Thursday, November 27, 2008

Beware of the Bin Man

I am sure there is a saying or lyric that sounds like that.

Cycling to work for me has been an evolution of needs. Which started in June with the daily need to traverse the 1.8 miles from Paddington Station to Mayfair and back again.

In the beginning there was no bike. Just a choice between bus and walking. As the summer mornings and evenings in London were rain free and 1 mile of the journey involved a walk across Hyde Park, walking was the preferred option. Of course I took the bus while the blisters healed. But they soon did and the hardened skin served me well.

As pleasant as the walk through Hyde Park and the Mews leading to Paddington was, I really did not want to spend over three hours commuting to work and back each day.

Buses were good. If one turned up. Which as a rule they did not. And I quickly grew tired of regular 45 minute waits for buses that were scheduled to rumble past every eight minutes.

So the evolution of the commute came to focus on a bike. I love cycling. It is three times faster than walking and you get the same scenerific qualities.

The only trouble being it is difficult getting your average garage variety mountain bike on a train. So the focus turned to a foldy-up bike. One that could be carried on the train and then deployed at Paddington.

One was acquired and the daily commute dropped from over three hours to just over two. The union proved to be one made in heaven (figuratively speaking). Or union between man and bike was heaven, union between man, bike and London commuter traffic was problematic. But I got used to the fact nobody cares if you are on a zebra crossing, that there really is no right of way. And that traffic lights only really mean red after they have been red for more than ten seconds.

And then the nights started drawing in. Soon enough it was dusk as I cycled home and it became apparent I would need lights. Not to see the road with, but to let everyone know that the shimmering image of spokes and luminous pedals was actually given impetus by a biological being that needed to survive. And that worked for a while.

Until it got proper dark and it became apparent that I would need to be lit up like a christmas tree to avoid severe injury. Especially when me and my foldy-bike narrowly avoided a journey across the bonnet of an impatient Jag.

So now my attire for commuting, given the addition of inclement weather, starts with my pigeon blue woolly hat with white stripes (explained later), matching scarf, jeans (I keep my suit in the office), big thick black coat and luminous yellow jacket of which you regularly see builders, road sweepers and bin men wearing.

The hat is pigeon blue because two days after I first wore it I was serenaded by a repeatedly swooping pigeon as I peddled down Park Lane. I can only assume it thought the trailing scarf was fluttering wings and somehow could not see the 93kilos of human man perched on bike beneath hat. My attempts to pedal faster only spurred it on in its amorous endeavours. Fortunately it was not prepared to risk the peril of swooping so close to so many double decker buses as I scuttled across to Curzon street with my hats virtue still intact.

So, to the point of this overly long tale. I got on the train at my local station this morning, one of the last in a long trail. People never cease to amaze me just how rude they will be. Anyone shows me their elbow just to jump a space in the orderly flow of humanity gets my pedal in their quads. Regardless of gender and the woman are the meanest. The older they are or the more they can flick their hair whip like the more right the seem to think they have.

For some reason these past few weeks people have been extraordinarily polite to me. Making way for this intrepid traveller as I have rarely known.

This morning was not that different. I parked the folded bike in the luggage rack and shuffled along with the rest.

Being an old hand at the commuter lark I know the lengths people will go to make sure nobody sits in the seat beside them. As we trailed along I noticed a guy sat at a table with two other laptop users with a collection of bags sat in the seat beside him. You are not supposed to ask to sit there because the bags might belong to someone else or being English we are supposed to naturally shy away from inconveniencing people. Bollucks to that I’m European.

Alright fella can I get that seat? I said.

Maybe he didn’t hear me although I thought I was pretty clear. Or maybe so many had walked past and not asked he thought he had got away with it. He ignored me.

So I tapped him on the shoulder. Can I get that seat there fella?

This time there was no avoiding me. He diverted his gaze from the laptop screen, possibly thinking about telling me they were not his bags. And set eyes on me. Admittedly I am a fairly broad character and hadn’t shaved for about ten days on account of a long weekend in Exmore. But a look of temporary horror crossed his face. And then he couldn’t move quick enough. Almost taking out the other two laptops and hurriedly pulling his bags onto the floor and standing to let me through.

It was only when I sat trying to figure why my unshaven face would cause such a reaction did it occur to me I probably did look like a grizzled old(ish) bin man. It is a look I plan on cultivating. At least while commuting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Not Strictly Ballroom

Of course the topic on everyone’s lips right now is the matter of the venerable John Sergeants exploits with a Russian ballroom dancer. And for once for a political figure (albeit a reporter) it is not a matter of sexual scandal for which we speak.

It is actually of ballroom dancing that we speak. Or rather Mr Sergeant’s ability to put a smile on our faces rather than actually knock out a heart stopping Salsa.

This is my third season of Strictly although only my second as a mostly avid viewer. My previous incursions to the show limited by my dislike for the judges inability to see the obvious in favour for rhetoric. And my seemingly well placed mis-trust in the BBC’s adherence to phone voting figures.

But now in this much monitored world of phone voting the dialling public really do feel for the first time in years within any voting arena. That their vote matters. And they are right. Our votes are also now making a difference, which is very appealing.

Last week we saw the last black contestant fall by the wayside after some careful complimenting of a wonderful singer but clumsy dancer. Everyone was scandalised that it wasn’t dear John that left.

This week there was some ridiculously high judge voting for all the ‘pretty (men and women lumped together)’ dancers and some careful complimenting of dear John. We were supposed to think that it was not plausible for John to stay when only pretty dancers remain. He had his run - Asta la vista. But Cherie went and John stayed. I was one of the masses that voted for him.

From outraged judges to scandalised ballroom purists many seem perplexed at John’s feats. But has anyone dragged such a beautiful woman across a dance floor in such an ineloquent way. Has anyone managed to look like they are walking quite so sedately through a cha cha cha. And just enjoyed the music and the moment and the blonde Russian that they actually looked like they might nod off in a fit of melancholy. No and neither has anything in the last few months put such a smile on so many faces and god knows we need excuses to smile. So it is not surprising that the public are picking up a phone and making a difference. When there is so much in this world we are utterly powerless to influence.

And of course there is the satisfaction of seeing the pretty people faced with an early exit or the trauma of the dance off. When dear John never had to endure either. There really is something quite satisfying about that.

At the end of the day if you want Strictly Ballroom and all that entails then you are welcome to the tired and dusty halls of Blackpool. Strictly Come Dancing is an entertainment show that gets its high ratings through the spectacle and audience participation. It is good because of both these things and not from any one, so stop bloody winging that it starts and ends with the dance competition.

Sadly of course. Most of the above was typed yesterday. Only to find that John withdrew today. The headline was that he was worried he might actually win. But it was a lot more dignified on his part than that. I will keep watching this season purely in the hope I get to see Rachel Stevens do that Rumba again. But my position on the sofa next year is being given careful consideration.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Few Good Men

Well he did it. And I suppose the fact he is black is significant but I do wish the press would stop printing pictures of almost delirious black only crowds. That hints that they hope something a little more sinister might brew.

I hope not. McClaine’s defeat speech was magnanimous and I thought heartfelt, if his followers didn’t show themselves in the same light in that same moment. But they showed the world what it missed out on by not electing another republican president. And we are all the better for it judging by the shock waves of the last eight republican years. That will continue to reverberate throughout this small corner of the universe.

I really do hope that the more sinister aspects of the American government that have been shown to us during that same time period do not take it upon themselves to kill our great hope.