22 December 2007

Confessions of an occasional runner

It’s been a busy time at work lately, with little time for venturing far afield, and the decline in temperatures in London has meant my morning starts have been augmented first with a warm hat, and recently with gloves to keep the blood flowing. I’ve switched to the Tube for my morning trip to work, although I still take the train home from Waterloo. It’s generally dark and misty when I leave for work, but the eight or so minutes it takes to walk briskly down the hill to Southfields station is a good way to warm up. I usually get a seat at some stage along the journey, which almost never happens on the mainline trains from Putney.

The only journey outside London since we got back from France was a day trip with my former boss from the BOA, Anne, and her husband Bob. I travelled to north London to meet them and we drove in their car to Cambridgeshire to visit the Imperial War Museum Duxford, which is on the site of the former RAF Duxford, a major airfield used in the defence of London airspace during the Blitz. Now it’s a massive aeronautical museum, with a huge collection of aircraft stabled in several broad hangars. In the two most modern hangars the aircraft both perch at ground level and hang from the ceiling, so the air is literally full of the most superb aircraft, old and new. A slender Daimler-built RE8 biplane built in 1918 hangs nearby a hulking Sunderland seaplane, while a Harrier jump-jet looms above. The hangar is dominated by the powerful delta-wing swoop of the menacing Vulcan nuclear bomber in the centre, while at the far end a graceful Concorde lives out its days in airconditioned comfort. Braving the blustery weather, we visited the other hangars too, and one highlight was the American wing. Here there was the chance to see a B-52 bomber close up, and the even rarer SR-71 Blackbird, all menacing jet intakes and sci-fi angles.

A week later flatmate Deb and I held our first official flat party, with good attendances from both sets of pals, despite the chilly night and the distance across town that some had to travel. Steve was most impressed with Deb’s mate’s new iPhone, and I have to admit, they’re certainly very stylish. Now if they weren’t only so expensive to buy and run…

During the following week I met Steve and Helen in Greenwich (Helen standing in for Fiona, who was busy getting her hair done in preparation for a TV cooking show appearance the next day), and we enjoyed a radio recording of a series of standup comedy acts for a new Radio 4 series called 4 Stands Up. Hosted by the genial Michael Macintyre, the two programmes featured about half a dozen acts, most of whom were top notch entertainment. But the highlight was definitely Macintyre himself: unassuming, resolutely non-cutting edge, he excels in simple observational humour and everyday material. And no Estuary vowels for him; his public school elocution is a point of distinction with most other British comedians. Yet he is no toff: his Canadian father and Hungarian mother put him in a flash school for the sake of his education, before removing him after a few years when they worried he was becoming just a little bit too posh to survive in the big city. Macintyre’s material is typified by the simple familiarity of his routine about commuting via public transport (‘Londoners must be the only people who can look like they’re standing clear of the doors to let the passengers off the train while at the same time always moving forwards into the carriage’). A great free night out. Here's a decent clip featuring some of his material from the Comedy Store:

I went to another Radio 4 recording a few days later at BBC Broadcasting House near Oxford Circus – the first recordings in the new series of Clare In The Community, the sitcom based on the control freak social worker character featuring in the long-running Guardian cartoon strip. Clare was played by the talented Sally Phillips, best known for being one of the three female comedians in sketch show Smack The Pony, and for her supporting role as Shazza in the Bridget Jones movies. It was all fairly low-tech and fast paced: the cast of eight sat in a row of chairs along the stage, and each jumped up to the microphone for their scenes, sometimes waiting for the sound effects man to play the background noise to establish the location. The writing was quality old-school situation comedy in the best sense, and the performances were both enjoyable and professional. And I should point out that while the comedy revolves around the life of a social worker, it’s refreshing that there are no cheap jabs at the profession: the writers seem to know their stuff. Of the supporting actors, Alex Lowe is versatile as Clare’s long suffering boyfriend Brian, while comedy ventriloquist Nina Conti (daughter of Tom) is perky and sweetly naïve as Megan, a Pollyanna-like Scottish social worker: Clare just can’t understand why clients always give Megan gifts, even when they’re Clare’s own clients.

A few weekends ago I ventured to Canada Water to the Decathlon sports store and purchased some rather cheap trainers and an equally cheap red wind-cheater, with a view to starting a (semi-)regular jogging routine. And as luck would have it, they had just the thing I was looking for. The shoes aisle was organised into serious runner, regular casual runner, and ‘occasional runner’. You can guess which one I chose. So, for 20 quid I bought the cheapest pair of shoes that didn’t look absolutely revolting, and to my surprise they’re actually quite comfortable. I’ve been for two runs so far at the weekend, venturing out from Southfields to Tibbett’s Corner (the former haunt of a notorious highwayman), then along the fringes of Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common to the genteel surrounds of Wimbledon Village, where I promptly hop on a bus that brings me right back home. Baby steps, you know.

Last week I met up with Raewyn and Mike and a few of her pals for Raewyn’s birthday dinner at Fish In A Tie in Clapham. Raewyn and Mike had recently spent two weeks in America, and were soon heading back to Paris. At the table it turned out we had no less than four current or former Competition Commission employees!

One inner-city expedition last weekend was my visit to the George Inn just off Borough High Street, a short step from the heaving Borough Markets. The George is the last surviving gabled inn in London. Shakespeare used to drink in an earlier George Inn on the same site; Dickens used to drink in the current inn building and mentioned it in Little Dorrit. The present building with its louche sagging balconies dates from 1677.

And as for my media consumption of late:

Movies: Knocked Up, Talk To Me, The Golden Compass

TV: The Genius of Photography, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Cranford, The Mighty Boosh

Books: Ice Cold In Alex, Moll Flanders, The Ocean Railway

It's minus one outside tonight and the apartment buildings are all wreathed in mist. Good thing I've got a hot water bottle.

Next major report will be on my quick trip to Calais and Boulogne after Christmas.

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