Posted by: Paul | August 13, 2012

The Olympics are over. Umm…Now what?

Today, I feel adrift. I find myself wandering around the house, picking objects up at random, examining them, and putting them down again. I’m a little lost. I’m sure there was something I’m supposed to be doing. Nope, can’t think what it is. It’s probably work-related. There is a five-ring shaped hole in my life, for the Olympic Games are at an end and, like many people, they have occupied a large part of my time for the past two weeks. I am sad. I really, really miss them, like a dear friend who comes to visit after a long absence and stays too short a time. You remember, you cheer, you laugh, maybe you even cry a little. But it’s a good crying.

I’ve been fortunate to have enough of a gap in my work schedule to spend most of the past fortnight camped out in front of the TV, devouring every single second of sporting action I could lay my greedy eyeballs on. I wanted Fencing. I wanted Synchronised Diving. I wanted Archery, Triathlon, Athletics, Tae Kwon Do, Cycling. I wanted it all. And now it’s gone.

The experience was made all the sweeter by the opportunity to attend an event – my brother and I went to the opening day of the Tennis at Wimbledon, day one proper of the whole event. This, as it turned out, was not only a near-perfect day in its own right (spoiled only by the Murray brothers losing in the doubles), but the perfect primer for the whole event for me – I came home enthused, thinking this was a once in a lifetime event and I had to grab all I could of it. I felt dismayed that I had not made more of an effort in the early stages to get hold of tickets, because at this point, with events unfolding in front of my eyes and the crowds at every sport spurring our athletes on, anything would do. Most of all, I desperately wanted to be inside that stadium, to be part of that crowd. Because I was too slow, I now can’t get tickets for the Paralympics either, to keep the feeling going for as long as possible.

Instead, I have memories. Here’s a very personal run-down of my favourite moments of the last two weeks.

- Watching Kim Clijsters practice at Wimbledon just six feet away from me, on her last ever appearance there.

- Getting swept up in the ‘Team GB!’ fervour as the Murrays crashed out on Court Two in a brilliant game against Jurgen Melzer and Alexander Peya of Austria.

- Andrew Osagie’s lung-busting sprint down the home straight to qualify for the final of the Men’s 800 metres.

- Burning a T-shirt when inadvisedly trying to do the ironing while watching the Brownlee brothers storm to gold and bronze in the Men’s Triathlon. So absorbing.

- Jade Jones flinging her Tae Kwon Do headguard to the ceiling in raptures after winning gold.

- Gemma Gibbons shouting ‘I Love You Mum!’ after winning her Judo semi-final, on her way to a silver medal. She cried. I cried. YOU cried. Admit it.

There are so many more, and I’m sure the forthcoming Paralympics will lengthen the list. Perhaps you have a favourite you’d like to list in the comments box. No pressure.

And so to the closing ceremony. And how glad I am that as George Michael emerged at about 10.15 I decided I’d had enough and went to bed. I might have missed out on Eric Idle, but on the plus side I also missed the Spice Girls, Russell Brand, Kate Moss, Queen, and all the rest of it. The opening ceremony did such a good job of making me proud to be British that I’m glad I didn’t have the experience of cringing behind the sofa and being ashamed at the taking apart of that wonderful feeling, piece by piece. I know I’m not alone in this from the comments I saw on Facebook and Twitter last night. As awe-inspiring, humbling and moving as the opening ceremony was, the closing ceremony seemed purpose-built to return Britain after it’s two-week holiday on optimism, to it’s default state of cynical snarkiness.

So I’m glad I didn’t watch it all, because I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I want to remember my Olympics for the list above. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks feeling deliriously happy. I liked it, and so today I am lost. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time today seeking out heartstring-tugging BBC montages, and watching the ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ video on a loop. My, but Jess Ennis is cute in that. Sigh.

So thank you, Olympic Games. Thank you for defying the doubters with the opening ceremony, keeping us on tenterhooks through the tense first few days, and then blowing us away. Not just Team GB, but the whole thing – to all the athletes, officials, staff, volunteers, spectators. Thank you for reminding us why the Olympics – and Britain – are so special. Come back soon.

Let’s make a date for, say, Manchester in 2032?

Posted by: Paul | August 2, 2011

Run On

Long time no post. Been taking a bit of a break from blogging recently, as you may have noticed if you stop by from time to time.

What I have been doing in the meantime is running. Quite a bit of running. I’ve been talked into entering a local 10k road race by my Dad – something we’ve toyed with in the past but never gone through with. It occured to me that I should probably put in a bit of work towards this in the hope that I’d, you know, survive.

I have a gym membership which I do use from time to time, but in my busy period my regular routine fell away. I’m not completely out of shape, but I could do with being a good deal fitter – and my workout, while it does include a bit of time on the treadmill, doesn’t exactly equip me for ten kilometers of continuous running.

Ten kilometers. That number started to grow large in my mind, and I wondered whether I’d be able to get through a run that long at all, never mind in one go. The target is this – complete the race in under an hour, without stopping, and I’ll be happy.

The absolute furthest I had previously run in my workouts was 5km, and that was when I was doing a little bit of training last year to ensure I could climb Snowdon and, you know, survive. I’d considered jogging this distance to be about the upper limit of what I was willing to do during a workout, but I now realise it’s woefully inadequate, and to survive the race I need to make sure I can do a good deal further. Ideally, 10km.

So a few weeks ago I started training. Starting from 5km twice a week and increasing in gradual increments, I’m now up to 7.5 and closing in on my goal with about 6 weeks to go until the race. 7.5k is hard, though – I know people run marathons, but I’m not one of those people. Running is, frankly, quite boring to me, and I’m doing this merely to prove a point to both myself and my Dad that I’m capable. I know! Still trying to prove something to my parents after all this time!

Anyway, I’m wondering whether this sudden urge to run goes deeper than just wanting to beat my Dad in a race. Running is something a lot of people my age (both male and female) seem to take up, as if to prove something to themselves. We hit our thirties, look back at what we’ve accomplished, and realise it often doesn’t include anything physically testing. We may have been promoted at work, risen up the career or property ladder, in many cases gotten married or even had kids (we’re still just about in the minority among our friends in that regard). But if we haven’t pushed our bodies in the process, perhaps we begin to want to do that – as if to prove we’re still young and healthy.

I have no desire to run a marathon – though I know people who do, who have, and who still want to. 10k seems achievably contained to me – it’s an hour out of my life (if I’m on schedule), and requires little more than I get a bit fitter and stick to a simple regime.

Anyway, with the treadmill work being dull I’ve been working on a playlist to pull me through and keep me at a high pace. It always give me a burst of exhilaration when I happen across a song on my iPod which falls exactly into step with my speed and stride pattern, as if I’m hearing the song for the first time. A lot of the songs which fit the bill are by a band called ‘A’, whom you may or may not have heard. Their only ‘hit’, if you can call it that, was ‘Nothing’, which featured in my 30-Day Song Challenge run down. They’re fantastic to run to – tuneful, pumping, pounding, humourous and heavy – just what you need when you want something to push you to keep going that little bit further. A good few ‘A’ tracks meet my speed exactly at 11km/h, which is what I need to run the race at in order to come in under an hour. I’m still compiling a playlist but I may well post it here once it’s done! I need it to run to an hour, so I know if it runs out I’ve missed my target!

Posted by: Paul | July 18, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 30

Day 30 – Your favourite song at this time last year. Band Of Horses – ‘Factory’

This is actually still one of my favourite songs at the moment, on account of the fact that I’ve bought barely any music in the past year! The whole album this is taken from, ‘Infinite Arms’, is very good indeed and highly recommended.

And…it’s done. This was sort of fun, delving back into my musical memories, but a few of the categories are rather odd. Anyway, normal blogging service will be resumed tomorrow – that is, a smattering of sporadic posts about toddlers, Tottenham, TV and other things not necessarily beginning with T.

Posted by: Paul | July 17, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 29

Day 29 – A song from your childhood. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Born To Run’.

A lot of my formative musical experiences came from listening to tapes in my parents car. Twice a week they would drag my brother and I along to their tennis club, and rather than run around or play football on the adjacent sports field, we sat in the car listening to whatever cassettes we found scattered on the floor. This included Queen, Fleetwood Mac, ELO, The Mamas and the Papas (by Christ!), and Bruce Springsteen. I could have picked anything from that selection, but it has to be listenable, right? Even to the ears of an 8 year old…

Posted by: Paul | July 16, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 28

Day 28 – A song which makes you feel guilty. A – ‘Nothing’

This is the stupidest category of the entire 30 days. Quite a few of them are very glib, but this takes the biscuit. What am I supposed to feel guilty about – listening to the song? Is it supposed to make you feel guilty about some hypothetically tragic life event?

Nonsense. Here, then, is a brilliant song which treats this category with the contempt it deserves. ‘A’ are superb, despite having a name which is both difficult to explain to people and tricky to find online. They’re still going, off and on, but haven’t released a record in six years and since their rockin’ back catalogue is helping me along in my treadmill training for a local 10K, I could do with some more!

Posted by: Paul | July 15, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 27

Day 27 – A song you wish you could play. Dinosaur Jr – ‘Out There’

As far as I’m concerned, J Mascis is the best guitarist who has ever lived. Despite the slacker attitude and the barely-intelligible drawl, the man was my guitar-playing idol and is the reason I’m supposed to own a Fender Jazzmaster (which turned out to be a Jaguar, but that’s another story entirely). ‘Out There’ has the mightiest opening guitar barrage of the nineties – perhaps ever – and though I can play other Dinosaur songs this one has always eluded me. And that has always jarred. I would consider it a major achievement if I ever managed to blast out even just the first few bars, but since it’s been almost 20 years…I don’t hold out much hope. I still love to listen to it and dream though.

Posted by: Paul | July 14, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 26

Day 26 – A song you can play on an instrument. Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Cherub Rock’

I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. Not terribly well, you understand – I don’t practice anything like enough, but there was a time at the end of my teens and early into my twenties when I was, well, passable. I had my repertoire, let’s put it like that, and this was in there. In fact, ‘Siamese Dream’ as a whole is a great album to play along to in your student bedroom – no doubt to the chagrin of your housemates (sorry everyone. That apology is at least ten years too late).

I swear the Pumpkins made a video for this but it’s not on YouTube, so a rubbish audio track and a few grainy stills will have to suffice. I actually wanted to put a version of ‘Soma’ up for this instead but the choice of clips there is even slimmer. Tomorrow on ‘It’s 1994 All Over Again’ – Dinosaur Jr!

Posted by: Paul | July 13, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 25

Day 25 – A song which makes you laugh. Flight Of The Conchords – ‘Hurt Feelings’

Perhaps this is cheating – it is, after all, supposed to make you laugh – but since everything the Conchords do both makes me laugh and also carries indie credibility, this was a no brainer for me. It was simply a case of picking my favourite.

What a lot there is to choose from though. More or less any of their songs from the first series would have done, but I opted for this since (a) a lot of the second series material was specially written for the episodes, rather than being culled from their stand up routine and having plots written around them, and (b) it sends up hip-hop. And I hate hip-hop. So it’s all gravy, yo.

Posted by: Paul | July 12, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 24

Day 24 – A song you want played at your funeral. Mew – ‘Comforting Sounds’

Not something I want to think about a great deal, this category. I’m enjoying living quite nicely, thank you very much. Anyway, I chose this purely because it’s a favourite of mine which is sort of in the right vein, and I figured that since I’ll be dead, no-one attending can complain about having to listen to the full 9-minute version. Flying violin-playing cats and all.

Posted by: Paul | July 11, 2011

Facebook’s 30 Day Song Challenge – Day 23

Day 23 – A song you want played at your wedding. Gene – ‘Why I Was Born’

We’re both Gene fans, my wife and I, so when ‘Drawn To The Deep End’ came out, this song became an obvious choice for a first dance, should we ever get married. I made her wait a few more years, but we got there in the end!

We saw Gene on valentine’s day 1999 – supported by a little-known band called Muse. I remember watching and enjoying them – thinking at the time they sounded a little like dEUS – but thought that they were way too angular and uncommercial to ever be successful. Shows why I’m not in the music business!

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