One Week Later

It is now a week on from the atrocities in Brussels so I feel able to actually put something down. As some will know I was in the city at the time and I would like to thank everyone who sent me good wishes over various platforms – I really, really appreciate it.

Travel to Brussels is a regular thing for me, a standard routine of train, hotel and meetings. While it is not the greatest thing of all time to be away from home and the Lovely Wife up until last week it was hardly a stressful exercise.

On Tuesday I had the second of three back to back Trade Association meetings. The offices are at the terminus of one of the Metro lines, so it is very convenient to stay downtown and take the Metro to the offices and the service is pretty reliable.

The hotel I was staying at is relatively small and about fifteen minutes brisk walk from the nearest Metro station. As I switched off my telephone which had been streaming BBC Radio I half heard Moira Stuart saying something about explosions but I did not really register it, my brain was thinking about the meeting later rather than anything to do with the journey or what might be happening on the news.

I left the hotel and walked as normal to the station. There did seem to be a lot of people coming out of the station, but it took a Metro worker making it clear the station was closed for the penny to drop that something was wrong. At this point I thought that maybe there was an issue with the network and thought it would be easier to get a taxi from the hotel, so I walked back.

Of course by the time I was back the hotel had locked its doors and a security man had arrived. And I found out what had happened at the airport and at Maalbeek station.

I have to say I was pretty shaken, particularly at the attack on the Metro. This was a station I would have been going through if I had left thirty minutes earlier.

Some weeks before, feeling particularly morbid perhaps, I had wondered what would happen if someone had wanted to attack the EU institutions, and I must admit as I was going through Schumann – the next stop from Maalbeek and where the Commission buildings are – I had felt extremely nervous. While I was sitting in my hotel room watching the horrific scenes unfolding on the BBC World News feed the memory of thinking about this just kept going around in my head.

Thankfully I was able to call home before the mobile network was shut down, so the Lovely Wife knew I was safe. Then I had to come to a decision on what to do. I know that some travellers proceeded to get out of Brussels straight away; hiring cars and driving to airports in nearby cities where they could catch a flight home. In the end I just sat tight and hoped that things would calm down and I was more concerned about the many friends and colleagues I had in Brussels and whether they had been caught up in the events. To date, as far as I know, thank God, no one I know has been hurt – it does not make events any less shocking, but makes it personally easier to handle.

The main reason for putting this down in words though is to pay tribute to some people who are often overlooked. When people look for good in a situation like this – or, if you are religious like me, God – it is not in the dark events but in the response to them by normal people. In this case for me, this was the hotel staff.

Shops can close and send staff home, but hotels have guests that need looking after. Most of the men and women at the hotel I prefer are pretty young, and it were clear to me that they were as scared and upset as anyone else would be. But they held it together, were calm, professional and did everything they could to make me (and I presume the other guests) feel as safe as possible.

There is a point where you exchange a look with a stranger that communicates a straightforward message that, while we do not know each other, we are in this together. I felt that on Wednesday from hotel staff, the young policeman who went through my bag as I queued to get into Gare du Midi and again from the Eurostar staff that brought me home.

I only pray that this kind of connection can become more of a binding force between us rather than the divisions that terror attacks and sometimes knee jerk reactions to them can cause.


Easy Like… Well Any Morning, Really.

I wrote this originally on Monday 21st so if this seems a little frivolous I apologise. I will comment on this week’s events next week, when I have had time to reflect. Until then I want to think lighter thoughts.

It always amazes me the random things that we find on each other’s CD shelves. I do not mean something like a small ceramic duck, or a signed photograph of Russ Abbot. I am thinking more of the slightly odd music choice that sits out of place with the rest of the shelf occupants. Look at your CD collection – I’m sure you know which one I am talking about, it is probably the one that is shoved in the corner or moved so anyone glancing at the shelf might miss it.

It is time to confess my CD sin.

Actually, I have multiple sins to confess. The lesser of the two is probably the copy of the very best of Val Doonican, with the late crooner cheerily grinning out from the cover in the usual avuncular cardigan. Worse perhaps, at least in terms of the sheer level of transgression, are my multiple Barbara Dickson albums. Yes, you read that correctly.

The trouble is, sometimes I quite like Easy Listening.

I know that is a terrible thing to say and I’d much rather champion the heavy rock or multiple alternative artists that are lurking in there as well, but there is no hiding the fact that they are rubbing shoulders with Dean Martin and Matt Monroe.

I guess part of the problem is parental indoctrination. Val and Barbara (together with Johnny Mathis and Elkie Brooks) were a large part of my parents listening pleasure and needless to say that meant I had them played at me throughout my childhood. This normally seems to result in one of two outcomes. First there is the outright rejection of it and I know plenty of people who would not even contemplate having any of their parent’s music in their house, never mind actually play any of it. But the other possibility is that at least some of the music worms its way into your consciousness and actually you end up rather fond of it. Maybe because I had a happy childhood with very dear parents that playing some of their music just make me feel relaxed and happy.

There is terrible music out there but most of the time it is more the case that some music works for you and doesn’t work for others. I will groan a bit at old Val singing ‘Delaney’s Donkey’ (though it is quite funny) but then again there is a song like ‘Elusive Butterfly’ which I still think is a lovely song, beautifully executed.

I put it on and I am ten again, and I can almost feel the hugs from my late mum.

A few years ago the Lovely Wife indulged me and allowed me to drag her to see Barbara Dickson when her tour included St Albans. I was quite nervous – not so much for the possible agony that I might be putting the Lovely Wife through, but more that the voice and delivery would not live up to the more perfect production of the records I grew up with. Obviously I did not need to worry – she was amazing. But it was at that time that I noted how important this music was to me.

So please don’t abuse me too much – my music tastes are pretty eclectic and I’m sure there is something you like that I do too. But I do have to sit back and chill sometimes… Maybe with the only record (to date) I have had dedicated for me on the radio – back when I was ten. And that song was ‘Born Free’ by Matt Monroe. I still think that it is a stonking good track, so I’ll just plead guilty as charged (M’Lord) and go get my headphones.

Numbers Game


I’ve been using one of these new fangled tracker things over the last few weeks to some amusement – I still have not got past the shock of it vibrating away on my wrist the moment I have passed my step target (not something I would have thought about before I confess). The reason I have it is that I am interested, as I get older, in having some indications broadly as to how fit I am and whether things are working smoothly, although other than tracking the amount of movement and making a decent stab at monitoring my heart rate (I suspect at least it is accurate as the nurse who has to record it when I give platelets, I am under no illusion that it is a precision instrument) everything seems to be a rough algorithm. Like Body Mass Index then it can only be a guide to progress and not a reliable indicator of overall health.

I can see the appeal for more though and I suspect it is only a matter of time before we have sensors that will also conveniently and unobtrusively monitor blood pressure and also measure a lot of what we get blood tests for – cholesterol, various organ function measures and a one that personally interests me, blood sugar. As far as I can tell I have not yet succumbed to type II diabetes but I’m certainly in the risk zone – it runs in the family on both sides and my grandfather first went blind and eventually died of complications brought on by it.

But for the moment it feels almost like a game, this monitoring. Which I guess is what they are supposed to offer, a way of making people do more exercise than perhaps they would otherwise. Maybe, you think, I‘ll walk the long way back to my desk. After all, you don’t want to reach midnight only a few steps short of target do we?

I did miss it yesterday, but then I did not think climbing up and down the stairs a few times before bed was really necessary to get my literal ‘buzz’ of the day – even with good-natured coaxing from the Lovely Wife. But then I’m suffering from a bit of a head cold so I thought that no amount of playing the numbers game is going to make me feel any better because it is stopping me form running. Which as anyone who runs a lot will know is incredibly frustrating.

OK, I know that taking a sensible few days out to recover so I can get back in the trainers properly and safely is the right thing to do, but as is so often the case the opposite is more tempting. When the illness or injury is not bad enough to banish any thoughts of physical exercise, the temptation is to push your luck and come back as early as seems possible, but my judgement in that matter is often flawed. And as a result the setback is will take longer to heal and produce more frustration than if I had left it well alone in the first place.

But actually, it did help today. Having a step target gave me the satisfaction at least that if I cannot do the exercise I want to do there was still a target to aim at that was achievable even when I was not well which was still useful and would not put me back to square one. So hooray for the technological boost… But I want to be back in the running gear soon nevertheless.

Wading Through Treacle

I wish I had the energy of a sparrow.

Well at this moment anyway, as I write this (I’m uploading later) I am looking outside the window the amount of small bird activity is quite impressive. They are nest building (well you have to assume that a beak full of fluff is intended for a nest) in between bouts of noisy squabbling that could be the avian version of romance or territorial dispute or perhaps both. But for such small birds they certainly have a lot of energy. Maybe that is why in Disney movies the little woodland creatures always get press-ganged into a slave labour force for whichever generic princess type happens to need some housework doing.

I’m quite jealous of our little friends I was suffereing one of those days that have not really gotten started.

I think we all have days like that. They start too soon to begin with, as though someone has fiddled with your alarm clock to move it at least a couple of hours fast – I mean, it cannot be that time already can it? And from that point you are always going to be fighting a losing battle as you wade through the treacle of the day. I hate days like this. A bit like being a Newcastle United supporter (especially this season) after a few attempts at trying to get anything useful done you realise it is largely pointless and then you want to just throw your arms in the air and just give up for the day (or indeed the season) and just go back to bed and hope tomorrow arrives in a better mood.

But life of course does not make that really an option. For a start I have work to do and there is something just plain wrong about throwing a day away completely – if only because you do not know you will have one tomorrow. Well, of course you hope for it but there are no guarantees.

So, how do you get yourself kick started?

For some it is just force of will (‘pulling themselves together’) but I’ve never been strong on the willpower front so I need a bit more of a boost. For some that might be a treat (providing you do not feel guilty about the chocolate afterwards). Maybe motivational music is your thing. For me, it probably comes down to going for a run or at least a brisk walk.

The Lovely Wife has pointed out on numerous occasions that if I am in some kind of grump then going for a run tends to bring me out of it. Beyond the obvious physical benefits and the subsequent ‘runners high’ (which certainly exists for me, if I’m placed in a position where I cannot run for several days I become increasingly tetchy due to withdrawal) it gives me time to think, to be away from whatever was dragging me down or to pray. In the case of day that is not going anywhere it also means that I can feel I’ve achieved something in doing some exercise (which my cheerful little fitness tracker gleefully congratulates me on) so I’m already making some inroads into the day being not completely pointless.

So as the aches reside I can perhaps get back to all the other things that need doing with a small amount of positivity. The next step for me is to be realistic about what I am going to achieve. Start with the small things, the simple things and leave the large complicated stuff to a day when you feel full of beans (if at all possible). Put the pile of clean clothes away in the wardrobe that has been sitting there for several days. Send the couple of emails that you’ve been planning to send to old friends to check how they are. Do some washing up. I’m quite amazed on what can be achieved even on an off day.

But I wish it was easier, I’d be lying otherwise.

Off Track

Well that was a nasty shock. My scales had been lying to me. And like all the best lies I was only too happy to believe them.

I’ve succumbed with the help of my main birthday present this year to the endless fascination of fitness tracking. Probably it is my stage of life but it seemed a good time to take a long hard look at how I’m managing my life and make some sensible adjustments. It seemed a good idea at time. But I should have reminded myself about various sayings about uncomfortable truths.

So the good news was that, allowing for inaccuracies these things inevitably bring with them, somethings at least are going well. Heart rate is in a nice healthy area and I’m doing more than enough exercise it seems (although possibly not the right type). But yikes, the new smart scales to go with the wristband has reduced any slightest amount of smugness that might have been brought on by the initial few days of tracking to a growing sense of things not being how they should be.

Whenever you get a new set of scales there is an opportunity for a nasty shock, and if the new scales are really that much more accurate the old ones have been underestimating my weight by several pounds… And I’m not even going to mention the dreaded body fat percentage measurement. So in a few moments, I’ve gone from a small amount of satisfaction to worrying about my BMI and thinking ‘how did it get like this?’

Not that I regret it. I’d rather know and then feel motivated to do something about it then stick my head in the sand and just let things get worse. I quite like these tracking things and ideally I’d like to be able to track other health parameters such as blood sugar and liver function, if only to be able to spot problems at an early stage and give me a chance to make the changes before they become a problem. That said, part of me wonders about the drawbacks of getting too involved with the figures. In the end, we all probably know the problems; I drink a bit too much, I’m not as careful about my fat intake as I should be, and take in too many ‘incidental’ calories, such as snacking on olives while cooking (very bad habit). Looking at the exercise I am doing, I start to see why this perhaps does not help as much as it should. Most of it fits into the cardio range which is great for my heart but not that good when I want to lose weight. Sigh. Who knew it was all so complicated? Well, I did, but it is easy to put your fingers in your ears and hum. It’ll be alright. I’ll start the healthy eating tomorrow. And that is one possible drawback of actually tracking these things. If the figures look good, then everything must be fine, right?

Maybe I am better off getting nasty shocks from the scales. The reality is that there is plenty of time for me to put things right, but it needs to be now as it will not get any easier as I get older.

So generally I am happy to have a better dataset then before to see how I’m doing – but I cannot say it is making me cheerful. I can also do without the cheery little emails from the system telling me how well I’ve ‘nailed’ today’s exercise goals, best exemplified by the one I received yesterday proudly informing me that since I signed up I have walked the same distance as the penguins in ‘March of the Penguins’. That really helps. Maybe I should go on a pilchard diet….