28 December 2007

Last Friday of the Year!

Going the long way round the Circle Line took, I reckon, exactly as long as it would have done had I waited for a train in the right direction. The exercise has created a useful piece of intelligence for future use ... but I could have walked it in the same time: why on earth didn't that occur to me?

I was on my way to get changed for the race today when Ben engaged me in a discussion about a a matter that I had dealt with while he was on holiday, so by the time I had changed I'd left about ten minutes to get to the start. St James's Park was full of French tourists, most of them concerned with photographing grey squirrels (would they be as fascinated by rats or other vermin?) so it wasn't a trouble-free journey and when I reached Hyde Park my watch showed 12.31 and the B race was lined up ready to start. I almost joined them before they were off, but ended up giving them 40 to 50 yards to add to the handicap I had already given myself , viz. a brisk mile-and-a-bit from the office.

I started my watch as I crossed the start line - it will be interesting to see what the discrepancy is between my watch time and the official time - and checked at 1km, which came up in 4:16. That's about 20 seconds slower than usual, but of course usual is too fast and I thought I might have settled on a good sensible pace. I passed Terry, spluttering a brief greeting as I went. 2km went past without my spotting the marker, again as usual, and I was working hard against a brisk headwind. At the end of Long Water I ran very wide to leave plenty of room for two other runners whom I had just passed, and down the south side of the Serpentine (with the wind at our backs) it all became rather easier. 3km appeared at 13:08, making clear to me that I had indeed been going as slowly as it felt, but my pace picked up. At the Lido, the marshal encouragingly told us we were nearly at 4km: in fact, it must be about 3.5 at that point and there is a fairly serious climb just around the corner - today I closed my eyes and really attacked it, and didn't fade when I reached the top, so as I set off down the long straight parallel to Rotten Row I felt pretty satisfied. But I could see Alan in the distance, about 100 yards away and increasing, and I knew I wasn't going to catch him today.

Down into the Dell, and there were hordes of tourists there too: up the other side and my momentum nearly ran out, then I was striding out, pumping my arms, and grunting with every breath to the finish, where I remembered - for once! - to stop my watch which kindly indicated I was a second inside 22 minutes. That should knock out another of my slower times from my six best, though it probably won't boost my position in the championship.

At Hyde Park Corner on the way back, Liz appeared at my side while I waited for the lights to change. She claimed to have suffered from too much Christmas food, and her time was 19-something ... She has a place in the London Marathon - so many people call it simply "the Marathon", and I suppose to many people it is the only one they hear of in this country. It's time I put my name down for one, I think.

Going underground

Twenty minutes until the next westbound Circle line train, the announcer says. Another symptom of the country on its Christmas break. Only a handful of people on the platform: only a handful of people working today. So what to do? District line to Earl's Court and backtrack? Traipse to the Bakerloo line (and probably find worse delays there)?
Twenty minutes before the train appears, then twenty minutes travelling on it, might not be much different from taking the Circle line the other way, so I crossed over and took an eastbound train. (As it pulled in, two foreign tourists recorded this momentous event one on video and the other using a still camera which, predictably and in defiance of the poorly-advertised rule, discharged a flash into the eyes of the driver, who shook his head sadly.)
On the eastbound train, where a hopeful traveller interrupts Glazunov 5 to ask me if the train goes to Tower Hill ("It says via Liverpool Street." "That's two stations before Tower Hill: it can't not go there!" How does he imagine the Circle line works?), I count the stations: eight stops to St James's Park anticlockwise, whereas this way it's 19. Whether I am saving time will be a close call, and probably not the most important thing that will happen today.

Day for night

These refurbished coaches, as well as their high-density, high-backed seating, have windows so heavily tinted that they make better mirrors. At this time of year there's precious little daylight to enjoy during the daily commute without the "day for night" effect of dark glass, my reflection in which serves only to remind me of how doing this journey every day has aged me.
On the other hand, rediscovering music that has been dormant in my memory for decades is a constant joy, as is discover stuff I'd never heard before. I copied a random and eclectic selection to my Creative Zen V Plus on Christmas day: two Audience albums, as I have already mentioned, and a Howard Werth solo (when are they going to play live again? There's been nothing this year apart from a few dates in Canada!); John Coltrane; Stackridge, live at Huntingdon Hall earlier this year; the Four Last Songs (useful to listen to when I've caught my reflection in the train window); a BBC radio podcast about Syd Barrett; Turangalila; "Decameron", from the first Fairport Convention album ...
It might mean giving up travelling in Coach A, but finally being able to carry around a wide and large selection of music, and to be able to navigate through it, might be a life-changing experience. My old MP3 player was hard to see, let alone navigate, and its habit of switching language mode to its native Mandarin (in which it's tricky to find the command to switch back), while endearing, did not make for an enjoyable listening experience.
Yesterday, on the final leg of the commute from hell, I walked across Westminster Bridge and through St James's Park on a typically grey London winter morning, the leafless trees against the leaden sky bringing to mind a French movie I saw on the television thirty or so years ago (what on earth was it? Set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, the title being just the name of a main character). I listened, not deliberately, to You're Not Smiling and then I Had a Dream, and they perfectly complemented the weather, the scenery, the general ambience of a nearly-deserted Westminster on a late December morning.

My Favourite Things

Being one of the handful of people in the UK at work yesterday wasn't the experience I thought it would be. I planned to take advantage of the peace and quiet to cut a swathe through all those pieces of work that have been gathering cobwebs for the last few weeks or even months. A three-hour journey to work effectively knocked that on the head, and an incipient cold ensured it wouldn't get up again. I scratched the surface, but only lightly.
In the internet age, the emergence of a major news story also creates massive disruption. News of the attack on Benazir Bhutto broke at lunchtime, and it was quickly announced that she had been killed. I find it hard to concentrate on the mundane when there are world-changing events happening, and beng reported on my computer screen.
On the train home, a gentleman whom I have seen many times but never spoken to before engaged me in conversation. He remarked that this is the worst day of the year on which to travel by train: most of the passengers are on their way to the London sales, and it's the one day of the year (and probably not every year) when they use a train. He had spoken to a lady on this very train, he told me, who had been generous in her praise for the train and the railway system in general. He had expressed surprise and disagreement, and had gently tried to disabuse her of these extravagant and perverse views. Eventually he had told her that they would have to agree to differ. Perhaps, by the time we reached Reading some twenty minutes late (engineering works at Airport Junction, my interlocutor explained, which have closed two of the four lines, precipitating the morning's meltdown when a Heathrow Express "went pop" as he put it, to which now we had to add the mandatory wait outside Reading station until a platform became available) she had revised her assessment.
In recognition of their failure to operate anything remotely resembling an adequate rail service, First Great Western are offering - note, not simply giving - season ticket holders vouchers for two days of rail travel. My new friend grasps the supreme irony of this immediately, but begins to recommend destinations on the west coast of Scotland that I might consider. (I doubt the vouchers will entitle me to travel by sleeper, and even if they do I remember the newsreel pictures of the derailed sleeper just before Christmas, the train painted in familiar livery with the name of its operator - "First" something - prominent for all to see.)
This morning I left home slightly later again, and like yesterday parked a hundred yards closer to the station end of the car park than usual. A train pulled in from Oxford as I strolled down to the station, so I ran to platform 4 and jumped on it, leaning back out of the window to check its itinerary - it was indeed for Paddington, the only terminus inter-city trains run to in that direction, but stopping three times instead of just once: that's all right, I cann live with that. But wait, there's a train at platform 2 (how did it get there without me seeing?) and it's pulling out ahead of us - and I doubt it tops at Maidenhead and Slough. Still, this is a quiet, almost deserted, service and it will get me there in reasonable time. Meantime I can listen to something on my MP3 player: John Coltrane appeals this morning, after yesterday spent exploring Audience's back catalogue. And My Favourite Things is the perfect ironic choice.

27 December 2007

Railway accidents

Writing, as I was, of railway accidents, others come to mind. Of course, the West Country/South Wales line has not been a happy piece of track, though I had forgotten the Ealing crash, the causes of which were bizarre. It pre-dates my career as a commuter, so my ignorance of it can be excused.

Not so the Southall and Ladbroke Grove crashes, just a couple of years apart. Thank goodness, there hasn't been anything like them on the line since: but on the other hand journey times have increased, presumably to increase tolerances in the system. And it's not as if there are no crashes on the railway network at all - only the other day a sleeper came off the tracks in Scotland, having hit debris on the line. It's clearly impossible to survey every part of the network to ensure there is nothing on the lines to cause an accident, but appallingly easy for an obstacle to be left somewhere.

Magical mystery tour

Britain closes down for the best part of two weeks over Christmas and New Year, and has done for years: but only in the sense that people take the time off, either on leave or feigning sickness. Businesses still open, including my office, and here I am trying to get to London to do a day's work.
The station car park was almost deserted when I arrived, even though I was about half an hour later than usual, but the departure screens told a woeful tale of delays - and, worse still, mostly unspecified ones. It's better to know that a train will be arriving fifteen or twenty minutes late, than simply that it's delayed. There was a handful of regulars on the platform, including one chap whom I see most days and have also seen in Green Park (not running) at lunchtimes, with whom I now exchange a few choice observations about the train service. The train arrived at its revised time, loaded up and departed, but at Reading we were told that there was a failed train which had achieved the extraordinary feat of blocking all lines at the now infamous Airport Junction at Hayes - I never recall hearing of it before last week - which was causing all trains to be held at Reading. We were told that if we were in a hurry we might like to take the Waterloo train.
The Reading to Waterloo service is an alternative of last resort. It takes well over an hour to do what First Great Western can do in about 25 minutes, though the latter has to negotiate the busiest stretch of railway in the country (and possibly the world). It's busy because there aren't enough lines, I imagine, and the capacity of the lines that there are is severely limited since they introduced the radical safety measure of requiring trains to stop at red signals a few years ago. The alternative service passes, with frequent stops, through many places that I cannot conceive of lying on any rational route between the start and the terminus, describing that I imagine to be a vast arc through Berkshire and Surrey. Still, it will be a change of scenery - and as I alight from my first train of the day I see that the boards announce that it terminates here.
I could, of course, have taken the next train back to Didcot: but these too are subject to delay, probably because all the down trains are backed up the other side of Airport Junction. I wonder what train has failed so catastrophically? A Heathrow Express, perhaps, crossing the main line and breaking down in the process? But I don't think they do cross other lines, so it must be something else - perhaps one of those freight trains that are sent through the rush-hour commuter traffic with the sole intent, it seems, of creating chaos.
The Waterloo train isn't due to leave for more than 20 minutes, so I agonise about whether to go back to the Paddington train, or go home, but eventually settle for taking a seat on the slow train, which proceeds to fill up (in part because inconsiderate passengers place their bags on seats and force others, who lack the assertiveness skills to do much about it, to stand). My decision is vindicated when it leaves before any other trains move in or out. It takes me on a trip down memory lane: Wokingham, where a few years ago we attended Bill van Straubenzee's memorial service and where I am running my next half marathon in about six weeks' time (I finally paid my entry fee yesterday), then Bracknell where I frequently used to visit my client, Cognos, in an office block next to the station which now seems to belong to someone else. What happened to Mike Pym, their inhouse lawyer, I wonder? And what happened to Amanda Pugh, who introduced me to him?
This train doesn't seem to have a quiet carriage, or at any rate I am not in one, and one of the attractions is that I can listen to my new MP3 player on which I have loaded a large amount of music including three new CDs - two by Audience and a Howard Werth solo, the last of which I have never heard before. It doesn't contain any titles that are familiar from the Audience gigs I've been to in the last couple of years, though, and by the time we reach Ascot I've heard most of it and am a little disappointed (although I think it should grow on me). I have a feeling that it reflects the sort of thing he was playing before Audience, and if I am right it makes me wonder where the unique Audience sound came from. Perhaps the repertoire isn't so very different, and the first Audience album certainly has plenty of variety on it, as if perhaps they were searching for the sound which they perfected on Friend's Friend's Friend and House on the Hill (the two new CDs in my collection) before going for something rather different on Lunch. But songs like The Bells and Morning Dew, which were in their live set when last I saw them, fit well, as does In Accord, from Lunch, which they started performing live over 30 years after recording it.
Now the train has reached Virginia Water, where I once filmed an interview for a long-forgotten consumer programme on Channel 4 (which at the time was pretty new), called I think 4 What It's Worth. It was on the subject of a safety defect in early Metros, which caused the petrol to exit from the filler pipe under certain cornering conditions, pouring onto the rear wheel which was bearing the cornering load causing a loss of adhesion, and eventually necessitated the replacement of thousands of filler caps. I was picked up in a stretched Mercedes limo, with one of those then new-fangled mobile phones (called, in those days, car phones) and expected to go to Chobham to the Ministry of Defence's tank proving ground where Metros were being driven recklessly round sharp turns while the contents of their fuel tanks were filmed exiting the vehicle. (Thank goodness they didn't make a diesel version.) But I missed all that, ending up being interviewed by Penny Junor (Margaret Thatcher's biographer, her work being distributed distributed free of charge by the Party to public libraries, one of which reportedly acknowledged the gift saying that it filled a much-needed gap in their collection, and who more recently often used to be on the morning train I took to London) in the station car park. It didn't end up on the cutting-room floor, at least.
As I write, the train has crossed the Thames at Staines, where rowers were out training - probably had been for hours, by nine o'clock. I thought I knew every stretch of the Thames where people rowed, but this was an unfamiliar stretch to me - Mel never did a regatta here, or not one that I attended. Next Twickenham, where I came by train in the other direction earlier this year to see my old school defeated for the third time in the final of the Daily Mail schools tournament. But at least on the first of those occasions we saw Matthew Tait score what must have been his first try at Twickenham ...
Richmond now, and I have no idea whether the train is on time or not. It stops next at Clapham Junction (another notorious train crash site), which is almost next door to Waterloo, where it is due to terminate in 20 minutes. That doesn't sound like a very taxing schedule. We finally arrived on time, though too late for a timely arrival at the office.

16 December 2007

Gumption trap

Although motorcycling has not featured in my life (I prefer to think
that it's something the future still holds for me), probably my
favourite book is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. One of the
most memorable parts of it concerns the concept of the gumption trap. I
am, I think, adapting the notion slightly, perhaps more than slightly,
but the variation on Pirsig's original resonates every time I work on
something mechanical.

This weekend it was a new radiator in the Subaru. I marvelled at the
ease with which the old one could be removed and the new one slotted in,
with pegs on the underside fitting holes in the bodywork and a bracket
securing the top edge. I noted that the place where the top hose slips
on was, on the old unit, missing some substantial pieces of plastic,
which I suspect made it impossible for the hose to form a seal and
accounted for the loss of coolant that has been plaguing the car for
several months. And then I reconnected everything, replacing the
thermostat housing and screwing it down, and poured in antifreeze and water.

And it came straight out around the thermostat housing. Not in a flood,
but in a steady drip. By now it was dark and very, very cold, so
eventually I placed a bowl under the car and shut up for the night. My
error, of course, had been to fail to seat the thermostat in its
aperture before screwing on the housing, but in my defence I would plead
that it's really unnecessary to place this component underneath the
engine and at the same time to position the car so close to the ground
that it's impossible to get right under it without jacks or ramps or a
pit. So I'd put the thermostat back without forming a seal (the sealing
ring being on the edge of the thermostat: so, not only is it not on top
of the engine block where you can get at it, like an A-series, but
there's now separate gasket!) and bolted down the housing - which I
suppose I could easily have damaged. (I realise while I write that of
course a flat-four doesn't lend itself to components being placed in
easily-reached places like an upright inline 4 does, so I shouldn't
complain too much. But if Subaru copied Porsche, why didn't they go for
air-cooling too?)

So after the half-M it was back under the car, off with the thermostat
housing, put it all back together correctly and now the engine seems to
run at the right temperature and - best of all - the heater works. All
in all, a most satisfying weekend. It will all fall apart again
tomorrow at work, of course.

A swift half

Another posting that I'll copy to someone to whom it's largely addressed - Colin the pedorthist, who set me up with my new running shoes last weekend. He'd probably be appalled to learn that after only about three outings during the course of last week I ran a half Marathon in them today, and I was pretty horrified to find it had crept up on me: but it had to be done, and the shoes rose to the occasion.

The race in question was the Abingdon Amblers annual Christmas Pud race, and I only thought to check when it was on about Thursday. So no question of preparing seriously for it, save for a bowl of porridge before leaving home - which is about as serious as my preparation ever gets, I suppose. It was cold, though not icy, much colder in the shade than in the sunshine that broke through after a few miles. I set off wearing two layers, neither of them a running vest, and leggings rather than shorts: I added a hat and gloves, but by half-way I entrusted them to the care of a friend who was manning the water station there. I should, of course, have remembered that I am never cold running, but now I think about it there are exceptions - the last 10K of the Paris Marathon, for one, though I wasn't running then. The shady bits today should be added to that list.

It was never going to be a fast run for me, but I managed to get round in 1:47:12 by my watch, including a pitstop at Wootton village hall to use the facilities ... Just after half way, John and Greg, who'd been dealing with the entries and had taken photos at the start, were positioned by the side of the road taking more pictures, and when I saw them I upped my pace to something more appropriate to a 5K, which I hope will result in some impressive shots. Once past them, of course, I resumed my half-M "get-you-round" pace. "He's slowed down again!" I heard John shout. "What did you expect?" I called back. "Vanity is everything!" came the reply, and I waved my arms in acknowledgement of the truth of that - and of the fact that I was now too far away and using my breath for running to engage in more banter.

Anyway, the shoes were perfect: no knee pains, no anything else - although some muscle groups in my legs that maybe didn't have to work so hard in the old shoes were complaining a bit by the time I got to the end. I imagine that's normal when you leave old bad habits behind.

At the end there was a table laden with unsuitable refreshments, plus even less suitable mulled wine and the eponymous Christmas pud. The mulled wine was however excellent, though I had to go off in search of a sports drink chaser: the pud was a little cool by the time I got to it, and adhering fast to the bowl. There followed the world's longest raffle, from which I came away with two prizes (I refused the second I won, then realised that if everyone who'd already been successful declined further prizes the draw would occupy the whole afternoon so I took the next one that came up).

October sees the return, after an unfortunate break in what would have been its 25th consecutuve year, of the Abingdon Marathon. I hope I'll be up for that when it comes around.

13 December 2007

Consilio

I was flattered to be invited to become an editor of Consilio, an on-line student law journal to which I have contributed for years. A good boost to my ego, so I accepted. Mike SP tells me I can just carry on doing the things I have been doing, so it doesn't sound onerous. I also learnt that Sarah is working with (inter alia) a Cambridge law graduate who tells her that in his copyright exam he quoted me. That's a little worrying, but also flattering and shows that someone somewhere is reading what I write - perhaps in Consilio.

12 December 2007

Same time next month ...

Actually, what I mean is that my time today was exactly the same as it was last month. Good or bad? I can't work out which. The stopwatch didn't split me and Terry, and the results gave the place to him, but I'm still convinced I pipped him. I'm not going to get excited about it!

Bridges race

As so often happens, I have no idea at the moment how I did because I forgot to set my watch, but I had a highly satisfying race this lunchtime.  The great thing with a handicap is that the field closes up as the race progresses, while in most races it spreads out, so when you reach the final straight there are more prospective targets in sight to pass.  Having said which, I didn't have much of a sprint in me after I'd negotiated the 450 degrees of turn at the end of Lambeth Bridge, and Terry, who set off shortly before me and who I'd reeled in along the Millbank stretch, came past me again.  Initially I let him go, then found I was passing Andrew, his colleague Patricia, Julia, John and others, and Terry was getting closer so I ran him down right on the finish line.  Nothing personal, of course.  Andrew was kind enough to say that he'd never seen me looking so knackered at the end of a race.
 
Satisfying as all that was, Tom put it in context for me by loping past me on the home straight, taking immense strides and looking as if he was just out for a stroll along the river.  Twenty years, I tell myself - indeed, 20 years and six months.  Speaking of age differences, I often find myself in about the same part of races (this one and the Last Friday) as Alan, who features in the results as an M60 and often seems to be passing me and disappearing into the distance: in this race I was pleased to catch and pass him along Millbank - he set off 11 seconds ahead of me. 
 
After the race I discovered, fairly predictably (otherwise I wouldn't have asked the question!), that Julia is a Stackridge fan and was interested to learn of the 100 Club gig on 1 February.  Must get tickets, otherwise I'll have encouraged so many others to buy them that I'll miss out.  Well, perhaps not ...

11 December 2007

It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry

The train home was formed of a 5-car Adelante set, so was short of seats to start with, and so full that someone managed to grab the communication cord - I know it's not a cord any more, but you know what I mean - and stop us in the middle of nowhere. I'd been dozing, so had not seen where we had passed through, and all I could see in the darkness was some streetlamps and a hint of passing traffic at the bottom of a steep embankment. I feared that I knew that stretch of road, and that it was between Slough and Maidenhead, and when we started moving again I found I was right.

For a long time, the train manager announced nothing, and when he did he apologised and explained that he had had great difficulty passing through the train. At Reading, of course, many people left the train, although it was still "full and standing" after we departed again.

The FT's essay competition - "what I'd change" - closes on Thursday. I had thought to argue for prohibiting competitions that encouraged people to believe that they could change anything, but on reflection I might draw up a manifesto for the rail-travelling public. It should resonate with many of the readers - if it is ever published.

10 December 2007

The Times They Are A'Changing

Corny title, of course, and close to what First Great Western used to announce the timetable change, though they should have engage a Dylan scholar to get it right. As I'm not 100 per cent confident that I have quoted the title accurately, though, I won't go on about it.

How chaotic the introduction of the new timetable was, I can't tell, because I jumped straight onto a train and left Didcot. The fact that it was the 0541, running about 90 minutes late, does however indicate that not all was right, and the screens seemed (at a glance) to tell a sorry tale of cancellations and delays.

There are several passengers already on board the 0541, which started from Bristol Temple Meads. That's about an hour from Didcot, so they must have been travelling since about four-thirty. I'd ask, but they all seem to be fast asleep.

09 December 2007

Free Riding part II

Hardly had I posted that comment about secondary markets in concert tickets than the creation of the Resale Rights Society was made, which probably means that I picked up on the tail-end of the story of its formation on the Today Programme. Sounds good, though.

Red Shoes - will the angels want to wear them?

Yesterday I had a trip to see a pedorthist, Colin Martin, of Solutions4Feet in Bicester. My running shoes were past their "replace by" date, and I'd resisted buying new ones before having a proper, professional, review of my needs.

Colin filmed me running on a treadmill, barefoot to start with and then with the recommended shoes and inserts, and the difference was striking. So too was what was revealed about my running action, as I don't usually get to see myself from behind. It was highly instructive, and I now have a large set of exercises to do to strengthen the weak elements (so will have to get up earlier in the morning to fit them in). I also have a nice pair of red Mizuno Wave Rider shoes, which don't quite go with my shorts. IDK should be a thing of the past, and if Elvis is right I might have found an antidote to getting old.

Now I am looking forward to trying out the new shoes, which I didn't get today - between mucking out stables, trying to make reluctant DVD recorders work and changing car wheels. Next weekend it will be a new radiator to fit, as I struggled back from Bicester in convoy with an RAC patrol van, the patrol man topping up my car every so often to get me home.

Tomorrow is the first working day of the new season's railway timetable. Expect the worst.

05 December 2007

Free riding

I spent far too much time yesterday trying to get my mobile phone and my trusty Psion Series 5mx talking to each other, prompted in large part by Bruce telling me he was going to buy a Psion. The one thing that disappoints me about my phone is that it won't talk to the Psion, apparently because the infrared ports are incompatible. Maybe I'll get round that one day, but for now the solution is to get out the phone that used to do the job - presumably it still does!
This morning the Today programme on Radio 4 presented me with a wonderful opportunity to comment here on something to do with IP - a necessary balance, I'm sure, to all the stuff about running that I usually post. In an item about the secondary market for tickets to events, principally concerts, the proponent of a levy to protect consumers and/or (I was a little hazy about what was being proposed, joining the debate halfway through as I set off for the station) remunerate the artists asserted that the secondary market only existed because of the artists' IP.
It's a classic example of invoking this omnipotent and undefined entity to support whatever requires support. The opponent of the levy countered that this was like raising a levy on sales of used cars in order to pass back something to Ford. The artists were paid for the show, and he could see no reason for them receiving a further payment from his profits. (He also made the point that sometimes his company made losses, too.)
Am I alone in thinking that the whole idea of a secondary market is pernicious? I thought so about parallel traders making a good living out of sourcing cars where they were cheaper and bringing them to the UK, often giving customers a bad deal and leaving dealers (as well as manufacturers and importers) to pick up the pieces. But a levy on parallel imports probably wouldn't have solved anything, and anyway the arbitrageurs were perceived by the general public as the goodies in that situation.
The problem is fundamentally one of supply and demand. If the car m manufacturers had charged a market-clearing price, there would have been no profit to be made from parallel imports. They were faced with trying to set prices within a common market of nine to fifteen countries (how do they do it now in a market of 27?) with vastly differing tax regimes and other differences. Surely spending power must be a key factor, too.
In the primary market, sales are made on the strength of the manufacturer's reputation. The secondary market exists because of this reputation and the fact that it is not being fully exploited. The same is true in the concert ticket market. The artists (or, I suppose more likely the promoters) are pitching their prices too low, letting someone else pick up the profit they have foregone. Their "IP" (in the wide sense of the expression) is involved, but the point is that they are voluntarily not getting full value from it. Given that the music market is, as we are told, moving away from recordings being the big earner to live appearances being the artist's primary source of income, the price of tickets should theoretically be raised.
The catch must be that charging something nearer £171 for an Arctic Monkeys ticket that currently costs £30 (the example cited on the radio) disenfranchises many less well-off fans. Even at say, £100 some purchasers would be really stretching themselves while others would pay several times that. Some form of discriminatory pricing is needed - premium packages, like the £164 tickets for the Stones in August that I could have had, are the way forward, but necessarily backed by a prohibition on transfers -which could be contractual, if not statutory, though the Labour government would probably welcome an opportunity to maintain its record of a new offence created, on average, every day since it came to power. (Who counted them?)
On the other hand, the secondary market serves a purpose in making available. at a price, tickets that otherwise would not be available. Perhaps returns would meet the same demand, and if there were no secondary market there would surely be more returns. And it would completely remove the possibility of forgeries, currently blighting eBay.
Another possibility, of course, would be to pay £15 to see Stackridge at the 100 Club next 1 February. However, I won't say that too loudly, lest the tickets sell out and some unscrupulous middleman makes a killing.

03 December 2007

On the risks of overtraining

Heaving bosom, pounding heart, flushed complexion - that's me, after a lunchtime run with Rachael last Friday week. Is training with her going to help me to personal bests, or kill me?
She assured me that, with a half-Marathon on the following Sunday, she didn't want to exert herself. Good, neither did I. A couple of the Excisemen were running the same race as Rachael, but what they called "tapering" involved no running for the preceding week, which as I observed in an email to one of them sounded more like abstention. Well, I suppose one's notion of a taper depends to a large extent on what one was doing in the first place.
To be fair to myself, I had aborted the the previous day's run after half a lap of St James's Park and headed back to the office to find the inhaler that I had seen no reason to use before setting off. On Friday I was straining to get the air - the cool air? - into my lungs in sufficient quantity, and apologised (in short stacatto phrases as breaths permitted) to my companion for the lack of conversation as we neared the end of the Mall. She reduced the pace a little, and I was probably going faster than was wise - and I did probably crank the pace up again after that, although once we had reached the top end of Green Park things were working reasonably well.
Rather than waste time with Hyde Park Corner, we did a second lap of Green Park and on the way down Constitution Hill Rachael wanted to do some strides - three sets of 30 seconds each. I told her I'd watch, though I soon joined in and we arrived at the bottom of the incline with only two sets completed and me in dire need of a breather. Although I guess the rest between sets should have been 30 seconds itself, I bought myself more time by suggesting we did the final one in Birdcage Walk.
Looking back, those strides were one of those running occasions when everything feels as good as it can be. All the mechanical things were going smoothly, the effort required felt as if it were well within my capability, and the speed was - by my standards - fast. I worried about interfering with Rachael's preparation for her half marathon: she's not one to turn up at the start and hope it will be OK, like I do - at one point, as she asked me whether I'd ever done an event that I had hardly even heard of, I told her perhaps I'd prepare a list of those I had done to save her asking in future, which on reflection could sound a little harsh, and that certainly wasn't intended. Worse still, I realise now that I did the same to her, which is how she came to be doing the Bridges race this month. Anyway, when I saw she'd run that half in 1:21:44 I knew I didn't have to worry about that. More to the point, I should worry about the effect on me of even the lightest training with her.

Last Friday

Entering Hyde Park yesterday (29 November) on my run (the first time in many weeks) to the office, John H happened to be passing, heading west. I joined him to add a mile or so to my run. Being able to take the chance to join in with a friend, indeed to encounter someone you know like that, is - to me - one of the great joys of running.
We were a hundred yards or so behind a very shapely female runner, who stopped to stretch at the point where I was going to head down to the Serpentine (John runs complete laps of the parks in the morning before work, as he told me once before when I met him in similar circumstances, which is how I hope to be conducting myself in my seventies too). "She's waiting for you!" he told me. But she'd set off running again before we reached the turn, and pulled away steadily. My backpack was fairly full ...
Friday was the last of the month, the date of the epoymous 5K in Hyde Park. This month, on account of the installation of an ice-rink, observation wheel and other facilities deemed essential to the enjoyment of Christmas and the maximisation of profits therefrom (bah, humbug!) the course was slightly different. The start was moved, and at the finish instead of turning right after the killer climb up from the Dell onto the nice, wide, level Serpentine Road we crossed it and climbed some more to the finish. I don't know how muc it added to my time, but the results showed I finished in 21.23 so I know exactly how much I'd like to think it added!

Computer contracts

To the AGM of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (29 November: my Blogging is a bit behind), those nice people who send me small cheques from time to time. Milling around drinking coffee beforehand, in a sea of people I didn't know (though an old barrister acquaintance Stephen Mason, has put himself up for election to the board: the candidates' cvs are on display, and his bomb disposal training and experience catches my eye, perhaps because I finished reading The English Patient the previous day. I don't remember him talking about that much, but an authors' society is perhaps a different constituency), who mostly seem to be there because they have nothing better to do - the average age is well over John H's veterans' category.
One of the myriad strangers in the room pitches up beside me, so I ask him what he writes. His name badge declares him to be Richard Morgan, so I hope I know what the answer will be, and indeed it is. I am able to tell him that I've been using his book frequently for years, and he claims (I'm sure I remember this correctly) to be "gobsmacked". He wrote what must have been the first book on computer contracts, from an English law perspective anyway: no doubt several US authors got there earlier. I explained that I had worked with the co-author of the second (through to about fifth) edition, and that I was jut about to recommend the latest edition to a delegate who'd attended a course I had run a couple of days earlier.
I had just moved on, somehow, to talking to him about my idea for a legal writers' group under the auspices of the Society of Authors - "What would it do?" "Beat up publishers!" - when Jack Black appeared too, and the idea received his support although his enthusiasm for "another dinner" sounded to be tinged with irony.

Beyond Wales

A weekend in St David's is a hugely effective antidote to the stress of life. It's unfortunate that it involves a 210 mile drive, and that our outward journey included a pretty unsuccessful search for food while the return journey entailed several stops to top up the cooling system (much the same as what happened last time we made the same journey). But the city itself is locked in a gentler age, or perhaps in a parallel universe where most of the people seem to do nothing but surf (so when the sea is traquil or, as it was last weekend, mountainous, they just seem to do nothing) and the relaxation potential is enormous. In which other city could you lie in bed only a hundred yards from the centre of the place and not be disturbed by passing traffic on the street just outside the window?

Saucerful of Secrets

A bird in the hand is said to be worth two in the bush - a saying memorably illustrated on the mid-1970s re-release of the first two (and best, IMHO) Pink Floyd albums - and the same is true of trains. This morning, my email and SMS alerts told me only of problems with a train from Exeter to Paddington ("this is due to a member of train crew being unavailable") that would be twenty miles away from my route at the material time, and now on the stroke of 0722 that the train due to start at that time from Warminster going to Cardiff will start at Westbury. Nevertheless, at the station the screens display unalloyed bad news.
In particular, the 0707 has slipped 17 minutes, and the prospect of taking the usually-full 0717 is not attractive (although there are surprisingly few cars in the station car park today: it looks more like a Friday than a Monday - perhaps there has been a spate of nose-bleeds). I settle for the six-stop service from Oxford, which is civilised until it stops the other side of Reading: passengers from Maidenhead probably never sit down, but I can start working quicker this way.
In fact, several hopeful regulars awaiting the slow train give up as it too is late, and revert to their plan A (or probably B, as the two fast trains are arriving in the wrong order), descending into the tunnel back to platform 2 just as slow train comes into view.
As between a trainn that's in sight and one that the operator tells you will be along in five or ten minutes, always take the one you can see. The proposition seems irrefragable, but as I mentioned the time above a fast one came thundering past. Should the commuter's motto rather be "live dangerously?".

22 November 2007

Train in G Major

The only time a train will run impossibly late, or suffer cancellation, is when you have narrowly missed the one before it. When I realised that there were about half a dozen 0707 regulars on the platform as that train disappeared in the direction of London, the omens for the 0717 were clearly very bad, and inevitably it expired the other side of Swindon.
"I couldn't get the lock on my bike," claimed one passenger, explaining that his glasses had been too steamed up. He'd missed it only by seconds, and thought that maybe he'd have been able to jump on but the station staff were shouting warnings to stand clear and he feared that if he got on he'd have been pulled off again. "A demarcation dispute", explained another of the company, delayed this morning by a nose bleed: "You mustn't make the train late - that's our job."
The train operator's man on the platform, challenged by a disenchanted customer who complained that the trains broke down too often, was explaining that this was the maintenance division's responsibility and seemed unimpressed by the customer's argument that they were all the same company.
The 0730 pulls in ahead of time, perhaps helped on its way by the lack of other traffic on the line, and as the coaches making it up file past it is clear that its status is "full and standing". At least, that's the case with coached E, D, C and B (disregard H, G and F, in which you can only even stand with a first class ticket: the occupancy rate there is about 60 per cent). Coach D is a re-labelled first class coach, so it has about half as many seats as a normal standard coach - and the newly refurbished standard coaches that are now appearing have even more seats, and fewer (and narrower) tables crammed in. So when we file in to Coach A we have no expectation of sitting, except perhaps on the floor, but it seems that all the regulars find seats. Mine is next to a man who has disregarded the rule not to use a personal stereo (perhaps he would argue that his headphones are plugged into his computer) but the noise is not unacceptable. Perhaps the fact that he has indulged himself in Bang & Olufsen earphones assists.

14 November 2007

Burning Bridges

The second Wednesday of the month, so after a morning's work I popped out to run the Bridges Race - which I discovered yesterday even has a Wikipedia entry devoted to it, though it's not a very extensive one yet. Only me from the firm this month, though there was a big entry (by the standards of this event - 32 in the results, including several new faces among whom was Rachael. A cold day, breezy and without sunshine, but not raining and few pedestrians about to get in the way. I managed a respectable 15:43, though it's still well off my first and fastest run in this event - 55 seconds off, in fact, though over 2.3 miles at 2 seconds per mile per pound my excess weight compared with what it was on that day almost completely accounts for the difference (and age no doubt accounts for the rest!).

The notion came to me today that running is not all, but certainly a very large part, of what keeps me going. Not what I live for, but something pretty big. I'm not getting up to run in the dark before leaving for work, nor am I covering tens of miles every weekend, but I certainly feel at my most fulfilled when I am taking part in a race like today's, or even just training, and the regular fixtures in my diary - the Bridges and the Last Friday - are keenly anticipated. Up to a point, this must be good: but how, as I have wondered before, can I transfer my enthusiasm and commitment to this activity to the more mundane but more crucial domain of work?

13 November 2007

Hedgehogs and Foxes

Winter might not be here yet, but autumn arrived quite suddenly not long ago and now there's a frost some mornings. My bike is in the garage for the winter, and the car displays a season ticket for the station car park. I even have my overcoat out for daily use, and commute in my working clothes.
I spent an hour and a half this evening (leaving, regretfully, early) at the Stephen Stewart Memorial Lecture given by Bill Patry, Google's top copyright lawyer. I didn't feel I was in the presence of a top copyright scholar, unfortunately, though the talk was entertaining enough. It will be interesting to read what the IPKat has to say - Jeremy was in the row in front of me, typing - perhaps blogging on the hoof?
My gripe was that Patry, whose subject was metaphor - a useful tool in describing, criticising or seeking changes in the copyright world, from Lord Hoffmann's hedgehogs and foxes (actually, if I remember correctly, Isaiah Berlin's hedgehogs and foxes, and before him which Greek philospher's? Archilochus, it seems - no dishonour in not remembering that, I guess) to Jack Volenti's efforts on behalf of the MPAA - seemed somewhat intolerant of others' viewpoints: no, not intolerant, he just seemed to overlook that they existed. A discussion of the merits and demerits of Google's scanning books and letting people see bits of them would have been more edifying than the laboured lack-of-a-joke at the start, or the Shaun the Sheep clip (from YouTube, of course). But the role of metaphor in copyright law, like legal story-telling, is an intriguing area for further study.
At least I stayed awake throughout. An interesting morning pondering the meaning of "property" and "chose in action" - is a licence to use copyright one? - was followed by a very brisk run with Rachael, who kindly moderated her pace to a level I could manage. A loop over the Serpentine Bridge, with intervals between the lampposts along the north side, was quite a workout (despite the cool weather, I returned to the office pouring with sweat). I decided against repeating the innovation of yesterday, the "50 Broadway Run-Up", inspired by the Empire State Run-Up but a more manageable nine floors (ten, if I descned to the basement first - must try that). Yesterday I made it to the top at a run,two at a time, though labouring over the last two flights: I'd thought there were only eight floors. The view from the top was good, but looking away from the great fire that was raging at the Olympic site. And it will improve my hills enormously, in time.
On the train home, great excitement as we pull out of Reading: whistles blow and the train halts again, then moves on a few minutes later. Raised voices down the train, but I am trying to listen to the curious selection of music on my MP3 player - it's not clever, so when I loaded three classical CDs on it I found myself listening to a movement of a Bach orchestral suite, followed by the Prince Igor overture, then En Saga, and then the second movement of the Bach, some Glazunov, a Sibelius symphony - you get the picture. It took a lot of concentration. At Didcot, I asked the guard what had happened: "A gentleman decided to get off a moving train" he explained. Through the window? "Yes, straight into the arms of the British Transport Police."
"You wouldn't think anyone could want to be in Reading that badly!" I said, wittily (at least, I thought so).
How did the guard know it was a gentleman? Doesn't sound like very gentlemanly behaviour to me. But these Welsh "train managers" are polite to a fault.

04 November 2007

Marlow half marathon

I didn't think there could be a worse half-marathon course for hills than Henley, but in fact there is at least one and only a few miles away ... But Marlow doesn't have one long hill at eight miles, it starts with a hill, followed by a breakneck descent and another hill and descent, and perhaps a few more too, then you get to eight miles and just like Henley that's where the serious one is.

Struggling up it, I was delighted to find myself in the company of the same young lady who had encouraged me to keep going at Henley, this time running with half her family and several friends (all, she thought, behind her). So she helped me along again, although once past 11 miles the course is (as a family group at the side of the route chanted for our benefit) "all downhill!" and I left her a little behind. When I heard them chanting I was amazed that they should have been so well-acquainted with my life story, but when I pointed out how apposite the slogan was the (presumably) mother of the group was kind enough to demur. That sort of thing can mean a great deal.

An unspectacular 1:50:58 and 415th place out of 1300, but at least I made it - the old IDK did make me wonder whether I'd be stopping for good at a drinks station. And I don't feel bad for it, though that was just as well as I followed it up with a skiing lesson this afternoon, which was more hilarious than arduous. Skiing might help sort out my knee - it should certainly strengthen it - but I have some doubts about running more than perhaps 10K in future. I'd be hugely disappointed if I couldn't run another Marathon when there are so many great ones to be run!

31 October 2007

Great train journeys of the world part II

As if the mystery tour to Swindon wasn't enough, the trip to work the following morning (yesterday) was no better, just different.  The 0707 was promised at 0715 - not late enough to make it worth jumping on the slow 0706 - but only after everyone had boarded it did the announcement come that the train would have to wait at the station for the attention of a mechanic (is this a slightly fancier name for a fitter?).  The  next announcement suggested that the train from Swansea, just drawing up at an adjacent platform, might be worth trying.  No, I thought, it will be full already, having picked up passengers all the way through south Wales: I elected to await the mechanic.
 
The third announcement made clear that any train was a better bet than this one, so reluctantly we detrained and joined the throng around the Swansea train, which was indeed "full and standing", in the evocative phrase used by the train managers.  Letting it go, I ended up on the 0730, which proceeded to take an hour to reach Paddington, where I found that the "good service" advertised on the boards at the entrance to the District and Circle Line tube station actually meant 10 minutes before the next service appeared, with enough people to fill it already waiting.  I observed to the only member of staff in evidence - an attractive young eastern European blonde, as it happens - that an amendment to the notices might be in order, and she apologised profusely and, it seemed, comprehensively, for the myriad and general shortcomings of the London Underground.  The apology seems to have replaced the get-you-to-work-on-time service which is what we all need from public transport.
 
I went in search of a bus, but there was no sign of the right ones: I'd even have taken one of Mayor Livingstone's appalling and utterly inappropriate bendy buses had there been one.  So I walked, reaching the office hot and sweaty and having to add the time it took to shower to my already extended travelling time, and strangely attracted by the idea of working in Oxford.

29 October 2007

Great train journeys of the world

Ah, the joys of commuting. I elected not to cram myself on the 1915 to
Swansea, always packed and today in reverse formation (the wrong way
round, in ordinary English) so Coach A not safely distant from the up
end of the platforms. Instead waited for the 1948, which was rather
more than three minutes later but comfortably empty. Still, it too was
in reverse so I ended up, fortuitously, in a mobile-phone users' coach.

A short distance out of Reading (where we could readily have detrained,
had anyone thought about it in time) the train manager announced that
there was a security alert at Didcot and we would not be stopping
there. It's the sort of casual announcement that comes as second nature
to the train company - it utterly fails to acknowledge that Swindon is
not a useful alternative. But that is where we have to go. Happily,
it's only a few minutes before an up train collects us again, though
Didcot reopened (according to the train manager) the minute we had
passed through.

Opposite me on the outward journey sat a sour-faced woman with a
BlackBerry, at which she tapped away without rest. I suppose I tapped
away at my laptop, so can't criticise her on that score, although my
face is not sour (is it?). Like the rest of the Didcot passengers, she
phoned when the "inconvenience" was anounced to let someone know about
it, rambling on about punched noses at Swindon and something about the
fare, which I think she probably intended to claim back. At Swindon, a
man engaged a railway employee in an optimistic conversation about
taxis, which she insisted (to no surprise, at least as far as I was
concerned) that she could not authorise.

Not even time to visit the outlet mall, one of Swindon's few
attractions. And the wifi didn't work on the station. But after all it
was only a few minutes ...

27 October 2007

October last Friday

On top of insufficient training since the previous race in the series, I
developed a cold early this week and by Thursday there was nothing for
it but to take a day off work to get it out of my syste.

It's amazing how beneficial a day without a train ride into London in
the rush hour, plus a day in the increasingly depressing office and a
trip home again, can be. On Friday I felt quite ready for the
commuting, office and race. A can of Red Bull and the energy bar that
had been included in my goodie bag at Henley set me up, and the four of
us doing the race headed for the changing rooms at 12.00. I left my
socks in my office and had to go back for them, and Tom was keen to get
to the start in good time (being in the A race: the rest of us, in the B
race, had another couple of minutes in hand) so he set off. I left Tim
changing, after he'd appeared late, and met up with Hannah, taking part
for the first time, with plenty of time for a gentle jog to Hyde Park.

I directed us across St James's Park, only to find that the Mall was
closed off with crowd control barriers preventing us from crossing.
There was no traffic, but the sides of the road were lined with
guardsmen in bearskins and grey coats, with rifles and fixed bayonets.
At the pedestrian crossing by the Palace, a police officer told us we
couldn't cross, so we made out way round the Victoria Memorial to where
we could cross, and up Lower Grosvenor Place and Grosvenor Place to Hyde
Park Corner - the result being that we had run (rather than jogged) at
least a kilometre further than planned, and we arrived to see the A race
rounding the first bend. We reached the start line just in time to
reverse direction and join in the race, the worst possible preparation -
Hannah will, quite rightly, never trust my organisational skills again.

I felt good from the start and settled into a comfortable pace, but I'd
been unable to find my watch before leaving the office so I was running
with no idea of my time. Still, today was going to be about finishing,
not about a spectacular time, and at the 2K mark someone said their
watch showed 8:34 or so, which didn't seem unreasonable to me.

Apart from a woman wearing earphones - later instructed in no uncertain
terms by a marshal to remove them - edging me onto the grass as I went
to pass her, the race was uneventful though harder work than the last
couple of months. But I didn't feel as completely finished at the end
as I sometimes do, so perhaps I did still have some reserves - better to
save something, though, especially as I was still recovering from the
cold, and my breathing was not as good as it might have been. But I had
no problems with my knee, which is encouraging.

Tom was already at the finish when I arrived, and Hannah joined us a
little later, having arrived at the start already tired from the run
from the office. Tim had made it just in time to tag on to the end of
the race, and came in near the back. Rachael, my new blogging
acquaintance (and fellow-commuter before then) was at the finish, so I
had a chat with her and arranged in principle to run together at
lunchtimes in the future - it will, I think, be uncomfortably fast.

We jogged back to the office along empty roads, still closed to traffic,
which was a treat - though it didn't make up for the hassle of getting
to the race. It dawned on me that the Saudi Arabian flags adorning
alternate flagpoles on the streets around the Palace (the Union flag
hanging from the others) gave a clue about the reason for the
interruption to normal service - the downside, I suppose, of having the
Royal Parks on our doorstep in which to run.

21 October 2007

Henley Half Marathon

I've had a week to get over this now, and over the loss of my blog on the subject (the office computer system refused to handle it when I pressed the "post" button), so it's time now to get back to it.


The instructions for the event contained a plea to gentlemen taking part to make "full use" of the urinals. Yuk. Fortunately I was unable to tell how full the use was that had been made of them, as it was dark in the toilets - no doubt making matters even worse ...

The race passes through some delightful countryside, along the riverbank that I have come to know well from Mel's rowing there and from attending the Royal Regatta, though without all the temproary buildings erected along the river for that event it all looks rather empty. I foolishly set off at slightly more than seven minutes per mile pace, which if the mile markers are to be believed I upped substantially for mile four: but I can't sustain that sort of speed, which only eighteen months ago would have seemed pretty relaxed. After a loop on the Berkshire side, the route came back through the town and passed the start before heading off through Fawley Court, where the signs were in English and Polish (accounted for by the fact that it belongs to a Polish religious order) where I stopped at a water station for a long drink, never having mastered the technique (if there is one) of doing that on the move. Then we crossed the road and set off up Fawley Hill.

I'd read about this mile-and-a-half long ascent, going up from about 40 metres above sea level to the peak of 145 metres and then down again pretty steeply at first, becoming more gradual towards the finish. It would have been a tough climb if I'd been fresh, but it started at mile 8 and I'd done the first four miles at a mad pace, so I struggled up.

Coming down was another matter - I put into practice what a fell-runner had told me on the Compton 40 last year, and let myself go. I reasoned that it would be hard on my knee to slow myself down anyway, and passed dozens of people in my headlong descent until at mile 10 cramp stopped me for a few minutes and they all passed me again, probably remarking to themselves that it served me right.

I covered the final three miles or so with a guy from Didcot Runners and someone else he was running with (thanks for the encouragement!) and a lady who, it turns out, is also running Marlow in November - I'll see if I can beat her then ...

19 October 2007

Last Friday of the Month: A Progress Report

The discovery of a comment posted on this blog has galvanised me, and I realise I haven't been keeping it up to date. Actually, you don't feel quite the same enthusiasm for keeping it up to date if there's no evidence of anyone reading it (except Grace!), but now I know there's a possibility that Rach_E is reading too I should get on with it.

I did in fact blog the Henley Half Marathon, but the firewall on my office computer didn't like it so when I pressed the "publish" button all I got was a screen telling me access was forbidden and away went my carefully-crafted account of the race. It would have been a classic, too, let me assure you. I hope there's a server in the sky somewhere where lost masterpieces like that go, and one day they will be retrievable.

I'll get back to Henley later. First - and I can do this for my own satisfaction, to remind me of recent achievements - there are a couple of Last Fridays to report. In August, following my 22:26 the previous month (when I was feeling, as I noted, out of sorts - an expression that I am turning to as the most apt one to describe my state of mind most days at the moment) I was particularly keen to see what effect the new lime green racing shoes might have. Between them and a can of Red Bull, and my eager anticipation, I found a minute and 26 seconds, tantalisingly failing to break 21 minutes - but I needed something for next month, didn't I? And in September, awaited more eagerly yet, I shaved another 7 seconds off that. Still 13 seconds off my first LFOTM time, but that was 2006 and as my left knee tells me I am getting no younger.

Best of all, after September - my sixth in this year's series - I have a proper place in the series results, which are based on the best six age-adjusted times for the year: better still, I am 17 th, and have three more months in which to better some of the more feeble times from the early part of the year.

An oxymoron

In coach A this morning. 18 October, one unfortunate passenger sits with his foot, in a large plaster cast, up on the table in front of him. Were I in his position, I think I might feel inclined to find an alternative to commuting, even temporarily.

In fact, I nearly did so this morning, having returned home at 10.30pm following a dinner with colleagues the purpose of which I simply didn't get. As one of them said to me when the date was first set, "If I wanted to socialise with colleagues, I would" - when an evening like this is organised for you, it's too contrived even to stand a chance of working.  I've been pretty tired all week anyway, no doubt because of that ill-paced half marathon on Sunday (by Wednesday, my legs had just started working again), and missing out on running for various reasons has pushed me further along the downward path. I could very easily have stayed at home today, but (note, everyone!) I haven't. But it doesn't bode for a highly-motivated day at work, something that I haven't achieved in a long time.

Smoking solutions

(Posted some time after the event ...)
 
To the Intellectual Property Institute's talk on DNA Patents, given by Sandy Thomas. The venue is the auditorium in BAT's office, where not only are there ashtrays on every table but half-consumed packets of cigarettes too (and the ashtrays are half full - are they maintained that way?) The chairman, Jacob LJ, jokes that he might take an ashtray as a souvenir as they will have no purpose in an office building after 1 July.

(Months later, in October 2007, I find myself back in the BAT building, and again in the company - distant, I have to admit - of Sir Robin. No opportunity presents itself to ask whether he has an ashtray, but I do notice that the examples previously standing on tables have been replaced with stacks of "personal" ashtrays and a general invitation to take on - I should have done, just to see what they looked like. And at strategic points in the building, such as by the lifts, there are plans of that floor of the building with "your personal smoking solutions" (exits onto balconies) marked.)

12 September 2007

Autumn Almanac

Autumn has arrived with September, which is what used to happen every year when I was young: my birthday would come and go, the summer holidays would come to an end, and I would return to school. The transition from one season to the next has not been clearly defined for many years, but this year there has been no prelude to autun unless you count the feeble summer.
Without warning I am getting up in the dark, making coffee and shaving by artificial light, and even attaching lights to my bike before setting off. A long-sleeved top is also called for now, and gloves will be needed before long. The countryside, seen from the top of Hagbourne Hill, is an even gray sheet, a lake, of mist out of which rise trees, hedges, pylons, buildings and (look round to the west) a power station. At which point, as I head downhill again and move to the crown of the road to turn right, a silver Ford Escort ascending the hill at something over sixty miles an hour and straddling the white line narrowly misses me. The interval between my seeing it coming and it being past and gone was so short, the episode remains in my memory as two still images.

13 August 2007

Cropredy Hash House Harriers

Cropredy also gave me my first experience of Hashing, leaving aside the
times when I have encountered Hashers in races, stopping for
refreshments at their own well-stocked bar. "You weren't hoping for a
serious run, were you?" one of the other participants, a gentleman of
more advanced years than me who sported a Bungay Black Dog Half Marathon
tee shirt (and mourned the loss of the Abingdon Marathon from the
calendar when I explained to him why it did not feature this year).
"Every run is serious" I replied, which I thought fairly clever in the
circumstances, and he had to agree. I don't know whether a true Hasher
- member of a drinking club with a running problem, a familiar
definition that was quoted to the Hashing novices at the pre-hash
briefing, if that's not too grand a word for it - would see it that
way. Some runs are undoubtedly more serious than others.

It was a great way to see the countryside, which I haven't done in three
earlier visits to the festival. We ran along the canal towpath, we
crossed the main railway line to Birmingham (a wonderful juxtaposition
of signs simultaneously warning us of a penalty of £1000 for trespassing
on the railway, and to look and listen for trains before crossing) and
we discovered some lovely secluded parts of the village. "How far is
it?" asked a festival-goer from the garden of one of the village pubs.
"No idea", we replied, and to know the distance would be to fail to
enter into the spirit.
We stopped three times to regroup where the instructions, marked in
flour or chalk on the ground, told us to. In between we progressed from
one handful of flour to the next, give or take a couple of false trails
(eventually marked by a line across the route) and the suspected
consumption of some of the marks by local sheep, calling "On, on!"
whenever a mark showed we were on the right track.

Apart from attacking a climb where about half the participants chose to
walk, I didn't get much of a work out, but that was not the point of the
exercise. It was just fun, and when we finished (at the bar, of course)
we were taken round the back to where the Wadsworths trucks, laden with
6X (but not with the special Glorious 40 that had been brewed for the
occasion: that was all gone by sometime on Friday) were formed up, and
there, by way of sponsorship from the brewery, free beer awaited us. My
requirement for free beer at noon on a hot day, after a run, however
gentle, of five or six miles and an hour's duration, is less than half a
pint, which is what I had, but the Hare (the layer of the trail, the
runner with the bag of flour and the large piece of chalk) was obliged
presumably by some time-honoured hashing custom to down a pint without
pause or as a forfeit (which he incurred) to pour it over his head, at
which he proved surprisingly inaccurate. As my itinerary had me driving
40 miles home and back again to catch the late afternoon acts at the
festival, any more beer was an undesirable ingredient, so that is how,
finding myself present at the proverbial piss-up in a brewery (almost) I
made my excuses and left.

Red and Gold: an open letter to Ben (bcc blog)

Dear Ben

There was nearly a rerun of the Battle of Cropredy Bridge on Friday
evening, and I would have been one of the opposing armies - probably the
Parliamentarian side, as I was standing up against an arrogant disregard
of the rights of ordinary people. I'd better check with Dr Adamson
whether my grasp of civil war history is any better than I fear it is.
The battlefield - the site of the actual battle, as well as the more
recent near-miss - was, of course, the venue on Friday for another
historical event. Perhaps in the overall scheme of things, given that
there were many other battles in the civil war (and Cropredy Bridge was
a pretty small affair compared to some of them) and also given that not
only is the fortieth anniversary of a musical combination born in 1967
an uncommon event but to have five-sixths of arguably its greatest
line-up perform, straight through, its greatest, award-heaped album,
Friday could just take precedence over the battle.

Since our first visit to the Cropredy Festival, which was only in 2003,
there has been a noticeable decline in standards among the audience.
Four years ago you felt yourself in the company of knowledgeable
enthusiasts, there to enjoy the music. Now you feel much more as if
you're among people who regard music as an essential backdrop to
anything they are doing: the IPod generation, perhaps, who need a
musical accompaniment but don't actually want to listen.

So when the three city types behind us continued their loud and tedious
conversation as Chris While, standing in as she often does with Fairport
and singing Sandy's part, launched into Come All Ye, I asked them to be
quiet and observed that I had paid to hear the music, not them. One
told me that if I wanted to listen I should move nearer the front:
another simply told me to f*** off. See? A massive lowering of
standards. Not at all the Cropredy ethos.

The battle averted by a strategic withdrawal - as it happened, a space
opened up and we were able to move a few yard away from the royalists.
(Perhaps I'd do better if I could relate this to the Wars of the Roses:
this was behaviour of a type that those of us in other Houses,
particularly Durham House, at school always attributed to Yorkites.)
The rest of the set was pure magic: it seemed to my poor ear to be
pretty-well note perfect: and I hadn't realised until I saw for myself
just how much excellent lead guitar RT played on it. In particular, his
duetting with Swarb in the instrumental medley (oh, what are the
titles?) was a revelation.

Once Crazy Man Michael had faded away, and a short interval had elapsed,
RT was back again with his band to deliver - well, it seemed to me that
they managed to make all his idiosyncratic, witty, poignant,
wryly-observed songs sound much the same. It works better when he's on
accoustic guitar with only Danny Thompson for accompaniment. We made a
swift getaway before he'd finished, though we managed to hear the encore
from the car park - he was off the stage well before midnight.

Saturday was, in many ways, a bigger disappointment. Ian Matthews was
excellent (though Woodstock without Southern Comfort was a bit thin: is
he, I wonder, the only sometime member of FC to have a number one to his
name?) and The Strawbs were far better than I expected, eschewing the
material that brought them commercial success (thank goodness) and
concentrating on things I remembered like Grave New World, Lay Down, and
the wonderful Benedictus. And the words were still there, in the
archive part of my memory, 35 years after I last heard them. (I don't
think I was the only person singing along.)

Then we had Bob Fox and Billy Mitchell doing a selection including
traditional north-eastern songs which took me back (again) to my youth,
and rounding off with Meet Me On The Corner, which I suppose is another
traditional north-eastern song by now. It could have done with a band
behind it, especially Rod Clements's bass (and after all it's his song,
anyway), but they reproduced the Lindisfarne harmonies (there's an
oxymoron for you!) nicely. Nicely Out of Tune, perhaps.

FC were due on at 2030, half-an-hour earlier than in previous years, but
with forty years to celebrate they needed a bit of extra time. However,
they took to the stage at 2000, giving us the prospect - slightly
daunting, I have to say - of a four-hour set.

It started promisingly, with a few new or recent songs, Red and Gold,
then theh start of an historical review of the four decades. I remember
a superb rendition of Sloth, with RT on lead and DM on drums - in fact,
Mattacks played a second drum kit alongside Gerry Conway for many of the
songs. Jerry Donahu was introduced, but seemed to stay in the shadows.
Swarb was on stage too, not sedentary as when last we saw him (and four
years ago, before the transplant, he was in a wheelchair though still
fiddling like a man half his age) but moving about, playing Fiddlestix
with Ric and Chris also on violins. Fortunately these antics were shown
on a large screen behind the stage: from where we were there was little
chance of seeing anything else, partly because of the distance from the
stage and partly because of the sea of flags and other things dangling
from poles. A couple of large, stage-obscuring men in front of me were
videoing the whole thing for posterity (an odd thing to do: first, a
professional crew were videoing the whole thing for posterity too, no
doubt much better, and second, their view was only of the flags and
other dangling objects).

What was happening on the stage was even less clear because Chris
Leslie's announcements were inadible. Simon Nicol was clear enough, but
that only gave us part of the story. To cap it all, the rear part of
the field seemed to have filled up with bingeing chavs who, added to the
mix of chattering picnickers already in situ, made it a pretty
unpleasant litening experience. We tried moving to the exit, but while
we could hear the music the chavs were undiluted by listeners there so
we headed for the gate. We listened to Portmeirion from there, lying on
a travel rug under the stars, but the next piece featured a guest whose
identity had not been revealed in our hearing, and we weren't taken by
it. So we headed home, and were there before the set had finished.
It seemed wrong not to hang around for Meet On The Ledge, and I see from
a set list on the Talk Awhile web site that my great grandfather's
namesake made another appearance, with a bizarre video in which the
story was acted out by Lego models, but I can remind mysef that it's all
going to be on the DVD in due course - indeed more than we could ever
have seen on the evening.

Sorry you weren't there - but perhaps having read this you'll be glad.

Regards

Peter

08 August 2007

July Bridges race

The Bridges Race posed a novel problem this month, as I realised
half-way to London that my running shoes were still in the hall at
home. No chance of simply passing on it, as I had persuaded Tim and Tom
from the office to join me for the event (their first time), but as it
happened my running shoes are a year old and beginning to show signs of
distress on the soles. Six months is supposed to be their life
expectancy: the material of the sole starts to break down or loses its
springiness or something.

Run & Become take an annual holiday in August, but a look at their web
site revealed that it's not until next week, so I was there at just
after nine being fitted for a pair of real racing shoes - the economical
answer, as it happened: I'd thought of buying a pair of Nike Mayflies
(good for only 100K, and priced accordingly at £25), but the assistant
directed me to a pair of more substantial shoes on offer at the same
price, and after trying on three pairs at half-size increments I came
away delighted to be the owner of a serious pair of racing shoes, albeit
in a rather alarming shade of lime green and with what seemed to be
glittery laces (I think the ultralight laces have titanium threads in
them: at least, that sounds good). And they worked, taking over a
minute off last months feeble time (which of course had been calculated
to get me a good handicap for this month). Of those who didn't start
off scratch - the first-timers like Tim and Tom - I finished second,
passing five or six others along the way, all thanks to the magic
lime-green shoes. Next month will be hard, though, with a minute added
to the handicap: and I still don't know what happened to the 50 seconds
I cannot make up from 14 or 15 months ago. Surely I'm not aging that
quickly?

04 August 2007

Open letter to Alex

Dear Alex

Excuse me posting this on my blog, but it seemed like a good way to keep
in touch with you and to post something at the same time.

Last Sunday, Boston and I headed out for a morning run taking a route
that reminded me intantly, and more powerfully than any other regular
run I do, of numerous runs with you. Where the track turns right
towards Richardsons, we took the path through the waist-high crop that
climbs to a stile from which you follow the edges of the fields until
you reach a private road, the one that leads to Mad Henry's property
(I've only learnt recently that this is what the landowning community
calls him: you'll understand that I'm going to be coy about precisely
where this is, lest someone recognise him).

My abiding memory of running this route with you involves several pounds
of mud adhering to my feet, but last Sunday it was dry and firm
underfoot, as I'm sure it was really on many occasions when we ran it
together. It wasn't at our regular time of day, first thing in the
morning, still dark except in the summer: I'd even had a bowl of
porridge and taken a trip into Didcot before setting out for a late
morning run.
In the days when we ran every weekend, Boston was little more than a
puppy. Mentally, being a springer, he still is, but he's not the
long-distance runner he was. I've not been giving him the exercise he
used to have in this past year, so he's not as fit as he was, and he is
a little on the portly side, but apart from the stamina he might regain
and the weight he could lose I have to respect his increasingly grizzled
appearance. (He doesn't reciprocate, but I don't ask him to.) And the
countryside through which we run contains so many distractions -
olfactory ones only, in his case: he stops to sniff every few yards, but
a rat was able to saunter across the path in front of him without
attracting his attention.

It's probably a couple of years since I ran this way, and I hesistated
for a moment over which gate to take. In one field, where we used to
run straight along the headland, the farmer has sown right up to the
hedge and left a path runing diagonally through the crop, forcing me to
do two sides of a triangle, but on such a beautiful running morning, who
cares?

Well, it turns out, Boston does, and eventually so do I. We joined the
grass track that heads towards the racing yard and the Downs, becoming a
concrete road (there were usually pigs in the field on the right, and I
alsways worried about how Boston might get on with them, but now it's
under oil seed rape) and climbing to the old railway bridge (the
railway, of course, being a victim of Dr Beeching). By the time we
reached that point, it was clear that a left turn towards the old
Reading University field station (where once I encountered an old man
who, cycling home from the Site to Pangbourne, had seen fit to stop for
a little nude sunbathing and was hastily replacing some of his clothing
as I approached) would be more than either of us could cope with. So we
took a more direct route home, which you and I wouldn't have done when
we used to run this.

Tomorrow I can try it all again - and I hope both of us are ready to run
a little further.

Regards

Peter

23 July 2007

Down in the flood

I was sure that there could be no rowing training today, even after seeing a crew out at Maidenhead on Friday evening, but I was wrong. In fact, the Thames was quite calm, and the main disincentive to going out on it was the rain. However, undaunted, we spent a thoroughly miserable forty minutes or so rowing less well than ever before, which made it seem like a really well-spent summer's evening. Except that in every respect it seemed much more like October.

Quartet for the end of time

July is the firm's peak sporting season. The netball and softball seem to carry on throughout the summer (between the deluges), but July sees both the Great City Race and the firm's Regatta. I took over the team captaincy for the Great City race, and it seems to have stuck with me but I don't mind that: last year I felt very proud of our 17 participants, and this year I shall feel even better with 26 taking part, which must surely make us one of the best-represented organisations in the race. However, I never asked to be the department's captain of boats.

That points to a unique feature of the firm. All solicitors' firms are different, but how many need even one captain of boats, let alone one per department (seven in total)? On Friday week, there will be fourteen crews competing for the trophy.

In rowing terms, it's not remotely impressive. There are some talented and experienced individuals, but their skills are well-hidden if they have three (or, if lucky, only two) inexperienced colleagues in their boat. But no-one has ever (in my hearing, at least) complained of not having fun, and although the potential hasn't been explored, it is the most effective team-building exercise there is. Half-an-hour on the Tideway is worth a week of building rafts from pieces of scrap.

On Monday I was out on the river with three colleagues, all with a modicum of experience (though one of them as a cox) but not having rowed together before. After twenty minutes or so rowing in pairs, then altogether but with squared blades, we were ready (our coach thought) to try the real thing. It would have been better had he reminded us what feathering was all about before he told us to do it, but we seemed to get the hang of it again fairly quickly (from the stroke seat I couldn't see much of what was going on behind me, but the occasional gales of laughter gave me an idea of it) and when he told us to push for ten strokes, then later for another twenty, we experienced that wonderful feeling of almost flying across the water. It only happened when all four blades were in time, and that was not on many strokes: we all caught our share of crabs, though only little ones: I am sure it looked pretty ugly: but for a few momets the four of us were a closer team than any the department has ever sent to a data room or put together for a corporate deal.

Before the flood

On Friday morning, my train had passed through the heaviest rain I can remember experiencing on a train journey. What made it memorable was the fact that the rain was drmming loudly on the windows and roof of the train even at 120 miles per hour, and looking through the rain-lashed windows there seemed to be thick fog lying over the surrounding countryside.
London, though, seemed reasonably bright and I even regretted not running to the office from Paddington. During the morning the skies darkened and shortly before midday (when I was due to leave for a meeting) the heavens opened, causing alarming gurgling noises from the voids above the ceilings in some rooms (rainwater squeezing through pipes designed for merely wet weather). Shortly thereafter the fire alarm shorted out, so instead of leaving for my meeting I was grabbing the promotional umbrella from my room to go and promote a firm of Canadian IP lawyers in do my bit as fire marshal in the Park.

Of course, near trees is the last place to be in an electrical storm, and outside in a torrectial downpour is not a good place to be at any time. Michael, the charming Ghanaian security guard from our building, soon appeared with a loudhailer which squawked and screeched but did not completely mask his message, which was to go back to the office. No confirmation at that point that it was a false alarm: it could just as well have been that a cost-benefit analysis had shown that we might as well fry indoors as drown outside. Later, the alarm kept going off so that eventually an email instruction was issued to ignore it (but, expressly, for one day only).

During the afternoon, for much of which I was ensconced in my annual appraisal meeting, alerts arrived by email and SMS from the railway company with increasing quantities of block capitals, containing the sort of useful guidance for which the British railways are rightly famous: PASSENGERS ARE ADVISED NOT TO TRAVEL is far and away my favourite. Nothing was going past Didcot, not to the West Country, not to south Wales, not to Oxford and not to the Cotswolds, but Didcot would do me.

I'd already discovered that the tube network was in tatters, but managed to make Paddington by an only slightly unusual route. It seemed that the deeper lines were least affected. The departure boards at Paddington were a litany of cancellations, leavened by a few "Delayed" promises and one or two platform numbers for departures. A stopping train for Reading was announced and I took a seat on it before the human deluge arrived, and slept most of the time it took to reach its terminus, waking briefly to check the Thames as we crossed it at Maidenhead, reportedly one of the worst affected places in the country. The river looked high, but there was a four out on it, demonstrating what a level of commitment is required of rowers.

At Reading, I was able immediately to board a westbound train, absolutely packed and made worse by the youth who took up enough space for three or four people with his luggage laid out on the floor against which he propped himself, comatose, with music plugged into his ears. The sardine-packed passengers in the lobby also had to contend with one obese first-class passenger who saw no reason to delay his visit to the buffet just because it would inconvenience a score of others: and of course he came back too, though with some satisfaction I noted that he was empty-handed. The train manager, crammed into the same lobby space, and whose turban gave him authority in such matters, lectured those within earshot about the monsoons.

At Didcot the train disgorged its passengers, or many of them, while crowds waiting on the platform tried to board (result, inevitably, impasse). It seemed that this would be the first train for hours to attempt the journey to Bristol. By now it was 8.30 and getting dark: I had my bike at the station, but no lights and no front-door key: Sarah was out working and Hilary had gone to assist Anthony and Rebekah, threatened by the brooks to the front and the rear of their house, and had predictably become stranded in Steventon, managing to park the car (containing the weekly shopping) on the causeway.

Anthony volunteered to collect me from the station, and after half an hour or so (during which I saw a taxi arrive from Chippenham to collect someone) he appeared in his Toyota RAV. It had not been easy to get out of the village, and getting back required us to take a circuitous route through Harwell, out to Rowstock where all the traffic from the A34 (aka the Cadiz to Tromso Euroroute) northbound was trying to negotiate a modest single carriageway, on towards Wantage but turning off north down Featherbed Lane (which necessitated cutting through the stationary traffic heading towards Rowstock and blocked by all the trucks heading from Cadiz to Tromso), then turning off onto a farm track which eventually brought us to the site of that weekend's Truck festival (a music festival, not a gathering of commercial vehicles; it derives its name from the stage, which at the outset presumably from necessity and in more recent years from tradition was formed from two curtain-sider trailers) just a couple of hundred yards from their house.

Truck was a complete washout, with rivers running down the farm roads and the camping field under several inches of water. Festival-goers might revel in mud, but this went far beyond that. It's postponed until September.

Past the church the road was completely flooded, and the fence alongside it gave a good indication of by how much: one rail after another disappeared beneath the surface as it sloped towards the lowest point between us and our destination. We could walk some of the way on the high grass verge, where Anthony derived some grim satisfaction from seeing abandoned a BT van that had sped past him earlier in the day and which now stood up to its wheel arches in the middle of the flood - no doubt with the inside of its diesel engine a mangled assortment of bent conrods and other components, the inevitable result of water inhalation. From there I took off my shoes and socks - Anthony, wearing knee-length boots, got further but still not all the way before having to go barefoot - and plodged through the surprisingly cold (why was I surprised? Only because I had not thought about it) water in which local teenagers were swimming.

After supper - the party totalled sixteen - we took the RAV and drove it out the way we had come. Traffic was still backed up from the Rowstock roundabout, though we joined it only after some clear road, but it cleared miraculously as we approached the junction. Back in Steventon the water level continued to drop overnight, but even now there's still some way to go, and other parts of Oxfordshire are in dire straits.

Slow train coming

The Great City Race this year was neither great nor a race, at least not for me. It was the worst run I have ever participated in, by quite a long way, but I enjoyed it as a social event once I got over the disappointment of having to run it slowly.

It all went wrong when I suggested a jog to the start, by way of a warm-up. No takers this year - memories of Shane expiring before we'd even reached the Bank of England, perhaps. Anyway. of the intrepid group that did it last year two have left the firm and Francis was making his own way to the event, he and Robbie taking in a client reception before racing and returning to it afterwards (using a nearby gym to change and shower). So there were only two others to support my reckless idea, and they decided to take the tube most of the way and run from Blackfriars. They had decided to leave at 6.15, though I had convened the others for 6.
In fact we left at 6.20, and met up with the bulk of the team at 6.50. Taking the obligatory group photo took a few minutes, and it only shows sixteen participants - two we knew of were missing, but another bunch were lost somewhere. So we headed for the start rather late, and by the time we reached the City Road the leaders had been running for 3 minutes. The contrast with last year's clean getaway from the front of the pack coundn't have been greater.
The first kilometre came up in 5:33, as we dodged between slower runners and walkers - two, side by side, from a firm that made me a rather attractive offer not many months ago: how embarrassing would it have been to have been in their colours.

Knowing that there would be no fast time for me, I settled down to a comfortable pace, which happily put me in the company of my regular and most glamorous running companion. Vanessa and I crossed the line together, our times being recorded as identical but with her four places ahead of me. Paul McAleavey, one of our trainees, passed us both in the last hundred yards or so, by which time my fast-twitch fibres had decided to take the evening off and a sprint was out of the question.

Back where we had pitched camp (leaving a colleague's daughter on guard duty) Rose had joined us, and greeted me with a great hug before we headed for a local pub where we had reserved space. The evening became a lot more enjoyable once the race was effectively forgotten. Nancy looked as if she was quietly fuming at the obstacles placed in the way of a personal best (as she has agreed to pay her virtual personal trainer on a results-only basis, which seems to me a significant disincentive to bettering your best time), but when the results were posted she had improved on last year. To me, it makes it more important to get my entry in for the Last Friday of the Month, which no colleagues are up for (one pleads by email that he is his department's rowing captain and therefore needs to be in top form for the evening's waterborne racing, to which I reply signing myself "Captain of Boats").