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I don't think Tommo (it's what it said on the back of his shirt) meant to sound just like Dom Joly but as he came through the surging mass of runners between Charlton and Greenwich on the London Marathon, it was hard to think of anyone else as he shouted into his phone: "I'm at the five-mile point!"

A few seconds later I passed someone else relaying their trials with a weak calf muscle not to their running companion but to someone at the other end of the phone. With the number of runners taking part, it was one of the few ways that anyone saw their friends and relatives in the crowd. One company had set up a text alert system to let people know where their friends were in the mass but it was only accurate to 5km, because that's where the timing-chip mats were placed, largely to provide the split times for the elite runners.

To be honest, I thought about taking the phone with me but then decided against it, thinking the Garmin GPS stopwatch was enough technology to accompany me for about the next five and a half hours, largely in the name of getting this map.


But I wasn't alone. When we passed the start point with its transceiver screaming like a forgotten burglar alarm, I could hear the bleeps of about ten or fifteen Forerunners and other stopwatches being started.

But I was seriously underdressed in the mid-course sustenance department judging by some of the runners, who had Carbo-Gel and other high-energy pick-me-ups stuffed into their Bat-Belts. Tommo had his left arm encased in silvery gel packets.

But some people worked out how heavy their sports aids would feel by about the 20-mile point. In Poplar, I spotted thirty quid's worth of Camelpak - it's a kind of beer hat for runners - lying in the gutter amid the bottles of Vittel and Lucozade Sport that were handed out free. Realistically, what I needed to carry was a spare set of legs because, after about four bottles of energy drink I could probably have stayed awake for a week. I'd just have to do it sitting down.

Technology also had a role in one near-nasty accident. A purple iPod Shuffle popped off a woman's arm holster. "Oh shit," she said as she whirled round and bent down to pick it up. "Fuck me," exclaimed the guy who collided with her and nearly went head first into the ground, although he managed to stay upright and carry on.

Musical highlights on the way had to be the taiko drummers underneath the A2 at Charlton, making the most of the resonance of hundreds of tons of concrete, and the drummers at Canary Wharf. An honourable mention goes to the blues band sitting outside the Sun in the Sands just after the start. Nil point to the dodgy europop van in Wapping.

Art education for kids

8 February 2009

A fine piece of real-life Competitive Dad overheard at Tate Britain today. A father and son come into the room that contains a bunch of pieces by Walead Besht in the Altermodern * exhibition that opened last Tuesday (3 February).

Fedex is a group of glass boxes mounted on Fedex shipping boxes in various states of distress. The work has the boxes shipped around the world with little more protection than the cardboard affords. So, they gradually get more smashed up the longer they're in transit.** Eventually, they wind up in an exhibition.

Enter father and son of about 10 or 11:

"Those boxes, they're all broken," he piped up.

"They're meant to be broken. That's the point," snapped Dad curtly.

And with that, they went for a quick look at the Projection Room installation and then out of the room. I wonder what happened when they got to Millais' Ophelia on the other side of the gallery:

"That lady's lying in the water."

"She's meant to be lying in the water."

Or Rosetti's The Annunciation:

"That lady looks a bit scared."

"She's meant to be scared."

* It is, frankly, a bit rubbish in parts but not half as bad as the FT makes out. However, the worst pieces tend to be those that best fit Nicolas Bourriaud's definition of altermodern. Oops.

** I'm guessing Fedex will not be using this for a PR campaign. Mind you, at least Besht hasn't been rude about Memphis. At least, not to my knowledge.

In the Pre-Budget Report, chancellor Alistair Darling put a lot of emphasis on the environment and used that for part of the stimulus package. He claimed £535m would go into bringing forward a plan to build more trains as well as put more efficient heating into low-income homes.

Darling claimed £300m would provide 200 new trains and it says that in the written version of the speech as well. But a closer inspection of the written report (p8, 112, 125) reveals that the money is for "up to 200 new rail carriages [to] be delivered earlier". Not quite 200 new trains then. More like 25.

At the same time, about £400m of spending is being brought forward to put more lanes on motorways.