Women Runners

I’m a runner, have been for years. Whenever I see another runner coming my way, or more commonly these days, running past me I make an effort to connect. A grunt, a wave a quick eyebrow raise – you know the thing.

I don’t do this for dog walkers, people out for a stroll or cyclists, just runners – we are bonded by our runningness, we are a clan apart. Of course, when I’m on my bike I acknowledge cyclists, but that’s a different matter, when I’m running I only court the the commeraderie of other runners.

Over the decades I have been doing this I have noticed that other male runners invariably do the same, but other female runners invariably do not. I have always assumed that this is because they assume I am some sort of proto rapist. Not because I, me, Nicholas Chivers looks particularly like a proto rapist, but because I’m a man and women assume we’re all proto rapists.

But apparently not. I recounted this self same observation to my wife who is also a runner the other day. ‘No darling’ (O.K. she didn’t call me ‘darling, we’re not living in the 1950’s after all) ‘they ignore me too’.



What have these two definitions got in common?

  1. People who spend more than 10% of their income (not sure if that is net or gross) on fuel for heating
  2. Households who have an income that is 60% or less of the national median income. (National median income is currently about £360 per week after tax)

Answer – the label we put on both these definitions includes the word, ‘poverty’. ‘Fuel Poverty’ and ‘Relative Poverty’.

Having definitions like these that are clearly stated and well understood are useful. Once something is clearly defined it can be measured and tracked, then it can be debated and perhaps even changed.

But this use of the word, ‘poverty’ bothers me. It’s quite a potent word and to me conjours up images of dispossessed and hungry masses. Say ‘poverty’ and I think Victorian workhouse or aid camps in war-torn African countries. I’m in no way suggesting having to spend a large portion of your income on something as basic as keeping warm isn’t an important issue, but ‘poverty’? Really?

Now I realise I’m opening up myself to an accusation of hypocrisy here because in one of my earlier posts I argued that we should all just chill out about changing uses of words. Presumably every change in the usage of a word begins with the misuse of that word so maybe I just need to heed my own advice, but I really do feel like I’m being manipulated when I hear terms like ‘Fuel Poverty’. It probably is too much of a mouthful to go round saying, ‘People who spend more than 10% of their income on fuel for heating’ so a snappier moniker was needed, but the person who came up with ‘Fuel Poverty’ really was pushing their agenda a bit too far. “I want everyone to think this issue is as important as I do, so I’ll throw the word ‘poverty’ in there to give all the apathetic dolts out there a shock.”

And as for ‘Relative Poverty’ that’s even more contentious. Consider the final years of the last Labour government, they did a fantastic job of reducing ‘Relative Poverty’ and they achieved this miracle by some clever new initiative called ‘ruining the economy’; you see now we’re all poor, the poor are relatively richer. Doh!

Conservative Friends of Israel

Interesting article by Peter Oborne got me asking, how can most Tory cabinet ministers belong to a club called the, ‘Conservative Friends of Israel’?

Surely once you attain high office you have to be seen not to be favouring particular countries anymore? Do the holders of the great offices of state really get to pick which countries they want to be bezzy-mates with? And if they do why not France or Australia? There couldn’t be a more contentious choice for bum-chum status than Israel, a country that after 65 years still doesn’t seem to know where its borders are.

Of course money could have something to do with it. Just a suggestion.

Which is why I have recently joined a political party and started giving it financial support. On the face of it there are a lot of causes out there more deserving of my money than the xxxxx party, but follow my logic:

  1. political parties are essential for a healthy democracy
  2. party political machines cost a lot to run
  3. the state doesn’t fund political parties

If individuals like me don’t cough up with the money then the parties will end up being more and more in hock to well organised and funded lobbying groups like the Friends of Israel, the unions or business.

Membership of political parties is on the decline and I can see why, I felt very ‘square’ signing my membership forms and a bit embarrassed that people might find out what I was, but I think it is important and I’m glad I’ve done it. May I humbly suggest you do the same.

P.S. I’m a Tory, but I think you already knew that.

Snaafi Dancer

In 1982 a one year old horse was sold at auction for $10.2 million dollars. At the time it was a record price for a yearling, the first one to sell for more than $10 million, and the price is still the fourth highest paid for a horse of this type at public auction. With perfect conformation and an impeccable racing pedigree the horse was given the crap name of Snaafi Dancer and put into training with Michael Stoute in Newmarket.

The horse was useless. So slow it never made it to the racecourse.

There was still a chance for the Dubayan sheik who bought Snaafi Dancer to get some money back on his investment though. With such a good looking and expensive horse it was worth sending him to stud to see if he could pass on any of the supreme ability of his parents and siblings that unfortunately bypassed Snaafi directly to his offspring.

He couldn’t. He suffered from a genetic aberration called triploidy (his chromosomes came in triples rather than pairs) rendering him nearly infertile.

No one knows what happened to Snaafi Dancer.

The list of the ten most expensive yearlings ever bought at auction makes quite depressing reading. The total cost for the ten horses is approaching $100 million, and although none of the other nine have a story as pathetic as Snaafi Dancer’s, none of the other nine could in any way be considered champions.

Incidentally, the prices of yearlings at auction tends to track the price of crude oil quite closely.

At first glance spending $100 million on slow racehorses seems morally wrong. As has often been observed, there are people starving in Africa. Even spending $100 million on fast racehorses seems morally wrong when one thinks of all the suffering that that money could alleviate.

But hang on, all that has happened is a trade. The horses still exist and the money still exists, they’re just in the hands of different people. Nothing has been created or destroyed. The breeders who now have the $100 million are at perfect liberty to give that money to good causes if they so wish. So where is the moral crime?

Most of us can see that there must be one, but putting our finger on exactly where is a bit trickier.

I think the sin is one of distraction. If ten years ago I had asked you to write a list of the main problems the world faces, poverty, disease, environmental degradation etc would have been close the top of most people’s lists. How to make thinner TV’s or finding the Higgs’ boson wouldn’t. But spin on ten years and we have solved the latter problems, but not the former. The best and brightest minds are exorcised in solving problems that are actually quite trivial.

The ‘sin’ of the racehorse breeders is that they have devoted their lives to the non-problem of producing horses that can run marginally faster than their parents (the horses’ parents that is, not the breeders’ parents) and the ‘sin’ of the sheiks is to provide an incentive to the breeders to devote their lives to solving the non-problem of producing horses that can run marginally faster than their parents (the horses’ parents that is, not the sheiks’ parents).

And it’s a ‘sin’ nearly all of us are engaged in – I build IT systems for a games company, what’s the point of that? With the money I make I test the venality of others by providing an incentive to create better shoes or an iPhone slightly better than the previous one.

Sometimes I take great comfort from being atheist because if there was a being that was going to hold me to account for my actions I could well be f**ked (but hopefully not as badly as the people who spent $100 million on racehorses).

Danger of Death

My God, how these stupid signs annoy me.

Death is the potential outcome, not the hazard. There can exist the danger of slipping, the danger of falling, even the danger of loosing once sense of perspective, but there can’t exist the danger of death because death isn’t dangerous. Death may possibly result from the risky activity being undertaken – the risky activity that we actually need warning about – but death isn’t going to cause our death, that’s just silly. And as all activities carry some risk of death (apparently an inordinate number of people die each year just going for a poo) should I have a sign on my toilet warning guests that defecating in my facility may well be the last thing they do?

Obviously the health and safety wonks who concocted this sign were desperately keen to impress on us just exactly how dangerous the area around this sign is and, ‘Danger of electrocution’ just wouldn’t cut it. ‘What’s worse than electrocution?’ they thought. Death is! Yes of course, ‘Danger of death’ it must be.

And my ire could so easily have been averted. Three extra words is all it would take to make the sign scan properly. ‘Danger of being electrocuted to death’.

Does it look like a Porsche?

I read with interest today that the Porsche 911 is only on its fourth all new platform since it was first conceived in the 1960’s.

Get the basics right first time and then don’t mess with the winning formula seems a great business model to have. All the German auto manufacturers do it – the Audi A4 available today is remarkably similar to the 1997 vintage I was driving around in ten years ago – but Porsche really is the past master; you don’t need to wonder what the next new Porsche will look like because you already know – it will look like a Porsche.

And while it must be the most boring job in the world to be Porsche’s chief designer (‘Hi Hans, have you finished the new designs yet?’ ‘Ya, ya.’ ‘Do they look just like the old ones?’ ‘Ya, how did you know?’), I think it’s probably the single most important reason to explain how these German cars can attract the premium prices that they do. Sure, they are technically innovative, a joy to drive and well built (sorry, we’re not allowed to say ‘built’ when referring to German cars, I mean they are well ‘engineered’, let’s try that again, ‘engineered’), but so are Jags, Volvos and Lexi (the plural of Lexus according to Alan Partridge).

However, these other brands have a habit of periodically radically redesigning their offerings. And while the new model line up always looks whizzo and fabby-do I’m sure there always lurks a nagging doubt in the mind of any potential buyer that they may be about to buy the equivalent of an x-type – the car that was so good Jag stopped making not just the current version, but all versions. And even if you do buy the car whose development continues, it’s resale value is going to be pennies when the space-age new incarnation comes out in a couple of year’s time.

Buy German however and the new model positively vindicates how clever sir was to buy the previous model. ‘Sir was absolutely right to buy a 3-series, even we at BMW could barely improve on it, sir is sooo clever’. Consequently second-hand Bimmers keep their value which means the new ones can sell for top wonga.

Who needs a marketing department when your designers are doing the job for you?

“Gay”, “Marriage”

Whenever I hear anyone arguing the con side of the gay marriage debate they inevitably come up with the following point; we’re in danger of redefining the word, ‘marriage’ and that would be wrong. ‘Marriage’, they say, is between a man and a woman; not a man and his dog or a woman and her woman, but a man and a woman – that’s what the word means and there the debate should end. People of the same gender can couple off, but don’t, whatever you do, call this marriage, because it isn’t – the dictionary tells us so.

This focus on the ‘definition’ puzzles me. Are these people guerrilla lexicographers fighting to preserve the English language from change? Is their beef really nothing to do with religion and sexuality at all and they would be equally irate with any change in the usage of any word? Do they think the dictionary is some holy book given to us by a higher being and we risk Its wrath if we try to undo Its work?

If so, they really should have a look at the word, ‘gay’. Initially it meant happy and carefree, then it came to mean homosexual and now it is starting to mean a bit naff. This last redefinition isn’t complete yet, just ask Chris Moyles who got a lot of criticism for using this usage, particularly from gays who, rather ironically in the context of this post, accused him of redefining the word, ‘gay’ (they should maybe hook up with the ‘marriage’ definition people, they’d have a lot in common).

Words change meaning; get used to it. People tell me that ‘ginormous’ isn’t a word, but if you say it or write it everyone knows what it means, therefore it is a word.

There is a more serious side to this point though. The anti-redefinition-of-the-word-marriage crowd suggest that homosexies should be able to conjoin in a way that is almost exactly like a marriage, but just isn’t called ‘marriage’. That then would be perfectly fair – separate, but equal – everybody happy.

Apart from me…

‘Separate, but equal’ was the argument that allowed segregationist policies to continue in deep south America prior to the civil rights movement in the ’60’s. I’m not, of course suggesting the anti-redefinition-of-the-word-marriage lot are in any way as bad as the white supremacists, but it’s the same principle.

I can see no other reason for wanting to label something differently other than wanting to treat it differently.