Anus horribilis

Yes, yes, I know it’s not spelt like that.

Back at the end of 2019 I wrote a *very* funny blog entry. I wrote all the things I would do in 2020 on my bike.

It’s funny because I didn’t achieve one single one. Because Covid. Here’s what I said.

So, what did I do? Well I almost did some of the above. I’ve done around 6500 miles which is nearly there and to be honest I just sort of gave up near the end. I did increase my max square to 31×31 and can get it to 33×33 with a couple of rides. I did ride round a fair bit of Anglesea but panicked and got worried I get caught out in the dark so cut it short.

What I did do in this very strange year was embrace Zwift. I live in Greater Manchester so we’ve pretty much been in lockdown since March so Zwift made a lot of sense. But Zwift gets boring if you’re not chasing a target so first off I told myself I would ride all the routes (including the rebel ones), all 114 of them. (At the time of writing Zwift have just added three more short ones). So that kept me busy for a while.

But then I realised Veloviewer has a zwift leaderboard for all those routes.. I wonder where I am on it?

This is at the end of September.

I mean, I’m old and everything but I can do better than this, surely…..

And so it went, I made a spreadsheet.

And set to work, picking off the lower power ones first.

THE PAIN, MY GOD THE PAIN!!!!! I have suffered. I have buried myself on pretty much every route now and I suspect I am nearing my limit. I can make a few marginal gains but at my age and lifestyle, I can’t imagine they’re going to be huge. Naturally the longer the route is the harder it is to maintain a high power output so I have started to form a good view of what I can achieve over short, medium and long distances.

When I started this, I said to my friend Tom that I reckoned I could get to about position 200 in the veloviewer leader board (there’s around 3000 people on it). Tom reckoned I’d struggle without entering races because for obvious reasons, the pace is much higher in a race. Tom also understands by saying something like that, I’d make a point of trying to prove him wrong.

He was almost right.

I think this is it. I’ll choose a route I think I can improve on, bury myself and be in pain for three days and move up 7 places. Then I’ll look again and I’ve dropped back down to between 132 and 138. I suspect if I stopped trying I’d slowly move back up to the 200’s.

That said, I’ve had a great time. My FTP has jumped up hugely, into the 300’s which I never thought in a million years thought I’d be capable of. That’s translated into tangible benefits in the outside world and I can ride much further and harder than I could at the start of the year. Zwift is an excellent training tool.

If it’s all the same to you though, I’d like to get back outside and do those things I said I would above.

Digital Music display

There you go, these are all my music books of piano sheet music. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t play all this but I’d like to be able to. If I’m being honest I’d love to be able to ad-hoc the blues and boogie woogie but that skill has passed me by. Anyway, I have a lot of music I *try* and play and while I do spend most of my time playing classical, sometimes the mood takes me to have a go at say, ‘smoke on the water’, or ‘Bohemium Rhapsody’ or any other popular tune. Trouble, is I need to find it.

Analogue is great but digital would be greater. A digital collection of sheet music I can just pull up in seconds.

So I start looking for a solution. Now there are a number of commercial solutions out there, but brace yourselves, they’re not cheap. Here’s one now. That one is 1600USD!

I want a solution and I’m sure this one is great but errrm, no thanks.

I could use a tablet but I tried that with my Samsung but the screen is too small for one sheet, never mind two.

So I figure I’m a techie, or at least used to be. I can work this out, plus it’ll be fun.

The obvious answer is connect a Raspberry PI up to a screen. Nice, cheap solution and the good news is, I’ve already got plenty of Raspberry PI’s, see?

Trouble is, they’re over there and the piano is over here.

Aah well, that’s what cables were invented for, a 10m USB cable and a 10m HDMI cable later and I’m ready to go……Except I’m not, because the cheap screen I bought second hand, doesn’t have a HDMI connector. See, I told you I *used* to be a techy. Aah well, that’s what HDMI to VGA adaptors were invented for. Note for the uninitiated (me), those adapters need power.

Excellent! NOW I’m ready to go.

Just need some software that can display sheet music now. This is the fun bit. If by fun I mean, frustrating.

First I tried DMS, https://www.wis.co.uk/andy/dms.html, works straight away, but too basic for my needs.

Then I tried MusicRack, http://www.stefanv.com/computers/musicrack-a-digital-sheet-music-display-system.html. Looks pretty good but it’s uncompiled. So I roll up my sleeves, used to be a half decent programmer. That’s when I find out it’s written in Pascal. PASCAL! I tried for a little bit but eventually gave up, that kind of craziness can take a long jump.

Then I came across Calibre. Calibre is actually intended as an open source e-book reader but during my search for a sheet music display I found one person using it so decided to give it a go.

It actually works really well! Easy to import pdf’s, organises them clearly, works well on the Raspbberry, the two sheet display fits well on the screen and it’s easy to move backwards and forwards between pages. Space bar advances a page which makes it easy to tap while playing.

Sweet! All sorted.

Although it’s not……

Two things, I can’t annotate. One good thing about real paper sheet music is you can add little pencil notes regarding style, fingering, reminders of the key (I’m an idiot so sometimes have to remind myself which key I’m in at the actual notes). Second thing is Calibre is a very capable system but remembering all the keyboard shortcuts is very difficult, and some tasks require pressing tab seventeen times. I need a mouse.

The keyboard/mouse one I agonised over for ages. I thought I needed a wired but combined keyboard and mouse. And good ones of those are in short supply. After a lot of searching I eventually realised I was not going to find one so bought a wireless Microsoft multimedia keyboard and trackpad. Turns out my concerns were unfounded. It came beautifully packaged, looks like excellent quality and worked perfectly in the Raspberry. Recommended. It also gets rid of one of the 10m cables.

Annotation is a harder one and one I’ve still not fully resolved. I’m using libre office to add items to the PDF’s but it’s a bit clunky, is nothing as simple as adding things on the fly and loses a lot in the flow. I can’t see a simple solution to this other than buying a touch screen and stylus, another expensive option.

So there we are, a fairly simple and cheap digital music display on a budget, the keyboard was the most expensive item at £30 although I did already own the raspberry PI.

Notes…

By default, Raspbian has no screen saver and will turn the screen off after a few minutes of inactivity. I had to install a screen saver and then set the timeout to 30 minutes.

My Raspberrys are 3’s. It’s not the fastest set up. I can’t load a piece up and expect it to flick through the pages at each space bar tap, I have to load the piece, move through the pages slowly to get them into memory, then it’s ready to go.

I can’t find a way to to automatically display in the right mode which displays two pages next to each other yet. Each time I open a new piece, I have to change the viewing mode to ensure two pages are always displayed next to each other.

Ideally, page turning would be achieved with a foot pedal rather than tapping the space bar, I’ve not yet found a solution for that.

Reap what you sow

A commonly raised trope amongst the driving community is that there is some kind of clandestine war on the motorist. This ‘opinion’ is formed when those in a position of huge entitlement and privilege suddenly find their unchallenged societal priority comes under threat. The under threat positioning is described well here by Peter Walker but I’ll leave him to describe that in better words than I could.

My aim is to highlight a slightly different perspective. I’m very much of the opinion that *if* drivers had listened to the growing pressure that behaviours needed to change, *if* they had taken on board criticism of poor driver behaviours, *if* drivers had actually watched the growth of vehicular traffic around them and recognised it was not sustainable….then maybe they might not be in the position they’re in now. But I’m leaping ahead. Lets look more at the detail.

Queues

Give me a break. You’re sat in your car, in a queue of other cars. You’ve all caused that queue, every single one of you. Not one of you is exempt from blame. You will of course try and move the responsibility across to absolutely everyone else. Cyclists is a common one, the irony in not blaming other drivers is never lost on me, roadworks (because the roads have been damaged from too many cars), upgrades (see above), buses, lorries, taxis. Anything but you.

But it’s you. Look in the mirror if you’re trying to blame any queue you’re stuck in. Look in the mirror and say “This is my fault”. Don’t want to sit in a queue of cars with other queuing people? Don’t take a car to where queues happen. It’s your fault.

China witnesses toll-free holiday travel peak[1]|chinadaily.com.cn

Cycles Lanes
Well this is a very common one, drivers mistakenly think they alone pay for the roads which is beyond ridiculous but that’s not our focus. Drivers believe cyclists should have to pay for cycle lanes because they think they have to pay for driving roads. The basic fact is, cycle lanes would not be needed if all drivers were sensible and drove safely. Imagine that. Imagine complaining about infrastructure that’s needed because you can’t be trusted to use your vehicle in a safe manner. You’re reaping what you sow.

Low Traffic Networks

This is very relevant at the time of writing. For decades, drivers have terrorised dwellers on residential streets by using those streets to bypass the busier, more congested main roads. A scenario previously restricted to cabbies and locals, with the advent of dynamic navigational aids, now anyone can use the street where your kids want to play out on as a rat run. And you’ve got to drive fast haven’t you? Otherwise you’re limiting the benefit you receive cutting out that 200 metres of queuing traffic. So councils respond by putting up 20mph speed limits and maybe even some speed humps, even a little sign begging drivers not to use these streets. Did that stop them? Of course not.

Suck it up chumps, should have listened when you were asked. Any idea what you’re reaping here?

1. Making the case for a low traffic neighbourhood - Sustrans.org.uk
(Note to the reader. The road isn’t closed, it’s only closed to vehicular through traffic)

Speed Cameras

If there were a single subject guaranteed to evoke an irrational response from entitled drivers, it’s speed cameras. I mean, speed cameras wouldn’t even exist if drivers didn’t break the speed limit so irrespective of whether your views are that they are strong safety tools or whether they are simply deployed to raise money, the answer to both is ‘align your speedometer reading with the posted speed limit as a clever way to avoid getting speeding tickets’. Which sounds simple in practice but really does seem to be beyond the literal millions of drivers who get caught every single year. This is reaping what you sow at a very individual level. If you’ve got a speeding ticket, the next logical step to resolve the issue for the future is too embarrassing for me to tell you.

The truth about speed cameras and how they catch you - Daily Record

Insurance
You have to feel sorry for drivers[1]. They’ve had to buy an expensive car, pay for the fuel it runs on, pay for the fumes that fuel creates and now they have to pay for the damage they might cause![2]

Now wonder they feel like cash cows. All they want to do is drive about the place as is their god-given right, occasionally drive into things they didn’t see and then drive off. Why should they have to pay for that?

*those people* don’t have to have insurance …/points at person doing 10mph on a 30lb bike who would hurt only themselves if they rode into something, why do I have to pay? Well the scientific answer is physics. Cars are strong, heavy and capable of moving very fast. They’re not squishy and slow like cyclists. The financial answer is that the damage cars cause when they’re driven into something is significant but the more important answer is, when cars are driven into squishy things, the squishy things *always* come off worse. I mean, you *could* actually open your frigging eyes and not drive into things but despite all the evidence to the contrary, safety campaigners often seem to have a lot of trouble telling drivers to stop driving into things and people and find it much easier to tell the people they keep driving into, to wear a yellow coat.

Still, insurance for road users who keep racking up billions in direct and incurred costs is here to stay and it’s incredibly unlikely to be applied to road users who even at full tilt, have an incredibly difficult time damaging anything other than their own, soft skin. The fundamental advice, if you’ve not guessed it yet is, if you don’t want to have to pay high insurance costs, maybe stop driving into things and people all the time. Insurance costs are directly related to how you drive.

[1] No you don’t
[2] Other travel options where you don’t have to pay any of this are available.

Video and pix: Car crashes into a house in York | YorkMix

Parking enforcement

In some way I would laugh at any driver complaining about parking enforcement. Outside of London parking enforcement is largely a joke. People can generally leave their car where they want without any repercussions. There’s a view that leaving your car anywhere on the public highway is an unalienable right through some misguided relationship between road space and vehicle duty. The fact of the matter is, bad parking is hugely anti-social but more importantly puts people lives at risk when they are forced off the pavement and onto the road. Outside of London you have to park really, really badly before you’ll come to the attention of the authorities. Meanwhile every poor sod who happens upon your vehicle will have to find some way to deal with it. That thousands of badly parked vehicles aren’t vandalised every single day is beyond me and I wouldn’t care if they were.

So don’t ever whinge about parking. Want to get back to your car and find it without a parking ticket, not vandalised or clamped/towed away, park it sensibly where it’s not causing problems for people. Again, if any of these things have happened to you, you are literally experiencing the consequences of your actions.

Pavement parking UK - What is the law, is it illegal and can you receive a  fine? | Express.co.uk

All these limitations on driver enjoyment are in place because of one thing only. It’s not cyclists or councils. It’s not subversive active travel aficionados wreaking their evil way. It’s not communists or left wingers halting capitalism or any other bizarre claims that drivers may put forwards.

The fault for all these restrictions is entirely, 100% on the shoulders of drivers.

2020, then

As you know, it’s traditional to write some kind of todo list around this time of year. A bucket list, I think the young people call it.

I’ve avoided doing such a thing for a few years but I’m going to try it again 2019 was in some ways a poor cycling year for me. I failed to achieve a number of objectives I thought about but didn’t get round to. Didn’t hit my mileage target, didn’t hit my tile square target, didn’t complete LEJOG, didn’t complete our tandem ride round Holland etc etc. Pathetic.

Right, so 2020. Here’s what I’m going to try and do, cycling-wise.

  • 7000 miles in total
  • 35×35 max square
  • Cycle the length of the isle of Ireland from the North to the South
  • Cycle the canal from the Thames in that there London to my house
  • Coast to coast in a day
  • Anglesea coast ride.
  • I really fancy doing another ride up to Cumbria, ride round for a bit, ride home over a few days.
  • I’m itching for another 200 mile ride in a day thing so I’ll maybe throw one in. Current record is 206 miles.

 

Listen to all your IT

Let me tell you a story….

Like many large organisations nowadays, we offer a secure file transfer service to the internet. This service is used to allow customers and partners to send files to us as well as allowing us to send out files to a variety of partner organisations. This service has to be open to anywhere on the internet because all these official connections can come from absolutely anywhere.

Naturally, an open service comes to the attention of the bad guys fairly quickly nowadays. And if you’re doubtful of this, might I suggest firing up an ssh server, set up a monitor on failed logins on the internet and waiting a few minutes.

Anyway, so we’ve got this service, sitting there, listening on port 22 (standard port for ssh and sftp) that anyone can attempt to logon to…..

ssh

Now we accept this may get attacked, it’s the nature of such a service but we use strong usernames and passwords which we set (rather than those connecting), so brute force attempts are not getting anywhere.

Then one day, one of our database administrators gets in touch. “Looks like login attempts are going up on [this service] MFT (managed file transfer). Um…yes. Yes it does.

login attemptsstart

It should be noted that the DBA isn’t to bothered about someone trying to breach us at this stage, he’s worried he’s going to run out of disk storage. No-one else has told us anything. In fact, we checked the other teams. Security team say everything looks normal….And it does….. (This is number of sessions passing through one of our firewalls) No real change there, in fact it’s dropped right off….

fwsessions

Well this is confusing. Still, something has changed. Lets check with the network team, see if they’ve seen anything unusual. Now again, it should be noted that our network team don’t spend their time constantly checking all 900 trillion incoming packets we get every day. As long as our internet pipe isn’t full (and we have a very fat internet pipe), they’re not going to raise any alerts.

Ahah! Orange boxes show high number of permanent sessions, many packets but no established connection. Attackers are opening up an ssh session and firing lots of login attempts down that tunnel.

packets

Numbers on the left are source IP addresses and sessions in brackets. Where are are they coming from? CHINA! We’re being attacked from CHINA!

(I’m using capitals for effect, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll be aware that state and non-state sponsored attacks from China and Russia overwhelmingly make up the majority of hacking that takes place nowadays. Certainly they’re the biggest hitters on our firewalls by far)

How many then? Peaking at over 500 THOUSAND attempts an hour, this is actually quite serious.

countph

Little sub-story here. When non-operational or non-security people are involved in a security investigation, they are liable to make knee-jerk decisions. Not because they’re idiots or unprofessional but they sometimes lack the experience to understand what will work and what won’t when addressing issues such as this in the heat of the moment. They may also be the loudest in the room and need quieting so off we go on an educational whack-a-mole process of blocking individual IP addresses…

whackamole.jpg

YES!!!!

yes.png

NO…..

sey.png

You see, you’re literally on a hiding to nothing thinking the people carrying out these attacks are sat behind a single IP address, typing out login attempts at a rate of 500,000 per hour. This is a botnet (and we ran some checks against some of the sources, they were most commonly, linux boxes or compromised DSL routers with an open ssh port) , it’s a lot more than one device and it is definitely centrally controlled. The instant it realises it’s not getting through from one source, it tries from another, and another, and another. Whack-a-mole isn’t going to work. Geo-blocking might. Bye bye China.

 Nope, that’s not worked either although we’ve changed our configuration so we can see the source IP’s further inside the network.

mftlogs

As an aside, we can now also see which accounts are being tried. There’s no root account on this service, but hey, fill your boots.

Where is that IP address based? 

italy.png

Italy? Are they attacking us now?

Of course, it’s not state-sponsored Italy, just part of that botnet. It’s global. This is big, very big. I mean, it’s coming from everywhere.

global.png

Our best option now is to let the service see the true source address, turn on DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection and hope that sorts it because I’m almost out of ideas now.

fixed

BOOM! That sorted it. The service is now actively maintaining a dynamic block list of source IP’s. If it sees more than 5 failed logins from one source it’ll deny access from that IP for a set period.

So what’s the moral of that story? 

Well at first everyone wanted to blame our security operations team for not telling us about this but in fact they’re blameless, nothing looked unusual to them. Maybe if we’d fed them the MFT service logs, they may have spotted this but I know from experience we’d have tried to tune out noise before this so we may have accidentally have blocked their alerts.

The moral in this case is listen to all your IT admin teams even if they’re not telling you about security related incidents. Because they may be telling you about security related incidents without even realising it. What started as a complaint about disk space filling up from a database administrator who *never* gets involved in security, ended as a multi-team security investigation with a concerted effort from a number of SME’s to come to a conclusion. 

As a secondary moral, if you have a dedicated security team, let them see as much as possible and let them react if it is a security incident. Chances are they’ll have seen it all before and will understand what works and what won’t. They will provide your most measured response and hopefully will ensure the situation is resolved in the quickest time frame possible.

world.png

Man experiences severe, multi-second delay due to cyclists

“It was like my life had frozen to a halt”, stated Mark Reynolds, a driver from Norwich, after being held up by up to 7 seconds before saying ‘sod it’ and flooring it past them into oncoming traffic.

Hard working driver, Mark Reynolds was on his way to carry out his urgent shopping and crap breakfast at an awful shopping centre just outside Dunston before going home to spend all day watching telly when he encountered other road users who weren’t using vehicles he found acceptable.

cyclists

“These people had filled the road, just like me, but I didn’t like them and that’s not right. It was really hard to drive and video them with my mobile phone at the same time but I managed to hold the phone in front of the passenger seat to avoid any uncomfortable questions about who the dangerous one was. Although that lady I almost hit on the pavement was quite annoyed.”

“When I *eventually* overtook them after waiting 5 seconds, a car came the other way so I had to swerve away from it towards the cyclists, I mean, I’m hardly going to risk hitting a car am I?”

“I felt entirely safe through this manouvere on account of being protected by a ton of metal.”, he added, “So everything is fine”

noticias_adelantamiento-ciclista

Mark has used the experience to asses road safety and has started a government petition to force cyclists to have insurance just like some motorists have, when asked how this would stop them riding along the road  in front of him he got a far away look in his eyes before blurting out ‘Stands to reason, doesn’t it?’

Choose a route that places minimal reliance upon the diligence or competency of drivers

I didn’t want to post this. There is a ton of information out there on this subject, I’ll only add to the noise. But then, I saw the same old nonsense, over and over again.

I posted a tweet that got a lot of love. So I’ll pass on my 40+ years experience, take it if you like or do something different. There’s no science here, just my experience. These are in order.

  • Choose your route. Want some safety advice? The best I can offer is ‘choose a route that removes conflict’. Honestly. If you’re riding across a mad roundabout where you’re terrified every single day, see if you can find a route that avoids it. Adding half a mile on won’t kill you. This point is number 1 for a reason, it will make your commute so much nicer and safer, if it’s pleasant you’re far more likely to keep at it. Do not go for the most direct route. You’re on a bike, not a car, that road has not been made for you. Look for the pleasurable route and enjoy it.

My winning tweet was as follows: “Choose a route that places minimal reliance upon the diligence or competency of drivers” as per the title. That’s because most drivers are useless, malicous or tossers. I’m sure most of them are lovely people normally but for some reason, they get behind the wheel and turn into horrible people.

  • Mudguards. I was a slow convert, I’ll admit. Spend a bit extra, get some good, strong mudguards (cough…SKS), get to work dry, clean and without dog poo in your hair (another story). They don’t look great, they sometimes rattle, they sometimes foul other bits but by god they do their job well. Even if your bike hasn’t been made to take mudguards, mudguards that still fit are available. It may not seem like a worthwhile investment in summer but you’ll be thanking me come the end of winter.
  • Dynamo lights. If you can, get some. You’ll need a new hub and the lights themselves but life-changing things. German engineering, standardised light patterns, brackets that can withstand a nuclear blast. After discovering these things after 20 years of cycle commuting I was amazed at how good they are. If they’re not for you, I would recommend two flashing LED’s, front and back.
    light
  • You are going to eat more. Yes, you’re going to weigh less and be fitter but the thing you’ll notice is how much more you need to eat.  Half the weight you’ll carry into work will be food and you’ll have eaten it all by 10:30 am and be wanting more. Want some more advice? Make your first breakfast something solid and filling, porridge or yoghurt. Second breakfast can be a bacon buttie or something. If you have a third breakfast, start looking at pasta carbs. Look over your food at your work colleagues with their diet plan meals, fight them if they try to take your nutrition off you. You need it more than them.
  • Forget all that nonsense about e-bikes, adventure bikes, commuting bikes. Any bike will do. Yes, some may do a slightly better job but you can ride whatever you’ve got. If I were recommending a type of bike, I’d start with a touring bike. Comfortable, ready for mudguards, lights and pannier rack, robust, generally quite cheap.
  • E-bikes. Ooh, these have become a discussion point. As far as I’m concerned, they’re brilliant. They’re not cheating or doing it wrong, they’re huge enablers for people who need some extra help. They make cycling attractive for non-cyclists, give a boost of confidence to those who feel vulnerable in traffic, can make a sweaty commute sweat-free, can make a long commute shorter. If you are thinking about cycling to work but are put off by the distance, the hills, the effort or setting off from the lights, think e-bike!
  • What you wear makes naff all difference. If wearing a helmet or bright clothing makes you feel better then I recommend you do it. I have for years, commuting on a bright yellow bike with a bright yellow pannier on the side (I like yellow), they are visible from the moon and yet, people ‘don’t see me’. All the time. It. Doesn’t. Work. Because people don’t look. It makes no difference how conspicuous you make yourselves, you’re not the issue. But really, wear what you feel most comfortable in. If there were a single item of clothing I would say you should always wear, it’d be a cycling cap. Keeps the sun, rain, snow and hail out of your eyes….looks cool.
    yellow
  • Unfortunately you’re going to become a weirdo magnet. I can’t explain it, sorry. Amongst the people asking you if you’ve lost your license or why is your car still in the garage, you’re going to be sought out by some of the oddest people in work, or even on your street. They’ll look like normal people, they may even know you well already, but underneath…..weird. I don’t know which ones will look for you but with me it’s the ones who find it necessary to complain to me about other cyclists behaviour, will want to tell me about a cyclist who was killed or will want to tell me to wear a helmet. You can try reasoning with them, you can try turning it around onto them, it rarely works.
  • Learn to repair stuff. I mean simple stuff that will get you home. Punctures, rubbing brakes, clicking gears. As a confidence booster it’s hard to beat being able to get yourself moving again.
  • It’s not that bad out there.  Don’t believe the stuff you see in the papers. Cycling to work and back is awesome. 99% of the time you will absolutely love it.  No need for the gym, no need for petrol, you arrive at work invigorated, awake, happy. Your buns will become as steel, your mind will become as mustard. After a while you won’t notice the distance, the work, the rain or the snow. Your legs will just knock out those miles and you will be riding into a headwind from hell with rain blasting your face and You. Will. Be. Smiling.

OK with all that? Cycle commuting is great, you will struggle to look back once you take the plunge. The money you save will be astounding. I first incentivised myself by putting 20 quid a week into a bank account, which was my petrol money at the time. I paid for my bike maintenance out of that but the rest was mine. By the end of the year I bought myself a lovely new bike. The second year we went on holiday with it. Cars are moneypits. They suck the life out of you in so many ways.

Love, Jon.

 

A Cyclist’s Perspective

As part of road safety week at work I was asked to write an article from a cyclists perspective about what it’s like to cycle on the roads. The idea from our H&S team was that with a cyclists perspective made available to staff, they might think a bit harder about their driving around cyclists. I was happy to do this and happy that they asked. I also asked that they avoid mentioning helmets and high viz which they seem to have done (I know from experience as soon as either are mentioned, that’s *all* people want to talk about.)

Naturally my article was edited to reduce the word count but the full article is below.

 

I cycle on the road pretty much every day, I commute to work and back most days, 13 miles each way which I appreciate is more than most people would be willing to consider. I also go shopping, visit friends, go to restaurants and cinemas and sometimes even cycle for leisure. Cycling is a fantastic mode of transport for all these things, there are no queues, no parking problems, you can carry far more on your bike than you may realise and of course, everyone benefits from the reduction in pollution and traffic when someone cycles. Sadly the UK is a nation in love with its cars and has been very slow to provide the one thing proven to get more people out on their bikes, safe, secure infrastructure. Even in Warrington which is light years ahead of a lot of places, the cycle lanes are intermittent, often badly designed and are not sufficient to convince those who want to, to get out of their cars. Most wannabe cyclists never make the leap because they simply don’t feel safe, especially women. This is why most cyclists appear to be fit, young, male, ‘lycra louts’, the roads are simply too toxic for anyone else.

Cycling is a great way to get fit, it’s free once you’ve bought the bike and will save you a fortune in vehicle costs in a very short space of time. I initially started cycling to work because I was tired of sitting in huge queues of traffic, it seemed such a waste of my time when I could be doing something far more enjoyable instead. I can cycle home faster than I can drive it most days. My car has cobwebs on and I’m certainly not wasting any money on buying a new one any time soon, there’s no point. Once you start cycling you realise how much of a money pit your car is. You’re working just to pay for your car for a significant proportion of your time, work it out.

So this means that a lot of cycling has to happen on the roads which can feel very scary for most people, generates animosity from some drivers who believe roads are their private preserve (local roads are funded by council tax and general taxation and are available for all to use no matter which mode of transport they choose – vehicle tax does not pay for the roads that cyclists use) and places cyclists in a risky position.

Near misses are common-place unfortunately, an almost daily occurrence for me. I don’t believe the vast majority are intentional (although some clearly are)  but are usually just a lack of understanding by drivers about either how close they are, or why it is so dangerous for them to pass too close and too quickly. The highway code (rule 163) recommends giving cyclists plenty of room when overtaking. Cyclists have to deal with issues that drivers may be unaware of, potholes, grids, side winds, debris, so it is best to give plenty of room in case the cyclist has to swerve to avoid something. Waiting for a few seconds behind a cyclist could save a life and you’ll get held up a lot longer by other drivers so have some patience and wait for an opportunity when you can safely overtake. Is it worth overtaking? Will the cyclist just catch you up at the next junction or queue? If not, wait, you’ll save fuel and arrive no earlier.

closepass

 

If there were some key messages I’d like drivers to think about, it’d be to not consider cyclists an outgroup. They’re not cyclists, they’re husbands, wives, sons, daughters. They have children and parents. They’re often drivers too and completely understand the challenges of driving. They’re not cycling to hold people up or cause them grief, they’re just trying to get from one place to another safely in an efficient, green and healthy way. Every cyclist you see has reduced the number of cars on the road by one. They are helping your journey by reducing congestion, they are helping keep your children safe from pollution, they are helping reduce the load on the NHS, the amount of money we must pay to maintain the roads and even helping you find a parking space.

 

And for all this they are just asking for a bit of patience, a bit of extra room. Please pass cyclists with plenty of room when it is safe to do so.

Migraine, it’s no headache

I’ve had the ‘I’ve got a migraine’ from someone having a headache today (again), so lets publish my old breakdown of an actual migraine, to help people understand the difference. I’m not saying all migraines are like this but most of mine are. I’m not saying all headaches are minor.  Luckily I only get one every couple of months now but I used to get them at least once a fortnight. And I’m lucky because I’m a bloke, women suffer from migraines far more than men do. I’m not looking for sympathy either, this is how it is, it’s rubbish but at least it comes and goes, could be a lot worse.

My trigger is usually light. Flashes of bright, white, natural light. Looking outside from inside a building at sunlight reflecting off a car windscreen will do it nicely but there are lots of reasons. Lack of sleep, lights, changes of brightness, it’s almost random.

Anyway, here we go. I’ve been triggered.

My migraine normally starts with a blocking in the eyes. It’s hard to explain but imagine black dots in your vision making it hard to look at things in detail. Don’t try reading or looking at a computer screen in this state. This then moves to flickering at the edges of my vision which slowly moves, over say an hour, to my central vision. The flickering is my trigger to speak to my boss, let him know I’m out of action for 24 hours, to get home.

I cycle to work mostly, so flickering in my eyes means I will struggle to get home in the 60 minutes I have left. I have left it too late in the past. That was a bad idea.

So, flickering starts, I tell my boss I’m out of action, he’s good, lets me go. And out of the corporate premise world I go. I ride home, the flickering gets worse, it’s enough to make me feel sick. I get on my bike and set off. On this occasion I’ve left it too late. I start throwing up riding home. Not proper sick, just bile, dry retching. I can’t see a damn thing. I’m looking at the road but all I can see is a line, it’s the pavement edge, I stick to that.

I’m home. My wife is home too. I grunt at her, she looks at me, sees my posture, gets what’s going on. she understands too. She knows she has to take on my responsibilities for the next day or so, that’s all sorted…time to get jiggy,

I get myself sorted. Empty bucket by the bed, jug of water, curtains closed, bring it.

The flickering of my vision will generally have faded by this point to be replaced by a dark shadow covering my entire vision, this will grow darker and darker until I can barely see at all. I lost the ability to recognise any fine detail an hour or so ago, at this stage I could barely recognise a double decker bus. The pain is coming, it’s been a dull ache for 30 minutes or so but now an explosion hits right at the centre of my head, the tendrils of which tunnel out to each nerve in my skull, to my eyes but most of all to my back. The pain spreads quickly and efficiently down my spine and settles in halfway down my back. The epicentre moves gradually to the base of my skull and I am rigid. 

This is how I will spend the next few hours, head arched back, muscles locked against each other, each movement feeling like glass between my vertebra. Sometimes I retch, each spasm pulling my stomach ever closer to ejecting itself. 

The first couple of times this happened in my early teens, I was terrified, I didn’t know what was happening or why, I thought I was dying. As I became more familiar with them I understood how to handle them, they grew less scary but not less pleasant. I know longer fear I am dying, I merely fear that I will not.

If I am lucky, after an hour or so, unconsciousness will take me with it’s deep, dark forgiving caress and temporarily release me. Sometimes I will awake, still gripped by pain, a dark cloud over my eyes and a steel bar for a spine. More often though I will awake, reborn, still in pain but able to see and move. The migraine will leave me aching, sore and beaten. I will spend a few days with a stiff back and a sore head, eyes that feel hard and loose in my head. The world is dulled, muffled and grey.

So it’s over again, for now. Definitely not a headache.