Monthly Archives: October 2012

Run Forrest Run!

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So I did it. No one is surprised right? Well you better not be.

I wandered up to my starting point, at the back, and jiggled my legs about in an attempt to appear organised in my warm up protocol.

1 mile down. Easy. 2 miles check. Loving it. I am cruising. Now where is 3 miles? Turns out the distance between the mile signs were playing tricks on me. I almost gave up on sightings of mile 4, 5 and 6 signage and at this point it was quite clear that with only half of the first lap of Central Park completed, my main obstacle was my doubtful mind. A mile is quite far. So 13. 1 in a row is like.. really far.

I had expected rolling hills throughout, after all I had been warned by people in the know (including the race website), and yet by mile 7 and nearly one full run through of the course, I felt like I had spent most of the first hour freewheeling downhill. I like a bumpy course I think. No flat roads to force me to propel myself. I enjoy the hike uphill because I know it will be closely followed by the inevitable drop at the other side. By mile 8, I was happy as a clam. The legs were on autopilot and I was only occasionally wiping the “glow” from my brow.

By mile 10 I could almost taste victory. But entertaining myself was becoming more tasking with every stride. I had seen a man running barefoot, I had watched oncoming traffic of horse-drawn carriages leaving their stinky mark on my path towards triumph, and I had been lapped by the speedy front runners who look like they have done this before. I am bored and I can distinctly feel a tightening in my legs. I have just over 3 miles to go and I need a better target than simply THE END.

I set my sights on light blue shorts. I noticed light blue at around mile 4 I think. We were similarly paced, her Cambridge-esque light blue kit caught my attention, if only for comfort, as we journeyed together around the Park. So this was the key. Sit behind light blue and then jog past her to roaring cheers (in my head). But now I am at mile 11. She is holding strong and my quads are starting to fail me. I am positive I have sent pulses of information to the muscles indicating my desire to run forward, and yet they are slowing down. I must not stop. It will be the end of me. What I need now is a long winding downhill. What I need now is a cheer from the crowd to encourage me. Tick and tick. Off I go. Pick the feet up, move the legs forward. Let Newton’s gravity do the job and pass my secret opponent. Mile 12 and I am not feeling any love for the sport of running.

I have defeated my arch nemesis (should have found dark blue shorts in hindsight, but she served her purpose) and now all I need to do is bring it home. The final strip is lined with spectators. I hear my name and I have an almost minute burst of speed until my legs remember they are not happy with me and go back into a grump. I fear I have not hydrated well. At the first two water stops, way, way back in the early days of this Sunday morning I had gulped and not sipped. It was not a good tactic and it scared me to drink anymore. I had upset myself, in particular my sensitive tummy. Now, with exhaustion and the dizziness of thirst I have 200 yards to go and I am probably going to be sick. Not an optimal choice of venue as my exit path is blocked by an applauding audience. I must…. continue. I can’t stop now. Who walks the last 100 yards after running the previous 13 miles? Losers, that’s who. If I have 13 miles in me, I can find something, somewhere. I hit the final banner and immediately crawled into a corner to avoid vomiting all over someone’s illuminous yellow Nike shoes.

No, not a good idea. They pounce on me. Wheelchair is rushed over and I am lifted against my will into the rolling seat. Please no. I ran this whole thing I can definitely walk to my friends.

Don’t be embarrassed miss.

Too late mister!

After convincing them, with my absolutely lucid speech, that I was just feeling just a bit motion sick and they could send me on my way with a bottle of water and a bag of salt, I found my wonderful and encouraging friends and we hobbled to brunch.

In summary, salt in water tastes awful. Grilled cheese sandwiches (otherwise known as “the toastie”) taste marvelous. If only I could depart my seat in this UWS resto and make my way home.

I think I am going to pay for this in pain tomorrow.

Worth it? Definitely.

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The Superficial Checklist

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Central Park circa 5pm this evening.

From the rooftop of the MET I faced tomorrow’s challenge. Must admit, it looks pretty big from up here, and that is just the bottom bit.

I was feeling contemplative as I sunned myself this evening. Reminds me of a time in my youth when I decided, surprisingly with no opposition from my parents, despite my less than fit, chubby state, to run a mile. One solitary mile around Bamburgh Castle. Seems trivial now, but at the time I distinctly remember the sheer unadulterated pain as I paced up the steep incline overlooking the North Sea. To my family, eagerly waiting at the finish line, running parallel to the cricket ground, I was lost. Or having a long, luxurious rest at the very least. Until a time when finally my bright red round cheeks appeared along that final straight. My younger sister, desperate to help her elder survive this terrible ordeal, jogged, with ease, the last few yards in support, probably keen to spend the last few moments with her flailing sibling before she departed this earth.

Fortunately, I dragged myself heavily to the tape. I was not a fit young thing back then. I was carrying some puppy fat, except this puppy was one of those British Bulldog types. Those really chunky monsters. That was me. And I was probably slobbering by that point so the metaphor works on a couple of levels.

 

I may have been round but I was darn cute!

 

Tonight, however, as I place all the necessities for tomorrow’s 13.1 mile “jog” on the table, I reminisce about my running experiences to date. That one mile run and that other time when I really really wanted to catch the train. No, only kidding, I have done a half marathon before, but that was slightly shorter than Central Park twice-and-a-bit-more, and it was almost entirely flat. Having read the course description for my stateside attempt, for the first time this week (erroneously), I become fixated on one section:

Almost all of the course is run over curving roads and undulating terrain, except for one straight, flat half-mile stretch along the East Side that you’ll run twice. Major uphills are at approximately 1.5, 3, 4, 7.5, 9, and 10 miles.

Have I done any hill running yet? I certainly have not. I tend to find running up hills a bit exhausting and painful and have chosen to avoid them at any opportunity.

It may be too late to prepare in any appropriate way so all I have left to do are the superficial check list items: have a hot bath, eat a truck load of pasta and hydrate away. My shoes are now adorned with the timing strip that I will probably ignore so that I can lie through my teeth “Paul Ryan style” when anyone asks me how long it took me to complete. Furthermore, being a New York marathon qualifying race, I propose that digestive biscuits and orange squash will not be on the menu. I predict that my peers will have done some hill running and won’t be taking tomorrow’s “stroll” lightly. And I suppose I am going to suffer a great deal.

But I will do it. I have been talking to myself all day on the matter. I will drag my slightly less rotund butt around that manmade green space and I will earn some running respect. From whom, it is unclear. But by that stage I will be quite delirious and expecting some knight in shining armour to carry me home (maybe I am already delirious. It certainly sounds like it).

Wish me luck!

A Quartet of two

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Now it is Sunday and the New Yorker Festival has been going on without me for two days. Well I cannot bear it anymore. I must attend at least something. A festival of Q&As is right up my alley and already I have let the likes of Ben Stiller, Viola Davis and Lena Dunham pass me by. But no more I tell you.

What will I choose?

Oh. I see there is a new film, directed by Dustin Hoffman (his directorial debut), supported in part by BBC Films and starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly. Seems utterly British. Just the way I like it then.

So, I add the final touches to an ongoing experiment and rush off to Midtown West and the Director’s Guild Theater to try my luck at getting rush tickets. This 4pm preview + Q&A session with Mr Hoffman will be highly popular, I fear. So I am prepared for a queue. As I bluster up to the stage door, I stutter something to the organisers. Something about a queue to get rush tickets for the Hoffman piece in a few hours time.

They point to a yellow stand reading “Line for non-ticket holders”. There is no one there. Not one soul. I AM the queue. Marvelous. So now I only have 2.5 hours to wait. And when did Autumn arrive I wonder? I have not transitioned to coat wearing yet as my mind and heart are still firmly lodged in summer. Oops. It seems I only have the legend Streisand to distract me from the now shivering state I find myself in. So that is a relief then.

At 3pm I successfully purchase the ticket and now I am in the home straight. It is only an hour more and Hoffman will be there, chatting to me. Can’t wait.

Soon enough I am taking my seat in the second row (strategically placed on the edge to minimise chances of tall or fat head issues) all the while taking this opportunity to regain feeling in my icy fingers. I am amused by my passage of luck this weekend and glance about the room taking in all the faces. But wait. Who’s face is that? Sitting only seconds away from little old me. Is that Billy Connolly of comedy fame? That Glaswegian funny man who regularly has my family in stitches at any and all family gatherings? Number two in the list of all time greatest welders (my father takes the top spot for the 29th year running)? It most certainly is. By Jove my luck just keeps a-coming.

Sat in the middle of the second row, Mr Connolly is ready for the film. And so am I.

Quartet is a gem. Set in a beautiful mansion somewhere in Fair Old England, this elderly residence houses aging musicians of all specialities. Opera singers, violinists, jazz trumpeters and singers in their 70s and beyond. A bunch of divas, their future in this magnificent setting is at risk. Charity funding is depleted and survival rides on the Annual Gala, where they all perform, so that monies raised can support them one year more. But they need a star to reach that target. Cue Maggie Smith. Arriving just in time to jostle her peers with her bristly manner. She of course refuses and the likes of an old flame Tom Courtenay, a wonderfully amusing Billy Connolly and a magnificent Pauline Collins displaying increasing signs of dementia throughout must convince Maggie Smith that she has to perform. For the sake of Beecham House, their home.

When Dustin Hoffman comes out on stage I am still wiping my eyes and wishing I was home in a field. With about 50 films to his name, one forgets how many classics this treat of a man has created. Kramer vs Kramer, as he learns to bring up his son in the day to day business of life. I just get goosebumps thinking about those kitchen scenes as he tries to make breakfast. A task he has never had to do until his wife (Meryl Streep) leaves them. And after a brief browse on Youtube I found this clip of Mr Hoffman winning the Oscar for Kramer vs Kramer. That voice!

Yesterday I sat in a room for nearly 2 hours listening to this man and his unbridled enthusiasm for life and art. His respect for opera singers, at one point, brought him to tears as he struggled to express their passion and “ferocity” in hitting those notes and hitting them again. He repeatedly punched the air as he tried to articulate the ambition and animal-like instincts to make those notes.

For Quartet he wanted his set to swim in an atmosphere of freedom and artistic openness (he didn’t say it exactly like that I promise). To achieve that, he (and his casting director) filled their beautiful mansion with real life retired musicians. Musicians who have not had a call to work for possibly decades and yet still have their abilities in abundance. Hoffman is moved as he describes their feeling of gratitude to work every day for sometimes 14 hour shifts on set creating the tone he was looking for.

One aspect of the film is the build up to the finale of the gala. Will Maggie Smith perform with her one time colleagues, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly in their famous quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto? In fact, the story was based on a mansion Verdi had built for himself in Milan. When he died he donated it to retiring opera singers. This place really existed! Take me there?

So what was Hoffman’s Rigoletto? Death of a Salesman, he says. He tells us that even meeting Arthur Miller was a dream come true. It was the first play he had ever read, he felt it was his life. He was Happy. His brother Biff, the successful one. His father a salesman. It was his life. He has the best stories. In preparing for the role he remembers Miller telling him how he wanted it done.

It is like jabbing. Miller told him. You jab the audience, making them laugh with Willy Loman’s contradictions. With his ridiculousness. And then when they are not expecting it. You knock them out. Make them laugh and then make them cry.

Hoffman absorbs this and exiting the stage after the first act, he asks Miller.

“How was it? Good wasn’t it?”

“You were 3 minutes over”

“But they were laughing? Everyone was laughing. I have to wait until it dies down a bit otherwise they will miss the dialogue”

“Let them miss it. Talk through it. I want my audience here (Hoffman perches on the edge of his seat, eagerly anticipating what is before him). I don’t want them there (Hoffman leans back, relaxed in his chair).”

Dustin Hoffman of Rain Man, Tootsie and Meet the Fockers fame (don’t tell me you didn’t love that cast) is telling me (OK us) about Arthur Miller’s directions. I am so happy to be here right now I might burst into a million pieces.

And I could have sat there all night. So too could Dustin it seemed. But apparently the stage people needed to tidy up. It was a Sunday night after all. As he wrapped up his never ending stream of brilliant stories of some of the most influential moments of film gold he brought Billy Connolly up on stage.

At the end the duo just didn’t want to leave. They had enough time for everyone in the room. In order to avoid stuttering something embarrassing to Dustin Hoffman about him being a legend I turned to Mr Connolly, hoping I would fare better here.

“Please can I shake your hand Mr Connolly? I have some of the best lifetime memories sitting in my living room in Newcastle laughing with my family at your stand up, and I want to thank you for that.” (my hands shaking as he grabbed them, happy with the compliment).

“Oh Newcastle. Newcastle is great. I was pinball champion in a pub opposite the railway station for many years.”

“I think we will get your DVD out at Christmas and have good giggle Mr Connolly” and with that I smiled and took my leave.

My sister does a magnificent impression of this Mr Connolly. Often without any warning.

It took me a whole hour, possibly more, to come back down to Earth. I did wash my hand though, which is progress in my obsession with “meeting” celebrities, at least.

The Hunger Artist?

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Learning little from last week’s post I spent the weekend hunting celebrity. But this time the prey was super elite and more meaningful for a girl growing up in a North East village under the backdrop of film and comedy gold.

However, this was a weekend of lab work. So how much “fun” and “adventure” can one fit into a working weekend? You underestimate me dear reader. You shouldn’t do that.

In the first part of this double whammy posting session I will detail Day 1 of this past weekend.

Saturday was a set up day. I had plenty of reading to plough through and an experiment to prepare for Monday. But by late afternoon, and after physical activity had been completed, I was left with only one more box to tick. The David Blaine box. Except this time he was not in a box as such, he was more perched on a podium, being fired with a stream of a million volts of electric current.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no childhood attachment to David Blaine. But I cannot resist a spectacle. And staged on Pier 54 of the Hudson Riverwalk, this 3-day stunt is just that.

For me the whole experience was just a bit bizarre. Visitors stand gaping, their hearing protected from the blaring organ-like music with garish yellow foam ear plugs. They are all looking on at a crazy man standing on a small platform surrounded by Tesla coils. He is wearing a highly conductive stainless steel suit so that the million or so volts of current do not pass directly through his body, as that would certainly cut the show short. I, however, am definitely more concerned about the 72 hours of torture this must be for him and find myself wondering, perhaps oddly, if he has a catheter in. Because certainly he won’t be able to hold it in that long. And what about sleep? I am just tired watching him giggling away up there, waving at his fans (and the passers-by who thought this looked a bit weird and popped in). You would have to pay me some serious money to stay awake that long with little to no chocolate and wearing a Faraday suit of armour and a specially designed helmet to avoid getting one million plus volts in the head.

As the organ notes reverberated around my head I was reminded of a very moving short story I read about a hunger artist. Of course most of my associations involve food so this should not come as a surprise to you.

Namely Kafka’s  “The Hunger Artist“. As I look around at a relatively tame and sparse crowd on the Hudson, I wonder what lengths Mr Blaine would go to maintain public interest in his “craft”. In the fiction, public tastes are waning. That hunger artist, after years of avid support, is left abandoned and ignored in a cage close to the animal housing of a circus. And as you can imagine it doesn’t end well. Eventually he is found under the straw in his cage. He dies.

It made me think about Mr Blaine though? What happens when public interest in your feats of “magic” dwindle? What lengths will you go to to revive them? Honestly, I quite dread to think.

Let’s just hope then that a lack of funding and Healthy and Safety step in well before we reach that point.