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Posts Tagged ‘bikes & biking’

A week and a half ago, I interviewed for a social worker position within the Referral and Assessment team in the Child Protection unit of the south London borough that I had been volunteering with over the past two months. If any of you reading don’t remember, because everyone who hears that I was volunteering my social work services says, “Whoa. Well, you’re a better person than I am,” I was volunteering to get some recent, UK experience to make my CV look better, mine being so far back and none of it in the UK. I was only mildly nervous about the interview, pretty much knowing that I had it in the bag because nearly every manager has come up to me and told me specifically what a good job I’m doing and how hard a worker I am. Then all the girls started asking me if I remembered this, or that, or the other, and then “revising” with me (“studying” is called “revising” in the UK), and I began to get nervous. The Children Acts 1989 and 2004, sections specifically pertaining to CP work (7, 17, 20, 23, 47 and definitely others, there was a huge list, ACK!), Stay Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy and Achieve, Achieve Economic Wellbeing, Make a Positive Contribution (five markers they use to gauge the wellbeing of children and families in the UK), and operations questions like, “What happens when you get a referral from a member of the public?”

I don’t think I’ll be revealing any trade secrets here, but my manager didn’t ask me any questions like that. I think it’s because I wasn’t educated here, making him less interested in whether or not I already knew statutory information, which is something I can learn on the job, as he was in finding out my general social work knowledge and attitudes, and how I would deal with certain situations I might find myself in while out in the field. The only one I didn’t pass with flying colors was when dealing with underage mothers, where I forgot that the mother herself is still considered a child, and must be treated accordingly, with us watching out for her needs and wants as much as those of her child. With my skills checked and my character already vouched for through the past two months, I was offered a start date of 1st June, pending final approval!

For about a week, I sweated over the phrase “pending final approval”. I was pretty sure I would be OK but feared some dark horse UK QSW would come out of the woodwork wanting a permanent position to sweep my spot out from under me. I need not have worried because late this past week I received confirmation that I did indeed have a job to go to on Tuesday, and that I would be taking the title of Senior Social Worker. It’s a little nerve wracking; apparently senior social workers may be assigned higher caseloads than social workers, but my deputy head manager already told me they would only be assigning me Initial Assessments at first. And since I don’t have a car, and will be riding my bike as well as taking public transportation, I’ve negotiated the probability of not being assigned far-flung cases, or those in the hillier region of the council. Phew! I’ve also been given the use of a tablet, ostensibly so I can learn the handwriting system and write notes instead of the more distracting-to-clients typing notes down, but also so that I may try to keep up with paperwork while using public transportation. Apparently every hour with the families generates about 6 hours of paperwork, a daunting figure when you take timescales into account.

I will still need to buy a new computer for working from home as my old Mac won’t allow me to access the internet program to write case notes, but overall I’m feeling pretty prepared for this job. But I am shitting myself just a little bit. I’ll be working again, after a 16-month absence from the work force. Time to get on it! One bank holiday weekend to recover from a 5 time zone change.

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On a lovely warm Sunday afternoon, the much-improved end to the 50 Fixed Women Ride’s rainy start, a bunch of us were gathered at The (old) Ship, in Fulham, and it was discovered that one of the ladies rides a bike that has a 52×52 cm frame. This is exactly what I’m looking for, after having discovered that for longer rides, exactly the right size frame is kinda necessary and my 52×54 (seat tube x top tube, for those not conversant) frame is just a bit too big for me. This wonderful, metallic cherry-lipstick-red frame only had clipless pedals though, and I can’t ride clipless yet. But what do you know? The owner of said frame also wears my size shoe and was perfectly OK with swapping shoes so I could have a clipless experience!

She showed me how to clip my dominant side in, then sent me off, and I pedaled slowly around the pub’s green past kids on scooters, fellow imbibers, under trees, past brick walls, along the river path, avoiding stairs, and back around, three or four times, completely unsuccessful in my attempt to clip the other shoe into the pedal. I finally gave up and got an explanation on how to get the other one in (tip toe towards ground, push) and was off!

Joy! A responsive bicycle experience is suddenly so much more responsive! Can I skid to a stop? Let me try! Pedal, pedal, pedal towards friends, lock legs, skid to a gorgeous stop exactly where I had intended to, on dry pavement (!)……and fall right over, slow-mo stylee! I just had to laugh, I was barely hurt, just a few grazes to my left lower leg, and then discovered I was stuck in the pedals! Cue more hilarious laughter from friends and onlookers alike, and the eventual discovery that I can, indeed, unclip from the pedals while laying on the ground.

Oh man, I gotta try more of this! Am currently on the hunt for shoes, cleats (to go in the shoes), and pedals, and will detail the continuing adventures of yohabloespanglish y los equipos sin clips!

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I looked back over my posts to see if I’d written anything more about my non-official internship but couldn’t find anything, which seems like a good indicator for a new post. There is some confusion on what to call myself while discharging my unofficial duties. I’m not associated with a university, so am not a student social worker, and I’ve just learned that to British minds, the term “intern” conjures up images of the incarcerated. As a Qualified Social Worker registered with the General Social Care Council, I will have some clout and be able to command better pay than a social worker’s assistant, but I’m not there yet. So do I say “volunteer social worker”? I guess it’s the best I can come up with now. It would behoove me to speak to more Brits and see what they have to say about it. I had no idea that “intern” is a term really only used by Americans. They say “internship” here, so why aren’t they “interns”?

My destination point is 12.5 miles away from my home, over a couple of hills that I can now recognize as medium-difficulty rises, after accidentally trying ride up a hill so long and so steep that I had to get off to finish it and then being told it was one of the easier hills in south London. Gypsy Hill is not easy for someone on a fixed gear bike. I wonder if I’d like to try it again when I somehow manage to get a geared bike (anyone going from NYC to London anytime soon who would like to be paid to bring an incomplete bike to me? There’s a bike bag and everything!).

After a few weeks of riding the entire 25 mile commute, working 8 hours, and cramming tons of new info into my head, I pooped out and started taking the train in the morning and riding home in the evening. It is glorious! I feel so much more awake and alert, and less grumpy, too! Wednesday, when I changed my start time at work from OMGearly to 10 a.m. I got a little lost on the internet and missed my train so had to ride in. The difference was startling – I was calmer, stronger, and felt better the whole way. I’m not sure whether to put that down to strength, less exhaustion, or the later start time. Either way, while I’m still volunteering, and thus coming in later, I will attempt to ride my bike some mornings as well.

Beginning a new commute is always a bit daunting; I usually Google map things and then do the driving directions, dragging the route around until I craft the shortest line between point A and point B. This is not always the smartest thing to do. Things such as needing to cross busy roads without the benefit of a light, and hills, and how busy a particular stretch of road is must be taken into account. Someone recommended Cycle Streets, a UK cycling route planner, but it gave me this really complicated yet cycle-friendly route that I didn’t feel like memorizing. My present route has me riding on many extremely busy roads, but I’m confident now and generally navigate the difficulties well. I’m enjoying my hills to the extent that I can, and am getting stronger.

Some people ride really fast, all the time, some people ride really slowly, all the time. I’m somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I wish I were as strong as some of the racing girls, but I won’t give up chocolate or ice cream to off-set the added muscle and keep my legs at an acceptable size. I manage 12.5 miles in an hour without feeling like I have to try too hard to keep up the pace, and I’m happy with the speed of my journey. I’m happy with the state of my legs. I’m not the slowest, I’m not the fastest, and I get where I need to go without killing myself. I’m cool with that!

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photo courtesy of the London Cycling Campaign

As a cyclist, knowing the dangers of the road is paramount. Governments spend much more time and money into making sure drivers are knowledgeable about the rules of the road than any other group of road users, but I’m starting to wonder if there ought to be some sort of similar mandatory road training for cyclists as well. I can see this being roundly criticized by most cyclists I know, but for instance, I took to the streets of London without being fully aware of the rules for how to navigate roundabouts, X crossings and T junctions, both. Same rules apply to both situations. The person on the right always has the right of way, just like at a four-way stop sign junction in the States.

Where things get really dangerous, inconsiderate or even seemingly homicidally-inclined drivers aside, is with heavy goods vehicles, or HGVs. Dump trucks (skips, in the UK), moving vans, lorries, 12- and 14-wheelers, whatever you call them, are the vehicles most likely to be involved in a fatal accident involving a cyclist in London. By mid-December 2009, 13 cyclists had died in road collisions, 9 of which were the result of collisions with HGVs and 8 of the dead were women. I don’t doubt it’s the case most other places where cyclists are expected to be on the road as well. I make a distinction because in Florida I felt it was completely unsafe to ride in the road because no driver there seems to expect cyclists. I was actually knocked partially off my bicycle by a driver looking left, edging into the cross-walk, when I had the walk signal, because she had the legal right to turn right on red (left on red in countries where vehicles drive on the left) and was not doing her duty by checking for people trying to cross to her right. As a driver, I loved that this was allowed, as it let me get where I wanted to go (seemingly) faster. As a cyclist and a pedestrian, I loathe the added danger to myself and others and think this law should be abolished. It works just fine for London and NYC, so volume of vehicles on the road may not be cited as a reason to keep it in place.

It is also important to remember that many people born and raised in cities like London and NYC have never driven, so may not know the blind spots of a normal-sized car, let alone those of a larger vehicle. Add to that the fact that driver training can be spotty; I was taught that if you can see a tractor trailer’s mirrors, the driver can see you. This might be true on paper, but in practice it is much trickier and, while drivers of these vehicles must be given every opportunity (more mirrors, larger mirrors) to see other road users, and required to be as vigilant as possible, it is equally true that road users need to treat them as the 20-ton potential death-bringers that they are.

As such, Moving Target, a courier zine dedicated to London couriers and cycling info around the UK, has published a diagram showing the blind spots of these vehicles for further safety of cyclists. Blue boxes are the HGV, green areas are visible places, dark green are those less visible and the red areas are blind spots.

Beyond simply remembering to ride on the left side of the road, beyond remembering to stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings (this one still gets me sometimes), beyond roundabouts, I must remember to flip-flop driver side and though asked to ride to the left side of the left lane in England, that it is important to remember driver blind spots are larger on that side, and comprise larger areas for larger vehicles. Be hyper-vigilant when passing to the left unless you know the vehicle can’t turn. Don’t pass to the left when the vehicle is stationary unless you know a) the vehicle cannot turn left, or b) how long the light has been red and how long it has before the vehicle can proceed. Consider obstructions to your path up ahead, such as parked vehicles on the other side of the junction. Always be alert to the possibility that the driver might plan to turn either direction and neglect to use indicators, and pass to the right so as to end up directly in front of the driver, and ensure that he or she has seen you, when stopping at a light.

In driver-on-left-side countries, remember to reverse all “left” and “rights” to follow the fact that the driver is on the left side.

Stay safe, and above all Arrive Alive.

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It’s shocking how fast time has gone by and here I sit, a married lady for twelve days! I wish I had written about the wedding earlier, things are already starting to slip away.

For the first week I kept saying, “Dude! We’re married!” until he was sick of hearing it. But then he’d turn around and say, “You’re married to me! How does that feel?” We thought it wouldn’t change anything, getting married, it would still be just us, right? But there’s a definite feeling of being more closely bonded and shmoopy (though maybe that last bit is just on my part). He has a new-found, highly amusing tendency to tell me I have to turn down his side of the bed and have dinner waiting when he gets home. I laugh at him, or hit him, and then eat some peanut butter. It works.

As for the day itself, I’d been worried I’d forgotten to take care of something, or things wouldn’t go smoothly, and of course they didn’t. It wouldn’t be a wedding without things going wonky. From flowers that arrived packed not in boxes but flimsy paper bags, or with half the buds unopened (even to this day), to forgetting I would like an escort to the registry office, things were mildly difficult from the word GO! The car called to take the Moms and a bridesmaid, and the wedding dress and assorted items never showed up, but luck was with us in a roommate who owned a vehicle and hadn’t yet left for the wedding. The registry office was behind schedule and the groom and best man arrived before the wedding dress did, so I was in my riding outfit. A friend of ours from the States (who spent all her monies to get here!) was with me when she noticed them coming, grabbed me and steered me away, yelling at the groom to go away! but was not heeded.

In fact, he eventually came toward me, spoiling plans to keep us apart until the exact moment I walked in the registry office, but that was a foregone conclusion anyway. We ended up meeting in a lovely hug on flagstones, surrounded by friends, and staring at each other for about twenty minutes before the ceremony started, to The C-Quents’ “Dearest One”. This song is so ideal, a melding of his soul music and my doo wop, all wrapped in one perfect tune! With so many of our friends around us, our moms there, this fantastic song, my cheeks hurting because I was smiling so much, we walked in to begin the first steps to married life.

Wedding cake! An amazingly rich, three-tiered, marzipan-covered Guinness-soaked fruit cakestrocity! Apparently fruit cakes are customary at English weddings; I also had a fantastic vanilla cake layered with strawberry mousse and covered in cream cheese frosting, strawberries and silver decorator balls. It was gone in about 2.5 seconds flat but you bet I claimed the first gigantic piece for myself. Well, I did share a bite, as is traditional. And I ate marzipan cycling caps and cogs off the Guinness cake, as well as all I could manage of the richest cake I’ve ever eaten save flourless chocolate torte.

Dancing, drinking, eating, DJs, friends, bikes out the wazoo, we couldn’t have hoped for a better wedding day and reception! It passed in a blur, but at least we have the photos.

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Since arriving in London two weeks ago, it has been go! go! go! and I have been riding my bike at least 10 miles nearly every single day. Several days it was more along the lines of 20-30 miles a day. After four months, during which time I only managed four rides, I have lost nearly all of my conditioning and I feel absolutely pathetic on the bike. It was worse before I got my Evelyn back, as the wedding bike is really only a shopper and thus not conducive to even long-ish rides. Both of us can see the change in my pace and I have suffered some physical ill-effects, such as pain at the SITS bones and chilblains. I need more wool socks, new shoes, maybe one more wool sweater and then it’ll be up to my body to re-acclimate to the life of a cyclist.

The boyfriend and I clearly have different paces now, and I’ve just had to accept that and let him go at his pace and me at mine, with him checking in on me and slowing down when necessary. At a certain point my legs just won’t give me any more. So I try to eat healthily, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep (ha! even my hair is tired!) and just keep riding until I’m back up to speed.

The roads at night have been a bit treacherous, you can see frost on the ground sometimes! It’s gorgeous but makes us a bit nervous about taking turns at high speeds, which, after all, is better for me anyway right now! ; ) It is bitterly cold in London, layering is a must, but I have to say, my Milwaukee ES Hoodie is really doin’ me right. Hat, scarf, good gloves, 1 merino wool layer, 1 long-sleeved shirt and I’m set. It’s surprising how warm your body becomes once you get going on the bike.

But for now, the sun is shining, I can actually see blue through the clouds, and it’s time to get on with my To Do list.

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When I arrived in London I had possession of four bags, two of which contained 89.4 lbs of stuff in them by themselves. Traveling from Heathrow Airport to East Dulwich is no picnic, especially when you’re trying to transport a wheeled duffle bag, a giant camping backpack (bigger than dude-sized as the boyfriend said when he put it on), a little blue wheeled cart, a messenger bag and a cardboard bike box. The bike box wasn’t in oversized luggage and I discovered that it had come in on the flight behind me. This was glorious news! Instead of taking an extremely expensive cab, we were able to take public transportation all the way back home. It was an exhausting trip, especially as he had to wake up at an ungodly hour and I arrived at a slightly less ungodly hour.

The next morning we awoke to a voice mail message saying they’d tried to deliver it at 11:09 p.m. the night before. And thus began a five-day wrangle for my bike box, which also contained an afghan my mother crocheted, an awesome 70s pillow I found in the garage, a flannel duvet cover, four sweaters and various bike-related kit. It finally arrived two nights ago!


Apparently the box rated an inspection, as did the wheeled duffle bag, and I’m missing a present that I brought over for the boyfriend. Coincidence?


We made the popcorn and cranberry garland for the Christmas tree!

I wrapped the tubing, put in dropout spacers, did everything I could think of to protect this bike! And there’s my Mashton bag by Archie’s Grobags.


And aaaaaaall put together! We’ve been riding around in the cold and the rain since we put it together but it’s EFFING cold out and I think I might need more woolen layers before I can expect myself to ride every day. Still, it is so very lovely to be riding my bike again, terrible cold weather or no.

Found this video after hearing the song on BBC6 today.

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