Power in Numbers

Last weekend I was lucky enough to get tickets for the UCI Track World Cup Classic at the velodrome in Manchester. It was a superb event, well organised by British Cycling and action packed. Understandably some of the biggest cheers were for the  British riders but nothing beat the atmosphere for the final of the Men’s Team Pursuit. The crowd was electric as the British quartet took to the track only to be raised as a wave of noise accompanied each revolution of the track by the team. A true team effort and with the crowd behind them a real illustration of how there is power in numbers.

More images from the day can be seen here.

Playing the old waiting game

Though I feel I have made some significant inroads and progress over the last 18 months, there is one thing that still raises my stress levels is public transport. Yes I know, it’s a minor triviality for some and probably something I should loosen my grip on. Those who commute to work by car are likely to shrug and wonder why I do it. But those of you who use tube, bus or train to get to the daily grind will no doubt empathise in some way.

My notional commute for the 3 days a week at the “desk job” should be just over an hour. On a good day this can be under an hour which is pleasing, particularly on the way home. However, there are days like today when the public transport gods conspire to elongate the journey and with it raise my blood pressure. Having left the house at 7.05am I finally arrived at my desk at nigh on half eight. Arrrrgggggh! Even a full episode of 7 Day Sunday wasn’t enough today.  If this was the notional time then I could just about live with it. But it isn’t, it’s a daily lottery of bus arrivals and train connections. To be fair to the trains they aren’t the main culprit in this crime but can play an important role as accomplice. The prize for best aggrivator goes to National Express West Midlands. NXBus (as they like to call themselves) notionally operate public transport in Wolverhampton through their buses. If you live in (some areas of) Birmingham you might wonder what my gripe is when the buses are so new and the information on bus times so clear and up to date. Well, those of us in the wider conurbation have to make do with the hand-me down buses – old, unclean, unreliable and cramped – and a timetable which could winner the Booker Prize for fiction. There is no “real-time” information and the best guess-work on when the next arrival is due could well involve a Y-shaped hazel branch and a set of scary looking playing cards.  No, in Wolverhampton you turn up at the bus stop and wait. And wait. And wait. And if you are really lucky a bus might turn up. If not, you wait.  From time to time (such as now on the 255/256 route) NXBus provide a detailed timetable at each stop, though this is far from accurate. At other times on other routes there is an indication of how frequent the buses should be. Neither is helpful. The latter makes planning any trip impossible and inefficient. The former just adds “interest” to the morning guessing game. And so it is that last week the 7.15 bus was 10 minutes early (luckily I was there to catch it) yet this morning it was 5 minutes late (a 15 minute wait – at least it was light today) which created a knock-on effect so that I was ultimately 25 minutes later arriving to work. Some days it just fails to turn up! Can you see why it might be getting stressful yet?

I have always been a person who likes a bit of certainty in life. I also like to get to where I’m going. These are traits that are mine to control and adapt. What I would like though is for those responsible for my journey to work to play their part in delivering a bit of quality, certainty and efficiency. At least answer my complaints properly. Or even just respond to the customer feedback I, and others, provide on Twitter. Is that too much to ask in 2011? Till then it’s back to the old waiting game until I can afford that folding bike – then I can beat the buggers within my control.

A lesson in subservience

A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece outraged at Jeremy Clarkson’s comments about running cyclists off the road. Today I received the following reply from Andy Wilman, Executive Producer of Top Gear. I suppose I should feel honoured:

Dear Mr Rowlands

Thank you for your feedback about Top Gear broadcast on 6 February 2011. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

Jeremy was singling out what he sees as aggressive cyclists, like the one who scraped his car. I don’t think anyone can deny that, as with motorists, there are cyclists out there whose road behaviour is hardly ideal. Jeremy made it clear that in his view cyclists are free to use the roads as long as they behave themselves. Whilst he’d clearly prefer them to defer to motorists, I think his comments stop a long way short of encouraging aggression. Of course Jeremy’s views were balanced out by those of Richard Hammond, who stood up for cyclists.

Yours sincerely

Andy Wilman

Executive Producer

Top Gear

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided

Rather than any feeling of satisfaction from this reply, I felt an overwhelming sense of dismay over what Mr Wilman was saying. Now personally I don’t go in for naming and shaming and I would normally hesitate to republish personal correspondence. However, I decided to for two simple reasons: first, as you can see from the end of the reply, it was sent from an email address which does not receive replies and I therefore have no other means of replying;  second, after a quick scan of the cycling tweeters it became blatantly obvious that this was a stock response to every complaint so we can hardly call the response personal. Sorry Andy but I’m going to have to sink to Jeremy’s level instead.

What do I make of it? If this was a well drafted response designed to provoke reaction it has done the trick.  Is a touch of post hoc rationalisation meant to placate complaints? Are we to believe that Clarkson, a man whose Newspaper columns are myopic and whose comments in the flesh are generally offensive, wants us all to let bygones be bygones and share the roads ? Is it really just a matter of a scratched wing mirror?  Unfortunately I’m not convinced.  The line ‘Whilst he’d clearly prefer them to defer to motorists’ is where Mr Wilman goes wrong.  Far from not indicating any aggression to cyclists it displays an arrogance that the motorist is king and any other road user should be subservient to their rights.  Here I could discuss at length how only cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders have a “right” to use the road. I could highlight that motorists have a duty of care and attention whilst driving which overrides any deference by an other user who is using the road within the law.  But no, I’d just like all road users to share the road space with care and respect for each other.  And when one of those users is protected by a metal cage and the other by the flesh around their bones there is a lot of onus for the motorist to defer.

It is sad that the BBC has chosen this as their defence and for Richard Hammond to be put up as the case for the defence (need we mention that stunt which wrong again?). It is even worse that through Clarkson’s actions more lives are put at risk the actions of a few motorists ‘whose road behaviour is hardly ideal’ after heeding his advice. When will people wake up to their responsibilities in life. And that means you Andy and Jeremy.

As good as your last

There is that old saying that you are only ever as good as your last anything.  In cycling a pro is said to be only as good as his (or her) last race. And so maybe I was destined to become at best a very conservative and at worst very cynical directeur sportif. If not in cycling then at least in more immediate and tangible moments of life this seems to be a niggling mantra that holds me – and those around me in the connected activities – back from exploring and expanding my horizons.

Why do I say that? On Friday night MrsAB decided she wanted to find some new work clothes and in need of a good read so I went along with her to a large, out of town shopping centre to grab myself a book. (Some of you may already be querying the choice of shopping venue. It was the best thing on offer is all I can say in my defence.) After visiting two book emporiums I still left empty handed. One even had two floors worth of books to peruse.  Despite the choice I simply couldn’t make a choice and the over-riding thought in my head was of the previous books I have read and the need to satisfy an urge to have something just as good.  Yes. I know, the whole point of a book is to be a journey of discovery, a trip into the unknown and the satisfaction of each twist and turn taking you further from or nearer to the conclusion you feel the story is headed.  As I wrote in the summer, a good book I have found is one that I can’t put down, a book so good I am happy to have my train or bus delayed for so I can indulge in a few more minutes of fantasy.  What stops me picking up the next potential escape is the feeling that the last book was too good to be repeated.  And so it is that despite the shelves and tables of recommendations and offers I leave two stores without a new read.

And tonight MrsAB and I were discussing where to go on holiday this year. No prizes on offer for realising what happened here but all I can say is that the oyster is far too big for dinner tonight.

Part of the problem is that life is always as good as your last experience. The last book I read shapes my feeling about what to read next. The last holiday I had defines what I want from the next. The last meal out I had is the experience I want to replicate. In some ways there is nothing wrong with some of that, it helps make sure that each experience has the potential to be as good as if not a better experience than the last.  The only problem is that it is preventing me from taking the leap of faith into a new adventure, a new read or that new restaurant for fear that it will be worse.  So living a life as good as your last ultimately undoes itself and becomes boring. What I need now is a half way house so as a first step can any of my readers help me out with a few recommendations to expand those boundaries be they places to go on holiday, good restaurants to eat out in or even just a good little coffee shop and a book to read in it.  I’m going to try and make the last as good as my next.

Top Gear? Broken clutch more like.

Jeremy Clarkson has come in for some stick in the last few weeks. I single out Clarkson because so far his accompanying stooges haven’t sunk quite as low as the leather-jacket-and-denim one in singling out cyclists for target under what I’m sure he is dreaming up as “drive-to-kill”. After the three idiots made a lame attack on Mexico, this week it was Clarkson’s turn to single out cyclists as fair game for motorists to knock off and thus maim or kill for the simple fact that we “don’t pay road tax”. Most of you who read this blog will be cyclists in some shape or form and therefore I’m probably preaching to the converted. I, like many others in the cycling blog and twitter community fired off my own complaint to the BBC. But mine wasn’t a patch on Londonneur’s for hitting the right tone and including all the necessary facts which illustrate Clarkson’s ignorance on this matter. For me this I object to his outburst not because he said it, but rather where and to whom he said it.  I’d like to think he has more sense than to do something as rash and malicious. I am more concerned about the type of person who watches Top Gear, their worship of these bullies and their lack of self-control when “told” to do something by them. It is a shame that the BBC feels so weak that it requires this output to justify a role in society when the schedules could be strengthened by its loss. Until that time we can only hope that more intelligent viewers start to turn off the motor eugenicists in favour of something more entertaining.