Before anyone comments, it’s not a New Years resolution. I just noticed the WordPress app on my tablet thingy and then remembered the password so I decided that I may as well put some words down.

I am in a remarkably happy place at the moment. One of those long term things that one never thinks will come to fruition may just be, erm, fruiting, just in the nick of time. I’ll save that for another day though.

So then.  I’ve been doing some running.  Close on 1000 miles last year.   Not exactly Forrest Gump territory but not too bad for an overweight 50 something.   I managed a bit of cycling as well and my running buddy said that I should do a triathlon.

“I can’t swim”.

“Everyone can swim”.

“Not me”.

So she entered me in an Aquathlon and now I have to learn.   An Aquathlon is where you swim a bit and then run a bit.    I’m in what is possibly the worlds smallest event in that I have to swim 200 metres and run 4.5km.   It’s also a really difficult word to pronounce.

“Two.  Hundred.   Metres?”   I said.   That’s like 1/8 mile.   It may as well be to the moon and back.    Conveniently, running buddy is a swimming coach so she reckons it will be a doddle (she is like a dolphin in the water, she dives in and in the shake of a swimming hat she’s done two lengths).

The first lesson was about breathing.   “Turn your head, keep your ear in the water and breath”.   “No, breath in when your face is out of water, breath out when your face is in the water”.  “No” (with a slightly exasperated tone) “you have to breath out before you can breath in again”.

The second and third lessons were also about breathing.   It appears that it isn’t a talent that comes naturally to me.  We also threw in the added complication of waggling your legs whilst breathing.

Lesson four – “We are going to swim 200m today, take your time, remember your breathing, remember to kick your legs, remember to turn your head and keep your ear in the water, remember to go in a straight line rather than that ziggy zaggy thing that seems so appealing to you, remember that when you are up the other end of the pool you won’t be able to touch the bottom”.

Things didn’t start so well.   “Erm’ Rob, I think you have your trunks on backwards and why do you have your goggles on?”  “Bugger and because I’m going to swim and I can”t see without them”.   “But we are still in the changing rooms!”.

She has the patience of a saint.  After four lengths I was thinking it might just be easier to sink gently to the bottom of the pool and then someone would rescue me.  I crashed into someone on the 5th length who was very carelessly not looking where I was going.  I lost count of lengths so at 6 I thought I had finished and nearly mutinied.

I did get to my 200m mark in the end and I didn’t die.   I was even a little bit proud of myself.   Then she said “Okay, let’s do it again”.

I’m pledged to not drink in January,   I have consumed so much swimming pool that there is no room for alcohol inside me.   When you see the staff at Teddington pool scratching their heads over the lack of water, you’ll find me, looking rather like Mr Creosote, gasping in the changing rooms.

I did do it again, and I did it two minutes faster than the first time.   Practice makes perfect?    Watch out Brownlows, I’ll be after your crowns before too long.



Filed under Uncategorized

Boom boom

I was thinking of John Lee Hooker with that title.   I was going to go with “Boom boom boom boom”, which is how the song starts, but then realised that was also the title of a Vengaboys song and I just didn’t want to go with trashy europop.  Now I’ve just remembered Basil Brush (you lot not in the UK are going to have to get on your Google) so my vaguely hip subject line has been hijacked by an irritating fox with a hand up his arse.

I happened to notice the daily post email that presumably arrives in my inbox every day and doubtless gets cleared out by my energetic spam checker.   It suggested “Clean” as suitable subject matter and it brought to mind an incident or two last week.

You may remember that I’m not the best sleeper.   It’s been mentioned numerous times on here, go back and read some of my other posts for an in-depth analysis of my nocturnal misery.   I was safely ensconsed in my bed, cosy against the bitter cold of a West London winter (so not really that cold) when a rhythmic beating disturbed my slumber.

Boom, boom, boom, boom.

I checked the clock.  It was just after 2am.   This is a usual time for me to wake up on my own so I was quite cross to be awoken by external influences.

Boom, boom, boom, boom.

I thought perhaps somebody was trying to break in.  It wasn’t a very subtle attempt to gain access and a moments thought made me realise that any burglar worth his salt wouldn’t be so noisy.  I’ve been woken in the past by a broken gas main, or rather the chaps who decided to search for one.  They have a gadget that bashes holes in the floor, it also produces a steady and constant beat but the timbre was all wrong for that.

Boom, boom, boom, boom.

The only thing to do was to investigate.   I donned the Verbal Hedge equivalent of a silk kimono and went in search of the boomer.

The boy was on the decking in his pyjamas.   The door to the decking wide open, allowing icy blasts of Twickenham air to whistle up my trouserless legs.   He was banging a football boot on the decking.   Boom, boom, boom, boom.

“What on earth are you doing?” is an approximation of what I said to him.    “Cleaning my boots before training tomorrow” was the absolutely obvious answer.   His cleaning method involves bashing the boot on the floor until all of the mud from between the studs has left the boot and landed on my (previously clean) deck.   I reached for a convenient tent peg and showed him how to do the job quietly and thought that would be the end of it.

Two nights later…

Boom, boom, boom, boom.

It was earlier, around midnight.   i was crosser, almost steaming.   I stormed down the stairs, passing the boy on the landing and getting ready to give him an earful.  Hmmm, I passed him on the landing.  What could be causing the bloomin’ booming this time?

We have a tumble dryer.   It lives under the stairs in a previously undiscovered echo chamber.   If you fill it with an entire football kit and several wet towels then the bearings in it give up.   Every rotation of the drum is heralded by a thump that is amplified by the under-the-stairs echo chamber.   After removing roughly half of the contents the thump became a sigh, so I went back to bed and listened to the tumble dryer quietly sobbing to itself for two hours.   At least it gives me something to fix that doesn’t need to be carried down to the shed.

If you click on the daily post link above then you’ll find lots more Clean tales that are far more substantial than this one.


Filed under rants

So where were we?

Ah yes.   A very silly thing.

I did London Duathlon.   Actually, I did London half duathlon, it was 5km run, 22km cycle and then 5km run.   That second 5km was the killer.   Your legs are still expecting to be going round and round rather than up and down so one tends to stagger around like a drunken fool for the first 10 minutes of the second run.  Still, I finished.   I didn’t quite make 2 hours but I will do next time.

The Daily Post (I had forgotten about it) suggests a one word prompt of Marathon.  Being keen to improve myself and stick to what the doctor says I’ve decided to do things by half again and take on a half marathon.   I’m running on behalf of Motor Neurone Disease Association and so collecting sponsorship.   If you do feel the urge to pass on some of your hard-earned savings to a most worthy cause I’ll put a link at the end of this email, but don’t feel obliged.

We have some issues at home with regards to all of this keeping fit.   They mostly revolve around mud.   The boy is now a fully fledged football coach.  His mission is to put right the things that every other coach in the world gets wrong and to get his team of under 12’s to the top of the league (4th at the moment with two games in hand).   When I was a lad, football coaching was basically “kick the bloody ball and run over there” but it appears to have evolved since then.  There’s all sorts of kit to be carried around.  Balls, cones, markers, goalposts (honestly) and when it has been wet for a few days these items tend to get, well, wet and muddy.   If you’ve ever been in a soggy field with a bunch of pre-teenagers then you’ll probably be able to understand.

The big match this weekend (it was against a team who on average are four inches taller than “our” team) was cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch but this didn’t stop training.  I suspect that training must have borne some similarity to Sunday at Glastonbury.   Needless to say that there are a few Surrey parents  still trying to find their child who now resembles a pool of mud in the back of the 4×4.

In itself, this shouldn’t be a problem.  However, I (and I’m obviously the most important person) had been out for a training run in the park (Richmond Park, added incentive of being chased by angry deer) and so was also wet and muddy.   Wet, muddy and tired in fact.  I flung open the door of Verbal Towers expecting to be greeted by a warm glow and pristine flooring to be met with 20 football cones, 12 footballs and 22 training bibs.  Each dun coloured item either dripping or steaming, depending on its exact location in the hall.

I was (as is my custom) overjoyed. The route to the stairs was blocked by 50 or so training markers, originally blue and red but now brown and browner.  My solution to strip off in the hallway and scamper nimbly through the cones and up the stairs seemed like a great one until I reached the first floor and noticed the family opposite looking out of their bedroom window and into our landing with some bemusement.   You really would think that the neighbours would be used to us by now.

Now off you go, read some more Marathon posts and then click on the link below and donate everything that you’ve saved from whatever new years resolutions you have made.


Filed under Fitness, Uncategorized

A very silly thing

Looking for a suitable quote for this little tale, I remembered that Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu had said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I checked the accuracy of this.   He is credited with the smart words (though they are sometimes attributed to Confucious) but I’ve a problem with it.   Because I can be pedantic I googled “What unit was used to measure distance in China in 500 BC”.  Guess what? they didn’t do miles.  The accepted measurement was (and still is) the Li, which is roughly about 1/3 of an imperial mile, so it’s only a 333 mile journey in reality. Modern day Li’s are 500 metres.

Do you remember this?   I decided that I not only needed to keep both legs but I needed them both attached to the same body, a couple of visits to the doctor and before you can say “Hop it” I was on a bed being flushed with iodine and then having a brace of stents fitted (kissing stents, so they tell me.  How sweet).   Blood circulation at my ankle went from 5% to 60% so I’m only 40% off perfect now.   Don’t you wish you were so close to perfect?

The doctors told me that gentle exercise would help improve things further, so I walked and walked and then decided in January to join in with a group doing couch to 5k.   This encourages one to run for 5km (3.1 miles for you over there) eventually.   I should at this stage offer a large round of applause to the Sweatshop chain of sports clothing stores and in particular to the shop in Teddington for organising regular running groups and giving encouragement to all potential runners everywhere.

I can now run 5km (3.1 miles or very roughly 10 Li).  I can’t do it quickly but this is all (apparently) going to change.   I place the blame for this very firmly at the door of my friend (who I shall call Fred because he reads this, don’t you Fred?).

Fred said “I can’t run, I’ve no ACL in my leg, I cycle instead.  Come and join me on a cycle ride”.

Fred does this.   He mentioned that he had started playing golf and we should go for a game.   He’s really good at golf.    Fred is cycling many miles a week and I have now committed to a 50 mile charity cycle with him.  Bradley Wiggins has raised an eyebrow of concern.

That’s not the very silly thing though.  Because I’m going to do a cycle ride I needed a bicycle and because I now have a bicycle I feel the urge to use it more so I have entered a duathlon.  This involves running, cycling and running again.   I’m only doing a little one, 5km-22km-5km but a brief test of pedaling followed by running reveals that it is going to be hard work.  The shared muscles are somewhere around the groin.  It’s far more painful than giving birth (apparently).

My current time for 5km is 30 minutes.  That’s just for 1, so I reckon the second one will be more like 40 minutes.   On the bicycle I reckon I can just about manage an average of 20 kmh so we are looking at around 2 hours and 15 to complete the course.  The winning time last year was 1 hour 20 minutes and the slowest was around 2:45.  I’m aiming for under 2 hours and I have 15 weeks to get to that speed.

Wish me luck.   I’ll see you all in Richmond Park on 18th September.  I’m expecting banners with “Come on Robby” and “Hurry up you fool” scattered around the course.

Bye for now.


Filed under Fitness, Uncategorized

Travelling light

Three things.

The spell checker in the editor insists that travelling should be spelt traveling.   I disagree.  Wholeheartedly.

Counting from 1st January 2015, can you guess what the most popular search term used to find The Verbal Hedge was?  It was not “Verbal Hedge”, it was not (rather disappointingly) “Slasher Rhino Porn” although that did feature a couple of times.   It was “Demis Roussos height”.   How can that be?   I have just tried a Google search and of the three pages returned, I didn’t get a mention.   Almost 50% of the recognised search terms this year leading to my little blog have related to the height of the much missed kaftan clad crooner.   Please if you are the searcher, tell me how you found me.

The compere in a club last night introduced the session with a speech that was almost word for word the fourth paragraph of my last post.   I’ll have a credit and a pint on the house next time please.

One thing.

The daily post asks who you would chose to write the story of your life.    I am going to cheat a little and just have the story of the first week in June 2015 and I pick Ted Simon (I hope you don’t mind me linking to your site Mr Simon) because since reading Jupiters Travels I’ve longed to go on such an adventure.  Sadly I am far too wimpy to set off on such a trip but I am going to take my own Triumph Tiger on a much smaller scale adventure and tour around the wild and dangerous land of Scotland.  Ted’s Tiger was a 1973 model I think.   Mine is a 2014 one and should have no problems with the 2000 miles or so I will be travelling (with two l’s) but the question is, what to take?

I have my tent and a sleeping bag.   That should be all I need for accommodation.   I reckon I can put the tent up in three minutes and it is a sturdy thing so even the most voracious storm will not threaten me.   I have a cooker the size of a deck of cards and a collapsible kettle.   The cooker, for all that it is tiny, sounds akin to a hot air balloon taking off.  I shall probably end up making tea for everyone within a 5 mile vicinity.   Mother always told me to make sure that I had dry socks, clean pants and a handkerchief.   I reckon two out of three aren’t bad and one of the two can cover for the third in a real crisis.   I have been collecting those little coffee and sugar sachets from hotels all year and hiding them in various pockets of my motorcycle coat, so making a brew won’t be a problem (providing I remember a cup).

Guide book?  Map?    I know roughly where I am going, north for a couple of days and then follow the coast after that.   There can’t be that many roads to get lost on and I’m told that I can’t take the bike off-road beyond the border.

Clothing is a challenge.  The weather may be glorious or it may be snowing.   I shall layer about four deep and that should cover every eventuality.   My running tights can double as long johns in a push.  The last pair of proper long johns I owned were dyed orange as part of a fancy dress costume.  I used to dread coming to grief and having a paramedic cut open my leathers to find me festooned with dayglo orange bloomers.

I’ve earmarked some small tools and a puncture repair kit but my most useful tool is made of plastic and called visa.   I’m hoping that I don’t need any of them but better safe than sorry.

A torch.  I’ve camped in the dark before and remember thinking “A torch, a torch, my kingdom for a torch”.  I don’t have much of a kingdom to give away so I better remember a torch.  I shall christen it Lucifer (now there’s a curious juxtaposition).

I remember the boy coming home from school one day, must have been in the early ’90’s and he would have been in one of the early years classes.  He had something important to tell me.  “Matches matches do not touch, they will hurt you very much”.   I’ll need something to light the cooker (henceforward known as Montgolfiere) and they will also double as handy toothpicks after I have cooked my freshly caught haggis.  In one of the comics of my youth, either The Dandy or the Beano, the haggis had long legs on one side and short legs on the other side to help them get around the mountain.   The simple way to capture them was to get them to run in the opposite direction so they became unbalanced and fell over.

Can you tickle Salmon?   Not Alex Salmond, I wouldn’t want to tickle him.  Do you have to be named after a fish to be leader of the SNP?   Was it founded by John Stickleback?   I digress.  I shall stand in a stream like a bear and toss me a salmon onto the riverbank for dinner.   I bet it is not illegal to go salmon tossing without a license.

If you can think of anything else I need then let me know.   Four weeks today and I’m off.




Filed under Food, travel

The island that music did not forget

I stopped.    Twelve months ago.    I thought “Nobody reads this, why do I do it?”.

Then I sent an email and the recipient said “God, I live your writing”. I figured it was either a typo or an anagram.  “God, I evil your writing” just didn’t scan so I assume my corespondent loves my writing.  Let us live in hope (and the self translation of keyboard errors).

There is an island (there are many, my tale concerns just one) in the Thames.  It is called  Eel Pie Island.  One can only assume that it was once a fine place to purchase pie made from eels.  Allowing that it is on the Thames then that is a reasonable assumption.

In the ’60’s there was a venue there.  It’s a fair argument that the London sound of the decade (as opposed to the Mersey sound) developed in West London with Eel Pie Island and The Crawdaddy (just upriver in Richmond) being the home of English rhythm and blues.   We had The Beatles on the northern river and The Rolling Stones on the southern one.  Gerry and the Pacemakers were Ferrying across the Mersey whilst the Kinks were appreciating a Waterloo sunset.

The Eel Pie venue was in a hotel (famed amongst other things for a sprung dance floor) and whilst access was ostensibly by a footbridge it was not unknown for intrepid music lovers to row there.   By all accounts, the return journeys were generally considered more precarious than the outgoing trip.     The hotel fell on hard times and after a brief resurgence in the late ’60’s (Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and a host of other rock bands of the time appeared there) it fell into disrepair and was destroyed by an unexplained fire in 1971 (at the time it was the home to the largest hippie commune in the UK).

All well and good you may cry.   Now get on and tell us a tale.

Although Eel Pie island is now the home of artists and wealthy bohemians, the spirit of 1960’s rhythm and blues has stayed alive and well in the area and has migrated to the cleverly titled Eel Pie Club.   I wonder where they got that name from?   The Eel Pie Club meet once in a while (usually on a Thursday) in a room the same shape as Italy (although not as big or with such interesting politics).   Keep that image in your head.   There is a bar that runs roughly along the coast from Rome to Naples (the till is in Mondragone) and the stage is in the bit of Ionian Sea between the heel and the toe.  The dressing rooms are somewhere over in Calabria and there’s a nice relaxing area somewhere up near Milan.   Curiously, if you continue this geographic exploration then the toilets are just off the coast of Albania.

I have been popping in occasionally over the last few years.   Enough to be on nodding terms with the regulars but not frequently enough to be invited to weddings or funerals (of the members, not of the club.  I think it is still unattached).    Last week was a significant anniversary and the place was heaving.   I took some time to people watch.

Generally I am one of the younger patrons.   Generally there is a plethora of loud check shirts.  This night was different.   We had  everybody there.   The hipsters with their groomed but over-exuberant beards.   The lithe and writhing twenty-somethings in spray on jeans and killer heels.   Parents, perhaps escaping from kiddy duty for the first time in a month.   Overdressed, over-lubricated and occasionally over-balancing.  Pashminas cast wantonly to one side and polished loafers  tapping out a long forgotten beat, mustard chinos hiding knees unused to dancing.    Then there’s the originals.   Dress shirts untucked and uncuffed and sporting a silk bandana.   Predecessors to Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen but emitting the haphazard elegance that can only come from not knowing any other way.

The feature band started as a foursome and ended as (I think) a nine piece, complete with a brass section.   The CV’s of each member covering the entire spectrum of music from the last half century.   Old pros who are too good to dismiss and having too much fun to stop.

I’d invite you along, it is a brilliant venue and the music and performers are legendary.   The problem is, I like it as a tiny club.   I like being able to get to the bar when I want to and I enjoy the fact that it is normally a secret for just a handful of us.

Note that since writing this The Eel Pie club has relocated to Brigadoon.   Performances are generally every other Thursday and this week brings The Others to the little stage in the Ionian Sea.


Filed under music, Uncategorized

If I knew you were coming…

I love cakes.   I think cakes are the best.   The things I would do for a fresh cream horn don’t bear mentioning.  If there was a danish pastry 100 metres away and I was standing next to Usain Bolt then I’d get there before him (and probably be licking the crumbs from my fingers before he arrived).  Did I say that I like cakes?

I was having a discussion about cakes recently, one of those abstract conversations that tend to happen when you’ve been driving too long without human contact and so you pounce on the first caller.   After meandering through the jam donuts and the gaily coloured Battenburg we finally alighted on the ultimate piece of food, the fruit cake.

Not any fruit cake but the booze riddled, iced, marzipanned behemoth that masquerades as a wedding/Christmas cake.

There is a tradition in the UK (this may be true everywhere) that the top layer of the wedding cake is kept back and not cut until the christening of the firstborn child.    I thought here that I would provide a handy little statistic saying that the average time a cake lays waiting is x years, but the internet has failed me.   In fact, the average age for a woman to give birth to her first child is 29 and the average age of a woman getting married is 32.5, so the cake would be -2.5 years old.   I think it might have to be called an uncake.

Never mind.  It is still tradition and we can pretend that the top layer of cake is going to be in a tin under the bed for at least 12 months (even if you are the most rapid christener in christendom).     This got us thinking.   Whilst your cake is waiting to be consumed could there be other uses for it?

My first thought was that the cake could be used to fashion an emergency exit in case of fire.   My type of  fruit cake has a density similar to that of a small sun.    Kept on a window ledge it would be a simple thing to cast the cake through the window (or wall for that matter) and hey presto you have a cake shaped hole ready for egress.

If you were thinking that you may be having twins as your first born then you may well plan ahead and have two top layers of the cake.   With a bit of lateral thinking, these would make fantastic book ends that are also a lasting memento of your big day.  You could have the little plastic bride at one end and the little plastic groom at the other.   Once the twins are born your married life will have gone to pot anyway so you will be glad to get rid of the bloody things at the christening.

Bits of fruit cake could easily be fashioned into brake blocks for a bicycle.    This would actually have two benefits.  Aside from the undoubted additional stopping power achieved, every time you slowed down there would be a lovely smell of re-cooking cake to assuage your hunger.   Carrying spare cakebrake blocks (as I think they should be called) would mean you also had an emergency supply of high energy food should you get stuck up a mountain with no patisserie nearby.

My recipe for Christmas cake involves starting cooking just after we come back from the summer holidays.   The recipe seems to have been written on parchment with a quill by what I fondly imagine to be an old and slightly befuddled cook from around the time of Robin Hood.     The best part of it is that I have to feed the cake with Brandy every week.   We all know that drinking alone leads to all sorts of problems so it is essential for the health of the cake that I join it with a glass.

Just as an aside.  The only English monarch ever to be given the epithet of “The Great” is also the only English monarch who is associated with cakes.   That can’t be coincidence (although there is an argument that after burning the cakes he should have been Alfred The Grate).

There are some good superstitions that go with cake.   My personal favourite is that of the burial cake.   Again this should be a mighty monster of a cake and it is kept near to the head of the dearly departed.  Those who come to pay their last respects should keep a piece of cake in their mouth whilst viewing the deceased.   I would like to state now that any cake found near my body is mine and should be buried with me.

The daily prompt today asks what is our guilty pleasure.   Need I say more?




Filed under Food