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.

Bastard cancer™ under the bus wheels

Drawn with my left hand, just for fun!

We’re at that in-between time, Noel’s bastard cancer™ has been zapped with death rays and poisoned with toxic drugs. That’ll teach it. Keep your crappy invasive cells off my husband, you bastard.

We’ve been on the cancer journey bus now since June, with so much support and kindness from friends and friends of friends that we’ve had to get a bigger metaphorical bus.

I’ve finally got round to writing to the hospital to thank them for joining us on that bus, it’s the sort of thing I always say I’ll do, but somehow don’t get around to it, but it is important to say thank you, it means to much and costs nothing. Well, dammit, I’ve done it. I’ve written, I’ve said thank you for involving us in the conversation, telling us your name, checking we’ve understood, giving us information, making us comfortable, making it easy to come and go for treatment, being kind, having chocolates on the reception desk and arranging regular tombolas, OK, so I didn’t mention the tombolas.

Noel’s doing OK, he’s not one to make a fuss, though he has been unwell. Zapping, poison and bastard cancer take their toll, so he’s taking it easy and eating lots of broccoli, protein and chocolate, especially chocolate. He’s resting, usually flanked by a cat on either side, all three snoring, maybe farting, each blaming the other.

When Saturday morning comes around, though, he usually manages to make it to parkrun where he’ll volunteer, definitely the highlight of the week, though being a typical introvert, he’ll sit in a corner at the cafe afterwards while we all make a lot of noise.

There’s more surgery to come, hopefully before Christmas, when the zapped tumour will be removed and sent to that special place in Hell reserved for bastard cancers.

In the meantime, that crowded bus rolls on, with every seat taken, rowdy singing from the back seat and masses of love and support from so many people. Just in case I’ve not said it, thank you, it means so much to know you’re on the bus with us. Thank you all.

Back in the bling

Does my bum look big in this? Thanks to Rolf for the photo

What possesses a woman of mature years, heading towards her dotage, to spring out of bed at stupid o’clock on a Sunday morning, squeeze herself into the best anti-bounce sports bra money can buy, slip on a multi-coloured tutu and pin a number to her vest? Bling is the answer, bling.

Granted, the tutu was optional and was in honour of a very good – though somewhat tutu-obsessed friend – but the rest of the gear got this girl ready for a return to racing. At last.

I don’t usually enter road races, they have two things going against them, they are races and they are on the road. There’s no real scenery, unless you count street furniture, little chance of mud and no al fresco toilets, just those wobbly green Tardis-like structures that smell of disinfectant, warm plastic and worse.

But trail and fell races don’t tend to offer bling. Sometimes there’s a tee-shirt, but more often than not, it’s pie and peas and cake, usually on the same plate. Can’t beat it, but when you’re coming back to racing after a year of physical and mental limping around, only bling will do.

The Abbey Dash is a fast, furious, flat PB course. It’s a popular feature on the local racing calendar, though people do come from as far afield as Lancashire to run it. The out-and-back course from Leeds city centre to Kirkstall Abbey has even been voted a top 10k by the readers of Women’s Running. We know they are a discerning lot, because they also voted Woodhouse Moor parkrun as their favourite!

Most of the local clubs enter, and those who aren’t running tend to be dotted along the route, cheering and waving pompoms. The road is well-known to anyone who lives in the city, usually clogged up with traffic moving even slower than I run. It’s official, on a busy Saturday near Christmas, I can run into the city faster than I can drive.

So there I was, along with 7000 other runners, ready for the 34th Abbey Dash, and as far as I could see, only four were in tutus and we were running together, Jaz, Pritti, me and Pete. Yes, Pete, pretty in his pink tutu!

I’d not raced since last year, so wanted my return to be marked with a bit of bling. We have a collection of medals, which dangle from the knob of the cellar door. With doubling up by Noel and me on many races, there’s a lot of medals and they make a lovely jangling noise every time we open the door. The cats also love to play with them, though are very sorry when they pull one off and it bounces onto their head, it usually means opening another bag of Dreamies, or Bribes as we know them.

Noel wasn’t racing, the Bastard Cancer has postponed his PB bids for a little while. Not that he’s bothered about bling, he just likes to run like the wind, whereas I run as if I have wind. I suspect his return to racing following recovery from forthcoming surgery, will involve mountains and tartiflette, plus a belly full of beer.

But in the meantime, I was back Abbey Dashing at a very slow pace, enjoying the freedom of traffic-free running, but as a friend pointed out, it was a season’s best. Season’s best and bling? I’ll take that.

Bing, bong, Hi-ho Silver Lining

New phone, messy hairstyle

Who the hell shattered the delicious silence of the library with an electronic blast from the past with a chorus of Hi Ho Silver Lining? Seriously, what saddo has that as their ringtone? Why didn’t the Baby Boomer owner answer it? Why was everyone looking at ME?

I blame my hatred of litter. If I hadn’t bent down to pick up the empty Red Bull cans littering the car park, pausing to curse as I did so, my phone wouldn’t have fallen out of my pocket, bounced and broken. I then wouldn’t have had to get another one.

In the old days, the days when a mobile phone was a Bakelite brick with a metal dial and extra-long cord that attracted dust and cat fur, its only function was to make and receive phone calls. It rang and if you didn’t answer, that was it, you missed it. No messages, no 1471, no digital display. How did we ever manage to communicate? Other than actually speak to each other, that is.

My first mobile phone was as wide as it was tall, black with a tiny screen and little buttons, all protected by a faux-leather cover. The heady thrill of not having to find a working and wee-free public phone box to make a call saw the start of the communication liberation.

Don’t get me wrong, smartphones have changed our lives, information is at hand, in the swipe of a finger in fact. And contacting friends, family and people you went to school with decades ago has never been easier, whether you want to or not. Now, most of my life is in my phone, contacts, work, banking, bills, buying, photos and enough social media to while away the hours. I can’t function without it.

But that was yesterday. This is today. Yesterday, when my phone rang, it was Santana’s Smooth, the music we grooved down the aisle to, well, I grooved, Noel just walked. When text messages arrived, there was a minor to major piano chord, WhatsApp was heralded with a little tinkle, no other app made a noise, they just got on with being the slave rather than the master. It was all very tuneful, methodical and hassle-free.

Now the new phone, Galaxy McGalaxyface #2, is a beautiful example of modern design technology. A scratch-free screen, shiny cover and sleek little buttons, so sleek that I couldn’t find them to begin with. There isn’t just one camera, but three, plus a panorama, what more could you ask of a phone? Making calls, maybe? All I needed now was for it to work, just like my old one, except without the broken bits. This was a job for Noel, my technical adviser and resident IT guru, who responds well to flattery and bribes of chocolate when something like this happens.

He waved cables around and uttered magic words. Within an hour or so, everything looked the same as it was on Galaxy McGalaxyface #1, except not. The screen was larger, apps had moved around, passwords had been lost. Noel shrugged his shoulders, was he my passwords’ keeper, he asked?

What followed was a massive faff, punctuated with expletives and frequent coffees. Who the hell remembers all their passwords for apps they installed a few years ago? No, I didn’t write them down, that would be a Bad Thing and being married to an stickler for good IT governance, I had concocted particularly complex passwords using symbols, numbers, capitals and linguistic concepts. No wonder I couldn’t remember them. No wonder I had to set them all up again.

The little matter of the ringtone and other binging and bonging alerts had passed me by. Surely that wouldn’t have changed with the transfer from #1 to #2? It just shows what I knew as Jeff Beck rang out in the library on my new phone, followed by bing bong merrily on high as every alert from every app made its own little noise. How he got there I have no idea, maybe the phone was packed in the aftermath of a Samsung 70s Christmas party.

Fortunately, I’m known in our little village library, often providing entertainment with quips with fellow browsers on cold, wet afternoons in our little library, so there was shoulder-shrugging and back to business as usual.

Back home, Noel came to the rescue again, banishing Jeff Beck from whence he came and returning Carlos in his hippy hat, along with my tuneful alerts. And do you know what? He made no fuss, though it was obvious.

That tombola habit

The end-of-zapping bell at Leeds Cancer Centre. Noel rang it first!

My name’s Anne and I’m a tombolaholic. There, I’ve said it, I feel better now. The cupboard in the hall is crammed with my winnings, including a set of nail transfers (I’m a rock climber, I have no nails), a bath oils collection (I don’t take baths, I’m a showergirl), a full pad of to-do lists, divided into categories (I don’t do lists, I make it up as I go along) a 4-CD set of 60s music (I don’t have a CD player) and a cuddly toy, still in its wrapper, with the ticket number 650 taped to its head.

Who can walk past a stall, laden with goodies, knowing there’s a one in five chance in winning – and tickets are five for £1? That’s better odds than the lottery jackpot (14million to one), Premium Bonds (245,000 to one) and the pools, especially if you use birthday numbers when there are 52 lines.

I once won so many prizes at the local old folks’ home I was accused of being a ringer and grudgingly gave back the Christmas Floral Display (too big for the car) and the Dairy Milk chocolates (out of date). I kept the little china ornament, I have no idea why, I hate ornaments. It didn’t occur to me that I may have a tombola habit.

It wasn’t until I started going with Noel to the hospital and urged him to go on ahead for his radiotherapy zapping while I bought a few tombola tickets from the fundraisers in the foyer, not just once, but four times, that I had to admit to myself that I may have a tombola problem, I may be a tombolaholic

On my last visit, the visit when Noel rang that bell to signal the end of the zapping for his Bastard Cancer™, I confided my concerns to one of the ticket sellers. She looked amused and pointed to the queue, dozens of fellow tombolaholics clutching handfuls of folded raffle tickets, hoping for a number ending in zero or five. The charity was making lots of dosh! For me, the stakes were high, I had my eye on a fancy scarf. But that’s the beauty of tombolas, you have no idea what your five or zero will win you. I had to make do with a bag of licorice allsorts. At least they’ll keep me going!

A job lot of Wright’s Coal Tar soap

Thanks to Joan Cox for the photo

Me and my potty mouth. Again. And in front of 650 parkrunners. In my defence I was sorely provoked, #BastardCancer.

We were all set to celebrate a double birthday, parkrun’s 15th and our 12th here at Woodhouse Moor and free breakfast was promised down at Leeds University’s refectory where they had pre-loaded with sausages and bacon.

Then Richard appeared and asked if we could make an announcement to his fellow parkrunners, but that it wasn’t a happy announcement, in fact it was very, very sad.

His five-year-old son Matthew, who he’d brought to parkrun a couple of weeks ago to join in the celebrations for the 500th run by Roy, Richard’s clubmate, had passed away. Matthew had a brain tumour.

There’s a saying, he said. ‘Fuck cancer’. Yes, I agreed. Fuck cancer indeed, fuck it to hell. The fucker.

Richard wanted to run with us, his parkrun friends, something normal in a week that was far from normal. And we wanted to run with him, though he’s a bit nippy so not many of us would be able to keep up with him. We could content ourselves with cheering him as he lapped us.

I know I bang on a lot about parkrun, but it’s such a wonderful, caring, supporting community. We do more than run together, we share, we encourage, we listen, we always call it a run and never a race. We also don’t cuss, except when it comes to Bastard Cancer™, which as we all know is a bastardy bastard.

As Richard stood to the side, out of sight of the 650 parkrunners, I told them about Matthew, such heartbreaking news. Then in my head, I shouted ‘Fuck cancer’. Now I come to think of it, it wasn’t in my head, judging by the general agreement and covering-up of sensitive ears.

Sorry, everyone. I have dutifully washed out my mouth with Wright’s Coal Tar Soap which tasted suitably disgusting. That’ll teach me, I’ll not be such a potty mouth again.

Our parkrunners set off, those who could get anywhere near Richard gave him a pat on the back. Afterwards he was surrounded by wellwishers, including some who were on their own cancer journey. Bastard Cancer is no respecter of, well, anything or anyone really. I could hear fine use of Anglo Saxon in reference to Bastard Cancer and wondered whether I should dash off to the offy for a job lot of coal tar soap.

As he left, Richard thanked me. ‘That took balls’ he said. I’m not so sure, it’s easy enough to cuss, it’s not so easy to be on that cancer journey. Thank goodness that if you’re part of the parkrun community you don’t have to travel alone. Noel and I have a bloody great bus load of folk with us as he finishes one lot of treatment and waits for the next. They’re supporting, encouraging, helping and yes, joining in the swearfest because sometimes it helps. They’ll all be getting soap for Christmas.

Passing the (golden) baton

Thanks to Leeds Building Society for the photo

Run with this, they said. Make it look easy, they said. Smile for the camera, they said. Look like you’re enjoying it, they said. Three out of four ain’t bad, I am expecting an Oscar nomination.

I was handed the golden baton at parkrun. Not pure gold, you understand, gold-coloured, but it was heavy enough, almost like carrying a rolling pin, if truth be told. At one point I even tucked it into my shorts so I could run hands free, but it wasn’t a good look and I nearly fell over into the bargain.

The baton was one of 15 starting the #BigCommunityRelay, a magical mystery tour from Woodhouse Moor. The lovely folk at Leeds Building Society, who are major sponsors of parkrun, helping to keep our 9am Saturday morning 5km run free, are quite taken with how friendly and inclusive we all are. You can say that again, I count among my parkrun friends people of all ages, from 8 to 80, all faiths, from Jew to Jain and from all corners of the globe, including Lancashire.

All of those friends have been even dearer following Noel’s #BastardCancer diagnosis, showing so much kindness and concern I was left speechless, and that never happens, so make the most of it.

Many parkrunners love to visit other events, going on tour. We’re the fourth oldest in the world, celebrating our 12th birthday at the weekend, the first three were in that there London. We get 5-600 parkrunners a week and a lot of tourists who are given a right Yorkshire welcome and often leave with a big smile and a belly full of cake.

Leeds Building Society know how much of a community parkrun is, so came up with the idea of starting a relay in our city, handing out the batons fitted with GPS to map parkrun progress, with the holders passing them on to others, probably by way of a chat and coffee.

What a great idea! There was a queue of volunteers ready to take the baton to places as far away as Germany, New Zealand and even Lancashire. I wonder where mine will end up!