I’m never going to the toilet at work again

Well what a week! It’s been a beautiful week in Auckland with endless glorious weather and yet I was working. I can see the harbour from my office window and have had my desk turned round on purpose so that it is not too distracting but it just looked so fantastic and it did make it difficult to fully concentrate on the task in hand. I didn’t really mind working between Christmas and New Year given that I’d worked Christmas anyway and have time off in January and February. It can be quite productive working when there aren’t many other people there as you can get a lot done. It was my big aim to get my admin work done and my desk cleared in a mission to finally go paperless for 2018. That much I did achieve. As usual though, achieving anything was hampered by misfortune and ridiculous happenings.

Viaduct harbour
This gorgeous city in which I live

My office is on a floor which we rent in a private office block across the road from the main building so I often spend all day walking back and for. These last few days I’ve mainly been cooped up in the office, decamping mainly to get coffee and lunch. On Wednesday, I managed to get locked out of the office by simply going to the toilet, which is in the stairwell, without my swipe card. I also didn’t have my phone so attracting attention was impossible and no amount of banging on the door would alert anyone and the staff simply weren’t there. I ended up having to go down the stairs, exiting the building and walking barefoot to the main building to use a computer to look up people’s phone numbers to get help. It took me more than 2 hours to get all this sorted out and made me feel even more of a saddo that I was in work but everyone else was at home enjoying themselves.

It’s not the first time I’ve been locked out of course. There was the recent incident when I couldn’t open the door between my garage and house so I slept in the car briefly before realising I had a spare key secreted away in the back of my handbag from the last time I’d been locked out and rescued it from the neighbours. Then there was the time I slept in the garden after losing my handbag in an Uber. We all know that that ended badly… Then there was an occasion at work when I got locked out in the very same toilet after hours while changing to go to a black tie event. That time I had my phone with me so called a colleague who lives close by. Little did I know he would arrive so quickly while I was still in my bra and pants!

Yesterday was my mate Big Li’s birthday. Big Li is my UK bestie. She’s not big but she occupies a big space in my life, hence her nickname. She called me Aitchie, as in HE for my initials. That’s just how it is. I miss her. It as an odd thing being so far away from family and friends and yet when you do meet up, it’s like you’ve never been separated. We’ve been friends since University days. It is strange to think our friendship rose out of the twist of fate of being randomly allocated to the same tutor group and so we were sent on attachments together. Big Li had a car and lived close by so would give me a lift. This was almost a ritualistic event in that I would wait at the end of the my street and she would stop only very briefly, fling the door open and I’d jump in hastily, all to ensure the car didn’t stall, especially on cold wintry mornings. The car was a Fiat Panda, very lovingly referred to as the egg box. There was always an assortment of cassette tapes strewn all over the floor and at least 3 locks that would be applied when we pulled up. There’d be the one between the gear stick and the hand brake. Then there two between the pedals and the steering wheel. This always seemed like a rigmarole to me, especially as I couldn’t imagine the egg box ever being stolen. Even thieves have standards… It was ages before I found out that these locks were all for show as Big L had lost the keys some years before. In recent years, Big Li and I have had some great trips with a mutual friend where have met up only briefly, usually when I have been somewhere closer to them for a conference. We have had just the best time. There were various escapades in Taipei when Big Li and I ended up eating (not very much) deer penis. Then there was Berlin where the three of us accidentally, yes accidentally, ended up at the poshest Michelin starred restaurant where we had the most fantastic degustation meal while Big L was dressed in jeans, C was wearing flip-flops and I hadn’t dried my hair. Most recently we had a driving holiday in Spain where Big Li and myself segwayed around Barcelona then drove to meet C further north. This involved Big Li taking sedatives to counteract her car sickness while I struggled with the left hand drive car, gears, motorways, the annoying Australian satnav man, all while she snored away in the passengers seat. One night we stayed in an uber-modern newly-opened hotel in Pamplona. While we sat sipping the obligatory cava proffered as a welcome drink, the receptionist started taking our fingerprints. It seemed somewhat unusual until she explained that they have no keys and this is how you get in to your room. What a marvellous idea. No more pitching up at reception as you’ve left your key in the room and slammed the door behind you. So, if a small hotel in Pamplona can employ such technology, why don’t we have that at home, at work and in the car? Surely it will come but I feel like I need it now! If I get locked out of anywhere else ever again, I think I may just never leave the house again. I’m certainly never going to the toilet at work again. I’ll buy a commode instead. Actually, I won’t as we have glass walls and no blinds but otherwise it would be very appealing.

On the cycling front, it’s been a mainly successful week. I’ve cycled the furthest I’ve ever been in one ride at 31 kms and it felt fine. Much of it was fun and I really did enjoy it. That’s about half of the average day’s cycling in Sri Lanka so I feel hopeful I can at least complete the trek. Hills are still a problem however. I asked a friend who does a lot of cycling for advice. At first, everything he said made sense: anticipate the hills, change down through the gears gradually, try to keep momentum up. Then he used the word cadence and the rest of the conversation was white noise. He may as well have been speaking in Swedish. Actually, maybe he was speaking in Swedish?

Hobson's Bay
My starting and finishing point

I pimped my ride yesterday with a bell, phone carrier so I can pick up GPS and a mirror. I even bought a lock so that I can tie up my bike while I go in a shop or cafe. Presumably next week I will be telling you that I forgot the combination and had to abandon my bike… The bell and the mirror have become absolute necessities because there are some really stupid people out there. I have been cycling on this shared cycle pavement with very clear marking as to which lane is for cyclists and which is for pedestrians but it seems that this is too difficult for the average pedestrian to understand. I feel I’ve cycled enough to now understand the biggest hazards:

  • Tourists – these are also usually the quickest to jump out of the way when you shout at them
  • Beautiful people who stroll – these people never move. They would rather be run over than step aside. They are entitled to the whole pavement 
  • Couples walking hand in hand – also very unlikely to move and usually the male gives you the evils
  • Dog walkers – why is it the poor dog that has to walk in the cycle lane while the owner has the pedestrian lane? Usually they are quickly pulled out of the way and there is often a smile as well
  • Mercedes – obviously if you own one of these you can park it where you like. Even on the pavement. Even on the cycle pavement
  • Rolling skating adults – I just don’t get adults on roller-skates. They never move out of your way as they are usually uncoordinated, totally out of control and only milliseconds away from falling over
  • Prams – I hesitated to write babies but it’s not their fault that their parents seem so incapable of driving their carriages in a straight line in the correct lane. Why expose your baby to the risk of the cycle lane? I’ve lost count of the number of babies in prams I’ve encountered who have been parked in the cycle lane while their harassed parents stress over and tend to an unruly toddler. Please don’t do it. Keep your babies safe

Do enjoy my video where I explain more details of the lock out. It is New Year’s Eve tonight. I hope you all have a fabulous evening. I plan an afternoon cycle and then a party with friends. Take care everyone, take your keys with and keep them on you at all times… xx

Cwm Bi Dingle is wherever and whatever you want it to be

Somewhere in mid Wales is this wonderful place called Cwm Bi Dingle. It is green and lush. It is dry and arid. It is deep in the Brecon Beacons but it is also beside the sea. It is both hilly and flat, wet yet sunny and when I say it is in mid Wales, it is also in the south and possibly the west as well. It is wherever and whatever you want it to be but is most definitely one of the most magical places on earth. You see, no-one really knows where it is. Perhaps they once knew, but now they have forgotten and to a large extent, it really doesn’t matter. Cwm Bi Dingle is a different place for me than it is for my brother or my parents. You see, Cwm Bi Dingle exists only in our imaginations. I’d love to go back there. I can picture it now. For me, it had a moors-like quality with wild flowers which fluttered in the wind to which the moors are prone. There was the most terrific ice cream van where you could buy the whitest ice cream and where a 99 came with not one flake, but two.

When I was a young child, I was quiet and serious. This may be difficult for my current-day friends and colleagues to believe but it is true. Mr Davies, my favourite school teacher, even wrote on my report that I was too serious for my own good. My mother still has that report somewhere. I was also quite fearful about certain things, one of which was getting lost and not being able to find my way home. I once got lost while playing outside at my Auntie Gwyneth’s house. We didn’t visit Auntie Gwyneth very often so I didn’t really know the lay of the land where she lived and on trying to find my way back to her house, I was threatened by a snarling German Shepherd dog. I back tracked and walked a different way but then I got lost. On another occasion, my mother took me shopping to Cardiff and we went into a department store. We went in a lift between floors and this is my earliest memory of going in a lift. At first I thought it was magic. To go in on one floor and exit on another was both unbelievable and incredible to me. But soon my face crumpled and I began to cry because it seemed that we had left one world and entered another, one where my father and baby brother didn’t happen to be. I was so upset that this was only solved by my mother taking me down the stairs to show me that we were only on the floor above where we’d set off.

One of my parents’ preferred Sunday activities was to go for a drive. Most of my childhood, both my parents had various Ford Cortinas. I think my father had a blue mark 2, a red mark 3, a gold mark 4 and a navy mark 4 estate before eventually breaking the cycle and graduating to a Volvo. My mother had a mark 2 of indistinguishable colour with holes where the locks used to be, a back seat that shot forward whenever she braked and a radiator that overheated every time she drove it. Anyway, we would venture out in one of the many Cortinas, often with a picnic and sometimes with my grandparents in tow in their Morris Oxford. The destination was usually wherever took my father’s fancy. Now, what I would not have appreciated at this stage is that my father’s knowledge of the geography of south and mid Wales is faultless. There is nowhere he hasn’t been and he can beat any satnav directions to a destination. His job as a younger man involved driving throughout the region and he knew the roads intimately. But, his inability to state where exactly we might be heading on one of these trips and precisely when we would be arriving back at the house was always interpreted by me as us being lost. Panic would set in, my lip would start quivering and I would almost silently weep in the back seat whereupon my brother would start laughing, fuelling anger and more upset on my part. Our sister hadn’t been born at this stage but I remember later trips where she was squashed between us in her car seat and when she fell asleep, her head would always flop down onto my shoulder (never my brother’s) and leave a warm, wet patch.

It was on one of these trips that we discovered Cwm Bi Dingle. “You know where we’re going, don’t you Dad?” “We’re not lost, are we Dad?” And so it went on. “Don’t be so daft Love, we’re off to Cwm Bi Dingle”. On the next trip, we had the same old questions but I was reassured all was fine as we were off to Cwm Bi Dingle again – and again, and again. At one point I asked my parents why we hadn’t gone to the same precise part of Cwm Bi Dingle as the first time, the place where we’d had the ice creams. The answer was obvious – it was a big place and it wasn’t possible to see all of it every time we went. If I’m honest, no visit to Cwm Bi Dingle ever lived up to the first time but it didn’t matter too much because at least my father knew how to get there and, consequently, how to get home.

I don’t remember when or how I found out about this elaborate scheme. Not that it was elaborate. I think he had made this place up on a whim, in the spur of the moment but it became embedded in family history forever. Maybe there was no big revelation, just a gradual realisation that Cwm Bi Dingle was in fact a series of places. It wouldn’t be correct to say that Cwm Bi Dingle never existed as all of the places were real. It was just that they were all places with other names, none of which was Cwm Bi Dingle and they were all in different locations.

In the present day, I wouldn’t say I enjoy getting lost but it usually frustrates me rather than causing mass panic. I have a relatively well developed sense of direction and am confident I would be able to find my way home from anywhere by simply re-tracing my steps. But today I found my Cwm Bi Dingle.

I wanted to try a new cycle route so I looked up local possibilities and settled on a track of around 7.5kms. It was not a circuit so there and back would be 15kms and I vaguely thought I could do it twice to make 30kms to build up distance and stamina. Armed with the map downloaded onto my phone, off I went. I immediately went wrong even while driving there and ended up entering the track about a kilometre after the start. The track seems to connect a series of parks and each time I entered a new park I’d end up circling it at least once before finding the exit. Signage was terrible, not helped by some of the signs looking like they’d been turned around either as some sort of jape or to conspire against me. A couple of times I ended up on the main road by mistake and there were several car parks where I just went round and round until it became more obvious where I was supposed to be heading. The map on the cycle track website was not terribly clear and not all the road names were marked. A map of the area on the navigation of my phone looked totally different but did not have cycle paths marked. I ended my outward cycle when I reached the motorway! Yes, I could have continued all along the side of the motorway to where I work but it’s not very scenic and I can save that for another day. Worryingly, my map didn’t show this cycle path joining up with the one alongside the motorway but perhaps the connecting of the two is a recent event (or I went wrong again, which seems more likely).

How did I get here?
And all of a sudden, I am unexpectedly beside the motorway!

So, unsurprisingly, my cycle trip was 13kms one way and 7.5kms on the way back. What a difference! Parts were alongside the river so there was some undulation and there were more teeny tiny hills for practice, some of which were preceded by downhill sections so I was able to gather some momentum and speed for the ascent. This is the first time I’ve cycled over 20kms and I felt I could have carried on longer if it hadn’t been for risking getting more lost but also the light was fading and it was getting dark. In the end, it didn’t matter that I may or may not have cycled along my intended route. It was the distance that was important, the fact that I really enjoyed it and that my confidence continues to grow with each outing and I begin to feel more at home in the saddle.

So, Cwm Bi Dingle is whatever and wherever you want it to be. Today it was in west Auckland but its precise location remains unknown and is irrelevant as long as you enjoy where you go and get something out of the experience. Now, where was that ice cream van with the double-flaked 99?

A disaster on the teeny tiny hill and a puncture

I’m an owl. I go to bed late and as much as I’ve tried retraining myself over the years to become a dove, it always fails. My most successful attempts have been on returning from Europe when jet lag tends to help me achieve a brief dove-like state but it is always short lived. Those people who retire by 9.30pm and get up at 5am are a source of envy but an enigma to me. I’d love to be like them and they’re always so smug, but failure always catches up with me. I try regularly to go to bed at 9.30pm but I never actually get there before midnight despite the fact it is just around the corner from the living room in my very small house. The combination of my owl status and my fondness for procrastination always conspire against me. I am also queen of the snooze button. I’ve literally tried everything – putting my alarm across the other side of the room, keeping my bedroom cold, drinking a litre of water before I go to bed and so on. Nothing works. It takes my setting the alarm every 5 minutes for at least an hour before I can even think about swinging a leg over the side of the bed. And I may as well forget it in winter as the slightest chill in the room is such a disincentive to rising. I love my bed and I love it especially in the mornings. So it is a challenge to get up in time for the gym 3 mornings a week and it never gets easier.

By the way, my sister has an irrational dislike and fear of owls. This has made me realise that they’ve been omnipresent for the last few years. You can’t even buy a decent tea towel without an obligatory owl festooned upon it. Recently however, I feel they may be on the wane in favour of unicorns. Unfortunately my sister doesn’t like unicorns either. It’s a double whammy for the poor love but at least provides the rest of us with birthday and Christmas buying fodder. What a fussy one! She will kill me when she reads this…

You can understand therefore that getting up needlessly early is the worst kind of torture for me. And so it was today. “Don’t be late” said Sam, my boxing trainer at the gym. “I have someone else directly after you”. I managed to leave the house on time, gym kit on, work bags in the car, cats fed and watered, house alarm set and so on. So, imagine my disappointment when I was a few hundred metres down the road and I heard a sadly familiar noise. I had a puncture. As I was not far from home, I drove back. I thought that at least I could try and sort it out from the comfort of my own home rather than beside the road. At first I thought my workmen could help when they arrived (yes, the renovations continue still) but then I thought no, I’d rather they finish the endless renovations this side of 2018. So after a shower, I called the AA and waited patiently. Actually, they were very efficient. You don’t even need to speak to a human to get them to come and a friendly man called Chris appeared quickly. However the wheel was changed to one of those space saver jobbies so my next port of call was a tyre shop where I remained for the rest of the morning, my work time ebbing away along with far more dollars than I wanted to relinquish. They’re never pleasant places are they? A waiting room of torn leatherette chairs and decades-old magazines and a toilet which looked like it had not been cleaned since the last millennium where a “hover pee” was definitely the order of the day. As I sat there waiting, I thought fleetingly that at least it was the Italian branded car that had suffered this fate and not my bike because if I had a puncture on the 2 wheeled vehicle, I would literally have no idea what to do other than walk back to from where I had set out. I must resolve to put this right, I thought casually. I shall learn to change a tyre. I am really not sure how I thought I would learn this but at least the intention was there.

So, imagine my shock, when on ascending the teeny tiny hill this evening, I lost my bike chain. There are 3 things I have been dreading on the bike, other than failure of course: the chain coming off, a puncture and falling off. Not knowing what to do about the fact that at the front of my bike the chain seemed to not be around any of the 3 cogs (is that what they’re called?) but rather was flapping loosely in the breeze, I initially thought I’d just get back on regardless and give it a go in case I’d made a terrible mistake. I had not. Then I realised I had no choice but to walk the bike 4.5 km to the start of the trail, where I had parked. After a few metres I came to the realisation that this was ridiculous and forced myself to have a proper look at the bike and to really think about how I might be able to re-connect the chain. And I managed it – even without resorting to Google. My hands were filthy, but the chain was back on and I could resume my cycling. It felt like a triumph.

So, a puncture and a chain disconnection in one day but maybe not how I can completely imagined these events unfolding. Now all I need is a fall…

In other news. I have received paperwork from the charity organising the trek. There is the usual stuff about insurance, visas and ethical tourism. But then there is the packing list. This is always most enlightening. For example:

  • Underwear (or undwear as they’ve typed). Do I really need to be told to pack my kecks? I’m highly unlikely to forget underwear. It feels so strange when you forget and head out of the house without any, floppy bits a-swinging in the breeze, that you instantly remember. It’s like putting milk on a shopping list. But thanks for the reminder anyway
  • Thermal socks. Hmmm. It will be more than 30 degree celsius most days
  • Jogging shoes. No thanks. Cycling 470 kms is enough without resorting to jogging on holiday
  • Cycling gloves to avoid sunburnt hands. Well that’s helpful as I’d never have thought of that as a potential problem
  • Travel towel. Sorry, I’m not falling for that old chestnut again. They’re so small and non absorbent you can only dry one bum cheek and it gets so wet you may as well throw the damned thing away. I’d rather manage with a flannel or drip drying
  • Pannier or handle bar bag. I wonder if I show up with my small bag if someone will finally show me how it actually fits on a bike?
  • Cycle helmet. Hmmm, you said they were provided
  • Toe clips. What are they?
  • Bike shoes. Ditto?
  • Bike pedals. I really, really hope you haven’t rented bikes without pedals for us
  • Bike saddle. Same
  • Gel seat. Well yes, the catastrophists are so concerned about my nether regions that I’d already thought of that one
  • Playing cards. OK, is this the 20th century still?

But I know exactly what will happen. I’ll feel I should take it all anyway just in case and end up with the world’s largest case then only ever use about 10 per cent of it. But, it’s a start and they haven’t mentioned bringing any resuscitation equipment so maybe it’s not so bad after all.

Thanks to those who have already made donations. I already have enough for more than one bike. I am truly grateful. Here is the site for anyone else feeling jolly and generous this festive season!

Right, my next post and video will be my festive message to you all. You have been warned xx