That difficult first week back: This teacher’s diary.

Having written a blog a couple of weeks ago about my predications for September and seeing that people seemed to genuinely enjoy the mixture of cynicism and ridiculousness, I thought I’d diarise my first week back at work as a high school teacher. Typically, having been thrust straight back into the chaos of a high school, it’s taken longer to write than I thought!

The first week actually went fairly well and wasn’t half as painful as I imagined it might be. And as a bonus, it seemed to pass very quickly. Where that first week back can sometimes feel as long as the holiday we’ve just enjoyed for us teachers, this one seemed to just take the required week’s worth of time, which is always nice. So here’s a look at the week.

Day 1

Having settled back into my classroom and thrown a few old resources out – new year, new start and all that – I went to a neighbouring classroom to attend our first online briefing of the year. It’s not a criticism to say that these are usually tedious affairs. I mean how do you talk about results, approaches to teaching, school routines etc without it sounding a bit boring? So, it’s safe to say that although my eyes are open, my ears are at least partially shut. My brain, as ever, is focusing 90% of its efforts anything but what’s going on in front of me.

Talk of disadvantaged students makes my mind wander and I’m faced with the horrific realisation of my own disadvantaged school days. Here, because we didn’t have a great deal of money, my trousers were bought at Geordie Jeans – a kind of budget version of a charity shop with the emphasis on cheap versions of last year’s styles – and for at least one year, my jumpers were knitted by my mam. The memory of those jumpers alone makes me almost squeeze into a corner in embarrassment and it’s a wonder I don’t shed a tear.

Our Head Teacher’s briefing is held in the hall, meaning that I’m thrust into a crowded environment where I’m not really Covid comfortable. So I make a beeline for a back row.

The briefing is quite an entertaining affair, but I’ll mention a few highlights. Firstly – and forgive me, I can’t remember what parallel was being made – but the Harry Potter Castle is mentioned. The toy version, that is. Apparently it costs the best part of £400 and it makes me think they’d need a special kind of magic to get my credit card out of my wallet to pay for it. More pertinently though, I didn’t even realise that there was a Harry Potter castle. If there’s a castle, what on Earth is Hogwarts then?

Further to this, our head then throws in a couple of old photographs of himself from the 90s. Definitely a highlight because it’s always funny to see those – dare I say it – embarrassing pictures from back in the day.

The rest of the day is spent both in my class preparing for the rest of the teaching week, as well as in more meetings. By the time I get home I’ve taken on the haunted look of a soldier returning from war. It’s going to be a long year.

Day 2

The hours before students actually come back to school are possibly the best few hours of any year. Sure, interaction with your classes is great, but it’ll never quite beat the serenity of pottering in your classroom while they’re not actually there. Suffice to say, I’m grateful for the fact the Year 11 have a later starting time today.

I’m grateful too for the fact that I manage to avoid the call to arms to go and welcome in our new Year 7 cohort as they make their way in, earlier than every one else. I don’t avoid it on purpose; I’m just in the repographics room having my daily wrestle with the various photocopiers in there. I leave with around 60% of what I came for, which is definitely above average for the spoils one takes when heading into battle with these machines. And anyway, it’s for the best that Year 7s aren’t greeted by me. It’ll make for a more enjoyable day for them, I’m sure.

Later, during an extended form period I have to explain that the school isn’t “all so strict” as one of my students claims. Rather, it’s the fact that minor issues like Covid meant that attention was diverted from things like uniform and make-up issues. In the fightback against Covid, masks, bubbles et al are somewhat under control and so we have time to address the fact that some people are dressed for a hen night, while others look like they’re planning to jog into the office in their black trainers. Not strict in terms of being in a school, when you think about it. A bit of a culture shock to some though, clearly.

In other news, I’m already developing a mint habit and a chewing gum addiction…

Day 3

Wednesday marks the first full day of school. And to mark the occasion, I’ve got a full day of teaching; 6 lessons, 4 different classes and a 2 hour lesson with my Year 11 form to start with. Exciting news…if you’re a masochist. It’ll only get better from next week when someone will add a Period 7 to the day and more Year 11 time.

To be fair, it’s mostly what we call expectations lessons today – going through plans, rules, giving out books etc followed by a short task or two if there’s time. But it’s not the work that’s the problem. It’s the managing the behaviour and emotions of 20-30 kids in a room after they’ve spent much of the last two academic years not in a room together.

By the end of the day I’m wiped out, a physical wreck. I’ve promised myself an early finish, but 4.30 ticks by and I’m still planning and trying to lay my hands on various bits of equipment, books and copying. An old headteacher used to tell us that it was like we were on an oil rig and wouldn’t see our families for a while during term time. I feel like I’m already staring longingly at the sea.

Day 4

Like a child on a long car journey, my head is full of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ And it’s a case of answering with ‘we are and we aren’t’. Thursday; not quite the weekend, but still in the right half of the week.

Year 11 start the day full of complaints. ‘We’ve done Macbeth’, they tell me almost to a man. Only we haven’t. We covered some of the context at the back end of last year and as the rest of the lesson reveals, they’ve forgotten it all anyway across the course of a six week summer.

I’m down to teach 2 periods of PSHCE to year 9 this year and today I have my first lesson. It’s about healthy and unhealthy relationships. One young man, who clearly doesn’t understand the concept of accents, tells me that I’ve got his name wrong. I point out that I haven’t and that’s it’s just a matter of pronunciation; as a Geordie I’m going to pronounce things differently to someone from Yorkshire. He refuses to understand. Apparently, I’m wrong and just got his name wrong. I guess we’re all learning about how to create an unhealthy relationship. From now on he’ll need to start making ours healthy again, otherwise it’s going to be a long year. For him.

Day 5

It’s taken what feels like 6 weeks to arrive but today is finally Friday. And while last year my Friday featured free periods from 11.30 until 2.45 (none of it wasted, by the way, always productive in order to reduce workload elsewhere) this year I have a full day of teaching. That Friday feeling is conspicuous by its absence.

Part way through Period 2 however, we have an assembly to go to, so at least my day is slightly reduced. I settle at the side of the hall to have a good view of the assembly and its audience, but also in order to ensure a swift getaway at the end. It is from this vantage point that I spot one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen, stomping its way across the floor. It is no exaggeration to say that this spider is the size of a dog. Maybe even a bear. OK, maybe it’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s big.

Across the course of the ten minute assembly, said spider mainly stays still. Clearly it can sense that I’m watching it. However, occasionally it makes a dart across the floor. I know this as the ground shakes when it moves; it’s that big. Before I know it this veritable monster is heading towards a girl on the front row and as anxious as I am about the shock she’ll get if and when she spots it, I’m more relieved that I wasn’t asked to pick it up and do the humane thing by accompanying it back outside. I’m not particularly bothered by spiders, but this one must have measured a couple of feet across and stood at least a foot tall…

There’s more drama later when one of my still new Year 8s decides he doesn’t really fancy the classroom today and follows up on his refusal to remove his head from the cover of his blazer by getting up and walking out, giving us all not one, but two middle fingers. Not on the same hand, I hasten to add. This little drama is equal measures frustrating yet mildly amusing but makes me worry about many of our pupils and what the future holds after the stability provided by our academy (and I take very little credit for this) is taken away.

The week ends with a huge outward breath followed by the realisation that my early finish still won’t happen. After students have left, I sit at my desk planning, catching up on various bits of admin and sending resources to print for photocopying. It’s getting close to 5pm by the time I leave.

It’s been a relatively stress free and smooth first week. In what will feel like a year it’ll be Christmas and my body will be screaming at me to stop. I’ll take stress free and smooth for now.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment, good or bad. I hope you enjoyed reading. Enjoy your next week at work!

The Uselessness of the Long Distance Runner (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)

The date is Friday August 13th 2021 and it’s 7.12am. A ridiculous hour of the day, really. Our protagonist (me) is out running and over the course of the next 46 minutes he will run for 5.36 miles before feeling tired, getting confused and heading home. His confusion will haunt him moments after he drinks a chilled bottle of water in his kitchen. Why did he not run the extra 0.85 of a mile which would have led him to a distance of 6.21 miles, otherwise known as 10km? What an absolute knobhead! Never mind, in a few days he’ll go back out and run the full 10km.

Fast forward 22 days. It is Saturday 4th September and our protagonist hasn’t been on a run since the aforementioned Friday 13th August. He’s feeling frustrated. He’s feeling quite angry. He’s not enjoying this period of inactivity. He’s still a knobhead. And he feels useless.

On Friday 13th August, by about 7.15am I was regretting going out on my run. I had a sore shoulder brought on by a ridiculous combination of decorating my kitchen and a brainwave while coaching my Under 13 football team that told me, ‘Yes, Graham, go in goal for the shooting practice! Throw yourself around like a man possessed! Ignore your age and show these young whippersnappers how it’s done!’ Now, with every step taken, pain shudders right up my arm and through my sore shoulder. By the time I’ve registered a couple of miles I have pins and needles in my hand and my index finger has gone very cold. Ignoring the signs that this could be a stroke or the beginnings of a heart attack, I run on. I really am a knobh…well, you know the rest.

For anyone feeling worried, don’t. I didn’t have a stroke or a heart attack. But I did end my run in a lot of pain. But don’t worry, twenty days later I got some help. Between that time and the end of my run I googled the problem and settled on the fact that I’d managed to damage a nerve somewhere between my shoulder and my chest. Despite the intense pain, a bit of self diagnosis told me that it would heal itself and that in the meantime I should just take Ibuprofen. I also decided that continuing to decorate would help.

I realise now that I am still a good 8 years short of qualifying to be a doctor and that as a healer I make a good knobhead.

It has hurt me to have to avoid running and my reluctance to seek medical help – coupled with the amount of time it takes to actually get medical help post Covid and using our surgery’s new phone system – will subsequently cost me more time. I will lose fitness and my burgeoning belly will continue to burge. Or grow.

By the time I got medical help – two days ago at the time of writing – it turned out my diagnosis was right, but that I can’t get a physio appointment for another four days. And that will also be over the phone, so the physio’s healing hands will have to be very special indeed. In the meantime, I feel horrible.

I think I’ve made myself worse with comfort eating too. We went away to Scarborough for a few days and then Newcastle after that meaning five whole days of eating out and I didn’t even attempt to hold back and think healthily. ‘Are you having a pudding?’ quickly became not only a rhetorical question, but a stupid one too.

At home, what with it being the summer holidays, I’ve succumbed to a policy of ‘a beer a night’, which although that’s not heavy drinking, is a lot more than my usual. I’ve also relapsed in my dangerous crisps and chocolate addiction, making any trip to Home Bargains or B&Ms into an actual expedition. While I haven’t exactly piled the weight on – no surprise if you know me – this has still left me out of shape.

Having sought medical help and got my hands on some prescription pain killers and a telephone conversation with a physio, this morning brought another setback. Look away now if you’re young, fit and healthy. The ease with which this type of thing can happen in middle age might be a bit of a shock.

I was out in the supermarket, doing our weekly shop and had crouched down to scrutinise the very bottom row of school shirts. You’d be surprised at the rarity of sized 12-13 short sleeved white shirts in the George at Asda uniform section. Thus, I really had to peer deep and low to find what I wanted. But just before I located it I had an almighty spasm of pain through my lower back. I couldn’t move, was worried I might cry in front of some mums and toddlers – again – and it took my about 10 seconds to realise that I was holding my breath. When I straightened up to a standing position, the pain increased.

This will undoubtedly cost me more time away from running as I’ve struggled with my back for years. It once went completely as I arrived at work and put the handbrake on in the car! However, since getting fitter and stronger with the amount of exercise I got through in lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, it hadn’t been much of a problem at all.

Running has been an excellent help to my somewhat surprisingly fragile mental health over the last year or so. I’ve found this last year tough for a number of reasons, but whenever I’ve been able to go out running I’ve felt focused and free of any number of problems. I’ve also felt fitter and stronger and the distances run and the times achieved have been a real boost, mentally. Like I say, it has hurt not being able to run.

While I’m running I am almost forced to think things through. At my age, this is a good thing as it also allows me to take focus away from how much my body hurts! But it’s also an opportunity that I’m really pleased to be able to take. Other than traffic or people on pavements, I have little else to occupy my mind and I know that I can make decisions during this hour or so; I can solve problems.

Going out for a run means that I can think. I have time to think ‘things’ through, whatever they might be, and often by the time I’m back home I just feel a great deal lighter, so to speak. I head out, fresh faced and often feeling a bit weighed down by what life happens to be throwing at me and by the time I return I’m red-faced and sweaty, but visibly happier, even if I look like I might just be about to collapse.

Three weeks into my enforced rest, and only just back at work for a new academic year, and I’m really feeling tired and more than a little bit troubled by it all. Not being able to run is just horrible. Sometimes, I might allow myself to think that a rest might be nice, but 99% of the time I’ll force myself to get out and go for a run, setting a minimum target and then pushing really hard to eclipse it. I always feel better afterwards. Being injured like this has taken that away and it’s really not pleasant.

I’m hoping that within a fortnight at most I’ll be able to get back out again and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run far enough and for long enough to have a good old think! In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my telephone physio appointment, which promises to be a whole new experience and hopefully the thing that starts putting stuff right!

The uselessness of the long distance runner is not a feeling I’m enjoying.

Forget medals at the Olympics, let’s Pontefract 10k!

Facebook memories rarely fail to raise a chuckle from me. Some, I will share, without fail, every year. Others, just gain a laugh and then get scrolled through. Recently, one came up that makes me smile every time. It was the third year anniversary of me and my kids completing a 5km fun run. It made me smile for a number of reasons; firstly because in the three years since it happened my children have grown up so much and secondly because we all look so very pleased with ourselves!

This year though, it made me smile all the more because it came up on the exact same day that I completed a 10km race; the Pontefract 10k. It was the progress that pleased me so much. Not that I was now able to run twice the distance, but because of what this shift represented to me personally. It’s around 3 and a half years since I had to go into hospital for heart surgery, so while completing the 5km fun run was a real boost, this latest run has really cemeneted the feeling that I’m a whole lot better, fitter and healthier these days.

I entered the race partly because it was a goal that I set myself and also because a friend from work invited me to give it a go. He probably won’t remember, but around 3 years ago he asked me if I fancied doing a different 10k and I had to turn him down because I knew there was no way I’d be able to do it; no way that my body would have got through 10 whole kilometres! I felt terrible – like I was just being anti-social and making excuses. But it nagged away at me and then at the turn of this year, with a fair few 10km training runs under my belt, I made it my business to enter an actual race. So thanks Shaun, for the inspiration!

In the run up to August 1st though, I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to complete the race. My fitness had dropped due to a period of isolation when my son caught Covid and then a series of niggling injuries interrupted my running even more. Self doubt, my old lifelong friend crept in and installed himself on a shoulder so he could readily whisper in my ear. He was there as I walked around the supermarket, there whenever I trained and my legs felt a little tired and more to the point, there when I lined up at the start of the race.

My aforementioned friend actually passed us – me and my family – as we waited by the start. I deliberately stood under a tree and hid a bit, just to avoid having to talk about what the next 55 or so minutes might hold. I was ridiculously nervous. The whole time that we stood there I glanced furtively around, knowing that there were at least two other people I knew, knowing that I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Ridiculous really! As I stood and then stretched and checked that everything was just the way I wanted it to be, I grew more nervous and more grumpy with my family, who had very kindly got up at 6.30am on this particular Sunday in order to be with me at the start line for 9am.

And then, before I knew what to moan about next, we were on the road and the race was starting. A word about a word. When I say ‘race’ please understand that out of the over 800 people who entered the run, only some of us were racing. Probably a few hundred, maybe more. But I’m sure for a lot of people the object was just to get around having had a bit of fun along the way.

It surprised me how quickly my mood changed once I got into my running. The race started in a park, running down the driveway entrance before a sharp right turn took us up what looked like a steady, but never-ending hill. Within a few hundred metres I was running steadily and feeling strong. The run from the Facebook memory had been one of the the last times I’d ran in a field of other runners and it surprised me how quickly I felt comfortable after so many solitary – but never lonely – training runs.

Running up that first climb, with a friend’s description of the course as being ‘undulating’ now ringing in my ears, I felt good. The nerves had settled, the feeling of being some kind of imposter had disappeared and here I was fit, healthy and passing people. Others had the audacity to pass me, but it didn’t feel like it mattered. My plan was for a fast final mile or mile and a half and so I felt sure that my time would come.

I ran wearing a smart watch and also with my Strava app running on my phone and found myself glancing at Strava more than ever before. I think the fact that it informed me I was running at 7.30 per mile pace and at times below alarmed me a little – I’m usually up around 8.30 at this stage of a run – and so I ran while battling to focus on slowing down and not getting carried away and also checking the app to see my progress. I seemed incapable of slowing down for around the first 3km though and was sure that I’d grind to an almighty halt at about 7km! It didn’t get quite that bad though.

The undulating nature of the course would take its toll though. Through 4, 5 and 6 kms, I slowed. I’m aware that we did run down some hills, but it just seemed like the uphill sections kept appearing in front of me, relentlessly. I dug in, tried to relax and just kept running, but it wasn’t long before it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d passed anyone. Runners were passing me though. Not in their droves, but every so often one would glide past and despite my best efforts I just couldn’t keep up! But I wasn’t dropping too far though, so I stayed calm and just relied on the fact that I felt like I could summon some strength up and have a better final few kilometres.

My mind began to wander though and I started to think about my operation three years previously. I thought about being admitted initially and the loneliness of the night in hospital wondering if I might die. I thought about hugging my wife and kids the next day, once I’d finally got home. I thought about waiting to be called on to the ward about a month later when I was operated on and I thought about the operation itself. The last thing I thought about before I snapped myself back to the matter at hand was my cardiologist giving me the all clear about a year later. I began to feel quite emotional, but knew that I had to pull myself together and get back to focusing on the running. Imagine the horror of running past some red-faced, sweaty old bloke who was weeping quietly to himself, snot and tears streaming down his face! Clearly though, this run was more important to me than I’d imagined.

A couple of minutes later, with my legs not feeling too bad – despite my pace slowing – I concentrated on distracting myself and for a few minutes at least, tried to just spot things to look at, like a nice house or the view. I made sure to reply to everyone who was supporting from the side of the road, again in an attempt to stave off mental fatigue and would occasionally take a slog from the water I’d picked up at the last feeding station.

It didn’t take me too long to pull myself together and be able to focus again and when I did, I began looking ahead and trying to focus on people that I might be able to catch and overtake. My legs still felt like they had some life in them and by the time I’d got to the 8km mark I’d been able to progress through the field a little bit. I decided that once I’d got to 8 and a half km I would up my pace some more and that for the final mile I’d be trying to run at something like 7 and a half minute mile pace.

But the hills Just seemed to just keep on coming. I knew I was nearly done though and by this point I was just determined to have a strong finish.

Halfway down the final hill and running fairly strongly, something brilliant happened. As I looked down the road I spotted my wife and children. I think I spotted them before they spotted me and so I gave them a wave. Once they waved back, it was my cue to quicken the pace again. The bottle of water that I was carrying was by now getting on my nerves, so I positioned myself near the kerb and when I passed them made sure to hand it to my daughter. Their whooping and screaming and clapping was brilliant to hear though and really spurred me on. I knew that I was within a few hundred metres of the finish now.

At the bottom of the hill we turned left and were back on the drive of the park with a slightly uphill dash to go until the finish line. Despite a sudden feeling of nausea I began to sprint – as much as a nearly 50-year-old who’s ran almost 10km could sprint – and was soon passing people. I really didn’t feel strong at all and was pretty certain that I was going to be sick, but it was just a case of digging in and getting through it. To my left I could see my wife and kids cutting over the grass from where they’d been on the roadside so that they could get to the finish. My son called out, ‘Go on Dad!’ and coupled with just seeing them there, it was enough to push me over the last few yards.

Me, knackered, attempting to power my way to the finish!

Right on the line, while I was concentrating on not throwing up, two people passed me. I spotted them in my peripheral vision, but it was too late and I didn’t really have the strength to react. I wasn’t particularly bothered though; I’d done what I’d set out to do and when I glanced down at my phone in order to stop Strava, I was thrilled to see that I’d ran the course in a little over 51 minutes, which from memory was one of the best 10km times I’d ever ran.

As I collected my water, medal and t-shirt I was in a bit of a trance. The medal quickly went into a pocket and the t-shirt got draped over my shoulder while I downed the water. I felt exhausted, but thrilled to have finished at the same time.

Within a couple of minutes I’d located my family who greeted me like I was returning from climbing Everest! We stood and chatted for a short while, but then with rain looking absolutely certain, we decided to head for the car and get home. Time to relax, have something to eat and maybe scroll through my phone for Facebook memories!

Later that day I found out that I’d finished in 271st place out of 813 runners and I have to say I was really pleased with that. My official time was 51 minutes and 51 seconds, my second fastest 10km run, so despite my mid-run lull, I’d managed to keep going pretty well.

I’m looking for more races to enter now, although with the football season starting soon, I’ll have to avoid clashes. The race has definitely whetted my appetite for more and I’ll continue going out training and trying to improve both my times and my fitness. I’ll definitely be running the Pontefract 10k next year too!

Peak District Mini-Break

Covid, lockdowns, running out of telly to watch, the cancellation of live sport and music, walk after walk after walk, no contact with dads and mums, no hugs, no pubs. It’s safe to say that we’ve lived sheltered lives for the last 18 months or so.

As a family we’ve spent a lot of time hunkered down at home and not suffered that badly from it all. We even managed to squeeze in a week’s holiday in North Wales when restrictions were lifted last summer, but other than that we might as well have had a force field within a mile radius of our house because we would have very rarely troubled it.

Lately though, the boredom has been taking hold. We’ve had to venture out, although still never far. But the delights of our back garden and the limits of our estate have pretty much worn off, so we had to start making plans. We were finally being forced to travel in search of adventure…as long as it wasn’t too far away; I mean, we’re not exactly natural adventurers!

With half term fast approaching, what we needed was something that was not that far away, yet far enough away that we wouldn’t be tempted to head home at the end of a day. So, with the Yorkshire Dales on our doorstep, the Yorkshire coast around an hour away and the Lake District not a great deal further, we plumped for…The Derbyshire Peak District!

We booked to stay in a family room in the Whitton Lodge in Hardstoft near Chesterfield and decided to spend two days around the Upper Derwent Valley in the Derbyshire Peaks. To be fair, this was a slight oversight on our part as we thought that the two places were a lot closer than they were and as a result left ourselves with an hour long drive after our first day in order to get to our accommodation! But what’s an hour in a hot car on narrow, winding country roads between friends!?

So on the Wednesday of half term (2nd June) we set off midway through the morning heading for an early lunchtime arrival at the Derwent Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley.

It has to be said, it’s quite an amazing journey. The first part is unremarkable, unless your some kind of motorway pervert and then I’d guess your blood really will be pumping, as we spent about 20 minutes on the M1, Britain’s foremost motorway. After leaving that though you are quickly transported to the middle of nowhere and there are times when all you can see is stunning countryside. It’s a difficult journey as a driver as the roads are narrow, winding and bumpy too. But it’s undeniably fun at the same time!

So by the time we get to the Derwent Reservoir and the visitor centre it’s fair to say that we’re a bit like one of James Bond’s martinis; shaken, not stirred! We circuit the car park unsuccessfully and decide to head back up the road to look for a space. We’re rewarded by a roadside spot a couple of hundred yards away and free parking for the day. Result!

Once we get down to the Visitor Centre we get our bearings before opting to walk without a map. It’s a friendly and helpful centre where you can purchase a map and also get some advice on the best walk to suit your needs, but today we settle for taking a photo of the route from a sign outside. Other than that we’re hiking on instinct alone. We’re off road and wrestling with whatever nature can throw at us!

Of course, I’m exaggerating so that we sound far more adventurous than we really are. We’ve actually done this hike once before, but it’s not as simple as just following regular signposts, so we’re winging it to an extent.

The Peak District is well known as an area of outstanding beauty – one of many in the UK – and it doesn’t disappoint today. It’s a scorching hot day and even just walking down near the side of the reservoir is lovely. But then, after about a half a mile of trekking and continually telling ourselves we’ve gone wrong, we take a sharp left over a stile, as signposted and start to head uphill.

The higher we climb, the more amazing the view. However, having tweaked a hamstring the day before while taking a coaching session, I’m making an extra effort to remain sure-footed and struggling a little bit. If you follow in our footsteps and take this walk be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted; it’s a steep climb and for much of the way it’s a narrow path with a steep drop to your right. It’s a rocky footpath too, so you need to choose your path carefully. It isn’t particularly dangerous, but with the wind blowing a little bit things felt quite hairy at times!

As we get closer to the top we decide to scramble up the banking to our left a little way and refuel. It’s picnic time. We’re sheltered quite well from the wind and we have the best of views. It’s safe to say that while it’s a welcome break from our upward hike, it’s a wonderfully relaxing one as well. We spend a good half an hour eating, drinking, chatting, fending off flies and taking in the view before finally hauling ourselves into a standing position and heading upwards once more.

Once at the top of the hill – and Strava showed my ascent as just short of 700ft that day – the view is incredible. A 360 degree sight that just takes the breath away. Looking back down from where we’ve come there’s the reservoir stretching through the valley, to our left moorland and the peaks of the next valley, to our right the steep sides that – I think – lead towards Hope Valley and then in front of us, what awaits our feet; miles of stunning moorland. It’s days like this and views like this that make me all the more thankful for living in England.

The walk takes you for another couple of miles across the top of this stunning landscape before you make the steep descent down towards the Lady Bower reservoir. This is definitely not a walk for smaller children, especially not this bit and it can feel a little treacherous at times as you’re descending sharply down a narrow and rocky path. Watch out for stray sheep too! And if you’re lucky you may well spot the odd bird of prey swooping or hovering over the valley seeking it’s next snack!

Once we make it down to the bottom we’re all shattered. My legs are like jelly after the descent, it’s stiflingly hot and I have a rucksack on my back. Yet there’s still further to go! It’s safe to say we simply amble along the path along the side of the reservoir diving into shade as we go.

Once we make it back to the Visitor Centre we queue for ice creams and slump on a low wall to rest and cool down. But we can’t stay too long as there’s another hour long drive ahead of us before we get to our accommodation.

Whitton Lodge is situated 6 miles outside of Chesterfield, in a pleasant part of the Derbyshire countryside. When we show up there is no one around and how we actually check in is a little unclear. However, we make a quick phone call and the owner is with us within a couple of minutes, greeting us with a warm smile and showing us around, before taking us to our room. The property has nine bedrooms, a breakfast room and best of all, a lounge with TV and a pool table. Our room – a family room – is huge and there’s more than enough room for us all to feel comfortable. Despite this, two members of the family still take up residence on my side of our bed when I point out that there’s a plug socket next to it. It’s OK, my phone charging can wait!

We drive back into Chesterfield for our tea, opting for Frankie and Benny’s to suit both our children and due to the fact that the gluten free and dairy free options are good.

Next morning, after a good sleep in the peaceful Derbyshire countryside we head downstairs just before 8am to be welcomed warmly by our hosts. Breakfast is excellent and again the gluten free and dairy free options are great. Best of all though is my cooked breakfast; lots of bacon, sausages, egg, beans and hash browns with a decent supply of toast, juice and coffee too. Our hosts are friendly and chatty, as well as being brilliantly efficient and we’re left waiting for nothing. We even have a chat about their goats as we leave and I’m sure we’ll be back in the future.

We’re homeward bound today, but not until late, so we’re heading back into the Peaks and the Hope Valley to visit the beautiful village of Castleton. We’re not quite sure what we’ll do, but in the spirit of adventure, we reckon we’ll find something.

In fact, there’s lots to do in Castleton. There are caves to visit, a Norman castle – hence the name – a number of walks, a visitor centre and lots of pubs, cafes and restaurants. We consider the caves and the castle, but then, already tired, settle on what we think will be a reasonably easy walk. We opt for the Cave Dale – Peverill Castle loop and very quickly find that it’s yet another steep, rocky ascent! It’s narrow too, with steep hillsides either side of us, but popular and lots of people are out on the trail.

Even though the walk is slightly short of 3 miles, we take our time today and there are several stops on the way up. It’s lovely though, as with the rest of the day ahead of us and hearty breakfasts to try and work off, the rest stops can easily be accommodated! I have to say I’m grateful for every last one of them! As you’d expect in the Peaks, the view from the top is stunning and once again we can see for miles and miles.

It’s approaching mid afternoon when we get back into Castleton and we just take a leisurely stroll back towards the visitor centre, where another low wall beckons us to have another sit down! It’s a busy little place though, so ideal for a spot of people watching!

Although we’re still feeling fairly well fed, we’re now very thirsty so we head for the Three Roofs Cafe, where again there are enough gluten free and dairy options to keep the family happy. We’re unable to resist the snacks and so crumpets, scones, chips, a sandwich and a tea cake are ordered and promptly scoffed, while we sit and enjoy the cool inside air. It feels like the ideal time for a coffee, but I have what I call a ‘pop thirst’ and so I go for a San Pelegrino Limonata which absolutely hits the spot and is the best thing I could have drank at this moment in time!

We have a quick stroll through Castleton at the end of the day, but by this point everyone is shattered and it’s clearly time to head home. We’re back in Leeds within an hour and a quarter and the country air seems a distant memory. There’ll definitely be a next time though and I’d recommend the Peak District to anyone who fancies some serenity, fresh air and incredible views.

I hope you enjoyed the blog. As ever, feel free to leave a comment.

Running Tips for Beginners and enthusiastic old people alike!

Let me start by pointing out that in no way am I any kind of expert on running. So I’m not claiming that what I write about in this blog is any kind of guarantee of success. There is no way on Earth that reading this blog is going to make you some kind of Olympian! However, as someone who’s ran on and off – more on than off, but a little stop start now and again – for most of his 49 years, I can certainly say that I speak from experience.

Running is something I’ve always loved. It was something that I started at school and success at junior school sports days whetted my appetite. I discovered very early on that I was in possession of a good turn of pace and despite my size, was capable of beating more or less anyone I raced. For a while at least. A heart problem put pay to that and once I recovered I found that I wasn’t the ‘athlete’* I’d once been.

*The term athlete is being used with quite an amount of creative license here by the way. I was a quick kid but that was about the size of it!

With my childhood heart problem taken care of I started running again, albeit not as well as before. But I really wanted to raise money for the heart unit where I’d had my operation and so, to cut a long story short, I started running more regularly and more seriously. I started to do sponsored fun runs and from there graduated to doing the Great North Run, a half marathon, raising money as I went. After that, I just kept on running either for fun or more competitively for clubs. In my time I’ve completed a number of half marathons, but mostly just ran for fun. That said, that’s a lot of running! And in the last few years, following more heart problems, I’ve started running much more regularly. It’s amazing what a health scare can do for you! So you never know, there might just be a bit of common sense in the tips that I can offer! So here we go…

  1. Preparation, preparation, preparation! I can’t lie; there are far too many times that I go out having not prepared properly. If it’s an evening run I tend to make the excuse that I’ve been on my feet all day at work, so I’ll be fully warmed up anyway. But it’s never true and the proof is never more evident in those first couple of miles when I can’t get into my running or afterwards when everything seizes up! So, it’s a little bit of a case of doing what I say and not necessarily what I do here. Take time to warm up. Stretch thoroughly and perhaps even go as far as some running on the spot beforehand. Your body will thank you for it later! Stretching isn’t the only thing you can do though. I always make sure that I’ve had a blast on my inhaler – I’m asthmatic – as I don’t want to be too out of breath too soon. I’ve also started eating a handful of pine nuts and cashews before I head out, just in the hope of a bit of an energy burst. Pine nuts are good in terms of being heart healthy and contain things like iron and magnesium, which can boost energy. Don’t eat so many that you end up running with indigestion, but I always find they help me along the way. Cashew nuts contain healthy fats and again are heart healthy. I can’t claim to be an expert on all things dietary, but even if it’s as a placebo, I find that handfuls of things like this help me out.

The final thing that I make sure I do is to have a few jelly sweets in a pocket, ready for a quick sugar rush when I feel I might be flagging just a little bit too much. My personal choice are Mike and Ike’s, a nicely sugary coated import from America, available in B&Ms brilliant and strange American Confectionary section. Other jelly based confectionary, American or otherwise, is available. All over the place.

2. Clothing. Unless you’re into naked running, clothing is a vital part of your armour as a runner. Some would say it’s essential. From a personal point of view, having never tried naked running, I’d always go with clothing; no one repeat no one, needs to see me and my middle aged body charging down the road, in the nip as they say.

Silliness aside, good quality running gear is important. But there are levels here. I’m not someone who feels the need to splash ridiculous amounts of cash on what I’m sweating into, but I do want to feel comfortable and at least look the part without it being a case of ‘all the gear, no idea’.

The most important thing – in my humble opinion – is to get a good quality pair of trainers that you’re comfortable in. I used to run in Nike flats, but found that their very thin nature meant that they wore out relatively quickly. So eventually I went for a reasonably priced pair of New Balance 680 v6, which feature a nicely cushioned sole. Game changer! Suddenly I was running faster, going further and more importantly at my age, not suffering with aches and pains for days after. You could say that I’m a convert to cushioning. I’ve since bought a new pair of New Balance, but my 680s are hanging on in there and I’m out running in them regularly. I’ve found that some good quality running socks feel a lot better too.

In terms if what else I wear, I prefer 2in1 shorts, with an inner cycling short lining. I’m all for keeping those hamstrings warm! What I would also advise with running shorts is that you buy something with some kind of pocket. That way, anything light that you need to take can be stored away. My pockets always have a few jelly sweets and I find my door key handy for getting back into the house!

I’d also advise buying specialist running tops. I’m a t-shirt man myself. My build just doesn’t lend itself to vests and no one needs the sight of any more of my body! What I would say is that you should have something bright or even high viz, just for your own safety. It’s surprising how people many just don’t see you coming, so be as visible as possible, especially on more murky days or evenings. With this in mind, I was pleased when my wife bought me a couple of light up bands that I can wear around my upper arms in winter. If it gets too late and the light is cutting in, I just flick a switch and they light up, leaving me to focus on my running rather than whether or not I might get knocked over! They’re lightweight and comfortable too, which is ideal for people like me who hate running with anything annoying attached to me. You can see the kind of thing I mean below, although there are lots of variants on this particular accessory.

3. No excuses. Until the last 18 months or so I’ve always been brilliant at coming up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t go out for a run. And excuses as to why I should come in early from a run. Drizzle, too windy (weather, not me), a niggling and sometimes not real injury, not enough time, too close to lunch, not enough sleep, not in the right frame of mind, too windy (me this time), too sunny…I’ve gone through phases where anything I could tell myself would be enough to stay where I was and not head out for a run.

Don’t do it. Those endorphins won’t release themselves. However tired you think you feel, however bad your day at work was, get out for that run. Keep up the momentum. You’ll feel better for it. You’ll be pleased with yourself. You’ll have improved your fitness, just a little bit. But if you let that excuse keep you in then you’ll find another one the next time and even when you get back out again, you’ll excuse yourself some more, another time.

Once I stopped making excuses and just getting out there, I got fitter, stronger and faster. It’s taken me a long, long time, but nowadays the weather and the niggles don’t get in the way and I’m absolutely loving my running.

4. Plan a route (kind of). Personally, I don’t like to plan a very detailed route, but I like an idea of where I’m going, vaguely which set of streets I’ll be running along and more to the point, where I turn for home. I keep it vague for one reason: if I want to add a chunk of running in, I can and that means that I can feel good about myself once I get home. If I know that where I’m headed will take me say for 5km but I’m feeling good, then I might add a few extra streets in and before I know it I’ve covered an extra kilometre or two. And I can’t pretend that it doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better. Maybe it’s just a me thing, but I’d definitely recommend it. I suppose in a way it means I get to explore little bits of town, rather than just running another circuit of somewhere and I find my way a bit more interesting. Sometimes it’s good to keep my mind distracted from how my legs are doing and heading down a couple of new streets does just that!

5. Recovery. Over the last 18 months I’ve learnt that once I get back in after a run, my next hour or so is really important. I always used to make sure that I had a drink of water, but it was never anywhere near enough. And I’d never stretch.

Nowadays everything has changed. When I remember, I put a bottle of water into the freezer before I head out for my run. I’ll neck that as soon as I get in and then refill and drink slowly for a while. I might even refill again after that. I also make sure I eat a banana as soon as I get in. I might even have more cashews or pine nuts. If I have any pain I have a massage roller ball that I put in the freezer and then massage with when I get home and it works wonders! And I make sure I stretch again. This is usually done while lying or sitting down, touching my toes or painfully pulling my feet back behind my back. Before, I might well have just flopped down in a chair and watched television, then wondered why my muscles just stiffened up half an hour later. I’d wake up next morning and find it difficult to walk, such was the stiffness in my legs and back. And then lockdown happened.

During lockdown I read a lot of things about running and exercise. I also did online workouts and learnt the value of warming down and recovery from this. I can’t recommend it enough. The stretching helps to loosen and lengthen the muscles again and the fruit and snacking helps throw vitamins back into the body, which can only help. The water replaces fluid that you’ve lost while also refreshing you, obviously. It seems obvious now and why I totally ignored recovery for so many years is beyond me, but I would absolutely recommend that you take far better care of yourself after you’ve ran. You’ll feel so much better for it.

I hope these tips – some more obvious than others – will come in handy for you. Like I said before, I’m no expert, but I’ve found that these things have helped my running immeasurably. I’m faster and stronger, but more to the point, I enjoy my running much more than ever.

As usual, feel free to let me know what you think by leaving a comment. Oh, and happy running!

Book Review: ‘Gone Fishing – Life, Death and The Thrill of The Catch.’

Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse have been entertaining the nation for the best part of 30 years. With classic comedy credits like ‘Vic Reeve’s Big Night Out’, ‘Shooting Stars’, ‘The Fast Show’ and ‘Harry Enfield and Chums’ to name but a few, it’s safe to say that the pair are national treasures. Both are people that I admire hugely.

So when they paired up to make a show about fishing, the subject matter…well, it didn’t matter. I was onboard immediately. The result was another cult classic in BBC2’s ‘Gone Fishing’ and the book is borne out of the show.

‘Gone Fishing’ is a great read and as you’d expect from its writers, it’s full of laugh out loud moments. But it’s much more than just a good laugh. The book details the pair’s friendship in a genuinely touching way, while also discussing health, happiness and of course, the art of fishing.

By the far the best parts of the book for me were the sections where Bob and Paul discuss their friendship of over 30 years. For those of you that don’t know, both of them have suffered from heart disease in recent years and both underwent open heart surgery as a result. And when Bob felt he couldn’t go on, it was Paul that reached out, offering to take him fishing. And not long after a TV show was born!

It was the heart health angle that really piqued my interest in the show. Having gone through heart surgery myself a few years back, felt I could empathise a little bit. And so, when this aspect of both mens’ lives was discussed in the book I found myself more than a little choked up.

The book makes quite an emotive start. First we’re introduced to both men, their history with heart problems and then their friendship. The realisation that both could have died felt like quite a revelation for me as a major fan. And the passage when Bob actually discusses the very real thoughts that he had that he was facing up to his own imminent death, makes for a powerful read. It certainly felt like a side of one of my heroes that I’d never witnessed in such detail before. It was discussed on the show, but it felt like the book gave the subject a slightly greater depth.

The book ploughs on; a mixture of humorous anecdotes, explanations of aspects of the show, the locations for the fishing and the episodes as well as some real insight from Paul Whitehouse on how to actually fish. And while this might sound a bit dull to some, I’d say don’t knock it until you try it. Certainly both men have quite an infectious enthusiasm for their hobby and while it didn’t make me want to return to fishing – a hobby I dabbled with as a lad – it did shed light on why grown men stand on riverbanks in all weathers for untold hours on end.

As we move further through the book Paul guides us through some quite encyclopedic knowledge of various species of fish, as well as the more ecological side of the sport. This felt like hard going at times, but it certainly never made me want to put ‘Gone Fishing’ down. By the end, Bob has thrown in some of his favourite recipes for cooking on the riverbank, spattered with his trademark wit and wisdom and in truth, you’ve got all of the knowledge you need to get out there and fish. It’s just a question of working out whether you can handle the early morning starts before getting out and buying the kit.

‘Gone Fishing’ is an optimistic read. Joyous and life-affirming at times, educational at others. If you’re a fan of Bob, Paul, the show or just fishing, it’s well worth a read.

I give ‘Gone Fishing’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Easter Goals – an update.

So, just before the Easter holidays rather than dreaming of chocolate and boxsets, I decided that this two week break would be different. I was going to try for something more goals driven and to help motivate me I wrote a blog about it. The thinking here was that if I formalised it in some way then I might be more tempted to actually work towards said goals. Usually formalising goes about as far as writing a bullet point list down on the back of an envelope, so this was definite progress.

I set myself a manageable number of goals, even though some of them were quite big projects. With two weeks away from work I was confident that I could achieve a lot of what I’d set myself and really, only fatigue or boredom (or my kids) could get in the way.

My first and biggest goal was to decorate the kitchen and paint the kitchen cupboards. After many years our kitchen is in need of a change, but in order to avoid the fuss of people ripping it apart, we’d decided to just update and maybe go for the whole new kitchen thing in Summer or even Autumn. We’d bought primer and paint and I had started a little bit of the sanding a while ago. So Easter was going to be used to transform the place.

Well, there’s good news and bad news with this one. The bad news is that I just didn’t get round to decorating the kitchen. I still intend to, but I simply ran out of time to do it. That and the fact that I lost the will to live too!

However, I did manage to sand down all of the doors, frames, sills on the units, then prime them before finally giving them all a good paint. Have a look! I think it looks great, but then I would say that I suppose!

Two of my other targets were running related and I’m pleased to say that I achieved both. Firstly, I was looking to break in my new running trainers, which I achieved very easily. I mean, some would say that it simply involved wearing said trainers for a couple of runs. And they would be right. That said, the trainers in question are a lot more comfortable now that they have a few more miles on the clock. They’re probably not quite as worn in as I’d like, but that’s just because I keep pulling on my older pair as I’m still very fond of them.

I also decided that part of Easter would be dedicated to improving personal bests at 5k and 10k. In truth, I didn’t manage either, but that was more to do with the fact that within a couple of days of my time off work starting I’d changed the goals a little. I decided that I wanted to try for a 10 mile run instead, as this was something I hadn’t achieved in over a decade. Having got the first weekend out of the way, I achieved this goal on the first Monday of the holidays. I did then attempt to beat my record for running 10k, but instead fell short and ran my second fastest ever. And while I’ll continue to attempt to better my 5k time, when I actually checked again what my PB was I found that it was just under 21 minutes and I’m still mystified about how I achieved that. So, in truth I can’t see that time being broken any time soon!

My other running goal was to research some runs or races that I could enter. The easing of our lockdown rules should mean that Parkrun will begin again quite soon, but I was keen to look for something more road based if possible. Sadly though, time got the better of me and just when it looked like I would happily waste away the last couple of days of my break, a friend got in touch to suggest that a group of us from work might enter the Pontefract 10k and so, presented with an open goal, I signed up. Roll on late June!

Another goal revolved around gardening jobs and, despite some lovely weather, this is where I failed quite miserably. Some jobs have been done – both lawns have been cut, even if I couldn’t quite be bothered to trim the edges or rake moss out as I usually would. Some weeding got done too, but not all of it. Roses were sprayed and my wife even pruned them, but all in all I’m facing up to late April and a garden that is not the best. To make matters worse my garden mad, retired neighbour has gone project crazy and now has railway sleeper lined raised beds in an area of his back garden as well as pristine lawns and many, many blossoming flowers. He also revealed plans for a new workshop style shed in his garden, much to my horror. His shed has always put mine in the shade, so his shed revolution is quite the blow, although you probably have to be of a certain age to understand why! I wrote a poem about it once though, and it’s on the link below.

Lockdown Literature – my stab at a poetry blog.

My worst failure came with my bonsai trees. Sadly, they’re still all in the box that they came in. I sit next to it every day and yet still haven’t managed to find the time or the urge to start their cultivation. Maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next Easter…

So all in all – and I realise I’m probably being kind to myself here – I think I had a good break in terms of my goals. The whole kitchen thing was a big enough project that it took up a few days and in between running, writing for the blog and just settling down and being a husband and a dad, there wasn’t a lot of time for anything else. Maybe next time I’ll cut down on the ambition.

Easter Holiday Goals

Easter is one of my favourite times of year. Not because of the religious connotations. Not because of the chocolate. Well, maybe a little bit because of the chocolate. Mainly though, what Easter signifies is two weeks holiday from work. A significant rest before we go back to summer term and the last push with exam classes and finishing all of the topics that you needed to get through with all of your classes. The last break before subjecting yourself to the inevitable exhaustion and fending off student complaints about wearing blazers that summer term always brings.

However, as with any break from work, duty calls. There are always any number of jobs that I’ve been putting off while trying to get through the January to Easter slog at work. There are things to do with the family, who despite my best efforts have probably been neglected a bit in the months since Christmas. And there will be things that I want to do for me as well. So, this year, rather than a ticklist written on the back of an envelope, I thought I’d set some goals.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Decorate the kitchen and kitchen cupboards. For longer than I care to remember we have needed to get a new kitchen. But for various reasons that mainly come down to not wanting the hassle of people disrupting everything we do for a couple of weeks and making a total mess and the fact that we’ve also been thinking of moving house for ages, it’s a job we’ve not gone through with. We’ve come close on a couple of occasions, but each time we’ve ended up ducking out of it when the kitchen designer got a bit too pushy or fussy. Or, you know, designing a kitcheny…

Now though, in a fit of lockdown driven activity we’ve come to a compromise and decided to update things. So my biggest job and biggest goals of the Easter break will be to redecorate the kitchen and also sand down the cupboard doors and re-paint them. We bought the paint before Christmas, so we’re all set to go. It promises to be a tough job, but I’ve got time and am actually looking forward to having a go at it. I don’t imagine I’ll be able to produce any kind of professional finish, but I think I’ll be hard pushed not to improve it as the decorating hasn’t been finished from the last time I did it! I won’t reveal when that was though!

Break in my new trainers and attempt new personal best times for 5km and 10km runs. I’m hoping that the kitchen decorating will leave me enough time and energy to have a go at this! However, with two weeks off I should be able to comfortably squeeze in some running time, rather than having to rush home from work in the hope of getting an hour in before preparing tea for my kids. And maybe having not done a day’s work before a run, I might have a bit more energy and a bit more pace! I think the best I’ve managed for a 5k was around 24 minutes, so I think I’ve got scope to go quicker, even at my age!

I bought a new pair of New Balance runners in a Winter sale and have worn them for a couple of walks and one 7 mile run so far. The run proved that they’re not really broken in. For the last couple of miles my feet were uncomfortable and then after I finished I noticed later that one of my toes was bleeding! For the record, it was a good hour after I’d come home, taken off my trainers and socks and began pottering around the kitchen before I noticed this. Self care, ladies and gentlemen! Clearly, I needed to wear them for some more walks first! So that definitely represents an achievable goal and perhaps by the time the two weeks are ending I can go out for a more comfortable run in them.

Research some runs/races to enter. Covid-19 has meant that it’s been a long time since I ran with anyone other than my 11 year old son. I’m beginning to crave a more competitive edge to my running again. It was less than 6 months prior to lockdown that I’d started running properly again and as well as running locally both on my own and with my son, I’d done a few Park Runs. It was Park Run that had whetted my appetite for a bit of company and competition and now having been running mainly solo for over a year, I think I’m fit enough to test myself again. So this Easter I’ll be investigating any possible runs that I can enter. I know that they’re unlikely to be staged until some time in summer, but I’m quite excited about testing myself.

Garden Jobs. And there we have it. Two words the signify end of everyone’s fun. But there’s no denying that it’s that time of year again. Spring has sprung and the competitive side of me wants to be the first person in the street with his front lawn cut! After that I’m hoping I can do other things like paint some of the rougher looking fence panels, clear things like fallen leaves and twigs and maybe even finish painting the garden bench that I started at the end of last summer!

None of it represents a whole load of fun, but it’s a good way of reminding yourself that you’re an adult! If the weather is good enough I can easily potter about doing jobs and making the place look a lot better for a good few hours. So hopefully we’ll get a few days of sun. In the north of England. In April. Fingers crossed, eh?

Training Programme. Grassroots football will return over the Easter break and it’s something I’m very excited about. Firstly, we can begin training again from March 29th and then after that competitive games start on April 11th. Our season doesn’t then finish until June 6th. In fact, if there are any problems we have until June 28th to get everything done.

So, in a moment of optimism I decided that I was going to make sure that I was prepared. I’ve already done some work on this, but with training looming I must admit that I haven’t actually planned our first session. So that’s where we start this Easter. From there I need to make sure that training sessions are in place for at least a couple of weeks. As well as this though, I really want to think of ways to keep my team fit in between training and also I want to make some tactical plans for actual games. We’re close to the bottom of the league and there’s no way I’m allowing us to slip any further! On the contrary in fact; I think that with a bit of hard work we can move up the league and turn this into a relatively successful season. And given all the disruption that we’ve had, it would be nice to end the season on a high note.

Bonsai Trees! My final goal revolves around a present that I got for Father’s Day…in 2020. My children bought me a pack that will enable me to grow bonsai tress and as thrilled as I was with this, I’ve still not found time to actually sit down and get started. But if you can’t start growing mini trees in Spring, then when can you grow mini trees?

I’m really hopeful that I’ll get through all of my Easter goals. There’s a lot there, but hopefully, with a bit of determination and hard work I can head back to work knowing that I managed to get a load of things done with my time and still feel like I’ve had a rest!

Poetry Blog: Ghosts

This is a poem about loss. It’s not about loss in the traditional sense of losing someone who died though. This is about the loss of friends and friendships, which seems to be something has has afflicted me a lot over the years.

It’s a poem about losing touch and if I’m honest, probably losing interest. It’s about the transitory nature of friendships and how they grow, but also about how we can grow or move away from them, or them from us. I hope that makes sense. I suppose it’s about how they grow and how they fade.

It is, for me a type of loss though. I genuinely find staying in touch with people really difficult. This is partly because life is just so busy that if I’m immersed in my daily work routine or taking care of the everyday adventures of family life, I just get a bit lost. It makes me feel like an incomplete person, someone who’s clearly not a proper adult. Even while writing this I’m aware of the fact that I was meant to get in touch with my sister two days ago, as she’s unwell, but I haven’t done it.

My sister is an interesting ‘ghost’. I use the excuse that I’m six years younger than her and that we don’t have a lot in common – apart from parents and upbringing – but that’s all it is; an excuse. I really should keep in touch more than I do. And I get that these things are a two way street – she doesn’t call or text regularly either – but I need to be a better brother.

It’s a form of loss that really bothers me. I probably think about friends I’ve lost touch with most days, which would probably surprise some of those friends. Not all of them at once, but individuals will regularly pop into my head and it can make me tremendously sad to think that they’re only a call away, or an email or text and yet they might as well be on a different planet. Yet, something still stops me. Whether it’s the embarrassment, in some cases, that I haven’t spoken to someone in years and therefore I fear some kind of rejection from them, I don’t know. But I can easily envisage someone seeing my name coming up on their phone and just rejecting the call. It doesn’t give me a crippling sense of loss in the same way that a bereavement would, but it’s something that makes me feel a horrible sense of loneliness and guilt at times.

To my knowledge I’ve never lost a friend by actually falling out with them. I would say that in that sense, I’m a good friend. I do, however, seem to be cursed with becoming friends with people who then move away! Maybe they’re trying to tell me something. This has caused an awful sense of loss in some cases as well though. I desperately miss the friendship of someone who was only local to me for two years before they emigrated to another continent (I won’t name names, but they may well read this!) This was just someone that I clicked with completely and his loss did have an effect on me at the time that was akin to that of a bereavement. There are others too, that although I keep in touch with them and I’ve known them for most of my life, their absence from my every day life genuinely hurts. Texts and Facebook messages just aren’t the same.

Ghosts

I think of you often; ghosts.
Either re-living past glories or indulging in imaginary conversations
in the comfort of my head.
Keep in touch, we said.

Sometimes you re-appear from the past
and I blame myself, wonder why I went silent.
The girl who got the job, became the boss is just a miracle really.
The ghost who came back to life and helped to show you just how friendship works.

Other ghosts are far too many to mention, without a crippling guilt taking its toll.
I'll never know if it was me that drove you away,
but I'll always ask the question.
Keep in touch we said, 
and I disappeared like the dead.

The one who vanished, perhaps hiding the shame of a break-up.
I'll never know if I could have done more.
Those who had the audacity to carry on living lives without me,
some forever extending their hand,
while I make excuses, ignore the calls, hide in these four walls,
without ever really knowing why.

Those who, like paper aeroplanes, were taken away by the breeze,
and may float close by again,
tantalising like the promise of a meet up in the sign off of a text
until they fly so far that you'll never reach them again.
Keep in touch we said,
the embers now a dying red.

Then the ones that saw you at your worst.
These ghosts? You're forever in their debt.
The one who scraped you off the floor, mended the first real heartbreak,
talked you down, walked you round, held your hand,
now relegated to the occasional like on social media.

And don't forget the girl who looked out for you when work became almost too much,
boosted your confidence, while simultaneously kicking you up the arse
and telling you bluntly, to polish your shoes.
She who mothered you, but when she left called you her big brother,
still cast adrift years later without a reason why.

Those ghosts we lost along the way,
are no longer just there on the other end of a phone,
but leave a million shades of regret, of things you never said, of sleepless nights, 
and the ever-present pain in the gut that reminds you that you could have done more, 
should have done more...

Keep in touch we said
but all that's left is in your head.

I feel that some of these ‘ghosts’ must think that I’m a pretty terrible person who just doesn’t care. I do care. I’m just awful at showing it and at keeping up appearances. Even when I get in touch with people I imagine them thinking, ‘what does he want?’ This feeling probably isn’t helped by people like my dad who regularly answers the phone with such witticisms as, ‘We thought you’d died’. Hilarious. Funnier still given that my parents rarely ring.

I know there’s a saying that the best friends are those you don’t have to talk to every day to know that they’re still friends (or something like that) and I definitely have friends like that. But I wish I spoke to them more. And maybe this confessional will make me step up my friendship game (as no one said, ever) or maybe one of them will read this and check in on me (please no U ok hun? type things though). Anything would be good in these times of not being able to meet up.

I hope you enjoyed the poem. And at the risk of sounding like I just ate a whole block of cheese, if it resonated in any way, maybe you could call that friend you’ve been thinking of lately? Cheeseball or not, I know I’ve got some reaching out to do.

As ever, feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments.

Blog Goals for March

I find running my blog incredibly fulfilling, yet extremely frustrating, all at the same time. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. What started as an outlet for some kind of creativity and initially to explain how I was feeling at a difficult stage of my life, has more recently become a little more serious and I would really like my writing to have a bigger audience.

I started my blog after having heart surgery. Writing a blog was something I’d thought about for a while, but it took what felt like a near death experience to give me the kick up the backside that I needed to actually start writing. It wasn’t really a near death experience, but it was a heart problem that required being admitted to hospital, then followed up with actual surgery, so there were lots of times when I questioned whether I’d get through it.

Once I was well, I started a blog, using my first couple of posts to write about what had happened to me. I suppose it was cathartic, but it was also my way of letting people know that I was alright. They’re on the links below this paragraph if you fancy a read. But then once they were out of the way, I began to write about anything and everything!

When did I get so old?

Conquering my fears. What’s the worst that could happen*?

Over 100 blog posts later though and I feel like I’ve reached a bit of an impasse with it. The blog is definitely growing in popularity, but at the pace of a glacier. Am I being impatient? I’m not sure. It’s fair to say that I only started taking things even kind of seriously since this time last year, when the pandemic meant I had a lot of time on my hands with which to write. But it’s definitely been a frustrating time over the last six months or so, when apart from one brilliant month, growth has been slow. So I thought I’d start to set monthly goals, in order to organise myself a little better and perhaps get some useful advice in response.

March Goals and Targets

  1. I need to find better ways of publicising my blog. I use social media and tweet about my blog quite a bit, without it being all I ever do on there. I also post on the blogging RT/community sites in the hope that I’ll gain regular readers, but despite a small amount of growth, it doesn’t really seem to work. I feel terrible, even in a comment post, when I’m commenting on people’s blogs, because ultimately it feels a bit desperate. I might as well just be saying, ‘Look, I’ve commented on your blog, so have a look at mine’ and I don’t like feeling that way. If it’s a specific subject of blog, like a sport or an educational blog I might tweet certain more applicable sites for a RT and this can work too, but I feel like I’m just relying on other people’s popularity and good will in doing so. My blog views for a typical month average around 400-500, which feels OK, but isn’t rewarding in terms of the effort I put in. I don’t know if I’m expecting too much, but then again I’ve read ‘goal’ type posts like this from other people before, moaning that they’re only getting thousands of people visiting their site per month. Looking at your stats on WordPress and seeing that another day has brought in 14 readers becomes no fun whatsoever after a while! I genuinely feel like I post my fair share of good quality posts and I’d love it to reach a bigger audience, but must admit, I’m pretty clueless! It’s lovely reading positive comments from people, but then again, I’ve visited blogs posts that consist of an inspirational quote (so, 12 words, let’s say) that get a load of positive comments and that kind of thing makes me wonder where I’m going wrong. Alternatively, maybe what I’m posting is utter rubbish! Whatever it is, I need to find some kind of answer in March!
  2. Stop posting utter rubbish! Just kidding; I have at least some faith in what I write. But that said, I want to write at least one post in March that breaks some personal records for my blog. Why not think big, eh? Whether it’s views, or likes, or just the number of people who read it in Luxembourg, I’d like to post something that captures the interest in the next month. I’ve had some that – for my little blog – have done really well and it’s a brilliant feeling that I’d quite like to replicate.
  3. Come up with better titles for poems and blogs. I seem to have no imagination for this at all. In the past I’ve written blogs called ‘I have some questions about music’, ‘Whatever happened to the mix tape?’ and poems called ‘Teams Meeting’ (about a Teams meeting), ‘Heart’ (about my heart operation) and ‘Early Morning Run’ (I won’t ruin the surprise with that one). It seems I’m very literal when it comes to titles, so maybe some snappier titles might bring those readers in!
  4. Write more poems (with better titles, of course). It took me ages to pluck up the courage to write poems consistently and then to actually post them online. They always get a good reaction and I love the process of writing them. It’s been quite a confidence boost. They generally come in bursts and I can write two or three, pretty much straight out in one go, in one sitting, but it’s been a while since anything new came along. I had an idea this afternoon, opened my notebook to write something then got distracted. A couple of hours later I noticed the open page of my notebook! Luckily I remembered what I had wanted to write about. I must try and make time to write more poems though and it would be good to find a proper place to showcase them too, as those regular 44 people that read them could be improved upon!
  5. This one’s not a blogging goal; more a creative one. I’d like to post more videos on social media. I posted one of me reading my poem ‘An Ode to Joe Wicks’ and it went down really well (relatively speaking; we’re not talking millions of views and instant fame here). More to the point, I really enjoyed doing it. It does feel like a real ego trip though – here’s me reading my poem, so watch! I struggle finding a reason why people would want to watch! But then, videos I’ve done for friends always get a good reaction. And I know that makes me sound like the tone deaf X-Factor contestant who tells Simon Cowell all her family tell her she can sing, once he’s finished laughing. I created a character based on every bad teaching stereotype I could think of and let friends see ‘his’ first video. Their reaction told me it has legs, so I’d love to see where that could go. I have lots of video ideas, mainly involving me making myself look like a complete knobhead (I’m a natural)…I guess I just need to find a way to link them to my blog now!

So there we have it. My goals for March and the kind of post that I think I’ll make a regular early in the month kind of thing. If you have any advice or would like to let me know what you thought, then leave me a message in the comments. Thanks for reading (you now know you’re one of about 35 in a rather exclusive club!)