23 January 2017

Black night

My streak faltered yesterday. Every day of the year, until 22 January (so not really much of a streak), then Achilles said, quite insistently, that's enough for now, take the day off. I had run about ten yards, and on the basis that I was wearing running shoes (and all the other stuff you need to run in sub-zero temperatures such as have been experienced in Oxfordshire for a few days now, the frost not even going from the roads during the days) perhaps I should count it as a run anyway.

A day's rest and Achilles seems happy again. Perhaps a couple of hours sitting in the car, driving to Nottingham, was the cure he needed. Whether listening to Act 2 of Die Walkure on the way helped, who knows? It can't  have gone amiss, I suppose, and as I explained to my colleague Philippa over coffee this afternoon (an important business meeting to discuss the intellectual property module - she takes half the seminars) the working-my-way-through-the-Ring-Cycle thing is a major part of the all-round experience of my teaching at Nottingham Law School.

So too is the evening run, in the dark, to the park-and-ride to collect the car and bring it to the car park opposite my hotel. Park-and-run probably wasn't what the planners had in mind, but park-and-ride-and-run-back seems reasonable. When I explained what I was up to in conversation with a random cyclist (and runner) who didn't pass me but rode along with me for half a mile or so chatting, he approved, and we agreed about the excellent running track provided alongside the tramlines.

This was after I had called the police to alert them to a trio of youths who seemed to find it amusing to shine a laser pointer into the faces of passing cyclists and - I feared - tram drivers. I suspect it's a growing problem, as laser pointers become more common. Not in the same league as dazzling pilots, but bad enough I think. However, it was an episode later in my run that I particularly wanted to comment on - showing my tendency, which I found myself explaining to a new group of students this afternoon, to digress. (Does this sound familiar to any former students out there?)

Near the end of my route, I caught and passed a couple of ladies out for a run. They were well wrapped-up against the cold - hats and jackets. I was in tee-shirt and running tights, having left my hat and gloves in the car - but that's not the point. One of them remarked as I passed them that I was putting them to shame. I assured her I wasn't, but the better response only came to me after I was out of earshot. (What's the street-running equivelant of "esprit de l'escalier", or staircase wit? "L'esprit de trottoir" perhaps.) Afer I'd reached the end of my run I retraced my steps, hoping to be able to tell them that no runner would ever put them to shame. Everyone encounters runners who are faster them them: they don't put slower runners to shame, they can't. If they try they are not fit to be called runners. I wanted to say to them, if you're running, nothing can shame you, no matter how slow you may be, how short your run. But I couldn't find them again, so this will have to do. Perhaps they will read it. Perhaps someone else will, and will take something from it.

I try to live up to my reputation for decency ...

15 January 2017

Too much too young

Still keeping up my running streak: every day this year, so far, although some of the runs have been rather short. But if I have running shoes on my feet, and at some point in each stride both feet are off the ground, it's running, isn't it? Yesterday another Didcot Parkrun, and Jean-Luc led me to a time a whole minute faster than last week - for him as well as for me. When I found myself on his shoulder, at about two-and-a-half miles, something clicked and made me up my pace until I was past him and comfortably ahead. Unfortunately whatever happened at that point didn't happen again at about the three mile point, when he had a similar experience and came blasting past at a pace I couldn't begin to match, even with the finish line in sight.

Today the same distance, tediously, round the playing fields - nine times. It keeps me fit and feeling reasonably good - which is a worthwhile end in itself. And maybe there will be more time to take off my time next Saturday morning - although due to other commitments I think I might be giving it a miss, and getting in my run somewhere else.

11 January 2017

January Song

Someone - a very important person to me - once used the word "decent" to describe me. It might seem a rather weak compliment, but it's the adjective I would instinctively turn to to describe my father, who would have been 92 today. So to have the word that I would choose to describe the person who is still the greatest influence on me, used to describe me, is actually the greatest compliment anyone could pay me. Thanks. You know who you are.

08 January 2017

Why are we sleeping?

Why, alternatively, was I not sleeping for about 4 hours in the middle of the night? Too many thoughts in my head. It didn't make for an easy morning run, so my plans for a longer outing were quickly dropped and I plodded round and round the playing fields again for a little over 5K. I guess I needed to recover from yesterday's much faster 5K and my legs started out feeling pretty leaden - they improved with use though. Yesterday, to avoid my usual problem of not remembering whether I have run two or three laps of the field at Didcot, and also applying the very useful tip handed down by Emil Zatopek to later generations of runners to touch one's thumb with a fingertip to reduce tension in the shoulders (it does seem to work), I lightly held first my index fingers to my thumbs, then on the next lap my middle fingers then next time round my third fingers. Just to be sure I didn't forget, I moved on to the little fingers after I crossed the start line for the fourth time, to remind me to take the yellow brick road instead of heading off on another lap. That's fine for four laps, but I was planning nine or ten today. Well, I can work through the fingers of one hand then move on to the other, and after I have done eight laps I'll be able to do the rest from memory, I thought. I also thought, what does it matter anyway? I'm measuring the distance with a GPS watch. But a better method of counting came to me at that point, in base 4 (or is it base 5? Actually I think I have done a bit of both here, which shows what a rotten mathematician I am). Those of us educated long enough ago to know about pounds, shillings and pence, or yards, feet and inches, or stones, pounds and ounces, are accustomed without really knowing it to working in base 20, 12, 3, 14, and 16 and a few others too: metrication has taken so much of the mental challenge out of life. Alex Bellos's wonderful book Alex's Adventures in Numberland reminded me of all this a few years ago. Anyway, to count laps of the playing fields, use one hand to count the first four laps, then the other hand to record one unit of the first power. So at the end of lap one I touch the first finger of my left hand to the thumb. At the end of the second lap it's the middle finger, etcetera. At the end of the fifth lap, touch the tip of the first finger of each hand to the respective thumb and using the "units" hand, count off the next four laps until it's time to register that you've completed another set of four. If you go past sixteen laps, take a shoe off and try to count the four-to-the-power-twos. But if you're running that many laps you might want to find a less boring route.

06 January 2017

There is a crack in everything

Reading this review of a new biography of Margaret Thatcher connected a number of strains of thought that have been going through my mind in recent months. A bit of light came in through the crack. I realised, perhaps for the first time since the early eighties, perhaps for the first time ever, that the only effective opposition to Mrs Thatcher came from within the Conservative Party, both the Parliamentary party and the grassroots party. That's why I threw myself so single-mindedly into it.

I suppose that there was, proportionately, more opposition to her within the Parliamentary party than among the membership. I remember the excitement generated by the publication of the booklet (manifesto?) "Changing Gear" by the Blue Chip group of new MPs - I wonder where my copy is? - although that was only 14 MPs, a pretty small proportion even of the 1979 intake: and I notice with some surprise that it wasn't published until 1982, shortly before party conference, when (a) the fourteen were probably rather nervous about keeping their seats at the next election and (b) Ted Heath was about to become very outspoken. As for (a), General Galtieri solved that for them. As for (b), while it was great fun ("don't clap too loudly, it might annoy the person sitting next to you" the great man told party conference as he received a very warm welcome when called to speak in a debate on something or other) and of course he was entirely right, it made not a hap'th of difference. But in those times when the slogan of the day was TINA ("there is no alternative"), we optimistically wore badges bearing the alternative slogan TITAN ("there is Ted's alternative now") and thought the world was becoming a better place.

Actually the topics of the debates at party conference never mattered much. They were an opportunity for aspiring candidates to make their mark, or hangers and floggers to call for hanging and flogging, or party members to denounce or praise the European Communities (mostly denounce), or lobby groups to get their messages across (I found it ridiculously easy, in the course of my employment, to get the owner of a truck manufacturer called to speak in a debate about increasing vehicle weights). And the first time I spoke at the conference, in 1978, I put in a slip saying I wished to speak against some motion or other - basically to say that having millions of young people unemployed, and with no prospects and no stake in society, would lead to trouble. My area agent, Joan Reeve (shortly afterwards referred to invariably as "JR"), who ran the northern area central office in Newcastle, asked me whether I had put in to speak in the debate. I told her that I had, thinking (rightly, it turned out) that it was so early in the morning that there wouldn't be too many other people seeking to contribute. "For or against?" she asked. I told her that I'd thought I'd be more likely to be called to speak if I were opposing the motion. "Tut, tut. That's no way to get on in the Party. What do you intend to say?" I gave her a brief outline. "That's a speech in favour. Come on, we'll change it." So we recovered the speaker slip, which had already been selected, and made the change, so the normal alternation of speakers for and against turned into three consecutive speakers in favour of the motion. (And incidentally, finding that I could address an audience of a few thousand people, not to mention national television and radio, and make my point, and receive applause, set me on a career of public speaking of one sort or another.)

Modern party conferences are very different, and look like much less fun. Part of the enjoyment used to be that you could meet the "big beasts" around the conference hall, or at receptions and fringe meetings. The problem with politics these days is that there are no big beasts any more. The people who impress, for whatever reason, generally don't go into politics. If they did they would be pilloried for their salaries and expenses claims, often by journalists even more venal than the objects of their pillorying. I would have enjoyed being a Member of Parliament, more than being a solicitor for sure, but the pleasure would have worn off some years ago. But of course if I had followed that career route - had it even, really, been open to me - I would have been entitled to a decent pension by now, and would be able to sit back and watch the world of politics implode. Which isn't a pretty sight, wherever you watch it from.

Friday I'm in Love

Day Six and a full-length 5K run, which is my interim target until I feel rather fitter and stronger than I do at the moment. The pace is heading in the right direction, too.

05 January 2017


"Once", if you need to be told. Which is how many times I ran round the playing field today. There's no more to be said, except enjoy the music and be baffled by what my favourite band are actually up to in the video.

Nine Times

It's happened to me before, but even so it's worth talking about. I set off for a run, thinking to myself that it's going to be a short one because I don't really want to do it. I'm going to do, oh, three laps, a mile, a nice round figure. Well actually, I feel quite good now I've done three: I'll do another. And now I might as well do five, because I'm feeling better still, and why not six? And now I've got that far, and am in the zone, only three more to make 5K which is my interim daily target.

03 January 2017


A heavy frost this morning, but I didn't venture out for a run until it had gone, so the title refers to what might have been. I had planned to mark the first day of the new working year by actually going to work - but it didn't work out, for several good reasons, and instead I baked another loaf of bread, tried to get my hair cut (as I explained to the lady sitting next to me in the barber's shop, waiting for her son, one look in the mirror this morning had shown that it could not be put off any longer) but ran out of time to wait, and took a much more enjoyable run in the relative warmth of the middle of the day - tee short and shorts warm, anyway, although others might have questioned my sanity (as do I, frequently).

I do my best blog-writing while I am running, then forget what I had composed. Today however I remember - a theme for a few days hence, which I will write and save now.

02 January 2017

Ball and chain

As runs go, this leaves a great deal to be desired. My head simply wasn't in the right place. I find I have previously written about the fact that trying to run when you really, really don't want to is counterproductive - it has to be enjoyable, even if the enjoyment only kicks in when you've finished, showered and made a cappuccino. Trying to run with a ball and chain - even a metaphorical one - never works.

Historical note: Janis Joplin never appealed to me in my formative years, when I greedily consumed all the music I could take in, roughly from 1972 to 1983 - whereafter I found myself in a different world. Perhaps there is a lesson here: I made a conscious decision to listen to Ball and Chain just now, not expecting to like it much, and found I was blown away by it. What if I had made a conscious decision to put in a few more laps of the playing fields this morning?

01 January 2017

Been down so long

1 across in the Financial Times prize crossword this weekend set the tone for this run: "During ceremony, legs beginning to tremble, given a small token (7,5)". No trembling of the legs, but little more than a small token: however, even a small token feels good.

2016 turned out to be a year of almost no running, so it was doubly important this morning to make a start on some sort of streak. Whether it lasts a few days, a month or the whole year, if I didn't run this morning the opportunity would have been lost. To adapt the words of the song (not Jim at his most lyrical or inventive), I hope it might be up for me, last year having been such a downer.

It was just starting to rain as I set out to do nine laps of the village playing fields, which equates to three miles (5K easily once you add in the distance between home and the playing fields) so in addition to my new Garmin Forerunner 230 (a wonderful piece of kit, though I don't need it to tell me every time my phone receives a message - I will turn that function off when I can find out how to do it), Vivobarefoot Primus shoes and Asics top and beanie (more like skullcap) I could use the waterproof jacket I bought over a year ago in Florida. Trying out new kit is always a great incentive to get out and run.

And what better to follow up a satisfying (if short and slow) run than baking a loaf of bread? As I write this there's a lovely aroma coming from the kitchen. Only a packet but using my wonderful new Lékué thingie. Well, they call it a "bread maker" but I don't think that's a very accurate name for it: it certainly assists with the making, but it's far from being a complete solution - of course you need an oven too, and actually I didn't find it very helpful for the kneading stage. It's a good illustration of how innovative products need novel names: a bit like "trundlehumper". The useful word "widget" seems to have been appropriated by the software industry now, more's the pity - though I will continue to try to keep its original meaning in use.