1. An update on life under the Covid-19 lockdown conditions

    Posted March 27, 2020 in covid19, Diary  |  No Comments so far

    It’s nearly two weeks since I posted “Asda on the Edge of the Apocalypse“, in which I described a visit to Asda. I held back from describing the atmosphere of that weekend as “weird”, because…

    …while this weekend might seem like a weird phase today, it might not seem weird at all by next weekend… Next weekend might present us with a new understanding of what counts as “weird”.

    Well, it’s hardly an understatement to say that it’s got weirder since then. During that weekend – the weekend of 14th-15th March – almost everything was happening. My son’s parkour and swimming classes were running. People weren’t queuing outside supermarkets.

    Yes, Apple had only just closed its stores outside of mainland China, so when in Westfield we saw a line of staff outside the Apple store; presumably to inform customers about the closure, though if I saw them now I’d think they were there to fend off looters. And yes, the supermarkets had sold out of toilet roll and painkillers, and Superdrug was limiting the amount of painkillers a single customer could buy. That was enough to make me toy with the idea of using the word “weird” to describe what was going on that weekend.

    But writing today, nearly two weeks on, I can say that it really wasn’t weird. If you drew a line with what I’ll call a “normal state of life” at one end and the way things are now, at the weekend of 28th-29th March, at the other end, that day when Apple stores had shut wouldn’t be halfway along it. It would be far closer to the “normal state of life” end.

    Here’s a subjective account of what happened between when we went to Asda and now. I’ve written this just from memory rather than using Google.

    Monday 17th March

    By this time the UK government denied “herd immunity” was its strategy. This might have been the time that Boris Johnson started giving direct daily updates – up until then ministers had been communicating policy through anonymous briefings to favoured journalists. I was working from home by this point but schools were still open.

    Wednesday 18th March

    Rumours were flying around that school closures were imminent. Some kids were being kept home due to their families self-isolating, but, more materially, some teachers had started to self-isolate too, so schools were increasingly concerned about their staffing levels. At this point the government was saying you and your household should self-isolate if you had any symptoms. It was unrealistic to think you could get tested so you had to assume you were infected and self-isolate for 14 days.

    Towards the end of the day it came out that the schools would indeed close from Friday.

    Thursday 19th March

    This was a day where, for me personally, it started to really feel like a crisis. The previous evening, journalists were being told that London was close to being put under lockdown, possibly cut off from the rest of the country, to slow down the spread of the virus. I went out for a run early that morning and took this picture.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    It was a pretty bleak scene. Cold, damp and grey, with this notion of imminent isolation hanging over the city. I felt perturbed by it but didn’t disapprove. I felt like severe measures were needed. This was also the first day I started to notice strangers observing social distancing – runners moving out into the road to remain distant from each other, that sort of thing. But when I went for this particular run the streets were a lot busier than I thought they’d be.

    Later that day the government denied quite strongly that there plans to seal off London, so who knows where all this had been coming from the night before.

    Friday 20th March

    The last day of school. Boris Johnson appeared on TV that evening and said al pubs and restaurants had to close. Also, Rishi Sunak announced the government scheme to cover 80% of employee’s salaries for at least three months, in the hope of warding off a tsunami of redundancies. It was a major intervention although it had no provisions for freelancers. I started to feel at this point that the government was recognising and responding to the severity of what was going on.

    Saturday 21st – Sunday 22nd March

    After Friday’s announcement and the indefinite closure of school, I woke up on the Saturday feeling like this was really the first day of a new phase of our lives. It wasn’t easy. I was still in a cycle of looking at the news and social media almost all the time and having a rolling anxiety attack, which would sometimes intensify or subside but never ended. It even felt like it was happening while I was asleep – I’d wake up feeling burnt out, then would immediately reach for my phone to top up on the stress.

    Monday 23rd March

    There were lots of reports of people over the weekend failing to observe social distancing guidelines, so that evening Boris Johnson announced that the rules were hardening as a result. More businesses were to shut, the police would enforce rules about congregating with other people, you weren’t to visit anyone, only a certain amount of outdoor trips allowed per day and for only certain reasons.

    I watched his announcement live and, yes, it was fair to describe that experience as “weird”. It was a combination words I would never have expected to hear coming out of the mouth of the prime minister. Yet even though the measures being introduced were quite strict, it was pretty much a description of how I’d been living for around two weeks, so it didn’t signal any major changes for our family.

    Also, this was the first day of home-schooling while trying to work from home. That’s a subject for another post…

    Tuesday 24th – Friday 27th March

    We’ve started to get some indication of the economic scale of what’s happening. Look at this chart of US unemployment claims that came out on Thursday. The vertical line to the right is not the y-axis. Is this the economic equivalent of the Chicxulub impact event?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    In this period I’ve been outside for two early-morning runs (not on the same day of course!) and to collect some fruit and vegetables from a scheme we’ve been signed up to for a few years. I think that’s it? Unless you also count when I stepped out of the front door to join in our street’s applause for the NHS.

    When have gone out there is very much an air of emergency, crisis, drama, whatever you want to call it. But that atmosphere isn’t one of screaming, shouting and urgency: instead, it’s the quietness, the stillness, that feels dramatic. It’s the edginess of people who work in shops, doing what they can to protect themselves with plastic gloves or t-shirts pulled up to cover their mouths. There is hardly anyone you see out and about who seems to be acting normal, who you would expect to be confused if you asked them about the pandemic. Back on that weekend of the 15th-16th March, when nearly everything was still happening, it definitely seemed like a lot of people were still oblivious. They aren’t any more.


  2. It’s no longer the time to be saying Let’s Not Worry Too Much

    Posted March 20, 2020 in covid19, Diary  |  No Comments so far

    A few days ago, Imelda Flattery’s tweet made me curious.

    I wanted to find this original report, possibly with the hope that finding it would give me a brief nostalgia rush, taking me back in time to what now, authentically, feels like a different era from the one we now inhabit.

    After locating and defeating Twitter’s “Advanced Search” interface – not to mention a lot of vertical scrolling – I found what might be one of the earliest pieces of BBC reporting on the coronavirus.

    Here’s the first tweet I could find from Stephen McDonell that explicitly references it. It’s part of a thread and I’ve included the first three here. You can read more on Twitter.

    Obviously it feels strange now to read the “let’s not worry too much” sections in this very early reporting, but it’s really unfair to be critical of it. Bear in mind the niche nature of the story as it was back then. If somebody in mid-January had published an accurate prediction of what the virus would do to the world, it would have come across as deranged, its author banished to the internet’s hinterlands.

    As the virus unfolded in China and began to spread to other countries, though, we did accumulate enough data and information to make more accurate predictions about its impact. Some of that data can be understood by looking at these excellent charts from the FT’s John Burn-Murdoch:

    You can see from the second chart in particular that the UK had more deaths than Italy did at a similar stage in its infection curve. So this gives us an indication of the likely severity.

    Despite this, there is still a bit of a “let’s not worry too much” theme here in the UK. Even as recently as a week ago prominent media figures were reacting with shock and disgust whenever an institution acted more cautiously than government guidance required:

    What I find interesting about the above tweet is that the Wellcome Trust’s decision was being framed through the kaleidoscope of UK party politics – that it was somehow “anti-Tory” to take the decision that they took.

    But it’s far from being the only example of this. Across the board, the UK’s political culture made it difficult to advise caution and take decisive steps without it being seen as an anti-government stance to take. It led to awkward contradictory messages such as the below:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    People in the future who look back on this time might underestimate the degree to which ideology influenced the country’s virus response – they’d be unwise to do so, I think. There’s a lot to learn about how political factionalism can warp perceptions of reality and affect a society’s ability to make decisions in a rational way. Sometimes you do need to look clearly at other countries and learn from their mistakes.

    The damage from this initial framing is still being felt. A lot of people read these opinion pieces when they were coming out and took the decision that they wouldn’t change their routines, that they’d keep socialising and working as usual, whether to “own the libs” or – perhaps more bizarrely – to “own the virus”, by denying it a moral victory.

    (“I’m hardly changing at all, because if you do that then you give into it…”)

    Normally, two months doesn’t seem like a long time. Stephen McDonell’s first BBC report on coronavirus didn’t come out all that long ago. But we’ve learnt so much about the coronavirus in that time, and it’s fair to say the world has changed profoundly. There’s no reason why we should still be hearing people say, “let’s not worry too much”.


  3. Asda on the Edge of Apocalypse

    Posted March 15, 2020 in covid19, Diary  |  2 Comments so far

    We’re at a phase in the coronavirus situation.

    When I said “a phase” just then, I intentionally didn’t insert any adjectives like “serious” or “weird” because while this weekend might seem like a weird phase today, it might not seem weird at all by next weekend. Next weekend we might be looking back at today and thinking about how normal it felt, that it was anything but weird. Next weekend might present us with a new understanding of what counts as “weird”.

    So all I can say, really, is that we’re at a phase in all this. It’s different from how it was last weekend and it’s different from how it will be next weekend. It’s a phase.

    During this phase shops are still open and it’s not against the law to leave your house. My children’s usual activities like swimming, parkour and ballet class all happened. Public transport was running. Does all of this normal, banal stuff sound weird to you, if you’re reading this one week or one month from now?

    We went to Asda in Walthamstow. It was different from yesterday, when we went to Waitrose in Westfield. Waitrose had sold all its toilet roll and kitchen towel – which would have seemed very weird two weeks ago, come to think of it – but otherwise Waitrose seemed normal, if a little quiet. I got a much stronger sense of impending social collapse in Asda today.

    Several sections of the shelves were completely bare. There was no toilet roll, no dried pasta, no painkillers. The image of the empty painkiller shelves stuck with me. It wasn’t a big surprise to see that but really, that would have seemed very weird two weeks ago.

    People didn’t really seem scared or panicked in Asda but I don’t think the phrase “mildly spooked” would be overstating it too much. Maybe a lot of them were feeling the same thing as me, the weirdness of seeing these empty shelves, of seeing up close these early indications of the strain being applied to the unseen systems that supply us. Maybe if I’d been there earlier, when the shop still had toilet paper and pasta and painkillers and people were trying to buy all of it, maybe there would have been more fear and panic in the air then.

    After visiting Asda we walked through the main shopping mall and I looked at the shopfronts and adverts. These posters and displays still wanted people to buy things like clothes, or perfume, or mobile phone contracts. A little bit optimistic on their part, I thought. People only care about toilet roll and pain relief now. For a moment I remembered the scene in Threads where survivors of the nuclear holocaust barter over bags of dead rats against a backdrop of a faded Standard Life advert.

    Picture of nuclear holocaust survivors in front of 1980s advert

    Post-armageddon advertising

    In Superdrug, there was an explicit policy that no customer would be allowed to buy more than two items of any painkiller product. Again, the signs saying this would have been very surreal to even contemplate a month ago, but when I saw them I just thought it was a sensible thing to do. We were able to buy some Calpol. And also, in Superdrug, there were still a lot of people, mainly younger women, who were interested in things that weren’t toilet paper or pasta or painkillers or bags of dead rats – instead, they were intently studying makeup and hairspray and other items in the cosmetics section, as if it was just another day. Will they still be doing that next weekend, though? Or will that have become weird too?


  4. Portals of London is one of my favourite blogs at the moment

    Posted March 5, 2020 in links, London  |  No Comments so far

    I really love Portals of London, a blog which is compiling descriptions of all the interdimensional gateways to be found in the UK’s capital.

    Last night I started reading the latest update, “North Circular spiral: The Andromeda Room“. But reading something that good so late at night is unfair to the writer and the writing, so I read it again today.

    I had heard there was a South Circular, too. In my mind it was a mirror image of my road, joining up in a perfect circle around the city. At night, wondering where the cars went, I imagined them orbiting London. I pictured another girl, in her house by the South Circular, listening to the same cars drive by, an hour after me, watching the same lights sweep across her ceiling. A slow, circular pulse in the night.

    I won’t try to describe or recap the piece here, but you can just go and read it right now.


  5. When Good Proxies Turn Bad

    Posted February 25, 2020 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Proxies are important in our society.

    By “proxy” I mean a situation where something small and quantifiable happens, and we observe it, and then infer things from it about how to handle a much larger and unpredictable process.

    A classic example of this is a job interview. It’s a linear process with a definite end-point. The phases are defined in advance and rarely change along the way. Each candidate moves along their own track in isolation from the others, until they either hit a brick wall or get hired.

    Most actual jobs are very different from job interviews – they’re open-ended, there’s a degree of dynamism or unpredictability, different organisational forces are interacting all the time – yet, in general, performance in a job interview is seen as a good proxy for performance in a job.

    There are, of course, very valid criticisms of this view, but that’s not really the point of this post so I’ll leave that alone for now.

    A driving test is another example of this kind of proxy. If someone can adhere to a checklist of rules and procedures while driving around under observation for 40 minutes, we let them hurtle around for decades in huge steel boxes, entrusting them not only with their own lives but those of everybody around them.

    And again, of course, there’s a discussion to be had about the validity of this proxy, but this has to be left alone too.

    At the societal rather than individual level, there’s a proxy relationship that inescapably affects us all: elections.

    In a typical democracy like the UK, the central idea is that the party that does the better job of fighting an election campaign will also do a better job of what comes after the election, namely running the country (or local council, or city hall, or whatever the election is for). Electoral performance is a proxy for performance once in administration.

    This proxy has always been a bit shonky too, like the job interview or the driving test, but recently I’ve been wondering if the gap between electoral and administrative aptitude is actually widening. If so, it’s not good news.

    Electioneering involves skills or traits that will come in useful once in power. Coalition-building, making and winning arguments, putting forward plans that can be turned into reality, promises that can be kept; these sorts of things do still play a part in elections, but they feel increasingly ancillary to the main job of fighting an election, which is, of course, waging meme warfare on Facebook through an army of automated sock-puppet accounts.

    Maybe we’ve yet to learn that the ability to run disinformation and psy-ops campaigns on Facebook is indeed a reasonable proxy for the ability to administer a council, city or country. But maybe it isn’t? Governments still have a lot of things to do which are not really amenable to deepfaked propaganda, Pepe shitposts and behavioural microtargeting. Hospitals need to be run, tax needs to be collected, roads need to be maintained and so on. These things seem deeply boring compared to the use of deep learning networks to convert placid baby boomers into red-faced white nationalists, but they are and will continue to be part of government for the foreseeable future, and beyond.

    Maybe someone deserves a government job because they had a successful run as a far-right misogynist troll on Reddit a few years ago, but maybe they don’t? Maybe the kinds of traits that work in the world of far-right online propaganda won’t work in the field of actual government? My hunch is that they won’t, and the usefulness of election campaigns as a proxy for administrative competence is in a state of decline. At least I don’t have to wait long, or go to any other countries, to find out if my hunch is correct or not.


  6. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie was better than I thought it was going to be

    Posted February 21, 2020 in media  |  1 Comment so far

    There is a new movie about Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s called “Sonic the Hedgehog”.

    We went to see it today in a place called Malton, in North Yorkshire. The cinema was very unlike the normal multiplex chain type of cinemas we usually go to in London. It’s called the Palace Cinema and is independent and family-run. You can watch this video to learn more about the person who set it up.

    When I saw the trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, I thought, “bad”. Not because of the main character looking weird and like it had human teeth or whatever. I didn’t even see that trailer. The one I saw came out after they fixed the hedgehog and it still made me think, “bad”. They had made the hedgehog look OK as a hedgehog, but as a person? As a person, the hedgehog just came across as a douchebag.

    Then when the film came out recently a lot of reviews also came out and most of them said, “bad”. Mark Kermode said it was bad and he didn’t say it was bad because Sonic ruined his childhood or anything like that. It’s safe to say that Mark Kermode did not play Sonic the Hedgehog in his childhood. He just said it was bad because it was bad as a film.

    Paul Ford wrote a good tweet about the Sonic the Hedgehog movie.

     

    My wife and I like the phrase “I love that you loved it”. There are many times we’ve been to the cinema with our kids and could have used those words. So when the children today put their foot down and chose the Sonic the Hedgehog movie over Harrison Ford/dog epic “The Call Of The Wild”, we resigned ourselves to leaving the cinema later and saying those words, “I love that you loved it”.

    Given all this buildup of expecting a bad movie I was actually surprised to find that I quite enjoyed it.

    Sonic isn’t as insufferable as he came across in the trailer. He alternates between being touchingly vulnerable and annoyingly brash, but in this he is a lot like the 7-10 year old children who are probably the core audience for the film.

    Jim Carrey’s star turn is a critical part of why I didn’t dislike it. I suspect that, if he hadn’t been in the movie, my views on it would have been along the lines of, “bad”. His character is the villain but, rather than being an underworld criminal boss, he’s actually a military dark-ops type with high-level security clearance. And he’s not gone rogue or anything either, he’s the person the government has brought in to try to catch Sonic. Is this quite a rare thing in children’s films nowadays, for the main baddies to be government representatives? And was it weird that Carrey’s character reminded me a bit of Dominic Cummings?

    Now one thing I have in common with Mark Kermode is that I too didn’t spend my childhood playing Sonic the Hedgehog. I was an Amiga/Nintendo person and didn’t own any Sega consoles prior to the Dreamcast. During the Sonic era I only played Super Mario Kart, so there’s no Gen-X childhood nostalgia for me to be protective here. And for the children in the audience who seemed to enjoy themselves, there wasn’t any Sega nostalgia for the film to exploit either.

    It’s nice when kids choose to like or dislike things themselves, shoving aside the nostalgia-fuelled guidance of their parents’ generation. And if this film does well despite the critical consensus being that it is bad, it’ll probably because children just decided they liked it, which is fair enough.


  7. Robert Henke’s CBM 8032 AV performance at the Barbican

    Posted February 8, 2020 in music  |  No Comments so far

    A couple of weeks ago I went to see Robert Henke’s CBM 8032 AV performance.

    The basic idea is that all audio and video is provided by an array of four Commodore CBM 8032 computers. These are old machines, older than the C64 or Vic 20, and weren’t made with graphics or audio in mind. So, to make these computers generate music and video, they’re running custom software developed by Robert Henke and his team.

    The result is something that might have been technically possible when the machines were released in the early 1980s, but would have been a vast undertaking given the rudimentary nature of available software development tools at the time. (I’m assuming here that Henke & co didn’t actually write their custom software on the 8032s – if they did I’d be even more impressed!)

    I like the idea of a computer or device being unwittingly controlled by technological forces from far beyond the time of its origination. It’s a similar concept to emulation, but in this case the newer technology isn’t playing host to its ancestor – it’s acting as a puppetmaster, holding strings that were always part of the ancestor’s design but moving and manipulating them at alien speeds. Robots that solve the Rubik’s Cube in less than a second are another example I guess.

    There were loads of people at the performance which I was quite surprised by. I had thought it would be a too niche to draw a large crowd, but it seemed to be sold out. As soon as we arrived at the Barbican it was clearly packed. Also, I was probably among the older cohort among the crowd. It wasn’t like when I went to see Cybotron and there were a lot of grey hairs in the audience.

    Robert Henke gave a short speech at the start about the project and about the Commodore CBM 8032. He suggested it was part of the final generation of computers to have been humanly comprehensible, or in other words simple enough in its design that a human being could expect to read and fully understand its specification. He got a laugh from the crowd when he popped open the computer – the monitor and keyboard folded back to reveal the internals, like the bonnet of a car.

    Aesthetically, I had certain expectations of the sort of music that would be involved. If you tell me that someone is going to make electronic music with a bank of Commodore CBM computers I will have a clear idea of what it’ll sound like: either a chiptune ode to retro computer game soundtracks or, essentially, a Kraftwerk retread. And the first few tracks in the performance were definitely in the latter category.

    I was captivated enough by the visuals not to mind so much the unsurprising nature of the music. The green pixels were really being stretched to their limit, doing things I haven’t seen on these sorts of displays. There certainly wasn’t anything retro, gamey or nostalgia-driven about the video part of the performance. It was almost sinister or uncanny, to see retro display technology being utilised in this sort of way.

    As the performance went on the music also started to diverge from the Kraftwerk “Metal on Metal” template and took on a more abstract, ominous, challenging character. I wasn’t sure exactly how much external audio processing was needed to get these machines to make sounds like this, but can only assume it was a lot. There were a few points where the visuals and music combined to create genuinely chilling, almost dystopian, moments.

    When the credits were shown at the end, I wasn’t surprised to see that a pretty large team of artists and technologists had been involved in the project. It was a big success with the audience and with me too. It’s a project that could, in different hands, have ended up as an interesting but creatively uninspired proof of concept, using the CBM machines to render the Arkanoid soundtrack and so on. But Robert Henke and his team approached both the creative and technological aspects of this project with full force, and the result was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.


  8. Bad Running Shoes Are Bad (for me at least)

    Posted September 9, 2019 in running  |  No Comments so far

    Here’s some boring stuff about running shoes.

    For a long time I was running in Saucony Guide 10s. The heel wore out in them quite quickly but otherwise they were great. Once I’d made it to around 500km in one pair of them, I’d buy another pair of the same shoes. I ran the London Marathon in Guide 10s. But once my third pair had been exhausted, that was that.

    You see, running shoes are only around for a certain amount of time before they get “upgraded”. Manufacturers tweak the design of a shoe and release a new version, usually every year or two, with similar characteristics and aimed at more or less the same cohort of runner. When the new design comes out, the older form of the shoe stops being made and eventually disappears from the shops. That’s what had happened to the Guide 10 by the time my third pair was done for.

    This didn’t seem like it would be a big problem. There were new versions of the Guides which would presumably be similar to the Guide 10s, so I bought a pair online without trying them, thinking they would be good. These new shoes were called Guide ISO 2 and they are, in fact, bad. For me anyway.

    When I first tried them on with the orthotic insoles I wear, it was clear right away that they were going to be bad. The insoles are a bit thicker than the standard ones that come with running shoes, and while I’d worn them with maybe three or four types of shoe without issues, these Guide ISO 2s were a different story. My heel felt like it was half out of the shoe.

    To stop the heels from actually popping out of the shoes when I run, I need to lace them so tight that my feet are glowing red when I take them off afterwards. Lacing shoes with such severity isn’t good for you really. And even with this extreme lace tightness my heels have still suffered greatly in the 50-odd kilometres I’ve run in these shoes. The issue is that, because the heel of the shoe is so low down, it’s rubbing against a part of my foot that it’s just not designed to be in contact with.

    I posted earlier in the year about having to stop running because I injured myself. I didn’t mention at the time that these shoes, which I’d just bought, were a big part of the reason why. The feeling of the heel popping out of the shoe was so disconcerting that I switched out of my custom insoles and ran in the standard ones. True enough, the heels were much more stable with the standard insole, but that run, without my own insoles, put me out of action for nearly three months. Lesson learned.

    As I’ve returned to running I’ve kept my insoles in the shoes and have hoped that my feet and the Guide ISO 2s would come to some arrangement, with one moulding the other into a shape that wouldn’t cause me severe pain with each step. But I have to accept by now that it’s not going to happen and these shoes are a lost cause, for me at least. With the next shoes I buy I’ll definitely need to try them on first.


  9. I fell off my bike like an idiot but at least I can run again

    Posted July 23, 2019 in ephemera, running  |  2 Comments so far

    Yesterday I was cycling home. I’ve been doing a lot of cycling since a bad injury stopped me from running nearly two months ago.

    It’s been a curious experience to become faster at cycling. I ride my bike quite often but, with running out of the question, it’s only in these last couple of months that I’ve approached cycling as a primary form of exercise rather than just a way to get from A to B. Previously undeveloped muscle groups have become developed and I’ve become able to maintain speed for longer distances or while going up hills that would, in the past, have slowed me down a lot.

    Anyway all this progress was rendered meaningless yesterday when I had the very humbling experience of falling off my bike. It wasn’t a crash or anything and nobody else can be blamed for it. I was going through a gate when leaving Victoria Park but my positioning was off and one of my handlebars clipped it as I went past. The handlebars immediately turned 90 degrees to the right, the bike decelerated rapidly and I think I went flying over the front wheel.

    When I say “I think” it’s not because I was concussed or unconscious – the whole theme of this incident is closer to farce than drama – but just because it happened so quickly I don’t really remember exactly how I left my bike or how I landed. But land I did, and as I hit the ground I was already blushing with embarrassment.

    My phone (a new smartphone!) had flown out of my backpack and hit the concrete, but was completely unscathed. I had a cut on my hand on on my knee but nothing too serious. The bike was OK, just a bit flustered. I looked around; did anyone see?? Thankfully not. I stood up and dusted myself down, while a few other people came past, and soon rode off after them. This was probably the first time I’ve fallen off a bike since I was a child and it didn’t hurt that much but was a very humbling experience nonetheless.

    In other news, I was finally able this morning to go for a short run. This is the first time I’ve ran (away from a treadmill) since my inexcusable jaunt in Cornwall in late May wrecked my lower back. The many small rituals of running – where to put keys, how to warm up, what kind of speed to go initially, what to do with the GPS watch to get it to show the right information – didn’t flow instinctually in the way they do when I’m running regularly, so I had to make an effort to remember what to do. But it was a great feeling to be running again, even if it was for only 1.8 miles on fairly flat ground.


  10. 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.