First rescue

If the worst happened and our house went up in flames, great plumes of smoke billowing from the windows, cats leaping out clutching their Felix Goody Bags, I’d be battling my way through the smoke to save the one thing I can’t replace. A crosstitch, a blooming crosstitch for goodness sake.

In my defence, I lost count of how many hours it took me, it was quite a while ago. But it was a massive faff and I had needle grooves in my fingers for years afterwards, there’s a lot of me in that crosstitch.

I picked up the pattern while I was in the USA, a windswept godforsakeness of high desert in the middle of Utah. It’s a place no-one goes these days, unless it’s to visit the site of an historic happening there 150 years ago on May 10 1869. This was the exact spot that the transcontinental railroad was completed and the tracks secured with a golden spike, 17 karat gold at that, a spike being one of those big nails that holds the track to the sleeper. Locomotives were brought to face each other symbolically of course, probably so someone could design a crosstitch sampler for some Limey to torture themselves on more than a century later.

It must have been the euphoria of the historic visit, or maybe the Utah altitude, but I thought it would be an interesting challenge to commemorate my visit. What was I thinking? Anyone else, anyone else sensible, would have taken a photo and left it at that.

Anyway, I did it and I was glad, but I have a responsibility to make sure nothing happens to it. That’s why I’ll have to rescue it in case of fire, flood, or act of God.

Bluebell time

Bluebells at Harlow Carr, Harrogate

It’s that time of year when winter hasn’t quite gone and summer is teasing us by pretending to appear, then running off, leaving a trail of frost behind. Days are longer, but not much warmer, insects are stretching their many legs and multiple wings, birds are discussing nest-building, usually at dawn, and nature is waking up.

Spring is my favourite season. Colours are fresh and new, with as many shades of green as there are brands of compost in the bank holiday Monday sales. I like it that it’s not summer, summer can be warm, way too warm for The Whitest Woman in the Beach™ or Mrs Milk Skin as I was once called in Crete. Spring is fine for me, especially as it’s bluebell time.

We’re flush with deciduous and ancient woodland here in Yorkshire, which is heaven for bluebells, their little blue heads push up everywhere. Actually, Britain has more than half the world’s bluebells, so they even have some down south, though obviously they aren’t as good as ours!

One step into the woods and there’s a fine haze of blue and the subtle sweet scent of bluebells, a bit like diluted hyacinth, it’s bigger, blousier brother. They are in woods everywhere and they are beautiful, but they are only beautiful because they are in the woods. Pick them and they wilt, as if they are protesting over being taken away from home, plus you risk being poisoned, or poisoning your pets. Let anyone see you picking them and you could be prosecuted as it’s against the law to pick or destroy them.

Early insects help to pollinate them, though cheeky bees take a bite out of the bottom and nick the nectar without having the decency to pass around the pollen.

About 300 years ago, Spanish bluebells were brought over to brighten up posh people’s gardens, which was fine so long as that was where they stayed. But they were spotted in the woods about 100 years ago, how they got there is debated, either garden waste or pollinator, but it looks like they are in our woods to stay.

The bluebells have been absolutely stunning this year, a real pick-me-up after the dark, dreary winter, I’m definitely enjoying them while they carpet the woods, who knows when summer will come, and they will all disappear until the winter has been and gone.

Speaking to the shelves, listening to the books

Surrounded by books and book lovers, who wouldn’t want to put pen to paper and get writing? The Leeds Library (not to be confused with Leeds Central Library) is the oldest subscription library in the country, dating back to 1768.

Its entrance is like finding 12 Grimmauld Place, the Black family home in Harry Potter, tucked away in the city centre, all stairs and corridors, opening out into a beautiful book-filled treasury, complete with twin spiral staircases with a little self-serve cafe and honesty box.

Where better, then, to spend a few hours in the company of author, playwright, artist and all-round lovely person Emma Adams, and learn more about this writing lark? Just over a dozen of us pulled up a haphazard collection of chairs around wooden tables which had been pushed together in the centre of the rooms. Actually a couple more joined us later in just about the amount of time it takes to get from the Central Library, but we said we would not speak of it.

What a wonderful, inspirational afternoon in delightful company. After a couple of introductory exercises, inspired by the surrounding books, we were encouraged to spend 20 minutes writing. I penned a little post-parkrun episode inspired by that morning’s banter. Here it is, warts (or rather moles) and all, names and events have been changed to protect the innocent and for dramatic effect.


The noise in the cafe crescendo-ed, drowning out the 19-year-old barrista’s Spotify playlist which was something shouty, pulsey and utterly tuneless. Thank God, I thought, I couldn’t do with hearing any more of Snott Dogg or whatever he called himself.

The crescendo was caused by laughter from Gillian, Big Gillian as she used to be, but now Medium-Sized Gillian, thanks to cutting out the Yorkshire Mixtures and dandelion and burdock pop and taking up running. She’d lost a lot of weight and looked great. It set me wondering what happened to all that lost weight. Did it find its way to the fatberg in the sewers of London? Or maybe it formed a huge hill somewhere, all wobbly and slippery, probably smelly too.

It was the laughter that brought me back from my fatty fantasy. ‘It’s Adrian, he’s dropped off and disappeared,’ Gillian told us. I know only one Adrian, he’s Philip’s new partner, he’d recently come out, met Adrian and become a very happy man. They’d even stayed in a yurt together and toasted their relationship with Babycham and a packet of fig rolls, which they regretted later.

Anyway, I was relieved to hear it wasn’t lovely Adrian who’d dropped off, it was Gillian’s mole, who she had christened Adrian. She confessed she was a moley person with little lumps and bumps everywhere, none of them sinister, just lumpy and bumpy. Some even joined up to make shapes, a fleshy join the dots.

But Adrian was special. He’s been there all her life, he was a hairy mole and he lived on her bum. She was quite fond of him, but he did chafe a bit when she started running. It’s a well-known fact that moles, particularly hairy moles, don’t like Lycra.

Then it happened, the source of the amusement. She was sweating and panting her way up a hill, arms pumping, legs pushing, when she felt something move. It was Adrian. He was getting a bit fed up with all the friction, his little hairs had bristled with indignation, his lumpy bits decided they’d had enough of this Lycra prison, so he just jumped ship. It’s not easy for anything to escape Lycra, but Adrian found his way down the back of her left leg, bounced off her trainer and landed in the grass, right next to a mole hill. He’d found his new home.

A parkrun romance

A Saturday morning stint as a parkrun Run Director always means a stupid o’clock start, often involves faffing, usually presents me with the opportunity to do lots of shouting, which, by the way, is my best thing, but never involves subterfuge. Or romance. Until now.

It was a few weeks ago that Lucy contacted me, all hush-hush, to say she planned to propose to her boyfriend at the place they first met. That place just happened Woodhouse Moor parkrun, right there in the finish funnel. They’d been introduced by a mutual friend and immediately their romance took off, starting with marathon and ultramarathon training.

The question was, how to pop the question? Lucy planned to volunteer to record the unreadable barcodes. Alan would run, and somehow (snigger snigger) his barcode wouldn’t scan so he’s have to go to her. She’d show him a lovely video with photos of them on their many adventures together, then pop the question. Of course I offered Lucy a slot at the run brief to propose, but that would have been a little overwhelming, plus it would have ruined his chance of a PB.

It all went more or less to plan, with Alan not suspecting anything other than a celebration for his birthday that day, a youthful 37 which he thought was nothing special, though I pointed out that it was a prime number. And they are always worth celebrating.

I sidled up to the couple, hopefully to get a good photo, as Alan watched the video and unromantically dripped sweat from his over 6ft height. It was an unseasonably warm day. The video finished, they kissed, we all held our breath…. Alan looked up and saw the audience. ‘Well?’ we all asked. ‘Oh,’ he said nonchalantly, ‘I said yes’

Being dyed-in-the-wool parkrunners, there was no engagement ring, just a bracelet engraved with their barcode numbers.

They plan to get married as soon as they can confirm the venue, which will be in the Yorkshire Dales. Naturally they will have a celebration parkrun at Woodhouse Moor. One thing’s for certain, they won’t forget their barcodes!

Hottie McHotbin

Heidi, Hottie and me

Something big, black and monolithic has appeared in the garden, just behind the greenhouse. Next door’s dog is spooked, the cats are mildly curious, Noel has that resigned air of someone who knows there’s a few extra tasks coming his way and I’m excited. Very excited.

The 2001 monolith lookalike is more of a space saver than a Space Odyssey, but hopefully it will be a planet saver, as well as saving me a pretty penny on compost for the next few decades.

When the delivery man knocked on the door, all I could see was a massive shadow through the glass, my, he’s a big lad, I thought. When the website said it was the size of a wheelie bin, they meant a giant wheelie bin, not the compact one we have. It was a minor hiccup, a small detail, but there he stood with my new Hotbin, the Rolls Royce of home composters and it was mine, all mine.

After a bit of ‘to me, to you’, ‘left hand down a bit’ and a moderate amount of swearing, Hottie McHotbin as I have named her, was manoeuvred through the house to her new home. Good grief, she’s a big lass, though she’s smaller than Butty McButtface, the water butt, who is her new neighbour.

As a Yorkshire lass I don’t part with my money readily, it’s easy to compost garden waste, scrap paper and make muck from rubbish, and that’s free. But there are some things you can’t compost, like perennial weeds, cooked food waste, mouldy bread and bones, as those black Dalek-like bins don’t get hot enough to break them down. But then came the Hotbin which gets so hot, it melts snow and you can fry an egg on it, OK, so I made the egg-frying bit up, but it does get up to 60C, which is definitely hot enough to see off the nasties and cook up a rather fine mulch in 30 days and compost in 90 days, many many times faster than the Dalek bin. Alys Fowler, the Guardian’s gardening guru swears by it and many other reviews say how it cuts the amount of rubbish going to landfill, which is good enough for me.

Hottie is made from black polypropylene and has a fancy thermometer and venting system, along with a fancy rakey thing and a couple of sturdy straps to stop the whole monolith from taking off into orbit under all that composting pressure. She’s rather sleek and stylish too.

She wasn’t cheap, about £165, so it will take a while to get a return on my investment. But I’ll be throwing less away and travelling fewer miles to buy compost and that for me is priceless.

Liverpool for a day tripper

Oh John, I wanna hold your hand……

I make no apologies for banging on about parkrun, it’s much more than a run in the park with your mates, especially when one of your mates takes you to his home city and you find you love it, yeah yeah yeah…..

We’re well and truly blessed with parkruns here in Yorkshire. Woodhouse Moor, my home parkrun, can boast it’s one of the oldest in the world and more recently, according to the Guardian, one of the ten best in the world. Of course we are! Now we have nine in Leeds so there’s no reason to go very far for that free weekly run followed by the all-important coffee, cake and putting the world to rights.

But when your mate tells you that after a hard day’s night, it’s worth getting up at 4am to catch a train for the west coast and a pretty parkrun around world class art followed by a magical mystery tour, we were definitely up for being day trippers.

Ten of us arrived at Crosby Beach, home of Anthony Gormley’s magnificent Sculpture, Another Place. Tides and weather permitting, the parkrun takes in the beach and a few of the statues. We were very fortunate indeed, it was a case of good day, sunshine!

After the run, which had me smiling all the way, especially as I was first in my age category, though there weren’t many of us, we were off on the long and winding road to Liverpool city centre.

Actually it turned out to be a short train journey where we were decidedly under-dressed in our post-run gear as we were surrounded by race-goers on their way to the Grand National.

Naturally we had to take the ferry across the Mersey, the ticket to ride was a bargain as we got a group booking with a little help from my friend, he’s a great tour guide, thank Frank!

Liverpool boasts two magnificent cathedrals. The red-stone Anglican Cathedral is Britain’s largest cathedral with the most stunning stained glass windows. The Metropolitan Cathedral is country’s largest Catholic cathedral with the most amazing glasswork, there’s a definite coloured glass theme.

What a fantastic day, but I couldn’t help thinking there was something else about Liverpool I may have missed……I was trying to work it out…I got that feeling…..ah well, I’ll just have to let it be…

Ten years to decompose #hatelitter

Calverley Cleanup #litterheroes

Ten years, up to ten years, that’s how long it can take a cigarette butt to decompose. All those plastic fibres and the nasty chemicals they trap are lying on the ground in my beautiful village because smokers either chuck them from their cars or just drop them as they wait at the bus stop, or as they walk along in their smokey fog.

Along with a handful of fellow villagers, I’ve spent the afternoon picking up litter as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Cleanup. I’m definitely obsessive when it comes to litter, there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t pick up something or other that’s been chucked or dropped, either accidentally or deliberately and then put it in a bin. Then there’s plogging, I can’t go on a run without picking up litter, though I draw the line at poo bags.

Usually I just do it myself, but when Keep Britain Tidy announced its month-long campaign and invited communities to host a litter pick, I responded. They put it on a map and publicised it on their website, which was nice, though I wasn’t expecting to be swamped with volunteers. But just in case, I bought quite a few chocolate biscuits to reward anyone who turned up.

Actually, I thought it would just be Noel and my mate Bev, which meant lots of chocolate biscuits just for the two of us as Bev is gluten intolerant! As it turned out, there were eight volunteers, armed with picky-uppy grabby things which saved us the trouble of bending over.

Everyone returned an hour later with their Leeds City Council bin bags bulging. Over coffee and biscuits served at the allotment hut, we discussed what we’d found and who was the worst offender. It was like a chorus as we all said ‘smokers’. Yes, there were a few wrappers and bottles, but cigarette butts were everywhere, as a group of non-smokers, we were disgusted. Why do smokers think it’s OK to pollute the atmosphere with their smoke, then pollute the environment with their detritus?

It takes up to ten years for these butts to decompose, yet according to research, most of it in America, smokers don’t consider their butts to be litter or to have an impact on the environment. Come on, smokers, if you can’t kick the habit, at least keep your habit to yourself and dispose of your butts and fag packets properly.