I’ve posted quite a lot recently about running, but last Sunday was the London Marathon, so this will (probably) be my last post on this topic for a while.
I had three goals in mind when taking part:
Complete the marathon ✔
I’ve walked an approximate marathon distance before a couple of times (even ignoring my 75 mile epic challenge walk), but I’ve never run a marathon before. And this would be an official event with a timer and crowds, rather than just me on my own. So I knew I’d be able to cover the distance even if I had to walk it. It wasn’t in too much doubt, but I made it over the 26.2 mile distance on Sunday. Goal completed.
Complete the marathon without walking ✔
I know there’s nothing wrong with walking in a long race, and some people even recommend a walk/run method (and say it’s faster than just running). But I know myself and I knew that if I started to walk, I would never start running again. It was tough, but I knew that I had to keep trying to run. And I did. Goal completed.
Complete the marathon in less than 4 hours ✖
I finished in 4 hours 2 minutes and 58 seconds, so just outside my target. But three minutes over four hours/26 miles of running isn’t too bad. And it’s only my first marathon so I had nothing to compare it to. I’m still very pleased with what I achieved. And I now have a target to beat for my next marathon…
Just over seven years ago, I moved to London. Before that I had always had houses and jobs that I could either walk or drive between. Now though, I had to get the train every day, and also to pay for it. I started off paying for each journey from my Oyster card top up balance, but in January 2014, I realised that I was topping up a lot and that it might make more sense to get an annual travelcard. The main advantage of a travelcard being that all journeys within the chosen zones would essentially be free, so the more journeys made, the better the saving.
So why is that relevant? Well, I’ve kept a record of every journey I’ve made, and every January I compare how much I would have spent on pay as you go versus how much I paid for the travelcard (plus the extra journeys outside my travelcard zones). Unfortunately I no longer have the exact statistics for the first few years, but in 2017 I saved £246.50 (and I think a few of the earlier years were even bigger savings).
Fast forward to 2018 and I moved house from zone 3 to zone 4. Now, not only was the travelcard cost more, but there were fewer transport options so I was less likely to use public transport. The calculations were more complex because I moved halfway through the year, but I think I ended up spending £96.40 extra by having a travelcard and not making the most of the journeys.
For 2019, I decided to renew my travelcard. Yes, I had lost some money the previous year, but it was complex with moving house, and maybe I would make more journeys this year. And so, in January 2020 I calculated how much I had spent the previous year, and unfortunately found that I overspent by £234 by having a travelcard.
In order to confirm my calculations (there’s daily and weekly PAYG capping I hadn’t taken into account), I decided to do a three month trial of using pay as you go (though obviously on contactless now, rather than having to top up an oyster card) until the end of April 2020. But then COVID and lockdowns came in, so my three month trial ended up becoming a one year trial. With an increased number of days working from home and less travel away from London, it should be clear that PAYG was going to win this year, but by how much? A couple of weeks ago I calculated my travel costs for 2020…
With a £732.50 saving, PAYG was a clear winner for 2020. I imagine it will still be the best option for the rest of this year until things get back to normal again. I’ll review this again next January, but at the moment, I can’t see a travelcard being a sensible option for me, at least until I can make a lot more journeys.
On Monday morning I went to get the train to work. I missed the train by seconds. Whilst I waited for the next one, I thought about the sequence of events leading up to that moment and all the ways that I could have caught the train if only I had…
Left the house earlier – This is the most obvious answer but without hindsight it’s hard to know the effect that later actions had. It normally takes 10-12 minutes to walk to the station (depending on traffic). I normally give myself 12-15 mins just in case. On Monday I was getting close to my cut-off point and still wasn’t quite ready to leave. I could have rushed and probably made it, but the trains are every 15 minutes, so I thought I’d relax at home for a bit longer and then get the next one. I actually left the house with 16 minutes to get to the station, because on the way I wanted to…
Buy bananas – I mentioned the other week that I normally have a banana every day. I last went shopping on Friday morning and deliberately chose not to buy bananas because I knew they wouldn’t last until the end of this week when I next went shopping. I planned to buy bananas from the stall outside the station, but when I walked past M&S Food and saw there were no queues I decided to go there (this was actually a wise choice as the fruit stall only had green bananas). Whilst I was there, I remembered that I also needed to…
Buy shower gel – I ran out of shower gel a couple of days prior (don’t worry, I always have hotel toiletries for such emergency situations). I was planning to head to Sainsbury’s specifically for shower gel after work, but since I was in a supermarket already, why shouldn’t I just buy it here? Time was tight I thought, but I should be ok as long as I find what I want quickly. But I don’t shop much at M&S Food so it took me slightly longer than anticipated to find what I needed. Not to worry, there was no queue for the…
Automated checkout – I scanned the shower gel, tick. I selected ‘loose item’ and then ‘banana#, only for the machine to tell me “invalid item”. The assistant then pointed me to a separate scales where I had to weigh the bananas and print out a barcode for scanning. I then chose to pay, but the “invalid item” message popped up again, which the assistant then had to come back across to clear. That done, I still had about two minutes to get to the station, I just needed to…
Cross the road – There are two main road junctions I need to cross between my house and the station. They both have pedestrian sequences but they both really depend on the amount of traffic and turning up at the right point of the sequence. The first one was no problem on Monday given the reduced traffic and a bus that was conveniently waiting to turn the corner. The second junction was busier and I arrived halfway through one sequence of cars before the next car sequence and then the pedestrians. I could have made a dash for it, but road safety is important. Also, I could see that the train hadn’t arrived yet which meant I still had time to walk across and…
Touch in – I currently use contactless to pay for my journeys (I used to use oyster but that’s a topic for a future blog). Specifically I’ve been using Android Pay on my phone. I could hear the train coming in at this point, but the station entrance is towards the rear of the train and it would take time for the train to actually arrive at the platform. I hit my phone against the oyster pad and the contactless symbol showed up on my phone, but the oyster pad came up with an error message (I think it was error 67 “contactless payment not approved” but I didn’t really have to time to study it). I knew Android Pay worked because I had used it moments ago to pay for my bananas. I moved to the next oyster pad but the same error. The train had stopped by this point so I pulled out my wallet and tapped my actual contactless card. Success. Now all I had to do was…
Board the train – About 2.7 million people use my local station every year. Normally this means trains are quite busy with people getting on and off every time and so the trains normally stop for a good while. Not at the moment. With fewer people travelling to work it doesn’t take as long for the few people to board or alight. On a normal day, people would still be waiting to get on the train when I arrived onto the platform. On Monday, the train doors closed seconds before I could get to the train.
So only two weeks in to blogging again, and I’ve already missed my self-imposed target to post something every Wednesday evening. My not-very-good excuse is that I was on holiday last week. I’ve posted before about some of my activities that I’ve got to around London whilst on holiday. So what did I do this time with my week’s holiday during the lockdown?
The first thing to say is that I definitely chose the week with the worst weather. The week before was warm and sunny and this week has been fairly settled. Last week however was the heaviest rain in a long while. So between the rain and the lockdown, the options for things to do was quite limited.
I did recently find that there are a number of “heritage trails” in my local area. This seemed like a good time to walk some of them. Here’s some of the things I found out:
The definition of “heritage” and “trail” are variable – Some of them only pointed out key landmarks or things of particular interest, whilst others went out of their way to show every possible item. The longest trail was about 7km and included a 1.5km detour to show off a street which had three blue plaques (and I only even recognised one of the names). The shortest trail was only 800m long and went along one side of a high street and back down the other.
The lockdown may not be the best time to do these walks – Some of the walks had a lot of information to read. It’s quite hard to stop in the pavements without blocking them and that’s no good for social distancing. It’s also quite hard to imagine an area as “vibrant” when you’re the only person around and everywhere is shuttered up.
The marks of the past are everywhere – There’s a footpath which follows the boundary of a field (which for a built-up area behind a main shopping street is quite surprising). Elsewhere there’s a car park behind a local church that used to be built up housing but was destroyed during WW2 bombing. And half of that church is made of newer brick, which I had vaguely noticed but never really thought about. Everything has a story.
You have to look up – Every high street looks fairly similar with its rows of shops with the same signs and facades. However, if you look at the first floor and above they all have very different buildings behind them which often have their own architectural flair and histories. Again, everything has a story.
So was it worth it? Probably yes, because I did learn some useful local knowledge whilst getting some exercise and seeing areas that I wouldn’t normally go to. Would I do these walks again? Probably not.
To get over to West London, I had to take three Overground trains, having to zig-zag across South London to get to West Brompton.
The museum is very small and only took about 5 minutes or so to look around, which was good as I didn’t have much time. The sign on the door implied that it was only open by appointment, whereas the website states that appointments are appreciated. When the man inside saw me peering through the door, he happily let me in. I wasn’t even the only person there in this small museum, as a group of three other people turned up when I was inside. The photo below pretty much shows the entirety of the museum.
One of the interesting items was a document detailing the requirements for police officers in 1829. Here are some of the more interesting ones:
* Your working hours will be eight, ten or twelve hour shifts, seven days a week. No rest days are allowed and only one week holiday per annum, unpaid.
* Every encouragement will be given to grow beards, as shaving is regarded as unhealthy. However, beards must not exceed two inches in length.
* You are NOT allowed to sit down in public houses at any time. [Does this include standing?]
* No meal breaks are allowed, the top hat may be used to hold a snack.
* Before attending for medical examination and interview to join the police it is advisable to have a bath.
Having seen most of the items in a few minutes (there wasn’t much to read), I headed back for my afternoon appointment. I decided to take a different route home, using the District line to Wimbledon where I changed to Tramlink. This was my first trip on London’s tram system and I planned to explore more of it and then get the bus home, however I realised I was quickly running out of time so transferred back to the Overground to complete the loop.
And I would have been back in time, if my afternoon engagement hadn’t been cancelled.
Several months ago I bought some fish from my local Food Assembly. Not having much clue what to do with so much fish, I put most of it in the freezer. Today seemed liked the perfect opportunity to use up one of the dabs I had stored.
Searching the internet, I came across Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Mediterranean-style Dab with bacon, olives, tomatoes and pine nuts. Surprisingly, this recipe was incredibly easy to follow and I completed it in the same time as stated (30 mins). The hardest part was eating it, given the amount I had on the plate (I served it with salad and new potatoes), and also the bones in the fish. A successful meal to round off the week.
Today I headed back into the City of London for a tour of Guildhall.
First though, I popped into the church of St Lawrence Jewry next door, which is actually a very recent church building, rebuilt after being bombed in WW2. The Jewry part of the name refers to this being in the Jewish part of the city until 1290.
Our tour guide, Pat, advised that this tour only lasts an hour, but could easily last well over two, so would be fairly rushed. We were also told that photos could be taken but discretely, so apologies that the interior photos are taken on my phone rather than my camera.
The tour started in the Great Hall which was being set up for the afternoon’s Court of Common Council meeting. A few members of the group were training to be Blue Badge Tourist Guides and were scribbling frantically in their notebooks. The remainder of us just listening as Pat explained all the statues in the hall and the symbolism of all the particular objects. The main theme within the entire building is of history and tradition, combined with rebuilding following the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. Many of the rooms have changed usage over the various centuries although most of them are used as meeting rooms today, mainly to be hired out to businesses or for wedding receptions.
We then had the option of coming back in an hour to see the council meeting. However I had to be getting home to get the evening’s meal ready (even if Thameslink had other plans).
My meal for this evening was another one suggested by colleagues at work – kebabs.
I chose to make two different kebabs: “Chicken kebabs” from “Nosh for graduates“, and “Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Kebabs with Aleppo Pepper” from Serious Eats.
Both of these recipes wanted to make a marinade which the chicken would then soak in for a few hours before cooking. This made the cooking process seem less onerous as it broke it down into two distinct parts. The recipes were designed for BBQs and large quantities so I reduced all of the ingredients in each by about 60% as I only planned on making two skewers of each. I did make a few deviations from the recipe. In the first recipe I swapped mushrooms for courgette, and, whilst writing this, I realised that I missed out the red pepper. In the second recipe I used smoked paprika and dried crushed chili peppers as the first step. I also swapped red wine vinegar for white wine vinegar as that’s what I already had, although I’m sure it made absolutely no difference.
I then grilled the kebabs on my George Foreman grill (which will now need a lot of cleaning) and served it with pitta bread and hummus. I did look at making my own hummus, however since I don’t own a food processor or a blender or a pestle and mortar (and no intention of buying any of them just for this) I didn’t. It was a fairly simple recipe and it all tasted good.
My initial plan for today was to attend a talk on Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with a kite and lightning at Benjamin Franklin House.
However, one the other attractions I wanted to visit this week was the London Fire Brigade museum. This is only open Mondays to Fridays, and also happens to be closing down at the end of this month. When I found out that the only way to see this museum (at least in full, and without waiting a few years whilst a new museum is built) was this morning, I decided to choose this museum over the kite/lightning talk. [The Benjamin Franklin House is still on my to-do list, but it is open at weekends too.]
The museum is in two parts, the first part is based in the original fire appliance shed from the mid-19th century where there’s a selection of old fire appliances from the early hand carts to more modern fire engines. The first appliance we were shown was an 1860s manual pump that required 20 people to operate. Since there weren’t that many firefighters, locals were given beer tokens in exchange for helping out. Apparently it was very popular!
The second part of the museum is housed within the adjoining house, originally occupied by the first London Fire Chief, Eyre Massey Shaw. This had a more structured museum type structure with exhibits and placards, however since this was a tour we didn’t get to read most of it and were instead shown a few key items in each room. The tour I was on had some descendants of James Braidwood (Massey Shaw’s predecessor) so the tour focussed on some of these elements. There was also a current firefighter on the tour so there was some discussion over the bits that had stayed the same since the beginning, and the bits that had changed (seemingly for the worse – the tour was given by an ex-firefighter). The World War 2 room contained two shells. There used to be 5 until a previous tour noticed that 3 of them were still live!
Since today is Wednesday, Great British Bake Off day, I decided to make a pie. I choose to do ‘Winter Warming Meat and Potato Pie with a suet pastry crust’ from “Nosh for Graduates”. I mainly followed the recipe, however I substituted some of the water for beer, simply because I thought this would be good, but I’m not sure if I could actually taste it at the end. The recipe took surprisingly longer than expected. The book reckons about 55 minutes total, but I started about 6 and it was well after 8 by the time I was eating. Maybe I just need more practice. I also hadn’t noticed that it said “serves 4” and found myself with a lot more pie than I was expecting. I actually made 3 pies, two of which are now waiting in the freezer for another time.
The only other issue I had was in making the dough for the top. The recipe says to roll out the dough and lift it on top of the potato layer. I’m not sure if I had it too runny, but I definitely couldn’t lift it, and resorted to using a spoon to place it on top. It all worked out fine though, and it was another successful (if delayed) meal.
This was my first trip on the Dangleway and it was everything I expected from a not-very-popular tourist attraction. The in-cabin video wasn’t playing so I had a nice quiet ride across the Thames by myself.
At the other end of the cable car, I arrived for the purpose of my outing, a tour of the Royal Docks as part of the Totally Thames festival. The tour was led by Gary, who was studying for a Masters in Heritage at nearby University of East London, and Matt, who works on a nearby historic boat. This was the first time the tour has been run so it was a little bit uncertain and read off the notes, but they had obviously researched the topics and knew what they were talking about. The tour covered the history of the docks, the recent (and ongoing) rejuvenation projects and the social history of the area. The tour was helped by audio samples from local residents (available here) and historic photographs.
At the end of the tour, Matt asked if anyone wanted to look round his boat, the SS Robin. This boat is the world’s oldest complete steamboat (from 1890). The boat is less famous than the Cutty Sark or HMS Belfast, although apparently of equal historical significance (it lacks the military history or the exotic routes – it just went around the UK). Boats don’t have the same heritage options as buildings, and therefore it is harder to preserve them or stop them from being scrapped. For example, there is the ethical heritage question of “is it better to keep a boat in the water but to have to replace large parts of the hull, or to keep the original structure but store the boat out of the water?”. In this case they went for out of the water (but then is it still really a boat?).
Finally I headed off to get the DLR as my final mode of transport for the day.
Food-wise, today I decided to cook Mexican food. I could have just used a pre-made pack, but I wanted the challenge so I followed Jamie Oliver’s chicken fajitas with homemade salsa and guacamole. It was a lot of effort to make the dips and they are slightly chunkier than they could have been, but it did feel worth it after. For a quicker meal I might consider buying some pre-made sauces (unless it was a special occasion). I was hoping I would be able to freeze half of the chicken mix, so I added an additional chicken breast, however I should probably have added an additional pepper too. In the end I just ate it all in one go (apart from the dips). Doing some nachos as well would probably help with this.