Huzzah (and booooo!)

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag over the last couple of weeks, to say the least.

Firmly in the ‘Huzzah’ pile was our visit to the Malverns Classic at Castle Eastnor. Last time we visited in 2018 it was a bit stressful – I am not a natural camper, and Mini Toast was just under two years old. I threw my back out lifting him, he ended up breaking the tines off the fork he was eating with. Not good times.

This time was very different. Mini Toast is now a robust five year old. He still can’t pedal, despite our best efforts, but he proved on the Strider course that he could certainly balance, zipping around the track and lifting his legs on the mild downhills. He absolutely loved it, so we’re wondering how we can use that enthusiasm to get him to try pedalling more – unfortunately he’s inherited his parents’ overly cautious nature and fear of failure.

Camping was also more tolerable, with our new inflatable tent from Decathalon. Roomy, and a lot easier to get up and down than the old beast.

Festival portaloos are still a horror though. Even when they’re relatively clean, there’s the awful smell that permeates everything, and not being able to properly wash your hands afterwards is a bit ick. I AM A DELICATE FLOWER.

Mr Toast was getting all moon eyed over the retro bikes, and I foresee some sort of weird 90s monstrosity making an appearance in our garage soon. We also spotted Hans Rey a few times, including successfully making the lake crossing. Although I didn’t actually see that, due to being too short – Mini Toast did, as he was perched on dad’s shoulders, and Mr Toast did, because he’s 6ft 6.

I’m genuinely impressed how much stuff there was for kids and families, including free fairground rides, dodgems, the Strider track, kids’ races, etc. I’m hoping next time we go Mini Toast might be a bit more into biking, and able to hang out with the Little Rippers lot! It was very entertaining to see tiny children bopping around to late 80s/early 90s dance.

I’d hoped to demo some bikes over the weekend, so we didn’t take our bikes – but alas, there was nothing to demo. But it didn’t matter – I’d be able to get out over the Chase on the Monday, with my Intrigue. Which brings me onto the ‘Boooooo!’.

On one climb towards the end of our stay at Glentress, my bike switched itself off, and wouldn’t come back on – the lights would come on for a moment, before going off again. I was a bit wary, but after ten minutes or so it was able to come back on. I resolved to keep an eye on it in case it happened again, but it was solid.

Which brings us onto Monday’s ride, and I bet you can guess where this is going. I’d done a couple of laps of the blue, and was about to embark on Follow the Dog – just under 5 miles, at that point. I was rolling down the end of first section towards the exit when off went my bike.

I was annoyed, and resolved that it needed to go in for warranty – I’d already planned to get it in because of the dropper post having a bit of play in it. I’d just wait for it to come back on, and finish my ride, and hoped that it wouldn’t cut out again.

Only it didn’t come back on. Every few minutes I pressed the button, the lights would come on, then immediately off again. Oh dear.

I pedalled my way back to the car park, testing my bike again before popping it on the rack. Still nothing. Drove the hour or so home, took it off the rack – still nothing.

By the time it went into the local Giant dealer some days later, it managed to come back on. I’d started looking at various forums, and it looks like Giant ebikes have had issues with waterproofing for a couple of years, which haven’t been resolved. The diagnostic codes suggested my bike indeed had issues with water getting in, so now I have to pay £45 for additional waterproofing… as it’s not covered under warranty.

I’m a little bit salty about it – why should I have to pay anything for an issue with a brand new bike? It’s soured my attitude to the brand slightly – my Lapierre Overvolt has ridden in rain and through water crossings with no issues, and is up to nearly 2000 miles (compared to the Intrigue’s 270-odd). I was considering Giant for an e-gravel bike, but I might give them a swerve if they can’t cope with the British weather.

That said, I genuinely love my Intrigue – it rides great when it works, and I hate the idea that I’ll have to get a refund if the further waterproofing fails. But it does seem to be a bit an issue to sell a bike in the UK that can’t cope with water. It’s a mountain bike, not the Wicked Witch of the West. Hopefully the waterproofing will put an end to any more random cut outs!

In memoriam

First up, a content warning – this post is going to be fairly miserable, and not contain anything about biking. Instead, I’m going to talk about my mom, and the last few months of her life. With the whole global pandemic thing going on, I don’t think I’ve really even started to process my grief. Maybe writing it out will help. So, you’ve been forewarned.

Back in May 2019, I took my mom on holiday with my son and dog, whilst Mr Toast was at Google I/O in San Francisco. We went for a slightly less exotic setting, staying at a forest lodge in Sherwood Forest. My son took his balance bike but I remained bikeless – thanks to arthritis, my mom was in no physical shape to look after a toddler and frequently over-exuberant dog.

I have many memories of the trip. My mom was frequently infuriating, funny and kind in equal measure. She adored her grandson, and enjoyed getting out into the forest on her rented off-road scooter – even though she was, quite frankly, a menace on it. She literally ran into Ethan’s balance bike at one point… whilst he was riding it (fortunately no injuries occurred!)

Born to be wild.

However, I noticed that she couldn’t eat as much as she used to. This wouldn’t have been a huge concern, appetites can change as you age, but she admitted that it wasn’t that she didn’t want to eat more – she felt like she couldn’t. She suffered from terrible indigestion and reflux. I told her to go to the doctor when she got back, and she promised that she would.

Despite her usual antipathy towards the medical profession, she did go – I think it had been worrying her for a while, she just needed someone to tell her that she should. An endoscopy was quickly arranged in the following weeks. Leading up to that, we wondered what it could be. I thought perhaps a hiatal hernia, trying to avoid the idea that it would be the original big-C. Sadly, the endoscopy showed what was ‘almost certainly a tumour’, in the words of the doctor.

More tests followed, at a variety of hospitals (Burton! Derby! Nottingham!). My mom said that, even if it was early stage cancer, she didn’t want treatment. She didn’t want her remaining time, however long it was, to marked by hospital visits, surgery and drips.

I sat with her as the oncologist gave her the results. The cancer was advanced and aggressive oesophageal cancer, and there were other tumours around her body. The best but unlikely case scenario, they were all independent primary cancers, but they were most likely metastases – the oesophageal cancer had gone on a tour around her body. I started sobbing uncontrollably. My mom comforted me. She was fine with it – being the eternal pessimist, it was what she was expecting. I was not fine.

She firmly told the oncologist that she didn’t want any chemotherapy or surgery. She didn’t want to ‘drag it out’ and, to be fair, she’d been whimsically pining for ‘happy hunting ground’ since my dad died. She’d seen both her kids happily married and have children, and her arthritis was robbing her of more and more of her independence. I still wasn’t fine with it, but I didn’t try to talk her out of it. Apart from anything else, she was a stubborn old mare, and I knew it wouldn’t have worked.

She carried on in comparatively good health for months. Her bad days of reflux got worse, but, on the whole, she was relatively stable for the rest of the year. We booked a family Christmas meal, not knowing if she’d make it, but she did. She made it to my nephews’ birthday parties, at the end of December, and the start of January.

Then suddenly, she went downhill. She had an extremely nasty fall, and agreed to go to St Giles, the local hospice, for convalescence. They saw the bruising and sent her to A&E at Burton, suspecting that she’d broken something. Fortunately it was ‘just’ bruising, and she stayed at St Giles for a couple of weeks, where she proceeded to be a pain in the arse there. How?

Well, throughout my life, mom had a drinking and smoking habit that would make Keith Richards blush. Remarkably, despite it being a bone of contention through my teens and 20s, she actually managed to cut right back on the drinking in her last few years. However, the smoking remained. I remember the oncologist raising a brow as she explained how she was now only ‘a light smoker’, smoking around 20 a day. Really, it should have been no surprise that she’d come down with oesophageal cancer, more that she hadn’t come down with it earlier.

Anyway, as mom recovered in St Giles, she hit a snag. Quite rightly, you’re not allowed to smoke indoors, and that includes hospices. However, you are allowed in the smoking shelter in the carpark… if you can get there. If you can’t, you have to wait for a relative, as the staff won’t do it (again, quite rightly).

This meant that my mom’s usual greeting as we visited her in the hospice was, “Can you just take me outside?” And lo, we’d roll her outside in a borrowed wheelchair, and she’d proceed to chain smoke 2-3 cigarettes in the space of 15 minutes.

After a couple of weeks, after it was evident that she was not going to die imminently, she was sent home. She was quite irritated by this – not the being sent home, but the being told that she wasn’t going to die any time soon. After a week or so after being at home, she took another downhill turn.

In addition to having a horrendous cough, she started to go delirious. She called the carers murderers. She didn’t know that she had cancer. She didn’t know that dad was dead. She didn’t know that nan was dead. I broke her heart by explaining that nan had died nearly 30 years ago. I wondered if honesty was the best policy. We thought that perhaps the cancer had finally spread to her brain.

My brother and I braced ourselves. We started sleeping on a mattress on the floor, taking care of her as she called out throughout the night. We were exhausted. She said that she wanted to die at home, but she also said that she never wanted to be a burden, and my brother and I were being pushed to our limits. So, back into St Giles she went, to spend her last days.

Except… she didn’t die. She just kept on going, and the doctors decided that, as she was being so stubborn, perhaps they should treat that chest infection.

Antibiotics can work miracles. In a couple of days, my mom was fully lucid again. We explained how poorly she’d been, and she was quite shocked by how she’d ‘lost her marbles’. There was a price though – she’d regained her marbles, but lost the use of her hands. The doctors thought that it was most likely the arthritis rather than the cancer. There wasn’t much to be done.

She received visitors again. She was even well enough that Ethan could see his nanny for one last time. She was well enough to ask him for a Wotsit. He dutifully hand fed her the rest of the pack without prompting.

One of the best things that happened was that her brother, who she hadn’t spoken to in over 25 years, came down from the Lake District to visit her. Although she’d professed that she didn’t want anything to do with him, when she was delirious, she called his name. I think that their estrangement had weighed heavier on her than she liked to admit, and him visiting had laid a ghost that had been troubling her to rest.

Then… then Covid-19 happened. As March rolled on, it was obvious that things were getting worse. The hospice removed all the tea-making facilities, increased the amount of hand sanitiser (which they already had a lot of!), started operating closed-door source control on some of the rooms… then they stopped visitors. Every day I phoned to ask how she was, and the answer was the same. She was stable, unless something acute happened she was fine for the time being. They started talking about moving her to the long-term residents unit, as she evidently wasn’t going to pop her clogs any time soon. My brother went to Cheltenham for a few days, calling me for updates. A few days before Mother’s Day, the hospice said that visitors were allowed again, with restrictions. My brother went to visit. I got her a card. I’d see her on Sunday. My brother started to feel a bit iffy, and had a temperature. He let the hospice know, and they told mom that he was isolating, so couldn’t visit – but I’d be along on Sunday.

It was about 3.30am on Saturday 21st March when my phone started ringing. I recognised the number. My heart started racing. Let’s face it, it was fairly unlikely the hospice were calling to tell me that everything was fine. They told me that ‘something had changed’ and she had started to decline rapidly.

I got dressed, and got in the car for the hour or so drive to the hospice. My brother rang me, distressed. He couldn’t go, he was isolating. I told him I’d keep him updated.

I got to the hospice, and went in to see mom. She was still alive, wheezing and gasping for breath. She said my name a few times, and I sat with her, holding her hand. I told her that it was all right, that it would be all over soon, and that she would be with dad and Robert. I told that I loved her. She replied, “I know”. Those were her last words.

Yes, my mom accidentally quoted Star Wars on her death bed. Way to go, mom!

Her breathing slowed, and she seemed to calm down. Eventually she settled into what looked like a restful sleep, but with her eyes slightly open. I called a nurse. I’ll never forgive the look of pity on the nurse’s face as I asked if she had passed, and she said, “Yes, love, I’m so sorry”. She closed my mom’s eyes, gave me a quick hug then said, “I’m not supposed to do that at the moment”.

Mom died on the day that Boris closed the pubs. Because of course she fucking did.

The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember being in the hospice’s remembrance room, and talking to another nurse as she went over what happened next. She was apologetic, telling me that normally they’d be offering tea and hugs at this point, because of covid everything had to be a bit more clinical. I made a comment about mom being a bit of a pain about us wheeling her out for a cigarette on her first visit. The nurse giggled and admitted they’d found fag butts by the windows that time. My mother, the rebel.

Eventually, I stood outside of my brother’s house, and we shared our grief through a window. He was pretty much a wreck. He had covid, so he felt like shit. Because of that, he hadn’t been there when mom died, so he felt like shit. He didn’t know if mom’s sudden decline was because of covid – we’ll never know, she wasn’t tested – so he felt like shit. It didn’t matter though – after nearly 15 years of saying that she was ready for the knackers’ yard, mom was finally free of pain. We still both felt like shit.

Her funeral arrangements were almost comical. Lockdown was now in full effect, and my mom – or rather, her body – did a tour of the local Co-Op funeral directors. She was supposed to go to Burntwood… but they got furloughed. So she went to Brownhills… then they got furloughed. Then she ended up in Lichfield, and after two weeks of isolating, my brother and I met again over her coffin. To the director’s credit, she looked a lot healthier than when she was alive. We laughed and cried, and prepared for the not-so-big day. Only six guests allowed, we ended up with five. Mr Toast couldn’t go, as he was looking after Ethan – due to lockdown, no-one else could.

I arrived at the crematorium and was surprised that the gates were closed, with a security guard. I confirmed which funeral I was attending, and off I went. The funeral was weird – no hugs from the few that were there – but I took solace in the fact it’d be the last time I had to listen to Barbara Streisand.

As we left, there seemed to be some sort of police yard on the graveyard, with blue flashing lights and officers in stab vests. It turned out that the reason why there was security on the gate was because an earlier funeral had breached the capacity rules by quite a lot, and they didn’t want it to happen again. The police had come and dispersed the crowd, but had returned as some mourners had sneaked back in. I giggled. Mom would have loved the drama.

Here we are, 10 months later. We’ve not got probate yet (because of covid), and so we’ve not sold our childhood home yet, or even managed to get it decorated (because of covid). And most of all, I still can’t believe that she’s gone. I think because EVERYTHING is so weird, it’s hard to grieve properly. I don’t get to see her on weekends, but I wouldn’t be able to anyway, because of lockdown. I can’t phone her every day after picking Ethan up from nursery, because he’s started school, but isn’t at school, because he’s at home, because of lockdown. Sometimes I feel bad because I don’t feel anything, then sometimes I’ll howl with grief because I remember something, like the existence of armchairs.

There’s also a sense of relief that she isn’t here to have her last years marred by lockdown. My mom basically loved three things, her family, smoking, and going out for dinners (sometimes it was questionable whether it was actually in that order). I think the idea of no more cafe lunches or pub dinners would have horrified her – as I’ve said to many a person, her dying on the day the pubs shut was possibly the most on-brand thing she ever did. But it still hurts. The first time I went into a Morrisons cafe (back when ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was the order of the day, before, ‘Oh shit what have we done? Abort! Abort!’) I burst into tears, as I remembered all the times we’d eaten there when I’d taken her to do her shopping.

Anyway, that’s that done. Thanks for coming to my therapy session. RIP mom, you’re dad’s problem again now.

Megan Alma Rigby

May 8th 1944 – March 21st 2020

2020 and the road to recovery

You know, it really was a shame that I didn’t keep up with this blog. The month after my last post, I rode Pivot 24/12 and got a podium place! Third! With a trophy, and everything! Admittedly, there were only four women in my category (12 hour solo, under 40s) – something like eleven had dropped out due to the horrendous weather, which also ended up curtailing the 24 hour race. It would have been a great post. Really uplifting. Look, here I am with my trophy – sadly not on the physical podium, as the wind made it too dangerous.

Instead, I’m posting in 2020. Now, I’m sure everyone’s aware by this point that 2020 has been a bit shit, but I’ve found it particularly… trying. Let’s tick things off the list, shall we?

  • Global pandemic: Got to say, didn’t see that one coming. Here in Blighty we’re currently riding our second wave. Yay.
  • My mom died: OK, we did see this one coming. She was diagnosed with cancer last year, which had already spread, and she actually had relatively good health until the start of this year. I still can’t believe that she’s gone though, and despite our occasionally fractious relationship, I miss her like crazy.
  • I broke my ankle: First time I’ve broken a limb, and I did it on my bike! I tried to peg it up a hill as fast as possible to beat my previous Strava time. It didn’t end well.

Fortunately things are coming around a bit now, and I’m riding more than ever. I’ll possibly detail my recovery a bit more in future posts, so I can look back cheerfully at this amazing year….

Post-natal Blues

I had a pretty easy pregnancy, all things considered.  I managed to get out on the bike a couple of times during the first two trimesters, but being fairly risk averse at the best of times, I took it very steady. I even got a heart rate monitor to make sure that I didn’t go over the oft-cited 140 limit.  This gave me two options:

  1. Flat, easy routes such as Draycote Water and the Stratford Greenway
  2. Riding an e-bike

I generally stuck to 1, but I did get the opportunity to demo an e-bike at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day last year. It was glorious – it was the first time I’ve ever been able to ride up a hill with no knee pain whatsoever. It also created the (probably comical) sight of five month pregnant woman sailing past a load of other riders. I was doing 11mph. Uphill. To put this in context, my Garmin normally autopauses on the same hill because I’m going so slow…

But, just as summer was cranking up, so was my girth, lack of balance and pelvic girdle pain, and it was getting increasingly difficult to ride. One of the hardest things was the feeling of restriction and desperately missing the woods, especially whilst the weather was glorious.

Fortunately my relatively easy pregnancy was followed by a relatively easy birth – unlike his mother, my son was a speedy little fellow (less than four hours, I’ve had longer bike rides!).  Six weeks later I got the OK from the doctor, and went on a short ride down the greenway.  I managed just under ten miles of flat riding without too much grief, but was a bit tender afterwards.  Which isn’t hugely surprising, really.

Since then, I’ve been gradually increasing my riding. It’s been slow going, as I’ve been breastfeeding, so it’s been hard leaving the little fellow, but he takes a bottle well so I’ve been able to get out a bit.

Since he hit the six month mark, I’ve gotten a bit more adventurous and started ‘proper’ riding again. I was hoping to have an ebike when I got back riding, as it make it easier riding through winter, with dodgy knees and baby weight, but after a sensible look at our finances we decided against it. Maybe next year. 🙁

So, it was just me and Devastator. I was a bit worried – it’d be my first real test of fitness.  What if my legs crapped out on me?  What if I couldn’t cope cardio-wise?

I won’t lie, it was tough – I was only doing the blue route, but it was the hardest I’d found it in years.  I loved being out though, although it was cold, and miserable, and my knees hurt.  Happily though, my woes were more muscular than cardiovascular – I hadn’t lost too much fitness, but my joints were still knackered from longstanding injury, pregnancy (hello, relaxin!) and the excess weight I still need to shed.

I’ve been out a few more times over Sherbrook Valley, and once over Dalby blue.  Dalby blue is massively improved since the last time, with more single track added. Again, I struggled a bit – I found the initial climb very tough, and the final descent (hooray for flat bits!).

It’d be so easy to get demoralised, as I have been in the past, but I just loved being out, unperturbed by my shoddiness. Ultimately, I’m in a better place than I was when I first started biking, so I’m sure I can get back to where I was!

An update!

Right, WordPress updated, spam comments about handbags and the Middle East dealt with, and back to the blog!

So, what have I been up to?  Well, some of my racing schedule has been determined this year – I’m giving Mountain Mayhem a miss, sending Mr Toast out to be some sort of giant mountain biking guinea pig at the new venue.  He’s racing with the Chase Trails team of four (Ian, henceforth known as Crazy Ian, is soloing again). Three fifths of the intrepid Chase Trails chaps can be seen here, stalking Pat Adams’ house late at night, which isn’t weird at all.

img_2225Photo taken by famed event photographer Rob Crayton, who hangs outside Pat Adams’ house late at night with a camera.

I’ll be providing moral support… or pointing and laughing.  Time will tell!  At least there will be less chance of rain if I’m not riding…

I will be riding Sleepless in the Saddle though, and I have to confess to contemplating the Wiggle 6 Hour Enduro, which is also at Catton.  After all, six hours is only slightly longer than it took me to do one lap at Mayhem last year! \o/  I’d be soloing it, as Mr Toast is rather bogged down with work at the moment.

I’ve done a bit of riding this year, mostly getting used to..

TTT_first_ride

TEN TON TESS! Also known as Tess of the Hurr Durrbervilles – a Scott Scale Contessa 910 29er. I’ve not taken her on a full ride of Follow the Dog yet, preferring to put the miles in on the tamer fireroads just to get used to her ridiculously large wheels and her quite frankly preposterous wide bars.  I’ve done a bit of FtD on her, and some off-piste-probably-shouldn’t-talk-about-them trails on a group ride.

I’ve also become an aunt twice in the space of two months, so I’m plotting to buy two balance bikes in about 18 months for my nephews.  I’m totally going to live my gnar radcore biking dreams vicariously through them – it’ll be awesome.

Aaaand I’ve also been keeping up with my resolution to get back into drawing more, with my project “A Benny a Week”.  The aim is to produce one piece of art a week featuring my dog, which will hopefully improve my artistic skills.

I should be fairly good at drawing Tibetan Terriers by the end of 2013 at the very least.

So, here’s to more biking, more drawing and more nephews.  Huzzah!

Soon…

Rather tragically, I’ve still not managed to get biking over the Chase this year.  I’ve been over the Chase a couple of times, but it’s normally to allow Mr Toast to ride and me taking t’boy for a walk.  I’m  hoping to get over there tomorrow – I was considering today, especially as it’s bright and sunny (at least, it is here…), but it’s also very cold and I’m a bit phlemgy, and I’m a bit worried about it being icy!

Still, I’ve managed to get some bike time in commuting backwards and forwards from work – with my sister-in-law away for the week, I’ve also been popping back at lunchtimes to check on t’boy.  Getting to work is easy – a five minute ride down a hill.  Getting back home takes a little longer, as obviously what goes down has to lumber back up at some point.  I feel slightly smug though, as a lot of people don’t even bother riding that hill (I’ve even seen people pushing down it… :S), and I’m feeling a lot more confident road riding now.

I’ve got a new pair of biking trousers, so hopefully they’ll get their first outing tomorrow.  We’re also demoing some Orange 5s next week. Interestingly, the 14″ Orange 5 has more standover than The Professor, but is a little longer – I’m interested to see how that would work out for me.  Mr Toast is interested in the new 22″ – he’sbeen pondering a replacement for the Meta for a while, so let’s see what happens.

14/01/12: Pah!

I’ve still not managed to get biking this year, as the dreaded lurgy has struck once more.  Fortunately it’s more of a headachey, passy outy nauseated sort of lurgy rather than a chest infection, so hopefully it’ll pass.  It’s been lingering for two weeks now, stopping me from getting over the Chase. 🙁  We’re hoping to get over there tomorrow, albeit with me on two legs rather than biking.  Benny seems to be calming a bit around other dogs, but is still obsessed with crows, magpies and squirrels.

In a bit of good news, I’ve started Weight Watchers again, despite their buttock clenchingly awful efforts at ‘gamification’, and am pleased to report that I lost 3.5lbs in my first week.  According the NHS’s BMI calculator, this takes me down from being clinically obese to being merely overweight.  Yay! \o/

Only 26lbs to go…

It’s Chriiiiiistmaaaas!

Well OK, it was a few days ago, but I’ve still got a few more days off, so it’s time for an update!

I actually went biking for the first time in two months a couple of weeks ago.  As Mr Toast had been biking the previous time, it was my turn to ride merrily around whilst he walked young master Benny.  Before setting off, I got The Fear – the raging paranoia that I’d lost what little skill I had and end up sliding around on my face.  I get this pretty much every time I’ve had more than a couple of weeks of biking.  And, as usual… I was fine.  Better than fine.  Although my fitness has taken a hit (with the fireroad hill up to section 8 being particualrly brutal), technique-wise I was pretty much as good as I’ve ever been.  It was a bit soggy and muddy, but although I found the boggier sections a bit of a slog, I seem to actually ride faster when it’s a bit wetter.  It seems to a bit gripper than when it’s very dry and dust, and I feel more comfortable going faster.

I did everything I normally do, and more!  Including *trumpet fanfare* the uphill steps on section 11.  Not the first steps, the tiny ones.  No, I minced over them because it looked a bit slidey.  But by the time I got to the proper steps (which I avoided last time), I just thought, “Ah, fuck it”, and ploughed into  them.  And I sailed over them with grace and style.  Well, I went over them, without stopping, and I never felt like I was about to come off or even slip slightly, so… yeah, grace and style.

Thoroughly enjoyed the ride, overtook quite a few people (admittedly it was just because I was taking less breaks between sections than them rather than going faster on the trail itself), and pulled into Birches Valley with a huge smile on my face.  Mr Toast looked slightly exasperated with Benny pulling at every passing dog, person and bird – after an afternoon of dog-sitting on the Chase, he looked more exhausted than I did!

So… Benny.  We’ve had him for over a month now, and he’s beyond adorable.  It’s not 100% smooth sailing – he’s very well behaved in the house (although a bit rude and pushy if people are eating), and we’ve started training him.  He will sit when told, generally will leave food if asked to, then eat it on command, and he’s on his way to learning ‘stay’ (it’s still a bit hit or miss at the moment).  But by Odin’s Raven, you should see him outside! Everything else is infinitely more interesting than his owners – crows, dogs, other people (especially if they have bags).  We’ve only been able to let him off his lead at Cayton Bay, as it’s completely enclosed, and he ran like a mentalist for miles and miles.  He certainly has the stamina and physique for being a trail pooch, but yeah… the training is still very much a work in progress!

So, now… good dog photos!

Benny, realising he can't drive and being concerned about that fact

 

Benny with Mr Giraffe, the one toy he hasn't savaged

 

Look at the dog, not at the cables!

 

Look, sometimes I don't wear biking gear!

 

Supervising

 

Bailey, the fat russell

 

In other news, there’s a Big Build Day over at Cannock Chase on January 8th.  As usual, there’s a raffle and food, drinks and tools provided, and it will involve resurfacing the end of Tackaroo, so you’re only a stone’s throw away from Birches Valley!  Lots of people have been interested in what’s going on over Tackaroo, so if you’re one of them, now’s your chance to find out!  If you’re not, then go and help out anyway.  You might see Benny, and be able to bask in his glory.  Not a euphemism.

HUGE LIFE CHANGING EVENTS!

Written on 18/09/11:

“Move house!

But keep riding!”

Well, one of the above objectives has been successfully achieved.  After some slight panicking – we were told that our objective of moving mid-October was fine… until the first week of October, when we told it would be the end of October.  The eventual moving date left us with two days to move from one house to the other, and completely clean the previous house so we could successfully reclaim our deposit.

After claiming our house, our weekends have been taken up with visits to Ikea, assembling the rather large quantity of goods from Ikea, and accepting visits from proud parents, our quest for domestic bliss was not yet over! No, there was something missing, a responsibility that we felt we were now ready for…

 

 Yes, we now have a new family member in Toast Towers – Benny Lava, the Tibetan Terrier cross.  We got him from the Dogs Trust – he was sweet, affectionate, full of beans, and SWEET MERCIFUL ZEUS JUST LOOK AT THAT FACE!  THAT MOUSTACHE!  THAT TAIL!  And Tibetan Terriers are Jez Recommended (TM).  Although Jez rides luminous bikes that look like they’ve been vomited out of the 1990s, but still, we trust his dog judgement.

We couldn’t decide what to rename Benny.  There were many names mooted then dismissed – Loki (already taken by Alex’s labradoodle), Noodles (could be shortened to Noo Noo, which is horrible), Domino (that’s a girl’s name!), Fruitcake and Turbo Cat (just… no).  Instead, we watched the Benny Lava video, and decided that Benny wasn’t such a bad name after all.  Although he does occasionally get called Lava Face.  He also looks quite a lot like Hairy Maclary:

 

 

He’s settling in well – it took us a few attempts to find a suitable food that agreed with him, but he’s doing nicely now.  He needs to put on some weight, and have quite a lot of training.  Hopefully he’ll be able to join us on our biking adventures, but if not, we’ve worked out plans for alternate riding and even looked into dog trailers.  Obviously we won’t take him out if he’s unable to run alongside safely – don’t want to break the sweet little lad (or anyone who might run into him, could be a child’s face next time, etc…)

We’re planning on taking him on his first trip to the Chase on Sunday to meet the trailbuilders – hopefully he’ll cope with the car journey OK, we’ll have to wait and see!  We’re also hoping to get biking again soon, I’ve ordered some winter gear to keep me snuggly.  Fortunately my sniffles and sore throat cleared, so no repeat of the past two year’s winter illness so far (thanks to everyone who’s been concerned!).  I’ve also got a new pannier rack for my Inbred, which is quite exciting (hey, trust me on this).  Sadly the route into work from our new house isn’t as nice as the previous one down the canal towpath, but we are now quite close to the four cross course and The Bike Yard, which arranges local mtbing rides.  Yay! \o/

Blimey…

Finally received a reply from Jeremy Wright MP.  The reply was surprising in some respects, less so in others.  I guess I’d already resigned myself to it being a fairly cut and paste job – there were a few insults thrown at the Labour party (they did it first, but worse!), and general reassurance that selling off the forests was the correct thing to do because they’d be better managed and it’d reduce the conflict in interest in having the FC regulating the timber trade whilst also being a producer. I really don’t know if that’s his genuine opinion, or if he just puts the party line ahead of constituents’ concerns.

Surprising was his guarantee that all access rights were going to be preserved, so that people could continue to walk, cycle and ride their horses in their forests exactly as they had before. He claimed this was in the consultation, and I should fill it in.  Which is funny, because I’d already filled it in, and it hadn’t really made me think they’d given much thought to permissive rights of way.  He didn’t respond to my questions about what would happen to businesses currently located on Forestry land (bike shops/hire, cafes, riding schools, skills tutors, etc), although maybe it’s because it’s a moot point if all access rights were to be guaranteed.  I did kind of get the impression that he didn’t actually know the difference between permissive and CRoW routes though…

The other surprising thing was he replied by mail.  As in, ‘letter on paper through the letterbox’ mail.  Blimey.  I would have preferred an email – it’s how I contacted him, and I was always told that responding in the same format as one had been contacted in was preferable etiquette.  Not to mention that emails save paper and ink, so is better for the environment, and also saves money on customised stationary.   MP stationary is HEAVY.  The paper quality is Proper Posh (TM) – weighty, nice finish… you could paper a room with it!  And maybe an email would take slightly less than two weeks to arrive.

But all that is fairly moot, as two days later the government did a much-welcomed U-turn.  I guess having the majority of voters (regardless of political persuasion) hating you is probably a bad thing. In a way I hope it might turn out to be a good thing – the government have seen how far and wide opposition to the plans are, they’re now going to have to ensure access rights to the smaller amount land they do sell off or lose face… and most importantly, people are now more likely to be aware of any future sales, and know that people power and community concerns can work for change.