Honestly, This World

In the week since Scott Hutchison’s death I’ve been listening to a lot of Frightened Rabbit, obviously. Less obviously, I’ve also gone back to the album Honestly, This World by The Moth & The Mirror, a short-lived Scottish band that featured (amongst others) Stacey Sievwright and Gordon Skene (who was also playing with Frightened Rabbit at the time). I love this album, in particular the tracks “Germany” and “Fire”.

What I hadn’t spotted until this week, probably because I’ve only ever seen it at tiny sizes, was the airplane on the album cover that all the birds are following. The phrase “Honestly, this world…” already yields a mental picture of someone shaking their damn head. Now I see it in the artwork as well, it’s a beautifully subtle verbal and visual facepalm.

Album cover for Honestly, This World by The Moth & The Mirror

This is actually similar to a tattoo idea I had been toying with: a band of bird silhouettes around my arm, with somewhere amongst them a sly Airbus 320 — to represent the amount of flying I have done over the last five years. I might still revisit this! If I do, this album cover will give it the extra weight of a wonderfully obscure musical in-joke.

Marathon walk to Schoorl, Sunday 20 May 2018

I got up early and left the house a few minutes after 06:00. The weather forecast was fine and sunny, with the temperature expected to hit 22°C in the afternoon, but at 06:00 it was misty and cool. The roads were dead quiet that time in the morning anyway, but the mist made the first few hours of the walk extra still. It wasn’t a pea-souper; just dense enough for towers and pylons to drift in and out of sight, and for wisps to gather and swirl lazily over the glass-flat canals.

Prins Bernhardbrug, Zaandam
Prins Bernhardbrug, Zaandam
View of Cargill Gerkens Cacao factory from the Willem Alexanderbrug in Zaandam
View of Cargill Gerkens Cacao factory from the Willem Alexanderbrug in Zaandam
Ship moored at the Lagedijk, Zaandam
Ship moored at the Lagedijk, Zaandam
Zaan view at Wormerveer
Zaan view at Wormerveer

I walked north-west through Zaandam, Koog aan de Zaan, Wormerveer, along the edge of Markenbinnen, then over the polder to Alkmaar, then finally out to Schoorldam and Schoorl. I hit marathon distance in Schoorldam in 7h 31m, which is a personal best. Apart from wanting to try out my new shoes today, I also wanted to do the walk at a fast pace, just to see what kind of time I could put down. That didn’t quite work out, because I couldn’t stop myself from stopping to take a bunch of pictures along the way. I also spent the first hour stopping a lot to adjust my laces, because I just couldn’t get comfortable with the racer’s loop.

My right foot is slightly smaller than my left. Although my left foot was mostly snug with standard lacing, I could feel my right heel slipping. But when I did tie the right up more tightly, it was painful across the bridge of my foot. I could feel a blister forming on my heel by the end of the first hour, and I regretted taking a new pair of shoes out for a long walk without breaking them in first. I’ll know better next time.

Time-wise, I think I could easily cut off 10 minutes with broken-in shoes and better discipline. With more training, I could probably get my average pace up, too, and take the time down to 7 hours (about 6 km/hour). But that’s not what I’m about. I do big walks to prove to myself that I can do a slow marathon with no preparation beyond bringing enough drinks to stay hydrated; and I really enjoy taking pictures of interesting things along the way. I’m not going to force myself on joyless marches.

Wormerveer panorama
Wormerveer panorama
Periodic reminder that Noord-Holland is really flat…
View of the Alkmaardermeer
…and wet
Crow weathervane Schoorl
Large crow silhouette weathervane in Schoorl, near the N9

I messaged Abi near the end of the walk, and she drove out to Schoorl to meet me for a mid-afternoon coffee. (It was another 2.4km past Schoorldam, giving me a total distance of 44.6km for the day.) I’ve never been to Schoorl before, but maps showed several cafés in the centre. It’s right next to the coastal dunes, and they have the Netherlands’ tallest sand dune (the Klimduin) that runs right down to the village centre, which is pretty cool. A slice of apple pie was a welcome treat to finish the walk.

Martin just after finishing in Schoorl
Obligatory finish line selfie. Look at that puffy face!
Klimduin in Schoorl
Klimduin in Schoorl
apple pie and drinks
Apple pie reward

Wear patterns

Because most of my long-distance walks are over tarmac and concrete, I bought a pair of Asics Patriot 8 running shoes to replace the more rugged and waterproof hiking shoes I had been using. They’re great, but even after a few months I noticed that the inside padding was starting to wear through at the edge where the heel counter meets the collar. Beneath the padding of these shoes, the heel counter is made of firm but flexible plastic, and the the wear happens right at the top. Even though it doesn’t feel like my heel is slipping, the wear pattern doesn’t lie:

Heel slip wear pattern
Heel slip wear pattern
Heel slip wear pattern
Heel slip wear pattern

According to running forums and sites, the answer seems to be that I should tie my laces with a “racer’s loop” (“heel lock lacing”), a technique that takes advantage of the “extra” lacing holes behind the standard ones.

The soles of the Asics Patriot 8 shoes are made of a softer material than my old hiking shoes, so it’s natural that they’d wear down a bit faster. Here’s what the soles look like compared to a brand new pair:

Asics Patriot 8 soles, old vs new (about 7 months)
And the heels

As I’m walking rather then running, I can live with less grip from the soles, but I’d prefer it if the heel padding lasted a bit longer. But I like these shoes a lot, and so I bought a fresh new pair to replace them. Asics has a new model for this year (the Patriot 9), but apart from new colourways and an “Amplifoam” logo on the side of the sole, I can’t see much of a difference. The 8s are still readily available online, and being last year’s model, they’re cheaper too. I’m going to take them out for a spin tomorrow.

New Asics Patriot 8

Digging your own rabbit hole

In the Kottke newsletter this week Tim Carmody highlights Dan Nosowitz’s article in NYMag “I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore”:

The other day, I found myself looking at a blinking cursor in a blank address bar in a new tab of my web browser. I was bored. I didn’t really feel like doing work, but I felt some distant compulsion to sit at my computer in a kind of work-simulacrum, so that at least at the end of the day I would feel gross and tired in the manner of someone who had worked. What I really wanted to do was waste some time.

But … I didn’t know how. I did not know what to type into the address bar of my browser. I stared at the cursor. Eventually, I typed “nytimes.com” and hit enter. Like a freaking dad. The entire world of the internet, one that used to boast so many ways to waste time, and here I was, reading the news. It was even worse than working.

As the kids (youngsters in their thirties) say these days (probably not any more): “It me”.

Very recently I downloaded Brent Simmons’s Evergreen RSS reader, which came pre-populated with an interesting selection of blog feeds he follows, and that I probably would never have come across myself. That was nice. Likewise, I’ve been dipping my toes in the water of Manton Reece’s micro.blog, and reading new things I find there. Sometimes it’s thoughts about how people respond to expectations, sometimes it’s a picture of someone’s back yard. It’s good stuff.

Tim Carmody calls it “digging your own rabbit hole”:

So what does this mean? Paradoxically, wasting time is now more work. You can certainly do it — the web is as full of nonsense as it ever was — but you have to look a little bit harder. You have to learn some new things. You have to find your own corners charting unmonetizable enthusiasms. It’s not just going to happen to you. You have to dig your own rabbit holes.

Curiously, this brings back a feeling of peeking into private spaces, even though these sites are openly available on the internet. But they’re not part of the mainstream: Twitter, Medium, Tumblr. If you want to be read these days, and you don’t already have an audience, you publish on one of the social outlets. Writing on your own site (the “indie web”) has different connotations: a certain resistance to the mainstream. I dig it.

One of Tim’s links there was to Austin Kleon’s article “What do you want to learn?”. This reminded me of a piece I wrote myself on Everything2 in 2001, “What can you do this month that you couldn’t do last month?”. Here’s the whole thing:

Earlier today, my wife and I were talking about the baby we have due in six weeks’ time. (We talk about this a lot.) We were considering how quickly babies grow, and how quickly they learn. A whole new individual takes form, its body, its personality, it’s whole being evolving on a daily basis. From one week to another it picks up new skills: holding a cup, grasping a spoon, crawling, walking, talking.

We never learn so much, so quickly, as when we are children.

Is the converse true? If we keep learning, and keep acquiring new skills, do we stay young?

For a child, a completely new thing is utterly fascinating. As we grow older, there are fewer new things to discover, and come to think that every day is like any other. We’ve seen and done it all before. And because we don’t experience it as often, we forget just how much fun the thrill of discovery is! Find that thrill, and you’ll find your inner child.

One of my goals in life is to have as much fun as possible. And learning new things is one of life’s greatest pleasures. So I owe it to myself to consider the following question on a regular basis:

What can I do this month that I couldn’t do last month?

If I can’t answer this with something new, interesting and fascinating, then I must be doing something wrong. This month, for instance, I have learned how to play hi-hat ostinatos on my drum kit. Very soon, I’ll be learning how to change nappies.

  • Learn a new language. Visit a foreign country, and learn all about it while you’re there!
  • Learn to play a musical instrument. Then, learn how to play along with your favourite songs!
  • Learn to juggle. Then, learn to do tricks with juggling balls!
  • Learn to cook. Discover how to prepare food like they do in posh restaurants!
  • Learn to make furniture. Build yourself a bookcase!
  • Learn to sew. Buy a pattern, and make a pair of trousers!
  • Learn to draw. Make sketches of your parents, or of your friends. Sketches evoke completely different memories than photographs do.

Just learn!

First of all, I’m always somewhat surprised when I discover that Everything2 still exists. That’s cool. Secondly, I had forgotten that I wrote that piece over on E2, rather than here on my own blog. (Which is why I included it above, just in case E2 goes away and I can’t find it again.)

Third, a sad realization that I can’t even name anything I can do now that I couldn’t do twelve months ago. (I’m not going to count CSS-grid.) So much of the last couple of years has been a determined slog through depression and recovery, both my own and that of others. Fun is something that happens to other people, or at the very least is eked out in small measures under the guise of minimal self care: taking walks, going to concerts, and binge-watching Netflix.

This isn’t a plea for help or sympathy, just a nudge to myself that I used do better, and, if I give myself the time and opportunity, I will do better again.


Although Alex was still off school this week (study leave before finals), Fiona only had one week off and was back on Monday. I dropped her off at school around 10:10. Her class has PE first thing on a Monday, and as Fiona was getting out of the car, three girls from her class walked past on their way back from the playing fields. Fiona casually skipped to catch up with them, tapped one of them on the shoulder, and jumped into their conversation. The group fluidly changed step to absorb her, and they walked up the steps to the school entrance looking completely natural and at ease.

I sat in the car and watched this with wonder. This time last year something so apparently simple seemed almost impossibly far away. It has been a long road, but we’re getting there.

In April three years ago we gave Alex and Fiona their first “Independence Quest”. I took the bus to Amsterdam with them and we walked to the Dam. I gave them each €20, and the Quest was to go off together…and spend it. They could go and buy some lunch, visit a bookstore, scout for clothes, load up on sweets, whatever. But they had to spend the money on their own, in a big city they were mostly familiar with, without an adult hovering over them. And then meet up with me while I was off getting my first tattoo, or call Abi for a pick-up. Alex was just short of his 14th birthday, and Fiona was 11. They got on fine, and had a great time.

Flash forward to this Wednesday, when I was back at the House Of Tattoos again. Fiona wanted to be around for me getting the new tattoo, just like she wanted to be there for Abi getting her hair cut last month. The timing meant I couldn’t pick her up from school that day, though. So the plan we made was that she would finish school, and take public transport from Amsterdam Zuid to meet me at the tattoo studio. And because Fiona had an appointment of her own in Amstelveen at 18:00, but I wasn’t sure if I would be done by then, she might have to take public transport on her own back south again. NBD.

This, too, was a marvel to me. Not just that Fiona was able to do this on her own, but that she wanted to.

It was Emilia who did my tattoo this time. We spent some time discussing the design, and when we were happy with it Emilia made a carbon paper stencil and positioned it on my arm. Fiona showed up while Emilia was preparing her station, and she admired the design. She was looking hot from the walk, and wanted to find a shop or a café to get herself something to drink. When she wasn’t back after half an hour and Emilia was well underway with the tattoo I had a twinge of concern that she was OK, but she showed up bright and happy and (cautioned not to touch anything) came over for a close look at the process. Shortly after that she decided to head off early to make sure she had enough time to get to her appointment. Seeya! NBD.

Emilia did beautiful work on the magpie tattoo:

Magpie tattoo just after completion
Magpie tattoo just after completion
Me and Emilia with finished tattoo. I look slightly pained.
magpie tattoo
After settling in for a few days

Afterwards I got on public transport myself and headed south to Amstelveen to meet Fiona after her appointment. (I’d parked the car there earlier to make it easier for us to drive back home.) I stopped off for some food along the way at Burgerlijk Amsterdams on the Van Baerlestraat. Weird burger, poor service. The staff seemed surprised I was there and somewhat offended that I wanted to interrupt their conversation with my order. The bun and fries were good, but the burger tasted stewed rather than grilled, and the burger sauce was a sickly sweet barbecue confection. ? Avoid.