07 March 2017

Gentle on my Mind

An idea for a piece of fiction, perhaps: a man (or I suppose it could be a woman) is considering making a phone call which could have a significant impact on their life - one way or another - but then Mahler 5 comes on the radio and (naturally) cannot be interrupted. As it did this evening, bringing back all sorts of memories of Warwick University, Ken Russell's film and a great deal more that is associated in my mind with the symphony. Aided by the fact that I was driving down the A46 at the time - every week that part of the drive makes me nostalgic for my time at Warwick. Mahler as a piece of madeleine ...

The interesting thing about the piece of fiction (should it ever be written) will be whether Mahler affects the protagonist's state of mind sufficiently to change the outcome. In the right circumstances the Adagietto can cause - has caused - tectonic shifts in emotions.

18 February 2017

Orange Juice

For no better reason than that it was on the radio this morning when I was driving to Didcot, where I arrived 1 minute 25 seconds after the start of the Parkrun, the Concierto de Aranjuez (or "orange juice", in brass band circles, I just learnt). After hearing different recordings compared on the radio, I need to find more about Kazuhito Yamashita who sounds like a musician worth hearing.

Not a bad run this morning. I haven't been training much - even missed my regular weekly run in Nottingham, as it was reading week, so I only had to make a dash - a "raid", indeed - to one postgrad seminar and had no overnight stay. Unfortunately, having to add my handicap to it - the runners had disappeared from view by the time I got to the start - spoils my time a bit, but it seems as if it might have spurred me on to a good pace.

23 January 2017

Black night

My streak faltered yesterday. Every day of the year, until 22 January (so not really much of a streak), then Achilles said, quite insistently, that's enough for now, take the day off. I had run about ten yards, and on the basis that I was wearing running shoes (and all the other stuff you need to run in sub-zero temperatures such as have been experienced in Oxfordshire for a few days now, the frost not even going from the roads during the days) perhaps I should count it as a run anyway.

A day's rest and Achilles seems happy again. Perhaps a couple of hours sitting in the car, driving to Nottingham, was the cure he needed. Whether listening to Act 2 of Die Walkure on the way helped, who knows? It can't  have gone amiss, I suppose, and as I explained to my colleague Philippa over coffee this afternoon (an important business meeting to discuss the intellectual property module - she takes half the seminars) the working-my-way-through-the-Ring-Cycle thing is a major part of the all-round experience of my teaching at Nottingham Law School.

So too is the evening run, in the dark, to the park-and-ride to collect the car and bring it to the car park opposite my hotel. Park-and-run probably wasn't what the planners had in mind, but park-and-ride-and-run-back seems reasonable. When I explained what I was up to in conversation with a random cyclist (and runner) who didn't pass me but rode along with me for half a mile or so chatting, he approved, and we agreed about the excellent running track provided alongside the tramlines.

This was after I had called the police to alert them to a trio of youths who seemed to find it amusing to shine a laser pointer into the faces of passing cyclists and - I feared - tram drivers. I suspect it's a growing problem, as laser pointers become more common. Not in the same league as dazzling pilots, but bad enough I think. However, it was an episode later in my run that I particularly wanted to comment on - showing my tendency, which I found myself explaining to a new group of students this afternoon, to digress. (Does this sound familiar to any former students out there?)

Near the end of my route, I caught and passed a couple of ladies out for a run. They were well wrapped-up against the cold - hats and jackets. I was in tee-shirt and running tights, having left my hat and gloves in the car - but that's not the point. One of them remarked as I passed them that I was putting them to shame. I assured her I wasn't, but the better response only came to me after I was out of earshot. (What's the street-running equivelant of "esprit de l'escalier", or staircase wit? "L'esprit de trottoir" perhaps.) Afer I'd reached the end of my run I retraced my steps, hoping to be able to tell them that no runner would ever put them to shame. Everyone encounters runners who are faster them them: they don't put slower runners to shame, they can't. If they try they are not fit to be called runners. I wanted to say to them, if you're running, nothing can shame you, no matter how slow you may be, how short your run. But I couldn't find them again, so this will have to do. Perhaps they will read it. Perhaps someone else will, and will take something from it.

I try to live up to my reputation for decency ...

15 January 2017

Too much too young

Still keeping up my running streak: every day this year, so far, although some of the runs have been rather short. But if I have running shoes on my feet, and at some point in each stride both feet are off the ground, it's running, isn't it? Yesterday another Didcot Parkrun, and Jean-Luc led me to a time a whole minute faster than last week - for him as well as for me. When I found myself on his shoulder, at about two-and-a-half miles, something clicked and made me up my pace until I was past him and comfortably ahead. Unfortunately whatever happened at that point didn't happen again at about the three mile point, when he had a similar experience and came blasting past at a pace I couldn't begin to match, even with the finish line in sight.

Today the same distance, tediously, round the playing fields - nine times. It keeps me fit and feeling reasonably good - which is a worthwhile end in itself. And maybe there will be more time to take off my time next Saturday morning - although due to other commitments I think I might be giving it a miss, and getting in my run somewhere else.

11 January 2017

January Song

Someone - a very important person to me - once used the word "decent" to describe me. It might seem a rather weak compliment, but it's the adjective I would instinctively turn to to describe my father, who would have been 92 today. So to have the word that I would choose to describe the person who is still the greatest influence on me, used to describe me, is actually the greatest compliment anyone could pay me. Thanks. You know who you are.

08 January 2017

Why are we sleeping?

Why, alternatively, was I not sleeping for about 4 hours in the middle of the night? Too many thoughts in my head. It didn't make for an easy morning run, so my plans for a longer outing were quickly dropped and I plodded round and round the playing fields again for a little over 5K. I guess I needed to recover from yesterday's much faster 5K and my legs started out feeling pretty leaden - they improved with use though. Yesterday, to avoid my usual problem of not remembering whether I have run two or three laps of the field at Didcot, and also applying the very useful tip handed down by Emil Zatopek to later generations of runners to touch one's thumb with a fingertip to reduce tension in the shoulders (it does seem to work), I lightly held first my index fingers to my thumbs, then on the next lap my middle fingers then next time round my third fingers. Just to be sure I didn't forget, I moved on to the little fingers after I crossed the start line for the fourth time, to remind me to take the yellow brick road instead of heading off on another lap. That's fine for four laps, but I was planning nine or ten today. Well, I can work through the fingers of one hand then move on to the other, and after I have done eight laps I'll be able to do the rest from memory, I thought. I also thought, what does it matter anyway? I'm measuring the distance with a GPS watch. But a better method of counting came to me at that point, in base 4 (or is it base 5? Actually I think I have done a bit of both here, which shows what a rotten mathematician I am). Those of us educated long enough ago to know about pounds, shillings and pence, or yards, feet and inches, or stones, pounds and ounces, are accustomed without really knowing it to working in base 20, 12, 3, 14, and 16 and a few others too: metrication has taken so much of the mental challenge out of life. Alex Bellos's wonderful book Alex's Adventures in Numberland reminded me of all this a few years ago. Anyway, to count laps of the playing fields, use one hand to count the first four laps, then the other hand to record one unit of the first power. So at the end of lap one I touch the first finger of my left hand to the thumb. At the end of the second lap it's the middle finger, etcetera. At the end of the fifth lap, touch the tip of the first finger of each hand to the respective thumb and using the "units" hand, count off the next four laps until it's time to register that you've completed another set of four. If you go past sixteen laps, take a shoe off and try to count the four-to-the-power-twos. But if you're running that many laps you might want to find a less boring route.

06 January 2017

There is a crack in everything

Reading this review of a new biography of Margaret Thatcher connected a number of strains of thought that have been going through my mind in recent months. A bit of light came in through the crack. I realised, perhaps for the first time since the early eighties, perhaps for the first time ever, that the only effective opposition to Mrs Thatcher came from within the Conservative Party, both the Parliamentary party and the grassroots party. That's why I threw myself so single-mindedly into it.

I suppose that there was, proportionately, more opposition to her within the Parliamentary party than among the membership. I remember the excitement generated by the publication of the booklet (manifesto?) "Changing Gear" by the Blue Chip group of new MPs - I wonder where my copy is? - although that was only 14 MPs, a pretty small proportion even of the 1979 intake: and I notice with some surprise that it wasn't published until 1982, shortly before party conference, when (a) the fourteen were probably rather nervous about keeping their seats at the next election and (b) Ted Heath was about to become very outspoken. As for (a), General Galtieri solved that for them. As for (b), while it was great fun ("don't clap too loudly, it might annoy the person sitting next to you" the great man told party conference as he received a very warm welcome when called to speak in a debate on something or other) and of course he was entirely right, it made not a hap'th of difference. But in those times when the slogan of the day was TINA ("there is no alternative"), we optimistically wore badges bearing the alternative slogan TITAN ("there is Ted's alternative now") and thought the world was becoming a better place.

Actually the topics of the debates at party conference never mattered much. They were an opportunity for aspiring candidates to make their mark, or hangers and floggers to call for hanging and flogging, or party members to denounce or praise the European Communities (mostly denounce), or lobby groups to get their messages across (I found it ridiculously easy, in the course of my employment, to get the owner of a truck manufacturer called to speak in a debate about increasing vehicle weights). And the first time I spoke at the conference, in 1978, I put in a slip saying I wished to speak against some motion or other - basically to say that having millions of young people unemployed, and with no prospects and no stake in society, would lead to trouble. My area agent, Joan Reeve (shortly afterwards referred to invariably as "JR"), who ran the northern area central office in Newcastle, asked me whether I had put in to speak in the debate. I told her that I had, thinking (rightly, it turned out) that it was so early in the morning that there wouldn't be too many other people seeking to contribute. "For or against?" she asked. I told her that I'd thought I'd be more likely to be called to speak if I were opposing the motion. "Tut, tut. That's no way to get on in the Party. What do you intend to say?" I gave her a brief outline. "That's a speech in favour. Come on, we'll change it." So we recovered the speaker slip, which had already been selected, and made the change, so the normal alternation of speakers for and against turned into three consecutive speakers in favour of the motion. (And incidentally, finding that I could address an audience of a few thousand people, not to mention national television and radio, and make my point, and receive applause, set me on a career of public speaking of one sort or another.)

Modern party conferences are very different, and look like much less fun. Part of the enjoyment used to be that you could meet the "big beasts" around the conference hall, or at receptions and fringe meetings. The problem with politics these days is that there are no big beasts any more. The people who impress, for whatever reason, generally don't go into politics. If they did they would be pilloried for their salaries and expenses claims, often by journalists even more venal than the objects of their pillorying. I would have enjoyed being a Member of Parliament, more than being a solicitor for sure, but the pleasure would have worn off some years ago. But of course if I had followed that career route - had it even, really, been open to me - I would have been entitled to a decent pension by now, and would be able to sit back and watch the world of politics implode. Which isn't a pretty sight, wherever you watch it from.

Friday I'm in Love

Day Six and a full-length 5K run, which is my interim target until I feel rather fitter and stronger than I do at the moment. The pace is heading in the right direction, too.