The embiggening of the rubber litter ball


The runner who squelched into the sports centre after me was slightly soggier than I was, her glasses steamed up, muck flaking from her hands. But she had a massive smile on her face. ‘I picked up 15 pieces of litter on my way here!’ she announced. I’d managed a couple of crisp packets and a squashed drinks can in my dash across the car park, but every little helps!

The number of runners who return with a handful of litter we’ve picked up on our excursions is growing all the time. I started my own personal campaign in February, picking up anything I could reasonably carry, particularly if it may be a danger to wildlife. Rubber bands, usually dropped by posties and those strong polythene hoopy things that hold cans together (what ARE they called?) are the main offenders in my eyes. The rubber bands are growing into quite a sizeable ball, I’m looking forward to bouncing it off the wall of Royal Mail’s HQ in Leeds, it bounces very well, if a little erratically. That’ll learn ’em.

I did plan to hold a litter pick in the village as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, but the Great Snows of ’18 brought the country to a halt and life as we know it was on hold as it took a few days for the snow to disappear. Sadly the litter is still there, wetter and muddier.

There is a name for running and litter-picking, coined by the Swedes. Plogging seems to have been officially named in 2016 by those environmentally-conscious Scandinavians. Since then, plogging groups have started all over the world as unfortunately litter is a universal language.

I still can’t get the image of a plastic-filled ocean from St David of Attenborough’s final episode of Blue Planet out of my head. It made me cry, what the hell are we doing to our beautiful planet? And then I got angry when the yobs in the car in front just chucked their fast food packaging out of the window. WTF? Do they do that at home? Probably.

Of course picking up a few bits of litter when out running, or walking, or even going to a job interview (yes, seriously!) isn’t enough. But if we all did it, and got cross about it, and got the government to do more then we might, just might, save our planet. In the meantime, I’m off plogging.

Fat Tabby’s catflap days are numbered

Fat Tabby caught red-pawed

It’s just after 2am and Noel is standing barefoot in the garden, wearing only his skimpy boxers and a grimace as he throws a snowball. Badly. His target has long since scarpered, but Fat Tabby’s days of dining at our expense are over. And we know where he lives.

After the last debacle when Fat Tabby was discovered bothering Socks Akers on his own turf, Noel set up a spy camera to get hard evidence. Using his techie skills and what looked like the inside of a toilet roll and sticky-back plastic,  he rigged up a motion-capture camera, pointing it at the food.

The next day, there was all the evidence we needed. Fat Tabby strutting around like he owned the place, an immediate order was placed for a magic catflap that only lets in cats who have the password, which is handily printed on the ID chips on their necks. Unfortunately there was a day, a whole day, to wait before it arrived. Remember when it took weeks for parcels to arrive? No, me neither.

So in that one day, the unthinkable happened, though in hindsight it was totally predictable. Fat Tabby had found an easily accessible source of food and warmth, why wouldn’t he come back again and again and again? Just before 2am and there was such a howling and yowling and carrying on, it was so loud it even woke me. Noel was downstairs like a flash, definitely a PB. Not wanting to miss out on the action, I watched from the window. There was Fat Tabby legging it down the snowy path pursued by scantily-clad Noel, with a snowball. Socks was lurking in the doorway, I think Socks he laughing.

The next day we were telling our cleaners, the Lovely Laughing Ladies, about thieving Fat Tabby and the come-uppance he was going to get, except that we didn’t know where he came from.  When they saw the photo, they recognised him immediately, he was Albert from number 3. The LLLs know him as a devious feline, who hides among the teddy bears on the children’s bed and leaps out, claws swiping, paws waving, then sneaks away, snickering like Dick Dastardly’s evil sidekick, Muttley.

Albert. We know who you are. We know where you live. Be afraid, be very afraid. And stay away from Socks Akers. You have been warned.

I bloomin’ love art

My misty hand

I bloomin’ love art and the world’s a better place for it, so there, I’ve said it. Noel and I found ourselves at the 2017 Museum of the Year, the Hepworth, the second Yorkshire museum to receive that award, by the way, to enjoy Solid Light Works. The huge interactive installation, by UK artist Anthony McCall.

I’m always one for colour, lots of it, the more the better, but there’s something very attractive about the monochrome world you enter down the short dark corridor, the way lit by a line of small lights a foot level.

White light projects geometric shapes while a thin mist illuminates the beams, we’re encouraged to walk around, break up the light and cast different shadows, or just watch others doing it. McCall describes his work as the space where cinema, sculpture and drawing overlap and I could definitely see that. The mist in the beams reminded me of the old days when people smoked in cinemas, the smoke from their cigarettes, along with the dust from the flock wallpaper and screen curtains caught in the projector, ah, them were t’days.

Solid Light Works is described as an immersive artwork, and it really is. Just walk around, wave your arms, make shapes, do a dance even while the light changes, of course I did, and I loved it.

The staff had warned us that the arty space was about to be invaded my a mums and tots group who meet at the gallery each week. We heard lots of little voices who came filed in, singing ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to make it shine’, it was absolutely wonderful and it just goes to show that art is for everyone!

The installation is there until June.

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.

Intruder alert! Feline fur flies!

Socks the not-so-brave

There was a sudden commotion and almighty clatter and Socks Akers’ whiny voice floated up the stairs. “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”,  followed by an eardrum-piercing yowl that would waken the dead. Then silence, broken by the faint growling of Hidey, our other cat. Something was up.

Noel was well into his REM sleep, but sprang into full alertness, clattering down the stairs, his naked milk-white torso reflecting the moonlight. That’s scare ’em, I thought, in my semi-wakefulness. My next thought was that Noel and Socks would be able to cope with whatever he found, and that I’d leave him to it. Hey, there could have been a burglar, or more likely dismembered rodents, or worse still, catsick, ewww, Noel could definitely deal with that.

The cat flap opened and closed, Socks the Brave, as we shall not call him, was cowering behind the settee, looking like he was trying to avoid the monsters from Dr Who. Hidey was pawing the treats bag, because it was there and she assumed Noel was there to feed her. She has no problem with daleks, they can’t do stairs and she is the Queen of the Stairs.

We’d suspected catty trouble when we saw Big Fatty, a huge tabby and white cat as big as a dog, with legs as thick as my arms, he was ambling up the garden path, pawsteps echoing down the ginnel. Socks was confident Big Fatty was way too lardy to fit through the catflap, so wasn’t worried. He weighs in at six kilos is no minion himself, but he is a scaredy cat. He’s all boasts and bluster when he’s perched on the upstairs windowsill twitching his whiskers at Big Fatty below. Or maybe he’s not figured out that something that looks small from far away gets larger the nearer it is. Socks Akers is not a very bright cat.

Hidey on the other hand, had worked out that not only was Big Fatty very big, he could indeed fit through the cat flap. With ease. She wasn’t too worried as she can also run very fast and hide extremely successfully, that’s why we called her Hidey.

It seemed Fat Tabby had helped himself to food and was about to bed down on the sofa. Socks told me he’d slapped FT about a bit and showed him what for. Hidey said Socks was a big fat smelly liar and a coward to boot. She said he’d wedged himself behind the sofa, covering is eyes with his paws. Socks said that was not the case, he’d spotted something very interesting behind the sofa and had then got something in his eye, besides, he wasn’t smelly, he was manly.

Noel shrugged his shoulders and came back upstairs, relieved that there were neither burglars, rodents nor catsick. Socks followed and jumped onto the windowsill, watching what he saw as a tiny FT disappearing into the bushes and congratulating himself on seeing off the interloper. As I said, he’s not a very brave cat, but we love him to bits.


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

A creative January

I have just spent a joyous and skill-stretching January flexing creative muscles I haven’t used since childhood, and believe me, that’s a long time ago! Thanks to 64 Million Artists, a wonderful national campaign aimed at unlocking the creativity of everyone in the country, I have been challenged to do something creative, something different, something fun.

An email each day announced the challenge, something that could take as little as five minutes, it wasn’t about making masterpieces, just about taking a little time out to be creative. So there was everything from writing a poem, dancing like no-one’s watching (they were), building a castle with whatever was to hand (a small castle from my sewing kit), making a boat that could float (a new definition of float here), designing a postcard for my home village, or creating a jumper (mine had a detachable cowl which doubled up as a mini skirt, a very mini skirt, it would definitely be draughty around the houses wearing that) and….err… drawing.

Being a wordsmith, I don’t consider drawing is my best thing, I may have art O-level  but they must have just felt sorry for me when they saw my efforts, it can be the only explanation for me passing. The day two challenge to draw five faces would not have got me a pass in any exams, but that wasn’t what it was about, I was just stretching those drawing muscles. So when I was challenged to draw whatever I saw over my right shoulder with my left hand, I had no idea how it would turn out. Interesting, that’s what it was, though actually better than with my right, which is my dominant hand. All drawings will be left-handed in future, though I don’t think there will be many!

Throughout the month, there has been a community of creatives sharing what they have done on social media, usually starting with ‘….this isn’t very good but…’ . Actually many were very good indeed, it was humbling to see such creativity and talent, especially with the way we all interpreted the various challenges.

Founded by Jo Hunter and David Micklem, 64 Million Artists has a simple premise – let’s all get creative and share what we have done with others as creativity is contagious!

I thoroughly enjoyed January, eagerly anticipating the daily email, then thinking about it throughout the day, even when I was on holiday. The month may be over, but now there is a weekly challenge, which I have already signed up for, I just hope there’s not much drawing involved, or if there is, I’ll be using my left hand! Thanks 64 Million Artists and thanks Beth for getting me involved!