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.

Eric Aceous, said the camellia

For the past nine years, it’s been a sorry sight. Just a collection of pale, wilted leaves looking like they’d rather be in the compost bin. To be honest, that’s nearly where it ended up. Bloody thing, not worth the £2.50 I paid for it at Morrison’s, which is my garden centre of choice because it’s so cheap!

But I couldn’t throw it away, I just couldn’t, I didn’t want to give up on it, I felt sorry for the sad little plant. Plus, I felt partly responsible as I’d mistreated it something shocking.

When I bought the camellia I thought Eric Aceous was Percy Thrower’s gardening buddy, I didn’t realise it was a magic soil that camellias love. So I stuck this acid-loving plant in my garden, which, I now know, has alkaline soil. It hung around for a couple of years, coughing and spluttering, not growing an inch. I dug it up, put it in a pot, gave it a good talking to and waited for it to grow. If I had been listening hard enough, I’d have heard it whispering….’Eric Aceous….’ But even if I’d heard it, I have thought it was talking about Percy’s mate.

Thank goodness for Monty Don, superstar wellie-wearer and plantman of perfection, who puts the gardening world to rights and points out where we mere mortal soil-shifters go wrong. I’d got the soil wrong and the wrong soil, he said looking straight at me. How did he know? I reckon he heard the cries of the camellia.

So last winter I took it out of its pot, dug a large hole and filled it with tons of ericaceous soil. This is your last chance, I told the collection of floppy leaves. Grow, or go, there is no try…..

Eric came up trumps. The leaves turned dark green, then over the past couple of weeks buds started to appear which burst into colour, then flower. Oh my goodness, they are beautiful. I’m so glad I didn’t chuck my £2.50 plant. Thank you Monty, thank you Percy, thank you Eric.

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.