Why I hate Barca

Football supporters are an irrational bunch, myself as much as anyone.  Barça are playing Inter tonight, they’re going to lose and I’ll be delighted when they do.  I hate Barça, I hate the way the press never miss an opportunity to idolise them, I hate their smug sponsorship deal with Unicef, doesn’t matter how laudable an arrangement it is, I hate it.  I hate the fans with all their faux Catalonian nationalistic crap.  I hate the way their eventual victory is always assumed, the way that commentary teams consistently fawn over them.  I hate the way their cheating antics have denied Chelsea time and again.

I’m watching them now*, at least I think I am, it looks more like synchronised diving than football, and the overwhelming naffness of ITV’s coverage does nothing to help.  The funny thing is, Barça have no plan B and José has them sussed, he’s pricked their bubble and shown them up.  You’re going to lose, Barça, I just wish it was Chelsea doling out the footballing lesson.

*ok so I’m sticking my neck out here and publishing during play…

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Etiquette and some pointers

It’s nodder time again.  Every year, when winter reluctantly retreats into his sodden cave, and the sun threatens to grace us with her presence (April, basically), the fair weather cyclists emerge from hibernation, and flock¹ together on London’s roads².  Theirs is a peculiar dichotomy; grizzled veterans of many a tough summer mix with complete newbies, tempted onto two wheels to escape the Hades-like furnace of public transport.

It is a sight that brings about conflicting emotions in me.  On the one hand, I’m gladdened to see more bikes on the road, on the other – well lets just say that some of these cyclists have a weak grasp of cycling etiquette and, amazingly, the rules of the road.  I’m not going bash the newbies on here, I’m forever encouraging people to get on their bikes, so the last thing I want to do is put people off,³ but here (in no particular order) are 10 basic rules pointers that any new commuting cyclist should aim to adhere to:

1: Read ‘Cyclecraft‘ by John Franklin.  This is the Urban Cyclist’s Bible.

2: Have fun! Yeah you’ll probably be a bit nervous, but unclench and enjoy the ride.  You’ll quickly get into the flow of things and realise that it’s not nearly as terrifying as you imagined.  Pretty soon you won’t swap your ride in for the world.  Also, remember to grin when you pass stationary traffic, people waiting at bus stops, bus passengers, fuming cabbies etc.  Motorists love the sight of a smug cyclist; it almost makes gridlock fun.

3: Please don’t ride like a tit.  What I really mean by this is DON’T JUMP RED LIGHTS. It’s not big or clever, let alone safe and it winds up fellow road users like you wouldn’t believe – including a lot of your fellow cyclists.  Stay off the pavements, give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings, and take care when passing vehicles on the left, especially HGV’s and buses and especially if they’re indicating.  In fact, don’t pass them on the left at all if you can possibly avoid it, and whatever you do, never wait alongside a stationary HGV.

4: Be courteous, don’t push in.  If you’re approaching a junction and there’s a queue of cyclists waiting at the lights, join the queue, don’t sail past everyone and take up position at the front.  Particularly if some of the riders passed you not 30 seconds ago.  This sort of behaviour is hugely irritating, and let’s face it, more than a little rude.  Us Brits love a good queue, we do not love a queue-barger.  So get in line and wait your turn.

5: Indicate.  Traffic ‘aint telepathic, so please let people know what you’re going to do before you do it.

6: Don’t draft.  Yeah, yeah, we all know that hiding behind the car/bike/bus/lorry in front of you makes your life easier.  Drafting is all well and good when riding with friends, your club, on a sportive etc, but it is not cool to draft people you don’t know.  Commuting in London can be more than a little hairy, you never know when someone might be forced to brake suddenly and no one is going to thank you for ploughing into their rear, least of all your fellow cyclists, or indeed your face when it meets the back end of a bus.  You’re ugly as it is, don’t make things worse.

7: Be Visible. Get some lights and some reflectives and use them when it’s dark (or all the time if you hail from Scandinavia).  You might think looking like a ninja is cool – it isn’t.

8: Get some proper kit.  There’s a reason most cyclists wear lycra etc.  Trust us on this, padded shorts (worn under baggies if you like) will make life more comfy, as will some padded gloves and a non-cotton top.  Keep a keen eye on the sales as well and you’ll be able to pick up all the kit you need to take the next step and cycle through the winter months.

9: Be prepared to p*uncture.  Walking the bike is no fun.  Spare tubes, a pump and some tire levers aren’t difficult to carry around.  With a bit of practise you’ll be able to change an innertube by the roadside in a matter of minutes.  This is far less hassle than the alternatives.

10: Get a decent lock and learn how to use it properly.  Thousands of bikes get stolen in London every year.  Even if you don’t plan on leaving the bike outside I’d still suggest investing in a lock.  One of the great joys of cycling in the capital is that it allows you to get around easily, if you want to meet mates in the pub after work etc, then you will need one.

¹a seething luminescent mass.

²and pavements, sadly.

³although given the number of readers I’ve managed to attract, this a rather fanciful notion.


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Review No.1 (Arbutus)

Over the course of February and March I have been lucky enough to dine at three Michelin starred restaurants (each boasting just the one star), today I’m going to sum up my thoughts on the first of these:

Arbutus

I was eager to try Arbutus – chef Anthony Demetre has been much-fêted over the last few years, and I have fond memories of the sadly defunct Putney Bridge, where I enjoyed one of my first ever ‘proper restaurant’ meals (at least in the role of munificent boyfriend).  I was still at University back then and the cost nearly broke me.   That aside, any restaurant uniformly well reviewed by messrs Coren and Gill has to be worth a visit.

Arbutus was pleasant enough, the room was a little Ramsey-esque, minimally styled and rather ‘corporate’ in feel.   It put me in mind of Boxwood Cafe, there’s a clear template been followed here.  The menu was far more exciting; bursting with offaly delights such as oxtripe, tongue and my choice of starter, braised pigs head.  I’ll admit that I ordered this partly to shock Yasmin, but was delighted with it, even more so when she tried, and loved it.   A richly tender rillete, the meat was delicate and deeply flavoured, accompanied by near-perfect puréed potatoes and caramelised onions which cut through the richness of the pork.

We then shared roast Pheasant with a game tart.  I’m not sure either of us really wanted this, but the waiter sold well.   Unfortunately the Pheasant was a letdown, overcooked and lacking in flavour.  The mushrooms accompanying the game pie were over salted, but the pie was superb and a large slice of it would have done me just fine.

Gamely we persevered with the sharing, and selected Tarte Tatin to finish.   Any reservations I’d formed post-pheasant were obliterated; the tarte was perfection.  Crispy caramelised edges, soft, sweet, succulent apple and a generous dollop of vanilla infused crème fraiche.   We were served a glutton’s portion, resplendent on a copper pan.  I worried that we’d never manage it, but we scarfed the lot.

We drank a Grüner Veltliner, although its provenance escapes me.  I order Grüner whenever I see it and am seldom disappointed.   Alright, it might not be the best partner for game, but I can never really be bothered trying to match wine to food; it’s a little bit too wine ponce for my liking, and besides, I like drinking white wine at lunch.  Especially when it’s a Grüner, and I’m pleased to see this Austrian gem appearing on more and more wine lists.

Service was unobtrusive and pleasant enough, although the receptionist took ages to out the phone down when we walked through the door, never impressive.

So yeah, Arbutus – I’m happy to recommend it, but preferably for lunch (which is a steal) sadly it didn’t quite live up to the star billing, perhaps the focus has shifted to Wild Honey these days…*

*A big thanks to Yasmin for treating me.  I’m sorry that I can’t remember what you ate!

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Utensil Fail, Chef.

***Warning – This post has nothing whatsoever to do with cycling***

Ok time for a little moan.  I’m a big fan of Raymond Blanc, and have been enjoying his latest show ‘Kitchen Secrets‘.  A couple of weeks ago he launched into a tirade about the crap design of a thermometer (I think), ironically it transpired that the much-maligned implement was actually one from his own range of kitchen equipment.

As it happens, I own one of Raymond’s kitchen gadgets, an Anolon garlic press bought at great expense to replace the piece of crap, super cheap M&S one I’d bought when I moved in, which turned out to have all the ‘crushing’ qualities of a soggy hamster.

Annoyingly it turns out that the thermometer isn’t the only poorly designed part of Raymond’s range; my garlic press has broken already, after just two weeks.  Now I’m quite partial to garlic, more than partial actually, but even I don’t consume enough to wear out a press in such short order.*

So, Monsieur Blanc, if you are going to put your name to something, you might want to make sure the design and quality is up to scratch first.  Especially if you are a world famous chef known for your attention to detail.

*Although I do eat a lot of the stuff.

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Are cyclists mental?

I was dismounting (with customary flair) outside my office the other morning, when I was approached by the owner of our on-site café. He sidled up to me with his usual air of faux bonhomie¹ querying the lack of gears on my bike, my inadequate clothing and my mental state. Apparently cycling in London, especially when it’s so cold, makes me a ‘total nutter haha ha,’ and the fact that I choose to ride singlespeed, makes things even worse. Sadly, his opinion isn’t exactly atypical, and it got me thinking (as I thawed my toes out in the shower), am I a little bit mental for doing this?

It’s been a tough week for London cyclists; two more of our number were fatally injured in collisions, both involving HGV’s, and one not two minutes away from my office. Such incidents are sobering at best (and there have been far too many involving HGV’s in the last few years). Coming only a few months after my own little prang they’ve proved to be food for thought. So, are those of us that brave London’s congested, polluted and cratered roads every day in every weather, mad or just foolish?

There were times in October (after my little run in with a car)², when I was drugged up, housebound and feeling more than a little sorry for myself, that I seriously questioned whether or not I would ever get back on the bike. Outwardly I was bullish and insistent, especially in the face of concerns voiced by my loved ones, particularly Yasmin, who’d seen me in hospital having dashed, panic-stricken across London after she picked up a rather ambiguous voicemail. Inwardly I was in turmoil, and worried that I’d never get back on the bike. Was I mad for mixing with all that traffic, would I be better off taking the tube, or perhaps just restricting riding to the Summer, when the light’s better and the weather warmer? Was I irresponsible for putting my family through all this, and of course, what would have happened if I’d been hit by a truck? In the end I got away with a broken clavicle, and I’ve seen and heard of far worse injuries than that on the Rugby or Football field.

Despite my experience I really don’t consider cycling in London to be a dangerous activity, but I don’t want to get into the safety arguments in this blog, we’ll leave that for another time – suffice to say that I think the stats back me up on this one. In the end there were two³ factors that decided things for me. The first was the miserable three months I spent commuting via public transport; the second was the foul mood not being able to cycle put me in. I missed riding. I craved the freedom, the convenience, the speed, the sheer joy of being on a bike. Having all that taken away from me was pretty much the worst part of the whole experience.

So that’s what it boils down to, for me at least. You may look at cyclists as they cruise past your bus/car/queue in the pouring rain, or the bitter winter wind, you may shift your girth awkwardly in your cramped plastic seat, raise your head from your neighbour’s unwashed armpit, or think as you sink into the stinking maw of the Underground, ‘bloody nutters,’ but I promise you this – we’d all rather be in the saddle than in your shoes; we’re having fun, despite the traffic, and the occasional hairy moments. How many non-cycling Londoners can honestly say they look forward to their commutes? Does this make us mental? Well maybe it does, but you know what, I’ll take mental if this is what it feels like.

So the next time some heifer stands on your toe in a crowded carriage, or a halitosis ridden Aussie screams ‘can you move down please’ into your face at 8am, or you get to the station and find it closed, why not make the sensible decision and get on your bike. You’ll be all the happier for it.

¹ he’s actually an utter c*nt.

² a Ford Ka to be precise, not an HGV thank God.

³ ok 3, If I didn’t cycle I’d have to cut back on the food and beer or become fat, and I don’t want to do either.*

* ok 4, most of my spare income over the last few years has been ploughed into bike stuff, I couldn’t bear to see all that go to waste…

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Rapha (and thievery)

My first ever blog starts with a tale of woe.  I bought a lovely new cycling Jacket in January (A Castelli Mannaggia).  It was purchased to replace my cherished Castelli Solo, which was cut off following my crash back in October.  I protested rather feebly at the time as the jacket was rather expensive, but the doc ignored my mewling and gave it the chop.  Anyway, I digress. I’d been lusting after the Mannaggia for some months  until I finally weakened and splashed the cash.  It was a beautifully designed piece of kit, almost too warm for English weather and worth every penny of its exorbitant price tag.  I rode it in February with just a base layer underneath and was toasty warm.  Sadly I managed to leave the jacket in the showers at work and by the time I remembered, some light-fingered soul had decided to help themselves, and despite an email, flyer and poster campaign, and the help of our (rather grumpy) centre manager, the jacket has never been handed in.  That was 3 weeks ago and I’m still feeling thoroughly aggrieved.*

Clearly an item of such quality needed replacing, but I was loathe to spend so much money on a winter jacket again, particularly as winter appears to be drawing to a close – after an over-long and thoroughly undeserved encore. Instead then, my magpie like eyes settled upon Rapha. I’ll admit that in the past I’ve been rather dismissive of Rapha, condemning it as the preserve of dentists and ‘city wankers,’ the sort of people that bought a Specialized Roubaix… Perhaps it’s because I’ve turned 30, but suddenly Rapha has begun to appeal.  OK it’s overpriced, but then so is a lot of cycling kit, and cost has never really been the deciding factor in my cycle related purchasing history.  So I took the plunge and ordered a Rapha ‘Stowaway’ jacket and a pair of ‘Fixed’ shorts, both in black, and both of which arrived today.

I have to admit that I was sorely tempted by the pink, but in the end common sense (and my inherent fear of looking overtly gay) prevailed.

First thoughts?  Well I’m impressed.  I’ve not ridden with either yet, but I have thoroughly fondled both items and the quality is fantastic; these are very well made, well thought out pieces of kit.  I’m not convinced that the Stowaway will scrunch up quite as small as my Montane Velo does, and I’m a little surprised that for £165 it hasn’t come with a little bag to make storage easier (as the Montane has).  I hope to get a lot of use out of this jacket.   It looks ideal for British riding (winter aside). I’ll post more thoughts on both once I’ve road tested them.  Let’s see what Castelli come up with next year, or perhaps I’ll buy another Mannaggia when the sales kick in.

*Ironically I understand that in Italian, the word ‘Mannaggia’ expresses wrath, rage and disappointment. Pretty much sums up my feelings.

Postscript: I am in no way associated with Rapha or Castelli.  Although if either would like to send me stuff to review (and keep) I’d be delighted…


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