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.

Adrian

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.

Happy birthday to me – again

There’s the official birthday, the one where we count the years, blow out an increasing number of candles and eat cake. Then there’s the parkrun birthday, the one where we puff and blow as we run around 5km on a Saturday morning, then eat cake. Birthdays always have a cake theme.

It’s my eighth birthday, eight years of parkrunning, jogging and more recently limping, along with quite a bit of volunteering, there’s also been cake in abundance.

I had no idea what to expect when I turned up for my first pakrun. Someone at the climbing wall said it was good fun and free, which had a massive appeal to my Yorkshire pocket. As Noel was on a first aid course that weekend, rather than lig around in bed, I donned my running layers and headed for Woodhouse Moor, just five miles away, but somewhere I’d never been before. This park was destined to become part of me, and me it as I’ve left lots of shoe rubber, the odd bit of skin where I’ve fallen, and quite a bit of sweat there.

I wasn’t completely new to running, but it was all a bit hit and miss and I wanted to improve, believe me, there was room for improvement. That day in March 2011, parkrun 117, I lined up with 274 others to do my first of what would become many laps over the following years, some definitely faster than others.

Over the next weeks, I dragged Noel along, who turned out to be rather handy at that distance, in his youth he was a 1500m runner and keen footballer so was quickly up to speeds I’ll never be able to do. Running became volunteering and post-parkrun coffee drinking. I’d be bouncing off the ceiling when I got home on a Saturday and only some of that was down to the caffeine.

We both became regular volunteers, then run directors, I’m now the event director, would you believe, though it’s definitely all about the team and teamwork, no-one does anything along at parkrun, unless they want to of course.

I always marvel at the parkrun mix, getting soaked or sweaty, or both, in the regular company of 500 or so runners is a great leveller. We all look pretty much the same in our running kit, all equal, all parkrunners. Yet we rub shoulders (in no particular order) with doctors, nurses, pop stars, sports stars, teachers, clerics, politicians, academics, students, stay-at-home mums, stay-at-home dads, shop workers and those without work to name but a few. And we wouldn’t know unless someone points it out. Sometimes, when I’m out and about, I’ll get someone calling to me, ‘Hey, Mrs parkrun’. ‘Yes,’ I answer, ‘that’s me’.

In just eight years I’ve made so many new friends, found myself when I’ve been lost in worry, sadness or depression, and, whatever the weather, enjoyed running around the park once described as Leeds’ Green Lungs. I’ve no idea what I did on a Saturday before that date in March 2011, but I know that come Saturday, there’s no place I’d rather be than at parkrun, any parkrun, anywhere in the world. Though of course there’s only one Woodhouse Moor and that will always be home.

If I could capture the essence of parkrun, pop it in a bottle and spray it around for all to enjoy, it would be a base of friendship, with tones of encouragement and healthy competitiveness, along with high notes of laughter and support, with hints of hard work and a whiff of cake, lemon polenta cake in case you were wondering. See you Saturday!

parkrun on a prayer

parkrun 600 at Woodhouse Moor, my 273rd. Thanks to Ian Watson for the photo

It’s before 8am, the sun is just up and the dusting of snow on the Woodhouse Moor paths is sparkling. We have a decision to make, should we, or should we not, go ahead with our parkrun.

Already snow and ice has forced the cancellation of several events nearby. It’s not a big deal, we’re here every week, there’s a lot to choose from, or we could just head for coffee and pretend we’ve run.

But this wasn’t an ordinary parkrun, though you could argue that none are. This was the day of our 600th, and celebrations were planned, cake had been baked, lots of cake, we were expecting a good turn-out. We’d arranged for our parkrunners to enjoy coffee and cake in the warmth of Wrangthorn Church, which offers us hospitality once a month. It’s a busy church, next week and the week after were booked up for them, so cake from the freezer would have to be hastily eaten al fresco in the park if we cancelled. But that couldn’t be a reason to not to cancel if the course wasn’t run-able.

Claudia and Frank, the run directors on the day had to make the call. We trotted up and down the paths, Frank and I were like Torvill and Dean, doing a bit of skating to test out the slip factor. Neither of us fell, which was a bonus. Social media messages were pinging away, asking if we were on, but we carried on our inspection, better to be safe.

Claudia, who confesses she likes to err on the side of caution, took a deep breath, OK, she said, we’re on. And that was it, we were ready to go. With the sun shining down on us, melting the snow, we were off, all 480-odd of us. As far as we knew, no-one fell, there were even a few PBs, though not from yours truly, I couldn’t help stopping and chatting with folk on the way round, enjoying the atmosphere, grinning every step of the way.

We headed across to Wrangthorn which was buzzing with parkrunners scoffing cake. Jim, one of our parkrun regulars (203 runs in fact) a churchwarden, confided that he’d looked out of the window in the early hours to see the snow coming down and was worried we’d have to cancel, so he took immediate action, he prayed.

Whatever your view on divine or any other form of intervention, someone or something was smiling on us and we were all definitely smiling as we celebrated our 600th on a cold and snowy February Saturday. #loveparkrun

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.

Another parkrun 250

MeVol250
Modelling the parkrun volunteer 25 tee-shirt

Getting my green tee-shirt for completing 250 parkruns earlier this year was a huge thrill and felt like a great achievement. But this week, on International parkrun Day and the 11th birthday of Woodhouse Moor parkrun,  by sheer co-incidence, I notched up an even more thrilling 250, this time as a volunteer.

I do love running, but I adore volunteering, especially at parkrun. I remember the first time I volunteered, I was put on a marshal spot near the 1km marker, where I did what I do best, shouted encouragement. Loudly.

When you take part in a parkrun, you’re caught up in what’s happening around you, you get to know the people who run at the same pace and in my case, see the backs of the faster runners as they lap me, it’s wonderful. Well, it’s wonderful once I’ve finished, while I’m running I think I’m going to collapse in a heap and roll around on my back, legs waving in the air like an upside-down tortoise.

But when I’m volunteering, I see everything and everyone – and get to shout too. Loudly of course! I’ve done all of the volunteering roles, apart from timing, I get distracted far too easily to do something as precise as that. And the results, I haven’t done those, I’m too scared of losing all the data by pressing the wrong button.

I’ve been event director at Woodhouse Moor for the past couple of years and have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting many volunteers and visitors who support and take part each week and I love it. Our parkrunners are so thankful to the volunteers, many clapping us as they pass, some shouting thanks, if they have the breath.

Volunteering is giving, without wanting or expecting anything in return. The team of volunteers at parkrun turn up early in all weathers, set up the start and finish areas, grapple with the one-size-fits-none hi-viz jackets and wait for the final finishers, giving them the biggest cheer of all. We are the last to leave and then have to endure coffee and cake while we process the results and sort the tokens. Tough, I know, but we persevere, sometimes having to have a second or even third coffee and a sausage sandwich.

I have a parkrun tee-shirt for volunteering, it comes, free, after 25 volunteering stints, which is more than generous. It remains my favourite tee-shirt, I wear it with pride wherever I go. There’s no tee-shirt for volunteering 250 times and I’m glad. Like every other parkrun volunteer, I don’t do it for any reward, I do it because I love volunteering and because I love parkrun.