Thursday 22 November 2001

I was in Frankfurt last week delivering a training course. The return plane made its descent over central London after night had fallen. Clear, cold air and no clouds to interrupt a magnificent view of glittering lights as we slowly tracked the Thames from 5000 feet up. Canary Wharf, Regent's Park, Baker Street were all laid out like tiny versions of their normal selves. Everything seemed 2-D, buildings that normally tower and arch above my craning neck and slack-jawed face were puny and inconsequential on the bigger patchwork blanket of London at night.

Bizarrely everything was sparkling, occasional blasts of light appeared at junctions below, green or red or yellow puffs of flame balling into the night and dying. It looked like a Bladerunner clone - fireballs against a neon backdrop - and I could not work out what was going on, the only theory I had was that it was some sort of celebration for the fall of Kabul, but that seemed unlikely. The pilot later informed us that it was a celebration of Diwali (the Hindu festival of light).

Later, from the Heathrow Express, the fireworks were all around and not below. More impressive in their immediacy, less imposing in their scale.

Monday 5 November 2001

Up to the Lakes for the weekend and all was beautiful.

270 miles in four and a half hours on Friday night - one day we'll get busted. I'm so anal that even in my stupid car I normally obey all speed limits (give or take) but there's something weak inside of me that bends like a paper-clip when the 100mph peer group of Gus n Baz are sitting in the same car as me, so I gun the thing and don't drop below 90. I feel so...naughty.

We camped in the Langdales, pitching tents at 1am and instantly dropping off to sleep. It rained gently during the night but was pleasant and dry when we woke. Baz made infinite cups of tea as normal, Carla was slow getting up, as normal, and we talked constantly of kit, costs and buggery, as normal. We blasted off to walk a 10 mile horseshoe, up out of Ambleside, onto Fairfield and back down and the fitness test started. Gus won. He stormed off into the encroaching cloud, his shadow getting vaguer as we rose and he stretched his legs in front. When I'm feeling slow and unfit, each step hurting, calves burning, lungs straining, sweat dripping and condensing all over my body, I hate everyone, especially people who aren't obviously struggling. The hatred burns and spurs me on, but it always dissipates by the time I reach the next stopping spot.

It was a perfect autumnal weekend and the whole of the Lake District was on fire. Every tree consumed by shimmering waves of yellow, brown and green, leaves dropping like consumed ash and swirling around the paths. All the colours were somehow right and so perfect that each change of light - from the occasional blast of bright, cold sun to the warmly enveloping mist - brought out a different set of complementary hues. Even when thrashed by 60mph winds on ridge tops, water blasting into the hillside and any exposed skin, even when the visibility dropped to 20 metres and the world just dropped off into blankness, all the colours were appropriate, crystalline, correct.