Intruder alert! Feline fur flies!

Socks the not-so-brave

There was a sudden commotion and almighty clatter and Socks Akers’ whiny voice floated up the stairs. “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”,  followed by an eardrum-piercing yowl that would waken the dead. Then silence, broken by the faint growling of Hidey, our other cat. Something was up.

Noel was well into his REM sleep, but sprang into full alertness, clattering down the stairs, his naked milk-white torso reflecting the moonlight. That’s scare ’em, I thought, in my semi-wakefulness. My next thought was that Noel and Socks would be able to cope with whatever he found, and that I’d leave him to it. Hey, there could have been a burglar, or more likely dismembered rodents, or worse still, catsick, ewww, Noel could definitely deal with that.

The cat flap opened and closed, Socks the Brave, as we shall not call him, was cowering behind the settee, looking like he was trying to avoid the monsters from Dr Who. Hidey was pawing the treats bag, because it was there and she assumed Noel was there to feed her. She has no problem with daleks, they can’t do stairs and she is the Queen of the Stairs.

We’d suspected catty trouble when we saw Big Fatty, a huge tabby and white cat as big as a dog, with legs as thick as my arms, he was ambling up the garden path, pawsteps echoing down the ginnel. Socks was confident Big Fatty was way too lardy to fit through the catflap, so wasn’t worried. He weighs in at six kilos is no minion himself, but he is a scaredy cat. He’s all boasts and bluster when he’s perched on the upstairs windowsill twitching his whiskers at Big Fatty below. Or maybe he’s not figured out that something that looks small from far away gets larger the nearer it is. Socks Akers is not a very bright cat.

Hidey on the other hand, had worked out that not only was Big Fatty very big, he could indeed fit through the cat flap. With ease. She wasn’t too worried as she can also run very fast and hide extremely successfully, that’s why we called her Hidey.

It seemed Fat Tabby had helped himself to food and was about to bed down on the sofa. Socks told me he’d slapped FT about a bit and showed him what for. Hidey said Socks was a big fat smelly liar and a coward to boot. She said he’d wedged himself behind the sofa, covering is eyes with his paws. Socks said that was not the case, he’d spotted something very interesting behind the sofa and had then got something in his eye, besides, he wasn’t smelly, he was manly.

Noel shrugged his shoulders and came back upstairs, relieved that there were neither burglars, rodents nor catsick. Socks followed and jumped onto the windowsill, watching what he saw as a tiny FT disappearing into the bushes and congratulating himself on seeing off the interloper. As I said, he’s not a very brave cat, but we love him to bits.


Litter, what a load of rubbish!

One run’s worth of rubber bands and plastic can holders. Grrrr.

I hate litter, it’s rubbish, lots and lots of rubbish dropped or deliberately thrown by careless, thoughtless people. At best, if that’s an appropriate word to use, it’s untidy. At worst, it can kill, strangling animals and birds, leeching into the oceans, starting fires or poisoning us. Oh bloody hell, I hate litter.

Each Saturday before our parkrun, we clear up cans, bottles, glasses, cardboard and even carrier bags from the entrance to the park, all dumped under a bench which is within staggering distance of a bin. On runs or walks through our local woods there’s wrappers and papers, plus bags  of something brown and smelly hanging from trees, what’s that all about?

I don’t run on roads very often, not enough mud for my liking, plus there’s bloody litter everywhere. What possesses people to throw stuff out of their car windows? If I wasn’t such a terrible thrower, I’d scoop it up and throw it back in, let’s see how they like it them, in their neat and tidy cars, eh?

Last week was the last straw. With Noel on the point of death from a rare and virulent form of cold virus that left him bedbound and incapable of anything other than updating his social media and calling out feebly for ‘tea’, ‘coffee’ and occasionally ‘chocolate’, I had to run on my own. It can be lonely in the woods, so I broke with tradition and headed towards Pudsey on the road.

Within a few steps, I spotted a rubber band on the pavement. Picturing a hedgehog or other creature coming to a nasty end if they crawled through it and got caught up, I did what I thought was a stylish swoop, gathering and pulling it over my hand with one move. Hey, it was so stylish, I’m thinking of incorporating it into my cross training.

Over the next 11km, I had the chance to practice this time and again and I spotted more, presumably dropped by posties or other delivery people along with those horrid can-holder-togetherers, the joined circles made from tough plastic so four hedgehogs can be stuck at a time, ooo I was so cross! Fortunately for my training regime, fury fuelled my running and I kept up a reasonable pace when I was swooping.

By the end of my run, I had ten rubber bands and two can-holder-togetherers. I’ve started making a ball out of the bands and intend to bounce it off the walls of Royal Mail’s Leeds HQ when it’s big enough. That’ll show ’em. I’ll catch it of course and make sure it’s properly disposed of.

Next month Keep Britain Tidy will launch the Great British Spring Clean , encouraging people to get outside and tidy up. Why wait until then, I say! Personally, I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll pick up as much litter as I can carry home when I’m on a run. Added to that is the general picking-up when I’m out and about, and of course each Saturday before parkrun. What about you? #GBSpringClean #CleanLeeds

A creative January

I have just spent a joyous and skill-stretching January flexing creative muscles I haven’t used since childhood, and believe me, that’s a long time ago! Thanks to 64 Million Artists, a wonderful national campaign aimed at unlocking the creativity of everyone in the country, I have been challenged to do something creative, something different, something fun.

An email each day announced the challenge, something that could take as little as five minutes, it wasn’t about making masterpieces, just about taking a little time out to be creative. So there was everything from writing a poem, dancing like no-one’s watching (they were), building a castle with whatever was to hand (a small castle from my sewing kit), making a boat that could float (a new definition of float here), designing a postcard for my home village, or creating a jumper (mine had a detachable cowl which doubled up as a mini skirt, a very mini skirt, it would definitely be draughty around the houses wearing that) and….err… drawing.

Being a wordsmith, I don’t consider drawing is my best thing, I may have art O-level  but they must have just felt sorry for me when they saw my efforts, it can be the only explanation for me passing. The day two challenge to draw five faces would not have got me a pass in any exams, but that wasn’t what it was about, I was just stretching those drawing muscles. So when I was challenged to draw whatever I saw over my right shoulder with my left hand, I had no idea how it would turn out. Interesting, that’s what it was, though actually better than with my right, which is my dominant hand. All drawings will be left-handed in future, though I don’t think there will be many!

Throughout the month, there has been a community of creatives sharing what they have done on social media, usually starting with ‘….this isn’t very good but…’ . Actually many were very good indeed, it was humbling to see such creativity and talent, especially with the way we all interpreted the various challenges.

Founded by Jo Hunter and David Micklem, 64 Million Artists has a simple premise – let’s all get creative and share what we have done with others as creativity is contagious!

I thoroughly enjoyed January, eagerly anticipating the daily email, then thinking about it throughout the day, even when I was on holiday. The month may be over, but now there is a weekly challenge, which I have already signed up for, I just hope there’s not much drawing involved, or if there is, I’ll be using my left hand! Thanks 64 Million Artists and thanks Beth for getting me involved!

Love books, love libraries!


I love books. The touch of the paper, the gorgeous rustling sound the pages make as they are turned, the scent of a new book and the excitement of being the first to open it, or mustiness and tattiness of an old one, I love them all.

It seems though, that I have loved them a little too much, the book shelves in our upstairs library (as opposed to the downstairs library) are stacked double depth with books from my teenage days, yes, that long ago, yes, they did have paper then. Most were bought in second-hand book shops, or given as presents, or just appeared on the shelves, with no clue as to how they got there.

When Noel announced he would quite like a man cave, a place where he could do that crazy computer coding thing with lots of numbers, letters and curly brackets scrolling around on half a dozen screens, the upstairs library was the logical choice. He said he was happy to co-exist with James Joyce’s Ulysees and George Orwell’s 1984 and many of my other dusty tomes, but considering I hadn’t read them for years, actually, I never finished Ulysses, good grief it was hard work,  I thought it was time to have a clearout and find a new home for my beloved books.

Of course, they couldn’t all go, that would be too much, Jane Austen, Kurt Vonnegut and Fannie Flagg were definitely staying, but I sorted the rest, stacked them and then had to decide what to do with them. I certainly wasn’t going to throw them away, that would be sacrilege. I have in the past given books to the local library, which I visit regularly, these were too old and worn to go there. But thanks to the creativity and hard work of other book lovers, a network of little free libraries has sprung up around the city.

The Leeds Little Free Library has raised cash to install rather lovely boxes in neighbourhoods where people can take a book and leave a book. These boxes, the size of a bedside cabinet, are beautifully decorated and stocked with books. There’s no membership, no cards, no charge, just the expectation that you’ll take a book, read it, love it, return it or pass it on. We spend a couple of happy hours tracking down these lovely little libraries and leaving a few books. I hope someone will actually finish Ulysses.

Thank you Leeds Little Free Library, I’m looking forward to us having one in Calverley!

Let’s talk about customer service..

Running in Chamonix – no ski boots required!

Call me old-fashioned, call me old, you’d be right on both counts, but I do like good customer service, no, actually, I like excellent customer service. Being self-employed, I make sure that’s what I give, if I didn’t, my reputation would suffer.

Let’s look at two scenarios to test out the principles of good customer service, you decide what actually happened.

It was the last day of a snow-packed slippy-slidey no-fall ski holiday (that’s no falls on the downhill, the cross-country had obligatory falling over). The snow just kept coming down and we were happy.

Our Chamonix hotel, the Faucigny was a favourite place to stay, we’d been there many times, welcomed warmly by the couple who ran it as a family business. They had since retired, but we went back as we loved it there.

It’s usual for ski boots and skis to be kept in the bowels of a hotel, usually in a room heady with the scent of 100 sweaty feet. We have our own boots, moulded to our feet and fitted with customised footbeds, so comfortable, like having your feet kissed…

As we opened the door that last morning, instead of our two pairs of boots, there was one. Mine. Noel’s had gone.

In scenario one, we speak to the reception staff, in French of course, who sympathise and offer to cover the cost of hiring boots for the day, and promise they will do their utmost to track them down. We leave re-assured and head out to ski our little legs off, trusting our hotel will sort everything out for us. On returning, we are presented with the missing boots, a guest had accidentally taken them, apologised profusely for the inconvenience, leaving a gift, a generous gift, we’re overwhelmed, we shed a tear or two, embrace the hotel staff, who hand us a warming cuppa and huge slice of gateau then bid them a fond farewell, promising to return. Soon.

Scenario two and we’re met with a shrug, there’s an offer of a discount voucher to hire replacements, the same voucher offered when we arrived. Definitely the least they could do. The hire boots fit like gloves, boxing gloves. It’s not a good day. We return to the same shrugging and decide to report it to the police as a theft, that way we can claim on the insurance. We spend the penultimate hour of our holiday in the Gendarmarie explaining everything in our best French. On returning to the hotel, to pick up the airport taxi, Noel checks the boot room one last time. The boots are back, still warm, and wet through, the reception staff shrug, saying one guest returned, but they didn’t see who, yeah, right. Noel explains in his best French that he’s not happy and would very much like to discuss reimbursement of the hire cost of the boots with the person responsible. More shrugs. We’re hungry, thirsty and angry and already composing our Trip Adviser review.

Once when we were there before, we’d returned to the room to find it hadn’t been cleaned. Monsieur was mortified, he called the cleaner back, apologised profusely and gave us a bottle of champagne and sacked the cleaner. That was customer service.

So, which scenario was it, dear reader?

Everything hurts. Everything. 

Well, when I say everything hurts, my eyelids are fine. And my left earlobe, that’s not too bad either, though my right one is throbbing a bit. But everything else? Bloody agony. 

Cross country skiers have god-like bodies, slim, elegant movers and as fit as a butcher’s dog.  That wasn’t my sole reason for signing up for a three-day course, but I have to confess it was at the back of my mind and I have already ordered clothes two sizes smaller, just in case.

We found ourselves with six other like-minded debutants and two of these god-like creatures who were tasked with transforming us into maybe not skiing gods, but hopefully minor deities. Very minor deities. 

I’m a reasonable downhill skier, falls are usually in the single figures, by the second day at least. I was lulled into a false sense of security as I put on the comfortable boots, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a martyr to my feet. But then came the skis, long, thin, light and no edges. I immediately fell over, it wasn’t the last time that day, or even that hour. 

Oh my goodness it was tough going.  The only progress is under your own ski power, no lifts, tows or satisfying long carves down corduroy pistes. Just hard physical work.

I used muscles I didn’t know I had, my legs stretched further than they’ve ever stretched before and I am very bendy. After day one, I ached, day two and I couldn’t walk up the stairs, day three and I crawled up the stairs, it took a while.

No pain, no gain, and I gained a lot. I learned to move on horizontal-ish snow, gliding and falling less and less until the tally was in single figures, thanks to our cross country skiing gods, Richard and Emma. 

Now it’s back to the downhill stuff for the next few days, just to make sure the aching continues, different aches in different places, but at least my eyelids are fine. 

Running…because I can

Thanks to Andy Wicks for the photo

I had a lovely running friend, sadly no longer with us, who was a great inspiration to all of us who enter races knowing we haven’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of bothering the prizewinners.

Arthur James a sprightly septuagenarian, ran as best he could then finished with a thundering sprint. ‘Run….because you can…’ he said. And I did.

It’s now ten years since I ran my first ever 10km through the dark satanic mills of Dewsbury and Batley, passing the HQ of an organisation that had treated me very badly and resisting the temptation to make a moon-related gesture. Never in my whole life did I think I would run that immense distance, especially in my late 40s without the need for supplementary oxygen and emergency chocolate. The very idea! But I did, and I didn’t collapse in a heap, in fact, I was euphoric. And I got a tee-shirt and what’s more it still fits!

Joining a club and taking part in races was a natural next step, that was after I bought suitable trainers and movement-limiting running gear. Did you know breasts have no muscles and left unrestrained, will make a figure of eight when running causing untold damage and massive chafeage? I discovered that very quickly and thank my lucky stars for Shock Absorber #4 which keeps everything in place, though does catapult across the room when unhooked. I once found it hanging lazily from the reading lamp after looking everywhere, that’s the power of elastic.

But it can be a bit disheartening when all the fast folk just breeze past on their second lap and I’m puffing and panting, hardly able to acknowledge their encouragement. My poor legs just plod away and I feel like I’m getting slower and slower!

Noel was quick to give advice, ‘If you want to run fast, then move your legs quicker…’ Excellent. You can imagine the response. He’s right, though, and I’m working on it, speed sessions, hill training, it’s hard work and sometimes it doesn’t feel it’s making a difference. But I’m motivated and encouraged by Arthur’s words, I can run, so what’s wrong with that? It’s not about racing or medals, though I confess I do like a bit of bling.

The best run I had recently was splashing through the fresh snowfall in the local woods, savouring the clean, crisp air, the winter sleepiness of the leafless trees, the glimpse of the occasional bird, the sound of my own unlaboured breathing, the total freedom of running, is there anything better, really?

So as I enter my second decade of  running, I do want to run freer and faster. But most of all, I want to run just because I can. Thank you Arthur.