Don’t I know you?

Two parkrun celebrities

Noel is a super-recogniser, he only needs to see a face once and he can identify that person again. He could be a spy, seriously, except he’s married to Mrs Chatty, spies can’t be married to chatty people. At least that’s what he tells me, maybe he’s double-bluffing.

He confesses his gift can sometimes be a curse, especially when he picks out famous people. The last time it happened was a couple of weeks ago when we were enjoying our mid-morning caffeine break to gee us up for another few more hours skiing. I was proudly wearing my Yorkshireman Half Marathon tee-shirt (they don’t do a Yorkshirewoman version, thank goodness, it would probably be pink, pink, I ask you). An English voice chirped up from a group of cheerful chappies who were probably not drinking coffee.

“Yorrrrrk-shiiiiiiire!,” I heard in a southern accent. I took it as a compliment, it’s always a compliment. Noel scrutinised the Yorkshire shouter, before he could stop himself, he blurted out ‘don’t I know you?’. The shouter looked bashful, ‘Yes, he said, probably from television, or the movies..’. “Are you a runner?” I asked him. I am not a super-recogniser.

For the rest of the afternoon, Noel was processing his vast internal data files, he finally found him. Our Yorkshire shouter was Neil Stuke, best known for his role in the TV dramas Game On and Silk.  He was a little embarrassed, not every celebrity wants their fame exclaimed in a French bar, you never know where autograph hunters are lurking, so he tweeted him to apologise. The apology was quickly accepted, what did we do before social media, eh?

I have had those recognition moments, though it tended to be in my reporting days when I was covering court cases. I had a canny way of clocking the accused, though of course I said nothing, well, it would have been rude, and some of them had been convicted of being very naughty indeed, which I would have featured in newspaper columns in a way which would not really have shown them in a very good light. They may not have liked that.

This week at parkrun I had more of a ‘shouldn’t I know you?’ moment. It turns out Peanut, the keyboard player with local popular beat combo The Kaiser Chiefs is a keen parkrunner. Being more from the Abba and Police generation, I of course failed to recognise him, but he was gracious and let me take his photo with George, who of course as far as Woodhouse Moor parkrun is concern is an even bigger celebrity.   I wonder if he asked for George’s autograph…..



#loveparkrun – the little idea



There’s no such thing as The Big Idea™, maintains a friend of mine. Rather, there’s lots of little ideas that look like one big one, and I totally agree.

With our 500th parkrun approaching at Woodhouse Moor, we wanted to do something a bit different, a bit special and, us being Yorkshire, something that would cost us nowt. The Ideas Team was self-selecting, effectively anyone who joined in the post-parkrun coffee chat.

Now the thing about generating ideas is that when you start off, nothing is too daft, everything can be considered, no-one’s judging, well, not out loud. A ragtime band leading the runners to the start playing ‘Oh when the saints go marching in’ would certainly get people moving, as would a troupe of acrobats back-flipping down the finishing strait waving banners saying ‘500 and counting’. A huge cake with parkrun celebrity Jaz springing out, resplendent in her apricot tee-shirt would work, as would a mountain of cupcakes arranged to spell #loveparkrun, though the chances of getting those for free was pretty slim. Plus I’m still doing sugar-free February, even though it’s March.

So the ideas had to be refined a little. One thing we were all agreed on was that everyone had something good to say about parkrun. Each week, as Run Directors, we hear how people love parkrun, I’ve seen numbers double since I started seven years ago and have been heartened by the heartwarming stories of those who have found friendship, fought off mental illness, or just enjoyed running in a lovely park with no-one to beat but themselves.

Rhona came up with the idea of making labels for people to write #loveparkrun messages. Debbie battled with three huge 5, 0 and 0 balloons, with Steve holding her legs to make sure she didn’t take off. Curtis grapped with a giant selfie frame and Frank came up with some mini awards for star volunteers and runners.

The labels definitely caught people’s imaginations. By the time we were clearing away after a record-breaking turn-out, there were hundreds of labels fluttering in the breeze. Some were funny #loveparkrun because of the cake, they said, or so they could consume guilt-free calories in the form of beer on a Friday night. Some enjoyed running and running fast, but many said they had made friends, found partners or, most movingly, overcome mental health problems.

parkrun wasn’t a big idea when it started 13 years ago down in that there London, it was a time trial which grew. Leeds was the fourth parkrun, now there are more than a thousand, five of them in our fair city, I’m honoured to be Event Director at Woodhouse Moor, I get to shout a lot, I’m good at that.

So why do I #loveparkrun? Because I can run in the park with my mates, then drink coffee and talk rubbish afterwards. It’s a little idea that became a big one.





Diagnosed by the window doctor

Before …….and after

I love an expert. Someone who knows their subject inside out, someone who is so steeped in it they are in danger of becoming a bore of epic proportions, someone who can tell you what you you never thought you needed to know, but it turns out you did.

Replacing our ageing windows was teetering on the edge of being a grudge purchase. I mean, you can’t wear them, eat them, or travel with them, which are my three main criteria for happily parting with my hard-earned cash, well, I am from Yorkshire, my arms are short and my pockets deep. But as one window was virtually hanging off its hinges and another was being colonised by a black mould like something from the X Files, we agreed there was nothing else for it but to replace the lot.

You don’t buy windows every day, so where to start? Double-glazing salesmen used to have a bad press for over-promising and under-delivering. I think those guys must have preyed on the previous owners of our house, because when Dr Karl, the Window Whizz came to diagnose our problems he immediately spotted some major flaws. We’d chosen him at random from the interweb, based solely on the fact that he was local. We do like to support local businesses.

The most major of the flaws was that the windows had been fitted on the frames of the old wooden windows, which explained the draughts, the loudness of the traffic, the gooey stuff seeping through the plastic sealant. We didn’t know that, we were ignorant of all matters window-related. We were shocked.

Dr Karl confessed he loved windows, he’d studied them closely, no two were the same, they all had their own distinct characters. He could diagnose problems by touch and sound, tapping the plastic and the glass, listening for little vibrations, sorting out the problems, he was a window whisperer. We were impressed and signed on the dotted line.

Fortunately I was at work when Karl Jr and his window crew arrived with a big van and a lot of glass. Noel suspected they weren’t real workmen when they asked for Earl Grey with a slice of lemon and turned down choccie bikkies in favour of a little packet of dried mango. But once they got to work, it was out with the old and in with the new.

The cats Akers were traumatised and had to be confined to the bedroom and overdose on Felix Goodie Bags, but having hyperactive felines was a small price to pay for keeping them safe.

The result is stunning, when they finished I went around the house opening every window and waving to anyone or anything like I was royalty. Not so much of a grudge purchase after all.

The train took the strain


Flying out from the UK is getting to be more of a faff, what with all the ridiculous security at airports, weight restrictions, no liquids except the tears you shed waiting coatless, shoeless and beltless to be frisked by a burly officer. And don’t get me started on rip-off prices for mediocre food and dishwater coffee or having to buy bottled water because there’s nothing drinkable in the taps.

So for our ski trip  to the French Alps, we thought we’d let the train take the strain while we still have free movement to Europe through the Channel  Tunnel. There’s no  restriction on luggage and you can carry all the water  you can drink. Queues are negligible and there’s more freedom of movement and space, precious space. The faff factor is low.

Noel had always wanted to travel on the snow train,  that’s a train direct to the snow from London. He had this romantic notion of falling asleep in one country, waking up in the mountains, throwing on our ski stuff then hitting the slopes. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

I thought we’d have comfortable beds with little curtains, maybe a chocolate on the pillow (both for Noel, sugar-free February continues). It turns out the overnighter has no beds, it used to be the all-night-booze train, but now there’s no booze, in fact alcohol is not allowed on board, unless it is bought from the bar. Not a problem for us, breweries would go out of business if everyone drank as little as we do, but the lack of bed was going to put a serious dent in the energy reserves needed to put our skis on.

It was definitely worth paying the extra for first class travel. Bigger, more comfortable seats, passable, even good food, and a sleeping kit including a blanket, eye mask, ear plugs and neck pillow, though no chocolate. And we would have slept well had it not been for Mr Tedious and his drunken friends. They’d smuggled litres of alcohol aboard in their own bellies and spent the entire journey talking complete bollocks in loud voices. We were all too British to tell them to shut the f#ck up, but if they are in the same carriage on the way back, they’ll feel the rough side of my tongue.

It turns out we were wildly optimistic in thinking we could ski straight away, but we did manage to ski after a couple of hours kip.  Meanwhile our chalet mates arrived late into the evening, exhausted after an extended coach trip from the airport. We’ll also get to ski the day everyone else leaves, that’s if my legs survive, before retiring to our comfortable-ish seat on the train.  Yes, I think we’ll do this again. Probably.

The Great Unblocking

That’s me on the left, my friend Caroline on the right

Early Sunday afternoon as Yorkshire puddings were digesting in full bellies across the county, Yorkshire Water suffered a Star Wars-esque Great Disturbance in the Force as the drains coughed and spluttered under the strain of mud washed from 800 pairs of legs.

Engineers with super-size plungers and industrial-strength drain rods were on standby, extra sets of temporary traffic lights were hired in ready for the roads to be dug up and the blocked pipes replaced. As it turned out the lagoons of mud, sludge and other sticky liquids picked up at the Barnbow fields didn’t quite tip the balance, but it was a close thing.

The fourth race in the now very popular Peco cross country series promised to be a mudfest. It was a perfect storm, heavy rain, soggy fields and more than 800 runners in luggy, spiky shoes, just right to stir it all up.

The men were sent off first, mainly so we could watch and snigger as they took the tight, slippery corner on one leg and landed in a pile in the mud. By the time it was our turn,  the field was mud soup and it didn’t smell too good either. The start was uphill, even so, I could swear I was moving backwards, the mud was like a conveyor belt in reverse, no traction at all. The girl next to me lost a shoe, I don’t think she ever found it, another sacrifice to the Mud God.

It was one of the toughest five miles I’ve ever run, slipping, sliding and splashing all over the place. Thank goodness the brambles and spiky bushes stopped me from falling. I had so much mud on my shoes, I finished five centimetres taller than I started.

The post-run shower was like a geological sampler kit, different layers peeled away, I saw coal, I saw grit, I saw something brown that I don’t think was inorganic. The plughole protested but finally gave way and I was clean again – until the next time.


My life on my wrist


A few years ago when I left my last permanent job and plunged full-length into self-employment, my colleagues, staff and friends bought me one of the most thoughtful, enduring and evolutionary presents I’ve ever had.

I didn’t really know what to make of the stretchy steel bracelet with Nomination stamped on each link. Jewellery isn’t high on my list of things to buy myself, so it was touching to receive something so personal. For several of your English pounds (several more after Brexit, dammit), the links can be replaced with little gold and enamel pictures that can tell your own story and display it on your wrist.

There are 19 Nominations to be replaced and they started me with the twin masks of comedy and tragedy to represent both the job I’d just left and my love of theatre, a snowflake because I actually love that cold, white stuff,  and a four-leaf clover for luck, which I was going to need in a salary-free world.

Since then it has evolved, links have been replaced with little bits of stories of my life, including a mini scroll for when I got my MA, a camera as I have several and love photography, a skier because I pretend to be one, a runner because I pretend to be one of those too, the Chinese symbol for a dog, yes, I am a dog, and, to celebrate receiving dual nationality a mini Irish flag.

With my recent birthday and a generous cash gift from my dad, I  added the final three links, a Bialetti stove-top coffee-maker because good coffee is one of the true pleasures in life, a treble clef because music makes the world go round and, of course, cats. I know cats aren’t for everyone, but one little stray who turned up one day and moved in with us made me happy when I was sad, he became a big part of my story and so has a rightful place on my bracelet.

It’s full now, and I can’t stop looking at it, every link has a memory and makes me smile. Maybe I’ll have to start another one – I need somewhere to put the mini allotment and Eiffel Tower and of course a representation of Noel.

Sugar and spice and all things nice


If I was ever to be on Mastermind, my specialist subject would be Cakes, Sweets and Puddings of the 20th Century. Although I say so myself, I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things cakey, sweety and puddingy, thanks to prolonged and extensive research and field work, as my dentist will attest.

I blame my grandmother, she was a fantastic baker, producing sticky, sweet cakes dripping with water icing topped with crunchy coconut or plump glace cherries every week. I think she must have had shares in Tate and Lyle, she served golden syrup on bread, with butter of course, well something had to stop the sticky stuff soaking through on to the plate. And to encourage me to eat apples, she’d chop them up and dip each slice in sugar, it worked.

Best of all was that she was a big pal of Mrs Ripley who ran the local sweet shop. We would visit every Friday afternoon, I drank tea like a grown-up and helped myself to four sugar lumps for the drink and a couple for my pocket for later on, crunched with added fluff. Access to the living room was through the shop, past the counters groaning under the weight of confectionery and shelves full of biscuits. In those days puddings were confined to Heinz treacle sponge, steamed in the tin, with such a high sugar content it came with a highly inflammable warning. I knew them all, I tasted them all, loved them all. Any new sugar-based product was comprehensively market-tested, by me!  Quite how I wasn’t the size of a house and completely toothless is a dietitian’s mystery, but that sweet tooth chewed on to make me the sugar mastermind I am today.

Now I’m older and wiser, I know that sugar is bad for me and I know I eat too much of it, so I try to avoid too much of it. But it’s difficult when the office has stockpiles of sweets and biscuits and everyone seems to have three birthdays a year and brings in cakes. Add to that the ridiculously low cost of large tubs of goodies and it’s goodbye tooth enamel, hello elasticated waistbands. Thank goodness for Sugar Free February, Cancer Research’s annual gentle reminder that sugar is not only bad for us, it can kill us. Every day this month I’m saying no to sweets, cakes, biscuits and puddings, instead it’s nuts the cheeseboard or nothing. Day six and we’re doing fine, let’s see how this ends! And it’s not too late to join me!