Category Archives: Life

Ditchling and the Downs

In April, I visited the recently-opened Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. The tiny Sussex village of Ditchling was home to Eric Gill and his apprentice Joseph Gibb, where they founded the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic. Gill gathered around him a number of talented men and women artists, who were inspired by the ethos of the late-Victorian arts and crafts movement whilst evolving a new kind of English modernism that bridged the medieval and the present day. (Gill, of course, is well known for his iconic typeface Gill sans as well as for his unorthodox sexual practices).

The exhibition is smart and high quality – less is more for this architect-led redesign that unifies a collection of farm buildings through strategic use of honest metal and wood materiality. The interpretation is, as expected, beautifully designed by graphic design heavyweight Phil Baines, with elegant wayfinding symbols (also found on the cafe’s cups and plates). Sadly, I found the writing on those panels failed to catch my attention, and often left panels half-read, even in this very small exhibition. Given that I had an existing interest in the subject matter, I suspect I just wasn’t in the mood, or that the text was dense or dull in a way that made it hard to digest whilst standing up and walking around. I’ll be interested to revisit and see how my outlook changes.

From Ditchling, you can follow a very lovely walk across the Downs to Lewes, only 5 or 6 miles away, and from there, take the train back to London. A perfect little day.

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2016 in books

img_2530Next to running, the thing I most enjoy doing is reading. I set myself the challenge of trying to read 52 books a year sometime ago, and though I’ve only ever got as close as 51, I now keep a running list of books I finish every year.

So here’s my list of books I’ve finished in 2016. By “finish” I mean: read total contents thereof from front to back. As a result, this year’s list obviously does not reflect books begun in 2016 but not completed: they will go on next year’s list.

  1. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  2. The Shaking Woman, Siri Hustvedt
  3. The Outrun, Amy Liptrot
  4. What Goes Around, Emily Chappell
  5. Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
  6. A Book of Silence, Sara Maitland (re-read)
  7. The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden (re-read)
  9. The Night Bookmobile, Audrey Niffenegger
  10. The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
  11. The Black Spider, Jeremias Gotthelf
  12. To the River, Olivia Laing
  13. The Life Writer, David Constantine
  14. The Lonely City, Olivia Laing
  15. Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
  16. Modernist Estates, Steffi Orazi
  17. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  18. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee (re-read)
  19. The Three Hostages, John Buchan (re-read)
  20. Clear Waters Rising, Nicholas Crane
  21. The Gifts of Reading, Robert Macfarlane
  22. The Past, Tessa Hadley
  23. Railtracks, John Berger and Anne Michaels
  24. Solo Faces, James Salter
  25. Consolations of the Forest, Sylvain Tesson (re-read)
  26. The Isle of Sheep, John Buchan (re-read)
  27. The Devils of Loudon, Aldous Huxley
  28. A Summer of Drowning, John Burnside
  29. Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane
  30. Ways of Curating, Hans Ulrich Obrist
  31. A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
  32. Some Rain Must Fall, Karl Ove Knausgaard
  33. City of Glass, Paul Auster
  34. And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, John Berger
  35. Style Council, Sarah Thompson
  36. Ghosts, Paul Auster
  37. The Locked Room, Paul Auster
  38. Walk Through Walls, Marina Abramovic
  39. Dubliners, James Joyce
  40. Nutshell, Ian McEwan

Not a bad haul, really! Being in two book clubs helps for sure. I’m pleased to see that the first six books of the year were by women, and 17 in total had female authors. I don’t choose my books based on gender, but it’s interesting to observe nonetheless. There are some very thin/slim books on the list too (nos. 9, 21, 23), a couple of photo+interview books only included because the interviews were quite long-form, so I thought they could count (nos. 16 and 35), and some sharp-eyed readers will quibble with my decision to class Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy as three books (nos.33, 36 and 37). But I shall live with their quibbling! In the “should have read” category (i.e. books I feel that by now I should have already digested) there are fewer than I would wish for (no. 39 is the only candidate). And there are six re-reads (nos. 6, 8, 18, 19, 25 and 26) largely because I was in the wilderness and wanted to read about people in similar situations, and my kindle curation is geared towards such novels.

So what will next year hold? Perhaps tackling the big Russians I’ve previously overlooked in favour of fewer re-reads. Since reading Adam Curtis on how to be more Tolstoy and less Wes Anderson, I’m gravitating towards a lower overall number of books in favour of longer, more difficult texts. And there there’s work and running to balance with all that… more on those subjects later!

What about you? Any books I shouldn’t miss in 2017? Any thoughts on the list above? Talking about books is one of my favourite things to do, so go ahead!

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Oh dear…

Oh dear… what a difference a day makes.

Everyone I know and love is still processing the intense upheaval, betrayal, bafflement, anger, incredulity and realisation caused by the controversial in/out referendum, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, has seen the people of my country vote 52% to leave the European Union. Gulp.

I’ve been glued to the news ever since, ashamed by our government’s inability to address a much longer standing problem, horrified at those who have gambled with the lives of thousands to gain a leg-up for themselves in Westminster, and saddened by the vitriolic abuse from leavers and remainers, and from a minority against people of different cultures and countries. We were never meant to be like this.

What to say in the face of all this? The storm is barely quieting down. The economy continues to flounder. The future looks uncertain at best, catastrophic at worst. This article from Medium writer Jeff Lynn captures fluently the wish to stand together and lead the UK (such as it is) into a brighter future, while at the same time speaking some key truths about the nature of our union with the EU that I wish fervently had been part of the playing field before people took a vote. It’s a must-read, a welcome break from the quite frankly scary reporting happening on the Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard and Daily Mail sites. 

And running? I’ve been trying to move my body and get out there, trying to re-set the tenor of my days through exercise and focus. But it’s hardly working. I went for a great off-road run on Sunday through Epping – intense mud underfoot – and found myself running through every emotional spectrum: pure joy at flying downhill, followed by anger when running back up, and tears when on the flat. This morning I managed a quick 6-miler before work with some of the best times I’ve done recently in the first three miles, but halfway through I started to flag, to give up. My heart just wasn’t in it. I managed to finish pretty strongly, pulling my legs through their treacly feeling.

And that’s how it feels to be a remain voter in Britain right now: halfway between despondent and hopeful, halfway between resignation and fear. I guess the only way is up, but what road we will take is a mystery to me.

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Second Marathon: Losing the Fear, Losing the Plot?

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Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

Oh the perils of running a second long-distance race. Has this happened to anyone else? The first time I do something I’ve not done before, e.g. running a marathon, I prepare like crazy. I’m so scared that I won’t be able to manage it that if anything I over do it. For example, I started training 8 months before the race, I ran 5-6 times a week almost without fail, I cried when I got so busy at work that I couldn’t run, I got my mile-per-minute time below 7:20/7:30 for short excursions and comfortably ran a half marathon at just under an 8-minute-mile clip.

Take two. Reykjavik Marathon 2016, and I’ve kind of been taking it easy. I’m not afraid I won’t finish. I’m hoping to better my time, but I’m not filled with the same kind of dread that really really motivates me. And so I have actually done LESS. Much much much less, and now I’m starting to panic!

This happened to me before when I did half marathon distances – I ran Royal Parks Half in 2009, scored an okay PB of 1hr 57 mins (not so bad for someone who did not think of themselves as a runner at all), and then completely ballsed up the Windsor Half the following year. The course is certainly more undulating at Windsor, and the day was pretty hot, but if I’m honest with myself I just didn’t train enough, because I’d done it before. I lost the fear.

It helps that I wasn’t starting from scratch this time around, and that I’d been running pretty consistently throughout the winter and spring. I’m about 4 kilos lighter and my feet have now fully recovered from lost toenail and blood blister hell. My core strength is better having taken up a package at 1Rebel (I ration my sessions to one per week, and that seems to sort me out). I’ve been trying to run more varied terrain – hills, trails, fun runs – and get lost whilst running. And I’ve flirted with the Maffetone method – sadly having to give up before the benefits could really pay off in order to switch gears for the pacier training the marathon requires of me.

Excuses, excuses. Enough! Begone! Now is the hard graft. Now is the getting up at 6am or earlier for the 5 miles before breakfast, which shouldn’t feel as hard as they currently do. Now’s the time to ramp up from my 14 miler down in Bath over the bank holiday to the steady and exhausting 16, 18, 22 mile weekends ahead. I’ve got about 11 weeks to finesse the raw material of my muscle memory and cardio conditioning. Perhaps the fear of not having trained enough will be sufficient motivation!

Has this happened to you? What do you do people to get through this idiotic barrier? How can I find the fear again?? Help!

(A few pics from the weekend below… amazing bank holiday weather!)

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From Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

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Top of Lansdown Hill, Bath

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Stretching on the steps at home afterwards

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Terra Nova Solar Photon 2

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What better way to enjoy the late afternoon sun than playing around with a new tent? With a backdrop of loud dubstep and birdsong, and a superb sunny sky, I spent a happy hour testing my new (and first) lightweight tent purchase.

The questions:

a) Would the tent be upstanding?
b) Could I make it so myself?
c) What do I need to improve for next time?

The answers:

a) Well, sort of. There’s no difficulty in pitching the thing. It has a single pole structure, shaped like a ‘Y’ that gives the overall impression of a whale’s hump. But even in a slight wind the sides were perplexingly bowed and wrinkled (something I will aim to overcome with better guying out).

b) Yes. This tent is super super easy to pitch. The ‘Y’ shape goes up in no time, and Terra Nova’s brainwave of creating eyelets for the pole-tips and using clips to attach the tent fabric means no awkward ‘can I get this pole through the narrow nylon channel without it popping apart and before my inner (and my self) gets completely soaked’. The outer took me a while to work out which was the best way to fix it down, but I’ll perfect this over time.

c) For sure, I need better pegs. And I need to practice!

It’s always worth trying out your tent before you go out for that 6-day overnight walk. You know, just in case the guy ropes are missing. As with many ultralight tents, the tent pegs are little more than titanium toothpicks. I am replacing them with stronger titanium v-pegs (Alpkit order already on the way).

My tent is a Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 – the lightest two-person self-supporting tent in the world! In reality I think it would be more comfortable as a ‘luxury’ 1-person tent, as I think it would be pretty cramped for two people plus gear. It weighs a mere 0.975Kg (2lb 2oz). Apparently it also takes five minutes to pitch. (Er, more like 45 minutes for this first attempt…). I purchased mine at a slight discount from eBay and when I was looking there were several secondhand and new options there that were cheaper than buying direct.

So here’s to summer and roaming the country!  Anyone got a new tent they want to try? 

 

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Mendelssohn’s Lunch Break

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2016-02-25 14.19.332016-02-25 14.12.072016-02-25 14.12.19So…. Mendelssohn liked to get out at lunchtimes too. In fact, he is alleged to have been inspired by the outdoor world whilst composing his wondrous and uplifting incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream under a tree that is now displayed on the pedestrian level of the Barbican. Amazing what you can find if you go for a stroll at lunch.

Lunchwalks: good for the body and the brain.

Where to find Mendelssohn’s tree: head up the stairs by the Barbican tube station on Farringdon Road. Cross the bridge, head towards the Barbican Centre, and the tree is straight ahead of you. There have been some recent renovations to the brickwork paving, so the area hasn’t been so easy to explore.

Looking for more secrets nearby? You could leave a penny on Blake’s grave in nearby Bunhill Fields. Or if you dream of living in Barbican utopia and you can’t get enough of the concrete, you could visit the Barbican library (among other things, it has a fantastic art, photography and design section) or have a drink in the Wood Street Bar, overlooking the easterly pools of the Barbican.

Other pictures in this post feature a flying yellow skip and an orange square. Delight in colour!

 

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Running (and) Museums

No, sadly not “running museums”, though I hope so one day.

Basically, I took a bit of time away from Mediatrixy and in that time I worked out that the two things I really like talking about are: running and museums.

By which I mean…

Running – all forms of exercise are encompassed here – high intensity training, body weights, sprints and hill work, occasional emotional yoga sessions, etc. But crucially they are all done in the pursuit of running harder, faster, stronger.

Museums – again, all sorts of culture – concerts, installations, interesting parts of my city, browsing the Internet (ahhh), reading, etc. But crucially, all in pursuit of making better exhibitions and experiences for people who visit them.

So with these passions clearly stated, I’m going to start to write here a little bit more about these topics, hopefully connecting with other likeminded people. Because that sounds fun, doesn’t it? 🙂

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North Circular: walking the Arran Coastal Way

2014-05-23 15.07.20-1 2014-05-23 16.15.08 2014-05-23 18.07.04 2014-05-24 13.41.45 2014-05-25 18.40.02 2014-05-25 18.40.16 2014-05-25 19.06.43 2014-05-27 09.28.16 2014-05-27 09.56.49 2014-05-27 10.07.20 2014-05-27 10.07.34 2014-05-27 11.19.48-1 2014-05-27 19.25.46-1 2014-05-28 21.28.22 2014-05-30 08.11.49 2014-05-30 08.22.22-2Early one Friday, the Virgin express pulls out of Euston and takes me whizzing up to Glasgow. A swift train to Ardrossan and an easy hop-skip-jump onto the ferry to Arran makes this one of the easiest Scottish commutes I’ve ever done. The ferry is packed with young climbers, kids on their way to adventure weeks, and ageing men slung about with golf clubs. (Arran boasts 11 golf courses, of varying sizes). A mere 55 minutes later and we are pulling into Brodick in the early evening. Brodick, from Broad Vik, meaning ‘broad bay’ in Old Norse, has very little to connect it to its Viking past, but the Coop does a good line in cheap beer and we load up for the first part of our walk. Our first wild camp is on an iron age fort, uninterrupted by anything other than bird calls. Not a ripple on the sea. Dinner is rehydrated wolfish casserole and a Cobra. The view is of Holy Isle, once a place for monks, now a buddhist retreat.

The south of the island is characterised by what would generously be described as a path and in reality is more like a field of boulders. Without a 15kg pack, these would have been a joyful doddle. At least the sun kept beating down as we picked our way across, core muscles clenched and legs extended with semi-balletic grace. An Arran blonde beer greeted us at the end of nearly every day. At Blackwaterfoot, we took a breather in the Kinloch Hotel, washed some socks and enjoyed fat chaffinches and gin and tonics on the terrace. The final three days were much longer and harder, taking us clockwise to Lochranza past a glassy sea, royal caves, an ancient burial ground and pretty little almshouses. As we breasted the northern coast, a very boggy part took us past the cock of Arran (somewhat unimpressive), deserted Scottish cottages and the most perfect wild camp spot I’d ever seen. But we pushed on past it, with an idea that we might make a 20 miler back to Brodick – something we didn’t achieve. With the pub closed, my foot in pain, and no bus for an hour and a half, the penultimate day was a bit of a drag. However, the Glen Rosa campsite, about 2 miles outside Brodick, was a beautiful place to bed down one last time before heading up to Goat Fell the following morning. For this part, we left our packs back in the camp and as a result practically ran up the “mountain”. I later discovered that I had made this journey before, aged four.

In total (and we took our time) the journey lasted 6 days. Our longest day (Blackwaterfoot to Lochranza) was nearly 18 miles. Our shortest, on a particularly sultry afternoon, was 3 miles… Though we had intended to wild camp all the way round, we did slightly break our resolve with a night or two in a hotel. At this point, I’m going to mention how epic the Lochranza hotel really is. First, it was simply there, after 18 miles of slog, with a hot bath, one remaining room and a decent bed. Second, its whisky list is about four times the length of the food menu. The bar is simply covered in whisky bottles. It was impossible to photograph them all, but, well, you get an idea from the picture below.

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Scotland in June always seems to be spectacular. Few crowds, long days, bright light and sparkling sea. As we walked round the island, the only rain we had was during the night when we were tucked up in our tent – as soon as we wanted to wake up, the rain stopped! There’s little for the real wild seekers here, Arran being fairly populous and popular with day tourists and gold enthusiasts alike. However the Arran Coastal Way seemed to be unheard of among most of the locals we talked to, and the idea of walking it also struck them as odd. Which makes it a very achievable, reasonably affordable microadventure that balances comfort (in the form of readily available beer and hotels if you need ’em) with challenge (in the form of Goat Fell, boulder fields and long days on your feet).

 

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Weekend in Berlin

2014-04-26 13.56.32Berlin and I have an interesting history. Five years ago, one April, I travelled there on my own to end a relationship – a ‘schluss’, as the Germans say. At the same time, I was falling in love more deeply than ever before. Wandering the streets and feeling sad for the loss of one thing, yet hopeful for another, has cast Berlin in a bittersweet memory: the friction of anguish pushing up close to ecstasy. Now, again in April, I made the trip again hoping for a much more normal type of visit, where I could simply enjoy the city.

And it was perfect. Berlin in spring is finer by far than Paris, and on this particular weekend the sun got to 24 degrees! Also: everywhere I looked, I found something orange. (In fact I’ve been going through a bit of an orange phase – a phone cover, a Bauhaus pencil, one of those gorgeous melamine Margrethe bowls… It’s such a happy colour, don’t you think?)

We went to some markets… these pepper and salt grinders were stunning. I wanted all of them.

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Stayed in Kreuzberg, in a stunning wood-floored flat that was easily THREE times the size of my London pad.

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Went to Tempelhof, the abandoned airport built by the Nazis. The architecture is formidable, but they did have quite a nice line in gold mosaic light fittings! 2014-04-26 17.41.15The Tempelhof airfield itself is this wonderful huge park – such big skies and drifting smell of barbecues.2014-04-26 17.34.31 2014-04-26 18.05.26 2014-04-26 18.10.40 2014-04-26 18.10.54 2014-04-26 18.01.13

Saw some green things…2014-04-27 17.38.57

 

…and some orange ones!2014-04-27 16.06.29-1 2014-04-27 16.04.23-1

 

Oh. And there was cheese for brunch. YES.2014-04-27 11.05.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bonfires and Billhooks: a weekend in Norfolk

“Ours was the marsh country”, writes Dickens in Great Expectations. I always think of that when I head north out of London. A few weekends back I visited friends on their beautiful farm in south Norfolk, which has a woodland attached. It was a working weekend, which meant that we had to earn our keep by chopping trees, hauling debris, digging the garden and feeding the chickens. But I did manage to sneak away on the frosted Sunday morning to take a few photographs up in the wood. As usual, we finished up with a beer in front of the bonfire.

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