September gathering

Wow!  What can I say except that it was a great day: the sun shone, the beer was cold, the prams conquered, the chili was awesome, the Oyster Bay Sauvignon was a hit, no blood was spilled (although there were a couple of cracking bumps!)and the garden survived!  Although I’m really not quite sure how!

Notes: Children are happy to eat chili from bone china plates if you give them the opportunity.  In a contest of strength between an air freshener and a two tonne Mercedes, the latter is not inclined to yield.  Children of around two have a favourite game which is wanting to do whatever you don’t want them to do.  Also worth noting, they usually win that game. 

Overall feeling from day: good friends are priceless!

Intolerant behaviour

Dai joined me for a really lovely run this morning, during which we apparently talked a load of rubbish… I thought it was quite a profound conversation but Dai is an intellectual so it probably just sounded like idle chitchat to him. 

We pretty much duplicated my run from last week, but the superior technology of his Garmen confirmed that it was 7.26 miles in 1 hour 10 minutes and that our best pace was 5 minutes 57 seconds per mile… which can only have been the ten yard sprint down the hill at the end, otherwise the run would only have taken us 43 minutes!  Statistics huh?! 

Although the Garmen is pretty advanced, I would be interested to pit it against Kim at some point, who runs at exactly 6 miles an hour.  She doesn’t come in a shock resistant case, but she has many more appealing features (many!), particularly as you don’t have to carry her around on your wrist.  Alas, she doesn’t much care for idle chitchat so runs on her own, which makes it more difficult to gauge distances. 

Which is why I have to make uneducated guesses as to the distances I’m running and how long it’s likely to take.  Dai was surprisingly intolerant of this approach to estimation… as an educationalist and teacher of CDT he is used to working within very fine tolerances indeed.  Give or take four miles did not impress him at all.  Oh no sir!

Breakfast did though!  Daren introduced me to Mooch76 and it’s fair to say that I have been more impressed with each of my, um, three visits now.  Part of the reason is professional admiration, as this little cafe-bar encompasses many of the aspects of customer focus and service that I hold dear.  The rest just has to do with the great standard of the food and the deliciousness of the coffee!  Dai had the small, healthy option (aka big bertha breakfast), I had the ultra healthy option (small bertha’) and Kim the vegetarian delight (wails ‘they didn’t give me any bacon’)  Duh!

Tenuous segway to short verse that I particularly like from Roger McGough which goes something like this (apologies, Roger, if it’s not quite right!)

‘There are fascists in the park pretending to be humanitarians, like cannibals on a health kick eating only vegetarians.’

Veggie steak, anyone, or do you have a fool intolerance?

Of genes and pools

I am reassured by the youthfulness and spirit of adventure (resilience?) present in the gene pool to which I belong.

Last week I was talking to my Aunt who informed me that she goes out walking with her various positive-minded friends six days every week.  Furthermore, in order to keep in shape, she skips every night as she has done for years and eschews drugs of any form, preferring to let her body deal with illnesses on its own.  She is 79 years old.

My father has a most amazing garden which is gracefully banked down into the valley behind their house and stocked with all manner of exotic plant species.  Towards the bottom there is a pond where my older siblings famously experimented to see if their baby brother would float.  Thanks guys.  It sits on the edge of a small lawn and has a bank, rich with flora, rising steeply behind it.

Amongst other things, the job of garden steward involves tending both the pond and the bank behind and my father accomplishes this, from time to time, by laying a plank over the water and walking across.  Now, it is fair to say that he no longer has the reflexes of a cat, but he refuses to let this prevent him from doing what he loves.

So picture this, if you will.  He was slinging a net across the pond to catch the autumn leaves.  He had one foot on the plank and one foot against the far bank and he was holding onto a small shrub for support… when he caught his foot in the net. 

The shrub decided to jettison its branch under the the pressure exerted and my father looped backwards into thin air, presumably still holding the newly detached bough aloft next to a speech bubble exclaiming ‘crikey!’ 

In my imagination he whooped with laughter and performed a perfect back flip and two round hitches before diving into the pond… indeed, most of that must be true as he did indeed land backwards with a splash! 

I’m guessing that as an accomplished gardener and having wet the, er… cutting?… in his hand, he then planted it somewhere before going off in search of dry clothes.  And sympathy, aka a cup of tea, as I’m sure my mother would have just howled with laughter!

Safe to report that, at 82, he is still resilient enough to have been back out completing the job once dry clothes and tea had been administered.  Which is my point entirely… I really have chosen a great gene pool!

Of Sunday on Monday

In case you’re going to pull me up for having a lazy weekend, I DID go for a run yesterday!  Admittedly only 7 miles (1 hour 8 mins or so), but a run nevertheless.  Down to the Royal Oak, across to Hundred Acre Lane, round to Wellhouse Lane, over to the railway and back via the station & Darens flat.  The latter seems to have a tree growing out of the chimney… is that anything to do with you Debbs… smoking weed maybe?

I had this vague thought that I was running for both Daren, whose paying customers might not appreciate his dulcet steps running round the poop-deck above their sunday-morning-lay-in and Nick, who is out of action at the moment on account of having allegedly eaten a castle of cake on his own.  Thus, with three-up, I felt justified in finding it hard work! 

The local farmer didn’t help much by suggesting I must be mad (keen observation actually!) before leisurely driving off in his air conditioned John Deere!

Other artists of note

I’d hate to whet your appetite for art without mentioning the following:

Darren Coffield – again, if you’re not familiar with his work, you should browse his site.  If you see art as a good long-term investment, place your bets here! (please note that I’m not an investment advisor licenced by the Politburo and that the value of investments can go down as well as being enjoyed for arts sake!)

Diarmuid Byron O’Connor – Diarmuid was commissioned to sculpt Peter Pan for Great Ormond Street Hospital and his sculptures and drawings are so full of movement

Chris MacDonald – sculptor extraordinaire, using flotsam & jetsam to create humorous almost-functional pieces

I’ve a few others to add, but right now their websites are proving to be elusive… silly people!

A gallery life for me!

I had the great fortune to work in an art gallery many years ago and from these three blissful years, I developed a real love of’ and appreciation for art.  So it was a real treat this weekend to be taken to, not one but, two galleries!

The first gallery that we visited was the Modern Artists Gallery, which is in the delightful village of Whitchurch on Thames near Pangbourne in Berkshire.  Here there are a wide selection of contemporary artists working in a good mix of mediums, including: some totally amazing, deep coloured, surreal sky-scapes by Kathryn Thomas; some energetic city scenes by Anita Austwick; some gorgeously cheeky bronze sculptures by Mark Hall (if you’re not familiar with his work, it’s definitely worth looking up!); some surreal contemplative paintings by Lucy Orchard that gave me a real sense of unease!  There is plenty to look at and you even get to cross a lovely toll bridge on the way there, where Ken Livingstone has obviously not got his hands on the income from the 20p each way charge!

The second gallery that we discovered was a real find, but if you’re reading this after the 8th September, you’re too late!  Take 5 Artists is the third year that these local artists have mounted an exhibition at the top of the town in the Henley Exhibition Centre.  We chanced in on Matthew Burley hanging his amazing paintings  in the evening and he very kindly let us browse round their work.  Matthew is charming and his canvases of water foaming behind a boat and water sparkling in a weir were achingly realistic.  He also paints totally lifelike portraits and there is one there with a fantastic headdress in a riot of colour.  For those of you in New York, keep an eye out for him… he’ll be working in your fair city from the end of this month.  The photographer, Steve Bumphrey, also had dynamic colours, but it was his moody nudes that really caught our eye… stunning!

Irrespective of whether you catch the exhibition, I can really recommend a Saturday afternoon and evening in Henley… it is a beautifully graceful town with loads of proper shops and a good choice of restaurants… it’s best to book a table though, as I think that we were very lucky!

Lost again?

I had to drag myself from slumber this morning, kicking and screaming, but it was 7.30am.  On a Sunday!  My espresso machine holds 4 cups, and that’s how much coffee it took for me to wake up enough to eat a banana, lace my shoes and run out the door.

There, I made it sound like an up-and-out, but there was a short delay as I sat down to read The Week.  For those of you who don’t know the publication link it is brilliant!  It arrives on a Friday morning and holds a synopsis of the important news and comment from the last week, from the UK and around the World that you can digest over a leisurely weekend breakfast.  As a cynical soul, its approach of laying out the different treatments by the different newspapers really appeals!

This morning my attention was grabbed by two not totally unconnected things:

  • the statistic that Britain’s 883 Quangos swallow up £167.5bn a year, which is roughly equal to the amount we taxpayers pay in National Insurance (£88bn) and VAT (£67bn) combined
  • the news that Charlotte Mears has been enlisted by the Foreign Office to dispense advice on travel emergencies… such as broken fingernails or unruly hair extensions

This morning the weather was beautiful… magnificent in fact.  A change in weather from last weekend did not stop me getting lost though… the telltale sign was when I noticed the words ‘which village is this’slipping out of my mouth as I ran past a dog walker.  Plumpton.  A second DW simplified what might otherwise have been a re-run of last weekend by sending me the easy way to the Downs from the other end of the village, where I permitted myself a short walk up the scarp slope.

Three years ago, towards the tail end of the training for my first (and only) marathon, we entered a race called the Brighton 20: essentially 20 miles around the Downs behind Brighton.  My aim was to run every step of the way, which I did, eventually.  It is surprising how many club runners you can pass on the three scarp-slope climbs no matter how slowly you’re running (and their whoops of encouragement really feed the spirit), but I now understand how they then have the energy to power past you again at the top!  I now also walk up the steep bits!

Despite the heat today, the going underfoot was pretty soggy in places.  I used to hate cross country (memories of running at school?), preferring road running until my friends forced me to try it again.  Now the challenge of sliding along through the mud brings a grin to my face and puts core stability to the test.  I have twice now, hilariously, left my shoe in the mud and had to slop back to it with a muddy sock, but that adds to the fun in my book.

Today’s run was just over 21km (13.something miles) and although 2 hours 20 minutes is not a great half marathon time, even for me, it is better than the last time I ran one… at four hours and 13 mins!  Mind you. I had only just reached the top of the hill after 2’20 so I would plead mitigating circumstances.  Any comments of support? Dai?

Well that’s probably it for another week.  Other than to mention that I did have a run planned with Nick one morning next week, but he’s recovering from a couple of cracked ribs after an amusing head-on collision on his birthday, poor guy.  I understand it was 1.00am at the end of a brilliant, raucous, medieval themed party and both he and the head concerned were on the bouncy castle at the time.  ‘Nuff said?

Summer running!

Summer seems to have finally arrived, in the nick of time for the Bank Holiday weekend and with a week to spare before September!  Lounging in the sun this morning at 10.30 I recognise that I have to up and out early tomorrow if I’m going to run without dying of dehydration or sun-stroke so I think a 7.30 wake-up call and an 8.00 departure.  I feel like a two-hour run to the top of the Downs and back, so if anyone fancies it, let me know.

Sunday morning escapade

I awoke from my dreams at 7.55am and whilst it was not the sunny morning I had envisaged, I was rearing to get my trainers on… after a very large expresso, of course. 

The sun was straining through light but wet clouds as I ran up the road and as it was also wet underfoot, I chose not to follow the mud-fest route that Daren, Nick and I often take.  I was in the mood to explore, happy to follow my nose and see what there was to see.  This took me to the south and east of the town where I discovered that the council was in the process of extending the path across an area where I had often wished there had been one.  That they had not completed the aforementioned became apparent as I ran around the boundary of first one large field, then another, a third and a fourth, in search of the exit. 

It had been lightly raining with big drops of warm water, but around this point there was a deluge, almost accentuating that I was going in the wrong direction. 

I eventually came to the boundary of the golf course where there was a gate of the locked variety and no clear route through the golfers playing in the rain.  I soldiered on finding a farm track heading in the right direction, but blocked by a farmyard with some impressive looking security gates on the other side.  I hedged around the boundary and came to a point where a low barbed wire fence and six feet of driveway stood between me and the route onward. 

I almost hope that the owners of the house did see me step over the fence because I can imagine them smiling as my shorts snagged a barb and I was left pinned to the fence for a few embarrassing moments until I figured out which way I had to pull the material to free myself. 

I ran onward, back up through the eastern side of the town, smiling back at the dog-walkers and on back to the house.  Here, a glance in the mirror confirmed that I was a sodden, bedraggled, mud covered monster.  No wonder they smiled at me!

Eight miles in one hour forty.  Not exactly speedy (Nick and I ran just over six miles in 55 minutes two weeks ago, although I did nearly throw up afterwards!) but passable for a wet Sunday morning escapade.

And the sun is now burning through the clouds.  Better late than never!

Dream scene

My friend and favourite contemporary artist Darren Coffield link is a man of amazing intellect and to hear him expose the influences behind one of his paintings is a rich invitation into the mind of a genius. I have two of his paintings and I intend to buy more when my finances allow, as he is clearly going to be one of the most influencial painters of our generation.  One of the two is the initial proof for a series about dreams and it’s painted on fine silk which you can see through.

On initial inspection it looks like a black circle surrounded by squiggles in black and dark grey, but as your mind assimilates what is there it becomes clear that it is words written over each other, black in one direction, grey at right angles, each floating over the other but legible if you focus.

The painting signifies the moment of waking, when you can remember snippets of a dream for a short time, conversations, contexts, landscapes. As the mind awakes fully, so the dream fades, becomes more elusive, evaporates.

I was taught how to catch dreams about fifteen years ago, unconsciously waking at the end, keeping your eyes closed, writing on a pad next to the bed in a jumbled scribble, before falling asleep again.

So this morning I was deep in dream. I’ve not seen my good friend Maurice ‘Tigger’ Dawes for some time, but he was there in my dream showing me the house at the end of his lane. Strangely it had a deep, square-cut hole across its whole front, about the size of an olymic swimming pool. Inside there was a shed and a brand new Land Rover. The latest design, much more sweeping lines and somewhat reminiscent of the cab of a truck from the back. I wondered whether this was the latest experiential marketing campaign – maybe the idea was to work out how to get the thing out under its own steam.

The house was initially a strange big tent under an enclosed scaffolding, but when as we pushed through the broken front door it morphed into a darkly lit, wood panelled interior. Moving through we entered a room that had a seating gallery and there, seated all around, were fifty or sixty people. Maurice said that he had always wanted to perform a play there that had yet to be written, and spoke the first two lines.  These escape me now but the crowd applauded.

Then I was walking along outside again, passing a group of youths sitting on the other side of the road, each holding a big stick. As I watched so the nearest youth arose and started running towards me, as if to continue a game of ‘it’. I ran away and glancing over my shoulder was pleased to see I was quicker than he. Slowing down, I picked up a large, flat stick and conversing amicably with him, I showed him how to ride it like a snowboard.

With this change of balance, I awoke.