Life, 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.

Life

100 years of my Grandma

A special thick envelope was delivered to my grandma’s house yesterday from the Queen.

100th birthday Telegram Envelope for my Grandma, from the Queen
The special telegram, to be opened today!!

Today she’ll open it and we’ll have a little Zoom celebration to mark her 100th birthday!

Sita Ma has been the matriarch of our family since forever, showing us, and sometimes, even the Brahmin, how to do the rituals properly for all our rites of passage. She has been our backbone and our centre, and it’s rather wonderful to see her reach this milestone.

A little sad to have to celebrate this and last year’s birthdays remotely, but conversely, that has meant including people from as far afield as Canada, India and Australia, beaming everyone, with the wonderful power of technology, straight into our living rooms.

In fact last year’s Zoom birthday was so well organised, with each member doing a bit of a turn. There were songs and stories recounted with memories of Ma. And all us 21 grandkids were involved in a video splice while lip-syncing to Happy (Pharrell Williams). My bit was cringe but we had a laugh! The whole thing became even more special than a regular get together.

One of the best stories told is of Ma when she was a girl growing up in Bardoli, in India. Mahatma Gandhi had an ashram there and she often went. Apparently when he was walking past one time, Ma told him his legs were too skinny!! I will always dine out on that one.

When I was very young, I used to go and stay with my grandparents during the week while mum went out to work and I even went to infant school there. I can’t remember much of it but I must have enjoyed myself as apparently I wasn’t that keen on going back home. It may have had something to do with me being the fourth daughter in our house and having my grandma all to myself in her house!

Me wheeling my grandma about in the park in her wheelchair
Ma and I in the park

It’s pretty phenomenal that a woman, born in quite a rural setting, who didn’t have much of an education, has lived through such world changes. She’s lived in India, Kenya and the UK. She was around before electricity was widely available and now FaceTimes!

This year’s party will be a bit shorter than last year as Ma’s stamina and memory aren’t as strong as they were. Instead we had a prequel Zoom yesterday when various friends and family members sang songs and hymns for her to listen to and join in with, as the old songs are always remembered. Today, we’ll all have our glasses ready of whatever tipple we fancy (Ma doesn’t mind a drop of whiskey) and we will raise them in honour of a very special woman.

Happy 100th birthday Ma!

Life

Dog Day Afternoon

Rocco the dog and Anne.
A happy dog when he’s with Anne

A sorry day today as Rocco, the grumpy 13 year old Pomeranian, has been sent shuffling off this mortal coil to Doggie Heaven. 

He’s had a great retirement with us but in the last week or so he started having seizures and when the vet’s tests came back, we wondered how he was still standing with all that was wrong with him.

Sadly though, even with the anti-epilepsy tablets, the seizures didn’t go away, so this afternoon we said our goodbye.

And I am sad, despite me not being into animals. He’s kept us company these past two and a half years. Barking manically when anyone came near the front door, so that robbers and postmen had second thoughts. Living in hope, whenever we got any food out that wasn’t his Bakers. He could walk the entire kitchen length on his two hind legs when he wanted to see what you had in your plate. 

He tolerated the grandchildren with a surprisingly benign temperament, partly because he knew they’d fling a spare chicken nugget his way every now and then, and partly because they weren’t wearing red and carrying a sack of letters (I have actually witnessed him jump on the back of the sofa, watching and growling as the Postie walked on the other side of the road).

He was Anne’s shadow, following her wherever she went. And they’ve kept each other fit, getting out for walks in all weathers. At the last, she cradled him when the vet did the deed and he went off peacefully.

All in all, it will be strange, not to put my hand out and have him roll so his furry tummy can be rubbed. He’s been a unique character and will be missed.

Life, Running

Dads and Dogs

I’ve been to my dad’s a few times recently and obviously brought my running gear. And I’ve realised that I’ve already created a default route.

I want to say that I’m one of those free, devil-may-care runners who, one day may go left and the next, right, and meander through new avenues and paths, always keeping it fresh and interesting.

But no.

I seem to pick a route and then stick to it, in this case, a 4 mile ish loop along the big roads from my dad’s. It has to be the main roads as I’m unfamiliar with the streets here and I get lost at the best of times. I know I have my phone to get me back on track, and time generally isn’t a factor, but, when left to my own devices,  I appear to be a creature of habit and routine.

A little bit like my dad really. We’re trying to change his habits lately because he has become a lot more unsteady on his feet in the last four months or so. So, as I said in a previous post, he’s been lent a Zimmer frame for the house instead of his walking sticks. But we’ve had to keep the sticks out of sight for a while to get him to use it!

He’s having to deal with a lot of changes at the moment. This week alone, he’s had an x-ray on his left shoulder as he can’t use that arm very well. He’s had a phone assessment with the NHS Occupational Therapy to check out what equipment he might need to make his day-to-day easier. He’ll get his own Zimmer now amongst a few other things and they’ll come soon to do his on-site check. Plus we’ve had a trip to the dentist as my dad’s dentures have given up the ghost and keep falling out. They’re making new ones but, because we’ve had to go private, they’re costing a fortune, but needs must. Tomorrow he goes for a biopsy on a large lump on his head. They say things come in threes but my poor dad has had a lot more than that to contend with and adapt to all at once.

And, despite his natural tendency to stick to the old routines, he has taken on most of these changes with surprisingly good humour and sanguinity. He’s had moments, obviously, where it’s felt a little overwhelming, but generally, I’ve been pretty amazed at how chilled he seems about things. I can still definitely learn a few more lessons from him.

And one more thing about the Zimmer frame: He’s still trying to tuck it well out of the way when he goes for his shower instead of having it handy. I asked him why and he said he didn’t want me to trip over it. It’s telling that a man with a gazillion ailments of his own is still thinking of his kids!

I’m glad I’ve come down this week but it’s turned into a bit of a time for Anne back at home too. Rocco, the grumpy Pomeranian that I appear to have softened towards a little, had a couple of seizures on Tuesday. At first Anne wondered if he’d overdosed on the pizza he’d nicked from her shopping bag the night before. But he has had a couple more since the vet put him on Diazepam. We’re still waiting for what his blood work shows up but it doesn’t sound great for the old boy.

It’s not surprising really, with all this heaviness,  that I appear to have got my first cold in a couple of years. It’s a sign, telling me to lay off my routines for a bit and take in all this change.

Life

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.

Life

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!

Life

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!

Life

Reclaim?

I’ve had a bit of a knot in my stomach all week because of the stories in the UK news about the vigils for the murdered woman, Sarah Everard.

There was so much anger and resentment thrown up in the public domain from both the women at the main vigil in Clapham Common and the police at the event, that I’m not going to repeat them again here.

A candle in the window.
A candle lit for Sarah Everard

One Facebook post defending the police said that some of the women who were shouting obscenities were not there for Sarah’s family. They probably weren’t. They were there for themselves, as women, as any one of them could have been Sarah Everard.

I don’t condone violence or obscenities thrown about to incite anger. But I also think there should be a space to vent anger and frustration when something like this has happened, even during lockdown if it was fully outside and if people generally kept their distance and wore masks­1. Especially when the murderer was allegedly a serving member of the Metropolitan Police Force.

If I look at the statistics of UK murders2, three times as many men are likely to be killed than women so you might ask why the uproar.

Because women don’t need to just worry about being killed. The number of deaths is relatively quite low for the population (roughly 11 in every million people). But the number of recorded rapes is over 58,000 (over 850 in every million people)3 –  that number doesn’t include the unreported rapes and the assaults.

Following the attacks by Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper) in the 70s, many women took part in Reclaim the Night marches, including my Anne who was a student there and lived round the corner from The Gaiety, where one of his victims was picked up. Leeds Police did not really put a huge deal of weight into investigating his crimes until “innocent young girls” and not just sex workers were being killed. Their ‘advice’ to women was to stay indoors after dark.

I feel safer when I see police on the streets. I know there have been huge improvements since the 70s, in methods of policing and attempts of outreach towards different communities.  I know, given the stats of things like Stop and Search, that there is plenty more to do.

I hope that there is more education in schools around pornography given that it is so prevalent. I hope that more men call out other men for words and actions that are not okay4. I know that all the close men in my life would.

I would like to feel safe enough to run in total isolation in the night time but I don’t yet.


  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-55680305
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/homicideinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2020
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48095118
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/10/women-tell-men-how-to-make-them-feel-safe-after-sarah-everard-disappearance
Life, Running

February Blues

Snowdrops surrounded by dead leaves.
Tentative snowdrops

A slippage has occurred.

After the success of my January goals I am feeling a little adrift and rudderless. I guess you can’t always be fired up and raring to go, and as my downswing is in the worst month of the year (according to all the polls1) it is probably inevitable that I feel this way.

How do you get yourself out of the rut?

I’m suddenly reminded of an animated film I saw when I was very young, called The Phantom Tollbooth2. The only thing I recall is that the boy, Milo, goes into the land of the Doldrums and lounges around lethargically, killing time until he’s eventually pulled out by a friend. Well that is what February feels like right now. An in between depressing month where the edges of the day may be getting slightly wider but it won’t be really felt until March. Where each little delicate snowdrop that manages to push out of the cold brown ground is crushed again by repeating waves of frost and snow. Where an ex-President is acquitted by spineless, avaricious cohorts even though the evidence against him is incontrovertible. Where our washing machine has stopped working because the water pipes have frozen up. Where …

I need to be pulled out.

I’m currently watching the wind doing a whirling dervish dance with the snowflakes acting as a visibility cloak. The few birds out are clinging on to the branches while this squall plays out. It could be quite pretty really, if I change my frame of mind.

It’s been three days since my last run and my yoga and Italian have gone out the window for the moment. I’ve done so little cycling that my buttocks are still complaining when I try. I think this slippage has created a space. A space to make excuses, and this year, like last year we’ve got the best excuse of all. All the races are still called off and the gyms are still closed.

What can I focus on?

I think good health and mental wellbeing are sometimes difficult, intangible goals to strive for but I have made a little start with the up perking. I listened to a BBC podcast the other day called ‘People Fixing the World’.3 The episodes aren’t long and they’re quite varied but each one sets out a particular problem that is being solved by ingenious people. For example ‘The breath of life’ looks at ways of creating and storing oxygen (for use in hospitals) without electricity for those places in the world that don’t have a ready supply, of either oxygen or electricity. If you have a short attention span and want a bit of happy nerdery, then this is for you.

The winds are still whipping up a hooley but invisibly as the snow has nearly melted. Tomorrow (as I’m not quite ready today) I will lace up. Bev has tasked me with training her for the Great North Run in September. During normal times, it is the UK’s largest half marathon race with well over 50,000 people running it.  It might not take place this year, but then again it might, and September is far enough away to keep the hope alive. Having responsibility for someone else’s fitness seems like a thing I can grasp more easily right now than thinking about my own. But that’s okay. It’s still a reason to get out and sometimes, if you can just get your trainers on, the rest will come.

  1. I only looked at one poll but I’m sure they all agree: (https://www.buzzfeed.com/leonoraepstein/all-the-months-ranked-from-worst-to-best)
  2. The Phantom Tollbooth:   https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064806/
  3. People Fixing the World Podcast: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04grdbc

Life

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.