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: http://blog.alistairpooler.co.uk/2013/09/the-edges-above-dovestone-reservoir.html and www.grough.co.uk).

Loosing It


Different people respond to stress in different ways.

I have known people shout and scream, over-eat, under-eat, drink heavily. Loose sleep, cry down the phone.  I have one friend, a top-of-her-game professional, who carries a bead everywhere soley for the purpose of fiddling with when wound up.

For some people, all interest in life appears to break down.  They might still walk through the motions;  perhaps they offend people, coming across as distant or rude. Or perhaps they cannot cannot even fake it and the mind simply fails to command the body to function. Even getting out of bed becomes impossible.

I cringe to remember the first time I encountered this. I was a teenager.  I was scathing.  I told the person to ‘book their ideas up’ (a phrase I’d borrowed from my Grannie) and criticised them for not ‘trying.’  Only after better aquaintance with sufferers from the disease we call depression, do I realise that being depressed is not a lifestyle choice.  Inconvenient as depression is for family, friends and work-colleagues, it is one thousand times worse for the sufferer.  Nobody wants to feel ‘like shit,’ let alone suicidal.  It might be ‘in the head,’ but depression is a genuine and collossal roadblock.

Furthermore, it is not even necessarily triggered by stress.  It can even happen to people who ‘should’ be perfectly happy. It can, as far as I understand it, happen to anyone.

dep8 dep1 dep7 dep2 dep6 dep3 dep5 dep4

But I am not a sufferer and depression is not my story to tell, except to give my support to sufferers and acknowledge that from where I am standing, it looks a much tougher diagnosis than Type 1 diabetes.

The main effect of stress on me is that I start to loose things. It’s as though blood Cortisol also repels small but vital objects.  Keys.  Wedding rings.  Glucometer.  Bank Cards.  The pen I was using just five seconds previously.  Bits of paper with vital numbers scribbled on them.  The first sign of stress and all of these things just sprout legs and scamper off.  Upping and scampering after them is in itself stressful: there is nothing more frustrating than being unable to find the one small item that you desperately need to enjoy the rest of your day.

Of course, the most useful thing you can say to me when I’ve lost something is: ‘Why the hell didn’t you put it away carefully in the first place, then you wouldn’t have lost it?

Closely followed by: If you had downloaded that app onto your phone when I told you to, you’d be able to go online right now and find out exactly where your phone is.

Let alone, ‘you really should have backed up that year’s worth of photos of Tiddler and Toddler, you know.

I can only thank the dice of the Gods that my partner rarely says this sort of thing.  Rather, he shows great compassion when I loose things:  in fact, the blood-cortisol-that-makes-inanimate-objects-sprout-legs gene is strong in him as well.  It makes for a kind, understanding household if a slightly chaotic one.

So, this week has been a double first for Toddler:  nursery and big-girl-pants.  Being Toddler’s parent has been exhausting.  When I got home on Tuesday evening to a plea of ‘You didn’t take my car-key to work with you by mistake this morning, did you?’ I knew we were in for a long night.  In fact, it turned out to be a very long week.

By Friday morning, our house was spotless.  The carpets had been hoovered, every toy-box emptied and sorted out (a small triumph to return a full complement of Tiddler’s building bricks back to the wooden trolly); every drawer had been rifled through; every surface cleaned.

We’d had a great time emptying the wardrobe. We’d found hubby’s oldest garment (‘My Auntie Irene gave me this t-shirt as a present when I was fourteen’), his formal shirt (‘Don’t look so surprised, dear.  You’ve seen it before.  I think I might have married you in it’) and his second-favourite shirt (‘If I send it to my Mum, do you reckon she’ll sew the spare button on for me?’)  We’d also found scores of bras in a collassal range of sizes, all of which I’ve worn in the last decade. Not to mention enough hats to equip two nine-edges challenge runners several times over.

In fact, we had quite a nice time and would have been extremely pleased with ourselves, had the car-keys not remained conspicuously absent.

Who knew how many of those ‘fake pounds for the shopping trollies’ you can accumulate in just three years?  How many odd baby socks can be found in the cracks and crevaces of a house, where the only set of car keys is not?

On the third day, Toddler said suddenly, ‘I know where it is.  It’s in your blue rucksack, Mummy.’  Who knew that we had so many objects in our house that could potentially be interpreted as a ‘blue rucksack’ by a three year old?  All of them seemed to have many pockets, none of which contained any car-keys.  This is regrettable, because I became prematurely excited when she first uttered the line and had already planned a blogpost about why one should always listen to one’s children.

Neither of us got any running done all week, but hubby acquired an excellent understanding of the local bus routes and is just a little fitter than he otherwise would have been.  He also became adept at entering and exitting the car through the sunroof that he had mercifully left open.  This way, he retreived vital items such as the buggy, baby-sling and shoes.

The lost keys had a massive impact on Toddler.  The first week of nursery involved walking to and from the bus-station, passing multiple blackberry bushes at which Toddler would normally be allowed to stop and feast.  Walking past blackberry bushes is difficult for Toddler and her habitual response to inner conflict is to tip her head back and yowl.  I have never been so aware of the importance of teaching her to recognise stress and deal with it appropriately.  I sometimes think, when she is bouncing on the bed at night instead of sleeping and I am welling up to shout, that I am not the best role model.

Anyway, I am proud to report that the car-key ordeal, at least, is now over.  The damn things have been found: in the pocket of some trousers in the washing-basket.  Nobody can remember wearing those trousers.

‘Thank Goodness for that,’ I say.  ‘Now.  We’d better get ready for this run.  Because it’s tomorrow.’

So we put the kids to bed and start to get ready for our run.  But we’re tired: it’s been a long week.  And it turns out that neither of us can remember where we’ve put our running shorts.


The Wisdom of Doctor Cresswell


Close your eyes and picture a table.

Any table will do; perhaps a long, imposing one with a shiny wooden top, mostly used for glaring down at board meetings.  Or maybe lightweight plastic with a hole in the middle, in the pretence of being sturdy enough to take a beer umbrella.  The table isn’t important, but what is important is that you see it clearly; the texture of its surface.  The number and style of its legs.  Whether or not there are initials carved on the underside, or rings left by hastily-poured mugs of coffee.

Now.  Onto the table goes a chopping-board.  It doesn’t have to be a posh one:  any white rectangle of wipeable plastic will be sufficient.  And on top of the chopping-board, somewhat off-centre, is a lemon.

Take a close look at that lemon. Enjoy the colour. The shape. Pick it up; weigh it in your hand. Go on. Wrap your fingers around it. Test its firmness. Feel the slightly cold smoothness and the little waxy pimples on its surface.

Now replace the lemon on the chopping-board on the table and take a knife, a good sharp one. In a single movement, I want you to chop that lemon in two. Decisively. In whichever plane seems most appropriate. Expose some of its glistening fruit and smell the sharpness in the air.

One last thing now: pick one part up. Study it for a moment and then, without thinking too hard about it, open your mouth and plunge your front teeth into its flesh.

I saw that! Yes, I saw. Your mouth puckered there: from the sourness, I presume.  No matter.  We’ll come back to that lemon later on.


If you ever go along Curbar Edge in Derbyshire (where incidentally, we Nine Edges Challengees will be running in just under fortnight’s time), you might notice a little plaque in memory of a dead person, on a gate. I am a reader of such plaques; they provide inguiging glimpses of humanity. I have been invited to stop for fish and chips with the ghost of Mary who loved Whitby. I have gazed over Rivelyn from a bench put there for Nigel, just a few years older than me on 07-11-01 when he was killed in the World Trade Centre, New York. Lower down the valley, a man whose name adorns a useful signpost is credited with sharing his love of walking with others. And when I first side-stepped to look at this one – the one on Curbar Edge – my eyes saw the central letters first:  The Doc. This invoked recognition immediately: there was a teacher at school we used to call ‘The Doc’…..

She was a Doctor of Botany: one of my favourites. A quote by Roald Dahl describing Matilda’s favourite teacher seems appropraite: Miss Honey possessed that rare gift for being adored by every small child under her care.

We weren’t small children, though: we were A-level biology students. We loved Doc Cresswell because she seemed to love us: she called us ‘Horrid Little Sprogs,’ but apparently with the highest affection.  She managed to tell us unpatronizingly that we could do well in our exams if we worked hard. She believed in us.  I was in the second year of my vet course when the news spread that she had died of cancer.

…..back on Curbar Edge, I suddenly put two and two together, let my eyes slide over the rest of the plaque and saw that it was indeed for Her. There was her name: Jill Cresswell. There was the name of my school.

We should have a brain-break there. A brain-break is where you stand up for a few seconds and turn about; mutter something to the person next to you; do a couple of star-jumps if you wish. Doc Cresswell’s brain-breaks were famous; she understood that you couldn’t do high-intensity listening or reading for an hour at a stretch and she never expected us to.

Doc Cresswell said that success comes in cans. As though you could buy it at the supermarket. I can hear her now: ‘Success comes in cans.  I CAN do it.  I CAN…..’

The Doc was one of the few teachers who encouraged my profoundly irritating habit of doodling in the margins, so I used to draw ‘success’ cans stacked up like cans of baked beans.  ‘I CAN do it,’ I used to mutter to myself, half-parodying The Doc but meaning it too.  I have done many times since.


“There’s a point, isn’t there, when you do your first proper long run and you think, ‘Actually, I probably CAN do this,’ ” says Naomi.

We are sitting in their dining room, comparing training notes. Naomi looks set to beat the rest of us: she is aiming to complete the Nine Edges Challenge in three and a half hours. Gareth has recently had a Tibial Band relapse but has purchased something called a ‘Pat Band,’ a velcro strap that apparently works wonders when wrapped around his upper thigh. It incurrs, says Gareth, a great advantage: ‘I feel morally obliged to tell you about it.’  (Perhaps I’ll get one. If it doesn’t improve my running performance, I can use it to keep one of my own horrid little sprogs in its chair at meal-times).

I am the weakest of our group, because I have been working too hard instead of training. When the others complain about their legs getting tired at greater distances, I pretend it’s because I am a mighty long-distance walker that I don’t share this problem, but in all likelihood it’s because I haven’t covered anything approaching the actual twenty-one miles yet.

The paragraph at the beginning of this, about lemons, was based on one of The Doc’s school assemblies. She said that if an imaginary lemon could bring such a taste to our mouths; if we felt it so sharply that we all puckered our lips, then we should consider the effect of imagining, picturing, believing positive things about ourselves, our revision and performances.

I took her advice then and I got the results I wanted in my exams. I am taking her advice again now. My plan for a week on Saturday is to start running and to keep running, right around the course.  It doesn’t matter how slowly: I am going to succeed. And I don’t expect it to make a massive difference to my overall time if I pause briefly by a certain gate on Curbar, to think a quick ‘Thankyou’ to The Doc.


Diary entry of a Working Mum

platformI have been looking forward to Saturday morning all week.

There is a game I sometimes catch us playing, where both parents of the screaming child pretend to be asleep and wait to see if the other one gets up.

I find that it is over faster (ergo far more welfare-friendly for Tiddler)  if I kick hubby vey hard.  But there was never going to be any kicking this Saturday.  No cries for milk from Tiddler were going to pierce my dawn.  No: Toddler, Tiddler and Daddy were away for the week.  Camping in Ludlow (why choose Ludlow?) with some friends.  I was going to lie in before catching a lunch-time train to join them.

Did I mention that I had been looking forward to this all week?  To not having to go to work?  To sleeping through six and seven O’clock without Toddler turning up at my bedside, demanding to go ‘in the tent’ (by which she means, ‘under the duvet’).

‘Toddler, I’m asleep.’

‘No you’re not, Mummy.  Don’t you want to play tents with me?’

‘Not now Toddler.  I’m sleeping.  Hubby!  Could you and Toddler play ‘tents’ in the lounge, please?

(Short pause here while Hubby extracts Toddler from the bedroom; she argues for a moment but I am not listening.  I am drifting back to guilt-tinged snoozeville.  So naughty but so, so nice……)

This Saturday I wasn’t going to feel guilty about my lie-in.  I had been looking forward to this prospect all week.  Tiddler wouldn’t try to climb into bed with me part-way-through because Daddy and Toddler had briefly forgotten to include him in their game of ‘tents’.  Tiddler can’t talk yet; once it becomes clear that he still can’t quite mantle up by himself, he just stretches his arms out towards me and screams.  It’s not ignorable.  I unstick my eyes and pull him into bed with me, wearily.

‘Cuddles, Tiddler.’  Happy cooing.

Tiddler doesn’t really like cuddles though.  Not unless he’s ill.  And he isn’t ill very often.  Within about three minutes the novelty has worn off and he is sitting firmly on my head, exploring my mouth and eye-sockets with his fingers.  I try to ignore him, but I tire of the situation before he does, so I gently expel him onto the bedroom carpet.  It feels as cruel as putting the cat out of the window, but Tiddler is a surprisingly tolerant chappie.  He toddles back to find his Dad.

But not this Saturday.  I had been looking forward to this Saturday all week.  This Saturday, I was going to sleep through.  Eight O’clock would go by without Daddy coming through looking drained, ‘I’m absolutely knackered.  If you play with them for a bit, can I have twenty minutes’ nap?’

I do my best and biggest sigh, but hubby’s eyes are still hopeful and I realise that I’ve had all the priviledges that my working life is going to buy me.  I wake up.  There is no milk left for coffee (‘Tiddler was very hungry last night,’ says hubby) and when i open a packet of breakfast biscuits, there immediately appear two sticky upturned hands.  Little beggars.  I given them half a biscuit each.

I hope they sell breakfast biscuits in Ludlow.  Why go to Ludlow, anyway?  What is there to do there?  I asked hubby before he went, but he didn’t really know.  There might be some good castles, he said.

I’ve known what I was going to do on Saturday all week long: I was going to listen to some Saturday morning Radio, and it wasn’t going to be Radio 2.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy ‘dancing, Mummy!  Dancing’ on Saturday mornings to Radio 2, but surely what every working person really wants is to put their feet up and listen to Radio 4s Inheritance Tracks or From our own Correspondant after an absurdly long lie-in?

Anyway; I am at the station.  The pillars are painted burgandy.  They are about the right width for playing ‘peek-a-boo!’ around, or maybe leaping out and surprising some pigeons.  I do think it’s sad that nobody is chasing the pigeons: they’re wobbling up and down, pumping their little necks in and out for all they are worth.  Such a waste.

I have treated myself to a luxoriously thick weekend Guardian. I have already skim-read all the articles I wanted to read and the train is still over half an hour away.  That’s how I read newspapers nowadays:  quickly, before somebody wants their nappy changed. Normally, I do so thinking that it would be nice to read it slowly; digest every word.  Turns out, I’m not in a word-digesting mood.

I look around the station in outrage that there isn’t anything else to do.  I buy a chocolate bar and an overpriced coffee to dip it in.  And what’s this? – the coffee has milk in!  What a novel idea.  Of course, the same thing happens with the breakfast as with the newspaper:  it has gone before I notice.  When I have finished, my top is still spotless; where are the mini-chocolate finger-prints?  I blink and look round.  I have been working very hard this week:  I am very, very tired.  The station clock says seven-something in the morning.

Yes, I know.  I had been looking forward to this morning’s lie-in all week.  But when it arrived, I just wanted to be camping with the kids.  So I Zombied down to the station, changed at Stockport and am hoping that the Ludlow train is going to show up soon.