Monthly Archives: June 2021

Gym, some serious culture (Hockney, Emin and Munch), run, swim, gym, run (a long one)

Four times over this bridge on Saturday’s long run

In much the same way that the four of us running together was one of my highlights of Father’s Day last Sunday, not running was one of my wife’s highlights for her birthday on the Monday.

Accordingly, after a really enjoyable weekend of eating and drinking, it was back to the reality of the gym for an hour on Tuesday morning.

We drove up to London in the early evening for an orgy of culture at the Royal Academy on Wednesday in the form of two exhibitions. The first was of the work of David Hockney, and the second of the work of Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch (strange bedfellows those last two but apparently he is one of her great inspirations).

I like Hockney a lot – we went to see a previous exhibition of work he had done in Yorkshire – this was a series showing the passage of Spring 2020, in Normandy. I’m fascinated that he produces so much of his recent work on an i-pad.

I also liked the paintings of Edvard Munch – Tracey Emin’s work was somewhat brutal. I’d go to see exhibitions by Hockney and Munch any time – I’m pleased that I saw Tracey Emin’s work which was interesting and challenging … but not exactly to my taste.

Back home Wednesday early evening by which time I was beyond wanting to go to the pool so it was out for a 7km (4.3 mile) run on Thursday morning and to the pool for a 1km swim in the evening.

Our son and I went to the gym on Friday morning before our usual stint at the bike shop and then some very good friends came over for supper.

I’ve never trained properly for the three marathons I’ve done – but I’ve trained even less for the ultra. With at least a nod to it, I tried a longer run on Saturday. I was still full of Friday’s supper and it was about 20℃ (about 68℉). I ran a slow but extremely hard 31.2km (19.4 miles). Fortunately we were out for supper Saturday evening or I would have been asleep on a sofa by 7pm.

I think I could have run on Sunday, if it had been necessary – but luckily it wasn’t necessary and I didn’t want to, so I didn’t.

Ultra marathon update

By way of recap, I chose badly when I started a 16 week training plan in March. Almost immediately I was up towards 40 miles a week until the inevitable happened and I injured myself just four weeks into it.

After another four weeks of not running at all, I restarted but have not tried to resume ‘proper’ training. I’ve just kept running for the love of it and only once have I got up to the half marathon distance, although I had got beyond that distance twice prior to the injury.

With just two weeks to go I should be starting the taper, but I’m running so little that a taper seems rather unnecessary – it will feel more like a ‘come to a complete halt’ than a taper.

I’m going to have to rely on whatever core fitness I can muster, the benefits of the gym and the swimming and (mostly) sheer bloody-mindedness.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: There are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree

2. Euro Football Championships: Travelling 1500 miles to watch your team on TV

A group of French supporters watched on TV as their team took on Hungary 518 miles away – having bought tickets but then travelling to Bucharest (Romania) after confusing it with Budapest (Hungary).

3. BBC News website: Sir Ringo Starr drops case against sex toy manufacturer

The Beatles drummer challenged the attempt to register the ‘Ring O’ trademark for a sex toy in the US, saying it was too similar to his name and might cause confusion.

Sir Ringo, 80, had argued that his reputation would be damaged if the Ring O name was registered as a trademark with US authorities. He has now withdrawn his complaint after reaching an agreement with the manufacturers.

4. BBC News website: Devils devastate seabird population

A small number of Tasmanian devils (a carnivorous marsupial) were shipped to Maria Island east of Tasmania, in 2012 in a move aimed to protect the mammals from a deadly facial cancer that had driven them towards extinction.

The devils have recovered but the project has had “a catastrophic impact on one or more bird species”, according to conservation organisation BirdLife Tasmania. Citing a government survey, BirdLife Tasmania said a population of little penguins that numbered 3,000 breeding pairs in 2012 had disappeared from the island. A paper published last year said the devils had “eliminated” a colony of shearwater.

Beware the law of unintended consequences (but they are called devils)

5. BBC News website: Casino operator opens a new resort in Las Vegas

Resorts World Las Vegas is the most expensive resort ever developed in Las Vegas. Covering almost 88 acres, the new resort has 3,500 hotel rooms and suites, a 5,000-seat theatre and one of the world’s biggest LED screens on one of its towers.

Las Vegas saw visitor numbers slump by more than 50% last year as casinos were forced to close their doors due to coronavirus restrictions. Tourists are now returning but numbers remain well below 2019 levels.

The resort is said to have cost $4.3bn (£3bn) – now that’s placing a real bet

Run, swim, run, swim, gym, run and a family weekend

Tadpole Bridge over the Thames, from the pub garden

I ran with my wife on Monday morning 7km (4.3miles). We should have got out before 9.45 as it was already 23℃ (73℉) but it confirmed I was right to take Sunday off after Saturday’s half marathon.

Despite that, it was back to the pool in the evening for more inelegant thrashing about – I may not be good at swimming but I am persistent. It continues to feel a little more natural in the water and the bilateral breathing is working reasonably well which seems to be freeing up a few grey cells to think about head position, shoulder roll and the occasional flap of the legs.

I managed 1.3km in 40 minutes but the main ‘personal best’ that I set was in starting sneezing within 5 steps of leaving the pool building.

At the open water swimming introduction we were told that we need to swim three times a week to really improve. I explained to the instructor that this would be more than twice a week – but it didn’t change his mind. I’m not sure I can/want to do that much swimming. Perhaps it’s simply the price I have to pay to get through the swim at the triathlon?

After a day of domestic chores on Tuesday we got out an hour earlier on Wednesday morning but it was still hot. We just did the short run – 5.67km (3.5 miles). Back to the pool in the evening (the last booking period of the day starts at 20.50 and seems to give a reasonable chance of a fairly empty pool) and another 1km in 26 minutes. Still slow, but a little faster.

I gave our younger son a lift to get his first Covid jab on Thursday (to which he had no reaction beyond a slightly sore arm). From there we drove down to Bournemouth to tackle the knee-high grass in the front and back lawns – which now look rather less like meadows.

Gym first thing on a very wet and cool Friday morning for an hour and then the usual session at the charity bike shop before collecting our older son from the train station in the evening as he came back for Father’s Day (Sunday) and my wife’s birthday on Monday.

The family weekend was excellent – a long walk, dining out at a pub by the Thames on Saturday (the only dry day), a 7km family run on Sunday (the first time the four of us have ever all run together) and Tomahawk steak – due to be cooked on the bbq but done in the oven due to the weather.

After the second round of games in the European Championships I’m in second place in the fantasy league table – so far so good.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Where water is the boss, there the land must obey

2. BBC News website: Fast food staff arrested for not giving police free burgers

All 19 workers at a fast food restaurant in Pakistan were were rounded up by police at 1am on Saturday and held overnight after refusing to give a group of officers free burgers the previous week.

Nine police officers involved in the incident have been suspended.

Obviously, very good burgers – but not good enough to pay for

3. BBC News website: Dog sold for record-breaking AU$35,200 (£19,228; $27,068) at a working dog auction

Eulooka Hoover, a two-year-old “all-rounder” in herding, was sold to a sheep and cattle grazier. The sale beat the previous record price for a working dog – a border collie who sold for £18,900 in the UK last year.

The dog is said to be equally skilled at herding sheep and cattle, and have a ‘cool personality’. ‘He’s just such a happy-go-lucky lad,’ said the breeder. ‘He’ll go to work eight days a week if you let him.’

Cool personality and happy-go-lucky, but unable to count to 7

4. BBC News website: Strong-Willed Pig: Animal that survived earthquake dies

A pig that became famous in China after surviving 36 days under rubble from a powerful earthquake in 2008, has died. Zhu Jianqiang, or “Strong-Willed Pig”, died of “old age and exhaustion”, according to the museum where it resided.

Following news of the pig’s death, people took to social media to pay their respects. The hashtag “Strong-Willed Pig has died” has had 430 million views on Weibo.


5. Fines for loud cockerels feather councils’ nests

English local authorities issued 6 million fines in 2020. These included fines for minor offences including cockerel-crowing, loud children, encouraging pigeons to gather, eyesore gardens and covid breaches. Parking offences accounted for 4.7 million fines and littering another quarter of a million.

In 1997 the number of fines was just 1,000.

6. BBC News website: 21st-Century tech traps killer

A 32-year-old pilot has confessed to the killing of his young British wife, having claimed three robbers had broken into the couple’s home near Athens, tied him up and suffocated his wife.

His wife’s smart watch showed that her heart was still beating at the time her husband claimed she was murdered. The activity tracker on his phone showed him moving around the house while he said he was tied up and the recorded time at which data cards were removed from the home security camera also told a different story to his version of events.

Swim, run, gym, gym, swim, mechanic, run (half marathon)

The week started with some good weather so I mowed and gardened on Monday but swam in the evening. I abandoned the idea of doing a ‘U’ turn before the end of each length as being too hard.

As a compromise, I tried not to stop at each end and to have a small push off so as to not lose all momentum, but without getting a big glide to start the next length. I suppose that helps (slightly) to mimic the non-stop part of open water swimming but, as ever, I am making it up as I go along.

It was still unreasonably hard. I missed the buoyancy of the wetsuit but I managed 1.1km. I don’t know what I was doing different/wrong but my back ached a bit afterwards. On a more consistent note, as always, I started sneezing soon after finishing and sneezed for over an hour.

My back improved a bit overnight so I ran with my wife on Tuesday morning in more lovely weather. We did 7.1km in 6.21min/km – she’s doing so well and getting faster.

I spent some of the afternoon causing more damage to my back. We have quite a lot of flagstones in the garden and my wife would like a(nother) seating area. I cannot lift some of the flags so laying them out to see how it might look is not easy – let alone how hard the process of finally setting them in place might be.

Gym on Wednesday morning for an hour and more gardening in the glorious weather. For an update on the garden, the new raised vegetable beds are going really well – spinach and lettuce being produced and eaten in great quantities; beetroot, cauliflower, leek, tomato, rhubarb, butternut quash, pumpkin and peas all coming on well.

Back to the gym again on Thursday morning for an hour and then a swim in the evening. Some things are getting to feel a bit more natural in the pool but I don’t seem to be getting any faster or travelling any further per stroke. I need bigger hands, webbed fingers and fat forearms (and bigger muscles to pull those through the water).

At least I did push out the distance a bit – 40 minutes for 1.25km – and only suffered second degree sneezing afterwards. While I am generally rather agnostic about swimming, my sinuses are certainly in the ‘anti’ camp.

It felt like I was in danger of overdoing the exercise – 13 sessions in 12 days, little muscle niggles and general tiredness – so I took Friday off (other than manning the bike shop in the morning and some more gardening).

With no particular distance in mind and just a cup of coffee for fuel, I ran on Saturday. It was a good but hard run – not fast (6.03min/km) but just beyond a half marathon in something over 20℃ (around 70℉).

In the late afternoon I mixed a large jug of Pimms and we played croquet – ah, such civilisation. Eventually the Pimms takes the edge off the croquet.

To Winchester on Sunday to celebrate the 21st birthday of a niece (and our own 34th wedding anniversary). Wow.

The European Football Championships have started. One of the charities we support are running a fantasy football league like they did for the domestic league season that just ended. After five matches I am top … there’s only one way to go from here.

My very best wishes to the Danish footballer, Christian Eriksen, who collapsed and was revived on the pitch during Saturday’s international against Finland. Puts it all into perspective …

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: When the shepherd comes home in peace, the milk is sweet

2. BBC News website: Germany to ship army beer home from Afghanistan

Germany has announced it will fly more than 22,500 litres of beer home from Afghanistan, as Nato forces prepare to withdraw.

Commanders had recently banned soldiers from drinking amid growing violence in Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal. Local forces were unable to sell the alcohol due to religious and cultural differences in the country.

Of all the possible logistical problems facing the troop withdrawal, I’d missed this one

3. BBC News website: Waging war on slang, jeans and foreign films

North Korea in general has no internet, no social media and only a few state controlled television channels and now has clamped down further against what is described as “reactionary thought”. Anyone caught with large amounts of media (such as CDs or DVDs) from South Korea, the United States or Japan now faces the death penalty. Those caught watching face prison camp for 15 years.

A recent letter in state media called on the country’s Youth League to crack down on “unsavoury, individualistic, anti-socialist behaviour” among young people to stop foreign speech, hairstyles and clothes described as “dangerous poisons”.

4. Statue farce makes monkey out of town

Hartlepool in the NE of England has a ‘legend/myth’ that, during the Napoleonic wars (late 18th century), a French ship was wrecked off the coast, the sole survivor being the ship’s monkey (which was dressed in uniform for the amusement of the crew).

Having seen neither a monkey nor a Frenchman, the townspeople are said to have hanged it as a French spy. Folks from Hartlepool are still sometimes referred to as ‘monkey hangers’.

A new statue of a monkey in the town’s marina has been criticised as ‘unfriendly to foreigners’ or racist. A plaque is being added to explain the significance of the monkey to Hartlepool.

Run, gym, swim, cycle training, run, mechanic, run, run

After a social and food-filled Sunday, we had little enthusiasm for exercise on Monday but my wife and I got out for a short run – down a drying Puddleduck Lane – 5.5km (3.4 miles) at 6.33 min/km.

We also managed the first croquet of 2021, on the best day of the year so far – strange, Bank Holidays are usually cold and wet.

One reason for getting out on Monday was that Tuesday was the day for the interment of my father’s ashes – just the 17 months after his death. That meant a drive north to meet up with my sister, brother-in-law and their daughters, it was just a close family affair at the crematorium where my mother’s ashes are buried.

The funeral service was a very good celebration of his life but the interment of the ashes felt like little more than a footnote to it all. At the same time, it was good to see family and to see my parents ‘reunited’ – they were married for nearly 64 years. A good day, but about 6 hours of driving.

Gym on Wednesday for an hour and then some time up at the Cycle Park where publicity activities were taking place about the club winning the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2021. We got a good deal of coverage by local press and radio and TV cameras were up there filming for the evening news, so we needed to ensure a decent turn-out in club shirts.

Back to the pool in the evening where I decided to follow the advice of the open water instructor and make the ‘already hard’ into ‘even harder’.

For me, the three big extra challenges presented by open water swimming are temperature, navigation and, especially, the absence of pool ends to cling onto and gasp for breath. The instructor’s advice was to swim in a ‘U’ just before reaching the end of the pool so there is no gliding into the end, no holding on and no push off from the end.

I found the ‘U turn’ pretty impossible in a fairly narrow lane so I ended up stopping and treading water while I turned and then starting from stationary, with no push off. It does indeed make pool swimming much harder (as if it wasn’t hard enough already). I managed the new approach for only 10 lengths but I guess that was even harder than swimming a straight 250m, because of the stopping and starting. In total, 1km.

On Thursday morning I was in charge of a session of cycle training giving road safety experience to children who are more confident at riding. We went for a ride of about 10km round the town and through the Town Centre, reporting back with a full complement of (quite tired) children but no falls or injuries.

I managed to squeeze in a short run with my wife on Friday morning (5.5km – 3.4 miles) before the usual session manning the charity bike shop.

Saturday was pleasantly warm – my first run in lycra shorts and a short sleeved running shirt for at least 8 months. One of our usual runs for 7km (4.3 miles). Croquet in the afternoon and evening

Sunday was cooler but in the morning I got out and ran further than I have run since hurting my knee. It was a very enjoyable (but hard and hot) 17km (10.6 miles). The first time beyond 10km since hurting my knee – hardly ultra marathon training distances but I’m still playing it safe. A cycle club social gathering

Sunday was cooler but in the morning I got out and ran further than I have run since hurting my knee. It was a very enjoyable (but hard and hot) 17km (10.6 miles). The first time beyond 10km since hurting my knee – hardly ultra marathon training distances but I’m still playing it safe. A cycle club social gathering to look forward to in the afternoon to finish a pretty good – but hard – week.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: The young bird does not crow until it hears the old ones

2. BBC News website: Claimant awarded £2,000 damages – and ordered to pay £500,000 interim costs

The claimant sought £3.7m in damages. The defendant had made two good offers to settle the claim (both way in excess of the £2000 ultimately awarded) but both were declined. That put the claimant at risk of having to pay costs from the date of the offer if he failed to beat it in court.

However, the court heard that the defendant had received a ‘completely factually inaccurate’ answer to a request for information and that the claim from this point on was advanced through a ‘plainly untruthful case’ on a major point in the litigation. That opened the claimant up to the award of full costs against him.

I wonder if the claimant can spell ‘pyrrhic victory’

3. BBC News website: Tanzanian MPs demand apology for ‘tight’ trousers incident

Female MPs in Tanzania have called for an apology to an MP who was ordered to leave parliament because of her trousers.

A male MP said the way some women dressed invited ridicule to parliament. “Mr Speaker, an example there is my sister seated on my right with a yellow shirt. Look at the trousers she has worn, Mr Speaker!” Hussein Amar said in parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Amar did not elaborate on what he found wrong with Ms Sichwale’s outfit, but quoted the parliamentary rules which allow women to wear trousers but stipulate that clothes should not be tight-fitting.

4. BBC News website: Chilean own goal over drone spying fear

Chile and Argentina have a fierce football rivalry and when Chile’s national team saw a drone hovering above a training session, it suspected its rival of spying ahead of their World Cup qualifier.

The team sent up its own drone which swiftly brought down the “spy-cam” but rather than being a devious Argentine device, the drone turned out to be from a Chilean energy company.

5. BBC News website: Magawa the hero rat retires from job detecting landmines

In a five-year career, the rodent sniffed out 71 landmines and dozens more unexploded items in Cambodia.

While he is far larger than many other rat species, he is still small and light enough that he does not trigger mines if he walks over them. The rats are trained to detect a chemical compound within the explosives, meaning they ignore scrap metal and can search for mines more quickly. Once they find an explosive, they scratch the top to alert their human co-workers.

Co-workers hadn’t really come into the dictionary before I retired. Rarely do I fail to read it at first glance as cow orkers

We win a national award!

The cycle park opening. We now have trees planted, exercise machines a cycle tool station, off road routes and more coming

I know I tend to go on about my local cycle club – how we set up a company, became a charity, built a cycle park, run cycle training for children and adults and set up a shop to repair and recycle bikes.

Farcycles (‘Faringdon cycles’, from where we are based and pronounced as ‘farcicals’) was set up purely as an informal cycling club more that 12 yers ago. It has always had a social conscience and sense of community and over the years it has become more than just a group of cyclists enjoying the sport.

We think it’s something to be proud of (in a very modest way, of course) but it’s great when someone else agrees. The news is now free of its embargo: we are winners of ‘The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2021’.

Although I haven’t spotted Her Majesty cycling at the park, or buying from the shop, it’s a great honour for everyone involved – and we wouldn’t disagree that it’s really good to have the efforts of so many people recognised.

The moral? With a few people with ideas, commitment and drive – and many more willing supporters, it’s surprising what can be achieved.