Garden works

So we’ve decided to totally and utterly obliterate our old weedy garden and start from scratch. It’s cleared now and over the next few weeks we’re going to replant it.

Last week we laid two patios; one a rondal, the other a small sun patio for the evenings when the bottom of the garden goes into shade.

We have kept the shrubs which are healthy though as we aren’t really going to have any grass as such – it’s going to be all low shrubs and perennials including a fern area for me since I love ferns.

Yesterday I put in the lighting. Two bollards, both concreted and on drilled slabs to ensure they look tidy. Getting them vertical was not easy as the slabs are textured but I managed it.

I hate floodlights but I love to see low level lighting which is well designed and doesn’t light up the whole world. These are downward reflecting bollards which have a really good rating for efficiency when it comes to not sending light up into the sky. Over 99% of emitted light useful.

As an extra bonus I’ve put smart bulbs in them so we can dim them and change the colour of the lighting as required. This makes them really useful as we can mood light the garden.

They’re all on sunset timers and they turn off late at night, but like the rest of our stuff there are linking actions through Smartthings so if it senses movement on the camera it turns them on low for 10 minutes before fading then back down.

The other wire is for a socket on a post. This time we are determined to do it right and have some power on each of the two patio areas.

Ooooh shiny!

So ASOS knows me exactly.

They sent me an advert on Facebook and it was for a high shine suit. I had to buy! It’s arriving this week.

The only worry I have is that it says in the reviews “runs small” and “no stretch on the fabric” on the sizing and even though I’m now a 36″ waist it’s a close thing. I’m not a belted 36 (which is my eventual aim).

It might not fit me now, but soon?

As you well know I have a huge penchant for shiny formal wear!

Mask Exempt?

I was at Alton Towers last week again. Yeah I know I love that place. Thursday was spent with friends and was a great time. We did the usual way of queueing for all the rides and enjoyed the conversation (and the Yorkshire pudding wraps).

We only managed about seven rides as it was really busy. Most of the day the queues were above 1 hour for most of the rides although the Smiler did get up to 110 minutes at one point.

That night I spent the evening in the hotel. Just me alone. I was in room 101. I will never go in a room so close to reception ever again. Whilst I accepted that there would be noise from the patio until about 11:15 when they turned the heaters off I didn’t then expect a member of staff to rearrange the furniture in the upstairs lounge at 3am.

Anyone who knows the TV programme Room 101 will shudder at the thought of staying in it. It’s the room into which you put all the bad things of society.

The lake in the middle is quite nice though. I had a view over this from my room (as opposed to every previous visit where I’ve had a view of carparks).

In all honesty though – I’ve never had a great experience at the Alton Towers hotels. If I were reviewing the stay as a whole I’d say the hotels are a bit of a cop out. The so called themed decor in some of the rooms is minimal – mine was simply a border, carpet and light fittings. Very little extra was done to make it an explorer room – and above and beyond what a standard Holiday Inn does there’s not much for kids to do at night. You need to entertain them yourselves.

Now I know I didn’t pay extra for a luxury room – this time it’s only the basic room – but still… I will say though that it’s very comfortable compared to a Travel Lodge or Holiday Inn room.

Breakfast the next day was at 7:30 ready for me to walk up to the park gates.

I was one of the first up there at about quarter to nine, and at just after nine o’clock they let us into the park. With no early ride time at the moment due to social distancing everyone is getting let in at 9. This gave me plenty of time to collect my Platinum pass!

Unbelievably on day two I hardly took any photos! Then again, I’ve got more than enough photos of rides from different angles and it certainly wasn’t great light for photos with a typical British grey sky sitting above.

I’m a bit miffed by some of the current Fastpass lines too, whilst Smiler, Oblivion, Rita and Th13teen have decent queue jump facilities; the batching points for Nemesis, and most specifically Galactica are far too early down the queue line and after you’re batched you still have 5 minutes of queue time ahead for Nemesis, and 15-20 minutes of queue time ahead. Hardly Fastpass – considering it’s a £105 upgrade!

This September is my next trip and I’ll be doing it the normal way then. No fast-pass. The park tends to quieten down in September, plus whilst fastpass has its benefits for maximum ride I do find I lose a lot of the experience of the place as I feel like I need to maximise my pass. When I do it the slow way I’ll sit in for dinner rather than grabbing it on the fly.

So I’ll say farewell to Alton Towers until September.

First Operation Snap success!

I didn’t start cycling to grass on people; I started it to get fit whilst enjoying myself. However I also didn’t start it to get hit by an idiot in a car who thinks passing me at less than 30cm is an acceptable overtake.

Police now run a system called operation snap where people can upload videos of such things for assessment and possible prosecution, and a few weeks ago I submitted my first one. It was on a cycle ride just outside Normanton – I’d taken the bike on the van and had a little ride at work during my lunch break.

The car in question – strangely enough an electric vehicle – a mini – put the pinch on me and forced me to swerve towards the kerb as they did a MGIF (must get in front). We stopped at lights not 100 yards later and I went up the cycle lane on the inside.

Well I submitted the video to West Yorkshire Police operation snap and I received a notification yesterday that the driver had been sent a notice of intended prosecution and had been offered a driver improvement course at their own expense.

Driver improvement courses are an alternative to 3 penalty points; although they stay on your driving record for 3 years and you can’t do another until the previous one has expired – so if you commit another offence you’ll not be offered one and will be dealt with in the appropriate manner. They cost more than the fixed penalty fine (£140 versus £100) but you don’t have to tell your insurers.

Sadly, South Yorkshire Police have yet to roll out operation snap – I had one close pass yesterday which I would certainly have reported – but I’ve sent an email to them asking when the scheme is to roll out and attaching my close pass video for their consideration.

I’ll not be publishing the videos provided both are resolved successfully. Whilst cyclingmikey on YouTube does post them with the result; I have a belief that if you report someone off the back of a dashcam or cycle cam video and they are successfully prosecuted then they should not be embarrassed any further for their mistake and hopefully they have learnt their lesson.

100 miles done. 100 miles started.

Last month I rode 100 miles for Prostate Cancer UK with sponsorship from various friends. This month I’m doing the same but for Mexborough and Swinton Astronomy Society – a charity and organisation which means a lot to me and has meant a lot to me for nearly 40 years now.

I first joined MSAS in 1983 when I was just 10, and although it’s drifted into and out of my life and taken various positions of priority it still means a lot to me.

The last 100 miles felt hard. I was mostly on the DaHon which whilst a funky little bike really isn’t easy to ride, and my efforts only transferred to the Stowaway for the last week or so.

If you can sponsor me please do! I really appreciate it and I know a group of members who will really appreciate the help in these difficult times when we can’t open our observatory and all the events we used to fund our activities are currently banned.

The sponsorship link is here. You can apparently sponsor me without having to have a Facebook account.

Sponsor me here!

A new bike.

Since getting into biking I’ve discovered what I actually like. I love the DaHon but it’s not easy to ride; so I thought I’d try a 20″ wheel folder and I absolutely fell in love with it.

It’s a Raleigh Stowaway 2021 model. A really nice solid feeling bike with none of the flex associated with my DaHon 16 (which to be honest is a wobbly little thing).

The first ride today was over 10 miles! I can’t believe we almost made it all the way to crossing the M1! Perhaps next ride we’ll achieve that goal.

We set off just after a rain storm; believing the weather forecast that there should be no more rain. Riding up the Wombwell TPT and then forking up to Worsborough; we passed under the railway viaduct.

Eventually we reached the entrance to Worsborough Dam on the A61. A whole 5.25 miles away.

Of course the heavens then opened; and despite waiting 20 minutes for it to abate we were left facing the prospect of cycling back in the rain. Thankfully I’d taken my old Stormforce 10 waterproof poncho from Drayton Manor Park! How lucky that was.

The ride back was soaking for the most part – we both arrived at the unit wetter than an otter’s pocket!

Thoughts about the bike…

Well it’s an unknown quantity from the bike community point of view – there are very few reviews out there for the Raleigh Stowaway 2021 model as it’s not been out very long.

From my point of view it feels great to ride. Very steady and yet with the small wheels it’s agile and easy to steer. The Shimano 7 speed gears are a nice range and I coped with all the hills thrown at me without even thinking about it. They charge cleanly and quickly with no crunch or clunkyness.

I’m definitely very impressed with it!

We got a new boy.

He moved in with us; not our choosing – all him – but he likes it here. It appears he’s not actually owned even though he’s an incredibly loving and needy boy who loves a cuddle.

We’ve called him Domino; or Dom for short.

He’s also being called Knobhead sometimes.

Felt like I needed this.

I’ve not worn my leather suit in ages, possibly more than a month.

I had a load of certificates to find on my servers so I was going to be an hour or more – I’d just been for a really long bike ride so I was sweaty as hell too. So I had a quick shower (yes, we have showers at the new units) and I got dressed up in my leather suit.

Yeah I needed it.

I know I’m a narcissistic sod when I’m in leather, but I just feel so confident in my body at the moment. The cycling is really paying off and my shape is changing so much.

I’m sad to report, though, that my weight has pretty much leveled off but the smart scales are showing how the fat level is dropping and the muscle mass is increasing. I was 31% fat and I’m now down at 23% which is a fantastic result.

A little 8 mile hop.

I can’t believe how my stamina and fitness are improving. This little 8 mile ride would have killed me at one point but now I can do it on the DaHon without much concern.

I’ve even got myself a new bag for it – it’s meant to go under the saddle on the seat post, but for the DaHon it works well on the stiffener bar too.

I’ve also now got some decent lights. Only a cheap set from Amazon, but I’ve started venturing onto roads and even though it’s only for short periods I’m very aware how I can get totally missed when in the van, so I thought I’d make myself as visible as possible even in daylight. A bright flashing light is much less likely to get ignored as I’m approaching a junction, although I’m sure some of you cycling friends will tell me stories otherwise.

On a fitness note though, I’ve also noticed on my watch that my activity curve is shifting down – most of my riding is now in the aerobic section of my heart rate. Apparently this is good as it’s less dangerous as you get older – you shouldn’t push your body too far when you’re not at the peak of fitness. I’ve joined Strava to see if mutual exercise is for me – and I’m liking how it works because it just sends the stuff from my galaxy watch 3 to Strava. I can’t be faffed with extra apps.

At Alton Towers you will find…

You can leave the kids behind,

There’s a new world just for you,

and all the others in the queue.

Remember the 1980’s advert? Yeah we rewrote it back in the 80’s at school! You know what this means though – yeah my first Alton Towers trip of the new season! A day with all the niceties at my favourite place.

The day was grey. I arrived just after 9 and parked in the premium parking. £12 with my Merlin Card is so worth it to be right by the entrance rather than down at the bottom by the hotels.

We joined the pre-queue queue, which now extends down towards the carpark.

Once we were given the go-ahead we went through the temperature checking and security tents which are now outside the main gates and then were made to wait until they opened the gates proper at 9:30, by which time the queue was really building up.

Once in the park sadly the early ride time isn’t happening at the moment and so all rides open at 10 but it does give me chance to grab my Platinum Fastpass, have a nice walk round and grab a coffee.

So my first ride was my favourite – Wicker Man. I did 3 in a row.

Then – breaking my trend – I went to RITA next – 5 on that; and whilst nearby I got a couple of rides in on Thir13en too. I’m not a massive fan of that one to be honest – I find it a bit boring. So I went back to RITA and rode the twice again.

By 11:30 I was on 12 rides and I headed to Smiler. I did 10 rides down at X Sector – alternating between Smiler and Oblivion because of the one way system operating. I finished the first session at about 1:15 on 22 rides total.

By this point the sky was looking very grey so I headed to the chicken place for dinner. They do a veggie burger. It wasn’t great to be fair and I think I’ll stick with Woodcutters in future.

The next hour was spent watching the rain from under a canopy as what can only be described as the end of the world came down. A few rumbles of thunder accompanied it and the rides did stop briefly whilst the thunder passed.

I then headed back to Dark Forest and took a skyride in the rain across to Forbidden Valley.

I was at this point very pleased I chose to wear my leather jeans! The waterproofing in them from when I used to wear them on my motorbike was still working well and my legs were dry. The Wicker Man coat is also surprisingly still waterproof, although the seams did start giving in after about an hour is deluge.

So down at Forbidden Valley I did 1 Galactica ride and 5 Nemesis. This took me up to 28. Two of the Nemesis rides were in the rain (they closed Galactica when it rained) and riding Nemesis was hurting with the rain in my face so I decided to have a coffee and doughnut. Bad call!

The rain eased and I had a skyride back over to Dark Forest and walked the rest of the way to X-Sector for another few Smiler rides.

This was the point at which I realised the doughnut was a bad call. On my final ride of Smiler I tasted the doughnut 14 times. I decided to abort inverted rides and had another Oblivion ride. Taking me up to 30.

The final two rides of the day were back over in the Dark Forest where RITA dried me out nicely.

On and yes there were ducks. This one was a knobhead.

A good run home too. The reason I love the fast-pass and premium parking combo is that I can leave the park before JCB turns out and causes a huge queue up to the A50.