Tag Archives: london

Now is the summer of our discontent…

Croydon Reeves Corner, London RiotsMy family around the world are looking on the riots in London with concern for us and disbelief that this could be happening. Riots are not something you associate with one of the most developed nations of the world. But times are tough, and the few catalysts have been sufficient to create an atmosphere of volatility and fear. And in this atmosphere, all it takes is a few opportunists to ‘justify’ the behaviour we’ve seen.

It’s happened to all of us, although generally in less dramatic contexts. The line at the airport that forms around a person who’s standing at the new passport control desk – that is unmanned and will continue to be. The perfectly nice boys who end up inexplicably picking on the kid who’s a little bit different at school. Group permission is granted by one or two triumphant acts of wanton illegality, in this case, and suddenly its ‘socially acceptable’. Of course it’s not, but groups sometimes behave in ways that individual people do not.

They should get Derren Brown on the case. His experience of manipulating large groups with psychological trickery is probably what’s needed to diffuse this (as well as the police, and maybe the army if things keep escalating).

In the meantime, I’ll duck and cover when I change trains at Clapham Junction…

From city dweller to country gent

Many of my friends (and family, no doubt) are probably still somewhat mystified as to how I’ve taken to country life so well. My mother keeps saying "you were such an urban boy…" and smiling when I show off our veg patch.

Whilst I do miss the proximity of friends and family, the transition from city dweller to country gent really hasn’t been a hardship in any way. Apart from the extra space, there are lots of other things that have made it easy on me.

  1. Everything is more convenient. Admittedly its more convenient thanks to having a car, but the truth of the matter is that getting anywhere in London takes a disproportionate amount of time. I had a rule of thumb – if I had to get a tube or bus somewhere in London, it would take at least 30 minutes. And crossing London can take a considerable amount more time, never mind when there’s a disruption, fall of leaves on the track or a light shower of rain. In the countryside? Most things I need to get to are a maximum of 10 minutes drive away.
  2. The pace of life is wonderful. When I get home, it feels like a dramatic gearshift. I’m sure a lot of that is due to being a family man, but even if it wasn’t – walking around in the late evening sunshine in my back garden, bouncing Emily around or looking at the veg… is pretty amazing.
  3. The commute is better. I know, I know, I moan about it… and the SWT guys aren’t great, but, except, for when I was in cycling range of my office, the public transport from other places in London – like my sister’s house – can take longer than the train does to get home. That’s the 5 miles from our offices in Victoria needing an hour and a quarter to traverse (admittedly on a bad day, in rush hour).
  4. I like the structure the trains put around my day – I’m in the office every day at 7.40am and have to be out at 6. Still a long day, but at least without the uncertainty of when I’m getting home (again, except for delays). And obviously I’m able to be productive on the train in and out of Basingstoke in a way that I could never be on any London transport vehicle.
  5. I was never really a ‘true’ urban dweller. I grew up in the suburbs in a country where you had to drive everywhere, spent five years in the deepest countryside, 3 years in a small University town and then 7 years in London. I’m beginning to think that living in London as the unusual part of my life…

All that said, I do still very much enjoy being in London for work. Some of the things that happen here, only happen here, and I’ll never stop thinking of it as one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s wonderful to visit friends and family there, when they’ll have us, but I have to admit, I’m resoundingly and categorically glad I don’t live there any more.

Airport snow and dodgy landings

An older thought, but one I wanted to capture. When visiting Finland – still covered in a blanket of white in mid April – we wondered why Heathrow seems to collapse at the slightest dusting of snow.

It seems it’s partly due to the lack of expertise, equipment and manpower to clear the snow – but given that aeroplanes are overengineered to cope with adverse weather conditions (as you’d hope), there had to be another reason – and after all, Heathrow could learn its lesson and buy a few more snowploughs for next time!

One reason, it seems, is conservatism on behalf of BAA – with every airline in the world flying into LHR, it hardly matters what standards Boeing manufactures their planes to, or the quality of BA’s training. It’s the maintenance staff at Air Qumran and the risk posed by its hungover pilot who’s never even seen a snowstorm, much less landed a plane on an icy runway slick with a fresh dusting of powder.

I don’t blame them on that front. After all – we all learn defensive driving these day so we are prepared with other driver’s competence – why not manage an airport the same way?

Race report: beat the banana

So: my first ever “competitive” run. I say competitive in the sense that, whilst no aspect of the race was professionally timed there was a binary win/loss condition and one man (banana) we were competing with – you either beat the banana, or you didn’t. The banana in question: a 50-something Kiwi runner called Rhys, decked out in full banana regalia. He was quick. But more on that shortly.

James (my friend who works for WCRF, part-time running sensei and full time awesome dude) tells me it was their best year for registration – with over 500 people registering for the ‘fun run.’ I arrived at the Serpentine bandstand about 45 minutes before race time and helped him at the bag drop tent… well, I say “helped”, what I really did was ask people why they thought their bag was safer with James than in the bin, and whether they could guess why his middle name was “bag thief”, so perhaps “helped” is a bit strong.

The start eventually came, more or less on time, following a brief but nonetheless too-long-and-too-ridiculous warm-up from the sponsoring Fitness First banana-dressed coach. Having never been in a competitive run before, and indeed rarely been in any kind of race where I didn’t come last, it was a strange experience; fun-runs attract all types, from the casual runner to the completely indolent, so the keener ones who made it to the front of the starting inflatable post bounded off with (and in some cases, beyond) the banana, whilst I, stuck firmly in the middle of the pack, dodged a bunch of slow moving but well-meaning folk.

Eventually, after about 1.5km, I managed to clear my way of the (rear of the) pack. Thankfully the muscle stiffness that had hit me a couple of days previously was nowhere to be seen and I felt I was getting a reasonable pace on. The feeling that came from overtaking people was pretty heady; I was probably going a little quicker than was sensible but kept pushing on through. Soon after this, however, the more accomplished runners who had just been dandying around the back chatting to friends started to apply themselves, and between 2-3km marks people kept overtaking me… But I didn’t lose spirit and kept plodding along. Runkeeper was giving me some data but I was resolutely ignoring it; I just needed to forge ahead and do my best.

Whilst there were moments (as you’ll see if you check my Runkeeper race log) when I flagged, I managed to find my stride and had a good run to the end, finding brief moments of competition with random other runners. The final 300m became a sprint finish as a fellow-runner decided she wanted to beat me… she ran faster, I ran faster, until it was a hell-for-leather dash for the finish line… …and then she beat me too, jeering me triumphantly (but good naturedly – it was a fun-run after all!) at the end, when I collected my medal and goody bag (containing a banana, no less).

It was a lot of fun and I think I may have something of a racing bug – will look for a 10k now before the half-marathon (I think that distance might suit me better) and see how I do. The scary thing is that this is the pace I’ll need to maintain for FOUR TIMES AS LONG if I’m to break 2 hours on the half-marathon – that’s a way away. Lots of training needs to happen first. And I need to raise more dosh – my sister is my sole sponsor to date!

For the curious, the winner (who had won a similar run with WCRF in Hong Kong) came in at around 15m for the circuit (which GPS tracked as 4.7k), and the banana came in 3-4 minutes before me (around 22m). I came in at about 25m30, which is a new personal best. Big thanks to all the lovely WCRF people for a fun afternoon in Hyde Park.

Here are my (banana? sorry…) splits:

mi pace climb (ft)
1 8:48 6
2 9:01 17
3 7:51 -7

The weather

If you’re in the UK, it won’t have escaped your attention that its been rather chilly over the last few weeks. The coldest winter in a nearly 20 years, with “worse to come,” no less.

The Met Office’s forecast made interesting reading yesterday (it’s since been revised as apparently the threat weather won’t be quite as bad as feared), as it predicted an “interruption incident” in London on Friday. Never mind that this is the same language, more or less, used to describe terror “incidents” (at least if Spooks is anything to go by), I thought it was deliciously euphemistic. London’s transport infrastructure being unable to cope with inclement weather is not a new thing, but I’m glad that people forecast it…

The language is also indicative of exactly how seriously the British take the weather… Makes me wonder if we have a government agency reporting to Defra that responds to these sorts of incidents, and what the TV series of that would look like…

London – tech hostspot?

Silicon.com (part of CNet Networks UK, a Brands2Life client – my employers, for those who haven’t been keeping up) has published a study into tech hotspots and London figures at no3 globally. Which is nice — and the rationale makes sense — lots of tech companies are based/invested in or near the big smoke.

But I couldn’t suppress a wry grin given the fact that the Circle Line and District Line continue to play havoc with my commute on a daily basis and we have a Boris Johnson as our mayor — who, despite his entertaining appearances on HIGNFY, probably couldn’t find the front side of an iPhone. And we all know what happened with Terminal 5…

Surely those things should have an impact on our standing?

Still, it is a good place for me to be working in tech. Wouldn’t trade it for any other techno-paradise (though I am hoping to visit San Francisco in the not-too-distant future, and who knows what impact that will have on me? Silicon Valley is no 1 on Silicon.com’s list).