Wednesday, 19 July 2017

come on! UGH! COME ON!


Somewhat unexpectedly, I've been very much enjoying running in the Summer League races.  As the name implies, this is a series of races that take place on Wednesday nights across June, July and August around Nottinghamshire.  They're free to run: all you need is your running club vest.  The prospect of running a 5 mile race with some of the fastest runners in the county sounds awful, doesn't it? I trundle around in something like 40-minutes, but the winners are more than ten minutes faster than that.  But running clubs have changed massively, and now the field includes runners who are finishing a good half hour behind me too and I'm comfortably above halfway.  I have a little voice that whispers to me all the time that I'm not a fast enough runner to be a member of a proper running club... but I've decided to not let that voice stop me doing something that I enjoy.

Anyway.  Last week's run was up at Worksop College and the course was in Sherwood Forest.  It was a lovely setting and a gorgeous, sunny evening.  For all that I think that I've been getting slower and slower over the last few months, when I put my mind to it, I'm actually running pretty much as fast as I ever have, and my average pace over this course was something around 7:50 miles sustained over 5 miles.  I'm not going to win, but it's nice to open up the throttle and see that there's still something there.

As you would expect, you end up running with people who are around and about the same pace, and there are always a few people who you seem to be in-and-around for the whole race; sometimes pulling ahead and sometimes falling behind.  In this race, I quickly became aware that I was running with a woman who was a grunter.  I'm a relatively silent runner, but everyone is different... C. runs with a very definite double-huff for every step she takes as she controls her breathing to try and keep the asthma at bay. Whatever works, right?  This lady was making an extraordinary noise, grunting and shouting at herself:"Ugh.  Ugh. Come on!  Ugh.  COME ON!" Each to their own, but this was mildly distracting.  Still, she was running at the same pace as me, so who am I to criticise?

At about the 4 mile mark, the course turned for home up a hill along a narrow, bracken-lined path.  I don't really like hurting myself when running.  I think the way to really get faster is to be prepared push yourself into the red; to bury yourself and to manage the discomfort.  I don't like to do that, and I often find myself crossing the finish line with a little bit left in the tank.  At this particular 4 mile mark, I caught myself holding back and thought that, for once in my life and safe in the knowledge that there was less than a mile to go, I would push a bit harder.  I quickly caught up with this woman as she grunted her way up the hill, still shouting encouragement to herself.  As I passed her, for what I assumed would be the very last time, I turned to her and said:
"Well done.  Keep going."
Pretty standard stuff.  Us runners are pretty encouraging, in the main.  Or so you would think.  Far from being encouraged, this woman turned to me and said in a distinctly sharp tone of voice:
"I prefer to talk to myself"
I was so surprised, it took a moment to register that yes, she had in fact just said that to me.. and by then I was powering ahead, leaving this miserable cow in my dust.

Charming though, right?  Although, whenever I tell this story to other runners, they seem to all know exactly who I mean.  What a way to find local celebrity. 

I bet she's fun at parties. 

Not that runners go to many parties.

...and if they do, they're not drinking much because they have a long run in the morning.

But, yeah, some runners are fun at parties.  

Possibly.

Friday, 7 July 2017

cry me a river...

I've changed.

Time was that I thought I didn't know how to cry. It wasn't that I considered myself especially tough, and I've certainly never been a man's man...it's just that years passed and there we no tears.  It's as if I had forgotten how.  Which is a little ironic, given that as a child, I could barely stop crying.

Anyway.

It seems that I now cry at the drop of a hat.  Seriously, any old shit on the television and I'm misting up like a champion.  Heart-wrenching news stories are a given, but how about a little duckling in peril on Springwatch? Sure, why not?

I was watching a documentary on the All Black rugby team the other day: Beneath the Black.  There's a segment in it where legendary All Black captain, Sean Fitzpatrick goes to visit the grave of the first All Black captain in a Flanders cemetery, where he was buried after sacrificing his life in the First World War.  It's clearly a big moment for Fitzpatrick, meeting one of his predecessors, but as he approaches the grave, we can see that someone has left a rugby ball there.  Fitzpatrick picks it up, and we can see what is written on it: "New Zealand remembers".  I was moved, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

What I do find slightly strange, however, is the fact that I found myself relaying this story to my osteopath and found myself choking up all over again, with the emotion clearly audible in my voice.

This seems to be happening to me more and more.

It's not that I'm embarrassed about it, it's just that I attended boarding schools from the age of 7 and I have 35 years of experience of repressing my feelings and of not showing any genuine emotion to even the people that I love the most.  I'm not saying that these sudden bursts of emotional incontinence are unwelcome, exactly... it's just that they're somewhat unexpected.

Monday, 3 July 2017

fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way...

I've been expecting an appointment through from one of the many consultants that I see.  I had a consultation in December and was told to expect a follow-up in six months.  Although I've been anxious to chase this appointment through, I've been as patient as I possibly can be, hoping that my name will pop up on their system in due course and that appointment will come through and everything will be tickety-boo.

I nearly called to chase them at the end of May, but counted the months back carefully on my fingers and realised that I needed to give them more time, even though I knew it was probably going to take a while between chase and appointment.  So I waited.  I was hoping there would be something on my doormat when we got back from the USA last week... but there was nothing.

So, today I called them.

"Oh yes.  You're on our system. Well, as you're on the phone now, I'll check to see what's available.  How about the 4th July.... oh!  That's tomorrow! No? Well I have an appointment on Saturday and then nothing until November."

So.... I suppose the positive to take from this is that I have the appointment I've been waiting for later on this week, which is good.  On the other hand, I can't help but think about what would have happened if I hadn't made that call this afternoon.  Presumably, that appointment on Saturday would never have come my way, and I could feasibly have been waiting until November for my follow-up.  That seems ridiculous.

Look.  I love the NHS.  My father dedicated most of his working life as a doctor to it and I've experienced up-close just how amazing it is.  Since my diagnosis with MS, I've received literally hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of care; the drugs I inject every week are worth hundreds of pounds each time, never mind all the scans and consultations and diagnostics and things.  The quality of care has been excellent and unquestioning.  I've never paid a penny directly for any of it.  That's an amazing thing and something to be celebrated and cherished.

But this episode with my appointment just seems a bit....haphazard.

Monday, 19 June 2017

data date...

Kraftwerk 3-D @ Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham - 18th June 2017


Why on earth would you want to see Kraftwerk live? Surely all they do is stand behind their computers and press play as you then lap-up an entirely pre-recorded show.  There's only one of the original band left anyway, so what's the point.   Right?

Wrong.  Completely wrong.

On a stiflingly hot evening, the air-conditioned luxury of the interior of the Royal Concert Hall was privileged to witness a remarkable show by a remarkable band.

It wasn't a particularly promising start, to be honest: queuing up politely outside the venue as we waited to get through a security check and to pick up our distinctly old-school 3-D glasses.  I felt as though perhaps I was here to watch Jaws 3-D ("the third dimension is terror!") rather than one of the most influential bands ever.  They threatened that they would be starting at 19:45 promptly too, but presumably were forced to delay because much of their audience had not yet made it into the venue.


We were so close to the stage that I was also a touch worried that we might not be in the best possible position to enjoy the 3-D effects... but actually I needn't have worried and was able to enjoy both my up-close view of Ralf Hutter and the splendid effects played on the huge screen behind the band.  As you would expect, the visuals were distinctly old-school, with a touch of the ZX Spectrum about them, but they were cunningly deployed and staggeringly effective: at one point, the aerial on the front of an orbiting satellite coming straight out of the screen had loads of people around me ducking out of the way.  We were also able to enjoy the sight of a UFO buzzing past the Council House on Old Market Square before landing right outside the Concert Hall.  


I joked before going in that we would probably have to get beered-up and then chuck lager around bellowing along to Man-Machine... and indeed, I think it's fair to say that the average age of the audience was well above 40. But, then again, the band was formed in 1969, and since when have the kids been reliable arbiters of good taste? It wasn't so very long ago that I walked past a crowd of youth queuing up outside of Rock City whilst I joined an audience of a similar vintage to watch Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds. (Although, to be fair, ticket prices for both of those gigs is probably beyond the budget of most students, even if they would have stronger bladders that would have meant less standing up and down as people shuffled out during Kraftwerk's set for a quick pee).

One thing that strikes you immediately about watching Krafwerk live, once you've got over the 3-D effects, is quite how much they are actually playing this stuff.  I know that sounds obvious, but you can't see what they've got on their podiums as they stand their in their identical jumpsuits.  I'd imagined that it would probably just be laptops or something, but clearly each of those four guys up there has a keyboard as well, and they're clearly physically really involved in what they're playing, as they inter-weave their music together to create the most wonderful harmonies, with Hutter adding vocals over the top.  The tunes are mostly familiar, of course, not least because I've got most of the records, but because they have also been sampled many, many times over and are very distinctive cultural markers.  The band themselves are mostly impassive, but you do get some foot-tapping and Hutter himself flashes the occasional half-smile as they expertly mesh this music together.


My highlights are predictable: Computer World, Computer Love, The Man-Machine, The Model, Radioactivity (actually the first Kraftwerk album I owned, picked up on an Our Price bargain bin without a cover for the grand price of £1 - it was chilling then and it's even more chilling now as Fukishimi is added to the list of nuclear disasters) and a splendid run of songs from Tour de France.  For the Encore, the band are actually replaced by robots for The Robots (do you see what they did there?) before the band return for their final blast, each taking a solo turn before departing, Hutter departign the stage with a smile and an "auf wiedersehen", leaving us to stagger back out into the clammy night to catch our breath.

An amazing gig.  The word 'legendary' is thrown around far too much, but I think it's fair to say that, when it comes to Kraftwerk, it's entirely justified.  Lots of people have tried to copy them, but no one has come close. I'm not going to Glastonbury this year, but at least I've seen one amazing gig this summer.

Verdict: 9 / 10

Setlist:
Numbers
Computer World
It's More Fun to Compute / Home Computer
Computer Love
The Man-Machine
Spacelab
The Model
Neon Lights
Autobahn
Airwaves
Intermission / News
Geiger Counter / Radioactivity
Electric Café
Tour De France / Prologue / Etape 1 / Chrono / Etape 2
Trans Europe Express / Metal on Metal / Abzug
Encore 1:
The Robots
Encore 2:
Aéro Dynamik
Planet of Visions
Boing Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Musique Non Stop

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

you call this bacon?


I really enjoy being part of a choir.

Even if I didn’t work towards any performances in front of an actual audience, I still think it would be worthwhile. There’s something pure and therapeutic about just singing for a couple of hours a week, and there’s something wonderful about a choir of human voices coming together in harmony.

…I just wish that some of our songs were a bit better. Or perhaps by “better”, I really mean “a bit cooler”. Don’t get me wrong though: it’s definitely not that I’m too-cool-for-school, and there are very few songs in our repertoire that I actively dislike. In fact, some of the ones that I thought I liked the least have often turned out to be the ones that I have enjoyed singing the most…. it’s just that there’s something downright WRONG about being caught in the office quietly singing "Little Town (Belle's Song)" from the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack to myself as I sit at my desk. I’ve never even seen the Disney animation and I’ve certainly not seen the recent adaptation starring Emma Watson, and yet this has been my number one earworm for several weeks now. My wife actually walked into the kitchen this weekend to find me singing this song along with Alexa as I was cooking.
“Er, What’s this?”
It’s Emma Watson singing on the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack
“Why on earth are you playing this?”
“Because choir”
“Ah. I see” [shakes head sadly and walks off]

You know what, I actually quite like it, too.

For the record though, “Wind Beneath My Wings” is not a beautiful, uplifting song… it’s a dirge and a #humblebrag. I have my limits.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

cool water...

I was running intervals this evening, so throughout my day at work, I kept meaning to go and buy a bottle of water to take with me... but I kept forgetting and I was busy so never seemed to quite get around to it.  When I finally remembered at around 1645, I was mildly irritated to discover that all of our catering outlets had shut.  This was irritating because they say they're all open until 5pm, but that seems to be based upon my foolish belief that the opening hours reflect when a customer can shop rather than the moment when the staff leave and pull down the shutters.

Not to be deterred, I set out to have a look at the various vending machines we have around the place. Hmm.  Unless I wanted a can of Coke, it looked like I was out of luck.

Oh... hang on a minute.  This machine has cartons of apple juice.  That'll do.  I scramble around for the loose change and the machine slowly dispenses me a carton.  I open the drawer and discover that the bloody thing doesn't have a straw.

Never mind.

I'll buy another one.  I'll drink that much anyway and I can just use the one straw on both cartons.  I put in my remaining change, but for some reason the machine won't dispense me another carton.  I seem to be 15p short and it won't take coppers and that's all the change I've got left.  I try and refund the money and now it won't come out of the machine at all.  OK.  Whatever.  I dash upstairs to borrow 20p and run come back to the machine only to find it has now swallowed my money (or someone has nipped in and used up my credit in the time I've been away).

Deep breath.

I take some money out of the cash machine round the corner and use the nearby change machine to turn a £10 note into ten £1 coins.  I now have a bulging wallet, but the funds needed to buy another carton of juice.

There are no further vending machine related incidents to report, so I head back to my desk with two cartons of juice, one straw and a funny story to tell my neighbour.

"Oh.  You need a bottle of water?  Well I've got one from my meal deal that you can have if you want.  It was free"

....... sigh.

I took my apple juice and IT WAS DELICIOUS.

I only needed one carton.

Monday, 5 June 2017

the public gets what the public wants...

As we were travelling down to London on Saturday afternoon, a guy and his wife boarded at Bedford and sat down in the seats opposite us around the table.  Inasmuch as you can tell from a first impression, they looked to be a friendly pair, with the chap in particular having a friendly face and something of a cheerful demeanour. They were maybe fractionally older than me, although I must confess to losing my ability to judge things like this, and could easily have been my age or a little younger.

As they made themselves comfortable and the train pulled out of the station, the guy turns to his wife and says:
"Now then.  Let's find out what's going on with the election"
He then reached into a WHSmiths back and pulled out a copy of the Sun, which he proceeded to read cover to cover over the course of a full fifteen minutes.


I trust he found enlightenment.

We really are doomed, aren't we?

Friday, 2 June 2017

vapour trails...

In news that will come as no surprise to anyone, I seem to have accidentally signed up for a trail marathon in October.

Bear with me.

The plan has always been to build towards a third London marathon in April.  I'm currently half marathon fit, and I was planning on holding that to the end of the year (with a couple of halves and with the Thunder Run 24 hour relay along the way), building up to around 16 miles on my long run by the end of the year and then marathon training proper from January.

I've been feeling okay: I did eight miles with C. on a rainy Monday morning and then backed it up with another four-or-so miles that afternoon.  Neither run was very fast, but speed isn't really the objective here as I was thinking about the 4 or 5 10km laps that I'm likely to have to do across 24 hours at Thunder Run towards the end of July.

So what happened?

Well, it was World MS Day on Wednesday and I was chatting with some friends about how MS is such an uncertain condition that affects sufferers in different ways.  It took me four years to get a diagnosis, and I had no way of knowing that I would then use that diagnosis as a spur to start running marathons.

"Well how about a trail marathon, then?  To really stick two fingers up at MS?"
Super Kev is a machine and an inspiration: he's a fantastic runner who is quick over pretty much any distance from 1 mile to 100 miles. He's also an incredibly generous man who is happy to give up his time to help other runners.  I've been going out running the trails with him every Thursday night over the last few weeks, and he's been kind enough to run at my pace. It turns out that he's always wanted to have a go at the Spires & Steeples challenge: a trail marathon from Lincoln to Sleaford on 15th October.
Abigail, another wonderfully generous, community-spirited runner was quick to get involved.  "That sounds brilliant.  I'm in.  Tim?"

...and so I heard myself agreeing to get involved too.

I haven't formally entered yet, but I'm actually warming to the idea.  Trail marathons are apparently a completely different kettle of fish to a road race, with a gentler pace and cake. Throw some good friends into the mix, and I guess that means marathon training is going to start a little earlier than planned.

Hey ho.  Take that, MS.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

are you ready boots? start walkin'...

For a bit of change of scenery, I went store visiting in York today.  It's been a bit relentless over the last few weeks, with 11-12 hour days at my desk and then overnight stand-by too, so it was nice to just get away from the office for a day.  I won't lie to you, it was also a lovely day to be driving up the M1 with my sunglasses on and to get the chance to (briefly) walk around my old stamping ground in York town centre in the blazing sunshine.

As a favour to another colleague in the office, we also popped out to Selby on the way home to check on something for them. What I didn't realise, until I walked through the door of the shop, was that the thing I was checking on was the closure of a part of the shop and the redundancy of two members of staff who have been there for more than sixty years between them.  In fact, the person that I spoke to was on her last afternoon in the shop before her redundancy after 34 years, and although she was more than pleasant, to say that she was unamused and couldn't really give two shits about how the closure was going is probably an understatement.  She was still giving first class service to the customers who walked in when we were there too, and it's hard not to wonder at what the business is going to lose when all that experience walks out the door.

We were the first people from head office to speak to her about this, never mind to actually walk through the door and look her in the eye.  Nobody had even had the courtesy to explain what was happening to her beyond the bare facts of her redundancy, which seems astonishing.  We were only there as a favour to someone else (who neglected to mention all of this to us and let us walk into this situation totally unprepared), but it felt like the least we could do to thank her for all her years of hard work and to wish her well for the future. Thirty-four years is a pretty large chunk of anyone's life.

It's true that it's the people that make a business. I don't care how many years of glorious history a company might have, if you treat people like this, then ultimately the people worth having will vote with their feet.

Bobbins.  Proper bobbins.

Friday, 19 May 2017

cut down, shot down...any way you please.

There's a really nice little charity that provides toilets for the third world.  Their hook is that you get to "twin" your toilet with a toilet somewhere in Africa or in another less-developed part of the world. You get a little framed sign with a picture of the bog you're sponsoring and the GPS coordinates that you can hang in your own cloakroom.  My mum and dad gave me a toilet in Cambodia, and I gave one of my best friends and his wife a block of toilets at a school in Burundi (they met in Africa, although, as a French-Canadian, his wife was a little uncertain about the appropriateness of this as a wedding gift. "Is this some kind of British joke?").

It's a nice gift and the money you're spending is being used to provide safe, clean and hygienic sanitation to a community.  It's all good.

Except for one thing.

They're a Christian charity... which is obviously fine ... but they keep sending me emails like this one, which arrived this week:

--

Dear Tim,

What’s your perfect ‘Bible moment’?

It’s time to get thinking if you want to win a copy of this rather splendid prize. I’ve got five copies of a very special Bible to give away. It’s ‘The Bible in One Year’ read by actor David Suchet – best known as TV’s Hercule Poirot.

On six CDS you get 365 MP3 files – each file contains a portion of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Psalms or Proverbs. It’s the perfect ‘three-portions-a-day’ way to listen to the entire Bible.

You could listen on your computer, phone or MP3 player – while you're on your commute or walking the dog...

How to win

You just need to hit ‘reply’ to this email and tell me:
A favourite passage of scripture.

Where you would most like to listen to or read it and why.

For instance, you could choose Malachi 4 v 2 (‘But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.’) while you are sat watching the sun rise in a favourite picturesque spot. It can be anywhere in the world (universe?) you like, just give me a great reason. Our five favourite responses will win the prize; as always, our decision is final.

You get the idea. Get those inspirational thinking caps on. I look forward to hearing the result.

With every blessing,

--

[sigh]

I really like supporting them, but COME ON! Does it even occur to them, do you think, that this proselytising might be off-putting to the demographic who are happy to support the work that they do but could happily do without having any particular flavour of deity - or, indeed, any flavour of deity at all - thrown into the equation?

Besides, Malachi 4 v2?  What the hell? Isn't everyone's favourite Bible verse from Ezekiel? 25:17?

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children".

You know it.

Word.