Wednesday, 28 January 2015

love me twice today....

I feel like I achieved a new level of crazy today: I ran to work and back.

Usually, of course, I cycle. But I had an appointment for a sports massage this evening and, according to my training programme, I needed to get six miles done and won't be able to do them on Thursday because I'm heading down to Heathrow..... so I ran the 3.62 miles to work, and a few hours later, I ran the 3.62 miles home.

It felt a bit weird to be running in the pre-dawn light this morning, not to mention the discomfort I felt in my legs from my runs on Sunday and Monday... but it took me a little over half an hour and it basically felt alright, even with a headwind.  The run home was even better, in spite of the flurrying snow and the aching muscles (which actually didn't feel all that bad.  Plus I got home with 7 miles under my belt for the day.  That's 100 miles dead on for January.

I'm sure it's probably not the same thing as doing those 7 miles in a single run, but at the moment I'm just loading mileage and, to be honest, my muscles are telling me to take it easy anyway.  Two 3 mile runs in a day is taking it easier than one 7 mile run, isn't it?

It's pretty cold tonight and there's the prospect of more snow, but you know what?  I'm thinking of running to work again tomorrow.  My running distance record for a calendar month is 101.6 mile from November last year.  All things being even, I should overtake that somewhere down the Victoria Embankment.  Jantastic have awarded me a badge as one of the most consistent scorers in my local area (whatever that means).  If they knew me better, I'm not sure they would have let me enter in the first place....

As Nigel Tufnel and David St Hubbins of Spinal Tap once said, it such a fine line between stupid and, uh... clever.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

a shallow piece of dignity...

A week ago, I saw a replica of the gates at Buchenwald in the British Museum's exhibition on Germany. That caption translates as "To each his own" . The wording faced inwards towards the prisoners and was apparently carefully maintained by the inmates, with the red writing kept freshly painted.  One theory is that the Bauhaus lettering was perhaps a subtle gesture of defiance to the Nazis, but to be honest, I imagine most of the inmates had rather more important things on their mind than that..

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp; a camp that also featured some famous gates.

Work makes you free.  As wikipedia says about the text:

"In The Kingdom of Auschwitz, Otto Friedrich wrote about Rudolf Höss, regarding his decision to display the motto so prominently at the Auschwitz entrance:
"He seems not to have intended it as a mockery, nor even to have intended it literally, as a false promise that those who worked to exhaustion would eventually be released, but rather as a kind of mystical declaration that self-sacrifice in the form of endless labour does in itself bring a kind of spiritual freedom."
Considering the role played by the Auschwitz prisons during the Holocaust as well as the individual prisoner's knowledge that once they entered the camp freedom was not likely to be obtained by any means other than death, the cruel comedy of the slogan becomes strikingly clear. The psychological impact it wrought on those who passed through the gates of each of the camps where it was seen was incredibly powerful"

Like most other Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz didn't leave many survivors.  Those who remain today are unlikely to live very much longer to bear first hand witness to the horrors they survived, and with their passing, the story will seem just that little bit more remote to those of us who came afterwards.

Let's just remind ourselves of some of the facts:

While under Allied interrogation, Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940 to 1943, said that Adolf Eichmann told him that two and a half million Jews had been killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau and about half a million had died "naturally". Later he wrote "I regard two and a half million far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive possibilities". The likely death toll is probably somewhere between one and two million people.... an astonishing and horrifying number.

One to two million people. Exterminated in a single facility.  Six million in total under Nazi rule.

It's difficult to comprehend, isn't it?

Could it happen again?  Do we really need to ask the question? Has it not happened in many places since? Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia....

Could it ever happen here?  Well, you'd imagine that it couldn't..... but the next time you hear someone talking about a group of people as though they are different from ourselves, just think.  Look around you: it's happening in this country right now, whether it's Muslims, Eastern European immigrants, benefit scroungers, homosexuals or whoever.... the minute you begin to think of them as "other" to yourself, then you've set a foot down the path towards those gates.

Just watch the rhetoric our politicians will be spouting as we head towards the next General Election, and you'll see what I mean.  Nigel Farage may seem like a bit of an idiot now; someone to laugh at.... but they said almost exactly the same things about Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s in Germany too. Politicians fell over themselves to make deals with him, thinking they could control him.

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

As my wife often points out, Brecht said "Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch".  The womb he crawled from is still fertile.

Monday, 26 January 2015


Our training programme must be ramping up: Runkeeper has told me for two weeks running that I've just done my most mileage in a week.  I've been using them to track all of my runs since 2008, and have trained for several half marathons in that time, so with something like 13 weeks still to go before the London Marathon, and with a lot of significantly longer runs still in front of me.... I imagine that record is going to be broken a few more times yet before we're done.

I ran 28.8 miles last week over five runs, with the longest 9.9 miles.  It started to feel like all I was doing with my spare time was eating and sleeping.  After parkrun on Saturday, I had a good snooze in front of a fire and the rugby, and then did exactly the same thing again on Sunday afternoon after my long run.  I'm also not ashamed to say that I was tucked up in bed with a cup of tea by 9.30 on Sunday evening and slept like a baby.  Given that the longest single week on my training programme includes a 22 mile run, I can only imagine that I'm going to be doing both a whole lot more running and a whole lot more sleeping.  We're travelling to Vienna this weekend, and as well as planning how I'm going to fit in my training runs whilst we're there, I'm also trying to work out how I can get my mileage done whilst factoring in the trip to the airport and various other inconveniences coming between me and my normal weekly running routine.  I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that, instead of cycling as usual, I'm going to need to run to work this week at least once.  It's the only way I can think to get a six mile run done (in two instalments) before we fly.  I'm also looking at the distinctly snowy weather forecast for Vienna and wondering how I'm going to make a ten mile run work on Sunday.  Should I take my trail shoes or rely on the Austrians being somewhat better at clearing snow from paths than our council?

If I'm this bad now, then I'm sure you can only imagine how boring I'm going to be in a couple of month's time.  I've started modifying my diet to make sure I'm taking on the right kind of carbohydrates before running, for goodness sake.

I weighed myself today too.  I don't really make much of a habit of this, but I stepped on the scales out of idle curiosity this evening after we got back in from running club.  Apparently I weigh something like 83.4 kilos and have a body fat percentage of 9.9%.  I have no real idea of what to make of that body fat measurement, but I do know that this is probably as light as I have been in my life since I was about seventeen years old and coming up in the other direction as I discovered beer and stopped having compulsory sport as I left school.  The scales also told this evening me that I have a metabolic age of twelve (which is their lowest possible reading, and intensely annoyed my wife, who stubbornly receives a reading that equates to her actual age).  I don't really know what to make of that either, to be honest.  It certainly doesn't feel like I have the body of a twelve year old.  My feet hurt, for starters.  I was rather worried that it was my plantar fascia flaring up again, but a closer examination of the sore area seems to reveal that it's not my PF at all, and the special insoles I wear in my running shoes in an attempt to stop my left knee collapsing inwards as I run are doing their job so well that they are bruising my instep on longer runs.  I think that means that they're working, right?

Marathon training, eh?  Apologies in advance for the next few months.

Friday, 23 January 2015

leave the silver city to all the silver girls...

Earworms of the Week

Don’t Panic” – Coldplay

I was thinking about the first Coldplay album the other day. You know, back in the time when they were just four kids and the only people with any preconceptions were the kind of people who listened to Alan McGee, who famously said that they made music for bedwetters. Hmm. Or is he actually a prophet who foresaw what horrors were to come? I was with Coldplay as far as Vida La Vida. I wasn’t a massive fan of that, but they had enough credit in the bank from their their first three albums that I was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. By “Mylo Xyloto”, I was out and I haven’t been back since. On this album though, the songs are simple and Chris Martin’s emotional inarticulacy is kind of charming and isn’t yet cliché. It’s a good album, it really is. They probably became a better band after this point (“A Rush of Blood to the Head” is my favourite of their albums), and they definitely became a much bigger band.. but there’s an innocent enjoyment in listening to this record. Besides, I find it a reassuring thought to think that we live in a beautiful world. Yeah we do, yeah we do.

Fake Plastic Trees” - Radiohead

It’s so tempting for me to say much the same thing about Radiohead as I’ve just said about Coldplay: good at the start but then disappeared up their own arses. It’s not quite true though: “Pablo Honey” wasn’t all that, and certainly didn’t give all that much indication of a band that was going to produce “OK Computer”. For my money though, after “OK Computer”, it’s diminishing returns all the way. Sure, there are flashes of brilliance, but they seem to be a band so determined to be self-consciously experimental and to escape their popularity, that their music becomes less and less interesting and more and more wilfully unlistenable. Whisper it, but the album of theirs that I love the most is “The Bends”. There: I’ve said it.

I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” – The Four Tops

Sometimes music is just joyous. We make it sound so complicated, but really shouldn’t it be about making you feel good? This song makes me feel good. Lord knows I listen to enough miserable shit.

Something Good” – Alt-J

When did Alt-J become the band of choice for creating instrumental beds to use underneath pieces on the radio or on telly? They already seem to be quite popular on BBC Five Live, but this week they have been used quite extensively on Winterwatch, of all things… often to soundtrack beautiful footage of things like a golden eagle soaring. As she’s French, C. finds Winterwatch (and Springwatch and all the other seasonal variations) to be the most British programme ever made. No other nation, she thinks, would care this much for the animals around them. She texted me from her hotel in Weybridge when they showed a fantastic little film about a woodlouse looking for water in a garden shed (they're land-based crustaceans, you know). “Who cares!?” The British care, that’s who. We care about animals, including the ones we can’t eat.  Which immediately separates us from the French.  As Theoden the Duke of Norfolk said in "Wolf Hall" about an Englishman's view of France, “We own France. We have a right to take back our own.”  Amen, brother!

Happy” – Pharrell Williams

Universally popular, apparently…..but I have to say that I don’t really care for it. It’s alright, but it’s not all that. It doesn't make any sense to me.  Who feels like a room without a roof?  What? How is that a universal thing that people can connect to?  Describe to me exactly what you think that means because I've got not idea.  Pharrell also strikes me as a bit of a knob, but that’s a separate issue.  He's very pleased with himself, isn't he?

Is It Really So Strange” – The Smiths

For as long as I can remember, the signature on my personal email has been a line from this song: “I lost my bag in Newport Pagnell” (growled at the end of a line, almost as an afterthought, by Morrissey). It’s been there so long that I really don’t think about it at all. Someone asked me about it this week, and as I was explaining, I realised that it’s fairly obscure. Why did I pick it? Um, because I like The Smiths and that was the M1 services closest to where I grew up. Do I need a better reason than that?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – Judy Garland

No idea. Honestly, no idea. Maybe it’s because I saw one the other day. Maybe it’s because Oz featured in one of the last volumes of “Fables” that I read a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s because I’m hankering for a better tomorrow. Or maybe I'm just gay.  Who knows?

Theme to the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings”

As the number of miles I’m running goes up, I’ve found that I’ve started listening to more talking books (when I’m not running with C, anyway). Last week I listened to the adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens” that was still on the iPlayer. This week, I listened to the BBC adaptation of “Small Gods” that I discovered when the iPlayer radio app on my phone recommended it to me after I’d finished “Good Omens”. After that, I reached for one of the only audio books that I have on my iPod…. The multi-disc BBC version of the Lord of the Rings that features Michael Hordern as Gandalf, Ian Holm as Frodo and John le Measurier as Bilbo. Not only is this a brilliant version (Robert Stephens is outstanding as Aragorn), but it’s also one that I used to listen to all the time with my little brother when we were playing Championship Manager or Civilisation at home when we were kids. I’ll have to ask him, but I imagine that he still does a pretty mean version of the various noises that Gollum makes here. My run yesterday got me most of the way through the first disc, but I should have enough here to keep my busy for the next few weeks.  After that, I’ll probably have to make my way around to subscribing to a few podcasts, something that I’ve resisted doing on grounds of time for some time now. Apparently there are some really good ones out there, so if you’ve got any tips, then please feel free to pass them on.  Incidentally, I've owned and loved this for years and only just discovered that Bill Nighy played Sam!

RV” – Faith No More

Yeah, I sweat a lot
Pants fall down every time I bend over
And my feet itch

Possibly bought on by Jim Martin’s seminal appearance in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”, which I watched a bit of the other day. C. was largely mystified as to why I wanted to watch this. She’s heard my Death impressions for years now (“Best three out of five”) without ever showing any interest where it came from. Then she saw it, and after about fifteen minutes, she was giving me the “CHANGE THE CHANNEL” look. I held on to heaven (“They melvined me!”), but when Station turns up it all goes downhill anyway. Keanu’s finest moment?

Conversation 16” – The National

It’s Matt Berninger’s voice that does it for me. The National are a fascinating band with a back catalogue that’s well worth exploring (I’ve been working my way backwards through their albums this week)… but it’s that voice that really hooks me. Proper band. In my karaoke range too, not that I’m sure I’ll really get the chance to stand on a stage in a bar and sing this one
All together now:

"I was afraid, I'd eat your brains
I was afraid, I'd eat your brains
'Cause I'm evil
'Cause I'm evil"

Yeah! Sing it!

Have a good weekend, y’all. Running and sleeping for me. The rock and roll marathon training lifestyle.

Oh, and a jamon party. Yeah.  As you do.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

might trick me once....

In spite of the mild inconvenience of the mid-week journey down to London from Nottingham, I really enjoyed Tuesday’s get-together with some of the MS Trust’s London Marathon team. I’ve been in quite close dialogue with the MS Trust guys over email for the last few months, and it was good to finally meet some of them face-to-face. Sure, the runners are the ones putting in the miles and raising the sponsorship, but it’s the charity’s own team who provide the service that is so valuable and we're running to raise money to help them continue to do their good work.

As well as the introductions and a glass or two of wine, we had some really useful talks on nutrition, physio and on the experience of running the marathon generally. I learned loads. Where do you think the halfway point of a marathon is? The obvious answer is 13.1 miles, but apparently the psychological halfway point is at 20 miles. That information is slightly terrifying – the furthest I’ve ever run in one go is a half marathon – but it’s actually quite an empowering thing to learn too. After all, it’s far better to know that and to prepare accordingly than it is to be taken by surprise as I’m actually running the damn thing. The session on nutrition and hydration was good too, even if it seemed slightly ironic to be learning about the importance of hydration whilst drinking a glass of red wine. I don’t really pay all that much attention to what I eat. I’m distantly aware of carbohydrates and proteins and things like that, but had no real understanding of what I should be eating as I train for this marathon. I once had a swimming coach (and former age-group Triathlete for Australia) who gave me a strict telling off about the fact that I was training for a half marathon without any kind of a refuelling, hydration or recovery strategy. It seems that, to run 26.2 miles, I’m going to need to give much closer consideration to what I eat and drink before I run, whilst I ‘m running and once I’ve finished. It sounds so obvious, but the presentation was full of practical information about what I actually need to do. Four Weetabix for breakfast and a glass of milk straight after a run, basically….. I’ve always had a meal of wholemeal pasta with roasted vegetables the night before a long race. No, apparently. Way, way too much fibre to be sensible. Sports nutrition, eh? Apparently there might just be something to it.

I found the physio’s session on injury prevention and recovery useful but also slightly depressing: much of the presentation was given over to how you can identify and correct muscle weakness. Muscle weakness can greatly increase the risk of injury, and Zoe spent some time showing us how to identify common problems and showed us the exercises we need to do to counteract them. As it happens, I am familiar with many of those exercises. My problem is that, in my case, the weakness is caused by a fundamental underlying problem that I can’t change. Still, it was a timely reminder that knowing about those exercises and actually getting off my arse to do them are two completely different things. All those stretches, strength and balance exercises won’t do themselves and they can only help keep me on the road, even if they can’t make the problem go away. Also important, we were reminded, was taking the time to do a quick, dynamic warm-up and stretches when we finish running. I know this, of course, but almost never do them. You can warm up by running, right? I left the session with the best of intentions, of course… but of course, I only remembered that I hadn’t done my dynamic warm up when I was about a mile into my run last night… oh well, today’s another day and another run.

I don’t know if I’m unusual in attempting to run a marathon with MS – I would assume probably not – but during the course of the evening, John (the runner who was sharing his experiences of running the event) spotted my MS Trust wristband and delicately asked if I was personally affected by MS. Yes, I am. He seemed impressed… which as he was telling us how big an undertaking a marathon was from his own personal experience, was perhaps a little alarming. Because I had to rush off to catch my train back to the distant, snowy north, I dropped him an email the next day to thank him for his presentation (which was excellent) and how much I enjoyed chatting with him. He replied, “I have to say how impressed that having MS, you have chosen to run the Marathon : I think that’s very brave. Of course every MS is different but based upon on my statistically unrepresentative sample of 5 or 6, physical exercise would be the last thing you should be doing. I have nothing respect and admiration.
That’s a lovely thought and much appreciated.

But..... I'm not brave.  I don't consider myself brave, anyway.  So I’m not being stupid doing this thing, am I? No more than usual, I mean?  I’ll do my warm-ups and everything. I promise.  Everything will be fine then, right?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

there's more art in Burger King than the British Museum today...

Lely's Venus

If you live in Nottingham, 6pm on a Tuesday evening in Central London probably doesn't seem like the most convenient time or place for a meeting.  Well, to be honest it isn't.... but I was quite keen to attend the get-together organised by the MS Trust for the runners who will be raising money for them in the London Marathon, and I've got holiday I need to use, so I just took the day off.  Besides, C. gave me a membership to the British Museum for Christmas, and this gave me a good opportunity to start to use it.

I love the British Museum.  It's one of those splendidly Victorian institutions where admission is free and where we store many of the priceless treasures that we have stolen from all over the world.  Often it's stuff that we had no right to take in the first place, and in many cases things that we have no real justification for keeping now.... the Elgin Marbles of course being a case in point.  They're splendid, but really what on earth are they still doing in London? (especially if we're going to pack bits of them off to St Petersburg on loan).

Last time I was here, I rented an audio guide and spent some time learning about the Marbles and then following a tour of some of the museum's classical highlights.  That worked pretty well, so this time around, I rented another audio guide (10% members discount) and looked at some of the museum's Ancient Egyptian collection.  The mummies here are consistently amongst the museum's most popular exhibits, and even on a Tuesday afternoon in January, some of the galleries were positively heaving with visitors.  Ah well. It's good that it's being used, right?

Iris from the Parthenon Sculptures

Actually, the mummies make me feel a bit uneasy.  In the main, they've been treated with respect here and allowed to remain wrapped up in their linen and in their sarcophagi, but there's something very unsettling to see these human remains in this setting.  Another benefit of my membership is that it gets me into any of the exhibitions for free, and I spent a fascinating hour at "Ancient Lives", a closer look at eight of the museum's mummies.  They've used modern scanning techniques to really get inside the wrappings and to examine the bodies, and the insights are startling.  There was a lot of dental decay in Ancient Egypt, it seems, with many of the bodies showing evidence of decay and abscesses that would have caused a great deal of pain and perhaps also death.

Just look at this one (from a less enlightened time when they clearly *did* unwrap the mummies).

That hole in the lower jaw is an abscess that occurred during life and caused that damage to the bone. Ouch. I imagine that stung.

My favourites here - at least from what I've discovered so far - are the classical sculptures.  Just look at Lely's Venus (2nd century AD) and Iris from the Parthenon Sculptures (around 438 BC): aren't they beautiful?  I've studied the Renaissance as part of my degree, and although I've seen some remarkable sculptures from that time (Michelangelo's Pieta or Moses, spring to mind)... I've not seen anything that can surpass some of these sculptures from thousands of years earlier.  Iris would originally have had brass wings, and just look at the way that the fabric of her translucent tunic ripples against her thigh.  How can you get such a subtle effect from solid stone? Have you ever seen anything as beautiful?

I learned loads from the physios, former runners and nutritionists at the MS Trust get together that evening, but my day at the British Museum was a lovely way to spend a random midweek day in a dark and cold January.

I've just finished reading - on Monday night -  The Adventures of Luther Awkwright, the seminal comic strip by Bryan Talbot.  So I was mildly surprised and pleased to see a chap wearing an Octobriana t-shirt at the British Museum.

In the Members' Room, of all places!  Good heavens!

Monday, 19 January 2015

let's raise the bar and our cups to the stars...

I'm lucky.

I don't really consider myself to be that badly affected by multiple sclerosis.  The symptoms that I do have are mostly invisible, and to look at me, you wouldn't immediately know that there was anything wrong with me (unless you looked very closely)....but in their own subtle, insidious ways, my symptoms are nibbling away at the things that I used to be able to take entirely for granted.

Running, for starters.

On Sunday, in our longest training run for the marathon yet, we ran 9.48 miles.  I'm sure Runkeeper would provide me with the detailed analysis if I could only be bothered to look for it, but I think that's the longest run I have done since late 2012.  I ran my half marathon PB in September that same year, but not long after that, I really began to struggle when irritating problems with the plantar fascia of my left foot began to spread up my leg, first into my ITB and then into my left hip.  Before long, I was only able to manage a single, pathetic, hobbling 3 miles a week.  Depressing.

I saw a specialist, hoping to perhaps get another steroid injection into my foot.  An injection into the sole of your foot is not a very pleasant experience, for sure, but it did at least kill the symptoms of PF in that foot for nearly a year.  The specialist took one look at me and knew better: the PF was a symptom and not the underlying cause and treating the symptom would ultimately not do me any good or solve the problem in the longer term.

Apparently, I have about 10% less muscle mass on the left hand side of my body.  That might not sound like much, but it's a visible difference.  I was measured for a pair of lederhosen trousers the other day -- that's another story -- and the Austrian craftsman was slightly taken aback to find that my left leg measures 1.5cm less around the thigh than my right.  In short, my MS seems to mean that I am losing muscle strength on the left hand side of my body faster than I am losing it on the right.  This means that, on a long run, I seem to drop the left hand side of my body and adjust my running style accordingly, causing me all sorts of knock-on bio-mechanical issues.  To make matters worse, I've lost flexibility in my left ankle too.  As I tire, as well as dropping my left leg, I also start to drop my ankle, scuffing me foot as I run.... sometimes to the point of tripping myself up, but enough to cause stress up through my leg and into my knee and hip.

Am I going to let it stop me running?  Well, perhaps one day I won't have any choice... but until that day, I'm going to keep doing the best I can come hell or high water.  I ran more than 800 miles across 2014, although I don't think I ever ran more than seven or eight miles at a time.  To be honest, I didn't think my body would be able to tolerate running another half marathon, never mind a full marathon.  Ah, hell.  You only live once, right?  There's only one way to find out.

As the distances I run start to increase as we get properly into our marathon training, I'm wearing an ankle cuff on my left foot with an elastic loop designed to stop my foot from dropping and scuffing on the ground.  It's not especially comfortable to wear, and over the last few months I've acquired some interesting new scars where it has worn its way into my skin as I run.... but it seems to be succeeding in its primary job of stopping the foot scuff, which is great news.

I was fine for the vast majority of Sunday's 9.48 mile run.  I started to get some stiffness and discomfort in my left hip after about 8 miles, but nothing serious enough to cause me to stop.  Of course, 26.2 miles is still quite a lot further than 9.48 miles, so if I'm sensible, I'll take those little warning twinges as a sign that I should find that rubber band thing the physios gave me in the summer and start doing those exercises in my hip again.  Either that or stop entirely..... but as that's not going to happen anytime soon, the mild discomfort and inconvenience of the exercises it is.

Our training mileage ramps remorselessly from now onwards.  The first couple of weeks of my schedule have actually been easier than my normal weekly training routine.  Not for much longer: my midweek run this week is going to be 6-7 miles... a good couple of miles longer than I would normally manager.  Last week, Runkeeper told me, I ran the most miles in a single week since I started tracking my runs in 2008.  26 miles.  I think my weekly training mileage will peak at around forty miles towards the end of March.

Will my body hold up to the strain?  Well, there's only one way to find out.

After all, I'm not dead yet.

You know what? It could be worse.  On Saturday this week, I was the guide for a blind runner at Colwick parkrun.  It was properly cold and running conditions were icy, but it didn't put Terry off one little bit.  At one point, he took a bit of a tumble, but after checking that he was still in one piece, he picked himself up, dusted himself down and completed the run.  He's an amazing guy and it was both humbling and inspiring to run with him.

If Terry can overcome the loss of his sight and still be running (he's hoping to get his PB down under 24 minutes this year), then what the hell have I got to be complaining about?

everybody feels entitled...

I'm cross.

Cycling home from work this evening, I came over the Suspension Bridge at the Trent and headed down on the final half-mile stretch towards home.  There's a corner here where the road turns and joins the much larger road that heads over Trent Bridge.  The traffic flow is to the left, and to turn right, you have to cross the road at some traffic lights.  To get to those lights (and also to a pedestrian crossing), you have to hop onto a little stretch of pavement and head around the corner.

As I came off the bridge and up onto the pavement there, I could see a lady with a toddler and a pushchair coming in my direction.  I'm lit up like a Christmas tree with lights and fluorescent clothing at this time of year, but she had nothing to mark her out.  Still, I saw her and immediately slowed down and moved right across the pavement to take up as little room as possible and to be as far out of her way as possible.  As I passed, she paused to remonstrate with me for riding on the pavement.  She was pompous in her manner and used suitably patronising hand gestures as she told me in no uncertain terms that I had no business riding on the pavement.

To some extent, I understand where she's coming from, especially with a toddler in tow and a pushchair.  I get it.  The thing that's riled me is that:

a) She was absurdly pompous
b) Actually she's wrong: the pavement is dropped here *precisely* to keep cyclists off the road on a dangerous corner with traffic on the main road flowing in the main direction.

I didn't bother starting the debate with her and just kept going, swearing under my breath.

I saw her, assessed the danger, slowed down and gave her as much room as possible on a piece of pavement I have every right to be cycling on.  Maybe there are reckless cyclists around here, but I honestly don't think that I'm the problem here.  Be sure to have a lovely evening though, you sour-faced, supercilious cockwomble.


Friday, 16 January 2015

I just can't seem to make any sound....

Earworms of the Week

Stop the Cavalry” – Jona Lewie

Apparently the writers of Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everyone” made about £500,000 from that song last Christmas alone. That’s not too shabby and at least it’s a song that’s definitely about Christmas. This song is also on just about every single compilation of Christmas songs, and it’s basically an anti-war song that makes a very fleeting mention of the season with the addition of some chiming bells. Apparently that’s all it took to get it onto Christmas playlists forever. Jona Lewie has said that it accounts for more than half of all his income, apparently around £15k a year. Not too shabby. No wonder East 17 put those bells onto “Stay Another Day”… £30k a year for that little piece of foresight by Tony Mortimer. Nice one, Tony.

Do I Wanna Know” – Arctic Monkeys

I’m not entirely sure exactly how much crossover C and I actually have in our music tastes. She likes classical music and she’s got a load of stuff from my iTunes on her phone, but she very rarely expresses a preference and almost never buys any music. I know that she likes 50s and early 60s rock and roll, and I also know that she likes some surprisingly spiky music like White Stripes, early Kings of Leon and the Velvet Underground. Pleasingly, she also seems to very much be developing a fondness for the Arctic Monkeys. She’s always enjoyed their very Yorkshire turn of phrase, but with “AM” in particular, she really seems to enjoy the heavier, scuzzy guitar. It’s all good: it’s a great record. You’d imagine after 15 years together, I might be a little better informed about these things, but there you go.

Romeo & Juliet” – Dire Straits

I always think of this song when I’m skiing because of the time we skied over into Italy from La Rosiere and they were playing this on a huge PA system on the slopes. A large group of us got talked into a bundle deal at a restaurant, and were then all piled into a crappy van and driven away from the slope. We all thought we were going to die, but it actually turned out to be a delicious and astonishingly cheap meal, and the proprietor was also good enough to drop us back at the foot of the slope in his van at the end. A good day.

Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” – Harry Belafonte
Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash

Both, as it turns out, excellent songs to sing on a chair lift in a ski resort.

Raspberry Beret” – Prince

I think I prefer the Warren Zevon version, but there’s no accounting for what plays in my head at any given time. I don’t actually own a single recorded note by Prince. If he ever does play Glastonbury, I’ll likely be doing something else. Nothing personal though, mate.

Immigrant Song” – Led Zeppelin

I recently changed my ringtone from “London Calling” by The Clash to this song. It’s been a month or so, and I still haven’t quite got used to the change. Great song, mind. The jury is still out on whether or not it makes a good ringtone.

Get Lucky” – Daft Punk feat. Pharrell & Nile Rodgers

Still sounds great. I’m not a massive fan of Pharrell and I’m inclined to think he’s a bit of a prat. I’ve also never really understood the fuss about “Happy”. Still, this is a corker, innit? Nile Rodgers is a legend.

Red War” – Probot feat Max Cavalera

I’ve been listening an awful lot to the MP3s of the bass parts of the songs we’re doing at choir this season. They’re actually great to listen to, as well as obviously being a really good way of learning your part. It’s not very rock and roll though, is it? Even when you’re singing rock and roll songs by people like Kiss, Van Halen and Bon Jovi. I’ve also not really been listening to much music when I go running either: I’m doing a lot more running with C without headphones, and when I have been running by myself, I’ve been listening to the BBC adaptation of “Good Omens” on iPlayer. What better way to get your rock back on than by listening to Probot? RED WAR WILL FALL ON MY ENEMIES!

You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth” - Meatloaf

Part of the setlist at choir this season and entirely irresistible. I’m not even sure if “Bat Out of Hell” is on my iPod or not…. But I can tell you right now that it’s going straight on as soon as I’ve got the bass part down pat (I can’t be learning from where Meatloaf takes it, can I?). Great song and also very good fun to sing. My favourite song to sing so far at choir is actually a bit of a surprise to me as I dislike the band, but it turns out that “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a real pleasure to sing and sounds great sung in this format (although, sadly, we're not doing the "Hot Summer Night" intro bit.  That would have been awesome....)

Right. That’s it. First earworms of 2015 done. Have a great weekend, y’all.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

it's my only joy...

Someone asked me today if I was having a dry January.  I think I may actually have recoiled in horror at the very thought of it.  Hell no!  January is one of the darkest and most dreary months of the year; everyone is fairly miserable because they're back to work after a nice break over Christmas.  Why the hell would anyone think that this was a good time of year to be giving up anything, nevermind the sweet consolations of alcohol?

But of course, that's exactly what loads of people do every New Year: give up drinking, give up smoking, join a gym, start eating more healthily.... good luck to them, I say.

Perhaps this is taking things too far though:

(This prompted uproar on Facebook, and I was particularly tickled by the comment in response "Sometimes if I feel a little weak, I'll treat myself to a big cry and drink my tears with a small squeeze of lemon and enough rage to see me through till home time." Also, showering *before* you run? Really?  It's okay though, guys.... she likes Creme Eggs.  Although perhaps not since they changed them? That doesn't explain the whole shower-before-exercise thing, mind.....)

I like a beer.  I really do.  I look forward to a beer at the end of a long week.  The idea of giving up strikes me as a needless act of self-denial.  I like drinking beer and I like shopping for interesting beer in the interesting beer shop just around the corner.  Oktoberfest beers were great, but then we were into Christmas beers and I've been very much enjoying the Belgian festive brews that he stocks.....

Then I thought about it: I barely actually drink at all and I don't especially like being drunk.  I enjoy beer but drink perhaps four pints a week, maybe five.  I also quite like wine, but I've still got a bottle open in the kitchen that I started drinking at the beginning of December.  I actually don't drink during the week at all.  Compared to some, I'm practically teetotal.

But I like beer!

In fact, to hell with it: I'm going to have a beer right now.  On a Thursday night and everything.  I'll use it to wash down my kale salad with pistachios, olives, dried cherries, argan oil and just a tiny amount of apple cider.

Rock and roll.