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.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

what does the fox say?


The front page on my Guardian app caught my eye yesterday and seemed to rather sum up the state of UK politics at the moment: a very unconvincing Theresa May harangued by a member of the public over her party's treatment of the disabled and, in considerably smaller print, "Corbyn vows to help underpaid and overworked nurses".

If you didn't know any better, which one of those two politicians do you think would be popular with the average person in the street?

Yes, the one who wore diamond studded shoes on the One Show whilst talking about how her marriage was "strong and stable", of course!

It's intensely depressing that this government can pretty much say and do whatever they want - bring back fox-hunting, sell the NHS, grind the bones of the poor, the sick and the disabled down into fertiliser....whatever - and they're still going to increase their majority at the general election next month.  I actually heard the former leader of the Conservative party, Michael Howard, talking on the radio the other day about how Remain voters no longer get a say, and that their opinions are worthless because they lost the debate in the referendum. I've heard otherwise rational-seeming people saying that any MPs that favour anything other than a hard Brexit should be sacked because they clearly aren't representing the will of the people.  It's baffling.

(As an aside, there's a reason why referendums - federal plebiscites - are illegal in the German constitution.  Just sayin'...)

Still, who doesn't want strong and stable leadership, eh?

[from news thump]

We live in interesting times, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

pray that my feet don't fail me now...


I feel like my legs are getting worse and my running is getting slower; I feel like I have no business joining an athletics club and spending time trailing in after much faster runners.... but then there are also nights like tonight.

I was the 312th man to finish at the second Summer League race of the season at Holme Pierrepont this evening, but I ran the 5 mile course at an average pace of 7m 50s per mile (as fast as I've run over any distance in some time.  In fact, my magic mile time trial the other week was only about a minute quicker than that) and - most importantly of all - I really enjoyed myself.  I think it's pretty clear from the smiles and the sprint finish I managed at the end that I'm not the kind of runner who likes to beast himself, flogging out every last iota from my body.  I prefer instead to hold something back, but that's okay too.



I actually look like I might be enjoying myself.  Maybe there's some life in the old dog yet.

I'm not quite dead just yet.

Also, sun's out, guns out....

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

just go with the magic, baby...


I had a revelation this evening.

I was listening to Father John Misty when it suddenly came to me that "Don't Stop Moving" by S-Club 7 might just be the purest, feel-good song ever recorded.  I don't even like to *start* movin' to the funky, funky beat.... but that song is pretty much irresistible.

Tay-Tay will no doubt be delighted to hear that, in spite of an obvious lack of hella good hair, I think that "Shake It Off" is a pretty close second.

I'm not even joking.

Like the man says, No need to reason why: just listen to the sound and it makes you come alive.

(Yeah. Uh. Come on.)

Friday, 5 May 2017

all bound for Mu Mu Land...


So, we ran the Milton Keynes Half Marathon on Monday.

I actually grew up around here, so it was sort of like a home fixture and we were able to stay at my mum and dad's house the night before rather than have to drive all the way down from Nottingham in one go (they weren't actually there, so we did rather use their house as somewhere to sleep, but a 10 mile journey in the morning rather than 65 miles was most welcome).  Although I do a fair bit of running, I don't actually get much of a thrill entering formal events and collecting medals, but this was a sort of start to training for the 2018 London Marathon and so I put on the MS Trust vest and blue tutu and committed to running the whole thing with my wife.

It was nice.  When you think of Milton Keynes, I'm sure you think about roundabouts... and the first five or six miles was on the wide boulevards of the city centre, taking in a few roundabouts before dipping off into one of the older parts of the city and taking us past some lovely cottages and onto paths through parkland.  It was really pretty nice.  We kept to the right as the marathon and half marathon courses diverged, but the route of the full goes out past Willen Lake and into some nice looking parks before heading back into the city to the stadium finish.  13.1 miles was plenty for me, but if you're looking for a nice spring marathon, I reckon you could do worse.  It was well-organised, reasonably well supported and, because of the stadium start, you could stay indoors and warm until just before you started running... at lots of races, even in summer, you end up doing quite a lot of standing around in the early morning getting cold.



If we're going to run London together again, we're clearly going to have to get used to each other's little foibles again: I don't like to stop/start or to change my pace very much, and my wife likes to stop to eat/drink and then slows down uphill and speed up downhill.  Running together, like many other aspects of a marriage, is about compromise and understanding.

Yeah.  We've got some work to do.  Check out this video of our finish... I was slightly head as we entered the stadium and slowed down, looking over my shoulder to wait for my wife to catch up so we could finish together.  As you can see, she sprinted past me.... so she says to catch that woman running next to her.  Fairly rude, I would say.  As it happens, our chip times are exactly the same.  This is because the wise man has learned to cross the starting line a step behind his wife for pretty much exactly this reason.


There was a pretty nice medal and t-shirt in the finisher's pack too.  The cow represents Milton Keynes' famous concrete cows, of course... but those sunglasses?  They're from a mural inside Milton Keynes Central Library that pastiches Seurat.  You see, local knowledge.

I've got a couple more half marathons in my diary for the rest of the year, together with the 24 hour relay race at Thunder Run in July.  My plan for training for the marathon next year is to try and keep my mileage up to about the 15 mile mark to the end of the year, and then to not change my training programme too much in 2018, apart from to ramp up that long run every Sunday.  Body depending, obviously.  I've run a marathon on my own now, and time really isn't the most important thing to me now.  I've been approached by the PR team of the Royal Parks half marathon, and they're going to feature me in a press release for their event, so watch this space for more exciting running and sponsorship news.

Well, only eleven-and-a-half months to go now!

Monday, 24 April 2017

our work is never over...

Today marks the start of MS Awareness Week.



The MS Trust has an ambition to make sure that everyone with multiple sclerosis in the UK has access to an MS nurse.  As they explain on their website:

"MS specialist nurses are vital for people living with MS. They can help them adjust to diagnosis, consider complicated treatment options, manage a wide range of symptoms and learn to live well with an unpredictable, often debilitating, lifelong condition.

"Without MS nurses, people with MS may have to manage difficult symptoms alone. They may also have to rely on expensive emergency care when their symptoms get worse.

"MS Trust research into nursing levels across the UK has found around two-thirds of the 108,000 people with MS in the UK live in areas where there aren’t enough MS nurses."

I'm lucky enough to have access to MS nurses in Nottingham. In fact, these nurses have provided me with more care and attention than the neurologists that I see. It was an MS nurse who taught me how to inject; it was an MS nurse who provided me with access to physiotherapy and orthotics to help me keep running; it was an MS nurse who provided me with the letter that enabled me to convince a doctor in Australia to pass me fit to dive in a dive medical in Cairns (he wasn't sure, but Maxine telling him that everything would be fine made all the difference.  I sent her a postcard from the Great Barrier Reef that she still mentions from time to time).  Above all, it's the MS nurses who are my first phonecall if anything happens and who provide my access to the NHS.  They're wonderful, and I was shocked when I heard that my younger brother didn't have access to an MS nurse where he used to live in Northamptonshire and was instead forced to deal directly with drugs company funded nurses.

That's not cool.

The MS Trust is a brilliant charity, and providing everyone with MS in the UK access to an MS nurse is a fantastic ambition... more than that, it's an ambition that I'm keen to support.

So....

Exactly 365 days ago, C. and I ran the London Marathon for the second time to raise money for the MS Trust. Between the marathon in 2015 and the one last year, we raised something in excess of £20,000. That's not too shabby and helps a very worthwhile charity make a real difference to the lives of people with MS.

We've had a year off fundraising and off marathons this year, and I've had a few problems with my legs that have affected my running and the way I feel about my running.  But you know what? I want a target and I want to make a difference... so we're going to run the London marathon again in 2018 (if the MS Trust will have us, obviously.  Even if we get in on the ballot, we'll still be fundraising).

I ran 2015 side-by-side with my wife, but crossed the finish line knowing that I wanted to run it on my own.  I ran 40 minutes faster in 2016, but I've got very little desire to push my body that hard this time around.  Things have changed physically for me, and I want to take on this challenge to prove to myself one more time that I've got the mental strength to complete another marathon.... running again with my wife, if she'll put up with me.  I only have to look around the waiting room at an MS clinic to know how lucky I am. My legs might be a bit weird at the moment, but I'm running a half marathon this coming weekend and I know I still have a lot to be thankful for.  I want to use some of that to try and raise some money that will really make a difference to the lives of people diagnosed with this horrible bloody condition.


I think this one might be emotional.

#strongerthanMS #364daystogo

Thursday, 20 April 2017

you can find me in the club...


Yesterday, I made my debut for an actual athletics club; I wore my club colours and I took part in the first summer league race of the season… a 5.2 mile race down back roads, paths and fields around a lovely stately home at Hexgreave Hall. That sounds much more hardcore than it actually was: although the person who won crossed the line in something under twenty-five minutes and you needed to be a member of a running club to take part, the person who finished last probably took something in excess of sixty minutes. The guys and girls in my club are generally all whippets who leave me in their dust, so I was initially a bit reluctant to put myself in a position where I might be exposed as a laggard.. but then it was pointed out to me that a blind lady from our parkrun would be taking part representing a club called the Woodthorpe Huffers and Puffers, so I felt a little bit like I’d run out of excuses and put my name down.

I completed the course in a time of a little over 41 minutes. It’s quite mixed terrain, with some quite bumpy bits on grass that compelled me to slow down a bit rather than risk falling over (which I nearly did a couple of times), but on the whole I was quite pleased. In position 280, I was comfortably the last male member of my team to finish, but was probably barely halfway down the whole field. More importantly, the whole atmosphere was lovely and supportive and my team made me feel welcome and valued. And of course, because they almost all finished before me, they all clapped and cheered me in, which was nice.


As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been making excuses about my running because I feel like I should explain why I’m not going faster. I resisted the urge yesterday and I even cautiously allowed myself to be slightly pleased. I ran the Notts 5 mile race over the last two years. This is a flat, fast course on the roads by the river Trent, not the slightly longer, mixed terrain route with a few hills at Hexgreave yesterday. In 2016, I ran a fairly comfortable 43 minutes and in 2015, I ran a much harder feeling 38 minutes that is likely my PB for the distance. I crossed the line yesterday feeling that I had a little more to give with a time of around 41 minutes and a pace of about 8:04 minutes per mile. I’ve not been that fast for a while, and I don’t think that’s a million miles away from what I would consider to be my fastest. Frankly, anything approaching an average pace of less than 8 minutes/mile is as fast as I’ve ever been over any distance.

Maybe the time has come to stop being so hard on myself and to just enjoy myself a bit more. I’m not doing so bad, really.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

you see, it's hard to explain...

I've caught myself making excuses.

I pride myself on having a zero tolerance policy with myself about my running: pretty much however I'm feeling and whatever the weather is doing, come hell or high water, I will drag my sorry arse out and get the miles in.

That's still true, but I've noticed that I've started trying to explain to people why I'm not running as fast as I think I could.  Here are the names of a few of my more recent runs in Strava:

"4 miles.  Gentle sundowner after a long day - balance seems a bit off at the moment"
"4.3 miles.  White gate with RR - legs felt absolutely rubbish but pleased with the pace overall"
"4.5 miles.  Around the river with RR - watching my footing!"
"4 miles.  Heavily strapped up wobble around the river"
"3.2 miles.  Another tumble, I'm afraid. All okay, but I didn't even fell that one happening"
"4 miles.  Gordon road with RR. Dead legs, but dare I say it...otherwise okay!"
"4.3 miles. RR with Wiggles.  Absolutely gubbed today - few days off needed, I think"

...you get the general idea.  Perhaps I'm simply documenting how I feel, but I reckon I can spot an excuse when I see one.

I've had a few more problems recently, but I don't like this urge to explain myself.  Multiple sclerosis is a condition that is often invisible to other people (although, now I've started getting my legs out and wearing shorts in the nicer weather, more observant people can see the disparity in the musculature on my legs).... but ultimately very few people indeed care how fast I run.  In fact, probably no one but me.  And I'm not sure I care all that much myself, but I seem to care what other people think. People are nice and they're often very supportive, but I honestly don't think they care what my average pace is.  Not really.

I suppose it's because I know that I'm getting slower and finding running more of a struggle physically at the moment; I know that I'm still faster than lots of people, but I can feel the decline and I can also see other people around me getting faster.  It's not that I'm jealous - I'm genuinely happy for them because they're my friends and I know how hard they have been working to get themselves into the sort of shape where they are smashing all their PBs and running some amazing times.  Good for them.  It's inspiring.  To be honest, I've never even really been the kind of runner who gets much of a kick out of PBs or running in competitive races, but I do like the running community I've discovered and I seem to care what they might think. I clearly feel that I need to explain to anyone who will listen why I'm not getting faster too.  It's not an attractive trait.  

Besides, I'm emotionally stunted and secretive and I like to keep this sort of thing to myself.

I don't like that my condition is affecting my running and that this is slowly working its way into my head too, undermining my confidence in my running.  I like even less that I'm becoming the kind of person who uses that as an excuse.  Maybe not to myself, but definitely to other people.

It's a slippery slope.  I've run nearly 80 miles in the last four weeks... I don't think I really need to explain myself to anyone.

Monday, 10 April 2017

belligerent ghouls...

There was an article in the Guardian this weekend about the dark underside to books about boarding schools; how for every jolly Hogwarts story, there are many that display a somewhat seamier underbelly than even the one imagined by JK Rowling (and given that she imagined a basilisk slithering around the school in the Chamber of Secrets, that's really saying something).

"Savage discipline, along with sexual confusion and formalised bullying, are so common in the schooldays memoirs of the British elite in the 19th and 20th centuries that you have to conclude that parents wanted and paid for their children to experience these things. To most of the class that used them, the private schools were factories that would reliably produce men and women who would run Britain, its politics, business and culture. Boarding school was a proven good investment. So thousands of men and women who had suffered awfully, by their own admission, sent their children off for just the same."

Well, steady on.

My dad was the first member of his family to go to University, studying medicine in London with a set of grades at A-Level that wouldn't get him anywhere near further education these days.  He worked hard and, together with my mum, thought that the best gift that they could give their children was to send them to boarding school.  So, at the age of 7 years old, I effectively left home.

The schools I went to for the next 11 years were some way removed from the kind of places that people now pay upwards of £35,000 a year.  Nowadays, it's all co-education (girls!), study-bedrooms and academic achievement.  Not in my day.  These schools were at the sharp-end of a few decades of under-investment, and the cracks were beginning to show.  I was a scholar, my parents receiving a discount on my bill because of my academic performance... something which also earned me the tremendous distinction of having my name in capital letters in the school directory.  Sadly, academic achievement counted for little and pretty much doomed you to a life with a diminished social status in a school where your prowess at sport was everything.  I had to work very hard indeed to get my social status back to a comfortable zero, which is about as good as it ever got for me.  Actually, that's about as good as it's EVER been.

Was I bullied?  A bit, although physical bullying was very rare and the the kind of fagging that you might have read about in Tom Brown's Schooldays was long dead.  Was there even a hint of sexual abuse from either teacher or other pupils?  None that I heard and certainly none that I experienced.

Did I suffer long-lasting emotional damage that has affected my ability to form close relationships or to express my feelings?  Absolutely.  Although the bullying aspect of the article didn't chime with me at all, there was one bit that really did:

EM Forster delivered the harshest of all one-liners about the products of the British public school. They go out into the world, he wrote in 1927, “with well-developed bodies, fairly developed minds and undeveloped hearts”. 

Undeveloped hearts.  There it is. That's the (a-ha!) heart of the matter.

I get on well with my family, but we aren't close by any stretch of the imagination.  My wife mentioned to me at the weekend that she really needed to talk to her mum because they hadn't spoken since Wednesday.  I haven't spoken to mine since Mother's Day and I haven't spoken to either of my brothers for a few months.  No one is ignoring anyone: this is just perfectly normal in my family.  I don't blame anyone, but I'm fairly sure that this is the result of my schooling.  I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for my mother in particular to send me away when I was seven years old, but she did it with the best of intentions.  My mother would probably take this as the most damning criticism of all, but I'd certainly never send any child of mine into this environment.

They say that Eton taught us nothing,” crowed the first world war general Sir Herbert Plumer at a dinner of the school’s old boys’ society in 1916. “But I must say they taught it very well.”

The funny thing is that I never at any point even really felt homesick.

Isn't that sad?