Does a Pontiff Poop in the Woods?

Two guys are out camping in the woods. As darkness falls, one of them puts on a rosary. His pal says: why are you doing that?

“It’s in case there’s a bear”

“Look, you’re never going to outCatholic a bear, they might look big, agnostic and lumbering but they’re unbelievably Vatican when they’re riled.”

“I don’t have to outCatholic the bear; I just need to outCatholic you”

This is why I wear a brickie’s vest when I plan to ride in the gloaming’s traffic. It’s also why I carry a bastardously overspecified lock and chain around unless I’m in Enid Blyton country or don’t expect to be out of my beloved steeds’ presence for any time.

I don’t think cyclists should be obliged to wear hi-viz and reflectives. I think they are kinda sexy in a physics way, and have said why in this piece over on .citycycling but sweet mother of monkeys, they are hideous, so I normally don’t wear any, because normally I don’t gain any advantage – it’s only dark or gloaming on my commute for a few months out the year. When it is gloomy, I like the idea of making it easy for motorists to see me well in advance so they don’t have any pressure in planning how to share the road. This naturally assumes that the driver in question is interested in sharing the road, but I like thinking the best of people, and in any case the selfish German-car stereotype can be excluded from any equation that assumes the other party isn’t a sociopath.

Alongside the noble and sound  personal liberty arguments for keeping hi-viz kit voluntary, there is the deeply selfish one that a cancerbile clotheshorse like me is interested in. If there’s lots of ninja cyclists out there, then drivers need to pay the consequent high levels of attention needed to avoid killing them and will aim to do so. Inevitably(and in a small percentage of the time: blamelessly) there will be a dip in that level of attention, but it’s my theory that us shiny yellow people can still be seen despite that. If dressing up like nuclear waste was mandatory, then the minimum intended level of attention lowers, so when the inevitable dips happen, I’m more likely to be squished.

So, for all the ninjas out there: thank you. Keep reading Dawkins; I’ll be over here saying my Hail Marys.


What About ‘Bullymong’?

I’ve got a jolly book from 1960 intended for spiffing young chaps and chapesses wanting to pursue cycling as a hobby. Among the many pieces of jaunty and I would say timeless advice (I can’t find the damn thing right now, but if memory serves it gives the same advice on road position as you get today) is a warning about a distressing state of fatigue and despondency known to clubmen as ‘the bonk’ or ‘the knock’ or ‘the sags’ or being in ‘a packet’. 

I’d read that the derivation of bonk is indeed related to the colloquialism for penetrative sexual intercourse that is the main use of the word in the non-cycling population. Something about a Tour de France legend who was convinced that shagging one of the many groupies the night before particularly tough days would give a much needed boost. I can’t remember whether that means you bonk on the day because you’ve not bonked the night before, or because you have bonked but should have slept.

Given the innocent nature of the book, and the raised eyebrow at the presumption of cycling groupies, I’m not so sure. Either way, it’s a rubbish name and when you forget that not everyone is au fait with velocipedilingo, you get giggled at.

I was put on this train of thought by bonking this afternoon. I had a slight excess of my beloved Leffe last night and didn’t eat nearly enough proper food, then this morning I only had two breakfasts, neither of which as big as usual. When I finally got round to looking at how good a day for cycling it was, I talked myself out my muzzy ennui and onto the bike, my main argument being that I’ll probably not get another good day on it this year and I’ve been broke since I bought it, so I better get the use. They call it willpower when it’s you talking to you, but really it’s just bullying and emotional blackmail with someone you love, as Woody Allen almost said.

Once I was clear of the city and the adrenaline rush that is the cycling infrastructure around IKEA, the ridiculous prettiness of the lands south of Edinburgh meant I forgave myself for all that Gunnery Sergeant Mymum and soaked up the views as I merrily spun on, mild hangover and calorie deficit be damned.

Unfortunately it seems 40 miles is my limit in such circumstances, which is moderately poor since I was in Dalkeith, which gets city rules in terms of leaving my bike unlocked outside an emergency cake shop for ‘just a minute’, ie no fucking way. It’s only 10 miles or so home from that point, so unlike last time it wasn’t a major fuss. On that occasion I was that entire 40 miles from home, and probably wouldn’t have made it if not for Andy, Tom, Dougie and Dave towing me back. If you’re not a cyclist: there wasn’t a rope connecting us; it means they rode very close in front of me so I could ride in their slipstream, making a difference to required effort that has to be felt to be believed.

So tomorrow I’ll likely get giggled at when I absentmindedly describe what my weekend was like.

I have a scar that makes me lie to children on a regular basis.

In October 1989 I went on a bike trip with some neighbourhood kids to a hill around three miles from our collective houses, our ages ranging from 11 to 13. Normally at this point you’d get a nostalgic few sentences lamenting the way this kind of trip is almost inconceivable in this today’s climate of safety elves and paedophiliac motorised terror, but it did end up with what my Dad agreed was the worst head injury he’d seen in around 30 years of GP doctorising that didn’t cause death or permanent and debilitating brain damage, so maybe we’re doing something right these days by insisting on sending at least one adult along on this kind of thing.

I saw the pictures from the cleanup operation, and I looked exactly like I’d taken John F. Kennedy’s exit wound. Pics or GTFO, right? I assume they’re buried in some file somewhere in Tayside and one day I’ll get round to asking to see them again, but I’m also very lazy. If your name is PuzzleCycles on Twitter or you’re stalking her, you’ll now understand why I asked to have ‘JFK’ Tweeted at me the other day. I don’t have those pictures yet, but for you ghouls out there, I’ll remind you if and when.

Puzzles had a spill off her bike and surprised herself by how quick she was back on the saddle. At the risk of being annoying competitive, I think I have you beat, Miss Cycles.

My first clear memory after the collision is being on my awesomesauce Raleigh BMX and wondering why it was, as I pedaled down the road (with a ragged cadence that as a fixed-gear rider I would now be horrified by) that something was bouncing up and down on my right ear.  It was the palm-sized flap of skin I’d just rent from the side of my head. Then I tapped the floppily bleeding area and felt bare bone. A couple of minutes later I caught up to the rest of the kids, who had stopped while I was lying unconscious in a ditch bleeding heavily to wonder where I’d gone, and one of them asked if I was alright. That was my sister, and it now occurs to me that it’s been at least three weeks since I reminded her of just how epic her question fail was. I’ll send her a text once you’ve finished reading.

She then went off to find a phone to call for help, which in the days before mobiles was difficult, and if you’re even thinking about suggesting that there is any nostalgic value in being unable to contact people in an emergency, you’re an idiot. Go away. Help arrived in the form of my Dad, who was the local GP on call that day. You are entirely allowed nostalgia about GPs on call as opposed to NHS24. Knock yourself out. Thundercats. He-Man, Drink cans with ringpulls that came off.

My Dad then established himself as one of the coolest cucumbers I’ve ever met. He looked at the huge ugly wound in the side of his only son’s head and declared, with the calm but authoritative tones of a veteran greenfingered gent discussing a troublesome lawn: Aye you’ll have to go to Ninewells for that, but I’ll do a couple of things to tide you over while we drive there.


I do have some photos from tonight, for what it’s worth.


This is about the best my limited photographic abilities can muster in terms of showing the dent from the double fracture. That scar gets to the end of its 82 stitch length somewhere on the back quarter of my head. The surgeon was a master – I had no reconstructive work done after the first operation and the implement that did the deed was a wooden fencepost, so to have such a neat wee scar basically means I have You Other Plastic Surgeons Are Elephant-Thumbed n00bscum tattooed on my forehead.

Children don’t do tact, not even middle-class Edinburgh children, so they just come out and ask what it is, and if they know what scars look like, how I got it. Adults tend to drop their voice into the mode that conveys sincerity and concern for my feelings before asking what it is, and even then usually only after weeks or months of rapport building.

The lying-to-children part is that I tell them it wouldn’t have happened if I had been wearing a helmet.


Here’s me with my lid on as I normally wear it, and you can just see the scar’s bottom 10mm or so peeking out from under it. I’m not going to focus on whether the fencepost would have bounced harmlessly off the black skirting, popped the straps off and sliced’n’dented me regardless, cut me but spared me the double fracture or used the staps to snap my neck like the fencepost was Bane and I was…oh you can take your pick of people Bane goes all vertebrally disconnective on. I just don’t know. I honestly don’t enough about the physics of that lid, the fencepost, my skull and that lid’s straps to make an informed decision. I know I’m not going back there to headbutt the post again, this time with the chapeau plastique. Partly because I went back there a few months ago and all the fencing by that road has fallen over and rotted so much that I’d simply break down and cry, under the grinding inescapable heel of entropy, if I tried to recreate my youth by the false and vain installation of a new one, but mostly because it’d fucking hurt and…fuck off I’m not doing it.

I’m enough of a stickler to call it a lie when you know for absolute certain that the thing you’re talking about has error bars bigger than the quantity you’re measuring, but you claim to have a definitive answer anyway. On the other hand, kids fall off bikes. They just do. I reckon it’s worth slapping a lid on them until they’ve gone a few years without a self-inflicted spill.  So I gather all my spineless shitbag powers and lie to them when we’re talking about my scar in the belief that it’ll save them from a more minor injury. Oh, I was going 20+mph round a blind hairpin bend with a 15% decline when I splattered myself. Not many of them in Edinburgh.

I wear that helmet on sport rides because I’m riding harder than usual, my morning commutes because I’m a dozy git before coffee #2 of an AM, my evening commutes because I prefer to have the kids see me wearing one, and usually my lunchtime commute because it’s the easiest way of carrying it home. The rest of the time I’ll wear a buff or my hair.

Now, this is the part of the blog that means I’d like you to spam the whole thing, without pity, mercy or remorse, to all the parents of children whose helmets you’ve seen so far up their forehead their hair pokes out.


This angle doesn’t show it so well, but the double fracture site ends just at the edge of the helmet. I’m perfectly comfy saying a lid worn like that would have protected me less than factor 4 suncream. Even if you’re sold on the notion that lids can prevent every injury from head to foot, why o Daily Mail would you let your nippers out with the damn things hitched up so high they might end up like me?

edit – It’s just occurred to me, a day later, that I’ve not mentioned motor vehicles in any capacity. If you infer from this that they don’t come into my risk calculations, then you infer like a boss. I wear them in case I fall off my bike, which as a clumsy person I have form for, in the reasonable expectation they’d save me from a minor-ish injury. The fact I have no expectation of them saving me in the event of a motor vehicle collision or very high speed bike/Earth collision doesn’t mean I’m idealogicly committed against them. My stock analogy is that I know a raincoat won’t keep me dry if I fall in the canal, but that doesn’t mean I won’t wear one if it looks like rain and I’m going for a stroll along it.

1d10, x3 Criticals, Slash/Pierce Damage

This morning, just up the road from my flat, as I was lending my Carry Freedom trailer to a man called Steve, a woman was knocked off her bike by a chap in a van which wasn’t black or grey, but that other non-colour.

The sun in winter shines right into your eyes as you go up my road, which means you have to drive, walk or ride carefully, or you risk bumping into something. G. Roberton, whose not-grey, not-black van is available to hire for uplift and delivery and is therefore even by the strictest definition a professional driver, bumped into something. Someone, actually – a woman who I suspect has a broken wrist and definitely has a wrecked back wheel:

The child seat was empty, thank Mongolian clusterfuck.

The child seat was empty, thank Mongolian clusterfuck. I think that seat is burly and strappy enough that it would have protected a kid from that crash, but Jeepersus it would be scary for them. Good work, Mr and Mrs Hamax.

One of the folk that lives up the street is a doctor and happened to be around when the guy hit her, so by the time I was up there to lend my expert services(I own a really warm jacket, so I lent her it while she waited on the ambulance) the first aiding had already been taken care of at a level above my pay grade.

To some extent I wish I’d given the driver a harder time, because he was blaming the sun more than he blamed himself. He did appear to be human, so I suppose that was just the human nature talking, but it’s a neat demonstration of the problem we have – we don’t treat driving as a hazard that the driver creates, but as something unavoidable that just…happens to the driver.

Suppose I was a medieval battle re-enactor, by either hobby or trade. If I was to walk from my flat to the site of the re-enactment carrying a naked halberd and I stabbed, sliced or bumped someone with it, I think it would universally be accepted that even if I had taken reasonable halberd-walking precautions, the accident was ultimately my fault because it was my conscious decision to go out the house with such a ludicrously pointy slicey bumpy object. If the sun was in my eyes but I walked along the street regardless, I heavily suspect I would get even less sympathy.

But we live in a country where most adults re-enact battles and carry their halberds everywhere,  some marching along with their status-symbol German engineered halberds in the apparent belief that their titanium shaft splines entitle them to the whole pavement, some carrying their Dad’s boring halberd onehanded as they text with the other, some in too much of a hurry to slow down even when they can’t see.

A world where everyone carries a halberd around in public, often doesn’t pay attention to the obvious danger that creates but is absolved of the responsibility that ought to come with it? That’s surely the kind of cracked surrealist vision that only Uberuce could come up with after a night on the piss and two pots of coffee?

Nope. Worse still is reality.