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.

Down and back again

Goodness, but I’ve been sick, with a truly horrendous cold of the sort that delivers a new batch of foul symptoms every day and migrates from throat to head to nose to chest to ankles and anywhere else it feels like, on a more or less hourly basis.  I spent the whole of last week in a fog of unreality, feeling vaguely as if I was underwater the whole time. Disgusting. I had no business being at work, but I was, of course, because having emailed in sick on Friday and then again on Monday, I really felt as though I couldn’t send yet another email on Tuesday. I can only hope that I didn’t actually do anything in the office. It seems unlikely, considering that ‘Do you want a cup of tea or some more water?’ proved to be a complete facer of a question. 

As well as literally the worst illness I have had in the last 4-5 years, a bit of a Domestic Incident happened last week. I’m not going to go into details, because it’s a tawdry tale of the sort that constitutes many a soap opera sub-plot. Suffice it to say that my husband screwed up on a very large scale and although I would be entirely justified in having him killed and eaten by bears, I have not done so. Yet. Possibly because I was too ill to think of it (Mem: look into bears, death by). The Incident was revealed to me on Sunday and it took me until Wednesday to wrap my head around it, in large part because the Sickness meant that’s about how long it took an entire thought to process. 

A pleasing side effect of my mental slowitude and complete inability to frame a sentence was that my husband really thought I wasn’t talking to him and that was part of his punishment. Which is fine by me. I’m still feeling punitive, as a matter of fact. I managed to drag myself to Kate Spade, so that helped, but this is not the sort of thing that is over and done with that fast. Or cheaply. I’m feeling that administering a good kicking in the savings account will help bring about equilibrium. After all, I’m seven years’ younger and higher earning. Savings are not as important to me as, say, pretty, shiny things from Tiffany’s and that evident wince of pain as the balance in the account plummets. 

The other side effect of focusing mostly on getting to work and back without crying in public or yelling in uncontrollable fury when I did get home, was that I basically just thought about me. I shook off all feeling of responsibility about getting home on time to have a conversation before I went to bed, and simply scrambled through my week in any way that worked for me. What a revelation! I realised that I live permanently on some ridiculously stressful timetable as I attempt to fit more into a day than is strictly feasible. Because we had some horrible times when I first started commuting, and the burden of guilt for not being around very much landed firmly on my shoulders, I’ve been carrying it there for at least the last nine months. In addition to that, I’ve been beating myself up about whether I get to the gym 3-4 times a week. 

This is the litany that used to run through my head: I’ve got to be in bed by 9.30pm so I can get up at 5.30am so I can get the 6.53am train so I can get to work for 8ish so I can leave work at 4.30pm so I can get to the gym by 6.15pm and still be home by 8pm so I can see Mike for a bit before I go to bed at 9.30pm so that I can get up at 5.30am… If I missed any of those deadlines, I would immediately start recalculating and damage limitation exercises. I’m going to take a guess and say that, for those of you with kids, that mental chant is probably even worse. Shudder.

Well, I’m off that treadmill. Materially, nothing much has changed. I need my sleep, the bills need my job. What I’m not going to do is to hold myself to an impossibly strict daily routine that fills up my head with its insane mutterings all the time. I’m going to be selfish – if I sleep in, or don’t leave work at 4.30pm and so end up on a later train, so be it. So maybe I’ll have less time at home of an evening, but then again, if I’m not so frazzled all day with running very fast to stand still, maybe that hour will be better than the hour and a half used to be. Or maybe it won’t, but that’s just tough.


I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because it is a certain way of ensuring that I absolutely don’t follow through. Thus it is clear that my suspicion of authority figures extends even to myself, and the only way for me to get me to do unpleasant things is for Motivated Me to sneak up on I’d Prefer To Read All Day Me and trick me into things. For example, I can sometimes persuade myself to go to the gym when I am nearing the end of an audio book because I so badly want to hear the end of it that I’ll jump at the listening time the car trip to the gym provides. 

I have also discovered that it is best not to present myself with options. So it is not that I am going to try to give up cheese and alcohol for January. It is that I am doing so. Those two items then go behind the mental fence where reside all the other things I don’t eat (it’s quite crowded in there) and are pretty much out of mind.

The rule that is much more difficult to enforce is the one about going to the gym. Once again I am preparing to write in my diary: Mon – Yoga; Tues – gym; Thurs – gym. My time is limited so that unless I schedule in my gym attendance and ignore the possibility of doing something else, I simply don’t get there.

However, I have a very well-developed sense of guilt. I don’t know how I got it, or where it comes from or how I could have it excised, but in many cases it stops me doing what I want do be doing and makes me do what I should be doing. Often the results are positive: instead of 26 minutes spent aimlessly searching online for a new winter coat, I’ll have the batch of mince pies ready that I promised for a friend. But I feel guilty saying to friends and family ‘No, I can’t come to dinner that night, I’m going to yoga’ because it seems that I am putting an entirely selfish desire first, and really, who in their right minds prefers yoga to friends? But I also feel guilty if I don’t go to yoga, because I’m paying for the gym membership and should be using it; because I like the class; because it contributes to my physical health and therefore my mental health; because I’m trying to maintain my fitness and weight at particular levels; and because I have said I’ll go and am then weaselling out of the commitment.

Truly, the horns of a dilemma. In fact, the answer is to make the gym attendance a given, not an option, and to refuse to engage in equivocation with myself, because in the context of my life overall the more exercise I do, the better I feel. Plus, I would rather spend less, but better quality time with the important people in my life, and that doesn’t happen when I’m anxiously checking my watch and calculating how late I can leave and still get at least 7 hours’ sleep.

One of the lessons of my commuting life, then, has been that I have to be ruthless about what I do with my leftover time. The other, that I am thinking about more and more, is that this lifestyle is frankly unsustainable and will have to change. And while I’m at it, change dramatically. I want more time for reading and blogging, and for studying for an MPhil, and for yoga classes, and hiking, and baking. This is why I have spent the last 8 months feeling unbalanced. It is time that work fit in with the rest of my life, not vice versa. What’s with that whole 8 hours a day nonsense anyway? I don’t say that I have figured out how this change will happen, or when and I’m not even setting a definite time frame. At least I have figured out the what, so hopefully over the next few months I can figure out the how.

Things wot I have learned this week

Well. That was certainly a week in which a whole lot of new information came my way, apparently flung from all directions. I have spent most of the week reading: ‘Justine’ and ‘The Jewel in the Crown’, project requirements docs, emails, health care and benefits info, Employee Handbook, train timetables. The slight wonder is that I actually think I have a grip on all this info and it is neatly stacked and filed in my head. But here is some flotsam and jetsam from the week:

  1. It is much more pleasant to get up as the sky lightens than when the sky is dark.
  2. All of my shoes hurt after 15 cumulative minutes of walking in them. And, I may say, the most pain came from the black Aerosoles with a stacked heel and comfy interior, whereas the Nine West 3-inch stiletto pointy toed boots were easily the most comfortable.
  3. Pret-a-Manger makes better coffee than Starbucks, and sells almond croissants (the Holy Grail of breakfast foods), and has much shorter queues. BUT, Pret is part owned by McDonalds, which is what caused me to stop going there in England. So now I ask – which is the less evil corporation? To whom can I give my early morning coffee dollars with less guilt?
  4. At East Norwalk train station, commuters line up two by two for the train. Perhaps like animals going into the ark, but mostly I think we are like lemmings. On the one hand I dislike following the herd behaviour, but on the other, the reason for this received wisdom seems to be that, simply, it makes it easier for everyone to get on the train in a timely fashion.
  5. Commuter trains are a liminal space that is between the public and the private.
  6. Those bloody awful brightly coloured or patterned wellies are de rigeur in the rain. (The reason why a grown woman would wish to look like a child attending nursery school continues to escape me.)
  7. The downside of my new iPod shuffle is that it could be blown away by a stiff breeze.
  8. It is possible to get from the entrance of GCT to the far end of Track 25 in 3 minutes, without sprinting.
  9. Fax machines are still in use.
  10. The building opposite the bathrooms of the new office is decorated with rather wonderful cornucopiae and rams’ heads between the windows. Further up, there are seashells. If I had any inkling of cameras, I would take a picture.