Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Me and my ASICS gonna run away...

So, this running thing.  You have to laugh.  I’d just started up and was going great guns when the snow came.  Now, I don’t mind a bit of weather – for pity’s sake we were doing kettlebells by the river in driving hail the other day – but I’m not good on ice.  Instead of striding along in my usual fashion, I morph into little old lady mode, clutching cars and walls as I inch along.  Truly it’s pathetic.  It hurts my pride.  This guy I know shouted on Facebook about how a little snow wasn’t stopping him running and I felt seriously peeved but then I noted that someone else had fallen, running on ice, and had broken her wrist.  There’s gung-ho and there’s plain daft. 

So, my lovely new running shoes fromSportsShoes.com had to sit in their box.  Oh, okay, I put them on and sort of jogged round the house in them cos seriously, they’re rather fab.  I hadn’t realized just how different running shoes are from normal trainers.  They’re slim and snug, they hug my feet like a second skin.  They make me feel all supported and…’held’…and that’s really rather a lovely feeling. 
But not very technical, huh?

In the end, after consultation with my running coach, Trisha, and a good peruse of the SportsShoes.com website (which offers advice on which shoes to pick) I plumped for the ASICS GEL-KAYANO®18.  These usually retail at a whopping £137.99 but were on sale at £89.99.  Still a heck of a lot of money.  ‘I don’t get it,’ I said to Trisha. ‘How come they’re so expensive when you can pick up a running shoe for twenty quid or whatnot?’  And she explained it’s all in the technology. The more expensive the shoe, the better the fit, support and cushioning apparently.  ‘And you really do need the right shoe if you’re going to avoid injury,’ she warned, pointing out that the main reasons so many people injure themselves running (ice aside) are wearing the wrong footwear and not following the right training regime. 

To be very honest, although my ASICS looked lovely, I couldn’t see what justified the price tag.  So I looked a bit further and seems it’s all to do with their GEL™ Cushioning System which apparently “dissipates vertical impact and disperses it into a horizontal plane.” It also has ‘gender specific densities in the midsole’ which sounds a bit…interesting.  I’d often wondered why you got men’s and women’s trainers – I mean, a shoe’s a shoe, right?  Wrong.  Seems that men and women place weight in different areas of the foot when they’re running.  I was also rather taken by the ‘exoskeletal heel counter’ that ‘provides improved support and an improved heel fitting environment for serious runners’.  Get that! Serious runners.  I’m a serious runner?  Like this guy? Hmm...I'm slower but I've got better legs.  
Actually, the Kayano 18 is probably a way more technical shoe than I, as a rank beginner, really truly honestly need.  It’s a bit like when, back last year, I was asked to test out a swimsuit and was fondling the Olympic quality stuff.  I turned to Trisha again. ‘How much should you pay, as a beginner, for a pair of shoes?’ And she reckoned around the forty quid mark would do it – but to make sure you do get the right shoe for your foot. 
Anyhow. Finally the snow and ice pissed off and the road beckoned.  On Sunday, before kettles, four of us took off round the lanes around Dulverton.  My feet felt – wonderful.  Just wonderful.  I wish I could say the same for my lungs but that will come with time.  And I kept the shoes on for kettlebells and they were superb for that too – providing a ton of grip which was really useful given we work out on a pretty rough surface. 

I have to say I’m impressed. I'm also now totally spoiled for cheap shoes - once you've felt that...snugness...it's hard to go back to a lesser holding pattern.  I was also impressed by the service from Sportsshoes.com and by their website which is easy to navigate and offers some great bargains.  Go take a look.

So now there’s not much else to say really.  I’m all kitted up.  The open road stretches before me and I’m off…gonna run, run, run, run away…  Catch me if you can.  J

Thursday, 24 January 2013

I wander...wordwise.

Winter bites. Not just around me in the snow and ice but here inside. My thoughts freeze; my heart aches with the fingertouch of frost.  And I cannot write.  Words desert me, they fly away like a skein of geese, high in the cloud-bound sky. Isigfethera. Icy-feathered. I sit and stare at the screen, my eyes glazing.  Bitter in breosthord. Sad in soul. So I get up, swathe myself in blankets and gaze instead at the snowbound pages of my notebook.   No joy.  It’s a no win/wynn situation.  Did you know that wynn means joy or bliss in Old English?

"Ƿenne bruceþ, ðe can ƿeana lyt
sares and sorge and him sylfa hæf
blæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht.

Who uses it knows no pain
sorrow nor anxiety, and he himself has
prosperity and bliss, and also enough shelter."

This time of year, this sense of mood, often sends me back to Anglo-Saxon poetry – to The Seafarer and The Wanderer in particular.  The Seafarer most of all.  Because Old English expresses cold (of bone, of body, of soul) so much better than modern English. Its words bite.
And, even if words don’t love me right now, I still love words.  There is a wonderful blog on Tumblr called otherworldly which unearths, explores and adores words.  And sometimes, when I can’t write, I go there and lose myself in language.  Because so often what we cannot express in our own language can be expressed quite perfectly in another.  And I love that it has a ‘random’ function, allowing you to use it as a quasi-oracle if you will.  And you know how I love oracles.

Check it out. Wander word-wise. And I wonder, is there a word somewhere in this wide world, for wondering if you’re on the verge of giving up - but hoping you're not?  J


Sunday, 20 January 2013

The woods are lovely, dark and deep...

The woods are beautiful in the snow.  Well, woods are always beautiful but, in snow, they become primeval.  As you crunch the slim tracks through trees you could imagine the wolves were running.  Silent shadows, sliding past out of the corner of your eye.  Your head knows they don’t exist but your heart smiles at their subterfuge.
But really, here and now, there are deer, small herds of hinds. Startled, they stare, wide-eyed, then leap away.  A small dog in pursuit.  But no deerhound he. 
In the fields, by the river, the drifts are deep.  The water runs yet, too fast to freeze.  The gate has been snaggled with barbed wire. A pass-knot.  I unpick, fingers numbing. Patience, caution. Winter is a time of circumspection. No grand gestures now.  We do the small things we need to survive.  Remembering ancestors huddled round the fire.

And small things please.  Outside the kitchen door, a line of little icicles, a delicate fringing.  One pink flower remains. Embraced by ice. 
Back inside, I’ll build a fire.  A tent of twigs.  The ancient campfire.  Outside the snow falls still. Inside the fire keeps the bite of winter tamed. Just.

But before that, I pause. Type this with one dog perched on my lap.  His nose settled between my knees. His body warm. Both of us enjoying the comfort. Wolf turned tame.  The other?  Maybe not so much.  :)

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The last flame...

I went to see my friend Caz the other night.  We sat by her wood burner in her snug cosy cabin and I watched her drink the bottle of Cava I’d bought while I sipped a peppermint and licorice tea.  I admire Caz so so much. She works her socks off, lives on a pittance, has brought up her children single-handedly and yet I don’t think I have ever heard her moan. Not once. She lives life to the absolute max, sucks every last bit of juice out of it, rises to every challenge and says ‘Gimme more, more, more.’

She gets cross with me. Tells me off.  Puts me straight.  ‘How can you bear it,’ she said. ‘How can you not be out there, grabbing life by the throat and LIVING it? How can you stand to live this…half life?’

I know what she means. There really are no excuses.  Except.  One is constrained by…money?  Not really. Caz has no spare dosh yet that doesn’t stop her.  No. So, if not money, what? Duty? Love? Fear? Habit?

I dunno. But sometimes I become overwhelmed by the speed at which time passes.  I feel scared that I won’t get to see all the places and people I’d love to see…that I won’t get to do all the things I yearn to do.  Mainly I forget my age and then, suddenly, abruptly I remember. And I recall my mother, at 80,saying sadly, ‘But I don’t feel 80. I feel like a sixteen-year old. This body isn’t me.’

I made the mistake of looking at the camera app on my Chromebook last night, as I sat by the fire.  I truly didn’t recognize the woman who gazed back at me. Who the hell is this raddled crone, I wondered?  And, if you’re not careful, you start to slide. Little things become omens of ill-will.  Your mind picks them up, worries them like a dog with a bone, and makes them monsters.

My ring broke. The little silver snake ring I wear as a talisman. The only one I wear all the time.  Suddenly the metal just…gave in. Split. So now my hands are bare.

And then, late last night, I sat in my study, at my desk, staring at my screen. My scream.  And I could see the fire, three rooms away. The rooms in between were dark and there was just this little flame remaining of the fire that had earlier roared so brave, so warm.  It flickered.  It juddered. 
‘Don’t go out,’ I begged it.  ‘Please don’t you go out.  Not yet. I couldn’t bear it.’

Suddenly it seemed incredibly important that it not fall into ash. Not while I was still here, still awake, still in need of light and warmth and hope. 
But it did.  Of course it did. The house fell dark. Fell silent. And the cold crept in. So I crawled to bed.

I could build a new one, of course. Even if the embers are no longer glowing, I could start afresh. A phoenix from the ashes.  Except…there are no more logs in the woodshed.  The coal bucket is empty. And the snow is falling.

I SO need a plan.    

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Plimsoll nostalgia and the right trainers

When I was young we didn’t have fancy trainers for each and every sport. We didn’t even have trainers, come to think of it.  We had plimsolls.  They came in white or black.  Laced or with elastic gubbings at the side. Skinny soles. And the white ones got all grass stained and then you had to use that weird chalky stuff to re-white them (and now I can smell it!).  And that was it. Oh, except that for hockey (shudder, wince) we had a more elongated version with rubber circles on the ankles. These were always black.  Because of the mud I suppose. 

Then one day my pal Jane Wright pitched up for Sports Day with running spikes.  We all stared in stark amazement. 

Funny, huh?  Now there is a trainer for absolutely everything.  Is it really necessary? Is it overkill?  Is it just a canny marketing device?  I seem to spend all the money I don't have on petrol, food and…trainers.  Seriously.  James is growing so fast I can watch him inching up, beanlike. He’s my height now and shows no sign of slowing down. His feet are three sizes bigger than me and he ‘needs’ different shoes for running, rugby, cricket, football and squash.  Aaaaghh. 

Mind you, it does make sense.  According to my fitness instructor friends a large proportion of injuries occur because people are wearing the wrong shoes.  When I started doing Zumba my knees soon got wrecked.  Turned out I was wearing cross trainers with a heavy grip on the sole, so my foot was dragging on the floor, putting strain on the knees.  I got myself a pair of dance shoes and – ta-da! – problem solved.   And at my step class the other night, Debbie warned against using running shoes for step as there simply isn’t the lateral support – you need a good cross-trainer. 

So.  I am seriously looking forward to getting my new running shoes.  After a lot of umming and aaahing, I asked my running coach Trisha for her advice on which to get and she had a look at the way I stand (knock-kneed, flat-footed) and said I’m an overpronator (who knew?) and need something with a fair amount of support.  She suggested these…sthese are exactly what I’m getting.  Well, actually, since writing this it turns out that this particular one is out of stock but mine will be very similar (just, er, not black and pink but white and green).

Nice huh? Big thank-you to Sportsshoes.com.  Now, if you don’t have a friendly Trisha, Sportsshoes have a pretty good advice section on their website. Click here to see their video on how to choose the right running shoes.  It’s worth spending a bit to get a decent pair that do the right job.  I’ve learned my lesson of hanging onto trainers until they fall to bits and now I do replace mine as often as I can.  I'll report back on the running shoes once I've had a go.  

And now I’m going off into a total trainer reverie, remembering the bloody huge great things we used to wear in the tail-end of the 80s, purely as a fashion statement.  Bloody hell.  Micro mini-skirt, black opaque tights and HUGE high-top trainers with massive tongues and big fat laces you kept undone.  What the hell were they called?  The brand, I mean. It's driving me potty. Not Nike, not Reebok, not Adidas... aaaaghhh.  Someone put me out of my misery.  

btw, have I spelled plimsoll correctly?  It's looking weird.  And now spelled is looking weird too.  Spelled or spelt? I think I need a nap.  :D 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

I'll kill you if you die on me...

I’m wrecked. Shattered. Knackered. Every muscle in my entire body is aching.  And that’s good, really good.  If you want to get fit, if you want to get fitter, you have to keep challenging yourself.  Bodies are smart – they adapt very quickly.  If you stay doing the same exercise regime, week in, week out, your muscles will get used to it, you won’t progress.  Anyhow, doing the same thing all the time is boring. 

When my favourite classes closed down, initially I felt seriously pissed off.  But when one door closes, another opens.  You gotta keep trying new things, right?  You gotta keep an open mind.

So I fetched up at Sizzling Step.  Copied the others, getting out the gear.  Stayed near the back so it wouldn't be too obvious I didn't know what I was doing.  
'Hi,' I said brightly to the two twenty-somethings next to me.
'Hi,' they said. 
'So, is this fun? I'm new.'
They looked at one another, slight frowns on their perfect foreheads.
'You haven't done it before?'
'Absolutely not.'
'Have you done any of Debbie's step classes before?'
That look again. 
'Er, is something wrong?'
'Nooo.  Just, it's a pretty advanced class.'  
It started off so well.  Up and down, up and down, up and down. Kick to the side, knee repeater...blah blah.  Pussies. What where they on about?  
'Okay, now we're all warmed up, let's GO!' said Debbie, cranking up the music.
Oh shit.
Now I'm pretty coordinated and I'm relatively fit but bugger me sideways no way could I fathom this.  They were sort of dancing over and around their damn steps, spinning like tops. 
I sort of made it though but after class I had a chat with Debbie.
'It's not really my thing,' I said.
'Try Step and Sweat,' she said.  'You could do Zumba first so it would be a two-hour workout. You'd love it.' 
'Good idea,' I said. Cos, see, everyone's different.  You gotta try these things to find out if they're for you or not.  And, if not, you don't give up, you just try something else.  

So, goodbye Pilates and Zumba Tone; hello Zumba something else and Step and Sweat.  Goodbye Wednesdays, hello Mondays.  Two hours of full-on cardio and conditioning, with weights.  Now I’m pretty strong, what will all the kettlebelling, so I plumped for the heaviest hand weights.  It was only as we were well into the warm-up that I realized I was the only one with the heavy duty buggers.  After about ten minutes, I realized why.  But by then it was too late – I’d have broken my neck trying to navigate through a class of people bounding up and down steps waving weights around.  So I stuck with it and… owwwwwww.  I haven’t sweated like that since I started Zumba, over two years ago. 

But it will get easier.  It’s always tough at the beginning.  You just have to push yourself through that initial resistance.  Why do it?  Because bodies are made to move, they’re designed to be active.  Yeah, I know that the healthiest, fittest people can drop dead of a heart attack and that the biggest slobs can eat, drink and smoke their way to revoltingly robust old age but, hey, if you can exercise (and I accept that not everyone can) isn’t it crazy not to help your odds?  The heart is a muscle – it needs to be given a workout on a regular basis.  Our bones aren’t made for sitting around either and avoiding weight bearing exercise can leave you with the risk of osteoporosis in later life.  I dunno – I don’t want to go round town in an invalid carriage and I don’t want to have a heart attack (way too many of those going on around me right now – way, way too many.

If you know you've got a health issue, you can get a GP referral for exercise. My pal Trish does them round here and has got all sorts of people exercising (and loving it) regardless of their age and health concerns.  

If you want to lose weight exercise really is your friend.  Muscle weighs heavier than fat but it also burns way more calories.  I have watched people literally change shape at the classes I go to – one woman has lost seven stone so far.  That's 98 pounds.  She’s taken up running now.  She finds it tough but, by heck, she’s sticking in there; she's doing it.

But, more than any of that, exercise makes me feel good.  As long-term readers of this blog will know, I have a really unpleasant cur of a black dog that nips my heel.  Adrian calls it ‘thinking too much’.  Stupid name for a dog, if you ask me.  But three things act like a choke chain on the brute – meditation, laughter and bloody hard exercise.  Last few weeks…months actually…have been pretty tough – those three keep my nose above water. 

Anyhow. Where was I?  Oh yes, wimpering quietly in the corner wondering if I’ll make it through kettlebells in church tonight.  Yes, we are probably the only kettlebell group in the country (if not the world) who swing our bells in the aisles.  It’s pretty cool actually.  Almost as cool as doing it down by the river on Sunday mornings,  watched by ducks. 

So. Please. If you possibly can, do exercise. You know I don't believe in telling people what to do but, honestly, I love you lot and I don’t want you upping and dying on me. Seriously, I may have to kill you if you do. 

Find a class or an activity or a sport that appeals (even if only just a little bit).  Or get out and do the running thingy with me.  Honestly, it’s not that evil.  We’re starting slow, remember – 90 seconds running, 30 seconds walking for now.  Half an hour, three times a week.  That’s all.  Lecture over.   

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Life of Pi

So we went to see Life of Pi at the Tivoli in Tiverton (MUCH better than the Odeon).  Adrian declined the invitation so James and I fist-bumped and bought shedloads of the rustliest packets of crap we could find. 

Hate to say it but the Subaru performed rather nicely – in fact it positively flew along the valley road.  Now if I could only find a parking space where its bum doesn’t hang over the end…

Anyhow.  I’d read the book, by Yann Martel, and had kind of enjoyed it, although (to be honest) I really couldn’t remember a whole lot about it other than that the boy ends up on a lifeboat with a tiger and that there was a sneaky twisty ending.  But that was good, cos it meant I didn’t demand the movie stack up to the book.

Let’s cut to the chase:  I loved it.  From the opening scenes the cinematography is just captivating – it has the strangest quality of light – a perfect clarity combined with a softness, almost a sweetness (I know that’s a paradox but, sorry, that’s how it felt). The CGI of the animals is pretty incredible but they did lose me just a bit when some scenes went over-the-top (the whale was a stretch too far for me, as was Pi's mum’s face appearing in the sky – schmaltzy and unworthy, but hey, only a few bum notes).

The scenes of India at the start are simply stunning.  I could almost smell the flowers and spices, feel the humidity, find my hands yearning to twist into mudras, my feet itching to dance.  And how wonderful is young Pi who sees no problem in being, simultaneously, a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim?  In fact, he even wonders if three is enough.  A boy after my own heart.

The whole movie has a dream-like quality about it.  Even the brutality, unexpected and shocking when it comes, is true to the nature of dreams.  My mother used to dream, repeatedly, of a large cat following her, padding quietly into the room, or jumping silently onto her bed, moving up the covers towards her face while she lay in terror.  A Jungian would probably say that the wild beast symbolizes dangerous uncontrolled emotions, disruptive forces, the animal passions and instincts. And Pi, of course, is a boy on the brink of manhood. 

But let’s not analyze it too much, eh?  I certainly didn’t – I just sat back (with the occasional rustle) and let the dream pick me up and take me with it.  What is real?  What is up; what is down? What is within, what without?  Is anything what it seems?  Does it matter?

The boy discovers that he needs his antagonist.  The tiger – both his fear of it and his need to look after it - keeps him alive.  Oh yes. 

The adult Pi says that his story will make you believe in God.  Does it?  I don’t think so. Not really. And I had the same feeling of being slightly cheated by the ending as I did when I finished the book – clever but..a little pat. I’d rather stay with the beauty, with the awesome beauty of the heights of ocean and the depths of sky; with the vastness of space and time and two creatures watching one another cautiously from either end of a small boat. 

PS – Someone, anyone, send me to India. Now. Please. 

In case you haven't seen it - check out the trailer....
Oh, and no, we didn't see it in 3-D.  

Don't laugh but...I'm running.

I’ve always wanted to run. I have this image of myself as some kind of Artemis, virgin huntress, sprinting lightly and lithely through the woods, the SP bounding gracefully at my heels, at one with the wind.

And I desperately need a new string to my fitness bow now I’ve lost the gym, yoga and my Wednesday Pilates and Zumba.  Don't ask - I'm in mourning.

Running is the ultimate low-maintenance sport – just stick on a pair of shoes (or stay barefoot?) and go for it.  No kit, no classes and – wayhay! – no fees.   Plus every runner I know has a truly fabulous physique – lean as beans.  Okay, so I’m a realist and I ain’t ever gonna look like Jessica Ennis but, seriously, you just don’t see chubby runners, do you? 

Anyhow.  My attempts at running have, so far, met with dismal failure.  I start off just fine but it all swiftly falls apart. I wreck my knees or my ankles or both and end up out of action for weeks. 

‘You’re doing it all wrong,’ said my pal Trish, uber-fitness instructor and mad-keen runner.  ‘You go hell for leather from zero, no wonder you knacker yourself.’ The words ‘you bloody idiot’ were unspoken but were written loud and clear in her expression.
‘If you want to run without injuring yourself, you have to start off really really slowly.’
Huh?  I don’t do really slowly very well.  When it comes to fitness, I’m a bit all or nothing.  ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ said Trish. ‘But, trust me. Anyone can run. It’s just how you do it.’

Aim high, huh?  
Seems that the way to start is to do one minute jogging followed by one minute walking – repeat as necessary for about half an hour.  Do it three times a week, with rest days in between and gradually increase the length of the jogging bits until it's all jogging and no walking. 
‘And that’s it?’
‘That’s it,’ said Trish. ‘We’ll start tomorrow.’
‘Absolutely.  By the end of six weeks you’ll be able to run for half an hour without stopping at all.’
‘And then?’
‘You start training for a half-marathon.’
‘Oh piss off!’

But the challenge was there; the glove had been thrown down.  And then a lovely PR I know said that her client SportsShoes.com were offering a pair of running shoes for testing.  Fate.  It had to be Fate, right? 

So there we were this morning, running round Dulverton. Four of us with looks of intense fear on our faces with Trish herding us like a mega keen border collie.  And, you know what?  It was fine.  And we came back to the river and did an hour of kettlebells in the bloody freezing cold and now I feel – sort of springy. Like I’ve had a shower under a waterfall or something. 

Now then.  I just have to pick out my shoes.  What you reckon? 
Nice colour combo, huh?
A bit pink...
A bit...blueeagh...
Or something completely different?  

Oh, and if you fancy joining me in this madness, we could spur one another one.  How about it?

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Smash, bang, wallop...

What does it mean when things keep crashing into you?

Just before Christmas some guy staggered out of the pub, drunk as a skunk, weaved down the centre of the road to his 4x4, got in and promptly ploughed into our RAV4, reversed and pissed off. 
The door was staved in.
‘Shame he didn’t write it off for good and proper while he was at it,’ I said.

Oh, be careful what you wish for – the bloody insurers did write it off which would have been fine and dandy if
a)     We hadn’t just had the damn thing serviced.
b)    We hadn’t just shelled out for two new tyres.
c)   The bastard insurers didn't give us a seriously crap price for it, with no chance of renegotiation.

‘Shit,’ I said.
‘Double shit,’ said Adrian.
‘Does this mean we get a Ferrari?’ said James.
‘NO!’ said Adrian and I, in blissful harmony for once.

In fact it appeared our options were seriously limited, given we needed a replacement PDQ (you simply don’t function without a car out here in the sticks) and we didn’t exactly have a lot of dosh with which to play.

‘I’m leaving it up to you,’ I said to Adrian firmly.
‘What? But you always pick the cars. You’re the one who cares about cars.’
‘Yeah, but maybe it’s time for a change.’
‘Really?’ He looked suspicious. Who could blame him?  ‘And you won’t blame me if it’s not right?’
‘Of course I will. But that’s the chance you take.  I wash my hands of it.’
He vanished for a few hours.  ‘I’ve got a Subaru.’
My eyes widened.  ‘Oooh.  Okay.  The Imprezza?  That’s pretty cool.’
Kinda funky, huh?

‘Er, no.  The Legacy.’
Like this but much, much older.  

Now, you know me and cars. I like nippy and sexy or thuggish and tank-like. One or the other.  But an estate car, a station wagon?  Oh, purlease.  In a flash I was back in North London watching the convey of Hasidic families in their monster Volvos wallowing down Stamford Hill.  Estates are death to fun motoring: staid, sensible, stoic, snoringly boring. Nobody ever eyes you up in an estate car at the lights, inviting a burn-up.  In fact, nobody even notices you.  People are liable to drive into you because of your sheer lack of visibility. 
And this one? Bless its engine, it’s so ancient that, not only is the dash wood but the bloody steering wheel is wooden too.  And the SatNav appears to be a CD. WTF?

But hey, it’s got four wheels, it’s dry (the poor RAV was incontinent after its smash and made you feel like you’d wet yourself every time you got out of the passenger seat).  And, to be fair, it does have a bit of poke in the engine. 

So that was crash #1.  And then, a couple of days ago, an email popped into my inbox from our neighbor, the vicar, entitled Your Wall.
Shit. Now what?  We share a 20 foot stone wall and if that had caved in, we were looking at debtors’ prison. But no.  It seemed a delivery truck had decided it would mount the pavement and slice through our arch, leaving chunks of stone and smashed up rock all over the road.
‘You’re not having much luck lately, are you?’ opined a neighbour, watching Adrian shoveling stone. ‘Whatever next, eh?’
I could hear my grandmother’s voice loud and clear – ‘Bad luck comes in threes.’

So, umm…what else can be smashed or crashed, I wonder.  And what does it mean…all this…implosion?  

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Google Chromebook - my Precious!

So James and I were sitting watching TV before Christmas and an ad came on for the Samsung/Google Chromebook‘That looks neat,’ said James.  ‘Cheap too.’
He’s been angling for a new laptop for ages and I’ve said tough shit, because, really there is absolutely nothing wrong with his except for the fact that it isn’t brand spanking new and, umm, the fact he has pretty much buggered it up by downloading all kinds of rubbish from the web. Because, no matter how many times you warn them about clicking on links and opening files, they never ever listen, do they?
‘Yeah, I rather like that,’ I said.  ‘In fact, I really like that.  Better than a tablet cos it’s got a proper keyboard.’
‘Go on, Mum,’ he said.  ‘Admit it – you want one.’ 
‘Okay, yes, I’d like one,’ I said, grudgingly.  ‘Oh, all right, I’d really like one.' And then added, softly and sadly: 'But I’m not getting one, am I?’

Except…  The next day I got an email from a PR.  Would I like to test out the, yup, Chromebook? 
‘Huh?’ I said, resisting the urge to ask if they can now listen in on conversations via television. Or if they teach psychic ability at PR school. She patiently repeated the offer.
‘What? To keep? What’s the catch?’
‘Yes to keep and no catch.  Just tell people what you honestly think about it on the blog.’
‘In that case, umm, yes please,’ I said and sat staring at the screen for several minutes after the email had vanished, somewhat puzzled. 

I mean, this was getting perilously close to cosmic ordering territory. 

If you haven’t seen the ads, the idea behind the Chromebook is that it’s a reasonably priced laptop that absolutely ANYONE – even the most tech-phobic - can use.
It retails at around the £200 mark and is slim and sleek (11.6 inch), with an air of the MacBook about it.  I’m a bit of a design snob, or I would be if my budgets allowed, but this met with complete approval. 
It also fired up pretty damn quick.  You press the ‘on’ button and it gives you a log-in screen after about 10 seconds.  You tap in your wifi details, give it your Google account details and kerching, you’re up and running.  Just like that.  Seriously.  Within five minutes of opening the parcel, I was on my usual sites and networks.  Business as usual. 

I swiftly password protected my account.  James has a horrible habit of downloading games and crap onto my PC if given half the chance which annoys the hell out of me but this is set up for everyone to have their own sign-in.  He wrangled it off me and swiftly downloaded a pile of stuff from the Google Chrome webstore (the free stuff, I hasten to add).  

Now I’m no geek or tech reviewer.  I can only tell you how it ran for me.  I love that it’s fast, really fast – because it’s a relatively straightforward setup, it really is speedy.  You open up the lid and it's there, like a Border collie at your heel, panting and ready to play, within a few seconds.  Seriously, under five seconds each time.  Given my PC acts like it's pondering the answer to world peace when I ask it to wake up and respond, it’s a small miracle.  Internet access is, as I said, a doddle. 

What I didn’t find quite so doddleish was using it for word processing and other officey type functions.  This is a Chrome OS and while there is a Windows-style taskbar across the bottom of the screen, you can’t use conventional programs.  You have to download apps if you want to write documents, do spreadsheets or have integral email.  I really didn’t like that, although other people don’t seem to find it an issue. I also like to be able to rummage inside the innards of my computers and it felt weird not having a control panel or wotnot.  But then, to be fair, this isn’t aimed at people who like to play with the innards of their PCs. 

Even with those caveats, I absolutely love it.  When I went up to London it was brilliant not to have to lug around the whopping great laptop or try to make my errant phone behave in order to get online. It’s also a great bit of kit for anyone who is tech-phobic. Given the hassle we had getting my FIL online, I’d love to be able to give him one of these.  It just cuts out so many potential hazards.  It even has inbuilt anti-virus protection and firewalls.  Battery life is pretty good as it sleeps when not in use and wakes up instantly and with that typical Collie-type obedience as soon as you need it.  If you turn down the screen brightness you can get around eight hours out of it.

It’s also pretty well ideal as a first computer for children.  There’s honestly not much they can muck up here – in fact, nothing at all.  Okay, you still have to keep an eye on where they’re going and what they’re watching but hey, that’s just called sensible parenting right.  But you don’t have to worry about them crashing the whole system or infecting themselves with all kinds of viruses. So, yes, James and I sort of share it.

Now then...if I can summon up a Chromebook...whatever next?  

Monday, 7 January 2013

Why I hated The Hobbit movie

So, we went to see The Hobbit – ostensibly as my birthday ‘treat’. I stocked up on drinks, popcorn and sweets and stuffed them in my bag (cos, seriously, who can afford to pay the prices they charge at cinemas?)  And James and I got stuck in pretty much as soon as we sat down (oh, okay, before we even got to our seats) and Adrian got cross with all the rustling.  But, hey, you gotta rustle in the cinema, right?

I confess I was doubtful, even before it started.  As I said in my earlier post, I was never a huge fan of The Hobbit (no Aragorn, too many dwarves, etc etc) but the trailer had looked pretty awesome.  But then, I wondered, were they really, truly, honest to godly stretching it out into three parts – each three hours’ long?  Jesus, that’s nine hours’ of cinema for one pretty skinny book.  It seemed a bit unfair.  LOTR got that and it was – what? – seven times longer?

What can I say? I hated it.  In fact, I fell asleep and slept through the most part of it out of sheer disappointment.  Or maybe I was just terribly tired.  I don’t know.
And it got me thinking…why? Why did I dislike it so much?  I don’t read reviews but I know people have said it shouldn’t have been split into three parts, that it was over long and yes, absolutely.  It felt…stretched.  Every scene pulled and tugged until it nearly snapped. 

But it was more than that.  Somehow, it felt as if the very ‘ being’ of the book had been fundamentally changed, pulled out of alignment.  It felt…glossy.  Too glossy.  It felt…epic.  Too epic.  And sexy.  I mean, I seriously don’t remember cute, photogenic, shaggable dwarves in the book.

Be honest - was this how you saw Thorin?
It was like someone sat round the table in Hollywood or wherever, said, ‘Look, we haven’t got Aragorn or Boromir or Faramir or even Legolas, FFS, so what are we doing to do? Who’s gonna be the pin-up?’  Cos, let’s be honest, Bilbo and Gandalf aren’t lust material.  So someone came up with the idea of giving a few of the dwarves a glossy makeover. So they don't actually look like dwarves.  Kinda sad, huh?
Or Kili???

And, ahem, what was with the cutesy big-eyed hedgehog stuff?  That was total utter pure Disney.  Don't get me wrong - I like Disney but in its rightful place, and its rightful place is not, not, not in Tolkien. 

And then all the massive big action movie style moments – the giants slugging bits of mountain; the fights with goblins and wotnot.  In the book they were just – exciting things that happened.  But someone decided that wasn’t enough – they needed to be turned into something bigger, longer, wilder, madder.  It was like they were thinking, ‘Hey, how would this scene be in the game of the movie of the book?’ or ‘What about when it gets turned into a ride at Disney?’  And I guess that’s fine but it brings me onto my last thought…and the major one.

It simply wasn’t representative of the book.  It didn’t capture the ‘soul’ of the book, its essence.  The Hobbit is a small book – one with big adventures and a wide landscape for sure, but its major focus is small, a microcosm – it’s a one man (or hobbit) tale of how Bilbo leaves the safety of the Shire and goes out into the big world to discover…himself. 

And that is what gets lost almost entirely in this movie.  They’ve turned it into a generic action adventure film – it’s Die Hard with sexy dwarves instead of Bruce Willis and with added dragons, orcs and goblins (and, weirdly, a reanimated hedgehog).  And I figure that’s a shame. 

Will I be watching the next two tranches?  Unlikely. 

Now, next question?  If I felt that strongly about the movie of a book I wasn’t even that wild about, should I really go see Cloud Atlas and Life of Pi