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Doodlecat's Homepage

Picture of Doodle - a 
black cat

Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

I would love to be able to say that Doodlecat is all my own work, but it isn’t. Much of the outdoors content is courtesy of the splendid people who participate in the annual TGO Challenge (there is a section entirely devoted to this unique event) and many others.

To help in tracking down that elusive morsel on Doodlecat, the search facility under the title bar above is tailored to help you find it, either on this home page (Doodlecat's Blog) all the rest of the site (Main Site) or – if all else fails - the internet!

So have a rummage around the old cat basket and enjoy your time with us!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Can You ride tandem?

PG Tips Chimp incycling gear"Can you ride tandem?". A classic line from the old PG Tips 'Tour de France' TV advert from 1971, featuring the famous chimps. And it's a line that me & Miss W will no doubt be hearing from time to time in the near future.

In the early eighties we took up cycling. Not the ATB type stuff, regular road going tourers. Miss W chose a Dawes, and I had a Raleigh. After a few years, in 1986, we had the idea of taking the bikes to a gîte holiday in the Dordogne, and to share it with our cycling friends, Ivan and Cathy Ward.

And that’s where our ambitions to own a tandem began. Ivan & Cathy were the proud owners, or perhaps inheritors, of a classic Claud Butler tandem of unknown vintage and provenance, but possibly pre war or early forties. Ha! How could that old lump outpace our modern lightweight steeds?

But it did.

Miss W & tandem somewhere in ProvenceNow, Ivan is an experienced cyclist who knows all about the arcane world of fixed wheels, gearing ratios and so on - he even owns a unicycle – so his choice of steed was well suited to the task. The old Claud, with the rolling resistance and wind resistance of a single bike, but powered by two, made it an ideal tourer on this terrain, with the extra weight and momentum ironing out minor hills. It was only on sustained ascents that the single bikes excelled, and then the more powerful rider pulled well ahead of the other, so it was not too sociable.

We became sold on the idea of a tandem, and the following January we saw the very thing. Richardsons cycle shop in St Ives had a brand new Dawes Super Galaxy for sale in the window, and, being midwinter, at a bargain price. A brief trial, exchange of cash, and we rode it home.

There followed thirteen years of memorable holidays – and after a stressful day at work a twenty mile spin before dinner worked off the blues, and we could chat easily as we sped through the countryside. From 1987 to 1999 we covered thousands of miles, many of them in France, even venturing to Mont Ventoux (where the tandem’s uphill disadvantages overcame us long before we reached Tommy Simpson’s memorial).

And then, suddenly, we stopped cycling. After our TGO Challenge in 1999 we had one last foray along the Loire Valley and then Diana (Diana Dawes – geddit?) was suspended from storage hooks in the garage and slowly gathered a film of dust and corrosion for the next ten years.

We had become walkers.

Last year I became unwell. I’ve got better again, thank the Lord, but not quite fully ‘hill fit’. What to do? Lots of short local walks, obviously, but these get a bit predictable after a while. Gym? No way!!! Swimming? Full of kids and Swine Flu – or worse. Then, looking through some old photos, I saw one of Diana. Perfect! Exercise - covering lots of country - pubs, picnics. Just the ticket, so off I went into the gloomy depths of the garage to seek her out.

After moving a couple of lawnmowers and various other bits of redundant machinery I could discern Diana’s form deep in the shadows. She looked at me reproachfully through her film of cobwebs like a skeletal Miss Havisham surveying her betrayer.

The years had not been kind. Damp and a roof leak had allowed water do its worst. She was covered in dust. The once gleaming alloy cranks and rims were dull and spotted with corrosion. Rust had appeared in the chrome and paintwork. Cables seized, chains dry and rusted. A full restoration was required.

Miss W & tandem somewhere in ProvenceDiana on holiday with Miss W in Provence

So a couple of weeks ago I set to work and stripped the bike down to the frame. Amazingly, the only things I have had to replace are the pedals (sealed bearings shot, and not possible to service). I managed to get a period look-alike set (Campagnolo type rat traps with new chrome toe clips) but this time with user serviceable bearings. The rest has come up a treat. The bottom brackets were quite worn, but with a regrease and new ball bearings adjusted up OK. I even took the Suntour MkII derailleur apart and fitted new rollers, but apart from that it had no noticeable wear at all.

Today the drive train was installed, set up and adjusted. Seat pins and saddles are in, and brakes and all cables connected.

Not long to go now. Next it’s the electrics (1980’s Byka halogen dynamo system with auto battery backup. Very advanced stuff at the time). I would crack on and get it finished tomorrow …

… but it’s Sunday – and we’re going for a walk!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pinata Party

Weekends away with Miss W often produce unusual experiences, and last Saturday didn't disappoint. A country house party in the Lakes where, before a cheering audience, a sixty year old man was blindfolded, led into the garden and made to flog his donkey until it burst.

No, honest - it's true. There are photographs. I am awaiting one suitable for a family audience.

Sunday was great. We had a spiffing time crawling into old mines and so on, then a few miles around the Old Man, avoiding the usual crocodile of people trailing up to the summit. Great visibility too, so the views stretched over Morcambe Bay to the south and as far as the Pennines.

There was, as Miss W reminds me, a minor contretemps on the navigation front when we left the open country for footpaths over farmland. This was due to my unfamiliarity with Harvey's maps. How come that out in open country they mark every rock, boulder, wall and boundary, even telling you if it is in good repair or ruined, but as soon as you cross into 'farmland' (which to me seemed exactly the same rough pasture as before) not a single wall, fence or rock is marked? Not very helpful when trying to follow a non-waymarked path through fields and copses.

But we did it, albeit with my reduced navigational cred after having to retrace our steps for 500 yards.

Returning to Coniston - before the map ran out!

Then back for a great evening out at the Black Bull, who catered admirably for our party of sixteen - great beer as usual, and a very good dinner too. Somehow the Black Bull succeeds in catering for hundreds of visitors and remaining a good friendly pub - a difficult trick to pull off.

And what of the donkey flogger? Well, OK, I'll unmask him. His name is Rob, and it was his birthday weekend, arranged as a special surprise by his wife, Sally, and daughters Jenny, Bryony & Fiona. How they kept all this a secret for months I really don't know, but thanks to them for a wonderful gathering of old friends.

Happy sixtieth, Rob, and many more to come!

No donkey was harmed in the making of this celebration.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Searching for ... er ...

If the site looks a bit odd, please 'refresh' the page - not all browsers refer to the CSS every time - and you will see that we now have a little 'search' facility at the top of the page.


Well, there's now quite a bit of stuff on Doodlecat, and I have noticed a growing number of Google searches for articles and trail diaries hosted here. I have therefore shamelessly cribbed a bit of code in order to include a search facility. This is powered by Google, so you can search just this site, or the whole internet.

This obviously relies on Google having indexed all the stuff here, and, thanks to the number of people visiting, Google updates quite regularly. However, the 'site search' will only search pages that we at Doodlecat actually host, not the sites we provide links for.

This is a trial for now -I'll try to make it work better over time, as it ain't perfect. If it misses more than it finds, I'll take it off, but hopefully this will become a useful widget, especially if you're trying to track down something that you know is here ... somewhere. It works especially well with the 'blog' posts on this page, so if, for example, you vaguely recalled the piece about lightweight gear from the Eagle comic, just typing 'eagle' in the search box will find it instantly - and every other reference to an eagle on the site.

Generally I find it works best with just one word, or two at the most, as the search is very specific. For instance 'eagle' and 'lightweight' together will find the piece, but 'eagle' and 'camping' won't, as the word 'camping' is not in the text.

Anyway - it's there if you want it!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The 4000ft route.

Mike Daniels tells the story of the first TGO (or, to be wholly accurate, Ultimate) Challenge to successfully incorporate all of the 4000ft mountains. And not in the kindest of weather - those ice axes aren't just for show!

Many thanks to Mike for sharing his experiences of the 1987 challenge, when he made this pioneering crossing with the late Iain Matheson. You'll find it in the TGO Challenge section, but why not go straight to it by clicking here.

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