17 Jun 2009


Well, we made it. Over the two days my handlebar-mounted GPS reported that it had travelled 98.6 miles, exactly.

Caen Hill by lovestruck.
I, in contrast, travelled 104 miles approximately

The difference? Well, it was the three miles-or-so that I cycled along the tow-path while my GPS was no longer, it transpired, handle-bar mounted.... and the four-miles-or-so that I sweated back along the tow-path looking for it. (no it wasn't at the pub where we had lunch, it was on the ground near to a nasty pothole and no, I obviously didn't loop the fail-safe lanyard properly around my handlebars and, yes, I am therefore an idiot who deserved this extra 25 hot and sweaty minutes' pursuit.

Fortunately, I have considerate friends who, despite still smarting from my cougar-like ascent of Caen hill and consequently unassailable hold on the polka-dot jersey, agreed unanimously to wait for me.

Well, they said, in fact they thought they might keep going, they said, until they got to the next pub, they said, where they would wait for me there; and it was my round so don't be too long, will you?

Still, my carelessness gave them time to check their blackberries, upload their photos, post to their blogs, download details of nearby geocaches and text their tweets, for we are all - much to our children's incredulity - connected, now.

For isn't everyone? Seems to me 2009 is the year that forty-somethings finally found facebook. So for the older in tooth, but curious despite themselves, here are the seven stages in the adoption of social networking:
  1. ignorance... what's a blog?
  2. incredulity, derision and willful misunderstanding .. you mean several times a day, short messages, but who on earth cares that you've just finished the washing up?
  3. fear and suspicion... when I was their age we spoke to our friends, it can't be good all this screentime - and these people I heard of: they tweeted they were on holiday and their house was burgled
  4. unwillingly intrigued... well, apparently she saw it on facebook and so..
  5. toe in the water... No, I'm only on it to see what the children are doing..
  6. gentle usage - no, hardly at all, just a few status updates, but, wow, it's surprising all these old friends that find you, I hadn't seen her for nearly 20 years and out of nowhere she friended me
  7. immersion - so, I've got my facebook updates going out automatically as tweets, plus on the sidebar of my blog, I've got 129 friends, which is too many really, I'm going to start refusing
At what stage are you?

Here's where we went...

View Kennet & Avon Canal by Bike in a larger map

13 Jun 2009


I am become death, the destroyer of winged insects.

Those that i dont swallow, I trap in the vents of my cycle helmet, where they buzz and struggle until i, frantic, crush against my pate.

We have covered 67 miles yesterday and today so far. .

12 Jun 2009

half way to reading

today, i have been mostly cycling.

Four of there are, the regular Sunday morning crew, and we're Bristol to Reading via the Kennet and Avon canal. Bed and Breakfast in the Royal Oak in Pewsey.

It's quite a long way from Bristol to Reading - about a 100 miles, but we're hard men, we are, and there's talk of pressing on tomorrow all the way to Windsor.

Well this morning there was talk, no much after the ascent of Caen Hill Locks.

It's hungry work, cycling - we had breakfast in Reading (train stop) lunch in Avonbridge, tea in a garden centre in woodbridge and, delightfully, our B&B is 300m from an Indian Restaurant, so we're all sorted for dinner (1)

Unaccountably we failed to stop for elevenses.


(1) A chicken tarka calls (its like a chicken tikka, but a little 'otter)

10 Jun 2009

the whole of August

For an under-bonused, over-stressed banking-monkey with a long commute is there anything more tantalising than the offer of unpaid leave?

Two weeks extra leave in 2009 we can have, if we want it; the credit-crunch ill wind blows some good after all. Two weeks!  What's not to like?

Except that, ah yes, for a moment I forgot, it's unpaid leave.

So, I could have the whole of August off (hurray!) but with no money to spend (boo).

What to do? Hang out at home? Except everyone knows that it's impossible for a family of five to enjoy themselves in London for less than £200 a day. Could we enjoy ourselves in Paris for less?

The world is our whelk.

8 Jun 2009

just one more lap

It was raining when I got out of the car, it was raining while I racked my bike and put on my wetsuit, and it was raining when I jumped in the lake.

Raincycle by OskarN
While I ran up the hill back to transition it rained, and it was raining while I took off my wetsuit and strapped on my helmet and set off on my bike.

Careering around the Blenheim Palace Triathlon circuit at over 35mph on the downhill, through pools of standing water it rained still, and it was raining when I ran through the finish line at the end of the run and collected my medal.

I was wet.

After I was finished and trudging back to the transition areas  I watched a young women speed up to the bike finish, dismount, and then pause uncertainly to speak to the marshall while competitors whizzed past her at no small speed.

"Three laps!", I heard him say, "That's right, three laps..... Well, how many laps have you done?"
"I don't know"
"Well, have you done more than one?"
"Two I think"
"Well, you'd better do another one then"
She nodded, awkwardly turned her bike round and faced the way she had come, swallowed hard and got on the bike. Then she burst into tears and got back off again.
"Go on", said the marshall, not unkindly, "it'll be OK - just one more lap. And then, um, then the run."
And she nodded, took a breath, got back on a second time and pedalled off.

I was 1 hour 36. Not bad, but I didn't acquit myself well in the run and I seem to have fallen asleep in Transition 2, taking about a minute more than I needed.

I reckon I could shave six minutes of my time next year.

5 Jun 2009

amusing but spiteful

Every so often at work they invite external speakers, successful in their chosen fields, to inspire us with their ideas, experiences and achievements

A New Dawn by Thomas Hawk

There are canapés, and I always attend.

Last week the speaker was an entrepreneur venture capitalist. No, not one of the ones on Dragon's Den, but if you are the sort of person who could name five entrepreneur venture capitalists, then perhaps you would have heard of him.

His messages were simple, and they were simply told and there were two:

Lesson the first: Perseverance.

It is perseverance, he said, that creates 'so called luck' and in particular luck is created by being out and about and connecting with people - people who have ideas, or who might be able to help you.

Sitting eight rows back I shifted uncomfortably in my seat with the realisation that every single one of the entrepreneurs who have come to speak to us have given us pretty much that same message.

And then, because I am British and not American and therefore value cynicism over optimism, I thought of all the entrepreneurs out there who have not yet persevered long enough to create their luck and have not been invited to speak to us at work

Lesson the second: - Adaptability

If you have an idea you will face setbacks. You need to constantly reassess: you must ask yourself  "Do I have a good idea?" and if you do have good idea then see 1) Perseverance. But also see 2) Adaptability, lest your idea is good one but your approach is wrong.

For sometimes you might open the doors of the room that contains your idea and stride in expecting a ballroom but find yourself in a cupboard. This doesn't make it a bad idea, just a cupboard-sized idea. Or perhaps you have an idea the size of a cupboard and open the doors to find yourself in a ballroom?  Whatever: Either way you need to recognise and adapt.

Now, as well as being a cynic I am also a pragmatist, and I did like that.

Afterwards over canapés I encountered a colleague I hadn't seen for a while and James and I spent a happy glass of wine or so picking over Project Phoenix until we were disconcerted by the organiser of the event, a senior executive normally to be found on the 27th floor, who came smoothly over to shake our hands and ask us who we were and what we thought of the speaker.

Never too shy to express an opinion I said that I thought our speaker was entertaining and engaging and, I judged, in the top quartile of recent speakers.  Indeed, I continued, sipping some more Chardonnay, remembering previous speakers, and warming to my theme, "on a scale of " gesturing now, hand at knee level, I named a famous chef, to (reaching high in the the air), a famous businessman,  "he was about here" (armpit).

I was rather pleased with my improvised bon mot / bon mime, but as the VIP excused himself and hurried away I reflected how no one likes a smart arse, and that unconventional is rarely clever.

Of course I should have come up with something much blander, something more right-thinking, something interior-decorated that surrendered self in favour of conformity. Or more cleverly still, something that drew attention to the quality of my interlocutor's speech of introduction, rather than to my own amusing but spiteful glibness. Lesson the third - diplomacy.

On the other hand James choked on his canapé and said 'good one' so it was a quip not entirely wasted.

All the same I was glad I had given a false name.

4 Jun 2009

Today's giant ballots

I know where my democratic duty lies in this time of crisis and disillusionment: to make a protest vote.

At 7.15am this morning  Twickenham polling station was almost deserted as I collected my ludicrous, 70cm long, ballot paper, and watched the teller carefully enter the serial number against my name on the roll.

Does any seriously believe that our votes are actually secret?

Can there be any doubt whatsoever that ballots for parties like the BNP are not subsequently retrieved and carefully traced back to the individuals who cast them? As was done to communist votes 40 years ago?

Fortunately, I voted neither BNP nor communist, so I dont suppose anyone will care.

Even after folding and refolding my silly ballot paper the teller had to use a ruler to help me poke it into the narrow slit.  He told me they only had one ballot box at the station (same as usual) and he was worried that it will not be big enough for all of today's giant ballots. I agreed.

I worry we may have a 'hanging chad' type problem of our own today.

2 Jun 2009

hoots of derision

In half term the family Botogol went not once but twice to the theatre. At both events the interval discussion was heated

The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan
starring Timothy West

Arthur Winslow is an unexceptional man but he is a patriarch in a small way - that's to say he's a patriarch to his family which I suppose is the only sort of patriarch there is.

His family depend upon him and that's quite a responsibility for any man and he has acquitted himself adequately. But when he perceives that his son's future is threatened by loss of reputation and honour he is overwhelmed and he fights in the only way he knows how: with the law.

His fight destroys his family, and himself.

In the interval the Botogol girls had trouble imagining any circumstances where the marriage and education of the one sibling might be rightly sacrificed for the benefit of the other.  "Over a postal order, no, I do see your point,"  soothed Mrs Botogol, "but perhaps", she ventured, "if your brother was faced with prison...".  Hoots of derision: their brother, chorused the girls, would undoubtedly deserve it.

Arthur Winslow is commonly supposed to be engaged in an act of principle: justice at any cost for a son he believes innocent.  I didn't see it that way at all: I saw his actions as visceral, his support unconditional: he fights for his boy, with no more than a cursory nod at the truth of the matter. Perversely, it's the QC's support which appears conditional on belief in the boy's innocence.

A view from the Bridge by Arthur Miller
starring Ken Stott.

Eddie Carbone is an unexceptional man but he is a patriarch in a small way: that's to say he's a patriarch to his family which I suppose is the only sort of patriarch there is. His family depend upon him and that's quite a responsibility for any man and he has acquitted himself adequately.

But when he seems to be losing his niece to a boy with a strange magnetism he cannot understand he is overwhelmed and he fights dirty with eventually the only effective weapon he can find:  the law.

His fight destroys his family, and himself.

At the interval the Botogol girls opined that he was a monster, they found it hard to imagine any circumstances where a father might feel it necessary to go to such great lengths to save a daughter from herself. Especially not a completely grown-up daughter all of eighteen. "I do see your point in this instance", I soothed, "but perhaps sometimes a father's experience might enable him to see something his daughter could not" . Hoots of derision: Fathers, they chorused, knew nothing about modern life.

Eddie Carbone is commonly supposed to be....well, I find I can go no further: this is a play I studied for O-Level so I have only entirely conventional opinions

Both of these plays are on tour and I recommend them - and take your family.