How to fix a puncture

 Everyone knows that punctures follow sod’s law, with a few extra variants added just for them. No-one gets a puncture on a lovely sunny day when they have all the time in the world, the birds are singing and they fancy stopping for 10 minutes to swap the offending inner tube for a pristine new one that is the right size, has the right valve attachment, and gets you home just in time for tea. No. Punctures occur when you’re in a hurry, have an important appointment, it’s cold, wet, dark and windy and there’s nowhere to stop that’s actually seen human habitation in the last millennia, although there seems to be a fine population of something that might be the missing link or could just be a group of teenagers in hoodies. And either the inner tube is the one that you jammed back in your repair kit after the last puncture, that you meant to patch as soon as you got home but forgot about because you were cold, wet and hungry and there was pasta incessantly calling, or it’s one that you carefully picked out in the shop from the 8 bejillion variants available and it turns out to have the wrong type of valve, the wrong size of valve and appears to be fashioned for a clown bike.

So this isn’t an exact account of how I have fixed one particular puncture, it’s more of a conglomerate effort.

Whistle down hill at 25mph. Wonder why steering seems to be a bit off. Decide it’s just because it’s downhill and I’m always such a wuss downhill. Ponder worsening of steering uphill. Think ‘oh no no no nononono please don’t be flat’. Have brief flashback to last boyfriend. Realise it is flat, there’s no denying it. Dismount from bike. Contemplate bike. Decide bike still more useful and less hassle than last boyfriend even in current state. Ponder options:

Wheel bike to destination

 Pump up tyre. Cycle 100 yards. Dismount, pump up tyre, cycle 90 yards. Repeat with ever decreasing distances whilst damaging wheel rims.

 Fix puncture. 

Smile nicely at passersby until one of them fixes puncture. Realise this is unlikely to work in the godforsaken hinterlands of Upper Minchinnimby Upon Ramslip, where puncture just so happens to have occurred, this side of the next decade. Curse decision to take shortcut through Upper Minchinnimby whilst on way to important appointment. 

Patch inner tube without removing wheel. Remember last time this happened and the tube appeared to have been savaged by a hedgehog wearing knuckle dusters and was completely un-reparable. 

Sigh, give in, commence fixing puncture.

Tip bike upside down. Remember brakes still on. Struggle with brakes. Give up. Put bike right way up. Undo brakes. Tip bike upside down. Swear at rear wheel. Remember it’s always the rear wheel because it’s carrying more weight. Try not to think that it’s because the pixies that cause punctures know you hate arsing around with gears. Arse around with gears until chain on highest chain ring.

Realise should be better at bike maintenance as quick release lever proves impossible to undo. Dig around in pannier and find something to lever quick-release lever with.  Stab self with lever to lever the lever. Dig around in pannier for packed lunch. Pour oil from salad dressing on quick release lever. Congratulate self on resourcefulness. Disconsolately munch lettuce whilst waiting for salad dressing to penetrate.

Lever quick release lever open with lever. Realise it has taken 15 minutes to open quick release lever. Triumphantly wave wheel in air. Check nobody has noticed this behaviour. Wave at passing rabbit. Check nobody noticed rabbit-waving either. Realise that there is nobody within 15 miles. Say ‘Hello Mr Rabbit’. Experience fleeting sensation that small child is watching. Decide this is probably just an overdose of Susan Hill.

Dig out tyre levers. Commence Operation Remove Tyre. Spend a further 15 minutes attempting to ram end of lever under tyre edge. Eventually find bevel-edged lever and successfully jam it under tyre. Celebrate. Curse act of celebration as lever has slipped out from under tyre. Suppress thoughts of last boyfriend. Repeat operation, minus celebration. Repeat with second tyre lever.

Notice fit, merino-clad cyclist has stopped and is watching, quizzically. Put tongue back in head. Throw feminism out of the window and smile. Wonder where feminism went, whilst distracted by gluteus maximus. Thank merino-clad totty for offer of help. Watch whilst he swiftly removes tyre from wheel. Have existential crisis over total lack of feminist credentials whilst distracted by triceps. Count sins: 1. objectifying man 2. Accepting male help when can fix puncture on own 3. Having no morals whatsoever so long as the buggering fucking puncture is buggery fucking fixed. Thank nice person for help and assure him can manage from here, thank you very much. Pointedly make sure stare at his face, that’s that bit, up there. Wonder, briefly, why man looks strangely relieved. Admire speed with which he pedals away.

Contemplate inner tube. Pump up inner tube. Hold inner tube close to ear and listen for gentle hiss of expelled air. Feel draft on face. Contemplate ragged hole. Find really big patch for inner tube. Clean tube as best as can with grimy mucky fingers. Shove nice load of glue all over it. Forget which is better, lots of glue or minimalist approach to glue. Drop contents of repair kit on top of rabbit hole. Curse. Shove patch over hole in tyre. Put chalk on excess glue. Use lots of chalk. Say ‘fuck off Mr Rabbit’. Apologise to rabbit on grounds of diminished responsibility due to tyre problems. Wonder why am explaining self to passing lagomorph. Remind self am restricted to one existential crisis per week and have already had 3 in past hour.

Congratulate self on fixing puncture but decide to use spare tube anyway. Congratulate self on having tube that looks like it might fit. Partially inflate tube. Put one side of tyre back on wheel. Insert inner tube into tyre. Remember, as air hisses out, that forgot to check tyre for whatever caused the puncture in the first place. Regret sending nice man away because A. he might have remembered to do this and B. He had a nice arse. Consider yelling ‘Oi, come back, show us your tyre levers’. Realise this is uncouth. And pointless, since he’s long gone.

Pump air into inner tube #1. Recheck for punctures. Decide that it will probably be OK to get me home. Give up on idea of urgent appointment since it’s been and gone already. Check outside of tyre for puncture-causing object. Realise large pin-type nail is jammed into it. Curse self for not noticing. Thoroughly check tyre inside and out for any other objects. Attempt to hurl nail away. Realise light objects are not that easy to hurl and watch disconsolately as it lands 3 feet away and then rolls back into the road. Pick up nail and push it down into the earth.

Put one rim of tyre back on wheel. Take deep breath. Put partially-inflated inner tube #1 in tyre, carefully. Attempt to put other tyre rim back onto wheel. Realise that this is not going to be easy. Contemplate finding another man. Remind self that this is never really the answer. Take deep breath, find determination from wherever it was hiding and continue jamming tyre back onto wheel. Get ¾ of it done. Contemplate bruised hands and sore thumbs. Sit for a while. Wonder what rabbit tastes like. Recommence wheel-wrestling. Feel rain on face. Realise hands are numb. Wonder whether or not lack of sensation is an advantage.

Get tyre 7/8 back on wheel. Almost lose thumb. Get in rage. Rage against bike. Swear at bike. Wonder why that bloody rabbit is still here and what the fuck it knows that I don’t. Realise futility of existence and pointlessness of raging. Apologise to bike. I love you bikey, love you love you. Lovely lovely bike. I JUST HATE YOUR FUCKING TYRES AND WANT TO KILL THEM, KILL THEM WITH THE RAGE THE BARE OBSCENE RAGE. Take deep breath.

Remember to pull other side of tyre towards side not already jammed into wheel to give last few inches as much play as possible. Pray to local pixies not to let inner tube get pinched in process. Vaguely remember someone saying that talcum powder helps. Or was it washing up liquid? Or bulldog clips. Something about using bulldog clips to hold edges of tyre together. Dig around in pannier. Admire resourcefulness of self as locate talcum powder and tada, surgical rubber gloves. Clean hands as best as possible using rainwater and tissues. Don rubber gloves, an hour too late. Apply talcum powder to tyre. Look up through haze of talcum powder to scratch itchy nose with oily, talcy, begloved hand. Realise Mr Merino is back and is staring and not in a good way. Consider crying.

Mutter something about Schwalbes being really great until they puncture in the middle of nowhere. Realise Mr Merino isn’t there any more and might have been a mirage anyway. Remember old huntsman’s trick of jamming wheel between legs and using tyre levers to wrench tyre up and over rim. Decide now is not the time or place to start straddling wheels as have never actually managed to re-enact this manoeuvre and don’t want Rabbit to think I’m any stupider than he already thinks I am.

Realise Mr Merino really has come back. ‘Sorry’ he says ‘are they the puncture-proof ones? They’re very difficult to fit.’ Refrain from pointing out that evidently they aren’t puncture proof although they might be handy to hide behind in the event of nuclear explosion. Or at least, no worse to hide behind than several doors fixed against the wall at an angle of 60 degrees. Watch whilst Mr Merino attempts to jam tyre back on wheel. Feel relieved that he can’t fit the thing either. Realise that even though pride intact, you can’t cycle home on it. Help Mr Merino with tyre wrestling. Eventually manage to get tyre back on in joint effort with added talcum powder (no washing up liquid). Refrain from any celebratory activities that might cover Mr Merino in more talcum powder. Remember not to talk to stray lagomorphs either.

Feel glad that Mr M is enough of a gent to wait until tyre re-inflated and wheel safely back on. Remember to thank him for help. Watch disconsolately as he disappears over the horizon never to be seen again.

Gather together puncture repair kit; inner tube #2 (memo to self, fix it later); gloves; talc; packed lunch and impromptu lever to lever the quick-release lever. Mount bike. Dismount bike. Do up rear brake. Remount bike. Sigh. Pedal off.

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Report on the sinking of HMS GUT by The Ministry for User Experience Architects (Marine Division)

 Together with the coroner’s report on the death of the hamster

The incident

On 25 February 2011 at 17:30 the good ship GUT sank without warning. The corpse of the hamster, whose efforts on the wheel had kept the ship afloat for more than ten years*, was found amongst the wreckage. It seems that all souls, other than the hamster, survived, although many were shocked and according to the by now somewhat discombobulated coastguard, were ‘a bit sweary’.

* Probably hamsters, plural, although we will use the term ‘hamster’ throughout to denote both the specific hamster now deceased and all the hamsters who were ever on the wheel.

The accusations

The majority of these accusations have been made by survivors. Where they have been made by onlookers and other parties, this is clearly indicated.

Accusation 1: Signage

Survivors have objected to a sign left up by the Guardian for GUTers which they claim read: It is with great regret that, after a period of review, we must announce our decision to leave the work experience boy in charge of the hamster. We may have failed to tell him not to touch the RED BUTTON. Or, we did tell him and he couldn’t resist temptation. We may never know and we’re not going to tell you even if we do find out.

The Ministry finds no evidence that this is actually what the sign said and contends that survivors may have made parts of it up.

Accusation 2: No sirens sounded as the ship went down

It is the contention of GUTers that the Guardian had, over a period of years, allowed the GUT to deteriorate into a state of disrepair. Such was the state of the ship that, apparently, no alarms were sounded before the ship sank. Their concern is that the suddenness of the loss caused great distress and risked life and limb. If GUT had been properly maintained, either the alarms would have worked, or the ship would have stayed afloat.

We find that whilst it is true that there were no alarms, it is the business of the ship’s owners the extent to which, and indeed even if, they maintain their ship. It was made entirely clear that passengers travelled at their own risk. Despite the argument of many that they had problems disembarking even when they wanted to, the Ministry contends that they actually could have left at any time before the sinking.

In line with big society protocols, lifeboats have been provided not by the ship’s owners, but by citizens keen to get involved. The Ministry would like to take this opportunity to thank the owners and those citizens for showing that big society can and indeed does work. It is entirely in keeping with Cameron’s rescue efforts in Libya and therefore an acceptable policy.

Lifeboats are available here, here and here.

Accusation 3: It was MI5

Rumours abound as to the exact cause of death of the hamster. Some people, both survivors and onlookers, appear to be convinced that MI5 were involved and that they may have used a poison-tipped umbrella.

However, we find that this is highly unlikely. It has emerged that many users of the Guardian’s other facilities, principally CiF, had been unaware of the existence of GUT. When asked to join in search and rescue efforts, many were heard to remark ‘Wow – you had another boat out there – how come we didn’t know? Is that its picture – aw, it looks cute’. We therefore believe that British intelligence would be unlikely to have located GUT and still less likely to have found the hamster or its wheel. We may in fact be seeking out exactly what camouflage methods the Guardian used, given that a ship so popular with its passengers managed to avoid radar detection for so long.

Accusation 4: It was Zoe Williams

GUTers contend that “journalist” Zoe Williams, to whom they refer as ‘Woe’ for the state they allege she induces in readers, did wilfully and maliciously strangle the hamster. She was motivated to do so, they claim, after years of abuse from the talkboards’ denizens. GUTers frequently argued that the only possible use for her articles was as an aid to teach students how not to write.

The ministry contends that, to borrow a phrase, Ms Williams has better things to do with her time and was in no way, shape or form involved in any of the incidents discussed here.

Accusation 5: A team of crack managers stabbed the hamster

We find the accusation that outraged managers, unable to crowbar their staff away from GUT, sought out and stabbed the hamster in an effort to increase staff productivity, to be utterly without foundation. We find that all managers are capable of managing their staff properly, motivate them beautifully and at every opportunity, encourage productivity over mind-numbing, pointless and tedious activity. Good managers would, therefore, have no reason to fear the hamster.

Indeed the coroner finds that the hamster died of natural causes** and was not attacked by anybody at any time. Rather, it was protected and nurtured by the Guardian. Indeed, on questioning it was found that at least one staff member knew where its food was kept.

**Well drowning is fairly natural.

Accusation 6: Guardian staff have been patronising and unhelpful

GUTers have in particular objected to the Guardian’s thanks to them for “inventing social networking”. They also expressed somewhat robust views on Monday 28th February on a blog provided for them by the newspaper.

We at the Ministry find that GUTers have no cause to object, since the facilities were provided for free by the Guardian. However we feel that we should warn the GUT’s owners that survivors intend to sue the newspaper. A member of their staff, Meg Pickard, remarked to GUTers ‘thanks for being part of it for so long, and making it what it was: a much-loved community on the world’s best news site’. 316 people are now threatening to sue for damages on the grounds that the notion that the Guardian is somewhere in the world’s top ten news sites is laughable. It appears that most of the damages sought are for the cleaning of keyboards and monitors. Something to do with “coffee and interfacing and not in a good way”.

Accusation 7: Concerning the Guardian’s lack of choice and the way in which it has treated a community

Passengers have repeatedly and vociferously spoken out against the Guardian’s claims that as the ship’s owners they would not wish to treat a community in this way and that they had no choice in the matter. In essence GUTers appear to be arguing that there is always a choice, although sometimes that choice is between risking a beating by standing up for what is right, or standing by whilst somebody else takes the flak instead.

Passengers feel that British society does not know what to do with intelligent, inquiring and outspoken people and prefers to shut them up rather than listen to what they have to say and act on it sensibly. Intelligence is ridiculed, disparaged and discredited when it should be nurtured and admired. Instead we laud a vacuous culture of celebrity that relies on ambition and hides its ruthlessness under a shimmering and spectral visage. They argue that the good ship GUT was a refuge for them and that by allowing it to fall into disrepair and then to sink, the Guardian, the one British newspaper that you might think would provide them with a home, showed its true allegiance and simply followed the money.

The Ministry finds all this to be utterly untrue. Getting beaten up yourself is never a valid choice, it is the kind of Have A Go Heroism that the police are always warning us against. Prolonged research reveals that Edmund Burke never actually said that in order for evil to happen it is only necessary that the good do nothing. We find that the Guardian is proud to allow intelligent free speech on its internet site and points out to survivors that moderators will be happy to see passengers on Comment is Free where they can discuss journalists’ blogs.

Flotsam and Jetsam

Search and rescue have found some curious objects. To wit: a frozen sausage; HER DAD; your mum; your mum again; your mum again, this time in a coke can; a strangely irate hamster, no, hang on, there’s a kiwi fruit there, no wonder it was irate; several rather bedraggled sockpuppets; 10,000 Hitlers with a note saying ‘Dear Alan, you are worse than’; an Alanis Morrisette CD; some spoons; a set of red traffic lights; a few cyclopaths; one washing machine, on fire; one fridge, ditto; someone’s leg which appears to have fallen off, perhaps they should have called their doctor; my mate, deceased; some intense hysterical, sorry historical, discussions; a copy of the King James Bible; enough fish puns for a bunch of shipwrecked survivors to live on for months; an acute dissection of the Middle East crisis; a bunch of trolls and loonies who really should have been dumped at sea with only the fish puns for company but instead have been left locked in a room together chanting IP IP IP; some aeroplane wings, goodness, I wonder where they came from, should we let someone know?

Further along the shore were found: the digested remnants of a blue pill and some rather crusty tissues; a bloody good barrister, only slight wet; a defunct ceiling fan with what appear to be items of lingerie attached; a sign reading ‘beware comfrot level low, for special occasions only’; a twitching pair of jazz hands; a small and bewildered wol; several lemons; Genoa; India; a route map to the Free Republic, though oddly no escape plan; the lyrics to ‘I’m a van banger and I’m OK’; popcorn; deckchairs; an entire McVities factory of biscuits; collections of (()) and //\\ .

There were several books, including The Grammar Nazi’s Guide to Pedantry; Belming into the Void: A Beginner’s Guide; Latin Made More Hideously Complex Than Ever Before; Recipes That Do Not Include Wet Stuff; Advanced Techniques in How to go BAM and Hints and Tips on Finding Babysitters Whilst in Portugal.

Rumours abound of strange animal sightings in the hours immediately after the sinking. In particular it is thought that a monkseal may have attempted to rescue some survivors. We are less sure about reports of kittens riding ashore on the backs of penguins, but then to be frank the world no longer makes sense to us, so perhaps it is true after all.

There were also found: a stab map; a collection of hammers; a handbag that had seen better days and appears to have been mistaken for a latrine; a periodic table of the elements shower curtain; several pots of whitewash, oh no, hang on, those are ours; some oddly-coloured starfish of a type not usually found in these waters; a board game apparently called Clifton Cluedo; a tape measure that may or may not have been near Ian McKellan; several mooncups; mind bleach; and finally some rather oddly assorted and very lost people.