Hamstrung!

One of my big successes of the last 7 months has been my running. It only happened by accident too; the swimming pools closed down in late October due to Covid, so I decided to go out for a jog, and the rest they say, is history.

Or it was until I pulled a hamstring rather badly in mid April. I’ve only ever had two bad injuries before- a chip fracture on my ankle playing football when I was 20, and another ankle injury when I fell up the stairs and landed on my foot. This was worse than both of those injuries for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d really got into running and it was helping me out physically and mentally, so have it taken away from me for an indeterminate period of time was rather upsetting. Secondly, it really did turn out to be an indeterminate period of time, as of writing, on 26 May, I’ve only managed three runs, all of them this week, the longest of which was a 5K that was 7 minutes slower than my personal best.

My big sin was I hadn’t been warming up (or down) properly. 6 months of running increasingly quicker and longer (5K: 26 minutes, 10K: 55 minutes & half marathon 118 minutes) and I hadn’t warmed up once. I thought this was okay because I tend to start fairly slowly and that’s a good stretch/warm up in itself but it turns out this was rather presumptuous and would cost me dearly.

I know exactly what caused me to break down too. On the Friday afternoon, I did my first ever afternoon run while my daughter was at basketball. I was determined to do a short but fast run, and ended up doing 3K in under 15 minutes. I’ve done the odd sub 4 minute kilometre before but never 3 on the bounce. It was very hard work and my legs felt very tight at the end of it. My running is normally done first thing, straight from bed, where I’ve been warm, relaxed and snuggled, not at the end of the day when I’ve been sitting around more. I think I pulled something there and then but didn’t realise, or at the very least set myself up for the big twang the next morning.

On Saturday I felt great, really energised, and I set off to do one of my Saturday 10Ks. I was 8.90KM in and on pace to knock an almost unprecedented 3 minutes off my PB when I got a dull hot pain in my thigh and I pulled up. I tried stretching and carrying on but even a couple of steps showed me I wasn’t going anywhere. I had no warning at all this was about to happen, it didn’t build gradually, I genuinely felt great until I suddenly didn’t.

I rested for a week, and then made it worse by trying a slow 2K run, which again felt good until it didn’t. I then admitted defeat and booked a sports physio appointment.

It turns out I’ve got a far from unusual issue- I’ve got one leg longer than the other. Specifically, my left shin bone is significantly longer than my right one. The physio visually proved it, and said it’s not uncommon, but it has lead to several issues. My pelvis tilts to compensate, and my right leg moves in a peculiar rotation with an unusual strike position to compensate. All of this is done subconsciously, and I’m not aware of any of the adaptations I make. It also makes the muscles in my right leg much tenser and more prone to injury.

So far the physio has concentrated on healing my banjoed hamstring. It maybe that I’ll need an insert for my running shoes if the leg differential has made me more susceptible to injury, but I’m hoping it’s more to do with my hopeless warm up routine.

It is a rotten way to learn an important lesson, especially as I’ve got my first ever “race” coming up in 3 weeks in the St Albans half marathon. I was hoping that racing in a field rather than on my own would see me beat my personal best as it would be easier to keep a set pace but now I’m just hoping I’ll be able to recover sufficiently to take part without doing myself further injury.

Why you should consider moving to vaping

The last 30 or so years have witnessed a considerable shift-change in people’s attitudes to cigarettes and smoking in general. As the world has slowly begun to wake up to the dangers of smoking (and inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke), there has been a considerable backlash to the habit. 

With governments the world over now taking an active stance against smoking by trying to discourage cigarette use and limiting the places where people can smoke, it seems there’s a slow but growing revolution taking place. Where once cigarette smoking was considered ‘cool’ (look back at old movies for evidence), there now seems to be a real counterattack underway. Smoking is now, in most circles, considered anti-social. You’ll barely see anyone in movies smoking anymore, and in many places, smokers are now pushed to outdoor areas in pubs, restaurants, hotels, and other public areas. 

Reasons to move to vaping

With such a widespread movement against smoking taking place, isn’t it perhaps time you considered moving to the more widely-accepted practice of vaping? Aside from the generally recognized health benefits of vaping over smoking, there are countless reasons why, if you smoke, vaping might prove the better option. Below are just a few.

Vaping is cheaper than smoking

The apparent cost of vaping puts off many smokers; however, just like starting anything else, there are some unavoidable costs when you first begin that you’ll soon recoup when compared to the cost of smoking. Sure, the outlay of buying a kit at the start can seem quite high, the average cost of vape kits runs between around £20 up to £50 or over, but that’s a one-off payment that you’ll not likely to have repeat until your battery eventually dies or you break something. With the cheapest cigarettes in the UK now costing around £9 a pack – and going up to almost £13 – it’s easy to see how you can quickly earn back this money. 

From there, you’ll need to buy liquids (sometimes extra nicotine if required) and other vape accessories like coils, but the figures involved in vaping are considerably lower than smoking. In terms of cost, it depends on how often you vape – and how strong you prefer to operate your battery. 

Making the shift to vaping from smoking

It is undoubtedly true that vaping is more involved than smoking. With a cigarette, you simply pull it out of the pack, put it to your lips, and light it. It’s a little more complex with vaping as you need to change coils, buy (and top-up) liquids, and choose the right strength and flavour that works for you best. 

The biggest thing you’ll probably notice is there’s a slightly different technique to inhaling – plus the fact an e-cigarette doesn’t have a soft filter tip which can feel a little odd to start with. Also, you’ll need to get used to pressing a button when you inhale, which, at first anyway, can feel a little strange. Nonetheless, most people make the switch quickly and easily. 

The dangers of vaping versus smoking

There has been an incredible amount of negative press about the apparent ‘dangers of vaping’; however, the vast majority of medical practitioners are in unanimous agreement – vaping is considerably safer than smoking. Sure, most also say that we simply don’t have the data available on vaping’s long-term effects; it is still widely agreed that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking cigarettes. 

It doesn’t take a genius to work these stats out. Cigarettes contain around 600 different ingredients, which, when burned, make around 7,000 chemicals – many of them toxic and known to cause cancer. By comparison, vape ‘smoke’ contains mostly water with a combination of flavourings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and some other chemicals. 

Are there any side effects of vaping?

As noted above, we simply don’t have enough medical evidence to know for sure what dangers might be associated with vaping. In truth, if you wanted to be completely safe, you likely wouldn’t smoke or vape – but if you’re looking for an alternative to wean you off smoking cigarettes, vaping has been proven to be a very good, very effective alternative.

You might notice a couple of things when making the change include having a slightly dryer mouth, and it’s quite normal to find the vapour produced to be slightly thicker in consistency when compared to cigarette smoke. Other than these two small issues, most people make the transition to vaping very quickly and very easily. 

How to Bring Nature into the Family Home

With so much technology at our fingertips, finding the time to enjoy the natural world with our families can be difficult, especially if we are living in the middle of a city. However, spending time in nature is definitely something we should be trying to do more of for ourselves and for our children. From fresh air and sunlight to trees, plants, and flowers, nature can have a calming effect on us and even boost our mental health. If you want to make the natural world a bigger part of your day-to-day life, here are some ideas to help you bring nature into the family home. 

Bring in lots of plants

The simplest way to bring nature inside is to buy and care for plants that do well indoors. Plants not only bring a splash of colour to the room, but they also emit oxygen which reduces stress and absorbs toxins. This improves the quality of the air in your home. Plants can be displayed in pots or hung from the ceiling just about anywhere in the home.

Grow your own herbs, vegetables, and fruit

If you are bringing plants into the home, why not double up on the benefits and choose edible plants? Herbs and even some fruits and vegetables can be grown indoors, e.g., on a kitchen windowsill. These plants can also emit a lovely scent and give a splash of colour. Visit House Beautiful for herbs, vegetables, and fruit that can be grown indoors. 

Create a feature wall celebrating nature

A great way to pay tribute to nature in your home without getting green or muddy fingers is to create a feature wall or mural. There are lots of stunning wallpaper designs, photographs, and vinyl stickers that depict incredible scenes from nature. 

Maximise natural light

Bringing natural light into the home is important for several reasons, and the most compelling is that it can improve our mental health and physical health. Our bodies operate to a circadian rhythm that regulates when we sleep, when we wake, and when we are at our most alert. You can maximise the amount of light that comes into your home by keeping the windows clean or strategically placing mirrors. An increasing number of people are also investing in orangeries Birmingham companies like Mainstream have to offer. These are extensions with almost entirely glazed roofs, which ensures the light can flood the room through the roof but in a stylish way.  

Install a living wall

A living wall is one of the boldest statements you can make, which also brings the beauty and health benefits of nature into your home. The wall includes lots of mounted planters that are close together so that the plants like succulents and moss appear to grow together as one, with an irrigation system with drainage.

Display fresh fragrant flowers

Fresh flowers are an inexpensive way to bring colour and beautiful aromas into your home. You will be able to find different flowers in every season that will look great in all rooms of your home. You do not even need to invest in vases, as flowers displayed in jam jars, empty milk bottles, or wine bottles have become very trendy.

Run Alex Run!

It’s been ten weeks since I started running, pulling on that old pair of trainers and going out in the dark before dawn with the lady wife. If I’d been doing the Couch 2 5K programme I’d now have run my first 5K. Instead, I’ve done the following:-

  • 34 5K runs
  • 7 10K runs
  • 2 half marathons

I’ve managed to knock 12 minutes off my best 5K time and 13 off my 10K. My two half marathons were within 40 seconds of each other, despite being entirely different routes, so I’m nothing if not consistent now.

I’m fairly pleased with that, although I’ve plateaued in terms of distance. Need to build up my stamina to get past the half marathon distance if I’m going to manage a full marathon before it gets too hot in the summer for distance running.

I’m not really looking for a pat on the back or anything, just wanting to point out to many of you who haven’t seen me for year or so (or certainly since the original covid-19 lockdown last March), that anything is possible. Around the time my mum passed away in late 2019 I was 21 stone, had bought a pair of slip-on shoes because bending over to do my laces up literally took my breath away, and had trouble walking down the street.

Now I’m over seven stone lighter and a complete and utter bore when it comes to talking about running and stuff like that.

There were definitely big challenges along the way, the biggest four were probably:-

  1. I love crisps, sweets, junk food, beer, wine, cider and basically everything that is fully of calories but won’t fill you up. Lunch used to be a multipack of Wheat Crunchies and a Dairy Milk. And yes, I’d kid myself that a litre of diet cherry Pepsi made it okay.
  2. My starting weight itself. When you’re a unit, you can’t suddenly start being dead sporty, your joints, back, and muscles won’t like it and you’ll do yourself a mischief.
  3. A complete and utter lack of willpower. I sometimes managed to diet for most of a day in the office before breaking out the chocolate digestives. And it was never one, two to eat on the way back to my desk and three or four to have when I got there.
  4. Feeling hungry all the time. When you eat a lot, you get used to being full and you also get a larger stomach as a result. It’s very hard to break the cycle of wanting/needing to be full all the time.

How did I do it I hear you ask? What’s the secret? Well it’s obvious and a bit depressing in some senses. There is no magic wand to wave to make it easy, no special diet or one simple trick to lose lbs of belly fat as the spam adverts would like you to believe.

The first nine months I did two things basically. I walked. A lot. Over 10km a day in fact. Every single day. On top of that I started using Under Armours’ MyFitnessPal app to track what I was eating. I plugged in my weight, age and height, and what I wanted to weigh, and it did the rest, giving me a calorie target for each day and telling me when I’d had too much from one food group. Logging absolutely everything you eat is incredibly tedious, as someone who has done it for 385 consecutive days can testify to.

I’d set myself targets along the way, 10% of my body weight (13kg), then trying to get to 110kg, then 100kg, then 92kg, which was the target that meant I was no longer overweight. I’m now fluctuating between 86kg and 89kg, which seems to be where my body is happiest. I got down to 85kg at one point but felt tired and couldn’t hold it there. So I’m at the top end of the acceptable range for my height and age but I’m also wearing the same sized trousers I was when I was 18, which if nothing else will teach me to throw old stuff out as I’m sure I had at least a pair of jeans that size that still had plenty of wear in them.

Once I hit 90kg in August I was able to start swimming as well but, along with some early morning biking, that was it. I tried running with the soothing voice of Joe Whiley encouraging me on via Couch 2 5K but couldn’t do it. I gave up on about day 3 twice and it was very demoralising.

Fortunately, my wife is a super runner and gave me genuinely that “one simple trick” to running. Which was to go slowly. More slowly than you thought possible. And so I did, and at first I think I could have probably walked faster than I was “running” but I managed a couple of kilometres, and that soon became 3, 4, then 4 and a half, and finally a full 5K.

Woohoo!

After that it was simply a case a running a bit faster and a bit further. It becomes addictive after a while, especially if you shove an audiobook on or listen to podcasts while you’re doing it, you hardly notice things like aches and pains, or the fact you’re running along at 6:45am with a headtorch on in the rain.

So there we are then, 10 weeks on from not starting Couch to 5K for the third time. I’m not entirely sure what the moral of the story is, whether it’s be more ambitious or scale your ambitions back until they’re achievable. It puts me in mind of the following quote from Terry Prachett’s Mort:

“After a while he got into the rhythm of it, and started playing the privet little quantity-surveying game that everyone plays in these circumstances. Let’s see, he thought, I’ve done nearly a quarter, let’s call it a third, so when I’ve done that corner by the hayrack it’ll be more than half, call it five-eights, which means three more wheelbarrow loads …. It doesn’t prove anything very much except that the awesome splendour of the universe is much easier to deal with if you think of it as a series of small chunks.”

If you’d like to keep up with what I’m running, you can follow me on Strava. It’s not very exciting but you do get to see the odd photo of me grimacing.

Creating a Kid-Friendly Garden

If you’re lucky enough to have a good-sized garden, it’s important to make sure it’s safe and spacious for your children to enjoy during the summer months. If you are thinking about doing some work in your garden, here are some suggestions on how you can make it great for your kids as well as yourself:

Clear Some Space

It’s no secret that kids like to run around, whether they’re chasing each other or playing football. This is why it’s important to clear some space in your garden where they can do this safely without the risk of knocking over your plant pots or damaging the flowerbeds. Preferably, a lawn area would work best for this kind of play, and it would reduce the chances of scrapes and cuts in case of falls. If you don’t have a lawn area, consider putting down some artificial grass as a substitute. 

Get a Playhouse/Cabin

Another great addition to your garden for your kids would be a playhouse or cabin they could spend time in with their friends. It’s great for them to use all year round, and can provide them with a shelter on rainy days. Another great perk of these cabins is that if you get one large enough, it can later be transformed into a more mature space for them to use in their teen years or even for a place for you to use if they no longer want to. You can purchase long lasting garden cabins from any good home and garden store.

Climbing Frame/Swing Set

Climbing frames and swing sets are brilliant for kids to play on and can help to keep them fit and healthy as they use up some extra energy during outside play. You can get different sets in various sizes, so finding one that fits your garden shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. You can always sell them to a second-hand store once your kids are too old for them, or keep it in the garden for future grandchildren. 

Secure Ponds and Other Hazardous Areas

Having a pond or water feature in your garden is always a nice touch, but with small children, this can also be dangerous. If you do have these features and want to keep them, make sure they are secured by erecting a fence or border around them that will keep your kids away and reduce the chance of them falling in. In addition to ponds, make sure your shed with your gardening tools or other areas of the garden that could be hazardous are secured or sealed off in the same way. 

Give Them a Flowerbed

Teaching your kids how to grow flowers and vegetables is a great life skill to pass on. To help keep them enthusiastic about gardening and develop these skills, allocate a flowerbed that they can tend to themselves, and let them choose which flowers or vegetables they want to grow there. 

Having a great garden is always a nice addition to the home, but if you have kids you need to make sure it’s suitable for them, too. Consider the suggestions above and see how they can make your garden kid-friendly as well as a nice outdoor space for you to enjoy, too.

How to childproof your garden

Gardens can be magical places for children, providing a space in nature that they can play and stretch their imaginations, all while getting some fresh air and exercise. Your lawn, hedges and garden shed might look basic to you, but to a child your garden can easily become a vast jungle, spaceship or assault course. However, your garden could hold some hazards for children that will soon spoil their fun should they get hurt. To ensure that your child’s playtime remains magical and free of tears, here is how you can child-proof your garden.

Remove poisonous plants and fungi

Children are notorious for putting things in their mouth, and the garden is full of plants, berries and fungi that could look appetising for child. Berries and mushrooms, in particular, look tasty and children might recognise them from their own fridge and think that they are universally edible; however, poisonous plant life, such as deadly nightshade and foxgloves, can cause a stomach upset at the very least, and in some cases even prove fatal. Remove all poisonous plants and fungi as soon as they appear in your garden, and instruct children that some berries are for the birds rather than humans, and as such should not be eaten.

Remove a tree

Trees can provide a garden with many benefits; for instance, providing a home for birds and wildlife, creating a natural barrier for more privacy, and adding some design interest. However, they can also prove to be a huge hazard for young children. Large, overhanging branches can be too much of a temptation for adventurous children who want to climb the tree and might get stuck up there through fear or fall from unstable branches. Additionally, a tree might be rotten and disintegrate easily, causing abrasions and falls. Hire a tree surgeon Halesowen who will be able to either trim back a tree or remove it completely depending on what is most suitable for your family.

Watch out for uneven surfaces 

Many gardens include some form of uneven surfacing, whether those are the steps leading from your patio to your lawn or a gravel path. However, these can soon become hazards to excited running children who trip up on uneven patio flagging, causing grazed knees and tears. Make sure that any loose or uneven surfaces are secured as soon as you notice them, and regularly check your garden for any developing hazards.

Secure gates and fences

Unlocked gates and fences with holes in them could encourage your child to leave the safety of your garden and go on an ‘adventure’ – and be an invitation to disreputable visitors. Additionally, broken fences and rusty gates could cause splinters and cuts requiring a tetanus shot. Make sure that all fences and gates are well maintained, ensuring that there are no exposed nails, and make any repairs as soon as they are required. Check your gates are securely locked when your children are playing outside, and always keep a watchful eye on them. 

Nothing to see here

Lockdown has sort of officially ended but as a country, we’re not really returning to the office yet in massive numbers, as working from home has proved successful for many and let’s face it, encouraging people to return to the office AT THE START OF THE SCHOOL SUMMER HOLIDAYS was never going to be the greatest piece of joined up thinking from our illustrious leaders.

We’ve continued plugging away at work and household life, which has settled into a bit of a monotonous drudge. The monotony has been alleviated by the lack of rushing around, chasing our own tails, with extra curricula lessons and activities for the kids, and the commute to work more or less done away with. I read a great quote from a senior partner at PwC, a firm that is infamous for it’s long hours, where he said presenteeism is dead. Great soundbite but I suspect the reality will be different!

A lot of people seem to have been putting weight on during the pandemic, gym going exercise curtailed and food and beer offering a happy distraction from sitting around at home all day. Happily I’ve managed to keep up the momentum that the Shape Up! course I did, started back in January. I started the year at 21 stone/130KG and by the start of lockdown was down to 17 stone/110KG. A few months further down I’ve now dropped below 90KG, and *just* under 14 stone. I might have been around that when I got married in 2004, I definitely wasn’t by the time we had kids. I feel a lot better for it and have to say it’s not been anywhere as hard as I thought it would; the cravings for beer, chocolate and crisps subsided very quickly and controlling portion size wasn’t much of a struggle.  Most of the exercise I’ve taken has been walking, around 10KM a day on average, with some cycling thrown in back in June. I definitely feel better for it.

In some ways without a pretty disastrous 2019 (I lost my mum after a long and painful illness), which saw me pile on the weight (well, at least 3 stone of it), I might not have reached the tipping point where I had to make a significant change. It’s difficult to not be a bore about it all to be honest; there are precious few other hobbies it’s still possible to undertake during Covid-Times after all.

We had the dreaded “staycation” last week. Dreaded in the sense that we did have 4 weeks away booked for this year, none of which has actually happened. The first two, April and May, were slap bang at the worst part of lockdown and given how stupidly a of people have been behaving since, we didn’t feel safe for the July and August holidays we had booked as they were a camping holiday with communal facilities and to a very popular tourist area respectively. Instead we racked up a few hundred miles doing day trips to places we’ve not been to before.

I tried to film a few 360 degree videos while we were out so that we’ve got a taste of the outdoors when we’re stuck back at home. They work with or without a VR headset and you’re welcome to spend 15 minutes on a coastal salt marsh if you like!

The kids are now all gearing up to a return to what will be a very different school experience for them and this is causing differing levels of anxiety for all of us. Wish us luck!

Scoob! An okay movie that lets down the Scooby-Doo fan in us all

I’ve been thinking on Scoob! and why it was ultimately a pretty but disappointing Scooby-Doo movie.

In case you haven’t realised, there are a massive number of direct to streaming/DVD Scooby-Doo movies out there, 33 at the last count, with another one due out this year (the full list is here) and the thing is, much like the brilliant Mystery Inc TV series, most of them are pretty darn good. Yes, there are a few celeb endorsed outings that only work if you know the celebs (the WWE movies & recent Gourmet Ghost, with it’s America focussed celebrity chefs, spring to mind), and some are definitely better than others BUT they all fit into a continuing Scooby-Doo continuum and cleverly deal with the older series when it wasn’t old man Withers in a mask but an actual ghost pretty well. There was recently a sequel to the 80s 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo series, which included a grown up Flim Flam, thankfully ignored Scrappy-Doo, and dealt with the whole “ghosts are real” thing from the older series really well. 

Scoob! doesn’t really make any attempt to fit into the Scooby-Doo universe, and more problematic is the fact that the movie is, like a lot of recent Warner Bros releases, a blatant attempt to launch an expanded universe, in this instance a Hanna-Barbera universe with Dick Dastardly & Mutley, Captain Caveman and other luminaries making an appearance, at the expense of the movie itself.

In making a play for the bigger picture, WB have lost what makes Scooby-Doo as great as it is, year in and year out. My 11 year old will watch anything from the original 1969 series onward, and loves the references to old shows and episodes that pop up in the newer DTV movies.

Early on Scoob! promises so much with a montage of classic moments from the older TV series near the start as we move from the gang as little kids to the teenagers they’re better known as. If only they’d stuck to the tropes that make Scooby-Doo what it is, even as the newer movies do so while still sending themselves up and playing with those tropes in a respectful but often clever manner. Ultimately though Scoob! suffers, overreaching with franchise/expanded universe ambition and losing the essence that attracts generation after generation of fans.

It’s not that Scoob! is a bad film in isolation; it’s entertaining, some of the set pieces work well and the gang’s dynamic is pretty good but there are other things it does badly. By focussing on the titular Scooby, in a way that the TV show never does, the film loses focus and can’t help but compare badly to the DTV movies.

Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X- which one should I get?

There are tonnes of technical articles on the internet about the relative merits of both the new consoles coming out later this year from Sony and Microsoft. The new Xbox Series X has faster processor and graphics gubbins but the Playstation 5 has a “revolutionary” SSD (storage device). Until they both hit and we can play games on them, it’s going to be marketing spin to a greater or lesser degree.

I wrote a piece on my other blog about the marketing war the other week but if you’re reading this, the chances are it’s either because you’re interested in a new shiny for yourself or one of your kids is already pestering you about getting one and you’re wondering which you should get.

As a gamer of almost 40 years now, the advice I’d give isn’t enormously different to that I’d have given parents in the 1980s when the choice was between a 16K ZX Spectrum or a Commodore 64. Back then I’d have said get what your mates have, you can borrow games from each other, and it’s fun to be playing the same stuff. Nobody was envious of Enzo’s Amstrad CPC in the 80’s because nobody else had one.

Now that gaming is more online than ever, getting what your mates or your kids’ mates have still makes a lot of sense, even if some games do now let you play across different consoles. Yes, you can play Minecraft on your Playstation 4 with people using an Xbox One. And, for that matter, Fortnite, as well as a shed load of others. The big exception is Overwatch, and that’s likely to never be “crossplay”, and neatly highlights the risk of buying a system that none of your mates have.

The other issue with kids is the inevitable status and peer pressure. Woe betide the classmate of mine who had a BBC Micro System back in the 80s because that was educational. There is no doubt that Sony started this generation strongly and dominated but as the PS4 and Xbox One era begins to draw to an end (it’s still got years left, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise though), Microsoft actually has a better offering with the Xbox One X, the final iteration of it’s Xbox One console. It’s cheaper, smaller, and more powerful than the Playstation 4, and with it’s Gamepass subscription system, you get access to hundreds of games for a month subscription, making it much better value than the Playstation. I’ve got both because I’m hopeless and I find myself firing my Xbox much more frequently than my Playstation.

Which brings me on nicely to the final consideration. New consoles are expensive, premium priced and have been known to go wrong in the past. Since I now definitely fall into the category of more sense than money, I always tend to wait for the first price cut before jumping in. This typically comes 6-12 months after launch (depending on how the machine is doing) and has the added benefit that any designs problems have usually been ironed out by that point. The rumoured launch price for both MS and Sony’s new devices are around the £500 mark.

Ouch.

At the moment you can get some properly brilliant deals on the current generation of consoles (the all digital Xbox One S digital has been as low as £90 during the sales, the Xbox One X is regularly £260, and the PS4, well that’s still expensive for what it is but compared to the prices being floated around for the nex gen, it’s positively affordable).

So I’ve probably really confused you now, telling you:

  • to buy what your mates have but consider crossplay
  • that Xbox Series X likely to be more powerful but Sony have a few tricks, so who knows?
  • both are likely to be EXPENSIVE at launch, so maybe pick up any of the current gen machines you don’t have on the cheap, while the games are cheap too?

To be honest, I’ve confused myself too. Microsoft dropped the ball at the start of this current generation and never really recovered, despite having what is now much the better offering. They can’t make the same mistakes again, so should be a safe bet. But then there are over twice (and almost three) times as many PS4s out there compared to Xbox Ones, and sticking with the brand you know is easiest, so Sony have already probably won.

Tricky isn’t it?

Things I’ll remember from Covid-19 lockdown part one

A red kite, seen on an early morning walk during lockdown

I did a Sainsbury’s Click & Collect the other morning at 7am, a couple of days before the high street shops were allowed to reopen and if it wasn’t evident to me already that lockdown is functionally over before I went, it was by the time I got back. Three weeks ago at the last C&C, the member of staff and I had a shouted conversation at a distance, when I got out of my car to load the food, he got into the cab of his truck and shut the door. He didn’t get out until I got back in my car. This morning a different bloke was leaning in to the driver’s side window of the car in front and having a chat with the driver. The driver was passing him the crates when he’d loaded the stuff into his boot. Three weeks ago we were all following the social distancing rules because we wanted to be safe, today I saw people halfheartedly following them because the rules said they had to and they might get told off it they didn’t.

This triggered me to think about putting some of my thoughts down on on what I’ll remember from the lockdown from the first wave of Covid-19 because thoughts are transient and much of what we’ve done has had an air of sureality about it whilst we’ve been doing it, in a year or so it will seem an absurd confection of misremembered nonsense and myth if we’re not careful.

It’s funny how the banal sits right alongside the shocking in terms of how I’ll remember lockdown. Grumbling about making Yorkshire Puddings that turned out like bricks with rice flour because no supermarket in the universe seemed to have plain flour seem to sit alongside the slow horror of friends and work colleagues losing parents, uncles, and aunts, and grandparents to Covid-19.

Stalin is often attributed as saying, “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” Whether he actually said this is doubtful but as a country we sit with 60,000 deaths from Covid-19, I’m minded of it. As the deaths piled on, accelerating towards 1,000 a day at a seemingly relentless pace, the cold hard ache of background terror seemed to always be there in April. 20,000 deaths would be a good outcome we were told in mid March, a total we hit a little less than a month later.

Somewhere around the end of the first week of lockdown, we stopped watching the television news. It became pointless because the reporting was so poorly done. Sitting a corespondent outside a hospital makes a great spectacle but little more than that. If a few less people died on Wednesday compared to Tuesday, the reporters started asking whether we’d turned a corner. Science was treated with an almost incomprehensible mysticism, as though it was both immutable and unfathomable. I switched to online news sources, like the fantastic Ars Technica comprehensive guide to the Corona Virus. The BBC also seemed to slip into a war time mode, perhaps pushed their by the Prime Ministers rhetoric that treated the virus like “enemy” to be “fought”, and reporting on government press conferences became more an amplification of what they were saying than a critical dissection of what was happening.

The first couple of weeks of lockdown are a blur already, we had Covid-19 during that time, I remember being unable to get warm, shivering under our winter duvet in three jumpers and feeling terrible. Supermarket deliveries were almost impossible to get, all the things you wanted were out of stock and half of what you ordered didn’t show up. It was a scary time. The attitude in the office had swung from everything being a stupid overreaction to full emergency mode in a very short period of time, and that in itself was worrying.  The weather was horrid, cold and wet out, and the heating didn’t seem to take the edge of the chill. Home schooling was a novelty and the Easter holidays were only just around the corner, so it seemed like an achievable goal to get the kids there.

Do you remember those days?

Specifically do you remember when people took the lockdown more seriously because it was new, fresh, and really really scary?

In that first few weeks the only time I went out of the house was into our back garden. I actually wore a path around the edge of it, I walked so many laps there. The next few weeks were fraught with trips to Great Ormond St Hospital for ultrasounds, MRIs and eventually a biopsy for one of the kids. Stressful enough at the best of times but in the middle of a full lockdown pandemic, with only one parent allowed to come, it’s not something I’d like to repeat (and hopefully we won’t have to).

At some point in late April I started taking my daily exercise outside of the front door. I found a good route that whilst horribly dull to look at, allowed for good lines of sight, and the ability to cross either to the middle or the other side of the road if I saw people. It was a little over 6km, and I’ve walked that same route every lunchtime, listening to an audiobook, every day since. I even bought a cheap GPS fitness tracker, and have just hit 300,000 steps/260km in under a month. Unfortunately my poor wife hasn’t been able to join me because I probably broke her ankle in early April by leaving a pair of sandals outside the backdoor. She twisted her ankle really badly and by the time I took her for an x-ray, it was too late to tell whether it had been fractured or not. I’m still feeling guilty over this….