Tuesday, 18 May 2010

12 - Motorbike

Motorbikin'. Motorbikin'. Goin' down the Queen's highway lookin' like a streak of lightnin'. Et cetera. Oh yeah, that's me, baby. Pushbikes are for girls: two wheels, good, but two wheels plus a monster engine, better.

A year ago I'd hoped to sneak a ride one day on the back of a colleague's machine. Several weeks and a redundancy round later, his desk was remarkably clean and that chance, like him, had gone out of the door.

Idly working from home last week, an email offer arrived -- can give you a lift and I have a spare helmet. You'll need a windproof jacket and some thick gloves. Well, alrighty. Let's set a date for Tuesday.

When my ride appeared, was only mildly disappointed that there was neither sidecar nor Wash 'N' Go ladder. Today's lift is brought to you by the number 1150 and the letters B, M and W. Wifey had wondered if my M&S cargo trousers would be enough to protect me as I scraped along the tarmac at 50mph. It'll be fine. Gulp.

Izzy introduced herself and swapped my Dell-laden rucksack for a shiny skid lid. As she helped me do up the strap under my chin, I had a 40 year flashback -- after playschool, my mum would pick me up on the family transport, a Honda 70, and the outsize crash helmet would wobble around on my head all the way home.

On she gets, on I clamber, and off we go. Into the stream of traffic and the first bit of acceleration up Valley Road makes me (a) grasp those rear handles and (b) catch my breath. Phew. Trick is to look down, though where's the fun in that.

Ring road is doing its usual rush hour stop-start thing. A-ha, but we're atop the very finest German engineering, meaning we can dive outside then duck back in. Have to confess that this takes some getting used to.

We finally pick up more speed on the short stretch of dual carriageway leading to Adastral -- vroom! -- and Izzy checks that I have my pass about my person. Luckily I have, in we go, and she drops me off on terra firma right outside the office. Cool.

One workday later, we head back, and our driver suggests that we try the A14 instead. Having said that she had no wish to terrify me, this is scary stuff as we cruise at 70mph along the big roads and over the Orwell Bridge (great view). My grip is unrelenting. Not the best time for my hi-vis Peter Storm jacket to pop open.

Off by Tesco, down Crane Hill and I'm enjoying the ride. Izzy, you're a star.

Cost - zero to me
Duration - 20mins (8:35 - 8:55); door to door

Pros - good to share and be a pillion of the community
Cons - planning and a strong stomach required

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

11 - Drive

Sometimes, the voices ask -- you can drive, can't you? Sure can. Thinking about it, this very month sees the silver anniversary of my driving licence. When I passed, Two Tribes was top of the charts. A point is all that you can score, indeed.

Got a logistical minestrone for Tuesday: need to start working from home, pick up daughter from sleepover, take her to in-laws out in the sticks and finally head to Martlesham. Can't do all of that on two wheels. Four wheels good today.

Plus, of course, it's free ... in that I'm not handing over any money for fares, etc. Granted, the car was around £10,000 a couple of years ago, road tax is £145, last service was £200, same again for insurance, breakdown cover is £80 and there's £50 worth of diesel in the tank. Apart from that, not a bean.

Even back in 2006, it was reckoned that the average cost of running a car was over £5,000 a year, i.e. £15 a day, in other words my taxi fare to Adastral. Go do the sums yourself, if you dare. At that rate, it's daft not to use it, isn't it?

We know that LONE DRIVER is an anagram of EVIL OR NERD. Are solo motorists necessarily bad people? Yes, if they're driving in from Grange Farm. Less so if they're starting out from further afield, though we've already seen the joys of liftshare, various bus services and even the train to Woodbridge.

I'm fortunate enough to be able to cycle most days, so taking the car becomes a bit of a treat. I can leave home a little bit later, catch up on a podcast (Mark Kermode, Adam & Joe, The Bugle) on the way, no need to change clothes when I arrive, maybe nip into Woodbridge at lunchtime, et cetera.

On the flipside I feel a bit sluggish having not biked and I can't stand sitting in a jam (e.g. to leave the site), especially when cyclists are undertaking with ease.

You pays your money, you takes your choice.

Cost - free-ish, though see above
Duration - 20mins (return journey 17:45-18:05)

Pros - convenience; listen to radio; no timetables; carry other items
Cons - sorry, planet Earth; doesn't burn those calories

Monday, 3 August 2009

Back To Bike

Ten previous days, ten different ways. A rhyme every time. Today, though, I reverted to the default setting. Think once, think twice, think bike.

I've missed the old thing over the last fortnight. Of course, it did play an essential part in getting me to selected local stations and central locations (there I go again), but that's not the same as doing the complete Ipswich to Martlesham run.

I say "old thing" -- actually it's quite a new thing. My employer (not Busby Telecom) signed up to the rather good Cycle To Work Scheme, enabling me to trade in the old jalopy and acquire a sleek new model hand built by Chris Boardman. Or so said the man at Halford's. Money comes straight out of my salary, thus isn't too obvious a hit, and I get it tax-free. What's not to like/bike?

Plus I had money left over to put towards new panniers, a rack, a lid (as my colleague insists on calling it) and, importantly, a heavy duty lock. As my daughter would say, It's All Good.

Friday, 31 July 2009

10 - Jog

After telling people that I'd walked to work last week (why?, they said), two of them suggested that I should run. Note that both these friends have done the London marathon. Now I'm as fit as anyone that bikes 15 miles most days, but I am not Lasse Viren. Cross-country at school: horrible. Athletics: painful. Jogging: I don't get it.

It was with some trepidation then, at 7am, that I left the house, closed the gate and started putting one foot in front of the other. Least it was dry and not too hot. I really didn't know how it would go. Perhaps they'd find me hyperventilating on the driveway of one of the posh houses on Valley Road hill?

Unpleasant beginning, all uphill, trying to breathe at regular intervals. Warming up and proper running shoes are strictly for wimps and people who know what they're doing. Like Suggs, gotta Keep Moving until some fixed point ahead, say the Henley Road lights. Normally I'd think of the old ring road as dead boring, an interminable series of dreary roundabouts. Today, each of them became the next thing to aim for. Plus the junctions gave a good excuse for a 50 step walk and a swig from the water bottle.

It was going surprisingly OK. Checked watch at the very familiar local landmark that is the Shell garage: half-seven. Was a mistake, though, to be carrying house keys and a mobile in my shorts' pockets. Seemed unlikely, too, that I'd need all that rusty lead piping and the grand piano. Thanks, Goons, for the loan of that line.

Into suburban Kesgrave and eventually to Grange Farm's li'l Tesco. It'll take a psychopath not to stop along the cycle path. Had to quell the green monster more than once when the odd cyclist overtook: hey mate, give us a ride in your pannier. Approaching Dobbs Lane, a bike came alongside. Hi Ed, said my office buddy, running to work today? Yep: no need to stay with me. And off he sped.

There's two old blokes tutting at the discarded beer cans in the recreation ground, obviously left by da local yoof. Past the Douglas Bader pub and a small white dog comes out of an adjacent driveway to check me out. I then realise the mutt is chasing me, and endeavour to pick up the pace. At this exact point another cyclist overtakes and has a darn good laugh at this pavement slapstick. Dog gives up when I cross the next road.

Walked up the bridge, ran down the other side and past the squash club to the freshly re-tarmac-ed path by the bus stop. Crossed the finishing line by the gatehouse at 8:15am, much relieved, fairly pleased and stinkingly sweaty. Thank goodness for the first floor shower and a hot cuppa. That's better.

Cost - free
Duration - 75mins (07:00-08:15)

Pros - quicker than walking; fitness; no timetables
Cons - sweaty betty

Thursday, 30 July 2009

09 - Hitchhike

Much um-ing and ah-ing preceded today's outing:

(a) where to go?
(b) what should the sign say?

Point (a) - I took a good look at Sproughton Road down by Morrison's, possibly as far as the A14 sliproad; I considered the Foxhall Road / Heath Road junction by the firework shop; I wondered about the Henley Road lights where they cross Valley Road. Ultimately I chose the Shell garage where Colchester Road meets Woodbridge Road.

Point (b) - attempt 1 said BT Martlesham, but Martlesham is 10 (count 'em) letters and they squash up; attempt 2 said BT Labs, which was shorter but still too much; final attempt said, remembering that less is more, BT.

I can recommend a black Sharpie, a clear plastic A4 wallet (rain was chucking it down when I was doing my Blue Peter preparation), a reinforcing bit of cardboard and several sheets of printer paper.

Standing there in the 8am sunlight with my rucksack & laptop, holding out my two character signage, how long do you think it took before I got picked up? 5 mins? 10 mins? Half an hour? Answer: 2 mins, barely time to feel the self-consciousness kicking in. A couple made eye contact from their shiny Japanese MPV and nodded towards the back seat, and in I got. Sorted.

You do mean BT at Martlesham, the man (driver) asked? That's the one, said I. I'm heading out to work for Suffolk Police, said the lady (passenger), and my husband's giving me a lift.

I'd normally be on my bike, I said, but it's currently off the road (true 'cos it's locked to some railings by the petrol forecourt). Oh, she said. I've biked a few times before but the shower facilities aren't great. Ah, we're pretty lucky in that respect, I said. Smalltalk continued as we cruised Kesgrave and motored into Martlesham past yesterday's Park & Ride destination.

Very kindly, they dropped me off outside Kingpin, a pebble's skim from the Route 66 stop for Adastral Park. Have a good day, we both said: I never knew their names. Made a quick diversion by the main gate to snap today's photo of my amazing sign and the BT Tower, getting an odd look from some geeky looking bloke standing nearby, jotting things down. Never trust a man with a clipboard.

To get home -- well, back to my bike -- I should probably have made an Ipswich sign and stood outside the gatehouse. Instead, I hitched an impromptu lift with a colleague in the office.

These are the pros and cons of hitch hiking:

Cost - free
Duration - 15mins (08:00-08:15)

Pros - meeting people; green travel
Cons - reliance on the generosity and trust of others

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

08 - Park & Ride

Not content with (1) Route 66 and (2) the shuttle bus, there is, as in so many areas of life, a third way. In this case, a third bus service that plies its trade between downtown Ipswich and out-of-town Martlesham. Two words, folks: Park & Ride. Incidentally, if you've got five minutes to spare -- hey, you're reading this -- go from PARK to RIDE by changing one letter at a time.

Into the town centre on the bike, and as I was locking up outside the library, a bright pink vehicle disappeared down Great Colman Street. Darn it, missed that one. No matter, there'll be another one along in 10 minutes (7am to 7pm, I believe). Quite satisfying to watch the bus stop's electronic display slowly count down: 5 mins, 4 mins, ..., due. And here it is, the 800 service at 0800 hours: you will know synchronicity.

Er, I'd like to do the ride in reverse, please, Mr Driver, going out to Martlesham then back to Ipswich later. Er, not sure we do that, he says, rightly confused. What kind of fool uses a P&R service back to front and with no car? Me! But we can do a single, he says: that'll be £2. Done, I say. Ticket reads:

BOARDED: Town Centre
ALIGHT: Martlesham

Since everyone in their right mind is coming IN to town at this time of the morning, I've got the whole shebang to myself. Roadworks cause us to zigzag up St Margaret's Green and up Tuddenham Road, joining the A1214 where Valley Road becomes Colchester Road. Past the Royal George which is evidently holding a Psychic Night tonight: no jokes. One more stop near Heath Road, then out on the taxi route through the 30mph commuterlands of Kesgrave. Held up slightly by the odd pesky cyclist: why do they let these people on the roads?

Before we know it -- actually around 8:15am -- we've arrived at the terminus by the A12. All very swish, this being the most recent of three P&Rs around the town provided by Suffolk County Council. This is where I should have parked my car, had I been doing it right. As I disembark, a small crowd embarks. Now how do I reach Adastral Park?

I'm impressed that there's a pedestrian exit leading to a crossing, and over I go down along the oddly named Portal Avenue. That unlovely place on the right is the Suffolk Constabulary HQ, as featured on telly whenever there's crime to report.

There then follows an excursion into Michael Smith psychogeography as I venture into the places between places, heading down overgrown pathways, into an underpass and through the car parks of anonymous retail parks, the BT radio tower always in sight. Fully 25 minutes elapse before I'm showing my passcard, quite a trudge.

Later, I rewind my steps for the return leg. I'm totally out of sync, dodging a horde getting off the pink bus before I get on, alone again or. Takes no times at all to get back to Major's Corner. Well, quarter of an hour. Bonus to turn the corner of Old Foundry Road and find the bike still there.

Cost - £2 single; around £3.50 for a return covering up to 5 people
Duration - 15 mins (08:00-08:15), then 25 mins walk to the site

Pros - regular; quick; all the advantages of Life In The Bus Lane
Cons - the walk to Adastral Park

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

07 - Taxi

IANAA -- I am not an artist -- but I'd guess that the opposite of green would be red. That gives us the colour of today's journey, a gaudy sampler of scarlets and vermillions and crimsons.

I'd made the call the night before, feeling slightly dirty and scabrous. Er, yeah, I need a ride tomorrow, please. Er, that's right, to BT (nobody round here calls it Adastral). About how much will that be? Wow, er, OK, see you then.

Looked out of the window at five to eight and there he was, cruising down the road. Feeling a tad guilty about not biking and the planet in general, out we go, into the belly of the beast. He apologises for being early but he wanted to be sure of a parking spot, my road setting the benchmark for parallel parking. No problem, I say, and we're off up Valley Road.

Go out to BT much, I ask? Not as much as I used to, he says. They're clamping down, apparently, encouraging people to take the ****ing bus and all. And although it hasn't affected him much, his pals at the station rank aren't happy campers. See, they've got this ****ing shuttle service going straight out there these days. Subsidised, innit. Not even sure that's legal.

It's a bit like that County Council bus that goes round town. That was free for people working for 'em. Turned out that they had to make it available to the general public, not that they advertise it.

They used to have a bus from the station to BT years back, but that died a death. Let's see how this one goes. And that 66 is full of (comment deleted).

Joe The Taxi opts for a surprisingly straightforward route out of town, via Colchester Road and onto the A1214 through Kesgrave. 30mph limit? ****ing stupid. It's 40mph by the hospital and the ring road, so why here?

Not many cars here today, he says, nodding to the visitors' car park. Mind you, there's a mass exodus at 4pm, isn't that right?

Pulling up outside reception, I look at the meter: £13.20. Gulp. I convince myself that I've easily saved this amount and lots more besides by biking nearly every day for the last x years. But it still hurts to hand over the cash.

Cost - £13.20, and that's with no tip!
Duration - 15 mins (07:55-08:10): he had a good run

Pros - works around you and you alone; quick
Cons - cost; environmental impact; smalltalk