This weekend, I'm off to Cambridge for a stag-do... which will likely consist of drinking, the races at Newmarket (which will mostly be drinking) and then some more drinking in Cambridge. I'm a 43 year old man and I don't especially like being drunk, so I imagine I'll be able to avoid the peer-group pressure and avoid becoming a shambling mess. Probably.
I suppose it doesn't really matter as long as I shake off the hangover in time for next week's wedding.
The groom is one of my oldest friends. I first met him in around 1983 at school, and I've probably spent more time with him since than with almost anyone else in my life, probably including my parents. He told my wife the other week that, on our first day at a new school together in 1987, I told him that he should stick with me and that I would look after him. I have no recollection of this and it doesn't really sound like something I would say at a time when I was busy worrying about myself... but it's a lovely memory anyway.
We go back a really long way together. Thirty-five years! Well, apart from anything else that might have happened in that time, we're both certainly older and have less hair now, anyway.
I couldn't be happier that he's getting hitched and I can't wait to see the daft sod tomorrow.
First wedding, too! Amazing! That's the emotional damage wrought by a boarding school education for you, eh?
Is it strange that I sometimes just take against a piece of fruit? I bring them into work with me on a Monday morning and, almost immediately, I decide that I don’t like the look of it. I won’t throw it away until Friday evening, but from that moment, I know that I’m just never going to eat it.
I mention this because I’ve had an excellent banana week. I’ve eaten three bananas from two different bunches and they’ve all been good: peaking at an 8.5 / 10 and only dropping as low as a 7 / 10. My team were on tenterhooks this afternoon and actually asked me when I was going to eat my banana as they were keen to know the score. They were a touch disappointed that it was only a seven after the high point of Wednesday’s banana, but there’s no disgrace in a seven and that’s a perfectly acceptable piece of fruit. I actually stopped to chat to an old colleague of mine the other day and noticed that she had a rather sad looking banana sat next to her monitor. It had been there long enough for someone to write “banana” on the peel in biro.
“Are you ever going to eat that, do you think”
“No. Probably not.”
“You’ve taken against it, haven’t you?”
“Yes. Yes I have”.
You see… it’s not just me!
Some types of fruit are reliable – it was put to me today that the apple is the McDonalds of the fruit world: safe and with very little risk. Well, that depends on the variety and the time of year. At the moment, I’m really enjoying English apples, but I find that I only really get on with them if I cut them up with a knife – a Granny Smith I’m perfectly to crunch up direct from the core. On the other hand, the pear is a low percentage fruit: at their best, they’re fantastic… but how often do you catch a pear like that? 1 in 100? The other 99 won’t get beyond a 5 and the minor disappointment of each one adds up to outweigh bothering to find a good one.
There was mild consternation in our office this week when one of the team started munching a kiwi fruit without bothering to peel it or to scoop it out: he just wolfed it down, skin and all. He didn’t understand why everyone else was so horrified and maintained that the skin contained all sorts of nutrients that would otherwise be lost… but we’re not beasts, are we? Surely, peeling a kiwi is what separates us from the animals?
Everyone else thinks of fruit in these terms, right?
Although nominally signed off sick until this coming Wednesday, as I've already mentioned, I’ve actually been back at work since last week. That might sound crazy, but my rationale for this is that:
a) the surgeon initially told me that I’d need a week off, then two weeks – which I arranged with work – and then, on the day of the operation itself, three weeks. Once I’d established that I was going to be experiencing discomfort rather than pain, I didn’t really want to string things out any longer than necessary. My stitches have nearly dissolved now and everything
b) I was going a bit stir-crazy, rattling around by myself at home and needed some company. I was in the most ridiculously good mood as soon as I got back into the office purely because I like my team and I was delighted to be spending time with them, work dramas notwithstanding
The plan was that I would ease myself back in with a week of shorter days, trying to leave for home by about 3pm. I’m still not allowed to cycle or run, so I’ve been forced to bring my car in too… so at least this would mean missing all of the traffic.
I sounded optimistic that I could make this work but obviously, just as no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, this plan worked for all of two days, both of which saw me home early enough to pop up to Trent Bridge for an hour or so of country cricket after work. So far, so good.
Then Friday happened: there was a major incident at work that saw me staying at the office until gone 8pm, then up on Saturday for a 7am conference call and a weekend of multiple conference calls (about nineteen in total) and quite a lot of sitting at my desk working. I was then into the office for 06:30 on both Monday and Tuesday, as the incident rumbled on.... and will be on Wednesday too, and probably the rest of the week too.
I also don’t get paid any overtime.
Oh well. I tried. My sick note expires tomorrow and I'm back to work as per normal.
I got a card through the letterbox the other day. It was advising me that there was a parcel for this address being held at the local sorting office because the sender had paid insufficient postage and there was £1.50 owed. Normally, this would be relatively straightforward, but although clearly addressed to my house, the recipient on the card was apparently called “King”.
This presented me with a dilemma: we’ve lived in this house for 15 years and I don’t recall ever receiving any post at any point for someone called King. Should I go and pay the outstanding postage and see what it was, or should I just forget about it as likely being a wasted journey to collect something that wasn’t for me and was for someone for whom I have no forwarding address.
In the end, curiosity got the better of me and I decided that I should pick it up.
When I got to the sorting office, I paid the outstanding £1.50 and was given a small, homemade package made out of sellotaped cardboard and clearly containing a CD. It had a single second class stamp. It was addressed to “The King in the North Midlands”.
…I opened it to find a CD of the PS3 game Grand Theft Auto 5 that had kindly been sent to me by a friend who was worried how I was going to fill my time of work productively and sought to take some action to help a friend in need.
Nice one, Steve.
That Game of Thrones reference was sadly lost on the Royal Mail. Perhaps they were indignant about the fact that Nottingham is clearly in the East Midlands… .although then the joke wouldn’t have worked, would it?
Today, two weeks after my operation, I returned to work.
When I initially spoke to the surgeon about the procedure, he suggested I'd need a week off work; then, when we booked the surgery, he suggested I'd need two weeks... so I arranged that with work... and then on the day of the operation itself, he signed me off for three weeks.
Apart from a lingering concern about exactly *why* I'd need to take three weeks off work, I didn't really think for a moment that I wouldn't be back at my desk after two. I 'd asked about what sort of pain I could expect after surgery, and when the surgeon told me he would be sending me home with ibuprofen and paracetamol, I knew I'd probably be okay. That's discomfort rather than real pain, right?
Thankfully, that's pretty much how it transpired.
After worrying that I wouldn't know what to do with myself, I've actually kept myself pretty busy over the last fortnight. I've not even watched all that much TV (except when the cricket was on), and I've been doing loads of reading and trying to make sure I get enough walking done to hit my daily steps target.
Have I missed work?
Hell no. Let's be honest, although I really like the people I work with, there's pretty much nothing about my job that is worth getting stressed about. That doesn't stop people getting stressed and trying to transmit that stress and drama to me and my team.... but I find that a really helpful perspective to hang onto, and I try and transmit that to my team. In fact, our team motto is "Save the drama for your llama". When things look to be getting a little fraught, I point at the llama and we all take a deep breath.
So, I didn't miss work, but I did miss my team... and as I seem to be healing pretty well, I went back to work a week ahead of schedule.
When I got back to my desk this morning at a little after 07:30, I found this on my keyboard.
I think they sort of missed me too.
It was good to see them and I've been smiling all day.
As you might imagine, I've connected with the MS Trust on Facebook. It seemed a natural thing to do, given that they're an excellent charity and we fundraise for them. I was thinking that maybe I'd get some updates on the charity's latest work and other news about the various research and breakthroughs that are happening in the world of MS. I get all of that, but what I wasn't really ready for was the community.
Facebook is many things - not least of which is that it is an appalling time sucker - but one of the things that it is best at is bringing communities of people together. Whether it's a loose grouping of friends who are scattered around the country and around the world, or whether it's your local parkrun or whatever.... it provides a simple, accessible way to be in contact with lots of like-minded people. To give an example, I really enjoy being a member of the Virtual Runner UK group. Although formed mainly as a platform for people to discuss the Virtual Runs they've entered - something that I don't really do all that often and only started because it's a local company and have supported the charities of several of my friends, including my own - but it's grown into something much more than that. In the main, the people drawn to virtual runs are the kind of people who are just getting into running and want to earn medals but are intimidated by the idea of entering an actual race. What the community has grown into is a hugely supportive group of people who are encouraging other people as they take their first steps into a healthier lifestyle. I think it's brilliant.
In theory, the MS Trust community is something similar: a group of people who have a shared experience and are able to offer each other support and perhaps to share the benefit of their own experiences. I know from experience that being diagnosed with MS can be a long and frightening process, and it can be very reassuring to talk to other people who have been through the same thing and can tell you that life still goes on.
....except that the problem with this particular community is that, if you believe what you read posted here, it seems like life doesn't go on and that, if it does, it really isn't worth living. Here's a recent post: "I don't think I want a driverless car. Most of my body seems to be driverless and unresponsive now so the only time I can shift is with my right foot on the Go pedal in the car. I don't want to be deprived of that ability to control moving about as well". Is it me, or has she really had to reach for the negative there?
I've talked on here before about how there's an unfortunate tendency for blogs on MS to turn into pity parties. Whilst I understand that what people choose to write about isn't necessarily their whole experience and that it can be therapeutic to just let it all out as a form of primal scream therapy... frankly, I don't have much patience for it. What good does it do you to wallow? In the final analysis, what's important is what you have, not what you've lost, isn't it? None of us have any control over this illness and mourning a life you can no longer lead just seems to me like a massive waste of the time you have left. I don't mind people talking about their own experiences, but it drives me crazy when it all degenerates into a kind of "oh, poor me" or a "nobody knows the troubles I've seen" competition. Let's be clear: in that competition there are only losers.
I realise that I'm wide open to people dismissing my opinion on this as irrelevant: it's easy for me to have that attitude when I'm still able to run marathons, isn't it? ("There's always someone like you who can run marathons or climb mountains. I can't even get out of my front door", as someone once sneered at me). There's clearly an element of truth in that, but you have a choice, don't you? You can choose to be positive and to try and live your life with what you've got, or you can choose to be negative and to wallow in the injustice of what you've lost. When I read the "29 things that only people with MS will understand", I genuinely don't understand why everyone else is commenting things like "So true, so true", when all I can wonder is why these people are defining themselves with these labels. I like to think that, if things were ever to get worse for me, that I'd cut my cloth according to my circumstances and try to make the best of it.
Hopefully, I'll never have to find out.
...but the MS Trust group is awash with negativity. Even when people are asking relatively benign questions and posting links ("What do you think of this?" and so on), the comments are often miserable and small-minded. Someone actually posted the other day asking for people to try and be positive and to share something nice that had happened in their lives, and all he got in return was people telling him they couldn't because nothing nice had happened in their lives. Really? Oh come on. It then degenerated into people slagging off the people who did post nice things.
If you ever see me commenting "So true" underneath a meme like any of these, please find me and slap me. Even if any of these things are part of your experience, they're not true all of the time, are they? This last one? I fall over when I run, but I pick myself back up and I keep on running.
Isn't that how any of us should try and live our lives?
As the song says:
You've got to spread joy up to the maximum Bring gloom, down to the minimum Otherwise pandemonium Liable to walk upon the scene
I found myself shouting at the radio yesterday morning. I was up slightly later than normal, so when I turned the radio on in the bathroom, it was a phone-in rather than the usual breakfast news programme. The show had obviously been on for a little while, and the debate was already well underway. As I started to listen, I quickly gathered that the subject under discussion was Labour's shift in policy position on Britain's exit from the European Union: in a clear change of direction, the party announced on Sunday that Labour would support full participation in the EU single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of Britain's departure from the EU [read all about it here].
In case you hadn't noticed over the course of the fourteen months or so since the referendum, Britain's exit from the EU is a subject that continues to divide the nation. Rarely has so much ignorance been so loudly displayed by so many people (on both sides of the debate) over such a long period of time. Unfortunately for me, I was in the shower long enough to hear several callers give the listening audience the benefit of their opinions on the subject.
I realise that the station was actively selecting the people they put on the air and were well aware of their views and what they were likely to say, but even so, I was found it infuriating. The callers all sounded at the older end of the station's demographic, and they all, without exception, were very firmly of the view that this change in direction seemed specifically designed to somehow sabotage the democratic will of the people to break every single possible tie to Europe. Those Europeans have been holding us back, you see. We've stood alone for centuries, but in the last sixty years, these people have been slowly emasculating us and robbing us of our greatness. We need to stand alone and stand proud; people are queuing up to do trade deals with us! Obama said we would be at the back of the queue, but now Donald Trump says we will be at the front! The Ivory Coast has said what a favourable deal we could get on cocoa! We could single-handedly save the economy of Africa! (seriously... someone did actually make that point about the enormous potential of a cocoa deal with the Ivory Coast).
Ignoring the entirety of human experience for a moment, how can people be so certain in their views when they seem to know so little about the subject?
Look: I understand that more people voted to leave the EU in the referendum than voted to stay. Although I think this is an act of wilful self-harm, I'm not one of those people who thinks we should ignore the result of the vote entirely. In fact, listening to these callers rather reinforced my view that, even if we were to stage the referendum again now, I think the leave vote would be even larger second time around.
It's just that people have read far more into the result than was on the ballot paper.
We weren't asked for our views on immigration or on the single market or the customs union or on the European Court of Justice....just on whether we wanted to be in or out of the European Union. The fact that these are separate things is a distinction lost on most, not that this stops people sounding off about it. Or, indeed, most of our elected politicians washing their hands of taking any real responsibility for this bloody mess.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions of course, but that doesn't mean that I have to believe that all opinions are created equal. At least try and present a cogent, reasoned argument. Or, come to that, present an emotional one, but don't try and dress it up with absolute nonsense. Don't talk to me about how democracy has spoken; don't tell me that my Brexit must be 'hard' and that the people have spoken; and above all, don't trumpet your ignorance on a national radio phone-in when I'm showering. I can accept that people have different opinions to me, but try and think about them at least a little bit, eh?
You made me shout at the radio and definitely harshed my bank holiday mellow.
I was at the hospital twice this week, and both visits have given me plenty to think about.
The first trip was on Wednesday, when I went in for some surgery. I was in early doors and out by lunchtime on the same day, but the procedure was serious enough to require a general anaesthetic and has seen me both signed off work for at least the next two weeks and banned from any form of strenuous exercise for the next month.
Four whole weeks!
To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect. I know that general anaesthetic is pretty unpleasant, but I didn't quite know why the consultant thought I was going to need as much as three weeks off work. What did he know that I didn't? Was I going to be in pretty significant pain or was it going to be mild discomfort and a relatively slow pace of healing? As it turns out, once I got the anaesthetic out of my system (as well as the general, they pumped the area they operated on full of a local too, so it took a while to wear off), although I was pretty sore and swollen, I basically felt okay.
In fact, almost immediately, I was bored.
On Thursday, I watched a couple of episodes of Frasier, the Keanu film "Constantine", played a bit of Cricket Manager 2017, fed (and tickled) a neighbour's cat, read a book and listened to loads of music... but I could really feel the long days off work stretching out in front of me. How on earth am I going to fill all of that time when I'm not working and I can't run? What am I going to do to keep myself from going completely mad?
I settled down a bit by Friday.
The test match at Headingley started, which helped to fill the day, but a coffee and a catch-up with a friend gave me a bit of perspective. What was this if not an opportunity to step off the treadmill and to breathe in the air and smell the coffee for a couple of weeks? I've run the best part of 700 miles so far this year, with marathon training yet to start, and since my job changed in April, I've also been spending a lot more time at work and on out-of-hours cover overnight and through the weekends. Isn't this a great opportunity to just relax; to read books; to watch some box-sets and to just generally try to unwind and let my brain and muscles rest properly for the first time in months?
I was back at hospital on Friday for a regular appointment with the neurologist. This is always good for a dose of perspective. Although my MS has been very stable since my diagnosis, I've struggled with the feeling in my legs a bit this year; I've fallen over a couple of times when out running and my legs have generally felt stiff and unresponsive. Then again, when you look around an MS clinic waiting room and see people in their wheelchairs or struggling to walk with sticks, have I really got much all that much to grumble about in the grand scheme of things? So my legs feel a bit weird at the end of a half marathon? Can you hear how ridiculous that must sound to a senior consultant who is dealing with people who can't walk at all? I'm certainly not unaffected by MS and my most recent MRI scans show that a few more scars have developed in my brain.... but as long as I tolerate my weekly injections and the side-effects okay, and I can still get myself up and out for a run, then I'm really doing pretty well.
I'm sure I'm going to be frustrated and bored over the coming days, not to mention a bit sore from the surgery for a few more days yet..... but why not see the glass as half full for once and take the unexpected break from work and from running as an opportunity to try and appreciate what I do have?
Yeah... you're probably right. Ask me how I'm doing next week and we'll see if I'm quite so phlegmatic about things.
I am, by now, such a hopeless blogger that I actually wrote this last week and never got around to posting it over the weekend. Well, if you'll pardon the (almost) unprecedented folly of talking about earworms of the week on a Monday.... here they are!
I don’t seem to do this very often any more…. earworms specifically, but actually blogging in general. Back in the day, time was that you would get 4 or 5 fairly meaty posts from me every week. Now you’re lucky to get one of me banging on about running. Sorry about that (not sorry). Why not start this week’s earworms with a song from a band that I loved dearly when I was a teenager. There was a long period in 1987/88 when I listened to Aerosmith and Guns N’Roses to the exclusion of almost everything else. I’m talking literally months when the only things I played were “Appetite for Destruction”, “Pump” or “Permanent Vacation”. That Guns n’Roses record sounds pretty much as fresh and exciting today as it did back then, but I haven’t listened to either of those Aerosmith records for a whole now and I wonder how they’d hold up. This was the song that introduced me to the band, and from here onto those two albums and then an almost disbelieving journey back through their magnificent back catalogue, with albums like “Toys in the Attic” and “Rocks”. it somehow seemed impossible to believe that this band had already had a massively successful career and that this was very much a second-flush at (what everyone assumed would be) the back end of their career. They are also, of course, linked to Guns n’Roses by the cover of “Mama Kin” on the “Lies” album. This song till sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? As Bastion said on YouTube 7 months ago, "I'm trying to find a deeper meaning but its genuinely just Steve being surprised that a dude looks like a lady". Truth.
Songs about asteroids and ridiculous, overly-produced love songs were still in the band’s future at this point, and this leering little beauty is how I would probably choose to remember them. Dammit. It’s too late. Now I’m earworming that bloody song too.
It is one of my favourite discoveries of all time to learn that almost every Austrian of my acquaintance of a certain age can all do “(Rock Me) Amadeus” off by heart and will just instinctively start rapping along with Falco as soon as the song comes on. My wife is currently trying to learn it, but I find it hard to get past the fact that he seems to call someone a “mango cu*t” in the second verse. Anyway. One of my friends surprised and delighted me the other day by turning out to know all of the words to this song. I was equally delighted when the 24 year old in my team had never heard of this song and I was able to persuade him to give it a listen immediately on Spotify. He was suitably impressed. Oh those Russians.
As I got on my bike at 7 this morning (Friday, for those keeping score on this somewhat chronologically confused post) to ride to work, although I was delighted that it wasn’t raining and that I was going to cycle to work in the morning sunshine… there was a distinct tinge of Autumn in the chilly air and condensation on all the cars. It’s 10th August: I’m not sure I’m entirely ready for it to be autumn quite yet. The seasonally appropriate earworms are fine, however… just to be clear.
Because training montages should be a thing in real life. The long, slow build of marathon training would be a whole lot more enjoyable if it could be experienced in a 3 minute highlight reel with some inspirational music. Can we make that happen? Who doesn't need a montage?
The hour's approaching, to give it your best
And you've got to reach your prime.
That’s when you need to put yourself to the test
And show us a passage of time
We're going to need a montage (montage)
Ooh it takes a montage (montage)
Show a lot of things happening at once,
Remind everyone of what’s going on (what’s going on)
And with every shot, show a little improvement
To show it all would take to long
That’s called a montage (montage)
Someone at work mentioned that plastic was fantastic, and that was it: we were all doomed to this for the rest of the day. Brilliant song though, eh? Dr. Jones was another little cracker too. Don’t knock a good pop song.
The Scott Walker prom the other day was a real delight. Walker is a real touchstone artist in my music collection, introduced to me in my first year at university by an impossibly old seeing mature student called Mark (he was about 25!) and I will forever be in his debt for introducing me to this and to a host of other musicians who have massively enriched my life. I was a little bit worried by Jarvis Cocker’s somewhat wobbly start and worried if any of them could really hold a candle to the unalloyed majesty of Scott Walker’s baritone… but in the end, they all did really well and inhabited these wonderful songs with their own personalities. John Grant’s voice is probably the closest to Walker’s, and he did a cracking version of “The Seventh Seal”, which was the first Walker song that I really loved. In an interview that he did with Jarvis the Sunday before the prom, when he was asked how he adjusted moving to a rainy London from sun-drenched California, Walker answered that he was always a huge fan of European cinema and always saw himself ending up here somehow. Is there a more Scott Walker song than one that takes its inspiration from an Ingmar Bergman film about a knight playing chess with Death? Listening to Grant singing these songs sent me scurrying back to listen to my John Grant albums, and “Marz” is just a wonderful song. When asked by Cocker how he felt about the prom (which he actually attended), Walker simply said that he wanted the artists to not be afraid to add their own interpretations because he wasn’t interested in karaoke. Mostly, I think he would have been pleased. I was especially taken with Susanne Sundfør, who obviously added something different to the songs by dint of being a woman, and did a great job with this song. But just listen to the lyrics to “The Amorous Humphrey Plugg”. Wonderful. If you haven’t taken the trouble to listen to those first four, self-titled albums by Scott Walker… please, do yourself a favour. Absolutely splendid.
Will that do you for now? I’ve barely mentioned running, and as I’ve got marathon training looming on the horizon again and will be pumping for sponsorship (I’m selling bobble hats this year), then make the most of me talking about something different for once.
I don't know what's more troubling: that I find myself completely ignorant of almost all contemporary music, or the fact that I don't seem to actually care all that much and don't have the least desire to rectify the issue.
Perhaps this is a symptom of my age (although I know a few people my age or older who have not lost their musical curiosity), but I seem content to listen to the bands that I've always listened to. If I purchase some new music, it's likely to be by someone who already has a place in my record collection. I suppose it could be worse: I did go through that cliche phase last year where I was re-buying on vinyl records that I already own in at least one other format... but I seem to have moved past that now.
Ed Sheeran is a case in point: I know it's fashionable amongst music fans of a certain ilk to dislike him. Well, he's successful, isn't he... and if there's one thing that a music snob can't abide, it's mainstream success. I didn't much care for his cameo in Game of Thrones because it seemed a bit forced, but I can't summon up the energy to dislike him because I simply don't know any of his music and can't be bothered to find out. I have a vague assumption that I won't like him, but this is based on nothing more than a vague dislike of the very green tattoo sleeve he has on one arm (and I *like* tattoos) and on a fifteen second burst of "Galway Girl" that seemed a bit Riverdance to me.
It's all the more ironic then that I seem to have quite happily switched the way I consume music away from physical formats and even away from MP3s towards streaming on Amazon Music. Never before have I had so much music at my fingertips; there's something ridiculous like 40 million songs available and the only limit to my listening pleasure is my imagination.
...and there's the problem.
If I keep asking Alexa to play me Toto's "Africa" whenever I'm in my kitchen, then I'm never going to hear anything new, am I? There are dozens of curated playlists available and all I have to do to hear something new that might rock my world is to have a go, skipping past anything that doesn't take my fancy. And have I done it? No. To be honest, I'm just as likely to ask Alexa to play BBC Radio 5 as to listen to some music.. so I haven't even really had the time to listen to the new album by Lorde or the Fleet Foxes.
This will not stand. I don't want to become that guy, do I? You know, the one who simply refuses to believe that any new music by a new artist could be as interesting as the old classics and therefore isn't worth the effort (unless it's already too late for me on that score).
Must. Try. Harder.
...Not least because the new season at choir starts in a month, and from then until Christmas it will likely be rehearsal tracks all the way. I think we're doing some Starship!