Posts Tagged ‘Monty Python’

Right on cue for jumping the queue

01/01/2015

I know I keep banging on about this kind of stuff, but someone (preferably a Taiwanese local), please please tell me what the fook is going on in the minds of these selfish, ignorant bellends who keep ignoring the majority?  There we are, sat waiting patiently at the lights and, as sure as eggs is eggs, some clown or three will slide up the inside/outside/down the middle of the queue so they don’t have to wait so long at the next set of lights.

I know it’s a different culture, and nobody seems to give a toss about anyone else, but why do they think we are all sat there waiting?  Frankly, I take it as a personal insult, as the only explanation I can think of is that they think I’m an idiot.  Perhaps I am, but why is it that none of the local drivers seem to give a damn either?  They hate their time being wasted, and here are all these arseholes wasting this precious commodity by the bucket-load.

To add insult to injury, on the road this evening there was a police car slowly drifting down the hard shoulder while numerous cars and trucks undertook two lanes of traffic by using the scooter lane.  Of course, the police did absolutely nothing.  Why are the police so impotent, so uninterested, so blind to such selfish, dangerous road behaviour?  The net result is that the scooterists end up buzzing cyclists in the cycle lane.  Brilliant.  Thanks a lot car drivers.

As an addendum, we just witnessed a very lucky escape for a scooter rider.  He was cutting across in front of us through a junction (risky) while the car behind me was overtaking me (yes, through the junction) and clearly didn’t see the scooter until the last moment.  Cue tyres screeching.  Cue scooter rider hardly batting an eyelid.  He was 70 years old if he was a day.  How the hell he’s survived that long is beyond me… he was not looking at the oncoming traffic.  Must have burnt a hell of a lot of paper money at the temple last night.  Lucky bastard.

Lucky bastard indeed, and there was me thinking I would have my moment in court as a witness.

Oh, and a typical taxi incident for your perusal.

Taiwanese authorities…  what is your plan to deal with this kind of stupidity?!?

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It’s a Sportive, Jim, but not as we know it.

16/09/2013

I should begin by stating that I have never been a fan of the phenomenon of the cycling sportive.  Perhaps I should say that I have not been a fan of the very idea of a sportive, since, until yesterday, I had never participated in such an event.  For the uninitiated, here’s a description of a sportive, courtesy of Wikipedia:

A cyclosportive, or often simply sportive, is a short to long distance, organised, mass-participation cycling event, typically held annually. The Italian term gran fondo is commonly used for these events in the United States, Australia and some other English-speaking countries.

Many cyclists use sportives to challenge themselves in a personal battle against the distance and then ultimately, the clock. Some participants in a cyclosportive will ride the event like a race, with prizes awarded and considerable prestige for top place finishers, particularly in events like La Marmotte, and L’Étape du Tour.

Essentially, my problem is this.  Such rides could be done independently, or with a group of friends or club mates.  In many examples of this kind of event, you are asked to pay a fee – often a pretty substantial fee – to ride on ordinary, open roads with hundreds, if not thousands, of other cyclists.  Clearly, there are exceptions, and the chance to ride a stage of Le Tour – closed roads and all – would be up at the top of a list of these exceptions.

Anyway, the point is I had agreed to take part in my first sportive.

The first mistake I made was that I failed to ask the right questions in order to check the details and route of the event.  To be fair, I rather felt obliged to say I’d ride since my wife and her cousin’s husband have been working very hard to keep me occupied, interested and involved in cycling in Taiwan.  I’d turned down the previous offer of 100km around Kaohsiung with 3,000 others, so now was the time to show willing.  The second mistake was not making it clear that I would want to make my own way there (and back, obviously).

Having failed on two counts already, things were about to get worse.  As the day of the ride approached I decided to check out the profile, only to find that this was a short ride – just 55km – but with an ascent of almost 3,000 metres.  My immediate thought was “Oh, crap!  I don’t have a compact chainset.”  Fortunately, my wife’s cousin’s husband, Afu, knows a good bike shop where I soon acquired a 13-29 cassette, which is not so easy out here if your bikes are running Campagnolo gearing.  Maybe, just maybe, a 39:29 would get me up that hill.  I mean mountain.

Here’s the website where you can see what I’d let myself in for: http://www.tpe-bike.org.tw/20130914/index.html

Realising the enormity of the task ahead, I spent the next few days researching the route.  It turns out that this climb goes to the top of the highest road in Taiwan.  In fact, the highest mountain road pass in South East Asia, topping out at 3,275 metres.  Oh, bugger!  I spent the rest of the week thinking about the logistics and plotting the profile.  My main concern was that I would be tired on the morning of the ride as I was to be picked up in Tainan in the early hours and I thought the chances of getting some sleep on a bus seemed about as remote as that mountain top.  Being a natural pessimist, I spent the week before the ride worrying.  I read about the risk of altitude sickness; I read about the packs of wild dogs sometimes encountered on rural roads; I read about rock slides and I read about the risk of being taken out by some betel nut chewing truck driver.  I’ve been trekking in Nepal and have spent a few weeks mountain biking out of Breckenridge, Colorado (Elev. 9,600 ft), so altitude wasn’t too big a concern.  Meanwhile, two nights before the event, I dreamt that I was being attacked by a pack of dogs and promptly woke myself up by kicking out wildly at the wardrobe beside the bed.  Toes not broken but they are still a little bruised and sore.  As for rock slides and trucks, well, I could only hope to keep my eyes and ears open.

At last, the day arrived.  Bike prepared, bags packed, I was ready and waiting to toddle off to the freeway junction to find the bus at 1:15am.  At 12:45, I decided to shed a last little bit of weight and settled down to drop the kids off at the pool, at which point the phone rang and Thomas informed me that they were waiting for me.  Time to throw on some shoes and quit the house.  The kids would have to forego their swim.

Once on the bus, it soon became apparent that the unlikeliness of sleep was all but guaranteed.  A seat with insufficient knee room was a mere inconvenience, however, since once we were up to speed, it became clear that this old Toyota was about as smooth as a bag of gravel* doing the Shake n’ Vac** dance on an industrial cheese grater.  Add to this the fact that the driver insisted on a throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off (you get the idea) style of driving for the whole 100+ kms of the freeway, I was destined to a night of pure wide-awakedness.

*This came to mind:

**And this is for those of us of a certain age:

Thankfully, traffic was light and we arrived in Puli in good time, leaving us with around 2 hours to kill before the grand départ.  Advice received suggested that getting as close to the start line was a must, so we set off early and found ourselves within the first couple of hundred participants, where we laid down the bikes and tried to make ourselves comfortable for an hour before the gun.

This is where I began to realise that this was not the kind of sportive I’ve imagined and read about taking place in other parts of the world.  At least, my best guess is that you will not see the whole range of cyclists on show here, from the wannabe pro with all the latest gear to the carefree, slightly overweight enthusiast on his 16″ wheel folding bike.  Many were on mountain bikes.  At least one was on a full time trial machine – they are notoriously difficult to handle and do not make for comfortable climbing.  Many were on bikes with their side-stands still attached.  Many were riding with flat pedals.  Many were sporting all kinds of add-ons and additions, with speakers blasting out Taiwanese power ballads being a particular favourite.  I even saw one chap with a large shopping basket attached to the rear rack, out of which several objects ejected themselves as he sped over the speed ramp at the entrance to the feed zone.  One of my primary concerns had been to ensure that I was carrying the minimum of weight and here were these guys treating this climb like a casual spin to the local park.

Here we are at the start line area at about 4:30.

Climb1

At around 5:15 we were away.  It was still dark and the streets were relatively quiet.  From the start I wasn’t feeling great, but the first 16kms were relatively flat and it was possible to find some shelter for a while on the wheels of a number of half-decent looking riders as they powered past, so I gradually picked up my pace and felt some life coming back to my legs, lungs and heart.  I reckoned on making the most of this as I guessed I would be flying solo as soon as the real gradient reared its head.  I was soon passing some of the triathletes who’d been started some 15 minutes or so earlier in what was billed as the elite race.  Clearly, some of these were not elite athletes, although I have the utmost respect for their determination.  Indeed, Afu was taking part in the triathlon; I wondered if I would catch him.  I was then caught by a proper elite athlete in the form of a friend on the E-Ma team who has adopted the rather wonderful moniker of Johnson.  It was good to see a familiar face from my Hsinchu training days and I knew that Johnson’s massive engine (he used to sit on the front of the bunch pulling at 25mph+ for stupid amounts of time) would serve him well on this ride.  I wished I had his legs, lungs and lack of weight.

Sure enough, the road began to kick up and I settled down to a nice tempo, catching a few, being caught by a few, raising an eyebrow or two as massive trucks swept around blind bends on the left hand side of the road, keeping an eye out for hoards of rabid dogs and ears open for falling boulders.  One unexpected and rather alarming sight was that of a number of large trucks apparently with smoke billowing out from their wheels.  Then I realised that it must have been steam, on the assumption that the brakes must be water cooled, such is the heat generated by so much braking on a descent such as this.  Here’s proof:

Climb3

By now I was feeling pretty good, even managing a smile and a wink at various people taking photographs along the way, but I was wondering when it might level out or ease up for a while.  It couldn’t just keep on like this, could it?

It could.  It did.  With barely a handful of short level sections and even fewer minor descents, this climb was finding me out.  After about 2 and a half hours of pedalling, I’d covered some 35kms and was now struggling to maintain any kind of reasonable pace.

Thankfully, somebody captured this to remind me of what it felt like.  I shall refer back to it if I am asked to ride again:

Climb

Then came the welcome relief of a fast descent of maybe 100 metres over one and a half kilometres or so, with the prospect of regaining those lost 100m partially softened by the thought of the feed station at the 39km mark.  It’s fair to say that I was no longer enjoying this ride and I began to doubt the wisdom of continuing.  I hoped that the food stop would put a spring in my step.  After all, there was only another 16kms to go.

Just as I was thinking about getting back in the saddle, I met an American.  I’d spotted one or two other Westerners near the start and a couple had passed me on the road, so it was nice to share a few words with a fellow big-nose.  I think he introduced himself as Bryce (I’d seen the name Bryce on the start sheet, so maybe this is what I wanted to hear), but, frankly, I wish we’d remained strangers.  It’s not that I found him objectionable in any way – quite the contrary, in fact.  Rather it’s because he reacted to my grumbling about the gradient by assuring me that it was even steeper near the top.  I felt the last ounces of my willpower knocking at the emergency exit.  No matter.  Bananas and cakes devoured, I was ready to conquer this monster.

Less than a minute later and I could barely get myself out of the feed zone.  I’m well used to the feeling of ‘café legs’, but this was something else.  I laboured on for another 3km hoping that I’d re-find my rhythm, but to no avail.  I pulled over, sat on the concrete barrier and felt rather dizzy and lost as everyone passed by, still gurning, gasping, sweating and swearing, pumping those pedals on Pinarellos and KHS folders alike.  I was ready to go home. At that moment I looked up and spotted an E-Ma rider hurtling down the road.  He’d clearly made the top in great time and was probably going to the start to ride it again.  I don’t know if it was Johnson.  I decided to follow and hoped those coming up didn’t think I was in the same league.  I made my way to the feed zone and settled down for a long, long wait.

This gave me time for a little navel gazing; a little quiet contemplation.  I realised that I had been ill-prepared to take on such a challenge, I had not paced myself correctly and I reminded myself that I ride and race my bike for pleasure.  I really hadn’t enjoyed the last hour or so of the ride, so I wondered why I should want to prolong the agony; it wasn’t so much that I was in pain – indeed my legs were not aching and shouting at me to stop – they simply didn’t want to go on.  I felt like I had no energy and I could not turn the gear.  Today my legs are not sore at all.  I’m certain I could have reached the top if I had effectively ‘twiddled’ all the way up, but I could not honestly say that I would have enjoyed that.  I may as well have walked it, but I was on the bike and I wanted to ride at a reasonable pace.  As for the preparation, I thought about my recent history, and while I had been riding regularly and going pretty well between March and June, I have recorded a mere eleven rides between 23 June and 13 September, with just 19 hours in the saddle.  I would usually hope to ride 3 or 4 times in a week, for a total of 7 to 9 hours, so I was about 80% down on my normal training.  Moving house, visiting the UK, exceptionally hot weather and childcare duties have all conspired to curtail my cycling, so I should accept that I was not ready to ride this mountain on my preferred terms.

I sat and watched the hundreds and hundreds of riders passing through the feed zone and found peace with my decision to quit.  Actually, I had no choice.  I simply could not have gone any further.  I was touched by the determination of all these people to carry on to the top where they could collect their medal and certificate, and it was clearly very important to them to achieve this self-imposed target, no matter how long it was going to take, but  I realised I had no particular emotional attachment to this ride.  Yes, I would like to have seen the top, but it was not a disaster for me and I felt no particular sense of disappointment.  As a a cyclist, I’m used to having days when my legs fail to perform, just as I occasionally have those days when I feel invincible.

I then dragged myself up the hill and found our bus in the car park adjacent to the feed zone, so I was able to change and settle down to wait.  I tried to doze.  I failed, so I sat and watched as the beautiful morning was closed out by early afternoon torrential rain.  I was glad I was not one of the many hundreds now descending in such conditions.  With just two of our riders still to return, we learnt that one had punctured near the top on his way down, but he was unable to get himself back on the road.  Efforts were made to try and find assistance from the organisers.  Nothing was offered and our driver clearly didn’t want to drive any further up the mountain.  After about an hour of stalemate, the driver was persuaded to ascend.  He took at least two calls on his mobile as we forged our way up the ever narrowing road; I’m sure there was quite a drop to our right, but rain and cloud obscured any view.  Probably just as well.  We finally turned for home some 7 hours after I’d ended my ride.  This is precisely why I had wanted to drive myself.  Lesson learnt.

Maybe I’ll try again next year, maybe I won’t.  Frankly, I think I’d prefer to ride it alone or with a handful of mates without all of the razzmatazz.  Oh, and after a decent night’s sleep and a proper breakfast.

To finish, here’s a short film about the climb made during a different event.  You may need to brush up on your Mandarin, but you’ll get the general idea and will see something of the amazing scenery to be found out there.

If you want to try the event, do your research and do your training.  Be in no doubt, it’s a long, difficult climb on dangerous roads.  The organisation seemed pretty professional.  There were plenty of staff and there was plenty of food.  It was disappointing that there was no mechanical help available in spite of our pleas.  At $NT 700, I suppose it was fair value, but I could have done it for nothing, what with a handful of shops available on the way up for replenishing supplies.

For the record, my Garmin data is as follows:

Distance covered: 44.7km

Max elevation reached: 2,475m

Time riding: 3’13”

Average speed: 13.9 km/h

Elevation Gain: 2,160m

Puli-Wuling

Red Light Creep

11/09/2013

Now, with a title like that, this ought to be a short missive on Hugh Grant – okay, that was a very long time ago, so you kids had better just look it up – but it’s a term that struck me one afternoon as I was sat in the car at one of the countless intersections in Kaohsiung.  You see, red light creep is a condition or a disease, rather than an odious individual looking for a good time.  More specifically, it is a condition seen across Taiwan if the circumstances are right; namely, a set of traffic lights and a road user.  In my (admittedly limited) experience of the island, the disease is fairly well established in every corner, wherever road meets road and driver meets traffic lights.  While the term itself has been gnawing away in my mind for a few months, only today did it occur to me that it could be a useful catch-all term for the bizarre, confusing, frustrating and crazy monster that exists under the name of road use in this glorious island.

Any regular readers will perhaps recall that in earlier posts I have been particularly concerned with cycle safety on the roads of Great Britain.  Since I moved to Taiwan, my attention has been on other things, but I’ve been storing up ideas and now seems as good a time as any to unleash them on the world.  Hopefully, the world to which I refer will include Taiwan (not Chinese Taipei – are you listening, WHO, UN, IOC and other world bodies*?)  as this is for you.

I fully expect that some of you may be thinking “look at him, coming over here an telling us how to use our roads!”, and I realise that I may be being rather presumptuous for daring to offer some advice, but I do know a thing or two about road safety.  I have been trained by the police in the UK and I passed my Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) test some 22 years ago, so I have some expertise on the matter and, ultimately, bad driving is bad driving, whatever the geographical location.

If you’ve got this far, I guess I should explain how the title is so pertinent.  Essentially, there is an unwritten rule of Taiwanese road use which says “Thou shalt not wait!”, with the qualifying clause “especially at a red light for any longer than is absolutely necessary, and even then, don’t worry if you think you can get away with it.”  There is a fundamental issue of road use which is epitomised at the traffic light junctions the length and breadth of the island; drivers simply cannot wait for the light to go green.  Similarly, they cannot wait for other to pass, cross, park, turn, or any other legitimate activity on the road.  Read on, and I’ll explain.

Hang on.  Before I go any further, take a look at this.

I think it’s in China, rather than Taiwan, but it’s kind of relevant to the text.  It’s pretty funny too, if a bit of schadenfreude doesn’t bother you.

I should make it clear that the road/driving system seems to work, and there is evidently some method in the madness, but the madness is there all the same.  I have done countless hours on a scooter: scary.  I have done hundreds of miles in the car: scary, but at least I have a steel cage around me.  I have done many hours on my bikes: scariest.  I have yet to witness an accident, but have been on the scene soon after on several occasions – mostly scooter related incidents.  I should also make it clear that I have an old laptop that seems to work.  It’s rather old and slow; it’s from another era; my new one is more efficient, nicer to use and makes use of the latest technology and thinking.  Changing a laptop is easy – changing a nation’s attitude to road use is all but impossible, but here are some observations and suggestions from this weary old ex-pat.

This is going to be text-heavy, so here’s a short clip to set the tone.  No schadenfreude here and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted:

This looks like a clear case of the driving simply jumping the red light, but it also highlights the fact that so many scooter riders and drivers seem to focus only on what is immediately ahead.  Bearing in mind that red light jumping is also endemic, one would be foolhardy to cross any junction at speed, especially if you are faced with a clear road ahead.

If you doubt that there is a widespread problem, try this compilation:

Notice how they are pretty much all self-inflicted and/or avoidable with a little awareness or forethought on the part of those involved.

Here are a few examples of what could be improved, not just for me, but for the benefit of everyone, not least through a reduction in the widespread air pollution in urban areas.

The Red Light Creep

May I suggest politely that creepers just wait a few seconds until the light changes to green.  Gradual creep and the almost inevitable subsequent minor braking (because there will almost certainly be someone jumping the red light across your bows) will increase the fuel burnt and the wear on both brakes and transmission.  Try waiting – it will certainly save you money and may save your life.  To be fair, the highways authorities could help with this one.  At nearly all junctions it is possible to see the lights on the opposing side changing, so the stop signal also acts as a tacit go signal for those waiting for green.  Furthermore, many junctions have a countdown to green, so you know that you will have to wait 90, 60, 45 seconds, or whatever.  The problem is that at many junctions, the lights stay red for 90, 60, 45 seconds, or whatever, irrespective of whether there is any traffic.  i.e. most lights, as far as I have been able to tell, are not traffic sensitive at all.  Now this is a country full of high-tech gadgets and gizmos and the manufacturers thereof; surely it is not beyond the wit of a crack team of electronics nerds and geeks to come up with a system to address this.  We have it in the UK and we’re a pretty low-tech society, by comparison.  Imagine the fuel that would be saved and the pollution reduction if just a small percentage of the 22.5 million cars and scooters, not to mention commercial vehicles, were not sat needlessly at red lights for several minutes each journey.

The Right Turners.  

For the love of God, why can’t people wait for the person in front to pass across the junction, rather than speeding past, slamming on the brakes and cutting across in front, thus causing the other party to have to brake sharply as well?  I’d estimate that for the sake of delaying a manoeuvre by five seconds (on average), errant drivers could save themselves fuel and brake wear, and save the innocent party fuel, brake wear and excessive anxiety, while simultaneously reducing the risk of collision should the move be mis-timed.  The same thing happens for left turns, only this time you can see the offender cutting across you path.  The rules, such as they are, seem to go something like this: 1) If you think it unavoidable that the oncoming vehicle will hit you, hang on. 2) If you think the oncoming vehicle has enough room to brake sharply enough to avoid you, bugger it, turn across in front of it.  To be fair, you get used to it and heightened anticipation is an essential element of any journey.  It’s still intensely frustrating, however, and I can best illustrate this with a little more first-hand experience.  Some months ago, while out on my bike, I was descending on a wide but wet road. Visibility was fine.  Traffic was minimal.  I spotted a vehicle looking to turn across in front of me, also descending.  I saw the driver looking at me; he paused momentarily and I thought I was safe.  Oh, what a fool I was!  He decided to wait no longer – I was now some 40 yards closer.  I dared not brake, so I accelerated past and screamed at him through his open window.  He’d saved himself the obligatory 5 seconds or so.  My shorts were close to taking a hammering from my arsehole.

It should be noted that it also works the other way.  Namely, I can be signalling right for several seconds and gradually easing towards a turn and some clown, or several clowns (technically a pratfall of clowns, if Goooooogle and Wikipedianyoldnonsense are to be believed) on scooters will still want to try and pass on the inside.  All for the sake of saving a few seconds.  Just remember, you’ll have plenty of spare seconds when you are in you grave or on your life support system.

As a footnote to this section, I can’t resist the urge to clarify: I’m a Turner and I am usually right. ;0)

The I Don’t Give a Damn about Anyone Else Syndrome

I could probably cite dozens of examples of this, but a suitable incident occurred the other night.  I was outside a 7 Eleven taking a quick break from my bike ride, guzzling on a bottle of Pocari Sweat (honest) and trying to refill my lungs with relatively fresh air.  Parked immediately outside the store was a scooter, behind which I stood taking said breather.  Sure enough, the scooter pilot jumped on and immediately fired up the engine, despite the fact that: a) he couldn’t possibly drive away from where he was, what with scooters having no reverse gear and all that, and: b) there was I, a 51 year-old, 6’4″ Lycra-clad stick-insect, dripping with sweat.  A few litres of carbon monoxide fired straight up my nose was just what I needed.  Could he have waited about 5 seconds and hit the ignition after pushing the scooter back to the road?  Could he bollocks.  Yes, it’s a petty example, but perlease, oh loverly people of Taiwan… how about a little thought for those around you?  Again, there are cost and pollution implications – indeed, it seems to be common practice to reverse out of spaces with the motor running, irrespective of the presence of sweaty cyclists or other hapless passers-by.  It makes no sense.

Crossing the Road

Back to the ubiquitous traffic light for a moment. There are usually little animated green or red men to indicate that pedestrians should cross, or otherwise refrain from doing so.  The little green fella starts to speed up as the time to cross nears an end.  Take a look:

The problem is that a green man is not any form of assurance that it is safe to cross, since traffic turning left or right into the road takes its cue from the green light.  While technically, pedestrians do seem to have priority, this does not mean traffic will wait and allow sufficient room – cars, lorries, trucks, vans, buses and scooters will routinely cut across in front or behind with inches to spare.  I have frequently slapped the sides of vehicles whilst uttering some Anglo-Saxon curse to fall on deaf ears.  The situation is especially upsetting when I am crossing with my 2 year old son.  In a society which apparently reveres children, allowing safe passage to the same is not a given.  Once again, a pause of a handful of seconds would see pedestrians safely out of harms way.

Eye Contact

Whatever you do, never ever make eye contact.  It seems that this implies liability in the event of a mishap.  “It can’t have been my fault, officer, because I didn’t see (read: look at) him.”  In truth, this is often an impossibility in any case, as a huge percentage of cars have mirrored or blacked-out windows.  Frankly, you never get to see who it is who’s trying to kill or maim you.

The Speed Differential

The roads here are packed with scooters, and I often wonder what the scooter has done for this economy as they have a myriad of uses.  I suspect that in terms of accidents per miles driven they are actually relatively safe.  Indeed I hope this is so because it is not unusual to see kids riding pillion, riding in the foot-well, riding wedged between mum and dad.  A whole family can get around on a scooter: mum, dad, two kids and a dog is quite normal.

Image

Imagine this in the UK – the Daily Mail would implode with righteous indignation and the parents would be locked up just as soon as the kids had been carted off to Barnardos and the dog to the local pound.  However, the major risk for the majority of scooterists of Taiwan, as far as I can see (if you remove the very real risk of lung disease from the filthy air) is the minority of clowns who insist on blasting along at about twice the average of all other road users.  I have had countless episodes of near misses on both two and four wheels where a scooter has appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and fractions of a second either way could have proven catastrophic if I’d turned or adjusted my own line into its path.  Mirrors get a lot of use on my journeys and the good old ‘life-saver’ check (thanks, motorcycle training men of Crawley!) has become second nature.

Out Here, we Drive on the Right, Right?

Wrong!  Bear in mind that if you are not familiar with driving in Taiwan, we mostly drive on the, right, but if the place we want to get to happens to be just down the road, we’ll drive on the left.  Thus, a scooter or bicycle could be heading your way – i.e. against the flow of the traffic – at any time on any road, at any junction.  You have been warned.  Yes, you’ve guessed it; there is no point using the right side of the road if you can save yourself a few seconds by risking your safety (and that of a few dozen others).  Add in the family-on-a-bike scenario and here’s a recipe for disaster.  Sooner or later.

Who’d Have Thought that a Red Light Means Stop?

A simple tip, folks.  There is no point in accelerating at a red light, especially if you can see that there are still 90, 60, 45 seconds or whatever remaining until that friendly green light shows its pretty little face.  Red means you are supposed to stop, so just relax the throttle and slow down naturally, using the brake if necessary if the light hasn’t changed to green by the time you get there.  I’m constantly being passed by vehicles as I am slowing for a light.  Similarly, if there’s a narrowing gap ahead – perhaps I should refer to this as a pinch point or bottleneck – there is no point in accelerating towards it.  Why not simply back off the throttle and allow those in front to filter through first?  If you charge into a narrowing gap, it creates the situation where everyone has to brake and (probably) stop; if you ease off and allow space for those ahead to negotiate the space…well, you work it out.

I guess I’ll add to this as new and/or forgotten issues arise, but I’ll leave it there for now.  The eternal pessimist in me knows that nothing will change, but if only one person changes one aspect of their driving behaviour, it will have been worth it.

Slightly off topic, but in case you missed it in the news a few days ago, here’s one lucky, lucky bastard**:

 

** Thanks to Monty Python:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5i1cJIwE7M
and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG63OtsKC7k
*Disclaimer.  I admit that, owing to the early onset of a severe bout of bone idleness, I have not researched this, so I apologise if I have misrepresented any of these venerable institutions.  Then again, the fact that Taiwan is still ‘not recognised’ by any individual, government or organisation is disgraceful in this day and age.

Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch

12/10/2012

It’s quite a common sight; a sportsman (or woman) crossing themselves before the start of a game/match/race/jump/dive/whatever.  I’ve often thought that it is a curious ritual.  As far as I understand it, it is simply tracing the shape of the cross, as in the cross from the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, and I’ve always understood it to be a largely Roman Catholic practice.  To be honest, I’ve not done any research into the subject, apart from a quick squint at Wikipedia (where else?), so I’m certainly no expert on the history and meaning of this action.

In its sporting context, I guess it’s a kind of superstition; our heroes (or heroines) are perhaps seeking some kind of Divine cloak of safety or protection.  I doubt that it is 100% effective, but if it gives a sense of comfort to those concerned, why not give it a try?  There are undoubtedly many secular versions of similar superstitious practices among elite athletes.  I recently heard the cricketer-come-dancer Mark Ramprakash admitting that he’d keep the same piece of chewing gum throughout an innings, sticking the flavourless globule on his bat handle during meal breaks and even over night.  Yuk.  [I used to stick mine behind my earlobe.  Eeeeuw.  It just seemed like a fairly clean place to hide the Wrigley’s Spearmint, and it was certainly discrete.]

Being an analytical type of bloke, I sometimes wonder at the convenience of this whole crucifix thing.  It certainly makes things easy for vampire hunters, when making the sign of the cross in front of Count Dracula or his cronies could mean the difference between life and death.  It seems that any two pieces of wood or metal will do, although I’m not sure on the efficacy of the two fingered approach.  Two digits, one from each hand, laid across each other at right angles certainly make the shape of a cross, but does it count (no pun intended) from a vampire’s point of view?  If in doubt, and you’re thinking of tackling some blood-sucking, pasty-faced gothalikes, ensure that you’ve chopped some garlic the night before and have handled it with all available digits.  Crossed fingers tainted with a healthy dose of eau de allium sativum should do the trick.  Anyway, the point is that Christ could have been executed in any number of different ways.  Imagine if he’d been hanged or beheaded or stoned to death or burned at the stake; imagine Dracula sniggering as he watches some hapless wench trying to fashion a noose from her knicker elastic, or some chinless wonder struggling to construct a guillotine from the contents of his breeches.  I suppose you could go armed with a pocket full of gravel* or a box of matches and some kindling, but my guess is that by the time you’d thrown enough aggregate or broken enough Swan Vestas, you’d have a set of teeth firmly clamped around your jugular.  Evidently and undoubtedly, the cross is convenient both as a Transylvanian defence mechanism and as means of showing your faith.

Back to the point.  I have recently undertaken further analysis of the subject, aiming to tackle the whole thing from a 21st century perspective.  I wonder what would have happened if Jesus had lived and died in the modern age?  As far as I know, crucifixion is no longer the execution method of choice, even for the maddest despots and dictators, or State Governors, so it is more likely that he would have expired in an electric chair or from an injection (use of the term lethal seems superfluous here).  Now, an electric chair would undoubtedly be the choice of vampires, but I’m not so sure about needles and syringes.  Miming the insertion of a needle into the crook of one’s arm is pretty simple, in the same way that forming the shape of a/the cross is easily done with the hand.  So, let’s imagine Jesus lived in the twentieth century and died after the insertion of a needle.  This would leave the Christian world as we know it with a major image makeover.  We would have been denied countless works of art depicting Christ on the cross and our churches would be filled with objects featuring the humble syringe (or the terrifying ugly electric chair if that method had gained priority in this hypothetical new world of mine), while the faithful would stand before the alter injecting imaginary poison into their veins.

Before I finish, I should perhaps explain the title.  I learned the term from my dad, who explained that it is one way to describe the action of crossing oneself.  To be fair, it is rather dated, since very few men will now wear a watch near their chest, and it also takes no account of womankind’s lack of plums, but no matter, it still works even if I have never been sure if the watch should be on the left or the right side.  Where is all this leading?  Well, go back to the start and imagine our sporting stars again, dutifully preparing themselves for their upcoming performance with the sign of their faith.  Imagine countless cyclists sat on the start line miming the injection of the needle into their arm rather than the form of the cross.  I don’t know about you but I’m imagining Alanis Morissette positively wetting herself at the very spectacle.

Come to think of it, in the light of the USADA evidence which has recently entered the public domain, perhaps I should have titled this Spectacles, Testicle, Wallet and Watch.

* Couldn’t resist this: