Week 12 – the fine margins on which we sometimes hang….and some more adventures ahead!

Two things have occupied my thoughts as much as anything this week (except one other quite big thing, more of that at the end….), and both relate to just how fine margins are in running. The first relates to timings of runs, and the second to injuries, of which I am now suffering a bit…

This weeks programme called for 43 miles of running. The second last week of really big mileage before we start tapering in Week 14. The midweek runs were 6, 9 and 7 miles, and the weekend was 4 and 17, so a reduction from last week, which is good! It’s funny how all of a sudden 17 miles doesn’t seem too far any more!

The Tuesday run was a random Fartlek job of four miles, with a mile warm up and warm down. I got almost as wet as I did the Tuesday before and it simply lashed down the whole way. I didn’t really mind too much though, as it was almost a distraction from my leg pain, which is almost constant now, if still manageable.

On the Wednesday it was a tempo run of 9 miles. Despite the cold (3 or 4 degrees at 6am) I was really looking forward to it. It’s more or less the longest tempo run yet, and there will be quite a few more of these to come in the next few weeks. So the idea is to run at the pace we will run at in New York for the whole of the 26.2 miles. The run went well, and was followed on Thursday by more quicker paced running. This time it was 18 lots of 200m sprints (well, all things are relative as they say!) followed by 18 x 200m slow, as part of a 7 mile run. The weather was this time down to just 1 degree, and it felt colder still. I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold on a run, and was glad to get finished.

I also had more physiotherapy on Thursday. The physiotherapist is really good (from a local firm called Progressive Physiotherapy) and I have been now officially diagnosed as having a strain of the medial head of the gastrocnemius muscle, or gastroc. And in case you want to know more about the calf and muscles in it here you go, you’re welcome…….https://www.physio-pedia.com/Calf_Strain . I hadn’t even heard of the gastroc muscle until this week, but now thanks to the internet I’m an expert of the worst kind 🙂 The injury I have is also referred to as ‘tennis leg’ apparently. It’s manageable and that’s the main thing right now, so whilst it hurts when I’m running, it’s not terrible pain, and with lots of rollering, stretching and tlc, I believe I can (with help) nurse it all the way to New York. Time will tell! I’ve also been told that it has been caused by my anterior glute on my right side being weaker than the left (who knew?) and so I have to strengthen it. That I’ll do too.

The Saturday and Sunday runs were in Cambridge with Melanie. Saturday’s was the usual gentle affair of just four miles. It is funny how four miles now feels like it is not even worth breaking a sweat for. Yet when I started this programme I was averaging 14 miles a week – in September I ran 188 miles, averaging 43 a week – no wonder I feel crocked!

Sunday was a bit of a wet and windy affair, but I’m glad to say that our 17 miles passed without incident. No lost keys, no other injuries, no dramas of any kind in fact. Just the way we like it! The leg was achy and sore, but no worse than it has been, so I just keep ticking these runs off now. There are a mere 19 runs to go until New York, and four of them are just gentle jogs in the week of the run itself. One more big week this week (21 miles next Sunday, gulp!) and then we start to taper….but no taking anything for granted yet. I’m still giving this everything and more. I’m even going to start eating avocados and almonds this week – what has this turned me into!!!

And so, I alluded at the top to the things that occupied my mind. The running is (still) fun, despite my protestations and my injury niggles, and the finishing line IF I make it in just four weeks time, will be simply one of the absolute highlights of my life. It is wonderful though to also have adventures (other than the one you are on!) to look forward to.

I thus asked Melanie this week if she’d like to share a little adventure to Nepal with me next year. She said she’d love to, and so that is amazing and wonderful at the same time. I’ve been to Nepal and the Himalayas/Everest Base Camp three times now, and anyone who knows me knows how much I love it there. It just gets into your soul, your whole being. Each time though I’ve travelled on my own, and this will be the first time I get to share it with someone special. Roll on next April therefore! Meantime, we have a bit more running to do……:)

Room for more than one person in this photo next year…….:)

Week 2 done – in the Alps!

Today is 28th July and it consisted of an 11 mile run this morning in what started out as pretty wet conditions and a temperature of 8 degrees, although it never felt that cold. To be fair, I could be running in -3 degrees or + 35 degrees and I may not notice the difference. Chamonix is that beautiful, that dramatic, that amazing.

So here we are in the Alps, or more particularly Chamonix, one of my favourite places on planet earth. And I’ve, or we’ve (Melanie and I), just completed week two of our New York Marathon training. What a place to do it!

Looking towards Chamonix and Mont Blanc from Le Tour

The week has consisted of 5 runs, as is the case of every week in the training programme. Tuesday was 5 miles, with 3 miles @ 8:15 pace. Wednesday was 5 miles at marathon pace, which for me is around 9 minutes a mile ( we are aiming all being well to finish in a time of approximately 3 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds!).

Mentioning temperature above, this last week (prior to arriving in Chamonix) has been a real challenge as far as weather is concerned. The records will show that the UK recorded its all time highest temperature of Thursday, of 38.7 degrees, which in my book is very much not very conducive to any sort of running. Much less when on this day you’ve been at a Strategy Day from work in a hotel without air conditioning! Thus all of the runs have taken place at around 6 am in the morning, a time not usually known to me, least of all me being out pounding the pavements.

So having arrived on Saturday morning in Chamonix, after a very early start, it was almost straight out to complete the week’s running. Chamonix sits at 1,030m ( or 3,400 feet) above sea level, so whilst this isn’t exactly high altitude, it does take a day or so to adjust to very slightly thinner air.

The town square in Chamonix with its stunning backdrop of Mont Blanc.

This also being (obviously!) very much a mountain resort, each side of the valley slopes extremely steeply, and so there is fairly limited scope for running, unless you are a trail runner, in which case this is your nirvana! The road up and down the valley connecting the various ski areas slopes not too steeply though, and we discovered that running by the river is both stunningly beautiful, and also not too taxing. Frankly, despite the slight inclines, if you can’t run here and enjoy it you really should give up – consider that a week ago I was running on the outskirts of Slough!!

So the week finished with the earlier mentioned 11 mile run on a slightly wet start to the day, but the weather was otherwise quite cool and perfectly suited to what we were doing. I absolutely loved it, and just wish I could run here every day, or just live here in fact. I could never ever tire of this scenery, it is mesmerising.

Week two then finished with a total exactly on schedule with 31 miles completed for the week. That’s a new weekly high for me – and so far so good. Next week ramps up to 34 miles with a half marathon to finish on the Sunday, but every one of those runs will also be in Chamonix, so I have no doubt that every one will be cherished and the distance won’t be a problem. The only problem will be having to leave at the end of it all!

Bring on week 3…….

Marathon Training – Week One Done!

So finally week one is done! The tale of the tape for the week is 27 miles, which by my reckoning is the furthest I think I’ve ever run in a single week in my life. And maybe that’s a good thing in itself, but on the other end of the scale, and in the context of what is ahead, it is practically nothing.

Week One, in fact, is the shortest week of the entire programme. Yesterday’s so called ‘long run’, done every Sunday, was 9 miles, and that is the shortest run that we will do between now and the middle of November, or more precisely speaking until after the marathon is finished! So in other words, I’d better get used to this, and a lot more!

I also started last week’s blog post by saying that I was going to follow this programme to the absolute letter, but I inevitably didn’t! For starters, work got in the way (but only slightly), and so I swapped over Thursday’s 5 miler with Wednesday’s four miler (but otherwise did the same runs as the programme said, one a tempo run and the other hill repeats.

But secondly I also had a trip this weekend for a reunion. The reunion was with very special friends, whom I met around 5 years ago when climbing Europe’s highest mountain, Mount Elbrus in Russia. It was a monumental trip in so many ways, defined by awful weather when trying to summit, and a bout of pretty bad altitude sickness for yours truly, commemorated in this blog post below:

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/aquavista.me/2853

The group of us try to have at least one reunion every year, and this year it was in The Lakes and had been organised for quite some time, so there was no way I was missing it. We had a totally amazing time as we always do, and went on some great walks and generally just enjoyed each other’s company in and around Ambleside over three days. It did however involve a 600 mile drive, three walks (one of around 14 miles), and a day off work just to get there, plus (I’m very happy to say!) copious amounts of socialising. I also had then to try to fit in a 5 mile run on the Saturday and a 9 mile one on the Sunday, so something had to give!

In the end I left the rest of the gang to it on the Sunday morning to climb Helvellyn, and came back to do my Sunday run in my home town. Melanie came over from Cambridge to meet me and do it with me too, and we will all being well be able to do all of our long runs together. That’s tremendously motivational for me, especially as she is the reason I’m doing New York in the first place :).

Here are a few pictures from the weekend in the Lakes, the first one of us on the last morning before I left. A finer and more lovely group of people I will never ever meet :).

Me getting a friendly look (or I hope it was friendly!) from one of the local residents
The view over Lake Windermere from Ambleside YHA.

So onwards into week 2, and 31 miles of what looks like some very hot conditions with the forecast to hit 36 degrees C on Thursday. That’s too hot for practically anything in my book, other than a nice gin and tonic or three! Wish me luck………..

Zermatt Day 2

So waking on day two (of two) in Zermatt itself, at about 1,750m, in a hotel, and not in a mountain hut some 1,000m higher up has its advantages. One, you get a nice shower; two, you get a nice comfy bed; three, you don’t get woken up about twenty times in the night by other climbers in your dormitory shuffling and snoring; and four, you get, if you are really really lucky, a view like this from your own balcony:

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn't want to leave the hotel!

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn’t want to leave the hotel!

So today we had planned a much easier trek than the one the day before, which had seen us do about 22km in total, including a climb to about 3,260m on the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn. Today we’d take in a couple of the tourist paths on the other side of Zermatt, the Marmot Trail and the ‘5-Seenweg’, literally the ‘5 lakes trail’.

From the top end of the town (the south, geographically) we walked through town, grabbing breakfast on the way, to the north eastern side, and the rothorn funicular railway. This takes you up entirely inside the mountain in about three minutes to the Sunegga area at about 2,300m. This can be seen in the left middle of the map link below: http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

Blessed again by absolutely cloudless skies like the day before, and even warmer conditions, we set off firstly up the Marmot Trail, (we didn’t see any today unfortunately, but we had the day before) which is numbered 8 on the map.

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The Marmot Trail – a different and lovely side of Zermatt.

Then from the Blauherd cable car station at 2,571m we began on the 5-seenweg trail. The first lake, the Stellisee, is absolutely stunning, as you can see from the picture below: We stayed there for a while just to take it all in, as did many other people, it seems to be a bit of a tourist trap, and quite frankly why shoudn’t it be? It’s a natural lake, and just beautiful.

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

Upon leaving the Stellisee towards the next lake, the Grindjisee, the path takes a pretty sharp descent. At this point Verena decided that her knee, which had been giving her problems on the latter half of yesterday’s walk, was too painful to continue with the rest of the walk. She therefore suggested that I carry on with the rest of the lakes, and she made her way back to the Sunnega cable car, only about 20 minutes away. After checking she was ok and could make it on her own, I took her up on her offer, and carried on.

The Grindjisee is at about 2,350m, and is a small and very tranquil place. You’d probably never come across it if you weren’t looking for it in fact. It was in a really pretty area though, and of course you could see a reflection of the Matterhorn in the surface of the lake, what more do you need!

The Grinjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

The Grindjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

From the Grindjisee the walk is mostly flat for about three miles until you get to the Grünsee, which doesn’t have reflections of the Matterhorn, but you can still see it :).

 

The Grünsee - three down, tow to go!

The Grünsee – three down, two to go!

There was then a pretty steep and narrow trail through the woods towards the Moosjisee, a seemingly man made affair, but stunningly green in colour:

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The Moosjisee – and there’s that mountain again!

The Moosjisee is the lowest of the five lakes, and from there after another brief descent with stunning views back towards Zermatt itself, there is a bit of a climb back up to the Leisee, which I unfortunately didn’t photograph.

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The walk towards the Leisee, with some very pretty hillside hamlets en route.

Having got back to the Sunegga cablecar station, Verena was thankfully there waiting for me and her knee was fine. There would be no more walking for her though, and so we decided to have lunch at the very lovely mountain restaurant by the Sunegga, it would have been rude not to really! So a beer, a rösti, and some very pleasant views were the order of the day:

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Now that’s the way to end a walk!

The 5-Seenweg walk is about two and a half to three hours overall, and well worth it if you are visiting in summer.

After lunch we took the funicular railway back down to Zermatt before a bit of shopping before heading back to Bern, where I would be lucky enough to get to watch Stage 16 of the Tour de France the next day. We’d had a great weekend, and literally didn’t see a cloud in 48 hours.

I’ll leave off with a view more photographs of Zermatt itself. A great little car free town, with lovely shops, and just an idyllic place to be summer or winter. It’s my fifth time here all in all, and it won’t be the last.

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Zermatt!

So it’s obviously been way way too long since I last put up a blog post. That’s because about 11 months ago I took the decision to stop my apparently futile attempts at high altitude success. I had three or four goes at getting above 6,000m, and they all seemed to end in one thing – me heading downwards feeling like shit. So in the meantime I’ve done some nice sensible things, like change job, move house, and do some cycling.

Lots of cycling in fact, culminating in a fabulous 160-odd mile ride doing the coast to coast in a day. Details of that here of that ride, less the last 6 or so miles as my Garmin battery decided it didn’t want to go for over 12 hours! See Strava section here: https://www.strava.com/activities/623638383

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The Coast to Coast was at the end of June, and it was great, but (as is the way with me :)) I finished it and needed a new thing to aim for. And so after a bit of an impromptu flight purchasing, I was off to Switzerland at the end of July for a bit of ‘hill practice’ as they say!

I originally intended to head to Grindelwald, and trek around the North Face of the Eiger, something that has been ‘on the list’ for a little while. But after contacting my friend Verena, who lives in nearby Bern, she suggested that the Eiger and surrounds would be stupidly busy that weekend. She suggested Zermatt instead, as she hadn’t been there before, and would come along too!

And so off to Zermatt it was, for what proved to be an amazingly beautiful weekend in what is such a fabulous part of the world. For those who don’t know me, I have a bit (ok a lot!) of a fixation with The Matterhorn – I just find it a staggeringly beautiful and transfixing mountain. Spellbinding in fact. I also put my only ever Youtube video online with the mountain in it – I could still watch it every day! Skiing down towards Zermatt in 2013:

After a flight to Zurich and a train ride to Bern to meet Verena, we departed at the crack of dawn on the Saturday morning for the drive to Zermatt, about two and a half hours away. After a great drive which went under part of the Alps near to the Eiger in a car train, we arrived in the car free resort of Zermatt and headed up the mountain via cablecar to the Trockener Steg area of the resort. Cable cars aren’t cheap in Zermatt (nothing is cheap in Zermatt in fact!) at about £40 per single ride, but at least it got us up to 2,900m very quickly.

The great thing about the Zermatt area is that from practically anywhere you are, you can see The Matterhorn! It just dominates the place like the outrageous behemoth that it is, towering to 4,478m (14,700 feet), looking all Toblerone-shaped (the Toblerone logo is modelled on it for those who don’t know) and pointy, and just incredible.

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

We had chosen a trail which took us from Trockener Steg down to the Schwarzsee, and then around the west face of the Matterhorn and up to a mountain hut called the Schonbielhutte. I managed to persuade Verena though that en route we should try a tricky path up to the Hornlihutte, which is perched somewhat precariously on the North east ridge of the mountain at 3,260m. Thankfully she didn’t take too much convincing, and after trekking down to about 2,400m initially on what was a fairly uneventful route, we began the very eventful path up.

Approaching the Matterhorn - the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow at about 3pm on the picture.

Approaching the Matterhorn – the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow middle right of the picture.

It was slow going, as a.) we were up at 3,000m and unacclimatised, and also b.) the path has several places where in simple terms a missed footing could be your last ever step on earth. To add to the perils of point b.) the path was still snowy and icy in places, and without crampons (which I have to say weren’t required at this time of year, but a month earlier and you wouldn’t venture up any of this without them) it added to the general feeling of precariousness. Thankfully at the most tricky parts there was a metal rope in place to cling onto, which I gladly took advantage of.

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply....

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply….

...and there are parts where you have something to hold on to....

…and there are parts where you have something to hold on to….

...and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

…and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

It was a really great climb, requiring the use of hands as well in places to add to the mind’s focus. We reached the hut at about 1.45pm, and sat at the terrace for lunch (it would have been rude not to really) and it became apparent as soon as we stopped moving that the temperature when stopped was considerably colder than it had felt whilst climbing up, so jackets and hoods were quickly donned. The views were majestic – including the view directly upwards of the top of the mountain, which whilst still over 1,100 vertical metres above us, seemed much closer. I vowed looking upwards at the near vertical face to never, ever feel brave or stupid enough to try to climb it :).

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

Just to prove I made it there!

Just to prove I made it there!

The area around Zermatt is also home to around 25 4,000m+ mountains, including the Dufourspitze and the Dom, at 4,630m and 4,550m respectively the second and third highest mountains in the Alps, and the highest points in Switzerland.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

From the Hornlihutte we took trail 27 and then a black-marked steep track down the mountain (see attached map) to Stafel, where we intended to begin the trek back up to Schonbielhutte.  http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

However on getting down near to Stafel at about 4.30pm, Verena was struggling with a twisted and sore knee, and so the climb up to the hut at about 2,700m and about three miles distant all of a sudden looked a bit of a long way. This was more relevant given the fact that the hut needed us there by 6.30pm latest (the cut off point for evening meals) and also there was no alternative should we not make it as the hut is at the end of a long and isolated valley.

Near Stafel - the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

Near Stafel – the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

We thus phoned the hut and said we would not be able to make it, and then tried to find alternatives continuing steadily down the mountain towards Furi. Cutting a very long story short (about which I could write not just another blog post, but actually a fairly lengthy novel) we ended up all the way back in Zermatt itself at about 8pm. This at least left us best-placed for the next day, when we intended to head up to the other side of the resort, the Rothorn area.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it's western face.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it’s western face.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

Our route is in the attached Strava link – it was a fabulous walk of around 22km, showcasing some fabulous views of much of the Matterhorn area, and a lot of ascent and descent  https://www.strava.com/activities/643124049

After a very long day, sleep would come very easily, and at the thought of seeing the ‘5 Lakes Trail’ the next morning, where each lake held a different reflection of the Matterhorn, I was very very much looking forward to day 2!

 

Bolivian Climber Day Ten

Note this is a repeat of a post that I put on Facebook, but it is from my blog entries from my tenth day of my Bolivian trip, and so is repeated here for that reason…….:)

I am now back in La Paz, having come down from the Cordillera Réal range to recuperate, whilst the rest of the group that I was with carry on with their attempts on various mountains therein. I got to 5,340 metres at the top of Pico Austria two days ago, and all felt fine, but since then I haven’t been feeling the full ticket.

So today I took a decision to end my high altitude endeavours. I’ve been above 5,000m five times now, and each time I got varying forms of altitude sickness. My last three trips ended with just one summit, which was itself eclipsed by my getting high altitude cerebral edema (which could have been fatal), and the last two I have had to descend without summitting. My attempts this time to get to 6,500m (21,500 feet) have been futile, and maybe I should have known that before I came out here, but I wanted to give it one last go. I tried, but I haven’t failed. 

Over the last five or so years since I got to the top of Kilimanjaro, I’ve had a brilliant time. I started this episode of my life at age 45, and I don’t regret one single minute, in fact the total opposite. I’ve met some absolutely fabulous people, some of which I hope will be lifelong friends; I’ve seen countries, people and cultures that I would never have been close to had it not been for my pursuit of this; I’m healthier and fitter than I have ever been in my life; I’ve accomplished things and learned a lot more about life, and me, than I ever would have done otherwise.

The roof of Africa.......

The roof of Africa…….

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth..

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth..

...to the highest point in all of Europe....

…to the highest point in all of Europe….

..to nearly the roof of South America....

..to nearly the roof of South America….

...and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes....

…and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes….

...and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

…and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

I fly back in a couple of days time, and will think about things in the meantime, but I’m not going to stop going to the top of (much smaller) mountains, or walking in the hills and fells, or travelling, or doing things outdoors that I love. I’m just not doing any more high altitude trips, ever. I’m done, and I’m good with that. The good thing too is that I have a million things to look forward to, and my life is richer because of what I’ve done. I’m very proud and happy about that.

Meantime, to those great people I’ve met along the way, and probably more importantly to those who have worried about me while I’ve been away, I’ll just say thank you, for everything, and for being part of this adventure. If you look forward on life now with as much enthusiasm as I do, then your life will be a fabulous and fulfilling one. Embrace life, we all only get one of them after all.

 

The Fan Dance!

So a very quick update from me here. This coming Saturday I will be taking part in what is variously described as “the toughest endurance challenge yet”:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10944512/Is-the-Fan-Dance-the-toughest-endurance-challenge-yet.html

or alternatively is just known as the SAS training course which ‘beasts’ the nation’s fittest special forces soldiers:

http://outsidetimes.com/adventures/the-fan-dance-a-run-through-a-slice-of-british-military-history-2387/#sriuMHYS4Av88Twq.97

Basically the Fan Dance has been used since WW2 as the physical and mental determinant of whether special forces troops (SAS and the like) and parachute regiment troops are up to task. Fail this and you’re out, in short. It is about 24km in length, has about 5 or 6 thousand feet of ascent, and covers the highest mountain in south Wales, Pen Y Fan, twice.

The Fan Dance has received notoriety in recent years as a few members of the armed forces died on this particular course for being ‘yomped’ a bit too hard. It has now been opened up to the public as an event for people who think that Tough Mudder is a bit easy. I’m not one of those, I have to say, and having done Tough Mudder last weekend, I presently think I am a bit mad, but hey ho, as they say!

Pen Y Fan from Cribyn

Pen Y Fan from Cribyn

The challenge is further ‘complicated’ by the fact that you need to carry between 35lbs and 45lbs of weight on your back, PLUS your food and water. There is also a cut off time of four hours. I have calculated that the two and a half litres of water than I plan to carry (two litres is mandatory, and they weigh everything before you start), plus food, will weigh about another 7 pounds, so I am looking at potentially 50 lbs on my back.

Like I said, maybe I am a bit mad 🙂

I’ll update this on Sunday all being well, and let you know how I get on. I’m not aiming for the cutoff time, just to get through it. I’m thinking 7 hours will be good, but maybe that is ambitious too, especially as the weather is supposed to be hot, at 20 degrees much too hot for this sort of thing for me.

Wish me the best of British…………..:)