Pie And Chips

I know that as an athlete I really need to have a nutritious diet. It’s important to have the correct balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, salts and micronutrients to fuel performance during and sustain recovery between sessions. That’s all well and good but I am an afflete sometimes what I really, really want is a pie and chips.

The previous post about chocolate really should have been a clue to my attitude to food. Food isn’t just fuel. I’ve written before about the complex relationships some of us have with food. I enjoy it – cooking, thinking about it, preparing it, even peeling potatoes. Food for me is a celebration and how do you celebrate something as mundane as getting to the end of a Monday? Pie and chips.

It wasn’t even a good pie and chips. It was a dodgy chip shop pie and really ordinary chips but it hasn’t really been a very good Monday, as far as Mondays go. A better day would have meant I might have been more inclined to make some pastry, blind bake the bottom while I stewed some beef and onion before assembling the pie. Double- or even triple-cooking the chips so that the insides are fluffy and the outsides are crispy? A task for another day when I’m not knackered from work and then training.

And there’s the thing. If you’re serious about your training and performance (or you’re just not fit enough for what’s on the plan) then you’re going to be completely spannered at the end of the session. The last thing you can really cope with is putting together much at all. I had planned some grilled chicken accompanied by puy lentils and spinach tonight but leaving circuits with Mary I knew I was too tired to cook even that much. The chip shop would be open and they would sell me a sad pie and reasonable chips and I could at least fill my stomach with cheering food if not exactly good food. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

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Desert Island Discs

What’s the soundtrack of your life?

At school it was metal like Iron Maiden and AC/DC. There was quite a lot of hell invoked for a religious boy. It was probably part of the appeal for some of the people but not for me because first of all I didn’t really notice the lyrics so much, not when the guitar sounds and rhythms were far more exciting. Secondly, if you’ve hung around Christian people much, you soon realise that hell gets a lot more attention than heaven does. So, Hell’s Bells is my first track.

Afterwards, Leo introduced me to Talking Heads, especially Stop Making Sense. There is something that will always feel comforting about sitting in the near dark listening to that album over a pair of warmed headphones. Other people’s heads can be very warming.

I discovered The Grateful Dead at university. I would work through the night on a Thursday writing an essay due at 10:00am on a Friday morning with American Beauty playing quietly on a cassette radio so as not to disturb my flatmates. I had the room at the end of a corridor on the upper storey of our student house. Darren downstairs would either be sleeping the sleep of the dead or awake himself. The room next to mine was empty, I think. I would keep myself going by stopping every hour to light a menthol More and wait for the sun to come up before I headed in to town to hand the essay in. They weren’t good essays.

I bought two CDs before I ever bought a CD player. One was the soundtrack to Ally McBeal because… Well, I don’t really remember why except perhaps I really fancied her. The other was First of a Million Kisses. I mentioned this to Eddi Reader on Twitter once and she was kind enough to Tweet me back. She said that they’d explicitly intended it to be released on vinyl. I think she said that anyway. I was so astonished to have her reply to me at all that I may be misremembering what she’s said. Perfect is still one of my absolutely favourite songs.

I bought a CD of Kind of Blue not long after I moved in with Jane. I listened to it first one night over headphones like I did with Stop Making Sense in Leo’s bedroom 15 years before. It was late evening, dark outside and I was sitting at the dining table while my partner was watching television with her sister. I think my life changed because nothing else sounded the same after that. Nearly everything sounded too simple and not quite good enough. Thrust was all the right kind of funky though.

In order to find something interesting enough, I started to dig through J S Bach because that’s what you do. Once you’ve done the whole Toccata and Fugue in D Minor thing and got that out of your system, pretty quickly you fall into the Matthew Passion and you will never, ever climb out. You could be quite happy there for ever as well as long as someone tosses Thomas Tallis’ 40 part motet Spem in Alium in there after you.

I heard the Tallis Scholars sing that in Beverley Minster one night and I don’t think I have ever quite recovered. The moment all forty voices come in together hit me like an old girlfriend’s slap. The choristers were all around us hidden in galleries and spaces above our heads. If nobody tells you what to expect, if nobody’s there to nudge you and say, “Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it… NOW!” then you’re going to leave a changed person.

That’s a little out of sequence. It should have come after Perfect. 

My friend Alison threw parties in Oxford where as part of the evening’s entertainment she would sing Tom Lehrer’s Poisoning Pigeons in the Park with piano accompaniment by Ian. Some of the best fun I have ever had.

Last track is My Baby Just Cares For Me. Nina Simone’s song was what we played as we left the Registrar’s Office when Anne and I got married. It wasn’t strictly true that I didn’t care about cars and races but compared to Anne, even McLaren in their pomp were as mud to be scraped from the bottom of an icky, sticky shoe.

That’s nine but I’m having Nina Simone as my luxury only to play that one song and Anne’s Night’s Masque trilogy as my book. Another cheat because they are three single volumes but I’m getting a special single volume binding just for these cheating purposes. If that’s not allowed then I’ll have Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy so I can live with those characters for as long as I’m on the island.

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It’s About Nothing

How do you talk about nothing with nothing but words? A spot of floccinaucinihilipilification. I’m not talking about zero. That’s just a number in an integer series between -1 and 1. I’m talking about nothing. The noise of no hands clapping. A tree standing in the woods and not falling down. A bear not shitting in the woods. Theresa May’s chance of getting a Brexit bill passed. You know. Nothing.

I was listening to the podcast of In Our Time about Samuel Beckett on the way home tonight and one of Beckett’s concerns was to reduce the role of language to nothing. Apparently. Maybe I misunderstood that. I should probably go back and listen again and do more reading but I had a blog post to write and it was either going to be about this or about fantasy and I think we’re all much happier that it’s about this tonight.

I have tried that form of meditation called mindfulness recently. Sitting quietly, listening to my breath entering and leaving my body. It’s not an easy thing to do especially if you are used to having thoughts zipping around your head like flies round a summer lampshade. When I try to meditate and focus on my breathing I might begin to hear the high-frequency zizzle of a dried-up bogie about to fall free inside my nostril. It’s distracting. No wonder my thoughts begin to wander.

A good Catholic boy like me would have meditated many a time on the Five Joyful Mysteries, the Five Sorrowful Mysteries and the Five Glorious Mysteries. Maybe he would have just made the attempt anyway. A middle-aged former altar boy can’t remember what they all are and hasn’t even thought about them for more than 30 years.

Nothing is a pretty good description of how much I understand any of this as well as how much I remember from my religious education. I’m not afraid of nothing in the same way I am of infinity. When I was very young I could give myself wasp-terrors by simultaneously counting quickly and slowly. It’s easy to say “don’t do that then” but once you’ve done it you can’t stop doing it, like thinking about pink elephants when you’re supposed to be thinking about nothing.

I should go and find some time to rest now. Is the dark unconsciousness of sleep before dreams the closest thing we have to nothing? I’d think about that but I’m going to have to try not to think about anything at all.

And breathe.

*zizz*

Bugger.

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The Internet Is Full Of Trouble

Yet another statement of the bleedin’ obvious, I know but bear with me. Way back then, in the long ago, when the internet was all static pages of text about particle physics and Terry Pratchett, it seemed to be that it was all about having new and interesting experiences at 56 kilobytes per second, or thereabouts. One of the happiest sounds I knew was a modem handshaking with the world. I remember getting my first email account at St Andrews in about 1988 before the internet was even a thing. I know that I didn’t use it much. I saw everyone else I knew with an email account every day anyway.

I used to read stories in the Grauniad about how the internet – now it was invented – was going to change everything. We would all be able to talk to one another, there would be no more barriers to communication and it would all be simply marvellous. Well then, that turned out to be one of those wishes about which we really should have thought twice. We can now all talk at one another, there seem to be no barriers to any fucking communication and wouldn’t it be simply marvellous if some people just fucked the fuck off?

I don’t think anybody imagined that neo-Nazis would get an internet connection too. It was unanticipated as the superabundance cat pictures. Controlling the media is a basic totalitarian tactic. Our political masters would love to be able to do the same but they lack the commitment to do it in a thoroughgoing fashion. A cynic or conspiracy theorist would say either that they already do control both the media and the messages on it, or that the owners of the media already control the politicians to a greater or lesser extent.

We all know how important the internet has become. Our body politic is a cyborg now and we can’t be sure where some of the signals controlling it originate.

What prompted all of this wasn’t politics but personal relationships. I remember having an absolutely wonderful time when I was single on the internet. Looking back, I was using my privilege as a middle-class, white man but I hope I was always respectful when I went out on a date. My wife and I met on a dating site well over a decade ago, on the forums first and then in person. I don’t think we matched with one another but we got on very well when we met up so sometimes those algorithms must have been talking mince.

I don’t think things are as easy now for people. I hear horror stories from my friends on dating sites of shitty behaviour from shitty people. When I were a lad and Shep were a pup and it was all fields round here we used to view internet dating forums and the like as just an extension of the social sphere and the usual social norms would apply. There were always arseholes of course but they were small in number, easily identified and isolated and we could look after one another. No real man would ever have identified himself as “involuntarily celibate” for example. The most we would admit would be a bit of a dry spell but it was all going to be fine. We were on a dating site after all.

Now we have toxic masculinity. The things which were once private – the domestic violence, the gaslighting, the belittling, the objectification, the denigration, dehumanising – now have a public outlet. The small men doing huge damage to wives, sisters, mothers and children can share what they do with other small men.

I’m not sure what I wanted to achieve this evening. I seem to have spent the last hour or so remembering how wonderful things were in the good old days and how fucking awful things are now. The best thing about the internet now is that like minds can now connect across the world much more easily than they ever have in the past. The trouble is that that is also the worst thing about the internet.

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Whereof Thou Knowest Naught…

…thereof thou shouldst keep schtum.

I have kept this a Brexit-free zone of late. It’s all so shitty and unnecessary. If ever I met David Cameron and I got to the front of the queue of people wanting to give him a piece of their mind I’m not entirely sure I’d know where to start. Maybe he’d give me that look, you know the one that says, “Oh fuck, not again, not one more dead pig comment. Not one more of you fuckers. I’ve only just built up the courage to go for a pint of milk and a copy of The Beano. I just want my Beano. Please.” Well now, David, I just want my EU citizenship.

Had he been able to tell his back benchers to sod off and sell their constituents on the idea that the Conservative Party was a better bet for the future than the shit-stirring, shit-spraying, swivel-eyed loons of UKIP then we’d all now be able to tell funny stories about pig fucking instead of wondering at the destruction of a polity.

The trouble is that the lunatic fringe of the Tories had a comb-over and became the hair apparent.

That needs work. Sorry.

So David fucked off to his really nice shed and Teresa was given the impossible job of taking the country out of the EU while keeping our businesses, trading and security partners, froth-job politicians from all parties, the 33 or 34 million voters who actually bothered to vote on the subject, and half a dozen newspaper owners happy. It was never going to happen.

While the Conservative government has been doing whatever it’s been doing – screaming into bins, I don’t know – the Labour opposition has been screaming into different bins, some of them containing Jewish people. They haven’t actually done anything to change the course of events. I know that they would like to think of themselves as kings and queens of the political surf, hanging No 10 off the front of the board. The reality is that they’ve gone through one wipeout after another. They can’t maintain a significant poll lead against arguably the most inept government in post-war history.

So, the day after the government lost its Brexit vote catastrophically, Jeremy couldn’t get a majority in the Commons to agree that they have no confidence in the government. Labour supporters keep telling me that I don’t understand the overall strategy. I don’t think there is one. There certainly isn’t a sense of anyone reaching out to build the alliances they need to overturn the government’s policies. They can’t reach out to other strands in their own party.

We have the two biggest parties in Parliament more concerned about internal party matters than the good of the country and it’s all bollocks.

In the meantime, 29th March is getting closer. We don’t have a plan to leave we can even get close to agreeing amongst ourselves never mind put before our new partners in Europe and elsewhere. Arseholes are making money out of this. You know they are. While they are, they don’t give a fuck about the rest of us. That’s the real Brexit dividend.

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Saturday Night Before Sunday Morning

Blogging every day is leading me towards even more statements of the bleedin’ obvious. I’m really scraping around for subject matter today. Wimpole Estate parkrun’s 6th anniversary celebrations were this morning so that might be a good place to start.

I haven’t really had much to do with The Best parkrun in Cambridgeshire (as decided by me) for the last few months. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the birthday run though. In addition to the usual huge turnout of marshals and finish line volunteers, there were pacers running even times from 20 minutes up to 40 minutes plus me running for 1:00 and walking for 1:00. I had two runners with me right to the end, one of whom posted a nine minute PB while the other managed a course PB. We ran, or ran-walked or walked and then we had cake. What can I say? It was a parkrun but with a few people in fancy dress and a couple of silly hats. A special shout out to the father and daughter in camo gear, Bergens and big boots. That was a rather strong performance.

Now it’s Saturday evening and I’m contemplating tomorrow’s long run along the Roman Road. I need to fuel it with a good meal tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning. One of those early nights I was talking about yesterday will help. It all feels a bit odd, like I’m waiting to go back to school or something. I’m not going to do my sodding homework though.

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Thirteenth Night

Or what you can get away with.

There is no magic left for Thirteenth Night. No more suspension of disbelief. The only magic possible is that we create between and for ourselves. Of course that’s true every day but it’s easier at some times of the year than others. All the special food has gone. There might be a handful of your least favourite chocolates lurking in the bottom of the box somewhere. I still have have half a panettone.

The Christmas bonomie has gone. Any hangover you give yourself for the next few months is entirely your own fault. Again, that much is true anyway but at Christmastime we have a kind of communal excuse for excess which dissolves after Epiphany. There is nobody to share your hangover with, nobody who will sympathise because we’re back in our little boxes until the warm weather comes back and we can have some summer picnics with bottles of fizzy things. We’re supposed now to live lives of continence and restraint.

In the old days, the best bits of the pig would have been consumed in the Christmas feast so in order to survive for the rest of the winter we couldn’t have continued to eat and drink like there was a continual glut. We’re luckier now, most of us, so abstinence is a choice rather than a necessity.

It’s strange that even in our very secular times we still depend on religion and spirituality to give our year a rhythm and pace. Our next big holiday is Easter, after all. We haven’t found an alternative in popular culture in spite of secularism and the presence of other religions. And the good news is that I’ve seen Creme Eggs in Tesco.

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Podcasts Are Better Than Husbands. Discuss.

I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts. Podcasts on history. Podcasts on science. Occasionally podcasts on politics. Podcasts on weird realities where nobody can pronounce Michigan. I can’t listen to the radio any more because the news makes me angry or sad or sad and angry. Is that sangry? You know, like hangry but you’ve already had your Weetabix and the European Research group are still being a bunch of cunts. So, I don’t listen to the radio but I still can spend seven hours a day in the car and I need something to pass the time while arseholes in Audis and seven year old Volvos try to kill me.

There is a point to this, I promise. It’s coming up now.

On today’s trip to the supermarket, I turned on the stereo in the car and the History Hit podcast started playing automatically and then it stopped because of something I had done or forgotten to do or because it was Saturday and something weird was going on with the moon. I have no idea why things happen sometimes. I am a constant victim of the quantum tech butterfly flapping its wings and sending out random, incomprehensible reset signals through the aether. So there was a sudden silence and Anne said “Well, we’re just going to have to talk now.”

Shock, horror.

Dan Snow was being interesting. His guest was being interesting. I was struggling to find something to say more engaging than “Cold, eh?” I am a man who knows are really tiny amount about quite a lot and a great deal about hardly anything. Were Dan Snow to run out of guests almost completely four times over and end up with me, we could just about talk for 20 minutes on the topics of minimalist running fads, Ford four-cylinder engines from 1977 to 1981, a small grumpy cat called Kick or trends in academic book publishing and how fucking awful it might get before, if ever, it gets any better.

None of these topics are fit for a ten minute journey to Waitrose. Not again anyway. Not so soon after the last time. That was awkward. Not something Dan Snow would try.

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Just In Time Blogging

Like just in time manufacturing, just in time blogging is going to be completely fucked by a No Deal Brexit. All the things which will prevent Honda from getting widgets from Belgium into its Civics rolling down the line in Swindon will prevent me from getting a blog post out into the world every day. Basically, I’m using the real misery caused by inept politicians to draw a false equivalence between manufacturing and a cack-handed attempt to write a hundred well-judged words a day and put them on line.

I’ll give this a go anyway.

Just in time logistics needs everything to work just so. There can’t be any friction in supply chain or the production line grinds to a halt. Warehousing costs are minimised because Honda – for example – doesn’t keep stock of anything much on hand. They tell their suppliers to get what they need almost into the hands of the assembly line workers just as they reach for it. If that supplier is in Belgium and they in turn want to minimise costs so they don’t hold the things they make for long. Everything depends on keeping things moving on lorries, trains and ferries until they end up in a Civic in Swindon.

Just in time blogging needs everything to work just so. There can’t be any friction in the thought train or everything just grinds to a halt. Impacts are minimised because I – for example – can’t keep a thought in my head. I need to get it out of my brain, down my fingers, through the keyboard and onto the internet with as little pause as possible or I will miss my midnight deadline and lose my train of thought. Everything depends on not having things get in the way, like a lack of tea and biscuits, or too much work delaying the start of the process. This train of thought is more easily derailed than most.

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Uncertainty

That hurt. It hurt more than it should have and it wasn’t supposed to be pleasant. Eight reps of the Fulbourn Windmill Hill which is only really a hill because the rest of Cambridge is so flat. I overcooked it just as I did the last time I did this session and completed six reps including what Strava insists is a PB on one of the reps so I was putting in the effort. I wanted to complete the session so I didn’t hit my goal, in spite of the sector PB.

I could have jogged the final reps just to complete but that felt wrong. I could have swallowed my pride and not pushed quite so hard but that felt wrong too. I could even have just set off on the final reps just to see if I could hold the pace but I bottled it. I was unsure and I wasn’t prepared to hurt myself in a training session just to see if I had enough in the tank.

I have a weakness. There is a fear attached to training sessions now which won’t go away. It’s particularly strong at the track but it also hangs around road sessions now. I think it’s a bit like performance anxiety. It’s the antithesis of that rock up feeling I was talking about the other day.

Tomorrow is another day. A recovery run round Wandlebury and along the Roman Road in the morning should help shift the negative feelings and maybe I should try a few pacing exercises over the next few weeks.

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