10k and out

My love/hate relationship with running has hit another milestone, in that today I finished my second 10k. Today’s run was a vastly improved experience compared to the previous one, which I ran in May. Although I failed signally to do any interval training that might have knocked a few minutes off my time, I’ve definitely been running faster on a treadmill. Back in the real world I obviously defaulted to lazy pace, which was why I felt comfortable all the way round. I didn’t wear a watch or have any kind of time tracking device than the chip, so I mostly stopped thinking about time. The first marker I saw was the 3k, which was a pleasant surprise. At 5k it still felt easy, 6k and 7k slipped by almost unnoticed and then it was the home straight.

It helped that it was a beautiful autumn day and I was running through Blenheim. I’d trained there a handful of times and adjusted to the shock of its rolling hills after Oxford’s all round flatness. That Capability Brown knew a thing or two about landscaping, eh? I’ve also gotten used to the fact that even several months after purchase, at around 5k my not so new trainers give me blisters in exactly the same place every time.

It also helped that I’d already decided that I never need to do this again. Running for an hour at a time is just too boring, the training is too difficult to fit in and about 97% of the time, I actively dislike it. I’ve never come up with a reason other than ‘I think I ought to be able to’ and now I can. So I can stop.

In which I despair at A/W 15 fashions

One of the good things about being born and growing up in the 70s is that, yes, I may have worn some of the clothes, but it wasn’t my fault. I’m not sure how old I was when I got to start exercising my own judgment (which, to be fair, was disastrously flawed for a number of years – I wasn’t always the epitome of well groomed chic y’all know today) but I’m pretty confident we were into the 80s by then. And, as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing about 70s style that needs revisiting.

So, I’m finding this autumn’s clothes extremely depressing. I love autumn. Bring me colder weather, and fresh breezes, and leaves whirling from the trees. It’s an invigorating change after the summer, and I like chilly mornings, brisk walks and cozy evenings as the sky darkens earlier. I also, usually, look forward to stocking up on sweaters and trousers and new boots.

Not so much this season, which has apparently won the triple of vile fabrics in vile colours in vile shapes. If I was 20, I might be having a lot of fun with micro miniskirts and fringing, but I’m not. I basically need stuff for work that is simultaneously stylish and not cut up to here or plunging down to there. I also have a body type that requires my clothes to have some shape to them. Make it ‘unstructured’ and I may as well done a cardboard box and paint it paisley.

Let’s look at some key style trends for this season as evidence.

Culottes – are you fucking kidding me? I don’t care how many magazines are throwing their models into them, there is nothing flattering about a wide leg pant that stops at half mast. Nothing. Everyone looks rectangular. Plus, they’re just plain stupid. In real life, people need coverings all the way down their legs, because we have this stuff called weather.



Flat shoes – this just breaks my heart. It’s a continuation of the summer theme that saw skate shoes and orthopedic sandals foisted on an unsuspecting public with the rallying cry ‘They’re really comfortable!’ I had to look high and low for a pair of CFM heels when I needed them over the summer, and my autumn search for brown ankle boots that aren’t horrible is proving similarly troublesome.

Ugly shoes

Granny chic – words fail me. Ok, they don’t, but the only ones I have left are expletives. The shapes, patterns and colors all make me want to cry. Pussy bow blouses; ankle length pleated skirts in 70s orange; angrily patterned fabrics, of the sort that is usually left over at jumble sales. It’s defiantly ugly, and maybe if you are awesomely cute and you live in a movie, you can pull off the look. I am not and I have to go out in public without being afraid that I will traumatize passing strangers by reminding them of their deceased grandmother’s curtains.



Polo necks/roll neck jumpers – Do they have ribbing too? Super. So, these actually work if you are a size triple zero model in a black and white shot that’s pretending to be 60s Paris. Smoke a Gauloise.  C’est bien. If, on the other hand, you are a real person then you may have breasts, in which case your options are: the fitted, ‘here are my tits but I don’t have a neck’ look, or the ‘I am a shapeless blob and I don’t have a neck’ look. If you want, you can try tucking a roll neck into your dubiously coloured flares, thereby giving yourself an artificial roll around the middle too.


I’m heading into the cheapest A/W season in years.

This running malarkey

Despite the fact that I hated every single second of the Oxford 10k back in May, I’ve committed myself to running the Blenheim 10k in October. So, same distance but with some gentle, rolling hills for added unpleasantness. Of course, I’ve slacked off all training since May and haven’t tried running anything other than 6k tops. So why am I doing this again?

Even I don’t know. The best answer I can come up with is that I think I ought to be able to run that distance, and so I should run it. And my time for my first 10k was slower than I thought it would be, which is niggling at me. So I should be able to run it faster. Based on… well, nothing at all.

Getting back up to the distance just requires me to buy some willpower, find some music and I’d really like better headphones. But there is general agreement that to get my time down requires interval training. This scares me, because it’s hard work and what I actually really want is the result without the effort.

And yet. Today I hit the treadmill and did about 10-12 minutes of intervals in a half hour of running, and it was bloody hard work, but I can really see how it will make a difference. There are probably fringe benefits like you get to eat more chips, too.

So here I am, caught in a mental trap of my own devising and now forced to put some effort into achieving stupid goals that I’ve set for myself. I don’t understand me. Do real runners think like this? Is every single run still a battle for them?

Baking round up

My poor, neglected blog. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about it, it’s just that thought has not translated into action. I did consider calling time completely; but not for very long, which means instead I have to pull my finger out and post something for the three remaining readers (You guys! I love you guys!)

So here’s a baking roundup, just to get started again. I’ve been doing a fair bit of baking. It started as something to keep me busy during The Archers omnibus on Sunday mornings. Then I made a couple of things for the office, and now I’ve got a list of requests and am more valued for my baking than my professional skills. Oh well.

Mini Bakewells

My recollection of making a Bakewell tart was that it was a  right hassle, so I wasn’t loving this request. But, they actually turned out to be easy and delicious. I discovered that my mince tart pan is better than the muffin pan, and also that the recipe was a bit stingy with the jam. I get through the best part of a jar with a batch of these.  GetAttachment-1.aspx

(Rustic) Chocolate eclairs

Yes. Well. The choux pastry actually turned out fine but it would not pipe through my icing set and I didn’t have an eclair mould. Turns out that you fill a pastry shell with sweetened cream and drizzle chocolate on the top, and no one really complains. But I need to try these again, this time with an eclair mould.

Chocolate eclairs

Lemon drizzle cake

Of which I do not have a picture because the darn cake sank in the middle. I thought I might have used the wrong sized loaf tin, but nope, I don’t have that excuse. I just messed it up. I regularly knock half the baking time off recipes because my oven is a furnace, so it might be the old opening-the-oven-door-too-soon problem. Regardless, I took the sad, sunken cake round to my sister’s studio, because her attitude is ‘It’s cake, innit?’ Apparently it tasted fine, but why did it sink? Why? I’m going to have to make the damn thing again and get it right.

Spiced apple cake

This has turned into a bit of a favourite of mine. It’s dead simples for a start, but it’s also lush and you can eat it warm as dessert. Custard would work well. Oddly, this one does require full baking time, which in my oven means putting a foil hood on it halfway through so the top doesn’t burn. On a more recent version, I drizzled agave syrup across the top and sprinkled it with brown sugar.

Spiced apple cake

Coffee and walnut cake with Kahlua icing

This was your basic coffee sandwich cake, slathered in icing that simply wafted booze. I say Kahlua, it was a Tesco’s knock off I bought on the grounds that it was only for icing and I’m never going to drink the stuff. Still, it went down well with its intended recipients. I didn’t try it because I don’t like coffee flavored cake, so what do I know.

GetAttachment.aspxVictoria Sandwich cake

A good Viccy Sandwich is pretty much my favourite type of cake, and I cannot make one that I think is up to scratch. The last one was fine and garnered favourable comments but still. In some unidentifiable way, it wasn’t quite right. I think that the cake cooks on the top and round the edges too quickly, which means that by the time the centre is cooked, the edges are getting a bit dry for my liking What do I do about that? Will reducing the oven temperature help? Or position in the oven?

Victoria Sandwich

The Scary Bitches Book and Baking Club

So, I was out for lunch with friends last weekend, just after running my first 10k and shortly after driving my car into the back of a van on the way. It was a busy day. The 10k sucked but I made it, no one was hurt in the accident and no real damage done to either vehicle. On to lunch, which was at the fabulous Seven Stars in Dinton and over the breaded camembert we fell to discussing whether or not I should start a book club in the village.

The back story is that, having lived here for a couple of years, I still don’t know anyone in the village. This is due to me not having kids or a dog or going to church, and the village not having a pub or a shop. I found out there’s a book club and asked to join, but they’re already over-subscribed and there’s a waiting list. The friendly book club member suggested I could start a second book club by advertising in the parish newsletter.

S said ‘You should totally do that and I’d join and you could bake as well!’

I’m considering the idea, but a book club isn’t just a matter of getting a few people together to discuss books. It has to be the right people, talking about the right books at the right level for the right amount of time. It is not pouring a mahoosive glass of Chardonnay and regaling everyone with what little Crispin got up at his private day nursery and then explaining that you didn’t make it to the end of the 250 page pot boiler but you’re definitely going to soon, so ‘No spoilers, m’kay?!’

Most of the right book club people I know selfishly stayed behind in America when I moved back to England, but apparently there’s this thing you can do called ‘meeting new people’. Sounds weird and suspicious to me and I’m not clear on the vetting process. Of course, you can’t just accept anyone to join a book club, but what level of interview is considered appropriate? Multipage questionnaire, or is it ok to send a SurveyMonkey link? Is it de rigeur or faux pas to request that submissions be accompanied by a photo of the bookshelves and a copy of the TBR list?

Vexing questions indeed. Meanwhile, at least we have a book club name, and some rules:

  1. Read the book, bitch.
  2. Have a fucking opinion.

I’m not sure this will go down well with the parish newsletter.

To road trip, or not to road trip?

On the face of it, a road trip is always a good idea, but the one I had in mind is that roughly 3,000 miles from LA to CT, mostly via Route 66 but turning off after Oklahoma to go through Tennessee, so I could go to Nashville. Then up through the Virginias and skirting the East Coast. I really don’t want to have to drive through a lot of Pennsylvania again.

Of course, driving Route 66 is a damn good idea. But, in around 10 days on my own? I was a little concerned that I’d get bored, fed up of driving and a bit crazier crazy. On the other hand, there’s the glory of the open road, different time zones, a few states I haven’t ticked off and no one (most likely including me) knowing exactly where I am.

I got a quote from a travel company for flights and car hire and the first night’s accommodation in Hollywood. After that, the plan was not to book anywhere to stay, but to allow myself the flexibility of making it up as I went along. That way, I could burn serious miles one day, and take it easy the next.

But – would it be an adventure, or just too damn much driving? What would I do in the evenings? I’m pretty comfortable walking into a bar or a restaurant on my own but maybe not for so many successive nights. And while the romantic vision in my head saw me motoring into the distance in some shiny, chrome wheeled classic convertible, the reality was going to be a two door Chevy Whothethehellcares with a hefty one way drop off fee at the other end.

I loved the road trips I did with my ex-husband, and I think I was trying to set up a journey that would recapture some of that feeling. But you can’t cross the same river twice, and I realized that this time round, the experience might be hollow at the centre. For a couple of weeks, I hovered around making the call to book the flights. Then I let it go.

In which part 1 of the vision is achieved

Hurrah for a week off tacked on to a Bank Holiday weekend! I’m enjoying this week immensely. I haven’t bothered wearing my watch since Monday, as I haven’t had anywhere to be, and that has led to that real holiday feeling of losing track of time. So far, it’s been a great balance of getting stuff done and lazing around reading or watching DVDs, with just the right amount of red wine thrown in as a treat.

I’m rubbish at down time with no plans at all, so on the list for this week were:

Go dog walking with my sister – which we did on Easter Monday, both of us surprised by the sun and inevitably, getting sunburnt. But it was a great walk, along the Thames from Tadpole Bridge to Radcot and back. I would love to get my own dog, but until such time as I restructure my life to allow me the time, I make do with occasionally walking Bailey.

Get rid of the cobwebs – the downside of the sunny weather and some time at home is that I see my house in daylight. When I looked up, it was all getting a bit Miss Haversham up in the beams, where the cobwebs were having a party. It was time for the telescopic duster and much precarious balancing on furniture and stretching at unlikely angles.

Paint bookcases – as outlined in The Vision, I have a couple of horrible laminate bookcases that I’d decided needed a revamp. I have now been introduced to the world of chalk paint, and it’s amazing stuff. It really did go over laminate with no preparation whatsoever, and now I’m looking round for what else I can paint. I’d originally planned on white paint, but when I went to the Annie Sloane store I was overwhelmed with colour choices, and ended up going with Paris Grey.

Bookcases before

Horrible laminate bookshelves

Behold the fruits of my labours! I took the opportunity to do a bit of tidying up of shelves as well, and inevitably moving the bookcases meant wiping down walls and skirting boards too, and also vacuuming up what appeared to be the local woodlice cemetery. Ick.

Bookcase during

During painting, I’ve gone all unintentionally shabby chic

Bookcase after 1

After, and in new location. Notice empty shelves. Not for long.

Bookcase after 2

I bloody hate that printer. Step 2 will be to curtain off that bottom shelf to hide it.

Clear out the shed – This is still to be done and is pending for tomorrow afternoon. I fear spiders; but, the shed is now so full of stuff thrown in hodge-podge that it’s not useful for storage any more and I can’t get to anything.

Get my bike fettled – I think this is going to fall off the list, bumped by some of the unplanned activities.

Such as…

Having a massage – I was in Oxford to get the paint, which took me to Cowley Road, which meant my route took me past Eau de Vie. So I popped in and ended up booking a massage for later that day. It was totally worth it.

Baking a simnel cake – I’d meant to do this for Easter, then forgotten, then thought I’d bake it in time to take to my sister’s on Easter Monday. Turns out, the supermarkets are shut on Easter Sunday. Astonishingly, Easter still trumps retail and who would have predicted that? So, making the cake is pencilled in for tomorrow morning.

Watching all of season 1 of Penny Dreadful – which was suddenly available to buy on DVD, so I did and now I’ve watched it. I’ll hand the DVD on to my sister and wait for season 2 to be available.

Checking over my spring/summer clothes – I wasn’t expecting the weather to be this warm, and suddenly realized that all my warm weather clothing was in storage. So now I’ve dragged it all out, and have piles for dry cleaning, giving away and recycling.

And as well as all that, I read:

  • Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, and Maskerade – yes, it was a bit of a minor Terry Pratchett binge but they were a threefer.
  • Anna of the Five Towns – Arnold Bennett
  • Island Summer – Tilly Culme-Seymour
  • My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
  • Astonish Me – Maggie Shipstead

And you know the best bit? I’ve still got three days left before real life kicks in again.