Remembering the Chase

I must have been there hundreds of times. In years gone by I would go there two or three times a day. For those of you thinking ” Aye Aye, he doesn’t even own a dog” , I had far too many opportunities to mountain bike before my broken back and lack of talent accident.  I left a little of myself on King Billy’s, mostly my courage and a little blood, maybe a bit of wee.

Since that time I haven’t really visited the Chase. I have cycled through it on the tarmac but mostly avoided the wooded bits. Over the last few months Linda has been reintroducing me to the Chase and aside from some great trails and some amazing views there is some amazing history and most of it has passed me by.

Today we visited a living history experience at the Centre on Marquis Drive, which not only exhibited relics of the day and brought to life the fading black and white photographs of people and times gone by. In one of the original huts is a scale model of the camps and some high definition photographs of a high altitude laser surveys which show the locations of ground disturbance through the trees pinpointing the exact location of the structures. It brings reality to the history and even shows bell pits and other far older manmade alterations to the landscape. The pictures are simply mind-blowing.

Having covered just about every square mile of the place, how was I not aware that 500,000 troops training for the trenches of World War One called the Chase home for a few weeks? That two camps holding 20,000 troops each occupied the area and that a lot of the trails are a legacy of the occupation and that the railway climbed up from Milford to supply them?

Having visited the Somme leaving humbled by the bravery and brutality of men and war, to see the other side; the days before the horror was revealed in its enormity brought back all those memories. To read letters written home by innocents, and discover the relics recovered, left me once again humbled and saddened. Did they realise what fate really awaited? Did they realise this was a production line for a machine that was constantly in need of more lives to fuel the fire of destruction? How did the Chase look to them as they sat on ammunition boxes, smoking their Woodbines in a moment of quiet where there was no enemy sniper waiting for a pot shot?

As usual I have arrived at a point in history later than everyone else and I have found another subject I want to learn more of. What amazes me is that I blissfully rode past unusual features and never gave them a second thought. I wonder what else I haven’t yet learned I have missed.

The event is on again tomorrow and if you are at a loss, please go and visit, it is so worth the effort.


It`s Christmas

The Plastic Hippo

So here it is So here it is

How indescribably lucky we are as a nation to be under the stewardship of such a kind, caring and thoroughly generous government. The largess and caring munificence of Mrs May and her selfless cabinet colleagues knows no bounds and her avowed mission to care for the vulnerable, support the poor and make this great nation a beacon of equality continues unabated.

The latest gift to a grateful populous is to allow local authorities to increase council tax by six per cent over two years to inject much needed cash into the social care system. This unbelievably charitable act will, no doubt, be a source of great comfort to elderly and disabled people currently abandoned and at risk of starving to death. Mother Theresa has taken bold and compassionate action and has shifting the problem manufactured by a previous government in which she served onto local councils…

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The representation of the people

The Plastic Hippo

Via M Bird of 82 Walsall Road, Aldridge Via M Bird of 82 Walsall Road, Aldridge

Although it is tempting to tar them all with one, broad, sordid brush, it would be quite wrong to consider all politicians as nasty, self-serving, mendacious, opportunistic parasites. Given natural selection, the possibility of some form of innate human decency and the hope that bad people are eventually found out, there must surely be in existence some politicians who are not complete and utter bastards. With political hypocrisy currently off the scale that measures a taking of breathe and outlandish drivel being spouted as if it is in some way remotely connected to anything other than absolute garbage, a peek into the quite backwaters of local government reveals an illuminating insight into the good, the bad and the very, very ugly.

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Defying gravity

The Plastic Hippo

Via Via

In an increasingly predictable and occasionally boring existence, there are very few things that can still provoke jaw-dropping astonishment. If the discovery, observation and actual measurement of gravitational waves left you agog with wonder, consider the utterly remarkable and almost frightening piece of reality that two weeks into February and with 12 matches to play, Leicester City are 2 points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Although narrowly beaten by Arsenal, Leicester are still favourites to win the title and on current form clever football pundits suggest that Arsenal were lucky to score the winner in the fifth minute of added time against ten men. Astonishingly, the Gunners were considered as underdogs and their last gasp victory is regarded as something of a shock. Once considered as lower league cannon fodder at the mercy of better resourced global brands, Leicester have spent the equivalent of the…

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The Plastic Hippo

Via Via

We now know that his name is David and that he is 48 years old and that he comes from Oxfordshire. David likes to talk a lot about “British” values such as democracy, tolerance, freedom, respect and equality as if these are uniquely “British” possessions. Sadly, David and his government are systematically dismantling the very values he wishes the rest of us to adhere to. Faced with the direst humanitarian crisis that Europe has endured in 70 years, David shrugs his shoulders, turns his back, shuts his eyes, sticks his fingers in his ears and shouts “la la la la, can`t hear you.”

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Cycling from Aldridge to Westminster (not actually cycling there, that would be daft)

At the start of the Election Campaign, spurred on by the CTC ( the oldest road using lobby group in the UK) I sent an email to all the prospective parliamentary candidates for their views on five fundamental questions on cycling. Ok it was a pro forma document supplied by the CTC but nonetheless the questions were valid, reasonable and fair. They merely asked how the candidate, if successful would support cycling during their tenure on the green seats of the second highest house.

The questionnaire is available here

For those who haven’t access to the link here are the questions:

  • Ambition. Will you support measures to increase levels of cycling to 10% of trips by 2025 and 25% by 2050?
  • Funding. Will you support an average government spend of at least £10 per person per year on cycling?
  • Design standards. Will you support action to create consistently high design standards for cycling in all highway and traffic schemes, new developments and planned road maintenance work?
  • Safety. Will you support measures to improve cycle safety by strengthening road traffic law and its enforcement and revising the Highway Code?
  • Positive promotion.  Will you support the positive promotion of cycling, including cycle skills training, for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities?

Without being funny, these aren’t as hard hitting as a Paxo salvo, they aren’t even as hard hitting as a Dimbleby Bullingdon backslap and yet to date only one candidate has bothered to return an answer, for the record this was the Liberal Democrat Ian Garrett.

Perhaps my email was written off as an opportunity for me to score political points in line with my own political agenda but this would be wrong. I am exactly the type of person any of the candidates should be appealing to. I am a disenfranchised socialist. I earn an above average wage. I am over 50 and I care about my locale, the environment and cuddly animals. Quite simply I could, for any number of reasons, vote any way I choose. So, in order to narrow things down, I asked the questions on cycling as I care about it a lot.

As a cyclist, I have been a thrill seeker, a victim, a commuter, an advocate and an enthusiast. Cycling transcends all boundaries, it takes you to places nothing else can. You can get out of a wheeled box at your destination but only on a bike can you live the journey. As Jack Kerouac waxed lyrical about the last hairpin turn, or the road being the journey not the destination, he could have been on a bike, had he not been stoned out of his mind and unable to pedal. But each cyclist carries a little bit of Jack with them.

With so little to differentiate between all the Parties, it only takes something like the view on cycling to make the difference but none were bothered. Perhaps they all feel Wendy Morton is odds on for the seat and can’t be bothered. Wendy isn’t bothered about cycling, I understand she likes parachuting and so doesn’t need to reply, it would eat up photo opportunity time and there is a fridge being opened in Pelsall demanding her attention.

Cycling won’t go away, not even now Pendleton, Hoy and Wiggo have retired (technically Wiggo hasn’t retired but I will put a pound on him not being at the next Olympics). Cycling will become a more viable means of personal transport and yet the Media is allowed to vilify and marginalise cyclists. Increased road usage and congestion victimise the most vulnerable and yet the combustion engine is suffocating the life out of the city and do nothing for the health and well-being of their pilots. Those that try to buck the trend are seen as martyrs or extremists and their attempts litter the roadside in the form of ghost bikes marking their passing.

Something has to change, something has to be done to separate and protect. Investment is required to provide a safe and vibrant infrastructure for human powered transportation and legislation is required to ensure people are put before the profit. By not returning my questionnaire, these candidates are perpetuating an injustice that has gone on too long.

If they want me to put my endorsement behind their expenses, their second homes, the employment for all their relatives, not mentioning the lucrative advisory circuit then at least bother to respond to me.

Getting laid back on my bike

At Christmas I entered a sportive whilst worse for wear but duly set about a training regime to put me on course for a 65 mile bike ride. The training regime started a bout of bursitis which then mutated into a flare up of all my spinal complaints and now apparently my neck has degenerated to such a state that I need to take extra special care to extend its’ useful life.  I have now spent more than ten weeks getting needles stuck in me at my expense in pursuit of pain free existence.
I have always enjoyed the stranger sides of transportation. I had a rat bike (take a bike, take everything pretty off it, take the remainder and paint it matt black) I built a car, I drove kit cars and I supported the stranger sides of cycling. So my decision to invest in a recumbent bicycle wasn’t exactly a last ditch attempt to keep on the road but that desire was very high on the list.
I kept fairly quiet on the subject at the time, this was a decision I needed to make for me and I actually didn’t want any external input to dissuade me. I test rode a number of bikes and trikes under expert tuition from Kevin, the owner of DTek in Ely and from that moment I was sold on the idea. The positives were clear, no pain in my back, no pain in my elbow and no pain in my neck. The negatives were also clear. They cost a lot for what they are, they look strange and they handle differently. I wasn’t phased by this and I felt that  the purchase was justified.
I bought a second hand Challenge Furai from Kevin at DTek for a sum not far short of the Greek  national debt. The bike had everything I thought important, a bit of suspension to prevent all the bumps going through my spine, 24″ wheels to provide me with less distance to fall, subtle matt black and decent specced  drivetrain and brakes to make the experience all the more pleasant.
You know how it is when you are sold on buying something and the salesman make a glib, throwaway statement?  A statement that if you were less sold on something would trigger an alarm bell. You know how it is when all you want to do is press the buy it now button on the card machine and something starts a little beeper in the back of your mind, that you instantly override?  Well both occurred on that fateful day and I knew better.
The first issue was the statement that anything, even slightly dodgy, would be replaced as a matter of course, then during a phone call being told that the tasty Hope brakes were buggered and needed replacing. Replacing brakes doesn’t come cheap. Therefore anything aside from the brakes would have to be passed on or Kevin would be out of pocket. I understand business and I live in the real world, this is life.
And so I arrived back in Ely to test ride the Challenge Furai with a view to spending an indecent amount of money on securing it for my future entertainment. Only to be met with a throwaway comment about the tyres, being close on the limit of requiring replacement; good tread, cracking sidewalls but not bad enough to warrant changing. The test ride was brilliant, though shortened by the gale force winds. We were soon figuring out the best way of strapping it to my car.
On the journey back in those winds we stopped to check the bike. The rear tyre was flat, this was a surprise but I ignored it. I fixed the  flat and set about monstering the bike around the campsite, learning the subtleties of being a bent rider. The next day, the tyre was flat again. I bought another tube and continued the learning curve.
I managed maybe 35 miles on the Challenge doing the local safe routes before setting out on my first major ride last Thursday. I had got about seven miles into the ride and realised I had yet another puncture. I changed the tube but for what ever reason, the tube wouldn’t inflate. I only had one CO2 cartridge left (and stupidly no patches with me) and this wouldn’t last to mess about finding a leak and inflating the tyre and so began the long walk home. On this walk I then gained a front wheel puncture just by pushing the bike.
On my safe return home I decided to buy new tyres and new tubes ahead of my weekend away in Wolverley. Due to the last minute nature of this purchase only next day delivery would do and the only retailer I trusted didn’t have any suitable tyres so I bought what I thought would do. Imagine my joy at the timely arrival of the package and my unbridled dismay when the new tyres were completely the wrong size for my wheels.
Fortunately I have other bikes at my disposal and so the weekend hasn’t been ruined but I was so intent on spending the weekend riding my recumbent. 
And so the search for tyres began again. It appears that 24″ tyres aren’t that popular and 1.5″ width even less so. I can’t help thinking this fact was known to the retailer and glossed over. I haven’t raised this with him personally and I doubt I have the bottle or the reason to do so but for a while I was genuinely feeling I had been sold a dud   I have now bought some slightly wider tyres in the hope they will fit. If that fails, I will try and convert the bike to larger wheels but still wish I had had the tip prior to purchase, it may have changed my decision.
On the aforementioned fateful day, most of the time was spent trying to get the gears to work properly. The bike was very prone to ghost shifting and a generally lack lustre experience. Me being an expert on crap gear shifting soon had me making an attachment to my workstand  and checking the alignment of the rear deraillieur with my specially made alignment tool. After 5 degrees of alteration, the gears finally started doing what they should do.
Whilst all these niggles appear easily solved, should I have had to deal with these at all?