Steady on, Now’s Your Chance!

I met my friend P in town a few weeks ago. We talked backwards and forwards, as you do, and before long got on to the subject, as middle aged men are prone to do, of football.

‘I’m fed up with it all’, said Pete.

‘Ranieri being sacked just says it all – it’s not sport any more. I’m not going to bother watching any more.’

Me and P’s wife nodded sagely – this was, after all, the man who had sat at the Barclay End of Carrow Road week on week for as long as I’ve known him.

While I do get where he’s coming from, I think he should give it another chance. Because, in this very amateur fan’s opinion, there’s still a few opportunities to get a bit out of sport, and, oddly, you could do worse than renewing your season ticket for the Canaries next season.

For those of you not from round these parts, it’s worth having a bit of a reprise of Norwich City’s fortunes over the last few years. Never really able to play the confident lead at the top end of football’s premier leagues, Norwich have tended to be pretty confident when they’re in Division One (which, if you’re really not from round here, is effectively division two), and fairly well under the cosh when they’re in the premier league (which is, of course, division one). The see-sawing at Carrow Road over the years has meant that they hold the fairly dubious record of being the club most often relegated from the premier league.

You’d kind of expect there to be a Duke of York ‘when they were up, they were up’ element to supporting the Canaries, but in reality, it’s not quite like that. When they were up, there was a bit of a feeling of doom about the place, as a succession of very well paid opposition journeymen, masquerading as team players, would hike up the A11, generally take the mickey out of our woeful defence for 90 minutes, and then, Louis Vuitton washbags in hand, whizz back for a cheeky night out at China White’s, or wherever it is that someone on £50k a week can relax of an evening. On the plus side, I could cycle to a premiership game from my house, and watch some of the best sides in Europe ply their trade, and still be home in time to listen to ‘Canary Call’, cup of tea in one hand, top part of my head in the other.

If you’ve never listened to Canary Call, I can’t recommend it highly enough. On one side of the conversation there is a Radio Norfolk presenter, who redefines the word hapless, teamed with an Special Guest who has been watching the game, possibly with the same tea/hand/head/hand positioning as I mentioned earlier. At the other end of the conversation will be a caller with an accent so strong that it’s been passed down through the generations from the medieval burghers of Swaffham, or Watton, or Sheringham, without any change whatsoever. Very hard to reproduce here, but I’ll try to give you a sense of the sort of call that you might well hear:

Hapless Presenter: “Well, on line three[1] we have Arthur, from Swaffham, and I believe Arthur has some thoughts on City’s back four this season?”

Arthur from Swaffham: “Ahh burt hare bor, hev you now bin hairin may?”

(slight pause for translation)

HP: “Yes, we can hear you Arthur, go ahead”

AfS: “Well bor, that hent roight and oil say tha tyor fess and wun gret nod won wud. Tha back forrrr, I min well I hint nev sin thar sor farssin an fussin since tha wally Roeder cim dan an fule us awl.”

HP: “Strong words, Arthur, strong words…”

Keen listeners will note that Arthur from Swaffham (or his equivalent) will call and make this point on any given occasion – I have heard similar calls on the back of both heavy defeats and heroic victories, and such is the way of the Canary Caller.

Meanwhile, the Canary Call Special Guest will hope against hope that they’ll not be brought into such a lively debate, in the knowledge that sentence starters like ‘The manager can only do so much with the hand he’s dealt, but…’ and ‘I don’t normally criticise the ref, but’ will get him through an even more agonising 90 minutes than the one they’ve just watched.

The CCSG will fall into one of two camps – they’ll either be a fans’ favourite (in which case the acid test will be whether they can correctly pronounce the caller’s town of origin – Wymondham, Corpusty, Costessey callers can keep them on their toes), or a desperate last minute guest brought in through some odd connection with the club, like being second cousin of last year’s kit man, or physio, or goalkeeper (of course, round these parts, many people can tick all three boxes, tee hee).

Sometimes, with a fan’s favourite, the call will drift suddenly away from this week’s glorious victory/embarrassing defeat/turgid draw into a weird world where a caller will phone in to demand that the CCSG recalls the time that they met: ‘I bumped into you in 1993 in the Ten Bells, you were a proper gent, and I’ve never forgotten that’. I heard a call last year where Brenda from Norwich[2] called Rob Newman,[3]  purely to mention that she’d always been a keen admirer of his thighs. In many phone-ins it’s hard to close the call down, but this was a work of beauty, as Brenda’s voice, just gently, breathlessly, drifted away, and you could just imagine the two men in the studio, unsure of the next step, while all of us listeners just listened to the dead time in wonder.

And there’s something quite attractive to me as a football fan to be amongst this sort of slightly surreal cynicism. If, after a home game, I find myself up the city[4] and I don’t know the score, I’ll try to work out from the expression of the fans which way the game has gone. I have never, ever been able to tell. And against that backdrop, you have a club that consistently punches above its weight in characters. Right from the top, where the blessed Delia will attend each home game in her trademark scarf, appearing occasionally in front of a camera at half time to deny her accusers of being drunk in charge of a football club, then, in the second half, give a little regal hand up to the Barclay End, who, bored with the football, are chorusing ‘Delia, Delia give us a wave’. It’s not a million miles from Noel Coward in ‘The Italian Job’. Ed Balls is still hanging around in the boardroom, and Stephen Fry was recently appointed, then unappointed as a Director, presumably as he found out it was about the only thing in life that he wasn’t really good at. I can’t think of a business with such a set of directors who are as, well, eclectic, as the ones at Carrow Road.

On the pitch, there are, actual and real personalities, who have largely escaped the new boss’s recent decide to cull the squad in order to pay the bills next year. Wes Hoolihan is an Irish midfielder who must be fed up with every journalistic description of him being ‘diminutive’. But I can really imagine when he was a kid, just being really, really good at football, deciding to do it for a living, and the fact that he only really just exceeded jump-jockey height not really bothering him. At the other end of the scale, Mitchell Dijks is a 6’ 4” left back, who is incredibly fast, particularly once he’s worked up a bit of a gallop. Because he’s so big, any normal sized opponent coming in to tackle him just spins off like a spanner being thrown into a threshing machine. Referees aren’t really used to this sort of scenario, and most of the time he seems to get away with the fact that his flailing limbs are sending other players flying, sometimes, quite some distance. The Murphy twins (Jacob and Joshua, which has made for a challenge on both the replica and real kit front) are 22, both pretty quick on their feet, and, on their day, both capable of what MotD punters would call ‘something special’. They’ve been with the youth team at Norwich since they were about 3 years old, carefully protected until they’ve been deemed ready to play with the big boys. They’re also reasonably interchangeable and will never both start the game, so, apart from anything else, this allows for a bit of sibling rivalry where Jacob, for example, will score a fabulous strike from about 30 yards out, and Joshua, warming up on the sideline, will reluctantly applaud, in the knowledge that he’s not going on in this game and probably not going to start the next.

There’s more, and the point of this is not to go through the whole of the team, more to give a bit of a flavour as to why they’re actually, win or lose, quite entertaining to watch, because there’s a bit of character on display.

And as long as the characters keep playing, as long as the non-playing staff continue to amuse, and as long as all the supporters continue to fork out to watch each game with a sort of suppressed passion that displays itself as complete indifference, and as long as I can enjoy Canary Call for all the wrong reasons….I’ll keep going.

OTBC! As they say round these parts.

 

[1] ‘Line three’ is stretching it a bit. This is Radio Norfolk, where you’re doing well to have a single phone line functioning. During a very brief spell that I spent aiding and abetting at Radio Norfolk, we’d have regular phone ins, and it took me ages to figure out why my friend Vince would say ‘the lines are really hot at the moment, so if you don’t get through, do keep trying’, while, the other side of a glass partition, the temp that he’d brought in to man the phones would just shrug her shoulders at us until, eventually, a light would come on to signal a call. Which was often a wrong number. Happy times.

[2] Not her real name

[3] Or his, possibly

[4] People in Norwich do not go ‘in to’ places, they go ‘up’ them at all times. They also go ‘Up Asda’, for example rather than ‘to’. I think it makes it more of an event….

 

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Commuting for Dummies

Firstly, gentle reader*, apologies. I promised that I’d be writing blogs pretty much non-stop in 2016, and I seem to have missed that target fairly dramatically since April. In the spirit of ‘plan, say what you’re going to do, then do it’, which is the sort of anodyne nonsense that I might lay down in front of my children, I’ve managed to completely miss the mark.

And it’s not that there hasn’t been much to write home about. In the past, The Emu has brought you news on a) The state of dogs in the Emu household, b) being a parent, c) the joys of spending as much as possible of your life in France, d) the joys of running e) the not quite matching joys of cycling, f) the state of the music industry g) the world of employment, h) the state of the glorious car crash of Norwich City’s footballing existence, and i) the state of the world as we know it. And pretty much all points from a) through i) have needed some sort of commentary in the last six months.

To save me and you the bother of a really long update, however, this is the very quick summary from Emu towers:

  • a) Teenage angst continues against a backdrop of loveliness and barking
  • b) Teenage angst continues against a backdrop of loveliness and mortality
  • c) Not currently relevant
  • d) Completely knackered
  • e) Hills in June were fun and scary; Velodrome in August, more fun & more scary
  • f) Beginning to think that anything produced after 1979 was a bit of a waste of effort
  • g) Not currently relevant
  • h) Surprisingly positive, although currently holding my breath until Newcastle away on Wednesday
  • i) Completely knackered

That’s us all up to date then, eh. Maybe some more on those later if you’re interested.

Or if I am. Because there’s been so much chopping and changing of late that it’s meant a bit of what analysts might call self-reflection. You get to a point in your life when a)-i) (or their equivalents) are the things that define you, then they all change, or fall away, and you kind of wonder what definition to your life is actually left. Which is far too deep and self-absorbed for this blog, but just so as you know, it’s currently all kicking off on the reflection front.

Meanwhile, and in a fairly convoluted way, I’m going to spend a few words on g), if you’ll humour me. At the end of July, I left my job. I didn’t have anything to go to, it just felt the right thing to do, and there wasn’t really a role where I thought I could make a difference any more. So off I went, waving goodbye to some quite wonderful people whose company I really enjoyed, and who it’s unlikely I’ll see again much in the future, if at all.  I’ve worked with some of these people for over twenty years, and we got to my last Friday, and at 3pm, lots of smiling faces surrounded my desk (and blocked any potential exit path). A short, kind and embarrassing speech was made. A long, rambling and embarrassing response was made. Hands were shaken, promises made, and lots of us went off to the pub, where drinks were bought, and I tried (and failed) to tell people that working together had made a brilliant difference to me. Which it had. And by 11pm, having reached a state which Private Eye used to call ‘tired and emotional’, it was pretty much time to call it a night. And in an unusual reversal of roles, and one which I just know is going to rebound on me very soon, I was accompanied home by my 18 year-old son who, sober as a judge, watched on benignly as his father pedalled furiously home. And I woke up the next day, without too much of a morning head, and started wondering what to do next, and thinking about the people and the conversations I was going to miss the most.

It’s all a bit weird, and I need to sort out, bit by bit, what to do next on the working for a living front, and how best to do it.

One thing that really is important to the future is the degree to which I travel to, from and for work. In the past, my criteria was that any job I took on needed to be at a place that I could run, or, at a stretch, cycle to, each morning. When my main office moved from an office two miles from my home in Norwich, up to Newcastle, this made the challenge a stretch too far. Being injured (see d) above), means that the commuting radius is dragging inwards, but as it happens I’m currently doing some work that necessitates sitting at a table for several hours at a time; this specific table being in my shed at the top of the garden. So, currently, my morning commute takes about 60 seconds in good weather, assuming the dog isn’t planning to ambush me en route.

And if anything, as far as a commute goes, that’s a little bit too short. I know, I know, some people just can’t be satisfied can they? After all, I’ve spent much of the last thirty (and practically all of the last five) years complaining about business travel, and now I’m whining on about not having enough of it. But, in my defence, all I’m trying to flag is that sometimes that routine, and gap between home and work, can be a great time to set yourself up for the day, or evening, depending on which way you’re travelling.

I spent a brilliant weekend last month with my parents; two of the kindest, smartest and funniest people I know. I’m not just saying that because they’re my parents, they just really are all of those things at once – I reckon I can do, at a push, two out of three of kind, funny and smart at any given time, but never all three at once. Like all families, we tell stories, and my mum was telling me about her morning commute with my dad in the 1950’s. They both had jobs that meant driving to the railway station each morning, and to do this, my dad had bought a Morris 8 ‘Tourer’. I think the word Tourer, meant ‘without roof’, so my mum had to borrow (and break) her landlady’s sewing machine to make a roof for it. The car also featured a battery that discharged itself overnight, so had to be bump started each morning. This all sounds a bit of a nightmare, but I’ve seen a picture of the car and, despite all of the above, the rusting running boards and the sheer impracticality of owning it, I still can’t believe they sold a thing of such great beauty. Apparently they had to do so in order to buy a pram to transport my elder sister about in, so I’ve mentally laid the blame at her door ever since.

Anyway, back to their morning commute. My dad, apparently, as the one who knew how the car worked (and who knew how to drive), would sit in the driver’s seat, and my mum would start pushing, an exercise which wasn’t really helped by her office shoes having a fashion-conscious 3” heel. Slow progress would be made, until around the corner would walk a smart middle aged man in city clothes, wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella. Without a word, he’d place his hat and umbrella on top of the car, push along with my mum until the motor engaged, retrieve his hat and umbrella, and continue his walk to work. This would have been odd in itself, but apparently it happened every day, without a word being exchanged, for a number of weeks, until my dad finally got the starter motor fixed (or bought a pram, I’m not sure which happened first).

I was reminded of this story earlier this week, when I had the first commute for over a month, down to London for the day. To start with, I wasn’t quite sure what to wear. I had a half day conference with some IT Director types in the morning, followed by an afternoon where I had to be approved for a British Library reader’s pass, followed by a few hours where I needed to look and behave like a serious researcher. To add to the sartorial dilemma, I had to cycle to the station and back. I’d had a similar problem the week before, when I’d done some work up in York for the day, returning back just in time to get to see the mighty Canaries just about hang on to a 2:1 win mid-week against a very average Wigan side. I was still wearing suit and tie in the stands, and at half time got a load of abuse from a complete stranger – “what, are you f’ing selling f’ing stocks and f’ing shares” he snorted at me as he pushed by to the pie stand, giving an excellent example of what passes for wit in Norfolk. Anyway, I opted this morning for a linen suit, to compromise the cycle/seminar/library dilemma, with a lively blue and white checked shirt to appeal to the IT Directors. I teamed (as Trinny and Susannah would no doubt say) this outfit with some brown DM shoes, partly because I knew that most of the IT directors were from the public sector. Honestly, you might not think it, but a lot of thought goes into looking an uncoordinated mess for the modern man, and even more impressive when you think that this was all put together at 0530, in the dark, as I’d managed to get a cheap ticket to London on the 0624 train.

Anyway, these are all the social interactions I had on the journey: Said hello to the ticket collector at Norwich. A nod to the train guard when I got on the train. An ‘excuse me’ to my fellow commuter as I got up to get a cup of tea. A cheery hello to the lady who makes the tea on the buffet car, and several good mornings to the group of people who make it their business to treat the buffet car as a non-alcoholic standing room only pub at 0700 in the morning. A quiet chat with an old friend who I used to work with. A thank you to the ticket collector in London, as the new ‘ticket free’ mobile ticket isn’t recognised by any of the automatic barriers. A resigned smile to the owner of the armpit I was pressed up against on the Northern line. A good morning to the receptionist at the hotel where the conference was.

In most cases, I got a bit of a good morning back. Which was nice, but, on reflection, not really enough, because as I walked down the stairs to the conference room, I looked down and noticed that my flies had been undone since I’d left the house that morning. Worse, there was a lively piece of blue and white checked shirt, literally flagging the fact that they were open.

I mentioned earlier about the conversations that I was going to miss, now that I was no longer at work. As it goes, ‘Your flies are undone’, seems like an odd one to miss, but, I thought, as I made the necessary adjustments before walking in to the meeting, quite important.

 

 

* I’m in the shed. Will be down in 5 minutes, ok?

Norfolk. And Good.

My parents married in 1957, and they honeymooned in the southwest of England. This event, monumental though it was of course at the time, was rather overshadowed by the launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite into space.  And this was causing some consternation amongst the folk that my parents bumped into as they picnicked their way across the countryside.
‘It’ll change the weather’, the locals said, as they laid into another pint of scrumpy.

And, not so very long after, that reaction seems ridiculous. You could argue that the thousands of satellites that we have whizzing about us now do many, many things, but they don’t, as far as we know, change the weather.

And I was reminded of this story as I wandered in yet another sleep deprived daze, into Norwich station at stupid o’clock this morning. On the floor in the main concourse is a plaque, and it commemorates the electrification of the line from London to Norwich in (wait for it….) 1987.

I was lucky enough to be living in Norwich in 1987, and I remember the furore around this event (the electrification, rather than the putting of a rather pointless stone in the middle of the floor of the station. Although it does remind of a fabulous story about Prince Philip, when he visited the recently restored HMS Victory. His guide pointed out a plaque on the floor, and solemnly said that it marked the spot where Nelson fell. ‘Not surprised’ said our favourite royal, ‘nearly tripped over the bloody thing myself’).  The reaction was not that far away from that experienced by my parents all those years ago: Why would we ever want to get to London any quicker…or at all ? And what would people from London want to come here for, anyway? By the way, some peoples view on answers would be a) we still don’t know and b) to buy up pretty much every single property in North Norfolk so they can wear hunter boots at the weekend.

Then I spy a copy of the Eastern Daily Press, which has a headline of ‘Premier League’. People in Norfolk are drawn to headlines like this, as a reminder that we do still (currently) have a football team in the top flight. These things are very important, but, as I say, we need to remind ourselves to keep in touch with our own reality. Anyway, this article is not about football, it’s about the investment committed by HM government into the East Anglian road infrastructure. Catching up on this online, I was also delighted to read the second lead story as well (Dereham Deputy Mayor’s Recycling Shock), which gives a pretty good insight as to the range of topics that the press hounds of the EDP have to cover.  So, apparently, our PM is visiting Norfolk today (at last, a valid reason for me to be in London!) and keen to tell people about the biggest infrastructural investment in the country. Well, outside London and the southeast, it transpires, but at least that means that Norfolk can be nicely patronised while still sticking two fingers up to anyone living north of Watford.

Here’s the quote: Mr Cameron said: “Why does this all matter so much? Well put simply, the jobs of the future depend on infrastructure fit for the future. It is the foundation stone on which businesses can grow, compete and create jobs – jobs that provide financial security for families here in Norfolk and across the country.”

But I’m not sure I totally agree. I’m a long way from being a Luddite, but putting money into something that allows people to waste slightly less time travelling between two places feels a bit last year to me. Remember all that great stuff a few years back about the global village, where everybody was going to be able to telecommute, and think global and act local? Well, looks to me like we’ve lost sight of that a bit, amidst an enthusiasm for squeezing out as many fossil fuels as possible out of the planet to maintain our obsession with being in lots of different places, often for fairly negligible reasons. Surely the infrastructure we ought to be investing in is the one that allows us to have less relatively pointless journeys? By the way, as far as this blog is concerned, the great irony is that putting yet more cars on the road will of course, really change the weather…

The beauty of living in Norfolk is precisely because its hard to get to, and as a result, it hasn’t necessarily moved in the same direction or at the same pace, as much of the rest of the country. It might be lacking in a bit of drama as far as the landscape goes (although I remember mentioning this a few years ago and getting the response ‘Hills? What do we want with them? They’ll only get in the way of the view’), but its still largely of its own making. And most people respect it for that, and  for not being just another commoditised settlement.

Of course, theres a down side to living here as well, being a hard place to get to means that its also a hard place to get out of, a bit like Royston Vasey (Welcome to Royston Vasey – You’ll Never Leave) for those of you who remember the League of Gentlemen. So it can be a bit insular, and someone once told me that it was the ‘graveyard of ambition’, but (trust me on this,) I’ve met far less ambitious people in my wanderings around the country than those I knock up against in this fine city.

If you like the sound of all this and you don’t live in Norfolk, then do look us up some time. Let us know when you’re on your way, wear comfortable clothes and make sure you get some food in for the journey. It takes bloody ages, which is, of course, just the way we like it.

Driving me round the bend

“Well, how was London ?”

Like many other marathon runners, the end of April for me was spent staring at my feet or the middle distance trying to answer this question without being completely boring or self-obsessed.  In any case, the answer for me this year was:

“Bloody awful, thanks for asking”

Given that’s been pretty much the same response for the last 3-4 years, after every marathon I’ve run, I decided to try something radical. That’s right, I read a book about how to be a better runner. There’s lots of these books out, and mugs like me buy them all the time, in the mistaken belief that by tweaking our training, taking a different attitude to races, running with a different posture, eating wholegrain goat yoghurt etc that we’ll remain injury free, enjoy our running, and probably show a clean pair of heels to those pesky Kenyans.

Anyway, this particular mug bought a book called “Run Less, Run Faster”. I was particularly attracted by the first part of the title, as I’ve recently fallen out of love with running, and am keen for us to be reunited as soon as possible. What RL, RF says is this: Stop running so much, do three really good intense sessions a week and spend another 2-3 sessions cross training. Quite how such a message justifies 300 pages of dense text and £8:99 of my cash is anyone’s guess, but I guess that’s just the crazy, mixed up world that we all live in these days.

So, for the last couple of weeks, that’s what my training has been, and, dear reader, I do feel my affection for running generally chumming up a bit. Although I think this is partly due to the significant boredom levels associated  with the cross training options. Because once you’ve put yourself through 45 minutes of stationary cycling or rowing machine efforts, then you really know how boring exercise can be.

And so it was with a spring in my step that I started my effort session last Tuesday night, and I fair skipped along to start my:

<1 mile warm up + 4x 800m efforts @ 2:54 off 1min timed recovery + 2 mile cool down>

Now, if you’re a runner, you probably live in justified fear of the 800m effort. It’s just about short enough to be flat out, and just about long enough to leave you coughing blood in the last 200 metres. But, it’s a really good effort session distance for endurance runners, and there’s even a neat little marathon predictor called Yasso 800’s (named after the exceptionally coolly named running coach, Bart Yasso) that says you should do 6 x 800m efforts with  limited recoveries as an indicator of marathon pace a few weeks ahead of your race – your average in minutes and seconds will be the likely time you’re capable of in hours and minutes for the marathon. Neat, huh?

So off I set, and warmed up by running to a nearby cinder track, a hidden gem about a mile from where I live. It’s at the edge of a park which itself borders on to a bit  of Norwich which, well, hasn’t exactly made its way on to any postcards you’d buy from the tourist board. However, there was sun in the sky, a marked lack of rain, and all was right with the world.

First 800. Had the track to myself, being a firm believer in Yasso 800’s, I took the 2:54 target seriously, got round ok, and absolutely on pace.

As I was walking up to start the second effort, I was joined on the running track by two men in shell-suits carrying golf clubs, a very noisy child, and two even noisier dogs. Stepping on to the infield, they started practising their golf shots*. Fortunately, they weren’t very good at golf, so they weren’t hitting the ball that far, but when they did connect, it was difficult to know if they were going to slice or hook, so running in a circle around them was slightly precarious. In addition, the noisy child decided to exercise the dogs, who in turn decided to exercise themselves in my general direction. All of which gave cause for quite a lot of “Oi, f***ing come back here”  from the two men, who would catch up with the dogs eventually and punish them in the way in which only people who shouldn’t have dogs seem to know how. So, second 800m just shaded under 3:00, on account of ducking imaginary “F***in’ Fore” shouts and general distraction.

Third effort was all well until the second bend, when I noticed two more men and possibly the biggest dog I’ve ever seen, up on the bank next to the track. My eyesight’s a bit dodgy these days, and I genuinely thought it was a small horse to start with. Anyway, it, and its minders came down the bank, attached to each other by a chain that you’d normally use to secure a large motorbike. Across the back straight, and onto the infield. The small child stopped screaming. Both of the casual golfers stopped swearing and studied their trainers. And the two previously very lively dogs sauntered over to the back straight, as if to make it clear that their job descriptions did not include the word ‘protection’. Naturally, this modern day reenactment of a spaghetti western slowed me down, as time stood still around me for a moment. As a result – 2:59.

Ans so to the fourth 800m effort. Just as I walked up to the start point, I was joined on the track by an assortment of different sized adults in more shell suits, two toddlers, and a very small quad bike.

“That looks easier than this”, I said, striking up the sort of easy banter that inevitably marks me out as a complete twit, and by which I meant at riding on a quad bike around  a running track would be easier than running.

“Well, we can’t get it f***ing going on the f***ing grass”, came back the equally cheery response, slightly mis-interpreting me.

They started the quad bike up, and it made a noise like a drag racer. The recalcitrant dogs pricked up their ears, and on the back straight suddenly made themselves heard again (the dog/horse creature by this stage had moved on, possibly into some sort of Ripley’s Believe it or Not travelling fair). I had a bit of a head start on the first circuit, as the first pilot was the wrong side of obese, and had a toddler on his lap, all of which pretty much hid the quad bike underneath. As I passed them, the dogs looked a bit puzzled and not sure what to make of things. Frankly, I couldn’t blame them – they’d just pitched up for a little light golf and owner punishment action, a new type of scary animal scares them half to death, then some idiot in a running vest comes sweating past, followed by Mr Creosote and Jr Creosote, making a noise like their worst nightmare and with no visible means of support.

The Creosote family had developed some momentum by about 300m, and were steadily gaining on me as I passed half way. Time for a quick Le Mans style change of driver, and the race was truly on. For the new driver was the skinniest member of the family and anxious to impress with his driving skills, throwing doughnuts on the first corner, and in turn convincing the dogs that this was A Thing They Must Chase. So they did, and at 600 metres, the positions were 1) me 2) quad bike 3) Alsatian cross 4) Bulldog, all travelling at well over 10mph. I’m pleased to say that these were the finishing positions as well, or at least they would have been if the two dogs hadn’t been chased in turn by their owners, so instead of attacking the final bend, had carried straight on down the hill towards the ring road. Selfishly, that didn’t concern me, as I checked my time for the effort – the thrill and fear of the chase had resulted in a pleasing 2:49.

I suspect you will struggle to see such an exciting last lap at London 2012 in the 800m, or, frankly, in any other event, and more’s the pity, in my opinion. I would love to see the introduction of lively dogs and/or mini quadbikes in lanes 7 and 8 for some of the heats, at least.

My training plan takes me back to the track next Tuesday. If there’s enough interest, I will hold a badly organised and frustrating lottery to deliver to you some tickets at vastly inflated prices, although I couldn’t guarantee that you’ll get to see exactly the event you want to see when you want to see it or indeed be able to sit near any members of your own family.

But you’ll be able to say you were there.

 

*the men, obviously

Chewing gum for the ears


This is a blog which starts off with me in the shower, so readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now.

Jr Emu #1 bought me a radio for my Christmas present; one that I can listen to when I’m out of the shower in the mornings. Given that I take a morning shower in the basement of the office after running into work, however, this creates an issue. My radio stations of choice for the morning are Radio 4 (light political grillings – just the thing to kick off the morning meetings) or Radio 5 (relatively inane banter that might inform the odd conversation during the day on football). And unfortunately, even though the great British Broadcasting institution reaches all around the world, it is unable to penetrate the lower ground floor in the NR4 postcode area.

Unless, it seems, it is masquerading as BBC Radio Norfolk, which has signal like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t quite understand this, as I thought that all BBC channels would be transmitted from the same masts at the same strength, but the truth is there to be heard in glorious mono, every morning at 8am.

So, to get to the point, I am compelled to listen to Radio Norfolk in the morning. Now, me and Radio Norfolk actually go back quite a long way.

In my youth, I worked at Radio Norfolk for what was probably all of about 4 weeks. I had a very brief stint as an assistant to an assistant, and very briefly reached the position of bona fide assistant when the teatime show presenter went on holiday, thus allowing his assistant to stop being an assistant, and thereby needing his own assistant.

The best fun on local radio was devising phone-in competitions, and at Radio Norfolk we had the added challenge of having no audience with any enthusiasm for phoning in. Or possibly no audience with any enthusiasm. Or possibly no audience.

Which left us pretty much to our own devices, and this meant getting our friends to phone up in a style that I like to think was ripped off wholesale by shock-jocks a few years later. So, for example, we would announce the ‘talented pets competition’. “Phone us with your talented pets, and we’ll let the county know”, we’d call out. “If you can’t get through right away, keep trying, as the phones are really hot here at Radio Norfolk”, we’d cry, looking out into the control room, where the work experience girl was looking intently at a phone that was steadfastly refusing to ring. At which point, we’d call in our special weapon, which for the sake of this blog, we’ll call Mike Todd, on account of that being his name.

Mike would appear on the phone (we had to dial him, which always left the work experience girl a bit more miserable), and he’d pretend to be a caller with an interesting pet. Initially this was a yodelling dog, which was basically his flatmate making howling noises while MIke played the piano. Then it was a tap dancing tortoise, introduced by a nervous schoolboy, who’d discovered this talent while a) his Dad was out, and b) he’d let the tortoise stand on the hotplate. And so on. We did get a few genuine callers, which left us a bit flustered, but we soldiered on. I don’t think anybody from Radio Norfolk noticed anything was unusual – largely you were alright, even on primetime, as long as you didn’t use up any of the ‘needletime’ budget.

This may have changed now, but certainly in those days, the royalties you had to play on records, calculated by ‘needletime’, could make or break the budget of the show. So you did one of three things. 1. Talk about absolutely anything for as long as possible. 2. Play music from unsigned bands. 3. Play music from ‘pre-paid’ albums (Now that’s what I call… etc). Fortunately, we managed to fill hours and hours with 1 & 2 and seldom resorted to 3.

But the best bit about Radio Norfolk was the institutional parochialism that filled the place in a pleasant, practical fashion. The best example of this was the traffic report. Growing up near London, I was familiar with Capital Radio’s ‘Eye in the Sky’, swooping down on the North Circular and giving up to the minute reports at all hours of the day. Things in Norfolk were slightly different. Firstly, the only road that anyone was bothered about was the A11. It got people into Norfolk, and it got people out. Secondly, the budget didn’t really run to helicopter surveillance. So, very practically, one of the editorial staff would phone up her Dad every morning. Her Dad lived on the side of the A11, just outside Wymondham. So, after the normal father/daughter greetings were complete, he’d put the phone down, go to the front door, look to the right and to the left, then report back accordingly.

So, although I would never listen to Radio Norfolk if I had any real choice, if I do have to then it’s always a bit nostalgically. Certainly I listen to the webcam driven traffic reports with some disappointment, as I’d just really like to know that the A11 is clear at Wymondham. And I listened with abject horror on Friday, when the phone in was ‘what do you look for in a chicken’. Just asking for trouble, quite frankly.

And imagine my surprise when I came across this on the BBC Norwich City website tonight.

You need to look at the last item under ‘local news’.

And if you can’t read this, it says “Farmer reunited with lost fowl”. I suppose when you see real life imitating stereotypes, we may as well enjoy it.

Norwich Shadenfreude


I’ve become a citizen of the fine city of Norwich pretty much by osmosis. I arrived here almost 30 years ago, finding it very awkward to get to, and, unsurprisingly, as awkward to leave. Many of my friends arrived here about the same time, intending on staying for about 3 years, and we’ll all pretty perplexed about why the road out of Norwich is as trampled as the one in*. Norwich has many many wonderful qualities, one of the key ones being that the local characteristic is not to get too excited about how wonderful it is. Which means that they get to keep it to themselves.

Part of the responsibilities of a citizen of Norwich, is to naturally be very dismissive of anyone from Ipswich, particularly where football is concerned. It’s not exactly the Auld Firm rivalry, but there is an agreed assumption that if you come from Norwich (City) you should just dislike Ipswich (Town). (Sorry about that, but we have got a cathedral.)

And vice versa. Over the years I’ve played a few gigs in Ipswich, and everyone I’ve met has been perfectly charming. Until they ask you where you’re from. My friend Chris got into this situation in a pub once, and a bloke at the bar stared him out, saying that he hated Norwich so much that he’d removed all the yellow and green cables from his plugs.

So just hold that thought, while we consider the enigmatic force of nature that is Ipswich Town’s manager. Roy Keane is a long time stalwart of Manchester United, who is well known for stamping on his rivals in matches and for walking out of the Ireland World Cup team mid-tournament because he didn’t like the manager. So…that’ll be three good reasons to not like him terribly much. He’s got a fearsome reputation in the game, to the extent, I fear, that even journos don’t really like to criticise him too much in case he turns on them. So, possibly four reasons. And we’d probably be up to five if he was still playing for Ireland in last night’s match against France – how scary would that have been?

So, even though Norwich (City) are now in what we all agree is still called Division Three, playing against the legends of Bristol Rovers, Wycombe Wanderers and Tranmere Rovers, there is still a an immense sense of satisfaction to see Ipswich (Town) and Roy Keane go into a sharp and direct decline in the division above. Especially as it’s extremely likely that the club won’t sack Mr Keane as they’re too scared of him. Tee, and to a large extent, hee.

So, this local (and frankly, mildly xenophobic) schadenfreude is actually quite enjoyable. Apparently, if you’re any sort of person at all then this should be at best a guilty pleasure. But every now and again, all of your stars line up in the sky and you may as well enjoy it. After all, in a couple of years time, Norwich (City) might have a bad run, and the club could appoint a new manager, and it could be…

*Actually, it’s the same road, and it’s called the A11. A very strong campaign still exists to prevent it being converted to dual carriageway, as this would make the journey in & out a little too easy.

Joining The Norwich International Brigade


I genuinely don’t like travelling on aeroplanes, and I really hate going from Norwich Airport. Most people I speak to feel the same…so let’s start with a stab at a top 5 peeves:

1. Norwich Airport charges £5 a pop…to use the airport. That’s in order to go through security into the departure lounge. Does any other airport do this? Actually yes, the massive commercial enterprises that are Knock, Waterford and Newquay airports. Now, only a cynic would say that these charges are simply there to attract ‘cheap’ flights.

2. Every time, and I mean every time, I go through security I get searched. Not quite as dramatically as last year in Schipol airport where I was, quite frankly, cupped, but still an early morning frisking I’d rather not have. And, while I’m on the subject, if I’m going to carry anything metallic onto a plane that’s a security risk, am I really going to put it through a metal detector?

3. I don’t use the car park, so I don’t really have a beef there, but don’t you think it’s a bit odd that airports are built on the outskirts of cities, yet the cost of parking is more than most inner city car parks? How does that get justified, other than because it can happen? And how does that make it right? And if you book a taxi, they have to wait outside the airport for you to call them, as they only get 5 minutes inside before they start getting stung as well.

4. The fact you can’t make your way into departures without going through the Eastern European style gift shop. Which is unmanned. And whilst well stocked with exorbitantly priced travel sweets and hilarious ‘bluffer’s guides’ books, does nothing for me about my life, as Morrissey might not say.

5. Cup of tea – £1.80. The fact you have to make it yourself – priceless.

But that’s far too easy, no? What would be harder/more fun would be a list of things to like about Norwich Airport?

1. Looking at the perspex box where confiscated items go to die. I enjoy this at any airport, and particularly enjoyed the box at Dublin earlier this year where there was a 5 foot long firework displayed. Again, hard to believe that anyone thought this would really work as hand luggage, but nowt so queer as folk and all that. Speaking of which, last summer, I noticed at Norwich, just before the weekly flight to Malaga, two confiscated tins of salmon. Which makes you wonder a) what sort of person considers tinned salmon as essential hand luggage and b) what sort of threat was actually posed to security…

2. Watching people shell out £5 for the airport development fee for the first time – hilarious!

3. There’s a ratio of around 1 staff per passenger. You may be ignored, but it’s not a bad ratio should you want a chat. As long as it’s not about the airport development fee. They don’t like talking about that.

4. There’s pretty much always somewhere to sit. The development fee has shelled out for a rather large lounge compared to the size of planes that go in and out of Norwich.

5. Norwich International. Words that go together like Polanski and childcare. The whole point of Norwich is that it is desperately non-international, so it’s all delightfully ironic to see the airport trying to be a hub of inter-continental travel, whilst all around is so incredibly domestic. More of this another time, but just be happy for now, that you can be in the car park of NIA and still not be able to see the terminal behind the smoking hut.