Television Licences

When my dad lived with us, we didn’t have to pay for a TV licence because he was over 75. He went into a home on 1/9/05 but didn’t take his TV with him.

I felt pretty sure that the licence would expire on the date he moved out, but I wanted to be certain. I emailed Capita explaining the situation. A reply asked me for my father’s new address so that his licence could be transferred.

I replied, repeating that he did not take his TV with him therefore hsi address was none of their business.

That elicited a reply from someone more senior, demanding the same information.

Meanwhile I had made a phone call and had spoken to a very efficient woman who explained clearly that far too much admin was involved to chase up dead people / old people who had gone into homes and in situations such as ours, the free licence was valid until its stated expiry date.

My response to the second email was that Capita were deliberately misleading me with the intention, had I told them my father’s new address, of transferring his TV licence and then demanding that I immediately renew. I didn’t mince words and didn’t get a reply.

A month or so later I received a “Quality Control” phone call asking me to give a mark from 1 to 10 on a series of points about my dealings with Capita. I gave them the lowest mark possible on each occasion.

When I was asked what they could do to improve their service, I said something along the lines of “Take TV licensing out of the hands of duplicitous private companies only intent on making a quick buck and renationalise it, thereby putting it in the hands of people who want to supply a public service”.

It so happens that Capita are the self-same company that now administers the Civil Service Pension Scheme. They have just awarded me my pension early.

I wouldn’t hear a word said against them.

Unexpected Happenings

We went back to Richardsons to change the seatpost. Not too exciting, you might think, but there was an incident of some import: we broke the chain!

As we were in the last few hundred yards of the outward journey, we had to stop at a t-junction which was followed by a gentle upward gradient towards the Elms lights. We put a bit of pressure on to get up the slope when suddenly the pedals were spinning but we were stationary.

There was no panic from front or back. We just dismounted, my trusty stoker put her foot on the trailing chain as I wheeled the bike forward, and we examined the damage. We had actually snapped a plate. What powerful thighs my wife has!

Well, the really exciting bit happened afer we got to the LBS. Eric Richardson provided a veritable quill of seatposts (is “quill” the collective noun?), but nothing seemed to fit except the 26.4mm post that we already had. But that needed a bit of lemonade tin as a shim to make it fit. Needless to say that 26.4 was the size he didn’t have. We ruefully replaced our old post and ordered another, due in next Wednesday. Without the shim, the post was loose, even with the bolt done up as tight as possible. With the shim, it fitted snugly.

Our chain needed sorting out. Eric brandished his trusty tool and in a jiffy a link had been removed and we were mobile again. We discussed the possibility of replacing the front chain also, but decided against it. Eric’s reasoning was twofold: firstly, neither it nor the ring was particularly worn, the front chain not receiving the punishment that the rear one does; secondly, if the front chain does break, then you can still make progress just on the stoker’s efforts. Janet appreciated the humour of this situation whilst reserving the right to keep a stiletto in her lycra to stab me in the back at a suitable opportunity (not that she has any lycra).

Well, actually she does. While we were in the shop, she bought some cycling gloves, which is an acknowledgement that she actually belongs to the subset of humanity labelled “cyclist”. That’s progress. In addition, I sowed the seed of an idea: which solo machine would she like? (Richardsons has a pretty good selection of Ridgebacks, Orbeas and Treks, with the occasional Dawes & Dahon thrown in.)

“Why would I want a solo machine? I’ve got the Brompton and if we go out together we’ve got the tandem.”

Yes, dear.

Decisions, decisions

I am in a happy position that I will shortly be receiving my lump sum. I shan’t decide what to do with it until it actually arrives, but I feel it is my duty to spend some of it on a good riding iron.

But what?

I am really tempted by a Thorn Raven. I seriously considered getting one a few months ago but decided I couldn’t afford it so settled for the Ridgeback with the hub gear as a poor man’s compromise. That was before I applied for my pension. I like the Ridgeback very much and in some ways buying another hub gear bike would be like being unfaithful…

I am also tempted by the Thorn Raven tandem, but having only just bought a second-hand Claud Butler, that seems a bit unnecessary until we finally decide to get on with LEJoG.

I could go for a top quality touring bike with all sorts of toothsome Campag stuff.

Then again, a recumbent trike would have some advantages, but riding two abreast when on a Southend Critical Mass could really rile the coppers (don’t think the Highway Code specifically deals with trikes). I quite like the look of the Trice, as a kind of recumbent Brompton.

Then, of course, if I buy something for me, it’s only fair that I get something for my wife as well…

Decisions, decisions…

Pootling and Fettling

Mrs. Wow has complained that the Madison saddle supplied with our tandem is a little too robust for her delicate nethers. I bought her a Brooks Flyer and thought I would featherbed this with a good suspension seatpost.

Well, the seatpost turned out to be more of a problem than I thought. The old one was only tightened sufficiently because a previous fettler had made a “shim” from an orangeade tin (I read about that sort of thing in “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle maintenance” but had never put it into practice) so when I took it to the LBS it was not entirely clear what diameter of seatpost I required. I described the requirement as a 1980s Claud Butler Majestic Tandem made of plain gauge Reynolds 531 so he provided me with a 27.2mm post. Of course, it didn’t fit.

I put the shim and old seatpost back in, fitted the Brooks saddle and then started to fit the dynamo. That was quite easy, but I cannot fit the new lamp without buying a longer bolt for the front mudguard as well as a few washers / spacers to ensure that the lamp bracket doesn’t foul the chrome bit at the bottom of the headset. I was also a bit miffed to find that Bikeplus supply their lamps without bulbs. (Edit: yes they do – this was an aberration which they have promised to put right).

Well, we tested the saddle. I had it pointing downwards a little and my wife spent about 3 miles sliding forwards. I also needed to push the sadddle further back in its mountings so that her knees were less likely to come into contact with her bars. While I was at it, I checked the height of my saddle against that of my ridgeback and found that it should be raised about three-quarters of an inch.

Once all that had been achieved, we pootled once more and I believe that it’s now set up fairly well. What we need is a good long day ride.

Sunday Morning Pootle

We made a real effort this morning. Up before 8, quick breakfast, fit the Cateye computer to Madge and off we went.

It promised to be a scorcher, but at this time although it wasn’t exactly cool, it was pleasant enough. Today we set off along Prittlewell Chase towards Belfairs Park and after an uneventful stretch of 30mph dual carriageway followed by a couple of fairly quiet residential roads, we turned “through roads not adopted and woodlanded ways” as a bridleway leading towards Poors Lane and Hadleigh invited us into the gloom.

There were some squeaks and protests emanating from behind me, but whether this was due to the uneven surface, the proximity of the trees, or the sheer excitement of diving off into the woods I am not certain. However, it wasn’t long before this rather muddy path was promoted to a track and eventually blossomed into a surfaced road.

We headed towards Dawes Heath Lane and eventually south into Rectory Road. A short distance later the John Burrows Hall appeared on our right, the home venue of the now-defunct Hadleigh Chess Club. We turned left into Scrub Lane, following the road straight back towards Belfairs Park where there were many people “spoiling a good walk”, as Mark Twain so aptly put it. We used one of the “cycle tracks” made infamous by the searing pen of Nutty, then back along Prittlewell Chase and home.

During the ride it was necessary to tighten the handlebar stem, whose bolts were looser than they should have been.

The total ride was 10.75 miles and we were home well before 10 a.m. That’s really important: if we can cover more than 10 miles in the first hour of the day, what can we do on a day ride? At that sort of pace, LEJoG in a fortnight becomes a distinct possibility…

Chest pains

Had them in the night and again this morning. Decided that I ought to do something about it so Jan & I went to casualty.

After a whole afternoon of ECGs, blood tests, blood pressure tests, a chest X-ray and another blood test because the first one didn’t work properly, 5 hours later I was given a clean bill of health and told that I had probably pulled an intercostal muscle when riding my bike up Bread & Cheese Hill yesterday.

A very salutory experience in more ways than one.

Firstly, I was absolutely delighted with my cardiac performance. In all the times my blood pressure was checked (every 5 minutes or so the machine would take it automatically), the range was between 131 / 69 and 141 / 81. Typically my pulse rate was between 50 and 55. That’s pretty good for a middle-aged lard-arse.

Secondly, while we were waiting for the final blood test result to come along, I was moved out of A & E into the acute medical unit, i.e. I was admitted to a ward. It’s very sobering when a nurse comes and makes an inventory of your belongings and puts a name bracelet on your wrist. Suddenly you feel that you are no longer in control of your life.

Thirdly, now I know that I have the cardiovascular system of a finely-honed athlete, it only makes sense to get a body to match. I really must get my bloody weight down.

Fourthly, I was given a Hospital meal. I couldn’t survive on that! Denis informs me that the food in Southend is infinitely superior than the stuff served up at the Royal London.

Finally, the experience gave me an appreciation, which I certainly didn’t have before, of what my son has gone through over the past 12 years as his kidney disease has developed and has forced quite a few spells in hospital. I was an in-patient for about an hour and that’s more than enough for me!

An evening stroll

We have had other things on our minds for the past couple of weeks, so cycling was rather neglected apart from or maiden voyage on Madge (Mrs. Wow chose this name: Claud Butler Madg-estic geddit??).

Today was the hottest June day for almost a year, so as the cool shades of evening spread their mantle, off we rode towards the sunset.

We headed towards the sea front along what should have been peaceful residential roads, but at one point it became clear that there was a car approaching from behind at too high a speed. I looked over my shoulder to see this oik give far too little room for Jan as he squeezed past, so I took the primary riding position just to show him who was boss, until a sufficient gap in the parked cars allowed me to pull in and let him pass. To my surprise, no fewer than 4 chavmobiles zoomed past, pretty much bumper to bumper, in a road allowing little more than one car’s width between the parked cars on opposite sides.

After that the ride was fairly uneventful, apart from finding our path blocked by a parked car just where a (reasonably sensibly designed) cycle lane rejoins the road. Then to the sea front and, ignoring the NO CYCLING signs, we kept on the almost deserted promenade as far as Chalkwell Station.

Jan cycles pretty well. She could probably do with her saddle raised a little, but given that her starting technique is still a little suspect, she could really do with more confidence before that happens. This is the perenniel chicken and egg. She needs to ride more to get the confidence, but generally she lacks the confidence to ride alone. (Actually, she did have a solo ride this week: she went to the doctor’s to collect the prescription I had ordered more than a week previously.)

We returned in an easterly direction, and when we were close to the pier, we sat on a wall looking at the rising tide and gibbous moon. It was an idyllic scene of peace and tranquillity broken only by the occasional curse and slap as another mosquito bit the dust. We were then joined by two other cyclists and conversed about the history of Southend, speculated about ithe pier’s status as the longest pleasure pier in the world, and about the three fires and one ship which have damaged it in the past 30 years or so.

We continued east along purpose built cycle track for another couple of miles until we were in Fatbloke country and then took the option with the most gradual ascent returning to Chateau Wowbagger. Just short of 11 miles, total time 1 hours 50 minutes, total riding time about 50 minutes less than that.