Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Wages of Sin

I always thought the phrase "the wages of sin" was pretty silly. ("Good heavens, you mean I can get PAID for sinning? Where do I sign up?") But now I understand.

Last November, we moved offices to Blackwater. On arrival we found that there were these vending machines that dispensed chocolate. Now this was no problem for me, since as you know I have an iron will. But the skinny b*st*rd (*) who sits opposite me constantly buys chocolate bars. A thoughtful person would eat them. That's what I would do. Standard eating times are 2 seconds for a Crunchie, 4 seconds for a Kit Kat and a full five and a half for a Mars Bar, since it's rather chewy.

Not him.

He can take fifteen minutes to dispatch twenty M&Ms. Fifteen minutes! And he doesn't just eat them. He savours them. He "aah"s and "mmm"s as if they are d*mn making love to him. Worst of all, he stays thin.

So you understand I had to eat some chocolate. I didn't want to and I certainly did not enjoy it but by force of circumstances I was compelled. Therefore I arrived at Christmas weighing almost a stone more than I should.

Fortunately, my wife is ill. Oh yes, I can hear already the sharp intakes of breath as you all read that last sentence. But suspend your judgement for a moment, if you will. When my other half is poorly, that means fewer parties and dinners. Less eating and drinking. Less pain (we'll come back to that subject shortly) in the New Year.

So there was just one drinks party on Christmas Eve, another the following Sunday and a New Year's Eve do. Champagne, of course, is calorie-free, so I thought I was going to be OK until I was undone by two malicious acts of unspeakable evil.

The first occurred on Christmas Day. There was the tree, beautiful and decorated and, for the first time ever, not shedding needles. Underneath it were various presents in their glittering wrappings, including the biggest bar that Toblerone makes. (These bars are big enough that when Toblerone make them, the economies of the Ivory Coast and Ghana take off.) My older son, being a feckless university student, had decided to spend far too much of his over-generous allowance buying me chocolate. I wasn't having that. No, actually, I was. Less than 24 hours was all it took.

The second disaster occurred on New Year's Eve. I was a little worried that my clothes were a tad tight but I just had one more social engagement to survive and I planned to get through that by sipping my way through bubbles - there is NO way that bubbles can put on weight. Sadly after the bubbles came dinner. It was healthy and delicious. I ate green beans. For the first time in 2003. I might have imbibed a small glass or two of wine. But absolutely everything was under control until the dessert arrived. By the time I was offered dessert, NO-ONE had taken any chocolate mousse and the profiteroles were in danger of being remaindered so I did the decent thing. Against all my natural instincts.

And now it's the New Year. Without shuddering too much, I ask you to envision my slim and svelte body now has these modest extensions in the region of the waist. They don't have planning permission yet, although they might well need it if they get any bigger. They are in danger of becoming a paunch, the first in Haffey family history, and while I have often wanted to go down in history, this is not the way I envisaged doing it.

But, I remember, it is possible to cycle to work. It's about ten miles, with only minor hills. And I happen to know that there is a cycle network, because it's shown in the Hart Local Plan (page 108 of 111 for those who are interested.) The bike has been gathering dust in the garage and has two flat tyres but I can fix that. And, with the zeal of the New Year, I do. I buy lights for the bike and a lock and reflective strips for my clothes.

So yesterday, I wake up early and after breakfast I sortie forth. Just by the garage, which is a full four yards from our front door, I turn back. It's raining and I don't mind getting fit but I do mind getting wet. I drive to work, and the sunshine that breaks through an hour later works on my conscience all day.

Today I also wake early. I'd checked the forecast and it was for mild overcast weather. No rain. Perfect. At 7.30, with barely any light in the sky, I sally forth. (One only sorties forth on Tuesdays. Wednesdays are for sallying.) Half way up the driveway, which is a full five yards from the garage or eight from the front door, I realised that the pedals have something wrong with them. They really aren't straight and flat and I remember one evening a few years ago when I drove the car a bit too far into the garage and wonder if there could possibly be any connection. Also the saddle is too high and the handlebars too low so I can only see vertically downwards unless I rick my neck. But I am not turning back again.

I make it to the top of the road and a full mile further before I arrive at Griffin Way North. You car drivers probably think Griffin Way North is flat but I can assure you that it is a pretty fierce hill. That would be bad enough, but there are several dozen kids waiting for a bus in the early morning gloom and I can see them pointing and laughing at me.

I am inclined to shake my fist and shout that they are spoiled br*ts but I am stopped by three things: (a) they are doubtless stronger than I am in my middle age (b) I am quite sure they can run faster than I can ride and (c) I am far too tired to shout and perfectly incapable of shaking my fist. So I cycle and seethe.

At the summit of Griffin Way North, I turn east on to the A30, and the first part of the "cycle network". I continue in this way for quite some distance until, 30 or more yards along the cycle lane, I realise that the road is wide enough for a car or a bicycle but not both. There is this white line along the edge of the road which I suppose marks out the cycle lane, but most of the time it is less than a foot wide and crumbling and if you think I am capable of cycling consistently in less than a foot of tarmac while heart pumps out my ears, my eyeballs bounce off the road and my b*m sticks in the air then I can only feel complimented. But I must disabuse you.

So, d*mn it, I cycle on the pedestrian footway. It may be illegal but no-one is crazy enough to be using it at 7.45 in the morning and it's two or three ft wide. It's downhill and death recedes. I zoom past the Crooked Billet pub at the bottom of the hill and need to start pedalling again.

Now, I remember when I bought this bike. The salesman pointed out that it had 15 gears and I just knew then and there I had to have it. Fifteen gears! I could cycle up Everest on that! Even better, I could cycle down. I should have known the salesman was lying. There are only three gears you use: Uphill, Downhill and Flat. The rest are absolutely bl**dy useless, except for exercising my wrists which seem to be the only part of me that isn't already in pain.

I'm now on what I guess might be a cycle path. It is only moderately potholed and given that at a stretch I can see three yards ahead, I have little time to avoid them. Or the bricks, cans and bottles that thoughtful people have removed from the road. Or the road signs. There's obviously no room on the road for road signs so they put them on the cycle path. The first d*mn near beheaded me, and there were times in the subsequent hour when I had wished it had.

Worst of the lot are some temporary signs warning of roadworks ahead. 600 yards before the roadworks is the first, right in the middle of the cycle path. I swerve around it, narrowly missing a rabbit, but the road is wide enough at this point that I don't go anywhere near a car. But the subsequent signs are where the road is narrowing. I remember being taught to put out my right arm to indicate that I will be moving right, and I do. I do not know how my hand misses a car, but it does and I make a mental note to carry a hammer tomorrow.

I die a little death - and sadly not the petit mort that makes us all jolly - on the road up to Hartley Wintney and then catch my breath as I make my way through the village. Half way there, I think, as I cycle out of the village. I start humming something from West Side Story that has the phrase "half way there" in it, and avoid looking at the hill half a mile ahead. I'm on either a cycle path or pedestrian footway again and feeling safe.

Until some idiot hurtles out of their driveway and pulls up across the pathway right in front of me. Woah! I know I have a mountain bike, but there is NO WAY I can cycle over a car. I am going at my top speed of eight mph at this point and zig and zag around the car, using the minimum of the fortunately wide road at this point.

And then, along the southern boundary of Blackbushe Airport, there's no cycle track. No pedestrian path. No good reason, either, since the road is flat, as you'd expect near an airport. Not only that but the road narrows. For the next mile I live in terror of my life but am alert enough to notice that the drivers of big juggernaughts are considerate and hold behind me until they can pass safely while the drivers of BMWs - doubtless VSPO** by the slow progress of the juggernaughts - will be the first targets of my hammer tomorrow as they have only missed me by the miracle of nanotechnology. Guys, I know that in the BMW 5 series you are allegedly driving the finest car on the road, but do you have to *prove* how accurate the steering is?

At the Cricket Hill Roundabout I turn off the A30, thank heavens. There is a proper, wide, world-class cycle track for the next two miles to work. As I marvel in the miracle of my survival, my thoughts drift back to last night. I was playing cards with my wife and son and at one point I played a very nasty trick on him. He was briefly mad and, in the language of the ghetto, suggested that I had an Oedipus complex. I ticked him off pretty severely for using such language in front of a lady, but I can tell you now that there are dozens of people with Oedipus complexes who drove along the A30 today and by the laws of statistics some of them must work where I do.

Now I am quite enjoying this cycle path through the woods when it starts going downhill. Downhill I can normally manage pretty well, but some underemployed cycle path designer has decided it can't go straight at this point so in seconds I find myself frantically leaning left and right to keep my bicycle on this path and avoid the deadly trees that some idiot tree-hugger planted everywhere. That cycle path design probably filled in a morning for the cycle path designer and I can tell you I'll fill in something else if I ever catch him alone.

However, without further incident I arrive at work. There are these bicycle hoops under a protective shelter and I think the same guy designed this lot. First you can't walk into the shelter without banging your head. At least now I know why I am wearing this silly helmet. Then the hoop is about five foot off the ground and I am quite incapable of lifting my bike this high and simultaneously operating the combination lock. I am about to start weeping with frustration when I think they can shove their hoops and I lock the bike to a pole. I've just this very moment remembered I left the lights on the bike and if I get back and they are gone I swear I will buy an AK47 and start my own CrimeWatch program.

I get into the office and collapse. It's 8.45. As I take off my jacket and jersey I see that every part of my body is sweating. My tummy is sweating. My legs are sweating. My arms - and I have really skinny arms - are sweating. My hair is damn sweating (sorry, I've run out of asterisks). Good grief, my glasses are sweating. Suddenly I realise my b*m (found a spare asterisk under my chair) isn't quite so sore any more. After years of careful neglect, my rear end is soft. How on earth can a bicycle seat be so hard?

Now I understand about the wages of sin. It's what I'm paying, isn't it? Not what I'm paid. I've sought out the vending machine and cut off the plug.

And if I ever manage to get out of this chair, I'm changing to badminton. No-one ever got run down on a badminton court.


* Yes, I'm one of those old-fashioned people who uses asterisks to pretend to hide rude word.

** VSPO. V=Very, S=Severely, O=Off. The meaning of P has been lost in the mists of time.


CathrynG said...

Badminton is much safer although I don't know if an hour of it will burn off more than a single glass of bubbles.

Sean Haffey said...

Badminton is 300 - 400 calories an hour. Bubbles are similar, but they include an anti-gravity device, which is why they float. Consequently, champagne doesn't put on weight. It doesn't even cause those who drink it to put on weight.

robwallace said...

Through the magic of Google, it says directly below your rant: "Cycle Clothes - Cheap". Presumably including padded cycling shorts.