Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Seventeen hours of my life

5:40 - The alarm on my phone goes off. My mind allocates exactly half a second of total alertness to allow me to hit snooze. I roll over and wrap my arms around Jenn.

5:50 - The alarm goes off again. This time I am utterly confused, struggling to fully comprehend the concept of sound, let alone the sound I am hearing or its source. Amid some confused grunting I manage to click off the alarm and fall -- literally -- out of bed.

6:00 - Beep beep beeeeeep. The BBC pips inform me of the time as I butter toast. For pretty much the whole of my life my breakfast has been two slices of toast, jam and tea. I sit down and eat these things at the table, listening to Vanessa Feltz on the radio explaining that things are not going well in her "Strictly Come Dancing" training. I hear Jenn get up and moan as she walks into the kitchen. In a few minutes she brings me a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, which I drink in one gulp. Breakfast done, I pack my things and get ready to head out.

6:54 - I catch a glimpse of the time on the platform display at Cardiff Bay train station just as I bank my bicycle to the left. I like cycling this early in the morning. There are very few cars to contend with, and the stretch of my commute that takes me across the Cardiff Bay Barrage is particularly peaceful. The tide was in as I rode by this morning and the water calm. Looking across the channel I could see the sun rising over the Mendip Hills in Somerset and the lights of Weston Super-Mare and Bristol.

7:00 - beep-beep. My little Casio watch marks the hour. I am in my office switching out of my cycling shoes and into a pair of running shoes. In the last month or so I've started going to a gym just across the road from my office. The gym is deplorable; it is like working out in the physical manifestation of a person's memories of regret. The gym used to be a large nightclub, notorious for tolerance of underage drinkers, which was shut down in 2006. Absolutely no work has gone into changing the interior since then. The DJ booths are still there, the dancer podiums are still there, the bar is still there. The only changes are the addition of weights and workout machines and shower/locker rooms that have been installed at the lowest possible cost. I would not go there were it not so incredibly convenient and cheap.

7:17 - I am on the dance gym floor. Today is a sweaty day -- cardio. I choose a running machine from the many empty ones that are available. Generally I choose a machine that is as far away as possible from Weird Boxer Guy. He's there every morning along with a trainer who I'm guessing is a former boxer who got hit in the head one too many times. The trainer is probably about 5-foot-6 and speaks in a quick and totally incomprehensible Valleys accent. I mean totally incomprehensible. I used to work in the Valleys and never had trouble understanding people but this guy is impossible. Were it not for the fact that Weird Boxer Guy will respond to him in English I would assume him to be speaking another language.
Weird Boxer Guy rarely speaks, though. Generally he just mindlessly runs or cycles at really high speed, wearing a sauna suit that makes him look like a jacket potato. Occasionally he and the trainer will occupy a little corner of the gym and he will do that thing of hitting pads that the trainer holds up. He strikes with a sickening amount of force. I mean, just from the sound of the pads you can tell there is tremendous power in the hits. I am certain a single clean punch from that guy would knock me completely unconscious. This is why I prefer to keep my distance.

7:55 - I have just finished running 5k and rowing 3k. I did the run in 24:06 and the rowing in 12:30. My face is stinging from sweat. I usually like to work out until 8 a.m., so I look around for something to do. I climb onto a stair machine of some sort but can't seem to really get it going. According to the little digital display, the machine is under the impression that I weigh 190 kg (418 lbs.). I cannot figure out how to convince it otherwise. I decide to do push-ups until the top of the hour.

8:40 - Freshly showered and dressed, I am in the office, eating porridge at my desk and reading RideApart. This is the way I roll, yo. Since I started properly working out again I find I am hungry all the time. So each work day starts with an Oat So Simple pot of porridge. I'm sure this is a detail you really care about.

9:05 - Jenn calls. She got the job.
Earlier in the week she had applied for a position in Bristol that would see her taking on greater responsibility and taking home more pay. The implications of her getting a job in a city 50 miles away (30 as the crow flies) are exciting to think about. We'll almost certainly move there, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the immediate, I am simply letting her know how proud I am of her for getting the job. As I do this, I hear my voice arc exactly as my father's does when someone tells him good news. When we do this we sound like we're lying, like we don't care at all about your good news. 
I can assure you that we are, truthfully, really excited for you -- we just don't sound that way. I have long had a fear this same disingenuous tone would also come out at shocking news. Specifically, I have found myself anxiously imagining a scenario in which the police come to tell me that a close friend or family member has been murdered, and I incriminate myself by not sounding very surprised or upset.

10:00 - I tear into a cereal bar. I have been staring at the clock for at least five minutes, waiting for the top of the hours. I am hungry all the time.

11:00 - I open a box of raisins. Hungry all the time.

12:00 - Lunch. A ham sandwich and sea salt crisps. Hungry all the time.

13:34 - I am eating an orange, looking out on a rainy miserable day. Cardiff gets roughly 44 inches of rain a year. The average precipitation in St. Paul, Minnesota is 32 inches a year. But it's the cloud cover that really bothers me. Through September there will be breaks, sunny days, but by late October a great heavy grey blanket will have been pulled across this island that will not lift for at least 6 months. Very soon my cycle to work and home will both be in pitch dark. This causes me a tremendous amount of anxiety. Last winter I suffered a depression so bad and so impenetrable that I now fear the coming Long Dark. Really, I have anxiety dreams about it.
On a slightly cheerier note: I have just checked and, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, Bristol gets just 35 inches of rain a year. It is also, apparently, "amongst the sunniest" cities in the UK. I think I may be grasping at straws here.

14:09 - I am eating a piece of courgette and lime cake that Jenn made. In my mind I have decided that her new job is part of a logical progression toward her one day being given an MBE.

17:02 - I happen to catch a glimpse of the time as I cycle past a bus stop display at the Doctor Who Experience. I am tired and not at all looking forward to the uphill climb back into Penarth. At Paget Road there is a 100-foot climb in a space of about 200 metres. Writing it out, that doesn't sound terribly impressive to me, but I assure you the hill is very steep and -- despite the fact I cycle up it every day -- very exhausting. In fairness, Paget Road has nothing on Bristol's Park Street, which is so intense elite athletes compete on it. To avoid Paget Road, I go about a quarter of a mile out of my way to a zig-zag path that was recently installed. Climbing the hill is no easier here but affords one the opportunity of doing so without impatient drivers riding up behind you. On the whole, British drivers are overly aggressive and often completely blind to what's in front of them. This creates a somewhat adversarial feeling to my evening commute that I try really hard to contain. I will admit to occasionally being one of those cyclists that you hear about.
I realise, though, from conversations with in-laws, that some people drive poorly around cyclists because they simply don't know how to handle the situation. So they take less-than-safe actions in trying to simply speed past the whole confusing mess. If you are one of these people, here is my advice. Nay, here is my plea: Count to 15.
I have found that in the overwhelming majority of urban situations an opportunity for a car to pass safely without risk to myself or others will present itself within 15 seconds. Really. I used to say 30 seconds but then I started counting to prove my point and found the delay time is dramatically less. So, if you find yourself "stuck" behind a cyclist, simply keep a distance great enough that you would not run over him or her were he/she suddenly to fall over, and start counting to 15. Within that time, scan well ahead of the cyclist (don't just target fixate on the immediate obstacle) and identify safe opportunities to pass. It's just that simple, and 15 seconds is not going to make or break anyone's day -- it's certainly less time than it takes to fill out a police report should you injure a cyclist, and considerably less time than the prison sentence you'd receive for reckless driving were you to kill someone.

17:37 - I am in the flat, drinking tea and eating biscuits.

18:50 - Jenn and I sit down to dinner. It is not so terribly exciting; I have made fish cakes, rice and peas while Jenn has been studying for her driving theory test, which is tomorrow (EDIT: She passed!). The meal is quickly made and quickly eaten because we need to get out the door soon to make our dance class. Thursday is Lindy Hop night, where we learn how to dance like this. We aren't quite at that level, yet; after a year of classes I still have a tendency to suffer mental shutdowns, like when a computer freezes up because you've issued too many commands. Still, I really enjoy it. The teenage boy in me especially loves Lindy Hop class, because it means getting all handsy with about a dozen women.

19:24 - I am awkwardly hugging my motorcycle in the street, holding out the choke with my left hand as I start the bike and hold in the brake with my right. I have to hold the choke out, otherwise it will pull itself back in. According to the internets, this may have something to do with my throttle cable. I don't know this at the time, however, so I am left standing there with my hand up Aliona's skirt (a), as it were, waiting for the engine to warm.
Normally we would take the train, but this week the class is in a different, less-train-friendly location. To be perfectly honest, I am happy about this because it gives me an excuse to go somewhere on the bike. When I first came up with the idea of getting a motorcycle I told myself it would allow me greater freedom -- the ability to go where I want to go when I want to go there. But it turns out that I don't really have the desire or time to go places as often as I would have previously thought. Possibly, though, this is due to my having stifled such a desire for seven years. I haven't explored Britain at all, and perhaps the fact I haven't is the main reason I now don't; I have beaten myself down into an anti-adventure mindset.

20:35 - I am 'trucking' about in a small, hot room. Trucking is a move where you move side to side, as if skating. Groucho Marx does it here in comedy style. There are no mirrors in the room, so I can't tell whether I'm doing it right. It doesn't feel as if I am because the move is hurting my knee. Still, I am having fun. I genuinely missed my calling by failing to get into swing/Lindy sooner.

21:10 - We are back on the bike and heading home. We choose a circuitous route because both Jenn and I enjoy being on the bike. This is a happy development one might not have guessed a year ago, when I first started all this talk of motorcycles. Back then, her response was a pretty firm "No." In hindsight, though, this was not so much opposition to my having a motorcycle but to my buying a motorcycle -- an obstacle I would eventually find a way around.
In Leckwith, I choose to filter through a line of traffic stopped for a light, but do so timidly, so that when the lights change I am still between two lines of cars rather than out ahead of them. This is a bad place to be because although most drivers in the UK are content to have a motorcycle zip alongside them, they are unwilling to ease back at all and allow the motorcycle into a proper lane. I guess the thinking is: "Hey, you can't have it both ways. The law allows you to jump to the front of the queue, so either get to the front of the queue or don't filter."
Fair enough. One of the benefits of my bike is that it can out-perform most people's cars, so I simply twist the throttle hard with aim of getting out ahead of the traffic. As soon as I do this, however, I realise I have not communicated my intentions to Jenn. I feel her legs squeeze me as she struggles to maintain her grip on the bike's thankfully largish luggage rack. Feeling her unsettle causes me to immediately close the throttle and she comes lurching forward, our helmets colliding. We get to another set of lights and I apologise profusely. She doesn't care, but the thought that I might could have thrown her off with such an idiot move will bother me for the next several days.

21:36 - I am eating a cereal bar and fretting over all the things I need to do before bed.

22:40 - Having showered (dancing is sweaty business) and made everything ready for the next day, I finally crawl into bed with Jenn. She is already half asleep. Instinctively she rolls over and puts her head on my shoulder. I kiss her, then reach my right hand up to click out the light.

(a) Aliona is the name Jenn gave to my bike, after my favourite Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer, Aliona Vilani.


Anonymous said...

Oh man, isn't lindy hop the best?? I actually got to take a workshop from Nick Williams (winner in that video) a few years ago. :)

Chris Cope said...

Heidi –– That is the best comment ever. And you're right: this situation never would have taken place if you'd been in charge. Ride to live...

Huw said...

Re: washing machine travails on twitter.
A weeks wash 4 quid - plus drying for 3 quid. All done for 7 quid at the launderette on Glebe St, P'town if you pitch up after 6 pm - it's do it yourself. Lifesaver for me in the winter with our family wash. Do it until after crimbo and and you will save a fortune and be off to Minn. Buy a new w' machine then in t' Jan sales. Result!!