2020 weeknote 8 – Radio recaps, selling singles, and work woes

A radio recap, first.

Desert Oracle – first the little magazine and now (only?) the radio show and podcast – isn’t something I listen to every time. But occasionally it’ll catch me in a receptive mood and I’ll think an episode was just a downright classic. The recent episode number 79 – These Enchanted Lands – was one such smash. Pretty much just a solid monologue of fascinating and spooky goings-on which is when Desert Oracle is at its best.

Repeats of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again are just what I need some mornings before work, leaving me chuckling away to things that were funny in the 1960s, and the silly songs that still tickle me today. Hearing John Cleese do a sketch where he complains about his wife spending all his money was particularly amusing in how prophetic it was.

It’s nice to be reminded of how excellent and eclectic Radiophrenia was – it was a block of broadcasts of experimental radio and sound art last May, but Resonance Extra continues to replay it at various times, and it’s always a delight to hear a few random snippets of it. I’m not sure if it will be running again this year / in future.

I was also reminded recently that it’s nearly time for Audiograft in Oxford. I went to the event in 2018 (mentioned in this weeknote) and enjoyed some of what I saw, and generally found it all quite interesting and inspiring.

Looking at the programme this year, I see less that grabs my attention, but I can’t decide if that’s because of the way so many of these installation descriptions and synopses are written. Sometimes I just kind of want to know what it is the installation will look or sound like, and sometimes there just aren’t enough words to properly explain that.

Something something dancing about architecture.

Obviously I should just go with an open mind and support a cool festival. I might find something completely unexpected. Will look at trains and suchlike.


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Some daffs – we’ve been on a daffs kick lately, it seems


Work continues to be just a lot at the moment.

I realise that many people work much harder than I do, but circumstances have conspired recently to mean I am currently either directly or indirectly involved with a large amount of stuff and am being called upon to make suggestions and recommendations on things I don’t feel I have the confidence to answer.

There is an end in sight, but it’s currently quite draining. I did have one nice comment from a colleague which came out of the blue and surprised me, which was nice.

This shift in responsibilities also led to me attending an afternoon session on recent updates in charity law which… well. I suppose some of it was vaguely interesting – particularly the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)’s approach to breaches of GDPR and so on. But other elements were at best just not relevant and at worst confusing.

One speaker criticised the Charity Commission on a number of levels before explaining that she felt a fraud case involving approximately £25,000 for a charity with a turnover of c.£10 million probably ought not to be seen as ‘significant’ and so shouldn’t be reported to the Charity Commission as a serious incident.

Which is alarming.

Possibly she just meant what the Charity Commission deemed significant or serious, and she did clarify by saying any incident should be reported, and the Commission can decide whether it’s serious or not.


Sometime last year – I think it was from watching the Glastonbury coverage on the TV – I realised I had a bunch of 7″ singles just sat on shelves which I never play. I saw The Killers performing and remembered I had one of their first singles on vinyl, and quickly wondered how much such an item might fetch, fifteen years on*. And then I wondered what a load of my other records might fetch.

* In fact, it sold for more than £30, which wasn’t a bad start.

About half of the singles I’ve accumulated are things I would consider objects I have collected and feel attached to, whereas the other half I just don’t particularly have a connection to, and I may as well get rid. Some were duplicates of releases I do care about. But overall, they just never get played. I listen to 12″ albums now and again, but singles with one track on each side I just never really listen to.

I set about listing some of these on discogs.com and ever since then I have been selling one or two a month with *touches all the wood* no real issues. I had purchased from Discogs in the past with no issues, so it’s pleasing to find that the other side of the process is just as painless. Discogs also helpfully gives you an indication of the asking price for most releases, based on previous sales.

It’s also been the perfect combination of things for me: I have some niche, weird stuff that I no longer really care about, and Discogs has connected me with buyers who do care about it and would like to pick some of it up. Most are not that valuable. But Discogs has made it easy for me to find a buyer and to transfer it from one home to another where hopefully it might get a bit more love.

It’s nice selling stuff to fans and collectors. In fact, one of my first sales was to someone who hosts an overnight radio show in Estonia, which is just great. They’re exactly who I want buying my old 7″ singles.

I wonder if listing things on ebay might be better for certain items, particularly as, by default, Discogs doesn’t show photos of the item in question, just the metadata associated with it and the grade the seller gives it in their opinion. Ebay would at least allow me to add more photographs and details about my particular copy. But when I remember selling stuff on ebay, it just feels like such an effort. Discogs lets me just upload a bunch of stuff and leave it on sale until someone wants to buy it. Easy peasy.


Not much else to report this week.

I spent a bit of time in the Wayback Machine museum of ye olde interwebs the other day, poring over one particular website that I followed back when I started following websites. It was a personal website slash blog, and the owner seemed to have had it online for only a few years. I have no idea what happened to them after the website went offline, and I often wonder where they are now.

Part of me wants to do some digging and try and find out. Part of me just likes the neat open-and-shut case of it and is happy to leave it as a time capsule I occasionally peer inside. I think I’ll write more about this subject another time when I’ve formulated my thoughts a little better.

This dig into the Wayback Machine also uncovered a version of one of my first websites that I didn’t realise had been mirrored, which was a nice discovery.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I had thought to include a little extra colophonic metadata in the footer, which is something I love to see, and which I must get back into:

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Reader, I still occasionally listen to ‘incubus’ and ‘the living end’.

2020 weeknote 7 – Hastings, a new camera lens, and The Lighthouse

Recent radio and podcast listening: Radio 3’s Saturday Breakfast and Unclassified with Elizabeth Alker; Giles Coren and Esther Walker’s podcast Giles Coren Has No Idea; Late Junction.

I think I’ve set myself an accidentally high bar when it comes to Weeknotes as I seem to be writing a thousand words or more and sometimes there just ain’t enough notes for the week. This week is one of them.

Trying to summarise office-based workmadness is getting beyond me, but I’ve noticed it’s taking up more and more of my mental energy which is in some ways good and in more ways quite bad. I keep having (or needing) little things that provide context and help me to separate work life from life life.

I went to see The Lighthouse this week and it was batshit crazy, and very enjoyable. It’s always so fun to watch a film that seems to have such a good grasp on what it’s trying to achieve, and it feels like it was all hands on deck. There’s a lot of questionable nonsense in there too, but not everything has to make sense. I really enjoyed it.

I seem to have made it this far knowing little to nothing about the director or producers/studio – possibly because some of their other output has been (afaik) horror, which I don’t tend to go for. But I find that I like media that sets itself restrictions and works within them (or, I suppose, watching old stuff that had what we now know of as restrictions but which were, at the time, simply the norm). So I may check out some more in this vein.

On the subject of films, I use Letterboxd to log the films I watch. Do you?


I picked up a new camera lens on a recent visit to St Albans – an old SLR 35mm f2.8 thingy from the 70s or 80s I think. I already had an adapter for putting M42 lenses onto my Canon dSLR, and I am happy to report that I’ve been enjoying using this new one.

It is extremely manual, and obviously focus is an issue as, with a modern dSLR, there isn’t a frosted glass focus aid or similar, so you’re just doing it by eye through the viewfinder. Or you can use zone focusing, which I don’t think I really understood before, but which I do now (to a degree), and it has helped me achieve some nice results.

On top of this it’s just a nice object – all-metal, solid construction, etc. It’s nice to have in my collection of lenses.


At the weekend M and I popped down to Hastings – oddly enough a repeat of a trip five years earlier, and somewhere we’ve felt drawn towards on a couple of other occasions since. We had a nice (if rainy and stormy) couple of days down there and I’m intending to write separately about our weekend.

I took my new lens and took some pictures with it.

One draw was the Hastings Parkrun course which is a fast, flat, out-and-back along the sea front. I’ve run that course twice before, so this time went for a third. Being on the front and out-and-back (and in the beginnings of storm Dennis) meant for a particularly fast out and a running-face-first-into-the-wind back. Fortunately what this meant overall was that I broke my PB for a standalone 5k*, which was unexpected and very nice.

* Strava tells me I’ve run a faster 5k before, but in the middle of a 10k run, which figures as that would make it a 5k with a rolling start and finish which you’d expect to be faster.

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Anyway, being at the coast is nice and being at the coast in a winter storm is also quite nice (with the usual caveats). We ate good food and as much as we got soaked and windswept, we also found lovely cosy little places to warm up and dry out.

There we are, you see? I only wrote 700 words this week. Let’s see what next week inspires.

2020 weeknote 6 – storms, finance, St Albans and obsolete music formats

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I watched the Seinfeld finale after all and it was… Disappointing? I was glad to have not read any reviews or synopses of it beforehand so I could experience it fresh. But it just felt tonally wrong. Still, what a great series and I’m glad I’ve dipped in and out of it over the past 2-3 years having never seen it before.

In work life, we had the most important meeting so far involving some of the extra tasks I’ve taken on in the absence of a boss. It went…Well? Apart from the bit where the committee brought up a section of the paperwork which we’d done wrong, and worse, that I couldn’t work out how. For a brief, sweaty-palmed moment, I felt convinced I had thus done all of it wrong, and was preparing myself for a really frustrating meeting. So it was a relief when it was just that part, and an easily-fixed problem at that. The rest of it was… fine.

The rest of the week continued to exhibit high levels of anxiety around the office. We also had a few episodes of what I would say are normal problems to deal with, but that on top of everything else just felt cruel. But actually it only served to reveal that we’ve been lucky to go without any of the usual ‘normal’ problems of late, freeing up headspace to deal with the more unusual situations that have arisen.

ANYWAY. When I wasn’t working or fretting about work, I found myself playing with the cat, and taking an afternoon off to wander home via the Heath, taking photographs of birds with a long lens, listening to field recordings, and getting home before it got dark. All these things helped me.

AND on Friday this week we crossed an important threshold: sunset was at 5pm. From here on in, the sunset will be before the end of the working day. This is such a lift of the spirits. It should give enough of a boost to get us to the day we put the clocks forward, and then we’re home and dry.

In the meantime, the weather this week was… Changeable. Wednesday afternoon was glorious and bright. Thursday morning we were bathed under a thick fog. Saturday was bright and beautiful and actually almost warm out of the wind. And then in the early hours of Sunday, a storm rolled in which caused some chaos around the whole country.

We even had a brief power cut, the longest of which in recent memory, even if only five minutes or so. I quickly pulled out  my little Tecsun shortwave radio and found blissful peace on the air with little to no electronic interference cutting through. I did a quick bandscan but the power was back on too quickly to really enjoy this little window of peace from RF interference.

It’s quite a rare occurrence. We just don’t have power cuts nowadays. I remember in the early and mid 1990s we had them every now and again, often caused by bad weather. It was regular enough (though probably not actually that regular) that we had a special places for the candles and we sort of knew what we had to do when a power cut happened.

I bet we only actually  had like one power cut every year or so, but it definitely feels like A Thing Which Used To Happen Which No Longer Does, or perhaps I am just in my mid thirties.


A tweeted photograph from Jonathan Ganley brought to my attention the death of Andrew Brough of NZ band Straitjacket Fits. Their Down in Splendour, which Brough wrote, is a stunning song, with wonderful multi-layered guitars and vocal sounds, and the guitar solo is a classic – beautifully understated, and it disappears just as soon as it arrives, leading me to almost always want to hear the song again immediately.

On Saturday, M and I popped up to St Albans to do Parkrun with some friends, one of whom is training for the London Marathon (and the other who, it should also be said, is doing his best to support her progress and training).

It was, as I said, a lovely bright and mild morning. I’d gone to bed the previous evening not looking forward to a run, and even that morning I woke feeling clunky and creaky and stiff. I decided to just attend out of politeness and see how it went. But thanks be to the herd mentality – and it was some herd, with more than 500 attending – as I got swept up in the event and ran well, and I even got a decent time.

And really, much like some Parkrun routes, this one is becoming a victim of its own success as it attracts crowds which fill the modest paths round the park, leading to occasional bottlenecks. I was left actually quite satisfied in the knowledge that if I ran the same route again with the paths to myself I could certainly shave some time off it. And although Parkrun is timed and is about pushing oneself, it is mostly about having fun and respecting the other runners and park users. And ultimately it’s all about getting out there, and I was so glad I did.

St Albans continued to give and give, as we found a lovely brunch spot in the George Street Canteen, had a nose around the market which was full of yet more splendid food offerings, before popping back into the warmth of the Pudding Stop for another hot drink and some brunch desert.

We also passed a great camera shop – Clarks Camera Centre on Holywell Hill – in which I found a warm welcome, some great service and advice, and I came away with a new (old) 35mm f2.8 lens with an M42 mount which I’ll be able to use on my Canon dSLR by the use of an adapter I’ve had for years.

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I got rid of most of my film cameras a few house-moves ago, and lately I’ve missed the Zenit in particular, and its wonderful 50mm lens. So hopefully this neat little 35mm prime will scratch some of the itch I’ve had lately for shooting fully manual through vintage glass.

We had a great half a day in St Albans, then got the train home and I plunged myself into a wonderful bath of Epsom salts mixed with all manner of stuff including bergamot and CBD oil. Most relaxing.

As an aside, I hate writing St Albans on my phone and on my computer. Anywhere, ‘Albans’ comes up as a typo and leaves me full of doubt as to whether there might be an apostrophe. And on my phone, trying to first type the word ‘St’ always sees it corrected to At. Which is maddening. I feel for you, residents of St Albans.

And finally, this week I was tinkering with my MiniDisc player which is a thing that happens every now and then. I bloody love the form factor of the player and the discs, and I guess I get a kick out of a tiny bit of portable audio equipment still working nicely nearly twenty years on. The bonus is that most of my MiniDiscs are either mixtapes or compilations of related albums/singles that are all very much of a time and place, and listening to them now is a lovely little step through time.

These urges to listen to MiniDiscs usually leads me to naughty thoughts like… recording new MiniDiscs.

In the past I’ve actually recorded my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist to a MiniDisc which was… Stupid, really. The novelty factor was huge, but the practical side was a disaster – recording a line-in input in real time, combined with – by its very nature – a playlist of songs I have not heard before.

MiniDiscs can store metadata, but obviously recording audio like this doesn’t capture anything. So I end up hearing a song I’ve never heard before and want to identify, and my options are either checking Spotify and seeing if I can figure out which track it was in the playlist, or… Sigh… Or, reader, trying to Shazam the audio from my headphones into my phone’s mic. And honestly, I knew how ridiculous that scenario was already, but having typed it out just makes me feel insane for ever trying.

Anyway, this time round I decided to do something slightly less mad: just capture some favourite CDs via optical cable. One benefit of using optical/digital instead of analogue is the levels are set automatically, and the track markers are as per the CD rather than based on gaps of silence. It’s more precise.

There’s something neat about having a small, dedicated collection of the Best of the Best on a portable player. I’ve done the same on a tiny iPod Shuffle before – curated a sort of desert island all-time best-of set of albums that go with me anywhere.

So I rigged this all up and… The method I used somehow did not end up including track markers. Just one whole CD as a single track. At this point I just gave up. What was I doing? It’s madness.

So what I’m doing NOW is assembling a new digital library of The Best of the Best albums on my computer, ripped at either 320kbps MP3 or lossless, and setting up a means of syncing this stuff to my phone. Even this process seems needless when I have Spotify and (for now) Google Play Music’s library in the cloud.

But it just feels silly constantly streaming in a lossy codec the kinds of stuff a) I love, b) I already own, and c) that may not actually be available to stream. And there’s something very satisfying about a neatly organised music collection, even if it is digital.

God. These weeknotes are a bit long. I need to work on that.

Let’s dust ourselves down and see what this week has to offer.

2020 weeknote 5 – Hamilton, smart meters, Sodastream and cycling

On Monday I had a longstanding appointment with Eon or one of its contractors to fit a smart meter for our flat. Exciting stuff. I’d arranged this with our building manager as the meters are in a communal cupboard. And I’d checked with Eon that this would all be fine.

The day came and… their contractor couldn’t find anywhere to park. Which is ridiculous. Was this the first such appointment they’d done on a London street? The chap was friendly enough but phoned and asked where he should park and I told him I really had no idea. He ended up doing laps and then waiting at a nearby pay and display until no spaces became available and he cancelled the appointment. This was all after our building manager confirmed to me that under no circumstances could the contractor park his van either in the turn-off to the building’s underground ramp, or indeed in the empty underground parking area.* Insert joke about smart meters and stupid policies/people.

* We were told that although our building, built five years ago, was built with a basement capable of housing probably fifty cars, it cannot be used for this purpose for an unspecified period of time due to local authority planning regulations, ostensibly to put people off owning cars? Not sure. It also means that bicycles cannot use the (gated) vehicle ramp to access underground secure bicycle storage, and muddy wet bicycles must be wheeled in through main, carpeted entrance and taken downstairs or in a lift. Marvellous.

Fortunately after all this kerfuffle, in the evening we had a performance of Hamilton to look forward to. And golly it was excellent. My previously-mentioned act of bankrupting myself in December to give us stuff to look forward to in January and February continues to pay dividends.

I can count on one hand the number of theatre performances I’ve been to since living in London, but I always enjoy them when I go. I guess I’m mostly put off by the ticket prices, but I know there are ways around that.

ANYWAY the theatre itself is beautiful and, I understand, recently refurbished. The seats were great and comfortable, and of course the show itself was just fantastic. Funny, sharp, and a great mix of lighthearted and serious.

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I am already making plans to grab some cheap seats again in a few months’ time to see it again. (I hear that Disney is filming a performance featuring the original Broadway cast, mind you, so that might do.) And I have inevitably become the sort of person who now listens to cast recordings in his spare time. The same happened with The Book of Mormon too, in fairness.


We got a Sodastream for Christmas, and thus have spent January enjoying carbonated beverages of various varieties, including some very posh ones that came with it, are made in New Zealand(?) and apparently cost £8 for a bottle of 500ml of what is essentially squash. Mostly we mix the fizzy with cheap squash or elderflower cordial, and it’s lovely.

The first gas cartridge finally ran out – I was becoming anxious about this as I wasn’t sure if it would sort of slowly run out or just stop one day. And… yeah. It just stopped one day. So that’s good to know for future. The weird thing with Sodastream is that you exchange the gas cartridges, and the cartridge has a sort of deposit system so to buy a full one costs x and to swap an empty one for a full one costs y.

There’s something inherently novel about using a Sodastream. We had one when I was a kid and I can still remember the a) glass bottles, b) the horrible fake cola/lemonade/whatever flavoured syrups, and c) the odd yellow and white plastic colour scheme. I suppose it was probably a late 70s/early 80s model.

Anyway, we were without gas for a couple of days and felt bereft. But now we have one full one and one empty ready to swap next time. Sodastream anxiety levels normalised.

It’s nice having a Sodastream – our main reason for getting one is so that we can avoid transporting (either ourselves or as a grocery delivery) bottles of carbonated water, which we drink a ton of. We already have a tap that dispenses water, so why not get one that dispenses bubbles of fizzy? So that’s what we did.


The rest of the week was anxiety about work stuff and anxiety about our impending exit from the EU. Both completely unrelated but equally head-fuggying and frustrating. That’s about all I have to say about that.

Luckily the weekend was better. I accidentally discovered that Seinfeld was to leave Amazon Prime at midnight Saturday/Sunday, so I had the whole of the last season to try and get through. And damnit if I didn’t almost manage it. But I still have two episodes left – including the double episode which is presented as one on Prime – ironically if I’d have started that 50-minute episode at just before midnight it will have played all the way through. But alas.

Anyway I can’t yet report on what the long-term effects of watching ten hours of Seinfeld in one sitting are, but it kept me amused all day at least.

I definitely make strange Kramer-esque noises from time to time, and I do wonder what would have happened to me if I’d grown up watching him on Seinfeld as I was so influenced by slapstick, physical comedy and the antics of Tom & Jerry etc. that I just know his eccentric movements and sudden entrances would have appealed to me massively.

Sunday saw another bike ride. I eyed up a few routes into central London and joined the dots between the local routes I know and the more distant signposted/highlighted cycle ‘super highways’ (are they even still called that? It’s a very weird name).

We rode down towards Kings Cross, stopping at St Pancras Old Church which I’d never even seen before let alone popped inside, and then carried on down to the river before doing a little loop and an explore around London Wall and heading back pretty much the way we came. It was a mostly satisfying little excursion.

I have to remind myself that cycling in London, even when planning a decent, joined-up route, is s-l-o-w. I am so desperate now for a ride where I just set out and get 20-30km out of the way without stopping, and ideally doing it at a steady 20-25km/h. Riding in London I’m lucky to get my average speed to hit 20km/h – it’s actually often nearer 15.

Anyway, that’s another week out of the way. 2020 is motoring along. I guess that with planned activities, decent weather for being outside, and being busy at work, I’m just basically quite busy? And that’s good? It’s making the time fly past at a decent pace anyway. Let’s see what February brings.

2020 weeknote 4 – Michael Palin, goats and some cycling

At some point towards the end of the year, I decided that January should be filled with interesting little things to look forward to, and we began week four thusly: attending a Michael Palin event at the Owl bookshop in Kentish Town. I had discovered the event by browsing the Daunt Books website, and just assumed I had missed out and barely considered looking to see if tickets were still available – and they were.

I try and go to see Michael Palin doing whatever he might be doing in London – book readings, Q&As, screenings of films he helped make, or whatever. He’s just very good value no matter what he’s doing. This one was a reading slash re-telling of his North Korea trip a couple of years ago which spawned a TV show for Channel 5 and a book of his journals.

I’ve seen Palin do his own talks by himself, and I’ve seen him do a sort of double-header with another writer or broadcaster, and I’ve seen him ‘in conversation with’ a host of sorts. Fortunately this was him on his own – other events can be a bit disappointing as they can stick to the script a bit, or worse they exist to inflate the host’s ego as they ask knowing questions and don’t give their guest a chance to shine.

Palin stood for an hour and delivered a funny, informative, sharp and very accurate telling of the trip he embarked upon to North Korea and it was just lovely to be in his presence, telling his own story at his own pace. There followed a brief Q&A, and then a chance to get signed copies of the book. I had brought along my own, itself a gift from M which she had already inscribed. She pushed me to get it signed and I’m glad she did.

As we neared the head of the queue, we could see that he was signing the title page, but M’s inscription was on the inside front cover. We thought it would be fun to get him to sign that page – and indeed it was, as he added a nicely personalised note referencing the fact that he was barging in to sign it along with M’s own message, but that it is his book after all.

While he did this, I badgered him briefly about my diary project that I had done for my degree – along with a number of other correspondents, Palin had contributed to the project by completing an online survey about diary-keeping habits. Amongst the tick box responses were longer free text boxes for responses to open questions, and it had been a thrill to get his Palin-esque responses to my project questions along with those of the others.

Despite me just being one of a number of people queuing up to get a book signed, he thoughtfully responded to my diary ramblings by asking if I knew about the projects run/housed by the Bishopsgate Institute, which was really great to hear.

It was a great evening, and the bonus was seeing just how healthy and sharp he is, and I’m so grateful that these events happen with the regularity that they do and that I’m able to attend some of them.

It was all the more poignant, then, that later that week we learned that Palin’s good friend Terry Jones had died after a slow decline. Sad news indeed. Always a knock to the heart to hear of heroes and legends passing on.

Later in the week, with tensions in the office running a little high for my liking, I scoured the map for a route to stroll at lunchtime.

To my delight, just ten minutes away from my office is, if not quite open fields, a small farm and a field home to two friendly goats.

I spent a few minutes introducing myself.

The walk had taken me past an impressive statue called La Delivrance (known locally as ‘the naked lady’, and a nickname so well-established that the information board even says so, rather damning the imagination and culture of the locals, I’d say).

I had forgotten how important it is to strike out and discover new places nearby when your mind is starting to get a bit clogged up with more familiar issues. It wasn’t all goats and bronze breasts and buttocks though, as another version of this lunchtime walk merely led me along the length of a filthy, flytipped water course delightfully named Mutton Brook but looking for all the world like a rainwater drain leading from a municipal dump.

Regardless, I will continue to try and find new paths to follow in familiar places. I found a neat online map that attempts to show you how far you can roam from a central point using various types of transport including walking.

(Related: I started following the #fieldrecording tag on Instagram and saw a nice post from a guy reflecting how he used to take lunchtime walks from his office in New York or San Francisco – round trips of an hour – recording the sounds along the way. Perhaps I’m missing the point but I fear if I did that, all I’d get is the full drone of traffic and the occasional honking horn – but it struck me as an idea worth considering.)

At the weekend, driven by this desire to look at maps and forge routes, I sketched out a rough cycle route from home heading north and away from the city, through suburbia to a place near Cockfosters tube station which had surprised us with its rural beauty on a previous London LOOP walk.

This cycle route north had been floating around in my head for some time and the thought was catalysed by re-reading some notes in my notebook from a visit to the London Metropolitan Archives a year ago.

Whilst flicking through copies of a century-old local newspaper that covered the activities of local groups looking for evidence of Charles Wade’s involvement with amateur dramatics, I found reference to a 1915 cycle ride from Golders Green to Letchworth – from the Garden Suburb to the Garden City – taking in Welwyn on the way as a point of politeness, as well as other stops en route.

I used Strava to try and guesstimate the route the riders might have taken in 1915

I was captivated by this striking out, this group of cycle pioneers hitting the road one Sunday to head north through open country, touch base with their distant cousins, and head back in time for supper.

I just had to plot this route in Strava, hoping that there might still be some remains of the route they must have taken. I’m not an idiot – I know the roads have changed enormously in a hundred years, particularly in north west London – but I wanted to see if I could game the route-finding software a little to uncover the kinds of smaller roads they might have used – and which might still be usable today.

Inevitably it followed a route I sort of recognised, past work, and on upwards to the north. To my delight, it passed near to Monken Hadley, the charming stretch of village and countryside to the west of Cockfosters that I had hoped to revisit by bike. This was all the encouragement I needed to try out a bike ride like this – and I thought the full Letchworth round trip of more than 100km in one day was possibly something best left for a later date.

This led, ultimately, to M and I setting out from home, cycling my route to work, then up and on into the unknown. Unfortunately, though there are roads leading in almost any direction one could wish for from these parts, they tend to be badly potholed, busy (even on a Saturday), and full of buses and other traffic. They are, for the most part, not built for cyclists.

Occasional cyclist-friendly bits are found, but these little oases are few and far between, and the lasting memory is of roads unfit for all the traffic that is capable of using them, and occasional instances of actually having to dismount to cross in order to safely navigate a junction. It can feel a little demeaning.

There were, of course, nice bits. Parts not retro-fitted into including a cycle path, but merely decently-wide roads that were quiet and smooth and pleasant to ride, with good signposting and big, safe junctions to cross. At moments like those, it was made slightly easier to imagine the Sunday ride from a hundred years ago.

But we made it to Monken Hadley, after various north London high streets and dips in and out of suburbia. And it felt great to have returned to a place that we’d before now only taken a tube and a walk to. This is a feeling of satisfaction I’ve found in various unexpected places – as though ‘conquering’ familiar places where before I had had to rely on public transport or the kindness of others to visit or pass through. Getting there on your own two wheels can feel like such an achievement.

The carrot on the stick of this endeavour had been the silky, open roads through Monken Hadley and its neighbouring settlements and countryside. The irony was that the worst parts of the journey were the ones that took us longest to navigate. The good bits flew by as our pedals spun. We headed straight into the woods to retrace the London LOOP where it became a bridleway. Our last visit had been towards the end of a long day, and with the light fading we kept up a quick pace towards the tube station and home. This time we found a body of open water alongside a golf course and ate our sandwiches in the drizzle as a family walked past in wellington boots and waterproofs.

The ride back was, as it so often can be, a bit smoother, with familiar roads and the known elements of the trip feeling less unending than the unknown had on the way up.

Despite the annoyances, it did still feel like a small achievement. I’m sure I’ll try and do something similar again. Plus, the desire to take the bikes out on a commuter train to the home counties and hit the road is always there.

Our route north – like throwing a lasso around Monken Hadley