The end of the road

I’ve lived in my current house for almost 10 years. It’s in the middle of a housing estate which, like many others, consists of a main road with several side roads branching off it. In my case the main road drops down a hill and I live on one of the side roads near the bottom. A little bit further down, another side road off to the right connects with another estate and then back out into the town, while the main road around which my estate is built heads off to the left.

Usually I get in and out of the estate either via this side road to the right or going down an alley that provides a convenient short cut out of the estate if you’re on foot or a bike (as I usually am), or sometimes I go up the hill to the top. I have no real occasion to follow the main road round to the left past the turn-off, although I did once drop round to visit someone on another side road a bit further down. I’d never actually gone all the way to the end of the road!

Last week I had a letter delivered to me by accident that was actually supposed to go to a house on a similarly named road in town. I was intending to write a note on the envelope and stick it back in the post box, but when I looked up the location of the other road (to satisfy my own curiosity) I discovered it was actually slightly closer to my house than the postbox is (going up the hill instead of down), so I decided it was better just to pop round and post it directly through the door.

Apart from a weekly bike ride to go shopping and check the post at my office, I’d not actually got round to leaving my house / garden since the lockdown started. I felt quite invigorated by this brief walk and decided that it’s probably a good idea to go for at least a short walk (allowed under the daily exercise provision) on any day when the weather’s not too awful and I’m not going out on my bike. I may get this year’s running season off to a start soon (though I realise I probably haven’t mentioned running yet on my blog as I only got into that after my final post of last year and I’ve been having a winter break since mid-October).

The first couple of days I stuck to a couple of my fairly well-trod routes, but on Saturday I decided the time had finally come to walk to the end of the road. It turns out that it’s slightly less than half a kilometre from my front door, and the road ends at a gate leading into a field. I think it’s a public right of way so I may go back soon and investigate further.

Another, more figurative, end of the road almost happened today as well.

A few days I ordered a couple of bits I needed for my computer from Amazon. I know they are one of the big, bad corporate giants but they are a very convenient one-stop shopping location for so many things, and generally give a pretty reliable service. I was pleasantly surprised when I had an email this morning to say that my parcel, which I was expecting on Wednesday, was now due for delivery this afternoon. I was pleased (though not surprised) when it turned up. I was less pleased when I found that the end of the box was open and only one of the two items I’d ordered was actually inside. The one which actually turned up, in case you’re wondering, was an external CD player for my new office laptop; the missing one was an external hard drive,intended for backup purposes.

My guess is that the box was probably not securely fastened during the packing process and the hard drive fell out somewhere in transit, though it’s possible that somebody may have helped it out, or even that it was never put in there in the first place. In any case, since my Amazon orders page quite clearly showed both items being included in the package, and the package having been delivered, and since I had received the package with a loose end and just about enough empty space in the box for the missing item (which wouldn’t be labelled with any delivery information), I figured it would be best to alert Amazon immediately rather than waiting to see if it would turn up separately.

Cue much frustration as I searched in vain for a means to flag up delivery problems other than a package which hadn’t arrived at all (basically – contact the courier and ask them about it) or to return items which had arrived but were somehow defective (I tried using that approach but it wanted to put me in touch with the manufacturer who in this instance can’t be held to blame!). I was just on the verge of giving up, and beginning to seriously consider cancelling my Amazon account by way of protest (and also concern that they didn’t seem to provide any mechanism to contact them in case of snafus such as this one), when I finally spotted a “Contact Us” link tucked away in submenu at the bottom of their Customer Service page (itself only accessible, as far as I could see, via a link hidden at the very bottom of the page footer).

This link led me to a chat setup which started with a chatbot to establish the nature of the help request before putting me through to a human assistant (who went by the name of Luv – not sure if that’s their real name). While I was deeply unimpressed by the difficulty of locating this avenue of help, I was very satisfied by the service I got from Luv. Within 5 minutes of hooking up to the chat, I had briefly explained the problem and accepted the offer of a replacement item to be sent to me as soon as possible (an offer that was made without quibble – I was offered a refund as an alternative, but since the item is something I need I figured a replacement would be the better option). It’s not due to arrive until early next week, but that’s fair enough in the circumstances (and if my recent orders which have actually arrived are anything to go by I may get it a bit sooner).

Anyway, that’s quite enough rambling for now. It is time for me to nip out into the early evening sunshine and take my daily walk.

The Magic of Mushrooms

Normally, grocery shopping is not a highlight of my week. Occasionally, however, I stumble upon a bargain that makes it altogether more pleasurable. Today I found some button mushrooms going for about a third of their usual price, as they were approaching there sell-by date (but still looked in pretty good condition). Needless to say, these came home with me and were cooked up for my tea with garlic, olive oil, butter and a bit of salt and pepper. Very tasty and a great way to show I can write short blog posts if I put my mind to it. 🙂

The pros and cons of shopping by bike

Most days, cycling to and from work is a fairly pleasurable experience. Yesterday wasn’t one of those days, on account of the weather, which was cold, windy and wet.

As it happens, I needed to go shopping (to a supermarket which is a couple of minutes’ walk down the road from my office) yesterday. As I was cycling home afterwards, I reflected on some of the benefits and drawbacks of this approach to shopping.

Probably the main downside is the fact that it limits the amount I can purchase at once to what I can feasibly carry on my bike. Fortunately, with the aid of a pair of panniers I can carry a reasonable amount. Even when I had a car I always preferred to avoid using it whenever possible and, until last year, I always lived (at least since I’ve had to do my own shopping) within easy walking distance of my regular supermarkets, so I have developed the habit of making fairly frequent trips to buy fairly small, manageable amounts of stuff rather than buying in bulk on fortnightly or monthly shopping trips; this approach translates well to shopping by bike.

Another problem seems to be that the regular loading of the back end of my bike with fairly heavy loads of shopping does seem to put quite a strain on my rear axle, so this ends up needing replacing rather more often than I’d like (about a year seems par for the course). It may be unfair to place the blame entirely on my shopping since I am a fairly well-built cyclist (aka built like a brick outhouse – although I have lost a fair bit of weight since starting to cycle regularly) and even without the groceries my poor bike has to bear quite a bit of strain.  In any case, £5 or so a year for a new axle, even added to the other maintenance costs of the bike, pales into insignificance in comparison with the regular running costs of a car.

In general, the benefits of shopping by bike are much the same as the general benefits of cycle commuting, given that I live about 3 miles (and only one serious hill) away from my workplace and regular shops. I outlined these in my first post about cycling, just over a year ago.  On a windy day like yesterday (which also happened to be a day when I was buying fairly heavy things like milk and potatoes) there is an added advantage, which can be summed up in one word — ballast.  Having an extra load centred fairly low on the back of my bike definitely helps to keep the bike steady against the wind, which makes it somewhat easier work (slightly paradoxical, as you’d expect it to be harder to cycle with a heavy load) and probably a good deal safer too.