1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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!


  4. 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!


  5. I’m only just starting to remember what health feels like

    Posted February 11, 2018 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    The evening after my last run, a 15km circuit around lower Manhattan, I got into bed in my hotel and immediately turned ice cold. No matter how tightly I wrapped myself in the duvet, the shivering wouldn’t stop. I think my teeth were even chattering. Several hours later, having hardly slept at all, I had to accept I’d been hit with a severe illness.

    That was Monday night and I’m writing this the following Sunday evening, so nearly a week has passed, and I’m only just starting to feel like I can imagine what healthiness is like.

    Of course it hasn’t helped that during this period of illness – which I’m quite sure is/was the flu – I was at work for two days, then travelled on an overnight flight from New York to London, then took a Eurostar the next day from London to Amsterdam. I doubt many doctors would suggest these activities as a viable strategy for managing and recovering from the flu, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend them myself. I’d probably have got better more quickly if I’d had the chance to just stay in bed for a few days. Sometimes illness strikes at very inconvenient times.

    This period of illness has involved some memorably awful states of being and I wanted to write about them before I get better and promptly forget all about it (because my ill self has no conception of what it’s like to be healthy, and my healthy self has no conception of what it’s like to be ill):

    • Nausea, dizziness and chills combining to create something akin to constant seasickness for about three or four days
    • Coughing becoming so painful that the initial explosive sound of the cough was immediately followed by an involuntary whimper
    • Having to breathe in a very slow and measured way so as to minimise the risk of coughing
    • Being so dizzy and off-balance that I became seriously concerned about escalators at work and on subway stations, even swaying gently on my feet while waiting at traffic stops
    • Buying a burrito and then being unable to face the challenge of eating the thing; resorting to picking tiny bits out of it with a spoon instead
    • Feeling most of the time like someone with a really severe hangover
    • Ambitions I’d had for doing marathon training runs in New York being abandoned wholesale
    • Eventually, this morning, waking up with a splitting headache and actually feeling positive about that, because it seemed to represent some kind of endgame.

    As I write this the splitting headache is being managed with paracetamol and I’m still quite fatigued but, other than that, the illness is on its way out. I’m so relieved. And I think I’ll be getting a flu shot before next winter too.


  6. 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!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


  7. 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.


  8. A new track: “Ocean Equation”

    Posted January 12, 2018 in music  |  1 Comment so far

    I’ve started making music again in the last couple of months.

    Usually I head into the realm of soundscapes, ambient and experimental music, as it’s typically late at night when I’m doing this stuff and I’m getting into a soporific frame of mind.

    But with this track I decided to revisit a niche of music which used to be, and still is, a strong passion of mine: extremely fast and futuristic electro.

    My reference points for this style are, obviously, Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, Detrechno and Ultradyne, but it goes back to “Cosmic Raindance” by Cybotron, and there’s a long historical thread of DJs pitching up traditional electro records or even playing them on 45rpm. Ghetto-tech is obviously a part of this strand but while I got tired of its thematic tropes some time ago I’m still drawn to the disorienting complexity that can emerge from interesting electro tracks at these high speeds.


  9. How the Geocities community reacted to 9/11

    Posted January 1, 2018 in web  |  No Comments so far

    Geocities, founded in 1995, was a colossus of the dotcom era and an early example of a mass-market social web platform. When it eventually died off (under the care of Yahoo!, unsurprisingly) lots of people like me were snobbish about it: who cares about Geocities, this garish place where internet newbies experimented with starfield backgrounds, “under construction” gifs and animated cursors?

    The sort of thing you’d expect to come across on Geocities

    But while yesterday’s trends can seem like naff ephemera that should be wholly eradicated from the cultural memory banks, they often accrue historical value over the years and eventually come to enrich our understanding of an otherwise obscure period of time. So it’s good that some people work hard to preserve dying web platforms which, as aesthetically offensive as they might seem, will one day become major historical records of contemporary culture.

    A couple of these people over at One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age have been going through the Geocities archives, and they recently took a look at how Geocities changed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks towards the end of 2001

    …It’s the time when Harry Potter fanfic starts to get illustrated with stills from the film, not pictures from the book; when N’Sync fandom gets more vibrant than Backstreet Boys fandom; when you see a bit more of cat web sites than one year before, but still more dog lovers are out there; when GeoCities users call Yahoo! names for suspending their sites for too much traffic.

    However, these are just side notes. The most striking content from 2001 is websites that were made or modified in reaction to September 11. Up until today I looked at 97 of them, and there will be more sad, angry, devastated, patriotic, conspiracy pages appearing in the coming months.

    I recommend going to the article and taking a look through the screenshots.To modern eyes, there’s a kind of poignancy in the more jingoistic fighter-jet/bald-eagle stuff, given how the response to 9/11 ultimately turned out for America. And many of the sites actually shut down after the attacks, their creators no longer sure that their fanfic and other geeky material was necessary or even appropriate in a world turned suddenly serious.


  10. It’s all kicking off in Haringey

    Posted December 28, 2017 in London, transport  |  No Comments so far

    In Haringey, the council is changing the way it charges for car parking. Dialogue between the council and the scheme’s opponents is progressing via a medium that is unconventional but actually rather apt: the parking meters themselves.

    Is this all the work of one person? It looks like the same sort of pen, and the handwriting is similar. The wording in that second matches that of the original yellow stickers. Perhaps this is just a one-man crusade. A lone wolf. Or perhaps these interventions are radicalising a whole new generation of militants. Only time will tell.

    See full post on James Ward’s blog.