Saturday, 29 October 2011

Weekend in Folkestone (of all the places)

Let me just make it clear, from the start, that I was sold this weekend under false pretenses! Lenore promised me a lovely few days in a cabin by the sea, with a swimming pool on site and room to cycle, and what did I get? A wet weekend in Folkestone! Okay it didn't actually rain but the potential was always there.

On the other hand we did end up in a lovely sea-front apartment, with a view over the waves, and a chance to enjoy the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway - it's a steam railway you know with a name like that!

All aboard the Halloween special
What I didn't realise was that if you travelled to the end of the line then that meant Dungeness and believe me the phrase "end of the line" was invented for this godforsaken place. I mean I know that I've ventured down this way before, to Romney Sands, on an ill-fated stag weekend but that place is a buzzing metropolis compared to Dungeness!

If you want to get away from it all and mean it...
I guess that most people know the area, if they know it at all, as the location of a nuclear power station. For sure it's hard to escape its presence when you're there although I do recall an estate agent advertising a cottage slap-bang next to the facility that studiously mentioned everything but it. So I guess that it's possible to overlook the hulking monolith!

Can I photograph this?
What's strange is that the beach seems inordinately popular with fishermen; there are loads of them camped out all along the shore. I suppose that this is rather fortunate as you can't swim in the water (because of the current rather than the radiation) and there's nothing much else to do. Even so I can't really see the attraction unless you're interested in fish - which it turns out Joshua is! He's just fascinated by them and he was happy to march off into the far distance and quiz every man with a rod over his catch; perhaps he should become a fisheries inspector?

Do you come here often?
In the end though we tired of life at the end of the world and luckily for us there was a steam train handy for getting out of Dodge. Once aboard we got a very striking view of the endless marsh - especially when we opened the door in total contravention of any possible Health & Safety legislation! You've got to love these old-school outfits....

All that's missing are the Cowboys & Indians!
Later in the weekend we turned our attention to Dover and St Margarets Bay - the perfect location for some sea-cliff action. The port itself is no great shakes but down the coast the scenery is much more impressive and, to be honest, much more dangerous. There's nothing like walking a few feet from the edge of a 300-foot chalk cliff with nothing between you and oblivion but a sturdy pair of shoes and a strong sense of preservation! However when the opportunity to clamber all over a Second World War gun emplacement came up how could we refuse?

Don't look down...
Suitably impressed we finished off our trip with lunch at a transport cafe in Deal. It wasn't cuisine worth three Michelin stars of course but there'll always be a place for a greasy breakfast in my life I hope (well until the coronary-bypass that is) and we fell on the plates like crows. With a bit of a trip up to the pier and back (more fishermen) we ended by learning that Joshua should never be given a motorbike - it will end in tears:

Great handling but terrible suspension!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wet, windy and winter

Another Wednesday morning and another run to work. Thankfully I was up nice and early this morning (thanks kids!) and had time to spare. A quick glance out of the window showed nothing untoward apart from an inky darkness and that'll be the story for many a morning to come. So I slurped down my tea and headed for the exit - breakfast would have to wait. Outside it was kind of warm and running through Highgate Woods was fun what with the dense foliage making it almost a monochrome experience; although when I emerged from the cover of the trees I realised that it wasn't just dark. It was also tipping it down! Still I wasn't that bothered even when my running vest stuck to my chest and caused a touch of nipple rash. Oops!

Down on the Heath I was looking forward to getting some great sunrise pictures from Parliament Hill but I did start to wonder if I would be denied. I know that my camera is properly waterproof but even so! Luckily the sky cleared as I headed south and in the end I was rather pleased by the vista:

Could the shard be any taller? Oh yes!
Definitely a moody and oppressive atmosphere there I think? More interesting than a bright blue sky perhaps although not quite so uplifting. Turning a little to the left I also caught this nice shot:

Rise and shine little birdies
Fairly dramatic again - more so than the rest of my run in to work anyway. In terms of form I kept trying to lift my feet up and in the end it came together; only for the last 5-10 minutes though. By then I was feeling strong and up to powering through the throng of commuters. Hopefully I livened up their day!

Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 57m 06s

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Basic DIY - Week Four

It's all gone so quickly but here we are - the final session and a chance to mess around with electricity. I guess that this is a real area of fear for many people but having been electrocuted more than once I'm not so worried about wiring and all that; at least you don't flood the house when you make a mistake! Like last week we started at the beginning - how does electricity get into your house and what can you do when it gets there? As it happens not a lot; you can replace something that's broken and move a socket around but forget making any additions. That kind of tampering is strictly verboten!

Instead we got to talking about lighting, wiring, plugs and all of the different types of fuse. Take it from me if your fuse-box still requires you to change a wire when one blows then it's time to call the electrician; in this modern world it's all MCB this and RCD that. Useful devices to have kicking around no doubt but the fuse-box isn't something that I'm going to mess with. Honestly I'm far more likely to re-wire a standard lamp and as it turns out this is exactly what we did:

I am from the '70s
There's something strangely satisfying about screwing a circuit together and having it all work first time! The lesson here is that a good connection is a solid one; there's no room for loose, wobbly, held together by tape connections in our modern world you know!

The final thing that I want to mention though, and this is important, is that LED lights are the future. No, really, I used to dismiss them as being too expensive and under-powered but they've really come a long way in recent years. Just last weekend I ordered myself a box-full from Simply LED and they've been a revelation! Last year we replaced the GU10 50W halogen bulbs in our kitchen with the 11W CFL (compact fluorescent) equivalents and while they did the job they were always a bit too dim and slow to get going to be properly useful. But now I've bunged in a load of 4W LEDS and I can't imagine ever going back; I am a convert I admit it! The light quality and intensity is as good as I could ever want and my electricity bill will certainly feel the benefit.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Pushing on to Ally Pally

I definitely felt like an old man this morning staggering out of bed and wincing with my initial footsteps; this is new territory and I don't like it! Still at least I can get going after a while and I made it to the start on time despite the roadworks by the Spaniards Inn; it looks like they're repairing the toll house but frankly they'd be better off demolishing it. Little more than a glorified shed it creates a terrible pinch-point in the carriageway and endless queues of traffic; this is not a new problem!

Anyway today Mike was in charge and, as is often the case, he chose to lead us astray on some seldom-visited streets and side-roads that we often overlook. Sure we began by crossing the Heath but soon we ventured over the top of Highgate to Waterlow Park and then on to the A1; premier passage to the frozen North for so long. On an ordinary day we might have turned here and wiggled back but in a joking aside to another Michael I ventured that we might be heading to Alexandra Palace; imagine my amusement when it turned out that this was exactly our destination! Sometimes even I don't look forward to the hills:

Push, push, push
It wasn't an easy climb up to the high vantage point but on the other hand I got to stop and take photographs - which helped just enough! With a bit of a breather under my belt I felt a lot happier and proceeded to drift to the front and lift the pace alongside Daniel. To be honest I'm a bit fed up with not being altogether fit and lagging behind and so, sometimes, I feel the need to thrash my argumentative body into submission however much it hurts; or maybe I was just inspired by this mysterious statue on top of the Palace:

Who is this winged being?
Whoever she is we skipped along the old railway line and into Highgate Woods at which point it sounded like the Arab Spring had come to North London! Half of us wanted to go right and half wanted to go left; both claiming their route to be the shortest. In the end the right-ists won out and a later check on MapMyRun shows that this direction was indeed the shortest by all of 130m! The irony is that if we had gone the whole way up Sheldon Avenue then we could have saved ourselves even more travel time but no one thought to say. Even so we took full advantage of the closed road by the Heath and finished tired but content.

Distance: 9.6 miles
Time: 1h 29m 47s

Friday, 21 October 2011

It's still warm out in the park

This morning, cycling in, it was a little chilly thanks to the clear sky overnight; so much so that I had no hesitation switching to my winter coat and gloves. So when I headed out this lunchtime it was with a slight sense of trepidation - was I going to turn as blue as a boiler-shed chicken? And yet when I actually emerged into the sunshine I couldn't believe how fabulous it all felt; just great. Running through St James Park and the sunbathers of Green Park (where the summer deckchairs are still available) I couldn't believe my luck and inwardly congratulated myself at having made the effort to shake a leg.

Another Autumn for this mighty chestnut
Along the Serpentine I tried out another barefoot middle section, again, as a way to lift the tempo and with tape on my toes I certainly lasted longer than I have previously. However I'm going to need some stronger tape than this medical stuff from Superdrug since it still wore through on the tarmac; my experiment continues. Coming back on the horse-track sand I felt a bit more on my forefoot than I had earlier but I can't say that my form was all that great. Perhaps I'm just a bit tired from the week. Bring on the weekend!

Distance: 6.8 miles
Time: 53m 29s

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Footsteps in the frost

It's turning into a bit of a routine this running-to-work on a Wednesday morning lark - although this morning was a little bit unusual. Given that I needed to be at my desk by 8:30am today, that it takes about an hour door-to-door and that I woke up at 7:35 well you do the math! In ten minutes flat I was up and out with no thought given to the wintry conditions outside; all I wanted to do was get my head down and try to maintain a stiff pace the whole way in.

A touch of frost?
Of course the only things that got stiff (quiet at the back) were my exposed limbs. It was just a little on the chilly side and I felt distinctly under-dressed what with everyone else I saw kitted up in gloves, mufflers and woolly hats. Still I was rather incentivised to keep padding through the lightly frosted grass (which looked very pretty in the low morning light) and to power through the pedestrians blocking my path in Kentish Town and beyond.

Happily I managed to keep my pace high, despite a few aches and pains springing up, and avoid stopping too much for the traffic. On foot I guess I become one of those suicidal London pedestrians who insists on slicing through slow-moving traffic jams rather than wait for the lights to change. How naughty but at least in this civilised country we don't have cops that molest jaywalkers! Let's hope that this is one law that we don't import from America - it would really hold up my running for a start.

Distance: 7.8 miles
Time: 57m 25s

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Basic DIY - Week Three

Wow how quickly these weeks pass by; it seems like no time at all since I was drilling and screwing to my heart's content and yet already it's plumbing time. This week our agenda was all about avoiding those irritating, expensive bills that seem to come due every time the plumber pops round no matter how trivial the job. So if just a few of these painful interactions can be avoided then the course will have paid for itself.

First up then was taps and the dripping washer syndrome - does anything symbolise modern man's incompetence more succinctly? That little drip-drip is literally water torture and yet all it takes is a screwdriver, a wrench and a smattering of time to put the problem to bed. The only question is whether you'll be replacing a washer (cheap) or a cartridge (expensive) and you can bet that it'll be the latter - why would the tap companies want it any other way?

After this we turned our attention below the sink to the U-bend (or bottle trap) - source of smells, spills and bellyaches. Like so many things in life this vital part of the plumbing is simpler than it appears but the real secret to a well-tempered trap is prevention; in this case that means pouring some bicarbonate of soda and plain vinegar into your plug every so often and leaving it to work its cleaning magic. As a matter of fact vinegar (and half a lemon) turns out to be multi-talented; it'll clean limescale from your kettle and shower, it'll freshen up your dishwasher and you can even use it to make your windows sparkle like they're a game-show host.

To finish off we dealt with an old favourite - the seal around your bath and what to do when it starts going black with mold. Now it turns out that this isn't just unsightly but that the mold also creates microscopic holes in the sealant through which water leaks; so that's why the ceiling below your bathroom is always falling down! Sadly it's not all that easy to remove silicone sealant by hand but with a plastic tool, a Stanley knife and some elbow grease it's possible to lift it up and prepare a clean, non-greasy surface for your new silicone. Applying it smoothly is a bit of a life-skill but with masking tape limiting the spread and a small amount of dilute washing-up liquid (to lubricate your smoothing tool/finger) the results can look impressively professional. And a lot easier on the bank balance!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Nice medal!

It's finally arrived - my trophy/medal for winning the Summer 10K Series in Regents Park (in the V40 category of course - I'm not that much of a racing snake sadly). I'm really pretty happy with this result as it's been a real up and down year so far as running goes and it's nice to be rewarded for my pain, persistence and positive mental attitude! Unlike most races the series isn't just about raw speed and crossing the line with your arms above your head either - it's much more about sticking with it month after month, being consistent and playing the long game. So in many ways it really suits me!

I'll give this pride of place on my, um, trophy shelf!
On the other hand it's not as if I was handed this medal on a plate! I did come in as top V40 twice and made it onto the podium another three times; so out of the six races I think that I held my own. The other sweet thing is that I won £50 in Runners Need vouchers (which will come in super handy when it comes to some new winter running gear) and free entry to the series next year! Amazing! I really don't win all that much and so I'm definitely planning on milking this for all of the quiet satisfaction that I can....

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A return visit to Rich Mix

Back in January (which seems like an awful long time ago) Joshua went down to RichMix in Shoreditch and created this cute little animation. I though that it might be the start of something new for him, since he does love to watch Lego films on YouTube, but not so much has happened in the intervening period. However today Lenore took him back to the Kid's Film Workshop (along with a little friend) while I stayed behind to cook our roast dinner. Domestic life you know! And this is what they came up with:

On the whole I'm pretty impressed (although I am contractually obligated as a parent to take this line) and it looks like they had a lot of fun. Certainly I can see that Joshua had a hand in this, quite literally, and he doesn't seem shy about speaking up either! Maybe there could have been more of a twist in the tale but then what do you expect from a bunch of 8-year olds? War and Peace related in sixty seconds? Anyway we'll see if this triggers a desire to be the next Spielberg in young Joshua; stay tuned!

In charge on the spur of the moment

Yesterday Mike was in the same boat as me (returning from injury and suffering for this troubles) but we both agreed that we'd be out on this fine Sunday morning for more of the same. Unfortunately, for reasons as yet unknown, Mike didn't make it and so that left me and Daniel and Amanda standing by the side of the road - waiting! Leaderless we hung on but eventually the awful truth could no longer be ignored; one of us would have to take up the reins and conjure an adhoc route for our running pleasure. So I thought fast and figured that if we began by heading north, directly away from the Heath, then something would come to mind.

As it happened by the time we had wiggled our way through the posh side of the Hampstead Garden Suburb, and reached Big Wood, a plan had begun to coalesce in my cortex. We could head over to the Dollis Valley and kill several birds with one decision - the path would be green and quiet, we'd be avoiding the main roads and it'd give us a chance to run a reasonable distance at an unbroken pace. The only question mark had to be when would we turn round and head for home? In my mind I figured that we could probably make it to the viaduct and then turn back through North Finchley - but this was a very fluid plan subject to circumstance.

Early on a winter's morning
Which was lucky as we ticked over the forty minute mark while we jogged along the bottom of Church End and so I made the executive decision that we should immediately break off from the path - not that there was much discussion or even talking of any sort going on! This turned out to be somewhat inspired as this diversion led directly uphill, past North Finchley and on to Avenue House with no deviation. From here it was a simple matter to join East End Road and then loop down towards Winnington Road - taking care to actually avoid the bulk of its ascent by cutting through the Heath extension.

By the end all three of us felt like we'd put in a properly solid run - almost 15km at a steady pace - which wasn't quite what we'd expected when we'd turned up over an hour earlier. What pleases me most though is the fact that I managed to come up with an off-the-cuff route that was a pleasure almost from start to finish and that we hadn't had to travel a silly distance in order for it all to hang together. I can see us doing this one again - hopefully next time Mike will join us though rather than being left to experience it second-hand!

Distance: 9.1 miles
Time: 1h 21m 28s

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Feeling dizzy on the Heath

Today marked my first run back with the school after an absence of a month. Coming close behind my lengthy sabbatical over the summer it's clear that I've been remiss with my commitments! I am a very naughty boy and should be punished! In a way though I was as this morning's performance was sub-par even by my recent standards and that's a bit depressing. Also it's not as if I can blame this decline on anyone else (well apart from whoever infected me with a cold virus) and I suppose that I'll just have to get on with it.

Hey - where are you going?
Anyway the weather remains warm and sunny although at the start of our run the mist had yet to lift from the grasslands of Hampstead Heath. Delightful to gaze at with the rays of the low sun piercing through the fog, and casting long shadows from the bare tree branches, but a tad chilly on the bones. Maybe this visual feast was why Ira decided to lead us in ever decreasing circles on the Heath paths:

Round and round like hamsters in their wheel
Now I've got nothing against this fabulous urban oasis - in fact I love living nearby - but there's only so much that I can take without losing my grip on reality. So it was quite a relief when we stopped bouncing around Gospel Oak and definitively struck north (although it did provide me with a chance to fall into step with Keith, a work colleague, when I bumped into him unexpectedly - it's always a bit disconcerting to stumble across someone you know in a totally different context). That was a bit of a high point I'm afraid although the novel diversion across Kenwood, on the final leg, was worth the effort; a bit of a curate's egg overall though.

Distance: 6.7 miles
Time: 58m 23s

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Running poorly while feeling poorly

With my DIY class taking up yesterday evening this morning I had to run to work - and I was definitely in two minds about doing so. For a start I was running late, and close to running out of time, and didn't feel all that hot. On the other hand my running kit was to hand and I really don't like to tube-it unless I have to (since it could rain tomorrow and I'd really start to miss my exercise this week). So the decision was made and I kicked off for the Heath with a bit of a hope that I might achieve a repeat of last week and start to feel stronger the further I went.

Looks promising doesn't it?
The funny thing is that if I look back at my splits then that seems to be exactly how it panned out this morning and yet nothing could be further from the truth. Instead I felt reasonable up to about the 5-mile mark (not too special but comfortable enough) but beyond this I couldn't help feeling that this run was almost exactly 15-minutes too long! I was sweating like a Trojan, my legs hurt like I'd completed a marathon at the weekend and I wanted to be anywhere but here. It was no fun and the last couple of miles were a real slog even if I did speed up a bit - just because I dearly wanted it all to be over. Sometimes these are the cards that we're dealt; hopefully my next hand will be more of a keeper!

Distance: 7.4 miles
Time: 54m 20s

Are you living your childhood dreams? Am I?

With Steve Jobs dying the other day it was interesting (unnerving?) to witness such an outpouring of public grief over someone who was, essentially, just a very successful businessman - but then I'm not an Apple fan-boy and so maybe I just don't understand? What did make an impression on me though was his commencement address at Stanford University where he talks about following your gut and doing the things in life that you love. Is it that simple? I don't know. Obviously with Steve Jobs we have a very biased sample of one, and perhaps for most people following your gut just leads to a bigger gut, but I get what he's driving at - especially the point about how we only get a limited amount of life and it shouldn't be wasted following someone else's dream.

As is often the case with the internet I then got side-tracked and wound up at a site called The Last Lecture. Now many professors give a final lecture (technically all must if we're being pedantic) but it seems that Randy Pausch's was something special and having watched all 75 minutes of it I would tend to agree. His basic thesis is that we should take our childhood dreams and strive to meet them (in one way or another) since they are the truest mark of who we are. It's a convincing argument made more effective by the fact that Randy really did live out his dreams (or the ones that he's told us about anyway) and he seems pretty chipper for a man with less than a year to live. Judge for yourself:

The obvious question then is what childhood dreams did I have and have I lived them out? That's a tough one. I'm not sure that I really pondered all that deeply as a child and rarely wanted to be 'something' like a football player or an astronaut; I was happy (or unhappy) enough being myself without wanting to be someone else. However I did have real, consuming interests and those were pretty close to being dreams I think; stuff like this:
  • Ride my bike and win the Tour de France
  • Study the stars and love astronomy
  • Learn everything and become a Doctor
So how did it work out? Well I did ride my bike a lot, even across America and Europe, but I was never going to be a professional I think. Even so I've done a lot as an amateur athlete; running marathons, completing an Ironman and even competing in the 70.3 World Championships. Not so bad. Also I did get to study the universe and it was great; I loved doing my first degree and while it might not have had great career potential it was exactly what I wanted to do at the time. In fact I even carried it onto my second degree and while the scales did fall from my eyes a bit I stuck with the program and became the PhD graduate that I'd always wanted to be.

A pretty solid record then but I can't help wondering what childhood dreams I've forgotten. What did I want to do, apart from own Computer Battleships, that defines me and yet has long since faded from memory (or been overwhelmed by the present anyway)? Answers on a postcard please. Also, coming back to Steve Jobs, am I following my heart and doing what I love? In short the answer is no. Don't get me wrong; I'm very happy with my life and how it's panning out but there remains that niggle at the back of my mind. Once upon a time I loved to do astrophysics, and that's what I did, but then I fell out of love with research (although not the subject) - my problem is that I haven't fallen in love with another subject/job/career/destiny since then and I kind of miss the certainty.

Maybe I'll just buy the book and take it from there? Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Basic DIY - Week Two

Despite feeling singularly rubbish I was determined to make this week's session because well, you know, I've never been one to skip my coursework! So I wandered over and found no one there - or so it seemed - and suffered a brief moment of discombobulation. But then, luckily, our teacher appeared from an inner office and we got to chat about DIY until everyone else arrived; or almost everyone. Even at this early stage we have a couple of drop-outs.

So this week we got onto screws, drills, wall-fixings and everything in-between. This is quite handy as while I've drilled my fair share of holes they have all been fairly middle of the road - I haven't ventured into the arcane arts of hollow walls, tiles and suchlike. Hence there was enough for me to learn this evening! First though we went over the history of screws, how they've evolved and what you can do with them. So we have slots, cross-heads, Phillips and, of course, the Pozidriv; who'd have thought that they all have specific pros and cons that govern what you can do with them? Mostly I just reach for the nearest screwdriver and a screw of roughly the right dimensions!

You've got to love these restrained Victorian adverts!
After this we wanted to find a use for these screws and how better than to drill a few holes in wood or brick? Well you don't need to drill into wood, of course, because the screw will do all of the work (especially if it's of the TurboUltra variety - these babies go through timber like it's warm butter). Otherwise you're looking at employing some sort of wall plug (or matchsticks if you're old school) and what was new to me is just how secure the hollow-wall plugs are; whack some of these in for your batten, or even a telly, and they'll be as good as gold!

The neat thing about covering all of this stuff on a course is that you can bash away to your heart's content and make lots of mistakes - just to see what happens - before doing things the right way. For example this evening I learnt that while you can quite happily attach things to the studs in your hollow wall you shouldn't actually drill into the stud itself - since it's wood and the screw will dig right in without a plug - but that if you do you can always pack out the hole with bamboo skewers. The job's a good 'un! Also if you're drilling into tiles then your very first task is to buy a new drill-bit and plenty of masking tape; otherwise you're just asking for trouble! I almost can't wait to get the drill out for real now but first I just need a few tools.....

Monday, 10 October 2011

Be (very) seen with SpokeLit

A few weeks ago there I was standing in a cycle shop gazing idly at the bike porn on display (it's all legal you know) when some fancy, new LED lights caught my eye. Now I know that I hardly want for lights what with my Lupine Wilma on the front and two Smart 1/2 Watt tail-lights at the back but the eye does wander! To cut a long story short I found myself quite taken with a couple of what looked like cold-cathode tubes or something similar; the sort of thing that you could strap to your frame for extra side visibility.

However I promptly forgot about them until I stumbled across the SpokeLit from NightIze. What a great idea and at the right price too; all you need to do is strap them to your spokes and you've instantly created the potential for a highly visible ring of light (if you're going fast enough that is).

Clever design makes them secure - so far!
With a bit of searching I found them for sale at the Glow Company and figured that the green ones would be unusual enough to catch people's attention (although I was tempted by the disco version) and could barely wait for a dark night to try them out. Like tonight for example! Late out of work I had both spoke lights lit from the start and, anecdotally at least, it seems that motorists and pedestrians really do pay attention to the little things. Actually it's all that I can do to stop myself getting hypnotised by their up-and-down bobbing! To give you an idea of how they look in action here's one out of the many SpokeLit videos on YouTube:

Not bad I think? The worst part of it is that I've become a bit addicted to the Glow Company's website! I mean these guys are selling a glow-in-the-dark toilet seat and how cool is that? It's a serious temptation I can tell you and if I'm not careful I'll end up with a house that looks like Chernobyl on steroids!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Boating on Hollow Pond

Today we had all sorts of family plans lined up - go to the Apple Day at Copped Hall, maybe put in a bit of pick-your-own time at Parkside Farm or just get the kids out on their bikes. In the end though none of these ideas came to fruition; instead we braved the Edmonton Ikea to get a simple desk and chair for Joshua. Yeah we're really pushing the boat out there aren't we?

That said we did take a look at the A to Z and decide that maybe a trip out to Epping Forest would be rather nice given that the sun had come out for the late afternoon. However rather than head north to the main forest we decided to turn south and investigate the corridor of green that pushes south into the great metropolis; more by luck than judgement then we ended up at Leyton Flats. Doesn't sound too inspiring does it and certainly there was some evidence of, shall we say, 'nocturnal activity' scattered around - and by that I don't mean foxes. Nevertheless the kids loved the untamed, rolling and wooded nature of the ex-gravel pits and they liked it even more when they spotted Hollow Pond:

Edwardian country living?
Sure it doesn't look exactly like this a hundred years on but it's surprising just how recognisable this picture is down to the little boat-house and the boats themselves. With one look at the water Joshua was off and paddling (what a little duck he is!) with Christina just a few steps behind. Luckily for us the kiosk was still open and so we availed ourselves of some life-jackets and set off for a romantic float around the lake. Almost against expectations we were immediately transported from our busy, urban surroundings and taken to a place with a slower pace (for an hour at least).

Looking out over the lake it just isn't like you're in London
As it happens an hour was about right as it left just enough time for a stroll around the lake picking up acorns and playing with friendly dogs - there were plenty of both - before getting ever so slightly lost. Not that you can ever get properly lost in London; it's hardly the Yorkshire moors is it? So there was no need to panic that we wouldn't make it back to the car before dark!

Cats in love

Jaffa and Popcorn have been with us for, what, 3 or 4 weeks now and yet it seems like they've been here forever. From settling in so quickly to becoming best friends to learning all about the garden (and becoming blase about it) they're doing it all! Right now they're on the floor play-fighting (which maybe takes up a quarter of the day) rather than sleeping (twelve hours a day at least) or eating (an hour at least); such is the busy timetable for your average kitten.

The great part of all this though is that they've become truly the best of friends - inseparable playmates, dinner dates, companions in exploration and grooming consultants:

Who us? We didn't do it!

There's something in your ear. No wait - it's your ear.
What's also great is that they're both real people cats. From the moment that we rise in the morning they're under our feet looking for attention - if not clawing their way up our trouser leg. Popcorn likes nothing better than to snuggle up close, and fall asleep, little caring whether he's lying on your arm or your head or your neck; human concerns are not his problem. Jaffa also likes to get close but that's only so that he can sink his teeth into some exposed flesh or tickle you with his outstretched claws. Believe you me I no longer sleep with my feet hanging over the edge of the bed! Still we wouldn't be without the little darlings.

Coppetts Wood and environs

Annoyingly for most of the past week I've been suffering from a low-grade cold - reaching a mind-clouding peak on Friday - and this has put a serious dent into any sporting efforts on my part. However this morning I felt that I just had to get out for a run whether I wanted to or not; especially as it wasn't raining no matter how hard I looked towards the heavens! So I figured that I'd head north to the Glebelands by the North Circular since I haven't been that way for a while and there are lots of free-living fruit trees in Coppetts Wood. It's almost a community orchard up there and with a bit of overnight drizzle a primordial air hangs over the close-growing vegetation:

Autumnal, misty and solitary
Luckily there weren't any 'terrible lizards' around; just an over-attentive pooch and he was soon dealt with. After this I started to feel like I should keep going, at the very least, rather than break off for home and so a south-westerly leaning took me towards Finchley Central and along Squires Lane. In the spirit of exploration I ducked down some side-roads and alleyways (which probably surprised a few householders given that these passageways all terminated at the end of their garden and provided no conceivable utility to anyone else!) but none proved practical. In the end though I popped up by Long Lane Pastures and I wouldn't mind dropping in there again:

Doesn't look like a hive of diversity does it?
Once again though I was too early and so from here it was a direct run back down East End Road to home - or it would have been had I not messed about trying to locate the path through the Stanley Road Playing Fields. The funny thing is that the way in was at the end of Stanley Road; hardly a surprise eh? Sometimes I wonder why I bother getting out of bed you know! At least the way was clear beyond this moment of confusion and I even manged a spot of time barefoot - a style that I reckon will appeal to Joshua given how much time he spends splashing about in the mud without any shoes!

Distance: 7.6 miles
Time: 1h 05m 48s

Friday, 7 October 2011

Sugru - Hack it!

A while back I was searching for something interesting for Joshua to learn and play with; a modelling material perhaps but not something as prosaic as clay. What I wanted was something a bit more, well, technical than that. Sounds a bit geeky doesn't it! Anyway firstly I came across a commercial polymer called Polymorph and this looked to be just the ticket; a plastic material that becomes workable with less than boiling water and yet hardens to a 'true' plastic. When the bag arrived Joshua and I were very excited and we put the kettle on immediately! However it turns out that the polymer isn't all that malleable and so after a bit of experimentation I decided that my search should continue.

Shortly afterwards I came across a new product called Sugru and I don't mind admitting that I was pretty geeked-out by this stuff! It looked like you could form pretty much anything out of this wonder material and that once cured it's flexible, waterproof and resistant to both heat and cold. Even better the inventors celebrate the endless variety of hacks that Sugru facilitates on their blog and this is worth the price of admission to the club by itself. So I ordered myself a bag of multi-colour minipacks and waited eagerly for the postman (why do they come in little foil packs? Because the silicone cures in 24 hours and a big pack wouldn't last once opened).

When the Sugru arrived I was a little bit awed though and just a teeny bit cautious; what if I messed up and made a mess of my hack? I'm no sculptor you know! Still I knew where I wanted to start and that was with my bike; there are some headset bolts that stick out and I'm forever scraping my leg on them when I'm out of the saddle and powering up Swains Lane. So these were the first 'problems' in my life to receive the Sugru treatment:

No more scratches and scrapes here
What a revelation! Since this little hack I've barely given these sharp little bolts a second thought and Lenore doesn't keep asking me about these strange little scratches! Then, a week or two later, I noticed that my Garmin watch strap had developed a little nick and might prove troublesome. How true. By the end of my run one half of the strap had split completely and I didn't hold out much hope for the other half. However Sugru rode to my rescue once again with a total repair of the strap:

Don't hide your light away!
What a success. The watch feels just as comfortable to wear as it ever did and I didn't have to send it anywhere near a Garmin repair centre. A great result and just another example of Sugru coming up trumps. Now I just have to see how well it copes with repairing a broken sun visor - since Joshua 'accidentally' snapped the one in my car! Oops.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

When did you last run to work?

I'm almost embarrassed to say that I last ran to work in June - so long ago that I can remember nothing about the journey (which just goes to show how useful it is to blog these things!). In some ways it seems that the weather was quite similar to today with a bit of sun and a sensible temperature. The big difference of course is that back in June we were all eyeing up the summer in expectation while all we're eyeing up now is a well-stuffed turkey. This river of time malarkey is a real pain sometimes.

Anyway I had to run in this morning, whether I wanted to or not, because my wheels were at work and the tube is no fun when it's commuting time. Suffice to say that I didn't feel like putting on my running shoes and when I got outside I didn't feel like putting one foot in front of the other. Still a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do and so I just kept on rolling through the woods and over the Heath. Oddly enough by the time I descended down towards Kentish Town I began to feel in a bit of a groove and I couldn't help noticing that I sounded quieter than usual. Yes, that's right, it was the sound that caught my attention and the lack of clip-clopping; maybe this barefoot stuff is making a difference?

Oh I like this - a set of stairs it is!
From here I kept on listening and keeping to what I thought was a steady pace; the only reward for sprinting in your commute is a whole lot more sweating in the office and that's not good for anyone! However despite this my pace kept picking up and I felt quite fine about it.

So a total contrast to my race on Sunday and a welcome reminder of how it feels to run well. Sure I know that this is just a mid-week jog and of no real consequence but even so it's pleasing to actually derive some enjoyment out of running at the moment (or indeed any form of exercise it seems). Generally speaking my high points at the moment all revolve around bombing up Swains Lane and while I just love nailing this climb there aren't enough races up its steep flanks!

Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 58m 21s

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Basic DIY - Week One

In common with oh so many people (everyone?) I've picked up my share of offers from group-buying site Groupon with some deals being better than others. Why most of their current deals seem to revolve around facials and dental surgery I don't know. Anyway sometimes a really good offer comes along - like the chance to enjoy a cut-price course at The Goodlife Centre. Now I didn't know these people from Adam but I liked the eclectic nature of their courses and the fact that I could potentially walk to them from work if I chose wisely. So I played my hand and signed up for a 4-week Basic DIY course.

Now like any other red-blooded male I do have my share of power tools and some of them have, believe it or not, been used in anger. So it's fair to say that I know my way around a toolbox. On the other hand I'm always willing to learn, and make a fool of myself, if that's what it takes and with the global apocalypse around the corner a few practical skills might come in handy. Sure you might say that if this is the future then I'd be better off learning how to skin a rabbit and build a lean-to from twigs but I've done both of these once already and once was enough!

Hopefully not the outcome!
So what did we do this evening in this first week? Well we got off to a leisurely start by getting to know each other and our home improvement experiences - however limited they might be! At first it seemed that I was to be the token bloke but as it turned out all this indicated was that the women were more likely to arrive on time! In the end the group was split pretty evenly and we got down to banging in some nails, experimenting with a nail punch and generally trying a few things out.

After this it was on to the various types of saw with the promise of getting our hands on the cordless jigsaw at the front of the class; it made my 'el cheapo' jigsaw look like a poor relation I can tell you. On the hand-saw front though I don't mind saying that I quite liked the look of the Gentleman's saw (a type of backsaw it is) and in practice it felt easy in my hand. I can almost see why 'dads' end up with a shed full of tools, you know, and yet still can't cut square through a plastic pipe! It seems that there's no 'secret' way to do this properly either just lots of practice. Darn it.

A pretty good start then; I'm looking forward to next week already.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Swimming and tumble turns

Even though I do a lot of running these days I don't consider myself to be primarily a runner because I only really picked it up this century; in contrast I've been cycling for 25 years and swimming regularly for over 20 years. So for sure running has a lot of catching up to do and personally I don't think that it'll ever make the grade - but don't tell my running shoes that!

Anyway my point is that I've been swimming for an awful long time and yet I've never managed to pin down the art of tumble-turning. I've tried on and off over the years but I've never been able to achieve any consistency or even a sense that I could keep it going length after length. However the other day I stumbled across a video of Chris MacCormack swimming on Tasmin Lewis's Facebook page. Now the funny thing is that he's not a great swimmer, in the Michael Phelps league that is, but for no good reason something clicked in my brain when I saw him tumble-turning:

What I noticed was that coming into the turn he quite casually placed both hands on this thighs, bent down from  the waist and did a little flick with his feet. Then, as if by magic, he just flipped over and set off in the opposite direction. Seems simple doesn't it but in the past I've always tried to use my hands and arms to lever my turn while at the same time bending and twisting round - and yet it seems that your hands really aren't part of the equation here!

So at lunchtime today I decided that I'd use my regular swim in the Oasis swimming pool as a bit of a practice session - just to see what happened. The funny thing is that when I went at it the first time, and placed my hands in the right position, then I nailed it just like that! Astonishing! After that there was no stopping me and I kept going back for more; okay some of my later turns were a bit ropey and I missed a few out but nevertheless what a revelation! If I can keep this up then I'll be a very content swimmer. Thanks Chris!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Regents Park 10K - October

Against my better instincts I put in my entry to the winter series a month or so ago and so it was no surprise when my race pack arrived - although this year there is no timing tag to wrap around your shoelaces. Now it's all done via a transponder on your race number and that's very neat and tidy. Also this will be my fifth successive year at the winter series at least (my Garmin records don't go any further back) and it is quite nice to maintain something of a tradition.

On the other hand maintaining anything wasn't my primary thought when I set off for my usual warm-up run around the course. For some reason my legs felt very much out of sorts and I couldn't get my breathing right at all; it was really quite odd feeling so maladjusted and I cut my loop short just to be done with it. So I wasn't in a great frame of mind when Anthony turned up, fresh from the World Championships in Beijing, but it's always nice to have someone to talk to given how rarely my family turn up to witness me compete/suffer. In no time at all we were being put under starter's orders and then we were off.

Buoyed up by the enthusiasm all around I started a little too quickly and it soon became obvious that today wasn't going to be my moment in the sun - metaphorically speaking. My only hope soon became that slow and steady would win the day but realistically it seemed unlikely that everyone in front of me would get caught out by the heat and fall apart. Oh well; attrition is never that great a race strategy anyway. So I plowed on and in a way things did settle down. After a while I began catching a few stragglers purely because I was keeping to a steady pace and not engaging in any fireworks. In fact even when a late-charging athlete caught me in the final 100m I didn't bother to change my pace - by that point there was very little to run for.

Slow and steady alright
So today was rather a disappointment to be honest. I didn't run well, turning in a poor 42:25 and a pedestrian 36th place, and never really felt in the race for once. In fact I barely even started, let alone finished, a warm-down run and that's unusual for me; normally I'll force myself to do something because I know that it makes a difference but today I felt beyond caring. I don't know if this is just a symptom of lacking base fitness or something else but I'll be happy if I'm in a different place next month that's for sure!

Distance: 8.7 miles
Time: 1h 03m 06s