Tuesday, 5 May 2020

numbers and figures....


Unlike lots of runners, I'm not really into stats. I do have a Strava account, I do track every run and I do have a general awareness of my pace, but I'm not one of those people who goes out and tries to take segment crowns and that kind of thing. Never have been. Good luck to people who are motivated by that kind of thing, but I'm just not.

The only person I'm competing with is myself.

I fight a constant battle with myself to stop feeling as though I'm slow and getting slower. I do run a lot of my miles at a relatively sedate pace, much of it with my wife.... but I enjoy those miles, and quite often these days it's me holding her back because her natural pace is sort of between gears for me and it's easier to just run a little slower. I also know, deep down, that it's true that I can run a lot faster than that when I want to, and I have done as recently as last year in the races I do for my club. Hell, I do intervals once or twice a week and I do it then too. It's nice to throw off the shackles occasionally, to not worry about my spasming legs or my stiff ankle or my creaky knee and to just run as fast as I've ever run before. My 10k PB was about this time last year, and it should have been a couple of minutes quicker again, but I got stuck on a narrow path at the start because I'd started too far down the field and got caught behind runners I should have started in ahead of.

Ah, this stuff is boring, I know.  I don't blog for months, and when I do come back with something, it's just a load of crap about running. I'm sorry/not sorry about that. Running has played a huge part in helping me to keep my mental health on an even keel over the years, but of course it's even more important now that everything else has gone on hold. The ability to go outside for a run once a day is absolutely priceless to me and I'm so grateful that I've been able to make the most of it and that I live so close to the river and some nice, spacious running routes.

I was looking at the graphs above and thinking about my running journey. I started tracking my runs in about 2011/12, at about the same time as I started taking running more seriously. I joined Sweatshop Running Community about then and started going out more regularly than just one short run a week. Running with other people seemed to really make me work harder and run faster too. Three years ago, I joined an England Athletics registered running club and started wearing a club vest and running in actual, sanctioned races.  All of this, of course, after my 2009 diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.

Never mind the fact that I've now tracked nearly 7500 miles worth of running, just look at those graphs. The one on the left shows a track of my monthly mileage - those spikes are the peaks of training immediately before marathons, of course. Most interesting is that graph on the right, showing a rolling tally of mileage over 365 days. You can really see that sharp climb up to that first marathon in 2015, but what interests me is what happens next: there's a dip in 2018 -- ironically, running 4 marathons in a 12 month period means that I actually did less mileage over the year because there are 4 months where I'm doing very little as a taper towards race day.. but after that dip, my mileage has steadily increased to track at around 1220 miles for the last 365 days. 481 miles so far this calendar year.

So sure, I've got problems with my legs and ankle and I'm maybe running a lot of that mileage more slowly than perhaps I might like.... but I'm doing okay, considering.

Like I said, I'm not really into stats.

What's keeping you sane?

Friday, 3 April 2020

like a lead leaf scrapes the gravelled ground...

It feels as though a lot has happened since my last post at the end of February. How can it even be possible to write a catch-up post that encompasses everything that happened during the course of the longest month since time began?

I don't think I'm even going to try.

Suffice it to say that the big news around here is that I've finally shifted across to a mesh wifi system. I've been meaning to do so for some time because, although my broadband is fibre optic and in theory very fast, in practice it's handicapped by constantly dropping wireless signal and the need for endless router reboots. Well, those issues are firmly in the past, let me tell you.

... Oh, there's something else?

As the New Yorker so elegantly put it in their cartoon today:


A brief montage of my March, then: we went to Austria and had a lovely week skiing that became a bit weird when it became clear that everything was going to be locked down and things started to close. We made it home on the last day they were operating flights from Salzburg, and we've been in lockdown here pretty much ever since.  Luckily for me, the new job that I started at the beginning of March is home based, so I'm obviously well-equipped to remote work. I miss my running clubs and I'm not uploading sessions for the group I coach onto WhatsApp, but the fact that I can still go outside for a run once a day makes all the difference to the way I feel. If I couldn't run, I don't know what I'd do.

Isn't it weird watching how people come to terms with the restrictions and how, as a society, we seem to have moved from panic buying toilet roll and pasta to loudly judging other people for how well (or otherwise) they're sticking to what they perceive to be the appropriate social distancing guidelines/rules from the government and assessing how well other people understand the concept of 2m of social distancing.

I also can't be the only one to feel slightly uneasy about our slide into "hero" culture for those people who work in the NHS or for other critical services. It's lovely to hear people coming out at 8pm on a Thursday night to applaud these "heroes", but at the same time, the best way to recognise these people is to pay them properly and to make sure they have the right equipment, isn't it? The Health Secretary may wear an NHS pin badge on his lapel, but he is part of a party that has systematically starved the health service of the money it needs to run effectively.  Let's hope people remember that when this is all over and we're next at the ballot box. And don't get me started on that tool from Wetherspoons. As for the clapping itself, I'm reminded of the mentality that some people have towards the armed forces, as skewered by Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Strange times.

On a positive note, I think the MS charities have been doing an amazing job trying to keep people with multiple sclerosis up to date on the latest thinking on how the virus might affect us. It's all very well to try and reassure people that many of those people dying are old or have an underlying condition, but that's of little comfort if you are old or do have an underlying condition. It's a strange feeling to think that, if I were to catch coronavirus and die, someone would shrug and say, "Yeah, well he had MS, so.....".

Here's a really interesting post on shift.ms about how suffering from a chronic health condition like MS actually prepares you well for this world of social isolation. 

"Compared to the rest of the population, we are all used to:

- Being stuck in limbo, nobody can ever tell us how long something will last and if it will be permanent, temporary, relapsing remitting or progressive.

- Living with uncertainty. We all know only too well that nobody can predict what the future holds for us and that we have to plan as best we can, but always live in the present."

Well worth a read.

Stay safe. We're living in interesting times.

Friday, 28 February 2020

Danger! High Voltage!

I had a consultation with the neuro-rehabilitation unit at a local hospital towards the end of last year. I was seen by a specialist registrar, senior neuro-physiotherapist and a senior orthotist. Quite the collection of experts. They've just copied me in on the report.

Two things caught my eye:

1) "On examination, this gentleman is tall at 6' 5"" -- note how many experts it took to notice this particular detail.

2) "We believe that running marathons and training to run the marathons might exacerbate some of his symptoms." -- Oh dear. Luckily, they weren't finished there -- "Therefore, our physiotherapist advised him to alternate different modes of exercise between running marathons".

This isn't really news to me. At least they're not daft enough to suggest that I stop running altogether.

I always used to swim a couple of times a week, but when I started running marathons in 2015, everything else kind of fell by the wayside. I've also done a particularly large amount of long mileage runs over the last 18 months as I completed 4 marathons between April 2018 and April 2019. That would probably put a strain on anyone's body, never mind one with bio-mechanical issues brought on my a loss of strength on one side.

Since the Vienna marathon in April last year, my monthly mileage has actually probably gone up a bit. Two other things have changed though: I'm not doing the really long training runs you need in order to train for a marathon; I"m also running a lot of my miles more slowly, either with the group that I coach, or with my wife. This is reducing the amount of strain I"m putting on my body.

I'm not saying that I'm never going to run another marathon. After dipping under 4 hours at Chester in 2018 it's true that my desire to run 26.2 miles faster has all but disappeared. Am I interested in putting in the work to shave a few minutes off that time? Not really. 3.45 doesn't sound much better than 3.58 to me. Especially when you consider how much work would go into finding that extra few minutes. So, I'm not interested in going faster, but I am perhaps still interested in running a marathon with my wife again.... Vienna in April 2019 was a joy from start to finish. I don't have anything planned this year, but I am doing a 15.6 mile trail race tomorrow at Belvoir, so we'll see.


One other output from that consultation with the neuro-rehabilitation unit in November was an appointment with the FES team in Derby, which I attended this week. For an hour or so, I had a device attached to my left leg that fires electric pulses down the leg to stimulate the flex in my ankle. It feels a bit like a TENS machine (if you remember them), and it looks like I might be able to borrow a unit for 6 weeks or so to see if it makes any difference to my running. In all honesty, this kind of device is generally used to help people who are essentially immobile to walk again, so it feels a bit gratuitous to strap it onto someone who is still capable of running a marathon... but we'll see. They seem interested to find out how it helps a runner. Watch this space.

223 miles of running so far this year with another 15 or so to come tomorrow before February is out. I ain't doing so bad.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

what time is it?

About three years ago, I upgraded the watch I used to track my runs. Before this point, I was using a pretty basic Garmin that I'd earned as a loyalty reward at Sweatshop Running Club. It was a brilliant little thing that revolutionised the way I measured the distances I run, but it was hardly a fashion item. As a result, I wore it to run or bike, but then took it off and wore a proper watch.

This changed the day I bought a Garmin Fenix 3HR. Although this does basically the same job as my first Garmin, it was a lot more stylish and also did cool things like measure my heart rate and track my daily step count. As a result, I stopped wearing my nice watch and just wore my Garmin every day. It's amazing how quickly you get sucked into caring about things like how many steps you take and how many flights of stairs you climb in a day and how that measures against your targets.

This is clearly great for people who need a little encouragement to be more active. However, as someone who runs five or six times a week and a hundred or so miles a month, I don't really need to watch my step count. Interesting though it was, all it really meant was that I had entirely stopped wearing my nice watch. The Garmin is nice enough, but my other watch was much nicer.

I've broken the habit. I scraped my Garmin along a wall on Lady Bay Bridge when hit by a particularly strong gust of wind on Sunday's run and needed to replace the screen cover (it's a long story, but briefly: after a couple of years of to-ing and fro-ing, Garmin replaced my 3HR with a Garmin 5 to try and get around persistent problems with the altimeter. Great, but the upgraded watch didn't have a tempered glass screen and needed some additional protection).  As I couldn't immediately find my spare screen cover, and because I didn't want to scuff up the actual screen itself, I took the Garmin off and put my proper watch back on. I'd often looked at it a little sadly, but couldn't somehow break the habit of constantly needing to know where I was with my step count.

After a couple of days with my good watch on, I'm still marvelling at what a nice watch it is and why on earth I didn't do this earlier. Mind you, the Garmin takes its time from the satellite and is 100% accurate. My nice watch... isn't. It's also an automatic, meaning that it gets its charge from being on my wrist. Having barely been used for a while, it's working fine and then stopping overnight when I stop moving, and I find myself taking it off and waving it around for a few minutes to try and build up a bit of a charge. I'll probably keep it on with my Garmin when I next go for a run. Wearing two watches on a run instead of just one. I suppose that's progress? Still, I've broken the step count tyranny over my life for the time being, anyway.

What a world we live in.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

you are the unforecasted storm...

As an addendum to the post below, I received a letter the other day from the neurologist. Apparently, my November 2019 MRI scan shows no evidence of new disease activity.

This is clearly excellent news.

From the very beginning, my MS hasn't seemed to follow the usual patterns. Although I have technically been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, where patterns of disease activity are followed by periods of remission and partial recovery, my MS has always behaved a bit differently. Most of my initial symptoms can be traced to a single lesion in my cervical spinal cord, but I haven't had a clear relapse since that first one and I don't seem to have developed any new lesions (the scarring on the brain or spinal cord left by the inflammation). That said, although I haven't developed any radically new symptoms, I have seen a general (albeit fluctuating) worsening of the ones that I do have. Relatively speaking, compared to others, I'm doing great... but the disease has changed my life. As well as the muscular symptoms of weakness, numbness and pins & needles, I also now take a pill to manage bladder urge and self-cathertise every night to ensure that my bladder is completely empty before I go to bed (I'm also careful of the volume of what I drink after about 20:30 at night. No more last orders at the bar for me). These things are different from what they were when I first developed symptoms in 2005. I may not have visible signs of disease activity in my MRI scan, but you can now see them in the way that I walk.

I think what this shows us is how complex a condition multiple sclerosis is; how it's an umbrella term for a massively varying set of symptoms and presentations. It's a handy label to put on people, but every single person seems to experience the disease differently. It's amazing how much the doctors and specialists do know, but equally very clear how much they don't know too.

I'm doing well. There's no sign of new disease activity in spite of the fact that I've now been off all medications relating to my MS for a couple of years now. It was a risk to stop injecting the drug that may (or may not) have been slowing my disease progression, but for the time being, it seems to be a risk that has paid off.

Long may it continue.

In the 43 days of 2020 so far, I've run 155 miles. I don't have much to complain about.

Monday, 10 February 2020

we are standing on the edge...

Sometimes I wonder how much I let MS define my life. I see memes on various Facebook MS groups that talk of no one understanding their world of invisible pain, and I just don't relate to them at all. I appreciate that different people process things in different ways, but I've always thought that I'm exactly the kind of person who doesn't wallow in the fact that I have multiple sclerosis.

But is that true? Can it be true?

Taking only this morning, I've worried about whether or not I'm finding it harder to sleep at the moment, I've thought about my bladder and bowel function, I've wondered if my bad back is being caused by any of the pills I take, I've staggered around on stiff, cramping legs and dragged a stiff ankle up and down the stairs a couple of times, I'm typing right now with numb hands. Is it really true to say that I'm not letting my MS define me? Just because I'm not posting memes about it?

Probably, some of these things will have nothing to do with my MS. A few definitely are, but I have to remind myself again that I'm actually extremely fortunate with my MS: my symptoms are reasonably stable and all of the above has to be taken in the context of the fact that I'm planning to go out for a 5 mile run this evening and that I've run 145 miles so far this year. Alright, so I'm finding running a bit harder at the moment, but it's not as though I'm doing much less of it.

I try not to put every little thing I feel down to my MS, but it is inevitably a filter through which I view the world.

Maybe that's the most insidious symptom of them all.

Friday, 7 February 2020

His looks don't bother him, now in the least...

Look, I appreciate there are lots of things about this blog that have been neglected recently. It's been a bit of a journey from blogging 4 or 5 days a week, through not blogging at all, to coming back out the other side with a bit of occasional blogging. What can I tell you?  Life happened.

I miss the good old days when we all used to actively participate and comment on each others blogs, but I guess we should all just look back fondly on the time we had some analysis done on handwritten song lyrics (quiz - results), or tried to guess which bookcase and which fridge belonged to which blogger, or when we posted mix tape CDs to each other. (2006 2007 2008) [some of those links to the old blog are really slow, and where I've used a link to the archived content on the new URL, the comments won't be there, which is a shame... but you get the general idea]

One feature that has been here since the very beginning -- way back in 2004! - is Earworms. I don't know if I'm more prone to them than other people, but the idea of a song popping up randomly in your head and then playing on repeat has always struck a chime with me. Cataloguing them and then listing them every week as a blogpost has been oddly therapeutic. Looking back the other day, I was tickled to see an appearance by "Chim-Chimney", together with an explanation of how you can recreate the sound of the song using only your finger on a piece of paper.

Anyway. I digress.

The point is that I'm going to try and be a bit more disciplined about cataloguing my earworms and putting them up here. You may not be entirely thrilled to hear that news, but I've never really written anything on here for an audience... so....  tough.

I'm also delighted to say that I've managed to get another Guest Editor to share the contents of their head. Long time readers may remember that I used to try and get someone else to do this on a fairly regular basis. We slowed down a bit by the end, but there's still an archive of over 100 different guest slots, Apart from anything else, having a cut and paste made for an easy post for me on a Friday anyway.

Steve and I go back a fair way now. As he mentions below, our paths actually crossed long before they actually crossed. These days, we're fairly regular correspondents, still comment on each other's blogs and have even made the effort to overcome the massive distance between us (i.e. the length of Brian Clough Way) to meet up in real life. Steve is a veritable musical guru; he's one of those guys who has actually listened to all those bands that lots of people pretend to like because they're cool and obscure and difficult to like when you actually put their records on. As someone who enjoys music in a far lazier way than that, I love to listen to him talking on this subject and on his own career as a musician/songwriter. Who doesn't love listening to someone talking with passion on a subject they love?  He's also taken a really rigorous approach to the challenge of earworms by forensically cataloguing what's gone through his head on a day-by-day basis over the course of the week. Now that's commitment.

So, without further ado, I'm delighted to present for your listening pleasure.....

Earworms of the week - guest editor #102 - Steve from It's a Shit Business


D'Angelo - "Devil's Pie"
I listened to the album this is from - Voodoo - for the first time in a while last weekend, prompted by the fact that apparently it’s 20 years old. Which is mental because it was only recorded next week.
Anyway, it's still a cracking psychedelic soul album. Some of the tracks feature drums which are simultaneously playing before and after the beat.
Having said that, this song was always one of the ones which sounded pretty normal to me and I'd never have this pegged as one of my favourites. But it sounded great. And the following day I realised that I was walking around singing "Fuck the slice, we want the pie" all day (whenever my daughter wasn't around anyway).

Harry Nilsson - “Gotta Get Up
A bit of a literal earworm this one, being prompted on Monday morning when we were trying to get our daughter to school on time.
I love Harry Nilsson. Some people unfairly tag him as a professional hanger-on. He was along for the ride for John Lennon's infamous "lost weekend", which was also when Harry introduced Lennon to the Brandy Alexander cocktail - cognac, crème de cacao and cream. Ouch.
Famously self-destructive to a fault, Harry drank so much that by the end of his life he’d completely f**ked his voice. On this track - and also on his brilliant album of Randy Newman songs - it's a pure and nimble thing of creamy beauty.
Very much like a Brandy Alexander, which apparently taste like milkshake.

Super Furry Animals - "Demons"
Stereolab - "We're Not Adult Orientated"
SFA are one of those bands who I seem to have a lot of albums by, even though I've never really loved them. There is no reason at all why this song popped into my head on Tuesday morning.
Stereolab are similar in that I have a lot of their albums. The only difference is as the years go by, I seem to love them even more. One of my old bands supported them in London in the early 90s. We did not go down well.
This song takes the end section of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On" and runs with it for a good six minutes. Totally relentless. Great drumming, rattling guitar, overdriven organ.
According to “the Googs”, the lyrics translate to:
I do not
I do not write
No I don't write
To waste my time
We don't write
I'm wasting time
"Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum", indeed.

Bonny Light Horseman - “Bonny Light Horseman
We've all been there. Your boyfriend / lover / husband has gone off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars and you don't know if he'll come back alive. So you end up writing a song about your hatred of Bonaparte.
Apparently Bonny Light Horseman (the band) is a US folk supergroup, formed with the encouragement of Bon Iver / Justin Vernon. And Bonny Light Horseman (the song) is "...a lament of English origin from the Napoleonic Wars. Though written in England, it became popular in Ireland as a broadsheet ballad."
Fair enough.
Despite the fact that folk music remains one of the few musical genres which I can't seem to get completely behind, this recording (from their 2020 album and the last one I bought) seems to make whatever room I'm in at the time incredibly dusty, every time every time I play it.
My wife's take on it? "It's a 'no' from me...", the moment the vocals started.

The Pointer Sisters - “I’m So Excited
Yes this is a stone-cold 80s banger. But there is no earthly reason why this was in my head on Thursday morning. The mind is a mysterious and terrifying thing.
But a good pop song is still a good pop song. Recently our daughter has discovered the NOW That's What I Call Music albums. And it has been good to know that there are still some really great pop songs being written - Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, even (gasps) The 1975. It's just the fact they're just not as all-pervasive as they were in my day.
BRING BACK TOP OF THE POPS!

Killdozer - “Ballad Of My Old Man
No word of a lie, when I woke up this morning the song was playing in my head.
I bloody love Killdozer. Turgid (in a good way) grinding riffs and weird / funny lyrics. Along with Butthole Surfers, they provide the soundtrack whenever I need to put together flat-pack furniture. This song tells the story of the narrator's father who worked in a grain elevator. After it blew up, he was the only survivor but was "left with a face that looked like chewed bubble gum". Nice.

FUN FACT: Butch Vig's production work on Killdozer's albums was one of the main reasons why Nirvana used him to record Nevermind.

In 2012 I responded to a tweet from the blog Sweeping The Nation, looking for classic TV music performances which weren't often seen. I mentioned Killdozer's performance of "American Pie" on Channel 4's Club X (a late night music and art show which predated The Word - I think it only lasted one series).
Seven years later I received the following tweet:



I love the internet.

Case in point: years ago, me and Swisslet were contributors to The Art of Noise blog's "A-Z Of Music" series - start here, obviously.
Following that we were united by our similarly wonky immune systems.
Now we've even met IRL on a loosely semi-annual basis. Crazy times!

--

Nice one, Steve! Thanks for that, and you have a platform here to talk about music any time you like. That's an earworm post two weeks running! Nothing inbetween, for sure... but it's a start. Have a good weekend, y'all.

[Previous Guest Editors: Flash, The Urban Fox, Lord Bargain, Retro-Boy, Statue John, Ben, OLS, Ka, Jenni, Aravis, Yoko, Bee, Charlie, Tom, Di, Spin, The Ultimate Olympian, Damo, Mike, RedOne, The NumNum, Leah, Le Moine Perdu, clm, Michael, Hyde, Adem, Alecya, bytheseashore, adamant, Earworms of the Year 2005, Delrico Bandito, Graham, Lithaborn, Phil, Mark II, Stef, Kaptain Kobold, bedshaped, I have ordinary addictions, TheCatGirlSpeaks, Lord B rides again, Tina, Charlie II, Cody Bones, Poll Star, Jenni II, Martin, Del II, The Eye in the Sky, RussL, Lizzy's Hoax, Ben II, Earworms of the Year 2006, Sarah, Flash II, Erika, Hen, Pynchon, Troubled Diva, Graham II, Cat II, Statue John II, Sweeping the Nation, Aravis II, Olympian II, C, Planet-Me, Mike, Michael II, Eye in the Sky II, Charlie III, The Great Grape Ape, asta, Ben III, Earworms of the Year 2007, Cat III, JamieS & Wombat, Pynchon II, Briskate, Craig Cliff, Fiery Little Sod, Cody II, J, Yoko II, Rol, Lisa, Pollstar II, Joe the Troll, Eye in the Sky III, Jerry Cornelius, Stevious, Luke, FLS II, Earworms of the Year 2008, FLS III, Mik, Mark Again, Ben IV, Lisa, FLS V, FLS VI, FLS VII]

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

like a tear runs across a frozen cheek...

Better late than never, here's the 2019 Christmas edition of

EARWORMS OF THE WEEK

You might remember, somewhere in the mists of time, I used to do an earworm column every Friday. Sometimes we had guest editors sharing the contents of their internal jukeboxes. You might also remember that I'm a fan of good, seasonal music. I've got nothing especially against the likes of Slade and Wizzard, it's just that I became incredibly bored of hearing the same 10 songs over and over again every Christmas. There's loads of really good music produced about Christmas, and it's been something of a personal mission to find as much of it as I can and to bolster my Christmas playlist.

I realise it's completely the wrong time of the year, but that playlist can be accessed:
On Spotify
On Amazon Music

(yeah, I know it's not the same on both platforms. Sue me).

I thought it might be fun (for me) to do a little retrospective on the songs that I was listening to throughout December in 2019.  Maybe bookmark this post and come back to it towards the end of November?

"December Song (I dreamed of Christmas)" - George Michael

This is, of course, rendered slightly poignant by George Michael's death on Christmas Day in 2016. We also tend to associate George with the inescapable (and still very good and actually-very-sad) "Last Christmas". As with much of his latter-day solo work, this is lovely and downbeat, and I particularly enjoy that he wants nothing more at Christmas than peace on Earth and a day spent watching tv. "Snow would fall upon my bed like sugar from Jesus" though, George? really?

"Ring Out, Solstice Bells" - Jethro Tull
"I Believe in Father Christmas" - Greg Lake

OK, I realise that both of these are, to a greater or lesser extent, featured on those Christmas compilations, but I hadn't really heard either of them for a long time and they're both good songs. I like the pagan allusions of the Jethro Tull song, a feature of all of the best carols that hark to the solstice rather than particularly to the birth of Christ. I also very much enjoy how downbeat Greg Lake's song is. The Christmas we get we deserve, indeed.

"Nothing But a Child" / "Christmas in Washington" - Steve Earle
"Christmas in Prison" - John Prine

American country-tinged music is one of those genres that is a huge blindspot in my musical knowledge. I've got a few bits and bobs, but I'm otherwise mostly blissfully unaware. I actually know "Christmas in Prison" from a lovely cover that Emmy the Great did with Lightspeed Champion on one of those indie Christmas compilations. It's such a beautiful song that, when I discovered that it was a cover (I think it was mentioned in the comments of an article the Guardian did on the 50 Greatest Christmas songs, which I trawled looking for tips), I immediately went looking for it. The two Steve Earle songs were also the result of a tip-off in the comments to that article, which is well worth a look if you're interested in this sort of thing -- the comments much more than the Guardian's countdown itself. I like that both these songs are a little rougher and more grimy, and generally about a million miles from the slickly produced stuff we usually hear. I discovered Tom Waits' "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" a couple of years ago, and it's very much from the same kind of school of thought.

"White Christmas" - Otis Redding

When Otis sings this, he really, really means it. Trust me, no one is dreaming of a white christmas quite as hard as Otis Redding is here.

"December Will Be Magic Again" - Kate Bush

Just lovely. I've actually also got an instrumental version of this by someone on what sounds like a clarinet, and that's beautiful too, There's something about the ethereal nature of Kate Bush's voice that really suits the season, don't you think?

"Father Christmas" - The Kinks

A song about someone dressed as Father Christmas being mugged by some kids. They got banned from performing this on Top of the Pops, you know

"Sock it to me Santa" - Bob Seger

You know what pop? 
What's that son?
Christmas just isn't gonna be the same this year
Why is that?
'Cause Santa's got a brand new bag!

Because it's silly and because it rocks.

"Purple Snowflakes" - Marvin Gaye

The best thing about this song is the way that Marvin turns the full power of his love onto some lucky girl (chesnuts roasting), but makes absolutely no bones about the fact that this isn't going to be a long term affair (tootsies toasting)... although, to be fair, he does say he will always remember this night (purple snowflakes).

"Heart on Snow" - Marc Almond

Not exactly festive, but I this is suitably dramatic and wintery and Russian and suits Marc Almond down to the ground.

I'm sure you know these and many more, so don't be shy to let me know your favourites.

Right, well I've got that off my chest anyway.  As you were.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

your boy all glowed up...

As I received another job rejection without interview, it's just dawned on me that my CV seems to mean that I get rejected out of hand for more junior, lower paying jobs and seems to receive more consideration for better paid, more senior jobs.  It's true that my experience is probably better suited to those kinds of roles, but I rather naively assumed that somebody might be glad of the chance of getting the benefit of that experience on the cheap.

Here's the thing:

I don't really want (or need) a more senior, better paid job.

This is leading me to reconsider my career path. I'm starting to think that I really might be better served doing more volunteering and seeing where that leads me. I know how the recruitment process works. Hell, I've been a recruiter myself and have no doubt rejected plenty of people who could have done an excellent job. It's an imperfect process and you'd be a fool to take it personally.

All the same, it's been lovely working with people who really appreciate what I have to offer rather than just binning me off via email on the basis of my CV. (Or, more typically, not bothering to reply at all).

Volunteering only doesn't pay well in monetary terms. In every other way, it's much more rewarding.


Thursday, 9 January 2020

time is on your side...

It's now been 7 months since I stopped working. Technically, as they paid my notice, I suppose I've only actually been out of work for 4 months... but it all amounts to the same really.

As I've mentioned before, I decided about three months ago that I was actually going to look for a paying job. This wasn't always a given, and it took a bit of time away from the long hours of my last job to start to be able to see things more clearly.

Looking for work is a vaguely depressing activity: you need to give it the attention it deserves if you're really serious about it, but at the same time it all seems frustratingly arbitrary. It's a buyer's market, and although job sites and electronically stored CVs means that it's probably never been easier to apply for a job, lots of these places don't even bother to acknowledge your application, never mind telling you that you've been passed over.

As anyone who has been in this position before will know, you just can't take these thing personally. At the same time, sometimes the process is so arbitrary that you just want to scream. There's never going to be a really fair way of recruiting people, but there are certainly plenty of unfair ways. David Brent famously said that you can avoid employing unlucky people by throwing half of the CVs you receive straight into the bin. I sometimes wonder if that's a fairer process than some of the ones I've recently had the misfortune of being exposed to.  The University of Nottingham was already in my bad books for rejecting me for a job on the basis of a competency based interview they tried to carry out over the phone in 15 minutes with a two person panel on a dodgy line. They went even further down in my estimation when they gave me 8 days notice of an interview with a presentation (which itself was on a subject which had nothing to do with the job, but that's another story). The problem wasn't the relatively short notice, it was that I wasn't available on the day of the interview. As is always the way now, the invitation to interview suggested I contact them if I needed any accommodation. Well, presumably you can shift the date of the interview to a date I can attend? No, came the answer, we can't. Thanks for your interest. What?

Anyway. The search continues. In the meantime, I'm carrying on with voluntary work. I've been acting as a sighted guide for the Guide Dogs MyGuide service, and this has seen me acquire a chap I take out running once a week, and another who I take out for a walk every other week. As well as this, I've been doing my usual volunteering for parkrun and, as of this month, I'm now officially a trustee of a Nottingham-based domestic abuse charity. All together, this little lot takes up around 3 days of my week, more or less. To be honest, I'm not sure how I managed to find the time for a full time job. As I said to the chair of the trustees when he asked me how I would find the time to keep up this level of volunteering when I do manage to find another paying job, you don't have to work 60 hours a week, do you? Towards the end in my last job, 50-60 hour weeks were fairly common. No one was making me do them, but I did them all the same. When I get back into work, I'm going to free up all that extra time by trying to just stick to my contracted hours.

Let's see how that plan stands up to the first contact with the enemy, eh?

I'm also thinking of starting to volunteer at the local Oxfam store. It's not out of the question that I might try to find a part time job that brings in a bit of spending money but leaves me with the freedom to spend my time doing the things that I really find fulfilling.

It's nice to have the flexibility in my life. I don't need to find a paying job at the moment, I'm just choosing to look for one.

Anyway. Happy new year.

2020 already looks like it's going to be a difficult one for the world, but as long as we each try to do our bit, then we have something positive to hang onto, eh?