Anticipating January


January is a rubbish time of year.  A time of coldness, darkness, dankness and dreariness.  It’s the time of year with the most suicides.  The most marriage break-ups.  The time of year with the most left-over Christmas cake, chocolates and whisky in the cupboards.  And the least exciting fresh stuff in the shops.

Not a great time for making wholesome life changes.  Writing the date while coping with the fact that the year has changed by an entire digit, is challenge enough some Januaries. Resolutions should not be a January thing.

But rest assured, they are a ‘thing’.  It’s only the January bit that I object to.  This year, hubby’s off climbing early December, and I’m in charge of the kids for three months:  it’s a natural time of change in our household, so….

If I were to make resolutions, a better time would be NOW.

I considered this at the bouldering wall the other day.  I’d snook in there between errands, without thinking very hard about it being Tuesday morning, and therefore the Official Kiddy climbing session.

Even crossing the entrance hall was a gauntlet of mini-people.  My climbing was interspersed with games of ‘peek-a-boo’ with the knee-highs who were watching me from around various corners.  I couldn’t fall off anything without first checking that I wasn’t about to squash any.  There was background music:  a rousing chorus of ‘see the little bunnies sleeping.’  Not having a toddler attached, it seemed prudent to prevent myself from joining in, but not easy.

I was climbing terribly.  I spent the first quarter of an hour blaming the kids, but it is actually normal for there to be kids – normally my kids – around when I climb.  Anyway, the adult wall opened and I went through there, but my climbing didn’t improve.  I’d been running just once in the previous month and was noticing the extra weight.  By mid-session, my mental image of myself was of a pale, wobbly, curvaceous blob, centre-of-gravity around the ass, with underdeveloped arm muscles that were tense as a fishing-rod that has just caught a whale, trying to get some leverage on it.

And things were bound only to get worse when hubby went North.

Is selfishness always a bad thing?

Because, I thought, I am selfish.  Sure I’m priviledged to get three months a year work-free with the kids.  I am greatly looking forward to most aspects of it.  I love taking the rascals out, doing craft, playing ‘where’s the mouse.’  Watching Toddler learning to read could scarcely be more satisfying were I learning to read myself.

But – I want to develop as much as I want them to.  Those three months with no childcare will involve very little opportunity for exercise.  Decreasing fitness leads to deteriorating body-pride.  There will be diddly-squat social life.  There will be diabetic instability brought about by inability to concentrate on myself at meal-times. All my attempts at constructive thought will get vetoed by demands to concentrate on bloody Ceebeebies.

I have two choices, I suppose.  I can grit my teeth and pklay the role of the selfless family-centric stranger that society perceives of me.  Or I can somehow find a bit of space in my life where……


I had a shower when I got home.  There was a yellow book that I hadn’t seen before balanced on the side of the bath, next to the toilet.  A sure sign that hubby had been reading it.  I dreid my hands and went to investigate.  It was a book about running.

I opened the front cover.  It said: Gareth.

WowHe’s got Gareth’s training bible!    I plonked myself down on the bathroom floor in my towel.  I began to read.

It was very Gareth.  All about improving your running speed.

They say ‘I don’t need to work on my speed.  I’m a long distance runner.’  Well I think that’s a cop-out.

I snorted.  Cop-out indeed.  But I kept reading, and turned the page…..

Anyway, the upshot is, that I have made mid-November resolutions.  Want to hear them?  Good!

I’m going to put Tiddler into nursery a few hours every week.  Tiddler will love it at least as much as Mummy-time. Tiddler is not what has stopped me from doing it before.  Rather, it is the colossal extravagance: it will cost quite a lot of extra money and make none.  I’m going to have to get used to that: looking after your and your children’s physical and mental health isn’t always going to be free.

To maximise the expense, I will be running whatever the weather.  I am actually going to be the sort of punter who tries.  I am going to train!   If I do this, by March I will never have been so fit.   But hush!  Don’t tell Gareth – I want it to be a surprise, when I challenge him to some kind of race.

Oh and I’m going to use that wordless mental time to write a story.  Not a book – that’s the stuff of self-inflated ambition – but a story.  To see if I’m any good at it.  Give it to some people to read, see if I can keep their attention, that kind of thing.  Writing needs word-free mental space.  Running will give me that space.

I will have to stop writing blog-posts.  Now.  I love writing blog-posts.  They are distracting.  I tinker with them for hours and – just when I ought to be giving the kids attention, or just when I think about writing a story – I have a new idea for a blog-post instead.

It’s easier, you see.  The feedback is lovely.  To the fifty or so people (not the same every time, I take it) who read my blog-posts: I want to thank you for your support.  I am going to miss burdening you.

Oh yes, and the most important thing about resolutions: I rarely keep them.  So no doubt I’ll nip back occasionally, to let you all know how it went…..

without the Billy Goats Gruff


Sometimes, my head gets full of kids.  Overwhelmed with whining; nursey rhymes; sticky pointy fingers; demands for milk; repeative questions.  At such times, the house gets very small so we walk to the park where the kids will play independently.  Perfect!  I pull out my phone and start an adult conversation. I am just debating good parenting with a virtual mummy friend, when a Toddler-head blocks the gap between my nose and the screen.

The irony is not lost on me, but I sigh.  Deeply.

.Mummy, Mummy!  Sit with me.  Let’s talk.’

This is her favourite right now.

‘What about, Toddler?’

She smiles a little smile.  ‘All KINDS of things, Mummy.’

Then, after a pause,

‘Free Billy Goats Gwuff!’


Once upon a time there were three Billy Goats Gruff.  A big Billy-goat gruff, a medium Billy-goat gruff, and a……?’

‘and a TINY Billy Goat Gruff!’

And they lived in a field on the banks of a BI-I-I-G river.  And they looked across the river, because the grass was much greener on the other side…..

* * *

I am working away from home this week.  On my own.  I have never contemplated before how much cheaper food is in multibuys: I am struggling to satisfactorily feed myself on a fiver. Especially since there is no microwave at the hotel.  The fiver is significant, because meals are a fiver at the Cavery next door.  It’s a no-brainer.

I try on several outfits until I ‘feel pretty.’  Then I pretend to be a woman of indominatable confidence, stride into the pub and look the ‘please-wait-here-to-be-seated’ woman straight in the eyes.

‘Table for one, please!’  I say cheerfully.

‘Er – yeah.  I suppose you can sit anywhere then.’

She indicates the room full of tables, most of them empty, laid out for between two and eight people.  Feeling vindictive, I go for one of the big ones.

The walls are full of pictures but they weren’t designed to be looked at.  The photographs are so bland that I can’t remember the subject matter two minutes after I have looked away.

The waitress appears.  I order a meal and a glass of house red.  I would comment to the waitress how surprising it is that they wine costs more than the food, but she might think I’m complaining.

So I thank her, and I wait.


What happens next, Mummy?

…so the medium Billy Goat Gruff looks around to make sure nobody’s coming, runs across the field to the bridge (trit-trot, trit-trot, trit-trot), gets onto the bridge (TRIT-TROT TRIT-TROT, TRIT-TROT) …. and…..

…..and the troll jumps out!

That’s right, love.  And he says….

‘Who’s that trit-trotting over my bridge…..’

* * *

I wait.

The pictures on the wall haven’t morphed into anything more interesting.  I try very hard not to look at them for a third time.  I realise that this is for the waitress’s benefit.  I am noticing her more than I usually would, and carefully regulating the speed at which I drink my wine, because I don’t want to drain the glass and look desperate.

Does she really think I’m a weirdo?  I’m pretty sure that the proportion of people living alone in this country has never been so high.  And of course, I am not at all concerned to be dining out alone.  It’s just that my mind keeps coming back to whether I am looking confident enough to pull it off….

There are other lone people in the room, I notice, but no-one seizes the opportunity to communicate.  Eyes are down, on books or screens.  I guess they’re not really in the room at all.

It occurs to me that I have never been to the cinema on my own.  Ought I try?

My bed was nice last night.  Fresh sheets.  They’d been ironed – or, at least, they hadn’t been stored crumpled in a ball on top of the wardrobe.  I slept for twelve hours:  no midnight milk top-up and no little monkies climbing over me this morning.  I was showered and ready for work within twenty minutes.  There was even time for moisturiser.  No racing round trying to extract my shoes from a sea of clutter.

“Duck?” asks the waitress as she approaches, waiting automatically for confirmation as to who at the tablet has ordered it.

It makes me remember another table, a year and a half ago, when Toddler was just learning to talk.  The waiter said,


and Toddler, who knew that word, distinctly said, ‘Quack-quack!’

I nearly share this with the waitress, then remember my Grannie when she was living on her own, repeating the same fondest, favourite stories to any bugger who’d listen.

So instead I say what she is waiting for me to say, which is

‘Duck.  Yes, thankyou.  How lovely.’

I make myself chew slowly.  The food is nice.  My hotel is nice.  I have so much free time…

I have time to do all the tings that I want to do; that I blame my kids for my not doing.  Things like my tax return.  Exercise.  Healthy Eating.  Oh, yeah….

Hmmm…. nice duck.

I really must do that tax return:  there’s only one night left.  I haven’t been running all week, either.  It’s dark outside and I don’t really know the area.

The girl is hovvering as soon as I have finished and I want to sit for longer, so I order sticky toffee pudding.

Never mind.

* * *

The TROLL jumps out again!

He says….

Who’s that Trit-trotting over my bwidge!

That’s right.  And the Big Billy Goat goat doesn’t say anything.  He just puts his head down, and he runs towards the troll.  And he butts the troll, and the troll flies over the bridge, down, down, down and into the water with a big…..


…and all the goats run across, to the other side of the bridge!

* * *

I actually get lunch-breaks at this job.  There’s not much to do, except to explore the retail outlet where I am working.  I now have: one halloween pumpkin, two pairs of kids pyjamas, a book of politically incorrect fairy-tales (including the Three Billy Goats Gruff, although they don’t tell it as well as I do), some Peppa Pig big-girl pants, come Toddler-gloves, some Tiddler-trousers…. perhaps I am missing somebody.

* * *

So the Billy-Goats Gruff ran across the bridge, to the pasture on the other side of the river.  And what do you think happened?

I don’t know, Mummy.

Well, for the first five minutes, they enjoyed eating the grass on the other side of the river.  And then they looked back to where they had come from.  The place where Tiny Billy-Goat gruff had grown up.  And then they saw that the grass was much greener on the first side, and they trotted back across the bridge.

A week or so later, the troll crawled back upstream and came to guard the bridge again.  But the three billy goats gruff?  They were having such a nice time playing together in their pasture that I don’t think they’ve noticed yet.

Thoughts about canine pedigree

Like many vets, I like long words.  It feels nice to sometimes flick one off my tongue with the nonchalance of a street artist twisting a balloon to make a sausage dog.

Hepatoencephalopathy is a good one.  Hyperkalaemia another.  But anthropomorphism is my favourite.

It means: attributing human characteristics to animals.  Beatrice Potter was notorious for it, dressing ducks up in bonnets and so on.  Christmas cards are riddled with examples.  My three-year old provides some of her own, playing with plastic farmyard animals:

‘Piggy wants to watch Ceebeebies, but Piggy’s Mummy won’t let him.’

Clients do it all the time:

Benny loves his ManU top. He gets really excited when they’re playing.’

Surely Benny the beagle has no comprehension of football?  What he actually loves is the attention he gets when his owners dress him up in a football shirt.

Other examples have sad consequences:

If my rabbit had really broken its leg, it wouldn’t be trying to walk.  It wouldn’t be eating!

Rabbits will act surprisingly normally when they are seriously ill.  Many a rabbit has suffered because its owners have dismissed its symptoms as ‘minor.’

And surprisingly frequently I speak to someone who didn’t realise that their entire male dog would mate with the in-season female it lived with.  Why?

Because they were brother and sister and brothers and sisters definitely don’t do that!

Well, maybe brother and sister humans have taboos against it.  But dogs, I can assure you, do not.  I have known it take four weeks and an ultrasound scanner to prove this to clients.

Anyway, you get the picture: vets regularly view anthropomorphism as a bad thing.  But it’s actually an interesting indulgence.

Let’s think about evolution: how seals became streamlined and well-insulated; how giraffes got long necks.  How wolves got their fabulous sense of smell and the social abilities to hunt as a pack.

And how humans mucked it up.  We changed the rules of natural selection for wolves by giving special advantages (food and shelter) to our favourites.

We started to control which wolves bred together.  We wanted their offspring to respond to us emotionally, so we kept the cubs of ‘friendly’ animals.  We wanted wolves that were good at hunting, so we bred from those that caught the prey.  Someone who believed that bald animals were preferable, started breeding from ‘wolves’ with alopecia….


Anyway, we now have dogs appropraite to every task, be it

collecting dead pheasants


herding sheep into pens


looking like babies


chasing rabbits


I love this diversity so I can hardly be ‘anti’ selective breeding.  Surely everyone has a favourite breed?  I get shivers down my spine whenever a standard poodle (preferably without a silly haircut) frolics into my room.

But the concept of pedigree?  Here’s an extract from the kennel-club website about the staffordshire bull terrier:

Coat colour: Red, fawn, white, black or blue, or any one of these colours with white.

Any shade of brindle or any shade of brindle with white.

Black and tan or liver colour highly undesirable.

Which is where my anthropomorphic spectacles really come in.

If I were thought to be inferior because of my colour, I would be justifiably angry.  Isn’t a preference for red, fawn, white black or blue, just as obnoxious as Hitler’s preference for people with blonde hair and blue eyes?

Breeding for ‘racial purity’ is, in human terms, a terrible thing.  Diversifying the lines to celebrate different notions of perfection, could be viewed as the polar opposite of this.

But one can be far too prescriptive about it.  I think it was the Victorians who invented pedigree.  They made up some ideal standards (dimensions, coat-colours, type, ways of standing etc) that they thought each breed should meet.  Some of these prescribed features relate to each breed’s original function; others (such as staffie coat colour) seem arbitary.

Breeders tell me all the time that their animals are their ‘babies,’ yet the ones of a litter who conform most closely to the ‘breed standard’ descriptions are still perceived to be superior speciemens.  If people treat their babies like that, they don’t admit it.

People bring lovely puppies into my surgery, then suggest that they would ‘take it back if you don’t think it’s a pedigree.’  Why care?  My daughter might not grow up to meet society’s idealised dimensions / character of a perfect woman, but surely the correct response is to criticise any attempt to prescribe a ‘perfect person,’ because it’s ridiculous.  And that’s before any mention is made of distilling genetic defects while trying to breed the perfect one.

Last week, I saw a delightfully bouncy Jackapoo.  That is, a jack-russel crossed with a poodle. The breeders had blended the names of its parents’ breeds, which seemed to enhance the dog’s value. Because they were getting paid well, the breeders spent money vaccinating, fleaing, worming and potty-training that cross-breed before it went to its new home, where it was settling in beautifully.

My nurse’s comment?  ‘but don’t they realise they’ve just shelled out all this money for a basically worthless animal?’

It made me feel quite sad.

Rant About Shopping

shoppingSheffield’s shopping centre is nicknamed ‘Meadowhell’ for good reason:  it’s where misguided souls end up.  They walk round at speeds that would trigger impatience from a landsnail, not through reluctance but because they’re relishing the process of parting with hard-earned cash for New Things. Little decisions (which one makes your bum look best?) can be drawn out over an entire day.  Traipsing between shops at opposite ends of the mall is an absolute pleasure.  There are window displays to be ‘ooohed’ at; places to stop at for a drink and cake (that charge well over a fiver).  Why the hell would anyone want to get out of there quickly so that they could carry on living the rest of their lives?

Meadowhell might not be firey, but it’s hot and it’s oppressive.  As vital to avoid as catching ebola.  On the positive side (my Dad would say) it keeps the riff-raff out of the Peak District, which is already busy enough.

But I’ll stop being condenscending of other people’s leisure activities, because shopping itself is a Life Skill.  There are times when being good at it would be useful.

Hubby sent me into town for a Baptism outfit for Toddler.  ‘Remember the Priest will need to get at her chest easily to make a sign of the cross,’ he said.  It all sounded quite innocent until I tried to explain this necessity to a sales assistant.  I went away worried she’d call social services.

Anyway, I needed trousers for myself, so I concentrated on that.  I tried on something called Jeggings that somehow clung to all the wrong places and none of the right ones.  I had to roll them off again – like a condom.

‘Can I help you?’  An assistant had heard me swearing.

‘Do you think you’ll have any jeans that fit me?’

‘What sort of jeans?’

‘Er – blue ones?’

‘We’ve got Jeggings or bootcut or boyfriend or skinny jeans -‘

How enlightening.

‘Just ones like these.  That fit me.  These have been great, but sadly they’re all ripped now.’

She looked at my jeans.

‘Those are bootcut,’ she said helpfully, passing me a pair in my size.  I held them up against myself.  They were a half-shin-length too long.

‘You need the petite size with your legs.  We don’t stock it here.’

Petite?  Perhaps I shouldn’t have snorted, but here was nothing petite about the bottom from which I’d just peeled those Jeggings.

So I went to M&S: it’s safe and familiar in there.  None of this ‘Petite’ nonsense, but ‘long, regular and short.’  Wish they were as blunt about the sizes, which proved to be a guessing game:  I’m usually a twelve but even my newly enlarged almost-a-fell-runner’s-arse fitted into their tens.  And their fourteens in a different style.

They still needed rolling-on, though (clingy trousers are clearly in fashion) and once the rear portion was OK, the waistband of every pair I tried, in that shop and the two subsequent, was big enough to encompass an additional small child.

I’m not sure if that was why I actually snapped.  Maybe things would have been different if I hadn’t already battled twenty of those coathangers that don’t accept the clothes back unless you’ve got an NVQ in drapery.  Maybe if throughout all this off-ing and onn-ing of clothing I hadn’t been juggling an insulin pump dangling from my belly by its plastic tubing.  Maybe if the vibes radiating from the staff in the fitting rooms had been friendly, rather than ‘you don’t have a clue, you prat.’

Whatever. But picture me, legs bare and pasty and far too close to an ugly cubicle mirror, flinging said trousers to the floor in a strop that Tiddler would have been proud of.  A strop that tore my cannula out, leaving a red stinging mark on my wobbly tummy.

‘Why don’t they make clothes that are woman shaped?  I go in at the waist.  I’ve got a big backside.  There are plenty women walking up and down the street outside:  why don’t they just put their heads out of the door and look at them?’

I’d had enough of trousers. Hubby, who’d just turned up, suggested we looked at Mummy dresses then, in a way that sort-of-implied that I couldn’t wear ripped jeans for my child’s Baptism.  Then I looked to see where he was pointing:  at the pensioner section.  The one that I tried was very cleverly, flatteringly cut, but I wasn’t middle-aged enough for either the style or material.

Here was a point, though.  Flattering mattered, suddenly. I used to take dresses off the hanger, stick them on and wear them confidently.  Hell, I used to do that with bin-bags (saves a fortune at Halloween).

Maybe I’m looking back through rose-tinted varifocals, but I can’t remember any of this sucking-my-tummy-in thing, or looking for dresses with patterns so as not to make my waist contours too obvious, or standing slightly sideways for a better angle in the mirror.  What is happening to me?  Strikes me that, for all my talk, I’m still comparing myself to the perfect, beautiful size eight woman who has it all, on every single poster / catelogue in town….

Anyway, we found a dress.  Perhaps we could have done better, but I might have actually screamed before that happened. Poor hubby was Toddler-chasing (no easy task), but this meant that every time I walked out in a dress, I first had to look round the shop for them.  Each time, the whole shop turned and looked, assessesed by dress and looked away again, which made me twitchy.

Anyway, I took my dress home and – because this is 2014 and I am a thrity-something – had a nice rant on Facebook about my trouser issues.  I am not surprised to find that other women are woman-shaped and therefore sympathetic. Another has armlengths that don’t match sleevelengths and my big brother (notable for tallness and slimness) can’t buy trousers either.

Furthermore, other women have managed to solve the problem for themselves and could tell me where to shop and what to buy.  One very lovely friend who probably didn’t know what she might be letting herself in for, even offered to go shopping with me….

Thankyou to all of you.  I’m sure I’ll get some trousers eventually.  But it’s going to have to be online because I am never going clothes shopping ever again.

Pride and Punterdom

I’m in orange

Apparently, I am 97.3% mentally healthy.

There are other enriching insights from the last few weeks:  that my inner child is 50% dead; that I should live in Rotherham; that my aura is blue; that I act twenty-four years old and that my role in the family is ‘the perfect one’.

Furthermore, I am far above average when it comes to identifying obscure objects.  And my excellent recall of the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody (faltering only when I pulled ‘the’ trigger as opposed to ‘my’ trigger) makes me a Champion.

Yes, my self-obsession is outstripped only by the availability of the social media on these dark October nights.  I, like so many of my “friends”, have been clicking away to rank or pigeon-hole myself based on the answers to multiple choice questions.  With these startling results.

But let’s close Facebook. I have other data to consider:  the results from September’s Nine Edges Challenge.

My friend Naomi deserves respect: the sixth fastest woman in her first ever fell-race!  Gareth came 20th overall.  I was further down the list….

Hey!  Perhaps there’s a Facebook Quiz, What sort of a runner are you?

The questions would go something like this:

How many Gold medals have you won?

How many races have you won?

OK so how many races have you done an impressive time in?

You have run some races, right?

Ok, so how close to the back were you?

And: what colours do you run in?

Jessica Ennis would smile as it said:   Calculating……. You are an Awesome Runner!

And Gareth: Not too Shoddy

…and I would get:  Punter.  Wearing orange will not redeem you.  But the Most Important thing is Taking Part.’

The most important thing is taking part – was there ever a more patronising phrase?  But I believe it.  And hopefully the twenty-one people who ran the Nine Edges slower than me, felt the same way (their taking part was important to me: it stopped me from coming last).

Gareth should be thankful: had there been no-one slower than him, maybe he would have looked like a punter at exactly the same speed – and he wouldn’t have liked that.

Punters are the lycra that hold our sport together.  Sure, some dude has to be the best and some dudes make great personal sacrifices to make their performances as good as possible.

But for anyone with other commitments (Gareth and Naomi included) training time is limited.  And so, we have a choice:  to never do any running, or to take part and compromise.  Better to have run and lost, then never having run at all.

There are over two million runners in the UK who compromise to greater or lesser extents.  The Olympic coverage would have you beleive that sport is about competition – and it is – but it’s not all about competition. As I get my teeth stuck into my thirties, I am beginning to realise that even being a punter is quite an acheivement.

For example, I started writing this post last night and was just contemplating my punterdom when a text pinged through from my friend Lisa:

‘there is a race tomorrow.  The wirksworth undulator.  Approx 8.5 miles and 1250m ascent…’

‘I’ll stop drinking wine now….’ (it was my third large glass).

‘Wine is practically the same as carb loading, isn’t it?’

‘Brillo.  I’ll finish the bottle….’

I didn’t, but the wine wasn’t the half of it.  I was shattered.  It should have been a Saturday morning lie-in that I’d been looking forward to for at least three weeks.  What’s more, Wirksworth is across the other side of the Peak District.  I had to find my running kit, work out a route, reprogram my insulin pump, persuade the kids…… even dragging myself out of bed the next morning was hard work.

But it was worth it: the race was fabulous.  There were other people going as slowly as me; they were friendly; the race marshalls were super-friendly too: ‘Well done, keep going, it’s all downhill now…‘ (they lied about this several times) and ‘if I’m holding this gate open for you, you’re going to have to run faster than that…..

And of course, because I had been running super-long distances for my previous fell-run, I still had energy when other people were flagging at the end.  So I overtook one or two people!  It ended with a magnificent downhill to a cheering crowd, just on the heels of some old guy.

Some old guy?  Turns out he was actually Mick Fowler.  If you haven’t heard of Mick, you are not a climber.  President of the Alpine Club, outstanding Himalayan Climber of his generation.  Successful writer. And he was just a few seconds faster than me!

And now I am sitting at home with aching legs, completely at ease with my Punter Status.  If I never run faster than I ran today, who gives a damn?  My body and mind enjoyed the exercise.

Perhaps I will be 98% mentally healthy from now on.

Spider Season

It’s that time of year again.

As no famous ode to autumn by John Keates ever went:

Season of mists and mellow fruitlessness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring spiders scuttle into houses
Hoping to scare the crap out of everyone

Every day I check the social media, expecting to see images of friends’ kids eating blackberry crumble; of the flag that still represents the UK (smug); of pets with interesting diseases.

But sometimes I unsuspectingly scroll right into a high-definition close-up of a hairy knee, jointing out from a swollen abdomen.  With a caption reading something like: look what I found in the shower!


Yes: Spiders are big this year.  There’s a prize-winning specimen living in Tiddler and Toddler’s bedroom. I’m sure that Tiddler could ride it, given a saddle.

They’ve made it into the workplace, too.  I was chillaxing in the staff-room yesterday, when a receptionist arrived:

‘Someone wants a vet to look at a house spider.  He’s seen something like it on TV and wondered whether it might be poisenous?’

None of the vets moved.  In fact, we all went uncharacteristically quiet.

‘I’ve seen it,’ said the receptionist. ‘It’s only a small spider.’


Then some intelligent chap on the management team piped up, ‘I saw this on the news.  Apparently spiders are bigger what with the weather, so some of the big ones are actually irritant when they bite.

‘Just tell them all spiders are poisonous, but if it’s a small spider it won’t have enough venom to cause any trouble.’

The receptionist disappeared.  The noise level began to rise again.

And then she returned.

‘He says he wants you to tell him what sort it is.’

Ah.  The vets looked sideways at one another.  Eventually, one of the nurses stood up.  She’s nursed in Austrailia: they have real spiders over there.

‘I’ll google it,’ she said.

Let me be honest:  I’d sooner volunteer to see a bad-tempered rott-weiler.  Hell, sooner a bad-tempered chihuahua (small aggresive dogs are infinately harder).  And rest assured: I know that a British house-spider probably wouldn’t hurt me.  I am a qualified veterinary surgeon after all.

But arachnaphobia isn’t a logical choice, or even a conscious one.  Rather, there is a series of reflexes. Visual stimulus: spider.  Body jerks away, pupils dilate, heart speeds up.  On a conscious level, it takes me a few seconds to work out what has happened – why am I jumping across the room with a taste of acid in my stomach?  What’s that undignified little squeak I’m making in my throat?  Oh wait – there’s a spider moving over the carpet, with its funny little gait like a mechanical toy.

Behaviourists say we learn by negative reinforcement. According to Wiki, this….

……. occurs when the rate of a behavior increases because an aversive event or stimulus is removed or prevented from happening.

This means, that if we do something that causes an unpleasant thing to stop, we are more likely to do it again.  The oft-quoted example is in horse-training:  the rider puts pressure on the horse’s flank with his right knee.  This annoys the horse, who might turn left, whereupon the uncomfortable pressure immediately stops.  Over time the horse learns that when the rider applies pressure with one knee, even if it’s just the gentlest of nudges, he wants him to turn to the other side.

Avoidance of spiders also works by negative reinforcement.  Being near a spider feels horrible.  If I move away, this negative stimulus eases.  So the more I avoid spiders, the more it is reinforced in my head as a good thing to do.

Except that it isn’t actually a good thing to do, because I have been learning helplessness:  sometimes an inability to deal with spiders can affect your quality of life.

My first ever locum job came with a flat above the vets’.  The flat was spider-ridden.  My washing pile in the corner quickly became a no-go area because I had seen an arachnid scuttling towards it.  Within four days, I was running out of clothes.  I inspected my towel carefully every time I left the shower.  Worse, I could only shower at certain times of day, when Eric the big-hairy-fat-one wasn’t watching – and this never seemed to coincide with any hot water.

The nurses in that place were as bad as me (except one, who killed Eric, which was worse) so I had to get used to sharing my flat.  The secret was to dart one’s eyes around the room before walking in; to clock where the beasties were sitting and to keep half an eye on them in case they moved. I hated taking my glasses off because every mark on the wallpaper and ceiling (there were lots of marks) could be misinterpreted as being an out-of-focus arachnid.  I didn’t turn the light off very much, either.

Occasionally, there were monsters.  The first time a giant one stalked across the floor, I phoned my Mum.  It must be hard to be so far from your youngest when they are experiencing so much distress, but Mum was amazing.  She talked me through approaching the creature and putting a bowl over it. After an hour of comments like:

OK I’m going towards it now…. oh shit, I was so close but it moved so I ran away again…

there was utter relief when I completed the task.  Except for the spider, whose traumas were just beginning.  It was three days before I pscycked myself up to slide a bit of card under the bowl, and another hour before I took the whole lot outside, threw it down and watched fixedly from a distance as the poor, hungry critter scuttled away.

Anyway, the story has a happy ending because I started to work at my Spider Thing.  I can now pick up a tiny one and look at a big one, provided that I sneak up on it and not the other way around.  I show them to the kids when I see one, just in case it makes any difference.  Kissing the children goodnight has been nerve-racking at the moment, but so far they don’t mind Godzilla in the least, so I haven’t had to confront moving her.

Back in the staff-room, the nurse returned after a while.

‘It’s a garden spider.’

She was carrying one of those plastic containers into which supermarkets pack four muffins.  I must have feined too much interest, because she thrust it towards me….

….and I reached out, cool as a cucumber, took it from her and studied the stripey creature inside.

‘Really?’  I said.  ‘A garden spider, you say?’

I stuck my bottom lip out and raised my eyebrows in a ‘what-do-you-know’ sort of a gesture, then passed it nonchalantly on to someone else.



On the Run


Glucose gel tastes sooo bad….

Wait a minute – did I just say ‘tastes?’  That’s a generous word for the sensation of substanceless sweetness dredging between your teeth.  Not even desperate sufferers of severe hypoglycaemia find it appetising.

But they are easy to carry and consume and therefore marketted not only to diabetics (which is how I first heard of them), but also to fell-runners. Hubby and I bought some for our run.

Gareth told us a story about his friend.  His friend set off on a fell-race, but took along a different sort of energy-gel to usual. Apparently some brands can cause near-immediate diarrhoea in sensitive people…… the friend never finished her race.

Yes, of course team Gareth and Naomi have researched and practised with the specific brand of energy-gel that they are using today.  But I haven’t even tried my backpack on yet, so the finer risks of energy-gels just didn’t seem important at the time. But now that it’s one-minute-to-race-time, I am worrying:  What if I get the shits?

It makes a change from what I’ve been worrying about for the last hour, which was: Will we arrive in time?

We persuaded Grandad to kiddy-sit, months ago.  He was reluctant at the time, and since then he has come down with man-flu. This morning, he arrived looking so dreadful that I nearly cancelled my run. One child immediately sat on top of him, demanding stories. The other started climbing up his legs.  We car-convoyed him to Dad’s Group in the hope he’d find some respite there.

So we arrived at Fairholmes carpark with less than seven minutes to spare.  We spent five of those minutes trying to find a parking space:  runners are surprisingly inconsiderate parkers.  I glared at them through the window: knarly outdoor types with suntans.  Crikey! – they looked ready for anything.

And now I am one of them.  Minus the knarles, the sun-tan and the ready-for-anythingness, obviously, but I do have a number safety-pinned to my front. At some inaudible signal, there is a smattering of applause and the crowd surges forward. Slowly.

I am surprised how slowly: it’s like being stuck in traffic.  A first I feel a shot of despair every time a runner squeezes past me, but then I watch them all getting stuck behind another pair of legs a few paces further on.  Luckily, runners’ grid-lock is more cheerful than commuters’ grid-lock: small-talk prevails. I chat a bit to Gareth and Naomi’s friend, Cat.

I am, I realise, hardly out of breath. Neither is a talkative bloke in front of me. He has exactly the same blend of South-Yorkshire / Derbyshire accent as my Dad, so I have developed a soft-spot.  He is experienced, aiming for four hours.  That’s faster than me.  I decide to stay behind him for the time being.

Up and up…. and suddenly, the view of the valley opens up beneath us.  Beautiful.  Once we’re on top, running along the ridge is sheer priviledge.

9edge2I have good footwork: I overtake people running downhill; most of them pass me on the following incline and I pass them again on the next descent.  Thus we leap-frog along the ridge’s undulations.  There are around ten of us; the crowds have vanished, either in front or behind.

I realise how much I like overtaking people; after High Neb on Stanage I start picking them off.  The two guys ahead look pretty fit, so I am surprised when I catch them easily.  I have just got past, when one of them says cheerily, ‘Hello!’

It’s hubby.  We run along togther for a while, but when the route flattens out around Burbage, the samey gait starts to jar my tibial band.  I stretch out my legs and speed up.

‘Flat’ really isn’t my gradient.  It’s boring, repetetive; its saving grace is the tourists, who make me feel good.  Three years ago, I walked home from Ladybower with baby ‘Toddler’ in a rucksack carrier and couldn’t help feeling a little tame next to the stream of runners who kept passing me.  At the time I didn’t know they were nine-egders, but the reluctant admiration was acute.

Now that I am one of the runners, the walkers make me feel good, especially the ones who clap and say ‘Well Done.’  Gareth’s parents are there; some walking mates of my Dad’s just happen to be on Curbar.  For every set, I feel a surge of enthusiasm and speed up a bit.

When nobody’s watching though, I am getting slower and slower, until I am alternating between a jog, a walk and a limp.  The scenery is becoming less impressive and I am seeing increasingly few runners.  At Longshaw Estate, which seems to go on forever, a posh woman’s voice calls out cheerily from the steps: ‘Only eight miles to go!’ and I try to look lively…..

Eight miles….?

…..they really drag.  I feel terribly lonely and a bit decrepit.  I don’t see anybody and am so demotivated that I almost reach a standstill.  Eventually people start to overtake me – I am just pleased to see some familiar faces.  Including the man with Dad’s voice. ‘I knew I’d peaked too early,’ I tell him, ‘when I lost you.’

I think I might be hypoglycaemic.  I swallow my third energy gel of the race.  At least I haven’t had the shits.

Then, up the hill behind me comes Cat.  Cat!  I’m so chuffed to see a friend.  Suddenly, a surge of happiness and a surge of blood sugar appear to coincide. I run downhill directly in her wake.  Wheeeeeeee!  Gareth and Naomi are waiting at the finish.


(Pictures: and