Opposite history

Hard to believe, but tourists come to our village and stay in the house across the road. I thought at 140 years, ours was an old house, but it’s a mere whippersnapper compared to Calverley Old Hall, which dates back to the 1300s, parts of it anyway.

The hall is owned by the Landmark Trust, which offers holidays in history. It restores castles, forts, towers and cottages for self-catering breaks, people like that kind of thing. If there’s something that even post-Brexit Britain will be able to offer, it’s history, we have so much of it.


While there is a comfy, quirky cottage for five in the hall, the rest of the Grade One Listed Building, in estate agent parlance, has ‘development potential’, in fact it’s on the Heritage at Risk register, where its condition is described as ‘poor’. Personally, I think that’s an understatement and the only thing that stops it slipping into the ‘nobbut a pile of stones’ category is that it has an intact roof and is more or less watertight.

Fortunately, salvation may be in sight for this hall with a murderous history (more about this later), as following a competition, architects have been appointed to revive the entire building and bring the tourists flocking to Calverley. Unfortunately before the work can start, National Lottery funding of more than £3million has to be secured.

As part of the bidding process, the Landmark Trust threw open the doors of the hall, handed out hardhats and invited the locals to have a look. I’ve often stared at the mullioned windows as I clean my own, wondering what was behind them. Now I know. A big hall, with fabulous hammerbeams , magnificent fireplace large enough to live in, lots of stone, dirt and an old toilet, just there in the corner, no plumbing, I have no idea why it’s there. Also there’s a smaller hall (the solar wing) and a chapel, complete with private gallery so the rich lords of the manor could look down on the hoi polloi through carved oak screens.

The house was in the hands of the Calverley family, who all seemed to be called Walter, so it does make storytelling complicated. There were good Walters, like the one in the 1300s who was a pioneer of the iron industry, prudent Walter, who drew up marriage settlements for his children in the 1400s, and murderous Walter who, in 1605, ran amok and murdered his two small sons, one of them a Walter, stabbing his wife. He was tried and pressed to death, but he had another son, Henry, who could carry on the family name, though he didn’t change his name to Walter. Pity. There are rumours of a ghost, seen by folk staggering from one of our three village pubs.

In 1754 the hall was divided into cottages, its gardens disappeared and houses started to spring up, including ours more than 100 years later. The site was bought by the Landmark Trust in 1981 and they have been working to repair and revive it ever since. There’s not a lot of money around for this kind of major improvement project, but fingers crossed that when the lottery bid is submitted in January, it will be successful.

The Great Reveal


I blame Noel, he blames me, we’ve reached a compromise, we blame each other. He started it by suggesting that the pile of rubbish (or collectables as I know them) in the spare bedroom could be concealed by a built-in wardrobe. He was right.

Garry, our indispensable joiner, had already won our hearts by fitting reveals to the new windows, making them into giant picture frames displaying village life on the move. They replaced dirty plastic which had just about hidden a multitude of sins and transformed our rooms, illuminating everything, including the collectables.

The shine from the new wardrobes cast a yellow glow on the poorer relations in our room. Our wardrobe doors weren’t white any more, they were yellow, nicotine yellow. And we’ve never smoked. Our room looked decidedly dowdy, so there was only one course of action to take, call Garry.

It was going to be a simple, if faffy, build-then-decorate job. After getting a season ticket to the tip where we deposited the yellow wardrobe and dusty (sic) pink carpet, complete with the 1991 copies of the Daily Mail the previous occupants had spread on the underlay, presumably so they could grind it under their feet, it was just a matter of stripping the wallpaper, getting the new wardrobe fitted, then making good and decorating. A few days, tops.

In the meantime, we had moved the contents of our room into the spare room, stuffed even more rubbish into the spacious wardrobe, calmed the cats, who were accidentally shut into wardrobes, drawers and suitcases, and looked forward to our transformed bedroom.

The next person who says ‘these things are never as easy as they first seem’ will get a wallpaper scraper rammed up a sunshine-free place. There were at least four layers of paper, the last one painted with gloss, the only crumb of comfort was that neither of us was going to remove the paper which would be covered by the wardrobe, let it be a little present for the next owner of this house, after all the previous owners left us plenty.

I was dreading discovering the cause of the lumpiness in the chimney breast. Tapping with the scraper made a hollow sound. Underneath was hardboard papered with the finest the 50s could offer, covering the hole left by the fireplace. Out initial thought was to paper over the lot, so it would be just as before, but neater.

But here was a mystery, right here in our bedroom, a board, a hole, maybe a passage to a mini Narnia, how could we not look?  I imagined that behind it would be soot, a few pigeon skeletons and pigeon poo, we stood waiting for the great reveal. I expected it to be a rubbley hole and suggested to Noel that Garry could board up the sides to make an alcove, what a great place for a cat to sleep, or we could put our running trophies and medals there. It’s only a small alcove.

There was no soot, or corpses, sadly no kingdom of talking animals either. But there was a fine fireplace which I immediately saw as a beautiful feature for the room, no longer boring black, but a lighter colour and the fine detail of the cast iron flowers picked out in greens and yellows. We can always put the trophies in the hearth.

So here begins a journey of discovery and decorating, a bit longer than anticipated, but ultimately rewarding (remind me I said that when I’m covered in plaster dust). It may take some time. See you at the other side!


Can you dig it?


It’s the time of year when I always leave the allotment a couple of inches taller than when I arrived. The layer of compressed mud and clay clinging to my shoes doesn’t fall off until the next time I put them on. Obviously there’s no question of me actually cleaning them, the very idea.

Year four as an allotmenteer and I still feel like a complete novice. The purple-sprouting broccoli which grew so tall and promised to keep us well-stocked with these tasty brassicas throughout the winter was sacrificed to the Wood Pigeon God after I failed to cover the plants with netting.  Who knew those big birds could do so much nibbling? Actually, it seems, everyone else on the allotments apart from me and the new people who hadn’t managed to plant anything at all. Fortunately I’m not a total ingenue, we still have sprouts and cabbage, as well as the potatoes harvested in the autumn. And if you want to talk raspberries, I’m your woman, the freezer’s full of them.

Currently the ground can only be described as dull, brown and sticky, with occasional puddles. Everything is dormant, apart from a few hardy weeds and a cheeky dandelion which had the audacity to flower, I soon sorted that out. All I can do is dig in readiness for planting and that’s when the fun really starts. Seeds have been ordered and potatoes and onion sets are at the ready, but not too ready.  Some folk plant their onions in the autumn, that would require having cleared all the old stuff out and preparing the ground well in advance, another allotment lesson, everything is long-term!

Winter isn’t anything like over yet, there’s cold to come and those seeds will just have to stay in their colourful packets. In the meantime, allotmenteering is hard work and fun in equal measure and there’s lots of mud, a bit like running, but I don’t get as far.

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

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!

Santas, stormtroopers and sushi


Leeds. Eight-thirty on a Sunday morning just before Christmas, two Santas, shivering in the sub-zero temperature, stride through the near-deserted streets. The only people they pass look straight ahead, pretending they aren’t there. Pretending we aren’t there, for I am one of those Santas.

Being good Yorkshire folk, careful with our hard-earned cash, we’d parked some distance from the city centre where it cost only half a crown for the whole day, so we were quite alone, Sue and I, the two Santas, with our trusty minder and photographer Noel. Noel wasn’t a Santa, he doesn’t do dressing up. No wonder the remains of the late-night revellers didn’t make eye contact.

But as we neared the centre, we joined a sea of red. Santas as far as the eye could see, big ones, small ones, fat ones, thin ones, big fat ones, small thin ones, several dogs and two festive Stormtroopers, we knew they were festive because they had snowy white beards and their weapons were set to ‘stun’ rather than the usual ‘completely obliterate’

This was the Santa Dash in aid of St Gemma’s Hospice, a surreal experience for those taking part and those watching, so many Santas, so little space. Sue and I had to do the obligatory tactical visit to the facilities, it’s a runners’ thing. Noel went ahead, then turned round, looking alarmed ‘How will I recognise you?’ How indeed with so many Santas around, he told me later he could tell my walk a mile off, I think that’s a good thing.

Our Japanese friend Maika, who is spending her first Christmas in the UK, is making sure she experiences as much of the festive spirit as she can. She too was a Santa, with Christmas pudding glasses, traditional eyewear Chez The Clauses somewhere in Lapland. Along with our Sikh friend Jaz, we made for a multi-cultural, multi-faith bunch of Santas. We laughed ourselves silly as we ran, walked, said hello to and high-fived fellow Santas and barracked the Stormtroopers.

The post-run refreshments were courtesy of the Japanese restaurant Little Tokyo. Instead of the usual mucky fat sandwiches and custard creams served up to hungry runners, there was sushi, tempura vegetables, dips and…….. chips. Chips? I asked the lovely Little Tokyo staff who were braving the cold to feed us. Yes, they responded, it’s what the crowds want! Maika was amazed, Santas, Stormtroopers and sushi, whatever next?

A pantomime, that’s what’s next for Maika’s Christmas  experience. Oh yes it is…I can’t wait to blog about that!

Running, it’s good for your mental health


Thank you to Lizzie Coombes for the photo


Today is World Mental Health Day.  It’s a day to focus on what’s making us tick, and whether that ticking is working properly, or maybe it needs a bit of adjustment. It’s a powerful thing, the mind, great when it’s working well, debilitating when it’s not.

I love the NHS, I’ve worked in it for many years, I’ve been a patient all my life, it serves us well, particularly in emergencies and when there’s serious physical illness. But, and you know what they say, ignore everything before the ‘but’, when it comes to mental health services, the NHS is playing catch-up.

According to the Kings Fund, an excellent heath and social care think tank, three in four people with a mental health problem receive little or no treatment for their problem. If they are severely affected, they die up to 20 years before their time. Its report says mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease in the UK, yet spending on mental health services is just 11 per cent of the NHS budget. Now there’s lots of caveats to those statements, the NHS, its funding and commissioning is complex, more layers than a very large onion, and peeling it can definitely bring tears to your eyes. I know I have worked in commissioning for many years and shed many a tear. But it is a fact that NHS support for mental well-being is severely under-resourced and under-funded.

The onus is therefore on individuals, where they are able, to help themselves as much as they can and for others to be in a position to provide that help. It’s what we do as humans, we try and look out for each other.

Top of my list for mental wellbeing is exercise, whether it’s running, skiing, climbing, hiking, yoga, circuit training or whatever else gets me a sweat on and the endorphins going. Then there’s talking, I have a lovely husband and friends who give me a good listening to.

But if I was to name just one activity that has made me smile when I felt like crying, held my hand when I felt lonely, opened up a whole new world of friendship and given me the chance to help others when they are going through bad times, its parkrun. The weekend just gone was International parkrun Day and at Woodhouse Moor,  we celebrated our tenth birthday, there were more than 600 runners and volunteers enjoying a 5km run, jog or walk. If I could capture and bottle the joy and camaraderie of that day, or indeed any Saturday morning, I would give it to the NHS to distribute free to everyone. Wouldn’t that be great?