The Establishment

The Establishment” by Owen Jones is another Brexit-inspired read, though it was actually written before the referendum and some of it has dated remarkably quickly because of that.

It reads like a long Guardian article. Or, maybe, as a collection of Guardian columns strung together, in the sense that some turns of phrase seem to repeat often. If they’d not been in one book it might have been less noticeable? And the politics are similarly left-leaning.

Overall it’s an easy read if you agree with the thrust of the argument that the West is controlled by the wealthy. It’s supported by copious notes but many are from newspapers rather then original research so I’m not sure how convincing they are.

To me the weakest bit was the “conclusions” section where suggestions are made for fixing things, but that’s probably because I wasn’t convinced they were the right ones. Of course, like any armchair pundit, however, I don’t have any better ones…

Mpow fitness tracker

I recently tried to improve my fitness levels. I decided to pick some simple options that required little in the way of equipment: swimming and jogging. After a while, I wanted to better track my activities and started looking at what gadgets were available. My requirements were simple and cheap (less than £50), ideally tracking heart rate as well as steps. Waterproof would be nice to have so I could swim with it too.

This wouldn’t be my first attempt. A few years ago I had one of the original Jawbone Up bracelets. It tracked my steps and sleep. It synced with my iPhone using the headphone jack, which was a bit fiddly but worked. How has the market progressed since then?

FitBit seems to be the leader if you discount the Apple Watch (which I did, for price reasons). Their gear seems to be well regarded but was a bit pricier than I’d hoped. Then I stumbled on this MPOW bracelet. I’d had good luck with MPOW before (with these wireless headphones) and decided to give it a try. It met all my criteria: cheap, waterproof, step and heart rate monitors. And, like most modern trackers, it synced using Bluetooth. It was about half the price of the cheapest FitBit and a third of the price of their equivalent unit that has a display and heart-rate monitor. Too good to be true?

First impressions were good. It fits well on your wrist and the display is clear. The step counter seems accurate and the heart-rate monitor fairly closely matches the (less convenient) equipment in the gym. The sleep tracking seems a little dubious but works about as well as the Jawbone Up I had a few years ago. I get about a week’s usage on a single charge.

Contrary to some of the comments I’ve seen, the software does sync with the Health app on the iPhone.

The biggest complaint I have is that, despite being waterproof, it doesn’t really understand swimming; it records your heart-rate but it doesn’t register as exercise. You may also be disappointed if you’re hoping to be able to see notifications from your phone. I found that it didn’t work reliably. Maybe it works better on Android?

Finally, the app sometimes appears to go a bit crazy and takes a ridiculous amount of my phone’s battery.

I’m not clear what triggers it but it’s annoying.

Overall, though, they’re really just quibbles considering the price. Is it as good as the equivalent FitBit? Probably not. But it’s great for the price.

C25k Diary (Part 2)

To recap, I tried to complete the Couch to 5k programme because I wanted to get fitter, but I was (am) pretty unfit when I started and came across a few challenges by week three. We return as I started on week 4.

Long story short, I blazed through week four. By being conservative with week three, I was ready for a slightly harder run.

I was on a roll and just knew I’d be fine for week 5.

I found the first day quite tough but I managed.

I psyched myself up for the second day, convincing myself not only that I could do it but maybe even at a slightly higher speed.

I knew that the first stage was a five minute jog. I wasn’t paying close attention to the time but, after a while, it kind of felt like a long five minutes. I glanced at the time. 6:20. Hmm.

It turns out that my assumption that each week was the same cycle, just repeated three times, was incorrect. The first day felt like a bit of a jump; the second a stretch; the third, well, having never done more than eight minutes non-stop, running a full twenty minutes sounded practically impossible.

I did the first couple of days but chickened out doing the third day. I re-did day one and then, on a Friday when I knew that I didn’t have to be very mobile and had a two day rest, I dared the twenty minute run. And I managed it. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

To celebrate my success at week five, I decided to invest in some new running shoes. This may have been a mistake.

I did day one and two of week six. My calves and shins ached, though they recovered within an hour.

I didn’t try day three, I just wasn’t feeling ready. Instead I chose to re-do day one. But I didn’t even manage that. This was my first day when I hadn’t managed a complete run.

It made me sad until I realised this was the first time I’d been unable to finish — every other time I’d finished, even if I’d be practically walking by the end. There probably had to be a first time and week six feels like a respectable point.

I didn’t really know how to describe the ache. It took my wife to ask “Is it a shin splint?”

In retrospect, I think I had just been pushing myself too hard. The shoes may have needed a little wearing in but I’ve been using them ever since without trouble. I rested a bit, went back a couple of days in the programme, lowered my speed a little and I managed to complete the week.

Again, the lesson was to push myself but not to push too hard, to back off a little and not to be afraid to repeat either individual days or whole weeks.

Come back soon for weeks seven and eight!


This video of an elephant going for a walk reminded me of the time I rode one myself when on holiday in Thailand.

We clambered onto the wobbly wooden seat that was perched on the animals back. The driver sat in front of us just behind the elephants head. He had a worrying stick that he used to give “encouragement” and directions. There were a number of us in the group and we had a caravan of elephants, or whatever the collective noun for elephants is.

We left town, with the driver using the stick often. It looked needlessly brutal from my perspective, but the opinion of an urban westerner probably doesn’t carry much weight in this regard.

After a while we were walking beside a field. I don’t recall the crop — I want to say sugar cane — but the elephant clearly knew what it was.

He stopped. The driver hit it with the stick. He carefully turned ninety degrees, walked down the bank into the field, plucked a plant out of the ground, turned one hundred and eighty degrees, up the hill to the path, turned back in the direction we started and continued, all the while having the driver hit him with that stick with increasing vigour.

Presumably the elephant felt the stick. Presumably it knew what the man wanted, what the man was telling him. But the elephant clearly didn’t care. It wanted the food more than it cared about what the puny human wanted. “I’ll do what you ask but don’t forget who’s boss.”

I think I always loved elephants. But I loved them that little but more after this.


I don’t normally read “franchise” books. I’ve avoided Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who spin-offs but thought I’d try “Solo” featuring James Bond, mostly as as it was written by William Boyd who is one of my favourite authors.

It was a quick read, some nice twists. It has more gruesome violence than you get in the movies, which surprised me. Fleming purists may argue that it’s not the Bond of the books, but nothing offended me.

Overall not one of Boyd’s more memorable books but enjoyable.

C25k Diary

As it’s the New Year and many people are thinking about reviewing their exercise regime, I thought this might be a good time to write about my experience with Couch to 5K (C25K), a well-known programme for training anyone to be able to run five kilometres.

I should point out that this isn’t a real-time diary. I started it late last year and, as I write this, I have not yet completed a full 5km run. But — spoiler alert — I’m still making progress. There have been a few bumps on the way which, I think, is what makes this worth writing about.

My motivation for writing this is two-fold.

First, most of the advice I’ve seen on the internet about jogging is for people who are already reasonably fit or at least have some idea of what they’re doing. This doesn’t describe me.

Second, by writing this publicly I’ll be more motivated to actually finish!

But, stepping back a little, let’s talk about my background. I have not done much “formal” exercise for around a decade, by which I mean I’ve not been to a gym or done any sports. I’m active, though. By virtue of living in a city and not owning a car, I walk a lot. I did try to do C25K a couple of years ago but managed to hurt my knee so badly that I was literally limping for a couple of weeks. (The advice I’d found at the time suggested pushing past the pain. This was bad advice.)

My motivation for trying again is that I need to do more exercise! And jogging is simple, cheap and needs no specialised equipment. I decided to start indoors, in a gym, because I’m a coward and a realist. I knew that if I could find an excuse for not exercising (like it being cold, raining, dark or a Tuesday), I would use it.

So my strategy was: go to the gym every weekday, straight after dropping the kids off at school. This was because I would already be out of the house and halfway to the gym. No good excuse not to go. I’d do the C25K three days a week and swimming the two others. And I wouldn’t beat myself up if I needed to miss one or two sessions a week.

I used the C25K app. I have quibbles with it but it mostly works as advertised. You tap “Start” and it guides you through the programme, both on screen and with voice instructions. You can play music in the background, but I found that I often tried to jog to the beat rather than the pace I was trying to maintain and switched to listening to podcasts instead.

The first week is pretty simple: “a brisk five-minute warm-up walk. Then alternate between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.”

I managed it without too much difficulty. I was pleased that week two was fairly straight-forward too. The third week, however, was a challenge.

“A brisk five-minute warmup walk, then do two repetitions of the following: jog for 90 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, jog for 3 minutes, walk for three minutes.”

Given that I was finding it hard, what should be strategy be? Should I keep going but run more slowly? Should I keep repeating week 3 until I could manage it? Repeat it until I could manage it comfortably?

The app provided no advice. There was no obvious way of repeating previously completed sessions and no FAQ section. Last time I just kept going, but I ended up hurting myself and giving up. I knew what not to do.

I didn’t find much on the web. Mostly the pages were “C25K is an eight-week programme to get you running 5km.” This suggested that I shouldn’t be repeating weeks. Yet, if the daily programme is always about 30 minutes then slowing down clearly wasn’t going to work either — I’d never hit the 5km.

What was the escape valve? Give up and feel like a failure?

In the end, I found a site that advocated repeating weeks, so that’s what I did. I tried hard not to feel like a failure.

I ended up repeating week three three times before I felt happy progressing to the next week. In hindsight, I was probably a little conservative and I could have progressed earlier.

I found that the app does allow you to go back though I didn’t find it entirely obvious. If this is how you’re supposed to do it, calling them weeks is pretty misleading and, I think, doesn’t help people as unfit as myself. If they were called, say, units I wouldn’t feel so bad repeating one.

The takeaway is that even someone pretty unfit lasted a few weeks before struggling and was still able to find a way through. If I can do it, you can!

My first setback and the solution I found feels like a good place to pause. Come back soon to find how I did on weeks four onwards!

Photography, opinions and other random ramblings by Stephen Darlington