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.

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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.

Salisbury: Cycling, running and designated habitats

My parents have recently moved to Salisbury, so me and Helen (A.K.A. The beautiful wife) decided that it was about time we visited. Bikes and Nelly (A.K.A. The Hound) were packed into the car for the loooong journey south, without passports.

Only a couple of minutes walk from my parents house there are some great running tracks alongside the River Avon. On the Saturday morning we had thought about joining in the local parkrun, but as we were off to London later that day, we opted to run along the river instead. Hopefully this would tire out the pooch as we were leaving her with my parents for the day.

The River Avon and area is full of designated habitats, as you can see in the photo below, along with the out and back route that we ran (Strava here).

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The brown areas are Local Nature Reserves (Avon Valley and Bemerton Heath) and the green areas are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (River Avon System and Avon Valley). The Avon Valley is both a SSSI and a Local Nature Reserve. If you want to find out what designated habitats are near to where you live, search for ‘Defra Magic’.

As you can see from the next photo, Nelly really enjoyed the Avon Valley.

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On the Sunday morning I managed a short ride on Otis (Strava here and blog about Otis here). There is a terrible ring round in Salisbury and far too many busy ‘A’ roads, but I managed to find some very nice quiet roads going in a similar direction to the previous days run. There was a cycling event on as well, as I saw plenty of other cyclists with numbers, some directional arrows and a couple of marshals. My short route also found quite a few more designated habitats.

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The Lower Woodford water Meadows SSSI was particularly pleasant. A Strava friend, seeing that I was in the area, suggested that if I had the time I should go up Camp Hill, which I managed on the Monday morning. It wasn’t a huge hill, but it reached 12% and had a couple of good corners.

While I was out cycling, Helen repeated our run from yesterday, once again with the pooch. She gave it some biscuits on the way back, and managed a top ten place on a Strava segment. Helen keeps on telling me that she isn’t much of a runner, but she sure looks like a fit runner to me.

My Strava friend also suggested that the next time we were in the area he would take me on a ride around the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, see below.

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I’ve got to say, that looks like a great area to ride around. Salisbury, we will return.

Sniff Testing

My job occasionally involves something a bit different. Last week I was having an odour acuity assessment, or if you prefer, a ‘sniff test’, to determine my sense of smell. I was having my nose calibrated. In a clinical room, a very small amount of n-butanol is released into one of two funnels (see photo below), at a known concentration, and you have to say which funnel the smell was coming from.

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If you get the first two attempts correct, then in the next round a smaller concentration is released. This continues for ten rounds until your nose is calibrated, to determine how sensitive your nose is.

Most people can detect n-butanol at a concentration between 20-80 parts per billion. My score was 8ppb, so either I have a very sensitive nose, or the machine wasn’t working correctly that day.

With this information, I can perform a ‘sniff test’ out in the field. If a developer wants to build a whole load of houses next to a sewage treatment works, someone has to go there and have a good sniff around the place. The results would then be used in context with my calibration results. This all adds to another string to my bow.

Chorley

I took the afternoon off work to go to Chorley. It wasn’t my idea of fun as I had a court appearance. Combination of moving house, selling my car and driving too fast all in the same week. I had a chance to look around Chorley and had a pleasant coffee somewhere in the town centre. I very much like the small benches shaped like books.

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If you look closely you can just see Toothless hiding.

I wasn’t so keen on the warm welcome at The George, which is maybe a little too warm for my liking.

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On the whole Chorley reminds me of many northern town centres, a little bit run down with too many pound shops and betting shops, although I’m sure it has plenty of potential.

Cycling Plus

Like most people, over the years I have bought many different cycling magazines to while away the hours on train journeys or waiting in airports. I don’t really follow racing, so many magazines don’t hold much interest for me, the same with mountain bike magazines. Despite being a triathlete, triathlon magazines very rarely get looked at. By and large I found them a bit dull and repetitive. If you’re new to triathlons then buy a magazine for a year, and then you’re done, as the same articles will appear regular as clockwork the following year.

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Cycling Plus, on the other hand, is a magazine that I have a subscription for, as generally it has a few good articles each month. This month was their ‘Bike of the year 2017’ edition, with 25 bikes tested ranging in price from £2-2,500. All of the big names were represented. In fact, only the big names were represented. The top five were from Specialized, Trek, Boardman, Focus and Giant. I’m sure that if I was to ride any of these bikes I would be very impressed. (I’m often easily impressed). The cynic in me would suggest that these bikes made it to the final because they all spend large amounts of money on advertising in Cycling Plus, although only Specialized and Focus advertised this month.

Smaller brands are generally only featured if they are offering something different, for example, the Evanson on page 32, or if it’s an £8,000 superbike. I was then going to write about a smaller brand from Cheshire and how they offer great value and that the bikes they built are too good to be reviewed alongside the big name brands. I then Googled the brand and found page after page of negative reviews, all from a couple of years ago so the brand might have changed, but I struggled to find even a single positive review, except from their own Facebook page. I was genuinely thinking of buying on bike from this smaller company in the future, but now I’m not so sure.

Finally, in defense of Cycling Plus, they do have a certain obligation to review bikes that people might be able to find online or on the high street, and smaller brands can have a longer waiting period.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve sat down to blog about something, and the end result is not what I was hoping for, and therefore seems to lack a certain hook. Nevermind, my next blog might be better.