The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Tag: garmin

General impression, size and shape

About 12 or 13 years ago I had the honour and pleasure of making friends with an RSPB warden, Mark Nowers, in Colchester. Mark was newly appointed to a post at Wolves Wood near Hadleigh in Suffolk and we ended up living in the same house. My passion at the time was Ultimate Frisbee and Mark, to his credit, got involved in playing that. Mark’s great passion was wildlife and without much prompting that was something I could get more into too. Mark was quite the most amazing person to play a game of Ultimate Frisbee with. In training or in a competitive game, Mark’s eyes and ears were never switched off to what was going on around him and mid-action he might suddenly call out a sound and name the bird or name a black dot that was flying overhead.

Mark’s passion for wildlife was infectious and his easy-going nature and kind way of sharing information so that you never felt ignorant, just that you were learning, and you were becoming more knowledgeable. One of the gift’s that Mark gave me was something that is common knowledge in wildlife circles, which is to use the word guide of General Impression, Size and Shape to help guide your thinking about what you’re seeing around you. It works brilliantly for birds and very well for other wildlife. It helps me to think about the context of what I’ve seen – such as any stand out colours or markings and to think about the size of what I’ve seen compared to other birds that I know. This makes it easier to remember things when I come to look them up at home in our Collins Bird Guide – the most complete field guide to the birds of Britain and Europe.

This morning I went out before breakfast for the run that I didn’t do yesterday. It began with 5 minutes walking, followed by 45 minutes running and finishing with 10 minutes of walking. I set off on the road out of Eaux-Vives up to Frontenex, then on to the outskirts of Cologny and on to Vandoeuvres, before cutting back to the centre of Cologny and down to the lake beyond Geneve Plage, where I head back into town. Out on the road, I got to use my General Impression Size and Shape guide as a small posse of birds flew overhead – Long Tailed Tits identified by their small bodies and long tails. They were black against the light sky, so I saw no colour but I knew as best as I could, what they were likely to be.

Later on by Lake Geneva (as it is known in English, in French it is Lac Leman and I’ll probably use the terms interchangeably from time to time) I saw some fabulous looking ducks. There were a group of about 20 of them, some male, some female. They were grouped together in the lake, along by the marina at Geneve Plage. The (presumed) males had orange heads, with orange/red beaks. Their bodies were black at the front, white at the side and brown on top. The (presumed) females had brown head tops, white on the sides and brown bodies. Running further along the lake I saw lots of the regulars such as Cormorants, Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls. At Baby Plage I turned right to follow the wall out and saw the flash of a bird I didn’t know for sure from above. But using General Impression, Size and Shape, as well as location, I figured that it was probably a Yellow Wagtail. A few moments later I saw it again but saw the yellow on the breast and confirmed my initial idea. A moment later I saw a Pied Wagtail and then my first Wren of the year by the marina, which was a bit of a surprise as I don’t remember ever seeing a Wren by the lake before!

And then as my watch buzzed to tell me that my 45 minutes running were up and I should start walking, I came across a group of 12 or so birdwatchers. Pausing my timing, I spent a few minutes with them, learning that they were a group of friends who were part of a subscription-based school of learning. I imagined, looking at the group, that it was probably the Swiss equivalent of University of the Third Age, though I could easily be wrong – maybe that’s General Impression, Size and Shape coming into play again. One of the women lent me her binoculars and showed me in her book that they were looking at a Ferruginous Duck, so I saw a couple of those too! She then pointed out the group leader and having told him of my interest in learning more about birds and meeting up with more knowledgeable people he pointed me in the direction of the local birdwatching group – the Groupe Ornithologique du Bassin Genevois. He also asked if I was interested in learning for me or for Mtoto and I said me, but it’s true that one of my aims from being a stay-at-home Dad is to give Mtoto as broad an introduction as possible to nature. One of Laurel’s friends is a primary school teacher in east London who also runs gardening clubs and that sort of thing. She once said that one of the things she’s been able to do is to introduce to children that there’s more than one kind of tree. Yes, really, many children simply aren’t taught about the different kinds of trees that there are. For me, whether or not he does anything with the knowledge, under my watch I would like Mtoto to learn about the different kinds of birds and learn how they look and what they sing. I’d like him to know about different kinds of trees, animals, flowers and plants. A lot of this I need to learn too, by the way, so it is a lot of lessons for both of us. But we’ve made a good start and Mtoto already knows his Coot, his Swan, his Robin, his Kingfisher and his Sparrow, to name just a few.

So all in all, a fairly successful stint of marathon training.

Janathon stats: 6.03 miles in 1:00:00 at an average pace of 9:57 per mile.

2015 Birds

42. Ferruginous Duck

43. Red-crested Pochard

44. Wren

Geneva Runners

When I was leaving London my parkrun friends mostly said “will you start a parkrun in Geneva?” The answer was always “no”. I love my parkrun community but I could easily see that I wanted to start a parkrun, forgetting that I’d need to work my way through all the administrative and insurance issues, I would be doing it because I would be willing to do a lot race directing and volunteering. And just now I’m still in the stage where all I really want to do is run.

I was lucky, before we left London, to discover the Geneva Runners. They’re not so hard to find. They’re on Facebook and on Glocals, the social website for many things Geneva. It took me about six weeks to get around to running with Geneva Runners. But since then I’ve hardly looked back. I ran once a week with them for about 2 months, then have missed a few now and then, but Geneva Runners is very much where I’m at.

It’s very different to parkrun. It’s not a formal group. Really it’s just some friends who meet up three times a week to go running. At the core are some dedicated people who make sure that those three times a week always have familiar faces. And when I say friends, I mean a group that ostensibly has around 500 people connected to it, though the number of active participants is much smaller. They organise socials. They organise ski trips and all sorts of other things. When I say they, I really mean H, a woman who greeted me on first appearance, learned my name and has greeted me by name ever since. She does it with everyone. She remembers the details of our short conversations in a way that makes you feel connected. And it’s easy to get into the same sort of process, greeting everyone when you arrive at the start point and greeting everyone else who arrives. They do socials too, heading out after runs to the Clubhouse pub.

And then, a few minutes after seven, we’re off. I’ve run with Russians, Poles, Canadians, Americans, Australians, Turks, Swiss, Germans and French people as well as more whose nationalities I haven’t found out. It’s always the same route, unless you want to do more. Along the lake to the park, up to Rue de Lausanne, along to the botanical gardens, up Imperatrice, right to Pregny, left at the cafe, left on the brow of the hill, right by the church and down, then left at the road, immediately right, then right again until you reach Place de Nations. Diagonally across there, down France, across Lausanne and back to the lake. Phew! You got that? I only ask, because there’s only one thing we don’t seem to do at Geneva Runners and that’s directions or maps. But as long as you run with someone who has been before, you should be okay! And there are lots of variations on it that you can do and many do.

Today was my first time with the Garmin watch and it felt good. I pushed myself all the way, helped by a German guy who I know I’ve not kept up with before. Afterwards he was apologising for not having been able to go faster, whereas I was amazed that I kept up with him and two other guys who we ran with. Back home, checking over my stats, cross-posted to the Strava app, I can see that I did the Geneva Runners course in 39:48, which is several minutes faster than I’ve ever done it before. Woo!

For the Janathon stats, I include my runs from home and back too, giving me a lovely 7.24 miles in 1:02:10 at 8:35 minutes per mile.  I ran 5k in 25:02, faster than my best ever parkrun time (though helped by some downhill) and I ran 10k in 52:35. Good times.