The wiggly wigglies

The allotment has been my salvation and source of sanity during the 100plus days of lockdown. When the Prime Minister told us to stay at home and save lives on that Monday evening back in March, I was straining to hear what he had to say about allotments. Please, I said to the cat sleeping contently on my lap, her belly full of chicken, keep our allotments open…. She opened one eye and made a little farty noise. Cats, eh?

Boris had nothing to say on allotment matters, I think he had more on his mind that my Maris Piper chitting in the conservatory, onion sets waiting patiently in their little net bag, and seeds sprouting in the greenhouse. If push came to shove and allotmenteering was banned, I had a contingency. I could head down to the lot at midnight and plant the potatoes and onions they could get on with their growing while I dug up the garden at home for the peas and beans.

Fortunately it didn’t come to that, lockdown allotmenteering was allowed and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Social distancing is never a problem there, sometimes I’m the only one, with nothing but the birds and badgers for company. The birds sing and the badgers dig up the plants and leave their poo, there’s a lot of poo.

During the past 100 days or so, it’s been a place to find normality. Nature has got on with its thing, growing, flowering, multiplying, and that’s just the weeds. I take my flask and radio, dig a bit, plant a bit, chat a bit to neighbours at the prescribed social distance, or just sit and stare around. It’s as if the world hasn’t gone mad after all and that the times are not strange, they are just times.

Unfortunately this year we’ve all had unwelcome visitors in the shape of the allium leaf miner, or wiggly wiggly as I know the little buggers. I thought my onions were just being creative when they started to send their leaves into curls. But no, the little mothy thing which came to this country 18 years ago, is sucking up the sap of our spring-planted onions.

It’s bad news for the onions, though good news for my work-out regime. I’ve had to dig them all up, which has worked up a right sweat, I can tell you. They’ll have to be burned or put in my hot bin to make sure they are gone, another workout, eat your heart out Joe Wickes.

Looking around the lots, most of the spring-planted onions have the wiggly wigglies, we’ll all have something to chunter about and we do like a good chunter, it’s all part of allotment life. We do like a good chunter, in fact we’re a bit disappointed if everything’s going well, we are from Yorkshire after all, chuntering is what we do.

In the grand scheme of things, the arrival of the wiggly wigglies isn’t a massive problem, just something else in the great Book of Allotment Learning. I for one have just ordered autumn onions, you can put that in your pipe and smoke it, mothy things.

The Cauliflower Queen

We Yorkshire folk are famed for our cheery disposition and sunny outlook. Oh how we chuckle our way through life, and if we haven’t had at least one full-blown belly laugh a day, the neighbours are round to check we’re not slumped in a heap in the coal hole. Don’t let that dour ‘appen as maybe’ and ‘HOW MUCH? exclamation fool you, Yorkshire is full of Mr and Mrs Chuckletrousers and our families and whippets.

Some have said that Yorkshire folk have short arms and deep pockets, we’re stingy, tight even, but that’s missing a very important point. We’re careful, looking after the pennies so the pounds can look after themselves, wasting not and wanting not, making do.

It’s thanks to these much cherished Yorkshire attributes that I can exclusively reveal my new titles, bestowed on myself by me. I am the Cauliflower Queen, I am the Tomato Tsarina and it’s all down to my full Yorkshireness in matters horticultural.

There’s about 150 tiny cauliflower seeds in a packet. When you plant them in trays in the greenhouse, once they’ve germinated the idea is to pick and choose the best ones and throw the rest away. THROW THE REST AWAY? When I’ve gone to the trouble of sowing them, sprinkling them with water when they were thirsty? Singing them a lullaby each night? They’ve all grown and all deserve to fulfil their cauliflower destiny. Plus, I’d paid for that packet of seeds, well technically I paid for the magazine they came free with, but you can’t just chuck ’em, it’s a waste and we don’t like waste in Yorkshire.

So that’s why I have a greenhouse bursting with healthy-looking cauliflower plants. There’s enough to feed the village. Enough to feed the neighbouring village. And that’s not counting the row of fancy cauliflower seeds I planted directly into the ground at the allotment, so make that enough for the city and there will be plenty left to make a rather fancy cauliflower crown, fit for a queen.

It’s the same with tomatoes, they come in seed packs of six or 15 if you’re lucky, and no-one wants to waste those precious seeds, they work out as much as 40p each, that’s eight shillings in old money!

Some say you can never have too many tomatoes. They are probably right. At the last count I had 45 tomato plants in the greenhouse, conservatory, up the stairs, on the bathroom windowsill, in the cat’s basket. I think I may have overplanted. The idea was to grow extra for the village plant sale, but a few fellow gardeners had the same idea and many of mine are surplus to our requirements.

Plus I don’t have enough room to grow so many plants, it’s getting to the stage where we can’t see out of the windows for all the foliage and the cat needs his basket, but I can’t just throw them away, can I? It’d be a waste and we can’t be wasting anything, oh no, not in Yorkshire.

I intend to keep them growing and give them a bright tomato future, which may involve me setting up a table in front of the house with a ‘free to a good home’ sign. I’ll even stick a few cauliflowers on there, I think there will be some spare.

Happy birthday to me – again

There’s the official birthday, the one where we count the years, blow out an increasing number of candles and eat cake. Then there’s the parkrun birthday, the one where we puff and blow as we run around 5km on a Saturday morning, then eat cake. Birthdays always have a cake theme.

It’s my eighth birthday, eight years of parkrunning, jogging and more recently limping, along with quite a bit of volunteering, there’s also been cake in abundance.

I had no idea what to expect when I turned up for my first pakrun. Someone at the climbing wall said it was good fun and free, which had a massive appeal to my Yorkshire pocket. As Noel was on a first aid course that weekend, rather than lig around in bed, I donned my running layers and headed for Woodhouse Moor, just five miles away, but somewhere I’d never been before. This park was destined to become part of me, and me it as I’ve left lots of shoe rubber, the odd bit of skin where I’ve fallen, and quite a bit of sweat there.

I wasn’t completely new to running, but it was all a bit hit and miss and I wanted to improve, believe me, there was room for improvement. That day in March 2011, parkrun 117, I lined up with 274 others to do my first of what would become many laps over the following years, some definitely faster than others.

Over the next weeks, I dragged Noel along, who turned out to be rather handy at that distance, in his youth he was a 1500m runner and keen footballer so was quickly up to speeds I’ll never be able to do. Running became volunteering and post-parkrun coffee drinking. I’d be bouncing off the ceiling when I got home on a Saturday and only some of that was down to the caffeine.

We both became regular volunteers, then run directors, I’m now the event director, would you believe, though it’s definitely all about the team and teamwork, no-one does anything along at parkrun, unless they want to of course.

I always marvel at the parkrun mix, getting soaked or sweaty, or both, in the regular company of 500 or so runners is a great leveller. We all look pretty much the same in our running kit, all equal, all parkrunners. Yet we rub shoulders (in no particular order) with doctors, nurses, pop stars, sports stars, teachers, clerics, politicians, academics, students, stay-at-home mums, stay-at-home dads, shop workers and those without work to name but a few. And we wouldn’t know unless someone points it out. Sometimes, when I’m out and about, I’ll get someone calling to me, ‘Hey, Mrs parkrun’. ‘Yes,’ I answer, ‘that’s me’.

In just eight years I’ve made so many new friends, found myself when I’ve been lost in worry, sadness or depression, and, whatever the weather, enjoyed running around the park once described as Leeds’ Green Lungs. I’ve no idea what I did on a Saturday before that date in March 2011, but I know that come Saturday, there’s no place I’d rather be than at parkrun, any parkrun, anywhere in the world. Though of course there’s only one Woodhouse Moor and that will always be home.

If I could capture the essence of parkrun, pop it in a bottle and spray it around for all to enjoy, it would be a base of friendship, with tones of encouragement and healthy competitiveness, along with high notes of laughter and support, with hints of hard work and a whiff of cake, lemon polenta cake in case you were wondering. See you Saturday!

parkrunのための3つの喝采 (Three cheers for parkrun!)

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I can’t remember the last time that the applause was so sustained and heartfelt. There she stood telling us all how much parkrun had changed her life since coming to Leeds and about to run her 100th, surrounded by so many friends and hundreds of parkrunners.

Maika, or to give her the full Yorkshire title she now deserves, Our Lass Maika, knew nothing of parkrun, mucky fat or the rain being so heavy it came down like stair rods, but was promising to burn off, before she came here from Japan to study.

She’d never heard of ginnels, dry stone walls, or dray horses. She’d never eaten Yorkshire pudding, rice pudding or pie and mushy peas with mint sauce, how can she have lived so long and not known these pleasures? Despite being an Ironman athlete, she’d never done a parkrun. Well, I can tell you, that’s all changed now.

Maika tells me Japanese people are polite and always ready to show gratitude, they are also humble, even those who are on the verge of being granted Yorkshire citizenship as she is, we’re not known for being shy and retiring, we Yorkshire folk. So on the day of her 100th parkrun, despite this underlying humility and unwillingness to be a brazen show-off like a true Yorkshire lass, she wanted to thank her fellow parkrunners. All of them.

The thanks started with cake-baking, she wanted to give cake to her friends. This was carried out like a professional, complete with licking out the bowl afterwards, rude not to, really. Then on the Saturday, she made a short, heartfelt speech before we set off on our parkrun. This is what she said:

“It’s not just running 100 times at parkrun. My experience and life in the UK have changed since I started parkrun. I’ve made friends and joined a wonderful running club (Hyde Park Harriers) through parkrun.

“When I struggled (I still do often) in uni or personal life, coming to parkrun and running with friends had very therapeutic effects. Thank you parkrun.”

All of us who know Maika responded with ‘right back at you’, most of us shed a tear. Maika has enriched our lives and taught us so much about Japan, nutrition (which she is studying) and running, and parkrun has been the catalyst. Three cheers for parkrun! Three cheers for Maika!

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Licking out the bowl after cake-baking!

I love the NHS. I love parkrun. So there.

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Thanks to Julie Haddon for the photo

This week’s parkrun was a birthday celebration for a 70-year-old, a special  septuagenarian who has a unique relationship with everyone in the country, the National Health Service. Looking out over our 570 parkrunners, there were more scrubs and white coats than you could shake a stethoscope at – and there were quite a few of those too.

There was a whole lot of parkrun love for the NHS, including Diane, one of our regulars,  who was born the same year as the NHS. Diane loves parkrun and expects to run her 400th by the end of the year, joined by her family and friends. She also loves the NHS with a passion, so much has been done for her and her family.

Personally, I think the NHS is the best in the world and will happily argue that case with anyone over a pint and a pie. Look at the big picture, we have a healthcare system that is free at the point of delivery, it’s there for us. Not many other countries in the world can say that, or if they can, there’s a cost involved, for those who can afford it.

However, the not-quite-as-big picture shows that like any 70-year-old, it’s creaking a little. There’s just over 65 million of us to look after, an increase of 20 million or so from 1948. And, thanks in part to the excellent work of the NHS, we’re living longer, surviving diseases that at one time were not survivable.

But no-one lives forever and as we get older, and we’re all getting older, we’re likely to need more care, and that is a huge cost both in terms of people power and money. The NHS does its best for us, it really does, but quite rightly it’s looking to us to take responsibility where we can. You know the kind of thing, eat more of the things that are good for us, drink less of what’s bad for us, keep fit and active, and hang around with friends. Let’s face it, why wouldn’t we want to do that!

For me, that’s where parkrun is a great friend to the NHS. Every Saturday, hundreds of people come along to Woodhouse Moor  , just one of more than 500 parkruns in the UK, to run jog or walk 5km around a park that was created by the Victorians to be green lungs for the city. Thanks to a gang of volunteers who gladly give up their time, they can do this for free. Then there’s the post-parkrun coffee and conversation which ranges from general chit-chat to the true superiority of Yorkshire and Yorkshireness in practically everything, but that’s another blog.

A friend who works for NHS England in the department which is promoting and supporting self care asked me if parkrun was the Next Big Thing for health and wellbeing. Definitely, I said. Not only does it help people like me keep fit and keep sane for the price of a pair of running shoes and a coffee, it also helps a very special under-pressure 70-year-old to do its job just that little bit better. Then everyone wins, don’t they?

I’ve run more than 250 parkruns, volunteered nearly as many times and am Event Director at Woodhouse Moor. I’ve also worked for many years in the NHS as a manager. Oh, and did I mention, I’m from Yorkshire? 

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.

Yorkshireness on Yorkshire Day

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Atop Malham Cove

August 1 is Yorkshire Day. It’s not an official holiday, not yet anyway, but it’s only a matter of time. When that happens, the white rose flag will be flying from every pole in the county and saluted by the doffing of flat caps and exclamation of ‘sithee’ before retiring to a local hostelry in the hope of someone else buying the first round.

Yorkshire is the largest county in the UK, nudging County Durham in the north and Derbyshire in the south, with the Pennines, the spine of England, separating us from rainy Lancashire. We have two national parks of our own, the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, and a share of the Peak District National Park. We have two World Heritage Sites at Fountains Abbey and Saltaire and an Area of Outstanding National Beauty in Nidderdale. The Museums of the Year this year (the Hepworth) and 2014 (Yorkshire Sculpture Park). Not that I’m bragging or anything.

There’s a lot of Yorkshire on the large and small screen, including Harry Potter, Calendar Girls and the Full Monty and of course the popular Emmerdale, Heartbeat and Downton Abbey. Famous Tykes include the Brownlee brothers, Geoff Boycott (that’s Sir Geoffery to you) , David Hockney, Henry Moore, Dame Barbara Hepworth, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ed Sheeran and the Arctic Monkeys. Not forgetting Dame Judy Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean. Oh I could go on – it’s a Yorkshire trait, but I won’t show off too much, because we’re humble, us Yorkshire folk. But you get the picture, and what a picture it is.

Yorkshire Day isn’t really that ancient, it only started in 1975 as a way of cocking a snook to the re-organisation of local government which tried to tell us that Yorkshire wasn’t one big county. Now, each year, there’s a bit of a do with every expense spared, we like to look after our pennies, we do and then chunter about the cost, one of our mottos is ‘how much?’ repeated at least twice, getting louder each time.

My friend Maika now proudly tells anyone who cares to ask that she’s from Yorkshire. Rightly so, she’s thinking of establishing a Yorkshire enclave in her second home of Japan. To celebrate this transition to Tykeness, we presented her with a white rose Buff, Yorkshire flag and copy of The Dalesman, the quaint publication that used to be found in doctors’ waiting rooms and took her to the Yorkshire Dales.

As we picked her up, she dodged the raindrops and announced it was ‘coming down like stair rods’, adding, with that dour Yorkshire tone we have taught her so well, ‘but it’ll burn off’. And so it did and we celebrated in style, with a mug of tea and slice of cake on top of Malham Cove. Yorkshire, there’s nowhere like it.

A certain pride in my city

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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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So this is why I run, then

 

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Arty running at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

 

‘Are you the lady who runs?’ the caller asked. Lady? <Snigger>. Runs? <Double snigger>. It was Radio Leeds who wanted to do an interview about running to music, I don’t run to music, I need to be completely aware of my surroundings, I could trip up at any time, but it was nice to be asked.

It’s not a bad title to have, because I do run, dammit (let’s not talk about being a lady). So why do I run, then? It’s always hard, I’m not a natural. I don’t get awards and I never win races, I’m more likely to come last than first, but I do love it.

For a start,  I’m in the great outdoors, whatever the weather, there’s always something to enjoy, the sights, the smells, the splashings. I’m not a keen road runner, I prefer the trails, but if I have to pound the pavements I do, taking in the urban surroundings, watching the flagstones pass under my feet, hey I spotted 5p the other day, I picked it up, I’m from Yorkshire, me.

I love to race, it’s a challenge, I’ve paid for it so I actually have to do it, because, dammit, I’m not wasting money (the whole Yorkshire thing). Sometimes there are medals, or tee-shirts, though never in my size, but always there are team-mates, friends and so many others there to encourage, cheer and generally chivvy me along. It feels good.

Then there’s running with mates, just because I can. Today a baker’s dozen of us met up at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and just ran, looked at art, tried to be art, realised we were nothing like art, ran a bit more, then had coffee and cake, it was glorious. That’s why I run, it’s glorious.