August, 2014

Cyclists’ Traits

Hyperlapse Bike Commute from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

[A hyperlapse of my ride home from work on my Brompton. Made taping an iPod Touch to the handlebars of my bike]

It’s a relatively common thing to categorise cyclists into different “tribes.” But after many years cycling, including cycling as part of my regular commute for the last few years, I’ve decided that people are less members of particular “tribes” than they share common traits with one another.

I’ve tried (not altogether seriously) to identify some of those traits among those you see cycling in the rush hour, and present this as a scholarly work, and a not at all derogatory look at my fellow cyclists.

I should also note that I fall into several of these camps.

Nobody is perfect:

The Roller – the person who rolls very casually past a line of waiting cyclists and straight out across a red light seemingly without a care in the world. They’re not going fast. They’re just rolling.

The Jaunty Helmet – Without getting into the rights and wrongs of helmets, one thing I do know is that if you’re going to wear one, you need to wear it properly, otherwise it’s no more useful than any other hat. I’m talking about people – and they tend to women – who wear the helmet way back with the peak somewhere on the crown of their head. That helmet simply isn’t going to protect you properly.

The Track Starter – A bit like the kid who walked to school and didn’t want to stand on the cracks in the pavement, this is the man (and it is a man) who doesn’t want to put his feet down anywhere along his commute. He might do a very good trackstand at the traffic lights, but more annoyingly, he slows right down on cycle paths when coming towards a red light so as to maintain some momentum – but not too much. In turn he prevents others from getting to the advance stop line for cyclists behind him.

The Wannabe Pro – There really is no need for full team strip to get to work. As a rule, you won’t see anyone other than school kids wearing their Chelsea or Arsenal kits on the school bus.

The Darkness – Come on. It really isn’t hard to put a couple of LEDs on your bike if you’re cycling after dark.

The Suicidal – Why are you going up the inside of a bus or van that is indicating left? You do know that’s how most cycling accidents happen?

The Low Rider – I don’t mean the cool kids who mosey around on their unique steeds. I’m talking about people who don’t seem to realise that it’s easier and more comfortable if you raise the saddle a bit.

The Queue Jumper – There’s a line of cyclists waiting in a cycling lane at a stop sign, and along comes this guy (or gal) and just spins along to the front – cycling in the opposite cycle lane to do so. Because they’re more important than you. Get it? They need to be somewhere while you don’t.

The Queue Jumper Who Is Slow – It’s one thing if you’re Speedy Gonzalez and you’re just trying to get past a group of slow commuters. But if you’re one of the slower commuters, why are you queue jumping? We’re British. We’re supposed to do queues properly.

The Speedy Folder – Just because I’m on a Brompton, it doesn’t mean that I can’t cycle faster than you.

The No-Signaler – It’s not just cars that need to know you’re turning left or right. Your fellow cyclists tend to find it handy, because it indicates you’re going to slow down and manoeuvre out.

The Light Jumper – Yes, yes. I know. Sometimes you do know that pedestrians find it intimidating if there’s a bike speeding by as they look at the Green Man.

The Campanologist – A bell is a necessary accessory for city centre riding. Indeed something with a bit more welly might sometimes be desireable. But these folk love their bells so much they ring them all the time. If they see a pedestrian so much as look towards the road, they ring. If they overtake, they ring. If you are more than 5 nano-seconds slow getting away from a traffic light, they ring. And then they ring some more.

The Salmon – Going upstream. Yes, there should be more roads with two-way access for cyclists. The City of London has made great strides in this. But it’s still reckless – not just for cars, but other cyclists and pedestrians.

The Lighthouse – I get it. You do need to be seen after dark. But that industrial strength strobe you’ve affixed to the front of your bike is actually causing me temporary blindness. See also people who’s stroboscopic lights induce epilepsy in photo-sensitive individuals within a half-mile radius.

The First-Timer – Usually to be spotted sometime around the hottest day of the year. See also every other category.

The High-Vizzer – I must have missed the memo that said every cyclist on the planet must now wear the same garb as workers on building sites. Everyone wears high-viz now – lines of schoolkids on days out, drivers, and mostly cyclists. The problem I have with them is that it becomes assumed it’s essential to wear them. Check out the Netherlands. They don’t wear them. To my mind, if we’re going to suggest cyclists wear them (and on big schemes like the excellent Freewheel and Sky Rides, these vests get handed out a lot), then we should also be spray painting every car on the road in a dayglow colour.

The Weaver – To be fair, just about the only way to get around many central London roads.

The Undertaker – I’m about to turn left, but someone has decided it’s a good time to undertake me. Smart!

The Videographer – Has cameras all over his bike and helmet. I’m not saying he wants to get a viral YouTube hit based around some appalling piece of driving, but if there is some, he’s got it from several angles!

The Conversationalist – Seriously. We’re still commuting. The rules are – no talking.

The Good Lifer – Cycling is a way of life. I’m just dropping the kids off to school in my cargo bike first thing. Then it’s off to the organic food store to pick up some groceries.

The Builder’s Bum – You probably want to rethink your cycling attire, especially for those behind you. This doesn’t just apply to men either…

The Shifter – Why shouldn’t I use my Brompton to transport me, a duvet and a couple of new pillows from John Lewis to home?

The Florist – I want to make a statement with my bicycle. And that statement is flowers!

The Carbonista – I did 30 laps of Richmond Park on this beauty before I headed into town for work.

The Too Cool For School – Look at me. Now look at yourself. We are not the same.

The Lost Boys (and Girls) – Quite possibly on a Boris Bike or similar, and almost certainly a tourist. They just want to find the nearest dock to Covent Garden piazza. Those maps that started appearing alongside bike hire docks a couple of years ago really are very useful.

The Interloper – Probably not riding a bicycle at all. But they’re using the bike lane for their scooter, or electric thingy that behaves a bit like a Segway. They’re usually going slower than everyone else.

The Chicken Player – There’s loads of room for me to overtake without hitting an oncoming cyclist – it’s just that everyone else needs to slow down to avoid a collision!

The Corner Cutter – Turning left at the lights, but bored of waiting for them to turn green? Just hop up onto the kurb, down the other side, and away you go. Watch out for pedestrians!

The Professional – Not Body and Doyle haring up in Ford Capri Mark III, but the last bastions of the cycle courier. To be honest, they tend to be flying around in the middle of day rather than joining the ranks of the 9-5ers.

As I say, these are just a few of the traits you will find. There are many many others…

Playing With Hyperlapse

Hyperlapse Test from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Instagram has released a new app called Hyperlapse. It’s iOS only at the moment (I tried it with an iPod Touch). And there’s an argument whether it’s actually “hyperlapse” in that it’s really stabilising and smoothing video. Microsoft has an awesome test video which shows a far more sophisticated approach and it’s well worth checking out.

But in the meantime we have this.

No sound, and I’m not sure it’s the best example I could have shot. I’ll try some more.


Medea at the National is a superb new production of Euripes’ classic tale – first performed in 431 BC. Medea (Helen McCrory) has separated from her husband Jason (Danny Sapani), and been banished to some far flung part of Greece with her two sons. Jason is to marry the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. She’s mad with rage and wants revenge.

It’s just a question of what she’ll do to get her revenge – and how far it’ll take her.

From the opening scene where we see Medea howling and screaming in the woods, we can see that all is not well with her. And it’s the beautiful shifts in mood and tone that give rise to a schizophrenic Medea. She is sometimes calm, but something will anger her and her blood boils up.

It’s all beautifully played by McCrory who puts everything into her part. It must be an incredibly demanding piece to perform night after night. The play may only run 90 minutes, but by the end McCrory looks completely drained.

The chorus are a fascinating part of this story – part essential to Greek theatre, but part watching audience. As Medea’s revenge, and madness begin to take shape, the chorus begins to be culpable. Why did they not stop Medea doing what she was going to do? We can sometimes look at ourselves today and say the same thing. A tragedy in slow motion being watched under our own gaze.

There’s a dance element to this production, with the chorus and others bringing some abstract movement to the piece. The strange jerkiness in some of their movements was odd, but perhaps indicative of the mixed up world we were in.

The set is a terrific rundown 70s building – concrete and open – with a room above it that acts primarily as the setting for the wedding of Jason and Glauce. Through the back are the looming woods where Medea goes to find peace from her inner anguish.

I also loved the music by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, but then I’m a big Goldfrapp fan anyway. However, it definitely added to the atmosphere and it worked well with the dance elements of the play.

In the shocking final act – this play may be getting on for 2,500 years old, but I won’t be the one to spoil it for you – a woman next to me put her hands over her face as though in a horror film.

This is all about McCrory and her tour-de-force.

Medea is on at the Olivier until 4 September when it’ll be broadcast to cinemas as part of NTLive. And there’s a great piece in The Guardian with McCrory and Diana Rigg relating how they each play(ed) the part.

Kate Bush

Kate Bush - Before the Dawn

Back in March while I was on holiday – the internet suddenly came alive with the news that Kate Bush was going on tour.

Kate Bush!

I was very tempted.

And then I stopped and thought. For one thing, it wasn’t going to be easy getting tickets in the US. I’d have to hope wherever I was staying that night had decent internet connectivity. And there was the small issue of needing to get up at 4am or something to buy tickets. Plus I had the horrible feeling that this was going to be the next on the list of “Things everyone has to do.” You know – “99 Artists You Must See Before You Die.” I expect there’s a page on Buzzfeed called exactly that. A couple of years ago it was see The Stone Roses. Before that we had Michael Jackson (or not). And then there were The Police. It’s ticking bands and artists off a list. “Done them. Who’s next?”

Did I really want to see Kate Bush? Well yes… But did I think that there were going to be an awful lot of people going who had to “Do it”? Yes.

I took the easy decision and stayed away. Later I heard that 22 nights had sold out in some extraordinarily fast time. Lots of rueful people were showing up on my Twitter feed ticketless. I felt at peace with myself. I can go without.

Fast forward to this past weekend.

Kate Bush fever was ratcheting up, not least because the regular Friday night music slot on BBC Four was getting the full treatment with a documentary stuffed full of famous faces, and then as many live performances at the BBC as they were able to find and clear. I sat down on a wet Sunday and was thrilled. It was an excellent documentary, almost in spite of quite so many famous faces. Notably one was absent of course. If you haven’t seen it, you have four days to do so at time of writing, and I recommend it.

Still – the concerts were all sold out months ago.

I woke up on Tuesday morning and the radio was full of Kate Bush. Meanwhile her songs are earworms. I can’t stop humming them.

OK. Let me just check the Eventim Apollo website…

Five minutes later, having played a game of Whack-A-Mole on the website as tickets popped up and then disappeared, and having used my ace typing skills to get through the Captcha that always slows you down, I had a ticket in the basket. A single, solitary ticket. And Row Z didn’t say “best seats in the house” to me either. But a ticket was a ticket. I shall go to the ball… on my own. (An aside: I thoroughly recommend visiting venues’ websites close to showtime even for the most sold-out of sold-out shows. It works far more frequently that you might imagine. I got tickets to A Streetcar Named Desire at the weekend using this very formula.)

In some ways, judging from those who showed up at the first night, it was all the more remarkable that I got in given the plethora of celebrities.

That said, I only saw Frank Skinner, and I used to work at the same radio station as him, so that doesn’t really count. The rest I found out about when I read The Guardian’s Live Blog of the show… (Hang on! They did a live blog!!!) Still as someone suggested to me on Twitter, perhaps either Kate Moss or George Clooney couldn’t make it, and that’s why I managed to nab a seat.

As I collected my ticket, I noticed that not only was the show starting at 7.45pm promptly, it wasn’t due to finish until 11.00pm. Even with an interval, that’s well into Bruce Springsteen territory. We’d been asked not to take photos, and you know what, at least in the circle, barely anyone did. A few couldn’t help themselves at the end, and a few Apollo staff members sauntered around occasionally to check. But I saw hardly anyone with their phone or cameras out. Remarkable.

In the bar beforehand, I ran into a friend, and we exchanged thoughts on what we’d see. He was worried that there wouldn’t be any hits. I said that I thought the whole thing would be more of a show than a gig and it’d be very choreographed. But we’d definitely get the hits. So when it started in regular band mode with Bush at the front, a band and backing singers, and a few of her hits, I thought I’d misjudged it a little.

And then it all changed.

The clue is really in the photo at the top of the page. It doesn’t actually say “Kate Bush” on the sign – it says Before the Dawn.

This was definitely going to be a show. And now we were getting The Ninth Wave, the 2nd side of The Hounds of Love album.

Hounds of Love Cassette
My original cassette from 1985 of The Hounds of Love

Most people know the big songs from the A-side – the title track, Cloudbusting, Running Up That Hill and The Big Sky. But the rest of the album is a concept piece – not dissimilar to a rock opera (I forget which contributor to the BBC Four documentary made this point at the weekend). And in this show, this was fully realised in a multi-media production. There were video clips, footage of Bush floating – seemingly in and out of consciousness – in a big tank wearing a life-jacket. Then we moved onto the rest of the piece with dancers, and big set pieces. Most spectacular of all, there was a lighting rig that became a rescue helicopter with a searchlight. It’s really effective.

After an interval, we get a second “show.” This time, it was based around the second disc from 2005’s Aerial. I must admit that although I own the album, I don’t know this music as well (Hounds of Love was one of my favourite albums of all time). But the scale is as big or even bigger. There were intricate projections and as in the album lots of birds. This really is a theatrical piece, and it must have lasted a full hour.

She finished with a couple more songs as an encore, but not really her older work. (The full setlist is here) We finished with Cloudbusting and the audience stayed around hoping for more, but not getting any. The Apollo had to work hard to make us leave!

Nobody should have been surprised. If there’s nothing else that Kate Bush’s career has told us, it’s that she does what she wants. Would I have liked to have seen her really early songs? Yes. But I suspect that from her perspective, she did that show in this very building in 1979 (when I was 9), and she feels no need to repeat herself.

My friend texted me after the show. He reckoned he’d counted three hits. I didn’t care. (There’s Kate Bush at the BBC for anything that you were missing).

But did we get our socks knocked off? Certainly.

Is her voice still as powerful as ever? Definitely (although I hope 22 shows isn’t too many in quick succession).

Did I enjoy myself? Absolutely!

LonCon 3 – Thoughts on Worldcon

George RR Martin - Paul Cornell - Connie Willis
Paul Cornell interviews George RR Martin and Connie Willis

Each year the World Science Fiction Society holds Worldcon – an annual convention – in different parts of the world. It’s a movable feast, although more often than not, it’ll be held in a US city.

In the past, the UK has had a decent crack of the whip, with a couple of outings to Glasgow and Brighton. But the last time it came to London was 1965. It was probably time for a return.

And I duly signed up for its return this year.

Like most things, I don’t read enough SF (and even less Fantasy), but I enjoy the genre and pay attention to it. And I don’t go to conventions. I once went to a Babylon 5 related gathering years ago in Birmingham but that really is it. And I don’t know anybody who goes to conventions either. It’s not a “thing”. I just haven’t been.

LonCon 3 – as this edition of Worldcon is known – was held in the massive aircraft hanger than is ExCel in London’s Docklands. I don’t believe anything has ever filled ExCel. During the Olympics, when several sports were held there, there were additional unused halls. And even something like the Boat Show, which sees gargantuan luxury yachts inside on stands, still has plenty of space over. The last time I went to that show, I was attending a different show altogether than happened to be on at the same time. That’s how much space there is there. But that’s all by the by.

What did I take away from LonCon?

  • If you think US presidential races last a long time, you’ve not seen the campaigning that goes on for Worldcon. While this year’s event saw Kansas City win the right to hold the 2016 convention, all the 2017 nominee cities were in attendence, as was Dublin looking ahead to 2019. And seemingly Perth is already looking at 2025.
  • Because lots of people travel a long way to get to a Worldcon, everyone tends to show up at the start of day one. Consequently it took about an hour for me to queue for registration.
  • I was travelling daily to the site, but in future, it’d be worth staying in an on-site hotel, because there’s no getting away from the fact that ExCel is horrible to get to.
  • People are very polite and friendly.
  • Really polite, and very friendly.
  • There’s this thing with badges and ribbons I didn’t really understand. Like many conferences, everyone gets a badge on a lanyard to wear while attending. Given that ExCel is open to the public (not that anyone not attending something there would ever “pop by”), security needs to know who to let in, and who not to. So far, so normal. But then people start to attach things to their badges – ribbons supporting different future cities (sometimes competing cities on the same badge); ribbons saying that this is their first event (if I’d seen these I suppose I should have had one); ribbons saying that they voted in the Hugo Awards (ditto); ribbons saying no photos (a polite way of dealing with an issue that fandom has sometimes struggled with); and so on. Then you might put stickers with your country’s flag on it, perhaps indicating the language(s) you speak, or where you come from. By the end of the convention, some people’s badges took on the look of Tom Baker’s scarf in Doctor Who.
  • It’s very international in flavour. Although obviously dealing with English language genre material, attendees come from all over the world. Especially America.
  • Did I mention that ExCel is big? I made the mistake of getting off the DLR at Custom House rather than Prince Regent on my first day. That’s half a mile of additional walking right there, because while both directly serve ExCel, one serves the west end, and the other the east. Lesson learned.
  • If you’ve not been to a convention before, and think it must be a lot like those ComicCon pictures you’ve seen in the press, then think again. The “only” stars in attendance were writers. While people do wear costumes, it’s notable that the big Masquerade cosplay event is mostly about self-created apparel. Most people wear T-shirts. Nearly everything was about books and literature, not forthcoming Marvel or DC universe films.
  • I should have read the copious literature in a bit more detail ahead of time to better meet people and learn about how things worked. But I didn’t. And therefore I failed to go to the “So: This Is Your First Convention” session. Fail.
  • The company who put together the convention’s T-shirt order probably did too few. They’d sold out of most sizes smaller than XXL in many designs by Friday.
  • Nobody pays for autographs. There are just polite queues at signings, and occasionally people asking for autographs at the end of panels. I genuinely don’t understand why anyone would buy an autograph. I see those adverts for events in the back of magazines like SFX where dozens of people seemingly supplement their TV show residuals with cash in hand for autographs. It sounds like a horribly grubby and grasping business. I’ll never forget seeing Dave “Darth Vader (not the voice)” Prouse sitting forlornly behind a desk at the aforementioned Babylon 5 gathering (nope – he wasn’t in it) with a pile of 10x8s awaiting cash for signatures.
  • There are panels. Lots of panels. Panels can be good, and they can be bad. For conferences, I think the fewer panels the better in most circumstances. All too often they can be unstructured and nobody is really sure why they’re there. Fortunately I saw more good panels than bad ones at LonCon. And the variety is immense.
  • Did I mention that there were a lot of Americans in attendance? This isn’t surprising given the importance of Americans to the state of English language SF, and the prevalence of conventions there. While I know that the UK isn’t short of a convention or two, you only had to look at a massive display of advertising literature – split by coast – to see how big an “industry” it is there.
  • A genuine fan-run convention like this is actually a pretty “socialist” enterprise. That is, everyone pays, and the memberships are there to cover costs. While not a charity, they’re not supposed to make anyone lots of cash. [Note that there are plenty of events that term themselves conventions that make a packet – but they’re a different kind of beast.]
  • Consequently, you don’t buy a “ticket”, but you become a “member.”
  • This was easily the most access-aware event I’ve ever been to anywhere. Every room had specific places laid out for those with access needs. Lifts were in place for those who needed them, and the convention even had a company supplying those who needed them, mobility scooters and wheelchairs.
  • And it was also the most friendly place I’ve ever been to in terms of LGBT awareness. Entire streams of the conference addressed some of those areas. In general, anyone who wanted to, could be themselves in comfort and without fear of what others might think or say.
  • I mentioned that there was a lot of literature provided to attendees. A large magazine/book as well as a pocket spiral-bound book to help you navigate the venue. But I really liked their app from a company called Grenadine. With a couple of tweaks, this would be nigh-on perfect.
  • The convention wasn’t nearly as commercial as I thought it might be. Aside from some book publishers, clothing manufacturers and a few others, the Dealers Hall wasn’t as outright commercial as I thought it might be. But did I come away with a Micro Drone? Of course I did!
  • I also came away with quite a few books.
  • And I have an even longer list of books I need to read. Because I obviously don’t have enough books already…
  • Something else I learnt about was filk – an SF fandom take on music. I’m not sure what that really means, and it seems odd to me that fans of a particular genre would need their own music. But each to their own. In any case, there was also a Worldcon orchestra made up of musicians of many major UK orchestras. You can never beat hearing the Star Wars theme played by a live orchestra – even in an aircraft hanger.
  • ExCel doesn’t have the greatest range of food available. But it could be worse. It could certainly be cheaper too. Think – captive audience, miles from anywhere.
  • A first for me was a contactless Coke vending machine.
  • Kaffeeklatsches and literary beers were something new to me. You had to sign up early to see who you wanted, but the idea is that about 9 people and a writer sit around either drinking a coffee, beer or other beverage in a rather more intimate setting. As I’d enjoyed Wolves, I sat down with the very friendly Simon Ings. He’s also a fan of Ed Reardon’s Week it turns out!
  • I really must right the wrong that is never having read any Iain M Banks. He was a Guest of Honour in absentia at LonCon, and part of the reason I went. There were some great talks about him and his work.
  • If I hadn’t been in a session about Iain Banks, I wouldn’t have been able to get into the rammed George RR Martin and Connie Willis session either (photo above). Despite loving Game of Thrones on TV, the first volume of is Song of Ice and Fire saga is still unread at home, despite me saying that I was, “going to read it before the TV series starts.” And I’ve not read any Connie Willis either. I picked up To Say Nothing of the Dog while I was there.
  • Sound was mostly pretty good. Despite having more than a dozen simultaneous sessions taking place in different suites in Excel, they all had proper PA systems in place. The bigger problem tended to be speakers not knowing how to use microphones or speaking clearly. Lots of people in a room – even a small room – swallow up sound. As a rule, I’d suggest that Americans are more confident in Brits at projecting their voices.
  • The range of panels and sessions was truly astonishing. Everything was covered. So congratulations on whoever put the programme together.
  • I still find it incredible that I can get to vote in awards as prestigious as the Hugo Awards. It really is akin to me having some say in the outcome of the Man Booker prize. It’s a really nice position sitting between jury-run prizes (i.e. most of them), and an open public vote. The former, by its very nature is limited in scope and can be heavily dependent on the jury. While the latter tend towards the populist, as opposed to the good, and can be subject to groups trying to fix the vote. Everyone who pays to be a member or supporting member of a Worldcon, gets to vote in the Hugos categories. And in recent years, a “voter packet” of ebooks of many nominated titles has been distributed to let you read any of those that you’d missed. Obviously, this still means that you don’t actually have to have read (or watch) all the titles, but you at least have the opportunity. In one instance this year, the entire Wheel of Time sequence of 14 novels was nominated. And yes, they sent us all of them. Let me tell you that I really had to work to get a file that big into my Kindle app. And no, I’ve not read them yet. (There was also a clumsy attempt to get some more right-wing stuff onto the ballot this year, but in the end, the voters ended up choosing the best material).
  • And it’s really rather wonderful to be able to attend the awards ceremony. Has anyone ever let a mere reader into a Man Booker Prize ceremony? That particular award managed to just publish a long list that included books that members of the public can’t yet buy because they’ve not actually been published. So it was delightful hearing from John Chu and Ann Leckie as they picked up their awards.

So there we have it. A very worthwhile event, and actually pretty reasonably priced for an event that lasts five days, even though I was back at work for day five.

Will I be going to Sasquan next summer in Spokane? Probably not – unless I decide a Twin Peaks tour is in order. But other conventions, even if they’re at awkward places like Heathrow or awkward times like Easter, are definitely on the cards. I quite fancy going to a crime one too.

Now I better go and read Ancillary Justice. I bought it months ago, but haven’t read it yet…

RideLondon Women’s Grand Prix

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-3

A good criterium race in Central London was won on Saturday by Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle Honda who just managed to pass World Champion (and all round cycling superstar) Marianne Vos who had to make do with 2nd. Lizzie Armistead got third, with Laura Trott, Eileen Roe and Hannah Barnes all in the mix.

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-4

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-8

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-12

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-16

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-23

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-28

Women's Grand Prix - London 2014-30

See more on Flickr. And wouldn’t it be good to see the footage from those GoPros on Marianne Vos and Giorgia Bronzini’s bikes?