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!

A male would be preferable for the job…

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My grandfather was staggered  to learn that as a young trainee journalist I earned the same as the male trainees. ‘Why shouldn’t I?, I asked him, genuinely surprised at his reaction to my £21 a week pay packet. ‘Well, women shouldn’t earn as much as men.’ he said, matter-of-factly. One of the few times in my life I was truly speechless.

Fortunately I have always worked in an equal pay environment, and as far as I know, I’ve never been discriminated against, and certainly not to my face – though harassment is a different matter. How difficult it must have been, then,  to work in an environment where it was the norm for a boss to tell a woman that, actually, love, we want a man for this, so off you run and paint your nails.

Yorkshire lass Sheila Bownas (b. 1925) was a fabulously talented artist and textile designer whose genius was only really recognised after her death in 2007. Her designs were bold, colourful and clever, inspired by her Yorkshire surroundings and a general post-war cheering-up.

She’d won a scholarship to the prestigious Slade art school and had several paintings accepted by the Royal Academy for its Summer Exhibition. She worked as a freelance designer for Liberty and Marks and Spencer, but was not able to secure a permanent job. She had more than 100 rejections from the mid 1950s to late 1960s, but the one that capped them all was from Crown Wallpapers who were OK with paying for her freelance work, but told her that any permanent position would be filled by a man. Policy, you see.

These rejections can’t have robbed her of her muse, she carried on her freelance career, selling to top manufacturers. She lived alone, never married and evidently didn’t have a television. When she died her beautiful designs were auctioned off and destined to be dispersed.

Thankfully Chelsea Cefai, a gallery professional from the Midlands, stumbled across some of her work.  She brought it together into one of the most charming and sympathetic exhibitions I’ve seen. Noel and I spent a happy hour or so at Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery thoroughly enjoying the curation of her designs.

I wonder if things would have been different if she’d secured a permanent post? Maybe her creativity would have been compromised by having to toe the corporate line. She should at least have been given the chance.

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My favourite – it would look great in the dining room!

 

The decorating days are over….for now….

DecorateHidey
Decorating chaos in the dining room….

In the olden days, when I was a lass and there were twelve pennies to the shilling and that bought you a banquet of fish, chips and mushy peas for four, home decorating was labour-intensive and tedious.

Rolls of wallpaper came with an extra bit on the edge to protect it, as there were no plastic covers or indeed plastic then. The one-cm strip, which ran the length of the roll, had to be cut off with scissors, all very straight and neat, producing a little mini roll of wallpaper, which curled up on the floor. Being nobbut a bairn, I thought this was fantastic, these lengths of thick paper were much more fun to play with than toys. Hey, I was young and we were poor.

Now we have fancy wallpapers that aren’t really paper at all. They are lightweight, quick to put up, easy to handle, stretch over bumpy bits and mend invisibly when torn, I know, I tried it. The old oil-based paint that stuck to everything, belched out mind-altering fumes and dribbled down the cracks in the floorboards, which was bad news if you were painting the bedroom upstairs.

The recent upheaval Chez Akers, following the replacement of all the windows and the kitchen, means we need to re-decorate every room, either that or just close our eyes when we move about, but that’s not good news with a couple of cats forever under the feet.

Noel and I have been married for 17 years and it’s true to say we have not had a serious disagreement. Yes, there may have been the odd barbed comments or stony silence with the placement of a seven-letter word using the Q, Z and J on the triple score in a particularly tense Scrabble match, that was all.

But with the decorating of the dining room, it was a close thing, and it all boiled down to a difference of approach. Do you do it quickly and achieve the desired result, getting back to normal in time for tea? Or slowly and accurately so even the bits that no-one can actually see are perfect, and live for weeks surrounded by chaos and cranky cats, stepping over drop cloths and trailing bits of wallpaper around the house? There were full and frank discussions and an exchange of views, though no game of Scrabble was involved and there were no cross words, actually, there were no words, just silence, the swish swish swish of the roller and the clock ticking every so slowly.

The dining room is now as near to finished as it can be without the intervention of a professional joiner to replace the architrave after we decided to remove the door, well, we never used it. So there’s the three bedrooms and the hall to start…some time in the next decade. We’ll just about have recovered by then.

I think I love you….

jackiecovers

Today a little bit of me died and went to rock and roll heaven. OK, some may argue that the music of 70s heart-throb David Cassidy was more middle-of-the-road than pure rock and roll, but his passing is a reminder that they just don’t make them like that any more.

I’m happy to hold up my hands and say I wasn’t a massive fan of his music, but he was dshy and part of my growing-up. Along with the Osmonds, the Jackson Five and my weekly copy of Jackie magazine.

Every teenage girl I knew waited impatiently for the delivery of the pre-glossy magazine crammed with photos of pop stars, their fan clubs, who could only be contacted by sending a stamped-addressed enveloped and a postal order for 50p, make-up tips (Rimmel ‘white’ eyeshadow with ‘pink shimmer’ lipstick was definitely in), fashion (oooo, flares and stacked heels) and of course, the agony aunts, Cathy and Claire.

Cathy and Claire knew everything about growing up and how being a teenage girl was the hardest thing in the world. I mean, seriously, parents had no idea. They were never young, had never been in love, never had their heart broken by a boy who didn’t even know they existed and could not appreciate how truly superb our music was. Cathy and Claire were better than any parent and answered every question about teenage angst with sensitivity and possibly a snigger. They assured me you couldn’t get pregnant by French kissing, which was a relief.

Cathy and Claire summoned up all their agony aunt skills to calm the thousands of readers desperate to become the one for their respective heart-throbs and make it clear that their intense hormone-fuelled feelings would pass.

David Cassidy confessed he struggled with the adulation heaped on him by screaming teeny-boppers, so was probably grateful to Cathy and Claire. He shot to fame in the US sit-com The Partridge Family where his lovely soft voice and gorgeous twinkling blue eyes made us all fall in love with him, sometimes against our better judgement, I blame the hormones.

Jackie, knowing it had Cassidy fans in the palm if its hands, produced a larger-than-life-size poster over three weeks across its centre double-page spread. The first two were a bit of a waste of time, just torso and shoulders, but the third week, we got the face, and with the help of sticky tape to put them together, it being before the days of Blu-Tac, there was divine David smiling that gorgeous smile.

His music was sweet and tuneful, he was also a damned good guitar player. His death at 67, came as a shock, it is no age these days. I marked his passing with an overdose of Partridge Family Radio on Spotify and shed a tear or two, writing a letter to Cathy and Claire in my head, just to ask how they were getting on now that Jackie is no more and that they are probably great-great agony aunts.

The green, white and gold

 

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Green, white and golden daffodils

 

I’m thinking of getting a tee-shirt printed for when I travel in Europe. It’ll be black, with the simple message, ‘I didn’t vote Brexit’. Maybe I’ll translate it into the language of the country I’m visiting. Maybe I’ll have a matching hat.

I very quickly fall into conversation with pretty much anyone when I’m travelling. Actually, if truth be told, conversation with strangers comes very easily, sometimes too easily judging by the ‘I’m standing next to the mad woman’ looks I get from some folk.

On our recent trip to Spain, we had chats with many of our European cousins. They all looked at us with a mixture of pity and acceptance. Pity that the UK finds itself heading towards the exit door of the European Union and acceptance that it had never really fully entered, certainly not whole-heartedly.

But they were kind, and understanding, maybe it was me prefacing our introductions with ‘we didn’t vote Brexit, you know.’ Neither did Leeds, the city where we live, but the closest of close votes and a set of undeliverable promises by the Brexit campaign (£350million a week to the NHS, anyone?) and jingoistic chants (‘we-want-our-country-back..’). Whatever that means.

I immediately claimed my Irish passport and have travelled on it ever since. In reality, it makes no difference, not at the moment anyway, come 29 March 2019 it may be a different story, but I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.

We were in Andalucía to hunt autumn-flowering daffodils, along with Noel’s dad, James. It was a sad trip, Noel’s mum died in August and she had been a regular daffodil hunter in the Spanish uplands and indeed around much of Europe, where daffodils and tulips can be found. She wasn’t too happy with the Brexit vote either.

We were looking for specific varieties of daffodil, if you want to know more, including the Latin names, it’s on the Daffodil Society’s website. These daffodils were green, white and gold, very small, very beautiful, very European. It made me smile that these daffs were the colour of the Irish flag, I think Wendy would have smiled too.

Mates, mindfulness and mud!

 

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Robin, me and cake

 

I’m quite used to bringing up the rear at races, especially if there’s only a few dozen taking part. I always argue that I’d rather be at the back of a small event than in the middle of a large one.  Actually, I’d love to be at the front, we can all dream, can’t we?

I’d run Meltham AC’s Cop Hill Fell Race once before, coming last then, well, when I say last, I was next to the last, Simon the tailrunner was behind me, but I’m not sure that counts! It was such a lovely, well-supported race, with marshals giving great encouragement and only telling me I was nearly there when I actually was. That’s proper marshalling, that is.

This year I definitely wanted to do it again, but knew I would be slower than usual. A mix of missing mojo and general fed-upness that comes with unsuccessful job-hunting, along with a couple of sad events have made running even more challenging than usual. To be honest, I was feeling quite down. But there is nothing like a run with mates to lift the spirits and when I found out that the tailrunner was the lovely Robin, who I met last time, a great sense of relief swept over me, we could run and chat and then eat cake.

Thanks to my volunteering with parkrun and at other events, I’ve seen for myself the positive impact of running not only on physical health, but more importantly on mental wellbeing. I’ve just become a Mental Health Ambassador for Kirkstall Harriers, my running club, it’s an initiative from England Athletics in partnership with the mental health charity MIND. The idea is to support people who are experiencing mental health problems to start running, get back into running, or continue running as well as to improve the mental wellbeing of existing club members. One of the initiatives Ambassadors promote is #runandtalk, the eating cake is implicit.

Robin has been running courses in mindfulness so we had a right good run and chat, definitely a tonic for mental well-being. He did make me run through the deep mud, but that just added to the enjoyment of the race. So what that I came last, I had a great time – and I felt better too.  Let’s hear it for mates, mindfulness and mud!

A little dash of colour goes a long way

tiedye

The long, dark winter nights are on their way and I don’t know about you, but I need something bright to cheer up the dull days, and I want to wear it.

This time of year, the fashion colours in the shops usually range from light mud to dark mud with a few sludgy greens, colours which I never wear. Good grief, I wear enough mud when I run, I’m not going to pay to wear the damned stuff. So as far as I can see, the only way to get the colours I want, is make them myself.

I do love colour, there’s not enough of it around as far as I’m concerned. I even trained as a colour and image consultant with Colour Me Beautiful a few years ago so I could share that love with others, and make a bit of a business from it too. It was great fun, helping people to see themselves looking fabulous in colours they had never even considered wearing – just you ask Noel about periwinkle and pink!

So rather than being disappointed in the shop-bought colours, I decided to make my own using tie-dye. I have never dyed any clothes before, so this was a first. Thanks to a wonderful blog by Stinkymum (seriously!) I had step-by-step instructions from starting with a white shirt, to making what looked like a shirt pie, then waiting 24 hours for it to cook, before rinsing and waiting impatiently for it to dry so I could wear it.

The result? A brighter winter is ahead – and I could be persuaded to take orders!

Dyecollage