A ten out of ten day

Thank you, parkrun.

‘I wonder what the world would have been like without parkrun….’ Noel mused. ‘Well, for a start, we’d never have met George, ” I replied. ‘And we’d never have known what a ten out of ten day looked like.’

I first met George five years years ago when he came to Woodhouse Moor parkrun to volunteer, he was just 13. A mutual friend commented that for George, every day was a ten out of ten day. I’m an optimist, my glass is half full, but not that full, maybe an eight or a nine, sometimes, on a good day, I didn’t think a ten was possible. After spending time with George, I can confirm this is true.

George became our star volunteer, collecting tokens from parkrunners after their barcodes had been scanned. Then, encouraged by his mum and dad, he had a go at running. It’s fair to say that his ten out of ten day may have slipped to a nine-and-a-half as he sat down on a bench part-way round and refused to go further. But he got up and did it, did more and is now the proud owner of a parkrun 50 tee-shirt.

He knows everyone at our parkrun and everyone knows him. His arrival on a Saturday morning is heralded by shouts of welcome and massive hugs all round. He cheers us as we run, we cheer him when he runs, it’s wonderful. He’e even become a parkrun ambassador, speaking at conferences and the like,

Last weekend at our parkrun, we had a TV crew from Sky, who are recording a series about special parkrunners, no prizes for guessing who! The crew had arrived the previous day to film George doing all the amazing things he does and interviewing those who do it with him, like dancing and acting.

On Saturday, where we broke our attendance record with 721 parkrunners, he interviewed a few of us, while running, a challenge in itself. He then went on to the newly-opened 21 Co Cafe in Headingley , which supports young people with Down Syndrome, he volunteers there too. What a guy. The day was definitely a ten out of ten for me, I suspect it might have gone up to 11 for George!

Of course, George isn’t the only friend we’ve made through parkrun, there are so many more, and there will be so many more.

So when Noel asked what the world would have been like without parkrun, I’d say we’d all have been the poorer for it. Thank you, parkrun.

The power of the hi-viz

A hi-viz jacket has special magical powers when you’re a race marshal. First of all, it makes you look smaller, positively svelte. It’s true, one size fits none, so they’re ginormous, even if you’re not. Many’s the time I’ve worn one like a wrap-over dress, adding a few tucks here and there, it looked strangely chic….. no actually that was only in my head, no-one ever looks chic in hi-viz.

I’ve found the main hi-viz superpower is to help folk run faster. Slip on the jacket, wave your hand, shout if you have the volume (I do, I so do) and the runners zoom on past, especially if you call them out by name. Just watch them straighten up, lift their knees, stride out and speed up, pure magic. Or maybe they are just wanting to get away from the loud shouter in the hi-viz wrap-over. Same result!

Of course I prefer to run and be on the receiving end of all that encouragement, but injury and general lethargy have forced me down the hi-viz route of late. I’m expecting that go-faster magic to be in the fabric of the jacket and rub off as training starts for my big running year! Did I really say I’d train for an ultra….?

Arty start as I mean to go on

Day 2 Challenge – Do something with finger prints – and I’ve drawn with my left hand

Time to be arty again with the 64 Millions Artists January Challenge. None of this cutting out certain foods, I’m doing that anyway, or staying dry, are you kidding? This is my birthday month and it’s a BIG birthday at that. No this is a very arty challenge indeed.

It’s all very simple, every day I get a message through the magic of social media, with a challenge to get the creative cogs cranking. Nothing too taxing or time-consuming, just something fun. I did it last year and it opened up a whole section of my right brain, which if I’m honest was already encroaching big time on the analytical and methodical left-side. Now, where was I?

Last year was a revelation, one of the challenges was to draw with the non-dominant hand, in my case the left. Blimey, I haven’t drawn with any hand since school, which was last century, but it turned out rather quirky, so I carried on. In fact, I only draw with my left hand now in my little sketch book which goes everywhere with me. It beats sitting hunched over my phone, I have even been mistaken for an artist, though they were wearing very thick glasses…. But if it hadn’t been for the challenge, I’d never have had the idea to make a mosaic for the hidden fireplace we found when decorating the bedroom, and I’d never have made and hidden nine mosaics in our local woods to protest about litter!

64 Million Artists was started in 2014 by Jo Hunter and David Micklem who just wanted to encourage creativity in school, the workplace, home, everywhere in fact. They have a lovely mission to bring out the creative in us all, the 64 million is us in the UK, I can definitely sign up to that.

So every day this month I’ll be doing something creative and posting it to my Instagram page @stripeyanne. Why don’t you join me? Ten minutes of your day to do something creative. Go on, it could change your life!

A parkrun Christmas

Photo: Lizzie Coombes , another parkrun friend!

As I enjoyed my Christmas dinner, paper hat at a jaunty angle, basking in the warmth of friendship and good conversation, I couldn’t help reflecting that was it not for parkrun, I would never have met my special guests.

The day had started early, so early that we saw not one single excited child wobbling away on a shiny new bike. We arrived at Woodhouse Moor with nearly 400 others, most of us in Santa hats, tinsel and something sparkly, to run three laps around the park for the Christmas Day parkrun. If you think we were daft in Leeds, we weren’t alone, there were more than 93,000 parkrunners doing the same in 400 venues worldwide.

Our two guests were among the runners. Maika had been with us last Christmas. Our Japanese friend, who we have grown to know and love more and more since we first met at parkrun three years ago and now consider part of the family, stayed with us for a couple of days. She’s an expert in nutrition and loves all food, except mayonnaise, and who can blame her for that, so wanted to help make the meal – and I was happy to let her! Our other guest is also a parkrunner, she let slip that she would be alone on Christmas Day, so we invited her to join us.

So there we were, four parkrunners and James, my father-in-law, who in his day could have shown any of us, including Noel, a clean pair of heels. The conversation was interesting, exciting, stimulating and fun. Gifts were exchanged, food eaten and we celebrated the wonder that is parkrun. Who’d have thought getting up at stupid o’clock on a Saturday morning in all weathers to run around a park could lead to such friendships – and many many more? Thank you parkrun!

A winning quiz team

An early start to my singing career

There were just two teams and three points in it. Us and the Walnut Whips, a team of chocolatiers with an uncanny insight into obscure music of the 1950s. The rest had fallen by the wayside, the Norwegian Blues, parrot fanciers and hygge experts, the Abba-ettes, who could sing any Abba song in the original Swedish and us. We called ourselves the parkrunners, because we are.

Not that parkrunning had much to do with it, but it was the one common factor that brought us together as a team, seeing that we’d never met before this quiz. It’s amazing how quickly we found that we were all parkrunners and we soon started swapping our  5km timed run stories and comparing tee-shirt colours. I was proud of my green 250, with Noel and Eileen looking to get theirs next year.

So there I was, microphone in hand, ready for a sing-off with the chief Walnut Whipper to decide who won the bottle of bubbly and box of fudge in the Queen of Quizzes. She was 6’10 with a huge voice to match, but I had my secret weapon, I’m a massive show-off.

This all happened because we all work for ourselves. Being self-employed has many advantages, including being your own boss. But when it comes to Christmas, you can’t have much of a party on your own, there’s no-one to pull a cracker with for a start. And breaking open a bottle of bubbly is a major undertaking leading to the mother of all hangovers.

My friend Eileen, a fellow freelancer, was saying the same thing,  and being a resourceful type, offered to organise a Christmas do for people like us. I was glad to let her, she lives in the Lake District and I’ll head for the lakeland fells at the drop of a hat.

So we found ourselves in Zeffirellis in Ambleside, we know and love it well, a restaurant with an independent cinema, a marriage made in heaven! As we entered, Noel asked the obvious question, who did I know in the room. Err, well, err, no-one except Eileen, definitely an introvert’s nightmare, fortunately one of us is an extrovert. Eileen was there and exclaimed ‘StripeyAnne!’, I get a lot of that. The other freelancers arrived, we talked parkrun, and there we were, the beginnings of a winning team.

Not that we were competitive, it was only for fun, wasn’t it?  But as the quiz rounds went on, we kept swapping top place with the Walnut Whips and the bubbly and fudge seemed within our grasp. Questions about music after 2000 were met with blank stares by us, I mean, is there any music after 2000? We thought we might have clinched it with the Beatles round, though naming the albums was a challenge. Then there was the singing round and someone had to take one for the team, that would be me, then!

We did the Ambleside version of Do They Know it’s Christmas between us, each taking a line. Points were awarded for singing in the right key, hitting notes and being an out-and-out Diva. It was between the Walnut Whipper and me, who do you think was the biggest Diva? 

As we sipped our bubbly and munched on the fudge, we reflected on our victory and made a promise to return next year. By then both Noel and Eileen should have their parkrun 250 tee-shirts, we’ll have swotted up on music after 2000 and I might take singing lessons!

Making waste into anti-waste

The wonderful Francesca with the Christmas tree she made. It’s now MY Christmas tree!

Yes yes, so I’m a grumpy old woman, deal with it. But I’m just fed up to my back teeth of waste, litter and our one-use throw-away society. There’s just so much STUFF and it’s filling our rivers, oceans, forests and land.

Here we go again, old Stripey’s going off on one, but when I was a lass, we couldn’t afford to throw something away unless it was totally finished with, so much less went in the bin. This was evidenced by the bin lorries then, small affairs that looked like a mini version of Thunderbird 2 with lift-up doors which received the contents of metal bins hefted over the shoulders of burly binmen (there were no binwomen). Not like now when the wagons are the size of a small house and the wheelie bins as big as a garage.

Now it’s Christmas time and I can feel my grumpiness reaching critical mass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, I love showing goodwill to all women and men, but it’s the sheer indulgence and decadence that upsets me. Last year we bought a Christmas tree with a proper root system, which we put outside where it has lived happily, though it did go off on one during the summer heatwave and is a bit bald, OK, it’s a lot bald, but it’s still alive so it’s getting trimmed and illuminated whether it likes it or not. We can’t be wasting it, can we?

It is nice to have a tree inside too, something the cats can knock over and somewhere to put the presents. And what’s better than a recycled tree? I spotted the very thing on the web page of the wonderful Leeds Wood Recyling . This Community Interest Company is the antidote to my grumpiness, it takes waste and makes it anti-waste, collecting and re-using timber that would otherwise languish in landfill. Actually, it’s even better than that, as they also offer training and volunteering opportunities and has created jobs.

The store, on a small industrial estate near the Armley Gyratory, smells divine, the air is heady with freshly-sawn wood and other woody aromas. So now I have my little Christmas tree and have sourced the timber for the raised beds on the allotment without having to cross the UPVC and metal threshold of a shop or deal with any packaging. Good grief, I think my grumpiness may have subsided…for the time being. Thank you, Leeds Wood Recycling.

The music lives on

It was a mystery. One string, three pegs, no bridge and definitely feeling sorry for itself. This odd-looking instrument languished for years in the dark store room at a Victorian school in Leeds, unplayed, unloved.

Then my mate Len spotted it. He’s on the support staff at the school, but more importantly, he’s a music-lover and a musician. He asked first of all if it could be put on display with the other instruments, but it made for a sorry sight and was destined for the bin.

So with permission, he took it away to give it TLC and maybe, just maybe, hear it played again. 

The strange instrument is a trench cello from the First World War. There were many made, scaled down versions of their grander cousins, using anything at hand, including oil cans, able to be assembled and disassembled quickly and played in the trenches, what music that would have made. It would have made a fine contrast to the sounds of shelling, shooting and downright bloody misery of war.

Of course the cello had to be played, but first of all, it had to be mended. With the help of internet search engines, a very clever and handy dad, lots of work and just £30, it was restored. Len doesn’t play the cello, but he knows someone who does, he took it to them to try it out, they loved it and didn’t want to let it go! It sounds beautiful with that sad melancholy notes that only a cello can produce. 

How Len’s cello found its way to the basement of Swinnow School is a mystery, but he’s hoping to find out more. In the meantime, while those who fought in the trenches 100 years ago have gone,  the music they made can live on. Thank goodness for lovely people like Len who didn’t want to see such an historic thing of beauty disappear.