Sunday, 29 April 2012

Un vent à décorner les boeufs

I love the literal translations of foreign idioms, and today's language of choice is French. The title of this post means literally - and I'm literally using the word literally correctly here, but more of that in a moment - "a wind to pull the horns off the ox", and does of course mean a jolly strong wind. Which is what I experienced a little earlier.

But some background first. In three weeks' time I'm supposed to be running a half-marathon with t'eldest. I'd really like to do it too, a nice father-and-daughter-type thing. Now, because of the old back/sciatic problem, I've not been doing much of anything recently. So this week I've been experimenting to see what the body can tolerate and what it can't. The results basically seem to be: prolonged sitting and anything that involves bending at the waist (like cycling) are big no-nos, whilst walking, running and anything else that involves being erect (stop sniggering) are kind-of OK if I'm careful. So I'm now in the slightly odd position whereby sitting on trains for 8 hours (as I did on Friday going to and from Glasgow) presents a bigger health risk than running 11 miles, as I did this morning. Yesterday therefore consisted of ibuprofen and constant hip pain, whereas now I'm feeling pleasantly exercised.

The weather here today is as mental as it seems to be in the rest of England, apart from the fact that although it's raining, the wind has been the true star of the show so far. The real deluge is scheduled to arrive a little later, so I was up and out by 7 am to try to miss the worst of it. And though I got home mildly damp rather than shoe-squelchingly wet, I went up and over Shutlingsloe, which at 1,660 feet above sea level isn't exactly the Eiger, but is exposed enough to catch the weather, and the weather it was catching this morning was the north-easterly wind. I genuinely couldn't stay on the feet at the top, and my descent was slowed partly because I risked being blown off the path at any moment, and partly because I was having to use one hand to to hang on to my fleecey skullcap to stop it being blown off; yes, it was that windy. I'd chosen not to take a mobile phone with me because of the risk of it getting wet, and I have to say that at 8.30 this morning, descending Shutlingsloe in what must have been 60-70 mph winds, with a gammy leg and no means of communication, I wasn't sure I'd done a very good job of my risk assessment. But as you can see, I made it back. I passed a selection of sheep on the way down, but no ox unfortunately - but if I had I strongly suspect they'd have been hornless.

I mentioned I spent 8 hours on trains to and from Glasgow on Friday. I encountered the usual selection of characters on the various trains that you usually do on long journeys. Friday's selection included two Scottish lads sitting in the seats in front of me who managed to get through so much beer that they didn't have the foggiest how to get off the train when it pulled into Glasgow. On the way back, however, the Preston to Manchester leg was on a train destined for Manchester airport, so naturally had a bunch of folk going to catch flights. Among them was a group of three students off to Ibiza for a long weekend. I had no option but to listen to their conversation for a while, and it was like, literally, so full of the words 'like' and 'literally', that I nearly like, literally, wanted to literally kill myself. Oh my God, I was nearly, like literally sick. This lot were final year students. Is this how they communicate all the time, or is this style reserved for when they're among their own, and it's some kind of Cool Code? I don't know about that, but I do know that if they don't change their style they're going to be pretty much unemployable in any profession that needs even a modicum of communication skills. And here endeth today's episode of Grumpy Old Men.

Right, off to stand up for a bit...

Monday, 23 April 2012

With apologies to Private Eye....

"Posts on this blog may have given the impression that the author liked cycling (qv "I love cycling", "why cycling is the best thing since sliced Soreen", ad nauseum), and that its pursuit represented one of the finest options a man, or indeed woman, could pursue in their hours of leisure, being in turns, graceful, challenging, and an excellent excuse to dress up and own shexy kit.

The author would now like to correct any impression that may have been gained by readers that cycling is a Good Thing. Indeed, he now thinks road cycling is:

- expensive
- boring
- cold for 10 months of the year
- likely to harm parts of your body you didn't know existed
- fundamentally incompatible with the quality of road surfaces in the UK
- fundamentally incompatible with the culture, mindset and concentration levels of a minority of British drivers, and, ergo, moderately dangerous,

...and it is, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. Thank you".

My tongue is planted in my cheek of course, but, you know what, not completely. Who truly understands our psychological complexities - not me for sure - but I've had a pootle round on the bike today for the physio-recommended hour or so, and it didn't light my fire. That could be for any one or combination of reasons, ranging from:

- I've no overall goal at the moment
- I'm depressed about the cycling because it's looking highly unlikely I'm going to be able to join Mendi Prouleur in the Pyrenees this year
- road cycling's lost its slightly underground image in the last few years
- I'm more un-bike-fit now that at any time since 2004
- I'm distracted by the thought of the new job
- I'm suffering from "been there, done that" syndrome

Anyway, whatever, with a big capital W made my 2 forefingers and 2 thumbs. (Which reminds me, in the Netherlands, their equivalent phrase of trying to do something "with one hand tied behind your back" is "with two fingers and your nose".  Ah, those crazy Dutch people already for shure).  I'm not feeling this about running however, and I took my first tentative steps back on that particular path today with a definitely-not-physio-recommended 400 metre run. That complemented yesterday's 11 mile hill walk, which was fine too. Though I did get monumentally, biblically wet. These hills have a micro-climate all of their own. Just like any other hills I suppose.

This all comes at the end of a fairly momentous week for me personally. As previously advertised I left Lloyds Bank last week. I celebrated that fact with three consecutive nights out in London; Tuesday night at the theatre (Noises Off; very good indeed), bed by 11 am (sober); Wednesday night leaving do at a lovely bistro in Marylebone followed by assorted hotel bars, bed by 4 am (not very sober at all, though not embarrassingly inebriated); Thursday night to the annual Management Consultancy awards at the Hilton on Park Lane with my new employers, bed by 2 am (more sober than the previous night, but on top of the previous night enough to make me, erm, a little jaded on Friday - fortunately I was doing nothing more challenging than handing back kit to Lloyds and getting myself to Euston for the journey back 'oop north').

And so begins another chapter this week, blah and indeed blah....tales from the dark world of consulting to follow.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Branching out

So I'm afflicted by sciatica, which my physio now attributes (having had a good delve around my lumbar region) to a swollen disk (disk herniation to be precise), which in turn is pressing on the sciatic nerve. The good news is that if I take really good care of my back it should get better to the point where I can run, jump and play the piano as well as I ever could. You didn't know I could play the piano did you? I can't, but I'll be able to do it just as well when my back's better. The bad news is that any kind of high intensity exercise is out for the time being - no long walks, no running, no cycling more than an hour and then only at moderate intensity. The further bad news is that the physio has started mumbling about scans and surgery if things don't improve. Don't like the sound of that one bit. The slight irony is that I do have to take some exercise - immobility is no help whatsoever, so I do have to walk, stretch, do light cycling and plenty of core exercise.

Anyhow, having seen the wide beam on Fabrice Muamba's face as he left hospital today, I realise that now is the time to be cheerful, not linger on my restrictions, and generally talk about stuff other cycling and running for a while. If I don't there's a real danger this blog will descend into a catalogue of recovery from injury and self-pity, the first of which would be boring to everyone but me, the second of which would be boring to everyone including me.

So here goes. Well, this week's big news is that my last working day for Lloyds Banking Group is this Friday, 20th April. I then have a couple of days off at the start of next week - a bit of a mental firewall - before starting work for a very small company called Challenge Consulting. Frankly, I can't wait. I've been relatively circumspect in my dealings and communications with people at Lloyds, even people that I consider good friends, because if I let rip with my true feelings, not only would I be being critical of the organisation, but also implicitly of their decision, even if it's only a default one, to continue to work for the company. That would be insensitive, and I've no wish to upset those people.

On here though, those boundaries don't what upsets me most about Lloyds? The list of things I could choose from is endless, and ranges from the application of petty bureaucracy, the unending use of cliche and management speak, through to the intranet which could have taught Pravda editors something when it comes to propaganda unadulterated by fact or inconvenient truths, or the incredible centralisation of power, which creates inertia and inefficiencies. In my view, it's a sick organisation. And I use 'sick' in the original meaning, not the diametric opposite of youth patois. In the end though, those things could apply to many, many people who work at Lloyds - I'm no different. So you have to make personal the reason why working there is so soul-destroying, so unfulfilling. And it's this - for work to be tolerable it has to be either intrinsically enjoyable in and of itself (though perhaps only through the personal relationships you have or build through doing it), or if that's not true it has to be in pursuit of a worthy goal.

In the old days, the latter could have been true when banks and their employees were pillars of society. But the moment we started to sell financial products to people who didn't actually want or need them (and a whole lot more besides), the trust that underpinned that was forfeited. So no, banking is not conducted these days in the pursuit of betterment of the world around us. As for the work, well once upon a time yes it was almost fun - you got on well with the people around you for the most part, and you had the autonomy to make a difference. Working from a distance and hotdesking has eliminated the first of those things, whilst autonomy is clearly not a concept that has made it into Iberian culture, given that most LBG senior folk hail from that neck of the woods this weather.

So for me, there's nothing left, no saving graces other than a ludicrous amount of money for what you actually contribute. That's not me saying I'm well-paid, just that compared to others what I do get is spectacularly ill-deserved. By way of contrast I'm going from a behemoth to a bumble bee - from a firm of 100,000 folk to one of 10, as I tweeted last week. A place where, I hope and expect, there are no rules, other than the rule of common sense, where if you don't act autonomously you don't last long enough to act at all, and where decisions are based on strength and expression of argument, rather than stakeholders and politics. I hope I don't sound naive dear reader, though if I do is that such a bad thing?; at 45 it's good to have some optimism over a soon-to-be-employer surely?

Time will tell on that one, and so will I, over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, I've got to go and pack now for a week of partying. Well, three nights anyway. And partying is a bit strong - 1 theatre trip and 2 dinners is closer to the truth. But I'm doing all three with some good friends in London town, so I'm looking forward to that too.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Odious comparisons

Mine today is possibly hubristic, self-regarding, and inappropriate, but I don't care; I'm beginning to get some idea of the state of mind professional sportspeople must endure when they have a long-term injury - frustration (at not being able to do what you love), anger (how dare this thing stop me doing this?), self-pity (why me?), worry (will I ever be the same again?), and relief (well at least I can have some time off training).

Several things have happened since I had my diagnosis of sciatica/crushed sciatic nerve on Monday:

- as you might expect, I've decided to treat getting rid of it as a training goal in its own right. So, this week I've bought a supplement (kelp), been on the interweb, inevitably, to find the best exercises to address it, and to establish how I can help things along by using diet - turmeric, salmon, green tea, broccoli and blueberries need to feature prominently, whilst sugar, vegetable oil and non-organic milk need to be given the heave-ho as far as possible. I've also been actually doing those exercises, contorting myself into a variety of unlikely positions
- I've realised that, amazingly enough, I'm not actually the first person in the world to suffer from this, and compared to some my symptoms, though debilitating in the sense exercise is difficult, are pretty mild really - I'm not actually in pain most of the time. That said, those who report they were during their bouts, have never gone back to regular, vigorous exercise. If I ever stooped to emoticons in this medium, you know which one I'd be using at this point

- I have ridden my bike. I even rode it on the road, but only for 23 miles. Whether it was out of frustration or wanting to test myself, it was a very quick 23 miles - 68 minutes - but with a weird sensation. If you've ever brushed up against the electric fences farmers put up in fields to limit their livestock to grazing in certain places you'll be familiar with it - that low level buzz of electricity down the side of your leg. Think that, but whilst riding a bicycle. I'll try again on the trainer in the coming days to see if it repeats itself, and to see how I feel about embarking upon a more regular, perhaps gentler, training programme. I might even let the physio have a say in that when I see him again on Friday.

At some point all this self-absorption will have to stop. Bear with me in the meantime. I've never liked being ill in any way at all - who does? I hear you say. But my dislike is not just at the feeling rough bit, it's rage that I'm denied the chance to do what I want to do. The positive effect is that I tend to get over things pretty quickly, so I hope I'll be back to the reporting of rides and runs in the not-too-distant.

Monday, 2 April 2012

You've got a nerve...

....actually, we've all got quite a few, but the one I'm most concerned about is the sciatic nerve. Mine is damaged. That's called sciatica, and that's what I was diagnosed with a bit earlier today by a very excellent physio. Having wikipedia'd it, the diagnosis makes total sense.

But let's go back a bit. No sooner had I typed the words after last week's runs than the problem of my right leg flared up again. I managed to get out on my MTB on Weds night whilst the weather was still superb, but stuff just got too difficult after that, including walking.

So today I trundled off to the physio for an appointment that was made a couple of weeks or so ago. He questioned, prodded, watched, squeezed and manipulated me for the best part of 45 minutes before coming up with diagnosis, the causes and the remedies. We know the diagnosis now. The causes? Well, one principally, and it's got absolutely nothing to do with exercise or sport. It's poor posture, principally at work, but also driving and dining. It's appalling. It's squeezed my sciatic nerve, damaging it, which has made the right leg lose power and function, and create discomfort.

The cure is sitting properly, engaging muscles rather than spine, and using something called a "D-shaped lumbar roll", which Amazon are about to send me. I'll also take those lessons in "ergonomic workspace solutions" a lot more seriously from now on.

The final question to the physio was, of course, can I still ride my bike? The answer, I'm pleased to say, was a qualified 'yes', with the two qualifications being a) not for more than an hour, and b) not if I feel the symptoms that emerge when I run. I think I'll give it a try later to see what happens.....
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