Other, Running

Father’s Day

A bunch of flowers in a vase with Father's Day Cards

About a month ago I was happily looking at training plans for my September Half Marathon and seeing which ones I might actually manage to stick to for more than a couple of weeks.

Running to train though has slightly gone out the window for now.

Running for my own sense of wellbeing has replaced it.

Last week we learned that my dad’s treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a type of cancer) was deemed by the consultant, to be not working. It had been a bit of a punt, but one we all thought, especially my dad, was worth taking. The alternative, which is where we are now, was ‘palliative care’.

The gentlest of phrases that means the biggest thing.

I laced up this morning and got out for my first run in nearly two weeks and had no other objective than to breathe.

My usual short but hilly 3 and a bit miler, so no decisions on which way to turn. Not fast, but steady and gradually my lungs opened up.

Dad had been in hospital for a week with his second infection, and we’d managed to get him back home on the afternoon before Father’s Day. He did enjoy the day with three of us kids and half his grandchildren coming to see him, but he was very tired. By the evening my big sis and I who were staying with him, seriously wondered if things were imminent as she spoon-fed him some pudding while his eyes could barely stay open.

We called the other siblings to come the following day, just in case, but the night’s sleep created an amazing transformation. He was attentive, chatty, alert, ate his food himself and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the rest of the family.

There are five of us children and we’re similar to each other but different enough to squabble about the best way to make carrot and coriander soup. Well, we all have an opinion! We’ve been coming, on rotation, to stay with our dad, for the last couple of months.

We probably all deal with this in different ways and there will be peaks like Monday, and troughs, but I am extremely grateful to be part of a large family so that we can all share the caring but have a bit of time out as well.

It doesn’t matter that I was as slow as a snail but today’s running has helped me relax a bit and ease my mind a little from the intensity of the last few days. I may give it another try tomorrow.

Running

Cycling, not running

Signpost - left to Chester, right to Hope
What does this say about Chester?

I didn’t run yesterday as I spent a lovely day cycling into Wales with compadres from the running club.

Pensby Runners spawned a non-running child some years back, called PROBs (Pensby Runners On Bikes). They have been meeting, barring Covid lockdowns, once a week on Thursday. As it’s a day time, most of the riders are retired, but they’re not a sedate bunch. Their usual routes are between 50 and 70 miles, and include the odd hill or five. 

Luckily for me this week, a breakaway group decided to do a shorter route, around 30 miles, and so, knowing that I had a charity bike ride coming up, I joined them.

My ride is at the end of July. It’s a family thing, set up by my brother-in-law John, in memory of Mark, who had Motor Neurone Disease. We’re cycling from Lincoln to Liverpool over the course of a few days with each day being around 30 – 35 miles, so my trip with PROBs was a good test of whether I’d reach the end of, at least, day 1 intact.

Cycling by myself to the meeting point in Neston was a little strange, as recently I’ve always had my mate Gary to accompany me whenever I’d gone out. Still, I put my big girl’s pants on and got there just a few minutes before they were setting off, albeit adding a mile or so to my journey as I got a bit lost on the way.

People were just leisurely finishing their coffees as I arrived to an impressive row of bikes, lined up neatly against the walls. There is something kind of cool about cycling in a group. You feel safer (apparently Liverpool and the Wirral are some of the UK’s worst areas for cycle accidents and fatalities) and you are I am less likely to get lost. Plus if you get a puncture, there are people to stay with you to help fix it.

There were 14 of us on this trip, which split into two groups of 7 to keep it manageable, and we took off, once the drinks were drunk, to our lunchtime destination of Higher Kinnerton.

What do you call a group of cyclists? I suppose the obvious is a Pelaton, but it would be nice to have something a little more fun. Birds have ace ones, like a ‘conspiracy’ of ravens, or a ‘murder’ of crows. I’m all for adding a completely new definition, for example, a ‘scandal’ of cyclists! However, I’m no influencer, and it would be less likely to gain traction than the profane epithets occasionally hurled by irate car drivers.

We didn’t have 5 hills today but we did have a couple of toughies heading around Buckley. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. It’s a mantra that I gasped near the top of the second hill to give myself a bit of encouragement. I was encouraged that I didn’t have to get off my bike and push, so that was something.

Luckily there was some excellent route planning to make all the hills happen before lunch so that I could justify my triple chocolate brownie at the café in Higher Kinnerton. There was also time for one of the crew, Jenny, to get a little surprise cake for her birthday.

In a slight variation to the original route back, we stopped to see very cute donkeys chewing the cud in a field. Who knows what things these beasts had to tolerate in their former homes, but, in this sanctuary, they looked very happy.

A donkey in a field
Little Donkey, waiting for me to pull up more grass for it to eat

Then we rode back along the river and through Burton marshes and had a final group stop at the Harp Inn in Neston. There were loads of tables outside which was nice. I looked at my tracking thingy and it told me I had cycled just over 38.5 miles up to that point. I really intended to do the final 7 miles back to home when I sat down for my lime and tonic, but then, as the sun came out a little more, and I got a little more relaxed, I ended up ordering a beer and calling Anne to pick me up. Rome wasn’t built in a day you know!

Books

The Mirror And The Light – Hilary Mantel

Book front cover of hardback.

Last night I finally finished the great tome that is The Mirror And The Light. It’s taken me ages. Not because it’s rubbish, far from it, but because of life getting in the way. But now, with relief and a little sadness, the trilogy is done.

Hilary Mantel herself says that ‘It was the hardest to write and it’s probably the most demanding for the reader’. That is definitely true. This last book has been more poetic and the viewpoint often leaves Cromwell’s head and swoops up to survey the wider geo-political landscape

It also dives back into his past more often, introspectively recollecting his earlier lives, in Putney, in Italy, in Antwerp, etc., drawing together a more solid shape of a man who previously seemed to have come out of nowhere. A blacksmith’s son from the backwaters of the Thames now the second most powerful man in the country.

The narrative commences where Bring Up The Bodies left off: the moment after Queen Anne’s execution, in the same way that one flowed from Wolf Hall. The books seem like nominal dividers at first, but all three end with an important beheading. Firstly Thomas More, then Anne Boleyn and finally in this one, the man himself.

That is not a spoiler, or maybe it is if you’re not up on your Tudor history? I’m a terrible one for looking up the main protagonists on t’internet, just to see how much their histories match up to the book. As with her previous two, Mantel makes sure the facts are all in the right places. They’re the skeleton around which she has built her hypotheses.

There is no record of the boy scholar Thomas More being harangued by the boy servant Thomas Cromwell, but it’s a sweet idea. And one that encapsulates the two men’s stark differences. Not only in their birth and paths through life, but it shows up More’s intransigence and Cromwell’s adaptiveness.

However, his remarkable abilities, to adapt and always to be one step ahead of his rivals, fail him in the end and he doesn’t foresee that his enemy’s enemies have become comrades for the purpose of his downfall.

He begins his incarceration in the Tower, initially in the same rooms as Anne Boleyn when she was about to be coronated and when she was about to be beheaded. It was Cromwell who, seven years before had had them rebuilt in time for Anne. It was Cromwell, who had had the eyes of the goddesses changed from brown to blue when Jane stayed here before her wedding to the King. A quote comes back to haunt us from the second book, where Anne warns Cromwell that ‘Those who are made can be unmade’.

The ghosts, that have occasionally accompanied him, have multiplied, especially when he is then moved to the Bell Tower, still a grand room, but more spartan, and used for high-ranking prisoners. George Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More and others, all flit around for his last few days on Earth.

I’ve always been fascinated by history, much more so than current affairs, as for me, with history, the chaos has passed and can be explored less emotionally. But this trilogy has brought alive a period of time to such a degree where my emotions were engaged and I was rapt by the characters and the chaos and the machinations and the politics even though I knew how it would all play out.

The ending, though macabre, is poetry, and resurrects the words spoken by Walter, his father at the beginning of Wolf Hall. There is some evidence that Cromwell’s beheading was botched and took several blows, and Mantel uses this possibility to extend his voice for a few painful seconds more until he breathes his last and I closed the book for a final time.