no spoke without fire*

I have been cycling to work since around 2006. It started as a vague attempt to get fitter and save money, but ended up becoming something I genuinely enjoyed.  Nowadays I only commute by public transport if I really have to and it makes me so grumpy and irritable that’s it’s best all round for everyone if I just get on my bike. The biggest unexpected benefit of cycling to work was far fewer illnesses – not just because you are a little fitter and healthier but because you are not in the plague pits of the tube or a London bus during rush hour. One zombie-lurgy ridden commuter sneezing on the tube can infect the entire carriage. I try not to think too hard about what sort of gross things that might be living on the seats or handrails.

I took the cycling proficiency test as a child, and cycled pretty much everywhere up until my bike was stolen shortly after graduating from University.  With my massive graduate debt and having got a job far from where I was living I didn’t bother to replace it. Therefore  before I took the plunge into full time cycle commuting six years later I dusted off my copy of the highway code and re-familiarised myself with the rules of the road.

Full Disclosure: I don’t drive. In fact, I can’t  drive. I owned a copy of the highway code from taking driving lessons in my early twenties. I struggled a great deal with the driving lessons. An hour into my second lesson my driving instructor said, “It’s ok, some people just aren’t meant to drive” which in retrospect was not as reassuring as he probably intended it to be. My problem with driving wasn’t about using the road so much as using the car. I couldn’t understand the gears. I couldn’t get a sense of how much space on the road I took up. I didn’t like not being able to feel or see where I was on the road, or be able to judge or control my speed. Reversing was completely unfathomable. I particularly didn’t like the way I couldn’t trust any other bugger on the road.

Cycling is completely different – you know where you are and how much space you take up because you can see it, you don’t have to sense it. You know exactly how fast you’re going because you can feel it, and you can control your speed with your own body. Cycling feels so natural to me, and every bike I’ve owned that I’ve truly loved has felt like an extension of my own body. Having a bike you love stolen almost feels like someone has stolen a part of you.

I enjoyed commuting by bicycle from my very fist week – discovering new parts of London by accident when getting lost, exploring different routes (fast ones by main road, longer but safer back streets, pretty but muddy off-the-beaten-track routes…) and was never without my battered A-Z in my bike bag (this has been replaced with a smartphone with GPS navigation app – because we LIVE IN THE FUTURE). It amused and irritated me in equal measure when people said “Oh you’re so BRAVE cycling in London. I wouldn’t dare!” or “Isn’t cycling very dangerous?”. I always reassured those people that it was wonderful – as long as you knew what you were doing and cycled safely it was no more dangerous than walking to work. I had a few near misses over the years – a few car doors nearly opened into my face; a few incidents where I was run off the road by boy racers or white van men; one nasty incident where I was actually groped by a man in a van while trying to turn right off a main road. But the near misses were occasional and the benefits of cycling to work far outweighed the downsides.

Things have started to change though, which is strange because over the last couple of years cycling has become hugely more popular – particularly in London and in the area in which I live/work in East London.

While  cycling has become more popular over the last few years it also feels like it’s become far more dangerous. I am having near misses regularly, and experience considerably more aggression from motorists. I am regularly run off the road by irritated, angry or oblivious drivers and am frequently verbally abused, often being told that I ‘don’t belong on the road’.

I’ve thought a lot about why this might be. There’s been much discussion over the last few months about cyclist safety, following a series of tragic accidents where 6 cyclists were killed in London within a fortnight. Every article, be it pro-cyclist or pro-car ended up the same – with a big debate in the comments section full of the same complaints. Motorists don’t look. They don’t indicate. Cyclists run red lights and don’t stop for pedestrians. Cyclists are too slow and get in the way. Motorists drive in bike lanes. Cyclists ride on pavements. Motorists kill baby seals. Cyclists steal the souls of first born sons. And so on.

I personally feel that part of the problem is this increasing media and Government rhetoric that pitches the cyclist in opposition to the motorist which actually creates conflict and defensiveness on both sides. Setting up cyclists and motorists against each other in to some sort of War of the Road is only going to exacerbate the problem and prevents meaningful change.

Personally I am a law abiding cyclist who obeys road signs and crossings and rides to the highway code. I find cyclists who run red lights and have no regard for other road users hugely frustrating. I also  find pedestrians who run out in front of me on a red pedestrian light, and drivers who run red lights hugely frustrating. I don’t dislike ALL car drivers, or ALL pedestrians, or ALL cyclists simply because I witness SOME of them doing Really Stupid Annoying Shit. A rhetoric which encourages Group A to hate Group B (and vice versa) because some of the Other Group occasionally do Really Stupid Annoying Shit is unhelpful and ultimately dangerous. It has the effect that people can feel justified in shitty behaviour towards each other.  A motorist feels it’s ok to cut in front of a cyclist or pass by too fast or too close because “fucking cyclists go through red lights bastards” and a cyclist feels it’s ok to scrape the side of a car or shout WANKER at someone because “fucking motorists never look and they all hate cyclists”.  Don’t even get me started on the motorists who feel I shouldn’t be on the road because they “pay road tax”. 

As a law abiding road user, I try to share the roads, and would like all road users to do the same, be they cyclists, motorists or pedestrians. I am fed up to the back teeth of every discussion – both in real life and online – of how to increase safety for cyclists being derailed by circular debates on who is the worst road user. Poor road use by some cyclists should not be an argument against putting in safer cycle routes or improving existing dangerous ones.  Poor road use by some motorists should not be an argument for banning cars from certain areas. To be effective it is vital that changes to the transport infrastructure in London  are made holistically; taking into account the needs of the most vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) as well as those of the majority of road users (car drivers) and the needs of London’s economy (public transport, delivery vehicles, HGVs). And I say that as a cyclist.  A fully integrated transport system is possible, but to truly visualise what that could be like we have to drop the Them vs Us/Road Entitlement mentality.

Having said all that I am going to be a massive hypocrite, but this is my blog and I’ll do what I like, YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. I have a few requests to  make of my fellow road users, and to try to lessen the hypocrisy slightly I will make three requests from each group.

Pedestrians:

  • It’s Stop, Look, Listen. Not Listen, I Can’t Hear Anything So I’ll Suddenly Step Off The Kerb With No Warning While Texting Oh Shit I’ve Just Been Hit By A Cyclist.
  • Your child is not a canary. Please look before shoving your pushchair out into the road.
  • A cyclepath is a CYCLEpath. The clue is in the name. No, I am not cycling on the pavement, and it’s not called Smallchildonascooterpath.

Motorists:

  • They are called INDICATORS because they INDICATE. If you don’t INDICATE how is anyone to know where you’re going? Magical unicorn mind reading powers?
  • Please learn what this sign means and stop making rude gestures at me for cycling down this street the opposite way to you.
  • This is rule 163 of the highway code and it’s a good one. Please to be following.

Cyclists:

  • If you see this sign, GET OFF YOUR SODDING BIKE YOU BASTARD.
  • Look behind you regularly, especially if you are planning to move to the right. It is possible that someone is trying to overtake you, and if it’s a cyclist you won’t hear them. If you’re listening to music on headphones you won’t hear anything at all, so how about you especially look behind you if you’re wearing headphones. Or just don’t wear them.
  • Don’t go through red lights. They are either red to allow pedestrians to cross or to allow traffic to pass in the other direction. Also, it’s stupid and dangerous. Oh, and ILLEGAL.

I could go on, but I’d be here all night. And really, all of my bug  bears and annoyances of other people on the road could be resolved thusly:

All road users:

  • Obey the highway code
  • Share the road
  • Use some common sense.

Actually, I could boil that down to one rule, which I try to obey every time I am out on my bike:

  • Don’t be a dickhead.

Thanks to Mr RPD for the punny title.

The benefits of clarity, the price of Tch

The last week of Dry January has been an easy one for me – very few opportunities or temptations as Mr RockstarDinosaurPirate and I are moving into a little flat he’s just bought – he’s on the first rung of a very expensive property ladder. Therefore this week has featured mainly planning, packing, and occasionally camping out in the flat enjoying the empty space before it’s taken over by all of our possessions (we have so much stuff. Oh god. So. Much. Stuff.) The activity and minor stress of the week has left little space for drinking, and I haven’t wanted one.

Mr RDP completed in the week that it was revealed that the average house price in Hackney, where I lived happily for years before moving in with Mr RDP and where I work, is HALF A MILLION. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hackney, I think it’s great, but HALF A MILLION? House prices are high across the country, but in London they are insane.  BabySisterDinosaur (my  half sister is in her mid twenties and she’ll be my baby sister for ever. Even when she’s sixty and I’m seventymumble.) has also recently bought a flat, but in North Devon. The comparison size for size, cost for cost, finish for finish from her place to Mr RDP’s place is not favourable. By comparison, hers is a sprawling perfect palace at a teeny price. Not, of course, if you factor in wage difference etc etc, but it’s hard not to make that comparison.

Daddy RockstarDinosaurPirate and The Wicked Stepmother  (a long used and utterly inaccurate nickname for her, for she is not at all wicked, and is in fact completely lovely)  came to visit this weekend  Daddy Dinosaur is a builder by trade, and he spent several hours happily knocking on internal walls, poking things, making ‘humph’ and ‘tch’ noises, scrambling around in the loft (to my alarm; he’s 60 and needs an artificial hip)  and drawing on the walls. They also live in North Devon, and were shocked at the comparison to BabySisterDinosaur’s flat. I had a copy of a local paper and showed them some of the other properties that are going in our area, where prices have risen about 20% in the last 6 months (partially due to Hackney becoming so unaffordable).  You would naturally expect prices in London to be more, and living here I guess I get a little desensitised to it. Seeing the folks’ reaction to it from the perspective of outsiders really brought it into focus. Especially when Dad started pointing out all the things in the flat that needed doing up, fixing, changing and improving and how much these things might cost. 

Due to excellent planning, entirely typical of the RockstarDinosaurPirate household, Mr RDP is away for the weekend with some old schoolfriends, back late tonight, with the removal van arriving tomorrow. While ‘camping’ at the new place, we discovered that there was a gas leak. This resulted in me camping at the new place on my own for most of the weekend while gas men make ‘tch’ noises at the boiler (illegal) and the pipework (nonsensical). The costs of buying the place itself was bad enough, but all the ‘tch’ noises I’ve heard this weekend seem to add up to lots of ££££. I have been astounded at all the things a survey *doesn’t* bring up.

I suspect that if I wasn’t on my non drinking trip, while camping I would have got myself a bottle of wine or some boozy ginger beers, thinking that they’d cheer me up and make the weekend more fun and bearable – but in the cold light of sobriety it’s clear that actually they would have made me less able to cope with the ‘tch’ news and the early mornings and the bad news. The clarity brought by lack of booze-fog has made being a Practical Grownup so much easier.

Ok, so perhaps being in my pyjamas on a Saturday night by 6pm and watching Miss Marple isn’t the most rock and roll ways to spend a Saturday night, but I didn’t feel sad, or anxious, or lonely. BabySisterDinosaur even commented on my FB this week that “You’re so happy all the time when you don’t drink!”. I made a joke about it on the time, but have been thinking about that comment a lot – have I? Has it been easier to cope with stress and ‘tch’ when you just have to get on and COPE, and not go fuck it, I’ll have a glass of wine to chill out? This is something I’ll have to think about as the months go by. I have had problems in the past with anxiety and depression, and there are clear links between mental health issues and alcohol. I’d never even considered in the early days of my non-drinking experiment that a side effect could be improved mental happiness. I’d been more worried about people thinking I am boring, not going out as I wouldn’t know what to say or how to have fun, and getting more depressed. But perhaps the opposite is true.

Judging by the about of ‘tching’ I can hear from the gas men in the kitchen right now, I am going to be glad I am not spending money on booze as much of it might be needed to go into this flat, and glad of increased resilience over the next few months.

Reward and Punishment

This week has been hard. My job can be pretty stressful at times, and this week – Friday in particular – was really tough.

By the end of Friday I wanted a glass of wine (and wine isn’t usually my go-to drink of choice) so badly that it made me grumpy. Of course the result of the week and that day in particular being stressful contributed to that grumpiness, but the fact I wasn’t able to relieve that stress and grump with a class of wine made it worse.

I am pleased that at no point did I seriously consider just giving in and having a booze – that wasn’t an option and never even entered my mind – but I was keenly aware of how much I wanted one, how I felt I deserved one, and how I ‘knew’ that nothing else would achieve the same result.

I asked on my facebook: “Work day from HELL. What can I do after work that will achieve the same result as a large glass of wine without being alcoholic or fattening?” Continue Reading

Sugar logic

Three weekends in and I’ve still not hit the wall. I’m still enjoying not drinking, and while last weekend had some wobbles there were few this weekend.

The closest I came to a wobble this week was on the countdown to 5pm at work, with a colleague’s leaving drinks and a wedding reception to attend. As the weekend drew nearer I started to feel like there is slightly less joy to that weekend countdown when there’s no glass of wine on the other side of 5 o’clock. It did make me wonder why I have such a strong association with the end of the working week and a booze drink. I think this is pretty typical of our culture; we see that glass of wine/beer/G&T etc as a reward, as a gift to ourself for our hard work. I love my job but it can be stressful at times and my office environment is full of people doing REALLY stressful jobs and there is definitely a link between having that rewarding drink and unwinding and letting all the crap of the week go so you can enjoy the weekend. Some of the drunkest nights I’ve had have been Friday after work drinks with colleagues. I suspect as the year goes on and this gets harder (and I am sure it will, once the novelty wears off) I am going to have to ensure that I make plans for Friday nights or Saturday morning so that I have something to look forward to that isn’t alcoholic. Continue Reading

January continues

On Monday  I went to a free ‘Introduction to British Sign Language’ evening course. I cycled there, and got a bit lost. I stopped to ask for directions and – this being the sort of thing that happens to me –  the dude I ask is deaf. He manages to give me pretty good directions, considering all I know of BSL pre-course is limited to the  finger spelling alphabet and the makaton for ‘biscuit’ and ‘toilet’ due to teenage years spent volunteering with children with special needs. The course was great  – and so I have signed up for the 6 month level one course. Mr RockstarPirateDinosaur pointed out that with the amount I drink, I’ve pretty much paid for the course if I don’t drink for 3 months. A sobering thought indeed.

And so, we’re two weeks into January. We’ve successfully navigated the  allegedly most depressing day of the year, and the dry Januaryists have survived a third of their abstinence. Continue Reading

Introduction to the Rockstar Dinosaur Princess Pirate

When I was 5 I wanted to be a rockstar dinosaur pirate princess when I grew up.

30 years later I am none of these things, although I was briefly one for a while and one out of 4 of such lofty goals ain’t bad.

2014 is the year I will be closer to 40 than 30 and this makes no sense to me whatsoever. When I was 5 and had my rocking giant lizard corsair dreams 40 was so incredibly old I couldn’t even imagine ever reaching it.

2013 was the year I quit roller derby – the only hobby I’d ever truly stuck with – and it left a gaping hole in my life that I soon realised had, pre-roller derby, been filled with drinking, partying and general excesses. I made a list of things I wanted to achieve in the yawning chasm that became my spare time. Here is that list:

  • Learn to sew. Start with cushions, end up with dresses
  • Learn Sign language
  • Start writing again

It’s not a big list. And for the 6 months after roller derby I did nothing with that list other than make a half hearted and not terribly good cushion out of a roller derby t-shirt and ask a friend if I could borrow a sewing machine, which is still sitting in her hallway months later waiting for me to pick it up. The knee injury that hastened my retirement from sport became an excuse to do nothing and eat everything and my weight slowly crept back  up to a level it hadn’t been at since a year on Weightwatchers back in 2002. I let life slide along, not entirely miserable but not exactly happy either. I started to feel like I was somehow participating in my life but not really living it; going through the motions but not really taking part.

Then New Year’s Eve 2013 happened. I don’t quite know what happened – but the short version is I had a horrible drinking experience. Possibly the worst of my life (and I have had some pretty horrible drinking experiences in my time) which lead to much sobbing, several panic attacks, a three day (at least, I’m still living it) hangover. It nearly ended my relationship. It’s a blessing almost that I don’t remember exactly what happened while drunk, but what I have been told makes me very sad indeed. Both the dreadful things I did and said, and the wonderful things that happened that I cannot remember. It made me really think about my relationship with alcohol, and how it has impacted on so many parts of my life.

I have a number of friends doing dry January, which I’d never even considered before. I’ve always been of the belief that January was miserable enough without denying yourself the best escape from that miserableness. But then I re-evaluated that statement. What it is about alcohol that makes it so important in my life? I mentioned to a few people I was considering going off the booze for January, and possibly longer. Reactions were a mix of horror, disbelief, condemnation and ridicule. This only made me think more about how alcohol – in particular social drinking – has taken on this huge significance in my life and that of my work colleagues, my friends and my family. How the act of not just drinking but of *being drunk* is tied up in my psyche. I want to really think about this in 2014 and unpick it.

So back to The List. It has grown, and changed.

  • Learn to sew. Start with cushions, end up with dresses
  • Learn Sign language
  • No drinking for 3 months – re-evaluate on 1st April whether I want to stay off booze for a further 3 months
  • Start writing again – and document my attempts to do all of the above

New Year’s Resolutions can go so horribly wrong, especially when you announce them to the entire world. It remains to be seen whether I will wake up in a pool of my own dribble after a massive bender in two weeks’ time, whether that sewing machine will remain in my friend’s hallway and whether my knowledge of sign language will be limited to the alphabet.

Possibly the hardest thing will be getting into the habit of writing weekly. I can’t even promise that my weekly posts will be about The List – I have a tendency to get an idea or a rant in my head which has to come out – so future posts might even cover feminism, politics, society, animals, the weather or whatever it is that has made me think or feel or cross or cheerful that week. I am open to suggestions.

So to sum up, just as I am not the  Rock Star Dinosaur Pirate Princess I aimed to be when I was 5, this experiment of mine may turn out to be something quite different than where it started – with The List. But much like those intervening 30 years, it could also turn out to be just as interesting.