Wednesday, 20 August 2014

like minded fool....

I had a meeting at work with someone I've not met before the other day.  We were making small talk before the meeting started, as you do, when she stopped talking, looked me up and down and said:
"Do you run?  You look like a runner...."

I assumed that by this, she meant that I looked gaunt, tired and hungry*.

I took it as a compliment, obviously.

Turns out she's a runner too, so we talked about running for a bit before the really boring stuff started.  She likes to fell run.  Crazy fool.

* to be fair, it might also have been the Garmin GPS watch I was wearing too, but that's not as good a story.  Runners are pretty dull at the best of times, but definitely in small groups talking about running.  Can you imagine?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

lovely spam, wonderful spam....

Yesterday, some an email landed in my inbox at work that made very little sense indeed. It read:

"Harris was wounded in the groin by Miller's fourth shot, and ended up losing a testicle. One will not find any bustling shopping malls there but quiet long trails.  His formal campaign had lasted only three and a half months. It is reported that some units remained in service several more years. This was part of a regular practice of the Tacoma Times of sponsoring events for their carriers. The ACG was formed in February 2002 by merging Tactical Fighter Group with Strike Reconnaissance Group. Concerto for flute and harp in C, K. Byrne played the lead keyboard solo. They are also developing other projects".

Since we switched our corporate email a few years ago so that it was hosted by Microsoft out in the cloud, the odd junk email has made its way through the firewalls and not been caught and filtered into a spam folder before I see it in my inbox.  Generally speaking though, all of these elaborate security precautions work perfectly well and the only real unwanted email I receive is the stuff I get from my colleagues in the course of a normal working day.

This one, however, did slip through the net.

What I particularly like about it is that it seems to serve no obvious purpose: it didn't have an attachment for me to click and unleash a vicious and malignant virus into the network; neither did it have a particular call to action that might induce me to reply or a hyperlink that I might be tempted to click.  Possibly those things were stripped out before I opened the mail, although I like to think that it's just an epically pointless piece of junk mail that has been manually sent to me personally by someone with nothing more than a slightly perverse joy in the use of the English language and in non-sequiturs, perhaps recognising that I was a kindred spirit.

If that's the case, then I salute them for their work.  I especially like the detail, after learning that poor Harris lost a testicle, that K. Byrne played the lead keyboard solo.

If I received more email like this during the course of my working day, then I think I would be a generally happier person.  Who wouldn't be?

It makes at least as much sense as most of the email that I receive, anyway.

Monday, 18 August 2014

you're weightless, you're exotic...

For the last year, I've had various problems on my left side, all apparently deriving from a combination of a loss of flexibility in my ankle and a general loss of muscle strength in my left side... both likely MS related.  I've seen a specialist sports surgeon and various physios, most of whom have acknowledged that they can't address the underlying cause, but they can try and address the symptoms.  That's fine by me because all I really want to do is keep running, pretty much whatever it takes.

The latest stop on my journey was a visit to the orthotics department at QMC on Friday.  The lady was really nice and she gave me a pair of carbon fibre insoles to wear in my running shoes to try and stop the collapse of my left knee inwards when I get tired. I've tried insoles before and they've never really done anything for me.  In fact, things seemed to get get better for me generally when I switched to a more minimal running shoe.  I'm not a barefoot running zealot, by any means, and I never thought that it would be in the least bit sensible for a man of my size and with my mechanical issues to cut down the amount of cushioning in my running shoe.  Well, all I know is that switching shoes and drastically reducing the heel cushioning has cut down the niggles I'd been having *and* made me faster.  I don't run in a completely barefoot shoe and I'm not entirely sure that I ever will, but the change seems to have worked for me.  That said, I'll give these new insoles a try anyway: the collapse of my knee when I get tired is likely to be a key part in the chain of mechanical failures that's been giving me problems in my knees and hips, so as I start to increase mileage towards the marathon, I'll see how they go.  Besides, there's no reason why increased support under the arch of my foot isn't compatible with a drastically reduced heel cushion anyway.

The other thing that the orthotist gave me on Friday was an velcro ankle cuff with an elastic strap that attaches to a hook you put over the tongue of your running shoe.

But that's just for my private fuzzy tingle times.

OK.  No it's not.  That's my Strassburg sock.

The idea is that this particular S&M device provides a bit of tension as you run and prevents you dropping your foot at the ankle. Foot drop is a really common symptom of MS and is related to a loss of flexibility in the ankle.  In my case, this manifests itself when I get tired and I start to scuff my left foot.  This has led to knock-on issues up my left leg and into my left hip, exacerbating the problems caused by the collapse of my knee inwards (I'm learning a lot about biomechanics at the moment).  This ankle cuff is supposed to stop the drop.

I've worn this contraption on a couple of runs now, and it's far less uncomfortable than you might imagine.  Is it helping?  Well, I think time will tell.  The orthotist felt that if I was going to run longer distances, then this was an absolutely vital support to help keep me on the road.  Needs must when the devil drives.

I ran 6.60 miles this evening, and having felt fatigued and MS-y all afternoon, I motored around in an average pace of 7.49 minutes per mile... which for me is really quick.  Either those horrific interval sessions that I've started doing on a Wednesday evening are starting to take effect or I'm now effectively bionic.

Maybe both?

I'm more machine now than man, you know.  Twisted and evil.

Friday, 15 August 2014

iron man...

I generally wear a smart shirt to work. In theory, our dress code is “smart casual”, but in practice most people dress up fairly smart. It’s just easier, isn’t it? I like wearing jeans and t-shirts, but I don’t like wearing them more than I like blending in when I’m at the office. In this instance, it’s just easier to conform, and throwing* a shirt into my cycling bag every morning takes very little thought at all. That being said, I don’t wear a tie. There are limits, and ties are both pointless and uncomfortable.

* Well, carefully folding**
** -ish

The only thing about shirts is that they need ironing. I know how to iron a shirt, of course, but there’s almost nothing more depressing than standing at the ironing board on a Sunday night contemplating a pile of unironed shirts. Sunday evenings are bad enough on their own.

So I took action.

Yes. I’m afraid to say that I outsource my ironing. I don’t mind doing the washing at home, but once a week or so, I take a pile of shirts to the laundrette round the corner, and for the princely sum of something like 50p each, I get someone else to iron them for me. It might only take half an hour to do them myself, but I reckon that’s £2.50 well spent.

It does, however, occasionally lead to the odd problem:

I have quite a lot of work shirts. Each one lasts a few years before it needs chucking out, and I have a rotating cast of shirts of varying types and qualities, from excellent Thomas Pink shirts, via decent TM Lewin shirts, all the way through to your bog-standard M&S easy-iron shirts. I tend to wear them as the fancy takes me: sometimes wanting a skinny shirt with double-cuffs, sometimes a fairly work-a-day button down cuff… I like to live on the edge.  I mix up my cufflinks too.  Yes, I do.

I bought a really nice shirt a couple of months ago, made out of properly soft cotton. At some point this week, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen it in a couple of weeks. I checked all our various laundry piles and bags of bits and bobs, but it was nowhere to be seen. Then, as I was looking through my other shirts trying to find it, it occurred to me that I might be missing some other shirts as well, including my posh dress shirt with the wing collars that I wear about once a year.


I went to the laundrette, but they had nothing under our name. The nice lady in the laundrette then had an idea: they’ve taken on some new staff recently, and on a hunch, she checked the “unnamed” section. Sure enough, there were my shirts.

If it’s not a middle class problem when the laundrette that does your ironing has taken on new staff who don’t know your name and so incorrectly label your work shirts so they can't be found, then I don’t know what is.  It's not great that it took me the best part of a month to notice they'd disappeared either, is it?

Thursday, 14 August 2014


Check it out!  Me and Steve featured in the latest edition of Open Door, the MS Trust magazine.


Form an orderly queue for autographs, public appearances, etc.

(article starts on page 12)

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

don't leave me dry...

I was out on Friday with some of my colleagues. Towards the end of the evening, one of those colleagues – someone that I’ve worked reasonably closely with for the last five years but who is leaving to take another role – turned to me and said that she found me almost impossible to read because I was so dry. She went on to say that she was actually convinced that I didn’t like her at all.

In actual fact, I do like her, and I told her so.  She was a little surprised, I think.

I first worked with her in around 2009 when she had just joined the business and was very impressed.  As it happens, I told her, I wrote you some feedback on our work together at the time, and I found that I still had that very same feedback on my computer only the other day.  She had absolutely no recollection of this feedback at all but was intrigued about what I might have said, so I promised her that I would send it to her the next time I was in the office.

I looked it up on Monday and had a read before sending it on. I was pretty nice (as an aside, I’m always pretty nice in feedback. I know that our environment can be a pretty thankless place at the best of times, so I try to go out of my way to provide written feedback to the people I think have done a good job and may not otherwise be thanked). Amongst various specific points about her contribution to the project we were working on, I said:

She’s been a real pleasure to work with, and approaches every problem with a smile on her face and a desire to move things forwards.”

I meant it too. Five years later and in a completely different job role, she still displays those traits. I told her so and she seemed quite moved, I think mostly because she’s carried this image around in her head that I’m this icy, remote, critical figure and to know that I actually like her and think she does a good job seems like real praise indeed....although, to be fair, this was quite late in the evening after a long and emotional last day for her.

Actually, I’m a teddy bear. Everyone knows that, don’t they? Why on earth do people think I’m dry?

[looks it up]

…in which humour is presented without a change in emotion or body language. It is usually spoken in a casual, monotone, or cantankerous voice, and expresses a calm, sincere, or grave demeanour, often in spite of the ridiculousness of the subject matter. This delivery is called dry humour or dry wit."

….oh, I see.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

the old hometown looks the same....

I'm due to rejoin my old department at the end of next month.  There have been a lot of changes in the time I've been away, and they seem more confused than ever before.  I was invited to a large briefing today to outline some of the changes, and I thought it might be a good idea to show willing and to actually try and find out what on earth has been going on.

Lots of changes.  So many changes.

We're a global company and as is the way with these things, they're slowly bringing various functions and departments together across the globe as they seek efficiencies.  To make things clearer to everyone, we had an hour long presentation running through the organograms from the various countries.

An hour.  Looking at organisation charts.  Every bit as thrilling and informative as you might imagine. SIXTY MINUTES.  They had some light relief between slides where they timed people blowing up balloons for a small prize.... how we laughed and how the time flew.

After that, we broke up into smaller groups to listen to work our way around the room, listening to presentations from the various workstreams.  Apparently, the feedback is that people are confused by the changes to the organisation.  The solution? To buy some software to help build organograms.  Because, you know, the problem here is clearly the lack of clarity in our people charts.  People find it difficult to know where to find people.  The solution? Force everyone to use the same format of signature file on their emails, including a photo and then give them a standard way of creating a name plate for their desks.  They're also toying with the idea of putting signs on the pillars.  That should do it.  People are also frustrated by system A (a porfolio management tool).  The solution? Replace system A with system B (another portfolio management tool).  I asked what assurance we could have that we wouldn't be standing around a board in twelve months time discussing how people are frustrated with system B.  What is it about system B that will remove these frustrations?  Ah, they replied, we can't give you those assurances, because system A wasn't really the problem, it was the processes.  Are you changing them?  Not really.  Right.  Fair enough.

In the old days, I might have railed loudly and publically about this nonsense and asked all kinds of awkward questions in public to demonstrate to everyone else how ridiculous and poorly thought through all this nonsense is.  I've changed though, I mostly kept that to myself, along with my thoughts that they perhaps might be better focusing on delivering the multi-million pound projects to the business that they've been screwing up all year rather than choosing which organogram drawing tool they should buy and what colour the signage above desks should be.

I'm proud of myself; I've really grown as a person.   This should be fun, eh?  For everyone.

Monday, 11 August 2014

all about me...

Some years ago, I installed a widget that enabled me to track visitors to these humble pages.  It's not that I'm obsessively interested in every person who may be passing by on their way to somewhere much more interesting, or that I'm vain enough to want to graph my readership and compulsively try and work out what sort of content drives the traffic*....

*You guys like cats, right?  Everyone on the internet likes cats.

...I was just curious.

I check them once in a while, but when you use song lyrics for your post titles, you quickly learn that you get a lot of traffic from Google that basically isn't interested in what I have to say in the slightest.

Just recently though, these stats have become even less interesting than usual.  I write about all kinds of random stuff here and always have, so the referring search terms have always been a bit off-the-wall.  Here's the current selection:

-> girls in wetsuits flickr
-> over night bondage stories
-> skinny cheap monday jeans sagging
-> stunting in my onesie

I think I can work out the first one okay, but the rest?  What the hell are monday jeans and is it a thing that if you buy the cheap ones that they sag?  Why are those people being sent here? Are they finding whatever it is that they need?  Is that code?

Perhaps the answer lies in the referring sites: apart from Google itself (US, UK and Canadian versions - most of my visitors come from these beautiful countries.  Thank you all!), all of the other sites that send traffic here seem to be exclusively from either Russia or Romania. They look like the kind of sites that stream video or something like that, and no doubt probably infect your computer with more viruses than you can shake a stick at.  Why on earth are they linking here?

Well, the principle of Occam's Razor states that when there are multiple possible explanations, then you should always choose the simplest.  So with that in mind, I've decided that they must just be fans.  I'm not a vain man, but for each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypothesis to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are better testable and falsifiable.

So they're definitely fans, then.

Well then, a massive buna! to my Romanian visitors and привет to my Russian guests.  In case you haven't already worked it out since you arrived, you won't find much streaming video here, but I'm an inclusive kind of a guy, so pretty much everyone is welcome here.

Yeah.  Maybe I should just ignore the stats and continue wittering on about whatever pops into my head without a thought for a possible audience.  It's worked for the last ten years, right?

 ....if by 'worked' we actually mean 'successfully shouted nonsense into the void'.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

the melting men....

I flicked the television on this evening when I sat down with my tea and saw that Raiders of the Lost Ark had just started on BBC3.  Obviously, I sat and watched it.  I've seen it hundreds of times, of course, but you can't flick past that, can you?

This film was made in 1981, and even though the special effects are positively Stone Age compared to what's possible today, I was watching the famous face-melting scene at the end and thinking that it's a far more effective special effect than any amount of million dollar CGI thrown at the latest Transformers movie.... because the film doesn't JUST hinge on the special effects, but has an actual plot and characters you care about and old fashioned things like that.

Then I remembered that half my team at work haven't seen this film.


Imagine that.  They all know who Nicki Minaj is (and what her fragrance smells like), but they have no idea who Indiana Jones is, and in fact they probably couldn't name a single thing Harrison Ford has done in his career.

Young people, eh?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

human racing....

Oh shit.

It looks like we almost definitely will be running the London Marathon next April.  It's nine months away still, but is suddenly looming very large on the horizon indeed.  I've never run further than 13.1 miles before, and suddenly a full marathon feels like a very, very long way.

I set myself a fairly arbitrary (but challenging) target of 600 miles for this calendar year, and I'm already 76% of the way though on 456 miles and well set for 700 for the year.  If I begin to factor in marathon training through winter, then I'm likely to have quite a few more miles on the clock before the end of the year.

Bring it on, I say.  Feeble body permitting, obviously.

I was browsing the website of one of the UK's national MS charities this afternoon, reading reports from some of their charity runners, trying to get a feel for .  One comment in particular caught my eye:

"The main reason for writing this dribble is to say to anybody, you can do it, any goal is achievable - a 5km walk, swimming 20 lengths, running a marathon or simply getting enough energy to get out of bed is achievable as long as you have the self belief and determination.
Don't let anybody say you can't!
Especially you!"

That, in a nutshell, is my philosophy. I hate those people who say that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.  It seems to most often be said by successful people who look at less successful people and think that we're just people who haven't tried hard enough or haven't wanted it badly enough.  That's just offensive and insulting.

My experience of MS so far - and I'm the first to admit that I've been lucky up to now - is that you are as beaten back as you allow yourself to be.  I often feel fatigued; I've lost muscle strength in my left side and I've developed a tendency to drag that foot when I get tired.  I don't think anyone would blame me if I started doing less.  It's not going to happen.  I'm only beaten if I allow myself to be. The day I start making excuses to myself is the day it's all over.

I may have to scale back my goals.  I'm not going to be able to run a full marathon flat out and it's just not realistic to think that I can train to run 26 miles in four hours without doing myself some serious damage.  That doesn't mean I can't run a marathon, it just means I need to adjust my goals and look to get round without setting myself a goal that might break me.  I'm going to run round with my wife, taking as long as it takes and trying to enjoy the atmosphere of a remarkable day.

I won't let anyone say I can't do it, least of all myself.