Sunday, September 30, 2007

New Record!

Great North Run today and it was an early 5am start for me. Out of bed, quick shower, couple of Weetabix and then realised I had half an hour to kill until I needed to leave for the coach. So I read a book for a bit. Might have been better off having an extra half hour in bed - I'll never know.

We got to the start of the race in Newcastle at just before 9am. This was quite early too since the main race doesn't start until twenty to eleven. I spent the time going to the toilet, waiting and then going to the toilet again. There was a Lucozade stall giving out free stuff - I got some gel stuff. They asked me if I'd ever used it before. I said yes, just like I always do in a pharmacy. In reality I don't think I have used it before but I wasn't sure and I thought "No" would save time. My friends behind me got asked the same question. They said "No" and the lady said that they probably shouldn't try it for the first time in a big race as it might give them stomach cramps. I therefore left mine in my pocket and ignored it for the rest of the day. I'll try it on a non-important long run at some point.

I started in Zone F which was about half-way back, and reflected a 15 minute delay after the start of the race before I'd pass the start line. Since I was running alone I figured I might as well go in the furthest forward entry zone that my number allowed - if nothing else it'd mean that the whole thing would be over quicker!

I wasn't particularly nervous until the race actually started. At that point a lot of anticipation builds up as you first wait, then wait a bit more, eventually start shuffling forward before finally running. Pretty much as soon as I passed the starting line I decided I needed another wee.

I was aiming to for as long as possible do ten minute miles and then whatever I could to beat last year's time of 2:22:17. About 200m from the start are the first portaloos - I decided to miss them even though I could have used them, as I didn't want to be several minutes behind schedule before I'd finished the first half mile. But after about three miles I gave in and used a secluded(ish) wall to relieve myself. I reckon I lost about 30s but it was worth it as I was then running much more comfortably.

Up until the eighth mile I was actually enjoying myself and maintaining my desired speed (actually ever so slightly faster). I'd had to abandon my plan to listen to Batman: Knightfall as it was too hard to hear dialogue with all the various noise going on. Instead I soundtracked the first hour and a half or so of the race with Biffy Clyro and Cherry Ghost.

After that point I started to slow and by about ten miles I was a minute down. The final three miles were pretty hard going but I kept at it. It was good to get down onto the seafront where the finish is at least in sight, even if it's still a mile away. A long, long mile away.

And then it's over and I came in at 2:15:25, a decent improvement on last time.

Traffic home was way better than last year. I was safely home by quarter to six - at least three hours earlier than last year. I can't explain why. Sometimes roads are just like that.

Now I have achy legs and a pleasant break from running.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Race Time

Just one more sleep to go until the Great North Run (two if I have one on the coach in the morning). It's going to be an early start as the coach leaves at half six tomorrow am.

I wouldn't say I was feeling confident but I'm definitely less nervous than last year. I reckon that's due to familiarity and knowing exactly what I've let myself in for.

Sleep soon then. See you on the other side!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Fish

It's a rare Friday night when I'm not in the pub and an even rarer one when I'm not even having a drink. But since I have a half-marathon in two days time I'm not drinking until then. Which is annoying.

It has at least meant that I've been able to cook a proper Friday tea. I popped in to M&S at lunchtime and bought some tasty monkfish. It was good. Very expensive though - £11.99 for two people's worth. That could make it possibly the most expensive single item of food I've ever bought, excluding restaurants. I must have been having a moment of madness else it could have been the last remnants of last night's booze playing a final trick on me.

Speaking of last night, last night I discovered a new drink: Guinness Red. Apparently it's been around for a while but I've only just spotted it. If you don't know it, it can be described very easily: Guinness for girls.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I would write, but alcohol amd morning forbids. :-)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In-Race Entertainment

Since I'm running alone in the Great North Run this year (apart from 50,000 others), I have planned some in-race entertainment. I'm loading it onto my iPod now.

It's the 1994 radio-drama, Batman: Knightfall. Based on the comic of the same name. It was originally on Mark Goodier's Radio 1 show in daily three minute chunks and I used to have it on cassette tape (remember them?). A friend borrowed (stole) my tape years ago so I haven't heard the thing for years, but I remember it being great - much better than the Batman movies of yesteryear, despite the lack of visuals.

I recently bought it again on CD (remember them?) and have been saving it for the race. I hope it's still good. If not, I'll have to make do with tunes or race-noises instead.

On the case it says "Running Time: 3 hours". I hope that's not a prediction. That'd be rubbish.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

David Ford Music News

Janice Long played a new David Ford song on the radio last night. This was quite exciting - Easyworld were one of the best bands ever and so anything new from David is going to be a good thing. His debut solo album was good but mostly quite downbeat. The new song was a lot poppier and so I was looking forward to getting my hands on it and the rest of the new album.

So I got the new album off iTunes. But whilst looking for it I found something even better - another Christmas album! This one's called "It's Not Like Christmas" and it's got tracks by various people on it including The Electric Soft Parade and Minuteman. And David Ford! And The Duke Special (featuring David Ford)! So I'm obviously looking forward to listening to all that even though it's not Christmas for a while yet and even though half the songs are likely rubbish as they inevitably are with this kind of collection. At least they're Christmassy rubbish.

And finally on this tack, The Duke Special are clearly in the mood for collaborations at the moment as they have a new single out which features Neil Hannon and Romeo from The Magic Numbers (it's called "Our Love Goes Deeper Than This). It's great, immensely catchy and feels like the start of the summer. Which is just what I need now that winter's encroaching.

And that ends the music news.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Like Self Assessment (But They Won't Let Me Do It)

I phoned the Inland Revenue this evening. Sorry, HM Customs & Revenue as they are now called. Having just got back from a five mile run (it felt good) I wasn't in the best state for talking to a tax officer on the phone but the office was going to close in 15 minutes so I didn't have much choice if I wanted to get my task done this evening.

Essentially (and to cut a long and dull tax story short) I used to do self-assessment (which I liked doing!) but then as part of some kind of scheme to make things easier for people they moved me to the "short-form". It's like a tax return with only four boxes. And then they stopped sending me even that - they just changed my tax code and left me alone.

Now PAYE tax codes are a bit mysterious but broadly they are actually quite simple. The number is equal to your tax-free allowance divided by 10. And that's it. If you have some regular tax deductible expenses (eg my Institute of Actuaries fees), they can be used to increase your allowance. And if you have regular untaxed taxable income (interest, dividends, earnings on the side etc) it decreases your allowance. This should all mean that everything ends up with you paying about the right amount of tax, regularly, through your payroll.

This would be fine if you never changed your circumstances.

I used to get some money from marking exam scripts which I no longer get since I stopped marking. I wouldn't have complained too much if they wanted to continue to pay me for not marking, but they didn't. Hence my tax code gives me an allowance which is significantly too low.

Which is where we get round go me phoning up the Revenue.

I wanted them to just send me a full tax return self assessment form like I used to get. I liked them, they were fun (and you could do them online in about ten minutes). But it seems quite hard to persuade them to do this. I'm guessing there's some significant manual work they have to do even for the online submissions. But even a short-form would have been ok.

Instead she made me look up all the numbers there and then on the phone - ie last year's dividends, my interest, current Institute rates etc. All in a friendly way, mind, but given I was a bit hot and sweaty it wasn't really what I wanted to be doing. And the dividends turned out to be hard to find even in my "sophisticated filing system". But I did find everything and I'm hoping it should result in a nice increase in my tax code and maybe even a rebate if I'm really lucky.

I bet if I said I'd earned a million pounds of untaxed income last year they'd send me a form like a shot.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pork Pie Festival 2007 (now with added cider!)

Yesterday was York's annual pork pie festival, held as ever at The Tap And Spile on Monkgate. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it as I had a meeting in Leeds in the afternoon. Luckily I was able to get out a little early and rush back to York for my pies.

It should have been ten pies to taste, but number 1 didn't turn up meaning their was a little less pie than expected. Still a lot of pie though.

Pork Pies 2007

I was supposed to be sharing my plate but due to a couple of people not turning up and one person turning up but not liking pork pie, I had a whole one to myself. Four and a half whole pork pies is quite a lot for a small person like me but I like a challenge so thought I'd try and eat the lot regardless. I managed five half pies before having to stop due to feeling a bit full. I nibbled the remaining four but only a little.

To be honest, of the ones I had, none were outstanding. None were awful either but one did seem to have a slight citrus zestiness which didn't work for me in the context of a pork pie.

I don't want to see another pork pie for some weeks now.

Also in the pub yesterday they were having a cider festival! Whooh! I like cider. And it washed the pies down nicely.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Farewell Simon!

I expect Simon was very happy that his friends decided to hold his leaving do in the gents.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Noises in the Night

I was woken last night about 2am by a strange tapping. It went on (intermittently) for what seemed like a long time. Most things seem like they go on for a long time when all you're trying to do is sleep. It was hard to tell where it was coming from. Possibly next door, possibly outside. To me it sounded like the sort of sound that would be made if someone was chipping the outside wall with a chisel. But I had a look out the window and there didn't seem to be anyone there. And there was no damage this morning.

Maybe it was the people next door assembling late night flat pack furniture. Some people do odd things like that.

Or maybe (and this is what I hope) it was a ghost. That would be way cool.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Dead Plants

I don't have many houseplants. Three at the last count. Well, two actually since one is well and truly dead, ain't coming back and has now just entered the bin. Here it was:

My Dead Plants (1)

Until very recently it looked like that but with green leaves just on top. It had been that way for a year, two years or so. But now no green at all so I think it has shuffled off this mortal coil. Etc. Baby Bio didn't seem to help. Maybe it was past that stage.

My other plants are doing a little better. My bigger plant is doing fine. I forget what it's called but it's in a pot and and it has green leaves.

My bonsai however is in a bad state. It has also in fact died. But I'm not going to throw it away yet because just before it died for good, two random mysterious plants began to grow in its pot:

My Dead Plants (2)

The bonsai is on the right and is pretty deaded. But front right there's a big tall sprouty green thing. And back right there's a smaller ferney green thing. Neither seem to be related to the tree, and neither were there originally. I'm thinking perhaps they are alien life forms that arrived from the cosmos one time I'd left my window open. They landed in the fertile soil found in my living room and grew to become full fledged alien plants.

I should tell Fred Hoyle - he'd be most excited.

Except that he's also dead.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Final Fantasy and some Historical Maths

And tonight I finished off Final Fantasy V. Now just I, II, VI, X, X2 and maybe XI to go. It's quite a good one, but seemed relatively easy. Maybe I'm just getting good.

On the subject of Roman numerals, apparently DIVIDIVI is the only proper Roman numeral number that is also an English word (it's some kind of tree - pushing it a bit, if you ask me). I thing ID should count but for some reason 499 is actually CDXCIX.

Idiot Romans.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Two Weeks and Counting...

With just two weeks left until the Great North Run (30 Sep), my training is going ok. I did my last planned long run this morning - a 10 miler.

I'd originally assumed I'd be doing it in late afternoon/early evening like normal, but as it came closer I realised I'd rather get it out of the way. So I got up relatively early this morning and was out of the house by twenty past ten. Now, I know that that's not right and any sensible person would still be tucked up tight in bed at that time, but I don't think I'm a sensible person.

The run went well - I went at a fairly steady pace all the way around, and finished in 1 hour 47 mins. Not going to worry any professional runners but good enough for me. I did feel like I could have carried on a bit further if I'd had to. My foot was still hurting but as I'd hoped, it didn't hold me back at all.

When I got home I had a nice long hot bath in which I read New Scientist.

So I plan to take things relatively easy for the next couple of weeks to ensure I don't hurt myself prior to race day. Probably just a three miler, a five miler and then another three miler. Then a whole lot of fingers crossed. I'm looking forward to

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pointless Toilet Communication

I don't like bumping into people I used to know whilst mildly drunk in pubs. Firstly, I rarely have anything useful to say - if I did they'd be in the category of people I still know rather than people I used to know. Secondly any conversation as is tends to be stupid.

For example, tonight in Brigantes I met an old work colleague in the toilet corridor. Let's call him Simon.

Si: Hello!
Me: Err, hi! Hello! How are you?
Si: Good thanks, how are you?
Me: I'm fine, thanks. How are you. Oh, I've done that already, haven't I? Bye!

Nobody gained anything from this brief exchange except that I realised he'd been sitting on an adjacent table all night.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Great North Run Update

1. My right foot hurts, on the top. Not enough to make me run funny (or not at all) but enough to annoy me a lot. I don't know why this is.

2. Work have finally got around to arranging a coach to get us there. This is annoying as lack of transport could potentially have been my last excuse to get out of it.

3. I hope it's not hot.

4. I thought I was starting in the back section. I'm not, they just seem to have changed the colours round this year. I'm right in the middle (section F, white).

5. I really, really hope it's not hot.

6. It's definitely going to hurt. Bugger.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Frisbee - Actuaries v Accountants

I took part in a game of Ultimate Frisbee yesterday afternoon - actuaries versus accountants. I was on the side of good (actuaries) and we thrashed the bean-counting buggers 5 points to 3. But that was all we could be bothered to play to as it was very hot and we'd neglected to take any beers to the field with us.

Although I had not played before, the rules were very easy to pick up - much simpler than something like football. I shan't write them here as they can be easily looked up on the net (eg here). The game was surprising energetic and it's probably good for me to get some different forms of exercise (other than just running) from time to time. By the end we were all very sweaty and we must have stank in the pub later. Apologies to any other patrons of the Yorkshire Hussar last night.

I'm feeling that a rematch will be on the cards at some point, but hopefully on a slightly cooler day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Six Steps

I was wondering yesterday about how far I was from Kevin Bacon. I'd said that "my friend's friend's girlfriend's ex-boyfriend used to go out with Kiera Knightley". So let's add some detail here... I actually know my friend's friend's girlfriend, so that saves some steps.

Keira Knightley was in Love Actually with Hugh Grant.

Hugh was in Notting Hill with Julia Roberts.

Julia was in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon.

And I think that is six links! Wahey!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Does she know Kevin?

I found out today that my friend's friend's girlfriend's ex-boyfriend used to go out with Kiera Knightley! How cool is that? It's like I'm part of Hollywood.

I wonder if Kiera knows Kevin Bacons? Cos that would prove the whole six degrees thing...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Constructive Feedback

It's always nice to get feedback on posts, however belated. Back in 2004, back when I was funny, I was discussing Leonard Cohen's song, First We Take Manhatten. I was pondering the meaning of some of the lyrics, particularly the ones relating to monkeys and plywood violins.

If you're interested, I stand my by theory. It's watertight.

But not everyone agrees. Daniel2024 just left the following nugget for me:

"This Song is about how the Son of God will travel across the wporld and bring his children home. He is awakening from a time of 20 years in exile, and he is returning. The beauty of OUR weopons is Love. Also the woman of God who will serve the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He is also the man of energy cohen speaks of and he is now safe again in heaven. Greetings from the other side. Though you all may want to know. Also in The Future he states it is over and it is not going any further. He will some day very soon begin his ministry by traveling on the ship spoken of in Democracy.


Now, whilst this is quite polite and all, I think it's actually more barking than anything I came up with. Based on my search stats I think he found me by searching for "plywood violin" in Google, which is a pretty weird thing to search for.

It goes without saying that his typing is not of a good level.

And that he's an utter nutter.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I Am (Guitar) Legend

Two generally know facts about computer games:

1. Guitar Hero is fantastic
2. Games on mobile phones are not fantastic

So what happens if you combine these two things and put Guitar Hero on a mobile? It should be shit, surely. No plastic guitar for a start. Therefore when I spotted a game called Guitar Legend in the downloads section of my phone I was somewhat skeptical. The screenshots looked like the proper game, but surely it would be crap in real life motion.

But then out of curiosity I did an in'net search and found a vid on YouTube of the thing in motion, and it actually looked really good. So I bought it. And it is really good!

Ok, so it's only got about eight songs (good ones though, inc The Bravery, Bloc Party, Iron Maiden and David Bowie) and they're not exactly DVD quality, but the game plays just like you'd expect with you having to press buttons as the blobs pass the bottom of the screen. Up to five of them in the hardest mode. Which is actually f**k hard.

Probably the best mobile game I've played. Apparently there's an official GH game coming out at some point which I'm now looking quite forward to!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

No, I haven't ordered one (yet)

I'm a little disappointed by the new iPods announced earlier today. The new touch-screen one is cool but only has 16Gb storage - way too small. Whereas the iPod Classic has a massive 160Gb but not the cool controls of the touch-screen one. Why not just combine the two together? A touchscreen 160Gb iPod would sell faster than magic pizzas. I'd have ordered one hours ago.

In fact, it's like if Dominos only did two pizzas - one with the best toppings in the world (pepperoni, tandoori chocobo, jalapenos etc) but on a shit thick soggy base, and one with the best crispiest base you can imagine with cheese and tomato only.

As it is, I'm mildly indifferent (but still tempted anyway, just not sure by which one).

The new Nano design is more interesting. It looks odd in the photos but I suspect in real life it's a lot cooler. It just seems to be a lot fatter (wideness rather than thickness) compared to the old Nanos.

I think I might wait until the next upgrades before upgrading...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sailing Weekend

I went sailing for the first time at the weekend. A friend from work has some contacts in a marina near Southampton (his ma and pa) and so we took a couple of boats out to the Isle of Wight and back.

Having never sailed before, I knew not what to expect. I have experience of canal boats and of cross channel ferries but that's about it. Neither of these experiences proved useful apart from the relative crampedness of narrowboats.


On Saturday we were sailing into a relatively strong wind (force 5) this involved a lot of tacking which involved the boat leaning at unfeasibly unsafe angles. I was assured that it was all fine and that the boat would have to exceed 110 degrees for it to capsize (ie the mast 20 degrees underwater) which helped a bit until I realised I'd have fallen off long before that point. But once you get used to it it's less scary, and probably not as bad as being upstairs on a double decker bus when they go round a corner too fast.

I didn't help with much of the technical sailing bits, but I did wind a few ropes, tie a few knots and generally do as I was told by the Skipper (whilst on deck at least). I also tried to do the washing up when it needed doing so that I wasn't a complete spare leg.

It took about three or four hours to do the sail, and when we got to the Isle of Wight (Yarmouth marina) it was good because then we could start on the beer.

Boat and Beers

I like beer.

Later we had a barbecue on the nearby beach (because fire and boats don't go). This was also good apart from the bits of sand that inevitably get everywhere, the lack of toilet facilities and the chicken that I'm pretty sure was unsafe. Later still, it was on into Yarmouth town centre for a few ciders. It was a nicer town centre than I was expecting - much better than it's "great" cousin on the mainland.

Next day's sailing was much smoother as we had the wind behind us to just push us back over the Solent. I was a bit hungover and slept for a bit in the afternoon. This would have been fine except I kept nearly falling off the bench I was lying on due to the (sometimes large) rocking.

But it was all good. Many thanks to everyone involved.

On the way home on Sunday we had a tasty random curry in Loughborough. Nice.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Decade Under The Influence

As of 5pm last Friday, I completed 10 years of work for the same company. That's quite a long time. It's so far encompassed three cities, six bosses and (almost) countless desks. And I'm still happy which is pretty remarkable really.

Other things that have happened in the world during that 10 years:

1. Princess Diana was on the cover of the Daily Express every day, despite not being alive for one of them.
2. Big Brother.
3. The internet and mobile phones.
4. Big Brother 2-8.
5. Four Day Hombre.
6. All of Buffy and Angel.
7. Tony Blairs.
8. Can't think.
9. Of anything else.
10. Because I was drunk.

Now I'm just waiting for my carriage clock to turn up. I'm sure it's on the way...