Tuesday, September 22, 2020

My Life In ... Sport

The seventh in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

So my life in sport: stop sniggering at the back! I’m not renowned for my sporting prowess. To quote Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee referring to roast goanna lizard: "Well, you can live on it, but it taste like sh*t." I feel that way about sport: I can do it but I don’t like it and I’m not very good at it.

Rugby: I went to a rugby playing school. As a very myopic, non-sporty schoolboy with a father who considered all team sports “macho bullshit“ I was not in enamoured of this game. Kenilworth Grammar School playing fields were on particularly poorly drained clay soil and in winter turned into a horrible quagmire. Obviously I had to play without my glasses and I could not see a brown ball on a brown field. 

I could never understand the point of the game: you had to throw the ball backwards and you were supposed to tackle the opposition by throwing your arms round their legs and risk getting a mouthful of boot. Nobody explained the rules to me. It only occurred to me many years later that they must have assumed I knew what they were.

There were 33 boys in my year and 15 boys to each side. The captains took it in turns to pick players from the assembled company. In direct contradiction to the childhood trope of "fear of rejection" I was hoping not to be chosen. I used to stand there trying to look round shouldered and consumptive, praying "Please don’t pick me." As they knew I was hopeless at the game I rarely got picked. The three usual rejects were the wimp with glasses (me), the fat boy and the guy with the glass eye (with apologies to Brian Burton and Nigel Walden).

We were told to go and run round the sports field. We never did of course, we ran to the far corner then sat under a tree as far away from the rest of the game and had a natter until it was time to go in for the shower. 

Other School Sports: As every Wednesday afternoon was sports lesson and over the seven years of secondary school I played cricket, ran cross-county, threw discus and javelin, jumped (high, long and triple), vaulted over horses of the wooden variety and ran various distances. In the 6th form I even played a round of golf. All of which left me devoid of any enthusiasm for physical activity. 

Canoeing: (or should that be Kayaking?) In my first year of college I was persuaded to venture out on the River Isis in February by a friend called Peter Friend. It was cold out there and ducking under a low hanging tree a branch caught in my buoyancy aid and flipped me over. I wriggled out of the inverted canoe and into the icy water, my scrotum shrank to the size of a small walnut and my testicles tried to retreat into my body cavity for warmth. It was enough to make my eyes water with the pain. That was the end of that outing. The following week I spent an hour in an indoor swimming pool practising the eskimo roll. I more or less got the hang of that but never went out on the water again.

Cycling: I have cycled many thousands of miles but mostly for commuting not for pleasure. It is only since knowing Mary that I’ve started doing charity bike rides (including London to Brighton and London to Paris) or going out for the "fun" of it. For more see "My Life In… Bicycles".

Running: I tried running for a few weeks in my early 30's but found it very boring so gave it up. Fast forward 30 years and I ended up training for not one, not two, but three marathons. The backstory is that I was inspired by some friends doing Couch to 5K and so went for my first run in about 30 years and managed 2 miles. Two days later I went for a 5K run. Well that was easy! “How hard can it be to run a marathon?” I asked. "Hundreds of thousands of people do it every year." “Try a half”, my wife advised. So I did the Royal Parks Half with no problem and then entered the Brighton Marathon.

I found out how hard it can be! My first two marathons (Brighton 2017 & London 2018) were both done in record temperatures. I completed Brighton but only by walking the last 4 miles; I was unable to complete London and withdrew after 18 miles. In 2019 I was fortunate to get another place in the London Marathon and learning from the previous two I managed to complete the course in a respectable time (05:15:05). 

Much more running than I had originally intended: when you add together the training and taking part for three marathons and the half marathon it was a total of 221 runs covering 2,340 km!

Now that bucket list item is done I say sod that for a game of soldiers. I am down to one parkrun per week. For more see http://blog.mmenterprises.co.uk/search/label/marathon.


"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head-
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

The only activity which might be considered sport and that I have continued to practice for over 45 years is yoga. Quite why I cannot say given my general view on things sporty. I think in part it may be because I can. I am reasonably, naturally flexible. My mother when she was a small girl had a party trick: she would kneel with a handkerchief between her heels bend over backwards and pick it up with her teeth. I was never that bendy but inherited some of her flexibility.

I was introduced to yoga in 1975. The first teacher I had was a guy called Kofi Busia. He was pretty hard-core Iyengar style, we had to work on each pose holding it for some minutes, very static, everything had to be at right angles or horizontal or vertical. Some years later I googled him to discover that he is now one of the world's foremost yoga teachers having studied many times directly under Sri B K S Iyengar. I must have been in one of his very first classes. The disciplines he instilled have stood me in good stead over the years.

My party piece is doing the headstand which, because I’ve done it for so many years, I find very easy. However there are some poses that I just cannot do, and will probably never do especially as I get less flexible with age. Even at my most practised the lotus posture eluded me, I never could do the pigeon properly, and with old age one legged poses are beyond me, I wobble too much. Still I will keep up my practice.

Edit: added a video of Kofi being taught by BKS Iyengar in 1985.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Flying Gazebo

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Sunday 05-January-2020.

First we knew was a notification on FaceBook of an incident in Cisternino centre.

We then got a WhatsApp from our friend Antonella to say that high winds had blown a roof top gazebo into the street below damaging two cars. She had been told it belonged to the English couple who had an apartment there. We were able to stop the rumour mill straightaway. Not our gazebo! We only have shade sails for our terrace and they were boxed up for the winter.

You can see why the locals thought it might be ours as it landed right outside our front door as seen here.

It turns out that it came from a roof across the way. The winds had uprooted it and blown clear across the street onto our roof where it smashed forty tiles, took out an air conditioning unit and demolished part of the parapet wall. It then fell back to the street below taking out a street light on the way down and writing off two cars parked below. By some miracle no-one was injured as this happened mid afternoon during siesta time, the shops were shut and the streets quiet.

Roof damage.

We happened to have a picture of the gazebo from when we were doing up our apartment. All that is left now are a couple of uprights.

It took some time for the emergency services to clear the debris and tow away the cars. The police were called and accessed our roof from the civic building next door. They took lots of "8 x 10 colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back" [*] and issued a full report.

It was a highlight of the week (month?) and made the local paper "Porta Grande" [** see translation by Google]


Our builder got straight onto the repairs to make the roof waterproof and the parapet safe. This was all managed locally by our friend Pietro who was invaluable. He organised everything, liaised with the authorities and the tradesmen. It would have been a real nightmare without him. 

Scaffolding and a hoist was the best way to access our roof to clear debris and bring up new materials.

Repairs in progress.

We had hoped to meet with the owner to discuss reparations and were due to fly out for the weekend of February 29th for a special parkrun and again on April 5th for the summer but COVID put paid to that. Instead we sent a recorded letter in May setting out our costs but heard nothing back. It turns out the letter was sitting unread in a letter box while he was away on business. 

When we did establish contact in June we had a very amicable conversation and agreed that settling direct was much better than the hassle and expense of an insurance claim and subsequent recouping of the money by legal means. Payment came gradually in instalments with the final payment arriving in September. Fortunately our builders were very understanding and content to wait for payment. Now all the money is in, the workmen have been paid and honour is satisfied.

* Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

** translation by Google:

A TRAGEDY IN THE VILLAGE A large wooden gazebo literally flew over Corso Umberto. The material damage was considerable, but luckily no one passed, either on foot or by car. It was just past 3 pm on the first Sunday of the year, it was last January 5, an afternoon in which almost everyone was closed in the house due to the very strong gusts of wind and the freezing cold that characterised the early 2020.

There were also many tourists in the village, but at that time they were still comfortably seated in restaurants. In short, if that gazebo really had to fall, he couldn't have chosen a better time of the day. 

The gazebo was on the flat roof of a historic house owned by a well-known professional from Cisternino and, according to what is learned, it would have been the subject of a control by the Local Police in 2017 which would be followed by a removal order. The wooden artefact in question, once unhinged from its attachment points to the roof, located about 15 meters from the standard level, flew to the opposite pavement damaging the roof tiles and an air conditioning motor, before going down and destroy a street light and hit three cars causing various damage. A JEEP off-road vehicle of major damage, although the owner managed to bring it, it would have been barely touched, while a utilitarian KIA suffered away in gear; the worst was a Nissan Note owned by a local restaurateur. This last car was almost completely destroyed and the images show the extent of the violence of the landing of the gazebo. 

Throughout the country there was talk of the fear and risk that anyone who had found himself passing by at that juncture would have run. Fortune wanted the road to be deserted. civil protection who concretely collaborated in the clearing of the road to allow it to reopen around 8 pm, after the local police and the Pro volunteers intervened on the spot - over 4 hours of work, culminating in the removal of the last car with the tow truck.

Monday, September 14, 2020

My Life In ... Cars

The sixth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

I am in no way a petrol head. I do not like driving. When asked what car I would buy if I won the lottery I immediately replied "Whatever my chauffeur likes to drive!"

Most of my cars have been acquired or disposed of with some degree of quirkiness.

Citron Ami Super: a rust bucket bought from my father. I was very excited as this was my first car. I told all my friends who, of course, asked "What is it?" I replied "It’s French." That’s all I knew. After a month of this, in the middle of a dinner party, I said "Hang on" and rushed out into the street to read the label on the back and ran back indoors and up the stairs chanting "Citroen Ami Super, Citroen Ami Super, Citroen Ami Super!" So then I knew the make and model and could answer the question.

I didn’t hang on to it long as the amount of daylight visible through the bodywork was rendering it a tad unsafe and it failed its MOT. I disposed of it at the local car breakers yard in exchange for a tenner, less than the value of the recently installed battery.

Golf GTi Mk2: Red to match my shoes. My first company car. When I joined a small consultancy I asked what car they would give me. They said "You have to choose, within a monthly lease value." Since I know nothing about cars that did not help at all. I bought a copy of What Car magazine and a round of drinks for my mates who drew up a shortlist on a paper napkin. On the Monday morning I went into the office and spoke to the car admin person. I started at the top of the list. "You can’t have that it’s too expensive", "You can’t have that it’s too expensive", "You don’t want a 16 valve do you? They're like hens teeth!" I had no idea what she was talking about so I said "I don’t think so" and opted for a Golf GTi.

"What colour do you want?" she asked. At the time I had a pair of bright red, patent leather shoes that were my party shoes, I also wore them to the Christmas black-tie party with matching red cummerbund and red silk bowtie. “I’ll have a red one to match my shoes" I said. And so it was that the only decision I made concerning my first company car was the colour to match my shoes, Tornado Red!

After a couple of years, in a moment of inattention, I turned into the path of an oncoming car and wrote off the Golf. That cost me 4 points on my license. At first I was upset but then realised that it wouldn’t happen again whereas there are idiots out there who would infringe repeatedly, accumulate 12 points and get taken off the road making the world a safer place for me.

Car colours: I coined the terms "Boy Racer Red", "Poseur White",  "Cool Cat Black" and "Peacock Blue".  Since meeting Mary I have added her favourite electric blue to the list: "MMG Blue" as we call it. 

Toyota Celica. A sexy short term loan car. A temporary replacement for the Golf in Poseur White, it had pop-up headlights and a low-slung body that slithered round corners in a most satisfactory manner.

BMW 318. My first BMW with "optional" sunroof. I was going through the menu of additional features to get up to the allowed monthly lease value. The sunroof was very expensive so I said I won’t bother with that. The dealer replied that they always made them with a sunroof, even though it was an optional extra. If you want one without a sunroof it will have to be a special factory order and take several months! So I went with the sunroof and knocked off some of the other bells and whistles.

BMW 318: My second BMW and the wrong colour! At the end of the two-year lease I ordered the same model in Tahiti Blue as my new car. When it arrived it was Burgundy coloured. The colour chart said Tahiti Red so my mistake. I wanted blue whatever fancy name it was given. The dealer didn’t check and ask me what colour I actually meant. They simply assumed that I couldn’t tell the difference between red and blue but that I obviously must have meant Tahiti!

BMW 318: Another BMW, back to blue. Nothing to say about this car but then I took voluntary redundancy from the company and had to give it back!

BMW 5 series: a tank with gravitas!  I used some of my redundancy pay out to buy a car. I would have gone with a boy racer Golf GTi but Mary said I had to have a car with gravitas, a quality I fear I may lack. So we popped down to our local dealer, Keystone Cars, who specialised in BMW's. I'd never bought a car from a dealer before so I said to Paul, "What questions should I be asking?". His response, "How many miles?", "Does it have full service history?", "What's your best price?". I dutifully parroted those questions, he replied and so the car was bought. 

It was elderly and you measured the acceleration with an egg timer. But it was solid and comfortable for the long commute to my first freelance contract. The petrol tank was so large that it took more than £60 to fill it (and that was in 1999). Over the floor limit for most garages who then had to ring up for authorisation whenever I paid by card.

BMW M3: We only went in for a headlight bulb. We took the 5 series tank in to get some new headlight bulbs. Mary said “that’s a pretty blue colour” ("MMG Blue" of course) pointing to an M3. We looked it over and decided we liked it. I declined a test drive because my last four cars have been BMW’s. “But the test drive is my biggest sales technique!“ Paul confided. After a short discussion we walked out with a new performance car instead of two headlight bulbs. As Paul said "My kind of customer".

Keystone cars: Excellent service for over 30 years. Here I must put in a plug for Paul Heron at the local garage in Ringwood, Keystone Cars, from whom I have bought all my cars for the last 30 years. Most of them have been serviced by his head mechanic, Keith. We even make special pilgrimage down there for trade-ins or repairs.

BMW 330 Ci Sport. Killed by a piece of wood. After a few years we were persuaded to trade in the M3 because of the high mileage, this time for a normal coupe. However it was just over a year old, previously owned by a company director and had every single accessory going: special paint colour, automatic seat adjustment and lots of other gizmos. 

The plan was to run it into the ground and when it finally died not bother with a replacement. Living in London our plan was to use public transport and, for longer journeys, hire a car or use a combination of trains and taxis. However I was not expecting the car to be killed by a piece of wood.

Driving up the M6 motorway in the dark I suddenly saw something wooden in front of me. In the middle lane, with cars to the left and cars to the right all I could do was grip the steering wheel and wait for the thump. I fully expected to hear the flap, flap, flap of burst tires but fortunately they survived and I continued my journey. I saw a couple of cars pulled over on the hard shoulder who had obviously hit the same debris.

The next morning I examined the car to find the front spoiler hanging on by a thread, the front foglight (what was left of it) dangling by a piece of wire. I took the car into a local garage so they could do a temporary repair. As I turned into the yard I managed to clip a van and knock off one of the side mirrors. I got the garage to cobble the spoiler back together which they did and handed me back a chunk of plywood, some bent pieces of metal and mangled plastic ducting that the mechanic had extracted from the underside of the car. It looked like I hit a piece of pallet.

BMW 3 series. My first diesel car. With no keyhole for the boot! After the incident with the piece of wood, I rang up Paul at Keystone to discover that a replacement spoiler would cost more than the car was worth Not to mention a new wing mirror on top. Plus there was a laundry list of other niggles that needed fixing. We checked his website to see what he had available and at the first opportunity drove all the way back to Ringwood to look at the likely replacements. We returned that same afternoon in a newer BMW 3 series, this time diesel instead of petrol.

A month later when going to Italy I disconnected the battery as usual and off we went. On my return I went to unlock the boot to reconnect the battery and, guess what, no keyhole! Googled and found that BMW had removed that feature between my previous car and this model. I couldn't open the boot using the remote because the battery was disconnected. I could open the front doors using the mechanical key to try accessing via the back seats. But no, the seat releases are inside the boot. More googling showed various drastic break-in tactics. 

Finally gave up and call The AA for assistance. The mechanic turned up and I learned that there are battery terminals under the bonnet which I could open using the lever under the dashboard. After connecting his jump leads to the terminals, the car had power and I could use the remote to open the boot. Hurrah! Reconnected the battery and the mechanic checked the car over to discover that some of the electrics were knackered by the jump start, including the indicators. So we drove slowly in convoy to the BMW dealer where they replaced a fried fuse box at a cost of over £800. Ouch!

Apparently it was just bad luck the the circuit board blew when doing the jump start and normally disconnecting should be fine. Next time I will leave one of the back seats released!

Now this is the car we drive in the UK until it dies. Well that is the plan. My last ever car. We will see!

Fiat 500: the Italian job. Having retired we were spending more time in Italy and renting a car for 5 months would be ruinously expensive. So it was time to buy an Italian car which we could do as we had a certificate of residency. With the help of our friends Chris & John we were introduced to a good local garage who did us a deal on an Italian classic.

We were amused to see that it came with two spare seat belt buckles which the Italians use to silence the seatbelt warning.

She is a great little car. Perfectly sufficient for just the two of us and ideal for the narrow lanes in Puglia. 

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Benson Row - 16

Penrith, Cumbria. August-2020.

When I said the end was in sight it turns out that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train!

The fitter came to start work on the new oak flooring in the living room. He lifted the old laminate and remarked that the floor seemed a little uneven. High in front of the fireplace and low by the front door; it was a little bouncy there. So he lifted an experimental piece of chipboard to discover that a 5 inch section of joist had rotted away and was precariously balanced on a piece of plywood!

Under the floorboards it is a curious tiered construction. In the cellar are two massive oak beams supporting the structure above. Laid across those are what look like the original joists from the mid-Victorian construction made of some chunky, dark timber, possibly oak. Laid atop those are modern pine joists dating presumably from the 1975 works.

We guess that rain coming in under the front door is responsible for the rotten joist which is rather unfortunate as the modern pine joist closest to the door is not attached to the side wall!

We called round the structural engineer who recommended that we really ought to pull up the rest of the chipboard so we could see the entire room joists to make sure that nothing else was amiss before laying the new floor.

So far that has revealed that the stud wall furthest from the door is actually resting on the chipboard not the joists. The next step will be to have the structural engineer and the timber specialist visit together to come up with recommendations and a plan of action.

Once any rectification has been done we can get back to laying the new floor. With any luck it will all be done by the time we get back from Italy.

The money pit that never ends!