Sunday, 3 May 2009

02/05: Evans Cycles.

I need to fix up my bike. I haven't cycled on it for months because it's all grimed up and it needs a proper clean. So I went out to the nearest cycling shop. I'm not a fan of Evans Cycles. Actually, chain stores generally, but particularly Evans. It is populated by a million people in their late teens/early twenties, which isn't a reason to dislike them in itself, but none of them seem to have any pride in their work. Customer service is terrible, and you don't get a sense at all that any of them really know cycling inside out, which is probably fair enough because it's not like they've been working in a bike shop forever. But I can't find a good bike shop anywhere which isn't mainly catering for children and adults who want to commute half an hour to work. They have expensive bikes as well, but not the expertise that should accompany them. Bike tools and general maintenance equipment isn't very important in these shops, presumably because if you actually learned to look after your bike they'd lose a significant chunk of revenue. The thing is, the independent shops can't afford to concentrate on the high-end these days, so they have to fill their shop with cheap bikes for adults and kids bikes. It's a damn shame. If someone can recommend me a good independent bike shop, you will earn my eternal gratitude.

Later, I attended a lovely barbecue at a friend's house. Not too many people, just a nice quiet evening. My perfect night out really. Walked about 5 miles home through Richmond Park. To make the time pass quicker I listened to a podcast, but I'd heard it before so I wasn't really listening. What I was thinking about was how I don't think anymore. Which is obviously a ridiculous sentence, but what I mean by that is that whenever I'm alone and have time on my hands with nothing to do, I always stick headphones in my ears and listen to something. Before the iPod came along, I'd just think. Every now and then, I'd have an idea. I don't do that so much anymore. Maybe I should leave portable entertainment at home every once in a while.

Worst blog entry ever. I'm tired.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

01/05: Mental decay.

Paul Morley is looking rather fetching on Newsnight. Late-middle-aged men with gel in their hair often look rather sad and terrible. I'm thinking of Sir Ian Botham when I write that, with his short "cutting edge" hair, laced with gel. It's not a good look, like he's trying and failing to be contemporary, and landing somewhere in the late 90s. Sorry if you're reading this, Sir Ian. I'll buy you some honey to go on your Weetabix. Morley's hair is dynamic and sharp, and even though it's grey, it's making him look.. relevant. Morley matters. Modern Morley. The media master. They're discussing the new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and the concept of the Poet Laureate. Morley obviously finds the idea of being the Royal Family's poet ridiculous, but it seems Duffy does too, which is encouraging I guess. I know fuck all about poetry, but I remember reading her poems at school and quite enjoying them in comparison to the mire of Gerard Manley Hopkins and even Shakespeare. Her and Simon Armitage had this immediacy about them, and crucially, a sense of humour. I just can't relate to "verse" as a concept unless it's got some sort of self-awareness about it and a willingness to laugh at itself. Yes, I'm a Philistine. Anyway, maybe I should pick up those Plath and Larkin books again.

Now Morley is commenting on blogging in general, in reference to a blog (NightJack) which has won an Orwell Prize for political writing. Predictably, he's despairing about old, traditional media adopting UGC as a central part of its strategy. He, and a million others no doubt, have a point. It's a worrying trend. You can see it as the logical conclusion of a democratisation of the media, and in that sense, maybe this is necessary for old media to stay alive in the age of myspace and youtube. But the way in which "Your News" is prioritised, the public isn't centralised at all. An editor is still picking out a couple of bits of camcorder footage, and the public is forced to watch someone's home videos. One of my favourite Paxman moments:

Quite. There is still a place for salaried experts who've trained in their field doing a job. For one, democracy doesn't always work because the public isn't a monolith. If everything was down to majority rule, we would be watching wall-to-wall Susan Boyle clips, and Simon Cowell would probably be global president of some sort of corporate aristocracy. Morley was wary of blogging because anyone could write about anything and expect to be as respected as someone with expertise in what said blogger is writing about. Again, he has a point. This time, however, as long as powerful individuals aren't cherry picking stuff out of nowhere, I think the cream generally does rise to the top on the basis of word-of-mouth. This blog, for instance, will never suddenly be the talk of the town, because no one would pass this tripe onto their friends. Once a blog does gain notoriety, the author will be under greater scrutiny to reinforce their credentials. For now I think, the system works. As long as those old media people stay the hell out of it, and concentrate on sticking to what they know. iPlayer has provided for your future, don't worry too much.

Did my 5-mile run. It went well, but I was drenched in sweat by the end. Planning an 8-9 miler for Sunday so we'll see how that goes. In fact, I think it might've gone better because of my music choice, The Magnetic Fields' '69 Love Songs'. I hadn't listened to it in ages and it's a real summer album, bouncy and light. So it went very well with the run, and I'm only about 40 mins through it, so I can carry on where I left off on Sunday too. Hurrah.

I heard Laura Marling's 'Ghosts' on the radio later, great tune. I've heard it before but never fully appreciated the gorgeous harmonies of the chorus and the way it builds and builds. It inspired me to get out my guitar, which I hadn't played for 2 or 3 years, and a mic, and do a quick cover for my own satisfaction. Big mistake. Now, I can't sing or play guitar. I'm not sure I could ever sing, but I definitely used to be a competent guitarist. My left-hand fingertips are now slightly bleeding. Oh dear. Maybe I should start practising again. In the meantime, you should listen to this beautiful song.

Friday, 1 May 2009

30/04: Pointless politeness.

Should I do a marathon? There's one happening in 10 days.

Yesterday, I went for my first run in two weeks. Exams this week have been a bit of a distraction. Not that I was working ridiculously hard for two weeks, but while I wasn't working ridiculously hard, I had a head full of worry, and marathon training seemed like a frivolous thing to do. Up until that last run, I had been doing pretty well, every run going to plan, and feeling fitter than ever. However, along with all that worry in the last couple of weeks came a lot of messed-up sleeping patterns, Pro Plus, a sedentary lifestyle, and meals consisting solely of snack foods, or coffee, or nothing at all, or Marmite on a stick. Only joking about the Marmite. Although I did have a phase of eating it off a knife back in the first year of my undergrad degree. That's another, deeply depressing story.

So anyway, I went for a little 5 miler to test the waters, at what I hope will be marathon pace. Thought I'd try out a new podcast while I was at it - Phill and Phil's Perfect Ten, which was pretty good, not as good as Collings and Herrin, or Adam and Joe. I find the "format" slightly unnecessary (they discuss 10 topics picked out of a hat in 30 minutes, and there are rules etc. etc.) but maybe I should listen to it again before judging it rashly. With a more free-form podcast, or at least ones with the appearance/pretence of spontaneity, the chat seems freer to go wherever it wants to for as long as it wants to. Obviously this can be a strength or a weakness depending on who is doing the talking, but if you know what you can get the most laughs out of, why not run with it? Collins/Herring very good at this. With Gervais' podcasts, they are clearly structured and even probably lightly scripted these days (some of Karl's one-liners now sound incredibly rehearsed), but they still manage to create an atmosphere of naturalism and anarchy. You feel included. (In a pathetically lonely way.)

The run felt alright for the first couple of miles. It has got a lot warmer since I last ran back in mid-April when it was sporadically raining, in a reassuringly traditional way, so I started feeling the heat fairly quickly. However, I wasn't prepared for the tightness in the chest that followed shortly afterwards. I had to stop after 3 miles. Troubling. I should be able to complete a marathon, but if I can't do it at a decent pace, I'm not sure I'm that up for it. It's an undulating course in the Essex countryside, which means in mid-May it could be a climatically challenging run. I'd hoped to do one around the same time up in the Lake District, which would've been amazing, but it wasn't financially viable in the end. Anyway, I'm going to eat and sleep properly now and see if I improve this week.

During the course of the run, someone moved out of the way and said "Sorry", having done nothing to apologise for. Pointless politeness. Well, not really. I actually do this all the time, and I know I've nothing to apologise for, and I then wait for my apology to be acknowledged as unnecessary. I get slightly annoyed when it's not acknowledged. Obviously this is ludicrous. I don't know if it's a British thing, or just a mentally ill thing, but I like it. I especially like it when other people do it, because I feel a kinship with these crazy people. I'm not sure I like the idea of a world where everyone is watching what they say and do and thinking about other people all the time, but it's comforting that there are a few people out who still consider trivialities like this important. Humanity lives? Or something? Because people are saying 'sorry'? I'll shut up now.