Hanging out at Derek Jarman’s and the nuclear power station


Yesterday I fulfilled a long-held ambition to go and check out the weirdness that is Dungeness – 2 lighthouses, Derek Jarman’s house, a nuclear power station and one of the strangest landscapes I’ve ever seen in this country.

I reckon by bike is pretty much the perfect way to do this, especially if you’re blessed with good weather like we were. The route is below

Photo #1

North Bridge, Edinburgh, 2009

I used to take a lot of photos, I’ve recently started trawling through that backlog and am going to post a random selection.

This is of the North Bridge in Edinburgh. It was taken in January 2009, it had snowed (a lot) and was (very) cold, I guess the film must have expired (hence the pink tinge) and it’s far from technically perfect (or even ‘good’) but it captures my memory of that trip pretty well.

What I think about running when I’m reading books about what people think about running

I like reading, I’m no great literary mind but I like a good story. I also really like reading about things that I enjoy doing, so recently I’ve been working my way through a few books about runners, running and the like. To start off with I read ‘Born to Run’ which has in part been credited for helping to fuel the barefoot/minimal running argument/craze/fad. I’d been putting off reading it for ages because, well, everyone else was reading it and I’m a contrary twat sometimes. But I bought it for my brother for his birthday and he loved it so I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a really passionately-written and fascinating book, I suspect you probably have to have an interest in running to enjoy it and there are certain parts of your brain you need to switch off to go with how vociferous the author is about certain things. But on the whole, a good read.

It made me think a bit more about running, and why I run. A few friends have started running recently and it’s interesting to observe how other people approach it, and what they get out of it. Warning, what follows is very introspective and probably quite boring, but I enjoyed writing it.

The first time I went for a ‘proper’ run was with my dad, I was about 9 or 10 and really wanted to go with my dad when he went for one of his ‘jogs’. It was probably only about 2 or 3 miles, from the village where we lived to the nearest town and back, but I remember it really vividly. It was dark, it was misty, I was wearing a gilet (it was the 90s, shut up) and it made my lungs burn a bit (the fun of running in the cold). I remember being quite proud when we got back to the house.

I’m not really sure at what point I went from someone who went for the odd jog to considering myself ‘a runner’ – maybe while I was at uni as a reaction to the hugely unhealthy lifestyle that comes with being a student?

I didn’t really start training properly and regularly until I was training for my first marathon in 2010, I think that was the point when I really ‘got’ running. Before then it had always seemed a bit difficult and something to endure rather than to enjoy. The all-encompassing nature of marathon training made me confront the more meditative aspects of forcing yourself to go for a 2 or 3+ hour-long run. I don’t think at any point up until then I had ever given myself that long alone with my thoughts, certainly not consciously. I quite liked that realisation, from then it felt like I was getting more from running than just the physical health stuff. I realise that is not the most well-articulated epiphany but I think it goes a long way to explain why I have spent more and more time running over the last few years, not only does it feel like you are actually accomplishing something (even if that is as banal as travelling an arbitrary distance that also, normally, means you end up where you started) but it also gives me some time, most days, to sort out my thoughts and work out what I think about things – sort of ‘brain admin’ for want of a better description.

I also love the improvement/achievement aspect of it all, follow a training plan and you will improve. And that’s great. You get out what you put in, there are no shortcuts, you can’t just decide to run faster, or further, you need to work at it, in the simplest possible terms I am completely in love with the honesty of running.

I don’t really like training with anyone, I love racing with lots of people I know for all of the pre and post race stuff but training is my thing, time spent, on my own, where my opponent is myself – this is probably deeply anti-social and misanthropic.

I have an ongoing argument with myself about listening to music when I run. On the one hand it’s quite nice to stick on some music and detach yourself from the entire experience a bit but on the other hand that feels a bit like cheating, and like you’re trying to trick yourself into forgetting that you’re actually running. At the moment I am in a ‘no music’ phase, but sometimes training just gets really difficult and any distraction is welcomed.

Running is great, I love it, I probably spend more time running than I do on most other things other than work and sleep.

Good things

www.goodreads.com – for book recommendations n that

Duolingo – a website/app for learning languages (excellent for enabling me to send purposefully grammatically incoherent emails to my German friend), free, easy-to-use, all the good stuff.

Willy Vlautin – just finished Lean on Pete, which was great.


Memories and photos

I’ve been trying to come up with an idea that’d give me a reason to start taking photos more regularly again, particularly portraits if at all possible.

I’ve always been fascinated with memory and memories and how collections of seemingly unrelated stories and anecdotes can form something really fascinating and apparently connected when presented side by side.

So with that in mind I am going to start collecting people’s earliest memories and putting them online together with photos of that person. I don’t really know what it’ll evolve into, maybe it’ll show some sort of common starting point for everyone or maybe it’ll be widely diverse. Let’s see.

UPDATE: and it all lives here http://lifeisallmemory.tumblr.com/

It’s a Wonderful Life. It Really Is

Here’s something I wrote for The Culture Vulture about It’s a Wonderful Life

I just found out that the Hyde Park Picture House is screening It’s a Wonderful Life just ahead of Christmas again. I assume it’s an annual thing but, as with so many things in Leeds, I’ve only really discovered it recently. In fact I had never seen the film until last year when I was dragged along to the Picture House just before Christmas simply because I had nothing better to do. I’m so glad I did because the next 3 hours were one of my highlights of the entire year. And this is why I think YOU should spend 130 minutes of your valuable time sitting in the dark with hundreds of strangers watching a 66-year old film…

When I sat down last December I didn’t know anything about the film, I had a vague feeling it was about Christmas, possibly in black and white and that was about it. I had no idea who Jimmy Stewart or Frank Capra were and mainly I was slightly annoyed I was at the cinema watching some old film when I could be at the pub.

Maybe my complete lack of any sort of expectations or knowledge contributed to huge amount of enjoyment that followed.

This might sound like utterly sentimental hyperbole but it may be that it was almost a perfect cinema experience, a packed but respectful audience, beautiful venue and just a completely brilliant, warm, inspirational, life-affirming story, perfectly acted. James Stewart was one of the most charming screen presences I had ever seen. And to top it all off there was a spontaneous round of applause at the end.

I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who is as clueless as I was (I really think that all films are better if you’ve got very little idea about what’s going to happen), but I think this brief synopsis is a good introduction without giving too much away (thanks Wikipedia):

Released in 1946, the film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community would be had he never been born.

Since last December I have gone out and tracked down a load of other Stewart/Capra work, Mr Smith Goes to Washington is equally as brilliant and you can see pre-echoes of some of the themes of It’s a Wonderful Life in You Can’t Take it With You. I don’t think you could get away with that kind of film-making any more, its naivety is its brilliance, they are so utterly charming.

So, go along, whether you’ve seen it hundreds of times or have never even heard of it, there is something special about seeing a film in the way it was intended to be seen, i.e. in a cinema, properly projected, with an audience. And this is a special film. Where better to see it than at one of the best cinemas in the country?

I’ll be there, I think it may become a Christmas tradition.

Oh and you’ll probably cry. In a good way. I did.

Marathon training: love/hate

I love the rigid routine that my life has at the moment, with a 6-day-a-week training plan there isn’t a lot of room for much apart from work, running, eating and sleeping. Which is fine by me…at the moment.

However it does leave me tired, grumpy, hungry and can turn running into a complete numbers game. I want to run x time so I need to run this amount of miles, at this pace, this regularly, blah blah blah. It can be a bit joyless. It also completely and utterly takes over your life.

But then, I chose to do this and if I can run the time I’ve been aiming for for the last 5 months then it’ll be worth it.

What’s the saying? Train hard, race easy…or something

Hansel of Film, running, rain etc

Last Thursday I made my way down to Salisbury to take part in the Hansel of Film, a project organised by the Shetland Film Festival (Screenplay) that saw a relay of short films heading down the country from Shetland to Southampton and back. From each venue the films were taken by ‘runners’ to the next venue. I was one of the runners. The only one actually running.

A photo of me getting a ‘runner-sized’ film canister to carry to the venue in Southampton. No idea why my trousers look like that, apparently I have no legs, or knees, or something.
Mark, Linda, Me

So, anyway, a 5 or so hour train journey down to Salisbury during which I managed to make more mess eating a scone than anyone has, ever. I arrived and it was pissing it down. Unfortunate. I had decided to travel light due to the fact that I’d have to carry everything, on my back, for the 35 or so miles I’d be running between Salisbury and Southampton, this meant that I didn’t have a coat, which meant I got wet. Really wet. After some surreptitious drying of myself (and my clothes) with a hair-dryer at the b&b (which looked ridiculous and was completely ineffective), I met up with some relatives who live locally and we went off to Salisbury Arts Centre for the screening.

The Arts Centre is in a beautiful old church, I made my usual clumsy introductions to the Hansel people and then got introduced to Linda Ruth Williams and Mark Kermode who curate the Film Festival in Shetland. I’m not going to lie, meeting Mark Kermode was ace.

The films themselves were a real mixed bag, in a good way. There was everything from surreal comedy, to creepy vampire stuff, to music videos, documentaries and short animations. I was surprised at how good the quality of everything was, for me the standouts were Ted – about a suicidal teddy bear, absolutely perfectly done and an odd animated piece that I can’t remember the title of but that was absolutely inspired in its weirdness.

The following day involved lots of running for the camera (they were filming a documentary about the project) and then I set off with an assortment of OS maps, computer printouts from my uncle (with helpful annotations – seriously, these were invaluable) and Google Maps (which may be the most helpful thing ever in this sort of situation). The route quite quickly left the horrible A36 and I was suddenly in the middle of nowhere, running down beautiful country lanes, yes it was raining but it was still completely brilliant – there was hardly any traffic, any cars that did pass gave me plenty of room and it did feel a bit like I was on an adventure, I had no real idea where I was going and no idea how long it’d take me to get there so I just trotted along with my gps tracker bleeping at me every kilometre (breaking the silence in a horrible, but useful way).

Salisbury Arts Centre in the background, I’m apparently delighted that people are taking photos…twat

When I’d looked at the route the previous evening I had made the remark ‘oh, there aren’t even any hills’. Of course there were hills, and they weren’t fun. I rattled off the first 15 or so miles relatively quickly and easily, meeting up with the filming guys a couple of times to get footage of me striding majestically across southern England (or something).  However the last 5 miles of the day were really not fun, my legs suddenly felt incredibly heavy and I realised I hadn’t had anything to drink or eat for about 3 hours. Idiot. Anyway, I made it to where I was staying on Friday evening with only a minimal amount of fuss, had a shower and almost immediately fell asleep.

The following day I creaked into action – I need to get much, much better at warming down and stretching and the like – and set off through the New Forest. Almost immediately the heavens opened, the rain was torrential. I briefly tried huddling under a tree, which served absolutely no use whatsoever. It wasn’t that cold, it obviously wasn’t going to stop any time soon and I had 15 miles to run so I figured I was about as wet as I was going to get and set off again – I have never been as soaked as I then became, I think I probably looked like I’d just showered wearing all my clothes. I passed a number of New Forest ponies looking completely miserable but really, it wasn’t that bad. I made it to Southampton in incredibly good time (I got to run over a bridge, I bloody love running and cycling over bridges), the route getting markedly less picturesque with each mile – the last few miles into the city centre were about as uninspiring as it could get, an anonymous, grey ring road. But I’d made it in plenty of time and squelched my way over to the hotel to meet up with the lovely Kathy and Roseanne from Hansel. They then had to go off for some meetings about the screening the following day.

Running into the cinema, desperate not to trip over

I briefly considered how I could celebrate what felt like a bit of an achievement, I had run 35 miles (and not really got lost – well done me), ordering extravagant room service wasn’t really on the cards as I was staying at an Ibis so I wandered around Southampton city centre in search of somewhere to have a steak, then went to the cinema, inadvertently bumping into some Olympic Torch-related celebrations on the way.

Originally I wasn’t going to go to the screening in Southampton as the cinema was on one side of the city and the train station on the other, and I had about 20 minutes to get from one to the other -which disagreed with my desire to be incredibly early for everything, all the time. However I got into the whole idea so ended up running into the cinema, handing over the canister, making some useless remarks to the crowd and then running out. The best thing was that everyone cheered me out of the cinema, which was hilarious and brilliant.

Sweaty and knackered I then sat on a train forever to get back to Leeds.

A great few days, with great people, working on a brilliant project. If you can get along to a screening then I’d urge you to do so, it’s free and fantastic.

More info about the Hansel of Film here: http://www.hansel2012.org/about

Oh and if you ever want to run from Salisbury to Southampton then this is more or less the route I took…Day 1,  Day 2

Hansel of film 2012

Tomorrow I’m getting a really, really, really long train ride down to Salisbury (not quite as long as coming back from Penzance to Leeds, but still about 6 hours or something). On Friday and Saturday I’ll be running from Salisbury to Southampton.

Why? As part of this http://hansel2012.org/about/hansel-of-film

The Hansel of Film is part of the Shetland Film Festival and is essentially a series of screenings of short films taking place from Shetland, to Southampton, and back again. Between each venue the films are being couriered in any number of weird and wonderful ways, motorbikes, horses, dancers, etc. I decided that the most straight-forward way would just be to…y’know, run.

As my French bike ride isn’t happening this year there was a ‘foolish idea’ shaped gap in my summer that I’ve aptly filled with this little jaunt. It’s not too far, between 35-40 miles depending on the route I end up taking (still tbc…), so only 17-20 miles each day.

Also this means I get to run through the New Forest, which should be nice.

So, off I go, to the south, to run about a bit. Hopefully I won’t get lost.

This is my route for the first bit (Friday) http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/112284719

New project

So ever since Cam (www.twoducksdisco.co.uk) and I stopped doing Tapes (www.tapes-online.co.uk) I’ve had a bit of a ‘side project’ shaped hole in my life. Well due to a number of things I’ve decided I’m going to try and rectify that. I’m currently bombarding various people with ideas and hope to have an actual shape of a thing developed soon, it’ll likely combine art and music in some way (mainly because I like both of those things and am terrible at both so like to work with talented people who are ace).

Currently I think that it may involve cassettes, lots of postage and bits of card. But let’s see.

Back in the saddle (and…in the trainers?)

So after the falling apart of my original plans due to a mixture of injury, misfortune and laziness I have now managed to organise a few things to keep me busy for the next few months.

First: I will be joining the team from the Jane Tomlinson Appeal’s Anniversary Challenge on the 20th and 21st April (Newark – Cambridge then Cambridge – London) as they finish their bike ride from Paris to London. The Challenge is, as usual, a bit ambitious, they are running the Paris Marathon this Sunday (15th), they are then cycling to London via Ze Brugge, Hull, Leeds and Cambridge arriving in London on Saturday 21st, they are then running the London Marathon on the 22nd. Brilliant, amazing and crazy all at the same time. Unsurprisingly they will be joined by people such as Chrissie Wellington (triple women’s ironman world champion). I’ll just be joining them for the last 150 miles so…easy!

Second: I’ll be the ‘runner’ (which will involve actual running) for the Salisbury to Southampton leg of the Hansel of Film 2012 Relay (http://hansel2012.org/about/hansel-of-film) – it’s about 30 miles, which I think I will split over 2 days.

Third: Tris (my brother) and I will be doing the Chester Marathon on Sunday 7th October.

Plans are good.

Subsidised arts

A few inarticulate thoughts:

There has been a bit of a debate recently (that I’ve been reading, via my phone, on the way to work) about the place of subsidised arts in the ‘arts ecology’ of the UK. The general consensus seems to be that in these straightened times subsidised arts companies are becoming more conservative and as a result more overtly “commercial” in their programming. A friend of mine from Germany expressed the view recently that ‘if a commercial theatre is going to do it then a subsidised company has no business going anywhere near it’ and whilst I can completely understand the desire and need to maximise box office revenues I do agree with his point. The public subsidy surely exists in part to help create work that simply isn’t commercially in its (primary) focus.

I recently read an article written by Melvyn Bragg in the Daily Telegraph, the comments left under the article left no doubt that any public subsidy of the arts was an utter waste of money but given the readership of that particular paper that probably isn’t surprising. I have also heard directly from government ministers (who, depressingly, actually work at the DCMS) that there is ‘no point’ in public funding of the arts and it should be ‘left to the public to show what they want by where they spend their money’. But surely this is an utterly depressing viewpoint, if it was left entirely up to ‘market forces’ to dictate what art did and didn’t get made then we would (it seems to me) get stuck in a hideous downward spiral of banality until we reached some awful rock bottom that resembled the daytime TV schedule. Horrible.

But then maybe I’m just seeing this all through some lefty, guardianista, simplistic prism. Maybe we can’t afford to fund stuff that “noone wants to go and see”, that challenges audiences as opposed to to pandering to some arbitrary lowest common denominator of entertainment. Although if that is the case then I think I might move abroad, it’d be an entirely awful state for our society to end up in.

I’m aware that this is not an extensive, in-depth or particularly considered post, but it was on my mind.

Related stuff: (I realise there are a lot of Guardian links there so it’s probably not the most balanced selection of reading)







Some book reviews – “This book will save your life” and “Naive. Super”

Right, I don’t pretend to be any sort of authority on literature (see here for evidence) so have been trying to read more to better myself, broaden my horizons, expand my mind etc. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the first two books I’ve worked through (warning: this will not be articulate):

This Book Will Save Your Life (A.M Holmes)

The cover made me really, really want a donut. I had no idea what this was going to be about, the quote from Stephen King on the back, referencing Catcher in the Rye meant nothing to me (I’m a literary vacuum remember). As it transpired it is about a chap called Richard who has a mid-life crisis, in every sense of the word. A journey of ‘self-discovery’ follows, which even as I write it sounds absolutely horrendous. But it is, in actual fact, absorbing, funny, inspiring and brilliant. Thoroughly recommended.

Naive. Super (Erlend Loe)

Another story about a bloke having a crisis, this time he is only 25 (a quarter-life crisis?). It was originally written and published in Norway (hence, in Norwegian). It is written quite simply – I don’t mean that in anything other than a positive way, it’s a clear, simple narrative. There are a lot of lists. It’s completely charming and again I hugely recommend it, maybe I need to be more discerning.

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” – Abraham Lincoln

So, in an effort, to be more like Abraham Lincoln apparently, to widen my literary horizons I have been soliciting book recommendations. Twitter and Facebook, it would turn out, are tremendously useful for things like this (as well as the more traditional ‘borrowing books from your actual real life friends in actual real life’

I’ve bought the following:
Life of Pi
I, Lucifer
Einstein: his life and his universe

I’ve been lent this:
This Book Will Save Your Life

And these are on my ‘to get’ list:
Magician by Raymond Feist
In The Half Light by Anthony Lawrence

So it would appear I’ve got enough books to keep me going until Christmas – I will try and post some articulate thoughts once I’m done with all the reading n that.