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


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?".