Tag Archives: fun

Run in the Dark (Dubai Style)

Scott and Chris_Run in the DarkWith all of the great races on offer over the sporting season here it is nice to occasionally be able to get involved in an event that has a great underlying cause attached to it and to channel all of that athletic energy into more than just chasing PBs and medals. So it was that I signed up to the Run in the Dark after learning of the event from a new friend and fellow vet here in the city, Scott, and his girlfriend, Sarah, a lawyer here in Dubai.

The run, of which there was the option to cover either 4km or 9km, was one of several being staged on the same evening (in terms of the local start time and date) around the globe, and was in aid of the Mark Pollock Trust, an organisation established by Mark himself following a slew of incredibly unfortunate and ultimately life-changing events, and whose mission is to find and connect people from around the world, and across disciplines, to fast-track a cure for paralysis.

The Dubai ‘pop up,’ as it was referred to on the website, saw about thirty of us don runners, strap on our reflective, flashing armbands and congregate outside the Marina Mall, before setting off on our respective loop of the marina, meeting back at the mall.

Chris and Caoimhe_Run in the DarkI recognised a few familiar faces from the local running and triathlon scene, whilst many more were new to me. What was clear, however, was that everyone was out to have some fun, get some decent exercise and reflect in a positive manner on what is ultimately a very worthwhile cause. Although pegged as a ‘fun run,’ the competitive runner in all of us did mean that this was never going to be a simple stroll and so the pace started off steady, gradually picking up towards the closing stages. Although I ended up running relatively up front, along with Sharjah-based teacher and exceptionally good runner, Caoimhe, there was one member of the group who either had a plane to catch or chilli down his pants because he literally flew off and was not actually seen again once the starting signal was given. Still, the fact remains that he came out for a good cause.

The marina loop is always an entertaining run, as the variation in width and activity around the edge makes for a variable experience. The end closest to Jebel Ali always affords a good chance to really stretch the legs and open up the throttle, whilst the more densely packed areas closest to the Dubai end, with the plethora of packed-out restaurants and tourists casually strolling along, call for more of a Rugby Sevens approach, nimbly dodging and weaving, whilst occasionally having to grind to an acute halt before accelerating on again. The other challenge of this section of the marina are the ever-present dangers posed from those pedal-powered go-karts that kids with F1 dreams (if not the skills) charge through the crowds in, often calling for a deft leap and dodge manoeuvre to be pulled from nowhere. Still, all told, both Caoimhe and I posted a very pleasing 9km time, sprinting home in grand style.

Zero Gravity in DubaiFollowing the run, a few of us piled into Scott and Sarah’s car, flashing armbands and all, to make the short journey over to Zero Gravity where post-run grub and a few well-deserved drinks were the order of the evening. A great setting to bring to a close a really fun night with some great people, all really maximising their time here in this great and ever-changing city of Dubai.

To learn more about the Run in the Dark, including how to sign up for 2015’s events, and to read more about the Mark Pollock Trust, head to www.runinthedark.org.

Downhill all the way!

mountain bike ChamonixTeeth clenched, eyes fixed ahead in a state of complete focus and with the almost audible buzz of a brain doing overtime, processing the rapidly changing scene flashing past. This is what it was like to experience downhill mountain biking during my time in Chamonix. The rush of hurtling down a mountain, on what I can only assume is usually a ski run in the winter, clad in impact padding and relying on a combination of balance, balls and the sheer hardy and tough awesomeness of the incredible bike I was riding, was amazing and I am so glad I decided to bite the bullet and hire a bike for the day, even though I was convinced that I was going to break myself in the process.

Mountain bike, ChamonixHaving only ever mountain biked maybe twice before, and neither time being that extreme, I wasn’t really sure what I was signing up to when I headed into the rental shop in Chamonix and spoke with the friendly British owner, Spencer. I ended up agreeing to rent the best bike in the shop, a downhill monster (Nukeproof, for anyone who cares to know), with all the pads and helmet thrown in for good measure, and so I returned later that day to pick up my steed for the following day, in addition to some tips on where would be a good playground for a novice such as myself.

The first challenge I faced, even before getting to the top of any run, was how to get my swanky new yet beefy bike into my tiny car! After being somewhat put off the idea of removing the front wheel – something I later discovered was stupidly simple to do – I faced the puzzle of fitting the bike into my little Skoda, which I just about achieved, albeit after having to ‘close’ the boot with the use of my Sat Nav’s power cord to tether the door closed, followed by a very careful and smooth drive back to the chalet, all the while praying that I avoided any local members of the Gendarmerie.

Mountain biking in ChamonixApparently I had rented quite a nice bike unbeknownst to me, as several of the guests at the chalet soon gathered to collectively ooh and aah at what to me was simply a heavy yet bouncy bike. It did leave me with a sense of being that person who has all of the gear but generally no idea – some pressure, it seemed, now existed to do something with my apparently awesome toy the next day. Two of the guys at the chalet, brothers Rob and James, were both there solely for the purposes of spending each day hurtling down mountain tracks on their bikes. They very kindly offered to take me under their collective wing and let me join them the next day, which in hindsight was a much more enjoyable and rewarding option that just going off on my clueless own. I was assured that the next day would be epic!

And epic it was! A relatively short drive up the valley saw us arrive at an area known as Les Tours, right on the French-Swiss border, and a classic Alpine picture postcard of grassy slopes with small herds of bell-clad horned cattle shuffling along or sitting leisurely chewing their cud, all with an acoustic soundtrack of gently chiming bells, which had the effect of making me feel as though I could have been in Tibet.

The epic mountain bikers in ChamonixPadded up and psyched up, with lift passes excitedly clutched, we headed up for the first run of the day, and my moment of truth. I think it would be safe to say that the first descent for me was somewhat slower and more leisurely than Rob and James were used to and in spite of their excellent tuition, especially when it came to effective sharp cornering, I still ended up off the track and on my backside more than once. Still, with the amount of padding I had on it didn’t actually hurt so there was no disincentive to feeling a little braver and bolder as the day wore on. In fact, by the end of the day I found myself hurtling down the green run feeling almost like a pro, and whizzing past other groups, whilst the guys went and got their fix by tackling the championship downhill course that was on-site, complete with rather insane looking jumps!

Atart of the downhill, ChamonixAfter a leisurely mountain-top lunch and an attempted descent into Switzerland, which was quickly abandoned when it transpired how a) technical the route was and b) the fact that the time was pushing on such that we’d have more than likely had to catch a train back round to ‘our side of the mountain.’ Several more descents, each one getting a little faster and way more exciting, and it was the end of the adrenaline fest that was our day mountain-biking. The journey back into Chamonix was a little more assured now that I had been shown how to remove the front wheel, and I returned my steed to its stable in plenty of time. A great day and no broken bones or missing teeth, so a result all round!

 

The outer steppes of…. Norfolk

Yurts, Burnham Deepdale, NorfolkI now have some idea of what Dorothy must have felt like during the storm that ultimately saw her transported to Oz. This story does not involve lions, tin men or yellow brick roads. It does, however, feature seals, warm ale and a long, winding coastal road.

The weekend that has just passed saw a few good friends and I sample life as ‘glampers,’ when we headed up to the North Norfolk coast in order to spend a couple of nights living it up in a yurt. For those of you who have no idea what one is then the first thing to point out is that it is not a sea-faring vessel, which one of my colleagues assumed it was (she thought I was just pronouncing ‘yacht’ in a particularly plummy accent), although given the prevailing conditions over the weekend it very well may have had this assumption tested. It is in fact a large, round canvas hut, with a domed roof (ours was the red one in the picture above), and the one we stayed in was based on the type of accommodation apparently favoured by those living on the steppes of Mongolia. The site at which we stayed, Burnham Deepdale, have a few of these yurts, all arranged in a line, along with some teepees and set up perfectly for groups to maximise the potential of the glorious Norfolk coastal weather. When it turns up. Each yurt had it’s own decking area in front of it, complete with barbeque and seating, and although a short but bracing walk away, the site was well serviced, including showers that certainly top any that I have experienced at a campsite.

Inside the yurt, Norfolk, Burnham DeepdaleEach also has it’s own wood-burning stove, which I have been told normally raises the temperature in them to a very comfortable level very swiftly. However, it seems that our experiences of first-time yurt living were uncharacteristically testing, as I shall explain….

When you think of booking what is in effect a camping trip, albeit ‘posh camping,’ you would be forgiven, and normally rewarded, for assuming that the last weekend in April would be a good bet for fine, classically Spring-like conditions. We made that assumption. Nature, in it’s role as a moody, unpredictable creature, clearly felt compelled to throw a small tantrum, with the weekend of the 27th – 29th April being a good window in which to hurl it’s insults. Cue a weekend of pissing rain, strong winds, which saw the yurt very nearly test it’s kite qualities on Saturday night, and bracing cold, that even a greedy and subsequently well-fed wood burner couldn’t tame. Another thing which added to the overall scene and experience was the fact that yurts act as climatic amplifiers, which means to say that if it is spitting lightly outside, then the sound inside will be that of a monsoon. If there is a brisk wind then the yurt will amplify that to hurricane-status for the auditory sakes of it’s inhabitants. My advice, as such, would be to take a set of ear plugs if you stay in one in anything other than perfect weather, especially if you are a light or easily disturbed sleeper. Our yurt was moving, and rattling, and generally groaning so much on the second night that we even lost two members of our group, who opted to leave not only the yurt but the campsite and drive home at 3am. This after only arriving at 2pm. Classic British camping holiday!

In spite of the insanely grey, wet, and generally shite weather – uncharacteristic I might add for Norfolk in Spring – the entire experience was ace. It could have been sunnier but spending a weekend with good mates, drinking great Norfolk ale, eating superb food, such as locally caught seafood, seeing some of the natural wonders of the area, such as the Blakeney seals, and generally just having fun, it really doesn’t matter how you do those things – they’re still cracking experiences and fond memories. Would I do it again? Yes, I definately would but I think I would be aiming squarely in the middle of the high season (ie SUMMER), just to be sure 🙂 Oh, and to top it off the sun promptly came out of hiding on Sunday evening. Once everyone had returned home. Couldn’t make it up.

“Any top tips?” you say. Well, yes. Here they are…

  • Where to stayBurnham Deepdale. Well managed site, with a hostel, camping pitches, teepees and the oh-so-famous yurts.
  • Where to eat – The White Horse & Jolly Sailors pubs, both a short walk from the campsite, are excellent. The former does a cracking breakfast, and has stunning views out to sea, with the latter doing amazing pizzas.
  • What to drinkThe Real Ale Shop, near Wells. A superb range of Norfolk ales and situated on a lovely little farm.
  • What to do – so many options! We went out on a seal-spotting trip at Blakeney, took in the quaint tea-shops of Burnham Market, missed a bus in Wells and got our sealife and bowling fixes in Hunstanton. Add decent weather and the beaches become the obvious draw.

 

Yurt advice:

  1. Unless you know that it’s going to be scorching weather, pack as you would for any camping trip as it can get quite chilly.
  2. Take extra light sources. Loads of people make the mistake of assuming they have electricity, due to the fact that they look and feel like buildings. They don’t so take a couple of lamps to add to the one that the site provide.
  3. Ask for extra wood when you arrive. Running out at 10pm on a freezing cold, blustery Saturday night is not ideal.
  4. Consider booking two adjacent yurts if there is going to be more than, say, five of you going. Although they can officially accommodate 8 people, it would be snug so best to pay more per person and not be packed in like sardines.
  5. Take ear plugs – they are pretty noisy structures but very sturdy, so don’t worry; it’s only noise.
  6. Enjoy yourself – they’re a very comfortable and fun way to camp, and a great base for the North Norfolk coast.

Finding Your Element

Vet school, coverI have recently finished listening to an inspiring audiobook called ‘The Element,’ written by the educational reformist and speaker, Dr Ken Robinson. The premise of the book is that each of us has something that we were, in effect, meant to do and that sees us truly in our element when we are doing that activity. Everyone’s element is different: some may find it in their career, others in their recreation activities. One of the major messages of the book is the concern that our current, long established systems of education actually act to move a lot of people away from their element and these people may be in danger of spending their lives never fully fulfilled and truly happy. It is difficult to really give a full and accurate review of the book in a short blog introduction and I think it suffices to say that it is excellent and that I have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending it as one of those must-read books and the type that you probably should revisit at regular points during your life.

Why am I talking about such a book, you may be wondering? Well, the reason is that I started listening to it whilst travelling up to Nottingham where I spent two days at the university both lecturing to and making my book, Vet School, available to young people interested in learning more about a career in veterinary. This is something I have been doing for a number of years now and it really dawned on me this year that the thing I really get a buzz out of is the actual lecturing itself. I can’t quite put my finger on what aspect of presenting provides the biggest reward and thus keeps me coming back for more. Is it the thrill of getting the right laughs at the right time? Maybe its the look of rapt concentration and engagement that develops on the audience members’ faces, the key aim I am sure of any speaker. The fun of taking what can otherwise be a set of dull, monotone subjects – Cancer in Animals, Parasites (especially at 10 o’clock at night!), Clinical History Taking, for example – and through careful consideration of what will actually engage your audience, craft a fun, entertaining yet educational, and hopefully inspiring talk? Then again, it could just be the sheer performance of it all. The opportunity to don a set of scrubs, show some funny videos and just, well, have some fun on stage. In truth, I think I would have to say that I love doing them for all of those reasons and it really dawned on me this year more than before.

The audience is a key ingredient, of course, and having the privilege of being able to speak with students who clearly have a hunger for knowledge and driving passion for their ultimate goal of getting into vet school makes the entire process that much more enjoyable and rewarding. The pressures on them to excel are getting greater and greater, with the obstacles that seem to be placed before them ever more numerous and large in scale. They are the true heroes of our profession as without their dogged determination and laser-like focus and unwavering commitment to their ultimate goal, the profession would not be able to continue to grow, develop and improve in the way it has, does and will, I am sure, continue to do so for many generations to come.

The pleasure of writing Vet School and making it available is one of, hopefully, being able to make the path towards a place at Vet School a little less of an arduous journey and to lend much needed support to those who may otherwise feel themselves slipping from the path towards their true passion. Now, I am not going to claim that the book has all the answers or that buying it will somehow come with a magic, ‘get in free’ ticket, because clearly it will not. Instead, I like to think of Vet School and My Foot In The Door as being rather like a sherpa acting as a guide up the treacherous slopes of Everest, offering valuable insight and guidance but not able to carry the full burden of responsibility for the climber’s own monumental feats of determination, savvy and grit to reach the summit. In my own personal view, every great journey and every great destination reached has its significance, enjoyment and sense of satisfaction magnified many-fold when it is shared. I think that’s what keeps me engaged in writing and why I genuinely enjoy getting to talk with and offer advice, as far as I am able, to those looking to enter our profession. That and getting to make funny videos 🙂

It’s a Dog’s Tweet

Toby Morris Tweet DogIt is rare that something crops up on Twitter that makes you sit up and say “Hey! That is truly awesome!” Today, however, was one of those days. I was casually flicking through my Twitter feed glossing over the usual fare of celeb announcements and product plugs when lo-and-behold this cracking story made itself known… True genius on an epic scale!

Nat Morris, an IT consultant and dog owner from Wales, put his technology skills to legendary use by rigging up a fun system that provides his Border Terrier, Toby, with a treat every time a message is tweeted to @FeedToby. The system, which incorporates a mini-computer, that receives the tweets and drives the funky device, sounds a buzzer to alert Toby of the imminent arrival of a tasty snack, and a camera that snaps a pic of Toby and tweets it back to Nat so that he can see that Toby has eaten the food. There are, however, self-imposed limits on the system to prevent Toby get overfed as a result of being the recipient of loads of well-meaning tweets!

The full story can be viewed here.

New Toy – Simple but Cool

Okay, so part of me sort of feels like I have been had whilst another part of me actually feels like my recent purchase is pretty cool. What is it? Well, I will start by saying that it is something to be used with the iPad – which I actually love, by the way – and is a very simple peripheral but one I had actually been looking for and then chanced upon it at a local branch of Curry’s.

So, my new toy is a Wacom Bamboo Stylus. A what?! It is basically a ‘pen’ with a specially designed spongy, soft tip where the nib would be on a normal pen, and is intended primarily to be used with their free app ‘Bamboo Paper.’ The app itself is a simple notebook app but the pen makes it feel so realistic that for someone who loves jotting notes, or doodling crazy designs etc it’s great to have a digital equivalent to real paper. The main reason I was even looking for a pen, however, was that I wanted something to use with another app I have (Sketchbook), which is an art app and which I couldn’t help feel like a five year old child finger-painting whilst using it.

Anyway, needless to say I am looking forward to getting creative with the new pen and posting more nerdy designs right here. Watch this space 🙂