Thirsty Meeples

On our recent cycling holiday (read about it herehereherehere and here) I mentioned that we spent a few hours in Thirsty Meeples, a board game café in Oxford. What a great concept, play board games and drink craft beer. It costs £5 per person for a three hour session, although this rises to £7 if you don’t buy any food or drink. This might seem expensive, but there are plenty of staff and soo many games to play.

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I’m getting a little ahead of myself. What exactly is a meeple? A meeple is the name for a counter used in a game, for example the dog or iron in Monopoly are both meeples. Simple.

The café in Oxford had over 1,000 games on shelves around the café, sorted by genre; strategy, light strategy, two player, classic, etc. The staff were also great. Cheerful and there to suggest games or help out if you’re struggling with the rules of a game that you’re playing.

On the Friday Helen picked out Odin’s Ravens; a two player game where the aim is to fly your raven from one end of a row of cards to the other and back, while your opponent tries to do the same, but in the opposite direction. Obviously there are other cards that you can play to make it harder for your opponent or easier for yourself. A simple idea and a game that doesn’t take too long. We liked it so much that we bought a copy for ourselves, so be warned, if you come round Helen will probably challenge you.

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We then asked one of the Game Gurus for a recommendation, who handed us a merchant trading game called Splendor. I was quite enjoying it but I could see that Helen wasn’t really getting into it, and as we were near to the end of our three hour reservation, we called it quits for the night.

The next night we were back. I picked out a strong dark Icelandic craft beer while Helen picked out a game. She came back with Carcassonne, a walled castle game. I had forgotten my glasses so I was struggling to read the rules, but we persevered. After 30 minutes, maybe 45, we had placed a whole load of pieces on the board, but we still weren’t too sure what we were doing, so Helen decided to call the game off and find another.

We picked Akrotiri, a two-player boat and island game. Again we struggled for a bit. Helen was ready to quit on this game as well but I suggested that we shouldn’t give up too soon. Instead we grabbed one of the Game Gurus again for a bit of help. He hadn’t played the game for a few years, but he soon refreshed his memory and got us on the right path. I’m glad that we persevered because it turned out to be a really great game with hidden depths and a combination of skill and luck. When we finished playing we added up our scores to find that Helen had absolutely destroyed me. This is another game that we will probably buy in the future. Oh, and Helen celebrated her win with a White Russian.

The photo below of Helen laughing is because she had tried to take a photo, but had put her phone down when one of the staff looked over. I told her that it wasn’t a secret nuclear base and that she was probably allowed to take photos.

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Lancaster would be an ideal city for a board game café, although you might need to start a bit smaller with maybe 200 games and gradually build up. Both nights that we were there the place was full and with a wide range of ages. There were plenty of student types, but also children and oldies. If you’re ever in Oxford I can thoroughly recommend spending a few hours at Thirsty Meeples.

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Instagram Knows Everything

Like most people I have an Instagram account (Beards and Triathlons if your wondering). When I set it up I clicked to allow Instagram access to my phone without even thinking about it, as almost everyone does.

Yesterday on my Instagram feed there was a sponsored image, as there is everyday. The difference was that this advert was for submitting an article to a scientific journal. I have a PhD so I have submitted articles in the past. The scary thing about this advert was that the day before I received an email from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, one of the top ranked scientific journals in the world. My old PhD supervisor has taken a chapter from my thesis, re-written it, added to it, and submitted it for publication with me as one of the authors, hence why I received an email.

The Instagram advert made me realise that Instagram has access to my emails. There is no other explanation, which is pretty scary. Is it possible to download the Instagram app onto my phone without giving it access to everything else on your phone? Nothing is confidential, big brother is definitely watching.

Male Suicide Prevention

Last night I watched a BBC Horizon documentary on male suicide. It had interviews with survivors, relations, charities and emergency services. Most terrifying was the statistic that suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 50, not car accidents or cancer. A few months ago a member of the local triathlon club took his own life. He wasn’t a good friend, as we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and had had a couple of arguments over dangerous cycling or swearing in cafes. That is beside the point, it shocked me when I found out that he was gone, and it shocked a lot of people in the tri club.

I’ve suffered some very dark days myself, at school and in my early 20’s where I struggled to see the point of everything or anything. Most recently these feeling returned when I was at Uni, less than ten years ago. I didn’t talk to anyone and tried to work things out for myself, but as the documentary mentioned, you’re never really cured.

There are many reasons for suicide, relationship breakdowns or losing your job are the most common, for others it might be the feeling of complete loneliness or that nobody truly cares anymore.

Men, on the whole, don’t talk about their feelings. We all need to talk more. Do you have any friends that you’ve not seen for a while? Send them a text or a message, nothing serious, but let them know that it would be cool to meet up some time. Let friends know that if they needed someone confidential to talk with, you’ll be there for them. As the documentary also illustrated, it might not be the friends you expect to have issues, it might be the most outwardly lively person you know.

I’ve seen a few people copying and pasting a paragraph on Facebook letting people know that their door is always open and the kettle always on. This is a good start, but try to make it a bit more personal, write it in your own words instead of copying it.

We should all reach out to people more, even if you think that they are the last person in the world who would ever take their own life.

Finally, if you’re reading this and feel that you really don’t have anyone to talk to, message me, or even better, call the Samaritans, they do amazing work. I don’t have the answers, but please guys, talk to each other more about how you’re feeling, especially if you’re feeling suicidal.

The scatter-gun approach to blogging

My first blog entry was just over four years ago and back then I would write maybe once a month, at the most. I would also never share the fact that I had a blog with anyone, hence why my blog only had 8 views in 2014.

My approach to blogging is, as the title suggests, very scatter-gun. You never really know what I’ll be writing about next. Triathlons? Beards? A book review? I have moved all of my Lancaster air quality stuff to a separate blog (here), after all, someone interested in the local air quality probably isn’t going to want to know about long distance swimming without a wetsuit (Isoman Race Report). I like to think that my blog is similar to a three ringed circus. If you don’t like the clowns, then some dancing horses will be along soon, or a strongman.

There are loads of websites and blogs out there all informing you how to improve your blog, and how to get more hits. I’ve not read any of them. More hits would be nice, but most of the time I still don’t share most of my entries on Facebook. I think this is a confidence thing. Who would want to read what I have to say, and what if the way I’m saying it is rubbish? Does my humour come across, or do I just sound a bit odd? Informative for other people, or too much about me.

I don’t know then answers to any of those questions, so what I’m going to do is keep on blogging and continue to try to improve my writing.

That time I met Alex Cox

Twelve years ago I was working in a small restaurant weekends and evenings as I was studying at the local college the rest of the time. One quiet evening Alex Cox walked in, and as it was quiet I had the chance to have a quick chat with him. Who? Alex Cox used to present BBC2’s Moviedrome as well as being a writer and film director. I used to avidly watch Moviedrome each week as you never knew what the weeks film would be. Some were terrible, some were good and some were absolutely brilliant, but they were always interesting.

I told Alex that I was a fan of his work and he asked me which of his films I liked best. ‘Walker’ I replied without hesitation, which Alex agreed was his best film.

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He appeared genuinely pleased to meet a fan, although as this was back in the day before I had a decent mobile, I haven’t got a selfie with him. Never mind, but if you get the chance, have a look for some of his films, they’re all listed on IMDB.

On Finding My Mojo

Since my Triple Ironman last year (here) I’ve been struggling with my mojo, culminating earlier in the year with some serious soul searching (read about it here). But, the last month has seen a complete turn around, which is down to four things.

Firstly, I’ve been able to run again with the help of some very specific stretches. I’ve not been going far, but I’ve done three park runs in the last month.

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Secondly, I reached the mile stone of completing 300 Strava challenges, and to celebrate I rode 300km, from Lanarkshire to Lancashire (read about it here). I wasn’t sure when I set off whether I would make it, but my wife said that I looked like I’d been for a walk in the park when I arrived home.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I had a great cycling holiday with my wife up in the highlands of Scotland. It was fantastic and I especially relished the fact that you have to take it easy when you’re loaded up with panniers.

Finally, Veloviewer added a new metric, the maximum cluster score (read about it here). I won’t explain it again, but to improve your score you have to search out new roads and places you’ve not been before.

In the last month I can safely say that my mojo has returned and I’m back to enjoying going out cycling and running, on my own or with my beautiful wife.

Day trip to London

I mentioned a few blogs ago that my parents had recently moved to Salisbury (read about it here). On the Saturday we decided to spend the day in the big smoke (obligatory reference to poor air quality). A short walk to the train station in Salisbury, expensive tickets bought and a small but very busy train. It was standing room only from Andover. Apparently the army were playing the navy at Twickenham.

Off the train at Waterloo and the first thing that hit me was the amount of ‘up’. All the buildings are so tall. The second thing was the volume of tourists as we walked past the London Eye and over Westminster Bridge.

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It seemed like we were the only people without a selfie stick, although that didn’t stop us taking the odd selfie.

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Big steps and little steps as we tried to avoid the tourists. Fortunately the Embankment was less busy as we admired the Cycle Superhighway. Can we have some of that in Lancaster please.

In need of some lunch we popped into Bills (website here), on Wellington Street. What a brilliant place. Friendly and efficient staff, Camden lager, halloumi burger and chick pea falafel.

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This was followed by an amazing lemon meringue pie cheesecake.

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We had to rush the pudding slightly as we had tickets to see The Lion King at the Lyceum theatre. Birthday present for Helen (the tickets not the theatre). The inside was once again superlative, with a very steep upper gallery, where we were. It’s hard to believe that there were plans to demolish the place.

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The Lion King musical wasn’t something I was sure that I’d like, but I absolutely loved it; well done Disney. During the interval Helen said to me that it was the best day ever. Better than our wedding day? I teased.

After the musical had finished we slowly walked across Waterloo Bridge and caught the next train back to Salisbury.

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Back at my parents and there was a dog who was very happy to see us. She had also been a good girl all day and my parents had loved looking after her for the day.

We will definitely be going to London again soon, as there is a lot to see.