January Habits

2024 Challenge

We’re now well into February which means that’s it’s definitely time to talk about my 2024 challenge.

Wait, is this what you used to call your January habits?

Well, yes. But they weren’t particularly successful (apart from the 10,000 steps a day one) so I’ve had a rethink and I’m focusing on just 1 thing for the year.

So what have you decided on?

I’ve decided that I’m going to go the whole of 2024 without drinking any alcohol.

Couldn’t you just do Dry January like everyone else?

Well, yes, but that wouldn’t be a challenge. I’m sure I’ve gone a month without alcohol before, both intentionally and unintentionally. The real challenge is doing it for a whole year.

Have you managed it so far?

Yeah, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about this…

The two tricky moments so far were visiting a friend the other day who I hadn’t pre-warned, and going for a curry (seriously what Indian restaurant only has fizzy drinks as the non-alcoholic options, and who wants a lemonade with their rogan josh!?).

Have there been any other benefits?

Well I definitely haven’t saved £200 (or even the average of £118), but I would never spend that much on alcoholic drinks anyway. To be honest, other than the one or two times mentioned above, this has had minimal impact on me so far.

What’s the small print? There’s always some sort of exclusions to the rules?

It’s not an exclusion, but I’m also not drinking non-alcoholic beers. I feel like if I just wanted a beer I should have a beer, not something that tastes like beer but without the alcohol, so that’s out. Other non-alcoholic drinks (mocktails etc) are fine if they’re not alcohol derivatives.

Conversely, alcohol is fine if it’s part of the food cooking process, for example beer-battered fish. Alcohol is also fine in a church communion setting (if that happens to be a thing during the year). Those are the main (very rare) situations I’ve thought of so far.

Will you be continuing this into 2025?

Highly unlikely. I’ll have to think of something else for next year.

Annual Review

Annual Review 2023

As is now (sort of) traditional, it’s the end of the year so time for a pictorial review of some of the things I’ve done in the last 12 months.

My planned walk in January was cancelled due to flooding so I headed down to South coast for some exploring there instead
In April, I finally finished walking the Capital Ring which I had started in October 2020 (Obviously not walking for that whole time!)
In May, I completed the LDWA 100 mile walk. This photo was the welcome sight of the sun coming up at the start of the second day (having walked through the night and the whole day before)
In June, I went to an aquarium with some friends (I just love this action shot of the fish posing)
Later in June, I attended the Donauinselfest (Danube Island Festival) in Vienna (the second day wasn’t as wet as the first evening and was much busier)
In July, I completed the Nijmegen 4-day walk. Against what everyone says, the Netherlands isn’t all flat, although the hill in this photo is actually in Germany (in fact, the field at the front is too – the road marks the border!)
In August, my younger brother and I walked the West Highland Way. It rained a lot, but the scenery was spectacular (I should do a full write-up of this sometime…)
A visit to Melk, Austria in early October followed by a boat trip along the Danube which I’m pretty sure gave me food poisoning…
In late October I visited the USA. I took a load of photos (which should probably also end up as a blog post of its own in the future), but this is one of my favourites for showing the Autumn Fall colours
And finishing off the review with another visit down to the South coast
Life event

Gas Gas Gas

Last December I noticed a strange smell in my kitchen but I couldn’t work out what it was or where it was coming from. A few days passed and I still couldn’t figure it out. I did wonder whether it could be gas, but the internet suggested that gas has an obvious smell, plus it had been several days and my house hadn’t blown up.

Anyway, just to be sure I went on Amazon and bought a gas leak detector. My order was still on its way when I walked past some roadworks and I thought “maybe it is the same smell”. So when I got home I phoned the gas emergency number just to be safe.

Let’s just say the person on the other end of the phone wasn’t convinced it was a gas leak, mainly because gas should have an obvious smell and it should really have been obvious to me if it was a gas leak and I shouldn’t really be wasting their time. After checking a few things (did the smell go away when the gas was turned off? etc), he did agree to send someone out though.

The engineer arrived about three hours later (I got a priority service as I live in a block of flats, but it was still 11.30pm by this time!). I told him the story and how I wasn’t even sure if there was a leak. After asking me to turn the gas back on, he waved his tester around where I thought the leak might be: “Slightly higher reading than normal, but nothing to suggest a leak”. He then stuck his tester behind the cupboard and it immediately starting beeping. “Yep, there’s definitely a leak here”.

That was a relief. I was justified for having called him out and felt less like the boy who cried wolf. After inspecting, he advised that one of the joints had come loose. The gas had been slowly leaking through and then filtering through the cupboards which explained why it was such a weak smell. As a free service, he could only make it safe and I would have to call out someone else if it actually needed fixing. Fortunately in this case, making it safe was tightening the joint and since that seemed to do the job, he went on his way.

The next day, the Amazon gas leak tester arrived. Oh well, at least I have it just in case I need it…

Fast forward to this week, and there’s a strange smell in my kitchen which I can’t work out what it is or where it’s coming from. Ah, I’ve got just the thing for this! So I find my tester, but nope, all negative, not detecting anything at all (I’ve tested it directly on the hob as in the instructions so I know it does detect something). Maybe I don’t have a gas leak at all.

A few more days pass and I still can’t figure it out and I know it can’t be gas because my leak detector would have told me. But last night, I decided that maybe it was the same smell as before and it possibly was a slightly stronger smell nearer the cupboard, but again, it was so weak that it was hard to be certain. Like before, I tested turning off the gas supply at the meter and the smell did seem to reduce so it might have been gas, but was I certain enough to phone for help?

This morning I decided that it was probably safer to get it sorted. Rather than going via the emergency number, I went straight to a local gas engineer. If it’s happened before, it probably needs more than just tightening, and I’ve already shut the gas off at the mains so I don’t need the emergency phone person judging me again for not knowing what gas smells like. However, by not going for the free service this time, I have to pay a £160/hour charge just for the call-out so there had better be a leak!

The engineer arrives and I direct him to the cupboard where the previous leak was. I turn on the gas and he waves his tester around, but there’s no response. Was I wrong this time? Did I waste £160 for nothing?

But then he moves his tester to a different part of the pipe and it frantically starts pinging. That was a relief. I was justified for having called him out and felt less like the boy who cried wolf. After inspecting, he advised that the test point connection was faulty. The gas had been slowly leaking through and then filtering through the cupboards which explained why it was such a weak smell. He didn’t have the replacement part, but he would have to order one and come back. In the meantime, he made the pipe safe by capping off the connection and he went on his way.

Here’s what I’ve learnt from my experiences:

  1. A gas leak doesn’t always smell obvious, whatever the internet and the man on the emergency helpline say. Maybe because my leak wasn’t big enough. Or maybe my nose isn’t very good.
  2. A gas leak detector doesn’t always pick up everything. Maybe because my leak wasn’t leak big enough. Or maybe I was just testing in the wrong place.

Will it happen again? Hopefully not, but I’m feeling slightly more paranoid about it happening and me not noticing.

January Habits

January Habits 2022: Update

It’s July, halfway through the year, so time for a quick look at how my January Habits are going.

And they’re not going particularly well. Rather than going into too much detail now (and having nothing to write in December). I’m just going to do a quick yes/no to whether I’m on track.

So there you have it. I may or may not try to restart some of these again, but I will have a full update on what’s been happening/not happening in December. Don’t hold your breath.

Life event

Challenge completed

When I said in my last post that I would update the following week, I hadn’t intended it to be a month, but here we are…

Anyway, I did it! I walked 100 miles in less than 48 hours! (Technically I did it in 46 hours 26 minutes.)

The worst part was the lack of sleep. So many times I wanted to stop by the side of the path and have a nap (which I knew would be the end of my adventure). The final morning was very much a struggle not to fall asleep, even whilst walking. Despite being in a terrible state after finishing, I felt absolutely fine after a good sleep.

Other walkers told me of their previous (or current!) terrible experiences with getting blisters or other foot problems. I just relied on my trusty Darn Tough socks and Merrell shoes (and a bit of tape on the hotspots). Absolutely no problems for me.

Here’s some things I learnt:

  • Walking with other people is easier. Joining with a couple of other people for the final 25 miles made it much easier.
  • It’s also easier when one of those people has already practiced the route and knows which paths to take where.
  • Every checkpoint is further away than it feels it should be. Especially once my GPS watch battery had died and I had no way of knowing exactly how far I had gone.
  • 100 miles is a really long way to walk.

Will I do it again? I’m not sure. It definitely wasn’t a “fun” experience, but I can say that I have now completed the challenge (and have the certificate to prove it). But I could also become one of those people who has done the event twenty or thirty times…

Let’s see what happens next year.

Life event

Challenge reactivated

Remember last year when I talked about the challenge of walking 100 miles in 48 hours? And then I tried it and managed to complete 75 miles?

A year later and the event is back on again, but as an actual in-person (not virtual) one this year. If everything goes to plan, I should be walking 100 miles between Friday morning and Saturday evening/Sunday morning.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to familiarise myself with the route (by just studying the instructions and the maps), but it’s quite hard not being able to see it for real. That’s the main disadvantage I see compared to last year when I knew the route well and could do it without looking at any maps at all. This year I’ll be trying to navigate completely new territory in the dark which will be testing in its own way, let alone with the walking. But the main advantage I see of an in-person event over the virtual one is having frequent checkpoints with actual people who can cheer me on and provide food (so much less weight to carry).

That’s not to say that it won’t still be really hard, but I’m trying to think positively. And if you want to track me, you can do so here (walks starts 10am on Friday). I’ll let you know how it went next week…


Travel 2021 update

Last year, I wrote a post about how I had switched from using an annual travelcard to pay as you go for my public transport journeys. Well, it’s now time to look at how my travel in 2021 compared…

In 2021, I kept with the “pay as you go” approach and racked up a total of £1425.85 in journeys. That’s an increase over the £1354.30 in 2020 and is higher than the 1.6% average fares increase last year. A quick check shows I took 370 journeys in 2021 versus 322 in 2020. It’s more complicated though as different journeys have different prices and fare caps and so forth, but it does suggest that 2021 was definitely a year of being out and about more.

But what about comparing my pay as you go travel to the price of a travelcard? In 2021, a zone 1-4 travelcard (with a handful of additional journeys) would have cost me £2153.20. Therefore I saved over £700 by not taking that option. A wise choice and it looks like I’ll be sticking with it again this year.

Come back sometime next year and I’ll update on 2022 changes…

Life event

Red Moon

An unofficial sequel to the Super Blood Moon.

On Sunday evening I was out for a walk to pick up some milk and looked up to see an almost-full (96.2% illumination) moon. What was different though was that the moon was red. I took a photo with my phone, but it turned out so terrible that I just deleted it.

I rushed home to get the proper camera out. My longest lens is only 250mm so the moon is still very small (1000mm would be better), but I took quite a few photos. Looking at them now, they don’t quite seem that sharp. I’m not sure if it’s just not quite in focus (a longer lens would help) or if it’s blurry due to camera movement (I had to use my smaller tripod as my balcony isn’t big enough for my more sturdy one), but here’s a couple of the better ones:

The moon was definitely less red by the time I finished taking photos and much less red than when I had first seen it when I was out. I imagine that it would have been back to normal not too much later, so definitely a thing of being in the right place at the right time.

(And if you’re wondering why the moon was red, it was probably because of the Saharan dust.)

Out and about

So long

Back in October 2020, I started walking the 78-mile Capital Ring (in segments, I’ve not been continually walking since then…). This week I had my first free weekend in a long time so thought I’d walk the next leg (sections 9-11). I knew it had been a while since I’d done the previous leg, but when I checked I discovered I hadn’t been out on the trail since April 2021, almost 11 months ago.

I had plenty of time on my 17-mile walk to think of three reasons why it had been so long:

1. I’ve been busy doing other things

Last Summer, I spent most of my time training for a marathon. It’s hard to find time for a 17 mile walk when you also need to do a 17 mile run on a weekend. Last year, my focus was on the marathon. This year, that’s not a problem I have to balance.

2. I’ve done other walks

I’ve actually done over 300 miles of walking* since I last set foot on the Capital Ring. That includes walking the North Downs Way and the Yorkshire Wolds Way, but it doesn’t actually include my 26 mile walk in the Chilterns or my 75 mile walk challenge. So I’ve actually not been short on walking in those 11 months.

* Walking along a dedicated trail or route, rather than just walking in general.

This is what 1500km of walking looks like. I replaced my walking shoes this January after two and a half years of use.

3. It’s just on the wrong side of London

I live in south-east London. The Capital Ring starts in Woolwich and goes clockwise around the city. At the end of April 2021, I was 56% of the way round. To do anymore of the walk I would have to travel all the way across London to get to the start of the walk and then the same to get home again afterwards. It sounds lazy, but an hour and a half journey either end of a walk isn’t particularly tempting. Not a reason not to do it, but when the walk isn’t on your doorstep, it’s hard to remember that it’s still to be walked.

Although now having completed Saturday’s walk, I just have another 17 miles to go to get back to Woolwich. But when that’ll be, I’m not sure.

Life event

Under Pressure

Aka Car Troubles part 5(?)

About a month ago, I had to go away for a week and the easiest option was to drive there and back. Shortly after pulling onto the main road, the car gave a warning noise and a “check tyre pressure” light came on.

I definitely didn’t have a flat tyre, because I know what that’s like. It could have been a slow puncture (which I’ve also had before) or could it have been that I hadn’t checked the tyres recently and they had all just got low. Thinking it through, the last time I filled the tyres was before Christmas, and I’d driven about a thousand miles since then so it could be that. But my car had also been serviced more recently and I’m sure they check the tyres then. What if the garage had inadvertently done something to the tyres?

Anyway, I turned the car around and headed to the petrol station. I didn’t particularly notice any of the tyres were low when I topped them up, but the car was parked in such a way that I couldn’t see the pressure gauge. This seemed to fix the problem and I drove off on my way. I was however concerned about what would happen if the warning came on again, particularly if I was on the motorway. Fortunately this didn’t happen and I made it home at the end of the week fine (if you count having COVID as being fine).

Fast forward to this week and I had to take the car out again (although only for a local journey this time). The warning light came on again. So this time I decided to take it to my nearby garage.

“Do you know which tyre it is?”

I really didn’t have a clue. “I think it’s the front right. But the pressure should be around 30, except for the dodgy tyre.”

He pulled out his pressure gauge and stuck it on the front right tyre. “19 and a half.”

Clearly my intuition on which tyre was correct. The mechanic looked for punctures but didn’t see anything. He then noticed that pushing on the tyre valve let out a load of air.

Turns out there was a small hole in the valve stem so every time the tyre went round and the valve wobbled, a very small amount of air leaked out. A short time later and a replacement valve stem had been fitted. Much cheaper than a new tyre and the warning light has now gone off. Problem solved!