sorry fishermen only

IMG_0738 (1024x768)A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I went to Wetlands Animal Park. I’d not been before, and knew nothing about the place, other than it had lemurs and llamas (neither of which seemed very wet).

It was quite a surreal afternoon.

We were the only visitors, and shared the cafe with several inquisitive peacocks.

peacock 2 (1024x768)We walked around the lake, and had a fit of the giggles at these signs on every gate that led to the lake.

IMG_0734 (1024x768)Cheerful fisherman? Unrepentent fisherman? Heaven forbid – fisherwoman? Be gone!

We spent a happy few minutes taking photographs of ourselves acting like sorry fishermen.

Childish, I know.

IMG_0736 (1024x768)It was a pretty place, but felt strangely empty with just us in there. We did see the lemurs, and the llamas, and, oddly, a yak. And more peacocks (including a purely white one), and some prairie dogs, which were my favourite animals when I was small.

IMG_0766 (1024x768)IMG_0767 (1024x768)I got another fit of the giggles when the peacocks hopped into the prairie dog enclosure. A prairie dog would pop up, see a peacock and disappear – and then the peacock would stick its head down the hole, looking for the prairie dog.

IMG_0769 (1024x768)Most amusing.

I always have mixed feelings about places like this. The animals seemed well cared for and happy – but there’s a large part of me that feels a yak would be much happier in Tibet than the outskirts of Rotherham.

IMG_0760 (1024x768)It was another sunny day, and felt very autumnal.

IMG_0754 (1024x768)I’m afraid I giggled again at the coati enclosure.

IMG_0761 (1024x768)I’ve not seen a coati before – they seemed like a cross between a guinea pig and a hare, about the size of a small sheep. The sign said ‘they use a slightly hostile creche system’ – and trying to imagine what on earth that meant made me giggle again.

And then we found a pin board with a list of the food to give to the animals, including specific treats for each one. Mostly it was as you’d expect – a bale of hay for the yaks (with fruit and vegetables as treats) – but I was quite taken with the thought of the meercats enjoying ‘baked potato and hard boiled eggs’…

After all that giggling it was time for another cup of tea (in a different cafe this time).

IMG_0779 (1024x768)We did share that cheesecake – but it wasn’t quite enough, so we followed it up with a shared piece of carrot cake.

Sometimes half a piece of cake just isn’t enough.

waste not, want not

IMG_0652 (1024x768)Oh dear.

This poor little dotty bag has been looking a little worse for wear for a while now.

IMG_0654 (1024x768)I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement, but nothing quite fit the bill.

A couple of weeks ago we took a car full of stuff from the cellar to the tip. In the pile was an ancient MDF table from an old campervan (not ours, sadly). The table was rotting, but the jolly picnic oilcloth on the top was still in good condition, so I peeled it off and brought it home again (this is why our house will never be clutter-free and minimalist).

I spied my dotty, blotchy bag and a plan started forming…

Two hours of cursing and sewing and undoing later, and I’d made an exact replica of my old bag, in brand new picnic oilcloth with a new dotty lining.

new bag 1 (1024x768)I couldn’t tell you how I did it. I wish I could remember. I undid all the seams on the old one, rescued the handles and the base, drew round everything – and then spent the next two hours putting it all together in various combinations and unstitching them again.

At one point I’d managed to sew the handles inside the lining of the bag. Later I sewed the entire bag up inside out.

Eventually I made it work, and I’m rather taken with it. It’s the wrong season really. It doesn’t feel like a bag for taking to work – it feels like a bag to take to the seaside, filled with picnic and books to read and sunglasses and money for ice cream.

All pens are now being kept inside a case. I’m trying to keep this one intact until next summer…

new bag 2 (1024x768)

walking round the city (1)

IMG_0782 (1024x768)Today we went for a walk.

IMG_0783 (1024x768)Along the deeply eroded path through the heather, and up on to the top of the rocks.

IMG_0792 (1024x768)I love this place. It’s close to the city, and so windswept, and you can see ever such a long way.

IMG_0796 (1024x768)There’s no chance of solitude here – not on a sunny Saturday in early autumn. We were surrounded by walkers, dogs, cyclists, climbers and even paragliders today, but it felt companionable, a happy place.

IMG_0803 (1024x768) I was quite taken with the paragliders, lying in what looked like sleeping bags, floating gently over the hills. They looked so peaceful up there (even if they did get so close at times we could have handed them a cuppa).

IMG_0804 (1024x768)I love the way the rocks have fallen over the years.

IMG_0812 (1024x768)I felt like I was getting a glimpse into another world.

IMG_0817 (1024x768)This walk was part of the Sheffield Country Walk, which runs for a very specific 53.5 miles around the edge of the city. I have a not-so-secret plan to walk the whole way round over the next few months. We started here, with Section 3, because it was closest to home, and I can’t decide whether to do the rest of the sections in order, or pick and choose on a whim.

I confess it was Very Nice Indeed to stomp about without worrying about saving my legs for a long run…

whose stupid idea was this?

being laughed at (1024x768)Here I am, being laughed at by my sister at the start of the Chester Marathon last Sunday. You might remember she was meant to be running too, but hurt her leg (apparently) so had to pull out.

She doesn’t look too sad about it, does she?

(I know she was disappointed though)

at the start (1024x768)I set off far too fast. I ran too fast for twelve miles, in fact, carried away by the enthusiasm of the pacing group I was running near. Sadly, after twelve miles, my legs started to object. The pacing group disappeared into the distance.

The next few miles were a bit of a trial. My mum and sister popped up at various points which was lovely – they took my spare top away, brought a new pair of shoes for me to swap into, and provided treats and a much-needed excuse to stop and rest for a while.

The supporters along the route were brilliant, and some had even put out bowls of sweets and fruit at the ends of their gardens. The marshalls were fab, especially the one who gave me a cheese butty at 20 miles when I was about to cave in.

After 18 miles it became quite clear I wasn’t going to meet the six hour cut off, and I did toy with the idea of dropping out, but then realised if I did drop out, I’d just have to come and do it again another day. What a horrifying thought!

So I carried on, and at mile 25 a marshall finally admitted there was only one person left behind me. One person?? What if they dropped out??

I don’t know how, but I found some strength from somewhere, and did the final mile almost as fast as I’d done the first one. I overtook five people, was cheered down the riverside, and even managed a bit of a sprint finish, crossing the line with six people behind me, after 6 hours 24 minutes.

So, half an hour faster than last time, and (most importantly) not last.

finish line (1024x768)

Was I pleased? I was certainly pleased it was over! And I was pleased I didn’t come last, that I was faster than last time, and that I’d managed to speed up and overtake people in the last mile.

There’s still a tiny part of me that’s a bit disappointed I didn’t beat the cut off or get anywhere near the time I was aiming for though… And it’s been strangely hard to talk about that.

People keep saying helpful and supportive things like ‘at least you did it!’ and ‘I could never run that far!’ and ‘you were faster than last time!’ and I appreciate all of those things, I really do, as well as appreciating that they’re trying to cheer me up.

But I wasn’t aiming to be faster or run further than them – and I’ve already ‘at least finished’ one marathon before. This time I was aiming to see how fast I could go if I actually trained properly (or at least as hard as I was willing to).

Turns out as hard as I was willing to wasn’t quite enough to get me the time I was after.

And so I feel a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. Not sad, or upset, not at all, just ambivalent. People seem to want me to be celebratory, and I am, but I just needed to acknowledge somewhere that it wasn’t quite what I was aiming for. It’s difficult to do that in an actual conversation because it’s often met with another round of ‘yes, but at least you finished!’

I should point out this is probably exactly what I’d say to someone else in my position. It’s entirely natural to want your friends to see the positive side and I love it that my friends want me to celebrate my achievements. But we all need a space to acknowledge slight disappointments for a while, before moving on.

What have I learned?

I’ve learned it’s easy to get caught up with others going faster than you, but that it’s better to do your own thing in the long run. That when you’re tired and hungry, a cheese butty tastes better than any other food on earth. That having people cheering you on makes all the difference in the world. I’ve learned that even when you think you can’t go on, there’s often a little part of you that can keep going when you know the end is in sight.

So will I do another one?

Nope, absolutely not.

I adore running, and I won’t stop doing that. I love the places its taken me and the people I’ve met. I love the local parkrun, and running alone through the woods in the sunshine. I love running through the park at sunset, and I adore races. There’ll be plenty of those next year, but I’ll be sticking to 10ks and half marathons, and trying to get a bit faster.

I’m looking forward to not having to run for three or four hours at a time on a Friday. I’m looking forward to some other types of exercise – cycling, dancing, hula hooping, maybe even swimming! I’m looking forward to walking everywhere again, rather than saving my legs for long runs.

More than anything though I’m looking forward to a nice long rest¬†and a few weekends of doing absolutley Nothing At All…

who loves ya, baby?

Kojak 3 (1024x768)If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know I’m given to starting ludicrously ambitious craft projects with very short deadlines, and therefore presents from me are very likely to be late.

This time it was a house warming present for the lovely Fay, and looking back at her blog I see she actually moved house back in June. So only four months late this time.

I originally made some plant pot holders from old carrier bags, but they looked rather underwhelming, so I cast my eyes around for inspiration and found an old tartan skirt that, appropriately enough, I bought in a charity shop when I visited Fay in Orkney. It was an old old Marks & Spencer skirt, size 16 on the label, although the waist measured 26 inches. Floor length, and fabulous – but I haven’t had a 26 inch waist since I was at school and am not likely to ever again.

I considered a cushion, and cut out the right shapes, but it just didn’t feel right.

And then I remembered Peedie 2. Peedie 2 is a replica of Fay’s dog Peedie, that I made for Peter a couple of years ago. Which, when you put it like that, sounds rather weird. Peedie 2 is still a much-loved member of our household, and even met the Real Peedie once (that was an exciting day for all concerned).

Peedie 2 wasn’t my first patchwork dog (although he’s still my favourite). I made a very colourful one for a friend’s daughter, and I have a feeling I might have made at least two more over the years.

And so I set about cutting what felt like hundreds of small squares.

All my other patchwork dogs have been machine-sewn, but I do love sewing patches by hand, and since it was obvious this present was going to be late, I thought I’d take my time. So I cut fabric, and I cut paper squares, and I tacked the fabric round the squares, and I thought I’d taken pictures as I went along but clearly not…

And when I had enough for one side, I started sewing them together. That’s the bit that I love – taking two paper and fabric squares and stitching along the join. I sewed on the train, at a car boot sale, in the garden, and when I should have been doing the housework.

Eventually my creation started to look vaguely dog-shaped.

IMG_0624 (1024x768)Once I was part way through sewing the second side, I had the deluded idea that I could finish him in an afternoon. So I plonked confidently on the sofa and switched on an old episode of Kojak, recorded off the tv.

I love Kojak. I wasn’t born when it was on first time around, and was only introduced to it recently, but I’ve rather taken to it. Our futuristic magic tv machine automatically records every episode, which meant that, at that point, I had 67 hours of Kojak available to watch. Hooray!

And so I sewed. And Kojak did his thing, clearing the streets of 1970s New York of criminals and ne’er-do-wells. And after ten hours, I was rather tired, and the dog still wasn’t finished (Kojak was still going strong though).

The next day I thought ‘today is the day! I can really finish him today!’ and so after breakfast I sat down with Kojak again. And I was still there at lunchtime, but at least I had made progress.

IMG_0637 (1024x768)Look at that! Inside out and covered in paper, but dog shaped and cheerful.

‘One more episode and he’ll be finished!’ I thought, with characteristic (and again, deluded) optimism.

Do you know how long it takes to remove nearly 100 paper squares? More than one episode of Kojak, that’s how long. It took three episodes to turn him inside out and stuff him with old cushion fillings. I had to stop and wait til the next day to remove all the tacking stitches that had held the paper in place becase the light was so bad.

But eventually he was done, and temporarily named Kojak (of course).

Kojak 1 (1024x768)It seems I was rather overenthusiastic with the stuffing, and he’s already burst at the seams once. Pesky creature.

Kojak 2 (1024x768)I’m quite chuffed, and I LOVED making him, absolutely loved it. If I could figure out a way of getting people to pay ¬£500 for one I’d leave work and make patchwork dogs and watch Kojak all day long.

IMG_0648 (1024x768)Less than 50 episodes of Kojak left now. Just enough to crack on with a couple of early Christmas presents I reckon.

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.

IMG_0602 (800x600)


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…