Browsing articles in "Life Update"

Brompton…or Not to Brompton

Back in the summer of 2014 Network Rail announced they would be closing the railway line that serves Chorley, were I live for a month and a half while they lowered the track bed through the tunnel underneath the A6 to allow the installation of overhead lines for the Electrification on the line due to be completed in 2016, they would also be putting back the masonry flying arches which supported the walls on the approach to the tunnel from the Preston end which were removed 10 years ago during previous engineering work.

This left me with a problem, the announced replacement coach services and 6 trains a day (3 in morning rush hour and 3 in the evening rush hour) was a significant reduction from the normal services and there would be no guarantees on the times I would get into work.  As part of the replacement timetable announcement was that more services (including the TransPennine Express services) would be stopping at Leyland (located on the West Coast Mainline before the branch which serves Chorley and about 6 miles away from my home) so the logical step was to try and get to Leyland to link up with rail services.  So I thought some more about it and decided this was a good way of kickstarting a new exercise regime, at that point I cycled occasionally at wee ends when I could fit it in.  One major stumbling blocks for going to cycling as a way of part commuting to work is the problems with not enough cycle stowage on trains, severe over crowding and most importantly ignorant commuters.  TransPennine have a standing order of no more than 2 bikes on any train, some conductors who are in the minority actively enforce it, the majority and sympathetic to the fact the trains are badly designed (for bicycle accommodation) and cyclists need to use the trains as much as anyone else.  So in order to get around this, I decided a folding bicycle was the only real  practical way forward here.  If the there were more than 2 bikes on a service then I could fold mine up and a conductor would not legally be able to challenge me and prevent me from boarding the service.

I looked at various options on the market, they seem to fall into 2 distinct categories: small compacts (around 10″ diameter wheels, compact frame which generally has multiple pivot points to enable compact folding); full size folding (full sized wheels – usually around 27″ with quick releases, full sized frame with one or two pivot points, full cassette and dérailleurs).  The Brompton falls into the first category, I’d looked at one a few times, I’m  currently a Consultant at Manchester City Council and as part of their green transport plan their are Bromptons available in the office for business use, so naturally I took one out to see what it was like.

I didn’t test it around were I live I just cycled to and from meetings around the city using it and to be honest it really does work well for urban use.  The main issue that I could see, was the gearing, or lack there of!!! It does have gears, located in the rear wheel hub, so as you can imagine the ratios aren’t brilliant, not like your 11-25s which is your standard road cassette.

To cut a long story short I saw a guy on the train one morning on my commute with a rather unusual looking bike, I could see just by looking at it that it folded.  He told me it was a Montague, it had been designed for US Paratroops to drop with, the model he had was the original Paratroop bike:

It came with a full Shimano gearset which in this case was a mid level MTB system, disc brakes and full front suspension.  He told me they did several different styles of bike, all had the Montague folding system common to them.  I did some more research on various websites, found a commuter style hybrid model, called the Navigator which again came with a Shimano groupset, this one was more road orientated, with a 11-25T cassette and 48, 38, 28 chain rings.  So I looked at were I could get one from, one of the retailers was Evans Cycles and I knew there were branches in Preston (near to where I live) and Manchester (near to where I worked) so I thought “Ideal” so I ordered the bike through their website and selected it to be delivered to the Manchester Deansgate store.  One week later I  got an email telling me the bike had arrived in store and I needed to telephone the store to arrange a time to collect it, when they say it’s arrived in store that is exactly what they mean, it needed to be taken out of the box and built!!  Hence needing to arrange for the bike to be built for!!  I persevered and two days later, after work I went to collect the bike, well that was what I thought anyway!!

Well…The fun really started, anyone who saw my tweets at the time will be well aware of the carnage that ensued, I was set upon by the Evans Cycles staff, one particular person (Lee I think his name was) being particularly vocal in telling me I was wrong and I was making a big mistake.  Actually I think the mistake I made was trying to buy the bike from them in the first place.  After being battered by the staff for close to an hour, including me riding round the block on both bikes as a not very useful test ride (Evans were alittle cheeky at this point as to me it seemed they had over inflated the tyres on the Montague, I think in a vain attempt to swing my views to the Brompton), I stupidly agreed to take a Brompton on a 24Hr Test Ride.  I got the train home having ridden to the Manchester Victoria on the Demonstrator and folded it before boarding, I left the train at Adlington, one stop before my home station.  Adlington is about 4 miles from my home, and I live about 1.5 miles away from Chorley Station, so I thought this would be a fair test for the Brompton.  The route is fairly flat apart from a hill on the outskirts of Chorley that’s about 1 in 5 at it’s steepest, so off I went, to be honest even on the flat I couldn’t find a gear that matched my natural cadence (rate of pedalling) and felt comfortable to pedal in.  I stopped several times to adjust the saddle height, unfortunately I couldn’t get comfortable, so this didn’t bode well for the climb I was about to make.  When I did start to climb I dropped into the lowest gear, it wasn’t even close enough, mid way up my legs were burning and I felt in need of a blood transfusion (sorry, couldn’t resist) I was determined not to put my foot down at any point on the climb, or worse get off and push it, but it I came Bloody close!!  I got home and I knew it was a non starter, this was a more forgiving route than the one I would be doing for my daily commute when the line shut in a months time.

However I decided to attempt that route the following morning, Saturday as I was going to Blackpool Makerspace in the morning and there wasn’t a weekend train service, advanced works in preparation of the tunnel work, so I thought ideal opportunity to test the commute out.  Mark Walton fellow Makerspacer offered me a lift from Preston station, which would be a relief after toiling on the Brompton.  The first 2 miles of the journey went well, then I had to climb over the railway bridge at Buckshaw and I ran into the same problems as the previous night.  By the time I’d climb to the top of Central Avenue in Buckshaw I was all out of energy, I managed to get to Leyland railway station and thankfully there was a coach waiting there (replacement for the rail service!!)  I folded the Brompton up and put it in the luggage space and went and collapsed into a seat.  After the Makerspace meet I got a train direct to Manchester and took the bike back to Evans, thankfully the “pain in the arse” brigade were absent and besides the Tour de France was on the TV distracting the staff anyway.  I gave them a polite no thank you and asked for my deposit back I’d put down against the Montague as well, being worn out by the whole experience I was determined I wasn’t going to put any business their way regardless of my decision.

I did eventually buy the Navigator from a local bike shop called Winstanleys in Wigan, who were alot more helpful!!

New Bike

So to close this fairly long and rambling blog post on reflection after a years ownership of the Montague Navigator I can honestly say that I wish I’d not been so caught up in the idea that I needed a folding bike, I wish I’d splashed the cash on a bog standard commuter bike, for the same money as I paid for it I could have had a reasonable spec commuter 🙁  The trade off with weight verses durability, especially considering the state of UK roads wasn’t great, 8 months in and with the first half of winter being very wet saw me having to replace the rear wheel after continuous broken spokes.  Admittedly on the first occasion it was caused by an ignorant commuter slamming a fold down seat on top of the wheel, once again cyclists have no rights on trains!!!  But this is a separate issue not for this blog post.  As far as a fold up bike goes, it’s not that brilliant either, it does fold in half, removing the front wheel using the quick release does reduce the size but not enough so’s you’d call it compact.  I purchased the recommended carry bag to put it in, when it eventually arrived 9 months after I purchased the bike it didn’t improve the situation, if I was to board a packed commuter train with this on my shoulder I would be struggling to say the least, this system is meant for putting it in the boot of your car rather than having the inconvenience of having a bike rack fitted to your car not a commuters best friend I’m afraid to say.


Since writing this post I’ve also had to replace the chainset due to the an SPD Pedal coming loose and grinding out the thread on the crank arm, now I’m not going to blame this entirely on poor quality parts, although I’ll be honest I’ve not hear of SR Suntour until I had to find a replacement for it, the SPD was fitted by a bicycle mechanic and he did check the tightness of them before I left the shop, which I witnessed, two days later I ended up kissing the Blacktop while putting some power down climbing a hill!!  The rear cassette and deraillier are from the Shimano Sora Groupset range so rather than replace the chainset with the same again I opted to have a complete Shimano Sora Groupset and bought the equivalent Shimano part.  “Touch Wood” since I haven’t had any further mechanical woes!!


I’m Bipolar

Up till now I haven’t told many people about my diagnosis, it’s not that I’m ashamed of being bipolar in fact quite the opposite it does feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders knowing that I have the illness rather than wondering if this is how life should be.  I’ve not felt the need to tell anyone before now, having the piece of mind that I have a diagnosis and taking medication that can help to smooth out the peaks and troughs of the highs and lows has been enough for me.

So why broadcast it now then, well because I want to help raise more awareness of the illness, unfortunately over the years Bipolar has been misrepresented as Manic Depression which gives people the wrong idea about the illness.  So what brought this about, while I was out to lunch with a couple of colleagues from Manchester City Council we got onto the subject of mental illness (they didn’t know that I was Bipolar either at this point) Manic Depression then came up in conversation and it made me realise that unless you have some exposure to the illness through suffering with it or knowing some who has it then it is still very misunderstood, this is despite the fact that there are a number of celebrities who suffer from it and the illness characterises them as who they are for example Richard Dreyfuss or the late Robin Williams.  When I say characterises them, I mean that when you think of both performers you think of their manic bursts of energy that they bring to a film or show, lots of slapstic comedy, talking quickly building up to a crescendo (I’m thinking of scene’s from Mrs Doubtfire for instance).  This is obvious manic episodes the more extreme end of the spectrum, however for me I have had more of a mania for particular things such as sport, tech or petrol head stuff (anything with an engine), it tends to take the form of pouring all my energy into my work or a specific project I’m doing for example the Full Circle Podcast, through most of 2013 I put most of my free time into editing, production and thinking up ideas for the show, at times I pretty much lived and breathed it.  While you are having your manic bursts of energy you tend to be on an emotional high and life feels pretty good, it’s a delicate balance however and you can quickly slide to into the depression side, this tends to be when you start to run low on energy and you are unable to sustain the high, this can be quite severe for some people it can be a “crash” were you are thrown into a deep depression, to the point were getting out of bed in a morning is a struggle.  For me it was a gradual slide into depression which started in the late summer of 2013 and by late Autumn I was having major problems.

When I went to see my GP I hadn’t been diagnosed and the belief was that I was suffering from Stress and Anxiety because of the pressure I was under at work, it certainty didn’t help.  But I had been up to that point fringes of what is categorised as Bipolar II which is very difficult to detect as there are fewer manic episodes and the mood swings are more a character trait.

So how did I get my diagnosis then you my ask, well I was sent for counselling to help reduce stress and learn how to control anger at a new unit that had been setup at Leigh Hospital, on my second visit I saw one of the psychologists who thought there was more to it and arranged for me to see a consultant at Wigan Royal Infirmary,we went though every event in my life from year dot to the present, I  also did a psychological self-assessment questionnaire.  Another key indicator is weight fluctuation which has gone from skinny bordering anorexic to when I was in senior school were for most of time I had an athletic build, finally to morbidly obese and I’m currently still trying to get back to something near a normal weight, this usually happens in a depressed episode fro bipolar sufferers.  Since I my late 20s I have gone from one event to another without being able to shed the weight again.

Until 5 years ago I hadn’t had a very good impression of the NHS based on my earlier experiences as a child and a teenager, certainly through my young adult life I tried to avoid any further contact with it if I could help it.  In the last 5 years I have had 2 events in my life that have altered my view on the Health Service, without some very skilled people I wouldn’t be able to have a relatively normal life without them, my Bipolar diagnosis is the second of these important events.  I have a mixture of medication and what the psychologists call “Life Training” to help myself come to terms with the illness, this includes the basic stuff that you would naturally say “Well…Yeah” like: form a daily routine, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, a good diet to psychological stuff such as mood checklists and diaries (one of the reasons I started blogging again) and various mental and breath exercises.   You’ll also see crisis cards tucked in the back of my wallet for when I feel things are starting to slip away again.  One of the most difficult things I need to do but still haven’t done yet is tell my Father, he’s not the most approachable people and talking to him about stress and mental issues just isn’t the done thing!!  It was a couple of months before I got the courage up to tell my Mum and we are very close.

So what is bipolar and why do we not call it Manic Depression anymore, well it more adequately describes the symptoms suffered, you in effect see-saw from one extreme to the other (going to polar opposites) of euphorically happy to deeply depressed in the most extreme form.  Mind is a mental health charity which work to support people who suffer with mental health issues and campaign to raise awareness of mental health, their president is Mr Stephen Fry another very famous sufferer of Bipolar Disorder, have put together a guide to Bipolar on their website if you want to get some more information other than my slightly cobbled together explanation of the illness.


Going It On My Own

The title of this post is probably not an entirely accurate statement as I have started a company with a good friend of mine, so I’m not entirely on my own but I think it sums up were I am.

I announced on Google + in February I had left my job that I had grown to hate so much and I had started my own business I also said I would write a full Blog post explaining how it had all come about, well here we are 9ish months down the line and I’ve finally got around to putting my thoughts down in print, to be honest this is probably the right moment to be writing this I’ve now settled in to life as in effect an entrepreneur (although I don’t really see myself as that), I had also been recovering from a nervous breakdown back in February so I was still all over the place.

I think the best way to start this is to briefly go through the events that led up to myself and my mate Matt taking the plunge and forming the company, as I think is pretty well known now through various social media networks and those who know me reasonably well, I was having a very difficult time at Curtins Consulting.  I joined in February 2013 and was promised more responsibility, more seniority and the chance to progress as a Civil Engineer  in a new Infrastructure Team.  What I actually joined when I got there was organised chaos, well it wasn’t even that organised, on my second day I had to attend a client meeting which required careful extraction so as to avoid serious criticism, this would be a common theme during my tenure there.  The Team Leader just wasn’t cut out for the position and alot of the time we were fire fighting, hopping from one job to another invariably whenever we received a phone call demanding “were is such and such you (the royal you!!) promised you’d have it ready last week”.  Ironically I’d left my previous job at WYG Manchester because I was fed up of exactly the same thing happening because we were understaffed after the redundancies and I was taking flack for decisions I hadn’t made, being over worked and underpaid,  constantly being told I should be thankful I kept my job after the redundancies.  However the problem wasn’t a lack of resources at Curtins but a lack of good management and once again I got sucked into the old trap of working long hours and not getting paid adequately for it.  I had several disagreements with my Line Manager over the resourcing, being told I wasn’t working hard enough or not working on the schemes I was meant to be working on (when this changes daily it’s abit difficult to achieve ;-)) I was rewarded with this level of disobedience by having my probationary period extended (had asked for a review slightly earlier because I  needed a reference check for a house I was hoping to rent which seemed to exacerbate the issue!!  I also failed the reference check and had to stump up £750 upfront including various fees, more stress!!) This fire fighting and long hours continued, I then moved house at the end of July and beginning of August which didn’t go well, I used a reputable removal firm who sent some likely lads to do the job, they managed to fit a “moonlighting” job in between moving my gear out of the old place and bringing it in to the new one.  As a consequence  things got broken, I got pissed and there was a verbal exchange shall we say.  After moving day I went through the motions of making a claim to be told I should have taken out their insurance if I wanted to claim direct, I had to make claim on my contents insurance and they would reclaim it from the removal firm, aswell as nuking my premium, so I got bummed with that too!!

We fast forward to October and its Oggcamp again, once again it’s being held at the John Moores Arts and Design Academy  in Liverpool and I’m crew for the first time, I had alot to drink at the Kickoff Party in Leaf Cafe, not intentionally getting drunk, just letting my hair down and trying to relax (Yep you can see where this is heading, looking back now the warning signs had started to show before this but this is probably the tipping point!!).  Although I was working it wasn’t what you would call stretching, by the end of the weekend I was shattered, the late nights and early mornings probably helped contribute.  In the weeks that followed I started having having health problems, a cough I couldn’t get rid of and sometimes triggered dry heaving which was particularly unpleasant.  I was told by both my Mum and my Girlfriend that mentally I wasn’t doing good and that I should see a doctor, in then end my Mum got me an appointment with my GP and drove my down there herself.  After a 45 minute consultation I was told I needed to stop working and rest, alot of rest and I was referred to a counselling service operated at the local hospital I was also put on some very strong medication, I remember going into work and telling Rich the Project Engineer I was working with at the time about it, I said I’d stay the rest of the day and handover my workload at lunch I went and got my prescription and took the first tablet and the rest of the day was a blur.  The rest of October and the first half of November were a bit of a haze I spent quite alot of it sleeping, even doing something like read a book and I would wake up an hour or so later with the book on the floor.

At this point my mate Matt was winding up the business unit he was the manager of and getting ready to leave he had been given notice of redundancy a month earlier, he had been working in London for a medium sized Management Consultancy who had ventured into IT Project Delivery.  Matt moved back up to the North West shortly after he finished there, we’d talked about starting a small IT company to support new startup companies a few times before but we’d never really taken it any further.

We met up quite a few times in November and December and looked into all the ins and outs of starting a business and thought about what we were going to do as a business and most importantly how we were going to deliver it.  These were good times for me after all the negativity of most of the year, spending hours in coffee shops scribbling ideas in Moleskines.  We’d decided that we would use Linux and Open Source Software to create a hosting platform to provide services such as data storage and backup, business telephony, website hosting & design and email hosting and administration, we will also provide support via telephone, email and site visits.

From there it snowballed, Mid December, we registered our company name with company house created our Articles of Incorporation.  Matt used his extensive contacts list he’d built up over the years in the IT sector to get us a foot on the ladder.  When I returned to work it was two weeks before the Christmas break (a suggestion from my GP a short stint to ease myself back into it and then the week and bit rest over Christmas would help).  Richard the Project Engineer I was working with made sure I was eased back in gently, however my Line Managers view of this wasn’t quite the same, he wanted me to attend a progress meeting in his place on a job I hadn’t had any involvement with since my leave of absence in October. Thankfully Rich rather skilfully dodged this one on my behalf, but it was blatantly obvious to me nothing was going to change and it was time to move on.

After the Christmas break we were called into Manchester City Council to have meeting to discuss a consultant roles within the authority, we made our pitch for the work and didn’t hear anything more.  We’d pretty much given up on that and were tendering for all sorts of short term work,  I’d made up my mind before Christmas that I was going to resign from Curtins in early January before things started to get out of hand again, I handed my notice in on the Tuesday after my return from Christmas.  I was down in Hemel Hempstead of all places supervising  a contractor on site, a last minute arrangement in which my hotel and train tickets were booked on the day I was travelling down (nothing like abit of planning ahey!!).  Mid way through the morning I got a call from Matt, he’d had a call from the City Council saying we’d been successful in our bid. It was a pretty good feeling really, I did have a few doubts about what I was going to do once I’d left Curtins and things and worked out nicely, I’d landed on my feet for a change.

So that was the events that led up to the point I became the a Director of a company, the thoughts that led to it were quite simple, I’d been trying to leave the construction industry for quite a while to pursue a career in IT (since about 2010), I’d been studying an Open University Degree, undertaken industry certification, Microsoft, Cisco & Zen to name a few, however this wasn’t enough as I lacked on paper experience so I lost out to other candidates when applying for jobs.  The events at Curtins had done my head (literally) and this was the time to leave the industry, it just wasn’t getting any better.  There really wasn’t a choice as far as I was concerned it was just the most lodgical conclusion.