Bicycle Sensitivity Training

July 19, 2012

This morning, the Montréal police began ‘sensitivity training’ for cyclists who wear earphones. This led me to some investigations of the regulations that have already been promulgated by the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, almost all of which I infringe on my way to work each morning. Interesting omissions include: bike helmets (provincially, some municipalities in Montreal require them) and bells (strangely, I hear bells are now required in the city of Calgary).


The highway safety Code is accessible on here  and lists the various infractions that apply across the province. I especially like the color coding reflector requirement. Not pedantic at all. Here is a brief summary: Every bicycle must carry at least  (1) one white reflector at the front; (2) one red reflector at the rear; (3) one amber reflector on each pedal; (4) one reflector attached to the spokes of the front wheel; (5) one reflector attached to the spokes of the back wheel. Any equipment or object placed on a bicycle that blocks a prescribed reflector must be provided with a reflector that complies with the first paragraph. (art 232 – $15 dollar fine). You can’t wear headphones (art 440 – $30 to $60 dollar fine), you must “sit astride the bicycle” and hold the handle bars (so much for my new extreme sport of bike surfing) (art 477 – $30-$60 dollar fine). Don’t double (art 485 – $15 dollar fine), don’t drink booze and bicycle (art 489), and don’t ride against traffic (art 487).

Here is a bit of my twitter banter with the Police and the Societe d’Assurance Automobile de Quebec this morning. I have to say, it’s nice of them to reply:

SPVM: Interdits les écouteurs à vélo! – Activité de sensibilisation St Urbain/Laurier. #Velo #VeloMtl #SecuriteRoutiere


Adrianthorogood : @SPVM How much are the fines going to be? I need to factor this into my budget. ‪#Velo ‪#VeloMtl ‪#SecuriteRoutiere


Adrianthorogood: @SAAQ the enforcement of regulations like 440 CSR should be based in evidence. Where can I access your studies that headphones kill? #1984


SPVM: @Adrianthorogood That would be 52$. Have a nice day. ‪#VeloMtl‪#Velo ‪#SecuriteRoutiere


Adrianthorogood: One more question – 439.1 CSR doesn’t apply to bikes explicitly like 440. Can I still bike and use cellphone?


SAAQ : @Adrianthorogood Le cellulaire n’est pas interdit aux vélos. Par contre, la SAAQ ne le recommande pas car ça augmente les risques.


Adrianthorogood: @SAAQ @SPVM enlevez-nous nos écouteurs, enterrez-nous d’amendes, mais on va continuer à chanter en velo!! ‪#VeloMtl ‪#Velo‪#SecuriteRoutiere


Shut up and Play the Hits. Loud.

July 19, 2012

Shut up and Play the Hits documents the final concert of the famed dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem. This rock-umentary has three aims. First and foremost this is a concert flick. Most of the reel just plays the hits, and it plays them LOUD. It captures the mayhem, the non-stop dance-moshing, and the breath-taking musicianship of LCD Soundsystem’s “best-funeral-ever” at Madison Square Garden. And if there is one thing this band has, it is hits: the ululating “North-American scum” (with Arcade Fire on back-up vocals), the “laugh-out-loud dissection of cool” “Losing My Edge”, the heart-breaking “New York, I love you.” Sure, I liked these songs beforehand; hell, I partied to them for years. But these tracks are meant to be played live, with bright lights and bursting energy and the special guests and Murphy’s incredible vocal flourishes.

LCD Soundsystem is sick. They are genius. It’s not something that is easy to pinpoint. First, LCD’s musicians are very talented. This doesn’t strike you from their records, which have a forget-the-window-dressing-and-lets-just-party attitude. Especially taking is the astounding range (vocally and emotionally) of Murphy’s voice in live performance. Second, each song is delightfully different than the last. It part of why it feels like LCD Soundsystem is the only band you need. They know how to mix it up. The music also strikes again and again on that euphoric nerve between rock and dance and keeps the audience in a perpetual dance-mosh tizzy. And the band members are so damn loveable. All of these things combine to make the Gestalt genius of LCD Soundsystem.

The second theme of this flick is “funeral.” Shut Up and Play the Hits is too nostalgic to simply be a concert rediffusion. Thanks to Murphy’s decision to publicize his band’s last waltz, everyone at this concert knows is aware that it is the last of its kind. I half-fidgeted, half-danced through the whole thing on my high phi-centre stool; I wanted to be there, to down in the seething revelry of that panda-costumed crowd. But that desire was nipped painfully in the bud by the knowledge that I can’t be there, that I never will. At times, especially when the lens settles on Murphy as he stares off into the distance with melancholy detachment, Shut Up is a seriously sad movie. It’s a reminder that all good things come to an end. Perhaps it’s also a challenge to face the end of every good thing courageously, head-on, free of self-deception.

Thirdly, this film is a character piece on the impetus behind the life and death of LCD Soundsystem, their down to earth frontman. Between songs, the movie cuts to a sort of exit-interview where Murphy tells the story of himself and his band. Most of interview is his attempt to justify – as much to himself as to the audience – the decision to snuff out LCD Soundsystem’s existence just when it was burning its brightest. Watching him stare at the ceiling, silent and stunned, the morning after his last concert; walk his English boxer; say a few authentically teary-eyed good-byes to friends and even to his music gear, it’s hard not to fall in love. He is a thoughtful, deep-feeling, down-to earth human being. He portrays himself as awkward, but ok with it, as introspective to the point of judging himself for introspection, as too self-aware to don the fake, alien mask of a rockstar day in and day out. Murphy only became famous in his late thirties, and never saw himself as anything but normal. He claims he walked away from the band to re-attain a sense of normalcy, to settle down and have kids, to escape the blinding blaze of the lime-light.

But there is a mysterious paradox to Murphy’s self-portrayal. How can he be so down to earth and so damn cool at the same time? Is he really shirking fame or is he making a all-in gamble on his own immortality? Is he putting an end to a decent band, or giving birth to a legendary one? Behind his I-just-don’t-want-to-end-up-like-the-Rolling-Stones shctick lurks a calculated genius, a fierce will to do something totally unprecedented, something totally unforgettable. In short, LCD Soundsystem, I love you, but I can’t figure you out.

Man dressed as knight riding across Canada to promote Chivalry

July 18, 2012

Man dressed as knight riding across Canada to promote Chivalry

Gaspésie National Park

July 16, 2012

My first day of cycling in the Gaspésie consisted of an 80 kilometer round-trip to Gaspésie National Park, home to some of the highest points on the peninsula, the lumpy coccyx at the end of the Appalachian Mountain range spine. As a big fan of outdoor ‘biathlons’ (see my posts from Mount Loki in the Kootenays), my plan was to hike up Mont Albert on wobbly post-cycling legs, and see the famous 14 square kilometer plateau that stands in place of its peak.

My closest brush with death on the trip came that morning. A cop car whizzed by me and gave me a sharp warning honk. As I do with most drivers, and their sensitive proprietary feelings on the road, I just ignored him. But it turned out that the cop was escorting a lurching, heavily-laden semi-truck. The behemoth roared by me moments later, carrying a titanic blade for a future éolienne (wind turbine). The Gaspésie is investing heavily in wind energy, which perhaps a cyclist should take as a bad omen. Despite the enormity of the blade, it was the closest of shaves. I did everything wrong. First, every muscle in my body froze up in panic. Second, as I stared with mesmerised terror at this awful piece of aerodynamic architecture, I naturally started to veer towards it. I came out of the experience alive, but was more than flustered that suddenly the world was tilting its windmills at me.

Terror was not the sole acquaintance I made that day. Approaching the base of Mont Albert, I encountered a crew of cycling Cegep kids also planning to climb Mount Albert. Soon we were exchanging cycling anecdotes and snack food at the base of the mountain. I built trust with the Quebec natives by speaking with them in their local tongue and pretending to delight in their gustatory delicacies, which included spooning gobs of creton (lard) straight out of a jar.

The travellers were an impressively care-free and motley crew. Most of them sported dreadlocks, and clothes that had uniformly adopted the grey and brown hue of the road. Their bikes were even motley-er. I wouldn’t have trusted a single one of those beaters for urban commuting. One of the girls was actually carrying her gear in a wicker basket attached to her handlebars. Despite their apparent disorganization, they were ambitious travellers, who had left from Quebec City with little money and no return date. While I enjoyed their company, I felt both ashamed and jealous: Ashamed of my high-tech gear and excessive supplies of dried-fruit and chocolate; Jealous of their autonomy, their self-sufficiency, their nomadic community.

The hike was beautiful, and I finally had a moment to take photos. The weather deteriorated when we reached the summit, so we spent a few hours holed up in a shelter. The hike guestbook was full of memorable contributions:

(Sylvie – France (clearly)) – Pas de caribous…:(


(Stephanie – Montréal) – On marche contre la loi spéciale!


(Christophe – Un peu partout) – Venu chasser mes démons intérieur. Je n’ai trouvé que de la brume.

In the heavy rains and warm winds of the way back, I hoorah-ed triumphantly with my new biker gang each time we were klaxonné and eclaboussé by a passing semi-truck. It was thought-provoking to be on an identical journey as these youths, but to have come to it with such different aims and attitudes. Greedy for mileage, I soon had to abandon my new friends. I also hungered for solitude, a state now seemingly so rare in my life, and (like all things rare), so valuable. Not to mention, they were slow…

Rilke ,‘Letters to a Young Poet’, on solitude:

Il n’y a qu’une seule solitude, elle est grande, il n’est pas facile de la supporter, et il arrive ça presque tout le monde de vivres des heures qu’on voudrait bien pouvoir échanger contre une quelconque compagnie aussi banale et peu choisie fût-elle, contre un semblant d’accord minime avec le premier venu, avec la personne la plus indigne…Mais sans doute sont-ce là les heures où croît la solitude; la croissance, en effet, est douloureuse comme celle de l’enfant, et triste comme le début du printemps. Mais que cela ne vous abuse point. Ce que est nécessaire, c’est seulement ceci: la solitude, la grande solitude intérieure. Pénétrer en soi-même et ne voir personne durant heures, voilà ce à quoi il faut être capable de parvenir Être seul comme on était seul, enfant, lorsque les adultes allaient et venaient, pris dans des affaires qui semblaient importantes et considérables, puisque les grandes personnes avaient l’air très occupées et parce qu’on ne comprenait rien à leurs faits et gestes.

Laissez cette grandiose solitude accomplir en vous son travail, solitude qui ne pourra plus jamais être effacée de votre existence, et qui, dans tout ce que vous aurez à vivre et à réaliser, agira continûment et de manière discrètement décisive, telle une influence anonyme, un peu comme en nous le sang de nos ancêtres court sans cesse et se fond avec le nôtre pour produire un composé unique qui ne se répétera jamais. 

There is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along.  But perhaps these are the very hours during which solitude grows; for its growing is painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not confuse you. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours — that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grown-ups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn’t understand a thing about what they were doing.

One can only wish that you are trustingly and patiently letting the magnificent solitude work upon you, this solitude which can no longer be erased from your life; which, in everything that is in store for you to experience and to do, will act an anonymous influence, continuously and gently decisive, rather as the blood of our ancestors incessantly moves in us and combines with our own to form the unique, unrepeatable being that we are at every turning of our life.

Pictures of the hike can be found here, or on facebook:

Gaspésie Day Three Cycle Tour

July 12, 2012

I felt slightly alien tumbling out of the Orleans’ Express in the Gaspésie ‘border town’ of Saint-Annes-des-Monts. It wasn’t unpleasant. Feeling alien is feeling special. I busied myself unpacking and reassembling my space-age cycle in the de facto bus station / Petro-Canada parking lot with extra-terrestrial eagerness. I had the same feeling jogging in La Paz, Bolivia. People there work far too hard mining silver and farming cocoa, and hell, just walking home to their altitudinous neighbourhoods, that running for fun was unfathomable. The same sense of strangeness washed over the Gaspé locals. With the hills, and stretches of uninhabitable emptiness, it’s not easy to get around. Why would this space-age hooligan do it pour le fun?

After a 3 day preamble, my peregrination had finally, truly begun. Night was setting in, but I had to go for a ride. I surged forward through abandoned streets, cutting through the crisp, dark night with powerful strokes. Not going anywhere in particular. Riding for riding’s sake. Living for living’s sake.

Looking to exhaust myself quickly, I sprinted up the steep slopes towards Gaspésie National Park. Surely, the moose would be out in numbers tonight. Un orignal. Les orignaux. Sadly, this piece of french vocabulary, along with the beasts themselves, would prove elusive all week.

Turning back, I rushed down to the shore. A commotion of cars and voices caught my attention, down on the peer. The whole town was out, fishin’ in the dark. And they were doing well, too. Buckets overflowed with the writhing bodies of freshly hooked trout (?). It was almost as if the fish were leaping onto the peer of their own volition.

I made first contact on the peer, with a fishing father and son. The man had that affecting humility and honesty of someone who lives a tough life, but who accepts that he must. The reason for the fishing success, he explained, was that un banc des truits (a school of trout) were passing through. They would soon be followed by a hungry wave of morues, or cod, who feed on the smaller fish. He was a gold miner, working half of his days on some distant pile of ice and dirt in Nunavut. The other half he spent in the Gaspé with his young son. When I rolled up, the excited boy had just yanked out a fish. I was unable to mask my horror as this pitiless youngster ripped the hook straight out of the fish’s cheek. The cheek came with it.

Ce n’est pas gentil, I joked half-heartedly. My hosts glared back at me, almost offended. Here I was, this clownish city-slicker, importing my soft, liberal preconceptions out into the wild, where they (or I) had no place.

It took a few silent minutes for the tension to settle. The disfigured fish had almost stopped flopping around on the cement. As if realizing that he had made his point, the fisherman turned slowly back towards the fish. Picking it up roughly, he inspected it judiciously as it writhed in his gloved hand.

Trop petit, he mumbled.

Oh non! Ce n’est pas trop petit! The son protested, as his father discarded the fish back into the water.

It was a gesture of friendship, a moving concession calculated not to take pity on a helpless creature, but to put me at ease. My heart floundered into my throat. Not because that not-just-figuratively-faceless fish had been given another chance, but because I knew how tough it was for this man to be tender.

He turned to me, and flashed his warm smile. But understand me, he concluded playfully, en Gaspésie, on est sanguinaire.

Goodbye to Law Reviews

July 12, 2012

As I don the invisible robes of the Editor-in-Chief of the McGill Journal of Law and Health next year, as I take the helm of this busy and serious collective of students dedicated to separating the wheat from the chaff in health law writing (and publishing the chaff in a glossy red cover), as I accept my peripatetic promotion in this profession of purveying pretentious poppycock, I pause to admire Fred Rodell’s righteous rail on legal literature with its hopeful title: ‘Goodbye to Law Reviews’. I hope that I can somehow discourage my editors from the un-necessary brow-furrowing and complete humourlessness that he rails about so beautifully.

For those of you unfamiliar with the piece, it begins: ‘There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.’

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed (so hard) while simultaneously highlighting before in my life:

Goodbye to Law Reviews

Pedalling bikes, peddling words

July 9, 2012

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English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different meanings and spellings but, when spoken, they sound exactly the same.

This means that people understand what you mean when you’re talking, but if you’re writing, it’s more problematic. Opt for the wrong spelling, and you’ll risk confusing or exasperating your readers. The key to using the correct spelling in every situation is to understand the meaning of the words in question. We’d like to help you to avoid any mix-ups by occasionally spotlighting some confusable pairs of words on this blog.

Pedal power

My home city of Oxford is a city teeming with cyclists, one of whom had a very close encounter with me yesterday. We were both on the pavement at the time: I was on foot while he was pedalling along hell for leather and narrowly missed mowing me down. After I’d composed myself, I thought that a blog on pedalversus peddle might be timely.

You don’t need to search very far to find plenty of slip-ups, mostly with peddlebeing used instead of pedal. Take the examples below, from UK and US newspapers:

X  He then grabbed the victim’s phone and peddled away.

X  Steve put his foot down on the peddle and we were off!

What’s wrong with these? Well, the context is clearly cycling in the first example and a foot-operated lever in the second, so pedalled and pedal would have been the correct choices.

As these sentences illustrate, pedal can be both a noun and a verb. As a noun, its main meaning is ‘a foot-operated lever’.  Like the words pedicurepedestal, and pedestrianpedal ultimately derives from the Latin noun pesped– ‘a foot’.  We use such foot-operated levers to propel bicycles, to brake, accelerate, or use the clutch of motor vehicles, and when playing some musical instruments such as pianos and electric guitars.

       √  The driver may have accidentally hit the accelerator pedal instead of the brakes.

       √  The distortion pedals aren’t used as much on their new album.

Pedal also crops up in compound words such as pedal pushers, pedal boat, and pedal bin, and it’s not surprising that people make mistakes in these cases too:

X  Grab your bobby socks and peddle pushers, and take a trip along a roadway themed with 1950′s nostalgia.

Back pedalling from errors

As a verb, ‘to pedal’ chiefly means ‘to move a bicycle by working its pedals’.

√ On what was the hottest day of our trip we pedalled along quite happily.

√ Begin moving your legs in a circular motion, as if pedalling a bicycle.

There’s an extra spelling point to watch out for here. In British English, you double the ‘l’ when you add the verb endings –ing and –ed, so:

  • she pedals; we were pedalling; I pedalled.

In American English, the verb is always spelled with just one ‘l’:

  • she pedals;  we were pedaling; I pedaled

The verb pedal also crops up in the compounds back-pedal and soft-pedal.  Instances of the misspelling back-peddle are common on the Oxford English Corpus (OEC) occurring in journalism, blogs, and online fiction. In fact, 28% of the spellings for back-pedal on that database are incorrect. I’m guessing that people just don’t make the mental connection with bicycles and foot-operated levers. This is understandable: while back-pedalling used to be a way of braking when riding a bike, today back-pedal is chiefly used metaphorically to mean ‘reverse your previous action or decision’:

√  I obviously have to do some back-pedalling after my positive review of the first volume.

X  Now he is clearly back-peddling because of that mistake.

soft pedal on a piano is one which is pressed to make the tone softer. As a verb,soft-pedal means ‘to play down the more negative or serious aspects of something’:

√  What’s remarkable is that the film doesn’t soft-pedal the real pain that her husband’s cheating causes Mary.

Again, many people fail to link this figurative meaning with the literal use of pressing a piano pedal. An analysis of the OEC evidence shows that 50% of the spellings for this verb are for the incorrect form, soft-peddle:

X  Film-makers don’t want to soft-peddle the very real oppression the average citizen faces on a day-to-day basis.

Peddling myths, not bikes

Moving on to peddle, the good news is that this word exists only as a verb. If it’s a noun you’re after, pedal is always going to be the correct spelling.  Althoughpeddle looks similar to pedal, it has nothing to do with feet: this verb actually has its origin as a back-formation from pedlar. To ‘peddle’ goods, therefore, is to go from place to place to try to sell them. Nowadays, we often encounter peddlein the context of the selling of illegal drugs or other illicit items:

√  Pushers peddle drugs hidden inside cigarette boxes spread out on the sidewalk.

Equally common is the figurative meaning of peddle, namely ‘to promote an idea or story widely or persistently’. People tend to use this sense of peddle in apejorative way – liesmyths, and propaganda are all typical objects:

√  The government endlessly peddles the myth that demographic trends make the state pension unsustainable.

Although we’ve seen that people mostly use peddle when they really should write pedal, there are a few instances on the OEC of the verb pedal being misused – remember that you can’t pedal drugs, goodslies, or myths:

X  After the shadow chancellor’s announcement, that lie can never bepedalled again.

Peddlers versus pedallers

Here’s hoping that I’ve managed to make the differences between pedal andpeddle a little clearer. Finally, let’s take a quick look at the distinction between the related words pedlarpeddler, and pedaller (or pedaler).

  • pedaller (or pedaler) is a person who rides a bike, and is related to pedal. It’s always spelled with one ‘d’. The double ‘l’ spelling is the one to use in British English and the form with the single ‘l’ is the American one.

With no lights on his bike, the mystery pedaller risked the wrath of the law.

  • The noun pedlar is now relatively rare and is typically found in British English. It has nothing to do with pedals (in fact, it probably derives from a dialect word, ped, meaning a wicker basket).  Pedlar is the source of the verbpeddle, and refers to a person who travels around selling small goods, or one who sells illegal drugs.
  •  A peddler is exactly the same as a pedlar: this spelling used to be encountered chiefly in American English, but is now becoming much more common in British English too:

Police have made a series of arrests across Bradford in a crackdown on drug peddlers over the Easter weekend.

I’ll be exploring some more commonly confused words over the coming months, but if you want a quick and handy guide to a whole raft of confusables in the meantime, why not check out this handy list?