My Body is a Temple (or Gallery)

I was in W.H.Smiths in Aylesbury glancing through the rows of magazines, half interested in whether there were any new interesting running magazines out. Running is one of those basic skills that seems so intrinsic, that if you’ve just started casually jogging,  you wonder how on earth one magazine can find enough angles for articles let alone half a dozen or so — er, you put one foot in front of the other and then put the other one in front of that and…

…but there’s a surprising amount to learn about running, especially if you get into more serious racing — nutrition, clothing, shoes, injuries, health and so on. I’ve done quite a few races at the behest of my much fitter CAMRA friend Simon but I’m still generally far too fat to do a good time. I managed the Winslow 10k a few weeks ago and will be pounding the streets and lanes of Prestwood and Marlow in May and hoping to drag myself around the Wycombe Half Marathon course in July.

I looked in the sports section for the running magazines — but they weren’t among the football or rugby or cricket or whatever titles. I found them opposite, right next to the burgeoning tattoo and body art section (see photo below).

Lifestyle Magazines in Smiths
Lifestyle Magazines in W.H. Smiths

The retailers probably do some research about where to locate the magazines on their shelves — there’s a whole science to placing products optimally — so I wondered what the link between running and tattooing was. I guess it’s probably pretty obvious — it’s about a pro-active attitude to body image to a large extent.

Whereas the football magazines (and certainly the back pages of the tabloids) are often read by lazy lard buckets, it’s fairly doubtful whether there are any passive readers of running magazines — they’re all trying to get fit and improve (or maintain) the way they look. The same must go for fans of tattooing and piercing — that’s all about enhancing their appearance in a different way. And there’s probably a fair amount of overlap between the two — the people in the body-art magazines generally look after themselves. I suppose there’s not much point in spending a lot of money having a tattoo over your stomach, buttocks or other body parts that get bigger if you don’t look after yourself if it expands the artwork in random directions.

I was a bit intrigued about the type of magazines placed under the tattooing titles. I know there’s a lot of metalwork involved in body piercing but woodworker?

2010 20/20/2010

2010 20/10 2010
2010 20/10 2010

I recorded the unique data and time combination last night by photographing the display on my mobile phone — so now it’s recorded for posterity on the blog. On the other hand, if anyone asks what momentous event I was participating in at 2010 on the 20th of the 10th 2010 I’d just have to say ‘photographing my mobile phone’. Maybe I’ll have to wait until the 2011 on the 20th November next year to do something more historic?

The Nihilism of ABUs

One troubling facet of this country is represented by the legions of ABUs (Anything But United) whose motivation seems to be purely pessimistic, destructive and nihilistic. I can understand why supporters of another football club may dislike Manchester United but they seem absolutely the wrong club to be the recipients of blind, unquestioning, hateful negativity — although Alex Ferguson’s defensive truculence could invite dislike on a personal level.

Take the last two Premier League games — both have been described by commentators as classics (at least the second half of the Liverpool game). Against Everton both Fletcher and Berbatov scored goals that, as examples of fast-paced, one-touch football, were beautiful. Berbatov’s second goal against Liverpool was absolutely extraordinary. Most overhead kicks are opportunist attempts when a player can’t connect with the ball any other way but Berbatov’s was absolutely deliberate — he started with a perfect first touch, knocked the ball to the perfect height and dispatched it with incredible accuracy. Reina was rooted to the spot as he didn’t expect any sort of shot from a player with his back turned but the kick was so well placed he wouldn’t have saved it in any case.

I like Berbatov as, like Cantona, he gives the impression he isn’t really that interested in conforming to the expectations placed on footballers. He doesn’t run around like a screaming and putting in obvious displays of headless chicken shirt-kissing loyalty for ‘the fans’ — one pundit said he had invented football as a walking game and you imagine he might have a cigarette in his hand as he plays. As with Scholes, he doesn’t need the artifice — they produce a pieces of skill and vision that are at another level compared with everyone else and they shrug their shoulders and say ‘that’s what I do’.

Berbatov has a way to go before he can compare with Scholes who, sadly after he was scandalously wasted by England, is now becoming acknowledged as the best midfield player this country has produced. Some of the football that comes from the Ginger Prince’s boots is as awe inspiring as a great work of art — the 25 yard bullet against Fulham being one example. And all this is from a quiet, small, red-haired bloke who you’d hardly notice in the local pub.

I suppose the casual way that some United players produce flashes of genius might irritate some but that must be offset against the team’s astonishing capability to self-destruct — losing two farcical goals in injury time at Everton being one example. Almost as bad was gifting Liverpool a penalty and free-kick with two challenges that were almost comical in their clumsiness. United don’t need ABUs to detract from them — they’re very capable of doing it themselves.

Fortunately, against Liverpool United had enough time to show the quality which probably infuriates ABUs the most — their determination to keep going (something that is so ingrained that it’s shocking to watch performances when it has been lacking — such as the Champions League final in 2009 and the capitulation to Bayern Munich last season, although that was a great game). As Steve MacLaren once said, United never lose, they just run out of time.

This may also be a point that grates on the ABUs — an unwaveringly optimistic psychology. Alex Ferguson used to always maintain that United played better after Christmas. It’s beside the point whether this was actually true or not (it often wasn’t) but it maintained the belief that things would get better if you carried on trying.

It’s the kind of advice that’s often given to anyone aspiring to do something difficult — keep trying, perseverance is all. This advice is very difficult to disprove — if someone gives up they won’t achieve anything and a lack of success might be explained by the need to persevere more. For most football teams and people trying to demonstrate talent, an infinite amount of perseverance still probably won’t compensate for an innate lack of ability but it’s easier to attribute a lack of success to a failure of determination. Perhaps this is what’s at the root of ABUism — the frustration and emptiness that comes from a defeated realisation that they — or their team — will never achieve their dreams no matter how hard they try.


I saw my first bumblebee of the spring today — fortunately in our garden buzzing around the snowdrops and crocuses I’ve planted. The second came hot on its heels  — in the garden of the Carriers’ Arms, Watlington, attracted again by crocuses. The Carriers’ Arms is a lovely, friendly little pub — stuffed full of old, country types on a Friday lunchtime. It’s out of our CAMRA branch area, unfortunately, but we always pitch up there on a Wednesday in mid July to have our traditional Aunt Sally practice. It’s usually a lovely balmy evening — now the evenings are becoming lighter I’m more easily able to imagine it after this miserable, cold winter.

(At this time of year, when we’re getting close to the equinox the day length changes much more rapidly than nearer either solstice — so we’ll see a huge change over the next few weeks in light evenings even discounting the clocks going forward.)

The Secret Life of Chaos

I had a choice of viewing on the BBC digital channels last night. I could have watched ‘The Truth About Stag Weekends’ (or similarly titled) or a programme about the mathematical theory which underpins the whole universe. I had a quick peek at BBC3 and, although the Prague lap-dancing clubs looked interesting, watching the antics of a bunch of pissed-up blokes for an hour lost its appeal so I watched the thought-provoking programme on BBC4 — The Secret Life of Chaos. It started out with an ambitious premise — to explain what Douglas Adams might also have called the question of ‘life, the universe and everything’. The idea is that simple mathematical equations, pioneered by Alan Turing, could explain how patterns get created out of otherwise regular and identical material — such as in how embryos develop out of stem cells or how planets agglomerate out of dust particles. IMHO the programme seemed to stop short of actually explaining how this happened but they alluded to feedback loops, which I’ve studied on an Open University course (can’t remember which one now). Basically the idea is that very tiny differences in an environment are massively amplified using the feedback loop until something becomes very distinctive.  There are other theories too — such as how things like tree branches or rivers tend to repeat the same patter.

The end result was to argue that science and mathematics have explained away the big questions previously posed by religion: we don’t need to ask why we’re here,  the answer has been worked out.

The main point of the programme for me was to re-inforce the importance of simplicity. Keep things simple in all walks of life, especially things like software design, because the way even the simple things interact will lead to incredible complexity. Start complex and the whole enterprise will soon fail.

The presenter, Jim Al-Khalili, seemed pretty good. Apparently he’s a favourite guru of Melyvn Bragg on ‘In Our Time’ but we can forgive him that. His programme about the elements and the periodic table is on next week.