Wednesday, 23 April 2008

White coffee

White coffee. In contrast to black coffee, white coffee is usually a sign that everything's OK. It means one of the following:

  • I'm working from home and indulging one of my simple pleasures;
  • I'm working from Guildford for a bit of respite from customer-facing stresses, enjoying the constant supply of fresh coffee, and have sufficient slack in my day to be able to wander over to the kitchen to pick up a steaming mug of stimulant;
  • It's the weekend and despite the fact that I should be caning the water and replacing all those fluids I lost rowing, I'm drinking coffee. Because I Can And It's The Weekend. It's a small rebellion against my otherwise healthy-ish lifestyle...

It seems I've been declared fully recovered from illness, or at least fit enough to have work dropped upon me from a great height once more. (It's unfortunately the case that any illness causing absence from paid, client work is seen as an opportunity to pick up whatever overhead has hit the top of the company priority list - this week it appears to be my turn to write an environmental management system. But of course, it's what I've always aspired to doing...) Still, it's never a bad thing to have work to do from one's own home with a bottle of beer on standby.

So, yes, today's white coffee is of the working from home variety. I'm working from home. I'm also falling asleep at random times of the day (and making the most of it as all too soon I will be back with my nose to the customer grindstone). In fact, I hope to put in an appearance with the customer just as soon as I can contemplate wearing a suit instead of a sleeping bag. Come to think of it, I wonder what my chances are of creating a new wave of sleeping-bag-inspired office fashion?

Sunday, 20 April 2008

This is your life...

I got tagged - this is somewhat inevitable as I'm in no state to outrun anyone, and is also very welcome as I'm struggling to think, and therefore being told what to write is extremely welcome. This time it's the six word bio. The rules (which I have slightly amended to suit my own purposes since being tagged by DJ) are as follows:

  1. Write your own six word memoir;
  2. Post it on your blog illustrated as required;
  3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post;
  4. Tag unsuspecting bloggers as necessary;
  5. Let them know they've been tagged.

My six word bio is: 28 years of freely chosen journeying.

It's a bit lacking in context. Unfortunately, the context wouldn't condense down to the full stop at the end of the bio.

Having already altered the rules, I'm going to change them again - anyone fancying picking up the tag: Leave me a comment and I will ghost-write your six-word bio for you - feel free to pull it to bits in quality control before publishing the final version on your own blog. (Caveat: This is only going to be the slightest bit entertaining if I already know something about you. Anon should not apply...)

Wrong in so many ways...

I would like to think that a self-respecting country would think at least twice before declaring itself the maker of something so inherently wrong...

I'm sick of feeling poorly now - there's only so much novelty and humour to be derived from fevers, swollen glands, stomach cramps, a sore throat, headache, bad sleep and three days (and counting) of diarrhoea (plus an extra bonus neck pain which sneaked in this morning whilst I was looking the other way). Plus, I think I've reached the end of my reading pile, the end of the internet (I repeat - I have found the end of the internet and there is no pot of gold) and I've given up on the crossword (Friday's Evening Standard - almost completely intractable - I knew I should have bought something more familiar). All my Skype buddies are offline (probably asleep - lucky things...) It's boring, is this being ill malarkey.

Grrr... I'm such an impatient patient.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Faster than a speeding octogenarian

I did another 2k test erg earlier this week. It went well. I was looking for 7:40, which I suspected may have proved to be a little ambitious, but happily (for my time, at least) I arrived at the boathouse to find men on the scene.

"Is that your 2k? Do you need someone to shout for you?"

Translation for non-rowers: "Are you doing that horrendously painful, stuff-of-nightmares workout? Can you beast yourself sufficiently or would you like some encouragement to inflict ever more pain on yourself?"

"Err..." I replied, my mind racing to come up with a plausible excuse for why I needed to be left alone to kill myself at my leisure in the corner, rather than with a bunch of chaps urging me onto greater and more painful efforts. Unfortunately, excuses have never been my strongest subject and I somehow ended up with what seemed like an inordinate number of people encouraging me to hurt myself a lot and then with 10% extra pain thrown in for free. This went on until I'd finished the 2k in less time than I'd initially thought was ambitious. Bloody men... :)

So, the upshot of that little escapade was that I pulled 7:38.8. Courtesy of some research undertaken at the Concept 2 records, I can report that this means that I:

  • Have done a 2k faster than every octogenarian on the planet of which the kind folk at Concept 2 know;
  • Am faster than every woman of 65 years or over;
  • Am still slower than some women more than twice my age and who are older than my mother (but I will fix this by losing another eight seconds from my time);
  • Would make a roughly world-class 60-year-old (with a UK record to boot);
  • Am still being beaten over 2k by 12 year old girls (This Hurts A Lot, and will be fixed by dropping another 8.5 seconds from my time).

Having managed to roundly beat the times of a bunch of (admittedly rather special) pensioners, I spent the evening coughing feebly to myself (something that seems to happen after strenuous exercise, and which seems related to the chest infection I picked up following rather stupidly deciding to inhale the Zambezi river - this is daft for two reasons: a) The volume of the Zambezi is far greater than that of my lungs, and b) the Zambezi contains all sorts of bacteria that my lungs evidently weren't designed to cope with).

With the erg safely out of the way, I could focus on task 2 for the week: The Stairs.

As a postgrad student working on the 6th floor of a chemistry block, I used to race my colleagues back upstairs after Friday pub lunches. I took the stairs, carrying a couple of pints, a steak and a heavy stomach. They took the lift. I would usually win, and feel rather smug if a little out of breath and possibly regretting that second steak or extra pint of beer...

A few years on, and many months into working on the 20th floor of a tallish building, I suggested racing the stairs to a colleague. (This would have to effectively be a time trial rather than racing the lift as my guess of 10 seconds a flight would give a projected time for the stairs of 3 minutes 30 seconds*, and even on a bad day, the express lift doesn't usually take longer than a minute and a half including arrival time and stopping at every possible floor). He responded to my suggestion by arriving back on the floor several minutes later, having run the stairs in 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Damn him. I wanted to get the first marker down, and head up the leaderboard, if only by virtue of having gone first.

Another colleague took up the challenge and posted a 3:27 time. Nothing new to worry about there, then. But it seemed that the race was firmly on.

I mentioned this little competition which I'd accidentally established to the chap who sits behind me, who is a sporty, outdoorsy kind of guy. It evidently pressed all the right buttons with him, as he spent the next hour fidgeting. It then took only my consulting buddy arriving breathless on the scene having done the stairs in 2:52 for the chap behind me to remove his tie and extraneous pocket-junk and make his way to the bottom of the building. He made it up in 3:14, looking and sounding rather the worse for wear. I had the small matter of a test erg to get out of the way before posting my effort to join them on the leaderboard.

I was looking for a sub 2:50 time, aiming at 8 seconds a flight to bring me in at 2:48. (Being a rower, pain is one of the things I do best, as is expecting all of the major problems in life to be solved by working out a split time and then sticking to it.) I took the lift down to the ground floor, then made my way to the bottom of the main stairwell. The air was warm, still, stifling. I took an unsatisfactory deep breath and started what should have been a rhythmic trot up twenty-one flights of stairs.

By the seventh floor, I wasn't having much fun, but was still on for 8 seconds a flight, but probably not for much longer. I could see my pre-attempt confidence that I would be running up twenty flights without needing to walk rapidly evaporating. In addition to the gloomy realisation that I probably wouldn't be shooting to the top of the leaderboard, it was hot and sticky in the stairwell. I would smell for the rest of the day. It was only 8am...

By the tenth floor, I was using the handrail to help haul myself up. I was also getting a bit dizzy from the long, clockwise spiral. I suppose it could have been the exertion, but I blame the spiralling, myself...

By the fourteenth floor, my thighs were sorely regretting my ever having suggested this challenge. I could see I would be having another attempt at this if I wanted to beat my colleague's 2:52, but I was determined to beat his first effort (and the then second fastest time) of 3:10. That was definitely possible. Come to think of it, three minutes was possible. Good, something to aim for.

By the time I'd got to the top I could have sworn I'd done enough work to justify a steak dinner. My thighs felt leaden and my chest was heaving. I emerged onto the floorplate and rounded the corner to the wing in which I work to be met by gales of laughter at my inability to breathe coming from those who think that all us stair runners are stark raving bonkers. I'd stopped my watch at the twentieth floor at 3 minutes and one second. I was seething at myself. Damn that extra second. Still, it's the best first attempt at the stairs, and I'm quite certain that a few weeks of taking the stairs instead of the lift twice a day will haul me up to top spot.

I had earlier calculated that hauling my twelve-ish stone body weight up twenty one flights of stairs with a rise in the region of 4 metres per flight would require approximately 63 kJ, or about 15 (food) Calories. That's about a seventh of an average apple. All that work for only a thin sliver of an unexciting fruit? It makes me wonder what I would have to do to work off the banana I ate yesterday...

With those thoughts in mind, perhaps it's as well that I'm laid up in bed with no appetite. After all the exertion of ergs and stairs, maybe it's not surprizing that I've succumbed to something. I think it's a virus - swollen glands and fever on Wednesday, diarrhoea yesterday and today, still not really managing to absorb fluids... It seems to be resolving, but it has at least persuaded me that, six months after moving, the time has come to register with a GP. (It should be noted that this is something of a record for me, it having taken 14 months and 8 months after my previous two moves for me to get around to registering with my local medics. The reason for this is that mostly they're not open when I'm able to get to them (GPs not being noted for opening their surgeries at times amenable to people working something like a 9 to 5), and therefore I don't get around to registering until I need their services (my logic being that if I have to take time off work to see them, I might as well ensure I get some benefit from it by being ill at the time of registering).)

I would normally think about feeling sorry for myself at this point (the point at which I could rightly feel miserable for finding getting out of bed a challenging concept (not a good thing to have with diarrhoea...) and a small flight of stairs representing a towering obstacle), but with my dad's health record and current right leg woes, I'm reminded that having a-bit-of-a-non-descript-virus-thing really isn't very much to be dealing with.

Plus, I can console myself with the knowledge that I am extremely unlikely to come across an 80 year old who I can't beat over 2k.

*For those of you who spotted the apparent inconsistency, it's a double height ground floor...

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Black coffee

I am drinking black coffee. This is never a good sign, and usually indicates one of two undesirable things:

  1. I have a looming deadline and need to sustain wakefulness for longer than is strictly good for me;
  2. I have run out of milk.
Today, it's the second reason which applies.

I spent two hours after leaving the boathouse this morning having lunch and coffee with a pair of sisters with whom I used to play in a youth orchestra in Sheffield. I have recently re-established contact with the elder of the two, who has taken to working in the chemistry department in which I did my PhD, and consequently we now have a number of mutual chemist friends, and the younger of the pair rows at one of the more serious Hammersmith clubs. Other than catching the odd glimpse of her hanging over the balcony of her club following what I presume by her general appearance and demeanour to be have been a mammoth erg, or passing by her crew on the river, I haven't seen her for perhaps ten years.

She is rather more robust-looking than she was a decade ago. I imagine I am, also.

Time passed quickly and easily, catching up over toasted sandwiches and cappuchinos at a nearby cafe, touching on old haunts, old friends, places we've lived in or visited since our youth orchestra days. It was when the elder sister was describing to me the location of the Sheffield pub she'd recently bought a pint in for £1.60 that I started to realise how much time had passed. The conversation when something like this:

"It's The Harley - you go along Glossop Road, past Loch Fyne"
"What Loch Fyne on Glossop Road? Come to think of it, what Loch Fyne in Sheffield?"
"Oh, used to be Hanrahan's - on the right as you go into town."
"Oh, right, gotcha."
"Well, it's on that corner where the tram comes up, opposite Pizza Volante - The pizza parlour formerly known as The Flying Pizza, before there was a gun-related incident in the car park, or something like that..."
"Next to the Midland bank?"
"Yeah, well, it's HSBC now"
"Yeah, course..."
"Well, there - it was £1.60 a pint. That's what I used to pay when I was a teenager and drinking in Sheffield. It's the same price now - like going back in time..."

It was at this point in the conversation that I went into shock at the realisation that I was participating in one of those conversations which my parents used to have with their friends about How Places Have Changed And How Things Aren't Like How They Used To Be. I was horrified.

I was also horrified earlier this week to spy the clump of grey hairs sprouting around my hairline. They are rapidly multiplying. This is serious. No longer can I pretend to be young. I really am an adult. People who used to be far too young for me to be seen socialising with are now my contemporaries and fully-fledged adults in their own right. They show all the signs of being adults, such as working for a living in responsible jobs, drinking alcohol in moderation and only on weekends, and no doubt eating their green veg without being bribed. They probably like the tastes of olives, celery, and Stilton and finish meals with an espresso rather than an ice-cream sundae. I am ageing beyond the point at which I feel a part of the Spring.

In another sign of ageing, I am becoming scatty. Whilst I was aware I needed to pick up milk on my way home (and had ear-marked as the place to do this the newsagent next to the cafe in which quite by chance I found myself having lunch), in my haste to run home through the hail and flee the evidence of ageing, I completely forgot to buy milk.

I am drinking black coffee. It is never a good sign.

P.S. I cannot believe the number of typos I have had to correct in this post. I hesitate to add a P.S. as I assume I will introduce yet more of the accursed things.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Freak weather

Yesterday, I was rowing in short kit and sorely regretting not having my sunglasses with me. Several women had decided it was time for crop tops, and a few chaps were rowing bare-chested. The river was full of small boats and scullers. It was an idyllic spring/summer scene.

It was therefore with some disgruntledness that I saw the snow this morning had reduced visibility on the river to dangerous levels. The water was beautifully flat, but if anyone was out on the river enjoying the smooth ride, we couldn't see them. It was a peaceful and picturesque walk to the club, where I found some of the squad cursing the lack of visibility. As we couldn't get out on the water, a session in the gym awaited.

A disgruntled duck

When I emerged to head home a couple of hours later, the snow had already been shared by others, and it was no longer the charming, undisturbed scene that had greeted me earlier. The snow had been defiled, trampled underfoot, its crispness turning to slush and discoloured by the London grime. A few hundred metres further on, I found these chappies: 

I no longer minded the evidence of other people enjoying the snow...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

In other news...

For those who enjoy their experiences vicariously and have ever wondered what life without the contents of one of your thighs might be like, following his recent extreme orthopedic remodelling, Mr Why? Senior can be found blogging on exactly that subject over at One Hip Wonder.

Still on biological matters and by way of update to my previous post on a gentleman I had the pleasure of interviewing recently, whilst I was at back in Guildford yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Spunk Man in person. It turns out he looks pretty much like a normal person. Unfortunately, we can no longer refer to this gentleman as "Sperm Boy"/"Spunk Man"/"Swimmers 'R' Us"/"Dr Semen", etc., as he might be offered a job.

We interviewed a lot of people yesterday with mixed results. For the benefit of anyone who might shortly be attending interviews, here're the interview "don'ts" we picked up from yesterday's round of candidates:

  1. arriving late...;
  2. ... and then taking a further 10 minutes to faff, removing earrings, fixing hair, tying your tie, and reminding yourself what you wrote on your CV;
  3. doing all of this without thinking that behind those silvery windows, your interviewer might be watching you getting ready and having that swig from a hip flask(!)
  4. talking too much without waiting for cues that your interviewer is still listening;
  5. not talking at all;
  6. not answering the question which was asked;
  7. behaving in too casual a manner;
  8. speaking sufficiently loudly for the entire company to hear your interview, and probably everyone on the west side of town, too;
  9. celebrating when you think you've got a 'right' answer;
  10. being cocky.

Finally, closing the circle with another bodily-fluid-related pearl of truth, I learned last night that it is a remarkably tricky thing to remove even the freshest of post-curry vomit from deep pile, cream-coloured carpets.