January February Don’t You Come Around

I know this title is an artless steal of an old song lyric but it kind of fits ish.1

I’m not sure why, but I can’t quite seem to get the words to come out for this last blog of the month. My aim was to, perhaps, write one blog each week or two but January has generated a flurry of thoughts that have come pretty easily to the page. Except now, to close the month, I’ve been gnawing painfully away at the end of my virtual pencil and can’t think of what to say.

Okay, that’s not quite correct. I can’t find all the right words. And I’m not sure what I mean by that because surely if you have something to say you just say it, assuming your command of language is adequate. I’m not trying to expound some complex, mind-altering thought. Alls I’m wanting to note is that I ran those 100 miles with two days to spare.

So that nugget of info definitely isn’t a revelation. But yes. That last 28 miles was done in 5 days and I’m massively chuffed and seriously grateful to Bev who did most of them with me. And on Friday, when we hit that 100 I felt so happy I almost skipped back to my house.

I don’t get stressed very often but when that snow was falling last weekend, all half an inch of it, I did start chewing my lip a bit about the likelihood of completing my aim. By Monday night when we’d handed back little Alf to his mum after his day with his nannies, I found my old head torch and called for Bev for a night run as the snow and most of the ice had disappeared. I hate running in the dark but needs must and I’d had decided, in order to take the heat off, I’d run twice the next day. That broke the proverbial camel’s back and I knew we’d make it. Our final trip, a canter around Port Sunlight village, was on a dowdy but dry afternoon and we wished we could have cracked open some beers together to celebrate but we made do with a selfie.

Quick aside to briefly comment on the rest of my list:

  • Today I have one more Yoga sesh to do for the full complement and I want to talk about it more in another blog because this has been a bit of a revelation.
  • I’m progressing with the WordPress course and hoping, bit by bit to make my pages a bit more whizzy woo, or at least better organised.
  • Stories have been ditched for the moment but I’m not saying it’s forever.
  • Vegetables: Annie has started planting. Exciting times.
  • I only seem to do my Italian app if I do it first thing and I’m forgetting nearly as much as I’m learning but maybe by the time we can go back to Venice I may be able to order more than un tramezzino and un grande bicchiere di vino bianco.

So back to my big 100. It only started as a thing because Michael (Alfie’s pa) said on Facebook after a few bottles of Christmas fizz, that he was doing the challenge to raise money for Liverpool Sunflowers, a local charity that does a huge amount to support people with Cancer. This is his link below and btw the big guy on there is NOT Michael.

As of this morning he only had three miles to go which is way more amazing than my achievement as he’s a dad with a more than full time job so molto credito to him.

I, having also partook of many beverages, commented that I would see his 100, and luckily neither of us upped the ante and we’ve both got to this end point successfully. So not a very salutary lesson on the dangers of excessive imbibing then.

But now what?

February is only a few measly hours away and I need a new thing. Because, well, I need something to write about and sitting on my tush, whilst appealing, does not make for an entertaining read. I don’t want to lose my running legs but I also want to start getting on the bike to begin my training for the ride that we’ll be doing in memory of Mark this summer. So I think, to pluck a random figure out of the sky, I’ll aim for 70 miles running and then 3 times a week on the turbo trainer for 15/20 mins at a time: Aldi’s finest (especially as I got it for free!) piece of equipment that lets me cycle on my bike without needing to suffer the crap weather or crazy drivers just yet.

One of the feet was missing from it so they sent me my money back and let me keep the contraption. Result!

It is the shortest month so that’ll do.

I think I have written my way into finding my voice this time around. Definitely a good reminder that just because it’s not always easy, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.

An addendum: If you’re want to run for weight loss it doesn’t always work. I didn’t lose any this month but my body shape did change a little bit, and I definitely feel stronger. So that will also do.

1 - Barbara Dickson – January February (1980)

Grief in the time of Covid

It was a two bottle of Gavi kind of evening. That is two bottles between two of us, in case you’re counting.

Yesterday morning we sent Anne’s brother Mark off to the ‘inn at the end of the world’ (G.K. Chesterton – The Feast of the Snow).  Where, under normal circumstances, the church would be filled to the rafters, there could only be 30, and instead people gathered a safe distance apart in the carpark and outside The Crows Nest in Crosby, Mark’s ‘inn’ of choice, as the hearse drove by.

I have been to just a few funerals but this one reminded me of my mum’s, over 15 years ago, when Covid was not even a twinkle in a bat’s eye (allegedly). That hall WAS packed to the rafters but the words spoken were the same. That sense of family, and love. For Mark, his son Patrick talked so eloquently about a father who would do anything for his four children, as my sister once talked of our mum. There was a little laughter and some tears and actually, despite the restrictions, it was beautiful. To have such a testimony read out of a life well lived although much, much too short.

I think I was worried, before the service, that there weren’t the usual avenues to start the grieving process in this crazy time we’re in. No wake, no hugs, no real together time. In the Hindu culture, (pre-pandemic) there is a period of time (sort of like a long wake without the alcohol) where the family sits in mourning and relations and friends come to the house to sit, sing hymns, talk and share memories about the person who has gone, and to cry. In fact, I remember when I was a child, older women used to say that they were going to the house of mourning in order to ‘cry’ with the family. As if this was the main purpose.

It was a caterwaul sometimes, and the buttoned down, western part of my psyche baulked and was embarrassed by the effluent sounds, wondering what the neighbours would be thinking. It also got my waterworks going and half the time I didn’t really know the person who had gone, so it must have done something to the actual bereaved.  Irish people may recognise these old ladies as ‘keeners’ in their own traditions, and I’m sure there are many other variations in other cultures, but it is, ironically, a dying art, because it seems I wasn’t the only person who felt uncomfortable by such public displays of emotion.

Mark was, according to his family, a reserved quiet man. He would have hated such histrionics and probably preferred the more intimate service that he had. The priest was a family friend who had married Mark and Carole over forty years ago. His homily was personal and delivered with a lovely gentleness that was never grave or sombre, but thoughtful and uplifting. As we sat listening, separated into bubbles and not all squashed up, Anne told me later, that this gave her the space to go into herself a little bit and listen feelingly to the words. He spoke directly to Mark’s mum and acknowledged her own personal loss, so similar to my grandma’s. And gave his final thoughts to Carole, who’d done the lion’s share of caring for him as the Motor Neuron’s Disease took more of a hold. We followed his coffin out to the theme of Z-cars for his beloved Everton Football Club.

Although Mark was quiet, he enjoyed a good time and would definitely have liked his wake in the Crows Nest and as soon as it is possible we will be there, raising pints of Theakstons (or something more palatable) to remember him. In the meantime, Anne and I did a little zoom call with the family in the evening to raise a glass or three and then had our own personal wake for her brother.

The poem below is by Rabindranath Tagore and was read out at his cremation.

 Farewell My Friends
 Farewell My Friends
 It was beautiful
 As long as it lasted
 The journey of my life.
 I have no regrets
 Whatsoever said
 The pain I’ll leave behind.
 Those dear hearts
 Who love and care...
 And the strings pulling
 At the heart and soul...
 The strong arms
 That held me up
 When my own strength
 Let me down.
 At the turning of my life
 I came across
 Good friends,
 Friends who stood by me
 Even when time raced me by.
 Farewell, farewell My friends
 I smile and
 Bid you goodbye.
 No, shed no tears
 For I need them not
 All I need is your smile.
 If you feel sad
 Do think of me
 For that’s what I’ll like
 When you live in the hearts
 Of those you love
 Remember then
 You never die. 

28 miles to go

I wasn’t planning to write anything again until the end of the month when I will have hopefully completed my 100 miles in the month challenge. But the snow actually, finally, kind of, settling on the streets of Bebington meant that my long run hasn’t happened today and, after much vacillation and angst about letting the mileage slide I’m ensconced on the sofa with the fire and a good book. Also, Bev, my neighbour, who is normally great at chivvying me along, has sacked me off for snowballs and sledging instead of twisting her ankles on black ice with me so that’s the last time I big her up in a blog!!!

I haven’t read a book in what feels like months. Lots of articles and news headlines and memes and tweets and quotes. But nothing longer than a couple of pages for a while and I’ve realised that it requires some considerable amount of concentration and, ironically, mental relaxation. To let the flow of words cascade and slowly envelop and draw you into a finely brush-stroked world where the small details and background matter as much as the denouement. It takes patience.

I’ve chosen, therefore, an old favourite that I knew I would like, but where I couldn’t remember the plot. This lack of recall occurs quite a lot and one of these days I’m going to go on those brain training courses that get advertised ad nauseum on my social media feed (Facebook seriously knows too much about me!). For now though, it’s a happy affliction because I’ve just smoked fifty pages without so much as a wriggle of my backside and I’ve loved it.

I’ve broken off to write because I’m about to cook the dinner and the chapter end has fallen. I recommend ‘The Crow Road’ by Iain Banks. So far, not much is occurring but the bittersweet and very funny descriptions of normal life. There is a whiff of a bit of a background mystery that may surface later on but at the moment I’m getting to know some nicely flawed people.

But back to my running, or lack thereof. It’s only because I was supposed to be doing seven miles that I felt a little panicked that it couldn’t happen. After today I have eight days left and 28 miles to go. One of those days is a babysitting day and another is Mark’s funeral, so potentially only six days left. And what if it snows again and gets really icy and … ?

And breathe. Anne has suggested prosecco and fish and chips instead of cooking so I think I’ll stick another log on the fire and pop the cork. Cheers!


How’s that New Year Resolutions thing going?

My previous blog was a little side track into the real world out there where the crazy nonsense is going on. That may happen from time to time when I crane my neck from beneath my shell, peer around, and then shudder back into my cave of safety.

This time I’m concentrating on the non-dramatic mundanities of my personal life which I prefer.

We are now on January 17th and over the halfway mark of the month and I’ve completed 57 miles of my hoped for 100, so I’m still on track to put a fat tick against this one.

Mornings like this reminds me why I love to run!

Have you ever run to the top of a hill and then felt like barfing? No? Me neither. I ask the question because it happened to my frequent running buddy neighbour, Bev. One of the times we went out and slogged our way up Rest Hill Road (nothing restful about this road – unless you’re going the other way perhaps), she got to the top so much quicker than me. Then, when I eventually crawled up those last few steps, I found her leaning against a wall and colour slowly coming back into her cheeks.

Rest Hill Road … from somewhere near the top

‘I nearly threw up then’, she said cheerfully, as we carried on along a nice flat bit. And she was completely fine after. She just had pushed herself on that hill to a serious level.

This got me thinking, as being a bit of a nerd I like to read articles about running a lot, and that feeling isn’t uncommon. Pushing your body so hard that you nearly spew or you go past the nearly and actually do. I am not sure if it is a good thing or not, but I’ve never felt that because I would have given up and walked well before I got to that stage. Despite the icky, I am a little in awe of people who have the drive and will to keep going, right into the nausea and get to the top of the hill, or the end of the race. I wish I had a small amount of that.

It is an enormous benefit to me to be able to run sometimes with another person. Ideally someone, who is faster than me but thoughtful enough to accompany me at my pace. It makes me up my game just a little bit. Bev is someone who kindly kicks me up the proverbial when I’m feeling lazy and comes out with me a lot, which is phenomenal considering she’s got four kids, a job and in the middle of a degree course! She’s bloody amazing.

On our little three miler today I was discussing my progress. I have noticed that my calves aren’t anywhere near as tight with the amount I’m running and that must be because I’m still on top of my yoga. It’s only about half an hour a day but it is definitely doing something to me as I’m nearly able to touch my toes whereas before I couldn’t get past my knees!

In fact the only big resolution that looks like being broken any time soon is the story writing one. Which is ironic as the reason I started this blog lark was to get me practising putting pen to paper in order to write my magnum opus. I have sat several times, and stared at the empty page. I’ve started several somethings and then tossed them aside. I can’t seem to get my imagination fired up so far. Is it because I don’t have one or because the real world is just too crazy to make stuff up? I don’t know.  I’m not calling it as a fail yet as we’re only just over two weeks into the year. But we shall see.

Even when we are in a safe space, sometimes sad things happen. My wife Anne lost her brother last weekend very suddenly. Mark had, in his last few years, suffered from Motor Neurone’s Disease and perhaps his passing has prevented more indignities and physical debilities than he was able to suffer. Yet to lose a brother, a son, a friend so quickly like that is difficult to come to terms with. Especially now when we can’t even get together. Anne is one of six and has been Zooming with the rest of her siblings and mum a lot this week. They’ve shared memories and photos and thoughts but they won’t be able to see each other for real until the funeral. We can’t even give his wife a hug. That crazy world out there has ways of permeating ours, however much we try and hide in shells.


Lockdown 3.0

No sooner had I laid my lofty plans to improve myself in this new year than the shutters were pulled down once again on the country. As with virtually every other major decision required to be made by the government it came with no warning. To paraphrase Boris loosely:

We were completely on track as a country until this vexatious virus did the unthinkable (unless you know something about virtually every virus that ever was) and mutated.

And although there may have been some fair amount of evidence that this was happening all the way back in September we have had to close everything down all of a sudden in January because we couldn’t quite bear to cancel Christmas and now this meddlesome mutation did the unthinkable (unless …) and spread like wildfire.

In reality it has had little bearing on my resolutions as such because most of them don’t require outside intervention. Our general malaise though, has given a little wobble to my resolve. I’m not a constant worrier and I don’t get anxious easily. But it does somehow feel closer this time around with several people that I know having caught the virus. Luckily none has needed to go into hospital so far. I need to channel my inner Adriene1 and breathe through the palpable rising perturbation felt by our collective minds.

Reunite With Your Breath | Yoga With Adriene - YouTube

The scenes at the Capitol building this week were pretty astonishing. Almost as jaw dropping as the 9/11 attacks until I saw the man with the face paint and the horns. Although I still had a fear that these crazy confederate flag waving hoodlums might just turn it into a gunfight at the OK Corral, I felt fairly certain that the Capitol police wouldn’t suddenly do a volte face and join them to create a new republic of Gilead2 Something you can’t fully be sure of in this tangerine nightmare of a term. Given that there were more armed guards on the steps of the building than you could shake shaman’s stick at when the BLM protestors marched, and that this time around they had turned down offers of extra security, you just can’t be sure of anything.

Capitol riot: Biden says BLM protest would have been treated 'very  differently' - BBC News

I’m hoping that this is the final act of the Trumpian drama and he is arrested and put into something that matches his skin colour very soon. There has been a wall of silence amongst most Republicans although a few rats are finally trying to leave the sinking ship. Why they are doing this now and not when the government first started locking children in cages at the border with Mexico, I’m not quite sure. Still, there is a little bit of hope here. Everybody, including Betsy DeVos, can see a clear correlation between Trump’s crowd goading by the White House and the vandalism in the building. I mean, if even our glorious blond leader can nearly denounce Donald3, then there is definitely hope that reason may yet prevail.


2       A fictional USA created in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood


Life, Running

January intentions

Okay, publicly I’m very anti New Year Resolutions because of course Jan 01 is just another day. But secretly, every year I give myself a list which takes about two ponderous weeks to write before that day and about two weeks to be scrapped after it.

I don’t think I’m alone there.

Have I attempted to create a list again this year? Of course, and because of that there tumultuous 2020, I suspect the symbolic line will be drawn and a few more lists will be made than normally the case. Will my resolutions last longer than 1/24th of the year because I’m declaring my intentions? I’m saying nothing until after the 14th. We shall see.

My list:

  • New 30 Day Yoga with Adriene – followed by more yoga (5 times a week – or at the very least 3)
  • Run 100 miles in Jan – followed by more running ( try not to drop below 70 miles each month)
  • Learn how to use WordPress with more proficiency than writing the title and then typing
  • Write a short story each month
  • Grow vegetables in our new greenhouse
  • Don’t waste my Black Friday Babbel purchase to learn Italian.

It’s hefty but not impossible and given that I don’t work full time, the only reason I’d fail is laziness.

Laziness and procrastination. These qualities of my character have consistently been the two main reasons why I have never failed at anything other than fulfilling my January list. They’ve kept me from really diving deep and working hard to explore the limits of my capabilities. And those ‘shelf help’ books keep telling me that it’s because I’m afraid to fail. In reality it is more often than not, a case of the CBAs (which means ‘can’t be arsed’ for anyone who has never been afflicted).

I know there may be some people who have genuine psychological barriers but that isn’t me although I haven’t been analysed recently. What IS me is a phobia against hard work and when the going gets tough, I’m usually the one slipping out the back door. Theoretically, I could be the most spiritually advanced person in Buddhist or Hindu terms because I’m great at detachment and life’s just all a great big inconsequential thing from a universe point of view and if I binge watch Netflix and Amazon all the time it matters not a jot.

But still I persist in this making of a list.

There must be something then, tapping quietly (sometimes a little too quietly) at my shoulder. Asking me gently what my passion might be. That list above is pure fancy, it’s just about me. It won’t impact on anybody else – apart from the vegetables maybe – but it may just, if I don’t quit, lead me to a little exploration of who I may be.

I have started quite well in the two days that have elapsed. I only have 93 miles to go and I’ve started the Yoga series. I feel as stiff as a board. Yesterday, despite the NYE fizz still sploshing around in my head, I managed 3.5 miles and found the following empty bottle in my street which kind of sums it up.