Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Evening meadow

Had a little wander down to the water meadow at the bottom of the village this evening. Pass the chocolate box. ;-)

Sunday, 22 May 2016

A big thankyou

To those who left flowers yesterday, or sent messages. We really appreciate you remembering Sarah.

Friday, 20 May 2016

So the high street is a zombie

The suggestion I read today was that the high street, with its shops, was dying. Not, surprisingly, because of amazon and other online retailers, but because we've reached peak 'stuff'. There's nowhere for the economy to grow now because we all have more than we can use already, and with the downturn in wages, few are just buying more toys for the sake of more toys.

In some ways it's really good - less useless stuff being made so less materials are wasted. But it's also bad, because less stuff being bought means less jobs and income for many, and that steepens the downward spiral. That's no news to anyone, but it does beg the question about how and if we can restructure society to cope with less in the future.

Or am I forgetting human nature?

Are you the pigeon or the window?

Or neither.

This morning when I went into the coffee room there was the outline of a pigeon's head, beak, breast and one wing on the glass. It's not the first time that I've seen the evidence of a pigeon that flew into the window there, and it probably won't be the last. This time wasn't as spectacular as some, where the lines of both wings and the breast have been very clear in a kind of V with a bulge at the bottom, but in this pattern I could make out the beak being open and one eye that had hit the glass. Ouch.

What does a pigeon do, after it's hit the glass and bounced back? Give up flying?

So this Sunday for a variety of reasons I'm speaking at the new church in Banbury. No worries, lead this kind of thing loads of times, done it all before, right? Except that I was feeling very post-glass-pigeon like, no idea what to do, quite literally feeling a bit dazed and confused.

And then laying awake in bed at 4am Thursday morning it was as though I'd been picked up, put back on a branch again and told I could fly, including being shown how to use my wings.

There's some stuff behind this including a prophetic message from Martin Dunkely at the Oxford celebration last week, and connected to that asking God if He was going to use me to teach any more, or if that had all gone now as it seemed to have done. But much more than that, if you've read here recently I've been increasingly concerned that church has become just another organ-grinder experience, where we 'do the stuff' but lives don't change much, people feel good but there's nothing tangible at the end of it - people go looking for social liberal change because the 'spiritual' stuff isn't making a difference.

There's also been a bit of 'where your treasure is, there is your heart' for me, and I've been distinctly organising treasure a bit. Plus I've found myself behaving in a way that's fairly repellent at times, and in a way that I've seen in others and been quite critical of, hence ditching Facebook. Not that I'm suddenly and miraculously back on my feet (was I off?) but life is headed in a better direction. I hope.

Ramble? Yes, lets.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

GM foods are the work of the devil.

Or perhaps not.

This will probably not come as a surprise to those who would not have shouted 'Judas' at Bob Dylan 50 years ago.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Need my head tested

After managing to survive one half marathon I've been wanting to do another.

So tonight's training was a gentle 9.5 miler.

Frankly, I need my head tested - who ever thought that I could deceive myself so easily into thinking that regularly running for 1 1/2 hours + was fun and a good idea? So I dodged a bullet that first time, and now I like the idea of trying again? Madness.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The frustrated togger.

Well sort of.

I've just finished uploading images from Bosnia Herzgovina (Bay-Hah as they call it) to the computer and done an initial sort through. There's some interesting pics in there, some of which I'm fairly pleased with, but it *felt* like I missed almost every good image that I saw because we were either travelling, in company or because I couldn't just go-shove a camera at people.

There were stories in the faces of so many people, and for the first time it really made me wish I had a nice small camera and a robust attitude that would let me just go up and ask for a picture. I did grab a few pictures covertly in the market of Mostar, but they weren't really the ones I'd wanted.

On the last day, while wandering through Capljina we passed an alley with a couple of tables set out. There were some guys drinking drinking there and on the wall at the end of the alley was a huge swastika and a nationalist slogan. The men looked about the right age to have fought in the war, and became aware of us just as I was looking up at them. There was a sense of tension in the air & we carried on walking past, even though there was probably no real danger for a couple of tourists carrying cameras.

We stayed with friends just outside the city, in a small suburb/village, and many of their neighbours were old with the kind of faces that showed a life of hard labour in all weathers. They were friendly and generous, but they weren't *my* neighbours to offend or upset, and I didn't feel able to ask for pictures.

I should have liked time to photograph many of the buildings and put together a series illustrating how the effects of the war are still visible. Looking through the images, there are a few that might work, but nothing really adequate. Mostar had the feeling of a city that used war damage as part of the draw for tourists: there were plenty of bullet holes and even the odd shell hole still to be seen, and of course it is well known for having been under seige in the war. But Capljina also had its share of war damage, even though it also had a shiny new glass and steel post office, giant bronze statue outside the town hall and new blocks of flats.

When we first saw the bullet holes, Chris's reaction was that the concrete was just showing signs of age and falling apart, but it quickly became clear that was not the case. Travelling through the country (6+ hours drive between Capljina and Banja Luka where we had the run) houses with war damage were to be seen everywhere until we reached the Republika Srpska; the serbian part of BiH. Here the countryside changed from mediteranean to alpine, and the buildings seemed in much better repair, cars newer etc.

BiH is also a place a beauty: amazing countryside in a wide variety of forms, interesting ruins and towns, spectacular hills and mountains, lovely flowers etc, but apart from a couple of occasions, somehow we just didn't quite get out there. We weren't there to take photos, but to visit friends and run that race, and it's important to remember that.

I've no idea if we'll ever go back. It's a possibility, but only a small one.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

It's our last Capljina evening.

And I'm slightly sad to be going, though looking forward to not feeling like we're in someone else's hair, even when they're as kind and generous as our friends here.

Wonder if there will be Cevapi on the menu? ;-)

Here's the waterfalls with water falling at Kravica earlier today.

Monday, 9 May 2016


But what's in a time? ;-)

I'm a little disappointed not being closer to the 2 hour mark, but considering all things it's pretty fair.

The day started without a decent breakfast, which is to say badly for something as energy intensive as this, and the air early on was quite cold so that I wore a sleeved top instead of a singlet, which was also a mistake. And I forgot a lesson that I'd learned 30 years before, that when you're on the start line and you feel like you need a pee then you should go and HAVE a pee, because the feeling won't go away, no matter how much you try to convince yourself that you'll need the water later.

There were only about 1000 runners in this, and and that made for a relatively small massed start. I was part of a group of 5: 2 local guys (Ivica, Martin) plus us 'foreigners' (Mick, plus Sam, Mick's 18YO daughter and myself) and we got separated fairly quickly. I found a route round the outside of most of the crowd, and ran comfortably for the first 6 miles or so, starting to run out of energy in the 7th mile and then dragging myself along for the next couple of miles until I came to the station offering sliced fruit (mostly apple and orange segments) and could refuel a bit - it was amazing how the extra energy from that little bit of fruit let the legs almost return to normal for a short while.

The route started from Banja Luka town centar, heading north up the main road out for just over a mile before turning right and right again to head back down (though it was slightly uphill) past the town. This section was in blazing sunshine, and even on the first lap around the town it was fiercely hot without any shade at all. The route then crossed over below the town before heading back up round the other side to turn right again and run across the top of the town. There were 2 laps like this around the town before heading back up the main road (also uphill) to the centar again and the finish line.

At the end of the first lap Chris was waiting for me. Apparently Sam had dropped out at 4K with breathing difficulties, but instead of finding them as a group, she had disappeared. Much worry and prayer going on.

The last couple of miles were just a case of trying to find a pace that was fast enough to be comfortable (because running slowly makes me hurt) but not un-sustainably quick, and also finding a happy measure of breathing that would set the pace for the legs. Inevitably I walked on and off, just allowing the batteries to recharge a little before starting to run again. There were a few people running slowly at this point that I passed, only for them to pass me while I walked, then to repass again.

The final section - I wrote climb initially, because that's how it felt even though it wasn't steep - was really draining, hot and tiring, and seemed far further than it had any right to be. Chris met me about 150 meters before the finish and ran with me as far as she was able. I was also 'paced' by a small boy from the crowd for the final section.

The actual finish was slightly puzzling, because there was initially a red arch across the road, then a first white arch followed by a second white arch, both of which said 'finish'. On reaching the first white arch I thought I'd arrived, only to realise that I then had to keep going for the second. :p  A few yards further on was a line of girls hanging finishers medallions around runners necks, then further back passing out bottled water and finally so guys trying to move runners out of the finish area.

 After finishing I discovered that Sam was still missing, no-one having seen her since Mick left her to make her way back to the group. Ivica and Martin had both finished before me and Mick arrived just a couple of minutes afterward. There was a lot of concern and some tears of worry shed, however Mick pointed out how stubborn she was and to confirm that he knew his daughter's character, she appeared just after the 2:30 mark, having recovered her breathing and completed the run. Cue much relief.

So here I sit the day after.

Various parts ache a bit and a couple of toes are sore, but overall it *feels* like I've got away with it very lightly.

Wonder what to do next?  ;-)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Just a few days now

until the half-marathon. Hope the legs keep working. :-)

In other news, we're getting involved in a new church plant in Banbury, which is quite interesting really - life never was going to settle back to being the same - and will also remain connected to Bicester.

There's loads of stuff to blog really, but I'm not really feeling terribly talkative right now, so sorry about that.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Chilling out isn't great.

It's been so warm over the last couple of weeks that I've been running in shorts and tee shirt, even though we'd had frosty starts to the day. Sunday changed that with some cooler weather and hail, but yesterday didn't seem too bad in the day.

Went for a local 8.5miler last night wearing leggings and my long-sleeved winter top, then got rained on and chilled about half way round. The legs got grumpy, knees angry and I ended up walking down the hills to try to prevent damage. Cue hurty legs in bed, though I did manage to sleep OK in the end.

I hope this run will be worth it.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Why am I not surprised.

The web is more than doomed.

Wonder how big a blogger page is?

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Seems I made it home just before the hail hit.

I'd planned a 10-11 miler for this afternoon, but having led worship this morning, then had my mother back to dinner while Ben's here on his one-night stop-over & driven back to Bicester again, I just didn't have the energy for more than 5K. It started raining as I reached North Aston and was moderate most of the way back. About 10min after arriving I heard the hail rattling on the windows.

In less than 2 hours Ben will be in Oxford getting on the bus taking him to Gatwick Airport tonight for a 7am flight to Turkey on Monday. It's been good to see him - I'm going to miss him when he's gone again, even though I love when it's the two of us being together.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Mobile blogger is a bit broken

I have a post listed as 'publishing' that is neither published, nor can be edited in any way. Meh, as Mrs. Croes used to say.

So Tuesday is sunny

And to my considerable surprise I don't ache (much) this morning. The head is still a little fuzzy and has the usual occasional pain, but I'm pleasantly surprised at how much better the bod feels than it did yesterday. If this carries on then I'll probably run 10k home tonight.

To be honest I'm not sure this exercise thing is all that great. It wants to become all-consuming, which isn't helpful if you just want to get on with life and the stuff you're called to do. We'll just have to make sure it's kept in proportion - and I'm sure the time to back off will come soon enough too.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

So today I ran.

This afternoon I went for a mid-afternoon run, managing 16.5K/10.4miles in a little under 1hr 40min.

TBH it didn't feel particularly good, not least because I was deliberately holding back a little, knowing I planned to extend the distance further than usual, and I stopped twice to stretch after 7 and 9 miles. The half marathon is just a few weeks away, and I need to make good on my (assumed now OK) knee to increase distance.

The running has changed my physiology. Arms that once seemed muscular now look lean and skinny, to the point where, when pulling socks on this evening, they didn't look like they belonged to me any more. Legs aren't so different really, but I'm carrying less fat on my torso although I can 'pinch an inch' as the phrase once had it. Breathing is certainly better than it has been in a long while, and I managed the first 4-5 miles with one breath cycle per 4 footfalls when on the flat or running up modest inclines: the one disadvantage being that I run more slowly like this, though still faster than 10K/hr. Later I upped the breathing rate to one cycle per 3 footfalls, and that enabled me to keep the pace up despite tiredness.

The one miserable bit was finding that I just couldn't run down the hill into the village to finish the run. It's a relatively steep slope, and the feelings of displeasure from knees and calf muscles were too strong and clear to ignore just for a training run. The course I'll be running looks pleasantly flat, so there'll be no popping knees on that.

My legs ache now, which is no surprise, but hopefully they'll settle down tonight and be OK for work tomorrow. By Tuesday evening perhaps enough recovery will have happened for a 10K home from work, or maybe a 5K if things are still sore.

The sunlight looks lovely out there this evening, but I'm just a bit too tired for a photographic expedition tonight.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

What's that white stuff, falling past the windows?

I knew the temperature was due to drop a little, but wasn't expecting sleet and large clumps of snow this morning. Glad I plan to run tomorrow and not today, but it's scuppered cutting the grass and clearing the shed that I HAD planned.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Change is difficult

Of course we all know that, but change when accompanied by fanfares and a large finger pointing from the sky with the "it's you" voice is easier than feeling one could probbly get involved with something, but could also stay where things are comfortable and one need do no more than just turn up.

We had a bathtime conversation this morning, wondering if it doesn't really matter which path we go down and if either are just as acceptable, both having advantages and disadvantages, both causing possible hassle for others too. Or maybe this is a chance to see where our heart motivations are, without the fanfares and guidance, to see if we're really the pioneery people we've talked about being in the past, or just consumers who are happy to get a little fatter every week? I see a few good friends who struggle with the "is this it/why am I doing little with my life?" and understand their dissatisfaction.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

I have no clue what you're talking about.

I just had an email from lastminute.com with the strapline 'Rock and roll with the toxic avenger'. I'm sorry, but although I recognise every word in that sentence, you're clearly talking nonsense.

In a workplace populated by an array of different nationalities, someone put up a printed page in a public place comparing what the British say, what they meant and what a non-Brit might think they meant, and example of which may be found here.

The poster, a friend in the workplace who has travelled widely, worked abroad and is of european extraction made the comment that this was unique to the British. I had to point out that in Austria and Germany, if a waiter asks if you would like to order and you reply 'thank you' then they will walk away because that is assumed to mean NO thank you, rather than an affirmative. People are just odd, really.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

I was going to say that I'd like to know.....

why OSX seems to sod-up nearly every USB memory stick that gets used with it. Except that I don't really care - I just wish it wouldn't happen.

Loaned one of my memory sticks to a Mac user, who then experienced ejection problems (which they also experience with a variety of other memory sticks, just like I did when I used a Mac regularly) and now it needs repair when it's used on a machine running a non-Apple OS.

Grump at the poxy Cupertino implementation of USB.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

We've been a 2-mini family for more than a week now.

I've not really talked about Chris's car much so far, not least because although I have already driven it a few hundred miles, it was all on the day we collected it, and we drove from Slough near London to Worcester via Birmingham for a funeral, and was a little distracted.

Minis are funny things, because they all look 'the same' and they all share driving characteristics (firm, direct ride, direct steering, feel like you're going faster than you really are) but despite that they aren't all the same. This particular convertible is a second generation version, while the countryman is much closer to the 3rd generation launched last year (being a completely new design for 2011) in terms of interior and driver information despite this one being a year younger than mine. With the countryman, Mini did really well creating a fairly tall version of the small car that still retained handling characteristics (which were a big part of the reason I bought it) but it's been fascinating driving the original concept vehicle.

So what's it like to drive?

Every car is a compromise. When I started to answer my question the first words I wrote were small, fun, easy, but that's a very incomplete picture, and sometimes not even true. It IS those things, but we picked the 'S' version - presumably intended to imply sport - which includes bigger wheels and low profile tyres, 2L Diesel engine, better headlights and some pretty trim that makes no practical difference, and those have affected driving characteristics quite a bit.

So the wheel & tyre combination makes a firm ride much more sensitive to a bad road surface, and compared to the softly sprung beetle, the poorly repaired country lanes round here make for a bumpy ride at times. When we test drove various cars, the standard 16" wheel and taller tyre combination made for a surprisingly compliant ride. Chris's answer about how she liked it after her first drive around here were "it's bumpy". To me, this is just about a worthwhile trade off, with the improvement in handling and feedback making the car feel confident and capable of handling much more than a couple in their 50s are likely to throw at it most of the time. All the cliches apply: goes round corners on rails, go-kart handling etc, but it also makes for a car that's entirely within it's limits at the motorway speed limit, and not feeling at all marginal like some I've driven over the years.

The bigger engine is nice too, because it makes for relatively effortless power in a small, slippery bodyshell, and economy is as good or better than my Countryman despite that having a smaller engine. Last weekend I followed a Honda Civic Type R briefly, and although that car would pull away from the mini (as it should) the difference wasn't enormous, and it was speed limits that made me let him go, more than the performance difference. It's also nice to have a car that's completely unfussy about power delivery, and provided it's doing more than tickover engine speeds, it just gets on with the job of going faster when you ask it to. Of course the downside of this in combination with the good handling is that one could easily end up travelling at speed limit + 50% without even being aware of how fast you were going from the lack of effort to get to and drive at that speed. Brakes seem better than my car (though the discs appear the same size) so it looks like they've got that sorted too.

And so to lights.

The S models come with a xenon HID headlight system instead of the conventional halogen bulbs fitted to every other car we've owned. I've long had mixed feelings about conventional headlights: they were good in the Peugeot 406 we had and OK in the 307, but in the beetle they were very weak: poorly focussed and lacking brightness. Chris had an occasion recently where she was badly dazzled by oncoming traffic, and it caused her to lose her sense of where the road was. On Wednesday last week I followed her back from Bicester after dark, and not once on the country lanes did she use main beam, not because she forgot, but because it wasn't needed. This is a really good upgrade.

I mentioned small. Advice I'd read online suggested that if you wanted to take passengers in the back seats then it would be best if they didn't have legs. There is a little less space behind the front seats - maybe an inch or so - than the beetle had, and few inches less than the new beetle (which is a bigger car generally) but I've had several 20-30min sessions in both this and the beetle, and it's no worse. Getting out of the back feels just a little harder, but that's probably because the car is also lower, by at least a couple of inches. It's curious how that plays out, because with the top down, the mini is almost EXACTLY the same height to the top of the doors as the beetle was, but apparently with seats lower in the cockpit. The plus side is that with the roof off there is far less buffeting for the driver, to the point that we've not bothered to buy a wind deflector - an absolute essential for top-down driving with the beetle at speed. Inside, the roof doesn't feel low at all (Randall - you might feel different ;-) but one is aware of other vehicles feeling taller than usual.

In other respects the car isn't functionally much smaller than the beetle. The boot has a similarly impractical size opening, and the space available is useful but a little lower than before. The cabin has storage space arranged differently, but is no less practical again - swings and roundabouts, as the phrase goes - although it is narrower than the beetle too.

So overall I think it was a good purchase, all compromises and trade-offs considered. Hopefully it will serve well for another 8 or so years like the beetle did.

p.s. There's a 'sport' button slightly to the left of the gearshift. I have pressed it once, briefly, then reset it. My understanding is that it makes the engine more responsive and the steering heavier, but that was still on day 1, and I was working my way back from Worcester on country roads and didn't really feel much like playing then. I may report more later.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Ever watch a vid that made you want to pick up a guitar and play?

These 2 guys, talking about Dumbles, then playing with some pedals. I'd love to be doing some of that at church in the morning.

Time to go find the Les Paul.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Aparently tonight I managed another PB.

6.78 miles in 1 hour, while running 'round the block' for a modest 8 miler. Just need to manage an additional 5.1 miles to complete a half marathon.

Hopefully things will slow down a little now.

It's been (or felt) crazy busy round here the last couple of weeks, sourcing a replacement car for Chris, travelling to London to pick up a bike for Ben to use, collecting Chris's car, then driving from Slough to Worcester for a funeral, then driving home again, then dropping Ben off for his return to France.

Monday this week we re-interviewed for another assistant for me. 6 individuals, 1 hour apart, no lunch break, then review after the last one has left. I could feel the dripping on my shoulders as my brain oozed from my ears.

I could go on.

3 separate social occasions involving food over the weekend, which again was great, but tiring. I've also been trying to find gaps of a couple of hours in which to run & maintain fitness, and that's happened, but it's been tricky. 2 weeks ago the little (size, not attitude) lass doing physio found a painful spot and then repeatedly worked it - cue knee aching for next 3 days and no running happening. :p

Mostly it's self-inflicted - can't blame anyone else really. :-)  I've also hurt my neck/back, and can't sit upright easily. :-(

Tonight I finally did the April church news sheet, so that's one monkey less. :D

While I'm wittering, social media is an odd thing. LinkedIn makes me want to punch people for all their smug, shiny executiveness. It's poo, really.

Quite enjoyed reading Celsus criticism of Christianity. Considering it was written in AD150ish the criticisms often come across as very modern, aside from his understanding of the Greek gods and demons and a stated desire that all Christians should be put to death. Interesting too is the way his religious leanings are interpreted through his sense of politics, rather than the other way round. No wonder Christians were anathema to him.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Being older isn't all bad.

While there's a side of me that likes to compete, especially with the younger ones, it's really nice to be able to relax with people and just get on with the job at hand. It's also a sign that I have no interest in career progression any longer, and can just be myself, mostly.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Who said mechanical things are logical?

The clutch on Ben's Guzzi wouldn't release: he'd had it partially apart (flywheel and driven plate out - it's a car type design rather than a typical wet multiplate like most bikes) to check everything, but it still didn't work. Enquiring on a forum, they asked if he'd had it completely apart to check it? So this afternoon we stripped it completely - nothing obvious wrong - reassembled it, and now it works fine.

Great advice, but I wish it was logical.

Friday, 25 March 2016

PB for 5K

Managed a personal best for 5K running tonight despite a twingy knee. Wonder if I'll manage a run on Sunday?

BTW for those who take pictures and process them, Google have released the Nik software collection (a set of plugins designed to work with other software like Lightroom) free of charge to download. If you don't have anything like them then they are very good value for the cost of entry. ;-)  I've installed the suite, and now wonder whether it was a waste of time, since I primarily use On1's Perfect Photo Suite to do many of the same things, although I expect to find the HDR plugin useful.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Sylvia rides again

Sylvia being the name of the bike I collected on Tuesday night, Ben has sorted insurance and tax and taken her for a spin. Apparently the foot brake, linked between front and rear discs, works well, which is good because the front brake operated from the handlebars doesn't really work at all. She's not a thing of beauty at 35 years old, but still handsome in a slightly cobbled together kind of way.

Hopefully I'll get a ride in some time this weekend.

On a slightly different topic, my keyboard skills have really gone down the pan over the last few years, yet tonight I'm tapping away freely for the first time in ages, as though I've got something to write, and up until then without needing to make many corrections.  :p

Feeling a bit Ursa major

Apparently I growled when I entered the office today. Not ideal. :-(

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Another of those mornings.....

Where you're in a hurry and leave slightly later than desirable, have to put fuel in the van that was hired the previous night before returning it, bash one's funny bone on the petrol pump, twice, return the van and get it checked in only to discover that you left your own car keys at home, so return home (now late for work) to collect them and the cafetieres that were forgotten in the hurry earlier, and the van will need to be used to drive to the physiotherapy appointment in the afternoon too, so will need more fuel before returning it.

And breathe.

Life will go on. The bike that was collected last night seems OK, and hopefully can be used as transport. Insurance and collection is being sorted for Chris's new car.

Self-inflicted tiredness. :p