26 December 2008

New Morning

I rushed at the climb from the tunnel under the A34 (otherwise known as the E5, which runs from Gibraltar or Algeciras to Greenock: how useful is that?) and emerged into the bright sunlight. The sky was clear, the ground was dry, and there was a cool easterly breeze. This morning was just perfect for running.

I ran with my virtual partner today - the one on my Forerunner, I mean. She - I know she must be female, as so many of my favourite running partners are, though I have resisted the temptation, incriminating as it might be, to give her a name - did steady eight minute miles, and for the first couple of miles I pulled ahead. Up the hill beside our field she overtook me, so that when I crested the climb from the tunnel (with the HRM showing a disappointing 176) she was ahead again, and by over a minute. I chased her down along the Ridgeway, so by the time I turned off to head downhill again I had nearly caught her, and I'd pulled out a comfortable lead by the time I passed Upper Farm.

Hitting the smooth tarmac after the helter-skelter dash down the often-treacherous clay-and-chalk path from the Ridgeway, I consciously lengtened my stride and tried to lift my heels as high as possible - feeling the effort in a range of underworked muscles in my thighs and backside. I raced past a couple walking their doberman, gasping a polite "good morning" to them but then finding that I had acquired a new, large and enthusiastic training partner - nothing virtual about this one. So I stopped and encouraged the dog to rejoin its owners, which only worked on the second attempt when they forcibly restrained it from tagging along with me.

Meantime, VP had continued at her 8-minute-mile pace, oblivious to my attempts to leave behind my new running mate, and managed to build up a lead of about 20 seconds. I clawed it back again before I reached the school, but had to pause by the old beryllium pits to catch up with myself, allowing VP to close down the gap again. I thought about settling the matter by declaring a slightly earlier-than-planned end to the timed session, but rejected the idea: what would the records on my page at garmin.com look like if the loop were not finished? So I completed the circuit before stopping the watch, arriving home a couple of seconds ahead of her.

Fortunately, I didn't need to share my porridge with VP: I needed a large bowlful after that. I'm going to set her going at 7:55 for tomorrow and see how that goes. I think we are going to have a wonderful running relationship, though I won't be giving up running with humans any time soon. Apart from anything else, I prefer their conversation.

21 December 2008

Stories of the Street

Surely the Sunday morning before Christmas is a time to stay in bed - pull the duvet tight around you, perhaps get up enough to make a coffee and get back under cover as soon as possible. It was a breezy morning, though dry and not cold; no sunshine penetrated the rolling grey mass of clouds which initially seemed to promise some form of precipitation. Even so, I had that "what the hell am I doing here?" feeling as I lined up with thirty or forty others from Abingdon Amblers for the club's annual Christmas pud run.

No social jaunt, this, but a full-blown half-Marathon describing a big clockwise loop from Tilsley Park, through the town then out through Gozzards Ford to Cothill, Dry Sandford, and Wootton, up Boar's Hill and down the other side before heading through Sunningwell to Bagley Wood, down Lodge Hill and back to Tilsley along the ring road. Perfect preparation for the festive season!

Although I had been up since 6, I adopted a classic "just in time" approach (which might work well in manufacturing industry, but I should try to organise my life according to a different principle). The result was that I just caught Dave, in charge of handing out the numbers, and gave him my entry fee in time to get out to the road before a slightly delayed start. So no warm-up or anything. John, doing duty as starter, called us to the line and almost everyone hung back, so when he caled out "Go!" we set off from well behind where we should have been - which might have corrected the eccentric measurement of the course, as it happens. The first mile marker came up in about 4:40, giving most of us reason to doubt the accuracy of its position (and my Forerunner told me this was at 0.6 miles, translating into a more reasonable pace).

After the second mile (which must have been about 1.2) the markers seemed to be regular enough, though about .15 short all the way to the end (and the half-way mark came up just short of the 7). Still, the data from my Forerunner show that I kept up a fairly steady pace - three blips showing where I made a pitstop, slowed briefly to a walk half-way up Boar's Hill, and stopped for a drink at the second water station. And I certainly felt after about six miles that things were flowing and, while my pace wasn't spectacular (though on a par, taking stops into account, with last year), I felt as if I was eating up the miles quite satisfactorily. Or maybe it's just that time passes more quickly as you get older ...

Along towards Gozzards Ford - about 3 to 4 miles - powered gliders from the old RAF Abingdon hauled themselves into the grey sky, but shortly afterwards the sun broke through and it became a pleasant early winter day, though without what should be winter temperatures. I was even perspiring in my vest and shorts. There were still others on the same stretch of road as me, though Andy, who had caught me at Gozzards Ford, disappeared when I dived behind a hedge. I ran a long way with him in this event last year, but not today. Miraculously, the wind, which had been in our faces along the bleak stretch before the turnoff for Cothill, continued to blow from the same direction when we turned, so part of the route was wind-assisted, and I also benefitted from the encouragement dispensed by one former club member who appeared three or four times around the course to cheer us on.

Recalling my theory (formulated on Friday) that it's not the run that matters so much as with whom you run, this was not a great outing. I ran most of the distance solo, passing only a couple of runners and one of them at the very end. Several passed me early on, a consequence of my being near the line when the start happened, including two shapely young ladies whom I thought I might keep in sight - but that proved impossible, especially without contact lenses (they had not co-operated when I tried to put them in). I was however delighted with my time, just a little slower than last year and I haven't run this sort of distance since April. Now I just need to find some events to get into my diary for the first few months of the New Year.

My Aim is True

"It's not a very nice course", somebody said at the start of this month's Last Friday (in fact, on account of Christmas, penultimate Friday) 5K in Hyde Park.  For the second month running, the usual route which largely follows the banks of the Serpentine was unavailable because of Winter Wonderland, that excess of seasonal commercialism (in contrast with the rather longer-established - by about 614 years -  Frankfurt Weihnachtmarkt, of which unfortunately I just saw the edge on Tuesday evening).  But this is Hyde Park, one of my favourite running locations - how could it be not nice?

Well, the fact is that the alternative route isn't nearly as nice as the lakeside one, but another fact is that the quality of a run depends very much on who you're with.  Which, I suppose, is to say that there's a world of difference between racing complete strangers and one or two people whom you only ever run with when you're racing, and running for pleasure with friends.  There's plenty of room in a runner's life for both, but they are very different.  I've done the LFOTM many times with friends, too, but always run my own race - in fact, taken great care to try to beat them, which I've found is a forlorn hope with many of them (those who are 20 years younger than me, for a start).

This month I did get to the start on time, though the warm-up jog from Paddington was a little faster than I had intended.  It was warm for late December and there was enough sun to justify me wearing  my shades, though the amount of sunlight I deem necessary for that is minimal.  There were a few Bridges regulars, as usual, but the BDB contingent was absent: I do hope that the great running tradition will continue, and indeed reports that Nancy has encouraged groups of junior colleagues out at lunchtimes bodes well.  A monthly 5K is quite a step up from that, though.  How long, I wonder, was it between my starting to run and entering my first race?  Probably a year or so.

I didn't get to the 1K mark too quickly - well over 4 minutes, but I can't be sure how much because I haven't yet got into the habit of using my Forerunner to time anything except the full distance.  Shortly after that, Alan came past me as he so often does, and I resolved not to let him go: 3K further on, well into the second lap of the course, I slipped past him again and he eventually finished a second behind me.  I assume he isn't benchmarking his performance against mine, as I do mine against his.  Not only did I get ahead of my elder, but I also saw off a younger competitor: at about 3K one of the always-encouraging marshalls called out "well done, young man!", for which flattery I almost thanked him - but it was clearly aimed at the teenager in front of me, whom I passed shortly thereafter and stayed ahead of to the end.  (I thanked the marshall anyway, as I always try to do when breath permits.)

The time on my watch was 22:01, which I hoped would be reduced sightly in the official results: in fact, I lost a couple of seconds, and only scored an age-adjusted result of 68 per cent.  Still, given the irregularity of my training of late, not a bad outcome at all, and plenty to aim for next year.

16 December 2008

Watching the river flow

Terminal 2 at Heathrow is a bad joke now, probably has been for years.
Low ceilings give it an oppressive feeling to start with, and the fact
that it is packed with shops as well as waiting passengers makes the
experience so much more depressing. The tedious piece of muzak that has
been repeating endlessly for hours doesn't help, either.

I found a Caffe Nero – in fact I found two, but the larger one, with
seating, was crowded and I didn't fancy queueing – and as I walked
around with cappuccino in hand an American lady approached me to ask
directions. I wondered for a moment whether I looked like an airport
employee, but there are plenty of business travellers wearing suits
around so there is no likelihood of confusion there. No, she just wanted
to know where I had found coffee, and I was able to direct her. I
ventured a comment about how well we treat visitors to our country,
exposing them to the misery of this airport terminal, but my witticism –
a form of gallows humour in any case, and of course far too ironic for
an American audience – passed her by.

I've perused all the shops, as BAA intended I should, though I haven't
bought anything more than a few necessaries – sandwich and fruit-and-nut
bars. I've enrolled with the iris-imaging programme, which is supposed
to speed my passage through immigration when I come home tomorrow:
unfortunately, the staff tell me that US Immigration doesn't participate
in the system, so it will still take hours and usually an interaction
with a congenitally humourless border guard to get into the land of the
free.

Today is not a good day to be travelling anywhere, it seems, certainly
not in middle Europe. Several Lufthansa flights are showing on the
monitors as "cancelled", though the helpful approach of telling us about
cancellations over the loudspeakers seems to have been lost somewhere.
My flight's appointed time came and went, and then the monitors showed a
revised departure time – 95 minutes late. But no announcements – perhaps
so as to avoid disturbing the shopping.

10 December 2008

Winter's shadowy fingers

I didn't know how much to wear for the Bridges Race this lunchtime. The temperature in London was scarcely above freezing, and I arrived at the start wearing leggings, thermal top, fleece, waterproof jacket, hat and gloves. I removed the jacket and the fleece before the start. I have rarely been cold when running, and if I am ever cold when I start I soon warm up (I remember once gallantly giving my gloves to a running mate when my need for them had passed, and hers was pressing), but these were extreme conditions.

I joked with another competitor that I would run just fast enough to keep warm, but when I was called to the start and immediately sent on my way (the start of these handicap races is always a bit messy) I set off at a cracking, some might say foolish, pace.

After track training last week, I had realised that good runners get their feet much higher up behind them than I imagine I normally do. No wonder I don't lift mine as high: it is extremely hard work, as I found that evening. But here I was striding down the Thames Path kicking my heels up and feeling as if I was eating up the ground.

Of course, it didn't last, but I saw off the runner who set off on the same handicap (or nearly) as me - she got ahead at first, but I'd passed her again before we reached MI6 (or is it 5? I can never remember). I overtook Guy, who suggested I might have my eye on the trophy - and it occurred to me that there hadnt been many starters ahead of me and with the generous handicap I'd acquired by virtue of a bad time last month it might just be posssible.

But I lumbered up the steps to Vauxhall Bridge (only two at a time), although I still felt as if it was flowing nicely as I headed for Millbank. A couple of competitors were in sight ahead of me and I'd have to catch them - but the gap wasn't closing, and my legs, the calves in particular, were tiring from the ffort of lifting my feet so high - even though I stopped doing that a couple of hundred yards earlier. (Would compression socks have made any diffeence? There's one way to find out!)

Although it was cold, the sun was shining and I regretted having left my sunglasses at the office yesterday when I went for a lunch that lasted until 6 o'clock (although I maintained thoughout that I'd be going back to the office). Where the route came out of the sahdows alongside St Thomas's I could feel the warmth. Turning onto Vauxhall Bridge there was an unwelcome breeeze in my face, but I suppose it was at my back (and therefore unnoticed) as I crossed Lambeth Bridge.

The two guys in front were in exactly the same place as I came off the Bridge, and there was nothing I could do to catch them in the final few hundred yards along the Embankment. I had nothing left in the tank, despite the terrible gaspoing noise I was making with each desparate breath. Not only could I not catch them: one runner passed me, closely followed by a second, then another, then three more, and I slipped down the order dramatically. Guy's words of encouragement didn't help.

My time, though, was 16:41, and now I think about it that means that I ran pretty much to my handicap.

09 December 2008

Live at Olympia

Great news!  At the ITMA Christmas lunch, to which I was invited at an hour's notice by an old (meaning long-standing) friend, I learnt of a race that coincides nicely with INTA in Seattle next May: the Capital City Marathon.  As the name suggests, it's in Olympia, which I remember as a very attractive little city: it starts at 7 on the Sunday morning, so not too much time out from the conference: but by no stretch of the imagination is it a stroll in the park.  The elevation chart looks a bit daunting, and there is no getting away from the fact that it is 26 miles, 385 yards.  Ther's a half, too, and a five-miler, but I proved in April that when faced with the opportunity of continuing running when the end of the half comes along, I take the stupid option.

I rate that as two good things that happened today - the lunch, and the news of the race.  Can I also count the delightful company at lunch?  I think that might be cheating slightly, but I do feel confident that I reached three today - as i do each day, of course: it's only really a record-keeping exercise.

I have some serious training ahead of  me now.  A new friend whom I met today might also run this race, and was talking about other events to do in the early part of next year, so maybe I will join her.  And more immediately i have he Bridges tomorrow, and my entry for the Last Friday arrived in the post today.

06 December 2008

Buddy can you spare a Dime?

A man in a disreputable wool hat and a high-vis jacket came up to me and, muttering something I could not make out, pressed 60p into my hand.  It seemed that he wanted me to use it top pay for the copy of The Sun that he was brandishing.

I was waiting in line to redeem my voucher for today's FT, and we were in WH Smith in Didcot, but to be asked to pay someone else's dues in this way struck me as odd.  I was at the back of the queue, so engaging me as his agent did not offer any significant saving of time.

"You won't have a receipt", I pointed out to him.  "They might think you haven't paid for it."

he seemed happy to take his chances: indeed, he went on to explain that he would be delighted to be locked up, preferrably with some paedopihiles whose throats it seemed he would take delight in cutting, confident that he would be able to avoid suspicion.

Our brief conversation had already covered a great deal of ground, and I was not unhappy to find myself at the head of the queue.  I proferred the 60p to the assistant, explaining that it was this gentleman's copy of The Sun: but the gentleman had already gone on his way, perhaps in search of paedophiles, though the assistant had seen him and seemed to understand.  (Perhaps he did the same thing every day.)  I glanced round the shop on my way out in the hope that I might be able to give him the receipt, but there was no sign of the high-vis jacket.

An hour or so later, I was looking for loose oranges in the fruit department of Sainsbury's.   Standing by them, carefully examining the produce, was a familiar figure.  Taking reassurance from the fact that his clothing was not spattered with the blood of a paedophile who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and conscious of the fact that I had an interest in the same fruit as him, I decided against jumping to the next item on my shopping list and moved into proximity to him.

"Would you like me to pay for your groceries?" I asked.  He looked up and after a moment of hesitation recognised me and smiled.  he didn't take me up on the offer: but neither did I understand what he had to say about the oranges.

02 December 2008

My Favourite Things

Positive Psychology sounds like a piece of New Age rubbish, but its academic and scientific credentials look fairly solid, so the notion that writing down three good things that happen to you each day is worth thinking about. Yesterday, the main difficulty would be keeping it to three.

First, one of the most pleasurable runs I have had in a long time. That's partly a function of the irregularity of my running just now, but it was a beautiful, clear, crisp day in London yesterday. I departed from Paddington wearing jacket, leggings, hat and gloves, and stopped outside Buckingham Palace to remove most of them (after passing a runner on Constitution Hill wearing a tee-shirt and shorts, which made me feel inadequate). Carrying a backpack didn't make for a fast pace, and the Forerunner didn't find a satellite very quickly so it lost the first mile or so, but at least most of the route is recorded here for posterity. I arrived at the office feeling good, but during the afternoon felt more like dozing than working, and this morning my legs were pretty stiff.

Second, the prospect of seeing an old friend in Frankfurt when I go there later this month. I dropped her an email to say I would be in town, aware that she wasn't exactly close to Frankfurt (the drive many years ago from the Ruhr to Frankfurt, and back, in her husband's S-Class Merc at a steady 120-140 mph, dodging the Trabbies which at the time were flooding across the recently-removed border, has stuck in my mind), but she can arrange things so she can meet me there.

Third, a satisfying afternoon of work. Nothing particularly exciting about it, but when I think back six months or so, the difference in the degree of satisfaction I derive from my work, and my motivation to do it, has changed beyond recognition.

I could go on. The three things don't have to be big, apparently, just good, and after a week or so you can look back and draw strength from it.

28 November 2008

Meet me on the corner

I have been flattered this week by some positive comments on my running blog, so I'm enthused to write more. Moreover, I have a good reason to practise now, of which more perhaps anon. So here goes …

Hyde Park on a cold November lunchtime is not best place in the world. I know, for example, from recent experience that it would be much more agreeable to be running on the beach at Boca Raton. Just to put the matter beyond doubt, it started to rain just before the runners in the Last Friday of the Month 5K lined up.

Matters were not improved by the fact that the race this month took a novel route, necessitated by a sort of over-blown funfair called Winter Wonderland which for the first time last year took over much of the stretch from the Serpentine to Hyde Park Corner. It’s back again now, bigger and worse than ever.

Deprived of the usual start, the organisers moved it back to the lakeside, a quarter of a mile or so to the west of its usual position, and marked out a two-lap course that stayed north of the Serpentine. Even the revised finish used last year, a modest but killing climb up from the Dell, was pre-empted by the worst commercial excesses of the Christmas season – and it’s not even Advent yet!

As well as being over two laps, this month’s race had a single start – normally the hares go at 12.30 and the rest start precisely two minutes later. Some start later still, joining in when they happen to arrive: I have twice started a few seconds after the field, and today Guy found himself in that position. Because of the obstacles erected between the most popular entrance to the Park and the start line, several runners were still trying to find a way through Winter Wonderland when the race started.

The loop that formed the two laps followed an uninspiring route alongside North Carriage Drive and West Carriage Drive – one of the joys of running in the Park is usually that you get so far from the London traffic, and the established route keeps close to the side of the Serpentine. A spur leading from waterside to the Police Station linked the start and finish to the loop. Runners had to contend with the usual collection of pedestrians, illegal cyclists and Royal Parks vehicles (one of which joined in the sprint to the line, presenting a novel challenge to some of the fastest runners).

The race was won by Paul Whitelam (Hallamshire) in an amazing 15:29, nearly a whole minute ahead of the second-placed man, Tom de Canto (Niketown) and looking as if he was out for a gentle jog round the Park. He's still over a minute outside the overall record for the event, though. Sarah Swinhoe was first woman in 17:58.

As for me, when the race got underway I was trying to find a way through the massed rides, stalls and sideshows of Winter Wonderland, and I did not find it in time to tag on the end. In these straitened times the fair will probably make a thumping loss – at least, I hope it does. Bah, humbug.

18 November 2008

Road to Kingdom Come

An overnight flight from Miami via Dulles, landing at about 0620, is not the best preparation for a morning spent visiting the Renault F1 factory and an evening at Nettlebed Folk Club. Still, sometimes it has to be done.

To see F1 cars being laid down in carbon fibre and aluminium honeycomb, and to see the way in which the components are created and the whole thing put together, is fascinating. A look at the 1980s cars on display in the factory's collection (not though the 1977 car, whose debut I saw at Silverstone, Renault's first grand prix since about 1904) shows the difference: they are made from sheets of metal held together by rivets, like the BRM P160 and other cars of the same vintage that I saw close-up at Silverstone at a historic race meeting a couple of years ago. I prefer to think of F1 cars as being artisan-built, and was pleased to see that the modern examples of the breed are still hand-built to a degree, for instance the exhaust systems we saw being assembled, and welded together, from lengths of pipe made from metal the thickness of a Coca Cola can (but rather stronger, and able to withstand red hot conditions).

I survived that challenge to my jet-lagged condition, even though the coffee machine was happiest pumping out untainted steamed milk rather than cappuccini (something ironic about a machine in such a temple of engineering excellence failing to do its job - Ferrari might not be able to get fuel into a car at a pitstop without running into trouble, but I bet they have the coffee supply in the factory sorted.)

Then, after an afternoon dozing over work that needed to be done, to Nettlebed, to see The Gathering: Ray Jackson, Jerry Donahue (and his daughter, Kathryn), Clive Bunker, not Rick Kemp but Matt Pegg instead (and his father, playing the same venue next Monday, in the audience), and Doug Morter. Four Lindisfarne classics - a grey-haired, moustache-less Jacka was very much the front man - which I never thought I'd hear performed again: Meet me on the Corner, Road to Kingdom Come, Lady Eleanor, and Rabbie Noakes's Together Forever. Perhaps some later Lindisfarne material too, but if so I didn't know it. A Fotheringay piece, Gypsy Davey, and one from one of Sandy's solo albums ("I Wish I Was a Fool For You (For Shame of Doing Wrong)", written by RT). Then there was Jacka's medley of north-eastern folk tunes, the sort of thing he would have incorporated in We Can Swing Together when Lindisfarne were at their height, and his rendition of the Newcastle Brown Ale song that he said he'd had to do every night years ago as part of the band's sponsorship deal (a crate of beer to drink in the van after the gig). Several other excellent things, too, which were newer to me. I dozed off while the support act was on (though I did enjoy what I heard), but nothing could have made my attention drop while The Gathering ("Legends of Folk Rock") were playing.

The jetlag seems to have passed today, too.

14 November 2008

Holidays in the Sun

The INTA midyear leadership meeting, open only to committee members and the like, is a very different proposition from the gigantic annual meeting. There are 1100 registered "attendees" compared with about 10,000 so it's much easier to get around and to meet people. I have seen many old friends and made new ones, but the meeting venue is a nightmare.
It's a "Resort and Country Club" in Boca Raton, Florida, a community that exists to cater to the needs of those who wish, like Steve Norris, to spend time with their money. They can come to the country club to be parted from large amounts of it and play golf, eat, drink, or whatever. It is a parallel universe which most of the people I have talked to here say they would never have thought about entering had not INTA used it as a venue for the meeting.
It is not permitted to park your own car on site. You are relieved of it at the entrance and you recover it on payment of $9 when you want to leave. We tried to park on the street and walk in, but that too is anathema to the average American and the guard at the entrance, insisting that this part of the estate was unrelated to the conference (though it was adjacent to where many delegates were housed), threatened to call the police as we were trespassing. There is a sense that they are doing us a huge favour merely allowing us to be here. In conversation and text message exchanges with friends, I start to refer to the entrance as the prison gate.
I have managed to fit in a couple of very pleasant runs, taking in the beach - soft though the sand is. On Thursday morning, I drove to a park on the oceanside with Marek and we ran 1.25 miles along the beach and back, an unambitious distance but very hard on the legs even though we ran at the water's edge (or even in the water) where the sand was firmer. Then on Saturday, while Marek recovered after an evening that lasted until 4am and Susannah, who was also expected, packed or something, I ran with a newly-acquired running mate, Matias from Buenos Aires, whom I had dragged into the Vortex when I noticed he was wearing a running watch after he took a photo of Hilary and me at our request. We ran from the resort to the park by the beach, then the same 1.25 miles as on Thursday, then back, totalling over six miles. The weather was fantastic, the scenery was attractive, there were seabirds to watch, the pace was good, and the conversation was interesting - a perfect run, in short.

26 October 2008

From Here to Eternity

Blimey! I didn't realise until I went looking for confirmation of a half-remembered song title that The Only Ones were together again. I suppose any claim for misrepresentation in connection with their farewell gig (at the Lyceum in about 1980) will be statute barred by now.
Horrible weather this morning, as forecast, but having bumped in Louis a couple of days ago and arranged to run with him this morning, I was committed - that is precisely what is needed to get me out of bed and running. However, I failed to take account of the clocks changing, so was up and ready an hour early - checked the meeting place to see if he had made the same error, then went back at the agreed time and he was waiting for me. He had risen an hour early too, but had wisely stayed at home when he realised.
Last time I used my Forerunner was one early morning in London, and it had expired with a flat battery early in the run. Today, when I downloaded the data to my computer, they showed that my session had started nearly two weeks ago, had taken me from Bedford Place to Regent's Park and had then followed a straight line to South Oxfordshire before climbing to the Ridgeway and following my regular 7 mile/1 hour route.

Box of Rain

I was talking to an acquaintance who is general counsel to a company that makes cardboard. He remarked that so far they had not felt the impact of the financial crisis.
Given that every time you turn on the TV news you see investment bankers leaving offices in Docklands with their belongings in cardboard boxes, I said, this is not really surprising. (And I suppose that when the economy picks up again, they will need more cardboard boxes to move their stuff to their new offices.)

17 October 2008

Perfect Day

A wonderfully mellow trip to Didcot this morning - an unusual concept, but it really was. Cycled there, went to the optician (follow-up to see how my contact lenses are doing), then a visit to a charity bookshop ("I'll put those on the counter for you" said the shop manager when he saw me with an armful of books, "if you want them". "They aren't priced" I said, and he told me that the hardbacks were a pound and the paperbacks 50p, so I ended up spending £6.50 and reached the capacity of my backpack: that includes first editions by Joanne Harris and Michael Ondatjee, and a David Lodge paperback, "Thinks", for Grace - who can tell me whether she has it already), then a haircut - no need to wait, like at a weekend (they don't do appointments, but what can you expect for £9.50?), followed by lunch in Didcot's leading Lebanese restaurant. Well, OK, I don't know of any other Lebanese restaurants in Didcot. Mixed mezzeh for £8.50, the menu said, but when I ordered he discounted it to £6.00, and the Lebanese coffee (which I think could just as well be called Turkish or Greek coffee) was fantastic, and only £1.50.

And to think what life was like as a commuter!

12 October 2008

Five Miles High

Another glorious day for running, and a five-mile race near home at Hanney, so I went and paid my £7 and joined in with several clubmates and many others. No doubt because of my careful preparation (nearly 9 miles running yesterday afternoon, than a shortened night's sleep as I had to watch the Japanese Grand Prix) I covered the course in 38' 33": it was pleasing to see I was on target to get in under 40', in fact, and although I had no sprint left in me for the end I managed that pretty comfortably. Compression socks helped a lot - no tiredness in my lower legs, but plenty in my thighs and glutes - so that experiment seems to be a success. Here are the Garmin data, and here is a photo (those socks are not a good look) and another one here.

About 4 miles, the runner in front dropped a piece of paper, and when I saw that he was stopping to turn round to pick it up I stooped and snatched it up almost without breaking my stride and handed it to him. It was his running number. I passed him then, but he came steaming past again and had a much stronger finish than I could manage, but he thanked me very much in the funnel. That's the great thing about running: everyone is so friendly (with one exception that I encountered a couple of years ago, but that's another story and quite atypical).

11 October 2008

Back on the road again

It's pathetic, I know, but the weather has put me off running for weeks now. I have been busy, true, and injuries have played their part too, but today with no injuries, no pressing work to do, and a beautiful sunny early autumn day, I just had to get out and run.

I haven't played much with my Garmin Forerunner 405 since I splashed out on it, so there was another incentive to get out and run: and I needed to get in some hours of contact lens wearing, otherwise I fear I will reach a point at which I realise I am never going to take to them. (Perhaps that will be the outcome, but I don't want it to arise by default.)

Out of the village across the old railway line, but instead of turning right towards Richardson's farm I headed off across the field ahead of me, following the tractor tracks that mark the footpath - there is nothing on the skyline to aim for. The field had been recently cut, so it was easy going - no doubt I'll soon found it ploughed, and probably also wet: it turns into a particularly adhesive sort of mud that adds a couple of pounds weight to each foot in just a few paces.

Over the apology for a stile at the top, and I turned left along the headrow - hard to find the best bit of it to run on, because width of hard-packed earth between the cultivated part and the overgrown margin came and went and I was forced to run mostly on the tilled earth. But that only lasted a hundred yards or so, then I wan into the next field and turning to head southeast to the Alden Farm road, where I executed a sharp left-and-right and headed off down the side of another field.

This path intersects with a wide green track that heads directly south, joining a concrete road without changing direction - the worst sort of surface to run on, but the verges don't offer an alternative. Before I got to that point, though, I encountered a family of four walking three black labradors, one of which bounded up to me with such enthusiasm that it head-butted me in the lower stomach and scratched my leg. As I ran past the owners, the leading pair of whom (the parents) offered not a word to me that I heard, I said "Sorry might be appropriate", and I think one of the children obliged - but I was not impressed. I have run many, many times with a boisterous dog (sadly, no longer as boisterous as he was and definitely not inclined towards extreme exercise any longer), and I certainly approve of walking (or running) with dogs: but he's never made hard physical contact with any of the myriad people he has briefly befriended while out running, and if he had I would have been very careful thereafter, and kept him on a lead (not quite impossible while running) or perhaps confined him to quarters.

From there, the concrete road went by quite quickly - I must have been thinking of something else. Instead of turning left at the old railway line, the habitual route for a long run, I crossed the remains of the bridge and set off along unexplored tracks, amazed that after 15 years or more of running in this area there could still be some left to start on.

I had planned to pick up the ridgeway where it climbs alongside the racehorse gallops and give myself a thorough workout up that long, long hill, but eventually the route I had taken (being taken in the opposite direction by a rather attractive lady, although my contact lens experiment may have led to me gaining a false impression) deposited me on the Ridgeway on the small section of concrete road above East Ilsley. A couple of serious-looking walkers were heading up from Ilsley at that moment, and a woman was walking two dogs from the Compton direction. I stoped to rest briefly, then jogged on to the drinking water tap a little further on for some refreshment. Pausing there, I had a brief conversation about the view with the two walkers - she insisted that Didcot Power Station could be beautiful: "Have you seen it at dawn?" she asked me, and I replied that I'd seen it at just about every possible time of day. I do wish the lie of the land was just slightly different so as to obscure it, but compared with the impact on the view of the Harwell International Business Centre a mile further on it is almost de minimis.

I stopped, as I have often done, at the memorial to George Frederick Grosvenor, 2nd Lieutenant in the Lifeguards, killed at the age of 19 on 9 April 1947 in an armoured car accident, and wonder what he was doing in an armoured car on the Ridgeway - although then the A34 would have run closer to the site of teh memorial, which only says he died near the spot. I always find myself trying to imagine the conditions at that time: was it warm or cold, foggy or clear, day or night? And how many other young men, not members of one of England's great families, must go unremarked?

I failed to restart my Garmin after the end of that break, so my sprint up the climb from the A34 underpass, intended to explore my maximum heartrate, was wasted and I jogged gently to the car park at Bury Down: but once over the road there the running really began to flow, and I reached the turn-off back to Chilton nearly effortlessly. Some intervals between the telegraph posts on the final part of the descent, and a sprint to the summit of the footbridge - my favourite part of the run, which I attack on the tips of my toes, showing off to the car drivers passing below who probably notice nothing anyway - before a gentle jog home. A great run, a slow time, too many pauses for breath or just a rest, but a life-affirming exercise to show that the irregularity of my running recently has had no permanent effect.

If you're interested, you should be able to see the record from my Garmin here.

08 October 2008

STD 0632

It's ten to eleven at night and I have just left Paddington - after a
day spent almost entirely on trains. I should have been on my way for
the last leg of the journey half an hour ago, but the Underground let me
down and from King's Cross onwards my frustrations have been mounting.

My itinerary allowed 45 minutes to get from King's Cross to Paddington -
a brisk walk would probably have done it. Instead the Circle Line took
about 50 minutes, during which I could not phone home to explain that I
was now running late. The driver made announcements but failed to
direct his voice to the microphone, so they were virtually inaudible,
and to make matters worse they often competed with announcements on the
platform loudspeakers during the lengthy pauses at stations. The
station announcements were neither more informative nor more
comprehensible, being delivered in a conversational tone which
completely failed to carry: they were merely louder, and won the
competition on that basis. Why can't London Underground give their
staff some coaching in making these all-important announcements?

Had there being some warning of the delay on the Circle, I would have
made my way to Paddington by one of several alternative routes, but
conveying useful information is another skill that deserts the
Underground system at this time of night. Perhaps the assumption is
that everyone out and about at this hour is drunk.

The Circle Line train was then rerouted to the Hammersmith and City
line, so when it arrived in Paddington I was at the wrong end of it: I
made several abortive attempts to phone home: and when I took a seat on
the train and started to listen to voicemail messages, the guard decided
to make an announcement at a volume sufficient to compensate for the
inadequacies of his colleagues on the Underground. On top of which I
have not eaten since shortly after leaving Newcastle, intending to find
food at Paddington in the interval that I fully expected to have before
catching the 10.15 - some chance!

The East Coast line train offers free wifi, which enabled me to file a
Community trade mark application on the journey north this morning -
though the connection speed, or the performance of OHIM's servers, or
something, meant that I had no time for much else, and that was a trip
scheduled to take nearly three hours that was delayed 30 minutes by a
points failure. On the way home, I plugged in my computer and happily
worked on it until it announced that its battery was flat and I should
switch to mains power, but as it was already plugged into the only
available mains outlet (which clearly wasn't working) that didn't assist.

Finally, sitting on the stationary train at Paddington waiting for it to
leave I tried again to connect to the wifi there, but the connection was
hijacked each time by Network Rail's secure network and nothing I did
would stop the computer connecting to it. The network I needed wasn't
even showing, and that is typical of my experience of trying to connect
at Paddington.

The reason it all went wrong at King's Cross must have been that I was
hailed from across the tube station by a former IP student from London
Guildhall who miraculously recognised me despite the passage of 10
years: that is why I wasn't on the tube train before, of course, but it
is very reassuring to be recognised, and rewarding to learn that someone
remembers you after such an interval (and such a limited acquaintance at
the time). Combined with a good set of appraisals at the end of this
afternoon's course (including a form from one delegate who left at
teatime without saying goodbye but leaving a set of straight As on his
form), it's been a reasonable day: not as good as the recent half-day
course at the end of which the delegates all applauded me, but close.
The chat with the taxi driver who took me to the station in Newcastle on
the way home - an independent financial adviser making ends meet in
these disastrous time - was another highlight, and I enjoyed reminiscing
about bands we had seen at Newcastle City Hall as we drove past.

Just a shame about all the train travel.

06 October 2008

Two halves for the price of one

"If you buy an Evening Standard", the assistant at WH Smith at Paddington explained to me, "you get a pound off the magazine." I was getting my monthly fix of BBC Music Magazine, of which I have only ever missed one issue (and I must get a back-copy to complete my collection), and because I took this rag that would not normally get house room my total bill went down 50p. I expressed the thought that this was bizarre, but that it had been a pleasure doing business with her.
It was a fitting end to a rather odd day. I spent a few hours in Conway Hall for the annual general meeting of the Society of Authors, where Tracey Chevalier had handed over the chair to Margaret Holroyd in the presence of about a hundred members none of whom was as celebrated as either of them.
Conway Hall featured in some of those public order cases I had to study in Criminal Law, or at least that's how I remember it: anti-Fascist rallies protesting against Mosley's Blackshirts, and later the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Hall (the rear entrance to which I passed every day on the bus when I first moved to London and commuted from Clapton to Hyde Park Corner on the 38 bus - a Routemaster in those days, of course) seems stuck in a time warp: it is definitely of an age of radical politics, where New Labour would be most uncomfortable and perhaps the New Tories more at home (though I rather doubt it, except perhaps for novelty value). Is this perhaps where I once did go to a CND meeting, and stood in the Gents at the next urinal to Monsignor Bruce Kent? I don't think I will ever be able to remember where that was, but the throwback effect from being there this evening will live with me for some time.

30 September 2008

Today's course on ecommerce

I wasn't thinking quickly enough about where to post the slideshow for today's course on ecommerce. That's what comes of maintaining too many blogs, and my IP blawg would have been more approriate.

I have now uploaded the presentation to this address but it is editable and someone might have changed it before you get there.

Please leave a comment when you visit so I know who is looking!

Ruby Tuesday

A new weekly season ticket in my pocket, I am heading to London to spend
a day presenting courses followed by a few days in the office while my
colleagues enjoy a visit to the British Virgin Islands. Tough work, but
someone has to do it. To ensure that I am immediately at home with the
commuting life, the weather has entered a grey, wet and cool autumnal
phase - far from Keats's season of mists and mellow fruitfulness about
which Harry Eyres wrote on Saturday in the FT. Season of drizzle and
chilly dampness. But inside the train the atmosphere is rather
different, though no more pleasant, as a couple of dozen damp people
wrapped in overcoats (or wearing wet suits) enter an already humid
environment. Immediately I feel warm and sticky, and take my jacket off
and place it, carefully folded, on the luggage rack.

No "priority seats" with extra legroom here - I have taken a seat in
coach A, the next one being a trifle full, so no listening to music or
podcasts for me. (My most recent bit of podcast listening was to BBC's
Arts and Ideas podcast from a couple of weeks ago, which was devoted to
"The Quiet Carriage", with Alain de Botton making deep philosophical
observations about this flawed institution which chimed very much with
my own thoughts.) So I take a seat next to a very quiet, indeed
somnulent, traveller with a wool hat pulled over his eyes and a
disreputable-looking hoodie over suit trousers (the jacket, a plain
charcoal grey, is hanging from the hook provided on the back of the seat
in front of him), his feet not in a very battered but fairly shiney pair
of black lace-up shoes. He might be an investment banker, especially
one down on his luck - if luck ever came into it - but now I see the
side of his face, which has not had an encounter with a razor for
several days. Over the aisle sits a more conventional-looking
investment banker type, reading the Telegraph, also in a grey suit,
polished Oxfords, but no tie. Well, I guess I often don't wear a tie to
travel in the train, but that's usually because running vests don't
offer suitable collars.

Of course, neither of them can be investment bankers. However down on
their luck such people may be, they will still travel (if at all) on
first-class season tickets. Coach A is not their mileu. And would they
be seen reading the Telegraph? Perhaps for light relief after having
skimmed the FT earlier, or before having to peruse the Pink 'Un when
they reach the bank.

24 September 2008

Down to the Waterside

Not a bad morning for a run, and I had a couple of routes that I had
found on the Web which seemed to start near my hotel in Leeds. One was
10K, and appeared to follow a major arterial road, and the other was
about 4 miles and took in a rather attractive park. In the event I took
neither, because I saw a sign for a towpath and immediately left behind
the rush-hour road traffic (other than a fair number of cyclists) in
favout of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

I learnt which body of water I was following after a mile or so, though
I could barely make out the words on the sign on a bridge because of all
the graffiti sprayed on it. I also came across a milepost - I never knew
canals had them - that told me it was 128 miles to Liverpool in the
direction I was heading (one and a quarter in the other to Leeds).

The canal provided a fascinating bit of industrial archaeology. It was
lined with wonderful Victorian buildings and crossed by elegant stone
bridges, at least one of which had been colonised by a few small trees
which no doubt will soon enough prise the stones apart. The towpath was
well-surfaced, mostly with a sprinkling of gravel (no running barefoot
today) but with a few stretches of cobbles and paving stones. I also
passed three sets of locks, great pieces of Victorian engineering, one
flight of which matched a considerable climb for me. I suddenly realised
where the expression "lockstep" came from: when a vessel enters at the
bottom of the flight, the gates are closed behind it and those in front
of it are opened when the water level has been adjusted. So it can go
forward (and upwards) but not back (and down). Except, of course, that
the opposite happens if it has come from Liverpool.

Less than Zero

Coming out of the railway station at Leeds, the first thing I saw was
the Queen's Hotel. I've been there twice in my life, possibly more, but
I particularly remember two occasions. The first, in the late 1970s, was
to a Conservative party meeting addressed by Enoch Powell. I drove two
fellow Young Conservatives to Leeds in my orange Citroen Dyane, and on
the outskirts one of my comrades, for reasons which may have made sense
at the time, changed into a three piece (ie jacket, trousers and cap)
Mao suit which he had brought back from one of the trips to China that
was an early sign of that country's opening up to the West. We rolled
back the roof on the car and he stood on the front passenger seat,
waving to anyone he saw and clapping in that strange way of the Chinese
leaders of the time seemed to to do. From memory, he changed out of the
suit before we went into the meeting.

I remember nothing of Enoch Powell's contribution to the evening, which
is probably just as well.

On the second occasion, I came to give a talk under the auspices of the
College of Law, on the subject of the reform of UK competition law. It
was a two-hander, possibly more, and Ray Snow was involved. Afterwards
he took me to a casino, where it was clear that he was a regular. This
struck me as an odd distinction for a man based some 250 miles away.
Ray taught me company law at Guildford, and for the first time in my
life I found myself having to work on my birthday (which had always
fallen in school holidays or university vacations). I reached the age
of 21 before I had to attend a class on my birthday, but on that
auspicious day I had Company Law. I was miles away in my own private
world when Ray took it into his head to ask me a question. Not only did
I not know the answer, I don't think I even understood the question.
Fortunately I have picked up a little company law since then.

19 September 2008

Pretty Baa-Lambs [,The]

To Sutton Coldfield yesterday, to present what CLT call a "Webinar" on domain names. Talking to a camera while the presentation is recorded - which I have done several times - is unnerving enough, but when the performance goes out live to an audience (even a rather small one) it is in a different league. But I sounded convincing, and dealt competently with the technology, though I pressed the button to end the session without asking if anyone had any questions. If they had, they could have posted them in the course of the presentation, so I assume they hadn't.

The train journey to Sutton Coldfield takes a couple of hours and a couple of changes, but I anticipated using the hour-long stint from Oxford to Birmingham New Street to get some work done. Not only could I not connect to the Internet for more than a moment or two, but my smartphone finally decided to stop responding to any commands less compelling than the removal of the battery. Many people, including me, rue the fact that technology makes us constantly available to clients and to the stream of information that the Internet delivers to us: however little I like it, the fact is that my life is now organised on the basis that I will have telecommunications (including voice, SMS and email) wherever I go. A flat battery is bad enough, but a dead phone with a good battery is even worse.

On the way home, I took advantage of being in Birmingham to have coffee with Llion, or £outstanding as he and the rest of the recruitment world is known, thanks to Shane. Then I spent an hour or so in the municipal art gallery, following up on Grace's suggestion that I acquaint myself with [The] Pretty Baa-Lambs by Ford Madox Brown. (There appears to be some inconsistency in the use of the definite article.) It sounds appallingly twee, and the subject matter is just that, but the execution and the technical results are fantastic. I could pick fault with the strange expression on the baby's face (not very different from that on the face of the prophet in the same artist's Elijah and the Widow's Son, I noticed) and other elements, but that would be too picky. I might also observe that the sky was just too blue, and note that a few rooms further on the description of a Canalletto of Warwick Castle under a similarly deep blue sky noted that he had only recently arrived from Venice when he painted it, and ight not have adjusted to the English light.

Speaking of the English light, which has almost deserted us these last few months, Ford Madox Brown's English Autumn Afternoon depicted weather that would have been the high point of this summer. Not that yesterday was, as it happens, a bad day weather-wise, but it looks as if late October in FMB's day was a very pleasant time of year.

10 September 2008

Indian Summer

My first run with my new Garmin Forerunner, and I lost the first mile or so while it told me it was still trying to find a satellite to lock onto.  Once I called its bluff and told it to start measuring something, it worked fine - 6.48 miles, 55 minutes 34 seconds, average 7mph, maximum 10.4 (though the graph shows me exceeding 12 mph right at the end, as I ensured that Andrew stayed behind me).  It even produced a map showing where I'd been (with a blank space at the start before I had started it going).

Also my first run with new shoes, so predictably it was muddy.  And after this miserable summer, the evenigs are already drawing in - so we finshed in near-darkness.  But at least it was warm, and dry, if not underfoot.

04 September 2008

My aim is true

Yesterday was a return to the routine, with a vengeance. Cycled both ways and ran from office to Paddington in the evening - over six miles, I reckon, though I must measure it. Then a track session this evening, 8x600m with 200m recoveries. Add the 4-lap warm-up and that makes 8K. The 600s I did in around 2:40 each: I calculated that 4 minutes per K is 2:24 per 600m, so bearing in mind how I normally do a 5K (first km in under 4 minutes, then the other four a lot slower, about 4:30) that was rather better than 5K pace, which is what we were instructed to aim for. Feeling good!

03 September 2008

Chimes of Freedom

Summer never properly arrived this year, but today it seemed to be having one last attempt. Having finally replaced the inner tube on the rear wheel of my bike, and also having missed three days running (arriving too late, and in the middle of a thunderstorm, for a club run yesterday), I resolved to make the most of being mobile again and rode to the station.
I didn't make it in time to get the 0730 (not a very ambitious target anyway) but I enjoyed a beautiful early autumn morning. So did several others, and I passed two runners (one actually proceeding at little more than a walk, but he did look like a very senior runner) heading north and three or four cyclists heading south. I arrived at the station feeling very mellow, and even found myself singing "Tonight" from Nick Lowe's first album, Jesus of Cool - which I haven't heard for, what, at least 25 years.
I realised sometime in the last twelve hours - perhaps it came to me when I was asleep, or perhaps just dozing - what has changed in my working life. Although I can still interrupt myself and get sidetracked, and my priorities are turned upside down from time to time when a new job or new client appears, I find myself in command of my own time. It's self-determination, an expression that formed a central part of political debates in the seventies (before Nick Lowe recorded that first solo album). I don't have to fit in my work round meetings, usually meetings that achieve very little (like a scene from John Cleese's great training film, Meetings Bloody Meetings), nor am I on an externally dictated programme of anti money-laundering checks, client verification and preparation of detailed, backside-covering engagement letters. Although I can't ignore these requirements, I can deal with them in my time and in my own way.
Now that I am liberated, I just need to be careful that I use that liberty responsibly ...

31 August 2008

Walk Awhile

Even Murakami only runs six days a week, so I don't feel too bad about not having got to run today. Too many other things to do, and even then it's dark and I haven't fixed my bike.


Watching the river flow

Yesterday was not a good running day: I thought about running to the office from Pddington, but my backpack felt too heavy (aways a convenient fall-back), and when I tried to run the other way in the late afternoon I decided to take to the Tube at Temple, about 3 miles into the run. So my average slipped a little, although I got in the morning cycle ride. The evening ride, however, was thwarted by my finding the rear tyre flat at the station when I returned - let down, I think, because there was no sign of damage. I wheeledd it to the filling station and blew the tyre up, unfortunately literally: I have used the air pump - the one clearly marked "not for bicycles" - many times, and at higher pressures than I was trying to achieve yesterday, but a loud bang signalled the end of my attempt to cycle home.
No morning run today, either, but a nice evenig trot down to Rowstock Corner and back up the Winnaway to give me about six miles, in a little over 50 minutes. Not really flowing, and I stopped to recover after reaching the top of the Winnaway (where I had followed a runner who turned round at the top of the hill, evidently set on doing some long hill reps), but pretty steady for the fifth consecutive daily run and perhaps I'll manage more tomorrow. The best thing, though, is that I tipped the scales at about 11 stone when I got back home, which is about 10 pounds less than I was a couple of weeks ago and should translate to a 20-second-a-mile improvement, if I am to believe what I read in Runner's World.
I've also taken an important step towards making my training more effective, ordering a top-of-the-range Garmin Forerunner 405 having found a special offer in a rarely-used email account the other day. It was almost a personal email from Hugh Brasher, offering a free pair of shoes if I bought the Garmin this month, and of course this month has not long to go. But the device wasn't showing on www.sweatshop.co.uk, so I used (or perhaps misused) the privilege of having had a professional relationship with Hugh and sent him a personal email - which quickly resulted in a reply from their online manager inviting me to phone. When I did so, they were expecting me, which made me feel like a very valued customer (I will say only nice things about the Reading Half next year).
The exercise I have been taking has already given me a great feeling of well-being. If I improve the efficiency of the training, I should be able to look forward to feeling better still - and to some PBs!

29 August 2008

Stimmung

A moment that brought to mind Sir Thomas Beecham's famous assessment of Stockhausen's work ...
Cycling to the station this morning, down the leafy path in Didcot that is in many ways the nicest part of the journey (so I take it even though it adds perhaps a quarter of a mile), a lady walking her dog - a poodle - stopped to let me pass. Her dog sat obediently beside her.
"What impeccable behaviour!" I commented as I freewheeled by, and she thanked me - I hope she realised the compliment was aimed at the dog.
On the right-hand side of the pathway, lurking in the shade of the trees and hidden by a few fallen leaves, was evidence that another dog was less well-behaved – and its owner, too. I had not time to take evasive action once I spotted it, squelching through it and leaving a brown mark in the tread of the front tyre, which was unpleasant but not intolerable. But when I reached the station I found that the rear wheel had done what it would do with any other liquid it came into contact with – so I’ll be cleaning my bike at the weekend.

28 August 2008

Five Miles Out

Hah! Still on target for the Murakami Average! I planned to do a track session this evening, which wouldn't have contributed much to the average, but instead found myself out on much the same route as on Tuesday. We covered about 4.8 miles at a reasonable pace, on what was a rare summery evening. Good flow again, and a very satisfying feeling to be maintaining this regime. A thousand miles by the end of the year might be a little tricky, but I should nevertheless have covered a good distance by then.

I might try the half-Marathon-a-month routine again this autumn and winter, if I can keep free of injuries - which, remarkably, has happened despite my ill-advised (in fact, downright reckless) increase in mileage.

27 August 2008

Sloth

In mitigation, it was late at night, I was exchanging emails with a lawyer in California and I was being conservative about how many miles I had run, but the title of yesterday's post should certainly have said eight and not five. In fact, it looks like about 6.1 on the map.

I followed that up this lunchtime with a standard Wednesday lunchtime outing: Cleopatra's Needle to meet up with some others, then the Bridges Race route (though part of it was closed off by the police, who were examining a suspicious car parked in a bad place) and back down the South Bank. I went on to the Millennium Bridge instead of crossing Blackfriars, to get me back to the office more easily as I had been running for an hour at that point, and it took me another twenty minutes to return from there at cool-down speed. Guy kept me to a reasonable speed (but thanked me for pulling him along!) for a recovery run, the first time I think I have ever consciously done a recovery run - it was needed after last evening, and I must be careful given that I have upped my mileage enormously and plan to keep up this six-miles-a-day average. I can only do that if I run gently, and gradually increase the speed.

Guy mentioned that he plans to ensure he runs 1000 miles this year. If I can keep up the average I should be able to manage more than that before the year end. Will I? Should I?

26 August 2008

Eight Miles High

My resolution to follow in Murakami's footsteps in my new year has got off to a good start. I went along to my club meeting this evenig, paid my long-overdue subscription and set off on the evening run with a bunch of people most of whom I have been running with for years. I ran most of the way with Simon, who claimed to be looking for a slow run this evening - which is what he always says, and has never in my experience meant before.

He kept me to a sensible pace for most of the way, but with about a mile to go we had got into a flow and I was able to chase down two runners from the club who were visible in the distance. Only after I caught them did I discover that one of them was Liz, with whom I had run the Reading Half in 2007 (see here). She was delighted to hear about Mel's exam results.

A great feeling at the end of the run, and if the rest of this year follows the model it will be a good one!

25 August 2008

One too many mornings

I ran last Wednesday, with the Excise Men, or two of them at any rate: about 20 minutes warming up on the way to the meeting point (Cleopatra's Needle), then a trot down to Westminster Bridge, across to the South Bank (which at that point is actually east) and follow the Bridges Race route, then carve a path through the tourists to reach the back of County Hall (does anyone still remember when it was County Hall?) and follow the quiet streets to Blackfriars Bridge, where we cross the river again and I break off to head back to the office (walk-and-run, about fifteen minutes). A very silly way to come back from injury, but apart from a twinge in my left calf at the far end of the route (of course it would be the far end! - bu the MI6 building) it seems better.

A session with Sharon on Friday left both my legs feeling tender, but that has passed and I am trying to stretch a little more. Inspired by Murakami and the Olympic Marathon, which I watched on Sunday morning having fallen asleep before eight and woken again just before the start, I essayed a gentle run this morning.I made it to the field (not a thousand miles from home, which would have fitted better with my choice of title, more like two), where I found Hilary and asked for a lift home. But a couple of miles is better than nothing: and perhaps the beginning of my next year tomorrow is the right moment to start to keep a log, train rigorously, average 6 miles a day and race as often as I can.

I have already taken the reckless step of entering for the Chippenham Half marthon, only three weeks away, so I hope this works.

11 August 2008

Who Knows Where the Timesheets Go?

The first page of the weekend FT to which I turn is invariably the back page of the Arts and Life section. Indeed, a large part of what I enjoy in the paper is in that section (most of the rest in the magazine, except of course Mike Southon's column) although its approach to art is too often from a purely financial angle and what it says about life is not usually about life as I know it. But Harry Eyres always strikes a note that resonates with me.

This week he discoursed on the derivation of the Greek word for summer, kalokairi. Kalos I knew, indirectly, from the irresistible impetus I inherited from my father to speak a few words in the language of any country I visit. Kalispera and kalimera (but not kalimares) are essential components of my Greek vocabulary, although I can't necessarily get the the right way round (so out running early one morning in Crete I wished a passing old lady good evening, which she corrected for me). The same instinct to try out foreign languages left me more recently floundering to find the right German words to tell my taxi driver, a "Persian" (his word) who had been in Berlin since the late seventies, that one of my daughters had a school friend whose father had also left Iran (or perhaps Persia) at that time, and also drove a taxi. But it failed to come into operation at all when I went to Istanbul a couple of years ago.

So the first part of kalokairi means fine or beautiful (so, more than merely "good" - I suppose they do have beautiful mornings in Greece, and in England we don't need a word to convey the same phenomenon). The second part is from kairos, meaning time, but not ordinary time, which is chronos: kairos is, as Mr Eyres explains, "the proper time, the unique, unrepeatable, propitious moment, as opposed to ... that other, deadly kind of time which grinds on relentlessly, linear, unstoppable, consuming all things." Or, to relate it to my recent work experiences, it's the satisfaction of finding a small but important point of law (the action for groundless threats relating to Community unregistered design right), the carefully-written letter, the well-received presentation, the runs in the Royal Parks, the regatta, the time spent with friends, rather than the stuff that I had to record with a view to selling it to clients. It epitomises what I don't like about practising law, summed up by Tony when he referred to that wonderful song that Sandy Denny might have written had she been a lawyer rather than a nurse before her musical career.

Clients are expected to pay for chronos, and indeed usually expect that this is what they will receive a bill for. But chronos almost by definition isn't worth a great deal. It's time spent running anti-money-laundering checks, going through "matter inception" processes, doing some low-grade drafting on the basis of a precedent written by someone with a shaky grip on the English language but published by a company whose prestige enables the user to rebut any argument that he or she failed to exercise due care in their choice of starting point at least. It's the time devoted to composing letters or emails, starting with the so-called client care letter (more accurately, partner care letter) and other communications necessary to minimise exposure to risk, then at the end of the process writing a bill for X hours of chronos at £390 per hour.

Sometimes, I suppose, there is no alternative to selling chronos. It's all a client wants, because it gives the client what it needs - which is not the chronos, of course, but the agreement, or the letter of advice, or to be brutal the indirect benefit of the lawyer's insurance. The trick then is to ensure that the charge for the chronos is aligned with the benefit to the client. My chronos is worth what a client is prepared to pay for it, and a fixed rate - even if it is deviated from regularly - is not an ideal way to express that, but perhaps it is the best available. I would much prefer to sell kairos to my clients, but I have an idea that if I tried to charge them thousands of pounds for an hour's kairos, even if I had given them many hours of chronos without charge, they would not be particularly receptive.

01 August 2008

The Leaving Time

Following a chance meeting with Nigel, handing round a French loaf, on (in? I remember Karoline being highly amused by the notion that we English travelled not inside the carriages but perhaps clinging to the roof - German, and probably most other languages, uses "in", although I guess there are places where "on" is absolutely right) the train, I found myself consulting the OED to find out why we came to be called "commuters" and what it had to do with commuting a sentence - because the experience of travelling by train every day is the antithesis of a commuted sentence ...

Commute, from the Latin commutare to change altogether, to exchange (com + mutare). Transitive verb meaning (1) to change for or into or to exchange (1633), to interchange (1667); (2) to change an obligation etc into something lighter or more agreeable (taking the preposition for, into, occasionally with) (1633); (3) to change a punishment or a sentence into a lighter one, or a a fine (1642); (4) to change one kind of payment into or for another (1795) or (in the US) to purchase and use a commutation-ticket (which is defined as a ticket issued by a railway company etc entitling the holder to travel, etc, during its currency at a reduced rate; a season-ticket); and finally intransitive verb meaning to make up or compound for, to serve as a substitute for (1645).
I suppose I interchange at Paddington, and even at Didcot where I leave my bike and take the train (or vice versa), and I have been exchanging south Oxfordshire for Westminster every working day though I don't think it is necessarily lighter or more agreeable - perhaps that is the journey home. Or perhaps it means that what lies at the end of the journey is lighter or more agreeable than the journey itself. Of course, nothing could be more agreeable than a journey on which one encounters an old friend distributing bread.
I was rather taken by one of the examples cited by the Shorter OED: "Perhaps the shame and misery of this life may commute for hell".

I have now commuted the commuting.

Farewell, farewell

I took a seat on the train and called the local taxi company to pick me up. "The last train?" "I suppose it is." Perhaps that's a measure of a good evening. Opposite me, a passenger tapped a sleeping occupant of two seats opposite each other - in other words, feet up on the facing seat - to wake him, and before the newcomer could take his seat the other leapt up and left the train, which had been standing at Paddington for ten minutes, as quickly as ever possible.
I asked the couple sitting next to me - Paul and Josephine, going by the tattoo on his leg - to ensure I didn't stay beyond Didcot, to avoid a similar performance. "Oh, we'll be long gone by then", Josephine told me. Meanwhile the companion of the passenger who had tapped the sleeper on the leg to wake him yawned and hiccupped loudly, and while the leg-tapper caressed her leg and kissed her gently on the cheek she stared at a point close to Bristol Parkway. I piped "Red and Gold" into my ears, reasoning that music would keep me awake to my destination.
Red and Gold is perhaps not the best choice. It is an excellent song, and the chorus never fails to rouse me, but it is too closely tied up with the annual festival held on the field of the battle it describes, and the Cropredy Festival is the greatest and most traumatic cause of nostalgia I know.
To cap it, I had spent a few hours with Ben P, who was there with me when last I heard Fairport perform this song on the very battlefield, and in the pub - putting back more beer than I normally do in a month.
The reason for all this was my departure from what I referred to in an email to the said Ben as "the service of Mr Dyson", whom he happily confused with Mr Lacey ... to add to the other Fairport references I had dreamt up: Farewell, farewell quoted in my parting email to my colleagues (with an alternative reference to Kevin Ayers's See You Later ). And Tony the disenchanted Fairport fan, had come up with "Who knows where the timesheets go?", which I will adopt as a motto.
Listening to Farewell, farewell (as I hope my colleagues have been doing) brings on new waves of nostalgia. I had been gently alerted to the fact that I might have to undergo one of those presentations that I have so often participated in at the office, but when I left my room at about 4.15 intent on returning an armful of books to the library I had forgotten altogether about the prospect and was caught completely unawares.
It fell to Ian to say a few words, which harked back to 1995 when, the merger of Bircham & Co and Stoneham Langton and Passmore being imminent, he had come to Bolton Street to hear me give a talk on trade marks, claiming that he had insisted to his partners that the merger go ahead to secure my services; and confiding in the audience that both he and I had been born in Hartlepool (which of course was not true, but I am not going to spoil a good story, even if I have to assume the role of a monkey-hanger to oblige him). But we have, as he reported, exchanged books on Hartlepool (though the exchange has so far been one-way, from him to me). Then he presented me with a card signed by more people than I realised I knew, in an envelope nicely decorated with a photo of runners, and a small gift bag containing (gift-wrapped, so it was not clear what they were) a pair of running socks, a can of Red Bull and a jar of recovery sports rub. Plus a gift voucher from the local running shop in a sum that I could scarcely believe. The hand of Nancy is clearly identifiable here.
I planned - truly - to spend a few minutes in the pub and to drink very little. Several pints later, that resolution was in tatters. I went back to my desk to send an email to a client, and to deal with a few other odds and ends. A box was filled with my personal possessions (what the author of "Then we came to the end" referred to as "shit"), mostly by Ben J rather than me. I sent an email and copied it to the senior partner, the source of the client. He sent me a reply. I responded, and so did he. This is not how it should be at 1030 at night. I sent a email to an attorney in California, and less surprisingly she replied. I left the office, and found my way to the train and an MP3 player full of ancient Fairport Convention songs.
I am pleasantly surprised that my colleagues - who are also my friends - should have gone to such lengths to mark my departure. I myself should not have gone as far as I did - leaving work in a state I had not intended - but there will be ways to put it right shortly. I had come to regard this as merely a job, where I had the pleasure of spending time with delightful colleagues, but I realise now that there was always more to it than that. The colleague who confided that she loved her workmates too much identified a truth that holds for me too.

14 July 2008

Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

37 years to the day since the first British Grand Prix I attended ...
What is clearly missing from my training is mileage. To think just over a couple of years ago I was doing nine miles a day between office and flat, plus a lunchtime run most days (that was when Andrew, Shane, Vanessa or Rose would usually be willing to join in), and a long run - 15 miles or more - at the weekend. I often managed 40 or 50 a week, and recently I doubt I have been doing ten. So this evening I was going to run to Paddington at all costs, having missed out on the way in because my back pack was simply too heavy.
First I was sidetracked by a colleague on the way to the changing room, and arrived to put my running kit on later than planned but still in time to get the 1848. But I'd left my phone on my desk, so I had to go back upstairs for it and by the time I was on the street my watch showed I had 25 minutes to make the train.
I reached Hyde Park Corner in good time, taking Constitution Hill at a good pace which left me grateful for the wait to cross the road, which was the full 90 seconds from green to red (for the traffic, that is: I go by those lights, not the pedestrian ones, which lag slightly behind). Up the stairs from the tube station lobby and through the arch to the park, and I had to walk a few paces. up the long but gentle climb to where the tree once stood, now marked by a sort of roundabout in the junction of several paths. Eight minutes to reach Paddington. Down the hill then walk a few paces to regain my breath, jog to the crossing on Queensway, over the road, into the mews, past the restaurant on the corner opposite the pub where I met Andy for a drink once ... four minutes left.
Up London Street from Sussex Gardens to Praed Street, then down the ramp into the station where the clocks indicate that I have a couple of minutes in hand, pause at the barrier, take off my backpack, and fumble for my ticket for the best part of a minute. Damn! Got it, put it in the slot, the gates open and I am through them like a greyhound. The first door of Coach H is and the train manager standing at it with a whistle between her lips, and I am sprinting up the platform faster than Dwaine Chambers in Saturday's Olympic trial - or perhaps not ... decelerate and simultaneously turn into the doorway with a great squeaking of rubber soles on stone floor ... made it comfortably. Tap Julian on the arm as I pass his first-class seat - he's on the phone so I just wave - and through to the cheap seats.
Thank goodness I remembered to take a towel out of my desk drawer to bring with me.

13 July 2008

The long and winding road

To the Didcot 5, a race I had meant to do before and never quite got to. A nice flat course, mostly on paths through a housing estate - which is better than I realise that sounds. Dave, who lives a short walk from the start, assured me that there was only one climb, on the approach to Tesco, and I spent a lot of the race wondering how we were ever going to get anywhere near Tesco: in fact, I'd already done the climb (which was nothing to worry about) and it was outside Sainsbury's. Shows who does the shopping in his household.

Rachael was there, with Mark who was doing the Fun Run with his young daughter - but he made sure I knew he had already done 20 miles this morning, and an athletics meet the day before in which it seemed he had been obliged to do most of the events, including the pole vault and long jump and several track events which were much speedier than his normal running, so he had (he said) felt stiff this morning. Perhaps to prove a point, he was wearing a finisher's tee-shirt from the Comrades, which rather set him aside from the other fun runners (not to mention the non-fun runners in the 5 miler). I didn't ask him whether it had been a down year, though.

The course was flat but very, very winding. I don't know why town planners make footpaths and cycle routes meander through housing estates - presumably, pedestrians (if there are any) cut off the meanders, creating what I suppose one might call ox bow paths across the grass ... but of course we didn't, although there was a lot of scope for straightening out the meanders while remaining on the tarmac.

The first three hundred yards or so (and the last quarter mile) was across a recreation field, nicely rutted where it looked as if joyriders had been practising handbrake turns, though the ruts had been filled with sand. Still, it was bumpier even than the lawn that I levelled and reseeded at home this spring. (I finished the job in near-darkness, which probably accounts for some of the bumps.) By the time she exited the field, Rachael was fifty yards or more ahead of me, which was a bit less than I expected, and I had passed several people, including one with earphones in place who almost forced me into the barrier. (Later he came past me, cut in in front and slowed so I had to pass him again immediately: later still, he passed me again and I finally acknowledged that he was probably half my age.) Dave was behind me, though, and stayed there until it finally occurred to my body that this was twice the distance of most of my recent races, which ironically occurred just opposite Sainsbury's. He pulled out a bit of a lead over me, and was engaged in a spectacular sprint finish as I plodded round the last 400 yards before following his example to the best of my ability over the last 50 or so.

Not the most spectacular race, but very well marshalled and quite well-supported, with one water stop (about half distance, before the Sainsbury's Hill, where I paused to sip water and allowed Dave to make up a considerable amount of ground on me). At the end we received medals - Rachael kindly taking one for me while I got over the first half-minute or so after finishing, during which I always feel as if I am about to die, or if I have run really hard that I already have died) - though after being presented with a rose at the end of the Frohnau 10K in May medals will always seem a bit naff to me. She estimated my time at 36 minutes, my watch being in the office in London, and I reckon that isn't bad compared with 22:30 or thereabouts for a 5K and 16:15 for 2.3 miles in the Bridges Race.

I definitely need to get more training in if I am going to improve from this level, and I am conscious of the weight I am putting on as much as the fitness I am losing. I probably won't be taking a leaf out of Mark's or Rachael's book, though ... On to the Great City Race now, on Thursday, which is never a PB opportunity just because of the crowds, but at least will be a great evening out with colleagues.

12 July 2008

Fog on the Tyne

Writing a post - pursuant to a new resolution, following a phone conversation this morning with Mike Semple Piggott - for my other blog, IPso Jure, I found myself involved in one of those digressions that so easily seem to distract me. And in part it came about because yesterday, at Quorum Training, where I was running a course on data protection (see previous posting) I encountered an old political acquaintance who was also running a course.

Having established that he was who I thought he was, he asked me which wing of the party I'd been on - I answered "same as you", which made him smile: the whole conversation was a throwback to a competely different era, one in which it was necessary to be a little cagey about saying too much, one in which disloyalty (to the leader, that is, not necessarily to the party) was treated just a little (OK, a very little) like the way it would have been treated in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. I remembered my interlocutor haranguing Party Conference from the podium in a debate on capital punishment, him being barracked by the extreme right, and me leaving the conference hall in disgust and as a precaution against the likelihood that I might take direct action against some of the headbangers. He told me that it was otherwise: perhaps the debate was not on capital punishment (party managers generally had the sense to keep that off the agenda, and therefore off live national television), and his recollection was that he got into trouble by asking what the purpose of the Monday Club might be. A good question, perhaps. It was certainly a low point in my time as a member of the Conservative Party.

On the other hand, the meeting with the redundant shipyard workers (from Readheads Ship Repairers in South Shields), and the subsequent petition, the visit to Downing Street, the re-opening of the yard as a workers' co-operative (that most Conservative of business organisations), the award lunch at which their efforts were recognised and the Early Day Motion in the Commons calling (unsuccessfully) on the Ministry of Defence to send the Sir Tristram to them for repairs to the damage suffered in the Falklands War (which attracted the signatures of two MPs, Michael Fallon whom I had talked into tabling it, and Richard Needham, which neatly bracketed almost the entire breadth of the broad church that was the Parliamentary Conservative Party): those were the undoubted high points of my career in the party. I think I even included a plea for the Sir Tristram work in the speech I made to Party Conference that autumn, which was another high point in my political career - unfortunately there were not many more after that!

11 July 2008

Do you see the lights?

The worst thing that can possibly happen when you're running a training course is to turn on the radio to listen to the 6 o'clock news on BBC Radio 4 and to learn that a major official report on the very subject of your course is being published that very day. This morning, I heard that an official review had concluded that data protection laws needed a far-reaching overhaul and that public confidence in the law in this area was "evaporating". There's a story on the FT website about it here which I read hurriedly before setting off for the station to go to London to spend the day talking to an audience about the Data Protection Act.

I think I'll blog some more about this on IPso Jure, although it isn't IP law: I managed to get through the day without displaying my lack of knowledge of this development in the area of law in which I was professing expertise.

09 July 2008

Earth has not anything to show more fair

Wordsworth was not referring to the weather in 1802, but it probably wasn't anything like today's when he composed his sonnet on Westminster Bridge on September 3rd that year. Today the rain was coming down like stair rods, and registration for the Bridges Race was in the tunnel under the bridge. Others admired the bin liner I had procured from the general office before setting out for the race, and I was surprised to see that no-one else had adopted this traditional item of runners' attire.

I found myself being dispatched seven seconds ahead of Chris, who usually runs at about the same pace as me, but along the Embankment my legs felt weak and I could only manage a modest pace. Terry was in the distance ahead of me, and that's where he stayed. Faster runners started coming past, including a couple who got ahead just as we reached the challenging flight of steps up onto Vauxhall Bridge, so we pounded up the stairs together in a tight group.

Crossing the bridge, with groups of bedraggled casual runners coming in the opposite direction, a young man jokingly joined in and ran alongside one of the two who had just passed me before giving up. As I passed him I held out my raised hand and we "high fived" each other, which seemed so contrary to normal London practice - avoiding eye contact, never speaking, treating all strangers as dangerous, knife-carrying psychopaths - that it made me smile.

By the time I reach the end of Vauxhall Bridge I am usually making the most terrifying noise as I drag the reluctant air into my lungs and expel it again. The last couple of races I've done on this course I have given up trying not to do this, and finished the race hoarse: anyway, it serves to warn people in front that I am on my way, and today, running nearly silently, another competitor closed the gap between herself and a roadside tree just as I tried to squeeze through it.

I guess I was putting less into my racing today, based on the amount of noise I wasn't making, and Chris came past along Millbank, remarking that it had taken him a long time to wind in the seven seconds. I pointed out to him that the handicap was predicated on his achieving that at the finish line, so he was passing me very early. But I was able to tail him across Lambeth Bridge, making up ground as he slowed on the ascent (despite unusal cramp-like feelings in my foot) and catch and pass him along the final straight. As I passed Chris, another runner passed us both, but I caught him as well in my final sprint, and Julia, and Dennis, and evidently others too, because when Chris rued the fact that he had never been given such a high-numbered disc on finishing (30), I had been handed 22. It will be interesting to see what my time was, and how it compared with last month (noisy) and the relay the week before last (noisier).

At the finish, where those without bin liners did not hang about, two Community Support Officers (policemen-lite) were interested to know more about the event, so Dennis, who probably has more first-hand experience of it than almost anyone, was explaining it to them: they sounded as if they might be prepared to turn out next month.