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Bicycles on trains – a new leaflet from National Rail


National Rail has produced a new leaflet (PDF) providing useful information to those wishing to take their bike on a train. There’s nothing new here, but it’s useful to have the information – which covers all main train operating companies – all in one place, and as up to date as possible.

The situation in a nutshell is covered by two statements:

  • National Rail encourages the integrated use of cycles and trains – two convenient and environmentally friendly forms of transport.
  • All cycles are carried free of charge on UK domestic services.

But there are obvious restrictions, most notably during peak time, and in most cases, specific bicycle reservations must be made ahead of travel, as most services only have limited space to carry them. The leaflet goes into specifics for all the main carriers.

It’s also worth noting that:

Fully folded cycles, with wheels up to a size of 20” in diameter, are carried without restriction on all trains.

Which really makes me want a Brompton, and reminds me – I really need to check out one day.

I’m looking forward to a trip up to the Lake District by train at the end of April. (Who knew there’s a direct service between Milton Keynes and the Lakes every day?!) And although it’s predominantly a walking* trip, I’m also taking my bike to do some little local spins. I’ve made my reservation on the service, which means I have about eighteen bits of card to remember for the entire trip. But hopefully this should mean my journey is a smooth one. I’ll let you know how I get on.

* and reading, and thinking, and eating, and ale-sampling…

Lifelogging in the present moment – thoughts from Chris Butler

I’ve always had a difficult time being present in the moment. I’m a hyper-planner. I think way too far in advance about things that might happen and things I might need to do. To say that sort of thinking can be distracting is an understatement. When you are in a continuously analytical state of mind, reviewing the past and anticipating the future, it leaves virtually no mental bandwidth to consider the present in any meaningful way, not to mention any chance to feel truly comfortable here in the now. And therein lies the paradox: A mind “at home” in the past or future is a mind at home anywhere but reality. The past distorts with every recollection, and the future is nothing more than a projection. This how my mind works, and yet this is not how I want to be (I’ll resist the urge to unpack this other, existential paradox, of what one means by “me” when one is differentiating from one’s mind).

This post by Christopher Butler - brought to me by Matthew Culnane’s excellent newsletter of interesting things - was a lengthy but thoroughly enjoyable read. I’m very glad I set aside some time this morning to take it all in.

It’s actually predominantly about the Reporter app, and life-logging apps and practices in general. But several points along the way really rung true with me, leaving me nodding my head in rapt, concerned agreement.

Reporter is a beautifully designed app. But after using it for a couple of days I deleted it, realising it didn’t actually do anything for me. It didn’t solve anything for me. It was just nice to play with for a while. I hope other people can tease a solid use-case out of it. For me, more qualitative reflection – along the lines of keeping a diary and taking photographs as an aide-mémoire - is far more useful in helping me sort out what’s happening in my head and all around me.

The post linked above mostly brought up thoughts of mindfulness for me, which is something I often struggle with, and something I’ve been reading and thinking a bit about recently. Reading Chris’ words – particularly the passage above – was somewhat reassuring.


‘Publish’ from Day One


Day One now allows users to publish specific diary entries via a new service called… Publish.

For me, a diary is a private place to jot down thoughts and details of my life, Publish has a USP in each published entry having a solo, semi-private existence which can be shared only to those people with the URL. It’s not strictly private, of course, but for sharing a kind of semi-private post to a small set of friends or family, it could be a pretty decent tool.

Although there are infinite platforms for writers to use to publish their words online, one neat feature of Publish is kind of a lack of a feature: posts exist in isolation, and aren’t aggregated or listed like on a blog. Posts can be created and shared and they live in their own space. This may give Publish the unique factor it needs to stand apart from – and not against – blogging platforms, because that’s not really what it’s trying to emulate.

I mentioned how the idea of publishing a diary entry, for me, goes against the point of keeping a private diary. But the feature is being built-in to Day One (initially on iPhone only, with iPad and Mac support coming later), and is just there as a value-add to those who would like to make use of it. For those who don’t want to use it, the feature will just be there, lurking in the background.

Day One is a simple app with an increasingly complex set of features. One of its strongest *is* its simplicity and the way that although a complex subset of features is available and easy to use, they don’t get in the way of using the app for its main purpose.

Mike Ambs’ latest 1×365 video

For many years now, I’ve been pretty sure Mike Ambs is my power animal.

I’ve often found inspiration in the things he does, and the way he shares a lot of his life online, but still seems to maintain a modest, private side. I know some people who share their lives online much less than Mike, but who come across almost arrogant or boastful. With Mike, it’s always considered, and elegant.

Whether it’s a fun project with a fascinating background (re-recording cassette tapes with the sound of a Blue Whale – that’s Mike’s power animal, by the way – scouring the oceans for a mate), or documenting the incredibly complex and exhausting process of creating a film (For Thousands of Miles), or talking about his current work or life moments, there’s something about the way Mike conducts himself that seems so calm, yet driven – and I have, for many years, found his attitude incredibly inspiring and empowering.

Perhaps his most personal insights are captured in a simple but extremely powerful medium – video snapshots, captured on an iPhone. As Mike explains:

Since September of 2010, I’ve recorded at least 7 seconds everyday of my day-to-day life.

Every week I edit 7 of those 7 second-long clips together into (what I refer to as) a 7×7; and every year since 2010 I go back through the last year’s worth of 7x7s and pull 1 second from each clip used, resulting in a 1×365: 1 second for every day of the year.

The latest culmination of this is his third 1×365, which actually shows all of 2013 and a little bit of the end of 2012.

As Mike says:

This video is *slightly* longer than the previous 1x365s, I usually go from Sept-Sept, but I wanted to reset the span of these videos to Dec-Dec. So, this year, I’m using footage from Sept 2012 to Dec 2013.

So much has happened in this last year – nearly 200 days were spent working in a dark, stop-motion stage on BLANK; Xander seemed to age 2 years in just a few months time; I worked with one of the most amazingly-talented musicians on For Thousands of Miles; Erica and I saw old friends again, made a few new ones. Our close friend lost their husband, and then our family struggled with the loss of my cousin… to our family and friends, you are an inspiration, and we love you, these losses have been a difficult reminder to never take anyone or anything for granted.

The song playing is ‘Repose in Blue’, by Eluvium – a very close friend introduced me to this song several months ago, during production on BLANK; and I think this song will always remind me of this time in my life, it somehow has a way of saying, without words, what the last 15 months meant then in-that-moment, and what they mean now looking-back.

And it’s a beautiful film.

It almost feels like a cynically-made ad for the likes of Apple, designed to tug at your heartstrings, making the viewer yearn after a varied and exciting life crafted by writers in a board room. But nope: this is just Mike’s year – or the tiniest slice of it, via 1-second snippets.

And with the music it’s set to, it feels as though it builds – a really subtle but neat narrative, weaving its way like a river along the length of a year. And that ‘rule’ – about breaking your own rules and conventions occasionally – is used to great effect with the final shot, making it so much more powerful, and complete. A great decision.

Anyway, it’s well worth a watch – even if just for the glimpse of Xander’s hair getting longer, and longer, and longer…

Sunday morning ride, 2 March 2014

Up and at 'em.

I nearly didn’t go out for this ride.

Having missed the perfect conditions on Saturday morning, I was a bit annoyed at myself for not making use of them. Now, as I heard the light winds outside my window on Sunday morning, I decided that that would have to be my ‘punishment’. Worse, the clear blue skies of Saturday had been nudged aside, replaced by an almost misty, overcast greyness. Hardly an inspiring sight.

I weighed it up, considering that it was not yet even Spring, and I’d have a thousand more opportunities for rides in the coming weeks and months. And yet, and yet…

The ride took me along my usual go-to route: along Calverton Lane towards Beachampton, but this time I took a detour via Thornton and Thornborough, then back via Nash. The headwinds hung around for the first forty minutes or so and, although I was glad I’d forced myself out, it was indeed a struggle. The above photograph was taken as I took a breather on a short descent towards Thornton – one of a few little 30-second pauses during which I got my breath back and had a sip of drink.

It wasn’t yet 9am, and I passed very few cyclists. I’m not sure if it was the early hour or my lack of a roadbike, but I received fewer greetings in return than usual. One or two were definitely as a result of bad timing: the last thing you want, as you finally, slowly, crest a long climb, is someone coming in the opposite direction, coasting along happily, smiling and sending a “Hello!” your way. In these situations a grimace, or at best a nod of acknowledgement, is a perfectly adequate response.

But as I approached Nash, things became easier. The view from Nash is often quite inspiring, and it makes for a decent place to stop briefly before heading on. This morning, with fast-moving clouds, spotlights of sunshine moved quickly across the flat landscape below. I ate a quick banana, then pushed off for the wonderfully smooth descent towards Stony Stratford. I’ve ridden up this little rise many times – it’s not particularly long or steep, but the last section towards the top almost kills me. Riding down it for a change was bliss.

Indeed, Strava allows me to note that this 50m descent from Nash allowed me to hit 55km/h. I’m a lot more comfortable hovering around 20-25!

And then, as my route took me back along the same section from Beachampton, through Calverton and the Wealds, I had the confidence that where I’d faced a headwind on my first leg, I would now have the tailwind on my side. There’s some weird science around head and tailwinds affecting cyclists, but thankfully my prediction had been correct, and the final third of my route was incredibly enjoyable. I’d finally found my stride, and now the light wind was helping me along.

Rides like this, where you have to force yourself out, are so often worthwhile. This one was no exception. The twenty minutes or so of gliding along deserted roads, with a breeze behind me and the only sounds being those of birds and the steady whirr of rubber on tarmac, was exactly what I needed. A nice 31km round-trip to start my day, then home for fresh coffee and breakfast.