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It Lives

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I can’t believe how long it has been since I last made a posting here. The first rule of blogging - make sure you update your blog regularly. Whoops!

I’ve been busy. Very busy. Very, very busy. It has been the busiest period at work that I can remember in my 20 year career to date. Lots of long stressful days. Now, everyone has that from time to time, but it has been week after week of it and still several weeks to go I think.

As I write I’ve still not had a week off from work yet this year. And it’s June… Very nearly half way through the year, so I’m going to have my whole year’s allocation of holiday time to fit into just half of the year. I guess that should mean a good second half to the year - certainly should be better than the first!

Amid all this frantic activity I have managed to pull in some fun. A couple of days spent with friends and a few visits to places I like. This has helped to keep me sane.

My walking commute has taken a bit of a hit during this busy period. I’ve been working long hours and I’m both mentally and physically exhausted. As a consequence I’ve only been managing maybe one day walking to work in a week. I am still losing my bulk though! I’ve lost a further two inches from my waist making it a grand total of six inches gone since I started walking. I feel good about that, but nervous that I might start to slip back unless I can get back to my normal three or four days walking per week. I was really hoping that by now I’d be walking it every day. Ah well.

The photo at the top of this post was taken during a visit to Bolsover Castle a couple of weeks ago. It was a dark and wet day, but I had been working like a mad thing and I just needed to get out of the house, on my own, with my camera. I had to force myself to go, but I’m so glad I did. I had such a blast and it really helped me to unwind.

I will make an effort to get back to regular postings here again, but that all depends on me having something to say more than ‘really rough day at work today’.


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Thick as a Brick

Thick
I’m just back from a rare night out this evening. Jethro Tull were playing Leicester’s De-Montfort Hall for the first time in ooh, 35 years I think. I met up with friends there and enjoyed a great evening of music as the ‘Acoustic Tull’ line-up played to what must have been a full house.

The full line up :-

  • Ian Anderson
  • Martin Barre
  • John O’Hara (keyboards)
  • David Goodier (bass)
  • James Duncan (drums)
  • Anna Phoebe (violin)

Ian seems to be ‘doing good’ for what I guess his age must be now. He seemed just as active on stage as ever and those oh so distinctive vocals rang clear and true. I was very impressed with Anna Phoebe on violin which added a different dimension to many of the well known Tull numbers which had received reworks of varying degrees for the acoustic set up.

Songs such as ‘Living in the Past’, ‘Thick as Brick’, ‘Dun Ringill’ (see the actual Dun Ringill here), ‘Aqualung’, ‘Locomotive Breath’ were interspersed with a handful of Anna Phoebe’s material and the odd Anderson and Barre solo number. It all went together very nicely.

It had been years since I last saw Tull play live. Trying very hard to remember when it was, and I think it was on the J-Tull Dot Com tour, so maybe not as very long ago as I thought. Still several years. It was a real treat to have them play Leicester - previous encounters had involved trips to Nottingham or Manchester.

Time to go get some more Tull onto my iPod!


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Sickness and Diseases

Okay, so here I am doing more to make myself fit and healthy than I have for erm, quite a long time. And as I sit here I have :-

  • a cold
  • sweat rash
  • knackered foot

All this ‘get fit’ stuff is bad for you!

The cold is one of what has seemed like a constant stream of them passed on from my daughter, Shelly this winter. Hard to remember a few days when I didn’t have a cold.

The sweat rash is from all the walking. Try and make a difference to your fitness and get landed with some other horrible disease. For a long time I thought it was just my eczema back again, so I treated it as such. Finally the penny dropped and the various sprays, ointments and general gunk I’m using right now seems to be making a difference.

The knackered foot - I can’t believe this. I was sat using the computer last night, stood up and felt something happen to my right foot. It felt like I’d pulled something, it was pretty minor so I thought nothing more of it and went to bed. This morning I awake to quite a lot of pain in my foot and find that I can just about hobble around. I feel like I should be using a walking stick right now. There’s no way I’ll be able to do my walking commute for a few days, just as last week I only managed one day due to the cold and how it affected my breathing.

So here I am, bursting to get back into my walking, lose some more pounds, stones and inches - and there’s no way I can. I’m frustrated to say the least.

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Another Sign of Shrinkage!

squonk jacket 1

Any of my mates who has known me a while will instantly recognise the jacket pictured above. I bought it when I was about 20 and a friend added the art work a little while later. All taken from Genesis’ ‘A Trick of the Tail’ album sleeve.

This jacket was a part of my identity through my 20’s. People would spot it and come over for a chat at gigs and festivals. It saw a lot of wear and tear and travelled over to the USA when I first went to meet my future parents-in-law. Humm, heaven knows what they made of me…!

And the reason I’ve dragged it out? Well, one of my targets in the whole ‘walk to work’ campaign was to be able to pop on this old leather jacket and zip it up again. Keep in mind that I bought it when I was 20 years old and to be honest, from my mid twenties onwards I wasn’t really able to wear it zipped up.

I tried it on over Christmas. It went on okay, but zip? Erm - no way, couldn’t even make the two halves of the zipper meet up in the middle.

Tried it on today and…. woah… we had zipperage!

Okay, it’s erm, still a little (!) on the tight side, but it bloody well zipped up! I’m staggered.

Only thing is, will I actually wear it? Well, only just to ’show’ a few friends who scoffed at me when I told them my plan regarding this jacket, ‘yeah, yeah, as if that’s going to happen…’. Ah… erm, if you’re reading this - you know who you are and you will soon see that when I set my mind to something I can be bloody stubborn!

All I need to do now is to find some way to get some suppleness back into parts of it (the arms seem particularly stiff) and maybe get some blacking on bits too if possible. I just want to be sure that anything I use on it to restore it doesn’t damage the art work - painted with acrylics I believe. Any recommendation? Be prepared to get shot if your recommendation strips off all the paint though!

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The Amazing Shrinking Squonky

It has been a while since I said anything here about my walking commute, so time for a quick update.

I still haven’t weighed myself. I know that at some point I’m probably going to have to, if only to look at things like Body Mass Index. But despite not having weighed myself I know that the weight is dropping off - well, the size certainly is, so the weight must be.

I had been watching my belt gradually going further on, notch by notch. By measuring the space between the notch I was on when I started the walking commute and the notch I’m on now I made a rough guess that I’d lost 4 inches from my waist.

Over all this time my clothes had all been getting steadily baggier and more sack like. Finally it had got to the point where I really had to go get a few new clothes. On Monday evening I headed out to pick up some new stuff for work and some new stuff to kick around at home in.

My rough guess of having lost 4 inches was spot on. I was chuffed, to say the least. Okay, I still have a lot more to lose, but it really is bloody well working! If ever I needed a motivating moment then Monday evening’s clothes shopping certainly gave me a boost. I know that if I can keep this up then by around June I’ll probably be about the same size as I was when I was around 18 years old. That kinda blows my mind. It was an odd feeling buying clothes and wondering how much smaller I was rather than wondering if I’d got yet bigger.

And how much more simple could it be? Just walking to and from work around 3 days a week is seeing me lose around an inch a month from my waist. I still have the goal of wanting to walk on 4 days of the week. The plan would be to walk Monday, Tuesday then give myself a rest on Wednesday and walk on Thursday and Friday. Sometimes work commitments are going to get in the way of that, and sometime I guess I just have to accept that I will not feel like walking. I think that so far I’ve only managed to walk 4 days of the week on one occasion. So yes, my target is to make that ‘the norm’.

And yes, it is simple - just as long as I can get myself out of bed in time to do it. It takes an hour to walk into work, and then I need a bit of time to get a shower and get changed at the other end so if I oversleep I just can’t do it. That has been the biggest problem of recent weeks. As long as I’m out of bed in time then I’m fine. No problems with energy, no problems with my legs or my feet. Maybe I just need to get some earlier nights!

The last few weeks have presented some problems. Yes, we had a tiny little fall of snow. I managed to walk in to work through the snow okay, but walking home was bad. The snow had got compacted into ice and it was as slippery as hell. I walked the first half mile or so of the route home and then decided it just wasn’t worth the risk of slipping over and breaking something, so I swallowed my pride and caught the bus the rest of the way.

And then I came down with the ‘flu - a pretty nasty dose and that kept me down to just two days walking that week. I’m pretty well over that now thank goodness.

A quick update on kit. I’m still using the same Merrell shoes and those fantastic Thousand Mile Socks. There are some signs of wear on the soles of the shoes, only to be expected from all that trudging over tarmac and concrete. However, I’m sure there’s months of wear left in them yet, so they will have been a very good investment. I could easily have got through a couple of pairs of trainers with the punishment I’m putting these through.

So, feeling pretty positive about the walking commute right now. It is having the desired effect, I feel ‘better’, stronger and fitter. I feel more alert on days that I walk. Oh and on Tuesday morning I had another reminder of just how bad the traffic can be. I drove in to work that day and it took me no less than 1 hour 5 minutes. The night before I’d walked home in just 58 minutes. Crazy!


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El Laberinto del Fauno

Last night I finally got to see ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. I’d been keen to see it ever since release, but no cinema around here showed it at the time. It did get an airing at Leicester’s Phoenix Arts, but I only found out about it at the very same time they were having their last screening, just before Christmas.

So, I was delighted to find out that the local Vue had it on, one night only, and I went down to see it with a colleague from work. I’m guessing that it didn’t get a wider release at the time due to it being a Spanish movie with subtitles - the major cinema chains just want to get bums on seats at the end of the day. With it picking up five Oscar nominations (3 of which it won) maybe somebody thought it might be worth showing.

I had been attracted to the movie in the first place by seeing some stills and the trailer (during one of those rare occasions I bother to go and see what trailers are awaiting me in Apple’s Front Row). The design and artistry had really pulled me in and I think the movie thoroughly deserved its Oscar for Best Art Direction.

But I’m jumping the gun a little. The movie, set in Spain 1944, tells the grim story of Ofelia, a young girl who’s head is filled with fairy stories and who gets uprooted from her familiar surroundings when her mother marries Captain Vidal, an officer in Franco’s army. It very quickly becomes clear that Vidal is a totally brutal and ruthless man who has no interest in being a stepfather to Ofelia and who’s only concern is for his own child, being carried by Ofelia’s mother at the start of the film.

Ofelia’s refuge from the brutality that surrounds her is her interest in fairy stories, and the old ruins which sit alongside the mill that Captain Vidal is using as his headquarters whilst hunting out Maquis guerrillas in the surrounding hills and forests.

As the ‘real world’ atrocities unfold, Ofelia enters the ruins and encounters a faun who gives her a series of tasks she must complete before the next full moon. These tasks plunge Ofelia into the Underworld, encountering strange and dangerous creatures and the viewer is kept wondering about the true motives of the faun right up to the very closing scenes of the film.

I don’t want to reveal anything more about the plot as to do so would be to spoil your enjoyment of the movie. I can say that it richly deserves its ‘15′ rating, there are scenes of torture and murder which make the film quite disturbing at times. As ever with scenes of this kind, it’s what you don’t see that really chills you to the pit of your stomach. Well, that and the knowledge that there were, are and alas always will be those in the world who will treat people in this way.

If you get the chance to see this movie then DO, but don’t go along expecting a cheery fairy tale, it is anything but. I found it a very refreshing change from the usual, run of the mill rubbish that the major studios seem to churn out ad infinitum.


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Mr Blue Sky

Sunday morning started out well. I got out of bed and pulling my jeans on, noticed that the belt wanted to move on another notch! Woohoo, that’s now three notches further in than I was before I started doing the walking commute.

The next thing I noticed was that it was (gasp!) a sunny day! I can’t remember the last time we had one of those on a weekend. I had to get out somewhere with my camera - quickly! Getting my gear together I headed to Leicester’s Welford Road Cemetery - well, where else to go on a nice sunny day like this?

The decision was partially influenced by having recently bumped into an old friend, electronically at least - not seen them for several years and before last week I hadn’t heard from them in as long. I stumbled into them on Flickr and found that they had taken an almost identical shot to one of mine at Welford Road Cemetery. The world can be such a small place! I had also told myself to ‘come back soon’ during my last visit.
I was hoping that with a few more leaves off the trees a bit more light might fall where I wanted it.

I had great fun tramping around this magnificent Victorian sepulchral landscape for about a couple of hours. The sun stayed around and I found myself concentrating on carvings of angels. There were a couple that particularly captivated me during my last visit so I returned to give them both a slightly different treatment to last time.

With the first I decided to pull out my lovely Sigma 10-20mm lens. Holding the camera as close as I could to the ground and at arms length I managed to shoot the following image (and several other similar ones).

 

angel from the floor

I do love this lens. Great value for money and it can get you some incredible results. It’s the only ‘digital only’ lens I’ve bought. The focal range of 10-20mm becomes 16-32mm when used with my Canon 20D (1.6x effective focal length magnification) and the shot above was taken at the 16mm effective focal length end of the range. Makes me want to get a fish eye!

Although this lens is digital only, it does actually use the Canon EF mounting rather than the EFS, so you can fit it to a full frame camera - just expect some pretty heavy vignetting!

The second statue that had really caught my eye last time was another female figure, looking all romantically mournful as she clung tight to a cross. This time around, with some better light, I was able to get right in on her face and really pick out some details. I love the weathered texture on this statue.

 

weathered and mournful

Shot using a Sigma lens again, but this time the 70-300mm APO, another good investment that I made not long after I got the camera.

Oh, and today I have mostly been listening to Arctic Monkeys, following a recommendation from a friend on Friday night. We had this conversation during which I realised that I have remarkably little music from this century in my collection. Something that needs rectifying, especially now I’m staring down the barrel at the big 4 - 0 later in the year!

Possibly not the right music to listen to whilst trying to process photos taken at a cemetery, a bit too upbeat for that, but it fitted with my mood. A good day!

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Oh, it’s 2007?

weathered sandstone 2

The Christmas and New Year period passed without me posting here. Well, it was full of all the things that you normally do at that time of year. I did have a week or so off from work, but the weather was dismal and the only places I could think of to visit were closed.

So, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reading (H.G. Wells) listening to music (Genesis, Nick Drake) and processing photos I took a while ago.

I’m into my second week back at work now though - just don’t know where the time has gone to. And speaking of work, my resolve seems to have crumbled a bit on the walking commute front. I’m blaming the Christmas break myself. After a week of comfort and staying in bed as late as I liked (within reason) it has just seemed like such hard work to get out of bed and go walk. I only did 2 days out of 4 working days last week and this morning I woke up and just couldn’t shift myself. So, got to get back into a routine starting tomorrow. One good thing, on the days I did walk last week I felt like it was easier than ever. It’s not putting the effort in which is a problem for me with this - it’s dragging myself out of bed early enough to be able to walk 4.5 miles in time for work.

We did get out to Kenilworth Castle yesterday. It was dismal weather again, and it’s somewhere I’ve visited a lot, but it’s always good to be around old stone! I did take a few photos, and whilst nothing was spectacular (very dull and flat light) then I enjoyed taking them. The photo at the top of this posting was taken during the visit. The castle has some of the most wonderfully eroded sandstone I’ve seen.


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More Thoughts of a Walking Commuter

Finally I get a chance to update my blog! It has been a busy week or two on all fronts and right now I’m just really looking forward to getting a bit of a break over Christmas. It feels like ages since I’ve done anything with my camera and as I have two more days of annual leave to take before the end of the year I’m hoping to put that right soon.

Yes, I’m keeping up with the walking commute. Heaven knows if I really am losing any weight because I still can’t face the idea of stepping onto the scales. There’s also the thought that it seems pointless now, something I should have done before I started all this.

I was wondering whether I would have the fortitude to keep it going on cold, wet, dark days - but they don’t seem to be deterring me. Sure, I’ve had a couple of mornings when I’ve just not wanted to get out of bed - but they used to happen when I was driving to work too.

Blisters are no longer a problem, and haven’t been since I invested in the new shoes and the wonderful Thousand Mile Socks which I would heartily recommend to anyone. I’m getting faster (record time now 1 hour 2 minutes) sweating a bit less and not taking as long to recover - all signs of getting fitter I guess. And yes, I have recently had to move my belt to a previously unexplored notch!

A few reflections on the state of transport, with a particular emphasis on my walking experiences follow. I doubt that this will ever come to the attention of anyone at Leicester City Council - and if it does then I’m sure nothing will come of it other than maybe a sarcastic comment. I have such faith in government!

  • Pedestrian Crossings. These are pretty well useless. They have a button that I think is only there for the pedestrian to take out his / her frustration upon. I generally find that I press the button and then the light doesn’t change until after all the traffic has gone by anyway. Also they just seem to wait for a whole cycle of the traffic lights before they do anything. The amount of time they give you to cross the road is fine for me, but I would imagine that it’s nowhere near enough time for those who are little slower, have small children with them etc. Useful thing seen during my trip to Colorado earlier this year - pedestrian crossings that count down how much time you have left to cross the road in seconds. Good idea - why can’t we have those? Oh and make the lights give a bit more favour to the pedestrians please. Give us a chance to cross the road more often. Worst junction to cross : University Road and Regent Road. I have to wait for ages every time I cross this. Streams of cars and busses pass in all directions, great herds of pedestrians build up and wait for minute, after minute, after minute until a mad scramble to cross the road in the incredibly short time given to us. Leicester City Council, hint : this is University Road. There are a lot of students and students walk a lot.
  • Fumes. Humm, Leicester was declared Britain’s ‘First Environment City’ more years ago than I can remember (I’ve only just discovered this web site - I will be off to read it shortly). If this is the case then how come we have such an abysmal public transport system? How come that all the buses are puthering out such choking clouds of diesel? Why is it that I feel a need for a face mask to keep the pollution out of my lungs? (not wearing one yet - but it seems a sensible idea). It’s disgusting. We need more public transport and we need cleaner public transport. Where are the electric buses? Where are the trams? The Leicester Mercury has featured proposal after proposal for ‘new transport systems’ over the years (yes, I remember the diagrams showing just how the monorail would look when it was installed - that must be 20 years ago now). How come not one of them has ever actually happened?
  • Buses. When I first started this whole walking to work initiative I discovered that I could walk all the way into work in the same time it took to get the bus from door to door. That is frankly a terrible service. And for this service the bus company charges £1.50 each way. £3 a day when I can walk it in the same time? It’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned.
  • Motorists. And yes, I am still one of these, though not as often as previously. Motorists please remember to use your indicators - they’re those little orange flashing lights that tell people you’re intending to make a turn. I know it’s a lot of effort, I mean you have to move your fingers all of an inch or two to activate them - but your sacrifice really will be appreciated not only by other vehicles, but by people trying to cross side roads. Pedestrian crossings - these are those areas where people (children, your grandma and yes, even fat middle aged IT professionals) are trying to move to the other side of the road. They tend to be designated by traffic lights, stripes on the road - that kind of thing. People are both soft on the outside and crunchy on the inside and yes, they are real people with lives of their own and families and people who love them even though they are walking. Please do not move your car onto a pedestrian crossing if there is no space to move fully over it. Believe me, doing this does not make you look smart, it does not make you look clever - it makes you look a total tosser who doesn’t know how to drive. If you can’t see the pedestrian crossing then you really shouldn’t get into a car again until you’ve had your eyes checked. Same goes for if you can’t see to the other side of the pedestrian crossing for detection of enough free space for your car. Ok? I recently saw a news article on the BBC web site about some bollards that had been installed in Manchester that sink into the road to let busses pass and then rise up again after they’ve gone by (really, really well worth watching the video, so much so I’m going to repeat the link here though I had to change the link to YouTube as I couldn’t get the Beeb webby to play for some reason). We could do with those installing at pedestrian crossings. Maybe that would get the message over to drivers? We have those little square metal stud things in the road either side of the crossings (what do they actually do by the way?) - how about swapping those for some of these bollards? Please?


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You know it’s going to be a bad day when…

…You’ve walked to work, worked up a good sweat, go have a shower… and then the fire alarm goes off *rolls eyes*. I’m going to catch my death…

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