Ding a ding dang my Ding a Long Ling Long

For this weekend’s adventures, I travelled across the border to Wales. It’s the first time I’ve ridden in Wales for over five years. To be exact, the last time I rode Llandegla, it was June 14th 2015 – my 35th birthday. I don’t think I even rode the red, instead sticking to the blue.

Today, in an effort to be MORE AWESOME. I decided that I was going to do the red. Everyone uses Llandegla as an example of an ‘easy’ red, I’d done it in the past and it had been quite friendly. What could go wrong?

To start with, the weather was uncooperative. When I booked this escapade, it was supposed to be cloudy, but dry. As the weekend drew closer, the forecast became increasingly grim. First, the prediction of rain, and the percentage chance increasingly ticking up. Then, joy of joys, the suggestion of thunderstorms and lightning in the afternoon. DEEP JOY.

I ventured out this morning, determined not to be deterred (and also determined not to waste the hotel and petrol cost of the weekend). It was, quite frankly, pissing it down.

“Aaaalways look on the briiight siiide of life!

I worked my way up Llandegla’s climb, getting increasingly saturated. Fortunately, the ebike made easy work of it, and I found myself at the top feeling rather cheerier than I would have done if I’d had to grind up a 2 mile hill in the pissing rain on a normal bike. Naturally, the first time up I stopped to take a photo by the Black Grouse sculptures. IT IS TRADITION.


I was in two minds over whether to start with the red or the blue. I eventually decided on the red, hoping that it would be a little quieter first thing in the morning than a later attempt.

The red was, for the most part, even easier than I was expecting. I had to dismount one of the early descents (that runs parallel to the black-graded jumps), but that was because there were literally branches hanging over the trail at face height. It felt a little melancholy – the trail is good fun, but it’s… well, there’s no nice way of putting it. It’s ugly as sin. Llandegla is a working forest, and a good chunk of the red runs through heavily deforested areas. So whilst the trail itself is entertaining, you don’t get the wow factor or sense of speed that you get when zipping through the trees. I think it’s also battering the trails a little too – it was a lot rougher and rockier than I remember it being, and I’m not sure whether it’s my memory playing tricks, or whether the trails are suffering more from erosion being exposed without the trees for protection.

All went well until I was relatively close to the end, where there were a few things that forced me to dismount. The first was on the Golden Trail – I rode the boardwalk cautiously, but hopped off right at the end as there’s a drop off. It was actually relatively small, and I think I could have rolled it with a bit of speed, but I erred on the side of caution (I did watch another rider clip his bottom bracket plopping off the end).

It unnerved me a little, and then there were two downhill turns that had me walking. They were similar to some of the turns on the Verderer’s, but with much steeper exits. It was raining, I was feeling a little on edge, so it was a hard NOPE.

The last bit was on Julia’s Trail – there were some nasty climbs with accursed uphill switchbacks, and a steep climb with lots of loose rocks. Even on the ebike, I didn’t fancy it, so I pushed up. This is now a walking blog.

It was worse if you were there, I swear

I was still pretty chuffed with my efforts as I finished the trail, but also slightly miffed. My plan was to do the blue next, but… I’d accidentally paused my Garmin on the red, and forgot to unpause it for a couple of sections. Obviously if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count, so… onto the red again!

I was even more comfortable this time around, but split onto the blue to avoid those tricky sections that had thrown me on my first lap. Interestingly, the blue section I rode can only be ridden if you bail from the red at that point – it’s not part of the blue loop proper. I’m also pretty sure that it’s made up of an old original red section, and used to be part of the blue when I rode it six years ago, but I wouldn’t swear to it. In any case, the Llandegla trailbuilders have been busy, and have done a great job.

There was lunch…

If my Slimming World consultant sees this, I have no idea what it’s doing here. I chucked it in the bin, or something.

… and then the blue in full!

The draw distance was terrible…

I really enjoyed the blue, and was kind of gutted I only got to ride it once. It seemed to have a bit more of a fun factor, and was more rewarding for the climbs, but it’s possible that I was feeling particularly well disposed as it had finally stopped pissing it down, and I’d just eaten cake. I did plot a second lap of the blue, but I realised that my battery was a little low, so I played around on the skills course and did a few laps of the green.


I once again emerged at the trailhead, and tried to wash my bike. I’m staying in a Premier Inn, so I needed to get it as clean as possible. I also looked like an absolute mess…

Wonky helmet? Oooh, errr, etc.

…and everything was covered.

Fortunately, I’d had the hindsight to pack some clean clothes for the drive back, so I didn’t have to do a muddy walk of shame through the Premier Inn foyer – plus, the driver’s seat in my car also avoided a slimy fate. Less fortunately, my dirty biking clothes are fermenting in my car. I think the drive back tomorrow is going to stink. My nice new Camelbak (and the bike *cough*) has had a rinse off in the shower – which reminds me, I need to check for gritty residue.

All in all, a most excellent day.

(Btw, if anyone is wondering why the title of this entry is quoting the Jesus Built My Hotrod lyrics – it’s because, for some reason, Llandegla is nicknamed ‘Ding Dong’ amongst my friends… and it’s a banging tune).

October. Bleugh.

Well, it’s been an odd few months. Confession time: I haven’t actually been on my bike since October, a thoroughly miserable little factoid there.  When I was first made redundant, I did vaguely have this dream that on days in between looking for work, I could get some extra miles in over the Chase.  Unfortunately, as time went on, I realised that the £20+ in fuel it cost to get to and fro the Chase was financially a bit irresponsible – especially as the statutory redundancy claim was taking longer than expected to sort out.   

It was, all-in-all, a pretty grim cycle of misery for a few months – I felt guilty about doing anything ‘fun’, as ‘fun’ wasn’t looking for a job or improving my skills.  Jobs were scarce, and each week that passed made me feel more useless. The redundancy claim was a fairly fraught process, with an investigation dragging it out, and leading to the delightful conclusion that my role had been TUPEd to another unrelated company.  I was informed that I’d technically resigned by refusing a job at the company in Oxford, so wasn’t entitled to anything other than my owed wages, which I’d have to claim from a company I’d never worked for. There was misery, there was despair, a fair bit of anger… put it like this, if I was strong in the Force, I would have been full on Sith and shooting lightning out of my fingertips, with Yoda looking a bit disappointed.  There was also a fair bit of weight gain – winter eating combined with no exercise plays cruel, cruel tricks on my waistline.  The weather went terrible, and EVERYTHING WAS RUBBISH.

Fortunately, things started to turn around.  The company that I was supposedly TUPEd to got their lawyers involved, and I ended up getting my statutory redundancy, loss of notice and unpaid wages/holiday after all.  Money may not buy happiness, but it pays the bills and buys motorbikes, so that was a plus.  I then managed to not only get my career back on track, but to give it a massive boost – I’m now working on two awesome projects for a company that helped shaped my childhood, and am professionally the happiest I’ve ever been.

And I’ve also taken up a new hobby – archery.  Longtime readers (if there are any) will know that I often talk of my love of Lord of the Rings, and my childhood desire to be an elf – ride a horse, live in a tree, have awesome hair, shoot a bow.  Well, I tried riding a horse, didn’t like it, but mountain biking is close.  Living in a tree is impractical, but we have a semi-detached and a mortgage. Hair… well, I try. 

But archery… I’ve been wanting to do it for years, and I finally managed to complete a beginners’ course which demonstrated that I wasn’t going to have anybody’s eye out, and joined the local archery club.  I was surprised at the bewildering array of stuff that you can get for recurve bows (my weapon of choice) – sights, long rods, clickers, etc. I’ve now got the basics, and have hopefully passed the ‘excruciatingly bad’ starting period, where my arrows were landing in strange and unpredictable places.  Unless you predicted ‘on the floor’ – then they weren’t that predictable.  Sometimes I would hit the target… just not the one I was aiming at.  Turns out you should keep your head still when shooting, instead of bobbing it around like an angry pigeon or like the possessed lass in The Exorcist.  WHO KNEW? But it’s great fun, will hopefully do something about my feeble upper body strength (18lb draw weight…), and will stand me in good stead for any forthcoming zombie apocalypse.

So now, I’ve just got to get back on the bike.  I’ve suffered from a lack of enthusiasm because of the weather, but now it’s starting to be less awful, I’m actually a little bit scared.  Scared to see how much fitness I’ve lost over six months, scared because people will be laughing at the fat girl on the expensive bike, scared because what if I’ve forgotten how to mountain bike and hurt myself on the Steg, or on the exit to section 8. What if people laugh?

But screw that – I can’t solve any of those problems unless I get back riding.  So this weekend I’m going to the Specialized Demo Day, so if anything terrible happens I can blame it on an unfamiliar bike (I’m also quite interested in the Rumour, as it looks like it might be a new-full susser that fits me). So if you see a tubby lass wobbling around – go easy on her, yeah?

Well, that escalated quickly…

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.

Interesting times!

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…


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/

The most wonderful time of the year

Regular readers will know that, for the past two years, I’ve spent most of the winter suffering from a recurring chest infection.  I was hoping that this winter I’d manage to avoid it, but last week I started to feel a bit iffy.  I actually had to have some time off work as I sweated, coughed and snuffled, hoping that I’d feel better by the weekend.  I didn’t.  Instead, I spent most of the weekend sleeping, with occasional breaks in my busy sleeping schedule to watch Fringe, Supernatural, and to make pathetic whimpering noises at Mr Toast.

Izzy from PR has an interesting theory.  We work in the games industry, where women make up a paltry 6% of the dev force.  This means we are surrounded by men.  The theory is this:  by such excessive exposure to men, we have become susceptible to man-flu.  And thinking about it, it’s the only possible explanation – when I was younger, I would have laughed in your face if you’d suggested I’d be taking time off work because of a cold.  A bit snuffly?  Sore throat?  Hacking cough?  Headache? Pah!  Deal with it!  Nowadays I get a cold and it feels like I’m one step away from shuffling off the mortal coil.

So, no biking this weekend.  Biked into work this morning and am currently ‘interestingly phlegmy’. Hard to believe it was only the weekend before we were biking in Wales in the glorious warmth. 🙁

In an effort to improve my health, I’m also trying to lose weight.  I’m hoping that public shame will help motivate me, so… I’m currently 11 stone 4, trying to get to sub-10 stone.  I’ve always struggled with my weight – being 5ft 2 means that I don’t have a huge margin for error, and I really, really like cake.  And cheese.  And I hate fruit.  To give you an idea of how much I hate fruit – if there’s a dessert, an ice-cream sundae, or a cheesecake, for example – and it has been soiled with fruit, I will shove the fruit off to the side, grimacing.  Rasperries?  Strawberries?  Blueberries?  Bleugh!  And why ruin a good crumble with apple?

Yes, I’m aware that my hatred of fruit and my chronic immune system may not be entirely unrelated…

And on another unrelated note, some trailbuilders in Sandwell are trying to secure funding to built some trails.  You should vote for them! The more legal trails that are about, the more people can get introduced to mountain biking, which is ace.