Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sunday Top Five: Hardest physical challenges so far

'Tis a mere speedbump!
1. Col De Derriere - Libya, Summer 2010:  A 90km ride with a slight climb in 40 deg heat. Reality didn't match Google Earth, meaning a 30km ride back with about 1/4 of a water bottle. Me & my cycling buddy collapsed in our cars, unable to speak and only capable of sipping water without vomiting. Fun!

2. Un-named training ride - Libya, Summer 2009: A 180km solo ride on the flat, again 40 deg C. Despite over 1 litre of water per hour and taking salt tablets, I got severe cramps in both legs with 25km left to go. It was only when my boss called on my mobile that I found out my throat was so parched, I'd lost my voice. My legs were twitching all afternoon once I got home.

Knockburn Oly
3. Knockburn Olympic distance triathlon - Aberdeen, Summer 2008: 1500m swim, 40km bike but as soon as I put on my running shoes to begin the 10km run, an old injury came back and my calf exploded. The run is a hilly on/off road course. It hurt. Alot.

4. Edinburgh University Sprint Triathlon - Edinburgh, March 2008:  750m swim in the pool, then run outside in wet clothing & barefoot. It was snowing. 20km bike in the wind & snow, then a 5km run. I couldn't feel my feet at all on the run. It took a long, hot shower to recover. I love this race as a season starter.

5. Challenge Barcelona - Ironman distance triathlon, Barcelona October 2008: Amazing swim, apart from having to be lifted out of the sea as both legs cramped as I tried to stand up. But I found the 180km bike ride so dull I began to think about things like why not give Pandas alcopops to get them drunk enough to mate ? The 40km run was tough when they ran out of coke (for sugar and caffeine) and again, the run route was so boring.  This was mentally the hardest thing I've done. Yet....

Thursday, 28 October 2010


"Together Everyone Achieves More" say the motivational posters. Teamwork is essential for success and the loner is the loser.

I like to tell people that I'm a team player, although I make sure the sarcasm is impossible to miss. It's also fairly obvious from my favoured out of work activities that I prefer to do things on my own. Although if questioned in a job interview I would point out that I have raced as the runner in a team triathlon and that our victory was due to the combined efforts of all team members giving it their all. And it wasn't just because there were no other teams entered in our division.
At work I prefer to work alone then I don't have to rely on other people, wait for them or correct their mistakes. In sport I like to push myself, improve on my own performance and have the freedom to do what I want. If all else fails, I blame my dislike of team sports on my parents!

This week the boss decided that something needed to be done to try and boost the flagging morale of the workers in the office and in our warehouse. It's easy to knock his efforts but at least he is trying to address some of the issues we have here and I'm 100% for it, as long as I don't have to be actively involved.
My reaction had already been predicted by him and his co conspirator and my protestations that I was a "lone wolf", "an independent operator" or simply that "I hated that kind of sh*t" and was going to be "busy that afternoon" fell on deaf ears. The prospect of seeing me forced to participate in some crappy team event with a bunch of guys from the workshop who I never have the need to deal with or ever see was clearly too appealing to them. They had me cornered and on the ropes. But the best form of defence is attack, and inspired by a bottle of white wine, I came up with a plan  that was nothing short of genius. I wouldn't run from this challenge, I would embrace it in a big boozy hug and make it mine.

There will be a team building event, with randomly picked teams competing for a prize over a series of challenges that will involve a combination of speed, strength, logic, languages and of course teamwork. It will be held at a series of locations, culminating in a BBQ where everyone can socialise and me & Andy can get drunk. However this was my idea and I'm the only one who has experience of organising anything like this. I sold it to the boss by saying that organising something like this required as much team work as participating, but not to worry as I'd take charge. I'll knock up a proposal and budget this weekend, close the sale on Sunday and then work out ways to make my puppets dance for me. 

I'm actually looking forwards to it now, I just hope my boss isn't sat at home, rubbing his hands together and thinking "hook, line & sinker...."

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


I've had two tough decisions to make this week:

1) My boss asked me if I'd like to be "Sales Manager". It's in quotes as I believe it wouldn't be an official job, recognised by HR, it's just a job title he'd give me, along with 80% of his  work load, a hell of a lot more responsibility and equal amounts of stress. In return, I might get my own office, but I'd get no more salary. Or I can keep on doing the boring job I do now, with next to no stress, for the same money. Whilst I admire his new found enthusiasm for trying to motivate his staff, I can't believe he'd think I'm that gullible. No wonder there's a mass exodus from the company right now.

2)The Dog. You've seen the pictures, it's a puppy. It's cute etc.... And I've wanted a dog for ages, but never had the right house for one. I didn't even have to go out and choose one, this one was delivered free to my door. But I've no idea where I'm going to be living in the next year. If it's Libya, the U.S or Australia then great I could keep the dog, if  it 's Balikpapan then I couldn't.  I don't want to be in the position where having a dog controls my job options or have to give it away in 6 months time when we've both become attached to each other. Better to let it go now so it can have a decent home with people who're a bit more settled.

Fortunately, we have an English couple coming today to take him. I wasn't going to let him go to a Muslim family, at least not Libyans, they have no idea how to treat animals. I guess ours was lucky to be dumped near to us, he got some food, a bath, a trip to the vets and a cuddly toy.  In return he's made me realise I want my own dog and that if I can have one at my next location I'll try to take one from a shelter. That'd give me 3-4 years before moving again and having to work out how to take it with me next time.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

A Sunday Top Five

Top Five Bars That I Can Remember

  1. Gullivers - Bangkok : Great for people watching and a good place to start an evening
  2. B.A.T.S Bar - Jakarta : Superb margaritas and excellent Philipino covers bands 
  3. Prince Of Wales - Aberdeen: Huge selections of beers, no musak, toilets on ground floor
  4. Bull's Head - Bangkok: A taste of home in the heart of Thailand
  5. Sweet & Soul - Koh Samui: Buckets of Thai whisky & coke, pumping music and the world passing by

Thursday, 21 October 2010

10 Reasons to Hate or Love Libya

10 Reasons why Libya is sh*t and to keep it balanced, 10 Reasons why Libya is great

The 10 Reasons Why Libya Is Sh*t

In no particular order and it was hard to find just 10 reasons.
  1. The tempremental electricity supply. The last 3 Thursdays I've gone home early to work, as the power went off. Although this is like a long weekend and can't be considered a completely bad thing. But having to work from home 3 days this week is a bit much. And we're not even into winter yet, when 'rain gets into the cables'...
  2. The complete lack of intelligence of the drivers. Inconsiderate, reckless, endangering themselves, their passengers (children sitting half in/out of the windows) and other road users. Overtaking on a hill on a blind corner ? That was a police car. Near misses are such a common occurence as to go unremarked upon. Arrogance and ignorance is a dangerous mix.
  3. Dodgy Internet Access - I was trying to download a 1.GB file the other night at home. Nothing mucky, it was a cycling training film. Once the download started, the status rapidly changed from 1 hr remaining to 2 hours, to 3 hours. When I went to bed it was 22 days remaining. 8 hours later it had gone into warp speed and there were only 6 hours left. Still, tonight it's decided not to work at all and I'm writing this offline. Last winter we had no internet access for 3weeks. That starts to affect business and was close to causing a diplomatic incident as all the nearby embassies were affected.
  4. Behind the wall is a garbage dump
    Garbage – Everyone litters. Except the expats. I was out cycling in what passes for countryside  here (sand with no houses) and smelled the rotting garbage dumped in the middle of nowhere, before I saw it. In the same way that the smell of the Durian reminds me of the early morning markets in Jakarta that I'd stagger past on the way home from a bar, the smell of rotting garbage will always remind me of Libya.
  5. Food – Tinned tuna, tomatoes and couscous. That's Libya's contribution to the culinary world. Yet I've been to the Souk and seen & smelled the spices, there are amazing fruit and veg stalls everywhere (except the broccoli is the size of a tennis ball and priced like depleted Uranium) they just can't cook. Unless you like Camel. Luckily, I eat thai food every day.
  6. Lack of things to do – If you're a man and like to sit outside smoking a sheesha, or praying,  then you'll love Libya. If you like pubs, clubs, bars, sports, libraries, cinema, theatre then you might experience some disappointment. I don't know what the locals do. The expats make their own fun with clubs, societies and assorted socials. We bring our toys over here with us and we play. I know surfers, windsurfers, kite surfers, mountain bikers and road bikers, we all live for the weekends.
  7. Police – Whenever there is a traffic jam at a junction it's because a feckless copper is attempting to control the traffic. Left to its own devices, the junction would just work. With alot of horn beeping and gesticulating, but with a whole lot less waiting. I was once in a jam for 25 minutes, the cause was a badly parked police van. A friend of mine was stopped as he came out of a shop and got into his car. While the police man attempted to lighten my friend's wallet for no good reason, cars were driving past him. On the pavement. Against the traffic.
  8. In'shallah – Arabic for ' if God wills it", and used all the time in response to a question like "so you'll come and deliver my furniture tomorrow then?" , meaning "maybe it will be done", "I can't be bothered", "You'll be lucky son" or simply "tsk".
  9. Sexism – Women are rarely seen. So uncommon is a sighting that when I see a burqa clad woman at the side of the road, I know I need to keep an eye on Bassim (my occasional driver) because his eye won't be on the road. All western women are whores though and as such welcome the constant attention from the hair gelled, preening local lotharios. Go into a women' clothes shop, or better yet, an underwear shop and it'll be a man serving. Mind you, if you think the Libyan men are bad at driving....
  10. The airport/immigration – I think the airport was built in worldwar 2. If you manage to find a space outside in which to abandon your car, you can enter the terminal, put your bags through the machine that always beeps and continue uninterrupted to check in. If you're lucky you have a business class ticket or it's not the time when people are checking in with their entire family & all their personal belongings for a pilgrimmage to Mecca. Your passport will be checked about 7 times including a final sphincter tightening time at the door of the plane.  Flights out are fun, you can smell the relief - it's Gin. When coming back, expect to wait anywhere upto an hour at immigration while the immigration officer has a cigarette and a chat with his two mates by his counter. If it's near the end of his shift and he can't find the visa instantly in your passport, be prepared to sit on the Naughty Step until his relief rolls in 20 minutes late, has a cigarette and a chat with his mates before realising the other guy has dumped you on him. Despite this delay at immigration, your bags still won't have been unloaded. There are only 2 belts,  but the sign is in Arabic, so try and spot a guy with a beard and a veiled woman in black, off your flight and stand by them. They'll be standing by the "No Smoking" sign, having a cigarette. When the baggage belt either stops for no reason or more likely because someone's carpet has blocked it, stand back while locals take it upon themselves to climb under the rubber curtain, into the unloading bay to retrieve their bags. If you have the misfortune to arrive at the same time as a flight from Mecca, take a good thick book. You ain't going anywhere.

The 10 Reasons Why Libya Is Great
I struggled a bit with this.
  1. Well the weather's nice, except when the wind comes off the desert in summer and it's like a blast furnace or in winter when it rains for 20 minutes and we get several feet of water flooding the roads
  2. Petrol's cheap – about 5 pounds Sterling will fill my car. This is the place to drive a Hummer or a  Range Rover Sport.
  3. Cheese bread - OK it's from a Turkish restaurant, but oven baked, flat bread filled with cheese deserves to be a food group in its own right.
  4. The driving - I can drive as badly as I want, tailgate so close I can read the label on the other driver's underpants. I can pull out and block all the lanes, I can run a red light, speed, undertake on a highway, overtake at speedbumps, go the wrong way up a street because it's more convenient. I can tap a wing mirror here, scrape a bumper there. I can park wherever the hell I want, no matter what inconvenience it will cause to others. I can do all that and no one will care. Not even a traffic cop.
  5. Shops – the shops are crap, I buy food. I go home. I save money.
  6. Getting away with things – I'm going to hold a race on public roads with about 50 people running. I'm going to put 30 marshalls out at crossing points, some of whom will decide that having a Hi-Vis vest gives them the power to stop traffic. I'm not going to tell the police or whatever 'Socialist People's Committee' it'd be stopped by. There's no HSE, no insurance or litigation risks, we self police and use common sense (trained EMTS & nurses on site). You just couldn't do that in most countries....
  7. A Cyclist's Dream - Up or Down
    The cycling -There are some incredible roads and hills just 80km from here. New, smooth tarmac, super twisty corners and next to no traffic. On the odd occasion there's been a car, they've stayed behind us ( a first for a Libyan driver) giving us the whole width of the road on which to be nutters.
  8. The people – For all the morons in cars, corrupt police, swaggering 'big men' and misguided misogynists. I'll remember: The farmer who pulled up alongside me on a long ride, on a very hot day when I'd run out of water and was in trouble. He pulled up alongside and handed me an ice cold bottle of water, on the move , Tour de France style.  There was a shopkeeper who looked after Eric in his house when the heat got too much for him, then gave us all water and wouldn't take our money. And there's Osama, the shopkeeper who has looked out for us on some of the dafter hill/heat combinations.
  9. Freedom - Malta is 45 mins away, London is 3 hrs away.....
  10. Yay for The Leader
    The Leader – I think Colonel Gaddaffi is great. As are everyone in his spying network that feed the culture of paranoia and reporting to the police . Top work!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Tyred Out

Looking at websites and Blogs influenced by Crossfit training or 'Old School' Iron Gyms got me motivated to try and spice up my own training. Monotony is no good for the mind or the body and keeping them guessing helps in their development. So what to use and how to use it? Luckily, Libya is like a scrap heap with roads, or roads with scrap and garbage everywhere. Within 2 minutes walk of my house I can find enough building materials to put Homebase out of business and pretty much all of the components to build  a complete car, or at least what passes for vehicular transport here.
I thought dragging a car tyre would be a good start, to make my morning 5km walks more of a challenge. At the moment running is still on hold until the achilles tendonitis clears up, so I like to spend an hour each morning tramping around the various dirt tracks near the house. Sometimes I carry a rucksack with a load of dumbells in, but dragging a tyre across sand ? That had an appeal to the masochist within.
I'd seen some tyres near my house, so brought one back and left it behind the outer wall of the garden. I then picked up some rope for about 5 quid.The shopkeeper took plenty of time to measure out how metres I wanted with a bent old stick, he then charged me by the the kilogram - after 2 years in Libya, I didn't question the logic.
Back to house and I went to reclaim my tyre. Nothing there. Well apart from all the plastic bottles and usual garbage that accumulates overnight. I couldn't believe someone would steal a used tyre, unless there was another like minded masochist living nearby whom I'd yet to meet on my runs. A quick scout of the area soon revealed the missing tyre on a neighbour's garbage pile. After carrying it back home, I found out that Abdul (my 'guard'ener) had seen the tyre, thought some cheeky bugger had dumped it by our house, so had moved it. At least I think that's what he said. my O-level french from 1985 is somewhat rusty and he visibly winces as I murder the language. But not as much as he would if I tried to talk to him in Arabic.
The next day, like a kid with a new toy, I set out on a 5km walk, dragging the tyre behind me. Overnight rain meant the sand was pretty hard and made it easier, although noisier. Not that I worry about waking up the locals, I get up at 0545, the 1st call to prayers is about 0550 at the moment, so if I wake up the neighbours then:

1.) I'm doing them a favour.
2.) One of us is going to hell and it isn't the tyre dragging atheist.

Plus, I've got an I-Pod on, so the noise doesn't bother me.

The walk itself was OK and to be honest not that hard, running with the tyre, now that's going to be fun.
However, turning down a side track to my house, in the dark at about 0700hrs, a pick up truck pulled up alongside me. Usually I ignore cars or maybe give them a wave as they pass. This one didn't pass, but pulled up alongside.  Looking up I saw it was a police truck with 4 coppers in. This wasn't the green/white truck of the 'Supermarket police', who have as much influence as a 'Stop' sign, it wasn't the blue/white truck of the 'Traffic Police',  the uniformed wonders whose task it is to cause traffic jams at junctions where natural law and 'who dares wins' actually works better. Nor was it the 'secret' police who drive around in flash dark cars, with blacked out windows and the biggest radio aerials you've ever seen. This was just the local fuzz who drive around looking for people to stop in order to increase their own basic salaries.
Obviously just coming on shift, I had piqued their curiosity, although they were probably trying to decide if they could fine me for a motoring offence. Anyway, one of them leaned out, said hello in broken English  and basically gestured to me with the universally understood  hand gesture for "what gives?"
There was nothing to be gained by any sort of in depth explanation or a joke about it being cheaper than keeping a dog, so I just made a 'Charles Atlas' style pose and said something along the lines of  "Makes  me strong". They all burst out laughing, said 'very good', reversed and drove off.
I'd like to think they were laughing in a 'look at the crazy white guy' sort of way and not in a 'you better keep dragging that tyre a lot further then Chunky' way. Either way, I thought it'd have been interesting if the same law keepers had pulled me over 2 hours later as I drove to the office. I think I could've talked my way out of that one.

Then again, how would a car full of police in the UK  react to finding a 'Muslim' who spoke no English, dragging a car tyre through the streets of any town at daft o'clock? I got off lightly really!

Once they'd left me to finish my morning drag, I realised the stupidity of it all to everyone else. Any of my friends I told the story to would laugh for a second then, to a man, they'd pause and say "WTF were you dragging a tyre through the streets at 6am?"
Fair point.

Next: Carrying a breeze block for 5km at 6am.