Saturday 30 September 2023

One day one photo - 30: Getting out my flute for folk band practice

Rehearsal with South East London Folk band

After an absence of a few months I finally resumed rehearsals with the local folk band, South East London Folk group. 

I go there and play my flute. It's quite a nice change from clarinet playing, and the style of music is also very different. I am relatively new to the flute, as I major in clarinet and learned that a few decades ago. I am only on about grade 3 or 4 at the flute, and I still mess up my embouchure - but going to this group is a great way to improve my flute-playing.

There's a much more laid back atmosphere compared to being in a concert band or orchestra. For a start we don't have a conductor. It's just the band leader, Richard, who himself plays the accordion or guitar and is able to keep track of how we're playing at the same time.

We don't have first flute, second flute etc. I just sit among the "whistles" which is basically anyone playing a wind instrument - so flutes but also tin whistles, other variations on flutes such as the piccolo. The music is not adapted for any particular instrument. The manuscript has not orchestral articulations. It's all just plain concert pitch - which is handy for a flute. However, there are a couple of tunes with notes below middle C, so the flautists adapt by going up an octave, or improvising in other ways. In fact when we learn a new song, Richard, along with Belinda, who also leads the group encourage people to come up with variations and improvisations. 

Richard is a fully trained musician, who knows all the theory, though a number of people in the group can't read music (or dots, as some people call them) and play by ear, which I find quite impressive.

There are others, notably those who play the fiddle (aka the violin) who are classically trained and used to play in orchestras, but have moved across to folk music because it seemed less stuffy and more laid back. We just turn up at the rehearsal room on a Saturday morning, put £7 in the collection box and play - we're just a merry mix of fiddles, cellos, accordions, guitars, bodhrans, and whistles. There's a certain pureness and simplicity about the whole activity. 

The folk tunes originate from different parts of the world, and I must say I do enjoy seeing a different side of music-making from the traditional classical or jazz stuff. I haven't done any concerts with the group yet, but they tend to be at Ceilidhs, garden parties or harvest festivals. The gigs generally involve folks doing some country dancing while we play. We also get the chance to do some of the dances too. Wow, I don't think I've done that since I was about 12 years old! I look forward to getting involved in a concert; I just need to brush up on my Durham Reels.

Friday 29 September 2023

One day one photo - 29: Brompton Bicycle photoshoot

It was a different kind of working day today, as I spent it outdoors away from my desk, being photographed around London.

Along with a couple of other cyclist models - Monet and Theo - we posed for a photoshoot with Brompton Bicycle. This was a shoot done for the marketing department to increase their library of media assets (still photos and video footage). So the team had us riding different bikes from the Brompton range in different parts of London. 

I had done a shoot with Brompton Bicycle on a previous occasion a couple of years ago, though that was a short shoot. We spent the morning being photographed near Liverpool Street station, and then near Blackfriars.

Today's shoot was an all-day thing in which we started first thing in the morning and continued through to the end of the working day.

We met at the National Theatre, on London's South Bank, and spent the morning being photographed around a variety of nooks and crannies in this famous example of Brutalist architecture. Prince Charles (now King Charles) described it as a "nuclear power station". He might be right; the location lent itself to shooting glowing examples of pedal power, as we three models were photographed riding in formation over around different alleyways and concrete structures.

Christine, the art director had different combinations of outfits ready for us to wear, and gave us different colours of bike to ride on as well as riding an Brompton e-bike.

With the team, which included the photographer, film-maker, video director, plus Rupert the producer, and Ross the brand manager, we cycled to our next venue, Southwark Park. After lunch we did various shots within this green space in South-East London (which has hints of Victoria Park across the river). Finally, we crossed back over the River via Tower Bridge to do a final shoot in a specially reserved cafe close to 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin).

I enjoyed the day out, especially as it was a lovely sunny day in London. Being photographed while riding or posing with a bicycle is something that I have done quite a lot of in my time, especially as I did so regularly in the days when I wrote for Cycling Active magazine and would be photographed for the cycling routes that I rode about.

However, the thing I found hardest was being photographed folding and unfolding the bike while being photographed. When you do this in a run of the mill way over the course of the day I can do it quite easily. But then when being filmed/watched, suddenly my actions aren't that smooth, and there is always something that gets stuck or stilted!

Hopefully the team will be able to pick some decent shots and footage, and I look forward to seeing the results.  

Thursday 28 September 2023

One day one photo - 28: Excuse my French - Why I enjoy foreign language conversation exchanges

My day started with an on-line conversation exchange in Italian with Alessandro from Rome, then in Spanish with David from Burgos, and finally in Italian again with Ilaria from Milan. I also belong to a French conversation group that meets up regularly, nearby in West Norwood.

I must say I enjoy speaking in foreign languages. There is something really refreshing about opening up that part of the brain. 

I know that folks in the UK don't tend to be so hot on speaking other languages, and at school the teachers don't have that much enthusiasm for teaching it either. But for me, it is something that I have always enjoyed.

I have seen it as a gateway to many things, and makes quite a difference to the trips and holidays that I go on. With my language skills it makes me able to go to places frequented by the locals, and off the beaten track. When I go on holiday I don't bother with packages or holiday reps to show me the way, but plan my own itinerary based on research. Knowing that I can speak the language means that if I have an issue to deal with I feel confident about sorting it out. I remember a couple of years ago having to call the local breakdown service when I got a burst tyre at the side of the road between Bellagio and Lecco in Italy. A similar thing happened to me in Jaca, in Northern Spain. In both cases I had to make phone calls to people who didn't speak English. So knowing Italian and Spanish, and feeling confident to speak made the difference in this inconvenient situation.

So yes, knowing a foreign language has its practical uses. More significantly for me, it also has a positive effect on my mind because I feel like my brain has moved onto a different channel and I am in a different world! That change definitely has a positive effect on my mental health. In fact, if I go for a few weeks without engaging in some way in a foreign language (be it speaking, listening to the radio, watching TV or reading a book or newspaper) I feel my mind going a bit stale and musty. It's a similar sensation to when I don't do sport for a while and my body feels lardy ahd stodgy.

I wouldn't say that I am the most natural linguist in the world, but I do feel comfortable in languages nowadays. It took a fair bit of hard work and application - doing exercises from grammar books, going to evening classes, studying for exams by correspondence. When I went to live in France more than 30 years ago I had a working knowledge of French but I didn't know the colloquial expressions and knew nothing about Parisian slang. There were quite a few hours spent at dinner parties not knowing what was being discussed or what folks were joking about! There were quite a few moments when I made blunders when expressing myself, and also quite a few misunderstandings! It's a good job I don't get embarrassed easily.

But after a few months of persevering the penny dropped and everything seemed to flow. I have used that same model with Italian and Spanish, though I haven't spent as much as I did in France living in countries where those languages are spoken. Hence these conversation exchanges on-line have come very much in handy.

I must say that in this day and age, learning a foreign language couldn't be easier. As well as books and audio tapes there are lots of people with whom you can have video chats, as well as newspapers on-line, plus foreign films and TV series with subtitles on streaming channels.

So I feel fortunate to have the faculty to communicate in another language, as well as having the means to continue to improve on my skills. 

Wednesday 27 September 2023

One day one photo - 27: Particularly shocking knife crime incident in Central Croydon

Investigation scene after the stabbing in Central Croydon

My rehearsal with Croydon Symphonic Band had a delayed start due to many of the musicians being caught up in traffic. The roads were chock-a-block due to the main road through Central Croydon, Wellesley Road, being closed as forensic scientists carried out investigations.

Sadly, earlier today a teenager was stabbed at the bus stop outside the Whitgift Shopping Centre while on her way to school. It's a real shock to hear such news. Unfortunately, there have been many stabbings in London over the years. This year seems to have been particularly bad as there have already been 15 - more than the total for last year. In most cases the victim was young male.

This incident was even more shocking because the circumstances - a 15-year old girl in her uniform, travelling to her nearby private school. This is the first time a young girl has been the victim of a fatal stabbing. Police are still trying to establish the circumstances of the attack, but it is said that an argument took place on the bus in which a young girl rejected the advances from a 17-year old boy - the perpetrator, who was found in New Addington 45 minutes later. The group of children got off the bus outside the shopping centre, and the perpetrator produce a knife with a very long blade and stabbed the victim in the neck. The ambulance service arrived at the scene within a few minutes, but despite their efforts they were unable to save the youngster.

This is such a shock to the community. We have gotten used to hearing about stabbings in London, and that is already a massive cause for concern. But when knife crime occurs in the heart of Croydon, so close to an area you frequent, and given the circumstances of the incident - involving a young girl just on her way to school - it makes you wonder what sort of society we live in.

I am very sorry to hear this news about the girl, and I send my condolences to her family and friends.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

One day one photo - 26: Deep sports massage at Revive Bodywork

   Feeling relaxed after a massage from Sam at Revive Bodywork 

Now that I am back home after my Paris-Versailles running challenge I can give my legs a bit of TLC. What better way than to get a deep massage. 

So I paid a visit to Sam, who runs Revive Bodywork not far from me, in Bromley. I've been getting treatment from her for a few years, so she knows my legs well. She can tell when they're on form and if, if they are recovering after an injury or a heavy bout of exercise. Today they weren't too bad, considering my weekend efforts.  

Getting  a massage was exactly what I needed to put my legs in a decent condition. My illiotibial band, calf muscles and Achilles tendons felt fine, but my quads were aching when I sat on the massage table. Thankfully Sam was able to sort it out, not without her having to dig her elbow into my glutes.

By the time I left her treatment room my legs felt so much looser. I hope to maintain this wellness with yoga, pilates and swimming. 

I am hoping to do a half-marathon before the end of the year, so Sam may have her work cut out for her!

Monday 25 September 2023

One day one photo - 25: A massage ball does wonders for tight muscles

Massage ball - a key tool in injury prevention 

This is what has helped stop my legs from getting too shot after yesterday's Paris-Versailles running race. I actually bought it the day before the event from Decathlon at Place de la Madeleine, when I was making a few other last-minute purchases for the race.

I have a knobbly foam roller, but didn't bring it as I wanted to travel light. I had banked on getting in a few swimming sessions to loosen my legs, a post-race massage at the event, and maybe even a yoga class to do some deep stretching. I had managed to do all of those things apart from yoga, which was a bit tricky to fit in. 

When it comes to injury prevention I can never do too much. A significant chunk of the physical exercise I do involves keeping injuries at bay. I have had to deal with tendinitis between my legs and my ankles, over the years, including during the first part of this year when I was unable to do any sport because of a nagging problem. 

So I am very happy to have been able to run the 10 miles yesterday without any problems, and I am determined to do what I can to keep things that bay.

So when I saw this little ball, not only did I think it looked rather cute and a nice convenient size, I also saw how this could give me pleasure (well pain actually) when rubbing it up and down my illio-tibial band, my gluteus maximus, my soleus or even just under the ball of my foot.

The pleasure doesn't come from the act itself, but from the knowledge that this little ball is helping to keep me doing my favourite sporting activities like running, cycling, swimming, even the odd bit of rollerskating. 

Here's hoping I can carry on doing the sports I love.

Sunday 24 September 2023

One day One photo - 24: Paris-Versailles Grande Classique

Waiting to start the Paris-Versailles Grande Classique 

Well, that's a wrap!

I did the Paris-Versailles Grande Classique and got the medal (though no T-shirt as the organisers didn't do one this year). It was certainly not an easy run. I had already heard stories about this 2km infamous climb at kilometre 6, Côte des Gardes. Having climbed up it from the Versailles side when riding the route of the final stage of the Tour de France, I kind of knew what to expect. I distinctly recall the struggle among members of our group, and I remember the lithe local riders sailing up the hill away from me as the gradient suddenly increased. Nevertheless, a recon run would have been nice. A couple of sessions had been held by the organisers on the three Sundays before the day, though I hadn't been able to get there. So I just had to rely on mind over matter, mindfulness and visualisation!

Funnily enough this was probably the running race where I felt the most relaxed and the least nervous. I didn't have any pressure to run to a particular time, and I felt confident that I could manage the three-hour cut-off. Also, I was on my own and nobody knew me so running anonymously totally removes any expectation from others!

I took it quite slowly on the first five kilometres along the River Seine up to the first of three drink stations, enjoying the views, soaking in the vibe from the different bands along the route, and appreciating the cheers and applause from the locals, including lots of Boy and Girl Scouts. Then about a kilometre later the road ramped up and the hard work began. It was certainly a tough gradient. Already, many runners were reduced to walking. Some felt it was quicker to do a type of power walk. I preferred to run in small steps like when skipping with my rope. That seemed to work as it kept up the momentum. 

Just as I'd been warned, the road would level out and you'd think it was over - but it wasn't. There were two or three more 10% ramps to do. I ended up running practically side by side with an older man. Our paces just happened to be identical, though he was heaving an awful lot, and I worried he might explode before the top. He survived and we congratulated each other on reaching the summit. Then I sailed off into the distance as I guess he slowed down to recover from the ordeal.

It was a beautiful course that went through the forest at Meudon. I saw a few gravel bike riders along the way. It'd be worth returning there for a bit of that.

We then went through sumptuous neighbourhoods like Velizy and Villacoublay, where the road dropped down steeply to a pretty pond. However, I didn't get the memo about another steep ramp, known as the Côte de Meudon. This was steeper than the previous one, but was thankfully only 500m long. 

Another drop down through Viroflay where shortly afterwards was the ornate signboard that said Versailles, and as we rounded the corner a military band was right there to give us a royal fanfare - just like King Charles had had a couple of days earlier.

The run into the finish was not particularly easy. Avenue de Paris, the main road to the finish line is a lovely tree-lined road with 17th century architecture and it's easy to marvel at the sights as you behold this regal town. But as a runner, you are just thinking "when will this bloody road finish?" As it drags on in an interminable false flat right up to the finish gantry. 

Surprisingly as I lolopped along I heard a voice beside me say, "We meet again". I looked round to see the old guy from Côte des Gardes. He'd clearly gained a second wind. "Well done", I replied. We ran together, putting on our best false smiles for the photographers in the long home strait,  willing each other on. But he seemed to have emptied the tank slightly early and faded in the last 800m, as I put in a final spurt, thinking about people we have lost who wouldn't have had the chance to see Versailles on an occasion like this....

My timecof 1 hour 50 was nothing to write home about. I used to run 10 miles on 75-80 minutes. Granted, that was about 15 years ago, and this was a hilly 10 miles, but I think I could run this at least 10 minutes faster when knowing the course and with a little bit more training. In any case I was so pleased to receive my medal; a man from France Bleu local radio even interviewed on the finish line while I was still getting my breath back and probably looking a bit snotty!

Then I picked up my goodie bag from some excited young Scouts and headed straight into the massage tent. It was all very efficient. There were showers available in a nearby sports centre, though I was too tired to walk far and my stomach was rumbling, so I tended to that first. Note to oneself - the sport centre has a swimming pool - that would have provided more therapy for the legs.

Instead I then walked up to the Palace of Versailles, had a quick look around the Courtyard, which was heaving on this sunny Sunday, then caught the train back to Paris. It had been a good day.

Saturday 23 September 2023

One day one photo - 23: Bois de Vincennes, my favourite Parisian park

Lac Daumesnil, Bois de Vincennes 

I love going to the Bois de Vincennes, one of the two extensive green spaces at either end of Central Paris. Almost every time I visit Paris I go there. Sometimes I ride through it and stop for a little picnic, like the last time I was in Paris. Other times I go for a run there or include it as part of a cycle commute. On other occasions, like today, I go for a stroll. 

Why not the Bois de Boulogne? You might ask. This other park on the West Side of Paris is also a very pleasant place to be, and in fact when I do a London to Paris cycle ride the last part of my ride often goes through the Bois de Boulogne. I must say, though, I find the Bois de Boulogne slightly busy and on some of the main roads you get boy racers zooming down it. From the early evening onwards you get a fair smattering of prostitutes too. It's not always that tranquil.

The thing of importance to me is the emotional connection I have with the Eastern side of Paris. For a few years I lived in the 12th arrondissement, near Porte Dorée, one of the entrances into the Bois de Vincennes. I would regularly run or walk around the Lac Daumesnil, and I would go for afternoon walks or picnics with friends. On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon I used to go to watch small concerts at the Parc Floral. 

On other Sundays when my local gym was closed I would go running around a waymarked route through the woods, starting and finishing at the Chateau de Vincennes and taking in the Lac des Minimes.

You can also go rowing, too though I haven't tended to do that much. I wonder if they'll allow paddleboarding?

These days when I go to Paris I tend to stay in and around Vincennes, and being near these woods makes for an oasis of calm, away from the hustle and bustle of the Paris metropolitan area. 

So after my morning Swim at the Yvonne Godard pool today I took the tram down to Porte Dorée for a little walk, ahead of my Paris-Versailles run. 

It was a real treat to be there in the morning while it was quiet, with just joggers and a few swans. 

Having this 2,500-acre parkland and woodland, slightly larger than Richmond Park in South London, definitely gives my trips a countryside feel where I can be in touch with nature and relax in one of the World's major cities. So I must say a big thank you to Napoleon Bonaparte and Baron Haussman, who in the 1850s had the idea to create a green space for the working class in Eastern Paris. Mind you, as I look around the nearby 12th arrondissement, and suburbs like Vincennes, Saint-Mandé or Saint-Maurice it seems pretty middle class!

Friday 22 September 2023

One day one photo - 22: Paris-Versailles Grande Classique just got real

At the Palais des Sports, Robert Charpentier 
I arrived in Paris this morning care of FlixBus. I had left it to the last minute to book my transport to Paris, so this was the most cost-effective and hassle-free option. Also, because I travelled at night, it meant I arrived in the French capital in time to have a working day thanks to WIFI in the communal area of my lodgings in Montreuil.
Then after my day's work, and a little run in the nearby park, I took the tube to the Robert Charpentier sports complex at Issy-les-Moulineaux where I picked up my race number for the Paris-Versailles 10-mile running race.

It was a pretty straightforward, no-frills affair. Some volunteers from the local running club handed me my number on presentation of my ID, and then in another room was a map showing the route and a video on loop with GoPro camera footage of the route. 

One of the guys also described Côte des Gardes, the main climb to me. Basically, when I think I am at the top I shouldn't believe it because it climbs and levels out three or four times before I reach the summit. That was a handy tip, but it wouldn't necessarily help me go up it any faster!

There was also a little camera which would take a snap of you with your number and you enter your email address in order to receive it. That was quite handy touch to registration.

It was also while standing in the queue that I got chatting to a fellow runner, Patricia from Brazil. She had come over specially for this race, and was doing it as part of her 50th birthday celebration. Like me, she was staying in the suburbs of Paris - at Tolbiac, in the South, where I was in Montreuil, to the East.

We had contrasting apprehensions though after seeing the weather forecast for warm weather. While I was concerned that I might get too hot at 20°C, she was worried she'd be too cold! She was used to running in 25°C. In any case it would be our first time running this event and we were looking forward to the big day, albeit with a big hill to runner!

Interestingly, when looking on the event Facebook page there were many negative comments  from regulars about the event. They said it was the worst edition of the event in the many years they'd done it. The "event village" was just a simple place to sign on, with no exhibitor stands from sponsors or any other fanfare apart from the camera and the GoPro footage.

This is the 44th edition of the Paris-Versailles Grande Classique race, an event that has attracts almost 25,000 runners from France and all around the world. It must be the biggest 10-mile race in France, and takes place on closed roads between two of the most historic and visited landmarks in the world - the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles.

For such a premium event there should have been more fanfare to match. This year the organisers even decided not to provide a finisher's T-shirt (though lowered the entry fee). But they could have at least made T-shirts available for purchase. 

I couldn't really complain, as a first-timer to the event as I had nothing to compare it to. However, I did bemoan the fact that there were no safety pins provided in the envelope containing my number bib. That's not necessarily something I think of packing when travelling to a prestigious race, I must admit. So my task will be to find some pins before Sunday!

Despite all that, I am looking forward to the race, and the sight of lots of lean-looking people carrying Paris-Versailles envelopes around the streets of south-west Paris has definitely uplifted and inspired me for Sunday. This Paris-Versailles Grande Classique just got real.

Thursday 21 September 2023

One day one photo - 21: London to Paris on the cheap with FlixBus

FlixBus at Victoria Station, London 

I could have gotten myself organised earlier and booked to travel to Paris by Eurostar. I guess I could have gotten on the train with my bike and then got the ferry to Dieppe, followed by local trains to Paris. But I decided to take the cheap and cheerful option which wouldn't involve much walking or cycling, and where you could just turn up at Victoria station a few minutes before hand. I took the coach - FlixBus.

I can't remember the last time I took this option. It probably pre-dates the time that the Eurostar train existed. As a young adult in the early 1990s trying to make ends meet in Paris, what was then known as Eurolines was the go-to mode of transport when travelling between London and Paris. £40 return was a bargain. 

There was always a bit of an adventure, with it involving the bus driver having to reprimand some noisy students, an individual, sometimes even a family, being thrown off the bus at Calais for not having a valid passport. It was where I met my then best friend, Sylvie, who was visiting London for the first time. She couldn't speak a word of English and I helped her with translation on our arrival in London. It turned out that she also lived in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, like I did. Then a great friendship blossomed from there. 

Things have changed now and Eurostar tends to be the transport of reference when going to Paris - at least from London. Customs controls are stricter than ever, so no one without papers even entertains the idea of getting on the bus. Back then, we would get on a ferry at Calais, whereas now a half-hour crossing through the Eurotunnel at Folkestone is all that is needed, so you don't even have to get off the bus if you don't want to. Now that really is coach class.

So it would be interesting to see how things go. We leave London, Victoria at 11pm and are scheduled to reach Paris, Bercy at 9am tomorrow. I will just make sure to keep my mask on.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

One day one photo - 20: Getting in some skipping with an upgraded leather rope!

Skipping is my new activity. Well, not so new; I've been skipping on and off for over 30 years! It's just that I have a new rope, and that does make a difference. 

It is in full leather, making it significantly heavier than the PVC one I had been using over the last 10 years or so. This certainly makes me work harder, as I have to use my biceps a little bit more - as I found when I noticed a slight ache in arms afterwards.

I still do the same routine that I have always done - jumps, heel and toe, knee lifts, cross-legs, double jumps. These have tended to help me with running, giving me a spring in my step so that I run more efficiently, and I can run uphill more easily too. Also if I get the balance right, skipping helps to strengthen my ankles. 

The great thing about skipping is that I can get a good work-out after just 10 or 15 minutes' jumping. I don't need to travel anywhere to do it; I just need a small patch of dry ground that is reasonably forgiving on the knees and my 8ft length of rope. It beats any gym session. 

Given that my new rope is heavier than the previous one, it turns more easily even in windy conditions. So today I was able to get out and do a mini routine despite the brisk breeze. Of course I had to use slightly more force when cutting my various shapes, and that gave more of a workout for my core as well. I can't complain about exercising more muscles. At my age it is always good to engage even more of my body just to avoid that middle age spread!

As I finished my jumping in the playground in the park behind my house, the wind became stronger and the rain came down - very heavily, even torrential. Not even my new robust rope would have been able to handle the monsoon, so it was good timing that I stopped when I did.  

Tuesday 19 September 2023

One day one photo - 19: Welcome back to the fun Honda Monkey motorbike

Honda Monkey at Ditchling Beacon

This was the celebratory photo I took of my motorcycle at Ditchling Beacon earlier this month on my first ride down to Brighton. It was one of the few times recently when the Monkey started without any problems before things went downhill significantly and I had to do a few rounds with breakdown services and motorcycle mechanics. I'm glad that the problem is now fixed.

It's nice to be able to ride my Honda Monkey without worrying that it wasn't going to start. It's just great to be back with the fun Monkey, as opposed to the rather sickly monkey over the last couple of months.

Throughout last summer, through the winter and spring my motorbike had started without fail, and without the need for a trickle charger or jump leads. Then I had this dodgy period where the motorcycle just seemed to become more and more difficult to start. It totally failed to do so a few times, with the battery losing charge at an ever increasing rate. I became more familiar with the breakdown recovery service than I would have liked. The bike even failed to start on one occasion after I had left it parked for 2 hours during my orchestra rehearsal - despite having left it on trickle charge for the whole day before going out on it.

When it comes to that, things become quite stressful and you realise you can't take the bike anywhere. Also, it won't do for someone to just say "you need a new battery" or "it's the tracker that is draining your battery". 

Thankfully a good mechanic had the presence of mind to check out the underlying cause and pinpoint the problem to a faulty rectifier. So that has been replaced, as has the battery - with a good quality Yuasa one. So now I am a happy rider. 

I can't say how relieved I feel just to be able to start the engine and be greeted to the sound of the rumbling of a healthy engine. I imagine my Monkey is also very happy to have properly working innards too!

So I look forward to doing some more trips to interesting places before winter sets in.

Monday 18 September 2023

One day one photo - 18: RIP Wonder Woman (aka Tabitha Rendall)

The lovely Tabitha Rendall

This photo of Tabitha Rendall symbolises what she represented - Wonder Woman - a woman who does loads of activities, is strong, empowered and a superhero to her three children.

I am so shocked and saddened to learn that Tabitha, who I raced with in previous years at local cyclocross races, died this morning. It was like a real hit to the solar plexus. She was a healthy woman who did lots of sport, and busied herself within the cycling community, notably in BMX where her she and her children had been heavily involved - and were doing well at the discipline. 

I first got to know Tabitha when she started doing cyclocross and we would sometimes end up in a mano a mano in the races - though in the end, she got faster as I got slower!

Tabitha also got into road racing and helped with administering the London Women's Cycle Racing League. 

I didn't see her so much in recent years as I raced less. Also, she took time out when she suffered a head injury following a crash in a BMX race. But we kept in touch on social media and she regularly updated us on the different activities and trips that she went on.

Then out of the blue, in May of this year Tabitha made the shock announcement that she had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was quite a surprise as I had until then, been enjoying her posts about her travels in Nigeria and to Chile.

So I really didn't see this coming. Knowing how strong and organised Tabitha is, I wanted to believe she could combat this terrible affliction. 

But it wasn't to be. Unfortunately, a few complications including a pulmonary embolism, and a bout of coronavirus left her in a very weakened state, and the cancer spread throughout her body. It was in late August - just 2 months later - that she said she was being moved into end-of-life care.

I really had hoped there could be a miraculous change in events, but when I saw the various tribute messages on Facebook, I realised that Tabitha had passed away. That left me in shock, and I am still reeling from the news. I just keep asking why this had to happen.

Sure, folks say that death is part and parcel of the rigours of life. I had to deal with the sudden loss of my own mother in 2014 at the age of 64, as well as another active cycle racer, Charlotte Easton in 2016, aged 36. But there's something quite brutal about what happened with Tabitha.

A few high-profile people died of bowel cancer in recent times - Deborah James (aka Bowel Babe) succumbed to it after being diagnosed in 2016, and the BBC journalist George Alagiah also died a couple of months ago from the same disease after a nine-year battle. They both had a survival rate of a few years - the average five-year survival rate for bowel cancer is around 65%. That means that for every 100 people diagnosed with bowel cancer 65 of them will live for five years after the diagnosis.

Just five months ago Tabitha was getting on with her active life and enjoying her travels. When she suffered from stomach upset in April she just thought it was something dodgy she'd eaten. She couldn't have imagined that there was a metastasis going on in her caecum, and this would take her away from this earth just a few months later. Even in her last update to everyone on Facebook she admitted that she had thought that she would reach this situation in two or three years' time, not in three months' time. In her post she said she had so much more love and nourishing to give her children. She had so much of the world that she hadn't seen, and was looking forward to doing so. 

Tabitha was ready to fight this battle and her experience of endurance events - notably when she did the Three Peaks cyclocross, and her ride across Italy - had her set up for a long road. But that road just came to shockingly abrupt end - at the age of 52. That's what is heartbreaking and devastating.

I feel terrible for Tabby's family and friends, especially her children, who have not all reached adulthood yet. I like to think that she has left a strong legacy for her children, and she will always be Wonder Woman.

Ride high, Tabby. Xx  

Sunday 17 September 2023

One day one photo - 17: Orienteering on Hampstead Heath

A permanent orienteering course map of Hampstead Heath - ideal for jazzing up a Sunday run

Sometimes when running it is nice to jazz things up a little and not just do a plain old run around the park. I find that orienteering just gives a fresh take on running, albeit with the added dimension of looking for checkpoints. I decided to do that today, and also add in the complication of running uphill. That was something I somewhat underestimated in terms of the effort required. Running up Hampstead Heath is tough work!

I should know this already, having done a few National Cross Country Championships here. The run up from the Lido, up Parliament Hill is iconic - and a pretty brutal start to a running race, especially as lots of spectators gather at the top, so you want to look like you can handle it - even if you feel like you're going to keel over!

Orienteering is a great way to discover other parts of the Heath and run in places, and hills, you don't normally go to. 

I downloaded the map from the London Orienteering Klubb website, and set off from the café at the band stand. The initial check points were unsurprisingly, up a hill, so I felt it was a lot easier walk. There were around 24 checkpoints I  totally. Not all of them were easy you find, and in fact the previous days efforts began to catch up with me.

It was too hard to search extensively for a checkpoint as I was too tired to run (or even walk) uphill. It was almost too much energy to think clearly. So I called it a day after 9 checkpoints, and rode to St Pancras Station, where I caught the train home, just as the rain came down.

Hampstead Heath is a great place for running and will definitely help improve your hill running. I hope to be back before long and do all the orienteering checkpoints. 

Saturday 16 September 2023

One day one photo - 16: Swim Serpentine - it went swimmingly in the end!

All smiles after Swim Serpentine in Hyde Park

I finally got to swim in the Serpentine - and it was lovely.

It had been touch and go as to whether Swim Serpentine would take place. Just three days before the event, we still didn't have a definitive answer, much to the annoyance of those participants travelling to London specially for the event from other parts of the country. Then on Thursday, the organisers announced that tests had shown it was safe to swim in the water and the event would go ahead.

A number of people, myself included, did not feel comfortable about taking part and opted to request a refund.  

But in the end, when Saturday morning came, and I saw a sunny day plus more positive water quality test results I changed my mind. With that, I jumped on my bicycle and zoomed over to Hyde Park. 

Fortunately the organisers were able to give me a new number and I did the one-mile swim in the Serpentine that morning. 

The water was a balmy 21 degrees C and it was nice and clear. I just made sure to not let any of it get in my mouth! (You can never be sure.) In my wave there must have been around 300 people, which made it a slight challenge sighting as I had to swim round other people. turnaround points ay the buoys got a bit crowded as everyone wanted to take the same (shortest) line! I just stayed relaxed and swam round slightly slower to allow for any sudden changes in direction I might have had to make. 

In the end I did 44 minutes. I was happy with that time - it's quicker than I've done in a while, and throughout the swim I felt like I was within myself and wasn't exerting myself. The fact that I used a pull buoy and had my cross on too, will have helped me keep an optimal position and go quicker.

After my swim I couldn't resist putting on my trainers and doing a little run around the lake before cycling home. It had been a fun-packed day out, even if the start had looked decidedly dubious. 

Friday 15 September 2023

One day one photo - 15: Motorbike problem rectified with a rectifier

Regulator rectifier - the solution to my Monkey woes 

This little component is called a regulator rectifier. Before today I had no idea what it was, but I think it may be the answer to the issues I have been having with my motorcycle - thanks to the people at FWR Motorcycles in Kennington, South London. I had been phoning around different outlets to see if they had in stock a good quality battery for my Honda Monkey - according to many it should have been the Yuasa YTZ5S. The guy took the time to get more details about the problems I'd been having and said that they would certainly be able to supply the battery, but they would make sure to check the bike over to see if there wasn't any underlying problem. It's true that a tracker drains the battery on a vehicle, but it doesn't drain it that much. Also if I kept on changing battery, it is hard to say that I keep being supplied with dud batteries. 

So I arranged to take the bike in to be looked at. Unsurprisingly, I was late arriving at the workshop because the bike wouldn't start - despite having been plugged into the trickle charger that morning. The only thing I could think to do was to start the bike while the trickle charger was plugged in! It gave a very tentative start, but at least the engine was running enough for me to be able to ride the Monkey the 7 miles to get to FWR. After checking the bike, within minutes they managed to pinpoint the problem. The Regulator rectifier was faulty. I don't know much about the mechanics of a bike, but this little device serves to stop the battery from being overcharged while the engine is running. Normally the voltage would be between 13 and 14 volts, and the regulator rectifier serves to keep it within those parameters. 

But if the rectifier goes the voltage goes up and up and just burns out the battery. So you end up with a weakened, even dead battery. Apparently, when the engine of the Monkey was running the voltage was going to 16V. That would explain why the battery was just getting flatter and flatter every time I was using it. 

I think that if I had gone to some other mechanics they would have just changed the battery, sent me on my way, and I would still be having Monkey issues that would just be so disruptive to my everyday schedule. So I really appreciate the guys at FWR identifying the underlying problem. Hopefully, life with my Monkey will be back to normal from now on.

Thursday 14 September 2023

One day one photo - 14: AA motorcycle breakdown service to the rescue....again!

Technically this would be a post from yesterday, but it was the early hours of this morning by the time the AA motorcycle breakdown guy was able to help me out and get my motorcycle started. 

I really don't know what's going on with it. I rode it to band practice, after having left it on a trickle charger for most of the day.

In the two hours from when I parked it up, attended band practice and returned to it to restart it the battery had gone flat. I couldn't get the machine started. 

There I was, at around 10.30 at night at a loss to know what to do as other band members were getting in their cars to go home. I felt rather embarrassed to tell them of my predicament, especially as I didn't want to burden them with my situation. What could they have done? I don't know if they would have had jump leads for the bike. Some of them were older folks so where would they find the strength to roll the bike and jump start it? 

So I just casually said goodbye as though nothing was amiss, while quickly googling how to bump start a motorcycle. The car park was on a slight gradient so I thought it could work.

After the church car park had emptied I then began to wheel the bike and get it into position. A couple of local youths who saw me with the bike commented on how nice it was. They asked if it was broken down and did I need any help. But I just told them I was waiting for a friend. You just never know who you're talking to at that time of night.

Sadly my efforts to bump start the bike were a bit feeble so I had to give up and call the AA. Thankfully he was able to find me as I had hidden myself and my Honda Monkey around the corner in a cul-de-sac. 

On starting the bike, the first thing he said was "you need a new battery". That's interesting, I replied, "this one is barely a month old!"

He suggested that the battery was not a very good quality, and the fact that it had had to be jump started a few times will have weakened it.

Given the time of night and the fact that if I stalled the bike while riding it home I wouldn't be able to restart the bike, the AA man decided to follow behind in his truck for the short journey home by way of being on standby. Jolly kind of him.

I really must say I'm at a loss as to what to do. I have changed the battery already, I have changed the tracker (which it was thought was draining the battery too much), and I constantly have the motorcycle charged up when not in use now. It's frustrating to not know how to fix the problem, and I find starting the motorcycle quite stressful knowing that even within two hours of leaving it parked the battery will have gone flat. 

I was too tired to think exactly what to do next when I got home at almost 1 o'clock in the morning. I was just glad to have had the possibility of being rescued late at night. 

Wednesday 13 September 2023

One day one photo - 13: Back with my other band in Croydon

A few pieces we'll playing this term at Croydon Symphonic Band

Today was that "first day back at school" feeling as I went to the first rehearsal of the new academic year with my other band, Croydon Symphonic Band. The other band I play with, at Beckenham don't stop during the school holidays, unlike quite a few other bands. The Croydon band is among those who follow the same cycle as the academic year. 

So it was good to see the old faces, including our conductor, David Cox, after a few months. I had played my clarinet over the school holidays - practicing drills at home and also solo clarinet pieces in my own books. I enjoy doing those because in the bands I play in I am either second or third clarinet so often I am not playing the melody and I end up playing things that don't make much sense unless I have a backing track or am with the band. But when I play at home with my own books I am playing the tune, and that is good for the soul. 

Having said that, nothing beats being part of an ensemble or orchestra with the full range of sounds and instruments. That's what I like about playing in bands. I just need to be on my game so that I can play my part correctly. As a relative newbie to the band (as opposed to those who have been going for 30 years), most pieces I play from the band library are new to me, so the first rehearsal back ends up being hard, as it is full-on sight-reading. I must say though, that the pieces do look good, and I am looking forward to playing them well. I am particularly pleased to see a few Gershwin pieces. Fascinating Rhythm, American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue are cracking numbers. Just don't count on me to do that clarinet intro! 

Tuesday 12 September 2023

One day one photo - 12: Beckenham Concert Band swansong for our conductor

Felicity conducting the band. I am just about visible on the right (Photo by David Chapman)

Today was the last day in my band, Beckenham Concert Band, for our conductor and musical director, Felicity Cliffe. After a couple of years of providing musical leadership, Felicity is going up to pastures new at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she will pursue her high-level musical/conducting studies.  

To mark the occasion we played a selection of songs in a mini concert, with an audience of a few friends and family. I had missed a few sessions over the summer, as well as all of the concerts. It was a shame to have not been able to take part in the concerts, but I was glad to have been able to get to the last rehearsal before Felicity leaves. In fact we had a pretty full band as many people, including deps turned up just to have the chance to say good bye to Felicity. That's a testimony to how much people liked her. She was quite moved to see so many people, and also to receive gifts and flowers.

I only joined the band in the summer of 2022, so I didn't get to know her very well. But I thought she was a friendly person and a great conductor with a gentle manner and knew how to get the best out of us. I played most of the tunes well, though I made a mess of one of the Holst pieces, and I squeaked my clarinet. I hope nobody heard. If they did, then I'll say sorry! All the best to Felicity.

Monday 11 September 2023

One day one photo - 11: All ready for Swim Serpentine - But will it happen?

My gear for Swim Serpentine arrived in the post, which I was glad to see as I am actually looking forward to doing it. It is my favourite mass participation swimming event. 

I have been doing a lot of swimming this year, and for the first time ever I was out swim training consistently through the winter, including a couple of trips to the unheated lidos at Brockwell Park, in Herne Hill, and also Parliament Hill Lido. 

But alas, once again the lake, known as The Serpentine is closed due to the presence of blue-green algae blooms, so we are all in suspense as to whether or not the event will take place. When water test results on 30th August revealed high levels of cyanobacteria, The Serpentine was closed immediately. 

When a few other swim venues have fallen victim to the dreaded blue-green algae this led to the place being closed to swimming for around three or four weeks. If this is the average amount of time it takes for a lake to be rid of blue-green algae, Swim Serpentine may as well be cancelled now, given that the water won't be clear before the big day on 17th September. 

Frustratingly for many people, the organisers have not put out any official statement about the situation, and they are unable to say if the event will take place. While it is slightly annoying for me, as someone who lives in London and can just go and swim in another open water venue if Swim Serpentine is cancelled, for many people who don't live in London, there is more at stake. Many people will be travelling in from other parts of the country and will have booked travel and accommodation. They stand to lose a lot of money if they are only informed of the cancellation at a couple of days' notice.

I guess these things are beyond the control of the organisers, and it must be a real challenge for them too. In fact the last couple of years have been a challenge. The 2020 event was cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic; 2021 also had an issue with blue-green algae. Thankfully, that went ahead when the lake was declared bacteria free on the Tuesday before the event. Sadly, due to the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, which involved the use of the Royal Parks, Swim Serpentine was cancelled. And now here we are once again, in limbo. 

I can only keep my fingers crossed that the event can go ahead.

Sunday 10 September 2023

One day one photo - 10: Sunday at Virginia Water (and also Longside Lake)

Enjoying a Sunday afternoon at Virginia Water

I had originally planned on taking part in a SwimRun event at Longside Lake, but different factors meant that I didn't do it in the end. I went there anyway as I had arranged to meet my friend Rachel to do a bit of paddleboarding there. It was a fun hour or so that we spent on the water. We weren't able to use the whole lake as there was waterskiing also going on, and I didn't fancy being in their wake! Hopefully we can return there and have the full use of the lake.

After our exertions we'd worked up enough of an appetite to scoot across to the nearby Virginia Water where we had a picnic beside the lake. 

I must say it is a beautiful part of the world. Virginia Water is part of the Royal Landscape that includes Windsor Great Park, and has other sections like Savill Gardens, a big Totem Pole and Smith Lawn, a prime spot for playing or watching polo.

Being not so Royal, Rachel and I just slummed it eating our sandwiches from Waitrose in Egham on a wooden bench in the woods. Then in very English style, the the rain came down but we were able to have afternoon tea in the cafe, before returning outside after the rain and burning off more calories on a mini walk. 

My Sundays are normally quite energetic with a bike ride, a long run and sometimes even a race. It was quite nice to do something more leisurely for a change. Regardless of how sporty you are, it does make for a refreshing change to slow down and just enjoy your environment. 

Saturday 9 September 2023

One day one photo - 9: Richmond Park - the cyclists' (and maybe the prisoners') choice

Rider hang-out at Roehampton Gate, Richmond Park
It's been a couple of months since I was last in Richmond Park, so I thought I'd make the most of the good weather and my bursting energy levels to make the trip across into South-West London and do a few laps of the cycling mecca for London-based cyclists. Sure, places like Box Hill and Regents Park are also popular, but Richmond Park is the place for all cyclists - not just club riders. Recreational riders family bike riders and small children all like to come out to this expansive green space, the biggest park in London.

First thing in the morning from about 7 am it tends to be the hard core club cyclists as those mini pelotons want to be able to get a clear uninterrupted path around the circumference of the Royal Park situated between SW15, TW9 and KT2, without having to slow down for or even scare away non-club riders! 

Not being hardcore, I arrived at the Roehampton Gate entrance at around 8.30am and began my three laps. By this time the park was beginning to get busy as more club riders arrived as well as recreational riders. I enjoyed just being among a large loose community of people powered by pedals.

The area around Roehampton Gate where there is a cafe and a cycle hire hub is a prime meeting point for cycling groups and it's always an area where you can bump into familiar faces. I saw different cyclists from London Dynamo, a large local cycling club that organises rides there.

Apparently, the police had also been in Richmond Park searching for an escaped prisoner who had apparently absconded from Wandsworth jail a few days earlier. You do see some dodgy bike riding sometimes, but I can't say I saw any signs of shifty behaviour! Who knows he may have been hiding in some secluded bracken or among the deer.  

Although I cycled there alone, I ended up riding close to other riders who were of a similar ability to myself. Sometimes they were stronger than I on the flat, while other times I pushed myself a bit on the hills and would catch or overtake them. Then on the descent of Broomfield Hill, it was a question of who had the strongest nerves when it came to the fast descent and the sweeping right-hand curve. Generally, they were more confident than myself as I was slightly out of practice and so used my brakes at the top of the climb in order to not pick up too much speed. I wasn't in the mood to kiss the tarmac.

Since the time of lockdown, vehicular traffic has been a little bit restricted and there are a lot fewer cars than before - particularly on Sawyers Hill and Broomfield Hill - which makes it very pleasant to ride. 

In the end I cycled two full anti-clockwise laps, then did one small lap via the ballet school and Pen Ponds, then a clockwise half-lap from Roehampton Gate to Kingston Gate before exiting the park and returning home. I always feel inspired after riding around Richmond Park - the sight of the beautiful, varied woodland on undulating terrain as well as the deer in the background doing their thing always gives me a feelgood factor which gives me wings as zoom through Kingston, Raynes Park, Wimbledon, and Mitcham to reach my manor in Crystal Palace. I hope not to leave it too long before I am back in Richmond Park again.

Friday 8 September 2023

One day one photo - 8: Swimming in Canary Wharf

Swimming in Middle Dock, Canary Wharf

Happy Friday! And what better way to start the day than by having a dip in the Middle Dock at Canary Wharf. I got there a little later than planned after having had issues with the battery in my motorcycle - more specifically it was the tracker which was draining an inordinate amount of energy from my battery, so there was a delay while the battery was getting charged.

Once I arrived at that familiar stretch of water among the tall glassy buildings and the suits of the Docklands financial district, I felt a sigh of relief at the knowledge that I couold don my wetsuit and be in the cool relaxing water.

And cool it was! It's worth noting that the water in Middle Dock is generally colder than that in other nearby open water venues like the Royal Victoria Docks and the Docklands Sailing and Water Sports Centre. It is generally two or three degrees see colder. I am not entirely sure of the reason why; it may be to do with the depth. In any case, as we are currently enjoying a mini heatwave this was not an issue as the water was still 19 degrees Celsius. 

Now in its second season of open-water swimming, Canary Wharf is the newest London venues for this pursuit. I must say it's my favourite. It's easy to get to by motorcycle, bicycle or public transport - the tube station is right at the venue, as is the Docklands Light Railway. There are lots of cafes and bars nearby, and you are guaranteed an audience from the bemused al fresco diners! the venue handily has benches where you can change outdoors, plus there's a basic changing room for those who want to change in privacy, and there are indoor public toilets where you can also get changed. Plus, the folks are very friendly - not that folks in other venues are less friendly. I just like the folks here because last year they gave me extra credits for free. I had done a mini SwimRun challenge, in which I swam at all the local venues in one morning and ran between them, and Canary Wharf was my final venue. The staff there were so impressed at what I'd done that they gave me three or four free swims. So all the last few swims I have done in Middle Dock have been free of charge. 

Today I opted to wear my SwimRun wetsuit with calf guards, meaning that my legs had extra buoyancy, so I didn't have to do much work to keep in the optimum position in the water and I didn't have to do much kicking either. Just gliding along with gentle arm strokes of front crawl put me in the sweetspot. 

There is a 400m and a 200m loop and this morning they were only operating the 200m loop - which I think was more like 350m! No worries. The water was very clear, making it really easy to see other swimmers just by noting their legs when I had my face in the water. Given the weather, all the swimming slots were fully booked, so there were many of us in the water and we all went around visible as a clutch (or whatever the collective noun is) of tow floats. Some, myself included, were doing front crawl, while others bobbed along doing breast stroke. It's all pretty democratic as regardless of speed or stroke, skins or wetsuit, we all come out refreshed and having had a relaxing time in the water. 

Thursday 7 September 2023

One day one photo - 7: Bromley Chainsaw Tree Massacre

Entrance gate to the site of the Bromley Tree Massacre, in Cator Park
On my morning run, today around the parks and green spaces around Penge and Beckenham I took a mini detour around the gated section of Cator Park, the site of the so-called Bromley Tree Massacre. On the morning of 10th June this year part of this lovely woodland area was attacked by none other than the leaseholder, Prince Choudhary. Apparently, he thought it was a good idea to fell around 130 trees within the park, many of them being mature oak trees, despite them being the subject of a tree preservation order. Angry and upset residents tried to challenge the workers that Saturday morning as the work was being done, but bouncers prevented them from gaining access to the park as this outrageous act continued. 

Choudhary was arrested for criminal damage, and was later released, leaving it for Bromley Council to initiate proceedings against him. 

Anyone who violates a tree preservation order could be fined around £20,000 in a magistrates court. In a crown court they could receive a much heavier penalty.  

Choudhary, a part-time football coach, has defended himself by claiming that he wasn't aware that a tree preservation order was in place, and that he felled the trees in order to create space to build a community sports facility within the park. He maintains that he is a law abiding citizen who has always been interested in helping disadvantaged youngsters in South London, and this activity was part of a plan to provide a space for them to play football.

I must say that running around the park and seeing all these dead tree stumps with dead leaves and branches around them in the central area of the park was a very sorry sight, and I find it hard to understand how someone in their right mind would think that it's okay to cut down healthy woodland. There's nothing more pleasant than taking a walk through the woods, and it is great to have this on one's doorstep. It beats me that people would have so little regard for nature. 

Therein lies the problem - people who feel they are enhancing the community by promoting open green spaces to help the local habitat and provide pleasant areas for walking, jogging or having picnics etc pitched against those who feel they are enhancing the community by promoting sports activities for local young people. The landowners, Hopeson Group Limited, have said they are willing to cooperate in order to reach a resolution.

The council have ordered Choudhary to replant trees to replace the 131 he destroyed, though sadly it'll take a generation before the woodland is restored to its previous state.  

Wednesday 6 September 2023

One day one photo - 6: Swimming training

I was really glad to be able to to get an evening swimming slot at Crystal Palace Sports Centre on the hottest day of the year! Swimming is an activity I have done for many years, though it's something that I have tended to not talk about much or pay much attention to as a sport in the same way I do with cycling or running. While I will watch professional cycle races or running races, and discuss it with fellow fans, I never do the same with swimming. It's just been something that I get on with quietly in an unassuming way.

It's been more of a Cinderella activity for me. When I do triathlons, swimming is my weakest discipline, and is more like something to just get through before I do the "proper" sport of riding my bike and running. I have still stuck with swimming over the years though, because it is great for soothing sore legs after hard exercise - be it running, cycling. I even like to do it when I go skiing as it certainly helps my knees after a day on the pistes.

So it has tended to be a sport I did for functional reasons and I am sure it has benefited me. In more recent times I have come to really appreciate what swimming does for me. Not only are there the musculoskeletal benefits, but it's also an activity I can do for relaxation. Being in the water can help lower blood pressure too. 

With the significant growth in open water swimming I have found myself visiting lots of venues around the London area - Beckenham Place Park, Middle Dock at Canary Wharf, Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre, Divers Cove, Royal Victoria Docks. I also enjoy visiting the lidos at Brockwell Park, London Fields, and Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. I also like to do open water swimming whenever I travel out of town. Recently I swam in Loch Lomond and on Portobello Beach while on a visit to Scotland. I also swam in the Bassin de la Villette, and the Ourcq Canal when I visited Paris

According to the Strava app, for the first time ever, my stats showed that I spent more time swimming than cycling or running during the month of August. 

All this waterbaby activity has led me to actually work on my technique and do some proper training. I haven't joined a swimming club, but I have bought a few training aids which I use to incorporate drills when I swim at my local pool at Crystal Palace. The kickboard and the flippers have been great for improving my leg technique, the hand paddles have helped improve my arm pull through the water and strengthen my pectoral muscles, while the pull buoy is a nice swimming aid to put my legs in the best position in the water.

I definitely feel that my swimming has improved. I am not necessarily swimming much faster, but I find that for the same speed I don't feel as tired as I used to, and I feel a lot more relaxed during a race. Who knows, this may be the beginning of me channelling my inner Michael Phelps!  

Tuesday 5 September 2023

One day one photo - 5: Back at band practice

You will have seen as sport features heavily in my life. I like to do it, and watch. But I also like to do more sedentary things - among them, making music. When the UK went into lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020 I saw it as a time to do things that I hadn't done for a while, or try something new. One of those things that I hadn't done for ages - even decades - was play my clarinet. So I dug it out and began playing. When I played the initial drills from my Klosé clarinet method book, my cheeks and lips felt pretty tired, doing something they hadn't done for about 20 years! 

My fellow band clarinet players, L-R: Sue, Catherine, yours truly during a concert last year

I'm not sure my clarinet liked it either, for the wood on this old Noblet horn had to get used to having warm air blown through it after having being in cooler conditions. That caused a few cracks to form, so I had to just gradually increase the amount of playing time, as well as get the cracks filled by a specialist.

Three years on, and I am back to my old level - around Grade 6, and am a member of a couple of local concert bands.

Sadly, I have not been able to attend as many rehearsals I wanted in recent times due to other commitments. But I have practiced a little regularly at home, just to keep up the level for when I resume rehearsals.

So today I returned to rehearsing with one of my bands, the Beckenham Concert Band. It was great to be back and see familiar faces, including my fellow clarinet buddies, Catherine and Suzanne.

Once I picked up my clarinet and joined in with my piece there was a real sweet spot feeling of being back to a comfortable routine. I must say that playing clarinet in an ensemble has quite a few benefits for me. It's great to be able to make a fuller sound when playing with others, and it feels great to contribute towards making music that entertains others. Also, playing in a band definitely helps to raise my game as a clarinettist. I hope not to leave a few months' gap again from band playing.  

We played some classical and jazz music standards including a few Gershwin numbers, and stuff from films and TV programmes - Fame, Let the Sunshine, The Age of Aquarius which I must say I took great pleasure in playing. Sure my playing was a bit rusty as I was sight-reading some of the pieces. But it will be alright on the night, as they say.

The night in question is next week, when we will be doing a mini concert in celebration of our conductor Felicity, who will be having her swansong before she leaves to pursue further high level studies in music and conducting. 

Sadly, one absentee from my clarinet section was dear Gerry, who died a couple of months ago. He was over 90 years old and had various health issues so it wasn't completely out of the blue, but it was still sad. Gerry enjoyed the rehearsals and playing with us and his other band was a high point of his week. He always had a couple of funny tales to tell. I'm sure he's entertaining the angels up above.

Monday 4 September 2023

One day one photo - 4: Medal Monday....for a fencing tournament!

Swordswomen and man - my finalist opponent is second on the right

Today was the final day of my beginners' fencing course, run by the London Fencing Club in Islington. To mark the occasion the instructors had organised a mini fencing tournament between the trainees. I should have done this at my regular class last Friday, but problems with my motorbike meant I was unable to attend. Very kindly, Tim the manager allowed me to attend today instead. It was good to be able to do that, but I ended up fencing with different set of people from those who I had been training with over the last six weeks. 

I certainly felt the sense of occasion because we had to attach a lead to our clothing and our weapons (foil) to the electronic sensors that would do the scoring during our fencing matches. Also we didn't do any skills training. We were straight into a Round Robin set of matches with each of the different trainees. I just swished my sword around like I was playing at swordfighting, having totally forgotten about the skills that we had been shown for parry and riposte etc. Somehow I won two matches. I also lost two matches, though one of them was a narrow defeat. This earned me the right to proceed to the "final" to determine the women's fencing champion. (The men's champion was easily sorted because there was only one man present in the tournament!) My opponent was a women I had played against earlier, who beat me during the initial Round Robin. Since then, I had developed a bit more of a competitive grrrr and began to think about a couple of moves I could do. One move I tried to do was to suddenly go low and strike from there. I have no idea if I did the move correctly, and I can't imagine that it looked pretty, but it worked as this match was a lot tighter and we ended up at 4-4, and whoever gained the next point would be the champion. This was definitely a harder fought point and we ended up almost going off the piste, and I ended up somehow catching the woman on the side of her shoulder. I can't say that I had the elegance of a fencer in a James Bond movie - it was more like a glorified handbag fight, albeit an energetic one as I was pretty cooked afterwards! Each point won is very intense and it works your legs and arm more than you realise. It's a different kind of work to say, running at a steady pace for three miles. It felt great to have won, and I was pleasantly surprised to be presented with a medal.

It's been ages since I won anything, so I was beaming from ear to ear and almost felt like making a speech like you see at the end of a Grand Slam tennis tournament! We did do a mini photo opportunity though. Maybe I should have tidied my hair beforehand!

I've actually got a taste for fencing, and look forward to doing more of it.

Sunday 3 September 2023

One Day One Photo - 3: Surrey Hills ride up Pebble Hill - a steep challenge

Top of Pebble Hill - a lesser ridden killer climb in the Surrey Hills

My bike recent bike rides have tended to be in the local Kent and Surrey lanes. On the Kent side they have tended to be around Chislehurst, Petts Wood, or out to the village of Downe, the home of Charles Darwin. On the Surrey side I go out to Warlingham. Time has tended not to allow me to do long rides.

Today I decided to venture further out. My intention had been to do Box Hill, Ranmore Common and maybe Coldharbour. However, I started my ride too late and wanted to get home early enough to rest up before going out and meeting my friend Rachel. So on checking the time when I reached Reigate I decided to change plan, and would head homeward once I reached the roundabout in Betchworth. This involved going up Pebble Hill, a hill which I hardly ever ride up. 

It's a hill that I see when I leave Box Hill village. As I turn left to head towards Walton-on-the-Hill I see the top of Pebble Hill to my right. It seems to drop down quite steeply and doesn't look a particularly appealing road to ride up.

I only ever recall riding up it once. I remember having to make quite an effort to get up it, and things were complicated further by the fact that there's a level crossing so you ride up it from a standing start if you have to stop to let through the Redhill-to-Guildford train.

Between it being a Sunday, and also the aftermath of a train strike there were no trains so I had a clear run up Pebble Hill. The early part of the ride was not so bad, and I could just twiddle up in a low gear as I nodded to the numerous club cyclists and motorbikers flying down the road.

Then there was a right-hand bend in the road as the gradient suddenly ramped up significantly and it was impossible to twiddle in the saddle. Over the 200 or so metres I was forced to make a number of out of the saddle efforts and use every bit of energy to winch myself upwards. I could only look at a short strip of tarmac in front of me, and no longer noticed anyone on the opposite side of the road. I just had to hold a straight line as the various cars sped past me, probably wondering why in God's name anyone would choose to climb up this road without some mechanical assistance!

Finally, the gradient became manageable and I felt like I was able to use my senses to do other things like appreciate my surroundings and acknowledge the guy on the other side of the road who gave me a large thumbs up at my achievement. It certainly felt like an achievement when I looked behind me and saw the sign that said "16% - Low gear for half a mile"

At the top of the hill a breather definitely was de rigueur. That was my moment to replenish my energy stores with a bit of banana and take a few photos. Plenty of cyclists came through the junction - many of them either turned left from Box Hill to go to Walton or Tadworth, while others were coming from Walton to and turning right to go to Headley or Box Hill. No one was riding up from Betchworth.

I then headed home via Walton, Kingswood and Chipstead, feeling happy at what felt like a win. To some, riding the Surrey Hills without doing Box Hill may seem like eating a sandwich with no butter or margarine, but I must say I more than made up for it by using Pebble Hill as the filler.