Singularity

Tag: Rant

Once more, with feeling

by on Jun.20, 2013, under Planet Sam, rambling

avatarI’m going to a wedding this weekend and I’m super-excited because the person getting married is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Who happens to live in Toulouse. It occurred to me, as things do on occasion, that if I can go to the effort of buying and wearing a dress for Her Majesty the Queen, I can definitely go to the effort of a dress for someone far more important to me.

Thing is, I’m not much of a dressy woman. I work in a job that is either office smart or manky grubby, and when I’m not at work I’m either in sports kit comprising varying degrees of lycra, or slobbing around the house in jeans. Add to this the fact I hate shopping with a passion, and it should be clear that shopping for a dress is something I would only do for a very special occasion. (Next time I might ask people to sponsor me on behalf of the RNLI).

My body, as far as I’m concerned, is primarily for making bikes go faster, getting me around, lifting things, moving through water with speed and efficiency, walking up mountains, taking me to places where I can spoffle sea creatures, and providing the conduit between the contents of my brain and the outside world. What it’s not is a clothes hanger, or an object that exists for other people to admire (or not, as the case may be). Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying I don’t care what I look like. I do, in as much as I don’t want to look awful. It’s more that I don’t think about it much. I don’t exactly have body confidence so much as when it’s doing what I expect it to do — ride bikes, run, swim, compete in triathlon, walk around, open jam jars, carry bags etc etc etc — then functionality outweighs any physical appearance. When I don my tri suit I may have a moment of relief that I still fit into it after 3 years of being injured out of training, but I don’t worry about what my arse looks like. Not at the time, anyway. I save that for the photos afterwards.

A number of years ago I was very ill, and for a while there was a strong chance I was going to end up in a wheelchair. That was something of a priority check. As long as my body is working, and not threatening to break down again, we’re on pretty good terms. I exercise it, feed it nice food, make sure it gets plenty of fresh air and generally take care of it as best I can.

It has never expressed an interest in fashion.

Shopping is hard. I don’t have a personal style. I don’t know what works for my body shape or type. It’s not on my agenda, most of the time. On the very rare occasion I buy clothes that are not for work or sport, I find something at a price that doesn’t make me faint, in a colour that doesn’t taste horrible, check that it fits and doesn’t look disastrous, and that’s about as much as I can bring myself to care.

Today I needed to buy a dress. I had an hour or so after work, which is my limit for time spent on shopping. I was distracted by the lady in the perfume shop (perfume being the one conventionally feminine thing about which I have strong opinions), where I had gone for a travel pump for my current favoured scent. We chatted. It was fun.

I went to a clothes shop. Everything was in triple figures. I went to another shop, which carried clothes for ladies with curves. Some nice things, but they were expensive and all the colours tasted horrid. I went to another and another, by which point my patience was thin. The fifth shop (fifth!) was quite large, open plan, and had no indication of what all the different sections were. I was a bit lost, and wandered around for a few minutes, hoping for that synaesthetic hit telling me there was at least something in the right colour.

This guy came up to me. He was a little taller than me, thin, and had horrible beard shaved within an inch of its life (I wondered what was the point in having it at all), a posture straight out of the Ministry for Silly Walks, and a staff badge.

“Were you looking for anything in particular?”
“No. I guess I’ll know when I see it.”
“What sort of thing do you want?”
“Long, light, preferably green.”
“A dress?”
“Yes.”

He looked me up and down as if I were a laboratory specimen, or one of those masochistic creatures who subject themselves to the horror of America’s Next Top Model, then gestured vaguely towards the other side of the shop.

“I suggest you try looking over there, dear,” he said, withering. “You’re a bit on the big side for this section.”

I was so shocked I just smiled vaguely and let my feet start meandering in the indicated direction.

I’m not a delicate flower by any stretch of the imagination. I have been described as ‘one solid piece of muscle’. I will never be petite, never be elegant, never be graceful and sinuous. But I can muscle my 70″ fixed up a 12% incline, swim 3km in an hour and open my own damn jam jars. I’m not huge, either. I’m somewhere between a UK size 8 and 12 (US 4-8), depending on brand.

I shouldn’t be bothered by this inconsiderate idiot’s comment. but I was shopping for a dress, to look nice for my friend’s big day, and I felt this man had just told me there was no point in looking at any of the things I liked because I was huge and horrible and far too ungainly to wear beautiful.

This particular shop will never have my custom. Ever. Maybe I was in the petite section. Maybe that was the section for teenagers. I don’t know. I don’t especially care. He could have directed me to a more appropriate part of the shop in a friendly, nice, helpful way. He said it in a way that implied I had no business being there.

And in doing so lost my business permanently.

I spent my money somewhere else, where the shop assistants were helpful, pleasant, and didn’t judge me as if I were a piece of meat and they were looking for something to feed to a fat-shy fashionista.

Big doesn’t mean unhealthy. Thin doesn’t mean fit. Size is so far down on the list of reasons to judge a person I can’t see it with a telescope. I’d rather be fit, healthy, strong and mobile than I would a fashionable size 6 any day.

This was my first ever experience of being judged too big for anything. Should it ever happen again…

Well. It had better not.

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Cycling controversies, the RB FAQ

by on Aug.15, 2012, under Cycling

avatar There are a few things I have argued about so many times that I have now reached a state of acceptance regarding my inability to change the fact that not everyone agrees with me.

SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET

I originally started off refusing to argue about gun control. I’m so far past arguing about gun control I can almost pretend there’s even a disagreement to be had. More recently I’ve had to give up arguing about certain things to do with cycling, and as a result feel no inclination to post on cycling fora any more. Posts on cycling fora seem to fall into the same broad categories: the helmet debate, red-light jumping, use of MP3 players while riding, where to ride this week/next week/on holiday, charity rides, campaigning for cycle path installation, whinging about idiots who think we should pay “road tax”, which bike to buy and which saddle to choose. Anything else is either some sort of stupid game thread that goes on for a million posts and is utterly pointless, a series of posts about cake, or a thread about Victoria Pendleton’s arse.

I know this comes across as rather grumpy, but take away the finer nuances or the political argy-bargy that results in moderation wars and this is pretty much what’s out there.

Here, then, are the opinions I have honed through years of argument, reading, research, experimentation and experience. Feel free to disagree, but don’t assume that my failure to engage with an argument on these topics is acceptance of your opposing viewpoint. Because it’s not. I just cannot be arsed.

I see a frowny face!

HELMETS
I don’t agree helmets should be compulsory. The benefits are marginal and the reasons people offer for compulsion boil down to, “it must be safer, it’s obvious”. Well, at one point we thought it was obvious that a plant with leaves shaped like kidneys must have been put here to cure kidney complaints. Saying that the pros all do it so there’s no excuse not to —a statement I read on a cycling website aimed at beginner female cyclists, believe it or not— is a bit like saying that Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button wear helmets so car drivers should too. Even though this would save more lives than making cyclists wear them, no one ever seems to think that making car drivers wear helmets is a good idea, so STFU already with your helmet compulsion. There are plenty of places out there where you will find information demonstrating that lids can increase the risk of injury and do sweet FA to prevent injury on the population scale, and it’s not my bloody job to educate you. Do the research.

God must hate kittens

RED LIGHT JUMPING
This is nothing to do with the adult section of certain cities, but a fundamental refusal to adhere to the rules of the road. The one principle that should be inculcated into all road users, regardless of vehicle, is this: SHARE NICELY. The road doesn’t belong to you, it doesn’t belong to anyone: it belongs to everyone. Grow up, suck it up and deal with it.

Conversely, there are instances where the frothing, ranting reaction to cyclists crossing red lights is hyperbolic to the point of comedy. A cyclist going through an empty pedestrian crossing is not equivalent to the Great Beast rising from the sea and donning seven crowns. A cyclist setting off slightly before the light turns green in order to get ahead of the juggernaut in whose enormous blind spot he is sitting is looking out for his own safety and isn’t going to bring about the entropic heat death of the universe.

A cyclist weaving his way across a lights-controlled crossroads in between orthogonal traffic isn’t just putting himself at risk but also other road users, and if a policeman pulls him over for a spot fine no one will cheer more loudly than me.

Here's Dog with the traffic report

MP3 PLAYERS
Deaf cyclists manage, there’s this activity called “looking behind you” (I know it’s not as widely known as one might think) and not all MP3 players have noise-cancelling headphones with a volume control set unchangeably at 11. I can still hear you. Really. It’s fine. Why cyclists should be singled-out for opprobrium when no one else on the road is expected to be able to hear anything other than an emergency-services siren is, as far as I’m concerned, merely another point of evidence for cyclists being treated as a special case.

WHERE TO RIDE
I dunno. I live in Aberdeen, which is hundreds of miles away from most other cyclists, and can’t afford foreign holidays. I guess there must be somewhere nice you could go that has hills/doesn’t have hills, is off-road/on-road, will be nice and sunny/refreshingly cool. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you enjoy it.

And they expect £500 minimum

CHARITY RIDES
I don’t do these and am ambivalent about them. You see, back in the dim and distant past, when I did the odd charity event, it was paid by the mile (or the length) or for outright completion. They were proper challenges, and it wasn’t guaranteed they would be finished, and if you didn’t finish, or finished early, the charity didn’t get the money. These days people sign up for something and that, in itself, seems to be enough for the money to come pouring in.

I object to being told to ask people to give money (even to a worthy cause) to me just because I’m doing something I enjoy doing and would probably do anyway. I also object to being asked to give money in support of something that’s not that big a deal and, let’s face it, a century ride isn’t that big a deal for anyone with a reasonable degree of bike fitness (I’ve done 125 mile rides on no more training than my daily commute of about 10 miles each way); especially when you factor in all the support these rides offer, such as sag wagons and feeding stations.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the underlying concept of a ride of 60 – 100 miles being a huge challenge where the difference between completion and bail-out is whether or not the participant is going to make more money for a chosen charity — and that, to me, is what sponsorship should be in an event like this. If we think that a ride of 60 miles is worth £300 sponsorship, what is going to make us consider riding 10 miles to work and back? That’s a distance worth 100 quid, right? The effect of charity rides on our general view of cycling is something I’m not entirely sure is a beneficial one. If you want me to sponsor you for a bike ride it had better be something that you wouldn’t otherwise contemplate, where your chosen charity will only benefit if you finish, and there’s a real chance you might not. A 60 mile pootle involving cake and coffee every 20 miles just doesn’t cut it. And why do so many of them insist that helmets are compulsory?

The Dumb Run is not a charity ride. We do it because we enjoy it.

Cycle facility of the month, December 2011

CYCLE PATHS
No, I do not support segregated cycle facilities and never will. They don’t help as much as people think they do. “But what if we do it like the Dutch?” I hear you cry. Thing is, though, we won’t. Because we can’t. Because we have neither the political will nor the space nor the flexibility of infrastructure.

My bike is something that takes me on journeys far longer than a 2 mile hop to the shops. I ride Glasgow to Edinburgh, Dundee to Kirkcaldy, Perth to St Andrews, Arbroath to Largo. For transport. There will never be a fully segregated network that will allow me to do this at a reasonable speed. In urban areas, segregated paths require me to share with small children who have little awareness, dog walkers and random drunks. In bad parts of town I am more likely to be dragged off my bike and assaulted if I use a segregated path. Worse than all of that, use of segregated facilities gives drivers the false impression that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road and a more intense feeling of righteous indignation when we are.

Many drivers also object to having to pay for such facilities, conveniently forgetting the fact that non-drivers pay for their motorways.

On that related note:

We All Pay Road Tax

ROAD TAX
Sigh. There is no road tax. This baseline fact aside, the tax that does exist, Vehicle Excise Duty, is not applied to low-emissions vehicles. Vehicles with emissions of up to 100g/km are charged £0.00. The current estimate for cyclist emissions is 21g/km, putting them in the zero-rate bracket. So, again, just STFU already.

WHICH BIKE TO BUY
You can have no more than two of the attributes light, fast, strong and cheap. Other than that, buy whatever bike makes you happy and want to get on it and ride. That is the only criterion that matters.

WHICH SADDLE TO BUY
The answer to this is long and complicated and anatomically specific. Female anatomy is different from male anatomy, and thus I do not consider it to be in any way discriminatory in terms of either sex or gender to say that biological males will be better off with a different range of saddles from that which will suit biological females. Whatever gender you identify as is entirely irrelevant and I’m an ardent supporter of anyone who refuses to comply with the default bipolar gender paradigm, but what saddle will suit you best does, ultimately, depend on what you keep in your underwear. Because you’ll be sitting on it.

There is no generic answer to this question. I feel unqualified to discuss male saddles, and female saddles depend on individual anatomical qualities that vary widely. So I will not ever suggest a particular saddle (if only because I’m not often that interested in what someone else keeps in his or her underpants) but I may be persuaded to offer advice on how you can go about deciding which saddle would be best for you.

And just when you find one you like, they discontinue it.

Hope that clears that up. I’m off to get me another lemsip.

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I bet River Song would prefer Campag

by on Nov.30, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI’ve been watching Doctor Who on DVD lately, and at the weekend I saw the Forest of the Dead. I expect I’m the only one who felt the episode utterly failed right at the end because the amazing River Song — adventuress, criminal, Mrs Doctor — finishes her existence as mum to three children who will never grow up: the eternal mother.

It is possible to have a career and have kids, although by no means easy, but not every woman wants that, and River Song never struck me as the sort of person who, with an entire virtual reality at her fingertips, would settle for a life of taking the kids to the park and reading them bedtime stories; and it bothers me even more that this was in a programme ostensibly for children. I hate the idea that little girls are being told that you can have your career as an archaeologist and run around adventuring, but at the end of the day what will keep you happy is looking after children, even though they can’t possibly have been made with the man you love (what with him still being alive and out in the real world).

Kids aren’t stupid. They absorb these messages.

There seems to be an idea, somewhere in cultural consciousness, that what women really want to do is stay at home and make babies; not get all oily and discuss gear ratios or whether Batman is more of a psycho than Rorschach. We want to have babies and ultimately we’re only interested in and good for things that are in some way related to the making of and caring for babies. And that hopelessly outdated idea is being perpetuated by happy endings that involve a bedtime story and a goodnight kiss.

I suppose this is also what bothers me about the way those who want to encourage girls onto bikes go about it. There appears to be a de facto assumption that girls aren’t interested in bikes. It is related, I think, to the de facto assumption that women can’t write horror or science-fiction, or don’t like playing games like Bioshock.

I wrote the following piece about the love of bicycles back in 2004 — 6 years ago, FFS. I think it bears saying again, because I still feel the same way.

It was when I caught myself talking to it that I thought things had gone too far. This was not a case of a friendly word of encouragement when trying to break top speed on the long descent on the way to work, or a muttered epithet on the steep climb up past three-fingered Pete, the lollipop man. I was sitting on the toilet at the time – we have a toilet downstairs, in a cubby hole attached to what was once a utility room before we moved in. Now it’s where they live: four of them now. There are more in the shed and another one has even claimed a space in our marital bedroom.

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, how these things came to be such a huge part of our lives. They all have names, even the ones that don’t belong to me (in case you thought it was just me being anthropomorphic), and they all have character. Ivanhoe is my spouse’s indefatigable Dawes Galaxy. Then there is Andy’s Cannondale Bad Boy: a long-suffering, Marvin the Paranoid Android type that resolutely goes by the name of Dave. Fingal is my Orbit Harrier, with a tone reminiscent of Noel Coward and a jealous streak. Max is the Specialized Hard Rock I bought for dismal winter commuting and towing the Bob Yak. He’s a real trooper and has a penchant for fast, slippy descents on the tracks and lanes they laughingly call ‘roads’ round here. Peregrine is the relatively new Pinarello Galileo I bought for no other reason than to cheer myself up, currently only 3 months old and still as excitable as a puppy. The other half has recently bought a Giant Terrago, second hand, and they haven’t developed enough of a relationship yet for us to find out what it’s called.

Out in the shed are the relegations, including Percival the Raleigh Dynatech XC80 – my first proper bike – and Vercingetorix the generic mountain bike never really designed for off-road. All the bikes in the shed are somewhat sad and slightly reproving and we keep meaning to find good homes for them.

It’s a bit mad, really. Even so, we know that if Andy tries to do any maintenance on Fingal it will go badly because Fingal is a one-woman bike, a bit like a border collie, and doesn’t like to be touched by anyone other than me unless it’s a paid professional and I have a good excuse. Max, on the other hand, enjoys being fussed over by just about anybody, Ivanhoe is apparently above such things and Dave is stoic in his sense of being neglected. They have an entire room in our small house dedicated to them.

I spend a large part of my time campaigning for my and other people’s rights to take them and their kin on the road. I can now tell what size allen key I need at a glance and I can overhaul a set of Ergopowers. It wasn’t like this four years ago. Four years ago I couldn’t even spell Campagnolo, never mind be in a position to admit to taking their side in the pseudo-religious Shimano vs Campag debate. Four years ago I had trouble getting a front mech to shift properly. Now I can build my own wheels.

We seem not to be the only ones to have been sucked into a love affair with these human-powered works of art. Go to any internet-based cycling forum and you will find people waxing lyrical about their ‘babies’ and spending what might seem like a ridiculous amount of money on something that is, to the outsider, really no more than some metal tubes, wheels, cogs and levers. They share photographs of them with each other as if they were snapshots of their children. It is usual for them to refer to their machines by, if not a name, then at least by make and model.

Frankly I think it’s bloody marvellous. More of it, I say. More people should have Pinarellos in the bedroom or Mercians sitting in the hall. It should be perfectly normal to possess a Giant that practically wags its tail when its owner is within view. These things aren’t toys: they are noble steeds, carrying us through no matter the weather. They are beloved companions, accompanying us to far off places made all the more memorable by the true appreciation of the tea and cake that help weary muscles recover for the next leg. This isn’t about having shaved legs and wearing lycra, or being able to relate tales of broken bones gained falling on a technical single track. The famous Mr Armstrong said “It’s not about the bike,” and I suppose he was right, in some ways for some people. In many ways he was very wrong.

The humble bicycle and its cousins are not just for the racing elite. They bring freedom and joy to a great many. While a shiny new car may cruise at seventy miles an hour, if it breaks down it can cause a considerable hole in the bank account. A bicycle can be maintained by almost anyone for little cost. The fuel that propels a combustion-engined vehicle has a price greater than a dent in the wallet: the human powered vehicle is an excuse to eat cake. A car may eat up the miles but the bicycle provides a direct experience of the landscape. Those aren’t just pretty postcards seen behind a pane of glass. They are ascents, descents, swooping curves and pock-marked tarmac. Mountains are not defined by a crawler lane but by the sense of achievement on reaching the summit. A bicycle doesn’t take you to motorway service stations and multi-storey car parks. A bicycle doesn’t trap you in a traffic jam, listening to endless traffic reports and slowly cooking in your own juices. A bicycle isn’t something that carries you around: it’s one half of a team, and you are the other half.

So maybe it’s not surprising that so many have such a fond attachment to their bicycles. Maybe it’s not so surprising that all of ours have names, and characters that reflect the experience of the human half of the team. Having shared with him the moment of metabolic crash at 2am and the exquisite joy of the sunrise 2 hours later on a 125 mile night ride that was just one of our many adventures, perhaps it’s allowable for me to feel attached enough to my Harrier to talk to him while sitting in their en suite.

Fingal’s indexing is playing up again. It’s just jealousy over the Pinarello. I’m sure he’ll get over it soon.

We’ve moved, of course. We no longer live in a small house somewhere between Exeter and Dartmoor, where the downstairs toilet had a Park Tools TP2 toilet paper holder (I still have it, but there’s nowhere to put it at present). This piece is four machines out of date. Ivanhoe has gone to a new home — Frood rides a Revolution Cross called Spartacus these days — and I have acquired some additional steeds. I don’t campaign so much, having become disillusioned with the general acceptance that bike paths are the way to go, but how I feel about bikes hasn’t changed. We even had one in the marital bedroom to make space for the guests over the weekend.

Women ride bikes for exactly the same reasons as men. There are men who treat bikes as training tools and those who treat them as a means to get to work without having to worry about parking charges; there are men who worry about climate change and doing their bit by leaving the car at home; and there are men who just love bikes.

I’m a woman. I don’t worry about helmet hair or what the latest fashion is. I don’t worry about which lipstick will complement my skin tone and prevent the wind chapping my lips. I don’t worry about these things because my default mode of being is not one that worries about attracting a man in order to make babies.

I ride my bike because I love bikes. I love the freedom, the sense of exertion, the feeling of raw power. I like the sense of accomplishment and independence that comes from the knowledge that no matter what breaks I can fix it. I drool over a Campag chainset as much as the next person and I had to resist the urge to lick my Planet X Stealth when I got her home.

If River Song was a cyclist I suspect she could build her own wheels and would know to expect trouble from one machine on bringing a new one home. She’d be traffic-jamming with the best and she’d have an opinion about the best gear ratios and tyres for fixed gear riding in the snow.

I don’t think that women need anything special to encourage them onto bikes, or to write horror, or to play the sorts of computer games that are traditionally thought of as being for boys. They just need people to stop telling them that the one thing in life that will ultimately make them feel fulfilled and happy, no matter what else is available, is caring for babies.

Get told something often enough and it’s damn hard not to start believing it.

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It’s not the road, idiot

by on Nov.09, 2010, under Planet Sam, Rant

avatarHere’s another advert that is aimed at a market to which I definitely do not belong. It’s the Michelin Sad Road commerical:

“Once there was a sad stretch of road where drivers just couldn’t stop in time. But along came the Michelin Man, who reminded them that the right tyre changes everything. With the right tyres in place that sad stretch of road wasn’t so sad any more. Michelin Hydroedge tyres stop up to 14 feet shorter.

Michelin, a better way forward.”

This makes me so angry that I honestly have to step away from the keyboard for a couple of seconds to compose myself before launching into what is wrong with this. I mean, to me it’s so bloody OBVIOUS what’s wrong with this that blogging about it is pointless. It’s worse than pointless. It’s bringing additional attention to a manufacturer that should be ashamed of itself for spouting forth complete nonsense.

A good driver will always control the speed of his vehicle such that he can stop in the distance he can see to be clear. It’s not the road’s fault the driver can’t stop in time to avoid running over the cute fluffy animals, it’s the DRIVER’S fault.

British wildlife suffers severe casualties every year. The Mammal Society estimates British annual road casualties account for 100,000 foxes, 100,000 hedgehogs, 50,000 badgers and 30,000-50,000 deer. That’s bad enough. Stick the 3500-odd human KSIs on top of that and you realise that there is carnage going on out there on the roads. Telling drivers they have 14′ more leeway isn’t going to prevent any of those deaths or serious injuries. Michelin isn’t contributing to road safety by saying it’s the fault of the infrastructure and drivers just need to buy their tyres: that’s not merely disingenuous, it’s immoral.

Do I even need to point out that the 14 feet claim is entirely dependent on what speed the car is travelling in the first place? Plus, they tested versus a Goodyear and we have to take Michelin’s word on that being the leading competitor.

Roads aren’t dangerous. Or sad. They are just roads. Take the cars away and there’s nothing dangerous about a road unless it has a live volcano underneath or a tendency to subside randomly and drop the unsuspecting traveller into a pit full of angry piranha. The answer to not being able to stop in time is to drive appropriately for the conditions, not buy different tyres.

Take the cute animated animals away and replace them with live children. How appropriate does that driving seem now?

What this advert is actually telling drivers is the following:

Once there was a stretch of road that all the Clarkson-worshippers thought was ideal for driving along pretending to be that German burd who is so great round the Nürburgring. It had some blind corners and S-bends and the surface wasn’t so great but there weren’t any speed cameras and the police didn’t go there much. There were lots of cute fluffy animals and they had a tendency to wind up flat, squidgy, stinky, entraily pancakes on the tarmac, but who cares about squirrels and bunny rabbits when there’s 500bhp under the bonnet and Golden Earring on the stereo? Then one day the Michelin Man came along and whispered that maybe the next time someone was doing 60mph around a corner with the traction control off it wouldn’t be a rabbit but a stonking great deer with a pair of antlers the size of that rocket car that nearly killed Hamster Hammond, or even a BEAR. But it would be okay if they fitted these special tyres because they’d take a whole 14′ less to stop. That’s a bit more than two Michael Schumachers! No danger of totalling their precious Audi then!

Michelin, giving drivers even more of an excuse to behave like inconsiderate morons.

What drivers SHOULD be told is:

IF YOU CAN’T STOP IN TIME THEN STOP DRIVING LIKE A TOTAL TWUNTSPUD, ARSEHOLE!

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Butthurt is as butthurt does

by on Aug.05, 2010, under Cycling, Rant, transport

avatarI feel it would be an opportune time to clear up some confusion evidently being experienced by a significant portion of road users. With my foot injury restricting me to cycle commuting for the past couple of months, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the unfortunate fact that not a lot has changed since the last time I made these comments. There are a few more cyclists running red lights in a manner I consider to be reckless and inconsiderate, but that might be a result of the urban environment, as their numbers are at least matched by those of drivers doing the same.

The thing is, it’s really not that hard.

  • Advanced Stop Lanes are for cyclists. That’s why they have a picture of a bike painted inside them. You can tell it’s a bicycle because it has two wheels and pedals. The red background is there to make them more visible. The solid white line around them is not there to give a clear outline for the man with the red paint to colour in: it is equivalent to any other solid white line at a traffic light. In other words, drivers are not permitted to cross while the light is red. This applies whether you are on a motorbike or in a car, bus or taxi. It also applies even if you are driving a shiny red BMW.
  • Nice work, hotshot

    Shiny silver isn't exempt either, funnily enough

    The presence of a garish criss-cross pattern of yellow on the road indicates what is technically known as a box junction. These are not difficult to use. All that is required is that you do not enter unless your exit is clear. This doesn’t mean sitting inside one because the car in front is half in and half out so it must be okay then. This applies even if you’re in a shiny black BMW.
  • A speed limit is the upper boundary of the permitted speed at which you are allowed to drive your car on the section of road to which that speed limit applies. The speed limit applies at all times of day and night and doesn’t have qualifying exceptions for vehicle type such as “unless you are in a white van, silver Saab, an Alfa Romeo or a BMW.” There is also no exception that says “the limit does not apply if you are overtaking a cyclist who is travelling at or more than the speed limit.” Nor does it cease to apply if you are late for work/picking up the kids/getting home in time for your favourite TV show. The only time the speed limit does not apply is if you are on a bicycle. If you want to travel faster than the speed limit, ride a bike. If you have good reason for exceeding the speed limit in your car, such as you are racing home because your children are being menaced by an angry lion, whilst on fire, you should probably have asked the police to attend on your behalf.
  • You would not overtake a car that was signalling right 5m before the junction and was in the process of pulling out: don’t overtake a cyclist doing the same thing. We’re not pigeons. We’re not street furniture. We’re not mere obstacles to be dodged at the last possible instant with the minimum amount of clearance. There’s a person on that bike, with a family and a life and an adrenaline gland that gets far more use than it really should because a significant portion of drivers out there can’t see past the edges of their own peer group. Don’t be one of those myopic elbow-polishers. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it’s not going to get you where you’re going any faster.
    Every time you overtake another vehicle you are increasing the risk for both of you. When it’s a bike the rider is not protected by three quarters of a metric tonne of steel and plastic and you don’t get to make that sort of risk alteration without due consideration. Squeezing past anywhere is A Very Bad Thing: doing it while the cyclist is attempting to turn right is an indication that you are a turd who deserves to have unpleasant things happen to your procreation equipment.
  • I do understand that some of you drivers out there have a queue fetish. I mean, it’s obvious. You can always tell: they’re the ones who go racing past at high revs when there’s a traffic jam about 50m ahead, where they’ll sit, marinating in their own impatient juices while the cyclist they’ve just cut up merrily cruises to the front of the line. Because you can do that on a bike. Bikes rock and they so rule.
    Still. Each to his own. Rule 34 and all that. If you get a kick out of being frustrated in a jam then that’s what floats your boat. I suppose it might be a form of masochism, like being tied up by a person you really fancy and teased for three hours before being sent home without so much as a lick. Just, if you’re going to jump in front so you can spend that bit of extra time in the jam, please try to be considerate about it and give the cyclist you’re overtaking plenty of room.
  • Cyclists are allowed to filter through traffic and they are allowed on the road. If this bothers you, please fill out the following butthurt report form and submit it by folding it into a paper aeroplane and throwing it from your nearest tall building. Santa Claus will intercept it and make sure it is delivered to the appropriate authority: i.e. your mum.
  • Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

    Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

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Shopping online

by on May.21, 2010, under Miscellany, rambling, Rant

It's really not that hardI don’t review shops, online or otherwise, except in extreme circumstances. My disposable income, as discussed already, is swallowed by sport. Oh. And food. Food and sports kit. I don’t buy clothes, or a lot of music, or go out socialising very much… I’m pretty much a hermit with a carbon fibre and lycra habit.

This means that reviews of online shops aren’t very helpful unless you too are looking for a shop that will sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits. If you are looking for a shop to sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits, because you’re a habitual purchaser of such things, then you’ll already have your favourites and don’t need me to tell you where to go. Your favourites are probably the same as mine, because that’s the nature of the beast.

I, and other people like me who buy from these shops, are looking for an easily defined set of qualities. If you run one of these shops, here is what you should know about what the average recreationally competitive cyclist/triathlete wants from you (other than what you are selling):

  1. Fast turnaroundHacked offWhen we discover or decide that we want that Continental GP4000 in blue in 700x25c we tend to want it now. If not yesterday. And while we comprehend that there’s this thing called ‘the post’ we will be exceedingly happy if it turns up the next day and will definitely come back to your shop and deal with you again. We are competitive. We like things fast. We also like our toys. Ordering something is like setting the calendar to Christmas Eve. Imagine waking up on Christmas Day and being told Santa hadn’t got around to you yet. You would be disappointed.
  2. Shipping costs — Some shops sell the items really cheap and make up the money by charging an inordinate fee for postage. Things don’t cost that much to ship. I can and have sent a fully padded bike bag the size of a small horse by next-day special delivery and it costs about twelve quid. Do not charge me six quid to send me a carbon fibre stem cap, two caffeinated energy gels and a puncture repair kit. Especially if I won’t get them for a week. It will make me angry. I will not come back to your shop. If you charge me anything more than £2 postage and I’m not buying a bike (and if I am, shipping should be free because I’m spending so much already) that thing had better turn up the next morning or, at a pinch, the day after. This is even more especially the case if you have a free delivery option and a priority delivery option. There are shops out there who can get things to me the next day for free, FFS. This is particularly galling if your shop is one of those that charges my credit card upon receiving the order. That means you’ve got my money for far longer than I have my toy. This will also make me angry. I will not come back to your shop.
  3. The ever-awesome XKCD does it againOrder tracking — We order tracking. I love getting the email that says “your order has been dispatched”. Then it’s definitely Christmas Eve. If you offer me order tracking I will make use of it. My shopping experience is made so much better by being able to watch my package, in a virtual sense, as it wings its way to my excited little paws. If you offer me order tracking and a fast turnaround then I will forgive you charging me for postage when there are shops who will send things to me for free because you have just made the entire transaction an order of magnitude more engaging. Order tracking should be thought of as an extra layer of wrapping, and even if you already know what you’re getting, unwrapping packages is so much fun.Order tracking means I am much more likely to come back to your shop.
  4. Range of stock — I know this should probably go without saying, but anyone who is serious about a sport that involves serious kit, such as cycling or triathlon or kiteboarding or whatever, is impressed by a shop that sells things no one else does. I am likely to forgive you many failings if you happen to sell something I want and can’t get anywhere else. Mine!And here’s something else of which to be aware: we know what we want. We will consider all the options carefully and in many instances we will come to your shop because you have turned up in an internet search as having that one thing. You may make an additional sale on the back of that one thing. If you sell that one thing and meet all the above criteria, then you are likely to get a repeat customer. When you consider how much money people like us are prepared to spend, it’s worthwhile giving us a good experience. The corollary to this is: if you claim to have a particular thing and list it on your website and we find your shop because we want that one thing, and order it from you, it had better be there. If it isn’t there, make sure you contact us immediately and explain as much. Which brings me to…
  5. SwapsI'm not sure this is what I ordered As I’ve already said, we know what we want. Do not make a decision for us if what we want isn’t there. Pick up the phone. Email us. Tell us what’s going on and let us decide what to do about it. We gave you our contact details for a reason and thought that was why you wanted them. The only exception to this is if you have a specific section on your order form that asks us what to do in case of the item not being in stock (there is one shop I use that does this).
  6. Customer service — We want to give you our money. We want to give you our money and have you send us objects of delight that will make us happy/go faster/feel lighter/dance up hills/give us shiny bicycles. Just be niceIn other words, what we are doing here is exchanging cash for pleasure. This isn’t life or death. We’re not paying for something that we need and can’t live without. You do not have us over a barrel. Good customer service is therefore part of what you should offer if you want us to come back, because there are plenty of places that offer excellent customer service and we will give them our money instead if you don’t. We like to reward good service. Bad customer service is, more than any other factor, likely to make customers turn away. Not only will they turn away but they will tell all their friends about you, and not in a good way.

And this is why I’m posting today.

When I went across to Ireland to do the Galway Triathlon last year I had to drop into Nigel’s Cycles to pick up some CO2 canisters because I wasn’t allowed to take mine on the plane. While there I had a nose around, as one does in a bike shop, and he had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle in stock, something I had not seen before. I came very close to buying it because it’s exactly the sort of utterly superflous, but dammit so intrinsically useful-looking thing that I find irresistable. At the time I was already over-budget for the trip by some way and couldn’t justify the expenditure.

Then I read a review of one of these things last month and was reminded of how cool it had been, and decided that I’d like one. I hunted on the internet for this item (see point 4) and found a range of places, including Ebay. Most of them had the running version, which I didn’t want. I wanted the bike version (see point 4, again). The three places I looked at initially were good enough to state that it was out of stock (see points 4 and 5). Then I found Pure-Sports, who said they had it in stock. It was a good price, too, notwithstanding the £3.99 postage cost, which set my hackles on end (see point 2).

I duly put in my order. They had order tracking. Excellent (see point 3). By that afternoon my payment had been processed and stock had been allocated, according to the order tracking. The countdown to Christmas had begun.

A week later my bike bottle had not turned up (see point 1). Santa was spurning me. I was disappointed. I called.

My item was not in stock. Not only was it not in stock it had been discontinued. Someone had ordered the replacement model on my behalf and they were waiting for it to turn up (see point 5). Ah, but did the replacement have the gel flask, which is why I wanted it? They couldn’t tell me. Someone would get back to me.

Nobody did. I emailed them. No response (see point 6). A further week later I called again. Apparently the replacement model did not have the gel flask and I was being refunded. Fair enough, but with this level of communication failure the shop had already lost any future custom. At this stage, however, I would merely have crossed them off my list of potential retailers.

Cut to a month later. I still haven’t had my refund. This is why I am moved to post about it. This particular shop has demonstrated complete failure at every one of the things I ask for in a shop. The turnaround was shocking. The shipping costs were excessive. The order tracking was there but it lied. (How can non-existent stock be allocated?) The one item I wanted from them wasn’t there and they did not contact me within seven days, which the website claims they will if there is a problem with an order. They made a decision about what to send me instead of asking me what I wanted and, finally, their customer service has been shockingly poor.

In contrast, I called All Terrain Cycles yesterday because they also had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle on their website. They had three in stock. The nice man checked to make sure it was the bike bottle not the running version and was evidently appreciative that I knew the difference although he didn’t. I placed my order at just past 4pm and did not feel any need to quibble over the postage. This morning I received an email saying that it has been despatched by 24-hour courier, complete with tracking number (>click<). Now, even though I know I won’t get it until Monday because I had it shipped to my work address, I am already in a state of excited anticipation.

Pure-Sports: you’re doing it wrong and I’m telling all my friends.

All Terrain Cycles: you’re doing it exactly right and I’m telling all my friends about that, too.

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Invisible Gorillas

by on May.14, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI sometimes wonder why we are so fixated on the provision of cycle facilities in this country. The Beauty and the Bike project is only the latest in a number of initiatives to try to tackle the issue of increasing the popularity of cycling by installing infrastructure. They come right out with it and say: It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

Regular readers will already be aware of my feelings about this, and the organisation that started it all, Sustrans , which is not, and never has been, a cycling organisation.

Here’s why it’s not the infrastructure:

Selective attention blindness is probably the main cause of SMIDSY incidents on the road, as discussed by the author of the original study, Daniel Simons, in this Seed magazine article. The phenomenon is one in which an observer is so focused on looking for one thing that he fails to see something else that is right in front of him. Hence, in the above video, people who haven’t heard about it will be so absorbed in counting the passes between the white shirts that they completely fail to spot the gorilla. Seriously. It may be impossible to believe but it’s true.

Did you spot the gorilla?

It’s also why no amount of fluorescent material or bright lighting will help a cyclist be seen —apparently you’d be better off wearing the same colours as road signs, because drivers are expecting those— and why segregated facilities are not only unhelpful, they make the problem worse.

Drivers are looking for other cars. This is a peer group phenomenon. The other members of their peer group are more important to them and have higher priority, and there are so many more of their peer group that road users who are not members of that peer group are involuntarily ignored. Frequent cyclists who are also drivers tend to be more aware of cyclists sharing the road for the same reason. Other cyclists are members of their peer group. The more frequently a person cycles the more he is likely he is to spot other cyclists from behind the wheel of his car.

I’m basing this on personal experience, incidentally. I’m not sure if any formal studies have been done into the correlation between cycling frequency and likelihood of spotting cyclists on the road.

If we combine selective attention blindness with peer-group attention selection and segregated facilities, we’re creating a situation in which cyclists won’t be able to use the road even if they want to. Drivers will become less used to seeing cyclists and if cyclists become more unexpected than they are at present, then they’re even more likely to end up in physical conflict with motorised road users.

Cyclists on the road in a world dominated by car culture are the invisible gorilla beating his chest in the middle of the screen. It’s bad enough right now. The more cyclists who choose to give up their right to the road and let drivers get away with not having to look for them, the more imperative it will become to have a fully integrated, segregated network of routes for bikes. The more segregated routes we have, the more dangerous the roads will become.

I don’t know about you but that strikes me as a move in completely the wrong direction.

I shouldn’t look at websites like Bike Belles and their ilk any more. They’re sexist, they’re insulting and they’re trying to make my cycling experience even worse than it is already.

When will people accept that getting more people cycling shouldn’t be done at the cost of those who are already out there doing it? It’s not the infrastructure: it’s evolutionary biology. We can’t tackle this problem by treating the symptoms because there isn’t enough space in this country for building yet more paths. We need to tackle the source of the problem, and the only thing that will do that is getting more cyclists on the roads.

Every single person who chooses to ride on a segregated path is part of the problem. Every single person who chooses to ride on the road is part of the solution.

Which one are you?

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It’s a primal thing

by on May.09, 2010, under Planet Sam, Rant

avatarReally, Mattessons? Is it really?

If by “primal” you mean “pandering to sexist stereotypes” then by gods then I think I might just agree with you.

Let’s just take a look at this homage to the Hanna Barbera caveman era, shall we?

What we have is an advert that starts with a man who has a tupperware lunchbox that is empty apart from an apple. Evidently angered by the lack of man-food, he beats upon said box to demonstrate that he desires to be fed. Rather than, for instance, asking his partner if there is anything else to eat or, gods forbid, actually going and getting something for himself.

We cut to a young woman who has either only just noticed she is hungry or is experiencing period pain. It’s hard to tell from her expression. Either way, she too has lost the power of speech and registers her discontent with the state of her belly by slapping it around a bit.

A pair of male hands thumps a shiny green metal table. Splice in shots of several women coming to attention like meerkats seeing an eagle. The shiny green table turns out to be a car, and the hands to belong to a man engaged in that most manly of pursuits: working on the car. Surrounded by sparks and shit, just in case you needed further explanation that being a man is important, hard, dangerous work that only men can do.

A woman trots past, pushing a shopping trolley, looking for something and in a hurry to find it because a man is hungry, is far too busy being a man to find something to eat himself, and it’s her duty as a woman to appease his hunger. She is watched in bafflement by the only character in this advert who shows any sign of having a foot in the real world: the shop assistant. He’s presumably more used to seeing people shopping in their pyjamas, not dressed up like a model for the latest range at Marks & Sparks.

We see teenage girl again. She’s still beating her own abdomen, only now there’s something a bit scary about her expression. Determined. Perhaps she has decided that self-abuse is the only appropriate response to hunger, in case eating makes her fat and thus no longer conventionally beautiful. Because that, obviously, would be a disaster.

Cut to children. Children! Children who have been taught that the correct way to request food is to roar and beat their chests like an enraged silverback. That will stand them in good stead when they reach the age of taking a prospective partner to a restaurant to woo him or her. Rather than picking an item from the menu they will smack themselves and throw a tantrum until someone puts some food in front of them. Charming.

Finally the sausages are acquired. The drums pause, a moment of relief, followed by several shots of food magically appearing in front of the hungry. The women who were responsible for preparing it have been reduced to a single hand, or a sliver of cloth. After all, their only importance is in the fetching of the food. Once food has been acquired they are no longer worthy of attention.

Look at him. The lazy bastard.Note, if you will, that there is not a single man hunting the refrigerated section of the supermarket for cheap processed pork products. No. What we have are some women who, despite doing nothing more than taking a trip down to the shop, have taken the time to apply cosmetics and carefully coif their hair so they will conform suitably to accepted beauty conventions while in a situation where other people might see them.

We have men, doing man-things, and teaching their children that the correct way to express a wish to be fed is not, for instance, asking whoever is the chef of the day what might possibly be for dinner and is there anything they can do to help, but instead to act like an enraged toddler who wants a sweetie. We see that the correct response from the busy woman who not only has a house to run but has her own career (nobody dresses like that for doing the housework) is not to tell them to bloody well get it themselves but to leap up immediately and go all the way to the supermarket for sausages. We learn that a man does not consider an apple to be proper food: only heavily-salted, fatty, processed meat products are satisfactory.

I find it hard to stomach that in the 21st century we are seeing adverts that demonstrate such blatant sexism. The gender stereotyping on display is offensive to both sexes. Anyone who doubts that sexism is an ongoing problem should take a long, hard look at the way men and women are portrayed in the media, particularly in the flash-shorts of commercial advertising.

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Women and children first?

by on Dec.12, 2009, under Cycling, Rant

I seemed to upset a few people recently by getting worked up about the Beauty and the Bike campaign after it did the rounds on twitter.

Beauty and the Bike, for those of you who either don’t follow cycle campaigning or have an understandable mental blind spot when it comes to anything that’s all mouth and no trousers (pun entirely intended) is a cycle advocacy project that sent a bunch of teenage girls from Darlington across to Europe in an effort to see why girls over there cycle while British ones don’t.

While I have no problem at all with the basic premise — let’s find out why girls and young women don’t cycle and try to do something about it — I have a few issues with the apparent focus of the resulting campaign. Like the Sustrans BikeBelles project, there is an immediate presumption that a major reason why girls don’t cycle is cosmetic:

I cannot be fashionable on a bike.
Answer: On a Dutch bike with a low entrance and a skirtguard, you can even cycle with a long skirt.

As irritating and sexist as I find that (I hope the ladies of SweetPea Bicycles never read it), the bit that annoyed me the most is seen in this quote here:

“Why do British girls stop cycling? By simply asking this basic question, the film reveals the damage that has been done by 50 years of car-centric transport policies. Whilst we fill our lives with debates about risk assessment, cycle helmets, cycle training and marketing strategies to try to persuade people to cycle more, the basic barriers to cycling remain untouched – generous urban planning towards the car, and the resultant poor motorist behaviour towards cyclists. Is it any wonder that most people find cycling unattractive in the UK, but attractive in cycling-friendly towns and cities? It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

That’s their emphasis. It’s the infrastructure, stupid! So there you are. If you, like me, have been merrily cycling on the road, where you have every right to cycle, and explaining to moronic drivers that they need to learn how to share, that they shouldn’t be passing you so closely your elbow leaves a clean streak on their paint, or yelling at you for being on the road, or any one of the hundred other ways drivers treat cyclists like shit: you were wrong. It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

I’m not particularly keen on re-hashing the various arguments about driver culture and conflict points and engineering: they’ve been done to death elsewhere. I’m not going to detail the studies that show a strip of red paint down the side of the road is counter-productive, leading drivers to give cyclists even less room; nor Ian Walker’s report that women cyclists tend to be given more room anyway. Take a look through a few back issues of CityCycling. In fact, here’s your starter for ten — an article I wrote in response to the Sustrans Bike Belles launch.

It’s all very well having a bunch of teenage girls say “We want more cycle lanes!” Unfortunately I want doesn’t get. More to the point, paths are not necessary. They’re a placebo, a palliative aimed at making us shut up and giving the impression that the powers that be are doing something to follow through on their promises. It doesn’t address the underlying issue. In fact putting more cycle paths in place is just going to make things worse.

Here’s an example of the typical attitude of someone who is angry about cyclists who don’t use paths, as seen in the comments section of an article about the effect of the new Princes Street tram lines on cyclists:

Between Gilmerton and Dalkeith, Edinburgh and Midlothian council have spent millions of pounds on an off road cycle track, which runs next to the road. Guess what, these cyclists ignore it, and prefer to hold up the traffic by cycling on the main carriageway. Simple solution, get the police to stop every cyclist on this stretch of the road and obtain their details, then get the councils to bill each and every cyclist for the cost of the cycle track. That way, folk like me, are not paying for a cycle track that doesn’t get used, and cyclists are punished for failing to use facilities specifically built for them.

Error compounded by misconception, but clearly showing that providing a cycle path will cause at least a portion of drivers to behave even more negatively to cyclists who continue to exercise their right to use the road.

The cycle path gameIn contrast, here’s a good pictorial summary of the problems encountered on cycle paths and the reason folks might not want to use them (hope you don’t mind, Anth).

My point is that the current method of asking people who don’t cycle what’s best for cyclists is about as useful as asking a vegan how he would prefer his steak in the belief that will make him start eating meat. Rather than asking girls who don’t cycle why they don’t, how about asking girls who do cycle why they do? The main barrier to cycling isn’t external. The roads do not make it impossible to ride. What to do with your hair is not an insurmountable problem. If this were the case there wouldn’t be anyone out there on the roads at all. The very fact that we already have female cyclists riding on the roads means that the major problem is cultural rather than practical. It’s a mental, not a physical one.

It’s not the infrastructure. It’s the culture. It’s the fuckwit drivers who believe the myth of road tax and treat non-motorised road users as moving obstacles.

And don’t call me stupid.

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Oh, the irony

by on Aug.19, 2009, under Cycling, Rant

Having said all that, I followed a link from the Buff twitter feed to the Big Bike Bash home page. It’s on this weekend, and it looks like it could be a fun event for all you mountain bike types.

I don’t ride off-road personally. Not that I don’t want to, but I’m limited to firetrails and easy stuff by lack of depth perception. I’ve tried the more technical trails and I fell off. A lot. And hurt myself. A lot.

So, it’s true, I wouldn’t be interested in taking part in the races, but that doesn’t justify the following section, found under the link for “Women’s Events”.

Ever been to an event or race to support your partner, an ended up stood around bored? Well this event is not just for the guys! There are loads of things for the girls to get involved with too! Whether you want to relax in the massage tent or get involved in the action, there’s plenty to keep you busy all weekend!

Say WHAT? I don’t know about you, but when I see “women’s events” I think of “events for women”. You know, maybe a girls-only multilap XC race, or an event put on specifically for those who might find racing against the boys too intimidating but would really love to give it a go. Those women who have probably been convinced by the patronising attitudes of others that cycling is a roughty-toughty sort of affair and isn’t for the likes of them. WOMEN KNOW YOUR PLACE.

What makes this even more bizarre is that there is a decent listing of competitive female categories in the races. Click on the event listing and there are female categories in the two main events. Yet “women’s events” gets a separate listing and would suggest to the unsuspecting reader that what girls do is stand on the sidelines in breathless appreciation of their men before getting bored and wanting to go shopping for cosmetics.

What is with that? Could they not just have had “supporter’s events”? That would have been fairer. Maybe there are non-competing men going who wouldn’t mind winning some organic cosmetics, after all.

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