Friday, 28 October 2011

People Watcher

Opposite me on the tube sit two people: a man in his late 50s and a boy in his teens.  They look like they originate from somewhere Eastern Mediterranean or Near-Eastern.  They both have that puddingy build which is the result of years of being nurtured by a bustling matriarch and are cocooned in a comfort borne of familial love and deep understanding.  The father looks at his son with a half smile and eyes which seem to really see the boy rather than just look at him; the son returns this with an upward glance which is cursory but not dismissive - a result of his certain knowledge that his Dad will always be there.

Bustling around me later at the station are hundreds of people, yet the architecture absorbs their sound, creating a preternaturally quiet space where detached observation is easy.  A small, slim woman with a severe haircut and tight jeans is standing rigid in the middle of the flow.  Her skin-tight outfit, opaque sunglasses and impeccable grooming give her an almost robotic, Matrix-esque quality and for a moment I wonder if the world around me is going to morph into something strange and wonderful as we are confronted with finality by the illusory nature of reality… instead, she purses her lips, looks resolute and strides away, leaving me still sitting in St Pancras station with my coffee and my laptop – reality unchanged.

In a cocktail bar, a man sits alone, waiting for his date.  She arrives in jeans, trainers and a shiny parka – an odd outfit for an evening sampling the offerings of one of London’s best mixologists.  If an interior designer were given a brief to create a space which evokes Victorian London at Christmas time, this is the bar they would build; we had approached across a cobbled square, door flanked by gaslights which reflected off the iron railings.  On entering, we had immediately relaxed – transported to a different, more sedate time and place – yet this couple now create a pocket of tension which threatens to seep beyond the bounds of their table.  Suddenly, she stands up and marches out, leaving half her drink behind.  He spits, “you’re pathetic,” at her back – his words and tone jarring in context.  He watches her through the window, expecting her to turn around.  She doesn’t.  He leaves shortly after.   I guess the outfit should have been the clue that she never planned on hanging around?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Britain’s first National Heroes Day on Friday largely passed me by; preoccupied by my own life, I failed to acknowledge the power of inspirational people to lift and motivate others, as well as remaining entirely oblivious to the hero-shaped void which existed in my world.  Heading to SK8 Heaven in Northampton on Saturday the last thing on my mind was hero acquisition; the day would be a success if I learned some new drills and tactics which I could bring back to LBRG to help us further down the road to awesomeness.

My relationship with Roller Derby has had its ups and downs and recently I have started to question whether we have a future together.  I am not getting any younger and am starting to take longer to heal from bashes and bruises, as well as seeming to have reached a plateau in terms of what I am able to do on wheels.  The bootcamp was always going to be a useful experience but I didn’t expect it to have quite the impact it did.

I attended sessions led by Pia Mess, Pitchit, Isabelle Ringer and Re-AnimateHer, covering aspects of Roller Derby ranging from fitness to tactics via messing about on skates and hitting people.  They brought with them all the best bits of the American approach to life (alert! alert! gratuitous stereotyping coming up) – unapologetically positive, no bullshit and uber-confident – and succeeded in infecting everyone around them with this attitude. 

Pia Mess is, I am fairly certain, part machine; a glamorous, tireless, steely machine.  Pitchit distilled both the art and science of Roller Derby into one fabulous diagram (seriously – if only everything in life could be captured in one simple diagram…) while Isabelle Ringer made pivoting accessible, achievable and hey, even fun!  Re-AnimateHer’s thoughtfully structured sessions and no-nonsense focus (“jammers – find the friendly side and be patient”) combined with her great partnership with Betty Ford Galaxy to ensure that we hung on their every word and soaked up the wisdom.

For the first time in months, I feel like I can be better, I’m not past it and I do have a long and shiny career in competitive sport ahead of me.  Thank you Shoetown Slayers for organising the bootcamp and thank you, thank you, thank you to all the coaches I was privileged to learn from.  Your generosity, skill and patience makes you all my heroes.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


See, the thing about God is that I can’t believe he’s actually that interested in us.  If he did indeed create the entire universe, why would he be any more bothered about one species in one place in one time than the inventor of bread is about an individual grain of flour in my toast?  And surely he’s got more to worry about than whether people with matching danglies fall in love, or whether people choose to call him Allah, Brahman or simply God?

There are many arguments for God’s existence and many atheist responses – I’m not going to rehash them all here.  Similarly, the ‘Problem of Evil’ has been discussed for millennia and I’m not arrogant enough to think that I’ve a new perspective, so I’ll leave that alone too.  What I do feel like putting out there, however, is this – why do we as a species feel we need this God character in our lives?  What does he bring?  (Incidentally, my lack of capitalisation on ‘he’ is deliberate but not intentionally disrespectful.  The masculine third person pronoun is not capitalised under any other circumstance and since I’m fairly certain there’s no God I shan’t be dismissing the conventions of the English language just yet.)

I have heard many people over the years trot out the view that religion causes wars.  To paraphrase the gun campaigners I would respond that religion doesn’t cause wars, people cause wars.  What this easy dig also fails to acknowledge is that religion can be a force for good too, encouraging charity, forgiveness and love.  That said, I think there are plenty of charitable, forgiving and loving atheists or agnostics out there; in fact I think there’s a case to be made that to embody these virtues without the motivation of eternal reward is closer to that pinnacle of desired behaviours – altruism – than the consequence-driven behaviour of the theist.  

Searching for meaning and purpose can also lead people to God.  In the greater scheme of things, most people’s lives are insignificant; this seems to be something with which many people struggle to come to terms, though personally it doesn’t trouble me.  To give a sense of purpose, theists often like to set themselves the goal of getting into heaven or attaining a good rebirth.  Allowing your life to be given its goal solely by what may happen when it is over seems as illogical as going to the cinema and taking no notice of the film because you’re preoccupied by the chance of finding a winning lottery ticket on the bus on the way home.   Perspective is key here – your life may be insignificant in the context of a 14 billion year old universe but seen through the eyes of those whose opinion you actually lose sleep over, your life probably occupies a more prominent position. 

I have always labelled myself an atheist (a position which arguably requires as much faith as theism) and I headed this blog ‘agnostic’ but I think my true position is better expressed in the Buddhist view that whether or not God exists is just not that important.  I try to live by the Golden Rule (capitalised that one) and value the present as much as the future.  I share values with many religious people, I just got to them via a different route – does this make me less ‘good’?  I find it hard to believe that God would care.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

In Training - October

If all goes according to plan, in six months I will be in Nepal having just started a trek to Everest Base Camp.  I’m not entirely sure why.

My bestest travel companion in the whole wide world, Eszter, and I made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro last summer.  It was not fun.  I’ll tell you all about it another time, but suffice to say that before we were halfway through that climb we had decided, categorically, that we were not going anywhere near Everest Base Camp “if it’s going to be anything like this”.

A year later and the bad memories had somewhat faded, leaving the sense of accomplishment in the ascendant and the hideous moments now having acquired ‘funny story’ status.  Everest Base Camp started to seem like a good idea – surely there are some serious cool points to be had for bagging both?

Whilst super fitness isn’t a necessity for either trek, very good fitness certainly helps to make the whole experience more enjoyable.  What I learned from Kilimanjaro however, is that the toughest challenge on these excursions isn’t physical, it’s mental.  It’s the challenge of getting up and doing another full day’s walking; of putting filthy clothes back on; of finding a way to get warm when you stop; of forcing enough liquid into your unwilling bladder to avoid dehydration; of not minding hordes of trekkers wandering past as you stop for yet another pee; of trudging onwards, meditating your way through the mind-numbing boredom of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other.  Am I selling this to you?

In an attempt to be fully prepared, I’ve adapted the 6 month training programme at to include skating and started the “six months prior” section on Saturday.  I’ve already had days where I really can’t face it but I remind myself that this is more about mental toughness than physical and the whole point is that I have to push myself to complete what needs completing, even when it’s the last thing I can be bothered to do.  To be honest, right now it’s not even particularly strenuous, but it’s stamina here that counts so I’m in this for the long haul and not about to do any more than the experts say I should. 
This is a six month epic so I’ll check in every month and let you know how I’m going.  In the mean time, if you’ve got any recommendations for ‘fun games to play when walking’, I’m all ears!