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.