This Saturday was to be my 50th Parkrun, so, to “spread the joy” (i.e. if I’ve got to get up early on Saturday morning then so should everyone else), on Friday evening we set of for deepest, darkest Yorkshire. I could have stayed in East Anglia (flat, no hills) but the grandchildren all wanted to join in, which is what prompted the hike northwards. Whether or not they really wanted to join in, or if they were prodded in that direction by parents who suspected that one more Parkrun (with hills) would finish the Old Man off is a moot point – given a choice, how many 9-year-olds these days would put down “Call of Duty” to run around a park, unless there was some kind of financial incentive?
These things have a habit of growing organically (which is probably the best way to grow) and the Cambridge crew decided that if the old fella was going to be having a cardiac arrest up north, then they probably ought to be there to make sure that they got their fair share of whatever bounty there might be and that the elder sisters didn’t get first dibs at the will. Incidentally, I don’t mean “elder sisters” in a Cinderella-like context. They didn’t travel up north in a pumpkin pulled by mice (which would be illegal), it’s just that they’re sisters and, er, older. The added incentive is that once these gatherings reach a certain critical mass, then alcohol often gets involved, which takes the edge off a bit for them. And so it came to pass that the southern contingent of the Family e-Quip set off for an appointment with both destiny and Skipton Park.
The first problem, not counting the M6, was the accommodation. Mrs e-Quip is not often called upon to book hotels. Now, I’ve been doing this for years and in the early days I must have chosen some right lemons. On the well-tried principle of trial and error, Mrs e-Quip went directly to “error”. It took Edison over a 1,000 stabs to perfect the light bulb. He didn’t regard these as mistakes – his view was that inventing the light bulb is a 1000-step process. I guess that he started of with something a bit like a light bulb which gradually got better and better. I’m trying to be generous here, but no matter what definition of “hotel” you use, where we stayed on Friday night probably didn’t match it. I suppose that having been brought up with All Creatures Great & Small, Emmerdale & Heartbeat, it hadn’t occurred to Mrs e-Quip that a) there would be a nightclub in Skipton and b) it would also be a “Boutique” hotel. Years of cynicism have taught me to avoid any brand with an adjective in its name. I just naturally assume that a hotel with the word “Comfort” in its name will not be comfortable and any product name which includes the word “Fun” will be anything but. I’m not sure what particular image the word “Boutique” conjured up for Mrs e-Quip, who is as-yet untarnished by years of scepticism, but I suspect that a learning process may have begun (Warning: Steep Learning Curve Ahead). Still, we were able to sleep between 03:00 and 06:45.
It turned out that we weren’t the only ones who had a late night. Bloomy (in Yorkshire adult males seem to always referred to by a contraction of their surname with “y” stuck on the end) had decided to go straight to the “alcohol often gets involved” phase of the weekend – good lad! It was great to see that everyone had turned up: Bloomy, Wardy, Avery-y (I’m not sure how the algorithm is supposed to work in this case) – the whole crew in fact, apart from Zaris-y (I’m also unsure how the algorithm is supposed to work with Greek names). Some were even wearing PE kit! Not the Misses e-Quip though. All four of them had a note from their mum to say that they were excused games. We bimbled over to the start line for the briefing. “Welcome to Parkrun …” (applause). “Any First Timers?” – Charlie, Thomas and Andrew-y all indicated in the approved fashion (applause). “Any Visitors?”. This is a tricky one. We always say we’re from Cambridge but Mrs Bloom (née e-Quip) always insists that we’re from Peterborough. We were saved from having to make a decision by someone admitting that they had come from Detroit (applause). No-one could compete with that we let that pass. “Any milestones?”, at last, my moment of glory and I got to announce my 50th run. Fortunately there were no 6-year-olds doing their 200th runs, so my 15 seconds in the sun was undimmed. So, we all huddled in the starting funnel: Thomas, Milly, Charlie, Bloomy, Wardy, Andrew-y and me-y, waiting for the crack of the starter’s pistol. Then, we’re off.
We’ve all heard stories of people playing golf with their bosses and deliberately letting them win to let them feel good and I was wondering how the inter-generational competitive streak would be handled by sons-in-law. Would they politely lag behind in deference to my years or run at their usual pace? How would the Wardy-Bloomy brother-in-law competition play out? Fortunately, I already had a plan. I was going to be in charge of Charlie. Charlie is 5 and this was his first ever run. He had practised by running round the field behind the Co-op and had declared himself ready to run with Granddad. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about impressing anyone. Unless the unthinkable happened and Charlie was faster than me, I was safe. Bloomy was to be Milly’s escort so he didn’t have to worry about racing against Wardy. This was perhaps just as well – bearing in mind that “alcohol often gets involved” bit of the previous evening. So, I’m safe, Bloomy’s safe – result! There was a small cloud of dust left behind as Wardy shot off into the distance, and we we’re off.
I have to say that one of the reasons that I love Parkrun so much is how friendly everyone is. Charlie is so tiny it’s hard to imagine him actually completing a 5k run. So many people were urging him on and encouraging him, giving him “high-fives” and generally making him feel very happy, even though he was wearing a Chelsea football shirt. Needless to say the shirt attracted a good few comments. I have no idea what running the London Marathon is like (and I have no plans to find out) but I suspect that it is the support of the crowd that gets you over the line. That’s pretty-much how it was with Charlie on Saturday. I don’t know how his tiny little legs carried him 4 times around Skipton Park. We could see that Thomas & Milly were also going great guns as our paths crossed on each lap.
As we approached the Finish Line I held back a few yards to let Charlie run in by himself, to the applause of the family. So, my 50th Parkrun turned out to be a fantastic day, followed, naturally, by breakfast at Billy Bob’s. Thomas, Charlie & Andrew all successfully completed their first Parkrun and Milly finished her 2nd. Just like me, Bloomy was able to blame his finish time on escort and baby-sitting duties. Apart from an overnight stay in a nightclub we had a really great weekend.
(Andrew-y, Bloomy, Wardy (+ Zachary-y), Me-y, Charlie, Thomas & Milly)
As for Wardy – he came 12th. Grrrr!
A week ago we (the present Mrs e-Quip & I) were up t’ North and, as always when away from home, on Saturday morning we rocked up at the local Parkrun to show the locals how it’s done. Now, I know that as a parent/grandparent that you’re not supposed to have favourites, but Milly is without doubt our favourite granddaughter. I say this confident in the knowledge that none of my other granddaughters will be offended, because I don’t have any! More grandsons than you can shake a stick at but just the one, solitary granddaughter.
I went through my normal warm-up ritual which, many years ago would have been a cup of tea, bacon bap and a fag, but these days it consists of some gentle stretches accompanied by the groaning noise that we old people make when getting out of a chair. I advised Milly to take it easy and to stretch slowly so that she didn’t hurt herself. “Just stretch till you feel your muscles go tight” was my grandfatherly advice. She then proceeded to do the splits, with one foot in Skipton and the other in Knaresborough, and said that she didn’t understand what “muscles going tight” meant. I decided that Milly was as warm as Milly needed to be!
So, the whistle blew (or the bell rang, I can’t remember which) and off we all charged. I tried to persuade Milly to slow down – “This is a marathon not a sprint”, I suggested. Maybe she couldn’t hear me because by then she was about 100 yards ahead, or possibly because my gasps were incoherent, having left at least 30% of my lungs somewhere near the start line. If Parkrun is supposed to be fun then maybe the news hasn’t reached Milly yet.
Anyhoo – the end result is that Milly made it all the way – she completed here very first Parkrun. Three cheers for Milly! Naturally she celebrated with a pint of Timmy Taylor’s “Landlord” (or was that me?). As a granddad I am extremely proud, while as a fellow Parkrunner I am slightly concerned that the list of runners finishing in front of me has just grown.
So I am now extremely proud to say, “Milly, welcome to the Parkrun family”. The only advice I might offer is that if you want a lift home (and if you want to go to Billy Bob’s afterwards), then when you lap me for the 2nd time, “You alright Granddad?” will go down better than “Coming through!”
Normally I indulge in Parkrun in the privacy of my own county (that’s Huntingdonshire, not Cambridgeshire). BTW: this isn’t “nationalism”, when I was a nipper, Huntingdon was in Huntingdonshire, just like Melton Mowbray was in Rutland. Somehow places seemed to move in 1974. Don’t blame me, I wasn’t consulted.
This weekend I shall be dragging grandchildren around the Skipton Parkrun. Thank goodness for grandchildren – I can blame my poor performance on them! The problem with Skipton park is that it has a hill. I’m from the the fens – I get a nosebleed when I encounter a hill. I need oxygen when I go upstairs. We don’t do hills, we do sky – 180 degrees of it. Hills just get in the way. Why would anyone plonk a gradient in front of runners for no good reason?
So, I’ll pretend that Charlie needed to stop for a wee which stopped me from achieving the PB that I was obviously destined for. The problem with using grandchildren as an excuse is that Milly, who is only 7, is actually much faster than me.
The great thing about Yorkshire parkrun is that we all go to Billy Bob’s for a slap-up breakfast afterwards. With any luck followed by a pub crawl on the way to Otley RUFC. So what if the season’s finished!
I got a strange WhatsApp message a couple of Saturdays ago from one of my daughters (Miss e-Quip #1) in response to my normal Saturday morning “on my way to Parkrun” message (if I’m going to get up early at the weekend to run around in the wind and rain in my vest & pants then I like to let everyone else in the family know – to shame them out from beneath their duvets). The message said “It’s not about huge Hondas that go rahnd and rahnd“. The reference was immediately obvious, as I pretty much always find myself humming “Park Life” on my way to Parkrun.
Now, not only am I “up with the lark” but I also like to fool myself that I’m “down with the kids” (although the kids that can remember Blur are probably heading for 40 now) and I was surprised that for all these years I had been getting the words so wrong. What I had assumed was “it’s not about you joggers that go rahnd and rahnd” turned out to be about huge Hondas. I suppose I do have form in this area and have come unstuck with pop lyrics in the past. I’m sure we all remember “her ears are alight” by Desmond Dekker back in 1969 and “Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds” by a well-known beat combo.
So I replied, admitting that for years I had been getting the words badly wrong. Then the unexpected happened – all of the other Misses eQuip (#2 – #4) jumped in to my rescue. It wasn’t me who was the nit, it was my firstborn. I believe that the word “chimp” may have even been used in the ensuing discourse and for the first time it wasn’t being directed at me.
Ever since Miss e-Quip #1 burst onto the scene back in 1977 we have been jumping on and off the merry-go-round of mutual embarrassment. When they’re babies they embarrass you by ejecting fluids (and solids) at inappropriate times in inappropriate places. As they get a bit older the pattern continues and one day you find yourself in a queue holding a 3 year-old cutie who asks very loudly why the lady next to you is so smelly. As things progress we get a chance for some payback. As they turn into teenagers the simple act of acknowledging them while they were in the company of their friends is enough to make them explode into a frenzy of blushing. If you remember doing metalwork at school and having to temper a lump of metal by heating until it was “cherry red” and then quenching it, that would be round about the same colour as an embarrassed teenager. When they were a bit older #1 & #2 were earning some pocket money daffodil picking and I mistakenly thought that they might want a lift home rather than waiting for the farmer. At the time we had an old black Peugeot 504 7-seater which looked (and handled) not unlike a Hearse with a rather perforated exhaust. I was far more practical in those days and had effected a “temporary” repair which consisted of a beans can wrapped around the exhaust pipe secured with 2 clamps. Obviously the beans had been removed previously but perhaps the result would have been better had I left them in because as I drove up to the field it sounded like the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Guess what, a blushing, furious teenager is very easy to spot in a daffodil field!
The fun goes out of the game a bit once they start at university – after that they’ll put up with just about anything just to get access to the cheque book. But it’s nice to know that we’re still on the merry-go-round and this time I was the winner! You’re quite right Sarah – “It’s not about huge Hondas that go rahnd and rahnd“.
The present Mrs e-Quip and I have just returned from visiting grandchildren up t’north so on Saturday I took the opportunity to go to the Skipton Parkrun. It’s at a relatively small park and the run is petty-much 4 times round the park. I quite like multi-lap runs – in the winter my local Parkrun at Hinchingbrooke Country Park in Huntingdon is a 2 lap course. I suppose that my brain finds it easier to keep track of when the pain will stop if I go past the same place several times.
The problem with Skipton park is that is has a hill. The locals probably don’t even notice it but I’m from the Fens; we don’t do hills. There is a village near us called Pidley which has a Mountain Rescue Team and it’s only 88 feet above sea level. Hills seem to be fairly messily scattered around the north for no real reason. They not only block out a bit of the sky (the ideal ratio of sky:land being 1:1) but water tends not to stay put on a hill. It runs down to the bottom and accumulates in dirty great puddles. In the Fens all of our water soaks into the ground and we have a cunning network of drains & dykes to pump it to somewhere else. Our road network has been superimposed onto the dyke network which means we have lots of 90 degree bends to confound strangers. As the soggy land has dried out it has now sunk about 10 feet below road level and as the winter winds swirls over them they get nice and icy, which makes the right-angled bends even more entertaining. Not brilliant for driving but excellent for running.
I live near a village called Ramsey, which is a bit like Midsomer (of Midsomer Murders fame) in that we lots of variations: Ramsey Mereside, Ramsey Hollow, Ramsey St Mary’s, Ramsey Forty Foot etc. We actually have a village called Ramsey Heights although without a spirit level it is difficult to discern which bit is the eponymous “Height”. Perhaps if the mere was re-flooded the height would be the bit sticking out of the water.
So while I normally prefer to run several short laps, at Skipton that effectively means running up 4 hills. You might think that there would be the benefit of running down 4 hills but this never seems to materialise. By the time I have recovered from the ascent the blasted hill is almost upon me again.
There is also an additional humiliation factor. On a 2 lap course the younger, fitter participants (i.e. just about everyone) only sprint past you once, but at Skipton there is a non-stop procession of runners queuing to get past me. Of course I don’t think that they actually “tut” as they swish past but I can’t tell. Various bits of my body shut down in an attempt to avoid what my respiratory and circulatory systems must perceive as imminent collapse and so my hearing loses its normal kestrel-like acuity. Any tutting that I might hear would be drowned out by the sound of my lungs desperately trying to suck some oxygen from the rarefied high altitude atmosphere.
Still, I keep telling myself that I enjoy it, and it certainly works up at appetite for the trip to Bill Bob’s Diner for the “Full Monty”! It may seem odd for there to be an American Diner on a farm high up on the windswept Yorkshire Moors, but if Paris can have a Disney Land, then Skipton can have an American Diner.
THIS is absolutely nothing at all to do with equipment management, but we all need to do something apart from staring at databases all day long, don’t we? I did used to have “hobbies” (i.e. ways of wasting time that you can’t afford to waste, will never get back and regret wasting almost straight away) but my eyesight is no longer good enough to take watches apart. Assuming that tutting isn’t a hobby, I’m pretty much sans hobby and even if tutting is a hobby it doesn’t involve any equipment or things that the family can get you for presents, like golf or fishing. I can still just about manage clocks, but only ones the size of Big Ben (yes, I do know that Big Ben is a bell and not a clock). I still have a tiny bow-operated watchmakers lathe but I can’t see to use it! I don’t know where it is – probably in a drawer next to my slide rule.
SO, I decided to replace a hobby with an obsession. I first heard about Parkrun on Saturday Live on Radio 4 (for our younger readers, Radio 4 is like BBC 2 but without pictures) about a year ago in a small snippet about what people got up to on Saturdays. The thing that came across about Parkrun was that there was a tremendous family feeling about the whole thing. The downside was that it seemed to involve running round a park, which I have to say wouldn’t normally be on my “to-do” list on a Saturday, or any other, morning. In fact, it sounds like something that, if it did accidentally sneak onto my to-do list, would rapidly get shuffled downwards past the point of perpetual ignorage until it slid gracefully into the oily depths of an information black hole. Even if I couldn’t find anything with a higher priority I would probably have resorted to faking a letter from my Mum along the lines of “Dear Parkrun, sorry but Graham can’t do Parkrun today as
I have he has a verruca. Signed My His Mum“.
SOME time soon after that the present Mrs e-Quip (not her real name) started going to the gym. If this blog had a musical accompaniment there would probably be some meaningful chords at this point to highlight the point I’m alluding to, but my strong suite is 0’s and 1’s, not meaningful chords. Now there comes a time in all men’s lives when their wives (er, they’re not bigamists but as the men are plural, the wives must also be. Of course, some will be bigamists, but that’s for a completely different blog and I’ll let them struggle with the grammar) start going to the gym. The natural response will of course depend on the perceived reason(s) for this. If they’re going because there’s a particularly buff personal trainer (or PE Teacher, as I prefer to call them) then there’s not much you can do apart from wait for the new fad to blow over or for her to run off with him. The cad inside me would at this point do an air punch (that’s functionally equivalent to doing a high five with yourself) and silently mouths “result!” but I won’t just in case the present Mrs e-Quip ever reads this . She would, I daresay, soon learn that, unless she has loads of money the PE Teacher is more interested in a) himself, b) other PE teachers or c) the 18 year-old girls who go to the gym in full lycra + full makeup and who seem to be able to hold a conversation through a workout without even breaking into a sweat. Of course, if the lady in question is of independent means or feels an attachment to your money, then things are a bit more complex and all bets are off. I’m not really qualified to expand on this as I neither have loads of money (do you think that Mrs e-Quip’s solicitors will be reading this?) nor an insight into the feminine psyche, so it is only charitable to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that this dramatic move was in some way related to health and fitness. Now I can’t think of any other reason for a lady of a certain age to suddenly be concerned about health and fitness other than a deep-rooted desire to be more attractive to her husband. Can you?
NOW I don’t want you to think that I felt in any way insecure. I simply decided to tag along with her at the gym to save petrol. I was able to instantly dismiss any fears about the PE teacher. I’m sure that if there was anything in the universe prettier than him he would have found it and had it killed – there are simply not enough mirrors in the average gym for these guys. The most shocking thing about going to the gym was finding out that my bloody wife was bloody fitter than me! All I can say say is bloody bloody bloody buggering hell! I’ve been in the forces; I used to play water polo for RAF Germany; I played volleyball for Support Command; I fished regularly in the Houghton and Wyton Open; I’ve done Chess by Post; man I’ve been places and done things. How can she be fitter than me? The meaningful chords were suddenly replaced by the clattering/clanging of a gauntlet being thrown down. Gauntlets, as worn by AA patrol men, are probably fairly soundless when hurled/cast but you see where I’m coming from. Maybe when cast by knights in armour they might clang a bit, anyway, I digress.
AND so I started going to the gym. Not just going to the gym mind you, but going to the gym at the same time as Mrs e-Quip and running (well, wobbling along) on the adjacent treadmill. Being the competitive sod that I am I soon found that I could wobble marginally faster than my nemesis. After a few visits I started thinking that maybe on a sunny day I could wobble outdoors, far away from the mocking glances of the PE teacher(s). It was then that I recalled the radio piece about Parkrun (you can find it here -about 44 minutes in).
ON the 18th July last year (2015) I struggled out of bed for my very first Parkrun. I got lost! 15 sodding volunteers around the sodding course in sodding high-vis jackets holding up sodding signs saying “This way you idiot!” and I got sodding lost. Worse than that, I pulled a muscle in my calf and had to limp for the last 2 km. But I finished. I finished and I felt fantastic. I had got out of bed on a Saturday morning and done something other than sit in front of a laptop. I was limping and in pain but I had finished. Technically speaking I wasn’t last, although I have been back and looked at the results (they stay on the web forever) and I’m certain that there are quite a few people who had run 10 km rather than 5, either intentionally or through absent-mindedness. On that day everyone who finished after me had results that said something like “Personal Best stays at 25 minutes” even though they had posted times double that. But I was v. chuffed. I had actually wobbled around a Parkrun.
I’m still wobbling. Still struggling to get out of bed on a Saturday morning, but I absolutely LOVE it. A few weeks ago I did my first Parkrun in the rain. It was just like being back at school doing cross-country. Soaking wet and covered in mud I loved every muddy wet step that I took. Of course I’m saying that from behind the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight – at the time I’m sure I hated every step. I’ve done a few in the rain since then and it’s great. Let’s face it, when you’re 60 you don’t often get a chance to splash about in puddles.
SO that’s Parkrun. I feel very evangelical about it. I love it although I have to admit that sometimes it’s very difficult to drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning. It can be very dispiriting to be be beaten by a 7 year-old who hasn’t even broken into a sweat, or by someone walking a Jack Russell or someone pushing a fancy off-road pram, but I love it just the same. The volunteers are just great. There is a guy at my Parkrun called Henry who patrols the first corner. Every week (I’ve never seen him miss one) he is cheering us on, giving us that little incentive to keep going. As I come around the last corner on the 2nd lap I can hear him from 200 yards away, encouraging us on. I’m sure he’s still there even after 45 minutes giving just as much encouragement to the stragglers as he does to everyone else. Why does Henry do it? I don’t know but I’m glad that he does and I look forward to seeing him every week. What does he get out of it? Who knows, maybe he’s just a nice a guy. That’s the thing about Parkrun. There are a lot of Henrys giving up their Saturday mornings just so that fat old gits like me can enjoy wobbling around the park and being part of something a bit special.