Wednesday, 1 April 2015

...and party every day

I don't know whether you think I spend my time either working, running or sleeping... but that's definitely how it feels to me at the moment.  Well, to prove that I do in fact have other things in my life, check out this video of the Stadium Rock Medley from our choir concert last night.

I'm told that I need to work on my "choir sway", and I seem to have a slightly unfortunate habit of leaning backwards as I sing, but I have to tell you that I really enjoyed that.  From the moment the first song that we learned in the very first session I attended was "Rock and Roll All Nite" by Kiss, I knew I was onto a winner.  The rehearsals have been a joy every Tuesday evening, last night's concert was great fun, and I'm really looking forward to the sell-out concert we're doing with a full live band at the Sheffield Octagon in a couple of weeks time.

I've been doing an awful lot of running recently, and trying to learn these songs has been a very welcome distraction, exercising a completely different set of muscles.  It's also quite nice being one of the youngest, for a change! (some of the choir really struggled with the rhythm of "Don't Look Back in Anger" because they're not familiar with the song... whereas I bought the CD single back in the day and know it inside out).

Thank you Sarah for persisting in asking me if I wanted to join.  You were absolutely right to suggest that I might enjoy it.  Thank you to everyone else for being so welcoming.

Tony has kindly put most of the set onto YouTube and you can view the playlist here.  If you're a fan of manly "umba-oowas", then I suggest you head over to have a listen to "Livin' on a Prayer" as I think you might be in for a bit of a treat....

That was an awful lot of fun.  We weren't exactly note perfect.... but it felt good.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

sweet charity....

There now follows an emotional appeal by Stephen Fry on behalf

You heard the man. You can sponsor this brave soul at the following address:

We're doing pretty well against our fundraising targets, so many thanks to all the generous people who have sponsored us so far.... it's very much appreciated and makes all this effort seem so worthwhile because it goes to such a great charity.  We're still a fair way off our target yet though, and with twenty-six days of training to go, every penny helps.

Just think.... by the end of April, I'll have to think of something else to rattle on about all the time.

Oh, and for the record, my nipples are fine thanks.  I take precautions.

Monday, 30 March 2015

so far away....

I'm not sure that this photo requires any additional comment, to be honest.  Well, I never really did do brevity, so.... Yesterday, we ran twenty miles.  It was a filthy day: throwing it down with rain and blowing a gale.  I think the only other people we saw out running were also marathon runners, driven by their training schedules and their own personal madness.  People like us, in other words.

And yet, you know what?  I actually quite enjoyed that.

Oh sure, running that far (4 miles further than I've ever run before) brings a particular set of challenges: it's physically stressful on the body, taking a particular toll on my left hip; no matter how much I pad it (I wear a sweatband around my ankle), the brace I use to hold up my dropping left foot leaves me pretty swollen and bruised; you need to have a refuelling strategy to try to make sure that you don't this "the wall" when you run out of readily accessible carbohydrate... but I think the biggest challenge is mental rather than physical.  It's pretty hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task in front of you and quite how long it's going to take you.

Still, we managed.  We also saw enough wildlife - including a first duckling of the season, lapwings flying acrobatically, a heron, some beautiful ducks, swans, geese and, um, rats - along the way as we ran along the river Trent and the Nottingham and Beeston canal that conversation wasn't much of a problem.

It was alright.  The end is also in sight now: the marathon is now less than 4 weeks away and, although our longest run is yet to come (22 miles this coming Sunday), last week saw my training mileage peak at a little over 45 miles.  My midweek run this week drops from 11 miles last week down to a much more reasonable sounding 6 miler.

Once the small matter of Sunday's 22 miles is out of the way....we're tapering down all the way to London, baby!

Although, to be honest, my legs were pretty sore today as I hobbled round a gentle 5-miler.  Marathons, eh?  Pfff.  Time consuming.

Friday, 27 March 2015

look beneath the floorboards...

Earworms of the Week

Poison” – Alice Cooper

Another one from this season’s choir setlist (as part of the rock medley). For some reason, and in spite of the fact that I’ve essentially been listening to this song since I first heard it as a thirteen year old, I have some trouble remembering the first line that I need to sing. Mind you, that’s nothing compared to Roy, who every single time we sing this manages to turn “I wanna taste you, but your lips are venomous poison” into “I want to taste your lips”. Every single time. Bless him. I remember this seeming a bit cheesy when it first came out, but as I listen to it now, it’s actually held up really well. I suppose compared to something like “School’s Out”, it’s always going to sound like slick, produced rock…. But that’s exactly what it is. Great song.

Mrs Robinson” – Lemonheads

This week’s letter in the Friday quiz was “L”. The questions are the same every week, but you need to answer them all with answers starting with the letter of the week. Question: name a band from the 1990s who had a top 40 single. Walk in the park. The kids in the team struggle somewhat with this question. Mind you, my capital city was staggeringly obvious too. I was also slightly surprised to be the only person in the room to come up with “Las Vegas” as a place in America (most people in the room went with LA)

Jesus Walks” – Kanye West

He might be a plum, but it’s utter nonsense to suggest that Kanye West isn’t talented. That petition now has more signatories than there are tickets for the festival. I really think they need to read this:
PC Tom Logan, who mans the gates at Downing Street, said: “We get about 10 of these a day, with demands ranging from the introduction of urban wolves to bringing back Sapphire & Steel. We used to pretend we were taking them inside to give to the prime minister, but lately we just get the petitioners to feed them into the shredder themselves while we take a photo of them for their local paper. They don’t seem to mind. I think they just like signing things.”
Do I Wanna Know” – Arctic Monkeys

A brilliant, languid, sexy rock song. One of my wife’s favourites.

Tessellate” / “Every Other Freckle”– Alt-J

I love how spiky and awkward this song is, and I’m resolutely not buying the band’s claim that this is a sexy record about sexy things. Really? If it is, they’ve hidden it really, really well. When they talk sexy it tends to be toe-curlingly awkward, as it is on their last record.

I’m gonna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag
Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet”

Um. I love it when you talk dirty?

Get Lucky” / “Da Funk” – Daft Punk

Another band my wife loves. I don’t think just because they’re French. We were walking around Courchevel a couple of weeks ago, and we heard nothing but absolute garbage playing on the PA systems in shops and pumping out of bars. It was something of a relief to walk into one particular snowboard shop where they were playing Daft Punk. It wasn’t a fluke either: we went back a few days later and they were playing a different Daft Punk record. Maybe that gets old if you work there, but as a passing customer, that worked pretty well for me. And actually, when I worked at HMV, you learn to tune that sort of stuff out anyway (although it did take me several years to be able to listen to “OK Computer” without getting flashbacks. I think I’ve probably got all the lyrics to the first Spice Girls record in my head somewhere, although I’m hoping that they don’t pop out anytime soon)

Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley

I saw this in a motorway services included on an album of power ballads. What? Are you sure? It’s hardly “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is it?

Kemosabe” – Everything Everything

I love this record. There’s an air of sadness and regret in the lyrics that makes it so intriguing. I have no idea what it’s about, and I’m not sure that I really want to know. Also, can you genuflect in anything other than a penitent way? Perhaps you can, but should you?

John Wayne Gacy Jr” – Sufjan Stevens

How many artists would dare to write a song empathising with a notorious serial-killer? He really, really goes for it too. Apparently Sufjan has a new album coming out soon, and it’s supposed to be a cracker too. I absolutely adored “Illinoise”, but “The Age of Adz” left me utterly cold and I couldn’t even bear to listen to it all of the way though. The new one is a deeply personal record about the death of his mother, and by the sounds of it is much more up my street. I do love to enjoy other people’s suffering, after all. Who doesn’t?

Thursday, 26 March 2015

mule train...

I’ve been injecting Avonex every week now for about six years. Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Normally, I tolerate the side-effects really well. Some people are affected really badly by headaches, fatigue and flu-like symptoms; some of them so badly that they prefer to stop taking the drug altogether rather than put up with the side-effects every week. I’m lucky: as long as I remember to take a couple of paracetamol and some ibuprofen before starting and inject just before I go to bed, I usually get away pretty lightly. I don’t get away scott free, mind. I sometimes wake up the next morning with general sense of fatigue, as though I’m being gently pushed back into the mattress, and I find it harder than normal to get up, and sometimes I feel as though my brain is a little slower than normal for the first few hours of the day…. But basically, I’m fine and it’s something I’m prepared to put up with to keep taking a drug that may be reducing the number and severity of my relapses. So far, so good, anyway.

As my marathon training peaks, I’ve obviously been really pushing myself physically. On the whole, my body has tolerated this well. I do get tired as a result of all the running I’m doing, but it’s usually good old-fashioned muscle pain and not the entirely more weasley MS fatigue. I ran to work yesterday. It’s around 3.6 miles there and back, and because I’m accumulating miles rather than trying to set any speed records, I generally use this as a fairly easy way of racking up miles in a time-efficient way. Yesterday though, my run home was a real slog from start to finish and I was physically exhausted. I had a massage and a fairly relaxing evening, but I also needed to do my weekly injection.

When I woke up this morning, I felt terrible. I don’t know if this was because my body was simply exhausted or if it was anything to do with the injection (or a combination of both), but I felt fatigued, heavy-muscled, head-achey and generally like crap. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but for me at least, getting up and doing some exercise is often the first step to feeling a little bit better, and my cycle to work this morning definitely helped. As did the 6 cup cafetiere of coffee that I drank….. I have to tell you though, I’m not really looking forward to the 11 mile run I’m supposed to be doing this evening.

Actually, that’s a lie. I **am** looking forward to it because I absolutely loathe feeling as though I have physical limits or that my condition might be able to dictate what I can and can’t do. Fuck you, MS. I am going out for a 11 mile run tonight and I’m not going to let you stop me.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

for the longest time...

You've heard of Jantastic, right?  It's this thing that is supposed to encourage people to exercise at the start of the year.  You simply sign up and set some targets for what you think you want to achieve during the month.  They don't have to be stretching targets, the idea is that you give yourself something to aim at and to motivate yourself through the month of January.  It could be running, cycling or swimming.  You log your activities as you do them, and the site rewards you by giving you a score and occasionally giving you trophies for your achievements.  If you want, you can join a team.  If you're still going, you can set yourself some new targets for February.  For March too.

It's fun, simple to use and hopefully gets people moving.

It's perfectly normal that we're nearly at the end of March and that I'm still obsessively logging my runs there, right?  It's not like I'm logging the mileage of my marathon training somewhere else and that this literally serves no purpose for me because I do not require the additional motivation because I have plenty enough already.  Oh wait.  It's exactly like that.  I only joined because the guys at my running club have a team and were encouraging people to join to help their overall team.  Then it turned out they'd all joined the parkrun team instead.  Well, whatever.

I've logged 98 separate activities there so far, have 31 badges and an overall Jantastic score of 94.2.  I have no real idea what any of that means.  I'm also number one in the team where I don't know a single other person.  Thanks guys.

Will this stop me logging the remaining few activities of the month to get as close to a score of 100 as possible?  No, of course not.

I'm in no way obsessive.  No sir.  Not me.

Nope.  Definitely not.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

nothing you can sing that can't be sung....

Tonight was the last session of the season at choir.  It's my first season, of course, and over the last 12 weeks I have been given the great gift of rediscovering my joy at singing out loud.... which is something I haven't really done in any meaningful capacity in twenty years, and certainly haven't done as part of a choir since I was 12 years old.

All that remains now are the performances: just round the corner from my house next Tuesday, and then, a couple of weeks later, with a proper rock band in the Sheffield Octagon.  We're not allowed to use our sheet music for the performances, so over the last few days, I've been making a real effort try to make sure that I know my part.  I've been listening to the MP3s of my part for weeks, but there's no substitute for actually sitting down and learning your part the old-fashioned way (besides, although you might be able to sing along when you commute to work in your car; when you're on your bicycle, people tend to look at you funny....)

This season is all about ROCK, and we've mostly been doing songs that I mostly know pretty well: Kiss, Meatloaf, Alice Cooper, Oasis, Rainbow, Queen, Madness, Van Halen, The Beatles.... stuff like that.  You might imagine, therefore, that I wouldn't have much trouble with the lyrics.

Well, you'd be wrong.

You try singing "All You Need Is Love" to yourself.  Do you reckon you can do it?  Surely you can.  It's one of those songs that you've probably been listening to as long as you've been listening to music.  It's by the most famous band of them all.  It's probably in your DNA if you're British.

How hard can it be?

Well, just try it.

Ok.  Have you got to the "Nothing you can do that can't be done" bit yet?
Do / Done,
Sing / Sung,
Know / Known,
See / Shown
Some nonsense about being where you were meant to be....

It's difficult, isn't it?   It's also got a weird, irregular timing to it.  Bloody smart arses.  As Ian MacDonald said in "Revolution in the Head": "slapdash...sloppy... drug-sodden laziness....casual incoherence...comfortable self-indulgence."  Exactly.

And don't even get me started on Meatloaf.   That damn song ("You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth") goes on forever and, although it seems like it repeats itself a lot, there are lots of *subtle* differences.

Still.  Our musical director gives us every possible chance with his very physical and committed direction from the front.  After tonight's session, although I clearly need to do more work, I'm actually really looking forward to the concerts.

Makes a nice change to be thinking about something other than running, for starters....

Do come and see us.

Monday, 23 March 2015

why'd you look so blue?

Until yesterday, I hadn't run a half marathon since 2012.  For the most part, this was because I didn't think I'd be able to run more than six miles again because of injury and whatnot, but I'm happy to report that I was quite wrong about that.  I don't know yet if I'll be able to run the full 26.2 miles of the London Marathon, but all my training so far is giving me confidence that this should be well within my grasp.

The training schedule said we should have been doing about eighteen miles, but it's also important to get race practice; to run with lots of other people; to road-test the kit you intend to wear on the big day... so we entered the Reading Half Marathon.

We went round in an official time of 2 hours 6 minutes and 30 seconds, which isn't a PB for either of us, but is actually probably a bit faster than the pace we will want to run London.  The course is supposed to be fast and flat, but this was actually the slowest half marathon I've ever run by about ten minutes.  And you know what?  It was also the most fun I've ever had in a race like this.  The sun was shining and the good people of Reading were out in force, cheering us along for most of the route.  I've  long since known that it's essential to put your name onto your shirt to give people something to shout, but it turns out that being six foot five inches tall and wearing a blue tutu is quite a good way to get the crowd to engage with you along the way.  Only one pre-teen urchin called me a "homo", and everyone else was very encouraging.  I was a particular hit with little girls and with cheerleaders.

Judging by her game face, I think it's fair to say that C. enjoyed herself too.  We ran at a very steady pace, at least according to the official splits.

5k 00:30:11
10k 01:00:41
15k 01:30:50
20k 01:59:21
(and that includes a pee stop!)

Normally, when I run something like this, I'm so flat out trying to achieve a particular time, that I don't have much time to look around me.  This time, because I was running at comfortable pace and because I'm now regularly running further than 13 miles, I was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the day and to enjoy sharing the experience with my wife.  I saw a red kite swooping low over the race! Running through reading town centre at around the six or seven mile mark was fantastic because there were loads of people out cheering us on.  For the first time since we started training, I started getting really excited about the experience of running London next month.  Yes, I'll be running twice as far, but there will also be hundreds of thousands of people lining the route, and that's a really thrilling thought.

There's still some hard work to be done in training yet.  This week is the peak in terms of miles, and next week sees the longest single run (20-22 miles), but after that we're on the taper down for the big day.

This has taken up hours and hours of my life and it isn't done yet. I've poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this and it's increasingly dominating my life. You know what? I'm really looking forward to this. I'm very much looking forward to getting it done and being able to do simple things like have a lie-in on a Sunday morning without needing to do an enormous run, but it's really going to be worth it.

And once we're done.... I want to run a sub-22 minute parkrun and a sub 1:45 half marathon.  Maybe starting once I've had a day or two off, eh?

Friday, 20 March 2015

you kicked and cried like a bullied child...

Earworms of the Week

Many of Horror” – Biffy Clyro

I heard a cover version of this being used as a bedding track for something being trailed on the telly. It wasn’t a great cover, but it is a great song and it put me in mind of both the original version and the film “The Descendants”, where it is put to very good use.

Creeping Death” - Metallica
Jesus Walks” – Kanye West

I’ve already written about this, but both tracks are playing in my head in irritation at the utterly predictable and pointless furore about the announcement of Kanye West as the Saturday headliner at Glastonbury this year. It turns out that the guy running the petition that now has over 60,000 signatures is going to the festival for the very first time this year… so quite how he feels qualified to say what is and is not acceptable is somewhat beyond me. Well, he’s seen it on the telly, hasn’t he? An added bonus with the Metallica track is that there simply aren’t enough songs written about the vengeful God of the Old Testament, are there?

In the Ghetto” – Elvis Presley

His best song, IMHO. Perhaps best heard drifting in the far distance on the KLF album “Chill Out”, but pretty good in its original form too.

Since You’ve Been Gone” – Rainbow

This track forms part of the medley we’re singing with choir this season. It’s the whoa-a-whoah-whoahs that really do it for me. An absolute pleasure to sing. End of season concerts coming up soon, so I really need to knuckle down and properly learn those words to “Forever Autumn”… no books allowed.

The Trooper” – Iron Maiden

I took the Iron Maiden t-shirt I bought at Download to France with us last week. It’s from the “Maiden England” tour, and it features Crimean War-era Eddie, charging down cannons on horseback the front and the classic image from “The Trooper” single cover on the back. The chef in our hotel told me how much he adored my t-shirt, and from that moment onwards, portion sizing was never much of an issue. It seems the French generally are pretty “Sympa” with my taste in t-shirts: a market trader in Meung-sur-Loire once tried to buy my “South Dakota Hard Rockers” t-shirt off my back….

Missing” – Everything But The Girl

I don’t think I even own this song, but it’s something of a perpetual earworm… well, the Todd Terry remix, anyway. It’s an absolute belter of a record. All the way from 1994, ladies and gentlemen. 21 years old. Feeling old??  Like the deserts miss the rain.  Still a beautiful lyric.

Wanted Man” – Johnny Cash

Initially this seems to be about how bad ass an outlaw Cash is.

Wanted man in California,
Wanted man in Buffalo
Wanted man in Kansas City,
Wanted man in Ohio

and then the song takes a slightly different tack:

Wanted man by Lucy Watson,
Wanted man by Jeannie Brown
Wanted man by Nellie Johnson,
Wanted man in this next town

Oh, I see. Johnny. You old devil!

Turning Japanese” – The Vapors

About wanking, apparently. Not really sure why this popped into my head on Friday whilst I was sitting at my desk. Perhaps it’s best not too probe that too deeply other than because it’s a brilliant tune.

This Night Has Opened My Eyes” – The Smiths

Morrissey played at Nottingham Arena last week. Even if I hadn’t been in France, I wouldn’t have gone: his last few albums have stretched my patience pretty thin (as have his remarks about how eating meat was JUST THE SAME as paedophilia). I haven’t even heard his most recent release. It’s apparently his last tour – he’s apparently had some health problems – and, by all accounts he was really good. I’m pleased. He played a huge part in my musical development, and I’ve been delighted to work my way through the Smiths back catalogue over the last few days. “Hatful of Hollow”, which I originally bought as a French import CD at a record fair in Birmingham at a time when the band’s UK catalogue was unavailable, is packed full of great versions of their songs and is perhaps my favourite long player. Amongst all those songs, it was this sombre little number that jumped out at me this week.

In a river the colour of lead,
Immerse the baby’s head.
Wrap her up in the news of the world,
Dump her on a doorstep, girl

Bleak, kitchen-sink drama and entirely typical of early Morrissey lyrics. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song, and there’s never been anyone in music quite like The Smiths or a lyricist quite like Morrissey. We’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Have a good weekend, y'all.  It's a light one for us: just parkrun tomorrow morning and then the Reading Half Marathon. Well, it's light when you'd otherwise be doing an 18-miler....

Thursday, 19 March 2015

but i am un chien....

As is the custom, I brought back some sweets from France for my team at work. I brought back some Carambars. You’ve probably had them yourself, but they’re stick shaped chews that come in original caramel, assorted fruit flavours and have truly terrible jokes on the back of the wrapper. We’ve had fun this week as my team have handed me their wrappers and asked me to explain an awful pun that hinges – for instance - on knowing that the French word for canvas is the same as the word for web (Q: what do spiders dream of? A: having their webs/canvases hung in the Louvre. Boom boom).

There have been a couple of jokes that have genuinely made me laugh though:

Qu’est-ce qui a des poils et vend des medicaments?
.....Un pharmachien

Okay, so it doesn’t translate perfectly into English, but that’s pretty funny, no?


They also have something similar with the punchline “un electrichien”. (Quell metier les chiens peuvent-ils exercer?)

Say what you like about the French, but they certainly know their way around a good chien joke.