A parkrun Christmas

Photo: Lizzie Coombes , another parkrun friend!

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

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

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

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

Making waste into anti-waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

The music lives on

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

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

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

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

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

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

A shoe for everything..I now know..


I don’t go to the gym very often, all that grunting, panting and sticky, stinky sweat, and that’s just me trying to get my Shock Absorber sports bra on in the changing rooms.

Why sit on cracked vinyl seats which harbour their own bacteriological ecosystems and push bits of metal around when you can hoik barrow-loads of poo to the allotment and breathe clean, fresh air? Why run on a treadmill watching a screen when you can run outside watching the world, and get muddy into the bargain?

When I do go, it’s to take part in a circuit-training or similar class where there’s lots of little stations around the sports hall, each describing different exercises which thankfully only take a minute or so at a time. There’s a lot of jumping up and down, stepping side to side, juggling with weights and socialising with classmates. And as far as kit is concerned, anything goes, no-one wears fancy designer lycra, or if they do, it’s from the previous decade, maybe century.  And doesn’t everyone just wear whatever shoes come to hand…or rather foot…?

I have a good collection of running shoes, luggy ones for the boggy fells, less luggy ones for the less boggy fells, sturdy ones for the trails, which makes up most of my running, then a pair for roads, which I don’t do very much, and parkrun, so they are also my circuit shoes. I mean, why would you have a separate pair for inside?

Today I had an extra piece of kit to work with on the circuit and it was exclusive to me. I was singled out for this special treatment by the long-suffering Mike. Just by way of background, Mike is Mr Circuit at Kirkstall Leisure Centre, I’ve known him for years, he likes to keep a clean and tidy class and that includes the sports hall.

So I set off on my circuit journey, oblivious to the trail I had inadvertently collected at Saturday’s parkrun and was transferring to Kirkstall. When I looked behind me and saw a little mud sculpture next to a larger mud sculpture with a Saucony  tread, and a few muddy leaves tumbling from my shoes, I knew I was in trouble and may have to reconsider my policy on indoor shoes. Quickly.

Mike presented me with my extra piece of kit was a brush, a big brush, my punishment was to sweep up the mess I’d left behind and promise to wear mud-free shoes. Mud-free shoes? Is there such a thing? Looks like there is now!

Knitting tributes in Otley


There’s been a bit of a rush on red wool in the market town of Otley over the past few months. The knitters and natterers who click their needles at the parish church have produced 16,000 poppies which have made a magnificent tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

Most of the poppies are draped on and around the church, but they are also prominent in the rest of the town, where there is a trail of poppies painted on the pavement, leading to the memorial gardens where there are the silhouettes of two Tommys, soldiers from the war. It’s beautiful.

In and among the sea of red are white peace and purple poppies to commemorate animal victims of war. White poppies were first worn in 1933 after being introduced by the Co-Operative Women’s Guild to stand for peace and commemorate all casualties, including civilians and non-British casualties.

According to the report in my old paper, the Telegraph and Argus, the town will also be taking part in the international Battle’s O’er event on November 11, Armistice Day, where pipers and buglers will start commemorations starting early in the morning. Here in Calverley, the piper will play the lament at 6am. I’ll set my alarm, I really will. Later in the day, beacons will be lit, church bells rung,  and 100 Town Criers, including Otley’s, will join together in an International Cry for Peace around the World, it will be a very loud cry indeed.

I only went to Ikea for a chair


As we staggered through the self-scan check-out, balancing boxes, bags, pine-scented candles, enough tinsel to trim the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree and a bumper bag of Daim bars, the lady with the big smile asked if I’d like to complete a questionnaire on my shopping experience at Ikea. Would I!

I only went for a chair. The old kitchen chair in my office-cum-workshop-cum-conservatory has been assessed by the company’s occupational health representative (me) and awarded an 11 on the bum-numbing scale, even though the scale only goes to ten. Ikea was the answer, actually, it’s always the answer, so near, so convenient, so enticing.

Noel and I went through the Ikea rules. We set a deadline, no more than half an hour in the store, plan the route, taking every short-cut, no hanging around in the kitchen store, no stopping off at the cafe for Swedish meatballs, no stroking the textiles, no picking up picture frames and no bags. If we didn’t have bags, we couldn’t fill them, it was as simple as that.

But you know how it is, you go through the yellow revolving doors and that’s it. Essence of Ikea is pumped out through the ceiling tiles, it’s an assault on the senses. Beautiful colours and patterns everywhere. Interesting ideas on every corner, so we had to look at every corner, the short cuts were dull in comparison.

And who can resist the delicious aroma of the cafe, made all the better for being staggeringly cheap. A bacon buttie for £1? We could have two, two each that is, and a slice of apple cake. And do you know you can get four cinnamon rolls for £1.50? The coffee is bottomless, just keep on refilling, oh my goodness, it’s heaven, or himmel as the Swedes say.

Full to contentment and bouncing off the walls with our caffeine overdose, we picked up the bags we vowed we wouldn’t use and staggered under their weight to the next deliciously-decorated corner. We’d been there an hour and weren’t even in sight of those lush textiles.

Somehow we found our way to the check-out. How clever of them to put the sparkly precious Christmas things there, so beautiful, so essential, such good value. Yes, it’s October, but who knows when we’d find ourselves in Ikea again?

In the check-out queue, we both had that nagging feeling there was something else to add to the pile and the trolley which we’d picked up on the way. Ah, it was the chair, Noel went back for it, I picked up the bag of Daim bars, I don’t even like Daim bars.

So there we were, through all the obstacles, a little poorer, though not as poor as we would have been if it wasn’t for our Ikea family membership. Noel trundled our hoard down to the car while I answered the questions.

Yes, I came for one thing, I said, yes, I’d been seduced by all the other precious things which if I didn’t absolutely need them immediately, they would come in, as we say in Yorkshire. Ah, said the lady with the big smile, that’s what everyone is saying. Now, she asked, would I like a hot dog?

The cat climbed up the chimney

This is what happens when you’re curious. If we hadn’t completely stripped the bedroom wallpaper to see what the wall looked like. If we hadn’t found a board and wondered if it concealed a secret. If Garry the joiner hadn’t removed that board to reveal a lovely fireplace. If I hadn’t wondered what it would look like surrounded by a mosaic. If Heidi the cat hadn’t decided to jump up the newly-opened chimney to see what was up there.

If all that hadn’t have happened, we’d have a boring blank bedroom wall, a healthier bank account and a soot-free cat. But where’s the fun in that?

Following the Great Gutting of the Bedroom back in April, when we swallowed our bodyweight in plaster dust, the long-concealed fireplace was revealed and all agreed it couldn’t be covered up again. There was nothing but the fireplace, no surround, no mantelpiece, no antique tiles, so in my mind, it was a blank canvas. ‘I know’, I announced, ‘I’ll make a mosaic’. I have no idea where that came from, I’ve only made one mosaic before and that was from a kit, but I’m never one to let enthusiasm and lack of any practical knowledge or skills get in the way of a good idea.

What followed was a lot of research and quite a bit of maths, which is not my best ever subject. Still, working out how many 2cm² tiles I needed wasn’t that hard. And of course there’s the old adage, measure twice, cut once. I’d a massive template on my work table and I damned well made sure it fitted the surround. How I would carry it upstairs when it was made was a bridge I resolved to cross when I reached it.

Mosaic-making is like doing a massive jigsaw, except you wear goggles and make up the pieces and the pattern as you go along. Glue is also involved, it’s gloriously messy and extremely colourful at the same time, what’s not to like?

Carrying it upstairs turned out to be easier than I expected, nothing fell off, which was a bonus. Once in place and grouted, which created even more mess, it was time to get Garry the joiner back to cut cut through the plasterboard which had covered the fireplace while I did the mosaic. I felt I should have invited a band to give us a fanfare as we saw the lovely fireplace again. Instead, our curious little cat walked straight into the bedroom, sniffed at the fireplace and jumped up the chimney. The little minx. Turns out it’s a very big chimney and she disappeared from sight. Fortunately I have a voice that can be heard in space so my yells brought her tumbling down with a nice little layer of soot. Socks, our other cat, looked at her in disgust, which is nothing new.

The chimney has now been plugged, the cat cleaned up and I’m contemplating my next mosaic project to decorate the inside of the fireplace. Watch this space!