A spot of summer

"Summer" walk in the woods

I was doing so well. 4 rides in 4 days. Then I wasn’t doing so well. No rides in the following six. Some would call it tapering, those -with a working knowledge of my lazy gene – would call it absolutely right : rain stops play.

With work shuttling me all over the shop, when others could ride last week I could not. And when I could, I couldn’t be arsed. It’d was all for change this morning with a repeat of two weeks ago combing much needed miles in the legs and fab-a-dab-a-dosy singletrack in “the Yat”.

Except it rained And never stopped. The issue was tho when it started. 8am and I was poking about in the workshop looking for excuses. Rain hammered on the roof, so I answered with a text declaring a lack of impermeability and motivation. Text’d returned sometime later spoke of good times had by all which didn’t cheer me up at all.

Before which, my penance was to include the entire clan in a soggy dog walk through our local woods. A wood that Jess and I regularly have much fun swishing between trees on two wheels. For a mad moment I considered adding bike-age to our already considerable payload of kids, dog, wellies and sulking but a brief outbreak of sanity stayed my hand.

Instead we wandered the bike trails marvelling at the volume of unrelenting wet from upstairs and the slickness of anything unearthed from the puddle strewn ground. On a scale of “loving the experience”, the dog rated a hard 10, me a guilty 8, carol about a 6 due mainly to a lack of water repellent headgear and the offspring a number somewhere near Kelvin’s absolute zero.

"Summer" walk in the woods "Summer" walk in the woods

"Summer" walk in the woods "Summer" walk in the woods

"Summer" walk in the woods

Not riding did open up a window into which I transferred thirty odd photos from a time so ancient, not only was my hair brown but it was also mostly on my head. My lazy edit before publishing to a squillion bored wibbly viewers was mostly driven by a level of self awareness that is grounded in the sure knowledge that having people laugh at you is nearly as good as them laughing with you.

More of that soon, but if you really can’t wait to point and giggle, try my photostream.

Don’t expect much of a response from Mr. absence-of-anything-approaching-dignity here. I’ll be hauling woger wog up some steep hills in a desperate attempt to avoid the Lantern Rouge at the oh-God-It’s-So-Close Dartmoor 100.

All I want for Christmas is…

Snow. Finally. Oh Smashing

…. well quite a lot considering. Considering the endless collisions of my legendary impatience and rampant kleptomania are realised in roof to rafters shiny things. Even so, would it be unreasonable to ask Santa to provide an overall’d man to knock jauntily at my door come January 2nd?

And before I could even enquire of his business he would declare “Hi, I’m an out of work painter and decorator. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to use my skills in every room of your house. No payment will be accepted, and there is only one condition before I start. That you let my mate Bob here” [reveals tool wielding sidekick] “to re-plumb all your bathrooms“.

Bit of a stretch for Santa do we think? In that case I shall settle for Christmas to be a bit less Christmassy. Oh I’m not asking for miracles; rampant consumerism is a tide that cannot be turned, Slade on repeat from October appears institutionalised and I’ll even accept that the odd medically dependant may miss nativity plays, BUT I’m pretty damn sick of the weather.

Nothing wrong with a bit of snow at this festive time. No problem with that. Pelting family members with snow isn’t without merit. Snowmen with humourous attachments never fail to raise a smile*, and a world decorated in virgin white is worth a second look.

But this is starting to get a bit sodding tedious. Only a few months ago, a gaggle of us were risking hypothermia at Easter. And tonight was my tenth cosecutive dog walk at below zero. In fact this evening’s stroll was a balmy -2 which compared favourably to a couple of close to minus double digit trudges last week. And while not suffering “trench todger” is welcome, the four inches of snow that’s fallen since lunchtime is not.

The dog tho – he bloody loves it. Snow is canine catnip, and nothing short of the full field trudge is going to do. 7pm the dog is nosing my elbow and giving me a look I’ve started to think of as “clubbed seal pup“. It’s another ten minutes before I’m suited up in the entire contents of my winter wardrobe, old motorcycle gloves, two pairs of socks, wellies and ‘Benny from Crossroads” bobble hat.

Murf already has his coat on and shows his impatience by launching out of the door, failing to remember how icy it is before aqua-pawing straight across the drive and into the opposing hedge. That’s kind of how I feel about riding my bike right now. Yesterday we decided it was too icy, and tomorrow will probably be too snowy. It’s the safe decision, but I’m damn sure it’s not the right one.

I can’t even commute to work unless the ambulance could drop me off on the way to A&E. If it’s too damn slippy to remain upright in your size 10 chunky welly, I don’t hold out much hope for massive traction from 23cc mostly slicks. So it’s walking the dog, night after night in the freezing bloody cold. And it’s three months until Spring.

So here’s an idea. Christmas is all about giving isn’t it? Thinking about what the receiver would like, and how that might – and there’s always a little bit of this – make your life better as well. On that basis I’ve decided to buy Murf a treadmill.

* or a carrot. Or whatever else comes to mind. I’ve always been a fan of the broccoli wanger myself.

Shockproof, waterproof, but…


… not idiot proof. I’m not talking about the dog here, although he does fulfil that criteria quite nicely.

That’s one of the first shots with my new Pentax W80 which apparently shrugs off “bad things that’ll happen to it during any period of Al ownership“. A perfect trail camera then – especially considering being dropped into a rocky stream is an every ride experience, especially when wrestling the camera from a neoprene case with thick gloves.

Although considering my Canon S80 survived four years of this kind of abuse, maybe that’s a gimmick I don’t need. Not at theΒ£250 list price certainly, but then this example didn’t even cost half of that. It’s not optically perfect either, with clever reviewers talking of it being “inappropriately noisy when pushed”. Again a position I can relate to.

Actually what it is is a chip-load of very clever software moulded round a lens. The Airbus of cameras’ if you will; twenty different presets but none of them so old school as aperture or shutter priority. I’ve not yet read the 232 page manual which accompanied (and out-sized) the happy little unit, but I’ll be surprised – and a little disappointed – if I cannot select the “indoor, non fluorescent, slightly pink ceiling, small child beating her sister” setting.

Already we’ve discovered face recognition, some kind of magical post processing anti shake, a rather natty video mode and – my current favourite – pet mode including dog colour selection. Honestly, how bored were the designers at that point?

It’s not entirely idiot proof tho, and being that idiot I feel entirely qualified to comment. Firstly if the dog has licked the lens, that’s going to affect the picture quality. And trying to find the right setting before the child in picture grows up and leaves home is not entirely unchallenging.

But it was cheap, it’s a neat design and I’ll probably carry it out more. The old Canon has taken to eating batteries and coming over all curmudgeonly when being asked to sprout the lens. Spares or repairs on eBay then. At least I’ve a camera to take a picture of it with.

All the time the W80 was essentially wresting control from my uncomplaining hands, I could hear Seb Rogers grumbling into his tea. He’s probably right but there is something rather liberating about letting software rule your world. It could be worse, might have been written my Microsoft.

What really makes my head ache tho is how can something this well finished, fiendishly clever and apparently indestructible cost less than two sets of MTB tyres, which themselves have the lifespan of a well sucked wine-gum?

Somebody’ll know. It’s not me.


As all parents of pre-teen children secretly know, it’s vital to squeeze the few remaining drops of offspring obedience when the rare opportunity presents itself. In this case, Christmas presents were held as collateral blackmail until wellies, warm clothes and outside inserted themselves into the kids’ otherwise gleeful assault on innocent wrapping paper.

Christmas Day Walk (10) Christmas Day Walk (12)

It’s worth recording that my wrapping skills haven’t improved one jot in the last few years. This can be simply proven by noting that all the seasonal offerings were neatly arranged and identified with a colourful tag. Except my stuff which lay abandoned in a brutalised state after thirty minutes of frenzied boredom eventually gave way to cursing, tearing and the application of gaffer tape.

I think Carol’s got use to it now. Or possibly the word I’m looking for is resigned. The dog however hasn’t got used to snow and ice at all, and treats the whole experience as geographical catnip. Even with four-paw drive and a low centre of gravity, Murf still only sustains forward motion while the legs are scissoring sideways.

Christmas Day Walk (22) Christmas Day Walk (24)

And even this potentially lethal combination of crossed limbs doesn’t seem to bother him much. Not enough to baulk at the opportunity to crash through a semi-frozen pond to retrieve a iced in stick. I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again, I don’t think this is because he is particularly stupid*, but because as a breed, retrievers see a stick and just can’t help themselves.

Christmas Day Walk Christmas Day Walk (9)

A little later the house was full of shredded wrapping paper and happy children, although we were a little disappointed at their lack of noticeable admiration for the MONSTER Scalextric we’d built for them as a Christmas surprise. First eBay, then a desperate assembly job between shoving them back to bed for the third time and falling asleep ourselves, brought forth this sprawling masterpiece of loops, jumps and dangerous curves.

More on this later, but it’s fair to say that there was a tinsiest little bit of buying it for ourselves πŸ™‚ I wasn’t expecting any gifts really since I’ve had one new bike already, and another one is on order. But Santa unloaded his sack** in an entirely unexpected manner by bringing forth a shiny helmet***. A roadie one at that which was both keenly priced and styled to transform the wearer into the Mekon from the neck up.

Right must get on, now we’ve had a whole day off it’s time to pick up the paint brush again to ensure incoming relatives are not aghast at our ongoing renovation project. Only one of the two adults in the house cares about this, while the other is wisely keeping his mouth shut πŸ˜‰

* Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a shining beacon of intellectual light but compared to other dogs, he’s not entirely clueless.

** Not sure the kids believe in Santa now, it may be all the rude jokes I’ve been telling them πŸ™‚

*** I could go on for ages, just say the word.

Dog flies, I bleed, welcome to the weekend.

I am only writing this because nine nails are bitten to the quick, and the other one is encased in a very large plaster. Cricket you see; a logical part of the mind chastises “it’s only a game, there is nothing you can do to alter the outcome, you should care this much” whereas the other part – that bit that goes aarrgggthh ever time a gloating Aussie scores 400 with the bat stuck to his head or something – just wants England to win back the Ashes.

Other way round, we have to make 550, they have to bowl us out, it’s over in 50 overs with a batting average reading capitulation and humiliation. They bat and the buggers just think “550? Pah, we’ll be done by tomorrow lunch and have the rest of the day off“.

And who says recycling saves the planet? It may well do but it didn’t save my finger which was surgically sliced by an unseen broken glass. Probably lost in all the wine bottles. 10 minutes of bleeding and no sympathy later, it was off to the community hospital in Ross to lie about my last tetanus and be bandaged up yet again.

It’s almost as if I’m clumsy or something. Whatever, blood loss must have been the trigger for an all expenses raid on the local camping shop, from where we left staggering under the weight of “essential” equipment. Yes, next week we’re going to try camping for the first time with the kids. Not to save money as the cost of all this kit could easily have paid for a nice hotel, with a snug little bar.

Instead we’re borrowing a tent, and heading out to the wilds of Cardigan Bay. To spend three or four days marooned under stormy skies with only a moist, smelly dog for company.

Sounds ace doesn’t it? But if the inevitable cricketing tragedy plays out, at least there’ll be radio silence. In the meantime, here are some more levitating dog pictures.

Murphy - August 09 Murphy - August 09

Murphy - August 09 Murphy - August 09

Anybody wants me, I’ll be whimpering under a blanket with only radio 4 and a hip flask for company.


Strange phone call the other day, starting: “Have you got a black Labrador?”. A swift review of my personal inventory showed a worrying absence of stinky mutt. “Not right now I answered” wondering what this dog obsessed stranger wanted, and how he’d got my number.

The answer came quickly; the number was on Murphy’s collar which was co-located with the mutt on the main road between Ledbury and Ross. An arterial trunk that carries much in the way of heavy lorries and dopey tourists – both of which are piloting vehicles that would deliver much squashage to fur and flesh. Especially if it’s wandering about in the middle of the road attempting to lick bumpers.

We retrieved the dog – much chastised – and even though he knew he was being pointlessly bollocked, his little brain would not have picked up that those very bollocks were in line for an expensive operation with a couple of house bricks. Dog Lore says that wandering mutts are generally chasing *ahem* ready ladies, and the best way to nip that in the bud is to nip the poor bugger in the nuts.

If that wasn’t bad enough – which let’s face it if you’re any sort of bloke, it’s way more than enough – the Hound of Smell is on starvation rations. A review of his bi-daily snout experience suggests that now he’s stopped growing*, his bowl should be filled to a mere 3/4 of the previous amount. Still Murph’s having the last laugh with supper augmentation of smelly cow shit.

And while recent visitors have accused us of replacing the lovely puppy with a crudely reshaped horse, this is not the animal that is giving us the most gyp. After nearly three months of bulking up, fighting and failing to lay any eggs. At least one of the useless fluffies spent that time creating some kind of rifling system up it’s bottom as the much-awaited first egg appeared to have been fired from a cannon. Very odd shape.

That was the only egg. We haven’t seen so much as a yoke since. One key reason behind this is the bloke selling to us was clearly a Grade-A liar. Because two of the chickens have started crowing and performing technical rape of the other three. I have a feeling they may be boy chickens.

I might send Murphy in there to go check them out. Still if he can’t shag it, he’ll probably eat it.

While I have been writing this the England cricket team are attempting to lose the ashes by chucking wickets away with the kind of gay abandon that has any avid fan chewing the keyboard in frustration. Never has the phrase “Snatching defeat from the jaws of Victory” been so apposite.

* Thankfully. He treads on your foot, you go to hospital for a new one.

Happy Murfday

I remembered the dog’s birthday, but somehow managed to book a weekend of misery – where the Holy Trinity of riding horror: wind, rain and mud shall converge on a sodden field full of hollow eyed idiots – when Verbal hits double figures. A masterly oversight that would normally offer a perfect excuse to stay warm and dry inside, but your sponsorship means that is not allowed to happen.

I hope you’re happy πŸ˜‰

Anyway the dog is now a year old and in the eight months he’s been a member of the Leigh-pack, he’s grown into a much loved, if slightly destructive family pet. The wear and tear on shoes and bins has come as a bit of a surprise, as has the worrying prospect that he still has some way to grow. Unfortuantly this is unlikely to be in the much shrunken areas of his stubby ears amd stumpy legs. As all the growth genes have been seemingly directed to his head, nose and stomach.

And yes he smells a bit, his attention span can be measured in nanoseconds, he’s not terribly obedient and his drool can be a bit embarrassing. We’re still talking about the dog here, ok? Last night he demonstrated all these qualities on being asked to “come” from some major sniffage action he’d undertaken a hundred yards or so away.

His response was unusually immediate and, as ever, enthusiastic. I watched in dog training pleasure as he arced round a clump of trees and turned onto an intersect trajectory. What should happen now is the well trained dog will slow, sit in front of you and be rewarded with a treat.

I have to mitigate what follows with the rider that he tried. He really did, engaging full reverse 4 paw thrust about twenty yards out in the expectation of stopping some two seconds later. What actually happened was those big, fat paws merely aqua-planed on the wet grass, and – if anything – 35 kilograms of rock hard dog began to accelerate.

The last thing I remember was seeing a look of some shock on Murf’s fizog before the world flipped ninety degrees and I found myself lying winded, face down in the long, damp grass. I thought I’d stay there for a while to mentally prepare myself for the CLIC this weekend*. Lord Smelly of Dog had other ideas and I received the “slobber of life” which is a medical triumph in terms of immediacy of response.

Within a second I was back up with a “Geroff, yuk, ugh, horrible animal“. I was wet everywhere, especially where slob-o-dog had gone straight for tongues, my good knee now hurts like the bad one and my elbow is making a strange clicking sound. It’s probably some kind of water diviner which could be useful for tomorrow. In case I cannot work out where the h20 is by following the stair-rods of horizontal rain.

Anyway, wish me luck. Or just point and laugh. I don’t care, I couldn’t be more miserable. The only thing that has cheered me up is the reinstatement of the “TOOL WALL” after a year abandoned in various lofts. Tune in over the weekend – not for some twatter/mobile phone picture update – but for some OCD type images of the half finished workshop.

I am going outside. I may be some wet.

* I made this observations last year. And it was fantastically sunny over the whole weekend. I’m thinking of it as my lucky joke. Let’s hope it works eh? One the one side “my lucky joke“, on the other a million weather computers predicting conditions ideal for submarine exercises. H’mm.

Some pictures, less words

That’s before Ken really got started. After he’d finished, it looked more like this:

Gardening The Manhatten Experiment

What is scary is how we’ll be down another metre for the trenches. So far we’ve been through two water pipes and narrowly avoided browning out Hereford. I’m not worried. Much.

Beer Fridge Shrine Lintel Mania

I am now the same colour as “Dale Winton” Orange hue you can see on the big shed. I am trying not to think about the sad fact I have to do another coat. And paint all the inside. Oh, joy. Looks good though and soon I’ll be able a proper man again with his own shed.

The other pic is our solution to a lack of floor height when installing underfloor heating and new wooden floors. It’s cheap-ish and reasonably safe. Not that I’d want to sleep under one of them.

And to finish, a picture of the shoe-eating hound who is wondering where the garden has gone.

Murphy - 11 months Murphy - 11 months

He is now rather large and nearly a year old. Top dog though and the least stressed of anyone in our house right now.

Right I’m off the read the building regulations so I’m perfectly well informed enough to ignore them completely.

What goes up…

… must hit a tree and then explode into a thousand sad little fragments. But, before we get to that, I need to explain the level of detailed planning that precedes creating a window of time into which you can smash what used to be money.

Kids Easter Egg hunt starts at 12:30sharp. Flying starts at 10. So roll out of bed at 8 and:

08:01: Release mad dog and receive traditional greeting of big slobber and 30kg of misplanted paw on my foot.

08:05: Engage in daily re-enactment of “attack of the killer chickens” as you release the hungry, fat peckers , and then run away as they hunt you down assuming there is a hidden lettuce about your person.

08:08: Complete removal of chicken poo from beju poultry residence. Count chickens and sum only three. Recount does not magically produce another chicken. Notice dog has helpfully nosed gate open through which “free range Willy” has motored through.

08:09 Corner chicken and attempt to catch through use of approved “double arm grab

08:14 Decide whoever approved that technique has clearly never dealt with Killer Chickens before. Examine bloodied peck marks while Mexican standoff breaks out. Dog attempts to break back in by herding escaped bird using an approach best described as “Bottom Sniffing”

08:16 Dog joins human on the bloodied side of Mexican standoff having been chastised by the beak of doom

8:17 With a “fuck this, it a sodding chicken not a bloody grizzly bear“, successfully apprehend squawking pray using “big wing” arm movements followed by swift Rugby tackle.

8:18 Flushed with success, don’t notice chicken flushing herself as she squeezes out a line of shit, perfectly aimed at my recently (as of 30 second ago) pristine new fleece.

8:19 Look into mad eye of the Chicken and know it’s laughing at me.

8:20 Return chicken to POW side of fence, attempt to clean up fleece poo but merely marinate remainder of clothing with liquid shit. All chickens now pissing themselves laughing.

8:25 Stalk out, return to house, stick both model batteries on charge, decant entire truck full of spares, wings, God knows what else from one room into the 4×4. Congratulate self on remembering to actually pack same number of wings as fuselages*

8:40 Wolf down breakfast. Embark on walk with domesticated Wolf.

8:41 Notice key component of Dog Walking missing, namely Dog.

8:45 After some frantic searching, discover Murf in the pond with his “oh it’s me you wanted was it? Sorry I thought it was the other Murphy you’ve been shouting at desperately for the last five minutes” look.

09:20 Return with Dog. Wave in general direction of family and promise imminent return from amazing flying session in which the repaired Boomerang will once again aspire to aviation.

10:30. 20 hours repair, 20 minutes flying. Let’s just leave it there should we. Okay let’s not, it was another TREE, ANOTHER ONE. One day I’ll have a proper accident where I crash into the ground or myself. But no, I just clipped a tree on the final approach. Final being the right word. Plane is wrecked, completely. I’m setting fire to it later.

11:50: Completed my first ever landing with a proper engine-y plane. Well second if you want to count 25 foot in a tree as a “landing”. Second training aircraft is nowhere near as nice to fly, but at least it still looks like an aeroplane. Amusingly everyone was commenting on what a great repair/recover/rebuild job we’d done on the boomer. Makes smashing it into a million pieces so much more easy to bare.

12:30: Return home. Sweep out sorry remains from the truck.

It’s still there. I can’t bring myself to sort it out. What you probably won’t believe – and I know I’m struggling – is apparently, my flying is actually pretty damn good and not many people make their first landing after 8 training flights. Loads of people have been in that tree. Think of it as a rite of passage they say.

I’m thinking of a beer πŸ˜‰

* Ask me why. Go on, ask.

Barbara Woodhouse

Now there was a women who took no shit at all when it came to training dogs. I remember watching, back in the eighties, with an uncomfortable feeling those supine hounds had been beaten with a big slipper before the cameras rolled.

Our dog would just eat that slipper. Last night he was reintroduced to both Puppy Training and half of his twelve siblings. I wonder if you are as unsurprised as I to hear that this combination augured ill for a set of technical exercises where the pack leader was expected to maintain absolute control over her dog.

Murphy spectacularly failed to sit, lie down, wait and heel. He did however hone his signature move of tearing off up after his brothers with Carol gamely hanging onto the lead. Sadly she was no longer standing at the time, rather ploughing a lonely full length furrow as the not-really-a-pup showed no obvious lessening of velocity even tugged down by a human anchor.

When commanded to “COME” he gave it the full “who me? you’re kidding right?” before disappearing in a twenty four legged Labrador scrum with an excitable whelp. The other dogs weren’t much better, but apparently Murf was a) extra specially bad and b) a bit of a ring leader in whipping up naughtiness in his brothers and sisters.

Carol returned with a look like thunder which she soon drowned in a very large glass of wine. The dog – obviously – just looked very pleased with himself. I’m not sure whether to try and train him properly or just attach a carriage and use him as a canine taxi.

Next week, my attendance has been mandated. Which consideirng my legendary low boredom threshold is unlikely to improve discipline. Still it’ll be nice for someone else to be in trouble for arsing about for a change.

And, on the upside, he’s not tried to eat any of the “Fat Four” chickens. On the downside, he doesn’t like raw egg, and they are starting to pile up a bit. So how many fried egg sandwiches can a honed athlete such as myself be expected to eat?