Poetry Blog: ‘Summer Rain’

Given the weather conditions as I write, I’m not entirely sure what led me to write a poem about rain in the summer. We’re in the middle of a bit of a heatwave here in the UK, so maybe it was wishful thinking.

It’s felt like a while since I’ve written anything poetic, so it was a relief when a few lines popped into my head one evening after work recently. I scribbled them down on to a scrap bit of paper and did my level best not to lose it over the next week or so. Mainly this involved stuffing said paper into either my work bag or my laptop case and hoping that it wouldn’t escape when I was taking something else out.

Having only written – and saved – an initial 6 lines, I was pleased when I was able to complete it all with a few revisions one night last week. As is quite usual for me, this came over the course of a couple of nights where I couldn’t get to sleep.

Summer Rain

The sudden splodge and spite of furtive rain
sees the summer masterpiece give way,
pushed aside it would seem, by the fingers of a toddler daubing
the contents of their imagination across a canvas
and transforming this little piece of paradise 
into something unrecognisable from what we looked out on seconds before.
Bright colours are dulled as clouds close curtains on the blue sky,
pavements and patios darkened by the rain, 
as leaves on trees and shrubs shudder with each almighty drop.
Suburban streets are temporarily transformed into Venetian canals
as the shower bounces off the parched earth and you find yourself
rapt by the shift that you've witnessed a thousand times before.
"It's like a river!" you hear yourself say, before you can help it
and when it stops, like someone gradually teasing off the tap,
the sun will return, almost before you had realised it was gone,
steam will rise from the tarmac,
and for a brief few moments the grass and the plants
will glisten until the heat takes away the very last of the summer rain

There’s always a sense of relief, I find, when the heat of the summer is broken by rain. We do get heat in Summer in the UK, by the way and right now, in the middle of the hottest spell of weather we’ve encountered for a long time, we could really do with a burst of rain.

At any other time, I’m not a fan of rain. In the Autumn and the Winter I really don’t like it at all as I know that not only is is going to soak me to the skin, but it’s going to make me feel even colder too. However, in the midst of a heatwave, it can be a godsend.

I wrote about it, as I said, because some of the lines for the poem simply popped into my head, but also because of the spectacle of that kind of unexpected rain that we regularly seem to get in the UK on what should just be a sunny day. It often seems to come without any real hint that it would be there and then all of a sudden there are black clouds splurging water all over the place and changing the look of the landscape. The lines about rain flooding the roads are there purely for my benefit and they make me smile. I seem to gravitate towards our front window when this type of rain happens, often grabbing the kids when they were younger so they too could view the spectacle. I don’t know why it fascinates me so much…I mean, things getting wet because it’s raining is about right, isn’t it?

I hope you enjoyed reading and that maybe the poem evoked some memories or feelings for you. It can’t just be me that still gets excited by a summer rain storm!

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!

Forget the season to be jolly. There’s loads and loads to dislike about Winter.

A confession before we start this one: I actually quite like Winter. Fresh, clear mornings, the sight of snow blanketing the landscape, the relief at walking into a warm house. So, you might think maybe I’m being a bit contrary in writing about the things I hate about it. Well, let me explain what it is that irks me so much about Winter and gives us that love/hate relatiomnship.

Having to scrape frost or ice off the car in the mornings is something I really can’t stand. I should expect it really, but every time I open the front door and discover that icy covering on the windows of the car, I’m surprised. My heart sinks. It’s hard enough getting out of the house on those freezing cold, dark Winter mornings, but then to be greeted by frost or ice is just a step too far.

As soon as I see it I know that I’m going to be delayed. I can’t just get in the car and put up with the freezing temperature for the next few minutes before the usual drive to work. Oh no. Instead, it’s a race to start the engine, grab the ice scraper and then get to work at clearing my windows. Throw in the likelyhood of an icy driveway that may just see me ending up on my backside and we’ve got a pretty terrible start to the day. And then on my return to the car I’ll have to drive with a painful, icy numbness in my thumb for the next ten minutes. Not good.

Ice on the pavements and roads. That feeling of sliding uncontrollably in the car is just awful. It’s not too bad if there’s nothing around, but on one occasion, when I worked at a particularly rural school I managed to drive up a particularly narrow and steep road for a few hundred metres before getting stuck in the snow and ice. With no way forward this meant that I had to slowly reverse back down through the ice to get home a different way. Inevitably the car slid and we collided with a wall on the way down. On another occasion I fairly burst out of my front door laden with a few bags and ready to head to work only to find, as soon as I placed one foot on the front step, that the whole place was glazed with ice. I literally somersaulted onto the path, quite spectacularly. Arse over tit, we call it and bruised for days after. Bizarrely, my neighbour from two doors up emerged from her house at exactly the same and achieved exactly the same results. I think we’re both a lot more cautious in the Winter these days.

Putting the lights in the tree in the garden is possible the most dangerous thing that I’ll attempt all year. This isn’t because it’s a big tree or that the set of lights is particularly cumbersome. It’s because of the fact that we don’t have a proper ladder and that our front garden runs down to the tree on a bit of an uneven slope. Every time we put the lights up, I can sense curtains twitching, neighbours queueing up for what must be a combination of the most death-defying show they’ll see all year and the kind of act that a medieval jester would have put together in that it’s not funny, just kind of awkward.

Each year I dread the feeling of the step ladder legs sinking into the moist grass, wobbling as I get higher up the rungs and then veering dangerously sideways as I reach anywhere near the top. Many’s the time I’ve had to jump off before I fell off. In my head I’m something akin to Alex Honnold in the film Free Solo as he scales El Capitan. For anyone watching I’m probably a lot more like Stan Laurel or terrible circus clown; a lovable simpleton putting his body on the line in the name of looking slightly more masculine than usual. And that’s still just about as masculine as one of Steps.

The Winter wardrobe; particularly how I can’t manage a scarf. Some people are just stylish and the carrying off of a big coat or a thick jumper just seems to come naturally; they literally put on some of their Winter wardrobe and look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of Italian Vogue. They can trudge through the foot deep snow looking cool. They seem to almost levitate above the slush (that’s the dirty melting wet snow if slush is unfamiliar to you), their trousers immune to the water or the dirt, their cashmere overcoat unruffled by the wind. And then there’s me, either sliding about in trainers because I hate walking boots and wellies, or looking not unlike the Stay Puft man from Ghostbusters because of the sheer amount of layers I’m employing to fend off the cold. A few years ago I bought a new, expensive Winter coat and then almost immediately ripped the lining by one of the armholes, meaning that I couldn’t even put it on stylishly, preferring instead to choose the wrong hole almost every time and end up with one arm just stuck in the coat somewhere.

I’m a disaster when it comes to scarves though. Although it never puts me off buying them. Even this morning I made the latest in a long linesof attempts to wear a particular scarf that I must have bought in a sale a couple of years ago. It’s a bit of a Moddish affair and the kind of thing I’d expect Paul Weller or one of The Kinks to look fabulous in. Not me though. I still can’t decide how to wear it as it just seems about a foot too long. Thus, in my head I’m going to look great in it, but in reality I’ll stand in front of the mirror for 5 minutes trying different ways of wearing it before folding it roughly and returning it to the draw. I’ll wear a football scarf instead and just ruin whatever look it was that I was going for!

The weather can’t make up its mind. Time was, when I was much younger and lived in much more northern climes, that Winter meant snow. Nowadays, this is no longer the case. The sky tells lies. Take today, for instance. The weather forecast promised snow. Promised it! Sure enough the clouds arrived bang on time. It was freezing cold too. And then the rain started, accompanied by gale force winds and we were in the grip of another of our recent weather additions: one of those storms that the Met Office insist on giving stupid names to. And that’s the way of Winter these days; less of the kind of wonderful snowy landscapes that would block the doors when I was younger and more filthy dirty rain and horrible winds, designed to soak you to the skin and make it impossible to walk around the place! All of them given daft names – the last one was called Arwen and the one throwing us around like rag dolls today has the moniker Barras. I mean, who calls their new born baby Barra? Apart from anything else, you’re missing a trick in not adding a bit and christening it Badass, surely?

Linked to the weather is my sympathy for our PE staff at this time of year. Now I get that it’s all swings and roundabouts with PE teaching in terms of weather. I can’t help but feel envious when it’s a scorching hot summer’s day and they’re out on the fields. But in this weather, even a cold hearted old cynic like myself can’t fail but to feel a bit sorry for them. That is, sorry for them with a smug grin on my face as I sit in a lovely, modern heated classroom. Most mornings though, as I’m getting into my classroom, setting up for the first lesson of the day, PE staff are trudging out to the fields, loaded down with bags of footballs, poles and other kit like sporty beasts of burden. Then they’ll wander around said field, marking out areas with poles and cones before trudging back in soaked to the bone. And this is before they’ve actually taught a lesson. Do they ever get dry on these days? Is the only place where they’re not either frozen or soaked, their home? Is work just like one Arctic expedition after another for these poor souls? I love sport, but having to go through that on a daily basis just isn’t worth it.

This is the route to the fields for PE lessons. Runs right past my classroom window!

Sadly though, the weather isn’t something that I can avoid that much during Winter. As a volunteer football coach, I get to sample the sensation of being both frozen and soaked for what feel like endless hours, pretty much every Sunday in Winter (and Autumn…and Spring…and some of Summer; I mean we do live in England).

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, right? A time for relaxing and preparing oneself for the demands of the coming week. And yet, for most of the year I’m up not long after 7am in order to start preparing for a game. Having spent some of Saturday afternoon loading the car with the equipment we’ll need, I’ll rush my breakfast on the Sunday in order to be at our pitch – which is generally a mud bath at this time of year – setting up for around 8.40. Often, in Winter it’s either freezing cold, pouring with rain or your caught in the midst of some ridiculously high winds. Often, it’s all three at once. This will mean that by about 8.50 I’m either soaked through or have pretty much lost all feeling in my hands and toes, making jobs like putting nets onto goal frames incredibly difficult. Sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I might not be able to find any nets or corner flags – on one occasion I forgot the matchball – or there might not be enough spare kit to go around for the lads who’ve only just joined the club meaning I get to run around the place searching stuff out, which is all made infinitely better by driving rain, sleet or ankle deep mud that our winters inevitably bring.

After that I get to stand on the touchline coaching my way through the game, quite possibly losing my voice in the process, while attempting to stay warm now that I’ve thrown in the towel in the battle against the rain! (See below for some images of our pitch on a recent rainy, winter weekend)

Even when I get home, it’s not over. While the rest of the family can get inside and start getting warm, I’ll still have to unpack the car and load all of the gear back into the sheds, all while saying a silent prayer that it will have dried out in time for training a few days later. Then, I’ll have to sit on our wet step and take off my muddy boots, as well as my soaking wet socks and probably a couple of wet upper layers before I can even go in the house! Yep, you’ve got to love Winter!

So there you have it. While Winter is the season of sledging, building snowmen (snowpeople?), Christmas and hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, there’s also loads to dislike about it. Roll on Summer where I can be far too hot one minute ad then fed up of the rain the next!

Oh, and by the way, remember to tune in next week, when in the name of blogging and content, I’ll be writing about the many things I love about this very season!

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