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?


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.