New bikes, and hospital.

Saturday June 9th I picked up my brand new motorbike, a Suzuki DL650X.  I wanted to get the engine run in before a Scotland trip that was supposed to start two weeks later on the 23rd, so I put the first 150 miles on it that afternoon and took it out again on the Sunday.  All is going well until I’m heading homewards, going gently around a roundabout, when the next thing I know I am sliding along the road towards the rear of a car.  I don’t remember much about lying on the ground, I only remember a couple of items in the ambulance (giving a breath test), and then I’m in A&E (ER) at Harlow Hospital being told I’ve broken my leg.

I was conscious enough to call my Dad to tell him I’ve had a bit of an accident, to remember the radiographer rather unkindly saying “motorbiker, what does he expect,” but little else.  I was warned I was going into theatre and the next thing I remember is the recovery room, nodding as people are telling me things, but not really taking in alot about what happened.  Tuesday and Thursday I had two more operations as they closed up the wounds that had been opened to reduce the swelling as a metal pin had been inserted into my tibia.

The first thing I have to do here is thank all the staff at the hospital that looked after me very well, even that one radiographer.  Then I also have to thank whoever it was that called the police and ambulance and stayed with me when I was laying on the road.  Unfortunately I have absolutely no recollection of you, but I am truly grateful.  After that there’s the ambulancemen and paramedics that got me to hospital.  Finally, and most of all, the friends, family and colleagues that have supported me.

One of the things that struck me in hospital was the “PatientLine” system that allows you to stay in touch when you’re in hospital.  It costs £2.90 a day to activate, and for that you get some TV channels, some games, and basic internet access using a small keypad.  If you want to make calls it costs 24p/min to landlines, mobiles are more, but to be called from the outside it is even more expensive, 39p/min or 49p/min depending on the time of day.   I also note that whilst the beds and surrounding areas are disinfected between patients, the PatientLine unit isn’t — you don’t even seem to get a fresh pair of foam pads on the headphones.

It has been many years since I last stayed in hospital myself — I think I was around 14 at the time, but for somewhere you’re supposed to be recuperating, they are no place to get a good night’s sleep.  Trolleys and boxes being pushed around are one thing, but the pained sounds from other patients can make for a harrowing night.

As for myself, I’ve got wounds from knee to ankle either side of my right leg from the operations.  They should have the staples and stitches taken out in a week or so, after which the main aim will be to get the bone healed.  Finally there may be the need for some physiotherapy after that.  The consultant reckons 4-5 months to be fully healed, but it sounds like my mobility will be severely limited until then.  I asked if I might be able to use the underground to get into work after a couple of months, and he made it sound very unlikely.

When I am fully healed, will I be getting on a bike again?  This is the $64,000 question.  At the moment, I don’t really know.  I love motorcycling alot, but I would never dream of putting the people I mentioned previously through the same ordeal.  However, it could have happened doing any number of things.  Am I less likely to cross the road?  Ride a bicycle?  Go trekking?  Probably “no” to all three.  I guess I need some time to think about it.

Nobody talks on the Underground.

Everybody knows the rule, time on the tube is your own private time. You don’t look at anybody else, and you certainly don’t talk to them. Well, I’ve had a glimpse into a different world over the past couple of days.

Thursday evening I’m on the platform at Liverpool Street, waiting for a tube. There’s a girl sitting on one of the benches and I see a guy sit down next to her and start chatting, they don’t appear to know each other, but they’ve both had a bit to drink. They’re waiting for the same train as I am, and when we all get on they’re sitting across the aisle, a few seats further down. She appears to be very chatty, and soon enough she draws the guy across from them into their conversation (I recall the opener was her saying to him, “You look p*ss*d off”), and another guy next to him. At this point the original guy is looking as though he wishes he’d picked someone else to chat up, but the damage is done and he’s started something far bigger than himself now. As the contagion creeps down the carriage, I hold out for a few minutes, then start chatting with the woman next to me. Mainly about the people across the carriage, but also about the Sainsbury’s Chicken Salad that is on the seat between us, still in its plastic bowl with film top and cardboard sleeve, which looks as though it had just been picked off the shelf and placed there. Eventually the others get off, and I end up chatting to the woman until my stop. So, Claire the South African that lives in Theydon Bois and works near Bank, it was good talking to you! Maybe it is a little odd that under normal circumstances, certainly if it had been earlier in the evening, the unopened, pristine chicken salad would have gone without comment.

Friday morning, on the way into work, the train is pulling into the next station, Loughton, and as it pulls in I spot someone that I think I know. Coincidentally, the train is stopping so she’ll be getting on the door nearest me. Fairly sure I know who it is, but still not trusting my memory, I figure I’ll wait and see if she recognises me before potentially making a fool of myself. “Hello, Rob” I hear, “I haven’t seen you for ages!” At the time I was thinking “ages” was about seven years, but in retrospect it may be closer to 10. Now it turns out she lives about half a mile from me, although neither of us lived in this area at the time. Small world and all that.

Friday evening, things were a bit more lively. The train was crowded and a girl was sitting on her boyfriend’s knee in the middle of one of the benches, both of them eating a McDonalds. Two other girls were standing near the end of the opposite bench, and when the people nearest them got up, were headed for the free seats. However, by the time they’d let the people pass, the couple (who must have seen the two girls) had dashed across and sat in the seats. I didn’t think much of it, but it did colour my view of the couple. A few minutes later I can hear voices gradually getting raised. A woman sitting next to the couple must have said something about them eating their smelly burgers in the packed carriage, and the argument was getting a little heated. Just as it started to calm down, a guy sitting next to the woman chimed in and asked them to keep it down — somewhat ironic given I’d been able to hear his iPod just before. Instead of calming things down, though, that just inflamed the argument and whilst the girl and the woman had eased off, now the two men were shouting at each other. At Leytonstone, the man that had challenged the couple got off the train, as did the other guy, with his girlfriend hot on his heels. Next thing I know there’s alot of raised voices going on, and the girlfriend and a couple of bystanders are ushering the man back in the carriage to avoid it turning physical. For the rest of the journey until they got off, the man sat on the end-seat, sulking in a child-like fashion (perhaps he was trying to look mean and moody), whilst his girlfriend talked a bit more amiably to the people opposite. It came quite close to getting violent.

So, people do talk to each other on the tube, maybe I’m missing something when I ride into work on my bike!


I’m sitting here watching a broadcast of the concert I missed earlier. Not only the Scissor Sisters, but introduced by Kylie.


I could have been there.

There’s no point in going any further, my command of the English language isn’t sufficient to prevent it dropping into obscenities.

Is it worth it?

One of the parts of my job is that about one week in every five I am on-call. This isn’t usually too onerous and more often than not it just means taking it easy and ensuring I’m near a computer and somewhere with mobile phone reception. If there are events that make it awkward to be on-call, I can swap with my colleagues.

So earlier this week I sent a message out asking for someone to help cover this evening, Saturday, as a friend had won tickets to tonight’s Scissor Sisters concert in Trafalgar Square. Nobody replied, but the guy I’m on-call with said not to worry, as long as nothing major happened he’d be able to cope.

8am I start getting pages indicating a major network fault. Guess what? I’ve had to let down my friend and spend all day, and now this evening, in front of a computer instead of being at a one-off gig. I get paid a reasonable amount for being on-call, but is it worth it? I’m starting to think not. I’m not feeling very charitable towards the company that let us down today and caused the problems.

Party Political Broadcasts

I wish more politicians would watch “The West Wing.” The recent election portrayed there showed the candidates, both of them relatively upstanding men (as politicians go) making every attempt to refrain from using negative campaigning. Of course, that eventually broke down, but the sentiment was there.

This evening I saw the Labour Party’s first Party Political Broadcast for the upcoming council elections. You might think that in these enlightened times it would have let us know how good Labour councils are in providing local services (regardless of whether they truly are or not — this is an election broadcast after all). No such luck. Instead the entire time was spent talking about a chameleon called “Dave.” For those of you outside the UK, this refers to the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. They even have a website, Dave the Chameleon.

Does this encourage me to vote Labour? No, if anything it turns me off them. Why should I vote for them? Because they can call somebody else names? There were plenty of kids in the schoolyard that could do that. I’m having difficulty seeing who the broadcast was aimed at. Conservatives? I can’t see them taking it seriously. Floating voters? Would anybody fall for such a cheap trick? Nope, the only people I can see it amusing are the insiders, and their mind is already make up. What a waste of time and money. I’m all for a bit of sarcasm (I’ve even been known to use it myself on occasion), but please, make it worthwhile.

To top it off, one of the links opens a Microsoft Word document. Not HTML, not even PDF, but good old MS Word. XP helpfully reminds me, “If you do not trust the source, do not open or save this file.” Well, do I trust the website of any political party? What do you think?


Last September, two days before I went to Tibet, I had a puncture on my bike. Unfortunately the timing meant that it had to wait until I came back from holiday (three weeks later) before it was repaired.

Saturday, after coming back from a ride, I’m looking at the rear tyre and see a bit of wire in it. I go to pull it out, but as soon as I move it I hear a hissing so I leave it in until I could make my way to my usual tyre place yesterday morning for them to fix it.

This morning, I check my tyre again before I leave, and all is well. However, when I get to work I see something glinting and get a sinking feeling. Yup, there’s a nice shiny philips-head screw driven all the way into the tyre. Less than 24 hours since I had it repaired. It is very close to the first repair, so that means I’ll need to replace it.

And maybe find a cleaner route home.

John Simpson

A couple of weekends ago, I was shopping in Stanfords and bought a ticket for a talk at the Royal Geographical Society by John Simpson that was being advertised to raise funds for Prisoners of Conscience.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, after all, you’d hope a reporter as experienced as he is would be an entertaining public speaker, but there’s always the danger that someone with so many stories to tell becomes, well, just a little bit boorish. Fortunately it was nothing of the sort. He spoke of “heros” for the first half of the talk, and for the other half answered questions from the audience. The heros in question were a school teacher in the Peruvian part of the Amazonas that had stood up to local drug lords (together of course, with some anecdotes about reporting the story — including a surruptitious attempt to leave a video camera recording during an interview when the Commandante had requested it be turned off; unfortunately the camera then decided to noisily chew the tape halfway during the interview), an American diplomat stationed in Argentina during the time of the military junta’s oppression, and a very brief anecdote about Nelson Mandela. In answering questions he also covered the current situation in the former Yugoslavia, following Milosevic’s death in the Hague and the impending deadline for the handover of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic (one of whom he described with something along the lines of of being a poisonous, evil dwarf built like a brick s**t-house), some of the stories that aren’t being reported at the moment (the political and humanitarian situation in Uzbekistan), and the fallout of the Hutton report on the BBC (some of his choicest words were reserved for Hutton).

By his own admission, he is too old to care about offending people any more, and I imagine the fact that he’s still alive and kicking after reporting unfavourably on many less than savoury characters goes some way to fortify that position.

Three years since the Iraq war began

Today’s news is reporting the protests that have been happening to mark three years since the war in Iraq began. This means it is also three years since I was in San Francisco and faced one of the more surreal moments of my life when I turned a corner to be confronted with a wall of people on a similar protest walking straight towards me. It also means than in about a month’s time, it will be three years since I left for my year of travelling. Seems like a very long time ago.

Misplaced humour.

Oops. Looks like I messed up. One of our partner organisations, with whom I’ve always thought I got on quite well, runs a network called XXX (name changed to protect the party involved). They are currently migrating to XXX2, and last October I noticed that the “” domain was free. For a bit of a laugh, I registered it and pointed it to a web page about technology used in parts of the network. This was always intended just to be a joke. When the organisation realised, I expected them to send an email to the effect of “ha, ha, now can we have our domain please?” At that point, I’d hand it over to them. The domain was registered in my name, with my home address and personal email and phone numbers — i.e. nothing to do with my employer.

Yesterday I get a phone call from my boss. Apparently the boss from this partner organisation has been on the phone to my boss’s boss about the issue, mentioning lawyers and legal fees.

Now, perhaps in today’s paranoid business climate the humour was misplaced, but surely a friendly email would have been a better first resort? It would have solved the issue just as quickly and with much less bad feeling.

Mea culpa, of course, and I’m not claiming it isn’t all my own fault, but the lesson is not to play pranks with domain names. Even for things that don’t exist yet, people take them very seriously.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.