Tuesday, 14 June 2016

so you go, and you stand on your own and you leave on your own...

When we went to see Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds the other night, I was in the somewhat unusual position of being well into the younger end of the demographic. This is not something that happens to me very often anymore, unless it's one of those gigs where the kidz are accompanied by their parents (when I saw Jake Bugg playing at Rock City a couple of years ago, I was one of about four people in the audience who recognised "Folsom Prison Blues" when Bugg covered it.... all of the others were dads).  It seems that Brian Wilson (aged 73) is something of a draw for the grey pound, most of whom no doubt bought Pet Sounds the first time around and not, like me, when they started to get into music and heard it was one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

On the way to the Royal Concert Hall, we walked past Rock City. It was a Wednesday night... student night... and there was a huge crowd of kids in their late-teens and very early twenties queuing up outside the Rig.  It was quite a gathering of the tribes, and as we walked past, I had a good look and saw a real mixture of people.  Well, after all, everyone goes out for the big nights, don't they? The ones that really caught my eye though were the awkward ones; the ones who looked like they were trying a bit too hard to fit in and weren't quite managing.  They caught my eye because that was me.

As we walked on to the Concert Hall, I told my wife that I wouldn't go back to being that age for any money in the world.  I remember it far too well for that.  I might be twenty-odd years older, but I'm a lot more confident in who I am and in what I like to do these days; I don't feel much of a need anymore to pretend to be something I'm not.

If I could go back to being nineteen, then maybe I'd spend more time doing things I enjoyed with people that I liked. What I didn't know then is that if people don't like you for what you are, then they're probably not worth knowing.

Plus, if Brian Wilson is in town performing Pet Sounds, only an idiot would want to be anywhere else*.

Brian Wilson!

* admittedly, ticket price may prove prohibitive... although you could equally be at home listening to Pet Sounds instead, and I pretty much guarantee that's a better night than any you would be likely to have at the Rig. Certainly better than any night I had at the age of nineteen in anywhere like that.


Monday, 13 June 2016

may your eyes let you see...

We popped down the motorway to my parents’ house yesterday afternoon for some lunch. It’s my mum’s birthday this week, and with father’s day coming up as well, my younger brother had organised for us to get together and cook lunch for the aged parents. Well, actually, he’d organised the lunch because we’ve just found out that my mum has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and we wanted to show some solidarity and make the effort to come and make a bit of a fuss of her (what is it about my family and neurology. My elder brother and his family had to drop out, but my younger brother and his (surrogate) family were there, as were my aunt (my mum’s sister) and uncle.

It was really nice. A couple of glasses of wine and just a bit of general chit-chat over a roast lamb. I know It’s a hoary old tradition and that lots of people do this sort of thing every week, but my Sundays usually revolved around a long run, and lunch is often something to be grabbed at home and eaten in front of a re-run of Modern Family. We also don’t get together as a family anywhere near as much as we might. Mum and dad only live an hour or so down the motorway, but we’ve never really been the cuddly types and I’m generally happy to stay lightly in touch. It’s not that we’re not close, it’s just that we don’t have that kind of relationship. Perhaps this is what happens when you’re sent away to a boarding school at the age of 7 and that this is the kind of relationship with your family that is a direct result of that sort of emotional and physical separation. My mum’s diagnosis isn’t really a shock either. My dad is a doctor and my mum is a nurse, and I think they both had a pretty good idea what was coming before the formal diagnosis, and then my dad managed the breaking of the news to us in the same way as I’m sure he did when he broke bad news to a patient: state the facts and manage our emotional reactions. He did the same thing to me when he told me he had cancer ten years ago. It’s not great news, clearly, but at the same time all of the emotion has been drained out of it. I suppose I’m just the same when I think about my MS… getting upset about it doesn’t do any good.

Anyway. I haven’t seen my aunt and uncle in years, and one of the really nice things about getting older is that – and I know this sounds ridiculous – it’s good to be able to relate to them as people and not just as my aunt and uncle. When you’re a kid, they’re just another adult, aren’t they? They’re not really people in their own right and you’re not really interested in what they like or don’t like. Now that I’m older, it was really good to be able to have a long and interesting conversation with my uncle about beer and comparing notes on our local breweries. As well as a love of beer, we’ve got loads in common: he taught history for most of his life and his politics and world view seem similar to mine. He also has a lovely wry sense of humour. I like him. That’s nice to find out.

I like my parents too. My dad drives me mad, but it’s times like these when you really realise that they won’t be around forever and you need to appreciate them while you can.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

Or, if you prefer

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.

Depressing? Not really. It’s the one thing we can all be sure of, isn’t it?


Carpe Diem and all that shizzle.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

low down and travelling...

I've got to be honest with you.... I can't wait for this bloody referendum to be over.

I got a personally addressed flyer in the post from the "Vote Leave" campaign yesterday and it just annoyed me intensely with the very basic lies that it was telling.


That's a face he's got on there, isn't it? As my friend Ali said on Facebook, "He looks like he has piles and had to sit on a hard chair drinking grapefruit juice during a meeting where his views were ill received, and he's just been given a memo informing him his birthday party has been cancelled due to lack of attendance".  Yes.  That.

And as for what he's saying...well....DOWN WITH HUMAN RIGHTS, right?  Oh hang on, the European Convention on Human Rights has absolutely nothing to do with the EU, and a vote to leave will have literally no impact on that simple fact.  So that's just a total lie, isn't it? A simple google exposes that and other lies on this flyer, but people will believe it.

It's just absolute garbage that is either shockingly ignorant or is deliberately lying to try and influence the result of this referendum.  Either way, that's pretty poor.

It's not that the Remain side is much better either.  I watched George Osborne in an interview the other day talking about how a vote to leave the European Union would have a devastating effect on the lives of hard-working people in Britain.  Hold on... this is the same man who has clearly shown in the last six years of government that he doesn't actually give a damn about the hard-working families of this country?  Yes.  The very same man.  If you really care about the working man and about the future of the NHS, then what have you been doing since you formed a government in 2010?

It's exhausting and the level of debate has been depressingly down in the gutter.  My Facebook feed is generally a self-selecting audience of people who have more or less the same views as me, but even there I've seen some distinctly unsavoury and -- in my opinion -- deeply ill-informed opinions being shared. Maybe it's true that Obama had no business getting involved in this debate, but to share a post that was casually racist about the French, the Americans and the Germans and featured a comment with a picture of the president with the caption "Just another muslim coming to our country and telling us what to do.... well, how do you have a rational conversation with that?

It's my own fault for being unable to walk away obviously. I hope I don't lose any friends over this, although you do have to wonder what some of them are thinking... if they're thinking at all. The myth of Great British exceptionalism is clearly very much alive and well.


I'm starting to doubt that anyone, on either side of the debate, has ever actually changed their minds. I know I haven't... but to my mind, I haven't seen a single cogent argument to leave the EU that isn't based in wishful thinking.  I'm sure many people on the other side of the debate would say exactly the same thing.  ("Don't talk to me about the last 50 years of peace in Europe.  That's all in the past."  ARGGGGGGHHHHH!)

There are still two full weeks of this nonsense to go.

I'd wish it was all over, but there seems to be a very real possibility that the Great British public will vote to leave the EU in this referendum, and that is truly depressing.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

I've got the key...

I had an appointment at the hospital this evening.  I left work slightly early and hopped on my bike to head over to the Treatment Centre.  I was supposed to check-in about half an hour before my appointment to give the nurses time to do all the prep work and fill out all the paperwork and consent forms with me. I left plenty of time and arrived early enough to pop across to another clinic and drop off some paperwork I took home by mistake last time I was here.  Yeah.  I have a lot of doctors.

Anyway.  Apparently QMC is a hotbed of cycle theft, so I took my bike inside the building to the bicycle racks next to reception and started locking my bike up.  Well, I tried to lock my bike up... but I couldn't open up the D-lock that I had locked around the frame of my bike as I cycled up to the hospital.  Whatever I tried, I couldn't get the key to turn more than halfway in the lock and it remained stubbornly locked.

I've got a Kryptonite lock.  It's one of the really good ones; a 10/10 that should really give a thief a bit of a challenge to get off -- and you're only trying to slow them down enough to make it too much of a risk to stick around long enough to steal the bike.... but of course, it doesn't do me any good if it's locked around the frame of my bike and not locking my bike *to* anything.

I tried and tried to make the bloody lock work, but the clock was ticking, I was dripping with sweat and I really needed to go upstairs and check-in for my appointment.  I looked at all the signs around the lock-up area telling me all about the bike crime in this area, and I left my bike, cursing the damn D-lock and expecting to probably never see my bike again.  Once at the clinic, I spoke to my wife on the phone and she suggested that I pop back to reception and ask them if they could maybe keep an eye on it... better than nothing, right?

As I was waiting for the receptionist to deal with someone else, a thought occurred to me.... could it be that I was in fact using the wrong key?  Apparently, I've kept the spare key of the D-lock that was stolen on the ring with my house keys, and the key for the new D-lock on the same loop at my pass for work.  Guess which one I'd been trying to use?  Yup.... the wrong one.  As soon as I used the right one, I was able to lock my bike up without any problems.

And I fancy myself as intelligent.

Monday, 6 June 2016

slow ride....

I went out running with a friend this weekend.  He's one of the most optimistic people that I know, and he told me that he was planning on running the full Robin Hood marathon in September.  He's a casual runner, but he's got a baby daughter who is only a few months old and he's not been able to get out much recently.  So he's decided he's going to run a marathon.  After all, how hard can it be?

He asked if I'd help him and talk to him about a training programme.  Of course.  He told me that he'd run a little over 10 miles the week before, so I suggested that we head out for a run together on Sunday.  As she's been in Romania most of the week, C. asked if she could come with us.  She brought her headphones with her in case we ran too fast and left her on her own.  Fine.

It was ok for the first six miles.  We weren't going especially fast, but we were running at a steady pace.  It was a lovely day.  It was nice.  And then I noticed that we were slowing down as my friend started to drop off the back.  From about mile 6 to mile 8, we got slower and slower and slower until we were basically shuffling along at about 13 minutes per mile.  It would have literally been quicker to walk.  At this point, C began running ahead of us and then running back, or stopping for a while and then running to catch us up again.  My friend seemed oblivious.  He was chatting away about how he felt like he could run at this pace forever.

This pace?  The one where we're BARELY MOVING?  Great.

He's got time to train, but I honestly don't think he has a realistic concept of either how far 26.2 miles really is, or quite how much work he's going to have to put in to get into the shape he's going to need to be in to get around.

Still.  We did 12 miles together and it was a beautiful day.

At one point, with a mile or so to go before we finally stopped and with my friend lagging behind again, my wife turned to me:

"You're a saint.  Do you know that?"
I was a touch confused.  "Why do you say that?"
"Because it's really, really hard to run more slowly than your natural pace, isn't it?"
"Is it?"
"Yes it really is.  This pace is between gears and it just seems so much harder to run at this speed.  I suddenly have a new found appreciation of what it meant for you to run the marathon with me last year."

Naturally, I said nothing and just smiled.

I KNEW SHE DIDN'T KNOW HOW BLOODY HARD IT WAS! I KNEW IT!

One of my colleagues was saying today how he was thinking of running a marathon with his wife.  His half marathon PB is about 1:40 and hers is about 2:10 and he was asking me about how we managed it when we ran at such different speeds.  I told him that I absolutely loved spending all that time training with my wife and sharing the experience of the race with her, but that it was really bloody hard.  Physically, it is really hard to run at a pace that isn't your own.  In some ways, it was much easier to run 40 minutes faster on my own this year than to run all that was at a pace that was awkward for me.  I crossed the finish line in 2015 knowing that I needed to run the race again on my own.

It was funny (and also kind of nice) that it took an interminably slow 12 mile, 145 minute plod for her to realise that.  Better late than never.... although I think that what she hasn't realised yet is that, if I had taken to running ahead and then running back to her as she trotted along, as she was doing on Sunday, then she probably would have killed me.  Sometimes you just have to suck it up.  I asked my friend if he fancied a run, and I wasn't about to start complaining about how quickly - or not - he was doing it.

".... but I was never this slow, right?"

No dear.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Everything will turn out alright...

Earworms of the Week

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Shall we get back on the horse?

Maria” / “Tide is High”– Blondie

It seems hard to believe that “Maria” was released as long ago as 1999 as Blondie’s comeback single. It’s alright, I suppose… I suspect that some people are snooty about it partly because their image of Debbie Harry is locked at 1979 and they weren’t fully prepared for the 1999 version… but it’s when you listen to some vintage era Blondie that you really start to understand the difference. Nobody really wants someone shrilly shrieking “MARIA. YOU’VE GOT TO SEE HER” at them, do they? Give me gentle cod-reggae any day of the week.

Come What May” – Moulin Rouge OST
"Wild Horses" - The Rolling Stones
"Happy Together" - The Turtles
"Somewhere Only We Know" - Keane
River of Dreams” – Billy Joel

Every single one of these is a song in the summer season at my choir. We’re about halfway through the season now, and as a result I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to the MP3s of my rehearsal tracks in an attempt to get my part into my head and not just the melody lines. As a result, when a song starts playing in my head, the chances are that it’s one of these. They’re mostly pretty fun to sing, although I don’t get a great deal to do in “Wild Horses” and find the lyrics distractingly bad to even consider the idea that it might be a beautiful song (“let’s do some living after we die”? You what?). I’d quite like to be listening to something else though. As I definitely can’t do the big concert this summer (I’m doing a 24 hour race), I’m thinking I might actually treat this as a bit of an off-season, and just sing at the rehearsals for fun and not lose too much sleep about it. We haven’t really had a proper break since last summer, so I could do with giving it a bit of a break and to come back refreshed for the Christmas season in the autumn.

"Nightrain" - Guns n'Roses
"Touch too Much" - AC/DC

I had tickets to see AC/DC at the Olympic Stadium this weekend. We had a small window of opportunity to get a refund when we heard that Axl Rose would be the singer… and I’m afraid to say we took it. I’m a massive fan of classic guns n’roses and AC/DC are on my list of bands that I’d really love to see... but it’s an awfully long way to go to put up with his shit, and it just wouldn’t be the same anyway. Shame. Do you reckon he can pull off lyrics as brilliantly stupid as “she had the body of Venus with arms”? Probably. (Here's the Axl version. Not for me, Clive...)

"Words" - The BeeGees

I never seem to be too far away from a falsetto this week. I very much enjoyed Matt Jardine’s as part of Brian Wilson’s backing band, but for some reason that I don’t fully understand, my brain seems to enjoy Lion-O from the BeeGees’ voice too.

"Dosed" - Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Although still very much a going concern (at least as a touring band), for me the RHCP peaked with this album (“By The Way”). I suppose I’m very much a John Frusciante man, given that I initially climbed on-board with “Mother’s Milk” and lost interest at about the same time as he finally left the band. I love “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”, but it’s on this album where the band’s harmonies just lifted them up to another level – about a million miles away from the lumpen funk-cock-jock-rock of “Special Secret Song Inside”. This song is probably my favourite, and although I’m a bass and much more in a Johnny Cash kind of a register, I can’t help but reach for those high notes in the chorus. They were never this good again.

"Blame it on the Boogie" - The Jacksons

Another pretty high set of singing voices. Something of a surprise to me as I’m not an especially big fan of disco and haven’t actually heard this song in years. I think it’s Ted Cruz’s fault.

"Tennessee Stud" - Johnny Cash

Amidst all these falsettos, it’s nice to hear a man with a voice in the perfect range, isn’t it? It’s all about the bass.

Don’t Worry Baby” – The Beach Boys

Yeah, so it’s another falsetto, and I’ve probably banged on about this stuff enough this week, but some of Brian Wilson’s songs are just achingly beautiful. I’ve not really paid this one all that much attention over the years, preferring to focus on some of the more obvious songs in his canon…. But on Wednesday night, this just sounded divine. Hats off to Matt Jardine to have the voice to be able to pull it off… but he NAILED IT. Lovely. [there's a version of him doing it here]

That’s your lot. Have a great weekend, y’all and see you on the other side. Sometimes the shorter weeks are the hardest, aren’t they?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

love and mercy tonight..


Brian Wilson @ Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham - 1st June 2016

I saw Brian Wilson performing in the “legends” slot at Glastonbury in 2005. It had been a wet year, but the sun came out and the site dried up in time for everyone to put their sunglasses on and listen to a dose of pure Californian sunshine. Wilson sometimes didn’t look much like he knew what was going on, waving his hands about behind the piano rather than actually playing, but his band were great and, when you’ve got a back catalogue that good, frankly what does it matter. He even played “Little Saint Nick”.

In June.

I turned down the chance to see him performing Pet Sounds in Nottingham a decade ago because it just seemed so expensive, but after ten more years of growing appreciation of the size of the man’s talent, I wasn’t about to miss out again this time around. Not least because this is apparently the last time he will be performing “Pet Sounds” in full, and because it might well be the 73 year old’s last tour full stop.

It’s only a few months since I saw “Love & Mercy”, the film of Wilson’s life starring Paul Dano as a young Brian and John Cusack as the older version. Perhaps unexpectedly, it’s brilliant: not only are we reminded of the genius of Wilson’s songwriting, but we also see the toll that trying to catch the lightning of his inspiration on tape ultimately took on his life. Dano is outstanding, but Cusack – who doesn’t much look like Brian Wilson at all – really captures the shuffling man that we see onstage tonight.

It’s hard to know how much Wilson really takes in. Does he know what city he’s in? Is he really all that aware of what’s going on around him? A couple of times in the set, he basically just stands up and shuffles off-stage as songs are still finishing. His mental health problems are well-documented, and he cuts a frail, sometimes distracted figure on the stage. At 73-years old, he also needs quite a lot of help from his band to pull off those beautiful songs: there are sometimes 11 musicians onstage here, with instruments ranging from the theramin, flute, vibes, saxophone, bongos all the way back to three guitars, two drummers and a bassist. They sound great… when they launch into the introduction to “California Girls” early in the set, it’s almost impossible not to be transported back to a more innocent time. Original Beach Boy, Al Jardine is there, but perhaps the most important member of the backing band is Al’s son Matt, who handles all of the higher vocals with confidence and with a beautifully strong and clear falsetto. “Don’t Worry Baby” in particular is a delight, but he seamlessly picks up those notes that Wilson himself used to sing but can no longer reach. Wilson’s voice is still good: it wobbles around a bit, but then he’ll suddenly take you by surprise with the power and clarity of his vocal.


But it’s those songs…. Ah. I can’t hear early Beach Boys music without almost being moved to tears by the beauty and the innocence. Better than almost any other songwriter, Wilson has an uncanny knack of transporting me back to a more innocent time. His songs are guileless and naive in the most charming way. In many ways, the progression from those early surf hits to those more fragile and delicate songs on “Pet Sounds” mirrors both Wilson’s development as a songwriter and his own apparent inability to deal with the complexities of the modern world. If there’s a more beautiful song than “God Only Knows”, then I’m not sure I’ve heard it, and it predictably brings the tears to my eyes when the band play it. That on its own might be enough, but Brian Wilson has written literally dozens of songs (nearly) as good as that: Good Vibrations, for starters….

The set itself is some two-and-a-half hours long, and could probably do with a bit of trimming. Apart from anything else, I’m mildly confused by the presence of former-Beach Boy and touring member of the Rolling stones, Blondie Chaplain, who appears midset for three songs, disappears and then comes back to shake a tambourine during the encore. To be fair, he’s a compelling stage presence, I just didn’t know why he was there.

All in all? A wonderful evening with some of the most beautiful songs ever written, well-performed and with some added poignancy from the fragile state of Brian Wilson and the fact that I will probably never get to see him perform these songs again.

The setlist was something like:

Our Prayer
Heroes and Villains
California Girls
Dance, Dance, Dance
I Get Around
Shut Down
Little Deuce Coupe
Little Honda
Girl Don't Tell Me
In My Room
Surfer Girl
Don't Worry Baby
Wake the World
Add Some Music to Your Day
Then I Kissed Her
Proud Mary
One Kind of Love
Marcella
Wild Honey (Blondie Chaplin on lead vocals)
Funky Pretty (Blondie Chaplin on lead vocals)
Sail On, Sailor (Blondie Chaplin on lead vocals)

Pet Sounds
Wouldn't It Be Nice
You Still Believe in Me
That's Not Me
Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
I'm Waiting for the Day
Let's Go Away for Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There's an Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No

Encore:
Good Vibrations
All Summer Long
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin' U.S.A.
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy

I know, right?

The way he finished with "Love and Mercy" was just so touching.  He's a gentle soul and he really wasn't made for these times.

I was also, for a change, one of the youngest people in the audience. Now that doesn’t happen very often any more, I can tell you. I was a lot more limber than most of them too... On the way out, we saw the band's tour buses pulling up to take them on the next leg of the tour - they're playing in Barcelona next.  We were delighted to see that the lead bus had a fresh bunch of flowers, a kettle and a toaster.

Well, he's earned them, hasn't he?

Verdict: A night to cherish.  9 / 10

Friday, 27 May 2016

write this down...

So, this happened.


It's on the weaker side of my body, on the leg that's lost about 10-15% muscle, just above the ankle that is losing flexibility.  I wanted a permanent reminder of what's possible.

There might come a time when I can't run at all, never mind run a marathon... but I hope that even if that happens, I can still find some inspiration from this quotation.

You'll notice that it's all properly punctuated.  I made the tattooist stop after he'd started just to do a final double-check that everything was right and proper.  26.2 might be forever, but so is a tattoo... so best to get it right, eh?


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

keep on keeping on...

It's World MS Day today.  They're asking people to tell their stories using the hashtag #strongerthanMS.

Well, rather than tell you a story... how about I just share a picture instead?


...a thousand words and all that.

I know I say this all the time, but if you allow your MS to define you, then you're already beaten.

As I always do on World MS Day, I'll also leave you with this video... because it never fails to make me go a bit misty-eyed because it hits so close to home for me.



You don't have to run a marathon to not be beaten by MS, mind.... chacun à son goût.

Monday, 23 May 2016

so call on me, brother...

When I did that Guide Running course organised by England Athletics last year, part of their longer-term plan was to get a database of qualified guides for visually impaired runners up on their website. They had a theory that, just as loads of other people have started running and were taking part in 'couch-to-5km' programmes and heading out to parkrun, there were also loads of visually impaired runners out there too who wanted to start running but had a few more obstacles to overcome before they could get out of the door.

It took them a while to get that database off the ground, but it's online now and I've been contacted three times in the last few months by people in the Nottingham area who were looking for a guide to help them get out and running.  I ran with one at Colwick parkrun earlier this year; another asked me if I would be happy to guide them to a 3hr 45m marathon (happy? I'd be delighted to be able to run a marathon that quickly... even more so if I was somehow magically able to do it whilst guiding a VI runner). The third contacted me a little while ago, but because I was marathon training and he was busy moving house, we were never able to make it work.

Until this evening, when we had a little 6-and-a-bit mile pootle along the canal with my running club.  We didn't run all that fast, to be honest, but I don't think it really mattered.  Nick has just done a half marathon in 2:04 and is looking to train up for the Robin Hood full this summer and for London next year, so is clearly capable of going faster than we ran tonight, but we were feeling each other out and seeing if we could make this work.  He has other guides, but he's looking to get as many as he can so that he can manage all the training runs he's going to need to do without being totally reliant on one or two people.  I won't be running a marathon with him, but I'm happy to train with him when I can, especially if he makes things so easy for me as to meet at a running club session just up the road from me that I already attend most weeks anyway.  It felt good.

When I guide Terry at Colwick, he always worries that I'm giving up a run so I can escort him round.  That's nonsense, of course.  If I felt like that, I don't think I would do it and I run with him because I enjoy it.  It seems like such a little thing to do, to take someone round to enjoy something that I love to do and that they can't do on their own.  It helps when you're with someone as great as Terry, but actually I've enjoyed all of the guiding that I've done.  Nick and I had a good rattle as we ran and he seems like a decent guy.  I only dropped him the once, and he said he really enjoyed it, so perhaps it will be a regular thing. I'm also probably available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals... Just talk to my agent.

One thing I don't understand is why England Athletics gave me a card to prove that I'm a guide runner.  They were really fussy about the picture too, so I've ended up with one that I took in a meeting room at work to meet their required standards, and as a result I mostly look cross.  There's some tiny print writing on the back too, indicating that I've been CRB checked and have qualified to guide.  I'm not sure how they're expecting this to work with a runner who is visually impaired: am I supposed to read it out to them and describe how I look in the photo so they can do the touching-your-face thing from the Lionel Richie video?  I'm not convinced that they've thought this all the way through....