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.