Sunday, 22 January 2012

A change of fortune

Today, for the first time in over two months, I made it out to join up with the Running School. It might not seem like much of an achievement but this is the longest intermission in my time with the School since I first started running with Ira back in 2003. Yes it really has been that long! So it's fair to say that despite quite enjoying my relaxed weekends (and taking Joshua to his piano lesson) I've been quite keen to get back in touch with the group.

That said I almost missed the start this morning by faffing around at home and I was within 30 seconds of missing them when I rounded the corner at Jack Straws (the gang was already on the move). Luckily Mike, Adam, Darren, Rob and Amanda waited for me while I got sorted. It was good to be back even if my GPS watch wasn't ready for action and my calves still ached from yesterday's surprise race!

Isn't there a surprising amount of green space?
To be honest the route that we took wasn't my primary concern today. I was just glad to be back and hopeful that I could keep going for an hour or so without destroying my legs. This is not as easy as it sounds given how brutal these minimalist shoes are being (to my calves at least - the rest of my legs are sitting pretty). That said I don't go down Fortune Green and Childs Hill way much and so the route chosen by Mike was all pretty novel to me; a good distraction from my physical state.

Happily in the final push up Hampstead Way I rediscovered a flash of my old form by pushing on through the discomfort and catching both Mike and Darren from a long way back. This concentrated effort almost felt good and to a degree I feel that I'm on an upward path again - and it's been a long time coming. Sadly I won't be able to join the School on Saturdays so often any more as my car has been condemned by the garage, and I'm without wheels, but with luck I'll still be around on Sundays. Definitely better than nothing!

Distance: 6.7 miles
Time: 58m 12s

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Park Run 5K - Ally Pally

Well let's just say that this morning's easy training session of around 45 minutes didn't go as planned. There I was halfway through my standard loop around Muswell Hill (taking in Coldfall Woods, Alexandra Palace and the like) when a guy running down the other side of the road shouted across to ask if I'd ever heard of Park Run. Well, yes I said of course I have; they seem like a great idea but I've never actually managed to get my stuff together and run one. Ah, he said, well a new one started up at Ally Pally last December and I'm jogging to it right now - and it starts in 20 minutes!

So like the convivial fellow I am I decided to tag along with Nigel, for that was his name, down to the start just to gauge the lie of the land. No pressure of course, says he, but since the whole point of Park Run is that you can just turn up and race then maybe I'd like to? Now at this point my calves felt a little sore, courtesy of my new shoes, but I figured that there was no reason to bring this up as an excuse so early; I could always keep it in the bag for later. And that's why I found myself standing at the start line with 20 or 30 other runners (young, old, fit and not so fit). Honestly it is!

It's been a while since I last raced a 5K so at the beginning I decided to play it cool - especially as I had no idea of the course apart from the fact that it might be muddy! However it's easier said than done to hold back and about a km in, when a group had moved off the front, I figured that it was worth using them as a motivational tool and see what my legs were capable of. Initially this approach went swimmingly and by the start of the second lap I was in around 6th place and looking to reel in the veteran in front; on the downhill he had a good turn of pace but on the flat or the uphill I had the edge, I thought, and so it proved.

From hereon it was a case of stretching out my advantage, trying to avoid killing my calves too much and possibly reeling in 4th place if he faltered. For a time it seemed as if this might be the case as I seemed to be drawing him closer, although the distraction of non-racing joggers made it hard to tell, but when we reached the steep downhill section he pulled away decisively - the one thing that these Brooks shoes don't seem to do well is going down and my legs aren't strong enough to go hell for leather just yet.

As a result I crossed the line a solid 5th in around 20.42 (although I don't appear in the results) and considering that an hour before I hadn't even known about the race then that seems acceptable! So thanks very much Park Run organisers! Up till now this has always been one of my to-do list items that never seemed to struggle into life but now that I've done a Park Run I'm hooked. In fact the timing couldn't be better as yesterday my car was condemned to the scrap-heap by the garage and so I can't easily drive to races any more; maybe it's fate but I can see how my Saturday mornings will play out from now on...

Distance: 8.3 miles
Time: 1h 07m 01s

Friday, 20 January 2012

Goodbye car; fare thee well faithful carriage

I guess that I knew that this day would come. I mean nothing lasts forever does it? Somehow though I never thought that it would happen to me; not now and not after we've been through so much together. But the Universe doesn't care and entropy will always get you in the end.

Still I was glad that I was sitting down when Mark from Victory Motors rang me. There was definitely a catch in his voice - almost as if he felt just as bad about breaking the sad news to me as I felt about hearing it. After all I'd only left the car with them for a quick service and MOT - something that Mark has successfully and happily arranged for me for many years now amongst other excellent services. Hardly brain surgery and as Mark said it looked like my car would pull through at first but then they decided to be thorough and take a short test drive and that's when it happened....

One little emergency stop was all it took; a stamp on the brake pedal and it was all over. Corroded beyond endurance my brake line ruptured explosively and with that the braking system had played its last card. It's just lucky, really, that they were on a quiet side-road as the alternative doesn't bear thinking about. Then, to seal the deal, Wayne decided to investigate the sticky rear seat-belt and in prising off a body panel he revealed a whole different level of horror:

There it is then the final nail in the coffin. All that remains is for me to strip the corpse of its valuables (mainly fiddly bits of Lego that have fallen down the back of the seat) and spend a moment's silence considering the 225,000 miles that this sturdy waggon has managed to cover in a hard-working life. On Monday I'll sign the papers that consign my car to the crusher and that'll be it. For the first time in twenty years I am without a car and actually I feel alright about it; no more repair bills, no more insurance, no more tax and no more traffic cameras. The future looks bright!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Horror on Sandy Heath

It seemed like such a good idea at the time; why not invite our good friends Claude and Georgie over for lunch with their kids and then head out for a bracing walk afterwards? Over the delicious food barely a tremor was felt in the ether; no premonition of what was to come. In fact the meal was excellent and all were in fine spirits (adults) and well behaved (children). In fact I've come to believe that the first sign of trouble became visible when we realised that we weren't heading to Golders Hill Park (a middle-class mecca) but instead to the wilder shore of Sandy Heath (an outpost of Dartmoor).

At first all seemed well as we booted up and marched into the dense forest. Nature sounds all around and plenty of climbing trees for the boys; old-fashioned fun. With this kind of freedom in mind the boys rushed ahead and up the steep hill to the ponds (former gravel pits essentially) since this was kind of the main feature of the walk. How though could we have foreseen that the swampiest pool of the lot would claim another victim; sucking its prey down into the clammiest of demises? In a sense this all took place off-camera as by the time us adults reached the crime scene the damage was done - Oliver's boot had vanished from the material world.

Now most of us would have accepted this loss with stoic resignation but not Georgie! Oh no. With barely a thought given to the dangers of the mire she waded in and began a forensic examination of the sucking mud. To say that it was malodorous, dirty, stinking work is barely sketching the awful reality and that was just for us bystanders!

Needless to say that in time Georgie's determination rubbed off and we all, man and woman, lent a hand in the increasingly fruitless search for this missing boot. How could it possibly have vanished so completely from human gaze? Only the gurgling quagmire knew and it wasn't about to reveal the truth. In the end it took the intervention of Eve to bring us to our senses (possibly befuddled by bog gas as we were):

It's over was her simple message; let it go. Sometimes the marsh wins and that's an end to it. With these wise words ringing in our ears we retreated to our cars - all of 200 yards away. Yes it had been but a short walk but what an adventure! The primal power of nature has never seemed so immediate; a shade away from devouring us all. Yes I think that it's safe to say that we all returned from this stroll as changed individuals bonded together in the face of adversity. Just another day in London really.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Albelli Photo Books

For quite a few years now we've made a special effort at the beginning of every year - not to stick to our New Year resolutions but to put together a photo book of the previous year's highlights. Now this is not a cheap activity and so we've tended to shop around for a bargain (using Kodak and Photobox amongst others) but this year we've decided to go back to a favourite - Albelli.

Now this is probably not a photo company that you're familiar with (and where I heard of them is lost in the mists of time) but they provide a solid product that isn't crazily expensive. Even better they also provide a downloadable tool that allows you to edit your photo-book on your computer at your leisure (in all of its glory) before uploading it to their website. So that removes the frustration of having to cope with a limited and flaky website at a stroke!

Anyway I've spent a large part of the weekend picking out the best photos from 2011, photo-editing them to some measure of perfection ( is a fantastic and free tool for this kind of work) and then inserting them into a hopefully coherent photo-book. And here it is: Our Year in Pictures. Obviously the printed book looks a lot better, and is certainly easier to flick through, but this preview is pretty good I think.

Now all we have to do is keep taking lots of nice snaps for the 2012 book. We've got a way to go yet!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Limespring Dyslexia School

Well this is an interesting position to be in. Tomorrow Joshua starts at a new school - Limespring School in East Finchley. And when I say new I mean this in all senses of the word for tomorrow the school opens its doors to students for the first time - all three of them! So this is very much a leap into the unknown!

So why is Joshua changing schools? Is there something wrong with his current school, Tetherdown? Actually no there's nothing wrong with Tetherdown and up until a week before Christmas we had no inkling whatsoever that he might be changing schools! But then I noticed a poster advertising Limespring as a school for teaching children with learning differences and there's no doubt that Joshua is different what with his dyslexia and all. So I got in contact with the school only to discover that the lady who's created the school, Denise Drinkwater, used to tutor Joshua in maths. Small world.

Limespring School - ready for action!
A few intense meetings later and we'd come to the decision that Joshua would take a two-week trial of the school to see how it worked and whether it would meet his needs. Bear in mind that this all took place while we were frantically getting the house prepared for my family visiting at Christmas! Fortunately the head-mistress at Tetherdown, Ms Pittman, was more than happy for Joshua to try this new school and so that has made our life a lot easier. Even so it's been a bit of a journey and one that we hadn't expected to be taking.

Tomorrow then Joshua enters a whole new world with a whole new routine. Given that the school barely exists and has more staff than pupils it'll be interesting to see how he responds to what should be a much calmer and more relaxed environment. For sure with the opportunity for Joshua to enjoy a teacher pupil ratio of 1:3 rather than 1:30 we could hardly refuse the opportunity! Even so we definitely feel under pressure to try and make the right decision (whatever that it is) because so much depends on us being right.

Wish us luck!