Bigging it up for Belgium

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I met someone recently with a French name and I was trying to guess where he came from, I went with the obvious Switzerland (obvious as I met him in Geneva I then tried France, with equal failure. At this point he looked a bit exasperated that I wasn’t going to remember which other European country speaks French when the answer came to me: Belgium. We spoke for a while about how annoying it was when no-one remembered his country.

Granted Belgium is bilingual with the two national languages of Flemish and French so that doesn’t make for an easy linguistic classification but I recalled that Belgium gets overlooked on a regular basis. And by a regular basis I mean I can think of one example, albeit a glaringly obvious one, which is that fries around the world tend to be known as French fries, when in fact they originated in Belgium.

Who else recalls with fond patronising mockery when a number of high-ranking and therefore headline-grabbing Americans decided to rename ‘french fries’ as freedom fries’ because the US was upset that France wouldn’t agree to join military intervention in Iraq without international support?

This may have never happened but I imagine indignant Americans refusing to grant recognition to the tasty potato fry, I imagine French people probably ridiculing the gesture and lastly I imagine Belgians angrily stomping their feet and saying ‘mon dieu! Les frites sont belgique pas français!’

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Coming from the UK/England (for better or for worse) I’ve never really had the problem of national or linguistic non-recognition but I’ve seen the frustration of Welsh friends trying to explain that Wales wasn’t England and I imagine there must be a lot of inhabitants from less renowned countries sighing and rolling their eyes as they try to explain that ‘no Suriname is not in Africa’ (it’s in South America – I checked), ‘yes, I’m sure Luxembourg is in fact a country and not a province of Germany’, or ‘no, I don’t speak Polish because I’m from Hungary’.

Where you are from is actually a pretty big part of your identity so to have someone fail to recognize your nationality, or even worse to question it’s existence once you tell them, must be immensely annoying. I’m definitely not a geographical expert and I often get mixed up about where places are but I hope I’d have the sense to accept the answer of the person that’s actually from that place. I presume, and hope, that non-national recognition is only a problem for people when meeting others outside of their country, if you go to a country and don’t know that country exists then I cast a whole heap of judgment upon you!

So with Belgium on my mind (plus I was going anyway), last weekend I headed off to Brussels to meet a good friend who relocated there from London. I had been to Brussels before but quite a few years ago, so I had forgotten what it was like. I was imagining it would be much like Geneva, i.e. small, so was surprised on arriving at the airport to discover it was an airport of substantial size that actually takes a little time to navigate and that Brussels is in fact a pretty decent sized city, i.e. bigger than Geneva but not as big as London.

I had a great few days, it was awesome to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen for about two years and to discover we had one of those friendships that is like an old comfy trainer. You might forget it exists from time to time and definitely don’t give it the attention you should but when you finally put it back on you remember just how comfortable it is. (A, if you are reading, sorry for the old shoe comparison).

As I’d done the touristy trail in Brussels on my first visit we also went for a day trip beyond the city and visited Ghent. Belgium impressed me by the convenient travel distance between big cities and by the fact it didn’t cost me a small fortune (try rocking up at a Swiss station on the day to get a ticket to a nearby city without crying as an unbelievable amount of swiss francs are vacuumed out of your account)!

Brussels was nice but Ghent was just laid-back cool. It was cold, it was foggy but it was awesome and also provided some nice Ghent specific beer. There is more to Belgium than beer (there are also fries, waffles and chocolate) but culturally it is a fairly important component and it would have been pretty insulting of me not to sample the local produce. Not wanting to risk initiating any diplomatic incidents I obviously felt obliged to try a few whilst I was there.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 14.04.46 What’s particularly cool about beer (because yes, beer is cool or at least as cool as I am for continuing to use the word cool) is that every beer has it’s own specific glass, which makes the whole drinking experience so much more than just get trollied. It is a world away from rocking up to an English pub requesting a pint and being provided said pint in whatever generic glass happens to come to hand. Drinking a beer in Belgium is a traditional practice, imbibed with a rich national and social heritage (which could also be said of getting bladdered on the weekend in the UK, but it’s probably less frequently mentioned be the Minister of Sport and Culture).

I’m doing my best here to sell Belgium to the world but it will always be a winner in my eyes because in one week it gave me both a new friend and renewed my acquaintance with an old friend. And of course, more importantly than forging or rekindling human relationships, there was beer!

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Resting bike face

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You may be familiar with the phenomenon that is resting bitch face, whereby a certain number of females and males too (let’s not discriminate) are prone to the condition of a face that, when left to it’s own devices, expresses the wrath of an inner demon that thrives on kicking kittens, making their friends pay for everything and insulting disabled people.

This is no reflection on the owner of said face, as more often than not they are unaware of this portentous façade, which is why the evidence is only ever seen when the person is at rest and is not responding to the people around them.

Some say this may be a survival tactic that has evolved over hundreds of years to send a clear signal to anyone, that might want to engage in some light hearted chit-chat with a stranger, that this stranger would actually rather be left alone with their own thoughts/book/electronic gizmo/etc.

Some say this condition is actually symptomatic of those inner demons that reside within all of us and are merely pretending to be human whilst waiting for the moment to exorcise themselves of their host and take over the world.

Some say that as it takes more muscles to frown than to smile then resting bitch face is just a subconscious facial workout.

Whatever the reason behind the act, at least the condition has gained worldwide recognition. What may be less commonly known to you is the phenomenon that is resting bike face. It has come to my awareness that this is something that afflicts me.

From a distance on my bicycle I probably look like any other cyclist, well possibly slightly slower, more out of breath and marginally sweatier than other cyclists but you get the idea. However, if you were to take a nice photo of me cycling past and then zoom in on my precise facial expression you would notice that in fact my resting bike face is no laughing condition.

Unlike resting bitch face my facial expression whilst cycling does not so much suggest to the world that I am better left alone, so much as ‘if you don’t get out of my way I may actually bite off a limb and pick my teeth with your bones.’

Even though I am now conscious of the fact that my face has a tendency to scrunch up into something resembling a snarling paper ball I am still unable to stop the problem.

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I am probably more conscious of the issue since my Cambodian bike helmet, complete with snazzy visor, broke, thus leaving much more of my face exposed to the world than previously. Perhaps my face is just reacting badly to the removal of that flimsy plastic piece of social distance that used to be affixed to my head?

I have noticed that my resting bike grimace is intensified with the addition of the vacant gaze a dead fish would be proud of when cycling uphill becomes even less enjoyable than normal, with, say, the addition of a light snowy breeze blowing into my face or leg muscles that are valiantly trying not to crumble after I’ve overdone it at the gym and then decided to cycle home (in my head it makes a lot more sense).

Although at least under these conditions that zombie dead-eyed ravenous expression would probably make more sense to the average passer by than under pleasanter cycling conditions.

Whilst I am unable to control my two wheeled riding expression I am reasonably sure I don’t actually want to tear your head off with my teeth, but as this theory is untested it maybe best to stay out of my way if you see me pootling toward your, just to be on the safe side.

This wont be a problem as I tend to pedal at the pace of a sloth who has already put in their day’s work just by waking up in the morning, but you have been warned!

The black dog at my heels in 2015

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So I haven’t blogged for about a month. I think this is partly conscious of the fact that the Christmas and new year period is usually my time for a yearly review and I haven’t really wanted to review 2015.

There have definitely been highlights. I have been to some great weddings, caught up with old friends, made some wonderful new friends, work has been challenging in a good way and resulted in my publishing a couple of reports and some great travel experiences. I achieved my resolutions for 2015, in completing my first half marathon (even if it wasn’t quite the triumphant experience I was expecting) and starting writing a novel. The fiancé created and established his own little business that has eased, if not completed alleviated, financial pressures that were stacked against us at the start of the year.

There has been a lot to be grateful for, and I am grateful for the love and opportunities and experiences I have in my life. However this year has also been pretty challenging.

Money issues were a problem for much of the year and although there has always been enough to pay the bills and put food on the table there hasn’t always been a lot to spare beyond that. Having to carefully plan and spread budgets with no flexibility to respond to last minute lunch or drinks invitations, etc. making me probably seem a little unsociable at times has been tough.

Work has been great, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to undertake more challenging projects but this additional work came at a cost. For a period of several months I found myself working every evening and most weekends. I was probably averaging an additional two working days of unpaid work on top of my normal working hours every week. Whilst I am happy to roll up my sleeves and put in the extra miles every now and again for intense working periods, trying to maintain these kind of working hours over a prolonged period definitely took its toll. I also used extended work hours as an excuse for eating constant amounts of junk food and energy drinks, whilst these may have helped in the immediacy of what I was doing they also made me feel sluggish, when not under the influence of sugar, and gain a lot of weight.

The results were exhaustion, weight gain and an unsociableness and irritability which I tried, although not always successfully, to keep hidden from my friends and family but there was no hiding from the poor fiancé who had to live with super enjoyable me during this time.

I lacked enthusiasm for previously enjoyable pursuits, including blogging, and used excuses for not indulging in the kinds of activities that would probably have helped, such as exercise and healthy eating. There might not have been so much time for the running before or after work but I could have gone on walks or skated at lunchtimes. I may not have had the funds to buy and time to prepare healthy and tasty food options, not when instant sugar and salt hits are so much more satisfying in the short term, but I probably didn’t have to resort to quick cook pizzas and packs of gummy bears with such enthusiasm.

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For the first time I thought that depression might not just be something that happens to others but something that also happens to me. I remember one distinct thought that led me to this conclusion. For whatever reason I was thinking about the fact I used to want to live by the sea in one of the remoter parts of the UK in Cornwall or Devon and then I dismissed this idea thinking that living in a remote location wouldn’t be practical when we are too old to manage easily by ourselves. I had just dismissed an old dream by imagining away the next 30/40 years of my life in a meaningless flash.

Despite all the love and support I have available to me, when the going gets tough, I don’t so much get going as go into retreat mode. When I can’t see a solution to my problems, on the whole, I don’t like to bring them up with others. If I express a worry and people share that worry then I automatically go into resolution mode and do my best to make sure that person feels reassured and that everything is actually okay despite any appearances to the contrary. This in itself is exhausting, it was easier to just communicate with people less and just vent occasionally to those in the know.

I did eventually mention the way I’d been feeling to a doctor and jokingly asked if there was a magic pill to just make everything better. When actually they spoke of medication options I was pretty tempted, if a little alarmed at how easily available the option seemed to be. I had always assumed medication was a final resort for those who can no longer function, I could function but I felt like I was often acting, pretending to be a happier version of myself so as not to burden others. As I could point to the cause of my stress I didn’t see how medication would be able to help me, it wasn’t going to buy me more time or help me win the lottery, and as the doctor told me it would take a couple of months before it made a difference anyway and I thought there was a good chance that some of those stressors would be relieved in a couple of months I declined the offer.

Even now I am wary about posting this blog and potentially worrying others, I am doing so now because 1) I’m in a better place and don’t need to pretend any more, 2) it is cathartic to do so and 3) it occurs to me that I cannot be the only one who occasionally suffers and that it might be helpful to talk about this openly so that those of us inclined to suffer in silence can perhaps take some solace in thinking that we aren’t alone in this.

To reassure anyone who might be worried – this year is off to a good start! I took a cheaper health insurance option and have used the money saved to join a gym, I’ve cut back on the alcohol and chocolate, work is significantly less intense, and money worries will be a non-issue in a few months when I’ll have paid off a couple of loans. Here’s to a Happy 2016 (and some more lighthearted blog posts in the coming weeks!

Anarchy comes to Geneva

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On Saturday night whilst I was indulging myself with homemade mulled wine and chocolate fondue something a little less sedate was taking place on the streets of Geneva.

I’m going to go out on a limb and call it vandalism. Those involved would probably wish to contradict me and call it anarchy, as though this justifies destructive behaviour (smashing windows, painting slogans and throwing paint at buildings and statues) as having a higher purpose of ‘fighting the power’.

The thing about anarchy though, is that it is inherently, absolutely pointless. I understand that there is lots to be dissatisfied about in this world where rich white men tend to dominate proceedings and set the rules.

I don’t dispute there is room for improvement but you’ll have to forgive me for baulking at the idea of disestablishing government and prevailing law and order in favour of some sort of lawless society as epitomized in most Westerns. Personally, I don’t want to be subject to the whims of lunatic men on horseback with guns who can act with impunity.

One of the slogans I spotted on the bus was ‘fight the law’ and I just thought why? What is it about ‘the law’ that you don’t like? Is it that people aren’t supposed to rob you at gun point and take your belonging, is it that if someone hurts you or someone you care about they ought to be able to get away with it?

Would it help if I clarified that ‘the law’ isn’t actually the pseudonym of a dragon-wielding monster-villain intent on capturing virgins and eating the people’s livestock and pets? If it were, and my little cats were in danger, then by all means hand me the pitchfork and burning torch and I’ll fight the good fight.

Perhaps foolishly I think laws are supposed to protect people, myself included. I don’t deny that these aren’t always equally enforced and may sometimes benefit some more than others, but that’s a problem with implementation not the entire system.

I was trying to figure out what the point of ‘anarchy’ is and in some forum some chap explained that if anarchy were to succeed then local communities would get together to elect their own leaders and establish their own law and order. This confused me because, well, isn’t that what democracy is? People vote for local leaders, who represent their interests…

Sure, sometimes people vote for others that the rest of us think are dastardly villains, but that’s how democracy works, sometimes people are idiots. Whilst the idea of a particular bouffant buffoon perhaps becoming leader of one of the most powerful nations of the world is terrifying he would have to be elected by a lot of people and although we may think those people monster raving loonies (but not in the good way) they are at liberty to vote for who they want.

Where potentially dangerous leaders are elected to power I am all the more grateful for yet another added level of bureaucracy, in the form of international law and standards, that may have the capacity to keep such individuals in check.

In Switzerland anarchy makes even less sense because the people here already have more power than in most other democratic nations. They really can shape the development of legislation through frequent referenda, often initiated by the people, on most issues. Some of the votes on theses referenda don’t make sense to me, such as voting against increasing raising the minimum wage. The bleeding-heart, lefty liberal that I am, can’t understand why the majority wouldn’t vote for this, but the decision not to raise the wage was the will of most of the people.

I think when people talk about anarchy and setting up on their own they mean setting up with like-minded people and conveniently ignoring everyone else. The idea of those who would like to see a fairer world coming together voluntarily to share resources on an equal footing is lovely. This isn’t really anarchy though, this is what Communism is supposed to look like but as we know attempts have been unable to live up to the ideal and realize this egalitarian utopia.

Because this is the problem, not everyone wants to live in an egalitarian utopia. Even the best of us don’t spend our lives selflessly dedicated to the wellbeing of others, everyone puts their own needs first sometimes, some of us do this all the time. Most of us are quite content just trying to live in this world without harming those around us and some of us don’t really care about who they harm. This is what it means to live in freedom in the world, it means we have the freedom to try and be the best version of ourselves but we also have the freedom to be bastards to those around us as well as future generations we may never know.

The idea of anarchy as absolute freedom for everyone would be great if everyone happened to be a decent person but not everyone is a decent person and how can you have no establishment, no authority, absolute freedom but exclude the indecent people from this? Who would draw the line? And if nobody draws the line then that means that many will live without freedom because they are afraid of the liberties of others.

The thing about anarchy that bothers me is that it’s an easy option for lazy people who want to express their indignation without really doing anything to change things. It is easy to throw criticism, stones or paint from afar but actually making suggestions for improvement is another thing. Destruction is far easier than creation.

Some of the alleged concerns (I say alleged because I don’t doubt some saw the march just as an excuse to just destroy shit) of those that marched on Geneva are reasonable, lack of subsidies for culture that is accessible to everyone is worth fighting against but there are better ways to do this. If the issue is budget cuts then causing thousands of francs worth of damage will just fuel government claims they don’t have the money.

If you don’t like the system, look to change it, suggest alternatives and seek about how to implement them without harming others. Resorting to petty acts of violence will do nothing but alienate what may genuinely be a worthy cause.

In other, far better words than mine: ‘be the change that you wish to see in the world.’

My house isn’t big enough

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I remember my mum telling me a story once, which was probably linked to my whinging about something but I’ve forgotten those details. The story goes a little something like this:

Man: ‘God, my house isn’t big enough can you do something to help?’

And God, thinks about it, rubbing his great beard between thumb and forefinger and replies ‘Okay buddy, I’ve heard your complaint, I’ve got a few things to deal with at the moment but l see your problem and I promise I’ll get round to it.’ He rubs his great beard between thumb and forefinger and adds, ‘Look whilst I’m working on your problem, you couldn’t help me out a bit and just store a few things for me, just whilst I’ve got the decorators in sprucing up the old heaven, could you?’

The man replies, because he’s a decent chap ‘Sure God, happy to help’

And so God sends to the man in his too small house a room’s worth of furniture, prototype arks of the Covenant that sort of thing.

After a month, the man is struggling more than ever in his too small house and so he gets in touch with the great man upstairs once again, ‘God,’ he said, ‘Do you remember that I told you about the problem with my house being too small and you said you’d look into it and in the meantime asked me to store a few things for you?’ he gently reminded the omniscient once, in case the minor details had slipped his cavernous mind.

‘Well of course I remember,’ God chuckles ‘you didn’t think I’d forgotten you and planned to leave you with your too small house and all of my things forever did you?’

The man who had begun to wonder precisely that emits a little relieved chuckle.

‘No, no no I promise you I’m working on the very solution rigt now, it’s just a little more complicated than I thought and taking a little while longer than planned.’ Said God, ‘but you couldn’t do me another teensy favour whilst I work on your problem could you?’ he adds.

‘Sure, whatever I can do to help,’ promised the man.

‘Great!’ said God in his big booming voice, ‘I knew you were the man to help! It’s just I’m currently having a problem with the power and the lighting in the terrarium is currently out, so all my little turtles, there’s only a hundred or so’ just need somewhere with a bit of electricity where they can relocate for a little while, thanks so much for agreeing to help out!’

‘But…,’ starts the man but he changes his mind, he knows God must know best so he returns to his too small home already filled with the roomful of furniture and clears another room to setup for God’s terrarium and it’s hundred or so turtle inhabitants.

Another month passes and our man is really struggling, his house just isn’t big enough for God’s furniture and terrarium and so he gently clears his throat and opens communications again. ‘Excuse me God, it’s just it’s been another month and my house really is too small…’ he starts.

God quickly leaps in ‘Buddy! my main man, thanks again for all your help with the storage and the turtles, I’m really almost there on that house problem just a little while longer.’

The man responds ‘okay no problem, well I’m here whenever you are ready,’ and he quickly tries to end the call because he has a sneaky suspicion he knows what’s next.

‘Hey, before you go’ says God, quick as an all-knowing flash, ‘you couldn’t just help me out with one more thing could you, I have all these polar bears who recently turned up at the old pearly gates, what you didn’t know there were polar bears in heaven, what kind of place would thus be without any animals? Anyway, the paperwork is a mess and I just need somewhere for them to stay for a bit whilst we can sort things out otherwise we’ll end up putting the wrong polar bears together and the whole start of their heavenly experience is going to be hellish!’ He pauses and then asks ‘ you couldn’t just take a dozen or so could you? They won’t be any bother they just need a place to hibernate whilst we sort out the mess!’

The man looks a bit dazed but weakly smiles and nods his head and returns home accompanied by dozen or so polar bears.

Another month passes, the man in his too small house can barely get by what with the furniture, the terrarium and the hibernating polar bears. He gets in touch with God again and says ‘Hi God, any progress on the problem with space in my house?’

And God says, ‘yes, I have the solution. Let me take back the furniture, the terrarium the hundred or so turtles and the dozen or so hibernating polar bears.’

The man clears out his house of the furniture, the terrarium and the polar bears and is amazed by the transformation, ‘thanks so much,’ he says to God, ‘I now have all the space I ever dreamed of!’


I wanted to share that story to illustrate how work has been, aside from the me asking for more space part. For a while it felt like I couldn’t possibly get any busier and then something else would be added to my to-do pile until I was almost at breaking point. Now a lot of those tasks have gone, there is still a fair amount of work but without the additional load and the requirement of working every evening and weekend, it all feels that much more manageable now.

The only problem now is that suddenly I feel like superwoman and I almost feel compelled to start looking for some new tasks to fill the void. Better ask the fiance to strap me to the chair and gag me, I clearly have a short memory and some sort of work addiction problem!

Skool dayz – travelling in time

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So recently I went back in time, around 12-19 years back. I went to my school reunion to once again spend time in the company of a group of people who, for better or worse, were such an important part of my life.

When I first heard about the reunion, I thought it sounded like a great idea, especially when it was going to be held in the same haunt that we used to frequent as teenagers: the local cricket club which could be hired out at reasonable costs for nights of youthful debauchery and sweaty walls.

However, as the date for the reunion started to loom closer, the apprehension kicked in. The reunion seemed less like a fun opportunity for reliving our youthful misadventures and more as a critical point in our lives when we would submit ourselves to the judgments of those who knew what our childhood dreams were.

We all came from the same background, more or less, but where were we all at X years from that fateful day when we (thought we had) finally left our school days behind us?

I tend to review my life, what I’ve achieved so far and where I’m going, on a fairly frequent basis, particularly around this time, as the year draws to a close. However, my self-imposed annual report is scary enough when it’s assessing what I’ve been doing for the last year. Did I really want to voluntarily put myself into a room full of people who would want a report not of the last 12 months but of the last 12 years! On a year-by-year basis my life doesn’t seem so bad, on this more mega scale, was I really going to live up?

Navigating the nervous explosions going off inside my skull I realised I was the one setting all these potential landmines. Would my old school mates really care for a blow-by-blow, marks out of ten, consideration of my life? Probably not. But confronting my reunion was forcing me to confront my worst critic: me. And not just current day me, who can be tough enough, but that youthful aspirational me who believed life would all nicely fit into place after university and I’d fulfill all those dreams I didn’t yet know I had. You leave school and you believe you can do anything. I still believe I can do anything but now I know that ‘anything’ entails a lot of work and sacrifice I’m not necessarily prepared to make any more.

If I want to give up on my current career and become a doctor, is it still possible? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Maybe not. Would I really be prepared to return to intensive education, take loans or find ways to support the costs of doing this and put myself through all the stresses and strains it would entail? Perhaps, if I absolutely wanted to be a doctor more than anything else. But this is the kicker, and the way in which I feel I’ve most disappointed 18 year old me; you see, life didn’t automatically all fall into place after university, I still don’t really know what I want to do and suspect there could still be 100+ interesting career options for me.

I might have narrowed the field a little bit but I still haven’t committed myself to a singular path. Whilst, this isn’t in itself a bad thing, I think my ability to be flexible and to continue to be interested in new avenues isn’t something to be ashamed of, nevertheless sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to have that one goal to rigorously pursue? But that isn’t me, I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point at which I can sit back and think ‘right I’m done now’.

Although my biggest concerns about the reunion were self-imposed I was still nervous about meeting up with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen since I was 18. I didn’t have any arch-nemeses at school and although there were people and groups I didn’t like, I‘d given up on worrying what they thought before I even left the institution. I was actually more concerned about confronting the people who used to be my friends, but for one reason or another I’ve fallen out of contact with. I don’t know whether this fear was motivated by guilt that I’d not made enough effort to stay in touch or a sense of rejection that they’d not done the same with me.

I generally think of my old school friends fondly, they were a great bunch who were part of an informative part of my life. And I have accepted that it is a fact of life that some friends we make are friends for certain times in our lives only and only a few are friends for the entire duration. However, it felt strange to be revisiting these old friends with the distance of over a decade between us.

I wasn’t the only one with butterflies in my stomach about confronting my past, pretty much everyone I knew who was going seemed to feel the same way. So we concocted a plot, we’d meet for dinner and a little dutch courage first, arrive en masse and, if it was terrible, escape to one of the many pubs in town. We had a nice dinner and I caught up with some old friends, some of whom I remain regularly in contact with and others who I wish I was able to see more.

After dinner we managed to work up the nerve to totter across to the cricket club. Inside it quickly became apparent that we can’t have been the only people worried about the reunion, of the 100+ who’d signed up, actual turnout seemed to be closer to 40.

I soon saw a few friendly faces, including some of those good friends I’d lost touch with, although the majority weren’t actually there, and…I had a really good time. It was great to see how people had and had not changed and it quickly felt like old times, except we spent a bit longer talking before hitting the dance floor than would have been normal in our sixth form days and I’m not sure we danced enough to make the walls sweat but it was a great night we didn’t want to end. After the official close many of us decamped to a nearby pub. The only thing that could have topped it off would have been if the kebab van was open when we left and I could have got cheesey chips on the way home.

 

Pretending I’m a runner

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About a month ago I completed my first half-marathon, which was one of my 2015 resolutions. I had wanted to run the half-marathon as part of the Geneva Marathon in May. This would have been a big event with thousands of participants and spectators to cheer me and all the other runners on.

In 2014 I ran the 10k as part of the Geneva Marathon events and really enjoyed myself, despite the physical challenge, so I assumed that the half-marathon in this setting would have been more of the same (more effort, more kilometers but also more spectators and more satisfaction). Alas, this event clashed with one of the many UK weddings we had this year so I had to give it a miss and my enthusiasm for running started to dry up without the motivation to put on my trainers, that is until I found another half-marathon in Geneva, the Demi-de-Jussy, taking place at night.

I thought a nighttime run sounded nice, it’d be cooler than running at daytime and perhaps a smaller event would be a better place to start. In hindsight, I’m pretty certain that running the smaller event as my first attempt was not a great idea. Or at least I think I might have enjoyed the half-marathon in a bigger setting for a little while longer before the intense misery associated to the physical pain kicked in. What I hadn’t reckoned on in tackling the smaller event was just how lonely it would be.

The loneliness in itself wouldn’t have been much of a problem, I usually run alone and often late at night, although always along well lit streets. However, I made the mistake many runners do and completely failed to pace myself. I was excited when the race began and was running kilometers in record times, not thinking that my body wasn’t prepared to be going at these unprecedented speeds. Perhaps I had hoped that hoards of spectators cheering away would have helped me keep up the pace but the few spectators that had been cheering us on for the first lap had clearly given up by the second, contributing to the growing sense of isolation I felt as the race progressed.

The course was two laps and it was dark. Runners had been advised to bring headlamps, and before the race I had wondered how essential this would be but was really glad the fiancé had managed to find me one the day before the race. As the course wound its way through mostly unlit country roads and sometimes wooded areas I was very grateful for the lamp, even if it wasn’t the most comfortable addition to my running gear!

For each lap there were about 3 or 4 themed stations along the way (which seemed to be based on seasons). At each station were people dressed up shouting encouragement, there was music and fun things to look at. On the first lap this was highly entertaining on the second lap these stations made me all the more conscious of how fast I wasn’t running and how alone I happened to be.

At the penultimate station, one man in drag tried to motivate me with falsetto words of encouragement and sympathy as he jogged beside me for a little while. If I had had the energy I would have punched him in the face, but he did at least encourage me to run a little faster to get away from him. I knew he meant well but by this point my mood had already plummeted from the optimistic high of ‘look at me I’m running a half-marathon’ to something much darker along the lines of ‘why am I doing this? Everything hurts. I haven’t seen anyone in a while and I’m probably going to get murdered in the woods any moment now.’ I was not in the mood for some light joshing from anyone who seemed remotely happy!

I had been prepared for the fact that a smaller event and tighter time limit (only 2.5 hours to complete) would have meant this event was likely to appeal to more serious runners than I could pretend to be. I expected to be somewhere near the back, but assumed I’d still be bumbling along with others in sight, but almost everyone had outstripped me by the 14k point. Although I wasn’t last, I was second from last.

I only managed to hobble, cramp had struck by this point, past the final person in the final kilometer, so for 5k or so I was actually last, with the constant annoyance of the sweeper car following behind me, which I resented for reminding me of my rubbish effort. (Although I appreciated the car whilst running through the woods with nothing but my little headlamp and all too many thought of how many horror stories start and end in dense woodland.

I managed to complete the course within the time limit and there were even a few stragglers at the end to applaud me, but my fiancé wasn’t among them. He’d agreed to meet me at the finish but the place wasn’t easy to access with one bus an hour so he only made it a few minutes after I finished. I had cramp, I was exhausted and I had thoroughly not enjoyed myself. When I finally saw him I promptly burst into tears and collapsed into his arms. It was a far cry from the euphoria I felt upon completing the 10k last year.

After the race, actually about 3/4 of the way through, I vowed I would never run again. But now the physical and psychological pain has faded, I am actually keen to put the running shoes back on and have signed up for the course d’escalade in Geneva this December to motivate me to get going again. I also want to run another half-marathon next year to try to put in a better effort than this performance. Memory loss is clearly a dangerous thing!