Tuesday, 31 December 2013

For those who love mountains

The view from our breakfast table here in Austria:

No, really.  What a beautiful country.

Tunes to train by

This isn't really a best of 2013, although a few definitely are.  If these tracks take your fancy, you can follow me on Spotify (Roisin McCourt) or just wait for the next selection here.

- the Babies
- Lorde
- James Blake
- Grimes
Black skinhead
- Kanye West
The hand you hold
- Louise Distras
Turn it around
- Lucius
Blind Faith
- Chase and Status
Cuddly Toy
- Roachford
Thousand year old child
- Pure X

Monday, 30 December 2013

For heaven's sake

You know when you're off on holiday but everything is a little, shall we say, last minute, so you just start chucking things into a bag in a blind panic?

What's the stupidest thing you've ever taken on holiday?

I got all the way to Linz in Austria wearing these:

The only shoes I had taken on a skiing holiday were essentially disintegrating. 


Saturday, 28 December 2013

The hunt for heat: part 2 (financial oblivion)

I'm off skiing today (Austria) and decided I should bite the bullet and buy the Mongolia gear that I could also wear skiing.

I've decided that Snow and Rock is unquestionably the best place to buy your outdoors gear in London.  If you buy British Mountaineering Council membership (£14.99 if you pay by direct debit) you get a stonking 20% off anything full priced.

After much humming and hahing, I went with the Norrona Lyngen 750 down jacket (see earlier post - the Hunt for Heat).  I spent the extra 100g or so to get the full rather than the lightweight version.  I also bought a Norrona fleece mid-layer.

Norrona is unquestionably the best fit for me- I'm 5'10, 68kgs and normally take a size 10 for comparison's sake - I went for size 10 in the mid-layer and 12 in the jacket to make sure I could move in it.

For base layers, turns out that NO base layers do a long leg (why? Why?) so I went for good old Icebreaker 100% merino 200 WM.  They feel a bit baggy and short in the leg and body but I guess it's the wool and everyone tells me they're the best...

I'll report back once they've slid down the slopes a few times!  That's not my shapely behind in the weird invisible lady photos btw. 

The Hunt for Heat: part 3 (the reviews)

Here is a fantastic review of the Lyngen down jacket I bought from a great climbing blog (coldthistle.blogspot.com).  The review is technical and climbing-focused, but very thorough and well-written.  It's nice to know that even climbers think this jacket is sturdy and brilliantly well-designed (therefore great for both aerobic activity and static warmth).  

In fact, the only real criticism is of the jacket is a general criticism of down i.e. you can't get it wet.  I won't be wearing it in wet conditions though so no problems there!

Here is a fun review of how stinky Icebreaker merino shirts (don't) get:


Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas everyone!

I'm trying to raise £500 to help prevent avoidable blindness (see yesterday's post).   Fundraising update: £279 raised of my £500 target - £221 to go... Help me here!

 I love Christmas!

The Fish

A pre-turkey walk...

Quite muddy.

But what a sky!

Then back for some relaxing before dinner

What a happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Peace on earth, good-will to men!

Dear readers - a shameless Christmas appeal!  You might be tired of Christmas shopping by now, but please spare a few pounds to help Seeing is Believing restore the sight of millions of blind people.  

My aim is to raise £500 before New Year - thanks to Sarah Coates and my parents who have made an excellent start, I have £380 left to go...

Standard Chartered will match every donation made, pound for pound so this is an excellent chance to make a real difference this Christmas (Standard Chartered will also meet Just Giving's costs).

Why donate?

80% of blindness is avoidable and 90% of blind people live in the developing world.

Approximately 285 million people globally are visually impaired of which 39 million are blind.  Without effective intervention, this is set to rise to 76 million blind people by 2020. 

Since 2003, Seeing is Believing has reached 41,000,000 people, distributed 376,000 pairs of glasses and worked in 25 countries worldwide.

Seeing is Believing now aims to raise US$100 million by 2020 for projects to prevent avoidable blindness.  Find out more here: http://www.seeingisbelieving.org.uk/about-us

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Mongolian Death Worm

So today, busily preparing to leave work so I can do nothing other stuff my face with chocolate over Christmas, I couldn't help but notice my colleague's reading matter...

Tom and Eels

If you can't read the title, this is a book called "EELS HOW TO CATCH THEM".  Tom also directed me to a charming website: 


which mostly consists of photos like this:

Mmmmm tasty eel

and this:

O, my pretties.

Casting aside the question of why a seemingly ordinary young man might be reading about massive eels and how to catch them, I turned my thoughts to practical matters - do they have eels in Mongolia?  And could I eat them?

And they do, sort of, in the form of the Mongolian Death Worm (olgoi-khorkoi):


This picture is slightly misleading; they are actually "blood-red" in colour and look like a cow's intestine.  


In his book "On the Trail of Ancient Man"(1926), Roy Chapman Andrews (an American explorer, adventurer and naturalist who became the director of the American Museum of Natural History) cites Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinbazar who in 1922 described the worm:

"It is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor leg and it is so poisonous that merely to touch it means instant death. It lives in the most desolate parts of the Gobi Desert…"

The worm is also a literary beast; J. R. R. Tolkien's book The Hobbit (1937) provides an early but fleeting reference - the perilous "wild Were-worms in the Last Desert."  

The worm has made many other appearances in various art forms, not least the iOS game "Super Mega Worm" and the 2010 SyFy television imaginatively called "Mongolian Death Worm".

Not sure it's tasty, though - Mongolians reckon it sprays venom and touching any part will cause instant death or tremendous pain.  So I won't be packing my chaffer grubs (plz refer back to eelfishing.co.uk).

Ps. Death worms may not be real.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

'twas a rough night

How was your weekend?  

The short post

A weekend in which I thought about base training, ran around (and danced!) madly on Saturday and then failed to leave the house on Sunday.

The long post

My weekend started at 5am, when I got up to drive out of the city...worth it, though.

Katy, Sadhira, Maggie and Manita

If only because I realised what I wanted for Christmas...

Basil - just one, please.   No need to wrap him.  

Base training

I have no idea whether my riding is  improving, but I think hacking around Surrey must be good base training (for me and the horses).  

From my limited endurance training in the  past, I learnt that the earlier I started and the more time I had to do long, low intensity sessions, the easier racing was come the summer.  Rowers call these sessions "steady state" (o the joy of 90 minute ergos!) and they are the focus of pre-season and early season training.  This "base" training builds cardiovascular and muscular fitness, but also makes the body more efficient at using fuel, burning fat and avoiding muscle and liver stores of carbohydrate.

I'm steering away from heart rate zones and a strict training programme and not just because I'm not sure how appropriate that kind of an approach is for an unpredictable event like the Derby. Do you think this sounds sensible?!  Comments gratefully received...   

The likelihood of not managing to keep up with the schedule and then feeling disheartened would be high, because I work full time and am subject to lots of other people's demands and needs.  This means that I can't dictate what I do each week or when I do it (in or out of the saddle) and that's fine by me.  I just need to make sure that I do a few sessions a week of an hour or more, at least one of a few hours and that these sessions always feel wearing but not hard.  Harder than it sounds - it is difficult to hold back and go slowly...!

Our Christmas Party

On a separate and un-Derby-related note, thank you to everyone whobattled through party fatigue to come and say happy Christmas last night.  It's a great time of year to catch up with friends and realise how much has happened in the last year...  2013 was eventful, to say the least.

Me, Lindsey and David posing up a storm (I read the Mail! Don't judge me!)

Adam, Tom, David and Miranda

David - the greatest dancer

Bring on Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

when the sun comes up, you'd better be running

II ran in to work this morning.  All the way - 5.5 miles.  Not like Tuesday, when I hopped on a Boris bike just shy of Elephant and Castle, or last night when I ran home as far as Surrey Quays (I live in Lewisham and work in the city).

You can follow me on Strava, if you're a Strava enthusiast - if not, it took me 48 minutes and I averaged 8.5 minute miles.  Not terrible, not great.

Apps for runs/bike rides

Strava has almost rendered GPS redundant.  It maps your route, gives you splits, pace and a total time and it's free.  If you want to get a heart rate monitor and link it, I think you have to upgrade to a paid service.  Strava tips and tricks are here.  It's also worth noting that weak iPhone batteries scupper Strava if you go on long runs/bike rides.  Solutions for that problem include are considered here and here.

Controversies surrounding Strava (largely because it's a social site and allows users to race each other remotely) are here and here.

I love it.  I don't use it to race anyone but its great to record training with little thought or preparation.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

I can't help myself!

Are you feeling slightly harassed by the relentless Christmas party season?!  I'm starting to feel like there just isn't...quite...enough...time...

So a plea - I need to put a Christmas playlist together for our Motown party.  Any suggestions? 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

No, I'm not going to put a Steak in my Knickers

Should I put a steak down my pants?  It seems to be true that Tour de France cyclists did.

As for the story about Tartars eating horse meat steak tartare, chap on left mangled the story slightly.  Most internet references talk about the Mongols sticking steaks under their saddles to tenderise them rather than eating bits of the horse that had a saddle on them.

My favourite proponent of this story on the internet is Helmut, who wrote three books described on his website as "practical, slightly erotic, skill loaded, hard to put down (parental discretion recommended.)" and explained as "amorous, uxorious tales and practical advice from a waiter's life in Germany, South Africa and the United States. 
A must read for any one looking to improve his/her people skills".

Helmut explains enthusiastically that "nomadic races united under Attila the Hun ... in a time when the fastest transportation was on horses back" and "From history books we know that these men burned many calories while touring the countryside of Europe..".  He continues, I imagine slightly breathily, "Women had little choice but to entertain the men."

I think these are the CDs stolen from Katy's car circa 2009
I think he means "entertain" the men.  I won't ruin his story about the nameless young woman who drained all life out of Attila in their wedding night.  Oh, snap...

He's also an artist, by the way.  See right.

Anyway, all nonsense.  Wikipedia and the New York Times (via the Cambridge Medieval History) tell me so.  

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Helpful Suggestions #1

Lots of people have made helpful suggestions.  Like "it would be much easier to get the train, really" and "if you're feeding a horse, make sure your palm is open - otherwise it'll bite you."  

None compare to this one, though...

Best Helpful Suggestion So Far

Chap on right
"I think you ought to put steak down your pants to stop, you know, the chafing.  That's what Tour de France cyclists used to do.  Actually, I think that's what the Mongols used to do.  I think that's where steak "tartare" comes from.  They're called Tartars, aren't they?"

Chap on left
"No - steak tartare used to be made from horsemeat and the Tartars used the meat from under the saddle because it's the most tender.  So you should put a steak down your pants."

One bit of this suggestion is correct...can you guess which? Answer in tomorrow's blog post! 

Monday, 16 December 2013

Everyone talks about the weather, but no-one does anything about it

What do you do when it's raining?  

I took myself off to the chippy and ate this.

You can take the girl out of the North...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Surrey on down

Is there a better way to spend an autumn day?  How do you make the most of lovely weather?

Today I drove down to Surrey to see Maggie, a friend of Katy's. We rode out across cracking MoD land - look at this:

And here's the little girl who wanted to go to pony club!

In my enthusiasm, I wasn't really thinking and accidentally introduced the world's most allergic man to the world's friendliest pet.

Callum broke off from sneezing and gasping for air only to query the point of dogs and...

Dougal looked distinctly hurt. 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

T'es pas bien la?! Après la chute...

The Snout and I have been preparing for our upcoming ski trip (we're flying to Austria on 28 December).

I've been watching awesome ski videos (http://bit.ly/1gykiLc), crying with fear and trying on new base layers (Arcteryx were the best synthetic and Rab were the best merino- only Rab were really long enough). Oldish photo - I'm still feeling grim.

The Snout, on the other hand, has been doing this:

And this:

And this:

Friday, 13 December 2013

Life is enriched by difficulty; love is made more acute when it requires exertion

It seems to be IMPOSSIBLE to get into an introductory session at a London CrossFit gym.  Why?  Is it really so great?

Anyway, CrossFit is still aspirational.  Recently I have been spending my time groaning, eating clementines and garlic bread and reading Far from the Tree.  

Far from the Tree: A Dozen Kinds of LoveFar from the Tree is about how parents deal with children who have different identities to their own for a variety of reasons; autism, dwarfism, schizophrenia, Down's syndrome, disability, deafness, child prodigy, transgender issues, criminality and children born of rape.  It's very readable, but about a million pages long... so far I've read the chapters on deafness (interesting), dwarfism (relatively cheerful), Down's syndrome (touching), schizophrenia (sad) and autism (utterly depressing).    

Then my arms got tired and I had to read the Daily Mail to remind myself that not all parents are consumed by their fight for decent health care for their children.  Some parents have the additional pressure of making sure their children have all the cosmetic surgery they need.  And we should all remember that.

Back to Far from the Tree and just the chapters on child prodigies, transgender issues, criminality and children born of rape to go...

Thursday, 12 December 2013

You can't possibly ask me to go without having some dinner. It's absurd. I never go without my dinner. No one ever does, except vegetarians and people like that.

You can't beat a good dinner with friends.  Can you cook?  Do you have a signature dish?!

Francesco, the Snout, Lindsey, Katy
Lindsey does - baked salmon in sweet chilli sauce.  Delicious.  But she had guests!  She had to PUSH THE BOAT OUT!  So out came microwave potatoes!  IN SOME KIND OF DELICIOUS HERBY DRESSING! 

Bit of a shame then that Lindsey doesn't have a microwave.  Pretty sure I saw Katy gnawing on the table leg at one point.

Henry the Hundred Miler

I've been thinking about riding hours and kit because that's the bit I don't know anything about and need the most help with.  Meeting my friend Henry for lunch yesterday made me think I need to start training for what is essentially an endurance race...

Me: "what did you do at the weekend, Henry?"

Henry: "oh, ran 100 miles."

Henry's advice was: start running and try crossfit. I'm off! Don't even know what crossfit is!

Have you tried crossfit? Would you recommend it? 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


So much for all my plans - I'm sick in a gloomy miserable English winter weather way.  

To cheer myself up, here is a photograph of my commute:

I don't know what all the cyclists in London are complaining about.

Unfortunately as I was getting my phone out of my bag to take the photograph I must have dropped my very snazzy (*expensive*) new glow-stick type bike light.  

So beautiful useless photograph, 1, expensive useful bike light, 0.  Yet another sacrifice to the bicycle gods I guess...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Horse: lesson 1

Don't have time for the full post? Read the

Short Post

A week in which I met a Derbyist (see my earlier post and particularly her blog), said happy birthday to a friend and went to my first Riding Club London social.  Lindsey ran off to Berlin and I ran off to Hampshire to ride.

How was your week?!


The Full Post

The Riding Club, London

Living in London and not having a horsey background, I knew when I signed up to the  Derby that getting the hours in the saddle I needed to ride the race would be difficult.  When I stumbled across the Riding Club London on a Horse and Hound forum I was definitely interested - the idea seems to be that the club organises access to horses for its London-based members.  The forum post said that members were posh, but nice and the club had access to really great horses. 

I sent the club an email and Katharine, the director, invited me along to drinks at the Fox Club, Mayfair to meet the club.  It sounds really promising: they have an incredible network of horse contacts and organise lessons, hunting, polo - you name it, they sort it.  I left cheerful and definitely tipsy so a thumbs up from me.  I'm looking forward to my first event!

The Fox Club

A weekend in Hampshire

My friend Katy invited me up to her parents' place to ride a friend's horse and start learning to find my way around a stable.  We hacked out Saturday morning across Surrey countryside and then took two horses back to her parents' place for their, and my, edification.  This is what I learnt.

"Fun" is used in Hampshire to refer to activities most of the world would more commonly describe as "dangerous".  Like backing four year olds (note the safety gear).

Chip and Katy

And "fresh" or "bright" does not mean clean, or rude, or cheerful - in Hampshire this means TREAT WITH CAUTION.


It's difficult to see from this photo of a beautiful little mare that she is really something else - quick, neat and didn't think twice about throwing an almighty buck a good half an hour in and out of thin air.

She is lovely, though...

Sadhira and adoring fan

Anyway, horses ridden Katy went to the party later prepared to charm.


And charm she did.  She didn't seem to notice that her dress had ridden up dangerously high, but the perfect man we'd gone to meet might have.  He sent her a Facebook message before we managed to get home and then another and a text and tried to ring before she had a chance to reply!  Not sure where he got her number from...

As the sun set, we headed back to London tired but happy.  What a great weekend!