Thursday, 31 July 2008

Spotted on a t-shirt

I don't usually have much time for haiku. I find them largely meaningless drivel and verging on the pretentious. But today, I found one sitting opposite me on the tube that sums up for me the essence of haiku, and is also readily memorable. I have reproduced it below, which probably infringes someone's intellectual property, but frankly, if you don't want to be reproduced, you shouldn't produce such work of genius and then sell it on t-shirts.

Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don't make sense

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Faster than an erging recent retiree...

We had another 2k erg test last night. In contrast to other recent efforts, I'd slept pretty well the previous night, and was feeling pretty confident that I could take a decent chunk off my time. I had a time in mind to beat and had set my sights high (or should that be low?) - knocking just under six seconds off an already reasonable time was a rather ambitious goal, but then I've never been one to make things easy for myself. Leastways, not in the gym.

I feel distinctly uneasy before test ergs. I'm not sure whether fear of the effort involved or fear of failing to beat whatever score I had in mind (whilst putting in the effort) is most responsible for this, but the hour or so before a test erg in not something I'd care to experience every day. Nor every month, come to think of it... Queasy has never been one of my favourite states of being.

We discussed goals beforehand. I mentioned I wanted 6 seconds off my time. This was dismissed for the foolish plan it was. (Excellent - this would be welcome grist for the mental mill when the last few minutes get tough.) My training buddy was aiming for the more realistic target of beating her last time. After a hearty warm up, we lined up on the ergs waiting for the call: Go!

Seven minutes, 29.1 seconds and more than a bit of hard work later, I'd knocked 6.4 seconds off my score, was feeling distinctly pleased with myself, and was rapidly gravitating towards the floor, which looked a less precarious place to recover than on the erg, which held the risk of falling off. I find that hard concrete floors never look more inviting than immediately following test ergs. I stayed there for a short while before trying to use my legs again to stagger outside and walk off the leaden feeling in my thighs.

Checking the erg world records, this means I have added to the collection of pensioners (and those of working age - I must be improving!) who I can beat on an erg the following groups:

  • Every woman over the age of 60;
  • Every lightweight woman over the age of 55.

I'm still struggling to keep up with 75 year old men, but knocking another seven seconds off my time will see that put right, and also put me within striking distance of my rather flippant assertion earlier in the season that I would be beating the club chairman on the ergs by Christmas. His 7:19 was looking a long way off a couple of weeks ago. Now... well, with just under five months to Christmas, I think my twin goals of getting under 7:20 and beating the chairman are looking less far-fetched than they did.

I'm pretty pleased.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Chez Why?

I paid a short but long-overdue visit to the parental home this weekend.

On arrival at Chez Parentals I found the spot on the driveway where I would normally park my car taken by Dr Why? The Elder's car, which appeared to be enjoying a short break from the garage whilst the sunshine was out. I was therefore forced to park on the substantially less prime real estate next to the bins, under the trees where the birds nest, sing, bathe and crap. Mostly crapping. But that didn't matter, as I planned to wash the car the following day (and add oil, screenwash, coolant and generally do all the things to the car which it's not that easy to do in the confined parking conditions which Hammersmith provides, and without the aid of a hosepipe).

Having made my way to the back garden where I suspected my folks would be enjoying the sunshine, Dr Why? The Elder greeted me with, "Hello! Are you hot? Do you need cooling off? Stand here, look, we've got a new attachment. Stand here, here." Dr Why? The Elder then turned on the tap to which a hosepipe was attached and aimed a fine (and extremely welcome) mist of water in my direction, whilst laughing delightedly. It was only after this happened that I understood the string of words which had greeted me. After four hours of sitting in a non-air-conditioned car on a stinkingly hot day (after two outings in stinking and dehydrating heat), I wasn't going to complain about a minor drenching. In fact, I had been gagging for a cold shower (or a stay in the Ice Hotel) since Heston Service station. I don't know what it was about my appearance that enabled Dr Why? The Elder to read my needs so readily, but I assume it's something to do with being genetically related. That or the profusion of sweat emanating from my pores. Even from the backs of my hands.

Following a change of clothes, I was given a couple of glasses of wine, the customary tour of the garden and was fed. I got fed a lot, and a huge amount of protein, courtesy of two barbecues in under 24 hrs. I also noticed that any surplus food was channelled in my direction to eat up. (I'm a growing girl, don't you know?). This may explain how I ended up as the substantial being that I am. I certainly don't recall ever going hungry whilst in the care of my folks...

A bottle of bubbly to wet the head of the new hip later, the day was done. It had been a good one. I crawled into bed with a slightly spinning head and a large bottle of water to keep me company. A full bottle of tepid water, a fuzzy head and a mouth like a badger's arse welcomed me into the next day. I wandered into the kitchen and thought about getting myself some breakfast. I then thought the better of it:

On any return to the parental home, I invariably find that some of 'the rules' have changed - things such as whether or not onion skins go in the compost, or which end of the fridge door the open bottle of milk lives at. Or whether or not socks get ironed. All relatively unimportant things which nevertheless enable me to wreak havoc by putting tea bags in the wrong compost bin or poisoning the worms by feeding them peppers (or maybe the worms get the peppers and the tea bags go into the other compost...) Either way, it's sufficient to make me apologise for not having the mental flexibility to cope, and instead leaving tea bags on the kitchen counter. I know that this is also the wrong thing to do, but getting it wrong and leaving things for Dr Why? The Elder to sort out is also the lowest energy route to achieving the correct outcome. (I seem to get away with this line of argument provided I don't outstay my welcome (which is defined as the period for which it is socially acceptable for me to be excused from learning the amendments to 'the rules'.)) Making breakfast is therefore fraught with hidden dangers, for example: Perhaps the rules on egg freshness have changed and the ones to use first and now on the right of the fridge door. Or maybe one cereal is reserved for Mr Why? Senior?, being the only thing he feels like on a bad day. Bread is another minefield. Well, obviously, it's not a minefield. It's a loaf of bread. But it's enough to persuade me to wait for a few minutes to be offered breakfast by Dr Why? The Elder.

A bit of shopping later (with sufficient purchasing of bargains to justify my expenditure on diesel in getting myself up to Sheffield) there was time for a spot of lunch and a small amount of being useful (moving heavy bags of bird seed into a rat-proof bin and stabilising large chunks of tree whilst Mr Why? Senior hacked them into woodturning-sized chunks with an overgrown carving knife). It was rather lovely to see My Why? Senior in his element. Well, relatively in his element - getting around on crutches, BBQ-ing, chopping up tree trunks and making plans for woodturning and holidays. It also pleased me greatly to see Dr Why? The Elder enjoying a day off work, even if she did choose to use some of it to wash my car for me. I can think of better ways to spend a holiday. Mind you, they don't include four hours in a non-air-con'ed car in scorching heat - maybe I need to work on my holidaying style, as well...

Sunday, 20 July 2008


It has been a good week.

Mr Why? Senior has taken his first steps with his latest hip, with all the signs filtering down to the Big Smoke being extremely encouraging so far. I'm hoping to head north in the not-too-distant future to see his new-found mobility for myself.

Speaking of mobility, the programme I've been working on for the last year or so has been officially mobilised/launched/rebranded/reorganised/re-christened/baptised/etc. This required an away day at a conference centre playing buzzword bingo during listening to the morning's presentations before stepping in as a late replacement facilitator for the afternoon workshop sessions. I hate facilitating these things - it's always awkward to find oneself trying to limit the input of important people who like to talk a lot and encourage people a few rungs further down the organisational ladder to share their thoughts. Fortunately, the group I had was rather good in this respect, with it's most senior member doing a surprisingly good job of facilitating the session himself, leaving me the relatively politically safe task of writing neatly on the flipcharts. Another relief...

What else? Oh yes, I remember - training appears to be paying off. This is a relief otherwise I'd be taking a leaf out of other people's books and jacking in the notion that training improves performance. I reset my maximum weights midweek and managed to crank another 10% onto most of the weights. The next weights session will leave me in Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) agony for about 72 hours, if previous experience is anything to go by (but it's several weeks until we race again, so that's OK). This time, however, I will ensure that I move anything frequently used downstairs so that I don't find myself in the tricky situation of having to weigh the pros and cons of the pain involved in descending the stairs to get myself to the loo against the slow torture of an increasingly full bladder. (Life is full of such difficult choices...)

The last source of relief for the week is that I have now been out in a pair twice and not died/required the services of the lovely people at the RNLI. A couple of us had been toying for a while with the possibility of taking out a pair. We regularly find ourselves in the gym in the evenings when the water is beautifully calm and the skies clear and sunny, and figured learning to pair successfully would enable us to get off the ergs and onto the water a bit more often. When a suitably robust pair returned from repair, we seized the opportunity to take it out.

Somehow, I've managed to acquire the job of steering.

I now have renewed sympathy for the various coxless boats which have managed to crash into us or cause a near miss over the last few months. Steering ain't easy. It's a bit like having to learn to drive again, but without the luxury of having an instructor with dual controls. There aren't any quiet side roads, either, and instead you're forced straight onto, say, the A6. Also, boats don't have L-plates (though they perhaps should, particularly the way I've managed to steer these last couple of days...). Oh, and the other tricky things about this steering malarkey are that you're travelling backwards, and at the mercy of your crewmates to row at an even pressure. Handily, the river is fairly quiet at the moment, as my steering is not yet perfect. Far from it, in fact.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and after two reasonably uneventful outings in a pair, we've decided that it's a realistic ambition to win at whatever status we end up racing at the Pairs Head (a 4km time trial in October). We've therefore got just under three months for me to learn to steer (it's always handy to be able to steer when racing on the Tideway). This might prove a little ambitious, but it's great fun and also rather exciting to have a new project to work on, and something to keep me busy over the remainder of summer.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

How not to prepare for a regatta

We raced at Kingston yesterday - a IV and an VIII. Another regatta gone and another regatta from which we've returned empty-handed. Mind you, we were lucky to race our IV at all - only a few hours prior to being on the stake boat for our first race in the IV, it looked like we would have neither a boat nor cox - not an ideal situation to be in. But then, non-ideal preparation is pretty much what our IV has been doing for the last couple of weeks. So much so that I reckon I'm now amongst the world's leading experts in how not to prepare. To ensure others don't feel the need to try these experiments for themselves, I've put together this handy guide to how not to prepare for a regatta:

  1. Ensure that your stroke person is under pressure at work, studying for exams, stressed out and lacking the time to row;
  2. Put a hole in your boat during a minor misunderstanding with the Thames foreshore nine days before racing;
  3. Have your penultimate training session in a boat in which you know you won't be racing as another four will be racing in it ten minutes before your race starts;
  4. Fail to arrange for a cox to turn up to your final session in which you've actually managed to get out the boat in which you will be racing (and sharing with the men - thus meaning you secretly have to hope they won't get to their final, which will clash with yours);
  5. Leave the boat in which you will be racing on a trailer overnight, and find the canvas broken and holed and the boat unrowable the next morning, thus finding yourself in the position of having one river worthy four and five crews needing to row in it;
  6. Get to bed at a reasonable hour only to find that your neighbours are holding an unfeasibly loud, chattering classes party which continues until 4am when another neighbour tells them in no uncertain terms to make less noise or suffer extreme violence. Get only two hours' sleep as a result;
  7. Have a sufficiently wrecked body clock so as to be unable to breakfast in the morning before setting off to the regatta;
  8. Be on autopilot whilst driving to the regatta and continue well past the exit you should have taken, and instead head merrily toward Guildford and work. (I assume this must be something to do with associating driving whilst being too tired to reasonably do so with working for a living);
  9. Having got to the regatta and successfully borrowed a boat, find out that the bow ball is a little wobbly for the liking of the safety marshall (who recommends a large quantity of gaffer tape be added to it to aid the stiffness), at the point at which he considers failing the boat;
  10. Row in your race boat for the first time as you paddle down to the start;
  11. Discover after winning your race (and thus generating a requirement to use the boat again later in the day) that your club have unfathomably managed to turn up to a regatta without the requisite gaffer tape;
  12. Catch up on missed sleep between races by bedding down in the middle of a field, ensuring that on waking up, every body part has reached its maximum stiffness;
  13. Repeat this trick later in the day, this time in scorching sunshine to gain an extra, bonus challenge of dehydration.

Given that little lot, getting onto the water (let alone managing to win a heat) should prove quite a challenge. Somehow, we managed it. Admittedly, we could have done better in the final. Given the circumstances, though, I can't really complain at the results.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

I never could get the hang of Thursdays...

... and I've never particularly thought of myself as having a self-image problem, but it seems I do. You see, until last Thursday, I've never seen myself as the type of person who finds themselves being rescued by the RNLI. But it turns out that I am exactly the type of person who the RNLI rescue, particularly on a Thursday.

Allow me to explain...

We were out in a coxed four. There was a plan for the outing. It was complicated, but as I recall it involved doing lots of hard work. Having got down to Putney with a warm up and some technical work, we spun to head upstream against the tide and start the hard work. It was all going pretty well until we put a hole in our boat whilst being washed onto an island emerging under the ebb tide by a largish boat which was very evidently breaking the speed limit.

Now, boats tend not to float too well when they have holes in them. In fact, if our experience just upstream of Putney Bridge was anything to go by, they acquire extra water at an alarming rate. I cursed our decision to go out in the more spacious and capacious four (lacking buoyancy compartments) rather than taking the older, more tiny and altogether more knackered but ultimately more buoyant four.

We had a problem.

We rapidly donned wellies and got out of the boat into thigh-deep river. We picked up the boat and squelched through the mud onto the foreshore just upstream of Putney Bridge, with water streaming out of the hole under the bow seat.

Out of the river, and holding our boat on the foreshore, we assessed the situation. The tide was going out. This was A Very Good Thing. It gave us lots of time to work out what to do before being in trouble with a rising tide. It was also summer, and despite our soaking and the rapidly dropping sun, we seemed unlikely to develop hypothermia. It also became obvious at this stage that the little we could recall of the outing plan was largely irrelevant.

Arms aching, we looked for somewhere to stash the stricken boat temporarily whilst we formulated a plan. We'd normally carry out this manoeuvre up at the club, where we have reasonably-designed trestles to put boats on whilst we faff. But there aren't many trestles on the foreshore. However, there is an ample supply of mud and rock, so we piled some rocks up and plonked the boat down whilst we faffed some more, with the first priority being to empty our wellies of excess river water.

Freed from the need to hold the boat, we explored possible escape routes. Fortunately, we'd managed to run aground in a rather handy location, just a few tens of metres from an easy means of escape - a flight of steps up to the embankment. Getting ourselves safe was therefore easy. Getting the boat back to decent racking via that route would have been more of a challenge. Not only were the steps reasonably steep, but Mother Nature had chosen precisely that flight of steps to demonstrate her ability to triumph over any environment by growing a large and leafy tree in the middle of a load of concrete. Satisfied that it would be several hours before we need to concern ourselves with life an limb, we returned to the problem of how to get our boat and kit off the foreshore and to somewhere it could be repaired.

It was at about this point that a constable and PCSO peered over the wall to ask if we needed any help. Now, despite my natural instinct to deny any need for help whatsoever, even I was forced to admit that a couple of cops with radios and colleagues might be handy at that point.

After a sizable amount of additional faffing, we asked the police to get in touch with our club to try to get someone to come down in a launch bringing some tape for emergency repairs so we could tow the boat back to the club. It was a solid enough plan, but unfortunately, there was no answer at the club. They tried the club again. No answer. They then got concerned that we might die of hypothermia and offered us space blankets. As we were beginning to get cold with the sun dropping and the wind picking up, we made our way up to the embankment and shared two foil blankets between five of us. This evidently wasn't sufficient, so the nice constable radioed for colleagues to bring additional space blankets for five girls in minimal clothing who'd got a bit wet and shivery.

I was feeling somewhat embarrassed. I work with cops and Specials. I didn't fancy one of my colleagues turning up to 'rescue' me.

We must still have looked cold even with sharing foil blankets, personal space and body heat, as the first cop tried in vain to get us indoors to a local cafe. We all insisted we were fine. (I was cold. I insisted I was fine. Why do I do this?) After a while, he gave up trying to get us into the cafe and instead went to appeal to the better nature of the cafe owner, who provided free tea for us all. This was most welcome.

A few minutes later, three uniforms, two space blankets and car answered the call. I was relieved to not recognise any of my colleagues, and also to have my own space blanket and no longer have to spoon one of my crewmates.

At some point, one of our rowing buddies hurtled past on a training run. We flagged her down, explained the situation, and she hurtled home to get a mobile phone to call a contact at another club to get a launch out for us. Unfortunately, it being Henley week, no bugger was around. We were beginning to despair of anyone with a boat turning up before the tide turned, when a four from one of the Putney clubs sliced into view. Our cox recognised the blades and hailed the club. Their coach very kindly made his way over to the Fulham bank to see what he could do.

He didn't have any tape, so taping up and towing to his club wasn't an option. He did however take our blades and cox up the river to hunt down our launch (out with the novices) to bring the necessary kit (a launch and some tape).

Unbeknown to us, the first cop had evidently got sufficiently bored of the situation that he'd got colleagues to call RNLI. They turned up with a pleasingly large rigid inflatable thing, with blue flashing lights and three sturdy-looking chaps, just as help arrived from the club (launch, coach and tape). It was at about this point that I realised the whole thing was descending into farce, and the chaps from the RNLI were serious about rescuing us.

We piled into their boat, leaving a couple of the RNLI chaps to move our damaged four. We then got sufficiently concerned for the welfare of the boat (being left in non-rowing hands), that two of us jumped out again into the waist-deep water to give them a hand lifting and carrying. I ended up back in the Thames, chest-deep and grateful for my height, supporting our four at head-height whilst it was strapped to one side of the inflatable. I clambered back into the boat. I was wet. It was cold. Did I want a nice, warm, ambulance blanket? No thanks, I was fine.


There was a rather nice sunset on the journey home, which seemed unfeasibly long (probably because I was cold and having a rather large sense of humour failure, because everything was now fine and I could safely indulge in wanton self-pity.) I was therefore enormously grateful to arrive back at the club, thank and bid farewell to our 'rescuers', be ordered into the showers, informed that there were plenty of the novices around to deal with our boat and launch etc., and that my job was to get clean and warm and up to the bar to drink tea and eat free sandwiches. For the first time that evening, I wasn't going to refuse the offer of help.

A week on, I resolutely blame the whole sorry affair on it being a Thursday...