Sunday, September 24, 2006

After today, I'll think twice before making the old crack about women and map reading skills.

In attempt to spice up my usual Sunday morning run I signed up for a 12k orienteering trail challenge around Ham and Richmond.

I had to double back after missing the first control point -- and my race went downhill from there on.

Stony or boggy, uneven terrain is incredibly punishing on my artificial leg. Add an overnight downpour into the mix and it's even worse.

Perhaps I should have known better -- the stretch of the Thames around which the race was organised is one I usually avoid because the terrain's so difficult and exhausting. It felt like taking part in the worst school cross country run of all time.

After running almost 10k while skilfully managing to miss control points 2, 3, 4 and 5 I threw in the towel.

In future, I think I'll stick to road racing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

In just a few weeks my house will be filled with the sound of a wailing newborn and the smell of baby powder and shit.

In anticipation of the new arrival, Dad and I have spent this week turning my spare room into a nursery.

I must confess that the sight of the finished room -- with its baby blue walls, cot and soft toys, brought a lump to my throat.

But I'm sure a few sleepless nights will soon get rid of that rosy glow of anticipation.

This weekend, Aileen and I are off to our first NCT antenatal class.

Suddenly, it has all become very real.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Back to London in time for one of my Big Races of the year -- the London Duathlon.

Although I finished almost bang on my personal target of 2hrs 15min I wasn't overly pleased with my performance.

I dawdled in transition and I could definitely feel the effects of two weeks in Beirut. I'm consoled by the fact that even race winner Dave Aitchison admitted he found the course "surprisingly hard."

Still, my times of 00:48:51, 00:50:20 and 0:26:41 -- total 02:15:23 -- could have been worse and racing in the stunning surroundings of Richmond Park was a real pleasure.

I'll definitely aim to be back next year.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Boo to The FA, which panders to the every whim of England's millionaire footballers while ignoring some of England's real footballing heroes.

England's amputee footballers came third in last year's World Cup but despite this the FA has decided not to enter or fund a squad for the European championships taking place later this month in Volgograd, Russia.

As a result, amputee footballers from across the UK have banded together to form the Great Britain Amputee Football team.

The players are so desperate to represent their country that they've raised £750 each to compete in Russia.

I wish them every success.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Is Lebanon in recovery or in denial?

That’s the question we debated over dinner last night.

After just one visit, the Gemmayzeh Café has become one of my favourite eateries in the Middle East. With live Lebanese music, excellent mezze and backgammon and nargila on offer it’s the perfect place to sit and gawp at Beirut’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous women.

On a Friday evening, the restaurant was packed with twenty and thirty-somethings who were so aloof they were virtually levitating.

If you hadn’t seen a news bulletin for the last two months you’d have absolutely no idea that Lebanon had just emerged from its most turbulent period for two decades.

For me, it was a testament to the human spirit, a sign of our ability as a species to endure the most testing times and come out stronger. The joie de vivre of the patrons in the restaurant was in short supply just a few weeks ago – as I noted at the time.

But one of my colleagues had a different take.

“Where’s the soul-searching, the sense of loss, the time for reflection?” he asked.

“These people are in denial – they’re just brushing the last two months under the carpet and trying to pretend it never happened.

“Unless Lebanon comes to terms with the enormity of what’s just taken place, it’ll all happen again a few years from now,” he warned.

One of the main arguments made in Sandra Mackey’s recently re-printed book “Lebanon: A House Divided” – which I’ve just finished – is that this country’s complex web of religious, social and linguistic loyalties could threaten its very survival. Allegiance to one’s faith, one’s family, one’s village are far more important than allegiance to Lebanon itself.

It’s a persuasive – and depressing – argument.

Perhaps Lebanon is fated to repeat the cycle of war, death and destruction every generation or two.

Or perhaps the patrons of the Gemmayzeh Café were just leaving the Big Questions to the politicians and intellectuals – preferring to enjoy a Friday night out with their friends instead.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I'm back in Beirut for another tour of duty -- and the city has changed immeasurably.

For a start, I was able to fly directly into Beirut via Amman instead of travelling by road from Damascus -- even if a large crater from an Israeli bomb dropped at the start of the recent conflict was still clearly visible on one of one of the runways.

When I was here last the streets were largely deserted, the shops and cafes closed. Now, though, the roads are once again filled with kamikaze motorists, honking their horns wildly. And even on a Tuesday night, the bars and restaurants of Gemmayzeh were filled with young and gorgeous Beirutis.

Although the ceasefire is holding, this could be just a lull between storms. The blockade of the country is still officially in place and the reconstruction work is only just beginning.

But the Beirut I've returned to is a much more hopeful place than the one I left.