Monday, October 28, 2019

Poor sleep.. the penny drops!

For as long as I can remember now I have had trouble sleeping. Getting to the morning and feeling worse than I did before going to bed in the first place on some days. Waking throughout the night at the slightest sound, it has gone on for years.
Since the arrival of my first sleep app, or activity tracker / sleep monitor , I have seen on screen just how bad and disrupted my sleep actually is. As the devices have gotten smarter, so the numbers have become more depressing. If I spend 8 hours in bed, 45 mins will usually be deep sleep, the rest of the time its splatters of REM, or light sleep, complete with some time spent awake. It is as regular as clockwork.

When you look at the breakdown further, a pattern appears. After laying around for a while I will eventually drop off, usually falling into deep sleep quite quickly. 30-40 mins, and it is all over. I am usually awake again, or at very least drifting in and out of light sleep.
It is quite common for me to be awake and sometimes up by 1am, trying to get my mind to settle, and get back off to sleep, even if it is light.

For a long time now I have put this down to anxiety, and my own periods of depression and anxiety. With the disturbed sleep becoming the norm now, even when not in a dip. However... Last night, during one of my waking moments, the penny finally dropped. When I lay there and put two and two together, the answer was finally, without doubt, four!

Thinking back to even 6 months ago when Tuvaaq was still with us, I would wake and hear him walking up and down the hallway. Not making a lot of noise, just the tippy tap of his claws on the flooring would get my attention. Eventually when he settled, I would drift back off to sleep. Even now, the slightest sound wakes me, and gets me focusing on it til I know what it is, and it passes.  But why? When did this start.

Well, as I worked out last night (early hours of this morning), it was about 2008.

Finally, I remembered. After being diagnosed with COPD a good few years before her initial cancer, mum had breathing difficulties. With the onset of the cancer, and the meds affecting her health, her breathing became much worse, and all quite suddenly. If I woke in the middle of the night to go to the loo, I would hear her coughing away, borderline choking. Eventually she would clear her chest, and go back to sleep as quickly as she had woken. Sleep was never an issue for her.

However, on coming home from work one day, and finding her already in bed, curiosity got the better of me, and I went to check on her to see why she had gone to bed so early. It turns out that was a good move, as I found her cold, and non responsive. Barely breathing. Ambulance called, rushed into hospital, and things were sorted. Back home a few days later, and "back to normal". Or so I thought.

Turns out, from that day on, or should I say night, I have never slept properly since. Thinking back, I can now clearly recall waking up each time she was coughing, listening out to hear the right sequence of sounds to know she was OK, and not going back to sleep, or even trying to, until she was safely back asleep. Regularly I would go in to check on her to make sure she was breathing after an episode.

So THAT is where the light sleeping began. Over the few years she was at home, in the different rooms of the house, depending on her needs, the process remained the same. When she finally moved into the lounge with her hospital bed, I think the listening intensified. Now with carers coming in 4 times a day, starting first thing, I had to be on my A game to make sure they made it into the house OK, that she was not being awkward or combative, and that indeed they were doing their job properly. Given some of the interactions with the carers, I was thankful I was home, and sometimes wondered how they would have coped had I not been there to help or refer to.

After a few years of living like that, I guess it is only natural it has become routine for me now. However, given than mum passed over eight years ago now, I would really love to get back into a routine of better sleep. It was kinda handy being that alert as Tuvaaq got to the end of his days, but now, I would really love a good nights sleep.

So what is the next step? The doctor mentioned to me a while back that CBT was one of the things they use when treating sleep issues. Trying to overcome the over thinking of the anxious mind etc. I guess that is one option. In fact, dealing with how my mind works, and perceives the "risks" of falling into deep sleep, is the only way to overcome things. I don't particularly think it is a physical issue, and now that I have recollection of how and when it started, it all makes more sense to me.

Maybe I will book an appointment with the GP anyway, and see what they can come up with, then go from there. Yoga, mindfulness and relaxation certainly play their part in a settled bedtime routine for me.

If there is one positive to take from this, it is that I can officially separate the sleep issues from the anxiety I struggle with at times. I know now that when my mind is behaving, the issue remains because of the long-term routine I established a long time ago.

One less mystery in my life... Phew!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Comfort zone, or mental prison?

We are all guilty of living within our comfort zone at times. It is something which comes naturally to most, and be it a conscious or sub-conscious decision, at some point we will find ourselves settling for what we know.

Be it a regular dish at a restaurant, or a job, the idea of doing something different, and changing from the norm can be a bit of a worry. Just the thought process behind making a change for some can be more than the change itself is worth. At least that is how it can feel at times.

Why change my car, I have been so lucky with this one, over 10 years, no major repairs, high miles and still plugging on. I know people who have had almost brand new cars go wrong. I should stick with this one.
I really like the sound of that twice cooked pork, in sauce with noodles at the Chinese, but I know I like the chicken fried rice. I will stick to what I know, I would not want to waste money, and go hungry.
I'm getting really bored at work, but they have been really good to me over the years, with everything that has happened. What if I changed jobs and I don't like the new place? I should be grateful and stick with what I know!

There is a real pattern there, and it is a familiar one for many people, whether they realise it or not. I speak to so many people who have such dilemmas, but choose not to tempt fate, or rock the boat. That said, I know many people who have reached a point where change is the only logical option, like for Ann (my other half) who was recently almost (well no, actually) forced into looking for another job, after things went against her at her last job.
Sometimes, it is that shove that we need to force our hand, and in a lot of cases, things actually turn out OK.

I say sometimes, but I guess I mean, most times to be honest, especially when our hand is forced. After all, to be in a pinch in the first place suggests something is not right, and change is needed.

For some people, like me for example, the idea of change is simply terrifying. So much uncertainty, so much unknown. Why would you throw yourself into a chasm of fear, for the sake of possible improvements. Are things in your current situation REALLY that bad? The wheels start turning, the head starts spinning, and you struggle to find a way to ground yourself. Before you know it, you are back to safety, and reject the idea of putting yourself through that again. Case closed.

However sometimes the lid of the box keeps popping open, the the doubt of your happiness in that comfort zone gets questioned more and more. Are you actually happy, or just trapped in a routine of known quantity? This is a common thing with relationships for sure, and most people will confess to having been in at least one like that. Been there, done that, won't be doing that again! But while you are there, all seems OK.

I would say that recognising situations similar those which have happened in the past, is a good way to move forward, and question your current comfort zone on contention. Weigh things up rationally, and remove the fear factor for as long as you can. It is going to come calling at some point, but in the meantime, get as much thought done as possible, rationalise things the best you can, and consider the genuine pros and cons without the terror of the "what if's".

 For people who over think, worry, and spend their whole life taking only the most calculated of decisions, with the most certain outcomes, life can be really dull. But which do you choose? Dull and controlled, or exciting and chaotic? A mixture is ideal, but for some, with chaos comes confusion, and with confusion comes panic and instability.

CBT teaches a process in which you are able to try and have the rational thought process, while avoiding the spiral of doom and gloom. Keeping away from the edge by reminding yourself of positive outcomes of similar situations. Something as simple as going out to the shops during anxious times can be terrifying. Thinking about the scary things which could happen if you venture out, immediately makes it a bad idea. However reminding yourself of the good experiences which have happened when you have taken that little leap, can bring the rewards to the forefront of your mind, and in some way tempt and nurture your curiosity into make the decision to once again leap.

This same process can be applied to the cycle of the unknown outcome in the over thinkers mind. 10 years ago when I bought the car, I was worried, but look at me now. Now it has become the benchmark
When I tried that dish the first time I went to the new restaurant, I wasn't sure, but now I love it.
Sometimes things work out well, even when we have literally set ourselves up to prepare for failure of the worst kind. You just have to look back to the right experiences, and realise that sometimes, most of the time, nearly all the time.... things work out OK after all.

I guess in summary, there is nothing wrong with the comfort zone. As long as you can take a look from the outside, and say you are honestly happy. I could eat chicken, rice and veg all the time. But is change from that nice... Sure it is!
I could aspire to live in a hot country, with loads of space and all the free time in the world. But would I be happy? Probably not, my mind needs feeding regularly.

There is something safe and usually satisfying about being in your comfort zone, however, there is also something exciting about venturing outside it once in a while. The frequency is the key here, and from time to time, you just have to leap....
For the thought of any sort of change to have even entered your mind, there must be something to is, right? It isn't a random out of the blue thought. It is not a pipe dream being sold to you by a con man. It is an opportunity which has presented itself to you in a rational way, makes sense, and is worth a shot. So why let it worry you?

You know what Michael, I think you might be right!

Welcome to my thought process. The easiest way for me to see things like this is to say them, out loud, to the blog. Then read back, and hear it in my mind as a conversation. Break everything down into a format I can understand and process, and run through it again.

Maybe I am in a prison after all, maybe it is time to leap!!!

Watch this space....

Friday, September 27, 2019

What is a "cyclist"

A question which seems to be getting asked a lot lately, so I thought I would have a go at answering the question. So lets give it a go...

  1. a person who rides a bicycle.

There you go, debate over. If someone who rides a bike is referred to as a cyclist, regardless of what they are doing, or what context the statement was made in... A cyclist is a person who ride a bicycle.

OK, I know it isn't really that clear cut, certainly not for some.

Recently a lot of offence seems to have been taken by the masses about the generic term "cyclist". A favourite of the media, with headlines such as "cyclist headbutts pedestrian", "cyclists causing mayhem on the roads" etc. As generalisations go, I don't personally see "cyclist" as a negative term, and am happy to be called one, even while the idiots wheelieing into oncoming traffic are also referred to as cyclists. After all, we both ride bicycles.

The term motorist of course is acceptable to many, especially when using it in a derogatory fashion. "Selfish motorists", "entitled motorists" etc. Terms batted about daily by the hardcore on social media.

The terms I have more issue with are "pro-cycling". I tend to read this as those in support of cycling, however the status of the term appears to have been elevated to one meaning more fanatical, than supportive of. Over the past few years, mainly due to the anonymity of social media, and the safety blanket of screens and keyboards, there are those who have sprung out of the woodwork to let the world know what is right, and what is wrong.
The general breakdown of this is, cyclist is right, motorist is wrong. What they say is right, what you say (even if you say the same thing in different words), is wrong.

Now to be clear here, before the bitching starts, and the frantic spreading and misquoting / mis-representation of what I am saying begins, I am a cyclist. I am someone who regularly uses a bicycle on London's roads, commuting and for leisure. In rush-hour and in the early hours of the morning. In the enclosed spaces of Richmond Park, or the closed roads of Ride London.. I think you get the picture, I am a cyclist.

There have been a few examples of these new extremes people go to, all in order to make their point, and be right.
A year or so ago I posted a picture of a jacket I use for commuting in the winter, made by Proviz. Nice reflective panels for standing out clearly with the smallest source of light shining on it. I posted a comparison picture of it next to a black jersey I have, using the flash to create a light source to demonstrate its reflective qualities.
The internet lost its shit!

I was empowering arrogant motorists, suggesting cyclists are solely responsible for their own safety, and somehow freeing motorists of their responsibility to look out for cyclists and other road users. I was demanding that cyclists spend their hard earned money, dress like the tin man or a robot, to save the entitled motorists from having to watch out for vulnerable road uses.
In fact my point was, (and still is) there is no harm in wearing a sensible choice of clothing in the darker months, to make yourself visible to motorists, with the view of the sooner they see you, the sooner they can start to give you space.

One of the examples I was given was, when you see a cyclist at the last minute, and question what they are wearing and why they were so hard to pick out, "you saw them didn't you"! Yup simple as that, seeing someone at the last moment is good enough, and if you actually make the effort, and look hard enough, you WILL see them, eventually.
A secondary argument offered was, if cyclists should wear hi-vis, all cars be painted in hi-vis colours. Well, I suppose if you want to be stupid about it, having the roads filled with reflective cars would indeed make them more visible. But that isn't the point that we are trying to get to here. The idea is to make the cyclist visible to the motorist. After all, the cyclist is the vulnerable one in this story, and on a free moving road, is also generally the slower moving vehicle, so more likely to be approached at speed.

After a while the animosity towards me grew to such a point, I did something I rarely do, and muted the topic. The post was being retweeted with all sorts of stupid headlines about what I was demanding cyclists did. Lots of tweets from complete strangers questioning my mental capacity, my ability to use the roads on a bike or in a car, and my attitude towards cyclists. Somehow I was anti-cycling, while riding 5-7,000 miles on the roads a year. Go figure! A danger to other road users, sending the wrong message, blah, blah, blah. All this from people who claim to be "pro-cycling" and standing up for the rights of the cyclist. Well if that is how you speak to strangers, with such anger and vitriol, then please do not claim to speak for me.

Going back to the whole title of this blog for a minute, the term "cyclist". It is strange how the title is OK to use when it is by someone speaking about cycling to a motorist, or someone else who is being berated by a "pro-cyclist" on social media. "Cyclists are vulnerable", "give cyclists space"... etc. But if a motorist makes a comment about a cyclist jumping a red light, pulling into their path or something similar, it is a sweeping generalisation, and should not be used that way. How dare a motorist make such a statement about a person riding a bike. It is all very confusing to me, especially as both a cyclist and motorist. More the former than the latter these days, but quite experienced at both.

Which brings me to another example of how cyclists can turn on one another (a bit like you could say I am doing here actually) about something that is of mutual benefit. Especially when simply asking a question about something you saw on the road. Cycling home the other night I saw a cyclist come into conflict with a motorist. From what I can tell, the cyclist, who had been riding behind me, decided to pass me, moving out wide of me, at the same time as a car was beginning to pass him. For me, the suggestion to avoid this would be the cyclist checking his shoulder before moving out.
However finding himself along side the car, and about 4-6 ft from the kerb, the cyclist decided to express his disapproval at the motorist, by remaining along side, gesturing to the motorist, before banging on the front wing of the car.
Personally, finding myself this close to a car, my first reaction would be to move away, followed by making my feelings known. If the opportunity arose to speak to the driver, I would do so.

So I posted a clip from my Cycliq on Instagram, and asked "Close pass or taking the piss? Was the car too close? Was the cyclist right to hit the car?"

Simple question, no statement or assumptions, just asking other peoples opinions of what I had seen.
Of course, someone always comes along and takes things out of context. I was asking a question, so getting replies like these irritates me somewhat.
"You're showing a serious and dangerous driving offence and asking if it's ok. I seriously hope you don't drive a car."
You just saw the driver of a ton of metal threaten flesh and blood and you're asking if hitting the car was appropriate? Driving like that is an offence for a reason."

No, actually Judge frickin Judy, I am just throwing it out there. But for some reason, for asking opinions of others, I am a danger on the roads, don't know the law, and should be ashamed of myself.
Like the Proviz jacket tweet, sometimes a general comment seems to set off a reaction in the brains of some people, who's instant response is to openly and viciously attack the person making the comment. This certainly seems to be the trend at the moment.

Take a moment scan through social media, and you will find posts and tweets from people who almost seem to have nothing better to do that trawl through Twitter, searching "cyclist" and getting offended about how the term is too much of a generalisation, and suggests all cyclists are the same. When in most cases, if you take a second to digest what has been written, that is not the case at all.
In a lot of cases the tweets which receive the attention of these people has never mentioned the person, or anyone they follow. Instead it has been selected after some careful trawling, and singled out for a multi pronged attack. Re-tweeting the post, with an alarmist comment, it is open season for the "pro-cycling" people out there. A simple "grrr cyclists, one rode straight out in front of me" is turned into "all cyclists should be banned from the road with immediate effect".

Now I have to say, this is very two sided and a very broad scope. There are plenty of anti-cycling motorists out there too. Those who want to see cyclists off their roads, stating all sorts of rubbish about road tax, etc. We know they are out there, they pop up all the time, and are full of negativity. Many pro-cyclists will tell you that these people have no right to be on the road, should be banned, and are a danger. The latter I am inclined to agree with. Bad attitudes towards a collective group of people, regardless of how similar or dissimilar is a bad thing. Both ways! Negative Nancy's like these are the biggest issue within the whole conversation between road users.

It is all a bloody nightmare. Those with the loudest voices also seem to be those with the most extreme views. Such is the feeling on social media these days, those with the voices of reason are quickly shouted down ( I mean people like you and I Paul !!! lol). Once you have been set upon by these cretins once or twice, you actually become reluctant to have your say. And so the voice of reason fades away, and only the shouty angry ones get a say anymore.
From an outside perspective, with no knowledge of how these things wear away at the more reasonable people out there, it appears that all cyclists have a bad attitude towards motorists, make unreasonable demands such as "ban cars", and are aggressive towards anyone who tries to question them.

While writing this I have popped onto Twitter, seen quite an amusing post about a pedestrian thanking a cyclist for stopping at a crossing, started to type a jovial reply, then deleted it, as it would no doubt have caused controversy for some unknown reason. Silenced by my own people, beaten down by "cyclists". It's a shame really, I like a positive discussion, but when the conversation is guaranteed to turn nasty within a few replies, I am not even going to both.

A few more weeks ago, I posted a video of a lovely lady cycling across a crossing, into the stationary traffic, between vehicles, and pop straight out in my path. Only to throw me a dirty look.

Posting it on Instagram, saying that riding like this, and attitudes like this are what give cyclists a bad name, I was once again set upon on Twitter. Promoting hatred towards cyclists, generalising etc.
The thing I was generalising about was how people who do not particularly like cyclists react to one bad experience. Almost in a single move, explaining why some feel the generalisation of the term "cyclist" is so hated by some. Used only as a description of the mode of transport the person in the incident was using, much like pedestrian, motorist, motorcyclist etc, it is somehow taken as a derogatory term, rather than a descriptive term. Not wishing in this instance to be associated with people who ride bicycles in a stupid and dangerous manner, offence is expressed at daring to use the term. They are simply a person using a bicycle. Huh! so a cyclist then?

So to recap... Cyclist - a person who rides a bicycle (like a pro, or like a twat)
Not a derogatory term, just a description of how that person was travelling at the time of your interaction or observation.

To all you brave little keyboard warriors out there who have taken it upon yourselves to speak on other cyclists (or what ever you identify as), if your first response is to call names, rally the troops, and stir up hatred towards a complete stranger on the internet, you are an idiot, and you do not represent me in any way whatsoever.
If you want to be constructive, listen, give balanced and polite responses, don't feel you have the right to judge someone because you disagree with their opinions. If you really don't like their opinions, say your bit, and leave it.

As things stand, road infrastructure is poor, but slowly improving in some places. Cars are not about to be banned from the roads any time soon, and we have certain areas where we will be in close proximity with other road users. Don't try and be a hero.

Like anything in life, the summary of this entry is simple, a small number of people ruin it for the masses. That small number of people also have the loudest voices, and create a negative attitude towards the rest of the group. It seems that it is human nature to be caught up in this destructive cycle, and appears that is not about to change any time soon.

Quick footnote to add...
If you think that someone pulling a wheelie on a busy road, into oncoming traffic isn't stupid or dangerous, our opinions differ vastly. If you think having someone like this pull into your path, and cause you to take action, is OK, again, we have a different view of OK.

Reading a tweet the other day, someone suggested that a pushbike doing a wheelie into the path of an oncoming car causing it to swerve or brake hard was no big deal, and the "poor motorist" would "just have to brake".. Yet I am sure if a car turned into the path of  such a person, causing them to brake on their bicycle, the situation would be very different. Dangerous driving, aggressive motorist etc.

How does that work? You can't have one set of rules in one direction and them be polar opposites for situations in the other direction. There are small exceptions to this of course, but in general, any road user causing any other road user to take sudden action, be it change of speed or direction is in the wrong, period.

Using the excuses that "they are only kids, its better than then being stuck indoors on an X-Box, or out on a street corner" is just plain stupid. If they were playing chicken, running across busy roads, would that be OK too? After all, its physical activity, even if it does cause accidents.

Right I have rambled enough, and totally lost my way, I'm done here.

Out of the blue...

Today 27th September, marks one year to the day of me coming across one of the most horrific accident scenes I have seen in years. It was already an hour or more after the accident, but the scene was still pretty chaotic. Those involved in the accident itself had been transported away, but the scene was very fresh, and the investigation in its very early stages.

Heading to the doctors that morning, I had seen on social media that there were reports of an accident right by the surgery, so I decided to walk. On arriving at the junction of Kirkdale and Wells Park Road, I couldn't believe my eyes. The completely mangled remains of a motorcycle, and a damaged van, mid way into the side road. The collision had clearly been a heavy one.

Standing around while I was waiting for the doctors appointment time to come around, I saw the officers trying to get an ID on the motorcyclist, and then make contact with their place of work, and with friends or family. A naturally hard time for all.

Being my usual self, I took a number of pictures of the scene, trying to avoid anything which would cause alarm or distress to anyone, and not wishing to be gorish. Posting one on social media, and stating where the accident was, the image was soon picked up by local media. Used as part of their story, I followed the updates on the situation to see if there was any news about the motorcyclist.

Early reports suggested very serious injuries, broken legs and arms and all sorts of speciation. A media report a little later stated a serious condition but nothing much more.

As with most things, the media soon dropped the story, nothing more was said.

So, a year later and its today, Friday 27th September 2019. Late last night (actually now but by the time I publish this will be the 27th) I received a Facebook message request. Anyone using social media will know, getting a random request is nothing unusual. Usually you just read it, block and delete, but this one seemed genuine. Reading the message, it was from a lady by the name of Alessandra. Complete with a link to a media story about an accident. At first glance I wasn't sure I remembered it, but reading on, it was one of the stories written using my image.

Now I know some will be thinking, "you people who take pictures of accidents sicken me", and to a degree I agree, it can be a horrible thing to do, but bear with me on this...

Alessandra was asking if it was me who took the picture and if I witnessed it or had any more information on the matter. Obviously I had not witnessed it but had more pictures, thanks to cloud back-up on Google Photos. Scrolling back through my history, there they were.

It turns out Alessandra was the lady riding the motorcycle that day, and was trying to piece together what had happened that day. Having spent ten days in a coma after the accident, she has very little recollection of that day at all, let alone any idea what happened or what the scene looked like. So was trying to get more images and info to piece things together a little better.

My first reaction was to be embarrassed and apologetic about taking pictures of the scene. However I soon realised she was happy to see them, so that was a relief. On speaking a little more, it appears she has had one heck of a year. Spending months in hospital, having a number of surgeries, and healing from multiple broken bones. I can't imagine for a second what that must be like.

It is one of those strange moments in my life where I feel my actions actually had a purpose that day, and I really hope that they have helped her in even the smallest possible way.

I wish you a great recovery Alessandra, and thank you for not being mad at me for taking the pictures. Thank you for reaching out to me.

If anyone else has any images or memories of that accident that they wish to share with Alessandra, please get in touch and I will be sure to pass them on to her, or put you in touch.

The world is a weird and wonderful place at times, and today I am feeling so happy to have heard from her, and know that she made it through.

The images below are some of the images shared with Alessandra. I have her permission to post this information and these images. Please be aware one of the images shows the wreckage of the bike. I hope this doesn't cause anyone any upset.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

The only thing worse than being caught with your pants down, mid lie, it to lie more to get out of it. Once you reach the stage or having to lie to cover your lies, it's all going to go very wrong! And there is no better current example of this than the goings on on a local community forum.

There is no hiding the fact that I have had my fair share of run-ins with the forum, or more precisely, its admin. No love lost there, but then walking away from the site and not looking back has been one of the best things I have done for my mental health in years. For others, stepping away while their name is being defamed has been a little harder.

Recently a local lady, who I must say does a heck of a lot for the community in her own right, took matters into her own hands.

Having had running battles with the admin for a couple of years now, with back and forth of comments on social media about each others behaviour, things reached a head. The admin of the forum has a habit of making up fake or sock-puppet accounts in order to troll, attack, and stalk people who have blocked him from seeing their accounts on his other 20 or so Twitter accounts etc.

This blog actually got some attention from him a little while ago. Comments made on a couple of entries by "Mateo C" and "Dennis" were indeed without a doubt his work. Strangely, once called out on it, outed on social media, it stopped. Albeit after a little denial and mocking by him.

Comments like this are really appreciated, especially when struggling mentally, and knowing the person posting them knows full well the damage they are doing.

"We are go" sounded pretty exciting... until I read further and discovered another self-obsessed, cringeworthy and boring post. 

Where do you find all this time to write such mundane and repetitive noise, for the benefit of your eleven followers? 

And there's so much pent-up spite and bitterness in everything you write about your area. If you hate the people around you, why not do them a favour and move on to somewhere that has the drab food and drink chains you crave. Basically, any low-rent, undesirable town, anywhere in the country would offer everything you need from life (or so it seems from reading your crappy monologues)

Dennis abuse
Mateo C abuse

So as you can see, there are no lengths the man will not go to, to cause hurt and upset, and in some cases, going further to try and damage peoples names. Mentioning you in tweets about things he doesn't like, telling others to contact you to air their anger or disappointment at something as mundane as a Costa Coffee opening locally. Yup, really! Using the social media accounts of the forum to reach a wider audience, to make sure at least some upset parties read it and get in touch, even if he can't because he is blocked.
Belittling efforts made to be healthier and fitter, suggesting you are overweight and its funny to see you try and do something about it.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of my experiences.

One person, dozens of stories of mistreatment, mis-use of the forum, it's social media accounts and its following. All for personal satisfaction, and maintaining a little control over things.

So in the latest episode, the admin started up another twitter account, with the intent of getting accepted as a follower, in order to read the tweets on the local ladies account. Not just Dave1947 or something, no no that would be too simple. Instead making up a fake West Indian Bakery, calling it Flava Baker. Complete with images of patties, a bio, use of Patios, following other similar businesses, and following the local forum. Then for authenticity, having a conversation with themselves between the admin account and the Flava Baker account, and putting a post on the forum welcoming the business to the area. Those are some extraordinary lengths to go to, to simply get to see the tweets of someone who doesn't want you reading them. Private means private. Unless you mean private messages on a forum, but that is another matter!

Wise to this behaviour, the local lady became suspicious of the new follower, and started asking questions. These were mainly about the  accounts claim that there was a dispute between the business owner and the webmaster. Another elaborate storyline to draw people into believing it was a real thing. After a bit of back and forth, she was now convinced that is was the admin of the local forum, so in a strange, powerful, and rather far reaching move, she collated a load of information about the forum admin, and sent it in an email to the email address of Flava Baker, confident it was actually the forum admin. Keeping up?? Phew!

This email contained a collection of pieces of information and pictures taken from the admins very open and public social media accounts. Nothing found by means of deception or stalking (as has been suggested). The way it was put together was a little questionable, and for the brief moment it was made public, some felt it was very threatening, although no threats were made in the email.

Now I mention it being made public, this is the strange part. Up until this point, information had been taken from a public internet space, collated and sent to one individual, believed to be the owner of the information, which it indeed turned out to be. It contained no identifying information, first names at best, and no mention of the forum admin
In a very strange move, the admin took the email, pretended that Flava Baker had forwarded it to him, and then posted it publicly on the most open part of the forum. Along with a very damaging statement about the local lady, complete with full names, and a lot of accusatory language. Interestingly, the claim that it had been sent to him by Flava Baker didn't add up. How had they worked out who to sent it to?
After the outrage started on the forum, the victim status now well established, the lies continued. Going on to say that Flava Baker had reached out to him with the information, and allowed him access to their email and social media in order for him to put together a complaint if needed.  Many of the posts on the forum suggested he go to the police with the information. However in what appeared to be an act of compassion, and one that was spelled out very clearly for maximum effect, he stated he didn't want to hurt her or her family by filing a report.

Very quickly it became talk of social media, as well as questions being asked on the forum thread itself. Until one local well respected gent called the admin out on the story, and picked a few holes in it publicly.

From this point on, the lies to cover the lies really got going.
In an unexpected act of honesty, the forum admin posted a tell all statement, admitting he was indeed the owner of the Flava Baker account, and had used the account to try and get access to the private tweets of the local lady. Stating that it was to defend himself again the hurt and defamation he believed she was posting. Initially this was welcomed, and he was wooed with compliments for his openness and honesty, and how terrible it must be to "live in fear" of such a person. However that didn't last for long.

Questions about his honesty and integrity soon started to appear. So in a regular move, a mod moved in and stated the thread would be closed as it had served its purpose. Again, this was met with resistance, and people demanded it stay public and open. To prove their point, mods posted a poll asking what they should do with the thread. Within hours the votes were not going their way, so it was moved to another part of the forum, which while visible, allowed far less people to interact with the thread and the poll. 24 hours later and a vast percentage had voted to keep the thread open and visible to all.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that a police investigation had been launched, so the thread needed to be locked, and moved from public view, so not to influence or interfere with the "ongoing inquiry". Convenient?

Meanwhile on a neighbouring community forum all hell was breaking loose, and people were free to express their thoughts on the man and the matter, without being moderated, or told off for doing so.

That thread is here.... Open and free discussion

Statements were posted on the local forum asking for people to stop discussing the matter, and not to mention it again on the forum, all for the sake of the police investigation.
Now it is worth noting that when asked for proof of this investigation, namely in the form of a Crime Reference Number, everyone from the forum declined to provide one, simply stating that they had seen it, and were satisfied that it was genuine. When asked to name the people named on it, and confirm that the local lady who had sent the email, and was therefore involved in the thread which had been moved to protect the investigation, was the subject of the police report. Again, this request was denied, and a statement saying, no names would be given, was made.

Now anyone who watches CrimeWatch, the local news, reads the local papers, or follows Police on Twitter, will know a Crime Reference Number is a simple code which can be used by people to offer information to ongoing investigations. It identifies no-one, mentions no names, indicates nothing about a crime, and only means something to anyone directly involved. If you approached the Police with the number and had no relation to the case, you would be left none the wiser. However in this case it is a crucial and secret piece of information. Or is it.

My theory is that while this CRN may or may not exist at all, the speculation about it is being used by the admin to continue his abusive control over the local lady. Much as he was happy to make deeply hurtful comments to me while I was low, he feels this is his the only thing he has left to try and maintain some control over her. Occasionally mentioning it when the opportunity to gather some pity and support presents itself, like recently on Twitter.

The above was posted recently, strangely, discussing matters which are apparently not to be mentioned in public as they are part of an ongoing investigation, so some would have you believe.

Up until now, the entire moderation team of the forum have stood behind his statements of desperation driving him to use the Flava Baker account, and that this is the only time he has used sock-puppet accounts to attack someone like this. Dozens of other people would say otherwise. The same group of people who are slowly coming together, sharing stories of how they have feared repercussions for speaking out or against the admin and his ways. Sadly, it is all very convincing from his side of things, or at least in the very controlled way information is allowed to be exchanged. In favour, all is well, speak up. Against or questioning, shut your filthy mouth!

As the weeks go on, the appetite for the topic is fading, but the questions remain. Still unwilling to part with the CRN, even though a number of parties have made inquiries with a number of police forces, and come up with nothing after extensive checks against many parameters. However the appetite for speaking out against this treatment is growing, fast!

From all this we can see that the admin is of questionable integrity, happy to hurt people for his own personal gain. So much so that he has apparently decided not to moderate the forum any longer. However keeps being seen active on the forum. A couple of previously low profile accounts have suddenly assumed a very high profile presence, and almost become a moderator in their own right, strangely using very similar language, and having very similar tells to the admin himself. Strange!

What will become of all this, what will happen next, well that is anyones guess. But one thing is for sure. In the process of all this, the interest and trust in the local forum has been damaged, and if the apparent love for the local forum is really what drives the admin, he will do something to let things recover. Step away? People fear this is not possible from a technical standpoint. But how can trust return with someone lacking in integrity at the helm?

As I say, we will all have to wait and see, but all I can take away from this is, the whole thing was caused by himself, dragging mods into the whole situation by asking them to manage the forum in favour of his side of the story. So if anything should become of it, the whole admin and mod team will be in the line of fire for action and inaction.

PS, I should add, the irony value of any sock-puppet account being used to comment on this will be priceless.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

#L2A2019 London to Amsterdam #Amsterdone

Could not decide on the title, so went with them all in the end, for the best I think.

So where do I even start with this!! Five days of travelling with an amazing group of people. All with one common goal, which was to raise as much money as possible for St Christopher's Hospice. To help them fund, and continue to provide a much needed, and well  known and respected asset in the local community. To date, this trip has raised in excess of £165,000 , which is quite frankly amazing. Although that said, from the data collected on money spent on alcohol consumption on the trip, if that had been donated instead of drunk, I reckon we would be nearer £200k.  Just kidding 😆

So back to the trip, so much to say! I guess the logical starting point is... Day1 !

Day 1 - Sydenham to Calais

An early start for all, getting to the hospice for 6.15 to get registered and ready to go. A stressful time for me, I don't do crowds very well at the best of times, let alone when preparing to ride through four countries. All the same, I got on with it. Some badly timed banter from someone I didn't yet know started things off badly for me, but I won't dwell.
Once riding, we all got into our stride, and headed into the morning rush-hour to escape London. After a bit if a battle we were heading out through Biggin Hill, clearer air and roads awaited.
A group of us decided to blow through the first water stop, early in the day, just wanting to get the miles to the lunch stop done.
Ploughing on it was soon lunchtime, and we stopped at a lovely little pub.

First fall of the trip went to Darren, who unlike everyone else, had decided to take a closer look at the banking next to a pond full of bright green pond weed. Everyone knew the exact spot. Well done Darren, glad you were OK.
Lunch however turned into a bit of a stressful mess, with early arrivers ordering their food, only for it to be taken by those arriving later, leaving those of us who got their first, last to eat, then dash.

Back on the bike, and hills starting to appear, it was not long before not taking on enough fluids started to take it's toll, and my quads started to cramp up. Eventually choosing to get off and walk up a couple of the hills. But not before having to squat at the roadside, as standing was impossible! Making a phone call as I walked up the hill, I charged up my mental an physical batteries once more.

From the top of the last hill, it was not long before the wonderful sights of the signs for Dover appeared, and the day started to wrap itself up a bit. Sadly, arriving in what was now coming on for evening school run and rush hour, progress through town to the port was a little slow, but I was in no rush, we had made good time for sure. Rolling along the prom towards the meeting point, there was relief in my mind for sure. As well as a little trepidation.
To ease this, I decided to take a quick ride up and down the prom on the cycle path, and take in the scenery. It was now getting quite windy, so the ride along the jetty/pier was fun to say the least.

Now back to the group, just in time to move off into the port itself, and get ready for the ferry trip over. How much fun was that! Riding into the port, then being escorted by official vehicles through to the holding point before boarding the ferry. Must have been a sight for sore eyes. Or a PITA to be sat behind while trying to make your ferry. Either way... I think we all enjoyed it. On to the ferry, bikes stowed, time to get some food. For me, fish and chips was the obvious choice.
Choosing to sit alone, and have some me time, I relaxed for a while, updated social media, and got some rest (not sleep, just rest!)

Before we knew it, we had arrived at Calais, quick briefing of what would happen next, which actually turned out to be quite the farce, but not dwelling....!! And we were off, riding through the port looking for the exit. Finally found, we made our way to the hotel for the night. As soon as I had my room key, and knew the plan for the morning, I was missing! Some time on my own, time to unwind, and prepare myself for the next three days of riding.
It was a lovely room, and I have to say here a MASSIVE thanks to Jo from St Chris, who arranged three out of the four nights to be single room for me. Not having that would really have changed how the trip went. It was enough of a struggle as you will see, but this was a blessing.
So room, prep, pics, rest!!

Day 2 - Calais to Brugge

The fun was about to really begin. After changing forecasts over the past week, the weather which finally arrived was far from ideal 20-30mph headwinds, across flat, open farmland. GREAT!

Downstairs, the breakfast room was already buzzing. A bit much for my comfort, but I grabbed some food and a single table. Eating before rides is not something I do in general. In fact eating in the mornings isn't my favourite at all. But taking the advice of the many, get some brekkie in you they said, so I did. Fluids were aplenty, keen not to get cramps like Day 1. That much at least worked. Although the heavy fluid intake the night before came back to bite about an hour into the ride!!
Out the back to put bags on vans, and hear the morning briefing. After the briefing I had my first glimpse into the realisation that I was not the only one dreading the day ahead, mentally unprepared.

Before long, we were out into the streets of Calais, and heading to the outskirts. Sadly within a few hundred metres of the start the first accidents happened. Thankfully people more shaken than actually hurt. Hope everyone is OK now.
On a calmer day I am sure I would have really appreciated the scenery more, but riding into a headwind, and struggling to maintain even 10mph, well that gets boring and tiring very quickly. 250w being used to achieve a speed that would see the day taking 8-9 hours in the saddle. Nope, that isn't the one!

Open fields, mile after mile, occasionally heading into the shelter of a small town or a tree lined area, the mind was already playing games with me. Full of self doubt, I plodded on, riding alone most of the time, so not to be a burden on any groups, and allowing me to stop as and when I pleased. Something I discovered a few other men in the group doing also. Nice to not be the only one having that mindset.
The first water stop seemed to take an eternity to reach, but we finally made it, having joined Stewart and Hannah for the last few miles. Loveliest of lovely company for sure, and a pair I would spend more time with throughout the trip.

Next stop, lunch. But not before many more miles of unrelenting headwinds. Whenever you rode with others, the topic was very much about the wind. Not that there was much time for conversation, all energy was being used just to keep the bikes moving, However, the skies did start to clear, and at least we were now starting to get some sunshine, even if it was in a headwind. So I guess I could go so far as to say that the scenery was starting to improve. Small towns and villages, open roads, all had quite a rough road surface, which really did start to wear on my hands and wrists after a while.
Deciding to use a single ear pod to give a little music and distraction, I managed to get into a stride after while.

Stopping from time to time, to stretch, and take photos, I was having severe highs and lows. Sometimes hoping the van would pass, and suggest I got in. Playing the conversations over in my head of what would be said etc. The quitter in me was hard at work.

After my earpod dropped from my ear, and spending 5 mins searching before finally finding it, I was done with lows, for the time being at least, and it was time to get to the lunch stop. Catching the wheel of a couple of kind souls, I at least got some respite from the gruelling headwinds for a while. Before being dropped once again. Or should I say, letting myself be dropped. Pushing too hard to hold the wheel in front is almost as soul destroying as watching it pull away from you as you finally let go!
Lunch must be near now, right!
Riding solo now, deep in my train of thought, I turned onto another long road. As I pedalled I heard a whistle, looking round I saw a local walking along. Turning back I muttered "arsehole" to myself and carried on... Another whistle, this time I look harder. It's the group, set back from the road. I had almost just missed lunch!!

Off the the bike, time to get some blood back in the rear end, and hands. Lunch was at a beautiful little place. At the morning briefing we had been told that the idea was to push on early for the day. Our destination for the day, Brugge, a beautiful place that we should arrive at in good time for a fun evening of exploring. Sadly the restaurant had other ideas. Arriving in good time, I was there for about 10.50am, with lunch not til 11.30, or at least that was the plan. All seated on time, we sat and waited. We were told it was a three course lunch, a little excessive for a cycling group who wanted protein and carbs, a quick break then get going.
Starters came out by about 12.15, with pause then for about another 45 mins before mains showed up. By the time everyone was done eating their chicken leg and rice (underwhelming for such a long wait), it was gone 1pm. So much for pressing on.

Now in the midday sun, plus a little weighed down from lunch, and still fighting the wind, the afternoon was a chore. Finally reaching the borders of Belgium, the cobbles appeared. Beautiful to look at, undesirable to ride on for sure! How they do the Paris Roubaix I do not know, and quite frankly, don't ever want to know how it feels! None the less it was nice to finally be in the next country, so it felt like progress was being made. The roads, now of mainly brick and cobble were not fun to ride a road bike on. My decision not to take the CX bike with nice 32c tyres was revisited in my mind a number of times.
Stunning scenery just kept coming, and my first thoughts of "I really must come back here" came into my mind. If only the wind would give us a bit of a break. Wasn't going to happen, well not for long anyway.
Riding alongside the canals was stunning. Quite a few stops for pictures had to be made, it would have felt like a wasted opportunity to just ride past it all, all for the sake of a more constant pace. It was not like I was right at the back anyway, so no drama. Soak it up and keep the mind occupied.

A short water break later, much needed by this point as the temperatures were really starting to climb, and it was off onto the final leg of the day. Longer smoother roads now for the best part of the rest of the journey. With many more bike paths starting to appear, segregated from the roads. However one thing I discovered to my amazement was that mopeds are allowed to use them. Makes sense once you are aware of them popping up, but certainly a surprise when the first one appeared. Stops every five miles was now the arrangement I had with myself. Stay fresh, rest frequently, and drink plenty. It was also a good opportunity to get some more pictures. More staged ones, rather than rolling roads. From here on in, it was going to be enjoyable and memorable I decided, and soon the city limits appeared.

Arriving at the old city walls, the trail of orange guide arrows seemed to dry up, and Garmin was relied upon to find our way in to the final finishing spot. Arriving solo, I was soon a little lost, so just rode back to the main road, from where we all rode to the hotel together. What a relief it was to be with others. First time I had really thought that since the start. On arrival we realised we were actually one of the first groups to the hotel, so checked in and kicked back with a drink for a while.

For the second night I was sharing a room, sorry Bill! A prolific snorer and bad sleeper, I would not wish myself on anyone, so the whole evening and night was spent on edge.
Dinner was lovely, again I found myself with a great group on the table, Jan, Morgan, Jo, Fiona, John and more. Conversation was great, now all I had to do was get through the night of sharing. Back to the room, which I must say had a lovely view if nothing else, I just wanted sleep. My day was done.

I should add here, stewed beef, with chips, I can handle. But add stewed apples to the plate and I get confused. First of a few strange combos.

Day 3 - Brugge to Breda

Less wind forecast, but clear skies and high temps, Day 3 was set to be the nicest so far. Most of the day would be spent on cycle paths as we were now deep into the cycling centre of Europe. Hopefully this would be the first of the days I had expected when I signed up for the ride.
Setting off after the briefing, it was already clear that the pace was right up there. Riding in a decent group, we were making good ground to get to the ferry for 9.40am.. Because that when the first ferry was, right... Nope. 10.15 was the first ferry we could get, so arriving just around 9.30, we had 45 mins of downtime, snack time, and stretch the legs.  Not a bad thing, and at least we had all found our legs at last.

After the ferry crossing, which I had again isolated myself from the others for some R&R, it was a strange old route out of the terminal, but soon onto amazing roads, now fast heading for lunch. Back running with the pack, the miles flew by, a couple of little stops along the way for photos and nature breaks, we were really making up for lost time. The sort of pace that we would have benefited from on Day 2. Getting to know new people once again, Matt, Toby, Jezz and more, it really helped my spirits riding along chatting to people that interested me. Sharing stories, having a laugh, group cycling (in tiny groups) isn't so bad after all!
Steaming along, we almost missed the lunch stop, with a quick glance though, it was in our sights, and it was a much needed rest from the sun which was really getting going now.

Lunch was a loud affair, but pleasant too. Another slightly strange meal, but better than the lunch the day before. Fed and watered we were under way again quite soon, into the midday melt. This was the stop where poor Mario (my bike) got his first and only injuries, with mean Andy moving his bike... lol. I'm just messing, **it happens right!
Lunch was followed by mile after mile of glorious cycle paths. By this point I was really starting to understand why so many people cycle here. I should point out, that we had been in the Netherlands for the majority of the ride.
The next little twist came in the confusion as to how far the next water stop was. Confidence was high that it could not possibly be too far, as it was a hot and long day. Wrong!
26-29 miles later we arrived at it, after passing through a sketchy housing estate, losing sight of the arrows, it was Garmin's time to save the day again.

Choosing to roll with a slightly slower group for the remainder of the ride, the pace was still plenty fast for me. In no time at all we were getting into Breda. Again, the afternoon had been spent with a variety of people, really helping break the day up a bit.

Hotel time! Hurrah. A loud rowdy reception awaited us there, which was a welcome sight for the first time. Lovely looking hotel, wasting no time I got in an checked in, stowing the bike away. While doing so, it was a good time to chat, and everyones spirits were SO much higher than the day before. Exhausted by ecstatic to have all had such a great day in the saddle, spirits were high.
Off to the room for me, a nice shower, get everything on charge, and back downstairs for a drink (of Pepsi) with the gang from the day. Again blessed with a single room, my hopes were high for a nice sleep. The room was stunning, I would happily book back in there to stay in the future.

Dinner time came round fast, but with some people still arriving way into the starters of the meal, it soon became apparent just how hard we had pushed that day. Knowledge of that was very rewarding to say the least.
So dinner, bread arrived first, a lovely selection. followed by soup 10 mins later. Now I am not sure if it was hunger or actual flavour, but it tasted amazing. Something me and Hannah would discuss for the remainder of the trip. Bit strange having the bread and soup as separate courses but hey, it was tasty!
The choice of main was chicken or fish (salmon on this day) much like the other days, which is fine. I went with the chicken.
The salmon was served with new potatoes.. the chicken was served with........ Well, look for yourself!

Yup, that is sweet popcorn!
Anyway, the food was good, the combinations just a bit strange. The strange theme continued with chips being served 10 mins after the mains. I personally would have preferred the chips with the chicken and the popcorn with dessert, but then I can't cook, so what do I know.
Off to bed once dinner was down, completely forgetting to find out the plans for the morning. Thank heavens for Facebook groups. Info secured, I was off to sleep.

Day 4 - Breda to Amsterdam

Time for the final push. Now aware of how much food my stomach could cope with before a ride, I decided to take things a little easier on the final day. So imagine my sadness on seeing the best spread to date, and a huge bowl of lovely crispy bacon!! If only I was not riding, but alas! Breakfast tucked away, bottles full, briefing done, we were off. Best day by far, weather, spirit, everything.

Out the doors, straight into amazing sunshine, gentle breeze, and onto mind-blowing cycle lanes.
I won't put all the picutres on here, as there are hundreds, but will instead put a link HERE for the full album, and just share a few of my favourites (as I have done for other days too). If there is one section of the whole ride to ride again, it would be this one. The paths, scenery, road users, places, everything is amazing. I will return here one day for sure.
So, breakfast to waterstop 1.

There isn't much more I can say, other than I loved every second of the first leg of the day. What's not to love! Great company great roads, nice pace!
Off to lunch stop.

Temps now into the 30's, getting out the sun for a while was a blessing for sure. Relaxing lunch with a few of the bunch. Once again presented with foods that I would not ordinarily choose. Dishwater with floating veg pieces! Ham and egg on lightly toasted bread. All a but strange but wow it hit the spot.
Going back outside after lunch, we suddenly realised how hot it was. Picking my group wisely, I stayed with Stewart and Hannah, steady pace, conversation but not too much, perfection.
We rode along some lovely roads, high above the houses, looking down over rivers etc. Again, stunning scenery, and the time simply flew by.

Last official waterstop was soon upon us, and much needed too. Not far to go as such, but some were really starting to run low on fluids.

From here, the afternoon flew by, and soon I was back riding with Toby, Darren, Mark and more, getting ever closer to the outskirts of Amsterdam. Frequent stops to take shelter from the sun for a bit, and rest tired legs.

Told there would be "holding points" for everyone to regroup at, arriving at HP1, it was simply a bar in town just away from the canal. Not in the mood to stop while everyone sat in the sun and drank beer, I decided to move on to HP2, which I was told " a few of the faster ones" had moved on to. Steady pace, on my own, it was perfect. Able to enjoy the scenery on a glorious weekend Amsterdam day, I really got a feel for what life there is like when unwinding. In awe of how many people simply put their swimming clothes on and rode to the river and park.

The last 6 miles to HP2 at the park were stunning, again, a few pics below.
On arriving at HP2 it was apparent that only 8-10 of us at most had made it. With the "grand departure" for the group arrival at the museum scheduled for about 4pm, it was not looking good. 4.20pm I checked with Hamish (one of the guides) who was as baffled as I was as to where people were.
I popped off to Subway to get some food returning just before 5. How many more had now arrived.... None!

Around 6pm the masses finally started to arrive. After a final quick briefing, it was time for the worlds most scattered group ride into the Museum.

Once there, I have to say I was feeling rather anti social, so went off to do my own little celebration, before waiting quietly to head off to the hotel

The final leg to the hotel was fun for all, soaked from sitting in the fountain. But again, fab roads and a perfect opportunity to see what was left in the legs, with a sprint for the lights. Max 1261w, with a 10 second 1000w sprint before the road ran out.
Finally, the hotel was in sight, get in, get stripped, get a shower. Aaah

All that was left was the celebration dinner, and sleep!
Burger and chips was not what I was expecting for the celebration meal, but it hit the spot.
Speeches were beautiful, it was lovely to all be wearing our finishers t-shirts and be awarded our medals.
After that, it was bedtime.

Night night Amsterdam !

The whole journey from start to finish was amazing, and so worth while. Even with the mental highs and lows, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
I can't express my gratitude enough to certain members of the group. All I will say is, if you took the time to chat with me, and ask if I was OK when I was low, thank you, you made a huge difference. If we spoke at any length during the trip, I like and respect you, and that is big coming from me, honestly, so again, thank you for your company.

I have to put this last bit out there...
I am SO close to my £2,000 goal now, thanks to some amazing donations before and during the ride.
If you have not yet donated, and wish to, please feel free to visit my Just Giving at

Total to date...

Thanks for reading.
Remember the full #L2A2019 album is here