Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Forty Eight

It turns out I like being 48.  Forty six as an age was of slight concern.  It was a matter of waiting to see if I made it to forty seven.  After all, husband dying two days before his forty seventh birthday was weighing heavily on my mind.  The weirdness of reaching an age where death is a real thing that happens to normal people.  I didn't think 47 was particularly amazing, no real euphoria about making it that far, just life as usual.  But 48.  Wow.  I like 48.  I am bloody near to 50 years old.  I mean, I can smell it.  I can feel its approach and almost taste it.

But I'm 48 and I never knew it would feel this good.  My body still does stuff, everything I ask of it.  I can mountain bike without damaging myself, do four hours of heavy digging and lifting in the garden the next day and still get up and ride 45 miles the following day.  My body is still working, that's pretty cool, eh?  In fact, no really noticeable slowing up from a decade ago.  Not only will it do all that stuff, but it can run further than it ever could at any point in my 30s.  Pretty neat, I'm thinking.

So I enter the late 40s with a hell yeah kind of approach.  A feeling of freedom and recklessness because I'm not broken yet.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Mrs Williams

Dear Mrs Williams,

I know you think this is not important, in fact, a bit of a joke, but I want to let you know what you did to me. I want you to understand that your thoughtless actions had an impact on someone else's life, that you did something bad.

I know you thought you simply rammed an anonymous white van, and that it was just a thing.  Well, it wasn't.  It was Shaz.

Let me explain, properly, the background, from the start.

My husband, my soulmate, my wonderful, kind, strong, beloved husband was taken from me in 2005, quite suddenly and unexpectedly through a malignant grade 4 brain tumour.  When he died I was lost, broken, destroyed, adrift, no longer really me anymore.  And they gave me a life insurance payout.  How ridiculous does that seem, what is money in relation to the loss of not just his life but my planned life with him.  How can money even relate to such a thing, and what's it for?  I left it sat, untouched for years, it just didn't seem relevant to me.  In 2012, seven years on, I found myself starting to be in a better place, a glimpse of the possibilities of happiness, my head coming out from the clouds a little and my feet beginning to find their place as well as this unwanted new life began to start forming some tendrils of spring again.

So, knowing that Dave would have smiled at my actions I commissioned the sourcing and converting of a VW Transporter into a camper van.  It was custom built for me.  Little details and big details.  Customised.  For me.  The seats are a cheery blue and white leather look, and I love them. I love all the little bits and pieces of my camper van.  And I travelled in that van, to Scotland first off, then all over Europe we went in an extended trip while I took time out of real life and work and all that jazz.  I lived in her, like a tortoise traveling in her shell, that's how I was, moved for a bit then curled up safe and warm in the cocoon which the van became.  She was Shazza, my camper van.

I returned to real life eventually, travelling can't last forever if funds don't.  But the van played a huge part in my life from then.  Everytime I needed peace and quiet, she was the obvious refuge, heading off for a week or for a weekend, alone or with friends.  When I needed time to study and write essays for my Open University degree, I'd go away in Shaz, mix up walking or riding my bike by day then quietly, comfortably and in peace, I'd have a seat in Shaz and open up the books.

She represents so many things for me.  She's my dead husband's legacy.  She's my play thing.  She's my happy place.  She's part of how I go away with friends.  She's my only vehicle, my only way of carrying stuff which can't be walked or biked or trained or bussed.  She's Shaz, she's the way I find inner calm and a gateway to fun and adventure.

You took her away.  You admit that you have had a lot of crashes but you didn't stop to consider that maybe you're not fit to drive.  You said you had blacked out, couldn't remember.  You weren't fit to drive.  But you did drive.  You drove into Shaz, you took her away.  You.  You did that. Nobody else did that.  You drove down the middle of the bloody road, you didn't try to stay on your side, you didn't brake, you didn't steer, you didn't look.   Were you on the phone, reading a text perhaps?  You rammed her, and you wrote her off.  You seem to be proud of your bad driving record.  How many other people have you unthinkingly said "oh it was just a piece of metal" to.  You are not a thoughtful person.  We will not be friends.  You did this.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Teddy Bear

We were talking teddy bears the other day.  The house has some minor bears, but it has two Important Bears.  Those who are the same age as their owner.  Mine, with a hole in its ear, some threadbare other parts, a bit of stitching forming its face missing.  His, with a scarf to cover the mark where Action Man got him with the bayonet.  This is a story I did probe in some detail to establish if, in fact, it had really been Action Man's fault.  This aside, these bears are Important.  My mum has some important bears, a panda approximately 70 years old, and randomly she is also the care taker for her brother (still alive)'s bear, a more commonplace brown number.  Her bears will be fine.  All three of her children understand these are Bears of Weight and Significance.  They will be taken good care of, cherished, respected and never thrown out as long as a generation exists.

What will happen to my bear?  Nobody will realise that Big Ted is Important, that he's been there for me, through my first might have been boyfriend, through Pippy leaving town, through my lonely promotion to junior school separate from the rest of my year. He understood what it was like to have to share a double bed with Lou at the junior school journey.  Nobody wanted to share with Lou, she smelt.  And while I had to pretend to the world at large that it was no big deal, Big Ted knew that it was.  And he was still there for me over three decades on when my husband died and I cried on his shoulder.  I fear that his future after I die is uncertain and it troubles me.  Is there a home for Important Bears?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Tour of Tameside part 3

And there it was, day 3.  The big one.  My main goal, if you will, the half marathon.

I arrived on the start line in not too bad a condition.  I mean, yes, I had three of my toes taped up, and I'd given the foam roller some serious repeat work over the past two days, but all looked well.  As you may have gathered, I am not a runner. This meant that for Saturday morning to dawn with a clean dry running top things were not looking good.  However, I do, of course, have many cycling  jerseys so a lovely delicate green Rapha jersey with a handy rear zip pocket for the van key and that was me sorted.

At the start line, we gathered once again, and hiding away at the back of the group I found myself in the company of two women who, like me, were new to this malarky.  It turned out we all had the same fear - the itinerary for the event was clear, the winners were expected through early, but then to our horror, the timing of the awards ceremony was, for all three of us, earlier than we anticipated finishing.  We compared notes.  I got my thoughts in order, and the outcome was:

Main goal: Finish
Stretch goal: Do it without walking
Believable goal: Do it in under 3 hours
Stretch goal 2: 2 hours 30.

I really wanted to believe in 2 hours 30.

And off we toddled along the Longdendale trail from Hadfield.  Unlike day 1, I was doing no overtaking.  For a while, there were people around me, and at least something else to look at, admiring running shoes, checking out who had headphones, anything really to keep my brain busy.  And then there were myriad flies.  That kept me busy too, in the attempts not to swallow any of the annoying things.  That was a failed attempt by the way.  As the route was mostly a there and back, the next entertaining moment was when you see the elite guys and gals coming back on their return leg.  At least I'd managed 5 miles before the first leaders passed me in the opposite direction.

Got to the half way point, not quite dead.  Then there was the entertainment of counting the runners who I was now passing going the other way. I think I was slightly anxious not to be last.  At about kilometre 13 I realised I was slowing up.  By this time, there was very little entertainment to be had, other than glancing at the watch.  Oh yes, now I've done 12km.  Oh look, my running pace is averaging 6.13 minutes per kilometre.  Ah yes, I've been running for 1 hour etc. etc. etc. Flat and straight is boring.  But at least if you're looking at the numbers there is empirical information about you slowing up.  One thing I'd done differently before this race was cram a gel in my pocket.  I am suspicious of gels.  I'm never entirely sure if my digestive system will cope.  But the numbers tell me that post gel I got back on pace, and all was well.

Padding, padding, padding along.  I've always got a song going in my head, and this time I had my own lyrics to it.  The more you keep running the sooner it'll be over was my refrain.  The final three km were bloody painful but I got over the finish line in a blistering 2 hours 10.  Found a quiet bit of field and lay down panting for quite some time.  Back in the van and the assessment of current injuries.  One very bloody sock revealed a toe - neighbouring toe interface had gone horribly wrong.  My left ankle was trashed, both knees were grinding, my hips were sore, and the muscles down the front of my thighs, oh my, who would have known.  And my back ached, and there was chafing in places I never knew chafing could happen.  That'll be a DNS for day 4 then ...

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Tour of Tameside day 2

So, post my best ever 10km time, how was I going to function the next day?  I took stock in the morning.  Foam roller for the IT band as the knee was hinting at a desire to moan.   Taped up one of my toes on my right foot and I was good to go.

Friday night is fell race night.  Or so it would seem in this mysterious world to which I was getting an induction.  A gaggle of people on the start line, some colour coded as in for the long haul, others who were one trick ponies, just there for the fell race. And of course, everyone looked faster than me.

Now, I'm not a fell runner.  As I write this a little bit of me is protesting over whether  I'm any kind of runner at all.  But as a complete novice to this kind of thing, racing, big numbers of people and this mysterious discipline that is fell running, I felt out of my depth.  Other people were in shorts and vests.  I was in 3/4 length pants, a T-shirt and ... get this ... a waterproof.  The skies were black, it looked horrific, and the walker and mountain biker in me refused to go up on a hill without having the wherewithal to look after myself.  A ridiculous thing given the heavily marshalled nature of the event and the short distance.  But that's me, I'm afraid.

I admit I was a bit disappointed at first with this fell run.  The bulk of the early climbing was on road not on anything trail like, but then as we got to Hobson Moor, off road we went.  The off road climb was interesting, in the way that I learned that when I struck out with a fast walk I overtook people running, and held nobody up behind.  And then, we hit the downhill.  A rocky, rutted, single track kind of a descent.  It was kind of glorious, except for the other runners.  I found myself behind a queue of slow movers, and at first, because they were using a gait which looked like running, I did a gentle run.  Then I realised I could walk down and still be on their heels.  Decided that to enjoy it, I was going to need to do some odd little sprint sections whenever the track widened, and that worked surprisingly well and I bounded down like a gazelle.  Or, as in my adrenaline fuelled after race high, I said on twitter, like a force of nature.

That surprised me, my ability to descend rapidly on a technical trail.  I am definitely not a mountain goat by any means, my clumsiness and inability to sort my footwork out seemed to me a given.  Yet, the last few months of running on my own, descending from Chinley Churn down New Allotments in a joyous lolloping style has, it seems, suited me well to descending.  Peak District meets Tameside and the Peak District won, it seems.  That feeling, that glorious happy feeling of running like a child who has an unexpected day off school and runs for the sheer wonder of it, that feeling stays with me. Ah, and there is some kind of photographic evidence.  Me before the race.  I'm the one on the right.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Tour of Tameside part 1

Feeling a need to write.

The Tour of Tameside is a local running event.  It takes place over four days, and each day is from a different location.  The first day is a 10km trail run after work on a Thursday evening, the second a 6 mile (I did not make up the units) fell run Friday evening, the third day a half marathon off road  on Saturday morning and the final day a 7 mile city style run around Hyde on the Sunday.

My friend Glyn, on hearing that I'm aiming at a half marathon in October said something to the effect of "hey, are you doing any of the Tour of Tameside events?  I'm doing the 10km".  Before I knew it, I'd checked it out online and booked on the whole lot.  I think he was taken aback by what he'd started.

Having booked on just ten days before, by way of preparation, the previous weekend I thought I'd better see if I had the wherewithal to run on two consecutive days.    That didn't go too badly.  10km a day seemed do-able.  By way of further preparation I thought I'd better buy some suitable trail shoes. The Tuesday of the week of the event I was the proud owner of new trail shoes.  On the Wednesday I got off the train two stops early and ran home in them.  They seemed fine.

Thursday night I collected my number from a trestle table set up in a local rugby club HQ.  Carefully pinned it on, as per instructions, four pins and made my way to the start line.  Read the instructions, had a moment of total horror as I realised that they were expecting the race winners to finish just 30 minutes in.  That about equals my best ever 5km time.  Then discovered that the award ceremony had potential to take place before I'd finished running. Hmm, I thought, what have I done?

So, made my way to the start line, with the confidence of someone who has never even done a 5km park run but has somehow entered something which includes the word "race".  There they were.  The other runners.  They looked like they knew what they were doing.  Their clothing yelled out, I know what I'm doing, their warm ups betrayed their less than casual approach.  Some of them had their names on their numbers.  Things were not looking good for me.  Very wisely, I aimed for somewhere near to the back of the pack so I didn't get in the way of the fast people.  I didn't warm up.  I am used to spending the first 2km of the run warming up.  There was an announcement and a gun and we shuffled towards the start line, and strava at the ready, off we went.  Having never run in a group before, it was improbably confusing trying to figure out what my normal pace actually was.  Other people upset my rhythm, and as I overtook people, I was worried; had I set off too fast?  I hadn't expected to have to go round anyone after all.  As things went on, we seemed to settle down, by about 4km I found myself staring at the same rear views, admiring the vest top race back of the woman in front with the swishing dark brown ponytail and wondering what the odd harness thing was on the guy in front.  Being an out and back, we were relieved of any running boredom by being able to see the elite guys and gals coming back past us.  Briefly.  Then there was more running, more and more running.  Eventually we had some bounding down through woodland trails, up and down steps, alongside canals and general change of scenery.  Then round a corner was a mahoosive descent and there ahead, the finish line.  Bounded down trying to look like none of it had been any trouble at all, whooshed past the finish line with the nice touch of the announcer welcoming me in by name.  Turned out I'd actually made it through just under the 60 minute mark, and there right on my tail was my friend Glyn.  Go us.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Antonym for Great

No suitable antonym for great exists.  I don't know what to think of Great Britain.  Small minded Britain springs to mind.

A steady theme of those who voted to Leave the UK hears them on interview on TV saying, passionately, often in a trembling voice "I've got my England back".  Often people my age who only knew an England within Europe.  Trying to turn a clock back, return to something you didn't even live through in the first place is incomprehensible to me.

Well, I haven't.  I've lost my England.  My England was a colourful place, it embraced diversity, played with it, relished it, enjoyed it, had a sense of humour about differences and chuckled about change, loved the increase in wild and wonderful foodstuffs, played with the new words we were making part of our language.  Had creativity, made friends, married into diversity.  Loved it.  Loved diversity.  That was my England.  I want my England back.

I don't want a place where racist attacks are returning, where individuals I cannot understand and won't try to understand feel that it's now OK to abuse their fellow citizens because they've not been in the UK for generations.  It's not OK. It's not OK at all, violence, name calling, snearing, verbal abuse, letters, hate mail, internet attitude, none of that is OK, none of that is British.  I am ashamed.  Thoroughly ashamed to have to admit to being British.  This really sucks.