Ellie’s Marathon

The London Marathon.  Sunday.  The hottest on record.  40,000 runners, 100,000 spectators.  Team Support Ellie, all members of her wider family, split into manageable units to chase from place to place all over the Marathon route to spot her and cheer her along.  Malcolm and I, as the oldest supporters joined up with two year old William and his mum, as Team Slow.

We all had the Tracker App.  All the runners had a device on their shoe to report where they were, and how fast they were going in real time.  100,000 users in London, and thousands more beyond ensured the poor overworked app was often on strike, so we often guessed at her whereabouts as we zipped about over London trying to  get to a vantage point before she did.  WhatsApp messages kept us all in the loop.

 

  • ‘We didn’t manage to spot her at the start.’
  • ‘ We missed her at Greenwich.’
  • ‘Couldn’t see her at Cutty Sark’
  • ‘Never saw her at the Isle of Dogs.’
  • ‘Where was she on the Mall?’

    Hmm. Maybe it’s not all that surprising that we didn’t spot her at Greenwich.

Which was all a bit disappointing for us, and more so for Ellie, who having trained in sleet and frost wasn’t looking forward to running in the temperatures of high summer and must have thought we’d all pushed off to the pub.

But Tom and Alex reported spotting her at the Tower of London, and sent a picture to prove it.  Team by team we reported our successes – Team Slow finally saw her only yards before she finished.

Ellie draws breath at the Tower of London.

She did it.  She got her medal.  And thanks to many many friends – and quite a few of you – she’s smashed her fundraising target to raise over £6000 towards oesophageal cancer research.  She says she’s done her first -and last – marathon.

 

Snapshot Saturday: Prolific plastic

It was on a day out in Sitges near Barcelona that I had my light-bulb moment.  It was a gloriously sunny January day, and we had the beach almost to ourselves: a clean, sandy and utterly unpolluted beach.  Here it is.

Sitges, one bright January morning.

And yet …… I took it into my head to spend just five minutes having my own personal Plastic Litter Pick on this apparently plastic-free beach.  Here is my haul.

From the beach in Sitges, one bright January morning.

When we got back to Ripon, we found that a new group had been formed.  Initially a group of two, it quickly grew.  These are  local people  looking for a Plastic Free Ripon.

Plastic is part of all our lives (you try eliminating it and see just how hard it is), but single-use plastic doesn’t have to be.   We’re 60 miles from the nearest beach, but it’s coastal communities who have perhaps woken up to the threat that plastic in our oceans represents, and Surfers against Sewage who have provided Ripon, and dozens of other communities with a toolkit to help us begin eliminate needless plastic from our city.

Thanks to a small group of foot-soldiers marching to local businesses and spreading the word,  neighbourhood shops have committed to discouraging customers from having plastic bags.  Some takeaways have invested in compostable food containers.  There are bars that have decided against issuing plastic straws.  Commit to taking three decisive steps to eliminate plastic, and your business in Ripon can be awarded plastic free-status.  Many have eagerly responded to the challenge.

There’s much else to do.  Hotels and bed and breakfast establishments are still providing little single-use plastic bottles of shower gel and lotions.  School dinner providers still issue single-use bottles of water.  Garden centres sell their wares in single-use plastic plant pots. Residents and passers-through who should know better sling bottles and packaging from car windows or outside take-aways.  So that’s why there will be regular community litter-picks.

I wish I could say I was in the vanguard of all this action.  I’m not, though I’m a small part of it.  There’s a small gang working utterly indefatigably, and already they’ve made a huge difference.  All the same.  Like so many others, Malcolm and I have gone old-fashioned and eschew the plastic milk cartons in the supermarket.  The early-morning milkman delivers us our early-morning pinta in a glass bottle for us to rinse out and return.  Just like the good old days.

Drinka pinta milka day. (1959 slogan from the Milk Marketing Board)

‘Prolific’ is this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge.

The I Spy Book Challenge

I  opened a new post from Bookish Beck‘s book-based blog.  She’d taken up a challenge, which she’d read about  here.  I’m hoping at least one of you may pick it up too and give it a go (I’m looking at you, Sandra...)

The idea is to take the list of twenty themes and find a book on your bookshelves that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example in each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, be as creative as you want and do it within five minutes (or maybe a bit longer if you have too many books on too many overcrowded shelves, and you photograph them on the way).  The original challenge also contains the initials TBR, and it only later occurred to me that of course this means To Be Read.  So I’ve failed at the first hurdle, as I’ve read thirteen of my list.  Tough.

Food: Like Water for Chocolate: Laura Esquivel.  I still haven’t read this.  Put it on the TBR pile.

Transport: Stranger on a Train: Jenny Diski.  Am I going to read this?  You tell me.

Weapon: Where Poppies Blow: John Lewis Stempel  Not a weapon in the title or on the cover.  I think we can agree there were weapons involved in WWI.  This is a wonderful book putting the Great War in an entirely new context.

Animal: A Tiger in the Sand: Mark Cocker.  I love this man’s writing.  So I’ve enjoyed these essays.

Number: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: James Shapiro. Scholarly, readable social history.

Something you read. The Seabird’s Cry: Adam Nicolson.  There’s a reason for choosing this.  My friend Penny gave me this.  My friend Penny introduced me to Becky’s blog.  Perfect. This is a wonderful book: nature writing at its best.

Body of water: Caught by the river.  A good anthology for dipping into.

Product of fire: Rumi, the fire of love: Natal Tajerdod.  TBR.  

Royalty: Prince of the Clouds: Gianni Riolta.  I can’t remember if I’ve read this.  So I guess I haven’t.

Architecture: Invisible Cities: Italo Calvino.  This wasn’t an easy read.  But it was short and stimulating.

An item of clothing: Woman in White: Wilkie Collins.  It’s not an item of clothing.  But it is clothing.  And in my case, another TBR classic.

Family member: Daughter of Fortune: Isabel Allende.  How come I haven’t read this yet?

Time of day: How to stop time: Matt Haig.  A weird (in a good way!) and original time-travelling yarn.

Music: Music and Silence: Rose Tremain. I haven’t read this for years.  I know I enjoyed it.

Paranormal being: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams.  What would I have come up with if I hadn’t found this book that Tom must have left behind, all those years ago?  We used to listen on the radio together.

Occupation: The Shepherd’s Life: James Rebanks. A shepherd from a family whose occupation it’s been for generations.  This shepherd has been to Oxford.  He works for UNESCO. A realistic and illuminating  look at the realities of rural life in Cumbria.

Season: Hawthorn Time: Melissa Harrison.  A good story, with believable characters, with the countryside coming in at top spot.

Colour: The Red Notebook: Antoine Laurain.  A vairy Frainch little mystery.

Celestial body: Paradise: Toni Morrison.  An eloquent, poetic though quite difficult book, read a long time ago now.

Something that grows: The Tulip: Anna Pavord.  Though not a tulip fan, I like Anna Pavord’s writing.  Fascinating stuff.

 

In which I graduate from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

I’m lying of course.  Even I can’t do a degree in three weeks.  But ….. I have been a distance learner at this seat of learning, and I’ve loved it.  I’ve exchanged my 1970s student life, putting the world to rights in the refectory or the students’ union bar for on-line discussions with Anglophones with the hugest variety of life experience.  I’ve exchanged echoing lecture theatres for my own study, where the lecturer delivers his or her piece at exactly the hour that suits me, and repeats it on demand.  I’ve exchanged official reading lists for comments and suggestions from fellow students, based on newly discovered shared interests.

All this is thanks to FutureLearn.  They publicise courses on every subject you can think of, and lots that you can’t.  Some are paid-for courses right through to professional qualification or degree level.  But many of them are not. Universities in every continent run short free courses and they want us to be their students.  If only I’d seen Hanyang University’s Introduction to Korean before we went two years ago!

No matter.  What I saw a few weeks ago was this – Getting to know Catalonia: An introduction to the Catalan language , culture and society.  What timing!  Emily and Miquel are buying their first home together and Emily’s had promotion in her job in Barcelona.  Catalonia’s going to be part of our lives.

It didn’t begin well, and I whinged to Emily that I’d signed up to a piece of propaganda from the Catalan Independence movement (‘What did you expect’?).  In fact however, we’ve had an overview of economics, history, literature and the arts and popular culture and it’s a solid grounding for further study.

What’s made it has been the fellow-students.  I’m sure some people do what’s set in front of them and are happy to leave it at that. It’s probably all they have the time or inclination for.  For a hard core of us though, it’s our colleagues that have made the difference.  The civil servant in the Welsh office at the time when their bilingual policies were being developed; the Catalan who observed that there is no ‘standard’ Catalan, so in the media, do you use the language of the Balearics, the North West or the Central provinces, or even (who knew?) the Catalan spoken in Alghero, Sardinia ?  The Irish chipped in, and Swiss Germans, and other linguistic minority groups.  All this provoked lively discussions about language, and languages that have been suppressed (as Catalan was, unsuccessfully, and as Occitan was in France, largely successfully).  Every topic has had us helping each other out.  Most of us are woefully badly read in Catalan history and literature, so we share ideas about more accessible material.  Away from the lectures, the tutors barely show their faces, and that’s fine.  It is a free course after all, and we have proved that self-help works.  In just three weeks we’ve established a learning community where we have given something, and taken a lot, and are the richer for it.

I’ll be on the look out for my next free course from FutureLearn soon.

Every time I open the coursework, this is the image I see. An ariel view of a human tower in the making: Catalan cooperation at its finest.

Snapshot Saturday: the awakening garden

Originality has gone out of the window as I enter Day Twelve of the Great Coughing Virus.  I’ve found some pictures from last year’s much more clement spring.  This is a walk round and about the awakening garden, exactly a year ago.

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is ‘Awakening’.  Click on any image to view full size.

Spring: red, yellow, white or green?

I’m now on Day Nine of The Great British Coughing Virus, and as you may be unlucky enough to know, it ain’t fun. I’ve done nothing worth writing about, and my creativity quotient is at an all-time-low.  Instead, I thought I’d share with you the piece I wrote for my U3A Writing Group the other week, following the prompt ‘red’.

Spring: Red, yellow, white or green?

Spring is not red.  Spring is white, as the late snowdrops poke their heads above the frosty soil.  It’s yellow with primroses, daffodils and aconites: and later, laburnum and dandelions.  It’s fresh citrus green, with young tender grass and unfurling leaves.

 

 

Summer is red.  Summer is scarlet strawberries, velvet raspberries and glossy cherries.  It’s poppies among fields of wheat. It’s glowing noses and peeling shoulders on a crowded beach.  It’s roses and nasturtiums and salvia and geranium vying for space in the summer flower bed.

Autumn is red.  In autumn, leaves drop from the trees, turning from green to yellow and then to russet red as they reach the ground.  Crab apples glow on trees, and foragers like me gather them, and tumble them into a pan to simmer with sugar and spices to make a translucent ruby jelly for spreading on toast through the bleak winter months.  

Winter is red.  Bright berries poke out from beneath the sleek green leaves of the holly. Vermilion rose hips stand starkly on black branches, cheerfully  transforming barren twigs and colouring the winter landscape. There’s little Robin Redbreast, perching on a scarlet pillar box, and all those gaudy Christmas decorations.

Spring is not red.  Or at least I didn’t think so, not until last week.  Here’s what I found on a walk across a Daleside farmland: a ewe, with two only-just-born lambs. Her babies were stained bright red with her blood, as she licked them clean.  Spring that day was a Red Letter Day, celebrating new life.

A ewe and her new lambs near West Witton, Wensleydale.

Snapshot Saturday: the happy bookworm

I’ve been smiling a lot this week, and it’s all thanks to Lucy Mangan, and her new book ‘Bookworm: a memoir of childhood reading’.

Bookworm. And underneath it, another excellent read. Any guesses?

I’d thought that as a child, I was bookworm too.  Compared with Lucy Mangan I wasn’t even trying.  She resented the time wasted in eating a meal, and as for playing with friends – she never even considered doing that.

Yes, I can remember that Christmas when I was 10, when I was given 19, yes NINETEEN paperbacks, and had finished the first one before we’d even cut into the Christmas cake.

I can remember the row when my father, getting up for a night-time toddle to the bathroom, found me happily reading my way through another installment of ‘Jennings and Darbishire‘ or ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‘.  Did it never occur to my parents to wonder how I could have got through a book a day any other way?

Lucy’s mother must be a few years older than me.  Lucy herself is only a couple of years older than Tom, and was brought up only a a mile or two away from where he lives now.

Because she was such a redoubtable reader, Lucy Mangan not only read the books that I enjoyed reading with Tom, Ellie and Emily, and now with grandchildren too: but she also discovered the treasures familiar to me as a child of the 1950’s.  I know she wrote this book just for me.

I was born before the Golden Age of the picture book.  Luckily my children weren’t.  ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’? Judith Kerr’s ‘Mog’ booksShirley HughesQuentin Blake?  How had I managed without them?

 

 

I’ve wallowed this week in memories of ‘My Naughty Little Sister‘; ‘The Church Mice‘; John Burningham; Raymond Briggs; Roald Dahl; ‘The Secret Garden‘ and all those 19th century classics by – largely female – American authors.

 

 

You couldn’t keep the smile off my face if you tried.

This post is in response to this week’s WordPress photo challenge, ‘Smile’.  It’s a total cop out on my part.  I don’t think my photo of a book jacket is exactly rising to the occasion, do you?

Click on any image to view full size.