(Some of) What I Was Reading So Far in 2019

Excluding re-readings of Iain (without the M.) Banks, Steph Swainston, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and a few others I’ve forgotten because a) too poor for new books, b) too sooky to want to read new books, and c) very much wanting the comfort food of old books, even when I discovered I was hate-reading. Turns out I hate-read. I’m surprised and shamed at my pettiness, but here we are.

New books I did read though:

Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, one on the shortlist for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, which in itself is guaranteed dead solid reading every year. And Roma has a podcast now. Buildings and engineering. Nice!

Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by Liao Yiwu, who is the one Chinese political writer everyone should read, up there with Svetlana Alexievich.

Edges, by Linda Nagata, someone I’ve heard about for years and had never read. Strong reminders of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy, high probability I’ll keep reading the series.

Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers, 1888-1970, by Jean Francois Bouzanquet. Large-format coffee-table-ish book of women hooning the shit out of fast cars. Obviously 10/10.

Geochemistry, by William M. White, which I picked up yesterday and haven’t actually started. One of my periodical forays into geology fun. This one’s packed with formula and equations, which is slightly intimidating.

The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, which I don’t remember much of, except it reminded me a lot of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, whose The Mortal Word I also read. Chokshi though, didn’t work for me, despite wanting to like it.

Growing Up African in Australia, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, along with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s (of the awesome gal-dem) Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, both collections of autobiographical essays and both critical reading.

Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, which I was expecting a lot more of, and got instead a weirdly messy history of the river like ’90s white Euro-American journalism.

The October Man: A Rivers of London Novella, by Ben Aaronovitch, this one set in Germany (or Germland as I’ve been calling it recently), and a very German take on “What if, Harry Potter, but he’s a black cop in London?” I also re-binged his entire series while in Spain at the rate of a book a day, “Yeah, seven books will be enough for 12 days …” (runs out of books.)

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad, which I somehow decided was all about US hardcore. It’s not. A few bands I’ve never listened to, several bands I used to love, revisited while reading and was sad at how they didn’t touch me at all when they used to define the movement of my life. Very worth reading for a particular moment in time and place.

Permafrost. Hello, Alastair Reynolds. Not a novel, sadly, but we had the sequel to Revenger, this year, Shadow Captain, so, can’t be greedy. Basically he’s my Iain M. Banks replacement, and I love his terrifyingly dark Space Opera.

The Raven Tower, by another solid fave and Iain M. Banks replacement, Ann Leckie — probably neither would like being called ‘replacement’, but fuck it, me doing high, awkward praise. This is her venturing out of Space Opera into not-really-fantasy but no obvious spacecraft, and it’s both the best thing she’s written since the Imperial Radch trilogy, and her best stand-alone novel since her first. Very, very, very good.

The Rise of IO, by Wesley Chu, which I have almost no memory of, vague nudgings of recognition when I read the plot, but … nope, not much beyond that.

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, which I’m randomly picking at. Some essays, like dealing with being a black woman academic in Germany, are very head-nodding, yup, it’s all that, uh-huh, others are … Black, cisgender heterosexual (whether middle-class, academic or not) feminism that operates as though trans and queer are things that don’t need to be at all considered, are ancillary, not relevant — like white feminism of the same type — is a thing. Fucked if I know why, either. Especially because my experience of Black feminism / activism in north-west Europe is that it’s hella trans and queer. But maybe they’re not the ones in academia, getting to publish essays.

And that’s it. Potentially acquiring a stack of new books soon, potentially reading them, vague possibility I’ll blog them. It’s all a balance for me between enjoyable focus and going too far with it, pleasure becoming obligation, and all.

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Back At It

A couple of rides early last week, probably a bit ambitious, a hot spell I definitely wasn’t getting lycra’d up for, and back at it this week. It’ll be seven weeks tomorrow, still feeling it, still having to find my way through, balancing my complete readiness for thrashing it with a top half of a face that is very far from able to thrash. Doing it in the small ring then, nice and slow and not getting my heart rate up, even this leaves my forehead and scalp feeling weird in multiple ways. The other balance is between this healing process and needing to train to keep my crazy in check. Not having to worry about murder-bent Berlin car drivers while doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld is very welcome.

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German Whip: Mercedes-Benz E320 Cabriolet

Seen up on Flughafenstraße, debadged carmine Benz E320 convertible stunting opposite the Mosque . Additional numbers and letters include W 124, A 124, but sadly not AMG, which would make it the literal embodiment of DTM Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft. ’90s boxy Deutsch hoonage is the best hoonage. “See man driving a german whip.”

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Decycling the Frame

Gala came over for a spontaneous equinox visit this week, and spontaneous plans to make a short film. Me and my endlessly riding the Berliner Mauer, calling it art, discovering Tilda did it first (and twice), not caring ’cos it’s not the same, having the Gala with a bike who needs a short “About Me” film for her agency, and me loving the Dreilinden stretch of the former Berlin Wall (plus it’s one of the sections where the Mauer diverges and spreads from the Mauerweg route, and I’m still piecing it together). A Wednesday plan, a Thursday morning prep, a bike via Brandenburger Tor and Hauptbahnhof, S-Bahn to Griebnitzsee, or rather Wannsee ’cos there’s track work, and yes, you can take your bike on the Ersatzverkehr Bus, then biking the bourgie Potsdam side to Glienicke Brücke, and biking back on the forest-y northern side, past Jagdschloss Glienicke and all the bonkers Baroque architecture, around one of the East German exclaves of Klein Glienicke (More cobbles! Hills and cobbles! 2nd worst cobbles I’ve ridden in Berlin, 4/5 Paris-Roubaix stars of terrible joy.) past Steinstücken, along Teltowkanal as the sun came out, and scooting onto the old Autobahn bridge. Then following the sandy tracks where the Autobahn used to run until we went parallel with the A115 and arrived at the bridge by Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden.

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Berliner Mauer — Albrechts Teerofen

After the division of Germany, the West Berlin neighbourhood of Albrechts Teerofen jutted into East Germany like a peninsula. From 1952 onwards, it was cut off to the north, south and east by the East German border fortifications. The Autobahn towards Helmstedt/Hannover passed through the eastern end of the district. This was where the “Border Checkpoint Nowawes” [Babelsberg] was set up. It was later to be called “Drewitz Border Crossing”. When the Autobahn was rerouted on 1969 to pass by the south of Albrechts Teerofen along what is now the A115, the East German government had the Drewitz Border Crossing moved as well. In the summer of 1965, the 42-year-old West Berlin resident Hermann Döbler was shot dead near the old border crossing when his sports boat entered the East German border waters in the Teltowkanal. His female companion was badly wounded and permanently disabled. Although the boat had already turned back. the East German border guards deliberately fired aimed shots at its occupants. In 1981 after lengthy negotiations, the East German government opened traffic along the Teltowkanal near Albrechts Teerofen to freight shipping towards West Berlin. This shortened the barges’ journey by about two days.

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Schloss Babelsberg from Glienicker Brücke

Out riding last Thursday with Gala, following the Berliner Mauer from Glienicker Brücke anticlockwise back to Dreilinden in a small, partial remarking on Cycling the Frame, a film I didn’t even know about until after I’d begun orbiting Berlin as an art-ing process. More new bits of the Mauer mapped into me as Wege. More new stretches of cobbles. It’s all about being pounded by the cobbles.

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Berliner Mauerweg — Dreilinden

There was a map of West Berlin and the Berlin Wall I saw at the Stasimuseum Berlin, which showed exclaves of West Berlin, as well as some deviations from the path the Berliner Mauerweg takes. Being ‘winter’, and a while since my last proper ride, I thought it was time to go exploring along my regular big ride route again.

I’ve passed through Drelinden along Königsweg a couple of times already, past Checkpoint Bravo, which you drive through shortly after Grünewald if you’re heading south out of Berlin. The path of the wall is a little south also of Königsweg, which you can see on a satellite map as a light sandy scar in the dark forest, curving down to Teltowkanalbrücke and Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden, and over the canal curves again westwards towards Steinstücken, the exclave now split by the S-Bahn and very much not on the signposted Mauerweg. This turned out to be around 7km of sandy, slippery riding getting increasingly rougher on the south side with tree routes and trails broken by horse riding — proper cyclocross fun. Followed by getting lost around Steinstücken. And later realising I’d missed the whole weird Wall Border in Klein Glienicke.

A shitload of fun on a 107km ride on a glorious winter’s day that made me forget all about white cis sportswomen shitting on trans and intersex people.

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Top Tube Reminders

It was going to be something like “enjoy suffering”, for what turned out to be a muddy, sandy, forest-y, riotous fun 107km ride. Decided for something a little more fitting with a 14° sunny mid-February day.

  • drink & eat every 15–20 min
  • stretch back & neck
  • change saddle & hand position
  • over & under-gearing
  • stand up
  • breathing
  • calm & joy

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“Fucking banger, you little cunt!”

There was this downhill in Narrm, High St in Glen Iris, a long dogleg leading down to the train crossing where, if the traffic was right, I’d hit 70km/h. Apparently the speed limit now is 60. Kinda sketchy, as the road leading in already gave some speed, and the first right bend had a weird camber that pushed towards the gutter. The only way to ride it fast was to apex across both lanes. That’s the easy way to get fast.

I’ve been doing a particular training lately, that I enjoy in that obviously “I’m suffering here” kinda way. Every time I pass a person walking, it’s out of the saddle for 10 revolutions. If I pass another person while I’m up, another 10. A maximum of 20, but there’s a couple of sections around the airport where I might only get a few seconds sat back down before I’m up again. The randomness of it appeals to me, much more than the strict “20 seconds on, 2 minutes off, repeat” kind of thing of intervals. I have Emma Pooley to thank for this. Today I decided to add in one all out sprint per lap, about 250 metres of locked in, high cadence, heart-fucking pain. I like high cadence work, but it’s only been very recently I’ve been doing it, and in the context of high speed it’s very new to me — as much as I love fast.

’Cos I’m a slightly drama bitch about keeping details, I wrote this in my notes:

I hit 50.8km/h at 00:57:48, HR 187; HR peaks at 191 at 00:57:53, 5 seconds later and remains at this until 00:58:02, a duration of 9 seconds, 13 seconds after my speed ended its peak, and has dropped to 41km/h. I definitely felt those ten seconds, gasping for air and all. Anyway, fun times.

When I got home and saw I’d finally got over 50km/h, and no downhill assistance, I announced rather loudly, “Fucking banger, you little cunt!”

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Tempelhofer Feld After The Week of Rain

Not as much riding this month as I’d have liked, with rain (which I like, but ruins bike) and sick (which I don’t like, and neither does bike). But a sunset ride yesterday made up for some of that, finding some more of the gravel, single-track, cyclocross possibilities in the inner-northern field. Another sunny day today, -3°, perfect.