We’ve had a quiet Christmas at home, the first one we’ve ever not spent with other people. We’ve avoided the traditional festive excess, although I did buy a tree, which is currently festooned with various plush animals, scented pine cones, tinsel and blue lights that resemble tiny aliens or deep sea bioluminescence more than they do fairies. As we’ve both been suffering from the plague that suddenly descended upon Aberdeen, it was quite nice to have the time to recover.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s triathlon season, and contemplating camping destinations for the summer. My new, water-resistant Vibrams should arrive in time for New Year so maybe we’ll be able to resurrect our Hogmanay Chain Walk tradition — winter adventuring has been out of the question for the last couple of years because of my dodgy foot, as the existing Vibram Fivefinger models are neither waterproof nor especially warm. Not ideal for Scottish weather in the cold months.
I have been restricted to short walks in big boots, but there are still beautiful things to be seen even then. One of the joys of this time of year is the low sun in crisp, clear skies.
I have a particular love for the interactions of sun, sea, sand and sky, and in winter they can be especially glorious. My skill with the camera not being sufficient to do them justice doesn’t stop me trying.
I had one of those WTF moments the other day. This particular one happened in Tesco’s car park at Danestone and involved a bumper sticker on the rear offside wing of a shiny red Ka.
As someone with a lifelong interest in things to be found outside the set of stuff most consider to comprise the rational world, this struck me as being, well, to paraphrase Pauli, not even wrong.
Nor is it any of these:
In fact, when I hear the word “angel”, the first thing I think of is something like this:
Now I don’t know if something like that can fly, but I’m pretty damn sure that if I saw one hovering behind me in my rear view mirror, I’d be putting my foot down. Or possibly screeching to a halt at the side of the road and running for it, in the hope it was the car it wanted rather than me.
The King James Version (not the album by Harvey Danger, do pay attention at the back), describes the Angel of Revelation as being:
…clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire
This sounds more like Katamari’s King of the Cosmos, and I can’t think of anyone I’d less like to have my back in the event of a road traffic accident.
Have you played the racetrack level? In Drive mode?
Ezekiel has a bit to say about angels:
I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like topaz. As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went. Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. I heard the wheels being called ‘the whirling wheels’. Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Let’s be honest. That sounds more like a bad acid trip. If you had one of those following your car you’d be calling BUFORA, not feeling reassured about your personal safety.
For me one of the best depictions of angels is in the 1995 film the Prophecy, starring Christopher Walken and Elias Koteas. The film depicts them with a modern imagery, all wings and trenchcoats, but the characterisation is what I enjoyed.
“Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?” — Thomas Daggett
“I can lay you out and fill your mouth with your mother’s faeces, or we can talk.” — Lucifer
Let’s forget, for a moment, the arrogance of assuming that God’s messengers have nothing better to do than compensate for poor driving technique. If all that’s preventing someone speeding is the worry that a supernatural entity of indeterminate appearance — a six-winged sphinx, a semi-precious flying saucer with more eyes than a scallop, a burning bush or Christopher Walken with bad hair — can’t keep up, then that person does not belong behind the wheel of a moving car in a shared public space.
If that person is advising other people the most important reason for watching their speed is the concern that said supernatural sphinx/UFO/bush/Walken won’t be able to match the pace, then he or she probably shouldn’t be allowed out unless in the company of a responsible adult.
It’s my birthday. Birthdays are cool and special and I’ve never grown out of feeling that there is something particularly important about birthdays. I know other people feel differently about birthdays. Some seem to treat them as something to ignore: an inevitable indicator of time passing and thus mortality; another year, another set of wrinkles. To some they are an excuse to party.
To me they are something to celebrate in a congratulatory fashion. Hey! Well done you! You survived another year and you know what? You’re doing okay, actually.
We moved recently —are still sort of halfway, if truth be told— and while packing I found a photograph of myself taken
many several an unspecified number of birthdays ago. It was one of four identical pictures taken in a photobooth, back when I was still cutting my hair very short and shortly after I acquired my very first black artificial eye (a huge moment in the personal history of me). I think this was the year I went to Ashton Court Festival and became inordinately attached to a helium balloon in the shape of a dolphin, which I called Jones.
My friend Charlotte commented:
Cor, that looks like a portrait from the assasins’ academy graduation yearbook.
I think she has a point.
Women with hair that short attract the wrong sort of attention and attitudes. The immediate assumption, if only of those who feel it is appropriate to voice such opinions to strangers, is that one is either a “dyke” or a cancer victim. Unless the woman in question is playing a particular part in a movie, or is a model doing a show that is avante garde, or “edgy”, then hair that short is generally considered unattractive, and I’m pretty sure that presumptions about gender roles play a large part in that. Long hair on a woman is usually better regarded than short hair. Women often invest a lot in having long hair — look at the tearful reactions of the would-be supermodels on reality shows such as America’s Next Top Model during the makeover section, when their precious locks are lopped off in the name of fashion.
It’s only hair. It does grow back.
I loved having short hair. I loved the practicality and fuzziness of it — it was incredibly soft. I liked how it emphasised my bone structure and showed off my ears. I thought it looked good.
Six years ago I reluctantly stopped shearing mine with the clippers once a month, as I was planning on re-entering the job market and I knew it would create a poor first impression. I resent the expense of a hairdresser — when I had it cut for the wedding in March it cost me £60! — and so I have grown it out to the point where it no longer needs that attention.
Although I won’t, because in the real world sometimes being professional requires that one refrains from being unconventional, looking at this photograph made me want to cut it all off again.
It was fluffy. We like fluffy!
I had to be in the city centre today, on business. For various reasons the bike was impractical (it takes a peculiar set of circumstances to render a bike impractical as far as I’m concerned, I can assure you) and so I took the bus to Princes Street and did a lot of walking. I think I’d covered several miles by the end of the day, as the still-controversial tram works have messed up the bus routes and I spent ages wandering around trying to find a bus stop that would allow me to get home again*.
It was brutally hot — at least as far as I am concerned — and I was dressed for work and on a schedule. The streets were furred with the inevitable tourists. At this time of year there are lots of tourists, and it will only get worse as we move further into Festival season. It reminds me of fat-clogged arteries: there is only so much space on the pavement, and when there are lots of people standing there gawping at the architecture, taking pictures of each other next to the Scott Monument, waiting to get on a tour bus, or trying to decipher street signs and the complexities of our public transport system there isn’t enough room for those of us who are trying to get somewhere in a hurry.
I dislike very warm weather unless I’m in the sea, spoffling sea creatures, and my temper was fraying after I’d walked the entire length of Princes Street three times and been up and down Cowgate, Lothian Road and George Street. My feet hurt — that’s the furthest I’ve walked since I injured my plantar fascia — and I was hot and bothered and grumpy. I decided to take a breather before I melted into an angry puddle and went to find some soft grass in Princes Street Gardens.
There’s a children’s playpark at the west end. It has the usual slides and some interesting climbing structures, but what caught my eye was the Victorian Merry-Go-Round.
I find funfairs creepy at the best of times. The scents, sights and sounds of the carnival don’t inspire me to think of excitement and the thrill of wurlitzers. There’s something scarily superficial about funfairs. Perhaps it’s their itinerant, temporary nature, or the way the high gloss, gaudy colours, candyfloss aroma and loud, brassy music never quite cover up the cables and motors, the stale grease and spilled beer and the racing thud-thud-thud of the generators. They are the buzz of a brain fried on sugar and caffeine and adrenaline, hiding behind a painted mask polished to a high sheen.
I’ve never trusted them. They are shiny and they smell bad. The attendants always look bored. They give me the same sense of disquiet as some adverts do: the explicit message is at odds with the implicit.
I took this picture of the Victorian Merry-Go-Round. I didn’t mean to include the only people riding it at the time. They arrived in the middle of the shot as the shutter snapped. I like this image, however. The small child, face blurred beyond recognition as he or she looks towards the camera, expression unreadable but certainly not one of thrilled delight. The way the movement of the horses makes their outlines and painted decorations blur as if at any moment they could disperse, perhaps to reform as something else; perhaps to dematerialise, taking the riders with them. In the centre the hub is still and sharp: here is the only safe place on the Merry-Go-Round, where the attendant sits. What does he know, to sit in there while everyone else rides the glimmering ponies?
The colours are hot and unnatural. The fence looks to have been added later, an afterthought to disguise the ephemeral character of the ride and make it look less like it will fly away at any moment, should the attendant choose to press a particular button.
Come one, come all, come for the ride. Who knows where you will land? Perhaps here, perhaps there, perhaps somewhere no one has ever heard of…
On occasion I’ve thought I’ve caught something in the expressions of funfair attendants that was slightly too sharp, too predatory to be pure boredom and I’ve wondered, as I do so often, how to peel back the superficial layer to see what is really going on underneath.
And then I remember that I live on Planet Sam, where the creepy polar bear isn’t there simply to offer helpful advice on frozen food but is on an infiltration mission, and nicotine patches cause you to hallucinate giant cigarettes. I am the sole inhabitant of Planet Sam (although Frood has a permanent visitor’s pass), which is probably for the best.
I was sorting through some of the photos I’ve been taking recently using the HTC and I decided, on a whim, to take a picture of my desk here at home. It’s fairly representative of me as a person, I think. Here you can see a souvenir of my triathlon days, the Lara Croft figurine, two different incarnations of Wolverine (sad Marvel Fan Girl that I am), the pile of moleskines, the ink, the pens, the English language reference texts. There’s a sonic screwdriver, next to which a couple of interesting rocks sit ready to be used as paperweights. The pink post-it note on the wall is a reminder of a major alteration I need to do to a story I’m working on: I can’t get around to doing it until the latest round of hypergraphia has eased off and I’m not at all sure when that will happen, or whether, when it does, I’ll have time to do as much of the rewrite as I need to before it flares again. The image on the computer screen is a picture of my desk, in which the monitor is showing a picture of my desk.
Here’s me: desperate to be tidy with a tendency towards kipple, inside and out. Easily bored, easily distracted, easily amused. Obsessive, compulsive, impulsive, inquisitive, frequently argumentative and almost always recursive.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Christmas this year was spent on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges. Frood and I were both working on Christmas Eve, as well as doing the Christmas dinner, so by the time we got home from work and got everything packed and into the car it was quite late.
It was also incredibly cold. And snowing. We’d had an early start on the back of a month of early starts, which, coupled with my insomnia, meant that I knew that the drive was going to be a tiring one before we started. I did seriously contemplate leaving it until the morning, but I knew Mum and Dad would be disappointed, so I HedTFU and got on with it.
Because the weather had been extremely wintry for several weeks the outer lane on the M90 was restricted width and there was no hard shoulder. The A9 wasn’t much better. There was too much snow. It was also -15°C, which is down around the point where grit stops working. I own a Ford Mondeo Estate, front wheel drive and back-end heavy, and it’s a pain in the ass in slippery conditions, so I was driving very carefully. The other issue we had is that the CD player in my car broke sometime last year, swallowing several of my CDs in the process. There is no MP3 player port so we’re reduced to listening to whatever we can find on the radio.
At the turn-off towards Aberfeldy we hit the roads that hadn’t been gritted adequately and, coincidentally, I became fed up with the interminable club dance tracks Scott Mills was playing on Radio 1. Classic FM was out because it was non-stop little boys singing carols, so I took a gamble on Radio 2 and found a fascinating documentary about Kenny Everett. For the next 45 minutes we minced along the road at about 20mph, discovering that Kenny did all of his special effects using just two tape decks — including the 8 part harmonies in which he was the only one singing. The world turned gradually more and more surreal as Captain Kremen’s Granny turned up and the snow kept falling.
Part of the route coincided with the road I’d ridden during the Aberfeldy Sprint, and I remarked that I’d been faster on the bike. That’s how carefully we had to drive.
At Kenmore we turned onto the narrow, single-track road that winds along the coast of the loch. By the time we got to the other side of Acharn I was really tired, and suffering from continually peering at a frosty road in low visibility with nothing but dark vegetation, the occasional dry stone wall and lots of snow either side of me. The road there was so slippy that I had to concentrate even harder on maintaining momentum over the ice without going so fast that the car slid out of control down the steep bank to the right and, for all I knew, straight into the water.
Frood had been using his GPS to track progress, but kept getting confused between distance to destination and distance to next junction, so I’d been given several conflicting miles to go messages. After what felt like the whole of eternity I asked Frood to call Mum and ask her if this place had a sign or something, because I was sure we’d missed it.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “She says there’s a big blue Christmas tree right at the entrance and you can’t miss it.”
At about this moment a deer bounded across the path, eyeing us using that backwards glance they give things they don’t like but have ascertained aren’t really predators and couldn’t catch them anyway.
“Grand,” I replied, trying to get my heartrate back to normal after controlling a slight skid under braking.
Ten minutes later there was a dip in the road followed by a slight rise. As we crested this the deer was back and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It had a blue arse. There was a deer, all delicate legs and waggly ears, looking at us backwards, and there was a bright, electric blue glow where its arse was.
I goggled at this like… Well, like you would imagine anyone goggling at a deer with blue light streaming out of its arse. I wondered what in the hell it had been eating.
After a moment the deer hung a sharp left but the blue light didn’t. There was the Christmas tree and there was my mum, standing at the side of the road waving her arms in the air.
I can’t remember the last time I was that relieved to arrive anywhere mostly intact. And, even knowing that what I saw was the light of the Christmas tree, what I remember and always will remember of our drive up north for Christmas is a deer with bright blue light coming out of its arse.
I spent Christmas and New Year with Frood and my parents — my brother and his girlfriend Candice joined us for New Year. Like last year, my parents had rented a place somewhere far away from work: this year it was on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges, a little way along from Acharn. It was a beautiful setting, informed by mountains and water and, for most of it, thick drifts of snow and sheets of ice. I’ve brought back more than 200 photographs, and it’s going to take me some time to go through them all and choose the best ones.
This is one of my favourites so far:
2010 has been an interesting year, to use the word in the context that Pratchett used it in, if I recall correctly, Small Gods. It has gone incredibly quickly — it seems to be no time at all since we were sitting in the lodge at Erigmore for last year’s Christmas — and in some ways it has been one of the longest years ever. It has certainly had its ups and downs and it’s one I think I shall chalk up to experience rather than relishing in fond memory.
I’d like to think that 2011 will see an upward rather than a downward trend. For the time being I am going to consider that in life’s game of Play Your Cards Right 2010 is what happened when Mr Forsyth turned over the four of spades.
Onwards and upwards.
It’s my birthday today and I am officially much older than really I feel is right. It’s one of those “How the hell did that happen?” moments. Mind you, I occasionally still get asked for proof of age, so I can’t be doing that badly.
I’ll be pretty busy, so while I would normally find time on a weekday off from work to post some rambly nonsense about telly adverts or bicycles or computer games, you will have to wait for my considered opinion on Rabbids Travel In Time because I have a cake to make, another batch of ice cream to start and a whole pile of vodka jellies to do.
Yes, it’s my birthday, and I shall do my own catering if I want to.
In the meantime I leave you with this image I captured using my (practically obsolete) mobile phone while out for a lunchtime walk last week. I love these colours. I love the scents and textures of these colours. My synaesthesia gives these colours a tang and a fizz. Imagine a curtain made of fine, bronze threads hanging in an open doorway on a hot Mediterranean summer’s day with the azure sea just visible far below when the breeze separates the threads a little. Now walk up to it until the threads rest on your face.
Stick out your tongue.
Someone coated the threads in sherbet.
As anyone who has been
unfortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time in my presence will know, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Mostly they involve mugs; or, at least, the mugs are the most obvious indication of mild OCD.
There are a whole bunch of traits that are loosely grouped under the label of obsessive-compulsive (henceforth shortened to OC, because I’m lazy). I count things, like steps, and occasionally find myself avoiding cracks in the pavement. My main one, however, is hypergraphia — handy, you’d think, for a writer. It’s not that simple, sadly.
You see, the problem with hypergraphia is that what comes out is what has to come out. It’s not necessarily marketable, or even good. Often it’s not something I have any particular desire to show anyone. More often than not the hypergraphia gets in the way of writing rather than contributing to it. Hence my failure to complete NaNoWriMo for the past three years. It’s all well and good having a declared project, but when you sit down to write your 1700 – 2000 words for the day and what comes out is 2 – 3000 words of material that has nothing to do with the project, and you haven’t figured out how to change tracks, you’re not going to get very far.
Another way I get OC about writing is in the materials. Everything I do starts as ink on paper. I can’t begin anything on the computer. The paper has to be narrow ruled. I can just about cope without the margin, although I get really grumpy if it’s not feint. Pens, too, are important. I have a desk tidy that is full of nothing but unused Bic Cristal Grip biros. Once the cap comes off and ballpoint touches paper, then the pen has to live in the other desk tidy.
I keep my writing separated into categories. The mandatory words, the ones that I have to put onto paper or else my head will explode, live in black moleskine journals. Hard-backed, large. Moleskine journals are narrow ruled, have great quality paper and are robust enough to stand up to travelling around everywhere with me. I get through about three a year. I also have a red one, which I keep for story ideas and writing down scenes or sequences when I’m away from my desk or am sneaking in something constructive when the hypergraphia isn’t looking.
Recently I became entirely enamoured of the idea of returning to fountain pens. I always used to write with a fountain pen, but as my writing grew smaller and more compact I needed a narrower, more reliable line. Also, fountain pen ink has a tendency to run, which is an important consideration for inclement weather, even though I do wrap my books in plastic bags for transport.
I asked the good folks at CycleChat, which turns out to be a veritable sanctuary for the pen-obsessed, and ended up at CultPens. I will need to visit a shop where I can try the pens before investing in something expensive, but at CultPens I found the Platinum Carbon.
The line is beautifully narrow — narrow enough that my parker mocha ink doesn’t show up very well on the off-white moleskine paper — as well as smooth and reliable. The pen is light and nicely balanced, and while I’ve used pens with smoother nibs, I’ve not used one that produces such a crisp line.
If you have a compulsion, you might as well make it as pleasant as possible.
So you’re thinking about doing triathlon.
Maybe you’re a runner, bored of marathons, or a swimmer who fancies doing it in a wetsuit —legally— for a change. Maybe you’re a cyclist and the challenge of PBP or L’Etape isn’t doing it for you any more.
Maybe you’re having a midlife crisis, or looked in the mirror one day and realised that the sleek, youthful figure maintained by partying and late nights is starting to sag around the edges.
Maybe it’s a dare. Maybe it just seemed like a good idea at the time.
Whatever your reasons for taking up multisport, there are a few things you should know before it’s too late. By ‘too late’ I mean preferably before you have pointed your browser at EntryCentral and estimated your 400m swim time for your first novice race, but definitely before you have applied for your race licence from your applicable home nation association.
I’ve been at this for four years now. That’s long enough to have become resigned to it without being so long that I can’t remember there was ever any other way: trust me. I know these things.
If you take up this sport seriously, even if you confine yourself to pool-based sprints (and Huntly), you will need a suit, shoes for running, shoes for cycling, a helmet, a bike and various ancillary gubbins including goggles, training devices (kickboard, pull-buoy), number belt, elastic laces… It all adds up. Races cost between £25 and £40, depending on what goodies and facilities the organisers have laid on. Then there’s travelling to races, particularly if you choose to race abroad.
If you decide to extend yourself to open water and longer distances —and you will— then you will need a wetsuit, anti-chafing creams, specialist sunblock etc etc. Oh, and the race prices go up as well. Entry into the branded races can set you back more than a hundred quid.
This expenditure assumes that you are not, as in fact most triathletes are, a gadget whore. If you happen to like toys, and any excuse for buying new kit is to be pounced upon like a kitty with a catnip mouse, then the list is almost endless. I have objects in my training kit that wouldn’t look out of place in a BDSM fetish club.
Fist gloves, anyone?
If you are the sort of person who likes to go out with his or her workmates for a pint on a Friday night, and maybe on a Wednesday; and there’s always curry nights, don’t forget Orange Wednesdays at the movies… forget triathlon. Triathlon means not training for one sport but training for three, so if you currently run for an hour three times a week, or go to four hour-long classes at the gym, assume you’ll end up trebling it.
Twelve hours of training a week doesn’t leave much room for drinkies and dinner parties.
There are training programmes out there that claim to get you race fit in four hours a week and if the only race you ever plan on doing is the New Year’s Day, just the once, just for a bet, and all you want to do is finish, then the title probably isn’t too misleading.
In fact, the New Year’s Day is probably the best race to go for if you only want to do the one. It’s a miserable bloody experience, and should put you off. If it doesn’t put you off, and you get to the end thinking that March sounds like a good time to start your racing season, then you’re exactly the sort of person who needs to pay close attention to every point on this list.
At my last race I was standing at poolside waiting for the previous heat to finish. It was my second race of the year. Standing next to me was a chap who had been in my lane at the previous race as well. We’d been chatting at that one, and I’d told him that I wasn’t looking for a great performance because I’d been injured and had only been on the bike twice and running three times in the last couple of months or so, all in the last ten days. This time he asked me how I got on. “It was pretty rubbish,” I told him, “But I was expecting that. Looks like I’ve got a stress fracture or something this time.”
He grinned at me. “But you’re racing anyway?”
“Sounds like a typical triathlete to me. Shouldn’t be racing, doing it anyway.”
That’s triathlon. Triathlon is topped only by serious adventure racing and ultra-endurance in the “doing it anyway” stakes. A friend of mine wrote something that sums it up eloquently, after successfully completing IronMan Switzerland:
When it’s cold, and wet, and dark, and windy out, and you still go and train. When work is unbearable and after it’s finished you just want to go to bed, you still go out and train. When someone is having a drink, you say great, I’ll come along later after I’ve trained. When it’s early and the alarm goes at the weekend, and other people are staying in bed, and you’re flying later that day, you get up and train. When you’re exhausted because you’ve been away all weekend, or haven’t slept enough, or ate enough, or have a cold, you go out and train. And no, you don’t “just this once” skip it. You deal with the conflicts with work, and home, and socialising, and family, and everything else that goes with daily life. And you make room to train. How much you give in that year running up to the event is what determines what you get back at the end.
This is more true for long-distances than short ones, but the last sentence holds true for all events: how much you give in the time running up to the event is what determines what you get back at the end. Triathlon isn’t a fun run. Triathlon isn’t enjoyable if you haven’t put in the work. So if you’re not going to put in the work there’s no point in doing it.
Add the following to your list of expenses: physiotherapy and sports massage.
Now don’t get me wrong: for plenty of people this might seem to be a plus point. Some athletes, I’m sure, get a kick out of folk in the staff canteen giving them kudos and respect for running, swimming and biking 3 – 4 times a week (each) and getting out of bed at 5am every few Sundays to spend between 1 and 3 hours beasting themselves under the critical gaze of the race marshals. Personally I get a little tired of the “You must be so fit!” comments. This is mostly because it is, almost without fail, phrased exactly like that. “You must be so fit!”
On the other hand, short of an unlikely encounter with a radioactive spider, a black ops super-soldier project, a childhood spent under the tutelage of a parkour guru or all of the above, it’s pretty much the closest you’re likely to get to being a superhero, funny-coloured lycra suits and everything.
And that last point is pretty much the one that makes the rest worthwhile.