31 May 2015

Keeping the language pure

The French have always been pretty ruthless in their defence of their language, while we have cravenly accepted every incursion from America. When I first started studying Russian (and it has been an extremely slow start: after 35 years it is barely under way, though now I have adopted the inverse of the Putin method, listening to Машина Времени songs, there has been a distinct ускорение, or acceleration, a term used along with перестройка and гласность, two Russian words which almost became loan words in English back in the eighties) I was fascinated by some of the loan words it had adopted. Воксал is particularly impressive, adopting as the generic term the name of one railway station which evidently made a deep impression on some Russian railway entrepreneurs on a visit to London (but why Vauxhall? Oh, Wikipedia suggests that it's more complicated than that - how interesting). And when I first encountered the word карандаш (pencil) I was actually unaware of the Swiss company pencil manufacturer Caran d'Ache: but until now I had remained even more unaware, if you understand my meaning, that the company had adopted the name of a cartoonist who had taken as his pen-name the Russian word for "pencil", duly transliterated. And he was born in Moscow, the grandson of a French officer wounded at Borodino who stayed in Russia while the Grande Armée struggled home - who must have had an interesting story to tell. So that's a multiple-loan word. Another French example also springs to mind, which I spotted on my first visit to Russia on a street stall selling rather garish landscape paintings: пейзаж (paysage).

Now a proposed law would make it an offence, punishable by fines that vary according to whether the offender acts as a private individual, an official or a legal entity, for using a loan word (or a foreign word which hasn't yet truly been borrowed, I suppose) where there is a perfectly good Russian one. It sounds like a task that calls for a Canute to demonstrate its impossibility, unfortunately. It's amusing to see signs for Макдоналдс and Пицца Хат, but it would be sad if every street in Moscow came to look like every English high street, dominated by American franchises.

The best thing about this worthy initiative, though, is that it comes from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nationalist Либерально-Демократическая Партия России (Liberal'no-Demokraticheskaya Partiya Rossii, the sense of which I am confident you can guess, and which we would recognise in British terms as neither Liberal nor Democratic) - which one might fairly call the Loan Words Party. (But actually, it changed its name a few years ago, officially replacing the loan-words with their initials).

29 May 2015


It should be summer by now, but there's a distinct lack of warmth. Chatting by instant message on Skype, I learnt from Ron that Israel was having a heatwave and the temperature was 40 degrees. I replied that we were also having a heatwave and the temperature was 20 degrees. But then it cooled down again.

I was due to meet Marco in London yesterday, and he'd suggested a run or coffee. We'd tentatively fixed to meet for coffee but I was in my running kit so I sent him an email asking if he'd care to meet by the canal at the back of King's Cross station for a gentle jog along the towpath: he replied that he'd just run 30K but was up for another outing, so we enjoyed a trot along to Regent's Park and up Primrose Hill (for the exercise and the view - the exercise for me, the view for Marco who certainly didn't need the exercise) followed by the aforementioned coffee. How far? I never thought to start the Watch, but I guess about three miles all told. The point, however, is that it broke a long fallow period for me, and I have Marco to thank for helping me over it.

Next time we meet, I want to be able to tell him that I've just finished a 30K run ...

23 May 2015


I re-tied the rigging on my right huarache just before the start of Didcot Parkrun this morning, so inevitably it was the left one that was coming loose before the first 180 degree turn, all of 200 yards from the start. The stop added 25 seconds to my time - keep that in mind.

The bit in between was hardly noteworthy, except for a short chat with a young lad who'd had a break from running when he lost his trainers, bought a new pair and hurt his toes in them. I slowed to encourage him to stop walking, and we ran together for a while before either he slowed a bit or I picked up speed again, or perhaps both, and I called over my shoulder that I didn't want to hear him walking again. (The sound of footfalls behind you tells you a lot about what is happening where you can't see - which is one reason I so dislike the earphoneys who insultate themselves from that important information.) Then I caught another youngster, perhaps a year or so older, and passed him before we reached the turn that leads, after another quarter of a mile or so, to the finish, but he steamed past me again and as we left the path for the last 100 yards on grass I was right on his shoulder. I accelerated, so did he: I dug a little deeper, so did he: I tried again, and still he kept just ahead. I never thought to pass him, although there was no chance of that anyway, but I did want to give him a run for his money and stretch myself, which I did: 4:06 was my fastest pace, according to The Watch, right at the end.

My time was a slightly disappointing 25:01 (my Watch time being confirmed by the official results) - I would have preferred the 5 to be a 4, no matter that the 01 might have been 59 ... But subtract 25 seconds from that and 24:36 is not too far off my season's best 24:14, still less far from last-time-out 24:24. Then adjust for the extra weight I'm still carrying - oh, that's not allowed? Shame, although 2 seconds per mile for each of 14 pounds (conservative) for 3.1 miles, well, it gets me close to 23 minutes, still a long way my increasingly unlikely off sub-20 target (please, just once in my life). To show myself the effect of carrying that extra weight, I tried some pull-ups on the bars near the finish while I waited for my neighbour Yvonne, who was chauffeuse for the day: I couldn't complete one repeat. Upper body strength has never been my strong point but that's ridiculous: I should have been able to do three or so. At least I could do 15 situps, so my core is OK.

Actually, having not run for three weeks, since that 24:24, it's not a bad effort and with a bot [that is a typo, but whether it should be "bit" or "lot" is an interesting question] of training I should be able to dip below 20. Here's an idea: I'll work hard on the training for a few weeks to maximise the chances of a PB and then do the next Parkrun, which will be no 50. In the meantime I can volunteer.

After the run, walking back to the car park with the volunteers, Simon the race director drops back and walks alongside me. He explains that he has an injury, and I notice a limp. Automatically I reduce my pace. I think any runner, acutely conscious of injuries, would react the same way, but it's a little anecdote that might come in useful someday, when I am writing.

22 May 2015

Dunbar's number

How Many Friends Does One Person Need? - FT.com:

Robin Dunbar's book tells us that from an evolutionary point of view, we can handle a maximum of 150 people in our social group. Not all at once, I hope ... An interesting statistic.

'via Blog this'

Spanish practices

A news story in the Evening Standard (thanks, Gerry, for bringing it to my attention) reminds me of something that happened to me ...

Several years ago, I was interviewed for a television programme about the motor trade. I met the interviewer and his crew at a gigantic non-franchised car retailer's premises in Slough. After the introductory niceties, we adjourned to the car lot for the filming.

At one point, waiting for something to happen, the cameraman started talking about the social value of car dealers. All those salesmen, earning fat commissions, contributing nothing useful to the process, driving up the cost to the consumer.

The sound man agreed wholeheartedly. I refrained from enquiring about his contribution to what we were doing.

Oh, and I ended up on the cutting-room floor, or would have done had there been one.

02 May 2015

As long as the candle burns

How could I possibly take a wrong turn in a Parkrun, for goodness' sake? Coming round for the third time at Didcot this morning I failed to take the left-hand fork and headed off for a third lap of the playing field - which would have been a serious handicap. As it was, I heard a French-accented voice shouting to me and realised it was Jean-Luc (not hard to guess) who I had managed to pass a few hundred yards earlier. Realising my error, I put on the brakes - and went flat, as the grass was still wet. Picking myself up, I darted through a convenient gap in the hedge, but I'd lost a few seconds stopping, falling over, getting up again and backtracking to the gap, so Jean-Luc, to beat whom was (as I had told him) my target for the day, was comfortably ahead again. Eventually I followed him across the finish line, 20 or so seconds adrift and 9 seconds slower than my Didcot PB which I set last time out. Well, I know where the 9 seconds went.
I forgot my Watch, but having no data about this run is a small loss. I took a neighbour, Yvonne, running her first Parkrun, and she put in a very impressive performance considering what a novelty it was - and she will improve in leaps and bounds if she carries on, I'm sure.
I keep finding that the videos I embed in these postings have disappeared from YouTube, and I am slightly concerned about posting links to what might be unauthorised clips. Picking something with a relevant title is also tricky, as there are only so many songs with "run" in the title. So this one is just one that I came across this morning, one of my favourite bands with one of my favourite singers making a guest appearance, doing a lovely song together, and she seems to be singing a fairly close translation. Interesting to hear Patti singing the English and Andrei Makarevich singing the original Russian simultaneously.