Hi ho Silver, awaaaaay!

I name my bikes. The Dawes Discovery 301 is Silver; the burgundy Coventry Eagle tourer is Trigger. It’s a bit girly, but they are the only two objects I have actually named. Silver is the real comfort bike: soft saddle, all-terrain tyres just wide enough to make Island roads bearable, but not as wide as mountain-bike tyres, which make for a slow ride. Trigger has the painful saddle, narrower tyres, drop handlebars, and a lighter frame, and is noticeably faster over the same regular journey to the post office.

Silver has been helping out with the hospital runs. October has thrown up some splendid days for cycling, and it’s been a real pleasure to be out on a bike. But the main aim is to cut the buses from the travel equation on the journey between Freshwater and Southampton. A bike means I can get to a ferry on time, and in Southampton don’t have to hang around for a bus after getting off the train. A journey that can take two and a half to three hours using public transport all the way has, at its best, been cut to 1 hour 55 minutes, front door to bedside.

Last Thursday, the ferry was spectacularly late and missed the connecting train at Lymington Pier. It was such a great day that, with 40 minutes spare for waiting for the next train and travelling to Brockenhurst, I decided to cycle instead. It’s a journey of just over five miles, along one of the New Forest’s busier roads, and it took just over 25 minutes – way off the pace I could set in my 30s, but perhaps understandable as it was gently uphill most of the way. I caught an earlier train to Southampton and avoided losing too much time to public transport.

And I won’t be doing it again in a hurry: comfort bike or not. Long-forgotten muscles ached for two days afterwards. But I’ve no doubt that circumstances will necessitate this short adventure again.

Cycling also brings you into contact with other cyclists. And while I was contemplating the pain of cycling a pitiful five miles extra in one day, I met a cyclist who does Lymington to Basingstoke in about three and a half hours (it takes an hour by car along mainly motorways). I felt decidedly lightweight.


J. – the video virgin

I’ve spent the past week or so sorting out a mobile broadband package and laptop for J. so she can keep in touch by email and messenger software while in hospital. We had the first link-up last night and managed to get the webcams working both ways, even though it was J.’s first time using messenger software. We used mobiles for the audio link, but I aim to get her set up for the audio side of the software shortly.

Friends who want to get in touch with her this way should let me know and I will pass on her email address and messenger ID.

I had no idea hospitals were so forgiving in the amount of technical equipment they allow patients to have. Perhaps it’s unique to wards where patients have to be in isolation from the germ-ridden world. And the idea came from J.’s neighbour in the next bed, who’d been set up with mobile broadband so her children – who are too young to be allowed into the ward – can see her.

I plumped for a T-mobile package. First, because it give coverage both here in Freshwater and in Southampton, therefore making it useful when J. comes home. Comparatively, 3 offers no coverage at home, yet this was the option pushed by the one mobile phone shop I went into to find out details. The salesman seemed put out that I wanted to go home and check coverage first before committing. Vodafone, Orange and O2 are comparatively patchy when it comes to reception of 3G signals, though Orange phones work OK at home. Second, and the killing argument on the deal, was that T-mobile doesn’t charge if you go over the 3GB monthly data limit (it instead aims to discuss your broadband usage); the cost of all the other mobile broadband deals goes through the ceiling if you exceed the data transfer limit.  Three gig is a lot, but it only takes six programmes on iPlayer to bust that limit. And we don’t know how much J. will use the system during her stay in hospital.

The cheapest overall option was a long contract, but with the potential to use it while out and about once J. is back means it will most certainly get used. Plus it works with my Mac. My Macbook may be my worst ever Mac, but I like the way it handles and presents email; even a Vista PC doesn’t do it for me in this area.

Jimjams also benefited from the deal. Her comparatively new computer has gone to hospital for J. to use, and a more powerful one has taken its place at home. Jimjams is doing graphics and art & design GCSEs, and needs to run the Adobe suite of Illustrator, Photoshop and so on; the previous laptop was mainly bought with wordprocessing, email and the like in mind. I’m impressed by the new machine, another HP laptop (J’s is also HP): they seem very well set up and work well, and when the evil Macbook dies I will probably abandon Macs for ever.

Email aside, I think Vista looks very good; I’m even running it on the Mac thanks to Bootcamp, which in effect turns the Mac into a dual OS laptop. I use the Mac for work, and the Vista side for entertainment – and for communication with J. via messenger. Unfortunately, the only Mac messenger software that supports a webcam appears to be iChat, which is about as effective as two tin cans linked by limp string when it comes to communicating with PCs, on which Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger predominate.

It begins…

J. gets fitted with her long line today and chemotherapy will start. Both she and I are in good spirits, buoyed by the evident skill, knowledge and optimism of her team on the leukaemia ward. Jimjams and I saw her on Sunday. J. has had a new, shorter haircut, skilfully done by one of the nurses.

I am coping surprisingly well. My day starts hours earlier than it used to and finishes hours later. The house is almost back in order and this week I hope to pick up the reins on work again. I may eventually get back on top of things.

Ted Briggs, last survivor from The Mighty Hood

HMS Hood sank with the loss of more than 1,400 men in the Battle of the Denmark Strait on 24 May 1941. The Mighty Hood, the emblem of British naval sea power in inter-war years, was lost in pursuit of the Bismarck. Fast, heavily armed but comparatively lightly armoured, the Hood typified the faulty thinking behind the idea of the battlecruiser, defects that were exposed in 1916 in the Battle of Jutland. The Hood was always earmarked for a vital upgrade to deck armour, but never received it; it was always more important to keep the Hood in action, a reassuring presence on the seas.

Its loss shocked a nation, already rocked by British military setbacks in the early part of the Second World War.

My great uncle, Hector Rae, served on the Hood. He was one of the 1,415 men who perished that day, and his name is commemorated on the war memorial at All Saints Church, Freshwater. Only three crewmen survived: William Dundas, Bob Tilburn and, the longest surviving of them all, Ted Briggs, who passed away on 4 October 2008.

Today, therefore, I pause to think about HMS Hood and the men who served on her.

I also stop to think about the men who served on the Bismarck. The sinking of Hood led to Winston Churchill’s imperative “sink the Bismarck”, in which aerial attacks by Fairey Swordfish, torpedo attacks by destroyers, and finally the guns of King George V and Rodney laid waste to the symbol of German seapower, which sank on 27 May 1941. Far more sailors died on Bismarck than perished on Hood: 1,995, making it technically a bigger naval disaster.

Many brave men died in the related actions. Ted Briggs was a remarkable survivor. Within a very short time of his rescue, he was serving on HMS Mercury. He has been a great figurehead for the Hood Association and will be missed.

HMS Hood Association: http://www.hmshood.com/