Favourite blogs for George Riches: Complaints from a middle aged layabout

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June 27, 2007


Back online at last! Huzzah! (I’m not quite sure why I’ve taken to saying “huzzah”, I never used to). I spent most of last night dismantling the burglar alarm and trying not to get electrocuted, while the alarm screeched at me that someone was tampering with the system (alarm is too clever for its own good). Became obsessively convinced that this was why my new broadband wasn’t working, then BT sent me an email today to explain they were a day late turning it on. Ah.

New flat is wondrous, though it’s strange to live by myself. Peaceful though, for the most part, and I’ve stopped being scared! I spent the first month or so convinced that I would come home to find my home had disintegrated while I was at work, but now I’m starting to feel a bit more faith in the capabilities of the builders.

Mostly life has returned to normal after a month or 2 of excitement / anxiety while I was waiting for the purchase to complete and move in. I have been very busy at work, which is starting to take its toll. I feel like I need to spend my 3 weeks of leave in August asleep. Failing that, I need to spend the next 10 hours of my life asleep, so I’m going to sign off at this point…

March 23, 2007

Excitement… in no particular order of importance

1. I got my blog back (for the second time). God bless WGA.
2. I am going to Florence next weekend for Adam’s birthday (a BIG secret).
3. I am very lucky to have such good friends and family who love and support me.
4. I enjoyed my training course this week, especially the Sunningdale diet (lots and lots of lovely food).
5. I am generally feeling more positive, probably because I have stopped trying to live on three mashed up lentils and a carrot stick a day.
6. I am due to complete the purchase of my flat on 4 April, so I should be able to move over Easter.
7. I discovered facebook.
8. I am going to the zoo tomorrow to celebrate Leonie’s birthday.
9. I am going to the Isle of Mull with Leonie, Thomas and Helen in May.
10. It’s the start of the weekend and I can sleep loads.

I am so lucky!

February 26, 2007

Bulgarian men are very, very excellent

First day - nervous!My dreams will be forever haunted by the dulcet tones of our ski instructor Daffy shrieking “now put your skis wiiiiiiiider”, “snow plough snow plough snow plough” and “now put your skis parallel” up the mountain to me.

I was quite proud of myself on the first couple of days of our ski holiday in Bulgaria – no tears, and not too much falling over either. I did shout quite a lot of abuse at a ski school of around twenty under 5 year olds who cut me up halfway down a green run, but I felt that this was a perfectly measured reaction to what had, after all, been a bit of a nasty shock.

It was only as we started to try out some of the slightly more challenging routes that I suddenly found myself hurtling into deep banks of snow at great speed, clutching at my instructor’s arm and begging for a piggyback ride down off the big scary mountain, and sitting in the snow wailing like said 5 year olds because I couldn’t manage to get myself upright again.

A ski holiday is most definitely character building if nothing else. Yet in a way it’s curiously relaxing, because the constant fear of plummeting to one’s death or getting run over by a snow plough at least means that there is little time left to fret about the everyday trivia that usually unsettles the mind.

I went from feeling as if I was about to sit an impossible exam at the start of each day to walking into The Happy Duck at its end with a big grin on my face. The terror that I endured each morning never entirely dissipated, but it was good terror, terror that kept me on my toes. You might even say it was character-building terror.

MountainBulgaria comes highly recommended – cheap, high quality ski instruction, tasty food and beautiful mountain scenery. Besides the mysterious vomiting that came over many of us halfway through the trip, the woodsmoke tinged mountain air did wonders for my stress levels and general well-being. And, in the words of Jifko, the man who drove us to and from the ski resort each day, “Bulgarian men are very, very excellent.”

Actually, the ones I saw weren’t, but never mind.

We spent our last day having a posh day of lunching and afternoon tea in Sofia, which was a welcome reprise for the muscles in my legs, bum, stomach, arms, shoulders, feet, back, hands etc. etc. And despite my slightly tongue-in-cheek account of the week and moments of childlike stompiness and fear, I did genuinely love the sensation of racing down a mountain, the wind rushing against my face, the soft swoosh swoosh of my skis moving over the powdery snow.

Beautiful, powerful, overwhelming, emotional, terrifying. I want to go again!

Lots more pictures here

February 25, 2007

Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian

2 out of 5 stars

There is no way I would have chosen to read this book were it not for the fact that this is the book that Benedict has picked for book group this month. I am only halfway through it (as Sarah Waters has been distracting me today!) and while I can’t say that I’m enjoying it in the slightest, much of the language and imagery really is quite stunning. Nevertheless, there is only so much apolocalyptic nihilism and violent scalpings I can take, especially on a “school night”. I’ll write a proper review of this once I finish it, hopefully before our book group meeting on Tuesday evening. In the meantime, I’d give this 1 out of 10 for enjoyment, but a 7 or 8 for literary merit (the technical way in which our book group rates the books we read!), giving it an average of 4 out of 10 or 2 stars.

Sarah Waters – The Night Watch

5 out of 5 stars

I emerged from reading Sarah Waters’ latest offering, The Night Watch, desperate to read it again, and read it from back to front this time round.

The novel moves backwards in time from 1947 to 1944 and then back to 1941; the hollow, displaced positions its characters find themselves in at the beginning are gradually explained by the revelation of their history. Just as Kay, the wartime ambulance driver who desperately seeks distraction from the drag of her empty post-war hours, often watches the second half of a film first- “people’s pasts, you know, being so much more interesting than their futures” – so the back-to-front time scheme for this novel imbues seemingly insignificant events with dramatic irony in the light of what the reader knows is to follow.

Unlike Waters’ previous three novels, The Night Watch is set against the dramatic backdrop of the Second World War and its aftermath. The historical framework is as significant as the Victorian period in which her previous novels are set, for it offers rich opportunities for emotional upheavals, character transformations and moments of happenstance, as well as enabling boundaries of class, gender, sexuality and wealth to be transcended.

The post-war years with which the novel opens are a time of exhausted listlessness, a sort of clumsy reshuffling of a world that refuses to fit neatly back into the pre-war order. The wartime landscape appears disconnected from temporal and geographical ties, all conventional markers erased to create a nameless, displaced limbo state in which characters must exist and form connections with one another.

As the city landscape of London is transformed by the night time air raids into a dark, eerie place fraught with both danger and possibility, the characters themselves are transformed as “so many impossible things were becoming ordinary, just then.” As well as death and loss, there are new choices and opportunities available for heroic action, shifts in sexual identity and newfound freedoms.

The characterisation and interaction between characters is what really stands out for me – that and the power of Sarah Waters’ storytelling and the narrative connections that she makes between events and characters.

I found myself identifying with Helen and wishing desperately that there would be some reprise for her at the end of the novel, but ultimately knowing that the unhappy, insecure state of emotional neediness in which we witness her at the end of the first section of the novel is the way it is likely she will remain. The other characters are equally drained and disappointed, struggling to patch up their lives and continue their existence in the aftermath of wartime trauma. In this way the novel lacks what Americans might call “closure”, which is frustrating for the reader but ultimately has more integrity and interest than some neat, facile tying up of loose ends.

The only part of the novel that did not entirely ring true for me was Duncan’s relationship with Alec. Duncan’s character and awkward situation is portrayed beautifully throughout the novel and and anticipation builds throughout his time in prison, but in the end I felt that the dialogue between the two young men and the reason for Duncan’s imprisonment was both false and simplistic.

However, on the whole the weaving together of all these stories against the historical backdrop of wartime Britain works beautifully well, and as such The Night Watch is both astutely and compassionately observed and compelling to read – my favourite Sarah Waters’ novel to date.

December 15, 2006

Premature new year's resolutions

It’s a bit early for these, but I’m diseased and bored and off work with little to do besides listen to the radio, read out-of-date newspapers and surf the internet…

My resolutions are:

  • To get to work before at least 9.30am every day.
  • To train for and run the London marathon (if I manage to get a charity place, having been rejected from the main ballot)
  • To make more of an effort to meet new people and socialise with old friends

December 09, 2006

Waiting to be rejected

Still not heard about the marathon, but my dad is the latest person not to get a place. I suspect my very own rejection letter is waiting for me up in Yorkshire, but unfortunately have no way of checking this fact as my mum and Stephen have gone away for the weekend.

So I’m still keeping my fingers crossed…

Battersea run 09 DecemberGot a bit lost on my weekend run today, which meant that yet again it was slightly longer than anticipated (7.5 miles according to mapmyrun, which took me an hour and 15 – not bad considering the number of times I had to pause to cross roads). If I carry on with this urban running malarkey, pretty soon I’m going to have a knowledge of London’s streets to rival that of any black cab driver. Today’s discovery was Battersea Park, which I have run through once before, but hadn’t appreciated what a truly lovely park it is.

When I came home I made spinach and potato soup (developing quite a thing for homemade soup), cleaned the bathroom, and now I’m about to reread next week’s bookclub book for the second time.

Seeing not just looking at the world

Writing about web page http://www.lambethcollege.ac.uk/courses/course_list.cfm?widCall1=customWidgets.courses_list_courseDetail&cit_id=508&cta_tax_id=483&showCourseKey=true

canonSo excited! Just applied for a beginners photography course at Lambeth college starting in January. I was actually looking online for British Sign Language courses (feeling suitably inspired by watching the BSL translators at the ODI conference on Thursday – signing looks like such a beautiful language) but then my artistic side got the better of me and I signed up for this instead!

December 03, 2006

More running…

Running is going very well atm – am keeping fingers crossed that I get a place in the London marathon. The chances of getting a place are slim, but then surely the fact I’ve been rejected 3 times already should boost the probability of getting a place (or not… it doesn’t work like that does it?)

Back in Yorkshire this weekend and had a wonderful, blustery run along the ridge on the opposite side of the valley to my mum’s house. Sunshine, great views, and cold crisp clean air. Even the hills didn’t phase me! I later realised this was because I was being pushed up them by the gale that was blustering away behind me, and the part of the run that should have been easiest (the flat run along the valley bottom back to Denby Dale) felt like running into a very violent wind tunnel. I had to walk the last mile into the village because I felt so worn down by the wind in my face.

Run 3 December 2006Anyway, considering this, I’m pleased with my time. MapMyRun.com reckons it was 7 miles, and I managed to get home in an hour and thirteen (just over 10 minute miles but I did walk for the last 13 minutes). And incidentally, for runners who haven’t heard of it, Map My Run is great stuff – clicking on the thumbnail on the right shows my route today (and it calculates speed / average time taken to cover a mile and calories expended).

Fingers crossed for the marathon…. I really want a place this time because the training is actually going really well at the moment!

November 26, 2006

Sunday late November

It’s that time of year and I’m determined not to get ill despite the best efforts of my fellow commuters to infect me with their lurgies. All the pretty autumnal leaves are turning to mulch on the commons and in the parks and everything is going earthy and heavy and saturated with squelchiness. I haven’t been for my weekend run yet and it’s going to get dark soon, plus I’m meeting a friend for coffee in 40 minutes so unless I want to power run at double my normal speed…

BunnyTired, so tired, feel like I’m on a conveyer belt and I have to keep running. Trying to be more positive (no more black clothes, I’m only 25) and do some voluntary work and make an effort to do things that scare me (like meeting new people).

Dreamed I was back in Taiwan the other night; I felt free.

I’m going back to Yorkshire next weekend. I want to breathe clean air and run in open spaces (not looping round and round the same circuits on Clapham Common stopping for traffic whenever I hit a road), and sleep in a quiet dark room where I don’t wake up the moment the neighbours upstairs slam a door.

I’ll just have to run with the gym bunnies this evening. Hop, hop, hop along bunnies. I’ll run into work on Wednesday morning too. 5 and a half miles. I hope I get a place in the London marathon this year…


mertonI went to Oxford last weekend, the first time I’ve gone back since I graduated (over 3 years since I finished finals and left, 2 years since graduation now). I was almost dreading it, apart from meeting up with Leonie, Thomas and Helen of course, as arriving in Oxford always used to provoke very strong feelings in me – mostly positive – but I thought that I would feel an overwhelming sense of nostalgia when I returned.

So I got off at the train station along with a couple of Eton boys who were scoping out the potential of the place as a future abode. Walked towards the town centre. Past the puffa fish restaurant. Down George Street. Felt nothing (George Street still a bit of a dump). Saw the modern language faculty library from a distance. Down Broad Street (still feeling somewhat detached). Went into Blackwells to use the loo. Wandered round the modern language section. Same medieval French texts on the shelf (good old Chanson de Roland). Weirdly familiar but didn’t make me feel anything. Walked towards college. Came down Merton Street. Heard the Merton chapel bells ringing. Into college and round the gardens. All very pretty and lovely, but I didn’t particularly feel anything – it didn’t feel like a place where I used to live.

And Oxford is small. I think someone might have shrunk it, because I’m sure that when I was 18 it wasn’t that tiny. The buildings are all little (most of them no more than 3 stories high) and it only takes 10 minutes to walk across town. I blame Martin and his weirdy chemist ways.

Anyway, I had a lovely day in the end, but mostly because I met up with friends, went for lunch in Gino’s, found the (newly opened) Primark (largest one I’ve ever been in!) and went for coffee in Blackwells. Lovely. But I didn’t feel nostalgic and the magic I remember has gone as the people I cared for who lived there have moved on. Although it was nice to go there for the day, it is now just an ordinary place for me.

November 14, 2006

One of those days

The Nightmare, 1781, Henry FuseliJust wanted to curl up in bed today and cry / hide / sleep for a very long time. They need to install beds, duvets and bean bags in a nice quiet dark room somewhere in the basement where sleepy civil servants (i.e. me) can go and slumber until they feel better.

November 13, 2006

Bit of a mongrel?

mongrelTo fulfil my worrying growing addiction to reality TV (now I’m only snobby about property development shows, gardening programmes and Big Brother – basically any other gubbins goes after a day in the office), this evening I watched 100% English, a programme in which eight participants gave a DNA sample in order to ascertain their genetic geographical roots.

All the selected participants held strong convictions about national identity and what being English means. All of them were white, born and raised in England, and convinced that their genetic makeup would prove they were quintessentially English in origin.

Frankly, I’m not surprised that most of them turned out to be, in the words of one participant, “a bit of a mongrel”, but what really shocked me was most of their attitudes – first of all a militant conviction that in their veins must course “pure” anglo blood, secondly somewhat dubious remarks about race and national identity, and thirdly (most bizarre of all in my mind) passionate pride in the country in which they happened to be born.

I say bizarre, because I have never felt proud to be English, I don’t identify with England, and I have never understood what it means to be patriotic.

The only aspect of England that I actually like is its diversity, and maybe for the first time, since living in London, I am starting to feel that maybe it isn’t such a bad place after all. Obviously London is hardly representative of the rest of the country (when I go back home to Huddersfield sometimes I struggle to believe it’s the same country) – but the idea of a huge swirling melting pot of cultures, cuisines, languages, skin colours, art, music, traditions, religions, life itself… greatly appeals to the nomad in me, even though I know my romantic ideas to be illusions in themselves.

Personally I would be thoroughly disappointed if my DNA makeup were anything other than genetically diverse, but knowing my luck I’d probably come out as 98% northern European or something boring like that.

Unlike the “ethnic English campaigner” who threatened to sue the programme on learning about her possible Romany origins, I felt reassured by the comments of the 18-year old army recruit who had just discovered that his DNA originated from at least a quarter of the globe.

“For racists to find out that part of them may be what they have discriminated against for years, well that would certainly throw them off their game” he said.

As he looked at the miniature globe before him, you could see his sense of his own global horizons visibly expanding on camera.

October 23, 2006

Ugly Bug Ball

Ros as a ladybirdOnce a lonely caterpillar sat and cried
To a sympathetic beetle by his side
I’ve got nobody to hug
I’m such an ug-i-ly bug

Then a spider and a dragonfly replied
If you’re serious and want to win a bride
Come along with us, to the glorious annual ugly bug ball

Come on let’s crawl (gotta crawl gotta crawl)
To the ugly bug ball (to the ball to the ball)
Adam the bumblebeeAnd a happy time we’ll have there, one and all and the ugly bug ball

While the crickets click their cricky melodies
All the ants were fancy dancing with the fleas
Then up from under the ground
The worms came squirming around
Oh they danced until their legs were nearly lame
Every little crawling creature you could name
Everyone was glad
What a time they hade
They were so happy they came
Benedict the Spider
Come on let’s crawl (gotta crawl gotta crawl)
To the ugly bug ball (to the ball to the ball)
And a happy time we’ll have there, one and all and the ugly bug ball

The our caterpillar saw a pretty queen
She was beautiful and yellow black and green
He said would you care to dance
Their dancing lead to romance
Then she sat upon his caterpillar knee
And he gave his caterpillar queen a squeeze
Ug-i-ly bugsSoon they’ll honeymoon
Build a big cocoon
Thanks to the ugly bug ball

Come on let’s crawl (gotta crawl gotta crawl)
To the ugly bug ball (to the ball to the ball)
And a happy time we’ll have there, one and all and the ugly bug ball

October 17, 2006

My day in history

Writing about web page http://www.historymatters.org.uk/output/Page97.asp

My day in history isn’t very interesting, but hey, c’est la vie- c’est ma vie in fact. Woke up at 7am feeling like it should be Friday already, my boyfriend made me breakfast and I got ready to go to work. Walked (or rather limped) to Clapham South tube station, cursing the new shoes that I haven’t yet broken in properly.

The Northern Line wasn’t delayed this morning – a miracle, a fact worthy of posterity in itself – but I’d forgotten reading material so I spent most of the journey craning over people’s shoulders trying to read their papers (and getting annoyed when it was the Mail!). Got to Embankment and walked past the flower seller outside, through Embankment Gardens to my office. I currently work in the Office for Disability Issues (located within the Department for Work and Pensions), which is the focal point within government to coordinate disability policy across all departments.

I got into the office at 9.20, which is early for me (I work flexi time so usually straggle in just before 10 instead) but I had a meeting at 9.30am where I was deputising for my line manager. Another meeting at 10.30 to discuss big stakeholder event in December that the Office for Disability Issues is running to celebrate its first birthday – I’m representing our project on the working group.

I made it back to my desk for about 10 minutes, then some of my project team members arrived for a team lunch, something we do on alternate weeks when we don’t have team meetings. Went down to the manky canteen in the basement and chatted about the project we’re working on, the Independent Living Review, which is looking at how government and organisations can respond to the recommendations made in Chapter 4 of the “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People” Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit report.

After some discussions about various ongoing work strands, I then went down to the car park with one of our team members to help advise on where the new disabled car parking spaces should be, as we’ve had some problems over the past few weeks obtaining sufficient spaces for visitors to the building.

By this point it was about 3pm, and I still hadn’t looked at my emails properly! However it’s my mum’s birthday tomorrow, so I had a mad sprint around Covent Garden trying to find a suitable present for her. I finally bought her an amber necklace from one of the stalls in the market. I also wrapped up some silly socks that I bought in Bosnia on holiday, took these things to the post office and posted them. Fingers crossed they’ll arrive tomorrow…

The final couple of hours in the office were spent writing emails and trying to move forward with the research that I’m doing into existing initiatives across government departments. I felt quite tired so I wasn’t at my most productive.

I left at a reasonable time this evening – just before 6 – and went for a quick drink with my boyfriend and a friend in Gordons wine bar at Embankment (was supposed to be going to the gym but wasn’t feeling too well). I stayed for a glass of wine but I was feeling really tired, so I came home instead. I usually try to cook something proper for dinner with fresh fish/chicken and vegetables, but again I’m feeling really tired, so I’m just going to have a vegetarian microwave meal then go to bed at about 9 o’clock!

September 28, 2006


Tomorrow night I am going to see Metamorphosis at the Lyric (free tickets and everything!) and on Saturday I am going to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the RSC’s The Tempest and Kneehigh Theatre’s Cymbeline.

Very excited about all of these productions. So excited that I threw my mobile phone into a cup of camomile tea in my sleep the other night, and it has only just started working again (albeit with bubble sound effects). It’s been a long long week.

September 24, 2006

Windsor 13.1 miles

Writing about web page http://www.runwindsor.com/

Me at the end of Windsor half marathonMade it to Windsor, made it to the end of the 13.1 mile course without stopping, made a time of 2:10:42 which I am very pleased with given my lack of training / the heat / the hills (no one warned me about hills!!!)

Am content – and it was nice to run alongside my dad for the first 7 miles before he dashed off into the distance.

My dad at the end of WindsorApparently my dad is planning to enter the next London marathon (after swearing never again at the end of the last one) having learned that he will be in a new age category (60+) next year and therefore might make a “good for age” time. This means that I have got to enter myself now. Arrrrgh!

So. The Windsor half marathon. The beginning of my London marathon training?

September 23, 2006

Worms, violins and half marathons

So. This time tomorrow I will be girding my loins (nasty expression) before setting off on 13.1 miles of hell for the third time this year. The difference this time round is that I am completely ill-prepared, and really should not be going anywhere near a half marathon course, were it not for the fact that my dad was extremely persuasive and talked me into treating it as “a little training run”. His idea of a training run is 9 minute miles though, so I don’t think I will be able to keep up with him for long.

My dad is down in London for a meeting today, so our training last night consisted of half a bottle of red wine each and a double vodka and tonic (me) in the Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury, which alarmingly has left me with an aching fuzzy head this morning.

I found a little wiggly worm in my salad over dinner, which caused great consternation amongst my dad’s colleagues and the hotel restaurant staff, who all started shrieking excitably and threatening to kill it and boil my salad alive to sterilise it (or something).

I calmly picked the little worm up, carried him through reception past a coachload of Japanese tourists who’d just arrived, and put him in a pot plant outside the door to let nature decide his fate. I’ve now realised that the pot plant was probably fake though. Poor thing.

The other night after work I walked across the river to Waterloo tube station, where I took part in play.orchestra, an interactive sound installation on the South Bank. I love the interactive stuff that has appeared here over the past year or so, but this is my favourite yet. It’s made up of 56 plastic cubes and 3 “hotspots”, and when you sit or stand on one of these, a musical instrument will sound. If you get enough people to join in, you hear a complete orchestral piece, but even if you don’t manage to find 59 willing tourists / commuters / children / couples to join in it still creates some interesting effects with snatches of melody and rhythmic bursts of sound. I sat in one of the violin seats, but it was giving me a headache so I moved to the triangle hotspot instead. I think I would make a good triangle player!

Today I am going to be very lazy – I might go for a little stroll – but then I’m going to Thomas and Helen’s for tea this afternoon, followed by dinner at my aunt’s this evening. Trying not to worry about tomorrow and Windsor.


September 11, 2006

Brcko in pictures (and a few words)

BrckoBrcko libraryPedestrianised street, BrckoBorder control in BrckoBrcko marketMain square, Brcko

People, socks and watermelons

Mark and our landladyMark and the sock womanPresenting Gordana with a melon
Sanja and MarkSanja and MarkIs he taking ME for a ride?SocksMark, me and Adam

Youth centre
Art in youth centreYouth centre - svitacIn the youth centreYouth centre

Doctor dolittle
Adam with dogMe and mats2MatsMe and mats

Atkins anyone?
Tricky to be a bosnian vegan

Rest of the Bosnia pictures are here

August 31, 2006

Lazy Ros

There’s no getting round it – I’ve turned into one of those people who pays too much money for gym membership and then doesn’t go, enters long distance runs and then doesn’t train, flobs around eating stuff pretending that it’s just “carb loading”, and still thinks she’s an “athlete”.

In short, I am Jade Goody.

Jade GoodyOr rather, I haven’t trained enough to do the Windsor half-marathon on 24th September, so I’m going to pull out despite the waste of £24, and accept that two half marathons will have to suffice for one year.

I will be there to support Anna, Leonie, Jamie (?) and my dad though – all of whom are more committed to the practice of gazelle imitation than I am.