Thursday, 27 June 2013

What were you thinking?

Hello, Universe, do you have a minute or two? Great, because I had a shite day and I'd like to get something off my chest. If you don't mind, I'm having a w(h)ine now.
You know I'm eternally thankful that you lay the grounds for my becoming an author and editor; despite having a break from writing, I know there are still enough novels slumbering in me and they will, at some point, demand their way out. 
But, I'm wondering what warped sense of humour you must possess to have made me meet Shawn and fall head over heels for him? I mean, what the fuck? Seriously. Okay, I've loved cycling all my life and my bikes always meant the world to me, but this? Of course I'm enjoying the change from mountain bike to road bike, and I haven't looked back, but you are aware that I'm shoulder-deep in bicycle parts, tools I never knew even existed, and when I spoke about bottom brackets with a handy man today, he shook his head, saying it's going way over his head.
Personal progress aside: Do you know how frustrating it is to have three complete bikes and none of them is in perfect working order? Do you know how annoying it is to not know how to fix them yourself, even though you want to? And how much I want to scream when people, working at a bike shop, look at either a hub or bottom bracket of a 1976 Viscount, scratching their heads, saying they've never seen something like that in their life and don't know what to do with it? I've been the, admittedly proud, owner of Shawn since end of April but,  for the past two weeks, he's been sadly abandoned, because he was suffering major bottom bracket illness--one I couldn't fix since I had no idea how. In the meantime I had to acquire another Viscount since I need to get around London, you see? I also have another Viscount frame sitting in my bedroom, waiting to be brought back to life, and another frame is with a wonderful man, who's doing some CPR to it. Now this also costs a lot of money, you see? Money I don't necessarily have. But you, Universe, have a devillish merry time to make me go through all the suffering a non-experienced bike owner, now wanting to become a mech, apparently needs to go through. No need to ask you if you think it's funny; I can hear your laughter from there, wherever that is!
Up to yesterday, I was quite enjoying my new 'calling', but today, you went overboard, throwing some more obstacles in my way--for good measure, I assume--so that I not only hurt myself (the wrist's now swollen, I hope you're happy), but also question what I'm doing here, covered in grease. Thankfully, as I just learned, you only gave me a scare and I assembled the bottom bracket correctly, with the two grooves on the right side, but did you think it necessary, after two hours of hard work getting the job done, to make me give up because I only have a rubbish spanner to fit the cranks? Or was it you telling me that the work on the BB isn't done yet? Thanks a bunch. Had you made it slide in smoothly and right in place, this wouldn't have been necessary.
Yes, I'd love to be the woman, when it comes to Viscount bicycles, but can't you make it a tad easier for me? Can't you see, I'm working hard, learning fast and am trying my very best to get up to speed with all the information I can gather. Do you always have to make it so much harder for me? How about you throw a little bit of magic in my direction? That would be much appreciated.

Thanks in advance. Tomorrow, I'll expect for everything to go easy. In fact, I'd like for the rest of my life to be a doddle. How's that, eh? And while you're at it, I'd like a few more grand so I can get some proper tools to get the jobs done. Don't forget one of those beautiful crank sets I'm after, okay, preferably with a bike attached to it. Just thought I'd mention it.

Chardonnay cheers,


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Perhaps you'd like to borrow my eyes, dear self-published author?

It's been a while since I let off some steam about self-published books or their authors, but a repeated argument, thrown in my way on a regular basis, had me clichedly roll my eyes again. I've not made a secret about my opinion on the quality of most self-published books; in fact, I'm rather vocal about my negative experiences. Experiences that led to my giving up on them entirely. Last time I checked, it was my right to make an informed, or even uninformed if I wanted to, decision. Apparently I'm not allowed to make it public, though. No, wait! I am, but by doing so, I'm a hypocrite, because ... drum roll, please ... I'm a self-published author myself. Oh, the shock!
And, of course, it's mostly self-published authors who come to fight me and my, in their eyes, rather strange complaint. The problem is: they can't read. To them it appears I'm thinking all self-published books are shite. I never said that; only most of those books I've read.
Were I 'only' a reader, people would say, 'Shame you've made such bad experiences.' Nobody would go and argue with them, but because I've books published, people find it necessary to question my abilities as a writer. Well, I hate it if the dialogue is not punctuated correctly; I lose my patience when there's no flow in the writing, too many repetitions, or when writers maltreat the poor apostrophe. I can't stand it when characters suddenly act like no normal human being would act. At least not without any explanation. And it's well known, that implausible story lines are my biggest pet hate. And because I hate it all so much, I will do the same mistakes when writing my books. Not! The very fact that I notice these things enables me to do it better. That's why writing pained me so much, I had to step away from it for a while. I'm a perfectionist and most of my first drafts were basically ready to be copy-edited or even ready to be proofed. Candlelight Sinner, for instance, is a first draft, only corrected for language issues and a few minor inconsistencies. Same goes for the thriller. I spend up to eight months writing a first draft, but it doesn't need much editing after that. While writing, I constantly question myself. Would I be annoyed reading it? Would I believe it? Every scene is carefully weighed; does it live up to my standards? If yes, it stays, if not, I'll rewrite it until it works. Authors keep flippantly asking me if I think my books are better. Well, in those areas that cause me to hit the delete button, I'm afraid to say, yes, they are better. Are my books more exciting? Seems not, otherwise I'd be sitting in my wonderful loft above the reptile rescue centre.
What I find worrying is that I see so many authors recommend each other's books with the words, I loved this--amongst them, those who think I'm an arrogant twat. When I peek at some of the recommendations, I find most of them having the faults I'm banging on about: the lack of basic writing skills and my guess is that the author, who recommended said book, doesn't know better either. If I don't know that Tiramisu is supposed to be made with Mascarpone, I'd probably happily dig into the dessert made with custard.
So, dear self-published authors, maybe, if you knew more about writing, just maybe, you'd give up on self-published books, too.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Stella and the City

Somewhere in Marylebone
First off, I need to apologise for my last post, which consists only of pictures. The reason being is that I'm not exactly a techie when it comes to uploading a specific size to a forum. I've signed up as a member of a cycling forum to get my wonderful bike identified and exchange--or in my case--pick people's brains about the Viscount brand. Since I couldn't upload pictures there, I simply put them on here and linked to my blog. Easier for me. Okay, now that that's out of the way, here are the recent news regarding my Adventures with Shawn:

As I've recently said, I've applied to be a bike messenger and have been, as advised, to the city to familiarise myself with the W1 postcode. I divided the rather large area into four and tackled two of them on two days, riding around in circles without any idea where I was. More than once I had to stop at those helpful tourist map points (don't know what they're called), to orientate myself. Very handy for someone like me. I passed Madame Tussauds a few times (at least now I know where it is ... roughly), and a Greek Taverna. I then found myself in NW1 and have no idea how I got there, or even worse: how to get out of there. Once I've disappeared into the maze of tiny cobbled mews, courts, squares and one-way streets, I'm literally lost. My inner compass just doesn't work. And here I was, thinking, I may benefit from going into the city. Hardly. I'm even more confused now. The best way for me to learn it all, is literally learn the streets by heart. Can you hear that big sigh of mine?

However, I have bigger problems at the moment. When I came from the city last time, going back through Regent's Park to speed a bit on the outer ring, I noticed the left crank being wobbly. I mean it already had a bit of play beforehand, but this was definitely different. So I stopped and luckily so, because it was about to fall off!

Imagine that happens on a busy main road. Because I did the cycling error no 1: go for a ride without any tools, I needed to find someone to supply tools for me. In this case a lovely man, who didn't have the right tool, but with combined power, we could fix that crank enough to get me home and to my trusted local bike shop.

This incident somehow opened a can of worms; I had a feeling the bottom bracket needs some looking at, and yes, the bearings need to be replaced. After many e-mails and my frantically trying to figure out what sort of bearings I need, I've now ordered some and can then get to work on the BB. Do I have a clue on how to do it? Not the faintest, but I'll try to do it as gentle as possible so that neither the spindle, nor the bottom bracket shell gets damaged. Fingers crossed that it goes smoothly.

And since I need new wheels, I've decided to try and build them myself. Never done that before, but I'm confident that I'll manage. Just need the right parts. I'm going to my first ever bike jumble at the weekend, and am hoping to find what I'm looking for. Someone really lovely (yes, Steve, I'm talking about you) and incredibly knowledgeable concerning Viscount/Lambert bicycles, has given me the specs for the parts and even offered to help with the BB in case I need him. On top of that, he's kind enough to leave an Aerospace Sport frame (same as Shawn's) in my (in)capable, but loving hands.
That's frame and project no 3, because the main reason for my going to that jumble is to pick up a lugged Viscount Tony Doyle frame. It's a tad too big for me, I think, but a great project to learn on. If the frame's still there when I get there,that is. I haven't paid for it yet, but the bloke, who's selling it, made that deal with me. Pretty scary, the money I'm spending. My Facebook status earlier today sums it up:

Why can't I just fall in love with, I don't know, sculpture making out of matches? No, it has to be Viscount bikes and they're pretty special--in every way. Nothing's straight forward and most of it expensive. But hey, I just got offered another Aerospace Sport frame (like mine) for free. That's a wonderful thing. May go on a trip to get this unique bottom bracket problem sorted. Steep learning curve is an understatement, but I'm loving every second of it.

As you see, I'm very busy with my new-found love. It gives me a good distraction of the writing-scare, and perhaps will be helpful to get back into writing at some point. I've got a few more books in me. :-)

Monday, 10 June 2013

It's my favourite, so don't discuss with me!

For a few days, I've had this craving for cake. Today, while I was cycling through the city, I tried to find a cafe that looked promising. I knew what I was after, but none of the cafes delivered. Mind you, I didn't really look inside, but from the outside it all looked like your typical muffins.
Now I'm not really a big cake eater, sponge cakes, that is; I'm a cream cake connoisseur. Black Forest Cake to be precise. I love the mixture of cherries, cream, chocolate sponge and booze. Each mouthful is an explosion of flavours and textures--pure heaven.

My most favourite treat
Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. However, since I was rather unlucky in my pursuit of a suitable cake, I gave up and cycled home. Upon arrival I had the genius idea to pop by the new ice cafe around the corner; it had opened just a month or so ago and while I've tried their (ridiculously overpriced) ice-cream, I didn't give the cakes a second look back then. The longing to sink my teeth into something soft and sweet drove me into the cafe and the girl behind the counter came to sell me their wares. Nothing took my fancy. Then I spotted it and thought my day is safe. A tiny label read: Black Forest Cake! I could feel my eyes lightning up, and I quickly scanned their display, but couldn't find the object of my desire. Huh?
I asked and she pointed at a cake I'd (mis)taken for a chocolate cake. It was flat and covered with cocoa--no chocolate, cherries or cream in sight. My initial reaction was: That's not a Black Forest Cake; which she didn't take too well. She assured me it was a Black Forest Cake. I insisted it wasn't. It ended with her wishing me a good day, with a sour smile on her face.
Seriously, these things do wind me up. If you're a cafe and don't know how a Black Forest Cake looks like, then don't sell it. And definitely don't try to argue with a German, whose absolute favourite cake is the one in question. And because I didn't get my fix of sweetness, I'm now baking my very first own cake. Coconut sponge cake, for that's probably all I can manage, being the disaster bakeress. Let's hope it won't come out as a brick. Pictures and recipe to follow if it doesn't. So far it looks good and smells even better.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

I have a Godzilla situation

As you know I have this big dragon, which really is an Iguana Iguana. It doesn't make him any smaller and today I was again in awe how huge he's become. And he's got an appetite to go with it. I'm lucky this year; the mating season started early and only lasted for three months or so, which means the really dangerous time is over. Hopefully this will continue from now on as it's hardly enjoyable having to deal with razor sharp teeth and charging on a daily basis.
However, it doesn't keep him from going wild. He knows exactly where the exit is and demands to take a stroll through the flat. Of course I don't let him, but just approaching the vivarium and opening the sliding door gets him all excited. It's quite cute, really. I have to gently persuade him to stay inside, which he reluctantly accepts. It can happen though, that he gets so excited that he knocks one of his lamps with his long tail. And that's what he did on Friday and Saturday. Both lamps smashed and I had to order new ones. Plus the heat emitter. That's roughly 46 pounds. Yay. I need to find a solution for that and might go for a tubular heater next, apparently they're a good constant heat source and energy efficient. Will look into it.
And? What do you want me to do with it?
Anyway, on Saturday came the first delivery of wire lamp and 250W heat emitter, but the wire lamp was faulty and could only take lamps up to 150Watt, which I only learned today. On Saturday, I informed the company that the lamp was broken and they sent another one, due to be delivered on Monday. It came today. Again 150Watt. That's when I noticed. After a long sigh, I called the company again to explain and they sent out a 250Watt wire lamp. Hopefully it'll arrive tomorrow in working condition or else I'll go ballistic. Seems the stars are against me at the moment. And the iguana is 'suffering'. Mind, good it's 'summer' as he's been without proper heating for the past few days. Not that it's bothering him, he eats, is active, annoying ... just his normal self. Although he spends a bit more time on his heating mat.
I hope that as of tomorrow everything will be back to normal, and he has his proper heating back. I'm done unscrewing plugs and screwing them back together for the time being. But hey, that comes with the job as Godzilla's keeper: being a part-time electrician.

Oh and here are some random news: Zorro was given the chance for his very own 15 minutes of fame, starring in a music video. I would have loved it, especially as it's a friend who's doing the video, but considering Zorro's aggressions towards certain colours, hair styles or anything that is moving, I decided against it. I just can't take the risk of him seriously injuring anyone. Shame. He's such a pretty boy, but given my recent luck, he'd charge one of the 'stars' and take a piece out of her calves. Better to be safe than sorry, methinks.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Would I make it as a bike messenger?

Got my work cut out
I have my doubts. With my track record in getting lost and after last Saturday's adventure, I really don't think I'd make any money as a cycling courier. At least I thought so until last evening, but I'll come to that later. To be honest, I've always played with the thought of becoming one, already back in Germany. I love cycling; it makes me smile--on most days, and I'm feeling pretty secure on a bike, since I've cycled all my life. I'm not scared of traffic, and I don't like sitting in an office all day, being forced to wear smart-casual. It's just not me.
Okay, I admit those are mainly pro-arguments, but I know how stressed out I get when I try to find an address and fail. Even after the best preparation by writing every little turn down. Yes, I'm that kind of person. And I've started to carry my maps around when I cycle into areas I've not been yet, just to be on the safe side.
One of the reasons, or perhaps even the main reason of my toying with the idea of becoming a bike messenger is a scene I clearly remember: It was back in Germany, in that small town Bremen, where I grew up. Nobody gets lost in Bremen, except Stella, of course. After I've had enough of my friends' amusement about my none-existent sense of direction I declared, 'Maybe I should just become a cycling courier; that would tackle the issue head on!' My friends rolled on the floor in fits of laughter, and I don't blame them. Needless to say I never pursued it any further.
Now that I'm in London, however, it seemed to have sneaked into the back of my mind, the idea of cycling for a living. Although the pay is ridiculously low--unfairly so, and a definite contra argument. I have a huge iguana to care for and living in London, if you're not sharing, is rather expensive. Then again, for as long as I can remember I've adored bike messengers, and I definitely admire London's as they need to be on their guard and pay 100% attention all day long. A single mistake can be fatal, and those guys are self-employed, which means if they can't work, they won't get paid. As every self-employed person.And there is the weather, be it heat, rain, snow or hail, you have to work. No excuses. A massive contra. I've had my fair share of getting drenched, but that's nothing compared to what those tough guys are going through in the autumn/winter, particularly this last one.
So to make up my mind, or better, to support my already 80/20 decision against trying, I met with a friend whose been in that job for ten years. I expected him to burst out with laughter, to shake his head and talk me out of it. Reasons being that I'm too old, too unfit, too pretty, too ugly, too weird, too whatever--just not suitable. Nope, instead he encouraged me! Dammit!
The legendary Viscount BB
His advice was: if you don't try it, you won't know, but you need to know your post codes, particularly W1. Which was confirmed by the courier company I've spoken to today. It's pretty difficult to get a job if you have no experiences whatsoever, but it looked like the guy took me seriously enough, and sent me away with the same advice my friend gave me: learn the post codes of the city, then I can call again.
And that's what I'm probably going to do over the next two weeks. Besides: I think the best way to get to know a city is by bike. And a lovely bike at that. Went to a bike shop today to get a puncture repaired (don't have the right equipment yet) and watch and learn. One of the things I want to do is to learn the basics of bike maintenance. Okay, back to the guy in the shop, who was rather smitten by Shawn's awesome bottom bracket. Guess I'll definitely need help when that needs replacing at some point. I mean it's been doing its duty for about 40 years. I just hope it's not going to give up the ghost too soon. According to Alex from Micyle in North London, Shawn's in pretty good shape and I intend to keep it that way.