28 July 2011

Dancing Barefoot (again)

Here I go and I don't know why ... I have spent three days this week thinking about running, reading other people's running blogs, and failing to get out and run my self. This had to change. This morning began with a thick fog, but the sun burnt  it off by about 9 o'clock and it turned into a perfect running day. I couldn't find any excuses.

Two things stick in my mind about it. First, the pain when I landed on a stone, especially as the ball of my left foot struck it. That had my screaming out loud. There's something wrong there, and I wonder what it might be - perhaps just a bruise that keeps being aggravated. Solution: try running in shoes with some cushioning - 6mm of Vibram clearly isn't enough, and indeed Barefoot Ted says that these sandals are fine for paved surfaces and moderate trails. Some of these trails are distinctly stoney. Alternative solution: a pair of Leadvilles perhaps. That'll probably be the closest I get to the great event.

The other thing: after 6 miles, doing a spot of fartlek between the telegraph poles, and sprinting over the footbridge, an unprecedented feeling of lightness and springiness, leaving no sign that I had been there ... The sense that I could run like that for hours, even that I could fly. Dancing across the footbridge ... and I managed quite a good pace for short distances too.

24 July 2011

July Morning (again)

My target for the near future is to run to the White Horse at Uffington and back one Sunday morning, a distance, I reckon, of 10 miles each way. Not yet, though: I need to build the mileage a bit more gradually - and taking most of this week off has set back that programme badly.

So today - an absolutely perfect summer morning, with blue sky, warm sun and a cooling breeze - I determined to get part of the way there. I thought I would head west and turn round when it felt like I had gone far enough, bearing in mind that every mile I ran added two to the total distance. I've gone seven miles wearing my huaraches, and I didn't want to add a lot more to that in one go. Plus, given the irregularity of my running just now, I didn't want to overdo it.

I have run to the Wantage Memorial before, and three miles out that seemed like a good place to turn around. By the time I reached it, at 4.5 miles, I had decided I should add another half mile, but concluded that a ten-miler before breakfast (I had left a pan of porridge on a very low heat) was perhaps a little too much - I was feeling hungry.

Opposite the Monument an inviting footpath led off towards Lockinge (which the Garmin map places on the wrong side of the Ridgeway). I resisted it.

I'm not up for tempo runs or anything exciting like that. My concern at present is to explore my limits, see what distance I can comfortably manage, perhaps build endurance into the bargain - and get my feet accustomed to the huaraches. The feeling of freedom is wonderful - but now my feet are sore. Not blistered, though, and I am sure they are getting tougher.

22 July 2011

John Wesley Harding

Too many days slobbing around, reading other people's running blogs and not running myself. Excuses? None. no injury. A shortage of time, sure, but not one that couldn't be overcome. So on Wednesday evening I finally headed out when there was a window of opportunity before dinner. Not far, not fast, but running ....

On the way out I spotted a small hawk floating around, and on my return journey it was there again, landing on the overhead wire then taking off as I drew close, landing on it again a little further on, repeating the exercise five or six times - all along the telegraph, in case you hadn't spotted the reference.

18 July 2011

Working class hero

The Daily Mail online, which surely knows all about street cred, tells us that Glastonbury is so middle class and extols the virtues of the Proms. I'd certainly like to think of the Proms as classless - epitomised, perhaps, by yesterday's concert: a symphony by an untrained working class composer. But I don't think the proletariat was well-represented in the audience - even promming tends to be a bit middle-class. But as a music festival, it wins by having no mud and no-one spoiling the music by talking through it.

I'd have liked to have given you a link to the only piece by Schulhoff in my record collection, his mad setting of The Communist Manifesto as a cantata. I don't know about his working-class credentials but he was certainly a Party man, with a tragic life story. Parallels between the Communist Party Manifesto cantata and the Gothic Symphony spring to mind - both seemingly crazy ideas, but each with its own logic for the composer.

Gothic Symphony

I was shocked to realise the other day how much I learnt from The Guinness Book of Records when I was a child. Back then, it was a "must have" Christmas present, and when eventually I was given one (I think it was the 1968 edition) I read it avidly. What an appalling way to learn of the Holocaust, Stalin's purges and the Cultural Revolution: man's inhumanity to man as world records.

It also told me of Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony, the world's biggest piece of music - mainly, I think, because of the forces it requires, but perhaps also in sheer number of "dots", or of bars ... As soon as I knew it existed, I wanted to hear it, and last night at the Proms I did. I had already heard it, thanks to what I am coming to think of as the modern curse of CD technology - it's too easy to hear music these days, too quotedien (ha! presumptious - moi?), although using the Gothic as aural wallpaper is even by my standards eccentric ... How much better to hear it straight through, live, with nothing else to think about. No multitasking required.

It had been performed a couple of times by the time I learnt of its existence - so the composer did get to hear it before he died at the ripe old age of 96. There have been a couple of performances of the first, orchestral, part since, which overcame the problem of finding 700 or so singers to make up the three choruses needed, and I think you could also get away without the four off-stage brass bands, so all you need is an orchestra of just short of 200 people. Brian (the "Havergal" was an addition he made: his forename William hardly ever seems to be mentioned) was not content just to write the biggest piece of music in the world, using forces Mahler would have considered large: he also decided to include every type of woodwind known to humankind, so the 200 will have to include contrabass clarinet, obe d'amore, basset horn and other exotica. Hard to find the instruments, let alone the players, I suspect.

And as for the players, Brian bowled a few googlies there too. He included what seems to be regarded as the most difficult xylophone solo ever written, and (perhaps on account of his being a self-taught composer) made the horn-playing tricky, unlike Strauss who understood the mechanics of the instrument (this from Ian Fisher, one of the 17 horn players involved in last night's performance, at the Pre-Prom Talk). I snapped an illicit photo before the conductor Martyn Brabbins came out to lead his army, and it hardly does justice to the size of the gathering: several choirs are lost in the gloom.
Seats reportedly sold out in 2 hours, though curiously there were many spaces down below, in the expensive parts of the hall. That reflects the attraction of what someone I know referred to as a "freak show", as well as the sheer rarity of an event like this, but more than either of those factors it reflects the fact that so many seats were unavailable to paying concertgoers and the Arena was reduced in size too - with the water feature taken out as well. Only a few hundred Prommers downstairs: we were on the Balcony, my favourite location for promming (literally: it's possible to stroll round most of the circumference of the hall when one grows tired of standing still).

Brian started writing this first symphony (it has been called immature, although he was already 33, and certainly he seems to have learned later that brevity can be a virtue) in 1919, only nine years after the first performance of Mahler's 8th (which wasn't performed in the UK until 1930). Mahler used Faust as the basis, or a basis, of his work, and so did Brian, so it strikes me that the formula for the Gothic might be expressed as Mahler 8 plus World War 1. Certainly the war influenced Brian's work - and working, as he did, as a clerk dealing with the effects of Canadian casualties must have been awful, if nothing like as bad as a combat role.

So what of the music? Well, 40 years of anticipation could have spelt disaster. I went to the Royal Albert Hall fully expecting to be disappointed, and I wasn't. The music was constantly engaging: there was always something happening. As my companion pointed out, nothing to whistle on the way home, except perhaps that jaunty march from near the end - scored, naturally, for nine clarinets. The score was inventive and very listenable, as well as having a lot of profound things to say, and there was never a dull moment. The clamaxes towards the end were fabulous - as was the quiet ending. An arduous evening - about equal in time to a half-marathon, and no less tiring than one run at that pace (when I'm fit, at least).

At the end of the Pre-Prom Talk we were told that one listening might not be enough, and we'd probably have to come back to the next performance, in about 30 years. Thankfully, I can now listen to a recording - even "listen again" to R3, which might be worth trying. Which makes me think: what motivates a composer to write something virtually impossible for many reasons to put on? Brian can't have had much realistic expectation of hearing it in his lifetime, and he certainly didn't have a chance to revise the score when he heard it played. So it was a purely paper exercise to him, essentially a private matter for which he might not even have imagined there would ever be an audience. Nowadays, one might imagine him sitting down to write his way into the record books, but it seems clear (going by the programme notes) that the flame of creativity, of inspiration, burned bright. Not just a freak show but a fantastic piece of work by a man who had taught himself to use the tools of composition and therefore produced a less polished end product than others - but one that perhaps demands greater admiration for the way in which those drawbacks were overcome.

Naturally, reactions to the concert have been mixed - Ivan Hewitt in the Daily Telegraph very positive, though a review of a length not at all commensurate with the piece ... Edward Seckerson in The Independent likewise ... David Nice of The Arts Desk (the what?) not. Come to think of it, none of those pieces really amount to criticism, they are merely reports of the Event (I think it merits a capital) with some impressions. And an interesting piece on Salon des Oubliés which I will mention because I want to work out how trackback operates ...

13 July 2011

The Gift

Every morning, I eagerly read the "kick in the butt" that comes by email from Runner's World. Sometimes it's disappointing - often because it comes from someone who might be well-known in the USA but remains unheard-of here. This morning was a good one, though:
Running is a gift I give myself almost every day. Even on those days when things haven't gone great, I can come home and give myself the accomplishment of a 30- or 40-minute run.
It comes from Arthur Blank, co-founder of the Home Depot, who I do know about as Home Depot was the subject of a presentation at INTA a few years ago - in Atlanta, I think, which would figure.

So, whatever goes wrong in a day, you can make one thing at least go right. An excellent idea.

The day already feels better for having listened to Velvet Underground. It's decades since I last played my copy of White Light/White Heat (which was very secondhand when I bought it) and I'd almost forgotten this gem. One or two lines came back to me though, and I realised it hadn't completely slipped my mind. The octopus bit, for one.  "That schmuck" for another. But I had to listen to the end for the punchline, which I'd forgotten. I found myself wanting to know how the story ended.

I hadn't realised that Waldo had been in transit for about three days - and I'm sure that the money he spent on the staple gun, let alone all the other stuff he needed (and which nowadays he could get from Home Depot), would have got him from the unlikely-sounding but real (though vanishingly small) Locust, Pa, to the even-less-likely-sounding Clarence Darrow, Wi, named after the great civil liberties lawyer, a distance of at least 600 miles but surely not that expensive by Greyhound. But then Lou Reed would have had nothing to write about, would he?

06 July 2011

The Rain

I aborted my run from Paddington to the office this morning, and jumped on the tube A couple of hundred yards was all it took to show me that, although I would probably get there, it was not shaping up to be a great experience. Who knows, it might have been fine after a couple of miles, but it would be tough to get there.

The return journey was another matter, and although I took it easy it was feeling very satisfying. Round the south of the Serpentine to add a little to the mileage, a few spots of rain developed into quite a downpour. Suddenly I found myself running on an almost deserted path, as everyone else sheltered under trees or under the bridge. If they were waiting for the rain to pass, that might not be until next summer.

The rain, of course, played havoc with the watch, which started pinging and changing function. I couldn't make it pause when I stopped at road crossings, nor did it reveal any useful information - until it came to the end of a lap, when the display popped up - and showed me that what I'd confidently expected to be 10K was well short. Still, it was far enough in the circumstances. Green shoes today: huaraches are not ideal for cycling, and I did nearly ten miles of that too, and I think they might be tricky if I'm tired.

04 July 2011

Your latest trick

What could be a better end to an evening of sublime music than a hour-long drive through a warm summer late evening, roof down, music loud? My hunt through the CDs in the car produced only one I felt like listening to - and following Tabula Rasa with Dire Straits is eccentric by any standards, but it was just right for the trip home.

No run yesterday, and almost no run today either, but I took myself off this evening for a regulation Murakami 10K at a gentle pace - almost a rest-day. Green shoes and compression socks rather than Luna sandals and tights, that sort of run. I felt so good for it, I am furious with myself for not doing it earlier in the day - I spent the time working myself up by reading other people's running blogs ...

Tabula Rasa

The Morris Marina, of course, holds a particular place in the affection of of all English intellectual property lawyers of a certain age, because of its key role in BL v Armstrong. I haven't seen one on the road for years: but on Saturday evening I was stuck behind three on the way to Cheltenham, where I was uplifted by the oeverture to Die Meistersinger, enchanted by Amanda Roocroft's rendition of Four Last Songs and stimulated by Brahms 4 - all played by the LPO under Vladimir Jurowski, who from where I was sitting hardly seemed to have to raise a finger to get what he wanted out of the large band. Someone told me at the interval that Strauss had been present at a rehearsal for one of his operas, with singers competing against a typically huge orchestra. "Louder!" he insisted of the orchestra. "I can still hear the singers!" Amanda Roocroft (in a spectacular velvet dress) had a hard time in the first two songs, but made herself heard just as much as was needed, and in the second two the singer has an easier time. Gerald, in the next seat to me, dozed off appropriately in Beim Schlafengehen.

I was back in Cheltenham the following evening for some Bliss, something that never goes amiss of course - missing the screening of the film of Checkmate, unfortunately, but hearing an interesting talk by Terry Barfoot about the man and then a concert including the Music for Strings played by the Festival Academy - who, Meurig had told us the previous evening, had thoroughly enjoyed themselves rehearsing it. Their enjoyment showed. They were joined by pianist James Rhodes in a Bach concerto, which itself was preceded by a Richard Rodney Bennett piece I hadn't heard of before but which showed very nicely how versatile a composer he is. The second half was taken up with Tabula Rasa, after which I was pleased I had a flask of strong black coffee in the car to get me home. Hypnotic.

02 July 2011

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Not the Noel Coward classic: an altogether different song, by a band I remember oh so well from my youth. I suggested to one of the marshals out on the course of today's Compton Canter - during a lengthy stop for a drink at the first water station - that the title of the race should contain a reference to mad dogs and Englishmen, given the noon start time.

I ran this a couple of years ago, when it started at 2 o'clock - which might have been slightly worse. I associated it on this blog with a classic Ray Davies piece, Sunny Afternoon, which tells you all you need to know. Today wasn't quite so sunny, but the temperature was uncomfortably high - and it was pretty humid. A cooling breeze moderated things, but at one point I was assailed by a blast of warm air that reminded me of opening the car door in Death Valley - that was like opening an oven door. Nothing like as extreme in Compton today, but the same idea.

My Luna sandals attracted a lot of attention, of the "are you going to run in those?" variety. Yes indeed, and my feet were cool (but pretty dirty by the end). They did not, however, enjoy the rocky bits - there were some very uncomfortable stretches of track and a footpath through a cornfield that, unsurprisingly given the geology of the area, was littered with flints. It's only necessary to pick the spot where you're going to plant each foot very carefully, but that doesn't make for fast running.

Never mind, because I wasn't going to be running fast anyway. My first race since the Pud Run at Christmas, and that was the first in a long time. What mattered was to prove that I could complete a race, and second to do so in the Luna sandals. I reckon the running time was 47:46, which is not great for 10K and of course even less great for 9.1 which was the distance today: my time was boosted by the stops at the water stations, where I was not going to risk chucking water down my throat as I ran. Multitasking is best left to the female of the species.

Even so I was delighted to pass others on the climbs, just as I was two years ago. I've still got the right mindset, and the fitness, to make hills work for me - though there's always room for improvement. Here's a link to a photo of the finish. I completed my daily target 10K with a few laps of the playing field. Now there's the prospect of hearing Amanda Roocroft singing Strauss's Four Last Songs in Cheltenham this evening with the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski (plus Brahms 4 and the Meistersinger overture). A nice long run in the morning to look forward too, as well.

01 July 2011


First commute in Luna sandals, and what a great feeling. Even cycled to the station in them (and back this evening). My feet feel so free. Stopped to cross The Mall and an Antipodean couple on Boris Bikes pulled up and she asked me a load of questions about my footwear, which I answered at probably greater length than she had wanted. She even volunteered that I'd seemed to be going very well in them.

A hot day, so I had the cooling headband on: and to minimise the risk of damage to calves or Achilles I also had my compression tights on. And shades. Plus backpack with full bladder - since that drinking fountain is out of action. I had to apologise for my appearance. She said I looked very serious.

Nearly six miles running and ten miles cycling today: that does sound serious. A good day's work too, and a job interview that was nothing more than a formality, so I should be starting a new part-time job soon to go with all my other part-time jobs. Portfolio working. 10K race tomorrow - in the Luna sandals, I hope. That'll be the acid test.