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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.



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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.


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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.


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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.


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I’ve got those email blues.

My morning routine has not changed for several years.   At 6:4o there is the pad, pad, thud of the cat coming up the stairs (the thud is because she only has three legs and her back end is rather more ungainly than that of the average cat) followed by the duvet being dragged down as she scrambles onto the bed.   She potters towards the pillows and sits gently on my head, indicating that it is time she was fed.

At 6:45 the alarm goes off (followed by the cat as she leaps to safety) and I reach to turn the alarm off and grab my phone to check the news, email and how poorly I am doing in my latest game of scrabble against a colonial cousin.

I’ve a new phone.   I abandoned the apple flavoured one as it was spending more time on the phone charger than off it.   I now have “HTC one (M8)”.   I thought the M8 might be text speak for the phone being the ultimate best buddy but it turns out that it’s just the one after M7.

New phone is showing that I sent several emails around 1:30 last night.   I don’t remember sending any emails at all.  Certainly not at that time of night, after all, it’s a work night and I think I was fast asleep by that time.    Confused, I checked the contents of the sent emails.   They were all different but along the same lines.   An example of a couple, word for word are.

“Well you might say that, but is it a bad thing? Here I’d a choice: I’m ravaged by illness and I shall be spending my life struggling to breath and will need somebody to help me to the toilet for”


“The Soviet presence is probably s fake.   When they landed on the moon they didn’t expect the consequences and so they only took”

The curious thing about both of the above examples are the mistakes.   I have been struggling with the predictive text on the keyboard.  I have frequently sent “I’d” instead of “I’ve” and I am constantly typing “s” instead of “a”, so I suspect that I have, in the middle of night, sleep-typed emails to random acquaintances.   Not only have I sent these emails but the contents are of a somewhat dubious nature.

That’s not the most worrying thing though.   I (or the phantom email writer) has also deleted all of the text messages from the phone.   Every single one of them.    I have phone contacts going back years, both business and personal.   There are about 500 mobile phone numbers stored and there’s just a small chance that I may have sent equally random text messages to random people and then deleted them so now I have a dilemma.   Do I send a text to everybody on my phone saying “Sorry if you got a weird message from me last night” or is that going to be seen as even weirder by anybody who didn’t get a text?

I think I shall just keep my head down.   I think I shall probably turn the phone off tonight and leave it locked in a cupboard somewhere, just in case.

The daily prompt today refers to the worst case scenario, I can’t possibly imagine what the comeback from the wraith of the phone will be, but if you did get a message form me last night.   Can you tell me what it said please?


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You know Gail Baker down the road?

The daily prompt asks what traditions we have.   Oh goodness, where to start.

It would be fair to say that I come from a family of repeaters.   A single phrase can last for generations.   The title of this post relates to the distraction tactic my sister used to avoid bedtime.    The slightest hint that it was getting around the time that a young girl should be heading for the stairs was met with “You know Gail Baker up the road?”.   Legend has it that this was generally followed with a suitably interesting comment designed to provoke conversation and avoid the inevitable.   The most frequently repeated phrase has to be “well she’s got three pimples on her nose”.     Poor Gail Baker.    I wonder if she is aware that for the last half of a century her name has been mentioned on a weekly basis in various households around the country.

I believe it was our father who initiated these rituals.  Certainly it was he who had a stock set of comments that covered every single occasion.    One only had to clear the throat to be advised “It ain’t the cough that carries you off it’s the coffin they carry you off in” and impending rain was invariably greeted with “It’s looking black over the back of Bill’s mothers”.    For many years I assumed that somewhere in direct line of sight of our front window lived Bill’s mum and the weather always came in from that direction.

Packing for a trip required (and still does require) a breathy little monologue of “VestsPantsShirtsShoesSocksTowelSoap”, just to ensure that nothing was forgotten.   I have considered modifying this to take into account the myriad electrical items that accompany us on our journey these days but it just doesn’t sound right.

By the age of 5 it was almost law that we could recite (without reference) The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God, mostly thanks to grandfather reeling it off at every possible opportunity.    I have met a couple of people in the intervening years with the surname of Carew and I always gaze at them with sadness and wonder if they would be willing to risk everything to pilfer the eye of the god for the love of the Colonel’s daughter.

The strangest one though, the most curious ongoing bit of speech requires at least two people.    I have searched in vain for where it comes from.  It may be from a play or a book, I don’t know.  If you can enlighten me then I and the rest of the family will be in your debt.    In alternate voices it goes like this…

“Have you head the news?”

“What news?”

“The Squire’s daughter has been foully murdered!”

“Murdered?  And who has been accused of the crime.”

“The Squire”

The Squire?”

And on it went (and on and on and on).    I’m pleased to report that these oral traditions are all alive and well and under no threat of extinction in the near future.   I recently heard my son say “I doubt it”, followed by “said the lady as she peed on the fire” and within the last week mother’s facebook status was “You’ll never guess who I saw up the road” to which several people (not all family) replied “Was it Gail Baker?”.

We do carry one non-verbal tradition with us.  It is called “The Day After Boxing Day”.   On this day family and friends gather at the ancestral home and just after lunch the conversation drops and the menfolk start removing shoes, wallets, belts and anything else that can be discarded whilst keeping dignity intact.   A set of ancient scales are produced and every male present is weighed.   Weights are carefully recorded in a black ledger that goes back around 35 years and the heaviest person present is awarded the Pink Pig of Fatness and a Nil by Mouth sign to hang around their neck.    It’s a curious thing to do and it causes disruption from about September onwards as one starts to think “Oh crikey, I don’t want the pig, I better start dieting”.

Traditions.  Don’t you love them.    Clicking on the link at the top of the post will take you to other tales of tradition far more interesting than mine.


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And then she smiled

I thought that I would celebrate world smile day.   I’m on leave, the sun is shining, there is the prospect of an enjoyable afternoon doing exactly as I wish so it seems an obvious thing to do.   The problem is that world smile day seems to be on October 4th according to the internet (and we all know that the internet knows everything), so instead I am celebrating national “If your name begins with R then smile” day (shortened to IYNBWRTS for the sake of my keyboard).

What is it that makes us smile?   I don’t mean a guffaw or a chuckle but just a general happy smile on our face.    It can be anything.   Darling son used to have a beatific smile immediately before filling his nappy.   I am pretty sure that he has grown out of it now and I really don’t want to know if he hasn’t.   I suspect it was some sort of infant joy in the anticipation that he would shortly have his bits out in the open and have the opportunity to wee all over his father.  We’ve always had that sort of relationship.

I started IYNBWRTS with a trip to the supermarket.  Here’s a good game.  Smile at everybody possible.   It has to be a different smile for each person, you can’t just keep the same smile on your face for the entire visit.   For added emphasis you can throw in a nod or a wink too (I don’t recommend winking at anybody who is bigger than you or is of the same sex) and see what happens.   There will be a few confused looks.   There will be some who try to work out where they know you from but the overwhelming majority will smile back and nod (although probably not wink).    You can go on your way safe in the knowledge that for at least some of the people you have smiled at you’ve given them something to think about (even if it is only “That bloke is a nutter”).

I parked up on the High Street and there was a traffic warden eyeing up an errant vehicle (traffic wardens have possibly the worst job in the world.  Nobody loves them, they never get invited to parties and they can only marry other traffic wardens), I smiled at it (you can’t tell what sex the traffic wardens are round here because they whizz around on little mopeds and are bedecked in massive coats and crash helmets), then a toothy grin came back from somewhere deep inside the protective head gear, the parking ticket book was put away and the warden moved on.   My smile has just saved somebody sixty quid.   That’s enough to make anybody smile.

I thought I’d come back and write a little blog about smiling.   Just because.   I know that there is one person at least who reads the blog who probably isn’t smiling at the moment.    It would be good to think that after the little ping in the inbox, she read the post and then she smiled.


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