Thursday, 8 October 2009

More of that Swine Sods Law

The marathon training was done – id flipped through my book of motivations while battling various emotions on a damp Tuesday evening and completed a 22 mile slog around the outskirts of Plymouth. My watch read 2:53:59 – the dream of a sub 3:30 was alive. The train was pulling into the station named Job Done when it got derailed by the smallest of pebbles on the track.

Turning a corner on my bike, the tyre met with some wet concrete and moved sideways instead forwards. I tumbled to the ground, my hands breaking most of my fall as they jarred through the gravel, my hip hitting hard into the cold ground while my legs still straddled the bike. In amongst the adrenaline I didn’t notice a cut in my ankle and failed to clean away the germ harbouring mud from the opening wound.
It got infected, as they do. My ankle is swollen up, the skin tight around the now all too obvious hole. I woke up the same night with flu symptoms as the bacteria swarmed in my blood exploring their new home. A few days later the Doc gave me some antibiotics and assurances that it should be fine in a week – three days before we line up on the course in Istanbul.

But there are more worries. My housemate, who is a constant sniffler at the best of times, thinks he has got swine flu. I have my doubts – I think it’s a very easy way to get a week off work; you log on the website, you tick the box saying you have a sudden cough and tick the box saying you have a fever and they load up a screen saying you might have swine flu stay at home. I don’t know what this flu is like – but my experience of having flu once put me in bed for 3 solid days. I wasn’t coughing and spluttering around the house in my pants watching TV all day. OK it’s a share house – it comes with the territory, but the timing is bad. Even worse is his annoying bird, Mute, who has stayed at the house 100% of the time with the intention of catching it herself. OK, great, if that’s what you want to do then go for it – but not in my house! Her having it at least doubles the chances of me catching it too – which would under normal service be very inconvenient, but with the marathon looming is bordering on making me quite angry. She’s got ‘it’ now of course – I went to get her Tamiflu for her from boots this morning. Ive got a cough, and feel weird now and again but I think and hope it’s related to the 4 grams of penicillin I’m popping every day. My housemate, of course suggests that ive probably got it too – to which I said Ive got a cold - If I had flu id be in bed not wanting to move. There is some tension; I think the house has run its course.


It will all be fine just so long as my ankle recovers and I don’t get swine flu, a cold or anything else right before I set off for Turkey. That would make me upset.

Monday, 17 August 2009


Some good friends and my good self have decided to enter the Istanbul marathon. It is on Sunday the 18th October. I still have 2 more triathlons to complete, as part of the South West Series, so it is difficult to find time to fit in all the training, and even more difficult to cut out all the drinking. My swimming, in particular, has been neglected for much of the summer, with only really the fortnightly open water sessions at the club to mention. Cycling, too, has been more infrequent than I would like, but I have busted out some good interval sessions on the gym Wattbikes.

Running has been a bit more consistent, with lots of good runs found on the coast paths and around Dartmoor. This weekend I did 10K of speed work on the Saturday, then a 14 mile run on Sunday. The 10K was up to Central park, 4x 500m sprints and then jog back. I wish id put on my heart rate monitor as I was 100% ruined at the end. The long run was up on the Plym Valley Cycleway – a route I have only just discovered after K took me on a bike ride up there. It follows the old train line up onto Dartmoor, so is a very gradual uphill for 7 miles until you reach the village of Clearbrook, then a small loop and back the same way. You don’t really notice the uphill until you turn around, but my return time was 6 mins better than the out. Both ways it includes the very dark Shaugh tunnel where you end up running very fast and pretending that youre being chased by an alien, a la Alien 3. Well, I did.

The marathon itself is marketed as the only in the world where you run on 2 continents – you start in Asia, and run across the bridge into Europe. Sounds good, hopefully my legs will stand up to the training.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The law of Sod

I am taking a break from writing a presentation to write about the law of Sod. I spent about 4 hours yesterday afternoon stuck alone in my office as the summer sun baked the outside revellers to contentment. I was going through some graphs and putting asterisks and small font letters next to error bars to indicate which blocks of colour were ‘significantly’ different from others. I’d done the stats wrongly, of course, I don’t think you can ever do stats 100% correctly, but ive realised this morning that id done them badly enough to mean that I have to do them all again this morning. Oh great.

The presentation is for a conference im going to in Glasgow in a few weeks which is where the law of sod comes in. Back in the depths of winter, 5 friends convinced to come on a sailing holiday with them this summer. None of us really sail, but two of the six had recently been awarded their ‘day skipper’ or something licences, and so wanted to be skipper for a few days. We booked to go to Greece this coming Saturday for a week. All good. Then a few months ago my boss mentions a conference she wants us to talk at, and mentions the week after the holiday booking. All good again I think, a week in the sun, then a week up in Glasgow to continue the not working. A few weeks later the details start to emerge, and it becomes apparent that the conference actually starts on the Sunday. Really? I think, that’s a bit silly isn’t it? Still, the chances of my talk being put on the Sunday are quite small, especially with my boss’s influence on the organising panel. I check the flight times back from Greece and we arrive late Saturday night. Then I get my talk date through and its not only on the Sunday, but Sunday morning. This strikes me with a little bit of panic. I check the flight times to Glasgow. The latest flight out is 9.20pm. Not enough time. I check the morning flights, and again, not enough time. I check the night trains, and while one exists, you have to get off the train at Birmingham for 6 hours, so it isn’t really much of a night train and more of an evening and then morning train. My last hope before contemplating driving up through the night is the good old night bus. Great stuff, I think, as I book a £34 single from Heathrow to Glasgow. The best conference talk preparation I can imagine is sitting next to some Glaswegian Trainspotting impersonator for 9 hours as i try to sleep with one eye open. Then ive got 3 hours to get showered and changed and answer difficult questions on a difficult subject I don’t fully understand. Can’t wait.

But I don’t really care too much, as its holiday time next week.

Back to the graphs.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Blockbusters begin

The sun, and summer blockbuster season has begun in anger. I sat watching Terminator Salvation last night with the warmth of some mild sunburn combating the over eager air-conditioning in screen nine of Vue Plymouth. That’s the biggest screen, which makes the films far more impressive if they’re the blowing things up after a chase or fight type of affair. The new Startrek was good in there, Terminator similar, Transformers Revenge of the Fallen hopefully too, but they’re all a bit too predictable - heavy on the effects and light on the subtleties. And it’s the little things that matter right? The Hollywood bods are trying to cater for everyone at 70%, which is great, but comes at the expense that no one is ever going to love it at a hundred. But it’s probably not as simple as that. Terminator suffered from the plot ‘twist’ being obvious from the first scene – the ‘Cyberdyne systems’ headed paper that Marcus signs makes it clear what his fate is if you’re any sort of a fan of the franchise. And with that removed, there’s not much of a story to get attached to. There was also some really annoying dialog where people stated what was happening on screen just to make it doubly clear what was happening on screen, which I had already got because I was in the cinema watching what was happening on screen. I also struggled with Bale’s voice, much like in Batman, which he seemed to over gruff to the point of sounding like a 40-a-day granddad in some scenes. It was good fun overall though. I enjoyed the nods to the previous films – ‘come with me if you want to live’ ‘ill be back’ and a really eighties looking Arnie were all thrown in, though why Arnie didn’t just crush John Connor’s head instead of throwing him around for five minutes was a bit troubling. There were a suite of new terminators to feast your eyes on, and the action scenes certainly made the most of the big screen. The packed out cinema too, was a testament to the quality of the previous films (T3 excluded, obviously) and luckily enough for the fans, the films seems to have the same traits as the terminators that they depict; just when you thought they were dead, they unexpectedly rise up and come back to get you again.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


More friends are leaving.

Waz’s exit of a few weeks ago was neutralised, if only fleetingly, by his unexpected return to the lunch group last Tuesday – his Japan start date was put back a week enabling him a brief return to the homeland and a chance to exchange some real life smiles. Not to mention another chance to beat him at Pitch and Putt. I have thought about giving him the blog address when he is away; he can be trusted.

To even further away.

Thoughts also echo from the first year after Uni. Everyone was working in jobs they hated wondering why their degrees seemed worthless. My two best friends at the time decided, for different reasons, to move to Hong Kong. It was tough. I’ve kept in touch, of course, but it’s not the same. I see them less often than the seasons. They’ve both married and had kids, our lives seem so different now, but I can’t talk to them to find out if it’s true.

A’s and Jen are emigrating to Tasmania. The final link in their chain to Australia is being forged as I type, but they will leave in September irrespective of their visas stating ‘Skilled Migration’ or ‘Tourist’. Their minds are made up, the legalities will follow. They said they want a change; they’re going to seek out their dream and try it on for size. I joke that they’ll be back but for now at least there is certainty in their eyes. They have come down to Plymouth to consolidate their Uni memories of the place, to tick things off their ‘To do’ list before they leave. We sit up on the Hoe and talk while my head gets an unhealthy dose of April UV. Then Jen sees the dolphins. A pod at least 50 strong, adults and young, are swimming through The Sound. I can’t quite believe my eyes. It’s a beautiful spectacle that gets missed by most of the land dwellers, they’re too busy to notice. Whatever their conversations include, it is not worth missing this moment. Their futures will be starved of this memory, their minds forever oblivious. Silently we gaze in amazement as the dolphins swim through in front of us, the occasional breach betraying their location; individuals seemingly moving faster than the group. They swim to the west, their dorsals soon smaller than flecks of the reflecting sun.

They are gone.

But not forgotten.

To my friends and the dolphins. Good luck.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Spring? (Goodbye)

The final light of the day lingers behind the city. I look back across the water to Plymouth and marvel at the sight, both of the skyline back lit in orange, and of the promise of spring, delivered earlier in the day by the clear blue sky. The shorts and vest tops were out around campus. There was clean, crisp, morning air as I walked into work. Summer songs on my iPod unlocked previous memories of barbeques, sunburn and smiles. It a wonderful time of year; so much promise. So much to look forward to. But first I have to say goodbye.

It is the nature of studying, or working at a university. Friendships are strong; the randoms that you meet on your first day have similar interests to you. Your nerd factors match, you’re destined to get on. You share ideas on life, thoughts and fears of the future. You go on to share similar highs and lows.

But the turnover is great. Contracts are short; a year, possibly two. The overlap is all too often less than this. Waz is off to Japan at the end of the month for two years. He has been down here too long, and while I wish him the best, it is still a huge shame to say goodbye. He has been the main catalyst for me settling so well into Plymouth after a shaky start. Who is going to organise the next bowling league? Who will I beat at pitch and putt? Who will replace him in our office? Time will no doubt deliver a replacement, things will move on and we will all act like its OK. But we’ll all miss you mate.


Thursday, 5 February 2009

Sir Prawn a lot and a missing mullet

Back in the days of summer, when I was still in my twenties, we went to catch some prawns. My office mate needed some to use in his project looking at ocean acidification, so we waited for a sunny-ish afternoon and headed for the beach. We needed both species of prawn commonly found in this area, Palaemon serratus and elegans, and the bigger the better. We arrived, eat some ice cream and headed off into the rockpools. I began sweeping through the seaweed with my net willy nilly – occasionally getting a fairly large one, or something else interesting, but it quickly became unrewarding work. After a while we discovered it was more fun, and a lot more productive, to stalk the prawns (and no, im not talking about Facebook). Carefully moving a rock would uncover a whole gang of elegans which, by using the nets in a finely-tuned strike of upsettingly accurate co-ordination could be swept up for the bucket. Soon we had over a hundred and set off back for a sun burnt pint in the pub. Oh how I miss you summer days.

Soon afterwards we heard of a new prawn catching technique. We went to the harbour and tried it out – throwing a net on a rope into the deep water and suspending it at somewhere near middle depth. In the net was a mesh bag containing cat food which oozed out - like the shark-attracting ‘shit’ that Chief Brody shovelled over the side of The Orca in Jaws - attracting prawns from far around. The cat food did its job. Pulling in the net 20 mins later, we had caught some serratus that were approaching Jaws proportions.

In Tesco they would have been sold as King Tiger serratus. I’ve rarely been so happy.

During the first trip we had also brought back a few tiny fish fry that had been swimming in the rock pools. We put two of these into a tank in the aquarium and fed them a variety of the smallest things we could find. They soon began to grow and after some false hope that they might have been bass, we became fairly sure that they were baby mullet. Other things began to appear in the tank as well – starfish, limpets, anemones, prawns, a crab. They must have been tiny larvae in the water with the mullet, but we hadn’t noticed them until they had grown to eye-recognisable size. 6 months later, I was taking in some artemia to feed the now thriving mini ecosystem, but something was not right. Only one fish swam towards me in the search of food. The mullets were only one. I looked around the tank, then outside the tank, then the floor, but there was no sign. I emailed the technician who had spent the most time looking after them:

Bad news.
We are a mullet down.
No evidence of escape.
No body.
Not sure what to do.

Will had noticed the day before but didn’t want to tell me. I started to think about what might have happened and jumped to the conclusion that the crab was to blame. He had been getting bigger and bigger, and was now the size of a 1p piece. I thought if he could have got hold of the mullet, he probably could have eaten it. I checked the tank again for signs of the body but still nothing.

Dam that crab, he’s been getting too big for his boots for ages.

Before he could eat the other one I made the decision to take him out and put him in a tank on his own with some stock mussels.

Ha. You’re not smiling now are you? Mullet murderer!

Then this morning I was talking with Will about what to do with the remaining mullet and we suddenly saw the body. At the other end of the rack, a level below, the dried out shape of the missing mullet was suddenly all too obvious. Our eyes followed the path he must have taken; jumped up through the gap between the tank and the lid, flapped his way along the rack for a bit, then fallen through into the tank below.

I apologised to the crab as I returned him to his home tank.