Monday, August 23, 2010

How busy is too busy?

I saw my doctor last Wednesday, who tells me I'm suffering from stress. This has manifested itself as stomach palpitations and psoriasis (ugh) on my legs. Oh, and my blood pressure is up, too. She told me I had to think about working less hours.

I looked at my diary carefully. Since March, I've had five, maybe six, weekends where I haven't had to do some kind of work for some client or other. I've been running a chamber of commerce during the week and building websites like a madwoman at weekends.

I work from 9 to 6 or after during the week with a cursory lunch break and usually 10 till 4 at weekends. I try to go for a walk before breakfast, but if I've lain awake worrying about work for a couple of hours at 2am I find it hard to get up again at 6. I try and ride a bike to the shops, or walk, but if I'm on a deadline for something that five minutes I save taking the car makes a mental difference. Doctor recommends walking or cycling :-). More exercise to help alleviate the stress in other words.

So I have a month before I see the doctor again, and she's told me that during that time I have to think seriously about my work and what I can give up. I'd love to give up the Chamber of Commerce as it's the work I enjoy the least these days. Sadly it's also regular money and 80% of my income at the moment. The thought of losing that money adds to the stress as it's 80% of not very much when all's said and done.

My husband has told me my health is the most important thing and he'll do whatever it takes to take up the financial slack if I cut myself free from the chamber to concentrate on work I actually enjoy doing... like websites and writing.

With social media obligations thrown into the mix looking after the chamber as a one-woman band has really become too much (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn - I have to add people to our group on those sites and input email addresses etc etc et flippin' cetera). I've spoken to my president and said I need help but realistically I need a succession plan, not just help, and I can't think of anyone in the member base who's daft enough to take on what I do for the number of hours each week I do it. I've refused help so far as I don't have the time to train someone or manage someone, but I think I'll have to bite the bullet and do it or self-implode.

On the plus side I took a complete day off yesterday; we went for a drive into the country. We were going to take the bikes but t'other half wasn't feeling fantastic so we elected to walk around some country towns on foot, poke about in antique shops and hit a specialist herb and rare plants nursery. I hardly had a stomach palpitation all day (unlike today, when I'm back at the desk).

So my goal is to find someone to take over my chamber job more or less completely by next year. I'd be happy still doing graphic and web stuff for the chamber, but not the admin, the banking, the events, the filing, the phone calls, the emails and everything else. During the last year I've had three acquaintances doing a similar chamber job to mine quit, burned out. There must be something in the air 'cos I'm going to add myself to the list.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nutcase? Describes me pretty well, actually

My mother doesn't know what to get me for my birthday which is later this month. My mind ranged briefly over the Shimano Nexus 7 Hub but I thought it was a bit expensive and not the sort of thing my Mum buys for me. I did consider the DVD set of the TV series Flambards from the 1970s/1980s but then found something more useful and practical while doing a round of the bike blogs, something I haven't had time for much lately.

Nutcase helmets are now available in Australia. Now, I hate helmets. I won't get into the helmet debate, save to say that helmets are compulsory here even if you're just trundling a few blocks along a quiet street to the shops. I can see the point if you're commuting on major roads, but I get grumpy at the thought of getting fined if I get caught without one on the back streets. They make my head unbearably hot in the summer humidity - so much for the 'wind in your hair' element of cycling; it doesn't happen in Oz any more thanks to the nanny state.

Another reason I hate helmets is that most of them look so naff. Do I really want to look like a road racer? Until recent years there wasn't a great deal of choice really. You got a bike helmet that screamed 'bike helmet' and gave you the head shape of an alien. My alien head is purple; on the plus side, it has a lot of ventilation:

Then I got hunting through the Nutcase site and found my birthday present. OK, so it doesn't have as much ventilation as I'd like, and I suspect on the hottest summer days I'll have to resort to the Purple Alien Head again. But I won't feel so annoyed at having to wear a helmet when it looks like this:
Yes, this is the helmet I chose. It was a tough decision as they have some great designs but I figured this one goes with both my bikes and a fair amount of my wardrobe. Not that I wear pale pink... but the pink will complement other colours in my armoury and I do wear plenty of green.

Another downside is that it won't accept a sunvisor, which is a shame as I get quite photophobic in bright light. I know some Bern helmets come with a visor but have even less air vents than this. And frankly, they aren't as stylish, graphics-wise. I'll figure out a workaround for the sunvisor. I did ride for years with a helmet that didn't have a visor anyway. The kind people at Nutcase Australia ("Have a nutty day!") suggested wearing a fabric sunvisor under the helmet but that's another layer of fabric/stuff around my head so not an option really. 

My helmet should arrive next week, but I'll be a good girl and wait until my birthday to open the box, and post a review on the helmet when I've used it for a few hours.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The hub of the matter

Poor old Petunia - I haven't ridden her much lately. In fact I haven't been on either bike as often as I'd like to, but when I have I've taken Penelope out, enjoying her stability, her thumb-lever gearswitch and quiet hub gears, and ambling along at a leisurely pace. My husband, on his lightweight vintage road bike, has usually been at least a hundred metres ahead of me.

His ideal pedalling/riding speed and my ideal pedalling/riding speed don't match, even if we are both on road bikes. He's bigger and stronger than I, and I've given up trying to keep up with him, especially early in our rides when my muscles haven't warmed up. He's used to having to wait for me at certain points in regular rides, while I swan up on Penelope in my own time.

But aha, he didn't have to wait yesterday. Tyres pumped up tight, Petunia was ready to roll. I think the poor man was shocked when I was at his rear wheel from the get go. So was I! I fell behind on the hills, of course, but made up for it on the flat.

Having Penelope and her hub gears has spoiled me. I like being able to change gears with the flick of a thumb, and not have to take one hand from the handgrips to change gear on the head tube. I also like not getting grease on my jeans.

So I've been pondering changing the lovely Petunia to a hub-geared bike and considering the Shimano 7 and 8 speed hubs. At the moment the hubs are scarce here in Australia; Shimano isn't importing many and frankly it's cheaper to buy one overseas and have it shipped over. Even overseas they're a little hard to find right now.

My sister-in-law in the UK has a mixte frame with a Shimano 7-speed hub and she adores it. Her husband, a talented bikebuilder and handyman, built it up for her:

What's holding me back is the cost; it'll cost more than Petunia cost in the first place to undertake her transformation, and I'm a bit short of $400 right now for parts and labour. One of my clients owes me $1000 and keeps finding excuses for not having paid me, which is very frustrating.

Still, I had a chat to a reputable bike mechanic who told me what would need to happen to turn Petunia into a 7-speed beauty. He told me to keep the 27" wheels as they were in excellent condition and tyres would be readily available for some time to come. So that saves me forking out more $ for decent 700C wheels. I'll need a new crankset. New shifters and brake levers. I didn't have the bike with me at the time but will take her in so he can see her for himself and advise me as to feasibility. I know she has semi-horizontal dropouts so might be able to do it without too many extra adaptors. I've been reading the wonderful Sheldon Brown's thoughts on the Shimano Nexus system.

How much neater this rear wheel would look without the derailleur (or the nasty pie dish!)

Sadly neither my husband nor myself is mechanically talented enough to take the job on and save some money on labour costs. Ah, I have fond memories of T'Other Half putting together a sound system cabinet for my mother a couple of years ago. Three screws left over? No problem!!! :-))  So would I trust this man with bike building? Ah, no. It's just a shame my brother-in-law lives on the other side of the world!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Surfers' Paradox

I've just come back from sunny Queensland; in the heart of winter, you can wander around happily in a t-shirt up there. We flew up for my brother's wedding at the weekend, and stayed in Surfers' Paradise.

When I was ten years old my Mum and I went to Surfers for a holiday - my first ever holiday that took me more than an hours' drive from Sydney. I was thrilled and delighted and carried the memories of that seaside holiday in a town that was kitsch but fun with me for years after I grew out of the souvenir t-shirt.

That was a looong time again. I've been back to the Gold Coast three or four times since as I have family living there (but thankfully not in the heart of Surfers). I've seen it go from a seaside resort brimming with two-storey motels and a handful of high-rise holiday apartments and residential apartments to Las Vegas by the Sea. 

The Gold Coast is a party destination particularly for the under 30s who like to drink themselves stupid. There are stands and booths selling tickets to parties, or bar-hopping nights. Even in my 20s this kind of outing is something I would have run a hundred miles from. This sign encompasses all there is to know about Surfers Paradise circa 2010:

This part of the Gold Coast is a Mecca for school leavers at the end of the year. In November and early December wise people leave the district. There are shops that cater for the party crowd all year round, like this one:

What you see is what you get. The shoes were amazing - insane heels and platforms. People-watching late at night we saw girls clomping in their six-inch platforms to the nightclubs. There was a sign in "Trashy Shoes" which stated they offered a shoe minding service. If you wanted to wear your shiny, hot-pink and leopard-print stilettoes out of the shop and straight into the clubs, they will mind your existing shoes for you until the next day. Here I am showing off the merchandise, unable to keep a straight face.

Of course there is still the family-friendly side of the place. Theme parks just up the road (not for me thanks) and lots and lots of bicycles about. Plenty of bike hire places too but we were a bit short of time as it was literally a flying visit. Next time I'm riding around the Coast though - it's flat and cyclists careen about confidently, especially this time of year as it's out of holiday season. 

While I saw literally dozens of bikes, either chained outside a shop waiting for someone to hire them, or tethered to bike stands faithfully waiting for their owners, I didn't take photos. Don't know why. Maybe it's a case of 'see one 3 speed cruiser, see them all'. Tons of cruisers. This is cruiser city. 

One of the nicer bits about Cavill Mall in the main part of town is a lovely mosaic with scenes of local life - surfing, enjoying the outdoors and cycling. 

Surfers Paradise is famous for its Meter Maids, curvy girls in gold bikinis who are employed to feed the parking meters so hapless motorists aren't fined by the local Council when their parking runs out. On winter nights, these delicate, stilettoed creatures wear gold leggings. I never knew anyone made gold leggings. Let's just hope they don't take off as a fashion item, eh?

Cavill Mall is the main shopping part of town, full of tacky touristy shops, and plenty of cheap cafes serving half decent coffee and breakfast. It's an assault on the senses though. Blaring out over the constant noise of construction as more high-rise buildings take shape is the music which every shop and cafe insists on playing. All different. All annoying. You can hardly hear yourself think as you sip your coffee. It was a real relief to turn a corner and hear, for a moment, relative silence. I think we get used to a lot of white noise in our life, but sometimes you can become really aware of it. Sitting in a jumbo jet is quiet compared to Cavill Mall.

And finally, the architecture. As I said, it's changed a lot. It's all high-rise now. Any advantages the first tall buildings in the 60s and 70s had have long been eclipsed. Building after building has ensured that only the extremely wealthy get a decent sea view, and everyone else sees into the windows of the apartment building opposite. We counted no less than four buildings under construction in the same block as our hotel. And the bloody construction workers start work before 7am, too- just what you want after a late night out at a wedding!

Here's some of  the view from our hotel:

That curved building in the right really is curved - it's not just the wide angle lens, but admittedly the curvature has been a bit exaggerated.

And finally, the beach. The reason Surfers has been a seaside legend since the 1920s. Well, because of the high rise, the beach has almost disappeared. It's had to be topped up at regular intervals by sand imported from up or down the coast. High rise developments like this lot affect the way the wind moves with the sea and the dunes. Oh, and because the beach faces east/west, after lunch you don't get any sun on the beach because of the high-rise apartments.

This is before breakfast - you can see the tyre tracks where the beach is groomed and smoothed out on a nightly basis. It looks pretty wide here but imagine this picture was an inch wider on the right - you'd see the water.

Here's looking in the other direction - always swim between the red and yellow flags, as that's the area monitored by the lifeguards. And swim people did. We didn't pack our bathers - didn't think we'd have time to use them, but did paddle in the water, getting our rolled-up jeans soaked to the knees. Mmm, a luxury to walk on a beach in winter and not shriek at the temperature of the water!

Overall though I wonder what's going to win out in Surfers Paradise. Is it going to be just a party town, full of rowdy drunks? Apart from the theme parks, is it no longer a family place? And what of the high rise buildings, growing determinedly in spite of a financial crisis and with apartment price tags starting at $600K+ for a one-bedroom apartment? Who's buying them? There are a lot of brand new apartments still to be had 'off the plan'. Locals don't go to Surfers these days; they shop elsewhere, they swim elsewhere. 

What I ponder on is the impression any overseas traveller gets of Australia if Surfers is one of the few places they visit. It's long been a holiday of choice for Japanese people, and now Muslim travellers flock there in winter (and complain the meter maids are too scantily clad. This blog isn't a vehicle for cultural differences, but really, if you visit a place you should read up first and know what to expect. If I visited a Muslim country I'm sure I'd be made cover up; my culture wouldn't be given any quarter). It's a shame if a key impression they get of this brilliant country is one of drunks staggering out of nightclubs and throwing up in the streets.