1. I badly injured myself running and I rode one of the Uber “Jump” bikes

    Posted June 5, 2019 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    At the moment I’ve got a bad injury from running. I made a number of stupid mistakes which included transitioning to new running shoes too quickly, ramping up my speed and mileage at the same time, and then — the pièce de résistance — the decision to run 10k around Fowey in Cornwall, which is just a ridiculously hilly place. In a typical 14k run in London I might have an elevation of around 20 metres, but this Cornish run involved an elevation of over 10 times that much. At the end of the run I could tell I’d done some damage to myself and now, nine days later, I’m still limping around and can’t even imagine myself running. 

    Because I’m worried about this enforced running hiatus reducing my general fitness levels, I’ve tried to cycle a bit more. It’s not very painful to cycle although I’m not sure if it’s really helping the injury get any better. This morning I used one of Uber’s new Jump bikes for the first time, to ride from Walthamstow to Clapton, as my regular bike was at my office.

    I really dislike Uber but wanted to give this a go as I’ve never ridden an e-assist bike before. It’s such a weird experience, good in some ways but bad in others. Going from stationary to a normal riding speed is so quick as the e-assistance kicks in – as the bike accelerates it’s almost a little scary, feeling the bike rocketing forward at a pace that’s very disproportionate to the level of effort being put into pedalling. But for safety reasons the bike has a maximum speed limit, and that’s what can make it a bit frustrating when going downhill. It’s just not possible to go all that fast, and I found myself wasting energy trying to overcome this limitation before finally accepting that I couldn’t beat the system.

    The main benefit of the e-assist thing is felt when going uphill, where you don’t really feel like you’re making an effort but are still sailing past “normal” bikes with ease. It’s also useful to be able to cycle long distances without breaking a sweat. The Walthamstow/Clapton route I rode this morning is probably one I could do on my usual bike in the same sort of time as I did it this morning, but I would be a lot more tired when I got there and would certainly need to have a shower before work.

    Would I buy an e-assist bike? Probably not, because I don’t just cycle for convenience reasons: I want to get a bit of a workout too. I can really see the appeal for people who don’t care as much about fitness, though, or who work at places that don’t have any shower facilities so can’t turn up at the office dripping in sweat.


  2. Quitting Facebook

    Posted February 7, 2019 in social media  |  2 Comments so far

    Quitting Facebook wasn’t that hard.

    It started almost by accident, in November last year, with a busy period at work leaving me no time to see what was happening on the blue forum. Once the busy period ended, I realised that it had been around two weeks since my last login. So I decided not to look at Facebook for a little while longer.

    Christmas came and went, and still no Facebook. New Year also passed without Facebook.

    You have to bear in mind that this wasn’t like quitting cigarettes where abstention is an act of conscious will. When I write about it here it might give the impression that I was sitting in a cold sweat, rocking back and forth in the twilight, gritting my teeth and staring at the clock as hour after after Facebook-free hour dragged past. It wasn’t like that. Life was just going on.

    January also came and went. By the end of January I was beginning to get a bit anxious, not because I missed the blue forum, but because I thought people who knew me might be drawing the wrong inferences from my inactivity: that I was ignoring them, that I had died. That’s what made me decide it would be better to delete my account rather than leave it there, present but mute.

    To delete my account I had to log in. 57-odd notifications were waiting for me. I had a quick look at them. Maybe something in there could have changed my mind. But all I learned from my quick glance at the notifications was that Facebook was doing OK in my absence. People had liked other people’s posts, some people had posted some things, yet others had shared content from the wider world: the wheel in the sky was still turning.

    So I went through the deletion process, which I had expected to be a showcase of just how clingy and dark-pattern-y UI design can be when the best-paid minds in Silicon Valley really don’t want you to do something. In reality, though, it was quite clean and straightforward, other than the slightly sneaky way that Facebook tried to guide me towards deactivation rather than deletion.

    As part of the process I also downloaded my data. There wasn’t too much as I only started going to Mark Zuckerberg’s website in 2013 and was never its heaviest user. If you’re a heavy user, of course, your download will be much bigger than my paltry 157Mb ZIP file. And even if you don’t plan on deleting your account I recommend you download and read through the data – it’s certainly an interesting experience, diverting and nostalgic on one hand, mildly paranoia-inducing on the other. The files you end up with on your hard drive are a lot easier to read than you might expect.

    And that’s that, no more Facebook. I partly feel like being able to delete Facebook is down to privilege, something that’s easier for me to do than it would be for various others, so I’m not going to nag you or disapprove of you for not deleting Facebook yourself. But if you want to join me in the world beyond the blue forum, you’re more than welcome.


  3. I managed to find the skate park in Victoria Park but it was too wet to skate, plus my left knee is done for

    Posted September 5, 2018 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    Yesterday at lunch I went to get out from behind our table and my left knee smashed into the table leg. A mundane event. But as the pain from the impact exploded within me I realised that I would probably be remembering it for some time.

    Fast forward to this morning and I had a plan to cycle into work via Victoria Park with my skateboard and do some skating on the skate park there. I’ve never been to that skate park, I’ve only seen photos of it. But the injury in my left knee, which had stayed with me through the night, left me doubtful that I could either cycle or skate.

    When I left the house I saw a bit of dampness on the ground which gave me pause for thought. I just don’t want to skateboard on damp ground, and certainly not on smooth, wet concrete. But maybe it was just morning dew? I set off with the skateboard on my back, hopeful that the skate park would be dry.

    Immediately my left knee had something to say. It didn’t like this bending and unbending business that cycling seemed to involve and it let me know its thoughts on this matter at some length. I considered going home and just walking to the train station instead, but the more I rode the less painful my knee became (although it was still pretty painful).

    Got to Victoria Park and by then it had become clear from the overall dampness of the ground that the skate park was going to be a write-off. But I still wanted to actually see it.

    It turned out that I was completely wrong about where the skate park was so I had to stop and look at my iPad to find out. It’s right in the middle of the park, and when I run or ride through there I’m always going around the main perimeter path. So I cycled to the skate park and, as expected, it was very damp, with puddles at the bottom. No way would anyone want to skate on that. But at least now I know where it is and what it looks like (not as big as I’d been expecting from the photos, to be honest).

    Then I rode into work along CS2 which is always fun, in its way.


  4. Having the courage to admit that you’re wrong (about notebooks)

    Posted July 13, 2018 in Diary, work  |  No Comments so far

    In 2013 I wrote a blog post about how I was only going to buy cheap notebooks.

    My rationale at the time was that a high-quality notebook repelled low-quality content; in other words, that my reluctance to scribble half-formed thoughts and sketches on such a pristine medium undermines the very purpose of having a notebook in the first place. A cheap notebook, on the other hand, would offer a less judgemental home for incoherent scrawls, and so I would be encouraged to write and draw in it all the time without fear of my contributions being put to shame by the paper on which they were borne.

    I can now look back and say that I was categorically wrong about all of this and, what’s more, that my flirtation with cheap notebooks didn’t last. In around 2015 I ditched them and before long I found myself drawing and sketching far more than I’d ever done before. Moleskines (which I was in the habit of buying when I wrote the abovementioned blog post) were replaced by Leuchtturm notebooks and since then I haven’t looked back. I now always have an A4 and an A5 Leuchtturm1917, both dotted: the latter to carry around and take notes, the former for more serious in-depth sketching.

    Pokémon and diagrams

    And it’s not even more expensive either. The Leuchtturm paper is extremely thin so a single notebook lasts for a long time. The A5 one I’ve got with me now was first used in January 2017 (I know because I write the date on every page) and it’s only now in July 2018 that it’s running out of space. And I’ve used it a lot.

    So that’s it, I just wanted to make it known that I recant the blog post of 2013 and am back on the side of decent notebooks.


  5. I Watched Some People Get Owned By Seagulls And Didn’t Envy Them At All

    Posted June 5, 2018 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    We were on Brighton beach, in the most touristy area right next to the pier. This must be the part of the beach that seagulls particularly like.

    A man and woman came and sat down not far from us. They had bought some fish and chips from Harry Ramsdens and when they unwrapped it I could smell the salty, vinegary, fishy food. Seagulls must love eating this stuff.

    One seagull was curious about the fish and chips so it walked over to take a closer look and have a quick peck at the man’s chips. The man flapped his hand at the seagull and it hopped off. I suppose seagulls are accustomed to being brushed off in this way.

    The seagull came back but this time it didn’t walk but flew instead, landing beak-first in the man’s chips.

    “F-ck off!” the man shouted, flailing. “You f-cking c-nt!” The seagull flew a short distance away.

    At this point I find it hard to explain what happened. Maybe the seagull squawked in a certain way, or sent a coded signal with an artful flap of its wings. Maybe it communicated via telepathy.

    But whatever it did was successful: in less than a second, around thirty seagulls descended from the sky and, undeterred by profanity, took control of the situation. Their victory was decisive, total and near-instant. The couple who now found themselves at the centre of this shrieking yellow-beaked maelstrom leapt to their feet and bolted, propelled by entirely understandable terror. I don’t think they stopped running until they were well clear of the beach.

    With the humans out of the way, the thirty frantic seagulls made quick work of the Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips. After twenty seconds there seemed to be no edible substances remaining. The party was over. The seagulls lost their motivation and stood around dumbly, like NPCs in a computer game that have reverted back from some mission-specific subroutine into their default wandering behaviour. All humans in the immediate vicinity regarded the aftermath in horror.

    At that point my wife arrived with a brown paper bag that contained our own takeaway lunch.


  6. Train in the rain, run in the sun

    Posted April 18, 2018 in running  |  No Comments so far

    After several months of training for the London Marathon (for which you still sponsor me here!) we’re now close enough to the day of the event that the weather forecast is worth looking at.

    So let’s take a look…

    Aargh!

    Yes it’s lovely weather if you’re going to spectate, but for me and most of the other runners it’s pretty bad news. The majority of my long training runs took place while the UK was in the grip of Arctic-style wintry conditions, so I’m completely unprepared for running a serious distance in the blazing sun.

    The last couple of times I did the Hackney Half Marathon were similarly hot and the image of so many people collapsed by the roadside receiving medical attention in the last couple of miles is still fresh in my mind. I just hope I finish Sunday’s race on my feet rather than on my back.


  7. Two weeks to go until the London Marathon

    Posted April 9, 2018 in running  |  No Comments so far

    With under two weeks to go, the countdown has begun to the London Marathon.

    If you haven’t sponsored me yet, you can still do so over at Virgin Money Giving. And it might be worth knowing that my employer, Bloomberg, has a donation matching scheme, so whatever you donate, my company will pitch in to double it. The charity I’m fundraising for, Starlight, will use the funds to bring some magic into the lives of seriously and terminally ill children, so anything you contribute will make a difference.

    If only I could say my training has gone smoothly. It started slowly due to injury, and has been interrupted by a few different problems along the way, as you can see here.

    Weekly distance chart annotated with the various obstacles I faced along the way

    The most recent snag came a couple of weeks ago while on a 20 mile run. After crossing beneath the M25 for the first time — a big moment for me, as I’d long dreamed of running far enough to get out of London and back — my left thigh started to feel a little strained. The feeling didn’t subside and soon afterwards, at around the 12 mile mark, it became painful enough that I had to stop running.

    The situation looked bleak. I was on a canal towpath somewhere near Cheshunt unable to run, around 10 miles from home, and I’d made the error of leaving home with no phone or bank card. The walk back to Walthamstow would be at least three hours, and with my thigh feeling the way it did I wasn’t sure I could even manage it. I began to contemplate the possibility of hitchhiking or flat-out begging for train fare.

    Then my luck changed: I began to notice that, as I walked along, my thigh muscle was feeling a bit better with each step. So I stopped, stretched for a bit, walked some more, and was eventually able to run again.

    Eight miles later I was back home with the 20 miles complete, but that left thigh was really not happy. For the next couple of days it was hard to walk and very hard to go up and down stairs. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to run in the marathon as it felt so serious. I decided to just forget about running for a while, reasoning that as I’d done 20 miles I was psychologically ready for the marathon, and if it took two weeks to recover, so be it.

    In the end the injury receded every day and eight days later I was able to run 5k in Windsor with no flare-ups. After some gradually longer runs I worked my way up to doing 14 miles this morning, and I have no plans to run any longer than than between now and marathon day, when I’ll be running 26.2 miles. I’m sure it’ll be a cinch!


  8. Despite injury, flu and the Beast from the East, it looks like I’ll be running the London marathon after all

    Posted March 15, 2018 in running  |  No Comments so far

    Here’s my latest London marathon training update! (stop snoring at the back)

    As you might remember, I’m running the London marathon for Starlight, a charity that organises fun events and unforgettable experiences for children with terminal and serious illnesses. You can sponsor me here. And thank you to everybody who has already helped!

    At times it’s seemed like this whole marathon attempt was doomed to fail. It started badly when, in December, a physiotherapist grounded me for four weeks, just when my training plan should have been starting. Then in February I was grounded again by the flu, which came at me out of the blue while I was in New York. And then, just as I felt ready to get back in the saddle again, the “Beast from the East” coated the roads and pavements in snow and ice, forcing me indoors to the treadmill.

    All these interruptions have left me lagging behind my training plan, which should have seen me running very often and very far for a few months now. The thought of giving up has crossed my mind more than once. But despite all this, I think I can do it. Last Saturday I ran my longest ever run at 16 miles, and was still able to go out again on Monday to run 10 kilometres, which was encouraging: this time last year, a 16 mile run would have put me out of action for a week or more.

    But 16 miles is still 10.2 miles short of marathon distance so I’ve still got a long way to go. And with 18 miles to run this weekend and 20 miles the weekend after that I won’t be putting my feet up any time soon!


  9. Running around Manhattan

    Posted February 7, 2018 in running  |  No Comments so far

    In April this year, I’m running the London Marathon on behalf of Starlight, a charity that brightens the lives of seriously and terminally ill children. Support me here!

    I’ve never run a marathon before. The longest I’ve ever run was 15 miles and that introduced me to a level of exhaustion I don’t think I’ll ever forget, so this is a big challenge for me. Each week I need to add more distance to build up my endurance, but if I push myself too hard I’ll pick up an injury and set myself back.

    This week’s long run was 15km and, as I’m currently in New York for work, I got the chance to run around Manhattan. This made a big change from the canals and marshes of east London that I usually frequent. I’ve run around Central Park a lot in the past, but this time I thought I’d go on more of a sightseeing run around the city and take some pictures along the way.

    When I started out, it was still dark, and bitterly cold. Here is the Solow Building, my favourite one in Manhattan, looking ominous.
    IMG_0144

    From this starting point near the south-east corner of Central Park, I headed west along 59th Street until I got to the Hudson River, on the west coast of Manhattan.

    IMG_0146

    It was still pretty dark at this point and it had been a cold night, so a lot of the surfaces I was running on were covered in thin, treacherous ice, so slippery that it was risky to walk on it, let alone run. After a while I gave up on the pavement and just ran on the deserted cycleway, which wasn’t icy at all.

    I didn’t have an internet-connected device with me so Google Maps wasn’t an option. Instead, I had memorised my planned route, which isn’t that hard in Manhattan where the numbered streets form an easily navigable grid. And on the Hudson side of the island, there are a series of piers which are also numbered, so I was keeping track of these piers as I ran south. This is one of them, Pier 94. My route involved travelling south as far as Pier 40, so there were a lot more of these piers to go.

    IMG_0147

    There’s also an aircraft carrier moored along the Hudson – it’s the eponymous star attraction of the Intrepid Air & Space Museum. By now you’ll notice that the sky was starting to brighten.

    IMG_0148

    As the day began I found my eyes drawn to the water and the buildings of New Jersey across the bay, which were staring to glitter as the low sun fell upon them. But I was curious about the bits of Manhattan I was passing too. I used to think of the place as being essentially covered in skyscrapers, but it isn’t – it’s more diverse than that. And of course, more skyscrapers are going up all the time.

    IMG_0150

    But it’s nice to see buildings that don’t conform to the skyscraper stereotype, like this weird one:

    IMG_0151

    I finally reached Pier 40 and turned left to cut across Manhattan, going eastwards along Houston Street. This took me into a part of the island that’s very different from the wealthier glitzy areas, and is much more like a place where normal people live, with shops that aren’t aimed at oligarchs, and playgrounds for kids.

    IMG_0160

    Heartened by this encounter with a side of Manhattan I haven’t had much exposure to, I continued on and reached the other side of the island. Houston Street meets the East River at a place called the East River Park, and this was a high point of my run: the sun was now fully in in the sky, and now that I was on the east coast, the buildings of Manhattan were no longer getting in its way. I liked the look of the East River Park and the Williamsburg Bridge right behind it looked spectacular. And best of all, there was a working public toilet, which was just what I needed at that point in time! You don’t get things like this in London.

    After making use of this facility I began the northbound part of my run, heading up along the East River. The plan was to get up to 60th street and then go back into the city again until I made it back to my hotel. But Manhattan had other plans.

    The east side of the island is, it turns out, a lot worse for pedestrians and cyclists than the west side is. At first it seemed great, especially in the East River Park, and even when I left the park a lot of the pathways looked like this – not as luxurious as the routes on the west coast, but still perfectly fine:

    But before too long these pathways fell away, and I found myself thrown into the mess of gridlocked Manhattan rush hour roads: running along under bridges next to motorways, breathing in car fumes, crossing forecourts of petrol stations, waiting at traffic lights while jogging on the spot to keep my muscles from locking up. It wasn’t fun and I didn’t feel like taking any pictures. By the time I got to the United Nations building I wasn’t able to stick to the river at all and just had to re-enter the city, running up 1st Avenue dodging commuters and waiting at junctions.

    And, with that, the 15km target was reached and I stopped running. It had been good to see new areas of Manhattan and break out of my normal routine, but I’d learned a valuable lesson about the grimness of the eastern pedestrian experience. Next time I run in Manhattan I think I’ll stick to Central Park!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


  10. Yes, puritanical societies in the past were renowned for their condemnation of homophobia

    Posted January 19, 2018 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    I can’t get over how dumb this is. Kemi Badenoch, a Conservative MP, is complaining that young people have “puritanical” attitudes to sexual harassment and homophobia:

    Young people are becoming puritanical about sexual harassment and what constitutes a sexual advance, according to Kemi Badenoch, the new Conservative vice-chair in charge of candidate selection.

    The MP, who was elected last year, cited those who think Friends, the 1990s US television series, is transphobic and homophobic as examples of such attitudes, saying “something has gone wrong somewhere”.

    [She] said she thought the younger generation’s view of appropriate sexual behaviour was conservative rather than liberal.

    “In the papers, they were talking about how Friends is now sort of really homophobic, transphobic and so on. That, for me, is a very, very – it’s actually a puritanical position, which I think of as conservative.

    In what parallel universe was it “puritanical” to condemn homophobia and transphobia? A quick look at any conservative or puritanical society, either contemporary or historical, will find that homophobia and transphobia tend to be wholeheartedly embraced, often to the point of people being persecuted and killed over it.

    But here comes this staggeringly ignorant Conservative MP with a new take: namely that these harsh, dogmatic puritans were characterised by a rigid and unwavering condemnation of homophobes, and a draconian insistence on a woman’s right to conduct her life without being pawed and objectified by drooling men. It betrays a complete lack of understanding not only of history but of the contemporary attitudes she’s set out to condemn. What a joke.