Top of the lockdown pops

Happy day at B and Q

Bruce is an NHS worker. Like all his colleagues, along with hundreds of thousands of other key workers, he has given his all throughout lockdown in these strangest of times. He’s a fellow allotmenteer and was down there the other morning, the day after the latest easing of restrictions, which saw the doors of non-essential shops open for the first time since early January.

As I walked past him, I was struck by how serene he seemed, sitting there in front of his shed smiling to himself. ‘If I could paint portraits, I’d paint yours, you look so happy,’ I told him. His smile got even wider as he announced he’d had a haircut and a beer on the first day that he could. ‘Happiest day of my life,’ he said. And he meant it.

I know how he felt. A trip to B and Q today almost reduced me to tears as I stepped inside a store that wasn’t a supermarket for the first time this year. Oooo the colours, the smells, the sounds, the people, real people with legs and backs of heads, features you don’t see on Zoom. And I was with Noel, two of us together in a store, that’s not happened for more than a year. I was so giddy I wanted to waltz down the lighting aisle, pirouette through the paints and wallpaper and do a quickstep past the drills and boring tools. I never thought I would be so excited by a DIY store, especially as I don’t have a great track record there, having spent far too much time looking at bags of bolts or lengths of 2×4 to check they’re not warped. Oh the sheer joy of doing something normal, albeit while wearing a mask, I could have burst into song, fortunately for all concerned, I didn’t.

The reason for this sensory treat was to buy the modesty screen for my weeing place down on the allotment. There was a lot of internet searching for a suitable screen, as there has been for every little thing for months and months, before it occurred to us, we could go to a store, a real, live actual store, with a car park and everything. We could have gone anyway as DIY stores have been open throughout, but we didn’t feel comfortable to do that while the virus raged through communities. I felt like packing sandwiches and a flask, a trip out, with Noel, to another city, even if it is only three miles away!

We entered together but Noel made a beeline for the boring stuff, so I went to look at plants, seeds and gardening tools. I have to confess, I may have fondled a few spades, rakes and hoes, it was so good to be in a 3D world. I walked through the garden centre and touched the plants, smelling them through my mask, exclaiming loudly at the prices. ‘How much?’ my voice muffled by the mask, bounced off the over-priced begonias.

I couldn’t leave empty-handed, and picked up a packet of pea seeds, even though I already have quite a collection. And a shiny watering can, OK, two watering cans, you can never have too many of those. As we packed the car, Noel with the makings of a weeing place and me with my watering cans and seeds, I felt a little light-headed with all the excitement of the adventure. Unlike Bruce, I hadn’t had a haircut and a beer, in fact my hair is so long I can hardly see, the Great Cutting be my next outing to a big city. It may not have been the happiest day of my life, but right now, it’s top of the lockdown pops.

The weeing place

The two-bay compost bin

Seriously, I could write volumes on the subject of al fresco weeing. Even before I became a Woman of a Certain Age I was an expert in locating and using facilities where there would otherwise be none, whether behind a bush, the other side of a drystone wall or precariously on a hanging belay three pitches up a Spanish rockface. That was a feat.

I also have an inbuilt radar which can locate publicly-available conveniences and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the interior layout of all department stores in the north of England and the quality and cleanliness of their toilets. Of course this was BC (Before Covid), though I can’t imagine any facilities will be worse as a result of shops ensuring they are covid-safe and that their toilets are squeaky clean. I am Toilet Woman, finding (or designating) weeing places is my special power, it’s a bit of a niche power, I don’t think Marvel will be commissioning a franchise any time soon.

Despite these amazing powers, I have been thwarted when it comes to relief on the allotment. I spend many hours down there, I drink lots of tea and gallons of Yorkshire Water, it all has to go somewhere. There are no toilets on the allotments, not official ones anyway, I know that most of the men like to keep the compost heap watered, and a good thing too, wee adds nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which is both nutritious for the soil and free. For women, adding wee to the elevated pile is a bit trickier.

I was getting fed up of nettling my bottom and running around with my trousers down, yelling out in pain, looking for a dock leaf to soothe the stinging. Plus I understand there have been complaints to the committee about the blinding dazzle from my white-as-driven-snow buttocks, which has started little fires all over the place after reflecting the sunlight on to the dry grass.

I asked Noel for help in constructing a weeing place, complete with modesty screen and maybe a little wash basin and a shelf to put my nick-nacks. He said he was keen to put his DIY skills to work, adding that they’d have to work hard, so would a bit of trellis knocked into the ground do? Of course, I said, just so long as the nettles were removed.

Before any construction work could start, the space had to be cleared and prepared and nettles removed. There was an old compost heap which we hadn’t cleared in the six years we’ve been there. We just kept on adding to it, and most of the contents mutated and took root, I was fearful of what we might find, or that it may be declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and we’d be unable to access of allotment as scientists took over, like they did in ET. The pile contained about two cubic metres of the finest-quality compost money can’t buy. It was an absolute miracle that all the leaves, stalks, weeds, bits of string, sheets of paper and my garden hand fork had all turned to beautiful compost, which we spread over the allotment, it’s never looked as neat. The metal of the fork remained intact so at least I can use it again, I waste nothing, me.

The weeing place plan comes with a handy compost bin, designed and engineered by Noel. The bin has two bays, so the compost can be moved across as it breaks down. Not that I’m nagging or anything, but it is taking a little while for my facilities to be installed. Noel assures me that it’ll be done soon, and that in the meantime, there’s space for me in the bin and at least the nettles are gone.

How parkrun changed our lives

They say, they being the authoritative collective voice of worldly wisdom, that you find in yourself what you find in others. Happy people see happiness, grumpiness the grumpy and optimists see great shelves of half-full glasses.

When I received an excited message from a fellow lover-of-all-things-outdoors, writer and massive parkrun enthusiast, I knew that something adventurous would be in store and in my lockdown stir craziness, I hoped and prayed it was something that I could join in, it turned out I could.

From her home up in the Lake District, Eileen had been wistfully watching the calendar, counting the days until we could all return to our beloved parkrun again. She’d helped set up Fell Foot, one of the toughest courses in the UK, but had caught the parkrun tourism bug, enjoying visiting parkruns all around the country. Oh how she loves parkrun, oh how she misses it – so oooo why not write a book about it?

Like me, like so many others, Eileen looked forward to her weekly parkrun. Yes there was the running, but it was more than that, there was community, there was family – and it changed people’s lives. It was one August morning in Lockdown 2020 that she woke up and agreed with herself, she’d write a book, a book about parkrun and how it has changed our lives for the better. She knew there were many, many others who would say ‘amen’ to that and would be more than happy to share their stories, hey, some of us like to bang on about it at any opportunity. Not mentioning any names.

So Eileen wanted to know if she could use some of my blogs to illustrate the power of parkrun. Could she? It would be an honour. I blog about the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made and, oh yes the 5k run at 9am on a Saturday, every Saturday. Yes, parkrun has changed my life, yes, it’s for the better and yes, I can’t wait to get back.

Eileen is a superb writer and her love of all things parkrun comes through on every page. She tells the story of Paul Sinton-Hewitt, founder of parkrun (always lower case p!) back in 2004 and its growth to become an international phenomenon, though of course the most noteworthy was the start of Leeds parkrun (now Woodhouse Moor because we have nine in the city) back in 2007. Not that I’m biased, but we were the first parkrun outside London and I am the Event Director.

How parkrun changed our lives has anecdotes and histories, facts and figures and plenty of pictures. Every page brought a bigger smile, honestly, my face was aching by the time I’d finished. It reminded me of the wonderful community of people I would never otherwise have met, and who have made my life so much better as a result. I’m humbled to be mentioned, as is Noel, surely the only person ever to process results on New Year’s Day from a hospital bed after major cancer surgery.

Being Eileen, she wanted to involve the parkrun community in its launch, so she came up with the idea of delivering it to Paul on foot, running feet to be precise. A relay of parkrunners from Fell Foot to Bushy Park, home of parkrun. It being covid times, there were logistics to work out, but where there is a will, there is a way and that way of 330 miles was covered, socially-distanced, by 105 runners. Eileen started is off at from Fell Foot with the book/baton safely in a bespoke rucksack and seven days later was able to join the finishers at Bushy. It was almost as good as parkrun. Almost.

It won’t be long before we are back, Eileen has promised that her first tourism trip will be to Woodhouse Moor, where we will welcome her with open arms – and a fine post-parkrun bacon butty.

I was moved to see my name in the acknowledgements, where I was thanked for my eternal optimism and enthusiasm. It takes one to know one, Eileen!

Allotmenteers don’t cry..

The calm before the storm

The wind gusted around the houses as the horizontal rain lashed my flimsy waterproof and found its way up my nostrils and down the back of my throat. I looked down to see my boots sinking into the mud and the beginnings of a lake which may be visible from space. The rake in my soggy hand dragged across the heavy load it was trying to spread, its tines clogged with saturated poo. I wanted to cry, but didn’t, as I’m a hardened allotmenteer, this is what I do.

I think someone at the Met Office was sniggering when they stuck a big fat yellow sun on the weather map for that day, right over our allotment. That was the day for our poo delivery, we agreed, we didn’t see the sun fall off to be replaced by rain and floods. We didn’t hear the sniggering either.

While our allotment site is delightful and rural, with charming wildlife scampering around, including our newly-adopted mouse clan living in the planter, and wood pigeons declaring ‘my toe hurts, Betty’ all day long, reaching 31A with a wheelbarrow could be straight out of It’s a Knockout. The 300 metres from the gate starts with a wide, flat path, but soon hurtles down the slope, narrowing by the water butts and throwing up mole hills and the odd tree root. Add a few days’ rain and after the first barrow load there are ruts, cambers, mud and a mahoosive slide. You don’t want to be shifting anything heavy in those conditions.

The compost arrives on the back of a lorry and is dumped by the gate, blocking the way for the other plotholders, so it’s allotment courtesy to move it as soon as you can. We’d ordered a cubic metre of spent mushroom compost, which is ideal for mulching and, due to its fine, light texture, easy to transport and spread. We have a system, a barrow each and a trug piled on top, so we have to do fewer trips, maybe ten, 12 if I slack on the job. We often joke about it maybe blowing down the hill and landing on the lot, all soft and airy.

The truck arrived along with the rain. As its load slithered on to the concrete with a with a thud, splashing liquid poo as high as my eye, I knew this was not going to be a ten-load day. It looked like it had been in the truck in the rain for days, there was no steam, the heat had gone, steaming poo is healthy poo. A cubic metre is about a tonne, obviously it can vary, but you get the idea. A cubic metre of compost, which has become saturated will be, let’s do the maths here, with one litre of water the equivalent to 1kg, it will be….heavier. Much heavier and, though there is no real measure for this, stickier and smellier.

We quickly gave up any hope of the barrow and trug combination as they wobbled and spilled onto the grass path. Noel trotted off, using his superior strength and speed, while I lagged behind, slowed by the swearing and cussing, I try to vary my expletives just for creativity’s sake, but had to resort to my swearing of choice, which, ironically described what I was wheeling.

After about three loads from Noel and one from me, we’d trashed the path and Noel had made a buttock-shaped rut where he’d literally hit the ground running. Hard to believe I know, but I was getting grumpier with each skid and slide. There wasn’t much relief once we reached the lot, the loads were reluctant to leave the barrow, I fell at least once as I overbalanced. There may have been more swearing, but if no-one’s there to hear you, did you really swear?

Sensing my frustration, Noel suggested I stay there and re-distribute the mounds. He didn’t need to say it twice, I abandoned the barrow and grabbed the rake. My trusty rake I’d bought for £1 at a village fete. I love that rake. It sank into the poo hill and stayed put, like a flagpole. I realised I was staying put too, water was filling my footprints and the barrow trail, the thick gloopy clay was saturated and so was I. I managed to pull one foot out with a loud farty noise, then the other, then the first one which had got stuck again, more farty noises. This went on for a while, I’m sure I heard the mice tittering from their warm, comparatively dry, planter. I eventually broke free, but had created a lake which the torrential rain was topping up. This is the point where I wanted to cry, but of course I didn’t, because allotmenteers don’t cry, we just sniff and blame the cold.

With Noel doing the bulk of the barrowing, we were so near to done that my spirits lifted, along with the rain clouds, and I volunteered to get super-sized sausage sandwiches from the local deli, along with a slab of cake and two mugs of builders’ tea. I suspected I may be smelling a little ripe, so left my shoes outside while a went it to order. With everyone wearing face masks, I couldn’t tell if anyone was turning up their nose at me.

After our feast fit for a king and queen, enjoyed in sunshine, the heavens opened again, this time to wash away the remains of the poo from the allotments entrance. At least it saved us a job so we could stagger home for a shower and a nap. A long nap.

I shared our trials with allotment buddy Bev, who’s had a similar experience the previous week, though without the swearing. ‘Your allotment will love you,’ she said in the cheerful tone of someone who had forgotten those barrow treks. ‘Yes,’ I half-heartedly smiled, ‘But I’m not sure the feeling is mutual…..not today at least’

They’re back…and they’re bad

With the container-bound cherry tree now breathing a sigh of relief and spreading its roots through fresh, wormy soil in its new home, I was all set to do amazing horticultural things with the old, now empty cistern, a bag of compost and a packet of carrot seeds, which came free with a gardening magazine. I’m a sucker for free seeds.

I’d had to go home and lie down after the mousey incumbents had scared the bejeezus out of me and caused me to swear loud and long enough to wake the dead or at the very least scare the worms. Still, thanks to Nathan the Hero, they had scampered off to the field behind, never to be seen again, or so I thought.

The old cistern would be ideal for carrots, I’d decided. I don’t usually bother to grow them on the allotment as there’s always a swarm of carrot fly hiding behind the shed and sniggering as the seeds go in. You can almost hear them buzzing excitedly to each other, rubbing their empty little tummies, ‘We’ll ‘ave them!’ They’re crafty little buggers, alerted to nearby carrots by the smell, which is heightened by hapless gardeners thinning out seedlings. Fortunately they don’t fully live up to their name as they’re not that good at flying. If you don’t use chemicals, which I don’t, then the only way to avoid them is to either not grow carrots at all, or to elevate or net the crop so they just can’t reach. The cistern stood on the shed base was just the ticket.

I peered over the lip, the very lip that had kept the mice in their Wall of Death circles as they had tried to escape the previous day and spotted not one little tunnel, like there was before, but two. Two holes and the sound of little mousey voices singing a passable version of the Madness hit Our House. The remaining compost was warm and dry, did they have the heating on? There was what looked like a couple of tiny deckchairs, an umbrella, knock-off Ray-Ban sunglasses. They were back, they’d brought their mates and they were cheap.

They’d even staked their claim to what was now very roomy accommodation with a couple of pictures, ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Home is Where the Mouse is’. Cheeky buggers. They were having a party on my allotment with no social distancing and I wasn’t even invited, it was too much. I took my packet of seeds and headed home to sulk, drink coffee and eat cake, not carrot cake.

I messaged Nathan to tell him they were back. His response was swift and decisive. Kill them, he messaged, kill them all. They’ll eat all your seedlings and pull the carrots down into their den. You’ll be harvesting carrot tops with no carrots, he said.

Oh no, I replied, I couldn’t possibly kill them. I didn’t add that I apologised to worms when I inadvertently cut them in half with the spade, actually I apologise twice. I rescue woodlice that fall into the bath, I run away from spiders, fast. No, I couldn’t kill them, I couldn’t kill anything, what did they ever do to me? Other than give me a few more grey hairs and cost me a lot in swear jar contributions.

Of course I wasn’t about to go to the trouble of planting carrots so they could eat them, I’m not that daft. So it’s back to the drawing board for that old cistern. Maybe I’ll make it into an amusement part for mice. Maybe they’ll invite me along.

The mice and the swearing

Me and the mousey cistern

Any minute now there will be a click of the letterbox as a handwritten notice lands on the doormat next to my muddy allotment shoes. That’ll be my first written warning from the Allotment Police, I’ve been lucky up to this point, there have been no witnesses to my naughtiness. But I was caught red-handed this time and am definitely guilty as charged, though there was good reason..

The message will be stark. Dear Anne, it will start, all friendly like. It has come to our attention that on Saturday last, there was heard, in the vicinity of your allotment, 31A, prolonged and profuse swearing. Vicinity? No, I’ll come clean. It wasn’t the vicinity, it was my allotment. And it was me, though it may have sounded like it was the entire allotment cussing like a sailor as there is a distinct echo down there and I understand utterings can be heard down in the woods and across the border to Bradford, if they are loud enough. They were.

Furthermore Furthermore? Is that even an allotment word? Furthermore, we understand that wildlife was disturbed and as a result will have to be rehomed. We run a nice allotment site here, we don’t swear, not out loud at any rate. So regretfully the committee has decided to issue a warning to you. If this happens again, you’ll be required to clean the sludge out of the water butts. All of them, no gloves allowed. Let that be a lesson to you.

Harsh. Very harsh indeed, and they didn’t even let me have my day in court. Well, let me tell you, the Angel Gabriel would have muttered under his breath if he’d have witnessed what I did. I was traumatised, swearing was my outlet and I felt better for it.

There’s an old cistern on my allotment which has made a great home for a small cherry tree, but the poor thing was getting too big and needed a new place where it could spread its roots and make friends with my other cherry tree. Unfortunately the tree wasn’t the only inhabitant of the cistern.

The tunnel in the soil should have been a clue. Something had to make a hole and I had my suspicions about what that something was. As I stuck my head near the soil to tug at a stubborn weed, that something shot out of the hole at the speed of light, hey I’m not a physicist, it was fast, very fast, and it couldn’t get out.

I may have sworn a couple of times, I did lose count, and sprang backwards and the mouse tried to escape, but couldn’t. There was a lip on the top of the cistern and just ran round and round, gathering speed like the wall of death. I fell backwards as it finally sprang out, shaking its little paw at me and squeaking with what could only be mousey swearing.

Good grief, I was shaking all over. Yes it was only a tiny little mouse, but hell, the damned thing moved so fast I was convinced it was going to be up my trouser leg and down my sleeve before I could say Tom and Jerry. I looked up to see my allotment neighbours and a shocked to see a mother and toddler, his ears covered with her hands. Apologies were made and they were assured I was neither at death’s door nor had been attacked by the mythical beast of the allotment, it was just a mouse. How stupid did I feel?

Nathan the Brave, as I shall hitherto call him, came to my rescue. Do you need a hand? my neighbour asked over the sound of my knees knocking. F@ck yes, I replied under my breath, aware that I may have already used up the day’s swearing quota. I sheepishly explained my ridiculous reaction to the tiny creature and once he picked himself off the ground following his laughing fit, he rolled up his sleeves and approached the cistern. I kept a distance. A safe distance.

No sooner had he started than the rest of the mouse family vacated the premises. They too ran round and round, trying to escape. Nathan placed a stick from the soil to the top, which they ignored and jumped out. My word, those mice can jump. I was off like a shot, then danced on the the spot, tucking my trouser legs into my socks, but fortunately they headed for the compost heap, which I am going to give a wide berth for some time to come. On the plus side, I now hold the record for the 100m Allotment Dash.

The letter has just arrived, the good news is I’ve not received an official warning, the bad news is the committee is installing a swear box a the end of my lot. That’ll swell the coffers.

A journalist’s lot…..

Pandemic aside, I feel for local journalists these days. Yes, they can produce a story with the click of a mouse without having to trouble another living soul, but where’s the fun and adventure in that? Who doesn’t want to make use of their door-knocking skills and100wpm shorthand for court reporting?

Gone are the days of the entire newsroom decamping to the pub across the road for a liquid lunch to celebrate the paper being put to bed for another week, though that’s definitely a good thing for everyone but the publicans and insurers. Car insurance costs for journalists in those days were astronomical, I had to pay more to insure my motor bike than the damned thing cost. Anyone would think we had a reputation..and not a good one!

The good readers of Batley and Birstall were well-served for news, with six reporters digging up exclusives and, more importantly covering the town magistrates’ court which was in session twice a week. Twice a week – plus the juvenile court, that was a lot of crime, though most of it was vehicle-related. We’d see the same folk, who’d tip us off on stories, some which we could actually use. Add to that the hold-the-front-page Darby and Joan report and we were Yorkshire’s Daily Planet, without Superman, but who needs Superman?

We had the luxury of being able to spend time on stories. life was slower-paced without mobile phones, hell there were some people without phones at all, or were ex-directory and the ‘But I’m a reporter’ line didn’t cut it with the operator. So we had to go to their homes, by gum, I’ve seen some stuff. From the pristine home with every stick of furniture covered in plastic so I daren’t sit down in my shabby clothes, to the dismantled motorbike engine on newspaper in the lounge, with the sump draining in the sink. The going out and seeing people made the stories richer and more interesting, it was a charmed introduction to the grown-up world, not that many of us were very grown up.

Before the days of the smooth-tongued PR, folk just called the office to tell us their tales, or were available on the other end of the line. Local companies had press days, or we just called in to the ones we knew and came away with a belly full of tea and biscuits and a few good story leads. One local bed manufacturer hired a helicopter to fly us over their new factory, which was blooming brilliant! What a great story that made – and I think were were a few sandwiches for afterwards too.

That’s me in the front

One of the best experiences for me, though, was a flight in a Tiger Moth, which had been restored by a man who fortunately lived in the paper’s circulation area. What a beautiful airplane, he certainly knew what he was doing, which was just as well, because he was taking both our lives in his hands when he set the propeller going. I knew nothing of airplanes, engineering or aviation as I sat in the open cockpit in my over-sized flight suit and Biggles helmet, my ribs feeling like they were vibrating through the wall of my chest as the engine reached the required number of revs. I seriously thought it was never going to reach that point, but then we set off across the field, not an airfield, a field, with grass and furrows and poo. It was very bumpy, then very windy and fabulously liberating. And all for the sake of a story, but what a story! The photographer followed in another plane, getting some amazing action shots. Those were the days when local newspapers had dedicated photographers, specialist reporters and paid trainees. I served an apprenticeship so was paid to train, I don’t think that happens any more.

Sadly local newspapers are on the decline, if not already dead and buried. There are now very few newsrooms packed with local reporters. They’re individuals working from home since the pandemic, or freelancers, or syndicated articles, with much of it going online so no-one ever shouts ‘hold the front page’ any more. It’s progress and I’m happy to be involved with my local online news paper, the West Leeds Dispatch. That’s not to say that my days were the good old days, memories are selective and as journalists we’re good at highlighting the most interesting bits. I’m sure contemporary journalists have just as much fun, just different fun and definitely no flights in Tiger Moths.

Finding that running mojo

Socks demands attention

We’re on day twelvety gazillion, of lockdown#3, confined to our fair village, which I can now describe down to every blessed square metre. I have the tidiest knicker drawer in Christendom, books sorted by genre, dust cover colour and fonts and home-baked bread by the basketful, after bartering our pets and possessions for strong plain flour. It has come to this.

It’s a year since we watched tumbleweed blow down the streets of Wuhan, after the Chinese metropolis of nine million was locked down to tackle what we thought at the time was a flu-like bug. Blimey, we said to each other as we pushed through the crowded shops to buy Valentine gifts, that’s a bit rum, glad we’re OK. But we weren’t, we really weren’t.

Now, with so many restrictions on our daily life, but freedom to exercise ourselves to exhaustion, you’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to bounce out of bed at the crack of dawn, showering while singing ‘O What a Beautiful Morning’, throwing on the kit you laid out the previous night, carefully chewing a healthy nut and grain breakfast with fruit and washing it down with a cleansing herb tea, doing a few sun salutations then lacing up newly-cleaned running shoes and heading out to beat the bounds before turning round and doing it all again in reverse.

Now I have to confess that this picture doesn’t currently fit my profile, not even a bit, other than showering, eating grain at breakfast and doing the odd downward dog. I do give serious consideration to sorting out kit for my morning run the previous night, I know it saves all the frantic sliding of wardrobe doors and pairing up socks, but I just can’t be @rsed, let the socks be odd, dammit. Any number of things can happen overnight to change my kit choice, rain, show, wind or, if Noel’s running with me, colour co-ordination, so it just never happens. I know I left that running mojo somewhere, I’m not sure where.

So after one, or maybe two breakfasts, punctuated with visits to the loo, because you can never go too many times before a run, I’m nearly ready. Nearly, but not quite. If by some miracle I’ve remembered to charge my watch, I need to encourage it to function, a bit like me, really. The thick stone walls of our house keep the satellite signals out so it just hangs there with its little twirly icon while I go to the loo again.

Usually on the way to the bathroom I’m waylaid by one of our cats who absolutely must have immediate attention, whether it’s a chin tickle, tummy rub or, as is the case with our male cat Socks, a right good massage of the haunches. They are rescue cats, they need our love, they can’t be neglected, even though in typical cat fashion they ignore us most of the time. All this takes time, because you have to do it right and those little purry furry creatures are worth it, especially if it delays going out into the cold/wet/wind/blistering sunshine a little while longer. Especially when you’re not quite sure where you left your running mojo.

But faster than you can say ‘just one more trip to the loo’, that’s it, I’m ready. I’m unlocking the door, though am slightly distracted by a phone notification which demands to be dealt with. Finally I’m on my way, or I would be if my watch had found the GPS signal. Still, walking to the woods is exercise, isn’t it? And maybe that’s where I left my mojo.

I do get running eventually and thanks to the support and encouragement of so many others, that motivation is returning and I’m on track to recover that mojo. It will most definitely be back once we can run with others/parkrun/race again. In the meantime, those cats are getting a LOT of attention.

Hats off to hairdressers

The ambience was eclectic, the coffee sublime, the magazines well targeted and the music just right, we all like a bit of Santana to snip to. But the staff were definitely odd, the furry one vomited on the floor and looked at me in disgust as if I’d done it. The stylist looked just like me, except in reverse, an Anne through the looking glass, a very hairy Anne.

I’m not complaining, except for comedy effect, but the top and bottom of it is I have come to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Addams Family’s Cousin Itt . My last two hair appointments have been cancelled because of lockdown #2 and lockdown #3. Both times, lockdown started the day before I was due to go to a new hairdresser. If you want to know when the next lockdown will be, just ask me when I’m due to have my hair cut. I’ve not had a snip for nine months, my hair’s not been this long since I was a teenager, and that was a long time ago.

With no immediate end to covid restrictions in sight, I decided I’d have to take matters, or rather scissors and a razor, into my own hands, and give myself a trim. Noel was having nothing to do with it, he’s watched the professionals at work when he’s been with me to the posh salon and didn’t want to shoulder the blame for a hairdressing disaster. I did point out that the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut was about two weeks, but he was nervous and I didn’t want nervous hands holding sharp instruments near my head. I’ll do it myself, I said, and I did.

Going to the hair salon pre-covid was always a pleasant, pampering, thought-provoking experience. Piles of glossy magazines you wouldn’t usually read, (Tatler, anyone?) A glass of wine served at your chair, with one of those little biscuits you can’t buy in the shops, quality gossip, an amazing selection of tattoos to admire in the sense that they have them so I don’t have to, not at my age anyway, and a dribble-inducing head massage. The question, ‘do you want a head massage?’ was always met with ‘oh hell yes, make it a double!’

My bathroom salon wasn’t quite the luxury experience I was used to. Granted, there was no problem getting an appointment and parking wasn’t an issue, plus it was free and I didn’t need to tip the stylist. But setting the colours out on the toilet lid and balancing the brushes on the side of the sink wasn’t classy, especially when I knocked one over and swore mightily in a very un-hairdresser-like way. Socks the cat came in to snigger and was lucky to escape without a splash of vermillion, violet, plum, midnight blue, turquoise or alpine green, no wonder he threw up.

The cutting was random, grab a chunk of hair, run the razor across it, see what happens. The back of the head was more challenging, I didn’t have a second mirror, or if I did, there was no spare hand to hold it and Socks doesn’t have opposable thumbs. So I just guessed, working on the principle that in our Zoom world, no-one sees me from behind. When there looked to be just the right amount of hair in the sink, I stopped the cutting and went for the colours.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had a go at colouring, so I took my usual approach, load the brush with colour, apply randomly, rub it in (not forgetting to wear gloves), then repeat until all the head, including as much of the back as I could reach, has been covered. No fancy hairdryer in this salon, just clingfilm and a 30-minute wait, reading Women’s Running, drinking a quality coffee.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when it was all done, but there’s always the option to turn the Zoom camera off. And I have an excellent selection of hats I can wear for the two week-difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut. The result was OK, from a distance, without glasses, but I don’t want to do that again.

Hats off (though not at the moment) to all our hairdressers and a big thank-you for all you do. I know that I and all the other Cousin Itts look forward to when we can have a proper cut again. See you in the salon. Please!

Chocolate is serious

Twirl? The crowd goes wild! Thanks to Lizzie Coombes for the photo

Given the massive choice of chocolate bars available to the UK consumer, which sugary treat would you vote best of the best? We’re talking the grab-and-stuff-it-in-your-gob chocolate for instant gratification here, not the premium nibble-it-to-make-it-last-because-it’s-expensive stuff.

Before I reveal the choice made at our Zoom party, let me re-purpose Bill Shankly’s love letter to football, ‘Some people think football chocolate is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.‘ Chocolate. It’s serious. It would be my specialist subject on Mastermind, or my PhD thesis, that’s how serious I am about chocolate.

Recent research by the British Heart Foundation reveals the shocking figures that over a lifetime, the average Brit will gobble 7,560 chocolate bars. I was flabbergasted, so few? I think I reached that by my 13th birthday, ask my dentist. We outdo the world on cheap and cheerful confectionery, and while the Midlands can claim to be the sweet centre of the country with its Cadbury empire, here in Yorkshire, we’ve done all right, with Rowntree (now Nestle), Terry’s (now owned by Carambar, Strasbourg) and Haribo (German-owned), which doesn’t really count for the purposes of my study, because it’s not chocolate, but, hey, it’s made in Yorkshire, so hurrah!

I had a Saturday job in a shop, where I got to oggle all the chocolate, fondling the bars as I stacked the displays, Mars Bar as big as my hands, I think my hands were smaller then, either that or Mars Bars have shrunk now. Yes there were the midget gems (black ones are best) and Yorkshire Mixtures, boiled sweets which cut the roof of your mouth, but you didn’t complain or your mates would think you were soft, but they were nothing compared to chocolate. My favourites then and now are Fry’s Peppermint Cream and plain chocolate Bounty and I’m not even going to start on how they are best eaten, let’s just say, chocolate first, then it gets messy.

For my birthday this year, I teamed up with my mate Jaz for a Zoom party, cheap on the catering, no arguments over who drives and I get to eat all the chocolate in the box of Celebrations, though I leave the Snickers for Noel. Just the Snickers. We played a game from Richard Osman’s excellent book The World Cup of Everything. Richard came to the Ilkley Literature Festival a couple of years ago where he did the chocolate challenge. He is officially the Nicest Man in Showbusiness, but warned that things could get heated when it came to crowning the chocolate king and queen. The quiet, polite audience was shocked, surely there wouldn’t be such passion over a Milky Way or a Curly Wurly? Within minutes, the hall was in uproar as Richard’s knock-out format eliminated firm favourites. I’d taken my bat home because my minty favourite wasn’t even in the running. I forget what won, it wasn’t mint, that was all that mattered.

I did warn my Zoomates that it could get rowdy, and so it turned out to be. Who would have thought Twix would be eliminated in the first round? Who would have dreamed the finalists would be Kit Kat Chunky and Twirl? And the winner? Twirl! Twirl, I ask you, the poor man’s Flake. I can tell you things got heated, with Flake said to smell like poo and Hershey Bars to taste of sick. Not that Hershey Bars or Kisses featured, but we did mention them in honour of our Trans-Atlantic guest, who defended them to the hilt, but he would do that, wouldn’t he? We had a few pleas for left-field countlines, Aztec anyone? How about that lovely coconut and cherry confection Cabana? One of our younger competitors had to Google Walnut Whip, oh blimey I felt old!

The arguments continue, the Twixers insist they were robbed and the four-finger Kit Kat-ers won’t accept the chunky version. The late surge for creme egg came to nothing, but there was still no mint candidate. Next time I do this, they’ll ALL be mint.

Latest chocolate polls show Snickers to be the nation’s favourite, followed by Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, than Galaxy, Bounty (hopefully the plain chocolate version) , Kit Kat, Twix and, in seventh, yes seventh place, Twirl. In 12th place, so not even making the top ten is Aero Mint, but, hey, what do THEY know?