26 November 2010

keep music miserable

Judge a book by its cover? Me? Well maybe a little bit.

Alright, I admit it. I don’t find it necessary to carry out a full assessment when a cursory glance with a practised eye will tell me all I need to know; will warn me of potential boredom. Time is too short to waste sieving babies from bath water!

Take film genres for example. Scanning a review, I only have to spy the words ‘heart warming,’ ‘inspirational,’ ‘wacky’ or (heaven save us) ‘screwball adventure’ and I read no further. No good can possibly come of wallowing in such drivel. Now, take ‘supernatural,’ ‘paranormal,’ ‘horror,’ ‘alien...’ all these will catch my eye. If I should detect ‘exorcism,’ ‘abduction,’ ‘conspiracy’ or ‘vampire’ in the same paragraph then I’m sucked in.

It’s true, I am swinging wildly between extremes here. But that’s not a bad trait, eh? You know where you stand, or at least I do! That’s not to say I won’t ever watch a ‘chick flick.’ I have been known to allow these in my DVD player and even permit a slight grin or release a low chuckle at a ‘hilarious comedy’ but I’m happiest in my preferred habitat – ‘dark,’ ‘serious,’ ‘psychological thriller,’ ‘alternative comedy...’ you get the picture.

Is there a possibility I may have missed some subtle and engaging story by my dismissive choices? Perhaps. Over the decades I estimate I have dumped several million gallons of bathwater so there is a chance I have thrown out a baby or two. (Gently of course!) But that’s ok they do bounce!

I have an interesting DVD collection. Some would say, scary, black, depressing and troubled but hey, I own the musical ‘Oliver’ and the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy so it’s not all doom and gloom! (Says the proud owner of ‘The Shining,’ ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Omen’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs!’

In fairness, even I detect a trend here. I prefer ‘sad’ over ‘happy,’ ‘ironic’ over ‘funny’ and ‘bleak’ over ‘uplifting.’ This is even more true of my music collection. I haven’t counted (yet) but I would bet more than fifty per cent of my music is in a minor key! Whoever said “the only good songs are sad songs” has a powerful point. (Actually it might have been me!) Wait a minute, I have R.E.M.’s ‘Shiny Happy People’ on their album ‘Out of Time.’ But that’s ok, I usually skip that track!

Music stirs the emotions and mostly, though I concede by no means always, the darker emotions, sorrow, loneliness, loss, fear and disappointment. There is nothing missing from my collection of Pink Floyd, Radiohead or Dire Straits, to cite a few dinosaurs, and they are largely miserable. Fantastically miserable! A melody may be evocative of a certain mood but the lyrics coax that mood to full bloom. Consequently I can’t listen to anything bland or repetitive. I demand quality lyrics that can stand alone as poetry. Gloomy poetry of course!

Whoever heard of a happy poem? That would be a limerick! Poetry is another example of art appealing to the darker emotions and surely best exemplified by pieces like Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” or Ted Hughes’ “The Thought Fox.”

All of this rambling thought brings me to my long-held conviction that the best artists, be they in the fields of literature, poetry, music or even comedy, are mainly mad or sad or both. Yes even comedy, the very best comedy, is a hair’s breadth away from sadness and madness. Pathos is powerful. Try laughing uncontrollably and you’ll quickly realise you’re crying really.

Most of this boils down to depressive thinking. To depict suffering in words or oils, in reality or irony, first you must study suffering. That’s just one example. But consider the various dark corners artists repeatedly explore, despite the warnings of those who have gone there before: death, despair, futility, anger, hatred and regret. It’s not surprising that some of the most exceptional authors, poets, songwriters and clowns have succumbed to depression and madness. I used to have a list of all those who suffered but it grew so long it became redundant.

Therefore, art equals misery and insanity. Q.E.D.

... now where was I? Oh yes, having fun!

15 November 2010

the label maker

The eagle-eyed among my select readership will have noticed the appearance of labels on my entire blog archive. Michelle suggested this idea as a way for her to delve into my literary nonsense with at least some direction. Speaking as an indefatigable cataloguer, lister and categoriser, self-certified neat freak and all-round terminal Virgo, it is frankly astonishing that I hadn't done this sooner!

So, after three hours of browsing, choosing and applying labels, there is now a "tag cloud" sitting ominously in my sidebar leading the curious to fictional flights of fancy, pompous pontifications and rip-roaring reviews. For those with a visual preference, many posts still carry links to my photo site. This has proved an interesting trip down memory lane.

I found the exercise supremely satisfying. Similar but on a slightly smaller scale to completing the writing of my "Memoirs to Age Fifty," listing my complete worldly possessions, scanning my three thousand 35mm photographs, tagging them all along with the fourteen thousand or so digital photos in my files. It leaves me feeling comfortable. Yes, tidiness is very soothing in a chaotic world, therapeutic even.

There came a time when I couldn't rest until my music, film and book collections had been catalogued in Excel spreadsheets. Now for example, I can sort the whole music file into alphabetical order by band, chronological order by release date, alphabetical order by genre, chronological order by purchase date, ascending order of purchase price, descending order of personal star-rating and... need I go on?

... ok I will. I have all fourteen hundred CDs ripped to mp3 on my hard drive (with obligatory backup of course).

My stamp collection includes used examples of almost every British issue since 1840 and mint examples of everything since 1900. My coin collection is practically complete with every British coin minted since 1837 (plus a fair quantity of European, American and Canadian examples). Oh, and of course they are all catalogued in exciting spreadsheets! I had weeks of fun scanning the coins (both obverse and reverse naturally)!

Is it all a sickness, an affliction of details? Probably. But does it rule my life? Not that you would notice, I hope!

Now, where's my label maker? :)

Someone shoot me if I start printing labels for "TV," "couch," "fridge," "spoon..."

18 October 2010

Prince Edward Island Marathon 2010 – a bittersweet day

Last Sunday I ran my first marathon - 26.2 miles, or as they say in Canada 42km. I have been running for three years up to fifteen miles a week so reckoned I had built a good base from which to launch a sixteen week marathon training programme.

Despite injuries earlier in the year I had managed to raise my mileage steadily until I was covering thirty-five miles a week including long runs of sixteen and nineteen miles. Eventually however the training took its toll with sprains, strains and general exhaustion. I allowed myself two weeks of light training and the aches subsided but my ankles in particular were tender. Nonetheless by race day I was still hopeful of completing the marathon in four and a half hours, a realistic goal considering the times I had consistently run in training.

Sunday dawned cold, windy and raining and the surf on the north shore was boiling as we swung into Brackley Beach Car Park. Runners were milling around, stretching and warming up under the shelter of trees and in the lee of low buildings. The girls looked wet and bedraggled in the early morning gloom and must have wondered just why we had dragged them out into the wind and rain!

As 8am approached I lined up near the back of the two hundred and sixty five participants. This is a very small event – forget the tens of thousands of London, New York and Boston. At the gun we set off into the rain with the wind whipping at our backs. I discovered straight away that my iPod was stuck on repeat and, being blind as a bat without my reading glasses, I couldn't change the playback settings so stuffed it in the pocket of my drinks belt and ran in silence. What a bummer after crafting a fantastic fifty-song playlist!

I let faster runners disappear into the distance and settled into my own pace, monitoring my progress against a small laminated chart I’d made, showing kilometre split times. At the halfway point, twenty- one kilometres, we turned off the roads and onto the trail. I was on track at two hours and thirteen minutes and I reached the thirty-one kilometre mark spot on at three hours thirteen minutes...

Then I hit the wall. My knees buckled repeatedly and each time I limped and hopped until the pain eased. My pace dropped and runners began to pass me. The rain fell and the wind blew and at times it was all I could do to keep grinding away, one foot in front of the other with short strides. My knees, ankles and hips protested with each pace and I felt cold wet and miserable. I managed a weak smile for the thin groups of supporters who had valiantly turned out along the route.

By now I could see no one in front and no one behind me, yet I knew there must be more, trailing at the back. As I stumbled the final ten kilometres I lost huge chunks of time. Four and a half hours was no longer on and indeed I would drop twenty-five minutes in the final ten kilometres. Gatorade, water and energy gels were available at regular points. If nothing else, I should probably have drunk more.

I don't know how I finished the final drag of six kilometres from Sears into downtown. I limped and gritted my teeth and grunted in pain and watched stragglers pass me. I stopped to take a shoe off when some padding on a sore toe broke free in my sock but other than that and a couple of stops to stretch my legs, I ran the whole distance.

I finished in four hours and fifty-six minutes. My race number had long since blown away in the wind but my shoelace-mounted timing chip triggered a display in the commentator's booth as I approached the finish line and his excited voice boomed my name over the public address! Michelle and Cheryl were there to cheer me home and I all but collapsed into the arms of the volunteers handing out "space blankets." I limped to the car and when we got home my lips were blue and I was shivering. A half hour soak in a steaming hot bath followed by an hour in bed pulled me back closer to the land of the living.

This morning my muscle stiffness is bad and I can barely hobble from one room to another! I wish I could say running my first marathon was a profoundly uplifting, emotional experience but I can’t. It was horribly hard under nasty conditions and I just felt lousy, wet, cold and miserable. I hurt like hell and I am disappointed in my time which was dragged so low by being unable to jog above a brisk walking pace for the final ten kilometres. I know I was capable of a more respectable performance.

To balance this bleak summary I must acknowledge that this was my first attempt. At the ripe old age of fifty-three I accomplished something fewer than one in a thousand islanders did. (Of the two hundred and sixty-five participants over two thirds came from off island.) I completed the training through all weathers and despite injuries, I finished the marathon and I didn’t come last! I made a decision, committed to it and achieved my aim.

It’s still only a day ago that I ran forty-two kilometres. It’s too soon to make objective statements about the future. I want to say I hated it and I will never again put myself in such an uncomfortable place. I shouted those very words somewhere along the Confederation Trail with only the wind for an audience. It’s still a true statement as I sit and type this. When the pain has receded and the cold, wet memories have faded will I think differently? I might.

Lessons learned:
1. Set off even slower
2. Check iPod before abandoning my reading glasses
3. Drink more en route
4. Wear warmer clothes if it’s blowing a gale and raining
5. Run fewer runs in training but make the weekly long run longer and slower.

Thank you to Michelle for the amazing photos.

PS: belatedly I should add that two years on I trained again and put myself in a good position to retry. In 2012 I finished in four hours thirty eight minutes and felt much stronger. There is a full review here. My recovery after the second attempt was astonishing. I barely limped the following day and only a week later ran 10k.

08 October 2010

i'm related to president george w bush

Quite how this discovery changes my life, I’m still trying to decide. The genealogical chart above opens quite blurred when you click on it due to the drastic reduction from its original size. Click the image again and it will expand but the size still just about shields identities. For the curious, I am in the lower left hand corner and my long lost presidential cousin is near the bottom right.

Some time ago I traced a distant line of ancestors by the name of Packard on my father’s side in the eastern English county of Suffolk but I lost track of them somewhere in the early 1800s. As is usual with genealogy, I got side-tracked on numerous other lines of enquiry and thought no more of the Packards until this week...

The beauty of the crumbling bones of long-dead ancestors is that they aren’t going anywhere in a hurry, so you can put them down and pick them back up much later and they’ll still be there. I returned to my Packards this month and discovered a fascinating pedigree online which included a prominent Packard in my own lineage. With me so far?

Out of sheer greed I copied the hundred or so names in this pedigree into my own records, pushing my Packard line back to a barely credible 1486AD! Out of curiosity I scanned the descending lines of this online treasure trove and the first one I followed led to a family of Packards who emigrated to The States in the 1700s where they threw down roots and thrust up branches up and down New England.

I continued to follow this line but when I reached the late Victorian period the male Packards had petered out. While I was idly fiddling with a dwindling female arm (so to speak) I spotted a Sheldon marrying in and fathering a daughter, Flora Sheldon. Bells of familiarity began to ring. I quickly realised Flora married Samuel Prescott Bush and they produced Prescott Sheldon Bush – the subject of many conspiracy theories ranging from the assassination of JFK to the Bilderberg Group to funding the Nazis.

This helpful online pedigree listed later descendants as "living" so dutifully withheld their names in the interests of privacy. Of course the next two generations are the George Bush's, senior and junior, as a cursory glance at Wikipedia will confirm!

My Family Historian software reliably informs me George W Bush and I are eleventh cousins once removed. Or in other words, we share a common ancestor fifteen generations ago. What all this means I am not sure. One thing is fairly certain, I am unlikely to be invited for cocktails at a leafy retreat in Rhode Island or Connecticut or wherever the bigwigs hang out these days. However, I might be spirited away to Quantico for interrogation.

24 September 2010

the loneliness of the long distance runner

You might think this statement, borrowed from the title of a 1962 film, is a complaint. It's not. I enjoy the isolation of running alone and the self discovery it brings. On short runs I wear only a thin layer of Lycra, running shoes and a watch. There was a time when I regarded ten kilometres as an impossible dream but now that classes as a short run. For me ten kilometres now is fifty-eight minutes to unwind; to settle into a rhythm of stride pattern and breathing; to shake off angst and frustration.

Now I regularly run up to thirty kilometres. On the road for two to three hours at a time, I find controlled breathing and stride length becomes hypnotic. Setting off under the stars at 5:30am I can drift into a twilight world, only dimly aware of the passage of time and the rolling by of roads, houses, fields, woods and miles. Early in the run I chew over problems, decisions, anxieties until those thoughts begin to fade. After an hour or so my mind is almost empty. Even as dawn breaks only my footfall connects me to the planet. That's the point at which I really begin to absorb the fifty-song playlist poured into my ears by my iPod. Tracks that span the length of my life beat in my head. Each new cross fade brings a new decade and different fragments of memory...

Two years ago I ran my first half-marathon. When you enter the realm of long distance running you discover your body's natural limits. If you are not blessed with the physiology of an "elite" athlete you will need to drink during runs longer than one hour. Much beyond that and you will need to eat too. Standard issue muscles can store enough glycogen to power them for maybe ninety minutes to two hours before you slow to a crawl then stop completely. The first time I experienced exhaustion, headache and nausea after two hours of running I thought I was simply unwell. Cold and shivering, I walked the remaining mile home with barely the energy to drop into a hot bath. I took that lesson only once.

This year I developed the tentative idea of entering a full marathon. 26.2 miles is a special distance, well beyond reach without months of punishing training, building muscle and stamina, forcing your body to adapt to burning fat as well as glycogen to drive muscles. I had been running throughout our uncommonly mild winter (minus ten is mild by Maritime Canada standards!), covering fifteen or twenty miles a week so had maintained last year's conditioning. Michelle bought me the "Non-Runner's Marathon Guide" and after devouring it I calculated I could move seamlessly from my current weekly mileage into the sixteen week recommended training programme by the first week of July. I hadn't bargained on injury.

From a combination of over-training in April and a new pair of running shoes I damaged the arch of my left foot. Such was the pain, I couldn't run at all in May and June. I nervously watched the arrival of July and decided I would test the foot despite residual pain. I had lost some cardio-vascular fitness despite visiting the gym pretty much every day to use the "eliptical cross trainer" and it took me several weeks and yet more new running shoes to recover my stamina - but I did. The chart above shows the mileage I have run in the past three months - four runs a week, including one long run on Sunday morning. On long runs you need to take some of your world with you. I wear my iPod; a belt to carry my drinks bottle, energy gels, lip-balm, Vaseline and mobile phone.

For the past six weeks I have run a half marathon or further every Sunday with a longest run of nineteen miles. This has taken a toll on my ankles. Swelling has made the interior ankle bones red and sore. For the first time I missed a scheduled run this week and know I won't be able to cover the recommended miles before October 17th. I ran ten kilometres last night in my fastest time ever but my ankles are tender this morning. I plan to begin the taper early and reduce my mileage to one long run and one medium run for the next three weeks in the hope of reaching marathon day in decent enough shape to finish the race.

So, health permitting, I may be ready to tackle those 26.2 miles (42km) and it might take me around four and a half hours, a time frame for running that would have shocked me until recent years. Through sheer determination and hours spent ignoring the heat, the cold, the wind, the rain and the snow, I discovered that you can train yourself to do almost anything - even to run for hours and hours on end. I am on the brink. Only physical collapse can stop me. I know I can meet the mental challenge. I am comfortable with my own company and voyages deep inside my head while outside the hours are passing and the world is turning.

There is a start, there is a finish and in between you just run. That bit in between is where the loneliness resides. No one can do it for you, you are on your own.

07 September 2010

synch your iPod with windows media player

... or how I shunned iTunes.

Apple has done all in its power to render their delicious iPods incompatible with Windows. Hardly surprising when you consider Apple is in direct competition with the Bill Gates empire. The only way to upload media to your iPod, whether it's music, video or spoken word, is by using iTunes.

That statement is only as true as Apple would have you believe. In other words test it and you might find an alternative way. I love the silky, sexy iPod but I am not a fan of iTunes. I find the interface clunky and the interference of Apple somewhat intrusive. Quite apart from trying to sell you music, you feel they might be amassing a database of people who download album art from them having acquired the music from some other dubious source. Well, they may be right but that's none of their business.

Google the terms ipod, synch and Windows Media Player and you quickly find there are a number of solutions available to those who have grown to almost enjoy Windows Media Player and who want to marry it to their new iPod. The easiest method I found was to download a plug-in called from MGTECH. The mysteriously named "dopisp" runs invisibly in the background and allows Windows Media Player to detect your iPod when you plug it in. Hey Presto, you can synch your favourite podcasts, albums and films as well as manage and delete files.

The solution is free to try but costs about twenty dollars to use permanently. I for one am happy to fork out the cash in order to keep my tried and tested method of stuffing an mp3 player.

You'll also need to download Juice, a pod feed retriever. When you've told Juice the address of your favourite streams it will look for them daily and save copies in your preferred Documents or Music folder where they can be automatically monitored by Windows Media Player for new material. Almost seamless really.

06 September 2010

iPod nano 16gb

This is my new iPod Nano. For the past five or six years I have used a Creative Zen mp3 player which still serves me well but which is heavy and bulky by today's standards. It's hard to understand how they can make this thing so small, so wafer thin, yet able not only to store music but play films, shoot video clips, record voice memos, act as a calendar, alarm clock and general all-round indispensible gadget. I rather like it.

Since I began running two and a half years ago, I have run without music. This is partly preference because I do like to hear the ambient sounds but partly because my Zen doesn't respond well to the shaking and bouncing of a run as it operates from a traditional hard drive with all the attendant moving, spinning parts.

Apple has announced revised versions of their players and the new Nano will not be much bigger than a postage stamp. One unexpected sneeze and you might never see the device again! This week, before the fifth generation stocks dwindle, I treated myself to the old Nano and a slim neoprene sleeve with a Velcro armband.

Yesterday I ran with my new iPod for the first time and it was a nice experience. I ran sixteen and a half miles which took two hours and forty three minutes - long enough to listen to a playlist containing a one hour podcast on Jack the Ripper, two albums by "The Music" and a half hour BBC Radio programme, "Just a Minute." Time flew by!

28 August 2010

old home week, charlottetown pei

Mid August is Old Home Week in Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown is bursting at the seams with tourists from the Far East, Europe, The United States and from almost every Province in Canada. So, a good time to showcase all that relates to Maritime family-run farms and rural life. Here are some photos of our day out.

We parked at my father-in-law's apartment and walked to the Exhibition Centre in blazing sunshine. For several blocks all around people have been renting out parking spaces on their front lawns, driveways and even back yards! Five dollars seems to be the going rate. Licence plates on glittering automobiles from New York, Tennessee, Georgia and even Florida jostle for position between rusting local Buicks and Mustangs.

We wanted the girls to see the livestock so headed first for the animal sheds. Sheep, goats and chickens held the interest for a while but soon we made for the larger beasts. However the overpowering aroma from the indoor cow and horse enclosures, not to mention the slimy floor, forced us to beat a retreat.

MJ was as busy as ever and we moved between exhibits and shows to keep the peace. Ever the extrovert, she joined the volunteers on stage for a kids' sing-along. The others were accompanied by parents but two-year-old MJ shot up the stairs alone and simply looked around for visual clues before joining in the clapping, and dancing. I have photos of her with both feet several inches off the ground!

I retreated to the indoor arena with KR in the stroller to watch a display of horse riding. At just six months old she was restless and in need of a nap. After that we took in a harness race on the attached Charlottetown Driving Park. I am accustomed to seeing racehorses in full gallop on British courses and at first I couldn't work out what was different about the gait of these horses. Then I realised that although they were moving pretty fast they were using the trot stride pattern. This made them appear to be walking but in fast motion. Odd too to see the driver perched on a tiny ledge behind the horse's bottom, suspended on thin wheels. Somewhat precarious whichever way you look at it!

After a leisurely stroll through the funfair under a baking afternoon sun, mesmerised by the gut-churning aerial rides and the crazy prices, we picked up the car and took two exhausted girls home.

24 August 2010

gold cup and saucer parade, charlotte pei

One of harness racing's most prestigious events in Maritime Canada is the Gold Cup and Saucer held at Charlottetown's driving park. To celebrate and support the occasion roads are closed and a parade winds its way through town. Photos of the Parade are here.

We packed the girls in the car and snaked our way into town along with thousands of others, all optimistic of parking close to the parade's route. Arriving an hour before the start we managed to find a parking spot just a couple of hundred yards from a main road and set off carrying our folding chairs with MJ in tow and KR in the stroller.

By 10am the crowds lining the roads had swelled to five or six deep and a ten kilometre fun run raced past, with the loudest applause reserved for a five-yeariold who brought up the rear after running the whole way with his father.

We watched around a hundred floats grind slowly by, each one decked in bright colours and advertising a local business or organisation. Groups held giant inflatables, pulling on the guy ropes to lower their charges beneath Charlottetown's overhead power and phone lines.

MJ was pumped up by the sights, the sounds and the activity. She couldn't stop herself rushing into the road to join in the leaping and dancing of the cheerleaders and baton twirlers, or to march with brass bands and bagpipes. She is never a passive observer but wears her heart on her sleeve, pointing, shouting and faking fear as giants and clowns loomed in to view.

KR wriggled and fussed and squirmed in her stroller but eventually fell asleep. Flatbed trucks sounded their air horns making her startle without waking. After two hours the parade was over and we joined the rapidly dispersing tide of humanity hurrying for our cars.

22 August 2010

orwell corner historic village

We have had several nice outings this summer and I'll be blogging about more of them soon. I'll start today with our visit to Orwell Corner Historic Village. This is a tiny community preserved as it stood a hundred years ago. The cottages and houses have gone now but the church, hall, school, shop, barns and forge still remain. There were display cases in the village hall housing period pieces like the dental equipment pictured above. There are more photos here.

Everything has been kept just as it was when it was a bustling rural community. The highlights for me were the school and particularly the shop. A huge wood stove dominates the single classroom and a print of Queen Victoria glares down from above the blackboard, stark reminders of how frosty the lessons would have been. The shop is stocked with original items from a century ago and equipped with ancient scales and cash register.

A creaky stair leads above the shop to a tailor's loft complete with looms, spinning wheels and dummies. The shopkeeper was dressed in Victorian clothes and provided a wealth of information about the village and its way of life.

There was just about enough to interest MJ. She enjoyed the horses and pigs but preferred chasing the ducks around the farmyard. The place was almost deserted despite it being mid August and the height of the Island's tourist season. It was rather nice having the place virtually to ourselves.

28 July 2010

young me, now me



I was squeamish about wearing white socks and sandals but in the interests of recreating a photo of me from fifty years ago I reluctantly pulled them on. Please note, the ridiculous facial expression is deliberate!

25 July 2010

saucony progrid stabil cs running shoe

My arch pain has subsided enough to run and I've been back at it for three weeks. I have realised that my exisiting shoes have inadequate cushioning for longer runs and are far too flexible. I feel the root of my foot injury has been my low arches combined with over-use and the wrong shoe this year, so, after plenty of research I bought these online from Wiggle in the UK. I'm familiar with the brand and confident about sizing as I run in Saucony shoes.

Construction is solid and build-quality excellent. They feel heavy and rigid for a running shoe and make my Saucony ProGrid 8s feel decidedly lightweight. Sole cushioning is deep, firm and comfortable on hard surfaces. The ProGrid Stabils have an internal arch support strap which grips as you tighten the laces and holds the foot in line.

At first I found them a little "clumpy" and was conscious of the extra weight but they are comfortable. Time will tell if they can give the arch support I need. The biggest difference is the medial side of the sole which is flat to the road rather than arched as the following comparison of the right shoes shows.

NEW SHOE (right)

OLD SHOE (right)

This week I have run three times - six or seven miles each time and my initial reaction is positive. I still have some arch pain but maybe that will go eventually. For the past three weeks back on the road I have been adjusting my gait to compensate for the weak arch and have a number of little niggles as a result. Having run in the new shoes for the first time this week, there is some tenderness on the outside of my left sole where the new foot strike feels different.

Needless to say after such a long lay-off my times are way down and my stamina is poor. None of this is helped by the soaking humidity, daily temperatures in the high twenties and a dose of something a few days ago which put me to bed with nausea for twenty-four hours and left me with a weak appetite. I'm returning to normal now so hopefully next week will be easier on my muscles, heart and lungs!

08 July 2010

heat wave

Sunrise at 5:30am casts long sharp shadows heralding another day of blistering temperatures. By early afternoon it's twenty nine degrees Celsius with a stifling hot breeze, yet we are cooler than much of the rest of Canada. In central parts the "humidex" (I'm sure we didn't have that when I was small) is forty three degrees Celsius.

This is rather nice for someone like me who enjoys both hot and cold weather. However the heat and humidity sap energy, not useful when you are returning to running after an eight week injury break. There is still an ache in my foot but nothing like the previous severe pain. At the end of yesterday's five mile run I was footsore, heat-exhausted and somewhat dehydrated.

This morning the foot twinged when I first walked but eased up later. The latest setback has been lower back pain so nasty that you would laugh to see me attempt to regain the perpendicular from a sitting or lying position. I believe my gait is compensating for the foot injury and putting unexpected muscle strain on my back.

I have ordered some new running shoes with high tech "motion control" features that support the arches and guide the foot securely from heel to toe. I am keen for them to arrive soon as I have high hopes for them.

16 June 2010

the injured foot

A heavy running schedule for April and May have taken their toll. My last run was five weeks ago -eleven miles on the Confederation Trail. Pain set in on the top of my foot so severely that I couldn't put my full weight on the left foot. I self-diagnosed Extensor Tendinitis as the likely cause and tried ice, ibuprofen gel and rest. Additionally I used the TENS machine (Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation) that I originally bought a decade ago for relief from fibromyalgia.

Tendons have a limited blood supply so are notoriously slow to heal. TENS stimulates muscle and tendon at the cellular level and is thought to release pain relieving agents as well as to encourage growth; icing tricks the body into survival mode and it delivers extra blood to the cold area; rest avoids worsening the damage of course.

After a week the pain began to ease but running was out of the question and I began to get fidgety from the lack of exercise. Michelle reminded me that the community sports centre in Stratford offers free gym facilities. We took the kids there one Friday morning for the pre-school playgroup (also free, including refreshments) and I slipped upstairs to investigate the exercise equipment.

There are two running/walking lanes around the perimeter and a rank of about a dozen instruments of torture, mostly weights. However my eye was caught by two ellipticals and two bikes. Having arrived suitably attired, I leapt aboard an elliptical and began "running" without the impact or the foot tension. The cardio-vascular workout was exciting and I felt relieved that here was a way to maintain my fitness for the time being. Since then I have used the elliptical and the bike daily, pushing my heart rate to one hundred and fifty beats per minute and burning over seven hundred calories in an hour.

It has become a ritual to pull on my sports gear, take my mp3 player and drive the fifteen minutes to Stratford. I have come to recognise the regular faces, the old and the young, the slow walkers and the fast runners, the weight crunchers and the lazy cyclists, the flabby and the toned! I set my mp3 player to random and work hard until salty sweat is stinging my eyes and dripping from my chin. I have the windows down on the drive home and look forward to a deep, hot bath.

I can walk without too much discomfort for most of the day now but I can't run yet. I have tried an occasional quick mile around the gym track and the pain returns, so for the next few weeks at least, I will have to release my endorphins on the elliptical!

19 May 2010

music unpacked

This is my second CD carousel. I sold the first when I returned briefly to the UK in 2008. Since then my CDs have been boxed up in storage and the time was now right to open the boxes and get them all out. So, here they are on discreet display. The revolving shelf alone weighs over a hundred pounds and moves slowly but smoothly to give access to all four sides.

It's great to have my entire collection at my fingertips and I'm revisiting a lot of music both from the last few years and from long ago. My CD player and amplifier hide behind glass below the TV from where they also perform DVD duty. The armchair is strategically positioned between the shelf and the electronics so that I can plug in my headphones without stretching the lead uncomfortably.

My DVDs are all out on show now too. There is a nice mixture of Films, TV Drama and classic comedy. As we don't subscribe to cable or satellite, DVD viewing is almost nightly entertainment. I order British TV box sets from Amazon UK who neatly reduce the price for overseas orders to cancel VAT (British sales tax). That way if I get stung for import duty here in Canada at least I am not paying the tax twice!

08 May 2010


I like to hear every last detail in the music I listen to. I certainly want to hear the most sophisticated sound my budget will permit. I don’t think that quite qualifies me as an audiophile but it does mean I research equipment carefully before investing.

I play CDs on a NAD 541i or Cambridge Audio DVD89 player through a NAD C350 amplifier powering Bowers & Wilkins DM601 speakers. The sound is mighty impressive, clear and able to go unbelievably loud. I like to listen loud and immerse myself in the music. That was fine in my house but somewhat inappropriate for a small apartment.

I haven’t listened to music “properly” for over eighteen months. Most of my CD collection is still in storage but that is about to change. I have ordered shelving to house a lifetime's collection of CDs and DVDs and some serious listening will soon ensue. After several days reading reviews and comparing prices I opted for a pair of Beyer DT770 Pro headphones. I scoured the globe for the best prices, yet remarkably found the best deal in a local professional music showroom only five minutes from home.

I’d like to describe the aural pleasure these headphones supply but I can’t do it justice. Suffice to say they breathe new life into music. For the technically minded: the dynamic range is 5Hz to 35,000Hz, meaning they reveal the deepest rumbles and the highest squeaks! Source material CDs sound rich and full while even mp3 files with average compression leap out to be taken notice of. These are “closed-back” headphones which isolate the listener from ambient sounds and prevent leakage of music even to someone sat beside you; excellent for apartment living with two small children.

Six years ago I bought a pair of Sennheiser HD590 headphones. They brought my CD collection to life, in a slightly less private way. They are open-backed which the purists say is far better; more like listening in the real world. The dynamic range of the Sennheisers is 12Hz to 38,000 Hz but the difference from the Beyers is not noticeable. The big difference is that people in the same room get treated to your music and you can hear ambient sounds clearly. Both pairs reproduce music faithfully and with the intricate detail I love. On balance I prefer the isolation of the closed-back Beyers.

01 May 2010

after the slaughter of mary jane kelly

Whitechapel 9th November 1888
It is over.
The empty, broken corpse of an Irish rose lies on grey sheets drenched in its own blood. The radiant beauty of youth hacked away, leaving in its place a carcase devoid of organs and a face stripped of identity. Exhausted and stripped to the waist, he stands tall and stares at the carnage in a detached way. The embers of her open fire still light up the horror but already his fury has waned. He picks his great coat from the floor then rolls his knife in a rag and stows it in the pocket.
As he crouches and stokes the embers he hears the creak of floorboards above. Sweat runs on his face but he pulls on the coat, covering his slick body. He thumbs the door latch off, clicks the door softly shut behind him and slips into the early morning dark.
He takes care, turning up his sticky collar. Even at this hour Londoners are about their business. Pools of dim gaslight illuminate street corners but the narrow lanes are black and safe. Head down, he passes a group of lurching revellers, hats askew and bumping walls in a passage. Moving south from Whitechapel Road he mixes with the first dockers but turns east at Wapping. He runs through dark alleys in shadow, fleeing the devastation his hands have wrought.
After a mile he slows his pace and stops to lean on a wall. Nausea overwhelms him as usual. Soon he will put great distance between himself and the Inspector’s inquiries but first he must sleep. In the corner of a dark yard he curls on the cobbles and shuts his eyes for an hour.
Morning reveals a cold grey mist settled over the hulking iron steamers in St Katherine’s Dock. Already, emigrant passengers are filing nervously over the gangway, shifting heavy cases from one hand to the other. Amid the clangs and shouts a tall man passes onto the upper deck, almost unremarkable save for the streak of blood behind his ear. He sits on deck and looks back at the City.
How easy to have tied a sack of rocks to his ankle and jumped from Westminster Bridge in the night, to have sunk into the icy brown Thames and ended this. But his wretched cowardice had spurned that solution long ago. Bile rises in his throat as he remembers her whimpering pleas for mercy.
A shudder in the ship’s timbers tells him the steamer is moving. As she turns in the basin her deep horn bellows over the East End. The echoes cannon off warehouses and ring across open water, yet even as they subside his keen senses catch the shrill persistence of a Metropolitan police whistle announcing a dread discovery. Too late. In two weeks he will be just one more unknown strolling through New York with a knife in his pocket.

19 April 2010

an irish rose

He awoke to pale, mid-afternoon light filtering through a grimy window. Still clothed in a dirty coat and coarse trousers he sat up on the bare mattress. The rotten window frame was soft as cork and the glass rattled as he inched it open. A cold breeze pushed in and stirred the evil stench. Shouts and rumbling cartwheels rose from Dorset Street.

Standing, he stretched his stiff muscles then turned his bloodshot eyes to the table with its plate and the remnants of a stale loaf. He sat on a hard chair and scraped it closer to the table. He tore off a wad of bread with unwashed hands and as he chewed, his fingers trembled. From the street below came the strains of a sweet sung melody. Instinctively he smiled but the smile turned sour as he thought of his singing, whoring mother. Her brown teeth had showed when she sang. The siren voice trailed off having no doubt attracted its prey. He didn’t trouble to get up and look.

His bolthole was quiet. He lay on the musty bed and dozed again...

... it had grown dark. Somewhere distant a woman screamed and a dog began deep incessant barks. He drifted up through layers of sleep. From upstairs came a muffled cough and heavy boots on worn boards. Instinctively his hand dropped to the floor and he felt beneath the bed. He withdrew a long knife. Propping himself up on one elbow, he pulled a stub of candle and a match from his pocket. He positioned the knife deftly and trimmed the wick quickly and neatly. The match hissed and flared as he scraped it against the bedstead and lit the candle.

He snuffed the match with leather-hard fingers and began to whittle it, drawing the blade away from him in slow, gentle strokes he watched the white strips as they curled and fell. Satisfied with his work he used the pick he had fashioned to remove bread from between his teeth. Then with the same implement he absently prised traces of brown from under his nails.

His ears pricked alert as the familiar Irish voice set up its syrupy sweet singing again. The soft tones lilted in the still air of late evening. Slowly he swung his legs off the bed and stood up, placed the toothpick on the empty plate and slipped the knife in his pocket...

24 March 2010

catherine eddowes

30th September 1888

In flickering amber gaslight she leaned back against the outer wall of Bishopsgate Police Station, feeling the London bricks cold and hard. She was still drunk and tired in her bones despite a long evening in the cells. Fingering her petticoat pocket she remembered the ‘Old Bill’ had at least returned her money. But two small coins wouldn’t stand a drink at the “Three Bells.”

Cheap lodging-house beds had bent Kate’s back and summers spent doubled over in hop fields had creased her face, yet still she turned heads in Whitechapel. Tanned street traders saw a slender frame and soft hazel eyes, and thought of their fat, unwashed wives. They noticed her auburn hair, washed daily in hand soap and spilling from under her faded pink bonnet. In a city of ugliness she stood out.

Black boots clicked on clean cobbles behind her. The cool night breeze revived her senses. Death lurked in these alleys, death by steel. The long shadows of Mitre Square ahead offered an opportunity to hide and draw breath. Five minutes from now her eyes would stare blankly at the night sky. Her soft entrails, warm and pink would glisten on the dirt, giving off tiny tendrils of steam.

Kate hitched her skirt and ran into the dark of the square. She crouched and watched her pursuer. He would hear her stifled panting for sure. She gulped back a sob and pressed her slim frame into the angle of two walls. His heels clicked louder as he headed straight for her hiding place. She threw back her head and screamed in silent terror as the flashing blade sliced through her throat. Virtually decapitated by the single ferocious swing, she sucked and blew through the gaping wound until blood loss brought blessed unconsciousness.

Working swiftly he hoisted her tattered skirts and plunged his blade deep. Intestines slipped out in grey coils, he swept them to one side and slashed open her entire abdomen. Briefly he looked away over his shoulder, retching at the hot stink. He hacked spleen, pancreas and stomach from the poor woman and tossed them behind him. A black pool spread around her in a fearful halo.

Frantically he drove his fists into the cavity and withdrew a plum coloured kidney. He thrust the organ into his pocket and rose to his feet, gasping lungfuls of cold London smog. Laughter echoed from the street beyond and he knew his time was short. Stepping over the lifeless remains he stooped to recover a long pin from her hair. He rammed it through the back of his own left hand and growled in agony. Grimacing in the dark he reminded himself the penalty for delivering pain was to receive it.

By the quiet he judged the hour to be around 1 am. Suspicious eyes glinted from every window so, walking just below a trot he put distance between himself and his savagery. Doubling back towards the East he reached the darkest lanes of all then ran hard and fast. His heart thumped loudly as he dropped to his knees in the blackness. Nausea welled in his throat and he vomited hot bile into the gutter. With the floodgates opened, he spewed the contents of his guts in short, lurching grunts until his muscles were on fire with pain.

He blew long rattling strands from his dry lips and tasted the bitterness of gin. At midday he had poured half a pint down his neck and more into the Eddowes woman. Next time he would do unspeakable things to her, whoever she may be...

14 March 2010

time marches on

We turned our clocks forward one hour this weekend. More daylight in the evenings will be nice but it's a reminder that another year is well under way. They say as you get older time seems to pass more quickly and I wouldn't argue with that. The Vernal Equinox is less than a week away, marking the shrinking of our nights and the stretching of our days.

I am matching the pace with projects and hobbies. In the past three months I have ticked off all the niggling "to-do" items in this small space and fiddled with stamp and coin collections. You expect to concentrate on indoor pursuits at this time of year but this winter has so far been the mildest in Atlantic Canada for forty-eight years. There have been days of frigid low temperatures and a couple of decent snowstorms but on balance the outdoors has been quite inviting. I have been able to maintain my running and am already wondering how soon I can wheel out my bike.

Our expanded family has brought broken nights, so interesting new routines have developed. Michelle feeds Kathleen during the night and I get up with Maisie around 6am. Most mornings lately I pack Maisie into the car after breakfast and spend a couple of hours around town visiting such exciting places as the supermarket and the library, the Mall and Walmart!

Despite the lukewarm sun, patches of snow are clinging on and the trees remain a bundle of grey sticks. But time will change that. In a few weeks time buds will appear and soon after the trees will be swaying canopies of lush green and daffodils will make their belated appearance.

For a while longer though, I want to enjoy the crisp cold air, the dazzling blue sky and the deceptive low sun. Today I will be pulling on my new running shoes and heading for a round-trip run to Victoria Park.

10 March 2010

after midnight the evening before

The road glistened with horse manure. Liz began picking a path across with the care of one who values their boots highly. Her guardian angel himself had complimented her on them. He had left after treating her to black grapes but she had arranged to meet him again tomorrow. His calm demeanour made him irresistible.

Packer the greengrocer had mentioned he thought Liz and the tall man were a couple. They could so easily be, they seemed matched in many ways. She had wasted the best years of her life with a man whom she hated and feared. Could this be the chance she deserved, the chance to burst from the drudgery of cleaning and sewing for people barely better then herself?

Kidney watched from a dark entrance in the shadows of Dutfield’s Yard. His Liz with a tall man. The veins in his neck stood out like ropes as his temper rose. The whore’s last chance was gone. As she walked softly past, he sprang from his lair and wrenched her to the ground, one crusty hand clamped over her mouth like a lid. Singing swelled from the Jewish Socialist Club and he gripped her throat with both hands, closing her windpipe. She struggled for hardly a minute then fell limp. He pulled the knife from his belt and in one savage slice, virtually severed her head from her shoulders.

Almost instantly a door opened behind him. He threw himself out of the passage and onto Berner Street, careering away from the dead woman who had cooked his meals. He sprinted north in the gloom. When he reached Commercial Road he stopped, gasping. A cart rumbled by. Kidney turned and saw the driver swing directly into Dutfield's Yard. Now he ran like the wind.

21 February 2010

later the evening before

She looked left and right, turned on the spot and looked behind her but nothing, he was gone. As quickly as her saviour had appeared, he had vanished. Pity, she thought, he had looked better than the usual Whitechapel sort, he probably had money too.

Liz Stride shrugged philosophically and set off south on Berner Street for the docks. Immediately a hand gripped her shoulder. Swinging around to face her accoster, she was ready to kick hard and run. A decade of bad experiences had sharpened her wits. But she peered up into a familiar face.

“It’s you again,” she remarked. “Are you following me?”

“No!” Laughed the stranger. “I’m worried for your safety. Here, come inside and eat fruit with me.” He indicated the greengrocer’s door, dimly lit from within by lamplight. “Packer sells quite exceptional grapes.”

The doorbell dinged sharply as Liz entered and the tall man winced, looking both ways along the street before following.

11 February 2010

the evening before

August cooked the East End streets at mid day bringing labourers and market traders to the alehouses for refreshment. A different clientele emerged from the shadows as the late summer evenings shortened and an ominous coolness descended. Tall hats, sailors' caps and high collars, grubby aprons and furtive glances lent Whitechapel a dramatic air. Those who made their living preying on the lost and the lonely flowed in and out of public houses, loitered in archways and slipped barely noticed through lodging house doorways.

In the George the Fourth a tall woman stood over an empty gin glass, sliding two bright pennies on the wet bar. She didn't have the price of a bed tonight and she was still sober. The door swung and a crippled woman lurched in, trailing her club foot. She squinted around in the lamplight then banged out into the gloom. Almost immediately three men crashed in shouting and barging each other with the earnest voices of the drunk.

Liz Stride hawked and spat on the floor. She stowed the coppers in her pocket and pulled her cardigan over her thin shoulders. One of the drunks swayed at her as she passed and she side-stepped him but he turned and grabbed her hand, grunting and leering at her through slit red eyes. His friends slammed their mugs on the bar and crowded round, jeering and mocking. Liz Stride was in trouble.

The door opened slowly and a low voice snarled, “Leave her alone.”

Liz turned to see a tall figure blocking the doorway. In a second he was right beside her pushing the drunk roughly into his mates. The whole trio lost balance, sprawling in the sawdust. She locked onto the stranger’s arm and steered him out onto the street. This life was a game she played by instinct.

08 February 2010

Kathleen Rose

Kathleen Rose joined the world on 6th Feb 2010 weighing in at 7lb 11oz. She's a slight, dainty little baby and seems extremely small compared with her sister. I can't really say yet which of us she resembles but I did catch a glimpse of my paternal grandfather.

She has a calm demeanour and a gentle little cry, all very different from Maisie. We were prepared for Maisie to explode with anger at Kathleen's appearance but she has accepted the new baby's presence with surprising grace. In fact she seems slightly nervous of her, as if aware of her fragility.

I haven't made a secret of hoping for a boy but I am very happy indeed with Kathleen! She's a miniature gem.

26 January 2010

the day after

He blends with the London brick, grimy and rough by gaslight. Striding along Flower and Dean, barging shoulders with night people, his head buzzes with gin. Two half crowns and a florin chink solidly in his trouser pocket. This morning down by The Embankment he had threatened to slice a man's head off for those.

A pale face leers closely into his, a foul-smelling witch. He pushes her away hard, slamming her into a doorway. Her head smacks off the hard cobbles and he is dimly aware of shouts of protest coming from above. Even at this late hour there is an audience hanging from high windows and ledges. The woman was lucky if she but knew it.

Drunkenness is his crutch. It holds reality at bay. Rounding the corner into Brick Lane he lurches into the road. A horse-drawn cab is clipping toward him at a canter. The driver shouts a warning and he trips in the gutter, falling face-first into the evil-smelling waste of Spiatlfields' wretched poor. The cab clatters past. He lies there for a long time. A cold wind sweeps the clouds apart and a full moon floats high...

... by dawn he is lying numb in Thames mud by Wapping. Invisible barges honk in the fog and the rising tide washes blood and clay from his boots. As he stirs he begins to shake. Snatches of a dream come back, a willing whore, his strong hands, a soft neck, power, steel and stillness.

The frigid Thames hits his face. He gets unsteadily to his feet and stumbles from the sucking river clay. In twenty minutes he will be thawing over gin in familiar territory. He feels the coins in his pocket.