27 March 2007

The French Exchange

We have a French Exchange staying with us. She hasn't been to England before so she's a bit nervous and for some reason I think she finds us... unusual.

To tell the truth, I reckon I might have gotten off on the wrong foot right at the start, on Thursday evening, when I arrived home from work. I'd cycled home, it was late and I was very tired but, yes, I should have remembered the French Exchange would be there and, no, I shouldn't have come suddenly bursting in, crossly, through the french-windows, muddy-lycra-legged, in a hi-viz armpit-ventilated waistcoat and an oily face.

After she had calmed down, the French Exchange went straight to bed. Obviously she was tired after a long journey. We gave her 10 minutes to settle down and then my children remembered all the things that they had left in her room that they absolutely had to retrieve before the morning. What kind of things? Things that required my presence in her bedroom to shift the furniture to get at (don't ask). After a few minutes of whispered but still heated argument outside the French Exchange's bedroom door, the children banged and a delegation was sent in. She was very nice about it, considering.

She does have a name, of course, - in fact I'm pretty sure she told us what it was when she arrived - but we don't use it: when she's not listening we simply refer to her as "The French Exchange".

When she is listening we still call her "The French Exchange" but more rapidly (She doesn't understand rapid English, which is unfortunate because in our family that's the sort of English we speak) When we want to attract her attention we call her "Oi, tu".

She in turn doesn't call us anything at all; because she doesn't speak. I don't mean she doesn't speak English. I mean she doesn't speak: you see: she's fifteen. When she wants to attract our attention she uses her butter-knife like a spoon. Or pours the milk in afterwards. Or eats the cakes before the scones (she was exhibiting French sang-froid on Saturday, so we took her to afternoon tea at the Waldorf to humiliate her).

After the Waldorf we took her to St Paul's: ostensibly this was to climb the dome, experiment with the whispering gallery ("Oi! Tu!") and run out breathless on to the hair-raising viewing platform to point out where where we'd just walked "Et le bas: Le Pont de le Tour". Of course the real reason was to visit the tombs of the Duke of Wellington, vanquisher of the French in 1815, Lord Nelson, vanquisher of the French in 1805 and the memorial to Winston Churchill, rescuer of the French in 1944. The French Exchange was suitably impressed, I could tell. At one point she even took off her ipod.

She's with us for another two days. I reckon the entente-cordiale will just about last.

25 March 2007


Every Friday at Canary Wharf tube station a unusual busker plies his trade playing 70s music on his Fender Stratocaster

But not the ghastly 70s music that features in endless themed parties and interminable compilations. There is no Carwash, Blockbuster or any other class of glam-rock in his repertoire. He plays the other 70s music, the real 70s music. My 70s music. The Sultans Of Swing, Changes, London Calling, Stairway to Heaven. Going Underground (yes, really!)

Its odd music to busk in any underground station but especially at Canary Wharf: In Canary Wharf the average age of commuters seems to be about 23 and I don't suppose even 1 person in 10 recognises the music this lonely busker plays.

The effect is spooky. Not because the sound echos eerily around the cavernous converted-dock station (though it does) and not because the material he plays is incongruous (although it is) but because he plays hidden behind a pillar: London Underground, in their wisdom, sited the licensed busker's pitch facing the down escalator - so he plays with his back to us work-bound commuters, and if he puts as much as a toe outside his designated area the LU staff are there to pounce. There may be rock music and avant-garde poems on the modern underground, but they still like the buskers to know remember who's boss.

He doesn't sing, he just plays, and often the familiar tunes cause half-remembered lyrics to roll around the edges of my mind as I hurry out of the station.

A fortnight ago, late for work, running over the same old ground, with deadlines looming, and my blackberry showing 194 unread and unreadable emails (it was before I got my glasses) I reached his spot at the foot of the escalator as he was in middle of a familiar song. I wasn't sure what it was but felt that if I listened long enough I thought I could tell. It was the end of that lovely warm week we had in London and I and all the other commuters stood on the cold steel rail, trading hot air for a cool breeze, heading for blue skies.. or pain.

You don't expect to hear Pink Floyd busked, when you do it's a welcome treat. So why did I only give him a pound?

Fridays is my favourite commuting day

20 March 2007

Chekhov on Blogging

I read all of Chekhov's short stories in a single lonely weekend during my first term at university. That was almost twenty-five years ago and I have since remained an avid fan, although naturally I have forgotten every word. I do remember a Kiss.

I have been a fan of Christopher Hampton, mind, even longer: ever since I adored Mrs Botogol (as she wasn't then) bring the house down with a perfect performance as Araminta in the Philanthropist. That was very probably in 1981.

So all in all I was excited on Friday to go to The Seagull at the Royal Court [well, silly, because it's a play by Chekhov... in a new version by Hampton] But not excited enough to stay awake during all of the second half, mind, but in my defence I have to point out that the play was two hours and fifty minutes long. That's too long. But the first half was excellent and one bit really caught my attention; so much so, I sadly bought a script, so that I could copy it out in my blog.

Background: Trigorin is a famous blogger, who has recently got a book deal, and Nina accuses him of having a wonderful life. He replies
I don't see what's so special about it [...] All right then, let's talk, let's talk about my wonderful glittering life... (he thinks for a moment)

There's such a thing as obsession, when for example a man thinks all day and night about nothing but the moon, and I have my own moon. All day and all night I am haunted by a single obsessive thought: I have to blog, I have to blog, I have to blog.... No sooner have I finished one post when for some reason or another I have to write a second post, and then a third, and, after the third, a fourth.... I write non-stop at breakneck speed, and I can't seem to do it any other way. Now what's so wonderful and glittering about that, may I ask? Ach... it's a preposterous life! I'm here with you getting steamed up, but at the same time I can't forget for a moment that there's an post saved as draft waiting for me.

There's a cloud, see? which looks like a grand piano. I think to myself: must fit in to my blog somewhere that a cloud floated by. looking like a grand piano [...] I keep fixing on every phrase, on every word that you an I utter, and I can't wait to add all these phrases and words as soon as I can to my literary stockpile: never know when they might come in handy.
And I am sitting there, in Row K of the stalls, (just behind that scottish bloke from Sea of Souls, actually) in the heart of metropolitan London, watching Chekhov, in a version by Hampton, and I am thinking to myself:
  • that's good, I could blog that
  • it reminds me of a post by Wife in The North
  • I haven't posted anything on my blog for three days. I'm not a real blogger
We bought the script in the interval, and when we had finished our obligatory glass of theatre-Pinot-Grigio we went back to our seats. While I waited for the play to resume I tried to look up the quote, but in the dim light I couldn't read it and I had forgotten my brand-new old-man glasses.

14 March 2007

Mortal Tired

I am training and I am mortal tired, day and night.

Every morning I BIKE 18 miles to work, where I shower and doze lightly in my office, reading blogs and deleting emails until New York opens, then I work until midnight. You see, on top of the training, I also have an extreme job.

On the plus side I get to take London and NY lunch breaks (5 dreary km RUN on the treadmill / 500 choking metres SWIM in the pool) Also we get fluffy towels in the corporate gym, I have a plant in my office and I can enjoy being in stimulating, diverse workforce with whom I can leverage ideas in a atmosphere of mutual respect.

Eventually, late, late in the evening, long after those with flexible working hours have gone home (5.30 sharp), I perch my saddle-sore backside on my uncomfortable £200 super-gel saddle and BIKE home, where I eat, watch Desperate Housewives and take on Mrs B in our nightly game of strip scrabble before sinking gratefully to bed. There, every night, I experience the deep, deep sleep of the weary from which nothing Mrs B can do rouses me, save ever-so-gently pulling the duvet over onto her side of the mattress.

You see, I am training and I am mortal tired (often too tired to blog even). My mid- life- I- am- still- young- what- are- you- talking- about- there's- nothing- wrong- with- my- knees- triathlon is in just seven and a half weeks time.

For the next eight weeks I will be mostly blogging about Triathlon

Training here going very well: I am averaging at least £50/week and set a new personal best - £75 - during last Tuesday's lunch break in Evans where in just ten glorious minutes I bought:
  • a sly, Hi-Visibility Waistcoat (never again will I cycle after dark dressed entirely in grey, not after that Stockwell-motorbike-incident, no way) - £30
  • a new extra-bright LED rear light with seventeen different flash-patterns (old one actually brighter, but with insufficiently cool flash-patterns) - £20
  • cool nine-way miniature aluminium multi-tool set, in its own wallet (to fit new light on bike immediately) - £15
  • new water bottle (old one smelt funny, somehow) - £3
  • three new inner tubes (puncture on my second day. 8'45" tube change) - £6
On the way home that evening, somewhere in Battersea, knees pumping, bike flying along I hit a pothole so hard that everything not totally alan-keyed to the bike fell off on to the road: lock, panniers, water-bottle, pump, me.

06 March 2007

Life and Death

Put simply, my mind was elsewhere.

My mind was hurtling down a powdery-snowy, yet smoothly pisted Tulipe (rouge) in the no-longer-slushy french Alps, at 50mph, ski tips glinting in the bright sunlight, Mont Blanc shimmering in the distance, my mind was busy executing point-perfect parallel turns

Meanwhile, my body was travelling at 5mph, perched my shiny new racing bike somewhere in grim, gun-ridden South London, half way home.

It was dark, it was raining hard - no, it was harder than that - and I was sneaking into the conveniently large space that had opened up between the curb on my left hand side and, on my right, a large HGV that was omigod- it- was- actually- turning- left.

The RoSPA is an worthy organisation isn't it? In its useful leaflet on HGVs and Cyclists entitled 'Avoiding Sudden Death' it opines, hepfully:
In a collision between a lorry and a cyclist, it is invariably the cyclist who will be injured
You're probably thinking "Well, at least that's cleared that one up, then". I'm thinking: "A curse be on the RoSPA". Because I calculate I've wasted a good three-quarters of an hour of my life since I read that trying to imagine a scenario where a collision results otherwise.

Mind you, though that is 45 minutes I'll never get back, it didn't seem anywhere near as long as the 2.5 seconds I spent on Friday night contemplating my certain death and at the very least - I reckoned - a buckled wheel and misaligned front deraileur, and I bet they'd charge me £60, minimum, at the bike shop to fix that, if I wasn't dead that was, and can you get a bike resprayed if it's scratched? If it is brand new I mean, and wouldn't it be funny if Reynolds was the one that scraped me off the pavement and he got to blog about it before I did?

I braked hard. I lived. I discovered that in a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian-safety barrier, it's the cyclist who invariably ends up with the sore elbow and wounded pride.

When I got going again, I could see up ahead a old man ahead plugging away on a Brompton, - a perfect opportunity to establish a more elevated place in the pecking-order of the road, and I cheered up, and hared off after him.

Next week, I'm going to swim to work.

05 March 2007


So far, my preparations for my rite-of-middle-age-passage triathlon in May (gulp) have consisted of spending a very large amount of money on equipment. In other words things are going very satisfactorily indeed.

My biggest regret has been choosing an event which requires no wetsuit, meaning that the extent of my ambition for SWIM (not swimming, we triathletes don't say 'swimming', we say SWIM) has been limited to a pair of bunch-of-grapes speedos and £50 goggles. (Note to self - can I at least get a exorbitantly priced hat anywhere, I wonder?)

But on the other hand, even if I do have admit to some disappointment on the SWIM prep, the BIKE part (we triathletes don't say 'cycling' we say 'BIKE') has gone exceptionally well: I have bought a shiny new bike.

Well of course I have bought a shiny new bike - that's what middle-aged triathletes do, isn't it? I chose the colour to match my top. It cost £500, which was a little disappointing, until I remembered the accesories and with those I was easily able to make it over the magic four figure split.

With hindsight, I can't think why I went for this triathlon idea at all, because I have to say that, basically, RUN (we triathletes, well you get the point) is also bit disappointing. On the positive side, only half way through my training regime, I have managed to beat my PB already, but when you consider that my RUN PB was only £74.99 on a pair of trainers from J&B, you won't be impressed. I should have entered l'etape du tour which would have required a lot more kit. Still, I have my personal RUN-shoe fitting session on Saturday which should keep me up to schedule. I have targeted £100/week for weeks 4-8 rising to £150 in weeks 9-12.

I wonder how much a tri-suit costs. A really good one, I mean.

Next week I am going to ride my bike.