Last night a board game saved my life (from boring TV)

Old memories of playing board games fill me with both wonderful nostalgia and awful awkwardness. Traditional (and extremely popular) games such as Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit promised to be amazing but often turned out to be quite disappointing. Who might have had an experience (maybe at Christmas) where someone has suggested ‘who wants to play a game?’, ‘it’ll be fun!’, followed by cries of ‘oh no, they are really boring’.

Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are objectively bad games. There I said it. They take too long, rely too much on luck and rarely end in a close finish. You will often have a clear winner about half way through and have to watch them coast home for another hour. Despite this, I always loved the idea of boardgames. Doing a social thing with people I like, using my brain and with the promise of drama. I like that there is a focus to meeting up rather than just random chat (although I like that too).

After something like a 25 year interlude between playing boardgames as a teenager I was introduced to the hobby again in 2017 by a work colleague. Boy, things have changed! When I was young there was perhaps ten boardgames (20 tops) to choose from, now there are literally hundreds of (really good) boardgames that come out every year. Even people whose job it is to review games could never hope to play them all.

From this introduction into the new world of ‘modern’ boardgames I now find it being one of my main sedentary hobbies. I run a lunchtime boardgame club at work, I organise a regular meet-up for friends and I go to a friendly members only group through ‘Meetup’. I’m hooked.

Modern boardgames seem to be a rapidly growing hobby just bursting with innovation and enthusiasm. I hazard a guess that there is now a game out there for everyone, even ones that say that this is not their bag.

Next time, i’ll talk about my favourite games and how i plan my own small but growing collection.

Still terrified on a campout

Since discovering this microadventure malarky back in July 2015 I have slept out under the stars (not in a tent) a minimum of once a month (and often a lot more often) since. A majority of these have been with other people but quite a number have been on my own.

I love a campout with others, in fact I organise trips pretty regularly in autumn, winter and spring, but going on my own is still very special. Why is it special?

Because I still find it damn well scary, that’s why!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be sent on a work trip to Aberystwyth in Wales and while I was here I thought it would be lovely to walk up the coast and campout on a clifftop. After weeks of hot and balmy weather, fate waited till I was at the seaside and made it rain with high winds. Not ideal campout weather but you go with what youve got. By the time I was looking for a place to bed down, the rain had at least stopped but there was a ferocious wind and I found a disused lime kiln on a beach that looked like perfect shelter. The downside being, it was right next to a house.

Aberystwyth microadventure

My normal procedure is to get out of sight and wait for dark before I unpack my bivvy and sleeping bag. As it was quite stony in the kiln I did get my therm-a-rest out to sit on. Just as I did, a dog appeared and gave me a friendly sniff, then another dog hove into view and finally a teenage girl, presumably from the house, walked by. Oh no, i’ve been spotted! I then had a nervous couple of hours wondering if the grown ups in the house were going to come and tell me to bugger off or worse.

This is the thing, the sane me, currently sat in a cafe all warm and snug knows that nothing bad was going to happen. The ‘me’ at the time, however, had the wind howling, the gulls crying and a deep feeling of vulnerability. Were a bunch of guys going to come out of the house, maybe a bit boozed up, and beat me up? Was an angry farmer going to chuck me off his beach? [Can the beach be owned??].

Obviously my night was was totally fine, apart from seeing a mouse that did make me jump. Rodents aside, I had an uneventful night listening the the waves crash on the beach. I got up early, packed up, made coffee and got out of the area.

After nearly two years of sleeping out I think of myself as a fairly ‘seasoned microadventurer’ but this just highlights that the magic is still there.

I think I actually love the ‘edge’ that putting myself in these situations creates. A little bit of fear actually makes these feel like an adventure and as experienced as I might be, they are still special. I can’t wait for my next one! Who needs a comfort zone all the time!

The Invisible Adventure

Why do I like to go to the top of mountains? Why do I like to sleep outdoors on a winter night? Why cycle 200 miles visiting 12 castles? Is it because I love these things for themselves or is it because I can brag about them on facebook and instagram? Is success measured by how I felt or by how many ‘likes’ I get?

The last question has been haunting me a little bit lately. It is a sign of modern times that we (or at least I) judge myself and others at least partially on the ‘cool’ stuff that they do and then share. I’m not proud of this.

I’ve been telling myself that I really do love the outdoors for the joy that it brings to my heart and that I don’t need any recognition. Or do I?

The test is to think up something that I think is super cool and then do it without posting a thing about it. Don’t say where I’ve gone, don’t post any pictures and don’t blog about it. Simple right? Well, I’ve planned a mini trip and if I was going to put my money where my mouth is, this is a great opportunity. The problem, and why I’ve written this post at all is that when it has come to the crunch, I find myself being pretty disappointed not to be able shout about it. What have I become?

It has made me all the more determined to try it out anyway.


Microadventure: Bath Skyline

I’m lucky in that my job occasionally takes me around the country (and sometimes even abroad). So when I had a speaking engagement booked in Bristol it was obvious to see if I could squeeze in a #microadventure.

Bath microadventure

My adventure friend Emma is lucky enough to live in Bath (conveniently close to Bristol) and was kind enough to scout a few locations for us. By the time I arrived though, lady luck did initially look a bit against us. It was raining steadily and all the pubs were completely full due to the Bath vs Bristol Rugby match. After a swift half and a gastro pub dinner (we are classy microadventurers!) we were on our way climbing up the steep atmospheric streets of Bath.

Bath microadventure

I like to think that I’m not overly superstitious but when crossing a field our head torches caught what seemed like a thousand devil eyed creatures charging towards us. Don’t panic, it wasn’t devils, it was cows but they were definitely running our way which is worrying enough. I did my usual tactic when confronted by cows which is to stand my ground and wait for them to stop. They stopped. Big sigh of relief all round.

Bath microadventure

We made the skyline and were able to find a mostly convenient spot away from the path with some trees to rig a tarp. At least by now the rain had stopped and there were even a few stars about. As well as a shelter the (camouflaged) tarp also made us very tricky to spot. The night was cold but it was dry and I was warm enough in my sleeping bag plus a few more layers.

Bath microadventure

The morning was bitter cold but a warming cup of coffee and a bit of malt loaf did the trick of reviving us enough to get going.

16 campouts in 2016
Instead of just coffee I had been tempted to bring some booze as this was my 16th campout of the year and the target that I set myself in January. In just over a year I’ve gone from someone who had never slept outdoors without at least a tent to what feels like a microadventure veteran.

The question did arise as to what I should do next year – 17 challenges in 2017. Some early thoughts:

What was definitely a wonderful bit of luck was the amazing sunrise over a frosty field that welcomed our walk back into Bath. About five minutes after this it started raining. Every gorgeous sunrise just fills my heart with joy and makes it sing.

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

A fantastic night out to complete this challenge. I’m sure i’ll be doing more campouts but I’m sure I won’t be keeping score from now on.

A huge thanks to Emma who was such a great adventure companion!

Injury update (Feb 16)

So I busted my knee on December 7th (a date that will live in infamy) doing something as innocuous as turning round. As an aside I always think of some injuries being ‘noble’ if you were doing something especially cool or adventurous. Busting my knee base jumping from the top of The Shard or climbing the north face of the Eiger are the type of thing i’d rather say what did it.

Anyway, after a month or so of carrying a limp and another month of modest levels of discomfort I finally got an appointment with a knee specialist at the Hospital. He was not able to be very specific, it still seems to be a toss-up between a meniscal tear and a anterior ligament injury. The following week I had an MRI (that i fell asleep in) but i’ll have to wait till my next appointment in mid-March to find out the results. It goes without saying that this is quite frustrating!

On the plus side, I walk almost entirely without pain now and only get the odd twinge. Over the last few weeks i’ve been introducing the lightest of mini-runs into my fitness sessions. I’m not quite sure how much to push things and i’ll be honest, i’m terrified of having a relapse. Despite this i’m starting to feel that light is at the end of the tunnel and all this will be over at some point.

Being surrounded, as I am often these days, by fantastically adventurous souls doing amazing things, it does get me down a bit not being able to join in.

Looking to get properly stuck in soon!

Annual Report 2015

Since 2009 I have been keeping a record of certain things in my life. Here is a roundup of 2015.

Over the last few years I’ve been increasing the amount of fitness activities that I do. To get logged it must involve a change of clothes/footwear. I tend to log minutes of activity rather than distance as it is a lot easier.

  • Running (in a year I did the marathon) – 3251 mins or 54.2 hours (2014 – 1130 mins)
  • Swimming – 175 mins or 2.9 hours (2014 – 0 mins)
  • Circuit training (BMF and Project Awesome) – 4565 mins or 76 hours (2014 – 6050 mins)
  • Cycling (mostly off-road) – 385 mins or 6.4 hours (2014 – 105 mins)
  • Kayaking – 160 mins or 2.6 hours (2014 – 0 mins)
  • Walking (hills/mountains) – 2800 mins or 46.6 hours (2014 – 900 mins)

321.6 hours of exercise! Not bad eh?

Given that I love films and going to the movies I have seen a paltry eight films this year. Exercise and TV at home have muscled their way in!

‘Inside Out’ was easily my favourite, not least because I was crying like a baby from the warm up short ‘Lava’ and blubbing and hugging my daughter by the end of the main feature. I also found Jurassic World quite a guilty pleasure.

Movies at home
I saw 69 movies in the comfort of my own home this year, down marginally from 71 last year. The pick of the bunch from new films that I saw was probably The Raid 2 on Netflix. Absolutely jaw-dropping fight scenes.

TV shows
I watched what looks like a lot of telly this year, something like 289 hours of it! This looks like a massive number but it does boil down to only 5.6 hours a week which isn’t even an hour a day. This encompasses over 50 series (seasons) of various lengths.

The highlight was re-watching the entire five series of Breaking Bad (still one of the finest things ever on telly). This was closely followed by series 3 of House of Cards which has managed to keep up the exceptionally high standards of the first two. I also have a big soft spot for the legal drama ‘Suits’, now in series 3.

On the low point I started watching ‘Sons of Anarchy’ but it wasn’t grabbing me and I found the gender politics pretty irredeemable.

I managed to finish 20 books this year which seems to be about my average. The theme seems to have been that I’ve re-read a number of books in 2015 including all the Hornblower series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and one of my favourite books ‘The Right Stuff’ by Tom Wolfe.

Of the new books, reading ‘Fatal Passage’ by Ken McCoogan on my arctic explorer hero Dr John Rae is the highlight. I’m sure i’ll be re-reading this at some time.

View (and comment) on the 2015 Annual Report spreadsheet for the full details.


Goals 2014

OK, this is where I dream up a few little projects to take me through the year.

There is a two prong approach to my photography this year. Firstly, I’m keen to concentrate on taking as many portrait pictures as I can. I’m wary of setting any specifics goals here but I’d hope to do better than the 22 I took in 2011. Secondly I’m going to at least start a ‘Project 365 – one photo a day’ thing. I’ve already done this twice, in 2008 and 2011 so this year fits the pattern nicely. This time, I’ve decided to try and do it entirely in black and white, mostly because I’ve liked some of my greyscale work recently but also because it would give a uniform feel to the collection.

For no obvious or necessary reason I quite fancy mastering at least three types of knot. I was quite into sailing for a few years but even then I struggled with some of the basics such as bow lines. It would feel nice to get this right.

Northwood War Memorial
Well over a year ago I started work on tracking down a few details about the men on the war memorial in Northwood, where I went to school. The intention is to put this on the web as a possibly handy resource for researchers. It would feel good to finish it.

Classical Music
A couple of years ago I tried to buy a new music album each month, something I largely really enjoyed. I’d quite like to do something similar but with classical music. It would be great to expand my collection and knowledge here.

This one is the real wildcard – I would really love to keep chickens and this year could be my best chance to do it. There are plenty of pitfalls, problems and a lot of hard work but I think it would be great if I can pull it off.

One year of mud and press ups

One year ago I was feeling that I had lost my mojo for fitness and was almost ready to concede that that was how things would be. The towel was in my hand and about to be thrown in. I made half hearted attempts at the occasional run and did (and still do) about an hours walk every day to work. I needed a shake up.

Today, a year on, I’m feeling really good, have toned up a little, lost a bit of love handle and am still raring to go. Where has this change come from? From the slightly scary sounding ‘British Military Fitness’ (or BMF) that is where. For me the military bit is the only thing that made me doubt going for it as I wasn’t really after a super macho shouting thing, which is what I presumed I’d get. To be fair, what you do get is fantastic motivation and encouragement to push yourself just that bit further than you thought and this is great.

Over the last 12 months then, I’ve found myself running round parks, doing all sorts if seemingly strange exercises, challenging myself but having a huge amount of fun doing it. I find it quite difficult to articulate to people who haven’t been exactly why I actively enjoy doing press ups in the mud or holding a plank for several minutes on a cold, dark winters evening. A lot of folk that I tell this to are, not unreasonably, horrified at the prospect. If only I could get them to try?

BMF is not free, however, and at £50 a month is about the same as most gym memberships. This does entitle you unlimited sessions at the 20 or so parks in London and the dozens more around the country and if you so desired, and had the energy for, you could go several times a day, all week. For me, this is a great deal and the fact that you do all this outdoors is a huge bonus. I don’t hate gyms, but I would rather be outside.

I am now exercising three times a week, two BMFs and a 25 min jog but feel that I could do more if I had time. I’d especially love to add a swim in somewhere but praps I shouldn’t be greedy?

In a year my personal fitness has come a long way but at the moment I feel that I’m still some way from my peak and as a 40 year old that sounds good. I’m certainly the fittest I’ve been in many years and long may it continue!

Museum Zombie Apocalypse

One day the dead will rise, walk the earth and attempt to devour the living. If you happen to work in a museum, the obvious question is ‘Does this museum have the collection and venue that will help me survive?’.

How do you kill or hold off a zombie?
As anyone who has seen almost any zombie film, you need get one of these un-dead types in the head, preferably decapitating them. If you cannot do that and you can’t keep them out of the building then you are lunch!

Lets examine some museums in London on their chances of surviving and see if we can’t find the best place to work in?

National Gallery
I’m a huge fan of the NG but I have to say that when it comes to having a useful collection, this may not be the best place to be. Some of those picture frames are pretty solid but trying to wield one at a zombie doesn’t sound very practical. Using a Constable as a shield might only offer the smallest of reprieves too.

I think it’s game over for the staff of the NG!

Natural History Museum
I used to work here so have a soft spot for the old place, but I have my doubts about how useful the collection would be in a zombie crisis situation. Trays of insects, stuffed mammals and dried plants don’t sound very promising. The best bet sounds like the significant quantity of rocks they have for bashing or throwing at the slavering undead horde as they shuffle their way in!

Sorry NHM, I think it is probably dinner time for the zombies!

Museum of London
Obviously we need to get our hands on something useful so how about the large and diverse collection at MoL? At first things look promising as there areobjects such as dueling pistols, muskets, swords, daggers, armour and even a few bombs. It all starts to unravel when we find there is no gunpowder for the guns, the swords are old and mostly blunt and have you ever tried running in armour? Naturally the bombs have been decommissioned (you would normally be glad to hear). If they can hold the zombie mob outside there is even a bit of food in the collection to keep them going – tins of whalemeat and dried eggs from WW2 anyone?

I’m afraid they are gonners!

Imperial War Museum
Ok, time to wheel out the big guns, in this case literally. Tanks, artillery, rifles, machine guns, bayonets, the IWM has loads of them! Now we are talking right, surely this is the place to be? Wrong – none of these things can fire so much as a dried pea. It’s all talk and no trouser as my Gran would have said. I’m not sure i’d want to rely on bayoneting a zombie!

I fear they are all zombie food!

Don’t panic though, there is an answer. There is one place, actually a group of several museums within a Palace where the staff should be safe as the crown jewels. This is apt as it is where they store the crown jewels.

The Tower of London
It’s in an actual intact fortress for a start, one specifically designed to keep unwanted folk out. With the Royal Armouries and the Royal Fusilier Museums there are plenty of swords guns and armour to help clonk o few zombies.

The best thing of course is that with all the Guardsmen and Beefeaters, there are actual trained members of the armed forces on hand to help. And they have actual guns that work and (I assume) have real bullets.

If you’ve seen 28 days later, then the prospects of putting your trust in soldiers, particularly if you’re a women, might potentially have one or two downsides. You have a good chance of surviving though!

Can your museum (or art gallery) do better?
I’ve picked on these few museums and I think I’ve found a winner, but if you think different or if you think I’ve been unfair, leave a comment below.

Alternatively, give it a mention on twitter with the hashtag #museumzombieapocalypse

I notice there is a great sounding Science Museum Late called ‘The Science of Zombies‘ on 30th Jan 2013

Annual Report 2012

Another year and another set of growing data on the things I’ve been doing. I first started recording stuff in 2008 and each year I add new things. I’ve someway to go before I’m even close to my personal stats hero – Nicholas Felton. One day maybe?

At the start of the year I set myself a number of achievable looking goals. Let’s see how I got on?

Write more – I managed to write a (short) daily blog post for the entire year with no gaps, which I actually quite enjoyed and probably means that I can score this one as a victory. If I was being tough on myself I would have also liked to have written some longer pieces, stories or history items but this never really happened. One to continue next year maybe?

Read more – In year’s gone by I seem to have read between 20-25 books a year so I set myself the goal of reading 30. In the end I started 32 and finished 29. I think I would have easily exceeded 30 if another goal – television – hadn’t come in and interrupted my evening reading. I’m still pleased that I was only just shy of my target, especially as quite a few books were fairly thick.

Quality TV –  After years of barely watching any decent TV at all, this year has been a wonderful success. With the introduction of an iPad and Netflix into my life in May I’ve virtually stopped watching scheduled television at all. In addition to the TV, I’ve also managed to watch quite a few films. All this has been good but has meant that more often than not I spend the evening with earphones on with the iPad on the sofa arm which is all a bit anti-social.

Become a Pie-master – Having done almost no pastry before i’ve had quite a few goes at it this year and been pretty pleased with my results. I think ‘master’ might be pushing it but i’m going to score this as another victory.

Learn some Magic Tricks – This is a task that was rolled over from 2011 and i’ve still not done it so I think I might let this one drop for the time being. Hopefully I’ll pick it up again another time.

Grow Wheat – This was always going to be a bit ambitious and not very surprising that it hasn’t been done. I still make bread every week, however.

Touch Typing – I started this goal with enthusiasm and got so far (all the middle keys and some of the top row) but it petered out. This is an enormous shame as I think this is holding me back in the writing that I’d like to do. I definitely aim to crack this one in 2013.

I saw 22 films at the cinema this year, much less than i expected. Partly this was down to Doing fitness classes in the evening towards the end of the year (I didn’t see a film past mid Nov) and partly because I was happy to go home and watch ‘quality’ TV. My top 3 films on the big screen:

  1. Shame
  2. Berberian Sound Studios
  3. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Movies (at home)
A new category this year, films watched at home on the small screen (often the iPad). I somehow watched 49 films, not including half watching Disney films with the children. The revelation for me this year was finally seeing ‘In the Heat of the Night’ – what a corker!

I set myself a target of reading 30 books this year and I did come fairly close with completing 29. I started 2 others that I didn’t finish (‘We need to talk about Kevin’ and ‘Bad Pharma’) so i’m not going to be beating myself up about it. My standouts would be:

  1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  2. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
  3. The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer

TV Shows
Discounting the odd bit of news, children’s shows and snippets of reality shows while I eat my dinner I have watched 32 different TV series. Notably, I finished the last 2 series of ‘The Shield’, re-watched most of ‘Red Dwarf’ and surprised myself by how good the US version of ‘The Office’ is. My top shows, however, were:

  1. The Pacific
  2. Mad Men – series 2
  3. Dexter – series 2

In total, I watched 162.4 hours of Television, mostly in the form of complete series (seasons for US readers). This isn’t that much really.

Cultural Visits
I made 17 visits to Museums, Art Galleries or other cultural places during the year, which is not that great really and a figure that I’d like to improve on. They are all good, but i’ve been especially pleased with the National Maritime Museum with their new wing and exhibition space. I look forward to going to even more places next year.

This is now the second year running that I’ve not been to a single Play, Musical, Ballet or Opera. This is not good and I must make a better effort in 2013!

A good year of recording this, which in the future will be helped by being able to easily update the spreadsheet on my phone through Google Drive. Next year i’ll be adding a fitness column again plus a record of independent gourmet coffee shops.