Puny creatures, tremble before your destroyer!
The unfortunate thing about trying to keep a garden in shape is the number of battles in which one gets involved.

Mum gave me a lovely little rose bush for my birthday. "It's disease resistant," she advised me. Not being that green of finger, I took this to mean it would be relatively low maintenance - regular watering and feeding during summer, maybe the odd bit of dead-heading, but otherwise something that could be left to its own devices.

Oh no.

Having been back to Wales for a long, hot weekend, I thought my garden was in need of a little attention. Most of the rose bush's flowers had died as a combined result of the sun and the fact that they'd come to the end of their natural life. So this morning's task was the removal of dessicated blooms.

Something else didn't look quite right, though. Didn't the bush used to have more leaves? Looking closer, I found the little culprit responsible - green, squirmy and enjoying a feast of foliage.

And he wasn't alone. Why dine on your own when you can throw a party? Upon thorough inspection I found dozens of the little buggers had stripped several of the branches as good as bare. Evidently I was facing the massed ranks of the caterpillar army.

So dead-heading became bug-chasing, as I scoured the rose bush for my herbivorous foes, picking them off and throwing them onto the decking for birds to find, or maybe for an appointment with the frog/toad/amphibious thing that seems to be resident in my garden (of whom more another time, hopefully). But eventually, much like sniffer dogs with drugs, a kind of caterpillar blindness develops, and the initial sharpness fades. Even so, by the end of the session about 50 had been forcibly evicted.

And still I can't be sure I got all of them, can't be sure that my rambling rose will be allowed to recover without the threat of being eaten alive. I read the Very Hungry Caterpillar enough times as a child to appreciate the scale of the appetite I'm facing. And why can't they eat something ugly and useless like weeds? Why does it have to be the pretty, delicate stuff that gets devoured?

Yet, knowing that the caterpillars are just following the course of their nature as flutterbys-in-waiting, I can't help but feel a little guilty. I didn't squish the little critters, but by separating them from food and camouflage I can't deny being guilty of conspiracy to murder. Genocide, even. Insecticide!

But what else can I do? It's them or me.

In the words of another great bug hunter, I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.


Will's squeeze Kate Middleton, copyright APThis might appear very cheap of me, but...

My, if young William's squeeze Kate Middleton isn't a very attractive young woman.

With genes like those on show at Buck House, I could be persuaded to put the Republic on hold for a year or two.

Hang on, though. Is this actually just a monarchist ruse to quell the people?

Brothers, sisters (although mostly just the brothers), it is vital that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted from the cause.

(I strongly deny any allegation that rather than being discussion of a serious constitutional issue this post is actually just a thinly-veiled excuse for publishing a picture of a hot girl.)


A Sunday stroll
Arrive at the National Theatre on the South Bank at 1330. Despite the formidable heat in London (33c/91f) the place is thronging with people ready for Crusaid's annual Walk for Life fundraiser. A crowd

Hotties for people of all persuasions abound. DJ is playing a medley of tunes with the word walk (and derivations thereof)in the title: Bangles, Mellencamp, Aretha, Katrina and the Waves, Run DMC and Aerosmith of course, to name but a few, but no Nancy Sinatra or Johnny Cash, as far as I notice.

The appointed departure time of 1400 approaches and people make a last dash for the loo, eager to balance the intake and output of fluids correctly. Two o'clock comes and goes. Still, the collection of gay activists, charity workers, compassionate corporate teams (in t-shirts which delicately balance understanding and branding), and other concerned individual seem to be happy enough.

The compere keeps promising we'll be under way in "just five more minutes", but the DJ's run out of fresh tracks to play. Ignore Susanna Hoffs' advice. Emulating Egyptians for 10km is not viable.

Eventually, quarter of an hour late, the MC introduces the guest "stars" who are to cut the ribbon and start the walk. Sir Ian McKellen's place in history is assured and I'm suitably in awe of his presence. Dannii Minogue's presence is less inspiring, but I have a soft spot for her as Kylie's sister. AS for the others, we have a ghost of Big Brother past, Captain Jack from Doctor Who, and some bloke from Eastenders. Good job I'm here for the exercise rather than the autographs.

Finally, at 1417, we're sent on our way. But with thousands of people trying to filter out of the narrow exit from the National's square it is, as one wag observes, more like the shuffle for life.Footlock

The early going proves heavy as the crowds prevent me from setting my own pace. If there's one thing I hate, it's walking slowly. I have an optimum rate, and much below that I start losing my balance. But as we move past the tourist traps on Westminster Bridge, I get the chance to start cutting through the dawdlers.

Turning east onto Whitehall, I start getting into my stride. As we pass a protest outside Downing Street, a mother and son who'd obviously been at the front of the group are arguing about who was going to carry the child's silver scooter. There's about 9km to go. Will these people never learn?

Passing through Trafalgar Square, we turn down Northumberland Avenue towards Embankment. As we reach the north bank, a group of corporate girls enjoy a flurry of excitement.

"We're halfway there," says one, "that official lady just told me." I look at my watch. 1450. We've been walking barely half an hour. Either we're breaking records or these girls have a nasty surprise in store.

The Embankment goes by without much worthy of comment, although I notice more than a few fellow walkers taking a rest or grabbing an ice cream. Every now and again we pass the walk's stewards who greet us with varying degrees of enthusiasm, ranging from disinterest to a one-woman extravaganza of whooping, applause and encouragement for each participant who passes.

We cross the Thames for a second time, over Southwark bridge and back onto the South Bank, where the buildings are starting to provide a little more shade for the savvy to walk in. It's about this time that I notice I'm regularly trading places with a couple of girls, a veritable Little and Large. As patronising as this may sound, the big girl's pace and stamina are impressive.

Another volunteer, a lovely lady of Latin extraction, assures us we're over halfway by this point. It's good to know, but I think she's missed her cue. Wonder how the corporate girls are doing.

Then back across the Thames over Tower Bridge. This is the start of our trip back west. The heat's really beginning to tell now. I'm thirsty, in spite of the litres of water I've drunk, my legs are tired, and my eyes are stinging from all the sweat that's run into them.

But there's fresh impetus when the girls ask a volunteer how many people have already passed her. A couple of hundred, comes the reply. The girls seem surprised and a little disappointed that it's so many, but I'm quite pleased with my position - not that it's a race, of course.

My pre-race banana has worn off by this point, so it's time for number two as I approach Cannon Street and pass St Paul's. A cheery Irish fella assures us we've passed the three-quarter distance mark, another piece of good news.

And so it's one last crossing of the river, south across the Millennium Bridge. I still rue the day they decided to amend the architect's original plans and de-wobble it. The big girl gets caught among sloth-like pedestrians, and I make a little ground on my adopted rivals.

But then we all fall victim to the tourist traffic that surrounds Tate Modern and the Oxo tower, and hit much worse when we get to the charming wharf near Coin Street. Which just happens to be having its annual festival.

Can't really blame them, but with less than a kilometre to go, extra crowds and stalls to avoid are the last thing this walker needs. However successful this Walk for Life may have been as a fundraiser, the practicalities of the route seem to have been given surprisingly little thought.

Still, with the National looming, the finish line is in sight. Despite having lost ground to the girls around the festival, the celebratory balloon arch is a welcome reward.

Walked footMy time? Two hours, 10 minutes. Not too shabby, especially considering the conditions and the cattle-run nature of the start. And confirmation that I've come home "well within the first 200" is cause for extra celebration.

But my journey's not quite over. It's off to Battersea Park (my first visit, and a pleasant surprise to find it beats Hyde Park - reminds me of Vancouver's Stanley Park, but with less ocean and mountain) to meet Thomsk, Josh, Jane and Thea, and finally relax.

As a result of the schlepping, I've managed to raise more than £400 for Crusaid to put towards various HIV and Aids causes, thanks in no small part to many of you.

I've been warned not to make a habit of it. Possibly good advice, but never say never again.


As Naomi said...
I don't get out of bed for less than 10k.

Me, post-Walk for Life

Full report to follow.


Good night last night watching Danny Fantastic's new jazz combo play their debut gig. First time I've actually heard him play his sax - and he's good. Particularly pleasing that he failed to keep it together during the closing reggae version of a Mingus classic (at least I think it was - but my jazz knowledge is poor).

Unfortunately with Dan's impending cycle path cycle to India (yes, two wheels all the way), it seems like it's the only set they'll ever play. Stories will be told in hushed voices of the Rhythm Centre sax man who wowed the lucky two dozen brave enough to venture to a little basement bar in Stoke Newington, and then disappeared, never to be heard blowing his horn in public again. (Until he comes back, of course). And we finished the night eating in a Turkish cafe in a borderline dodgy area at one in the morning, discussing Scientology. Only in London. Or Istanbul, of course.

Also, why do people say "I could care less" when what they actually mean is that they couldn't? Presumably the saying had its original meaning (i.e. that it would be possible for them to care less than they actually did, that they actually cared quite a lot), but some lazy people thought it sounded cool, and the fact that they ended up talking nonsense was an acceptable price to pay. Don't cite evolution of the language. It's not going to wash. These people should be stopped.

And if this post seems a little lacklustre, it's because I'm not writing what's on my mind. But that's maybe just as well because, as Jane once remarked, throwing up on a public street may provide instant relief for the one doing the chundering, but in the long run things rarely work out for anyone.


I recently started swimming again, and I'd forgotten how much of a hub for the community a local pool can be.

But over here are mothers, babies and toddlers (some showing early signs of transvestism - "It's very impressive that he knows about Snow White," says one mum. "Oh yes," comes the reply, "Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, he knows them all. We've been to fancy dress parties as them."), over there the schoolkids learning to swim, out of the pool just in time for the water aerobics with accompanying megamix of pop favourites (Durannies and Kylie vs New Order), with a big German girl floating up and down one of the lanes on her back.

In fact, even when one times one's visit to hit the quietest periods, there's so much vitality that there's very little room for those of us who actually want to put in a few good lengths.

I've never been the strongest swimmer. I think I was about 11 before I was able to keep myself afloat independently, and even now I wouldn't be any kind of challenge for Ian Thorpe, even in terms of shoe size. Hell, I'd struggle to keep up with Equatorial Guinea's Eric the Eel in the pool, even without the added hazards provided by the occasional escaped sticking plaster. And my repertoire's pretty much limited to the breast stroke (insert your own double entendre here).

You'd hope that a swimming pool would provide more than a quarter of its capacity for actual swimming. But that's proving to be a rare treat. So those of us who want exercise rather than indulge in a bit of splashy-splashy are forced to share two lanes, squeezed out to the edge of the pool, going up one and down the other, with me playing the role of tractor on a long Cornish country lane, all the family saloons trudging in my wake.

All of this is tolerable, when compared with the worst affliction of public baths: teenage boys. The less said about them the better, other than they ought not to be allowed. Anywhere. If we ignore them, they might go away.

Is there a point to any of this? Not really. I'm just getting it off my chest. Except to say the one unbeatable aspect about the pool is that it's where Mum used to take us after school when we lived in north London more than 20 years ago.

I like it when life goes in circles. Unlike swimming.


A word for our sponsors
You can't believe how incredibly sordid I feel doing this here, but...

In a little less than two weeks I'm going to be participating in a sponsored Walk for Life around London, in support of the Aids charity Crusaid. They exist principally to generate cash for Aids projects in the UK and around the world: vaccine research, education programmes, poverty relief - you name it, they'll throw money at it.

Now this walk is quite a big deal for me. Not because of the distance - I shouldn't find 10k on hard streets too taxing even on a sunny summer day - but owing to the fact that I've got considerably fitter over the past year, and this was the first opportunity I had to put that progress to good use.

Problem is, after a good start, the fundraising's temporarily dried up well short of my target. Of course, I have a lot of people to go to cap in hand nearer the time, but having e-mailed them all once (to some benefit - thanks Sam and Jane, particularly), I don't want to be too much of a nag.

I abhor people using their blogs to beg for money, particularly when it's just for themselves, but the thought that the charity might miss out on a few quid because I didn't pursue a potential source of revenue, well that's worse.

Hence the shameless plea here.

So if any of you benevolent souls do feel like adding to the coffers before 19th June, you can do so by visiting my sponsorship page, where absolutely anything would be gratefully received (it all goes directly to the charity - none of it passes through my hands, either physical or virtual). Plus, you should get a warm glow from the knowledge that you've done A Good Thing.

While I don't expect to come out of it challenging Maurice Greene or Haile Gebrselassie for honours, I do promise to post an illustrated account.

Many, many thanks in anticipation, and we now return you to your regular programming.


I've been trying to construct a paean to Ben Folds after seeing him play last night, but I'm so much in awe of the man, that all I can manage is wow.

I'd been waiting years for this gig, the chance to see one of my favouritest artists perform live. But when he toured in 2000 I couldn't see him, then in 2002 I was in the US (at some wedding or other :) while he was in the UK, and finally the original November date for this show was cancelled because Ben had a serious chest infection.

But it was worth waiting for.

It was just fantastic, everything I had hoped. The mix of old tunes and new, the slowies and crowd-pleasers, the mandatory audience participation on tracks like Army and Not the same, the ironic cover of Dr Dre's Bitches Ain't Shit (with melody specially penned by Ben), the slightly country acoustic guitar support act (who may or may not have been Ben - a topic of fervent debate), Folds' mastery of the keyboards and the proof that pop and piano can mix without being bland (Dame Elton he ain't), the seemingly improvised riffs ("The Barbican is not your bitch/The Barbican will not be rocked"), the humour and humanity running through his work - it was almost three hours of pure joy.

If I had one criticism, it would be that the staid London crowd were far too slow to get out of their seats and on their feet.

But the guy just has fun on stage, and eventually it proves infectious.

And judging by the way my legs were shaking with excitement by the end of the concert, I think I'm about ready to have his children.

More please...