Every cm² of Woodhouse Moor


I’m almost certain that there isn’t a square centimetre of the path around Woodhouse Moor that I’ve not trod, pounded, tripped, skipped or huffed and puffed on. I have tottered along that tarmac in all weathers, including rain so torrential it washed the dye from my hair and air so cold it turned my hands blue, and that wasn’t my hair dye.

But this Saturday, my running shoes were ready for an extra special turn around the park as I stood on the start line for my 250th parkrun. That’s 250 of the 5km timed runs which began in that there London 14 years ago and has now become, pardon the cliche, a global phenomenon.

With the help of all my toes and fingers, plus a handy abacus, I make that 1,250km, that’s 750 times around the park, not including warm up/cool down laps, putting out and taking in kilometre markers and a few freedom runs, which are parkruns done unofficially.

I did my first parkrun back in 2011, I was doing a bit of running, but not with any great enthusiasm, style or motivation. Noel was on a course for the weekend, so I thought I’d give it a go, it was something to do. There were 274 runners, I couldn’t believe it, so many people turning up at 9am on a cold March Saturday morning, were they mad? Of course they weren’t. I felt like I was, wearing far too much clothing, bumbling around until I crossed the finish line. Wow, I thought, this parkrun thing definitely has something going for it, it turned out I was right.

As well as running, I started to volunteer on a regular basis, becoming run director then event director and watched parkrun grow in confidence as a part of people’s running lives. That growth was not just in numbers, as we now have more than 500 parkrunners a week and that’s with another six parkruns in the city, but also as force for good in the mental wellbeing of the runners and volunteers. Oh yes, that weekly get-together which includes a bit of running, drinking coffee and eating cake afterwards along with a lot of talking, often with just as much listening, has kept me well, mentally and physically.

I’m not saying parkrun is a panacea, but all the parkrunners I know are good people who give help and support as well as receiving it, because that’s what friends do. And I now have many friends who are or have been parkrunners.

Things have been a bit rubbish recently for me, just life happening, the good and the bad, the ups and downs. Then a couple of weeks ago, my dad died after a short illness. I felt so very sad, yet at the next parkrun, I could hardly get around because of the hugs, hands on the shoulder, words of kindness and support, shared tears of so many people.

This week, as I ran that same tarmac, I could hardly get around for the words of congratulations and more hugs. Even the following day as I was supporting at the Leeds Half Marathon, strategically placed at mile 10, shouting ‘only a parkrun to go!’ many of the runners were congratulating me on 250 parkruns, I was very humbled.

Thanks to the generosity of parkrun, I get a free tee-shirt to mark my achievement, it’s green. Emerald green. My Irish dad would have approved.

Opposite history

Hard to believe, but tourists come to our village and stay in the house across the road. I thought at 140 years, ours was an old house, but it’s a mere whippersnapper compared to Calverley Old Hall, which dates back to the 1300s, parts of it anyway.

The hall is owned by the Landmark Trust, which offers holidays in history. It restores castles, forts, towers and cottages for self-catering breaks, people like that kind of thing. If there’s something that even post-Brexit Britain will be able to offer, it’s history, we have so much of it.


While there is a comfy, quirky cottage for five in the hall, the rest of the Grade One Listed Building, in estate agent parlance, has ‘development potential’, in fact it’s on the Heritage at Risk register, where its condition is described as ‘poor’. Personally, I think that’s an understatement and the only thing that stops it slipping into the ‘nobbut a pile of stones’ category is that it has an intact roof and is more or less watertight.

Fortunately, salvation may be in sight for this hall with a murderous history (more about this later), as following a competition, architects have been appointed to revive the entire building and bring the tourists flocking to Calverley. Unfortunately before the work can start, National Lottery funding of more than £3million has to be secured.

As part of the bidding process, the Landmark Trust threw open the doors of the hall, handed out hardhats and invited the locals to have a look. I’ve often stared at the mullioned windows as I clean my own, wondering what was behind them. Now I know. A big hall, with fabulous hammerbeams , magnificent fireplace large enough to live in, lots of stone, dirt and an old toilet, just there in the corner, no plumbing, I have no idea why it’s there. Also there’s a smaller hall (the solar wing) and a chapel, complete with private gallery so the rich lords of the manor could look down on the hoi polloi through carved oak screens.

The house was in the hands of the Calverley family, who all seemed to be called Walter, so it does make storytelling complicated. There were good Walters, like the one in the 1300s who was a pioneer of the iron industry, prudent Walter, who drew up marriage settlements for his children in the 1400s, and murderous Walter who, in 1605, ran amok and murdered his two small sons, one of them a Walter, stabbing his wife. He was tried and pressed to death, but he had another son, Henry, who could carry on the family name, though he didn’t change his name to Walter. Pity. There are rumours of a ghost, seen by folk staggering from one of our three village pubs.

In 1754 the hall was divided into cottages, its gardens disappeared and houses started to spring up, including ours more than 100 years later. The site was bought by the Landmark Trust in 1981 and they have been working to repair and revive it ever since. There’s not a lot of money around for this kind of major improvement project, but fingers crossed that when the lottery bid is submitted in January, it will be successful.

The Guinness is good in Heaven!


My dad told some tales. He would sit me on his lap, produce an exotic object and tell me how he’d won, earned or fought for it. I remember a broken dagger which had snapped in the head of the crocodile he killed to save the life of the injured Big Chief Running Horse.

Then there was his mate the giant, who he helped build the causeway in his native Ireland and had a piece or rock to prove it, or, long before Indianna Jones, how he’d raided a temple in some far-off place and had the gold to show for it. My dad, the great adventurer, slayer of crocodiles, friend of giants, looter of temples.

I found the dagger some time later, it was stamped with the Big Chief’s initials, BR, and bore a striking resemblance to a paper knife. BR, British Rail. How did Big Chief Running Horse manage to get that knife? It was a mystery.

He was a great storyteller, my dad, he’d kissed the Blarney Stone so often I think he had his own spot there. And people ask me where I get my gift of the gab.

Even as he was lying in hospital following a stroke that would ultimately take his life, he couldn’t resist a bit of banter, all the nurses fell in love with him as he teased them. I’m sure he would have told them about his adventures too, he was like that.

Life was hard in post-war Ireland. As one of 11 mouths to feed in their small rural home in Enniscorthy, it made sense for his to leave home look elsewhere for work. So in 1948 at the age of 20 he and his brothers came to the UK, working in the cotton mills in Oldham, where the days were long and the work hard, but at least he was earning. After moving to Yorkshire, he met my mum and they married. My sister Denise was born with a brain injury and died when she was 11 and I was eight.

For most of his working life, he looked after the giant boiler at a factory in Mirfield. It’s there that a lot of the treasure to illustrate his tales was collected, inspiring me to write my own stories then and now.

He split from my mum when I was 11, it wasn’t on good terms and it wasn’t his fault, but I didn’t really see much of him as we got on with out lives. We touched base occasionally,  every time we met, he’d remind me what a scamp I  was when I was a child, including how I accidentally set fire to a field and nearly the wooden bungalow in it. Hey, I was young, I was experimenting, I never did it again…..

He wasn’t an educated man, I don’t think he ever read a book in his life, unless it was the form book for the horses, he liked to bet, but he was practical and savvy.  He could make anything with wood, I was proud to have one of his creations in my garden.

He also loved his Guinness, well, as an Irishman he would, wouldn’t he? I was going to make him a Guinness cake for his 90th birthday. Instead, he’ll be up there in Heaven, downing a pint made by angels, reminiscing with Big Chief Running Horse, telling tall tales and pulling everyone’s leg. That’s my dad.

RIP Johnny Tyrrell. 5 October 1928 to 26 April 2018.

Being Amelia


I first met Amelia (not her real name) when she was Julian. I knew Julian as a fellow parkrunner, a bloke of 60 plus with beautifully manicured nails painted bubblegum pink, they put my torn rock-climber’s stubs to shame. ‘Nice nails’, I said, and I meant it. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Not long ago, my dad called with some news about Philip, my half-brother from his second marriage, who I had not seen for many years. He didn’t quite know how to put it, as he didn’t really understand, but Philip wasn’t Philip any more, she was Philippa. ‘Fantastic!’, I exclaimed, ‘I always wanted a sister!’

Julian told me that despite marriage and fatherhood, he had always known he was Amelia. She was the one who enjoyed life, who wore lovely feminine clothes and spent time as a woman. This was who she really was, even though she was born Julian. As our friendship developed, she told me her story and how she had reached the point, in her seventh decade, that she couldn’t be Julian any more.

I wanted to write about this, not to tell the stories of Amelia and Philippa, they are quite capable of telling their own, but to say that I’m glad I know friends who feel they can be themselves, not just with me, but with many others who don’t bat an eyelid in any kind of judgement at people’s personal circumstances. Amelia told me she had struggled all her life as Julian, but she had found people, like our lovely parkrunners, or colleagues at work, or family, who just treated her as she deserved, which is with kindness, respect and understanding so that she could have the confidence to be Amelia. We all deserve to give and receive that respect, don’t we?

Back to 22 June 2016

El Ministerio del Tiempo. It’s real, you know.

I love being a European, I love the cosmopolitan cultures, the delightful and sometimes challenging cuisine (see under andouillettes), the quaint and quite frankly scary driving habits (see under all of Belgium) and most of all the people. They are different and different is good.

Despite what happened on 23 June 2016 when (in my opinion) slightly, very slightly, over half the country lost its mind and voted to turn the clock back to those good old days which under close scrutiny weren’t really that good, and plough the multiple billions of pounds, shillings, pence, ha’pennies and farthings that we saved into the cash-starved NHS (see under big, fat, hairy liars), I remain and always will be a European.

When we travel across the Channel and fall into conversation with our European cousins, I always feel the need to punctuate sentences with ‘We didn’t vote Brexit…’ and ‘I have an Irish passport…’ as the clock of doom ticks away our last days in the European Union.

But I think I’ve found a way to stop this nonsense and it’s thanks to the Spanish. Those lovely warm-hearted, welcoming Spaniards who tie with the Italians for making the best coffee in Europe (controversial, I know, but I’ve said it and there it is) can travel in time.

Evidently there’s a Ministry of the Spanish government that keeps a watch on historic happenings and intervenes where necessary to make sure that history isn’t changed. Much.

El Ministerio del Tiempo is a hush-hush affair, based underground somewhere in Madrid. Agents from every era of Spanish history carry out their secret work, then return to their own time while they wait for their next mission. It makes my brain hurt to try figure out the paradoxes, but they are much cleverer than me, they must be, they can travel in time.

The top team is Army of Flanders soldier Alonso de Enterrias, 18th century student and all round clever clogs Amelia Folch and 21st century paramedic Julián Martínez. They have so far travelled to Lisbon in 1588 to stop Lope de Vega from dying before he writes his greatest works, 1981 Madrid to find a copy of a missing bill of sale for Picasso’s “Guernica” to ensure the masterpiece is returned to Spain, and to 1940 after a man being chased by Nazis promises to show Heinrich Himmler how to travel in time if he’ll spare his life.

Of course, those clever Spanish are passing all this off as fiction, but that’s clearly a double bluff to cover up their time travelling skills. So what I’m thinking is that in the interests of, well, pretty much everyone, Amelia, Alonso and Julián go back to 22 June 2016 and hijack the Brexit bus, exclaiming ‘ Boris es un bastardo mentiroso!’, and show them the media coverage and downright falsehoods told during the campaign and how the rest of the world thinks we’re idiots, people will realise that Brexit will never work, vote ‘remain – hell yes’ and all will be well in the state of Europe.

Failing that, just watch this Netflix series, it is probably the best box set on TV, with the additional benefit that we are improving our Spanish and learning a lot about Spanish history. It’ll take my mind off Brexit for a while.

The Great Reveal


I blame Noel, he blames me, we’ve reached a compromise, we blame each other. He started it by suggesting that the pile of rubbish (or collectables as I know them) in the spare bedroom could be concealed by a built-in wardrobe. He was right.

Garry, our indispensable joiner, had already won our hearts by fitting reveals to the new windows, making them into giant picture frames displaying village life on the move. They replaced dirty plastic which had just about hidden a multitude of sins and transformed our rooms, illuminating everything, including the collectables.

The shine from the new wardrobes cast a yellow glow on the poorer relations in our room. Our wardrobe doors weren’t white any more, they were yellow, nicotine yellow. And we’ve never smoked. Our room looked decidedly dowdy, so there was only one course of action to take, call Garry.

It was going to be a simple, if faffy, build-then-decorate job. After getting a season ticket to the tip where we deposited the yellow wardrobe and dusty (sic) pink carpet, complete with the 1991 copies of the Daily Mail the previous occupants had spread on the underlay, presumably so they could grind it under their feet, it was just a matter of stripping the wallpaper, getting the new wardrobe fitted, then making good and decorating. A few days, tops.

In the meantime, we had moved the contents of our room into the spare room, stuffed even more rubbish into the spacious wardrobe, calmed the cats, who were accidentally shut into wardrobes, drawers and suitcases, and looked forward to our transformed bedroom.

The next person who says ‘these things are never as easy as they first seem’ will get a wallpaper scraper rammed up a sunshine-free place. There were at least four layers of paper, the last one painted with gloss, the only crumb of comfort was that neither of us was going to remove the paper which would be covered by the wardrobe, let it be a little present for the next owner of this house, after all the previous owners left us plenty.

I was dreading discovering the cause of the lumpiness in the chimney breast. Tapping with the scraper made a hollow sound. Underneath was hardboard papered with the finest the 50s could offer, covering the hole left by the fireplace. Out initial thought was to paper over the lot, so it would be just as before, but neater.

But here was a mystery, right here in our bedroom, a board, a hole, maybe a passage to a mini Narnia, how could we not look?  I imagined that behind it would be soot, a few pigeon skeletons and pigeon poo, we stood waiting for the great reveal. I expected it to be a rubbley hole and suggested to Noel that Garry could board up the sides to make an alcove, what a great place for a cat to sleep, or we could put our running trophies and medals there. It’s only a small alcove.

There was no soot, or corpses, sadly no kingdom of talking animals either. But there was a fine fireplace which I immediately saw as a beautiful feature for the room, no longer boring black, but a lighter colour and the fine detail of the cast iron flowers picked out in greens and yellows. We can always put the trophies in the hearth.

So here begins a journey of discovery and decorating, a bit longer than anticipated, but ultimately rewarding (remind me I said that when I’m covered in plaster dust). It may take some time. See you at the other side!


Hello, old friend.

Grépon and Blaitiére, five-minute left-handed sketch

Returning to Chamonix is like visiting an old friend who you know so well, you can finish their sentence. In French. It’s a busy, touristy, Brit-filled place and must have more cheese per square metre than anywhere else on earth.

This time of year, the streets vibrate under the impact of ski boots and the sound of clattering skis is only just audible above the clink of beer glasses hitting the bars, waiting for refills.

For skiers and boarders, Chamonix is a Mecca of gnarliness. The easiest pistes in the resort would be intermediate anywhere else and the hardest, well, they’re off the scale, certainly off my scale anyway. For the brave and well-equipped, the mountains offer a massive playground, for the foolhardy and ill-equipped, they can be an icy tomb.

After a very stressful year, we were mentally exhausted. Even booking a ski trip was too difficult, so we opted to return to the town dubbed the home of alpinism and our honeymoon destination 18 years ago. Where else do you go when you need comfort than to see an old friend?

Everything was wonderfully familiar, so much so that we felt like locals, speaking French to everyone, whether they were French or not, then shrugging in that Gallic way when they replied in loud English that they didn’t understand. How we laughed! We had some fabulous conversations in French with people from all over the world. The solo skier, born in Brazil, but living in Geneva, over for the weekend, the two Spaniards who asked us which bus to catch,  then got on the wrong one, and the two French lads, off to do something brave, we agreed they had ‘les couilles d’acier’ (balls of steel). I even got to practice my French vernacular after a rather spectacular face plant ‘putain de merde!’ (f#cking sh!t). I don’t think anyone heard…

But the best exchange of all was with the waiter at our regular patisserie. I’d taken my sketch book to try and draw the impressive mountains dominating the Chamonix skyline. It was just a sketch, with my left (non-dominant) hand, an inspiration from the 64 Million Artists January Challenge I took part in, but the waiter was so complimentary, and our conversation so animated, I felt like I was a local, at home with my friends.

The snow will be gone from the lower levels soon, but we’ll be back in the summer to see our old friend, run the rocky trails, climb the crags, walk around the town, eat our own body weight in cheese, drink beer at the micro brasserie, sketch a bit and speak more French, though not swear as much.