2020 Manifesto

2020 Manifesto

An attempt to reclaim a much-maligned word. A better fit than "resolutions" for these...

1 - Regain 2nd Cat Race License

In theory I should have already started the campaign on this, however as I type this while the 2020 race season has begun, there have been no races organised locally. I haven't raced since June 2018, so as of the 1st December 2019 I lost my 2nd cat race license...so I'll need 40 points to get back up there before the end of November. Ideally I'll get it done way before that.

Based on previous seasons, it will either go pretty well, or I'll struggle. Right now my core fitness is there (aka the Diesel Engine), but my top end is not...but that really only comes by racing. I've been getting some decent sessions in at Reading Velodrome with fast chaingangs, but nothing compares to race efforts. I'm confident I can sit in a pack, however I need to get capable of getting off the front and into breaks.

2 - Complete LE-JOG in September in top 1% of finishers

In 2010 I did John O'Groats to Lands End on the bike, having only taken up cycling (or rather triathlon back then) about a year previously. In retrospect I had very little idea what I was doing, and it was mainly ignorance and stubborness that got me round at the pace I did. A decade on, I've decided it's time to re-visit the challenge. I'll be using the same company (Threshold Sports), as I have no desire to either lug all my own stuff around or route-plan for 900+ miles of riding.

A few things have changed...they go the other way now (start in Lands End, finish in John O'Groats), and in Scotland they head via Edinburgh and the Cairngorms rather than Glasgow and Glen Coe. It's also later in the year (September, rather than June)...so less chance of sunburn, more chance of storms.

I went back and found my re-cap notes from 2010, and also had a look at the training I did. I may be a decade older, but I've spent a significant chunk of that time improving my cycle-fitness, so hoping to have both an easier and more rapid time. Top 1% will be top 10, and timings will include rest stops mid-route each day. No, I don't intend to stop mid-route unless I absolutely need to.

Notes from RideAcrossBritain 2010

Training Volumes for 5 months prior to RideAcrossBritain 2010
(I only got a Garmin for Christmas 2009, so no consistent records prior to that)

  • Jan 2010 - 495km/19hr (awful weather)
  • Feb 2010 - 885km/36hr
  • Mar 2010 - 1454km/56hr
  • Apr 2010 - 1102km/40hr
  • May 2010 - 1481km/54hr

(includes commutes)

...compared to the last 5 months currently, where I've just been doing general training.

  • Jul 2019 - 1827km/59hr
  • Aug 2019 - 1515km/49hr
  • Sep 2019 - 1314km/41hr
  • Oct 2019 - 1419km/47hr
  • Nov 2019 - 1103km/33hr

(does not include commutes...approx 280km/10hr a month)

So I do a lot more riding a lot faster these days, and I have a much better understanding about how my body operates (along with modern tools like power meters to help gauge efforts). The rough plan is to focus on racing upto May/June, and then ramp up the distance in summer...just top up the resiliance in the legs, and hopefully smash it all come September. There are a couple of other things I want to do that I missed out on last time;

  • More photos/videos. Action cameras and phone cameras were not a big thing back then, and we missed most of the official photographers by being too far up the road.
  • Sign the bloody register both ends. I didn't sign the Lands-End register, so couldn't get an "official" end-to-end certificate.
  • Don't pack 25kg of shite to lug around

I have treated myself on the way back, and booked the overnight sleeper from Inverness to Euston in 1st Class. Main Goal...shower in a moving train!.

3 - Commence Project-55

So this one is already in planning, but the first official action kicks off on 1st January 2020. The official goal of Project-55 is "to be in a position to fully retire at the age of 55". Notably it's not "retire at 55" as there are too many variables between now and then (and Gill may kill me if I swan around the house for 2 years while she is still working)...however there is no downside to putting a plan in place now, and having possible options later.

It's not actually that complex (as all the best plans should be). I have 3 pensions...a Final Salary pension that ended contributions in 2013 and starts paying out when I'm 60, the State Pension...which will start paying out when I'm 68 (probably), and a Defined Contribution pension that I'm currently paying into. I have to do another 10 years of National Insurance contributions in order to get the full State Pension, based on current rules.

Using the data I got from last years resolution to record all purchases, I can get a pretty good idea of what income I need to maintain my current lifestyle. From all that I've constructed a model where I can map out various scenarios and budgets to estimate earnings and income from my pensions against my living costs. From that I can work out various targets and goals (all residing in various spreadsheets and accountant reviews of the pension schemes).

A - Increase Pension Contributions
Including the company contribution, I currently pay in 20% to my defined contribution pension. As of the 1st January this will be upped to 32%. I need to manage the associated reduction in take-home pay...it's not massive (as it's only ~60% of the absolute value due to tax relief), but it will mean I'll need to be a little more careful, as this money is locked away until I'm 55. Ideally I'll up this again in 2021 and beyond, but this year will be assessing if that is viable.

B - Up Residual Savings to £20K
Last year I set myself a big savings target...this year I just want to nudge that up to a round number. Taking A and B into account I should actually have a bit more disposable income this year compared to 2019...however there will also be some purchases I've delayed from 2019 that will make this attainable, but not easy. This savings buffer is mainly there to cover any shortfall due to reduced overall income from the upped pension contributions from A.

C - Plan to finish mortgage by 2031
Currently it's due to finish in 2033 (I'll be 57), but I think there is room to shorten it a bit. This might be overpayment, it might be a lump sum from savings. It might be a lump sum from a pension scheme...there are options, aim here is to work out the most viable option. Being hyper-realistic, 57 is a probable target retirement age anyhow, but as per the initial goal, there is no downside to aiming at 55 instead.

D - Record and Categorise every purchase
Same as last year, but the capture method has been refined. In 2019 I didn't do great categorisation...I went through a process to re-categorise everything into more useful segments...those will be used in 2020. The Google Form is...complex...with many sections, but use is pretty simple. The data from 2019 is very useful, but there are some unique features to the year. I bought literally no petrol (you'll see why below), and I didn't race (there are costs involved). A second year of data will be very useful.

4 - Discover 4 new authors

It's back again. I read a lot in the early part of 2019 (when you're limited to lying down, and spending time in hospital Kindles are a godsend!), later on in the year I got mired in some long series...good books, but a little slow. I'm looking forward to reading some new stuff.

5 - Complete 2 games of Reasonable Size

There are a couple of big games that are on my radar (Final Fantasy VII remake is definitely there). I've had some un-expected games on Switch that have really twigged with me (Rogue:Legacy and The Touryst) that got me over the line in 2019, so a look-out for games of a similar ilk would be good. I want to give Astral Chain a try-out as well.

6 - Pay Carbon Offsetting

A little bit tree-hugger, however I should probably not actively try and kill the planet. I always get a little narked when people say "what about the children?". I'm properly not worried about the continued existence of the human race (success or failure...the root cause of most environmental issues is too many humans), however I'd like to see the general flora and fauna have a fighting chance. We swapped to a carbon-neutral energy supplier this year, and I sort of twigged that apart from flights, I contibute less to emissions than Joe Bloggs (again with the lack of petrol purchasing this year and cycling pretty much everywhere). I've done various questionnaires, checks on flights etc. In 2020 currently I have 4 trips abroad planned (Nice in January, Malaga in February, Majorca in April and New York in October), and it's pretty easy to work out the "carbon cost" of those.

There is absolutely fuck-all chance of me not eating meat, and until tracking food miles becomes a simpler affair, I am not going to bother with that. Consider me a very, very lazy environmentalist. I also fully understand that carbon emissions are just one part...single-use plastics, particulate pollution etc are all there as well. My general lack of use of an internal combustion engine means I'm low on the scale for particulates. Single-use plastic is probably high for me, however I once again raise the "I'm a very lazy environmentalist", and if easier options become available (primary area is probably food packaging), then I will adopt them.

General estimates have my 2020 lifestyle generating approximately 10 tonnes of CO2 (this was the higher end of estimates). Typical offsetting costs from a Gold Standard supplier will be between £150 and £200. I'll select a suitable Gold Standard project (ideally I'd like to support a forestation project, however there are concerns about the long-term viability of those...the trees need to be in place for 50-100 years to capture the carbon...in large areas of the world that then requires a stable, supportive government to defend the land from farming etc), and pay my dues at the end of the year.

7 - Get the Motorbike back on the road

I was unable to ride the motorbike for the first few months of 2019...as a result the MOT ran out and I declared it as SORN as I couldn't tax it. When I was able to ride it again I discovered it had a puncture, and I've been unable to find the hole so can't repair it. As such, it's been sitting in the garage for about 15 months now.

Probably in early spring I need to get a bike garage to come and pick it up, fix the rear tyre, service and MOT it, and then get it re-taxed. I will probably also need to get some distance in to get some confidence back on it. I don't do huge mileage (again with the cycling everywhere), but occasionally I need to get myself somewhere not in lycra, and the motorbike is the best option. I did actually look at the possibility of getting an electric motorbike, however current costs for something I would consider worthy of me are still prohibitive.

8 - Catch up on replacement purchases

As noted above, I skipped some purchases that were "needed, but not vital" in 2019. Mainly bike stuff. I'll need to get these sorted in 2020...ideally being cost effective and grabbing stuff in sales;

  • New bike shoes (both road shoes and MTB shoes for commuting). Both are falling apart
  • Bike clothing - my indoor training shorts are dissovling, and I need some new summer shorts too
  • Bike winter jacket - I'll need this before LE-JOG in September. My current one is about 6 years old, and while warm it's water-proofing is questionable.
  • New Wheels - again, something suitable for LE-JOG. I have a good idea of what I want (it will mean nothing, but Hunt 50mm carbon hoops), it's getting them the most cost-effective way. My race wheels are not practical for long-distance bad weather riding, and my climbing wheels brake surfaces are not ideal for poor conditions.
  • New Phone - Probably after LE-JOG, as all the new models come out just before Christmas. My Honor Play is doing really well, but the battery is starting to show signs of fatigue. I could well be tempted with replacing the battery alone, as there is nothing really "new" in any phones these days...

I hereby commend the document to the house.


As always a fascinating read and inspirational too. I really have no idea what 2020 is going to hold for me.

brainwipe's picture

I think it's reasonable to say that 202 has not exactly gone to plan so far. I can envisage a lot of mothballing of plans.

Regain 2nd Cat License

Well, to do this I need races. The Winter Series at Hillingdon (my normal season start) never happend due to a lack of organisers, and then the virus pandemic has put paid to racing until at least June...more realistically I think that the 2020 race season is over already (for amateurs in the UK at least). The rework of the bike room has been fortuitous, as it doesn't look like there is much outdoor riding happening this year generally.

Complete LE-JOG in top 1% of Finishers

No idea if this is even happening right now...the organisers have it as pending. My gut feel is not...September is a long way away, but even then the logistics before it will be impacted.

Commece Project-55

When I said "too many variables between now and then", I wasn't wrong!

As of tomorrow my working hours have been reduced to 4 days a week (with a corresponding pay cut) for the next 2 months. With no businesses operating in the UK, there is obviously very little marketing going on, so we are being reduced to skeleton staff. I'll probably be working 5 days but on reduced hours (as I have daily live support tasks).

I've been able to offset this to some extent by re-reduing my pension contributions (I had gone from 4% to 16%...I've now moved it back to 4%, so in real terms I have an ~8% pay reduction). My focus now is immediate access savings, as that "rainy day" may be right round the corner.

Discover 4 New Authors

Right, back on less shaky ground. Doing OK on this, having already ticked off 3 new authors;

  • Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone - This is How you Lose the Time War - pretty dull. Nearly didn't finish it.
  • K.J Parker (aka Tom Holt) - Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and The Engineer Trilogy - 16 Ways... is an excellent book with great pacing. Really enjoyed it. I found the Engineer Trilogy over-long, and it re-used a lot of factual material that 16 Ways... worked with.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal - Lady Astronaut Series - an alternate history of the 50' and 60's after a meteorite impact in the USA in 1950 (which causes a slow extinction event), leading to an accelerated space race. Currently 20% through the second book and really enjoying it. A lot of focus on 50's and 60's sexism and racism.

Complete 2 Games of Reasonable Size

I have played a lot of "Slay the Spire" on the Switch. I've technically finished it with all 4 characters, but there is a "proper" finish that I haven't yet gone for. I would say I have a successful run 1 time in 10 currently, and going for a good finish requires 3 specific tasks (all with detrimental risk), and the completion of a 4th level.

I'm also plodding through "Good Job", a physics based game where you complete tasks in an office in a vaguely destructive way.

Pay Carbon Offsetting

This is going to be significantly less than expected. I have flown to Nice in January and Spain in February (getting back about 2 weeks before all hell broke loose), I've already had confirmation that flights to Majorca in April are cancelled, and the chances of going to New York this year seem a bit low.

Get the motorbike back on the road

This is being deferred for now. Partly as I don't need it (lets face it, not going anywhere soon!). If/when the lockdown finishes this will need to be done, just in case I need to start looking for a new job and need transport above and beyond that which I can cycle (realistically a 20-30 mile radius of Reading).

Catch up on replacement purchases

Again, a lot of this is going to be deferred. I've done some bike clothing purchases out of necessity, however winter jacket, wheels and shoes will wait until I have a better idea about future plans. Ditto with the new phone.

babychaos's picture

Is your job at risk at all? Or is it just in the "unknown" bucket?

brainwipe's picture

I'd say it's less about my job and more about the company being at risk...though I doubt we are the only ones.

babychaos's picture

You're far from the only ones. I now of four others whose organisations are in doubt. One held a niche (in LAN-only financial software) and the lead dev there has been asked to work out a migration strategy for one of their biggest clients because being only within a network isn't really as secure as having multi factor auth. The very fact that loads of people are WFH has shown that their model isn't sustainable.

Best of luck, mate! Fingers crossed for you.

brainwipe's picture

I remember enjoying the Engineer trilogy a lot when I read it years ago, quite fun idea where the main character isn't some superhuman godlike being but just a very skilled maker of things something you don't see a lot in fantasy esq stories.

I bounced off the first Lady Astronaut pretty hard I found the main character to be quite an annoying mary sue with her constant repeat of "I'm great at maths!" every five seconds. It was a shame as I liked some of Mary Robinette Kowal's other works.

Currently I'm playing the new Animal Crossing New Horizons on switch very chill game and it reminds me a lot of Stardew valley which of course was inspired by earlier titles in this series. It's starting to feel a little samey like I'm just in maintenance mode collecting things paying off my vast mortgage. I've not done some of the visiting other islands which you can do but I wonder if it's starting to wear a little thin. It doesn't quite have the variety of things Stardew has no dungeons or more complex interactions with npcs etc.

Anyway Stay safe and best of luck mate.

Evilmatt's picture

I've had streams of people playing Animal Crossing up...as you say, it's pretty chilled, but I could never play it myself as I don't have the patience (I'd definitely be the sort of person who fiddled the system clock to jump forward)....while I've plughed 100+ hours into Stardew Valley for exactly the reasons you say...simply more to do, and you can move the game at your pace (in my case completely ignoring the village, and turning my land into a battery farm and high-intensity Ancient Fruit Wine Distillery, mass producing cheese and wine).

I think I probably read the KJ Parkers books the wrong way round...13 Ways to Defend a Walled City is a bit like a readers digest of The Engineer trilogy. They both have a similar main character (in 13 Ways there is more flippancy, less omniscence, which comes across better), but the trilogy drags stuff out a lot (I mean, seriously, there is only so much I want to know about how to conduct a hunt for boar in varying terrains), while 13 Ways really does get on with things...the book is half the size of one of the trilogy, and covers the same ground as the final book in the Trilogy in terms of story. I also felt that while the main character in the Engineer trilogy was "just a normal guy", the entire "I had this all planned out to the n'th degree" epilogue was just bullshit...far too many random things happened, and it felt a bit like a very long, drawn out deus ex machina. It probably wouldn't have grated in a single book , but over 2,000 pages it wore thin.

babychaos's picture

The ability to play at your own pace is a vast improvement over the "You have to wait in real time" nonsense in animal crossing sure you can fiddle the clock but it feels like that's bad game design. The multiplayer in Animal crossing is similarly weirdly designed and even offline if you have more than one person using a switch with different accounts even if you have multiple copies of the game you share an island and there is a primary owner and everyone else is a guest and can't progress the story and unlock the various things. That doesn't bother me but it's indicative of the sort of design decisions they make deliberately making things harder for their users because it fits their esthetic.

Yeah the Deus ex machina element of it did feel very forced, it's been quite a while since I read it but i remember a bunch of things happened he couldn't have anticipated. It almost felt like he was claiming responsibility after the fact for something he had nothing to do with and just saying "yes that was my plan all along!". I might have to check out the 13 ways to defend a walled city it keeps popping up in my goodreads.

Evilmatt's picture

Well, it was definitely not the 3 months I was expecting when I was working out my plans in December. Some major re-prioritisation has gone on in the last quarter. I've been on reduced hours and pay since April (I go back to full time/full pay on the 1st July), and working from home since mid-March.

Regain 2nd Cat License

Well, once again you need races. British Cycling are the arbiter of such matters, and their most recent update has been that "some racing may commence from August", and an indication that local/low level racing will start first (due to lower travel requirements, less spectators etc), however it's also been pointed out that pack racing is basically riding through other peoples snot. I'm not confident really...which is a shame as I've been able to maintain a pretty decent fitness level throughout lock-down.

Complete LE-JOG in top 1% of finishers

This has now been officially postponed until September 2021, so out of the window for this year.

Commence Project 55

This has most definitely taken a back seat, with the new immediate goal of bolstering savings for any short-term mishap. I don't directly save anything for working from home (I don't have commute costs, and I don't have a wardrobe of work clothes), but at the same time I have still saved in terms of food (snacking is reduced to what is in the house, and lunches are cheaper now as well). I've been on a low/no spend out side of that, with most purchases being delayed or postponed. Income returns to normal from July, however I'm going to delay putting pension contributions back up until Q4, again with a focus of bolstering savings for short term stability. I had initially set a goal of £20k residual savings, but I've already popped that, so probably looking at getting ~£25k instead.

Discover 4 new authors

As part of the cost-savings, I've instead been reading a couple of more main-stream authors from Gill's Kindle collection (we are an Amazon Household, so I can access her stuff). I've read the "Wool" trilogy by Hugh Howey...this may as well be called the "Fallout" trilogy, as I'm pretty sure there is some major influence there. I really liked the first book (Wool), found the second book a frustrating slog (Shift), and the 3rd book (Dust) was a sort of middling tieing up of loose ends really.

The other series (which I'm on the final book of now) is Phillip Pullmans "His Dark Materials" trilogy (Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass). Honestly, I'm underwhelmed...given the noise and fuss about these books, the first 2 books at least feel quite slow, and the writing style feels old-fashioned. It reminds me a lot of C.S Lewis's "The Silver Chair" (in fact I'd put a lot of parallels between the 2 series, with both having religion as a strong theme and meta-theme, though in opposite directions), which is sort of the goth entry in the Chronicles of Narnia, and my least favourite in the series. I've also watched the BBC adaptation of the Golden Compass...I feel it did a better job going through some of the core concepts, and it notably ret-cons in an early chunk of the second book (The Subtle Knife), which makes me think Pullman did a trilogy based on the success of the first one, and realised he needed more characters and story.

Complete 2 Games of Reasonable Size

Final Fantasy VII:The Remake. Hmmm... OK, I really enjoyed playing through it...it's a different game to the original FFVII...less JRPG, more Action-RPG. It's beautiful (played on PS4-Pro), and I think the new quasi-real-time combat works. The character development is much better...there is a major story point early on where some characters you have been interacting with a lot die, and it was genuinely gutting to see this time. WHat was really missing is the open-world and character-building. FFVII was all about maxxing stats, building Materia (magic and skill-giving rocks that slot into weapons and items) combos, and synergising builds between characters. Moving away from turn-based has lost some of that, and instead it's about 3 self-supported characters to some extent...

...and then there is the big ret-con at the end of the game (about 40 hours in), where Square-Enix do a big shift from the original story...partly to add an end-of-game boss-fight (the game ends at the point in the original where you walk out into the open world, and realise you've been playing ~20-30 hours in a single location of a massive world), and partly to say "the future is not set", basically saying any future episodes are NOT going to be a remake of the original. That is a bold statement, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in being on-board with this project as having the original story re-told with next-gen graphics... I'm not sure how I feel about this re-write, this sort of thing rarely goes well.

Other games I've played. Golf Story, which is an excellent Switch game that combines old-skool Zelda-esque games and Mario Golf...a whimsical story about someone trying to play in the pro-tour. It just works really well...the golf part is well-done, and using golf-mechanics to "solve" puzzles (most of which resolve to hitting a ball on/near an object), a nice campy story of the other characters, and strong controls. Honestly, it's probably the best golf-game mechanics I've played (an award previously held by Hot Shots Golf on the PSP).

I really want to try the Wonderful 101, but need to wait for a sale I think.

Pay Carbon Offsetting

This is an end-of-year one, and will be less. We are resigned to not going to New York this year...I don't think a trip to Majorca is entirely off late September/October, though at moment we are not in a situation to book anything (and the hotel we like over there is shut). I've used some of my holiday to continue my reduced working hours in July (so working 7am-1pm Monday-Friday, and getting long afternoons), so I'm getting plenty of cycling in at least.

Get Motorbike back on the road

Again,a delayed one. I have nowhere to go, so don't need it right now. Motorbike garages are busy this time of year, so I'll probably look to do this as winter sets in, as getting a slot is easier.

Catch up on replacement purchases

As part of the cost-cutting most of this has been delayed or postponed. My cycle shoes actually broke (the mechanism that tightens them snapped), however it turns out that the mechanism has a life-time guarentee, and I was able to order free replacement bits that could be swapped on.

The positives of Lockdown

I've probably gotten off lightly in lockdown compared to others. I have a decent work-from-home environment (sorting out a desk/monitor etc when my back went has paid off big time), and we have space so both of us can have an office. It took me a couple of weeks to start getting my head into the work-from-home mentality, but now I'm used to it. I've been able to set up a very good video-conferencing setup (full green-screen, condenser mike, lighting, and I've got all screens feeding into both webcam and screen-sharing via OBS). I've been able to do some new system demos that have been shared company-wide in what I would call "streamer-style", with me in the bottom-left, doing funky screen transitions, animating stuff in and out etc. I can now also do this live via screen-share in video-call apps, so getting a good side-hustle in the office of running workshops and presenting back on projects.

I've been able to get plenty of exercise and fresh air. Cycling is literally social distancing in motion. I've been used to riding my myself for years now, and in the last 3 months I've racked up ~6,000km of riding, partly helped by the good weather. It does unfortunately mean I see some of the less-good stuff regarding social distancing (locations like Henley, Marlow, Wallingford etc have had visitors and locals with a complete disregard for the basic concept of "stay the fuck away from each other", with gatherings around "takeaway" coffee shops, and dense groups by the river etc).

Our food supplies have been relatively un-interrupted. The only thing we have been unable to buy is bakers yeast...however I started a sourdough culture about a fortnight into lockdown, and that has now been supplying all our bread for the last 2 months...meaning all I have required is strong bread flour and salt (both of which our local Waitrose have had supplies of regularly before my own stock ran out). We have a weekly "takeaway" pizza from it as well in lieu of PieDay Friday, and that's saving us ~£20 a week easily.

Both (Gill and myself) our companies are mooting a more permanent work-from-home model for IT, and we have both agreed that so long as it's both of us, it would be OK. Gill has had a phase of working-from-home for a previous company, and didn't like it...but then she was in a flat by herself. I think for both of us really we're at the point now where we need to know if that's going to be the future, so we can start figuring stuff out. If we do end up with full-time home offices, there are a couple of infrastructure things I'd like to do (air-con upstairs, and wired internet to the offices), and then we have a conversation about dogs.

babychaos's picture

Always enjoy reading these, they even give me a bit of a pep too. This line tho...

and then we have a conversation about dogs

I think it would be fair to say that you've been very patient.

brainwipe's picture