2020 weeknote 11 – Coronavirus, music, old films, and remembering the Fujifilm X10

Golly. Weeks at the moment seem to simultaneously flash past and take forever to wade through, like treacle.

I’ve forgotten what my actual job is at work, and have spent most of my time this week reacting to things.

First and foremost, we have a new boss. This has meant there is a lot to explain and pass on, which is normal in these situations. This has been turned up to eleven by the coronavirus situation meaning we are rapidly trying to establish what we can do from home, and also understand what elements of our work are business critical. Fortunately for us, not a lot of what we do has hard deadlines or endangers life or whatnot if it isn’t done in a timely fashion. Others are not so lucky in this regard.

It’s inevitable that we will be working from home for a time, and our job now is working out what can be done from home and what would require physical access to the office. When your new boss is trying to draw all this up whilst not actually knowing what everyone does… It’s hard work. It’s not unenjoyable, actually. But it is hard work. And it is distracting everyone from their day job.

I think that point is true for basically everyone, everywhere. In the whole world. Which is incredible to consider. There’s also a neat/insane duality to all our business continuity prep which essentially means ‘we can afford to slacken off our work because literally everyone else will be doing the same thing’. These are very unusual times.

Speaking of which, I’ve seen and read about some very sad scenes at supermarkets recently. I’ve not actually come across anything uncivil, although I’ve definitely heard reports. On my brief forays to the shops to get basically our usual groceries – where I’ve strategically tried to buy about 10% extra of most longlife stuff we tend to use – I’ve just seen heightened busy-ness, and empty shelves in some surprising categories and others less so.

At the big nearby supermarket, where loo rolls, hand san and painkillers have been missing (or missing, then re-stocked, then raided again) for a while now, this weekend I noticed some new sections were running low or in fact completely empty, like eggs. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find, on popping into a much smaller M&S very close by, that they were fully stocked on eggs, and in fact a number of the lines the big shop was out of. I guess it’s to do with a bigger shop encouraging people to bulk buy more, and come by car etc.

It’s just… all very strange. But it is for everyone. So it’s just the new normal? Which is very, very strange.


After opining recently that I wanted a neat automated way to see what albums of recent years I had merely streamed and not purchased, I spent a pretty straightforward few minutes paging through my last.fm library sorted into albums by play count for a given period. I started looking at months at a time, then went into whole years at a time, even going back as far as 2012 or so.

It was actually a very interesting process, and gave me the information I was after. I now have a list of thirty or so albums that I would happily pick up and add to my permanent music collection. I don’t exactly plan on popping out and spending £200-300 quid on CDs, but it’s nice to have a go-to list of stuff that I probably want for times when I’m out music shopping or if I’m browsing Bandcamp.

I actually was left scratching my head about where to buy some of this stuff. Partly “where do people buy digital music these days?” and partly “where is the most effective place to buy music in terms of benefit to the artist?” I think the answer to both in a number of cases is probably Bandcamp. Certainly I don’t intend to buy CDs secondhand from Amazon because in terms of benefit to the artist I may as well download it illegally. And I’m not bothered about owning the CD itself – if I can, say, throw a fiver at a band and get 320kbps+ or lossless digital files, I think that’s probably the sweet spot.

Secondary to all this, I found a bunch of albums I streamed several times that I genuinely didn’t remember listening to. I’ve created a Spotify playlist of these to wade through and see if they still appeal. The winners will go onto the ‘to-buy’ list.

Why am I doing all this? I don’t know. But I am getting familiar once again with the local music collection stored on a computer, and I like it. I think running a Spotify account alongside this is fine – it enables me to hear new music for free, and I actually get my Spotify subscription as a bonus to my mobile phone contract. Although the Android app can be quite slow and clunky (this may be a result of my legacy account having a decade of metadata attached to it), the Spotify service is very much worth having, and decent value even when directly paying for it. The arguments against it, from the artists’ perspective, are part of what’s pushing me to want to show my support in a different and more direct way.


I went for a run today, inspired by the BBC’s Sport Relief ‘Beat Beethoven’ gimmick. The basic idea is to stick on a new recording of Beethoven’s Fifth, which lasts about 34 minutes, and run 5k. I managed a run last weekend, and one in the week, but I love a gimmick to get me up and out – and this weekend has been particularly sedentary (thank goodness), so a kick up the bum to run down the road and back was welcome. The bonus was listening to a great performance of a piece of music I don’t think I’ve actually ever listened to in full. Well worth grabbing via BBC Sounds and sticking on if you need an excuse to pop out for a run.


Once again I found myself plundering the depths of someone’s blog and I can’t remember how I found the blog in the first place… But this week it was the blog of a chap named Andrew Roach, and I was drawn in partly by the aesthetic of his blog, and partly by the subjects he covers – he writes about old computers, and using old computers today to do the things he enjoys doing.

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He also writes about digging around archive.org and similar places looking for music and films to enjoy anew. One particular post pointed me to a ton of old films on archive.org and wikimedia, and I grabbed a few that seemed to be decent high quality versions of films from the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, and stuck them on Plex.

This weekend I checked out My Favorite Brunette, a Bob Hope parody/send-up of detective thrillers, which I really enjoyed. I’ve never seen a Bob Hope movie before, or really seen him in anything except… maybe a pastiche of him in an episode of the Simpsons?

While elements of the film felt as fated as you might expect for a film made in 1947, I found lots to love, included gags that felt more like they came from the likes of Airplane! or the Naked Gun series and sight gags, one-liners, looks-to-camera and other things that made the film feel pretty fresh. I recommend it!


A recent post/video from Dan Milnor reminded me that, many years ago, I owned a Fujifilm X10.

It was a camera I fetishised and definitely thought would be the answer to all my photographic gripes about the Canon dSLR I was getting tired of lugging around. The camera looked great – I got the leather case – and it seemed compact and would be something I’d enjoy taking around with me and using more than my old Canon.

In the end I only owned that X10 from January 2012 to August 2012. I took 4,000 pictures on it in that time. Initially it was a gorgeous thing. Looking at pictures of that camera even now, I get joy from the tactility of the knobs and dials. But the camera was just… Not all that nice to use.

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For one thing, the viewfinder wasn’t great. Getting an SLR replacement with a viewfinder was essential to me. I was so attached to composing my shots through a viewfinder that I had to have one. But this one was just a sort of rangefinder-esque viewfinder where you’re looking through a hole near the lens, but not seeing exactly what the lens sees. It felt kind of removed from the process and I never got on with it. *

* Even while writing this, I managed to mis-remember that this camera had an early LCD viewfinder, but of course it did not, and this was a feature of more high-end cameras of this type at the time, and the technology continues to improve.

Furthermore, the lens felt weird to use. It had a good, adaptable zoom lens which rotated to extend. But it didn’t have (or if it did, the way to use it was very unnatural) manual focus. What I love about dSLRs is the way lenses feel on them – the rotation to zoom in and out on zooms, and the solidness of primes. And on both, when manual focus is necessary, it can feel so precise and so lovely. On the X10, despite metal construction and good moving parts, it just never felt nice to use.

And overall, despite some decent baked-in digital features like film effects and good video modes, it just felt too much on the ‘digital point and shoot’ end of things for me, and far too far away from the tactility of using a dSLR. Ten months after buying it I sold the X10 and re-bought a slightly more updated Canon dSLR. I still miss the look of the X10 though, and that leather case was gorgeous.

I took some great pictures with the X10, but nothing amazing. I possibly didn’t use the camera to its full potential but a lot of the time, the images that came out (as JPGs, to be fair) were a bit dull and not particularly exciting.

I still have that Canon today and it’s weird to think that makes it about eight years old now. (In the process of looking through pictures taken with the X10, I was reminded that my bike and my Kindle, both of which I still use, and sometimes almost daily, were also bought in August 2012. My bike rattles and creaks and could almost certainly do with an overhaul but I love it so very dearly. And my Kindle is one of the last (non-expensive) ones with page turn buttons. I can’t believe it still works as well as it does, and I am so worried about the day I will have to replace it for a touchscreen model.)

I guess the danger now is me looking at how far those Fuji compacts have come. And with the likes of Dan Milnor espousing their benefits, I may need to take a look with fresh eyes at the range and see if the gap between the X10 and dSLRs has closed somewhat in the meantime.

2020 weeknote 6 – storms, finance, St Albans and obsolete music formats

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I watched the Seinfeld finale after all and it was… Disappointing? I was glad to have not read any reviews or synopses of it beforehand so I could experience it fresh. But it just felt tonally wrong. Still, what a great series and I’m glad I’ve dipped in and out of it over the past 2-3 years having never seen it before.

In work life, we had the most important meeting so far involving some of the extra tasks I’ve taken on in the absence of a boss. It went…Well? Apart from the bit where the committee brought up a section of the paperwork which we’d done wrong, and worse, that I couldn’t work out how. For a brief, sweaty-palmed moment, I felt convinced I had thus done all of it wrong, and was preparing myself for a really frustrating meeting. So it was a relief when it was just that part, and an easily-fixed problem at that. The rest of it was… fine.

The rest of the week continued to exhibit high levels of anxiety around the office. We also had a few episodes of what I would say are normal problems to deal with, but that on top of everything else just felt cruel. But actually it only served to reveal that we’ve been lucky to go without any of the usual ‘normal’ problems of late, freeing up headspace to deal with the more unusual situations that have arisen.

ANYWAY. When I wasn’t working or fretting about work, I found myself playing with the cat, and taking an afternoon off to wander home via the Heath, taking photographs of birds with a long lens, listening to field recordings, and getting home before it got dark. All these things helped me.

AND on Friday this week we crossed an important threshold: sunset was at 5pm. From here on in, the sunset will be before the end of the working day. This is such a lift of the spirits. It should give enough of a boost to get us to the day we put the clocks forward, and then we’re home and dry.

In the meantime, the weather this week was… Changeable. Wednesday afternoon was glorious and bright. Thursday morning we were bathed under a thick fog. Saturday was bright and beautiful and actually almost warm out of the wind. And then in the early hours of Sunday, a storm rolled in which caused some chaos around the whole country.

We even had a brief power cut, the longest of which in recent memory, even if only five minutes or so. I quickly pulled out  my little Tecsun shortwave radio and found blissful peace on the air with little to no electronic interference cutting through. I did a quick bandscan but the power was back on too quickly to really enjoy this little window of peace from RF interference.

It’s quite a rare occurrence. We just don’t have power cuts nowadays. I remember in the early and mid 1990s we had them every now and again, often caused by bad weather. It was regular enough (though probably not actually that regular) that we had a special places for the candles and we sort of knew what we had to do when a power cut happened.

I bet we only actually  had like one power cut every year or so, but it definitely feels like A Thing Which Used To Happen Which No Longer Does, or perhaps I am just in my mid thirties.


A tweeted photograph from Jonathan Ganley brought to my attention the death of Andrew Brough of NZ band Straitjacket Fits. Their Down in Splendour, which Brough wrote, is a stunning song, with wonderful multi-layered guitars and vocal sounds, and the guitar solo is a classic – beautifully understated, and it disappears just as soon as it arrives, leading me to almost always want to hear the song again immediately.

On Saturday, M and I popped up to St Albans to do Parkrun with some friends, one of whom is training for the London Marathon (and the other who, it should also be said, is doing his best to support her progress and training).

It was, as I said, a lovely bright and mild morning. I’d gone to bed the previous evening not looking forward to a run, and even that morning I woke feeling clunky and creaky and stiff. I decided to just attend out of politeness and see how it went. But thanks be to the herd mentality – and it was some herd, with more than 500 attending – as I got swept up in the event and ran well, and I even got a decent time.

And really, much like some Parkrun routes, this one is becoming a victim of its own success as it attracts crowds which fill the modest paths round the park, leading to occasional bottlenecks. I was left actually quite satisfied in the knowledge that if I ran the same route again with the paths to myself I could certainly shave some time off it. And although Parkrun is timed and is about pushing oneself, it is mostly about having fun and respecting the other runners and park users. And ultimately it’s all about getting out there, and I was so glad I did.

St Albans continued to give and give, as we found a lovely brunch spot in the George Street Canteen, had a nose around the market which was full of yet more splendid food offerings, before popping back into the warmth of the Pudding Stop for another hot drink and some brunch desert.

We also passed a great camera shop – Clarks Camera Centre on Holywell Hill – in which I found a warm welcome, some great service and advice, and I came away with a new (old) 35mm f2.8 lens with an M42 mount which I’ll be able to use on my Canon dSLR by the use of an adapter I’ve had for years.

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I got rid of most of my film cameras a few house-moves ago, and lately I’ve missed the Zenit in particular, and its wonderful 50mm lens. So hopefully this neat little 35mm prime will scratch some of the itch I’ve had lately for shooting fully manual through vintage glass.

We had a great half a day in St Albans, then got the train home and I plunged myself into a wonderful bath of Epsom salts mixed with all manner of stuff including bergamot and CBD oil. Most relaxing.

As an aside, I hate writing St Albans on my phone and on my computer. Anywhere, ‘Albans’ comes up as a typo and leaves me full of doubt as to whether there might be an apostrophe. And on my phone, trying to first type the word ‘St’ always sees it corrected to At. Which is maddening. I feel for you, residents of St Albans.

And finally, this week I was tinkering with my MiniDisc player which is a thing that happens every now and then. I bloody love the form factor of the player and the discs, and I guess I get a kick out of a tiny bit of portable audio equipment still working nicely nearly twenty years on. The bonus is that most of my MiniDiscs are either mixtapes or compilations of related albums/singles that are all very much of a time and place, and listening to them now is a lovely little step through time.

These urges to listen to MiniDiscs usually leads me to naughty thoughts like… recording new MiniDiscs.

In the past I’ve actually recorded my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist to a MiniDisc which was… Stupid, really. The novelty factor was huge, but the practical side was a disaster – recording a line-in input in real time, combined with – by its very nature – a playlist of songs I have not heard before.

MiniDiscs can store metadata, but obviously recording audio like this doesn’t capture anything. So I end up hearing a song I’ve never heard before and want to identify, and my options are either checking Spotify and seeing if I can figure out which track it was in the playlist, or… Sigh… Or, reader, trying to Shazam the audio from my headphones into my phone’s mic. And honestly, I knew how ridiculous that scenario was already, but having typed it out just makes me feel insane for ever trying.

Anyway, this time round I decided to do something slightly less mad: just capture some favourite CDs via optical cable. One benefit of using optical/digital instead of analogue is the levels are set automatically, and the track markers are as per the CD rather than based on gaps of silence. It’s more precise.

There’s something neat about having a small, dedicated collection of the Best of the Best on a portable player. I’ve done the same on a tiny iPod Shuffle before – curated a sort of desert island all-time best-of set of albums that go with me anywhere.

So I rigged this all up and… The method I used somehow did not end up including track markers. Just one whole CD as a single track. At this point I just gave up. What was I doing? It’s madness.

So what I’m doing NOW is assembling a new digital library of The Best of the Best albums on my computer, ripped at either 320kbps MP3 or lossless, and setting up a means of syncing this stuff to my phone. Even this process seems needless when I have Spotify and (for now) Google Play Music’s library in the cloud.

But it just feels silly constantly streaming in a lossy codec the kinds of stuff a) I love, b) I already own, and c) that may not actually be available to stream. And there’s something very satisfying about a neatly organised music collection, even if it is digital.

God. These weeknotes are a bit long. I need to work on that.

Let’s dust ourselves down and see what this week has to offer.

2018 Weeknote 10

I’ve done ten of these now, so I guess it’s A Thing? Admittedly I’ll need to do another 42 to make it official, and that seems like a bewildering number, but it feels like A Thing, so long may that continue.

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After the previous week’s snow, it was back to business as usual at work, for the most part. There’s a lot of seasonal admin going on at the moment – some big mailouts. My office has a very cyclical nature to it, which I enjoy, as you can usually tell what’s happening, or predict busy periods and lulls, and organise your work accordingly. It also provides semi-artificial deadline, and lord knows I need a good deadline. Amongst very estate-y tasks was spray-painting potholes on one of our private roads, which was rather satisfying.

I also made some more progress on the two websites I’m working on in my own time. They’re close to being ready now, which I’m pleased about. Both clients are very helpful in their feedback and vision for how they want things to look and feel. It’s been a very positive experience so far.


I can’t resist a good thinkpiece about daily routines or media consumption, so it’s no surprise that that NY Times one about news consumption and that Atlantic one about retweets caught my eye.

After the NY Times piece I found myself nodding along with most of it, and was pleased to find that Phil Gyford‘s ace Guardian Daily is still working well. It strips out the content of each day’s paper into just clean text and some images, and makes the whole thing swipeable in a browser. Crucially it allows the reader to focus only on the story (not easy on the full Guardian website), and it provides the sense of a finite, finishable object that the likes of Craig Mod and others so often hail. It also had me reaching for stockists of the Guardian’s excellent Weekly edition, but I can’t seem to find any; it only seems to be available by post in the UK. I might try a trial. It made more sense when keeping up with news while in, say, New Zealand. But actually the weekly round-up nature of it – the slow news aspect – seems more appealing than ever in this current age of breaking news.

And the Atlantic piece about retweets made some sense. I quite like some retweets. They’re a nice way to diversify your feed (only a little, mind you – the echo chamber is a persistent issue), and they often bring items of interest. But they also provide items of little interest – and worse, they often come without comment. My friend retweeted this thing, but what do they feel about it? It’s not as simple as just assuming they agree 100%. It might be promotion of a serious issue, or just a quick meme that made them chuckle. Context is important.

As the piece mentions, there’s no easy way to turn off retweets globally, although my third party app of choice Flamingo has such a feature. And even better, it allows quoted tweets to show – and these are the ones I want to see. They provide the all-important context.

My plan is to go retweet-free for the rest of the week, and then turn them back on globally, turning RTs off on a per-account basis until I reach a happy medium.


M and I watched series one of Spaced this weekend, and it’s the kind of show I can virtually quote word-for-word. It’s been some years since we both watched it, and although elements still cut deep as they’re so well written or edited, other stick out like a bizarre anachronism: ringing someone’s landline from a payphone in the pub? Smoking in a nightclub?! But it’s reassuring how much of this 1999 TV series remains hilarious and ‘cutting edge’, nearly twenty years on. Series two next.

I made more progress in Banished, you’ll be pleased to hear. I’ve got my community up to 150 or so adults, with plenty more children and students on their way. The game still occasionally feels like a grind, but the realism of the mechanics of the town’s expansion – oh no, the cemetery is full, I’d better build a new one – are engaging. I’m concerned that the game is a bit too open-ended. There’s no narrative or end-game (that I know of). So at some stage I will just have a steadily increasing town. There’s also no development of eras like some games have – where you’ll transition through styles of architecture or technology, say. Still, I’m still some hours away from the first perceived achievement level of 300 citizens, although I did get some cute awards for having a very happy town, and a very healthy town.

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I was bored on a train platform this week, so I was tuning round on my handheld DAB radio and stumbled on Forces Radio BFBS at a time when they were playing classic rock and indie. It provided a nice distraction, and I was a little stunned to see that the DAB+ station was streaming at a paltry 24kbps! I’ve seen other stations just scraping by on 32kbps, and they tend to be predominantly spoken word. But here was a music show sounding pretty decent on very little bandwidth.

In fact, the only audio glitch I could discern was the intro of the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go which has some stereo separation which wasn’t being properly played out.

A brief scan of Wohnort tells me that this is the lowest bitrate of any DAB station, certainly nationally (apart from data services), and it’s very promising to hear such efficient compression sounding so reasonable.


On Thursday I went back to Oxford for the second time in recent weeks. This time I had tickets to see the wonderful Youthmovies play their first gig in eight years, and I was thrilled to see the Audiograft festival was taking place while I would be visiting, so I made some plans to enjoy some of the installations and performances from the audio/noise festival.

Now that I know the layout of Oxford a bit better, and I’ve scoped out a few good pubs and eateries, it’s a nice little city to wander round.

I made sure to visit the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum(s?) this time, and loved them both. The former is well-lit under a glass roof, and has a classical, elegant display of animal skeletons inside a gorgeous neo-Gothic building. And the latter is a vast collection of antique display cases of various items from around the world. It’s a darker space, and has the air of rooting around a closed museum or even a particularly well-stocked attic space.

Unlike other museums with similar ethnographic collections, the Pitt Rivers lumps items of a kind together in one area. So here you’ll have writing instruments, or there you’ll find timepieces. Or, more specifically, you might find Treatment of Dead Enemies, or Charms and Amulets. It makes for a fascinating selection, particularly seeing such contrasting objects cheek by jowl across cultures.

After the museums and a much-needed pint – outside in the Spring sunshine! – I headed to OVADA, an exhibition space in an old industrial building. Inside I found installations of sound experiments, including vinyl records playing a Morse code version of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale which was then received by a device that attempted to decode and display the words. It did this through a thin veil of recordings of birdsong and other ‘interruptions’, causing small glitches in the text. I was pleased to find that the artist Kathy Hinde was around to explain a little more about her installation Twittering Machines.

Elsewhere I also found Sally Ann MacIntyre’s Study for a Data Deficient Species (Grey Ghost Transmission). It was a necessarily small (portable!) installation, with an enchanting recording I had also encountered via the recent Radiophrenia broadcasts. I’ve followed Sally Ann’s blog radio cegeste for a number of years, so it was nice to come into contact with her work at OVADA thanks to Audiograft.

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The space at OVADA affords a number of opportunities for installations like this one, but also some compromises. On the one hand it is a large space and allows for a number of installations to co-exist without feeling too crammed in. On the other hand, as some of these works are by their very nature audible, they compete for attention as they reverberate around. This worked quite nicely for the most part: hearing birdsong interrupted by music, impersonated birdsong, and the staccato human-spoken binary of Simon Blackmore’s How We Communicate made for quite a mixture of sounds and audio textures quite in line with the other textures on show, whether part of an installation or the fabric of the building itself.

An example of the aural environment on my visit to OVADA can be heard below:

Later, I made my way to the beautiful Holywell Music Room where I was pleased to catch three of the evening’s four pieces.

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It’s a gorgeous space, I’m sure, for any type of music and performance. But the three pieces I caught were all experimental in their own different ways. First was a wordless exploration of human vocal sounds in response to external stimuli – thought not strictly to my taste, I enjoyed the fact that such a performance found a home in such a space; they suited each other in their own unusual ways.

Next was an interesting cross section of nerdy audio experimentation and sheer noise. A series of four cymbals was placed upon individual speakers, through which sound was passed, causing the cymbals to reverberate. This was then, I believe, fed back into the speakers. It was essentially twenty minutes of feedback, but finely tuned, and the aural equivalent of seeing coloured dye dropped into clear water and watching as it swirled slowly, forming organic or pseudo-random patterns.

The last piece I caught was, I think, an interpretation of a simple narrative of house and the stories it held, told through spoken word, projected video, and overhead transparencies.

It caused me a little amusement that all three pieces suffered from the “It’s not finished!…. It’s finished!” issue as parodied in Spaced. But I was so glad to have caught such a diverse set of performances. And all as a ‘pay what you decide’ format, with anonymous donations upon leaving.

I would’ve been more sad to miss the last act, were I not headed to the Bullingdon for the Youthmovies show.

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It’s hard to summarise the show, really, as the band take up so much emotional space in my head, having soundtracked significant episodes in my life, some wonderful and some less so. But seeing a band play for the first time in eight years – in honour of a departed friend of theirs – was as emotional and uncanny and yet familiar as I had hoped. Fittingly, it wasn’t a perfect performance. They played songs they hadn’t played together in years, and most of them feature quite unusual time signatures. But it felt like a 100% positive and uplifting experience for all present.

As expected, I had forgotten over the years some of the magic of their live performance that made them such a favourite in the first place. Their recorded output will remain a bewilderingly impressive and imaginative selection of tracks. But it’s their immense joy at playing these special songs, and the modesty and passion they display when onstage that makes them a truly special band. It was an honour to have the opportunity to step back into those shoes for one night.


And then this weekend, with nothing much planned, M and I went for a nice walk along the canal on Saturday afternoon. And on Sunday I felt the urge to go for a little run, and ended up covering 22km.

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I had intended to head as far as I could towards the Thames, and to turn back for home whenever I felt like I was flagging. But as Foo Fighters’ My Hero hit its climactic chorus on Whitehall, and Strava announced that I’d hit the 10km mark, I knew I had to continue.

I treat these kind of cross-city runs as something of a sightseeing exercise – people-watching in motion, with some London landmarks thrown in for free.

I’m suffering some aches and pains a day later, but it’s reassuring to know I can still pull that out of the bag every now and then. As Spring comes, I intend to get a little bit of consistency into my running and walking.