Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Operation Delve

Having greeted my wife on her return from her grandmother's, I retreated to the smallest room to attend to some pressing business. "Dave?", she soon called. "A bad thing has happened". It transpired that while changing buses on the way home, she had, in the course of discarding her used rail tickets, inadvertently thrown away, with her used ticket, her unused tickets for the following weekend's trip to Manchester. Could I, at nine on this rapidly darkening Sunday evening, cycle to the bus stop in question (just in front of LIDL and the 24-hour garage) and retrieve the tickets from the bin?

Wordlessly, I donned my helmet and set out, having first rooted around for my bike lights, unused since April. "You are absolutely sure that you threw them in the bin and that they're not anywhere else?" I checked, and even though the reply was defiantly affirmative, I still jammed my bluetooth headset on, ready to field any call to indicate they had been found.

On arriving at the bus stop, I found that the bin was of formidable cast-iron construction, with the pillar-box opening at the top of its metre of height. I couldn't even see into it, let alone see any evidence of rail tickets. I 'toothed mission control to confirm this was indeed the target. If only, I thought, I had a mirror - then, I could hold it in the slot at an angle and look down at the bin contents. Exhibiting, though I say so myself, near-genius, I turned on the camera and spotlight on my mobile phone and held it over the rim of the slot so I could look in at the display. There was something that looked like a train ticket nestling atop a carrier bag. Putting fears of septicemia to one side, I knelt down, fed my arm through the slot up to the shoulder, and at full stretch, managed to grab the ticket. Hooray!

It was Helen's return portion from her journey that day.

Further phonecam surveillance indicated what might have been the crucial vouchers, but try as I might, I couldn't reach them. I had taken out the carrier bag by this stage, and the spectacle of a 42-year old man, bicycle leaning against the railings, wearing a helmet and headset, waving a mobile phone into a litter bin, and hooking out carrier bags, was beginning to attract bemused attention. It looked like a kind of Mission Impossible on it's uppers scenario, Jim Phelps, The Wilderness Years, if you like. I felt the urge to explain to the passengers waiting at the bus stop. "It's my wife. She accidentally threw away the wrong train ticket". They nodded sympathetically, but inside I could tell they were thinking "Aye, right. He's got a wife. Course he has".

I resolved to go and get the tools for the job, and returned to the operations hub to stock up my mission pack with a long-handled dustpan and brush, a wire coathanger, some blu-tack, and extendable metal tape measure, and an air duster. That should do it. Jim Phelps was banished. Now I was MacGuyver. I pedaled back off into the September evening. There would be a new queue of onlooking bus passengers, potentially more aggressive than sympathetic by now. Just round the corner, my headset trilled. "I've found it!" said mission control, going on to elaborate "I'd thrown it in the recycling".

I executed a U-turn and returned to base, standing down the alert to amber. I had expected many things from married life, but scrabbling in bins was not one of them.

"That usually comes later", mused Agent Owen, pouring himself a generous Earl Grey, contemplating a future, with eyes that had already seen too much. Far too much.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Everything's Coming Up Roses

Something dreadful must be waiting around the next corner, because I haven't felt this fulfilled in living memory. Here are three highlights.

I painted our front room. That may not sound like much, but we live in a 19th century colony house with high ceilings, ornate woodwork, and unforgiving access. I hadn't actually done any decorating for about a decade, so it was invigourating to dig out my rollers and brushes and also quite challenging to engage a specialist paint vendor to try and get a match for the work we had done last year. I seem to have found an equilibrium between prissy and slapdash, and am very pleased with the results. I shall do more later this year.

I ran a marathon. This had been hanging over me for the best part of a year. Fundamentally, it's just a matter of believing you can do it, and then training lots. The longest few training runs weren't much fun, if I'm honest, but I enjoyed myself on the day, and made a small fortune for charity. Everyone I know has been suitably impressed with me, except for the population of Sunderland, who seem to all be former elite athletes. This was my first, but not my last.

I interviewed Colin Baker. I had previously interviewed Doctor Who number six on stage in 1999, on a day when he may not have been in the best humour, and I misjudged the occasion, causing a car crash interview that people still talk about. I was doing a lot of stage interviews at an event in Gloucester last weekend, and agreed to cover Colin again. I came clean to him beforehand, and whether he remembered me or not, he was gracious and forthcoming, and even elicited a specific round of applause for me at the conclusion. A ghost was very much laid to rest.

So that's good. I have new glasses, a new tooth, some new clothes, and will soon have some new orthotic insoles as well. Everything in and around me is being unpacked, cleaned, and put away again tidily. It's all ship-shape. As I say, something appalling is bound to befall me, but I though I should stick a flag in the calendar on this day that it hasn't yet.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ordinary Man Updates Dull Blog

Crikey, it's been ages. I must confess that being able to update my Facebook status even as I perform the most fundamental of ablutions means that I feel less compelled to diarize properly whenever I want to tell the world how I'm feeling. But there's more to communication than "Dave Owen clearly had a good breakfast" or "Dave Owen latterly eschews Blogger".

It's not just Facebook that has been eating my time. Work has been fairly demanding of late, not just office hours, but planned work outside office hours, and unplanned work as a result of the planned work. So I skipped sleeping last Monday night, for example, and spent the last weekend either working, enjoying high culture with Helen, or running a half-marathon. I still feel I'm nothing like as stretched as the average parent or project manager, though.

My stamina seems to be returning. I had fallen back into a bad espresso habit, with consequent energy crashes, fed with more espresso or sugary food. My weight tipped over 100kg, and when I lost the ability to run for about a month following an ankle injury, I took the opportunity to cut out coffee completely, and diligently watch what I'm eating. I'm down to 92kg now and intent on dropping to 80kg if I can. I've enjoyed the feeling of hunger, and the self-satisfaction that comes from seeing it out instead of feeding it. Habits like the snack on arriving home from work are biting the dust. I'm no longer bloated and windy, and sweat far less when exercising. I think that coffee, like alcohol, is a mood-altering quick-fix drug that I am powerless over, so I've decided that I've had my last cup.

As a result, I can keep going longer, and got through last-week's all-nighter with few after-effects. With a slower metabolism, I seem to be able to exercise sooner after eating, although I still need to eat afterwards.

I'm looking forward to lots of holidays. We're going to Kirby Steven with some of Helen's family for Easter, taking a week at a caravan late in April, and taking Eurostar to Avignon in August. Lots of walking and reading to come, I hope. I'm going to see Asia in Glasgow tonight, as well. It's a sign of my age that 50% of the band have had heart surgery since I last saw them, and I'm looking forward to reading Martin Amis' latest essay collection on the way there and back almost as much as the gig itself.

I think I'm more content now than for some time. Work is satisfying, and in the rest of my time, I seem to be building sustainable good habits. I've got into cleaning my bike, rather than letting the chain and gears crunch towards annual replacement. I'm cooking simpler, healthier meals. I'm varying my exercise regime. I seem to be enjoying engaging with problems rather than avoiding or postponing them.

So, it's all looking pretty good. "Dave Owen is enjoying life", as I'd say on Facebook.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Punishing With Spontaneity

At 3 pm on Friday, I learned that the work planned for Friday evening and Saturday daytime had been postponed, and that I would not be starting work until 4 pm on Saturday "Hooray" i thought - "that gives me most of Saturday to iron, watch Doctor Who, get my hair cut, alphabetize (checking the spelling of that, I see it's IZE rather than ISE, which is apt and thus memorable, at least) the contents of the kitchen, and stroke my compulsions in any other way that took my fancy. Helen had other plans, which is why by noon, we were speeding towards the Trossachs to visit Queen Elizabeth Forest Park (above). This was possible thanks to the City Car Club, which enables non-petrolheads such as ourselves to hire cars for a couple of hours, to be picked up and returned at unmanned locations within walking distance of home.

It was all arse-about-face, I thought, sucking in the greenery, air, space, and calm before an eight-hour shift at the command prompt. I stand corrected: I started work in a much improved frame of mind. Hooray for the City Car Club.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pounding Scotland by the Angle

I ran the Great Winter Run (5k, around Holyrood Park, remember) on Saturday in what appeared to be under 25 minutes, thanks to a very focused training regime (running uphill steeply for 25 minutes every other day) and an inspirational medley of Genesis MP3s that reflected the course and its challenges. That's the hard one out of the way - on now to the 10k, half marathon, and marathon that will occupy my legs until Summer. They're longer, but crucially, flatter. The races, that is, not my legs.

The picture above is me the following day, taking it more gently above the Water of Leith near home. Note my massive thighs. If my torso looks equally massive, that's just because I'm wearing four layers of clothing, and not, I stress, because I eat too much.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Nuptials Revisited

Perambulating through the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh this afternoon, we stopped to admire the Redwood Grove, where we were married in 2004. No regrets, I hope Helen is thinking here.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Adieu, mon beau sapin

Unsettling confrontations

On Wednesday, this happened:

"When old people come up to your table in a bar, cafe, or restaurant, and ask "Is anyone sitting here" of the empty seats next to you, so you reply "No", imagining they want to take the seats away, but they sit down right next to you, utterly cramping either your solitude or your intimate conversation, and making you feel so angry with yourself for minding that you don't even bother with a dessert or a coffee, and get out, letting them enjoy what you had naively believed to be your own table before the advent of geriatric collectivism."

Yesterday, I had my disconcerting run-in with authority.

This morning, while walking across the park opposite the house, I was greeted by a man walking a dog, and casually returned his "Morning". He seemed to want to carry on talking, and I had to signal that I was wearing earphones under my snow hat and take them out.

"Have you see the television this morning?" he asked.

This worried me. The last time I was asked this question was at 07:00 MST on Tuesday September 11 2001 in a car part in Colorado Springs. It did not bode well. It was something that must be seen rather then just known. What had befallen whom? Was it related to the snow covering the city?

"No", I confessed.

"The Portuguese", he began. This was bad. This sounded more like a Falklands invasion than a 9/11. What had happened? Fishing dispute turned nasty? Annexation of Spanish or North African territories? He continued "Have said that they think it was Gerry and Kate who killed their daughter".

Gerry? Kate? Much as my heart goes out to the poor McCanns, I do not think of them in first-name terms. Nor does the latest twist in their unending ordeal give me pause to accost strangers before daybreak in public parks. I honestly didn't know how to respond, and mechanically busked that I'd "have a look when I got to work".

I thought the man was a bit strange. Maybe he'd lost a grandchild or even a child when he was younger, and had locked on to the McCann case as link between the news and his own experiences. Did that explain his familiar reference to the parents?

I did not risk taking any photos today. Here is a shot from our New Year break of the woods near Grantown-on-Spey. Note the complete absence of any outgoing individuals with challenging etiquettes or unwieldy social protocols.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Snow and Security

I have decided to post a picture as often as I can, and took my camera to work today. Having cycled, wearing shorts, and carrying nothing less modest, it cruelly started snowing in the morning. I decided that a shot of my bike covered in snow would be the perfect summary of this first day back at work, and ventured into the car park to take oneat lunch time. The snow was a bit camera shy in my shot, so I started taking some others of snowfall against the building. After a minute, a security guard came out and very directly asked whether I had permission to take photographs. Much apologizing, both to him, and the site security director followed, and I contritely agreed to delete the shots of the building, which is, I suppose a fairly high-security site. I would have had to have been a completely rubbish criminal to actually have though I was doing something clandestine, though.

So, today's picture is of my bike at a secret location where you can't see it snowing. Are you happy for goading me into blogging more often, Peter Anghelides?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year

A week in the NW of England followed by a couple of nights up in Grantown on Spey made for a very replenishing Christmas and New Year.

The final leg of our journey to the latter was made by steam train: