400 words #005: Many types of live

Last night I, and a few of my Substrakt pals, watched the ‘live’ broadcast of the Bridge Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which is available to watch, until the 2nd of July).

This was the first time I’d tuned in for one of the ‘live’ broadcasts. With other recordings they’ve put out I’ve usually caught up after the initial premiere.

And I was surprised, and moved, by just how communal and live it felt.

At points I was quadruple screening (with an eye on Twitter comments, the live chat on YouTube and the Substrakt Slack channel which had a steady stream of conversation about the show, as well as watching the play).

I’m sure there are many people who will roll their eyes at this.

And indeed over recent months I’ve read, and heard directly, from leaders in the cultural sector who feel that this sort of experience is a ‘pale imitation’ of ‘the real thing’.

Which, in my opinion, couldn’t be more wrong.

There was a lot of nonsense in the live chat on YouTube, as there often is, but there were also lovely examples of people helping to explain to Shakespeare first-timers (or for people who didn’t speak English as their first language) what was happening and why certain choices in the production had been made.

A similar type and tone of conversation formed on Twitter around the #BridgeDream hashtag, which also included the (now regular) sight of the inimitable Lyn Gardener live tweeting her commentary alongside the broadcast

As I watched all of this unfurl around me I thought about a conversation I had with Dr Kirsty Sedgman for the Digital Works podcast (which will be released soon) where she talked about ‘different types of live-ness’.

We discussed the need to move away from dogmatically clinging to the ‘in-person, in-venue’ experience as the ‘purest’ form, of which everything else is just an echo.

The complex, multi-layered ‘live-ness’ that I witnessed, and was a part of, last night was as enthralling, as joyous, and as meaningful as any experience I’ve had in a theatre.

https://twitter.com/CharisPayne/status/1276219314937499649

Even though we were watching a recording of a play that happened a year ago we were enjoying a shared experience which spanned the globe (I saw comments in the chat from people tuning in from the Philippines, USA, India, French Guiana, and Croatia).

Surely that is something to embrace enthusiastically.

400 words #004: No news is good news

I’ve been at home for almost 4 months now.

About a month ago we decided to turn the news off.

And wow, I can’t recommend it enough.

I used to be a bit of a news junkie, I’d watch the breakfast news, listen to the radio, read the paper(s) via apps on my phone on the way to work, check Twitter throughout the day, more app consumption on the way home and then an evening unconsciously somewhat structured around the various news programmes before bed.

I hadn’t realised, in particular, what an absolutely terrible way to start the day it was. Even moreso recently given that 2020 seems to be the year we enter the seven circles of hell.

Am I less informed? About “current affairs”, almost certainly. Although I’m not sure there’s often any news that is so essential that it requires you to be kept up to date on a daily basis.

Not only have a noticed a significant improvement on my mood I also feel like I have far more capacity left over to intentionally engage with things.

Rather than, almost without noticing, ‘spending’ all of my attention consuming an endlessly refreshing cycle of depressing information I am reading more, books (currently I’m on Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow) and research reports mostly, which feels like I’m becoming more informed, about a broader range of topics, in a deeper and more meaningful way than the news ever made me.

Simply I’m getting more done that I value.

Is this all because I’ve stopped watching and reading the news? At least in part. Lockdown probably has something to do with it too.

Thinking more about this has made me realise just how freely I was spending my attention. I’ve realised I probably only have a finite amount of attention on any given day, and I was wasting it, on news, on social media, on any number of tiny distractions that didn’t really give me anything back.

If the product is free then you are product has always been true, in my mind always related to the data companies are gathering about you.

But recently I’ve realised I value my attention as much if not more so than my data. And I’ve taken control of that.

I’d recommend it.

Running to escape the city: Kent – vineyards and long barrows

Most weekends I head out of London to somewhere in the surrounding countryside to go for a run.

Courtesy of an OS Maps digital subscription and too much time spent plotting (and replotting) routes I’ve managed to create a few really nice routes.

I thought I’d start to share the better ones that I concoct because I’ve found it’s difficult to easily find trail running routes in particular.

Most of the routes were run pretty early in the morning (I normally try and leave the house before 7am) so, whilst they were quiet when I ran them I can’t promise that’ll be the case at a more normal time of day.

Some of them also require a car to get to, although that’s still a new thing for me in London so quite a lot start and finish at a train station as well.

Anyway, enough preamble. I ran this first route whilst the UK was still very much still partially in lockdown which was at least partly responsible for how quiet it was.

Start/finishe: a (small, free) National Trust car park near Coldrum long barrow. If you wanted to get the train you could go to Cuxton and join the route from there without too much hassle or additional distance
Distance: 20km (ish)
Ascent/Descent: 428m
Highest point: 198m
Lowest point: 23m

Download route GPX file.

I hadn’t chosen the starting point for any particular reason other than it was a conveniently located car park, I hadn’t clocked that it was nominally a visitors’ car park for Coldrum long barrow.

Not that this would’ve meant anything to me (you can read lots more about it on the National Trust’s website).

But as I parked, early on a sunny Sunday morning at the end of May I spotted the signs and figured I’d take the (minuscule) detour to have a look at the long barrow.

I didn’t really know what to expect, from the track it didn’t look like much; a grassy bank, with a sign pointing out a partially overgrown footpath which disappeared around the side of the bank.

I stopped to read the sign, which told me, among other things, that the long barrow was the resting place of at least 22 neolithic people, was reckoned to be at least 5,000 years old (possibly even older) and that it bore a resemblance to other even older tombs found in northern Denmark.

I’m sure all of this was on my mind as I walked up the footpath, around and up onto the top of what was left of the long barrow.

The view stretched away down the valley in the early morning sunshine and some bells tinkled in the branches of a nearby oak tree (when I looked more closely I noticed loads of ribbons, bells and other things had been tied in the branches of the tree).

Apart from that it was totally silent, and completely peaceful.

I can’t quite accurately describe just how profoundly calm it felt.

The view down the valley from the top of coldrum long barrow

Oak tree next to coldrum long barrow

I don’t really know how long I was stood there, soaking in the silence, maybe no more than 10 minutes, but it was wonderful.

From there I started the route properly, heading uphill up the Wealdway (a well-signposted, clearly marked trail).

Along a path where the trees met and formed a canopy overhead (the shade was very welcome even this early in the morning).

All throughout this first uphill section the quietness was the thing that I kept noticing. Not the near total silence that I’d experienced at the long barrow, there was by now plenty of insect and bird noise, but the total lack of any sort of ‘people sounds’. It was great.

Anyway, the uphill was pretty steep but didn’t last too long and soon I reached the top of the ridge.

From there it was an easy jog, downhill through a mix of woodland and along the edge of corn fields.

At points it felt like I was in another country, it definitely didn’t feel like the UK, just a few miles from the M20.

The view over fields near lower luddesdown

The ‘not UK’ vibes were probably strengthened by the vineyards that I found myself running through. Peppered with loads of field poppies and other wildflowers it was an absolutely beautiful landscape to find myself running through.

Field poppies running up the middle of the path through a vineyard

The first half of the route follows the Wealdway, however at about 10km (at Luddesdown) the route departs to head east to join up with the North Downs Way.

This ‘joining’ section has the only real bit of ‘on road’ running, the lane was very very quiet (there were 2 cars when I did it) but do pay attention and make sure any vehicles have a chance of seeing you.

When you rejoin the North Downs Way the route starts to head uphill again, and keep an eye out for the mountain bikers who share the trail (the day I was running they mostly seemed to be heading the opposite direction to me so were easy to spot).

The North Downs Way is wide, well signposted and well maintained. As a result the surroundings were a bit less interesting than they had been for the first half of the route, but there were still plenty of beautiful woodlands and wildflower meadows to enjoy.

A wildflower meadow on the North Downs Way in Kent

Towards the end, the North Downs Way briefly merges with the Pilgrim’s Way (the historic route taken by pilgrim’s from Winchester to Canterbury) and its a straight shot back to the car park at Coldrum.

I took my customary tumble (you’ll hear lots more about these) on this final stretch and got back to the car slightly bloody and very dusty but beaming from ear to ear. It is an absolutely beautiful route, run in beautiful weather, I think I encountered fewer than 20 people all morning which is a good thing in my book.

There are a couple of pubs en route but nothing in the way of shops or toilets so bear that in mind.

Anyway, highly recommended.

400 words #003: Shopping without a clue

I bought some face masks recently.

It was one of the most overwhelming and baffling shopping experiences of my life.

Obviously there are some extenuating circumstances that help to explain this. The external pressure of an ongoing, global pandemic for one.

But when I tried to unpick just why it had felt so difficult, it became clear that I hadn’t really had any meaningful context within which to frame any of the decisions I was trying to make, or the information that was available.

Do you have an actual, pre-existing opinion about ear loops? Or how many layers of fabric your mask should have (I seem to remember seeing something about 3 being good)? Or whether it’s reusable?

Do you need something that’s medical-grade (“N95″ hovered at the edge of my memory briefly) or is anything better than nothing? What should you pay for a mask? Do you want to buy one from a specialist supplier? Or does Amazon suffice?

And the only reason I had to engage with any of this was that my partner had already had a go and given up.

Then I realised, to a certain extent, this is what it might be like if you’re trying to buy a ticket to the theatre for the first time. Or to the opera. Or to the ballet.

A billion options, jargon that makes almost no sense but that the person who wrote the text clearly thinks you care about, things that you had never previously even had an inkling were a thing anyone had opinions about, and you’re expected to make a bunch of choices and part with some cash.

You might’ve started really wanting to buy your face mask (ticket) but quickly just not leaving the house seems like a much better option.

You’re not dumbing down by using clear language and removing assumption of expertise when you produce your content.

I certainly wished the face mask merchants of the world had realised this.

I eventually bought a box of 10 face masks, I’ve no real idea of their particular properties. I’m not leaving the house.

400 words #002: 80/20, run slow to run fast

Maybe at some point not every post will mention me running, but I run almost every day, so possibly not.

A few years ago, after yet another injury had forced me to stop running for an extended period (a ruptured achilles tendon), I realised I had to think about running differently.

My approach up to then had been ‘more is more’.

I was running further and further and faster and faster.

But I was also getting injured more and more frequently, and each injury was proving to be more serious than the last, and the enforced time off was getting longer and longer.

My body was getting burnt out by the ever-increasing demands, it was telling me to slow down, and when I didn’t listen it was forcing me to take a break.

I had to confront the fact that if I wanted to be able to run consistently then I would have to relax my expectations of myself.

Around this time I read a book which entirely changed the way I thought about running, 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower.

It makes the case that for runners to be able to train and race effectively around 80% of your training should be dedicated to slow, ‘easy’ running, and around 20% to more intensive workouts. This is backed up by piles of academic studies and real-life examples.

By reducing the overall intensity of training you give yourself the chance to make the ‘harder’ 20% really impactful, and give yourself a chance to recover properly.

In the 3 years since reading that book I haven’t had any serious injuries. Do I stick religiously to an 80/20 rule? Absolutely not. But the way I think about running has changed entirely, I’m far less interested in always pushing myself and as a result I am able to run consistently and consistently injury-free.

I wonder how applicable this is to other areas of our lives?

All too often we see people in all areas of life pushing, and pushing, and pushing, often with diminishing returns or with them ending up burnt out and miserable.

How much more effective would we all be if we decided to do less, to focus on what really matters, to give ourselves time to recover, to ensure that when we ‘go hard’ it has a real impact, rather than becoming an unsustainable default mode, until we can’t go any more.