I've been continuing to swim in the Beckenham lake, switching from a swimming-costume to my shortie wetsuit and adding a pair of neoprene gloves as my hands were getting cold.

I ride my motorcycle all year round, and benefit from improved skills and greater enjoyment in the good summer weather. Why shouldn't the same apply to swimming?

PTP Coaching, who operate the lake, offer swim sessions throughout the winter, but you need to complete a Winter Induction first. I had mine yesterday.

The half-hour talk from one of the coaches was very helpful and reassuring. We were not required to demonstrate we could swim, despite what the website said, so I wore my new Captain Marvel cozzie for nothing. Some useful things I learned:

  • It takes twice as long to warm up as to cool down, and the cooling starts when you get undressed. So 5 minutes changing + half hour swim + 5 minutes changing = 40 minutes cooling, 80 minutes to warm back up.

  • If someone's shaking with cold, don't be tempted to give them a rub on the shoulder - this creates a hot spot and the blood will go there instead of where it's needed.

  • Carry something sugary in your bag in case you overdo it, like Kendal Mint Cake or a treat size bag of Haribo.

Next purchase will be neoprene socks, I think.
Monocle Husky

Let’s Not Talk About Stuff, Let’s Just Play Music

Last night I attended my first online gig: The Divine Comedy live from the Barbican. I bought a ticket and logged in for the 8pm livestream (you could watch up to three days after the release, but I wanted to have an experience as close to the live concert as possible).

In a prerecorded segment screened before the start, Neil Hannon promised a set of 'comforting, cosy, nice, all the ones you know' songs. Then the band opened with 'Absent Friends', poignant for obvious reasons.

There was a small live audience at the Barbican (I was too slow to get a ticket for this). They were thanked for attending, as were we out in 'virtual land'.

The performers stood apart from each other. Masked stagehands exchanged guitars. "I'm not match fit!" Neil exclaimed, out of breath after one number. "I'd better talk for a bit."

The Divine Comedy don't feature on my top ten list of bands yet somehow I seem to own almost all their smart, whimsical albums full of literary and historical references. It was lovely to hear the familiar back catalogue: National Express, Your Daddy's Car (either my favourite or second favourite) and Songs of Love, which non-fans will recognise as the theme from Father Ted.

The performance lasted for an hour - short for a gig, but as long as you want to spend looking at a screen after a day of Skype meetings - and ended with a socially-distanced bow.

It was nice to attend a gig wearing my pyjamas ("OLD!" said my flatmate when I revealed my plans), and not to annoy anyone (except possibly my flatmate) by singing along to "SHE SAID! THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE WOODSHED!"

But I very much hope this is not the future of live music.

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Muskehound RedCoatCat

Stand By Me

It's well-known that the arts are struggling in the current world situation, while books, music and films are the very things that have been keeping many of us going.

Bob Harris, always a force for good, has assembled a crew of All-Stars and recorded a version of 'Stand By Me', 60 years old this year, to raise money for the Help Musicians charity. Bob himself can be seen beaming away and pinging a triangle.

Watch, listen, donate, purchase:


No Hai, No Kiai

Socially distanced karate has become even more socially distant, in line with new government guidance. We usually train in three lines widthways across our hall, but we've moved to lengthways so the class can take place in three smaller 'bubbles' of six people or fewer. The groups take it in turn to have a water break, and to leave the building at the end of the class.

We also spend a lot more time stationary, doing exercises that stretch us or strengthen our cores:

"Right, on your hands and toes, bring your left knee up to your left elbow, then swap. Government guidance says you gotta do it for one minute!" (It does not.)

At least kata is still possible, always my favourite bit anyway:

"Once more to your own timing, then I'll pick on you each in turn. Normally I'd have a quiet word but that's not possible right now."

A Swim in the Park

Saturday was the day of the Hever Castle Swim, which I'd been equally looking forward to and dreading since I signed up for the one mile distance early last month.

It was a chilly day, and we were informed that the water in the lake was 13°. On arrival there was a lot of rushing about - register, receive your timing chip to be attached to left ankle and colour-coded swimming hat denoting your wave of swimmers (mine was orange, which I took to be a good sign), proceed to the bag drop - followed by a lot of hanging about.

It started to rain as we received our final final briefing at the castle's Loggia Terrace, and it was a relief when it was finally my turn to step across the timing mat, sit on the bottom step and slide into the depths with all the grace of a sealion.

The first part was a bit scary, as you strike out for the middle of the lake and a series of orange inflatable buoys that don't seem to be getting any closer. After four of those we made a 90° turn to the left and entered the river section.

This was much better: so shallow I bumped against the occasional tree root, and could have waded out if I'd got into trouble, and with only one possible direction to go in.

I swim the way I ride a motorbike: I'm perfectly competent at it but I am never going to be fast. I chugged along doing breast stroke and checking out the scenery, allowing speedier swimmers to overtake on both sides.

I lost track of the distance in the twists and turns of the river, but suddenly the foliage on the banks gave way to brick and stone, and I was working my way back past the start point towards the orange inflatable FINISH archway. It took a little under an hour, I think.

I crawled out like a drowned rat and was given a medal and a paper cup of hot Ribena.

I was pretty sure I could swim a mile before the event, but I didn't have concrete proof. Managing it under the conditions of an official event has been a huge confidence boost.

More importantly, you've helped me raise over £500 for #HelpTheRobinsons, doubling my target amount.

I'm keeping the donation page open for a couple of days in case anyone was waiting to see if I could actually do it.


To The Crystal Dome!

I had a birthday and it was good. Thank you to st_crispins for the virtual gift and howlin_wolf_66 for the kind message!

I kicked off the day with a swim in the lake at Beckenham, returning for coffee and a shower before heading out again.

My destination was the (former Millennium) Dome for Up at the O2, in which you ascend the summit (52 metres high, a metre for each week in the year, as we learned from the introductory video) and look at the views of London from the top. I'd have fancied this anyway, but I was, of course, particularly invested because Pierce Brosnan runs around on the Dome at the start of The World is Not Enough (1999).

I met Howard at the venue and we had some lunch before proceeding to Base Camp, where we swapped our shoes for trainers and gained a harness each.

You clip yourself on to a line to ascend the walkway, taut tarpaulin with ridges on the steep parts and temptingly bouncy. It's 30° at some points, which made going down a little alarming. Apparently it's slippery when it rains, but luckily yesterday was a glorious sunny day.

There was plenty of time to stand on the top, and I was glad I had been upsold a plastic glass of champagne. We admired Greenwich Observatory, Canary Wharf and the Crystal Palace transmitter, my home turf. And, of course, I got my Bond on.


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A Day of Firsts

Today, for the first time, I went in to the office where I've been nominally based since June, and met three of my colleagues face to face. My boss had to collect me from reception as I didn't know where our desks were.

In preparation for this exciting day I slept really badly; one of those nights when you think you've been awake for four hours but realise you can't have been because that stuff with the circus didn't really happen, nor did you have a nice chat in the pub with Richard Briers.

There were perhaps a dozen people on our vast floor, in little islands separated by rows of uninhabitable desks.

We got very little work done in the morning because we were getting 3 months' worth of idle chitchat off our chests, but this was probably productive in a general way. Then we bought sandwiches and sat in the gardens by Millbank, and were excited by a sighting of Michael Palin. I

It was nice to come in to central London, and see people, and much more efficient to shout a quick question across the office than to send an email or bother someone on Skype. The commute, though! Nearly two hours of my life I won't get back, plus getting shouted at by a rude fellow-biker on the streets of Westminster! I'll be happy if we don't return to this particular normal.

In the evening, I headed out again for my first karate class in over six months. I'd been a little anxious about how this would go, but the session had been well planned: one door for entry, one for exit, with hand sanitiser at both. A maximum class size, and marks on the floor so we could stand spaced out. Sparring and self-defence are off the menu for now (which is fine by me), as is shouting KIAI!

I'm pretty tired after all these adventures. Luckily I have tomorrow off as it's my birthday. Unluckily I have filled it with a packed itinerary of fun stuff.

All the Time in the World

It's been all about Dame Diana Rigg in this household since the sad news of her death on Thursday.

My flatmate is more of an Avengers fan than I am (and I am a pretty big Avengers fan), so she provided a curated experience of some of the best Mrs Peel episodes, including The House That Jack Built. We drank champagne (well, 'English sparkling wine').


Sarah received a fondue set for her birthday and had not yet christened it, so yesterday I had the genius idea of firing it up while we watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service, for a full Swiss experience.

We had a lot of fun setting up the stand, preparing dips and setting light to a mysterious container of blue gel. We watched the film - one of my top three Bonds always - in the company of Diana Rigg in art print form, George Lazenby in signed photo form, and a small St Bernard I acquired on the Great St Bernard Pass some years ago.


First Honor Blackman and now Diana Rigg. What a rotten year.

Lions on Air

My friend and fellow spy fiction fan Jeff, of spywrite.com, has started a podcast dedicated to Mick Herron's Slough House series of novels and novellas about disgraced MI5 agents sent to work in a dead-end office under the ghastly Jackson Lamb in the hope that they'll get fed up and quit.

Jeff kindly asked me to join him for one episode, and I picked Dead Lions, the second book in the series and probably my favourite.

It will be readily apparent that I did my homework at the last minute, having a quick flick through half an hour before we spoke rather than studiously re-reading the whole novel as I fully intended to. We spend a lot of time talking about the strangeness of small English towns, a section callmemadam will find full of factual inaccuracies and downright lies, not to mention slander.

Barbican Station podcast

The First Rule of the Drive-In

Back in March, Secret Cinema announced a summer programme of drive-in movies at Goodwood. Not only was I desperate for any form of entertainment or treat to look forward to, I've always wanted to go to a drive-in (I blame Happy Days), so I made a booking, and on Sunday Howard and I saw Fight Club.

We arrived in good time, as instructed, received a Bluetooth speaker to put on the dashboard, and were directed to bay G2. The bay numbers were important if you wanted to order food through the website, which we did.

As we waited for showtime, we were entertained on the big screen by our hosts, Frankie and Johnny Starlight, complete with sparkly outfits and ridiculous accents. It wasn't the full-fat immersive interactive experience Secret Cinema usually offers, but it was good fun, with prizes to be won in games of Glove Box Bingo and Car Twister.

I enjoyed the film, which I somehow hadn't seen before. It's so entrenched in pop culture that I knew what the twist was, but this didn't spoil my enjoyment at all. The sound was fine and we had a good view, pretty central in the second row. Exit was quick and easy.

I am looking forward to going to a proper cinema again, though. I didn't realise quite how much I liked going to the flicks until I suddenly couldn't.