Squeamish about screening?

It’s one thing to run a publicity campaign encouraging people to take up the NHS offer of free screening, it’s something else to actually take that test yourself. Especially when poo is involved.

We woman are used to screening. Invitations for cervical smears start in our mid-20s and go on until our mid-60s. Breast screening starts at 50 and continues until 70. Not everyone takes up the invitation, about 74 per cent for cervical screening and 71 per cent for breast screening, even though it’s free, even though it could save lives.

I’ve worked in and for the NHS for many years and have spent hundreds of head-scratching hours looking for inspirational and exciting ways to persuade people that being intimately prodded and poked isn’t that bad after all and that squeamishness could be overcome for the greater good and, more importantly, likely avoidance of something much nastier and the lengthy treatment it involves.

Screening for bowel cancer starts at 60 (50 in Scotland) and has an uptake of just under 60 per cent, which is pretty rubbish really. I mean, why wouldn’t you do something quick and simple if you could? Because poo, that’s why. Poo. Ewww. We’re squeamish and British and don’t like to talk about it let alone mess with it.

In one NHS organisation, we came up with the idea of getting the Bard of Yorkshire, Ian McMillan, to write Poo Sticks, a humorous poem to encourage uptake of bowel cancer screening. It definitely made a splash, which is much better than a plop……

I was good at managing the message for others, telling them THEY should take the test, what was the problem, eh? But then that envelope came through my letterbox, the first envelope that is. It’s the one that warns you a second one is coming, and you shouldn’t ignore it, or be put off. The second envelope contains a kit, something that looks like an advent calendar with just three windows and definitely no chocolate.

Despite my preaching and persuading, it took me a month to steel myself to do it. The test isn’t really that simple, in fact it’s a test of three movements, three bowel movements. Each of the three windows has two little windows inside. One movement, two samples, collected with two cardboard sticks, poo sticks. There will be no further details on this matter, except to say that even though it was a faff, and a pooey faff at that, I did it, stuck it in the envelope and off it went. I’m glad I’m not the postie who delivers to Poo Collection Central.

I can understand why people are squeamish about this test, I certainly was. But prevention is better than cure and definitely better than dealing with a a cancer that could have been caught early and dealt with. Within a couple of weeks, I had a letter telling me that everything was OK and that was it….until the next time. At least when I get the next one, I’ll know exactly what to expect.

Happy birthday to me – again

There’s the official birthday, the one where we count the years, blow out an increasing number of candles and eat cake. Then there’s the parkrun birthday, the one where we puff and blow as we run around 5km on a Saturday morning, then eat cake. Birthdays always have a cake theme.

It’s my eighth birthday, eight years of parkrunning, jogging and more recently limping, along with quite a bit of volunteering, there’s also been cake in abundance.

I had no idea what to expect when I turned up for my first pakrun. Someone at the climbing wall said it was good fun and free, which had a massive appeal to my Yorkshire pocket. As Noel was on a first aid course that weekend, rather than lig around in bed, I donned my running layers and headed for Woodhouse Moor, just five miles away, but somewhere I’d never been before. This park was destined to become part of me, and me it as I’ve left lots of shoe rubber, the odd bit of skin where I’ve fallen, and quite a bit of sweat there.

I wasn’t completely new to running, but it was all a bit hit and miss and I wanted to improve, believe me, there was room for improvement. That day in March 2011, parkrun 117, I lined up with 274 others to do my first of what would become many laps over the following years, some definitely faster than others.

Over the next weeks, I dragged Noel along, who turned out to be rather handy at that distance, in his youth he was a 1500m runner and keen footballer so was quickly up to speeds I’ll never be able to do. Running became volunteering and post-parkrun coffee drinking. I’d be bouncing off the ceiling when I got home on a Saturday and only some of that was down to the caffeine.

We both became regular volunteers, then run directors, I’m now the event director, would you believe, though it’s definitely all about the team and teamwork, no-one does anything along at parkrun, unless they want to of course.

I always marvel at the parkrun mix, getting soaked or sweaty, or both, in the regular company of 500 or so runners is a great leveller. We all look pretty much the same in our running kit, all equal, all parkrunners. Yet we rub shoulders (in no particular order) with doctors, nurses, pop stars, sports stars, teachers, clerics, politicians, academics, students, stay-at-home mums, stay-at-home dads, shop workers and those without work to name but a few. And we wouldn’t know unless someone points it out. Sometimes, when I’m out and about, I’ll get someone calling to me, ‘Hey, Mrs parkrun’. ‘Yes,’ I answer, ‘that’s me’.

In just eight years I’ve made so many new friends, found myself when I’ve been lost in worry, sadness or depression, and, whatever the weather, enjoyed running around the park once described as Leeds’ Green Lungs. I’ve no idea what I did on a Saturday before that date in March 2011, but I know that come Saturday, there’s no place I’d rather be than at parkrun, any parkrun, anywhere in the world. Though of course there’s only one Woodhouse Moor and that will always be home.

If I could capture the essence of parkrun, pop it in a bottle and spray it around for all to enjoy, it would be a base of friendship, with tones of encouragement and healthy competitiveness, along with high notes of laughter and support, with hints of hard work and a whiff of cake, lemon polenta cake in case you were wondering. See you Saturday!

Hi-viz hero..anytime, anyplace

What’s a parkrun run director doing in the middle of the road, in the dark, stopping traffic and being generally bossy? Many motorists were asking that very question as they skidded to a halt near a busy junction in Calverley, a village with no parkrun.

It all started as we settled down to sample my latest culinary offering, a veggie chilli which I suspected may hit 11 on the heat scale. The blinds were down, the door curtain drawn, the beer chilling and the fire crackling into life, a cosy evening awaited.

Suddenly there was a frantic knocking on the door, usually a sign of chuggers cranking up their smiles. Noel answered, one look from him usually scares away any unwanted callers and the odd guest.

But no, it was a visibly upset mum whose car had stopped in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill outside our house. And when she said stopped, it was absolutely refusing to go any further. There were three young children inside who were understandably anxious, and I don’t blame them. Some folk treat out road like a race track, while others hurl around the corner to get a bit of traction up the steep hill. This wasn’t a good place to be stuck.

It was one of these new-fangled automatic cars with extra safety features, such as the one that puts it in park when, for example, fuel runs out. We couldn’t have pushed it if we’d have wanted.

I was worried about their being another accident so dashed inside where my trusty parkrun hi-viz was waiting for its weekly outing, all freshly washed and not smelling of Woodhouse Moor mud. I grabbed it and was immediately transformed into bossy director mode, though some may not have noticed the difference.

It really did help as cars slowed down, probably wondering where the parkrun was. Thankfully one of our neighbours was passing and came to the rescue with fuel and the offer of a place for the children to wait while we faffed. We had offered our house, but the youngsters were keener to go to a house with other children and toys. They may also have smelled the chilli which was rather ferocious.

Fortunately the fuel did the trick, the traffic started to run freely and we returned to our Friday evening indulgences, vowing never to buy an automatic and also, as an afterthought, to go easy on the fresh chilli.

The next day there was a calmer knock on the door, it was mum and children, all looking happier. She’d brought us flowers and a card, addressed to the hi-viz heroes, which made our day, especially as we’d been soaked to the skin volunteering at that morning’s parkrun. No-one volunteers, or helps others for material rewards, but when it does happen, it’s very nice.

“I have a snot problem…”

“I have a snot problem,” he snooked. “It’s hard and crusty, I can’t get out.” I understand that when you’re five, snot can play a large part in your day-to-day life. Hard, crusty, nose-blocking snot can be just as challenging as, let’s just say any other snot, I don’t think we grown-ups need the details.

I’ve had a very child-free life, no siblings, no children of my own, no close cousins or nieces and nephews. Outside-school conversation was always with grown-ups, mates or the cats. Snot may have featured in the discussions, but I can’t say I remember, I have wiped it from my memory with an aloe vera-infused tissue.

So when a little voice announced his snot dilemma from the back of the car, being inexperienced in all matters childcare-related, I was at a loss what to about it.

The owner of the voice was Charlie, grandson of Noel. Notice how I put it that way, he’s the grandparent here, I couldn’t possibly be a grandmother. Grandmothers wear paisley-patterned house coats, have tight perms held in place with hairnets and a scarf knotted under the chin, they carry a string bag full of jars of Horlicks, packets of Yorkshire Mixtures a quarter pound of haslet, a Wonderloaf (thin cut), block of Stork margarine, dried peas in a box with a tablet of bicarbonate or soda, all destined to become mushy peas and a tube of Steradent, or at least mine did. Grandfathers stroll down to town wearing a flat cap, humming an indistinguishable tune while chewing a Fishermen’s Friend. Noel doesn’t wear a hat of any description and has no liking for strong menthol sweets that look like squashed rabbit poo, yet he is indeed a grandad (snigger). I wouldn’t be seen dead in paisley, or a hairnet, though I am partial to the occasional gob of mushy peas.

We were taking Charlie and his older, wiser, sister, who is far too sophisticated to discuss snot, on a trip to see the gliders at Sutton Bank. Rumour had it that ice cream could be purchased at the visitor centre. Rumour was correct.

The snot announcement came as I tried to figure out how to release him from the contraption of a child seat which had more straps and buckles than a Sex Pistols gig. He was very earnest about the whole snot thing. The son of a farmer and owner of a whole fleet of tractors ranging from Matchbox-size models to a pedal-powered John Deere with detachable snow plough, he’d spent the journey identifying the multitude of farm vehicles trundling convoy-style along the narrow country roads. We could inspect them at close quarters as we processed alongside the hedgerows at walking speed.

He’d also dismissed our claim that the sheep we spotted in the fields were huge, they were not huge at all, he sniffed snottily, they were small. So there, we considered ourselves told. The tractor which held us up was not a tractor, it was a self-propelled sprayer, how could we not know that? And the other tractor, the one where the cat was sleeping, was a Matbro. I didn’t dare ask for clarification for fear of appearing stupid, though that ship had sailed with the giant sheep.

So what to do about the snot? I consulted Google, which offered no help, though has since been happy to promote Vicks Sinex to my social media pages, so I asked Noel. He produced a dad-sized hankie and invited Charlie to blow. A five-year-old’s full description followed, I’ll spare you that. I’m looking forward to our next outing which I am absolutely certain will be an education, though Noel will carry the hankies. I’m just off to swot up on farm machinery and breeds of sheep.

Astronaut, beatnik…clusterf#ck

Chambers’s Etymological Dictionary

Filling every shiny new oversized satchel carried by each nervous little first-former crossing the well-polished threshold of Mirfield Grammar School was a copy of Chambers’s (sic) Etymological English Dictionary. I still have my copy.

I’m not saying how long ago that was, but the price is still pencilled inside the front cover, 10/6. That’s ten shillings and sixpence in the old money that was replaced with new money on D-Day, February 15 1971, making it 52.5p.

I’ve always loved words, this was the first dictionary I owned. It didn’t just define the words, it gave their origin and how they developed. I could sit down and read it from cover to cover. It even had maps of ancient civilisations, the Greek alphabet and Roman numerals up to 5000, which was what we needed at the Grammar School. There was no Google then, the nearest was googly which evidently is some cricketing term of obscure origin..

After the abbreviations (including Low L – Low Latin anyone?) there’s the additional list of words which were so new that there wasn’t time to include them in the 1965 edition, but my word did they make a statement about those times. Like apartheid (segregation of races), astronaut (one engaged in space travel), beatnik (a member of the beat generation, a group of poets, chiefly in the USA who, disgusted with what conventional people have made of the world, live in a Bohemian way, trying to get the maximum number of ‘kicks’ out of life) and computer (a machine that calculates automatically – oh how times have changed!) There’s also cat, which is not an aloof furry pet, but a jazz addict or hipster, and marijuana, whose dried flowers were smoked as a narcotic. Spliff and reefer wouldn’t appear until later editions.

Sadly the dictionary as I knew it doesn’t exist any more. In fact most word searches are now online, which is a great shame. I discovered many new words by losing myself in the pages of dictionaries, which has the bonus that I’m rather good at Scrabble.

It got me wondering. If Chambers were to re-print now, what would be the words of the decade? I don’t like to get political. Actually, I do. As I write, the news is full of the countdown to the catastrophe that will be Brexit, I’m simultaneously incandescent with rage and depressed to the point of comfort eating entire boxes of fig rolls. I nominate two words for immediate inclusion, Brexit, of course. And clusterf#ck. The two words will be interchangeable. Forever.

parkrun on a prayer

parkrun 600 at Woodhouse Moor, my 273rd. Thanks to Ian Watson for the photo

It’s before 8am, the sun is just up and the dusting of snow on the Woodhouse Moor paths is sparkling. We have a decision to make, should we, or should we not, go ahead with our parkrun.

Already snow and ice has forced the cancellation of several events nearby. It’s not a big deal, we’re here every week, there’s a lot to choose from, or we could just head for coffee and pretend we’ve run.

But this wasn’t an ordinary parkrun, though you could argue that none are. This was the day of our 600th, and celebrations were planned, cake had been baked, lots of cake, we were expecting a good turn-out. We’d arranged for our parkrunners to enjoy coffee and cake in the warmth of Wrangthorn Church, which offers us hospitality once a month. It’s a busy church, next week and the week after were booked up for them, so cake from the freezer would have to be hastily eaten al fresco in the park if we cancelled. But that couldn’t be a reason to not to cancel if the course wasn’t run-able.

Claudia and Frank, the run directors on the day had to make the call. We trotted up and down the paths, Frank and I were like Torvill and Dean, doing a bit of skating to test out the slip factor. Neither of us fell, which was a bonus. Social media messages were pinging away, asking if we were on, but we carried on our inspection, better to be safe.

Claudia, who confesses she likes to err on the side of caution, took a deep breath, OK, she said, we’re on. And that was it, we were ready to go. With the sun shining down on us, melting the snow, we were off, all 480-odd of us. As far as we knew, no-one fell, there were even a few PBs, though not from yours truly, I couldn’t help stopping and chatting with folk on the way round, enjoying the atmosphere, grinning every step of the way.

We headed across to Wrangthorn which was buzzing with parkrunners scoffing cake. Jim, one of our parkrun regulars (203 runs in fact) a churchwarden, confided that he’d looked out of the window in the early hours to see the snow coming down and was worried we’d have to cancel, so he took immediate action, he prayed.

Whatever your view on divine or any other form of intervention, someone or something was smiling on us and we were all definitely smiling as we celebrated our 600th on a cold and snowy February Saturday. #loveparkrun

The sum of all our friends

The cake took some cutting…..

All the arrangements were made, the venue, catering and entertainment booked, invitations issued, responses received and a feeling of mild panic rising as I realised that there were more people coming than available chairs. Mild panic became moderate to extreme panic when I suddenly remembered. Cake. There was no birthday cake.

A party without cake is no party at all, even if the meal is breakfast. Just to clarify, breakfast is my favourite meal, I can eat it any time of day and like a Hobbit, can have multiple breakfasts. Unless you’re in Greece, Italy, or some other European countries, cake isn’t on the breakfast menu. But still, this was a birthday party and cake is compulsory.

Of course, I could have made it easy for myself and bought one, but that just didn’t seem right, Mr Kipling may bake exceedingly good cakes, but not good enough in my book, plus it would have cost a fortune, I am from Yorkshire after all with short arms and deep pockets, and I couldn’t justify all that packaging. Seriously, a plastic tray, a plastic wrapper and a box? No, just no.

A quick Google for lemon cake recipes, my favourite, a trip to Morrison’s and the ingredients were weighed out, scaled up for a giant cake. You Tube is a treasure chest of sparkling ideas, along with hints and tips. I soon had six cakes sandwiched together with the contents two jars of lemon curd and a kilo of buttercream. It was a heavy cake, supported by bamboo skewers to avoid toppling. I decorated it with another kilo of buttercream, white chocolate shards, various other sweets, though fewer than I started out with as Noel ate some, pretending he was in charge of quality control. It was all topped off with a stack of lemon puffs, skewered together like a giant biscuit kebab. Several dentists were on standby as it made its way to the party.

It was a very relaxed and informal celebration, spending it with some of the friends who have in some way, great or small, made my life better, happier, fun, that’s what friends are for. When I look at what I’ve done, what I love, what I enjoy, nearly all of it is thanks to friends, who have encouraged or involved me in some crazy scheme or other whether it was singing, running, climbing, skiing, starting an allotment, gardening, baking, singing, mosaic-making, drawing….the list is endless. I know I am the sum of all my friends, and I am so thankful.