Running

That was the week that was

When so much writing material happens in the course of a week, a consolidation is required.

A corner of the beach with river Mersey behind and Liverpool skyline in the distance
A trip to the seaside on Tuesday.

Tuesday

It’s great to have a mate to go cycling with. Especially when you yourself are not so au fait with bicycle mechanics (I can ‘theoretically’ fix a puncture but I haven’t had to do it in yonks!) or, in fact, decent bicycle routes on the Wirral.

And on top of all that, two is sooo much better than one when you’re contending with some of those who sit behind the wheel of a car. And it’s not always Audi drivers either (not even a joke in my experience sadly). Today a bloke in a Beemer stuck his two fingers up at Gary for cycling in the designated cycle path. The path was fairly new but well-marked and made the road the width of a single car each way as opposed to a wide load. So room for all of us and no requirement to reduce the car speed lower than the official 30mph limit. But I guess there is no pleasing some folk!

However, that small incident aside, we had a great ride to New Brighton and back. A comfortable 20 miles with a coffee break in the middle. Now that the lockdown restrictions have eased somewhat, people can sit outside to drink their drinks in more sociable environs. And the weather was rather glorious for it. The sun was out and it wasn’t quite scorchio, but when you’d worked up a sweat, it was good enough to take a layer off. We happened to spot some other cyclist friends to have the break with, one of whom was 89 and still easily able to knock out a casual 30+ miles on his bike that day! If I can get half of that energy when I’m 89 then I’ll be dancing, hopefully literally!

Wednesday

Good times back at the River Park.

Thursday

Talking of energy, I was getting a little worried about my running mileage. Although the cycling had felt fine at the time, my legs were now feeling tired, even when sitting down and I’d only managed 4 miles running so far since Monday. I realised that I hadn’t been putting some of those Chi Running precepts into practice. Mainly that I needed to slow it down.

I’m not fast by other people’s standards, but an 11.30 minute mile is getting to be a comfortable pace for me. At the beginning of the year it was between 12/13 mins so I am getting a bit faster. But in order to include my cycling and keep my long runs long, I decided to try going slower again and add around a minute to each mile.

It is actually really hard to drop down from your normal rhythm, and you feel like you’re virtually walking. That feeling, ironically, made me smile – this pace was definitely harder at the beginning of the year. I was progressing then! I managed just over 6 miles in an average 12.34 minute miles, and it all felt good. The real test would be to see if I had enough in the tank for tomorrow’s long run.

Friday

Bev wanted to join me today so I thought we’d maybe get about 9 miles in, as she’d not done a long one in ages, which was okay with me. I would just do a bit more at the weekend.

She hadn’t slept properly the night before, having felt something akin to pre-race nerves. But she’d had her muesli that morning and found some coconut oil as her substitute for Vaseline and I’d dug out some Dextrose sugar tabs for her so she was ready.

The pleasant sunny days seemed to be continuing all week and we both had our shades on (although mine sat on top of my hat forgotten, for the most of the run!). We kept it as slow as I’d done yesterday and found some new paths that we’d not ventured down before.

The wonderful thing about long runs is that a little diverging and exploring is quite possible because you’ve got loads of miles to cover and so you’re less restricted. And it keeps it interesting, especially when you’re clumsily trying to climb over a gate and wondering if you’re trespassing!

We didn’t get too lost though and eventually found our way back to our normal stomping grounds without being chased by guard dogs (that has happened to me before!) but it was fun and made the miles go with ease.

I was feeling it by the end to be sure, but when I pulled my phone out and saw we’d passed the 11 mile mark I was ecstatic! And ever so slightly jealous of Bev that she could knock out such a great run with zero build up!

But, honestly, we were both completely buzzing from the enjoyment of it and the result. And my biggest win was the fact that my legs felt fairly fresh again after a few hours and I could go again for another small one the next day.

Saturday

After a sneaky 4 miler to test the legs with Bev in the morning, Anne and I set about organising the garden for our first (in a long Covid while) hosting event, and I would also get to christen the BBQ that I’d bought last year! Gary, my cycling buddy and his wife, Wendy were already coming over. Then my brother was at a loose end that day so he, his wife and my gorgeous tiny niece came later too. The Barbie worked a treat, apart from a small accidental fire at the beginning that was put out without any trips to A&E.

Oh it was a beautiful day. The wine and beer were flowing, the food went down a treat, and Anne had surpassed herself with an amazing lemon curd pavlova to finish things off. Sometimes you just don’t realise how much you’ve craved good company until it actually happens again.

A lemon curd pavlova with pistachios
Anne’s Scrummy Pavlova

Sunday

Watched the ultimate marathon GOAT (Greatest Of All Time in case you’re not sure) effortlessly wipe the floor with the competition in the NN Mission Marathon this morning. The commentators noted how Eliud Kipchoge looked as fresh in the 26th mile as he did in the first. And then acknowledged how much incredible work went into that appearance.

I was tempted by the man to go out for another myself but held back. I’d managed just under 26 miles plus my cycling this week. Which will do nicely.

Books

The Widows of Malabar Hill – Sujata Massey

The front cover of the paperback
The front cover of the paperback

Having said I’m not into the Crime novel genre, I appear to have read two of them back to back!

But you see, when the main protagonist has the surname of Mistry (as my surname is) I felt a personal obligation.

As an aside, this isn’t always the case. After reading one book by Rohinton Mistry (A Fine Balance) I was left so traumatised that I can’t, just at the moment anyway, read anything else by him. It was extremely good, but the subject matter and the arc of the story just left me in bits.

Incidentally, the main characters in this book are Zoroastrian, as was one of the main characters in A Fine Balance. I asked my dad about the surname. And he thought it meant carpenter, or craftsman. He said it was frequently used by many types of Gujarati people (Gujarat is a state in India where my folks are originally from), be they Hindu, Muslim or Parsi (the Indian term for Zoroastrians).

But enough about history and back to the story at hand. It’s set, errr, back in history, in the early part of the 20th Century, mainly in Bombay (now Mumbai). Perveen Mistry is the first female solicitor to practise in Bombay. Her story is fictional but was inspired by a real woman lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji, who’s mini biog at the end of the book is a fascinating read.

It is 1921 and Perveen has been working for a short time at her father’s practice after studying law at Oxford. A case comes up to sort out the estate of a deceased man who has left three wives, children and a business. What starts off as a routine administrative task becomes complicated by suspicion of duplicity, a murder and the fact that these wives follow a custom of purdahnashin – living in seclusion and completely away from the male gaze.

The story flits back and forth between this case and Perveen’s life a few years before. As well an intriguing ‘Who Done It’, it weaves an interesting tapestry of the lives of people in Bombay at that time. The fairly tolerant juxtaposition of different religious practices and conventions, the casual corruption, and the background tensions of the British presence.

The narrative has an interesting style. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on why but it sounded different somehow. Then it occurred to me that it was like an Indian person speaking English. Excellent English, but more precise and with less colloquialisms than a native speaker might use. Once I got that, it seemed to draw me in more to the time and place of the book. I’m assuming it’s deliberate, as the author was born in England, so it’s really quite clever.

I love a book that is able to keep my interest in the story and able to teach me something new, about different cultures, places and times. This did all that and came with a satisfying conclusion. And luckily for me, it is the first in a series.

Other

Volunteering at the River Park

It was, by mid-morning anyway, a rather warm hazy day. The water on the river barely rippled and we could see clearly over to Liverpool with the huge Anglican Cathedral taking centre stage.

A view of the Liverpool skyline from the Riverpark
A view of the big city from tranquility.

There were surprisingly few people about on such a clement morning and I asked Andy the ranger, how it had been going. I remembered many more visitors when I’d come running here. He said that today had been the quietest in a long time. Maybe, he added, it was because all the shops had opened up.

Never mind being a nation of shop keepers, we seem to be a nation of consumers. You’d think the country had been living in an abject state of near-naked deprivation given the queues outside Primark (other non-essential retailers are available) on Monday.

But I like this place when it’s quiet. It’s more peaceful, and you can hear the twittering of the birds and the occasional buzzing of bees. And it was so nice to see again, some of my volunteering buddies. Not as many as normal, as we were limited to six in a group, but I hadn’t seen most of them in over a year.

Today, I did a bit of drainpipe clearing. These were semi-circular pipes, dug into the steeply sloping paths, with grids on them to catch some of the water that rolled down on very rainy days. They were full of soil and small stones, and the odd worm or spider. Surprisingly satisfying work trowelling it all out. And it was good fun to catch up with Linda, one of the other volunteers.

Granted the catch up didn’t take long considering neither of us had done a huge amount in the last year. Her: Zumba in the kitchen and going on local walks. Me: running. But, we were able to commiserate with each other about how badly her beloved Wycombe Wanderers and my hometown team Coventry City were both doing in the Championship.

It was a really enjoyable morning and although I had planned on getting my mileage in by running there, and then coming back by a circuitous route. I didn’t factor in how tired I’d be from all that digging, even though it didn’t feel hard at the time. So there were no diversions, but it was all very much worth it.

Running

Vaseline

I was going to create this post a couple of days ago, but then Prince Philip suddenly shuffled off this mortal coil and that news seemed to wade into my writing unbidden but overriding.

Prior to my knowledge of the Royal demise, on Friday morning, I was steeling myself for the prospect of reaching double figures. I’d got quite close a few times but this was going to be the day when that little barrier would break.

the number 10
(Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com)

The process for me began with the porridge about two hours before. Then, while getting changed, I pulled out my trusty tub of Vaseline.

Now before you jump to any salacious speculation, I mainly use it on my feet before the start of a big run or walk. ‘Big’, for me, constitutes any mileage getting into double digits and so slathering on that Vaseline (other brands of petroleum jelly are available) was my way of saying to myself that today I’d reach my ten miles.

I can’t actually remember when or where I was given this tip but it has served me very well. I’ve done two marathons, loads of half marathons, and the Coast to Coast walk, all without getting a single blister. So a Gold Star tip if ever there was one.

It has obviously been quite a while (probably around a year and half now) since I was last running these kinds of lengths, as I had forgotten that my tub was nearly empty. Just enough to cake it on this time, and perhaps the next, but I definitely need to buy another one soon. However, I had enough for this run so there were no excuses.

Whether you’re a super pro-athlete or doing the Couch to 5K, you will always have psychological hurdles. These are specific to you and how your mind works. And the methods to overcoming those hurdles are also specific to you.

What works for me (sometimes) is a bit of a talking to. Mainly in my head but occasionally it slips out into audible speech. It can be a little embarrassing sometimes but keeps people away, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

I told myself that I was ready. That the time it took was of no concern and if I walked a bit on any uphills, that was okay too. But I would keep going until I reached my ten.

And I did!

A map and statistics of my 10 mile run
A 10 mile canter around the neighbourhood

And I actually had a bit more in the tank to take the final mile or so at a gallop, which bodes well for the next level up. Plus my feet ended up feeling very moisturised.

Other

A Nation in Mourning?

Well, this is new!

Prince Philip, in black and white, next to Matt Smith, in colour, wearing a similar uniform.
Prince Philip in his youth as part of the country’s longest running soap opera!
(Image taken from HarpersBazaar.com)

I was in the kitchen for half an hour earlier, preparing the sauce for a lamb curry I’m making tomorrow, and I put BBC 6Music on the radio for some random Indie tunes and all it played was some rather funereal instrumentals. Not bad stuff, kind of on the Philip Glass level, but still. At first I thought it was some album being showcased but then the DJ piped up and said it was because Prince Philip has died.

What?!

I know it’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t quite make it to the full century and have his wife give him a telegram, but he’s had a very good innings. It’s not like he’d been in a car crash in Paris or anything. And even though every picture I’ve seen of him recently made me wonder if he was actually already dead, in reality I have absolutely no interest in the Royal Family’s life. I’m not exactly a republican and I wish them all happiness, but, they just don’t figure in my thoughts.

I guess the BBC are probably obliged to lead the nation in mourning or something along those lines, but does that include 6Music? You can tell by the number that it’s not there as one of the mainstream radio channels.

So I’ve huffed and puffed my way into the living room to write this and I’m calming down now.

It must be a strange way to live a life, acting as a figurehead. Historically that position has held enormous, dictatorial power, but now I’m not sure what the purpose of the Royal Family is. To be representative? Of whom? An entire nation? We aren’t such a homogenous group any more, if ever we were.

According to The Crown, in Philip’s Matt Smith years, he was a little bit of a rebel and wasn’t so keen to always toe the family line, for example, taking off on a solo royal tour, or as they called it in the show, a ‘five-month stag do’, around the Indian Ocean.

I stopped watching The Crown when Philip changed into the next bloke because, as I’ve already said, I’m not that interested in them. Plus, I think, he follows the rule book a bit more, apart from coming out with the occasional racist gaffs. So I’ll have to keep the radio and TV turned off tonight and carry on reading my current book, set in 1920s India, ironically during the British Raj!

Books

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

I have to say straight off that I’m not normally one for reading Crime Thrillers as a genre. But this was a well-publicised book by Richard Osman, who is quite famous in the UK for other things and, well, it was in the house.

The front cover of the book
Was it really that ‘Gripping’?

Anne read this before me, as always, and she is a bit of a Crime novel afficionado. She found it sweet and quite funny in parts. However, she reckoned that, if it had not been Richard Osman, it may not have been published. It’s all about who you know, and, I guess, how much you’re known.

Apparently the manuscript was the subject of a 10-way publishing war, so you’d think he could have chosen one with a better layout editor. The huge number of end-of-line word-breaks in the hardback was incredibly annoying for me because I’m pedantic like that. Perhaps if it had been a wonderfully written book I wouldn’t have noticed them much, but I did, so.

That said, I did start warming to the main characters as the book progressed. The titular ‘Club’ consists of four members of a very posh (as in you can’t quite imagine all of them keeling over with Covid) retirement village: Elizabeth, the main honcho, who used to be, well it’s never quite specified what she used to be, but by the favours she can very handily call on, it was high level and hush hush; Ibrahim, the psychiatrist, with a penchant for healthy living and technology; Ron, the old trade union boss who was asked to be patient by Arthur Scargill; and finally Joyce, the innocuous looking new recruit, who, like a modern day Miss Marple, could observe without being noticed.

It is Joyce’s diary entries, interspersed within the main narrative whose direct thoughts we are privy to. Why these are included, I’m not quite sure. It’s not as if they are showing us a perspective that the main narrative can’t reach. But it’s fine. Maybe in the next book in the series, and I suspect there will be one, he’ll draw on the diary of one of the others.

Alongside the sleuthing, the character interactions and developments are sometimes interesting. Elizabeth’s continuing with her dear friend Penny, now in the care home next door and unable to show any sign of engagement with the world, is poignant and drawn well.

The ending did feel a bit more convoluted than the rest, and it felt like the author was rapidly running out of space and needed to tie up loose ends very quickly. But at least he does tie them up as I’m not a fan of leaving things hanging. 

I think I’ve been quite negative so far about this book but it was a very quick, enjoyable read all in all. I would recommend it if you find yourself seeing it on the bookshelf, but I wouldn’t recommend paying loads of money for it.

Other

Short Summers, Short Beers and Zimmer Frames

What a difference a day makes. 24 little hours between yesterday’s gasping effort and today’s canter. I ran for longer and I was quicker with very little effort, all because of a mere 10 degree (Celsius) drop in the temperature!

An upside down ice cream cone on top of a bin in the park
Last drips of the heat wave.

This ice-cream may have been abandoned because our three day summer, here in Leicester, is all over but it was definitely a more enjoyable run.

I’m staying with my dad at the minute as his arthritis is really flaring up. He’s in his 80s and lives in a bungalow close to my big sis. He would have been in fine fettle now if he hadn’t had polio as a child. This caused one of his legs to become twisted. Over time it’s meant he’s had to walk with heavy, orthotic boots, sticks and now a zimmer frame. He may well have got arthritis at his age anyway but compensating for a gammy leg all these years has definitely aggravated the problem.

Hopefully, though, with a course of anti-inflammatories, we’ll see an improvement in a few days. But the long Covid isolation has also taken its toll on him. He used to get out to a couple of day centres each week and shop for himself, and people came to visit. Now, although my sister gets his groceries and pops in when she can, it’s definitely not the same. He seems older and frailer and a bit more forgetful.

So while I’m here, we can hang out and have random chats during the day, like the correct way to drape washing up gloves or how his most excellent filing system will fool burglars but will also stop my dad from being able to find his apple ID password. 

Plus I have also done his shopping.

I’m not quite sure when the Asda by my dad is ever quiet, but late morning on a Thursday is absolutely not one of them. It was so busy that there were only 4 trolleys left and three of them had rubbish in (Why do people do that!!! Don’t get me started on that topic – grrrr).

I realised when I got back that today is the day before Easter when the UK public panic-buy everything because of those two bank holidays wrapped around the weekend. I kicked myself for not having gone earlier in the week. But my dad’s supply of Warburtons Seeded Batch was running dangerously low and so it had to be now.

I managed to get most of the things on the list – while swerving my trolley and keeping well away from the hoards – apart from the beer. I got Amstel instead of San Miguel. My dad doesn’t have a palate that could differentiate between one mass-produced European lager and another and he only ever has the odd bottle now and again. But he could see that the Amstel bottle was 30ml smaller than the San Miguel, which completely didn’t bother him at all even though he pointed it out about three times.

Although my dad’s obsessive tendencies may have grown, he’s actually much more laid back than he used to be. We can have a laugh and a shorter than normal beer, and chew the cud on the headlines of the day. He has missed that interaction with people this last year. It is nice to spend a bit of quality time with him.

A zimmer frame next to a box of San Miguel beer.
The important things in life

And my big sister will also be off tomorrow; not a given, as she’s a doctor, but this time it’s worked out. So we’ll be able to go for a little run in the morning in the nice, cold, more typical Easter bank holiday weather!

Books

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar

The front cover of the book
A hefty hardback but a light and enjoyable read.

This book had been sitting on a book shelf in our house for quite a while. Anne had read it, of course, many moons ago. She is a much more prolific reader than me.  However she couldn’t remember much about it other than she had enjoyed it, and so I had to go through it myself.

The title certainly grabbed me as I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of the fantastical and the prosaic. It sounded like there could be a little magic realism which I often like if it’s done well.

It is set in late eighteenth century London, just after the United States has been born and just before the French revolution. The timing feels important because there is so much about identities in this book: ancient and newly created, and this is a time when the upward mobility of the mercantile class is really starting to happen. With British ships sailing the world over, and trade and slavery bringing new wealth into the pockets of businessmen as well as the nobility.

Mr Hancock is one of these such men but he begins, in the book, as a bit sad and lonely, haunted by the death of his wife in childbirth and his still born son several years back. Fretfully waiting for his ship to literally come in, and living in Deptford, an honest working town in the unfashionable south of the river.

The Mrs Hancock in question is anything but prosaic and for two thirds of the book she is also not Mrs Hancock but a high class, if somewhat frivolous, prostitute called Angelica Neal. She has just returned to society after her previous benefactor died and left her with nothing. Her old pimp Bet Chappell wants her to return to the ‘nunnery’.

How these two unlikely companions come together is the core of this book but there is so much more. Mermaids for a start, and possibly more than one, or possibly none, such is the slippery nature of the beast. In an age when these ships are bringing so many new things from abroad for the delight of the chattering classes and the coffee drinking men of means, mermaids remain a very high possibility.

It is written in the present tense and takes on the viewpoint of various characters allowing the reader to see an interesting cross-section of life. The language is delightfully vivacious and earthy. I have a bad habit of skipping past descriptive sections but I found myself enjoying the writer’s turn of phrase so much that I lapped these parts up as much as the action.

Jane Austen, writing in the same period that this is set may have kept away from some of the more ribald aspects. But she would have recognised the proscriptive place of women. From Mr Hancock’s older sister who inherits nothing of their father’s business to Polly, a child of a slave, picked up and polished to be a sexual curio for wealthy men. From Sukie, Mr Hancock’s niece, pulled out of school for being too clever, to Angelica, supposedly free of society’s repressive constraints but completely at the mercy of a man’s credit.

The book dips into the fantastic, occasionally a little clumsily, but where it stays with reality it paints a very engaging picture of eighteenth century life. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was very pleased to have found it on our bookshelves.

Running

There’s a Stone in my Trainer Dear Reader

I seem to have settled on Fridays as my long run day. It used to be Sundays, then Saturdays. It’s a psychological game I play: if I don’t do it today, I have 2 more days to get it done. If I do do it today, I can have wine. More often than not, that’s a winning argument.

A country road
The road less quite often travelled

The rain was a pattering on the windows while I ate my oats, and it didn’t look terribly appealing. But when I finally laced up just under two hours later, the clouds had parted somewhat.

Now that my long runs are, well, getting longer, I am back to hearing that voice in my head telling me I won’t last the distance or I’ll be too exhausted. It doesn’t help when the first mile or three always feels so laborious. After five minutes of panting, I think: nearly two hours of this is an impossible task!

Then the little miracle happens. I can never put my finger on when, but suddenly, my Runkeeper lady tells me I’ve done 30 minutes and I realise I’m sailing! And I know it will (nearly) always happen but I can’t quite believe it will, and afterwards I have to smile at my lack of faith.

This time around the 30 minute mark I also found that a tiny little stone had jumped into the back of my left trainer. It was wriggling around my heel and lower ankle and I contemplated stopping. But I was in such a nice rhythm that I was loathe to. I figured as it only hurt occasionally I’d use it as an excuse to stop when I was more tired.

It was more annoying than painful really as it slid around my foot, and several times I lost concentration on my podcast (BBC: In Our Time – The Cultural Revolution) as I contemplated its movement  (How many ‘Olds’ did the Red Guard need to get rid of?) but I didn’t stop then, and I didn’t stop later when I was getting tired and losing that rhythm, because by then I felt that I wouldn’t actually get started again.

Plus, I was feeling so tired that I wasn’t sure I could actually bend down to take my shoe off. My total today was 9.25 miles, which although, technically my longest, was not much longer than my recent ones. Then I remembered that I’d done a 20 mile bike ride yesterday and that made me feel loads better.

I have put a nice Pouilly Fume in the fridge to chill as it’s Friday and my work is done!

Running

A Real Race

I had a little boost to my running mojo this week when I booked our hotel in Edinburgh for this September. The Scottish Half Marathon, which got cancelled last year, will be my first race in nearly 2 years!

Edinburgh castle from lower down the hill.
Edinburgh castle in a cloudless day, as it will be in September! –
Image by Walkerssk from Pixabay 

I know it’s absolutely ages away but still, a shining beacon of hope, no? After these crazy unprecedented times, I have possibly, hopefully, maybe got a little something to work towards again.

The irony is, that before this big world shut-down (or at least the shut-down of those parts of the world that were particularly pants at dealing with the virus), I was getting a little disaffected by the big races. They were expensive, busy, created ten ton of rubbish and were getting more and more corporate.

But having had nothing for so long, I am ready to mingle with the multitudes at the starting line again.

Metaphorically that is. The reality is I’m normally standing more than 500 metres back with the rest of the tortoises making way for the hares and the gazelles to speed away while we shuffle forward a bit at time, until we finally actually make it to the front. We’re knackered before we’ve even begun!

That, however, is beside the point. I will enjoy it all. The queues for the portaloos; the fiddling with the safety pins (for the number bibs); the standing around and interminable waiting before the start; the faint waft of Deep Heat mixed with varying levels of anxiety.

And of course the excitement. The culmination (if you’ve not been a lazy arse) of the hard work and training you’ve put in, ready to be put to the test. The knowledge that you and several thousand other people are collectively committing to this endeavour. It sometimes, in rare moments of softness, brings a lump to my throat.

I have been on so many runs where I have randomly chatted to lovely people along the way (once your breathing settles, it is possible to say a few words without gasping) and sometimes someone has pulled me psychologically to the finishing line when I’ve felt I can’t go on. Once, I even managed to pay it forward with another random stranger.

Then, crossing that line and knowing you’ve made it in hopefully a time that you’re happy with, or at least knowing that you’re done and you get to have a beer soon is wonderful. The nerves, and the anticipation is over and you can relax for just a little while.

All this and much more is why I just cannot wait for September.