that’s her real name I forgot to protect her privacy yesterday – sorry) is my sister.  She is ten years younger than me and nothing like the rag doll I assumed she would be (with her name – think Bagpuss) when she was born.  She is made of steel mainly.  I don’t want to go into a load of personal details but she has had some major ops in her twenties (one on her back) and did some Spartan training back in the early spring to lose weight and really improve her fitness.  I was glad she came and it wouldn’t have been the same for me without her! x

Me (that’s really Makemeadiva).  I am 40 shortly and I didn’t want to approach the milestone feeling washed out and frumpy.  I have wanted to a “charity thing” for years but lacked the confidence when I was younger.  Now I’ve got two kids, disappearing for three weeks to  walk the Great Wall wouldn’t go down too well, so this was a nice short challenge that no-one could object to, too strongly.  I wanted to be fitter too.  I think I am fitter, but my weight remains static.  Our family shape seems to be apple, with quarter-back shoulders, not exactly Lance Armstrong but not to worry.

Greg (he’s not called that but I kept calling him Greg for the duration – sorry).  Our mightily impressive group leader.  I love an Antipodean positive attitude and Greg kept us all on the money for the trip.  He told it like it was and also supported us (especially up hills) when we were losing the will to live.  A great combination of the stick and carrot were wielded and dangled with the all important GSOH thrown in.  He had ridden the Pyrenees Challenge in 08, covering 930km in 8 days with over 16,000m of climbs!  Google it.  A pretty impressive figure to follow for three days.  The company that organised our ride were Tall Stories – http://www.tallstories.co.uk/ – I can recommend them.

Commando Bob (aka Rambo).  Bob was in his 50s.  I couldn’t remember his real name at all and by day 3 it would have been rude to ask!  Actually I do know it now as I asked someone else.  Notable in our group for looking like a skater boy in his 50s and wearing a MASH helmet.  Completely risk-averse, the Commander preferred going up hills to freewheeling down them.  So he didn’t freewheel and the screeching of brakes was to be heard across Europe; we became accustomed to waiting for him in a huddle at the bottom.  A comprehensive knowledge of supermarket own-brand pricing competitiveness did not stand in the way of his running a successful (and very complicated financial business/HQ the Gherkin).

Mick.  A vision on a purple bike.  He was unfailingly cheerful at all times, on all days and an excellent bon viveur en route.  He was awarded the yellow jersey for the fattest fundraising balance on the last night.  You could rely on Mick for a good chat in the saddle.

Dawn.  An exceptional woman.  Marathon runner par excellence.  She’s run them here, she’s run them there.  She’s run them dressed up as something else (tip – no pressure and a chance to stop and chat!).  She has also taken part in the gruelling Comrades ultra-marathon in South Africa and lived to tell the tale.  Apparently losing a toe-nail or two is par for the course…  Dawn was always up for a chat (except when she got hungry), had the prettiest Italian turquoise bike and was Queen of the hills.

T. The angel with the hydration sachet and multiple facial piercings.  She had a point to prove on this trip and the emotional baggage may have made heavier weather of it than she bargained for.  The bike she had was probably tipping the scales too and there wasn’t an awful lot of her to get the monster up the inclines.  Nonetheless she was often to be seen tearing off in front, equally well she might be found suffering with her knee at the back.

Prom Queen.  This delightful girl was only 18!!!  She had done a lot of her fundraising by asking guests at her 18th birthday party to donate to the charity rather than give her a present.  She had (by her own admission) a crappy, old bike but for some reason (youth and enthusiasm and a strong faith in Jesus I guess) she was able to cut it day in, day out with nary a moan.  I was well impressed.  The likelihood of my two heiresses ever turning out like this is about 500/1 but a little bit of her altruism would probably see most of us alright.

The Couple.  Early twenties, not entirely separate entities, except enforced on the last day.  Nice but quite tight with each other and the other youngsters.

The Model.  Also part of a couple (and probably not a model).  I think she was a student maybe – I can’t remember so dazzled was I by her blondeness and long (half-marathon running) legs.  Her OH was in Group 5, they seemed in love, so that was nice.  I was bit worried by her telling me he was “passionate” about his job – in marketing…  She reliably informed me that this was harder than half-marathon running.  That’s good because that might be on my list.

Bit part players.  The good thing about this enterprise was that you could change groups; move up if you were with the go-slows and move down if you were struggling.  Some people seemed to be going through the groups like a dose of salts, so those that spent only half a day or so with Group 6 didn’t always register.  These are the ones I remember.  Two ladies in their 50s, one who had the same bike as me – that’s not really worth mentioning but it was notable to me.  They were a drama teacher and a dance teacher.  They had those lithe, sinewy bodies that cyclists have.  One of them had cycled from Lands End to the Scottish place with her son for charity (camping).  They moved up to Group 5 – impressive.  A lady (also 50s) who had done a lot of cycling in Sweden, laying down the ks with her brother.  She said it was pretty flat though.  Lastly, but so not leastly, was E, a Big Issue Support Worker who was accompanying one of his clients.  I cycled behind him in the morning of Day 3 and I could tell he was having back problems from the shifting and stretching in the saddle.  He was then to suffer a further indignity and went back to Group 8 (7 having overtaken 6).  He and his Big Issue vendor had bought their bikes from Tescos and got on with it.  Good for them!

Those were the significant others on the trip and of course they made it what it was.  There was one other person, who shall remain nameless, but I call her the Bad Fairy who was not in our group but was in the walking up hills group.  She was known to us and we spent time with her at the hotels.  Her unravelling may be listed under the casualities later…

Apples on Tour - being told to pose like numpties much to my disgust!

Apples on Tour - being told to pose like numpties much to my disgust!

These photos from my hard drive are coming up awfully small, I shall just count my blessings and y’all should be grateful for small mercies 🙂

London to Paris – A Tale on Two Wheels – Day 2

It had turned out to be my mind over my matter (mainly thighs) thus far and so the theme continued on day 2.  We assembled in the Premier or Travel Lodge car park at either 5 or 5.30 a.m. – a rag tag and motley crew waiting for roll call and to walk to the ferry.  My mind had gotten me out of bed, my body would quite happily have still been snoring at this point.  However, the recovery powers of the body were proving to be  quite amazing.  Although I was exhausted and not being asked to cycle yet, only shuffle seaward, I could sense my legs were in much better shape than 10 hours before – I think I may have thanked Jesus and all that is holy.

You may have noticed that aside from myself and 73 others my sister, Emily, was also in attendance at the start.  She had also enaged upon the madcap scheme and we were now sharing each others pain and various double beds en route.  She is not much of a morning person, neither am I, not much was said in the a.m. of day 2, apart from a bit of green-eyed verbal monster at the people innocently queueing for the ferry to start their holidays.

I had started reading “What I Talk About when I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami the day before.  I knew nothing about the author and I had been looking for a book about cycling, but the cover appealed to me (as did the book’s slim profile).  These are 10 things you need to know about him apparently, that I didn’t know at the time.

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4352966.ece?token=null&offset=12&page=2

The bit I had read the night before had been profound.  “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.  I was later to read that muscles are like dogs – inclined to indolence, you need to show them who’s boss, they might protest a bit before fairly quickly falling into line.  All this was manna from heaven for me.  Instead of retreating into my own private hell where my legs were dictating my mindset and I was struggling to redress the balance, I just took on this succinct thought.  Of course there would be pain along the way but what I chose to make of that was up to me.  Anything that mentions dogs helps too…  It is true that muscles will just accept the demands placed on them if increased incrementally and with loving sterness.  It was a metaphor I could work with.

http://www.exorcising-ghosts.co.uk/index.html – for more on Haruki Murakami and his books

We had an awfully rough crossing from Portsmouth on the gliding thing (was it a catamaran? I wasn’t paying attention).  In my new-found zen state I shut my eyes and imagined I was a baby enjoying some violent, but loving, parental rocking.  Despite the sounds (and smells) of vomiting all around I was not a bit seasick which is a first for me.  It was actually quite enjoyable in a way.  Once reunited with the bikes at Le Havre I put my saddle up an inch or so and it was a relief to get going.  Every day before setting off I was gripped with anxiety in my stomach, fearful of what the day held.  It was always better once we began.  Maybe I should apply that to the rest of  life!

Day 2 turned out to be mainly pleasant.  We had some rain mid-afternoon and I hopped off and walked up the crest of a wet and slippery hill.  We were seeing more of Groups 5 and 7, both lead by the eager rookie guides.  Getting lost and technical issues seemed to be the reasons we “slow but steady” crew were bumping into the speedier merchants.  So far we had had no punctures at all.  A couple of chains had dropped off, mine included and usually on hills due to amateur spasms of gear-changing but more or less, so far so good.  Apart from the regular interloper called cramp, some riders were complaining of saddle sores but I was pretty spot-on thankfully.  With the rain though, came a wet derriere, swiftly followed by some ample chafing – a cyclist’s worst nightmare.  By afternoon tea stop (huddled under a gazebo in the rain) the chafing was threatening to turn into something more substantial.  That makes me think of James Cracknell et al in the Antarctic, frost nip can turn into frost bite and then things start dropping off!  You get the picture.

Emily, having entertained a bit of this chafing upstart in training, had come well equipped with “Udder Cream” – moo.  I having not had it before (like the cramp) had brought some Vaseline, but had foolishly left it packed in luggage and it wasn’t on the bike.  Somehow I deduced that Emily had done the same with the Udder Cream and decided drastic action was needed if I was to avert a saddle sore disaster.  I whipped out my Body Shop Vitamin E lip salve and applied it to a far larger surface area than its lipstick size is designed for.  Obviously I didn’t do this in the tea tent, that would have been rude.  Instead I had to hurry through the delicate process in the loo with a queue outside.

I felt immediate relief and was quite pleased with my make do and mend approach. I reported back to Emily and suggested she didn’t borrow the lip salve any time soon.  It was only then she said the Udder Cream was on her bike all along!  Too late, we had to set off.  This cycling was paced, we were kept to the clock.  No meandering about the lanes looking at stuff.  No long leisurely lunch stops under the trees.  It was all 5 minutes here and 1o minutes there and kick-on on the bikes to make the time.  All this is inevitable if you have to cover a certain mileage in a day.  What it means though is that although you were there, you never really feel like you were.

It’s less relaxing than driving although you are travelling more slowly (ok, perhaps not always).  The concentration required to do about 12-15 miles an hour safely is considerable.  You have to pay attention, not be too distracted by the sights around you.  Be constantly alert to traffic, “car back” is a shout we heard hundreds of times over the three days.  That said you can do things on a bike you can’t do when you are running.  You can adjust your position, change your gear, have a drink, eat something, chat to your neighbour, free wheel and  scandalously even enjoy the  odd moment.

For an udderly smooth cyclists bum apply lashings of this gunk in your padded shorts!

For an "udderly" smooth cyclist's bum apply lashings of this gunk in your padded shorts!

The moments I enjoyed looked very much like this.

Group 2 - we NEVER saw them - too damn fast!

Group 2 - we NEVER saw them - too damn fast!