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. 
Life

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.

1       yogawithadriene.com

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

3       https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/07/tory-party-leaders-back-pedal-on-trump-after-us-congress-chaos

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.

Life

Blog the first

So this is it, my very first blog, being written in a b&b in Watton. And judging by the length of time between setting up the name and actually putting in an offering, blog número deux may be a while in the coming.

The leadless pencil is apt then. It was my favourite name; after all my first, second and subsequent choices had been taken by other WordPress bloggers.
I set it up a few weeks ago when a friend said that she was starting one and I’d had fun writing verbose descriptions on fb when I’d been in Barca, so I thought it would be good for me. She, however, is very involved in local stuff; music, arts, etc. So hers can wrap itself round a purpose. Mine on the other hand. Hmmm.

A travel blog? My Spanish trip last month was the first holiday in two years so I don’t get out much. Although I am currently writing this inaugural bobbins in Norfolk. That’s definitely somewhere else to where I normally am. You can see the stars here for one thing. Properly. It is like the proverbial blanket and they are incredibly bright. I was impressed last night. I’m not impressed with some crap band that appear to be gigging or practising next door to me, with some shouty ugh ughing guy, who could be a groupie or could be the lead singer. I could never do a review blog, I’d be lynched.

A coding blog? You’re yawning already. Although I did encapsulate some tricky data into one nested select with some lovely analytical functions the other day. Yup, you’re still yawning.

A gay blog? Considering nuns probably have more traffic than me, it’s not going to have a lot to say.

For what then, am I bothering with all this? Well, I think it seemed like a good way to just practise using the writing muscle, regularly ish. Ideally I’d like to write stories and stuff but I’m inherently lazy and I lack a bit of confidence and I don’t actually have any ideas in the first place. So I’m thinking, maybe it’s just that I haven’t actually used that part of my brain much, what with being a plinky plonk code monkey for so many years. Maybe, writing about any old shit, is still writing and therefore realigning some crucial synaptic receptors to get me to a purpose or idea or inclination. Plus writing where other people can see if they can be arsed is a tad more scary than keeping it to myself. Feel the fear etc.
So, this could be the first of many…or it could be the last of one. Who knows.