24 June 2016

Selling England by the pound

I have been getting more and more disenchanted with the political process for at least 25 years: a few days ago I started a blog post on this theme, quoting from A Day of Infamy | Coffee House: "I cannot recall ever feeling worse about this country and its politics than is the case right now."

Now matters have gone even further. Never have I felt as dismayed about the state of politics, the country, the continent, the world, as today. We have been let down by politicians abdicating responsibility for one of the most fundamental elements of our political and economic existence, by handing the decision on whether to remain in the European Union or leave it to that bluntest of democratic instruments, a referendum: and compounding their error by abjectly failing to explain to the voters how to make an informed decision. Had a majority in full possession of the facts voted to leave with a good understanding of what they were leaving, and what they were leaving it for, that would have been a very different matter.

Worse still, older voters have caused immense damage to the futures of their children, grandchildren and further generations. Figures which have been bandied about on the Internet purport to show that almost twice as many younger voters as older ones voted remain, but they did not prevail in a matter which will affect them much more than it will people of my age or older.

The campaign has focused on immigration, though much of it comes from outside the EU and the topic is therefore about half irrelevant (and to the extent that it is relevant, it ignores the contribution made to our economy by workers from countries such as Poland, without whom the service sector would grind to a halt). It has also focused on sovereignty, despite the fact that Parliament remains, and has always remained, sovereign - a matter which will soon, perhaps, be demonstrated when it refuses to pass legislation to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and make provision for Brexit. (A good friend, justifying his "leave" vote, cited as one of his reasons the way EU legislation was made, proposed by unelected Commission officials: just like in the UK, where legislation is drawn up by unelected civil servants before being debated in Parliament, exactly as happens in the EU - except that so much of the UK's legislation comes in secondary form, made by ministers using delegated powers, with Parliamentary scrutiny little more than a fiction).

And, as if to rub salt into the wound, there are at least a couple of leave voters - young ones - on media websites, being interviewed by news reporters, saying that they didn't think it would matter which way they voted, and actually they didn't want to leave at all. Proof, it were needed, that the whole exercise was not taken seriously enough. Proof of the infinite stupidity of some parts of the electorate.

I had my fill of political campaigning years ago. I am completely cured of any impulse to go out knocking on doors or handing out leaflets. But I feel not a little guilty about leaving this important matter to others - I thought it was in the hands of the professionals. Jeremy Corbyn is now threatened with a vote of no confidence: had I been him, or perhaps his evil Machiavellian twin, I would have been tempted to support the remain campaign as lukewarmly as I could get away with, in the expectation that when the Conservative Party and the government imploded I might pick up some rather juicy pieces ... But, as we can see, that would have been a very dangerous game. The prosperity and standing of our country is not something to be treated lightly.

21 June 2016

Life is for living

There was only one way to find whether I could run from Paddington Station to Mallow Street, and that was to try. I took my time, but I got here: just under 1.5 miles (about 9km) and an hour and 8 minutes running (not allowing for some short pauses), but I wasn't bothered about speed and the route was crowded too, as one always finds on a summer's day in central London. I managed to stumble, three times: once I went down completely, in the middle of Hyde Park Corner, landing on longish grass (which was just as well, as my injured shoulder took the brunt of the fall). That was caused by tripping over a kerb, stubbing my left big toe, and later on the Embankment I stumbled on an uneven paving stone. I guess I wasn't picking my feet up as far as I need to, probably an indication of lost endurance, but I don't feel after today's performance that it will be long before I recover that.

10 June 2016

Thunder and lightning

We didn't have lightning, but there was plenty of thunder as we ran along the Ridgeway, and as you can see it certainly wasn't very summery. As a way of filling a slow Friday afternoon, with no email traffic to keep me busy, it was a great idea, and the meditation aspect of running was very welcome. I had one particular thought to mull over while I was out: as it happens, it didn't get sorted out, but you can't have everything.

So, a gentle run, appropriate for a return after injury. It's now been 13 weeks: who'd have thought that a broken ARM could keep me from running for that long? Heading out for a longish run, on a Friday afternoon at that, must have been a bit of a shock to Lucy's system, and as I write she is stretched out on the study floor recovering. I am delighted to learn that I can manage the distance, even if I did have to walk from time to time and cut a mile or so off the usual route. I'll probably sleep soundly tonight - this evening, perhaps.

Although the song title isn't entirely apt, it's close enough. I enjoyed watching Howard and Trev (but not Keith), and was about to write that it means so much more when you've watched them live, met them and even exchanged emails, when I realised that I last saw them about ten years ago, which puts matters into a chronological perspective - something that I find uncomfortable whenever it happens. I'm not very happy with time at the moment (but was I ever?).

Another thing: I didn't choose it for the lyrics, but I've always loved them - and they seem particularly poignant right now ...

18 May 2016


The other day, I thought I might improve my mood if I listened to music. I pressed the "on" button of my Quad tuner (won, along with amplifier, pre-amp and electrostatic loudspeakers, in a competition over 30 years ago now) and Radio Three was playing the fourth movement from Mahler 5, the adagietto. Rather like the word "Marathon", the name has come to identify one piece - although, come to think of it, say "Marathon" to an American and they would assume you meant Boston or New York: say "adagietto" and they might think Barber. Oh no, I thought, that's not going to see off the black dog.

But my insatiable curiosity took over, and before long I was reading about Mahler's most famous music on the Internet. I wanted to learn something about the mechanics of the music, in particular the overwelming key-change, but nothing I could find told me about it. But I did learn - actually, I think, I relearnt - that Mahler conceived of it as a love-letter to Alma (who responded exactly as he must have hoped), and importantly that it is commonly played far too slowly. It was a song without words. Mahler himself would get through it in seven-and-a-bit minutes, whereas Haitink would take nearly fifteen. Bruno Walter, who learnt conducting from Mahler, is the most likely conductor from the recorded era to do it as intended, and indeed it sounds very different at the tempo he uses. Any slower, and had the song without words had words it would have been impossible to sing. And it can see off black dogs.

I've finally run a proper distance again, though my injured shoulder still isn't entirely happy about it. I tried to to do the whole Zen running thing, concentrating on the moment, the breathing, the form - and not the speed. It was a Haitink run, not a Walter or Mahler: Sehr langsam, as the adagietto is marked.

30 March 2016

Something better change

If you've been waiting to read something new here, my apologies. I broke my left arm, skiing, three weeks ago. As far as this blog is concerned, that has two implications: first, typing with only one hand is extremely tedious and slow, and secondly I have no running to write about.

The French doctor who saw it shortly after the injury said I must keep my arm immobilised for 4 to 6 weeks. The doctor at the hospital in Oxford who saw it some 10 days later told me that his French colleagues tended to be rather conservative, and that English practice to get me moving it. I hope it won't be much longer as I am becoming bored with having it in a sling.

11 February 2016

The real Horatio Alger


My old friend and occasional running partner James Olcott started a blog about his father Bernard a few months ago. I met Bernard once: he was a prolific inventor and the founder of the first firm in the world to harness the power of emerging computer technology to the payment of the annual fees needed to keep patents alive. He was also, his son now tells us, lots of other things, and the weekly stories make for entertaining reading as well as being highly informative about all sorts of things. James paints a vivid picture of New York in the fifties and sixties, for one thing. It is well worth a read.

The blog is sub-titled "The real Horatio Alger". It may be that American readers understand the reference at first sight. I certainly didn't. Untypically, I didn't immediately search for the information needed to fill the gap in my knowledge. I was probably too busy trying to learn Mashina Vremeni lyrics, or baking flapjacks, or watching episodes of The Meeting Place Cannot be Changed, or reading Galbraith or one of the myriad other ways in which I fill my time in preference to working.

It seems that there should have been no gap in my knowledge to begin with, for I have read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas* - in which HST (no, not High Speed Train) refers to the man several times and ends up by writing that he thinks of himself as a "monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger...a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident."

It seems to me that Thompson is confusing the man and the myth, and perhaps that James has done too. Bernard's story is a classic one of (something like) rags to riches - at least, it's about the success of the son of immigrant parents. That is the theme of Horatio Alger's work, for he was a novelist, and quite a prolific one, maybe the inventor (at least in the U.S.) of the "rags to riches" genre, although one might more accurately say "rags to middle-class respectability", which is a different (perhaps better, perhaps worse) matter. Alger himself came from a privileged though not exactly affluent background, went to Harvard (long before Galbraith), and became a Unitarian minister like his father - before being accused of "the crime of...unnatural familiarity with boys", which might deter later writers from claiming too much in the way of similarity with him. Perhaps James should compare his father with Ragged Dick rather than with that character's creator: as for HST, I think anyone with whom he compared himself is in deep, deep trouble anyway.

*No, I haven't seen the film. I haven't been able to enjoy a film made from a book I've read since One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. How I am going to get on with the BBC's new War and Peace, I don't know.

08 February 2016

Blaming it all on love

It has been a long time since I ran more than 5K: quite a long time since I ran more than about a mile, in fact. Not this year, but today I changed that.

There have been many, many reasons for my lack of running. It boils down to a lack of willpower, of course. The weather doesn't help, but I missed the best of it today anyway (although I also missed the worst of it). Lucy and I set out not quite sure what was going to happen - well, Lucy never has any idea what's going to happen, as springer spaniels tend to exist only in the moment - the epitome, perhaps, of mindfulness, a topic about which I had been learning  and which I hoped to practise a little on my run.

Although the rain was holding off, it was cool (a friend who saw me setting off remarked that it made her feel cold just to see me, in tee shirt and shorts) and windy. Storm Imogen was coming in from the distant Atlantic. The wind was in my face heading out of the village, and partly so all the way along the Bargeway. Likewise when I reached the Ridgeway: I worked hard for a couple of miles before turning right to head down towards the village, and then with the wind at my back I was flying.

The time was not important, nor was the pace. I paused to take a photo, having seen with some horror how the Harwell site has grown since last I came this way. The large building in the picture, which resembles a sports stadium, is new and lies just behind the farm - and close to Dido and Aeneas, the prototype reactors.
Impossible to give a good impression of its sheer immensity, in what should be - is supposed to be - a protected landscape. I despair. Chilton is also spreading in that direction, and threatens to go even further up the hill, housing forced into open fields because the site insists on keeping room for expansion.

The point is that I forgot to restart my Watch after snapping that inadequate picture, but that I wasn't particularly bothered. It might have been interesting to see what my pace was once I hit the tarmac, with a strong tailwind, but I don't suppose it would have been particularly impressive. What mattered was that I ran, and ran for the regular nearly seven miles, and felt fine. And just a little mindful, too.