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.