Friday, January 5, 2018
Years ago there was a push to get more people cycling in London. Commuting, short journeys and even sight seeing. There was clearly a need to give people a way to do this with ease. Along came the Boris Bike / Barclays Bike / Santander Bike, bicycle hire scheme.
Bikes, complete with infrastructure, a support network and an easy to rent system. The idea was a huge success and continues to grow.
Now we find ourselves at another fork in the road, this time it is cars. With rising levels of pollution, and falling target levels, it is getting to a critical point now where something has to change. So I am led to believe at least. Introducing the Ultra Low Emissions Zone or ULEZ. 15 years on from the Congestion Charge being introduced, another zone is being set up. Again it is emissions based, and all older cars which are Euro 5 or less will find their journeys costing a levy of £12.50.
This new measure comes into effect in April 2018.
The issue here is, the alternatives are find a public transport route, and fall foul to the over crowding, unreliability and inconvenience of public transport, or "simply" replace your car with one which is exempt from the charge. You know, that money you were saving for a rainy day! For those without saving, or unable to get credit to buy a new car, which of you believe the figures touted about by the Mayors Office for people earning below the "Living Wage", it will be quite a lot of people paying £62.50 a week or £241 a month to drive their car into work in London.
Funnily enough, if you were to lease a new EV, you would probably spend about the same sort of money per month. The differences being, the car would be new, and the air quality would be affected positively by the change of vehicle.
So here is my question. Would it not be sensible to roll out a government incentivised rental or lease scheme to these people, and anyone else wishing to clean up their journey?
It is all well and good saying that the revenue from the ULEZ will go into sorting the issue out. But surely as long as you allow the cars to keep making the journey, regardless of the levy imposed, the pollution levels remain the same?
I find it hard to believe that a bulk purchase of EV's for short use journeys, similar to ZipCar would not be positive both financially and for the air quality. Surely using the bikes as a business model, there is gain to be had. Because of the introduction of these vehicles and their use, the infrastructure such as charging points on the streets and in car parks would be encouraged to increase also. Using existing parking structures for rental locations would make them more secure, easier to find, and easier to park when you reach the end of your journey, much like the bikes again.
For the long term users, who use a car daily for their journey, and would incur the maximum wrath of the ULEZ, but are unable to lease via more established methods such as private car leasing schemes, maybe such vehicles could be made available on a month to month basis, and returned to the pool of vehicles available for rental if their monthly lease is discontinued.
I know this is all pie in the sky, and easy to say without knowing the numbers, but the facts are simple.
With the push for more people to move over to EV's, the infrastructure is far too weak to support it right now. If 10,000 people bought EV's and started driving to London daily next month, there would be a severe lack of charging points etc. A scheme such as this would get the ball rolling surely.
Seeing more EV's on the road, and the support structure in place would surely encourage those who need convincing that EV's are the way ahead.
And most importantly, the change of vehicle, rather than the financial levy, would improve the air quality for all, which is the end goal here anyway, right?
Given the choice of paying £12.50 to drive my own car, for a short journey in the ULEZ, or using a newer, smaller, easier to park car into the ULEZ, I know which I would prefer. Best part being, if I decide to go drinking with friends, I can get a train home and not be tempted to drink drive to get MY car back home.
So many positives. I am sure with the buying power of a national or local government, the prices the vehicles could be secured for would be way below private consumer prices, not to mention the lack of taxes on the new purchase. Given that medium sized companies are able to secure fleets for silly low prices, I don't see why this would not be viable for a similar or lesser cost than the ULEZ charge, while being cleaner. Did I mention it would cut pollution, and quickly?
So there you have it. My idea.
Thursday, January 4, 2018
This is my 3rd full year of cycling for leisure, and my first year of commuting. I started commuting around March 2017. Looking over last years results I was pleased to say the least. A huge jump in totals. Over 3,500 miles, 105,000ft of elevation, many hours and so on. In short, smashed it! 2,000 miles alone was commuting.
However it is worth noting that for 17 weeks of the year, through illness and laziness, no cycling happened. In total I rode for about 170 days out of the 365 available. So statistically I could have doubled my mileage. However I am not that naive! In reality I could have done more, that is the long and the short of it.
Before I get on to this years goals, I just wanted to add that after much back and forth at the hospital and specialists, I have also been given the green light to start running again. So some time and energy will be expelled getting back into shape, which in turn I hope will help with my riding. Fingers crossed, no injuries this time around, now I have learned that I need to take it a bit easier.
I have also added a Tacx Flux to my cycling equipment list, so during bad weather, or when the mood takes me, I can get some proper miles done indoors, rather than looking out of the window and saying sod that! Less excuses!
So, onto 2018. The goals...
Mileage of about 4,250 would be nice. Based on last years numbers and available ride time, it should be doable. As the year progresses, we will see, but I am hopeful.
Distance rides. I have never done a 100 mile ride, so I thought committing to doing 4 this year was the way to go. I don't think the mileage is really an issue, as long as the route is right. 76 miles with 4,500ft of elevation is my longest yet, so 100 with 1,000ft should be fine.
Gran Fondos. I hit a few last year, and one maybe two in 2016. This year, I want them ALL! One every month would be lovely. Although maybe a bit unrealistic, we shall see. I am aiming for one a month for now.
Power. This is a tough one for me. Breaking a lot, and hurting myself by pushing too hard has become a common occurrence for me, so I have slowly started to learn my limits. However I DO like numbers, so hitting a few power figures is never a bad thing. Now I can do this indoors, in the comfort of a controlled environment, I am happier pushing a bit here and there. So have set myself some power goals which are within reach of current achievements. But when it comes to FTP , I am less interested. I like to see what I do on rides. When I feel like pushing, I like to be able to.
Climbing. One of my weakenesses, and something I am slowly addressing. With the last ride of the year being on a single speed 48/18 Langster, and being 40 miles, with 2,250ft of elevation, I am happy with my progress for sure. But I want to improve here. Having downloaded the two Top 100 Climb lists on my phone, I have already started on them, and hope to tick off as many as I can this year. So getting my climbing legs on is key. Obviously being almost 250lbs, climbs are a battle against gravity. So hopefully the small life style changes will drop maybe 10% off that number during the year.
Sportives. A few events this year will make me happy, with some official recognition of my commitment to the sport. Just enough to keep me grinning. London to Brighton, Cotswolds, Ride London 100, and Hayward Howler are all lined up for now.
So that is about it for now.
Improve power to assist with climbs. Cover more miles, including more elevation. Longer rides, some being sportives.
Oh one final thing.
My aim is to ride (any distance) for as many days as I can this year. My Veloviewer and Strava infographics look a bit lacking from last year, so this year, I will fill in more spaces !
Watch this space!
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Well, hopefully, if I can stay on topic, and not get too caught up in my pet hates, I can address that a bit.
Let's start with the obvious and most popular reason not to (other than can't be bothered, or it's too far), it's too dangerous! There are a growing number of bicycle accidents on London's roads, that is a fact. But it goes hand in hand with the fact that the number of cyclists on London's road it booming too. Statistically, accidents per number of journeys has probably not changed much at all. However, thanks to social media, and the mainstream media reporting more, we are far more aware of these accidents. The issue is less with the number of them, and more with the causes for me. And that is one of the points I wanted to touch on, so let's do that.
As I said, the number of cyclists on the roads is increasing. Even I have seen that in the year I have been cycle commuting. Now I would like to say that is a good thing, but sadly, the rise in numbers, seems to have come at a price. A rise in the number of idiots cycling. Let's get this bit straight from the start. Cyclists are ROAD users, not where ever the hell I want to ride users. They are bound by similar rules to other road users, obeying traffic signals, using lights, riding with consideration for others. Or at least that is the idea. Sadly, it is far from the case.
Instead, the the roads have seen an increase in carefree, ignorant, law breaking idiots. And there is no way to just look and identify them, they come from all walks of life. From broken down old rusty bikes, being ridden by scruffy people, to high end carbon fibre road bikes, ridden by budding Wiggo's, wearing all the gear. The attitudes are the same. Red lights are for cars, other peoples space is their own problem, pedestrians (I will come back to them) are fair game, and other cyclists are the enemy. Not forgetting, every journey is a TDF stage! The list of stupid behaviour is endless.
Most evenings, more for fun than necessity, I will use Jamaica Road as part of my journey home. The reason for this is a simple one, idiot watching. The same can be done on Old Kent Road too, and many other spots on London's road network. Seeing large groups of cyclists, on a whole range of bikes, wearing a whole range of sensible to stupid riding gear, and with wide variations in personal protection equipment, varying on their concerns for their own lives. Bright lights, hidden lights, dull lights, non functioning lights, flashing, static.... And that is just the ones WITH lights. Then of course you have the dark clothes wearing, " I don't need lights" champs of the road. The mix really is quite spectacular.
All that said, having a good bike, and wearing the right gear is no the the end of it. People very well dressed and prepared for their ride, lit up well, will then decide traffic lights are not for them, and throw themselves out into a busy crossroads, as their time is too important to wait another 30 seconds. 30 seconds wait, or 3 weeks in hospital (if you are lucky enough to survive) Hmmm tough one that eh ! Let's pause there for a moment and look at light jumpers. There are a few kinds.
There are various kinds of people who jump lights, from all walks of the cycling community.
Flying pass, no point slowing down, it's do or die.... And through they go without touching the brakes.
Give way, no intention on coming to a complete halt, but will slow enough to check for oncoming traffic, before deciding whether or not to ride out in front of them. Either way, they will get across the junction before the light goes green again.
Creepers, they will stop, for a short moment. But then as the second tick away, the bike begins to roll, the crossing phase is over, and off they go. I'm not affecting anyone, seems to be the attitude.
RASL, we have the ASL (advanced stop line) on a lot of junctions for cyclists to be seen and get away first. But for some, that is not enough, so they ride forward of that, to the very cusp of the junction. On some junctions, now totally unable to see the signals anymore. This kind usually turn into creepers when they realise they can't see the light change.
There are of course more kinds of light jumpers, but let's stick with the basics.
For other cyclists, as I have almost learned the hard way a couple of times now, the fly passers are a real danger. I will stop for lights, sometimes rolling up quite fast. Sadly this means people behind with no intention of stopping will assume that you are like them, and try and follow you closely. Unfortunately, as I am stopping, this puts me, and many other fellow cyclists at the risk be being rear ended at speed by another cyclist!
The others jumping red lights run the risk of course of being in collision with a vehicle or a pedestrian. All of which we know can result in catastrophic injuries for all parties. Not to mention haunting memories for anyone who bears witness to the events.
I want to go out on a limb here, and say that I believe a large percentage of cycle vs something accidents involve a cyclist doing something stupid. That is not to say it is always the case, but I would hazard a guess that it is a trend that is on the rise. The sheer number of cyclists I see jumping red lights every journey (10-15 miles) is truly stunning. Each one obviously of the mindset that it won't be them. Sadly, every day it seems, one of them is wrong, with a varying degree of severity for the outcome.
There are other dangers out there too, not just red lights. Being visible this time of year is important, as it is in the dark all year round. So lights which are bright, and obvious enough to be both seen, and picked out from the flood of lights on a busy London street in the evening, is important. Clothing helps too of course. But equally importantly, is road positioning. Not putting yourself up the inside of large vehicles, not squeezing through stupid gaps, while the traffic is moving and you are in a blind spot for the drivers of the vehicles.
As much as it pains some people to do so, sometimes it is better to pull over for a moment, let a large vehicle pass you, and continue when it is safe. It is actually quite heartwarming seeing the vehicle flash its lights to say thank you. It keeps you safe, and keeps the traffic moving. Rather than taking the moral high ground and refusing to let them pass safely. I find myself doing this more and more these days,
Again, I would love to know the percentage of accidents which involve a cyclist putting themselves in danger moments before the accident. Being stationary beside a big vehicle is never a good thing, and we are encouraged not to. However, you can't control the situation when a lorry decides to pull up close to you are lights or in traffic. Common sense is a two way thing, sadly only one party is vulnerable. It is another of the most scary and common things to see when cycling, the situations some get themselves in, all for the sake of being just a few seconds quicker to their destination. I don't think the "I'm in a race" mentality helps there.
I think now is a fair time to say this. I don't consider myself perfect. I have made mistakes, I have apologised to road users when I have done something stupid, and am still learning how to navigate the roads of London at peak times. It is fair to say that the majority, although a very slim one on some days, of cyclists are considerate, law abiding, and try their best to be seen and be safe during their journeys. This is not bashing cyclists, just the idiots.
Which brings me back around to the start. Get London cycling. I am sure more would, if the statistics didn't make it such a scary thing to do. But taking the above points into account, and my own experiences, it is cyclists themselves who make cycling dangerous. Riding dangerously, causing other road users, including other cyclists to swerve, stop suddenly etc, then putting them in danger. I lost track of the number of times I have had near misses with cyclists. And of course pedestrians who refuse to accept that cyclists exist, and just walk out in front of you. That's is for another day!
The other issue, (sorry this isn't over with yet) is infrastructure. One of my biggest gripes, and something I keep saying I am going to start taking pictures of and moaning about it more, is infrastructure. Each borough plans its own cycle paths and facilities for bicycles, some doing it quite well, others doing it just to abide by the rules and expectations, with no interest in making any form of sensible path or route. Then add to the mix the roads managed by TfL, and you have a complete mishmash of solutions, with varying degrees of success.
Pinch points in roads squeezing cyclists and motorists together, caused by over sized traffic islands.
Cycle lanes which suddenly stop mid road, and just leave you to your own devices.
Cycle paths on the INSIDE of pavements, leaving you on the wrong side of the path for when you rejoin the road.
Cycle paths which run through the entrance to side turnings.
I even came across one the other day on the Old Kent Road, by the flyover, which has road markings directing you onto and along a raised island, then suddenly ends, with a high kerb to just fall off the end of.
The planning phase of some of these projects is simply mindless and appalling. Not to mention thoroughly unappealing for cyclists.
Which gives us the answer to a common frustration of motorists who scream "get on the cycle path".... Well, cyclists would, if it was safe and sensible to do so, but in some cases, it's just not.
This is especially the case with places like the roundabout on Queenstown Rd at the end of Chelsea Bridge. A staggered phase of traffic lights allowing "safe passage" for cyclists. Great idea, shame the phase seems to take about 5 minutes, so most cyclists end up using the main carriageway instead. Just more proof that some of these solutions are really not thought out at all.
I would love the Mayor of London and TfL to take notice of this planning issue, and put together some minimum requirement for ALL borough councils. Some guidelines on how cycle paths should be considered and constructed. Rather than each group dreaming up their own solutions, leaving cyclists to contend with different ideas as they ride borough to borough, have the same principals as the actual roads, and all follow the same rules. It can't be that hard to do, surely? Minimum widths, considerations for marking the end of lanes clearly, signs to advise traffic cyclists will merge, cycle paths rejoining the road at sensible places, not in the middle of bus stops as on Southwark Park Road.
There are so many people on both sides of the fence. Motorists sick of seeing huge chunks of roads eaten up by large and sometimes excessive cycle path plans. Watching the roads shrink, the queues build, all the while being "blamed" for the state of the congestion and pollution, while the road network shrinks in various ways. As the frustrations grow, the environment for cyclists becomes more threatening, and in the midst of it all, the Mayor bleats on about cars bad, bikes good, get riding.
We live in an old city, with limited capacity for transport, housing etc. But instead of making the best of it all, it seems some are hell bend on making it worse, for the sake of introducing legislation to "make things better". Egos are at work here, both behind the scenes, and on the roads, and it is those egos which lead to mistakes, accidents, and monumental issues which are reaching the point of being beyond rectification.
On the other hand, we have some militant cyclists, who not content with sharing the roads, want to own them. Demanding all these priority cycleways, and other strange changes to the road infrastructure. It is human nature to want your own way, but there has to be compromise. Maybe if we start with the basics we can get it a little more bearable for all.
Sensible, well considered and consulted (with actual cyclists) infrastructure changes. Usable cycle paths and lanes, rather than greedy, obnoxious ones, or ones that are no use to man nor machine.
More manpower to enforce light jumpers, and rule breakers. I know there is a small and effective team from the Met who do their best. But the problem is bigger than they can cope with , and is becoming seriously out of control now. Something else maybe the Mayor would like to look at. Surely it is in the best interest of the favoured form of transport? Make it safer, make it more appealing. And reduce the negativity towards cyclists by others. It is always sad when a pedestrian or motorist thanks you for being considerate, and stopping or giving way to them. It should not be like that!
So dear Mayor of London....
I totally appreciate the drive to get more people cycling. Personally I am glad I made the change, and even in the snow today, over the 8-9 miles I will do each way, it has been a nicer way to travel (even at 1c).
But the setting is wrong. Some of the cycling solutions out there are poor, badly maintained, or just unusable. No one is on the same page, resulting in lots of confusion about how the lanes and paths work. Too many cooks so to speak. and no one following the same recipe.
I would happily endorse the message to get more people cycling, if some of the issues out there could be addressed, especially the bad cyclists. It is not right that they get away with their stupidity, and be allowed to carry on endangering other people.
I am sure I have missed off lots that I meant to say, so will no doubt revisit this topic soon. But in the meantime, stay safe cyclists, and for those who can't behave on their bikes. Please, get a bus!
Thursday, November 23, 2017
I was recently asked to review the Muson Bluetooth transmitter and receiver, so as usual I gave it the most thorough test I could. Taking it into as many of my daily places and routines as possible to see how it performed.
So what is this device.
Well, inside the pack, as you can see in the picture, there is the unit itself, along with a number of leads, to allow you to both charge it and use it in the various ways it allows.
The main unit is about the same size as a large watch body, similar in thickness too, but very light due to its construction. As you can hopefully see from the pictures, there are a number of ports, switches and buttons along the edges. These allow it to be charged, connected and controlled but the user.
In the middle of the body is the led, and main control button. Power and pairing is taken care of from here.
On top there are volume buttons, the left houses the transmit and receive switch, and the bottom is a micro USB and a standard jack plug.
Connecting could not be easier. Depending on the function you require will determine the set up used.
My main use has been connecting Bluetooth wireless headphones to the various PC's and laptop's I use. At work, being plugged in allows me the freedom of movement around the office and desk, while being able to hear the audio from the PC.
As home, on the turbo trainer, I am able to plug into the PC running my training software, so I can hear audio cues from it while at the same time streaming music from Spotify on my phone or laptop. The performance has been superb in all arenas, allowing a stream of good quality audio through headphones, from devices which are not Bluetooth enabled.
The set up also allows being a receiver too. Using it in an older car, I am able to plug the receiver into the aux in socket on the head unit, and stream music from Spotify on my phone, straight into the car speakers. Allowing me to hear navigation instructions, and turning my head unit into a hands free system connected via Bluetooth.
For such a little and simple device, it has so many real world applications. When I was first asked to review it I wondered what I would possibly use one for, but as the weeks have passed, I have found myself lending it to people for them to use also.
Cheap in price, rich in functionality, this little device brings older hardware back into modern day use.
Friday, November 17, 2017
So what does it actually mean?
As we can see there are a number of meanings, some of which somewhat conflict, or at least cause confusion. Stereotyping is the most commonly used example in current times, certainly in an issue which I will come to later, employment! However the second two are the more serious definitions, and ones that get my attention.
See, the issue I have here is, to combat discrimination, we discriminate. We have employment drives for more ethnic minorities, or more females in certain roles. This is open discrimination, simply telling British white males they many NOT apply for the positions as they are the wrong colour, gender or religion. What would happen if there was a MEN ONLY employment drive, or whites only etc.
Do you see what I am getting at here.
Fighting discrimination, in itself causes discrimination. Legally backed discrimination at that, and sanctioned from the highest levels.
Whatever happened to "may the best person win" (see how I avoided "man" there!)
When it comes to jobs, there are some that can be done by a trained monkey ( like my job) and there are others which require a certain set of skills. Common sense says that you employ the best character suited for the job, with the best skill sets possible.
So what happens when three men an a woman are shortlisted for a role. Ranked in suitability in this scenario, the woman is ranked #3. So does the recruiter overlook positions #1 and #2 as the gender is more important in the recruitment drive, or do they go with the best person for the job?
When I see big public services having drives to recruit more workers from a certain demographic, I often wonder how many people don't apply for a position, because they are aware that there is emphasis on another demographic, and they feel they would not be considered seriously.
Again, we are back to discrimination, but it's OK, because it is sanctioned! Ludicrous surely?
Now, before anyone starts flapping their arms in anger, or breathing deeply and huffing, let me explain something. I am all for equality, fairness, and overlooking gender for the best candidate for a job. However, there are certain roles which are predominantly one sex or the other for a reason. Be it physical ability, not really a male or female thing to do (this is a strange one, but accepted in a lot of roles for what it is), or indeed, due to dithering old sexist fools, choosing to hire "sexy secretaries" , or refusing to hire woman as they are the "weaker sex".
There is probably an argument somewhere that says some of these sexist fools only hired women into the boardroom, above the glass ceiling, for a peep up their skirt!
My main issue with this whole situation has come from a series of Tweets from areas of the LFB. They are having a #FireFightingSexism campaign at the moment, which I can appreciate, to a degree at least. More women firefighters, can't be a bad thing at all. Equality in the work place is a serious thing, and should be addressed in many roles. In many sectors we are seeing more and more balance of the sexes. Although the same can't be said for my own industry, comparisons drawn to similar roles but serving other trades would show the complete opposite. Different horses, for different courses and all that!
My problem comes when it comes to how people address a certain job role.
I have grown up with Policeman, Fireman , Postman, Milkman etc. It was a title for someone who carried out a role, and one I grew familiar with as I grew up. To me, the title is the same as Doctor, Manager, Actor etc. Actor being a strange one actually, as I grew up using actor and actress, but the gender was removed from that and it became actor. However many still use actress in day to day life.
Seeing a woman in a hospital, it was, and probably still is easy to use gender to identify a role, and a lot of people will still say "nurse" to a woman, and the same people will usually be surprised to see a man identify himself as a "nurse. It is an ongoing thing, but something I get the impression most are unbothered by, unless they are having a bit of a bad day, we all have them, right!
The main thing here is, these job titles are usually only used to address someone in a formal manner, or to get someones attention in a hurry. Not so much a term used all day, everyday.
And this is where my issue really starts to come into effect with firefighters. It comes across from the campaign, and many of the supporters of it, that it is the title (which many people will never use to address a firefighter) is the biggest concern. This came to a head yesterday for me when LFB Greenwich called out the wonderful Mr Nick Knowles of DIY SOS for using the term "firemen" in a tweet, thanking the Fire Service for their assistance.
When it comes to quickly hammering out a Tweet or other social media post, we revert to our basics, and quickly write what we feel while it is fresh in our minds. He didn't say "the men of the fire service" not even "the guys" but "firemen". This apparently is offensive and disrespectful to the firefighters, and was worth calling him out publicly on social media.
The post read :
You had the fire service in to help you pump out the water tonight. Clearly both male and female firefighters helping out, yet you referred to them as firemen. Did the woman not deserve recognition for her hard work too? #firefightingsexism
This was followed by this one :
If you see us as brave, please call us by our names. Surely that's not too much to ask? None of us want to be called firemen, we are firefighters.You're right, children do still call us firemen and most girls still think they can't become firefighters as a direct result of that.
Now, I am all for freedom of speech, and I am all for fairness and respect, but I start to lose patience when such things are put in writing, especially things like this.
Externally, the public perception of firefighters is fantastic. Sometimes we don't understand the realities of what they do. But the public rally behind them when cuts are made, wage increases are unfair, and safety is questionable. Events like Grenfell Tower really drove home to the people of London just how brave, amazing and worthy all these people are. Huge respect was shown, people lined the streets to thank them. But it seems after all that love and respect was shown, the real issue was the use of the word "man" !
When I was at school, I called the teachers sir and ma'am. Identifying them by gender, rather than by occupation. I get that that is different, there is no generic term for teacher, other than "teacher", which would be a little disrespectful. However, it is a term I was raised to use. As was fireman.
Forgive me for being a child of such a generation. I am told that the term "firefighter" has been the correct term for 30 years now, so maybe I should sue the education system for failing to teach me correctly. Maybe it is a form of child abuse to have been misinformed for so long. I am sure if I look for long enough, I can find someone to blame, but lets be realistic, it is too trivial to pursue.
I get that firefighters are not all men. I get that fireman is unrepresentative of the workforce. But that is what it is, a misrepresentation, nothing more. Not an intentional disrespect of the female firefighters, not a sexist attack on women, not discriminatory. It is just an old fashioned generalisation which has not yet died out. With time it will, just like other terms have been corrected over the generations.
The argument that the correct term has been "firefighter" for 30 years now, so people should be using it is invalid. The simple fact is, it has NOT been commonly known. People have not refused to use the term, they have simply not been educated. Society didn't rebel, or choose to be sexist, they simply never changed. Postman.... Still common a very common term, but very little said about that.
The rise of Dany Cotton to commissioner of the LFB is fantastic. great for workplace equality, great for moral, and a clear indication that sexism is no longer in place where it matters. I'm all for this sort of progress, and am pleased to see it continue into other sectors. Such as the Met, with Cresida Dick as the commissioner also. I wonder if the next push will be to demand that we use the term police officer religiously, rather than slipping up and saying Policeman. I do hope not. We are better than that, right?
My issue here, is not so much the message of the campaign, but the tone and ferocity of it. Being TOLD that firefighters will not have their job title dictated to them, and DEMAND that others call them by firefighter. Citing the term fireman as sexist and disrespectful.
I am going round and round in circles here now, I can tell, so I will summarise.
Some situations require a loud voice and stomping of feet to get the message across. Bully it through, and make people understand.
But sometimes, just a constant stream of information, repetition of a phrase, making it the norm, and more commonly used, is the way to go.
The media have trained us with many words over the years, more recently using immigrant instead of refugee, blurring the lines and changing the language of the masses, the same can be done here too.
People do listen, language does change, but not over night, and certainly not under duress. The message is fair, the method quite frankly sucks, and if there is anyone demonstrating disrespect, it is from the other side. Disrespecting the members of the public who dare to use a common adage, rather than carefully selecting the most PC term possible.
I love all members of our emergency services, and respect every single one of you. Just because I don't tell you every day, doesn't mean I have changed my views. Please, carry on with your campaign, but maybe stop being so precious about it, and making a huge issue of something which has not been addressed for 29 of the last 30 years.
Friday, October 27, 2017
That said, it hasn't been a disaster. A few strange feelings and dreams as my body lowered the amount of drug in my system, a few moments of being a little bit distant, but nothing unexpected.
The last few weeks have been a bit of a challenge in their own right, so it is unfair to base any of that in a drop of medication. Maybe a small wobble from dealing with things with a slightly less assisted mind, but other than that, I have coped well. I think anyway, you would have to ask Ann if she has seen any other changes, but I don't think there have been.
In the meantime, I have been speaking with a couple of friends who are going through the mill a bit right now, and have recently started following another blogger who is just starting out on their journey with dealing with their feelings, and the highs and lows life throws at us.
Distraction is a good tool always, so needless to say I have been cycling a lot too. No escapism this time, but more exercise to keep the goodness flowing through my body, and ensure I am well exercised, and ready for a good nights sleep. That said, looking at me and my data, it would be hard to believe that I am achieving either right now.
Weight is hanging on for dear life, after I failed to launch into a new round of fitness. With injuries to my foot and knee, I sucked it up and accepted that I need to take things a bit easier, certainly until I am in better shape again.
As for sleep, my Garmin sleep tracker supports the theory that I am not doing too well at getting a good nights sleep recently. Thankfully my get up and go seems unaffected, with me heading out early for work, to get more miles in on the bike.
I have blood tests coming up next week to see how I am getting along with my uric acid levels, hopefully all is still well there. Then a review, yet to be booked, to see if and when I will drop to 20mg of Citalopram. Add to that physio, MSK and Orthotics all at Lewisham hospital over the coming week, and I am rather busy.
With all that going on, my main aim remains to achieve my cycling distance goal which I set last year, of 3,000 miles. With the amount of time I have had out of the saddle this year, I am shocked I am this close, but happy at the same time.
Hopefully next year will be kinder to me, and I can set a really decent goal. I think looking back, I have probably missed a good three solid months of cycling due to foot and leg issues. Really not ideal.
Before I go, I should add that I have taken a huge leap of faith today, and stepped away from something I have long considered a support to me. Recently realising it caused me more stress and anguish, than good and help, I cut ties today, and already feel better for it.
The manner in which it happened was proof enough that it was the right thing to do.
So, here's to a good weekend for all, I look forward to conversing with anyone out there who wishes to. And next week I can again start chasing my numbers on the bike, consider my next step with meds, and forget all about Xmas lol
Stay in touch people :)
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Now I get it, office gossip is one thing. However taking information you find on a social media feed, and running to upper management to try and stir shit up. Well that's just a whole other level of sad and snide.
Today, on my third day back to work, I had a meeting with a manager, to discuss my recent sickness. I completely agree that it has been dreadful. Long periods of time off, and too many of them for my liking and wellbeing, let alone for an employer. God forbid how it was making little snitchy feel. Must have been like fire ants in the pants! Would explain all the running to the managers.
One thing I do find interesting is the knowledge people have of my communications with management while I was off. Obviously my activities are easy enough to see, you just have to check Facebook, et voila. But knowing what has been said in private emails, well that is a whole other matter now isn't it. Maybe I should go formal with it?
What I find very sad, I mean REALLY sad, is the lengths people will go to to try and cause trouble for others. Almost like they get kicks from it. There is certainly no other benefit to doing it.
This isn't the first time either, with the occurrences in 2011 when a file was collated regarding my activities, and presented to management with such strong will and intent, it almost cost me my job. Thankfully the management saw through the ill intent of the information, let alone its inaccuracies, and it was dropped.
Fast forward 6 years, and the same shit just happened again. Now I have my suspicions on who it is, and I worry for them, I really do. I am not one to mock mental health, in fact I take it very seriously. With than in mind I wonder if the person has any issues which cause them to behave that way. I should point out that I am not the only one who has had a secret dossier compiled.
Now the good thing is, due to some discrepancies in the formal actions taken by my past manager, sadly due to his failing health and subsequent passing, I have been , I quote "thrown a life line". So this recent meeting has amassed to nothing really.
Now I want to point out that I am truly grateful for the way things have been handled, and the outcome. It is not something I feel I deserved or was entitled to. As I have said, my sickness has been terrible, and I must really be flavour of the month right now, both in the office and the company. It is not something I am proud of.
With that said, if said person is SO interested in my medical details, I will quite happily wish some of the pain I have been feeling recently upon them, then they can see how they like it.
Even some of the details in todays discussion were fresh from the bitch mill. Somehow finding the fact that I am riding a bike to work a cause for concern. Well dear boy, that is what being off sick is for, to recover, and come back fit and well. Some might choose to forget that my foot was getting bad a couple of months back, but I gave up riding in, and drove to work in considerable pain, to try and be helpful as we were short staffed. Funnily enough I didn't get reported to management for that. Hmmm.
It is quite clear things are not going to change, and that the person seems to have an unhealthy obsession with my behaviour. But doesn't seem interested in addressing it openly and face to face. Aaah well, I don't know if I should be scared or honoured. Either way, please feel free to continue your bitchy snitchy behaviour, and I will continue to conduct myself in a respectable, and above board manner. One of us has to !
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
As I said at the time, I am truly passionate about helping people have a greater understanding of what it is like to suffer from depression. Feeling a bit down, or a bit grumpy is really not the same. I really do admire people like yourselves who take the path in life to try and help others, however sometimes feel that the theoretical education somehow lacks enough depth to truly grasp some conditions.
I hope today was helpful for you all, and that in amongst some of my tales and analogies, there was some clarity there too. I am grateful for the feedback you all gave at the end, and hope you took as much away from the session as I did. Thank you to Dr Paul for having the foresight to suggest the session in the first place.
There are of course many other matters we did not get to discuss, compacting a few years of depression, the rises and falls, is of course impossible for a 90 minute session. Hopefully in amongst the rest of this blog (Nov 2015- Mid 2016) there is more information on the subjects which may be of interest. There are also entries from way back too which reflect on the depression. My journey through CBT is also in there somewhere.
If you have any further questions about the issues we discussed today, please feel free to contact me via the blog, or emailing me with any questions on email@example.com. Also, feel free to share this blog with anyone you choose to, there are no secrets, especially on the internet.
Getting back to the main part of the blog here. I just wanted to add that physical training, cycling, writing, and believe it or not, being tattooed, all play their part in the maintenance of my well-being, as well of course as having the love and support of my close friends, who keep me grounded.
Today for me was a stepping stone, a step in the right direction for me, with getting involved in something I am very passionate about. The understanding, from a first person perspective, of what depression is, how people cope, and what can be done to help them on their journey.
For many, depression and anxiety is not a life long issue, but a journey taken within our lives, more for some than others. Seeing people convinced that they must live by the pill is quite sad, and also worrying. Not to mention the lifestyle choice that people make when they are convinced this is them for life now. Talking with people who understand and can genuinely empathise with what you are going through is a massive step, certainly for the people I have had the pleasure in helping in my past.
However not all cases are the same, and the idea of getting involved is in no way a pipe dream of a one size fits all fit.
For me, the idea of being able to play a part in other peoples recovery is huge. I don't expect every encounter to be perfect, and am aware that my personality may not be suitable for all. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.
If actually being involved directly is not a reality, then the next best thing would be to continue to give my time to enable those who will one day be at the frontline of things. Using every day analogies to make sense of how the depressed mind works. I was pleased that my "it's like" approach finally made some sense today.
After speaking with Dr Paul following the session, I am going to try and get my head around how I can get more involved. Organisations such as MIND are a good starting point, my only concern is how to explain my intentions, with absolutely no academic background whatsoever. We shall see how that goes, I will be sure to update the blog with any progress I make, as well as Dr Paul.
Any thoughts on this venture are welcomed.
Today once and for all clarified for me that I am in the right place mentally now, to start reducing my medication, clear the mind fog which sometimes presents itself, and get on with doing something constructive with my time.
If a legacy were possible for someone like myself, it would be wonderful to think that my efforts and words could be carried forward, and make a difference for even a handful of people. Especially those who are not as fortunate as myself, and have no immediate outlet or support network.
I know I said some pretty damning things both on here, and today about the services offered to those suffering mental health issues. I hope I struck the balance of both grateful and understanding of what is deemed possible from an academic level, whilst highlighting the short falling, and no mans land between what is written and understood, and what actually works for people struggling. There is a balance to be found, and hopefully one day, maybe with input from me and others, it will be achieved.
The message to take is quite simply, the input from the NHS and other health services is instrumental in building the foundations for a recovery from such an experience in life. However theoretical empathy only goes so far. Understanding, and experience bridges the gap which is left. There is nothing quite like being on the level with someone who truly gets where you are coming from.
Building baselines for all to understand, and be able to empathise with is key here, so expect to hear "it's like" quite a lot from me.
Now I shall take some time to reflect on today, and formulate a way which I can try and create this baseline. The input from the students today has been key in building my understanding of what is in place, and what is missing from the current structure. Although I would love to build my knowledge on the academic side of things more for my own benefit and understanding.
Key words from today, baseline, empathy, analogy and understanding.
Just as a final note, I want to sincerely thank Dr Paul for her time for me since we first met. That first blog entry following the consultation was a pivotal moment for me, as has been the continued support from you. To have been given the opportunity to carry out todays exercise has been very special for me, especially on what turned out to be World Mental Health Day. Imagine that.
Here's to the future. For us all :)
Thanks for reading as ever.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
Over the past few days I have been looking into jobs in mental health, what qualifications are needed, and how I can help with the basic skill set I have. Apparently there isn't a way. Which while understandable, is also frustrating. Sure you can teach people the basics of mental health, draw up a curriculum which covers all the bases, make sure people understand the fundamentals of depression and anxiety. But you can't teach experience.
Somewhere there should surely be a crossover point, where experience and education meet, and can be combined to provide the services which are needed most by those suffering. It is great seeing big names coming out and admitting they are affected by depression, and explain their struggles. Saying things others can relate to, and feel like someone understands them. But that is where it ends. When you come forward and look for help, the understanding ends, and the empathy of education presents itself for the first time.
Having someone tell you they understand, because they have read about it is NOT the same as having someone share stories, or finish your tale for you, showing they truly know what the moment can do to you. The lack of this actual understanding is crippling for some, I certainly lost all faith for quite some time. Luckily I had the guidance to keep pushing me to keep going to the meetings, and to try and see what I could inject into the meetings to try and make them a little more "real" for others so to speak.
The thing I found was, as soon as I started openly sharing how certain incidents and events had made me feel, the whole group seemed to engage, waiting to share their experience too. A few meetings later and it had become the norm for me to offer a story, a real life example of such a feeling, to get the ball rolling, and by the end of the session we were all much more open about yet another aspect of depression or anxiety.
The difference to the first few weeks, and the attempts by the course tutors you try and get people talking, asking complete strangers to interact was almost troubling rather than helpful. Only being able to teach and discuss what you have learned from a book or lectures, while on paper might sound great, really isn't. I reflect back to when my daughter was being born, and the midwife told her mum to relax and enjoy the beauty of birth. When asked how many children she had, she replied none. That didn't get a great response. How can you tell someone how to feel about an experience you have never had... Quite simple, you can't.
In very few walks of life would you take advice from someone who only has theoretical experience in something. So when it comes to something as personal and unique as depression, the textbooks just don't cut it.
I desperately want to be able to intervene. Play a role in getting people who are hidden away in their heads, suffering in silence, speaking out. Not to the world, but just to a human who can be compassionate and genuinely empathise with them. Someone who can give their thoughts the time of day, and allow them to vent all the negativity that is drowning them.
You see, for me, and in my experience, speaking out is the first and most important key to the whole experience. While I have always been open enough to speak to a lot of people about it, there is a time when you feel you have exhausted them with the same stories, and you need someone else to talk to, a blank canvas. Unbiased, non judgemental, and willing to listen.
For me on my last round of depression, that person was Dr Elizabeth Paul at Wells Park Surgery. As my original entry says, I walked in silent, sat and just gazed. There was no immediate prompt from her, just a simple smile which gave me the courage to start trying to explain myself.
The whole entry is here... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-trip-to-doctors.html
My point here is really, that there is no one right person or way for everyone, we each need to find our own. The person or situation we feel comfortable with, to finally take the first meaningful step. When I have spoken to others about their depression, the common thing I find is the almost relief shown by the person, when you can actually, first hand, appreciate the magnitude of what you are saying.
An example being, going to meet with a friend while I was mid way through my fight with depression most recently. I chose a place to have lunch, somewhere I knew would be quiet, no crowds. My anxiety at that stage was very bad, so people were not my favourite things.
All was fine to start with, however when we started eating, more people started coming in, sitting closer and closer to us. Paradise lost! Matt had no idea what was going on inside my head, but mad panic is the only thing I can describe it as.
When we left and were talking afterwards, in the nicest possible way, it was impossible for him to understand the difference 4-6 more people coming in had made. However speaking to other friends who have been through the same, they got it straight away.
The big issue here is, a lot of people just don't have "that person" around them, and most of the help on hand seems to be from people who are well educated in the field, but really can't fully grasp what you mean. This is a big stumbling block for people. Having finally spoken out about how you are feeling, to suddenly be faced with a stranger who wants to help you, but doesn't understand you, is crippling.
From my experience, things didn't go well from the start. From my first face to face with someone, it felt like I was doomed. The full blog of my first impressions is here.... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/touching-base.html
You may be able to tell from the words that it didn't really go too well, and I was left with a rather bitter taste in my mouth. If you read entries further into January, you will see things didn't exactly get much better, not for a while.
Had this interaction been with someone who could understand and properly empathise and assess what I was going through, I think I would have felt much better about the matter. Seeing the speed at which some people dropped out of the subsequent CBT course, I guess for some it didn't get better soon enough. When CBT was explained to me, it was a very rough and vague explanation, reading up on it wasn't much help either. It was only being there, and manipulating it to my own needs, that finally started to make a difference.
After the initial discussion about what CBT was, these were my thoughts.
Here was a person of sound mind, with questionable experience with depression, certainly first hand, telling me in short that I was the issue, and I needed to just forget about the past, and look forwards. Not a great deal of help.
But the thought I can't get out of my head right now, is the was CBT has been presented to me. My interpretation being that I am in control of my thoughts, and therefore if my thoughts are my problem, and I am in control, it is all my fault. That's how my brain takes it right now. Being told you simply CAN'T do or think something is not a cure. Breaking the cycle, which I know is what CBT is really about is the key. But how do do you that when there are so many triggers and issues to over come?
I would dearly love to be able to help people get through this first major step in the program. But it appears academics comes first. To me that feels like teaching someone who can already run, to walk again, because they didn't learn properly. Sometimes, certificates, diplomas and grades count for absolutely nothing at all. Sure, along the process they are without a doubt very important, but for some aspects, you just need to understand, properly. Especially when trying to convince someone to walk out of their door into daylight for the first time in a month.
So here I am, frustrated that due to my lack of qualifications, I am near helpless to play a role in this. Sure some will say, volunteer for Samaritans or similar, but that is just not it. Could I turn my hand to such a thing, probably, would it be as fulfilling as the feeling I felt helping my fellow sufferers through their battle with depression, probably not.
At the end of my CBT course I did consider asking to be the plant in the room, the one who has been through the course, but is there to go through the course again, and try and get things moving. Sure the tutors are doing their best, but from speaking to them, the drop out rate is high, and our group had a "good" retention rate compared to some. That left me thinking that there must be more that can be done.
In the end the course certainly played its part in my recovery, as did a network of friends, and carefully considered distractions. But I honestly feel that I was very close to not bothering with the course, as my blogs show. Had I had some understanding and encouragement from someone who got it, earlier in te process, I might have started feeling a bit more positive sooner.
I applaud anyone who trains to work in mental health. It is a huge problem for our nation, and one which is only getting better. Lack of funding, not enough genuine cases being recognised, but for me, the biggest issue is the lack of understanding in what really helps people in such crisis.
So I am off to scour the internet fr ways I can be more helpful to others. I will also be speaking to my favourite GP about the matter when we meet on Tuesday. I know she won't have the answers, but it is a start, and keeps my mind heading in the right direction.
Any thoughts on how I can get involved are welcomed, so please drop me an email or similar.
Thanks for reading, and here's to getting a better understanding for those suffering.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
In the past I have recorded the lows of my days, expressing the loss of control, the uncontrollable feeling of nothingness, and the pointless battle of trying to get out from the slump. Then there have been the fight backs, the recovery, and the jubilation of once again rising from the pit of despair.
Not forgetting my attempts to explain the inexplicable to those who want to, or think they do understand the true depth of depression.
But like I say, this is different. A recent consultation offered me a unique new perspective on the whole matter, and made me realise there is more I could do, should the opportunities arise. To date, I have not sought such a thing. Although have recently set out on a vlogging mission, thanks to another chance encounter with another medical professional.
Back when I did my CBT course, I became aware that I grew in strength and self understanding, while talking to others about my journey. Not counsellors, but a group who were too suffering from anxiety and depression. As the course went on, so I realised that telling your stories, as you understand them, to others, helps them see patterns, and routines in their own lives. Once aware, you are slightly more able to take control. Spurred on by the confidence gained from realising you are not alone, and you are indeed understood by someone at least.
By the end of the course, I was overwhelmed by the number of people from the group who felt I had played a positive part in their improvements, and that my openness was key to that.
On speaking to my GP yesterday, I was very surprised when she expressed an interest in me helping educate a group of medical students. As we discussed it, the idea grew. On agreeing to the the seminar , I realised it is something that really interests me. When my mind is clear, I love trying to put things together and help others understand depression, from my perspective at least. Both medical professionals, and sufferers have something to gain from such discussions.
I am not saying I am the Messiah, and the key to depression. I am not for one second suggesting I understand depression in all its guises, I really don't. However I do believe I have built an understanding of what you might call standard depression and anxiety can drive you to.
Seeing others speaking out on a larger platform about how they have battled with mental health makes me almost feel like I could do more. Be it making myself available to speak to others, getting going on the vlogging, or writing more, I'm not sure. But I do know one thing without a modicum of doubt, I feel compelled to make a difference, and I am truly passionate about helping with depression and anxiety. Maybe sharing my stories with medical students is just the beginning. Maybe I can do this more often?Who knows, but I will be sure to speak to the GP about this.
When I am low, I don't look for help, but occasionally will reach out to someone I know I can trust. I am truly blessed to have a small group of friends who understand this, and are amazing at what they offer at these times. However I am so very aware of how long it takes to build the trust to speak to someone you know about it, or even find someone in your circles who you can talk to. Believe me when I say, that alone is one of the toughest parts of recovery.
For some people, they will either never gain such confidence in their friends, or simply not have the network there to embrace them. This is where it becomes problematic.
When you finally reach out for help, you speak to a GP. The standard assessment will be made, the score will be taken, and if necessary, medication will be prescribed. Sadly for some this is the start of the end. With a health service under pressure, and quite frankly such little understanding of depression from the majority of GP's , you take the pills, feel a bit more balanced, and on you continue. No big attempt to solve the cause of the issue. Being such a vast condition, to a degree I totally understand why this happens.
However, if you fall and bend your leg awkwardly, you are not given painkillers and crutches and sent on your way. Investigations are possible to see the cause of the pain, and treatment given accordingly. Unfortunately the physical body is far easier to make sense of than the brain. And we are full circle on why most cases of depression or anxiety are left unexplained.
If you are lucky like me, and you get an amazing and passionate GP, like Dr Paul, your hopes are better. Along with Dr Mason (my work doctor) they supported me to the point where I could carry on without support. Like the leg injury, they were my crutches which carried me until I could manage alone. From simple sit downs to express where I was mentally, to dosing changes. And of course shoving me in the right direction to get CBT, and stick at it.
Of the tens of thousands of people in the UK on Citalopram and other such medications, I would be curious to know what percentage have ever had any further interventions than being medicated.
I am not saying medication is a bad thing, or evil and addictive. Far from it in fact. But as in my early blog, for me the medication is only there for me to rise back up from the depths of depression, and regain control over the matters which influence my mental state.
Debts, relationships, work and so much more can influence our state of mind.We can get down about it for a while, or we can fall further, lose control and begin to curl up to hide away from it all. That is the point where intervention is needed, and not always just in the medication way. Meds are not the solution for all. In fact I would bet most could be back off them, and balanced of their own accord within a year or so. Depending of course on the changes in their lives, and the root causes of their initial downward spiral.
Sitting here tapping away, I would love to learn more about the subject, and write something meaningful about it, something helpful. A first hand account of what some are going through, and a look through window into the future of hope. I am not the solution, I am not the cure, but I am experienced, and open enough to discuss it with others. Knowing my blog has been read by strangers and impacted them positively just increases my drive to help more.
Speaking to the students could just be the beginning. For the rest of the journey, I need to find my way.