Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

Birthday holiday day two

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Explored New York on foot today, started walking from my hotel, and made it as far as the American Museum of Natural History. That means I walked most of Broadway, and had a bit of a walk through Central Park, and then spent quite some time in the museum. So far, New York impresses! Hotel breakfast was nice, Times Square is impressive, I like Columbus Circle. There isn’t anything I fancy at the Opera or the Philharmonic, and I especially don’t fancy Fashion Week! Central Park is lovely, and I even saw a wedding happening by the lake. But best of all was the museum. My position on dinosaurs is well-known, but I feel I must reiterate it – dinosaurs are awesome, and I took lots pictures of skeletons. Loss of other cool stuff there too, and the planetarium was also excellent. Got the subway back to my hotel (my feet were killing me), and had a wee sit-down to relax. Then dinner at TGI Fridays (very American for my first dinner : )
In other news, I passed a number of Jewish activities, and it seems that today might be the Jewish New Year, and I think it said the year was 5574, out something like that. So happy new Jewish year to y’all!
And now to bed!

Birthday holiday day one – travelling

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Hi internet. First a word of explanation – this is officially my holiday to celebrate my fortieth birthday. It was originally booked for the day after my birthday but it had to be delayed for a few months while my leg strengthened again. So, it’s my birthday holiday.
Day one was spent travelling – Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow, then a bit of a wait, then Heathrow to New York’s JFK.
As usual, I am appalled by the fact that Heathrow runs on buses – Terminal 5 is the newest, most state of the art terminal at Heathrow, but you still have to use a bus to get there.
I also discovered that Wagamama’s curry is hotter at Heathrow than Belfast – not quite as nice, I would say.
My flight was delayed due to security problems with the food. But once we got going, and i was eventually able to get my screen working, I was able to enjoy some in-flight movies.
I liked Monsters University – the classic story of the underdogs achieving the impossible, and two enemies working together and becoming friends.
After Earth was poor – I know I was a bit tired, but it is a bit dull. I gave up on it.
Robot and Frank was very good – a surprisingly touching story of the friendship that develops between a man with an interesting past but a failing memory and his home help robot.
Also watched the first episode of the new American remake of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey. I have to say, it was very good – I’d like to see some more of that.
I got a rotten cold 2 days before I left, but fortunately it was much better, and I wasn’t too disgusting on the plane, thank goodness, despite the usual horrible recycled airplane air.
JFK airport does not impress – very long queues at passport control. But I did get a proper yellow New York cab to my hotel, which was cool. And so I arrived safely in New York!

New Saturday Routine

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Today was my first attempt at what I would like to be my new Saturday routine. I cycled out to the Assisi Animal Sanctuary, on the far side of Newtownards, walked a dog for a bit under an hour, and then cycled home again.

I went to Assisi for the first time on my birthday. I love dogs, and I loved having a dog when I was a teenager, but have to accept that my lifestyle isn’t ideal for having one – if I had a dog, they would spend a huge amount of time on their own while I’m at work, which wouldn’t be very fair. So instead I am participating in the Assisi dog-walking scheme. They have a place full of dogs that need walking, so they are keen for volunteers to come and walk them, on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, or Saturday or Sunday during the day. I walked a dog for the first time last Saturday, when I took Jacko out. Today I was out with Sox.

There’s a nice walk through the Whitespots Country Park, which is an old lead mine works just off the dual carriageway, and fortunately the dogs are well used to walking alongside the traffic. It’s probably good exercise for my ankle, as it’s got quite rough paths with a lot of ups and downs through the hills. And there are plenty of things for the dogs to sniff, so they love it.

The only problem with the whole idea is cycling to and from Newtownards, where the hilliness of the ride makes up for the fact that it’s not very far.
On the way out, you have to get up the hill at Dundonald, which is quite hard going. But on the way back, the hill out of Newtownards is murder. Not helped by the fact I was riding my mountain bike rather than my road bike. Nor by by wind which was not at my back. And definitely not helped by the fact that I had already cycled 20 miles, and walked 2!

But I hope I can make it work, at least while the weather is good, as it’s a nice way of combining a ride with doing something useful!

The story of a man and his leg

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Hello internet. How’ve you been!

It’s been a while. I guess I’ve been putting off this post if I’m completely honest.

But I should say something about my unexpected life-changing event. (As opposed to the long-expected one when I turned 40 in April, which turned out to change very little).

It all started on the last Friday in January, when I was at Young Life, our new club for teenagers in Craigavon. One of the major parts of Young Life is doing very silly things, and so it was that I was dancing to Gangnam Style, having practised it all week. Towards the end, I had a sudden sensation of being kicked in the ankle. It really hurt. And when I looked round, I could see another leader, dancing vigorously like myself. I assumed she had kicked me. But it really hurt! At the end of the song, I lay down, and couldn’t get up on my own. I hopped off for a wee sit down until the pain passed. But it still hurt a lot when I put any weight on it.

So off I went to casualty at Craigavon Hospital, where the nurses were very entertained by the fact that I had hurt myself dancing to Gangnam Style. Within very few minutes, the nurse diagnosed that I had ruptured my achilles tendon, which was then confirmed by an x-ray showing no broken bones. Apparently it does feel a lot like being kicked, but that’s just the feeling of your tendon snapping. Yuck! Unexpectedly my parents turned up, and were able to take me home, which was good as I left in a pair of disposable trousers and my left leg in plaster to the knee.
I know! Disposable trousers! They are the very thing when you’re putting a leg into plaster, as it saves any cutting of the patient’s trousers.

I stayed at my parents’ house for a week, working from home on my laptop and mobile, which was great for a while, but when they went away for a few days, I headed back to my own house. The fact that my car is automatic, and therefore didn’t require any use of my left leg was brilliant, as it meant I was able to be out and about. While I was on the crutches, I was even able to use disabled spaces, which was kind of fun. And the Tesco home delivery service was great at delivering all the microwavable meals I needed.

After a couple of weeks the plaster was taken off (which was less scary than I had expected – it turns out it isn’t a circular saw – it’s a vibrating thing which can’t cut skin), and I was given an aircast boot instead. It was to be my constant companion for the next half dozen weeks. It was great at immobilizing my leg, and keeping my foot in an equinus position (toes pointed down), but it’s a ton weight, and really hard to sleep in. It was a great relief when my physio (Oran at the City Hospital, who was very good) finally told me I could take it off when I was sitting down or sleeping!

From there, it was still slow progress to get to the point where I could put my foot flat on the ground, and then more before I could put my weight on it. But I met my target of being able to walk again by my birthday. At the start of April, I was able to walk to Tescos without crutches (not very far, but an achievement), and even made it back onto my bike (including cycling back into the office after a long time working from home without going crazy). By the end of May, I was able to do a 15 mile cycle, and a 5 mile walk into Belfast round the shops and home again. I wasn’t doing either very quickly, or very well, but I was at least able to do them again, and was overjoyed.

By the middle of June, I was even able to run a couple of miles, but then had a bit of setback when I hurt my ankle again in London. I am guessing it was running for the train wearing a heavy rucksack, but it was much sorer again after that, so I had to take things a bit easier for a while. But I am now back to being able to walk long distances (like to the top of Cregagh Glen on the 12th of July), and cycle for an hour (along the Comber Greenway). I even took a dog for a walk today! So I’m sufficiently confident in my walking that I have re-booked my cancelled birthday holiday to New York and Washington for September, when hopefully I will be back to full strength.

The whole thing was a fascinating experience – my first major injury in my life, first time in plaster, first time on crutches. I remain astonished at how easily it happened, and how easily I hurt it again (usually playing with my nephew, who is nearly two now, and harder to catch than he used to be). But now, 6 months later, I am over the worst of it, and hopefully it won’t have any long-term ill effects.

So now you’re up to date!

A useful label

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

A colleague returned from a trip home to India recently, and brought me a gift of some delicious Indian snacks.

But wait – what is that little logo in the middle?

Let’s zoom in a bit!

Yes! A logo on them to show that they contain no onion!

This is real progress, and I hope it gets rolled out internationally!

I’ll admit that I have nothing in particular against garlic, and yes, I am aware that this logo is for the benefit of people whose religion forbids them to eat certain things, but this still really made my day.

Exciting musical news

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

“O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff came up on random play today.

Or the Old Spice music to some of us of a certain age. Also used in the X Factor.

It’s a marvellous piece of music. But I’d never thought much about the words before.

Which is today’s exciting news – there are proper words, and you can sing along.
In Latin!

It turns out that the words are older than the music by several centuries, and are actually pretty cool. In fact, over here you can read the words along with the music, and the English translation. What a clever old internet it is.

(As an aside, if you followed the second link above, I remember watching that live. They were amazing, but put on very scary faces for it. Very impressive!)

The gym

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

I met up with an old friend the other day, who couldn’t help sniggering when I mentioned being at the gym the day before. She remembers when I was younger, and completely opposed to such things. But now I am a bit older, and aware of the fact that a bit of effort now might have benefits for my health in the future.

Recently, things haven’t been going quite so well, and I have been a bit discouraged about the whole thing. I’m getting more aches and pains than I used to, which I mainly attribute to exercising parts of my body more than they would like. My weight has also been increasing, which is kind of the opposite of what I want.

But at the gym on Thursday, Chris took my stats, using a measuring tape and a set of magic scales. And quite unexpectedly, they are showing improvement! My weight is up because I have gained muscle, and muscle is heavier than fat. So I am encouraged again. I went out for a run this afternoon and ran 5 miles in less than 50 minutes. I keep waiting for my legs to get sore, but they haven’t. I’m really pleased about that.

I’ll never be an athlete, but at least I’m not wasting my time, and going to the gym is giving me some results. Hooray!

The bicycle quest

Friday, July 27th, 2012

I’ve been riding my bike to work for quite a while now. Ever since I started working for BT lots of years ago, I’ve walked to work. But last year I worked out that cycling wasn’t that scary, it got me into work a whole lot quicker, it’s kind of fun, and it’s a bit healthy.

So I have been riding my mountain bike into work. That bike is 6 or 7 years old,  it’s got over five and a half thousand miles on it, and it’s showing its age a bit. So I decided it was time to upgrade and get a new bike. Since my last bike cost me about 150 quid , I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to improve on it.

But it’s been a tricky business. The one thing that I knew I wanted were disk brakes, since much of my cycling is done in the rain, and disk brakes should have a bit more stopping power since they are in the middle of the wheel and out of the puddles. So off I went looking at bikes. I quickly got a feel for how the components improve as you spend more money. And I quickly discovered that the disk brakes add a lot to the cost.

After a fair bit of looking around all the local bike shops, I very nearly bought a bike a couple of weeks ago, but it was a bit more expensive than I had expected, and to be honest I didn’t like the colour (dark red). When I went back 2 days later, the last one had been sold earlier that morning. So I have been back round the bike shops a few times, and spent a lot of time looking at them on the internet. I very nearly bought one online at the start  of the week, but I didn’t really want to buy one over the internet – I wanted to sit on it, and have a bit of a ride on it, and be able to take it back to the shop if bits fell off!

And finally today I found one I like, and put down a deposit on it. The picture isn’t of my actual bike, as I have to wait for a fresh delivery, but it’s the one I had a ride on to try it out.

So it’s a Specialized Hard Rock Sport (2013 edition no less), from McConvey Cycles just down the road.

I’m all pleased 🙂

Musical News

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Two pieces of musical news today, one from the radio, and one from my ipod.

On shuffle while I was out cycling today I heard “Over There” by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. You can imagine my surprise when I immediately recognised it as that curse of the airwaves, the Go Compare tune (and no, I am not putting a link to the go compare tune in my blog! Just turn on your tv, and leave it for a few minutes and you’ll find it yourself). So for anyone who has found themselves whistling or humming that tune accidentally, this is excellent news – it has a more civilised pedigree that you might expect, and your actually humming a Glenn Miller tune!

The other musical news is that the Beach Boys classic “Sloop John B” has become a marching tune on the twelfth! They played a clip of it on Talkback, and then Wendy Austin helpfully explained that this was not simply a marching band expanding their repertoire in an unusual direction, but was in fact deeply offensive. I was hugely disappointed, as I would have liked to hear them tackle Good Vibrations or Barbara Ann (though of course flute bands always suffer from not having enough bass which wouldn’t help in the harmonies). I was hoping the story behind this would be that the Beach Boys had accidentally picked a folk tune which also had loyalist lyrics, but it turns out not to be the case. Apparently the Beach Boys did get there first, and then someone did a re-write on their lyrics. If you don’t believe me, you can hear it here.
Such a shame.

In other non-musical news, the weather has been unexpectedly good, and I got to cycle yesterday and today. Today I made it to the International Airport and back, which was a stupid idea, and I was knackered long before home. But on the bright side I did get to stop for Maud’s ice cream in Templepatrick, which was just what I needed. And another stop at the Indian takeaway down the street to refuel when I got home. 40 miles – a good afternoon out!

Barcelona Day 4

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

For my last full day in Barcelona, I decided that I had done enough walking, and went on a bus tour instead. Had pasta for late breakfast at the station, then over the road to the bus stop for the tour buses. The system is quite good – they have 3 different routes, and you can not only hop on and off to change buses, but can also change routes to go and do a different tour.

So off I headed on the red route. The rain wasn’t heavy, so I sat upstairs in the open air, on the basis that sitting in the drizzle was still better than walking in it. The red route took me round many of the places I had already walked, but it was nice to get the commentary and find out a little more about them. Though the bus had fundamental problems when the rain got heavier and I had to go downstairs – the windows were covered in adverts for the bus, and you couldn’t actually see the sights through them! When we got to the big square in the middle of the city, I shifted onto the blue route, which took me up towards Tibidabo. This is the hill I could see in the distance from my hotel room, with the huge telecoms mast and cathedral (there’s a picture back here).

Once I got there, there was a tram, and then a funicular railway to get to the top, but that involved a lot of tiresome waiting, and the rain had stopped, so I set off walking instead. That started off well, but I ended up climbing up a mountain bike trail rather than a walking path. But nonethess, I got to the top eventually, after a climb of 3.5 miles (according to my fathful GPS tracking phone).

The cathedral at the top doesn’t get a lot of respect because of Gaudi’s masterpiece down in the city, but I still thought it was rather splendid.

At this point, you are quite high up, and there’s a great view of the city. But there is a lift to take you you to the roof of the cathedral, and then some more stairs that take you to here.

As you can imagine from here, at Jesus feet, you’re a long way up! Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy up there (probably inside a cloud), so the pictures of the city aren’t really clear enough to show much, but it was a magnificent view, and it’s worth a visit.

I got the funicular back down the hill and got back on a tour bus for the rest of my jaunt round the city, then closed off my evening with dinner in a nice restaurant near La Rambla (though ending with a disappointing creme brulee, so I had to go and get an ice cream to have a satisfactory ending to my day).