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Cape Epic 2019: Stage Two

Oscar Foulkes March 19, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
I’m going to apologise in advance, because there’s a rant coming. By way of lead-in, I need to introduce a 1970s Motown group, The Undisputed Truth. Don’t worry, I didn’t know about them, either, until my kids introduced me to their music, particularly their song Friendship Train. I think it’s got a really cool sound – listen to the video alongside.

Here’s the final verse:
This train stands for justice,
This train stands for freedom
This train stands for harmony and peace
This train stands for love
Come on get on the friendship train
People listen to me now
Harmony is the key my sisters and brothers
Oh yes it is I say
Harmony is the key my sisters and brothers
People can’t wait cause another day might be too late
Come on get on the friendship train

For the purposes of what’s coming, substitute “tribe” for “train”, so that one gets the phrase “this tribe stands for …”

As I said in my post-Prologue report, one of things about Cape Epic that gets riders excited is this sense of being part of a tribe. Usually, this tribe is associated with high levels of fitness, and an ability to endure pretty much whatever is thrown at it. It’s also a group of people that spends a lot of time in wilderness areas, deriving a huge amount of pleasure from being in the landscape.

However, over the past few days I’ve seen another side of my tribe, and it’s made me very grumpy. Riding towards the back end of the field means that I get to see a lot more of it. What I’m referring to is litter, generally in the form of discarded packaging for the various energy bars and gels that get consumed. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if I had collected all the litter from every one of the mountain biking events I’ve taken part in over the past ten years, and distributed it on the Cape Epic course, what has been discarded over the past two days would exceed a ten-year accumulation.

Given this tribe’s relationship with wilderness areas, it’s a big surprise, and it brings into question how one might finish the phrase “this tribe stands for …”

Come on, guys, it doesn’t take a lot to slip the spent packaging into a pocket, or to lodge between thigh and bib short.

OK, rant over.

We had a much better day today. We went out with the same strategy, of riding conservatively so that we could finish the 92km stage (2200m of climbing) in roughly six hours. We more-or-less achieved that, but most importantly, we reached the end feeling good about the day. It was much better space to be in than where we were the previous day.

During last year’s Epic I had reason to coin the phrase “the Tallboy line”. I hadn’t ridden the Santa Cruz Blur yet (the more racey version of the Tallboy that I’m riding this year), but I could as easily have called it “the Santa Cruz line”.

It’s been noticeable how many more people are riding Santa Cruz this year. There seems to be a culture of riders defaulting to one brand (no need to mention it), without actually taking a range of bikes out onto trails. It’s great to see some variety.

This morning we had the opportunity of riding a “Santa Cruz line” on a very rocky piece of steep jeep track where everyone was on the smoother side (and on their brakes). I pulled out to the unused side, released brakes, and enjoyed what amounted to a self-created Technical Terrain. I could do it with confidence, knowing what the bike is capable of.

Another factor, I think, is that I like to ride with fairly soft tyres (1 bar, or even slightly less). Had I been on super hard tyres I’d have had a much harder time keeping the bike on the trail, not to mention upright.

Back on the flats and climbs it gets back to who has the legs and ability, which leaves me trundling my way along at the back of the field, where I have plenty of time to notice what the riders ahead of me have discarded.

Tomorrow is another huge day – 107km, with 2800m of climbing. There is work to be done!

Cape Epic 2019: Stage One

Oscar Foulkes March 18, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
This race is brutal. There is absolutely nowhere to hide if you’re short of fitness or talent, or just having a bad day.

The pros at the pointy end of the field are on form – or close to it – almost all the time. For the rest of us, there are days we just have to suffer through. If they are having a bad day they lose five or ten minutes. We can lose 30-60 minutes.

For me, today was that day.

A mountain bike stage comprising 111km and 2700m of climbing (this may be the key number in conjunction with the distance) is never going to be easy. Our plan was to ride conservatively, maintaining a steady pace up the climbs, aiming to average about 15km/h for the stage, which would have seen us home in roughly seven hours. It’s a long day by comparison with the pro riders, who whizzed around the course in under four-and-a-half hours, but it sets us up for a week of steady improvement.

We reached the 60km mark in four hours, so bang on target. Actually, we were slightly ahead of the curve, because by that point we’d done more than half the climbing (the climbing on today’s stage was very much front-loaded). However, the next 35km became an exercise in survival for me.

It’s all a bit unfair to Piet, because he is in the form of his life. If the Cape Town Cycle Tour had not been windy, he would have ridden it comfortably under three hours.

From the final water point, we had a mostly downhill 20km to the finish. I’d dosed myself with a sugary gel, and also pushed handfuls of ice into my bib shorts, which cooled my quads. I was back in the game, relatively speaking. Piet, on the other hand, started cramping.

It was our second longest day of Epic, ever, exceeded in length only by stage one in 2017, when Piet cramped on that very hot Hermanus stage. We missed our seven hour target by more than 40 minutes. I think he’s going to petition to change Hermanus’ name to Cramp City.

Tomorrow we head for Grabouw. It’s a shorter day, with significantly less climbing, so we’re hoping for a better outcome.

We’re busy sipping glasses of Restless River Chardonnay (continuing the theme of drinking wine from the areas we ride through), while looking out over the ocean as the sun sets. Life is feeling a lot more bright than it did at 2.00 this afternoon!

Cape Epic 2019: Prologue

Oscar Foulkes March 17, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
I have felt ready for Cape Epic for a couple of weeks, which is a big relief considering my mental and physical state early in February. At the time, I took stock, sought counsel, and then had an entire week off from any form of exercise.

It is an enormously exciting event in which to participate, and the feeling of being part of a tribe certainly builds as you see international riders on – or near – trails that we ride every week.

To say that I’ve been excited about starting this Epic would be an understatement. However, based upon my experiences during two previous Prologues, when I couldn’t get my heart rate down, I’ve needed to work on visualising a calm ride, almost as if I was out on a coffee ride with mates.

Fortunately, conditions this morning were cool, which is always a help. We got around the course seven minutes faster than last year, and also felt a lot fresher afterwards. I’d regard this as a big win.

Our Epic plan is to ride at a relatively conservative pace (except for descending, but more on that in a moment), and get stronger as we get deeper into the race. This year, particularly, that is going to be a necessary strategy.

We are not athletes of the ilk of Joel Stransky, who started a minute after us, passed us well before we’d even exited UCT, and proceeded to ride the Prologue 15 minutes faster.

Over the first quarter of the course (roughly), which is mainly uphill, the leading times were about 65% of our time. However, on the final big descent, we performed relatively stronger, reducing that deficit to the point where the leaders were at about 80% of our time.

However, the aim with Prologue – and the event as a whole – is to get around in one piece. In this respect, I had a little reminder of how quickly things can go arse over tits, when I took a little tumble entering the second to last bit of single track. It’s a route I’ve ridden dozens of times, but today there was just a brief lapse in concentration. The end result is a roasty on my elbow, which needed a little bit of attention from the medics.

I’m a lot better off than the rider I encountered there, who took a much more serious tumble on the Plum Pudding singletrack, and is now out of the event with a suspected fracture to his left arm.

While on the subject of the Plum Pudding, I need to broadcast an apology to the rider who was walking in the lower third, but on the trail. I called out to him to please move over. He saw me approaching, but didn’t move, so I shouted at him to “Move!” He still didn’t move, so I had to take the tiger line down.

The main broadcast, though, is a huge THANK YOU to everyone who came out to support riders along the route. We love the vibe!

A few hours later: my left wrist that was sprained in November is suddenly really sore. It must have taken some of the impact when I fell. Fortunately, I still have the brace, but it’s in Cape Town, and will get a lift to Hermanus overnight.


Oscar Foulkes February 26, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
When I was training for my first Cape Epic, in 2017, I posted weekly training updates. Seeing as I found my riding partner as a result of a blog post (Be My Epic Valentine), it seemed only right to continue the story. The biggest motivation, though, was to share the journey from cancer treatment to Epic.

I posted daily updates during the event, and when I took on the 2018 race I did the writing all over again.

Not that you’d know it – because I haven’t posted about it here – I’m about to do my third Epic. I’ve done all the work, but none of the writing. Theoretically, this has nothing to do with powering my bike over insanely difficult routes. And yet, this event is almost as much a mind challenge as it is a physical challenge.

Writing, I find, is an extremely valuable tool in straightening out my thinking. Last year, I had some major life changes, which I wrote about using the tag “Adventures of Re-“ (click here for them). Further life changes followed at the beginning of February this year, when my now-adult daughter and son both left home (and Cape Town) for big adventures. None of the above makes for great emotional space, with “re-“ words such as ‘relevance’ becoming more appropriate to my personal perspective than the more exciting ones. In my journey along the road of reskill, retool, and reinvent, I have gone through some very dark days.

Sticking with “re-“ words, the process has tested my resilience, not to mention depleting my resources.

What I’m getting to, is that training for Epic in this condition seems to be far harder than my first, when I was battling my way through recovery (there’s a good “re-“ word) from radiotherapy, in addition to which I didn’t realise the extent to which my breathing was impaired. The one with big physical challenges should have been harder than the one with emotional issues. From this perspective, it doesn’t seem that way.

As usual, this time there was a heavy block of training over the holiday period, between Christmas and mid-January. Basically, I rode for two days in a row and then rested for a day. Each day of riding averaged something like five or six hours. I got back from this, and went straight into riding Attakwas (not called ‘extreme’ for nothing).

I had done all the work, but my body just wasn’t firing. Something felt wrong. At the beginning of February I bailed halfway through day one of a two-day race, and then rode day two at a sedate pace. Following this, I visited my GP, who has substantial experience in participating in ultra-marathon trail running events. He took blood for a variety of tests (all clear, including liver, miraculously), and supported coach Erica Green’s prescription that I needed a break for recovery.

I did nothing for an entire week, and then started riding a little in the following week. Last week I took part in the Knysna Bull, which is a three-day race plus prologue. I got through it all fine, returning to Cape Town feeling energised, and looking forward to rolling off the start line on 17 March.

Meanwhile, my riding partner, Piet Viljoen, has been in the form of his life. In 2017, he was also training for Comrades, and last year he was training for Ironman. This year, cycling has been his sole athletic focus, with obvious effects on his strength. Fortunately, he has been extremely patient with me, demonstrating that Epic is very much a team effort between the two riders. Epic’s theme of ‘conquer as one’ is real. There have been Epic stages when I’ve been the stronger (very few, admittedly), and it could happen again in 2019. The extremeness of the physical challenge takes riders into places that one can’t predict, no matter the levels of fitness or cycling prowess.

For all the physical slog I’ve experienced, while my body has felt ‘not-right’, the one bright part has been downhills. As the front wheel of my bike drops below the rear, I am immediately connected with my happy place. During Knysna Bull, there were three different timed descents, which I rode as fast as I possibly could. I think that played a big part in me finding my mojo again. Descending is certainly not the same as slogging through a long climb or a holding on for dear life on a pacey flat section, but I’m going downhill faster than ever, and it definitely helps to lift my spirit.

This year marks a change in our team’s ‘theme’. Previously, my top-rated racehorse Sergeant Hardy was talismanic of our Cape Epic efforts, because of our shared breathing problems. He’s just had a surgical procedure to increase his breathing capacity, and will return to the track later in the year. We are sporting new kit this year, bearing the logos of investment and financial services companies in which Piet is involved. The team name, Compound Cubed, is a reference to the miracle of compounding, which is the mathematical basis for his investment wizardry.

While I don’t know for certain if not writing training updates made any difference to how I felt at the end of January, I’m now feeling excited about Cape Epic 2019. I started writing about my Epic preparation as a way of sharing the journey. Perhaps the physical act of writing was also important for my journey.

I haven’t stopped writing, I’ve just been covering different material (click here for that). In a way, this is more manifesto than the recording of an experience.

Our ‘strip’ for Cape Epic 2019.

Another happy place for me – riding Sergeant Hardy on the beach. (pic: Donna Bernhardi)

Some People vs Most People

Oscar Foulkes October 23, 2018 Cape Epic, Uncategorized No comments
I have sat through many extremely dull and unnecessary race briefings during mountain biking stage races. As farm manager Rickus Jooste put it while doing duty during The U, the fit and skilled riders will say afterwards, “What were you talking about, that was easy.” The unfit and unskilled will say, “Jeez, they didn’t say it would be this difficult.”

But, it helps to know – basically – what to expect. In his dry, understated way, Rickus prefaced his route briefing by putting up a slide of a bell-shaped curve, recording the previous year’s results. The fastest and slowest riders were annotated “some people”, sandwiching the main part of the curve, which was labelled “most people”. Along with a few other dry-as-Swartland-in-summer comments, it quickly descended into the funniest race briefing I’ve ever attended.

He repeated the humour on the second night when using dance/music videos to illustrate the need for “rhythm and flow”. The all hips and generally loose bodies in Uptown Funk were juxtaposed with a wooden Theresa May doing her wooden best to sashay onto the stage to strains of Dancing Queen.

The some/most people comparison could equally be applied to pretty much the entire event.

It’s the kind of outlier experience that one hesitates telling others about, because you don’t want to put pressure on the 200 available slots for the following year’s event. However, when as much thoughtful attention to detail has gone into the planning and execution, it is only right to heap praise. They deserve nothing less than deep and profuse expressions of gratitude.

It was striking how much more peaceful the event was with just 200 riders, as opposed to the 1200+ of Wines2Whales or Cape Epic. There was no sense that we were in the middle of a hyped-up jamboree. This was about great trails, a stunning setting beside the dam, country hospitality, and the fellowship of keen mountain bikers. The closest one can get to the same experience is by doing the Imana Wild Ride.

There are very few parts of The U that follow jeep tracks or farm roads. This is all about trails that have been finessed through the fynbos. Of course it took a lot of work, but it’s generally a case of accommodating rocks and protea bushes, or finding a way uphill that doesn’t involve going straight over the top. There’s a lot of twisting and turning, and at times it almost felt as if the trail had been routed to specially traverse flat rock outcrops, of which there are many.

One has to concentrate all the time, watching for rocks in the trail, or the ones adjacent that could snag either pedals or handlebars. Some turns or passages are extremely tight.

With all these mini obstacles, one is often required to apply a little extra power. Also, due to corners sometimes being taken a little slower than usual, extra power is required when exiting. The Piket-Bo-Berg (PBB) trails also have more switchbacks than any other route I’ve ridden – getting up and around the tight, steep turns is also power hungry. As a result, a large number of riders (myself included) cramped on day one, and I was in danger of cramping for much of day two.

Liberal use has been made of bridges that keep the trail flowing across parts of the mountain where there is no trail.

Due to the technical terrain of the PBB trails, downhills are seldom free miles, but man oh man, are they fun to ride!

I don’t want to scare people off, because it’s all rideable (by “most people”), but there might have been more technical stuff in the two days of The U than in all the stages of the two Epics I’ve ridden. There are certainly more switchbacks.

I’ve never been a confident rider of downhill switchbacks. Eventually I was riding pretty much all of them. What helped was having secure berms on the outsides, in just another example of sensational trail building at work. I’m hoping my switchback riding has turned the corner (I promise I didn’t mean that as a pun).

This is not quick riding – if we rode Epic at the same pace we rode The U (and we were “most people”) we would be in danger of not making cut-off.

The landscapes we rode through – and viewed from afar, generally up high – are spectacular. Given that the PBB trails can only be ridden during an organised event, of which there are just two per year, one must grab those opportunities when they come along.

I need to make mention of the catering, which falls into the “some events” category. The lunches were in the style of Ottolenghi – mostly vegetarian, with loads of fresh, crunchy things – which might not have been to the taste of “most people”, but I loved it. Dinners were tasty, if somewhat under-catered from a quantity perspective, especially considering how many calories we were burning on the trails. Breakfasts were fine, although curiously lacking in butter for the bread.

The orange juice station involved two fruit bins of oranges from the farm plonked next to the juicer. Can’t get fresher than this!

Truth Coffee did a roaring trade, as well as CBC beers, the delicious Piekenierskloof wines and the Sugarbird gin. Pura’s “adult sodas” were handed out as we crossed the finishing line.

Race medals comprised little handmade wire bicycles. The organisers’ attention to detail showed in the bike boards on these miniatures being printed with the actual number of the rider receiving them.

Back to real bikes (of the carbon variety) – our Santa Cruz Blurs performed very well. I got pushed beyond my comfort zone a few times, but that was more about what was happening in my head. I had more than enough bike for the job. While the Blur might have been pitched as a marathon bike when it was launched, it is so much more than that.

I urge you to work your way through Chris Hitchcock’s event pictures on the PBB trails Facebook page.

These are “some trails”.

Most Epic Steeds

Oscar Foulkes October 11, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
We Cape Epic riders know that big questions will be asked of us over the event’s eight days. Until the official route announcement every September, we just don’t know the detail. But we do expect them get their pound of flesh.

Two days of extreme heat made 2017 unforgettable, ending dozens of riders’ Epic aspirations. In 2018, we had four consecutive days of 110+km (along with everything else, of course). Continuing the theme of novelty for the wrong reasons, in 2019 we’ll climb more metres per kilometre than any other Epic. Of specific concern are the days with 2650m, 2700m, 2800m and 2850m of climbing.

I’m expecting it to be my toughest Epic. If the organisers ask for theme songs for Epic 2019, I nominate Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime. Here’s a selection of a few pertinent lines:

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around

My chest is aching, burns like a furnace

I just hope there is no reason to invoke the line about “mudd club” (that’s mud with one ‘d’).

We can’t control the route, so there’s no point getting hung up about it. Rather focus on the things we can do something about, like preparation, and our own attitude while we’re suffering our way through a tough stage.

Of course, we also get to choose our weapon, in the form of the bike we ride. I was provided with a Santa Cruz Tallboy for the 2018 Epic (read more about that here). I love its ability to comfortably negotiate just about any gnarly or technical terrain. Riding the Tallboy did wonders for building my confidence.

Since April, I’ve been riding the Santa Cruz Blur, a handy extension to their family of downhill and cross country bikes. It weighs 10kg (or slightly less), which makes it the bike that Sir Isaac Newton would have chosen if he was riding Cape Epic in 2019 (assuming, of course, that he could be teleported from the 17th century, and squeeze himself into Lycra).

Riding a bike that light is a game changer when there’s a lot of climbing to be done. Actually, it’s a game changer on the flat as well, but there won’t be much of that in 2019.

While on the subject of lightness, I lifted a time trial bike when was at my local bike shop a few weeks ago. I swear it weighed kilograms more than my Blur, which was a big surprise.

A lot of climbing means there’s also a lot of descending, much of which will be technical. This is where the Santa Cruz downhill pedigree comes into play. Riding a Tallboy for five months definitely upped my confidence levels (it’s pretty much bullet proof). My riding changed thanks to the Tallboy; on the Blur I’m descending as fast, if not faster, than on the Tallboy.

The Blur is also great on nippy singletrack that has many twists and turns, because its lightness makes it very responsive to small shifts in body weight.

The name of the Blur is a reference to its speed. However, in the way it handles technical terrain, it blurs the traditional lines between cross country and marathon bikes (take a look at Oli Munnik throwing it around in the video alongside).

Last week, on a gentle Zone 2 ride, I passed a rider on a downhill bike as I hit the gravel at the end of Tafelberg Road. Even though it was an ‘easy’ day, my plan was to go full-gas on the descent to Vredehoek. He seemed to be having some casual fun, but clearly caught the bug, because I had him on my tail all the way down (huge trust from him to ride at pace, this close to someone of unknown skills). It was an exhilarating dash, especially with the drier weather having left the corners very loose and gravelly.

To some extent, it was a case of taking a knife to a gunfight, but the Blur acquitted itself extremely well.

When I was researching bikes before my first Epic I may have mentioned a couple of technical specs of one bike to Oli. “How does the bike feel?” he asked me. I realised that I was already doing that. I just didn’t trust myself to base a big decision on that.

Since then, and making allowance for my very average abilities on a bike, I’ve become more aware of ‘feel’. So, while the Blur is on a par with Tallboy in the way it handles technical stuff, how it feels is different. On the Blur, I feel a closer connection with the trail, and yes, I do have to ride it slightly differently.

While on the subject of ‘feel’, last week I rode Sergeant Hardy for the first time. You can click here for more detail, but the short version is that he’s a racehorse I own in partnership with my mother. We both have impaired breathing (that’s where the similarities end, unfortunately), but despite this handicap he was one of the top-rated sprinters in the world earlier this year. Our Epic team is called Hoarse Power because of him, and he has been talismanic for our mountain biking exploits.

Sitting on his back while walking through the waves on the beach is one of the most memorable physical experiences I’ve ever had. The feel was extraordinary – and that was without even breaking into a canter.

In horse racing, Newton’s Second Law can be applied to calculate the difference in result when the weight carried by the horse changes (i.e. jockey and saddle). Sergeant Hardy weighs more than 550kg, and yet a kilo or two in weight carried makes a significant difference over 1200m.

I’ll be around 76kg when I ride Epic, which covers much bigger distances. The lightest bike makes a big difference to how much effort I’ll expend in getting around the route.

A Blur, a Blur! My kingdom for a Blur!*

*with apologies to Shakespeare

(Disclosure: I have the use of a Santa Cruz Blur, but have not been offered any inducements or rewards to say nice things. This is 100% about the bike getting under my skin.)

Riding a different kind of ‘tall boy’ – me on Sergeant Hardy.

The Stuff of Motoring Legend

Oscar Foulkes October 10, 2018 Uncategorized No comments
If I had a workshop attached to a motor dealership I’d do the same. It should be relatively easy to sell a new vehicle to someone who has done 100,000km. One would think that at 200,000km it’s a slam-dunk, and at 300,000km, well, it should make taking candy from kids look difficult.

My Totoya Fortuner has clocked up 325,000km. I get those calls.

For the sake of brevity I’ll skip the pleasantries, which always involve the sales person asking me if I have a cold. Even without me dropping cancer into the conversation, she is left speechless for a bit when I tell her that this is my voice.

It doesn’t take long for her to come back at me, though: “Would you like to upgrade your Fortuner, Mr Foulkes?”

At this point, I feel like AB de Villiers with his eye in, the part-time bowler has dropped one short, and the ball is sitting up beautifully, preparing to be launched into row 20 behind the mid-wicket boundary.

“But I already have the most upgraded Fortuner.”

Then she starts fumbling through her notes, throwing features of the newest models at me, eventually moving to exit the conversation as elegantly as possible.

Before I get onto my rationale for my car being as upgraded as claimed, here’s my view on how to conduct this conversation. Begin by congratulating me on having a vehicle that has covered this many kilometres, which might also lead into chatter about the big trips and memorable family holidays. Perhaps also praise me on keeping a pristine service record. At this point it might be appropriate to guide the conversation in the direction of a new Toyota. After all, the record with my vehicle has proven the reliability and longevity of the brand. OK, maybe not quite as easy as AB slapping long hops to the boundary, but the bit of verbal footwork improves the chances of success.

Right, so how is my ten-year-old Fortuner, that has done the equivalent of eight circumnavigations of Earth, the upgraded version?

For starters, it is paid off. I owe nothing on it. A vehicle that has no corresponding debt has to be an upgrade on one that is encumbered.

Secondly, this is a vehicle with epic history (as befitting its mileage). It’s the stuff of legend. It’s been involved in the creation of many memories, with road trips to Namibia and Lesotho, not to mention the breadth and width of South Africa. It’s done five Tankwa trips for Afrikaburn, countless family holidays, and general running around the Western Cape.

Yes, there was also the time I got stuck on the N1 in Paarl when the alternator gave in, but that was at about 270,000km. One has to expect these things to happen eventually.

My Fortuner gets upgraded every time I put my (sponsored) Santa Cruz Blur on the bike rack, because the bike is worth much more than the car. I couldn’t claim the same if I switched to a brand new model.

I will, eventually, be forced to update my wheels. Hell, the sound system is so old it doesn’t even have a slot for an AUX cable, leading to much incredulity on the part of my young nephews. The vehicle will reach the point where a set of new tyres will be a significant portion of the its value.

Until then, I’ll be on standby for the six-monthly phone calls from the sales person.

With a brace of Santa Cruz on the bike rack, which seriously upgrades the value.

Being Human: Talking

Oscar Foulkes September 19, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
I’ve done some ridiculous things.

I can say this with authority, without even including on the list the time I tried to cook a whole egg in a microwave. Did I mention that I tried three times in succession, cleaning exploded bits of egg from all corners of the inside of the microwave after each attempt?

I’m going to put ‘preparing a talk’ onto my list of ridiculousness. Given that I’m never certain what sound will come out of my mouth before I start speaking, or – indeed – if any sound will emerge, doing a presentation to a group of people might not seem like a sensible first choice.

And yet, the twists and turns that have brought me to this point have left me with learnings and insights that I feel the need to share.

My talk is entitled Magic in Process. Superficially, it’s about cancer and feats of endurance, but it’s really about resilience in the face of adversity, overcoming challenges, and the simple actions that enable us to achieve our objectives.

The talk is constructed in such a way that it’s possible to tailor it to specific audiences. Given some of the subject matter, it might be useful for people looking for ways to resist the call of the couch (i.e. to be more physically active), or perhaps interested in different perspectives on dealing with the difficulties we experience on a daily basis.

I’m looking for speaking opportunities – if you have a ‘platform’, or know of one, I’d appreciate the opportunity to share the fruits of my journey.

Keeping it Human: Independent Retail

Oscar Foulkes August 16, 2018 Keeping it Human No comments
When we save money by shopping online or by visiting a big box retailer, do we gain, or do we lose?

Yesterday I needed to visit the pharmacy. Actually, I’d tried the day before, but the queue at the back of my local Clicks was so long that I abandoned. Instead, the following day I adjusted my route slightly to drive past Zetler Pharmacy (Mill Street, Gardens). I could park in the street just beyond the entrance (so, no need to go through the whole parking garage thing), and best of all, there was no queue. Actually, the best part is that the entire experience had authentic human warmth to it. Plus, if what I wanted was not in stock, it would have been delivered to my home later in the day.

As I walked back to my car, I walked past Babu Footwear, which is as old-school a shop as the pharmacy. I’d been meaning to go hunting for shoe trees; on a whim, I walked in. I hadn’t been in the shop for a minute before the gent commented on the brand of shoe I was wearing. Impressive, considering that he’d only had a glimpse from the top (and doubly impressive, because I was somewhat unconscious to the brand side of things). I walked out a few minutes later with the required shoe trees, and my day enriched by yet another unharried human interaction.

The irony is that the shoes I was wearing had been bought at bargain price on a daily deals website. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that I would have bought them by conventional means at full price.

The Google search I’ve just done suggests that Dis-Chem stocks shoe trees at a fraction of the price I paid. This is most likely because their version has been sourced direct from a factory in China. Coincidentally, I could have dealt with the pharmacy requirement at the same time.

In fairness to Dis-Chem (and assuming there was a branch close to me), the interactions with staff wouldn’t have been terrible. They would just have been different in a subtle, but important way.

It’s very easy to default to the obvious shopping destinations. However, if we do too much of it we’ll end up driving good people out of business. It’s complicated …

As a ‘human experience practitioner’ I am perhaps overly sensitive to the human dimension. On the other hand, if corporates were more tuned to these things, there wouldn’t be any market for what I do.

What do you think?

The shops' exterior (pic: Google)

The shops’ exterior (pic: Google)

The Making of a Logo

Oscar Foulkes July 16, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
My spontaneous middle of the night brainstorming session that led to Hx: The Human Experience went down a variety of paths. One of the most important, though, was the symbol that would represent the business. In other words, the logo.

Logos are important, primarily as an easy way to uniquely identify the brand. However, really great logos perform a dual role of telling your story.

My nocturnal thinking started at UX (user experience) and ended up at HX (human experience). Along the way, I got thinking about the Rx symbol that is used for medical prescriptions. I liked the old-school apothecary angle to it (Rx actually denotes a recipe that needs to be followed for the formulation), with a hint of alchemy.

That incorporated part of the brief to Nic Jooste, the designer with whom I’ve worked for about 20 years. The one non-negotiable was that the ‘x’ had to be small.

Nic then did a whole bunch of representations of Hx. What I learnt from this exercise is that the letter X is visually dominant. There are also a bunch of other associations that I wasn’t looking for (e.g. XGames, Xbox etc).

The letter H is also a tricky one, in that one runs the risk of looking like a knock-off of either H&M or Hamleys. The one famous ‘H franchise’ we were safe from mimicking was Harry Potter.

H and X are two letters comprising straight lines with hard edges. Some of the explorations tended to the somewhat impersonal and corporate. I also asked him to do some handwritten options, but these (with x adjacent) had many ‘up-strokes’ that tended to the slightly histrionic. Also, the vertical lines on the H didn’t line up at the bottom (I can be a little OCD sometimes).

However, there was an H that I really liked. It stood strong and bold, with a rounded top left corner that gave it a slight quirk and softened it just a bit (interestingly, rounding more of the corners on the H killed the effect). There were various looser representations of X, including one that was in the vein of Japanese brush strokes.

I asked Nic to put them together, which may not exactly qualify me for inclusion in Clients From Hell, but could have caused some irritation.

The end result has a duality that acknowledges the complexity of humanness. The H represents the hard sciences, the left brain, the numbers and spreadsheets that are integral to business. On the other hand, the brush-stroked X speaks for art, contemplation, beauty, and the human touch. Orange has a sense of fun and playfulness.