Short with Balls

I’ve been meaning to try to blog more regularly now – keeping up once a week. But this weekend has been rather busy, so I’ll just leave you this very short humorous picture.

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Say nothing, just drink (8)

A couple of weeks back, I was doing the crossword in The Week (an excellent publication, by the way, for the curiosity-rich, but time-poor), and I came across this clue:

Strong drink journalists no longer love (8)

I muttered a bit in linguistic indignation, but carried on stoically, as you do. But then, a few days later, I was passing the time with a compendium of Telegraph crosswords, and found this one:

Former wife goes to the newspapers and gets given nothing but coffee! (8)

Now, completely aside from Ximenes having something to say about that, I just couldn’t take it any more. It’s a travesty that two setters would use the same incorrect version of a word in a medium which is supposed to be above that sort of thing.

Now, a certain blogger I follow would probably castigate me for being too sanctimonious about this sort of thing – after all, language morphs and changes all the time. And the wrong version does make sense as a word, and therefore fulfils its purpose in life. And (horrors), it appears to be more and more accepted in these dark times. But dammit, if I can’t be a pedant about this, what is left for me in the world? A seat at a table in a coffee shop selling “Expresso’s”, no doubt. That’ll teach me.

I suppose I should mention for those who haven’t figured it out yet that the answer to all three clues is ‘expresso’, where ‘ex’ is ‘no longer’ or ‘former wife’, ‘press’ is ‘journalists’ or ‘newspapers’, ‘express’ is ‘say’, and ‘o’ is ‘nothing’ or ‘love’ (as in tennis). 

If you’d like me to blog more about crosswords (cryptic only, of course), make a comment. I have a lot to say on the topic, but have always assumed that it’s a sort of niche market. But if there’s demand, I’m willing to supply.

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The Ups and Downs of Health and Safety

It’s been a quiet few months on the Health and Safety front at my office. Since a not-particularly-memorable memo on the dangers of putting up Christmas decorations, there’s been nothing forthcoming apart from the occasional Trip Hazard sign placed directly in front of the coffee machine, and a few Wet Floor signs placed immediately inside the bathroom doors, where one is certain to trip over them.

Today, however, changed all that. Everyone was buzzing with the missive issuing from the bowels of the building regarding safety on the escalators. For it is well known that these moving stairs are a death trap in motion, ever ready to grasp unsuspecting travellers and slice them to pieces under the floor. (Oh, you didn’t know that? Well, consider yourself educated!) The memo started thus:

Following a couple of recent incidents at the office, please ensure you take extra care when using the escalators and consider the following health and safety advice:

Suddenly, speculation was rife – who befell these fearful fates? How did it happen? Patchy, unreliable friend-of-a-friend-of-a-witness accounts started to come forth about a poor unfortunate soul from HR who came a cropper this week. It must, surely, have been due to her wearing high heels, carrying numerous cups of coffee, peering through thick glasses, and running up the steps while talking to someone behind her. Because more details emerged as this memo unfolded:

– Always face forward and leave one hand available to firmly grip the handrail

– Step on and off with extra care

– Take care if you are wearing bifocals or similar eyewear

– Avoid stacking drinks one on top of the other

– Wear shoes with suitable gripping soles to prevent slips and falls

– Stand clear of the sides of the escalator, keeping loose clothing clear of steps and sides

– Running up or down escalators should be avoided

– Avoid carrying boxes or other larger items on the escalator, consider using the lift

– Step over the comb fingers at the top and bottom of each escalator and avoid letting your feet slide off the end of the escalator

– Immediately move clear of the escalator exit area

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is all really good advice. For a three-year-old. But is this really necessary for working adults? Actually, it may well be, because I’ve been known to prance up the down escalator, taking stairs two at a time. Granted, not while drinking coffee (and never while wearing bifocals! Heavens!).

But henceforth, you’ll never find me standing on the step until the last possible moment, lifting my toes up until they hit ground as the step slip-slides away, then leaning forward onto my toes at just the right moment before toppling forward and walking with the momentum of the escalator. This, surely, is one of life’s little joys, but No! no longer shall I commit such reckless actions willy nilly! Never again will I wear loose clothing, and I shall always have one hand free to hold the rail in case, well, not really sure in case of what, but I’ll be ready for it!

Actually, no, I won’t. I’ll just carry on taking the stairs like a normal non-lazy person.

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Daisy Style

Well, here’s another new experience to report on: riding a Tandem. I’ve thought about it a bit (but I think the Wiff is better off on her own bike – or is that me that’s better off with her on her own bike?). But I’ve never seriously considered trying it out, and I’ve never known anyone with one.

But then, earlier this year, I heard about a man who was needing new tandem cycling partners. He’s around 75, and so he’s suffering from the problem of having friends that get too old to join you on that sort of thing. To be fair, I’m not sure I’d want to be jaunting about on a tandem at 80 (although I’d hope to still be riding actively by then). However, our man Roger doesn’t have the option of sticking to a normal bike, as he’s blind.

So, I volunteered to be a pilot, to allow him to carry on riding, and today was the first of what will probably be a monthly activity. I can report that I’ve learned a lot about riding a tandem. Firstly – they have the turning circle of a small battleship. Planning ahead is crucial whenever you approach a junction. Then, the frame has more flex than an electric cable. Getting off my snappy stiff aluminium frame and onto The Beast (for such is its name) made it feel as though it was made out of rubber. When making a sharp turn, you can almost feel it think about the instruction, and then execute it, segment by segment like a millipede. The front wheel turns, then I turn, then Roger makes a move, and then the back wheel gives up on its futile resistance and catches up with the rest of us. Very unnerving. Not to mention the difficulty involved in just keeping the thing on a straight line.

Approaching junctions, stopping, starting, and negotiating traffic all require good communication. It would probably be ok with any other two people, but between my penchant for non-verbal communication, and Roger’s inability to see, it was clear that a change on my part was required.

But besides all that, it makes for a good training ride. The extra effort involved makes it feel like you’re riding up hills all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so knackered at the end of a ride as I did today. My fault, for not taking along any sustenance, taking a wrong turn which added 10 miles to our ride, and overdoing it while ‘wasting’ time before our scheduled meeting point by doing repeats of Rose Hill. Twit.

The other side of the coin is that when going downhill, it accelerates like a Bugatti on steroids, and suddenly changes character to be the most stable, enjoyable bike ever. Provided, of course, that you don’t need to stop at the bottom… The ideal spot for a tandem factory would be at the top of a very high mountain. People could buy them, cycle down, and then just leave them there, and they’d all think that they’d just had the best ride of their lives. That, and the built-in ability to have a conversation at any point without having to manoeuvre two bikes close to each other so you can hear what the other person is saying.

The problem comes when you live in the midst of the Lickey Hills, and there’s no way to get home apart from up and over. So it should be said that it was a bit of a limp on the way back, but we made it. And now that I know what I’m in for, I’m already looking forward to the next ride. Far from being a simple favour to someone else, it’s a great way to build up the strength in my legs, and I’m going to be needing a lot of that over the next few months with my Audax rides coming up in July.

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Mad March Hare revisited


So, after a week of ecstasy at the theatre, with six shows and a dress rehearsal, late nights, a lot of hard work and not much sleep, and an after party on Saturday night that leads to crawling into bed after 2am, what would be your first choice activity on the Sunday morning?

Not, I would imagine, getting on a bicycle at 8am, and cycling 83 miles to Chipping Camden and back. But due to the wonderful snow we had in early March, the Mad March Hare ride was rescheduled to today, and I didn’t want to cancel my participation. Firstly, because I’ve done it for the last two years, and building up a pattern like that is something that appeals to me. And secondly, because I’m desperately short of time in the saddle this year due to six weeks of almost continuous rain.

The first decision was whether to use my new bike (with nearly brand-new wheels, which I’m keen not to subject to wet, muddy roads), or my old bike (now showing its age, and with various components gumming up due to a lot of wet weather riding of late without having time to clean it up properly). So old bike it was, which was the right decision for the first and last 10 miles, but not for the 60-odd miles in between, where the roads were dry, and I suffered trying to keep up with those around me. At one stage, I was actually hoping it would rain just to justify the decision. It didn’t, despite me singing ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ to try and jinx it.

However, my exhaustion aside, the ride was fantastic – exactly what I needed after an emotionally draining week. Four and a half hours of being ‘alone’ is a perfect recharge (but yes, I did speak to one other cyclist en route, in case you’re wondering, but no, I didn’t get his name). The route was glorious, with a couple of nasty hills in the middle to look forward to, and some tasty choc chip brownies at the feed stop. It felt a bit weird not having miserable weather to battle with (didn’t even need any waterproof clothing! – how disappointing), but I’m not really complaining.

Oh, and instead of a medal, they gave out chain wear indicators. I’ve been meaning to buy one for years, but have never got around to it. Bingo, problem sorted. Thanks, Dan – excellent idea. Just do something different for next year, please!

Update: I meant to link in to Relive, which shows a nice little video of the ride:

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Caught in the Act

I realised a day or so after my recent blog about beards that I hadn’t actually mentioned my dilly dallying with a theatre group up until that point. This is probably more to do with me not mentioning much at all over the past 8 months than any deliberate attempt to hide anything. But there was possibly also a sense of impending doom (or at least, impending embarrassment) that I at least subconsciously wanted to hide.

But now seems like a good time to come clean and admit to what I’ve secretly been involved in since September last year. It started with a friend’s mention of the fact that her theatre group were putting on Spamalot this year. I didn’t really know Spamalot, but I’ve been a long time Monty Python fan, of the ‘memorised most of the scripts’ ilk. So I thought I’d go along to the launch evening and see what it was all about. After all, if I was ever going to get involved in anything like this, madcap comedy was always likely to be the drawcard.

That night in itself was an experience. I felt like I’d stepped into a different country, full of people who speak a completely different language. They were effusive, and touchy, and feely, and greeted each other loudly across the room, followed by hugs and kisses. I just sat quietly in the corner, trying to avoid the mêlée, cursing myself for having got a lift, rather than propelled myself (as I’d probably have escaped post haste).

But my barber happened to be there, and every 6 weeks thereafter she collared me (literally and figuratively) with questions, and it got to the point where I didn’t really have a choice but to go to the start-up meeting, which then led to auditions, which then led to me getting a part. Not exactly the part I wanted, but a very close second. And then, suddenly, it was too late. Hooked. Trapped. Too late to escape.

Over the course of the following seven months, my engagement with the group rose and fell. There were times I really enjoyed it, and there were probably a few more where I seriously wondered what the hell I was doing there, because I clearly didn’t belong. But generally, the more I went, the more people I got to know a bit better (generally the slightly quieter ones, it must be said), the more I enjoyed it.

And then, all of a sudden, there was the rush of this last week, with costumes arriving, props appearing, dress rehearsals, the set being built in the theatre, tech rehearsals, the orchestra arriving to join us (which, I must say, with my background, is the part I really related to. Nothing adds more to the richness of the experience than the additional complexity of the music). After months of slow, drip, drip, crawl towards being ready from the acting, singing & dancing point of view, the blistering dash to get it performance ready is a real head spin.

But writing now, the day after the first performance, there’s an overwhelming sense of achievement. This is on three fronts – there’s me not stuffing up my part, as well as the coming together of the whole group to produce something fantastic (standing ovation! rousing applause! delirious laughter!). But there’s also the little bit of me feeling chuffed that I’ve tried something completely new, out of my comfort zone, and managing to get through it, and come out the other side better for the experience. I can’t yet say I’m  fluent in their methods of communication, but at least I understand what they’re saying. And it’s not ‘them’ any more, either: it’s us.

And now I get to do that all over again, five more times. Five more times to say “Below me…” with no hint of double entendre (honestly:), five more times to get the footwork in the Finale slightly wrong in (no doubt) five subtly different ways, five more times to sing along backstage with the brilliant Backstage Oral, and help out the exuberantly efficient props manager). I’m already wishing it was a bit more than that, but I guess I’ll have to make do with that until next years’ production.

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In Need of Urgent Hair Growth

I have been forced over the past few weeks to ignore the multitudinous sexist adverts to get my body beach ready (ok, so maybe those adverts haven’t been aimed at me, then). The reason being, of course, that I’ve been hard at work trying to get my beard Spamalot ready. This is not as easy as it looks. Because this is the current situation:

There’s only two weeks to go, so unless something drastic happens, I’m going to be falling well short of emulating my hero.

Bring on the Bob Martins*? And some terrible stress to make it grey?

Alas, I suspect I’ll have to make do with what I have. Unless I pluck the grey hairs from my chest and make extensions out of them? Hmmm… there’s an idea that will be significantly less enticing in the morning.

If you made it this far, and you’re wanting to see this spectacle, tickets are available here.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

* Bob Martins are dog vitamin supplements, which are widely believed to contribute to vigorous hair growth. I suspect strongly that this is a uniquely South African affair, which is rather embarrassing. It may be an urban legend, although sites like this would indicate otherwise. You be the judge…

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