Sunday, 28 May 2017

The importance of saying "thank you"

This is my friend Geoff.  We have known each other since the last century when I lived in Hereford and I recently paid him, his wife Lorraine and his collection of bicycles, a visit.  I had wanted to do this for quite some time but it was hearing a radio programme which made me do it for sure.
The radio programme was Saturday Live and it's broadcast each Saturday morning on Radio 4 (and I do like Radio 4!) and presented by the smooth talking Rev Richard Coles and Aasmah Mir.  It is a kind of chatty magazine programme which includes a section where listeners can phone in to say "thank you" to someone.  Often these are people wanting to express their appreciation for something which happened many years ago.  As they say on Saturday Live "it's never too late to thank someone".
The "thank you" which caught my attention was someone calling to thank a Dr Ivor Chance (yes really, this was his name).  The woman calling in said that she was only alive through the work of Dr Chance.  Apparently her mother was in Uganda, pregnant with her and went into a difficult labour, fortunately she was able to find her way to a remote mission hospital where Dr Chance was able to deliver her.  The labour was very difficult and the mother lost a lot of blood, so Dr Chance donated some of his own and therefore saved the life of the mother and the newborn baby.  Rolling forward many decades, it was time to say "thank you" to Dr Chance for saving her life as a newborn baby and her mother.
The remarkable thing about the story was [the late] Dr Chance's daughter was listening to the radio programme and was stunned to hear of her father being talked about on the radio.  So she contacted the Saturday Live programme and explained, the following week, how much she had been moved by hearing the account of her father.  It had also spurred her on to make a point of saying "thank you" to a number of people in her own life who had made some kind of impact or long lasting impression through friendship.
So that's why I decided to thank my friend Geoff for his friendship over the years.
The bonus was also being able to have a poke around his garage at his collection of bicycles, many of which I could remember.  You see, Geoff, appreciates nice bicycles and cars (he has restored the old Ford Anglia in the above photograph to a high standard).
I love the Moultons he has.  There's a couple which date back to the 1960s and what I think of as being a modern contemporary version which actually dates back to the 1980s - this could be an AM7 or 9 - this is my favourite.  There's also some Curly Stay Hetchins, a curious Flying Gate which I hadn't seen before and apparently the first one made by the frame builder.  A nice Dawes Galaxy, a titanium Raleigh MTB and the list goes on.  All lovingly restored and cherished.
I love hearing all the anecdotes about each of these projects; the stories in acquiring the bicycles (and cars) followed by the research and steps taken to restore them.  Sometimes it's a case of restoring something to the original factory condition, other times it can be appropriate to update or improve the original specification.  Each time this is done, there's always quite a bit of thought taking place to ensure it would be honouring to the original design and concept.
So, old friends rightfully thanked for their friendship; to admire the handiwork, to be nostalgic and reflect on where we've been in life.  As the years tick by, it's good to reflect on the lives that have touched my life for the good - right from long standing friends to fleeting acquaintances - these are all cherished and valued.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Chatting to an elderly runner at Weston

Last weekend I visited my Mother in Weston-Super-Mare.  As she lives near the sea front I generally have a run along the promenade or perhaps the beach.  I have done this many times before and normally the other runners are friendly enough.

So on the Sunday morning run I ran past a runner who looked quite elderly.  He was about my height and a little slimmer, grey hair.  As I went passed him I noticed he was quite elderly.

I was thinking about him as I continued and couldn't help but wonder how old he was.  Perhaps in his 70s?  He certainly looked in pretty good shape and I couldn't get him out of my mind; curiosity about his age was bugging me.  So I simply decided to go back and ask him.

I turned around, took a few strides back and then ran alongside him.  We said "good morning" to each other and exchanged a little small talk.  Then I decided I had to ask, doing my best to ask in a pleasant friendly way.

"Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?"

He looked a little wary and so I quickly followed it up by asking "I was wondering how old you are, I hope you don't mind me asking".

He explained he was 81.  I said something about being seriously impressed with the hopes that I can still be running when I'm his age.

"Have you always been a runner?"

"No, not always.  In fact I've always been a cyclist until I had an accident a few years ago".

He went onto explain he's had an accident with a pedestrian stepping out in front of him in town.  He fell off his bike and shortly afterwards had a brain haemorrhage.  This caused his wife to say he shouldn't cycle anymore.  She was worried for him.

So instead he started walking around as a way of getting some exercise.  This wasn't enough so before long he started jogging and then running with regularity.  He certainly looked good.

I said "I hope I'm still running when I'm 81" and then I needed to peel off as I was nearly back to my Mother's road, just off the sea front.

Many times I've thought about him since.  I really did admire him as he was very unassuming, modest and in such good shape.  He was in exceptionally good condition and, to be honest, would put many a thirty year old to shame.  Certainly hope I remain in good shape for the next thirty years!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Checking your running shoes

If ever we need to be reminded on why its important to check your running shoes, this is it.

Recently on a run I could feel something unfordable with the heel in my left shoe.  At first I thought it was a small piece of grit that would come and go, I hadn't made the connection between the terrain and what I could feel.

As the thorn had pierced the sole of my running shoe in a recessed part, I could only feel it if I ran over rough ground where it would push against that part of the sole.  When I tried to find the grit, nothing was there, instead I was very surprised to find a thorn poking through into the inside and even more amazed at its size - and how tough it was!

So I really must resume the habit of checking over my shoes from time to time.  When I have done this in the past, I have spotted damage and areas where I need to keep an eye on.

Having said all that, this thorn was amazingly sharp and strong, quite difficult to extract and quite freaky.

Besides, I can feel a future post coming on - runners with piercings.

Check your running shoes
Are my running shoes worn out?
Two pairs of running shoes?

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Moulton at Waitrose, Ampthill

A Moulton bicycle at Waitrose, Ampthill

I spotted this Moulton bicycle outside Waitrose, Ampthill, Central Bedfordshire.  It caught my eye as I have arranged to visit my friend Geoff in Hereford next weekend and he knows a thing or two about these bikes.
For myself, I'm not too well informed about these bikes, although I think they have probably been underestimated over the years.
This particular Moulton seems quite an eclectic mixture.  The frame looks as if it could be from the original 1960s stable with its straight tubes and made in an uncomplicated way.  The suspension appears based around a piece rubber.  This might seem basic by today's standards but I reckon it was way ahead of its time.  The frame has almost certainly been resprayed.
The components appear to be more up to date.  The wheels look fairly fast with the radial spoking and slick tyres, although I'm not so sure about the hub gears and what could be in there.  Quite a few weight-saving aluminimum components are there also; the seat post, handlebar etc.
All in all, quite an interesting looking bike.  But who could ride it?  What kind of a cyclist could it belong to?  My guess, and I could be totally wrong is....
  • someone fairly tall
  • fairly affluent (parked outside Waitrose)
  • perhaps a London bound commuter (not sure about that!)
  • likes stylish things but probably driven by practicalities over appearance
  • has more than one bicycle
If you know about this bicycle, please put me straight!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

If I were Prime Minister for a day

We had a funny conversation while driving along. It was if I were Prime Minister for a day - what would I do.  I thought it could be fun to mention here.  Here goes.
Sugar tax
Yep, I'd bring this in properly and not just for fizzy drinks.  I'd include all kinds of chocolate, sweets and the like.  While I'm at it, I'd have a good look at McDonalds, KFC and so on.  Why?  Because KFC = Keep Fat & Chubby.  Feeding such crap to your kids could be described as child abuse.
The Government has previously missed a trick with not introducing minimum alcohol pricing, although perhaps Scotland might have had the foresight to do this.  Considering the immense harm to people's physical and mental health through excessive alcohol, there is a strong case for this.  Add the misery caused by drunk people getting into fights, domestic abuse and general rowdiness, I think a significant hike in price is valid.  Although I am loathed to agree very much with David Cameron, I think he was right in wanting to create a cafe culture to replace a pub culture.
You can probably predict what I'm going to say here.  Double the tax on cigarettes now.
Transforming Rehabilitation
I would order the Ministry of Justice to undo all of the harm Chris Graying has done to the justice system and probably sack him by the time I have my morning coffee break.  I think also I'd look to change sentencing policy so the prison population can come down and invest the money saved in rehabilitation.
While I'm at it, I would transfer much of Whitehall out into the regions i.e. moving the power from central London closer to where it is needed.  So sorry Sir Humphrey, your days are numbered.
Freedom of speech, political correctness
It saddens me when I hear of street preachers getting into trouble for preaching.  This has to change.
The unborn children
Far too many babies are aborted for very dubious reasons.  There is a fine line between medical need and murder.  Apparently in 2015 there were 185,000 abortions in England and Wales.  Something has to be done about it.
Range Rovers and other high performance cars
Sorry folks, your days are also numbered unless you're willing to pay through the nose for your gas guzzlers and status symbols.  While you're doing this everyone will think you have more money than sense. I think I'd do this through VAT in purchasing the car in the first place and then the annual road tax.  If it costs £500 a year to keep a Range Rover taxed, well I'd make it £5,000.  As for cars with blacked out windows, you have it coming as well.
Private education
As someone who has put his own children through a private school, you might be surprised to know I would charge VAT on the fees but introduce it over a period of years.
It will come as little surprise that I'd spend more money on making life easier for the cyclist who, in the UK, puts up with a lot.  Dreadful roads, poor junction layouts, potholes, few cycle lanes and the list goes on.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Honor Cycles; a conversation

So you’ve started a new bike servicing business.  Tell me the basics - what’s it called and where do you operate?
Honor Cycles is (and I like to call it) a social enterprise. We provide on-demand bicycle repair services for both individuals and companies. As a mobile bike service, we go and collect bicycles for the repairs, and deliver the bikes back after our job is done.

Since we don’t actually have a high-street bike shop, we have significantly lower operating costs. That allows us to, among other things, pay our bicycle mechanics more than the living wage standard and support various local, bike-related social causes. We’re based in London, currently covering areas in Islington, Camden and Hackney Boroughs.
What services do you offer?
In terms of actual ‘mechanicing’ services, we offer everything a standard bike shop does, although we can also go the extra mile and do professional bike cleaning.
The main thing we offer our cyclists, though, is time saved. By picking-up and re-delivering the bikes, people don’t have to take time out of their days or weekends to go to a bike shop and wait in the darn queue.
Now, this may seem like a small thing at first, but you’d be surprised by how many people stop cycling altogether simply because their bike has broken down and they didn’t have the time to get it down to a bike shop. Life’s a busy place, and bikes are not high priority for most people.

There must be loads of places where people can have their bikes serviced.  What makes Honor Cycles stand out?
For cyclists, it’s rarely a great experience to visit a traditional bike shop. First of all, the quality of the bike shops varies wildly. These days, you’re lucky to find a bike shop you can really trust. For many reasons (low wages included) many bike shops don’t pay full attention to their service, or might not be completely transparent about their fees.
Secondly, cyclists usually go to bike shops before or after work. If you’re there during peak time, you need to wait to get served or even just to get a booking. As I mentioned, life’s what happens while you’re making cycling plans. If your bike breaks down and you don’t have half a day to take it to and from the shop, you’re that much more likely not to get it fixed in the first place. And that sucks.
We’re a group of young guys. Bike mechanics, techies, entrepreneurs. We’ve seen how technology changed nearly every service industry over the last 10 years or so. There’s on-demand laundry services now, delivery services, quasi-taxi services and so on. We want to apply that same basic model to bicycle repair services. Why should we be stuck with a 20th-century business model?
What a minute, why doesn’t Honor have a letter ‘u’ in the spelling?
Ah. I wish there was a really clever answer to this. Something about wanting to grow the business and eventually taking it overseas, transforming the entire US cycling industry. The truth is, we really just preferred how the logo looked without the ‘u’. But I’ll definitely try to come up with a better story for future use.
What’s this about being ethical?
I think that in terms of social responsibility, cyclists tend to think pretty highly of themselves. Some of that has merit, of course, (bikes > cars), but the truth is that our industry is still ripe with unethical (or otherwise irresponsible) practices.
Josh, my co-founder and I started Honor Cycles to support bicycle mechanics. In a nutshell, we think they’re the unsung heroes of the bicycle world. Most of them are so passionate about cycling, but only the very few get treated fairly. Most of the bike shops in our service area actually pay them less than the London living wage. Needless to say, that’s not nearly enough to get by.
So our mission is to pay all of our mechanics fairly. One of the reasons we’re able to do that is that our ‘unconventional’ business setup allows us to avoid high rent. In return, we can use that excess money to pay our workers what they actually deserve.
Also, for an industry priding themselves on eco-friendliness, we sure use lots of unsanitary tools. So we make sure all of our oils, de-greasers and service vehicles are environmentally sound. I like this planet, so I’m trying my best to keep it healthy.
We also want to give back to the community at large, so we pledged to donate 5% of our labor time on bicycle-related causes for the communities in need. There are lots of great cycling causes in London - we’re getting in touch with some of them as well as trying to do our part alone. I’ve seen firsthand how transformative to one’s life cycling can be, so I want to try and help as many people as possible discover their passion for cycling.
What’s the most unusual or exotic bike you’ve worked on so far?
I've worked on so many bikes that it’s hard to pick the strangest. Out of all of the custom one-off designs and bike shed projects, I have to go with a low-pro style bamboo & hemp single-speed bike that had 80mm deep section carbon wheels.
I wish I’d taken a photo of it at the time because you really have to see it to understand just how off this thing looked. It was like some sort of aesthetic mash-up of Tron and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It had quite a good back story too - the owner had been an expat in China for a while and built the frame himself, using bamboo and hemp local to where he was staying. The frame he was riding around in London was one of many iterative prototypes, and he was mighty proud of it.
How do people get in touch with you?
Most people get in touch via our website ( that has all the services we offer (and pricing) clearly outlined. A few people call in when they're not entirely sure what might be wrong with their bike, and need some help choosing the right service.
Is there anything else which you were wanting to tell me about?
Bikes are the most intimate vehicles, I really cannot think of any other vehicle that compares. People say that what car you drive says a lot about you, but the bike you ride says so much more. The time you spend in the saddle wearing down components and adjusting things to your liking makes even the most mass-produced bike unique to you, your body's geometry, your riding style and where you ride.
As a mechanic you can really see the rider's character when working on their bike, so it’s important to respect that and treat it as you would your own bike, putting things back exactly where they were. In a way it can feel a bit strange when handing a bike back to the customer because you feel like you know them a little, you almost can't help but want to have a little chat. For me that is the sign of a true mechanic: skills are good, but caring is king.
Thanks to Simon in Honour Cycles for the conversation.  I wish him all the best with this interesting and very worthwhile enterprise.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fossilised brain?

I have some lovely colleagues in the Council, including some who are not inhibited in speaking their mind.  One of my colleagues who is managing to survive on a slice of cucumber for lunch (and looking increasing like a stick insect) happened to give my executive lunch box the once over.
She has my best interests at heart as she peers in, commenting on this and that.  She thinks I'm a real heathen for having peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches , let alone having three fruits each day.  Then I often have a little plastic pot with a few nuts and seeds (healthy eh?) to make sure I get some of those really good omega oils.
However it was the dried fig which caught her eye the most.  She reacted in a way like she's never seen a dried fig and asked what it was.  I explained I like to have these from time to time and they do have quite a few nutrients tucked away in them.  This includes being a useful source of magnesium, manganese, potassium and so on.  All of these minerals survive the drying process and bring their own health benefits.
"But they look revolting!  How can you possibly eat something like that?".
"Simple, it's no problem.  THey're a little chewy but actually they taste quite nice, fancy trying one?".  I offered her the little pot with a fig left in it.
"Yuck that looks disgusting! Actually it looks totally inedible, like a stone or something"
The rant continued as she ate a thin slice of cucumber.  She said she couldn't possibly contemplate eating something which looked like a cross between a rock and the brain of a dead animal.  But then, she knows of the terminology we use at home in describing some of the food I eat, so we'' just have to add figs to the list.....
  • Muesli = gravel
  • Watercress = pond weed
  • Salad = compost
  • Ground coffee = mud, soil, dirt
  • Dried fig = fossilised brain

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Feeling so smug

There are times when I'm feeling so smug on my bicycle.  This includes the times when I go from A to B faster on a bike than people in cars.  Naturally this will infuriate some motorists and I'm pretty unrepentant with this.
Perhaps the time when I'm feeling the most smug is at our local Sainsbury's.  I quite often do some of our shopping there by bike and normally I'm fairly good at judging how much shopping will fit in my pannier bags.  Last Saturday I slightly underestimated how much I had and had difficulty in squeezing everything in.
As you can see, luck was on my side as I discovered Innocent smoothie bottles are a perfect fit for the standard water bottle cage.  How thoughtful of Innocent to do this, especially as it fits so perfectly and this particular smoothie even looks good against the colour of my blue frame.
It's true I had some funny looks from other shoppers.  These were shoppers pushing their heavy trolleys towards their cars and they looked sorry for me loading my shopping into my pannier bags, probably thinking I couldn't afford a car or possibly lost my licence.  I just don't care!  And yes, I did feel so very smug as I passed them all getting out of the car park and into the congested town centre roads.
Definitely feeling so smug.  Perhaps this could be the 51st reason to be a cyclist?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Health issues continue

Well this raised blood pressure lark isn't really going to plan and I'm a bit perplexed, so these health issues continue somewhat.
In spite of taking one of the tablets each day, as per prescription, I have not noticed any difference at all and it has been over a week now - my blood pressure is STILL around 150/100.
What's more, I have been having a dose each day of BeetActive which I acquired as a free sample at the London Bike Show.  Having become a real genuine fan of the company's CheeryActive drink I guess I was naturally assuming the BeetActive would do the trick in a similar way.  It hasn't as yet, or perhaps I'm not being as disciplined about it as I should be.
You see I take the medication at night and then have a glass of BeetActive in the morning, just after I have taken my blood pressure reading.  I think there's a chance I'm not giving it much of a chance because:
  • some "treatments" take time to take effect and are more accumulative over a period of time.  We're not talking about simple headache pills here - I only take a paracetamol once a year, if that, and then I'm completely better in 20 minutes.  Seems different now.
  • the effect might only be short-lived.  If I have a glass of BeetActive, it could well reduce my blood pressure for a while but not for a steady 24/7 period
For once I'm actually looking forward to returning to the Doctor.  Not just because I might be lucky and have another easy-going conversation about juicing but because I seriously want to get this solved.  As a reminder there are no real drivers for my blood pressure to be on the high side - vegetarian, enough exercise, good weight, teetotal, smoke free, caffeine free and so on.   There are a couple of possible drivers which haven't really been considered much by either me or my Doctor:
  • salt intake.  Although I hardly ever add any salt to a meal, salt can lead to raised blood pressure and there does seem to be quite a bit of salt in the foods I enjoy.  These include peanut butter and bread.
  • me.  I do wonder if I'm a bit highly strung and simply winding up by blood pressure because that's who I am.  By that I mean I'm a bit of a Type A personality and rather critical of myself
I did find this article on BeetActive as a way of lowering blood pressure.  It's no panacea but according to the article it does have a part to play.  Otherwise beetroots are certainly a healthy addition to the diet which I do like in any event.
As for the BeetActive itself, I'm sorry I don't care for th e taste too much, perhaps a personal thing.  I wouldn't drink it out of choice and therefore I tend to mix up a glass and drink it all in one go and as quickly as I can.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Health issues 2

Health issues 2.
I hadn't even sat down in the Doctor's waiting room before I got called in.  It was a different Doctor this time who was tall, lean, possibly foreign and seemed to have a gentle manner about him.  This, I thought, was looking promising.
"How can I help you today?"
"Your colleague has asked for some blood tests as I appear to have high blood pressure"
"Ah yes I see [reading the computer screen] they are indeed high.  And I see this might be having an impact on your kidney function.  There's no need to worry, we can get this sorted out and it's good you've come to us in plenty of time about this, some men ignore any symptoms until things are serious".
A conversation took place about my lifestyle.  Keeping fit, teetotal, vegetarian, smoke free, good weight and so on.  My cholesterol was a really good score apparently along with a number of other measurements.  He went onto say my cholesterol reading would be the envy of many of his colleagues.  He was perplexed: "I don't really understand why your blood pressure is raised as you appear to be doing everything right.  Nevertheless we have to deal with it and I'll prescribed some tablets to make your blood vessels a little softer and more flexible to allow the pressure to come down".
"Thank you" I said "that's fine but I wish there was a way of dealing with this issue without taking tablets".
"Sorry, what do you mean?"
"I've made it this far without having to be treated for anything and I'd like to continue this way if I can.  If only it was as simple as having an extra apple each day". I mentioned my eyesight problems which he was understanding about.
Then a lengthy conversation took place which I was, in hindsight, amazed at.  The Doctor started talking about the benefits of being vegetarian as apparently it is kinder on our kidneys and other things.  He went onto say beetroot can help with blood pressure, in particular beetroot juice.
"Actually if you're interested, you can get some pretty good juicers these days and I've bought one myself!"
The Doctor then explained the different between different machines.  Some are brilliant and extremely efficient at extracting the juice from vegetables and fruit.  Others are less good and extracting the juice but are a lot easier to clean and are cheaper - this is the type he bought recently - a Bosch model.
The conversation was concluded by:
  • start taking the tablets. One a day, 5mg.  Avoid grapefruit.
  • go and look into juicing, especially beetroot.
  • carry on running, cycling, doing weights in the gym.
  • keep my heart rate to about 150bpm when doing cardio.  Any further blasts to be done sparingly and limited in time as he doesn't want me to have a stroke.
  • see me again in a month.
I thought that was a pretty amazingly consultation with my Doctor.  Must have been a maximum of 5 minutes going through the results and deciding what medication to prescribe (standard stuff I guess).  This was followed by at least 10 minutes talking about the benefits of juicing, being a vegetarian and being a runner.
This Doctor was cool and I like him!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Prudential RideLondon - a great cause

It is always a pleasure to consider guest blog posts.  Here's a very worthy one, connected to the important work of Refuge, a long standing charity working to support women who are victims of domestic abuse.  This provides an opportunity to enter the Prudential RideLondon for a great cause.  It's by Lucy, who explains....
I work as a GP and a researcher, I often have women come to see me who are experiencing domestic violence or have done in the past. I’ve realized how common it is and how devastating its effects can be. I do the best I can to provide support to the woman at the time but recognize that there is a huge amount of crucial work that is provided by charities such as Refuge in providing ongoing emotional and safety support, emergency accommodation and much more. With difficult government cuts to these services, charitable money in this field feels even more vital now. 
I started cycling as a commuter a few years ago; it was purely a means of getting about. Over time I began to realise the freedom and joy it gave me- it was exercise, it enabled me to travel longer distances, challenge myself and explore the wider area around me.  I had heard that the RideLondon 100 was a great event, but to be honest I was really daunted about the idea of 100 miles and getting it done quick enough that I didn’t get cleared off the road! 
I decided to go for it- having signed up and shared my sponsorship page I had some really kind donations and it absolutely gave me the kick up the bum to just get on and do some training. A few days before the event I had a rush of a few more donations that pushed me well and above my sponsorship target. I felt pretty overwhelmed by how much had been raised and how much good it could do. 
I was really nervous on the morning of the ride- full of excitement in my belly (and porridge) I navigated the buzz of thousands of cyclists to my start point. Everyone was really friendly and excited too. The ride was absolutely fantastic, with closed roads there was no stopping for traffic lights or cars and it just felt like I was flying through London with thousands of other people who were also conquering personal challenges for good causes. It was tough but actually it didn’t really feel like it on the day, it was a really incredible feeling and I honestly loved it.
Like Lucy, you too can help change and saves lives. By riding for Refuge in the Prudential RideLondon Surrey 100, you’ll be taking a stand against domestic violence and cycling for the thousands of women and children we support every day. Sign up to join #TeamRefuge today

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Health issues

MK Marathon, PB well under 4 hours
A couple of health issues have cropped up recently and these have got me a bit concerned.  This post will probably be a bit personal.
Yesterday I went over to my favourite health food shop as it was about time we stocked up on some more nuts and seeds.  I always spend more than I plan (£77 this time) but Rachel never minds at all.  As normal I got chatting to Neil, the shop's proprietor and a  really nice chap.  He shocked me by saying he'd had a heart attack in January.
Neil's a little younger than me.  It seems bizarre that someone of that age should have a heart attack - and he runs a vegetarian whole food shop! The story goes that he went for a bike ride on a really cold day and returned with a bit of a tight chest, which he explained to himself as the effect of the cold air.  A few days later he was taking his dog for a walk and again had this tight chest feeling which he thought might have been indigestion and when he got home promptly took a couple of Rennie tablets.
The pain wasn't improving and he started to think the worse.  He called his wife who simply told him to call an ambulance.  Within a few minutes the paramedics arrived, diagnosed a heart attack and he was then rushed into hospital.  A while later he found himself in the operating theatre having a stent installed.
Thankfully he's on the mend, starting to increase his activity levels.  It also sounds like he's having good care from his local Doctor and hospital staff.  Here's sending you all good wishes Neil!
And myself...
You might remember me saying my blood pressure was on the high side.  The Doctor was concerned about this and has ordered some blood tests as it is now two years since my last annual check-up.  Last Wednesday I attended the surgery to have the blood samples taken and hand in my urine sample.  All these tests were following a 12 hour fast.
When the nurse took the blood samples, she said it would take 10 days for the results to come through.  So I was then very surprised when on Friday (just 48 hours later) the surgery got in touch with me and said I urgently needed to arrange to give some further samples as there were some abnormal readings.
It is always difficult trying to have much of a conversation with a receptionist, for perfectly understandable reasons.  Notwithstanding this she did say one of the tests would be for creatine (or something like that) where the normal range was a reading of 60-110.  Mine was abnormally high at 160.  I asked what this was to do with and she simply said "it's renal stuff" which I take as kidneys.  From what I previously understood, kidney damage can be caused by high blood pressure, so maybe that's what's going on. (If you're reading this and can explain more about what this means, please do so!)
Also on Friday I was in a training event-come-conference in London.  I was sitting in a room with about 150 other people and I could feel a headache coming on, quite quickly.  Then my left arm felt a little different, perhaps a bit numb, or weak.  While I was figuring out what to do it returned to normal and then my head cleared 15 minutes later.  I remembered the coffee I'd be given on arrival was probably with caffeine and so I wondered if there was a connection.
Later on I wondered if I'd had an early warning of a stroke.  I don't know and I'm almost afraid to google this.  Nevertheless I'm having my repeat blood tests again tomorrow, so I'll ask the nurse.
I woke early this morning, feeling worried about my health.  All kinds of things were rushing through my thoughts.  Was I looking at some terrible incidence like a stroke or a heart attack?  Why could that happen, I'm still in pretty good shape?  But it happened to Neil and he's younger than me!  Thank the Lord I have critical illness insurance, is it enough?  But I have been meaning to update my will; heck is there time?  I can't possible have something happen or even die, what about my family?  There's just so much I want to do, places to travel to, things to achieve, books to read, paintings to paint, photographs to take, people to meet, conversations to have and the list goes on and on.  I'm hoping to retire in five years so I can do all of these things!
And then I thought of my eyesight.  Completely independently of all this I had my annual check up with my optician who is pretty thorough.  To cut a long story short, he's referring me to Moorfields eye hospital as my central serous retinopathy is a lot worse that it was last year (which I could have told him!).  My appointment is in May.
In the cold light of day things are more easily seen in perspective.  My faith is of course reassuring but I'm not ready to go anytime soon.  And yes I know I worry about these things.  I know I worry about work related things more than I should.  I know I'm my worst critic and probably a Type A personality.  I'm thankful these things have, perhaps, been spotted and so there's time and steps to be taken to solve these issues, whatever they are.
I see this as a heck of a nudge to get me back to tip top health.  While I'm still pretty fit (I ran 10k a few days ago in under 50 minutes) I know I could be in better shape and a little lighter; my strict only-good-food diet has slipped over the last 18 months and it's now time to resume that.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The trouble with cheap water bottles

Recently I was given some BeetActive to try out.  This is some concentrated beetroot juice which I'm told is good to take pre-exercise for various reasons.  I'll go into those reasons some other time as this post is actually about the woes of cheap nasty bottles and why I now hate them.
You need to imagine the scene.  My desk at work is in a large office at my local authority; in fact there's just over 100 desks in my area.  I had some of the said concentrated beetroot juice to drink during the afternoon before a gym session after work.  We have a small kitchen area nearby and that's where I mixed up the drink.  This was pretty straightforward really - 30ml concentrate into the bottle and then fill up with cold water to make 500mls.
I brought it back to my desk.  A couple of colleagues were quite interested in this and were keen to know what it tasted like and whether it made any difference in performance.  There was nothing left to do apart from sit down and try said drink.  I pulled the little cap up and tried to drink - nothing coming out.  Next I bit it with my front teeth to pull it a little further, to see if that made any difference.  It didn't.
Feeling determined and a certain unspoken pressure from my audience, I decided the next step was to unscrew the back top and simply drink from the bottle.  What could possibly go wrong I thought?  Surely the worst would be that I didn't like the taste?
In full view of a growing audience I tried it.  Not bad.  Someone asked me what it was like.  I explained it tasted like, err, beetroot.  Then there were sniggers around and someone kindly pointed out the dribble which had run down my shirt.  My shirt was a very light pastel pink colour with a HUGE stain of BRIGHT RED BEETROOT juice on.
It was Claire who said "Doug it looks like you've been shot!" followed by a few chuckles from my colleagues.
"Maybe you could go to the cafe and ask for some detergent?"
Instead I have some alcohol wipes for cleaning my glasses and I peeled one of these out of the packet.  It mostly worked.  Nearby on a cupboard was a hand cleanser dispenser and I asked someone to pass it over.  This diluted the stain reasonably well and enough for being in the office without looking as if I'd been in some shoot-out.  I got home, explained what had happened and in no time my shirt was off and in the washing machine.
So the moral of the story is to be wary of cheap, nasty water bottles - especially ones filled with beetroot juice.  Perhaps the worst kind of cheap nasty bottle are those given to you free of charge - it's hard then to complain!  My advice, therefore, is to avoid these horrible, nasty water bottles like the plague.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Veggie chat at the carvery

A couple of days ago we went out for an evening carvery meal with some friends.  Certainly an interesting experience as I'd not been there before.
Carvery meals are quite good value if you're a meat eater.  You get a fairly generous serving of meat, a Yorkshire pudding and then plenty of vegetables which can be re-filled any number of times, all for under £5.00.  For myself as a vegetarian there was a limited choice but seemed, on the face of it, quite good.  Knowing I was with friends, this was all good.
Without any engineering on my part, the conversation quickly got around to food and, in particular, vegetarian food.  The conversation was delightfully light-hearted and picked up on a recent Facebook post of mine where I confessed to having not enjoyed my lentil and chutney sandwich I recently found in my lunch box.  This led to great hilarity and then we got onto vegetarian food with the spot light shining on me.  Some friends were intrigued and some felt somewhat sorry for Rachel in having to prepare food with and without meat.  I did wonder if they were secretly wanting to be vegetarians themselves, perhaps I'll never know.
After a while I thought it was time to turn the tables and commented on the recent news reports where we are all advised to eat 10 portions of fruit and veg, rather than just five.
"So how many portions do you eat?  Can I ask each of you?"
David immediately jumped in as the group's witty entertainer "oh I don't have a problem with this, especially if you include potatoes, pasta and so on.  Yep I'm there easily!" Then there was a sigh with "no, probably not enough".
Gerry followed as the natural leader in the group, looking pretty prosperous these days with "hmmm there's some raisons in my muesli so that must count as at least one portion, plus look at this meal!".
"Really, you count half a dozen raisons as a portion?  Nah sorry Gerry, you need more than that".
Gerry's wife Janet came next.  She's tall, very slim and probably an ectomorph.  She turned the table on me a little by asking why I was a vegetarian and also for how long.  Now while I have no difficulty in answering this, what do you say when you're with a group of valued friends that will be disagreeing with them on this very profound point.  I also knew if I really launched into my reasoning I would be insulting my friends and spoiling the meal, so it was quite a dilemma.
So looking directly at Janet, I quietly said "I made the decision about 10 years ago because I was wanting to improve my health.  Also because I was worried about the supply chain ethics".
That could have been lighting the touch paper in such pleasant company.  Did I dum down the stance I have taken or argue my point?  I decided to leave it at that having answered the question in the most concise way I could.
Since then the conversation has been on my mind.  I feel as if I have not explained myself to someone who was genuinely wanting to know.  This was brought home to me as I found myself reading through a copy of Viva! (the vegan magazine) which was lying around in the kitchen.  Page after page is argument after argument in favour of being a vegan.  The evidence of improved health, lifespan, lower rates of cancers, heart attacks and so on is pretty powerful.  Add to that the horrors of modern production-line farming methods I feel so guilty at only being vegetarian.
This is all such a dilemma.  In my heart of hearts I know being a vegan is right for me.  Giving up all kinds of dairy, eggs and the occasional piece of fish is quite daunting.  And then I remind myself I quit smoking way back in the 20th century, along with alcohol.  Then 10 years ago I became a vegetarian and then in 2015 I quit caffeine.
So is becoming a vegan really so difficult?

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Cycling in Barcelona

Cyclists at sunrise, Barcelona
Cycling in Barcelona is pleasant and easy going on the whole; I thought I'd give a few reflections here on the general cycling scene.
Right from the start of our visit, there were cyclists almost everywhere in Barcelona.  They were weaving their way around the city on roads, pavements and through the numerous car-free areas.  This was lovely to see and nobody seemed to mind.  Quite a contrast from here in England when people often become really upset when a cyclist steps out of line.
Barcelona cyclists seem to fall into a few groups:
Hardcore - these were often men, well muscled and dressed in dark coloured sporty clothing.  They'd often be riding MTB 29ers in a high gear, cruising along with seemingly little effort.  These Hardcores seemed polite and courteous as they weaved in and around people strolling along the seafront.  As a rule they'd have a helmet, dark glasses and be very serious looking.  In fact they almost reminded me of those futuristic movies where you'd have military type guards with all kinds of weapons and body armour.  Perhaps this is an exaggeration but you could nevertheless see the connection with a good number.
Viu BiCiNg in Barcelona
Everyday commuters - generally these cyclists used the distinctive Viu BiCiNg red and white bicycles which were commonly available for local residents to use.  These apparently are cheap and easy to use.  On my early morning outings I saw them being checked over and the number of bikes being topped up at some of the docking stations.  Other everyday commuters used their own bikes, generally fairly basic machines and only rarely did I spot anything which was remotely exotic; apparently this is to do with the high level of petty crime and thefts.  These cyclists tended to be young or young-at-heart and would amble their way around looking pretty content with life.  None of them seemed to be in too much of a hurry.  Very Barcelona, very Spain!

Gentlemen of the road - There were quite a few signs of homelessness.  This is quite a complex and tricky subject which spans relationship breakdown, addictions, mental health needs and so on.  All of which I can't really cover here.  There were, however, a few homeless men which I spotted and they were using bicycles as a means of transporting themselves and their worldly goods around.  Quite a sad sight I thought and yet there were also signs of ingenuity and resourcefulness with how they had accomplished their transport.

Tourists - now I have to be careful as this is the category we are found in!  This kind of cyclist, it has to be said, are a pain in the neck.  They meander around, not knowing where they're going and stand out like a sore thumb.  Thankfully most of the Barcelona local folk are very tolerant and accept these tourists quite happily.

There are a good number of places where you can hire bikes from and they all seem to charge around €15 a day, give or take a bit.
We got ours from a little place we found near our hotel and run by a chap from Finland.  He was, it has to be said, a little reserved although his English was astonishingly good. He's the kind of person, I suspected, would have a fascinating story which I tried to tease out in conversation.  He's a traveller heart, not wanting to settle anywhere for too long because of his wanderlust.  He had made it to Barcelona through a lengthy cycle tour and was content to be running the cycle hire business on behalf of the absent owner for the time being.  In fact this shop, tiny and very unlikely in a residential area side street, had an interesting stock with everything from well equipped city bikes (which we hired) right up to decent quality road bikes.
I bet you'd only ever see tourists using an outside escalator to avoid cycling up a hill?  Once again, nobody seemed to mind although perhaps they were amused "oh look at those tourists trying to get their bikes up the escalator: they must be English!"

Tourists can also go on bike tours using an interesting mixture of bicycles.  These range from easy-to-ride fat tyre bikes, through to bamboo framed bikes.  I spotted one of these whizzing past us on the seafront when I remarked "wow a bamboo bike!" and the cyclist heard me, came back, grinning and delighted that someone had actually noticed the bamboo, handed me a leaflet and went off with his tour clients!
The trendies - now this was interesting and yet a bit sad, I thought.  There were a few "cool dudes" around on single speeds pretending to be on fixies.  These were generally dressed accordingly in the latest garb.

Owing to the number of people living in apartments, together with the amount of low-level crime and petty thefts, the foldable Brompton has become a logical choice for many as they're so easy to carry upstairs and simply leave safely in a hallway.  In recent years the Brompton has apparently become quite a fashion statement, a sign of prosperity and independence.  The Bromptons were generally unmodified and off-the-shelf.  Customisation options are relatively limited but there were a good number of classy Brooks leather saddles around, thus completing the look.
Old timers - every now and again I would spot a nice old bicycle, such as the Elvish in the above photograph.  Each one would remind me of those old Citroen 2CV's in rural France, those American classics in Cuba and green Morris Minors in quaint England.  Many will have been in constant use for decades, probably only doing short distances each time but still loyal, faithful bicycles which had stood the test of time.
Vintage Elvish mixte frame, Barcelona

We got talking to Marc (above photograph), a local chap who was trying out a vintage steel frame road bike.  Within no time he suggested I took it for a spin to try it out.  This was a reminder of how good some older steel frames can be.  Those, that is, which are made from decent steel tubing and produced in a skilful way (as opposed to the gas pipe derived frames with second rate components).  It's quite a shame this conversation took place on our penultimate day as I learnt about a vintage bicycle shop and a little more of the local scene.  From within this is a significant following for the older, classy bicycles of the late 20th century; the 1970s and 80s in particular.  Like I said, it was a delightful conversation and one where it would have been interesting to see where it could lead.
With this in mind, here's the link to the vintage cycle shop I mentioned - click here and here for their Facebook page.  I just wish I'd had more time to be able to explore this; perhaps another time!  Before I forget, there's a nice Vimeo film on their website which gives a nice feel to what they're trying to do and such a shame I don't understand the Spanish language!
Wrapping up
We really did like our little city break in Barcelona; it always amazes me how you can get to the Mediterranean in about two hours from London Luton Airport.  I liked the laid back, slightly care-free feel of cycling around Barcelona.
I don't think I spotted anyone who was obese; everyone seemed to be of good weight and appeared healthy - now I'm sure that's a sweeping generalisation but it's true - everyone seemed slim, smokers were a rarity and everyone looked pretty healthy to me.  I liked seeing glimpses of people along the seafront who were exercising and training.  These ranged from runners on their own, groups of men doing gymnastics and personal trainers with groups of clients having a workout.  All good stuff.
Additionally, I loved the climate, even in February!  If that's as cold as it gets, I could certainly live with this.  The height of the summer sees seriously high temperatures which I quite like, providing it's not too humid.  I'm not so sure about the alleged pollution problem which I guess maybe more noticeable in those still, sultry summer days?
Eating out wan't brilliant for me in avoiding meat but we didn't exactly starve.  You'll have seen on a previous post about a raw vegan restaurant which was very special in my view.
As a rule, we don't normally return to places once we've been there.  This is because I like to savour the memories and also because there's so many other places I've not been to.  Barcelona, I could make an exception here!
Early morning group workout, Barcelona