Thursday, August 27, 2009

A vicarious summer

It’s been an oddly choppy summer. Plans for lots of walking in the Whites have been squeezed out by sometimes-unexpected travels and travails. I still hope for some good days out in early September and on through the fall (which is the best time, anyway), but in the meantime, I’ve been compensating by reading Ron Bloomquist’s blog, (and, of course many others), listening to Bob’s TGO Challenge podcasts, and wandering through the dangerous world of equipment catalogues.

While I was in England, I took delivery of a pair of Pacer Poles from Heather and Alan, and a Travel Tap from Bob and Rose (Congrats on the Triathlon, Rose!). I think the Tap will be handy in many applications, though I am committed to my Platys, given what seems to be my new old-age proclivity to get dehydrated surprisingly quickly.

The poles are something else again. I’ve never used sticks regularly, one of the pair I did put in play broke fairly spectacularly on the Tour du Mont Blanc, and I’ve just never been sold on the whole idea. But many, many walkers I respect keep recommending that I give them a serious try. And the leader of my potential New Zealand trip recommends them on his kit list. So I’ve shrugged (that little French one-shoulder thing—I’m reading Alan Furst again) and bought the Pacers, which so many of the same people have raved about, and I will give them a serious go. That will be me, slightly embarrassed, click-clacking with my Pacers through the cemetery and along Main Street—pausing periodically to squeeze a dramatic mouthful of absolutely pure water into my mouth from the Tap. The combination should get me home safe.

More on that perilous catalogue perusing TK.

Monday, August 24, 2009


I bought a new lawnmower this morning and spent the afternoon pushing it around the front yard, knocking down the long, long grass daily rain produced while I was away.

This mortification of both the wallet and the flesh seemed right today. The Yankees thumped Boston twice over the weekend, and the Sox thumped them once (Tazawa!). These were not low-scoring pitching duels, that’s for sure, so I’ll refrain from cheap jokes about anyone mowing anyone else down. But New York left Boston 7-1/2 games up and looking too strong to catch. Now it’s a matter of hoping the Sox can secure the wild-card slot in the playoffs. For me, though, it turns the last weeks of summer into a time when cutting grass may be the most fun I’m going to have. Tomorrow, the back yard!


Pub meets

I met up with several blog-and-slog friends in England, all of whom had to make a considerable effort to connect, which was awfully kind and much appreciated.

On the first Friday, I met Baz Carter and Penny at Oxford’s White Horse. I was looking for a single fit-looking chap, and paid little attention to the couple who walked in and sat nearby (in the White Horse, everybody sits nearby). Baz was probably looking for a single fit-looking chap, too, not a lumpy ancient sinking a pint and reading a book. The upshot was that we sat next to each other for 20 minutes before Baz turned to me and said, “Are you Mark?” The tip-off was that when I’d closed Water for Elephants, he’d seen the tag “New York Times Best Seller.” Aha, a Yank! We both felt silly, but we had a terrific, if all-to-brief conversation (kit, walks, gardening...) before they had to head back home. It was wonderful to meet them both, and I’m so glad the brilliant Penny came along. Dopily, I forgot to get a photo.

On the final Saturday, I walked up the Thames to the Trout (what a sweet stroll) to meet Phil Lambert, Darren Christie, and Alan Sloman.

Phil, me, Darren, and Alan

No mistaken identities here: we’d met during the 2008 TGO Challenge. A nice lunch, a few drinks, and talk covering all the vital areas: bears, tandem bicycles, html know—the usual when guys get together.

Thank you all for welcoming this American cousin . You added much joy to an already terrific trip, and I hope I’ll have the chance to return the favor someday. We’ll stay out of bear territory.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pennant race

I got back from England to find the Red Sox 7 games behind the Yankees. Seven games! See what happens when I leave the country? It’s 6-1/2 now, with a big weekend series between the two teams beginning tonight in Boston. The Sox have to win at least two of three, or it’s gulp time. Yankee Pettitte against Red Sox Penny tonight, Burnett against Tazawa (Tazawa? Nothing like tossing him in at the deep end of the pool!) tomorrow, and a killer matchup, Sabathia against Beckett Sunday. I’ll be reciting my secret BoSox incantations all weekend. So will everyone else in New England...except those awful Yankee people in that bad part of Connecticut.

Let’s sweep ’em. Here’s to a 3-1/2 game race come Monday morning.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Les Paul, R.I.P.

Les Paul came to be better known as the inventor of his eponymous electric guitar than as a musician, but he was, first, a superb jazzman, who became important in various forms of pop, as well. I knew him first as the instrumental half of Les Paul and Mary Ford, whose then-new overdubbed sound was ubiquitous on the radio of my youthier youth.

The piece below is now about as far out of fashion as it’s possible to be, but it was a hit at the end of the war, and it’s easy to understand why it meant so much to those finally exchanging uniforms for civvies.

Crosby's great here—terrific phrasing as always—but listen to Paul. He’s precise, smooth, and restrained, but also inventive...and he bends and shapes just enough notes to give the song the swing it needs to avoid being merely sentimental. Gorgeous playing, perfectly at the service of the song.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Home, sweet home

A wonderful time in England, a good flight and drive home, an immanent early supper of corn-on-the-cob (a glory of the American summer), a much-needed iChat with H, A, and sweet B, and early to bed to deal with reverse jet lag. A few trip notes soon (I already miss the beer).

And I think I fixed the profile photo.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Iffley Road Track, August 12.


So I've finally run my mile in the footsteps of Roger Bannister, something I've wanted to do since my teens. And I had the wit to push it hard enough to give it the honor of effort, which was important to me, but not so hard something might have gone twang.

It's always interesting to be on the spot. I had no idea, for example, that running up the back straight you have the massive tower of St. John the Evangelist square in your face, nor that on the next turn, Magdalen Tower heaves into sight, much closer than I would have thought.

Altogether a wonderfully satisfying few minutes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Up, up, and away

Heading transatlantic tonight, sans computer, so—for both of you regular readers—posts will be hit or miss. I’m aware Blogger for some reason no longer approves of the photo that used to grace the right hand side of this page. I’ll replace it when I get back from being educated at Oxford. (Tweed jacket, long scarf, horn rims, effete yet supercilious look....)

Sweet B had her one-year checkup yesterday. She is perfectly healthy, and was by all accounts charming with the doctor until the needles came out. H said there were four nurses, each with a syringe, and simultaneous jabs in B’s chubby little thighs. Ouch.

She recovered her good humor quickly, though, and, despite what it may look like here...

there seem to have been no aches and pains or fever. She was quite jolly during this iChat last night.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Birthday weekend

We all had a wonderful weekend helping sweet B celebrate her first birthday. Lots of bubbly and goodies, fascinating wrappings on gifts somewhat less appreciated, and plenty of grandparently hugs and kisses.

B is beginning to walk quite well, especially when nobody’s making a big deal about it. As a way to avoid some of the frustrations little ones can feel before they are able to talk, her parents have been teaching her simple signing, and she can signal “milk” (a milking motion with one hand or the other), “more” (finger and thumb tips of both hands bumped together), and “all done” (brushing open hands together). She’s got a few more, as well. Obviously a stunningly athletic and brilliant child.

H has returned to her pre-pregnancy body (actually, her pre-pre-pregnancy body—she’s looking fit and terrific) and needed to go clothes shopping on Saturday—perhaps her least favorite pastime. A and I took the opportunity to bring B to the great little kiddie pool at the nearby park, where they enjoyed some damp and cheerful father-daughter bonding.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


I’m packing my running kit for Oxford, partly in the hope I can neutralize the effect of all that beer, but primarily to see if I can’t manage to shuffle a mile around the Iffley Road Track. For an old miler, it will be something like going on the Haj. This is the track on which Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile on May 6, 1954.

As a young runner in the early ’60s, I idolized Peter Snell,* but we all knew about the first 4-minute mile and were familiar with that famous photo of Bannister’s breaking the tape, mouth open, head thrown back, arms rising in fatigue, and that lovely, last long stride. Most of us knew, from Bannister’s book, how the race had gone.

Bannister was openly paced by Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, and took some flak over this at the time. Brasher led him through the quarter in 57.4, which I’m sure was a good bit faster than they’d planned. Chataway took over and paced through the half in 1:58.2, still perhaps a little fast; and the three-quarter in 3:00.5. Bannister passed Chataway coming off the turn onto the final backstretch, and had to make the pace himself from there. He put in a 58.9 final quarter—astonishingly fast in those days— to finish in 3:59.4. (It’s not often noted that Bannister broke the existing world record by almost two full seconds, in its own right a remarkable feat.)

All this gave Norris McWhirter his opportunity, carefully prepared, to create sport’s all-time greatest public address announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the result of event number 9, the one mile: First, number 41, R.G. Bannister of the Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which subject to ratification will be a new English Native, British National, British All-Comers’, European, British Empire, and World’s record. The time is Three...”—and the crowd went nuts.

My own internal personal announcement will be along the same lines—I’ll be staying at Merton, after all—with just a few small excisions and modifications to fit the facts. “The time is Eight...”—and I’ll walk happily home.

* If I go tramping in New Zealand next year, I wonder if I can get to Wanganui.