14 September 2012

American Squirm

I am, as a friend pointed out to me recently, a very fussy reader. Not so much about what I read, but about the quality of my reading. No doubt it comes from being a writer myself (I nearly wrote something about having pretensions there, but that would be unnecessarily self-effacing, or so the row of books on the shelf behind me which bear my name tell me - not to mention my pieces in Runner's World). I had been explaining to my interlocutor that I had given up on a book (The Thread by Victoria Hislop) when the author wrote of sewerage running into the sea. Just like Louis de Bernieres telling me in Captain Corelli's Mandolin that Greek used the Cyrillic alphabet, except that the errors occurred at opposite ends of the respective books, so I had finished the Greek island novel but only just started the mainland one.

If I were to find a foreign body in a bowl of soup, I would hardly remove it and eat the rest, whether I had found a fly, a hair or a piece of grit - whether it would be reasonable to assume that the whole bowlful had been polluted. I would have lost faith in the product. It happened with a novel by a friend which used the word "taught" on page one, where "taut" was clearly intended. Perhaps that should be actionable as a tort? (No, not a torte.)

Not that I have never read badly-written books. Clinton Heylin's biography of Sandy Denny, No More Sad Refrains, comes readily to mind, but the subject-matter enabled me to overcome any reservations I had. One reads non-fiction for reasons quite different from those for which one reads fiction, I suppose. I have read very few legal textbooks that have truly been well-written - lawyers, apart from anything else, are often addicted to the compound preposition, as if they were being paid by the word. Legal documents are even worse, being replete with compound prepositions: and I recently corrected a travelling draft of a lease which used the indicative mood where the subjunctive was called for. Speaking of the subjunctive, I also recently noted with pleasure how Joanna Harris deployed the subjunctive throughout Blue Eyed Boy, proving that it is not the fossil that some say it is. But I must admit that my enthusiasm for this irrealis mood is the enthusiasm of a convert, or rather one who has only recently come to appreciated and (however imperfectly) understand it.

Participating in a book club has exposed me to a wider range of reading than would otherwise have been the case (notwithstanding my already catholic tastes). But publishers are letting books out with errors of one sort or another that should have been picked up by the editor or proof-reader - and my own work has suffered too: a grotesque misspelling, of a German word, that I admit I should have got right first time but that the publisher should also have picked up. Mr Rosenblum's List, for example, using "airplane" and "aeroplane", and Through the Language Glass - a book by a linguist, for goodness' sake! - using "practise" as a noun. Neither book was written by an American, or first published in an American-speaking country - if one excludes the UK, of course, and that's increasingly difficult as more and more people receive their speech from awful American films. I am sick of hearing "train station" and "can I get?" - the latter, posed to a ticket collector on the train, receiving a simple affirmative answer, confounding the speaker. Better still: the ticket collector was Polish. Actually, given my experience with local taxi drivers, he might well have been a highly-qualified Polish teacher of English. Perhaps it's with foreign users of the language that the best hope for its preservation lies.

07 September 2012


Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has surely lost the support of everyone who's ever run a Marathon, or perhaps just laced up a pair of running shoes, by claiming vaguely to have run a 2:50-something Marathon when. He also gave the impression that he had run several Marathons. In fact (as the world now knows, thanks to a possibly unprecedented piece of investigative political journalism by US Runner's World) he ran one, in 4:01-something - respectable enough for most people if not David Castle, editor of Running Fitness magazine, whose comment to the BBC about the definition of a "real runner" is, well, contemptible, and has lost him at least one potential reader. Perhaps it's not a real running magazine ...

If you aspire to political office and have run a Marathon, visit www.paulryantimecalculator.com and find out what you can claim. It does wonders for one's PB, much better than WAVA age-grading.

04 September 2012

Too much is not enough

It could be the motto of the runner coming back from injury, and heading straight for another one. But I have lived by that maxim for my running career to date, and am stopping now, trying to be a little more conservative, acting my age not my shoe size - which, taking the Euro size of my new running shoes (of which more anon) is 44. Even with such a high number for my shoes my actual age passed that twelve years ago now, so it must be time to act my age. Stretch before running, run gently: don't go too far, too fast, too soon, which is exactly what I was doing a year ago.

What I did a year or so ago was transition (overnight, so perhaps "transition" is a misnomer) to barefoot running, in my Luna sandals. Once the calf strain wore off (leaving only a couple of tender Achilles tendons) there was a brief period earlier this year when I seemed to be flying - Parkruns getting faster, and a minimalist half marathon. But a run in cushioned shoes seemed to put a stop to that: they were supposed to be an antidote to the instantaneous transition, but they set my knee off hurting.

This evening I set off for an exploratory few miles, having managed a couple of miles on Sunday before Achilles warned me it was time to go home. Anticipating just that, I had chosen to run laps of the village playing field so I would  never be far from home. This evening it was the loop which, 20 years ago, was the second stage of my development as a runner - I started with a shorter loop, then went up to this 5K course before I really got serious.

These two latest runs have been in new VivoBarefoot Evos, which aren't taking the place of the Luna sandals (though it remains to be seen whether they are still usable after Hugo chewed lumps off them: is SuperGlue up to it?) but which after such a short trial seem great. And I have also taken to wearing, most days, a pair of black leather lace-up VivoBarefoot shoes, which I imagine Alan Clark would have said no gentleman would be seen in but I suppose I have no pretensions to being a gentleman any more ... But I do have pretensions to being a runner.