Thursday, 29 November 2007

Building blocks of A Good Day

Last Wednesday was A Good Day. Perhaps even A Very Good Day.

First thing, woke to the sound of my alarm (actually John Humphrys' dulcet tones). I was refreshed, had slept well, and on attempting to move discovered I was as stiff as a corpse following the previous evening's strength training exploits. It had been a long time since I woke with the realisation that I had Done Something Requiring Effort the previous day. It really is a most satisfying and affirming pain. I do commend it to you all.

Then my commute to work. On foot. (I remembered the days of commuting by train when the concept of a twenty minute walk to work seemed like a such a good idea. I had neglected to build into my blueprint of this new commute the pain which rowing in my newly discovered free time would add to the journey. D'oh.) I must have resembled a crippled kangaroo, full of energy but unable to stretch sufficiently to make walking with a normal gait a realistic ambition. I limped and groaned my way to work, the stiffness gradually receding, with the result that I was doing a quite reasonable impression of a fully mobile person by the time I rolled up at work.

Breakfast, 8:30 am, 30th floor revolving restaurant. Good company. Enjoyable, pleasant and useful conversation (only partially work-related). Bright sunshine streaming in through the windows. Two waiters to a table of four. No-one else in the restaurant. Sufficient time was spent resting on my posterior for all that lovely stiffness to seep back into my legs, where it lodged itself resolutely for the rest of the day. Did I mention breakfast? That was damned good, too. Particularly the fruit salad/yogurts/honey/mixed nuts construction. And plenty water. Just what I needed.

Lunchtime, and the rigmarole of collecting a parking permit from Fulham Town Hall. I discovered that the tube station is thoughtfully positioned directly opposite said Town Hall. Almost as if someone had had the foresight to realise that busy office working types would one day need to collect parking permits in their lunch hour. The process of getting the permit was easy, almost efficient - right down to the availability of a free photocopier for all those last minute photocopies of log books and driving licences that may have been forgotten.

Afternoon. Catch up with the team and find out what's going on in advance of management types returning next week. For once, there's a fairly consistent story emerging. It might just be an embryonic sign of hope that the programme ducks are being brought into a row.

Evening. Jog (or a close approximation to a jog) to the boathouse for a long erg. I was pleased to discover four things:

  1. I had regained the range of movement necessary to erg;
  2. Despite being out of training, I scraped together a respectable split for the duration of the piece;
  3. My new skincare routine of applying surgical spirits twice a day is keeping my palms blister-free. It does make me smell something of an alcoholic, which I doubt is a great thing for my reputation;
  4. I did my periodic table countdown over the (estimated) last hundred strokes. It's a great distraction from the pain. For a bonus, this time I didn't forget Actinium, Thorium, Protactinium, Uranium, Neptunium and Plutonium.

Late evening. Collect car. Get slightly disorientated on the way back and manage to cross the Thames four times, despite starting and finishing my journey on the same bank of the river. I discovered new and exciting things I never knew existed, including a bright pink stone lion. (It make have been a stone-coloured lion illuminated by pink light, but the effect is much the same. Where the beast is located, or how to get there, I have no idea. Perhaps I'll happen across it again in a similar fit of disorientation...?) My car is now parked only a short stagger from the front door. I have missed it. It is odd how London makes the simplest things (e.g. parking a car) unbelievably complicated.

Night. Food. Water. Lots of water. Hot shower. I was lucky to catch the last ten minutes of the England match, thus not even missing anything of any consequence.

Finally sleep. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, broken only by the dulcet tones of Mr Humphrys, and the knowledge that any attempt to move would be resisted by every sinew in my body.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Unopposed words

Unopposed words, by which I mean those words which would on cursory inspection appear to have an opposite but which actually do not, are a source of amusement for me. For an example, consider the word dismantle. By comparison to other words beginning with dis-, e.g. disassemble, disappear, you might expect its opposite to be remantle. But it isn't. And, whilst I might be able to assemble a bookcase, or appear at a particular location, I cannot for the life of me mantle flatpack furniture, however extensive my experience with a screwdriver and hammer.

I've often thought that our language makes it difficult for things to go well, and stacks the odds against us. Why, for example, can someone be inept but not ept? Why can't I be couth, and am instead constrained by language to be uncouth? Why can't I be prostrained instead of constrained? My work can be awful but not awless. I might get distraught at a bereavement, but will never be traught at a birth. You might think my comments are inane, but here again, they are forced into inanity, however much I would like to write ane words, it is impossible for me to achieve this. And I shall never be gormful. And nor shall you.

I was thinking about these unopposed words the other day, and started making a list of examples. It was extensive. I could think of many words portraying negative concepts which did not have a positive counterpart, but very few which were the other way around. In fact, I found only one. Wonderful...



On reflection, there are many unopposed words which have positive connotations. Hurrah for freedom of speech, and long may it continue.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Shocked and appalled

I would love to hear a convincing argument supporting the action taken against a man who has become something of a cause célèbre having been found simulating a sexual act with a bicycle. Assuming the facts presented in this story are true, I am left flabbergasted and extremely disturbed by the implications for personal liberty.

If you can't spare two minutes to read the story, here is a quick overview of the facts* presented:

  • Man lives in hostel.
  • Man is in his bedroom in the hostel.
  • Man has locked the door.
  • Man is using his bicycle in his locked bedroom for the purposes of sexual gratification.
  • Cleaners use a master key to unlock the door to Man's room.
  • Cleaners see Man using bicycle for the purposes of sexual gratification, are shocked, tell their manager, who involves the police.

The conclusion of the police action beggars belief:

Man has been convicted of a sexually aggravated breach of the peace by conducting himself in a disorderly manner and simulating sex. He has been sentenced to three years' probation and placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

Let's have a quick recap: This chap has been using an inanimate possession in a private location behind a locked door to give himself pleasure. Having been happened across by two people, his actions are then considered not only illegal (why?), but considered sufficiently serious for him to be on the Sex Offender's Register. His actions might well be considered a bit odd, bizarre, and perhaps suggest that he needs a bit of guidance to find better sex surrogates, but they don't seem to require intervention by the state (unless the state is intent on taking seriously its hitherto unknown obligation to protect inanimate bicycles from pedalphiles... On second thoughts, I shouldn't jest. This isn't a laughing matter.)

In fairness to the Sheriff, it appears that once Man pleaded guilty to the charges, the Sheriff was unable to consider the fact that this occurred in what most of us (any legal eagles out there want to pitch in?) would consider to be a private place, and that Man took reasonable precautions against being disturbed by locking the door. However, I fail to see why it was considered in the public interest for this case taken to pursued and taken to court in the first place. Truth be told, I am shocked and appalled by the invasion of Man's privacy.

I would like to think that should I wish to use an inanimate object owned by myself for whatever purpose which does not harm others or myself, this should not be illegal, however ill-suited the object might at first glance seem for the purposes to which it is put. It makes me wonder what I might be doing which leads me to inadvertently break the law, and whether there's an idiot's guide to what is and isn't legal. It's not at all obvious to me.

*I have no way of verifying these, so will take as read that the reports are accurate.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Landfill 1: Wombles 1 (Landfill win 5:4 after penalties)

Moving house inevitably generates a lot of rubbish for disposal, and my recent move was no exception. It also uncovers a number of items which strictly speaking aren't rubbish, but which can't be left in the house and which you have no desire to move with you, and this being a Sunday, you are unable to donate to your local charity shop or leave out for recycling. Such things are sadly destined to find their way to landfill.

Such was the fate of a disowned, rusting can opener. It did not belong to us, perhaps left hiding at the back of a cupboard by a previous tenant, or perhaps even left behind by the builders after finishing off their Spam and beers. Who knows? Without an owner, it was consigned to the refuse sack for a future of propping up the topsoil.

Or so we thought. However, moving house also uncovers fundamental differences in philosophy between the "I can live without it - chuck/sell/donate/get rid of it" school of thought and the "better not get rid of it, it might come in useful one day following the nuclear holocaust" school of thought. Moments following disposal, an adherent of the latter school, no doubt horrified at the prospect of a perfectly good can/bottle opener being thoughtlessly discarded to a future of slow oxidation and biodegradation, had retrieved it from the sack. It was in a perfectly usable condition, but we all have can openers with better functionality and which looked less likely to be harbouring Clostridium tetani, yet to wantonly re-discard the thing seemed a little, well, decadent.

As previously intimated, moving house exposes divisions and also brings difficult decisions. Rusty yet serviceable can openers fall into the pile of stuff classified as "collateral damage". The unwanted opener was returned to the rubbish sack in a swift, cloak-and-dagger style operation, as soon as the wannabe Womble was out of sight. Though glad to have got rid of the damned thing, I had a sneaking suspicion that the wanton disposal of usable implements was bound to come back to haunt me eventually.

It didn't take long.

All last week I had been opening the fridge door, parched after a long day of work (i.e. days of sitting in meetings whilst occasionally gently cajoling people towards my point of view) to find bottles of very lovely and enticing beers sitting teasingly at eye-level, chilled and just waiting to be drunk. Ready to drink, that is, but for want of an implement to remove the bottle tops. The image of the rusty can opener danced before my eyes, as did images of landfill sites being pored over by hordes of Wombles, triumphantly waving their rusty yet serviceable finds.

After a week of pathetically hunting through boxes for a bottle opener, I eventually succumbed to the need for instant beer and searched instead for alternative implements with bottle opening features. Exposed (trendy?) brickwork in the kitchen looked promising, but the mortar left no exposed edges suitable to open the bottle on. The granite worksurface looked like the sort of the thing the landlord probably would rather not have crown scratches on, the table likewise. The forks were too rounded and broad to get under the crown to prise off. I eventually found a small and fittingly rusty flat-heat screwdriver, which worked perfectly.

A beer later, I felt completely vindicated by the decision to chuck. Two beers later, my mental film reel of the goading Womble wielding a rusty can opener was replaced by a scene of Womble carnage - thousands of Wombles lying dead or dying on landfill, fatally stabbed or mortally wounded courtesy of the rusty can opener and its C. tetani population. I didn't think a third beer was required...

On another matter, I have no idea why on earth I thought a late night and a couple of beers was excellent preparation for spending four hours rowing on the Tideway early the following morning. Three days later, everything still hurts.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Retiring, but not shy

I learned this morning that the headmaster of my old school is to retire.

I have fond memories of school. It was a comprehensive whose intake sliced through the city geographically and socio-economically, and provided a secure and supportive melting pot in which to work through and emerge from the tribulations of teenhood. Political awareness was encouraged, with staff being comfortable to espouse their political views. It was not uncommon for staff and students to be found discussing the issues of the day during breaks or lunchtime. I have no doubt that the headmaster was the cornerstone of the school's success in this role.

He was an inspirational leader, and despite being subjected by his students to some taxing moments, including explaining to the local press why hundreds of his students had refused to attend lessons for the day and had instead "gone on strike", and having to calm the panic that rapidly spread throughout the school after a student welcomed one of his gun-brandishing friends into the building, I recall him never acting in a manner that was anything other than professional. This did not constrain his personality or generosity of spirit. One moment particularly stands out.

He was leading an assembly on the theme of "Heroes". This would have been around 1996, Nelson Mandela had been elected president of South Africa a couple of years previously, in the country's first democratic election.

The head read from "Long Walk to Freedom". I cannot remember the excerpt he chose, other than it speaking of the injustice and indecency to which Mandela and fellow prisoners were subjected. I only recall being completely absorbed by the presence of this man who was prepared to expose to several hundred teenagers something which mattered deeply to him. He welled up as he read, his voice cracked, the tears flowed. I remember the shared sense of disbelief amongst the students that the head, who needed to command the respect of hundreds of teenagers, would be prepared to stand alone on a stage and cry in order to convey to the assembled masses the strength of his belief in the qualities he was conveying. I doubt there are many people who would be prepared to put themselves in such a position. Had any other teacher have attempted this, I suspect they would have been the butt of jokes for the remainder of our school years.

It was enormously impressive, a single incident in which my understanding and ideas of authority and leadership underwent a paradigm shift, when having authority did not require an aura of invulnerability, superior strength, intellect, or power.

I wish him a long and happy retirement.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Rambling without moving

Following Pixie's example, I took the opportunity to ramble my ego through the alphabet.

Absolutes: The older I get, the fewer of these there seem to be.
Bacon Butty: Manna from heaven?
Caroline: The boat I won blades in. She was beautiful. So smooth and sleek. She's probably now being used by novices and being crashed into the bank with alarming regularity but, when I knew her, she was divine.
Difference: A quality I find intriguing.
Evolution: I think I subscribe to this, but the emotion of despair I find rather confusing to fit into the grand scheme of things.
Fluid: How I describe the political environment at work.
Goat: Animals which never fail to make me smile. I mean, how unlikely are they?
Hanoi: Could be my favourite city, if I have such a thing.
Iridescence: Beauty by diffraction.
Jam: Tomorrow. Have patience and enjoy the journey.
Knees: Things with many scars. After my college medical, the nurse glanced down at them. She said, "Them's ugly knees, ent they??" I had to agree.
Lamb: Favourite thing to stew.
Minefield: Bad place to work in.
No: I do not wish to register my Oyster card. I would not like my picture touching in and out of every journey to be matched to my name, address and credit card details.
Osteoporosis: Something I would very much like to avoid.
Praseodymium: A fantastic name for an element. Or a cat, come to think of it.
Quarry: What I lived in until recently.
River: What I now live by. What passes for "open space". Where sport should be conducted.
Superb: I say this a lot.
Travel: Something I want to do more of.
University: The home of seven wonderful years.
Verily: A much under-used word.
Water: Still the most fascinating substance I've ever encountered.
Xenon: A good shoot 'em up game. And a noble gas.
Yellow: The colour of my all-time favourite bit of cycling kit, which makes me look a bit like a giant daffodil. It is very cheery and I do rather love it.
Zebra: Something they have hanging on the wall at a restaurant I ate in last week. I think it is also on the menu. I had the antelope instead.

This has been a thoroughly pointless and most enjoyable exercise which I heartily commend to you all.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Getting wet

Two rivers, two minutes from two very different homes. I have found myself unexpectedly submerged in both, but that's about all they have in common.

The Wey

This stretch of the Wey is about 800m long, and two minutes from yesterday's home. There's not that much in the way of river traffic, the odd passing duck perhaps, and the occasional swan. In summer, there are usually a few narrowboats moored along the length we ironically call "the straight", but at the time of the day inhabited by rowers, they're usually stationary and emitting wonderful, promising smells of bacon and eggs. There are only a couple of places wide enough to spin the boat in, but seeing as there's only 800 rowable metres of river, spinning happens every few minutes, anyway. It is rather picturesque, but not much cop for rowing. Not that I was doing much of that, having chosen to spend my leisure time sitting on my posterior on cramped trains. Reading. Getting lardy. Commuting. Not making an awful lot of use of having a river two minutes from home.

Today, I'm living two minutes from here:

The Thames

Miles of river, and (being now located twenty minutes' walk from work) pots of leisure time to row (or, at a pinch, read) in. It's not quite as pretty as the Wey, and smells less inviting, and has greater risk of colliding with misplaced and confused whales, but I'm rather excited about the combination of having proper water to row on and the necessary time to row in.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Is it possible... miss commuting?

A couple of days ago, I wouldn't have thought so, yet today I found myself questioning whether I'll still be churning through books after I no longer spend hours every day commuting.

I was also most tickled by the guard on the train back from Wimbledon this evening, who took it upon himself to request politely "Would passengers please stay awake at all times during your journeys, as having to get a taxi at this time of night is very costly. Again, would all passengers please endeavour to remain awake at all times. Thankyou."

Bless 'im.