No NaNoWriMo

Forever blowing bubbles

The sister at whose house we have been staying is a glass blower making weird and wonderful creations for chemistry researchers. A strange and magical profession indeed and one that, had she not taken it up, I would have passed by without a second thought. However, as it is, it comes up in conversations every now and then in a “while I was at work…” kind of way.

Today that all changed. I went to look around the University where she works and into the workshop that houses this strange activity. No longer is it an imagined place in my mind existing only in such a way as to fit the scattered comments describing the set up. It’s now a memory. A memory of being dark and deserted (being evening and winter) that would honestly not have looked out of place in a first-person/RPG type game. Long, very similar looking plain corridors and poorly lit spaces with unreadable writing on the walls.

This should the sign-age and décor of a multi-storey car-park rather than that of a university

Eventually coming to a door much like any other I found myself in amongst all sorts of odd looking equipment. A lathe with a oxy-acetyline burner [I have been informed this is not an oxy-acetyline burner but oxygen-hydrogen instead. I'm not sure if this is more crazy or not] instead of a cutting tool, a selection of odd looking hand tools and big light screens with magnifying glasses mounted at odd angles.

On the end of the bench, between the covering of odds and ends of glass fragments and melted test tube-like-pieces was a burner [a methane-oxygen-air contraption apparently] staring out in a carefree sort of way as if all desks had the ability to shoot flames many feet away.

With the gas switched on and all the various dials and controls in the right place I was given a demonstration.

Things always look so easy don’t they?

Things were twisted and poked and prodded and blown through until from nowhere a miniature glass vase appeared. Not quite the everyday work at the university but not so far out as to present a challenge.

Next, it turned out transpired[No it did not transpire - transpiring is what plants do 07/02/2013], was my turn. Sitting at what can only be described as a health hazard I was handed a piece of glass tube and detailed directions of where to put it. Hold it at each end and use both hands to twist it and keep twisting it at the same rate with both hands. This sounds simple and with a piece of normal glass tube it is. Any fool could do it. I was.

 

What makes it slightly (read very) more challenging is putting the middle in a fire.

Glass has always been something that I have been wary of. I’m not afraid of it. I don’t go out of my way to avoid it but its tendency to be sharp and uncomfortable command a certain respect that plastics, metals and generally more robust materials could only dream of.

In return for this, glass has always been glass. Brittle, clear and generally bad at being bounced. What it is not is glowing and soft. It just makes no sense. So there I was holding a gently rotating piece of glass tube while each hand tried to keep up with the other. It was all going so well until my hands were no longer holding the same tube. Instead they held a tube each connected by a glowing tube of molten stuff that seemed to think droopy was more appealing than straight. As each hand twisted at different rates the connection became more and more un-round until I was told to remove it from the flame and pull it. While still twisting. Stretching glass has to be the most unnatural thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve ridden a unicycle.

Next, I was instructed to pull bits off with tweezers and blow a bubble in it. I was given slightly more prompting than that but what I ended up with was a rapidly expanding and increasingly fragile glass ball, at many hundreds of degrees, three inches from my face. It’s a bit like blowing up modelling balloons (if modelling balloons were liquid and very hot). You blow and blow and blow until you almost pass out then it suddenly inflates.

By the time I realised what was happening the bubble was past its prime and as I rapidly withdrew from the cooling glass straw I was able to watch it collapse in front of me. Comparing it to the ones-she’d-made-earlier, I think my employment as glass-blower-in-chief may be a while away yet.

I think next time she’s in the UK, a trip out in a boat is in order.

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Categories: Everyday Happenings, No NaNoWriMo | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Things that can be found in Germany

More specifically, things that I found in one small part of Germany. And also those things that I wouldn’t expect. No one wants to see ‘I found a traffic light’.

First of all we went for a walk around a park. What could possibly be that unexpected there? A strange tree perhaps? A troupe of morris dancers? No. There was a camel.

More accurately, three camels. All fighting over the same tap

About as bemused as one would expect, we carried on walking. The next surprise shouldn’t really have been a surprise. having seen the camels. But still. who goes for a walk in a city to find a polar bear?

Camels and Polar bears living together must end in big fights over the thermostat

Moving away from the crazy Saharan ice-caps to the more normal end of town we came across this. I can only imagine it’s their answer to Liverpool’s Lamb Banana.

The Super Lamb Banana Rabbit

Leaving the wild grasslands of this crazy city and heading to the thriving centre of this metropolis showed the different way they do road signs (we’re almost on to traffic lights – watch out). In England, signs are very symbolic. You only know what most of them mean by learning the meanings. Basing everything on what they look like could leave you wondering why you should be wary of men fighting umbrellas.

Somehow I always get the feeling someone ought to say ‘Gesundheit’ after reading anything in German.

Here they do detailed signs. It may not be as instantly recognisable but even without knowing what the amalgamation of letters that pass for a word mean, you can deduce that throwing riderless bicycles at mirrors can cause either rain or sparks and make the wheels bend. It’s comforting to know that roads aren’t signed so much as illustrated.

Not so much unexpected as hugely impressive were the Lego creations. Made of normal size bricks, these things were almost life size. It was like someone had zoomed in on some one too much and they become pixelated. Quite a bizarre sight.

I think I might be inspired to finally watch StarWars if I knew it had monkeys fighting the light stick things.

Categories: Everyday Happenings, No NaNoWriMo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Vital Stats of Life

Smart phones and computers are often accused of causing problems in society. People no longer speak to each other. They text or email/IM instead. Even when they are together people often spend their time stroking the little piece of glass they carry around with them instead of making conversation.

I am as guilty of this as the next man and probably more so than most. Anything to make people think I’m occupied and deter them from initiating small talk that I’d have to try and handle. There are times when even I’m aware that I don’t really need to have my phone in my hand but without it I’d just be sitting staring vacantly forward which tends to make people uncomfortable. Since when did sitting in silence count as awkward?

The part of having a phone that has caused me the most grief though, is the fact it started feeding an already unruly addiction. Not an addiction to checking emails or Twitter (I’ve so far avoided even joining). It’s not an addiction to Angry Birds or whatever the current most popular game is. Neither is it the constant need to text people. I don’t talk to people (see above).

What this device did was enable my need to quantify my life. Everything gets numbered and charted and it’s slowly destroying me from the inside. It started when I got a Last.fm account. This is a brilliant website. It lets you track the music you play and then recommends new music. It also give you graphs and charts of trends over time of who you listen to. Who doesn’t love graphs? It works from any computer so if you have two or dual boot one, it means you have a combined play count of each track rather than multiple separate ones spread around different programs. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they then made this available for Android (and iPhone if you are that way inclined) so now music listened to there is counted too.

What’s the problem with all this? It seems so good so far. Well no. See, in my eyes, if I’m going to do something it has to be done properly. If I’m going to keep track of my music it has to be all music. What happens then when I can’t scrobble what I’m hearing? Who counts those songs? No one, that’s who. And when music is listened to without being counted the graphs are wrong. And that’s bad. What this has lead to is a situation where I will avoid playing CDs because they don’t get recorded. I have mp3 players I don’t use because they can’t tell me what I’ve listened to. Don’t even start me on using the car stereo or radios in general. I shouldn’t even care. I’d stop but then I’d have no charts. And then where would I be?

It’s not just music either. I decided it was good to get enough sleep. One way I’d heard to start making sure you do is to keep track of how much you actually get. So I did, but being me I went overboard. I can tell you what time I went to sleep to the nearest minute on any day in the last two years. The phrase ‘there’s an app for that’ popularised as a way of mocking the growth in smartphones really is true. I press a (virtual) button on my screen every evening and every morning. I can’t help it. There’s no point having all those lovely graphs if you know inside that they’re not truly representative of the life you’ve lead.

My weight. I’ve recorded it every morning for the last year. I’ve also recorded the other things my scales tell me. Body fat and water percentage. Those numbers don’t even mean anything. They’re so wildly inaccurate that it’s probably not worth it but I do anyway. The only app I have ever bought for my phone is one that let’s me keep track (the appropriately named ‘KeepTrack’) of all the various numbers in my life.

The sunshine. We have solar panels on the roof and a little LCD display that gives a total units produced. More numbers! Into the phone they go.

Filled the car up with fuel? Better record how much went in somewhere. It’s not as if I’m going to use the information I get from it. I just like the patterns the line makes.

I cycled to work for a while, when it was still light enough. The time for each day was recorded. I wasn’t even trying to beat my time.

It’s not a new obsession either. I have sheets of times for every ride I went on between getting my first ‘proper’ bike (at 14) and going to uni four years later.

Even my watch keeps track of me for me. All training sessions are logged (HR, duration etc) and a little bar graph appears. It’s amazing. The only downside is if I forget to set it for a session I get all annoyed that it’s not noticed.

I’d give it all up but then what? Then where would the graphs come from? The normal would win. I have no choice but to keep getting more and more absorbed by the need to track my life.

Categories: Everyday Happenings, No NaNoWriMo | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Success on the bad days

I can’t remember who said it, maybe Mike Spracklen (ex-GB and now ex-Canadian rowing coach) but one line, however clichéd and cheesy it may be, has stuck with me from the moment I heard it.

We don’t train to win with our best performances. We train to win on our worst

(or words to that effect) While the amount of winning I have had so far is disappointingly small, the idea that you shouldn’t have to rely on having one of your best sessions come race day to win, is one that makes a huge amount of sense. Going into races with the confidence of knowing you are fast and don’t need luck or good fortune is something that can bring a whole load of calm that would otherwise be missing and prevent you from having your good row anyway. The races I have won are the ones I knew we were fast enough to win beforehand. Only once have I won thinking we were outclassed.

What I do have experience of, is being in crews that thought they weren’t too bad and should be alright on a good day only to find that during the race it’d all fall apart because the other crews were close to us.

Taking this to the lowest extreme, we had our weekly erg today and as I sat down I was not hopeful. I’d done the 40min UT2 session this morning without meaning to. Careless I know but it didn’t dawn on me until I was midway through that I don’t usually train on the morning of the erg.

Coupled with that was the lack of food I’d had during the day. Lack of time and lack of food in the house meant I had a banana. I managed to get a piece of toast in the evening after work and before heading to the boathouse but not enough and at the wrong time to be helpful.

Setting off I settled onto the split I got last time on the premise that by rights I should be able to make it. By half way I was floundering but still fighting for the split. From there I was giving pretty much all I had every stroke to hold the split but slowly, it did start to drop again. I finished 0.4s better than last time. PB+1.9 and Target+4.4

This will happen by next year.

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Second Double Single Outing

My second day in the single was much better. I still wouldn’t say it was good but I’d moved off the ‘slowest-boat-on-the-water’ position again. It had been a bit of a shock going from fastest boat at the club in the double to being overtaken by things, even if they were doubles and fours.

I’d like to think this progression wasn’t entirely due to the juniors being training.

From the start I was still a bit shaky round the edges and my navigation still left a fair bit to be desired.

By the end of the session though, I was only having to stop for juniors and increasingly rare encounters with unruly trees. The sort that jump out at you from around corners and steal your sunglasses.

I have a new found respect for bowmen and coxes

I’m still not confident for the race I’ve agreed to do in it in four weeks time. That is going to be either agonising or hilarious (if you are me or watching me, respectively).

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The helpful side of irritating

I’m sure every one in life has people they don’t get on with. The people you try not to be left in the same room as for too long. There are very few people I actively dislike, I generally choose to ignore them and get on with life around them. There are quite a few people that I would’t choose to spend time with.

What happens though when one of these people offer you help? Especially when you need the help they’re offering?

The bowman is still training in a quad so I spent this morning out in a single. I’ve not been in a single for a long time and as I always am the first time out, was shaky at best. I spent a few miles paddling getting used to it again but wasn’t really getting anywhere. The problem is that I have never really been coached in a sculling boat. When at the end of a length one of the more irritating members of the club (also out in a single) suggested we did the next length together, my heart sank. I’d got used to working at my own rate. If I wanted to stop I could. If I wanted to go to arms only for a few strokes there was nobody to complain. Now I had to not only make small talk, but stay at steady state in a boat that wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do.

It is often said that the people you don’t get on with are the ones you can see yourself in. If this is true I apologise profusely to all who know me. This guy was one of those people who knows they are always right. There’s no point giving your opinion. If it differs from theirs it’s obviously wrong and if it doesn’t it serves no purpose other than to inflate their ego. They delight in being able to impart their knowledge to people and explain why they are doing things wrong and why the way they do it is the best.

The one place where this is a useful attribute is in coaching. I now had a voice beside me giving me a blow by blow account of why everything was going wrong in my boat. No detail was spared. If he thought he could find fault, he’d say. Possibly the only thing more annoying than this was the fact that it was useful. I needed someone outside the boat giving feedback and advising on technique. The things he said were things I need to work on. I spent the rest of the session begrudgingly going along with him and listening to what I was doing wrong and how he was a mighty fine sculler having been at Henley once. To add insult to injury the changes worked. It did start feeling better and by the end I wasn’t bouncing from one bank to the other with such regularity. I suppose I ought to be grateful.

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ringing in the past

A combination of factors, namely my acquisition of a car and the return of a sibling for the weekend, have lead me to take up the role of chauffeur. I’m not yet tired of the novelty of driving so I don’t really mind and I used to get ferried around enough for me to have no leg to stand on even if I did want to complain. The fact we live in the middle of nowhere though, does mean that if some one wants to go somewhere for an hour or so, it is often not worth going home between dropping them off and collecting them.

It is for this reason that this message is brought to you from a Co-op car park to the sound of church bells.

The church bells are no coincidence either – they’re the reason I’m here. It all (well, not all, but this story at least) starts about ten years ago. As I said, we live in the middle of nowhere about a mile outside a village of maybe 100 houses. When the church began looking for new bell ringers, there wasn’t a huge amount of choice and our family seemingly en-masse filled the gap. First my mother and eldest sister, and then, when we were old enough, my younger (still older than me) sister and I also joined. For a church with five bells, this wasn’t a bad turnout from one family. Even when my mother changed jobs meaning she could no longer ring and the first sister moved out. The two of us would continue to go and sit in a freezing church for an hour or two each week. There were times when I hated it. It was freezing and (mainly at the start when we were learning and there were more people than bells) we would spend most of our time sitting staring into space.

Later on though, I did grow to enjoy it. Those two hours provided a way to step back completely from normality and take part in something that no one else (family excepted) seemed to do. The walk into the village itself was part of the enjoyment too. In winter it’d be dark. There were two sorts of dark on this walk.

The first was when it was cloudy-dark. Then it would be properly dark. Not dark in the ‘some body turned the lights out, it’s a bit gloomy’ way. Not ‘everything has an orange tint from street lights’ way either. This was proper ‘I can not distinguish between my eyes being open or shut’ type dark. The sort where after five minutes of your eyes acclimatising to it, you can still only just make out the difference between the ground and the sky.

The second was the clear dark. Being away from the rest of civilisation means that our skies are (relatively – it isn’t Hawaii) unaffected by light pollution. When we get stars we get stars. In the UK this is getting to be a rarer and rarer experience. On a clear night with no moon the entire sky can be filled. There are no areas free of stars only those that provide the dimmer stars that make the others stand out so brilliantly. The milky way is no longer a concept from science text books but a bright swathe of light running across the sky. On a night when there was a moon, it’d often be bright enough to see clearly by. On a clear night with a full moon you’d have been able to read by it. Colour was starting to come back to the world and you have a clearer shadow than you would on most days of a british summer.

Final glow of sunset to right of picture. Moonlight shadows from moon to the left

It was beautiful. That walk was amazing every time I did it, and that’s from someone for whom walking is an inferior way of travelling when there are things like bikes available.

I cycled down this road so often that it was only when walking that I appreciated it.

But I digress. When I finished school and moved to uni. I also moved on from ringing. I neither missed it nor was glad to see the back of it, it was simply not a going concern for me any more. I took up rowing and thought no more about it. It was only at the end of the year I found that my sister on the other hand had stuck with it. She’d found a bell ringing society at uni (there really is something for everyone) and from there joined the group at one of the local churches. She’s now moved on up from the small church in our village. She recently rang for a service in York Minster. Now she’s back for the weekend she’s finding places to keep the ringing going. So here I am. Waiting and reminiscing about the evenings spent in churches (places I avoid at all other times) and the afternoons climbing around the tower fitting muffles to bells.

You have to admire the person who thought it wise to tie 3 tons of iron on to five wagon wheels and put them at the top of a stone tower.

It may not be a common or even useful skill in today’s society but when the time comes (and I’m sure it will – it has to, hasn’t it?) that the world finds a need for people with such abilities I will be able to stand up proudly and serve my country as few others can. I’ll file it next to unicycling.

Categories: Everyday Happenings, No NaNoWriMo | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

It’s not over until it’s over

I mentioned yesterday our spectacular race last weekend and thought now was as good a time as any for it to be aired. Hopefully people will stop laughing at us for it soon.

It started, as all things do, with general disorganisation. We were travelling in two vehicles (our double and another from the club – one of the guys from the erg race and another) with the others and the boats on the roof of a van (or in the van, either way) and me by car having decided the floor in the back of a van was an inadequate way to travel any significant distance. Things being as they are we were never going to arrive at the same time and I drew the short straw and ended waiting in a delightful supermarket car park in Henley town centre.

As an aside, while I was waiting I watched a large number of people unload bikes from cars and proceed to sit around in the car park talking before heading off on some group XC ride. It made me oddly nostalgic. I think I may have to sacrifice some training weekends next year and go back to some XC races. It’s been too long since I rode properly; the Stumpjumper must be getting lonely.

It’s been too long. I think it’s time to see how well rowing training translates

It’s been too long. I think it’s time to see how well rowing training translates to XC

After fifty minutes or so of people watching I wandered over to where I might find a boat or two. The areas along the Thames through Henley look so alien during the non-Henley-Royal 51 weeks of the year, it’s hard to imagine it’s the same place. Gone are the huge marquee boat tents. Gone are the enclosures with their brass bands and raised seating. Instead there is a quiet field with trees and a road that seems lost without being edged by high white fencing. And trees. Somehow the trees are completely absent from my memories of Henley during the regatta.

After a while wandering round a field full of other people’s boats, the van arrived and with it, the mad rush that was the rigging.

With about ten minutes before it was too late to boat, we collected our numbers and faffed around deciding what we were racing in (braving short sleeves in the end – hypothermia be damned). Joining the end of the boating queue, we watched school/junior crews being shepherded around by worrying teaches/coaches as they took it in turns to forget racing numbers or got blades the wrong way around. I think this must have been the first race for many of them. Having first stepped in a boat in September, getting this far was quite an achievement in itself. Whether the race would go there way or not was almost immaterial. Looking back on my first race, I keep telling myself that anyway. That was after a lot longer and we were terrible.

I would have laughed (to myself) at the crew who forgot to put the seats in the boat before carrying it down to the landing stage but we did exactly the same thing at the Pairs’ head the week before. And we didn’t even have the decency to be at the back of the queue (third boat on the water – stand around for five minutes waiting for someone to find seats. Problem?).

Eventually we were all on the water and, basing our opinions on the carnage that was the marshalling area last year, were having our doubts about whether we would get to the start in one piece let alone on time. As it turns out things were better organised this year. They actually had marshals telling people not to ram each other and the boats were stacked four deep against the bank. We were even on time as well although I’m not sure we’d have wanted to be any later.

The race itself was a fairly non-event. It, along with the pair’s head three weeks before, were the only time we’d held race pace for more than a few strokes and it showed. Looking back at the photos for the head there are some serious timing issues at rate that are probably the main reason we’re unable to rate high enough.

One of the better moments of the Pairs’ head. I think this was just after Chiswick bridge.

It wasn’t terrible though and since there were only two boats in our division with us going off first, we had a good idea of how we were doing compared to our competition. As hard as it is to judge distance from ground level, we seemed to be sitting fairly level with them, gaining and losing ground as we went through faster and slower sections of the course.

As we came through where the enclosures would be during the regatta, I had flashbacks to our r41 finish against Imperial. Still a different league unfortunately. We did wind the rate up slightly though and reached the heady heights of r33. Not good but it’s the thought that counts, right?

This was where things started to unwind. Some one on the bank by the finish seemed to be under the false impression that our competition should win more than us and as we reached them, they shouted (to the other boat) something along the lines of

“Come on [their number]! [our number] is already through!”

By this point in a race I’m not usually too focussed on what is going on outside the boat but apparently not all are so inclined.

I don’t want to seem like I’m passing blame for the events that followed, but I can’t seem to find any other way to put it. When I said things started to unwind, it may have been misleading. Our race wasn’t unwound so much as cut off mid stroke as I suddenly found myself the only one rowing. Forgetting momentarily that there was a bell and a finish sign at the end of the race, a certain someone in the boat took the “…already through” to mean through the finish.

By the time I’d turned around and convinced myself that we hadn’t passed the finish after all and then convinced the remaining non-believers, we’d missed four or five strokes. Paddling the last few strokes across the line I was unsure what to make of it. There’s not really much you can do except laugh in disbelief.

11 seconds.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know how much faster we’d have been otherwise, the only thing to be sure of is that it probably didn’t help. One good thing to take from it all is that we’re not that far from our competition otherwise.

(The more observant of you may have noticed that this post was actually published tomorrow – I wrote it today but ended up not submitting it due to family taxi service duties taking longer than expected and sleep becoming a priority)
Categories: Cycling, No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Far too competitive by half a third

As part of our new training plan, we have one hard erg a week to use as a fitness marker. The erg we’ve chosen (or uni chose last year – I copied the training plan almost session for session) is the 30min r20. Another couple of guys from the club have also joined in with the plan and do the ergs with us and occasionally follow our outing plans as well. It works quite well and it’s better to have a group of people (albeit a fairly small one) to train with.

Taking two months out of training over the summer to let a torn hamstring heal, lost me a lot of fitness. When we restarted in September, I was covering about 300m less (~4s off on the split) than my PB over 30 minutes. I’m still a long way off now and given that the target I’ve given myself for the middle of next year was 2.5s/500m better than my PB. I have a long way to go. The mornings sitting on a bike in the shed are paying off though; the distances are creeping up and the split is falling. The gains are coming in fits and starts though, depending on how I feel on the day of the erg each week. PB+4, +3.6, +2.8, +2.4, +2.3.

I’m getting there slowly. Give it until Christmas and I’ll be back in PB territory. I know I can do it, I’ve been there before, it’s just frustrating when my legs don’t agree.

This evening was supposed to be this week’s erg although it was plagued with problems from the start. My back has been playing up since our race last week (a whole sorry story in its own right. It may have to have its own post) and I wasn’t looking forward to a hard session. Erring on the side of caution I decided I wouldn’t do it but I would go to the boat house and do a UT2 session on an erg, just for a change from the turbo if nothing else. The bowman had his own problems as well. Apparently he’d damaged his shoulder over the weekend while training in the masters 4x. A good combination really.

Since I’d said I wouldn’t be doing the normal session I arrived to find them doing a weights circuit. I joined in on a couple of the less back dependent lifts (bench, bench pull etc). For the first time lifting anything heavier than the boat for a long time, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It still wasn’t good.

When they’d decided they’d finished the idea of an erg was floated. An interesting, shorter one instead of the usual. A relay with two pairs was suggested. It’s worth noting here that I have an unfair advantage over the other three in terms of fitness. I benefited from three years of regular, planned training that we were expected to both attend and push ourselves in. They’d learnt to row and rowed a few evenings a week for a year or two. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been an official training plan as such, only an evening a week of circuit training run through the winter season. In the half hour ergs, this translates to around 7-8 seconds on the average split. When this was pointed out (by them not me) the pairs idea was vetoed and a 3 vs 1 race was suggested instead.

This is the point I should have laughed and told them to bugger off. My back needed resting. What actually happened was that I laughed and took them up on it. Where the original plan was going to be alternating 500m pieces, the new idea was for them to still do this and for me to do 1500m. As a slight help to me, they’d have to change over twice in the middle missing 4 or five strokes each time. As a slight help to them, there were three of them and they’d only have to sprint 500m.

With two ergs set for 1500m, and me and the first of them lined up, we went off. This was the first high rate erg I’d done since June and I had no idea how it would go. I ended up settling about 3s slower than my 2k PB pace and about the same behind the first of the competition. By the first switch over I was down but not a huge amount, maybe 30m. By the end of the switch I was up again, maybe 20m. It’s hard to tell when both numbers are changing quickly.

Their second leg was faster and though I was still holding the same average as before I was now 5-6s slower on the split and the advantage I’d gained, slowing thinned and vanished. By their second switch I was back down to 40m or so behind. Gaining a similar amount on this switch I found myself slightly ahead again as I went into the final 500m.

Starting to feel the effect of the first fast erg in a while I should have held the pace I’d settled at and seen where I finished against them. It turns out being beaten isn’t something I much approve of so pushed harder and harder as the distance fell. I was looking at their screen as much as mine by this point and I still couldn’t tell who was ahead.

At 200m to go I upped the rate as their final leg slowed up. I think the last few strokes we were on the same split. Falling off the erg at the end onto a stretching mat trying to catch my breath I almost immediately wondered why I’d done it. I’m sure it’s not a recommended treatment for aching back muscles and I had nothing to prove. We all know who’s faster than who amongst the four of us. I could have lost and had the perfect excuse. Three perfect excuses even. After a while though someone flicked through the monitors and found the times we’d actually done it in. I had managed it. By 0.3 seconds.

That was why I’d done it. That third of a second against three people who are racing for the same club as me mattered much more than I care to admit. I didn’t even care that they would have been faster had they had slightly better changeovers, that they’d actually been faster for the time that they’d been rowing. It was somehow still justification for going flat out and giving everything when I’m supposed to be resting. I sometimes wonder if I’d be better off not caring. I seem to manage at the rest of life.

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gone doesn’t rhyme with Stone

I made scones. If you’re going to be picky I made scones on Saturday but if you’re awkward we’ll never get anywhere.

My baking skills have always been shaky at best. This was more down to lack of necessity as much as anything. I was lucky enough to be fed regularly as a child and the only cooking I ever did was the extra, cooking for cooking’s sake, stuff that all children should do at some point. I do have one recipe as my forté though. We had a cookery book as I was growing up (technically a sibling’s I think but that never seemed relevant) that guided us through our first forays into the world of cuisine. It was a very detailed book with very complex, technical recipes to be followed to the letter if there was any chance of success. Every page was more of a challenge than the last. It looked like this:

My First Baking Book

As a sense of scale, the bear’s face isn’t far off life size

The recipe that I really took to was that for scones. Amazing things and something people would tell me I’d done well at whenever I made them. Always a good incentive to do something. Inside it gave you the boring stuff that they thought you ought to know (like ingredients) but in a much more imaginative, useful way than any other book. Everything had pictures. You need a bowl? This is what a bowl looks like. You need 120g of flour? This is what that looks like. Not only would there be a picture of flour, there would be a life size picture of what a 120g pile of flour would look like. If you so desired, you could even pile the ingredients on top of the page until it covered the picture instead of weighing it. It was excellent. Even I could follow such instructions.

Every time this book was used (and this recipe was used more than most), the pages would get slightly more smeared with scone mix. I think if you were so inclined you could count the times we’ve made scones like the rings of a tree.

Until that is I started actually following the instructions. This is one of those occasions that will stick with me forever. The one that get’s told by the parents whenever us as small children enters conversation. I think it must have been the first time I’d attempted to make them on my own with only the slightest parental supervision. Being the boring sort of chap I was (and presumably still am) I chose to follow them from left to right. Little did I know that this recipe was more like one of those choose your own adventure stories.

Steps 1 to 3 went well. Through Step One I was on fire, cutting up butter like there was no tomorrow. I spent Step Two mixing flour and butter like a pro (maybe in a whole handed way – why should your finger tips get all the fun?). The sugar was added so spectacularly that it never knew what came over it.

By this stage nothing could stop me. The milk was poured in with such style and panache that by the time the wooden spoon had worked its magic, the slightly stodgy mess filling the bowl (and probably smeared over the book as well – some of it’s probably still there), was a work of art.

Step Four had me learning what kneading was, this book truly thought of everything. And so I squeezed it together with my hands, and lo, I saw that it was good.

What I failed to notice (and to this day think is a silly idea) is that the final two boxes have no numbers. For someone following the instructions they say “..after you stir in the sugar”. However, for someone following the pictures, they only say add sultanas. So I added sultanas. And then, oddly, cheese. I sometimes wonder if I saw how bizarre this instruction was at the time or whether I was so determined to succeed that I was blinded to the absurdity. I still don’t understand who would make cheese scones when fruit scones are a possibility.

I’m sorry to say that these had neither fruit nor cheese

Either way, when I proudly displayed my creation to the waiting family members later that day, I think it was the first and last time they’d ever had the pleasure of eating a freshly baked, home-made, fruit-cheese scone. A speciality. A speciality I’ll never live down.

Categories: Everyday Happenings, No NaNoWriMo | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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