Saturday, 24 June 2017

I Race For Life

My venerable and trusty car has passed her MOT, but not without failing it first.  Some work to the suspension and brake pipes, and way hay!  She and I are good for another year and this morning I walked to pick her up from the garage.  I didn't run because my legs are a little stiff from mountaineering in Poland.

I've just checked the definition of 'mountaineering' - a word I don't think I've used in relation to myself before - and it is: the sport or activity of climbing mountains. Run and race are other words I haven't used much, largely because the Race for Life was my first running race since an egg and spoon race in 1974.

Like mountaineering, running is a thing that can make my legs feel stiff, but having completed 20 parkruns, 5K doesn't leave me feeling terrible any more.  In any case, running the 5K Race for Life was made so much easier by the amazing support of all those who sponsored me (thank you), and by the fantastic pink atmosphere in the Quarry Park in Shrewsbury (where I bumped into Annette and Fern, also running).  The Race for Life was made very simple by thoughts of friends living with cancer: people whom I love and want to show that I love by doing something useful.

Since the Race for Life, I've run the parkrun in Krakow, after which I went off to do some thoroughly enjoyable mountaineering with my longest serving friend and her brother in the Tatras.  I thought of my friends whilst I was there too.  Having arrived home yesterday evening, I decided to rehabilitate my legs this morning by walking the couple of miles to pick my car up from the garage.  When I got there, on the front seat was the bill (reasonable, considering) and a five pound note: a donation that I was given the night before the Race for Life.

I am always delighted to see £5, but I was particularly pleased to see this note as I've been feeling a bit awkward since I realised I'd mislaid it somewhere (but where?) in my car.  My excuse, had anyone accused me of carelessness (which no one did) is that I was handed it just after I'd seen an amazing chamber production of Verdi's Rigoletto.  To differentiate this from other operas, it's the one in which boy meets girl, trouble ensues, then tragedy ends it all badly. 

I'm pleased my car's still on the road, that my legs are easier after this morning's gentle walk, that the money's come back to me (via Dave and my trusty car) to go on to its rightful place with Cancer Research UK, and that the £337.50 I raised by running the Race for Life will be used to help beat (to quote one friend) feccin' cancer and the feccin' awful things it does to people.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

I Vote Labour

I voted Labour today, and I was given a boiled sweet at the polling station.  The not-quite-humbug was given unconditionally. 'Why?'  I asked the polling officer.  'Because you might need a sugar rush to make up your mind,' she answered.  I didn't, but I took the humbug anyway.

Yesterday evening, I sent my brother a text to wish him good luck.  He is standing for re-election as a Conservative MP.  My good wishes were genuine - he's my brother, he's full of talent, and I like and admire him as a person.  He has a solid reputation as a constituency MP who cares and works hard for his constituents.  His job isn't easy, and he faces abuse, particularly around election times.  I don't agree with most of his political views, but I love him.

The problem with party politics is that it's not nuanced.  It doesn't easily allow for liking and respecting people with different views: those whose intentions are genuine and who are honest and trustworthy.  It doesn't allow for wanting a part of the Green Party manifesto to be bolted onto the Labour manifesto, or for the Liberal Democrats' clearer ideas about Brexit to be taken into consideration.  It doesn't allow for the fact that whilst I voted Labour, I would have preferred a candidate who lives in her constituency.

But I voted Labour because I see the current Labour Party manifesto's promises as containing the greatest number of smaller and larger beacons of hope in the bleak and troubled social, economic and political landscape of 2010s UK.

I work at a university.  I have seen the way that the increasing commodification of higher education has gradually eroded the sense that learning is both a right and a privilege: an opportunity for exploration and personal growth, for development of tolerance and a love of thinking. The Labour Party's bold promise of an end to tuition fees sends a flurry of excitement and hope through my heart and mind.

Growing up in Islington North, I first voted in the 1983 General Election when Jeremy Corbyn was the new candidate for Labour.  I didn't vote for him.  I was brought up to mistrust the radical left-wing approach of Islington council, to be fearful of its progressive moves, particularly in the area of gay rights.  I was brought up to think that Christian values = Conservative politics.  I was brought up not to think for myself.  These are not my excuses - they are my explanations.

I've come to voting Labour today via talking with Gary, a retired miner my LSF and I lived opposite in Durham during the 1980s miners' strike.  I've come to voting Labour via discussions with numerous other friends of all persuasions, via reading, via experience.  Most of all, I've come to vote for Labour via working with people like Emmett, Nathan and many others who, because of the stigmatisation of people with disabilities or mental illness, because of the marginalisation of people who are older, or in the care of the local authority, because of the oppression of people at the margins of society, live in fear of further dispossession, of social isolation, of cuts to their benefits, of loss of independence, dignity and meaning.

What I saw when I read the Labour manifesto for this election was an opportunity for me to express my support for policies of respect and hope for making a society in which people can live less fearfully, and in greater trust of each other.

Because I love my brother, I don't want him to lose his seat tonight, and because I love the people I know who are struggling within the NHS, education and other public services, I don't want him to win it.  Living with contradiction is a life's work, but in the end, I have voted Labour.  Democratic principles allow me to be true to myself, and still love people with whom I disagree. 

In the end, when we vote, most of us are simply people doing what we think is best at a particular moment in history.  Most of the rest: all the ridicule, name-calling and shaming of each other - behaviour which the best and wisest politicians avoid - is humbug.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

I Outlive My Mother

I've just worked out the number of days my mother lived.  It's 19,166.  I then worked out the number of days I've been alive.  As of today, it's 19,166. When the identical number popped onto the screen, I felt momentarily ... well ... weird.

19,166 days is approximately fifty-two-and-a-half years.

I've never calculated the number of days anyone's lived before.  To do it, I used my favourite search engine and entered 'calculate the number of days between two dates' and found (should you ever feel the need to do the same).

And why did I do this today?  It's not as if my home is clean and tidy, and I have finished writing all the poems I want to write, and that novel, and sorted out all the bags and boxes still languishing in my loft since my move last year.  It's not as if I had nothing else to do. 

How I got to this point is this:

Walking back home this morning, my younger son pointed out a sign in Shrewsbury town centre for the Race for Life.  "You could do that, Mum," he said.  When we got home, I signed up for it, and, as part of that, Cancer Research created a sponsorship page for me.  I thought of the people I know who've died from cancer, and those who've lived through it, and those living through it, and of one  friend in particular.  And I thought of my mother who died of breast cancer, and because I've had some awareness that I'm approaching fifty-two-and-a-half, and because I've got a day off work, and because I am very creative when it comes to putting off housework, I've been idling around on my laptop and in my musings.

From there, where I've got to is this - that the significance of the 19,166 days I've lived equalling, for this day only, the number of days my mother lived is about the alignment of some things.

What aligned today is significant but not because of that number.  It's more to do with my son encouraging me to take up the parkrun; his interest in my progress; our going shopping on a day in half term; our walking back a particular route because of the particular shopping he wanted to do; his noticing the Race for Life advertisement; his prompting me to sign up for the run.

The alignment is to do with the love we and his big brother share, and within all that, our particular love for music - a love he'd also have shared with my mother, a pianist, whom he never met, but whose material substance somehow shines through him in a way that belongs only to him every time his fingers, long as hers were, play over the piano keys, and every time he smiles his smile, which, like hers, is a bright shaft of sunlight illuminating and soothing whatever any day's sadnesses might be.

Friday, 26 May 2017

I Design A Triathlon

Even though I've been participating in the parkrun since last November, two of the words which do not come to mind when I'm asked to introduce myself as part of those share-two-fun-personal-facts ice breaker sessions at the beginning of training courses are: 'Athletic' and 'Prowess'.   I'm more likely to contribute 'Highbury' and 'Islington', for example. 

Having said that, the fact that I can now run 3 miles non-stop and without feeling awful is very important to me. It means I can dance around my living room more energetically, and for longer.  This is information I'm keen to share in the right circles, so each Saturday, at about 11am, I exchange athletic information with my longest serving friend (LSF).  She messages me the details of her parkrun: her time, her position in the field, the time of the fastest woman in our age category, and any other interesting facts, like what she had for breakfast. I reply with my, consistently slower, time. 

A couple of weeks ago, in response to her time of 26'52", I replied 2 hours 39". Unable to face the commute from the Outer Hebrides, I'd missed the previous two runs but this fact alone didn't account for my plunging statistics.  The reason for my personal worst was that, the parkrun being cancelled, I'd decided to go on a run of my own, and to top it off with a swim. 

My LSF remarked that all I needed to do was a bike ride and I'd have done a triathlon.  I'd already reached my physical limit, so I wondered if drying my hair after the swim - by far the hottest event - could count as the third activity. 

My LSF is one month and 6 days older than me, so when she said no, I knew I'd have to come up with something else. Generous to a fault, she suggested that playing the flute might count, and added, by way of encouragement, that her friend G has a triathlon of champagne, white wine, red wine.

The parkrun is cancelled again tomorrow for another event, so I'm considering what tomorrow's triathlon will be.  I think it might include dancing in the rain.

Friday, 12 May 2017

I Spill Some Oats

Earlier in the week I broke a Japanese teacup: part of a set of six my parents were given as a wedding present.  I broke it in the process of cleaning my living room windows to let the sun in more clearly.   I keep the cups on the window sill where their delicate-thin china is well-lit, their blue glaze offset against the white paint.

Making flapjacks this evening, I spilt some oats.  I did this as I was using a peg to close up the bag.  Before I could secure the opening, the bag slipped in my hands and some oats tumbled onto the kitchen floor.

And I have a scab on my shin from where I banged it climbing up the loft ladder to put my suitcase away after my trip to the Outer Hebrides.

Breaking the cup prompted the memory that my parents' wedding anniversary falls in May. I checked the date in my birthday book, and realised that on Sunday 14th it will be 60 years since they married in Salisbury Cathedral. 

Neither of them is alive to celebrate, and the date would have passed without me thinking of it had I not dropped a pane of double glazing Perspex onto the teacups.  As it is, for the past couple of days I've been imagining 1957: my mother just turned twenty, my father thirty-two; she so full of romantic dreams, he so full of his faith.  What an act of courage and innocence. 

What I've came to thinking is how extraordinary it is that those six cups survived as an intact set for so long.  And how amazing that only one of them broke.

As for the oats, before sweeping them up I took a picture of my kitchen floor.  It's a galaxy:

I've kept the pieces of teacup - I will glue them together, or I'll make something with them: take a leaf out of my cousin's book.  This is the cousin who's broken enough china to create a beautiful mosaic to frame his kitchen window.

And my shin?  It's nearly healed.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

I Rave About The Hebrides

You can find my review of the Station CafĂ© in Crianlarich on TripAdvisor.  It's entitled: "I haven't eaten a sandwich like that since 1991".

As far as Berneray in the Outer Hebrides is concerned, I haven't been on a Scottish Island like that since 1986 when, filled with post-finals joie de not having to revise any more, my longest-serving friend Helen, her brother Richard, Dave, Sebastian and I filled up a Ford Cortina and headed for Mull, in the Inner Hebrides.  We spent a few carefree days in full sunshine on white beaches and plunging (yelling with cold) into the turquoise sea. 

Here are the pages from my photo album of those days.  Allow for fading:

The others are all now quite respectable.  Helen usually sits the right way up, for example.

I don't think Dave drops pudding on people's heads these days:

Or leaps at such an angle:

I had had no idea Mull existed before I went there.  I saw Tobermory, puffins and otters for the first time.  We went on a trip to Staffa and saw hexagonal rocks.  We bunked up in a Youth Hostel in the days when you were put on a toilet cleaning rota.  It was glorious.  We were the Famous Five on an island adventure, though none of us was a dog and we didn't drink ginger beer.

I had no idea Bernaray existed before Anna and Hilary started talking about it, and about their home there. But Ted, another longest-serving friend, and I have just got back from seven days of sunshine on white beaches, paddling in clear seas, walking around breezy headlands, collecting exquisite shells: and all this in near solitude.  I was reminded of my 1986 Mull-happiness.

This is the West Beach of Berneray on Bank Holiday Monday:

This is what I had to buy in the island's small but perfectly stocked shop (an excuse for ginger beer in the Lobster Pot tearoom next door):

This is the access to the beach on North Uist where poet and artist Pauline Prior-Pitt took us after an excellent lunch, which included the best salmon I can remember eating, peat-smoked from the island's smokerie

This is the sea, and a token gesture of clouds, it being Scotland:

This is the sea, the sky and a glimpse of the machair, a rare natural habitat for which the Uists, Barra and Berneray are renowned, and which will be flowering soon:

This is Ted, questing for cowries, a theme of the week.  He found seventy:

These are my shells.  There are eleven:

This is me, camouflaged in white and blue:

This is sun on the water on the return from our day trip to rock-tastic Harris:

This is my Trangia stove, a transitional object and all I need (plus Lady Grey teabags, a thermal mug and matches) for a really good brew:

We sat in the garden drinking Prosecco in the evenings, feeling slim, smug and lithe as we watched the seals lumbering on the rocks.  Rocks a bit like this:

And apart from that, this is why I didn't want to leave.  The last day.  West Beach.  Just look at it!

And this was the sandwich at Crianlarich, which gravitated me with a doughy flump.  The tea was okay:

Friday, 14 April 2017

I Inspect The Small Print

Yesterday, I had my eyes tested.  I'd received a voucher and I'm a sucker for a free offer, and I've noticed a deterioration when reading, so I'd booked myself an appointment.

The optician engaged me in witty banter about my occupation, wondered whether I could teach him anything.  I doubted it.  I suspected he was bored, weary of repeating the various tests in a windowless room - puffing air into my eyes to test for glaucoma; photographing an image of my eyeball; and then getting me to read traditional letter charts.  I felt, seeing as I was a non-paying customer, that I had to be amenable, so I expressed my concern about the length of time it takes for NHS fees to be paid (up to a year), and I chuckled when he suggested I read the row second from the bottom which was to all intents and purposes illegible.  As for the bottom row, it was a series of fuzzy dark rectangles. 

Slipping various lenses into the frames sitting on my nose, the optician asked me if they improved (or disproved) my vision.  In the interests of being helpful, I gave answers which sounded like disclaimers on advertisements for financial services, "Well, that one makes the letters easier to read but they all have a shadow which is a bit distracting so it may improve my vision,  or make it worse, depending on other factors."  But I was cut short.  Did the lens make it better or worse?  Yes. Or No?

I came out with a prescription and went to the desk.  A short discussion about glasses ensued, and I said I'd wait to visit with my son, so he could help me choose frames.  I was (secretly) thinking that I possibly wouldn't bother after all, glad that my eyes (though a bit worse for seeing print so small I probably wouldn't really need to see it) had been declared healthy.

At the moment I was asked to pay for the test I produced my voucher from my bag with a modest sense of triumph at my organisation.  "That'll be £25.00 please," the assistant said.  I looked at the voucher again.  I read it properly for the first time. 

Free Eye Test 
with every new purchase of glasses.

Perhaps it's not my eyesight that's the problem.