Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Sheep shagging (Istanbul 5)...

Again, up at the crack of sparrows for a run. I'm not quite sure what it is that wakes me at 7:00am (especially when on holiday) but I'm kind of glad that I do get up so early. Istanbul is quite peaceful at this time; a few people on their way to work, virtually no traffic apart from the trams and a horde of litter pickers cleaning up after last night's Eid festivities.

Then, after breakfast, came the 3hr Topkapi Palace and Museum marathon of being bullied by Japanese and American matriarchs. It's a gruelling experience in 30C, however, I have to say that despite everything, it is well worth it, especially if you like decorative ceramics and marble - and luckily I do. Some of the tiles are so intricate in design, you can only wonder, aghast at the craftsmanship involved.

There are courtyards within courtyards at Topkapi and more pavilions than you could shake a scimitar at. I saw most of the rooms and pavilions but declined to queue for the Treasure Room; the queue was that long I would have passed out from sunstroke long before I'd've reached my goal. Instead, I decided to press on. Get to the end of the Topkapi complex and you're rewarded with some fabulous views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn - Kodak moments galore!

By tram to Kabatas and then funicular railway to Taksim Square, I was soon mingling with the 25 million population of Istanbul who had turned out this afternoon en masse to perambulate down Istiklal Caddesi. Seeking shade from the unrelenting sun and a bit of respite from the gangs of pubescent Turkish youth, I dived off down one of the side streets; lined as they are with cafés, restaurants, bars, fishmongers and all manner of other trades.

I stopped at a bar and had a cup of tea (I have some will power) and got chatting to the waiter. One thing that was instantly noticeable about him was his looks: that soft, dark Turkish coffee colouring that is so typical. And his eyes: slate blue. Dear God, I now know what the Devil gets up to on his days off. He told me that friends of his who live in the UK tell him that it is very wet there. No surprises then...!

Further down this street there were a number of restaurants; crisp white tableclothed settings outside. As is the way with many of these establishments, the Maître D (if that is not too grand a term) stands outside trying to attract your attention. Some are quite subtle, others quite blunt and irritating and occasionally you run into the silver-tongued, witty variety.

"Where are you from?" he asked, blocking my way. Here we go, I thought. "I'm from the UK" I said, adding hopefully "Wales...?" and expecting that puzzled look of someone who's just been whispered the name of an obscure tribe in The Congo. "Ahhhh, Wales... Cardiff?" came the reply. I grinned and nodded. "Iechyd da!" he said (Welsh for Good health!). I started laughing. He grabbed my hand, shook it and continued, "Shwd wyt ti?" (Welsh for How are you?). We were both laughing by now. He told me his name was Alexander and that he once had a girlfriend from Swansea. I explained that I wasn't looking for food just yet but perhaps later in the evening. "OK. Promise?" he said. "Promise" I returned. I walked away, still laughing when he shouted after me, "Sheep shagger!" He, I and the other waiters within earshot all burst out laughing.

Because of that, I may just return...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Bloody tourists (Istanbul 4)...

I was out of the hotel and running by 7:15am this morning. Between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia I passed a couple of hundred demonstrators sat on the ground: lots of flags and chanting. There was a sizeable police presence and, bored silly, they watched me through their riot shields as I jogged past. I think the demo was something to coincide with the end of Ramadan, which takes place today. Possibly it's connected to yesterday's demo by Kurdish women in Istanbul - or quite possibly it's connected to both.

Following breakfast I got a tram to the other side of the Galata Bridge. From here I scaled the hill to the Galata Tower. I would have got the Tünel funicular tram but I couldn't find it. The Galata Tower is just a medieval stone tower, really. However, sitting on its hill and at 61m high, it offers some wonderful views of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, Eminönü, Sultanahmet and the Sea of Marmara beyond. If you squeeze past the other tourists on the narrow ledge at the top, you might be lucky enough to get a few snaps to bore people with back home.

Next I walked up the pedestrianised drag, Istiklal Caddesi, to Taksim Square. After a quick coffee I made my way (via the funicular tram) to Kabatas and then joined an hour and a half cruise of the Bosphorus up to the Fatih Bridge and back. There are some glorious sites to be seen on the Bosphorus, for sure. The shores on both sides are bejeweled with some seriously expensive waterside properties. There's not one I couldn't imagine a Bond villain living in.

A tram up to Sultanahmet, and then I joined the queue for the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia dwarfs both the Blue Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque. For over 1000 years it was the largest man made enclosed space anywhere in the world. With it's marbled walls and floors, its different levels and balconies, its two supporting half domes, all crowned by its magnificent central dome, it is a jaw droppingly impressive experience.

The one detraction, as with all popular tourist sites, are the hundreds of other tourists there all thinking exactly the same thing as me. Hordes of people from every possible country stumbling about in bog-eyed, slack-jawed wonder.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Marble domes and delicious torture (Istanbul 3)...

This morning's run was hard going. I woke at 7:00am and was out of the hotel and running through Sultanahmet by 7:30am. Once again, Gülhane Park was virtually deserted, although there were a few more people than yesterday when I ran through today. It was still pretty deserted by most people's standards and, consequently, such a peaceful part of the run.

After running the length of the park and back, rather than retrace my steps and carry on up the slope to the front of the Hagia Sofia, when exiting the park I turned left up the much steeper incline toward the entrance of Topkapi Palace. What a climb; by the time I rounded the corner at Topkapi I was rasping for breath. Because of the high humidity in Istanbul, you start to sweat just standing still. By now it was dripping off my nose and my eyes were stinging because of it. I was bathed in it by the time I arrived back at the hotel via the Roman Hippodrome at 8:00am.

After breakfast, it was looking a little overcast and so it seemed the perfect day to pull on my jeans rather than shorts and visit the Blue Mosque. With its stained glass windows and tiling, it's pretty big stuff. The thing that most amazes me about this place, however, is the volume it encloses. The dome is cavernous and it's square footage must be the size of two football pitches.  Even more staggering is that it's all carpeted - me, I'd have gone for laminate flooring.

Given that it was still a little overcast, I thought I'd nip over to the Süleymaniye Mosque (still wearing my jeans). I decided to take a shortcut down the side of the Grand Bazaar. What should have been a 10 minute stroll turned into a 45 minute hike when I got lost in this retail labyrinth. Eventually I found the mosque and again, I was totally bowled over by it's size and stripy pink marbled beauty.

After a fleeting return to the hotel to change into my shorts and to apply some factor 15, I visited the Roman Basilica Cistern. There are two things that struck me about this place: that such a huge structure is lurking just a couple of metres  beneath our feet and also the size of the fish that live in the waters there (huge - Robert Benchley could write a best seller about it).

Tired and a little sweaty, I made my way to the Cağaloğlu Hamam and ordered the full massage and scrub (Michael Palin ordered much the same from this Hamam in his Around the World... series for the BBC). After a short while, a rather ordinary Turkish guy arrived and told me where to get changed. Once changed into the sari like wrap and wearing the wooden soled shoes provided, he directed me to a corner of the main marble walled and domed room. Here was a room where I sweated for 20 minutes, afterwhich he returned (now wearing his sari wrap) to collect me for my massage.

O.M.G. This massage was wonderful! Balanced precariously on that fine line between pain and pleasure, I was manipulated by a burly Turk on a marble slab for 30 ecstatic minutes. After this he left me sitting next to a large marble basin for 15 minutes in the main marble domed room. Some English guys sat opposite playfully splashing each other with water. After my massage all I could do was pant, my eyes rolled back in my head. Next he returned with some shampoo and his scrub mitten. For another 30 minutes I was now scraped and defoliated to the depth of a chemical peel before being left to relax, virtually flayed by this torturing Turk.

There wasn't one part of my body that wasn't bent, folded, twisted, kneaded and manipulated into some unnatural position and then flayed. Were he working in the UK, he'd have to regularly sign a register at the local police station.

Not cheap but boy was it good!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A little too highbrow (Istanbul 2)...

I woke at about 7am this morning and went for a run, across Sultanahmet and down through Gülhane Park. The park was  empty; just one man doing some yoga type stretches and I soon scared him off with my shorts. I seemed to be the only person in there apart from the security guards at the entrances.

I'd expected to find the biggest incline in the park but, in fact, it's quite level; the steepest incline is in the approach to park. There's one street that runs from the park entrance behind the Hagia Sofia to the Topkapi Palace that would present a mountain goat with a few challenges.

After an enjoyable breakfast, made even more so by the views across the city, I walked down through Sultanahmet and went on a sightseeing trip around the city. With my headphones plugged in, I suffered an hour and a half of an American tour guide drawl his way through Istanbul, whilst I took a series of blurred photos from the top deck of the speeding bus. Still, it served it's purpose in giving me a feel for the city and some ideas about what I want to see again.

After this I visited the Archeological Museum, the entrance of which lies inside Gülhane Park. Once past the armed guards and ticket office, this place scores ten out of ten for it's peace and tranquility but is rather dry and bland in it's presentation of antiquities. However, if staring at ancient sarcophagi does it for you, then this place is heaven.

A pleasant stroll to the bottom of Gülhane Park followed by a sharp left and I eventually arrived at the ferry terminal, just short of the Galata Bridge. One of the ferries from here takes you across the Bosphorus to Kadiköy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and the nearby Haydarpaşa Station.

Kadiköy itself holds little interest, despite trying so hard to do the contrary. Haydarpaşa, however, looks majestic and glorious. Jutting out into the Bosphorus, you get the best views of this station from the ferry. Built by the Germans in 1908 as part of Germany's plans for a Berlin to Bagdad railway. The First World War ensured that history took another course.

Disembarking at the ferry terminal at the Galata Bridge, I decided to have a look at the nearby Spice Bazaar. The colours are a feast the eye and the smells a banquet for the nose. You can buy all sorts of stuff here, not just spices. I found a shop selling traditional fabrics and bought a cotton scarf for the bargain price of 5TL (about £2). No, I didn't haggle because it seemed such a fair price anyway.

To counter this highbrow culture, tonight I will try and find a gay bar and some beautiful Turkish men to entertain me.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Istanbul 1...

So, after an exhausting overnight bus journey to Heathrow and an early morning flight to Istanbul, I eventually got here about 1ish, such are the efficiencies of their public transport system that an hour later and I was checking in to my hotel.

I traced my jogging route to check that it is what I was expecting. It is but possibly a bit more busy than expected. And my God, the hills... Istanbul is supposedly built on 7 hills, like it's predecessor, Rome. It certainly feels like it. I think I just climbed every one of them.

After this physical tracing of my route for tomorrow's run, I found myself lost in a myriad of streets quite close to Sultanahmet. The area, I later found out, is Kumkapi and it's quite working class in feel with locals sitting out on their front step to sell their stuff. There's nothing like getting totally lost to help you find your way around.

After finding out where I was again, I made my way back to the hotel and managed to grab a good seat on their rooftop terrace. From here you have a wonderful panorama of the city; it's towers, domes and minarets.

First impressions of Istanbul are: it's certainly a melting pot. You have so many differe nt types living here cheek by jowl - Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, young and old, Asian and European. But whatever the differences, it feels really friendly and safe.

Friday, 26 August 2011

See you next Tuesday...

Anyone who writes regularly will tell you that some days are better than others. Some days it just flows, like a torrential Victoria Falls of wise and witty words; other days it just dries up, like a river Mara of stymied sentences that trickles through the Serengeti in the dry season.

I've had quite a busy day today doing this and that in preparation for my holiday; what with packing and running around doing those chores you have to nail before jetting off - I haven't stopped. And throughout today I've been wondering what on earth I could write about for this post. In fact, I spent the best part of my midday run trying to figure that out... but to no avail. And then, like a bolt from the blue, there it was - that big grinning animal over there that looks suspiciously like a gift horse.

One of my tasks today was to take my bike to Halfords to get it serviced. I was also going to ask them to fit some new mudguards, if they had them in stock. I rang to book the service earlier this week. The earliest slot was this coming Tuesday. I explained that I would be away for a week and asked could I drop the bike off on Friday (today) and pick it up after I get back. No probelm was the answer but could I drop it off in the afternoon because they don't have much space.

I cleaned the flat this morning then went to get my hair cut about lunchtime. After this I went for the above mentioned run and then stood around whilst a gas engineer fiddled with my boiler (not a euphemism). By the time I left for Halfords, it was after 2:30pm and emptying down. It crossed my mind not to go but no, I'd made a booking and it's only fair that I should honour that. So through a penny sized raindrop downpour, I aqua-planed the 5km or so to Halfords.

Now, the more astute of you will have guessed where this is going. When I arrived at Halfords (with the grace and elegance and squelch of Godzilla rising from the depths in Tokyo harbour) the duty manager told me, because storage is at a premium, they cannot accept bikes in advance of the booking and I would have to call back next Tuesday. I explained that I would be on holiday and that I'd already cleared all this with an assistant over the phone earlier in the week. He said that the assistant in question was experienced and would never have agreed to something like that.

It really does leave you with nowhere to go, doesn't it, when they say things like that?

I almost replied with See You Next Tuesday but I didn't because, despite the satisfaction it would give me, I would have lost and also because I won't see him next Tuesday. Instead, I told him that I would take my custom elswhere and not return to Halfords. I shall instead book it in for a service when I get back with Reg Braddick, an independent bike specialist.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


Today was my last day in work until September 12th. I now have two weeks and one day off and I'm so excited about it that I won't be able to enjoy the lie-ins that I'm now allowed! So, what am I going to do with all that time...?

I have a bit of running around to do initially; things that I've put off recently such a visit to the doctor, dentist, barber etc... I need to get my bike serviced and I have a routine appointment booked at the diabetic clinic to ensure that it is fit to ride and I'm fit to ride it. I haven't forgotten that if it all becomes a bit much, I have the very tempting option of lying down very still in a darkened room - something that I've spent many a day recently aching for. And, of course, I have a week's holiday booked in Istanbul.

Istanbul has always been on my list of places to see; it's a city with a history stretching back at least 2,500 years. Colonized by Greek settlers in 685 BC, it came under Roman control in 196 AD and Roman Capital in 330 AD. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD it became capital of the Byzantine Empire and, following a 53 day seige by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, it became a capital of the Ottoman Empire. Straddling the Bosphorus, it's the only city in the world to span two continents. Stripped of it's capital status in 1923 it still holds a fascination over Turkey and the rest of the world.

This is my sightseeing list so far:
  • Sultanahmet Square
  • Roman Hippodrome
  • Column of Constantine
  • Gülhane Park
  • Archaeology Museum
  • Istanbul Modern Art Museum
  • Topkapi Palace
  • Blue Mosque
  • Kariye Museum
  • Hagia Sofia
  • Basilica Sistern
  • Cağaloğlu Turkish Baths
  • Haydarpasa Railway Station
  • Galata Bridge
  • Galata Tower
  • Dolmabahçe Palace
  • Bosphorus Cruise
  • Theodosian Walls
  • Grand Bazaar
  • Suleymaniye Mosque
I'm sure that there'll be plenty of time to sit down over a coffee or beer and watch the world go by too, as well as taking time out for my daily run. If anyone has any suggestions for other things I should see whilst I'm there, drop me a line.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What year, I don't know...?

As I run tonight, I'm assembling various lists in preparation for my week in Istanbul: the holiday list, the pre-holiday list, the sightseeing list, ad infinitum... I'm nothing without a list!

Time was, I used to juggle numerous lists in my head with no need to jot anything down; nowadays I can barely remember my own name. The lists I was running through are checklists I keep on my phone and iPad which I physically have to tick off when each item is completed. That way I stand a chance of getting through the day. A terrible thing, age...

So, I'm running through my lists in preparation for when I get home so that I can tick items off (or in the case of my sightseeing list, add items), when suddenly I remember that Check if Passport is Valid is not on the list - neither holiday list nor pre-holiday list. Oh no, how did I miss that one? Furthermore, I can't remember exactly when I last renewed my passport.

My breathing gets heavier and I've started to sweat. I keep on running, despite every fibre in my body screaming at me that I should turn around and run back home to check my passport. I can remember that it was at the end of summer or early autumn but what year, I don't know? I remember taking the passport photo myself but again, what year, I don't know?

My pace has now quickened in my haste to get home. What I'd be able to do tonight if I did find out that it was invalid is anybody's guess but there is now a sense of urgency in my stride. All I can see is my passport photo but when was it taken? The rest of the run passes in a blur of emotion centred on the growing belief that I will not be able to travel and I'll have to spend my holiday moping about Cardiff - there's a mosque in Butetown and many saunas have steamrooms and I'd certainly have no problem buying a kebab but Cardiff's no comparison.

Unlocking my front door I tear in and go directly to where I keep my passport. Flicking to the penultimate page I read, "Date of issue: 2nd October 2003. Date of expiry: 2nd October 2013".

Phew! And I think I must have completed my run in record time.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Every breath you take...

He had the perfect swimmer's body. He stood at the edge of the pool towering above me, as I clung to the side adjusting my goggles below him. He jumped into my lane and swam the entire 25m length without surfacing for air. I was impressed. He turned and did exactly the same on the way back. I was doubly impressed. I passed him doing my Steamboat Willy impersonation and, try as I might, I couldn't see his blowhole.

When I swim I don't seem to be able to hold my breathe for very long at all. As I thrash swim up and down the pool, I find I need to breathe every other stroke: when my right arm lifts and arches ready to break the surface, I turn my head and snatch a breath. I find bilateral breathing very difficult - where you alternate the side, breathing every 3rd stroke.

I continued to chug up and down the lane whilst the beautiful Mr Blowhole glided through the water without, apparently, the need for oxygene. It seems I'll never get to play Mrs Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure.

Monday, 22 August 2011


To those of you that arrived here via the link in my tweet; well done! I salute your bravery, given that my twitter account was compromised last night and, while I slept, it decided to spam everyone with wonderous money making and dietry claims. I'd understand completely were you now a little sceptical regarding the clicking of any link I recommended.

On my run tonight I got to thinking why I didn't spot the tweet as spam. Why did I click on the link in the message? When I actually realised what had happened, I felt really foolish and more than a little embarrassed. Of course, there was no need to feel foolish or embarrassed; all I'd done was let down my guard momentarily. As I pounded around the bay tonight, I began to feel a little more relaxed about it.

I have a natural (and healthy) scepticism that usually keeps me safe. Had I received the spam that read "Did you hear about how i make money from home part-time? u should give it a shot here http://etcetc" or "Want to lose weight fast? Then you gotta see this http://etcetc", I wouldn't have been duped. Much of the spam that gets sent is an inappropriate match for its intended audience and it fails. However, every so often it works; the reason being of course that the recipient thinks it's genuine.

The one that got me last night was from a friend at work and, in my head, I can hear him now saying it, ROFL this pic i found of you had me dying lol http://etcetc. It was only after clicking on the link several times that it started to dawn on me what I'd done. By then, of course, it was too late.

If you find that your Twitter account has been compromised, you can find out what you should do in their help section. In short:
  • Change your password
  • Revoke connections
  • Update your new password in your trusted third-party applications

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Retail therapy...

I went shopping at Asda this morning. The service was a bit shoddy and the assistant a bit patronising (in his determination to give me the right answer he neglected to listen to my question). I left the shop feeling a little frustrated. Well... quite a lot frustrated!

Later, I visited Zara to return some t-shirts I'd bought online and the process for trying to get an exchange was impossible; apparently (so I was informed), Zara online and Zara in the Hight Street are two completely different and seperate companies (I pointed out that this was despite having identical stock, pricing structure and logo). Again, it would be an understatement to give the impression that I left the shop a little unhappy.

I thought about these two incidents, with their Alice-In-Wonderland logic whilst swimming today, comparing them with a completely different experience I'd had at the Apple Store. Now, I don't need an iPad; I don't need another computer but I visited the Apple Store during my lunch hour late last week and somehow managed to leave clutching a shiny new iPad.

As I completed my lengths of the pool today (somehow, really hard going), I played back the conversation between the Apple Store assistant and I; it was natural and easy, the sales process was smooth and quick and the entire interaction reflected the Apple branding exactly.

It was a delight from beginning to end; an expensive delight but a delight nonetheless.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Papering the house...

Giving tickets away to fill a theatre is often referred to as papering the house. It's a ploy often used on press nights because there's a much better atmosphere from a full house than from one that is half empty.

At lunchtime today I went for a quick run around the bay, followed by a speedy scarper into town with my friend Jaime to see the Wales v Argentina match. It was more like watching a training session than an international rugby fixture; very restrained but entertaIning none the less and, to be honest, half the enjoyement is to be had from being there at the stadium soaking up the atmosphere.

Jaime and I remarked on how empty it was there. I can't help thinking, wouldn't it be better if they gave away tickets to under subscribed matches (such as today's) at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff rather than leave the place half empty? I really don't understand why they can't distribute some freebies to fill the place? Or am I missing something...?

Friday, 19 August 2011

Historic Runs...

When I visited Rome a couple of years ago my early morning run took me through Parco di Traiano and around the Colosseum, in Lisbon I manage a few circuits of Parque Eduardo VII and in Madrid last year I scampered through Parque del Oeste every morning. A run through a foreign city helps ground me in that city's culture.

And now, I think I've finally worked out what my running route in Istanbul will look like. I mentioned in a an earlier post that you can never be too sure the route is going to work until you actually get there in person. Planning a run in a strange city via Google Earth is fraught with danger. I still have some uncertainty about this route; I know that parts of this run are up and down hills (how steep, I don't yet know) and I know that this route will be dependent on access to certain areas, such as Gülhane Park, first thing in the morning.

This 4km route takes me through one of the most historic areas of Istanbul; through Sultanahmet Square, past the Hagia Sofia, the length of Gülhane Park and back, around the other side of the Hagia Sofia, past the Blue Mosque, around the Roman Hippodrome and the around the back of the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Click on the map for a closer view.

Plan B is a few circuits of the Roman Hippodrome!

Thursday, 18 August 2011


Earlier in the week I was contacted online by someone I last saw 16 years ago. I didn't recognise him from the photo at first but slowly the penny began to drop. It's such a strange feeling when you get that first inkling that you might know someone; you search your mind for memories of them and you compare those with the image of them now before you.

All this reaching back to the mid 90s has generated a nostalgic sequence of thoughts; thoughts that accompanied me on my run tonight. Consequently, my run seemed to flash by in no time. The year I last saw him would have been 1996 and I would have been 33. It was the year that the Charles and Diana decided to get divorced, Yeltsin was re-elected as Russian President, the IRA bombed Manchester, Dolly the sheep was born and the Spice Girls released Wannabe.

I originally met this guy through my work at the time and then got to know him a little better socially as well. I had a huge crush on him and would get totally tongue-tied whenever we met. Seeing his photo online brought all this rushing back. I am almost blushing just thinking about it.

As I ran tonight all this was going through my mind. The main reason being that I need to respond to a message about potentially meeting up when I return from my holiday. The message needs to match his tone, not be too forward and not drag it's heels too much either. It needs to be bright but relaxed; chilled but interested. I'm swamped by a hormonal rush and strangled by my inability to utter anything approaching coherence.

Despite nearly 16 years of water under the bridge, I feel as tongue-tied now as I did then. Do you believe me when I tell you that my crush for him is long forgotten and such feelings couldn't be further from my mind? It's Oh So Quiet, released in 1996 by Björk, seems to sum things up.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

On the turn...

I believe I can swim reasonably well; I won't win any prizes for it but I can propel myself through the water doing front crawl well enough to complete 500m or more in a reasonable time.

As a kid I lived by the sea and from an early age I was encouraged to enjoy the water. My father, a man who romanticised about the American wild west, one day threw me into the water to see if I'd survive. Evidently, I did.

Having passed that first test, aged eight, he enrolled me at the local pool for swimming lessons. An arse-backwards way of going about things but that was one of my Dad's endearing quirks. I can't say I enjoyed the lessons but they served their purpose; I learned the rudimentaries of front crawl, back stroke, breast stroke and even butterfly. I'm no expert but I understand the basics.

However, the one thing I am totally flummoxed by is turning. I have no understanding of how to do this and no memory of ever being taught how to do it. Consequently, my turns are not the most elegant, efficient or speedy of manoeuvres.

Tonight I got to the pool later than usual and it was fairly quiet. I seized the opportunity and I attempted a few flip turns. This resulted in a lot of coughing and spluttering, much disorientation and plenty of red faced embarrassment. I hope to God that no-one saw the mess I made; like a harpooned whale thrashing out its final moments.

This is how it's supposed to be done.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The ladies who lunch...

Cycling into work through the drizzle this morning, I almost ran into a group of women in Cardiff's pedestrianised Hayes. A combination of damp weather, me rushing because I thought I was going to be late and a momentary lapse of attention resulted in a near accident.

To be honest, their age and girth along with their big buckled handbags would probably have resulted in me coming off worse than they. "Watch yourself love", one of them shouted. There must have been five or six in the group; all in their early 60s and done up to the nines. They all laughed and I apologised and then prepared to cycle on when one shouted after me, "Do you fancy being my toy-boy on my birthday?" I mumbled something about it being a tempting offer and hastily cycled on. They all laughed.

What could have turned out as an unpleasant encounter, thanks to a group of middle-aged women out for a bit of shopping and a birthday lunch, instead became one of those inspirational moments that makes your day and restores your faith in humanity. So, here's to the ladies who lunch...

Monday, 15 August 2011

Following through...

Tonight's run was very windy; and I'm not talking about the weather. As I jogged along this evening with every step I took I could feel an increasing pressure building in my lower abdomen. I'm sure that many runners will have faced the same thing, where the repeated bounce involved in running causes flatulence (there, I've said it). It's not the best of feelings but is quickly dealt with, although care must be taken not to follow through. This is easier said than done and, what was intended as a quick release of methane, can soon pass the point of no return and turn into a very sticky situation indeed.

This reminds me of a conversation in work today. Someone read out the lonely hearts column in the Metro and one of the ads was from Richie in Hastings who labelled himself as AB/DL. No-one had any idea what this meant. Some of the team hazarded guesses but after Googling it I was pleased to announce that it meant Adult Baby / Diaper Lover. There were a few puzzled looks, a couple of penny-just-dropped looks and the odd look of disgust. My look was puzzlement; puzzlement at why he chose to advertise in the Metro rather than in a more specialist publication.

Whilst the wearing of a diaper or nappy would undoubtedly be of use to any runner who thinks they may follow through mid run, they are not the most practical of items to wear on a marathon - and the chafing must me terrible. Of course, Paula Radcliffe paid a dear price when she had her mid race mishap in the 2005 London Marathon with a bad case of runner's trots. I bet she had to boil wash those shorts afterwards.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Camp as tits...

Considering I didn't go to bed until nearly 1am, it came as a complete shock to find myself wide awake at 6am this morning. I lay there for a while just blinking with that look of "Where am I?" writ large across my face. I rolled around for a while trying to get comfortable but failed. Losing patience with myself, I eventually got up. In a big stomp-around fairy huff!

Bored, I cycled over to the pool for a swim at 8am. The International Pool was open at its full 50m and, as I could've predicted for that time of the morning, it was mega busy. I shared a lane with some guy who looked as if he was training for the Olympics in 2012. He'd brought all his accoutrement with him: water bottle, flippers, kickboard, pullbuoy and stopwatch. I felt intimidated before I got in. I would have perved at his body a little more had he not sped past me each time like a hydrofoil passing a pedalo.

One cycle ride home, two cups of strong coffee and a bowl of porridge made with nutmeg later and I was ready to begin the day. I spent an hour or two looking at Istanbul related content on the Internet, in preparation for my upcoming holiday there. I'm compiling a list of things I want to see and do, so if anyone's been and wants to give me some suggestions of things not to miss, I'd be very grateful. And I'm not sure what to pack because of certain mores around dress codes they have (especially when entering a mosque). I won't be packing the hotpants and rollerblades, then...

I chatted with my friend, Alan, on Skype who was loving the jeans I'd helped him choose yesterday (I'm still not convinced of my part as his style guru). It seems that last night he and a few mates saw the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford classic, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? This is one of my favorite films; both stylish and gauche at the same time. It's great to see that it's still providing enjoyment to new audiences. I'll leave you with this performance from Bette Davis on the Andy Williams show in 1962 promoting Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? She can't sing in time or tune but she's still one of the greatest divas to walk the face of this earth. Camp as tits...!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

Mirrors are interesting. I mean, I don't think mirrors in themselves are interesting; I mean, the way we use mirrors is interesting. There are those who could spend the rest of their lives gazing at themselves and there are those who avoid them at all costs. I have a full length mirror at the end of my hall which does a very good job of startling me when my doppelgänger passes it in his parallel universe.

There are a series of mirrors that run the length of one wall at Cardiff International Pool changing area. Under each mirror is a shelf; to rest your bag on, to place your child on, to eat your snacks on, to lean on and gossip and (judging by the flecks and smudges of mascara now ingrained in its surface) to place your make-up on.

When you make your way to the International Pool after changing into your swimwear (as I did this morning), you are confronted with this wall of mirrors. I always notice because each mirror is warped slightly to make the subject seem thinner than they are. I don't need help here and hate that view I get of a pinched and emaciated image of myself. Perhaps they want everyone to take confidence from the new svelt self glimpsed in the mirrors and to enjoy the facilities even more (if such a level of enjoyment were humanly possible).

During my swim this morning I began to think about how we use mirrors. I began to ponder on the increase in mirror photography since cameras were added to mobile phones. Look on the internet and it won't be too long before you find a photo of someone taken by themselves in a mirror. That mirror shot of you at the gym speaks volumes: it's a portrait snatched on the fly (although you may have spent hours on setting it up); it boasts a healthy outlook and brags of your wealth in being able to afford the astronomical gym membership and the very latest iPhone. Such are the things that swim through my mind during my swim...

In the afternoon I cycled into town to meet a friend of mine, Alan. We get on very well, despite not having known each other that long; I think this has something to do with us both sharing a very childish and really filthy sense of humour. We met today for a catch up first and then for the express purpose of clothes shopping. For some reason, Alan thinks I'm good at helping him pick out clothes. I suspect what really happens is that he waits for my approval and then buys the exact opposite.

Anyway, I have seen the inside of so many changing cubicles today, I think I may still be suffering from a temporary claustophobia. I've seen bigger coffins! And please, explain to me the point of putting a mirror in such a tiny box; you're far too close to it to see anything. All I can do is look down my torso at my legs in the trousers I'm trying on.

And in the few shops where the cubicle is large enough to grab a look in the mirror, it seems they are warped in the opposite way to those at the swimming pool. I looked as if I'd gained 30lbs. Who let that walrus in? It's not really what you want from a cubicle mirror and it can't be very good for business.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Running changed my life...

Tonight's 5km run was the first one at normal pace. I felt that I hit my mark tonight; there was a bit of bounce in my step yet it felt quite relaxed. It's odd how a hip twinge can throw you like this. It's taken nearly 4 weeks to get back to normal since I first realised something wasn't quite right. Maybe I'm too much of a wuss but I really did not want to have to spend weeks having physio and being unable to run.

It never ceases to amaze me how running has become so central to me and who I am. Time was when I would sooner walk barefoot over hot coals (I've since done that) than pull on a pair of shorts and go for a run. It just wasn't me...! And with childhood memories of Tuesday morning schools cross country runs in the rain still gnawing at my medulla, I was in no hurry to give it another go.

I started running when I was in my mid forties; scared by a story a of a heart attack a younger friend of mine had suffered. On hearing his story, I'd rushed out and panic bought a pair of running shorts, a vest and a cheap pair of trainers. The first run was bloody awful and so was the second. My legs were weak my rib cage felt at bursting point and my heart was in my mouth. I'm not quite sure why I continued beyond this point but I'm so pleased now that I did.

Something happened on that third run. Yes, it was bloody awful like the two runs prior to it but something changed: I got a high and I was hooked. From that day on, I used to get so excited about my running days and I must have bored everyone silly in work with tales of my successes (I probably still do). I started to notice a change in me and not just a physical change. Yes, I started to shed a few pounds and that was welcome but, also, I'd noticed a psychological change. I was a happier person, I was able to deal with stress a lot better and I felt more in tune with things.

My behaviour also changed, I started to eat a better diet and I cut down on the amount I was drinking. Rather than start the weekend in a bar on Friday night straight after work, I'd rush home and go for a run. What's the point in all that running if you're gonna undo any good you've gained? I began to arrange my life around my running, which all sounds a bit excessive but I promise you it's not. It's no hardship because my reward is the buzz I get from running and that is instant.

For me the advantages of running are manifold and they span physical, mental and emotional benefits. It's not an understatement when I tell you, "Running changed my life."

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Istanbul (not Constantinople)...

I've been trying for the last week to book a holiday because I've got some time off work coming up soon. But try as I might, by the time I go for a run or a swim, make myself something to eat, get distracted with writing this blog and blah, blah, blah... Before I know it, midnight is upon me and I'm too punch drunk stupid to complete the task.

So, tonight I have not been for a run or a swim, I bought sandwiches on the way home so that I didn't have to faff around making food and I have forced myself to jump through the virtual hoops of every online flight and hotel booking service you care to mention.

I'd originally set my sights on Barcelona: I've never been and everyone tells me that I should. But then got distracted by Berlin earlier in the week; why, I'm not altogether sure. Having thought it over and rationalised it, I fixed my sites once more on Barcelona and then tonight, by way of a brief sojourn in Budapest, I booked a week in Istanbul.

Part of the problem I have with booking hotels is that I like them to be near a park so that I can run every morning. It's sad, I know but yes, I run even when I'm on holiday. I feel I get to know the place better if I run through it. And finding somewhere suitable to do that in a city you've never been to is no easy task. Google Maps helps and Street View is a godsend but these tools are not infallible.

When I went to Lisbon a couple of years ago, I found a hotel near Parque Eduardo VII. I checked it on Google Maps and it seemed ideal. It was only when I set foot out of my hotel that first morning that I realised you need to have the constitution of a mountain goat because of all the hills that Lisbon covers. And let me tell you, Parque Eduardo VII is on an incline so steep that even Bear Grylls would have problems scaling it. In Istanbul I'm staying in a an area near to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia and (importantly) it doesn't seem to have too much of an incline.

And so exhausted and befuddled by the myriad of flights and hotels I've searched tonight, I'm off to bed with a smile on my face and Istanbul (not Constantinople) going round and round in my head.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The blinders of fear...

Another 5km trouble free run in the bag. No twinge, no stiffness, no problems whatsoever, except... Except, it wasn't that trouble free; throughout tonight's run I kept thinking about the rioting and looting that has taken place over the last four nights. In my mind, I could hear the arrogant justifications and see the ugly behaviour. As I ran I kept replaying in my mind some of the images of these rioters, muggers and looters:
Injured boy mugged during disturbances in London
I'll keep doing this every day until I get caught.
Showing the rich we do what we want
I felt thoroughly depressed by it all and almost slowed to a walk for the last leg of my run. I guess I'm someone who believes that the majority of people are good, that the majority of people will help their neighbour and that the majority of people are altruistic. Continuing to have faith in that belief has certainly been tested by the events of the last few days. I feel as if my faith in humanity has been kicked out of me. They leave an ache in the lower abdomen; the type you get only from a kick in the bollocks. It's hard to keep running after a kick down there.

The attitude and behaviour I've seen in reports such as those above and others over the last few days has been nauseous. The phrases these people peddle are soundbites, borne of ignorance and shoe-horned in to their arguments to shore up their ugly and flimsy defences. Repeat them often enough and you forget any meaning they may once have held; they are now reshaped and thrust forward as weapons. This I find frightening, depressing and hopeless.

I finished tonight's run feeling deflated and exhausted, not from the run on a physical level but on an emotional one. I've mentioned before how linked the physical and emotional are when you run. Tonight's run was a run framed by bleak despair.

And then, just when you think things couldn't get better, you stumble on something which swells your faith in humanity and fills you with hope once more. Tariq Jahan, father of 21 year old Haroon, one of the three Asian men who died as a result of a hit and run attack on them in Birmingham last night, took time to speak about his son. "Today, we stand here to call to all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stay united," he said. "I have lost my son - if you want to lose yours step forward, otherwise calm down and go home." Here he is, just hours after his son's death:
I miss him; I miss him deeply
"Hope removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture" Barbara L. Fredrickson

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

No news is good news...

I've heard that there once was a time, long before the start of 24 hr rolling news, when the BBC used to announce at its news bulletins, "Today, there has been no news" if nothing they deemed newsworthy had happened. The last couple of days have been far removed from that, with the situation changing before our eyes by the minute.

People living in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester have watched the news channels anxiously to find out about the rioting and looting that's been happening in their cities. Indeed, people all over the UK have watched these same news channels hoping that the name of their town or city will not be heard.

There have been rumours on twitter and from friends throughout yesterday and today about the possibility of riots in Cardiff, both last night and tonight. Despite the reports of unrest in Roath and parts of Grangetown being cordoned off last night, these have been proved to be unfounded rumours. One of the best messages I saw on Twitter today was this one from @simonhair this morning, who tweeted,

Walked 5 miles home tonight and the closest I came to trouble was 3 guys singing Total Eclipse of the Heart. Please stay that way, Cardiff.

I cycled from the town centre to the bay this afternoon and saw no sign of any unrest; nothing but normality. I had my hair cut in the Docks tonight and my barber seemed to think that there would be no trouble in Cardiff; "Too small", he said. I cycled to the swimming pool for a swim and everything seemed very normal. Watching the tweets coming through on Twitter; there are numerous messages about how quiet Cardiff is tonight. I look around the streets outside and everything looks peaceful. Let's hope it stays that way.

There must be thousands of people out there who would love the BBC to announce that "Today, there has been no news."

Monday, 8 August 2011

It's a sign from God...

When I started out on my run tonight, the sun was shining but before I'd even completed the first 500m it was hammering down with rain. Within minutes of that downpour I was wiping the rain off my sunglasses because the sun was ablaze again and shining in my eyes. Next thing, it's both dazzlingly sunny and raining heavily. This weather is (to say the least) a little strange and it's sometimes referred to as the Devil is beating his wife.

At least he wasn't gnawing on my hip. Tonight was my first run back at my usual 5km in about three weeks. I've not run that distance since I hurt my hip running around the barrage with my mate, Andy, from Bristol. My running since that time has been a leisurely 3km three times a week so it was good to get back into the old routine. Furthermore, not a twinge of the hip was felt throughout. Twinge ye not! Somebody up there likes me...

So where does such a bizarre phrase as the Devil is beating his wife as an alternative term for a sunshower come from? Well I Googled the phrase and got the usual reliable and solid Wikipedia article. The article explains a number of alternative terms for a sunshower but does not really tackle the etymology of the phrase in question. There are terms such as a monkey's wedding and a jackal's wedding to describe this weather condition along with a hyena's giving birth and witches are combing their hair. The only real consensus seems to be they all probably originated as myths that try to explain this unlikely mix of seemingly opposite weather conditions.

By far the best answer was thrown up by Yahoo Answers where sharpie08 asks,
I grew up in south ga. and i've always been told that when it's raining but also sunny outside that the devil is beating his wife. Where did this originate from?
To which the Best Answer given by red_kidney_beans is:
I think it means that God is crying. It rains when bad things are about to happen and that is a sign from God. Not always but sometimes. My pastor attended a wedding where it rained and he said "this is a bad sign" and one month later, the husband murdered the bride.
If you've recently been to a wedding where the weather wasn't tip top, you might want to pass this on...

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Ugly wallpaper and ugly lives...

I'd parked my bike up by Cardiff Central Library yesterday afternoon and gone to the King's Cross to meet a mate. When I returned, my bike was lying on its side; the front wheel having been removed, the front brakes in bits and the chain off. Nothing was stolen but it seemed that much had been broken.

On closer inspection, most of the destruction was easily fixed. It didn't take me long to get the front wheel sorted and putting the chain back on was an easy but messy job. I cycled home without my front brakes as I couldn't figure out how to fix those there and then. I felt really angry and sad at this destruction. Why would anyone want to do this to my bike?

Destruction is such a negative force. There is nothing to inspire or marvel at; there is no effort required other than the blind grunt of lashing out. You don't need to train or study or practice; anyone can do it. Whereas creation is the exact opposite and is something that requires effort and control; it is something to wonder at and to prepare for and practice at; it is something worth doing.

The news today is filled with pictures of burned out buildings and vehicles in Tottenham in North London last night. It seems a riot was sparked after 300 people protested outside a police station following the fatal shooting by police of 29 year old Mark Duggan last Thursday. I have no criticism of legitmate protest (indeed, the right to protest should be protected) but does this rioting and looting move us closer to the truth of what happened or help the grieving family and friends? No. I suspect that what happened in Tottenham last night was a destructive vent manipulated by a minority that couldn't really care about Mark Duggan, his family or his friends.

I don't think that we in the UK are very good when it comes to valuing creative forces. Art in this country is something that is often sidelined and sometimes ridiculed. I'm not quite sure how we change that. I believe that the looting and destruction in Tottenham last night and the vandelism of my bike yesterday afternoon are both related to our poor appreciation of art. By appreciation of art I'm not talking about an appreciation of the finer things in life in a pompous bettering ourselves sort of way. No, I simply mean an understanding of the effort and care required to create something. How much more powerful would yesterday's protest have been had it ended in the creation of something rather than the destruction of so much? There is still time.

Oscar Wilde was a leading figure in the Aesthetic movement of the late 19th Century. On a lecture tour of the US, he was asked why he thought American society was so violent, to which he replied, "because your wallpaper is so ugly". Many people think that he was being very frivolous and trivial; indeed, very Wildean. In fact, his response was a serious and considered remark to be taken at face value. As the erudite Stephen Fry explains in a podcast from 2008: Oscar Wilde believed that if you surround yourself and fill your life with uninspiring, cheap and ugly things then your outlook and values will be uninspiring, cheap and ugly.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Coming to my senses...

So, there I am, swimming up and down my lane at the pool today and suddenly, I become aware that I have passed a female swimmer in the lane next to mine. I am jolted out of my zoned out state of mind and into reality by it. How did I know that the swimmer was female? No, this is not one of those lateral thinking puzzles but, undoubtedly, it has the potential to form part of one. The reason I knew that it was a female swimmer that passed me is because I could taste her; I could taste her perfume in the water.

Our senses of taste and smell (apparently they're related) change over time and sometimes as a symptom of certain medical conditions. For those of you wishing to dig deeper, this article on disorders of taste and smell seems to cover it quite comprehensively. For example, as we enter old age we can sometimes lose the keenness of our taste and smell; it's why old people often lose their appetite. At the other end of the spectrum, it seems that we are pre-programmed as children to like sweet tasting, safe, foods such as ripe berries rather than the potentially dangerous, bitter tasting foods such as poisonous berries. Most of us go on to develop an adult palette as we move out of childhood; we develop a liking for more bitter tasting foods and drinks.

I've noticed that my sense of smell has changed quite recently. I've developed a heightened sensitivity to perfumes, aftershaves and deodorants. It's what alerted me instantly to the female swimmer in the lane next to me. Not only has my sense of smell (and taste) become more sensitive, my perception of the sweet smells I once sensed has transmuted into something different. Many perfumes now seem to me to have a sharp and acrid edge, not dissimilar to the sweat they are trying to disguise. And I smell them wherever I go. I was walking down the street yesterday and I must have fallen into the slipstream of a good looking guy in front. All I could smell was a heavy, bitter, sweaty smell with notes of Gucci Pour Homme in there somewhere. I've no doubt that to anyone else he would have smelled as sweet as... well... as sweet as a sweet looking guy wearing Gucci Pour Homme.

So why has my sense of smell changed so markedly in the last couple of weeks? Quite honestly, I have no idea, however, I am reminded that George Gershwin died aged 38 of a brain tumour in 1937 and one of the symptoms he noted was the impression of smelling burning rubber wherever he went. I trust that the recent change I've noticed is an olfactory blip rather than a symptom of something more serious. In the meantime, I'll hope that people going for a swim at Cardiff International Pool have a shower before they get in; that's why they have poolside showers and I'll point you toward this beautiful performance of Gershwin's The Man I Love, as a tribute to the genius that he was.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Having your cake and eating it...

My run tonight was another heavy footed and affair. For some reason my heart wasn't in it; it became something to be endured rather than something to be enjoyed. Try as I might tonight, I just couldn't drum up much enthusiasm for it. I dawdled my way around; a bit fey and pathetic.

The mental and the physical are inextricably linked and influence each other hugely. I'm aware of this and I've touched on the subject here before. I'm facinated by the power of belief and how it can change your outlook completely. I'm an atheist; I believe there is no God - moving mysteriously or otherwise. However, I am always intrigued by the way belief can sometimes alter the physical, for example, how belief can diminish pain or increase strength.

It seems that, were I a Dutchman, I could be devoutly Christian without having to denounce my atheism. I could become a pastor in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and continue to believe that when I die it is the end. I could preach every Sunday and believe that there is no God and that the Baby Jesus just never happened. Such is the latest stance taken by this Dutch protestant church.

This rethink on Christianity reported by the BBC states that the Rev Klaas Hendrikse can offer his congregation little hope of life after death with his atheism and his message of "Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get". This smacks of Christian liberalism gone mad. They must be so desperate to get bums on seats (or should that read, "knees on hassocks"?), that they'll say and do anything.

They'll be telling me next that it's OK to covet my neighbour's ox.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A conspiracy of inanimate objects...

There are so many things in this life that we do not fully understand, cannot begin to explain and defy logic to the point of being hocus pocus and voodoo. Before we get to explaining what exactly gravity is or why planes stay up in the sky, maybe we should turn our attention to inexplicables of a more domestic nature.

For me, many of these mysteries are a vindictive conspiracy against me by inanimate objects; when the jam jar lid falls to the floor and lands perfectly balanced on its side before neatly rolling through the 3mm gap between the cooker and the kitchen unit; when the zip on a sweat shirt snags with the t-shirt underneath and, after much tugging, you have to be cut out of both garments; when I have to wait to get in the shower because I can't get my watch off because the folding clasp bracelet won't slide over my hand no matter what I try (although it slipped on easily enough that morning). Surely, these can only be explained by some retributive act by the big beardy man in the sky?

Tonight whilst cycling across the bridge to the pool for a swim, my bike decided to do a little vertical hop for no apparent reason. The path was smooth and I was riding slowly in a straight line and yet it did a little jump. I lost control and nearly went over the handlebars. In trying to regain control, my gonads made a sharp connection with the top of the handlebar post and I gouged a lump out of my ankle with the peddle. This, in turn, triggered an uncontrollable bout of Tourette's, much to the amusement of some passing kids.

I eventually got to the pool and managed to get changed. I limped with throbbing groin and bloodied ankle to the water's edge - looking like a re-enactment of the D-Day Landings (except in red Speedos and looking a bit gay). Swimming, I left a faint signal of blood from my peddle-gouged ankle in my wake. Had I been in open water rather than the safety of Cardiff International Pool, Great Whites would have sniffed me out in no time.

I can quite see how people believed in poltergeists. What other explanation could there be?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Talent, depth, integrity, wit and fun...

A quick scamper around the bay tonight and, I'm glad to report, my hip twinge seems to have disappeared. Then home for some mushroom orzotto that I made last night. God, this dish is so morish and, scattered with a few shavings of cheese, it is divine. Add to this Bach's Suites for Solo Cello and I am in heaven.

At the Only Men Aloud concert I attended on Saturday (here's the WalesOnline review), the talented cellist that accompanied the choir, Steffan Morris, played two movements from (I think) the 1st Solo Cello Suite. It was such a privilage to hear this played live and to hear it played so well. These pieces of music are some of the most sublime I've ever heard. On hearing them, surely, no-one can be in doubt over Bach's talent and genius. And they seem to suit an airing on a summer's evening such as tonight; all the doors and windows thrown open.

It sounds as if there's more than one instrument being played; like a dialogue between two cellos. But, remarkably, there's only one instrument and the music swoops and soars, playfully skipping one moment and then adding that gravitas of stillness that underpins the pieces. The music subtly transports you to a place beyond the present, beyond this muggy weather, beyond the noise of Swagger Jagger in the street below, beyond this grubby life...

I first heard them at Noel Greig's house in Sheffield one drunken night about 22 years ago. He insisted on playing them whilst we ate and I'm so pleased he did. A man of talent, depth, integrity, wit and fun: Noel died in 2009. You can read more about him here in his Guardian obitury.

Whenever I hear the Suites for Solo Cello, I am always reminded of him; transported back to that evening in Sheffield. x

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Muggers, doggers, buggers and joggers...

I went for a ride on my bike when I got in from work tonight. I didn't want to get to the pool too early because it tends to be a bit full and manic between 5:00pm and 7:00pm. By the time I arrived (after a little browse through Ikea), people seemed to be getting out and for the best part of my swim,  I had a lane to myself.

It was such a beautiful evening this evening that, after my swim, I cycled the long way home via Pont Y Werin then out to Cardiff Bay Barrage and then back into the Bay via the footbridge by the Norwegian Church.

I was surprised by the number of people I passed on my way around. It seemed that half the population of Cardiff had decided to visit the barrage at about 8:00pm tonight. And after a muggy, sticky and unpleasant overcast day, the sky was clear, the sea was like a mill pond and the air was fresh and comfortably warm. Who could blame them?

There were the expected joggers but in numbers so great they were jostling for position, dodgy looking couples sat in parked cars out by the barrage on the Penarth side, a few obviously gay couples walking dogs and some shady types I wouldn't want to bump into on my own in the failing light.

I took the picture on the right tonight at about 8:00pm and, as you can see, everything was very still. On the right is Penarth Head with just a glimpse of the barrage locks before the sweep of the barrage itself. The land that you can see on the horizon are the islands of Flatholm and Steepholm in the Bristol Channel. It was from Lavernock Point to Flatholm (6km) that the first radio signal over open sea was sent on 13 May 1897 by Guglielmo Marconi.

The transmitted message was, "Are you ready?" to which the muggers, doggers, buggers and joggers all replied...

Monday, 1 August 2011

Where's the justice...?

I went for a short run tonight and despite the muggy weather and a rather lardy legged and panting effort on my part, I suffered no soreness with my hip. For that I was pleased but I honestly didn't give it much thought because my mind had drifted to some sad news I got today about the death of someone I worked with.

I didn't work in the same department as him and I really didn't know him that well but the news was crushing because he was such a nice guy; he always smiled and he always said hello. In fact he made a point of being polite and friendly, always asking how I was. He was in his early twenties and I'm told he died from an asthma attack on the weekend. Such sad news.

I couldn't then help thinking about the current campaign supported by political blogger, Guido Fawkes, to get capital punishment reviewed by Parliament. The Telegraph reports that the movement, called Restore Justice, which is hosted on Guido's blog, "has signed up to the Government’s new e-petitions site. Any petitions containing 100,000 signatures will be eligible for debate in the Commons and, judging by his recent posts, Guido Fawkes is optimistic they will reach this target soon." His ultimate aim is "to restore the death penalty for the murder of children and police officers when killed in the line of duty."

But let's face it, taking someones life is not about justice; it may be about revenge and retribution but it is not about justice. So far, three MPs have come out in favour, with The Sun reporting Tory MP Philip Davies as saying, "I'd go further and restore it for all murderers." I'm informed that capital punishment is not lawful under EU legislation and so I'm hoping that this campaign will die a quiet and natural death itself.

And so my head was filled with these thoughts as I ran tonight. And no matter which way I cut it, I keep coming back to: Human life is precious and no-one has the right to to destroy it.