Sunday, 17 November 2013

Is cycling in London safe?

You bet it is! To be honest, I'm sick and tired of the media blowing things out of proportion. Yes, there were an increased number of deaths, and yes it's very sad and my heart goes out to the loved ones, but it doesn't mean it's not safe to ride on London's roads. I'm German, used to riding on the other side of road, and in separate cycling lanes; I came here in 2006 and started cycling again in May/June 2008, I believe. Wow, reading this, I can't believe I didn't cycle for about a year. Well, I worked in a pub close to my house and therefore didn't need a bike. It were wild times ...
Back to when I started to work near Old Street and lived in Stokey. After taking the bus to work every day, having to wait for ages until it came, having to stand, squeezed next to strangers' bodies, having to pay for this unwanted entertainment, and always being in a rush, I'd had enough and decided to buy a bike. Got myself a new mountain bike with locks, lights, and a high visibility belt (no helmet), and off I went. My gosh, how liberating that was. Being able to cycle from door to door--without any form of delay, not having to deal with someone's morning breath, or having to listen to anyone's stupid phone conversations on the bus. I enjoyed every second of the twenty to twenty-five-minute journey. After three months, the bike had paid for itself. And I felt vitalised and awake when I arrived at the office. In fact being back to cycling made me so happy that my manager, encouraged by my enthusiasm, got herself a bike, too. She loved it just as much as I did. Because the job didn't pay enough to pay for the bills, I had to take on another one at the weekends (sometimes during the week). This had me cycling in the evening and night (8pm/4am) to Soho and back. Whatever the weather, I cycled--even in the snow or freezing cold. It's not as enjoyable if it's really cold, when you need at least ten to fifteen minutes to get warm, but I still prefer it to public transport. I did, every now and again, take the bus, but every time I had to wait for 30+ minutes waiting for the often crammed vehicle, I thought to myself that I would have been home by then if only I had come by bike.
I've now been cycling almost every day since 2008, been from Finsbury Park to Hammersmith and other parts of the city and back, and never felt unsafe. Not once. I've since then got rid of the high visibility belt; although it's still hanging on a hook in my hallway. I've sold on my beloved mountain bike, for I changed to Viscount racing bicycles and am still enjoying every ride in and around London.
We had discussions on a forum where I firmly stand by my opinion that cycling in London is safe if you're experienced, know your abilities, and pay attention to everything going on around you. I still cycle without a helmet and even listen to music while cycling. It's not distracting me, but acts more like a white noise in the background. Due to my ADHD, I find I concentrate much better when listening to music. And I can still hear the traffic--even cyclists behind me. I'm also someone who takes 'calculated risks' such as weaving through traffic when there's a queue at a traffic light, or even--naughty me--jumping red lights when there's no pedestrian in sight. Yes, yes, all against the rules, but I'm hardly going to kill myself or someone else if there's nobody to run in front of my bike, is there? To be honest, there's a road nearby, where I have seen some near-misses that would probably have ended fatal when cars literally speed through red lights and the accident was only avoided due to the cyclists' quick reactions. A cyclists, who slowly rides through a red light when there's no pedestrian in sight, is harmless in comparison. It still doesn't make it legal, but you won't hear about pedestrians being killed by cyclists, right? And just to be clear, I never risk my life at any point, meaning, I would not go through a junction's red light. Unlike a bloke I observed, not only jumping a red light at a difficult to overview junction, but he did it freehand. That's just plain stupid.
My friend came to visit me in May and we cycled through London. She said she felt super safe with me as I was not only looking out for myself, but also for her. Next year, I've decided, we're going into the city, take it up a notch, and I'm sure she'll still feel safe. Experienced cyclists can adapt to anywhere; they usually know that once you rely on others' abilities to look out for you, you're closer to death than you wish. Cycling, not only in London, means you have to anticipate everyone else being an idiot. That, at least for me, has avoided a few collisions in the past.
If you are scared to cycle in the city or elsewhere, but would like to use the bike that's been rotting in your shed, please get in touch on Twitter (@stelladeleuze) or via e-mail. I'd be happy to help you find your feet (pedals) in London's busy traffic. And, of course, I'd not guide you through red lights, that goes without saying.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Virgin mobile: round two

After the last two disappointing days trying to obtain a new, 3G-accessible mobile, I was almost about to give up. Here's what happened so far; you need to scroll down to the second half.
Today, I was back in the shop, determined to walk out of there with my desired item, anticipating never getting lost again. Since I'm not a mega user, I wanted something simple, but with a good camera; something that didn't cost too much so I could use my 30 pounds rewards/credit against it and would have a new, fancy phone without having to slash out. Well, it worked ... almost.
Miraculously, the system was working again. Yay! My heart did a tiny leap. Unfortunately, the feeling didn't last long: they logged into my account and asked, matter of factly, if I wanted to use my 10 pounds credit against it. Huh, come again? Yes, it clearly stated 10 pounds. I felt the heat rushing to my cheeks as I replied that it's impossible, that my credit showed 30 for months and even yesterday, when I'd been on the website. What had happened to the other 20?
I was informed that the credits are changing, depending on the amounts and frequency of topping up. Right, I thought, despite this being a shite system, you cannot deny me what I rightly owned up until yesterday. Website updating or not. I asked them to call someone to clarify. So they did. I spoke to customer service, who wanted to first give me back 15 pounds as a 'good will' gesture. I declined and said that they've taken 20 pounds off me due to their system being down, and that we wouldn't have this conversation right now, had I walked in yesterday to get that phone, as the 30 pounds were still there. Dutifully, she went back to the resolutions team and returned with a 'last and final offer of 20 pounds'. Which I thought was okay. It was just what was rightly mine, correct? I asked if I could now pay the 19.99 and walk out of the shop, which she confirmed. Phew! I was almost there and couldn't believe it had only taken about an hour. But when we went online, it still showed 10 pounds. What the fuck?
Again, I asked if they could call someone to sort this out; my patience wearing thin ...
This time I asked to be put through to the manager, because I've had enough and wanted a solution. And I think the staff in the shop was sick and tired seeing me, too. The manager then explained that she couldn't put up the rewards, but she could put 20 pounds credit on my phone to use. O .... kay.  Of course this was a 'one-off', and a favour, etc, but I had to pay 39.99 for the phone, which would have cost me 19.99. Even though I now have credit to use, they basically forced me to top up 20 pounds, which I didn't plan. At least not this month. And the 10 pounds rewards are now still sitting unused in my account, because I couldn't use it, for I got a 10-pound discount for being a Virgin broadband customer. The real winner in this? Virgin.
After about two hours, I left the shop, rather unsatisfied with this kind of customer service. If it had been me, I'd have send the bloody phone with Royal Mail for 20 pounds and apologised for the inconvenience. In the end, it wasn't my fault that their system was down and that I had to come back three times and spend hours on the phone with them to get things on the way.
The whole thing spoiled the fun of the new phone. So, people, what do we learn from this? Go and grab your rewards when they're the highest and that pronto.

Edited to add that I just checked my account online and even the 10 pounds rewards are gone. So I effectively now lost 10 pounds. A formal complaint will follow.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Virgin (im)mobile

I'm one of those users who don't need anything else than broadband. I don't have a telly, and I don't have a stereo, just my laptop for e-mails, Twitter and Facebook, some fora, and catching up with documentaries or watching films. Unfortunately, I don't have a choice as there are no other companies who offer broadband only. Virgin, with its call centre in India (or wherever) is a pain in the arse to deal with. As you know, I recently moved from one flat to another in the same building and even took my modem with me. It took them three whole weeks to come and connect me. To make matters worse, they charge me a fiver more for the same package I had, despite my telling them I don't want to change anything. Before the move I paid 18.50, now they charged me 23.  So I called and asked them how it can be possible. After a long back and forth and transferring me to the right person--someone in the UK--I'm now paying 18.50 again, having had to agree to an 18-months contract. Fine by me, I can't switch anyway. Besides, once Virgin is connected, it's going fine. In the six years I've been with them, I only had troubles to connect on three occasions and got reimbursed by Virgin for the times missed. Nevertheless, I had asked for a loyalty discount when I spoke to the call centre before I moved flats, and they assured me they'll do whatever they can. Well ...

Now on to Virgin mobile. I only have a PAYG tariff, because I'm not exactly one who's constantly on the phone, or texting. In fact, I hate texting. So a contract wouldn't make any sense to me. If I need to call a landline, I use Skype. However, after my last 'getting lost' while cycling to a certain destination, I decided I've had enough and need a phone that's capable of accessing Google Maps. Went online, checked out the phones, picked one and called Virgin. All fine, until they said their courier is Yodel. After the (un)wonderful experience with that company last time, I told the lady from Virgin that, in that case, I'd rather get the phone from the shop. Great, I thought, saves me anger and hassle with Yodel and eight quid. Win/Win.
Went to the shop the very next morning--to learn their system was down. They couldn't access my account and credits. Uh! I was assured I'd be called when this issue was resolved. I nodded and waited ...
Today, I thought I'd be clever and call Virgin, before I cycle the fifteen minutes to the shop. The non-British lady from the call centre didn't understand what I was talking about. I explained again and she assured me the issue was resolved. Yay!
With anticipation I headed over to Wood Green, having to wait for twenty minutes until someone could speak to me, to learn--that the system's still down. Plus, while I was there, the phone rang and rang. When it was my turn I told the guy to please answer it. Took ages, but, hey, one happy customer on the other side of the line. When he put the phone down he apologised, saying that's why he never answers the phone. Huh, Virgin, is that how you see good customer service? Two overworked people in a shop with a queue of people waiting, ignoring the phone? Not fixing your system? For the overpriced costs I would think you can employ a few people who can sort this out, don't you think?

Monday, 11 November 2013

The cake that travelled through London

Bethnal Green Rd. in the rain
As you know, I haven't had much luck regarding my flat of late, and consequently, I'm looking for a different place. Something quiet, something with a garden or enough storage for my bikes, and most of all: something without any pest. I haven't seen a cockroach in days, but I don't trust the peace. And, I don't know if I mentioned it, my landlord isn't exactly easy to deal with. That's a major understatement, by the way. In the past few weeks I've seen some places, most of which had me shake my head. One flat, advertised as 1-bedroom house, was in fact a tiny 1-bed flat. Yes it had a wonderful garden with potential; it also had a mouse on a sticky trap--next to a large beetle. The young man, who showed me the flat, shuddered and looked as if was about to throw up.
Next property was equally tiny, and not even the one shown in the pictures. Disappointing. In addition to this, it was in an area I neither was comfortable in, nor was it central enough for me. Yes, I do want to stay in zone 2 as I'm cycling everywhere and like the proximity of the city, although being far enough from the tourist areas. Ideally, I'd like to stay near Finsbury Park, but prices have gone through the roof here. A small studio/bedsit starts at about 900. That's impossible, if you ask me. Finsbury Park has become more and more of a 'to go to' place, since Stokey and Dalston are trendy these days. I admit, I love both areas, and I've lived in Stokey for over five years, but that before it got clogged with mustaches and 70s goggles.
Here, in Stroud Green, I'm close to Holloway, Camden, the City, and my boxing club. I also love Finsbury Park. A lot. Unfortunately, if you don't work in IT or share, it's far too expensive, hence my widening the area. My flat seems to be a bargain but, as mentioned above, it comes with too high a price.
Today, I viewed a 'glorified studio' (the agent's words, not mine). It was on Bethnal Green Road, which not only isn't really where I want to live, but also quite loud. Upon entering the flat, we stood in the galley kitchen. Well, it was the little hallway of the flat. To the left and and right were two small rooms, one to the front, the other to the back, where loud grunts and moans echoes in the tiny (not accessible) backyard. Turned out a gym's widow also lead to that backyard. Fabulous! The little bathroom was just enough to walk in and out again. The flat was also dirty. And the whole lot was available for 750 plus bills. Yeah, thanks, but no thanks.
Anyway, disheartened, I said goodbye to the agent, climbed onto my bike and went to get myself a caramelatte. It washed down the experience of flat-viewing  nicely. While I was there, I also decided to take home a banana-pecan cake, which I placed in my basket and chauffeured through London's drizzle. I'll certainly enjoy this well-travelled delight after dinner. Speaking of which; I'll have to go.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

It's green, it's huge, and it's hungry

Yes, I'm talking about Zorro. It's been a while since I've posted anything about him and I think it's time for an update. This year's mating season was surprisingly short (phew), which means less chances of him losing weight or injuring himself. Instead, he's decided to eat for three and grow. Not that he was tiny before that, he just didn't shed. I'm still mystified as to how he was able to grow that big without shedding at least a few times a year.

A laid back Zorro
However, I was wondering how much he actually needed to eat. I mean, of course, I feed him twice a day, in the morning and in the evening (five or six ish), but he always acts as if I'd left him starving for days. So I tried to find out what his 'demands' are. I gave him a massive plate of spring greens, coriander and tomatoes; he ate until he was done and left the rest, which was only a few leaves. Good, I thought, no need to worry, then, as I was bang on with his portions. To be honest, I've had iguanas for decades, but never ones this big; my girl was a good eater, but even she wouldn't have gobbled up the amounts. So this test was quite good.
I've also noticed that he's more prone to being grumpy when he hasn't had his food, which means I need to be careful around him. As soon as he's got a full stomach, he's quite fine to handle. In general, he's become more calm, almost laid back, around me. I can now go near him, without having to let my hair down. Okay, he still hates red and other colours, but, normally, I can approach and even pet him without getting attacked. That's a major plus, methinks.

Yep, he's not exactly small
I suspect it's got to do with my being a lot more relaxed. Animals react to human emotions, and iguanas aren't the exception. Every time when something stresses me, he's on edge, too. Coincident? I don't think so.
So here's hoping that Zorro and I will live a happy ever after. And if that's not a reason to smile, I don't know what is.

Give us a smile

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Yodel, serious contestant of most incompetent service

Stella no shoes
I've never used this company before, nor will I in future. And it seems that I'm not the only one; their Twitter feed is littered with complaints about parcels not arriving, left on the street, notes without consignment numbers left in places where everyone can just grab them, etc. What I've experienced today tops my wildest dreams.
Last week, I ordered a pair of boxing shoes from SportsDirect. It was a particular online offer, shoes in my size were quite a bit cheaper than in the store and since I'm a bit of cheapskate, I thought, why not? I received a message from Yodel who informed me that the parcel would be delivered in two working days. Wonderful, I thought, I can finally go back to boxing, and I was rather much looking forward to. Yesterday morning, I looked at the reference number they'd texted me and found my parcel to be out for delivery for today, Tuesday, 5th of November. All hunky-dory. Or so I thought.
Today, I was all excited, anticipating the arrival of said boxing shoes, and just to see what the status update was, I checked the reference to find out that the parcel had been delivered. Huh? But why has nobody rang my buzzer? It's a very loud one, you can't possibly not hear. Unless you're deaf, but since there's nothing wrong with my ears ...
Well, I thought, maybe they rang a neighbour's door and left the parcel in the hallway--something that happens regularly, but I'd have expected them to try my buzzer first, right? Downstairs greeted me with the usual mix of random flyers, but no parcel. I wondered if the new neighbours may have taken it in, but couldn't imagine it, plus surely the driver would have left a note for me?
Deflated, I went upstairs again, to check if I could find who signed for the parcel. No answer to that, but I found out that, apparently, yesterday I went down to the depot to collect it myself(!). Again, huh? I had my arse firmly placed on my couch at 6.31pm, a plate of delicious home-made curry in front of me. Unless I am unknowingly capable of astral-projecting, it wasn't me who collected the parcel and signed in my name(!).
Fuming, I called the pay-high-charges-because-that's-how-we-make-our-money number to unload my frustration. The poor sod (not unexpected) couldn't do anything else than apologise and advise to call SportsDirect--he even gave me their number and told me to choose option 2. (Happens a lot that customers call and complain, by any chance?)
With steam coming out of my ears, I called SD on an equal who-cares-about-the-high-charges-you're-just-a-customer number and complained. They couldn't do much either--now that's a real surprise--but promised to investigate, which may take up to ten days. Oh, great, I thought.
I then went on to Twitter, as a fellow sufferer suggested, and tried to get those Yodel Twitter-monkeys, who are all cheery (yes) and helpful (not) to shed some light onto the situation, but even they left me hanging as they 'hadn't heard back from the depot'. Nice job, Yodel.
The problem now is, that the online offer from SD is gone, and therefore my bargain shoes. Yodel's confidently handed them over to someone else, leaving me that enraged, I just want to punch a bag. But wait: I ain't got no boxing shoes to go to training! Thanks a bunch, you twats.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Some people take longer than others

There's a lot you can say about me, but 'afraid to try out new things' isn't one of them. I've always been open and curious about new things and therefore have tried a lot of jobs. Some of them were more adventurous than others, some were short-lived, some lasted a bit longer, but none of them made me happy. Okay, writing or editing came pretty close, but given the amount of effort I put into them, and the rather meager outcome sales-wise, plus the fact that it quickly became more painful, it was clear it wasn't something I could do for a living. Since I've stopped writing in January this year, I haven't missed it. Not one bit. This doesn't mean I will never write again, in fact, just recently I started to think about the 3rd book in the Branded series as I hate unfinished things. There's plenty of material for the 3rd book, but I can't bring myself to sit down and write. As you can see, even blogging has become more irregular than a year ago. I'm waiting until desire gets a hold on me and, with the return of the muse, I'll get writing. When and what, I don't know, but any time and anything will do, really, just to see if I still have it in me--the passion for it.
Speaking of passion: as you know I am a keen user of the order system of the Universe. Not in a religious way or so, but just to help Hope along a little. I think the Universe delivered and, as always, when I expected it the least. When I decided to buy Shawn (my red racing bike) I had no idea what was coming my way. Oblivious, I signed the Universe's delivery note and forgot about it-- until I found out how much fun fixing bikes is and how much there is to learn. For the past four months, I've worked in a bike shop, hands-on, and even qualified as a bike mechanic. A bike mechanic! Of all the jobs in the world, I wouldn't have thought of that option, despite my having cycled for all of my life, and always been someone who loved her tools. I  never pictured myself as a grease monkey. My ideas were more in the region consultancy, insurances. Something where I could dress smartly and help people make the right decisions. That was until I figured that smart dress code isn't something I'm keen on--unless I decide to on a special occasion. Jeans, long sleeve, or hoodie, that's more the real me. A typical tomboy, really. So, the bicycle business seems to be the right place for me. But how come I didn't even think about it before? It feels as if I haven't used the strategy of asking myself what I'm good at and what I want to do, but took the long-winded way of doing ridiculously many things to rule out what I don't want to do. Guess it's better to get there in the end, rather than having to wake up to yet another dull day at work you hate. I know I cannot go wrong when it comes to working with bikes. Every day is different, even though most tasks are the same.