Friday, 30 September 2016

I'm going where the cold wind blows...

Earworms of the Week

Mary Did You Know?” – Pentatonix

It’s reached the point – 4 weeks into the season – where we can’t avoid the Christmas songs at choir any longer. We’re not quite onto Shakin’ Stevens yet (yes, we are going there...), but we have started work on this annoyingly insistent number. Our musical director has a growing love affair with Pentatonix and their acappella style arrangements of songs – last Christmas we did their version of “White Winter Hymnal”. I can take them or leave them really. This song is a bit God-dy for my tastes. OK, it’s a lot God-dy.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you

I mean, stop grovelling already! Also notable for describing the Son of God as “The big I Am”, which makes me chuckle.

Dog House Boogie” – Seasick Steve

So, it turns out that Seasick Steve was never really a hobo, that he’s 10 years younger than he said he was and that he was a session musician all along. Does that make a difference to his music? Probably not, but I bet that story made a difference to his bank balance. I imagine he doesn’t get seasick either, the big old fraud.

Murder on the Dancefloor” – Sophie Ellis Bextor

This has been a colleagues earworm of choice all week, so naturally it’s now my problem too. Best sung in a very mannered style.

The Man Machine” – Kraftwerk

Sarah bagged us tickets to see Kraftwerk in June next year! Yes, it's a lot of money to see for some middle-aged guys do a powerpoint demonstration, but this is perhaps some compensation for the end of my Glastonbury streak, which has seen me attend every festival since 2002. All good things come to an end, and there’s just no way that I’m going to miss one of my New York friends getting married in Connecticut. You watch, this will be the year that The Smiths reform for a one-off gig. Oh well. I’m sure I’ll cope. How will they manage without me? It’s the first time I haven’t been there since they put up the fence. They should maybe be a little worried.

Tired of Sex” – Weezer

So, Pinkerton has just turned platinum in time for its 20th anniversary. I guess that’s what you’d call a slow-burner.  Apparently, Rivers Cuomo hates it. Amongst other things, it reminds him of a time when he was an actual rock star trying to study classical composition at Harvard and got rejected by the choral society. Poor lamb. Them scars cut deep.

Kiss from a Rose” - Seal

We’re doing this one at choir too, and not only is it actually quite difficult to sing, but the lyrics are almost certainly not what you think they are either. Walking back from the session this week, Sarah remarked that she listened to this album so much the year this came out (1994, would you believe?)

“What? You bought the Batman Forever soundtrack!”
parp!

No… she didn’t. Anyone care to name any other songs from that soundtrack? How about Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me by U2? Also songs by PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Flaming Lips, Mazzy Star, Massive Attack, the Offspring… yeah. Who knew, right?

Most people think about the batsuit with nipples. Unless that’s just me?


Breakfast at Tiffany's” – Deep Blue Something
Justapozed with U” – Super Furry Animals

On hold to IT, I have to say that these are two of the songs that I would least have expected to hear (the super furries was some kind of sensitive acoustic cover version). I was secretly quite impressed and then began to wonder who chose their hold music. That Deep Blue Something song will forever remind me of an old housemate of mine from my time in York. He wasn’t a short man, but if I had to pick a race from Middle Earth who he represented, he would definitely – without a shadow of a doubt – be a dwarf. I think he’d wholeheartedly agree, too.

In The Pines” – Billy Bragg & Joe Henry
Where Did You Sleep Last Night” - Nirvana

Two versions of the same song – made famous originally by Leadbelly. The Billy Bragg and Joe Henry version is pretty good – from their recent album of great railroad songs – but the Nirvana version is show-stopping. Cobain sounds like a werewolf howling on that last verse, with raw pain dripping from every word. Infidelity and decapitation under a train’s wheel. Cheerful stuff, huh?

Ah, that’s your lot. Have a great weekend, y’all.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

we are family...

For 26 weeks in the summer months, the parkrun team from Colwick run a weekly interval training session on the Victoria Embankment in Nottingham.  It's called the Weekly Wednesday Workout (WWW) and meets on the open parkland just by the river Trent at 6pm from early April to the end of September.  We warm up, do loads of stretching exercises and strides, and then we run intervals around a coned out track.

We follow a structured programme, working on pace in some weeks - with short, sharp intervals - and building endurance at speed in other weeks with longer sessions around the track. Three times in the season we run a "magic mile" - a mile time trial.  At the end of every session, we plank: building up our core strength. Each session is carefully supervised and stopwatched by members of the Colwick parkrun core team.

It's hard work, but it's very rewarding and a lot of fun too with some real characters from Nottingham's running community. I've made some friends here. It also works: training like this does make you a stronger and better runner.

I actually started attending these sessions before I ever ran a single parkrun.... although it only took a few weeks before I felt so ashamed of that fact that I turned up at Colwick Country Park for the first time in August 2014.  I'd been aware of it for at least a year, but had been sort of avoiding it because I thought I knew myself well enough to know that I would want to flog myself against the clock every week and that it would hurt.  After a slow start, I guess you could say that the habit stuck.  I've now run 72 parkruns and volunteered 36 times, including 6 times as Run Director - and I'll be timing at Colwick on Saturday and marshalling at Gedling Juniors on Sunday to take that total to 38.... I never would have started guiding visually impaired runners either, if it wasn't for parkrun.  And to think that it all comes back to those interval sessions on a Wednesday evening on the Embankment over summer.  I think I only started attending at all because they used to offer loyalty stamps for my running club, and I was very keen to get the 50 stamps in 53 weeks that would earn me a pair of running shoes and had missed every other qualifying run that week.

And you know what? Every session is completely free.  Everyone there gives up their time for free to help other runners out of nothing but love and community spirit.  They're amazing people. I've met a lot of generous people through running over the last five years, but these guys are definitely right at the top of the pile.

Helen - one of the core team - told me at one session as we walked back to the start line at the end of an interval that the main reason they do this was to build links with the running community and to generate a pool of volunteers for the parkrun.

....well, they definitely hooked me.  These people - this community - have enriched my life immeasurably.  I get so much pleasure from volunteering too.  I came here to run faster, and actually my times have become almost completely irrelevant to me. I would even go as far as to say that I enjoy volunteering more than I enjoy running.

It was the last session of the year this evening.

I'm going to have to go for a run on my own next Wednesday after work, and it just won't be quite the same.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

how can we win when fools can be kings?

"Brad and Angelina are divorcing?"

Apparently the Russians have started dropping 'bunker buster' bombs on Aleppo as they wage war on behalf of Assad. They are bombs that weigh more than a tonne and can penetrate through 2m of reinforced concrete.  They're designed to destroy military installations; they're being used to decimate people's homes.

Are we in the era of technology and civilisation?said a resident of eastern Aleppo. “Is this Russian civilisation and democracy? The killing of children, women and elderly people?

I know these bombs were (allegedly) dropped by Russia, but I can't help but think back to the vote 10 months ago in the House of Commons to decide if Britain should join in the bombings.

Remember Hilary Benn's much-lauded speech?

We are here faced by fascists – not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in the chamber tonight, and the people we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.”

The motion was passed by 174 votes, and Jeremy Corbyn was widely criticised for his view that there wasn't a good enough case to send our planes to join the bombings.  Here's some of what he said at the time:

"In the past week I have aimed to give a lead to the growing opposition to Cameron’s bombing plans – in the country, in parliament and in the Labour party. Rejection of 14 years of disastrous wars in the wider Middle East was a key part of the platform on which I was elected Labour leader. However bumpy a ride that has been in parliament, it is essential to learn the lessons of those wars. In the light of that record of western military interventions, UK bombing of Syria risks yet more of what President Obama called “unintended consequences”. The prime minister said he wanted a consensus behind the military action he wants to take. He has achieved nothing of the kind. After Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, MPs thinking of voting for bombing should bear in mind how terrible those consequences can be."

Unintended consequences.  No kidding. Although, if you drop military hardware like that on cities, does the killing of civilians really count as an unintended consequence?

I had an argument with someone the other day who was opposed to Corbyn and his leadership of the Labour Party.  His position was that he believed it was worth surrendering 50% of his principles if that meant he could get into power and implement the other 50%; he called my position hopelessly idealistic.  My position was that, if the principles you were prepared to sacrifice included things like an opposition to the renewal of Trident and opposing the bombings in the Middle East, then - for me - you've given up something fundamentally important.  These are red-line issues for me and I can't understand why anyone would be prepared to give them up in an attempt to make themselves more electable.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not blind to Corbyn's faults.  I've worked for people like him before, and I can well understand how infuriating and difficult it must be.... but my sympathy stops when these apparently grown-up, responsible adults - elected to represent us, don't forget - can't bring themselves to see a bigger picture or work through their differences to provide meaningful leadership.  We could use a functioning Opposition at the moment, no? They've tried to get rid of Corbyn over the summer and failed spectacularly; they have no credible alternative on offer, no desire (perhaps on either side) to compromise and apparently no understanding of the way their own party is changing around them.  Apart from anything else, the behaviour of the Parliamentary Labour Party does nothing more than provide Corbyn with a handy excuse of blaming them for all of his party's (many) failings.

Someone asked me if I would be voting for Corbyn in the leadership election.  No.  I'm not a member of the Labour Party.  I've thought about joining a lot over the last couple of years, and I've had the sign-up page open on my computer several times... but I just can't get past the thought that they're all a shower of bastards and I'd be wasting my time. I don't think they want me as a member anyway.

I look at that picture of that man in the massive crater, and I think about the mess we've helped to make in the Middle East... and then I look at the pathetic arguments that are taking place in British politics at the moment, and I feel like despairing.

We deserve better, don't we?

Maybe not.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

pale blinds drawn all day...

For the last couple of months, I've been planning a special day at my local parkrun to celebrate and to encourage visually impaired runners.  We're lucky enough to have a couple of regular VI runners at Colwick, and Terry - who introduced me to guiding - has now done well over 100 parkruns with us and has been guided around the course by more than 30 different guides. Accessibility is one of the core principles of parkrun: it's open to everyone and is completely free; it doesn't matter if it takes you 15 minutes to get round the 5km course, or it takes you over an hour... everyone is welcome.  We wanted to try and extend this to people with visual impairments.

Running has never been more popular: more and more people are getting up and out on 'couch to 5k' programmes and the like.  At parkrun, we reckon that people with visual impairments are just the same, with the crucial difference that they have a much more obvious barrier to participation: they can't see and likely need some help to get involved.

So, part of the idea of a VI parkrun day was to try to encourage participation amongst the VI community and to show them how accessible parkrun is and how easy it is to come along and to walk, run, jog or volunteer.

Just as importantly though, this was an opportunity to drive awareness of the barriers facing visually impaired people amongst a community at parkrun who have already shown they're keen to get involved by sticking their hands up to volunteer as guides.

So I spent some time over the last few months trying to engage with both our community of parkrunners, our local network of VI runners and guides and some of the local VI charities....and the big day was last Saturday.  It took a bit of time to get everything together, but in the end, I think it was worthwhile.

Time well spent.

You can read the full story in the run report here.


Two weeks ago, there were 16 recorded blind runners at parkruns across the whole UK....which doesn't feel like all that many to me, to be honest.  At our VI parkrun, we had 3 blind runners and eight sighted runners who bravely ran around the course blindfolded with a guide.  I was maybe hoping for more, but one of the key things I've learned along the way is that, if we're serious about engaging visually impaired people, then we need to work harder with the charities to reach out into the VI community - many of whom have plenty of other things to worry about than running. The blind runners we did reach were already runners and already parkrunners; blind people who aren't runners aren't generally able to just get up and head off to a strange park for a run... for starters, they need transport and they need guides.  I'm sure they're out there, but if we want to reach them, we're going to have to work harder to get them to the starting line.

Still, I'm pleased to have been involved and I think it went pretty well.  The next one will be better.

Oh, and apparently I have a commanding presence on the megaphone....

Friday, 16 September 2016

I'm doing my face with magic marker....

Earworms of the Week

Shall we dance?

Alejandro” – Lady Gaga

To be fair, she’s never very far away from my head, but this particular song popped in the moment I read this top 10 list on the Guardian. I have to say, I’ve not really listened to all that much of her recent stuff. For me, you can’t go far wrong with the peerless trilogy of “Pokerface”, “Bad Romance” and “Paparazzi”… this one doesn’t really do all that much for. And yet here it is in my head.

Cargill” – King Creosote

“From Scotland With Love” is a beautiful album which, if memory serves me correctly, was released to coincide with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and soundtracked a documentary of the same name. I was lucky enough to spend a few days up in Scotland for the games, and I had a great time at the sport but also in a really vibrant, interesting city. Kenny Anderson has released something ridiculous like 40 albums, but I only have two: this one and the one he did with Jon Hopkins in 2011, Diamond Mine, which is absolutely brilliant. Hmm. Maybe I should look into some of his other stuff, eh?

U Can’t Touch This” – MC Hammer

Ridiculous but brilliant. All the way from 1990 and still sounding as fresh now as it did then. I think those trousers might be back in fashion too.

Little Baby Nothing” – Manic Street Preachers

Originally intended as a duet with Kylie, but ultimately recorded with Traci Lords. I find it more or less impossible to listen to this song without thinking of the loaded significance of having Lords sing some of those lyrics. “used, used, used by men….

The Red and the Black” – Iron Maiden 

*sigh*

Look. Iron Maiden are one of my favourite ever bands. They represent a landmark in my shifting music taste when I was 13 years old and I still love them to bits now. I’m embarking on a project to revisit all of their albums (erm…. I’ve written about one and listened to the next one, so maybe that needs a bit more attention, eh?). Some of their recent material has been well-received, and this even received a pretty good review in the Guardian, of all places. It’s just that… well… it’s so far leaving me a little cold. Steve Harris has long denied any influence of punk in their music, which is nonsense if you listen to their first two albums in particular, but there has always been a faint element of prog about their work. They’re not afraid of a long song, anyway. This one is over thirteen minutes long and it’s not to the only one on this album over ten minutes either. It all sounds a bit over-worked to me. It’s fine that they are a different band now to the one that recorded The Trooper back in the day, but for a band with such unlimited resources, some of the production work here sounds a bit hokey – the scary voices that are clearly Bruce Dickinson through an effects mic being one example. They’re also terribly prone to mining the same old military clich├ęs about war and suchlike. Perhaps I need to listen to it more… and I will… but it mostly makes me want to reach back for one of their golden era albums.

The Road” – Frank Turner

His gig in Nottingham in December sold out before I had a chance to get a ticket, but as I’m a relatively late convert to his charms (falling under his spell when he played with Billy Bragg at the Leftfield tent in 2015), perhaps it’s only fair to let the hardcore have their chance to enjoy him at a relatively intimate venue like Rock City. This is one of his older songs and speaks of a life spent on the road (Turner has famously done thousands of gigs and is one of the hardest working musicians on the live circuit). I own most of his back catalogue, but he’s another one that’s demanding a bit more attention that he’s probably not going to get as I download the MP3s for my choir tracks for this season….

Price tag” – Jessie-J
Swing Low Sweet Chariot” / “Abide With Me

…speaking of which. You couldn’t get two more contrasting songs than these, but that’s what we covered in our first session at choir this season. Swing Low has a lovely resonant bass part (although our musical director called it a “a song from the deep south” and called on us to channel our inner deep south, where perhaps it’s more honestly described as a “slave song”… and should a group of middle-aged white people really be channelling their inner slave?). Price Tag is obviously completely new to most of the choir who haven’t even heard it before, nevermind get their heads around the rap bit in the middle (which we’re singing, lest you’re too alarmed). Some great “uh”s and “yeah”s in the chorus too. Should be a fun season. Hopefully we won’t start learning the carols for a few weeks yet.

Look! Johnny Cash doing Swing Low!

King of the Road” – Roger Miller

A perennial earworm classic, even if I end up having to make up the lyrics halfway through as I can’t quite remember them…

Tilted” – Christine and the Queens

Not everyone’s cup of tea, for sure, but I’ve fallen for this record’s charms in a big way… I love the mix of French and English on her album too. Naturally, I had my chance to see her perform at Glastonbury and didn’t bother going. It doesn’t matter how many festivals I go to, there’s always a band that I fall in love with about a week after I’ve passed up the chance to see them. Interesting interview in the Guardian too. She has inevitably been called pretentious, but she seems like the real deal to me.


Well. That’s your lot. Have a good weekend, y’all.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

I hate these blurred lines...

So, I went to the opticians in the end.  Of course I did.  No matter how much I kind of didn't really want to know if there was something wrong.... when it comes down to it, I'm logical enough to know that there wasn't any other choice but to go and to find out what was going on, and if the visual issues I was experiencing were anything to do with my MS. In my world, ignorance is not bliss.

... and I suppose there's good news and there's bad news.

The good news is that my optic nerve looks really healthy and my pupil dilation and things are in good shape.  Excellent.

The bad news?


Apparently, I'm getting old.

I don't need reading glasses, and my overall vision is pretty good.... but the optician gently suggested to me that I might benefit from a pair of glasses to sharpen things up a bit when I'm watching telly in the evening or working in bad light on my computer at work.  I knew he was right the moment he said it too.  In fact, deep down, I was pretty sure that this was going to be the outcome before I walked in.

And you know what?  That's okay by me.

I started wearing glasses when I was 5 years old and needed some pretty hefty correction from then until the day I had lenses implanted in 2008 (-ish).  Although the surgery was a cosmetic procedure, in the sense that I didn't need to have it done and my vision could be satisfactorily corrected using glasses or contact lenses... it was nothing short of life-changing.  If you've been blessed with good vision, you'll never understand, but any glasses wearer will probably know exactly what I mean: being able to wake up in the night and go to the loo without having to grope your way around; to be able to go running without needing to think about contact lenses; to be able to *see*.

But wearing glasses for an hour or so a day when I need a little boost is completely different to needing to wear them every waking moment.  It might seem like a little thing to you, but for the first time in my life, I've been able to choose any frame I wanted, knowing that my lenses aren't going to look like milk bottles.. or even to just be able to try a frame on and see what I look like wearing them.

I've discovered that, in the main, I quite liked the fuzzy edges.  Life looks mostly ok with slightly fuzzy edges.  I also feel a little drunk wearing these glasses.  I'm not sure that used to happen.  Maybe that's my age too.

... my colleagues tell me that they make me look intelligent.  Or like a geography teacher.

Well, it's early days.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

bang bang

late night mood lighting in the MRI unit

I had an MRI scan yesterday. There’s much debate about whether or not our NHS provides 24x7 cover (in my experience, it’s always been there when I’ve needed it), but I will admit to being a little surprised about having my appointment for a brain and cervical spinal cord MRI scan appointment come through for 20:10 on a Wednesday evening. I was half-expecting to get there and to find that it has been a mistake… but no, they were there and they were running ahead of schedule, so I was scanned almost as soon as I arrived. They’re busy doing appointments until 21:30, at which point they’re on call for any emergency scans that come up.

Anyway. I haven’t actually had an MRI scan since I first started displaying the early symptoms of my MS in 2005. The scans revealed one lesion (or sclerosis) in my neck, but it wasn’t clear if there were any more in my brain or elsewhere in my central nervous system. As I’m sure you’ll have worked out by now, to be clinically diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, you need to have evidence of more than one sclerosis… and in the end, it was another 4 years before I got my definitive diagnosis as a result of a lumbar puncture and the protein banding in my spinal fluid.

I saw my MS nurse a few months ago when we needed to discuss a change in my medication. She asked me when I was last scanned, and was appalled at the answer. Just because I was doing so well, she told me, didn’t mean that my consultants shouldn’t take the trouble to look inside to see what might be going on. She sent me home with a flea in my ear to make sure I brought it up with my consultant next time I was in clinic. As it happened, I didn’t need to mention it because my consultant mentioned it to me. I’ve been injecting a disease modifying drug for 7 years now, and in that time my MS has barely progressed (by the standard measure of relapses, anyway). He wanted to do a scan to see if there was anything new to look at, otherwise he was going to recommend that they take me off the drugs. Well, I’m in two minds about that: I started injecting because, although doing nothing was a perfectly valid choice, I would far rather be doing something (that might do nothing), than to do nothing (which would definitely do nothing). I’ll be happy to stop injecting from a physical point of view, but at the same time, I’m a touch nervous that maybe, just maybe, it’s the injections that have kept me in such good condition ... it’s a tough one.

When I was scanned in 2005, it was at the MRI scanning unit of a private hospital – I was covered by health insurance at work, and before my diagnosis, all my consultations with the neurologist took place here. After diagnosis, I saw the same consultant under the NHS…. because the NHS is brilliant like that. This time around, I was scanned at the Queens Medical Centre: a real maze of a place where you can go into the building on one floor, and pop out on a different level without having taken any stairs. It’s massive, but I still think it’s a bit like the TARDIS. At the private clinic, I was told that I could bring a CD, and they piped soothing music as I was scanned. At QMC, they gave me earplugs and told me it was going to be noisy.

CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! CLANK!
BANG……BANG…..BANG…..BANG…..
WOOOOOOOO! WOOOOOOOO! WOOOOOOOO!
CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! CLANK!
(seriously... check it out)

…even so, it was reasonably late in the day and I’d had a full day at work and a run before heading to the hospital, so I found myself gently nodding off, in spite of the noise. Well, except for….
“Are you alright in there? I’m going to start scanning your spine now”
Every couple of minutes.
Oh well. Bless her, she was lovely. Not British, Brexiteers might like to note, but skilled and prepared to work long hours late into the evening to get scans like this done with less than a 4 week wait between consultation with neurologist and appointment.
Results in a couple of weeks. It will be good to know what’s going on in there.

I’ve actually been having a bit of visual disturbance recently. It’s a very common presenting symptom of MS, and I’ve had some problems with the dilation in my right pupil for a while now, but it’s definitely a bit off at the moment. I’ve been putting off an appointment with the optician for a little while now, because there’s quite a large part of me that doesn’t want to know if there is an issue and if I might need glasses again or whatever. Today I just got over that and made an appointment.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

hicks don't mix with politics...

You might remember that, a little while ago (on the 1st July), I wrote to my local MP.  I didn't have all that much to say, but I felt I needed to say something to my elected representative in the wake ongoing shambles surrounding the referendum to leave the EU.

Technically, I think he's supposed to reply within a couple of weeks, but I've written to Ken before, and what he lacks in promptness, he more than makes up for in considered response.  I'd far rather have a late response from someone who clearly read my original email than one who responds quickly with a boiler-plate answer.

Anyway, here's what he had to say:

--

Dear Mr Swisslet,

Thank you very much for your recent e-mail, after the disastrous result of the referendum. I am sorry for the extended delay in replying, I received literally hundreds of e-mails after the result of the referendum. I am glad to find that you and I have identical views on Britain's membership of the European Union. I also agree with you that the referendum campaign was quite nasty and not very informative, particularly on the Leave side but sometimes on the Remain side in the national reports in the media.

The referendum is not binding. I think that MPs should vote according to their judgement of the national interest and the interest of their constituents. Unfortunately, most MPs on all sides paid lip service to the supposedly democratic nature of the exercise and vowed that they would obey the expressed will of the people.

I am in a rather exceptional position in that I am a life-long pro-European. I publicly opposed the idea of a referendum and, as you mention, my constituents voted almost 60/40 in favour of remaining. I will probably vote against an Article 50 application ending our membership, but there may be only a few eccentrics in the House of Commons in that lobby.

More significantly, none of the Brexiteers at the moment have any clear idea of what they want to do next by way of actual change to our economy, trade, migration and other arrangements with the EU. A flood of legislation and regulations will probably have to be put before Parliament over the next few years, implementing changes. I do not see how any referendum on membership can be an instruction to any MP on how to vote on these practical consequences. I will certainly do my best to try to contribute to mitigating the disaster that this decision on the 23rd June might otherwise cause.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Clarke

The Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke, CH, QC, MP

--

I've never voted for him in the 17 years or so I've lived in his constituency, but at least we clearly see eye-to-eye on this one.  It's a little dispiriting (albeit realistic) to see him accept that he would be an 'eccentric minority' voting against Article 50 in the House of Commons, but it's also comforting to see that he shares my frustration and will be doing everything he can to try to make things as good as they possibly can be.  The irony of our current position, of course, is that we're likely to ultimately end up trying to negotiate our way towards what we already had.... and we'll be bloody lucky if we get anywhere close to it this time around.

I had long conversations about Brexit on Facebook with a friend of mine before the referendum - he was in favour of voting out.  He's just come back to me today and said "I still believe this country will be bigger and better outside the EU....it's just a shame those trusted to sort it out are making a mess of things...".  I don't want to criticise him for a vote honestly cast, and I'm not one of those people who thinks we should keep having referendums until I get the result I wanted, but at the same time, it's impossible not to think of something Obi Wan Kenobi once said: "Who's the more foolish: the fool or the fool who follows him?"

They don't make'em like Ken any more, more's the pity.

Monday, 5 September 2016

no matter how far....

I don't seem to get lie-ins any more.  Like any self-respecting teenager, I used to consider it something of an outrage if I had to be up before noon.  As I got older and had to start working, epic lie-ins had to wait until the weekend.  These days, some weekend mornings, I actually get up even earlier than I do during the week. Voluntarily.  

My teenage self would doubtless be both horrified and disappointed.

This weekend was fairly typical.  For once, we weren't volunteering at parkrun, but we were up and out in good time for a 9am start.  We then headed straight across to deepest, darkest Derbyshire where a dear friend of mine had organised a 5km fun run on Stanton Moor in the Peak District.  Rachel is competing in her first Iron Man (Iron Maiden?) triathlon in a couple of weeks and she's raising money for Macmillan in memory of her late Mother-in-Law.  Such an epic undertaking -- 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle and 26.2 mile run - definitely deserves some support, wouldn't you say? It's also a pretty heroic thing to do for your husband and his family.  I wanted to help out, anyway, so I borrowed a parkrun stopwatch for the afternoon and had the distinct privilege of acting as timer for the event.  The weather was appalling, but it was a wonderful afternoon.  Rachel's running friends and her family had turned up en-masse, and there were smiles all round as we braved the weather before retreating back to her cottage for tea and cake.  Oh...so much cake.  It was a lovely, heart-warming day.  I often say that either runners are the nicest people in the world, or that there are a disproportionate number of lovely people who run around the Nottingham area... but this was one of those days where you really feel the joy of the running community. Rachel raised £1000 on the day to add to the £4000 she's already raised.  She's worth all that and more.

No lie-in on Sunday either: up and out to get across to Gedling Country Park on the other side of town to volunteer at Junior parkrun. As we don't have children, this might seem like a slightly odd thing to do, but we do it because one of our friends helps to organise the event, and because we all run around the hills of Gedling after the event is over.  As I live by a river and do most of my runs on the flat, it's sometimes nice to get up and run in the mountains!  (the 10km I did was the equivalent of 50 flights of stairs, according to my Garmin...)

By the time I got home, I was knackered... I don't mind telling you.  Nothing else for it but a snooze on the sofa and a West Wing marathon.

Yeah.  It was a brilliant weekend, but I think I pretty much go to work for a rest these days.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

private universe...

After a day spent with work visiting Worcester, Malvern and Evesham, I travelled home on the train from Bristol Parkway station.  After a change at Birmingham International, I settled down onto the train that was going to drop me off at Nottingham.

Initially, the carriage wasn't too busy, and I was able to take a table seat diagonally opposite the only other person there, each of us with an empty seat beside us.  She looked like she didn't much want to be disturbed and had her feet stretched right out underneath the seat opposite, so I left her to it.  It was rush hour, and as the train began to fill up, I was forced to ask her to move her feet so that I could scoot across to make some room.

The journey was a little over an hour, so I dug out my iPad and picked up where I'd left off with an episode of the West Wing. Occasionally, my attention would wander and I would look up from my screen at the people around me.  The girl sitting opposite caught my eye because she was reading a book on Lucrezia Borgia, but she held my attention because she was also idly playing with her phone and scrolling through songs on her iPod classic.  She was wearing a Gryffindor quidditch team t-shirt and looked a little awkward, or at least very self-conscious; perhaps a little uncomfortable in her skin. She was also clearly trying to keep herself to herself by hiding behind a big pair of headphones and losing herself in her own happy place.

As she hopped between songs on her iPod, she was bopping along with her head and occasionally mouthing along to the lyrics.  She looked really, really happy and content in her own little world.  It was nice to see.

Did I talk to her?  No.  I didn't.  I left her entirely alone because I'm not an arsehole.