It’s Fiona’s last day here. She flies back to Scotland tomorrow. This morning Abi, Fiona, and I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and in the afternoon we did the “Top Secret” escape room at Game Over. The escape room was hard but good. Nice theme, well decorated. I felt that a couple of the puzzles could have been better signposted, but the staff did warn us that it was going to be difficult!
The Van Gogh Museum was amazing. Earlier this year we would like to have visited it with Kenny and Judy when they were in town, but tickets were all sold out. A few years ago I almost got to visit it, but a tourist collapsed and hit his head just in front of us in the queue, and I ended up accompanying him to hospital because he was probably concussed and didn’t speak any Dutch. So after living here for over 15 years now, this was my first time there.
Not only are the works on display a fantastic collection, but the story the museum tells about his life is brilliantly executed. Definitely recommended.
On one of the floors, a staff member was handing out paper for visitors to use if they wanted to do some drawing themselves. On the third floor there was a small exhibit of a rabbit and a painting of a rabbit. Fiona took a rest nearby and did a quick but to my eyes amazing 10-minute sketch of the rabbit. Vivid and lifelike. She doesn’t often show us her work, and so I’m always surprised and blown away by her skill.
It’s almost ten years ago that I first accidentally did a marathon walk through London, and looking back on my blog history and walking records in the MapMyWalk app, it’s almost four years since my last one.
It’s been a strange few years. During that walk in 2018 I came across a poster advertising a 100km walk, and I felt enthusiastic about giving that a try. But later in the year I was felled by burnout, and I put more importance on getting enough sleep instead. Between the end of 2018 and the middle of 2019 I was trying to get my head together, and shifting gears at work, to deliberately move more towards a managerial role. This included enrolling in an MSc programme, which has occupied a lot of my spare time in evenings and weekends since October 2019. Oh and family stuff. Oh and pandemic.
My sense of time has become wildly distorted. It was in May 2018 that Fiona and I went to visit the degree show at Duncan of Jordanstone college in Dundee, which feels like it was a turning point for my attitudes towards art school; and now we’re at a point where Fiona is going to be finishing school and moving to Scotland this summer.
I’ve noticed that I’m increasingly relying on tools to anchor my sense of time. I bought my iPhone X at the end of 2017. It was a top-of-the line phone at the time, and it’s still going strong. I had been looking forward to taking more photos with its high-quality camera, and being able to run all kinds of new and fancy apps that were just too slow on my old phone. One of the apps that has stood the test of time is MapMyWalk, which I’ve been using to track my walks, and have stubbornly refused to “go premium” with. All I want is an ad-free thing that will allow me to track my location and distance on a map, and save those tracks. I don’t want challenges or badges or social features. MapMyWalk is still very good at these basics, although over time it has made the premium features more prominent. It’s what I still use as my default tracker, and it’s how I checked when I did my last big walk.
(Annoyingly, MapMyWalk doesn’t allow for an export of time-series data in GPX format, so I have to use another app, GPX Trail Tracker, to gather data for use in geo-tagging photos from my non-location-enabled camera.)
Early in 2019 I bought a Fitbit Inspire HR with the goal of using it to track my sleep. The heart rate tracking and step tracking were incidental, and I don’t use them much. I would have liked a “smart wake” function that tries to detect “light sleep” up to half an hour or so before your alarm clock is due to go off and then buzzes you awake, but it wasn’t available on the cheap models back then. (It’s on the Charge 5 model now, which makes me wonder about an upgrade…) I occasionally also used the Fitbit app for entering my weight, which has actually been quite useful in hindsight for seeing how I’ve fluctuated over the last tree years.
Photos are a big part of being able to situate my memories in time. I’m all-in on the Apple ecosystem, and the native “Photos” app does a fine job of keeping everything in sync and backed up to the cloud, with the option to do some light editing along the way. HoudahGeo is what I use on my laptop to associate GPX tracks with camera photos, and it looks Houdah Software’s new “Photos Workbench” app is going to be a nice new evolution there. I’m slightly obsessive about keeping my photos properly geo-tagged and organised.
Recently I’ve also been tracking my blood pressure in the Apple Health app. We’ve got a BP monitor here at home, and it’s supposedly bluetooth-enabled, but it requires a dedicated app which doesn’t integrate with Apple Health, and I just don’t feel like putting effort into glueing the two together. I’ll just enter the data manually. I don’t see myself going down the full “quantified self” route, though. The Apple Health app seems like a nice idea for bringing all that health data together. It’s just a pity that none of the tools I actually use for tracking right now integrate with it, and that when I asked my doctor if she could use the data I’d been gathering there she just laughed. I’m not planning to buy an Apple Watch, because I rather enjoy only having to charge my Fitbit once a week.
So, back to the actual walk yesterday. I set out about 08:20, later than usual, because I just don’t enjoy early mornings. The first leg was 5km to the Hempont ferry to cross the Noordzeekanaal from Zaandam to Amsterdam. Then an 11km stretch south the the locks at de Nieuwe Meer. (For future walking reference, there’s a public toilet at the control station for the locks!)
Stopped for a bit at the locks to eat and drink, then struck out east towards the RAI. Passed Fiona’s old school on the way. Beyond the RAI, I skirted the south-east bank of the Amstel (Amstelkwartier & Overamstel), which is lovely, and where I’d never been before.
Onwards past Jaap Eden ice rink, through the Amsterdam University science park (also surprisingly nice), along the Amsterdam-Rijkanaal for a bit, then over the IJ at the Schellingwouderbrug, familiar to me as a walking crossing from the Dam-tot-Dam walk.
I stopped to eat and take care of my feet just after the Schellingwouderbrug. My left heel had blistered up, and my right heel wasn’t feeling too great. Despite taping they got much worse in the following 6km towards the ferry at Het Schouw, and my gait probably changed in response, which made my calves feel like they were constantly on the verge of cramping up. Annoyingly, I’d also forgotten to un-pause the MapMyWalk app, so I lost the fine details of that stretch. On the other hand, all it would have told me was that my pace had gone off a cliff.
The last 7km or so back through Landsmeer to Oostzaan were slow and painful. I had loved the stretches through Amsterdam (I love this city), and the legs through the peaceful countryside felt a “can we just get this over with” in comparison. Very pretty, but also much more familiar, and I was taking fewer photos along the way. I’d deliberately left my good camera at home, to remove the temptation to stop and take lots of photos along the way and lose momentum, but I can’t just not take photos at all, can I?
Got back home just after 17:00. My legs almost immediately froze up, and Abi & Fiona mocked me for not being able to stand up any more.
I see these spontaneous marathon-length walks as a casual test of my own fitness. If I can make it through a 42km walk on a weekend without prior training and planning, then I’m in “good enough” condition. I’m happy to have lost a bit of weight in the last couple of months, and that probably helps.
PS: After my black (2017) and then blue (2018) Asics Patriots shoes, I got a pair of red ones in (I think?) early 2019, and I went through the whole pandemic with them. It helped that I wasn’t spending much time walking, or out of the house in general. I loved their colour! But they were getting quite tired and worn, and I bought another pair in February. Blue again, this time. As with the earlier ones, they give my toes lots of freedom, and they’ve very breathable. The heels seem to be where I consistently end up with trouble.
This was part of Kimbra’s “Reimagined” tour, where she is performing a bunch of her songs in a smoky jazz bar style, backed by just a piano and a double bass. This is a great combination. Some of her recorded songs have this kind of feel to them already (“Hi Def Distance Romance”, “Waltz Me To The Grave”), and some absolutely shine with the new treatment (“The Magic Hour”, “Old Flame”). Others were less successful. “Lightyears” from her album Primal Heart is a beat-heavy club song, and its lyrics don’t have the gravitas to stand up to being slowed down. “Version Of Me” is slow, quiet and haunting already, and I’m not sure if it benefits from the vocal welly she puts into it in this arrangement. The overall atmosphere in the small Paradiso Noord venue was magical, though, with a warm crowd that rewarded Kimbra with tons of applause whenever she would end a song with a “dankjewel” and a smile.
Abi and I took another long walk today. We set off from Oostzaan in glorious hot sunshine around 08:30 and headed South. Took the ferry across the IJ to Tasmanstraat, and continued to the Vondelpark, where we stopped for a snack at the Vondeltuin. Then onwards to the Amsterdamse Bos where I pondered the mild ridiculousness of having lived within walking distance of Amsterdam for seven years now, and never having set foot there before. It’s really nice. It was like visting Golden Gate Park last year for the first time, after having been a regular visitor to the Bay Area since 1991.
The walk came to 22.6km, according to my GPS tracking app. A nice distance.
On Saturday Abi and I took a long walk from Oostzaan to Velsen Zuid. Our original plan had been to walk a bit farther to IJmuiden and then take the green “Fast Flying Ferry” hydrofoil back to Amsterdam, but unfortunately the service has stopped. It was shut down on 1st January because of low passenger numbers. Alex and Fiona went on it once a few years ago, but I never got the chance – pity.
We left the house around 08:30, and had amazing walking weather. Blue skies, temperature rising through the mid teens, and a very light haze that burned off later in the morning. Our route took us over the Den Uylbrug, along the north shore of the Noordzeekanaal, and through Overtoom and Nauerna. We took the Spaarndam-Buitenhuizen ferry across the Noordzeekanaal, and then walked through Spaarnwoude to the edge of Velsen Zuid, where we caught the 82 bus into Amsterdam.
I’ve played golf at Spaarnwoude, but this was the first time I’d explored more of the recreation area on foot, and it’s lovely. Towards the end of the walk, we took a detour from the direct path to visit an outlook point (on a hill — a hill!) and a signposted art object. This turned out to be the enormous piece “Klimwand en Schijf in Grofpuinheuvel” (Climbing Wall and Disc in a Mound of Rubble) by Dutch sculptor Frans De Wit.
It does exactly what it says on the tin: a free-standing public climbing wall (no entrance fee; just bring your own gear) in line with two massive concrete discs embedded in a man-made hill of rocks. There’s a narrow staircase betwene the discs, and when you climb it you can see that the climbing wall is exactly in line with the discs. It’s super impressive.
I’ve loved Maxïmo Park since their stunning debut album A Certain Trigger in 2005. I had heard thay are great live, and I was sorely disappointed to have missed them when they played Utrecht on their National Health tour in 2012. (I had actually–giddy with excitement–bought a ticket before I realized that I was going to be in Scotland with the kids for their autumn break that week.) But yesterday evening I finally caught them at Melkweg in Amsterdam. For the second time today, I’ll note:
As usual, I got to the Melkweg way early. (Since missing the first ten minutes of The Tragically Hip in Glasgow a few years ago because I’d foolishly thought that 20:00 on the ticket meant I still had plenty of time, I don’t trust venue schedules any more.) At 19:50 the place was practically deserted. The balconies were blocked off, too, which probably meant there was going to be a relatively low turnout. (Melkweg has a capacity of about 1500.) On the plus side, this meant I was easily able to bag myself a great spot close to the stage and up one step, to help me see over the heads of the inevitably tall Dutchies. Also, right in front of one of the massive speaker stacks. Yuss.
His Clancyness came on at 20:00 and played a nice set. More people arrived, and at 21:00 the lights went down and the sound came up. A haunting electronic drone, throbbing with promise, building and breaking in complexity, played over a blue-lit stage for about five minutes while the sound guys stage left made final adjustments, and finally covered up the glowing apple logos on their MacBook Pros.
The the band came on and launched into Give, Get, Take, the opening song from the new album Too Much Information. Paul Smith was dressed in a natty checked suit, white shirt, Doc Martens, and his trademark hat. Right from the start he was electric, dancing around the stage, posing, jumping, and shaking his hips. His voice was so pure and clear, and so like the recordings that I wondered if he was miming, but no: his live delivery is just extraordinary. The first four tracks they played were all loud and hard and fast to get the audience moving.
Sometimes hearing a favourite song live for the first time can be a disappointment. But when they played The National Health, it was just as powerful as I’d hoped. Locking eyes with the audience, shaking his finger for sharp emphasis, Paul Smith put so much power and emotion behind the words that it made me shiver.
Unfortunately the middle part of the set was plagued by technical issues. Lukas Wooller’s keyboard died during A Fortnight’s Time, and even the replacement keyboard didn’t work straight away. It took him and the techs a good twenty minutes to get sound out of it again. In the meantime, Smith was very apologetic, asking the audience for suggestions of songs they could play that didn’t involve a keyboard. Graffiti was a popular shouted choice, and they shuffled the set list around to accomodate the disruption. I’m sure it would have been even better with keyboards, but Graffiti was never going to be anything but a huge crowd-pleaser.
It was interesting to see a very different Paul Smith during those unrehearsed, slightly panicked moments after each song ended, wondering if the keyboard was ready yet. When he’s singing, he’s mesmerizing; when he’s thanking the audience between songs, he’s charming. But in the face of equipment malfunction he seemed shy and vulnerable. He’s a brilliant performer, but not a natural raconteur. (Puns about “sourcy” behaviour backstage notwithstanding.)
Her Name Was Audre was a great little guitar-and-drums punk tune to end the interruption, and things were properly back on track for I Recognise The Light, a funny track from the new album that I hadn’t properly appreciated until then. The sound quality at Melkweg was fantastic yesterday evening, with the vocals definitely leading the mix. As well as bopping up and down, I spent a lot of time listening to the lyrics, and hearing and interpreting them in a different context. I usually listen to music as a background to other activities, but at a concert I’m right there, doing only that: listening. I didn’t used to like Write This Down much, but the live performance completely changed my perception of it. Likewise, I hadn’t found anything special in Drinking Martinis from Too Much Information until the live experience transformed it for me.
Smith introduced By The Monument by saying that they were playing it at the request of Emma who had contacted them, at which point the woman standing next to me went into a squealing fit of utter delight. I can only assume she was Emma. The Undercurrents, another of my favourites from The National Health was glorious. Girls Who Play Guitars had the crowd in a frenzy. And finally, Midnight On The Hill, one of the most emotional tracks on the new album, gave them a truly shining exit.
The encore was playful. The last track on Too Much Information is Where We’re Going, and it starts with a simple strummed guitar and the line: “I don’t know where we’re going.” Someone in the crowd shouted, “Going Missing!”, which was the obvious response. Paul Smith interrupted the song with a laugh and told us that we’d get there soon enough. Big roar of approciation. So they finished Where We’re Going, a delightful, simple song about uncertainty and anticipation, and then segued straight into their big finale, the much-loved Going Missing.
To everyone who told me that Maxïmo Park are a must-see live band: you were right. So awesomely right.