Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Streak 88/365: Knees

2011 Streak 88/365: Walk - 3.2 miles, Time - 1hr, Weather - occasional spots of rain

It is time to talk about knees and the reason for not running, so today's picture is the nearest I can come to a representation. These are vents from our local sorting office, showing their age and corroding badly (quite a metaphor).  
I would guess that it is 1970/80s building, which when it opened must have looked quite hi-tech and spacey but it hasn't weathered well. The white metal cladding now looks dirty and a bit grimy and along the walls their are water stains. The problems with all buildings like this is always maintenance. It is amazing how often that falls off the budget. For a time everything seems OK but if it is neglected for too long, eventually things fall apart. I wonder if this has happened to this building - I will have to ask a postman. 
Same with my knees I obviously didn't maintain them well enough. I keep on thinking that I ought to try running again. I keep on thinking that it has been so long they must be right by now. I keep thinking … 
But I have a simple test: the knee will be healed enough for running when I can get up or kneel down without thinking. At the moment it is still a bit like a rugby scrum (crouch, pause, engage). This has been very apparent the last couple of days when I have been decorating the kitchen (the reason this blog is little bit behind hand). Getting down to paint the skirting boards has been a multi stage manoeuvre. It is not yet good enough
So I will have to wait a little longer, stretch as much as I can, and try not to think too much about corroding vents.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Streak 87/365: A digression about coffee

2011 Streak 87/365: Walk - 4.95miles, Time - 1hr 30min, Weather - sunny spring day

A regime of cycling and walking has one great advantage over running - it is both easy and pleasurable to stop at a coffee shop. In cycling the ride to a cake shop and back is an established tradition, with walking it is just obvious that a coffee tastes better after you have earned it.
Of the coffee shops in Hemel the two I like are Tiki and Starbucks. Tiki ought to be my stone-cold favourite because it uses coffee from our local roasters (Smith's) but I mostly go to Starbucks.
It might seem odd to support the big multinational that a few years back was the focus of a lot of hate from anti-globalisation protestors - but it doesn't feel like that. It is not impersonal and it is staffed by people who are both friendly and nice. I was struck by this the other day as I watched one of the girls help someone who had cut his finger. She cleaned the wound and applied the blue catering plaster with care, almost as if it gave her pleasure to be helpful. I don't know if her unselfconscious good nature made the person with the wound feel better but it certainly lifted my spirits.
They also do a good job with the coffee. Usually I drink a flat white, which takes care and attention to get right and one of the guys there takes great pride in doing just that. I was talking to him and he said he had been in New Zealand (where the drink originated) and he had been amazed at the number of coffees he had that were better than the ones he made. So he came back and practised until he thought he had it mastered. You can only applaud his attitude and I know the practice has paid off because I drink the results.
I hold no brief for Starbucks as a whole and draw no conclusions about other branches. All I know is that coffee shops are places I like to go to to think or read, and the mood is terribly important. I like the mood of the Hemel shop.
Today's picture is another in the series of watching the seasons. It shows the development of an apple tree bud.

2011 Streak 86/365: Gade Valley Harriers Training Run

2011 Streak 86/365: Walk - 5.72 miles, Time - 1hr 50min, Weather - mild and pleasant

Last month I took a picture of the clubhouse as people were about to pack-up, after a marathon training run. For this Sunday's run I arrived earlier and took a picture of one of the speedy ones, who is not only completing his twenty miles but also posing for the camera .
I was impressed by how fresh the early finishers were after a tough 20 miles. It is not a particularly easy course as there are a couple of steepish climbs, and of course for every steep up there is a steep down and these can be just as hard. So to arrive at the end composed and happy is an achievement (even if it is what you hope from a training run).
The route is actually a couple of hundred yards longer than 20 miles and there is a distance marker in the hedge, just behind the girl in the photo. One of the things that amused me was the next person to finish stopped running and walked the rest of the way. he was obviously a very precise man. His target was obviously to run twenty miles and once he had done that he was finished - no matter that there was only a a few yards left to go.
Sometimes I think we can be rather rigid about numbers!

Monday, March 28, 2011

2011 Streak 85/365: Non Placet

2011 Streak 85/365: Walk - 11.79 miles, Time - 6hrs, Weather - ok, cooler than last couple of days and more cloudy, a few spots of rain.

I think this was quite a big deal - a gathering of 300-400,000 people to march against the economic policy of the government and their cuts to public services. The cynical and worldweary will say that marches change nothing and are therefore a waste of time; and they are not totally wrong.  One march will not cause a change in government policy. But that is not really the point. Having so many people, from all walks of life and all parts of the country, come to London to protest shows a depth of feeling and is an important statement. If it encourages other demonstrations it become even more interesting and show how much real discontent there is.
On its own, however, a march will just be a gathering but if people realise there are a lot of people with the same opinion, and that there is a chance that that opinion could be heard, then it can play a part in building a mood. 
 So I was there and it was a good day out. There was a complete cross section of people  and it was totally good natured. 
As I walked along I talked to a university lecturer who felt increasingly compromised by organisational pressures, who was worried for those just starting their careers. There were also some social workers worried about the vulnerable, and firemen (I don't know whether it was an accident of timing but I saw a lot of firemen).
I also had conversation totally off topic. Someone, in his twenties,  was pushing a rather lovely, very new, Surly fixie, which had an extremely mottled San Marco Rolls saddle that was probably older than him. We thus fell into conversation about classic bike design.
However the most interesting chat I had was was with a member of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World), which I thought had died out. "Oh no" he said "there were a few hundred members". Although this is small, he said it was growing and he was very proud of the formation of a new group of Latin American workers.. It is fascinating  how many groups and movements, that you think are part of industrial history,  don't completely die: they become smaller but there are still people who are committed.
Today's picture shows: a traditional trades union banner (which I love because it shows a continuity with the past 150 years); the general relaxed mood with someone eating a sandwich (well it was lunch time); and the "non placet" badges (which was a neat encapsulation of everybody's attitude).
The second photo is interesting because it is from Trafalgar Square, which was adjacent to the route and full both of demonstrators and normal visitors. The two girls in the hi viz jackets were part of something called the Kindness Offensives, operating from a bus by the National Gallery, which also had people dressed as gorillas offering free hugs.  However what should also be noticed are the two red and black flags: the flag of the Black Block.
I saw small groups of the Black Block wandering around the fringes of the march, especially between Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square. These were the people who later became involved in the disorder, which featured heavily on the news.
The day really had a couple of events. The first and most important was a very large, peaceful, good-natured demonstration; the second was a ruck by some people who used the cover of that march.
I saw non of the aggression. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

2011 Streak 84/365: Daffodils

2011 Streak 84/365: Walk - 3.78 miles, Time - 1hr 10min, Weather - sunny and mild
Again I follow up a news story. The first time it was artificial flowers on graves and now it is daffodils.
Listening on the radio I heard an item about how the daffodil growers were suffering this year. The cold winter meant that their season was late in starting but the warm weather has meant that the flowers have come out at all at once. There is now a glut which they are finding difficult to harvest.
I don't know why it was a news item, as we are not short of big stories (Japan, Libya, budget, murders) and growing conditions are never perfect for any crop, but at least it gave me a spur to look more closely at the daffodils around me. They are all over the place. I never realised there were quite so many: beside the road, in the middle of roundabouts, in gardens, and on grassy banks. Yellow (and some white) everywhere.
Flowers and landscaping actually make an enormous difference to the feel of a place. As I looked around about the work of the parks department and how important they were in softening the edges of the town and making-up for the lack of architectural stimulation. My big hope is that they are not cut back too much in the spending cuts because it is always the soft services (those that enhance rather than being of direct utility) which are the most vulnerable. yet they are terribly important.
This is on my mind at the moment as a lot of the cuts will kick-in in a weeks time. The Guardian is starting to look at the impact on a lot of service. And tomorrow there will a big protest march and demonstration, in London. So my exercise tomorrow will be trudging along with masses of other chanting slogans. 
It will be a far more significant news story than the plight of daffodil growers but it might in some way be related..

Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 Streak 83/365: Pony and Trap

2011 Streak 83/365: Cycle - 18.3 miles miles, Time - 1hr 18min, Weather - a beautiful sunny day (again)
You never know what you will find when you get out doors. You might be following a route you have ftravelled many times but there can always be something new. Today I passed this trotting Shetland pony - amazingly cute. I slowed down and rode alongside for a little time to chat and it was very pleasant, idling along, pushing the pedal half a revolution at a time. 
I think the lady was very used to interest in her pony but she was happy enough to talk. I learnt that of all the breeds of horse the Shetland is, pound for pound, the strongest; being able to pull two times its body weight. Seeing it trotting along I could well believe it and understood, probably for the first time, that they are not a toy. If I had thought about them before, I had thought they were merely kept for children, as a first pony. I was unaware of their history as a working animal and how they were used down the mines. 
The other thing I learnt was that they are valuable. When I asked the driver where she kept the horse she was very cagey and said she preferred not to answer because she was worried about theft. I was a little shocked because I had not thought of horse theft and rural crime. I knew all about rustling from cowboy films but I must admit that is the limit of my knowledge of animal theft.
It is another example of how we live in our own little silos. If you asked me about bicycle theft I would be very clued up but horses? I suppose that anything valuable is vulnerable and the isolation of the countryside would give the thieves cover.
I wonder if, per head of population, rural crime is more prevalent than it is in the city. I don't know but but in some small way today's ride opened my eyes a little.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2011 Streak 82/365: Cherry Blossom

2011 Streak 82/365: Walk - 3.75 miles, Time - 1hr 10min, Weather - a beautiful sunny day

On such a beautiful day there is absolutely credit in being outside - it is where you want to be. It is the sort of day that encourages people to relax and open-up, and I exchange many more friendly greetings than is normal.
Walking seemed to be the thing to do. I toyed with the idea of a bike ride but in my heart I wanted something gentle. I wanted to breath deeply, look around, and just enjoy the illusion of freedom.
Suddenly the cherry trees are out and it is the day for another picture of the tree in my back garden. Instead of a reference shot from the same spot I have got closer to give an impression of the abundance of flowers.
Because I also want to show the loveliness of individual flowers I will break with tradition and post two pictures. 
I must be getting carried away.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2011 Streak 81/365: Walking stimulates the memory

 2011 Streak 81/365: Walk - 3.9 miles, Time - 1hr 15min, Weather - lightly overcast but calm and spring like

There are some days that seem calm. I don't know why - as much as any other day people are working and moving about but the atmosphere feels quieter. It is probably just a random impression, based on who you see rather than an objective observation, but today felt relaxed. The air was still and there was no bustle. Along the canal people walked or gently plodded, dogs were being walked and fishermen were waiting.
Fishermen are always waiting. I pass they sit. Some days  (like today) I see the attraction of sitting still, calmly taking in the air, yet being alert to the movement of fish. It is an exercise in quiet attention. But I have absolutely no desire to do it.
I went fishing a few times when I was about 11 but never showed any aptitude. It was not about the fish though; it was about being with my father. I tagged along with him and two of is friends to some nearby gravel pits and we pretended we knew what we were doing. It was as new to my father as it was to me - an idea of a hobby we could do together.
It worked for a time but it didn't last. Nevertheless I have fond memories, which are revived when I pass fishermen by the canal.
No wonder walking is good for your memory. There are always associations, always cues.
(I suppose I ought to have illustrated this post with a picture of one of the fishermen - but I did not take one. Instead it is of a canal boat from behind the veil of a weeping willow)

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 Streak 80/365: Early Morning Mist

2011 Streak 80/365: Cycle - 17.5 miles, Time - 1hr 18min, Weather - early mist that later lifted

Busy day today with the only opportunity for exercise before breakfast. So I was up at 6 and out of the door as soon as I had had a drink of water.
One of the things that really impressed me during Janathon was the number of people who would fit in an early run whilst it was still dark. Braving the cold and dark showed great resolve and I salute all who did it. I only went out today because it now lighter and slightly warmer at 6 o'clock.
There is a certain pleasure in being out and about a little before the rush. As you go through the streets you see the signs of a community waking up and rather smugly you think of your own virtue in being out in the bracing air instead of warm and sleepy in the house. But I must guard against this!
Smugness is really neither smart nor attractive. We know exercise is good for us and that everybody benefits from regularly raising their heart rate but we tend to enjoy what we do and so we shouldn't give ourselves too much credit - especially as we know there are very many people who can go faster, longer, endure more, and who are more dedicated.
My ride today took me through the woodlands of Ashridge, which were swathed in mist. However there was no sense of oppressive grey that has been the dominant feature of the weather so far this year. It had more of a morning feeling - something that would soon lift to reveal a fine day. 
It was an early morning ride with an added sense of anticipation

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011 Streak 79/365: Sunday Morning in the Park

2011 Streak 79/365:  Cycle - 19.1 miles, Time - 1hr 25min, Weather - slightly chilly, slightly misty

There is something about Sunday morning and the feeling of the world being at play. In parks you can see a whole range of recreation from a slow, gentle stroll to a lung bursting sprint during a competitive game of football.
This picture is of a couple of football games on nearby pitches but behind me was a netball tournament, a play area with young kids whooping and screeching , and further on, on an empty pitch, was someone running around it at great speed.
The man running was with is daughter (about 7), and whilst he ran his lap she ran up and down. They would meet back at a tree, where they would gulp for air and talk. Good training for both of them.
The netball match was on 4 courts, with the parents watching and waiting round the edges, reminding me of when our daughter played  badminton and we had to take her to the matches. I looked at them for a short time but realised it is game I do not understand. There was an awful lot of whistling-up of infringements.
As for the football, the match in the foreground is between fairly young boys and I thought it a little unfair that they use full sized goals. The poor goalkeepers just cannot cover them properly. When I was watching the team in green scored with a shot that would have been a fairly easy overhead catch for a taller lad but caused all sorts of problems for the poor young goalie.
Anyway, for me, standing in the park was a short interlude; a chance to directly feel the community of play. Back out on the road I passed more runners and more cyclist - although we were part of that community we were all on our own.

2011 Streak 78/365: Spring

2011 Streak 78/365: Walk - 4.77 miles, Time 1hrs 30min, Weather - Blue skies
Think of springtime and you might think of lambs gambolling, cherry blossom, or the first cut of the grass. It could be many things but daffodils should definitely be on the list. I love the banks of yellow that suddenly appear. So for today we have a spring picture.
There is very little more to say - the air felt fresh, the sky was blue and it not only felt like spring, it felt great to be outside and breath it all in. I know few people who can resist the pleasure of such days.
The walk itself was very relaxed but it had a purpose. We are about to decorate the kitchen and so needed some supplies. Instead of taking the car - we walked. Before this year that would not have been the case but now the idea is to walk wherever possible
We are now consciously thinking about how we get about. It is one of the consequences of this streak.

Friday, March 18, 2011

2011 Streak 77/365: What Duck?

2011 Streak 77/365: Walk - 4.13 miles, Time 1hrs 18min, Weather - steady rain

Because, yesterday, I only wanted to talk about the cycle proficiency training I didn't say anything else about my walk, which is a shame because it was an illustration of how my habits have changed this year.
I was actually went to London and I saw the cyclists on my walk to the station. Once in London I didn't use buses or tube to get about, I walked everywhere. It is amazing how easy it is and how close together some places are. It is also more enjoyable because there is always something to look at.
The London Underground Map  (some pedants insist on calling it a diagram) is a hugely famous example of good design. It took something visually confusing (i.e. a geographically accurate map) and made it clear and easy to use. However, necessarily,  it is not to scale and  it can give the impression that some places are further apart than they are in reality. In some cases it is quicker to walk, whilst in others the slight difference in time is more than compensated by the pleasure of being in the open as opposed to underground.
I think it is worth remembering that most old cities were built for walking.
But back to today. It was wet and rather miserable, with a solid grey sky and steady rain. But nevermind - there were still things to see. In particular there was this mongrel duck.
I would guess by the shape of the head, its size, the curled tail feather, and the amount of white, it is a cross between a mallard and an aylesbury. He was still playing with the other mallards though, so maybe they just look upon him as differently abled. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2011 Streak 76/365: Cycling Proficiency

2011 Streak 76/365: Walk - 9.7 miles, Time 3hrs 10min, Weather - misty grey at first but gradually lifted

On my walk I passed this group of year 6 schoolchildren learning cycling proficiency. At first I was attracted by a line of kids dressed-up with helmets waiting by the side of the road - I thought it looked amusingly odd. I then saw that the instructor walking through the line to take when turning right at a junction, where to look and when to set off. After the demonstration they collected their bikes and one at a time attempted the manoeuvre.
There were three actually three instructors. The one you can see stayed with them when they got on their bikes and oversaw them setting off, another one is on the other side of the junction to double check that it is safe to make the turn, and further along is someone to tell them where to stop and make sure they do it in good order.
Teaching cycling on the roads is obviously labour intensive but I was very impressed by the attentive attitude of the kids, who obviously wanted to learn, and the way it was taught.
In my day cycling proficiency involved weaving in and out of cones on the playground and doing a few hand signals. I say in my day but I actually didn't do it (I think it was something that fell between the cracks when changing schools). But I like the way this is now taught during school hours as a proper lesson.
If we want to encourage people to cycle it is best to start young and the key skill is not bike handling but road sense. So I was most heartened

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2011 Streak 75/365: Linemen

2011 Streak 75/365: Cycle 12 miles, Time 55min, Weather - as if smothered in grey mist
This is another in the 'men at work' series of photos. 
When I see people working on overhead cables I actually feel a slight pang of ancestral association. Both my father and grandfather were, at some point in their lives, telephone engineers and so would have spent time up telegraph poles. 
In those days they would have scaled them using the triangular footholds nailed each side of the pole. You rarely see those poles now, why would you when we have cherry pickers? Watching the men work I thought how much more difficult it was in the old days, how limited your movements would be when you were at the top; also how much safer it is working from a platform. Nevertheless if you were young and fit there must have been an exhilaration to climbing up poles as opposed to being lifted up.
After I took this picture I cycled on into the mist. I think the dial marked 'spring' has been turned back a few notches because it was cold as well as murky.
On the country roads I was passed by a few cars and one of the things I noticed was their courtesy. They slowed, waited for the appropriate place to mark and we exchanged nods and smiles. It was all quite civilised -not at all like the culture wars that seems to be breaking out between cars and cyclists. Perhaps that is more of a city thing. This war seems to have become especially vitriolic in some parts of America at the moment and resistance to plans to create more cycle lanes in New York has become newsworthy
Let me recommend this article by Tom Vanderbilt, which explains much about the American attitude to cycle through the device of following one person's long distance commute.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2011 Streak 74/365: Watching the seasons

2011 Streak 74/365: Walk 2.5 miles, Time 48min, Weather - cool sun

Last night on Twitter, Travellinghopefully, pointed me to an article by Oliver Burkeman about the way past events can influence our feelings at different times of the year and contribute to our own emotional calendar.
It is a fascinating subject and probably the most common branding is the effect of the academic year. Even after more years than I care to divulge, it still holds sway and I think of September as the month when work starts anew. Even more distorting is the idea that August is the height of summer rather than the beginning of autumn.
The piece ends with a quote from Santayana:
"To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring."
That should be one of the mottos of this blog, which is an attempt to observe, in a detached way, my local area. Being out each day forces attention on the weather, landscape and mood, so seasonality is one of the things I am interested in.
Today's photo is posted in that spirit: it is a cherry tree in my garden, which is beginning to flower. Every so often I will repeat the picture to show how it changes over time. 
As for today's exercise there is nothing much to report. After two hardish days it was time  to ease back so I only walked 2.5 miles. Nevertheless it was enough to keep the streak going.

Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Streak 73/365: Of Canal Boats and Runners

2011 Streak 73/365: Walk 11.37 miles, Time 3hrs 50min, Weather - another springlike day huzzah!

As is be obvious I spend a lot of time by the canal and so I see plenty of canal boats. I have always I have always been struck by the similarity between these boats and runners.
Firstly in the same way as a runner has their own gait, shape, fitness level and ambition, each boat is customised to reflect its owners personality.
The great truth about running is that it is 'an experiment of one' (George Sheehan). Similarly each boat seems to be an individual experiment.
Most runners are self trained; they start out, from whatever motivation, have their own goals and their own way of approaching them. Many, many canal boats are maintained and hand-crafted by their owners according to their tastes and resources.
In the same way as there are speedy, sleek runners and those who are, ehmm, somewhat less speedy and somewhat less sleek, there are boats who gleam and look perfect and others that are ramshackle. 
So I should play the game of matching runners to boats. In this case I don't know whether I could do it. I don't think I have ever seen a boat looking so contingent (i.e. it may or may not be a proper boat). When I took this picture a white haired, old lady with a walking stick, was passing - but I don't think she would be too impressed by the comparison

2011 Streak 72/365: Part of the Harry Potter industry

2011 Streak 72/365: Cycling - 22.5 miles, Time 1hr 37 min, Wether - damp and grey
Somethings happen almost by accident.
Leavesden Aerodrome was important in the 2nd World War for the manufacture of Mosquito aircraft. After the war Rolls Royce used it to manufacture helicopter engines but, as is the way with much much British manufacturing, they decided it was uneconomic and closed it down. This was in the mid 1990s at the same time as they were about to film 'Goldeneye. Unfortunately (or fortunately as it turned out) Pinewood Stuios were booked up and they had to find a new location. The old hanger like sheds of Leavesden Aerodrome were perfect and since then many major films have been shot here, including all the Harry Potters.
Harry Potter is such an important cultural artefact that Warner Bros, who now own the studios have decided to build a new visitor attraction based around the films/stories.. They are building two huge, new studios and this is a picture of one of them being constructed.
I took it for two reasons. The first was as an excuse to tell the story of Leavesden Studios, use it as an allegory of the British economy and end with some smartarsed comment about how we have moved from manufacturing to magic. But that would not be right or true. I actually believe that cultural constructs and industries built around stories are just as valuable and worthwhile as anything else. In fact we should take pride in anything we do well.
The second was simple: I like construction sites and seeing things being built. I like seeing the process and looking at the machinery involved (here we have a rather wonderful extendable platform that looks a bit like a coiled spring). 
I am very much like Jerome K Jerome, who expressed it perfectly:
             “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011

2011 Streak 71/365: Not quite Italy

2011 Streak 71/365: Walk 3.5 miles, Time - 1hr 10 min, Weather - sunny and springlike
At the end of the Italian Job the thieves's coach is delicately balanced over the edge of a precipice. Could they save themselves? Could they save themselves and the gold? What was Michael Caine's idea? Who knows (though there was a competition in 2009 to find a solution to the problem)
I thought of that as I saw this line of parked lorries overhanging the canal. Of course, this being Hertfordshire, where we don't go in for extremes, the overhang is very slight. Nevertheless I can idly daydream.
In fact the whole morning felt extremely playful. The weather was mild and sunny and it felt like the first day of spring. It was as if everybody had thrown away their winter coats and come out to exercise, play and have fun. Boys were playing rugby, people of all ages were playing tennis, in the area of the open air gym there was a group of women doing outdoor exercises, along the canal there were plenty of runners and cyclist, and from the playground came the chirrupy sound of children running about and enjoying themselves. 
One of those days where you breath in deeply and think 'it is good to be alive'.

2011 Streak 70/365: Village of the year?

2011 Streak 70/365: Cycle - 20.5 miles, Time - 1hr 34 min, Weather - clear and bright but with a sharp wind
My route today took me through Redbourn, a village that has an amazingly extensive green and a high street with many old buildings and some lingering atmosphere of a past age. I took this photo of the butchers was because it looked as it the shop hadn't changed much in 100 years. But now I am back home I think I made a mistake. I should have walked a little further up the street and taken a picture of the barbers with a red a white striped pole. In the window was a notice saying "we are now open on wednesday afternoons". If anything is a throwback to a past age it is the idea of half-day closing, when all the shops in a town shut-down. As if the the whole place let out a collective sigh and said "and now relax".
Whenever I pass through Redbourn, which I quite like to do, I always try to imagine what it would have been like if it, instead of Hemel, had become the new town. Originally it had been earmarked but the decision was changed, principally because Hemel had the better rail links. I look at the old High Street, certain it would have been preserved (as it has been at Hemel and other new towns) but I don't know if the shops would have survived. I also wonder what would have happened to the green and where the new centre would have been built.
This sort of counterfactual speculation is quite futile but difficult to resist, especially when they have a sign proclaiming themselves "Village of the Year". What a ludicrous idea! I can understand competition when it means running faster or scoring more goals but what exactly does a village have to do to move up the table? And if you win the title one year, what would have to go wrong for you to fall from grace the next?
A few 1960s housing estates and there would be no discussion.

Friday, March 11, 2011

2011 Streak 69/365: Brightly dark

2011 Streak 69/365: Walk 3.67 miles, Time - 1hr 15min, Weather - clear and bright
Another day with sunlight and so I took a picture of shadows on an old brick wall. Actually I am a bit surprised there haven't been more pictures of old brickwork because I find the variations of texture, colour and wear fascinating, in an idle sort of way.
This is part of the 18th Century walled garden near to St Albans Abbey.
I was there because I felt tired and didn't want to go for a long walk of bike ride. Instead I hopped on a bus, at random, and then walked around for a bit. As St Albans is a place I like to visit and the cathedral is a particular favourite,  it was a good bus to catch.
The peculiar thing is that although St Albans is only 7 miles away from where I live there is no easy way to walk there. There is no footpath alongside the road that links the two towns and so you have to walk in the road, which is a bit scary the car go fast. Surprisingly there are no alternative routes over the fields.
I find this strange because I am sure the Abbey used to be the dominant church in times past and there would have been footpaths to Hemel Hempstead for the monks to use. But no more. Of course road planners would not think people would want to walk, or run, between the two towns. Perhaps they are right but the consequence is that when I plan my outings I don't think of St Albans enough.

2011 Streak 68/365: Brightly dark

2011 Streak 68/365: Walk 4 miles, Time - 1hr 20min, Weather - blue skies and black clouds
The reason I list the weather at the head of every post is that it has a big effect on the outing. It is not only the obvious things tat make a difference it is the way things like the quality of light can change your mood.
Today is a case in point. It started out bright, in the way of the last two days, but that didn't last. Big slate-grey clouds gathered from the west and threw some areas into darkness. I spent some of my time just looking at the light. I was fascinated by the way it streaked and way it shifted from sun to shadow.
That is the way of these walks. They may cover much of the same ground but there is always something new to see or the chance of seeing something in a new way.
The subject of today's photo is not really the road which bounds Boxmoor, with its pub and houses: it is the blackness of the clouds. Behind me the sun was shining, lighting up the grass. It was a brightly dark day. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011 Streak 67/365: Tea break

2011 Streak 67/365: Walk 7.44 miles, Time - 1hr 30min, Weather - clear blue sky 
Work in progress - a wall is being rebuilt. Nobody around - it must be tea break. But the mug has been left behind. This walks are all about spotting little things - and this is a very little thing.
The day was another example of how 2011 Streak has changed my attitude. I needed to by a new pair of walking trainers and the best outdoor shop in the area is 3 and a half miles away. Before I would have automatically got in the car but now it seems quite straightforward to walk there. 
Not only does this reduce my fuel consumption, it makes me feel better. It was another clear bright day and I arrived at the shop in a thoroughly good mood. However when I got there it struck me that although I might, indeed, have reduced my petrol consumption, I did in fact need a new pair of shoes.
It is all swings and roundabouts.

2011 Streak 66/365: Tin Tabernacle

2011 Streak 66/365: Cycle 16.9 miles, Time - 1hr 12min, Weather - clear blue sky 
I hadn't been out on my bike for over a week and it was lovely, once more, to have a sense of speed (not that I am in any way a fast cyclist). The problem with walking is that although it might be good for building up endurance and strengthening tendons, it doesn't raise the heart rate very much. I do not get out of breath.  
Therefore I need to balance it with something that makes you go red in the face.  Cycling will do that, especially on hills. And on a bright day, when everything is clear and fresh ( and there are not too many cars), what could be finer?  - just so long as my route avoided water!
Today's photo is of a 'tin tabernacle' in Bedmond, which interests me in all sorts of ways. 
Firstly it shows the fascination with new material and the excitement of finding different ways of using it. Corrugated iron was invented in 1828 and offered the prospect of mass produced buildings - structures that could be erected quickly and relatively cheaply. For churches this meant they could put up buildings amongst new communities and later replace them with more permanent structures.
The church also reminds me that the19th Century was the age of iron and steel and I have a romantic fascination with that. The interest goes way back. At school I can remember being told about 'iron mad' John Wilkinson, who in the 18th Century was so obsessed by the possibilities of the material that made his fortune he wanted almost everything made from it - including his coffin. I thought this wonderfully bonkers but it hooked me into the narrative of the industrial revolution and the stories of the engineers.
Of those engineers Brunel is the figure who most stirs the imagination and I can remember, as a teenager,  reading the biography by L.C.T Rolt as if it were a murder mystery - totally absorbed. Although Brunel is famous for his railways, bridges, and ships one of his lesser known achievements was designing  a prefabricated tin hospital for the Crimean war. Because it was designed with hygiene in mind there were dramatically fewer deaths from infection than there were at the hospital in Scutari. It was thus part of the evidence used to change attitudes to hospital care.  
To me that is all of a piece with this church. They are connected by time, technology and a similar purpose to make something functional, but with a limited life span. Brunel's hospital was quickly destroyed but the wonder of the tin tabernacles is that a number still survive and one (St Michael And All Angels' Church, Hythe) has been listed. They were not designed to last for so long.
There is a surprising amount of interest in these buildings: a book,  with its website, and a gallery of rather dramatic pictures. So that is enough reason to celebrate my local example.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

2011 Streak 65/365: Flooded Underpass

2011 Streak 65/365:  Walking - 3.72 miles, Time - 1hr 10min, Weather - brighter

This photo shows what happens when the council just gives up.

The Magic Roundabout is a huge roundabout, at the gateway to the town, which is difficult to cross on foot. The main way used to be by an underpass, which was OK as it  wasn't too much of a diversion.  But no longer - it is now unpassable.  As you can see from the photo it is not so much flooded as drowned.

The problem is that it is below the water table and always had to be pumped to keep it dry but apparently they pumps can no longer cope. I don't know why pumps which have worked for 30 years are no longer up to the job and I don't know why Hertfordshire Highways think it now too much bother to maintain a facility for pedestrians. But obviously they are giving it no priority  as the underpass has now been closed for at least three months.

If you are able bodied you can still get around but I have no idea how the disabled cope. 

So for our current times, with a government wilfully cutting all sorts of services and starving local authorities of money. I offer this photo as a visual metaphor of what can happen when things are abandoned - they revert to nature.