Talking about running…

Thursday 22 July 2021

Yuk, yuk and triple yuk! My garments are literally sodden with sweat as I return from a short run this morning; my first in nearly 2 weeks. Do I regret choosing one of the hottest days of the year to dig out my running shoes again? Not for a second; my head needed this!

In his book, ‘What I talk about when I talk about running‘, Murakami, observes,

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that…”

And whilst is would be clearly ludicrous for me to draw many life parallels with an award winning novelist and regular amateur marathon runner, even as a steady 10K jogger this chimes with me. Takes this week for example…

Like most teachers, I crawl to the end of the academic year and the long Summer Holiday dawns with me too exhausted to think, feel or do anything, beyond basic auto-pilot mum duties. So for days I do nothing but shopping, washing, taxi-ing … and paying for lots of things. I lounge about. I loaf about. And as for exercise; I shun it completely. I am “too tired to run.” It is “too hot to run.” I need a “break” from my run.

By mid-week, do I feel rested and refreshed? Alas, I do not. I feel smothered in sluggishness and hemmed in by the humdrum. As the main adult in the house, there are more important things I need to be doing; creative tasks; decision making tasks; project planning tasks…but these just seem overwhelming. My head is a muddle and I hover on the edge of gloom and despondency.

So this morning, despite little sleep, a bunged up nose and the searing sun, I haul myself off for a bit of pavement pounding. And I feel instantly better. Settling back into the familiar running rhythms is reassuring. I am out of the house. My route is peaceful and spacious. The brain fog lifts and an order for the day begins to dance into place. By the time I am home, showered and sipping my first coffee, I am filled not only with energy but also enthusiasm for the day ahead.

To be tentatively heading ‘back on track‘, feels a wonderful relief, so I briefly ponder ways to maintain this level of motivation and focus? Should I commit to some exercise goal throughout the Summer? The magnificent Murakami aims to run 6 miles per day to maintain the ‘stamina and endurance’ needed to support his writing? Yikes, that is beyond me! More realistic would be re-vamping my January homage to Ron Hills, of ‘running at least a mile a day’. I sip on my coffee and decide to give myself a few days to decide. In the meantime, I elect to put distances aside and go day-by-day. Today is today and tomorrow, I will go for another morning run…

Oh to be young ….

11 July 2017

At around noon, Prom-dress daughter, three of her friends, assorted luggage …and a mini fridge, set off, in a very small Fiat 500, en route for my mum’s caravan in Wales.

‘Oh to be 18 again!’

Laughter and excitement fill our house as they all assemble. I pop briefly into the lounge, in an attempt to discuss the route, but am waved away with confident flourishes of Google Maps and leave them discussing the far more important issue of what to add to the car playlist! And, as bottles of gin and fizz are cheerfully clanked into the car boot, I realise that now is also not the moment to check if anyone has brought ‘a waterproof‘ or a ‘pair of stout walking boots’. No this is the glorious age when you are old enough to start breaking away parental supervision, sensible shoes and practical plans, and life can be centred on fun, friendship and freedom. And I don’t feel overly worried or anxious as I wave them off…I just feel envious! My mind wanders back to the halcyon days of my own youth and those early  ‘gal pal’ holidays.

Me, as a teen

My first, aged 16, was also at my parent’s caravan. Ours was an epic journey indeed, involving a National Express coach, a train followed by a steam train, a local bus and then dragging our bulging bags and cases through the caravan park. Once there, I have no idea what we ate and doubt we had a raincoat between us. What I do remember is sunbathing on the beach with a crackly radio permanently set to the ‘Radio 1 Roadshow’, occasional and very tame night-time adventures at the ‘caravan club’, lots and lots of laughter and delightful days drifting by without a care. And that is the feeling I miss, now that I am a grown up.

I say this even after a week when music makes a magical return to my world. The curtain raiser; a trip to the Bridgwater Hall. And here, just as I am sipping on a cheeky white wine spritzer with the opening chords of the overture rising through the auditorium, my phone pings with a request to  play in an actual concert. 

I’ll confess I feel a little stunned at first,  because I am 16 months out of practice. However, I resolve to ‘go for it, slug back a little more alcoholic courage and reply with a ‘yes!’  I spend my week digging out reeds, working on my parts and rediscovering the challenge of scheduling meals, work and life around rehearsals.  And it is great. Great to be making music with others again, great to be part of the noise…but it’s not the same as being 18.

At eighteen, I was touring the wonderful Veneto region with the city Youth Orchestra and don’t recall giving my part, my reeds or any solos a second thought. In truth, I’d struggle to name the programme for a single concert! At that young age, it was all about the friends I roomed with, post-concert drinks, bleary-eyed breakfasts, sunshine and adventure in exciting foreign settings …without a parent in sight. Old enough to taste independence but still too young forthe weight of responsibility. Was it, for the briefest of windows, a golden age?

Who knows, but here’s to a fantastic holiday for my daughter and her lovely friends. Lets face it, after 16 months of pandemic, they all deserve it. Make memories, make it laughter- filled and, above all, make the most of being young….

She’s got a ticket to ride…

Saturday  June 2021

With A’level assessments over, Prom-dress daughter heads off  to the North East to spend a few days with her sister.  Her only worry? The train… its is her first solo journey…

My middle child struggles with the unknown, she always has, and a 2 hour train trip, with one change, on her own for the first time, has pushed her completely out of her comfort zone. We drive to the station in strained silence and sitting outside a nearby coffee shop in the Saturday sunshine, her panic even spills into a few tears. Once again, we go through the  route, where to find platform info, how to open the carriage door and where to put luggage. I give her a reassuring hug and  she tries to calm down.

Wondering if I have underestimated her anxiety on this occasion, I offer to persuade the attendant to let me through the first barrier so that I can see her get onto the first train. How I love her reply!

“Do you know what Mum, I think I just need to go for it and do this on my own!”

And she does. I have my phone ready and I probably get over 25 texts in the next 10 minutes, checking and asking about absolutely every detail. But, as my lovely girl finds, that she has actually successfully boarded the correct train without any help, I know that her confidence has rocketed because I scarcely hear from her again. One brief text letting me know that the change at York has gone well and then… nothing at all. It is my eldest who lets me know that she has arrived safely and it makes me smile… it takes me back to Day 1 at High School…

Day 1 at High School was the bus journey.  We’d done a dummy run and for extra support on that first morning, we’d arranged that I would shadow her on the bus too. I’d get on, sit as far away as possible, avoid eye contact and generally act as if we’d never met. But, if anything went wrong, I would be there.

It worked a treat, but the clearest memory I have is of the moment we all disembarked. By this time there was a throng of unformed pupils all treading the route to the school gates and I can still picture my daughter turning round and giving me a tiny wave… it was a wave goodbye, a wave to say ‘Okay on my own now Mum’ , a wave for me to let her find her own way. And I often say that by the time she came back home that day, she was already a different child. More confident, more independent and more free.

And I think I know that when she comes home next week, she’ll have changed again and be a different young woman to the one I dropped off this morning. More sure of herself, more ready for autonomy and more excited about opening the door to embrace the opportunities that life offers as you start to make your own way in it.

These are important milestones and good steps to take. These are times to feel quite proud, as a mum, to sit back and let them be ‘okay on my own now ‘

Mum moment…

Friday June 2021

It’s Friday night and everyone is okay! Quick… pour me a drink!

As mums and dads across the land will tell you, the life of a parent can feel like a life of worry at times. So, when the occasional oasis emerges from those desolate plains of teen- anxiety, stress and tension, it is more than enough reason to celebrate.

This week, I have a child who has passed First Year Medicine, a second who has completed all her A’Level assessments and a third who has a grade 6 piano distinction, a box of KFC and …. a wall chart for Euro 2020, which is currently keeping him more than happy!

So , at least for the next 2 hours, no-one needs help; no-one needs money, no-one needs … me at all! It’s bliss and I intend to make the most of it. So a longer post for my beloved blog must wait until tomorrow! I have got serious amounts of bubbly wine to consume…

Flowers…

Sunday 25 April 2021

Flower,  they have become my weekly treat

It all began in Lockdown 1. As people, fearful to leave the covid-safety of their home and fortress, flocked to sign up for online grocery shopping, I, a confirmed devotee of the doorstep delivery was forced off the schedule for the first time in about 10 years.  Yes a decade of  whipping through the weekly food shop with a swift half hour of laptop clicks from the sofa … came to an abrupt end. It was simply impossible to get a slot unless I could foresee fluctuations in the food cupboard at least a fortnight in advance.  So it was farewell to the time-saving lifeline my brother had signed me up for the week I became a single parent, and … hello to the supermarket shelves once more.

Was it terrible? Can I be frank; it really wasn’t. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to do! But, as I was often the only person to leave our house for an entire week, I found myself feeling duty bound to return to the homestead with treats to boost morale. We stocked up on alcohol, we groaned under the weight of endless snacks and I bought flowers. And long after, the unhealthy options have dwindled away the beautiful blooms have stayed, because…who doesn’t love flowers?

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Monet’s Water Lilies, O’Keeffe’s White Iris; artists have been drawn to the beauty and evocative qualities of flowers for centuries. In poetry Wordsworth immortalised the daffodil and the poppies of Flander’s Field, so fragile yet so resilient, are honoured as our symbol of remembrance in John McCrae’s poignant verse. Flowers are woven into popular culture too, from the ‘Flower Power’ of the 1960’s to  Portugal’s Carnation Revolution; today, in fact, marks the anniversary, in 1974, of the peaceful overthrow of the Estado Novo dictatorship, where carnations, placed into soldiers’ rifles became the enduring image of the movement.

As I wander happily around Tesco’s flowery displays however, I think I am mostly drawn in by my own fond memories of flowers? As gifts go, they are hard to beat! Its is many years since I turned eighteen and I do struggle to remember much about the day, but I can still picture my boyfriend appearing at the door with a bouquet of 18 red carnations. I know that I got married with white roses. The flowers on my desk the Monday morning after I dropped my eldest child off at university made me smile .. and made me cry. Because, of course, flowers are beautiful and it is undeniable that bringing the loveliness of the natural world into our home never fails to lift the mood or brighten the room.  But I think flowers are even more than that. They say , ‘you’re special‘  ;  they say ‘I’m thinking of you‘ ;  they say ‘you matter‘.

And, during the craziness of this pandemic,  that’s a message it’s been important to being home every week from my trip to the Tesco aisles. In fact, even as we thankfully start to return to normal,  I think I might hold onto our new floral tradition. A lovely lasting legacy of this strangest of covid-years…

Milestones

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Twenty six days into my 2021 resolutions, I have 26 runs and 82 km on my Strava . Gracious me, that’s over 50 miles!

Throughout January, inspired by Ron Hill and his 52 years and 39 days record of running every day, three and a half weeks of tootling around the block every day, and a little bit further at weekends has brought me to this landmark. Incredible! Who knew that a 10 minute jog on a daily basis could add up so quickly!

I am ready to stop though. Yes, come the 1 Feb, I will be giving my running shoes a well earned rest. I have really enjoyed the daily dash. I go a little bit further each week. I go a little bit faster too. I feel energetic, oxygen fuelled, clear skinned and bright eyed. More importantly I feel calm, refreshed … and self-indulged. And this is why I love a New Year Resolution. Whilst psychologists may decry resolutions as needless self -pressure to impose upon an already demanding world, and even the health and well-being experts queued up to espouse this view as we finally consigned 2020 to the history books, I think the complete opposite. I find that our new year tradition is one of the only times in the calendar when I do focus on myself. It may only be 10 short minutes each day, but it is , nonetheless, time when I just think about me. Not my teens. Not my job. Not my mortage. Not the sometimes bleak future….just me… and my crazy January goals! And as 2021 dawned, after a year when the demands, stress and, above all worry, about everyone and everything had threatened to crush me , I needed this more than ever.

But I realise tonight, as I burst back into the house, trainers muddy, leggings soggy and face glowing with the cold, that I am better. And that means, that 5 days from now, it is time to stop. Because I am ready to get back, back to the grind and the gruelling but above all the glorious roller coaster of life a mum, an educator and someone who thinks life is about probably about something more important than kilometres and run schedules! Of course I’ll still do my weekly 10k, I might even do occasional circuits of ‘the block’ but its adios to charting my progress, checking Strava every evening and thinking that a day without a run is a failed one!

On the news today there is a far grimmer milestone . Covid deaths in the UK top one hundred thousand for the first time. It certainly puts life into perspective. I need to start focusing on the small contribution I can make to this current situation. Because if miles are covered one step at a time, who knows what we can achieve with many individual efforts to see this through and play our part. Rejuvenated by my month of running , I now have the energy and strength to try again…

“To get through the hardest journey, we only need to take one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping…”

Chinese proverb

Schools are back!

After months of school closure, September 2020 sees millions of children in England make a welcome return to the classroom.

Henry Beaumont (The Guardian August 2020)

For me, it starts with a day of teacher training. In an inspiring opening session, we learn that, bucking the national trend, referrals to our local safeguarding team have rocketed during lockdown. A shocking statistic without doubt, but I find it incredibly motivating too. It demonstrates just how important it is for us to be taking our place back in the community we serve. In recent weeks, the media have made much of ‘lost learning’ and no-one can argue against this being a significant driver in the decision to see all pupils back in the classroom. But a school is even more than that to some of our young people. For many, our seat of education serves primarily as a place to mix with friends, soak up knowledge and prep for exams. For others, it is clearly also a haven of stability, routine and refuge.

When our pupils do return, it is in their hundreds. By Friday we have over 1200 young people in the building. Yes, we have 5 entrances. Yes we have 5 different breaks. Yes we cannot move for hand sanitisers, face masks and one-way systems. Yes the times of the day are bewildering – I actually pack one class up 10 minutes early for lunch sitting 3! But fundamentally, in all the ways that matter, it feels gloriously back to normal. We might all be wearing face coverings, but that doesn’t change the people underneath. The chatter, the laughter, the hustle and bustle all seem to breathe life back into the very fabric of the building. A school really is its people.

Running up and down 3 flights of stairs many time day does take it toll however, and I eventually abandon my stifling mask in favour of a visor, made by the DT department. In the canteen, one of my new pupils calls me over,

Miss, you look as if you’re ready for that game. Where you have a name stuck to your forehead and have to guess who it is. Do you know that game?”

“Know that game? I love that game. In fact we will be playing that game in our last lesson before Christmas. We can all be famous Mathematicians!”

“Ooh like Py…thagoras! That Greek guy you told us about. The one who doesn’t eat beans!”

Another pupil, joins in,

“Or hytop…hypon…hy …oh I can’t even say it!!”

Hypotenuse“, I finish with a proud smile. “You have all been listening. I’m impressed!

A third pupil leans over,

“Miss, can you get me one of those?”

A visor? Leave it with me!” I say with a grin, moving away

And in moments like these, more than the day the Premier League came back, more that my first visit to the pub, or first post-Lockdown haircut, I feel as if life has started up again.

Who knows how long it will last. Each day the number of new covid-19 cases creeps a little higher, although fatalities remain low. As teachers we train for remote learning, blended learning and catch-up learning. Risk assessments are reviewed weekly and only get longer. We remain in a precarious position. But with attendance topping 96% for us this week, and reported to be between 91% and 100% in a wider national survey of schools, there are clearly a lot of families hoping the school gates remain unlocked long into the future …

Who plays a concerto 6 weeks after giving birth?

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Windsor, our trusty Toyota, is driven away for his first set of repair jobs this week and, as a result, we find ourselves stationary for a few days. In many ways, it feels like a flashback to early Lockdown. We paint the bathroom. We redesign the conservatory. We auction old furniture on Ebay; our first ‘non-cot’ bed becomes ‘my own big bed‘ to another child; the kitchen table is signed up for a very glamorous new life at a Night Club in town! There is one difference however, I finally put up a music stand and tootle some oboe notes …

Usually, I’d battle through the parts for my nearest concert. But, as Covid-19 has ruled out all rehearsals since March, I have to dig into my older folders and my past repertoire. And I find The Bach Double Concerto for Oboe and Violin. Oh what memories! This is the first full concerto I ever performed in public and it took place 6 short weeks after Small Boy was born!

If you are an expectant, first-time, musical mum, do not try this! It was utter madness. But Small Boy was not my first child, he was my third. Additionally, in over 3 decades of living at the time, no-one had ever invited me to play a concerto before. It was just too good an opportunity to miss.

I was in the very early, unannounced stages of pregnancy when the unsuspecting conductor offered me the job. I agreed enthusiastically, my outward face a picture of smiles and assurance. On the inside, my mind a whirlwind of rapid, mental arithmetic, trying to fathom whether or not I’d be tootling my part in the concert hall or from the Delivery Suite itself! Of course I worried about being too tired. Of course I questioned my sanity. But I recall being cheerfully egged on by my mum,

There’s no avoiding tired; the choice is tired and happy or tired and miserable!

And so I did it. I worked like a demon right up to the day my waters broke, juggling my job, two toddlers and Bach with, at times grim, determination. I allowed myself 2 weeks off, when we first brought Small Boy home and then, as he marked his 15th day in this world, I resumed daily practice. The moment ex-hub crossed the threshold from work, I would hand over care of three under 5s and vanish to the back room for an hour of playing.

It didn’t matter that the violinist was a precocious 17 year old virtuoso. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t fit into any concert clothes, (my lovely mum bought me a roomy soloist-style sparkly top). It didn’t matter that I was completely shattered. I powered through with adrenaline and joy, reaping the benefits of all the pre-birth practice regime. The performance was terrific. It also led to tons of other gigs and concerto offers; my golden era of oboe playing.

Today, as I stumble thought the notes, I realise how much my technique and stamina have deteriorated over the last 15 years, particularly since moving North. Nonetheless, I find myself wondering,

Do I have another concerto in me?’

Hey, I’m the woman who performed her first concerto less than 2 months after giving birth so, to this or indeed other new challenges, … never say never…

The unfortunate collision …

Wednesday 22 July 2020

… with the car showroom!

The day starts so well. Having spent the first 2 days of the school holidays clearing out the garage, Wednesday sees Small boy, Prom-dress daughter and I driving to the tip. It is a third day for the grubby, dusty clothes we’ve been wearing for our labours and the car mirror confirms that I do indeed have a cobweb in my hair. But it’s only the tip? Oh and the Macdonald’s  Drive Thru! How else would I have tempted my two teen helpers from their beds before noon?

Rubbish tipped and Maccies bought, we are turning for home when I notice a warning light on the dashboard, for the engine! It is only 24 hours since the car was MOT-ed and the garage who passed trusty old Windsor is close by. So we divert to their forecourt … and it is here that the day begins to unravel…

Garages are busy at the moment, with missed Lockdown appointments overlapping current car crises, and the local garage is frantic when we pull up. Cars everywhere! Not a parking spot to be seen. I gratefully espy an ‘additional customer parking’ sign and decide to follow it. Into a crowded and cramped area we venture and, as we struggle to locate a spare patch to stop in, see a vehicle advancing towards us. I wrench Windsor into reverse and begin to edge my way out. There is a close shave with a van on my side, so I yell at the kids to ‘Keep Watch!‘. The advancing car beeps its horn and I begin to feel frazzled. Both kids are mortified by the confusion P0I am causing,

“Just get out of the way Mum!”

Hurry up!”

In a panic, I swerve to get back on track and there is a sickening crunch, as I grind Windsor firmly into the corner of the car showroom.

A small crowd has gathered as I slink out of the car. Aluminium strips from the edging of the showroom window flap in the breeze. Windsor is a crumpled, twisted mess. My jaw actually drops open. The manager arrives and looks to me for an explanation. Through my sobs, I manage to tell the tale of the warning light and Windsor is driven away for examination.

We are led inside and what a sorry troop we make. Prom-dress daughter clutches a half-eaten bag of Mozzerella sticks as she shuffles forward in fluffy slipper-socks and sliders. Small boy stomps along with eyes resolutely fixed on his trainers. I bring up the rear, my face streaked with tears and spider webs, occasionally hissing out crazed phrases such as ‘all your fault‘ at the kids. Like naughty school children, we are directed to 3 socially distanced seats and grimly await our fate.

The news, when it finally arrives, is not good. The warning light does indeed herald a ‘major engine job’ and phrases such as ‘heavy bill’ and ‘car out of action for 2 weeks’ break the strained silence of the showroom. They have, thankfully, decided not to charge me for the damage to the building, but advise that the car is fit for ‘small journey’s only‘ until they can book me in. I am also on my own, when it comes to repairing the body work. Feeling a little stunned, we get up to leave,

Errr… I’ve brought the car round for you!”  mumbles an anxious mechanic.

I stare at him through glazed eyes. He points helpfully towards the door. We find Windsor, positioned so far through the exit that he is almost on the pavement. They clearly want me off those premises and who can blame them?

I happen know a good garage for body work. We call in on the way home and the cheery owner calms me down with his reassuring, positive words. Further kindness awaits at home, where my eldest sits me in the lounge with a nice cup of coffee and a bowl of pasta. Small Boy hands me the £7 he made recently from selling his old BMX on ebay. I begin to recover. I start to see the funny side.

No escaping one fact though – the next few weeks are going to be expensive and stationary…

The music centre bill..

Saturday 18 July 2020

It drops through the door and sits on the mat; the Music Centre Bill for Autumn term 2020. I scoop it up with the rest of the mail and head to the kitchen, planning to read it over a morning cuppa. But I don’t. Instead I sit, with my tea and just stare and stare at the envelope, gripped by a dread of opening it at all ….

Is it the finances? No, that’s not it. I’ll be honest, getting an invoice is never the greatest moment of the day, but this one will have a due date of September 2020 and I have two more pay cheques before then. Plenty of time to get those funds together.

What then? It is this. Into my July morning comes the realisation that, for the first time since I can remember, there will only be two names, not three on the letter. The chances are that my eldest will not be joining the other two back at Youth Orchestra in the Fall, because she will be heading off to a new life at University. It is a sudden sign that we are rapidly approaching the end of an era. And I am blind-sided.

Of course a University place is not guaranteed for my girl this October. (Who knows what grades will emerge for her from the national machine currently calculating and balancing covid-estimates for all our examination hopefuls this Summer.) But if not this year, then next. And if not to Higher Education, then ultimately to some independent form of adult life. The time for the four of us and family life, with all our glorious traditions, daily routines, crazy plans and fitting comfortably together … it’s over in the very near future.

I’ve known it was coming, but this letter suddenly makes it feel very real and makes my heart feel very sad. I flick the kettle on again and push the letter aside for a moment. One more cuppa and then I’ll face it ….