30 September 2010

Those were the days

It's been a long wait - but finally Runner's World has hit the newsstands with a horrifying four pages of me, including one full-page photo. I have eclipsed Rachael and Mark, to whom I couldn't get close in competition. Six months after the event, it all seems rather distant.

If you buy Runner's World once in your life, make it November 2010 (yes, in the world of magazine publishing it's already November). You're unlikely to have such a laugh again!

I should add that I am rather proud of the prose (which my editor has modified just a little, mostly to tighten and improve it, but also to substitute "borstal" for my carefully chosen "institution". Maybe I need to learn not to try too much subtlety - after all, this was not literature, it was just an article in Runner's World - or do the two overlap?

Concertino

I've surprised Chris, quite unintentionally, before, somehow managing to show him parts of London that he hasn't seen before. Last year he was amazed by Hyde Park and the Serpentine - to me, little more than a pleasant running route. Today I introduced him to Wigmore Hall.

Well, Wigmore Hall is rather surprising by any stretch of the imagination. To enter under that interesting-looking canopy and pass down the corridor to the box office and the entrance to the auditorium is odd in itself - it strikes one as a waste of prime London real estate, although presumably the street frontage is profitably occupied by shops. The corridor is merely the prelude to the most surprising part, the auditorium itself which you just have to go to see for yourself, if you haven't already. The arts and crafts cupola is nothing less than spectacular.

There's also a surprise or two down the stairs, where the reception I attended last week was held, in the Bechstein Room (with Clive Barda's best photographs hanging round the room). There's also a bar and restaurant, where we took a glass of wine and a bowl of crisps and Chris contrived to drop a wad of rail tickets and other small pieces of paper behind the bar. And to leave his programme.


We were there to hear, and watch (because virtuoso piano pieces are as much a spectacle as an aural experience), Mark Bebbington run through an eclectic (to my mind) programme, from Haydn, by way of Schubert, to Liszt, with a premiere performance of Ireland's youthful rhapsody along the way. Being no technical expert, all I can say is that it was uniformly superb, although the piece I looked forward to most, Liszt's transcription of the Liebestod, seemed to me to have rather more notes than it really needed. Even so, a sublime piece of music. Mark was called back for two encores, a piece by Castelnuovo-Tedesco (another premiere, perhaps, as it was unpublished and he told me he had discovered it while studying in Italy) and Feux d'Artifices - not that I recognised it, but someone said that was what it was. I really should know my Debussy better.

I've sometimes felt that Wigmore concerts were put on for the benefit of a closed circle - one member of the group playing for the enjoyment of the others, and perhaps moving round for the next event. To call it cliquey would give the wrong impression, as I didn't feel excluded, but it was a strange sensation - as if they weren't really public concerts. This evening seemed different, somehow, and anyway I am only going on the experience of three visits over a period of some 15 years, so I am probably talking complete rubbish: and each time there have been people there I knew, including the pianist in each case.

A satisfying way to end a very interesting day: a positive (though whether productive remains to be seen) meeting in the morning, and an afternoon of frenetic activity including an hour-long transatlantic conference. Unfortunate that a lunch with an old friend and client had to be dropped, but we'll get back to that soon.

No time to run in the middle of all that, but it's good to know that once again I can run when I want.

Youtube didn't have a lot of relevant choice to offer, but this is worth watching.

29 September 2010

Room to Move

The train jolts to a halt shortly after the train manager announces Reading as the next "station stop". But this isn't a station stop - it's one of those random ones that trains execute when the signals tell them to do so. Nevertheless four passengers have leapt to their feet and vied to be first to the door.

28 September 2010

Not dark yet

A small step - but in the right direction: an injury-free run, a mere 3.75 miles or so and at a pretty relaxed pace, but I seem to be on top of the injury that has sidelined me for most of the past year. Thank goodness. A lot of fitness to recover now, and a lot of races to run next year to make up for this.

We are now in the time of year when club runs have to stay within the town, as it's too dark to venture outside. A more compelling reminder of the passage of the year is hard to imagine. It seems no time ago that I was writing of the onset of last autumn.

Roar

It seems sometimes that the world is full of marketing gurus, mostly American. Certainly my inbox is full of their words of wisdom, and I have invested much time in reading them. Those daily emails are like a security blanket – so long as I keep on reading them, I tell myself, something good will happen. They often seem to be telling me what I already know, but don’t act on – nothing wrong with that, indeed it’s extremely useful. But there’s something just a little foreign, a bit too American, about most of them, so their teaching isn’t necessarily what an English lawyer needs. On top of that, many of them aren’t lawyers, or if they are (and I think by now most Americans probably are lawyers) they haven’t practised much, or at all, or for a long time.
No, if I were to be able to specify my ideal marketing guru, I would want someone who understood my profession – ideally, an English solicitor. One who had practised, and not too long ago, so knew at first hand how to bring in clients. One with proven rainmaking experience. And, because we English are still rather tribal, let me specify a north-easterner, to whom it would be easier to relate: and let’s also specify a shared interest or pastime – which, of course, in my case must be long-distance running. Finally, though these of course are entirely optional (though always desirable) characteristics, I’ll throw in female, blonde and good-looking. After all, not every business relationship is entirely conducted online.

Any marketing guru – or entrepreneur lawyer, or rainmaker, or whatever: you’ve got to expect creative titles with this sort of person – who offers an e-book with the arresting title The Naked Lawyer is likely to attract attention. Not a bad start: obviously someone with a good grasp of how to market. When the headings in volume 1 of that work include “wakey, wakey”, “status quo doesn’t rock any more” (never did for me, anyway), “eat my dictaphone” (by the way, that’s a trade mark that ought to be acknowledged) and “get naked”, few readers aren’t going to find their interest well and truly engaged.

Chrissie Lightfoot is the author of this work, and of lots of other things including the Law Society’s Gazette’s In Business blog. She is a solicitor (non-practising at the moment, with so much else going on), so she knows about the peculiar needs of the profession: but she has also set up her own businesses, and understands what it’s like to be the client too. She was born and raised in the northeast (though she’s now based way down south, in Leeds) and she runs. Coincidentally, she also ticks the optional boxes.
When I met her, she’d been waiting patiently despite not receiving the message that I was running late (even before I bumped into Julian Lloyd Webber on the tube, got sidetracked talking to him, then lost my way on leaving South Kensington station – I think I’d have been OK if I had followed Julian). In fact, “running late” is the wrong expression altogether, because I wasn’t running at all, but that’s another story. She’s the sort of person who’s always bubbling with ideas, and while the purpose of the meeting wasn’t a marketing tutorial her infectious enthusiasm coupled with my having read volume 1 was just as effective. The key message of Chrissie’s book is “reach out and relate”, or ROAR, and without needing further encouragement I’ve been reaching out and relating to my clients and contacts – or what I perceive as reaching out and relating: there’s scope for a lot of personal interpretation – ever since. I don’t know yet how well it works, but it makes me feel a whole lot more positive about what I’m doing.

I'm not going to let all my other gurus go, but I'm going to pay particular attention to what this one says from now on. I’ll hang on, passively, to my security blankets for the time being – but the naked lawyer has no need of them.

20 September 2010

The Kreutzer Sonata

It never occurred to me - why should it? - that there should still be
private palaces in central London, houses with drawing rooms large
enough to accommodate a string quartet and a sizable audience (and to
feed most of them dinner afterwards). Nor that they might house art
collections, largely hidden from public view, including works by
artists whose names were familiar to me, hung as densely as the
posters on a student's bedroom wall.
I found myself in just such a parallel universe this evening, but by
way of a different parallel universe in which celebrity chef manqué
Arthur presided over the opening of The People's Kitchen, a new
venture within The People's Supermarket. He has devised seasonal
recipes for snack-type dishes, the sort of thing that a hungry office
worker might devour at lunchtime (and probably much cheaper than the
Pret à Manger sandwich, these days referred to just as Pret, as a cup
of coffee is often called "a Starbucks", that they might otherwise
buy). I tasted cheese on biscuit with a very tasty savoury jam, and a
couple of other concoctions - one largely potato, the other largely
chickpea - which were equally good. I must ask him for the recipes. My
idea of catching up with him there was, of course, hopelessly
misguided. Apart from the throng of customers, he had a TV crew in
close attendance. (The show is now due to go out in February.)
So, after a chat with Kate and making the acquaintance of Andy I
headed off to the palace I didn't realise was there, arriving footsore
and a quarter of an hour early. I did a hindi squat round the corner
to stretch out my calf muscles, writing a couple of emails in that
position, then headed for the front door where I encountered Sally,
who'd invited me to hear the Barbirolli Quartet, and Ashok, their
cellist.
Inside we were offered wine and I met the two gentlemen whom I had
particularly wished to meet, chatted with them until it was time to
take our seats and sat with them admiring the paintings. When the
music came, I learnt more from my neighbour's comments than I have
learnt about music since Mr Fender's Music Culture lessons at school.
A Haydn quartet (opus 54/3 in E major) they played with passion, which
they confused with intensity, he thought: I had been impressed with
the animation of their performance, which was as visual as it was
auditory. They should slow down to give the audience a chance, my
tutor explained, and I recalled the webinar I presented some time ago
where the only comment from the audience came in the form of a request
that I speak more slowly. They knew the music, we didn't: I knew the
subject of the webinar, the audience didn't. It made much sense.
Sensing that there might be a story in this event, I made notes - the
flashing eyes, raised eyebrows, furrowed brows and frowns of the
players, the manoeuvre that involved the second violinist holding her
instrument under her chin when a few rests came along, allowing her to
adjust a wayward strap on her dress with her left hand, the same
player snapping upright in her seat at a climax as if in receipt of
an electric shock. It made me feel alive, which contrasts favourably
with some recent concerts I have heard of music that had quite rightly
lain unplayed since a premier a century ago. This was great music, and
excellent music making.
How to build a story from it?
The Haydn gave way to the emotional wringer of Janacek's "Kreutzer
Sonata" quartet, the music of the book of the music - tempting to
reuse it as the title of a book, but for now I'll make do with using
it as the heading for a blog post. Then an interval, before more
emotional intensity with Mendelssohn (opus 80 in F minor).