Friday, 28 October 2011

Bern, Baby, Bern

I'm enjoying a day off today. I've been sadly excited about it as I rarely take a day off to spend on myself. Usually I take holidays to travel up North and spend time with my family or have a long weekend with AJ. Fluttering around online has soon crept into my day so I've been doing a little window shopping and I've spotted some cute cycling helmets. I do have a helmet, it's a very safe and generic looking Giro...possibly an Athlon. I can't remember. It's a silvery grey and matches just about anything I wear but it just doesn't inspire me. It was a quick buy as I intended to ride my bike the evening I brought it home - and I wouldn't dream of cycling without a helmet!

Don't get me wrong, my is Giro definitely a great helmet - light, safe, well-fitted and has a good brand name behind it. But in my search to find something chic but warm for the winter I came across the new Bern range. And wow...

These are actually marketed as winter sports helmets but I can't see why a cyclist can't pull them off! (Even better if you're a cyclist-come-snowboarder).  I'm not sure how much the knit would impact hearing though, I do like to know exactly what is approaching me when I'm travelling on main roads. The good news is that the knits are removable so it can serve as a year-round helmet. What I also love about these helmets is how customisable they can be -  Bern sells both knits and sun visors for their helmets as separates. They come in a variety of colours and are suitable for most of their models. Like it. Even better, the women's helmets come in a proper RANGE colours adorned with modern graphics*. Not just pink. Or with garish flower patterns that should have stayed in the 90s along with inflatable sofas and Steps.

*Although, yes they do have a little butterfly motif. But it's small and quite charming so I'll let it pass...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Last Read: Lost by Gregory Maguire

Lost - Gregory Maguire

I'm an avid reader of crime fiction novels based in the Victorian era. It's quite specific, I know. So I jump at the chance to read one when I find one.
With Lost I judged a book by it's cover. Hmm. To be frank, I often do, usually Victorian mystery books have a very distinctive style to the cover design. If I had seen the other cover designs for this book I probably wouldn't have picked it up. In essence this book wasn't what I thought it was, though perhaps the synopsis should have told me that. Here it is:

A compelling ghost story from the internationally bestselling author of WICKED Winifred Rudge, a writer struggling to get beyond the runaway success of her mass-market astrology book, travels to London to start her new novel about the ghost of Jack the Ripper. Upon her arrival, she finds that her step-cousin and old friend John Comestor has disappeared, and a ghostly presence seems to have taken over his home. Is the spirit Winnie's great-great-grandfather, who, family legend claims, was Charles Dickens's childhood inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge? Could it be the ghostly remains of Jack the Ripper? Or a phantasm derived from a more arcane and insidious origin? Winnie begins to investigate and finds herself the unwilling audience for a drama of specters and shades - some from her family's peculiar history and some from her own unvanquished past.

Yes it sounds ridiculous but sometimes I've found these far-fetched sounding books can turn out to be a good read, with a logical explanation at the end. Not so here. I didn't really enjoy it all.
Firstly, I had never heard of the author before and he writes in a very 'American' style. He is American. Fair enough. But considering this was based in London I expected the author, or at least the character to be English. American authors aren't really my thing unless I'm reading a classic like On The Road (it's a Jack Kerouac masterpiece - if you haven't read it - do so).
That aside, the storyline it's self was constantly interrupted by an irritating story-in-story. The protagonist is an author herself and it seems like she remembering/reading a story of her own which is quickly cut into. Sometimes this lasts for a few pages. There are also random poems and verses cut in too and to overall result was tedious. I found myself skipping these parts, which almost certainly had a key part in the ending, due to the frequency and the seemly irrelevant nature of them. Really, I was reading a book about somebody trying to write a book interrupted by another book which may or not be fact or fiction.
This built to create an annoying protagonist whose mind constantly wondered, and was unable to focus on anything. You could argue that the author reflected this in his writing style, but for me it was too much. Combine that with the ridiculous plot and the unreal characters it made for a dull read that I couldn't wait to finish.
But I did finish it. It really does take a lot for me to abandon a book.

Verdict: It reminded me of an adult version of the Goosebumps novels I used to read as a kid. But then again I just don't get fantasy for adults, I fee like I grew out of it years ago. However if you like the genre, Maguire may well be an author worth following, he certainly seems to have a good catalogue behind him.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Soapy Apple Labels

Clever but simple is always a winner for me. I love this idea from Scott Amron, the man behind the Key / Ring. This fruit label turns into soap* when in contact with water. A few rubs later, the label has dissolved and you have a clean shiny pesticide-free apple! Good times.

It's not an official product yet so investment opportunities are available. You can find out more here.

* "Fruit soap", not Imperial Lather. I didn't know there was such a thing as fruit soap. Apparently it is a real product and everything. Why did nobody tell me! I'm pesticide-d up to my eyeballs here. You all suck.

I'm back on a bike!

I honestly can't remember how long it had been since I had last ridden a bike. Possibly around age 14 or so, when cycling suddenly seemed uncool and I was more interested in staying in my room and listening to 80s rock (Queen was the soundtrack to my teenage years.)

My other half reignited my love of cycling when he decided to buy a bike to get him to and from work. It was purely for practical reasons as he had written off his car following an unfortunate accident (he was ok, his car was the only vehicle involved). Because AJ works 13 miles away he initially bought a little fold up bike and started getting the bus to Buxton and cycling the rest of the way. The fold up bike soon became a complete nuisance however - things soon started wobbling, wearing out and generally becoming a pain in the bum. Pun intended. There weren't really any suitable spares out there for the bike (a cheapo eBay thing) so a new plan had to be formulated.
A few of AJ's colleagues cycle to work so he started looking into bikes that would allow him to do the entire journey in comfort. For a few Summers now I have been wishing we had bikes to go cycling. Wherever we go on holiday we always find a route that would have been great to cycle. I then decided that I would take the plunge too and hope that I would enjoy cycling as much as I used to.

After geeking up and fighting my budget against my whims I picked a beautiful Trek hybrid and AJ went for a Giant hybrid. I absolutely love vintage / vintage-style bikes and one day I would like to own a Pashley Poppy however I wanted to be practical for now, I just know I will want to ride through bumpy forest paths so a modern hybrid was the obvious choice for now :)
I went straight to Royals in Wilmslow to gawk at all the pretty bikes. My trek was in stock but unfortunately a display model hadn't been built yet. A similar Trek was located in-store however and I was let loose on it in the car park. Wooo! I pluttered about then I left, trying to decide what to do. I'm incredibly hesitant when it comes to spending a lot of money on myself. After faffing about at the local Tesco for half an hour I made my mind up. I called the shop and asked them if it was possible for them to build my bike before closing time. I knew it would be cutting it close but they happily agreed. The thing with Trek bikes is that you can't order them to be shipped to you, you must collect it yourself. Another 30 mins later I was back in the shop admiring my new Trek 7200 WSD, running around trying on helmets and oogling all the exciting accessories while the poor guy who had rushed to build my bike was very quickly fitting on the mud guards I had just purchased. He did so well and was very polite even though I was like a kid in a sweet shop. The staff at Royals were so knowledgeable and patient - thanks guys!

AJ ordered his Giant the same evening but I couldn't wait to get out and about so he took me on a test cycle with his little fold up bike (bless him) on a 4 mile route. I was a bit wobbly at first and terrified at travelling down the main road back to our house. Strange, I'm a driver myself but when you're the one doing the cycling it suddenly feels like cars are out to get you.
The bike itself is a joy to ride, incredibly smooth, especially with the front suspension and seat suspension locked on. I've ridden a little through bumpy parks and there's no issue at all. The gears were a bit troublesome to begin with but a little tweak to a loose wire remedied that. The range is superb, meaning I can ride up quite an incline without getting off and walking. The only issue I have had so far is with the brakes. They just don't seem very responsive in wet weather. I'm sure there will be a way to sort that though!
I was so unused to riding a bike that I reverted back to my old ways of riding (either slouching over the handle bars, or standing up to pedal). No more riding on the pavement any more either!! *sigh* My bum did end up quite sore and my arms ached more than my legs after my first few rides. I'm sure I'll get used to that though :)

Result: A very happy me! I've rediscovered a childhood joy in cycling and I'm so pleased with my Trek. Now I just need some useful (and pretty!) accessories! I'm a practical girl and I deliberately plumped for a white bike because to me it is a blank canvas. I am a designer after all... Let the accessorizing begin!