Thursday, December 28, 2006

Primer

I have discovered the most wonderful film.

Primer is a low-key mentally-challenging thriller about two young engineers who accidentally discover a very mundane form of short-term time travel and hesitantly explore the implications. It was made for the price of a used car in five weeks, and avoids melodrama entirely. The film I've seen that it has most in common with is Memento. By contrast, this year's Deja Vu, for example, takes a hundredth of the intellectual exploration of Primer, and presents it as grand opera.

I'm excited because I don't get it all yet, and will need several more viewings before I think I do. I'm also thrilled because this is the first time I've discovered a film through on-line word of mouth discussion, researched it through this diligent Wikipedia entry, and then and only then decided to rent it. I watched last night after everyone had gone to bed.

Well, I think I did.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

YouTube Link: Animate! (A Digital Man)

I love this guy's drumming, and I'm sympathetic to his prose and lyrics too. But whoever animated this loves him more. This is amazing. And all the more so for being set on Lake Ontario, where our honeymoon began.

By the way, the Rush track he's playing, YYZ (the call sign of Toronto Pearson airport) is pronounced "Why why Zed" - Canadians don't employ the American "Zee".

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dead Man's Shoes

The phone rang persistently during dinner on Sunday, then my mobile. We have a tacit rule not to answer while we are eating, so afterwards, as Helen cleared away, I checked my messages. A text from a very old friend asked me very firmly to contact him that evening. It already sounded bad, so I called him immediately. He asked if I was at home and sitting down, and I knew at once that someone close to us both was either dead or in serious trouble.

Craig, who I've known since 1983, had been found dead in his home that day. The cause of death is as yet unknown, pending an autopsy. He was 42.

The worst of it is that he was between partners, living alone, and may have lain undiscovered for six days. It's the saddest kind of end I can imagine.

He's been in my thoughts ever since. My tear ducts seem to have healed up when I stopped drinking, so my main reaction has been a kind of extreme anxiety: I just start to hyperventilate and fret, and I couldn't settle down with Helen on Sunday night and just sat alone until I fell asleep in a chair before going to bed.

We'd had a fair few spats: he was gloriously melodramatic, and in 1994 when he was shunted from Doctor Who Magazine, so the editor could parachute me in in his place, I called him at home to express my regret at the circumstances. He gave me his unequivocal support and was subsequently very helpful whenever I called on him. Nevertheless, he revelled in his misfortune, and on recognising my voice on the phone that night, immediately made me squirm with the greeting "How does it feel to be wearing dead man's shoes?"

The last time I saw him was either this or last summer, when I spent most of an evening talking to him outside a pub full of Doctor Who fans. He was still relentlessly full of his own woes, but seemed more optimistic than in the past, and more concerned with an old mutual friend of similar vintage who he felt had let him down. My advice would have been "drop him", but that didn't seem to even be an option to Craig. He was every inch a people person.

I wonder, if he'd known he was only going to make it this far, whether he'd have been a bit more carefree. Instead, he had that crippling combination of maudlin introspection and grand hedonism. That he kept going, picking himself up, and carrying on, despite this, is a testament to a bullish inner energy, without which, he'd have been lost far earlier.

It's hard to be at work this week surrounded by people to whom this would mean nothing. It's not really the kind of experience you volunteer when colleagues ask how your weekend went. I understand the social need for funerals and memorials now more than ever before.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tetris Moments

I had to explain to Helen what I meant by the term "Tetris Moments", so I thought I'd try and define it here as well.

The 1980s computer game Tetris involves the player controlling a stream of falling pieces, each made from a random configuration four 4 regularly-connected squares, so that when they land in a constrained silo of previously-fallen pieces, they pack as densely as possible. When densely packed, so that there are contiguous rows of squares from one wall of the silo to the other, that row vanishes, so that there is more vertical room for falling pieces.

If the player is careless, he will leave rows of squares with gaps in, which will not disappear and he will find the messy pile of incomplete rows growing upwards until he does not have time to rotate new falling pieces. He will quickly see the silo overflow and the game end.

I find Tetris psychologically rewarding because it is a fight against chaos, which rewards best practices, and appeals to my compulsive nature. It garnishes this worthy appeal with the spice of recklessness: specifically, it may be possible to allow rows of squares to build up with missing squares directly above one another, creating a long thin vertical space. When this is exactly four rows tall, and is the only space in those rows, the best possible piece to randomly appear next is one with plugs this gap perfectly. By rotating and positioning so that it then does just that, it makes those four rows all vanish at once, and furthermore, takes itself with them, leaving no detritus whatsoever. It is the single most efficient gambit, and combines the potential-to-actual benefit-redemption of a rugby conversion with an undeniable similarity to sexual penetration.

So what is a Tetris Moment? I think it's when you've been biding your time, laying the groundwork, and just hoping that the right opportunity will come along, and it does, by surprise: a combination of good planning and good luck leading to the best possible outcome.

This weekend seemed full of them. I planned to go to the barber's late so that he wouldn't be busy, and as I walked in the only other customer in the shop was paying and leaving. It wouldn't have been a Tetris Moment if I hadn't deliberately left it late, or the shop had been empty, or I'd had to wait at all. I set up my new compost bin just as Helen was repotting some plants, giving me a source of starter compost and dead shrubs to get going with. Best of all, I finally got round to filling in the missing episodes in my collection of Time Gentlemen Please recordings, by capturing the episode and a half needed from VHS, authoring the DVD volumes I was now able to, and then contemplating the complete set on my shelf.

I've been wandering what other people call Tetris Moments or what I would have before the advent of the game (I think I first encountered it on a Sun workstation in early 1989). It's come to me: Game, set and match.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Transcending Convention

I made a collossal error at work today, akin to amputating the wrong limb of a patient, so I am being quietly left alone while the powers that be determine whether they are feeling merely annoyed, or also inconvenienced. If the latter I may be starting my Christmas holidays a few weeks early, but just in case, I think I'd better look busy: hence this entry, which at least generates some audible keystrokes.

L-R Graeme Harper, Eric Saward, Philip Hinchcliffe, (Cassandra), myself

Last weekend, I went to Dimensions 2006, my first Doctor Who convention in three years, and my first ever sober. That even includes my debut in 1979, when surreptitious halves of cider
enlivened my thirteen-year-old diet. Was there really any doubt whatsoever that I would become anything other than a problem drinker? The last one I went to in 2003 really shows where those sips of cider led to - bumming cigs all weekend, wondering around with a piss-stained crotch while hugging alarmed actresses, passing out in the lobby, losing my jacket, wallet, and camera, and classiest of all, renting breakfast for half an hour before returning it to the hotel via the U-bend. AA say you have to hit rock bottom before starting recovery, and that weekend still burns in my memory as almost too painful to recall.

So, it was with some caution that I arrived at the Swallow Hotel, Stockton, a couple of hours' train ride from Edinburgh last Friday night. I took my time freshening up in my room and didn't hit the lounge until around ten. I was greeted by some old pals, some of whom I've known socially, and others who I've worked with. Four and a half hours later, I was still up gossipping.

In my last few years of con going, I felt I was starting to haunt them rather than participiate - I'd linger in my hotel room, drink alone all day, and not really get involved with any of the programmed events. This weekend, I was still alone for some of the time, but quite electively - I'd decided to carve up the homogeneous days of guest interview panels and lounging with quick stints in the hotel's mini-gym and quicker interventions with my laptop, which spent the eekend batch processing radio dramas. If that sounds a bit tragic, do consider that it's a way of ensuring y to-do list gets ticked even when I lose a valuable weekend at home. No, actually, it does sound ncredibly tragic.

I was a bit tense on Saturday, because a few days earlier I'd had my offer of conducting on-stage guest interviews taken up, and been scheduled to talk to Philip Hinchcliffe, Graeme Harper, and Eric Saward on stage on the Sunday morning. Despite keeping a notepad with me all day, I'd come up with no more than a handful of ideas. The on-stage cabaret on Saturday night took my mind off it, starting with Butlins-style entertainment and becoming gradually more subverted to the theme of the weekend until climaxing with Toby Hadoake's Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, a show which resonated even more with me than Will Smith's Misplaced Childhood at last year's Fringe. A quick introduction handshake with Hinchcliffe and Harper and I was off to bed.

I woke early and practiced some asanas as the sun rose over the Tees, and then (me, not the sun) bumped into Hinchcliffe waiting for the lift. He had produced my favourite Doctor Who stories, when I was exactly the right age to appreciate them, and is now a youthful educated sixty-something. I wasn't quite dumbstruck, but his lack of any kind of frothy bonhomie froze my attempts to make small talk. Panic began to grow, and I beat it down.

Into the green room, where the event staff were being warm and efficient, and made me, a mere guest interviewer feel appreciated and special. Harper came in and, sensing my slight anxiety, helped me feel at home. I'd spent an evening in a hotel bar with him 21 years earlier and I knew he'd be fine, and he was. Finally Saward arrived, even cooler than Hinchcliffe, yet almost amused at what was going on around him. We were escorted to the stage, where I was introduced, walked on through the TARDIS doors (to a round of applause! Oh yes!) and introduced my guests. I'd worked out an opening question and primed them all beforehand, and we were still covering it 20 minutes in, the first time I checked my watch. I felt like Tony Banks after the second song of Genesis' first concert without Peter Gabriel - of course it was going to be alright - how could it not have ever been alright?

I was very pleased with the way it went. I matched Hinchcliffe and Saward's educated tones, moved discussion on with supplemtary questions, and passed the ball between the three of them until they were doing it themselves. I threw it open to the floor fifteem minutes before we closed, and mostly got sharp questions apart from the one I'd been expecting from the convention's pet eccentric, and another from an elderly lady from nearby who'd misapprehended both Hinchcliffe's role (former, not present producer) and agenda (Doctor Who's audience should include adults, not comprise them). I interceded and all was well. In the green room later, Hinchcliffe enthusiastically praised my questions, and in so doing, made my weekend. Wonderful man.

I breathed out. Then I noticed Paul McGann in the room. Eek. At least his sudden appearance wasn't as startling as that earlier of Will Thorp, who essentially played the devil in Doctor Who this year.

The rest of the day involved watching my pals from Big Finish take questions on stage, and a few more of the interview panels, the highlight being Paul McGann and his immediate predecessor Sylvester McCoy on stage together reminiscing about how they had exchanged the keys to the TARDIS ten years ago. And, if I'm honest, enjoying all the costumes being paraded around the lobby, for a variety of reasons, some more noble than others.

Unlike three years previously, I came away feeling optimistic and fulfilled. I'd seen my mates, met some heroes, laughed out loud a lot, stoked my desire for recognition and approval, and tentatively renewed relations with a couple of publishers with a view to maybe, just maybe, getting back into print in the next year or two. I'd finally met face to face a friend I made on-line over ten years ago, completely by surprise. Best of all was spending a weekend with a very old friend, who doesn't drink, and had, I think, almost written me off as a hopeless case. He seemed impressed and relieved by my continuing recovery. That alone made it worthwhile.

Back to normal this weekend, for two days of domestic fun, including setting up our new compost bin, and the new James Bond film. I wonder which I will enjoy most. No, really.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pigs on the Wave





Earlier this year, my friend Davy opined that the cover of the latest Muse album as "the most Pink Floyd thing" he's ever seen.

One of the new BBC One continuity films seems to be similarly inspired, echoing both the procine mascot of the band and the projection disk they performed beneath.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Going For The Ten

I've been too busy to write anything since the weekend, as work has been keeping me occupied. However, I can't let next weekend arrive without recording that I went to see Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman's opening night at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Saturday, which was unexpectedly delightful, as I've previously found them individually disappointing and not even essential to Yes, who've managed to make good albums without both of them. They bring out the best in one another - Anderson inspires Wakeman, and Wakeman polishes and improves Anderson. Loosely based on Anderson's naive solo arrangements of Yes tunes from his solo tour, the renditions benefitted from Wakeman's brilliance as an arranger and accompanist. They were genuinely relaxed in each other's company. I can continue waiting for Yes to grit their teeth and enter a studio again if their sub-groups in the mean time can be this entertaining.

The following morning, I ran the Hopetoun House 10K in a personal best time of 48 minutes and 39 seconds. It was unlike any city run I've done, feeling at times like a public school cross country. There was absolutely no public transport provision to the start (Thank you, Brian Souter, you franchise-squatting, homophobic waste of carrier bags), so I had to take my bike on the train to Dalmeny and cycle through South Queenferry to get there. Which, apart from adding to the number of things which could have gone wrong, was actually very pleasant.

The lessons learned from Glasgow paid dividends - I had trained outdoors and smeared my loins with nappy-rash cream, so I was feeling fine afterwards and the next day. I'd also been training for hills on the treadmill, and there were plenty of those on the day. I'm very pleased with the way it went. There were a couple of memorable moments - I ran through a bed of nettles and gained an annoying itch as a result that I tried to use as a motivator - and the water station halfway were handing out plastic cups rather than bottles. It is far harder to drink from a cup than a bottle while running up a grassy hill, and I regurgitated most of what I took down.

I'm still very tired, and looking forward to next week, when we're going on holiday. I shall have to make sure I can blog from my wonder-phone before we go.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Caption Competition #1

Barely a flicker crossed Mr Quill's face as Mrs Harris removed her prosthesis

The Young Davros


Although this month's wonderful audio play about the evil creator of the Daleks describes his childhood, it depicts him looking somewhat older on the sleeve (left).

My own variation (right) seems to reflect more contemporary concepts of nascent immorality.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Martin Amis in Edinburgh


Last night I went to see Martin Amis speak at the Queen's Hall, a stone's throw from my previous address. The audience were older than I had expected, perhaps indicating that the young Amis' novels in the seventies caught on with people of his father's generation. A few minutes before the event, Edinburgh's, indeed possibly the UK's, best known crime writer, Ian Rankin took his seat two rows in front of me, and just as I was contemplating this, Dylan Moran, perhaps best know as fictional TV bookseller Bernard Black passed my seat. This was becoming an archetypal
evening.

Amis himself was hindered on stage by the interlocutive presence of Alan Taylor of The Herald, who fawned over Amis and interposed himself between him and his audience's questions. I could and have done a better job in similar circumstances.

After reading from his new novella, the author parried questions and non-sequiteurs with dry aplomb and rose in my estimation - he does seem to revel interaction with ordinary people, most of the floor questions being polite and deferential, if at times intimidated by their subject's sheer intellect. I could have played Mart Bingo had I wished, yelling "House" after he had broached Christopher Hitchens, reviews of his recent work, smoking, Stalin, and nuclear arsenals.

It had been a worthwhile evening, which has rejuvenated my appreciation of an author I've admired for twenty years now.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Stirring The Porridge

There's nothing like a slight change of routine to send we Aspergic types into fits of discord. I like to think I've transcended that stage, and begun to relish perturbations to my schedule. Take this morning. My bike was at the shop being repaired, in itself no more than a minor inconvenience. I also overslept by about 45 minutes. This combination, as the project manager in me would say, negatively impacted the cost/benefit profile of the "gym before work" proposition. As I was contemplating my options, a lens fell out of my glasses, and was nearly taken away as a plaything by the cat, at which point the old me would have decided the gods were toying with me, and sulked theatrically.

However, the new, go with the flow, surf life's ups and downs, turn a problem into an opportunity me took a look out of the window, saw it wasn't actually raining, and went for a run along the Union Canal towpath instead. It felt wonderful. I managed a steady pace, remembering to myself that the outdoor work is to acclimatise my joints, not break speed records, enjoyed the autumn sunrise reflecting in the canal, and revelled in the view from the viaduct as I headed west towards Wester Hailes. I listened to my next two chronological episodes of Doctor Who, The Web of Fear 6, and Fury From The Deep 1, and returned home in time to shower change and breakfast before going out. An experience like that sets you up for whatever the day can throw at you.

I noticed at the weekend that The Web of Fear contains characters called Arnold and Lane, which indicates that there was more than one type of London Underground preoccupying the writers in 1968.

I went to the Doctor's on the way to work, and was relieved to hear his view that my upset stomach is probably due to too much high-fibre cereal. Whatever next? Eyestrain from reading The Guardian? Stubbed toes from wearing sandals? I'm quite relieved that his suspicion matches mine, specifically because it legitimises my new desire to eat porridge for breakfast whenever I can.

My Mum made us porridge for breakfast when I was little, and round our way it was served with whole milk (to cool it down) and Tate and Lyle's golden syrup (to give us diabetes). My grown up version is made with skimmed milk, and in an effort to keep my glucose levels down, not much else. At the weekend, I made a serendipitous discovery. I had more natural yoghurt in the fridge than I knew what to do with, so I dolloped some on my porridge and topped it with a little honey. Nectar! The sweet and sour contrast turned this utilitarian slop into the food of the gods. I shall continue to experiment, with stewed apple, sliced fruit, and anything else that isn't too fibrous. The only question remaining is whether I can exercise on a stomach full of it, as I suspect that the gym would be less tolerant of my somehow heating porridge on the premises (How, anyway? A discreet camping stove?) than they have been of my inoffensive tupperware box of muesli. I will therefore have to digest this unexpected feast before leaving the house.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Man with cold complains about things

It's been a bitty week (although not in the oepidal sense), and I am glad that Friday evening is approaching. I'd be still gladder if I knew whether I was working this weekend or not. I took Monday off in lieu of time worked, and felt happier on a Sunday than I had in recent memory. I visited a new client on Wednesday and was tense and worried beforehand, but they weren't at all fierce and I hope to see more of them. All this change has stirred up my schedule and I feel quite tired as a result.

There's just over a walk before the Hopetoun House 10k which should be, almost literally, a walk in the park compared to the Glasgow Half. I passed through Glasgow on Wednesday, and the topology of the city now has a different feel to me after the ordeal. I've had a cold, from which I'm mainly recovered, so I should be fine for the race, and can comfortably cover 10k in 54 minutes in training. I'll aim for 50 on the day.

Anyway: An emerging problem with the .com economy is that were are at the mercy of the couriers we choose to deliver our purchases to us. I've spurned economy couriers because they're unapologetically useless, in favour of Parcel Force, but they now seem to be heading the same way. They won't leave large parcels at your local post office, failed to redeliver to my home address on Monday after I waited in all day, and after promising to redeliver to work on Wednesday, left the box with my neighbour instead. Oh, the irritation! This is probably another reason I'm feeling so tired.

Anyway, in about five hours I shall be heading home, and as Helen is going to the pictures with a mate, will comfort myself with a week's ironing and a reconstruction of The Enemy of the World. Bliss.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Yogic Stealth Commuting

I was visiting a client site today that's a good way outside town, and took the bus. It's a special bus, that takes slightly different routes at the far end, denoted by different alphabetic suffixes to the route number. I had forgotten which suffix I needed, but reasoned that the informative signage at the stop would enlighten me.

Alas, the timetable and map had slipped behind another route's details in the display at the stop, obscuring the critical details of which variant I needed. The perspex covering had been cracked, possibly causing the slippage, or maybe due to another bewildered traveller trying to get through at and slide the details back into view. When I tried this option, they wouldn't budge, leaving me looking like a nutter to the other passengers.

I decided to board whichever bus had a destination beyond where I was going, as shown on the still just visible route map. It seemed there was one every five minutes, so it was bound to turn up. That's what I thought. The first one to come was a 44C, which sped past without stopping. I worried that it might have been the one I wanted, but reassured myself that it probably wasn't. What I could see of the map seemed to support this theory. Each 44C was followed by more 44s, and very occasionally a 44B, heading to a non-candidate destination. It must be the 44A, or even 44D I needed, I reasoned.

After an hour, neither of these rumoured services had appeared, so I asked the driver of teh next 44C which bus I needed to get to my destination. "It's the 44C" he responded, matter-of-factly. "This bus, then", I added, to which he nodded. This was about the fifth 44C to have passed since I had been waiting. I boarded and sat down.

I did feel a bit of a twat at the time for not having pestered fellow passengers, or the driver of any bus with a 4 in its number to have passed, for the service details, but on reflection, I'm quite happy with what happened.

It shows that I like waiting at bus stops, listening to MP3 files, and watching the world go by. I am content, patient, and at peace.

This, it seems, is exactly the kind of outcome you can expect if you attempt to go to work straight after a yoga class.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Escapement Escapism

As a bizarrely mild Autumn falls on Edinburgh, I find myself in a mainly comforting routine. Helen and I have had the house to ourselves for a few weeks now, and the only things keeping us apart are the amount of work she brings home, and the unsocial hours I am working, despite being embarrassingly unoccupied during the working day.

I've managed to keep the momentum going after the half marathon, and apply the lessons learned, such as training outdoors (well, once), and not wearing garments liable to chafe. I feel happy to wake up and go and run each morning, accompanied by some terrific audio drama. In order to keep my hand, and more pertinently, my feet, in, I've entered the Edinburgh Great Winter run, a swift 5km around Arthur's Seat in January, and having failed to get into the Linlinthgow 10k this weekend, have entered a more local event, the Hopetoun House 10k, not for from where I used to work in South Queensferry. Training's going well - I can comfortably do 5k at 12 km/h and 10k and 10 km/h and will try and reach a level that combines these before the day. My right knee is telling me I need to fix my orthotic insole - it seems that even the book-leather thick covering that slid off a few weeks ago is critical to my equilibrium.

There was a very comforting coincidence this week - the two audios I'm listening to in a sandwich are Doctor Who's The Evil of the Daleks (the latest in my chronological attempt to experience all of 1960s Doctor Who in 2006) and the latest Sapphire and Steel, The Surest Poison. Completely by accident, both concern the present day and the past being linked by antique artefacts, and arcane methods of time travel. Vintage clocks play a part in both, and I was wonderfully reminded of the days of my youth spent repeatedly absorbing Liverpool Museum. I love city museums because they harbour an eclectic, anachronistic mix of exhibits, and wandering between the Egypian, Roman, natural history, or industrial revolution galleries evoked the same sense of wonder as Sapphire and Steel's exploration of fractured times, or Doctor Who's jackdaw meanderings. Best of all the top floor at Liverpool held the planetarium, literally and metaphorically the apex of the visit for me, and the horological collection. The city's maritime past made timekeeping specially significant, and I revelled in such specifc terms such as 'escapement', as well as the presence of more running timepieces gathered together than I had ever seen before. I always left with the horizons of my imagination broadened in both space and time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It's been busy for a Wednesday

The bike shed at the site where I'm working at the moment, at night

Work is keeping me reasonably busy at the moment, which has raised my spirits no end. I’m doing weekend days and odd evening shifts (doesn’t this entry sound like one of Travis Bickle’s monologues so far?), but I like the odd little extra moments that gives me, like this morning at home, when I had the chance to catch up on bits and pieces. I also stayed true to my promise and did some running outdoors, along the Union Canal (that’s a local stretch of water, not a posh term for “front bottom”), the banks of which were verdant and lovely, without any significant trauma. My next outdoor race will not be such as shock to my joints as the last.

Now Reading: Ghost Rider – Travels On The Healing Road by Neil Peart
Now Watching: Doctor Who – The Moonbase
Now Playing: 21st Century Schzoid BandLive In New York

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Riding without Stabilisers

An interesting consequence of desisting from hammering your body with alcohol, is that you become far more attuned to the effect of other, less potent, drugs on your system. In this category, I'd include caffeine and sugar, both of which I've felt the need to control. Although I'd thought of alcohol as a narcotic, I now realise that for me, it was a stimulant. Need a bit of dutch courage? Have a drink! Need to clean the kitchen? Have a drink! Need to stay up until I've finished this piece of work for publication? Have a drink! The simple carbohydrate content of booze is such that it gives a quick shot of energy, raising the blood's glucose levels. In the short term, this can propel one to effort, and in the long term all this glucose gets laid down as fat - hence the beer belly.

In the months after I stopped, I found I was getting an unignorable craving for sweet food in the evening, and nipping out to get a chocolate bar. I think my body was expecting a glucose boost each night. This also explained why when I'd taken 2 hours to prepare a meal, swigging all the while, I never felt like finishing it - the booze had topped up my blood sugar level, reducing my hunger. Of course, I didn't knock back the booze all in one go, unlike a chocolate bar, or a bag of Margiotta's frankly irrestistable yogurt-coated peanuts. (Yoghurt? Aye, right - yoghurt-flavoured fudge more like). So perhaps the way to keep my glucose on a even keel is to nibble fruit and nuts throughout the evening, just as I used to sip at a drink all night, never feeling full, but never feeling hungry, either.

And then there's coffee. If carbohydrate food feels like booze, then coffee feels more like cigarettes. Some people need one first thing in the morning, some after a meal. Some don't touch it for months, and just have one as a treat now and then. I was in the last camp (ha!) when I dried out, but found on a week long residential course, where complementary fresh-ground coffee was on hand between every classroom session, that I began putting it away in pints. I think I'd been avoiding it, because one of biggest fears of life after alcohol was difficulty sleeping, thinking that the restless nights I'd always experienced after a rare dry day would be the norm. In fact, they were a withdrawal symptom which I recovered from very rapidly. I learned I could drink coffee in the evening and still be asleep within minutes of going to bed. It seemed to give me that jolt to help finish doing something in the evening that a strong cocktail had done before.

I learned quite soon that the cumulative effects of too much coffee are extremely uncomfortable: you feel exhasted, yet restless. The only way to stay awake was to have more. All my bodily fluids smelled of coffee. I was more than a little hard to live with. Oh dear. Coffee had taken the place on my back of alcohol. It took some withdrawal, too - take it way too suddenly, and I'd be lethargic and get severe headaches. I stayed off for months, and stuck to Earl Grey or herbal tea.

During my leg injury in Spring 2005, I'd read a piece in Men's Health that advocated targeted used of coffee as a pre-exercise stimulant. Drink coffee before you work out, and at no other time, they said. The day I decided that the way to get out of my post-injury stiffness was to exercise through it, I remembered the piece, and downed a large espresso (and some Ibuprofen!) before heading to the gym. It worked: I was energised and started a path of training that I'm still on. I've tried having more than one coffee a day, but find that going beyond this limit means I get addicted again, and into the state of needing coffee to stay alert.

The one day a week I don't have an espresso (because caffeine and yoga don't really mix), I find I am drowsy and lethargic by 11am. That serves as a regular reminder that it really is a drug, which I'm using to motivate myself into getting out of bed in the morning, and to enhance my performance at the gym.

I'm think I'm slowly coming round to the Buddhist stance regarding stimulants, but I won't throw away our cafetiere just yet.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Glasgow, the Hard Way

I am forty years old, have not consumed alcohol for over six hundred days, and this morning, completed the Glasgow Half Marathon (Just over 13 miles, or 21 km) in 1:51:52, within a hair's breadth of my target time 1:50:00. In so doing, I have raised over £300 for the Prince's Trust, and also exerted myself physically more than ever before in my entire life, having previously only run 12.2 km outdoors and 16 km indoors. I am very proud, but in considerable pain!

The photo to the left is me on Glasgow Green, at around 12 noon today, a few minutes after finishing. I am still full of endorphins there, as you can see.

It all began at 06:45 when my alarm formalised my body's decision that it was time to get up. The day immediately felt somewhere between an exam and a holiday: now at such close quarters to the event that only the details were visible, thankfully occluding the scope of whole enterprise. Shower, porridge, orange juice, coffee and kit on and I was ready to go by about 07:20. Despite the fairly heavy drizzle, I had decided to go light and not risk taking a rucksack and fleece without having anywhere to park it at Queen Street station. The full inventory ran: Upper-arm pouch containing mobile phone, Visa card, bus pass, and folding money, and back pocket containing folded space blanket and hands-free headset for mobile. That was it - no keys, glasses, or fleece. It was a bit dreich outside though, so I donned a bin liner to keep me dry on the way to the station.

An inauspicious start saw me drenching my breathable trainers in a puddle and finding there were no buses from our local stop that would get me to the station in time. A quick warm-up jog to the next route ensured I arrived in good time. At Haymarket station there were a handful of runners, all nerves and fingers-and-thumbs, queueing for the ticket machine. I was glad to see that bin-liner chic was the order of the day.

No reading matter was required for the journey, as the wonder phone incorporates an MP3 player, today hosting a BBC Radio 4 afternoon play which kept my mind off things nicely, by the time we pulled into Glasgow Queen Street, the train was carrying a good quorum of runners. The incipient drizzle reached had followed me to Glasgow, so I hung back in the station, stretching and sipping water until 09:45, when impatience got the better of me, and I headed out to the start at George Square.

The runners were divided into three muster groups, depending, I think, on our declared finish time on applying to run. I was in the middle group, and found a spot roughly, I thought, in the middle of it. I had that no-turning-back feeling that astronauts might have when the capsule door is shut, and was relishing heading off. Or so I though: I must have been giving off waves of anxiety, because a really chatty and likeable guy next to me offered some infectiously hyped-up encouragement, and I was relieved to hear that this was his first half marathon as well. The wheelchair competitors went first, a few minutes before ten, and then on the hour, the group before us went to a raucous send off and the Stones' Start Me Up over the PA. A couple of minutes later, we were off, and as I passed the start line, kicked off the digital stopwatch on my wrist. On a podium to our right, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, some other dignitaries, and rather wonderfully, Sir James Savile, OBE, waved us off.

It was as expected at first; a packed field with much darting for position. Ahead of me the Scottish Sikhs, wearing colourful turbans and holding the Saltire aloft made a visible pack marker to pace myself against. Heading towards the Clyde, we soon found ourselves among motorway viaducts and soon passed the 1 km marker. Only 20 more to go. Then, the 1 mile marker. only 12 more to go. But I wasn't feeling good. Unlike previous races, I was being overtaken constantly. This made me worry and try to overtake more myself, and I knew I was going too fast but couldn't slacken off. My ankles and shins were giving me a lot of pain, and I was concerned I couldn't put up with it for the best part of another two hours. I immediately rued not having done more of my training outdoors, where I'd have acclimatised to the percussive effect of tarmac compared to treadmills. Hang on - more of my training outdoors? In fact, I'd stayed in the gym for all my training. Dummy. I was paying the price now.

Checking my stopwatch, I was killing each kilo in a little over five minutes, so the speed was good. But as well as the sore legs, my breathing wasn't settling down. I kept falling into ragged, just-started-swimming-in-cold-water breaths which were working against my running cadence. I kept trying to impose long deep yoga breaths but they wouldn't stick. How on earth was I going to cover the course?

After about four or five miles, we turned into parkland, which was a little hillier. I'm actually better on hills than flats, and fewer people were overtaking me. I finally realised I'd settled into a sustainable cadence, accompanied by deep frequent nasal breathing that I could keep up. My mood began to lighten at last.

The spectator encouragement hadn't been that stirring up until now, but it seemed the further we went, the more people were prepared to help us along. As we passed through Pollok, I found that families walking in the park were stopping to clap us along, and my smiles of appreciation were beginning to be reciprocated. This brightened my mood considerably, as did passing the 7 mile mark, over half way, when my stopwatch read about 55 minutes. That was the feedback, I needed - I was well on target for my revised goal of 2:00, and might even get near my original objective of 01:50.

I took advantage of the frequent water stations, overcoming my innate austerity and discarding half-drunk bottles when I knew I'd had my fill for the time being. Considering how much water I'd taken on board, and what a wet cold day it was, I was relieved not to have to stop and relieve myself like many of the other men running. This meant I never stopped running and left the spell unbroken all the way round.

At 10 miles, I knew I was going beyond my previous longest run, but felt buoyed by some banter around me that I'd even managed to join in with, about the last three miles being easy. I knew they'd be tough though, and really suck to the bottom of my fuel tank. This wasn't helped by the absence of an 11 mile marker - until I'd realised it wasn't there or I'd missed it, the eleventh mile seemed to be taking an eternity. The last couple of miles were agonising: we entered the parkland where we would be finishing and took a circumlocutious route around it. It was just like those false summits that hill walkers and mountaineers are seduced by. Checking my stopwatch, I realised that there was a slim chance I'd manage it in 01:50, and gave it all I had. I was by now emitting involuntary moans of pain every time I let my breathing rhythm slip, and I felt oddly disconnected from the cheering crowd lining the final run past the 13 mile mark, as I was nearing exhaustion and they were all there to see other individuals finish, anyway.

One hour, fifty-one minutes, and fifty-two seconds after I had crossed the start line at George Square, I went over the finish at Glasgow Green, wheezing "I've done it, I've done it". I'd expected what followed to be anticlimactic, and sure enough we were herded a bit perfunctorily though the surrender of our timing chips, and the collection of out goody bags of medals, t-shirts and promotional freebies. I phoned Helen, took a picture of myself, and after negociating some unhelpful signage which necessitated actually crossing the running field (!) to get out of the park, walked, head held high, back to Queen Street station, where the paper, a mocha, and a train home awaited me. I do pity the lady sitting next to me, as I smelt like a dosser.

On returning home, Helen expressed the same sentiment, and while showering I noticed how dreafully chafed my thighs and underarms had become. I advised her to vacate the room while I applied the germolene unless she wanted to learn some new compound expletives. I surprised even myself with my inventiveness.

I have learned a few lessons today:
  • You can travel light to these things
  • Grease your moving parts, even if they didn't need it in training
  • Train outdoors. You bloody idiot!
  • I want to do more half marathons
  • I may not belong to Glasgow, but for a couple of hours today, Glasgow belonged to me. It's a great city, with a heart like Belfast's and the scale like Vancouver's.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Eve of the War

I'm delighted to have reached my sponsorship target. But that really was the easy part. I'm a bag of nerves this evening, and even a theraputic hour or so's ironing couldn't do the trick. I'm not really worried about being able to run the 13 miles so much as getting to the start on time; the earliest train to Glasgow doesn't even get there until nine, leaving me dependent on the left luggage service at the station being open, as I'll have no time to take my belongings to the changing area at the other end of the run before the off. If it isn't actually raining in Edinburgh when I leave, I might travel light, which would be far less hassle.

Intellectually, I should know that I'll have done it by this time tomorrow, but I can't make that emotional leap. I've been laying off training for the last couple of days, which has worked wonders in the past, but my ankles are sore, and I've had a mild headache for a day or so, too.

I'm sure it will all look different in the morning. We're going out to a birthday party tonight, which should keep my mind off it.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cult Figures

Dear Sir

I was recently struck by the similarities between radio producer Karl Pilkington, and record producer, Ian Levine. Both hail from the North-West of England, and have acquired a cult following for their unusual and forthright perspectives on matters which interest them, resulting in them becoming celebrated in ways they might not have originally hoped.

Could they perhaps be related?

PilkingtonLevine

Yours Faithfully,

ENA B. MONDAS, Edinburgh

Bending Over Backwards To Help Myself

For eight months, I've been dipping my toes into Hatha Yoga. This was first suggested to me well over a year ago, after I'd strained my left foot, and had been walking on crutches for a few days. At my GP's suggestion, I went to the university's sports injuries clinic, where a podiatrist evaluated my gait, and prescribed my orthotic insoles. These provide support for my horribly overpronated feet, and enable me to walk and exercise without overloading my joints. She also suggested I try yoga, which I'd been considering in the background, the same way I consider building a rockery, or trying sushi. A few nervous months later, I screwed up my courage and turned up to a local yoga class.

We gather at 6:45 in the morning, once a week, for an hour, and our instructor guides us through a selections of exercises, and postures, or asanas. Hatha yoga is specifically, the practice of asanas, rather than some of the other paths of yoga, which focus on philosophy, diet, or meditation. My initial experiences were relief, that newcomers were welcomed without fuss, and excitement, that these stretches and poses could leave me feeling so relaxed and invigourated. This was soon tempered with a self-conciousness that I wasn't quite so adept or spry as the rest of the predominantly female group.

Nevertheless, I've persevered, having passed through ambition, and learned to focus on what I'm capable of in the present, and find yoga an essential part of my routine. I have my own mat at home, and make moments to run through a sequence of asanas appropriate to my mood, energy, and needs. It works very well, for example, on a resteless Sunday night while I'm distracted by worries about the week ahead. I've found I can remain in what would previously been uncomfortable positions for far longer than before, a perfect example being squatting down while tidying the attic. My aches and pains are in retreat, and I do genuinely feel far younger than before.I take particular delight in the headstand, or Sirsasana, known as the king of postures. I just couldn't do it at first, and now I can rest on my crown for over a minute, without a supporting wall in sight.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Two Legs Good, Three Sides Live

My toes are very sore.

I've been doing some late training for the half marathon, and managed 5km in 26 minutes this morning. This means lengthening my gait, and so stretching parts of me that don't normally get stretched. I've also been stretching my wallet, investing a fair sum in a special running top that wicks off moisture (which is what we sophisticated athletes call sweat) and an upper-arm phone pouch that looks like a sphygmomanometer cuff. This morning it was carrying my MP3 player, which was in turn carrying disc two of Genesis' Three Sides Live. Live albums are great to exercise to: the sound of an audience responding to an old favourite played with a
confidence and vigour that might be absent from the studio shakedown is powerfully motivating. Today's In The Cage medley never sounded better.

Apart from the training, it's all back to normal at Owen Towers. We are a two-person household once more, Helen is out at school during the day, and my furlough from active engagement has ended, as I was called back up to the Regal Bond of Scotia's city centre premises this Tuesday. It will be, I sense, a short sharp engagement, with some unsocial hours, but it should all be over by the end of September. The great thing about being an external consultant is that you don't carry the messy baggage of previous engagements with you, and get all the benefits of starting anew each time, although as many of the faces are familiar, it was good to be warmly received by former clients. My professional self esteem is cautiously rising.

PS: The Claud Butler was there again, in exactly the same state, yesterday. I can therefore never mention where the gym is in this blog in case the owner sues me when it is inevitably stolen.

Monday, August 28, 2006

More Money Than Sense

In younger days I was occasionally accused of having more money than sense. Considering how bereft of sense I was, this seemed to be more of a compliment than anything else, and it's a state I've aspired to since. I rarely reflect on it, but today saw a textbook example.

Spotted at the cycle stands at a local amenity this morning at 10:00. It's a nearly-new Claud Butler Odyssey (£249.99 to you, John) that the owner has left leaning against a stand. That's "leaning against" rather than "tethered to", since the steel rope bike lock has been used only to secure the front wheel to the frame. It could be in the back of a van in 10 seconds. The front and rear lights were also left mounted. I suspect that the owner has not owned this for very long, and that his previous form of transport was a Porsche with central locking and lights that can't be easily removed. I was pleasantly surprised to see it was still there when I returned two hours later.

Good luck to this trusting man! And what a nice neighbourhood I live in, after all!

Ten Miles High

As I type, I sit in the gym's cybercafe, eating bananas and feeling quietly smug, having just run 16km in around 1 hour and 35 minutes. That was the longest I've ever run, and if I can keep that average speed up, I should manage the half marathon (21km) in 2 hours and 4 minutes. So my goal will be to beat 2 hours, which I'm confident that with the pace-setters around me on the day, I should be able to achieve.

Who would have ever thought I would become the kind of person who uses terms like "goal" or "achieve", let alone in my free time?

I'm off home for some pasta, before I faint.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cycling The Path of Righteousness

What The Highway Code Says About Cycle Paths

My bicycle, on my path, yesterday

There's a section of road I cycle along on my journey to and from work each day. It used to be a traffic bottleneck, and this has been mitigated by the building of a guided busway alongside it. There is also an off-road path for cyclists and pedestrians, by the side of the road I'd normally take on the way home. I usually stay on the road itself though, because I can pass junctions using roundabouts rather than having to wait at light-controlled cycle/pedestrian crossings.

I read this piece in the Guardian this morning by a cyclist who generally avoids cycle lanes, which prompted me to idly wonder whether there's any mandate that cyclists must use on-road cycle lanes or off-road cycle paths where they are provided.

By an astonishing coincidence, 20 minutes later, as I was riding along the said road, I encountered a taxi driver, who slowed down to attract my attention and then repeatedly gestured that I should get off the highway and use the cycle path. He seemed particularly vexed that I was sharing his road, despite having ample space to overtake me, which he eventually did, allowing me to wave him a cheery farewell, just to indicate that I had heard his counsel even if I was was not going to heed it.

Curiosity piqued, I checked today, and according to the Highway Code, there is absolutely no imperative for cyclists to vacate the road when there is a cycle track available, so I will continue to cycle on road wherever it expedites my journey. And furthermore, thus educated, take to task any self-righteous hack who presumes to impose his inaccurate beliefs on me while we're both trying to use the road safely. So there. Hmph.

In other news, I ran 14km at the gym today, thereby going where this man had never gone before. I'm forced to revise my hope that I'll finish the half marathon in 1'50" up to a round two hours. I shall try and run 16km (a psychologically satsifying, if physiologically less so, 10 miles) before the big day though, probably next Monday, and just concentrate on speed and gradient the rest of the time.

I'm sure I'll finish, but I'm going to feel every step of the last five miles.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Edinburgh In August : A Resident's Perspective

The Observer | Review | Can I have my city back now?

This piece echoes my own views 100%. I'd add that Maggie O'Farrell's trisection of Edinburghers into aethiests, evangelists, and refugees maps closely with the triptych of Scots-born residents, white settlers in their early years, and invisible people I have never ever encountered.

I used to be a five-show a day, take a fortnight off work, festival evangelist, who worked with native Scots who would at most go to see one show each year and say they'd done the Fringe.

This year, I've been a bit more middle-aged about it, probably taking in a dozen shows over the month. I think it's less of an all or nothing proposition when you live and work away from the melee.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Nocturnal Curry and Arboreal Cybermen

I gave brother-in-law Joe a hand loading all his belongings into the car he'd hired to take them all back to London on Saturday. Like me, his worldy goods feature lots of books, PC hardware, and one or two items of clothing. About half way though the process of decanting all this through the front door, down the path and into the car, it occured to me that to any uninformed onlooking neighbour, it would appears as though these were my possessions, that Helen must have turfed me out, and that Joe was my temporary refuge.

The place seems very empty without him, but the spare room was swiftly filled by Lesley, who Helen's known since university. She's unbelievably energetic, and despite having come up from Essex that morning, we still went out and took in two Fringe shows, including the superb Janey Godley's Blog. See it if you can - she speaks with more authenticity than anyone else I've heard this year. On then, to the unbelievably crowded Spiegeltent for a quick catch up with some friends, and then on for a merely average meal at Kurry Bar. We didn't leave until midnight, which is pretty late for me these days.

The girls went off to see some more art exhibitions today, leaving me with a rare treat - a Sunday to myself, which I filled with gym, swim, iron and tidy up, punctuated by about a gallon of Earl Grey. I feel fantastic - it's all been a bit of a whirl recently, and a day to potter is just what I needed.

While checking the cover of the video for The Tenth Planet, which I'm currently enjoying, I saw to my baffled amusement that this story, set at the South Pole, has been illustrated with a landscape of trees, and even, if I'm not mistaken, a few birds as well. See for yourself:
I've also been listening to the narrated version of the story, which prompted me to also listen to David Banks' Origins of the Cybermen CD again. I'd forgotten that while taking Occam's Razor to the disparate hints given in the televised adventures, he'd also been playing Velikovsky, accompanied by some incidentals that sound like what happens when you mix up your MIDI channels and play a drum part using a flugelhorn patch. It's the product of a slightly obsessive genius, and fortunately Banks sounds like a cult leader rather than a train spotter, so the effect is rather powerful.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Red Squirrels

I captured these chaps in the wildlife hide at Wallington stately home in July. There had been some other people in the hide for about 45 minutes before we arrived, and they hadn't seen a thing but as soon as they left, the squirrels came out to play.

Late Spring Cleaning

The old blog (and it is quite an old one by now) was looking a bit antedeluvian compared to some of its competitors, so I've had a bit of a spring clean. I'm pleased with the results - it seems to have addressed all the niggles I've had with it.

Half-marathon training is going well : with just over two weeks to go, I'm up to 11km on the treadmill at a realistic speed and gradient. I'll be stretching ths out over the next week up to about 15km, and the focussing on speed and gradient in the week before the run itself. Sponsors have been few but generous. With an end of month payday between now and the race, I'm sure I'll hit the target. Just to make sure I do, please click on the link to the right. Thanks.

I'm very pleased with my new phone's camera. Above left is Poppy, looking a bit frayed in silhouette, but still deeply loveable. Below is a panorama, taken at Castle Kennedy Gardens on holiday, using the built-in panorama feature, where you take three shots from left to right and for the last two, it overlays the edge of the previous image on the display so you can line them up. You can see how the lighting changed over the three component shots here. WAKE UP!
Brother-in-law Joe takes his leave of us this weekend, after six extremely stress-free months. We will miss him. In the short term he is being supplanted by August's traditional slew of English visitors, who remember their expat chums once a year. More Festival Fringing will surely ensue. It's been a mainly spontaneous pot pourri of shows this year and all the better for it. I've most enjoyed Talk Radio, Count Arthur Strong, and The Lori Watson Three so far.

My sequential trawl through Doctor Who from the word go has reached The Tenth Planet, which I am saving for a ironing binge this weekend. I've been very impressed in the past few weeks with Peter Purves' performance, John Wiles' vision, and again, as in World's End, the impact of the story returning to a recognisable London in The War Machines, which I hadn't watched for nine years, and seems a completely different series to, say The Chase. And, it must be said, a far better one.

Now reading: The Vesuvius Club - Mark Gatiss
Itching to read next: Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs - Irvine Welsh
Now listening to: The Icicle Works - The Icicle Works; Transverse City - Warren Zevon; Anorak In The UK - Marillion
Now Watching: Cracker - The Big Crunch

It's a slow Friday, so expect an essay and some pictures this afternoon. Later, dudes.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hot For Teacher

My Mrs became a teacher yesterday. She'd already completed the course, picked up the diploma and started at her school, but yesteday, the kids came back from their holidays and she was up in front of the class she'll be teaching for the next year.

I feel really proud of her. Watching her doing her marking last night was quite beautiful. Changing career in mid-life is a bold step, and training to be a teacher in one year flat is hard work, and very challenging at the sharp end.

My euphoria is nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that we are now a dual-income household once more. Oh no. What kind of niggard do you take me for?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

You Know Who's Got It All?

Today’s challenge is to write the most smug, self-satisfied blog entry possible. Here goes.

For me, things generally look tickety-boo at 6:30 in the morning. Specifically, this morning. My alarm sounds at 5:45, at which I either get up or enjoy a 15 minute lie-in. It’s far easier to get out of bed when one has laid the groundwork the night before, so typically my bike panniers will already have been packed and my gym clothes laid out. I turbo charge myself with a strong espresso before heading out, and at this time of year, while I’m drinking it, look out of the window into our garden where a bush I have yet to identify is providing a canopy of lilac blossom.

A quick farewell to spouse later, and I’m on my way, gym gear augmented by bike helmet and fluorescent vest. Pausing only to clip on my panniers and put out the blue recycling box, I pedal past our local park, and the world is mine; well, mine and that of a select few bakery staff and postmen.

It was precisely as I was cycling past the park today that I started counting my blessings: I’ve been sober for nineteen months, have a heroine for a wife, and perfect health for a forty-year-old. I’m on good terms with my family and friends, have a home that feels like one, and am beginning to be able to look in the mirror and say “There is a decent enough bloke".

Clearly something terrible is about to befall me.

Blessings thus audited, I proceeded to the gym, past an old friend I hadn’t seen for over a year, and set to burning a thousand calories while enjoying some audio drama. How convenient to be able to exercise my mind and body at the same time. By 8:00 each day, I vacate the gym istelf, shower, and eat a somewhat stereotypical breakfast (muesli and The Guardian), before pushing off from the health club to work and arriving around 9:00.

And I do that most weekdays: in many ways it’s the best part of the day. The satisfaction of waking up to find my bags already packed, the tranquillity of the garden, the feeling of owning the neighbourhood as I pedal through it, and the exchange of nods and smiles with people I pass. By the time I get to work, I’ve already achieved something worthwhile.

And, you know – with a little application, you could do that too. Bless you, reader.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Holiday Season

I can confidently announce that we're going on holiday for a week, safe in the knowledge that any would-be housebreakers would have to contend with the combined resistance of our cat and lodger while we're away. We're off to Dumfries for some wholesome fun with a hire car in a self-catering cottage, packing our walking boots, board games, and lots of good books. Bliss.

Things that have kept me too busy to annotate this thing recently include a funeral, and wedding, a graduation ceremony, and a royal garden party. It's been relatively balmy in Edinburgh for the past few weeks, so we've taken to eating our evening meal in the back garden. I've even contemplating doing the ironing out there, although that might appear a bit affected and eccentric.

I managed to get hold of a recording of my first ever Rush concert from 1983 this week. I remembered the setlist, and audience acknowledgements, but forgot some of the clever segues they did. I do love them, still.

I've just treated myself to a new phone. The previous one, which I was sold by a cold-call from Vodafone, crucially wothout having seen, has a membrane keyboard like the oily one the guys at Kwik-Fit tap, which inhibits my SMS eloquence somewhat, and a display that can only be seen with time-lapse exposures. It had really been annoying me, so I've actually changed manufacturer for the first time. It was very instructive to see how differently the staff in the shop sold to me (sober appearance, tie, wedding ring) compared to the young people who made up much of the clientele. I welcomed not be addressed as "mate", certainly.

Currently reading "The Selfish Gene", "Doctor Who Graphic Novel: Dragon's Claw", and listening to "One Live Badger" by Badger and "Trans Canada Highway" by Boards of Canada.

I might take lots of pictures on my new phone on holiday and post them here. If it's really bad.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Domestic Digitisation Discussion: Dull

There's more than one kind of digital switchover. We all know about the one a few years from now when people throughout the land become bewildered that the telly in the spare room doesn't seem to work any more, or that the video can't record BBC3 when they're watching More4 at the same time.

The digital switchover that occupies me more than this is more personal. I still have a number of music cassettes, vinyl LPs, and VHS video cassettes. I am keen to be shot of these, because unlike their replacements, they deteriorate on each playback, can be copied no faster than they take to play, and incur a quality loss every time they're copied. Ugh.

I have a toolkit of strategies:
  1. The David Mellor Paradox. Music lover and Tory philanderer once announced that he owned a titanic volume of CDs. Some wag did his sums and realised that Mellor would be unlikely to be able to listen to them all again in his lifetime. So, I initially assessed my analogue AV collection with the blunt question "Am I ever going to watch or listen to this thing again?". The answer might be "No" because it was gret the first time, but the return on a repeat would be so diminuitive as to make it pointless. It might be "No" because, for example even though I intend to watch "Brazil" several more times before I die, I will be unlikely to do so on 4:3 VHS. And I can always rent it from Screenselect. About half my AV collection made its way to friends, charity shops, or landfill after the ruthless application of this criterion.
  2. Stimulate the economy. If I can buy a CD of a vinyl album, or a DVD of a video tape, then I will. Most of the stuff I like is deeply unfashionable, and available through Amazon resellers.
  3. Ethical juggling. We're in a morally grey area here, but it's quite a dark grey and becomes more so under honest scrutiny. If I've already paid to own something on VHS or vinyl, why not just download via Bittorent a replacement that I can burn to DVD or CD, and recycle the original? Well, because I'm denying revenue to the people who reissued the material on DVD or CD and made the file sharing possible. But I still do it.
  4. Fan power. This is better. I have a significant collection of live recordings of my favourite bands on cassette. Most if these recordings have been remastered for CD and made available as losslessly compressed archives over file sharing systems. I am acquiring quite a few recordings I never had on cassette in the first place, but apart from that it gets me nearer the goal of a less cluttered life.

Anyway, I've been at all this for about a year now, and it's going pretty well. This weekend I will take the plunge and actually chuck out live casssettes I've replaced. 90% of the vinyl has already gone.

Friday, June 16, 2006

MP3 Secrets of the Well-Off and Tedious


After a day of stomach cramps and cold symptoms on Tuesday, I seem to have recovered. I hope to get some gardening done this weekend. There's been a very welcome flurry of garden pride among our neighbours, and due to the tessellated nature of our plot, there are many Joneses to keep up with.

While I'm trowelling and pruning, I'll be listening to my generic MP3 player. As I work my way through the wonderful output of Big Finish Productions, rather than listening to serials serially, I like to interleave them. For example, an episode of Doctor Who, followed by an episode of Sapphire and Steel, followed by an episode of The Tomorrow People. This would be a real fag to click between manually, as well as being quite dangerous if attempted while exercising or cycling, so I rename the tracks of the serials so that they play in a round-robin fashion. This itself, can be a bit of a fag, so last night I knocked up a quite Perl program to do it automatically. I just type "interleave DoctorWho SapphireandSteel TomorrowPeople" and it interleaves them faster than a Vegas croupier, into a combined folder called "Sandwhich". Although why a Vegas croupier should have any particular aptitude for renaming MP3 files is a mystery to me.

My current Sandwich is Doctor Who: Real Time, Sapphire and Steel: All Fall Down, and The Tomorrow People: A Plague of Dreams.

While I'm culturally enumerating, I'll also add that my attempt to watch every Hartnell episode has reached "The Death of Doctor Who", I'd reading "The Feast of the Drowned", and Boards of Canada's new EP is getting a daily play.

There, I feel better having unburdened myself of all those secrets. Have a good weekend.

Monday, June 12, 2006

More Boasting About Running


What's hot, smelly, and runny? The Edinburgh Marathon in June! DYSWIDT?

I participated in my first marathon on Sunday. Not, you understand, the Full Monty, having only only previously competed to 10km. No, this was the Relay Marathon, whereby five us us, affiliated, more or less, with my employer covered the 26.2 miles between us. I took the lion's share, the intial 12.4km (7.7 miles) from the Marathon start in Princes Street to Victoria Park in Leith. Charitable rounding means I can say, I've now run a couple of Quarter Marathons (my previous 10km runs) and a Third Marathon (the relay).

After the Great Edinburgh Run last month I was a bit more crippled than I'd been expecting, so in the interim I concentrated on strengthening my quadriceps and hamstrings with various instruments of torture at the gym, as well as confining my training to indoor work on the treadmill. Purists may scoff, but the hammering my leg joints take from outdoor training (see the blog for my first 10k), just isn't worth it, and the treadmill is just as good at building up my muscles and cardiovascular system, especially as I keep it set to punitive gradients, so that on the day of a race, whenever I'm not actually going uphill, I get a bonus.

The challenges on the day were:
  • Congestion. I took the first leg of the relay, and we set off just 5 minutes after the main marathon, so the field was packed. I always start modestly quite near the back, but even so, it was harder work than normal to find a path through the other runners. I got my usual confidence boost from gradually overtaking throughout the race.
  • The sun. At 8 o'clock, shamelessly performing some recently-adopted hatha yoga asanas in Princes Street gardens, there was a light cloud cover that made the sun, which had already been up for 4 hours passable. About 40 minutes later, the clouds cleared, and I felt the sun's rays starting to scorch into my thinning hairline. It was the hottest run I've ever done - there's no way I'd have gone out to train in that temperature.

Nevertheless, there are some highlights I'll always remember:

  • Turning the corner from Princes Street into Lothian Road, rising gently up towards Tollcross, and seeing the road completely full of runners.
  • The beautiful quiet as we crossed the Meadows.
  • Arriving in Leith, to warm applause from the onlookers.
  • Overtaking a man in a Rhino suit and seeing from his number that he was doing the full marathon.
  • Realising that Edinburgh is far more beautiful in the morning than late at night.
  • Beating my forecast time by three minutes: I came in at 1:02 instead of 1:05. Which means I ran this at an average of 12kph, actually faster than the 11.76kph in which I did the shorter Great Edinburgh Run in easier conditions!

Afterwards, I had my first Mocha in over a month, in fact a Mocha Bianca (made with nutritionally worthless white chocolate), and waffles with maple syrup and ice cream. This all with a clear conscience, too, because after a run, wisdom has it that dumping a load of refined glucose into your blood stream prevents your body from devouring your muscles.

Two women in my life made it all easier - Susan from work, our team captain, who coped with all the logistics, and Helen from home, my wife who was there to give me a rousing send off and a nourishing round of applause as I came in. She is fab.

24 hours later, the quad and hamstring exercises seem to have paid off, because I can walk without wincing, with the only real injury being light sunburn, and I made it down to the gym for a swim before work this morning.

So, I've done two Quarter Marathons, a (nearly) Third Marathon, and the next challenge is a Half Marathon, specifically, the Glasgow Half Marathon in September. This will take a bit more training. You can see where this is going. As I peeled off from the full marathon runners into Victoria Park yesterday, I was awed with respect for them as they carried on to do what we'd just done a further two and bit times, with the sun rising higher, along with the temperature. I'm determined to follow them sooner or later.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Having a Lodger

For the past few months, we have had a lodger, my wife's brother. He's exactly the same age as me, and does exactly the same sort of work - IT prostitution for large financial clients. In fact, at the moment, the same large financial client. Opportunities at home were a bit sparse, so he took up a contract with Regal Bond of Scotia, and I had my arm twisted in the now familiar spouse-lock into inviting him into our home while he's working up here in Scotland.

I was a bit put out by the idea at first. After three years, I had only just acclimatised to sharing a home with another person, and even then, with regular fairly lively negociation about, say, where to store cooking matches, or what the optimum settings on the washing machine are. But I'm very fond of brother-in-law. Like father-in-law, he seemed to accept me as the bloke in Helen's life overnight, and we have a very matter-of-fact, almost mute fraternity.

The main sacrifice was our spare bedroom, or as I'd come to think of it "drying room, and meditative retreat", which is now a terrifying batchelor pad, strewn with programming manuals and technological wonders, entwined with USB cables. Because the great thing about brother-in-law is that rather than spending his evenings on the sofa, changing the channels on my bloody telly, eating strange food and farting, he retreats to his hermitage and gets all his entertainment by WLAN and broadband. So on the day he arrived, I gave him a spare set of keys, and took his wireless MAC addresses, and off he went. It's as simple as that.

Better yet, he eats what's put in front of him (to eat, obviously, not absolutely everything), offers to make cups of tea every hour, and dresses so radically differently from me that our washing never gets mixed up. Furthermore, because he eats what we eat, when we eat it, it's no harder to cook for three than for two, and we have the bonus of a third party to enliven mealtimes.

Are there any drawbacks? Well, the Waltons/Boswells style roundtable of the day's events over dinner seems to take a lot longer, and my own slot is cut down to one third of a mealtime, so I have less opportunity to talk about myself. And I can't wonder around the house naked and scratching my dangly bits at all hours of the night. Helen does not espcially see the latter as a drawback. Or the former, if I'm honest.

I think I could cope with this indefinitely. At this rate, we'll be starting a commune soon.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Look! It's Still Moving! Quick!

I'm having a quiet day today, so I thought I'd update this. It appears to have been some time since I blogged, since which everyone I know has taken up the form. I can't claim any influence. Just in case it's another 18 months since I get round to posting, here are the headlines

  • I no longer drink alcohol: my last drink was on January 8 2005
  • Helen and I have been married for two years
  • I still work as an IT consultant in Edinburgh, almost exclusively for a large financial group

I visited my family this weekend, and my father was enquiring about my pastimes. He seemed oddly unnerved that all I do is work and house-husbanding. I haven't done anything creative at a keyboard (either with letters or with notes) for about 18 months. I am far more a creature of routine and habit than ever before. If there's a guiding principle, it's "Do fewer things, better". I'm succeeding at the first part of this admirably.

If I manage to maintain this blog, then future topics might include:

  • Coffee
  • Yoga
  • Life laundering
  • Memoirs by broadcasters
  • Ethical living 1: Liberation from petrol
  • Ethical living 2: Why you don't need to fly
  • Having a lodger
  • On reaching 40
  • Radio 4 in the 21st Century

You can't bloody wait, can you? Eh?