That kindness buzz

The bread of kindness!

At the risk of being all sentimental and mushy, can I confess I’ve spend the better part of the past week blubbing like a big baby because I’ve seen such goodness and kindness in people? Such strange times when I don’t know what day it is and have forgotten how to fill the car with diesel…or is it petrol?

I blame Captain Tom Moore for turning on my tears tap. He’s the 99-year-old who wanted to trot 100 times around his garden to mark his upcoming centenary and raise a bob or two for NHS charities. A bob or two? More like a few million, plus a number one in the download charts singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with the wonderful Michael Ball. He’s from Yorkshire, so he’s playing it down, though.

Out of the blue I received a email from a parkrun friend. He’s is another of life’s good ‘uns. There’s no age secrets in running communities, everyone knows how old you are to within four years thanks to the age categories we’re all in. Jim is older than 70 and younger than 75 and will represent Great Britain in the seniors’ half marathon, yes, he’s that good.

Anyway, he wanted to know how Noel was, he always asked, right from the Bastard Cancer diagnosis last June through treatment, surgery and recovery. I was able to report that Noel continues to get better every day and is running at least once a week, slowly but surely – the only time I’ll ever be ahead!

As a by-the-way, he mentioned he’d had a mild dose of Covid-19, just a little five-day stay in hospital, nothing to worry about, no ventilator needed, but oxygen went down fine…. A mild dose? Five days in hospital? Oxygen needed? That’s not mild in my book, but it was Noel he was concerned about. I cried. Such kindness.

Then there was the knock on the door. It was a bit like Mischief Night as I opened up and there was no-one there….the little buggers. Ah, but no, social distancing and all that, so there a couple of metres away was another parkrun friend, who’d run a few miles to bring me some bread flour because I’d run out and supermarkets were sold out. First world problem, there is no bread shortage, we won’t starve, but the lovely Jane had brought flour and yeast in her backpack and wouldn’t take payment, she was being kind. I cried. Again.

And another friend who called from the supermarket to ask what I needed and delivered it to the front door. More crying. People are kind, so kind.

There’s the kindness I see to others, like my allotment mates delivering plants to folk in the village who are socially isolated. It’s not so much the plants, but the two-metre-distance conversation, checking folk are OK, they are now. Betty, a widow, was celebrating her 90th birthday, so I made a two-metre-wide banner and two of use took it to her house, along with a plant and sang happy birthday. Neighbours came out and joined in, most of us were in the same key. Yes, I cried.

Each Thursday we’re outside on the front step, clapping and cheering for the NHS, my hands hurt so much with washing and scrubbing that I now use a ladle and colander.

I try to be kinder to everyone in these stressful times when people are worried, possibly frightened, thanking the supermarket workers and shop workers, applauding the bin men, I’ve even applauded the police as I was running, they waved back. Saying hello to fellow queuers, virtually hugging practically everyone, being patient (that’s a bloody big stretch for me, I can tell you!) But most of all, staying home so I don’t catch or spread the virus.

I’m taking part in a research project being run by University College London about psychological and social experiences during the pandemic. I get a weekly email asking how I’m feeling and coping, whether I have dark thoughts or feel that life isn’t worthwhile. Thanks to the kindness of others, and trying my best to be kind myself, it feels as if I’m doing OK. Thank you, kind people. Don’t stop being kind, you may never know how your kindness helps others.

Noel's return to parkrun..

We were sitting on the sofa the other night, Noel ranting at something or other on the TV, me multitasking my social media habit, one cat perched precariously on my lap, the other doing what he does best, ignoring us. Noel took a rant break, smiled (yes, smiled) and said he felt like someone who’d been ill, but wasn’t any more, normality was returning, it was time to parkrun.

Noel’s last parkrun was May 18 2019, he ran with me, but he wasn’t feeling himself, something was definitely wrong. A couple of weeks later we knew what it was and the Bastard Cancer journey began. From then on there was no running and very little walking as our wonderful, magnificent, peerless NHS did its bit, first zapping, then chopping the Bastard Cancer out and now healing.

Throughout that time he’d volunteered at parkrun when he could, supported from home when he couldn’t. I would send him photos from the cafe where we would have our post-parkrun coffee. Looking back, he was ill, very ill, but he isn’t any more, he’s now someone who was ill. He’s back and he’s bad.

We suspected that parkrun days would be numbered for everyone as the insidious Covid-19 started to shut down the world around us. So last week he put on his running kit, scraped the none-month-old mud off his trainers, dusted down his barcode, and stood with more than 500 others on the start line at Woodhouse Moor.

We set off together, with Noel intending to walk, though determined to have as much distance in front of the tail walker as possible. Progress was slow, incredibly slow as everyone wanted to welcome him back, everyone wanted to ask how he was, because that’s what happens at parkrun. He even ran for some of it and admitted it felt good. I was smiling so much I thought my cheeks would fall off, though I also wanted to cry, it was very emotional for so many reasons.

It was a personal worst for Noel, though way ahead of the tailwalker, but he didn’t care, this was what he had been looking forward to for so long, a return to parkrun.

This week there is no parkrun, there won’t be one next week and for weeks to come, it’s necessary to combat the global pandemic of Covid-19. But it hasn’t stopped us getting together virtually with our parkrun pals, me the extrovert blabbering away on the video conferencing, him the introvert watching on. We’ll be running, not a parkrun, because that would be stupid, but running somewhere locally, then having a virtual coffee with our parkrun pals. It won’t be the same, at the moment nothing is the same, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Noel isn’t ill any more and he’s parkrun ready when the time comes.

Post-parkrun silliness

The Y of YMCA

Is it just us in Leeds, with our famous cheery Yorkshire dispositions, or is every parkrunner gripped by silliness and a capacity to talk a load of rubbish while overdosing on coffee and cake after our weekly pootle around the park?

We have been going for some time, as I’ll happily announce to Woodhouse Moor visitors on a Saturday morning. After all, who wouldn’t want to trumpet that we are the fourth oldest parkrun in the world, starting in 2007 and the first outside that there London?

And while most of our parkrunners head back home, or somewhere else to get on with the rest of their Saturday after they’ve done their run, a small hard core group can be found in the cafe afterwards each week, some of them even joining us after doing another parkrun elsewhere and helping with the token sorting, thus solving the mystery of how they can receive run results and volunteer credits at two different events.

The cafe staff tend to wear earplugs to cut out our noisy chatter and leave a dustpan and brush near the doorway for us to clear up the mud we’ve trampled in. They put up with a lot, though we suspect that Saturday mornings help boost their takings significantly, so they forgive us when it comes to payday.

We’re a captive audience, so are used by fellow parkrunners as a sounding board, completing surveys, helping with research, or even sharing our collective wisdom with Puggles (non-parkrun cafe users). Some join in with the banter, some smile and turn their headphones up to 11, others come to the door, see the mayhem and decide they’ll go to the cafe across the road.

But this week, the silliness scaled new heights with the help of a Spotify disco collection. Often the music they play is new-fangled stuff the sort they played on Radio One, blimey, I didn’t know that was still going, Radcliffe and Macone tell me it went defunct years ago and that BBC 6 Music is now the only radio station. But this selection was pure vintage, and just called for dancing, especially when they started with the Village People’s YMCA, an absolute classic.

I can only say it went downhill from there. I may be a passable parkrunner, and while I may have been in the mood for dancing, the good moves remain in my head. At one stage we were all on our feet, prancing around, including the staff, skinny flat whites and soya porridge everywhere. Some of the keener parkrunners were connecting to Strava or twidding the knobs on their FitBits to record the extra activity. As usual, I had forgotten my watch.

I danced so much I had to lie down when I got home, but I understand from other parkrunners that this too is a popular post-parkrun activity. Roll on Saturday and the return of the post-parkrun silliness. And napping.

Having the time of your life..

George strutting his stuff!

He can dance, she can jive, and oh, my goodness, they can all move like Jagger! Nine young people with learning disabilities and autism spoke to a packed-out house at Bradford’s Kala Sangam in the language of dance. And we loved it.

As far as his parkrun friends were concerned, George would be the star of the show, he was the dancer we’d gone to see. He had a twinkle in his eye and the beginning of a smile at the corner of his mouth as he entered stage centre and saw his friends in the audience. But professional that he is, he performed to perfection.

What a brilliant idea for Yorkshire Dance’s Talent Hub to seek out and grow the talents of ten young people, coach, mentor and nurture them in a unique community and set them on a road to stardom, or, as in George’s case, keep him trucking along, adding to the stars he already has as he goes.

The project started in 2018 and since then the teenageers have taken part in residencies, workshops and choreographic sessions and resulted in a national tour.

Speaking as someone whose dance moves can charitably be described as enthusiastic abstract limb-shaking, I was mesmerised by the flowing, rhythmic, energetic stylish elegance that those young people brought to the stage.

Their performances in HELM told us their stories through alter-egos, rock stars and curious souls in a riot of colour and sound. We laughed, cheered and even shed a few tears as they moved to live music, created by Fuzzy and Liina, who I’d like to think in years to come will be telling grandchildren that they shared a stage with the superstar George Webster, yes, THAT George Webster.

Not that the fame will keep George from his regular parkrun appearances. He’ll be back at the weekend, either running or volunteering, maybe swapping tour stories with a fellow parkrunner Peanut of Kaiser Chiefs who I understand has asked for George’s autograph….

parkrun volunteering..from a hospital bed

The wonderful thing about parkrun volunteering is that even when you’re not there, you can be there.

Since soon after the Bastard Cancer showed its fat ugly face (the bastard), Noel has been missing his weekly parkrun at Woodhouse Moor, but fortunately not his parkrun friends. He’s been in hospital over Christmas and the new year, already feeling better for having the damned tumour taken out and dealt with.

As parkrunners know, this time of year we reach Peak parkrun. As well as the usual Saturday 5km runs, there are extras on Christmas and New Year’s Day, in fact January 1 is the only day of the year you can run TWO parkruns.

As Run Director on New Year’s Day it was also my job to sort out the results. We actually broke our attendance record that day, 748 runners all wanting to know how well they’ve done on the morning after the night before. That’s quite a job. Fortunately, Noel is a whizz with results processing and even more fortunately, there’s very good wifi at Jimmy’s. And seeing as he had a bit of time on his hands, he offered to do the results, from his hospital bed.

I arrived fresh from my run, bearing the mud-stained kit bag full of all the parkrun equipment. I don’t think any of the staff noticed the mud… The beeping of the various medical machines was drowned out by the bipping and beeping of the timers and scanners as Noel uploaded them to his laptop, waved a magic wand and, hey presto, the results were done!

Noel volunteered to volunteer, it’s something he loves doing and he loves parkrun. He’s very much part of the team, the quiet one behind the loud one. He’s missed being there and everyone’s missed him, I can’t even begin to tell you how how much I miss him when he’s not there. In fact he’s had so many messages of support and encouragement from the parkrun community since he started this Bastard Cancer journey he’s been humbled and overwhelmed and so have I.

He’ll be home soon and wants to get back to parkrun as soon as he’s able. He’ll start with volunteering, but it’s the running he really wants to do. Lucy, the specialist colorectal nurse, confessed she’d not been to parkrun for some time, but said she would be there for Noel’s return to running. I strongly suspect she won’t be the only one.

Hit it with sticks, bastard cancer

parkrun #300 Thanks to Julie Haddon for the photo

When the consultant asked if we had any questions, I had one. What, I wanted to know, would happen to Noel’s Bastard Cancer when he cut it out? Because I’d very much like to give it a piece of my mind.

First of all, I’d like to ask it what the hell it thought it was doing, throwing its cells around inside my husband who eats healthily, exercises, has never smoked and hardly drinks. Naturally there would be swearing and name-calling, all from me, various configurations or bastard and fucking, it wasn’t going to get a word in edgeways. The bastard.

I’m not a violent person, but in this case I would make an exception. I had well-advanced plans to hit the excised tumour with sticks. Big whippy sticks that will whoosh and swoosh as they they smash the cells. I’d knock it about a bit, knock it about a lot, smash it against the wall, scrape it off, jump on it in my massive, heavy ski boots, hear it squelch, wrap it up in a copy of the Sun and burn it in a bonfire on the allotment. The bastard. That’d learn it.

Of course, this was only playing in my head, I said no such thing to the consultant, he had better things to do with his time than listen to my rantings. He had a long day ahead and at the end of it, the bastard cancer would be gone. Cut out, thrown into the fires of the allotment, for all I care.

It was a major operation, consultants don’t mince words and they don’t sugar coat messages, thank goodness, we want reality, not fantasy. So when he said it was a Major Procedure, then we listened. It would take a full day, he gave us the details, which would have been fascinating had it not been for Noel being the subject. We met the plastic surgeon, who with the best Irish accent ever, told us what she would take from here and how it would be put to good use elsewhere. These people are amazing.

The consultant called me afterwards, late into the evening to tell me how it had gone. It had gone well and the bastard cancer was chopped as far as he could tell. There were no nasty surprises. He didn’t swear, I did it for him, at that point I told him about the hitting it with sticks thing, but it was only in my head. There was a collective sigh of relief as social media passed on this good news. So many friends were holding their breath too.

It meant Christmas this year was very different, Noel woke up in hospital on Christmas Day looking like he’s been hit with a plate of spaghetti, there were wires and tubes everywhere. His Christmas dinner was in one of those tubes, no matter, we’ll enjoy the solid, tasty version together as soon as we can.

The one thing we always look forward to doing together is running the Christmas Day parkrun. It just happened to be my 300th, so I dressed demurely, OK, so I put on as much colour as I could find, then added lights, and ran it for Noel. Afterwards, I headed over to the hospital, making sure not to trail Woodhouse Moor mud into the ward.

My Christmas dinner and entertainment (I won a prize, I like prizes!) was courtesy of one of my many parkrun friends who have been the kindest, most supportive, best of the best friends during this bastard cancer journey. The journey continues, another couple of weeks in hospital and recovery will be six months at least.

Noe’s specialist nurse is a parkrunner, she’s not done it for a while, but promises to join him on his comeback parkrun. Now that’ll be a great day, I might even make it swear-free.

400 bananas, thousands of parkrun friends

‘Don’t laugh,’ she said, meaning that whatever she said, I was going to have to stifle giggles and guffaws. ‘I’ve bought 400 bananas and I’m writing a personal message on all of them. In pen. It’s taking a while’

Of course I didn’t laugh, if you cut Jaz in half, there would be ‘kindness’ written all the way through her, right next to ‘parkrun’. But by gum, she does some wacky stuff!

She was one of the 15 or so runners on the start line of the first ever Leeds (now Woodhouse Moor) parkrun 12 years ago. At the time, she had no idea what she was doing there at 9am on a cold,crisp October morning. She didn’t even like running.

But she persevered and last weekend was ready to run her 500th, a major milestone reached by only half a dozen at Leeds (87 worldwide) and, as she proudly points out, the first Indian woman to claim that blue tee-shirt.

People call me Mrs parkrun at Woodhouse Moor, mainly because I’m so gobby, but Jaz is Lady parkrun. While she confesses she’s still not that keen on running until she’s finished and enjoying the endorphins, she loves parkrun and says she has her dream job as Head of HR and Volunteering. But best of all, like so many parkrunners, she has made many friends and been encouraged by others as she runs.

So to say thank you to her fellow parkrunners, she wanted to do something personalised, different, healthy and eco-friendly. She bought 400 bananas, hoiked them up the two flights of stairs to her apartment, spread them out on the counter and set to work, writing thank you messages. It took her just short of six hours.

Yes, she said, she had thought of printing stickers, but that wasn’t the same. Yes, she added, she could have asked someone to help, but she wanted it to come from her personally.

Come Saturday, her car was humming with the scent of bananas and packed with spare tutus. I mean, what’s a special run without a tutu or two? She asked me to tell the 600 parkrunners why there was a table full of banana messages at the finish and to shield their eyes from the blaze of tutu glory as they ran past 15 or so of us accompanying Jaz on her special parkrun. They applauded, everyone knows and loves Jaz!

There was a lot of parkrun love for us as we tutued the three laps around the course. We even sang, when I say sang, we made tunefulish noises which definitely gave us a different kind of workout.

Afterwards there were just four bananas left. The boxes and skins went to compost and everyone went away with a smile. That’s lovely friends like Jaz for you. That’s parkrun for you.