Monthly Archives: October 2010

#oneaday, Day 287: Light To Medium Showers

As human beings, we like to think that we separate ourselves from the animal kingdom via the means of civilisation. One of the characteristics of civilisation is, for many, the ability to clean ourselves using a wide variety of chemical products which smell like natural things but actually contain ingredients with unpronounceable and unspellable names like guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.

So, with all this in mind, and the obsession with cleanliness that modern living requires (particularly, so the stereotypes go, if you follow certain lifestyle choices), it’s inexplicable that we haven’t yet perfected a relatively simple device with which to facilitate said cleanliness: the humble shower.

I’ve just taken a shower at my friend Sam’s house. Given that I had a two mile run before breakfast this morning, this was more a necessity for remaining in polite company rather than a luxury. Sam’s shower is entertainingly obtuse in its functionality; firstly, it doesn’t fit helpfully into a shower holder, necessitating the washee to hold the shower head in their hand whilst cleansing their bits and pieces.

However, problems arise when the washee is required to apply some manner of cleaning product to their hair, body or testicles. Holding the shower head with one hand leaves only one hand free for squirting delicately-scented products onto said appendages. If you’re the sort of person (like me) who likes to apply aforementioned products to various body parts via the medium of squirting it into one’s hand first, holding the shower head in one’s hand is somewhat troublesome.

If you’re as cack-handed as me, you have two options. Attempting to hold both the shower head and the bottle of product in one hand, which often ends in the inadvertent application of shower head to face, or putting the shower head in the bath.

The second option, then, is clearly the best one. At least it would be if the shower head in question wasn’t perfectly cylindrical, meaning the moment that you let go of it, it rolls away, inevitably with the squirty bit of the shower pointing perfectly upwards, making a somewhat beautiful but somewhat messy fountain feature in one’s bathroom. (Sorry, Sam.)

At least these little idiosyncracies weren’t combined with some of the other perennial Greatest Hits of Mildly Inconvenient Showers. The temperature dial that has a sweet spot somewhere between 3 and 4 degrees off centre. The temperature which changes at a moment’s notice without any outside intervention. The temperature which turns to scalding lava as soon as anyone in the same building flushes the toilet. The shower with insufficient pressure to wash a spider off a wall.

So, scientists, stop farting around trying to produce clever things and help us get the basics right. It’d be really nice to have a shower that stays on the wall at the right temperature and the correct pressure in order to enable myself to get clean without having to clean the bathroom afterwards, without scalding the tender skin around my bollocks or without giving me hypothermia.

I don’t see it happening any time soon, sadly.

#oneaday, Day 286: Murder and Mystery

Tonight’s activity was an entertaining affair–a murder mystery dinner party in celebration of my good friend Sam’s 30th birthday. (Sam, incidentally, does not know anyone called either “Don Woods” or “Pook” and would like to make that fact abundantly clear.)

For those who have never attended a murder mystery party, it’s an enormously fun opportunity for a bunch of people to get together, eat, drink, dress up in silly costumes and then make twats of themselves with each other. Ostensibly, it’s a game where everyone is supposed to “role-play” their characters and through careful questioning, determine who the murderer was.

In practice, it’s an excuse for people to talk in silly accents, overact and generally lark about. It’s a pretty far cry from what tabletop enthusiasts would call “traditional” role-playing, but in actuality it’s pretty close to what your common or garden D&D group gets up to. Only probably with more comedy French accents and less in the way of dice-rolling. Which is good. Because the dice-rolling bit of role-playing is often seen as the “geeky bit”, whereas with a bit of encouragement, most people can enjoy a bit of impromptu improvisatory theatre, especially when their confidence glands have been appropriately lubricated via the judicious application of alcohol.

Tonight was no exception to the above rules. A diverse group of people attended and hammed it up through three acts of questioning, accusations and gradually-escalating amounts of backstabbing, espionage and clandestine affairs. As the evening went on, people gradually grew much more comfortable with the whole experience and started ad-libbing somewhat. Mostly, it has to be said, with some fairly filthy comments. But that added to the fun. Particularly as the amount of wine consumed throughout the evening meant that everyone’s accents suffered somewhat.

So if you’re looking for an opportunity to get some people together, dress up in silly costumes and engage in a spot of light role-playing (of the non-filthy kind) then a murder mystery party is the way to go. The set we played–The Brie, The Bullet and The Black Cat–was structured pretty well, with handouts and helpful prompts for all characters, meaning that no-one was left flagging and having to come up with questions all by themselves. It worked well, even though only one amongst our number managed to correctly identify the murderers by the end of the whole experience.

It was a good laugh, though, and surely that’s the point of any game when it comes down to it.

The group are now settling down to a game of Eat Poop You Cat! which I discovered the other day can be referred to as Broken Telephone in polite circles. Wine has been consumed, so I anticipate that the sentences and drawings produced throughout the course of the game will be somewhat spectacular.

It’s up and out early tomorrow morning for a run, with a change of scenery for once as I’m in Winchester instead of back home. I hope it’s not cold.

#oneaday, Day 285: Questions You Probably Never Wanted To Know The Answer To

[Yes, I know I forgot to rename this comic. Deal with it.]

Sometimes topics come up in conversation that make you wonder how on Earth you got onto that subject in the first place. Such was the case when I had a conversation last weekend about whether or not any of us had taken a piss in the shower.

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, though, it’s possible to get answers to these burning questions at any time. Everything from Twitter to Formspring is set up in such a way to make asking stupid questions very easy.

Sometimes, though, you can’t think of a decent question. So with that in mind, I present to you the answers to five different questions which I have thought up off the top of my head. And if you’d like to ask me anything else, please feel free to do so in the comments or via the “Ask Me Anything” link at the top of the page. Or by clicking here. It’s anonymous and everything.

Have you ever had a wee in the shower?

No. No I haven’t. But I was alarmed to discover that quite a few of my friends – both male and female – have. One friend, who shall remain anonymous, said that “there’s no reason not to, apart from the fact your shower smells a bit of piss afterwards”.

Me, though, I tend to prefer bathroom activities to take place in the receptacles for which they were intended. Piss goes in the toilet. Dirt from your filth-encrusted body goes in the shower or bath.

Have you ever cross-dressed?

Yes. I made a beautiful fairy. See?

So pretty.

What is the strangest thing you have ever put in your mouth?

Deep-fried garlic at some Japanese restaurant in St Marks, New York. (I think.) And yes, deep-fried garlic is exactly what it sounds like. Take one lump of garlic. Deep-fry it. Eat. Surprisingly tasty, but definitely odd.

How many fingers am I holding up?

Four, because you’re too rockin’ for one hand.

Would you rather die from chronic flatulence or ebola?

Chronic flatulence. At lease you’d entertain people as you passed away. And you’d have a priceless moment of everyone you were with looking around slightly uncomfortably, not sure whether they should giggle or call an ambulance.

Of course, you wouldn’t be around to see it. But the sentiment stands.

What is the most horrible noise you can think of?

I have two horrible noises that I dislike. First is that nasty sound polystyrene packaging makes when you pull it out of a box and it goes all “scrapeyscrapeyscrape” and sets your teeth on edge. Second is the sound of people chewing noisily. I know it’s a natural bodily function. But it inexplicably bugs me.

Also, Tinie Tempah is pretty horrendous, too.

Where is the strangest place you have ever slept?

On my birthday during my first year at university, some friends and I went to local “wine bar” Clowns. Calling Clowns a “wine bar” is something of a stretch, as it is actually one of those places with a sticky floor and toilets which regularly leak all over the building. They were offering four-pint jugs of Juicy Lucy for £4 at the time, though, so it seemed like an excellent idea for all of us to drink as many of these as possible.

When we finally got back to our flat, one of my flatmates wore a pair of my (clean) pants on his head for some time. Then another friend who didn’t live in our flat fell asleep on my bed. I fancied a nap too, so the appropriate thing to do appeared to be not to wake up the person in question, but to open up my wardrobe, use my laundry bag as a pillow and fall asleep.

A couple of hours later, the person in question sat bolt upright, walked to the kitchen, ran his head under a tap and then left.

So, to answer the question in a slightly less cumbersome manner… “my wardrobe”.

Want to ask me something else? Do it! I like to think we’ve learned a little something about each other via this process.

Or perhaps you just learned more than you ever wanted to know about me.

#oneaday, Day 284: M25? More Like… Hell… 25?

There are many famous roads in the world. The Champs Elysees in Paris (or however you spell it… I have no idea where the accents go and also have no idea how to type accents on my netbook). That really dangerous road they drove along in Top Gear. Yungas Road. I knew that and totally didn’t Google it.

But there’s one road you won’t find in the tourist guides, but it’s a well-known road to British motorists. It’s a name which strikes fear into the heart of motorists from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

It is the M25, the Devil’s Road, also known as the London Orbital. For the uninitiated (or American) amongst you, this is a motorway (freeway) which runs around the perimeter of London (capital of England) and goes round and round and round and round. In theory, this sounds like fun. Who doesn’t like driving laps around things?

Unfortunately, the M25 is the single most frustrating road in all of Britain to drive on, largely due to the fact that despite it being (sometimes) one of the widest roads in Britain it is also one of the fullest. Particularly if they’re digging it up. Which they always are.

Couple this with the inexplicable “variable speed limit” section (“You must drive at 60! Now 50! Now 40! Now 60 again! Now 70! Go wild! Oh! 50! Got you! SPEED CAMERA.”) and you have a road which is infuriating, frustrating and capable of producing some of the most creative expletives on the planet.

Particularly if you drive on it at rush hour, as I did tonight. And Rush Hour on the M25 lasts for approximately six hundred years and features a time distortion allowing six hundred years to take place in the space of a single day. You could read War and Peace in the time it takes you to get from Heathrow Airport to Staines at rush hour.

So fuck the M25. Fuck it right in its stupid ass (somewhere around the Dartford Tunnel) and find another route. Seriously. If you need to go from somewhere north of London to somewhere that is in a different compass direction from London, then for God’s sake avoid the hell out of London. Because for all its good points, London and its surrounding suburbs hate cars. HATE them. They want them to die. And they think that everyone who drives a car should die too, or at least pay considerable amounts of money for the privilege of driving a car.

Which is probably for the best, given that without the various tolls and “congestion charges” in place, London would be more backed-up than an old, constipated man’s bowels. I mean, more than it is already.

This has been a Public Service Announcement on behalf of the Highways Agency, who also think you should fuck the M25 in its stupid ass, which is why they keep smacking it with hammers and diggers. In, you know, an attempt to, like, get at its ass. Or something.

I don’t know. A 2.5 hour journey took me nearly 6 hours tonight. So my brain is addled. I think it’s time to drink Cherry Coke and scrounge a satay chicken skewer. Good night!

#oneaday, Day 283: The Brown Wasteland

I love the Fallout series a lot more than I think. Any time I’ve spent a protracted amount of time away from them, the only thing I remember about them is the colour brown. Brown brown brown everywhere. Depressing brownness. Wasteland. Dead things. Brown. Dirt. Dust. Oh the dust.

But then I go and play one—in this case, latest entry Fallout: New Vegas—and I remember that life in the wastelands of post-apocalyptic America isn’t just brownness and dead things. Amidst all the death, destruction, doom, depression and other words beginning with D, there’s a lot to discover. There’s life—only some of which is out to kill you—and there’s humour. And there’s an interesting narrative with some deep lore, too.

New Vegas is one of those games that draws you in without realising it and before you know it, several hours have passed. There’s something about the world, the characters in it and the situations you find yourself in that just keep you wanting to explore, just to see what’s around the next corner, over the next ridge.

And the thing I like most about New Vegas, like Fallout 3 and Oblivion before it, is that if you see something off in the distance and think “I wonder what that is?” then you can just walk your way over there and investigate for yourself. And the world is set up in such a way to encourage you to do this.

New Vegas, as it happens, is a huge improvement over Fallout 3. It’s difficult to pin down exactly why this is. Is it the new survival sim “Hardcore Mode”, where you have to keep your character fed, hydrated and rested as well as free of radiation and life-threatening injuries? Is it the interesting plot, which teases you with clues dangling on hooks just out of reach and then proceeds to distract you with OH LOOK ROBOTS AND GHOULS AND WON’T YOU HELP US, STRANGER?

Perhaps it’s the new Companion system, where you can explore the wasteland as a party of up to three—your character, another human and a robot or animal. This certainly makes an enormous difference—for starters, travelling with a trained sniper means that enemies are often taken out long before they get anywhere near me. This is good, because my character sucks at gunplay. Then each companion has a plotline to follow and their own interesting little quirks. The robot I’m travelling with at present, for example, doesn’t speak but blasts out recorded military marches whenever it enters combat. This is inexplicably hilarious.

Or perhaps it’s just the chance to get back into another meaty RPG where you’re not shunted down a linear path to an inevitable conclusion. The Fallout series has always been about exploration and thinking “what would I do if I was in this situation?” Morals sometimes go out of the window in the wasteland, and there’s plenty of interesting choices to make throughout the course of the game’s quests.

The game’s much-publicised bugginess hasn’t reared its head very much since I’ve been playing. I’ve had two freezes, but these weren’t a real problem because 1) I’d been playing so long it was probably time to stop and 2) the auto-save system (at least on the 360) meant that I hadn’t lost any progress. I’m sure there are other bugs out there to be discovered, but frankly, nothing has spoiled my enjoyment of the game so far.

So if you’re the slightest bit interested in seeing how you would take on the perils of survival in the wasteland, Fallout: New Vegas comes highly recommended.

#oneaday, Day 282: If You Hold Down The [CANCEL] Button To Run (Earlier Marked [X])

(Fifty Epic Win points if you know where the title of this post came from.)

Yes, it’s another running-related post, so soon after the last one… I know, I know. But I wanted to share this as it seems I was a little inaccurate with my description of the Couch 2 5K programme last time I talked about it.

I was surprised to discover as I fired up the GetRunning iPhone app today that Week 5 Day 2 is not, in fact, the same as Week 5 Day 1. I thought there was some mistake when I saw that I would be running for two lots of eight minutes today. But no, it turns out that it was, in fact, correct. And the fact that on Thursday I have to run for twenty minutes non-stop is also, in fact, correct. Scary.

To prevent staleness of posts, I now present to you tonight’s run in the form of the output from a text-based adventure/RPG game, circa 1987.

West Street

You’re standing outside your house. It’s pretty dark, and pretty cold.

The street runs to the northeast and southwest.

A voice from the iPhone in your pocket indicates that you should start walking in order to warm up.

>INVENTORY

You are carrying:
thermals
torch (off)
iPhone (on)

>TURN ON TORCH

The light of the torch illuminates the area around your feet, but little else. It should be enough to see where you’re going, at least.

>NE

You’re about to start walking when a chill blast of air hits you in the face.

You are afflicted with cold.
You take 5 damage from cold.

>EQUIP THERMALS

Thermals: equipped.

Cold resistance +50.

You are no longer afflicted with cold.

>NE

You set off at a brisk walk.

T-Junction

You have reached the point where three roads—West Street, Eltisley Road and Fox Street—meet.

Eltisley Road runs to the northeast. West Street runs to the southwest. Fox Street runs to the southeast.

>SE

You continue walking.

Fox Street

This street houses the one and only shop in the village, and also one of the few lamp-posts that illuminate the silent streets.

The road continues to the southeast. There is a T-junction to the northwest.

>SE

You continue walking.

Crossroads

You’re at the point where four streets meet. There’s a sign on a small mound showing the name of the village and arguably its most distinguishing feature, the ancient windmill.

Fox Street runs to the northwest. Caxton Road runs to the northeast. Middle Street runs to the southwest. East Street runs to the southeast.

You feel a bit warmer.

>NE

Caxton Road

This road is home to some new housing developments and as such has more streetlamps than the rest of the village combined. There’s a fishing pond by the side of the road which is somewhat difficult to see. You’re glad you brought a torch that actually works.

The road continues to the northeast. The crossroads is to the southwest.

A voice from the iPhone in your pocket indicates that you should start running now… for eight minutes. That sounds like an awful lot. You’d better be careful to pace yourself.

>NE

The disembodied voice told you you should run.

>NE

The disembodied voice told you you should run.

>RUN NE

You set off at a brisk run.

Industrial Estate

For such a tiny village, the industrial estate is surprisingly well-populated by a variety of businesses. They are all closed for the night now, but bright orange and white lights illuminate the courtyard of the estate.

Caxton Road runs northeast and southwest. The industrial estate itself continues to the southeast.

>NE

You continue running.

You lose 5 fatigue points.

Recreation Ground

There’s a large sports field here that, during the day, is typically home to team sports such as football. It’s also been known to play host to some pretty epic Blues and Soul music shows in a giant marquee in the past.

Caxton Road runs northeast and southwest. The football pitch is to the southeast.

>NE

You continue running.

You lose 5 fatigue points.

You are beginning to feel a little breathless.

Dark Road

It’s pretty dark down here. You can see a house by the side of the road, but it’s clear the occupants are either out or in bed as there’s no light emanating from it. The only light you can see is the fairly pathetic beam from your torch.

Caxton Road runs northeast and southwest. Another road branches off to the south.

>S

You continue running.

You lose 5 fatigue points.

You are tired.

Sand Road

It’s dark down here, and there are no distinguishing features save a smell of horse shit in the air.

Sand Road continues to the southwest, or Caxton Road lies to the north.

>SW

You continue running.

You lose 5 fatigue points.

You are knackered.

A voice from the iPhone in your pocket indicates that you can stop running and should walk for five minutes. You feel a sense of relief.

Sand Road, Civilised End

This end of Sand Road has a few houses and even a few streetlamps glowing with a bright orange light to illuminate your way. The smell of horse shit is fainter here.

Sand Road continues into darkness to the northeast. A brightly-lit crossroads lies to the southwest.

>SW

You walk, legs slightly wobbly.

You regain 5 fatigue points.

You are tired.

Brightly-Lit Crossroads

This crossroads is illuminated by a bright white streetlamp which gives the illusion of brilliant moonlight. Roads lead in four directions.

Mill Road drops down a hill to the southeast. East Street runs to the northwest. Sand Road leads northeast. Church Street bends off into darkness to the southwest.

>SW

You walk, legs slightly wobbly.

You regain 5 fatigue points.

You are no longer breathless.

A voice from the iPhone in your pocket indicates that you should start running.

>RUN SW

You set off at a run, your legs a bit stiffer than before.

Church Street

Church Street is not especially well-lit, but you can just make out the fact it bends around a sharp corner.

The road continues to the west. A gate leads into thick darkness to the south.

>S

You continue running.

You lose 5 fatigue points.

You are tired.

Churchyard

The churchyard by night is a place of solitude and quiet reflection. It’s also pitch dark, making it a bit creepy. Fortunately, your torch is holding out for the moment.

A path leads through the churchyard and down a hill into even thicker darkness to the south. Church Street is to the north. The church itself is to the southwest.

>S

You continue running.

Running downhill is easier.

You lose 2 fatigue points.

You are tired.

Inky Blackness

Beyond the churchyard, trees and bushes surround the path, cutting off all sources of light bar your torch. You can hear the sound of running water from somewhere.

By the light of your torch, you can see that the path leads up a shallow hill to the south. The churchyard lies up a steep hill to the north.

>S

You continue running.

Running uphill is hard. This hill is steeper than it looked a moment ago.

You lose 10 fatigue points.

You are knackered.

Horse Field

You’re on a narrow path that slopes gently upwards to the south and back down towards the churchyard to the north. A thin rope fence surrounds the path. In the darkness just beyond the fence, you can just make out a few horses grazing in the fields.

The path continues up a gentle slope to the south, or back downhill to the north.

>S

You continue running.

Running uphill is hard. This hill is steeper than it looked a moment ago.

You lose 10 fatigue points.

You are completely knackered.

A voice from the iPhone in your pocket indicates that you should stop running.

You’ve done it! That’s two eight-minute runs! Now all you have to do is walk home.

** YOUR ADVENTURE IS OVER **

Would you like to (R)estart, (L)oad a saved game or (Q)uit?

>Q

C:\>_

#oneaday, Day 281: Call Me “Beast Man”

Nicknames are curious things, and there are relatively few opportunities in one’s life to either acquire them or get rid of them. Many of them are set in place at school and then promptly lost. Those who move away and go to university then have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to introduce themselves as “I’m Pete, but you can call me ‘Bulldog'” or something similar. The only other times you get to do this are when you start a new job, or move to a new area. And even then, coming up with a nickname for yourself always seems somewhat… well, douchey.

The best nicknames emerge organically; they just happen. And then, good or bad, you’re stuck with it amongst one group of people for a very long time.

I have three nicknames. One of these (“Angry Jedi”) was self-chosen—well, technically, it was a joint effort between me and the buddy I was teacher training with at the time. We were called “Angry Jedi” collectively, as our preferred method of stress relief after a tough day at the chalkface was to compose bizarre sample-based music, and of course we needed a name under which to “release” these tracks. We fell out of touch, and I’ve been using “Angry Jedi” or variants around the Internet ever since. Except on Xbox LIVE, where some asshole got there first.

“Angry Jedi” was actually the latest nickname I acquired, however. I have two earlier ones which still get rolled out occasionally when I’m with a specific group of people.

The first of these—”Helmu”—came about when I went to the Edinburgh Festival with the Southampton University Theatre Group in 2000. We were taking Turgenev’s tragic love story “A Month In The Country” up to the Festival Fringe and performing it in the open air in Edinburgh’s botanical gardens. The play went well but was something of a commercial flop—well, you try convincing people that sitting outside in the cold Scottish weather to watch a “tragic Russian love story” is what they want to do, when there’s a lot of comedy on in the warm with bars nearby—but the nickname “Helmu” was nothing to do with the play itself. No, instead it was to do with one of our evening’s activities. Someone had had the foresight to bring a PlayStation with them (the original PSX, oh yes indeed) including a copy of Track & Field. I elected to play as Germany, and as everybody knows, the most amusing name in the Deutsche Grosse Kindernamebuch is Helmut. So I chose to call my character “Helmut”. Unfortunately there weren’t enough letters, so my player was known as “Helmu”. This name then stuck for the next ten years.

The second name was also the work of the Southampton University Theatre Group. “Beast Man”. Yes, I have the dubious honour of being occasionally referred to as a character from He-Man. The reason for my being dubbed “Beast Man” was due to my role co-directing a production of Twelfth Night for the group. At least, I was originally co-directing it with my friend Krissie. However, one day I got an email from Krissie saying that she was off snowboarding and would I mind awfully directing the whole play?

I had never directed a play before. The experience caused a not-inconsiderable amount of stress, which manifested itself as forgetting to shave and occasionally bleeding copiously from the nose. Both of these things were seen as somewhat Beastly, as my unshaven visage bore something of a resemblance to this gentleman here, albeit somewhat less ginger.

This nickname also stuck for the next ten years. Although I can’t say it isn’t strangely satisfying to be greeted by ex-members of the Theatre Group as “Ah! Beast!”

So how about you lot? Some of you out there have usernames that obviously mean something to you. C’mon, share some stories. OH GO ON. I’ll give you cake*.

* offer of provision of cake subject to withdrawal at any time.

#oneaday, Day 280: Run, Jedi, Run

So I know you’re dying to know how my running is going. What’s that? You aren’t? Well tough luck, sonny, I’m going to tell you anyway.

For those of you joining me in this post… first of all, welcome HELLOTO YOUHUGSANDKISSES and secondly… I’ve been following the Couch 2 5K running programme for the last 5 weeks. This programme, originally recommended to me by the fine example of gentlemanhood that is Mr Calin Grajko, aims to get lazy bastards up and running a 5K in the space of nine weeks. It does this by doing a gradually-intensifying programme of walks and runs.

The programme starts with you running for 1 minute, then walking for 1.5 minutes, 8 times. The second week gets you running for 1.5 minutes, then walking for 2 minutes, 6 times. The third week has you alternating running 1.5 minutes and walking for 1.5 minutes, then running 3 minutes and walking 3 minutes, twice. The fourth week, which I’ve just completed, sees you alternating running 3 minutes and walking 1.5 minutes, then running 5 minutes and walking 2.5 minutes, twice. And this week, which I’ve just returned from the first run of, sees me running for 5 minutes and walking for 3 minutes, three times.

As you can see, the programme gradually increases in intensity a little bit at a time. It’s paced so well that if you stick with it, the actual relative difficulty of each week remains the same. So while you may be panting and wheezing after the first run of week 1, it’ll seem like a cakewalk by the time you’re running for 5 minute bursts in week 5. It’s excellent motivation because it lets you see exactly how much you’re improving. When I think back to the end of September, when I started, there’s no way I could have even contemplated running for 5 minutes at a time. Even the 1 minute runs of the first week were a daunting prospect. But now, a minute of running is child’s play.

This is partly due to improved stamina and partly due to you getting to know your body a bit better (in a non-masturbatory sense) and being aware of your limits. As you become aware of said limits, you learn to pace yourself effectively to be able to carry yourself through each zone of intense exercise.

And sure, I’m still slow as hell, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s giving me a workout and I can feel it having an effect. At the beginning of week 1, I was slow and incapable of running for more than a minute at a time. Now, at the beginning of week 5, I may still be slow, but I can keep it going for some time. Once the stamina is there, the speed can be worked on.

I have to say, the use of gadgetry to help with all this has been a key motivational factor. My iPhone comes with me on every run, along with the RunKeeper and Get Running apps. RunKeeper keeps track of your time, pace, distance and draws a handy map of your route. This will come in particularly handy once I’m trying to improve speed rather than stamina. In the meantime, it’s a means of drawing geographical penises across Google Maps.

Get Running is the key app, though, and I’ve mentioned it before on here, I know, but it’s worth talking about again. It’s a very simple app, being essentially a glorified stopwatch, but it’s put together so elegantly and produced so slickly that it’s an excellent aid to the inherent motivation of the Couch 2 5K programme. The recorded coaching is delivered with feeling and makes you feel like you have an actual trainer with you, encouraging you and spurring you on to the next milestone. It reminds you how far you’ve come since the beginning at the end of each session, tells you at just the right moment that you have “only a minute of running left” and so on. It’s a really excellent app and comes highly recommended to anyone interested in following the programme.

So that’s that. Exercise without an expensive gym membership to worry about. All it cost was the price of a simple iPhone app which, if you’ve got a stopwatch, you don’t even need. Plus it’s an excuse to get out and about and explore your area, which is a particularly pleasant thing to do out in the countryside.

So wish me luck in the next few weeks of the programme as I get ever-closer to the elusive 5K. It seems a long way off now but, given the progress I’ve made so far, it certainly seems to be within reach.

#oneaday, Day 279: Saturday Drivers

I don’t know why anyone bothers to try and do anything on a Saturday, particularly if doing said thing involves riding in a car for any length of time.

“Why’s that?” I hear you ask.

“Well,” I say, “it’s to do with traffic.”

When asked to elaborate, I elaborate on the fact that traffic gets bloody everywhere on a Saturday, but particularly in the various town centres of the UK. Everyone decides that Saturday is “shopping day”, which makes a certain amount of sense, given that normal people (i.e. not unemployed scrotes like me) are normally working throughout the course of the week. But to this I respond “why not Sunday? What’s wrong with Sunday?”

It’s a fair question, I feel. Although the opening hours of most shops are shorter on Sundays, opening later and closing earlier, there is, these days, otherwise nothing to distinguish the experience of shopping on a Sunday in a town centre to shopping on a Saturday. Sure, there may be more people coming and going from church. If you happen to be passing by a church, of course. Which, let’s face it, shopping centres aren’t known for being built in close proximity to.

The net result of all this trafficky nonsense on a Saturday, of course, is that any time you actually want to get something done that involves passing through (or even near) a town centre on a Saturday, you had better budget at least twice as much time as you think you need. Because a good 50% of your journey will be spent staring at another car’s arse wondering if you’ll ever see your home again. I experienced the joy of this today, with a trip into Eastleigh town centre earlier in the day (Eastleigh being a town remarkable for featuring a road layout designed by someone who has no idea how big a car is) and later a trip to Southampton (jammed solid) to pick up my friend Tom in order to give him a lift to my other friend Sam’s in Winchester. Oddly enough, Winchester, which is usually a traffic-infested hellhole thanks to being a medieval city that wasn’t really designed with cars in mind, and features a Gowalla spot for the traffic jam which occurs every day like clockwork between 5 and 7pm, was pretty clear. Result.

The above isn’t just limited to town centres, either. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of driving on the crown jewel of Britain’s road system, the M25, will be well familiar with this feeling. Except on the M25 you don’t even have any interesting towny sights to enjoy while you’re stuck behind a million other cars that stretch off to the horizon with no obvious reason for stopping dead on a road designed for driving at 70mph. No, you have concrete, and other cars. And trucks. And that’s about it. Not fun. At all. Better hope there’s something good on the radio, or at least that you have some entertaining content on your iPod.

So basically, my advice to you? If it’s Saturday, then just stay in. You don’t need to go out. Just stay in. Catch up on TV. Watch a DVD. Play a lengthy video game. Listen to some music. Read a book.

Anything. Anything but go for a drive.

#oneaday, Day 278: Trippin’ on Kids’ TV

Children’s TV is weird. Anyone who has turned on the TV in the mid-afternoon recently will be familiar with this fact. As we speak, I am watching the end of CBeebies. (There is a child present, I hasten to add.) In the last half an hour, I have borne witness to talking trains (some of which can fly, making their rails somewhat redundant), a lion who drives a train and is best friends with a Brummie camel that is made of upholstery, a selection of small furry creatures with massive eyes who do yoga and, right now, a selection of hallucinogenic creatures and wooden Asian people with big moustaches.

None of it makes any sense!

That’s the cry that goes up regularly from critics of modern children’s TV, of course, along with the old favourite “where’s the educational value in that?” Most people over a certain age will inevitably follow this with “it was much better when I was a kid”.

Was it, though? Sure, we had shows like Blue Peter and Knowhow (memorable for being the only show I know of that featured a poo in a lunchbox) that at least had pretensions of being educational. But then we had things like The Clangers and Trap Door which, while awesome, made little to no sense at the best of times.

I wonder where the assumption that “kids like weird shit” came from. Because it’s been around almost as much as television itself. From the “flobbadobbadob” of Bill & Ben, Flower Pot Men back in the days of black and white telly to the hallucinogenic mayhem that is In The Night Garden (presently featuring a group of three odd creatures cleaning their non-existent teeth in harmony with a hoedown-style piece of music), it seems that weirdness has forever been a staple part of children’s televisual entertainment. Perhaps it’s something to do with children having more active imaginations, a skill which many people sadly lose as they grow older. Perhaps adults should get more in the way of weird, surreal programming to enjoy.

Except we do, of course. It’s just sometimes not as obvious. But try explaining that animé film you just watched to someone unfamiliar with the genre. Or anything from the sci-fi oeuvre. Or some of the more out-there sketch shows out there.

But if you truly want to enjoy the experience of taking a selection of hallucinogenic drugs without all that pesky illegality (not to mention a handy “off” switch if it gets a bit bad-trippy) then you could certainly do far worse than switching over to the CBeebies channel (or, if you’re looking for something a little stronger, the frankly terrifying BabyTV) and tuning your brain out for an hour or two.

Me? I’ll stick to shows where teenage girls kick the asses of vampires whilst dealing with their own angst, thanks.