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.



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

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

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.