Running on, and on

I got asked a few weeks ago to write a piece for my work’s inhouse magazine. Not entirely sure why, but I suspect whoever it was who had this bright idea hadn’t read the blog. Anyway, there was a bit of editing before it finally landed, and, partly because of this and partly because reader demand on this blog is currently  outstripping time to write anything especially new (ahem), here’s an edit all for you, gentle reader.

And in the spirit of an workplace magazine, designed to bring out the best in operational efficiencies, controls of a growing business, strategic thinking and investment in people, what better opportunity to write about…running

This, in itself, is a shameless rehearsal for a future career, where I hope to clear up one Christmas with a slim volume entitled ‘Everything I Know About Life, I Learned From Running Stupid Distances At A Decreasing Pace’. Or something slightly snappier. People will buy it in huge quantities, and I’ll be able to use the profits to fund a full time physiotherapist, who will bring me back to race fitness, while I pen my follow-up volume ‘Every Single Thing In My Body Is Completely Knackered Because I Don’t Appear To Be Able To Stop Going Out Running’.

Incidentally, I already have an idea for the front cover, to boost sales. The late, great, Alan Coren was once told by his publisher that the only subjects that ever sold books were Pets, Golf and Nazis, so he called his next volume ‘Golfing For Cats’, with a picture of a swastika on the front cover. Expect something similar in the shops around November.

Anyway, here are some lessons in life from a bloke who runs.

1. You can learn quite a bit from hitting your head on a tree

Well, kind of. I was running with a friend through some woods one day, and I managed to totally brain myself on a tree branch. Using my forehead as a pivot, my whole body swung forward and I landed upon a heap on my back. At which point, my friend turned round, pointed, laughed, and then fell over a tree root. So, watch where you’re going, never look back, and don’t laugh at other people’s misfortunes.

2. It’s hard to look good in lycra

More specifically, it’s hard to look good when you’re at the end of a long hot run, your face is the colour of beetroot, and there’s flies buzzing around your head like you’re PigPen in the Peanuts cartoon. Although, of course, you don’t necessarily realise this – I’ve been rattling along on a run in the past, thinking I’m the living embodiment of Steve Cram in the third lap of the 1980 dream mile, then I go past a shop window, look in the reflection and there’s some arthritic old twit shuffling back from the pub after four pints of Broadside, having forgotten his zimmer frame. Learning to not really care what you look like, a particularly valuable skill when those bloody car drivers point and shout at you, is an essential part of running. And other parts of your life. Two other things, while I’m here. If you’re reading this and you’re one of those gormless car drivers, please, please, please try to think of a better heckle than ‘Run, Forrest, Run’. And if you’re a runner and you’ve decided not to worry about what you look like, just go particularly easy on the bargain shorts that you think you’re going to shrink into. There is a limit to not caring what you look like, and it will be crossed with the wrong size of lycra.

3. Be prepared, be very prepared

Every runner you meet will have stories of little scrapes that they’ve got into by not being well prepared. Personally, I’ve found myself completely lost, in a foreign country with no language skills, a sketchy knowledge of where I last left my family several hours before, and no means of contacting them. I’ve fallen into an ice cold river in the middle of nowhere at 6am on a winter morning, thinking I’d broken my leg, with everyone else in the world safely tucked up in bed. Other runners I know have great stories about being chased by bulls, and getting into fights with pedestrians or car drivers mid-run, being bitten by dogs, or even shot at.  And you hear these stories and ask whether the runner took a mobile phone or told anyone where they were going, and of course, the answer was no. So, be prepared, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

4. Every A has a B

Or, think about the consequences. A friend of mine was training for his first marathon and struggling to justify the long runs to his wife, who didn’t really ‘get’ the whole running thing. So he booked a romantic weekend in a hotel, unfortunately not thinking about the need to fit in his scheduled long  run. So he woke up really early on the Sunday, and snuck down to the hotel gym, to get a two hour treadmill session in before his wife woke up. He was alone in the gym for the first hour and gasping for a drink, so was delighted to see another gym-goer come in, and asked if he could get a cup of water. This was duly passed to him and my friend made the cardinal error of stopping to drink it. The treadmill was set some way forward from the wall of the gym but he still managed to hit it with some force, ending up with an injury that kept him out of the marathon and a fairly testy discussion with his wife over breakfast.

5. Understand your limits

Most runners will tell you that they keep running because it makes them feel good, but you do need to understand the bits that you can’t do as well.  My eldest son ran his first marathon in 2013, and had to go to work the next morning. He had a job at a outdoor sports shop, and was posted on the door that day to greet people as they came in, and tap on the shoulders of the shoplifters as they left.  One lady of about 70 left the shop with a jacket over her arm, set off all the alarms, and he asked her politely if she’d like to go back into the shop and pay.
“No, not really”, she said, and walked off across the car park.
So my boy gave chase. Unfortunately, post marathon, ‘chase’ might have been stretching the point. He tried to walk after her with pigeon steps, each one punctuated by the word ‘ow’.
Seizing the moment, the woman looked behind her, saw this bizarre young man looking like he had nails in his shoes, occasional seizures and a bizarre speech impediment, and slowly walked away to freedom.

So, there you are. Might need a bit of padding out but you get the general picture. I’m still searching for the right title for ‘lessons in life from running’. But it might be along the lines of ‘Keep your head up, and don’t forget to breathe’.

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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

Brass In Pocket

Sometimes I fear that this blog is just turning into a whole load of middle-aged, middle-England, middle-class whines at the state of the nation. So the next time I sit down with my laptop and rattle off a few choice thoughts, they will be either about a lifetime experience of pub-rock shenanigans, or possibly why the internet is set to fail us, by virtue of the idiots that seem to have claimed it for themselves. I would very happily take a vote on this, and choose the subject accordingly; just write to me at the usual address.

And speaking of voting, what a huge surprise that the country should have vented its spleen, in the first referendum for years, on what appears to have been a direct vendetta against Nick Clegg. Personally, I’m not ashamed to say that I voted No, which is the first time I’ve ever sided with a Tory policy in an election. Well, I say I voted No. Actually what happened was that my first choice was No, and my second one was Yes, tee hee.

I don’t think I have the energy to go into the missed opportunity that the AV referendum presented for some sort of democratic change in this country. But while I’m here, a couple of thoughts…

I don’t understand why we don’t have some sort of proper proportional representation in England (we manage to do so in Scotland, after all); although I do think we could manage a bit of fun into the bargain. My suggestion would be simply that the number of MP’s be cross checked after each election against the number of votes. For parties not adequately represented by constituency MP’s, a number of reserve MP’s without constituency would be added to parliament. If, on the other hand, a party was over-represented, those MP’s with the smallest majority would be publicly shot. I really think this would make people consider their commitment to politics. Incidentally, I wonder whether we could spice up our more boring athletic races in the same way. The 10,000 metres on the track, for example, is a tedious 25 laps around the track, with usually only the last couple raced at pace. Think how much more fun it would be if the last runner on each lap knew that he or she would be physically damaged for being last. I’m only thinking about an air rifle, although I’m aware that our enthusiasm for extreme sports would cause a bit more of a demand for something more dramatic eventually.

I digress, so on to this week’s blog. For one reason or another, a couple of weeks ago I had to withdraw a reasonably large amount of cash from my bank. So I called them in advance on the morning I needed the money. Three times. Each time the phone rang for several minutes, wasn’t answered, and I hung up. I was phoning largely to check to see if I needed any extra ID to take out five grand in cash, and, of course, to see if the branch was open. I decided to chance it anyway, and cycled down to the bank. To my surprise and pleasure, it was indeed open. So I went inside, where I was delighted to see three tellers, uniformly staring into space, and two other staff, presumably engaged in some sort of meet & greet (or possibly meet, greet and inappropriately sell) role. There were no other customers to be seen.

“Good morning”, I said to the first teller, because largely it was.

“I’d like to withdraw five thousand pounds please. Should I make the cheque out to cash?”

“Good morning”, the teller parried (and at this stage the morning was at its shiny best)

“You don’t need a chequebook for that…I can sort that out on your debit card.” She smiled, and I could hear small birds chirruping outside.

“But you can’t withdraw that amount of money without calling us first.” The small birds stopped their chirruping.

“But I did call you. No-one answered.”

“Well, we’ve been really busy this morning.” I looked around for signs of busy-ness, and saw none.

To my delight, just at that point the phone rang. And rang, and rang. And the four other members of staff in the branch ignored it. The phone, incidentally, was in the middle of the branch, on a table, under a poster extolling the virtue of the bank’s customer charter.

After a certain amount of backward and forwardness, we established that I could withdraw £4,995 without telling them in advance, but not £5,000. So I did. I was tempted to go outside and call the branch number to get the full amount, but was worried that my call wouldn’t be answered.

“Are you doing anything exciting with that money then?”, the Teller asked.

“Not really, just paying off my dealer”, I replied. Which was a joke, and not terribly well received.

And this week, I found myself at an event to discuss the future of digital banking. One of the key messages was around the maturity ‘tipping point’ for successful customer interfaces through internet and mobile devices. And one of the contentions was that this maturity could never be reached until digital transactions could have the same level of personal interaction as that delivered in branches. Well, for all the wrong reasons, it seems to me that the future is already here.

Shock news – knee bone is indeed connected to the thigh bone

I’m acutely aware that it has become my habit to use this blog as a kind of substitute mother figure for complaining about all my aches and pains. Probably fair enough, as I’m also aware of my real mother’s rather direct view of such things – it goes along the lines of ‘If you stop running long distances, you’re less likely to injure yourself’. And fair enough, but not necessarily what you want to hear when a good proportion of your life revolves around those very distances.

For those of you who are runners, you’ll know what this means. After a couple of days of not running, you get a little, well, ansty. To the extent that, as 60’s pop favourites Peter & Gordon would have it, the birds sing out of tune. A couple more days of this, and your otherwise gregarious and kindly nature turns a little sour. This is a good time to get some advance apologising in to your family. After a couple of weeks, you start to notice that all the runners that you see out and about (and there are far more than there were a week ago…), have cheery smiles on their faces. They’re also running faster than you’re ever likely to manage on your return…should this ever happen. Another week and you feel more Wagner than Cher, as I believe you young people might say.

So, I’m pleased to announce that the Emu is back and running. And the journey back has been an interesting one, which I’ll try to summarise for you.

Running hasn’t been quite right since I did my back in during the summer, and I started to have a problem in my left knee a month later. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a ‘bit of a dull ache that you could run through’ sort of a problem, it was more of a ‘sudden collapse of the left leg leaving you like a dropped puppet’ sort of an affair. It was, as they say round these parts, ‘rarely waird’ as it also managed to come with shooting nerve pains and elephantine-like swellings.

Talking this interesting phenomena through a couple of days later, a friend recommended a masseur who could iron out all sorts of muscular and nerve problems. So a couple of days later I found myself, not for the first time in my life, semi naked on a bench with a perfect stranger with unknown qualifications moving my back about.

An interesting approach to first impressions as well, as Mrs Emu arrived just as we’d got going, after her 12 hour shift a-nursing. Introduced Mrs E, and Mr Masseur announced that he had no time in his life for western medicine. Mrs E mentioned that she’d had to deal with a 12″ blood clot that afternoon. Mr M said that the way to resolve such ailments was to take a little cayenne pepper. So, having isolated 50% of the potential customers in the house, he went on to address the second half. As he dug about in the nether regions of my back, he came across an astonishing discovery, and I heard him whisper faintly…’aha, it’s trapped’. Fearing I’d misjudged him, and that he really did know what he was doing, I asked what he’d found. A trapped nerve, causing all my referred problems? Sadly no. Apparently he’d identified some trapped energy. And it all went a little downhill from there. Towards the end of the session, he was moving some nerves around in my feet, using the faux-science that I believe is called reflexology. I asked why the right foot was so much more painful than the left. Apparently it’s because the right foot represents the past, and the left one the future. To give the man some credit, he did at least have the grace to look a little embarrassed. Anyhow, after about an hour, he prescribed some magnesium crystals.  I tried to bend my left leg and travelled at some speed towards the ceiling.

After a couple of weeks of rest, a visit to a knee specialist, an X-ray, an MRI scan, and a general sense of relief around having health insurance, I ended up on the bench of a fine physiotherapist who looked at my legs, tutted loudly about the muscle tone in my left thigh, and noted that my left leg was about half an inch longer than my right. ‘Funny’, I said, ‘I’d never noticed that’. ‘No’, he said. ‘It’s where you put your back out in August, and the pelvis hasn’t reset properly’. And so, with a bit of manipulation and a loud crack, my legs were restored to roughly the same length.  And so I get back to running.

What does this tell us about life, the world and everything?

Well, as John Lydon once notably said: ‘Never trust a hippy’.

And as the Emu says: ‘The kneebone’s connected to the thighbone…’

Nothing can go wrong now…


Ok, so I was a little surprised when a number of people approached me today and suggested that I might be a bit simple for thinking I could run a marathon on a treadmill. After all, I should be able to knock out this sort of mileage as long as take it easy, right? Wrong, apparently.

But I take solace in the knowledge that others have made complete twits of themselves on treadmills for years now, so I can just join the queue. I had a browse around youtube this evening to see the sort of thing that people have copied up – unfortunately in amongst all the people flying into walls off the end of treadmills, it’ hard to see which ones were really accidents.

Consequently, am linking to one that shows people actively trying to do stupid things on treadmills. I’ll obviously be practicing the correct way to demonstrate these stunts as part of my intensive training plan.

Enjoy:

Somethin’ Stupid


Here’s a short list of things that don’t work properly when I go running:

1.Lower back, following recent bizarre gardening accident. This one kicks in on long runs, and if I’m stupid enough to lift anything heavier than a paperback the day before.

2.Left hamstring, pulled during a track session in 2005. The failure to fix this has been as frustrating as anything I’ve ever experienced, with the possible exception of watching Norwich play in the brief period of time they were ‘managed’ by Bryan Gunn. Still, at least it managed to pay for a couple of holidays for the hard working alternative therapists in East Anglia.

3.Both knees. If I run the previous day, I make it to the top of the stairs only by treading very carefully. If it’s been a tough session, the journey from stairs to kettle is often made by ‘bumping’ down like a two year old.

4.Right achilles, which went ‘ping’ a couple of years ago, and means I have to start every run looking like I’m wearing some sort of bizarre foot caliper. This one goes away after about a mile.

5.Both calf muscles. These now seem to be impossible to relax, which is all rather inconvenient, and if I put in a hard session, both will cramp up at the same time. This is intolerably painful but I would imagine quite entertaining to watch, as the muscle spasms make you boing about like MC Hammer trying firewalking for the first time.

All of which does rather make me wonder why I should have said ‘yes’ when I was asked to run a treadmill marathon a few days ago. And it’s in 12 day’s time. And apparently doing this can really mess your legs up for ages afterwards.

But it is, as they say, all for cheridy. And, after all, whining about legs that hurt is kind of missing the point here. I think this is all about setting your expectations accordingly, and not necessarily based on the irritating limitations that niggle daily.

If this was, say, Ernest Hemingway pitching up for the event, he’d have a quart of rye by way of a warm up, keep himself going with a few snifters of absinthe, then gone on to a big night out afterwards. Steve Prefontaine would keep going for about five hours to see if he had the guts to do so. Sir Ranulph Fiennes would emerge from his garden shed, after hacking off a couple of irritating fingers, then run 7 marathons on 7 different treadmills in 7 days with the treadmills being pulled across 7 different countries by a pack of 7 huskies. Probably. Anyway, the point I’m struggling to make here is that people that reach further tend to get more stuff done. And accordingly, my plan of action on 10th September is to try to assume this is all doable, rather than drone on like a miserable middle aged wimp. Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

So, given that this is undoubtedly a plan due to end in ungraceful failure, please sponsor me here

And if you’re planning to be anywhere near the Start event in London on the morning of 10th September, please remember to pass the absinthe.

Longman’s AV fails again


I always have a regret or two during holidays in France. Last year I managed to put my back out doing something stupid in the garden. The year before I managed to, well, put myself in a very embarrassing position by thinking I knew more French than I really did. This year, I’ve rather unfortunately managed to combine both experiences, ending up semi-naked in the hands of a man that I’d only met 20 minutes before, and with a very limited grasp of his plans.

But perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

I had a very good first week running. Clocked up 75 miles, managed a few effort sessions, generally felt at one with the world. Saturday knocked out a fast session in the morning, followed by a very heavy shift in the garden involving a ladder, a 15 foot high hedge and a petrol hedge trimmer. By the evening there was a familiar twinge in the small of my back. Got up for Sunday’s long run, and…well I say ‘got up’ as if I did anything other than try to roll over in bed to get out, followed by an agonising yelp like a Jack Russell being fed into a mangle. (I would imagine.) Anyway, I didn’t get up. I laid as still as I could, then spent the next couple of days feeling very sorry for myself, and slowly shuffling around the house like a 85 year old rickets victim.

So much so, in fact that, by Tuesday, Mrs E had agreed that I ought to see someone, and we looked in the local phone book to find an Osteopath. My experience of the Osteopath profession involves unfortunate memories of being jumped on from a great height, getting a horrendous noise out of my back as a result, and feeling a bit duff…then a bit better. Seemed like a small price for being able to be able to vaguely stand up straight again.

Appointment duly booked for Wednesday, and I made my way up the stairs above the chemist in a small local town; got to the second floor, and onto the lighting scheme favoured by all small continental offices, ie total darkness. So I ended up feeling my way along the wall to the distant door, lit only by a small electric doorbell. Pushing the door open, I was met by a small lithe man who reminded me almost immediately of both George Clooney and Graham Norton. You may have to work quite hard at imagining that bit.

Anyway, ushered into his office, and before too long I realised that my limited grasp of French was going to be no match for what was in store.

I garbled my way through how I had got the injury in the first place. I think this may have come across, however, as being the result of some ‘very high industrial gardening’, as I had forgotten the French for both ladder and hedge trimmer.

George/Graham indicated that I should stand up, and using an international sign language that he was not only comfortable with, but that I also, rather worryingly, immediately understood, he asked me to take my shirt off. And, using the same sign language, that I shouldn’t stop there.

As I lay on the table, feeling exposed in soooooo many ways, I realised how unprepared I was for this visit. A few years of Longman’s Audio Visual French had produced a ‘B’ at GCE (which, Elliot, is equivalent to an A* in today’s money). And, as a result, if M Marsaud, Jean-Paul or Marie-France chose to lance le ballon in my direction at any time, I wouldn’t foresee any problem at all. But unfortunately, this was pretty new territory, untrodden by Longman’s. And as a result, I fear my blatant improvisation may have been rather misconstrued.

At one point, I tried to tell G/G that his technique was much less painful than previous treatments that I’d had. Unfortunately, not knowing the appropriate vocabulary may have held me back. I rather fear that I told him that I found his gentle and kind touch most refreshing. If I’d had the words to apologise, I would have. In fact, had I known the words for awkward, embarrassed, and happily married with four children I might have used those as well.

The session ended with a very confusing conversation where I was asking about whether I’d torn my gluteus maximus, and he was having a completely separate one about whether I’d ever enjoyed kayaking down the Loire. Which will forever be a euphemism in our neck of the woods for being rubbed down by a total stranger.

Not sure what all of this teaches us, other than be prepared for everything. And if you’re not, busk it.

Oh, and always make sure you’re wearing clean underwear.