Monday, March 31, 2008

Here we go again

It looks like I might have a bit of an enforced taper on my hands. Today's club run was cut short at 4 miles when I ran past my grandparents house, popped in to find out the latest update and was bundled into a car and down to the hospital where I spent the rest of the evening. I knew he was in hospital, which was why I stopped in in the first place, but apparently his condition had gone downhill during the day.

From the conversations with the doctors, it sounds like there might be some decisions to be taken. They may be able to do things, but the question is whether they should. In the doctor's words, he's the sickest man in the hospital at the moment. Depending on the results of a brain scan, they may be able to do something by putting him on a ventilator in intensive care, but if they did they're not confident they'd get him off it.

A year or so ago he sat us all down and gave us his instructions. He's told us all, more than once, that he doesn't want to be kept alive artificially, that he wants to be DNR. I think it might be getting to the stage where we have to respect his wishes.

When I spoke to my dad he sounded like he was on the verge of tears (and I hadn't passed on the full details of the conversation with the doctors at that stage) and searching for flights.

So in the next two weeks there might be rather more sitting than running, but I'm damn well going to do that marathon, it's for his charity after all and I can't think of a more fitting tribute.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Warm Fuzzy Feeling

Last month I decided that I'd spend my 30th being pampered in a spa, and that even if no-one turned up for it other than me and my sister, I'd have a lovely day and it would beat the queues at the airport.

However, I decided to break the habit of a lifetime and actually attempt to arrange something that other people would turn up to, rather than just doing my normal thing and doing what I want, when I want to do it.

When we were little, Annette was the one who had parties and friends, while I was the one who played with the older sisters of her friends, or tagged around after her. Even as we got older and forged our own lives, I kind of assumed that her friends were better friends than my friends. she had big birthday parties. I had meals with my family. Or I went on holiday. I started to believe that my friends were people I'd come into contact with, who tolerated me while I was around, but who wouldn't miss me if I wasn't there. This is the flip side of my fear of invisibility I guess, that even when people acknowledge my presence, it doesn't make a huge impact on them, and that if a better friend comes along they'd dump me in an instant.

The fact that I think like this doesn't mean it's true, however, and this week I've been quite frankly stunned. When I decided on the spa plan I knew that it wasn't cheap, and that when you get to your late 20s/early 30s, summer weekends get booked up months in advance with weddings and hen dos and christenings and so on. I didn't know whether I could realistically expect anyone to pay over £100 for the privilege of consoling me as I entered my 30s. In the end I decided that I'd do a two-stage thing, with the spa and a meal, so even if I didn't have many people in the day, I could at least be a bit sociable in the evening.

But instead, having sent out emails to various people, I've been stunned by the number of people who do want to come, and who have already paid up, in full, in advance, to join me. In fact, and there's a bit of childish sibling rivalry here, by my calculations I have more people coming to my 30th spa day than my sister did for her hen do spa day at the same place. Maybe people do actually want to spend time with me after all. I can't even begin to describe the warm fuzzy feeling that has given me.

It's almost enough to take away the pain of nearing my entry into my 30s...

Monday, March 24, 2008

There is no such thing as bad weather...

...only the wrong clothing.

You'd have thought I'd learn. Last March I went on a weekend away to do a 20 mile race in Wales, followed by a bit of white water rafting. It snowed.

This year I planned a weekend in the Lakes, and found a 10 mile race on the way. Guess what? It snowed.

But it was fantastic. I'd chosen somewhere relatively remote, where I could cut myself off from the world, and while the snow looked fantastic on the hills, it mainly came down overnight which meant that during the day I could just enjoy it without being caught in too many blizzards, and I could just relax and enjoy it.

There was no mobile phone reception, and no tv reception. No internet in the village (or at least I'm sure the hostel had it on the office computer they had, but there wasn't exactly a cyber cafe, and I didn't feel the need to beg to check my emails). Life reduced itself to the simplest of elements. Eat, sleep, and walk enough to build up the need for each of those things.

I spent most of my time walking at lake level. I made a couple of attempts to get higher, but when I encountered icy rocks on a scramble up one route, and increasingly deep snow on another, I decided that this close to FLM I'd rather not tick off any peaks, than attempt to do it and hurt myself in the process. I got high enough to take some good photos, and to get my heart rate going a bit, but I mainly stuck in the valleys at pub level.

It's amazing how quickly you can forget the stresses of life, by walking, and eating, and drinking. I didn't run (other than the race on the way up there), but in terms of time on my feet I reckon it will be good for marathon training.

The hostel thing was surprisingly good. It's all I need, to be honest. It's quite nice staying somewhere where everyone else goes to bed at 9.30 and gets up at 6.30 too! I'm not so keen on the snorers and the kids running round, but it was bearable. Everyone seemed to be scarily feet and lean though. Real hill walking types. They kept asking whether I was into fell running. No, no, no, although I'm starting to see the appeal. In theory if not in practice. But what I will be putting back into practice is hostelling. I picked up a map, and I'm plotting my next trip.

The weekend also confirmed that I'm not a driver. I hired a car. I drove it to the lakes. I parked it in the hostel car park. And I left it there. I walked all day on Saturday. On Sunday I walked a bit, got the bus over a pass that was too snowy to attempt, and then walked the rest of the way to Keswick. I got the bus back. I didn't even consider driving. And on the subject of Keswick - I got there and wanted to get back to the peace of Buttermere. It was so busy! Keswick is hardly a metropolis, but I just craved peace and quiet, to escape for the weekend. And on that basis, it ticked all the boxes.

And back to the weather. I think it says something that I've finally acquired enough technical kit, and enough understanding of how much I sweat doing various activities, that I managed to dress myself so I was precisely the right temperature the whole time. Wearing running tights under slighly more flattering trousers is definitely the way to go! Yes, the weather had an effect in terms of the walks I did, but it didn't stop me getting outside for pretty much the whole weekend, which was the point.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


This will be the first year in ages that I haven't gone abroad at Easter. Over the past three years I have had Easter trips to Cologne, Amsterdam and Paris, and further than that I can't quite remember, but I doubt I stayed at home.
I'm not quite staying at home this year, but there won't be planes involved for a change. This year I'm heading to the Lake District for a bit of English tourism. Looking at the weather forecast I might start regretting that idea, but there's nothing wrong with spending a long weekend snuggled in a pub with a good book looking at the view!

I'm going back to my penniless student days and staying in a hostel. Not that I can't afford a B&B, but I kind of like the idea of actually meeting people rather than staying closeted in a single room and only emerging for breakfast. After staying with someone I barely knew in New York and getting on with her really well, I just thought I might give it a go. It's cheap, it has a restaurant and a bar, and you never know, I might meet like minded people. I haven't stayed in a hostel since I was in Rome in 1999 (when in a strange foretaste of what was to come, I got there and discovered it was marathon weekend. I thought they were all nutters).

The original plan was to do some hill walking, but with the weather forecast and the niggliness of my leg this close to FLM, I think I might stick to more sedate pursuits. Whatever I end up doing though I'll try to take some pictures and report back after the weekend.
In other news, here comes this month's charity appeal. I'm on a club place at London, but have a promise to my grandfather to fulfil. And if I'm going to do it, I'd better get moving because my visit at the weekend confirmed that he really isn't well. Doing it next year won't work.
He got polio years before I was born, and I've only even known him in a wheelchair. Since he got confined to the chair, he's been a tireless campaigner for better disabled access to facilities and so on. It's rubbed off. For someone without a disability I have a strangely detailed knowledge of what makes a good disabled bathroom. Some of them are great, like the fantastic disabled toilet we found in Spain, the only problem being that you couldn't actually get into the building to use it. I try not to discuss them unless I'm in the company of my family. Although in New York I did surprise a few people with my appreciation of what facilities Matt would need. Grandpa got an OBE for what he'd been doing back in the late 70s, and has carried on for nearly 30 years since then.
As well as the national stuff (he's judged things like loo of the year competitions) he's also been heavily involved with a local disabled living centre. He's a trustee of the charity, and he still takes an active interest in the running of the place even though he's over 80 now. And a couple of years ago I promised I'd raise money for them if I ever got a place for London. I have, so now it's time to come good on that promise.
Unfortunately, since he got so ill he hasn't managed to do much of the arrangements for putting me in touch with the right people to do publicity and so on, and I'm wary of inducing donation fatigue by pestering everyone so soon after New York. I'm really not looking for anyone to subsidise what I'm doing, I'd be running the marathon anyway, and none of the money will go towards the cost of my place, or any freebies provided by the charity. But if anyone does feel inclined to donate (and there are some people who on hearing that you're doing a marathon ask who for - it's them I'm aiming at mainly), it's nice to have somewhere to direct them towards.
Even if I only raise £50, I will be happy that it's £50 which is going to a good cause. I've seen first hand what a good job they do, and how much work it takes to keep them going. They're not a big charity and don't have golden bond places or snazzy running vests. But that doesn't mean they're not a lifeline for people who need them.
The name of the charity is the William Merritt Disabled Living Centre, and unfortunately they haven't registered with justgiving so I can't give you a link for online donations. Which means that my chances of obtaining donations via an internet appeal are slim because anyone generous would have to write a cheque and put it in an envelope. However, there's no harm in mentioning it. More information about the charity, and an address for donations, can be found on the website.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Blast from the Past

Today I had a bit of a blast from the past.

Blast from the Past 1 - Sport Relief

I blame Sport Relief for who I am today. The very first thing that got me running was doing the Sport Relief mile in 2004. I didn't do much training, and it shamed me into realising how unfit I was. I got a flyer for a free day pass at a gym in my goodie bag, which put a seed in my head and, having done the run on the Saturday, I was a signed up gym member on a trial 6 week contract by Monday lunchtime.

I didn't do the mile this year. I didn't do the 3 or 6 mile options either. While it's a fantastic event, both for fundraising and getting people moving, I've moved on to bigger things.

Blast from the Past 2 - Hurting in Huddersfield

A good year after that run, I did my first 10k. What I didn't write there, because it wasn't particularly exciting, was that after the run I went straight to watch a rugby match in Huddersfield, and sat through the match alternating between disbelief that I'd done a 10k, and soreness in my legs, dehydration and all the other downsides to a first long race.

Well, today we played away at Huddersfield, and I found a race which fitted in really well with my marathon training. So I did the race on the way to the match. Only this time it wasn't a 10k, it was a 20 miler. A hilly 20 miler. And not only have I moved up to running 20 milers, I ran it at a much faster pace than I did that 10k. That's only natural because as you run, you improve, but it still underlined how far I've come. And how the soreness in your legs never quite goes away if you find the "right" race.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ms Cellophane

Today I went through one of my recurring nightmares. I've been having a horrible time ordering my car. I am constantly amazed at my inability to get salespeople to sell me a car I want to buy. They don't need to do the hard sell. I want it. I can afford it. I just want someone to take my order.

Last week I went up to the garage and there were no salespeople, so the trainee took my details and said someone would phone me back on Monday. I would have been happy to wait, but assumed that as he'd said someone would call me back, that would be fine.

On Monday, no-one called. When I phoned them they seemed most uninterested. They asked whether I'd looked on the website to get a price. Erm yes, but the website doesn't take orders, does it? Oh, they can't do that over the phone, I'll have to come in. But if I make an appointment there will definitely be someone to see me. So I arranged to see someone at 11.30 today.

I got to the garage at 11.30 today. I was told the guy I wanted to see was with a customer, but would be with me in 5 minutes. At 12 I started getting pissed off. At 12.30 I spoke to the receptionist again, who said he knew I was there, but she'd try to get someone else to see me as soon as possible.

At 1 I started pacing round the showroom. At 1.15 I was on the verge of walking out.

The problem is that the car I wanted is brand new. I mean brand brand new. I've only ever seen 3 of them, in the showroom. There's no second hand market because even the brand new ones haven't arrived yet to be sold for the first time. It's a franchised dealer or nothing, and this was the franchised dealer. If that was the car I wanted, short of going to another town (on public transport), I had to buy it from them.

I'm not the sort of person who gets irate and hard to ignore. I tend to sit there getting more and more frustrated until I finally walk out. I remember one particularly painful experience in Budapest when I tried to go out for a meal. I travel alone and don't think anything of eating alone. But the waiting staff seemed convinced that I was waiting for someone. No matter how much I tried to get their attention, they wouldn't even bring me a menu. Other customers tried too, and I still got nowhere. Even though the meal was fantastic (and had it not promised to be, I'd have been long gone), the thing I remember is the service, and being ignored, rather than the taste.

It's stupid in a way, I used to spend a lot of time trying to make myself invisible, unobtrusive, on the basis that if people didn't realise I was there they couldn't be deliberately mean to me. And if I really wanted to be noticed, then I could just make more of a fuss. I shouldn't take it personally, it wasn't just me. I saw at least three people walk out of there because no-one was paying them any attention. But still by the end of it I was practically in tears I was so frustrated. I was alternately wondering why I was putting up with it, and then getting pissed off that I couldn't just go down the road to another garage to get the same car.

In the end though, the trainee from last week spotted me. He couldn't actually take my order because he isn't qualified to do the FSA stuff when they try to sell you finance and various bits of insurance, but he actually made an attempt to go through the car options on the computer and get a list of what I wanted for when someone was actually free to take my order. I was pleased to see that even though someone else did the official stuff, it still got counted as his sale because he was the only person in that place who even showed any glimmer of understanding what customer service is.

I just hope the car is worth it! And worth me having this song stuck in my head all day.

If someone stood up in a crowd
And raised his voice up way out loud
And waved his arm and shook his leg
You'd notice him

If someone in the movie show
Yelled "Fire in the second row
This whole place is a powder keg!"
You'd notice him

And even without clucking like a hen
Everyone gets noticed, now and then,
Unless, of course, that personage should be
Invisible, inconsequential me!

Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there...

I tell ya
Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there...

Suppose you was a little cat
Residin' in a person's flat
Who fed you fish and scratched your ears?
You'd notice him

Suppose you was a woman, wed
And sleepin' in a double bed
Beside one man, for seven years
You'd notice him

A human being's made of more than air
With all that bulk, you're bound to see him there
Unless that human bein' next to you
Is unimpressive, undistinguished
You know who...

Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there...
I tell ya
Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there
Never even know I'm there.

Hope I didn't take up too much of your time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


My other reason for feeling a bit self-pitying at the moment is the car thing. I've made my decision (although I've not actually committed myself to ordering it yet - the appointment is made for Saturday though), and looking at it logically, I know that it's the sensible thing to do.

But every time I walk into the house, my bike looks at me and reminds me of the high hopes I had last year.

I really wanted being car free to work. I had a stupidly optimistic belief that public transport, cycling and the occasional hire car would be the answer to my prayers. I would whizz in and out of work on my bike, racing past the queuing traffic and gaining quads of steel. The sun would always shine, and it would never be so windy that I could barely stay upright, let alone get any forward momentum. I wouldn't be shamed into admitting that I can run home faster than I can cycle the same route. I would enjoy the mile walks to and from the bus stop, and the extra exercise that involved.

But I don't, and part of me is beating the rest of me up about that. I can't even ride a bike well enough to be able to do a 5 mile commute. Since about November I've probably commuted on the bike twice. The rest of the time it just sits there, staring at me, reminding me how crap I am at cycling.

Although when I get the car, I'm planning to leave it at home one day a week, that day will be used to run to work, not to cycle. All dreams of doing a triathlon have hit a huge reality check. I'm just not a cyclist. I don't find it easy, I'm not particularly confident in traffic, and when I take the bike to work I spend the whole day dreading the ride home. Even though I know I can't be good at everything, it still annoys me that cycling is one of the things I'm not good at.

I wish that I could have made being car free work, I really do. Buying a car emphasises the fact that I couldn't. I don't know why I don't give myself credit for at least trying, for sticking it out as long as I have, and for still being prepared to wait a couple of months for the right car to be available, rather than simply jumping at something I can drive away today, but I don't.

Sorry, I'm just wallowing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A big dose of self pity

Today hasn't been a good day. First of all my legs felt really niggly on my run this morning and I had to give up after 0.75 miles rather than risk making it worse, then I got some not great news about my grandfather.

I think he's right that the cancer won't have time to get him. It seems like heading over to St Annes for the wedding took a hell of a lot out of him, and he's struggling to recover from the exertion. He's been in and out of hospital since he got back, and it doesn't sound particularly good. I'm only just about getting myself back together after the last bout of terminal illness, and I'm scared to death that we're about to go through it all again.

I spent the afternoon thinking about chocolate and wine, resorting to the old tactics for taking my mind off stuff and consoling myself. I wish I was one of those people who loses their appetite when they go through stress, but I'm clearly not. I did manage to talk myself out of it, reminding myself that I wasn't hungry and it wouldn't help, but I have a horrible feeling that I know where this is going.

It was one of the most painful parts about the wedding, seeing my uncle saying goodbye to grandpa before flying back to America. No-one said anything, there were no hugs or tears, but I suspect that most of the people round that table thought that it was probably the last time they'd see each other. That's what that side of my family's like, hiding emotions and keeping a stiff upper lip. No big, teary speeches or goodbyes, just a quiet acceptance.

I'm hoping to get up there on Saturday, but I'm really not looking forward to what I might find.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Sometimes everything moves into alignment, and what was a good idea doesn't seem to be as much of one any more. At the moment I'm considering giving up my car-free status. Gasp!
Everything comes down to time at the moment. I'm starting to realise that time spent commuting on public transport eats into time I could spend better doing other things (conversely for long distances, public transport seems a better use of time because even if it takes a bit longer I can actually settle down with a book or a newspaper rather than worrying about the driving part).
I've been car free for five or six months now, and I've got a better idea of the journeys I would prefer to drive, and the journeys I prefer to do on public transport. I spend my life complaining about how little time I get to spend in the house, and started to realise that saving a couple of hours a day on public transport would make a huge difference. Now that I'm entitled to free parking at work it makes a lot of sense to use it, particularly as the cash alternative is paltry in comparison. Maybe the money I'd spend on a car for commuting would be worth it, for buying me that extra time to do something other than work, training and travelling during the week. I could leave the office and be home in 20 minutes rather than it taking an hour or more, and I wouldn't need to rush to get away before the buses get irregular in the evening.
I always said that I'd see how it went over winter, when I use the car less, and I've stuck it out for longer than a lot of people would manage. It's been fine, and in some ways I've liked being car free. It's got me running to work which has been fantastic for marathon training, and it's got me thinking about whether I need to make journeys. But it's also cut me off a bit. Little jobs that need a half hour trip out in the car to do become half day expeditions, and particularly in bad weather when waiting for the bus isn't appealing, I tend to put them off. With less frequent buses in the evenings, things have to be put off until Saturday, and then I have to find a Saturday when I'm at home. Visiting my grandparents is a bit of a chore, with changes of buses, and I suspect I may need to pop in more often than I do at the moment over the next few months. Getting back from running club on the bus means that an hour long run takes all evening, without even having the opportunity to pop into the club after the run for a drink. (On that subject, the fact that I can have a drink if I'm not driving is more appealing in theory than in practice, and I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the times I've taken advantage of the opportunity. Certainly they're infrequent enough that leaving the car on those days isn't going to be a problem).
I'm hoping that I'll still think carefully about when and how to use it, and I'm planning on buying something small, green and efficient rather than a status car. Because I've got a good idea of the journeys I will want to make in a car, I know that realistically I want a little city car that will do my 5 mile commute and trips around town cheaply, rather than something that is at home on the motorways. I use trains for most of my longer journeys anyway, and don't see why having a car should change that.
I'm not in a desperate hurry, but I want to start the ball rolling. May looks like the ideal time to take the plunge - pay rises kick in in May, and I finish paying off my credit card debt in May too. If I get round to sorting out my remortgage that will also free up a bit of cash. It would also be quite a nice birthday present to myself. I've done a lot of research over the past few weeks and really focussed on what I am looking for in terms of the car itself and how to pay for it. I've worked out the numbers and the budget, and I've worked out which cars come closest to ticking all my boxes. Now it's time to brave the dealership to see whether I can get the car I want for the price I want to pay for it.
Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


It was fantastic, absolutely brilliant. It was so nice seeing everyone again, all together in one place, in celebratory mood. I seemed to become a different person. Pampered for two days, with a posh dress, my hair expertly done, proper makeup, sleek eyebrows and the nails from hell (I hated them and took them off as soon as I could, but they did look nice), and surrounded by people I knew I felt myself oozing confidence and chattiness. One of the dive instructors who had come over from Spain said that I seemed like a completely different person in my own environment. And the strange thing? I was still on that high when I got back to work yesterday, and was more efficient and got more done than I have for months. Maybe the wedding has rebooted my mojo?

Is it really vain of me to be glad I was thin? Those photos are the ones which will be dug out again and again for years to come, so I'm glad they caught me at close to my best. Seeing one of Annette's schoolfriends made it hit home. She was always probably a bit bigger than me, but when I started shrinking, she probably went the other way. She did a reading instead of being a bridesmaid, one of the unspoken reasons being the fact the dresses didn't come in her size. She lives in Budapest so it would have been hard for her to make the hen do, but at the time the others said she wouldn't have come anyway because of swimsuit anxiety at the spa. She's lovely, lively, pretty, but you could see how much harder the little things are than they are for me today, and it reinforced the fact that I don't want to go back to being that person.

Remarkably despite five days of pretty much continuous eating out, drinking and merriment, I didn't gain any weight while I was away. The main difference seemed to be that I ate big meals but didn't snack, whereas normally I'm more of a grazer. It's good for keeping my energy levels stable, but does perhaps lead to me eating a bit too much because the second I get a bit peckish I start thinking about where my next nibble is coming from. Whereas over the weekend I'd go for hours between meals, and then have a nice restaurant meal with a glass of wine once I'd worked up a bigger appetite. Something to ponder. Unless it was the dancing that made the difference!

There were downsides too though. I will admit to having a bit of a blub at the ceremony. Part of it was seeing my little sister all grown up and married (and looking absolutely gorgeous) but it was more than that. Singing one of the same hymns as we had at the funeral didn't help, and the theme of the day really hit a nerve. Forget about colour schemes, the theme that got me was the charity angle. We had donations to cancer research instead of favours, all the men wore "make today count" pinbadges, and we had a collecting tin, together with taking some photos for a cancer research press release. And it turned out that it was more relevant than we imagined. The day before the wedding one of mum's cousins (I use the term loosely, as I don't know the exact relationships) died of cancer. I wasn't particularly close, but he was one of the people on that side of the family my grandad and mum were closer too, and he'd gone through a lot of the journey with grandma. There was also the godmother who was diagnosed with breast and lung cancer, looking thin and frail but remarkably well considering.

And there was grandpa. We've known that he's had various health problems for years. He caught polio years before I was born, and I've only ever known him in a wheelchair. He's had various ailments on and off since then, and recently has had a problem with his blood. He keeps on getting blood transfusions, but nothing seems to sort it out. He's getting frailer and frailer, and didn't make it to the ceremony because of the effort involved in getting in and out of the car in gale force winds. He made it to the reception because it was closer to their hotel, but the church was a car ride away and he wasn't up to it.

What we didn't know, and what only came out after a half-remembered conversation at the reception, and some follow up questions, is that he also has cancer. It's slow growing, and the doctors are working on the assumption that the other stuff will get him first (they can't operate anyway because of the blood problem - it wouldn't clot properly), but it's still there. Back again for another bite at the family. Great.