Casual triathlon

“casual triathlon”- like fancy trainers and knife fights?

Not quite. After walking a marathon two years ago, Abi and I have been doing more long-distance walks. We enjoy the time together and the things we see while we’re out, and they’re good exercise. We’re not athletes by any stretch of the imagination, but it pleases us that we don’t have to “get in training” to tackle a 26km walk.

When we go on holiday to France, we’re in the habit of swimming 100 lengths of a 10m pool: 1km, albeit with lots of turns. At some point over the summer, inspired by Alan, I checked the wikipedia article about triathlons and learned that the famed “Iron Man” is just the hardest and longest version. There is also a “standard” distance, which involves a 1.5km swim, a 40km cycle, and a 10km run. Hmm, I thought. That actually sounds quite feasible.

So yesterday Abi and I went and did one. Casually. Slowly. Crucially: without paying any attention to time. We did it because we wanted to do the distance, and show to ourselves that we could.

My original idea had been to get an early start, but it turns out that our nearest pool is reserved for swimming lessons on Saturdays, and isn’t open to the public. The Zaangolf pool on the other side of Zaandam was open for lane swimming between 12:00 and 13:00, so we decided to make it an afternoon thing. The Zaangolf is about 10km away by bike, so that would be a good warm-up.

We left the house around 11:15, and got to the pool by 12:00. We changed and started our swim at 12:14. I finished my 60 lengths at 12:52. Abi wasn’t done yet, though, so I carried on and did another twenty lengths. We got out of the pool at 13:04, so 50 minutes down. We dressed quickly, took a few selfies with our eyes ringed and bruised from the swimming goggles, and had a drink by our bikes before we set off on the second leg.

Cycle Zaandam style: standard “Dutch” bikes, kitted out for comfort, cargo, and commuting.

Our cycle route took us through the Zaanse Schans and along the Zuiderweg to Purmerend. Noord-Holland might not have any hills, but it certainly has wind (it’s famous for windmills for a reason) and it was directly in our face for that stretch. Going through Purmerend was slow as well, because it was urban stop-start.

With open bridges

We eventually made our way up onto the Purmerdijk, and followed the curve of the canal round to Edam, just past the half-way point. We didn’t enter Edam proper, but hooked back on the Edammerweg to the Oosterweg. At that point we were heading south-east, and had the wind almost directly at our backs. We flew down the that 5km perfectly straight stretch, revelling in the knowledge that the second half was mostly all in this direction.

Abi fighting the wind and peeling a hard-boiled egg on the Purmerdijk

We took the tiny ferry over the canal at Ilpendam, and almost before I knew it, we were back in Het Twiske. Our plan was to make it to 40km, park our bikes, and then do the last 10km as a big loop around the lake in Het Twiske. We headed for the Marsen Farm, and by excellent coincidence hit 40km almost exactly as we arrived there, in a time of 3 hours and 6 minutes. We parked our bikes, and set off on foot.

Not too much to say about the 10km loop, other than that it was a gorgeous afternoon for a walk: warm, sunny, and with a pleasant breeze. We were a bit tired after the cycle, but the walk gave us another change of pace and a different set of muscles to exercise. 10.23km and 2 hours and 3 minutes later we got back to our bikes at the farm, slightly sweaty and sticky, but happy and satisfied. It was 18:36. From that start of our swim at 12:14, it had taken us 6 hours and 22 minutes.


The sun hadn’t set, but was sinking in the sky. The leaves of the chestnut trees near the farm were starting to turn, and the golden light brought out all the warm tones in the the greens and browns. We’re enjoying a lovely nazomer right now. It would be great if it saw us through to the Dam-tot-Dam walk next weekend.

Yasiin Gaye

On my walk this morning I was particularly enjoying “Big Brother Beat” by De La Soul featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def at the time). When I got back home, I did a quick search to see if he had any new music out, and look what I found! Not a new album as such, but two amazing mashups, under the overall heading of “Yasiin Gaye”. Mixed by Amerigo Gazaway, they’re a perfect fusion of hip-hop and soul, mixing Bey’s vocals with the music of Marvin Gaye. For free! Go grab them now — they’re lush.

Yasiin Gaye – The Departure (Side 1)
Yasiin Gaye – The Return (Side 2)

Loncon3 trip report: Day 3

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

(Day 3 of our trip being day 2 of the Con: Friday 15 August.)

Friday was Abi’s big day: she was moderating one panel, and speaking on two others. The first one, “The Deeper the Roots, the Stronger the Tree” was a discussion of how non-genre authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Jane Austen have inspired and influenced science fiction and fantasy. Abi was really nervous about this one. Despite all her experience moderating online communities, this was her first time in charge of a real-life panel. The kids and I didn’t go along to it (it was a bit early, and a bit out of Alex and Fiona’s sphere of interest), but Abi said it went well.

While Abi was moderating, the kids and I got ourselves ready and wandered over to the Con. We planned to attend Abi’s second panel, “Settling the Alien World” at 12:00. Before then, we had a quick look in the Dealers’ Room, located the Tiki Dalek, and hung out in the Fan Lounge again for a bit.


The “Settling the Alien World” panel was neat: a bunch of authors, scientists, and fans talking about the practical and social issues surrounding humanity’s potential arrival on three different types of planet. Lots of good discussion.

On the previous day (Thursday) Fiona had taken part in the first session of the Tardis build. Before that first session, Abi and Fiona had gone back to the hotel for Fiona to change out of her Merida costume into street clothes that would not be a problem if they got dirty. However, that did leave her in normal clothes afterwards, which was a bit of a let-down after having had so much attention in costume earlier. This was one of the reasons that we went back to the hotel at the end of the afternoon – so that Fiona could change back for the evening.

For the second Tardis session on Friday we had a different plan: I had Fiona’s spare clothes with me in my bag, and she just changed into them in the toilets at the ExCel centre.

Fiona painting a corner of the Tardis.

Fiona’s new best friends were all involved in the Tardis build as well. After they were done with the day’s painting, five of us (Emily, her mom Kristen, Alex, Fiona, and I) wandered up the concourse to the Indian restaurant and had a curry for lunch. Well I say “curry”, but Alex and Fiona both only wanted a plate of rice. Eh, it’s Worldcon. Whatever.

One of the cornerstones of Alex’s Worldcon experience was the role-playing in the gaming tent. At 16:00, Garry Harper of RP Haven ran the workshop “Design and Playtest your own Tabletop Game” to teach tricks of the trade to both new and experienced GMs. Alex felt a bit shy, and wanted me along. I sat in on it too, and it was great. Garry is an excellent and enthusiastic instructor. He got everyone thinking about plot and momentum, characters and crowd management. His most imporant message, though, was: make sure the players are having fun. No matter what your planned outcome was for the session, if everyone had a good time and a laugh, that’s a win. Very valuable advice. Alex lapped it up, and it even gave me some ideas for a Chthulhu scenario…

The gaming session overlapped with Abi’s third panel of the day, “Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Next Generation” at 16:30. I snuck out of the gaming workshop for a short while to find Fiona and take her up to the panel. (She’s perfectly capable of making her own way there, but I’d said I would go with her.)

After both the gaming workshop and Abi’s panel were finished, we all met up again to try and figure out a plan for the evening. The kids and I had already had a look at the programme, and hadn’t seen anything that really fired us up. One of the alternate proposals was to go out to the cinema to see Guardians of the Galaxy (which hadn’t been released in the Netherlands yet). Alex wasn’t interested, but Fiona was. There was an early evening showing at the CineWorld West India Quay that we could make if we hurried. Alex practically shooed us off.

We had to run through the ExCeL centre to find a working cash machine (because London taxis don’t take cards? WTF, London, get with the century), but we made it to the cinema on time. We bought some sweets and drinks for dinner (eh, it’s WorldCon, whatever) and had a blast watching the film. Afterwards we found our way to the nearly DLR station, and took the train back to the hotel. Half an eye on fellow passengers, trying to figure out which were con-goers. Mostly easy to tell.

Murthly Castle

For all the time that my parents have lived in Murthly (14 years now), today was the first time I’d ever been to Murthly Castle.

We has a late morning, with Aberdeen rolls for breakfast, and Saturday Kitchen (best bits) on the TV. In the afternoon we drove into Perth and had lunch at Blend. I bought myself a new pair of slippers, and we chatted with some very enthusiastic volunteers at the Yes campaign stand on the High Street. Dad and I came away with stickers and posters. Mum, who is a yes-leaning don’t-know, came away with some literature.

After we got back to Murthly, I had a nice long FaceTime call with Abi, who is at home feeling poorly but being taken good care of by Alex and Fiona. (Right? Right, Alex?) The weather turned nice again around 5, so we decided to go out for a walk. We drove the short distance to the entrance to Murthly Castle estate, parked, and had a lovely stroll along to the castle and chapel and back again. We speculated about the distance; I checked it a moment ago using and clocked it just short of 6km.

Mum had made a pan of chili earlier. We had that for dinner while watching Doctor Who (Robot of Sherwood). After dinner we moved through to the living room to have some panna cotta dessert and to watch a film. We tried a couple of trailers and settled on Calvary, which we unanimously agreed was amazing. Funny and painful, with a stunning performance by Brendan Gleeson. Breathtakingly good.

Then I picked up on breaking news of the 51-49 YouGov poll. So, yeah, there’s that.

Pollock Halls

In the summer months (June – September) Edinburgh University turns some of its student accomodation into general budget hotel/B&B rooms. Over the course of six trips to Edinburgh this summer I’ve racked up 18 nights at Pollock Halls of Residence. Tonight is my last.

Pollock Halls are tucked away between the Commonwealth Pool and Arthur’s Seat on the south side of the city. The location could not be better for me: it’s scenic, only a ten minute walk to the office, right next to the Holyrood park for walking, and right next to the pool for swimming. The rooms I’ve stayed in have been plain, but not spartan. You get a single bed with two thin pillows and a thin duvet. There’s a big desk, a desk chair and a guest chair. A bedside table, plenty of cupboard space, and some bookshelves over the desk. The room I had in Holland House had a tiny en-suite shower room, but the other housing blocks all have shared showers and toilets. The rooms do have a sink/toiletries area and a towel rack. There’s no TV, but the wifi is free and fast. Each floor has a shared pantry with a fridge and a microwave, so you can bring in a supermarket dinner and heat it up.

Breakfast is a huge free-for-all buffet in the restaurant of the John McIntyre Conference Centre in the centre of the grounds. Trays of eggs, bacon, sausages, black pudding, and fried potatoes. Bread, pastries, meats and cheeses. Cereals and yoghurts. Fruit juices and soft drinks. Just…loads of stuff. Fill up your tray and find a table.

In June the place seemed to be mostly full of academics attending conferences. July saw more tourists, with lots of people clearly there for the Commonwealth Games at the end of the month. Because of holidays I wasn’t around for most of August, but I’m sure it was busy with festival goers. Right now, at the start of September, it is quiet. I got down to breakfast just before 09:00 this morning. The restaurant is usually packed at that time, but today there were only a handful of people. Term starts next week, so this is probably one of the last nights that the rooms are available for booking. Judging by the piles of boxes stacked up everywhere, I think the staff are trying to get the place ready for students arriving.

You don’t get to stay in this one

If I were staying here for a whole term, I’d want to make some changes to my room. The desk chair is not height-adjustable, and it’s just too low to be comfortable for long working sessions. The walls are a thin, and sound carries. The duvet is too thin for the cold Scottish summer nights. There was one night in June when I wore my clothes under the covers, and since then I’ve brought a hot water bottle with me just in case. I’d definitely want to kit the bed out with something warmer for the winter.

But for a couple of nights at a time, at budget hotel prices? It’s great. The EasyHotel on Princes Street feels stingy; Pollock Halls feels sensibly frugal. I’ll be back again next summer.