run on by

IMG_0558 (800x600)Last Thursday I ran 20 miles.

Out of the house, down the road, and along the valley.

IMG_0563 (800x600)A dual carriageway, into town, and then the canal.

IMG_0572 (800x600)Not quite as pretty as the wooded valley, but not without charm (and, most importantly, flat).

IMG_0577 (800x600)After 14 miles, I was hot, tired, slightly bored, and about to turn round.

IMG_0580 (800x600)And then a saw a man lying on the ground.

IMG_0579 (800x600)He was on a track off to one side of the main towpath, with his head on a large bag. He looked asleep, but it was an odd place to sleep, and he had too many clothes on for the blazing hot day.

Thoughts flashed through my head, and I’m writing them down here becase I’m not sure I like all of them.

‘What if he’s dead, and someone’s laid him like that to make him look asleep?’

‘What if he’s pretending to be dead, and grabs me when I get closer?’

‘He’s probably homeless, and just having a snooze’

‘He’s probably drunk, leave him alone’

I confess I was torn between my own safety, and his. I was on my own, nobody knew where I was, and I hadn’t seen anyone else around on the towpath. It was likely he was homeless and asleep, rather than dead, and probably wouldn’t thank me for waking him up. There was a fleeting temptation to turn around, as planned, and run home.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t run on and leave him there.

And so I took a deep breath and approached, making a noise as I went. I said ‘hello’, and when I got closer I prodded him with my foot, then immediately felt that was actually quite rude. (I’ve since been told this is what police advise in such circumstances, as it avoids contact with any blood or bodily fluid).

Eventually he woke when I grabbed his coat and lifted his arm. He was confused, and didn’t know where he was. I asked what he needed.

‘I need a lot of things’, he said.

How do you decide when it’s right to call an ambulance?

If he wasn’t wearing three jumpers, if his lips weren’t chapped like he’d been outside for weeks, if he didn’t look homeless, I wouldn’t have hesitated, but I did, and I still feel bad.

The First Responder recognised him – they’d picked him up before. He’d been drinking, and I didn’t stay to wait for the ambulance. I didn’t want to know if they took him away.

Later, a friend pointed out that we walk past homeless people sleeping on city streets all the time and don’t call the emergency services. Why is that ok, and why did I feel compelled to call for help for this man?

Do other people make a difference? In the city, there are many others, and every single one of them has chosen to walk past. Out on the canal, there was only me.

IMG_0592 (800x600)I worry sometimes. When is it ok to interfere in someone else’s life?

When is it ok not to?

When I was a teenager I used to carry a pocket full of change to give to people who asked or it as I walked around Liverpool. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone so desperate. People would say ‘they’ll just spend it on drink’, and now I’ve seen addiction at close quarters and I still can’t bear the thought of someone being in such need, for whatever reason.

I know homelessness does not necessarily go hand in hand with addiction. I’ve recently been told, for example, that a large proportion of homeless people have acquired a brain injury before becoming homeless. I know people lying in the street are not always homeless, that homeless people do not always have mental health problems, that people with mental health problems do not always have addictions. But these things all swim around together in my mind and I sometimes struggle to sort through them.

IMG_0595 (800x600)Someone once said to me that they would never be homeless, because their friends would always take them in. To them, being homeless meant having done something so bad that none of your friends would help. Well, let’s hope they never have to find out if that’s true.

Just think for a minute what it means to be homeless. Home-less. To sleep outside, in a doorway, in the rain. Or in a hostel, with other people, not knowing if you’ll afford another night. Or to be on someone’s sofa for weeks on end – because homeless means ‘without a home’, which is not the same as ‘sleeping rough’ – feeling in the way, with no space of your own.

Sometimes I despair, because I don’t know what’s the best thing to do. When someone asks me for spare change now, I’m just as likely to put my head down and walk on as I am to give them money. My longing to help fights with my fear of making things worse in the long run. And yes, sometimes, although I’m ashamed to say it, my compassion mixes with slight annoyance at having someone else’s problem intrude into my day.

I’m a practical lass, and I know I can’t go round picking up rough sleepers and depositing them – where? I can’t give everyone money. I can’t make people stop drinking, or solve their family problems, or find them a job.

But what should I do? I donate to a local homeless charity occasionally and buy the Big Issue, and those are good things. But they don’t help stop my guilt when I walk past someone lying in the street and the only reason I don’t stop is because they look homeless.

I should probably stop wringing my hands and just do the small things I can, and part of me wants to apologise for an unusually navel-gazing post on a mostly cheerful blog. But I think sometimes it’s good to examine our thoughts in situations like this. It hurts to be confronted with other people’s suffering, but I don’t think we should always avoid thinking about it. Sometimes we should try to feel someone else’s pain, and let it make us more compassionate.

I’m off to curl up on the sofa and count my blessings. I hope you’re in a position to do the same.

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IMG_0614 (800x600)Looking at my posts for the last few weeks you’d think I did nothing but run and go on holiday. Not true, of course, although I have done quite a bit of both of those things lately. The marathon is less than three weeks away now, and I did my last long run (20 miles!) on Thursday, so I’ll be posting pictures of that soon.

In the meantime, let me tell you about the National Permaculture Convergence I went to at the weekend.

I shared back in May that I’d started a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, and I thought a lot about whether to write about that here or elsewhere. I set up another blog, and wrote a few posts, but while it’s nice to have everything collected together, it somehow doesn’t feel quite right to have it separate – especially as a lot of what I’m writing about there is the same as I’m writing about here. So, for now, expect to here more about that in this space.

IMG_0616 (800x600)I met many lovely people at the convergence, and was privileged to be able to see two women do their diploma accreditation presentations (one of them being Jan Martin, and do pop over and see her beautiful crocheted blanket!) They were very different, and both were very different to how I will probably do mine.

The food was all organic and mostly local, and unlike many mass catering events we had leftovers carried over to the next meal. Every meal had pudding. Tea was half price (50p) if you took your own mug rather than using a paper one. We were all asked to bring our own crockery and cutlery, and trugs of (hot, clean, soapy) water were provided for us to wash them in after each meal.

IMG_0620 (800x600)I like that more homegrown way of thinking about events.

I thought a lot about the fact that I’d driven there, and not offered a lift through the liftshare website. I justified it to myself saying that I need space at events like that, and so didn’t want to share a dormitory (I had a bed in the back of the car). I ran 20 miles the day before, and didn’t want to be tied to a timetable (and in fact, I was so tired I did set off four hours late). What price sanity?

Several people have told me I was brave to go on my own to an event like that, and that they wouldn’t have done it. It never occurred to me not to go. A full programme of workshops, shared meals, quiet spaces to retreat to, all meant I was never bored, and the organisers encouraged everyone to talk to people they didn’t know.

I worked behind the bar, and spent many hours discussing gardening, work, crochet, reading, and chickens. I made bird feeders from pine cones and fat. We also talked about research, and running events, and other things that felt oddly like ‘work’ but in a field, surrounded by trees.

I was surprised (and secretly pleased) to find many other people have done diploma projects about sorting out the ‘stuff’ in their houses…

I bought new books, and passed on old magazines, and came home full of enthusiasm and plans (and cake, as usual). There’s a gathering of diploma students in November, and I want to get at least one more project underway by then…

no money for ice cream

14 miles (800x600)Here I am again, waiting for my gps watch to charge before a long run. Yet again, I plugged it in overnight, and yet again it discharged all its power.

You’d think I’d learn.

I should probably go back to bed, but instead I’m sorting through my photos from last week’s run.

14 miles 2 (800x600) 14 miles 3 (800x600)Fourteen hilly miles, and I grumped my way round pretty much all of them, especially when I reached the top of Cliffe Hill and realised I had no money for ice cream.

14 miles 6 (800x600)I can’t say I enjoyed myself, although the scenery was nice. Long runs I can do, hills I can do, but both together means too much walking for me. Still, it felt empowering to get so far away from home just using my legs.

14 miles 5 (800x600)Today I’ve planned 20 miles. Flatter than last week, at least. I wanted an early start, but a late night, a fox barking right outside my window at 4am, and my watch battery have foiled that plan. I’m tired, I ache, and quite frankly I’d rather be at work.

But I have to face the reality. This is probably how I’m going to feel on race day, so a bit of practice is no bad thing.

14 miles 4 (800x600)



There was a definite nip in the air as I ran this morning. Fallen leaves littered the damp grass and I wished I’d worn a long sleeved shirt.

I planned a flat(ish) run down a main road – a fairly rural main road with views, but still busy in the morning rush. Instead, on a whim, I turned into the woods and found myself here.

This is ten minutes walk from my house, and I often forget it exists. There’s a bench here, and sometimes I sit, but usually I’m running and my visits are brief.

I’ve taken pictures of this view in many seasons, covered with snow, baked in sunshine, and with bare trees and smoke rising from bonfires. Today it was poised between summer and autumn, bright sunshine and trees still green, but longer shadows and a slight low mist.

I love this time of year.

I wonder how it’s possible that I forget to come to this place. It’s so close, yet not on the way to anywhere in particular. There’s long grass and footpaths and I’m not always dressed for mud. I can’t buy milk, or catch a bus. Maybe if there was a back on the bench I’d be tempted to linger and read for a while.

Looking at this view I forgot the unweildy hedge that plagued my conscience at 6am. I forgot the boxes that are destined for the charity shop. I forgot the parcels that need posting, clothes that need washing, plumbers that need calling.

I forgot to worry.

Today I promised myself that I would come here more often. Not every day, maybe not even ever week, but sometimes, and not just as a surprise.

technological dependence

I’m taking today off, instead of my usual Friday. My mum once said that if she only worked four days a week, she’d always take Wednesdays off, because then she’d never have to work more than two days in a row. I favour Fridays, because I get a three day weekend, but today I think she might be on to something.

Right now my days off are filled with running. Today I’ve planned 13 miles – which, now I’ve done 15 miles, and 18 miles, doesn’t really seem that far.

I prepared last night, knowing that early starts and no preparation mean a high chance of wimping out of a run… I planned my route an laid out my kit (fruit pastilles, new bum bag, camera). I noticed my fancy GPS watch only had 30% battery left, so I plugged it in, set the alarm for stupid-o-clock, then went to bed.

Sadly, when I got up this morning, the battery in my watch was standing at 0%. Aarrgghh!

When did I get so dependent on technology for running? I’m sure I used to just run. Then I bought a stop watch so I could time myself, and later a heart rate monitor. My current gadget has a heart rate monitor (which I rarely use), and also GPS tracking, so I can see how far I’ve run and how fast I’m going. When I get home I can plug it into the computer and see a map, gradient, and a breakdown of pace (and heart rate, if I’ve used it) mile by mile.

I like all these numbers, as I wrote here, but it seems faintly ridiculous that I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs waiting for the watch to charge before I go out. I’m meeting a friend at lunchtime so the more time I sit here, the faster I’ll have to run to fit 13 miles into the time I’ve got.

Battery at 25% and counting….



Our holiday wasn’t only about eating cake and watching the clouds. We did squeeze in a couple of excursions, to Acton Scott historic working farm, to Blists Hill Victorian Town, and to Fordall Farm, all of which I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.

Acton Scott Historical Farm

IMG_0275 (800x600)The Acton Scott estate played host to the BBC tv series Victorian Farm, which I adored. I love learning about the everyday lives of people in other times and places. That’s what interests me about history, not wars and kings, but how did people wash? How did they prepare their food, make their clothes, celebrate? Apparently you can rent the actual cottage they filmed the series in, although sadly it was both booked and well out of the price range for just two of us. Another time perhaps…

The farm demonstrates all kinds of historical farming techniques, and we saw heavy horses, butter making, hay ricks, and a giant cider press.

IMG_0299 (800x600)I’m always inspired by visiting places like this to get making things myself, so look out for more patchwork and (slightly shoddy) attempts at wicker baskets from me soon…

IMG_0283 (800x600)Blists Hill Victorian Farm

Blists Hill is on an altogether more epic scale, being an entire town (well, a small village at least) with a pharmacy, printing shop, bakery, drapers’ shop and all manner of other shops and establishments.

IMG_0414 (800x600) IMG_0418 (800x600)You can even change your money to pounds, shillings and pence at a Victorian bank and use it to buy things from the shops, although we didn’t as we were still recovering from having to remortgage the house to pay the entrance fee.

IMG_0419 (800x600)There were a couple of houses set out as they would have been for different classes of people, with women knitting and doing daily chores in them as we looked round.

IMG_0453 (800x600) IMG_0455 (800x600) IMG_0454 (800x600)IMG_0456 (800x600)I do so love peeking into other people’s everyday lives.

IMG_0423 (800x600)Again, I came away inspired to do more growing, more baking, more sewing – and with a great appreciation for modern dentistry and working practices…

IMG_0415 (800x600)IMG_0464 (800x600)IMG_0447 (800x600)Fordall Farm

We popped into Fordall Farm on the way home for a cup of tea. I read about it when I was at university, as a pioneering example of organic farming. I forgot all about it until recently, when I picked up a copy of The Fight for Fordall Farm in a charity shop, and learned how it had become Britain’s first community-owned farm.

IMG_0475 (800x600)IMG_0476 (800x600)There was a wedding on while we were there, so we didn’t stray too far, but we did walk through the vegetable gardens and on a trail around some of the fields.  IMG_0489 (800x600) IMG_0488 (800x600) IMG_0483 (800x600) IMG_0477 (800x600)An inspiring place, and an inspiring story, particularly the young people who put their time and energy into bringing it into community ownership.

I enjoyed our holiday excursions, and, as usual, visiting other places made me want to visit more places at home too. I can see the autumn filling up with days out already…

church stretton

IMG_0147 (800x600)We’ve been off galivanting again. In a very sedate, not-moving-very-much type of fashion, that is. Church Stretton this time, for no reason other than the last minute availability of this rather wonderful flat on the high street.

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IMG_0146 (800x600)We spent much of the holiday sitting in this room, watching the sky and the hills and the people in the street below.

IMG_0148 (800x600)Church Stretton, it turns out, is rather pretty, with many a tea shop, charity shop, and a dinky little market on a Thursday – the very things I like on a holiday.

IMG_0173 (800x600)We took our bikes, and explored a bit of the surrounding countryside. IMG_0301 (800x600)IMG_0226 (800x600)We were very close to Carding Mill Valley, a National Trust site where we spent a lovely sunny evening wandering through the hills.

IMG_0310 (800x600) IMG_0393 (800x600) IMG_0358 (800x600) IMG_0348 (800x600)Looking at my pictures, it seems I ate a fair bit of cake.

IMG_0243 - Copy (800x600)IMG_0300 (800x600)IMG_0471 (800x600)(And, er,plenty more were scoffed before they got in front of the camera, of course).

IMG_0468 (800x600)I spent a lot of time with Mr Bun the Baker, and bought two years’ worth of back copies of Country Smallholder magazine from an antique shop and dreamed of chickens….

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