Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Grumpiness’ Category

Spring Sportive: competitive queuing and me being grumpy

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Last weekend, I rode in the New Forest Sportive.  This is road bike event. I have done this event several times and I really like it.  This time was the first time in about three years though, partly because I got a bit bored of it, partly because I got very bored with training for them, and also because the venues they use have got worse over the years.  This year, encouraged by a friend who had just taken up road cycling, I entered the moderate length race – 66 miles.  That’s too far for me, really.

My training was not ideal. I don’t like riding in cold, windy and wet weather and default to a run or the gym.  It’s been a while since I rode over 60 miles and although this course is fairly mild, it does have some testing bits, one quite hard climb – and it’s a long way, so you have to keep pedalling for several hours.  Or at least I do.  Because I had no training run that was over 50 miles and I needed to drag out a 66 miler preferably without getting all knackered and messy, I worked on the basis of it taking us about 5 hours.  You have to stop, eat, drink, have a wee, get your sorry arse off the knife-like saddle, un-knot your knotted shoulders, triceps and biceps etc.  I also do much better in the mornings so I calculated a 9.00 am departure thus getting back to the venue at about 2.00, maybe 2.30 pm.

And it was a new venue so I thought it might be better and more cheerful than the last place which looked like a set for filming a 1970s gritty UK police drama – think abandoned banger-racing murder scene. Or the one before that, which was very pretty but terribly prone to flooding/trapping cars on the mud-plains if it rained.  And it rained.

This new venue is really attractive, with a pile of stately home, park-lands and sweeping drives.  Not that you get anywhere near the stately home.  But, the little tracks and limited pathways cause the venue to clog up completely when you add in (estimated)  2 or 2.5k cyclists and their cars.  So, we left home at 6.15 am, arrived at the venue at 8.05 am, as instructed (Do Not Arrive Before 8!).  Then we queued to park for about 20 minutes, then we trailed all over the field to the porta-loos (vile, no paper at all, all day), then seeing how far the registration area was, we decided to ready the bikes and take them with us to register which we don’t usually.  This all took another 30 minutes or so, which is pretty standard for a big event.  I would have been happy to start the ride before 9, which is what I had planned.

However, there was now a massive queue for the starting line.  Groups of cyclists are released across the start in order to have an orderly and safe exit from the venue.  It is usual to have a little wait.  But this was well over an hour of slowly shuffling up the paths, making agonisingly slow progress towards the gate.  Luckily it was sunny and warm.  So you know, pretty good natured.

Behind us in the queue was a couple who struck up a conversation with a lone-cyclist just beside them.  Maybe it was being forced to listen to this for AN HOUR that made me a bit ragey.  What I don’t know about Rex and Sonia’s cycling, kids, holidays, breakfast choices, pet-names for each other/the kids, really isn’t worth knowing.

In summary, Rex and Sonia live in another bit of Hampshire with Maximilian (or Max-Bunny as his mummy calls him) and Frederick (yep.  Freddie-Bunny).  These probably adorable boys are old enough to be left at home and fend for themselves, so I am just guessing that they are early to mid-teens with Max-Bunny being the youngest, as he was up and about, ready to answer his mother’s ‘phone call, which went roughly like this:

Sonia (to Rex and Random Lone Cyclist/the entire queue):  I’m going to give Max a call.  This is ridiculous, we’ve been in this queue for ages and we will be here for an hour longer so we will be very late.  I need to let them know.

Rex:  it’s too early.

Sonia:  mmm, maybe you’re right.

A pause of possibly 2 minutes.

Sonia (on her mobile ‘phone):  Oh! hello Max-Bunny!  It’s mummy!  … yes I thought you might be up … yes I thought Freddie-Bunny would still be asleep! (adorable laughter, like gently babbling brooks) … anyway, look darling, it’s taking for EVAH to get off on this race so we will be at least an hour later back than I said … I don’t know exactly… What? No! goodness me, it certainly had better NOT take us 4 or 5 hours to get round!  I jolly well hope we can do better than that…(darling rippling laughter, like gently blowing breezes).

(Mark and I exchange bitter glances.  I know he is willing me, with all his might, not to turn round and kick off.  I heed his silent plea and stare fixedly at the almost see-through lycra clad, straining arse of the cyclist in front of me)…

(Sonia resumes)…have you had brekkers? … Oh! Darling! I am sorry I am not there to make your muffins! … yes … blah, blah, some more stuff about muffins and alternative breakfast options, the dog and Granny…(rings off).

Sonia (pointlessly, as we all got the gist):  relays all the above to Rex and Random Lone Cyclist.

In the meantime I text Lily and say:  such a long sodding queue, will be ages, probs an hour or so later than planned, FML x

Random Lone Cyclist:  so…have you done a Sportive before?

Sonia:  No!  and it looks like we won’t be doing another one if this is anything to go by! (girlish tinkling giggle, like trilling larks).

Random Lone Cyclist (despite me willing him to shut up and stop feeding her):  what distance are you doing?

Sonia:  the 66 miles.  Didn’t want to go for the longer one just yet.  Actually, this is really a warm up event for us – part of our training.

RLC (like he had read the script, bless him, personally I’d have walked off, forfeited my place in the now half-mile long queue and joined the back of it):  Oh?

(Mark actually smacked his own forehead with his fist at this point).

Sonia:  yes!  We are cycling in the Italian Dolomites next month, and (heavy sarcasm)  I hear it’s a *BIT* *HILLY*! (low, adorable and self-depreciating laugh like someone gently riffling a pack of cards).


Sonia:  yes!  And I only dragged my old road bike out last month!  it’s been ages since we did any serious cycling, isn’t it (Rex)?


(At this point I have to summon all my inconsiderable will power not to turn round and look at her ‘old road bike’ which I am sure is a £4k full carbon limited edition brand spanking new bike, probably red…but I will never know as for once, will power prevailed).

Sonia:  But it’s all going very well so we thought we’d try this one as it looks rather easy and not too long…though this delay is a nuisance, we will just have to cycle much faster, won’t we (Rex)?


Sonia:  oh my goodness! We won’t get back here until about 1.00 if we don’t get away by 10.30, will we?  I certainly hope it won’t take us five hours! Something will have gone very wrong, if we take five hours, won’t it (Rex)?


RLC:  I reckon it’ll take me about four and a half.

(I warm to RLC though still wish he’d stop talking to Sonia).

Sonia:  yes, well, we’re just going to pedal that much faster, to make up for this terrible delay, aren’t we, (Rex)?


With the sun now beating down and it being very hot, me having donned three layers of wool-based jerseys, I have to ask Mark to balance my bike so I can take the top layer off which is quite big and has a wide hood.  I then can’t get this jacket in my little ruck-sack which is of course full of Tupperware containers housing nuts, cheese and mini cocktail sausages.  Because I don’t want to expose this food to Sonia’s gaze, I decide not to un-pack/re-pack the bag and instead, tie the top layer round my middle.

Finally, we get to the bit where we are being readied to cycle and I try to clip onto my bike, but I struggle as my shoe cleats, which need to clip into the receiving cleat on the pedals, are full of crap and mud and gravel from the sodding parkland and mud paths.  So there is an ungainly struggle between me and my bike as I wrestle my feet into place, and then realise that I can’t unclip them easily as they are kind of stuck, on account of the mud and grit. Finally, I get clipped on and we mount and cycle – only I can’t get my bum on the knife-like saddle because the effing hood of my blasted jersey is round my saddle. I have two further attempts to haul myself onto the bike and get seated before veering off to the grass verge in order to tear off my waist-adorning jersey and generally have a much-needed low-key swearing session.

And Sonia pelts past me, head down, bent on the Yellow Jersey of The New Forest, while her frankly adorable warbling laughter bathes my burning ears…

It took us over five hours. I imagine Sonia was at home stirring the risotto long before I hauled my sorry behind over the finish line. It was lovely, mainly.

I’ve decided not to do any more sodding Sportives.







Smugness. Discuss. (Also, a Slightly Grumpy Post).

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

We all know how I can be proper grouchy, don’t we?  Even at Christmas?  Well, it is (more) rare but someone has made me a bit grumpy.  Get a coffee.

‘Is it just me, or does anyone find this trend of donating to charity instead of sending Xmas cards just a bit smug? And to be honest just a good way of avoiding that ‘writing cards and sending’ hassle?’

The above quote has been lifted from a social media site where I go to look at cute pictures of Dachshunds.  Or to ask Dachshund related questions. Or to help with advice for someone else if I can.  I was therefore quite surprised to read this from a woman who I do not know, and I read it all the way to the end in the expectation that it would be Dachshund related.  It isn’t.

What it is, however, is border-line nasty, judgy – and projects quite a lot, I suspect.

You may know, or have guessed by now perhaps, that I am one of the ‘smug’ people who, she judges, give money to charity instead of sending cards at Christmas, for reasons that are concerned with being lazy – too lazy to buy, write and post Christmas cards, she suggests; and/or, to make themselves feel better – the smug reference I assume; and/or want others to know how amazing they are.  The quote goes on to assert that most people can afford to do both – give to charity and buy and send cards, and that it is better to send a card as many people are lonely, but I edited it out for you. You’re welcome.

It irritated me. Partly because I fail to see how The Thoughts of Madam Miffed on Christmas cards have anything whatsoever to do with Dachshunds. And I don’t know, or want to know her, especially as she has already weighed and measured my worth and found it wanting.  But the reason it irritated me was this:  I do not care if she/you/anyone wishes to send cards.  In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest you should, if you want to.  I love getting cards, but of course, as I never send any now and haven’t for four years, we get far fewer.  I don’t open any cards we do get and think: how smug of this person to write and send cards.  Or:  how mean of them not to donate to charity instead.  I just think:  thanks!  How lovely!  (I especially like sparkly cards and robins).  And I save them all and cut them up to make gift tags for the next year, at which time I read them all again.

However, the post did make me examine my real motives.  If I am honest, I didn’t really love writing cards, but for many years I did it because at first, it made me feel all grown-up. Then it made me feel even more Christmassy (though as you may know, I start feeling Christmassy in September and then it builds into a crescendo of festive ferment for four whole months.  Yep.  Poor Mark indeed).   But for the last ten years or so it has got my nerves a bit.  I think this probably coincided with more use of email, social media and texts.

Some years ago, my father developed dementia.  Initially the progress of the disease was slow and sometimes I thought I was imagining it, because he had always been quite absent-minded, always thinking about something clever and probably mathy, that kind of thing.  But it is hard not to face the reality when you see your dad trying to make a ‘phone call with the TV remote control.  Stuff was going wrong.  Then in the last two or three years of his life, it was clearly a major and a rapidly escalating problem – and he just slipped further and further away from us.  Dementia does not come alone and take just the mind.  It wreaks havoc on the body too.  It is the real deal.

So a few years ago I started giving to The Alzheimer’s Society.  Instead of spending my Christmas card money on cards and stamps, I give it to them. One day soon, when stamps are made of gold and cost £100 each, they will be making a pretty penny from me.  (NB:  I may have to adjust my giving model).   Why do this at Christmas and not at a random time of year?  I think people (such as me) do this because it is at Christmas that you miss the people you loved so much, and have lost, the very most.  It is reaching out.  Like you used to.  When they were still alive and part of your routine, earthly life, not just your remembered and bitterly missed past life.

I do something else too.  With the time I save, I write to dad.  This year I am writing a poem.  It’s pretty poor, and I rather wish I hadn’t begun it or at least that I’d taken the non-rhyming option…anyway I’m pressing on.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s are absolute rubbish and I feel so impotent.  But when I give my festive spends, I do at least think I am sticking up an exquisitely manicured middle finger to dementia.  It helps me feel a bit better, that much is true, or a bit less hopeless about it at least.  It’d be bloody amazing if no-one else had to suffer as my dad did and I know that day is a long way away, but who knows?  I believe it will come.  One thing doing this does not make me feel is smug.

My dad always told me I had a way with words and so to prove him right, I now say:  you can stuff your nippy little Face Book post right up your tail-spout, lady, followed by a mince-pie and a nice prickly sprig of holly.  Season’s greetings!


No Lizards Were Involved in the Preparation of Your Meal (a post about annoying signs)

Friday, August 14th, 2015

You that know I am a grouch, don’t you?  Good.  Then it won’t come as a surprise to know that annoying signs give me rage.  Have you ever actually corrected a public sign, menu or other notice by re-writing it?  No? Frankly I don’t believe you, but in that case I will not confide in you either.

I am going to overlook signs with common grammatical errors because this post would be too long.  For similar reasons, I am not going to explore your versus you’re (and all other examples of the misplaced or omitted abbreviation apostrophe), too versus to and so on.

In order to retain the tenuous grip I still have on my own reason, I am also going to overlook the infestation of misplaced possessive apostrophes.

For personal reasons, I am not including signs that might indicate a characteristic or view point of the occupant of a car.  ‘Powered by Fairy Dust’, for example.  This is because I suspect that I may well one day have a car that really is powered by fairy dust.  Or unicorn breath.

Signs that can cause irritation include:

‘Baby on Board’ stickers in cars.  This is a wider category, really and includes ‘Show Dogs in Transit’ along with other warnings.  At least, I assume they are warnings.  What else could their purpose be?  Boastfulness I suppose, but I take them mean:  ‘Do not crash into my car.  I have a baby in the car. Or a dog.  And this is not just any old dog.  It’s a Show Dog.  Please crash into another car.’  As if, in the absence of the sticker, I would willfully ram them.  Perhaps the existence of these stickers is the only thing that has deterred me from this activity.  I think it would be much more helpful if cars had stickers with insightful warnings about the driver, such as: ‘I have no anger management boundaries, and if you accidentally touch my car, I may stab you rather than resolve the matter via our insurance companies as is conventional.’

‘Good Food’.  Really?  In that case I will take my custom elsewhere.  Because I was looking for mediocre or even unpleasant food.  And anyway, why be so dolefully underwhelming about the food?  Is ‘good’ really the highest praise you can give your own menu?  If I had to write a notice about my pub food, I really do not think I would confine myself to ‘good’.  I would at least venture into the realms of divine, ambrosial, celestial – which may be why I get so few advertising copy-writing gigs.

Hand-cut (insert word such as chips, or sandwiches).  This category of annoyance extends to the sub-genre of hand-shaped.  A burger shaped like a hand.  Nice.  This is supposed to be reassuring I think. No lizards were involved in the preparation of your hand-shaped burger.  Your chips were cut by hand, and not by mouth.  There is a further level to be explored:  hand-finished.  Asda, for example, has a range of Extra Special cakes which are all described as hand-finished.  When you contemplate the many alternatives, this is probably a relief.

Now we will wander briefly into the food description isle of my Annoying Signs library.  I have seen menus where a sauce, served with – perhaps actually upon – another item, such as a steak, is described as ‘enveloping’ or even ‘en-robing’ the steak.  On Rupert’s sweet life, I promise you, this is true.  I almost choked on my hand-pressed juice. Though I was reassured about the juice, as my greatest juice-related fear until then involved concerns about it having been pressed by foot.

More or less any signs that begin:  ‘Polite Notice…’ and then go on (and on) to deliver a passive-aggressive rant about bikes being propped against the shop window sill, people sitting on the wall and so on.  These signs almost always seem to relate to windows and walls.  Odd.  I quite fancy making some notices of my own and festooning my gates with them, but none of them would begin with ‘Polite Notice’ because if I ever catch the phantom dog poo culprit who uses our gateway as a doggy lav (the human owner I mean, not the dog who is innocent of course and who needs to come and live with me), I will be very far from polite.

Random Grumpiness #1

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

I’m not in a bad mood.  No, really.  I’m fine.  I’m almost always in a mood that can be defined as quite to rather good.  I’m usually such a happy person, that if my mood-o-meter only registers ‘OK’, people who know me well ask if I am sad…what’s wrong, Ali?  You seem down today…?  But in fact, I’m just marginally less happy than usual.

This makes me sound either simple, or annoying, or both.  I am simple.  I like many simple things and they make me happy.  I can be annoying.  I suppose.  Being annoying, also, makes me happy, especially to Lily.  But I am not a constant ray of sunshine.  Even when I am happy, I can be, and often am, scratchy with short spells of grouch.  ‘Sarky’, my old form teacher called me.  I was twelve.

I am therefore bringing you the first in what will probably be a very intermittent series of Things That Can Make Me A Bit Grumpy.

Here are two such things.  First (and this just about qualifies for Leaf of  the Day too) is the Beech leaf-husk. When the leaves (or it might be the tiny flowers, but I think it is the leaves) start to emerge from the bud, they first shed a fine husk, a case.  These – and there are literally millions of them – then invade the garden, house and car.  For weeks. I really think, given that the beech tree leaves are an absolute bane of  my life, and then it is sometimes infested with hairy caterpillars, which I fear the dogs will eat, thus dying or at the very least losing part/all of their tongues (I once read about this. Therefore it has become an Obsessive Thing), and it needs thinning every 3 years, or else it will up-end the cottage – that the time may have come to get rid of it.  Oh no!  cry the family.  You can’t be serious.  Oh, but I am.  Unless you, family, wish to take over operation-beech every year?

The other thing?  You want more grouch?  OK.  Gym territorialism.  You know that space, in the gym studio, where you always stand, right by the air fans but with plain sight of yourself in at least two mirrors?  It’s not yours.  Or mine.  We have membership, not ownership.

I know we all like to go to the same places/seats/spaces etc, we can’t really help it, we are programmed that way.  There’s a great ‘joke’ I heard about Methodists. I was, by the way, brought up as a Methodist, and I heard this hilarious ‘joke’ in church, so it’s OK for me to tell you.  There was a chapel in Jamaica where they worshiped with the doors open because it was hot in there.  Every Sunday, about half an hour after the start, an old dog wandered in and just flopped down in the cool shade.  They knew he was a Methodist because he always went to the same pew.  Boom Boom!  Oh yeah, we knew how to have a good time!

But anyway, gym space – the place you set up your bench, or stand before a class begins – is just a rented bit of space, for that hour.  If I move to a new space, I sometimes get mild to moderate passive-aggro from other users, such as:  you can’t stand there!  You always stand there, (pointing to a space about 2 meters away).  Or:  you!  Go stand at the front/back!  This is my space.  And they do actually mean it.

Oh dear.  It’s not your space.  Or mine.  It’s just a bit of floor, plus air and light.  I do it on purpose sometimes, not just to wind folks up, though that is of course a nice bonus.  I do it because it breaks me of that Methodist repeated pattern behaviour to which I know I could become a slave, in much the same way as I steadfastly refuse to salute magpies or throw salt over my shoulder.

Next time in grump-corner, supermarkets, newsreaders and radio ‘phone-ins.