Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Jog Around The Water Towers (2)


25 miles

Ludford - Girsby Top - East Wykeham - Biscathorpe - Stenigot - Donington-on-Bain - Biscathorpe - Burgh-on-Bain - Ludford - Binbrook - Brookenby - Stainton-le-Vale - Kirmond-le-Mire - Thorpe-le-Vale - Ludford



Having mapped out a figure-of-eight route from Ludford to take in the Binbrook and Donington-on-Bain water towers, I set off last weekend in the Binbrook direction, but, feeling tired and demotivated, called it a day before the half-way point and retreated home. Some call it 'listening to your body', but, in all honesty I'd not felt that bad physically. It was more a case that I just got bored. Maybe it was the drag-over effect of a 135 mile week a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it was just 'one of those days'. The older I get, the more this seems to happen..

Off the back of a more sober 99 miles this week, I drove back to Ludford this morning to give it another crack. Leaving the van by the village hall, I decide to make towards Donington this time, making the most of a stiff back wind for the first part of the run.

I head along the Viking Way to Girsby Top and on towards East Wykeham, before turning south on the track that leads to Grim's Mound. Usually good going, this track has been mashed by a combination of rain and off-road traffic. Before reaching the A157 crossing, I'm passed by four trail bikes, scouring deep ruts and kicking shit with no regard. It seems - depressingly so - that footpaths and bridleways are now the refuge of motorised traffic as well as foot travellers such as myself. There's no escape. It's no good thing.

Dropping down into the Biscathorpe estate, my mood is lifted considerably by the beautiful dwelling by the gorgeous little church. I'm sure that when I last passed this way it was disused, abandoned and becoming increasingly dilapidated. Now it glows with new life. Tastefully repointed brickwork, new window frames and landscaping. A wooden stable block set back in a small yard. This must surely be one of the desirable houses in all of Lincolnshire. Make the most of it. While the powers that be have denied the frackers from the grounds for now, I somehow think it won't be long before the promise of cheap gas bribes an about-face, leaving the residents of this beautiful home with the less-giddy views of heavy goods vehicles and nodding donkeys.

I take the Lindsey Trail along the ridge line, the rusting Stenigot radars to my left, Donington-on-Bain in the valley to my right. The wind so strong that it threatens to take my feet from underneath.

The water tower lies a couple of hundred yards from the Stenigot mast, just off the Bluestone Heath road. A curious off-white golf tee, it stands behind a series of wire and metal fences which are hung heavily with signs of threat and warning.

The downhill into Donington is good running. A short stretch along the infant Bain, back through Biscathorpe and a short, steep climb to Burgh-on-Bain's church leads me eventually to the Girsby road again. By the time I arrive back in Ludford, the wind's gathered further force but the sun's out. I take my hat off.

I head north to Binbrook along a high-level path that spills out into the village near the church. Jogging past the Manor View Stores and through the deserted village centre, I run in the direction of the old airfield, part of which was renamed as 'Brookenby' during the 80's. To call Brookenby a village would be to lie. A housing officer's good idea on paper. In reality, a disaster. The Lincolnshire Wolds' very own 'sink estate', a weeping boil on a beautiful face.

Row upon row of cheap, terraced, bottom-end housing - ex-servicemen's quarters utterly devoid of architectural charm. Corsa's with wide-bore exhausts and ugly fibre-glass car kits line the roads and sit in driveways. Old bits of carpet, pop bottles, plastic bags and screwed up pages from porno-mags litter the hedgerows.

The water tower's located behind the housing. I enter the optimistically named 'Binbrook Trading Estate' on a road which passes a children's playground. The equipment is broken. A rotting wooden fence relies on string and a nearby tree to stop it falling down. A pile of rubble lies next to a climbing frame. The playground is deserted. Any child using it would surely lose an eye, a leg or maybe their life. How long would it be in this god-forsaken place before the body was discovered?

My research into the Binbrook tower had thrown up little information about the tower itself, but a fantastic (most probably made-up) tale surrounding a most mysterious night in the RAF base's history. I'd been looking forward to having a look round.

Now I'm here, surrounded by empty hangers, deserted buildings and old  white Transit vans pock-marked with rust, the urge to take one of the broken bricks discarded on the verges to dash my brains out is almost overwhelming. I thought Lincolnshire could do no worse than Immingham. I was wrong.

I take a couple of photos of the tower, pull my pack tight and get the hell out of there.

Within five minutes, the beauty of the Wold's once again reaffirms my love of this county. The minor road to Stainton-le-Vale is undulating and glorious. The field path descending to Kirmond-le-Mire is a delight. Past the fishing lakes at Thorpe-le-Vale and back to the village hall car park.

Sitting in the van, the wind blowing cardboard cartons across the adjacent playing fields, I scan through the photos on my phone whilst pouring coffee from a flask and digging out the remains of a bag of midget gems. I polish both off before turning the ignition and heading to Saleby. The sweets taste great, but the coffee's cold. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Other Hundred Hours

I'd never heard of Wyn Fountain's 'The Other Hundred Hours' till a few days ago. As it's a Christian text, I have no doubts that I'll never read it, but the title intrigued me and made me want to find out more. As a result I spent the majority of my miles this week idly pondering the idea of what I do with my time.

It turns out that the title of Fountain's book stems from a simple formula to determine how much time church-going folk have each week. Of the 168 available hours (7x24), deduct 8 hours per day for sleeping (a weekly total of 56 hours) and a further 12 for formal worship. What remains each week is 100 hours. The book, I gather, discusses ways that believers can use these 'other hundred hours' in the best way possible.

Fountain writes, 'The Other Hundred Hours are where we live the most important part of our lives. They are the hours where our creativity is channelled into our careers and family life. These are the hours that mainly make us what we are.'

Now, we all need something to believe in. Whilst I'm not sure that I believe in God, I do know that if there is one, the closest I get to him is when I'm running. Just like the equation, I'd guess I spend roughly 12 hours too putting one foot in front of the other in my own form of 'worship'.

When you do nearly all of your running in the dark by yourself, as I tend to do this time of year, you have a lot of time to think things through. These hundred hours each week to use wisely - what the hell do I do with them? By a couple of runs into my week I'd plotted a mental chart of how I used my time, but the more I ran, and the more I thought, the more I thought I'd got things wrong. So I ran some more, and thought some more, and by the end of the week my blueprint was complete. A 5 point plan for using my hours in a different way:


1. Work Less
The typical male working week in the UK is currently 36.8 hours. Over 5 days, that works out to between 7 and 7.5 hours a day.

It is estimated that 19.6% of UK males work 45 or more hours each week.

EU rules stipulate a maximum 48 hour working week. However, the UK has opted out of this particular directive meaning British workers can work more than 48 hours if they so choose, but can't be forced to legally. (That's the theory. Try saying 'no' to your boss asking for overtime too often and see where it leaves you.)

In 2010, the New Economics Foundation produced a report called '21 Hours'. It was largely greeted with ridicule, scorned or just plain ignored. It proposed a 21 hour working week, suggesting that this would help with problems of unemployment, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, overworking, family care and the general lack of free time.

I've always worked hard, but over the last couple of years, I've been working hard at working less.

You hear that old cliché trotted out every now and again - 'On your death bed, your last thought is never going to be I wish I'd worked more.' I heard it a lot, but paid little attention. It wasn't until it was confirmed that my heart was knackered and would need a pacemaker, that I seriously reassessed my situation. The working class ethos had fucked me over good and proper, and it was only now that I began to wake up. At 45 years of age, this epiphany came too late, but I suppose too late is better than never at all.

Since then, I have dramatically reduced my working hours and re-examined my whole philosophy of how to live a life. And from my position of 'semi-retirement', I've been able to look not only at myself, but at everyone else. Do that for a while and it's difficult not to conclude that the vast majority of us have got it catastrophically wrong.


I was a teacher once. That's a tough job - a job that's so demanding that it defines you. If you're a teacher, it's easy to fall into a trap of teaching becoming all you do. It's all-consuming. It's not healthy. That's why I stopped being a teacher and did something else.

I was a market trader once. It seemed like a good idea, but turned out not to be. Being self-employed is a tough job too. You're your own boss - true - but there's no paid holiday each year, no steady salary to lean on. If you're self-employed, it's easy to fall into a trap of just grafting all the time. I got sick of the stress, the long hours, the forced creativity of constantly cooking books, so I stopped being self-employed and did something else.

I became a small business owner. A managing director of a limited company. And that was no fun either at first. However, 5 years of 16 hour days had one major benefit. It enabled me to put myself into the position whereby I was able to buy out my 3 business partners and mould the company into a shape that suited me.

It took me a while for me to not feel guilty when I began spending less time at work. I soon got used to it though. The ideas in Yvon Chouinard's 'Let My People Go Surfing'  showed me that it's possible to be a worker, but not a slave.

This winter I've been working an average of 24-30 hours a week over 4 days. (If you've never had a regular 3-day weekend, try it - it's ace.) For the business, it's the quietest time of year in the winter months, so keeping the same number of work hours through the summer season is a challenge, but not impossible.

Yvon Chouinard practices what he terms 'MBA'. Management by absence. It's gist is straight-forward. Find  highly-motivated people who are good at the job you give them. Treat them fairly, give them a decent wage and, essentially, they'll manage themselves.

Being enlightened by a ball of string some months back, I became aware that a fair amount of the time I spent at work was actually a waste of my time. I'd become adept at spreading out what I needed to do over a 'traditional' working day. With little effort, I soon found that the workload I personally needed to do could be compressed from a leisurely 8 or 10 hours into a more focused and productive 6 hours, leaving me scope to leave the office much earlier most days.

By working less hours, and thereby paying myself a smaller wage, I was able to use this portion of the business' money to pay key staff members more per hour. By rewarding them, and by showing them that I trusted them to get on with it without hovering over their shoulders, I was able to encourage them to manage themselves more effectively, meaning there was more opportunity for me to go off and do stuff that interested me more than work.

Of course, all of this is just a fledgling project, and without my watchful eyes, things could end in disaster. But I think not.

We live in a society that revolves around work. A government's economic policy is judged by a nation's 'growth'. Treated universally now as 'consumers', not human beings, we are encouraged to work hard and spend money. It doesn't matter what we spend it on, just as long as we do. If society as a whole decided to make a conscious effort to work less (and thereby consume less), the whole capitalist system would quake. It only sustains itself by growing. Thwart that growth and everything falls apart.

Government rhetoric divides those who agree to dedicate themselves to work, regardless of personal happiness or health ('the workers'), and those who make a conscious effort not to ('the shirkers'). Show little interest in building a career and working too hard at the expense of other, more important things, and you're branded a waster, a slacker, a non-conformist scumbag who only wants to take and never give back. Admittedly, there are some who take the piss ('benefit scroungers'? - I don't particularly agree with it, but it also doesn't wind me up in the slightest), but there are also many sussed individuals who have decided to live simpler lives, less defined by work and needless spending, with more time to spend on the activities that make them happy and the people they love. I want to be one of these. How can it be a bad thing?

The factor that keeps most people working is money. We've become conditioned to comfort, blinkered by an all-prevailing ethic that spending money unnecessarily will not only make us feel better, but make us look better to the outside world. It's a scenario that I can't see changing anytime soon. Because whilst the government and corporations do their best to steer us in the direction they'd like to see us flock to, they're not the drivers in unnecessary consumption, it's us. We're the ones who willingly consume, view shopping as some sort of leisure activity. We're the ones who create demand..

When most people moan about not having enough money, I agree that in some cases it's valid. Find yourself born out of grasp of the bottom rung of the ladder, and try as you might to climb upwards during your life, there's a good job you'll never make progress. Be really unfortunate and a TV company will do their best to portray you as some sub-human, lowlife trash to be vilified by lower middle class twats (who'll go on constantly about the dignity of paying their way, but would jump on the benefit train like a shot should they fall on hard times), upper middle class Daily Mail readers (who have always had it on a plate, ever since Ma and Pa packed them off to private schools) and Tory politicians (who label the needy as scroungers but pat their banker pals on the back, even as another few billion quid is put aside for compensation after purposely defrauding the public).

Some people truly have it tough. Most of us, however, just think we have. The ability to handle personal finances must be the single biggest black-hole in the education system. It leads to a life where whatever I earn is never enough. Most people are skint because they've spend a lifetime getting used to spending money on a whole skip full of shit they don't need. By carefully examining their lives, most people could get by just fine on a lot less money. And the equation's easy - need less money, need to work less.

In our free-market world, I'll be the first to admit that things look grim. However there are glimpses of sunlight now and again, and some of them from surprising sources. Returning to Yvon Chouinard, his company - multinational clothing corporation, Patagonia - should rightly be classed as the enemy. However, his vision has helped shape something a little bit different in the world of big business. Whilst constructing clothes that are designed to last one or two decades, not one or two years, as well as being totally transparent about the environmental impact of each item of clothing produced, Patagonia actively discourages unnecessary consumption and impulse buying. Their famous 'Black Friday' ad' of a couple of years ago demonstrates this well.
 Patagonia customers are encouraged to send in damaged clothing for repair (rather than discard and buy new), to sell unwanted garments on the company's 'Worn Wear' e-bay site, or once a garment has truly reached the end of its life, to send it back to the company for recycling. Of course, for the cynical (I'm usually one of them), this may come across as just interesting marketing bollocks, but in this case, I'm prepared to take a punt that that they're truly game-changers. Whether other companies will follow their lead, I'm less sure about.

What's needed is a retreat from the 'throw-away' culture. Money needs to be spent wisely on items that will last (easy in some areas, almost impossible in others). Forgotten skills of mending and repairing need to be retaught and reinstilled ( how many times have you been told 'getting it fixed will cost you more than getting a new one?) We need a total paradigm shift from the way we've grown accustomed to living.

Move away from the modern way and the decreased need for money will almost certainly be a benefit. Cancel Sky subscriptions. Get rid of expensive phone contracts. Use energy more sparingly round the house. Use the car less - walk more, cycle more. Play a sport for real rather than on that fucking games console. Throw less food away. Where do you want the list to end?

In essence, live more simply.

That's what I'm trying to do. By living more simply, less money is needed. Less work is needed. You give yourself more time in which to really live.

2. Sleep Longer

Margaret Thatcher's got a lot to answer for. In addition to being a stony-faced, emotionless bitch, a war criminal and the ruthless destroyer of whole communities, she also famously declared that she was able to conduct the business of running the country on only 4 hours sleep a night ( if she'd slept longer, I suggest, she may have done a better job.)

There's a lot of trumped-up machismo tied up with the number of hours spent sleeping each night. Get a group of people together and there'll always be some fool giving you, ' I only need 4 or 5 hours sleep a night.' In response to this, we're supposed to gaze fawningly, Bambi-eyed, thinking, 'Wow - you must live such a busy and exciting life - I wish I could be more like you.'

But you don't need to be a genius to realise that this is all wrong. Whilst sleep has come to be viewed as a waste of your precious time on this mortal coil, it is, as we all know deep down, one of the most pleasurable activities you can possibly engage in.

Not only does having an early night or a lie-in feel magic, but it also does you good. Research has shown that too little sleep disrupts hundreds of genes essential for good health. Less than 6 hours a night causes changes in the genes that govern immune response, metabolism, sleep and waking cycles and the body's response to stress. In turn, such changes have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stress and depression. Less than 5 hours of sleep a night has been shown to result in a 15% greater risk of death from all causes.

Whilst the average time spent sleeping before the Industrial Revolution was 10 hours (people lived more closely to the day's natural rhythm of darkness and light), during the Twentieth Century this figure declined to 8 hours - a total that is nowadays universally recognised as the minimum for optimum health. But modern living has eroded this further. In the US in 2010, 30% of the population claimed to sleep less than 6 hours a night. In the UK, a survey conducted in August 2013 suggested that the average Brit slept just 6 hours and 27 minutes a night. 27% of the people surveyed reported that they slept less than they did a year ago.

In using my other hundred hours more wisely, one of my aims is to nick a few for extra sleep. I get up early - on week days, around 5am. I don't go to bed late - most times between 10 and 11pm - but late enough to mean I'm generally more tired than I'd like to be when running a 100 mile week.

By spending less of my hundred hours on other activities this year, sleeping will come near the top of my must-do-more list.

3. Travel More On Foot

It's often said that all travellers know that the journey is always more satisfying than arrival at the destination, but in a modern world littered with diesel engines, fuel-injection, fast lanes and high-speed links, the time taken to actually get somewhere is overwhelmingly viewed in the negative. All motorised transport is designed with the aim of getting you from here to there quicker. Yet, surely it's true that you only see things more clearly by slowing down.In addition to my existing 12 hours of running 'worship', I intend to use a  handful of my other hundred hours to do just that.

From the front door of my house to the yard gates of my factory is around 11 miles. My preferred route is about 80% off road, with close to 9 miles following the Lindsey Loop, Lincolnshire's most beautiful long distance path. This journey to work takes in country lanes, green lanes and field edges, steep hills, easy running and heavy plough. Stand still on the outskirts of the wood at the mid-point of the route and you can see the sea, far distant, and the coast from Gibraltar Point to Mablethorpe and beyond.

This year, I aim to change the nature of my daily commute from a 20 minute dash in the work van to a long, easy run of between an hour and a half and an hour and three-quarters. It may not be possible every day, but I see no problem for the majority of the time with a little reorganisation and careful planning.

And by these means, I'll give my running - this most pointless and beautiful of activities - a layer of added meaning. Throwing aside the Runners World-ism's that make me puke ('Train Harder, Train Smarter!', '10 Ways To Burn More Fat!', 'Smash Your 10k Best This Spring!'...), I'll return to an older, more authentic age where travel on foot was a legitimate means of transport, and a long run was simply a way of getting from somewhere to somewhere else.

4. Limit Time On The Internet

A 2013 report from the Open Thinking Exchange found that Americans aged 18-64 spend an average of 3.2 hours per day on social media. 1 in 5 users aged 18-34 claimed to spend more than 6 hours per day on social media.

A 2013 first direct poll found that 30% of the UK's Facebook users are on the site for at least one hour a day. 13% were on for at least 2 hours. It also revealed that 26% of UK women check their pages at least 10 times a day, whilst 18% of men do the same.

As for Twitter, the same poll found that of the 26 million users in the UK, 31% spend at least an hour on the site, whilst the daily usage of 16% exceeds 2 hours.

I got rid of my mobile phone a few years ago. I was fed up of customers ringing me when I wasn't at work. Overnight, customers could only get hold of me when I was actually at work - not great for business you could argue, but amazingly effective for getting rid of a whole heap of work-related hassle.

Since then, the way things go is that I generally give friends Tammy's mobile number. Most of the time I think they'd prefer speaking to her anyhow, but if they insist on my voice boring them to tears, Tam can always hand the phone over if I'm there or take a message if I'm not.
Life without a mobile is no big deal (or is it a big deal nowadays?) I'd survived 35 years without one before they became commonplace, and I survive perfectly well now, although I do admit to a cheap pay-as-you-go job that I stick in my pack on long days running or trips to the hills ('just in case').
Fortunately, smartphones and apps didn't come along until after I'd gotten used to being out of touch again. I count it as a blessing that I've never purchased an app, never accessed the internet with a phone, never done that odd thing with my fingers and thumbs that everyone seems to do on an i-phone's touch-screen; never instagrammed, mapmyrunned, runkeeped, Snapchatted or Strava'ed. (I'm no Luddite, however - I generally send between 5 or 10 text messages a year.)
I've escaped the curse of the smartphone. But if I'd still been using a mobile when they burst onto the market, I'd be pretty much addicted I reckon. Just like all of you.
In spite of this, I have got bad habits. We've got a PC at work and at home and I'm forever wasting time on it. Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. Blogs by people I know. Blogs by people I don't know. Blogs by people I wish I knew. Blogs by people I'm glad I don't. FRA forum. irunfar. Mud, Sweat and Tears. Barefoot Running University. Loads of stuff - some of it interesting, educational and inspiring, most of it total pish.
Over the last 3 or 4 years, I've fallen into a dodgy default. I don't watch tele much, but every time I have some free time, I seem to find myself on that swivel chair in front of the computer, looking at 'nothing in particular'.
How much pleasure do I really get from following live Twitter updates on obscure US ultra races? Not much. Do I really need to constantly refresh the live tracking page on this weekend's next big race? Certainly not. Do I really need to click onto Facebook every time I use the computer - spend 5 minutes scrolling through stuff I scrolled through an hour ago, when I've got work to do? No.
I deactivated my Facebook account after Christmas, but it didn't last long. I felt liberated but cut adrift at the same time. In spite of its myriad faults, it seems it is handy sometimes. It's a reflection of the times that I have a few good friends for whom Facebook is my only point of contact. Folks I've met on runs in the hills especially. People who I've got to know and respect, but have no idea of their address or phone number. Friends who, without the common ground of Facebook between us, would probably become 'people I knew once, but lost touch with.'
So, my hundred hour challenge is simple in theory, but most probably very hard in practice. From now on (Today? Tomorrow? Next Monday? The start of March?) - no, from now on - today! - my computer usage will be strictly rationed. I'll only look at Facebook between 7.30 and 8am on weekdays when I have my breakfast at work. If someone posts a status of how long they've run, how great their night-out was, how tasty that new recipe was or what an arse their boyfriend is, it will be hard, but I'm sure I'll be able to wait till the following morning before devouring hungrily or stifling a yawn.
In addition, I'll only log onto the internet between 12 and 12.30 - dinner time - during the week. That's plenty of time to look at anything that really interests me. At weekends, and at home, I'm going nowhere near the computer (except to type these blogs up, or maybe check the Liverpool score.) Then, I swear, I'll use the hours I save in better ways.
5. Do More Other Stuff That I Don't Generally Do
'What's this one about?' says Tammy about  5 minutes ago.
'It's about hours,' I tell her.
'What about hours?' she says.
'You know - the hours I spend doing different things,' I tell her.
'What - like the hours you spend running?' she says.
'Yeah - stuff like that,' I tell her.
'Not about the hours you spend washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking, hovering, putting the bins out? Do you want me to go on?' she says.
( 'Well no - I don't spend any time doing any of those,' I say in my head.)
'Well - I'm getting onto that in the last bit,' I tell her.
And since this is the last bit, I better get on with it.
When I spend a moment to think about the hours I spend my life doing, there's a whole list of things that just don't figure, because I almost never do them. For example, whilst I try and spend lots of good time with Tam and the Superheroes, I generally (and I'm not particularly proud of it) do naff all around the house. I also probably spend more time thinking about myself and what I'd like to do, than thinking about other people. I'm crap at making an effort to keep in touch with friends. There, that's three - the list could go on.
If anything positive comes out of this little experiment to do things differently, it would be nice to think that not only do I have more time to do the things I want to do, but that I also have more time to spend with, and do things for, others.
For every hour I create to read a book, learn to play a new instrument or listen to an old LP, it would be nice to make the equivalent time to ride my bike with Lightning, dance round the back room with Whirlwind or tell them both tall stories. For any extra time I spend in the hills or up a mountain, it would be nice to have the equivalent time to cook once in a while, mow the lawn without moaning or write a cute poem for my wife, like I did when we first met but never seem to get round to nowadays.
Ultimately, I think it's right to believe, it's around these criteria that the success of this experiment in realigning my life succeeds or fails.
We live in crazy times. A busy, hectic, mad, bad world bombards us with information around the clock and forces upon us technology that is meant to save us time, make things easier, make us happy. We should be smiling, right? 'Cause modern life is awesome. ISN'T IT?
So awesome that the rates of depression, anxiety and general lack of satisfaction with 'our lot' are soaring.
In truth, however awesome the modern world is or isn't, it's obvious there's something wrong. There has to be, otherwise why are so many of us so fucking miserable?
Well, I'm sick of it.
But what do I do about it?
Maybe a change in the other hundred hours is the answer.