Jam to Japan

A trip to the allotment with my Japanese friend confirmed something I suspected. There are no gooseberries in Japan.

I’d told Maika about goosegogs, which raised an eyebrow. She’s used to Yorkshire isms but that was a new one on her, so I used the common name for the sour, spiky seedy fruits. No, she said, never had one, never seen one but was prepared to try.

Before I could warn her, she popped one in her mouth, oh my goodness, if that had been me, I’d have spat it out so fast it would have broken the sound barrier with gooseberry sonic booms shattering the peace of the allotments. Maika, however, has a study palate, she’d eaten mucky fat and bread without batting an eyelid, tried tripe without batting an eyelid and developed a passion for Marmite. She found the gooseberry tasty, if a little on the tart side.

Gooseberries are not widely available in the shops, they are easy enough to grow, but the thorns are vicious, making harvesting them a scratchy affair. And when there are strawberries and raspberries available, why would you bother with gooseberries, eh? They need their own weight in sugar and then some before they are palatable.

Fearing for Maika suffering a belly ache from too many uncooked gooseberries, I offered to make them into jam. She tells me the Japanese have a sweet tooth and jam goes down very well, and as my gooseberry jam won top prize in the village show, I thought it would be a good idea to start an export business, developing a trading partnership outside the EU. Jam to Japan, it has a certain ring to it. Maika has offered to help with the quality control and translation. I reckon that with this year’s crop I could have as many as a dozen jars. I think I’m going to have to plant more gooseberry bushes…….

The Great Calverley Sunflower Scandal

I blame Heidi. If she wasn’t so prissy about having finely-tilled soil to leave her princess poo without damaging her delicate little bottom, none of this would have happened.

I don’t have a problem with our cats carrying out their ablutions in our garden, it’s only fair, really, our cats, our collective poo. It does make gardening a journey of discovery, but I always wear gloves, and carry a peg to put on my nose. It’s well-known in our house that Socks Akers has a very smelly bottom.

The idea was to plant a selection of sunflowers to fill the flowerbed just under the conservatory. They are very easy to grow, remind me I said that.

So I prepared the bed and, with Heidi on the look-out for soft soil to do the deed, made sure that the area was cordoned off. Netting weighted down with stones should do the trick. Remind me I said that.

No sooner had I filed the seed packet under ‘s’ for sown, than Heidi crawled under the netting, her over-long whiskers poking through the mesh, and jellybean paws stirring up the soil ready for the deed. I shouted, she shrugged her shoulders with that sense of entitlement all felines possess. ‘What?’ she asked. What indeed. She’d re-distributed all the seeds as well as doing the unmentionable.

Fortunately, I’d still half a packet of seeds left, so in they went, covered with a cat-proof netting contraption that would have made Prof Pat Pending proud. It worked, there was no cat action and the seedlings quickly started to appear.

I love sunflowers, they’re big, bright and cheerful, the birds adore their seeds and unfortunately the slugs think the leaves are there just for their slimy benefit, they’ve clearly heard about the forthcoming ban on slug pellets containing metaldehyde. And did I mention they are very easy to grow?

I was surprised how vigorous they were, but our soil is very fertile. Strange, though, the leaves were bumpy, not like sunflowers at all, but they were where I’d planted them and they were a different variety, presumably the bumpy-leaved variety. And so prolific, there were so many I transplanted them around the garden, put them in the pots at the front of the house, gave a few to friends, set up a stall to give them away to passers-by. Wow, I thought, Calverley is going to be glowing yellow. We’ll be known as the Village of the Sunflowers, people will come from as far away as Pudsey. I may get an award.

But as they grew, they changed. Overnight they stopped looking like sunflowers and started looking suspiciously like borage. First I thought it was a miracle and revised my expectations of an award to a damehood, possibly a fellowship of the Royal Horticultural Society for this botanical alchemy of changing sunflowers into borage with the help of cat poo.

Then I wondered if the seeds were wrongly labelled, it’s happened before, I had yellow tomatoes when the packet said red, but this was a significant difference. Yes, I’d had borage there a few years ago, but surely so many seeds couldn’t germinate and not one single sunflower grow? Was it Heidi? It was a mystery and will certainly change the village glow from yellow to blue. And the bees will be very happy.

Next year I’m planting borage seeds, getting Heidi to poo on them and waiting for them to turn into sunflowers. Step forward Dame Anne.

The return of Flabby Tabby

Socks Akers is in trouble, big trouble, the kind of trouble that causes injury. Worse still, the kind that hits where it hurts, the pocket.

Seeing as he doesn’t have a pocket or has even the slightest idea of economics, GDP , the rate the £ is falling against the Euro , or the scandal of a Penny Arrow now costing a shilling, he’s not the only one who’s hurting.

HOW MUCH? Noel exclaimed as the vet handed us a huge bill for lancing the biggest, smelliest abscess known to man or feline, along with a powerful antibiotic. That little episode now tops my list of the grossest thing I have ever witnessed, even grosser than the remains of the ancient banana in my climbing rucksack. I mean, just how much STUFF can an abscess hold? Where does it come from? How did it manage to flood the vet’s table? Maybe that’s why it cost us so much. The clean-up bill.

Of course Socks was right as rain after the offending bulge on the side of his face had gone, it meant he could eat. Then go out to fight. Again. We know the Vet well, in fact we’re on first-name terms as Socks has helped finance his holidays to save street cats in the Caribbean, he even sends us postcards, passing on his love to Socks. He said if it was any consolation, Socks’ nemesis would also be needing treatment. It wasn’t.

That nemesis is Flabby Tabby. The biggest, flabbiest tabby you’ve ever seen. He lopes into our garden, with only one thing on his mind, to pick on Socks, who is no small fry, weighing in at just under 6kg. It all came to a head last year when FT took advantage of our insecure catflap and freely-available quality catfood. I was woken up by such a yowling coming from the dining room it drowned our Noel’s snoring . Fur was everywhere, along with bits of cat skin, so it was off to the vet’s with him and the down-payment on the first of many Caribbean trips. Plus the purchase of a chip-reading catflap, which was only slightly cheaper.

FT met his match when he returned, looking for a fight. Heidi, our small, feisty tabby, saw him off while Socks cowered in the delphiniums. But the peace wasn’t to last, Socks headed off to FT’s place, which is a couple of streets away. We know that because our webcam got a shot of him in our house and our cleaners identified him as belonging to one of their customers.

We thought that with all the bad weather and Socks’ advancing years, the fighting would have stopped by now. Plus, he had The Snip years ago, so that should have calmed him down a bit. We were shocked to learn from a friend, though, that their neutered cat had behaved exactly the same way and had been found to have a third testicle, which was pumping him full of thuggish hormones. A third testicle? Could that be Socks’ problem? Looks like we’ll be paying another instalment on the Caribbean trip.

A parkrun poet

One of us is a poet, the other is just holding the frame!

I know I do go on about parkrun, but I’m not going to stop anytime soon, especially as I’ve discovered we have a parkrun poet at Woodhouse Moor!

PhD student Tahera completed her first parkrun earlier this year and like anyone else who parkruns, she was bowled over by the experience. Most of us just fill our social media feeds with adjectives, like ‘ace’, ‘stoked’ and ‘knackered’, or talk incessantly over post-run coffee, but Tahera was moved to poetry.

It wasn’t difficult for her, she is a poet. She even shared her work at the Batley Iftar, to celebrate the start of Ramadan. The month of prayer and fasting can challenge anyone wanting to run, but Tahera was with us at Woodhouse Moor, volunteering, helping sort the tokens afterwards and running.

Tahera is now one of our regular welcome briefers, I hope that next time she does it, she’ll read her poem. Thank you, Tahera, thank you, parkrun!

The Running Bug by Tahera Mayat

I lost my parkrun newbie badge
At Oakwell Hall parkrun in Birstall
It was the day before my birthday
So I was looking forward to cake

But post-run refreshments are
Just that post-run i.e. afterwards
First I had to do a 5k or 3.1 miles
I've never even walked that far!

I had butterflies in my stomach
Calming words from running friends
Run on the downhill I'm advised
Ahead of the first timers briefing

It's 9am on a Saturday
I'm not having a lie-in
But hearing 3, 2, 1, go
And starting my first 5k

It was a challenging course
With the uphills and off-road
The run was tough for me
But the aftermath was worth it

The guilt free cake and hot chocolate
Basking in the praise from the others
The post-run atmosphere and chat
But best of all was getting my time

I remember we did a group photo
With the bright red Run for Jo banner
Next thing I know I'm back at Oakwell
Doing a challenging yet rewarding 6.5k

But if long distances aren't for you
Then there is the 2.5k fun run
And if running isn't for you
There'll be food and entertainment

So spread the word about
Run for Jo taking place
On Sunday 23rd June 2019
At Oakwell Hall in Birstall

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!

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.