Sunday, April 30, 2006

Running, Brothels and Red Wine

This evening I have done my longest ever run - eight miles in just over eighty minutes. The half marathon is starting to feel achievable.

When I got home, I was obviously a little tired. So I decided to have an actual bath. I can't remember the last time I had a bath - I think I've only had one since I've been in the flat (ie in the last three years!). It was quite good though. I had some Ylang and Neroli bubble bath which is supposed to be a muscle relaxant. Certainly my legs feel ok now so maybe it works. I have no idea what either Ylang or Neroli are - they sound like two girls you might meet in a Thai brothel Maybe they make the bubble bath in their spare time and sell it on for a bit of extra cash for the weekend.

To make the bath extra decadent, I also took a glass of red wine with me (to drink rather than to add to the bath itself). Yeah, I know it's a bit gay, but it was good nevertheless.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

One third

I'm a third of the way through my run-a-thon, both in terms of distance travelled and of time taken. 167 miles done, 333 more to go. That's still quite a long way.

On a scale of Paris to York, I'm just about to leave the French A1 and head towards Calais. The traffic has been reasonable and I'm hoping that the English Channel will not be too choppy. It'll be good to return to England.

Planning to do a longish run (seven miles or so) tomorrow, subject to hangovers.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Birthday cakes

I was supposed to have bought cakes for my colleagues at work for my birthday. I was supposed to have done this at the start of last week, but I forgot. And then I forgot at the start of this week too. On Wednesday, my boss drew me a diagram explaining how to buy cakes, with a deadline of Thursday. On Thursday however, I was too busy. So today my whole team frogmarched me to the cake shop where I finally bought the cakes. I wouldn't have minded except that I was full of lunch at the time and didn't want a cake. So I didn't have one.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Some things about Madrid

At the weekend, I went to Madrid with a few friends to celebrate my birthday (which was the previous weekend). Flew out on Friday afternoon, returned on Sunday night.

I haven't been to Spain since I was a teenager, when I spent a month around (but mostly not actually in) Alicante. Back then, they still had Pesetas, booze was dead cheap and everywhere looked like a building site. Now, in 2006 they have Euros, booze is a similar price to here but everywhere still looks like a building site. Come on Spain, finish building your stuff already!

Madrid airport is pretty huge. We flew into Terminal 4, and then had to go on the longest underground monorail journey in the world in order to get to the terminal exit. The monorail was pretty cool though - it looked just like the one at the start of the original Half Life, just without the occasional huge industrial cavern. Overall it took us the best part of three hours from getting off the plane to arriving at the hotel in the centre of Madrid (it involved a little bus, the monorail, some walking, a bigger bus and four Metro lines). Note to anyone arriving at T4: Just get a taxi into town instead. You won't regret it.

Here's a view of Madrid from afar. You have to get a cable car to get to where this was taken from. The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is dead centre.

View of the Palacio Real

Random thoughts and things:

1. Madrid is right in the middle of Spain. This means it has no beaches, unlike some of the edges of the country.

2. Madrid does however seem to have a lot of rain. On the Saturday we got caught in possibly the most torrential rain storm I've ever been in, ever. With added large hail. It was so wet it was funny. But we did get very wet. For some time afterwards, there were huge drifts of used hailstones all over the city. Looked like sago.

After the hail

3. Most food is ham or cheese. Some places serve ham and cheese together.

4. Our hotel was near a big train station, Atocha. For some reason unbeknownst to me, some madman at some point in the past decided to build a tropical garden smack in the middle of it:

Atocha Station

I don't know why he (it must have been a he) did this.

5. I had a challenge set for me to drink 30 beers over the weekend. I was rubbish at this and only got through 15. Which included 2 whilst waiting for the train home in Manchester. I think I'd have been ok if wine counted.

6. There's a big famous art gallery, The Prado. It's mostly quite old paintings in there rather than more modern ones. What this seemed to equate to was about five hundred paintings of Jesus (many of which featured the poor thing being crucified) and Bosch's Garden of Unearthly Delights, which was a bit smaller than I was expecting. I preferred the Reina Sofia which seems to be mostly 20th century art. I like the Joan Miro stuff. Apparently he's pronounced "Huan" rather than "Joan". Little tip for you there to make you look cleverer than you are.

All in all, it was a good weekend - many thanks to everyone who made it out there with me :-)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Strange Fruit

I did an unusual thing today - I actively took a piece of fruit to work. This was fruit that I had in my house already, that I had bought at the supermarket yesterday. As I left the flat I thought: "Hmmm, it would be nice to have a piece of fruit during the morning today. Luckily, I have some fruit so I shall take a piece with me." And this I did.

It was not a banana, apple, lemon, grapefruit, pomegranate, melon, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, starfruit, norton, pineapple, kiwi, blueberry or lime.

It was a clementine.

Unfortunately I put it in my drawer and forgot about it. Oh well.

(Some Madrid stuff tomorrow. Probably. Today all I have time for is a mediocre fruit anecdote)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Number ones of my life

I got an excellent late birthday present from Bert - a couple of CDs with all the songs that have been UK number one on my birthday for the last 30 years (ie since I was born). 31 songs in all, here's the list.

1976: Brotherhood of Man - Save our kisses for me
1977: Abba - Knowing me, knowing you
1978: Brian & Michael - Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs
1979: Art Garfunkel - Bright Eyes
1980: Detroit Spinners - Working my way back to you
1981: Shakin' Stevens - This old house
1982: Goombay Dance Band - Seven tears
1983: David Bowie - Let's dance
1984: Lionel Richie - Hello
1985: Philip Bailey & Phil Collins - Easy lover
1986: Cliff Richard & The Young Ones - Living doll
1987: Ferry Aid - Let it be
1988: Pet Shop Boys - Heart
1989: Madonna - Like a prayer
1990: Madonna - Vogue
1991: Chesney Hawkes - The one and only
1992: Shakespeare's Sister - Stay
1993: Bluebells - Young at heart
1994: Take That - Everything changes
1995: Take That - Back for good
1996: Prodigy - Firestarter
1997: R Kelly - I believe I can fly
1998: Run DMC vs Jason Nevins - It's like that
1999: Mr Oizo - Flat beat
2000: Westlife - Fool again
2001: Emma Bunton - What took you so long
2002: Gareth Gates - Unchained Melody
2003: Room 5 feat. Oliver Cheatham - Make Luv
2004: McFly - 5 colours in her hair
2005: Tony Christie feat. Peter Kay - Is this the way to Amarillo
2006: Gnarls Barkley - Crazy

Now, if I had to pick a favourite from this list I think it would have to be Take That's classic Back for good, one of the finest pop songs of the 90s. The honour of worst song probably goes to Mr Oizo - close call between that and R Kelly. Rubbish.

Overall though, the list isn't too bad given that number ones tend often to be crap. I myself didn't buy any of these as singles and hence can't claim any small part in their subsequent success. But well done to each and every one of them. Except Mr Oizo. And R Kelly.

Friday, April 21, 2006

I'm the King of Spain!

I'm going to Madrid in Spain for the weekend because it was my birthday and I wanted to go somewhere, but not last weekend when it was actually my birthday because it was Easter and I thought it might be busy and I didn't want that. I leave in half an hour and I've just about finished packing - I started aiming to use just hand luggage, then decided I'd need a hold-all as well. But then I rethought and figured that I didn't really need two pairs of trousers in addition to the ones I'm wearing now, so I'm back down to a single rucksack. Other than that, I think I have everything I need.

The only thing I haven't done yet is learn any useful Spanish phrases (apart from "Can I have a beer, please?") but I'm sure I'll get by. In any case, I will have some Spanish speakers with me. They will be able to order any non-beer drinks I want!

Auf wiedersehen!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Different name, same dumb stories

I mentioned very briefly on Monday that York's newspaper, the Evening Press, is actually published in the morning - implying that this was a slightly silly state of affairs. Well it seems that they may have listened to me, as I read today that from next week it's going to have a brand spanking new name. It will be called... The Press. See what they've done? They've removed the word "Evening" to remove any limitations on the time of day they can publish without ridicule.

I feel like I've achieved something.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My Little Bonsai

I got a bonsai tree for my birthday:

Me and my Bonsai

It says that I should keep it in a bright place, but out of direct sunlight. And also that I should also water it once a day AND sprinkle the leaves. Frankly it's hard enough to remember to take a shower once a day so I don't know how I'm supposed to look after a tree as well.

And as for sprinkling the leaves, I have no idea how I'm supposed to do that without getting my table all wet. No idea what I'd even use to sprinkle it. A tiny pixie watering can? Actually if I could hire a pixie gardener to look after it all my problems might be solved... Where's my Yellow Pages?

Darn. They're not in it. They'd be between "Pitch and Putt Courses" and "Pizza Deliveries" if they were, but they're not. I can only conclude that there hasn't been much demand for super-diminutive tree-carers in the York area. Well - there is now! If there are any pixies reading, give me a bell if you can help.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Stag Don't

I was that close to phoning up a place yesterday to book myself on to a friend's stag weekend in September and pay the fifty pound deposit. Then I checked the date one last time and had a brief think. I realised that it was the same weekend as the Great North Run. I'm not sure that it would be clever to precede a half marathon with two nights of heavy drinking. No, definitely a bad idea. So I didn't phone and I won't be going :-(

Moral: Don't do half marathons - they really mess up your calendar.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Breaking News

I thought you might like an update on the latest exciting news within the York area. I have a copy of the Evening Press (published every morning!) with me, so I'll summarise the highlights:

1. Two neighbours have had a bit of a spat - a black guy moved in next to a white guy and they didn't really get on. Shades of the old sitcom Love Thy Neighbour here... Another case of reality copying fiction (admittedly with a 30 year gap). The white guy has now been convicted of "using racial language". Possibly it meant racist...?

2. A small ad tells us that someone has lost a blue bike in the Thief Lane area. I expect it was stolen.

3. Complaints against police officers have gone up since last year from 324 to 392. They also received 283 letters of appreciation, presumably from different people. I have neither complained nor appreciated the police today, though I did wonder internally why a few of them seemed to be guarding the Judges' Lodgings this lunchtime.

4. Firefighters near Selby had to put out a fire after men on a farm accidentally tried to put out a "burning rag" using paint thinner rather than water. Not too bright. No mention is made of why they had set fire to a rag in the first place. Since they were near Selby, I can only assume it was boredom.

5. If you're over 50, the monthly over 50s club is on Thursday in Strensall Village Hall, at 2pm. There will be bingo! Over 50s only.

6. Joy-riders stole and trashed a sit-down lawnmower in Hopgrove. Oh the fun that the youth of today have. Why can't they just light rags like their elders do? That's all the fun a man needs.

7. "A national survey has found York residents are the most knowledgeable and devoted in the country when it comes to all things meaty". I can back this up. I often eat meat and can name at least three different kinds.

8. A Mrs Hjort of Crayke has become a York Minster guide. She's taking a group of ten ladies on a tour on the 22 May. Book early to avoid disappointment on that one!

9. York City are still shit.

10. No time for a number 10 today! Sorry!

This is your roving reporter signing off. See ya!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Portrait of a Tortured Rock Star

It's Easter Sunday and I have had no chocolate. I think I will remedy that shortly.

I've just been watching Derren Brown on telly again. He did a thing today where he almost literally crucified Robbie Williams - I assume the symbolism was intentional given the timing. Robbie was taken to some industrial complex, strapped onto a metal frame, arms in the crucifixion posture, and then put into a mild relaxed state (I don't think Jesus had that crutch). Derren then pushed some large metal pins through Robbie's exposed arms, whilst the little pop star recited Three Blind Mice over and over. This actually made for quite uncomfortable viewing. It all seemed very sinister - possibly that combination of industrial decor, torture and children's nursery rhymes.

Robbie seemed unharmed by the whole exercise, though one of his arms was bleeding a bit afterwards. Poor lamb.

Next week: Derren sets fire to James Blunt (maybe)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Happy Birthday to me!

Well, it happened. I turned 30. No bad.

Do you like my subtle badge?


It had lovely flashing LCDs. Sparkly.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I'm all out of tocks

It's like I can hear the clock ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. The last few ticks come one by one. Then it'll be time. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Farewell, youth.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Back-up time

My evening tonight is going to comprise of: Backing up hard drives! My favourite pastime! I'm so excited by this prospect that I am going to start it now and not write the very long and interesting piece that I otherwise would have done.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rabbit rabbit rabbit

Yesterday I went running around the back end of the racecourse. It turns out that's where all the little rabbits live in York. Little cute bunny rabbits. Awwww. I think they were enjoying Spring. Rabbits are great.

Bri-i-ight eyeeeees. Burning like fi-errrr....

Monday, April 10, 2006


One of my favourite authors is Stephen Baxter. He writes excellent big-scale hard science fiction. He does however seem to have two obsessions:

1. Destroying the Earth and/or the Human Race
2. Monkeys

Most of his books seem to feature one or both of these themes. Perhaps his crowning achievement on this front was Evolution which not only featured more monkeys than you could shake a banana at, it also documented the eventual extinction of all monkeys, humans and ultimately all life itself.

I think he maybe needs a hug.

I've just read Titan which was written about ten years ago. At the time, it was science fiction. Now, the first half is strictly alternate history, though with some uncanny parallels with actual history such as a second Shuttle disaster on re-entry. The second half of the book is still set in the future (for now). It's a tale of a last ditch attempt to get a mission to Saturn's moon, Titan, to keep the space dream alive and to also investigate evidence from the Cassini probe that there could have been ammonia-based life out there.

Even in this story of human hardship and survival (it's a six year, one way trip to Titan) Baxter can't resist just casually extincting the whole human race (apart from the few guys in space). One page there are billions of humans happily getting on with their lives. The next, Bam, all gone. Just because he can, and because he likes doing it. And possibly because he hadn't managed to shoehorn any monkeys into the book.

If anyone knows of an author who's committed human-race-icide more times than Baxter, I'd love to know.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Afterwards, I had fish and chips

I popped down to Sheffield this weekend to see my parents. Ostensibly, this was so that they could see me for my birthday since they wouldn't be seeing me next weekend. Except that now they are also planning to visit me on Friday too so I feel like I've been slightly conned somehow.

Mother just happened though (what a coincidence!) to be singing in a choral concert last night at Sheffield Cathedral. She also had got hold of a ticket for me (how convenient!) so I was able to go along to watch. I'm not really a fan of choirs and old fashioned music so I apologise if what follows seems a little negative.

Sheffield Cathedral itself is a bit nicer than I was expecting though in common with churches everywhere, the seats were damn uncomfy. It looks relatively new from the outside since it got bombed in World War 2 but inside there is a lot of much older stonework which makes the building feel much more cathedral-like than it might otherwise. It's being done up a bit too at the moment, the main impact of which is that the toilets are currently in portakabins outside the main entrance.

We (we being myself, father and a couple of mum and dad's friends) sat at the back of the room - an ideal place to watch something if there's a danger of falling asleep. The programme was split into two halves. The first was described as "a sequence of sacred motets and organ music". I had no idea what a motet is. And I still don't. But what this bit consisted of was some choral singing, then a bit of organ, then half the choir would wander off into one of the transepts of the cathedral and sing where nobody could see them, leaving the rest of the choir at the front doing nothing at all. This seemed odd to me. I think it probably seemed odd to the non-singing part of the choir too (which included my mother). They'd then come back repeat this whole sequence of events. It sounded nice enough, I suppose, though I was pretty bored by it.

The second half (after a quick interval spent in a local boozer) was a rendition of Schutz's St. Matthew Passion. As far as I have determined, a "passion" in the musical sense is a retelling of one of the gospels set to music. What this then seems to equate to is the composer rewriting the gospel in his own words, but still completely in prose, and then people singing the resulting text. Unlike an actual play where there might be some acting and stuff, here there is also a narrator (called "The Evangelist") who sings out narrative bits and also things like "Jesus said unto him" and "And they answered and said" - things that would be normally unnecessary.

The singing itself is also strange. There are no discernible tunes, motifs or even rhythms. Instead they just sing notes and sometimes go up and sometimes go down, seemingly at random.

Now, it's likely that it all just seems odd to me because I'm unfamiliar with the form and I'm a Philistine and because there were no guitars. But I would be willing to put a small wager that this is genuinely a form of music that is odd, somewhat boring and lacking in anything we now take for granted in music (like a tune). On the plus side, the guy being Jesus had a really good beard, though not in the style that it is generally accepted was worn by Jesus. This one was a bit more Rasputin.

As a second plus point, the passion only lasted for about 50 minutes. I'm told that someone (possibly Bach) did a St Matthew Passion that goes on for over three hours! That might have taken me over the edge.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Muddy Boots

Last weekend my normal boots that I wear all the time got very muddy after I walked across some unnecessary Harrogate grass. I have been too lazy to actually clean them and so I just haven't worn them all week. Until yesterday when I hoped maybe I'd find a puddle or a small amount of rain or something like that - some minor moisture just to wash off the residual mud.

On the way home from the pub last night, it really pissed it down. I got very very wet. Towel-needing wet. But it did sort out my boots. I wonder if they're dry yet...?

Friday, April 07, 2006

And your mind gets dirty...

It's the last Friday of my 20s. I really should dig out that "things I was supposed to do before I'm 30" list. Or possibly start a new one.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Pensions and Disease

Quick Quiz:

Was the most exciting thing that was in the news today:

a) A-Day (implementation of the new simplified pensions regime)
b) The discovery of deadly bird-flu in Scotland
c) The first cars being attached to the Yorkshire Wheel

The answer is of course a) because pensions are very exciting. Oh, I could talk about pensions for hours. I'm not allowed to advise you though. I'm not qualified to do that.

The bird-flu epidemic in Scotland is quite fun. Technically it's maybe not an epidemic yet, since it has only affected one poor mute swan. But give it a few days and we'll all be choking on the floor like people do in 24 all the time when they've inhaled nerve gas (*) and running for our lives as soon as a pigeon turns its menacing gaze upon us.

To think, when I was a kid, everyone thought we'd all die from nuclear war, terrorists, global warming, acid rain or massive meteor impact. In fact, all we should have been worried about was swans. A single swan can start panic and mayhem. The ugly duckling has grown up into a carrier of a dangerous fowl disease.

I'm not scared though. No, not me. I rarely get man-flu so I figure I have to be immune to bird-flu. Birds are much weaker than men and hence so must be their respective flus.

(* quick note to anybody easily scared - bird-flu does not spread quite as quickly as nerve gas does. It's also not quite as deadly. Not quite.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Split the week

I've had a day off work today - mainly as part of an effort to reduce my outstanding holidays to a level I can carry over to the next year without losing any. I think I've been carrying over the same five days since I started work over eight years ago. I figure I'll use them eventually, as long as they don't have a use-by date like milk does. It would be awful to take a week away and find that your days had gone off. The swimming pool would have gunk on top of it, smell bad and would have to be thrown away. The beach would be all stuck together. And the pretty foreign girls would all have facial warts. Not a good holiday.

Maybe I won't ever take those five days after all. They sound minging.

It's nice being off on a Wednesday though - it breaks up the week into two manageable chunks: A Monday/Tuesday chunk where the world is new and everything will be achieved; and a Thursday/Friday chunk where it's not worth starting or doing anything because it's nearly the weekend.

I've done a few useful things around the flat - a bit of tidying, a bit of washing and a bit of cleaning. There is still more to do, but then there's always more of that to do. I've also read books, strummed guitar, played computer games, ran six miles and learnt to dance the Ballroom Tango. I've eaten crisps, pork pie and pizza. I've seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Etc.

So not a bad day overall.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Second Largest Erection in York

It sounds strange, but there's a huge big wheel being built at the end of my road. The Yorkshire Wheel is due to open on Monday 10th April and may apparently bring a million people to York. Hopefully not all at once.

At around 60m high it should be the second highest thing in the city, beaten only by the Minster.

Since I pass the construction site several times a day, I've been taking a few photos of the build. It's gone up impressively fast.

Sunday Night:
Yorkshire Wheel 1

Tuesday Morning:
Yorkshire Wheel 2

Tuesday Evening:
Yorkshire Wheel 3

It looks like it's all done now except for the attachment of the cars. The whole thing will have taken well under two weeks to construct which is pretty good going.

I'm looking forward to having a go. I'll probably be able to see my flat, though hopefully not into my flat as I wouldn't really want a million strangers doing that. Not without me getting a share of the admission price, at any rate.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Fat Cokes

I just had a can of coke and it made me feel really bloated. It's not fair. It wasn't even proper coke - just diet. Proof positive that diet coke leads to fat people.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Muddy Fields

The final (for now) part of Planet Earth is on in a bit. A fine series indeed. So far it's covered

1. The Poles
2. Mountains
3. Freshwater
4. Caves

And tonight is Deserts. What it hasn't yet covered is Muddy Fields. To remedy this ommission I have indulged in a spot of wildlife photography myself today.

Here are some cute lambs. Ahhh.
Little Lambs

And here are some less cute donkeys.
Some Donkeys

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Cooking with sweat

I went back to the funny curry house last night. We found another thing on the menu:

Sweat Rice

"Sweat Rice". That sounds lovely. To be fair to them, they had gone to all the menus and attempted to overwrite the error in biro, though I think this maybe drew more attention to it.