Maneki-neko, the cat with the fortune-telling bottom

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Socks Akers and the Maneki-neko

The fortune slip drawn from the cat’s bottom promised me ‘sho-kichi’, small blessing. I’m from Yorkshire, me, anything that can survive a cat’s bottom and talk about blessings, whatever their size, is fine by me.

Before you call in the cat police, I need to point out that the bottom in question was ceramic and that its owner, along with all the other paw-waving cats of Japanese origin, is well used to having fortunes placed there. It means good luck, the waving, not the bottom.

My lovely friend Maika has just returned from Japan and brought me this gift. She’s over here to study sports nutrition in Leeds, though thanks to a nattering of Tykes at the post-parkrun coffee, (I made up that collective noun), her education has been broadened to include Yorkshire, Ways, Wit, Widsom and Whatever Else. She can even sing a couple of verses of Ilkley Moor B’aht ‘at and has just been introduced to ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’, which while not Yorkshire in origin, the Bamforth saucy postcards most certainly are.

She can now confidently tell anyone leaving the door open to ‘put t’wood in t’oil’ and pointed out that the 34C heat she’d endured during her triathalon back home, was ‘cracking the flags’.

I was chuffed to pieces to have my own maneki-neko, they are supposed to bring good luck, especially with a waving right paw. Mine, in the traditional white, may also bring me happiness, and the red bib luck in relationships, though I think that’s more down to the company I keep.

Maika’s fortune must have foretold ‘Dai-kichi’  – or large blessing, as she saw one of her dreams come true. She chose Leeds because, as well as it being in God’s Own Country, it is the home of the Brownlee brothers, Olympic champion and runner-up and world championship botherers. As a triathlete, she wanted to meet them with a bit of Yorkshire banter. We’d given her a Yorkshire dictionary to help her brush up on some of the more obscure sayings, she took that with her to the Brownlee Triathalon at the weekend, along with a specially-purchased autograph pen. They didn’t disappoint, signing her dictionary and telling her they’d be in Japan next year. Hopefully they too will have a waving cat foretelling daikichi!

Just like the Chevin Chase

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There they are, Yorkshire’s finest, the Brownlee brothers, they’ve burst through the finish tape, collapsed, picked themselves up and are greeting their fellow runners. Ali and Johnny, Olympic gold and silver, caught by the all-hearing mic saying , ‘we f#cking did it.’ They f#cking well did.

The two of them are very local to us, so local that we run in the same woods and on the same fells. We’re even in the same races, so I can honestly say I’ve raced an Olympian, usually every year at  the Chevin Chase, that Boxing Day mud and frost fest that’s not for any faint-hearted namby-pamby road runners who don’t want to get their shoes dirty. The fact that they’ve finished, gone home, got changed, eaten the Christmas Day leftovers and returned before I cross the finish line is neither here nor there, I’ve raced an Olympian.

The past two weeks have been glorious as the Rio Olympics remind me of the good things in the world. Nations celebrating sport, loving it and living it, winning and losing and, to be completely partisan, bringing back the medals to Blighty. They are four hours behind us so when sleep beats me to bed, I’ve to dash for the radio first thing in the morning to catch up and what the medal tally looks like. As I write, we’re second in the medals table, we’re flying, our girls, boys and horses are giving all they’ve got.

Who’d have thought cycling could be so engaging with brakeless bikes following a little man in a battery-powered phut-phut? Noel and I were willing them to win, standing close to the TV and cheering, hoping they could hear us. And what about the horse dancing? Dressage, what’s that all about? I don’t care, we were ace, we won! Kayaking, brilliant! Synchronised diving, superb! Hockey, awesome! Sailing, sound! Golf has always been a good walk ruined, but now we have gold, it’s on the ‘like’ list, well, for a while anyway.

It’s not just team GB, the home team in Brazil cheer wildly when their guys enter the arena, going wild at the golds. And the two gymnasts who fell to their knees and wept as they claimed silver and bronze were the happiest people on earth. Oh my goodness I wept then.

I’ve wept too much over the previous weeks. What is wrong with the world? Angry, angry murderous men driven by hatred and no God any right-thinking person can recognise,  killing innocent people, callously mowing them down as they celebrate Bastille Day, shooting partygoers in a gay nightclub in Orlando, stabbing and slashing passengers on trains in Germany and Switzerland, spilling the blood of a priest as he celebrates Mass in his church.

But for just a little while there’s been a glint of light at these Olympics that is making my weeping world a better place.

Yorkshire sporting triumph all the way. Sithee.

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Gomez (not from Yorkshire, not winning)

Four years ago and Yorkshire held its breath. The Olympics down in That There London were going well for us, we were fast becoming the golden county and the Fabulous Brownlee Boys were set to up the tally, gold and silver at least, maybe even a double gold if they crossed the line together.

But it wasn’t to be. The pair were separated by their arch rival, Gomez (not from Yorkshire), with Ali castigating his brother for being a numpty in messing up the transition from swim to bike. We had to settle for gold and bronze, we’re hard to please, us Yorkshire folk.

With the Rio Olympics just a few weeks away,  the best in the world came to the best place in the world to try out their tri skills in the ITU World Triathlon Championships. Ali and Johnny were racing on the hallowed home water, tarmac and pavement in and around Leeds city centre, their stomping ground. The Yorkshire public expected nothing less than a one-two. And we weren’t disappointed.

The city centre was packed with flag-waving Tykes who were willing the brothers to win and be crowned with a flat cap and presented with a mucky fat sandwich and a bottle of Kirkstall Brewery’s best. The two had already broken away from the pack and were swapping and changing positions with two other competitors who weren’t from Yorkshire.

But once they ditched the bikes, it was Brownlee all the way. We were cheering and yelling in a most unseemly fashion, but we didn’t care. The two were in a different race, they passed us four times, pulling ahead, daring anyone to catch them. No-one did, even the camera guy on the motorcycle was having trouble keeping up. I understand he isn’t from Yorkshire.

The event was a first for the city and the city did us proud. With Le Grand Depart start to the Tour de France and the subsequent Tour de Yorkshire behind us, we are fast becoming the sporting place to be, well we are if you don’t count football.

What a great day, I  was so proud of my city, my county and our fantastic athletes. I was proud of my friends who took part in the amateur triathlon in the morning. Happy, happy day. Roll on Rio, I’m looking forward to another Yorkshire triumph!

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Ali Brownlee, the winner (from Yorkshire)

 

A year of running, a year of coffee

Catwoman after the fell race. It was a race, I fell. Twice.
Catwoman after the fell race. It was a race, I fell. Twice.

It’s not everyone that can say they’ve run against both Olympic medal-winning Brownlee brothers in less than a week. Though when I say against, it’s more a case of crossing the same start and finish lines in the same event. The fact that they were back home tucking into their Christmas pudding, having showered, changed and updated their Facebook status by the time I got to the end of the the race is neither here nor there, my name is with theirs.

Yesterday the elder Brownlee, Alistair, showed me how to go down a muddy slope. He fell on his backside, but sprang up again with such agility that he made it look easy. It wasn’t, as I was to find out in the closing stages of the Auld Lang Syne fell race. I’d already done a full frontal flop in the thick smelly mud for no apparent reason except maybe that because it was there. Fortunately, being near the back of the pack, there was no-one around to give me a score for style and artistic interpretation, so I gave myself nine out of ten. The second fall was more of a sit and swear in the mud, so only scored five. Alistair scored ten, but in my defence, he was in the lead so the steep slope hadn’t been churned up by 1000 runners before him. As luck would have it there was a river we had to run through, so most of the mud was washed away. Every cloud, eh?  Personally I think I should have had bonus points, or at least an extra bottle of beer, but there was none of that at the finish, so I snaffled some extra biscuits and a glug of coffee. It was heavenly, though I may also have swallowed a bleb of mud, at least I hope it was mud.

Six days previously his brother Johnny had beaten all comers in the slightly less muddy but longer Chevin Chase. I was there too, somewhere near the back, but, hey, we got the same tee-shirt!

My year had started with the 5km parkrun, and seen many miles, training and races, hot weather and cold, snow, ice, mud, rain and sun. I’ve worn out two pairs of shoes, lost so many pairs of gloves I can’t keep count and put a great strain on my sports bras, but they seem to be holding up. A glorious year of running, recorded in previous blogs.

And of course with every run, there has to be refreshment, and there is nothing like a good coffee, preferably with cake. Much to the amusement of fellow coffee drinkers, I continue the habit of photographing my coffees, it’s my way of keeping a diary – and reminding myself where and when I drank them and who with. These photos do confirm that the best coffees are those drunk in company of good friends and there’s been quite a bit of that over the past year.

So forward, hopefully at a faster running pace than last year, and onward to new adventures, let’s raise a cup of good coffee to 2014, I look forward to sharing one with you.  Happy New Year everyone!

Local sport for local people

The Brownlee brothers face the media pack at the Leeds parkrun

The excitement of the London 2012 Olympics may have died down a little, but not a lot. The Join In Local Sport campaign is encouraging us to all to get off our backsides and join in something sporty. Not that we need much encouragement here in the Independent Kingdom of Yorkshire, we ARE sport.

Just in case you’ve been on Mars with the Curiosity Rover, whose cameras were pointing at the Olympics to see all the action, Yorkshire did well in the medals table. Very well indeed, in fact, we finished 12th, with seven golds, three silver and two bronze, which was above Spain, Jamaica, South Africa and Brazil. Not that we’re counting or showing off or anything, noooo, not us.

Two of our medal winners joined in the Joined In campaign, turning up at the Leeds Hyde Park parkrun, one of the best examples of local sport for local people ever invented. It’s a weekly timed 5k run – and it’s free, we Tykes like that. The Brownlee brothers, who won gold and bronze in the triathlon, started us off then, to the relief of anyone wanting a personal best and those of us who don’t want to be lapped twice, they peeled off and set off to Sheffield in the pink Join In bus.

The bus had also brought BBC presenter John Inverdale and former Olympian Sharon Davies, along with the lovely David Moorcroft, former world record holder for the 5000 metres (or parkrun distance as we like to call it in our house) and a keen parkrunner. He hung around and applauded us all as we finished our first lap, I was touched, I’ve never been applauded by a champion before!

The idea of Join In is to join an established club or to start something up so others can take part. Here in our village, there’s no excuse, all the local sports are listed in the Creative Calverley site. Well, it’s only four years to the Olympics in Rio…….