India Part 3: Jaipur to Delhi

I'd included Jaipur on the current trip so that I could run the half marathon. As I said last time, preparations for the race were chaotic. The race itself was equally disorganised, almost dangerously so. The start featured a dangerous crush which I was glad to escape in one piece. The heat wasn't too bad (Rajasthan seems quite cold at the moment) but I was a little disturbed to find most of the water stations had no water left by the time I arrived. It was 8.75 miles before I found anything to drink.

I was so desperate to have the race over with that I went a little faster than I should have done and finished in 1 hour 57 minutes, a time that I am very pleased with. I'm now resting for a few days while I am in Delhi, a city that is not supportive of marathon training.

For the first couple of days in Jaipur, Dad and I visited the standard tourist sites like the Jantar Mantar, museum and City Palace, which left us underwhelmed. City Palace in particular felt like a greedy little tourist trap. I would have left Jaipur disappointed but the place redeemed itself with our adventures on the last day. We started in Narahgarh fort, which included the stunning and deserted Madhvendra Palace. Jaigarh, above the Amber fort was equally fascinating, but the most amazing place was Galta, a group of temples hidden at the bottom of a valley. One of the most beautiful things I've seen in my life.

Yesterday we took the train from Jaipur to Delhi. It's strange to be back in Paharganj. The area has been cleaned up since I was last here two years ago and seems much less intense. We spent today visiting the fort at Tuglaqabad, one of the seven cities of Delhi and tomorrow is Republic Day. We have tickets for the parade which I am very excited about, having missed event in 2010.

India part 2: Mumbai to Jaipur

Since decent keyboards are few and far between, I'm going to continue with the short entries and upload photos and more considered posts when I return.

We're now three weeks into the trip. I recovered from my illness in Goa and even managed some running, getting up at dawn to do 10 miles along the beach. From Goa, Dad and I went on to Mumbai. It seemed to be a very busy city rather than a place for holidaying, and it took a little while to learn how to navigate it. the most interesting thing we did was a tour of Dharavi, the famous 'slum' area. That was a fascinating afternoon, full of surprises, and something that deserves its own post. Also: Mumbai's commuters are terrifying and make the London/Brighton folk look relaxed.

From Mumbai we went on to Udaipur, which had a much more relaxed pace. Some great running in the countryside, a lovely hotel, and the world's largest turban. The countryside there is beautiful, although it is much colder in Rajasthan than the South. I also met up with my friend Emily Yates from Brighton which seemed strange and wonderful. Hopefully we will meet up again before I return, in either Pushkar or Risikesh.

Dad and I set off for Jaipur last night and arrived here at 6am. The hotel had no rooms ready, which meant 3 hours waiting around in the dining room. Once that was sorted, I set off for the half-marathon registration, which people kept insisting was closed. Luckily I met some English people who knew what was happening. A little waiting then followed around before I collected my number (3061). I am really looking forward to tomorrow's event. 

India – a quick update

I've been in India for about 10 days now and have more-or-less settled in. The end of 2011 was frantic, which meant that my head was already spinning by the time I arrived in Bangalore. That, and the lack of decent keyboards in the Internet cafes has kept me from posting.

After a short stay in Bangalore (where we failed to find the Caribbean restaurant) Dad and I moved on to Mysore and from there to Hampi for a few days. Hampi is the most incredible place I've seen in my life, a river valley dotted with boulders and ruins. I've got some lovely photos of my adventures there, which included climbing to hidden temples and visiting Lord Hanuman's birthplace. The trail along the river was probably one of the most incredible runs of my life.

From Hampi we travelled to Goa. I started feeling ill on the journey and, by the time we found a room in Bencaulim I felt pretty rough. I spent 24 hours sleeping and have recovered well enough to get back to running: I'm more-or-less up to date with my training for the Brighton marathon. The problem for me is not the heat, it's my loss of appetite. I take on far fewer calories than I do at home and end up feeling weak sometimes.

Tomorrow we head to Mumbai. Sunday week is the Jaipur marathon, which I am still planning on entering. Not sure what sort of time I'm likely to manage. I'd be happy with 2'20".

New Year’s Photos

I had the perfect start to 2012. On New Years Eve I helped out with Trailer Trash at the Komedia, where the theme was 'Trash Vegas'. It's fun to see the event take shape. For me, the night's highlight was the ariel double-act by Kitty Peels and Milo – absolutely stunning. It was also great to welcome in 2012 with a large group of people.

I didn't stay out too late and was up for a run early the next day. I've put on a little weight while I've been injured, and I fear I might have looked like I was on my first new-year-resolution run. I'd hoped to go swimming in the afternoon but the rough sea put paid to that. Instead I had tea with some friends.

In the evening I helped run a poetry event with Mike Parker. Chris Parkinson read, with a stunning new poem about Brighton. We also had a group reading of Ginsberg's Howl, which I think is the greatest poem ever written.

And then I spent the next two days packing, ready to go on holiday tomorrow. I'm excited, and a little nervous, but I will post about my adventures here. In the meantime, here are some photos from New Year (click for larger versions).





Watching some of the acts from backstage:




Countdown to midnight:




A more sedate event, at the Earth and Stars the following night:




The end of 2011, the start of 2012

2011 was something of a strange year. I'd expected great things but it turned out to be a year for quiet personal growth. 

The most notable achievements were with my running. In April, I finally ran a marathon. I followed this up with two more, a faster one in Nottingham, then the incredible Beachy Head Marathon in October. I spent most of my twenties inactive, so I'm very happy to have run three marathons in my mid-thirties.

I am, however, a little unsatisfied with my overall progress. I ran a total of 740 miles throughout the year, but I also spent long periods of times resting with injury, so much so that there were times I wondered if I should give up running. In 2012 I am going to concentrate on running slower and more sustainably, and look to increasing my speed once I can manage the distance consistently.

I did a lot of writing this year, but very little of it reached fruition. Notably both Clown Stories Volume 1 and my Clown Heaven performance were finished but have yet to make it into the world. I was very happy with the things I did finish, and particularly pleased with my White Night/Catalyst talk and the performance I did at the last Artists, Models, Ink event. And, although only one copy will ever be made, I enjoyed writing a booklet for a friend, The Rules and Regulations of the Puppet Hotel.

Most books on productivity (for example Getting Things Done) start with the assumption that life is inherently busy and stressful. They aim to manage all the commitments people have on their time, keeping track of them and making sure everything receives attention. In 2012 I plan to be less busy, doing less and enjoying it more (something suggested by, among others, Zen Habits). Maybe a life that requires to-do lists is one that is too complicated. in 2012, I am going to focus on doing one thing at a time.

But before that I am off on holiday before I come back in the Spring to begin a new phase of my life. 2011 has been a quiet year, but a useful one. I've had a lot of fun and learned a lot about myself. I don't know what 2012 will bring. There may well be sorrow and misfortune, but I am also confident that amazing things are on the horizon. I'm looking forward to what is coming.

My favourite books of 2011

At the end of the year, it's fun to look back at the books that I've read and pick out the ones I liked most. In 2011 I read 105 books, most of which were non-fiction. Here are my ten favourites, in no particular order:

Bookends: A Partial History of the Brighton Book Trade by John Shire is a fascinating description of an obscure topic. Shire's book runs from the early days of the town through to current times, and brought back memories of bookshops that I loved. As well as being a good history it is also entertaining and personal, with some entertaining asides, such as the observation that all books on Brighton are required to mention Aleister Crowley.

Thirteen by Sebastian Beaument came highly recommended by Scott Pack. It's a novel about a Brighton taxi driver who finds himself in a slowly developing Lynchian nightmare. The end of the book was a little disappointing, but the opening was one of the weirdest, creepiest things I've ever read.

Erinna Mettler's Starlings is a 'daisy-chain novel' set in Brighton. It's well researched and contains a fascinating range of characters and periods (although it did let itself down a little by not mentioning Crowley).

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi was a somewhat frustrating book, in that I hated the first half. I found its metafictional aspects glib and irritating and considered drowning it in the bath. I'm glad I didn't since the second part made up for it. Death In Varanasi was a fascinating description of a city I've visited in the past and where I plan to spend some time in 2012.

Another book which I half-liked was Cambodia: A book for people who find television too slow by Brian Fawcett. The book is once again divided into two. The top half is a collection of post-modern short-stories, some of which I found a little dated. The bottom section of each page contained a devasting analysis of the Khmer Rouge's atrocities and the West's response, .

I meant to write a long post about Jane Bussman's The Worst Date Ever, but that is currently lost in my drafts folder. Partly this is because the topics Bussman deals with are so huge. The Worst Date Ever is a clever book pretending to be dumb. It's very hard to talk about the book without getting trapped in complicated issues. In short: a celebrity journalist explores the conflict in Uganda. I regret not taking the time to finish my post about it and will try to do so in the Spring. It's well worth reading – I was shocked at the West's shameful complicity in the conflict.

Another book I failed to write about was Kenneth Goldsmith's Uncreative Writing. The book's title sounds like a gimmick but it is a fascinating and exciting account of what the Internet means for writing. Goldsmith started as a fine artist and this background gives him some amazing insights into where literature might be headed. It's surprising, approachable, fun.

I love pop-economics books and The Undercover Economist is one of the best I've read. The section of Fair-Trade coffee was particularly shocking. Grant Morrison's Supergods was just the mix of memoir, metafiction and comics criticism that I hoped for, and I'm looking forward to reading it again.

The book that's likely to have the most long-term effect on me is London Calling, Barry Miles' counter-cultural history of London. This is a fascinating history of underground movements in London during the  20th century. I read it on a beach in February and one particular paragraph stuck in my head, sparking some ideas that may take up much of the next few years:

"…with the coming of the Internet, underground publication has effectively disappeared. There can be no avant-garde unless there is a time-delay before the public knows what you are doing… whereas artists in the sixties could work for years with no media coverage, the hardest thing now is to not have thousands of hits on Google or a page on Wikipedia."

I received a Kindle as a Christmas gift. I'd always avoided them before, scared of being seduced, but it's going to come in very useful in my travels over the coming weeks (books are heavy). I suspect that it will change the way I read significantly. I'm looking forward seeing what is one my list of favourite books of 2012, and what form they take.