Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In praise of Luton!

On Sunday I drank a Red Bull, a can of  Fosters , ate trifle and sat in front of the television from early afternoon until ten. If you took a snap shot of my life in that timeframe it would appear that I was the archetypal couch potato but I would argue that my calorific intake was less than those which I burned in the morning.


The reason? The inaugural Luton Half Marathon.

I consider myself kind of seasoned at halves: Bedford (3 times) Watford, Hitchin (twice) Stevenage, St Albans, Silverstone, London, Milton Keynes, Mablethorpe, and I’ve done five marathons so little old Luton should not be a problem.


Preparation hadn’t exactly been to the letter. My trip to Dominican Republic had meant 2 weeks without any running, and I’d majored on gym work in the run up to this race so that I could use the shower at the gym (see previous blog for saga of boiler)

Actually quick aside on that. If you have to change your cylinder, don’t let your plumber dispose of it for you unless he gives you something for it. I found a great little recycle place in town that took it off me for £50!!


It was also unfortunate timing that I promised to help my daughter move out of her flat in Bethnal Green the day before. 2 trips between Luton & East London – circa 60 miles in total – and I was in the car, driving on the brake for 6 hours. Don’t you just love London! It’s enough to take up cycling but I wouldn’t have been able to get her wardrobe in my wicker basket!

When you drive through London what always strikes me is the number of people everywhere. It’s the ultimate busy city but nobody seems to talk to each other. Why do people want to live there? Why not move to Hull, Rotherham, Grimsby, Gosport?

Anyway, I got back at about ten on the Saturday night, leaving it late for me to carb-load. Watched the news and heard of the impending storm brewing for Sunday night.

Day of the race and the newest resident of my chateau announces that there are no trains between Luton & St Albans and so after downing two sachets of porridge (with a blob of strawberry jam) I drive her to St Albans and arrive back in Luton half an hour before the race start.

I park in a side street and start to walk the half mile to the venue. Yesterdays pasta is telling me it’s time to leave, I’ve got to  register and warm  up and I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t cut it a bit fine? But that’s how I do everything:

·         Work colleagues know that I leave 5 minutes too late for an appointment
·         Football mates, have I ever seen kick off?
·         Church, do they start with a prayer or a hymn?

But my luck was in, a van screeches to a halt in the road and a cheery voice shouts ‘Jonny cobb do you want a lift’ and my good friend Phyl is a steward for the race and she drops me off at the registration hall. This also happens to be my gym so I am able to nip to the secret loo in the health suite and avoid the queues!

I’m beginning to think this could be my lucky day but I hadn’t allowed for two small matters;

Perhaps if I were well read I may know that Luton comes from the Latin ‘Lutinous’  which means to climb! ( I made that up alright!) as apart from Montrose Avenue, every other road seemed to be inclining up or at best flat. As the end wasn’t the start, this wasn’t a negative sum game, and to face the hill of Gordon Street at mile 12 was the closest I have come to walking during a half.


Yes it really was that hilly. And to add to it, however fond I have become of Luton, and I’ve lived here 26 years now, it’s not exactly got any iconic landmarks (Kenilworth road? Tommy Robinsons Tanning Salon?) and just running through residential street after residential street did not exactly spur you on.

Anothe satisfied customer Tommy?

Having said that, a lot of people go on about the London Marathon and the great iconic sights there. The majority are beyond mile 20, and take it from me, running past anything other than your woman shouting ‘I’m yours when you’ve finished’ is not particularly inspiring after that distance.

Look, there’s the London eye!

So what! I’m in my own personal hell here!

Anyway back to Luton.

This storm didn’t happen until Sunday evening, but it sent an advance guard in the morning. At one point,  a side gust actually blew my back leg across my front leg causing me to stumble, and turning into one road (which was also a hill) the wind was so strong and in your face that I could barely move forward!


But I did it, and I wasn’t too unhappy with a 1:49;22 which is way off a pb but was not too shabby in the circumstances.

My guess is that if you aren’t a runner you won’t still be reading by now anyway, but although I pigged out guilt free last night, and I still ached this morning, I’m already wandering which one I will do next. Once running is in your blood there’s no use fighting it, you’re an addict!

I can be overtaken by a 60 year old woman and then I overtake a man half my age. We run against no one but ourselves (good job really) but I never feel so free, healthy, close to God, coherent in my thinking than when I’m running.

I’m going to praise Luton. You gave us a challenging run and that’s what it’s all about. Yes there’s room for improvement with regards to the route but ultimately you allowed me to eat guilt free trifle and that makes the day a success in my book!

Monday, October 21, 2013

One bad Apple!

A further week has passed and still we remain without hot running water and central heating. Thank goodness I’m such a mild mannered bloke and I take great comfort from the sincerity of Nicole at British Gas who ‘greatly sympathises’ and ‘just doesn’t know how we are coping!’
In your dreams!

Actually I’m not being fair on them. Last Wednesday I got a call from the Area Manager who was full of contrition over this ‘unavoidable situation’ from which they have ‘learnt lessons’ following on from my rant that I didn’t want money off I just wanted it done now!!

He listened, then offered to put the whole family in a hotel!

‘Any chance of any money off instead’ came my lame reply. I felt naked, exposed as the money grabber that I really am. But hold on, I’m not, I’m the victim here! I must keep reminding myself that.

He’s coming back to me, but it better be equivalent to The Savoy rather than a Travelodge! (Not that there’s anything wrong with Travelodges!)

£39p/n. Oh you want wifi, breakfast, early booking, late leaving, and to bring your dog??? That will be a bit more!
Anyway, enough of my moans. Actually it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have a moan. I’ll tell you what gets my back up at the moment: Blatant commercial exploitation:

If you are a fan of Gavin and Stacey and would like to buy the last series on DVD, you would most likely have already got series 1 & 2 in your collection. So why are both Asda and Tesco only selling the more expensive Collective series 1-3? It’s only a tenner so a lot of people will just accept it but its cynical exploitation in my book.

Which one's Stacey?

£2 for 15 minutes to drop off at Luton Airport.  A captive audience as security is so strict, because of the threat of terrorism, that parking anywhere else than the official drop off is likely to get you shot by some crack SWAT team! It’s a cash cow and another example of cynical exploitation.

Rapid response Unit to a Double yellow line parking offence. fascists!
But the one that’s really got me is our friends at Apple. (Now, I’ve got the biography of that Jobs chap, and I’ll tell you what, if it wasn’t given to me as a pressie from someone I actually like, well, I’d wipe my backside with it!) I am the not very proud owner of an iPhone 5 which came about not through choice but because my phone package ran out and needed renewing. I left it to my Business partner to sort out as he likes that sort of thing. Anyway, to a philistine like myself, it’s just the same as my iPhone…one(??) in that I can call, text & play music, but the big difference is in the size & shape of the charger and corresponding plug hole!

See what I mean! Its a different size!Aaaaggghhh!!!!

In other words, previous users of iPhone 1,2,3 & 4 who will have also acquired docking stations, car iPhone adaptors, pigs (if you have one you’ll know what I mean) will find that these are all now redundant as they won’t fit the five!  

There’s something about the superficial nature of Apple devotees. I went on the website to seek reviews on the iPhone 5 and found that it’s not the change of charger that’s upsetting them, but that the plug hole on the phone is not in the centre at the bottom! This is not aesthetically pleasing when placed in the dock as it is off centre! I would so like to eavesdrop in these peoples houses. You’d dare not sneeze! You’d most certainly have to leave your shoes at the door. Superficiality of the worst kind, and I’d be tempted to perform an act on their polished tiled floors which would require the use of that Steve Jobs book!

Whatever you do, dont make crumbs!
Ah, but like a Gandolf appearing over the brow of the hill to save the day, our heroes at Apple have produced an adapter for those who simply wish to continue using their existing docking station and ‘in car’ system even if it is a bit off centre. And for this privilege, that will be twenty five pounds thank you sir!

Cynical commercial exploitation.

I’m too old to join an anti capitalist demo and throw a brick  through a window of McDonalds, and even though I detest the Daily Mail I detest those kind of lefty scroungers even more (spoken like a true Daily Mail reader!) and in fact I actually believe in capitalism and making an honest profit. But am I being romantic in believing there was a time when there was more subtlety in ripping us off? Now its like buying a coffee in Venice. Be rude to you and charge you the earth coz they know you won’t be back, but they also know there are plenty of mugs queuing up behind to buy because they’re thirsty.

Apart from the Tintoretto, Museums, gondolas, canals, churches, towers, vaporettas & the food, I hated Venice!

If you can think of any ways that we can fight back, or if you will find it cathartic to have a moan about your experience of cynical commercial exploitation, post a message!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thanks for nothing British Gas!!

I can’t blog in the study. It’s too cold. We returned back from DR to find the boiler had packed in. No central heating and No hot water. ‘No problem’ said the nice British Gas Salesman, installation would begin on Tuesday & hot everything would return to normal by Wednesday. I could wait a week.

But that was last Wednesday.

You know when you get the call on your mobile and it’s a number you don’t recognise. Screw this, I know it’s going to be a recorded message alerting me to a potential windfall for claiming against PPI insurance I would never have been stupid enough to take out, but, hell I’m lonely, so I take the call.


'Oh hello Mr Cobbs’ (Close enough)’Dave from British Gas here. We’ve got a bit of a problem….’

You're NOT looking after mine!!!
Whilst hell freezes over, we remain all cooped up in the front room. I feel proper working class, sharing the room with the clothes horse, gas fire blaring. But it’s in my bones now and once it’s in, you can’t shake it off. Even the dog’s shivering!

To add insult to injury, you get the British Gas adverts showing these puppet like characters coming to the rescue. Don’t you believe it! They’re encapsulating a three week timeframe within a one minute window. If you have a leak, you’ll drown before they turn up.

Rick Steins cooking a curry. He’s a bit camp isn’t he?


Every cloud has a silver lining and in search of a hot shower I’m having to go to the gym most nights. This suits me as I am running the Luton Half marathon a week Sunday. A little too much Cerveza and not enough exercise in DR have left me feeling inadequately prepared. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll get round, but it’s a bit of an narcissistic fear that because it’s my home town where more people know me, they might, just might check my time. Nobody gives a fig if I run Hitchin, Bedford, Stevenage, Watford blah blah, I’ve done them all, but Luton, this is different. There might even be people there! Just out shopping who stop and stare and say to each other ‘wasn’t that jonny cobb? I thought he was meant to be quite fast?’


We’ve got a new bloke in our office. He’s a great guy. Nice manner, his clients love him and he’s very relaxed, but he obviously doesn’t care what people think of him if you look at his clothes. Today he turned up in a jumper Noel Edmunds would have been proud of back in his Swap Shop days.


I sort of wish I didn’t have these silly vain insecurities. I wonder if I’m the only one? But do I really think people won’t like me if I have poor dress sense (perhaps I do??) or if I’m pretty crap at running? I’m pretty certain that I’m not alone in this irrational thought process, but I guess it’s a testament to the rather superficial world we live in.

I particularly feel for our kids. I don’t think we appreciate the pressure they’re under to look cool. Wearing the wrong trainers could potentially lead to ostracization ! It’s one of the aspects which I love about meeting the kids in DR. They have an innocent joy because they don’t know what they are missing. That’s why I get narked at organisations which put internet and computers in these villages. What do all the kids go on? ‘Teach yerself English?’ Nope, Facebook!!

They have tough lives, they are often hungry, and yet there’s little other pressures and so, I repeat, there’s a kind of contentment which our kids don’t share. But slowly, by showing them what they can possibly never achieve (bling, cars, women etc) we are even eroding that.

As if to back up my point, Rick Stein is in some dodgy part of India and he’s just said the same thing! (sort of..)

Talking of DR, here’s a great link to a view of the Esperanza football pitch. Some of you may have been out there and got the bruises!

And finally, last year, some of us helped build Kitchen extensions in Ascention. They’re still standing!! Here’s the proof!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Back from DR

I’ve been back from DR for nearly a week now and it doesn’t take long for the stresses and immediacies of life to make it a distant memory. But it does the folk of that country a disservice if I am not a better person for the experience. Certainly it remains humbling and a salient reminder that I have many blessings and I should count them daily.


But having a simple life, concerned only where my next meal comes from, but knowing no other form of existence does actually have an appeal.

Can I say that?

Do I mean that I would rather swap living in England in a house with running water (not hot, boilers on the blink) a full fridge, car and a telly, to live in 42 degree heat, or monsoon rain, a shack or a simple home and a diet of rice and beans?

No, I wouldn’t last five minutes!

But there’s a simplicity to it which makes my overcomplicated life appear toilsome & tiresome.


Let’s strip out faith before some over judgemental Christian starts to moralise, because it’s the same God in DR, Haiti and Luton. I acknowledge that to be enough but beyond that you have to wonder what we spend so much time pursuing, investing, fretting to achieve?

Certainly work doesn’t have the trade off of greater success (& therefore greater wealth) equalling greater happiness. I’m sitting in my study, but I could be in the front room, and it doesn’t matter if you have a 20inch, 42inch or 50inch HD, X Factor is pants on all of them!

Go look after Ozzy, its not as if you need the cash.

I lost an hour of my life watching the X Factor yesterday and it just looked tired. It really is time to consign it to the dustbin and think of something new. We always do that with TV shows. We bled ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ to death (the woman you are thinking of is called Judith Keppel if I remember) Big Brother, Help I’m a Celebrity and I’ve not even got into this series of Downton! Its just one too many 

Watch out Jude, He's got form!

It is the simple things in life that give us pleasure. I love autumn, and this evening I took the dog up to the woods and just stood in the middle of the trees, completely alone, looking up at the trees and listening to the wind whistling through them. It’s my favourite season to run in too, as you feel your feet cushion against the falling leaves.

No, these are NOT my legs!      

I love coffee with a friend, a beer (or two) with a mate, reading a book in bed, my first cup of tea in the morning, a good rock anthem, a run, a dog walk, sleep, family get togethers, getting jiggy, a fresh out of the fridge pork farms pork pies (no other make comes close) the sound of the sea, the sun (in the sky, not the paper) fishing and many more things that really don’t break the bank.

I’m on a bit of a mission to just make myself happier and I started with work. Financial services is tough and there’s a lot wrong with it. Dishonest individuals purporting to have morals have sucked the joy out of it, but I used to love what I did, so I went back to the beginning to remind myself of what attracted me to the industry. I realised that it was being around people and so I structure my day to see clients and go on conferences which were the things I used to love doing. This helps temper the other stuff that’s not so much fun.

I heard a really good talk by a guy called Steve Bull. He is not the same one as the Wolves center forward (who I once saw score twice in a 5-0 thrashing of Pompey) but a Sports pyscologist who works with the England cricket team and also team GB. He showed a photo of Greg Rutherford about to start his run up in the long jump and he asked us what we thought he would be thinking at that moment? The standard answer was that he would be thinking about winning a gold medal, glory, all that kind of thing, but the simple answer was ‘pump elbows, knees high and lean forward’  because these were the things that he had control over.


He had no control over winning the gold because even if he jumped his best ever jump he couldn’t control what the other athletes were going to do and so he had to completely obliterate those kinds of thoughts because they weren’t going to do him any good. They were simply going to add unnecessary pressure. I’m fortunate that I’m my own boss at work, but I have found it helpful to be able to concentrate just on those things that I am in control of.

We can carry this into all aspects of our life such as doing more of the things which give us pleasure and perhaps a little less tv. So if you want to see me in the future, it might have to be over a coffee, a beer, on a run or on a beach. I’m worth it!


Just to keep you up to date, I’ve posted a little vid of me talking to my little hero Jason in the DR. As previously blogged & Facebooked, Jason’s a bit of a hero of mine and a wonderful reminder that we lead very comfortable lives (unless your mum throws you out every morning & tells youd not to return until you have begged & raised 500 pesos) you’ll also meet a remarkable friend of mine called Claire who lives in DR and whose a joy to be around.

Hasta luego!