A sad anniversary

I decided not to run this morning, choosing instead a reflective day cleaning the cars, mowing the grass, tidying the garage and so on.

Three years ago, on a Wednesday afternoon towards the end of April, one of my closest friends died in tragic circumstances.  He took his own life, leaving those around him to only guess at his motives.

Since then he’s never far from my mind and though my usual ritual is to toast him with a glass of beer whenever I’m cooking, at this time of year I feel closest to him by giving my car a decent Spring clean.

In fact, those of you who think that I keep my car in good condition (and many do) probably never saw his small collection… immaculate in every detail, polished to perfection, even his classic 20-something year old Jaguar.

Whether or not you knew him, I hope that you will forgive me for repeating here the eulogy that I spoke at his funeral.  It’s a way of keeping the happy memories alive.  A simple reminder to cherish friends and family and make the most of every moment, since life can be over all too soon.

Eulogy to a dear friend

As family and friends, colleagues and clients, I suspect that we have each seen different sides of Richard, and each carry a different version of this remarkable man around with us.  I sincerely hope that, if you knew him, you might feel inclined to compare and contrast your memories of him, in the same way that you might have swapped Top Trumps cards as children.

Having known him quite literally all of my life, I thought that you might like to hear some short tales from his more formative years.  You may like to close your eyes, in order to better imagine the Kodak coloured seventies… two young boys standing on the main road, before it was busy, naming the make and model of every car that came towards them.

Here was a man who shared his parents love for cats, showing me how to gently handle them from an early age.  He would teach the kittens to run at the back door, encouraging them to jump higher and higher up his Mum’s pristine net curtains.  As they got older, and heavier, he would then feign ignorance as to the circumstances surrounding the ripped curtains, demonstrating how mischievously irreverent he could be.

From an early age he was an amazing chess player, chosen to play for our primary school team.  In all the innumerable times he and I played chess as children, he beat me every time.  Except once.  We would sit at a child-sized table & chairs in the storeroom beneath his house.  Two inevitable moves from his one and only thrashing at my hands, he deftly upset the table with his knees, sending board and pieces flying and demonstrating both a highly competitive nature and a natural flair for thinking outside the box.

He seemed to gain a sense of the intrinsic value of money at a really early age, saving hard-earned cash from a part-time job to buy a really smart racing bike to replace his cherished Raleigh Chopper.  Even before this stage he showed how discerning he was in his choices and how very careful he was to retain the value in things by looking after them; keeping them spotlessly clean and well maintained, adding well considered accessories.  Here was a boy who knew exactly what he wanted, was prepared to work very hard to get it and would then work equally hard to keep it looking like new.

This process was repeated when he graduated to a moped, a treasured, unregulated Suzuki, and again when he purchased his gleaming Honda, some number of weeks ahead of his 17th birthday when he would be legally able to ride it.  His parents used regularly to go out dancing and he and I would sit in the garage, cleaning the bike and listening to its Yoshimura exhaust.  Knowing his son really well, his Dad would leave his car in the garage, blocking the exit, to ensure both son and bike stayed put while they were out.

To start with we merely pushed the car back a little to give us more space with the bike.  As time went by, we would push it back up the drive, with great effort, to allow a small gap to get the bike out so that he could ride it around the block: returning both it and the car before his parents got home.  His Dad came into the garage to chat to us one evening and commented that the bike was really hot.  Cool as a cucumber, he explained that we had just been running it in situ to listen to the pipe:  Keeping a straight face was a skill that would set him in good stead as a lawyer.

To save energy, one evening he started the car, reversing it up the drive and on to the road.  Waving for me to occupy the passenger seat and much to my consternation, he then drove off along the road towards a rise, at the top of which is a T-junction.  Unsure quite what to do at this point, he pumped the gas, swung the wheel left and, having cut across the pavement, braked to a sudden halt in the middle of the road. 

I should point out, that in these early years, there were very few cars in the street and no traffic, but my heart was beating like a steam train and we sat there, petrified, for some moments.  Then he returned, more slowly, back to the house and dropped me off, still shaking, before rolling into the garage, misjudging the brakes and slamming noisily into his treasured bike.  Fortunately no damage was done.

He famously passed his motorcycle test just 11 days after his 17th birthday and got his car licence after only a few short lessons.

He went to secondary school and whilst there, started saying some really strange things.  You may have heard him say any of the following, though they will have made very little sense: byemate, seeya, Boit denissan semiflourick galootube, dehennaway, incredible eh Adrian, bvort.  These were words and sounds that were common parlance to him and those closest to him.

I went to secondary school in Falmer and he would arrive to collect me on his bike, generally riding off with the flourish of a well-executed wheelie.  He did this on one notable occasion and caught me not holding on: I rolled back fully to kick him hard under the armpits, as I stared backwards and upside-down at the front wheel of a friend following us on his Yamaha. 

This aside, he was the smoothest of riders and later, the silky smoothest of drivers too, with cars and bikes remaining as a passion throughout his life.

These are personal memories, but I suspect that your own experiences might chime with some of mine:  His honour and sense of fair play, especially for the under-kitten; His mischievous dry humour and gentle irreverence; His highly competitive nature, sense of value, love of detail, care and nurture of those things and people most precious to him; His passionate love of his wife, cars, motorcycles.  And oh, how much he truly adored his children.

I have spent countless hours with him in various garages, and on driveways, surrounded by motorbikes & cars and I personally shall always feel closest to him there, amongst the buckets and sponges and polishing cloths.  That place that we shared so much time and ultimately, where he felt most comfortable.

I am truly honoured to have counted him amongst my very few close friends and I hope that his children will forever feel proud to have had such a truly remarkable man as their father.

Ministry of Silly Walks

After yesterday’s sudden jolt back into running, I thought I would give my legs a ‘hair of the dog’ run this morning.  It turned out to be a painful idea and although I completed a mile in a shade over 11 minutes, I’ve been walking around the rest of the day as if I’m on a pair of stilts!

Which is worrying since the worst impact for me is usually on the second day after a run!  Maybe I should order a crane to get me out of bed tomorrow morning?

Vicarious marathon running

With a whole load of great friends running in both the Brighton and the Paris marathons today, I couldn’t very well not go out for a run.

The sun was out but there was a chill north wind and I suspected that I had made a ‘wrong trousers’ choice as I ran off down the road directly into it… in my shorts.  It would have been a good day to run in the woods, but having not run for a while I was curious to see how far I could get and it’s easier to count the miles on my usual pavement run towards Clayton.

In fact it has been six weeks since I last ran (6 miles on the machine) and a further week still since I ran 10 miles, so my 10 mile plan was probably a little ambitious.

When I got to the London Road and the wind was behind me, the temperature in my gear became much more comfortable.  Three miles later, as I neared the turn point, I was even starting to get too warm but as soon as I turned back into the wind the temperature plummeted again.

It was clear from the little niggley leg pains from the second mile that I’d not run for a while, but I pushed forward regardless.  Today it was definitely my brain pushing my legs on and as I reached 7 miles they felt as if I had completed double that.  As I ran back up the road in the last mile they were definitely fading, so it was fortunate that the rest of me felt okay otherwise I would surely have had to walk.

All quite appropriate for a vicarious marathon… and no way could I have completed a full one today.

At 1:39 (and 59:91 seconds) the time wasn’t as bad as I thought, the return leg taking me 53 minutes against the 47 minute outbound one.  An overall average of 6mph on the nose.

Still not fast enough to keep up with Mark’s speed over 26.2 miles today.  Despite being ill and having completed the 50-mile Paris Ecotrail the other weekend, he still managed an average of 6.16mph , while Phil got a PB in Paris running 6.52mph.  I’ve yet to hear about the others but that probably means that they’re recovering… in the pub!

More absence

Last weekend I was still feeling limp and lifeless as the lurgi continued morphing into different symptoms and into its fifth week, so there was no running to be seen anywhere.

However, as a direct result of this post we wandered up to Bedrock Music to buy 24 new guitar strings and while we were there, Kim traded up in the bongo department, from


To the percussive sounds of a grinning Kim, I then set about removing old strings, oiling fret-boards (with the lemon oil that Lucas mentioned), cleaning, and eventually restringing all three guitars.

There were ten or fifteen wilderness years where I hardly played my guitars and my strings probably did not get replaced at all during this time, or maybe only when my Bro took pity on them on the rare occasions that he was across from the States.

Since deciding to start playing again I have had the strings replaced by Steve at Bedrock or by my good friend Andrew, so this was the first time I had done this task for maybe 15 or 20 years!

I didn’t make as neat a job as Andrew (who is a perfectionist), but the guitars all have a bright sound again and I really enjoyed the process so will definitely be doing it again in the future!  Andrew recently gave me a book of Jazz standards, so I have been patiently trying to twist my fingers into knots for a few weeks now… my resilience is paying off as it now takes me only ten minutes to play the initial 60-second track!

The week that ended in Easter was a really busy one for me and seemed super-long despite only being four days.  So this week I thought I would try taking an additional day off!  Yesterday Kim and I drove down to the amazing Goodwood Sculpture Park and wandered through the woods enjoying the sculptural creativity… it really is a most amazing place.

As we neared the end of the trail there was a tell-tale crack of thunder and a few spots of rain so we retired to the luxurious Goodwood Hotel for a substantial lunch.  When we finally emerged much later in the afternoon, stuffed to the gunnels, the sky was clear and there were deep puddles of water everywhere… our timing had clearly been excellent!

Neither of us could face any further food last night, but in an ad break around ten o’clock we managed to  do another HIT session, the second this week.  It’s amazing that you can schedule a meaningful fitness regime into the time it takes to make a cup of tea, whilst the ensuing heat rush could save a fortune on your utility bills!

The percussive backing track that has become a normal part of life here has quietened momentarily, while Kim taps away on the keys of her laptop, so it’s time to twist my fingers into knots again on those new strings!

By the way, good luck to all you mad people running the Brighton and Paris marathons tomorrow… I won’t be there but I will be thinking of you!  I might even take my runners for a spin in your honour!

An uncomfortable mile

One of the problems with attending a wine tasting lunch with the inimitable Mark Johnson and a bunch of other business friends is the likelihood of excess inkaholism… and so it was.

The speaker was the brilliant Henry Butler from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton and of Winebox.tv fame.  Winebox.TV is WELL worth a look if you are interested in food and wine… Henry is hilarious!

After lunch we sat outside in the sun and continued to imbibe in a genial manner until gone 5.30pm.  Unfortunately, with only one direct train back home every hour it was the ‘gone’ part of 5.30pm that proved to be the problem.  I finally said my goodbyes and started towards the station with about 12 minutes to cover the exact one mile walk… which meant that I had to run.

A mile is not exactly a big deal, but lace-less shoes, a suit, the remnants of a month-long cold and a lower-than-normal proportion of blood in my veins were all factors which added to the difficulty… and the nearer I got to the station, the more determined I was to catch the train.

Runners: I cannot recommend this as a part of your training programme and although I did catch the train, which was a definite plus, I really didn’t enjoy the journey!

Of course this is a weak and obvious excuse for what comes next… once again I skipped my Sunday run and I instead spent the day working.

Oh well, there’s always next weekend… but remind me not to meet Mark for a drink on the leading edge of it!