“Would you like a receipt?”

I recently got a phone that lets me do contactless payments.

It sounds very fancy but it’s just about creating a virtual copy of your card in your phone, and using the NFC antenna in the phone to act as your contactless card.

I was quite intrigued as to whether I’d actually use this fancy new technology… and turns out that it is really convenient, and I do use it a lot, all the time.

However, it’s not a perfect workflow. You’re constantly asked: “Would you like a receipt?”. Some places just automatically print it.

It is a sign, I think, of an unfinished job. We got rid of the physicality of money exchanges by replacing cash with card payments, then we got rid of cards themselves (albeit virtually), but still rely on physical paper for a receipt.

We need to go further: receipts need to be transmitted automatically, as part of the transaction.

And what if we had a standard receipt format, that could be processed with standard tools, and so receipts could be processed automatically? No more manually adding expenses!

One can dream…

Giving things up to find out if you really liked them, or: a year without drinking coke

We went on holidays a year ago. The plan was to go to a far away place, disconnect and rest.

A voluntary part of the scheme was giving up alcohol and caffeine during the stay, and optionally two weeks before the holidays, to let the body go through any withdrawal symptom it wanted to go through beforehand.

I don’t normally drink a lot of alcohol, so that seemed easy. But not drinking coffee!?

I embraced the challenge anyway.

I only had a minor headache for a couple of days, and I wasn’t even sure if it was due to the stormy weather. I just had to be conscious of what I was doing, instead of automatically reaching for the coffee grinder in the mornings, or heading to a cafe on the afternoon.

When we arrived to the holiday place, I didn’t really miss coffee. I was too busy observing nature, reading, drawing… and sleeping… a lot of sleeping… I don’t think I had slept as much in years!

Back in London, I still kept for a couple weeks of no coffee.

Eventually, I drank a good coffee.

It was sublime. I enjoyed every bit of it: the inviting scent of the cafe as soon as you stepped through its door, the beans on display, the golden lights tinting it all;  the steam coming out of the cup and bringing out the aromas,  the thick layer of creamy foam, the first taste when it’s all a mix of sour and fruity depths, and the final moment when it’s over, and you’re really satisfied that you had it.

If coffee and coffee culture such as preparation, beautiful cafes, neatly arranged cups, etc make me happy, there’s no point in giving them up, unless I want to pass as a First World Martyr.

When on holidays, I had no need to go to a cafe to have some personal time. I was having that all the time! But back in the city, going to a cafe or preparing my own coffee is an intentional permission from myself to treat myself nicely and give myself a break.

In contrast, I did not drink Coke during this whole year.

I used to occasionally grab one from the office fridge at lunch time, or maybe if it was really hot outside, or instead of an alcoholic drink when everyone else is having it and having “just water” is a sort of shame.

Reflecting about it, consciously, I do not like its flavour: the acid aftertaste, the gas, the eventual tummy upsetting… And if I had any doubt, I just need to read the label in the can to think: I am NOT getting THAT into my body!

There was another interesting realisation: I drink a lot more water than before. Somehow, it felt as if drinking coke removed your sense of thirst. Was my body thirsty all this time?

I found the idea of stepping away from things you think you like in order to decide if that’s actually the case very interesting.

Maybe you like the thing. Or maybe you just like aspects of the thing, or at some times and in some places only. Or maybe you don’t like it at all, and would rather do something else instead.

It’s healthy to question ourselves and ask why do we do what we do, but sometimes we examine behaviours that are so commonly encouraged, that even questioning them seems silly.

Temporary withdrawal is a resource to help us take a step back and decide. Use it! 😀

How to get a new bike (without actually buying a new one)

For the impatient:

  • Rub the dirt off the wheels with paper towels (or some rag you don’t mind throwing away, because it’ll get very dirty)
  • Grease the chain thoroughly to dissolve the soot adhered to it
  • Very gently rub the dirt off the chain
  • Grease the chain again
  • Wash your hands (many times) with warm water and gentle soap, perhaps a brush
  • Possibly moisturise your hands

Continue reading “How to get a new bike (without actually buying a new one)”

How does one survive cycling in London?

Many people read my last post and asked me how did I manager to cycle in London. They find it scary (no wonder) and stressful (indeed).

My solution is two-fold: framing and intention.

Framing: I consider the bike as an instrument that will get me where I want faster than if I walked or took public transport (as I can go door to door). I am not trying to win a race or competing with anyone… and honestly, it would be quite ridiculous to attempt that with a folding bike. Let the fancy bikes speed ahead!

Intention: I try to be as generous as possible with everyone else in the street. Everyone in London is so goddamn stressed with everything, and rushing everywhere. So obviously they are going to cut corners to get to places faster. In contrast, when I cycle, I’m often where I would be in 40% or less of the time I would spend otherwise, so I have a lot of time to be generous.

Pedestrians will try and cross whenever they can. Motorists will speed ahead when they see an amber light (instead of stopping) which often results in they invading the Advance area for cyclists, or 👏🏼the 👏🏼 whole 👏🏼 zebra 👏🏼 crossing 👏🏼.

I used to get so upset with all this, but as we say in Spanish, if you want to get upset you have two tasks: getting upset and calming down. So I’d rather not get upset, but be more empathetic and generous instead.

I used to go to great efforts to place myself in the Advance area. But after being gifted with a few death threats from other motorists in the past just by placing myself in my designated area (which the Met police ignored very efficiently, I must add), I have decided that I’d rather wait behind the psychopaths’ cars. Let them speed ahead! I also leave enough space for cyclists and motorists in a rush to squeeze through the gaps as well. If they want to brave the side mirrors, the drivers spitting through the window while stopped on a traffic light, the doors that open unexpectedly and all that, let them do it! I’ll wait behind–or if the traffic is too bad, I’ll walk and push the bike on the pavement, and become a pedestrian temporarily, instead of breathing the exhaust fumes from the vehicles.

I also try to be super careful with pedestrians, by riding as slowly as possible in situations where there’s a lot of people on the pavements (rush hour!), and basically assuming any of them will jump on the road the minute I least expect them to cross.

I also used to get super upset at this as well (“Are you trying to kill us both!!? do you not see what YOU are doing??!”), but now I just try to imagine that…

  • they’re tired, or
  • they have had a bad night’s sleep/a long day, or
  • the layout of the street doesn’t make it clear enough that they’re walking on the cycle lane, or
  • they are just overwhelmed, and essentially can’t notice when very quiet cyclists approach (in contrast with a noisy motor vehicle).

So instead of getting upset, I try to just get on with it. It’s a busy city, full of people, and as I said, I’m in no rush. Everything’s chill, I say to myself. With enough warning, I’m more than pleased to slow down or stop and allow people to cross, even if there’s no explicit zebra crossing. Spending 45 seconds on that won’t make me late, and I might have contributed some good will to their day. Sometimes they even smile! I think this generosity is worth it.

That said, I’m considering getting one of those laser lights, as they seem to be more effective at announcing my presence than my super bright lights. TFL have installed them on their public hire bikes and I have seen pedestrians noticing them and not crossing the road immediately.

But you know what still gets me sometimes? The mansplainers—which are always a white man on his 40s. He shows up from nowhere, imparts you a lesson on whatever aspect of cycling he deems worthy to illuminate you on, and then leaves before you can even ask them to “get lost” 🙄. I mostly ignore them and give them a blank stare (“is this your voice that I’m hearing or is it just the buzz of the city?”), but some days I commit the error of trying to argue with them, and it’s always doomed to fail! 💩

Please note that I am not condoning other people’s irresponsible behaviour (jumping lights, crossing on red, etc) and suggesting we all work around that. I do wish people did abide by the rules, because it would prevent accidents, make traffic flows more efficient and make everyone more relaxed, and I also wish TFL improved infrastructure and signalling so flows were safer, more synchronised and efficient, but until all those puzzle pieces fall in place, this is my strategy to cycle without getting upset.