Jelly legs is feeling his age!

It’s Monday morning and not only am I afflicted by that Monday feeling, but my body aches almost everywhere from head to toe. Worst of all is that nobody else is to blame; this is all my own fault. And now I have a busy day at work ahead teaching students aged from 11-16, not many of whom will have any sympathy for me!

So yesterday, I completed a 10km race. The same 10k race that I was banging on about a little while back in the blog on the link below, complaining that I was never going to be in the right shape for.

https://middleagefanclub.wordpress.com/2022/04/09/my-first-10k-race-of-the-year-a-month-to-go-and-i-dont-feel-good/(opens in a new tab)

It was my second time at the Pontefract 10k in West Yorkshire and I was determined to do well. But training had been far from perfect and I’d been suffering with a mixture of injury and illness in the weeks leading up to the race. However, come race day I believed that I was fit enough to get round in a time that would beat the one I ran at the same event last year. I felt that I’d managed to pull myself together just about enough in the last few weeks and had trained fairly well, completing a couple of fast – for me – 10k training runs that were only a minute or so outside of the type of time I hoped to run in the race.

It was an early start on race day in our house as myself, my wife and my son all rose before 7am in order to scramble down some breakfast and get ready to head to Pontefract, a 20 minute car journey away. The race was starting at 9am and we would need to be there early in order to get parked up before heading to the start.

I’m functional at best in the morning, so it was tough going! However, I really enjoy an early morning run, so while breakfast and getting ready would be a struggle, running – I hoped – would not!

This year’s start line was not the nervy place to be that last year’s had proved. I felt that I knew my surroundings and it helped that I bumped into a friend from work and we chatted for a few minutes until it was almost time to line up. In short, I didn’t have time for nerves. However, I still felt a strange mixture of concern about my fitness and hope that I could run a sub 50 minute 10k.

I won’t bore you with a detailed commentary of the race, perish the thought. I for one don’t particularly want to relive it anymore!

However, it’s safe to say that it was tough. It started to rain on the first long, uphill stretch and I heard someone near me let out a little cheer about this. I should have tripped them up. Thankfully, it stopped shortly after.

The course is described as undulating, but let me tell you that the undulation feels largely uphill when you’re out there. I managed to forget any race plan I might have had and instead went off quickly (for a man of my vintage and physical state, that is). My competitive side kicked in here and I was more concerned with passing people, than thinking about how far I’d gone and how I was feeling. I’d regret this later. I told myself that I’d be able to power through and just keep the pace going, but it’s safe to say that miles 3 and 4 saw me slow more than I’d have liked.

By the time we turned for home and the last couple of miles or so, my legs were like jelly, a substance which for years I was quietly convinced that they may have actually been made out of. Quite a bit of the last half of this race is uphill though, a fact that my mind had rather inconveniently forgotten, so it was pretty difficult to keep on going at any pace, although I managed. For the first time in a long time though I found myself thinking I should just stop, as a few people had. I had a bit of aa word with myself though and kept going.

The final mile or so of the Pontefract 10k is downhill and I was looking forward to just powering down the hill. However, having used up so much energy already my body wasn’t responding in the way I wanted. I imagined a Mo Farah like kick where I just passed runner after runner. Instead, I was much more akin to Moe from The Simpsons as I grumbled my way down the last stretch.

Pleasingly, I did pick up my pace a bit though and kept a close eye on the time via Strava, so I knew exactly where I was with my personal best in mind. Passing my wife and son just before the last 250 metres, I knew I had to go faster, but was convinced that there was nothing left in the legs…not even jelly. However, as someone passed me within the first few metres, something in me flicked a bit of a switch – my competitive side again – and before I knew it I was sprinting. More like a middle aged man laden down with bags on a train platform than Usain Bolt, but sprinting all the same.

I crossed the line in 51.27, a good 25 seconds better than I’d ran the previous year and inside my personal best. I wasn’t sure I’d stay on my feet or even conscious, but I’d done what I’d set out to do! Never had 250 metres felt so long!

Cramp set in as I met my wife and son, but some stretches and a stroll back to car had me feeling a bit more comfortable. But I’d forgotten how much racing takes out of me. I can run 10k on a training run and feel reasonably good hours later and more or less back to normal the next day. Running a race just wipes me out.

The rest of Sunday was spent keeping busy, while also trying to relax, but I woke up on Monday morning feeling groggy to say the least! It’s now Wednesday and although the muscles are nowhere near as tender as they’d felt for the first couple of days of the week, I’d still quite like to just be at home napping rather than at work!

Training for this race was difficult. It was very ‘stop start’ as I seemed to just keep picking up niggling injuries or colds, meaning that some weeks I’d be running 20k and others I’d do 3k at best! I think a lot of what got me through was just sheer bloody-mindedness and a determination not to let myself down. Having got through it quite successfully I’m now planning my next race, which will probably be in Leeds in July, unless I can find something earlier that appeals. For now though, I’m just feeling my age and hoping to recover by the end of the month!

Poetry Blog: ‘What Would Happen If You Didn’t?’

This is a poem that I wrote very recently. The idea was sparked when watching something on television – I can’t remember what it was – and a character was suffering with their health. However, the character’s only concern was for her son who despite being an adult, was still lazily reliant on his mother to do everything for him. While the character was expressing these worries to a nurse and saying that she had to get back home to prepare something for the son, the nurse simply replied with,

“What would happen if you didn’t?”

At that point only 10% of my attention remained on the TV. Instead, I found myself reaching for a notepad and thinking about consequences and things that would complete the question. Having written the poem, I still think there’s a lot of other things to consider when asking the question. In fact, it’s one I may well revisit.

I thought about all of the genuine responsibilities we have in life, as well as the things that sometimes we obsess about or feel that we can’t do without. What would happen if we just didn’t do them? I ended up with a kind of spider diagram of notes that I tried to turn into a poem some time later. I think it’s about as finished as it’s going to get (for now), so here you go!

What would happen if you didn't?

Sometimes life can feel like just an ever-growing list of things to do,
stuff to worry about and stress over, 
an abundance of tasks, instructions and nagging doubts
designed to make you feel like you're failing.

So what would happen if you didn't?

What would happen if you didn't
smile at strangers?
Would they care or even notice any less whether you're there?
What would happen if you didn't
care about your career? 
Would your work be any better or any worse? Would it even be noticed?
What would happen if you didn't
count the calories?
Would you inflate to the size of a balloon, would your life expectancy decrease dramatically? Would you even notice any change at all? Would you just be happier?
What would happen if you didn't
wear a tie to work? 
Would they react differently to you? Would you mix up your words, send less professional emails, tell the bosses what you really think because that lack of a tie has loosened every inhibition you ever had?
What would happen if you didn't
answer their questions?
What would happen if you didn't
alphabetise your records? 
Would your musical world fall apart, would you never listen to some of them again or would you have to find another system to sate your need for control?
What would happen if you didn't
care about a football team? 
What would you spend your time thinking about? Would you finally be happy? Could you ditch the superstition and bear to use any old mug on a Saturday, wear any t-shirt you like? Could you just relax, for once?
What would happen if you didn't
renew the breakdown cover? 
Would you just break down, deflate or run out of steam? Would your car pull over in a brazen act of defiance at your flagrant lack of insurance?
What would happen if you didn't
dance with abandon in the kitchen?
Actually, maybe life wouldn't be worth living.
And what would happen if you didn't
listen at night for your heartbeat?
Chances are you'd still wake up in the morning, right as rain.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this poem. I know what I was trying to get at and the feelings that I was trying to get across. It’s about those foibles that we probably all have and that we probably all imagine we couldn’t live without, as well as the everyday, routine things that the majority of us feel life’s about, like going to work.

The point about the poem and the question for me is that I think I’m at an age where I’m beginning to feel tired of doing the same old things, while still finding that I get an awful lot of comfort from them. ‘What would happen if you didn’t’ is definitely a question that I’m asking of myself more and more though.

My first 10k race of the year – a month to go and I don’t feel good!

In August last year I completed my first race in three years and my first one of any great distance in around a decade. Running is something I’ve done on and off all my life, but from my late thirties through to my mid forties (which, when you type it out is quite a shocking gap) it had definitely been more off than on. Then, following a health scare 4 years ago, I decided to get fit and stay that way.

Hence lining up at the start of a race in West Yorkshire at 8.50 on a cold, drizzly Sunday morning last year. You can read about it on the link below.

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

The race went well and I clocked a personal best for a 10k, thriving on the competition and finishing in just under 52 minutes. I was ridiculously proud of myself and had clearly been bitten by the bug. Time allowing, I would definitely be racing more!

Time and fitness haven’t quite allowed though and so it’s taken me a while to get back to racing. And in fact, I’ll be running the same race again in just over a month (last year’s August date was a rescheduled one because of Covid).

With just over a month to go until the race, I feel like I should be in a lot better shape. My fitness has suffered a little over Winter as I seem to have stumbled from one bug to another. On top of this, I’ve just not felt right at all and have struggled to cover any great distance in training. In fact, since around February I’ve managed to run only one 10k. Not exactly ideal preparation!

A couple of weeks ago I damaged my back while doing my shoelaces. I mean, I’m really showing my age here, aren’t I? I was still able to go out on a run later that week and in fact, managed a 10k in around 54 minutes; a decent enough time. The pain seemed to ease after the first mile or so. But the past couple of months have been a bad time for niggling injuries and nagging illness and it’s really set my training back. Then this week I felt a pain between my shoulder blades as I put on a tie and it’s gradually got worse as the week has gone on. It feels much like the nerve damage that meant I was in pain for the whole of last summer, so I’m hopeful I’ve not done similar this time. In fact, I’ve even started doing the exercises that the physio set for me last year, in order to hopefully see off too much pain.

At the moment, I really don’t feel like I’ll be in anything like the shape I want to be when this 10k race rolls round. This worries me a lot. I’m a relatively competitive person and hate underperforming. I realise that at my age I have no hope of winning or even finishing close to the front of the race. But I’ve set myself a personal target of at least beating last year’s time and I honestly can’t see it happening. I’m at the end of a very long, demanding term. I’m tired and everything aches. Usually, running is the thing that cures this for me, but at the moment, it’s not.

In fact, aside from injury and illness, even my enthusiasm is presenting a problem for me. Last Friday, I’d planned to leave work early and go out for a run, as I do every Friday. I managed the leaving work bit, but halfway home it started to snow heavily. I was safe in the knowledge that it didn’t look to be snowing on the horizon – home – but it still managed to put me off. Subsequently, when I got home it was just a case of reeling off a list of excuses in order to convince myself that I shouldn’t go out. It worked. It didn’t rain or hail for another couple of hours, but I still managed to convince myself I’d made the right decision and it actually made me feel pretty terrible for the rest of the weekend.

I’m hoping that my excuses have given me the rest that I might have needed. I’m planning on going out again tonight, but only for a shorter 5k run. I’m hopeful that this will restore my enthusiasm and my faith in my ability a little bit. I really need to get my mind right and hope that my legs and my back will follow!

For the next couple of weeks I’m off work as it’s the end of term and our Easter holidays. So, the big plan is that I’ll be able to go out running at least a couple of times per week and start to build up a better level of fitness. I’m hopeful that this will help restore my enthusiasm too. It’s a lot better being able to run when I actually want to, rather than just cramming one in after work. I’ll probably make sure that I go out relatively early in the morning as it means I’ll have the rest of the day to get through any jobs that I have to do or even to go out for the rest of the day with the family. Fingers crossed for some good weather!

Another bonus about the Easter holidays is that I’ll potentially have a running buddy – my son. He’s only 12, but has always been a good runner. He too had lost his enthusiasm, but after relentless nagging from me, he’s recently started going out running again. Hopefully, for the week that he’s around – we have overlapping holidays, his last week being my first – we’ll be able to get out together. Although, I love running on my own, it’s always quite nice to have his company and it means we can chat as we cover the miles. It’s just a nice father son thing to do as well.

So the next month promises to be make or break as far as my hopes for my latest 10k race go. Last year I finished 271st out of 812 runners. The winner clocked a time of 32.46, while I ran the distance in 51.51, meaning I was a long way behind them, which given my age and level of fitness is understandable. This year, as well as improving on my personal best, I’m hopeful of moving up through the places as well. Getting into the top 250 runners would be great.

The race takes place on May 15th giving me over a month to get myself sorted out and ready to go. At the moment, I feel about as far away from ‘ready’ as it’s possible to get. It promises to be an interesting and possibly painful month!

Super Sporting Sunday? It was anything but!

Sunday 3rd April should have been a glorious day for me. As a sports fan, it promised much and although it would prove tiring, I was aware of the fact that it could send me back to work on the Monday in a fantastic mood. And here begins a lesson in not building your hopes up!

Last Sunday was a day where sport dominated. Nothing hugely new here, I’m afraid, as sport has probably dominated much of my life. But on Sunday I was due to be ‘on the go’ with sport from early morning until well into the night. It should have been the stuff that (my) dreams are made of. A day away from the pressure of work where everything would come together and provide me with some reasons to be cheerful. Well, the day away from work bit was right anyway…

With a game for my Under 13 football team in the morning, Newcastle United away at Tottenham in the Premier League live on Sky in the afternoon and then a trip to watch Leeds Knights ice hockey team in their final regular season match, it should have been a fabulous day. But sadly, the gods of sport had other ideas.

I should have known. When we booked tickets for the ice hockey, I didn’t bother to look at the football fixtures. Nor did I pay any attention to the date and time of the hockey. You’ve guessed it – fixture clash! Newcastle would kick off in the Premier league at 4.30pm, while Knights would face off at 5.15, meaning that I wouldn’t get to see a single second of the football. Sadly, I only realised this on the Friday before and because we have adopted ice hockey as a family sport, there was no getting out of it. I didn’t want to either though as I’m really enjoying watching hockey this year. But I was gutted at missing out on the Newcastle game.

When we set off on the 13 mile trip up to Horsforth in north Leeds on Sunday morning, I was optimistic. It was very much an optimism that was hanging by a thread, but it was optimism all the same. Having endured a tough season so far, we went into this game bottom of the league, but facing a team that were only a couple of places above us. I also knew that they were struggling for players and form, so initially I’d hoped we could make it a fairly straightforward win. And then I put the message out about our own availability for the game. Out of a squad of 18 players only 11 were available! One of the stories of our season; despite having a good size squad, we’re almost always short on numbers. With only 11 players it meant that we couldn’t make any substitutions. Only 11 players meant that injuries – another key theme of the season – would cause us all manner of problems. Fatigue would also enter the equation now too, as no one would get a rest. To add to the problems, two parents had messaged to say that they were concerned about injuries with their sons!

It turned out to be an awful start to my sporting Sunday. We were beaten 1-0, but we outplayed our opposition for some of the first half and the entirety of the second. Our players were beyond frustrated, one even leaving the field crying at the end, having put in so much effort. We created chance after chance, but just couldn’t put the ball in the net. Had we scored one, we would definitely have gone on to win the game. I made sure to put out a message later that day on our WhatsApp group, thanking parents and players and telling them how proud I was of our team, their boys (and mine). But we still hadn’t taken a point from the game and it played on my mind for the rest of the day.

I should have known that it would be downhill all the way from this point of my sporting Sunday. But hope springs eternal and I was still thinking optimistically about the two fixtures to come. Little did I know that a narrow, perhaps unjust defeat in junior football, would actually turn out to be the highlight of my day.

I was already at the ice hockey arena when Newcastle kicked off their Premier League game against Tottenham. Armed and ready with the live updates of the match on my phone, I still thought we would be able to get something from the game. Sitting waiting for the hockey to start, I was checking my phone every couple of minutes, half expecting a Tottenham goal any second. And then, my phone buzzed. I pulled it from my pocket to check and found, to my amazement, that Newcastle had scored. This sporting Sunday might just be taking a turn for the better!

As the ice hockey began, I was only partly engaged, hoping that Newcastle could get to half time still ahead, surfing a tiny wave of optimism. Checking my phone once more I crashed off my imaginary board and was sucked under by this particular wave; Tottenham had equalised.

At half time in the football I was able to fully focus on the hockey. Leeds were more than holding their own as the puck flew from end to end and chances were created and missed on both sides. Was it possible that I could have some kind of fairytale ending to my day (not that a fairytale ever involved Premier League football and NHL English ice hockey)?

My question was answered with a resounding ‘NO!’ shortly afterwards. Three minutes into the second half of the football, Tottenham scored again. Then it felt like they just kept on scoring. Soon, Newcastle were 4-1 down and what little hope there had been had long since left the building.

Then, just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse Leeds Knights conceded! The game had been fairly scrappy and the Knights had had a couple of players sin binned for silly fouls. Gradually the tide had turned and it was Sheffield exerting all the pressure. Their goal was inevitable, even if I’d taken my eye slightly off the puck in favour of sulking about Newcastle.

The day ended with yet more negativity. Newcastle ended up losing 5-1, our first heavy defeat in a while and one that leaves us looking over a shoulders just a little bit at those behind us further down in the relegation fight. Leeds Knights would concede another and then labour through the rest of the game without ever looking too close to scoring, losing 2-0 in the end.

As we got in the car at the end of the match, I thought about how badly my sporting Sunday had gone. Three defeats in a day is quite something! Eight goals conceded by my various teams and only one scored…and I didn’t even see it! Sometimes sport can be cruel. Here’s to next week though, when I get to put myself through sporting purgatory all over again. Never lose hope, folks!

Spring Goals

As I sit here this morning, looking out of my classroom window across our playing fields, a change is in the air. I noticed it while eating breakfast too. Three quarters of our daffodils are now in bloom and the huge camilia bush that has dominated our back garden for a good 15 years has enormous pink flowers in bloom at regular intervals across its bulk. And of course I couldn’t miss the bright blue sky that greeted me as I drew back the curtains. Definite signs of change.

Whichever way you look at it – the change in weather and light or just by consulting the calendar – Spring is on its way. So, as bloggers often do, I thought I’d take advantage of the weather and pretend to all of us that it’s prompted an upturn in mood and the urge to get even more done in my life! You guessed it, I’m setting some goals! However, unlike my usual way of doing things, I thought I’d make them realistic and attainable this time round.

I have a 10k race coming up in May and am planning to enter a few more across the Spring and Summer, so I thought I’d use the weather to help me step up my training. In terms of being a goal to set, I’ve already started with this one. We’ve seen a definite change in the weather in West Yorkshire over the past couple of weeks and it’s just given my enthusiasm for going running a real boost. It can still be a little cold, but not worrying about the sun setting if I’m on an after school run, makes it a lot easier to motivate myself.

As you can see from the image above our weather is looking good for the next week and this really helps get through the working week. I usually aim for a Friday evening run and as you can see, this coming Friday looks amazing. Whatever that big yellow thing is, it looks promising, I have to say! This gives me something to really look forward to as I drag myself through another week of work. Because, as we all know, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as dragging yourself through a 10km run on an unusually warm afternoon after a week at work! Joking aside though, I know that I will thoroughly enjoy being out running and completing my first 10k in a while. And if the legs will allow, that Sunday afternoon is looking good for a bonus half hour run too! Hopefully, by the time May comes around I’ll be a lot stringer and fitter and ready to take on my first race of the year…if the weather doesn’t make me do something daft like enter an earlier one!

One of the first things I did during the first Covid lockdown was to paint all of the fences round our house. The weather was glorious, but of course fresh air was being rationed unless you had a garden, something which we’re lucky enough to have. And so, armed with the knowledge that I wasn’t allowed to go into work and two cans of fence paint bought previously – probably just after publishing another ‘goals’ blog – I set to work.

At the time it all looked great, but now, having had far less time on my hands since lockdown, it looks tired, worn and in places covered in a thin layer of bright green moss. It’s definitely time to get those brushes out again! Luckily, I have an end of term holiday coming up so I should have time enough to get this one done without even a hint of trouble! Goal two achieved (in my head)!

In another of our periods of lockdown/partial lockdown/that thing where some of us followed the rules and stupid people wondered why they felt so poorly having been out in bars mixing freely, I chanced upon what I thought was a bargain in our local supermarket. Grey shed paint. Now, I’m reading back that last three word sentence and wondering what on earth I was thinking when I bought it, so I can wholly understand your own confusion. Paint, for the shed, that’s grey.

A few factors go against this next goal…in fact let’s just call it a job, because goal makes it sound almost enticing; like a good idea when I now can’t figure out what I was thinking in buying it. The first factor that goes against it is that my shed is going to be a different colour to my fences and I’m not sure I like that idea anymore. In fact, I probably only liked it for a few seconds at the time. Then there’s the time. Do I really want to invest this time, when there are other, more productive things I could be doing that? There’s no doubt that the shed could do with a lick of paint, but it will stay standing without it. Clearly, this goal or job will need a little more thought before I commit my time to it. Either that or I need to find a way to dispose of said paint and hope that my wife doesn’t remember this particular plan. Or read this blog post.

Sticking with all things shed related, another Spring goal has to be the clearing out of my sheds. I have two (but don’t be fooled by the sheds that I got, I’m still Grahamy from the block) and can’t actually set foot in either without having to remove countless tins of paint and varnish, a lawnmower, tools and garden implements. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation.

One of my sheds has a lot of football gear in it. In particular, that’s essentially balls. I seem to have accumulated a lot of footballs over the years. So I think the time has come for a bit of a purge. I’ve noticed that some of our training balls are looking a bit the worse for wear, with splits in their coverings and bits hanging off and there are also some balls that we no longer use as they’re the wrong size for our age group. Given that this type of thing will only take a short amount of time and effort to sort out, it’s a goal that will definitely end in a tick on a list. And those always make me happy!

Another of my short term Spring goals is to write more poems. I’ve recently identified some competitions and some literary magazines that I’d like to submit to and my blog always needs new material, so it’s time for a new batch of poems to be written. Given the weather and the change in the landscape at this time of year, there should be plenty of source material to go at. I’ve also just written the bones of a poem this morning. It’s one that goes back to worries about the pandemic after I noticed that a larger than usual proportion of a couple of my classes was missing when I looked at today’s registers. Coupled with not feeling too well myself, it started me wondering if we’re as safe as we seem to think. I also have plans for a poem that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, so I’ll definitely need to find some time to get that written.

My final goal is to spend a little bit of time at Easter sketching. Firstly, it’s something I haven’t done since last summer and something that I never seem to find the time to do, but I also want to go out with my daughter to do some. She’s a really talented artist, but is starting to feel the pressure of her upcoming GCSEs and so maybe we can go somewhere that’s peaceful and picturesque, even for a couple of hours and help take her mind off everything that’s bothering her presently.

I also bought some pastels during lockdown and then proceeded to not even get them out of the packet, which is a very me thing to do, so if for no other reason, I need to get out and doing some art just to try and use those pastels!

For once, I feel that I’m setting myself targets or goals that are fairly achievable. They’re definitely more sensible than my usual type of thing. I’ll keep you informed on how it all goes. I mean, who could resist some pictures of my brown fence, my grey sheds and my sketches of what might be trees, but could equally be just tall people in fluffy green cardigans?

Newcastle United Stadium Tour

Having spent the morning and early afternoon of my first birthday treat touring a brewery before taking on a sampling session of wonderful beers, it was going to take a lot for me to budge from my stool on this particular Friday afternoon. To say that I was settled was the proverbial understatement and on any other day, I would have been more than happy to order another drink and carry on chatting about whatever subject cropped up next. But, a long held love was calling, not just for me, but for my drinking partner too. Newcastle United was once again whispering sweet nothings in our ears.

We’d been sitting in the Brinkburn Street Brewery and Kitchen for a few hours, so heading across Newcastle having drunk a sample of six amazing beers, it’s safe to say the legs were slightly unsteady. Not only that though, having not visited this side of the city for many, many years I felt like an alien. The city has transformed over the 20-something years that I’ve been away and this means that sadly, there’s not a lot left that I recognise. And I haven’t visited regularly enough to keep up with the changes in the skyline.

Where we were heading though, was probably even stranger to me. St. James’ Park, home of our beloved Newcastle United had been somewhere I’d spent a large chunk of my childhood and early adult years, watching any and every game played. However, reacting mainly to our previous owner and the early signs of his mismanagement but also the prospect of becoming a father of two, I stopped going to games. I gave up my season ticket early, feeling like I was falling out of love with the club and the game. Today would be the first time that I’d set foot in the stadium in nearly 13 and a half years. 4913 days, to be precise.

As part of my 50th birthday celebrations my wife had booked a stadium tour for my self and my mate David. I hope I don’t get it wrong when I say that we were both a little giddy as we arrived at the reception desk to check in. I think the beer helped a bit as well, if I’m being completely honest!

Once checked in, we put on our tour lanyards and were given an initial introduction to the tour by our guide Carol, who then ushered us in to the lifts that would take us up towards our first stop on the tour; the executive boxes.

I’ve never particularly fancied watching a game from a corporate box and although it was amazing to be inside the two that we looked at – in through Jonjo Shelvey’s and out again through Callum Wilson’s (steady at the back there fans of double entendre) – this didn’t do a great deal for me as a fan. That said, if anyone at the club or even Jonjo, Callum or any other box owning players wanted to invite me to a match to try and change my mind, I’m sure I could forget my working class roots and decades on the terraces in order to give it a go!

Our tour guide, Carol, was a mine of information at this point, letting us know everything we could wish to know about the corporate hospitality at The Toon, including the detail that would really put me off; the price! That said, if you have the money it looks like a pretty decent experience to have once a fortnight!

After the boxes it was Level 7, the highest point of the ground. You can take the rooftop tour at St. James’ as well and this was something I’d considered, despite not being that comfortable with heights. However, the reminder of how high Level 7 is made me thankful that I’d not taken that particular plunge. This was also the level where I had last had my season ticket and so walking out onto the concourse and then out towards the seats felt ever-so-slightly emotional. As far as I could remember, we even came out quite close to where I had sat in those days. However, I wasn’t going to let those kind of memories get in the way of the childlike giddiness I felt at being back in the ground, especially with everything that’s happened since October.

We took in the view, learning about the fact that on a clear day you can see the Stadium of Light – so if you’re ever sitting there, look the other way, claw your own eyes out or pray for cloud – as well as many other much more pleasant sights. We were told about the broadcasting facilities, matchday control and lots of other small details that as a fan, you probably don’t ever realise about.

After this we headed down to the dressing room area, starting by taking in the away dressing room which was a rather spartan affair as you’d probably expect. However, the best was yet to come. You’d imagine that sitting in the same dressing room as your heroes – and alongside their shirts – would be the kind of thing that would be most enjoyable to the several under 10s on the tour. Think again! This 50 year old was very excited indeed at being there and sitting next to those shirts! Ridiculous really, but what a thrill!

I had the same experience on the tour of the Allianz Arena a few years back and still found myself grinning from ear to ear at sitting next to shirts with the names of Davies, Lewandowski, Coman, Ribery, Muller and Neuer. No idea why, really, but it was umpteen times as exciting to be doing it at St. James’ Park. Isn’t it strange how ridiculously we behave when faced by almost anything to do with our beloved game? I struggled to get the grin off my face from that point onward though.

Once we left the dressing room, we assembled in the tunnel area and after a few minutes more information from Carol, it was time to make like a player and head for the pitch. Newcastle try to make that matchday experience side of the tour as authentic as possible by blasting out ‘Local Hero’ as you walk down the tunnel and even as a middle aged man, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Is that sad? I genuinely don’t care! I’ve followed this club for over 40 years, dreaming of playing for them as I grew up; of course walking down that tunnel is going to be exciting.

Seeing the whole place from pitchside was amazing and it makes you fully take in what a magnificent stadium we have. I somehow resisted the urge to skip over the rope and run onto the pitch, filling my time by taking photos and having a little sit down in Eddie’s chair in the dug out, again all done with a huge grin on my face. And then, it was time to go.

Newcastle United had made me feel like a kid again. Touring the stadium, somewhere I felt I knew so much about, was a brilliant way to spend the afternoon and I found out a lot of things that I didn’t actually know. Our tour guide Carol was excellent; the perfect balance of fun and knowledge – she knew her stuff and clearly loved her job making the whole thing even more of a pleasure.

If you’re a Newcastle fan, this is a must. If you’re a football fan (you know, of one of those other clubs) you’ll enjoy a look round St. James Park too. Either way, it made for an fantastic birthday treat and I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a go!

A tour round a brewery, lovely free beer and cracking company. What’s not to like?

There have been a fair few downsides to turning 50. Not least the idea of being 50. Seeing the number 50 on so many birthday cards was also pretty unpleasant. And people’s enthusiasm for pointing my age out has been not only kind of weird, but really annoying too. But, there’s nothing I can do about it, apart from adopt a showbiz age and I’m afraid I’m far too male and northern to start doing things like that.

With downsides often come upsides though. There’s been a veritable outpouring of love and affection from family and friends and even as someone who doesn’t like a fuss, it’s been wonderful to be on the receiving end of.

My wonderful wife has ensured that the celebration of turning 50 can be stretched out by buying me gifts that keep on giving. In short, as well as lots of other presents, she got me tickets for lots of gigs, plays and experiences, meaning that for once I have an extraordinary social life and will be kept busy for most of the year!

The first of my experiences came on Saturday gone as my wife had booked me and a friend on a tour of the Brinkburn Street Brewery in Byker, Newcastle. To say that I was excited would be an enormous understatement. So, let me tell you all about it.

My day started off at 10.15am on the Quayside in Newcastle, meeting my friend David. We were booked on the tour at 11am and thought, as we didn’t exactly know where the brewery was, we’d give ourselves plenty of time to get there and find it! Predictably though, we found it really easily, leaving ourselves 20 minutes to sit by the river in the winter sunshine; a brilliant start to any winter day.

Having walked straight into the wrong room at Brinkburn Street, we were shown downstairs to the bar and kitchen, where our tour would begin and end. Owner Lee was quick to head over for a chat and put us at our ease with a warm welcome to his brewery, involving telling us the first of many stories that he’d keep us busy with for our time at Brinkburn Street! A fantastic host! We were also joined by two other fellow Geordies who would be taking the tour and thankfully, we got along famously as like us, they were Newcastle fans.

Soon, we headed through to the brewery where one of the brewers talked us through the process of how our pint goes from being just oats and water to a wonderful glass of the stuff we love. He also made me feel incredibly old given that he looked to have discovered the elixir of youth someone between the hops and the water! Imagine my envy at one so young – just finished a Master degree, so mid-twenties at the most – being lucky enough to have this job!

As someone who really hadn’t the first idea of how to brew beer, I was fascinated by the process and the dedication that goes into making something I love so much. Every angle was covered and all questions were answered in real detail. And boy, when you’re nursing a thirst and waiting to go through to the bar and sample some beers, even a couple of questions can feel like a hell of lot!

We were treated like kings in the bar. This wasn’t just a list of beers that you had to try; we were given a choice of something like 12 beers and encouraged to vary our choices all afternoon. Our tour and tasting session was due to end at 1pm, but we were still being asked what we’d like at 2pm! It’s safe to say that we had a fantastic time!

The bar itself is a really eclectically decorated place. There are prints and posters everywhere you look that nod to all manner of music and film as well as plenty of local heroes, many of the black and white (footballing) variety, so there’s loads for you to see. I think – I forgot to enquire – that there are local prints available to but as well. You can also buy Brinkburn T-shirts too. Even the glasses were stylish and I kept meaning to ask if I could buy some, but ultimately the beer and the chat meant that this was another thing I forgot. Definitely next time though!

The furniture and decor veers between modern and bohemian and it really is a fantastic setting for an afternoon or evening relaxing with friends or family. If other exciting plans hadn’t have been on the horizon, I think we’d have stayed there a lot longer.

Brinkburn Street is a creative and imaginative brewery that seems very much forward thinking in its approach. Lee and his team are clearly passionate about what they do and it showed in the beers that we tasted. Depending on the beer we chose, we’d get either a third or a half pint, which obviously encourages you to take your time and consider your choices. My choices were as follows,

  1. Cushty, Cushy – an IPA session beer
  2. Byker Brown – a hoppy brown ale
  3. Wrong Side of The Pennines – an American IPA
  4. Ford Street – an American IPA
  5. Afternoon Tea – a spiced, herbed beer infused with Earl Grey tea
  6. Helter Skelter – a double hopped IPA

I remarked a few times on the fact that I hadn’t had a bad beer all day. This was the drink talking in every sense of the phrase. Firstly because every sample was delicious and different, but also because having had a decent amount to drink I was at that stage where you just keep repeating yourself for something to say! But it was wholly true too. And the other three members of our touring party said much the same. We all remarked on the fact that a lot of breweries brew beer that as ultimately pretty much the same thing, so that once you get beyond the interesting label and the alcohol strength, it’s just bland. But not Brinkburn Street. We found that each beer had something decidedly different about it, be it in the taste or the finish and as a result, it made for a cracking couple of hours of just sitting round, sampling wonderfully drinkable beers and putting the world to rights! Strikes me that’s what middle age was made for!

I’m not usually a brown ale drinker, simply because it’s not very tasty (and I know that might seem sacrilegious coming from someone from the home of Newcastle Brown Ale), but when one of our party recommended the Byker Brown, we all had one and it was an absolute revelation! I also loved the Helter Skelter, which at 9.2% was a bit of a scary prospect and although the strength was evident, it certainly didn’t take away from the fact that it was just really tasty! My favourite was the Wrong Side of The Pennines, which was just a tasty and very drinkable American IPA.

Just as good as the beer was the atmosphere. We were made to feel really welcome, with owner Lee occasionally popping over for a chat and serving us our beer too. The brewer that had initially shown us round – please forgive me for forgetting his name – also popped back on several occasions to tell us about what we were drinking and just check on how we were doing, making it a genuinely positive experience.

Brinkburn Street also do food, but as we were on a tight schedule we were unable to partake, but the choice looked great and some of the aromas were just lovely!

At the end of our time at Brinkburn, we stepped out – a little unsteadily, it has to be said – into the sunny afternoon air having both enjoyed ourselves immensely. As the headline suggests, a tour of the place, great beer and great company – you couldn’t fail to have the time of your life! I would highly recommend a visit to Brinkburn Street if you’re in Newcastle or if you’re planning a visit. Take a short walk along the Tyne towards the Ouseburn where a warm welcome and a cracking selection of beers awaits!

Huge thanks to Lee and his team, who as I’ve mentioned, were perfect hosts. We’ll definitely be back! Apologies, dear readers, for the lack of photos. I meant to take loads, but somehow got sidetracked by the fabulous beer…

Review: Leeds Knights vs Raiders IHC

I first got the ice hockey bug on a holiday to Canada. We were in Toronto visiting friends and the local team, Toronto Maple Leafs were heading for the NHL play-offs. We watched a game at our friend’s house and I fell in love immediately with the pace, the action and the atmosphere (of the game, not my friend’s house).

On the same trip, we travelled across Canada to Vancouver and one night, as we were heading back to our hotel, there were thousands of people on the streets and cars everywhere honking horns with people hanging out of windows. It felt like the kind of scene you’d only witness in a film and it took a while to work out what was happening. However, the Vancouver Canucks had just qualified for their first play-offs in a long time and Vancouver was very much in celebratory mood! So, ice hockey had just added another attraction in terms of the fans.

From that moment on it was something that I always intended to make more of an interest, but due to any number of reasons, didn’t really manage to fulfill. Despite being a major city, Leeds didn’t have an ice hockey team and having to follow the progress of the Leafs from afar, I didn’t want to do it again for an English team, so my ice hockey watching plans went on the back burner.

And then, in 2019 as a new ice rink was built in Leeds it was announced that we would have an ice hockey team; the Leeds Chiefs. However, Covid put pay to my hopes of attending games and while I might have fairly regularly driven past the rink, I never visited. In the meantime there was a change of ownership and the team were re-branded as Leeds Knights.

On Saturday evening, thanks to my wife buying me tickets as a birthday present, we attended our first ever ice hockey match; Leeds Knights versus Raiders IHC a team based in Romford in Essex. The whole family went along.

I think I’m probably too old to get overly excited by anything at all nowadays, but I was definitely looking forward to going to Planet Ice. Ice hockey is very much an all-action sport and so I knew we’d be sure to be entertained. Other than that, I didn’t really know what to expect, which I suppose is a good thing!

Having parked up, we made our way to the ice rink, which was only a few minute’s walk away. This being a fledgling sport in Leeds, there wasn’t an enormous queue like you might find at the neighbouring Elland Road stadium on a matchday, and so we were ushered in and pointed in the right direction for our seats within a couple of minutes. After a quick glance at the merchandise stall we made our way up the stairs and into the stand above the rink. I’ll buy a scarf or a puck next time though!

The players were already warming up as we sat down and again, this was very different to what I was used to at football. Only the goalkeeper (the net minder?) seemed to do any stretching at all and the rest of the squad just seemed to skate around at high speed or whack pucks towards the net! A much more dynamic way to get warm and it was something I watched in complete awe. I’ve always been fascinated by people who can skate or ski as they just seem to make it look so effortless and incredibly graceful. I’ve never skated before – I mean, if you can avoid car crash, you’ll just avoid it, right? – but have skied and I never felt like I had any control whatsoever. I make young Bambi look poised.

A word of warning if you’re planning on going to watch ice hockey and something we discovered within minutes of our arrival. Watching ice hockey is not a warm experience! Luckily we were aware of this and attended with several layers of clothing in place, but it was still oddly cold. Not oddly as in, where’s all that cold coming from, but as in it was only really certain parts of me that got cold. I mean, I suppose my toes would be obvious, but my knees? My knees were almost frozen – maybe some hastily improvised knee pads will be an option next time! I’d brought gloves, but my hands never got anywhere near cold enough to wear them, so it was rather strange indeed.

As the face-off/puck drop got closer the mood in the arena built. A countdown clock will automatically raise tension anyway, but when the lights dropped and the opposition emerged from their dressing room to line up, things were beginning to get exciting. I’d expected entrance music and a burst of Leeds Knights racing onto the ice, but instead the announcer gave each individual a build up and they came out alone. After this was done, another surprise, as the teams and fans stood for a burst of the national anthem, which I really wasn’t expecting. And then, the puck was dropped and away we went!

I won’t attempt a match report, given the sheer amount of action and my somewhat ‘relaxed’ grasp of the rules, but suffice to say the game was a real experience. The action itself was almost non stop and even when there were stoppages for various penalties the PA would play a burst of music, meaning the whole crowd were kept positive. Actually, not the whole crowd. We counted 16 Raiders supporters and broadly speaking, this wasn’t a positive night for them. Leeds Knights dominated the game and ran out convincing 7-3 winners, with well over 30 shots at goal. And if 30 odd shots isn’t a great advert for hockey, then I don’t really know what you want our of a sport!

Each period of play is 20 minutes long, followed by a 20 minute break. I didn’t understand the need for such a break until watching the sheer speed of the game. The six players from each side on the ice are frequently rotated and it’s only when you watch the intensity of what they do that you realise why. There’s literally no chance for a breather in ice hockey. I have to say that it all combines to make the game utterly gripping.

We went with our two kids, aged 15 and 12, and both really enjoyed themselves. From the drum-led chanting of Leeds Knights fans, through the adrenaline of the game itself to the frequent bursts of music during breaks, my two – usually found attached to some kind of mobile device – were totally involved. The atmosphere was really family friendly too and smiles were very much the order of the day. There was none of the anger, edge and foul language that I associate with football, where I feel like I’m having to protect my kids rather than just relax and enjoy the game.

I’d thoroughly recommend a trip to the ice hockey, if you have a local team. It’s still very much a niche sport in the UK, but I reckon if you go along you’ll be hooked pretty quickly. We’ll definitely be back to watch the Leeds Knights before the end of the season, hopefully more than once. The four of us thoroughly enjoyed what we encountered and felt absolutely welcome alongside punters who were obviously far more regular watchers than ourselves.

Let’s go Leeds Knights, let’s go!

Winter Running – 5 Tips to make those chilly miles that little bit better.

It’s that time of year again. The weather is invariably freezing cold, the days aren’t as long and the nights are closing in, so that it’s getting dark by around 4pm. Add in the potential for rain, snow and high winds and this can be a challenging time in anyone’s calendar.

It’s also the time of year where all sorts of people make all sorts of vows about being better people in the future. Those resolutions, however, are never particularly binding and as we all probably know only too well, they’ll fall by the wayside with the least bit of encouragement.

Exercise at this time of year can be difficult. But unfortunately it’s also one of the things that people see as a good way of changing their lives. An easy win that, in Winter, can turn out not so easy after all. So, for runners and would be runners alike, I’ve written up what I think are some handy some tips for running at this time of year.

  1. Run early. Although Winter mornings can be ridiculously cold and utterly miserable, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast. Every once in a while you’ll get an amazingly beautiful day; still, bright blue skies and a tolerable, bracing chill in the air. If you find one, set the alarm, roll out of bed, warm up and then get out and run. I think this type of morning is my favourite for running, especially in Winter. I’ll put on a base layer – maybe some running tights as well, if I think they’re needed – and after some warming up, sneak out of the house while everyone else sleeps and just run. It’ll be dark to start off with and as a result it can be quite an unnerving experience; the sight of anyone at all will put you on edge when it’s so dark. But the peace and quiet is just fantastic. Well worth the early start. It allows me just to focus on breathing, pace and whatever might be on my mind at the time. You’ll see the occasional dog walker or shift worker, but other than that, the world is your own. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll catch the sun rising. I can’t recommend an early morning Winter run enough!
  2. Hi Viz. If you’re running in Winter, chances are that it’ll be dark at some point. Even the middle of the afternoon can get dark at this time of year. So, be sensible. A high viz top or windproof jacket is well worth investing in. A neon yellow works well, particularly in late afternoon and if you can find something with reflective patches or stripes, then all the better to be seen in! Failing that, you can buy anything from trainers to socks that are reflective enough to make sure you’re seen at night. Not everybody can pull off the neon look. In actual fact, I’m not entirely sure anyone can, but safety must took presidence over fashion at this time of year! So even if you might be going out on a run looking like a road worker or a throwback to mid 90s rave culture, at least you improve your chances of getting round your route safely this way.
  3. Join a running club or get a running buddy. Now I’m afraid this is a classic case of the person giving the advice but flagrantly ignoring it at the same time. That doesn’t make it bad advice though. Personally, I prefer to run alone. In company I know I’d either feel guilty for being too slow or grumpy for the company being too slow. But, amongst other things, running is supposed to be fun. And in Winter, it’s just safer to run as part of a group. Another added plus here is that company can be encouraging and even give you a bit of a boost. I’m a far better runner in a race situation, where there are lots of other people to focus on and aim for, so to speak. But I can guarantee that in a race, if I’m flagging, someone will offer encouragement and support. Running clubs or groups are easy to find these days, as they’re only a Google search away and they’re ideal for beginners. I know that there are a few groups around my area where it’s all very informal, friendly and the emphasis is on gaining fitness with a bit of fun and friendship. So, if you made that resolution, joining a club with like minded and friendly people might well be the decision that helps to stick to your vow!
  4. Make sure to warm up and warm down properly. Whether it’s Winter or not, this is a good tip to follow. However, if you’re planning on going out running in freezing temperatures, then making sure that those muscles are fully stretched and warmed up is essential. The temperature alone should be the only shock that you get; you don’t want to have gone 100 metres and find that your body just doesn’t feel right. It’s Winter; you’ve got every excuse you need for turning round and heading back to that warm bed or front room with the fire on! At least if you’re fully warmed up, you’ll have a fighting chance of getting into a rhythm nice and quickly and after that, it’s all about just running! Warming up will help prevent those little niggling injuries that could mean you’re back on the sofa before you know it. Similarly, by warming down once you’ve finished, you’ll feel much, much better. I sometimes finish my run within a half mile of my house and then get home with a combination of light jogging and walking, just to make sure nothing seizes up. I always stretch again once I get back to the house and make sure that I take on plenty of water to rehydrate. It’s no fun when all you want to do is flop down on the bed, but it’s a lot better to have warmed down for ten minutes or so.
  5. Never underestimate the importance of rest. Winter running can be difficult. Motivating yourself to actually go out is tough when you already know how cold and miserable it is out there! So don’t put yourself under too much pressure. If you’ve scheduled a run, but you know your body’s just not right, then don’t go. Rest up instead. There’s always another day. And the same applies for days when it might just seem too cold or too windy. If you don’t feel like it, but know you’ll go another day; do that! Or the other alternative is to go out and maybe run a shorter distance than you’d had planned. I’ve done that a few times recently and spared myself a little bit, but have also been able to say I’d been out and kept my fitness up!

So there you have it. Hopefully a few handy tips that might just help you out a bit when running this Winter. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know if they’re of any use in the comments!

Poetry Blog: Resolutions

I wrote this poem shortly after writing my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 20022. The poem is definitely more serious than the blog that blossomed from my list of resolutions. But only just. More realistic though, too.

Resolutions

Big Ben's chimes are still ringing in the ears as we attempt the first, a vague but heartfelt vow to be a better person,
where neither the wit nor will is available to achieve success.
Throw in some tired, old  standards; exercise more, drink less, and a project like finally writing that book for good measure, you know the drill.
Then we head outdoors - a new sport or interest, more days out with the family, all underwritten with an escape clause allowing excuses involving adverse weather, where adverse is defined by you and you only.
Later, intellectualise oneself by by loudly proclaiming that you'll learn a language, a musical instrument or even a martial art in order to sound windswept and interesting.
Then, spout keywords and phrases in an attempt to appear somehow superhuman and worthy.
Improve my core - whatever that means,
something, something charity, listen more, appreciate something, anything, while not knowing even the postcode of where to start.
Read more will become nap more by early February,
track down and meet up with old friends will become impossible when a single Google search does not instantly reveal their whereabouts
and when a name appears that actually could be them you will remember your allergy to upheaval and the well worn fact that you are nothing more than comfortable with continually feeling miserable.
By mid-January, the wayside will have claimed at least 8 out of 10 of these resolution cats and routine will revert to being the friend that you never lost in the first place.
You'll tell yourself at least you tried, then resolve to not to do i all again next year, before buckling under the pressure as December meets January once more.

Like everyone else, I’ve set out with good intentions for at least a few of my 29 New Year’s resolutions. In fact, as it turns out I’m actually making progress with some of them. I’m making healthier eating choices and have completed my first 10k run of the year too. However, I haven’t got myself into any serious exercise as yet in line with my aim of getting my lockdown abs back! I have started researching more healthy eating though by watching some YouTube videos on Instant Pot recipes today! This has really surprised me!

I’ve started being a better brother too, sending my sister’s birthday card off 4 days before her birthday when usually I’m closer to doing this 4 hours before it! Furthermore, where 11 days into 2022 and I haven’t bought a single packet of crisps. I’ve also just about eaten the final packet left in the house.

But I know I won’t keep this up. And that’s pretty much the crux of the poem. It’s not a new start. In fact, it’s really just a new day. These ambitions will inevitably fall by the wayside. I’d imagine that most of us will be exactly the same. But, I suppose in having 29 resolutions I have a bit of a chance of keeping a few of them up.

I think that although the poem has a bit of a pessimistic – maybe realistic – feel to it, the ending gives it a bit of a softer underbelly. When I think about it, as futile as they sometimes might be, there’s nothing actually wrong in making these resolutions. And if you can improve just one tiny fraction of your life in making them, well why not?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the poem…I’m off enquire about a weekend of dry stone walling and learning Inuit…

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