The Dun Run

I am not a sports cyclist at all. I am slow. Most days I ride a Gazelle (a Dutch granny bike with a massive crate on the front) to work, at an average speed of around 13km/hr. That’s fine. But I’m also someone who likes doing stupid things occasionally.

I first heard about the Dunwich Dynamo, an annual, semi-organised overnight ride from London to Dunwich in Suffolk several years ago. This year seemed like as good a time as any to actually attempt it: I had a free weekend, I’d done some longer rides in the run-up and wasn’t concerned about my ability to not complete the ride. Paul Battley’s and Nat Buckley’s write-ups of the 2016 ride were helpful, as was the advice I got from various folks on Twitter when I sent out a call for suggestions.

It was fun! It was exhausting. It was also a bit of a disaster for me: it took me longer than I expected to get to Dunwich, I took more than I really needed, and I left later than planned, so I only arrived at around 11:45am. But I made it. I’m writing these notes up for the benefit of anyone else who wants to try it, and for myself when I inevitably try and do it again.

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The Balearics or Bust: London to Mallorca without flying

Every year, my company downs tools for a week and decamps to a hotel for a week of training and an internal conference. Usually, if it’s in mainland Europe, that involves flying.

I try to avoid it. I hate the rigmarole of flying. Partly because airports are awful places seemingly designed to induce maximum stress; partly because I’m increasingly concerned about the environmental impact (there’s a case for the Swedish flygskam movement becoming more widespread.)

This year, I worked out a route from London to Palma de Mallorca using The Man in Seat 61’s guide to travelling to Spain by train. The route seemed simple enough:

  1. Travel by Eurostar from London to Paris;
  2. Cross Paris to the Gare de Lyon, and take a TGV to Barcelona;
  3. Take an overnight ferry from Barcelona to Palma.

I left my flat just after 8:15am on Saturday, taking a suitcase and a backpack. I live in Stratford, which means I’m very lucky to have the High Speed 1 service to St. Pancras. Getting to the Eurostar in time to check in was pretty easy, even if the security check was a pain.

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A ride up Cake Mountain

There is no mountain actually called Cake Mountain. There is, however, the village of Upshire in Essex, where the Newham Cyclists Cake Mountain Ride took me today.

We started by heading up the River Lea navigation, an annoyingly narrow towpath with far too many sharp corners, and steep inclines, and unnecessary ‘cyclists dismount’ signs. The poor surfaces were also the source of (at least) our first puncture of the ride.

I took my new Temple Cycles bike on the ride (now the dynamo has been fixed, after it broke down in Brighton.) The bike’s brilliant for this kind of light touring! It was better on the gravelly towpath than I expected on 28mm tyres, but I was glad to get back onto bonded gravel and asphalt. I was also grateful that I could easily turn the lights on for extra daytime visibility in some tunnels on the towpath. Dynamos are great.

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Good Riddance, not good enough

Theresa May will resign in two weeks, on 7th June. This means we shall soon have a new Prime Minister, chosen by the insular and geriatric Conservative Party membership rather than the public at large. All the while, the clock ticks down to the October Article 50 deadline (at the granting of which the European Council’s President remarked: “please do not waste this time.”)

Theresa May composed herself in her announcement until the final moment, where she tearfully spoke about her gratitude to “serve the country I love.” Part of me feels like I should feel sympathetic, or even sorry for her.

I can’t.

As hard as Theresa May’s job was; as much as Brexit was a poisoned chalice, a mirage where the end result could never please everyone; as much as she is just human… I truly cannot feel ‘sorry’ for Theresa May, the architect of the Home Office’s Hostile Environment policy.

I remember, as a student, sitting on the top deck of a number 25 bus into central London; white vans with a Home Office logo and the words “IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT” on the sides parked up at Whitechapel Market; a young woman sobbing as she rummaged for her documentation, surrounded by burly quasi-police ‘enforcement officers.’

I remember, when I lived in that little flat in Wanstead, seeing the infamous “racist vans” being driven around places where people of colour lived. I remember her snarling at human rights laws by repeating Nigel Farage’s (lying-by-omission) story about the shoplifter with the pet cat. I remember her Brexit red lines being parroted almost verbatim from the Daily Express, about ending free movement and deciding how we label our food.

It’s true that this is not all Theresa May’s doing. The last Labour government had a similar trajectory. I remember having to shell out a large amount of my total pay from my first summer job to apply for a passport, to prove to my employer that I had the right to work in the country. My British high commission birth certificate showing my birth to a British mother and a British father wasn’t good enough.

But still—I don’t feel sorry for Theresa May. I can only feel a distant pity, the kind displayed by Bilbo towards Gollum in The Hobbit. Pity for someone who, for so long, has seen people as fair game based on the circumstances and location of their birth. Pity for someone who stoked the flames of hatred, and cried when the house burned down.

I doubt she will go down in history as the worst Prime Minister of all time. That will, for now, go to David Cameron: the man who let xenophobic unrest within his own party tear the country apart, and then ran the other way. But he could easily be usurped by whoever succeeds Theresa May in a few months. Prime Minister Boris Johnson meeting President Trump? Not too long ago, it was a punchline—now it’s a nightmare within touching distance.

Eurovision 2019: let’s talk about spreadsheets

I love Eurovision. I enjoyed last night’s show (the music, Australia’s bendy-poles staging, the drama when Hatari staged a mini-protest against the oppression of the Palestinian people.) I wasn’t surprised the UK came last (a song that would’ve done well twenty years ago, performed competently, but anodyne and ultimately basic.) I was pleased the Netherlands won.

One thing I did not like was the new voting system. The method used for determining the final scores was the same as it has been since 2016, but the phone votes were announced in a different order. As reported by wiwibloggs:

Scores will still be calculated in the same manner as the last three years. However, we’ll have to wait until later in the voting sequence to see if an act has flopped with the televoters. And should an act be battered by the juries, they’ll receive their televote boost much sooner.

This may make for ‘better television,’ but I don’t think it worked in practice. You may have done well with the juries, but terribly with the televote—or you may have bombed with the juries, and relying on the public to send you up the leaderboard. Under the old system, you would’ve at least been put out of your misery quickly: now, you’re left to stew, and believe you could still win.

I particularly didn’t enjoy John Lundvik from Sweden being strung along for five minutes, being told ‘you need two hundred and fifty-three points’—and ultimately only receiving ninety-three. His crestfallen face has already become a meme.

Similar things happened when Malta, North Macedonia, and the Czech Republic received their phone votes. The director presumably made the choice to cut to the acts’ disappointed faces. This was unnecessary, and compounded the feeling that the new system was unnecessarily cruel.

Ultimately, Eurovision is supposed to be an exercise in cross-cultural appreciation and togetherness. I don’t think X Factor-style cutaways were necessarily in line with that. I watch Eurovision for fun and to feel fuzzy about Europe—not to watch people’s dreams getting dashed before my eyes.

I would hope that the EBU and the Dutch producers revert to the 2016 rules next year. But who knows? The Netherlands is the country that gave us Deal or No Deal.