Oh yes she did!

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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

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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

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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!

It’s Mrs parkrun!

 

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Me being a Mrs parkrun. Thanks to Stephen Morris for the photo

There I was, minding everybody’s business. Well, I was marshalling at a particularly muddy section of my club’s popular trail run and had to make sure no-one went the wrong way, not on my watch anyway, when a little pack of runners gave me a big smile, massive wave and called out ‘It’s Mrs parkrun!’

It’s amazing how people label you, especially when the meeting is out of context. I’ve done the same myself when meeting fellow runners. Before I know it, I’ve proclaimed that I didn’t recognise them with their clothes on. In the cold light of day, I appreciate how bad this may sound to everyone else.

Working in NHS management, I’ve been called a bureaucrat, usually with an inappropriate adjective, and much more, some of it not repeatable in this family-friendly blog. I can’t even begin to tell you the expletives that accompanied some of the journalist sobriquets that came my way, though to be fair, there were some kind ones too. Journalism is, after all, a noble calling, which always had a major supporting role in league tables of the most trusted professions. Supporting because, being near the bottom, they hold everyone else up.

I’ve been parkrunning since 2011, completing 225 in all weathers and have nearly as many stints at volunteering. I find it almost impossible to believe, but some people don’t know what parkrun is. Good grief, where have you been for the past 13 years? Briefly, parkrun is a free 5km timed run, in one of 1000 or so locations throughout the world.

Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, where I’m Event Director, was the first to start outside London ten years ago and will be holding a cakey celebration in October. We’re now one of six parkruns in Leeds, each week, we get up to 500 people, so I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me too much that people make the connection.

With all the parkruns around, though, I can only lay claim to being one of hundreds of Mrs parkruns. But I’ll definitely take that. Thank you!

 

One potato, two potato, three potato, four – million!

Potato

It seems like an age ago that the little, wizened seed potatoes with their weird white sprouts and spooky rootlets were carried down to the allotment in their cosy egg-box homes and planted in the cold, dark soil.

That couple of dozen of the ugly little lumps were left to their own devices and the Calverley elements. Though after last year’s potato paucity, I was taking no chances and offered a prayer to the weather gods and made a ceremonial sacrifice of one of their number to Blighty, the Blight Destroyer, which involved robes, candles, chanting and a sharp spade.

It’s year three of our allotment, and it’s fair to say lessons continue to be learned. Who knew that dwarf beans weren’t just small beans, but small plants and didn’t need a splendid wigwam of two-metre-high canes with artistically-arranged strings? And what were the odds of pigeons pecking the tops of everything that wasn’t covered? And just how much damage could a badger do to a seed bed?

With my artist’s head on, I’m telling anyone who’s prepared to listen without bursting into hysterical laughter that the wigwam is a feature in the allotment, adding balance, depth and sound, with the breeze making gentle hissing sound through the string. The pecked leaves are fractals, each unique, yet ephemeral. The neat rows of seedlings re-distributed by the digging badger are a metaphor for the world of 2017, unpredictability and chaos, yet still with hope that something will grow somewhere……No-one has believed me so far.

As the potatoes sent up their stalk, leaves, flowers and faux tomatoes, yes, potato fruits are like tomatoes, though not to be eaten, the rest of the allotment burst into life. The broad beans just keep on giving, the strawberries were fantastic fresh and live on as jam, and the second harvest of golden raspberries is nearly ready. Broccoli, sprouts and cabbage are on their way, beetroot and onions keep on giving. The dwarf beans are disappointingly small.

Fun though the rest are to harvest, the most rewarding of all is definitely the humble potato. In the intervening months, those wizened seed potatoes had cast off their scruffy jackets and transformed into not just one, but dozens, possibly millions, of potatoes. I claim a little artistic licence here. It’s not like onions, where you plant a little mini onion and it grows to be a bigger onion, potatoes multiply like Hydra’s heads. In goes the fork, our come the potatoes, it’s so fantastic that I have to exclaim and chuckle with every potato I unearth. Noel tends to wear noise-cancelling headphones at potato harvest time.

And there we have it, two piles of potatoes, one perfect, the other with feature holes and other insect nibblings. But never fear, the perfect ones go into our magic black keeping bin for consumption right through the winter, which if the current weather is anything to go by, starts next week. The holey ones become chips for freezing, slices for Lyonnaise, little cubes for roasting, or just mash. Happy, happy days.

Smile like you mean it….

 

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The lovely Christine

 

There are some races I’d much rather photograph than run, especially when, as we say in Yorkshire, it’s cracking the flags. Give me the cold and wet any day, especially when there’s mud, you can’t go wrong with a bit of mud.

The popular Leeds 10k was set up by Superwoman Jane Tomlinson, who fought a massive and brave battle against cancer, raising £1.85m before she died ten years ago. Each year thousands pound the pavements and roads between the city centre and Kirkstall. It’s a magnificent sight, which Noel and I like to support.

I take my camera, little wooden Ikea step to stand on, a good supply of water and a couple of Yorkshire flags. And my shouting voice, actually, I take that everywhere.

The beauty of not being any kind of official photographer is that I can take any photo I like, I’m not bound to snap snap snap. I do like to take arty shots, shapes and shadows, taking advantage of the angle of the sun and all that. Sunday was particularly good for sunshine and shadow, the runners looked like they had a golden outline, their shadows a mini version, joined at the feet.

By the time they reached us just beyond the 4km mark, the sun was high and the heat was rising from the black tarmac. Not many of the runners looked as if they were enjoying themselves, I didn’t blame them.

I do have a golden rule when photographing runners, I won’t upload any shot that will make anyone look terrible. It was a bit of a challenge with everyone looking so hot and bothered, so I had to resort to my secret weapon, shout something silly, make people smile. Actually, it’s not too secret a weapon, silliness would be my middle name, if I had one.

There’s always the added advantage that I know quite a few runners in the city, so calling their name and cheering them on usually brings a smile and I’m pretty certain they mean it. Then there are the folk who recognise me, there was more than one ‘Hello Mrs parkrun!’.

At one point my steps came in handy for a couple who needed a rest, and I did come to the rescue of a superhero who was rapidly dehydrating in his rubber suit. Well, they don’t get any sun in Gotham City, Batman should have known better.

I posted the best photos to Facebook, the others, I just deleted! Have a look and see what you think.

Rubbing the dockleaf

Country

Race routes are often like a little present for me, handing out surprise hills, cheeky little corners, the odd river crossing. But most of the time, it’s all there on a map, should I choose to consult one and if it’s the right way up and if I have my glasses. Anyway on the day there are friendly marshals on every corner assuring us that we’re ‘nearly there’, even when we’ve just set off. I suppose that there’s some truth in that, every step from the start is a step nearer the finish.

Usually, I just turn up and run, following everyone else because I know that chances of everyone following me are next to zero unless, of course, the are lost, and then we’re all doomed!

But the rather excellent Country Trail Series of self-guided races throws in a bit of jeopardy. You just turn up, get your instructions and run. No chip timing, no mass start, just pay your fiver in the pub where the organisers give you your number and instructions and off you go.

There is no map, which I’m quite relieved about, I can’t see the damned thing without my glasses anyway and I can’t run in my glasses, so that whole glasses on/glasses off thing is just too much of a faff. Instead, the instructions are written in a code, with the cipher at the start,. Fortunately it’s also on 14pt so even I can read it.

It’s a bit like one of those Magic Eye things popular in the 90s, look at it long enough and it makes sense. So TL out of the car park, go SA to the FPS now makes total sense, and as did turn left, go straight ahead and found the footpath sign. Personally, I’d navigate by coloured doors, pretty gardens, pubs and even fields with bulls, but that’s just me.

Our Japanese friend Maika was initially perplexed by the instructions, she confessed she could never follow those instructions. She wasn’t on her own, we did come across a couple of speedy runners twice, they pretended they’d taken the scenic route, but we know better, don’t we?

Our race last night was over in the east of Leeds, somewhere I’d never been before, so it was a pleasure to see new sights and even more so to point them out to Maika who is well on her way to becoming a true Yorkshire woman. She learned about dung heaps, we passed a steaming one, local crops, including wheat, barley and potatoes, noted the livestock and the very obvious difference between a bull and a cow and picked up the handy tip about rubbing nettle stings with a dockleaf.

We ran in a group of six, stopping to take photos and admire the view, then ambled to the finish where, best of all, we swapped our race numbers for a £2 beer (or soft drink) voucher and ordered chips. Definitely my kind of race!