We’re quite good at ’empty the freezer soup’ and ’empty the cupboard’ type meals in general. When the time comes, it’s good to have a clear out, and the results can be surprising.
I say all this because we’re letting our Amazon Prime subscription end – it’s the sort of thing that’s nice to have over Christmas for deliveries, and for a month or two at a time to catch up on film and TV that’s currently available.
And with only a few days left of Prime, I’ve found myself scanning around for unwatched stuff to check out before the subscription runs out. Mostly I’ve been chowing down on Bob’s Burgers most recently, which I’ve sort of dipped in and out of before. It’s very fast and colourful and fun. It feels like a 21st-century Family Guy, I guess.
I watch a lot of YouTube which means I sit through a lot of terrible mistargeted ads. I briefly considered a YouTube Premium subscription to make the ads go away, but it turns out that it costs £12 per month — double the cost of a basic Netflix plan. What.
Indeed! For some time last year I had a three month free trial to YouTube Premium. I tried out YouTube Music very briefly, which was a confusing mishmash and not at all as straightforward as Spotify (which has its own usability issues, and introduces new ones every few months).
But I watch… probably a few hours of YouTube content a week. I’d like to see some stats, but I suspect approximately half my ‘slumped in front of the telly’ time is spent on YouTube with the other half split between stuff recorded on Freesat and streams or Blu-rays.
When I had that free trial, watching YouTube without ads felt wonderful. Firstly, there are no ads, which is of course nice. But you also don’t get ads inserted mid-video, which so often just get placed arbitrarily rather than (as is my understanding) at a convenient point selected by the creator.
So it was overall a nicer way to experience YouTube, and it was a shame to lose it once the trial ran out. But the cost of £11.99 a month was just too high for the ‘nice-to-have’ of no ads.
This week I noticed the day length, the sky being a certain colour, and the interesting light and silhouettes you get at walking-home time in these parts. Stark building silhouettes against icy blue skies; golden rays highlighting trees and buildings just before the sun dips below the horizon.
It’s lovely. A good time of year, even despite the changeable weather: we’ve had a winter storm rolling over every weekend for the past three weeks, and this week it tried to snow for an hour or so in north London.
I also like that at this time of year it is nice to be aware of the sunrise and sunset times – sunrise recently shifted before 7am and sunset moved later than 5.30pm. These are good boundaries to have crossed, and spring rolls ever closer.
Since November I’ve been using a delightful little digital radio called a POP Nano. It seems to have been originally produced for the Norwegian market and is now being sold off cheap from a re-seller on Amazon. It’s a tiny portable FM/DAB+ radio and it has been a joy to use.
The Norwegian connection is clear from the wording on the packaging, and from the information helpfully included by the re-seller which tells you how to reset the device from the default Norwegian language to English.
I’ve had mixed successes with portable DAB/DAB+ radios in the past, but this thing is lovely. It’s tiny, and feels nice in the hand. About the size of a fat pack of gum. There are just three buttons and an on-off switch.
Reception is solid, with the earphone cable acting as an aerial. A scan in north London pulls in 100-150 stations, and it doesn’t struggle to hold onto a station if it is found on a scan. It charges via USB, and battery life is decent – 4-5 hours or so, which isn’t bad for the size of the device.
It’s got a decent and responsive menu/interface, which is also something I’ve learned not to take for granted with cheap portable radios. And this one is ridiculously cheap – the POP Nano can currently be purchased from Amazon for either £9.99 or £14.99, depending on whether Amazon has included some sort of e-voucher.
Alas, the other day I noticed the menu/select button was no long clicking, rendering it unusable aside from the station it was tuned to at the time. Unfortunately for me that was something called CDNX which seems to be some sort of Camden Market-related ex-NME jukebox station which I was briefly checking out after I learned of its existence on the London Trial multiplex.
I say unfortunately mostly because the bitrate of CDNX (48kbps – albeit via DAB+, so stereo AAC) is pretty awful, especially for a music station.
Anyway, the re-seller has been responsive and I’ve sent it back for (hopefully) exchange with a new unit. I don’t hesitate to recommend it – in the hope that my fault is a one-off. But who knows? And I hope I will soon have a new one and it won’t face a similar fate in three months’ time! I will try to update this if I get another and it proves to be a common fault.
I’ve recently been reading A Golden Age of Cycling, a lovely (if slightly under-done) collection of diaries from a British cyclist in the 1920s and 1930s. The author breaks down his cycling holidays day-by-day, telling the reader all the little places he visits, where he stops for bread, cheese and ale, and what mileage he clocks up.
It’s a lovely thing to read at bedtime, as he writes with a jolly demeanour, and it makes for easy daydreaming, putting together little routes through the Cotswolds to get from village to village.
And so for a while I’ve been wanting to remind myself that it is still possible to cycle through the countryside, village to village, and for cycling to be so much more than just a slightly anxious, functional and frantic pedal from home to work on busy London roads.
So on Sunday, after hatching a plan for a while, I took my bike out on the Thameslink train north into the countryside for a spin.
I had previously identified Harlington as a decent candidate hitting the sweet spot between ‘decently served station’ and ‘small place surrounded by countryside’. I then used Komoot to find a route someone had uploaded that started not far from Harlington – before using one or two other apps/websites to convert the GPX file into an app I could actually use for navigation.
There are many thousands of words I could write about this weird, broken, paywalled landscape of ‘apps that allow you to find cycling routes’, ‘apps that allow you to create and/or share routes’, ‘apps that allow you to navigate routes’, ‘apps for converting one such app’s route into another format for another app’ and so on and so on. But I digress.
I struck very lucky with the weather, it being bright and dry, if a little chilly. The wind was a bit much in places – with the usual weird sensation of wind blowing from nearly 270 degrees in all directions rather than one single direction. Whenever I had a brief respite from the wind, it really hit me when I got buffeted again.
I had aimed for 50-55km as a decent distance to test myself out. This loop saw me head out east from Harlington, kissing the edge of Hitchin, then heading south a bit, before heading almost straight back north west towards Harlington, via Emily’s Tea Shop – a nice little cycle-friendly cafe – at Whitwell.
I ended up doing just over 60km, and this was perhaps a stretch. It was my first big ride in a while – save for a couple of rides in the meantime, I hadn’t ridden this sort of distance since France last August.
And thank goodness it wasn’t a particularly hilly route, as I found the last few hills a real struggle. It is heartening to note that the final phase of the ride really did see me climbing and climbing and climbing – albeit not very high. But still. The creaking in my knees in the days following this ride have at least something to blame.
Anyway, wind and ‘hills’ aside, this was a mostly very enjoyable route. I passed a great number of riders – some individuals and a fair few groups. In fact I may have even seen more bikes than cars, which is always nice to see.
There’s something quite reassuring about following a route created and shared by someone else – a hope that it must be reasonably pleasant and doable. If I sat down and programmed my own route, I’d inevitably misjudge a busy junction or completely fail to check the contours and gradients.
I did use Google Maps to navigate the last few KMs back to the station as the Komoot loop would take me instead to a random car park. Ironically, Google led me down some field track bridleways rather than roads, which was a pleasant diversion, but not as easy riding.
I was pretty exhausted by the end of it, but really pleased with my efforts. I may have slightly underestimated how hard a ride of that distance would be, but it’s nice to have that done so that my thoughts can turn to the next route and I am a little more confident of my own potential.