A certain pride in my city

Aliblog

 

At the risk of being accused of as a lackey for the Leeds Tourist Office, can I just say that I am so bursting with pride over my city that I think I may go ‘pop’?

Them there southerers don’t often let world championship events escape north of Watford, let alone to the badlands of Yorkshire, unless it’s snooker and that gets as far as Sheffield (and the best green snooker table in the world cloth is made in Leeds, don’t you know).

But for the second year running we (I do like to talk about ‘we’, I am a ratepayer after all) welcomed the World Triathlon Championships to Leeds. I’m not a triathlete, unless it’s running, shopping and faffing, but I have friends who are and it’s great to see them enjoying their sport, and be grateful I’m not doing it.

Then there are the elite athletes, they swim with hardly a splash, cycle without squeaking wheels and run without touching the ground, or so it seems. I do always tell anyone who’s prepared to listen and even some who aren’t, that I have raced against the Brownlee brothers, a couple of times, in fact, in the Chevin Chase and the Auld Lang Syne fell race. I needn’t relate here how that ended, except to say they’d been home to change and eat a three-course meal before returning to hand out prizes.

This weekend, the weekend after a very strange week for all the voting public, enthusiasts and serious athletes got the chance to race in our city and not discuss politics. They were all magnificent, and so was Leeds, from the choppy Roundhay Park Lake where swans cast a puzzled glance at the swimmers sharing the water with them, to the city centre where tens of thousands of people cheered and cheered and cheered. Our Japanese friend shouted encouragement to the Japanese team, the couple next to us called out to the Mexican runner in his native tongue and I yelled for the Irish runner, to be sure.

But the biggest, loudest and most partisan cheer from the crowd was reserved for the Brownlee brothers. They’d already featured on the large screens, entertaining the crowds with their starring role in the advert for Yorkshire Tea, though I think they’d better stick to the day job!

The course was designed so we saw them seven times on the bike and four times as they ran, crossing over the commemorative start line for the Grand Depart, Yorkshire’s Tour de France triumph in 2014.  The Brownlees were always way out in front, which we definitely appreciated.

Another fantastic sporting event for our wonderful city, I was so proud. There’s talk of a return next year. Rude not to, I’d say.

Resurrection of the squashed seedlings

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There’s no polite way to say this, Socks Akers has a fat backside. Six kilos of cat nearly put paid to my part in creating a living, breathing, flowering, fruiting art installation.

I’d agreed to foster 60 seedlings, destined to join 2,440 others in a stunning art installation at Left Bank, Leeds. It was a simple task, plant bean, beetroot, sweetcorn and sunflower seeds in little peat pots and keep them safe for a couple of weeks, water them, watch them grow and return them to their pals. They were very happy in the greenhouse, then the great hunk of black and white fur decided he needed a new place to sleep.

So an emergency trip to the shops later and I was re-potting the pots and giving Socks the evil eye. The seedlings were safe, a little wonky maybe, but most art is a bit wonky, except Mondrian, no wonkiness there.

The 2,500 seedlings were placed in a huge circle in the middle of the huge former church, where they have become Anastasis, an immersive installation representing life and resurrection, somewhere to sit, walk, reflect, enjoy, listen, yes listen, there’s even birdsong. It’s rather lovely.

The seedlings continue to grow in their circle, unimpeded by cats. At the end of the week. Earth Day, the circle will be broken and they will all be offered new homes. I’ll be taking a few, they’ll have pride of place in the allotment.

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An arty cat, in his own words

This is Socks Akers, I’m his human. He wants me to tell you that he is a very arty cat. Personally I think he’s more farty than arty, but it’s a free country, for the moment anyway, and every cat has his day. Today it’s Socks’, so here we go.

“I prefer to be known as His Royal Catness, The Great Hunter, Eater of All Things, Except When I Change My Mind and Turn My Back On It, Master of All I Survey, Especially From the Shed Roof, Digger-Up of the Garden, Jumper Upper onto the Wardrobe, Handsomest Cat Ever, but you can call me Sir.

“My life is good. It wasn’t good to start. I played in the road, the car didn’t want to play. I don’t like cars or roads any more, though I’ve learned to tolerate vets. But what the heck is it with the thermometer up the bum? The indignity of it all, don’t they know I’m His Royal Catness? The Royal Bottom is not to be messed with.

“I spent some time in a Cat Rescue, of course I was better than all the other cats there, I had my own throne. Fortunately for them there were a couple of humans I liked, so I chose them and let me take them to their home, I mean my home.

“It’s tough being a cat, seriously it is, you have no idea how hard it is to look good all the time, even when I’m sleeping. I keep having to check my form, legs splayed out, whiskers at a jaunty angle, just the right level of cuteness as I show my fluffy tummy, I like to be aesthetically pleasing.

“Getting to the point, I’d like to invite you to admire a bit of art I’m cultivating. She’s doing all the work, I don’t have opposable thumbs after all, but I’m the creative force behind it. She’s growing seeds for an art installation somewhere that’s not here. Evidently the idea is for 2,500 seedlings to be displayed for humans to look at and immerse themselves in, whatever that means.

“She planted 50 seeds in little pots full of dirt, then put them in a tray in my greenhouse. So I made a suggestion on improving them, aesthetically. I sat on them, I slept on them, I may have squashed them a little, but they were so warm and comfy, and I incubated the seeds. She’ll thank me for it, she really will. I am a very arty cay, though I am now a very sleepy cat, so I’m off, I have some seedlings to sit on.”

Anastasis, an immersive installation, opens at Left Bank Leeds, on Easter Sunday. Socks’ seedlings will be the wonky ones.

#loveparkrun – the little idea

 

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There’s no such thing as The Big Idea™, maintains a friend of mine. Rather, there’s lots of little ideas that look like one big one, and I totally agree.

With our 500th parkrun approaching at Woodhouse Moor, we wanted to do something a bit different, a bit special and, us being Yorkshire, something that would cost us nowt. The Ideas Team was self-selecting, effectively anyone who joined in the post-parkrun coffee chat.

Now the thing about generating ideas is that when you start off, nothing is too daft, everything can be considered, no-one’s judging, well, not out loud. A ragtime band leading the runners to the start playing ‘Oh when the saints go marching in’ would certainly get people moving, as would a troupe of acrobats back-flipping down the finishing strait waving banners saying ‘500 and counting’. A huge cake with parkrun celebrity Jaz springing out, resplendent in her apricot tee-shirt would work, as would a mountain of cupcakes arranged to spell #loveparkrun, though the chances of getting those for free was pretty slim. Plus I’m still doing sugar-free February, even though it’s March.

So the ideas had to be refined a little. One thing we were all agreed on was that everyone had something good to say about parkrun. Each week, as Run Directors, we hear how people love parkrun, I’ve seen numbers double since I started seven years ago and have been heartened by the heartwarming stories of those who have found friendship, fought off mental illness, or just enjoyed running in a lovely park with no-one to beat but themselves.

Rhona came up with the idea of making labels for people to write #loveparkrun messages. Debbie battled with three huge 5, 0 and 0 balloons, with Steve holding her legs to make sure she didn’t take off. Curtis grapped with a giant selfie frame and Frank came up with some mini awards for star volunteers and runners.

The labels definitely caught people’s imaginations. By the time we were clearing away after a record-breaking turn-out, there were hundreds of labels fluttering in the breeze. Some were funny #loveparkrun because of the cake, they said, or so they could consume guilt-free calories in the form of beer on a Friday night. Some enjoyed running and running fast, but many said they had made friends, found partners or, most movingly, overcome mental health problems.

parkrun wasn’t a big idea when it started 13 years ago down in that there London, it was a time trial which grew. Leeds was the fourth parkrun, now there are more than a thousand, five of them in our fair city, I’m honoured to be Event Director at Woodhouse Moor, I get to shout a lot, I’m good at that.

So why do I #loveparkrun? Because I can run in the park with my mates, then drink coffee and talk rubbish afterwards. It’s a little idea that became a big one.

 

 

 

 

Diagnosed by the window doctor

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Before …….and after

I love an expert. Someone who knows their subject inside out, someone who is so steeped in it they are in danger of becoming a bore of epic proportions, someone who can tell you what you you never thought you needed to know, but it turns out you did.

Replacing our ageing windows was teetering on the edge of being a grudge purchase. I mean, you can’t wear them, eat them, or travel with them, which are my three main criteria for happily parting with my hard-earned cash, well, I am from Yorkshire, my arms are short and my pockets deep. But as one window was virtually hanging off its hinges and another was being colonised by a black mould like something from the X Files, we agreed there was nothing else for it but to replace the lot.

You don’t buy windows every day, so where to start? Double-glazing salesmen used to have a bad press for over-promising and under-delivering. I think those guys must have preyed on the previous owners of our house, because when Dr Karl, the Window Whizz came to diagnose our problems he immediately spotted some major flaws. We’d chosen him at random from the interweb, based solely on the fact that he was local. We do like to support local businesses.

The most major of the flaws was that the windows had been fitted on the frames of the old wooden windows, which explained the draughts, the loudness of the traffic, the gooey stuff seeping through the plastic sealant. We didn’t know that, we were ignorant of all matters window-related. We were shocked.

Dr Karl confessed he loved windows, he’d studied them closely, no two were the same, they all had their own distinct characters. He could diagnose problems by touch and sound, tapping the plastic and the glass, listening for little vibrations, sorting out the problems, he was a window whisperer. We were impressed and signed on the dotted line.

Fortunately I was at work when Karl Jr and his window crew arrived with a big van and a lot of glass. Noel suspected they weren’t real workmen when they asked for Earl Grey with a slice of lemon and turned down choccie bikkies in favour of a little packet of dried mango. But once they got to work, it was out with the old and in with the new.

The cats Akers were traumatised and had to be confined to the bedroom and overdose on Felix Goodie Bags, but having hyperactive felines was a small price to pay for keeping them safe.

The result is stunning, when they finished I went around the house opening every window and waving to anyone or anything like I was royalty. Not so much of a grudge purchase after all.

200 parkruns and counting

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parkrun #200 for me, #50 for my mate Jill (on the ground, recovering) 

There’s a little piece of a Leeds park that has a little piece of me. Well when I say of me, I mean a few millimetres of rubber from my running shoes, along with a bit of scraped skin and quite a lot of my heart.

It’s just under five years ago that I trotted along to Hyde Park, that’s the Green Lungs of Leeds park, not the London pretender of the same name, and joined 270 others who had got out of bed on a Saturday morning to run the 5km parkrun.

What madness was this? Running around a park at the start of the weekend in the cold and wet, with a bunch of strangers when I could be reading the Guardian, drinking coffee and chewing on croissants? Noel was away and I was at a loose end, so I thought, hey, why not? I get these mad urges from time to time.

I turned up, massively over-dressed and jogged round with a sense of wonder. First of all that I had actually got out of bed to do this crazy thing, not being a particularly regular runner, but secondly that there were people of all shapes, sizes and speeds. I finished with my jacket and jumper tied around my waist, sweating for my country and on quite a high. This was a good idea, a damned good idea, even at such an ungodly hour, I decided I’d do more of this parkrunning thing, though without so many layers.

Not only have I done more of this parkrunning thing, I’ve got myself involved in running the running and am now Event Director at Woodhouse Moor parkrun which means I get up even earlier on a Saturday to help set up, sort out or, as with this week, move fallen branches away from the course. I also get to do shouting, which I’m rather good at.

This week was very special, though. Not because of moving the fallen branches, or scraping the ice away from the finish line so there was no comedy sliding into the funnel, but because it marked my 200th parkrun, and nearly as many times volunteering in one way or another. I don’t get a tee-shirt, a medal or anything, I don’t want them, just being their with friends and other parkrunners is a reward in itself. Seriously.

Without gushing too much, I have to say that parkrun has been one of those movements that has brought about massive change for good. There were 170,000 people all over the world parkrunning on Saturday, more than three million people are registered runners, blimey, we’re bigger than Albania!

I have made so many friends, from so many countries, including Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia, though unfortunately not Albania, yet. I’ve watched people go from walking to running, I’ve seen lonely hearts join together to become happy couples, I’ve seen depressions lift and I’ve seen some rather amazing running. I’ve also eaten a lot of cake and drunk a lot of coffee, so it’s just as well I run off the calories.

So I’m going to carry on parkrunning until I can run no more, and when I can’t run, I’ll walk, and when I can’t walk, I’ll shuffle.

PB, PB, PB!

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On course for a PB, thanks to the lovely Andrew Thrippleton for the photo.

Mile eight, I had the bit between my teeth, the mud between my toes and was feeling good. Actually, not good, great. My mental arithmetic is at its peak during races, must be the endorphins, I’d done the sums, I was on for a PB.

I don’t often chase times, but 2016 seemed to be a kind of go-slow year. I blame Brexit and Trump, a double whammy of instant doom and despair, which had a definite effect on my running mojo. This slowing down wouldn’t do, it most certainly wouldn’t do.

So after the December Marcothon and a joyful double parkrun on new year’s day, I gave my running self a good talking to.  Why was I so slow? The answer was as plain as the declining places on the results table, I wasn’t running fast enough, yes that old chestnut. That was it, then, run faster, get personal bests (PBs).

Of course I couldn’t just wave the wand from my Mr Magic’s Magician’s Kit and expect a place on the Olympic team. I had resorted to wand-waving last year with no measurable results, and Trump still hadn’t turned into a donkey. There’s training involved, body and mind. I vowed to start straight away with the mind, positive thinking and all that.

Setting off on the Temple Newsam Ten I told myself it was going to be a good race. Ten miles of undulating trails around the beautiful country house estate with the promise of a plump sausage sandwich in the cafe afterwards, which I would eat wearing my new tee-shirt and medal. I did the race last year so knew what was to come.

When I felt like walking, I didn’t. When I really felt like walking, I allowed it, but not for far. I overtook people, which is almost unheard of, I sprang and jumped when before I’d have faffed and shuffled. I didn’t have enough breath to speak.

My watch was ticking off the kilometres, the markers were in miles, I was doing the sums and knew I could do it. Even with a naughty hill at the end and a scramble into the finish field. Even though my legs were protesting and I could hardly get the traction to move forward. Noel was there, my clubmates were there, cheering, the big digital clock was smiling at me.

I did it, I bloody well did it. Five minutes off last year’s time, five whole minutes, what a great start to my running year. I’ve some unfinished business with a couple of half marathons to sort out now, so it’s on with the training. But before then, there’s the pure joy of my 200th parkrun on Saturday, after all, if you don’t enjoy running, why do it?