Sunday, 24 April 2011

London Archaeologist

Apart from me doing my first gig in 23 years last weekend,  it being my birthday this week, us buying a new car, and the weather being unbelievably fabulous, something else happened that was also quite exciting.  Well, to me at least.

As I've banged on about in the past, I used to be an archaeologist.  Between 1996 and 2006 I got myself a BSc (Hons) and an MA, I went on digs and I taught adult education courses and lectured to undergraduates.  Then the University where I was teaching decided, in its wisdom, to close down all the archaeology courses, at the same time as the County Council also cut funding for adult education and, bang, that was it.  The end of my burgeoning career as an academic.  And because I was only at the beginning and hadn't had very much experience, I couldn't just walk into another job at another University because (a) all the other Universities were also cutting their archaeology courses so there were myriads of far more experienced lecturers than me all going for the same jobs and (b) the ones that might still be teaching were much too far away, i.e., Exeter or Durham.  So I drifted away from it, saddened, because I had really enjoyed teaching, but wiser for having got myself a real proper edumacation and ending up with both a science degree and an arts degree.  I am so smart.  S-M-R-T.

Anyway, one of the digs I went on was at Tolworth in South London in 2000 and 2002.  One of the main lecturers on my BSc course lives in Tolworth and had been aware all her life of all the lumps and bumps in a field just off the A3.  She'd done shed-loads of historical research on it and felt fairly sure that it could have been the site of the medieval moated manor of Taleorde with a possible associated medieval village.  The site was investigated by Kingston upon Thames Archaeological Society (which has the fabulous acronym of KuTAS - yes, really, 'cute ass'), and the (now disbanded) University of Surrey Extra Mural Archaeological Society (UniSEArch) which I was on the committee of at the time.

The dig in 2000 went on for six weeks and because my knee joints, back and neck aren't very happy when I kneel on all fours on the ground and trowel away for hours at a time, I specialised in working in the Finds Hut, which is the location for everything that the diggers pull out of the ground, and where it's all washed, identified, dated, tagged, bagged and recorded.  It's less physically demanding than digging but it's still busy and you need to be incredibly organised and good at identifying and dating stuff.

What I also decided to do was produce an online Dig Diary.  This was in the relatively early-ish days of the internet but, at that time, I was fairly experienced in building web pages.  One of the other diggers also owned one of the first commercially available digital cameras which he very kindly offered to lend me so I could take loads of photos to upload to the website.  The Dig Diary is still available online but some of the picture links are now broken (just the earlier ones, almost all of the later ones are still there, from Friday 28 July 2000 onwards) and I do actually cringe when I look at the design but, like I said, this was 11 years ago so be gentle when judging my web page skills!

Anyway, at the end of last year I got a phone call from the curator of Kingston Museum saying that they were putting together a display of all the Tolworth Court Farm artefacts and asking for permission to use the online photographs, and if I still had electronic copies of any others.  Naturally I gave permission but sadly I couldn't find the disks that had the electronic copies.  She also asked me if I would like to come along and help them set up the display as I would have first hand knowledge of the artefacts.  Unfortunately I wasn't free on the set up days so couldn't help but was flattered to have been asked.

And then about 2 months ago I received an email from her saying that the 2011 spring edition of the magazine 'London Archaeologist' was going to have an article all about the Tolworth Court Farm dig and they'd like to use one of my photographs, if I was happy to give copyright permission!  Ooh, one of my photos in a publication!  Of course I said 'yes' and filled in the forms they sent me and returned them.

I subscribe to London Archaeologist anyway so was thrilled when it landed on my doormat about 2 weeks ago!  And, indeed, there on page 335 was my photo, reproduced in colour and in pretty good detail.  And I'm damn glad I got all my angles and verticals properly aligned in it too!

I've been meaning to scan the article so I can blog about it since it arrived but I kept forgetting, so this afternoon I took some iPhone photos (which might be a bit dark) so I can finally get round to sharing with you this small triumph of mine:

The front cover of Spring 2011 London Archaeologist.  The picture is of a 2nd Century Roman bronze mount found at Syon Park.

The article

Map showing the site location.  The roundabout in the top left hand corner is where Tolworth Tower is.  The site itself is in the bottom right hand corner, cross hatched in red.

My photo!  With a credit and everything.  The picture shows part of a line of postholes that were filled with late Iron Age and early Romano-British artefacts including the ubiquitous pottery, cattle bones and, more rare, a melon bead fragment.

I'm a published photographer!  Sort of.  No, I am, really.  Not that I get any money for it or anything, and it's just a single photograph in a minor and specialist publication, I realise that but, hell, if I can't blow my own trumpet, no-one else is going to.

It's been an exciting few weeks here at Jones Towers.....

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Happy Birthday to me!

Today is my birthday.  It has been a very nice birthday, complemented by the unbelievable weather we've been having.  Today it was 28 degrees centigrade (that's 82 degrees Fahrenheit).  I'll just remind you folks that it's April, not August.  We've also had not a drop of rain since I can't remember and the ground is dry enough to just blow away.  TLH said he'd heard something on the news the other day about the reservoirs only having 80% of the water they should have at this time of year, so unless we get some persistent downpours soon, it looks like we're heading for another hosepipe ban within the next few months.

Anyway, this year I didn't buy myself any fancy presents, unlike last year when I took my saved up pennies to London and became the proud owner of a Mulberry Bayswater handbag.  I'm currently saving up for a new saxophone but as that's likely to be a four-figure sum, it's going to take me a little while to get there.  But TLH did give me a long sleeved specialist running top and a couple of books off my Amazon wish list - 'Just Kids' by Patti Smith and 'One' by David Karp.  And my lovely friend Sam brought me a bunch of yellow lilies.  I know some cards have got caught up in the post, what with us all being unable to move for bank holidays round here, but the ones I have received have been funny and lovely.

However the most exciting thing we did today was to buy a new car!!  Unfortunately not as a present for me, more's the pity, but as a main commuting car for TLH.  The cost of the petrol consumption on our old Range Rover has been killing us for the past few months and we've been debating replacing it with something newer and far more economical. But then the contract he's been working on has been extended, possibly until the end of the year, and while the contract was only a few months, it was possible for me to exist without the use of a car, but this has started to get old now, and there's places I'd like to go that I just can't get to using public transport.  So we started thinking about getting a second car, one that TLH could use that would be small, efficient and economical, and I'd get the Range Rover back.

We umm'd and ahh'd, and thought about and discarded almost as many cars as you could think of and then, for some reason, at the beginning of the week we started talking about a Smart car.  You know the ones - little upright 2-seater jobbies that have been around for a few years now but are still iconic and cool.  We did some research online and discovered they're made by Mercedes Benz and although you don't see many of them for sale secondhand, there were quite a few available at Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands, Weybridge, which is only about 20 minutes drive from us.  So yesterday we decided to drive over there, primarily just to see if TLH could fit in one - he's over 6 feet tall, so being able to fit is a priority.

Mercedes Benz World is the swankiest car showroom I've ever been to - it's definitely a place for petrolhead boys.

They have a museum onsite, as well as a skid pan, a test track and an off-road circuit, and the place was heaving.  I presumed it was full of man-boys using the driving experience gift vouchers given to them for Christmas, still they looked like they were having fun, spinning their cars around at high speed on tarmac slickened by spraying water.

Anyway, we found that, much to our surprise, TLH fitted comfortably behind the wheel.  In fact, the little car was positively Tardis-like inside.  A tiny boot but big enough to take a week's shopping.  Little hidden away storage compartments.  We came back home and thought about it some more and decided next stage was a test drive.

So back we went to Brooklands again this afternoon, where TLH had arrange to test drive a neat little black turbo-charged number.  And, yes, we bought it!  We get it next Saturday and then we'll be bombing about all over the place in it.

This is it - TLH insisted on taking a picture of me in it.  You'll see why there's not many photos of me in this blog, I just don't take a good picture.  But just concentrate on the car instead:

Cute car, huh?

After this excitement, we took ourselves off to my favourite Thai restaurant of all time - the Rum Wong in Guildford.  The food here is utterly delectable and it's a very popular restaurant.  They have a room at the back where you can sit on the floor and recline on triangular cushions, eating off low tables, but we sat in the main area.

It's always so hard to choose what to have when everything on the menu is just so yummy.  But we started off with chicken satay and pork wontons which I forgot to photograph, but I remembered with the rest of the food we ordered (although we'd eaten half of everything before I did remember).  We had:

Moo Yang Nam-Pung.  Barbeque pork marinated in honey, soya sauce and sesame seeds.

Pad Thai.  This is the traditional dish of Thailand and is fried noodles with bean sprouts, ground peanuts, chopped salted turnips, eggs and chicken.

Talay Pud Namprig Pao.  Prawns, scallops and squid sauteed in sweet chilli sauce, garnished with crispy Basil leaves.

Ped Yang.  Special roast duck served off-the-bone with soya sauce, pickled ginger and fresh cucumber slices.  I didn't bother photographing the small bowl of jasmine rice.  It was a bowl of white rice.

Yum yum.

We are now home, royally stuffed.  I don't think I can get off the sofa to stagger up to bed.  And I don't want to think of all the calories I've just consumed, but I suppose I can always run them off tomorrow.  And if you believe that....

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Summer can start - the Swifts have arrived!

As has become customary at Jones Towers at this time of year, the last few days has seen me, when out in the garden, staring intently up into the currently blue, blue sky, awaiting the arrival of our summer visitors from Africa.

Last year I saw my first one on 22 April, and today, 21 April, at 5.45pm, I saw the first one of 2011.  I was, as last year, sitting by the plastic-houses at the end of my tiny garden, sowing vegetable seeds for the allotment, when TLH came out for a chat.  I said to him that I'd been checking the sky constantly for swifts and, as I said that, I looked up and saw one!  How's that for timing?!? And I'm extra pleased because TLH saw it as well.  Just the one, solitary crescent wheeling high, high up in the sky.

I understand it takes a good couple of days for them to complete the journey so I'm expecting more and more to arrive over the next week until the air is filled with my favourite sound of the summer (apart from the pop of a wine bottle, or the cracking of ice in a glass as a Pimms is poured over it), that of gangs of swifts chasing each other at high speed just above the rooftops, squealing for all their worth.

Summer 2011 has officially arrived!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

How Mrs Jones got her groove back..............

So then, the gig was last Saturday.  As I said I've spent the last 3 months or so learning the 30-song set list which is all standards from the 50s and 60s - Dock of the Bay, My Girl, Mustang Sally, Mr Pitiful, Soul Man, Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, I Feel Good, Rescue Me, Respect, you know the sort of thing, music you absolutely cannot sit still to.

Bev told me that she'd got all the sax music and notes written down from when she first learned all these songs 20 years ago but they were still with her things back in Cape Verde and she wouldn't be getting them until early May, so I had no choice but to work them out myself.  The Fugitives have got a live CD of them performing a little while ago, and their website has some performance videos so at least, for those few songs, I had their versions but there were quite a few that I had to download the original versions and try and work them out from that.  And, as I mentioned earlier, it turns out that The Fugitives play them in a different key.  But three months of really quite hard work had given me the confidence that I'd got at least 25 or so of the songs down.  Plus I had to get to know my sax again, and remember all its little foibles, and which notes it plays more in tune than others.  That actually turned out to be a bit like riding a bike, I hadn't forgotten any of the fingering, but I had forgotten what hard work breath control was.  As I was working out the songs, by the time I'd got through the first two lines of Little Richard's "slippin' and slidin'" the first time, I was practically on my knees with breathlessness.  How I was going to be able to play through the entire song was, in mid-February, absolutely beyond me.

And my embouchure was rubbish.  That's the technical term for the use of facial muscles and shaping of the lips and mouth to the mouthpiece of woodwind and brass instruments.  You have to use the muscles to keep the reed tight and manipulate it to change notes, and you have to fold your bottom lip over the top of your bottom teeth to protect the reed.  This all adds up to chapped, swollen lips and cramping in your facial muscles.  Practice builds up the muscles - or at least gets them used to being used in this manner - and helps to keep your embouchure tight and the notes sweet.

So, anyway, as I said Bev managed to come over for a couple of hours rehearsal with me on Saturday afternoon - this was going to be the only 'proper' rehearsal I had, I didn't have one at all with the full band (after 20 years' playing, they don't need to rehearse!) - and we ran through the songs that I'd got and checked that I was in the right key, and that the harmonies I'd worked out actually sounded okay, and that was it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to stay calm and failing utterly.  To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement.  I could feel my heart rate was up and I was starting to get a low level headache.  It was all I could do to shove a cheese sarnie down my throat at 3pm for lunch, even though I knew I ought to be eating more, and a bit later, because there wouldn't be time for a proper evening meal.  But I could barely eat that as it was.  I'll tell you what it felt like, the hours before going for an interview for a job you really REALLY want. Or an audition, where you're going to be judged by loads of people you don't know.  Scary.

And as if having to learn the songs wasn't enough, I didn't have anything really suitable to wear!  Yes, I've still got all my old stagewear in bags up in the loft, but they are 25 years old and about 3 sizes smaller than I am now.  Plus The Fugitives wear all black on stage - I've not worn all black since about 1992.  My wardrobe is as technicolour as a sweet shop these days.  I did manage to find a pair of wide legged black silk trousers and a black t-shirt but even with my currently pink hair, I still managed to look decidedly 'mumsy'.  Oh well, not much I could do about that now.

The venue was a hotel about 30 mins drive away, and we had to be there for 7pm.  TLH very kindly agreed to come with me as both driver and to provide moral support, and we arrived to find some of the guests already there - it was a surprise 60th birthday party - and 2 of the band members propping up the bar.  The band has its own PA system so they'd set it up in the ballroom, where the DJ was already spinning the decks.  This, of course, meant there would be no soundcheck for the band but I trusted that they knew what they were doing - they ought to, after 20 years!  Bev eventually arrived about 30 minutes later, after trusting her satnav and getting lost, then the guitarist arrived from Tunbridge Wells and the drummer from wherever drummers come from.  I was reintroduced and we all sat down chatting while more and more guests turned up.

One of the hotel rooms had been set aside as a changing room for the band, so we trouped up there for a few minutes so that clothes could be changed and Bev and I could have a very quick run through of a couple of the songs that we were still unsure about.  By now my nerves had calmed down somewhat but I was still feeling a bit hyper, you know?

9.15 rolled around and we were on.  Stuart (the lead singer and manager) had decided that tonight we would do 90 minutes divided into three sets of 30 minutes each.  I don't think I've ever played for more than about 40 minutes total in any band I've been in, and even then I wasn't playing or singing in every song.  Tonight I would be playing for the entire set!  Baptism of fire or what?!

We started with Mr Pitiful and off we went.  Sadly I'm afraid there's no photos - I'd asked TLH to come along and tape the whole show on my iPhone so that I finally had a complete audio recording of the setlist as performed by the band, and also take pictures but he felt a bit uncomfortable taking photos at what was someone else's private party.  And I'm not putting any of the audio files up on the blog because, frankly, the sound quality was appalling - good enough for me to work from, but definitely not good enough for anyone else to hear, sorry 'bout that!

People danced, people danced a lot.  There was proper dad dancing going on, there were very leggy teenage lovelies who looked like they'd just walked out of a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, there were very drunk boys reeling about the place.  It was a very happy occasion, which is always a bonus.  Bev gave me some valuable advice earlier in the evening, she said "if a fight breaks out, remember to hold your sax behind you because you don't want someone slamming into you while you're playing, in case the sax gets rammed down your throat and knocks all your teeth out".  Wise words indeed.  But apart from a few people dancing a bit too close to the sticky out bits of the microphone stands and knocking them around, it was fine.  We were on the same level as the audience (i.e., not on any kind of stage at all) and Bev said that if people did start dancing a bit too close, then Stuart just comes out in front and sort of dances everyone back a bit.

Stuart also dictates what songs are going to be played based on how the audience is.  This is why I had to learn 30-odd songs when not all of them would be played.  He would decide if the next song should be a fast one or a slow one depending on their reaction and how much dancing was going on.  As I hadn't memorised the songs yet, I'd got my parts all written out in a musical manuscript book which meant that also had to have a music stand to put it on so I could read it while playing.  I'd already asked Bev if the band would be okay with this, and she told me that when she first started playing with them, she used a music stand for at least 2 years so there wouldn't be a problem.  Of course this does mean that I had to go searching through my book for the next song which sometimes they'd already started playing before I'd been able to find it!  Which I found a bit embarrassing but I don't think anyone else noticed.

And then, by midnight, we were finished.  We retired to the hotel/changing room where I very gratefully changed my heels for Birkenstocks, and nobody said I was rubbish so I think I might have joined the band!  It was about 12.30 when TLH and I made moves to go and, as I left, Stuart said the next gig would be at the end of May and that he'd call me with more details later.

We got home at about 1am and I was absolutely shattered, starving hungry and running on adrenaline (I didn't manage to fall asleep until after 3am).  I can't believe that I'd managed to get through it and IT WAS OKAY.  Not great, but absolutely okay.  I'm not entirely happy with my saxophone's tuning and, to be honest, I could probably do with a new one but that's a bit spendy just now.  I also need to learn the songs better, and I also just need to become a better player myself.  Bev is a fabulous tenor sax player and does plenty of wonderful solos that I couldn't possibly hope to emulate.  I'm more than happy to play harmonies and parp and toot away in support of her, but I want to be able to show her and her playing in a good light, and not let her down by being the out-of-tune mumsy one honking away beside her.  I've definitely got some work to do.

But at least it's started.  I can't believe I might actually have got my groove back again!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Thanks for your supportive comments

Gig went okay, considering.  Am shattered though - I woke this morning feeling like I'd been hit by a bus - so I hope you'll forgive me if I give you a proper update later!


Saturday, 16 April 2011

I'm ready to communicate with you now

Okay.  So, if you've been reading my spoutings for the last few months you might have noticed that I've been alluding to something that I wasn't quite ready to share with you yet.

No, I'm not pregnant, and never gonna be, so you can put that thought of your head right away.

Yes, TLH and I are still together and co-existing relatively happily.

It's not something that's, on the face of it, as monumental as that.  However, to me, it's pretty fucking epic.

Tonight I am playing in my first gig for 23 years.

AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHH! (That's the sound of terror, by the way).  And I'm on the Immodium.  And have a bottle of Resue Remedy to hand as back up.

I'll explain....

Way back, over two years ago in fact, I mentioned that I had played in bands in my teens and twenties but I hadn't gone into the full boring detail of my previous musical life.  In about 1986 I formed an all-girl 3-piece sax outfit called 'Casual Sax' with the idea that we would busk but also hire ourselves out as a horn section for any available local bands that wanted us.

(I'm not sure if I've posted this picture before but I don't care if I have because it's one of my favourites)

This was Casual Sax back in about 1987, playing with a student band called Holy Durex where the rest of the band dressed as religious figures - pope, vicar, monk, that sort of thing - so we decided we'd dress up as devils, hence the horns and tails:

In both these pictures, I'm on the right, Bev is in the middle and Chrissie is on the left.  We stayed together for about 18 months but then Chrissie left to work in a hospital after finished her PhD, and also played with Hang Wangford, so she was going more of a country route.  Bev and I carried on for a bit:

But then she joined a 1960s style soul band who got a residency in Portugal and I was left on my own.  The band I was playing mainly with then disbanded in 1988, I packed my saxophone away and never really played it again.

Bev carried on and became very good.  She got work as a proper session musician and played at the 2006 MOBO awards in London behind Sam Moore.   Her life took her to live and work in Cape Verde, just off the coast of Senegal, West Africa for several years, but last November she announced she was coming back to the UK for good and in January 2011, to celebrate her birthday, the soul band she'd played in was reforming and doing a gig at a pub near to me.  I'd not actually seen Bev for about 7 or even 8 years so I dragged TLH along:

She was just as fabulous as always.  I love Bev.

Anyway, the band played, and it was huge fun and then afterwards, Bev and I were chatting and she said that now she was back in England, the band were reforming and asked me if would be interesting in joining her on sax.


I said 'YES'.  In capital letters.

I'd recently been going through a very nostalgic phase of listening to live recordings of my old bands, watching the videos and looking at all the old photos and wishing I hadn't given up playing but, being the age I am now, the fact that I've not played properly in 23 years and - most importantly - I didn't actually know anyone in any local bands meant my visions of returning to the stage were left lying in the gutter.  Until my lovely Bev turned up.

I knew both of us were taking a bit of a risk, as I was bound to be crap after not playing for so long, but she spoke to the rest of the band and said they were keen, and it would be good to have a 2-horn sax back line as it would suit the sort of music, so let's go for it.

She said the next gig would be in April so there was plenty of time for me to learn the songs and stuff.  And that's what I've been doing for the last 3 months.  I dug out my sax from the loft and got it repaired (which is what I was doing last Saturday in London) and started listening to the songs and transcribing the notes, preferably live versions as played by the band (who are 'The Fugitives', by the way) but if I hadn't got a live version, then the originals.  The music is 60s soul and R'n'B and is stuff that absolutely everyone knows.  Think 'The Commitments' and 'The Blues Brothers', that sort of thing.  Very popular with weddings, parties and business conferences.  More likely to get hired for paid gigs than younger rock bands because at least everyone knows the songs.

And the gig is TONIGHT.  Yes, I'm bricking it.  Bev came round this afternoon for a run through and we've discovered, sadly, that there are at least 3 songs in the usual setlist that I've had to learn from the originals which are, in fact, in a different key to the one the band plays in.  Arse.  There's not enough time to relearn them in the new key and I'm not that good at transposing while playing, so I'll either have to not play them, or just pretend or hopefully find one or two notes that are in the right key and just parp and toot those at relevant places until I can learn them properly.

God, there's nothing like being thrown in the deep end.

I've been keeping this under my hat until now in case it all went tits up - and there's still a pretty good chance of that happening - but I'm hopeful that it won't be a massive disaster so am risking telling you all now.

I'll let you know tomorrow how it goes.  Wish me luck.....

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Ooh - shiny!

You all saw the horrors of my old Reebok trainers, yes?  The ones I've worn every day for the last 8 years?  That I'd just started running in?  No?  Well here they are then:

The sole has nearly worn off under the ball of the foot and the heel? Well, just look at it.

These are obviously no good for running in and were a major contributing factor to the very painful shin splints I suffered last week.  There was no other choice - new running shoes would have to be purchased.  This meant finding a 'proper' running store where there were knowledgeable assistants who would watch how I run in order to ensure I got the right kind of shoes for me.

The only store I actively knew of - without going online to research - was the London Marathon Store down Long Acre, because when I used to work down Fleet Street, I used to regularly walk past it at lunchtimes on my way to a bead shop in Tower Street.  But there was no way on earth I was going to travel up to London in all my running gear - including industrial strength bra - just so I could run on their machine for 5 minutes!

Luckily, I found a much nearer alternative - Sweatshop.  Apparently, according to their website, they're the UK's largest specialist running shop and there's a branch in Woking which is about 30 mins drive from me!

So after doing the trip to London on Saturday, TLH and I decided we would go to Woking on Sunday to get me properly fitted.  I contacted the shop to ask what was the best time to come along for a go on their machine, and was advised either 11-12 or 4-5 would probably be the quietest times.  We walked into the shop at about 11.10am.  I was in all my running gear and was very pleased that the shop assistants didn't fall about laughing as I plonked my lardy arse down on the bench and told them about my woes.

In fact, they were most enthusiastic about the fact that I was venturing into the world of running (or, in my case, 'jogging very slowly, in fact more a shamble really') but agreed that better shoes were a priority.  So, they got me to put on a pair of 'neutral' shoes - they had no specially supportive areas - for a baseline reading and led to me to the treadmill.  I was instructed to start it at a walking pace, then increase the speed until it was at a comfortable running/jogging pace, and they would video the back of my calves and my feet as I ran.  This took about 3 minutes and they showed me the video from which I could see that my feet both rolled inwards as I ran through my stride.  He drew a line on the screen from the mid point at the back of my knee down to the ground and instead of it going through the mid point of the back of my heel, it was way off to one side.  I was running at an angle that would put massive strain on my knees and ankles.  This meant that I need shoes with extra support on the inside edge of the heel to stop this happening and keep everything in a straighter line.

Now it was just a question of working through different brands of shoes to find ones that weren't too tight across the toes, and which had enough support.  I tried on three pairs of shoes and each time had to try them on the treadmill being filmed and then run up and down the shop, to discover which had enough support.  One pair was too tight at the toes, another pair just felt really 'flat' under my feet, like wearing skateboard daps, and then I found them.

Silver and bright, acidic yellow they may be, but they felt brilliant on my feet.  It's hard to describe, but the sole felt almost curved under my feet, like it was tilting me forward slightly and making me feel like I wanted to take off running, right there, in the shop.  Lovely.

And here they are, say hello to my brand new Mizuno Wave Inspire 7's:

Yes, they were a little pricey but I don't think £90 is too bad for proper running shoes, especially when you can get ordinary trainers that cost more than that these days.

And I couldn't wait so I went for a run in them that afternoon and, blimey, what a difference!  There was some residual shin splint pain but nothing like as bad as before.  I could definitely feel a difference because when I'd finished, different muscles were hurting - the front of my thighs were aching, which hadn't happened before and can only result from different muscles being used, hopefully the right ones now!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

London in the spring...

We've had the most glorious, glorious weather here for the last couple of weeks.  The average temperature at this time of year is around 14 degrees centigrade/57 degrees Fahrenheit but since the beginning of April, the temperature has been between 21 and 24 degrees (69-75 degrees)!  Blue skies as far as the eye can see.  Factor 50 suncream for me, lobster pink flesh for the rest of the English populace.

Last Saturday I needed to take a thing up to London to be repaired (I'll tell you about this at a later date), to a specialist shop just off Baker Street, so TLH and I decided we would  make a bit of a day of it, partly because the weather was so fab but also because it had been our 15th wedding anniversary on Monday 4th and because TLH has to get up at stupid o'clock in the morning to go to work these days, going out on that particular night was not really an option.  Plus we'd have had to have stayed sober and that's no fun.

We got a late morning train and headed off to Baker Street on the underground.  I deposited the thing that needed repairing with the repairman who said it would take about 45 minutes to sort out, so we decided to go for a spot of lunch.  I'd already done a brief bit of Googling before we came up ('restaurants near Baker Street' was my exacting search criteria) and had decided we would check out a place called Canteen.  This is a small chain of 4 restaurants that specialises in traditional British food - soups, pies, roasts, fish 'n' chips, proper puddings.  It has won many plaudits and seemed reasonably priced.  They don't take bookings for Saturdays and, in fact, for the rest of the week, apparently 70% of the tables are kept free for walk-ins so you don't need to get worried about booking a table.  We got there at about 1pm and found it only about a third full.

Canteen specialises, it says, in 'honest, seasonal food, nationally sourced, skillfully prepared and reasonably priced.  Our meat is additive free.  Our fish delivered fresh from day boats on the south coast'.  The menu is yummy - there's a breakfast and all day section that offers toast and marmite; porridge; Bacon, eggs and bubble & squeak; kippers with poached eggs; eggs on toast; sausage & onion sandwich; bacon sandwich; rhubarb compote with yoghurt & granola; and welsh rarebit with poached eggs.

Yes, I'm going to tell you everything on the menu.

Starters/small dishes will give you soup, bread & butter; Spinach & Lancashire cheese tart; 1/2 pint of prawns with mayo; chicken liver pate, piccalilli & toast; devilled kidneys on toast; kippers with poached eggs; and welsh rarebit.

Salads - walnut, tarragon & roast chicken; chicory, watercress, apple & walnut; smoked haddock, leek, croutons & poached egg; and beetroot, broad bean, mint, peas & Berkswell cheese.

Mains - Roast squash, fennel with barley & marjoram; mushroom, chard & pearl barley stew; smoked haddock, spinach & mash; shepherds pie; macaroni cheese; sausages & mash with onion gravy; fish and chips with tartare sauce; chicken & chips with salad; pie of the day with mash, greens and gravy; daily roast with roast potatoes, greens & gravy; steak & chips.

Puddings - Bread & butter pudding with caramel ice cream; cheesecake with caramel & roasted nuts; steamed syrup sponge with custard; rice pudding with jam; rhubarb & almond trifle; chocolate brownie caramel sundae; homemade ice cream & shortbread.

Cakes - scones, jam & clotted cream; carrot cake; Victoria sponge; chocolate & beetroot cake.

Bar snacks - fish finger sandwich; sausage rolls; scotch eggs; pork scratchings; Twiglets (gotta love a restaurant that has Twiglets on the menu!)

See - proper British grub.  You hungry yet?

TLH and I both plumped for the fish and chips with a side of mushy peas.  It was, without doubt, the best goddamn plate of fish and chips I have ever, ever eaten.  The fish was haddock (which is my favourite), thoroughly skinned and boned, and fried in breadcrumbs instead of batter.  It was surprisingly non-greasy.

The chips were crispy on the outside, fluffy inside and, again, not greasy.  The tartare sauce was definitely homemade and had lemon zest and chopped chives in it.  The side order of mushy peas was huge (check out the bowl in the picture).  The colour of them was, perhaps, not the most appetising but who cares when they tasted so good, and they were peppery.  TLH drank ginger beer and I had homemade lemonade which was both sharp and sweet.
Inside Canteen

We were surprisingly stuffed but we still managed to find room for pudding.  I had the homemade ice cream (which was caramel and delicious) which came with a piece of shortbread and some thin biscotti that contained pistachios and fennel seeds, and were utterly fabulous.  TLH had the rhubarb and almond trifle which was the only slightly disappointing thing we had as there was far too much whipped cream on the top, little - if any - sponge and no cold custard in the trifle.  I mean, yeah, it was nice 'n' that, but not quite what I would call a trifle.  Service was very quick and competent, and I would very definitely recommend it.  The branches are at 55 Baker Street, the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, 2 Crispin Place in Spitalfields, and Park Pavilion, 40 Canada Square, Canary Wharf.

We were finished and done, and the repaired thing collected, by about 2.30pm and we wondering what else to do.  Sadly we were in the wrong part of London to be able to cheer on Antonia and the Family Cornwell who had donned hairy fabric and two-wheeled transportation for this year's Tweed Run, but we were very close to Regent's Park and I wasn't sure if I'd ever been there before, so off we went, past Sherlock Holmes' place (the photos in this post were all taken on my iPhone, so apologies for quality) :

And within a few minutes we were strolling beside the boating lake, admiring the stunning flower beds and enjoying the sunshine along with, seemingly, the entire population of Central London!

You could easily forget that you were in London completely until you catch sight of the Post Office Tower, looming at the edge:
There are cherry blossom walkways:

And beautiful municipal flowerbeds with fountains and large urns:

And ornate black and gilt park gates:
After about an hour or so, we decided we'd had enough of bounteous Mother Nature and so started heading vaguely back in the direction of Waterloo.  Our route took us along Portland Place which is the location of the famous 1930s Art Deco building which houses the BBC's radio studios.  The statues on the outside were sculpted by Eric Gill:

And - somehow, I don't know how, it was a miracle - we ended up again at Wahaca in Covent Garden, heeding the siren call of their magnificent Margaritas (with a side order of beer):
I love London in the springtime.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

In which my legs fall off

Just got back from the run that should be Week 2 day 2 of C25k.  Except it wasn't really.  Only gone and got bloody shin splints now, haven't I?


The burn was starting towards the end of my previous run but I just ignored it and carried on.  I didn't even manage to get to halfway through this morning's workout before the burning became too strong to ignore so I had to walk through the last one-and-a-half of the running sections.  Which cocks up my stats righteously.  I was only able to cover a distance of 1.7 miles and both my walk and run paces were slower.

This has chucked a fairly serious spanner in the works because, much to my surprise, I was actually sort of starting to enjoy the running a bit.  Especially after I stopped.  You know, the way that you feel pretty good after a good swim, or decent session at the gym, when everything's jangling and the blood's flowing, that bit I especially enjoyed.  But I'm not entirely sure what to do now.  I think I probably need some decent footwear - I have to admit that I'm running in some pretty battered 8 year old Reeboks that I've pretty much worn every day since I got them, and maybe I should have eased into the whole running malarkey a bit more slowly than I have rather than suddenly putting a whole load of strain on my lower legs and taking them by surprise.

 My knackered trainers

At the moment I'm thinking I should perhaps visit a specialist running shop (I've found there's one in Woking, which isn't too far from me) where they'll have a machine I can run on and they can see what sort of shoe I need, and then when I've forked out an eyewatering amount of money for something hideous looking to shove on my feet I may have to start the C25k all over again, from the beginning, and take it more slowly this time to give my body time to adjust.

But whatever I do, the main piece of advice I've gathered from Dr Google is that I have to stop running until the  pain goes away.  Well, my next run probably wasn't going to be until Sunday but I don't think I'll be able to get to Woking before then as I don't have the car, and TLH and I are off up to London Village on Saturday for the day.  Yes, I know there are specialist running shops in London but to be tested properly on the machines apparently you have to wear your usual running gear and then run on them for 30 minutes, and I'm not wearing all that - including industrial strength sports bra - up to London on a day out!  Hopefully TLH can arrange to work from home one day next week and I'll go then.

I'm genuinely disappointed about this setback - why is nothing ever easy?

Ta-daa! Unveiling the Pansy Beanie!

Well, this makes a change from my latest exercise blogging, doesn't it?  I've not been neglecting my crochet but, sadly, am unable to do it while running, so I'm only doing it in the evening in front of the telly.

Last weekend, while attending a craft fair, I sat and made seven African Flower Hexagons.  Not sure what I'm going to do with them yet, but I really liked the pattern and fancied having a go.  Look, aren't they nice?

The ends haven't been woven in yet and, obviously, they've not been sewn together yet, but you get the idea.  I might make a circular cushion cover, something like this perhaps:

I've also made another crochet flower from 'Crochet Bouquet' by Suzann Thompson, that I mentioned previously.  This time it's a Narcissus, which is a white daffodil-style flower with a pale pink centre (in this case):

It is very cute but came out larger than I was expecting, it's about 4 inches across.  There's a rosebud I want to try but I need to investigate a particular stitch it requires because I'm not sure how to do it.

It dawned on me that the flowers would look lovely on a fern green crocheted beanie hat so last night downloaded an easy, free pattern and made the hat in just over an hour.  My first piece of wearable crochet!!

This morning I tried the flowers but decided that the Narcissus is actually too large, so I think I'll add a few beads to it and turn it into a large corsage-style brooch.  But the pansy I made a couple of weeks ago was perfect.  I toyed with the idea of making a couple more in different colourways and adding them as well, but, you know, I think just the one will do.  So, with no more ado, here it is then:

It's all in UK treble stitch with a shallow shell edging.

See my collection of Birdies has increased? I've got loads of kids' birthdays coming up so guess where they're going?

Ooh, using the flash makes the wall look really dark.  Anyway, this ceramic head (which is actually a plant pot) is somewhat smaller than a proper head (especially mine), so shall I show you what it looks like on?

Note the subtle positioning of the camera to hide my double chin.  But look, look how cute this little beanie is!  And it doesn't need any more flowers, does it?