25 February 2008

Blood on the tracks

At a job interview once, I was asked why I wanted to move away from working in London to a firm more local to home. "Ask me that at seven o'clock on a cold morning on Didcot station" I replied. Or half an hour either side of seven o'clock in the evening at Paddington. You can tell how bad it makes me feel from the incredible insensitivity of my choice of title ...
There had been a fatality at Southall, so the announcements said. There are fatalities all over the rail network, at least one a week or so it seems, and they cause the whole system to go into meltdown. In fact, it has a very low melting point indeed.
"Fatality" is one of those terms of art used on the railway system that must have the approval of the lawyers. It covers every conceivable reason for death, without using the word itself. Is it friendlier than any alternative? Deaths on the railways are bad news, and the railways might be blamed for them, but fatalities sound a little more unavoidable. And of course it could be a passenger having a heart attack: we should not assume it is a passenger being knifed (not one I have ever heard of, to be fair) or defenestrated (again, to be scrupulously fair, it was the doors, not the windows, that used to open unexpectedly when a passenger, or "sardine", was unwise enough to apply pressure to it, but any excuse to use the word "defenestrated" cries out to be taken). It could be a car hit on a level crossing, or it could be someone committing suicide in the messiest and (for the driver) most distressing fashion. Opinion tonight favours the last of these - as the explanation, that is, not as a response to the delays.
The result is several cancellations (some later reinstated). I arrived in time for the 1830, which was "full and standing" as the railway operators say, or like a can of sardines, as humourless paying customers would have it. Indeed, even the platform was full and standing, so I gave up and went in seach of the 1848.
On the bridge, the screens told a woeful story of cancellations, but there were still a few trains leaving. The 1845 - my mistake from the other day - was called and a stampede ensued. By a process of elimination the 1848 identified itself, but confirmation came from a wheelchair bound lady who had been loaded onto it. Of course one should not overlook the possibility that the railway staff put her on the wrong train, but it was the most compelling indication we were likely to receive of the train's intended destination.
Another lady passenger walking with the aid of two crutches had also been assured that this was the right train, so we took seats in coach A where we were joined by several others. An announcement eventually (about 1900) told us that trains on the next two platforms would leave before this one, so most of us crossed over the bridge where one train was already "full and standing" and the other turned out to be for Penzance - a route that does not pass through Didcot. I took a seat on it briefly before working out that I would be alighting from it at Reading to change to the 1848 anyway, so back to that train I went - up the stairs, over the bridge, down again. The lady with the crutches was still there.
After a while sitting in this train, a man clad in a fluorescent jacket entered the carriage an announced, in a conversational voice, that the train was cancelled. He might as well have said "this train's cancelled - pass it on". I got the message eventually, and stood up with the rest of the company to leave. One passenger expressed concern that after so many announcements on the Tannoy system we should now be obeying a poorly projected message from a man about whose credentials we were ignorant - fluorescent jackets being widely available. "It makes no sense," he complained. I advised him to seek sense in places other than railway stations.
Just then the Tannoy came alive again and we were told that the train was indeed cancelled but at the opposite platform - no need to cross the bridge! - was a train that would form the 1915 (it was alsready close to 1920) to Swansea, calling at Reading, Didcot ... So it was fifth time lucky, sixth if you count two boardings of the cancelled 1848.
I paused in the train lobby to phone home, and asked my current best friend - the one with the crutches - if she would please save a seat in case my phone call lasted long enough for the carriage to fill up. As it happened, I still had a wide choice of seat when I finished, and we left before half past - just an hour after I had entered the station.
At Reading, the train manager apologised for the late running of the train. He blamed it on the passengers from the cancelled 1848 all having to be transferred. That's a calumny in that it sounds as if it were our fault, and cannot be correct as passengers seeking to go to places between Swindon and Cheltenham will find this service of little use. I suppose they can alight at Swindon, and perhaps walk from there.

22 February 2008

Once upon a time in the West

I did an unusual thing yesterday - I took the 1845 from Paddington in the evening. I'd managed to record my quota of time and had reached the point at which I couldn't tolerate any more time in the office, and I'd turned down an invitation to run at lunchtime, so I was pleased to be on my way home and glad to be a few minutes earlier than usual. Unfortunately I missed the 1830, but more unfortunate still was the fact that the train I caught does not stop at Didcot.
I cannot imagine how this fact passed me by. I have looked at its listing on the departure boards many times and rejected it because it is usually so crowded (conveying, as I have written before, to their homes all those dozing Welshmen who populate the morning up trains). Today, however, the 1848 to Cheltenham was showing "delayed", an ominous admission which encouraged me to take the slightly earlier one. At least I boarded it early enough to find a seat.
By the time I had alighted at Swindon, waited 25 minutes for an up train and returned to Didcot, our evening was well and truly ruined. It was in part redeemend by encounters with two other rail users, both gentlemen in, I guess, their seventies. The first was alighting at Swindon with a large wheeled case ad a heavy shoulder bag, assistance with which he declined, although he was grateful to have the door opened. I observed that he was travelling well-laden, and he told me he was travelling for two days. Still, that seemed an inordinate amount of luggage for two days, but then he made himself a little clearer - he had left his home in Ukraine and was now, I assume, at his destination. He seemed as English as most, but I had no time to find out from him why he lived there. Romania and Bulgaria might be popular places for second or retirement homes, being cheap and having agreeable climates (though I do remember 25 years ago how bitterly cold it
was in Transylvania, and indeed in Bucharest: I don't suppose even the coast would have been much better in January). I suppose Ukraine has its Black Sea coast too - did it get Yalta in the break-up of the Soviet Union?
Then as I finally reached Didcot the second gentleman asked me to open the door as he lacked the flexibility to lean out and turn the handle, and indeed when we descended to the platform he walked with some difficulty, and a stick, and took the lift in preference to the stairs, curtailing our short conversation. But how refreshing - though it isn't that rare an occurrence on the railways - to eschange a few words with a fellow human being.
This morning, I arrived in time to see the 0700 pull in and leave before I could get to it - a couple of minutes late, but I had checked the latest on the web site 40 minutes earlier and it had reported that the 0700, 0711 and 0720 were all on time. However, the 0711 was missing from the screens that tell hopeful travellers when their train might be expected: one of my regular companions told me that he had learned that it had been cancelled. It was running 20 minutes behind schedule (all that time lost since I checked its progress on the web site - or perhaps not) so to help it along they cut out
its stop at Didcot. Well, if it were that late it would be no good to me anyway, and at least it is Friday, and half-term, so whatever trains do appear are likely to be fairly quiet.

18 February 2008

... It's cold and the sun is white ...

A ridge of high pressure has settled itself over the British Isles, and the weather that had seemed positively balmy has switched to Siberian, taking millions of daffodils by surprise. A clear sky means I found myself driving to the station in something approaching daylight for the first time this year.

I took a significant amount of work home for the weekend, and have not even had time to look at it. Fortunately the train was quiet and I had a good opportunity to attack some of it, once I had drafted this blog entry. But, even without doing any of my work, I failed to get out running at the weekend: instead I played around with a couple of elderly computers, one to wipe the hard disk with a view to taking it to a charity shop, the other to try to make the hard disk work. I ended up by offering the wiped-clean one to members of the local Freecycle group (www.freecycle.org, which I noticed to my amusement is sponsored by Perkins Coie). I had about a dozen takers, and felt sorry for the student in need of a machine to finish a piece of coursework, the man who wanted something for his children's homework, and the others who got nothing: but I found takers for the working clean machine and a near-death laptop, Larrry, who was Sarah's 18th birthday present from her grandmother, replaced a couple of years ago and passed on to me. Larry will go to someone who has had to give up his job as a postman because of an injury and is embarking on a computer repair course, which is a highly satisfying outcome. It makes me feel that the weekend has been spent usefully, in addition to which we had a very enjoyable evening out seeing Stomp , I read On Chesil Beach (McEwan writes beautifully) and all the girls reported successful weekends too - mostly in terms of the tips they have earned.

(Regarding the title: I already used the title-cum-first line of this song once, but the second line is just right for today.)

17 February 2008

To live outside the law you must be honest ...

The government proposes to make ISPs responsible for disconnecting users who are caught downloading infringing material three times, and it seems that the opposition supports them. It looks as if it is a stick with which to encourage a voluntary arrangement between rights owners (for which read multinational record companies: I am becoming more and more Marxist as I get older) and the internet service providers, and there have already been some attempts to put such an accord in place. But is this the right way to deal with the problem, and is it going to have the slightest effect?

A cursory glance at discussions on the internet reveals that users will find ways round it in very short order. There is talk of encryption, of the limitations of deep packet inspection, of the problems in distinguishing legitimate peer-to-peer filesharing from the illegal. There is talk of using anonymous networks and VPNs that route traffic through jurisdictions where the law is less fierce.

You can’t even assume that all MP3 files are shared illegally: plenty of copyright owners permit the distribution, or making available, of their material. Attempts to get deep into the packets of data will invade privacy and bring the speed of traffic on the Internet down to central London rates.

There are ways in which data protection issues can be dealt with, essentially by not requiring the ISP to hand over any data to the rights owner. All the ISP needs to to do is issue the two warnings and then pull the plug. Tiscali has, however, had problems with the BPI over who pays for these steps to be taken: BPI take exception to paying for Tiscali to enforce its own contract terms, but ISPs are concerned not only about the cost of taking steps against alleged infringers but also about being indemnified by the rights owners – who are the source of the information that enables them to identify the infringers.

On the other hand, it is worth considering who benefits from the millions of tiny infringements that take place every day on the Internet. It’s the ISPs, the telcos, and probably most important the device manufacturers, and they should be the ones to put their houses in order. They need the co-operation of the record companies, but there’s a vast overlap in their respective interests here and it should not be beyond the realms of possibility to get them to agree. Experience shows (as Nick Holmes explained in his Binary Law blog not long ago) that while digital content is hard to control, digital delivery services are something most people would pay for. They need to know that they are going to get what they want, in terms of up-to-date content (the latest episodes of their favourite US television shows, for example), quality, portability and longevity.

The record industry has secured protection for its DRM techniques, and looks set to get an increase in copyright protection for its recordings to 95 years: it should be prepared to come part of the way to meet the other players over the three strikes rule.

The government's threat to legislate sounds just like what we have become accustomed to from New Labour: legislation as a solution to every problem. I doubt it has worked in even a small proportion of the cases in which they have tried it, and this is certainly not one which stands much chance of succeeding. What's worse, though, is to see the opposition going along with it so uncritically.

15 February 2008

Third time around

Mike SP has asked if I will record a podcast for him over the weekend, on the subject of the proposed "three strikes" rule for copyright infringers. My contribution will complement one to be recorded by the shadow culture secretary, Ed Vaizey - who happens to be my MP and the recipient of my complaints about the trains, not to mention the Hyde Park Corner subway. So I am swotting up on the proposals, finding a lot of references to "copyright theft" and even "decriminalising" downloading for private use which suggest that the Conservative Party hasn't exactly got to grips with the subject.

The lap of luxury

There was a generous trainload of people trying to board the 1848 to Cheltenham Spa this evening - my preferred train over the 1845 to Swansea, which is always packed (well, the sleeping Welshmen who are on the train from Swansea in the morning have to get back to Wales somehow). But Coach C was a derestricted first class coach, so not only was it comfortable and spacious but most of the casual travellers passed it by assuming that it was not for them.

I took the trouble to ascertain that it was indeed derestricted by asking a passenger who was already in place, and then confirmed that she didn't mind me sitting opposite her - first class coaches offer pairs of seats facing each other on one side, and sets of four arranged two-by-two on the other with tables - broad, useful tables - between. None of your new-fangled airline seats here. Cramming passengers in is not the aim.

"This is nice", I told my new companion. "I'd pay extra for this - but not twice as much."

A group of twenty-something women, carrying bottles of wine and talking loudly - a typical Friday evening group on the trains - came into the carriage. One of them observed that it was a first class coach, and they made to leave again, then hesitated. Did we tell them it they were entitled to take a seat, that it had been derestricted? What do you think? But they worked it out anyway.

Sounds great when you're dead

The Commission has published proposals to surrender to the record
companies over the duration of copyright protection in sound
recordings, the IPKat reports. Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who
seems to have swallowed the record industry's line together with the
hook and the sinker, says performing artists should no longer be the
'poor cousins' of the music business. (He Commission is proposing an
increase in the term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 to 95
years. The Commission's press release issued yesterday quotes him as saying:
"I strongly believe that copyright protection for Europe's performers
represents a moral right to control the use of their work and earn a
living from their performances. I have not seen a convincing reason
why a composer of music should benefit from a term of copyright which
extends to the composer's life and 70 years beyond, while the
performer should only enjoy 50 years, often not even covering his
lifetime It is the performer who gives life to the composition and
while most of us have no idea who wrote our favourite song - we can
usually name the performer."
What rubbish. As I write, I'm listening to a song the writer of which
probably half the population of Europe (and even more in the US) could
name. On this recording he's singing it too - not to everybody's
taste: "nobody sings Dylan like Dylan" is at best rife with ambiguity.
And the original recording of The Times they are a'Changing isn't far
off its 50th anniversary.
I've also managed to cite as an example a non-European performer,
although given where the pressure for change comes from it's
inconceivable that Bob and his countrymen - Elvis is of course the
paradigm case - won't benefit.
More difficult is working out what is my favourite song. If I could
identify it, I'm sure I could tell you who wrote it - Walter & Davis,
probably, perhaps James Warren, or even Smegmakovitch or Wabadaw
Sleeve. But for the title to this posting Robyn Hitchcock wrote just the right song.

14 February 2008

Five minutes (and you're almost there)

The 0711 is early arriving at Didcot this morning, prompting a mad rush for Platform 4. I passed a lady whose stair speed was lower than mine, then crammed into the lobby of the train with her.
"Sorry to overtake like that", I said to her. I hadn't barged: in fact she had swung her bag out of my way: but it wasn't a very polite manoeuvre, though I would have compensated by holding the door to prevent it being locked against her had the need arisen.
"Oh, that's all right, I'm getting too old to run for trains" she said - she might have said "we", actually, but I'm going to let that go, although it might still have been correct: I'm not too old to run a Marathon (OK, that's going to be proven in April, I'll accept half-Marathon), but I am past the age for running for trains. Especially carrying all this marmalade!
"We'll stand here for five minutes now", she added, and - the train having pulled in early - she was quite right.

13 February 2008

Keep on running

Thick fog and icy roads this morning - Huw remarked yesterday as we ran round the Royal Parks that it seemed like summer, but it's definitely winter this morning. The 0711 slipped into the station as I walked from the car park, completely obscured from view and the sound of its passage muffled. Still, I couldn't have run for it as I had too much marmalade to carry. Before we reached Reading a message had come to my phone advising me of severe delays to the Circle Line, so this is clearly going to be a great journey to work.
I spent more time yesterday than I should have done contacting my INTA friends to suggest they might like to sign up for the 10K race that Marek and I have found in Berlin on 18 May. This produces several replies from people I don't hear from very often. Charles in South Africa is about to retire and therefore not attending INTA. Instead he is taking his running to new levels - the Antarctic Marathon in March, then his tenth Two Oceans which qualifies him for guaranteed entries for life. That's a great sort of retirement: I hope that if ever I get into a position to contemplate retirement I can do likewise.
To many of my colleagues, and I should add (because there is a distinction to be drawn), friends at the office I am defined by my running. Perhaps it would be better to be considered first and foremost as an intellectual property lawyer, but I think I'd prefer being a runner anyway. However, the awful realisation struck me yesterday that what defines me is neither my profession nor my sport (or obsession, as some would have it). It's my status as a commuter: it's my journey to and from work that is the defining feature of my life.
Now, this will probably come as little surprise to even the most casual reader of this blog. I have followed in the footsteps of Tiresias (the modern one, that is, not the original), and was doing so before I discovered blogging, although my Notes from Overground are not as well-known as his (not yet, anyway). But the notion that this part of my daily routine has become so all-consuming is discomforting. If you're looking for meaning in what you do in your life, the realisation that this is such a large part of it comes as a bit of a let-down.

12 February 2008

I don't like Mondays

A classic Monday morning on the trains.  The telephone payment service for the car park was on the blink, and so were the ticket machines on site, so I had to wait for a human to take my payment.  When I am obliged to do it this way, it is generally a much more pleasant experience: the agents are friendly and helpful, although their script requires them to try to sell text message updates and other services I don't want.  Because of the delay in making the payment, the 0711 passed me as I walked to the station, but still had not departed when I reached the stairs up to the platform.  Two would-be passengers, clearly inexperienced in the workings of a railway station, stopped on the stairs to read the departure information, so I had to call out a brusque "excuse me!" to clear a way to the train.
 
The train manager was leaning out of one of the windows, the doors already being locked as I arrived.  I'd missed my chance.  "I much prefer the 7:20 anyway", I told him with a hint of sarcasm.  "Much nicer."  "It is today", he told me, "the heating's not working on this bloody train."
 
Apparently it took 20 or 30 minutes (depending on whose report you are going by) longer than it should have to reach London.  A lucky escape all round.
 
Nancy awarded me a rest day, but today I'm back to running although there is a distinct lack of strength in my legs.  I also started to feel very hungry along the Mall on the return leg.  Still, Huw and I managed to lap the two parks (about 5k) in about 22 minutes, catching Hannah on the way, and I should be OK for the Bridges tomorrow if I have time to get there. 

10 February 2008

Wokingham Half Marathon

I've long wanted to run this one, and last year was only prevented from doing so when I woke up with the symptoms of a cold on race morning. Mind, that was when I was having a lot of trouble with my knee, so it might not have been ideal anyway. Today's race has given me a tremendous boost, after many months when not much seemed to be going right: some more miles on my training schedule and there is no reason why I shouldn't get down below 1:30.

The instructions asked us to be at the start an hour before it was due to take place, so it was quite an early departure from home. Signs for the car parks in the town centre tended to set you in a direction then stop - it worked OK if you kept going straight on from one sign to the next, but I'd have felt more confident if there had been more signs. An event of this size monopolises the parking facilities, so it was important to ensure that I got there in time to find a space to dispose of the car. Then it was a fairly lengthy jog to the start - few other competitors going at more than walking pace - which was also unwelcome, and the start area was pretty congested.

The course is nice and flat, and the weather was absolutely perfect for a half-marathon. Quite bright, not too hot, distinctly cool where the route was shady and hanging around at the start, but no wind. The sky was cloudless, and Heathrow-bound aircraft hung in it apparently stationary. Support from spectators almost all way round the course was superb and generous. However, my enjoyment (and those of others I spoke to) was marred by a very crowded start, and the fact that I was still passing joggers for two or three miles. I wondered out loud to the lady who who I was running alongside at about that point whether we had passed all the joggers yet, and she remarked that she had never seen such a bad start from that point of view. Timing was by chip, but from gun to finish, so the couple of minutes it took me to reach the start will be in my official time.

A little later I caught Jean-Luc and exchanged a few words before we had to pass a slower-moving group and became separated again. It's a constant proble: you think you're running at the same pace as someone, but as soon as you have to speed up or slow down you lose contact again. After that I kept company with a guy called William, running his first half for three years and doing it rather better than I did - I finally lost him when I stopped for a drink.

Just before half-distance, I found myself running with a lady from the Serpentine club called Phil, who has at least once come steaming past the about 4 K on the last Friday of the month race. (Checking the results she was one place in front of me in December.) I was ahead of 7 minutes 30 schedule at that stage, and knew that I was definitely taking it too fast, just enjoying the weather and not paying enough attention to pace, so just as in the last Friday races I let her go.

But for a lengthy stop for a drink to a water station about 10 miles I think I would have been on that schedule until about two miles to go to. By that stage, however, my legs had definitely lost interest in proceedings, and I pulled over to walk a few yards to recover just before the 12 mile mark. The I summoned enough energy to get back to running, but when I turned the corner towards the finish I knew that 1:40 had slipped by so my sprint for the line, which wasn't going to recover those missing seconds, left quite a lot to be desired. The time my watch showed that I missed out by 41 seconds, and I suspect the official time will show there are 22 minutes longer. I stopped at the water stations for much more than 41 seconds, so I can probably count it as sub-1:40 with a clear conscience though this will not be borne out by the official results. I can also say I ran a good 12 mile race: pity that it had over a mile still to go at that stage ...

The finish area was not as crowded as the start had been (many people were still on the course, naturally) but even so I doubted I would bump into anyone. But there was Rachael, with Mark too: she reckoned she'd been seventh woman home, which is pretty good going given the problems she has mentioned on her blog, and the fact that Liz Yelling was running. I collected my bag from the marquee where it was mysteriously raining inside (OK, not really a mystery, but certainly a bit odd) then also bumped into William. Everyone parted saying "See you at Reading", but of course the chances of seeing any particular person at Reading are vanishingly small. Still you never know.

09 February 2008

One more cup of coffee for the road

I often find myself irritated by things at work. I would be surprised if I were not the only person in the world who has this experience. On Thursday, it was the discovery that the office firewall had been strengthened yet again, and I could not listen to podcasts or read RSS feeds on Google Reader (the source of so much updating material these days). Nor could I post to my blog, though I had to admit to myself that it was hardly grounds for criticising the office computer system, although there is plenty of work-related stuff in it.

Worst, when I pressed the "publish" button the whole lot was lost, and it was a good one (of course). Later I started to recreate it:

"A slightly unusual train ride this morning, as I found myself exchanging emails with a friend who must remain nameless, who was stuck in an overcrowded train at Reading as we passed through the outskirts of London; and also unusual in the length, complexity and detail of the train manager's explanation of what was wrong with it. Even more unusual, from my point of view there was nothing at all wrong with the train service as it ran on time and I had a seat."

That was as far as I got, due to pressure of time. The train had appeared on time at Didcot, but the train manager was at pains to apologise for the fact that it had started at Worcester Shrub Hill rather than Great Malvern as it should have done, because it - the collection of power cars and carriages - had ended up overnight at Bristol because of a fatality at Burnham (no, I don't understand how that worked, but it is what I recall of the announcement). The crew meanwhile had spent the night at Great Malvern (which doesn't sound too much of a hardship, though I have no idea how unsalubrious their accomodation might have been), with the result that (here's the main point of the apology, I think) there was no buffet service on board. They must have found a driver and train manager cooling their heels in Worcester and placed them with this service, but not the stewards whose presence is so important for the comfort of the first class passengers. I'm surprised they allow trains to run at all with this profit centre lacking!

We arrived on time in London, so as far as I was concerned no apology was needed. What the Great Malvern passengers, who probably turned up at about 5 am only to find no train to take them to London, felt I cannot tell. I suspect they would have settled for a train without a buffet.

Down to the Waterline

To the opening of the Waterhouse, Arthur's new restaurant in Hoxton. I had been running a training course all day, and was already footsore before I left Quorum Training's premises, and I had a couple of hours before I was supposed to be there anyway (Arthur had reserved a table for me, Hilary and Mel at 8). I started out for the office, to get another hour of billable time down, but there was nothing from Euston on the Victoria Line so eventually I crossed over to the neighbouring Northern Line platform. My plan was to head for the river and then take the District or Circle Line to St James's Park: but the train went to Old Street, the nearest tube station to the Waterhouse, so I alighted there. (Nice word, "alighted".)

The directions I'd seen somewhere had told me that it would take 25 minutes to walk, and of course I had discounted that estimate heavily to take into account my fitness levels. Big mistake, as however fit I might be it counts for little after a day on my feet lecturing. Plus, the route took me through some pretty mean streets: Hoxton might be up and coming, but that doesn't go for the surrounding neighbourhoods. Crossing Shoreditch Park in the pitch dark was probably on the stupid side of reckless, but I made it.

The restaurant is in a new residential development, which reassuringly has its own mini police station too (less reassuringly, all that could be seen through the window to suggest that it was in use was an open ring binder on the counter). An illuminated sign in the shape of a drop of water suggested where the front door might be, and as I found it Arthur appeared waving to me from inside. I was about an hour ahead of schedule - a rare experience for me.

He was showing some other guests - only a handful were present at this stage - the terrace, overlooking the inky-black Regent's Canal. Apart from occasional cyclists flashing past on the towpath opposite, it was pitch dark: this is a part of town full of warehouses and other large non-residential buildings, although it is quickly changing.

Like Acorn House this is a sustainable restaurant, though they are taking the concept a little further. Plantpots on the terrace were filled with compost made from waste food from Acorn House (greener still not to waste food, I thought, but there will inevitably be peelings and things, and people being what they are there will also be left-overs). They housed a couple of wormeries, and rhubarb was growing in another - just about enough, I ventured, for a couple of crumbles. I didn't try to explore the possible Stackridge connection. In due course a barge will be moored alongside the restaurant, one of the trainee chefs will live on it and it will be used to grow more produce.

The restaurant is powered by solar and hydroelectric energy. Air conditioning is via heat exchangers in the canal. It's not well served by bus or tube (as I found) but there's some scheme to run taxis on biodiesel made from the cooking oil they use. Surely it will need more than that to get a taxi further than about the end of the street?

Hilary and Mel arrived about an hour after me, and we had a very enjoyable meal with a glass of wine included - all for the princely sum of £20 a head. Not bad for four courses (plus a little cup, a capuccino cup perhaps, of borsch to start with).

06 February 2008

Vorsprung durch Laufen

A little research and Marek (hi, Marek!) and I have found a Berlin race. 10K on the opening day (the Sunday) of the INTA annual meeting, and the entry fee is a mere €8 - compare that with the usual official 5K which comes in at about ten times the price. I have learnt a few new German words, too, including laufen and by extension Straßenlauf, as well as Veranstaltungen and a few others.

A la recherche du temps perdu

I think it's fair to call this lunchtime's effort a tempo run. Robbie and Huw joined in, and Hannah came as far as Hyde Park Corner: the three of us took the Serpentine Bridge route. The weather was perfect if a little breezy, a bright, sunny, spring day, and after a gentle start to warm me up we kept up a cracking pace along the south side of the Serpentine. Huw and I dropped Robbie, closed up again along the north side after crossing the bridge until we reached Buckingham Palace, then Robbie hauled me back round the end of St James's Park much faster than I'd have gone by myself. A very satisfying session, though not as fast as it felt. A timekeeping error at Hyde Park Corner (I paused my watch but failed to restart it properly) meant that the time was a rough estimate, about 41 minutes but with waiting time to subtract from that.
Tom was out at the same time running intervals along the north side of St James's Park, very keen to get down below 19 minutes in the Last Friday. No point in my even thinking about that - though if I join him for his intervals I might get closer to breaking 20.
Rachael declined my invitation to join in on the grounds that she is tapering down to the Wokingham half on Sunday, by which she seems to mean she was making do with the ten miles she'd already run today supplemented by a gym session. I often wish I'd taken up running at a youger age - I missed so much enjoyment. But I was simply incapable of running when I was a child, because of my asthma. Would running have helped relieve it? I never applied myself enough to find out, and I think it's the introduction of salbutamol that has enabled me to get over the stage of not being able to exercise because of asthma and into the stage where the exercise controls it. A bigger help might have been if my parents hadn't smoked around me, but it's a bit late to speculate about that.

Early Morning Onwards

Regulars are becoming familiar with the new timetable now, after a couple of months. This is probably just in time for some interim changes in May. But as I remarked to one acquaintance yesterday, it's not much more than a year ago that we all took the 0717: we switched our allegiance to the 0707 a year back when there was a particularly disastrous timetable change, but now many of us are aiming at the 0700. In fact, that train usually runs so much to time that we miss it, as we are accustomed to the train companies polite few minutes of leeway, and end up with the 0711 and a wait on an exposed platform (thank goodness for this mild weather!). That can, however, turn up after the 0720, causing those crazy lemming-like migrations across the station to reach the right platform. And the 0711 (from Great Malvern, or Moreton or somewhere up that way, via Oxford) is usually busier than the 0720, which comes from Cheltenham.
If I aim for the 0700 and end up on the 0720, my overall journey time approaches two hours, which is becoming the norm when you add in a track circuit failure, frozen points or just plain old congestion at Reading. So I have to spend my time on the train productively. Yesterday I loaded some papers into my bag, but when I retreived them this morning I found that one document in which the client had painstakingly inserted comments had contrived to print out without them. I am at the end of my patience with the IT systems at the office. The other day my computer was responding strangely, and Erkan on the helpdesk (now known as the service desk, though I think help is about all they have time to dispense) instructed me to log off then place both hands on the keyboard depressing as many keys as possible. I asked if this was an approved technical fix, and he said words to the effect that I should just trust him. Sure enough it cleared something that was stuck.
The introduction of pull printing should be a great step forward. However, it means that I have to attend at the printer personally to swipe my card (and if I am using a temporary card to gain access to the building, having left my own at home, I cannot print this way at all) where I will have to stand and wait while it churns out my documents. These might have been sent to print the previous day and might be ones that I would prefer to print elsewhere - like the document with the client's comments inserted, which was where this train of thought began. I'd have sent it to a colour printer so I could see the comments in red - as it is, they have been stripped out or perhaps printed in white. Because I have spent so much time in charge of my own IT systems, and have built them up to do what I need, I get frustrated trying to work with a system devised by someone else.

04 February 2008

Endorphin machine

A brisk - very brisk, in both senses of the word - run, alone, at lunchtime. A week having gone by without getting out for a run, I was pleased to be able to complete a 5K circuit at what I estimate to be a good pace. I stopped for a lot of stretches and still got back to the office in under half an hour. Then I did the "run-up", which took me 57.31 - seven seconds faster than the only other recorded time! I admit that I pulled on the handrail this time, instead of just using it to steady myself, but what the hell, I'm not cheating anyone. My legs almost stopped working by the eighth floor, and it took a couple of minutes to get my breath back, but it felt like a fantastic workout.

The International Trademarks Association meeting this year will have no sports - no 5K run is the important thing, though others will miss the golf or tennis. What to do? It almost destroys the entire rationale of going. I contacted Rudi, who is up for an informal run together, which he seemed to suggest might entail a bit of a race - not between me and him, I have to say, but perhaps Paul will give him a run for his money. Now I should look for likely venues in Berlin.

03 February 2008

The Devil's Fishbowl part II

On the way through Oxford yesterday, we were stationary waiting to turn into a busy road (the only sort of road Oxford has) beside a pub the outside area of which was equipped with a huge array of heating devices and a widescreen TV, which was showing the Six Nations for the benefit of smoking patrons. I doubt it could have involved an illegally-obtained Greek decoding card, of course, but it did strike me that there was a more public showing in progress here.

02 February 2008

Everybody's got to learn sometime

I nearly gave up the idea of dashing back to London yesterday evening to see Stackridge at the 100 Club: I had to dash from London to Oxford first, and got highly stressed in the process. It's an unavoidable side-affect of using the trains, I suppose. But I did take the Oxford Tube coach service back into town, and I did arrive in good time for the kick-off, and I did meet up with Chris and his colleague Tony - though Martino had to be elsewhere, and Ben was held back at the office by Sir Gerald.

The set included some pieces I haven't heard for years, and one or two of those that I have been enjoying live and in recordings of recent live appearances have been dropped. Fundamentally Yours, so close to being a perfect song, was reinstated when the band met a fan who had travelled from New York to see them - whether exclusively to do so, I didn't find out, though I found myself standing next to him at the start of the second set when I had taken up position to make the best use of my camera. They were all excellent, and I can even forgive them The Volunteer, Happy in the Lord, and The Galloping Gaucho - does anyone notice a pattern here? I like Mutter's singing, it's his choice of material I don't agree with so much, although Dancing on Air is enchanting. As for Do The Stanley, it's just the best sort of inspired lunacy, and I had the pleasure of Stanleying, I believe, with Mutter's wife Linda. Strangely, though, no-one else seemed prepared to essay the far-from-complicated steps: is it a lost art, or does it just demand a level of fitness not usually found in the middle-aged men who made up most of the audience? It was tough work, and it would not be immodest for me to say that I was quite possibly the fittest person in the room.

Also had the pleasure of meeting Mike Tobin, and completed my collection of autographs of the current band members. A second life-affirming evening in the same week - at least, it felt like it when I left the 100 Club, but by the time I'd walked through the binge drinkers, police patrols and ambulances that are an essential feature of a weekend evening in central London, waited 40 minutes for the coach and travelled back to Oxford in near-Arctic temperatures because the heating wasn't working, reaching home close to 2.30 am, the pleasure had been just slightly diluted.