Category Archives: commuting

In which there are swings and roundabouts

And it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, blah di blah di blah blah. Rhubarb rhubarb.

I’ve got a new job. It’s an internal move, so I’m not sure when it will start, but on Friday I drafted the job spec for my current role because I’m sticking around to help recruit my replacement. It’s an odd thing, writing a description of the job you do. The weeks mostly go by in a blur of meetings and emails, but you know what? I do a lot. At the same time, a cool reappraisal shows there are skills I don’t have that this role needs now. So it’s a good thing that I’ll be moving out of the way.

The new job is big and scary, beyond my experience and out of my comfort zone. That’s why it appealed to me and why I’m taking it. Hurrah for age and experience, because I may fall flat on my face and when I was younger, I wouldn’t have risked that.

This morning I got my car serviced, and as I’ve almost hit the mileage with about 18 months to go on the lease, I asked about changing it. Well. The story was not the one I wanted to hear. Turns out that there’s not a whole lot of an interest in a high performance car with 50k miles on the clock in under three years. I’m downgrading and I still have to put in a reasonable deposit to contribute towards depreciation and the gap between what I owe and what the current car is worth.

But. I can cover the deposit, and there were plenty of times in my life when that wouldn’t have been the case. Yes, it’ll be a hit on my savings but no one marched me into a Mercedes dealership three years ago and put a gun at my head to make me lease an extravagant car. I didn’t know then I’d be clocking roughly 20,000 miles a year.

So I write this on Saturday evening, sitting in the kitchen sink… Oops, I mean at the kitchen table, with a glass of wine. There’s a vase of flowers in front of me, bought for me because of a perception that I had a tough morning. I’ve got Thursday’s country music show playing while I cook dinner and I spent the afternoon reading a novel.

I’m a fortunate woman.

You don’t have to say you love me

Just buy a pint of milk on your way over.

Well, seriously. Color me old and cynical, but these days I’ll trade the words ‘I’ll make dinner’ for any number of compliments and flowery phrases.

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately: Leicester, Rotherham, Leeds, Staines, Windsor, Newcastle, Edinburgh. The roll call of glamorous locations just doesn’t start, but the miles still add up. I’ve spent far too many nights in indistinguishable crappy business hotels, eating shitty, on-the-road food. When I get home, the cupboards are bare, the fridge is half full of decaying vegetables and sour milk, and my relationship with the cats is reduced to filling food bowls for mysterious creatures I never see.

Over the last several weeks, domestic routines have gone completely to pot. I’ve not been here long enough to get things properly back on track by, I don’t know, cleaning the bathroom or buying real food. And also, I’m knackered.

So right now, anyone who was making my life more difficult would be getting pretty short shrift. Anyone who had ridiculous expectations, such as that I might not shuffle round in pyjamas, or that I might actually talk to them, would be SOL.

Fortunately, instead, a miracle happens. Food appears, and is sometimes cooked. Movie tickets are just booked. The newspaper turns up, so I can do The Times crossword on Saturday morning. People – there are Jaffa Cakes. Someone is picking up the slack, and it isn’t me.

I’m drinking tea made with milk that I did not buy. That is romance.

On urban cyclists

On the rare occasions when I do cycle, a primary aim is to be visible to motorists. Partly because as a driver myself, I know how invisible cyclists can be; and partly because, as a cyclist myself, I know you can’t trust the useless car-driving bastards to be paying attention.

What I don’t understand is why so many of Oxford’s cyclists have a death wish. I don’t want to run them over, I really don’t. Mostly. But why do they have to make not running them over so bloody difficult? I’m not getting into the whole drivers vs cyclists debate, here. Everyone has a right to use the road, there are faults on both sides and until both sides show a bit of respect for (a) each other and (b) the rules of the shared road, the problems won’t be resolved.  Which will likely be never. But in the meantime, the sad truth is that even if some cyclists feel they are safely occupying the moral high ground, it does not provide them with a force-field of invincibility.

So:

  1. If, as a cyclist in the dark, you are wearing all dark clothing and have no lights or anything reflective, I can’t see you. You can literally seem to appear out of nowhere, even when there are street lights and headlights. Go out in a car, at night, during rush hour and take a look some time. Would you see you? No, you fucking wouldn’t.
  2. You are then reducing my chances of not hitting you even further when you wander vaguely into the middle of the road without bothering to check if anyone has spotted you in your special cyclist’s urban camouflage gear.
  3. Yes, I know you made eye contact, but this is a lump of metal. It doesn’t stop instantaneously, even from a low speed, and that is not my fault. It’s something to do with the laws of physics.
  4. Why are you scratching your ankle…? Oh, it’s a turn signal that you’re just too cool to make properly. Oh look, now you’re on the ground and quite broken. How cool is that?
  5. I was just wondering, is your head actually made from some unbreakable material? Oh, it’s not? Interesting.

Your safety? It’s a joint responsibility.

On the deadliness of routine

The problem with being inherently lazy and having a boredom threshold roughly on a level with that of the cats (‘Oh, that’s interes… never mind, I’m doing something else now’) is that in order to do pretty much anything in a day, I need some structure.

The problem with the 9-5.30, 5 days a week in the office structure, is that it makes my soul itch and breeds foul rebellion in my dark heart. I dislike even the necessity of setting an alarm clock to make sure that my regimented day gets off to its timely start. It’s that measuring out one’s life in coffee spoons feeling that I kick against, like a surly teen at a bus shelter. Give me back my time, you bastards, I can manage it far more efficiently and pleasantly.

I’ve been working consistently for too, too many years already and I get my  job done. Ultimately, no matter how boring, however much I really don’t want to edit that manuscript, write that email or decipher that fucking Excel spreadsheet, the work happens near enough on time. The few interesting things happen sooner, of course, but I’ve got some annoying completeness gene that won’t allow me to let stuff slide too much.

This is in no way related to any silly goals that have been set, or alleged SMART objectives, or bonus schemes, because all of that HR crap is just so much pointless form-filling. Three points here: (1) I’ll do what needs to be done, regardless of what your funny bits of paper say; (2) bonuses are bullshit, hire competent staff and then pay them well to start with:  if you need to incentivise with more money then let me refer you back to the beginning of point (2);  (3) Netflix? If that ‘Freedom & Responsibility Culture’ stuff is true, call me, ‘kay?

Getting stuff done is also not related to whether I’m in the office, at home, out for lunch or wandering round the shops. I can think anywhere, I can handle email from most places and I can write at 8 in the morning or 10 at night. Generally I think more clearly and work better between about 6am and 9am. Which is why, of course, it makes sense that I spend that time getting up, showered, dressed, eating breakfast and sitting in traffic, so I can arrive at an arbitrarily designated building just in time to start winding down for a bit.

Sing ho! for the industrial day in the post-industrial age.

This cycling life

That’s a bit of an overstatement, really. I’ve been to work and back a few times (about 10-12 miles each way) and on a short ride round here once. There is a fundamental misunderstanding between me and the guys in the bike shop: they think I aspire to be a cyclist and so have started showing me cycling shoes and talking about ‘Attacking the hills’; I just want to get to work without traffic hassle, including, eventually, maybe, up the hill in Wootton.

I quite like cycling again, though. It’s a good way of appreciating Oxford’s wonderful flatness and unavoidable head winds. You would think that if you were cycling into the wind in one direction and then changed direction, you would no longer be cycling into the wind. That is only if you have never cycled in Oxford, where the wind comes from all directions at the same time. Often with a handful of drizzle in it, just for the hell of it. (The calendar says it’s June out there. I say, the calendar knows fuck all: it’s October and other than a brief foray into July that happened in May, it’s been October since April.) I sort of prefer it as cycling weather, though. On a sunny day, I’d much rather be jauntering about in the BMW of Expense. Cycling can’t compete with driving for sheer fun, but it is practical in this bike friendly, car choked city.

It’s also insidious. Already, the distance to work doesn’t feel all that far and a hill that I’ve previously walked up, begging for breath, just disappeared today. Perhaps I am beginning to understand gears?  I’m getting to know my bike better than I ever did when I used it in the US, and ambiguity has turned to appreciation. Now that I’ve got panniers, even all the kit (lights, light chargers, incredibly heavy bike lock, waterproofs) is much easier to deal with.

So, I suppose I’ll keep going. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the trip has become manageable, almost comfortable. It’ll be 16-17 miles each way to the new job, and that’s gone from seeming like something I’d have to work towards, to a reasonable proposition. In another month, I suspect I won’t notice the extra miles at all. O frabjous day! Exercise achieved without really noticing.

The going gets tough

And the not very tough don’t have any time. Look. I’m tired and on the train and a bit tipsy. This is when NaBloPoMo gets hard. Which is a bit pathetic considering I am only a few days in. But all I have done today is sit in meetings and attend a product launch party, so there has been no space for creative thinking at all. Oh, and get volunteered to be part of a panel at ALA. There is no escape. I am resigned to ongoing anxiety.

I’m sure this won’t be the only time this month when I lack inspiration, so my poppets, is there anything you have a burning desire for me to waffle about? I aim to please. Well, sometimes. All right, not very often. But this offer is genuine! Ish.

Another week, another…

  • sprinkling of snow, which made the roads treacherous so I drove slowly and missed my train by 2 minutes and was 20 minutes late for a meeting (and yet still missed nothing)
  • 15 meetings in total. Work is a bit crazy at the moment. I have taken to blocking out time on Fridays in my calendar so it already looks as though I’m in a meeting but in fact so I can do all the work I didn’t do all week, due to being in meetings. This is not all that stressful because if anything, I prefer to have slightly too much to do. But it means my mind kicks up a gear and won’t stop, leading to…
  • shitload of TV watched. Not actually on TV, of course, but Hulu is my downfall. I’m finding by the end of the day I’m too tired to read and my mind is whirring so I can’t relax. This would be the ideal time to be studying for a course, because I do find that the immersive concentration necessary wrenches my mind away from whatever it’s whirring about, and then I can eventually calm down. In lieu of that, and at the other extreme, there’s the opiate of TV. I’ve been watching Lie to Me and am developing a crush on Cal Lightman.
  • 2-day headache. WTF was that?
  • failed batch of banana walnut muffins. I have no idea what I did wrong but these were muffins of the hilarious, wife-can’t-cook, sit-com variety. The only appropriate word is ‘leaden’.
  • weekend greeted with relief. I might go an see An Education. I’m definitely going to yoga. Therein, the sum of my plans.