Monday, 27 June 2016

Mow down a Granny - almost

Bryony and I went for our regular (more or less) morning walk. This morning was rather later than usual on account of our angst over the referendum result. We’ve taken to donning high visibility jackets as a safety precaution, even though it’s midsummer and there is really no excuse for not seeing pedestrians.

We have seen a lot of rain recently and puddles, abound especially on the more minor roads of our route. Bryony was leading us single file as one of those large modern Range Rovers came round a fairly blind corner towards us. Instead of moving to the opposite side to avoid Bryony, the driver drove towards us so as to avoid a puddle dirtying the precious car.

Bryony in her usual determined fashioned refused to be pushed off the road. I’m afraid I played chicken and jumped on the bank. Our driver fortunately has slowed down enough not to cause an accident.

It is extraordinary the priorities that individuals have in their decision making processes.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

That darned referendum!

The twists and turns in this story are extraordinary and this is only the beginning.

Apparently, a member of the leave campaign thought it so unlikely that it would win he posted a parliamentary petition formalising the conditions that might trigger a 2nd referendum. This was about a month before the referendum itself. The timing is important because it validates the independence and structure of the petition.

Of course, the boot is now on the other foot, the leave campaign has won the referendum and are desperate not to have a rerun. Members of the “Remain” lobby (which includes me) are delighted that we have a ready made vehicle through which to voice our concern over the result.

At the time of writing there are over 3 million signatories to the petition. Any petition with 100,000 signatories or more must be considered for a parliamentary debate. If I interpret this correctly (I am a retired civil servant, with experience of parliamentary procedures), that does NOT mean that a debate on the floor of the House is inevitable. But the sheer numbers of signatories will apply pressure for a debate to be held, however inconvenient. It could be timed, however, so as to make it irrelevant. I hope not.

Curiously, I doubt that a second referendum is the right answer. Let me speculate over the whys and wherefores of the history of this current disaster. The UK government 2010-15 was a coalition between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats (LibDems). The LibDems were profoundly supportive of the European project and the UK’s membership of the Union. Towards the end of that parliament it looked extremely unlikely that Tories would have an outright majority for the next 5 years.

I suspect that the Tory manifesto, which included a commitment to a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, was built around the expectation that,, under a coalition government, such a commitment could never be implemented. It certainly looked fairly irrelevant to those of us who viewed the manifesto from the outside.

What I had not understood was that the Scottish independence debate and referendum had changed the political landscape profoundly, even though the referendum itself kept Scotland within the UK. This, along with several other important factors, contributed to the outright majority enjoyed by the Tories following the 2015 general election. But supporters of the EU, still did not recognize the very real dangers embodied in the commitment to a referendum.

Our Prime Minister negotiated a deal that gave the UK more wriggle room within the EU. We can argue over whether this deal was useful or meaningful, but what is now certain is that the deal was completely irrelevant to the outcome of the referendum.

The expressions of frustration, which were interpreted as a vote to leave the EU, were far more profound than this. It's open to debate as to extent that these frustrations were associated with our membership of the EU or the direct responsibility of our UK government or simply the world economic climate or any number of other factors. While some of the expressions of frustration were indeed associated with EU membership (e.g. free movement of labour within the EU), the vast majority weren’t.

I am now convinced that the circumstances, under which the referendum was held, were wholly anathema to the conduct of an appropriate debate. We are left in a position where we have voted for a political plan of action which has no substance whatever, simply because of the frustrations associated current circumstances.

Is this sour grapes of a voter who lost the argument? Well, I’m certainly pretty sour over the result, but, frankly, I feel we have stepped into the unknown without a proper debate. By a proper debate I’m one in which the arguments are written down and proponents held accountable for the rationale that they have advanced. My personal view is that the outcome of the referendum should be debated in parliament and that parliament itself should take full responsibility for the decision it takes.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Walberswick (2016)

Patrick (P) and I have holidayed at the caravan site in Walberswick for about 15 years (see Cycling – a way of Life This year our stay was unusually short but eventful.

We arrived in the late afternoon on Monday. Bryony took pity on P and made sure I was armed with ready-made food. It had rained on and off all day so we both stayed resolutely in our caravan.

Early morning Walk

Early morning walk
There are real similarities between camping and caravanning. The first night always results in early morning waking. I got up for a prophylactic pee and decided my legs were still on the lurch (see – Fatigue and the Lurch I returned to bed and woke again just before 7. This was much more reasonable, so dressed and stomped off.

This walk has been refined over many years. It is designed to take in the sites of Walberswick and pass by the village shop for milk, newspaper, eggs and other essentials as necessary. It is designed such that it can be both shortened and extended at will, but nearly all versions pass by the shop.

It is time for my first glimpse of the sea.

I trudge pass by the empty camp site. Twenty years ago it teemed with activity from Whitsun to the end of September. However, local “do-gooders“ tried to put a stop to it in account of the unruly behaviour of some of the campers. These were mostly teenagers (including my own crop) having just been just released from exams. I acknowledge there was an element of bad behaviour, but for the most part it was not excessive. The end result though was that camping has been restricted to the standard six week school holiday.
Wooden structures in Walberswick

Over the dunes to the beach. The tide is very low. It must be the effect of the summer solstice. I was not tempted to test the water temperature. 

The walk takes me along the beach towards Southwold Harbour. The Walberswick side is astonishingly picturesque and much pictured wooden structures near the harbour entrance.

North bank harbour buildings
The harbour itself is really a series of moorings along the banks of the River Blyth. The picture above shows the north bank together with the workshops and harbour masters offices. The river grows shallow fairly rapidly but sailing craft are definitely stopped by the Bailey Bridge. 
Bailey Bridge - looking south

This is a footbridge that links Southwold and Walberswick. The bridge structure us quite unusual. It’s certainly very solid for a foot bridge. My best guess is that it was originally a narrow gauge railway bridge. See Wikipedia – Walberswick, Transport – which suggests that it formed part of the Halesworth to Southwold branch line and closed in 1929.

I follow the footpath back to Walberswick, bearing left just before the housing begins. Fortuitously, this leads to the village shop. 

From here there is a back route to the campsite. Unusually, I was quite tired after this walk.

The Ferry

It is tradition for P and I to walk to Southwold and we set off that afternoon through the village and passed the green, heading for the ferry.

Route to the ferry
The ferry is a rowing boat capable of holding 11 passengers or assorted passengers, bicycles and pet dogs.

Walberswick ferry
 My balding head definitely needs protection. In this case, a loose fitting cloth sun hat. Typically a light breeze whipped my hat off into the river just before the safety of the bank on the Southwold side. 

Forgetting that I’m 65 and over weight, I whipped over the side of the wooden landing and climbed down a thick wooden upright. My river soaked hat is little more than 12 inches below my feet but no matter how I position my hands I cannot reach it. My tummy is definitely in the way. Fortunately, a kindly gentleman, lies on his stomach and reaches my hat directly.

My fellow passengers were a little worried at my recklessness. One woman, concerned that I should get back in one piece, tried to help. But she blocked my route back so effectively that I nearly did fall in. However. I managed to return to solid ground and my soaking wet sun hat was returned to me.

P was only mildly perplexed at my silliness, but we continued with our walk to Southwold.

Ferry to Southwold
One of our favourite shops has always been Nutters – a delicatessen of deservedly high reputation. Unfortunately, Nutters is designed for the healthy, salt loving tourist, not for the recovering stroke patient. P went and investigated its delights on his own whilst I did some mundane grocery shopping.

Our return journey was uneventful, but after this round trip of nearly 5 miles, and associated adventures, feeling of fatigue was even more profound. I compensated by avoiding cooking that evening. We walked to the Bell Inn for food. 

P managed make his rather high class burger last until the following afternoon. Great for me, since I was basically let off cooking for yet another day.

The Reed Bed

One of the beauties of Walberswick are the serene reed bed walks. This one takes in the much pictured windmill in the reeds.

The serenity is itself a kind of perfection in relaxation, even though I was still tired from the previous day’s exertions. It is for me an essential part of a holiday in Walberswick.

Sunday, 19 June 2016


Most mornings, Bryony and I walk a circuit around Harleston with the aim of getting me fitter. Here is the route map.
Free hand outline of route map.
We have had a number of discussions about this route and it is a source disagreements associated with estimates of various measurements.


I have already offer a couple of estimates of the length of the walk in “TheDog that Walked” – 2 ½ miles then reassessed at just over 3 miles. This was using a one of those old fashioned map measuring tools on a local 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map. I confess that I liked this measurement. Bryony was dubious though, suggesting a distance of 2.7 to 2.8 miles.

Earlier this week I invested in a step counter (Fitness pedometer). I hope that this would give more accurate version of how much I was doing.

The problem was that I had to put in how long my step was in order to estimate how far I had walked. This was a very confusing machine. I couldn’t work out whether it needed the measurement in feet and inches or metres (or centimetres). I put in some trial values which (I thought) were based on feet and inches and then tested it on standard walk. It returned a value of 2.1, although I was unsure whether it was 2.1 miles or 2.1 kilometres. I hoped it was miles, but I suspect it was kilometres. Whichever measurement it was, I didn’t like it.

I tried again. My best guess was that my step was about 0.85 metres and posted that into the darned machine. Bryony and I retested it on the walk this morning. This gave a step count of 5607 and converted to 4.76 Km (2.9577 miles). I liked this better, but it was entirely based on a guess (an educated guess??) as to my step length. 

It’s clear though that one’s step length changes with gradient and terrain. The gradients on this walk are mostly quite gentle but there is 200-300 metre section which a steeper uphill slope. This forms part of a longer uphill section of about 600-700 metres. These anomalies made estimate of overall distance clearly dubious.

I returned to Google maps to see if I find a more accurate/reliable measurement system. It turns out there is. Google maps provides its own measurement system using right click.

Right-click on Google maps

This provides a computerised measurement between points. The task for the use is to set up a series of way points that accurately represents the walk. After a couple of attempts I achieved this which suggests a distance of 4.32 km (2.68 miles).

I do not think that it’s likely we’ll improve on that.


Overall, this is less contentious since there are various reasonably accurate means of measuring time taken for the whole route once you know the distance. The disagreement here is between what Bryony and I perceive as that amount effort we are putting in relation to the speed achieved on and after the uphill section of the walk.

The question here is whether we slowed down after the uphill bit, because it felt that we were putting in less effort or was this simply the impact of passing the summit of the rise. I contend the lessening of the effort does not necessarily imply a reduction in speed, whereas Bryony is convinced we actually slowed down.

Neither of us can actually prove our contentions. So this argument is set to run for a while.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Sunrise in June

East Anglia is blessed with many amateur orchestras. The sheer number is a testament to the enthusiasm and diligence of individuals who are willing to put the time and effort into their organisation.

The majority of these individuals are music professionals who bring their talents to amateur players like me.  The music director of the Sunrise Concert Orchestra has invited me to fill out in the viola section for a performance on Saturday evening (two days’ time).

I’ve had the music since last Friday – (Show Boat, Jerome Kern; Suite for Orchestra - from the Watermusic, G F Handel; The Hebrides - Fingal’s Cave - Overture, Felix Mendelssohn; The Banks of Green Willow Idyll, George Butterworth; Symphony No. 1, Joseph Knight - an active local composer).

I quake with a degree of real fear whenever I’m expected to sight read (more or less) Mendelssohn. He combines semiquaver passage work with key changes worthy of Schubert. The Hebrides Overture is no exception. All this is alongside some fairly fiendish changes in tempo. I suspect that the conductor expects me to look at him not the music.

Curiously enough one of the most difficult bits looks dead simple on paper. It comprises semiquavers turns, three notes two semi-tones apart at the bottom of the C string and to be played very loud – absolutely horrible. OK there’s the occasional tune but this is viola not first or second fiddle.

Showboat and the Watermusic are both playable although the Showboat tempi changes could be interesting.

The Butterworth looks easier than, I suspect, it really is. I wonder if he was having a bet with a colleague on the number of changes of tempi he could include on a single page of music. (e.g. Comodo, Allargando, Tempo 1, Allargando, Poco Tranquillo, Poco Animato, Tranquillando, Tempo 1, Maestoso, Animato agitato.) In addition Mr Butterworth also contrives to split the violas at several points. Of course, I have not the slightest idea which line I’m supposed to handle. There is no chance of memorising the music in this short space, but that’s what it really needs so that you can glue your eyes on the conductor.

Lastly to our local composer. I was complimenting myself that this didn’t look too difficult notwithstanding the numerous time signature changes. Then this happened.

Curiously enough it is not as difficult as it looks even if the timing is a bit wicked. The dotted quaver (x2) / quaver passages are each a tone apart and employ the identical left hand shape. The problem here is that it is not easy to be certain that you are in tune. Once you have reached the dizzy heights of 5th position the semiquaver descending scales are relatively easy.

And I thought I’d have a relatively comfortable life post stroke,

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A Question of Balance

In “Fatigue and the Lurch”, I implied that loss of balance was associated with tiredness. Today (13/06/2016) Bryony and I went for an early morning walk after two days of mostly laziness and a goodnight’s sleep. I still wobbled quite badly and Bryony was walking right behind me to see it. I couldn’t ignore the fact.

It seems possible that this is more a matter of concentration, since the lurch occurred whilst I was thinking about something else. In fact I was thinking about the subject matter for this next blog, which was originally going to be about relearning to ride a bike.

Let me offer a new hypothesis. The lurch occurs when I’m distracted from the specific task of balancing. This would fit in with the known facts that the stroke damaged one part of my brain; presumably that part of the brain that deals with balance in the back ground. The corollary to this is that I must, or have already, relearnt how to balance but in the active foreground of my brain.

If that is the case, am I always going to think about balance actively? If I want balance to become an automatic process that doesn’t need thinking about, how do I go about encouraging that?

Currently I can get on a bicycle and ride several hundred yards, but I do not feel safe for riding on the road. I suspect that this is the impact of the “Question of Balance”.

I have always ridden with quite a high saddle. This allows me to stretch each leg on the down stroke and keeps my muscles much more relaxed over longer distances. There is a downside to this configuration, in that the saddle is relatively high and it’s quite a stretch to get your leg over. Advice from the www suggests that you should be able to swing your leg over the saddle easily from the ground – this image from
How to mount a bicycle - officially!
I find that this leaves the saddle too low for cruising on a bicycle. Initially, I had to practice getting on and off the bicycle. While I relearned this fairly quickly, I notice that I have to think about the process actively each time I mount the bike. That is an odd feeling.

On my way to school (50 years ago now), I had to pass through gap in the fence at the end of our road meant for pedestrians. I remember the time it took to become confident at going through this gap on a bike with straight handle bars. Eventually I could take this gap a full throttle. Post stroke though, this facility has disappeared again. I certainly wobble through narrow gaps meant for allowing pedestrians on to the recreation ground behind our house.

This question of balance is even more important on longer cycle rides. I do not expect to have to think about staying upright all the time. As with this morning, my mind wanders naturally. Perhaps the next stage in this process is to become so used to cycling that my mind transfers the question of balance to a background process.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Orientation of Dispersible Aspirin

Part of my medication is to take dispersible aspirin daily. I take it with a small amount of water and it breaks down into a powder like consistency that can be swallowed easily.

A couple of days ago I noticed that the aspirin had landed on its edge. I’ve been taking it for about 15 months and had never noticed that before. Could I calculate how frequently I should have observed this state?

The pill appeared to be in the shape of a cylinder about 6mm in diameter and 1mm high. Assuming the shape is no more complicated than that, makes the calculations a lot easier.

Pill with approximate dimenbsions

If I consider the cylinder edge on, it becomes a simple rectangle whose centre of gravity is the point where the two diagonals meet. When falling through water this imaginary rectangle will nearly always turn around the corner which hits the flat bottom of the glass first such that the long side of the pill lies parallel with the glass bottom.

Centre of Gravity
Which way to fall?
The circumstances which dictate that the pill will land on the shorter edge of this imaginary rectangle are governed by the position of the centre of gravity of the cylinder in relation to the perpendicular line at the point where the corner of the cylinder meets the flat bottom surface of the glass. If the centre of gravity is on the side of the shorter edge then clearly the pill will turn towards the shorter dimension.

The calculation turns out to be ridiculously simple. For 1 corner the centre of gravity will tend to the shorter edge one in six times. For the other corner the same logic applies but for the other side of the semi-circle. So there is no increase in frequency that this will happen. (On the other hand one might argue the opposite flat edge will indeed double the frequency. But the consideration of the rectangle was only imaginary to simplify the calculations. There is only one continuous short dimension.)

Following that logic I should expect to see the pill fall on its shorter edge far more frequently I’ve noticed. How can I account for it?

It must be concerned with the dispersible nature of the pill. There is certainly a time lag before the pill is completely dispersed. I guess that complete dispersal takes about two minutes. But that’s not enough. I also need to consider the process or pathway the dispersal takes.
Corners gradually crumble.

A best guess is that the sharp edges of the pill will degrade first. The impact of this will to reduce the range over which the centre of gravity will tend towards the smaller dimension.This is likely to be very rapid.

I’m only surprised that I’ve seen it land on its edge at all.

Addendum (16 June 2016). I've just noticed that I nearly always put the pill in the glass before adding the water. This negates the whole of the the above, since it's almost impossible for the pill to stand on its edge in these circumstances. Even so I won't delete the blog.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Fatigue and the Lurch

It’s a fine line between too much and too little exercise. 

Yesterday morning, Bryony and I, took our usual early morning walk. It was fairly brisk, but not quite as fast as the previous day. Bryony, who was walking behind me on a narrow path next to the main road into Harleston, commented that I was lurching quite a bit. My dear wife has much longer legs than I and on the uphill lane away from the main road, I struggled to keep up with her. (That wouldn’t have happened in my youth.) We slowed a bit for the last mile, even so we completed the 3 miles in less than 50 minutes.

I was going to Norwich to get the car MOT’d and meet Patrick for lunch. I delivered the car to the garage and then walked to Magdalen Street in search of fresh herbs and spices from our favourite Indian shop. Typically before 9 am, it was closed. Coffee and cake beckoned from a new cafĂ© whose shop decoration was bicycles and bits of bicycles. (As yet cycling for me is still wishful thinking, I’m determined to get there.) It was beautifully warm and sheltered on an upstairs open veranda. 

Walks around Norwich - 7 June 2016
Post coffee interlude and my Indian spices shop was still not open. I wandered up to Norwich Library, intending to use their computers for access to the world wide web. It was too sunny and warm to go inside so I snoozed on one of the benches outside. Fortunately, I had my sun hat for bald patch protection.

It’s quite a stretch from the Library to Foulger’s Opening (one of my favourite place names). Post exams, I woke Patrick up when I rang on his bell a little after 10 o’clock. We chatted for a while then together walked to the bus stop to take us to Patrick’s regular check-up. For me this meant going back into the centre of town. I confess I was getting a little weary.

At around 1 pm the garage rang to say that I could pick up the car. Patrick’s check-up was all OK, so we took the bus back to pick up the car.

Of course, I still hadn’t purchased the essential spices, so we found a suitable car park and walked, once again to Magdalen Street. Thank goodness, my favourite Indian shop was now open. 

Patrick fancied a burger at Captain America’s, more or less in the centre of town again. It was not worth taking the car, so we walked. Fortunately we both like burgers and I’m fairly sure the staff at Captain America’s are getting to know us. The portions of chips were distinctly generous. Not even I could get through my lot. The walk back to the car was ¾ of a mile at most but I was feeling distinctly weary.

Tiredness affects more than just one’s muscles, perception also slows. I noticed that I had to work hard to make the judgements necessary for safe driving – no this was not alcohol induced. On arriving home, Bryony insisted that I park myself on the sofa and had some pithy comments about walking more than I should.

This morning’s walk was postponed.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Driving Standards and the Police

It is now 15 months since the stroke, but Bryony still gets concerned when I tackle longer drives. Fatigue is an issue, but I persuaded her that I could drive to London (Forest Hill) so that she could drive back with me and the girls (our two grandchildren). After all Bryony was already on Friday duty in Forest Hill.

She had suggested coming back to Norfolk on the train on Friday evening, then driving back down to London on Saturday morning. I thought this was a waste of time and money.

I confess that driving standards in Norfolk are pretty abysmal, but nothing untoward happened between Harleston and Bury St Edmunds. It was a Saturday morning so I expected some doubtful shenanigans on the dual carriageway from Bury St Ed, but everybody (or almost everybody) was being astonishingly well behaved. Lane discipline was sensible. Signalling was near perfect. I could travel at 70 mph in the near side lane except when over taking large vehicles. Most of the cars were travelling at around the speed limit. This was a piece of cake.

Even the route from Redbridge to the Blackwall Tunnel (renamed the A12) held no terrors. Most of the cars in my lane drove at or around the speed limit and left the locals to do their own thing in the outside lane. From my view point, a perfect arrangement. I was feeling pretty smug as I came off the A2 at the junction with the South Circular Road.

I was couple of cars behind one of those 12 - 15 seat mini-buses in Kent police colours. We were in the outside lane turning right onto the South Circular. Two cars to the left of the mini-bus were both signalling right, as were those of us behind it. The police mini-bus driver clearly didn’t think it was necessary.

Not the one that I saw, but very like.
The mini-bus kept to the outside lane and crossed straight over the Eltham Hill roundabout. Not a sign of a signal here. At the roundabout for the junction with the A20, our police mini-bus cut me up to move into the near side lane and then turned left at the roundabout. There was not a flicker of a signal for any of these manoeuvres.

My thoughts on the standard of this driving from a police vehicle are unprintable. Perhaps it’s as well that Bryony had insisted on driving back to Norfolk.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Cycling – part of living

From the age of 4 I have always cycled and I had assumed that it would always be so. The stroke proved that my assumption was misplaced. This blog outlines the extent to which cycling has been a part of my life.

Cla teaches me how to ride
My first bike had outriders. Cla was determined that I should learn to ride without them. He must have been very patient, but his patience was rewarded. Soon I was riding down the hill that was Lawrence Gardens (on the footpath) and promptly falling off.

Where Lawrence Gardens meets Lawrence Street (a big road), there is a short gradient up to the street. At the bottom of the slope, away from the big road, builders had kindly left a concrete mixer.  The game was to ride down the slope and swerve to avoid the concrete mixer. I forgot to swerve. I can still feel the scar left on my forehead from hitting the mixer blades. Rumour has it that my screams could be heard from the top of our road and brought my eldest brother Clabon to investigate.

It didn’t dent my enthusiasm. The children of Lawrence Gardens (there were plenty of us) rampaged noisily on bicycles much to the irritation of more staid neighbours.

First time on the Road
My primary school was about 2 miles distant from home. For most of my school life my route had been to walk to Mill Hill Broadway, then take a bus (240) to the Green Man, Edgware. Then on the way home, to walk from school to Mill Hill Broadway and take a bus (251) to The Rising Sun, Highwood Hill. 

At the end of our penultimate year, we were given the opportunity to take the “Cycling Proficiency” test. To my irritation my classmate Keith (also of Lawrence Gardens), passed with distinction. I merely scraped through, but I was permitted to cycle to school.

Cla insisted that I take a safe route across the dreaded Ai (A41) into London. This meant wriggling round to the underpass between Mill Hill swimming pool and the library in Hartley Avenue. I dutifully took this detour throughout my primary school runs. My more proficient classmate had a minor accident on the Mill Hill roundabout which put him off cycling.

Routes to Secondary Schools
My first secondary school,in West Finchley, was about as awkwardly placed for public transport as it could get.  After my first week I was back on the bicycle. Initially, I took the most obvious route using the almost main roads. Looking for short cuts, was a pastime that I indulged in ad lib. Fortunately none of the routes involved really big or dangerous roads.

After a couple of years of minor route changes, I found Partingdale Lane. I had thought that this would cut the route by nearly a mile. In fact, on looking at Google maps, there was only a marginal saving, but the names of Partingdale Lane, Lullington Garth and Walmington Fold appeared much more exciting and adventurous.

French was the foreign language of choice for UK secondary schools. Rose and Cla duly matched me with an exchange. Pierre Moraillon was from Versailles, but Mill Hill had nothing to compare to the palace. So we were provided with bicycles and took the old roman road (Watling Street) to Verulamium near St Albans. This was one of those times when the travelling was definitely more exciting than the arriving. Fortunately Pierre and I got on well and happily made a mess of each other’s language in order to communicate.

My school was a second rate private school and had no school playing fields of its own. It was, however, good at ensuring that pupils had a full games afternoon. The first fields were at Whetstone on the way to Barnet. I’ve never been a fan of “games” (football, cricket and the like). For me the most exciting part of the afternoon was the trip home along the full length of Totteridge Lane: probably between 4 and 5 miles and certainly not the safest route even in the mid-1960s.

In these school days safety was never paramount. The next school playing fields were between East Finchley and Hampstead, called the Lyttleton Playing Fields. By bicycle, take the Finchley Road to the North Circular, turn left then immediately bare right along the A1 into central London for about half a mile. The journey home was equally interesting. Back to Finchley Road / North Circular junction and go straight over then in 200 yards cross three lanes of busy traffic to the A1 North. I was fearless, but I confess after a cross-country run (up Bishops Avenue, passed the Spaniards pub, around the eastern edge of Hampstead Heath and the Vale of Health, cross at Whitestone Pond to Golders Hill Park, back over N End Road towards the Heath Extension and finally around the residential roads back to Lyttleton Playing Fields) the cycle home (albeit only 5 miles or so) was a bit knackering.

Similarly the cycle route to my 6th Form at Hendon County took many versions. A major obstacle was always the A1 between Five Ways Corner and the North Circular. My routes never involved pedestrian crossings or traffic lights. I must have paid reasonably careful attention because there were no accidents.

I was not a long distance cyclist but in the summer of 1968 a German exchange visit was arranged for me. We cycled from Mill Hill, London NW7 to Wallingford, where my brother Bryden was living. I was riding Bryden’s old fixed wheel racer, with one front brake. Gerhard was on my bike, resplendent with 10 gears and the mod cons that you’d expect from a modern bike. 

All went well until the return journey. There is a long, steep hill out of Marlow heading towards High Wycombe. Gerhard raced ahead. At the Junction with the A40, he was nowhere to be seen. I pressed on over the A40 hoping to catch him. By the time I had reached Stanmore there appeared no hope of finding him.

I resorted to ringing home. Rose responded blithely that Gerhard had just arrived. He had cycled the A40, North Circular Road and A41 back to Mill Hill. Even in the late 1960s this was an extraordinarily dangerous route, but he survived without mishap. There was a certain amount of explaining required of me, but the matter was soon forgotten.

Back in London after a gap
Around 1973, I was living just off the Archway Road. The girl friend of the moment persuaded me that it was a good idea to become an accountant. I found a trainee accountant post at an industrial laundry towards the western end of Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. The less said about this interlude the better, but the commuting cycle route was a joy. 

I chose a route that included from Marble Arch, via Park Lane to Hyde Park Corner (without traffic lights then) taking the exit to Constitution Hill and on towards Parliament Square. After that over Westminster Bridge there was another huge roundabout (or it used to be in those days). At this period in London there were no cycle routes and dodging the traffic certainly got your adrenalin going. Perhaps it was as well that this interlude only lasted a couple of months. I don’t think I’d have lasted much longer without a major crunch. On a bicycle that is never happy.

The Sedentary Civil Servant
Controlling weight is much easier if you smoke and I had succumbed to the habit early. Bryony, also a smoker, had given up (fairly easily) on becoming pregnant with Meredith. I was much more dilatory, but after Meredith was born was clear that my junior civil servant’s salary could not cover the costs of smoking and commuting to work on public transport.

Giving up smoking came first. I promptly put on a stone in weight. What with buying a replacement wardrobe, I had to look for further money savings. I targeted commuting. In fact I invested in bicycles for both Bryony and myself. The intention was that I cycle the route from Plumstead to Horseferry Road (opposite the triple towers of the Department of the Environment building).

This first new bicycle was a commuting nightmare, but I stuck with it. I became sufficiently fit to reduce commuting time from about 1 hour 15 minutes by public transport to about 40 minutes on the bicycle. Also, I took off some weight again and regained some of my old wardrobe. Fortunately the dress code for civil servants was pretty relaxed. The savings allowed me to acquire a decent lightweight racer. In times of stress I could make the trip (which included Blackheath Hill) in less than 35 minutes.

For the next 7 years, I commuted by bicycle almost every day. Icy road conditions usually made it impossible for 2/3 weeks each year. 

This commuting period also included one miserable trip from Plumstead to Eastbourne for a departmental internal audit conference. I say miserable because the trip down was in driving rain against a headwind. On arriving at the outskirts of Eastbourne I stopped for some full sugar fizzy drink. The high you get from concentrated glucose/sucrose is pretty phenomenal. On arriving at the conference hotel, I promptly took myself to bed for an hour or so, before joining the rest of the delegates. In contrast the return journey was in bright sunshine with a tail wind. I averaged about 22 mph and got home without resorting to artificial stimulants.

Inevitably, when cycling this distance (about 11 miles each way) so regularly, accidents were bound to happen. They nearly all involved wet leaves and ice. In the most spectacular my front wheel slide from underneath me and caused me to head-butt the side of a double decker bus. Amazingly, neither I nor my cycle was seriously damaged.

We moved to Norfolk in 1987, to give our four children freedoms that we could not possibly have granted them in Plumstead. I eventually landed a post at HMSO in Norwich. Occasionally I cycled the trip, which was 21 miles each way from Harleston, but this was never a regular event like London.

We took regular family holidays at Walberswick on the Suffolk coast. When the children were young we took all the bicycles. Mostly the children took themselves off on their own, but occasionally I took them on family cycle rides. Children grow up and do their own thing fairly rapidly, but this was not quite the case for my eldest son, Patrick.

Patrick and I have been holidaying on our own in Walberswick since 2001 or 2002, although occasionally Jocelyn joins us to ensure that he gets his share of the inevitable meat fest. I confess that part of the holiday is deliberately geared towards cycle trips.  If nothing else, to ensure that we burn off some of the over indulgence.

Mostly cycle rides were off road, although about 5 years ago we tried a trip to Benacre Broad near Covehithe. It’s not a huge distance (perhaps a 12 mile round trip) but cars travelling fairly quickly along those narrow country lanes are an absolute menace to cyclists. The broad is beautiful and isolated, but I’d recommend a safer mode of travel. There are however plenty of cycle routes to Dunwich and its environs which we have explored extensively.

Readers may appreciate why I miss this part of my life so much. However, the loss of balance associated with with the interference with binocular vision is, for me, a major issue.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Norfolk Diabetes Prevention Study –1

OK, I know I’m over weight, but by how much.

Apparently, this means that I’m susceptible to diabetes type 2 and I’ve been invited to join the Norfolk Diabetes Prevention Study (NDPS). The question of my perception of the extent to which I am over weight has been asked as part of the initial preparation.

Self-perception is very difficult and susceptible to considerable cheating. So I asked Bryony and Guthrie. Guthrie promptly pointed to box 9. My youngest son is a menace. Eventually, they both agreed on box 6. I preferred box 5 but succumbed to the majority view.

However, line 2 questions how you would like to look. I presume this means in 6 months after the 1st phase of the study is complete. If I achieve the desired box 4, this will appear as a significant change. Well done to me or is this just another form of cheating?