Friday, October 31, 2014

The story of 26.2 miles (Or how Thomas Magnum and I are the same person)

Shortly before the race.

My official time in the 2014 Dublin Marathon was 4:05:45. That's an average of 9 minutes 22 seconds per mile.

I'm recording my time because I sense my older self will be interested in that information. Though I know my present self is not. Indeed, my present self gets annoyed at the idea of paying attention to anything other than the simple fact that I ran really far and I doubt I could have run much further. Or much faster.

Well, maybe a little faster. In training for the race I had been clocking pace times of roughly 8 minutes 30 seconds on long runs (and as speedy as 7:15 on runs less than 3 miles), which led me to assume it possible to complete the marathon in 3 hours and 54 minutes (i.e., a pace of 9 minutes per mile).

"Oh, sub-four and I'll be happy," I'd say when asked what time I wanted to achieve.

In truth, I hoped I could do better –– something along the lines of 3 hours 45 minutes. So, I'll admit there was a feeling of disappointment on the day. Or, rather in a very specific moment. At mile 25, my back was radiating with pain; my mouth and lips were tingling from dehydration; I could find no energy to put into my legs. I was propelling myself forward mostly through chant-huffing: "I can. I will. I can. I will. I can. I will. I can. I will. I can. I will. I can. I will. I can. I will..."

Jenn and I had only decided to enter the marathon a few months before, in mid-August. We had been toying with the idea of running such a distance together for a long time, even going so far as to sign up for the 2013 Twin Cities Marathon.

That fell through when urgent roof repairs ate up the cash we would have needed for flights. However, with the exception of being annoyed at having thrown away money in paying the exorbitant entry fee I wasn't terribly upset to have missed out. Hitherto, I had not run a long-distance race since 2005 (a) and my memories of such events were not terribly positive. That is to say, my memories of my performance in these events weren't positive.

That is, to a large extent, because I didn't know how to train. I had always figured that if you want to prepare yourself for running a lot, you should do so by running a lot. Turns out this isn't entirely correct. But therein you have the reason I didn't see any problem with signing up to run the Dublin Marathon about two months before the day.

Jenn, fortunately, was more realistic about the work ahead of us and produced myriad charts and graphs identifying when we should run and how much, along with advice on what to eat, and, most importantly, on what other exercise we should be doing. Which explains the whole DDP Yoga thing.

I still found myself suffering serious fatigue as race day neared, but overall Jenn's system made preparing a lot less sucky.

Our friends, Donal and Isobel, put us up while we were in Dublin. Well, actually, that's something of an understatement. They basically served as super awesome surrogate parents. They fed us, gave us a place to sleep, ferried us around town, served as cheerleaders during the race, and were otherwise all-round amazing hosts. They even clothed us. On the morning of the race, Jenn discovered she had not packed her running tights; Isobel saved the day by lending a pair of her own.

Friends from the internet are the best kind of friends, yo.

Signing the wall full of good wishes for runners.

The last mile of a marathon is the distance runner's two-minute drill, I suppose. It's the point that all the other miles have led to, the moment when all you do is push. And afterward, it is the thing you remember most vividly. Not that the other miles are throwaway, of course.

There is an episode of Magnum P.I. ("Home from the Sea") in which Magnum finds himself alone in the middle of the ocean, forced to tread water for an implicitly long time. As one is wont to do in such a scenario, Magnum passes the time experiencing a number of semi-hallucinatory flashbacks, many of them related to water-treading experiences both with his father and in the Navy SEALs. It is a surprisingly gripping episode and one that I often think about when running.

Some people think really deep things when they run; I think about Tom Selleck. Don't judge me. Anyway, somehow it is partially from that episode of Magnum P.I. that I get my belief that you can always run another mile. You can always push just a little more.

Mimicking Magnum checking his father's Rolex whilst treading water, I checked the £12 Casio on my wrist as I drew even with the Mile 25 marker. I realised that if I wanted to finish the race in less than 4 hours I would need to somehow run this last 1.2 miles in roughly 3 minutes. The slight twinge of defeat at knowing I would not achieve my arbitrary and irrelevant timing goal mixed with the exhausted relief of knowing that I would finish –– that I could and would survive the final mile –– and served as a sort of pinprick to the balloon of emotion that had been swelling up since I had gotten out of bed that morning.

I had not slept well, suffering anxiety dreams that I would arrive at the start line too late or that my notoriously unstable stomach would sabotage the day. As Donal had driven Jenn and I to the race my mind had been spinning with worries: Had I eaten enough? Was I hydrated enough? Was I too hydrated? Was I wearing the right gear for the weather? Would I be too cold? Would I be too hot?

All this minor panic affected my thinking to the extent I lined up at the start line with the wrong pace runner. Thinking I was standing next to the guy running 3 hours and 50 minutes I instead queued up near the bloke wearing a 4:50 banner. It was only as the crush of runners oozed toward the start that I realised my mistake. Agitated panic ensued and I spent the first part of the race trying to get beyond those runners who were planning to finish the race an hour after me.

In my head I wasn't trying to catch up with the 3:50 pace runner –– I recognised this would be impossible since he was now so far ahead of me –– but that information wasn't communicated effectively to the rest of my body. Filled with nerves and agitation I just sort of lost control and covered the first 3 miles in 22 minutes. Way too fast.

Keep in mind, too, I hadn't covered this distance in a straight line. Roughly 15,000 people turned out to run the Dublin Marathon, so in moving away from slower runners I had done a lot of zig-zagging around within a dense pack. I was expending far too much energy for so early in the race. Figuring this out, I spent the next few miles telling myself to calm down, sometimes even making little "whoa" gestures to myself.

"SMILE IF YOU'VE ALREADY PEED A LITTLE!" announced a sign being held by a woman in Phoenix Park. This was around mile 6, and I was finally calming enough to be looking around and taking in the incredible support of Dubliners. They were lining the route, banging drums, singing and shouting encouragement. To be a recipient of so much goodwill is a reason in and of itself to run a marathon.

You can see from the picture at the start of this post I had chosen to wear a shirt with the University of Texas Longhorns logo on it. Ireland is a long way from Texas but a surprising number of supporters knew the logo's significance.

"Go on, Texas! You're doing great!" people would shout. "Hook 'em!"

I wrote "Go Go Super Jenn!" on the wall of support.
The size of the crowd increased or decreased depending on what part of the city we were running through, of course. In some places supporters were shoulder to shoulder, in stretches through park there might be just one or two people, but always, all of them, cheering and clapping and ringing bells and shouting and making the whole thing feel like a 26.2-mile party. I saw a man dressed as Elvis dancing with a woman dressed as a toilet. A little girl had set up a full drum kit and was playing with full gusto. Countless children offered high fives. One man stood on a wall playing guitar and joked with runners in his thick Dublin accent: "Ye's wouldn't happen to have some water? I'm really thirsty from all this singin'."

The hundreds of volunteers at the water stations moved at full speed to hand out drinks to runners without any of us having to break pace. They shouted and whistled and whooped support as we stomped through.

Many of the runners themselves were supportive, too. They were dressed in costumes or wearing wigs. They blew whistles or cheered at mile markers. Others inspired just by being there: some carried pictures of loved ones who had passed away. One man ran pushing his MS-crippled brother in a wheelchair.

Wearing my University of Texas shirt had been a good idea in terms of making me slightly identifiable within a crowd, but it was ill suited for the weather. I had trained expecting the sort of windy, grey, cold misery that all of us in the Soggy Nations experience in late October. But in a fit of climatological freakishness weather on this day was sunny and warm. The temperature rose to 20C (68F). The heat, combined with my unnecessary wasting of energy at the start of the race (many runners also complained of strong winds but I honestly don't remember this as too much a problem), began to affect me just past mile 19.

By now I was going through water more quickly and unable to fully quench my thirst. The two pieces of toast I had eaten for breakfast felt like not nearly enough. All around me, a surprising number of runners had broken into limping walks. I felt weak, and some part of me started to wonder where I was going to find the energy to push on.

At mile 20 there was a family handing out bags of Jelly Babies, a soft candy. I had seen a few other supporters offering sweets and bits of fruit but to this point had paid little attention because, well, you know: candy from strangers. But in this case the stranger offering me a clear plastic bag of candy was a 6-year-old girl.

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou," I wheezed, giving her an enfeebled high five and trundling forward.

I accepted candy from a few other people further on, and by mile 22 was back to feeling confident I would finish the race. To underscore this and to resist the temptation to join the increasing number of people walking I had fallen into repeating to myself, in the style of the Team USA "I Believe" chant: "I will not fucking walk."

After a time it occurred to me I was speaking to myself in negatives and the personal chant morphed into: "I can. I will."

At mile 25, when that emotional balloon burst –– filled with anxiety and joy and people's cheering and laughter –– I started sobbing uncontrollably. It was a strange sort of sobbing because my body was too dehydrated to produce tears. My lungs were too overtaxed to hyperventilate. I suspect that to an observer I just looked like someone who was trying hard to push through the last mile. And I was.

In that last mile the support of Dubliners increased exponentially. The crowds now heaved on each side of the route. Their noise was deafening. The race winner, Kenyan Eliud Too, had finished almost two hours beforehand but people were screaming as if I were in the lead. It was one of the most life-affirming things I have ever experienced first-hand.

When I crossed the finish line I discovered my back and shoulders had tightened so much I could not straighten to walk. I fell into a hopping limp as I moved along, breathlessly saying "thankyouthankyouthankyou" to the volunteers who ushered me along, put a medal around my neck, and gave me a bag full of post-run drinks and foods.

A little further on I found a place to stop and go through my post-run stretching routine. I did so gingerly and without much grace. Bending over to touch my toes I almost fell over. Doing a hip stretch required I lie down, so I eased to the ground and lie flat on my back, my arms outstretched.

I looked up into the blue sky and thought about the all-but-defeated skinny man in a University of Texas shirt now lying in the middle of a Dublin street. I listened to the crowd still roaring not too far away and the happy-exhausted chatter of others who had finished. I thought of Donal and Isobel, who I knew were somewhere nearby to take us back home to shower. I thought of Jenn and how happy she must be to be nearing the finish of her first marathon. And I realised that this, most peculiarly, was one of the best moments of my life.


____________________


(a) EDIT: Actually, no, I forgot about running the Cardiff Half Marathon in 2007.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The physical and the mental


The Dublin Marathon is in less than four weeks. The sooner those weeks pass the happier I'll be, because training has brought on oppressive fatigue. It is not just that I am sore and tired all the time but that I am mentally exhausted as well. And as such, I get too easily overwhelmed by life. Little things unpick me, as if I were one of Jenn's sewing projects.

That's Jenn in the picture above, of course, wearing one of her sewing projects: a cape she made for a fancy dress dinner party last weekend. For those of you playing along at home, "fancy dress" in the United Kingdom means "costume." Imagine my disappointment when I first learned this many years ago; I had envisioned a soirée with people in tuxedos and evening gowns. Anyhoo, the dinner party was one of those murder mystery things in which one of you is the killer and everyone has to figure it out.

The setting for said murder mystery was London in 1961. In black and white, with Jenn sitting on a train platform and the grim rowhouses of Grangetown just barely silhouetted behind her, she looks like part of the rebellious element that was bubbling beneath the surface at the time –– like a girl who might have ridden with the ton-up boys.

We had run 15 miles that day, but Jenn has inexhaustible talent for getting up for an event. Whereas I find that as I get older I am damned boring on even my good days. Fortunately, Jenn's friends have taught themselves to expect little of me.

On that 15-mile run I had failed to stretch properly either before or afterward and had developed an oh-so-slight pain in my right hip. Add it to the radiating pain in my knees, the ache in my toes, the shin splint in my right leg, the lower back pain and the mysterious and inexplicable pain in my hands. I didn't think much of it until this morning. 

Last night I had come home from work and run 5.6 miles around Cardiff Bay, again without really taking the time to stretch. I had assumed my cycling home from work enough of a warm up. But through the first miles my right foot wasn't striking the pavement right. My shin ached and my hip ached and my legs felt heavy. I imagined myself tied to and dragging a boat down a canal. Because that's the way my mind works, yo.

"Golly, I'm tired. I feel like an 1840s canal pony."

Things evened out by the end of the run and I finished OK, but afterward was hobbling around the flat because of the ache in my hip. Overnight, the pain was such that I kept waking up. And that has pretty much taken all the wind out of my sails. I have fallen into a comedy Eeyore-esque moroseness and I feel utterly defeated.

My mind jumps quickly to worst-case scenarios. Jenn and I are planning to run 22 miles Saturday as part of the training, the peak before winding down to ensure we are ready for the actual race. I have lost faith in my body, though, and wonder if I will be able to complete this weekend's run. I wonder if it will cause damage that won't heal before the race. And instantly I envision myself dressed in normal clothes on the day of the marathon, sick with myself and limping, able to do no more than cheer Jenn's efforts.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be looking at this site on an actual computer or laptop you'll notice the look has changed. In hindsight, I wish I had taken a screengrab of the blog before changing everything –– just for posterity's sake. C'est la vie. I can't remember, but I think I had been running the previous since 2010.

The new look is considerably simpler, with less sidebar information. Simple is the new hotness, it seems, and I guess it makes sense. Quite a lot of people –– if not most of them –– surf the internet via mobile devices these days. Filling a page with sidebar columns is cluttersome and pointless since many mobile browsers filter them out. I'll admit, though, that I struggle to commit to simplicity. I could probably stand to apply even more minimalism.

My inspiration for the redesign comes from two people: Chris Phin and Chris Phin. Ever since we sat around on the floor of his and Jenny's bare-bones flat in not-so-fashionable New Cross almost exactly nine years ago I have held strongly the view that Chris Phin Is Probably Right when it comes to things tech/internety. You know, the way Neil deGrasse Tyson is probably right about astronomy, or AC/DC are probably right about how to play a kick-ass guitar riff. Other people might have equally valid and possibly better opinions, but if you're looking for a safe bet these dudes are the ones who are probably right.

Jenny, me and Chris. Chris is holding up a London A-Z so "we'll remember where we were."
Nine years ago we were sitting on the floor because, like all people in their 20s living in London, Chris and Jenny could only afford a single piece of furniture: a futon. It felt awkward for us all to be sitting on the futon at once having a conversation, and there were no tables upon which to set our drinks, so we took to the floor. Despite the fact I was in their flat and planning to stay a few days it was my first time to physically meet them; we had formed a friendship through our respective blogs. The wonders of technology, y'all.

Anyhoo, I'm wandering from the point. Chris and I stayed up late drinking and talking about said wonders, and it instilled in me a sense that he was probably right in his opinion of them. This is a feeling since reinforced by his professional career; he's written for and been at the helm of numerous tech-related publications.

His website is simple. Which means that simple is probably right.

Meanwhile, if you look at his simple website at the moment you will see a post talking about his recent decision to step down as editor-in-chief of MacFormat. The plan, it seems, is to go into business for himself, doing freelance, consulting and all the other things media professionals do when they come to their senses and decide they need to step away from the day-to-day slog.

Personally, I applaud this move, if not simply because the last few times I've seen Chris, chatting with him has been just a tiny, tiny, tiny bit challenging. Not because he's dull or any such thing but because he has for the past few years been so tremendously overworked. I had this feeling I was competing for his attention against the bazillion other things he had to do and felt guilty about it. You don't want to add more stress to your friends' lives; you don't want to be another thing they have to think about.

Going into business for himself won't necessarily reduce his workload but it will give him greater control of it. And hopefully that will result in less stress overall.

Aiding him in his freelancing effort, Chris' simple-design website also serves as a tool –– a shingle, to use old-school British lingo –– to communicate who he is, what he can do, and how to contact him. And again, here's me totally copying his moves.

In the past few weeks I've had a chance to write a few freelance articles for some motorcycle websites. Which is awesome on two levels: 
1) People are paying me to write about motorcycles, yo.
2) It's a real step toward one of my major goals in The Five-Year Plan.

I don't think I've mentioned The Five-Year Plan before. It's a 12-page document I wrote up in July, outlining the myriad steps I need/want to take in order to get myself from what I am right now to something more like what I want to be. Effectively, it's an extension of the whole 183 Days idea, which fell flat because it lacked structure beyond just really hoping my writing career would take off.

The Five-Year Plan is more focused and includes just about every aspect of my life: career, relationships, health, etc. The part that deals with career sees me building incrementally toward professional writerdom and sets earning goals in terms of percentages of annual income. It's boring stuff if you're not me.

These recent freelance gigs –– which will likely help me achieve my earning goals for 2014-2015 –– pretty much fell into my lap. I am hugely grateful for my luck, but it occurs to me this won't always be the way things happen. Sometimes people will come from nowhere to offer an opportunity, more often, however, I will need to find them.

So, in simplifying my website I'm also trying to rejig it to serve as a little more of a tool. You'll notice, for example, the blog no longer has a title; it's just my name. Though, I have kept the "Dancing the polka with Miss El Cajon" sentiment in the subheading/description. I've added a portfolio section (which may or may not be a good idea). I'll add a contact section soon. It's all a work in progress; I'm not happy with it yet.

All this is quite exciting and feels very much like those happy moments when you are actually living up to the expectations and ambitions of your younger self. But then hip pain keeps you from sleeping for just one night and you wake up feeling that all is lost.

Training for the marathon is beating me up both physically and mentally. I find it so hard to recover from tiny little things, so hard to push myself through the molasses of tiredness. Here's hoping the 27th of October comes soon, and that I can survive all the way there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Remembering Evel Knievel's Snake River Jump 40 Years Later

Originally published on ThrottleX

A little more than 40 years ago, famous daredevil Evel Knievel squeezed into the cockpit of a strange open-top rocket known as Skycycle X-2 and attempted to jump a 3/4-mile chasm at Snake River Canyon, near Twin Falls, Idaho. Ultimately, the attempt was a failure and boondoggle. And for some, the incident is symbolic of the United States in the 1970s.

In the wider context, the pain of Vietnam was still fresh on that September day in 1974, as well as the anger and embarrassment of Watergate. American industry was in decline. This was when Harley-Davidson was earning the awful reputation its critics still (unfairly) point to. The remaining Apollo lunar missions –– easily the greatest examples of American technical prowess –– had been scrapped. Stock market crashes and an oil crisis had exposed the country's weakest points.

For several months leading to this day, Knievel had built a tide of public interest in the Snake River jump. Millions of dollars had been spent promoting and now televising the event across the nation. Thousands of onlookers had come to see it in person, lining both sides of the canyon.

As crowds cheered, Knievel, bedecked in his famous stars-and-stripes jumpsuit, had been delivered to the launching platform on a throne suspended from a crane. He hadn't just walked; he had descended as if from on high. It was American spectacle at its finest.

(Interestingly, one of the financial backers was Vince McMahon Jr. –– now owner of the WWE, and someone who knows a thing or two about creating a spectacle.)

After a dramatic countdown, the rocket fired and: Pfft. Its parachute deployed on ignition and immediately started to slow the Skycycle X-2 as it arched above Snake River Canyon.

"Whoa. It looks like he's..." one of the ABC commentators stuttered, more confounded by the immediate anti-climax than concerned for Knievel's safety. "Whoa. There's been a mistake."

The rocket wobbled in the sky, emitted some showy red smoke and drifted to the canyon floor. For Knievel, there was still drama because he would have drowned had the rocket gone into the river. But for the crowd it was a failure. After all the bombast, Knievel had come up short.

A few hours later that same day, President Gerald Ford announced he had pardoned Richard Nixon, saving the embarrassed former president from any possibility of indictment.

In the aftermath of the jump, dozens of investors and vendors suffered financial loss. To this day there exists in Twin Falls, Idaho, deep bitterness toward the whole affair. The American spirit had not conquered. Simply having the arrogance to dream something had not been enough to make it a success.

In the months leading up to this September and the 40th anniversary of the Snake River jump, no less than seven modern daredevils had expressed interest in attempting a similar feat. Many said they wanted to make things right, they wanted to heal the hurt caused by that failure. But in the end none did more than talk. September 8, 2014, came and went without note.

And perhaps that's for the best. Now is a different time, and maybe there's no reason to open those old wounds. As Knievel himself said after the whole affair: "In every adversity there's an equivalent to benefit if you look for it."

Rather than dwell on the botched jump, Knievel went on to do other things. Forty years on, not too many people remember Knievel's failures. They remember instead an icon of American spirit. They wear and decorate their motorcycles with his famous No. 1 graphic. To many, he is the sort of man they aspire to be.


Meanwhile, America is strengthening after a long, slow recession. Harley-Davidson is now one of the most respected and most trusted motorcycle brands in the world. And while we may not hold a monopoly, there's no doubting that the U.S. is an innovator once more. Maybe, in the end, Evel's jump wasn't a failure after all.

Monday, September 29, 2014

TMO: The forgotten names


Below is the third and final post about my road trip to Yorkshire Dales National Park. Basically, it covers my trip back home, which included a stop in Leeds and at the UK's National Motorcycle Museum.

If you've never been to Leeds I'd suggest you make no particular effort to go there. It suffers from that thing affecting a lot of large British cities that aren't London, which is that they are generally indistinguishable from one another. So Leeds is Cardiff is Bristol is Birmingham: depressingly uninspiring concrete buildings greyed and decayed by decades of traffic pollution. If you live in one of these cities perhaps you can see the beauty and uniqueness of it, but as a visitor there is nothing really to make you want to come back.

The National Motorcycle Museum, meanwhile, is located in that motorcycling Mecca that is Birmingham. Obviously. Going to the museum was an educational experience, though, in the sense it taught me that motorcycles are in and of themselves not that interesting. Not when they're just sitting there, at least.

What fascinates me, what gets me all yammering and wild-eyed about motorcycles is what they mean, rather than what they are. That's not surprising, I suppose, but it's a good thing to know about myself. It's good to know that I am drawn more by the romantic rather than the technical. Acknowledging that helps me in how I approach the whole thing.

Anyhoosiers, click below to read the post:

Friday, September 26, 2014

TMO: Ay up

Linked below is the second of three parts retelling my trip to the Yorkshire Dales. This trip was my second time to visit Yorkshire (having previously had a chance to spend a few days in York back in February) and I find that I really love that part of the world. The scenery is great and the accents delight me.

Though I cannot imagine being romantically involved with someone who had a thick Yorkshire accent. Just think about it for a moment. Think about sexy bedroom things a partner might say and imagine them said in a treacly Yorkshire patois. It doesn't work.

In most other interactions, however, it's an enjoyable accent. Even listening to a Yorkshireman be angry is strangely fun (as long as he/she isn't angry at you). I'd be quite happy to try living up there a while -- particularly in York. Indeed, from time to time I peruse job listings there. Maybe one day.

In the meantime I am content to just visit. And hey, perhaps that helps preserve the magic. Actually living in York and having to deal with typical day-to-day issues like getting home from work in the rain or finding the money to pay for unplanned bike repair or whatever would inevitably tarnish my view of the place somewhat. Maybe it's better to just hold it golden in my mind as a place of great scenery and friendly/odd people who speak in funny accents.

Anyhoo, click below to read about my excessive speeding and eating rich food in pubs:



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

May contain adult content

Jenn and I are trying to sell our flat. Or, well, technically, it's Jenn's flat. She bought it before we met; hers is the only name on the lease. But it's the nature of marriage that you don't pay much attention to ownership specifics. It all blurs together. You don't sit down and say: "OK, I'll buy these oranges and you can buy those apples and we'll split the cost on this milk."

In Ye Olde Days, that was, of course, one of the primary motivations for marriage: a pooling of resources. Two adults working together to improve their general condition. Practicality, you see.

And it is indeed for practical purposes that Jenn and I are keen to sell the flat: to get ourselves into the position of being debt-free. Which will/would be of benefit when/if we move to the United States in a few years. Or just of benefit in general. Being debt-free, y'all; it's the new hotness. And I've worked out that if we could get out from under all our debt we could rent a two-bedroom flat/house (our flat is one-bedroom) and still have a quantum of funds each month to put into savings. 

Simply using the profit of this flat as a deposit on a larger place won't work because the mortgage on such a place would be more than what Jenn could shoulder on her own, and my status as a Damned Dirty Immigrant (who is working and paying taxes to fund the housing and welfare of natural born citizens who stand outside the Jobcentre with their hands down their pants, drinking Stella Artois and shouting obscenities) prevents me from being eligible for such a loan or co-signing onto one with my wife.

If you're not terribly interested in my personal financial situation, I don't blame you. I get bored even thinking about it. Or, well, panicky-bored. That feeling where your brain simultaneously says: "Ugh, dude, I don't wanna think about this," and "AAARGH! I DON'T WANT TO THINK ABOUT THIS!"

Selling a flat, even though it is technically not mine, is, I think, the most grown-up thing I've ever done. And it induces a tremendous amount of stress. 

Firstly, it consequentially results in my thinking about money all the time. I don't mean thinking about it in a City trader sort of way -- "I'm making the moolah right now, baby! Woo!" -- but more in the way Ukrainians think about Russia. I spend all day trying to work out various scenarios and solutions and equations, but at the end of each of them is the reality that I have extremely little wiggle room. There's a 17-gallon bucket to fill and I've got just 17 gallons of water. Things are OK unless someone gets thirsty.

Thoughts on how to handle money lead, of course, to thoughts on how to earn money. Specifically, how I'd prefer to be earning money. Cue the large Sweetums-esque monster of my mind to sing the same old lament of my writing career not being anywhere near as profitable or prolific as I'd have hoped it would be by the time I was 38 years old.

These anxieties stack on top of each other and mush together. It's like ice cream on a hot day. Life becomes the challenge of sitting there in the sweltering heat trying to tackle a 4-scoop cone without having any of it spill onto your hands or, worse, topple to the ground. And in the great quadruple-dip waffle cone of life the additional challenge comes in the fact the flavours are not terribly complimentary. It would be far easier to tackle them one at a time. But you can't. They are on top of each other and as time goes on they become more difficult to distinguish.

Panicky-bored. Panicky-bored. I don't wanna talk about this, man. I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS. Where I'm going with talking about it is that strange feeling of realising that I'm an adult and not feeling terribly happy about it. I think because I am fearful that I am not terribly good at it.

And here Sweetums steps forward again to sing the Middle-class Woes: the feeling that I am a disappointment by scale. Do you get what I mean? Objectively, my life is pretty good; I have achieved some good things. But I feel that if you take into account the tools I've had to achieve those things I am ultimately a letdown. 

I imagine myself in a large room full of mechanical parts. That is my life. And at the end of my life, God is going to walk into the room and say: "Well, what'd you manage to make, Chris?"

"This bicycle," I'll say. "It's pretty sturdy. I rode around on it quite a bit and it's held up. A few flat tires but pretty fun overall."

"Good, Chris. That's fine," he'll say. "But, uhm, well, you know... this room. All the parts and tools are in this room for you to have made a fighter jet. The parts and tools are here for you to have built a fleet of motorcycles. You've always had most of them. Then there were the times -- remember? -- that you put a lot of time and effort into developing some of the others. But you never really used them. A bicycle is good, Chris. And there are many people up here that, if they had presented me with even a drawing of a bicycle, I would have been very proud of. But you. With you, a bicycle is kind of disappointing. I think you've let yourself down a little. Ah well, you've got all of eternity to dwell on it..."

The fact that these feelings spiral from the simple act of trying to sell a piece of property convinces me even further that I am really not doing a very good job of being an adult. Or maybe I just don't like being an adult and resist it to the point of incompetency. I sense that I would be more enthusiastic about the whole thing if Jenn and I were planning to use the money to go on a massive road trip.

Monday, September 22, 2014

TMO: It's (not at all) grim up North

One of the challenges of maintaining two blogs comes when the blogs' worlds intersect. That sentence has the potential to lead us down a pretentious road of me taking me a little too seriously, but that's not where I'm trying to go with it. I simply mean that sometimes there are experiences/topics that I think fit the genres of both my personal blog and my motorcycle blog. And I'll waffle a bit on where that particular post should "live."

Such is the case with my recent trip to Yorkshire Dales National Park. I rode my motorcycle up there earlier this month and spent a day getting to know the park's communications team. Since I rode my bike, that makes it motorcycle related, right? But that trip to a beautiful part of the country that I'd not seen before is definitely a personal experience.

In the end, I opted to record the experience on TheMotorcycleObsession.com but I want to draw your attention to it because I feel that my story of that road trip might be interesting even if you don't give a damn about motorcycles.

Going off on a tangent here, what is Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about? In the introduction, Robert Pirsig points out that his autobiographical novel is not really about either thing. Indeed, if you are an individual seeking specifically a book about one or the other, you probably walked away from that particular title feeling a little unfulfilled. Most motorcycle fanatics have tried to read it and will quietly admit they gave up when the narrative was somewhere in Montana and had slipped into chapter after chapter of not-motorcycle-related stuff.

I think about this because I have a book in my head that I am promising myself I will start plotting out soon. The narrative is very loosely based on my own experiences of driving across the United States in 2009. In real life, I made this journey in rental cars. But I have been thinking that for the novel I will have the main character buy a motorcycle in Boston and tackle the American landscape on two wheels.

But does that make it a motorcycle book? I guess for the purposes of sales, it doesn't hurt to have a niche audience like that, but... well... I don't know. Perhaps I am overthinking it.

Another tangent:
I have broken the tale of my Yorkshire Dales trip into three parts. The first is linked below and I'll link the others soon. Writing posts like these, or, rather, the experiences that lead to writing posts like these, is what I love most about motorcycles and motorcycling. Yesterday I was looking back through some pictures of last summer, when I first had my motorcycle, and was thinking of how much this stupid little machine has positively affected my life.

In the last year, I have seen considerably more of Britain than I had in the seven years previous, and that has resulted in my developing a more positive outlook on life. Having the freedom and ability to explore this island makes me hate it less. Yes, I am still eager to move out of Wales, but believe me, the venomous rage I used to feel and spit toward the Land of Song has reduced considerably. And outside of the Welsh context, very slowly (very slowly) I find myself warming again to Britain overall and Europe, and remembering why I was so desperate to move here in the first place.

Just because of a 600cc Honda motorcycle.

Anyhoo, here's the first of the three-part story of my taking that little Honda to Yorkshire, featuring an encounter with a WWII dispatch rider:

It's (not at all) grim up North

Friday, September 19, 2014

The irony is: this will almost certainly result in more attention being paid to England

Scotland have voted no. Which I'm glad to see; Scottish independence is no better an idea than independence for Indiana. Actually, Indiana is arguably better suited to independence as it has the existing political/physical infrastructure to function as an independent state, as well as more natural/financial/intellectual resources.

For example, Indiana has the ability to raise and lower (state) taxes as it sees necessary; Scotland has only the ability to raise taxes a teeny bit. If Indiana were to secede, its governor would de facto become the head of state; an independent Scotland would have kept the Queen as its head of state and tabled the discussion on that awkwardness for several years. Scotland's estimated GDP is £100 billion; Indiana's is almost double that.

But I digress. Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and that's a good thing because although a Scotland-free United Kingdom would be statistically healthier and wealthier it wouldn't be anywhere near as cool. Scotland's greatest natural resource is awesomeness.

Digressing again, did anyone notice how passionately Gordon Brown argued in favour of the union? He shook his fist and his hair got all mussed and you suddenly realised what an incredibly big and imposing man he can be. He could kick your ass, dude. Where the hell was that version of him when he was prime minister? Did he leave it at home in Fife? Why can't the United Kingdom have a leader who actually feels things?

Anyway, the thing that's interesting to me is that the Scottish referendum will almost certainly result in more attention being paid to England. That's because one of the side effects of the debate has been to draw attention to the fact that England lacks a national assembly. Northern Ireland has Stormont, Scotland has Holyrood, and Wales has the Senedd, but what does England have? 

Westminster, you say.

Well, yes, but Westminster also belongs to the other aforementioned nations. There is no political entity specifically dealing with English issues. It makes sense that England, too, should have an assembly with powers similar/equal to those allocated to Holyrood, the Senedd and Stormont. We wouldn't do away with Westminster; it would rightly take the role of paying attention to truly national/international issues -- things that affect all of us.

That idea has been floating around for a while. Most recently I heard it mentioned by Nick Clegg as an offshoot to the referendum debate. Sadly, it is an idea also supported by Nigel Farage, which inherently makes me question my own support of it. That man is awful.

But I still think the idea makes sense. After all, we're already 3/4 of the way there. And it's a good idea if not simply because it would encourage England's sports teams to stop using "God Save the Queen" as their national anthem. Sing "Jerusalem," you boobs, and stop misappropriating the anthem that is supposed to apply to all of us.

Plus, it's fair. I realise it may not feel like it because there are so many of them, but the individual English man or woman currently has less political representation than the individual man or woman in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

The next question, I suppose, is where to put an English assembly. Not in London. It makes sense for the seat of English power to be somewhere other than the seat of British power. So, I'd put it in Manchester -- a vibrant northern city with strong transportation links not just to London but the other national capitals of Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

There. That's all of Britain's problems solved. You're welcome. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland, please don't go

Scots -- or rather, people who live in Scotland -- are tomorrow voting on whether to break free of the United Kingdom and exist as an "independent" country. I put "independent" in quotes there because Scotland will almost certainly want to be part of the European Union. It will be independent of England, but still beholden to the laws and financial machinations of an external power. 

Although, rather menacingly, the current president of the European Council has said Scots would initially be cut adrift following a vote for independence. The EU laws, treaties and rights that Scotland currently enjoys would no longer apply.

For my own part, though, I hope Scotland will choose to avoid such thorny issues by continuing to be part of the United Kingdom. I have a number of emotional reasons for wanting them to stay, as well as a handful of rational reasons as to why I think it would be ill-advised to go.

I have no doubt that a nationalist would take issue with my expressing an opinion on the matter because: 1) I'm an American; 2) I'm an American.

I (rather proudly) come from a country that declared independence from the United Kingdom; isn't it hypocritical for me to say that it's alright for us but not Scotland? And secondly, ignoring America's history, my being from there means I am not from here -- not Scotland or England or any other part of the country/countries immediately affected by the 18 September referendum. So what right do I have to comment on it?

Dude, I have a blog. I have a right to comment on everything. But also, I have lived in the UK for 8 years and plan to apply for citizenship as soon as I am able. My opinion of the referendum is a reflection of my opinion on the Britain in which I want to live. Meanwhile, the United States is an apples and oranges comparison to Scotland, though there are some aspects of our experience worth noting. 

You, sir, are no United States of America

So, let's start there. History offers very few examples of countries winning independence and thereafter having everything go awesomely from day one. More often than not independence is followed by long periods of economic instability, political turmoil, civil wars, military coups and various other unhappy things. The United States experienced all but the military coups, and even with that one there have been a fair few individuals who formulated the idea.

Things got better for us after a century or so, of course. Though, I'd argue that much of the reason for that is that we have a hell of a lot of natural resources, a hell of a lot of space, and we're kind of far away from anyone who might want to attack us.

A better comparison for Scotland in terms of size, population and resources, would be Ireland. Yes, things turned out alright for them, too. But, again, it took them about 100 years to get there, and the journey wasn't a particularly happy one. Meanwhile, they are still particularly susceptible to a bad economy and a culture of emigration is very a part of the national narrative.

I suspect Scotland would manage to avoid internal military conflict, but the threat of political and financial instability is very real. As is the threat that said instability would last well beyond the lifetime of anyone who might vote yes in Thursday's referendum -- beyond their children's lifetimes and quite possibly beyond their grandchildren's lifetimes. I have no doubt Scotland can find its feet eventually. But it may be that by the time that happens, the offspring of those making Thursday's decision will no longer be Scottish. Like my great-great-grandmother did in the 1800s, they will have left Scotland to seek better opportunities elsewhere.

That reference to my own diminished Scottish roots is an acknowledgement that Scotland's 300 years in the union hasn't always been peaches and cream. And to that extent it's fair to say that a realistic view of the immediate financial impact isn't always a reason to call off a declaration of independence. If things are really crappy -- if people are being gunned down in the streets by an oppressive power -- then economy be damned.

So, perhaps if Scotland had declared independence after the Highland Clearances or the Battle of George Square it would have made sense. But those people are dead now. The perpetrators are dead; their ideas are dead. The United Kingdom from which nationalists now want to break -- the United Kingdom of today -- is a completely different one than existed then. It is prosperous, kind, increasingly diverse and, but for the weather and the inexplicable success of "Mrs. Brown's Boys" on television, not a terrible place to be. Certainly not so terrible that it's worth risking the misery and instability that independence might initially bring.

There's that whole EU thing, for example. If the European Union were to hold good on its threat, that would leave Scotland with the status of being just another non-EU country. Which presumably would mean that Scots would be treated like other non-EU immigrants. No automatic right to work in any of the 28 EU states; no borderless travel between them; no bailouts when your economy tanks; no funding to keep it from doing so; no ability to ship and sell your goods in the EU without tariff; and on and on. 

One wonders, too, what would happen to the thousands upon thousands of Scotland-born individuals presently living and working in other parts of Great Britain and the EU. Would they have to become citizens of those countries? Would they be deported back to Scotland? Would my Scottish friends suddenly be able to commiserate with my experiences as a non-EU immigrant: paying £500 a pop for visa applications and having no right to vote?

Truthfully, of course, things might not be so dire as that, because the European Union has the political fierceness of a toilet brush, and Scotland (currently) has oil. So, seeing EU leaders crumble and Scotland gaining quick acceptance as the 29th EU state is probable. But the whole issue speaks to the fact that there are a hell of a lot of uncertainties in independence.

And if we've learned anything from the Great Recession it's that financial markets are run by babies. What is isn't as relevant as what seems to be. Uncertainty creates instability. There is uncertainty in the financial sector, uncertainty in how long Scotland's oil will last, uncertainty about Scotland's world role, uncertainty in Scotland's ability to adequately fund its infrastructure, uncertainty about Scotland's future political landscape and on and on. Proponents of independence will say all these uncertainties are overblown but simply saying that something isn't true isn't enough to keep skittish institutions and investors from behaving as if it is.

We got a good thing goin' on

Those are some of the reasons I think it's a bad idea to go, but as I say, most of my opposition to the independence referendum comes from my emotional desire to see Scotland stay. The United Kingdom without it just isn't as good.

Back in May, I got a chance to spend a few days in Scotland. I rode my motorbike up there and it was my first time to have visited, despite years and years of making New Year's Resolutions to go. I experienced actual snow-capped mountains (as opposed to the tallish hills we have here in Wales), woodland that reminded me of Northern Minnesota, clean air, good beer, and fields of flowers so pretty I wanted to sell my bike to pay for an airline ticket so my mom could come see them. For these things alone I want Scotland to stay part of the United Kingdom; I want to be able to "claim" them, to be able to say those things are in the country where I live.

I got a chance to see a fair bit of the country, with the bulk of my time spent in Perthshire and Cairngorms National Park. Because the upcoming referendum was on my mind, one of the things that struck me about Scotl and is its people are not too terribly different to the peoples of other parts of the UK.

Having lived here so long, I know Britons tend to hate when I tell them how similar they all are. People here love to dwell on the tiny, tiny ways in which they are different from each other. For example, one of the ways to get my Devon-born wife to raise her voice in anger is to dare suggest there's nothing wrong with the way the people of Cornwall (the county immediately west of Devon) put cream and jam on their scones.

Whereas, of course, anyone who isn't from Cornwall or Devon would be hard-pressed to spot a difference between the two peoples. Both are telling the same jokes, wearing the same clothes, driving the same cars, listening to the same music, watching the same television shows, reading the same books, eating the same foods, espousing the same ideals, holding to the same social conventions, arguing the same political points, adhering to the same laws, avoiding going to the same churches and taking their holidays in the same places.

Obviously, when I say "same" I mean that people are behaving within the same spectrum. Every snowflake is different but not so much that there is no such thing as snow. And the fact is: although accents and tastes vary, the spectrum never really changes no matter where you go in the United Kingdom.

For my wife, her annoyance at the difference between Cornish and Devonshire folk is playful. I get that; having been raised in Minnesota I can claim all kinds of silly differences from neighbouring Wisconsin. But nationalists (in both Wales and Scotland) seem to look at insignificant differences and come to the conclusion the two sides are incompatible. It's nonsensical and undemocratic.

Having differences is good. Diversity is what makes a species and a culture survive and thrive. So, as much as there is benefit to the UK having Scotland, there is benefit to Scotland having the UK. Both places are better as a result of each other, and for those who come from outside the British Isles, the two are intrinsically linked. Scottishness is a part of Britishness. Certainly that's how I feel.

Why am I the one saying this?

And I'm not alone in feeling it. One of the side debates that has come out of the whole referendum issue is the question of what Britishness is. Nationalists, of course, insist that it is a construct -- a manufactured applies-to-all Englishness that is somehow oppressing us all. Or something like that. Whereas, on the other side of things it seems that one of the key facets of Britishness is feeling terribly awkward about it.So, it's something that's not being well defended.

Too often, Britishness is a bit like American patriotism in the sense that its most enthusiastic proponents are sometimes the ones who should be talking the least. Nigel Farage and the Orangemen are doing Britishness no favours by blustering through Scotland.

For me, though, Britishness -- modern Britishness -- is that similar spectrum of ideals I talked about. A spectrum that is, as I say, kind, welcoming and diverse on an overarching level. A spectrum that supports things like universal healthcare and environmental protection (and, yes, British Conservatives are in that spectrum). Modern Britishness is Kele Okereke and Tony Singh; it is not necessarily wearable. It's a mindset: awkwardness and humour, heart and tolerance. And particularly, Britishness is the concept preferred by the millions of us damned dirty immigrants who for the past half century or so have been making this island our own and reshaping it.

I can't find the article in which I learned this but I read not too long ago that newly-naturalised citizens, as well as second- and even third-generation immigrants overwhelmingly see themselves as British rather than English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish. I am not yet a naturalised citizen but will loop myself in with them. We want to be part of a whole, of a greater thing.

When nationalists rail against the idea of Britishness they are railing against that old Britain -- the dead Empire and its dead ideas. Or, perhaps they are railing against the idea of being part of a group that you cannot define by skin colour, accent, or religion...

Maybe my being a (potentially) new Briton makes me more willing to express an opinion about Scottish independence, but I find it frustrating that those in favour of preserving the union really didn't do much about it until less than a fortnight before the vote, when a potentially misleading poll suggested those in favour of separation had gained considerable ground.

Suddenly, that forced the three least inspiring men in the world -- David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg -- to hop a train north so they could deliver a handful of awkward stump speeches and unintentionally speak the lyrics of Al Green songs. To some extent, this explains why they hadn't done anything before: the leaders of the UK's main political parties are unconvincing in expressing affection for the country they lead.

But somebody should have been doing all this months ago. Time, effort and energy should have been invested in expressing to people on both sides of the border the importance, relevance and benefit of the United Kingdom remaining united.

To me, one of the driving factors for Scottish nationalists is a feeling of being ignored or marginalised. To that end, it seems the correct response to their threatening to leave is not to prove them right. When I was in Scotland in May, I saw no evidence of efforts by the Better Together campaign. The time between the referendum first being announced and tomorrow should have seen us all inundated with flag waving and cleverly crafted TV and radio pieces on the value of Britain and Britishness.

On that point, I guess I can understand why some Scots might want to leave. The overall lack of obvious effort to keep them as part of the family could be interpreted as either a sign of English arrogance or a sign that Britons don't take enough pride in their country to defend it. And really, who wants to be a part of that?

Monday, September 15, 2014

TMO: What I want: BMW F800GT

I'd be interested to see a percentage breakdown of my thoughts, i.e., a chart showing how much I think about this or that thing. Motorcycles would occupy a huge percentage, of course, to the extent that these thoughts would have to be broken down into sub-topics. Highest among those, I'd guess, are motorcycle-related thoughts on What Bike I Want To Get Next.

For some reason, it feels like a terribly important decision. Who cares about the future of Scotland or whether the United States can or even should defeat Islamic State; what really matters is what kind of bike I should be riding.

I think the reason I get so worked up about these things is that I feel I am catching up in terms of motorcycling. Although I earned my Minnesota motorcycle endorsement when I was 18 years old, I didn't actually start riding a bike until I was 36. So I feel like I am 18 years behind; I have missed out on nigh two decades of riding and owning various motorcycles. And how many vehicles you own in your lifetime is important, man.

Anyhoo, within the What Bike I Want To Get Next is the question of what type of bike I want, a question that is answered primarily by the question of what type of riding I do. That question, however, often gets blurred with the question of the type of riding I want to do, and by extension, questions about the type of rider I am, the type of rider I want to be and where those things intersect. Like I say, it's complicated stuff, and my mind spends all day doing a sort of Plinko thing with all the variables.

At the end of at least one of these complicated strings of thought is the BMW F800GT, a bike that's got a fair mix of marketing intangibles like "character" and "spirit" whilst remaining a highly functional machine. Click the link below to read more:


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I may not be a dog person

We're spending the week with these bitches.
Jenn and I are this week house-sitting for her best friend's mother. We are in a quite-large house in West Sussex, providing company and food service for three golden retrievers, a small cat and a handful of chickens. 

It is, unquestionably, an enviable situation to be in. Literally within a stone's throw of South Downs National Park, we are in one of the most English of English landscapes. There is a garden from which to pick fresh fruit and vegetables, a grass tennis court on which Jenn and I have been doing DDP yoga, and a large patio where we eat our meals outside. 

Thanks to the power of the internets we are both working remotely –– able to be here without having to take off time from work –– but with the rest of our time we have been running country lanes, eating massive pub meals, hiking the South Downs Way, and just lounging on the sofa reading.

The latter activity is probably the most idyllic because it is then that the dogs and cat (the chickens stay in their coop) will come to lounge with us. The cat nuzzles a place next to my thigh and occasionally headbutts my elbow for fun. The dogs lie near our feet, expel the heavy sighs of canines and fart shamelessly.

They are delightful and stupid, the dogs. All females, they are aggressive only for attention. If you pet one, another will muscle in and demand that your giving of affection be a full-body affair: left hand scratching behind the ears of one dog, right hand rubbing the belly of another, legs squeezing a third.

They are fun to be around, fun to go on walks with, and –– if you can get used to the smell –– emotionally comforting on a level that is sort of hard to explain. But, oh my gosh, are they a bunch of trouble.

These dogs are pretty well trained, but still much of our routine revolves around their pooping and peeing. I make sure they get a chance to go out and do their thing before bed, then I need to be up at about 6:30 in the morning to let them out, else they'll start barking. And still, twice so far we have been greeted in the morning with a special doggie present on the floor –– of which all three of the dogs have disavowed any knowledge.

"Which one of you pooped on the carpet?" I asked this morning.

They looked at me as if I had said, "Which one of you wants a steak?"

Effie was suspicious when I claimed to not have any food.
Meanwhile, they will bark at anything –– especially things that are not there. One in particular, Effie, barks ceaselessly at the unknown. Perhaps there's poetry in that, but not at 7 in the morning. When not barking they are searching for food. Or finding some mud they can track into the house. Or strategically placing their hair on EVERY SINGLE THING.

I have always thought of myself as a dog person but in now actually living with the beasts I can't help but wonder if it's something I could put up with on an everyday basis. Because things only get worse when you take them away from the house.

On Sunday, Jenn and I took the dogs on a walk to a nearby pub for lunch. If you read just that sentence it probably sounds awesome, and for one or two fleeting moments –– watching these golden-haired dogs run across a field in the late summer sun –– it definitely was. But the rest of the time, I found myself emitting a constant soundtrack of reproach:

"Effie, get away from the road. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Sophie, leave that little boy alone. Effie, stop biting Sophie in the face. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Effie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I don't have any food. Sophie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I still don't have any food. Phoebe, come on, let's go...."

The responsibility of being a (temporary) dog owner was wearing me out. I had to pay attention to each little aspect of the world around me and consider how the dogs might respond to it, how it might respond to them: cars, people, other dogs, horses, woodland animals, the smell of faraway barbecues,  tricks of the light, and, of course, all kinds of things that were not there.

It's exhausting. I'm not sure I could live this way. After all these years of thinking otherwise, it turns out I may not be a dog person after all.

Though, having said that, it's probably worth noting that in writing this post I twice found myself getting up and seeking out the dogs just to be able to pet them.

Friday, September 5, 2014

TMO: What makes a rider-friendly region?

A few weeks ago I got a chance to visit Portsmouth for the first time in 13 years. It is strange that I have lived in Britain more than eight years and it had taken me this long. Especially considering how much I used to love that city. 

I don't suppose I need to put that last sentence in the past tense. If there were opportunity to live in Portsmouth again I probably would. Though, I'm realistic enough to know I wouldn't be as enraptured by the place. It is just a place, just a city. But it is the city where I first fell in love with Britain. And initially it was my deep obsession with returning to Portsmouth (and, by extension, Britain) that led to my moving to Cardiff.

Perhaps therein is one of the reasons I feel so negatively toward Wales' capital city. My experiences here have killed off so much of the love, excitement and enthusiasm I once felt toward Britain. I became so cynical that I lived for eight years just 140 miles from a place I used to love so damned much that I wrote an entire book about it and I never went there.

Until this August. I am happy to report that Portsmouth is less an ugly dog of a town than I remembered and that its residents are still as charmingly rude as always (a). Meanwhile, one thing I had never before spotted, or, at least, been properly alert to (b), was the fact that Portsmouth and the surrounding region of Southeast England are quite motorcycle friendly. 

There are notably more motorcyclists riding notably greater variety of motorcycle there than in Wales. And, perhaps simply as matter of course, businesses and other road users are more accommodating of motorcycles. The question, though, is why? That's something I ponder in this post. Click the link below to read more.


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(a) One could easily describe the people of Portsmouth as terribly unfriendly but that's not true. They are just very direct, and often part of their humour is to pretend to be mean. It takes some getting used to.

(b) In The Way Forward there is a part where Ben marvels at the fact that guys in Portsmouth will dress up like they're "in a middle-aged production of 'Grease'." This was an observation of my own when I lived there in the late 1990s. I now know that these guys were, in fact, a bunch of old rockers, i.e., part of the mods and rockers subculture of the 1960s.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

For once, I'm on the cutting edge

Myself and Rex in May 2003
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The picture above is of Rex Sorgatz and me roughly 11 years ago. I was living in San Diego at the time and -- as you can see -- rocking some terrible hair. If you've not heard of Rex, he's a tech super genius who's long had a knack for identifying internet trends a year or so before you even hear of them. Actually, if you follow his Twitter, you'll see that he gets bored of internet trends about a year before the rest of us hear of them -- to him the trend has already come and gone. The shark has been jumped and the waterski boat is back at the dock, its engine cooled.

At the time the above picture was taken, Rex and I were working for the same Minnesota-based company, though I was living in San Diego. It was May 2003 and I had just gotten into blogging. Which means, of course, that Rex had been doing it for years.

Keen observers will note that -- but for the exception of a joking backdated post -- this blog didn't come into being until a good year after the picture was taken. Inspired by Belle du Jour, which, at the time most of us believed to be a ruse propagated by a Mancunian journalist, I was blogging under a pseudonym that I honestly cannot now remember.

I do remember that it never really took off, probably in part because I struggled to keep my character story straight. At the start I couldn't decide whether the blog's author was male or female, then I was indecisive about his age, then I decided he lived in a city to which I had never been. Needless to say, none of the book deals that were being handed out to bloggers in those days ever came my way. Eventually I deleted the blog and chose to write under my own name.

It's easier that way. I have a terrible memory and struggle to remember my own narrative, let alone that of someone who doesn't exist. Indeed, as time moves ever forward I find this blog serves as a sort of auxiliary memory -- one that is internet searchable. How fast did I run the Fargo Half Marathon in 2005? I haven't a clue. But the blog, she remembers.

Anyhoo, I'm wandering away from my point, which is simply that this blog has been in constant operation since 2004. True, over the past decade there have been certain stretches that were rather light on content (e.g., the whole of 2013), but I've never officially stopped. And recently you* may have noticed a real effort to increase activity.

"Posting links to your motorcycle blog doesn't count as increased activity," you* might say.

Doesn't it? Before Tumblr, wasn't that the point of quite a few blogs?

But, also, take a closer look, homie. For the past six weeks or so (almost as long as I've been doing DDP Yoga, incidentally) I have managed to write at least one original post a week. And that brings us to the second point of this particular post, which is that in addition to having been blogging for a really long time I have been doing it more lately.

Most importantly, I have been doing it since before Rex stated on Twitter that everyone who blogged in 2003 should start again. Before he said that, y'all. Before. I am ahead of Rex. Which means I am a genius and a trendsetter.

Unless Rex was being sarcastic, which may well have been the case.

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* I'm not sure "you" exist. I quite often feel as if this is just a corner of the internet in which i talk to myself. I haven't decided how I feel about that. Sometimes I think it's OK, sometimes it feels a bit lonely. To that end, if Rex was being serious in saying that people should return to blogging again I suspect he wasn't thinking about me when he said it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

TMO -- Gear review: Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires

One of the reasons I am so dedicated to my motorcycle blog is the simple fact that it gives me things. Or, rather, things are given to me as a result of it. The most obvious example of this is my bike itself. A random Harley dude was impressed with the quality of my writing and offered to get me a bike if I did some copy writing work for him.

Another good example is the set of tires that are now on that bike. Through my blog I got a chance to go up to Michelin headquarters in beautiful Stoke-on-Trent earlier this year and be treated to a day of playing on motorcycles, and eating until I felt I was going to burst, and talking about tires.

Dude, I know so much about tires now. 

They also put a brand new set of Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires on my bike. Needless to say, the whole experience resulted in my being enamoured of Michelin. Is that the right phrasing? I mean to say that I am a Michelin fan boy, but want to state it in a clever way. They're the bee's knees. And I now find when I daydream about the motorcycles that I'd like to own I check first whether Michelin offers tires compatible to that model before committing to the fantasy. 

Anyhoo, I've put just shy of 3,000 miles on my Michelin tires and decided to write a review. Click the link below to read more.