Catchphrase saved my life

Catchphrase, and a few other long-running gameshows that have stood the test of time, is one of those programmes that one can watch at just about any time and enjoy, which is very good for someone suffering with low mood or maybe just needs something to fill half an hour; it’s good light entertainment that anyone can get into and enjoy, even if they’re no good at getting the catch phrases.

Recently while learning how to cope with depression, I have been making good use of the on-demand services that are available these days, as well as YouTube clips; be it ‘Scenes We’d Like To See’ from Mock The Week or the entire back catalogue of Who’s Line Is It Anyway (surely the spiritual predecessor of Mock The Week), there are hours and hours of funny, light-hearted entertainment programmes available to watch at any time, great for filling those evening or late night times when sleeping is difficult and you just need a distraction from things that keep going through the mind.

That said, in this world of on-demand television programming where almost everything can be had straight away (sometimes for a price), it’s good to make a point of sitting down and watching something when it’s actually being aired, something to look forward to during the week and maybe gather the family or friends together, something to discuss the next day at the office (or school, if you’re younger).  Sometimes modern life seems so hectic and rushed, it’s good to make a regular appointment with yourself to do a certain thing or watch a certain programme, even if it’s just ‘sometime this week’, or even one episode a day.

When it comes to doing things, a list can really help; things to sell on eBay, crossing them off as they go, or working my way through my DVD collection, keeping track allows me to see progress, get a feeling that I’ve achieved something, making a daunting task smaller by breaking it down into manageable chunks.

 

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Chocolate review – Montezuma’s Sea Dog

First of all as this is my first review of the chocolate I eat let me say that I am a dark chocolate kinda guy, much prefer it over the usual milk chocolate we see a lot of on the supermarket shelves, I suppose it’s the more intense cocoa flavour as opposed to the very sweet taste of milk chocolate that I prefer, plus the idea that it’s better for me (less sugar and fat) and the more interesting flavour variations.

I first noticed Montezuma in a local scoop shop a few years ago, since then it’s been on my list of brands I know I will enjoy, along with Green & Blacks, Toblerone and Chocolate Orange.

Sea Dog – Dark Chocolate With Lime and Sea Salt

This is one of those combinations that one might initially have thought ‘No way!’ which is shortly followed by ‘Although… It could actually work…’ as the idea of those flavours mixing together go through the mind.

I’m not one to eat an entire bar of chocolate in one sitting, I tend to have a few chunks across a day, a single 100g bar might last me a week.

Having now finished this bar I can say it was better than it sounds, the taste combination could be considered entertaining as the subtle salty taste is followed shortly by a definite hint of lime, and don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all done with artificial flavours – the ingredients are 99% dark chocolate and then sea salt and lime oil, although it’s always a disappointment to read Soya Lecithin in there as an emulsifier (really not necessary, I’ve tasted plenty of great chocolate without it).

This bar is stated as vegan and free from gluten, colourings, preservatives & GM. More information available at the Montezuma website: https://www.montezumas.co.uk/

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Quick advice on low mood

Just a few things I have learned over the past few weeks and months while dealing with depression and my mood has been up and down…

Alcohol is a depressant.  It may seem like a good idea to drink to loosen up and forget about our woes for an hour or two, but ultimately unless we’re having a good time to start off with (e.g. out with friends) it will do more harm than good.  Best avoided if feeling a bit down, indeed on one occasion I started a glass of cider and just couldn’t bring myself to drink most of it, even the taste just seemed bitter to me, a disappointing waste of a perfectly good drink that I would have enjoyed under better circumstances.

Sugary foods can cause wild mood swings.  It may seem obvious, everyone probably knows that a lot of sugar will result in a sugar ‘high’, but then comes the ‘low’ and this is when things can turn bad.  A small amount of sugar should be OK, so one or two sweets after a meal, but a large slice of cake covered in icing sugar with a sugary filling is probably not OK; there are plenty of foods that contain high amounts of sugar too such as bread that can contribute to an unseen high intake of sugar.

Omega 3 is supposed to help improve mood, whether this is true or not doesn’t really matter that much, the idea that it helps may be enough for most people.  Oily fish is perhaps one of the best sources, such as fresh salmon from a fishmonger (poached or baked in tin foil) or nuts and seeds; having a selection of healthy snacks instead of sugary sweets while watching a film or evening TV is far better than sweets anyway, not least for our teeth.

On the subject of teeth, a little tip my dental hygienist told me was that it normally takes about 30 minutes for our mouth to ‘recover’ after eating, and it doesn’t normally matter whether it’s been sugary food or not, if we constantly snack or drink sugary / fizzy drinks then it’s like a constant barrage against our mouth and teeth; eating in one sitting and then only having neutral drinks (e.g. water) helps our teeth to remain strong; brushing should ideally be done at least 30 minutes after eating, as the harsh action will do harm when the mouth is still in ‘recovery’ mode.  So, if you’re going to have a snack in the evening it’s better to do it in one sitting, possibly finishing off with a slice of cheese which helps to neutralise mouth acid and also aids in the digestion of fat, then give your teeth a rest before brushing.

Finally, dark chocolate is a taste worth acquiring – much better than the cheap milk chocolate which is mostly just fat and sugar, a high cocoa content is said to actually help improve mood.  I certainly enjoy a good dark chocolate with a subtle flavour such as mint or orange, the taste alone helps to put a smile on my face, and the lower sugar and fat content means that it shouldn’t have too much negative impact health-wise (if eaten in moderation of course).  I find anything around 70% cocoa or higher is best, there are a few really interesting brands that I favour including Green & Blacks and Montezuma if you can find them, some supermarkets don’t stock the best ones, only the ones they think will sell the quickest.  Currently Sainsbury’s stock the Dark Chocolate Orange and Dark Toblerone which are also very nice.

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Facebook is a tricky customer

Facebook, the current favoured social interaction platform by most people.  I have a tendency to post silly things for my own amusement and in the hope that others will share my sense of humour, this doesn’t always work out well and has on more than one occasion caused major upset for the people involved; to cut a long story short, I need to be smarter about how I use Facebook, if I can’t be trusted to make sensible comments then I shouldn’t make them (as the old saying goes – if you haven’t got anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all), to remove temptation I have unfollowed several people, I will no longer see their posts in my Facebook news feed, however they are still on my friends list.  I don’t have a lot of people on my friends list to start off with, I don’t feel the need to friend someone just because they appear in the suggested list of ‘people I may know’.

The primary use for Facebook for me now is to find and interact with local interest groups, the idea being to try to find people to join in with in the real world, or also just to share photos and hints and tips for projects and hobbies.

One skill I need to learn is how to find like-minded people, potential real-world friends who share an interest or way of thinking with me; if I can make a few good friends in the process to share my interests with then it will help enormously to enrich my life and make those long working weeks worth while.  There is only so much one can learn and achieve alone with nobody to push us or inspire us, I need to be encouraged to go that bit further, to be that bit braver on the mountain bike trail, to create memories worth talking about.  I have been like this in the past, and I’m sure I can be again.

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A Bad Winter

Since my last post things have not been all that good, a family illness and family friends passing away / experiencing serious illness, not to mention all the doom and gloom in the news with uncertainty across the world at every corner and numerous famous people also passing away before their time, and the gloomy cold weather, all conspired against me (and I’m sure others).  I suffered ever lower moods until eventually I slipped into a depression, which manifested itself with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, that nothing could be done, nothing I could think of would make me feel better.  Through the strength and help of my family, friends, and the support of the NHS and a private therapist I am slowly regaining my strength of will, the spring weather has helped a lot with blossom, greenery, warm sunshine and a warm breeze at last.  My moods still swing up and down, my sensitivity to things being quite high still, not least being difficult social situations or bad news.  I remain optimistic that I will pull through but I do not expect things to ever be quite the same as they were before, indeed I wouldn’t want to return to that way as it was partly that which led me to my current situation; I must make changes to better my situation, make the most of the good points, try to minimise the effect of the less good things that I have less control over, and make opportunities for myself that I had previously dismissed as too difficult or unattainable.

There has been numerous stories in the news recently about the importance of mental health, wellbeing, and its role in overall fitness.  It is often overlooked or ignored, or worse still shunned as something to keep quiet about, however as I have learned first hand it is at least as important as physical health, and the two are very much linked in ways most of us probably don’t understand (or don’t want to think about).  Being physically unhealthy can lead to an unpleasant downward spiral of thinking it’s too difficult to become healthy, nobody will understand or be able to help, which leads to low mood and an unwillingness to do anything about it.  It’s not true though – there are people who can help, ways to help ourselves, it needn’t feel like a mountain to climb if the slopes can be turned into a series of easy steps.  I won’t go into the details here as it’s always best to get the help tailored to the individual’s specific needs, the first step should be to visit a healthcare professional for advice, preferably leading to a consultation with a specialist rather than relying on drugs alone (e.g. anti-depressants).

A few of the things that have helped me through the most difficult times have been watching comedy programmes, be it on TV, DVD, or online, a good action film to distract my mind for a couple of hours, going for long walks preferably with someone to talk with or just listen, and possibly most importantly trying to keep on doing the things that I would normally be doing – going to work, going out for a bike ride at least once a week (weather permitting), attending social events for interests or hobbies  (e.g. I am a member of the local astronomy group who hold monthly meetings), generally maintaining my appearance and hygiene.  All of these things are about being ‘mindful’ and staying in the present, it helps us to stop dwelling on our perceived problems be they real or hypothetical, and to just live in the moment.  One thing that I am repeatedly told is that what’s in the past is in the past, we cannot change that, the only thing we can do is learn from the past and use that to try to make the most of the present.

One of the most important things that I have learned through this experience is that we really are not alone, there are many people all across the world who suffer the same symptoms and go through the same feelings, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  The best starting point is to talk about it with someone, could be a friend, family member, a work colleague, or a doctor – just the action of talking about it often helps to relieve some of that unseen tension, then it’s a matter of taking it further to get the right help.

Looking back, I’ve now come to face what I’ve known I was doing wrong for many years but never wanted to admit it or do enough about it; in my case being a recluse really hasn’t worked for me, we are all social animals at heart and shying away from social interactions hasn’t been helpful.  I have been stupid, ignorant, and made plenty of mistakes that I didn’t learn from, I need to think smart and change my approach to certain situations.

This post is getting rather long so I will continue with specifics in future posts.

For anyone reading this who is feeling low or experiencing bad times, just remember that there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel even if you can’t see it right now, all you have to do is reach out and tell someone about it.

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Winter is here

It’s been a few weeks since I rode my mountain bike – we’ve had a few very rainy weeks so I decided to give my road bike some fresh air until the weather calmed down a bit, and this week it has so this seemed like a good time to get back out on the mountain bike.  This has also had a problem with the brakes which I wanted to sort out but as it’s been so bitterly cold recently I didn’t feel like standing around outside (when it wasn’t raining, that is) fiddling with the brakes, but now some milder air has arrived I’ve managed to sort out the brakes and the ground is looking slightly less flooded, hurrah!

With winter comes added responsibility for my own safety while riding on the public roads, which I do in order to get to and from the local mountain bike trails.  Some may scoff, but being seen on the roads is very important – I’d rather suffer a few giggles from ignoramuses than be hit by a car because they simply didn’t see me, perhaps they were distracted by a windscreen full of dirty road spray, who knows?  But if I am lit up and very visible they might just see me in time to take avoiding action.

With that in mind, it’s lights on and reflectors at the ready – namely pedal reflectors.  These are official Shimano pedal reflectors for the Shimano Saint pedals, a very shrewd by for anyone who rides these pedals on the road in poor light or weather conditions, which one should anticipate during the winter months.

Shimano Saint pedals with Shimano orange pedal reflectors

Shimano Saint pedals with Shimano orange pedal reflectors

I had these reflectors on these pedals last winter, they survived the trails despite a few pedal strikes on trailside objects (the reflectors are away from the pedal corners which is where most of the danger is).

I will be attaching front and rear LED lights that have built-in reflectors, even if the LEDs don’t shine then the reflectors should in car headlights.

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Brake Bleeding

This has been another of those new experiences for me, I learned as I went along the right way and also the not so right (or not so easy / necessary) way to do things…

My mountain bike has Magura hydraulic brakes, nothing unusual for a mountain bike, but not something I had ever had the courage to do anything with myself when they weren’t working as well as they should.  I don’t think this has anything to do with the fact that they are Magura brakes, all hydraulic brakes need maintenance or occasionally have problems when frequently used in a harsh environment (such as muddy trails), these particular brakes have worked brilliantly for me most of the time, only recently the left hand trigger has been getting closer and closer to the handlebar which meant less room to pull on the brake hard, I knew I had to try to do something about it so off to YouTube I went for some bike maintenance advice.

The first video I watched advised having two plastic syringes, one to pump fluid into the system (via a bleed nipple which is to be attached at the brake calliper) and the other to catch the fluid coming out of the other end (at the handlebar lever), it all seemed relatively easy so even I could manage it.  What I managed to do was purchase the wrong kind of syringe (a local shop sold me a farming syringe with a metal tip, I later learned that a plastic tip is much better for this task), spilled what seemed like a lot of brake fluid – it’s just mineral oil but is quite toxic if swallowed so needed cleaning up sharpish from the kitchen floor – and probably spent money that I didn’t need to on a bleeding kit.

Cut to the chase – here’s what I actually did that sorted out my problem, which was probably just a bit of low pressure in the hydraulic system for that lever (the back brake), after watching another YouTube video (which was shown to me by a local bike shop as an alternative method for bleeding the brakes, wish I had seen it to start off with!):

  • I slackened off the bolts keeping the lever in position so that it could be swivelled up to an almost horizontal position,
  • tightened the lever adjustment screw so that the lever was closest to the handlebar,
  • removed the screw / cap (it is a special screw so be very careful not to lose or damage it),
  • push a syringe containing suitable mineral oil firmly into the hole,
  • then push and pull on the syringe to force the oil in and out of the system, while also pulling on the brake lever several times.

I repeated this push/pull technique for a few minutes, during which I saw air bubbles rising into the syringe, clearly they were in the system from my earlier botched attempt; once they were out and I was happy that the lever was giving good pressure (and the syringe is not under pressure itself, i.e. I had not pushed or pulled on it hard, but it was at a mid-point), I removed the syringe from the hole while doing my best to catch the oil that flowed out a bit using a piece of kitchen roll, then fitted the screw back into the hole with just enough firmness to tighten it without breaking anything (perhaps 3nm or less).

Syringe in brake lever

Plastic syringe firmly pushed into brake lever hole

Closeup of the syringe inserted into the hole

Closeup of the syringe inserted into the hole

The brake lever should not touch the handlebar when pulling with normal pressure, it should stop about 10mm from it; I did wind out the levers about two turns of the screws in order to give more lee-way for a really firm pull on the lever before adjusting the levers back to their original angles.

Job done, and all I needed was some mineral oil and one large plastic syringe (I actually purchased mine very cheap from a local farm equipment shop, they are designed as use-once-throw-away items for use with farm animals most likely, but similar ones can be found on eBay for about the same price).  For mineral oil I splurged on Magura Royal Blood, which is just blue mineral oil from what I’ve been told; thought I might as well stick with what’s already in the system.

This method would probably work for most normal mountain bike hydraulic brake systems, it’s just fluid and air after all, although there are some makes/models that have special requirements so best to consult advice before making any purchases or attempting anything, and check more than one YouTube video on the subject for your exact system.

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Beware Cheap Goods – Tamiya Adaptor Wired Incorrectly

I’d previously purchased some Deans to Tamiya battery adaptor cables with the intention of using them with vehicles that still had Tamiya battery connectors if I bought batteries with Deans, or vice-versa, but didn’t find the need to use them until now.  I’d recently purchased a new battery that came with a different type of connector all together, but it came with an adaptor to Deans which was fine because I had wired up my new Trail Finder 2 for Deans, however I’d also changed the connector on my only other LiPo to Deans which meant that my Axial SCX10 would need to use one of the adaptors.  With me so far?

I plugged in the adaptor to the SCX10 but as soon as I tried to connect it to the Deans plug on the battery it sparked like crazy, like there was a short; I checked to make sure the battery was OK on the charger and also tested the connector on the SCX10, all looked to be fine – no shorts, charges and balances OK, so I tried it again this time with the Deans end already connected to the battery, the connector in the adaptor actually burned out from the brief moment it was touching!  Handy fuse-like protection, which made me think that perhaps an in-line fuse wouldn’t be such a bad idea, but it still didn’t make any sense.

A quick google for sparks when connecting Tamiya revealed others that had experienced the same thing – it transpired that, like a forum poster I found, the adaptor was wired incorrectly, rather scary that these items are sold for batteries that pack such high current.

Fortunately I was able to push out the connectors in the Tamiya plug on the adaptor and swap them over, it all worked fine after that (luckily no damage was done to battery or model).  The moral of the story is that Tamiya connectors have positive (red) to the square hole, negative (black) to the half-rounded hole.

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RAM Mounts are GO!

I’ve had my Garmin Dakota 20 and a RAM Mount for a few years now, I originally had it mounted on my Claud Butler hybrid bike which became my first ‘exploration’ bike for getting back into cycling almost ten years ago now, however I had definitely out-grown that bike so I let it go to a friend, and although I kept the RAM Mount it didn’t fit my new cyclocross bike so it sat unused in a drawer, I carried the Garmin in my jersey pocket mostly just for recording the GPS trace.

Recently I decided that I missed having the Garmin road route facility, and with a renewed desire to explore new roads I thought this would be the time to look again at the RAM Mount to see about fitting it to the cyclocross bike somehow.  The problem is that the bars are already jam-packed with bar tape, cables, a cycling computer, and a bell, leaving no room at all for the RAM Mount; the only place left was the stem and that was far too thick for the old mount diameter.  After a false start with a seller who repeatedly sent me the wrong thing, I eventually tried a different seller who sent me the correct thing and I was able to fit my old RAM Mount to the new stem, hurrah!

RAM Mount attached to handlebar stem

RAM Mount attached to handlebar stem

Dakota 20 in the RAM Mount

Dakota 20 in the RAM Mount

The photo above isn’t quite what I see when riding the bike, my body and head are further forward so the cycling computer is easily visible.

I have contemplated treating myself to a dedicated cycling GPS but while the Dakota 20 does such a good job and is also useful for just about any other outdoor activity (including car sat-nav duty) I could not justify the cost of something that would provide everything I already have, and I doubt I would really benefit from the extra cycling bits such a dedicated GPS could provide.  Maybe one day when I have money to burn.  Two things I am considering adding to this setup are a heart rate monitor and cadence sensor, the Dakota 20 can record this info, I already have the Tempe sensor for recording the temperature as I ride / hike; these would mainly be for my own amusement, I’m not thinking about entering any competitions or massive fitness push, it’s just interesting to see how I would compare to others and how these things change over time.

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New 11-32 Cassette, New Chain Rings

I like a challenge when it comes to cycling, especially where hills are concerned.  I’ve ridden up most of the hills that are in cycling distance from my house, some I can still only do (and can only ever imagine myself doing) on the mountain bike with its very low gearing, some I have battled up on the cyclocross bike with the mostly-road gearing, some I really wanted to and tried to get up on the cyclocross bike but was defeated, so I cheated – I bought lower gears!  The cyclocross bike came with an 11-28 cassette, all fine and well, but after having gone to an 11-32 cassette I may never look back, that extra few teeth in the lowest gear was enough to enable me to get up those climbs that had previously defeated me, what’s more I frequently don’t use that 32 tooth gear as I’ve become so used to 28, the 32 is there as a reserve in case things get really tough for me.  This has worked brilliantly for me and, coupled with removing the clipless pedals, given me the confidence to tackle longer and steeper hills that I might otherwise have bailed on, thus I get even stronger in the legs and lungs for even better hill climbing.  It’s all about what works for you, and this definitely works for me right now.

There are a few YouTube videos on the subject of fitting an 11-32 cassette to a Shimano 105 group set, the key factor seems to be the medium cage derailleur, which fortunately for me my bike already had; the short cage is easy to recognise because it looks really short, the jockey wheels are very close together.  With the medium cage 105 derailleur there is just enough gap between the top jockey wheel and the 32 tooth sprocket on the cassette to allow the gears to operate without interfering with one another.  I can testify that I haven’t had any trouble with gear shifting or pedalling, I just had to adjust the positioning screw fully in to move the derailleur downwards away from the cassette.  It even works fine on the 46T chain ring, though I try not to ride in that configuration, it is better to use the smaller chain ring (36T here) when in lower gears on the cassette.

Shimano 105 medium cage derailleur with 11-32 cassette

Shimano 105 medium cage derailleur with 11-32 cassette

Gap

Gap between the top jockey wheel and the 32 tooth sprocket is minimal but just enough for free movement and perfect operation

A new chain is always recommended when fitting a new cassette, plus it was a different cassette so the chain length would be longer; I went for a good quality KMC chain.  I kept my old chain and cassette to one side in case I need them at a later date.

Unfortunately after fitting the new cassette and chain, and feeling rather pleased with myself that it was all working smoothly, I noticed a click-tok-tick on my next ride out, most annoying!  Having just fitted a new 11-32 cassette and chain, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the chain rings that were causing the problem – perhaps they were worn and the new chain wasn’t sitting on it correctly?  Maybe there was a tooth snagging the chain as it went round?  Experience now tells me that there are other things to check before spending money on parts but I am still relatively new to home bike maintenance.

The new chain rings are the same ratio that I took off but look much more snazzy, they were purchased online from Spa Cycles.

New chain rings

New chain rings from Spa Cycles. 46T/36T BCD/110mm 7075/T6

The annoying click-tok-tick was still there, slightly different but definitely there.  I was hoping I wouldn’t have to remove the crank and bottom bracket, something that I have never done before, but this seemed like the only thing left to check.  I ordered a tool to remove the MegaEVO BB Cups (identifiable by their rounded front profile, the official FSA tool is a closed ring spanner and I would not want to use anything else for risk of slipping or otherwise damaging the slots and/or bike frame) to check the bearings and once that arrived set to removing the bottom bracket.  This turned out to be far easier than I had imagined, it just took a large Allen/hex key, a bit of leverage, and a big rubber mallet to tap the crank arm out.  Inside I found the orange shaft did indeed have some tiny pieces of grit on it, as did the cup bearing surfaces, so after plenty of careful cleaning with dry paper towels later I simply reversed the process to replace the crank shaft and tighten it all up, the torque amount isn’t that important so long as it’s good and tight, as this is an alloy frame not carbon – if I was tightening anything into carbon then I would definitely use the correct torque.

Test ride and the click-tok-tick is gone!

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