All the fly(by) guys…

April 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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I’m quite excited about Strava Flyby. Input your Strava ride, and see who else was creaking round in the same area. Moreover, my spies have managed to intercept top-secret emails between developers, which reveal some highly interesting new features.strava flyby 2

Detailed research on people who ride frequently in your ‘hood will allow you to identify potential riding partners, particularly those whose pee stop: ride time ratio is in harmony with your own. New drop-down menus will mean you can filter riders by speed (choose whether to grovel, or feel smug), size (select a suitable companion to ride behind in that 20mph wind) and chattiness (for those still-sweating-Rioja Sunday morning rides).

A quick check before you set out, and you’ll be able to delay your ride to avoid that chap who drafts you up Cragg Vale without uttering a syllable, only to steam past you at the reservoir to claim the KoM. Moreover, if you’re feeling a little fragile, sorry, doing a recovery ride, you can tag silently onto the CTC as they trundle past; they probably won’t even notice you’re there.

Looking for love? Encountered a toothsome chap/ chapess on your ride, but too shy to say hi? Now, you’ll no longer have to content yourself with admiring their calves from afar; you can come home and stalk them, sorry, find out who they are in moments. Strava intel suggests that a notification facility is in the pipeline: as the object of your desire sets out, you’ll receive a text alert, allowing you to slip into your best Molteni jersey and run into him/ her ENTIRELY by chance in the chip queue at Hollingworth Lake.

Finally, if you suspect your partner might be playing away, you can simply put his/her Garmin on your bike instead of yours, and see who suddenly, coincidentally appears out of the fog.

Music, emotion, denial, and anyway, I blame Iestyn Davies

April 21, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Posted in music | 4 Comments
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Yesterday, I biked through Old Town in tears. Yeah, yeah, I know. This time it was different, though: I wasn’t weeping over the hills, the headwind, my lack of grit, my terrible urge to pack up and go home after 15 miles. I was thinking about Dad.

It’s been a troubled couple of weeks. Mostly, I blame Iestyn Davies. I don’t listen to classical music. I kid myself it bores me, but really, it terrifies me. The other week, the boyfriend went to bed early, and I sat half-watching Rule Britannia, one eye on twitter. I looked up to see Iestyn singing ‘Dove sei, amato bene?’ and suddenly I was a mess.

It’s all still raw, then. The cracks, papered over. So much I’d forgotten. I was probably fourteen. It was getting late; I left Dad in front of the telly and went up to watch the end of Madama Butterfly in bed. God, it’s heartbreaking. Dad came up the stairs to say goodnight. He wiped his eyes; I blew my nose. And we laughed. Silly sods.

His emotions ran so close to the surface. Sunsets could bring him to tears, but music did it most reliably. He’d hide in the lounge and turn the volume up: Verdi, Puccini. No interrupting.

This was me, too. Singing in The Crucifixion, dreading the approach of ‘God so loved the world’ because I was going to cry, no matter what, in front of everyone. Paired ‘cello lessons with Denise, who was measured precision and correctness where I was all mad emotion and fluffed intervals.

But for Dad, joy in a beautiful performance had a flipside. That sharp intake of breath at a bum note. Hilariously accurate pisstakes of operatic overindulgences. Watching New Faces: ‘All he’s got is cheek.’ ‘She’s just a belter.’ Tuning, timing, interpretation, criticism. I used to wait until he was out to practise, because I couldn’t bear to murder the music he loved. Bach, Elgar, Saint-Saëns.gary larson roger screws up

And I couldn’t be good enough, never mind for him, but for myself. I stopped playing, because the fear of failure, of screwing up, far outweighed the joy. And I stopped listening, too; it was all just too much.

Dad had a folderful of skits. Good stuff. I put on one of his tiny plays at school, and we won a prize. I don’t know what happened to it all; I didn’t realise that after a funeral, stuff just gets thrown away. He was going to send his writing to Punch, some day, soon, when he’d just tidied it up a bit. It never left the house. He thought the world would be a harsh critic, as harsh as he was; he couldn’t expose himself to it. And I know I don’t want to be like this.

My boys are learning the piano. I bash out boogaloo riffs, worked out by ear. ‘That’s really GOOD, Mummy!’ I blow the dust off my ‘cello and scrape through TV themes. Someone dares me to post them on audioboo; I do it (after a couple of glasses of red), and I’m taken aback that people don’t go, ‘Eeeurgh! Stop it!’ but instead say, ‘How great to be able to do that.’
gareth malone tweet

So I’m trying to love the fear. It’s a bit of a work in progress. Like the joke about the stubborn understains being all that’s holding your pants together, I’ve grown accustomed to the tension: the conviction that if I relax, it will all come out – love, terror, pain, god knows what else – and where will it stop? So, small steps. This week, playing bad boogaloo. Next week, digging out the Elgar. Listening to The Messiah, and letting myself bawl uncontrollably, then stumbling back from the edge.

Because it’s not just music, of course. All those dreams, procrastinated over, because I’m paralysed with fear that I won’t be good enough. If I can do it with music, will it transfer? Embrace the emotion, feel it, let it rip me up, then piece myself back together. I’m going to try. No, really, I am.

Me, Dad, Grandad. Yes, that is what you think, in that glass

Me, Dad, Grandad. Yes, that IS what you think, in that glass

(The best bad boogaloo:)

Harassment: it’s just like riding a bike

April 4, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Posted in cycling | 16 Comments
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This morning, this video by the Guardian caused a bit of a stir. If you can’t/ won’t/ don’t want to watch it, it involves a young female actor accosting various men, asking them if they want to come home with her, if they wax, if they’re gay, and shouting ‘get your arses out!’ lewdly at builders.

builders screencap

While this is fun, on some level, it doesn’t really ‘turn the tables’ as the video’s makers suggest. The reason for this is clear: women threatening or demeaning men is not scary or even particularly offensive. As @smaryka points out,

The reason (some) men make sexist comments is not to ‘flatter’ women, or to make them laugh, or even, really, to indicate sexual interest in them. It’s about power. Because men have the physical ability to overcome women, to do them real harm, women can’t just ignore these comments. They carry weight. They’re a constant reminder that we are not men’s equals. As 21st century women, we may have high-flying careers, terrific relationships, fulfilling sex lives. We have control in all sorts of meaningful ways that were unavailable to previous generations. But men still have power over us, and every now and then, it suits some of them to remind us of this.

I understand if you can’t imagine what this is like. Even lovely, right-thinking, educated, feminist-leaning men find it difficult. Surely things aren’t that bad? Surely we shouldn’t take it seriously? Maybe if we just laughed, or thought up a cheeky reply? So here’s an analogy you might understand: It’s a bit like cycling.

You know when you’re riding along, minding your own business, and someone passes you so closely they could shave your legs for you? And then looks surprised when you scream at them? This is builders shouting at you, asking you if you take it up the arse.

You know that feeling of looking over your shoulder and seeing a huge truck coming up behind, and thinking, he might swing wide, but he might not? This is walking along a road, towards a group of lads coming the other way.

You know when you see someone about to pull out from a side road, and you lock eyes with them, and they definitely see you, and they pull out anyway? This is people you know, people you thought were OK, saying and doing things that make you want to weep.

You know when you’re advised to stay off main roads because they’re too dangerous, and you think, ‘Isn’t it up to all the motorists to try not to kill me, not up to me to keep out of their way?’ This is women being advised not to wear short skirts, not to drink too much, not to walk home alone.

You know when someone gets knocked off, by a motorist who was obviously in the wrong, and the motorist gets let off? And the newspaper reports focus on how the cyclist should have been wearing a helmet and hi-viz? This is what women know they’ll face if they accuse a man of rape.

This is what it’s like. Except for cyclists, it stops when they get off their bikes.

The real rules of the road

March 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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It’s clear that many motorists ignore much of the Highway Code. However, the reasons for this have been obscure until now. As my teenage neighbour sloped out of her driving instructor’s car yesterday, a dog-eared scrap of paper fluttered to the ground in her wake. I picked it up, and realised I’d stumbled upon a top-secret document of extraordinary importance, which supersedes the Highway Code in all circumstances.

The Motorist’s Rulebook

1. Get out of the GODDAMN way.

a. Stopping or going slowly? Move over as far as possible. Up the pavement, preferably. Pedestrians? They’ll shift.Dorking Dene Street

b. Park quickly. Come on, it’s not a bus. You can get it in there. That’ll do.

c. Move quickly when someone lets you out, even if it means simultaneously steering, changing gear and doing that left-right-left thing with the indicators to say ‘thank you’.

2. No holding ANYONE up.

a. No indecision, particularly at roundabouts. Go, damn you. Go!

b. Overtake immediately. You don’t need to see round the corner. It’ll be fine. Go on. Go ON.

c. Speed limits: stick to them if you must, but NO driving at 30 in a 50 zone. Or 40. Or even 45. We have places to GO.

d. The faster vehicle has priority. Like, DUH.

3. Life on the road must be FAIR.

a. Let someone out, but not EVERYBODY, fgs. One car, or two if you don’t mind us assuming you’ve stalled. Then drive on. Think about all of us, waiting. Places to GO.Traffic Queues - - 1288920

b. Take turns. If you’ve already had to wait at three pinch points, it’s OK if you force your way through the fourth. We understand. When it’s your turn, it’s your turn.

c. No CHEATING. No driving up the bus lane. No forcing your way into queues. If you do this from a motorway slip road, expect us to pretend we can’t see you.

4. Driving is a SERIOUS business. Absolutely NO enjoying yourself.

Eagle-eyed readers will spot that this explains a LOT of driver behaviour around cyclists. Here are some cyclist habits that irritate motorists:

i. Travelling at less than the speed limit

ii. Zipping up the inside/ outside of lines of trafficCyclists on Killyclogher Road, Omagh - - 584320

iii. Moving off slowly from lights/ at roundabouts

iv. Taking the lane

v. Wanting to turn right

vi. Riding two abreast

vii. Chatting, laughing, smiling, having fun

viii. Getting to work before them

Note that item (i) violates Rule 1a (get out of the GODDAMN way when moving slowly), forcing the motorist to obey rule 2b (overtake IMMEDIATELY). Item (ii) is in direct contravention of Rules 2d (faster vehicle has priority) and 3c (no cheating). And item (viii) flouts both Rule 3c (no cheating) and Rule 4 (no enjoying yourself). I’m sure you can match the rest up on your own.

This is, of course, the clearest argument yet for separating cyclists from motorists. We operate according to different rules; we’re simply not compatible. So I propose the provision of safe, custom-built, off-road tracks. Here, motorists can overtake, intimidate, scold and generally hassle each other, leaving the roads for the rest of us to go about our business slowly, calmly and happily.

Beyond beginnerism: building an inclusive cycling culture

March 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Posted in cycling | 23 Comments
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I read Collyn Ahart’s piece on beginnerism, and got a bit confused. I found things I agreed with, and things I didn’t, and things I didn’t understand. I may have the wrong end of the stick entirely but I wanted to respond.

I agree that a lot of stuff that’s aimed at women is aimed at beginners. This seems to be to be because there’s a genuine appetite for it. Women want it. Not all women, of course. But the success of Breeze rides and women-only initiatives of all sorts suggests that there’s a substantial number of women who *do* want this kind of stuff. I know women who want to ride without feeling that they are holding everyone up, who’d like to learn to adjust their gears without feeling patronised by the blokey atmosphere of most bike shops, who feel more comfortable taking what are to them challenging steps in the company of other women. This is how they feel. How can we tell them that’s wrong?

Personally, I’m not tempted to go out riding by the promise of cupcakes and girls-only giggles and a glimpse of Vicky Pendleton. Here in Yorkshire, the women scare me more than the men do. In ‘cross races, I’m generally battling it out with Mesh Insert Man at the back of the field; my female competitors have left me for dead in the first lap. Going out riding with a bunch of women here doesn’t generally involve much gossiping.

Me on the start line

The author, about to watch the rest of the women’s field disappear in a cloud of dust

So I’m not the target market, maybe. But there are beginners, and beginners. What about the next steps? What if you think you might like to race, for example?

If you read cycling magazine advice, they tell you to go out on the club run to develop bunch riding skills. I know women who do this, who go out with their local club, but they are very strong and very fast, fast enough to keep up with the lads sprinting for signs. I’m not that fast, and my self-belief is fragile; what doesn’t kill me, instead of making me stronger, mostly makes me weep and think I’ll just give up biking and take up crochet instead. I don’t seek out women-only events; I like men, I like racing and training for ‘cross with men, and some of the most helpful, encouraging and unpatronising advice I’ve had has been from men.

But I went to women-only road race training, and it was brilliant. The reason it was brilliant was not because it was full of women; it was because I was among peers. People at roughly my level. People who were a bit better than me at some stuff, and not as good as me at other stuff. I fitted in. I’m sure there are men out there who are at the same level as me, who I could ride with happily. But, just as ‘men who think they might like to have a go at racing’ are probably at a similar level to each other, so are ‘women who think they might like to have a go at racing’. We all need to find our level, and this is a simple way of judging it.

I’m bothered by the lack of opportunities to progress beyond the Breeze rides-and-cupcakes stage. I’m bothered by how difficult it still seems to be to find support and training for women in a sport that is so dominated by men’s racing. But I can see the green shoots appearing. The first CDNW women’s cat 2/3/4 road race this year had 64 finishers. SIXTY-FOUR. That’s nearly twice as many as last year, mostly because of road race training events like the one I attended. Last year I attended a BC women’s velodrome session that was bursting at the seams with good road riders keen to have a go at something new. Where were all these women the year before? What were they doing? Perhaps it does take a women-only session to make people think ‘Well, maybe I WILL have a bash at that’. At the moment, the culture of cycling is overwhelmingly male. Paying attention to women’s participation at all levels of the sport – not just beginners, and not just elites – will help to build a cycling culture that’s about all of us. But I don’t think this will happen without a clear focus on opportunities for women to progress, and this means (almost by default) that we end up defining ‘women’s cycling’ as something separate, something different.

In order to create a cycling culture that is inclusive of men and women, we need to define what is missing. Otherwise we are just assimilating women into the existing culture. That’s where people like @_pigeons_ and @Cyclopunk and @festinagirl come in, detailing and documenting and ranting and raving about the inequalities that still exist, and the fantastic, thrilling contribution that women’s cycling can make to cycling culture in general. We need to rewrite cycling culture, and to do that we need to recognise clearly what is absent from it. Then (I’ve argued this before) we can progress to a place where women’s-specific magazines and advice and events are redundant, and we define ourselves by the kinds of bikers we are. And our newsstands will be filled with these publications instead:

alt mags

Book review: Faster, by Michael Hutchinson

March 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Posted in books, cycling | 2 Comments
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my tweet re. fasterWell, I was nervous about reading this. I love Hutchinson’s first two books to distraction*: they’re warm, funny and fascinating, and they seamlessly integrate factual explanations with autobiographical detail in a way that is deft and unobtrusive. It’s only when you read other books** that jump awkwardly between personal anecdote and technical or historical exposition that you realise how skilled he is at this.

Faster, though, threatened something different from the familiar ‘year in the life’ of The Hour and Missing The Boat. A treatise on physiology, technology and aerodynamics, in the service of finding out what makes some people ride faster than others? This was going to make me feel stupid, wasn’t it.

Happily, it didn’t (well, no more than life in general does). The book is detailed, and packed with revelations – I was murmuring ‘Gosh!’ at something every other page – but it wears its scholarship lightly; I can see I’ll be going back to it when I forget what lactate threshold is, or the relationship between turbulent and laminar flow, or the exact definition of ‘raw grunt’. No, really. It’s all there, but even dim arts graduates like me can understand it.

The book focuses on the elite end of the spectrum; this isn’t a training manual, or a cookbook of tips for the average Jo(e). Instead, it’s an absorbing dissection of what, exactly, makes a pro a pro, and a curious insight into a combination of physiology and mindset that is foreign to most of us. Before I started reading, my conceptualisation of what differentiated Hutchinson and his ilk from the likes of me was along the lines of this exchange from Star Trek: Into Darkness:


Khan: Because I am… BETTER.
Kirk: At what?

Faster explains how this is both true and not true; how you can be naturally endowed with some crucial characteristics and not others, and how modern training, nutrition, psychology and equipment tackle the challenge of making up the deficits and exploiting the advantages.

To my relief, Hutchinson hasn’t abandoned his trademark style – self-deprecating, sometimes acerbic, but human and warm. He’s also very funny. The personal tales I loved in the previous two books are still included:

Here, they offer an glimpse into the mind of a man who’s found, almost by chance, something he’s really, really good at, and has committed the full force of his obsessive nature and natural geekiness to making the most of it. At times it’s almost spiritual: I’m reminded of Liddell’s lines in Chariots of Fire, ‘I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.’ Hutchinson’s not ascribing his talents to divine intention, but some of what he says has a similar ring: ‘it’s what you’re for.’

As a fairly rubbish bike rider, my approach to training is to try not to get distracted by sheep, and remember I’m supposed to be trying a bit harder than usual. I turn up to races with the fervent hope that I might eventually beat that bloke with the mesh insert in his shorts. Hutchinson’s attitude is so alien to me that he and I might as well be from different planets***. Nevertheless, his book manages to make the monomaniacal pursuit of faster at this level seem both entirely understandable and completely bonkers. So, somehow, I think it’s fulfilled its purpose.

* I stealth-market these books by snorting involuntarily at them on trains. More than once, someone’s leant over to ask me what’s so funny, so it works.

** List available on request: to paraphrase Reg in Life of Brian, I should know, I’ve wallowed in a few.

***I also found myself wondering about living with this kind of obsession. Sean Yates’ autobiography famously includes a chapter by his ex-wife; with any luck, Hutchinson’s partner is negotiating a book deal of her own.

Martyn Irvine: a BDIPCesque tribute

March 1, 2014 at 11:02 am | Posted in affairs of the heart, cycling | 2 Comments
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The first thing that made me laugh till I cried when I joined twitter was bangable dudes in procycling. Minx and her collaborators indelicately scrutinised the male peloton, staying just this side of NSFW and making fangirls choke on their cornflakes in the process. If you’ve never heard of BDIPC, I suggest you go and acquaint yourself with it before reading on; you could start with this fairly typical example.

Ready? OK. BDIPC’s very American in style (at least, to my English ears); I found myself wondering how an English version would sound. Then Martyn Irvine did his astonishing double-medal-winning feat at the Worlds in 2013, and I suddenly had a subject. I wrote this quickly, in a sweat, a year ago, and it made me laugh*. And after Martyn’s heroic efforts in the scratch and points races over the last couple of days, it seems relevant all over again.

martyn irvine by shane mcmahon

Martyn Irvine (c) Shane McMahon, on Velonation

Hello there, from across the pond! We English girls like a toothsome, athletic chap as much as anyone, so we’re enormous BDIPC fans. But all this upfront talk of bangability still has us a bit, er, gosh. Well. You know. We may be right up there in the top five Nations Who Like Falling Out Of Taxis At 3am Without Any Knickers On, but actually talking about, er, the, ah, you know, the ACT? Well. It has us groping for words.

And of course, well before we get to the, um, act, we have to make the unsuspecting boy aware of us. We’re not too good at striding up to people, locking eyes with them and suggesting, well, golly. How can we do that, when we’re too shy even to tell our best friends?

Picture me, long ago, skirt waistband rolled over as soon as I was out of sight of the house, school-illegal plastic sandals on my feet, gripped by a new, crippling crush on a sixth former. Best Mate is DESPERATE to know. ‘Who? WHO?’ ‘I can’t. He’ll see me looking at him.’ We cook up a subtle plan: as he saunters by, I’ll turn to her and utter a prearranged sentence. We roam the school corridors at breaktime, giggling. Finally he slouches into view, tall and wan, hair falling studiedly over his face. As we draw level, I ask her, casually, ‘How did your mother’s barbecue go last night?’ Best Mate whips round, looks the poor lad in the eye and exclaims, ‘HIM?!’

So, of course English girls swoon over pretty Euro cyclists, and we’re jolly keen on those Americans who look so delightful all covered in mud.  But sometimes, we hanker for a fellow who knows where we’re coming from. Someone who’ll laugh at our jokes, get on with our brothers, and who might even be nervous and cack-handed, like us, when it comes to chatting to people they, er, oh, you know. People they LIKE. You’re making us blush, now.

Martyn Irvine’s storming performance at the Track World Championships, bringing him two medals in the space of an hour, dragged our attention right away from the crossword. Golly! There was a chap with GRIT. And an Irishman, too! Every English girl likes to imagine she’s got a bit of Celt in her. Transfixed, we watched him digging ever deeper, holding on longer than we dared hope, finding the reserves for that last, game-changing push, and finally bringing off the impossible. Our teacups wobbled in their saucers. There he stood, bathed in the post-race glow, pushing his flop of ginger hair back from his glistening brow, his diffident, delightful attitude matched perfectly by his gentle Northern Irish brogue. And as a nation, we leapt from the sofa, strewing pussycats and Hobnobs left and right, and declared, ‘HOW DID YOUR MOTHER’S BARBECUE GO LAST NIGHT?!’


* I offered it to Minx as a guest post but she declined**. I’m still utterly devastated by this.

** She did say it was ‘hilarious’, though. [wipes eyes] [blows nose]

Merrily we cycle along

February 27, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Posted in language | 2 Comments
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In this newspaper article,  a motorist describes a cyclist as ‘merrily cycling along’ on the M25.

This led @Doctor_Hutch to wonder

Right. The motorist could mean the cyclist was riding along going ‘Hallo, birds! Hallo, trees!’ I’ve done this myself in the past, though it seems a bit unlikely on the M25. Was the motorist (dare we say it) taking the mick? We might suspect this, but could we be sure?

I put my linguist hat on (it looks a bit like this ô) and got to work.

First stop, the OED. I love the OED. If you have a library card from pretty much anywhere, its riches are yours for the absorbing.

Anyway. According to the OED, ‘merrily’ has more than one sense. There are some fairly literal ones:

  1. With exuberant gaiety, joyously; cheerfully, happily. Also, in early use (esp. of song or speech): †pleasantly, agreeably; brightly (obs.).
  2. With alacrity; in a brisk and energetic manner.

There’s an obsolete one:

  1. † Jokingly, facetiously; wittily, cleverly. Obs.

And there’s a disparaging one:

4. Blithely, heedlessly; with disregard of possible consequences or future implications.

Senses 1-3 have been in use since the 1370s. Sense 4 is a more recent addition: the first citation is from 1906.*

So does the motorist mean the cyclist is riding along joyously? Or is he implying blithe and heedless disregard of possible consequences? Now I was wearing my linguist hat, I wondered whether we could tell from the construction whether sense 4 was intended. Or do we need to be there – to hear intonation, maybe? Do we have to rely on clues from the context (a particularly joy-inducing section of the M25 – South Mimms to Potters Bar?)?

I went off to search the British National Corpus.**

My search gave me 160 sentences using the word ‘merrily’ which had been spoken or written by English speakers in natural contexts (i.e. no-one sat them down and told them what to say/write).

I mucked around for a LONG time looking at the meanings of verbs that co-occur with ‘merrily’, finding out all sorts of interesting-but-fairly-tangential things (e.g. that it’s frequently used to describe how people talk – people are always answering merrily, calling out merrily, chatting merrily, etc – and also that fires blaze, burn and crackle merrily quite a lot, and things tinkle, ring, whistle and chirp merrily (and no doubt quite irritatingly) too.) Verbs describing movement are often used with ‘merrily’ – people swing, skip about, dance and sail along merrily.

I also looked at which of the OED’s senses ‘merrily’ was being used in. (I ignored sense 3, as it’s obsolete, and rolled senses 1 & 2 into one, so I was just looking at whether ‘merrily’ was being used literally or not.) There was some overlap between these groupings and verb meanings – ‘merrily’ is generally used in a literal sense with verbs describing people’s speech and the sounds things make, and generally in sense 4 (non-literally or mick-takingly) with non-action, more abstract verbs like ‘accumulate’, ‘divvy up’, ‘go about your business’). But usage with verbs of movement (where ‘cycling’ should show up) followed no clear pattern.

So far, so frustrating. Then suddenly, in the shower, I thought: What about the placement of the adverb? Many adverbs are pretty flexible about where they go in a sentence. You can cycle merrily, or merrily cycle.

I ran downstairs, dripping, did the analysis, and you won’t believe this, but it’s the answer. Simply put:

  • If you put ‘merrily’ after the verb, you’re being literal.
  • If you put ‘merrily’ before the verb, you’re taking the mick.

So if someone says you were ‘cycling merrily along the M25’, you’re all right (if a little misguided). If they describe you as ‘merrily cycling along the M25’, you’re not.


The author and companion, merrily cycling/ cycling merrily* somewhere in Calderdale (*delete as applicable)

This works for 80 out of the 93 examples I ended up analysing. (Many of the others are phrasal verbs***, whose syntactic behaviour is less predictable. I may go back and look at them, as I like phrasal verbs: in fact I’m a bit obsessed with them, to the extent I wrote an academic paper on them).****

I was almost too scared to go back and look at the original article. But there it is: ‘merrily cycling’. (I did actually leap from my chair with both arms in the air shouting YES! when I saw this.) So the motorist *was* taking the mick. Yeah, yeah, I know. Like we’re surprised.

So, on your way. Merrily. The lot of you.


* This makes sense, of course, as it leans heavily on everyone already knowing the more literal uses of ‘merrily’, and understanding that it is now being used to create a different effect.

** If you want to search the BNC, I suggest using the Lancaster University interface ; you can sign up for free, and search the database in all sorts of exciting ways. As I only got 160 hits, I did my analysis by hand, but there are plenty of ways of doing clever searches with query syntax. Let me know if you want to do this – I’ve got LOTS of handouts.

*** Phrasal verbs (also called multi-word verbs, particle verbs, and a couple of other things I can’t remember) are combinations of a verb plus something that looks like a preposition, but isn’t. They’re distinguished from true verb + prepositional phrase constructions by having a non-literal meaning (i.e. the meaning is more than the sum of its parts). So ‘run up the stairs’ is verb + prepositional phrase; ‘run up a dress’ is a phrasal verb, ‘run up’, plus a noun phrase. Other examples: ‘look up (in a dictionary)’, ‘look after’, ‘think over’, etc.

**** There are also a lot of repetitions of ‘Ding dong merrily on high’ and ‘Row, row, row your boat, merrily…’ which I ignored.

read me something

February 25, 2014 at 11:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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We were chatting idly, yesterday, about how we don’t know what anyone sounds like on twitter. Despite my protestations that everyone sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch in my head, and I’m quite happy with this, people started describing their accents to me. A couple of people (including @_BLIXA_) said they would audioboo themselves reading something.

ASHURE 55s UNIDYNE MICROPHONE nd I thought, what a lovely idea. You record yourself reading a short text you love – a poem, a bit from a play, a chunk of a novel, a tech article from Cycling Weekly, whatever floats your boat – and I’ll put it on my new blog, and we all get to hear it. So not only do we know what you sound like, we get a little insight into something that’s special for you.

So here’s the newest of my bizarre side projects: text to speech. I’ve uploaded something, and so has @spandelles; I hope you’ll feel inspired to dig your favourite book out, and submit* something too.


* instructions on how to submit your recording are on the new blog

I start to suspect the internet is against me

February 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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How not to spend your morning:
1. Idly think ‘Oh, so much STUFF. I’m drowning in STUFF. How can I organise it all?’
2. Someone tweets about wonderful new online stuff-organisey thing (WNOSOT) that has changed their actual LIFE.
3. Google it. Wow! Looks cool.
4. Watch cheeky, peppy, ‘How it works! Look! So easy!’ video with jolly whistling on soundtrack.
5. Realise that, despite featuring woman on a bike and several dogs, cheeky, peppy, ‘How it works! Look! So easy!’ video doesn’t actually tell you how WNOSOT works at all.Woman on Bike
6. Oh well! Sign up anyway.
7. Sign-up attempts send you straight back to ‘Sign up for WNOSOT right now! So easy!’ page.
8. Try different browser. Same problem.
9. Try different password. Aha!
10. Think crossly that they could TELL you they don’t like passwords with alphanumeric characters, even though the WHOLE of the rest of the internet requires these, even .
11. Rejoice! You have WNOSOT account. Wonder what to do now.
12. Download browser extension. Looks like it worked, but you have to restart to see.
13. Restart computer. Make cup of tea while it considers shutting down.
14. Computer boots up. It worked! Add some random stuff to your WNOSOT account. Hehee!
15. Think ‘Ah! But most of the time I need to add things from my phone.’ Peruse list of apps.
16. Find third-party app that looks like it might work with Windows phone.
17. Search for it on Marketplace. Doesn’t exist.
18. Try another three. Find one that exists.
19. Click ‘install’. Windows Live! login fail.
20. Log in from computer. Get five captchas wrong while Windows Live! makes ‘DUH!’ faces at you.Valium Packaging
21. Finally get captcha right. Windows Live! promises confirmation code.
22. Another cup of tea while you wait.
23. Carrier pigeon delivers confirmation code! Reset password.
24. Log in on phone. App installs! Do happy dance!
25. Open app. Cryptic set of functions. No instructions. Hmm.
26. Open random webpage, hoping list of options has miraculously changed to include ‘Add this page to WNOSOT!’ Nope.
27. Check top of page. Little icon or something? Nope.
28. Try desktop version. Nope.
29. Search online for app instructions. Nope.
30. Email from WNOSOT. ‘We’re so excited you’ve signed up for WNOSOT! It’s so easy!’ Realise with sinking heart that the only way you can use WNOSOT is to cut and paste URLs and email them to your account.
31. Find yourself whistling jolly tune from cheeky, peppy, ‘How it works! Look! So easy!’ video.
32. Locate large pair of wire cutters and sever internet connection. Go and read book.Rock, Paper, Scissors

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