That tombola habit

The end-of-zapping bell at Leeds Cancer Centre. Noel rang it first!

My name’s Anne and I’m a tombolaholic. There, I’ve said it, I feel better now. The cupboard in the hall is crammed with my winnings, including a set of nail transfers (I’m a rock climber, I have no nails), a bath oils collection (I don’t take baths, I’m a showergirl), a full pad of to-do lists, divided into categories (I don’t do lists, I make it up as I go along) a 4-CD set of 60s music (I don’t have a CD player) and a cuddly toy, still in its wrapper, with the ticket number 650 taped to its head.

Who can walk past a stall, laden with goodies, knowing there’s a one in five chance in winning – and tickets are five for £1? That’s better odds than the lottery jackpot (14million to one), Premium Bonds (245,000 to one) and the pools, especially if you use birthday numbers when there are 52 lines.

I once won so many prizes at the local old folks’ home I was accused of being a ringer and grudgingly gave back the Christmas Floral Display (too big for the car) and the Dairy Milk chocolates (out of date). I kept the little china ornament, I have no idea why, I hate ornaments. It didn’t occur to me that I may have a tombola habit.

It wasn’t until I started going with Noel to the hospital and urged him to go on ahead for his radiotherapy zapping while I bought a few tombola tickets from the fundraisers in the foyer, not just once, but four times, that I had to admit to myself that I may have a tombola problem, I may be a tombolaholic

On my last visit, the visit when Noel rang that bell to signal the end of the zapping for his Bastard Cancer™, I confided my concerns to one of the ticket sellers. She looked amused and pointed to the queue, dozens of fellow tombolaholics clutching handfuls of folded raffle tickets, hoping for a number ending in zero or five. The charity was making lots of dosh! For me, the stakes were high, I had my eye on a fancy scarf. But that’s the beauty of tombolas, you have no idea what your five or zero will win you. I had to make do with a bag of licorice allsorts. At least they’ll keep me going!

A job lot of Wright’s Coal Tar soap

Thanks to Joan Cox for the photo

Me and my potty mouth. Again. And in front of 650 parkrunners. In my defence I was sorely provoked, #BastardCancer.

We were all set to celebrate a double birthday, parkrun’s 15th and our 12th here at Woodhouse Moor and free breakfast was promised down at Leeds University’s refectory where they had pre-loaded with sausages and bacon.

Then Richard appeared and asked if we could make an announcement to his fellow parkrunners, but that it wasn’t a happy announcement, in fact it was very, very sad.

His five-year-old son Matthew, who he’d brought to parkrun a couple of weeks ago to join in the celebrations for the 500th run by Roy, Richard’s clubmate, had passed away. Matthew had a brain tumour.

There’s a saying, he said. ‘Fuck cancer’. Yes, I agreed. Fuck cancer indeed, fuck it to hell. The fucker.

Richard wanted to run with us, his parkrun friends, something normal in a week that was far from normal. And we wanted to run with him, though he’s a bit nippy so not many of us would be able to keep up with him. We could content ourselves with cheering him as he lapped us.

I know I bang on a lot about parkrun, but it’s such a wonderful, caring, supporting community. We do more than run together, we share, we encourage, we listen, we always call it a run and never a race. We also don’t cuss, except when it comes to Bastard Cancer™, which as we all know is a bastardy bastard.

As Richard stood to the side, out of sight of the 650 parkrunners, I told them about Matthew, such heartbreaking news. Then in my head, I shouted ‘Fuck cancer’. Now I come to think of it, it wasn’t in my head, judging by the general agreement and covering-up of sensitive ears.

Sorry, everyone. I have dutifully washed out my mouth with Wright’s Coal Tar Soap which tasted suitably disgusting. That’ll teach me, I’ll not be such a potty mouth again.

Our parkrunners set off, those who could get anywhere near Richard gave him a pat on the back. Afterwards he was surrounded by wellwishers, including some who were on their own cancer journey. Bastard Cancer is no respecter of, well, anything or anyone really. I could hear fine use of Anglo Saxon in reference to Bastard Cancer and wondered whether I should dash off to the offy for a job lot of coal tar soap.

As he left, Richard thanked me. ‘That took balls’ he said. I’m not so sure, it’s easy enough to cuss, it’s not so easy to be on that cancer journey. Thank goodness that if you’re part of the parkrun community you don’t have to travel alone. Noel and I have a bloody great bus load of folk with us as he finishes one lot of treatment and waits for the next. They’re supporting, encouraging, helping and yes, joining in the swearfest because sometimes it helps. They’ll all be getting soap for Christmas.

Passing the (golden) baton

Thanks to Leeds Building Society for the photo

Run with this, they said. Make it look easy, they said. Smile for the camera, they said. Look like you’re enjoying it, they said. Three out of four ain’t bad, I am expecting an Oscar nomination.

I was handed the golden baton at parkrun. Not pure gold, you understand, gold-coloured, but it was heavy enough, almost like carrying a rolling pin, if truth be told. At one point I even tucked it into my shorts so I could run hands free, but it wasn’t a good look and I nearly fell over into the bargain.

The baton was one of 15 starting the #BigCommunityRelay, a magical mystery tour from Woodhouse Moor. The lovely folk at Leeds Building Society, who are major sponsors of parkrun, helping to keep our 9am Saturday morning 5km run free, are quite taken with how friendly and inclusive we all are. You can say that again, I count among my parkrun friends people of all ages, from 8 to 80, all faiths, from Jew to Jain and from all corners of the globe, including Lancashire.

All of those friends have been even dearer following Noel’s #BastardCancer diagnosis, showing so much kindness and concern I was left speechless, and that never happens, so make the most of it.

Many parkrunners love to visit other events, going on tour. We’re the fourth oldest in the world, celebrating our 12th birthday at the weekend, the first three were in that there London. We get 5-600 parkrunners a week and a lot of tourists who are given a right Yorkshire welcome and often leave with a big smile and a belly full of cake.

Leeds Building Society know how much of a community parkrun is, so came up with the idea of starting a relay in our city, handing out the batons fitted with GPS to map parkrun progress, with the holders passing them on to others, probably by way of a chat and coffee.

What a great idea! There was a queue of volunteers ready to take the baton to places as far away as Germany, New Zealand and even Lancashire. I wonder where mine will end up!

Running from the care home

Running again! Thanks to Lizzie Coombes for the photo

It all started with a bizarre allotment-related mishap when my calf just went. I don’t know where it went, but it didn’t hang around. One minute I was strutting around with my shovel, the next I was face-down on the freshly-dug soil with Noel telling me to stop messing about and get up.

When I did get up, it was to limp home and phone the physio. That was just getting sorted when I overdid it with the off-piste skiing and face-planting, straining my glutes, prompting another call to the physio.

Just when I thought I’d finished financing my physio’s world cruise (first class, with balcony, seat at the captain’s table optional extra), I twisted my knee doing (although I say so myself) a rather gnarly step over the roof at the climbing wall. The roof being an overhang which requires a lot of thrutching, grunting and explusions of air. The physio could book her place at the captain’s table after all.

So that was me out of running, climbing and any other activity for what seemed like years, nay decades. And I was very grumpy about it, I can tell you because everywhere there were runners running and enjoying it, dammit. Wherever I turned, the roads, the woods, even the bloody telly. And as most of my friends are runners, climbers or skiiers, my social media feeds were full of pictures of running and medals. And I do love a bit of bling. Ooo, I was vexed.

With all that physio and a certain amount of swearing, my calf returned, my glutes started to function again and my knee twisted back into place. Deep and unbounded joy, it was back to running, or rather fast shuffling, but I’ll take that over no shuffling any time, so off I shuffled.

As I trundled up the road, out came another runner, an older gent, we nodded, in sympathy I thought, as we shuffled off in opposite directions. We must have both looped round as we met again at the bottom of the hill and shared a few words. It turned out he was 77, he’d done a lot of running, but had hurt his knee . He was determined to continue, though and planned to do a half marathon later this year , shuffling probably, but that didn’t bother him one bit. ‘I’m going to run as long as long as I can, I’m running from the care home,’ he said. ‘Good for you,’ I replied, ‘I’m running because I can, and it feels good.’

Putain de cancer!

No swearing on this Climbers Against Cancer tee-shirt.

There’s something extremely satisfying about being able to speak another language like a native, you know, with all the idioms, exclamations, and swearing, especially the swearing if the occasion calls for it. This week, it did.

Noel and I have been going to French classes at the home of Andy and Isobel for years now. There’s only about half a dozen of us, we meet each week in term time for conversation (yaaay!), comprehension (mmmmm…) and grammar (booo!). We also gain insight into French life and what makes our neighbours across the Manche tick.

Andy always starts the lesson with the question, ‘Quoi de neuf?’, ‘what’s new?’ This week was the first class since Bastard Cancer Day, the day our world tilted a little on its axis, the day of swearing, but only in English. To be accurate, I should say even more swearing. June 23 2016 was when the swearathon really kicked off for me, I can’t say Brexit without prefacing it with Bollocks to….

Quoi de neuf, Anne? Asked Andy. I’d taken the liberty of looking up some useful vocabulary to tell Noel’s story. There was bowel (intestin) , colonoscopy (colonoscopie), stoma (stomate) and Bastard Cancer (putain de cancer).

After kind words and supportive continental hugs complete with cheek kissing, there was a healthy discussion in French of course, on the merits of various swearwords. Bastard Cancer directly translated is something like Cancer Bâtard, which doesn’t trip off the tongue very well and actually sounds like a character from Wacky Races, plus it doesn’t spit off the tongue like swearwords should, a good swear is a physical experience as well as being extremely satisfying.

French is a beautiful language to speak, flowing and expressive and swearing in it is an art. I have to confess to learning my best expletives from the gritty French police drama Engrenages (Spiral) , it’s a profanity masterclass. I don’t want to give the impression that I swear a lot, it’s just that sometimes, for me, only swearing will do, it’s liberating. And my grandma isn’t around to wash out my mouth with soap.

Naturally, like any good teacher, Andy doesn’t encourage bad language, he prefers us to express ourselves articulately , without resorting to profanity. But when he’d heard our story, he had to agree. ‘Putain de cancer’

The new vicar signed up for parkrun

There are no official parkrun hats, though if there were, they would be very good indeed. And what’s more, I would have been wearing it in a church this week.

There’s never a dull moment when you’re a parkrun event director, and those moments tend not to be confined to a Saturday morning run. That’s why I found myself in a packed church on an autumnal Wednesday evening, wearing my parkrun hat, metaphorically that is.

The Church of St Augustine, or Wrangthorn as we know it, looks out over the infamous Muddy Corner at the far end of our parkrun course at Woodhouse Moor. For a few years now the kind folk at the church have offered coffee and cake to parkrunners once a month, with a few enthusiasts from their running club either parkrunning or volunteering.

We held the celebrations for our 600th parkrun there, of course cake was eaten. We even had Leeds University medical students show us how to perform CPR there in the warmth and shelter of the church rather than the muddy, windswept Hyde Park which was our other option. And of course there was cake.

Wrangthorn has been without a vicar for a year or so, which is evidently normal in the Church of England. The appointment of a new vicar was as eagerly awaited as a parkrun PB, so when Rev Adrian Smith was announced as the new priest-in-charge, there was much excitement and maybe expectation of divinely-inspired PBs.

Along with with other local community partners, I was invited to the service of licensing. This is where clergy and members of the church team get to wear fantastic robes in snazzy colours, say prayers and lead us in song. The service was due to be led by the Bishop of Leeds, but Bishop Nick was held up in the House of Lords for the Brexit vote. Instead, we had Bishop Paul, who mentioned Brexit in his prayers, calling on divine help , there was a big Amen to that, I can tell you.

They made the mistake of asking me to say a few words, then gave me a microphone, though I rarely need any amplification. I gave Adrian a warm welcome on behalf of Woodhouse Moor parkrun, resisting the temptation to tell him that we are, according to the Guardian, one of the top ten parkruns in the world . He said his wife Sue had run a couple of parkruns and that he had *ahem* signed up, but was yet to break his duck. I did of course tell him that he would be very welcome any week…and why not this week..?

Afterwards in the church hall, as I chewed on a slice of rather tasty vegan chocolate cake (I’m not vegan, but my mate made it and she does bake exceedingly good cakes!) and looked around, I felt so proud of what parkrun has done for individuals and communities, bringing people together over a 5km run, jog or walk around a local park.

Here I was in a church hall with cake and new friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. There was a variety of faiths, including the local Iman and representatives from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (another blog there) and folk from many different backgrounds, including a few parkrunners. These were all people I’d never have met if it wasn’t parkrun. Hooray for parkrun!

We’re going to need a bigger bus

No tattoo photos, but here’s Noel with cats

Noel came back from the hospital the other day with a tattoo, actually, that’s not true, he had four of them. They aren’t anything fancy like ‘I luv Anne’ or ‘Programmers do it in code’. Just four tiny blue dots to mark the spot where the death ray will zap the Bastard Cancer ™

OK, not a death ray exactly, but a linear accelerator, which will dose that damned tumour with radiation five days a week for five weeks. Take that, Bastard Cancer.

We started the journey on June 25 with just five words from the consultant, ‘It’s bad news, I’m afraid’. It’s a journey I travelled more than 30 years ago with my mum, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. What a contrast, then it was all about the treatment, not the patient, no flexibility, no information, it was done to you, not with you. It was a lonely, miserable, distressing, uncomfortable journey for everyone involved.

What a contrast in care and treatment today, we’re on first name terms with everyone, except the consultant of course, a bit like teachers, they don’t have first names. Yes, it’s a journey we’d rather not take, but we really feel that NHS clinicians and all the other staff are in the bus with us rather than giving our broken-down car a bit of a push.

Then there’s the support from friends and family, which has been overwhelming, but in a good way. I’ve been humbled by the kindness of others, from messages of support and sharing of experiences to offers of help and food, including broccoli soup and squash, Bastard Cancer hates brassicas. Suddenly the journey doesn’t feel as long and dark and lonely as it did, I think we’re going to have to get a bigger bus.