Caddisfly

I don’t like glace cherries. I never have. Fresh cherries have an odd taste anyway. Preserving them with sugar syrup or embalming them or whatever they do with them to make them inviolable like that does nothing to improve them as far as I’m concerned. Glace cherries are the winnets of the preserved fruit world. There are tastier things dangling from round the arseholes of sheep.

Yesterday was my last day as event director at Wimpole Estate parkrun. I have had the privilege of being at the heart of a wonderful community. I’ve built that community round me like a caddisfly larva builds its protective shield. The silk is creative swearing and there are pebbles and bits of weed and they’re represented by the friends and dogs and dogs of friends and the sheep and cows and geese and ducks and gorgeous children and they’ve all kept me safe and sane when my world has been coming apart.

Now I’ve left it behind. In a way. It’s its own thing now. I’ll be part of it and I’ll let someone else feel the love the way I have. I am not good at accepting praise. It embarrasses me. I deflect it or dismiss it with a joke. It’s not important to me. What is important to me is a sense of mutual respect and I am grateful to have had the chance to set the tone of our community if I’ve even done that much. I prefer to think I’ve let others do the touchy-feely stuff while I’ve been just the right side of misanthropic for sanity.

Yesterday was still mildly surreal. I didn’t want any fuss but Chris was never going to let me get away easily. He stood up and was warm and effusive and I was mildly embarrassed at the attention. It’s never been about me, it’s always been about the runners and that special landscape we run through and about the community we’ve become. He gave me a National Trust goody bag which is why I wittered on about glace cherries. They’re in a cake, an otherwise remarkably lovely fruit cake which I started with a cup of tea this afternoon. They’re the only disappointment in a day full of delights and I can pick them out of the cake if I really have to.

I’m a lucky, lucky man. I have friends and health, a roof over my head, food in the larder, the love of an excellent woman, a cat on my lap whenever I want one and sometimes when I don’t. I don’t need an artificial shell.

Good luck to Colm Crowley. You have a remarkable thing to curate and I know it’s going to change and grow and develop and continue to be a place where friends can inspire and be awesome for one another.

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Small Pleasures

Small pleasures are those little things which mean a lot to oneself and which probably mean nothing at all to anyone else. Some have disappeared. Kit-Kats in foil wrappers, for example, the four-fingered ones. I used to slip the red paper part off and then rub the foil smooth over the fingers so that the logo stood out. Then I’d slide my fingernail down between the fingers. I had to get the tension exactly right or the foil would tear and that would have been dreadful. They’ve changed the packaging and the four-fingered Kit-Kats come in this nasty wrapper which is doubtless more robust and keeps those little slivers of wafer and chocolate fresher for longer.

Small pleasures shouldn’t be the great big things in life. Kissing is never a small pleasure. If it is, you’re probably doing it poorly or kissing the wrong person. My advice would be to find the right person so that every kiss becomes a comma in the sentence of your life together. Who says you can’t combine romance and punctuation? Sexy times shouldn’t really be on the list of your small pleasures either. There’s a reason they call it the Big O. If you’re screaming, it’s not a small thing.

I really liked the smell of Kick the Cat’s head. Other cats don’t have the same smell. Kick the Cat was not a personable creature. She was distinctly grumpy, in fact. She hated practically everyone apart from me. Me, she barely tolerated. She was a serial sausage thief and inveterate bin diver but in her passing few adorable moments she had a sweetly-smelling bonce. When it wasn’t covered in week-old curry sauce. Tilly has even hairier ears than I do. That’s no reason to dislike her, of course, and the space between them doesn’t appear to be filled with anything more substantial than fluff and nonsense. Even though she shares none of Kick’s delinquent tendencies, Tilly just doesn’t smell as good. Bertie of blessed memory would gently chew on on of my fingers which was lovely. Mouse is an instant purrer. You just need to rub her ear and off she goes.

My last post was about the sound of leaves make as you run through them, that ship-ship-ship sound. Getting your cadence and form just right as you run through a drift of fallen leaves is definitely a small pleasure. Even better is running through a puddle. Today’s parkrun at Milton was beautiful. There were puddles the width of the path in places and you could mince round the edges or go straight through the middle. Who ever took pleasure from going round the edges?

New books smell even better than small cats. A magazine which nobody has opened before is a special thing indeed. Lighting the gas on the first click does odd things to the corners of my mouth. A man shouldn’t smile at that. A sane man shouldn’t smile at that. Then there’s the crunch on a good creme brulee when you put the first spoon in. (I can’t do the accent things on this keyboard. Pretend they’re there.) Or what about the texture of extra thick double cream? Mmmm… A spoonful of that and I’m a happy man.

Life should be full of pleasures of all sizes. If your life is like a jar – bear with me on this – if your life is a jar or a vase and pleasures are rocks then you can have two or three big rocks and an awful lot of emptiness or you can pack in more, smaller pleasures – or pebbles in this analogy – even ones as small as a grain of sand. Oooh, that reminds me, running on wet sand on a beach is marvellous, just marvellous.

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The God of Small Joys

There must be one surely? I’m not talking about those major events in life like the birth of children or falling in love. I’m talking about the little things. Finding a fiver you didn’t know you had in a pocket when you really need a coffee and a cake. A smile from your beloved when you wake up. That sort of thing. They deserve to have a god. If love can have a god, then so can smiles from loved ones and children.

This came to mind because I had a really rubbish run yesterday. I had no energy, no vim or vigour and I worked really hard to post a 26 minute run around Wimpole Estate parkrun. It was a bit muddy and sticky but it shouldn’t have been so bloody hard. I’d spent the week on the road in Manchester and Yorkshire meaning lots of miles, hotel nights, unfamiliar beds and crappy food on my own. I hadn’t run since Sunday’s St Neot’s Half in spite of taking all my kit and shoes with me. My lack of energy and oomph has been hanging around for a while.

So I ran flat out and slowly round parkrun on Saturday morning and crossed the line feeling a little meh. However, it wasn’t a crap run. It was a beautiful morning – really, really cold. It took the best part of twenty minutes for the feeling to return to my fingers even though I was wearing my best winter running gloves. It’s definitely winter again and that makes me happy. I was running among friends. I saw familiar, smiling faces everywhere I looked. I know lots of them now but even more of them know me. There were runners of all ages out on the course yesterday and they were by and large giving the absolute berries. Afterwards I had a very nice mocha, one of Cambridgeshire’s better sausage rolls and a slice of Bakewell so sexy I wanted to call it Joan.

My parkrun is so much more than the run and that’s just as well. Running in general is like that. My St Neot’s Half was an hour and three quarters of socialising and partying. I ran the last mile quite hard and it took a good five minutes before I stopped wanting to throw up but apart from that I was chatting and laughing. My time wasn’t dreadful, less than three minutes slower than my 2011 PB on the same course and it was a happy, happy day.

Small joys are important. They keep us going and give us something to rely on when small sadnesses creep up on us and the god of small joys knows there are enough of those around.

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Inauguration

We inaugurated Wimpole Estate parkrun this morning. An astonishing 292 runners completed the challenging 5k course and we’ve had rave reviews so far. I couldn’t be more pleased for the team who have worked so hard for the past few months to make sure that we get off the ground. I’m the event director but I’m a bit like the Roman centurion in the Bible story who says “Do this” and someone does it. It’s been a team effort. All I’ve done is wonder for example whether someone might want to pull a volunteer roster together and lo! Paul pulled a volunteer roster together.

There were some remarkable parkrun personalities there. I talked briefly to Andrew Lane, a parkrun pioneer, one of the thirteen people at the very first Bushy Park time trial. He said that two weeks later there were only eleven runners at Bushy. This morning there were 1,027 runners at Bushy parkrun and thousands of others at 200 different locations around the world, from New Zealand to the USA. Colin and Elaine Brassington have completed 144 and 131 parkruns respectively. I met them first at the St Neots Half Marathon in 2011. They’re enthusiastic Fetchies as well as parkrunners. Alice Holmes has 52 parkruns under her belt, two more than me and she is much, much younger than me. Our youngest finisher this morning is five years old and she is inspiring.

I find everyone who comes to parkrun inspirational in one way or another and that is one reason why I wanted to have a second parkrun near Cambridge. I wanted to have somewhere else for people to be one another’s inspiration. I’ve written before about finding my friends more heroic than my heroes, if that makes sense. I love seeing my friends succeed and when I struggle with my running, I need only chat to Chris or Paul or Carla or Al or Clare or Caz and things seem better. My friends are amazing and I want them to have somewhere else for them to be amazing in.

We will have more stories to tell one another in the weeks and months ahead. We’ll become fitter and quicker. We can’t possibly get our feet much wetter or colder. We’ll make friends and eat cake and race together and stand with one another because parkrun is a family. I quite like being the eccentric, forgetful uncle.

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It Was All A Bit Runny

One day, not so long ago, a writer went off to do writerly, authorial things with her writerly authorial friends and left her runny husband behind to attempt athleticism for the weekend. They both had a marvellous time. She was witty and erudite, met lots of friends, networked subtly, drank very nice whisky in a dark bar with an illustrious new chum and all in all had the sort of weekends writers can only dream about. Meanwhile, her husband ran so much and so hard he was sick. Twice. He loved it. Not the puking, that would be weird.

They say that’s it’s good for couples to have shared interests and it’s true. It’s also good for them to have things they can do on their own. I had a completely brilliant weekend of running fun and Anne did her thing in peace and quiet. We do have a shared interest in books and history. I love wandering around museums with her, even if I spend far too much time reading the labels on the exhibits and she’d rather take in the objects and do more research at home later.

This weekend, Anne was doing her own thing again. I ran my 50th parkrun at Milton Country Park on Saturday morning, had a wee jog round the course at our new parkrun at the Wimpole Estate and then today gave my ugly, weak legs a complete thrashing at the Cambridgeshire Cross Country Championships where I came 100th in a time of 53:13. I didn’t really have time to enjoy my 50th at Milton because I was in too much of a hurry to get out to Wimpole and get set up for our test event. I posted a respectable 23:30, had a brief struggle with the Chunder Monkey on the finishing line – which I won, by the way – grabbed a very good mocha from Cafe Diem and escaped from Milton only 20 minutes behind schedule because I was too chatty with my mates there.

When I got to Milton, I dropped the Great Big Box of Stuff off and went for a jog round the course to check conditions for the briefing. They were damp in some places and downright muddy as all fuck in others. I even lost a shoe at one point. It’s a challenging course with one major climb finishing at the 2k point with my favourite view of Cambridgeshire. During the summer, it’s going to be a quick one but it’s too boggy just now for outright speed. There are a couple of places where it’s actually ankle-deep in water but you soon thrash and splash your way through those.

The test event went well, everyone had a good time, nobody got lost and the marshals and volunteers were top notch. Our first official run is next Saturday morning at 9:00am. Please come and join us.

I was only slightly broken after a brisk 5k followed an hour later by a challenging one so I wasn’t too worried about the Counties this morning. I had a complete shocker at this race last year. I was 103rd out 109 in 53:02 and felt dreadful all the way round. I was 11 seconds slower this year but felt quicker. I probably paced it much better. I started from the back and cruised up the first hill. I enjoy hills and mud. Anne said to me this evening that she doesn’t understand a definition of fun which includes running up and down a muddy, slippery park. Once I got into the rhythm and began to take the brakes off on the downhills, I really began to enjoy myself.

I managed not to come last. I was 100th out 121 this year. It’s just possible that three of the men ahead of me last year died in the interim because I had my arse handed to me in grand style by some fairly elderly gentlemen. I hope not. Everyone behind me today was either older than me or carrying more weight than me. So were quite a lot of men ahead of me.

We were all out in our club vests. My vest means a lot to me. When it goes over my head, I feel part of the team and our team did very well today. I was never in a school sports team. I lacked both the raw talent and the will to train and improve so I didn’t deserve a place ahead of boys who have both talent and a work ethic in training. I work at training now because I want to give as much to the team as they have given to me.

I have had such a splendid weekend of running with my friends during the day and coming home to fine dinners in the evening. I’m a very lucky man. Weekends like this happen so infrequently and unexpectedly. I’d like to thank everyone who has made mine so good. You all know who you are.

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