Monday, January 9, 2012

A good day.

Today was a good day.

I woke up at around 10 and listened to Excess Baggage, a travel programme on Radio 4. One of the guests was a veteran woman adventurer who'd travelled south and east Asia solo in the 1950s. I imagined her to be a spirited woman who'd be great fun to have as a grandmother. Following this, as I lazed in bed, was Reasons to be Cheerful, a light hearted exploration of grumpiness and happiness which included a brief foray into karaoke, invented by the Japanese but very popular across Asia , including Taiwan where it is known as KTV.

Having had fond memories of drunken exploits in the 10 storey KTV palaces common in Taiwan awoken, I ventured downstairs to eat breakfast. My dad was opening the mail at the kitchen table as I made the essential morning litre of tea. I made myself comfortable with a good mug of strong tea, a bowl of cereal and a section of The Guardian. My dad opened an envelope which contained a card and three sub envelopes addressed to my brother, sister and myself. The package was from the my late 'Aunty' Iris' niece, who'd been responsible for her estate. It contained a sum of money part of which was a  legacy specified in the will and part of which was at the discretion of Iris' niece in generous recognition of the fact the original sum had been determined some time ago. The precise amount is irrelevant, though it is enough to be both useful and memorable. The entirely discretionary excess from the executor was very kind. I look forward to setting up home with Rosey and choosing something useful and lasting to remember Iris by.

I wanted to get the money into my savings account as soon as possible, not out of any desire to spend it but because it made it somehow more tangible. A bank balance on a computer screen is no more real than a cheque, both represent potential, but I wanted to get on with it rather than reading the card, acknowledging it and going back to my breakfast. Getting on my bike immediately, racing to catch the next train to Brighton and paying it into The Cooperative Bank (ethical investments n.b.) before they closed at 1pm felt like due recognition of the gift.

I dashed to the station, lined up at the ticket machine behind a gaggle of school children and bought my ticket with just enough time to board the train. On reaching Brighton at 12.47, I raced the half a mile to the bank and made with a five minutes to spare, paying the cheque in immediately before the bank closed.

I had another task in Brighton too. My parents had offered to get my bike serviced for Christmas so I needed to get a quote. Strangely, it had originally been my Taiwanese bike that we thought needed the serious work but on closer examination all it needed was a once over that was well within my capabilities. My Scott racer however, had been sitting unloved (or loved from afar) in the garage for 10 years and needed all of the regular replacement parts and adjustments such as brake blocks and cables, and some more infrequent ones too, such as a whole new drivetrain - chain, cassette (cogs) and chainwheels. This was turning into a significant job, likely to be beyond the budget of a Christmas present.

My first port of call was Evans cycles. I spoke to a young man who gave me his opinion. The basic service would include the usuals - blocks, cables, housings etc and the wear on the drivechain was very obvious. He looked at the wheels, said the rims were dangerously worn and that all in, I could spend £300 to get the bike into perfect working order but I'd make better use of my money replacing the bike. He went on to say that to get a similar spec on a new bike would cost £700! How spending twice the money and scrapping a bike worked out as better value, I'm not sure.

There's a variety of bike shops in Brighton and I decided it would be as well to get a variety of opinions. The next shop gave a slightly better quote but also recommended replacement because the parts for my 12 year old machine were increasingly difficult to come by.

I moved on to three more bike shops, and each of them were scathing about the first two saying my bike was basically a good bike, even with a reasonable resale value, and that the parts were still available. They didn't reckon the wheels needed replacing but we were still looking at £150-£200 including parts and labour. Not cheap, but all machines require maintenance, even to the extent that you'll eventually spend more on that than the original price.

As I left Sydney Street Bikes, I heard a distinctive voice talking to his girlfriend about the bikes on display in the street. Not only was his voice vaguely familiar but when I took a second glance, his appearance seemed familiar too. Combined with the fact that he was talking about bikes, I thought to myself, "Is that Samer?"  Samer is a friend of a friend from London, a keen cyclist who managed to inspire the most unlikely of my social group to take up cycling. I've met Samer two or three times and this guy seemed unnervingly close but at the same time, not quite as I remembered. Just as he was walking away, I thought, "No harm in asking..."

"Samer...?" I called out. He turned around and said yes, clearly unaware who I was. "I'm Mark's mate, Toby," I said, confident that a fellow cyclist would remember me and my adventures traversing the globe in the saddle.

"Which Mark?" he asked.

"Mark Russell, didn't you live with him?" I said, a little perplexed.

"That's my brother," he replied, "I'm called Saamah too!"

"I thought you looked a little different," I said. He was pleased, explaining that there was seven years between them. We chatted for a minute or so and then, with little more to say, went our own ways, uplifted by an agreeable coincidence and congenial human interaction.

I had another reason to visit the bike shops as well. Hassocks Community Cycle Hire is looking to form a business partnership for the coming season, giving it access to highly skilled mechanics to carry out the full range of services. It was delegated to me to test the waters with shops that could be interested. There was enough interest in the shops I visited to merit putting together a more formal proposal, which we will be doing shortly. In one of the shops, I met an employee who was very enthusiastic about the project on a personal level and seemed like a good person to stay in contact with, regardless of whether he would be an actual business partner.

With the wind in my sails, I rode up to the station and caught a train that was leaving within a couple of minutes. With no time to spare, I got on at the first vestibule, where I found another bike propped up against the opposite door. I had no option but to stay with my bike at least until the train set off and with few free seats and only a ten minute journey there was little point in sitting down. I looked the other bike up and down, as cyclists are wont to do and glancing down the carriage saw my action had flushed out its owner, who was sitting further down the carriage clearly aware his bike was being given the eye. It was a nice bike with traditional road touring geometry. Aware of each other but with no reason to break the ice we carried on as before.

It was only when his bike fell over that he had reason to come and talk to me. "Nice bike," I said and he returned the complement. We got chatting and I explained that mine was a nice bike, but it needed a lot of work and that I'd got some quite different opinions and quotes from different shops. He was unsurprised, particularly about the chain store (sorry, no pun intended). We made the usual small talk and over the course of the journey I discovered that he did a bit of touring himself, appeared to be a similar age to myself and knew what he was talking about. I was just beginning to regret that I had to get off at the next stop, before I'd had time to establish how far away he lived and whether it might be worth staying in touch. Perhaps he was thinking the same and as the train decelerated into Hassocks, he gathered his things together and made ready to get off. "Oh, er, are you getting off at Hassocks, too?" I asked. It turned out that he, like me, having been far and wide was now living with parents in Hassocks in his mid 30s and I got the impression that he was probably as glad to bump into me as I was him. He lived in the centre of the village and we rode down, chatted for a short while and arranged to ride to Lewes and have a few pints mid week.

I arrived home invigorated, having established that my racing bike would soon be in top condition, paintwork notwithstanding, made progress with a worthwhile community project, and through fortuitous timing having been in just the right place at the right time to have several heartening human interactions.

To top it all, I went for a quick spin on my other bike, establishing that it was indeed in good working order and then returned home made up with a friend who I'd carelessly managed to offend online the day before. The lesson, doing things, being physically active and interacting with people makes you feel good.


  1. That was Saturday, btw. It's now 01:44 on Monday morning. I write best at this time but had only got halfway through by 02:30 last night, when I decided to call it a night. I wish I could be a little more regular in the hours I keep, but I've always been a night person. Hopefully when Rosey arrives we'll go to bed a little earlier.

  2. You bumped into Saamah, my old flatmate is Samer.

    One thing I learnt from the latter is that all bike maintenance is possible in the back garden. You might need to buy tools, but they're reusable and your own labour is likely cheaper than a shop's.

  3. Great, I was wondering about the spelling. Duly noted. The guy I met on the train told me as much too. The original idea was fitting a new bottom bracket, which I'd never done before and was a little cautious about. Having discovered that whatever was jamming the bike's movement previously (on brief inspection before racing to catch a train some time ago) was no longer an issue, I just thought I'd get the other one sorted to professional standards. Given my current situation and that the budget for the Christmas gift was not intended to be anything like the quotes I was given, I may well spend some time sorting it out myself.

    N.B. I see Evans Cycles have got themselves an advert below!


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