10,000 Wasted Hours

How are you getting on with your New Year resolutions? We’re 10 days into 2018 now and by now you should have been able to identify which of them are going to be straightforward and which are going to be more of a challenge. Some of the things you might want to achieve could involve overcoming a number of deeply ingrained habits.

Those things which are relatively easy to do are also easy to become habits. In terms of healthy habits you can probably train yourself to drink a glass of water every morning in about three weeks or eat a piece of fruit with your lunch in about six weeks. Anything more physical can take longer, even when you account for the amount of training you need to prepare your body for exercise.

In addition, anything more complex requiring the acquisition of new skills will take longer to become a habit. Suppose you wanted to spend an hour a day playing the piano and you don’t currently play the piano then you need to go through the whole learning how to play thing before you can have a go at bashing out a few bars of Beethoven or Bach before breakfast.

Establishing a habit is only the start. You have to maintain it. Doing a few press-ups two or three times in a couple of weeks is not a firm basis for a new exercise regime. Having said that, it’s precisely the sort of thing I do. I haven’t been for a swim or a bike ride yet this year. I have done 90 minutes of rather inelegant yoga and I might be able to get to another yoga class on Friday morning. That’s a start of sorts, depending on whether I actually get to Ashtanga.

The popular notion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something is a little simplistic but it has some value. I have had a lot more than 10,000 hours of lying in bed in the morning, farting around on Facebook and Twitter instead of getting my arse up and moving and going for a run or a swim or getting to my yoga class. I am an life-long expert in indolence.

Those 10,000 hours need to be deliberate practice, focused on improving performance at whatever task you’ve taken on. Going back to our putative pianist, he needs to realise that he’s going to have to spend time on scales and studies, learn how to read music and that’s not the easiest thing to do. There is a piano in the corner of the room I’m sitting in now and it spends most of the time as the resting place for books full of unused sheet music and a forlorn ukulele. At least Anne is ignoring the piano and I am only neglecting the ukulele. (I am neglecting to mention the guitar lurking down the side of the piano.)

These are both things that we acquired when we thought it would be fun to try things we last tried when we were much younger. Life gets in the way and in Anne’s case she was tangled up in her next writing project while I was tangled up in the sheets of my bed and distracted by social media. My expert performance is in displacement activities.

So, if your resolutions aren’t going well, you can always step back, examine them, consider whether they’re worthwhile, give them another go if they are, and change a few things to give yourself more chance to succeed. If New Year is just another day, then so is tomorrow and it’s just as good an opportunity to make a new start as 1st January.

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Pinning Down “Now”

A responsible person would tell people that there is a picture of creepy-crawlies further down the page. I know one of them is a scorpion and that will completely freak at least one person who would otherwise want to read this out. 

I’m just about responsible enough to do this. 

It’s New Year. Another arbitrary moment in time is approaching. The planet is swinging past that spot in its orbit of the sun it occupied twelve months ago and you’re standing there wondering what the actual fuck you’ve done with yourself since the last time we were here.

I’ve been thinking a bit again about what makes this time of year such a point of change for people. It goes beyond spending the next few weeks getting the date wrong. I don’t have a cheque book any more. Who does? But I remember the hassle of having to score out the date in the top right corner of the cheque nearly every time I used one in January, February and the first half of March. Score, score. Swear. Initial. New date.

I think now that it has something to do with trying to freeze time. I want to pin a moment down, like a beetle in museum display case. A bit like Haldane’s God, I have an inordinate fondness for beetles. Unlike a Victorian naturalist though, I prefer my beetles out there disposing of shit, wood, discarded body parts or other beetles and not actually euthanised in a jar of something unpleasant then tagged and labelled in a cabinet of curiosities.

However, more poetically, I do want to be able to examine moments from my year and display them for their educational properties. I want to take a scuttling “now” from the landscape of the entire stream of “thens” and label it. I think most of my moments, like most beetles, would pass unremarked.

For most people, most of our our lives pass like beetles scurrying in the dark. Our lives are unremarkable. There is nothing about us which warrants outside attention and that’s absolutely fine. I’m almost comfortable with the notion of being nobody at all wandering around on an insignificant speck in a meaninglessly infinite universe. I think that’s why I want to pull out those specimens which have added a flash of iridescence to what would otherwise be a constant stream of the commonplace wee beetles.

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Richard’s Big Book of Excuses

I haven’t been out for my long run today. It was such a lovely day too; unseasonably warm thanks to Hurricane Ophelia and little wind and no rain in spite of Hurricane Ophelia and still I didn’t go out for my long run. I do have an excuse though. Sort of. My right Achilles is a little twangy after my parkrun yesterday. I felt a wee stabby pain in the side of my foot on my cool down and the aforementioned twang started as I walked back to my car. I’d planned a run along the Roman Road this afternoon but decided to rest again because it just didn’t feel right but now I think it was an excuse to park my arse on the sofa and fart around Doing Things With Excel as I processed the results from this morning’s Cambourne 5k.

I think all athletes have excuses for when things go wrong. It’s usually best to be honest and own up to cock-ups. A period of self-reflection after a race or a training session is always a good thing and helps make the next one go better if you make the necessary changes. That is all well and good and worthy and necessary but it’s not very funny. (Nor is this, but I’m doing my best.) So with that in mind and because I feel the need here are the Top Five from Richard’s Big Book of Excuses.

In at Number 5 – The Wrong Kind of Weather.

You’ve trained for cool conditions and suddenly it’s twenty-five degrees centigrade. The sun is bouncing off the pavements just like the rain isn’t and the bastard spectators have all gone to have ice cream for breakfast. That black plastic bag you brought with you for warmth is mocking you. You want to put the fucking thing down but it keeps sticking to your hand. It. Won’t. Come. Off.

Or it’s pissing it down with rain and you have your favourite racing flats on, the really light ones with no tread whatsoever and the concrete surface you’re running on means that you’re suddenly Bambi on the iced-over pond. You want to run through the corners but you end up looking like Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served? on a boys’ night out with Dick Emery and Larry Grayson: more mince than is seen anywhere outside of a butcher’s slab.

Which brings us somewhat tangentially to Number 4: I Really Needed My Trail Shoes.

Following on from the wrong sort of weather is the wrong sort of surface. You find out just after you arrive to register that it’s rained all night and that hard-packed trail you reccied last month now has the consistency, colour and smell of nervous cow poo. Your trail shoes are at home, still drying out because you fell off the river trail and into the actual river a couple of days ago.

Or you misread the race instructions, skipping over the bit about the bog at 11 miles into Race The Train and end up leaving both shoes in said bog. I did this and the marshal wanted to know why I went back for my shoes instead of just going on. They were my fucking shoes! I liked them. I wanted them and I needed them to run the last three miles of the race. I realise that marshals are volunteers and do great things from the goodness of their hearts but sometimes you just want to give someone a good hard nipple grip.

Number 3 is of course The Wheels Fell Off.

This is usually down to neglecting the Six Pees. Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. Actually none of the the excuses would be necessary if we paid closer attention to the Six Pees.

So you’re cruising along on a 10k at what feels like a strong but maintainable pace. Up comes a hill and everyone just runs away from you. Everyone. You’re left breathless and buggered by the scenery, retching into the gutter and begging passing strangers for a jelly baby. “Please give me a jelly baby. I just need one miserable sugar hit to get going again.” You have nothing left to give. You have emptied the tank too quickly, over-estimating your fitness and under-estimating the conditions. You feel miserable. You will never run again. You will go back to that bog in Wales and throw all your shoes into it. Of course, you are a complete drama queen.

Number 2: I Just Didn’t Get Enough Long Runs In

The excuse primarily of the lazy-arsed marathon runner who finds himself walking with seventeen miles still to go. Long runs are long. They are time-consuming. There are lots of things you would much rather do that may or may not involve alcohol, cake, sex, bragging on social media, cats, sofas or other soft furnishings, books, illuminated manuscripts, work (but only very occasionally), sex (again – how manly!), more alcohol, poor weather (see the above), twinges from assorted limbs and The Bad Back, and finally, rampant and terminal hypochondria. All of these get in the way of going for a long run so you can get to the start of a marathon having done quite a lot of fuck all and fretting but no actual running for more than about 90 minutes at all. That’s fine if you’ve done lots of marathons but the sort of person who needs this excuse hasn’t done lots of marathons. He’s made an awful lot of excuses.

The biggest and best excuse is Number 1: Injury And Illness Ruined My Life.

It’s entire possible to be both undertrained and over-injured. I am living, aching proof. In the last month I’ve had a week off because of man flu and the return of the twangy Achilles which plagued the start of my 2017 training. I’ve been as careful as possible about my training since March. I haven’t done too much, too quickly or too soon and I still ran a 90% effort at parkrun yesterday after a 32% warm up so now my Achilles tendons feel like one of John Cage’s prepared pianos.

On which happy note, I think I’ll leave you.

In spite of all of this, tomorrow is another day, the start of another week and maybe I’ll get through them all with no further recourse to the Big Book of Excuses. I doubt it though.

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Shay Shomething Sexshy

Sho, I have new denchuresh and I shound a lot more like Sean Connery than I did thish morning. Over the pasht few yearsh, I have been lozhing teethsh and becaushe I am a colosshal wimp I am shcared shitlessh of the dentisht. It’sh the pain, moshtly, and shome embarrashment. I wash afraid the dentisht was going to tell me off for not sheeing anyone for about a quarter of a shentury.

Well, I’ve sheen people in the pasht twenty-five yearsh, I jusht haven’t sheen a dentist. Okay, I might have sheen a dentisht. They haven’t been invizhible all theshe yearsh but I haven’t been shtrapped down into one of thoshe chairsh while a drill shreamsh and zhizhesh. And they really would have had to shtrap me in.

I’ve been sheeing a dentisht whozhe name – unfortunately – is Zhushanna. It’sh unfortunate becaushe now I have problemsh shaying my shibillantsh. Shame about the shibollethsh. She ish really good with what the practishe callsh “nervoush patientsh.” She wash very nishe when I firsht went into shee her with a mouth full of pain and no clear idea of how I wash going to get through the nexsht few minutesh without either shcreaming or passhing out.

Zhushanna and her colleaguesh have looked after me sho well I can now shit – shorry – remain in the waiting room for almosht five minutesh now without running out the door “for a breath of fresh air.” I definitely wasn’t going to throw up. Absholutely not.

Sho kidsh, look after your teethsh ash besht you can, eshpecially if you are sho afraid of going to the dentisht that the shight of a dentisht’s name plate can looshen your bowelsh. Me, I’m going to get ushed to these thingsh eventually. Apparently I can practishe shaying my esshes by shaying “shixshty-one, shixshty-two, shixshty-three” et shetera in front of a mirror. I’m off to try that now. Shee you later.

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The Word

This is the gate leading into St Mary’s College from South Street in St Andrews. I used to work here sometimes in Lower Parliament Hall. The room was quiet and usually very warm which is just what you want in the middle of a St Andrews winter. Each large desk could take four people easily but most days you could have one and its little table lamp to yourself. Settle in, spread your books out, organise your papers and notes and just as you get going someone comes in to take you off for tea in the Merchant’s House…

In the beginning was the Word. I said last time I would talk more about this. Julian will probably be very disappointed in my theology. He may even be relieved that I’m not going to touch on theology much at all. I find theology as incomprehensible as quantum physics In spite of spending a lot of time contemplating both over the years.

No, what I want to consider is the power of words. Again. And again I’m going to quote Terry Pratchett, this time from Wyrd Sisters.

Humans had built a world inside the world, which reflected it in pretty much the same way as a drop of water reflected the landscape. And yet … and yet …

Inside this little world they had taken pains to put all the things you might think they would want to escape from — hatred, fear, tyranny, and so forth. Death was intrigued. They thought they wanted to be taken out of themselves, and every art humans dreamt up took them further in. He was fascinated.

It is completely possible to create reality with your words, or at least a version of reality which resonates with your audience’s prejudices and preconceptions.

Doesn’t she look tired. That’s all The Doctor had to say to start the fall of Harriet Jones. I really shouldn’t go into everyday sexism again. It feels like mansplaining. All the same, I don’t think a male character would have been so badly affected by that particular sentence. Six little words.

Words change worlds. We are constantly creating our reality for ourselves in our heads, consciously or unconsciously filtering the messages we receive from beyond our skulls. We fill our little realities with the messages which reinforce our world view and try – some of us at least – we try to communicate that world to others. The best of us create a shared experience using imagery with which our audience can identify.

The worlds we create vary wildly and that’s fine for writers deliberately creating fiction. My wife is busily engaged in what she calls “world building” for her latest book. It’s hard for her because she has to create a history, a mythology and a cultural back-story for a world which has never existed and she has to do it in such a way that she can tell a story to which her readers can relate. It’s so much harder for a science fiction or a fantasy writer than it is for a writer of crime or romantic fiction.

It’s relatively easy for a creator of political fiction. He or she just needs to evoke the images which resonate most strongly with their audience. Immigrants as terrorists or rapists. That’s always been an easy sale for anyone talking to a British audience. Tales of xenophobia are common enough down history. I’m not saying that we’re all racists and xenophobes because my experience is absolutely the opposite of that but it’s easy for those who wish to conjure those images given our common cultural backstory.

In the beginning is the Word and sometimes it isn’t a very pleasant Word. The worlds we create with our unpleasant words are equally unpleasant. Demagogues know this and exploit it. It suits them to demonise the strangers in our midst especially when we have more in common with the strangers than we do with the demagogues. We always have more in common with the people around us than the people who attempt to control our lives.

I’m not sure that it will make any difference at all but I shall make a positive attempt for kindness. I don’t have anything else to give. I’m not a powerful person. I have no money to speak of, certainly not enough to make a huge difference to anyone who needs more than a sandwich or a cup of coffee on a cold day. Money and power are so tightly entwined that access to one will almost certainly guarantee you access to the other. So, my acts of resistance, such as they are will be small kindnesses.

I will slip and fail because – as Julian knows – we all fail. My Twitter stream has not been the cleanest or kindest thing. The absolutely best thing about not being a Christian is that nobody expects you to to turn the other cheek. I have always been drawn to the New Testament story of Jesus clearing the money lenders from the Temple. That story is not one of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. I rather think that if we’ve got it wrong and there is a Second Coming, the Cleansing of the Temple is going to be but the start of our problems.

In the end though, the world we create for ourselves with our own words and deeds means that even if the fuckers are doing their fuckish things, then the people nearest, the ones with whom we have most in common, they won’t suffer as much for the Big Men and the Bad Words.

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A Ball Of String

“Knowledge equals power, power equals energy, energy equals matter, and matter equals mass. And mass distorts space. It distorts a library into polyfractal L-space. So, while the Dewey system has its fine points, when you’re setting out to look something up in the multidimensional folds of L-space what you really need is a ball of string.”

Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

I have a ball of string. I have several of them. They’re not actually mine, in as much as I went to a shop, asked the nice assistant for a ball of string, took the ball of string from the nice assistant and handed over money in exchange for it. No, my dearly beloved wife did that at least twice to my certain knowledge because there is a ball of string on the bookcase in the hall and another in the conservatory and that dearly beloved wife of mine is no string thief. No, she would have paid for any string in the house.

It’s just about possible that Kick the Cat would have stolen the string and brought it back like she once did with a chicken carcass and a sausage still warm from someone else’s barbeque but she showed no real interest in balls of string when they weren’t being dangled in front of her. Then, she would playfully eviscerate anyone foolish enough to toy with her in such an obvious way and leave the string unravelled over their twitching corpse.

So this ball of string, what is it for and why am I writing about it when I really should be describing great deeds of heroic heroism at the county champs this afternoon? Really, it’s displacement activity. I had yet another DNF today. The calf injury which I picked up over Christmas and which has stopped me running since the Ely New Year’s Eve 10k last week had subsided to the point I could contemplate racing today. I thought that I would start gently, see how I felt at the end of the first lap and push on if I could. It turned out that I couldn’t even get to the end of the second lap and pulled out.

I shouldn’t have started, really. I was certain that I had entered via our C&C website but I didn’t feature on the list of runners which Ric circulated. He got me in when it really shouldn’t have been possible (for which many, many thanks) so I felt obliged to turn up and give it a go. I was right at the back of the field when I dropped out. There were maybe half a dozen runners behind me. That didn’t bother me in the slightest. Today was about getting round and having a play on the course while the the young, the beautiful and the speedy mixed it up at the front.

C&C runners took all three places in the Senior Men’s race. Well done to Jeppers, Sullivan and Chris for that. I was the last of the C&C team on the course at the point I stopped. The pain was too great and I didn’t think it was worth hobbling round for another half hour just to give Richard or Megan more work to do. My stupidity and ambition has already given them quite enough to do.

The ball of string also gives me licence to talk about the quotation from Guards! Guards! above. There is another one along the lines of a bookshop being a cultured black hole which has learned to read. Something like that, anyway.

Words are important. Pratchett knew that. We all know that. You don’t need to be one of the modern world’s wittier writers to know that words have power. What you say, when you say it, to whom you say it and how you say it are all really important. It’s probably the subject for another blog post because I’m thinking now about John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word… and no good will come of that in the context of a race report on a DNF and a really sore Achilles.

I want to talk about the power of words to help and heal and to pull down and destroy but that’s definitely a different post for another day. I’ve already touched on it several times in other posts here and on Farcebollocks. I think I’ll close for now because I’m eagerly anticipating whatever Anne is conjuring in the kitchen from the mince she’s defrosted. Mince is Scottish soul food. It has healing properties greater even than porridge. Neil and Katie will be pleased to hear that the #porridgereport is back on Twitter and who knows, there may even be a #mincereport on occasion too.


(For those unfamiliar with the #porridgereport, today it was blueberries, flaked almonds and maple syrup. Good creamy consistency. Satisfying quantity.)

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More Than One Way To…

I was going to say skin a cat but that’s a very unpleasant image. English idioms can be horrid at times.

For an avowed technophobe, I’m fond of the few toys I have and understand. I use my Garmin watch to record all my training and even my yoga practice, such as it is. I enjoy following science and engineering and probably know a surprising amount about current genetics, particle physics, medical science and chemistry for a retired art historian. I’m still quite shite at maths, though. Of course, I’m particularly interested in how research in physiology might be applied to sport. I really should do that sports science degree.

Anyway, I spotted a link on Twitter (thanks Kate Bevan) to an article on WIRED about something called a DNA boot camp. Spit in a cup, send off your gob to a testing service, wait for a bit then take the results with you to sunny Ibiza where kindly instructors and coaches will tailor a week of workouts and dietary advice to your genotype.

It might be that there is sound, peer-reviewed science underpinning this operation. I haven’t done enough reading of my own to be able to tell whether it’s bollocks. There is quite a lot of dietary advice in particular which is distinctly testicular. I never want to hear another mention of superfoods or the prophylactic effect of consuming chocolate, red wine, sprouts or anything else.

Everything We Eat Both Causes and Prevents Cancer

This article on vox.com is an interesting exploration of why medical studies in particular are problematic for the layperson to understand. We rely on our experts to sift and assess the morass of often conflicting results from single studies. Doctors and other scientists get training in epidemiology and  statistics to help them understand what makes a good study and a significant result and this is what the rational person relies on for advice.

A less rational person might follow what passes for health advice in newspaper or magazine where the time-pressed journalist has to go with information in press releases from university public relations departments and follow ups with whichever expert will return a phone call or email.

Some might even look at the table above and conclude that they should just give up eating altogether if they want to avoid cancer, or eat everything on the list three times a day to prevent it.

It’s worse again when someone is trying to sell something on the back of “science.” For obvious, male-gaze reasons, I tend to think of Jennifer Aniston and “Here comes the science” when someone tries to use flannel and hand-waving to flog a new thing.

Sorry about that. Dated, isn’t it?

Anyway, the science bit in this thing about DNA bootcamps is beyond my ability to assess, as I said. It might be that the dietary and exercise advice is sound but I would have to rely on Christof Schwiening or Andy Matson for advice on that. I will note however that the cost of a week at this DNA bootcamp is from a fulsome and effusive £2,295. That’s whole-hearted pricing in a time of austerity. It’s one more reason to be sceptical about the whole thing. Someone wants to make money from all this sciencing.

I have no problem with paying for expert advice and coaching. I do just that for my yoga classes and kettlebells when I have the time to go. I get a lot from both of them. I would love to go and do some warm weather triathlon training too and that isn’t exactly cheap but the coaching at the ones I’ve seen is excellent.

What worries me most about the DNA boot camp is that it doesn’t seem much fun. As we discussed earlier this week, in order for an exercise regime to stick it has to be fun and as it happens I have something to share which is just that.

https://sites.google.com/view/runforyourlifecambridge

Carrie Bedingfield set up Run For Your Life as a means to get people out running and having fun in a supportive, low-stress, joyful way. The group she established has been meeting on Monday evenings on Coleridge Road for some time now and is thriving. She wants to expand the programme to make it more widely available across the city and its environs. The idea is to make running less of a chore. It shouldn’t have to be hard work, pounding pavements on your own. So, Run For Your Life will have small groups of up to eight runners with an experienced run leader or coach along for advice and encouragement. You will have support whether you’re starting an exercise programme from scratch or returning to running after a break.

I think it’s a brilliant idea so I will be hosting one of the groups in Cherry Hinton on Thursday evenings. I have committed to four sessions to see what the response is like and if there is a demand then I’ll continue. It won’t cost anything. You won’t need to spit into a cup, change your diet, run all the time, or do anything other than turn up in high-viz and ideally say “Thank you” at the end of the session. Please tell your friends. Carrie would like to expand beyond Cambridge so contact her via the Run For Your Life website if you’d like to know more. She’s lovely.

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Access and Accessibility

The BBC published an article on its website this morning about class and access to funding for elite performance programmes in Scottish sport. It’s raised a number of issues for me about access to sport and sporting opportunities, what elite sport is for and why it’s important for the rest of us.

Scotland is facing huge public health issues. There are ongoing problems with alcohol and drugs, diet, and smoking. In some ways, participation in sport can be seen in a positive sense as a shortcut to improving public health outcomes for a wide range of the population. Less charitably, public support of elite sport is a sticking plaster over a gaping wound or a distraction from the real issues, the bread and circuses approach. That has been the criticism some people have expressed over hosting the Olympics or Commonwealth Games and it’s one I can just about understand but not one I agree with.

If you want to attract people into sport because it might improve their health, their relationships, their involvement in the community or even because they might have a good time running around the place and having some fun then you need ambassadors and advocates for it. That is why we need to spend public money on elite sport. Those athletes need to perform at the highest level to get the public exposure which in turn will feed into the public consciousness that maybe, just maybe it might be a good idea to be a bit more active.
 
It’s probably true that many athletes who receive public funding come from households where they have already had support from their families. Those families have spent money getting to clubs and coaches and training sessions and it’s not easy, even when clubs like the ones I belong to offer reduced fees and make as much of our programmes as possible free to enter. Even so, most sport other than football is seen as what rich people with time on their hands do. Until that changes, then so-called “middle-class” athletes will continue to benefit from whatever funding is available because they already have had support from their family network. It may be stereotyping but I don’t think that every family has the resources to give the financial support to young athletes before they enter performance programmes even if they had the inclination to do so.
 
Athletics is relatively accessible. All you need is a pair of shoes, some free time and a bit of guidance to get you going. Other sports are much worse off. Swimmers need to get to the pool, usually at hideous, hideous times in the morning when buses are few and far between if they run at all in rural areas. Cyclists need a bike, helmet, warm clothing for winter training, cool clothing for summer training, maybe a turbo or a set of rollers and somewhere to stash all that stuff when it’s not being used. Then there are the facilities like gyms for indoor training, pools, velodromes, ice rinks, tracks, playing fields and pitches all of which need to be built, maintained and paid for from a limited public purse or bought from private suppliers. Middle class families find the means to support their young athletes. Poorer families often just can’t.

We have a problem in widening participation and removing barriers from all sorts of areas in public life.

It’s not unique to sport. I have doubts about making universities more accessible but I accept that it’s generally a good thing that more people can now have the same opportunity I had to take some time to sit and think about the world and my place in it. I benefited from that so why deny the same opportunity to someone else?

What is unique to sport is the role that our elite athletes play in inspiring and motivating others to change or maybe even to excel themselves. There’s a telly programme exploring some of the issues tonight. It might be worth a watch. Links are available through the article I mentioned above.

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An Arbitrary Moment In Time

There is no real reason why we call the first day of January the first day of the New Year other than it has to be some day so it might as well be that one. January has been the first month of the year since Roman times and the first day of January has almost certainly been a source of angst and tension ever since then.

The first day of January follows fairly closely after the winter solstice which in turn is an obvious moment of renewal. Okay, it’s obvious if you happen to have a sodding great stone circle aligned just the right way. By the turn of the year, the increase in daylight hours should just about be becoming obvious.

For a time, 25th of March, Lady Day was the first day of the year. Lady Day is also known as the Feast of the Annunciation in more Catholic countries. Theologically, it makes sense to mark time from the moment of the Incarnation of Christ. It was the first day of the legal year in England for centuries, the day on which tenancies started. It’s still the start of the tax year if you take the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar into account which means that the 25th March is now 6th April.

I seem to have wandered off point again. I do have one and it’s this: the first day of the year is an arbitrary moment in time. It holds no special or magical significance. It’s no more meaningful than any other day of the year but it’s still the one that many people choose to Change Their Lives. There are countless articles in all the media about making changes to your lifestyle, your diet, your love life and many of them focus on this one day of the year.

The thing is, permanent change is hard. Stopping smoking is quite easy. The physical nicotine cravings only last two or three days and the rest is down to changing habits. That’s two or three months. Other lifestyle changes are similar. For people who are not lifetime athletes, think back to when you started running. You might have gone around the block twice a week with a longer jog at the weekend and it took some time for that to feel like a normal part of your life. Two or three months.

I suppose like everything, there has be a moment when you start and it might as well be this one as any other. As long as you know that the change isn’t instantaneous, that it’s a process and that it’s going to be a while before any change becomes the new normal then you’re going to be okay.

Oh, and Happy New Arbitrary Moment In Time.

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The Problem With Creativity

This is not a post about work. I repeat: this is absolutely not a post about work. In my day job I do have books to sell about creativity and of course they are all brilliant and you should buy them them when I tell you to because then you would be brilliant and insightful too. And that was quite a long sentence. It got away from me a little and that’s what I want to talk about. I’ll come back to it.

I used to draw a lot when I was a child. An awful lot. My grandfather was an artist and my mother was an artist and there were always paper and pencils and crayons and paints in the house. Whenever I didn’t have a book in my hand, I had a sketchpad and a pencil. From quite an early age I had a very definite idea about the lines I wanted to see on the paper. They were precise and they flowed just so. I wasn’t really bothered about representing anything in particular but I did want the lines themselves to work on the page.

Later, when I took up music I could hear my own tunes in my head and they were interesting and complex. They had strange intervals between the notes and the key shifts made things fizz just a little. I sang and played a guitar and bass and much later took up saxophone too. I’ve even plinked a few keys on a piano from time to time to no good effect, sadly.

That’s the thing. Nothing has been to much effect. I have a surfeit of ambition over ability. I’ve always been like this. The line never worked out on paper in the way I saw it in my head. The curve just wasn’t ever quite elegant enough. The shapes turned out ill-proportioned and just wrong. My fingers wouldn’t do what they needed to do with the pencil. It was frustrating.

Nor could I ever sing the melodies which rang out so clearly in my imagination. They came out more like some old hymn tune. That much shouldn’t be a surprise given my upbringing but it’s always been a disappointment. In this case, it’s as if the muscle memory generated by years of singing Abide With Me completely overwhelmed the most interesting tunes which still want an outlet from the sweary confines of my head.

And at last we come to the point. I try to craft the things which appear on these pages as carefully as I can. I throw away much more than I publish. Sometimes that’s because it’s just another empty rant about politics. The bitterness and disappointment evident in the previous post is still very real for me. At other times, it’s been one more In’t Running Great! post and it is but saying so again and again isn’t necessarily interesting.  Sometimes, most of the time in fact, it’s just been a good idea poorly executed like one of the drawings from when I was ten or twelve or that tune which popped into my head in the shower last night but sounded wrong when I tried singing it later. The problem with creativity isn’t necessarily having the idea, it’s executing it to any great or lasting effect.

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