Every cm² of Woodhouse Moor

250

I’m almost certain that there isn’t a square centimetre of the path around Woodhouse Moor that I’ve not trod, pounded, tripped, skipped or huffed and puffed on. I have tottered along that tarmac in all weathers, including rain so torrential it washed the dye from my hair and air so cold it turned my hands blue, and that wasn’t my hair dye.

But this Saturday, my running shoes were ready for an extra special turn around the park as I stood on the start line for my 250th parkrun. That’s 250 of the 5km timed runs which began in that there London 14 years ago and has now become, pardon the cliche, a global phenomenon.

With the help of all my toes and fingers, plus a handy abacus, I make that 1,250km, that’s 750 times around the park, not including warm up/cool down laps, putting out and taking in kilometre markers and a few freedom runs, which are parkruns done unofficially.

I did my first parkrun back in 2011, I was doing a bit of running, but not with any great enthusiasm, style or motivation. Noel was on a course for the weekend, so I thought I’d give it a go, it was something to do. There were 274 runners, I couldn’t believe it, so many people turning up at 9am on a cold March Saturday morning, were they mad? Of course they weren’t. I felt like I was, wearing far too much clothing, bumbling around until I crossed the finish line. Wow, I thought, this parkrun thing definitely has something going for it, it turned out I was right.

As well as running, I started to volunteer on a regular basis, becoming run director then event director and watched parkrun grow in confidence as a part of people’s running lives. That growth was not just in numbers, as we now have more than 500 parkrunners a week and that’s with another six parkruns in the city, but also as force for good in the mental wellbeing of the runners and volunteers. Oh yes, that weekly get-together which includes a bit of running, drinking coffee and eating cake afterwards along with a lot of talking, often with just as much listening, has kept me well, mentally and physically.

I’m not saying parkrun is a panacea, but all the parkrunners I know are good people who give help and support as well as receiving it, because that’s what friends do. And I now have many friends who are or have been parkrunners.

Things have been a bit rubbish recently for me, just life happening, the good and the bad, the ups and downs. Then a couple of weeks ago, my dad died after a short illness. I felt so very sad, yet at the next parkrun, I could hardly get around because of the hugs, hands on the shoulder, words of kindness and support, shared tears of so many people.

This week, as I ran that same tarmac, I could hardly get around for the words of congratulations and more hugs. Even the following day as I was supporting at the Leeds Half Marathon, strategically placed at mile 10, shouting ‘only a parkrun to go!’ many of the runners were congratulating me on 250 parkruns, I was very humbled.

Thanks to the generosity of parkrun, I get a free tee-shirt to mark my achievement, it’s green. Emerald green. My Irish dad would have approved.

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.

Litter, what a load of rubbish!

band
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!

LLL

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!

Oh yes she did!

cakeandcheesem
Cake and cheese. The Yorkshire way.

Japanese people are reserved, polite, courteous, quietly-spoken and genteel. We Yorkshire folk are not high scorers on those things really, if we are honest, and we are always honest, brutally so. So what happens when you take your Japanese friend to her first pantomime? Ever? And in Yorkshire?

Maika is in the process of being assimilated into the true Yorkshire Way, which as everyone knows, is the only way. She’s been a student here for more than two years now and it getting into the swing of it. She’s eaten mucky fat and bread, made Yorkshire puddings, worn a flat cap and sung all the verses from Ilkley Moor Bah’t ‘at, even though she suspected it had an underlying theme of death and cannibalism.

Her Tyke vocabulary has expanded to the point that she can teach the Unenlightened (non-Yorkshire folk) our unique expressions. These are mainly to do with the weather, she can announce fluently that ‘it’s coming down like stair rods’ adding with that happy optimism we Yorkshire folk are famous for ‘but it’ll burn off’. Coming from a warmer climtate where the sea temperature is a balmy 22C, she soon feels the cold and confesses she sometimes runs in a duvet jacket because she’s ‘nesh’.

She is spending her first Christmas in the UK and had donned beard and suit to take part in the Santa Dash, so we thought she’s be ready to take it to the next level, that most British of festive frivolities, the pantomime. There are no pantomimes in Japan, actually in modern times, pantomimes are unknown outside the UK, so there was a lot of explaining to do. Where do you start? We gave a few simple pointers, the dame is a man in drag, the principal boy is a girl, the baddie enters stage left, the goodie stage right. Members of the audience are teased, there’s a lot of double entendre, custard pies, slapstick and raucous shouting out. What’s not to like?

The only pantomime worth talking about in Leeds is the annual rock and roll pantomime at City Varieties, this year, it’s Aladdin. The beautiful 150-year-old theatre was built as a Victorian music hall, Charlie Chaplain and Houdini performed there and of course it’s home to the BBC TV programme The Good Old Days  where people dress up and sing along, which was our plan too.

We all bought plastic tiaras, except for Noel, who doesn’t dress up, and took sweets and drinks into the theatre. Maika was amazed, in Japan, she said, there was no eating or drinking in the theatre. She was definitely in for a surprise!

I’d dropped a note to say that Maika was seeing her first ever pantomime, and that she was fast becoming a Yorkshirewoman as she would tell anyone who left the door open to ‘put t’wood in t’ole’ and that the cold, damp weather was ‘nithering’.

After a few rounds of ‘it’s behind you!’ and ‘oh no you won’t – oh yes you will’ with a whispered explanation about the Emperor Wun Hung Lo holding his balls (I think this is the first time I’ve ever uttered the word ‘testicle’ in a theatre) the messages were read out.

Maika was amazed to hear her name, but when Widow Twanky mis-pronounced ‘nithering’, there was a loud shout from the lady on my left. ‘It’s not ny-thering, it’s nithering!’ We were shocked, such a shout from a polite, genteel Japanese lady, but she immediately reminded us she was now a Yorkshire lass and could yell like the rest of us!  This continued for the rest of the performance, with us all yelling loudly. All that remained was for us to celebrate the festive season with Christmas cake and cheese. It is the Yorkshire way.

The cafe of awwws and big smiles

kitty1

We’ve a lot of cafes in Leeds, but the latest to open is the only one that comes with paws and purrs. The Kitty Cafe is the new home to a dozen or so rescue and stray cats who rush to greet you as soon as the door’s opened. Well, not so much rush and greet, they are typical cats and just ignore you until it suits them. Cats, eh?

We’d visited a cat cafe in Paris, it was the first I’d heard of cafes with cats, but the idea of sipping a latte surrounded by cats, particularly French cats, was very appealing, I was excited to see whether they miaowed with a French accent.  They didn’t, it seems miaowing is a universal language.

The Kitty Cafe opened in Leeds last week, of course we had to go. The windows were already covered with smudges where humans had pressed their noses in the hope of seeing a cat or two. I confess, one of those smudges was mine and yes, I saw the occupants who, having come from not-very-nice places to somewhere they would be fed and adored, were looking rather pleased with themselves.

Our one-hour slot was early morning, the cafe is fully booked for weeks, so we took the only available time. It gave us a chance to sit down with a cuppa and continue to be ignored by cats – pretty much like at home. However, we did observe the humans, every one of them awwwed as they came in and every one smiled.

There has been debate about the rights and wrongs of cat cafes and whether it’s cruel to the cats. But as far as I could see, the cats were getting on with being cats and have they very real prospect of finding homes. The cafe charged £6 per person to cover cat care, which is cheaper than going to the cinema and certainly more interactive. And the humans are happy, if only for an hour. I’ll definitely be back!

 

 

 

Santas, stormtroopers and sushi

santarow

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!