The cycle-shoed Contessa

I am now at the point where I want to soak up as much information, knowledge and practical training as I can in a desperate bid to be, well maybe not a racing snake, but certainly a far less slow, overweight, middle-aged cyclist. In furtherance of this, I have started some sessions with the Scott Contessa Road Racing Academy.

Now that all sounds mighty grand and gives me an air of being a right up there with the Pendletons, Cookes etc. In fact it is aimed at near beginner level and is intended as a way of getting more Scottish women cyclists involved in road racing. Several Scottish regions are holding regular training sessions leading up to a big event at the end of March. The west region is now in its third week of Saturday morning sessions and so far we have concentrated on basic skills – balance, basic group riding technique etc. The group is fairly mixed in ability and experience so we are working up gradually to faster speeds. In a couple of weeks we will be venturing out of the training track and on to the roads to consolidate what we have learned so far before we go back to the circuit for more skills development. As I know the area, I have been given the task of working out the routes for the two on-road sessions we will have. Since the group is so disparate in ability, the first route will probably be a simple 20miles on fairly flat roads to allow those who have not ridden in groups to gain confidence and skill without the added complication of hills. The second route will factor hills in and will let the group experiment with tactics for how to get the weaker hill climbers up in a group. I’ll be listening closely during the pre-sessions for that skill given that my climbing ability falls into the category of “determined but dreadful”. Ah well; at least I’ll have insider knowledge of the routes. And I may very well cheat like hell and use the Genius for some pre-session training rides.

All in all it is a marvellous opportunity for women in Scotland to develop skills and hats off to Scott for sponsoring the academies. No doubt Scott Contessa Epic have one eye on the proceedings to see where their next team members may be coming from, but hey, it benefits us all. I’ve no doubt the majority of the ladies on the course with me will never compete at a high level. But here’s the thing: I did two races last year in which I was in the very small slow group. if even a quarter of the academy ladies come and join me, then this year the slow group will be significantly augmented and we will gain confidence through having a number of competitors all working at the same level. And maybe next year we will have developed to be the next group up, while at the same time the new “slow group” will be stepping up to the starting line. If the academy offers that sort of continuity then we are in a very healthy place. That’s gotta be good for Scottish cycling. Now could somebody do something about this darn weather as I can’t cycle fast with all these clothes on.

SCRRA West region -  Day 1

SCRRA West region – Day 1

Keeping abreast of things

I need a new sports bra. There are no two ways about it. Well actually that isn’t true as one of the reasons I need a new sports bra is precisely because things are tending to go in two ways. At least. There are a further two reasons, since pairs seem appropriate to this, erm, discussion: first, my existing sports bra is suffering from accidental IIWW (inclusion-in-wrong-wash) Syndrome which means it is a lovely shade of battleship grey from top rigging to gunwhales. I am sure those at the top of the current leaderboard of the Daz Doorstep Challenge will be resting more easily in their wash baskets knowing that my undergarment is extremely unlikely to give them a run for their money, with the appropriate irony of that particular expression not being lost on me. But the second (and IMHO the crucial) reason for buying a new sports bra is that it is now too darn BIG for me. Now we’re not at the stage of suggesting that I could get both melons in the one string bag here (and please do remember we’re talking watermelons here and not cantaloupes), but I am at the stage where the level of slipping aboutage inside the garment may in fact give rise to sufficient friction to cause spontaneous combustion. Yes, I know that’s possibly bad science, but hey – the scale of the potential disaster is vast. Titanic, even.

I tell you of this need, dear Reader, mostly as a prelude to relating my experience during my last attempt to purchase a mega-hold, no-bounce sports bra. Having not been able to obtain a suitable one in local sports shops or that well-known sports provider George at ASDA, I eventually sourced one of sufficient dimension through Amazon. (At this point I find myself repeating my previous phrase about ” appropriate irony”, while simultaneously also finding myself wondering why Amazon bras still have two cups.) But the real issue with the whole deal came when the parcel arrived and I duly opened it. The bra was, in fact, several sizes too small having seemingly been made for a flat chested stick insect instead of the more bodaciously-bosomed intended recipient one might expect of a size cough-cough-splutter. But what really got me was the advisory cover letter sent by Amazon in which I was advised that:

“Owing to the size of some items, Amazon may find it necessary to despatch them in multiple parcels.”

Oh don’t titter.

Strava-igin

For those who aren’t blessed with the dialect of the chosen, “stravaigin” is a good old Scottish term that means to wander about aimlessly – or as I see in the corridors of Reid Kerr on a daily basis, being a student. I am a great advocate of stravaigin and take every opportunity to do so. My spiritual home of Islay is a top-notch location for a good stravaig being as there are countless beaches and woodlands where to hurry would be an almost criminal act. To give you a flavour of life on Islay, I shall repeat the story of the Ileach who when asked by a Spanish visitor what the equivalent Gaelic term for “manyana” was, replied “Och we haven’t anything with that degree of urgency.” But I digress.

I was alerted early in the new year to a cycling challenge being run by Strava, an online system for recording your cycling and other activities. This event – the January Base Miles Challenge – asked people to try to ride as many miles as possibly in January and record them on the system. Now January is usually a dismal month weather-wise in the west of Scotland with it either being wet and windy or covered in snow and ice. Sometimes it diverges from this norm and is wet & windy AND covered in snow and ice. It is usually a month in which I seriously believe I was a creature that hibernated in a previous incarnation as it just seems like such a damn sensible thing to do. It is with considerable effort that I emerge each morning from under the duvet. A far better thing would be just to crawl in there after Hogmanay and re-emerge sometime around early March, although these days I’d probably have to factor in a pee break in mid-February. But I have digressed again. (Pauses to ponder if one can digress from a digression. Then realises I just did.)

So, after some initial grumbling I decided it might just be the butt-kick I needed to drag me out of my seasonal (mal)adjustment disorder tendencies and make me actually do some cycling wandering about. If I’m honest the initial grumbling phase lasted as long as it took for a clubmate to point out to everybody that of course I’d be doing it as statistics were involved. Not that I want to prove his point, but I signed up to the event in precisely 49.7 seconds at an average speed of 50 words per minute. Thereafter, essentially it was a matter of doing as many miles as possible in the 31 days of January.

Enter Scottish weather stage left.

I was going to say Scottish winter weather but that would imply it gets better in other seasons.

Two things were noticeable early on in the challenge: first, the top of the leaderboard was peppered with participants from sunny climes. Although we were not having a bad winter here in Elderslie, it was frequently wet and windy, and frustratingly it only ever seemed to be nice on work days. I managed to get out on to a real road on 11 occasions only, with the remainder of my 29 rides being done on the trainer. Now if you’ve read a few posts back you’ll know that I am the proud parent of a virtual reality trainer and boy did it justify its existence over the January weeks. I was able to transport myself to the Algarve sunshine and recreate several rides I did last May on holiday. I also borrowed some ride data from a friend’s Garmin and as a result I know have a degree of intimacy with the roads of SC that is unusual for one who has never been there. However, such legitimate cheating allowed me to ride a goodly number of miles (totally accurate as far as distance is concerned and reasonable accuracy on the recreation of slope etc) which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

The second thing I noticed was that some of the participants were posting rides of thousands of miles. In fairness, either the posters themselves or the system moderators got rid of the ludicrous claims. The eventual winner (from Adelaide) notched up 3,871.2 miles over 43 rides and looking at his stats, it is perfectly genuine. Even my rubbish ability at Maths can work out that the top three riders averaged 100miles per day, so quite clearly the event favoured those who had a lot of disposable time as well as decent weather. 😉 If only if only.

So how did I do? Well, between real life and vicarious real life, I notched up 753miles – some 200 more than I’ve ever done in a calendar month before. In terms of the rankings, I came 3112th out of 36327 participants, and 146th female out of 2241, so I was in the top tenth in both cases. My clubmate, Drew Thomson managed to top that though (no, not in the gals’ event) to come in in 1372nd place overall with 958 miles. Well done, Drew. Although it was really just a bit of fun, I am quite pleased with myself. I am not sure if it will have done anything fr fitness level or increased speed or power, but it didn’t do any harm either. I just wonder if the people doing 150 miles a day will keep that output level up. I wonder indeed if I can keep up my own output, but to be honest, I’d be happy with half of that total per month if it lets me get to my desired 5000 miles for the year. I’ll give it a damn fine try anyway. So even if it really is a Swedish word meaning “to strive”, I still intend to set the coordinates for a major amount of stravaigin.

Shohin off my shohin

Well the nights are definitely getting lighter and the rise of a couple of degrees C in the rain and wind makes me feel that spring is just around the corner. Hah! Anyway, but seriously. The weather has actually been reasonably kind in this area and we have had only a handful of really cold days and nights over the winter. As a result, my trees are looking a lot less bedraggled and woebegone as they have done in previous winters. Because of work commitments I am unfortunately unable to go to the Swindon show this year but I am really looking forward to the Shohin UK event at the end of March. Organised by Mark and Ritta Cooper and Bob Bailey, this event should be a highlight of the UK bonsai year. And actually having been asked to put a display into the event is something extra special for me. I am under no illusions about being a great bonsai artist, indeed I don’t see myself as much more than a practitioner who has a lot to learn. But I have come on a fair bit in recent years and requests to put a display into such a prestigious show do wonders for reassuring me that I am well on track.

To ensure that I don’t let the side down, I used the wet and windy morning to start some real work on the trees I intend to use in my display. The relatively mild weather allows me to do more than I would at this time of year, and the trees being under cover in the glasshouse is an added bonus.

Today’s work was on my Black Pine which is the tree I tend to favour at the top of my rack display. It is a powerful tree – exactly what is called for in that dominant position. It pushed out a lot of new buds last year and these have grown on well. Some of the older shoots were getting quite leggy and the new growth will allow we to trim some of them off and bring the growth back in towards the trunk. A little bit of directional wiring and a clean out of the older needles the tree will be ready to roll at the show. Here it is after today’s minor trimming:

Half dressed

Half dressed

I have not yet decided which other trees will accompany the Black Pine on the rack. I have identified several possibles but a lot will depend on what looks best at the time. Possible include these:

Gardenia - although it is limping its way through the winter a bit

Gardenia – limping its way through the winter

An old favourite - my Ginkgo which may have its new pot by the time of the show

An old favourite – my Ginkgo which may have its new pot by the time of the show

I also have a Potentilla that I have been developing over the past couple of years and is perhaps now ready for inclusion. It needs a bit of carving to get it up to scratch though.

Potentilla 1

Potentilla 1

I also have a second, smaller potentilla that I used in the BSA show last year. At that point it looked like this:

Potentilla before

but I have subsequently removed the back branch to open out the nice twisty trunk a lot and it is now sporting a new pot. It is already popping out some buds so should be in good health by the time of the event. I would lose the heavy moss though.

Potentilla 1

Another contender, although perhaps not this year, is this Yew:

yew

yew

I would like to do some carving though before it goes to a show.

For the sixth tree, I will use either my trusty cascade White Pine as the sixth tree. Here it is at last year’s BSA Exhibition:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

but at some point I would like to use this fella who is too big for the main rack I feel.

Azalea neagari

Azalea neagari

So many decisions. But it’s good to have the ability to choose.

Dogged persistence

One of the other pluses about Himindoors’ current brush with employment despite being the proud owner of a bus pass and a winter fuel allowance is that I am using the time to do some bonding with my dawg. Now Buddy and I are already good pals, but if truth be told he is rather a daddy’s boy. (pauses in case there is a torrent of moaning about being referred to as the dog’s daddy. No? Moves on.) I have no doubt he adores us both equally but as George was the one he was with more when he was a puppy (the dog that is and not George) he tends to tag along with George more than me. I have tended to stay away from the morning walk as it has quite clearly become “boys time” and I have felt like a gooseberry on the few occasions I have “interloped”. We have always enjoyed long walks while on holiday or indeed at other times of day, but the morning walk is almost sacrosanct.

Philosophical Discussions 1

Philosophical Discussions 1

Philosophical Discussion 2

Philosophical Discussion 2

However, with Himself having to get up and out by 8am at the latest, the dog walk has been truncated to a quick 20 minute galumph over the hill and round the wasteground as opposed to his usual daily hour and a bit five miler. With my own hours being fairly well spread out over the week right now, I have had the luxury of a bit of free time to redress the balance and we have ventured forth on most days except those ones where it is too wet, too windy, too icy, too wet, windy and icy to venture anywhere but the back garden. I have even given up some cycling time for this but it’s been fun. A woodland we used to take our previous dogs to has been recently developed with a nice network of cinder paths and Buddy has been making some new friends over there, including a couple of deer which he decided he wouldn’t chase as they were going every bit as fast as the two greyhounds that had just shown him who was the king of the hill as far as speed was concerned. It’s been fun indeed. But I still let them have their boy time at the weekend.

Tree dog

Tree dog

Hail Caesar. And a fair bit of sleet, wind and rain thrown in for good measure

What little snow we had (and we got off lightly in this area) has gone, and it’s business as usual weather-wise – in other words rain and wind. I had planned on joining the Glasgow Spokes group for an MTB ride around Mugdock Park this morning, but at the point where a decision was required the heavens had been depositing a year’s supply of hailstones which were so big it sounded like some sort of demented samba band had taken up residence in our bin enclosure. Not surprisingly I decided to give the ride a miss. Now at this point I hear you ask how I ever get out cycling given that it rains pretty much all year round. Well, the difference is that summer rain is distinguishable from its winter cousin by dint of being several degrees C warmer. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Irrespective of what season it is, the cold rain that falls here has an abrasive quality that should really be marketed as a viable alternative to waxing and defoliation, given that it can remove the top layers from your skin in the time it takes to even think “Brazilian”. And when the wind is added to that, then you get death rain that comes in at you horizontally like a well-aimed and particularly well-sharpened scythe. To add ironic insult to any real or metaphorical injury accruing from such Grimly Reaped precipitation, that headwind you encounter invariably seems to be a headwind irrespective of which way you are facing.

But anyway. By 11.30am I had got bored of looking at the inside of my house and not even the pouting and shouting of Andy Murray could keep me indoors. Fortunately this period of fidgettiness coincided with what passes for a break in the weather around here. The yella thing was glinting through the storm clouds and if one was in any sort of good humour, then the sky beyond them could easily pass for a nice shade of Cerulean. Normally it is all fifty shades of grey at the one time although it is more likely to give you a right good soaking than a right good seeing to. I decided to don my winter clothing (no whips involved) and head out for a real road ride instead of embarking on yet another turbo session. I had hopes of doing the 43 miles that I needed to take me to 600miles in readiness for the last push in my Strava January challenge (that’s another story – report back in later in the week for that grande dénouement). However, 23 miles in the hailstones returned with a vengeance and home I headed, tailwind between my legs.

It did, however, get me to thinking it was about time I charted the layers that are needed for a Scottish cyclist in “normal” winter weather. I shall now do that while I ponder how I actually can move in all this lot.

Layer 1: rainjacket. I alternate this with a winter wind jacket depending on whether it is just merely wet or windy or whether it's wet AND windy

Layer 1: rainjacket. I alternate this with a winter wind jacket depending on whether it is just merely wet or windy or whether it’s wet AND windy

Underlayer - in this case a long-sleeve shirt

Underlayer – in this case a long-sleeve shirt

under-underlayer. This one is optional but today I needed it

under-underlayer. This one is optional but today I needed it

Windstopper skull cap, long-fingered Windstopper gloves and Rapha merino buff

Windstopper skull cap, long-fingered Windstopper gloves and Rapha merino buff

My snazzy (and toasty) new Craft Extreme baselayer with Windstopper front panel. Sweat and nipple marks are optional

My snazzy (and toasty) new Craft Extreme baselayer with Windstopper front panel. Sweat and nipple marks are optional

Thinsulate socks AND overshoes

Thinsulate socks AND overshoes

and not forgetting my very comfy and warm Pearly Iz winter bib tights

and not forgetting my very comfy and warm Pearly Iz winter bib tights

What is very ironic is that there have been days where I haven’t been wearing significantly fewer layers – in the summer. Maybe I should start just wearing a long black hooded cloak and carrying an hourglass just to get my own back on the weather.

The things that go bump…

One of the pluses of Himindoors’ return to the labour force is that we have been going to bed at a more sensible hour recently, although if we’re honest, that really is only the difference between 2.30am and 1.30am. Such disruption to my sleep patterns, however, has created some bizarre results. Not only have I taken to waking in the night with the urge to get straight up and google stuff, but it has also given me certifiable inclinations to do things like housework on my day off. So, this morning I have cleaned our kitchen worktops to within a millimetre of their lives – something brought about by having watched Food Inspectors last night and been frightened by the dour faced git telling us that our kitchen surfaces were positive death traps. Several things spring to mind regarding this tidying and cleaning malarkey: first, I am sure that like most of you dear readers, tidying comprises little other than moving stuff from one place to another. Indeed in our house it has got to the point where stuff appears now to move itself – as in some sort of object osmosis where those sundry items you have left lying around (mostly because you can’t be arsed finding somewhere to put them) have moved themselves from an area of high clutter to one of lesser clutter. Such ability of Stuff (on which I am now bestowing a capital letter) to migrate caused me a sweary moment during today’s worktop cleaning frenzy, as I stood back proudly to admire my squeaky clean and completely uncluttered worktop, only to turn round and find that all the Stuff had migrated to the worktop behind me that I hadn’t yet cleaned. No prizes for guessing where it all went when I started on that particular surface. The second thing about cleaning is that people tend to go all wrinkle-nosed around you in shops, which leads me to think that Eau de Cilit Bang might not be entirely marketable as a perfume – unless of course there is a very restricted (and quite possibly very dodgy) niche market out there for it.

The nocturnal googling is something else altogether. Going to bed early deprives me of at least an hour’s worth of searching for things (or possibly that should be Things) that have caught my eye and vaguely interested me. Last night’s 3am search was for a term I’d semi-consciously heard while dozing off in front of the 6 o’clock news.

So for the record, pelagic fish are those one which live near the surface of coastal, ocean or lake waters. NEVER confuse them with demersal fish which are, titteringly, bottom dwellers – a concept which I remember a colleague at the RSPB trying to explain to two spotty teenage work experience schoolboys who sniggered the whole way through her explanation, and consequently earned themselves the nicknames Beavis and Butthead for the rest of their spell with us.

The things that go bump in your mind in the night.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…

Okay the promise I made in June to do some serious updating clearly came to naught, as promises often do. That’s life I guess. Or at least it seems to be my life and I am sure I’m not alone.

2012 was a funny ole year – a number of high points and a number of low points, not the least of which is an ongoing worry about employment. Now I am fortunate in that I do a job I actually enjoy (FE college lecturer for those who don’t know already) but the employment situation in FE just now is pretty much at an all-time low and those of who only have part-time temporary status are particularly badly hit. In short, I don’t know from one term block to the next how many hours work per week I will have – or indeed if I will have any at all. It’s a rather precarious existence and I find myself wondering if perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere. Difficulty is, as I’ve said I enjoy this line of work plus I think I might actually be not too bad at it. It would be a tough decision to take any old job and run the risk of hating every minute of it. Hey ho. decisions decisions. Maybe there’s a little corner or green somewhere just waiting to be rubbed…

Cycling features largely in my life just now and it never fails to amaze me how much better I feel about life in general after a good cycle ride. I wonder if my friend who got me interested in cycling will ever know just how much of a life transforming event it was and continues to be. I hope I’ve not let them down as I stumble my way through road rides, cyclocross rides and hopefully soon some track rides. I will never be Victoria Pendleton (though I reckon I am a WAY better dancer than she is) but I do want to be better than I currently am.

Which brings me to the new year’s ambitions. Not resolutions as that conjures up memories of impossible/unrealistic/ just plain daft targets that were abandoned within weeks. This year’s ambitions are to get better at road cycling and cyclocross and the measure will be my stats logs (of course there are stats logs – this is me we’re talkling about), participation in events and a few wee additional personal challenges such as making it up The Rake and then up to the Peel Tower in a not to ridiculously slow time. In fact, I’ll settle for just making it up in the one day. 😉 I have been asked to exhibit at a prestigious bonsai event in March, so that will spur me on to doing greater things with wee trees this year. I have got the collection to a manageable level by concentrating on the better trees and offloading the less good ones. All I need to do now is stop buying the darn things!

So, the new year brings a bit of anxiety job-wise but a few positives to be getting on with.

Not bad for someone who ended the year cycling about dressed as an elf.

Elf and safety gone mad

Elf and safety gone mad

Tempus fugits like they say

Goodness it’s been a while – how very negligent of me. Now, where to start? Probably it would be best NOT to try and recount everything that’s happened post at a time, so here’s the whistlestop tour:

Me: had a wee encounter with a scalpel-wielding scourgeon in mid-December (2011 – I’m not THAT far behind!) Without going into the fine details it was a lady op that in hindsight I should have had ages ago as in one swell foop it removed so many problems along with a certain unused but bothersome part of my inner anatomy. And for once I was one of the lucky ones and experienced no pain – to the extent that I flagged it up as my only worry at my 6-week checkup as I’d read stories of women suffering for months on end afterwards. I was back up and walking (slowly at first of course) after a week and my maiden (inappropriate given that they’d just wheeched my maiden bits out) voyage took the form of two laps of Forrest Furnishings boxing day sale. Back on track now five months later but still with a bit swollen a belly. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it anyway.

Bonsai: British Shohin Association show went well and I got a Certificate of Merit for my display. Excellent

Bikes: loads of stuff to tell so over this week I will get sorted with the highlights.

Promise.

No April Fooling

April Fool’s Day saw me over in Dunfermline with John, Susan and Fiona Walker for the Dunfermline Sportive. There was something of a ground frost when we started out but the day got progressively warmer and not just because of Cleish Hill. The route was 45miles of the Fife countryside with a nice mix of flat stretches and hills. And a bloody great mountain too, or so it seemed. Cleish Hill is a big ‘un but definitely cycleable. I just wish it had appeared at the beginning of the ride instead of the end. I will go back one day and try it again but I must admit to having done a wee bit of pushing up the early stretch of it. I allowed myself to use the “recovering from surgery” excuse too. Shameless.

pushing those miles