23 August 2014


I am in the middle of one of those rare periods when things seem to go right. As I drove this morning to Newbury Parkrun, listening to Beethoven's Pastoral sonata on R3 and heading for a nice run in the country (a great deal more pastoral than when the USAF were there), I found myself counting blessings - a most unusual state for me. All three daughters settled into clean and pleasant trades (an expression which has certainly lodged in my memory since Ron Colman first made me ware of it); we have completed the purchase of the dacha, as I like to think of it; next year's lecturing looks promising; and yesterday I had my most productive day's work for many a year, possibly the best of my entire career. That last might not be saying much, but it is progress.

And, an hour or so later, a big improvement over my last few Parkrun times. Strangely, although it was 28 seconds faster than last week,  Garmin Connect credits me with an average pace of 7:45 (hooray! better than target Marathon pace! although I do need to make my target a little more realistic) against 8:00 last week, so over 17 seconds has disappeared somewhere. The eccentric course measuring might account for some of that: Newbury seems to be .03 mile over distance - let's say 50 yards for the sake of argument - and last week Abingdon seemed to be .01 mile short, so actually, at the end of 5K, that's certainly the right order of magnitude.

The age-graded result is 64.38 per cent. I know I was pushing 70 per cent at one time, and might even have exceeded it in the distant past: but at least I know that if I fit in a Parkrun next weekend the age-grading algorithm will be kinder to me. I realised after the race, as I jogged back to the car, that I should stop worrying about PBs and think instead of season's bests: today was not one (23 June is, at 23:47) but the gap is closing. And with my next lecturing weekend looking firmer than I had feared it might, I might be doing a season's best at Gorky Parkrun sometime in October.

<iframe width='465' height='548' frameborder='0' src='http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/571528537'></iframe>

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/IblxeFAcqrc?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

16 August 2014

Hekla - and Abingdon Parkrun 158

A piece of music chosen purely because it came on Radio 3 as I drove home after my regular Saturday Parkrun - perhaps I should have saved a musical description of a volcano for the day I break my PB, but we might have to wait a long time.

Rarely have I felt much less like running. You know the feeling? Legs are heavy, breathing is not quite right, a general sense of lethargy comes over you - the product, I suspect, of a long week with too little running and too much work. Swept up in the start, I probably took the first half-mile or so too fast, and after the furthest turn in the meadow I had to move over to give faster runners space and reduce my pace. Twice. I mean the same happened on both laps. At other points on the course I was quite fast.

Photo by John Harvey
Perhaps the lack of a warm-up caused, or contributed to, the problem. I just felt old and tired. Soon I will be entitled to feel old, but at least my age-graded performance figures will automatically improve.

13 August 2014


Paddington Basin
I am drawn to London's waterways - some of the best running in town, or traffic-free walking. A builder was standing by the basin where I took the photo. We exchanged views on how attractive the area had become, compared with the state it had been in not many years ago. "That used to be a BT depot", he said indicating a new block of flats on the corner of Praed Street.
But I have ambiguous feelings. The developer is making huge efforts to landscape the area (the green in the photo is newly-laid turf, and "an exciting new lifting bridge" (I quote from memory) is being installed there: the adjectives that spring to my mind are "unnecessary" and perhaps "spurious". Not something that I could possibly get excited about, for sure. And who for? Well, surely for the delectation of the people like me who pass through on their way to jobs that pay nothing like enough to be able to afford one of the surrounding flats. They have been bought, for the most part, by investors from overseas who will never even visit them let alone live there. While London has a housing crisis.
My builder-interlocutor said he'd been working on a site in Old Street, just a hole in the ground at the time but 95 per cent of the development had been sold off-plan. To Chinese, he said, though I suspect his evidence was anecdotal.
It struck me that I had not taken the route through Merchants' Square (as it is known) for several weeks, since quitting RIBA. And I recall the struggle I often felt to make my way from Paddington to Portland Place, and more often the other direction, my legs reluctant to take me to my destination, feeling as if they were struggling through treacle (especially when the wind was in my face, sometimes creating whitecaps on the water in the basin).

11 August 2014


The students received their examination results today - not until late in the day, because for some reason the university did not release them until 5.30 and even then they were a little late: and to make matters worse the emails with the links went out in batches. Finally, when the dust settled, I learned that the four I'd been working with intensely in the run-up to the exams all passed, with some good marks in intellectual property. Well done, all of you! I am so pleased that this stressful period of my life (not to mention yours) is over.

Blue Monday

There was a curious quality to the light this morning when I served Lucy her breakfast on the patio: an autumnal feel, though it is only just post-Cropredy and autumn never begins until my birthday, which is still a couple of weeks away (which means that it's Gunver's birthday today). Yesterday's torrential rain, although it was only a couple of short bouts, reinforced the sense that summer has run its course already and filled the IBC: it felt less like a summer thunderstorm than an autumn downpour. But this morning the sky looked as if it had been washed, and the ground had also benefited from a good bath.

It was too good a morning to leave my bike at home, and being a few minutes earlier than usual (and it being holiday season) the ride into Didcot was quiet and largely uninterrupted. And it was too good a morning to take the tube to Old Street: my Parkrun times show the dire effect of a lack of training on my endurance, so I ran - gently, as this represents a big increase in mileage - down to Hyde Park, across Hyde Park Corner, down Constitution Hill (along the sand - hard-packed after the garden party season, when it is used as a car park: what is the right term for the sandy track provided primarily for horses? I rather like the idea of calling it a beach), through St James's Park, round the perimeter of Horseguards Parade because of some event taking place on the parade ground which calls for large grandstands, across Whitehall then to the Embankment along which I ran past London Bridge before heading uphill to St Paul's Cathedral and thence, via Guildhall, to Mallow Street. Crossrail is interfering with the Moorgate area, but mercifully that is the only disruption caused by those works and a short diversion is all that is needed.

Not a fast run (just under 50 minutes on the Watch, but that missed the first half-mile or so as it struggled to find a satellite) but it should be good endurance training. Just knowing that I'm still capable of running six miles is a significant boost. No problems from my strapped-up knee, at least not until I took the support off: I hope it is healing, whatever it is.

I cheerfully greeted many people as I passed, and received an above-average number of 'good mornings' in return, reminding me that last week someone actually wished me a good morning without my having initiated the exchange. So, despite an exchange by Skype bemoaning the start of another week, it's really not a blue Monday at all: and I am hoping that the present mood continues, even improves further, when the University of London finally reveals my students' grades - the only news so far is that the email with the all-important link has not reached Moscow.

02 August 2014

Perfect day

Not really perfect, but closer to perfect than any recent days - running-wise, at least.The weather was pretty well perfect for a Parkrun, anyway: warm but not hot, not too humid, no sun. Little wind, too, although a gust carried me nicely up and over the culvert at about 2.5 miles while there was enough wind in my face down the stretch of road back to the lock at the end of the first loop (around half distance) to make me seek out the shelter of a bigger runner. Even at my pace slipstreaming can save some valuable energy.

I find it hard to believe that I have still only done 31 Parkruns. It would be nice to get to 50 and have the shirt to prove it, after which perhaps I'll be a Parkrun tourist or volunteer rather than trying to get to my home event every week.

01 August 2014

Im Abendrot

There is something particular about a late-night train. The fluorescent lights are unmercifully harsh and industrial. The passengers are tired and often at least a little under the influence: and they have no understanding of train etiquette, most of them, because they are occasional, not twice-daily, users of the thing. Several messages over the loudspeakers have failed to persuade the girl in front of me that she should not use her mobile phone in the quiet carriage, though to be fair to her the “train manager” did say only that calls should not be taken in Coach A, and she seemed to be initiating them, so a literal interpretation would excuse her. (Any statement from a railway announcer must, however, be interpreted purposively.) To be fairer still to her, I could see from her reflection in the window that she was in tears, so I was not about to ask her to desist from telephoning.
With noisy, unruly trainmates, I needed to immerse myself in some relaxing sounds. The trouble was, after an evening at the Proms which had included Four Last Songs, it was hard to think what might be acceptable from the limited choice on my Blackberry. Not Lindisfarne or Elvis Costello, that was clear, nor Cheryomushki. But I found I did have the perfect choice: Four Last Songs. I think I’ll get through it twice before I get to Didcot, but there’s no harm in that. Better still, on this BBC Music Magazine CD, the soprano (who to my shame I cannot name) is much more audible than Inge Dam Jensen was in the Royal Albert Hall this evening. (The clip I found on YouTube features Renée Fleming.)
Years ago, so much happened during my train journeys that I wrote enough almost to make a book out of it. Perhaps it’s because I don’t travel so often now that the flow of tales has dried up, but I don’t meet people like the ex-accountant who made his living laying fibre-optic cables in Azerbaijan, or the gothic lady who provided intimate services for gentlemen. Perhaps it’s just as well. Perhaps it is connected with getting older, and I was reminded this evening of one of the effects of advancing years – in my youth I just didn’t “get” Four Last Songs, although I loved much of Strauss’s music (and perhaps just didn’t know those pieces that I didn’t love). On Facebook once, Claire Lindley mentioned that she was playing in a performance of the piece, and seemed unenthusiastic: I commented that one had to be of a certain age to appreciate the Songs. What that age is, I don’t know: it probably varies from one person to another, and I would never presume to tell anyone what it is, or might be, for them. Evidently Claire had reached it. In my case I think it must have been about 45, which means I have been enjoying the Songs for many years now. In that same BBC Music Magazine live recording – and now in a couple of live concerts too. There’s an interesting topic to explore: the relationship between the appreciation of Four Last Songs and mid-life crisis. You can’t have the first without having experienced the second, I reckon.