I awoke feeling particularly groggy yesterday morning and sat nursing first one, then another cup of quadspresso before I could smile enough to go out into the garden.

I had intended to get out for an early run before the heat of the day started to ramp up, but alas, it was already 8am and about 70 degrees, so I voted for a day off.


I had some tasks, started yesterday or last weekend, to complete before I could sit down and relax.  First on the list was the continuing process of painting the outside walls.  I think that, excluding the back of my neighbours garage, there are ten walls in total (seems like WAY more than that!) and I managed to paint the three largest or most complex last year (and he back of that same garage).  Unfortunately I then had wall insulation so those lovely white walls had 50-calibre bullet holes spread across them all winter.

I had painted the small garage-door wall last weekend and put one cost on the adjacent full height wall.  I had put a first coat on the front door wall on Saturday along with one on the wall that I never see… the back of the garage that only my neighbour has to look at.

So yesterday I second-coated those three walls to effectively finish the front of the house.  Seven down, three to go, but since the sun was now firmly set to BRIGHT and I had the painters version of snow-blindness, I moved to my next tasks… cutting the hedge and then cutting the grass.

Seemingly much, MUCH later in the day, I finally sank into the rare comfort of the recliner on the deck.  The sun was now low in the sky and I had ten or fifteen minutes to go before dinner emerged into the garden.

I lay there, reclining, looking up at wispy wind-blown clouds through polarised sunglasses and for a fleeting moment it was if I was laying in a warm bath, looking at the ceiling and thinking really most pleasant thoughts.

Twenty years

Life is seldom dull and this week was no exception, especially as it ended with a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in the open air near Wivelsfield for the benefit of St Peter & St James Hospice.  It plays until the 26th June and I highly recommend it, although if you go, I hope for the sake of the players, that it doesn’t rain.  The clouds were gathering as we arrived and the heavens opened mid way through the first half.  We were sitting in comfortable chairs in covered marquees, but the players got doused, not that it affected their smiles and good nature in the least.

Today is the London to Brighton Bike ride, which once again falls on Fathers Day and makes it difficult for me to visit mine!  Happy Fathers Day Dad!

I like to try to get to the top of Ditchling Beacon to share some of their pain (and delight), so I was up early to give me a chance to get there before it got too hot.  The day dawned beautiful but I confess shock when I got outside in my shorts to find that it wasn’t really all that warm!

I ran down to Ditchling via Oldlands Mill and saw my first lone cyclist, who laughed when I asked if he was a front runner… it was 8.30am and the fast guys had been through an hour earlier!

I ran up onto the Beacon… it must have been a while as it was hard work, but I stuck with it and managed to get there without needing to stop.

After some banter with the marshals, who were running around trying to fix the PA system to give encouragement to people as they cycled, or walked up the hill, I headed back via Sporting Cars of Brighton, East End Lane and the path that goes to Ditchling Common Industrial Estate.

I was looking forward to running down the Magical Path, but by the time I got there the clouds had rolled in and it was cold, dark and miserable.  I guess everyone is entitled to their off days!

So 10.75 miles in 1.51.  6mph on the way there (which is pretty good as it includes the Ditchling Beacon climb) but only 5.66mph on the return which reflects how little I have been running lately… also suggested by my need for a nap on the sofa when I returned!

That would be that, but I am reminded that it is twenty years since I actually rode in the London to Brighton bike ride and I thought I would reflect briefly on what has changed in my life, since that time.

I had just bought my first house in June 1990, with the help of my sister. It was a first rung on the housing ladder which I intended to keep for three years.

I valiantly defended my two handkerchiefs of grass from my green-fingered father: one at the front with two small shrubs and one at the back with a shed. Not for me all these plants and stuff: give me grass any day of the week! There were two runs of concrete on which to park my red company Ford Escort and once inside the thin porch, the dominant colour was professionally applied magnolia with expensive curtains, one benefit of buying the house from an ambitious young banker.

I had a lodger, Dawn, who initially slept on the floor, as did I, the only furniture in the house being a sofa that came from my best friend and a wooden coffee table from an antique shop. The latter supported the Rega turntable that half my music revolved around, the other half involving my twelve-string guitar.

I sold Commercial Finance for NWS, which entailed me visiting the myriad small & medium sized businesses across West Sussex and providing the finance for them to buy cars, vans, machinery.  Even then I had a greater interest in what these companies actually did (which often made my work frustrating), something that I had picked up from both my father and from another Mr Foster, Ken, who had employed me in his art gallery a couple of years earlier. Ken had been the FD of a well known travel company and had eventually negotiated its distressed sale for one pound Sterling… a startling and fascinating concept for someone like me, who knew little of business at the time.

Each week I borrowed a lawn mower from my very kind neighbour, Pam (who I went to visit only this week) to cut my grass, me not being able to afford to buy one. I often also cut the grass of the attached house on the other side as it was generally unkempt due to being sporadically rented out. My skills with any other tools, garden or otherwise, left much to be desired.

What has changed since then?  Life in the intervening years has certainly been interesting and there have been both high and low points, the latter including losing three really very good friends, one to Cancer, one sadly to suicide and another to his own avarice.

I sold my first house after 15 years (remember, I had intended to stay there for three), although I also bought, lived in for four years and sold a London flat during that time, enabling me to study for an Executive MBA at London Business School. I have now lived in my current house for five years (with my girlfriend of ten years!).

My father patiently (oh so patiently!) taught me to garden which, aside from considerably enhancing my surroundings at both houses, has instilled a much valued patience in me too. My treasured hi-fi has been sold and replaced with the kind of micro system (now itself old-fashioned) that I would have laughed at before. And I have stuff, lots of stuff, which for someone who is a minimalist at heart is fascinating. I wonder if we are hard wired to accumulate things until we have filled every nook & cranny.

I now work with the type of companies I visited twenty years ago, getting to ask those more searching questions and adding value by helping them to overcome their challenges or develop differentiated business strategies. My own current business is young and I earn even less than I did back then but my life is evolving, just as Charles Handy suggested it would in his book the Elephant and the Flea, into a portfolio of interests. Each of which I’m really passionate about in a driven way.

My Porsche of eight years sits on the driveway that I designed, while I sit and read (and once again today, type) in the tea-house that I also designed and patiently made.  I have time to read and to think, which is how I perceive I add the greatest value to my clients.  It’s the kind of lifestyle I might have only dreamed about twenty years ago. Not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m very happy with it.

Though I really wonder what life will be like for me in another twenty years time?

Picture this

Picture me, if you will, sitting peacefully in the tea-house, lap-top on lap, cup of Earl Grey to… er, hang on just a minute.  As I was saying, picture me in the tea-house with a cup of Earl Grey to hand, penning this very line and appreciating the fruits of yesterday’s labour: The big hedge which I gently manicured (with the aid of a hedge-trimmer), the clear roof of the tea-house, which I washed and hosed down, and the tall bamboo panels in the corner ahead of me as I sit, which I removed and replaced straight as they had been knocked sideways by my neighbours replacing their own garden fence.

I did one or two other things and the general combination sent me to sleep on the sofa around 8.30pm… from this point, aside from getting up and going to bed, I slept for 11.5 hours straight and woke this morning in a slightly groggy frame of body.

Nevertheless, after a banana, a good strong coffee and an hour spent reading the Economist, I sallied forth in my liveried running kit.  Cliff had been unable to run this morning and while I briefly flirted with the idea of driving to Jack & Jill, it was simpler to run straight from the house.  Mindful that my last two runs were short ones around the same circuit, I determined to go a different way and for slightly longer.

I ran out past Ote Hall and to the small hamlet around Wivelsfield Church, where even the public footpaths are well kept.

I then ran past the quizzical Alpacas (although I always think of them as Debbs Pyjamas, so convinced was I that this American friend of Darens was hallucinating about what she had seen on a walk around the local countryside!)

As I ran to Wivelsfield itself and out the other side, I reflected how beautiful the countryside around here really is.

I ran most of the way down Hundred Acre Lane before cutting across to the industrial estate and on down the Magical Path.

From here it was only a short way home across the common.

Overall it was a very pleasant run indeed and though I was alone (as you can be with dog-walkers, cyclists and other runners on a warm June day), it was gratifyingly less like the target-driven training runs that typified the first four months of the year!  This was reflected in the 1.13 that it took me to cover 7.45 beautiful miles (a slumberous 6.12mph).

Tea finished, I must away and find a chore or two to do, lest I can’t get to sleep on the sofa this evening.

Flora & sauna

Cliff had thrown down a gauntlet of sorts yesterday by suggesting that I could (in part) redeem my relay-absence by running the Seaford half-marathon, scheduled to start at 9am this morning.

So 8.45am found me ready for the off for the first time in a month.  Alas, I was nowhere near Seaford at all!

Instead, I ran my lovely little short circuit and was glad… glad that I hadn’t run in the heat of yesterday and glad that I hadn’t been so stupid as to rise to Cliff’s gauntlet.  Why?  Because, despite the comparative coolness of the morning, it was super humid out there after the torrential rain last night.

I was also glad to be back in the lush greenness of the UK!

5.2 miles in 44 minutes, despite the humidity and the lack of practice… not a bad first outing, but I fear that I’m going to have to come up with some better excuses if I’m going to skive off any more big races!

Home via the North-West passage

Observant readers will have realised that the East coast to which I have referred in the last few posts is not in the UK.  Geographically it is probably closer to the Eastbourne that Captain Daren has sailed off so comprehensively.

As I boomeranged back to the UK from my time away, I managed to catch up with Kim in Dubai for a few days where, again, I engaged in no running at all.  This time the reason was more practical than sheer laziness… it was 85 degrees outside.

If that doesn’t sound too bad, then I should point out that this was the temperature at night… the days were around 101.  We managed one two-mile evening walk along the beach and one daytime walk of a similar distance where we periodically dived into any buildings with aircon (on both occasions we ended up in need of wringing out) and I kid you not… this is no place to run!

That’s not strictly true.  Christine, one of my LBS buddies who lives there, runs quite frequently… at 4.30 in the morning!  We did see one or two other runners, one of whom was risking more than sunstroke by running in the midday sun in what looked like a tennis dress.  Dubai is positively relaxed for an Arab state, but the showing of knees and shoulders by ladies is still not encouraged and this tennis skirt was skimpier still.

Russell, our excellent host was… well, a truly excellent host.  Where we had discovered the heat, the construction and the ubiquitous sand for ourselves, he showed us the cool, the finished and the green.

Of course, wafting us around in the leathered luxury of his air-conditioned Discovery was always going to frame the city in a different way to our earlier oven-mark-9 bipeding!

So, having not run for around a month, it was purely by chance that I returned to the UK too late to join with the guys in running a relay race along the South Downs yesterday… sorry guys!  To be fair, I did think of them periodically as I dodged the heat of the afternoon sun, although moral wasn’t the support that they apparently had in mind!

I watered the garden in the hope that the the semi-concrete surface would soften sufficiently to soak up some of the rain that had been forecast for last night… if I had known how torrential the rain was going to be I probably wouldn’t have bothered but the fickle weather is just one of the reasons that I’m glad to be home!