So a while ago I signed myself up for a new challenge. To swim 22 miles in 12 weeks. That is apparently the same distance as swimming the Channel. Although, as it is done in a pool it’s without any added dangers such as big boats, jelly fish, and sharks.
When I signed up it seemed like a really good idea. Our gym has a lovely open air pool, which is always pretty quiet. Apparently not everyone is as keen as me on the great outdoors. Even though the pool is nice and heated unless it is a glorious summers day there is rarely anyone in.
However what I hadn’t factored into my swimming challenge was that the lovely quiet outdoor pool shuts at the end of October. Therefore the majority of the 22 mile slog was actually going to have to be done in the indoor pool. Well frankly I think swimming the Channel itself might actually have been an easier option.
It seems that there is no time when the pool isn’t absolutely packed. If it’s not full of kids trying to see how much water they can knock out of the pool, it’s full of old people reenacting scenes from Cocoon. 6 am the gym opens, so you’d think that would be a good time to go. Nice and early to beat the crowds. Well you’d be wrong. 5.55 am I arrived the other day and there was a queue of octogenarians channelling their inner Usain Bolt. As soon as the clock struck 6 they shot off through the turnstiles, literally running to be the first in the changing rooms, a pile of walking sticks and zimmerframes left in their wake.
The other problem with indoor swimming is the dreaded lane choice. There are three lanes, slow, medium and fast. Choosing which to go into is a nightmare. Try the slow lane at 6 am and sometimes you have to poke the other swimmers just to check they are actually breathing. Medium would probably be my lane of choice yet again this can be tricky as working out if you are supposed to swimming clockwise or anticlockwise can take up valuable time. The biggest nightmare is accidentally getting into the fast lane. If that is the only empty lane I’ll jump in there, but then you are stuck if someone else gets in. Obviously you can’t just get out and swap lanes, what would people think? Instead you end up having to swim as fast as you possibly can for six lengths and then pretend that was all you had time for. This involves getting out of the pool, staring pointedly at the clock for longer than completely necessary and then hurrying into the changing room as though in a rush.
It really is no surprise that more people don’t take up swimming when it is fraught with such anxiety. It is a lesson to us all though that signing up to swim 22 miles might seem like a good idea, reality isn’t all its cracked up to be. It’s a good job it’s all for a good cause!
A couple of weekends ago I took part in the York 10 mile race. This was run alongside the Yorkshire Marathon. As you know a marathon is 26 miles (26.2 to be precise, why someone added an extra 0.2 is beyond me, was 26 not enough?) When you look at it in that context, 10 miles doesn’t seem far. If someone said lets go shopping, you’d jump in the car and happily drive off ten miles without thinking twice.
Well I can tell you now, covering ten miles on foot is definitely something to think twice about. In fact you should think three and four times about it, ideally whilst sat in front of the television with a glass of red so you are not tempted to think it’s a good idea. I never really thought it was a good idea, I just didn’t appreciate what a bad one it was. One friend suggested we sign up to do it. I then mentioned it to another friend who was already signed up. He said maybe I would need to train more and should wait until next year. Well that was a stupid thing to say, as obviously I jumped on my high horse and signed up straight away.
The training went quite well. I completed some nice long runs, in fact at one point I ran from pluto to the sun* So I turned up on the day confident I would complete it in my target time of 2 hours. As always before I signed up I checked the results from last year. I’m a very slow runner, but as long as I’m not going to be last then I’m happy to give it a go. Therefore with some 3 hour runners at previous events I was confident I’d be as usual in the middle average.
Of course when looking at previous results I’d concentrated on the slowest people without realising that there was still going to be a rather large number of fast people doing it. I don’t mind getting overtaken by speedy professional looking runners. That’s just part and parcel of being a bit of a fairweather jogger. However when you suddenly realise that you are actually being passed by Zippy and Bungle from Rainbow you do start to think it might be time to hang up the trainers. Luckily one of the best things about these runs is the constant supply of sweets that the kindly spectators are giving out as you drag yourself round. The man in the batman suit might have finished way ahead of me, but I bet I enjoyed my jelly babies more than him.
The thing with this kind of event though is that as soon as you reach the finish line you forget everything. You forget about the fact that at the half way point you were ready to sit down and wait for a taxi. You forget about the fact that your face is that red you are stopping traffic as you go past. You forget about the fact your toenails will probably never be the same again. As soon as you get your finish time, which in my case was a very respectable 1 hour 44 minutes, you forget what a stupid idea trying to run 10 miles actually is. In fact once you are actually able to walk again you think, what’s my next challenge going to be all pain forgotten. One thing for certain though is I won’t be doing a marathon. 26 miles ok maybe, but 26.2, that’s just silly.
*York Solar System Cycle Path obviously!
On Wednesday it was national Winnie the Pooh day. Winnie the Pooh has always been one of my favourite children’s characters. However unfortunately my celebration of this national day didn’t include a nice cuddly bear, I had an encounter with a completely different type of poo.
I like the outdoors. Other than reading, most of my pastimes are based outside. I go horse riding, and jogging in the great outdoors, and I try and go for a walk every lunchtime. I’m lucky in that I work near a racecourse so there is always somewhere nice and green to have a wander round.
I was enjoying one of these lunchtime walks on Wednesday, until the nice quiet contemplation of nature was rudely interrupted – by a huge seagull poo landing on my head. Sadly this isn’t the first time this has happened to me, in fact it’s starting to become a bit of a habit. Most people go to Scarborough and their only concern is whether the seagulls are going to steal their chips. I spend the time looking upwards trying to avoid walking under any suspicious looking gulls flying overhead.
Why don’t more people get pooed on by birds? It doesn’t seem to happen to other people. You never read in a book about so and so finding a body covered in bird poo. DS Roy Grace is never casually walking along Brighton sea front catching criminals only to have to stop to wipe bird poo off his head. Even Tippi Hedron was bird poo free despite having hundreds of birds trying to kill her. You would think it would be a common occurrence really bearing in mind the numbers of bird around. Yet it seems to be only me that gets targeted. I think it is some kind of game the birds all play. There is probably some kind of national league that the birds join. They get given a score card when they sign up and it has a big picture of me on it. Extra points every time they get a strike.
Apparently it is meant to be good luck but that is a load of nonsense if you ask me. All it means in reality is you have to wash your hair and/or jacket depending on the site of the aforementioned strike. I think it may be wise to give up my delusions of being a country girl. Next year I am just going to stay inside and read Winnie the Pooh to celebrate rather than venture outside.
I have recently started watching The Zoo on TV. For those of you who don’t know, this is not as the name suggests, a nice family show about zoo keepers and their charges. Instead it’s a series based on the James Patterson novel of the same name where animals are essentially taking revenge on humans in the most gruesome ways they can find.
As someone who has often thought how I much prefer animals to people (although I wouldn’t want to be confronted by a grizzly bear in my kitchen especially if I’d just opened a bottle of wine) this is the kind of programme that gives me a slightly satisfied feeling, animals fighting back. It also rather terrifies me though as it may already be happening. I can’t look at a crow without thinking of the Hitchcock film the Birds which I thought was really scary. I don’t think it helped that for the first few times I watched it, back in the days of the good old video tape I never got to watch the end. Either the film was overrunning so it didn’t record all of it, or the video ran out before it had finished. I even once bought a copy from the local charity shop and the tape mangled before I could watch it all the way through (anyone under the age of 40 reading this will have absolutely no idea what all that is about!) That just made the film even creepier if you ask me, did they get away from the birds or not?
Living near a field I often take the nice route to work which involves walking through a herd of young cows. I like the cows, yet as I walk through them carrying my leather bag I’m sure they are watching me. They can sense that I’m using their grandmother to carry my sandwiches to work (It’s ten years old and was made from recycled leather so it may actually be more like their great great grandmother) I’ve never actually seen them following me, but I know they are. Every time I turn around they stop and pretend to just be going about their business chewing grass but I think it’s all an act they are just trying to plan their next move.
Squirrels are another one to watch out for. I hate spiders and once heard that if you put conkers round the edges of rooms they give off some kind of odour that puts spiders off coming in. So I like to collect conkers for decorations. Yet there I am happily walking along, eyes on the ground, and suddenly get hit by said conkers. These didn’t just fall they were launched from the tree. Exactly at the spot where a nice little squirrel sat smugly grinning away, clearly warning me off of his nuts.
I think we should just be glad that we don’t live in a country where there are crocodiles and bears, and all we have to worry about are squirrels and cows. Just watch an episode of Zoo if you don’t believe me.
I must confess to not normally being a sports fan, much preferring to sit around and read a book. Therefore usually the Olympics passes me by. Only marked by the noticeable lack of Casualty on the TV due to the BBC’s continuous Olympic coverage. However this year due to a) living with someone who is utterly sports obsessed and will watch absolutely anything and b) my newly rekindled love of horses, I have actually watched quite a lot.
One of the things that really struck me was how easy all the sporting people made things seem to look. Take the equestrian sports for an example. I go riding and recently I’ve been learning both jumping and dressage techniques. Neither of these things are even slightly easy. Attempting to jump a cross bar approximately two inches off the ground at nothing faster than a trot still feels as though you are being asked to jump the Grand Canyon. As for dressage, well my riding style is more windmill like than calm and serene so trying to get a horse to smoothly trot in a circle is neigh-on impossible (see what I did there?) Yet the fantastic Charlotte DuJardin made dancing horses look very cool, and Nick Skelton barely broke a sweat as he took his horse over impossibly high jumps.
I suspect that writing a novel is another of these things that on the surface looks really easy, yet in reality is the exact opposite. It’s not only the writing, but also the coming up with ideas. Last weekend we spent a lovely evening having a dinner party (how very grown up!) with some friends. The conversation as it often does turned to books. This on the back of a conversation about our dream jobs, led to the suggestion that I should write a novel. Clearly due to my love of reading it was seen that the next logical step was for me to write one myself. However that lead to the first stumbling block, the idea. I think coming up with an original idea is harder than winning gold and silver in the Olympic Triathlon, unless you are the Brownlee brothers of course. One suggestion for an idea was that a group of people at a dinner party agree to murder each other’s enemies. Hmm where have I heard that before?
Even if you do then come up with an idea that hasn’t already been done to death, you have to get round to the actual putting of pen to paper, or fingers to keys in this day and age. Whilst it may seem that the hardest bit is starting and that once you begin the rest will follow I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case. The likes of Mark Billingham and Val Mcdermid may make the whole process of writing a novel seem easy as they put out hit after hit, yet I’m sure in reality just like in sport the hard work that is put in behind the scenes is monumental.
I like most readers would love to have the ability to write a novel, however I’d also like the ability to win a gold medal for dressage at the Olympics, or take the winning trophy at a triathlon yet considering my best 10k race time is 1 hour 4 minutes, and Alistair completed his Triathlon with a 10k time of 31 minutes, I suspect I might be somewhere off, especially when you add in the fact I am actually inherently lazy. In fact I think I’ll stick to reading books and complaining about the lack of Casualty, it is certainly much less exhausting.
So this week I’ve turned 40, which I have to say did not turn out to be the momentous occasion I thought it would be. In my head for some reason turning 40 was a huge deal. It’s half way through my life (although I have a 90 year old grandmother so I’m hoping I’m not quite there yet) and I thought this would be marked somehow. I don’t know how, maybe the Taj Mahal would appear in our garden, a troop of dancing elephants would shimmy down the Close singing happy birthday, I’d start wearing matching underwear and always carry a handkerchief. In reality, other than which box I tick on official forms absolutely nothing changed. I had a lovely day and thoroughly enjoyed myself but I didn’t change. I still haven’t brought about world peace, or done a handstand on the top of the Eiffel Tower, or anything particularly noteworthy.
This did cause me some consternation, and I was rather miserable when I woke up on my second day of my 40th year. Luckily I met a friend for lunch, who gave me just the kick up the backside I needed. She’d even bought me a book of things to do now that you’re 40. Her very good suggestion was to write a list of 40 things I want to do, and then actually do them. I’m a big list writer, although I’m not so good at the actual doing of the items. They don’t have to be big things like walking the Camino de Santiago as someone I know is doing (You can follow his blog here) They can be small things.
Another very good suggestion from a friend, was not just to write a list of things I want to do but also a list of 40 things I’ve already done that I enjoyed or am proud of. Both of these are excellent suggestions that I am going to be taking up.In fact by the end of the day I’d already knocked off one item from my list. I went to a lovely restaurant called Rattle Owl which I’d wanted to go to for ages and a friend took me as a birthday treat.
The day also reminded me that although I may not yet have found a way to stop slugs eating my cabbages or written a best selling novel, I have an awful lot of good friends which already means I have something to show for 40 years. So today after making 30 cupcakes for my party on Saturday I have begun my list. I still need lots more ideas but its a good start. Turning 40 may be just another number but doesn’t mean I can’t make this a momentous year (or at least a momentous list)
My 40 things to do
- Eat at the Rattle Owl
- Complete the TOPCWF 2016
- Afternoon tea at the Grand (My friend has already volunteered for that)
- See Orangutans in Borneo (actually a possibility as I’m going to Thailand at the end of the year)
- Eat a pizza in Italy
- Learn how to take good pictures
- Learn how to ride a bike
- Learn how to crochet
- Do a park run in at least 4 different cities (I was going to say 40 but thought that was rather excessive)
- Go on a wine tasting course and actually put it into practice (no more ordering ‘red wine, whatever is cheapest’!)
- Bluebell walk
- Horse ride on a beach (I do ride horses so its not such a long shot)
- Grow sweetcorn
- Ride in a hot air balloon
- Visit Blackpool
- Visit the Tower of London
- Go on a Jack the Ripper walk
- Visit Cromer
- Go on a pony trek
- Paint a picture
- Make a chinese meal from scratch
- Visit 4 news National Trust Houses
- Ride on a steam train
- Do an open water swim
- Take 4 different pictures of Roundhay Park across the 4 seasons
- Run 4 10ks
- Row a boat
- Visit Yorkshire Wildlife Park
- Go to the Manchester Sealife Centre
- See an Opera
- Go to the Horse Trials
- Collect pine cones in a wood
- Go on a bat walk
- Have a picnic
- Visit to the seaside
- Watch a sunrise outside
- Glass walk over Tower Bridge
Thursday was world book day. This is quite possibly one of my most favourite days. I’m gutted it’s not something we get to celebrate at work. I might suggest next year we take a leaf out of the local schools book and all come dressed as a character from our favourite novels. I’m not sure who I’d choose though as dressing as a detective is a bit dull. I suppose I could don a wax jacket and pair of wellington boots and go as Vera, or a pair of white overalls and be Kay Scarpetta. The local school had a huge array of costumes I spotted on the way to work. As well as the usual Harry Potters there was the Gruffalo, a Gangsta granny, and even a little red dragon.
More exciting than just getting to wear a fancy costume apparently all the children got given a book token. Am I only the person who thinks book tokens are one of the most fantastic presents ever. Every time I suggest to people that it would make a good gift for someone I get laughed at. How can people not think that book tokens are great? It’s almost like two presents in one, you not only get a free book you get the joy of choosing it yourself.
I was very excited the other day when I realised that national book tokens still exist. I remember getting these as a child and it would take me weeks to decide what I wanted. It hasn’t changed as I’ve got older. Whenever I get a token the ability to decide what I want suddenly disappears. Give me cash and I’ll buy the first book I find off my wish list but as soon as it comes to a token I’m a dithering wreck. It’s the most important decision in the world and making the wrong one thereby wasting my all important book token is catastrophic.
I haven’t actually seen a book token for a long time, and sadly I suspect they are no longer paper based things. They are no doubt credit card style items that get ‘topped up’ which isn’t quite as exciting in my mind but still book tokens are book tokens and the thrill of choosing books never goes away.
I hope that those who celebrated world book day enjoyed spending their book tokens. I wonder if I organised the day at work I could persuade them to let us have book tokens too. I would need to come up with a better character to dress up as though.