Some new evidence sheds new light on the Lord Lucan scandal. Could he really be innocent?
Just been musing about the Duchess of Cambridge and her pregnancy.
Amongst other things… Well she could be having twins. Could easily be having twins. Quite common when you have severe morning sickness.
What will they be called?
A friend points out one of the eternal truths of life, and of love, and also of marriage:
Men love women.
Women love kids.
Kids love hamsters.
Which rather means… that when the kids come along, then (or so the theory goes) Daddio ends up in something of a backwater.
Maybe it’s true.
Maybe it’s not.
But nonetheless… This is what Dexter said yesterday: “Mummy - can we have a hamster?”
I’ve been weighing up my strengths as a writer.
Taken a long time.
But I reckon I’ve got one. A small one - but nevertheless, an absolute beauty.
I mentioned this a week back, when I was weighing up my limitations. Got a lot of limitations - particularly on the internet side of things. The internet is not my thing. I can understand how to do these things on the net, but I also realise that there are loads of young Turks out there who are much, much better than me.
But anyway - my strong suit. Know what it is? My kids. I’ve got two quite cute kids. I mean of course every dad on earth thinks they’ve got cute kids - but the difference is…
I’m going to be exploiting my kids to the full in order to publicise my books.
One of them has even got quite a cute wink. That’s good too.
Pretty damn easy, eh?
So, in time for the first day of the Advent Calendar, the splendid Ross Hammond has helped me do up a video. With me. And the kids. And the books.
Quite funny, I think. And if you like it, then do please share it! Actually… even if you think it’s dross, I’d still like to share it. Thanks!
When I left Eton 30 years ago, I could never have dreamed how it would become such a regular theme in my working life.
In 1982, I thought that was it. I thought I’d never go back.
And as it is - well, I returned to Eton for the first time when Prince William started going there. I was among the hordes of hacks who were there to welcome him on his first day.
A few months later, I was back at Eton for Prince William’s first parents’ day.
And his second one too.
But after that… well I thought that that was the end of it.
Not by a long chalk.
I’ve set two books there - a love story, The Well-Tempered Clavier and a satire, Dave Cameron’s Schooldays.
I’ve spoken twice to the Literary Society. Last time, I was in the world’s oldest schoolroom.
I could feel the history hissing on the hairs at the nape of my neck.
And now… well I’m pretty bullish that we’ll soon be moving on to the next stage: the Movie.
But for the moment I am contenting myself with a little frolic in The Huffington Post.
I’ve just been editing up a book on tabloid journalism - and, just for the hell of it, and just because I can, I decided to include a joke by Rupert Murdoch.
It’s the only joke that I’ve ever heard from Murdoch - and although it is typically cruel, it is a beauty.
My book is called “Red Top” and it is coming out next year; it’s based on what I’ve learned from my many weeks of consulting with the tabloids in Scotland and in South Africa.
But back to Murdoch…
I wonder if Murdoch is actually a funny guy. He seems to be driven by power and deals; I wouldn’t say humour was high on his agenda.
Some years ago Murdoch caught a cold over the fake Hitler diaries. Murdoch had paid a bomb to run the diaries in the Sunday Times and almost immediately they’d been exposed as fakes. Not that it was ever that much of a cold - The Sunday Times’s credibility might have had a knock, but sales went through the roof.
But somebody had to carry the can and that somebody was the Sunday Times editor Frank Giles.
Frank was told that he was going to be given the honorific title of “Editor Emeritus”.
Funny title that - conjures up an image of old professors being put out to pasture.
“Editor Emeritus?” pipes Frank. “What’s that mean?”
“It’s Latin, Frank,” booms Murdoch. “That’s ‘E’ because you’re out of here - and ‘Meritus’ because you deserve it!’
I have been asking several friends the same question; it piques me.
This is the question: Of the Brits aged in their forties and fifties, are there more single men - or are there more single women?
Pretty simple question.
I’ve asked a number of people, men and women, all ages - and every time I get the same answer.
Most of my friends, most of the people I ask, they say this: amongst the middle-aged, there are many more single women than men.
The general feeling is that single women in their 40s and 50s outnumber men by about 3 to 1.
It’s partially true.
But it is also wholly wrong.
The fact is that amongst the chums that I have, and the people that I mostly know, there are indeed many more single women.
But across the board… there are many more single men. In Britain as a whole, the number of middle-aged single men is considerably higher than the number of single women.
Here’s the rub:
Women don’t trade down.
For us freelancers, we are all waiting for a HIT. We are hoping for that day when there is a Kerr-ching, and when one of our little projects blasts off into the stratosphere.
And when that happens - well you’re in orbit. You are established. It suddenly becomes a whole lot easier to shift whatever product that it is that you want to shift.
Now the big question is: how do you get into orbit?
There are loads of ways. You can do all that techy stuff on the internet; you can pull strings; you can piggy-back on the back of an established star. You can even sleep with an established star.
But generally - you want to be in this state of mind where you are… (Biblical quote coming up)… casting your bread on the waters.
Which means that you’re putting out there. You’re pursuing any opportunity that comes your way. Doesn’t matter how big it is; it can be absolutely tiny.
But each opportunity is just another piece of bread to be chucked.
The thing is: you don’t know which piece of bread is going to come back. Which piece of bread is going to deliver.
You might have some ideas about which pieces of bread are most likely to work. You might have a screenplay and you might be meeting up with some big Hollywood hitter - and you might give the chances of that coming off at, say, ten per cent.
And then you might be sending one of your books out to someone you met at a party; chances of anything coming of that might be just one per cent.
What I’ve realised is that - almost without exception - the hits that I’ve had have come from the very the tiniest bits of bread that I have cast on the water. When I chucked those bits of bread on the water, I would have said the chances of them paying off were absolutely miniscule.
But ultimately, if you’re a bread-chucker, you are no longer interested in results. You’re aware of the long-term plan. But that’s not why you’re a bread-chucker.
We chuck bread - or chum on the water - because we enjoy it. Chucking bread is a pleasure in itself. It is its own end.
And with that thought… Ever heard this song?
I’m not the bread-chucker,
I’m the bread-chucker’s son.
I’m only chucking bread
Till the bread-chucker comes…
I have been learning to swim.
Really swim - smooth and silky, and above all, slippery in the water.
It’s of this Japanese guy, Shinji Takeuchi. He’s 43, 5 ft 8. He swims an entire 25-metre length of a pool in just nine strokes!
I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it.
At first I thought that he’d be thrashing away like mad with his feet - but no, he’s got a very simple two-beat kick. For each sweep of the arm, there is just one kick of the leg.
The most amazing of all is that, in the entire length, he does not make a single splash. Not when his arm goes in the water. Not when he kicks. Not when he rolls effortlessly to the side to take a breath.
I covet that action.
It’s called the total immersion technique. Your head is fully immersed in the water. This helps counterbalance your legs which are always tending to drop in the water.
And you’re very slippery in the water, very fluid. Your body is tucking in to the space that is created by the arms.
At the moment, I can do a length in 16 strokes… but, come next August when I am intent on swimming the Hellespont with whichever reckless idiots who want to accompany me, I hope to have it down to that easy nine strokes. Long. Gliding. Just gorgeous!
I have come across what must be the world’s most horrific dating website. No question of doubt about it.
The dates that this frightful website are offering would make you want to hurl; or maybe not you, because you’re probably quite a nice person. But me?? I can say, quite honestly, that I would prefer a date with Rose West to any one of the dates that they’d be offering me.
I don’t know why I was listening to the station, but it’s not exactly too testing in the morning, and the boys don’t seem to mind. Might even get them hooked on Mozart and Bach; that would be pretty good.
Anyway - on comes an advert for Classic FM Romance. I’m listening to this syrupy-sounding guy who has a voice like hair-oil.
He drones on about this magical dating website, and then he finally rounds off with the punch-line. Which copywriting ninny could have dreamt up this line? Classic FM Romance will, he says, enable you to find “someone special”. There’s then a beat before Mr Hair-Oil adds, “Someone just like you.”
Someone just like me?? I would HATE, HATE, HATE to go on a date with someone just like me.
Initially, it has some slight appeal.
The thought of saying to your sparkly new date - “Do you know what? I reckon anyone who drives a Ferrari is, by definition, a tosser.”
“You know what?” replies my date. “Me too!”
Then - perhaps: “I’ve got us a rather unusual starter. You up for some sheep brains fried in butter and garlic?”
The date: “Yum Yum!!”
Or even: “Only one bullet in the rifle - and up against the wall are Ed Miliband, Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Ed Balls. Who you going to kill?”
Answer (without even blinking): “Easy - Alastair Campbell.”
But although these wonderfully agreeable conversations would be pleasant enough, after about five minutes, there might be a number of habits that would inevitably start to grate if I were sitting at a table with “someone just like me”. Their complete inability to answer a question; their shrieking laughter; their bizarre flights of fancy when they get bored with the conversation. And then having to watch them so stuff themselves with meat that they’re actually suffering from “meat sweats” (ever had it before? Comes from eating, errr, too much meat. It’s not great.) And, lastly, the way my date would keep matching me glass for glass of red wine until we’d cut through four magnums of claret and were still going strong.
Yukkk! Me dating me? What a car-crash of a date! It would be horrific!
Dirty Harry had some sage advice for us humble writers.
About how many shots that can be fired from a Magnum 45.
About the damage that a Magnum 45 can inflict - it can blow your head clean off!
And also this: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Which brings me to plugging my little books.
There are loads of rinkydink books out there on Amazon which offer helpful advice on how to “sell 1 million” books in under a year. You’ve got to have your blog. Check. Go on Twitter. Check. LinkedIn and Facebook. Check, check. Got to do all the stuff on Amazon. Check.
You’ve basically got to do a whole load of techy stuff in the hope that, eventually, you’ll be able to hang onto the coat-tails of some established star who will then whisk you and your books into orbit…
Well it happens occasionally.
Not very often.
It’s time we applied Dirty Harry’s dictum. A man has got to know his limitations.
And that means: although I can do all this techy guff, I ain’t much good at it. There are loads of young spunks out there who are keener, hungrier, and generally better. They are like screaming seagulls - very good at getting your attention.
This is not my strong suit.
There is a corollary to knowing your limitations.
And it is this.
Once we know our limitations, then: we can start playing to our strengths.
And just recently, after a lot of thought, I realised that I have got one very small but beautiful trump card.
And I am going to start playing it.
Over. And over. And over again…
I have been thinking much about “Grand Strategy”.
This was a concept given to me by Robert Twigger, cult author, story-teller, and, above all else, bon viveur. Check out his stuff on www.roberttwigger.com. I devour it.
Anyway - Grand Strategy. Just a brief recap.
Tactics wins you battles. Strategy wins you wars. Grand Strategy… well that’s about what you’re going to do after the war is won.
Which means for the bulk of us groundlings: what is the big plan? What are we hoping for with the overall arc of our lives?
Where do we want to devote our main energies?
Once you’ve got a Grand Strategy… not that we want to get tooooo up ourselves… then everything becomes a lot simpler. If there is a grand umbrella within which we want to devote our energies, then it is much easier to avoid going down cul-de-sacs.
This weekend though, with the splendid Anthony Tait - (His Grand Strategy? Sailing), I realised one more benefit of… The Big Plan.
Took about a bottle of red wine. That’s when I have all my best ideas. But boy do you have to write them down quick (into my trusty all-weather Alwych notebook). Otherwise these gems disappear into the ether.
And the idea is…
When you’ve got a Grand Strategy… then you’re on a journey. You’ve got a goal. And even if you don’t make it to that end goal, then you’ll be savouring the scenery along the way. (And half the bloody time the destination isn’t even worth getting to in the first place.)
And without a Plan…
Imagine a sheep grazing in the Highland Hills. He wanders from one succulent tussock to the next; he goes wherever the whim takes him.
His meanderings are dictated by the next clump of grass that he wants to put into his mouth.
It is possible that I have discovered something even more excruciating than reading love scenes that have been written by a friend.
Worse by far, I think, would be reading love scenes that had been written by a spouse.
There you are, reading your partner’s book, trying as best you can to engage with the hero or the heroine, and then suddenly… the love-scene starts.
And it may be well written… and it may not…
But all you really know for certain is that this particularly exotic love-scene most certainly didn’t happen with you!
Which means… did it happen to your spouse in the past?
Or, perhaps worse, is it a product of your partner’s fantasies?
Do we even want to know our partner’s fantasies? Well there’s a question. Because if we aren’t privy to the fantasies of our loved ones, then… how on earth can these fantasies be made into a reality? Do we even want to make them a reality?
If you’d like to read more, then here’s the link!
It is not an easy thing to read a novel that has been written by a friend.
With luck, a novel will be transporting you into this other action-packed world - where there is love and lust and adventure, not to mention pithy, wholesome nuggets of wisdom and philosophy. If the book works well, then the reader will be fully engaged with the hero and heroine; will be seeing all the action through the hero’s eyes.
But if the novel is written by a friend, then… it all becomes just that bit more complicated.
More often than not, a reader will be able to hear their friend’s voice coming through loud and clear. It does not matter what the author is describing, because for the reader, it will often sound like their friend is actually sitting there by the side of the bed; is actually reading the book out loud. If you know the author, then you will be able to hear their voice.
And this is all very distracting, because it’s difficult to become fully engaged with a novel if you are for ever hearing your friend’s voice.
It’s even worse with a love story. Much worse. Because love stories are, very often, going to involve some sort of sex scene. And if you’re reading your friend’s love story, then it is difficult to stop yourself from wondering… ‘Just how much of this is made up - and how much of how it happened? And if it IS made up, then what sort of sick imagination was capable of inventing all these lurid sex scenes?’
In the past, friends have often wanted to know how much of my books were true - and how much was just the project of my fervid imagination.
Particularly the sex scenes.
And particularly with my latest little offering, The Woman Who Made Men Cry.
‘So how much of it - how much?? - actually happened?’ I hear them cry. ‘Tell me! Is all this sex-stuff… is it written from first hand experience?’
What I would say is that, in this latest love story, pretty much all of it happened.
Even the surreal ending was true.
It’s just that… it didn’t necessarily happen to me.
But then I will always, at heart, be a reporter. And there’s nothing I like nearly so much, these days, as reporting on my friends and their sexual antics…
I’ve got a new book out. I quite like the title. The Woman Who Made Men Cry.
It’s going to be the first of a trilogy of love stories - and they will all be love affairs involving a man called Kim. He is the star of my first novel “The Well-Tempered Clavier”.
The Woman Who Made Men Cry is - of course - based on a true story. And it is also an exploration of the very strange dating rules that existed in New York City in 1997.
Or at least, when I was working in Manhattan fifteen years ago, I thought they were strange.
Now, of course, they’ve moved straight over to London - but then London is about 15 years behind Manhattan.
The rules were these: you could be “dating” somebody - and you could be “dating exclusively”. And what this roughly meant was that if you were just “dating”, then you could be having sex with whomsoever you pleased. And if you were dating “exclusively”, then you just had to confine yourself to the one exclusive partner.
And further to all that… if you had not had the “exclusive” conversation, then you were most certainly just “dating”…
So our hero Kim is, believe it or not, a Red Top journalist working in New York City.
He has the very great good fortune to meet up with this beautiful sexy woman. Her name is Elise.
Elise has got the lot - looks and charm and brains and sassiness, and for a period of four weeks everything is just perfect. They are having a Niagara of sex. They are totally besotted. Elise is everything that our hero could ever have wanted.
Then, since they were living in New York City and since these things had to be established, Kim asks Elise if they are “dating exclusively”.
Elise pauses before she replies. “Sort of,” she says.
“What does that mean?” Kim asks.
What it means, precisely, is that on Thursdays, Elise is going to be going off to see her lover Georges, a French restarauteur.
In a complete moment of madness, Kim agrees to the deal.
And every Thursday after that, Kim has to sit there gnawing his nails while his girlfriend goes off to have sex with the Frenchman.
So the question is: how far would you go for the woman you love? Would you die for her? Would you for kill her? Or would you roll over sweetly and agree to her having sex with another man?
My first ever classical music review. I gave Britain’s best orchestra, the Philharmonia, two stars out of five. And if my cousin Sam, AKA The Man With The Golden Flute, hadn’t been there, they’d have only rated one! Why do these modern orchestras think we like to listen to screechy, scraping music?
The last show that I reviewed was a panto for the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard (Cirencester edition) in 1989.
And now, like an old warhorse that’s heard the clarion call of the trumpet, the Edinburgh Festival has got me back in harness again.
It was The Foodies Festival. Rather good, as it turned out.
Been back now a week from the Marathon des Sables, with a book that is chock-full of notes; I am said to be looking “disgustingly normal”.
In Scotland, my blisters have dried out. They’re gnarled and scratchy - and dyed red from the iodine.
There is, actually, a teeny-tiny bit of footage of me from one of the MdS films. I’m in there at nine seconds - treating my blisters. How appropriate.
In front of me now is the most extraordinary sight: the biggest sand dunes I have EVER seen!
So guess where I am heading for tomorrow… One of the dunes is the biggest in North Africa - way over 400 metres! It knocks Arthur’s Seat into a cocked hat! Can you imagine running down it? (And not breaking a leg).
Well I’m not saying it’s hot, but… 30 minutes into today’s run, a Frenchman had a heart attack right in front of me! Flares going off, helicopter swooping in. Don’t know how he is.
When you get in, there is a golden hour, when you have to eat disgusting freeze-dried food and put your feet up. There is also the big reveal… when you pull off your socks. You know there are hotspots on your feet… but you don’t know how bad it’s going to be.
I have a mere six blisters. One of my mates has had his feet DELAMINATED! They’ve taken the skin clean off!
One quite long scamper through the night. Three hours sleep. And I’ve got the day off, mooching about the camp. It is hot and windy, and if I had a black plastic bag I would look like a vagrant.
My tent-mate Al looked at my beard.
“You look dirty,” he said.
“No - dirty.”
Yesterday, I came as close as you can get to skiing on sand. A steep, steep slope, a bit like the Salisbury Crags - but of sand. I schussed down it in one minute - it was thrilling! One Frenchman was so terrified that he had to be helicoptered off the top.
The front runner is out. He ran past me yesterday, effortlessly easy. A few hours later, he was just coming into the camp at dusk, no headlight on. Slipped on a stone and broke his foot.
There was something so extraordinary about walking through this desert at 2am - with nothing more than the occasional glowstick to guide you. It might have been a windy night on the English coast. And then you wake up and realise you’re in the middle of the Sahara.
Imagine a day of being battered by the wind and sand that stings your face. You have probably sweated out about a gallon of salt. Your hair is matted; your teeth are gritty; your nose is clogged with gunk; and as for your ears… Just don’t go there!
Nice time for a bath? Me? I have THREE wet-wipes. Just the sort of navy wash that my son Dexter would LOVE! But it makes no difference. There is so much sand blowing into the tent that within minutes, everything is covered in this film of sand. It’s very close to a full-on sandstorm right now.
I do not think i will ever be able to eat vanilla again. A vanilla shake for “lunch” and another when I get in. Mix it with luke warm water and it’s almost like custard. Then a boil in the bag for supper. Breakfast is a couple of grain bars.
Every day we start off to ACDC’s Highway to Hell! And off we storm into the heat and the haze - it is utterly surreal to be a part of it.
So here I sit in the MdS communications tent, tapping out my one email and my 1000 characters - and,bizarrely,we have speakers playing out birdsong and Gregorian chant. Bit like a newsroom, as we all earnestly scribble. Without the screaming. No - that goes on in the Doc Trotters where the blisters have to be seen to be believed.
So how hot is 52 degrees? I will tell you.Since this morning, I have drunk 12 litres of water. And still have not gone for a pee!
The sweat cakes my clothes and rucksack with white salt. When I got into my sleeping bag last night, it was drenched. i thought somebody had emptied a bottle over it. But no. My sweat had soaked through the rucksack.
We had seven miles in a straight line today over a mud flat. And you go for an hour, and it’s still no closer. The hills shimmer in the distance. The Ipod has been an absolute Godsend! I plug it in and yowl along to “I am an astronaut.” In bed at 9. Up at 5.30. And no alcohol for a week. This is unprecedented.
A little after the event… but this is what should have been gone up a week ago…
Sometimes, as I was trudging through this endless desert today, I thought that I must be utterly mad! The heat is crucifying! Scorchingly hot by 8.30 in the morning! I’d hoped to run. A bit. But not a damn hope.
Then. You look up and you stare around and you see this endless vastness - like nothing I have ever seen before. It rolls on for ever, and in the distance are these mountains which never move, even though you’ve walked 20 miles towards them. But the Doogie and I talk and laugh and we seem to have had a much more enjoyable time of it than our tent mates.
Imagine a hill of sand and rock which is higher and much broader than Arthur’s Seat. And when you look up, there are these pinpricks slogging away ahead of you. And then, back out over the desert is this extraordinary line of trudging, sweating nutcases.
The sweat dries instantly and our shirts are caked in white salt. Eleven litres of water a day. And it’s not enough!
Some extraordinary news comes in about the Marathon des Sables.
And I mean: just amazing!
I call up the Doogie. He is in the middle of packing, frantically decanting freeze-dried spaghetti into smaller, lighter packs. He’s hoping that he’ll be able to save himself all of 200 grammes in his 15-kilo pack.
Then there are his walking poles. The Dooge is very keen on his walking poles. Dead handy for the dunes, when only the nut-cases actually attempt to run. My poles cost 15 quid off Amazon. Doogie’s poles cost close to £100. But they’re very light weight. Each pole is 100 grammes lighter than mine.
Anyway - great to hear that the Clown has finally got his act together. It looks like we might - actually - be going off to Morocco tomorrow. Together.
“Good news!” I said. We’re now calling each other daily. Just to check that the Doogie hasn’t stubbed his toe and is in the process of pulling out. That sort of thing.
“Get off me, Fergus!” he bawls. “What’s the good news?”
“Just had the weather report from Morocco,” I said.
“Fergus!” he shouts. “Get off me! Yeah. What’s the weather like?”
“Quite a bit different from Edinburgh.”
“Well duhhh!” He says. “Tell me something I didn’t know!”
“Well I’m telling you now!” I said. “It’s freezing there! Much colder than Edinburgh -”
“Coo!” he said. “It’s colder than Edinburgh?”
“It’s colder than Edinburgh!”
“And it’s pretty cold here now! I was out on the beach this afternoon and the kids were running wild and Ginny was chasing after them and then a big wave caught me and I got really wet, and I can tell you -”
“Anyway,” I said. “It’s cold there. There’s a big low - especially over the Sahara.”
“Coo!” he said. “So maybe I don’t need to pack any sunscreen?”
“Maybe you ought to pack your thermals!”
You know - I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who says the word “Coo!” as much as the Doogie.
So… the next update will, I hope, be from the middle of a cool, breezy Sahara.
* Meanwhile: it is possible, apparently, to get daily updates from the Marathon des Sables. There might even be some webcam action!
I’m number 350; the Doogie is 351. Here’s the link: http://www.darbaroud.com/resultats/participants.php?epreuve_id=2012&langue=en
The Marathon des Sables. I guess I’d say it was middling tough.
It’s a 150-mile jaunt through the Sahara. Searing 50 degree heat. Carrying all your own kit and provisions. Scorpions. Biggish dunes. And a marathon, a double-marathon. And then another marathon.
And - accompanying me every step of the way will be… The Doogie.
We leave in three days.
“So - have you got all your kit?” I ask, as I touch base in another of our unfathomable weekly phone calls.
“Not really,” he says. “I like to leave these things to the last minute. Can’t be that bad - just some trainers. Some water bottles. What more do you want?”
“Nothing much,” I say. “Nothing much at all. Sounds like you’ve got it all just about sorted.”
“Yeah,” he says, in his usual staggeringly blasé fashion. “I think I might take some pork scratchings. I like pork scratchings, me.”
“Yes, I know that,” I said. “You do know, by the way, that there are a number of compulsory items that you’ve got to take out to the desert with you?”
“Yeah?” he says. “Like what?”
“Like a venom pump,” I say. “Like a signalling mirror. Like eight bags for pooing in -”
“Poo bags?” he said. “Why on earth do I need those?”
“Because they’re on the list. Antiseptic. 14,000 calories of food. Ohh - and a doctor’s certificate saying that you’re -”
“Food?” he says. “I’ve got to take 14,000 calories of food? I thought they were going to cook it all up in their kitchens.”
“Well they do have kitchens,” I said. “But those are not for the runners.”
“Maybe I could take some ravioli,” The Doogie-monster mused. “I like Heinz ravioli. Especially the tinned stuff. It’s got really nice tomato sauce. Would ravioli be good?”
“Ravioli would be great. Pasta’s very good for these long runs. Tins might be a little heavy, but I’m sure you’ll manage.”
“What was that about a doctor’s certificate?”
“Got to get a doctor to sign off on you - say that you won’t be keeling over dead. Oh - and you’ll need an ECG too.”
“And when do we leave?”
“Thursday,” I said. “Thursday morning.”
“Oh, by the way,” he says. “How do we stop sand getting into the shoes?”
“Gaiters,” I said. “If you get sand in your shoes, you’ll know all about it?”
“Coo!” he says. “What happens?”
“It gets really exciting,” I said. “The sand sticks to your wet socks. It starts to get a bit painful. You take some Ibuprofen. And the next time you look, you have quite literally sanded the skin off your feet. Quite a bit of blood.”
“Coo!” he says. “Gaiters sound like a good thing. I think I’ll buy some!”
* Just in case you fancy it, I’m raising money for The Place2Be, a charity for kids who are having a tough time of it at home. You can donate here: http://www.justgiving.com/Bill-Coles0
I have discovered that special place where single men lurk.
So if you are a woman - of any age - who is looking to find a chap, then I think, I believe, that I have the answer.
There are two (very) slight problems.
But nevertheless: if you are a woman who yet yearns for that soul-mate, then here’s where you’re going to find him.
It’s all perfectly simple.
I made this extraordinary discovery a couple of weeks ago when I was running the Pilgrim. It’s a wonderful canter through some of England’s most scenic countryside on the North Downs Way. The run is what is technically known as an Ultra - 33 miles out and then 33 miles back the next day.
We spent the night in a large, drafty school gym. A lot of people in there - I guess nearly 200.
And THAT’S when I made the connection. Blokes! Fit blokes! Fit single blokes! Damn nearly 200 of them - and outnumbering the women by AT LEAST ten to one. Imagine that! And all these guys: all very perky; fizzing with endorphines; more than happy to chat; not a porker amongst them: and a lot of them, I realised, not only single but… HUNGRY FOR LOVE!
So - if it’s single guys you’re after, Ultra-marathons are the way forward. Definitely
That’s the first problem. Takes a bit of time building up the stamina to run Ultras. Still - only took me about a year.
I never said it was going to be easy.
Problem number two: Now, very generally speaking, I would say that, ahhhh… ultra-runners are a little odd. Kinda obsessive. And that although they can be very, very chatty, they tend to like chatting about the same sort of things, and that, most usually, is their running.
So take a tip from me: if you get into a conversation with these guys, you have to take control. Do not let these ultra-runners start banging on about their races. You HAVE to derail that train before it picks up a good head of steam.
There we have it! How to meet single men. If you’ve found a better place where single chaps are lurking, then I would so love to hear it!
A simply astonishing story doing the rounds in the papers this week: Lord Lucan’s wife, the Countess of Lucan, is claiming that she would have helped her husband get away with murder.
This is the first time that I have ever heard Lucan’s estranged wife talk like this before.
Lucan murdered his children’s nanny in November 1974 and after realising that he’d blundered, he attacked the Countess.
But the Dowager Countess of Lucan is now saying that, but for their fight, she would have covered for him.
The UK and Irish radio stations have been all over the story and, indeed, so have I, after a great push from my publishers Legend Press.
Here’s the interview - a cracking exclusive for the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9092061/Countess-Lucan-I-would-have-helped-my-husband-get-away-with-murder.html
The Doogie monster and I are off to Farnham this weekend for The Pilgrim - a perky 66-miler on the Pilgrim’s Way. Another little Marathon des Sables warm-up run on our never-ending quest for the body beautiful.
I must admit though… it’s not THE most exciting route. We schlepp out from Farnham at 9am tomorrow and head 33 miles east.
We spend the night in some massive gym with all the other 220 tyros who are doing this whacked-out run.
And then the next day: we just plod back on the same 33-mile route. And end up exactly where we started.
“It’s going to be chilly,” says the Doogie. “They’re predicting snow.”
“Oooh,” I said. “Going to pack your thermals?”
“I’m wearing ‘em,” he said. “Ginny insisted that I put them on first thing. She looks after me, does Ginny.”
“I’m taking a hot-water bottle as well,” says the Doogie. “But do you think I’ll be able to get any boiling water for it? I mean it’s not really going to be much use if it’s just a medium-to-tepid water bottle.”
“Well you could always use it as another water carrier.”
“Yeah - but I’ve tasted the water out of a hot-water bottle. It always tastes very rubbery.”
“I’d never have guessed. Anyway - if you’re picking me up for the flight, can you leave lots and lots of time. I absolutely detest cutting it fine on planes.”
“Oh - I’m the exact opposite,” says the Doogie. “I leave everything to the last minute. What time shall I pick you up?”
“I think I’ll catch a cab, if that’s okay by you.”
It is becoming increasingly apparent that this charity film night that we have been thinking of organising for our Marathon des Sables gig is now ESSENTIAL.
And why, oh why, would that be?
Because, speak it softly, I think that although there are now only two members of Team Titanic, it is altogether possible that half the team (at least) may not be able to finish this desert romp that we have so set our hearts upon.
And, as I’ve already mentioned, at least if we have a charity film, then we won’t have to hand back all the sponsorship money - which would be mildly irksome if, for some unfathomable reason the Doogie contrived not to finish the race merely on account of BEING TOTALLY UNPREPARED AND NOT UP TO THE JOB!
Ahemmm… Where were we? We were talking about films that might be suitable for our charity film night at the Dominion in March.
I called up the Doogie; I thought it might be politic to keep him in the loop about this film night, though I make these phone-calls in much the same manner that you would do if you had been requested to phone up your grandmother’s cat. It might be polite. It might make some people happy. But the conversation is going to be pretty much a waste of time from start to finish.
“Hi Doogie,” I said. “Just finalising the details for this charity film night that we’re organising.”
“Oh very good,” he said. “Well done.”
“Have you decided yet what charity you want to run for?”
“Fine. Got any thoughts about the film we should be watching?”
“Well I was hearing about this film last week. Have you heard of Lawrence of Arabia?”
“Yes, rather surprisingly I HAVE heard of Lawrence of Arabia.”
“Well apparently it’s not a bad film.”
“Very good, Doogie. It may surprise you to know that not only have I heard of Lawrence of Arabia, but I have actually seen it. It goes on for one hell of a long time and, more to the point, there is not a single woman in it with a speaking part.”
“But it’s supposed to be set in a desert!”
“That’s good, Doogie, it IS set in a desert, but nevertheless, this is definitely a guy flick and seeing as it’s the women who are going to be in charge of the social diaries and it’s the women who are going to be coughing up for this event, then it’s probably best if we go for a film that the women are going to like.”
“Like what? Sahara? I like Sahara! Or The Mummy! I like the Mummy too! And I like the Mummy 2, too! That’s very funny, isn’t it?”
“I’ll bet you like the Mummy 3, too.”
“There is no Mummy 3.”
“Shut up and listen,” I said. “The film that we are going to be watching is Shakespeare in Love.”
“Coo.” The Doogie is momentarily silenced. “Shakespeare in Love? What’s that about?”
“It’s about a guy called Shakespeare. Wrote some plays.”
I can envision Doogie still trying to grasp the concept of this film. “Is it set in a desert?”
“No it’s not,” I said. And then inspiration strikes. “But in the very last scene of the film, there is a beach which looks like a desert. Will that do you?”
“If it’s got a bit of desert in it, then that’ll be fine.”
Time for another of those perky, uplifting calls that I so live for with the Doogie. We had a long run over the weekend, and you know, it’s good sometimes just to check up on your old running buddy - just to see that they’re still fit, hale and hearty, and that they’ve been stretching properly. By the way, that is one of the few disadvantages of being a young ‘un like the Doogie: you can’t be bothered to stretch, your muscles get tighter and tighter and then TWANG, your Achilles has gone and that’s you down £3,600 and out of the Marathon des Sables for another year.
He answered the phone in the usual cheery, chirpy fashion that reminds me why it was that, three years ago, I first signed up to do the Marathon des Sables with Doogie.
“Yeah,” he says. “What do you want?”
“Hi Doogie,” I say. “How are you?”
“Stiff as a bloody board. Why are you calling?”
“Just because,” I said. “I’m not just here for the bad things in life. I’m here, even on those days when you’re not out training - which, now that I think of it, probably accounts for most of your week. I’m just calling for a natter.”
“Okay.” The sound of scrunching. Oh my sweet aunt - he’s onto the crisps. Crunch-crunch-munch. The sound of Doogie eating crisps in my ear can send the hairs juddering up the nape of my neck.
“Doogie - dearest Doogie,” I said. “Can you please, please do me a favour and not eat crisps while I am talking to you on the phone? You’re making me feel ill.”
Munch-munch-munch. “What did you say?”
“Stop eating those bloody crisps! You’re driving me crazy!”
“Cooo,” he says. “Tetchy.” He now does something which I find is, possibly, even more irritating. Very softly in the background, I can hear the crisp packet rustling. He delves into the packet, quietly places the crisps into his mouth and then starts to sort of suck and chew on them.
“Who taught you table manners?” I said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Nobody. Why do you ask?”
“Nothing - nothing at all,” I said.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “How are we going to get down to Farnham for this Pilgrim race?”
“I don’t know. I thought you were organising it.”
“Trains and planes are pretty pricy these days. Have you seen how much the sleeper is?”
“Don’t tell me - we’re driving.”
“It’ll be really good fun -”
“Yeah - about as much fun as the last time we drove down to a race.”
“Exactly! And we can stop off at the Westmorland Farm Shops again and have a couple of their Growlers!” [Westmorland Farm Shops, by the way, is a service station on the M6 just close to Penrith, and it is the best service station I have ever been to. By far. Their speciality in the farm shop is the Growler, a beef pie with horseradish, but they do at least another 15 types of cold pie. I could not recommend the place more highly - though I’m told the shops are better on the route south than when you’re heading north.]
“Oh yes,” I said. “The famous Growler!”
“And I hear,” he said, “That they’ve got a new pie with a new recipe. It’s going to be called the Brazilian Growler.”
“It’s a very funny joke, isn’t it? Ginny loved it.”
The Doogie and I were out running Edinburgh’s Seven Hills this morning - hardly a cloud in the sky and Doogie, for once, was not moaning.
In fact… in fact the Doogie was EXCITED. Next month we’re going on another little training run in Farnham on a stretch of the Pilgrim’s Way. Sixty-six miles in a couple of days and, much more excitingly, we’ll be spending one night in a gym with the other 220 runners. Ear-plugs can be quite handy.
“But have you seen the race email??” says the Doogie. Very eager.
“No - what does it say?”
“It’s amazing!” he says. “I even got you a print-out! Read this!”
I stop running. I read. This is what the Doogie is so excited about: “In regards to bathing facilities there are plenty of showers though these will be shared meaning males and females will be showering in the same blocks. Please do note however that each cubicle has a door you can easily lock for privacy.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “So you’re excited, are you?”
“Yes!” he said. “Very!”
“And what are you going to do in these showers?”
“Well I’m just going to shower. But maybe I’ll drop the soap. Maybe I’ll offer my shampoo. There are lots of possibilities! Did I tell you about my six-pack?”
“Yes, you did tell me about the six-pack. But I thought you needed 30 minutes in the gym to put the pack into position.”
“True,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll have a gym there.”
“Tell you what. Why don’t you stride through the shower-room and then, accidentally-like, drop your towel. And there you are - floundering around, naked as the day you were born, trying to pick it up.”
“The hotties are just going to love you!”
Later, we were running down Arthur’s Seat, the last of the Seven Hills. We came across Sara Whitby and her buddy Jane Raven. Introductions were made - the Doogie stands there slobbering and sweaty. In social situations, it’s usually best when he keeps his mouth shut.
“Tell me,” says Jane. “You two look very similar - are you brothers?”
Ahhhh! Such sweet music to my ears. And strangely enough, we have heard this before from another couple of runners - who actually thought we were twins.
The Doogie visibly blenched. Perhaps it’s because I just happen to have 12 years on him.
“That’s right,” I said to Jane. “We’re brothers!”
How I love to see the Doogie squirm. Boy was he squirming!
Eventually he comes up with a suitably acidic response. “He’s my dad!” says the Doogie.
We continued to jog. “So how’s my little brother getting on?” I asked.
“I don’t look anything like you,” he said. He’s hurting. Real bad.
“Well - Jane certainly thinks we’re brothers. Very intelligent woman, you know.”
“Maybe it’s just because we’re both really sweaty -”
“Yeah maybe - and maybe you just haven’t aged quite so well as some people round here…”
We have been wondering what are the perks of running 60 miles a week - apart, of course, from suddenly becoming God’s Gift to Women.
One of the more noticeable perks is that I can now guzzle down whatever I want - second helpings? Yes please! - and I can also drink bottle after bottle of Barolo, and yet still the weight drops off me. I reckon I am seriously weighing what I used to weigh 20 years ago; if only I’d kept all my ultra-cool drain-pipes.
So, it has been quite a fillip this New Year to see that most of my friends (Charlie Ottley please note) have turned themselves into the most obscene porkers, with bellies that bulge over too tight trousers, while meanwhile… well basically I guess I look like I’ve got a tapeworm.
“Any other perks to all this stinking exercise that we’re doing?” I asked the Doogie. We were on a light seven-miler round Arthur’s Seat and the Innocent Railway.
“Well I’ve got a six-pack!” he said.
“You’ve got a six-pack?” I. Was. Incredulous. “You’re joking!”
“No mate - it’s a real six-pack.”
“Well let’s have a look then.”
“No - I haven’t got it now. Takes about half-an-hour working on my abs in the gym - and THEN I’ve got a six-pack.”
“I like to look at myself in the mirror. I like to touch myself -”
“Okay, okay! Too much information, Doogie! Any other perks of this training?”
“Ummm,” he said. “Well, I don’t sweat so much. The ladies… when they see me in the gym… they’re checking me out.”
“It must be a very low-grade gym that you’re a member of.”
The Doogie ran his fingers through his hair. He does that sometimes when we run - especially when there’s a woman coming in the opposite direction. “Hello lady!” he called to the twenty-something woman who was out jogging with some guy.
“Hello lady?” I said. “Have you gone mad?”
“I thought it was two women!” he said. “I was going to say, “Hello ladies!” and then I saw that it was just the one, so I had to say, “Hello lady!”
“You sound like a Thai escort girl.”
“Oh I know!” said Doogie. “I like wearing all these skin-tight clothes. The lycra shorts. I like them! Sometimes at night…”
“I DON’T WANT TO KNOW!”
“And people they just… they just look at me differently now. Once I tell the ladies that I’m running the toughest foot race on earth this April, they just -”
“Turn to putty in your hands.”
“Sort of - I mean Ginny doesn’t like it, but you know, I think it’s all these endorphines and pheromones that I’m chugging out -”
“You’re like a dog on heat!”
“That’s right!” he says. Happily. “I AM like a dog on heat. My sex drive’s gone through the roof!”
“And it was already pretty high to start off with.”
“Who told you that?”
“Anyway - I’ll bet Ginny’s really pleased.”
“She is! At least she says she is!”
A phone call from the Doogie-Monster. He leaves a message. It sounds urgent. I call him back.
“Hey Bill!” he says.
“What’s happened now?”
“Ahhh. Yes. Well it’s just about your blog.”
“What about my blog?”
“Well… Ginny’s not happy. She doesn’t think you’re being strictly fair to me.”
“But she’s married to you! She knows you’re a whinger - even more than I do! Even Chicken McMicking says you’re a whiner!”
“Well that’s as may be,” says The Doogie. Somewhat primly. “But she has also come to appreciate certain other of my qualities which you have yet to understand.”
“This is all sounding faintly disgusting,” I said. “Can we save it for the desert?”
“Anyway!” he trills. “I’ve had a… A GOOD IDEA!”
A good idea. From the Doogie-Monster. Well. I suppose it’s possible. In the same way that it’s possible that there may yet be some parallel universe out there where I have somehow contrived to end up marrying the Doogie and having his children.
“Yes?” I said. A tone of, I don’t, world weariness. Maybe ennui. Just, you know, a general tiredness with life.
“It’s great!” said the Doogie. “You’re gonna -”
“Don’t tell me. I’m gonna… LURVE it.”
“Yeah, that’s right man!” he said. “You’re gonna LURVE it!”
“Well hit me.”
“Well it’s like this, see?” he said. “We’ve forked out £3,600 for this desert run and we’re going to get a whole load of sponsors for our chosen charities -”
“What is your charity?”
“Don’t know yet, but anyway, the point is that I thought we might, ought, perhaps to consider the possibility that we, I mean I, might not complete the race.”
“Yeah - bit of a bummer having to hand all that sponsorship money back.”
“So what I - we - me and Ginny were thinking is… why don’t we have a film night?”
“A film night?”
“Yeah! Put on some film at the Dominion. Lay on a few drinkies. Kind of like a cocktail party. I could make a speech if you like. And then…”
I was catching up. Fast!
“And then if we don’t finish the race, we still get to keep the money!” I said. “It’s brilliant! We just say, ‘Thanks very much, hoped you enjoyed the film. Sorry we got blisters and pulled out of the race - but they were hurting real bad’.”
“So…” said the Doogie. “You like it?”
“No, I don’t like it,” I said. “I LOVE IT! This is going to be great! It’s going to be fantastic! It’s certainly a better way of making money than having to tramp through the Sahara!”
“Okay,” says the Doogie. “What movie are we going to show? Ice Cold in Alex? The Rise of the Phoenix? The English Patient?”
“Hmmmm…” I said. “Now that… that is going to need some thought…”
Two very different runs at the weekend - with two very different characters.
First up: The Doogie. I had to drive out to his home in North Berwick, plant my younger son, and then wait for him at the Marine Hotel.
“I’m going to be grumpy,” he’d warned me the previous night.
“I’ve never known you anything but grumpy,” I replied. Tartly.
Anyway - he did not disappoint. He arrived ten minutes late and immediately started moaning about children or some twaddle like that. Is that why we run - so that I can listen to him bellyaching about his kids?
“Can we talk about something else?” I said.
“I’ll be glad when this is all over.”
“What - this run? We’ve only been going for ten minutes!”
“No - not this run. The whole Marathon des Sables stuff. It’s boring.”
“Well it’s lucky you’ve worked that out before we got to the desert.”
“It’s just boring. Running is boring.”
“Yeah - but you, of course, are not boring. Have you paid up your two grand yet?”
“What two grand?”
“The race money that is due on Monday.”
“Oh, yeah - that. Yeah. I’m thinking about it.”
“Do you always get out of bed on the wrong side?”
We tramped off to Gullane on the roads and then back to North Berwick on the beach - virgin beaches where nobody ever goes. Muirfield beach is a real gem, but you’ll never see a family there, as it’s quite a hike. The beach is only really accessible via the golf course and, surprise, surprise, regular punters are not allowed to tramp through the course.
The Doogie had several things to complain about. He had wet feet and sand in his shoes.
“I’m going to get blisters,” he said.
“Are you sure you’re cut out for this desert run?” I asked.
“I’m not sure at all,” he said. “I’m only doing it because you’re making me.”
“Me?” I said. “Me?! How old are you - 35?? And you’re blaming me for this desert run?”
“My feet hurt.” A pause. “And I think I need to go. Have you got any toilet paper?”
The next morning, I went for a run with the altogether more civilised and grump-free Angus McLean. My cousin-in-law. We were running The Seven Hills. Angus was very excited.
“I’ve never done the seven hills before,” he said. “Is it going to be fun?”
“It’s going to be more than fun,” I said. “You’re going to love it!”
How refreshing to be running with somebody who is not constantly bellyaching about their feet/stomach/legs/children/general tiredness…
“I’m loving this!” said Angus. We were trotting up Craiglockhart, my favourite of all the hills. Some tough nuts take the direct route, but we go up the stairs, wending our way through the trees with all those hidden bowers for lovers and for dreamers.
“I’m surprised you haven’t signed up this Marathon des Sables bollocks,” I said.
“Naaah,” he said. “You’ve got to be certifiably insane to do something like that.”
Sometimes as I run, I plug in my ear-phones. I don’t listen to music. I listen to books. I have finally got round to Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. I have at least six copies of the book at home. But I’ve had an allergy to the book since school, and though I have started it many times over, I have never finished it.
And now I am onto another schoolboy allergy: A Tale of Two Cities. Not as good as the Hemingway.
But most of the time, I’m just running and this endless screed of thoughts rolls through my head, as my mind flits from sandy hills and rocks and unending desert, and then onto books I might read or write, and projects that might come off, but probably won’t, but invariably my thoughts return to all things sand.
I occasionally run through the wilder parts of Edinburgh at night - the Braid Hills and Blackford Hill, tramping through woods in pitch as pitch darkness, trees looming in the mist as the wind shrieks through the forest. I have never seen another person there. You’d have to be slightly mad to be running in these places at night.
And I wonder what the plan will be if and when I ever finish this wretched race. Another piece of running nuttery? Cycling? Or maybe some swimming venture. I’m not very good at swimming. Well I’m good at breaststroke, but I can’t swim fast. I’d love to be able to do mile after effortless mile, but so far this skill has eluded me…
A sort of windy-ish day in Edinburgh. Well… how windy was it? Check out this footage on Youtube of a bin being blown down one of my neighbouring streets…
Meanwhile… of much more more importance. What would the Doogie say? Would the Doogie come out running?
“It’s windy,” he said.
“So what’s your point?”
“Well it’s wet too.”
“And… I don’t really feel like running.”
“God you are pathetic.”
“Well look!” says the Doogie-monster. “It’s freezing! It’s raining! And it’s blowing 102 mph! What sort of preparation is that for the Marathon des Sables?”
“Maybe we should book ourselves a fortnight in the Canaries? Nice and hot. Bit of sand. Is that the sort of prepping you want?”
“Yeah!” says the Doogie. Greatly enthused. “Can Ginny come too?”
“Look - idiot!” I said. “The Marathon des Sables has nothing at all to with heat or desert or blisters or not drinking enough water! It’s about a state of mind. It’s about toughing it out. It’s about… it’s about GRIT!”
“Yeah,” says the Doogie. “And that’s another thing I’m not happy about. You’ve been really misquoting me in your blog. That last one about the pork scratchings. I would never - never, ever - say, ‘I like pork scratchings - me’. You make me sound like a Geordie!”
“God you are a whiner. I so hate whiners. Are you going to be as bad as this in the Sahara?”
“Heyyy! The Sahara??” Still this note of amazement. “Hang on now - how long have we got until we have to fork up the 2K”?
“January 10, my friend.”
“Well… can I see how I feel?”
“Yeah, you just take your time, old buddy.”
So… anyway… in the teeth of the gale, I went for a run along the Union Canal and then the Water of Leith; a cheeky little ten-miler. Blustery. I don’t think I’ve ever been out in such a gale. At least seven trees had been blown over along the Water of Leith, including one huge trunk that now stretches across the river. I wonder… I wonder if I dare climb across it… Slippery. And quite a drop. But I am so tempted.