I can’t say that redundancy agrees with me. I don’t mind the application or interview processes, it’s the wait that follows that kills me. I was thinking that I’d make my applications then spend my downtime wisely. Housework! Gardening! Bike riding! More Lua and Unity work! I’ve done quite a bit of the later, but everything else has taken a backseat to checking my email, Facebook and LinkedIn every five minutes. I’m sat in front of my PC all day, so in that respect being redundant is much like being at work, only I don’t have any Proper Coders(TM) to mock my shoddy indentation.
Waiting for emails, I’m a bit like a kid at Christmas – only I don’t know if that brightly coloured box contains an exciting new job and a new phase in my career, or a big ol’ bag of unemployment. I’ve come to deeply resent Chain Reaction, Evans Cycles and Wiggle, as I’ll see that I have a new email, excitedly open it… and find it’s from one of the aforementioned retailers. Shiny new bikes! Winter gear now coming in? As much as I’d love to blow my statutory redundancy (yet to arrive) on biking year, this is probably one of those situations where I have to be an adult and not spunk loads of cash on biking stuff. So not only can I not take advantage of the FABULOUS WINTER OFFERS, but they’re also not offering me a job. Pfffft.
Still, it’s given me time to work on other things, like faffing in Unity and Corona, and I’ve also been putting some stuff together for schools, to encourage kids to consider game and app development as a viable career (and encourage them to continue in the appropriate subjects). I’ve also been over the Chase once, on a Monday. Fastest time ever! \o/ Hopefully I can get back over there this week too.
Blimey, I’ve gone a bit slack on the blogging front – I last posted on my birthday.
Well, if it’s any consolation, I’ve done a lot of riding this year – more than ever before! Aaah, the benefits of a good summer – it was fantastic when it finally made an appearance! I’ve been going out on rides in the evening on the local bridleways and quiet country roads, and also joining in with the Thursday night XC rides run by RLSCC. This has made the weekends a lot more productive too – I can now do two laps of the Dog fairly comfortably, and have even done two laps of the Dog and the blue. Admittedly I end up walking a bit like a cowboy after a hefty ride over the Chase, but it’s nothing that a bag of frozen peas and 400mg of ibuprofen can’t cure.
Sadly my racing has been limited this year – I didn’t fancy Mountain Mayhem, Sleepless was cancelled, Bonty 24/12 was the same weekend as my sister-in-law’s wedding (which was ace) and Torq in Your Sleep was the day before Mr Toast started his new job at Sega. But things calmed down. Benny finally passed his bronze Good Citizenship test! All was well. We started to ponder From Dusk Til Dawn.
Then I was made redundant.
To describe Thursday morning as ‘very surreal’ doesn’t really do it justice. We were working away as usual. I went to the toilet, and, as I sat in the cubicle, I heard the door open and a male voice say, “Is anybody in here?”
I initially thought it was going to be a maintenance guy, but when I answered and had the response, “It’s Tom, you need to come to the second floor for a company meeting” – that was when I knew that something was seriously amiss. If the male company lawyer is coming into the ladies’ toilets and saying that everybody needs to go to an unscheduled company meeting, it’s not going to be for happy fun times. If you think differently, you’re either a deranged optimist or a pervert. Possibly both.
We shuffled to the second floor, a sea of concerned faces and nervous laughter. I cracked a joke about The Hunger Games – truth be told, I was expected mass redundancies. Blitz had tried so hard to buck the trend of hire and fire that’s prevalent in the industry that it was surely about time to slim down? May the odds be ever in your favour.
What I wasn’t expecting was the entire company to have ceased trading, with the loss of over 170 jobs.
It was at the same time both kind of expected and a complete and an utter surprise. Blitz had sailed close to the line over the past few years, trying to adapt from console development to a broader range of projects. With the demise of THQ, the bottom falling out of anything other than AAA console development and the emergence of mobile and tablet gaming, it was a struggle. But I think people always expected them to last – ten years is a long, long time in the games industry, and for an independent developer, over twenty years is almost unheard of.
It’s strange, because although Blitz never made a AAA hit, or anything that your stereotypical hardcore gamer would embrace, it’s a genuine loss to the industry. Indie Celebrity(TM), former colleague and all-round good egg Mike Bithell wrote a lovely eulogy on Eurogamer. So many of my former colleagues are at studios around the world – in Amsterdam, working on Killzone. In Canada, working on Mass Effect. Closer to home, in Twycross, working on super-secret Rare things. I can’t help but imagine that when the news hit the gaming industry grapevine, that it was like Alderaan being blown up by the Death Star – millions of voices suddenly crying out.
Because although Blitz wasn’t without its flaws (what company isn’t?), it contributed so much. Blitz was willing to take on placement students, and graduates, or even with people without degrees, as long as they had the talent. They allowed me to go out an champion accessibility in games development. They championed improved links between the industry and academia, helping students come out of university with relevant skills. And the Olivers are incredibly, incredibly nice, talking with relentless enthusiasm. Hopefully something good will spring from the ashes.
So, what now? Well, fortunately Al started at Sega a few weeks ago, so at least one of us is in a job. He at one point called me ‘a lady of leisure’. I threatened to punch him. But I’ve got a few interviews coming up this week – all great companies, but I’m aware that I also have a lot of great competition now.
…over the Monkey. Four so far this year, three of which went well, one which went… less well. Took the Boneshaker a bit quick (not a euphemism) and came off in quite spectacular fashion, although fortunately I was remarkably unscathed apart from a few scuffs.
But no, let’s not talk about that. Let’s consider this instead.
Last week was ace. What did I get up to? Well, let’s see… first there was…
It was my first ride of the year on the Professor, and a few tweaks were made – more air in the forks and rear shock, namely. We started the red route, and it went rather well. As previously mentioned, I’ve kept up a bit of fitness thanks to commuting by bike every day, but unfortunately I was still fighting a bit of a chest infection.
FUN FACT ABOUT MISSUS TOAST CHEST INFECTIONS! Due to being overly ladylike, chest infections tend to linger for me. Why? Because instead of blowing my nose, or coughing up phlegm, I tend to… well, choke it down. Snuffle it right back up, where it can be recycled.
As I rode around Dalby, I allowed myself to freely cough up phlegm and blow my nose like a trumpeter, as one of the joys of marriage is being disgusting without fear of reprisal. Or at least, that’s what Mr Toast and his musical bottom tells me.
And cough I did, to the point of nearly being sick. A definite benefit was that, since Dalby, my chest and sinuses have felt clearer than they had in months. However, at the time, the lack of breathing ability made it somewhat difficult to ride, and we decided to do half the trail instead of the full 20-odd miles.
Unfortunately, Mr Toast’s memory (or sense of direction) wasn’t quite as good he thought, and we ended up doing only 6 miles of red route, and 10 miles of road. It was a very pretty road, though. We saw a stag. That was nice…
After Yorkshire we travelled up to Scotland. As July is a bit hectic this year, we decided to get some early Glentress in this year in case we couldn’t make it for our anniversary. We stayed at our usual haunt, Glede Knowe, which was fantastic as always.
Somewhat stereotypically, it was beautiful weather on the drive up, and in the evening Mr Toast and I went for a lovely walk with t’boy down by the river, followed by a meal at the Traquair Arms.
The next day – the day we were riding - started off beautiful, but quickly became gloomy and overcast. The predictions of ‘light rain’ and ‘light showers’ were somewhat innaccurate, and we were instead faced with ‘fairly annoyingly persistent and not actually that light’ rain. For four hours.
The weather report was correct in surmising that the weather would improve in the afternoon – as we sat muddy and sodden in the cafe, the sun came out. Then the next day, when we were driving home… sunniest and warmest day of the year. Ho hum.
We weren’t actually too disgruntled – the trails are still awesome fun in the rain. The only issue is, after that incident on Pennel’s Vennel that one rainy year, I now have no appetite to hit the red in the rain. We did make one concession – we did the climb up to Spooky Wood, and then Spooky Wood itself.
The climb wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I remembered, and I also took to it with a bit more speed and aplomb than in previous years. I confess, I didn’t do the very first drop, but I did everything else after that. I didn’t get a burning sensation in my left thigh until right near the end, but my calves were screaming – I think I’m just a bit out of shape when it comes to off-road stuff! Jolly good fun though.
And… oh look! A picture of me with the meteorite Stane. How terribly original!
The blue at Glentress is definitely one of my favourite trails, if not the favourite. The climb up to the Buzzard’s Nest carpark is good fun, and the descent is also amazing – so swoopy, bermy and fast!
After Scotland it was back home, but on Friday we got to ride over Cannock Chase. As we knew we were coming over again on Sunday, Mr Toast decided to nobly escort me around the Monkey… given that I’ve not really ridden in much over the past two years, and that I’ve come a cropper a couple of times on it, it seemed a wise decision.
We took it very easy (translation: I took it easy, Mr Toast waited), and there were a few bits I gave a wide berth – I merrily bypassed the rock gardens on the original Monkey, and also avoided the Klondike rocks and the Woodbank timber feature. In hindsight I think I’d be fine with the latter, and probably be OK with Klondike as long as I take the left line instead of the right (as my wheel goes into the dip on the one rock and I get flung over the handlebars 50% of the time). Can’t be arsed with the original Monkey though – discretion is the finer point of not dying, as they say.
I’ll really have to get into the habit of riding the Monkey more – I’m sure it’ll up my speed and confidence (assuming I don’t fall off and die).
On Sunday I pootled around the greens… on a Duet Wheelchair Bike! Yes, Swinnerton’s have one now, so my mother can experience the joys of the Chase. She was somewhat disconcerted by the sight of an ambulance at the Rollers (broken collar bone, apparently), and she made me promise that I wouldn’t take her on the Rollers…
The Chase greens are generally lovely for wheelchairs – they’re not quite as potholey as the Tissington Trail – but there’s the odd bit that’s awkward. Some of the off-camber bits can be quite tricky, and returning on the green made me realise I had the choice of following the green through the stream (which my mother wasn’t keen on), or going over the bridge around the pool (which she was even less keen on due to the path crumbling away). Still, we got around in one piece, although we ended up doing a few more laps just around the ‘Walk for Health’ green route, which was very easy. TOP TIP! Carrying an extra 10 1/2 stone of mother on the front of the bike is great for fitness.
So overall, a great week for riding – I just wish we could do it more!
Ah, shorts. Next to shoes, getting trousers and shorts that even remotely fit is the bane of my clothing existence.
A word on my physique – I am short of leg, and wide of arse and thigh, but relatively narrow of waist. This, dear readers, is a problem. What normally happens with trousers or shorts is that I go for one size, and I can’t get them over my hips. Nope, nope, nope. But if I go for the next size up… huzzah! They pass the thighs and hips and… oh. Oh, right. I have an extra two inches or so of waist band. Awesome. I end up with loads of excess fabric, and end up having to wear belts, which I dislike for two reasons:
1) It bunches up the waistband and looks awful
2) I’m allergic to nickel, which is what’s generally used in costume jewellery and belt buckles. So I quite often end up with an unslightly (AND ITCHY) rash on my belly.
Given that I’m not blessed with the most attractive pins in the world (especially given the events of the previous post), I like 3/4 length shorts, which seem to be quite hard to get hold of if you’re a lady – quite a few will claim to be 3/4 length but only be knee-length… and believe me, it’s not because I have long legs.
So, here, for your delight and delectation – the world of Missus Toast’s biking shorts.
Well, let’s start with some of my favourites. I have two pairs of Synchros – a grey pair with black piping, I think from 2009 or 2010, and a black pair with white piping on, from 2010/11. OBSERVE THE MAJESTY OF MY SYNCHROS!So these shorts have been bloody fantastic:
- The cut is nice, reasonably loose on the legs but not massively baggy around the waist.
- They actually make a pretty decent effort to get past the knee.
- There aren’t any fastenings to get caught or rub.
- They’re very light, so they’re ideal in the summer.
- The pockets aren’t great, although the later pair have slightly deeper ones that are more useful, but really… who puts anything in their pockets? It’s uncomfortable, and makes you look bobbly. Pockets are overrated!*
Despite being used for commuting to work, weekend mountain biking and 24 hour races in horrendous weather, they’re still in perfect condition. And yes, I wash them after every ride as well, thanks for asking. In the case of my older grey pair, they also survived the 2010 crash that took out my helmet and a good chunk of the skin on my right arm. The blood washed out nicely!
I bought these last year. The dimensions are a bit unusual – I’d personally say they’re a bit short to be classed as ‘capri length’, but they are just about knee length on my hobbity legs. They’re very baggy in the leg, which makes a nice change, but they are also quite baggy around the waist and gut – not too bad though. More room for cake, eh?
So, an overview:
- Relatively short for ‘capri’ length
- Nice and baggy
- There aren’t any fastenings to get caught or rub.
- Quality feels really nice and sturdy
- Very cool looking
The Hummvees are very popular, both the male and female versions. Unfortunately, despite being the most expensive shorts I’ve bought**, they’re the only ones I didn’t really get on with. Again, this is probably due to my rather… ahem, ‘stout’ legs. The Hummvees are definitely designed for those more slender of pins. They’re a nice length, but very slim fitting, and I found the velcro fastenings around the back of the knee quite annoying. The belt that comes with it is also a bit rubbish. It’s frustrating, because the quality and look (when worn by others…) is great.
- Good length
- VERY slim fitting on the legs
- Velcro fastenings tend to rub when pedalling
- Good quality
- Looks good… on non-hobbits
So overall, the Synchros are winning in the battle of the shorts, with the Loeka shorts being a close second – if they were just a bit longer, they’d probably be my favourites. The Hummvees make me sad, because they make me realise how ridiculously out of proportion my thighs are compared to the rest of my body.
*Seriously, I really don’t like putting things in my pockets. Ever.
**It’s probably worth mentioning that I have a tendency to only buy cycling clothes if they’re heavily discounted, usually because they’re last year’s stock, etc. I am married to a Yorkshireman, after all.
Excellent. The sun is shining, it’s pleasantly warm and the trails are dry. It’s almost like spring!
After the recent weather and a bout of the standard office lurgy, was eager to get out. Benny was dropped off at Old Farm Dog Boarding, where he enjoys long walks and running about in a huge garden with lots of other friendly dogs ranging from pugs and shih tzus to rottweilers and labradors (it’s quite a sight to behold…). So, with Benny safely taken care of, we were able to go forth and bike and the same time! Huzzah!
Not together though! Mr Toast wanted to hit Follow the Dog* straight away, whereas I decided to take it easy on the blue. As it turned out, we did almost the opposite – I decided to do a bit of Follow the Dog, and Mr Toast decided to try and catch me up on the blue… which he couldn’t, because I wasn’t there.
Instead, I headed out from Birches Valley onto the blue. As I passed the Stegosaur, I thought, “Well… I’ll go to up the fireroad hill and do 9, 10, 11 and 12″. So I veered off in that direction instead. It started out quite well – I pootled up the the fireroad hill steadily, and always in middle ring, with less trouble than in the past. It looks like the commuting over winter has definitely boosted my fitness, even if it hasn’t kept the weight off!
I did the first part of section 8, then followed the diversion to section 9. So far so good. I was riding well, even managed to overtake a few blokes…
The first boardwalk on section 9 is an innocent little thing. It has a clear run onto it – no awkward roots or large pebbles – you just ride in a straight line onto it. I’ve done it loads of times. I’ve done it a few times on the rare occasions I’ve been biking this year, on my 29er. So what went wrong?
Well, it seems that I slowed too much on the approach, and was in too high a gear. The front wheel veered off to the left, but I managed to catch it and get my foot down on the ground. Unfortunately… I’m very small. The height difference between my left foot on the ground and the rest of my body being on a bike on a board walk a few inches higher was too great, and after stopping, with grim inevitability… I fell over. I’m not entirely convinced that falling off the bike once you’ve stopped is classed as an ‘off’, but… well, it’s a bit of a moot point really. I ended up on my arse, legs in the air, entangled in my bike. And those guys I passed?
Yeah, right behind me.
At the time, it felt that my pride had taken the main blow. My leg had a couple of nasty scratches and a few specs of blood, but I just got back up and dusted myself off, and continued. I pondered just getting back on the blue, but decided that was stupid, because I’ve been riding FtD without incident for years, and there’s no point getting a complex now. So I carried on with 10, 11 and 12. Without incident. So there!
Crossed over the road (without incident) and took to the blue, but veered off for some cheekiness down the German cemetery which was a lot more rideable than last time I attempted it. I guess not being covered in snow and ice does wonders for a trail.
I looped back and rejoined the blue. By this point my leg was starting to smart a bit, and the nasty scratches were starting to look a bit nastier.
Still, I’d had an awesome day and it was fantastic being back out on the trails. Can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs, etc-
OH SWEET MOTHER OF ZEUS!
Sunday was interesting. I got out of bed, and almost immediately fell over due to not being able to put any weight on my leg. Eventually I managed to stretch it into a usable state, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I got the bus in on Monday…
But today I’ve biked backwards and forwards from work, including extra sessions at lunch to check on Benny. Other than a slight bit of stiffness, it seems fine, and the bruises are yellowing nicely! I AM WOLVERINE! \o/ Except he’s the best at what he does. I’m not the best at mountain biking.
Despite my comedy injury, I’m really looking forward to more biking this year. We’ve got Dalby and Glentress planned for next week, so hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy those trails without anymore comedy offs…
* I nearly worded this statement “Mr Toast wanted to hit The Dog”, but given the previous paragraph I worried that people might take it out of context!
Yes, my first review is going to be about shoes. I am a walking stereotype.
Long term readers of this blog may recall that I obtained my Five Tens in January 2010. At the time I described them as being “incredibly comfortable, and incredibly grippy!”. But how have they fared over the past three years?
The answer is – very well. Although they’re starting to show their age a bit with the interior of the back of the heel starting to come apart (which is probably partially my fault for trying to ram my feet in without full undoing the laces…), the soles are still solid and the bulk of the shoe is still as solid as ever. This is pretty impressive given that these are the only shoes I ever go mountain biking in, and for a year or so they were also my commuting shoes too.
It’s even more impressive when you take into account that they survived two Sleepless in the Saddles and two Mountain Mayhems, including 2012′s which were… a trifle inclement, to say the least. They’ve been through the washing machine several times and emerged clean and unscathed.
Durability aside, they’re also some of the most comfortable shoes that I own. I have awkward feet – one’s a size 6, the other a size 6.5, and they’re also very narrow, which is INCREDIBLY ANNOYING. I mean, seriously – there are many parts of my body I wish were narrower: my face, my thighs, my waist, my arms… but my feet? They’re an absolute nightmare – the standard with is a D, and although many high street chains do wider fittings, absolutely bugger all companies do narrower ones. Usually the inside of my shoes end up a mess of innersoles, stick-on cushions and extra socks, but the Karvers are actually pretty good for me straight out of the box – which is probably worth bearing in mind, as this may be a problem for women who do need wider shoe fittings.
Functionally, they’re great – very grippy and comfortable for riding, feeling secure on the pedals, but also comfortable for walking. Aesthetically, they’re a bit marmite – I quite like them, but I have to admit I stopped wearing them to work after a colleague kept on making fun of them looking like ‘special shoes’ due to the supportive padding around the ankle. I like the grey, black and magenta colour scheme (*cough*) particularly now it matches my Scott Scale 29, *cough*) – they clean up from being muddy pretty well too. I quite fancy the new Karvers, but really? White? White? Who, in the name of Odin’s beard, makes mountain biking shoes in white? I’m guessing that decision wasn’t made by anybody who lives in the UK…
So, all in all, personally I’d really recommend the Karvers. Which is a good thing really, as there’s practically bugger all else in terms of flats for women mountain bikers…
Right! Quite a while back I added a tag entitled ‘All the gear, no idea’. The aim of this tag was to discuss when I bought something new, but I also planned to do reviews. Mainly because the bulk of my purchases are biking clothes, and reviews of biking clothes are somewhat in short supply if you favour women-specific stuff. So, without further ado…
Like buses, and all that…
So, about my Scott Scale Contessa 29er. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you, eh? Truth be told, neither did I – I’ve been interested in the idea of 29ers for a while. Obviously there’s the word-of-mouth aspect, with several friends (and a husband) jumping on the big-wheeled bandwagaon and thoroughly endorsing it. There’s the magazines who bleat on incessantly about them. And there’s the slight issue that some manufacturers seem to be switching exclusively to 29ers.
But there’s always been one, tiny, tiny problem. And that problem is me, being tiny (vertically, at least..) Given that I’ve struggled in the past to find 26ers that fit (women specific being too short in the top tube, standard models being too lacking in standover), I imagined that there wouldn’t be much choice in the 29er department. I’d demoed the Giant Anthem 29er, and that had been rather nice, but sadly I didn’t have enough time with it to make a real judgement. I’d demoed the Specialized Camber, which was almost nice but had impractical standover – it was fine once I’d got going, but was hard to mount, dismount, stop and start. Ah.
I’ll also wasn’t that bothered about getting a full-susser, as I’m quite happy with the Professor. I wanted to get something that I could put some miles in with, preferably a hardtail. Mainly because winter makes the Professor sad…
I was pondering a Niner EMD, as they do tiny. But as fate would have it, I was browsing the classifieds on Singletrack World (which I rarely do, because I’m normally posting nonsense on the chat forum), when Mr Toast piped up over my shoulder, “Oh look, a Scott Scale Contessa 29er in small…”
After a bit of research, I bit the bullet and bought the bike. I may possibly have missed out on paying my share of the mortgage that month, and been a bit stingy with the Christmas presents, but… NEW BIKE.
When it arrived, it was a surprise and a relief to find that it did actually fit – it actually feels quite similar in terms of length and standover to the Professor. Whilst Mr Toast did frivolous things, like assembling the bike, checking the brakes and immediately assessing what upgrades were needed, I did sensible, practical and important things, like ordering getting matching purple grips and pedals, and later a much needed pink chainstay protector from Swinnertons.
I decided to get familiar with the bike before taking it on anything remotely techy. After pootling around fireroads though, I wanted to see how I’d get on FtD. For some reason, I’ve had it in my head that there’s no way I’d be able to ride FtD again on a hardtail – my knees are rubbish, and I’d probably gotten too used to my skills compensator, etc, etc. So I picked sections 9 – 12, as they’re relatively tame, and don’t have too many narrow bits through trees that I could clip the comedy handlebars on.
And I didn’t die.
It was actually good fun. So much so that I finished the trail and did Tackaroo too – strangely I felt like I had a lot more control. I don’t put that down to wheel size though, I put that down to my forks and shock on the Professor being set far too soft. Mr Toast has been banging on for ages that I need more pressure, and now I think I can see why.
Since the first ride I’ve been around a few times, and getting better each time. I’m also really glad that I commute to work by bike now, because although I went months without going off-road, at least I’ve kept some level of fitness. As opposed to the traditional three months of hibernation, followed by biking and vomiting by the start of where section 13 used to be.
Looking forward to getting more riding in this year – hopefully Mr Toast won’t have quite the same amount of overtime (and hopefully I won’t either), plus we’ve found a great daycare place for Benny so we can go biking together again.