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.

Poetry Blog: Tunnel Vision

This is a poem that I drafted very roughly a couple of days ago. I’d just had some bad news and on top of feeling exhausted with work, sore with a running injury, sick and tired of living with Covid restrictions and worried about various other matters in everyday life, I think I’d just had enough. So, rather than simply explode and kick things about the place I scribbled some thoughts down.

I don’t normally suffer with my moods. I tend to manage to live life on the same level most of the time. I’m rarely too bothered by anything and have always told myself that things will work out, whatever happens to be going on. It’s definitely an advantage of being such a simpleton! However, over the last few weeks lots of things seem to have been bothering me and it sees to have all piled up and caused a bit of a bad mood logjam. Not the end of the world and at least it’s meant that I can be creative.

Here’s the poem.

Tunnel Vision

Feral dogs gather, sensing blood, teeth bared
snarling, putting a tentative foot forward,
circling without grace, eyeing you constantly
until they finally snap and leave their mark.

Every ache and pain nags and presents a new question,
crowds the mind, leaving a feeling of fog
until you feel like lashing out with a primal scream
from somewhere deep inside that you've never found before.

Questions, although answered time and again
remain, echoing back and forth, disrupting sleep
to pick away at the scab that they created,
allowing it to spread to unchartered territory.

Tunnel vision is adopted, just to get through seconds, minutes
as something hidden in the shadows threatens to grind you to a halt
like hazard lights on the motorway, just as the urge for freedom and speed 
is at its highest.

Searching for a way to break the cycle and feel a sense 
of achievement, or at least a moment's blessed relief
from the sheer boredom and strangely gargantuan effort
needed to just keep going.

Writing this helped. It’s very easy to sit and moan at anyone who’ll listen, but I much prefer to keep things to myself. It’s a mixture of embarrassment and just the thought that I don’t really want to burden anyone with my troubles. Especially as most of the time I feel like I’m exaggerating in even labelling certain things as ‘troubles’. I know that lots of people have things much, much harder than I do. And as I said earlier, I’m reasonably happy to get through and operate under the assumption that any mood will pass and that things will get better.

In the poem, I’ve tried to describe how I felt; as if the thoughts, the worries were circling me, taking turns at bothering me and bothering me on various levels and with various results. Hence the ‘feral dogs’ line which I felt summed up the fact that I didn’t feel like I had complete control at times and didn’t feel that I could just dismiss things. Those thoughts just kept coming back, biting me.

If it helps, or it’s of any interest, I think I feel better today. I’m just keeping myself busy and it definitely helps that the weather is great, I’ve been able to get out for a run and that the Euro 2020 international football tournament has just started. Like I say, I’m happy to keep things simple.

I hope you liked the poem – ‘enjoyed’ might be a stretch I suppose! Whatever your thoughts, feel free as ever, to let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Poetry Blog: ‘Distance.’

This is a poem that I rediscovered while going through a notebook recently. It’s about my sister and our relationship. I wouldn’t say that we’ve had a difficult relationship, but it’s not one that’s been particularly straighforward. It’s not that we don’t get on; it’s just that we’re quite different characters. I’m sure lots of siblings are exactly the same.

There’s a six year age gap between us and so, at times growing up it felt like we had little in common other than parents. It was just too much of a difficult age gap. There was and still is no shortage of love, but we just turned out very different and I think that meant that the bond wasn’t all that it could have been. I got thinking about it recently when I heard that my sister was ill and it led to me writing the poem and in a way reassessing how we are with each other and also realising how lucky I am to have her and how important she’s always been for me.

Distance

From the line where we started there was always a distance.
You were independent, strong, theirs long before me.
Later, when fate made me weak, doctors kept us apart and the distance grew.
You closed the gap as we got to know each other better,
looked after me, a fierce lioness to my runt of the litter.
Teenage kicks widened the gap again to a chasm 
and you were out more often than in.
Your influence remained even when you weren't around
as your music became mine, throwing me those White Lines
and an everlasting Motown lifeline.

Around this time you revealed to us your terrible taste in men
as a series of terrible choices took you away some more
and made you seem like a stranger.
No longer the apple of anyone's eye, especially not mine,
who, worldly wise at the grand old age of twelve was the perfect judge;
a pre-teen with a puritanical moral compass.
How that would change as we grew and underwent a role reversal.
At twenty one the bad choices still hung around as you set off, 
no more than a child, to become an adult,
from Miss to Mrs in the blink of an eye, my fierce, happy lioness just gone.
You were there, but not really...

My own growth widened the gap some more; a Grand Canyon of taste, 
culture, views and choices. And despite your own bad record, 
you were there to pick up the pieces when I made the wrong choice myself.
And, when I was too young to cope with loss you scooped me up, held me so tightly that it physically hurt yet emotionally helped and I endured the pain just to feel safe again.
Eventually it was geography that would create another mystery; the one that says
you cannot close a gap when neither of you will pick up the phone.
It's one we're still trying lazily to unravel.

Now the first knock on a particular door, the one that we were scolded just for mentioning when we were kids, brings the news that we had always expected with age and I'm a kid again,
grasping for words, gasping for air, unable to cope and looking to you for comfort me,
unfailingly, predictably.
The realisation that those gaps need to be closed hits me like a sledgehammer.
Forget the choices, forget the gaps, move on from the past and hope
that we can make the best of whatever future might remain.

I’m not sure there’s much else I can say about this poem. It feels like quite an emotive thing to write about and as such, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m not sure it really matters whether I think it’s good or bad, but I hope it does my sister and our relationship justice and I think it’ll be a subject matter that I’ll return to.

I’d love – as always – to know what people think, so 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!

Ten Days: an Isolation update.

I wrote a little blog last week about the horrible time we’d had in our house once not one, but two of our family tested positive for Covid-19. There’s a link below, if you fancy a bit of misery! Well, given that we’re still isolating, albeit nearly at the end of our time as a house of hermits, I thought I’d write a little update.

Ironically, it’s not been a positive week at all.

It’s now the Friday after the Wednesday before and it’s been a tiring week, to say the least. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve washed or sanitised my hands and have spent much of the week alone, yet with three other people living in the house. I wouldn’t recommend it.

This time last week we were in the car – a wonderful place to be with two people who’ve just tested positive for any virus, let me tell you – heading to a drive in test centre on the outskirts of Leeds. We would still be in the car couple of hours later, at a third test centre after a mix up with the system led to us basically embarking on some kind of grand tour of some of the less salubrious bits of our locality. Believe me, you’ve not lived until you’ve driven down a dead end street in Beeston to be confronted by someone sat in the gutter in their pyjamas looking less than enthusiastic about life, yet somehow oblivious to your car performing a hasty three point turn and screeched getaway. And while I don’t wish to be too ‘judgy’ I suspect the involvement of drugs.

Tests duly taken, the two positive results were confirmed the day after and so began a week extreme caution, constant alert and an undeniable sense of paranoia. Oh, and from a purely selfish point of view, it’s been a week when I haven’t been able to get out for a run, which has felt horrible and also means that when I do get back out, it’s going to hurt! I haven’t exercised and I’ve had a beer almost every night, so I’m preparing myself for a painful 10k sometime soon!

We decided very quickly that we wouldn’t be able to isolate fully. This was going to have to be an isolation from the outside world, rather than one where two people were locked away in bedrooms and I waited on them. This wasn’t me shirking responsibility, more the need for the four of us to stick together as a family. When one of the ‘positives’ is an 11-year-old boy and the other his mum, locking them away just didn’t seem to be fair.

So we’ve spent the week opening doors with sleeves over our hands, bottles of hand sanitiser dotted around the place and, worst of all, relying on me to do the majority of the cooking. That said, when my wife was feeling up to it she took over those duties, mainly to stop the rest of us from suffering. We’ve also developed a very delicate way of maneuvering around the house in almost balletic fashion, avoiding getting too close to each other, remaining vigilant, taut and balanced; keeping a more than safe distance without appearing too rude to the other person. It’s been a difficult thing to do and I must admit, it’s made me feel pretty terrible. When you can’t hug your wife or children before they go to bed, it’s a horrible feeling.

In order to confront a big issue with contact, I decided that I’d sleep downstairs in our living room for the whole of the isolation period. Sharing a bed and a confined space just seemed like a silly idea and an invitation for the virus to send me multiple invites to its nasty little party.

I spent the first night with only a few blankets for a mattress and a couple of dressing gowns for covers, due to the fact that we had to make our arrangements late and remembered that our camping mattresses were locked away in a shed. That particular luxury would have to wait until daylight hours. Suffice to say, I woke up on Thursday morning feeling like I’d been away on a two week stag do in Eastern Europe…and decided to run home to save money on a flight. Not a great start, but the inflatable mattress has somewhat alleviated the problem.

I’ve found however, that sleeping so close to the floor is not so good for my asthma and while I’ve slept quite well most nights, I’ve still woke up the next day feeling various shades of rough! For the first few nights I secretly popped upstairs to check on my patients in the small hours, standing in the dark just listening to their breathing in order to calm myself. Not a nice place to be. That said, had either of them woke up and switched on a light, I’m sure the sight of me would have been just as traumatic.

My wife and son have recovered in varying levels across the week. My son; young, fit, healthy, has been relatively OK. While his first few days were worrying to watch, his latter part of the week has just seen him look a bit more tired than usual and with the occasional headache. If you’re going to get Coronavirus, get it when you’re 11, seems to be the way forward here. My wife has been worse and it’s been hard to watch. She’s always been so healthy and so watching a shadow of the person I love shuffling round the house has not been good. And there’s not a lot I can do. She’s been nauseous, extremely tired and suffered terrible headaches. There were times in the first few days when I’d pop to our bedroom to check on her to find her passed out on our bed. Sleeping, but positioned as if she’d just fallen and gone out cold. So at that point, things were a bit worrying.

My son testing positive meant that several of his friends had to isolate too and some of them played for the same football team. This is the very same football team that I coach. So, with a game to come within a week, I contacted the opposition coach, who also happens to be kind of a big deal in our league, in order to try and reschedule our game. We were faced with having to play with 8 players at most in a 9-a-side game, after all. Simple decision, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong and then after that, wronger. I actually spent the next three days, messaging and emailing back and forth with various people and basically pointing out how ridiculous it would be to ask us to go ahead with the game. In the end I made them see sense, but only after a monumental amount of time and effort. Ridiculous really, but we got what we wanted in the end. As id to emphasis the need to reschedule, the game would have been last night and we trained instead with the friend who helps out taking the session. We had more players drop out and the session had 5 players taking part. So we would have had to try and play a game with 5 players!

As a result of all the unnecessary fuss, I can’t wait to see the opposition coach when we do play, as he seemed to be hell-bent on denying us the chance to just compete on equal terms. I expect he’s made the game take on much more meaning and importance than it ever had! All this for a game of Under 12s football! And all this while my son and wife were very ill.

So, in among all of the positive test news and the poorly people, this little bit of side-tracking just wasn’t needed. Meanwhile, after a fraught weekend, it was now Monday and my patients were beginning to show signs of recovery. Which was nice.

Monday meant more Teams teaching for me – a Year 11 lesson and one with Year 9. And on Monday, this felt like quite a nice novelty really. Fast forward a day and I was tiring fast. Peering into a laptop screen and attempting to teach a class while self-consciously looking at yourself on screen was little or no fun. And boy was it hard work. I quickly lost count of the amount of times I was having to repeat the on screen instructions or explain that, no I wasn’t going to be able to come into work. No matter how many times the phrase ‘self-isolation’ was mentioned, it just didn’t seem to hit home!

By Wednesday it was taking ten minutes for a class to write the date, title and learning purpose and I was shattered with the confusion of it all. Working from home has always sounded such a nice prospect, but the reality for me was that it was exhausting and incredibly frustrating. While attempting to teach my classes I have been having to jump off the call from time to time to check on my two poorly people as well as my isolating daughter and her school work. Working from home has been the least favourite part of my week.

We arrived at Thursday and I decided that a lie in was needed. My own Thursday promised to be a bit more relaxed as I didn’t have a class in the morning and because of Eid, my afternoon group were being collapsed into another, meaning in all likelihood, a free afternoon as well. Oh, and before people think that I got up late, my lie in was until 6.45am, just so we’re clear!

The morning was pleasantly sunny and my wife seemed to be feeling a lot better, albeit it in a Covid relative kind of way. She was even going to attempt some work, something that she’d done on a number of occasions during the week and that had made her decidedly ill along the way. But, taking the sun as some kind of optimistic cue, she set herself up in our bedroom (or for this week only, her bedroom) and got to work. Meanwhile, I got the lawnmower out and cut our back lawn, wrestling (not literally) with various types of animal poo along the way – I think some is cat poo, but have been left wondering if we may have a fox visiting at night times as well.

I got a lot done on Thursday, including having a socially distanced chat with a friend on our driveway, which to be honest, was a bit bizarre. Just the experience of talking to someone (who by the way, I’d spoken to only last week, as he helps me with the coaching of the football team) who wasn’t in our house was both strange and exciting.

By the way, my wife’s work on Thursday ended up with her lying prostrate on our bed with her head covered in a duvet, exhausted and suffering from everything being too bright. I discovered this when I popped up to ask her not to push herself too far. It seems I missed the deadline by about 30 minutes and she’d had just about enough strength left to put the laptop on the floor before she just flaked out. It’s clear that the virus still has a bit of a hold on her.

And so to today, Friday. The two patients are doing as well as can be expected. My son in fact, who comes out of isolation today, seems very much over the virus. In fact, I can hear him now jumping around in the front room while playing X-Box, while shouting at the television. So, touch wood, he’s beaten Covid-19. My wife is working upstairs, but pacing herself. She looks tired, but doesn’t seem to be suffering the headaches, the dizziness, the nausea or anything else that has punctuated her week.

Hopefully, we’re well and truly over the worst. Everyone is very tired, but we’re all looking forward to finding our way back to some sense of normality. I desperately want to be able to hug my wife and son once again. Myself and my son are also looking forward to Sunday and our next game with our football team. We still can’t go out to do the food shopping and I’m going to stick with my cautious approach and stay sleeping downstairs for a little while longer. But things are starting to look a little more normal.

As I type though, there are reports in the U.K. that the Indian strain of the virus is beginning to make quite an imprint here. I’m fairly sure that there’s a Prime Minister’s briefing live on TV tonight with speculation of some kind of further lockdown to come. We’ll wait and see.

Just when you think things are getting back to normal, some other kind of shit hits the fan. That seems to be just the way life is nowadays. I sincerely hope we can get through it all once again.

I have to finish with some thank yous. I’ll start with my work colleagues and friends who have made my week a great deal easier. Resources have been provided for my classes, Teams calls set up, worries alleviated left, right and centre and regular messages sent that have calmed me down no end. Thanks Big Sisters! I also have to say a huge thank my friends David and Sarah who have checked in electronically across the course of the week and just made me and my wife feel better about things. The best friends you could hope for! When we finally do catch up, that’s going to be one hell of a moan-fest! Thanks also to Nigel, my partner in crime at football, who has kept things running as smoothly as possible and gone out of his way to do so. And thanks to anyone who’s a Facebook, Twitter or Blog friend; I’ve received some lovely messages this week.

I hope you enjoy the blog.

Poetry Blog: ‘Crossroads’.

This is a poem I wrote at the back end of last year after a bit of a setback, careerwise. It’s not important what that was, but it hit me like a train. This was unusual for me, as I don’t brood on things too much – apart from football, stupidly – and always try to take the view that ‘these things happen’ and that as long as I can move on with life, I will.

However, this was different. When I was growing up my own father went through career problems at a similar age and as a kid in his mid-teens, an age when these things tend to leave an impression, I watched him suffer. His situation was far more serious than my own, but career-wise at least, he never recovered. He was out of work for a number of years, having successfully fought his old employer in court, and it all combined to reduce him to someone who was constantly angry and who must have felt that he’d never have hope again. So, faced with the news that I received, it was a worry to say the least.

Here’s the poem.

Crossroads

You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father before you.
Was he older? Younger? The memory vague, but those days branded on to you,
although the details fade. Until now.

Two envelopes, weeks apart, that plunged you not once but twice
to depths you hadn't thought were there anymore.
To questions about your worth, your place, your existence.

Dark thoughts return, like a playground bully, arm round you, sinister smile,
pouring poison in your ear. You've not thought like this in years, 
not imagined you'd think like this again. You do not know which way to turn.

The news leaves you like a puppet without a master,
limbs useless and flat, splayed out across a table thinking, like a coward
that perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, they'd be better off without you.

But just as this is not a real option, this is not a real crisis.
You wipe away tears, busy yourself, think, confide in those you trust,
love, value. There is even a small sense of liberation.

Slowly, you crawl out from under your stone and although you feel
that age is cruel and experience no longer valued, this is not the end.
You stop short of full on Gloria Gaynor, but you will, in fact survive.

You find some focus, tell yourself that you are not him and that
you will find not the other side, but an other side, that the confidence,
however painted on it may be, will return.

You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father
and like others, worse off, who felt that their whole world had
collapsed, sometimes even because it had.
But every crossroads has a way home.

The poem is about how bad it all felt. I genuinely felt like I’d let my family down. I felt that I’d completely failed and I felt extremely angry at that. The feelings that the whole situation prompted in me took me by complete surprise and for a short time I couldn’t see the point in anything anymore. As I usually do, I internalised everything and even though I eventually discussed it with my wife and a few trusted friends, the extent of my thoughts and feelings weren’t revealed. Until now, I suppose.

Eventually, after a few weeks of brooding and, dare I say it, feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. I’d regard myself as quite strong, mentally and I could see that what had happened could just be an opportunity.

For me, there’s no point in sulking and I won’t allow setbacks of any size to hold me back for too long. Not that I’m hell-bent on moving too far forward, mind. I know not everyone is like this and I wouldn’t ever criticise or question anyone’s right to feel any way that they want, but as a grown up with a wife and family I made a conscious decision to get back on with life, hence what I hope is an optimistic ending to the poem.

It does worry me that my age is now a barrier. I feel that my experience isn’t particularly valued and that in education there has been a shift in thinking. If it’s not shiny, smiley and youthful, it probably doesn’t have what it takes. Call me a cynic, but often these new approaches from people who’ve had a job for no more than a few years are just approaches that have been done before, but wrapped in nicer paper nowadays. At my age my work feels like a competition to see who can smile the most and shout the loudest. I’m not a very good smiler or shouter either! But, as the poem hopefully shows, I’m not prepared to go under just yet!

I’m definitely at a crossroads in terms of work, age, the way I look, the things I do, the company I keep and much, much more.

With work, I can’t decide whether I want to slow down or head for a new challenge. Or just to keep doing what I’m doing, which is something I love at a place I love. With my age and a notable birthday on the horizon, I need to choose whatever I do carefully; not just in work. In terms of my looks, my hair is greying, my body not quite as responsive as it once was, my face a little more haggered. I won’t be reaching for the Just for Men and won’t resort to some form of cosmetic surgery, but sometimes I catch myself in the mirror and wonder where the fresh-faced 17 year old me went. And I’m always wondering, does my bum look big in this!

But I’ve realised that there’s no point in worrying about it. Just choose a road. Eventually I’ll find the right one. And whichever I choose, I’m lucky enough to have family and friends to rely on.

I hope you liked the poem. As ever, I’d love to hear what people think, so feel free to leave a comment.

Back on the grass again…for an actual game! (Part 2 of 2)

So after two training sessions in a week, numerous messages over WhatsApp and several pep talks with my players, we were finally, properly back on the grass today. An actual game with points at stake. Some competition and the adrenalin of a serious game of football, albeit at Under 12 level.

Sunday 11th April marked our return to competitive football and the sun was smiling on the Garforth Junior Football League as teams re-started the season once again. We woke up to an absolutely glorious day, if a little chilly, and frankly perfect conditions for football.

As stated in the first part of this blog, my team restart their season with more than a few worries. We play in Division 7 of 8 and at present are third bottom of the league. It’s safe to say that wins have been hard to come by this season, Indeed one of our wins was actually expunged from the records as the team we beat decided to drop out of the division after lockdown. Not because we beat them, by the way. I think it was down to the availability of players, but it still cost us valuable points.

We were playing the team beneath us in the league and so the importance of the game had been stressed by myself all week. And as we arrived at the venue for the match, I felt confident that we’d give a decent showing of ourselves.

Speaking of the venue, it was the kind of place where I always feel my lads and me might look a bit out of place. We’re a team from Morley, a market town on the outskirts of Leeds and let’s just say that there are areas that we visit for away games where the locals are a bit more refined than ourselves. Sometimes, as we park up outside a row of enormous houses with Range Rovers and Aston Martins in the driveways, I feel like we might be in danger of having our collective collars felt by the local constabulary. It certainly makes me conscious of my Mazda and the scruffy bags that carry the team’s equipment!

Today was one of those days. The area was relatively rural, with some rather plush houses around. We were also playing at a quite splendid private school where they even had a steward to make sure you drove round the car park the right way! The pitches were like bowling greens and the facilities clearly nicer than ours, where only last week two teenagers drove a motorbike over our pitch at speed as we trained. So walking through the grounds of the place made me feel slightly inferior at the very least! We’re the kind of team that my dad would refer to as ‘Raggy Arse Rovers’ and it’s exactly how I felt today.

Once we’d found our pitch we warmed up and went over the basics once again; don’t panic on the ball, don’t just boot it downfield at every opportunity, try to pass and move, use the width of the pitch, take responsibility, encourage each other and anything else that sprung to mind as kick off approached. I was able to take a moment just to have a look around and for a few seconds was mesmerized by the sight before me; the bright green of the pitch and the contrast of those thick, untouched white lines painted in, the bustle of parents, the excitement of the kids taking part in three separate games on the sight and the distinct tension brought about by the fact that we all want a positive outcome this morning. And then, before we knew it we were lining up around the centre circle for a minute’s silence to mark the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh. After that, it was over to the boys on the pitch.

It doesn’t take long to remember how helpless you can feel as a coach. In fact, I’d safely say that in the months of being away from football, it’s something that I’ve not missed at all.

We quickly took hold of the game and yet, for every mistake made or chance missed, my mind was ticking over with questions. Why has he done that? Who told him that was OK? What was he thinking there? As I say, as a coach you feel helpless. You’re screaming inside, yet still trying to find the balance between letting your team think and act for themselves and telling them what to do and what or who to look out for.

I don’t want to take you through each and every kick of the game. That’s not the point here. So, I’ll let you know that we lost in the end, because it helps with explaining the process that you slip into so easily despite the amount of time spent away from doing what you love.

We lost with virtually the last kick of the game, having came back from 3-1 down with about 5 minutes to go, to level it at 3-3. As our opposition re-started the game at 3-3 I was prompted to warn my team, “Don’t do anything silly now!” only to watch on in horror as a series of inexplicable mistakes happened across a timespan of about 10 seconds and we conceded the last goal. While it’s pointless playing the blame game, it was more than difficult to paint on a smile and talk to the ref, the opposition, their players and mine about what a great game it had been. Blame lockdown, blame a lack of fitness, blame me, blame whoever or whatever; we were poor. And yet we still should have won. It’s been like this for a large part of our season and again, it’s not something I feel deprived of by lockdown!

After wards we discussed the need to learn from mistakes and the need to stay calm on the ball. We have another important game next weekend and it’s crucial that we’re better. Talking to parents in the car park afterwards, I was adamant that I wouldn’t have time to put on an extra training session this week, partly due to work commitments and partly down to just feeling ridiculously unhappy with our result! Sometimes, even as an adult it’s hard to hide the disappointment and not react a bit like a child! However, as the afternoon wore on I found myself asking my wife if she’d be alright with me being out for another evening in the week so that I could run an extra session. She was just surprised that I hadn’t already sorted it out!

So, we’re back on the grass and living with all that it brings. The highs, the lows, the surprises and the disappointments. Nine more games to go, until barring further lockdown measures, we finish the season in early June. Already, it’s like we’ve never been away. Training sessions are coming thick and fast and we’ll be counting down the days until our next game this weekend. That love that I have for football is being rewarded once again and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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.

Close Encounter

Here in the U.K. our first lockdown was quite the experience to go through. It was often eerily quiet with the majority of people unable to work. Large swathes of the population simply stayed indoors and those of us who took our daily exercise allowance found that the streets were often theirs.

Within weeks, people started noticing that in amongst all the quiet, birdsong was prominent. Suddenly, with no traffic noise, the sound of birds singing and chirping became noticeably louder. And I think lots of us found that fantastic. At the time, the weather was great and I can distinctly remember that we would do our Joe Wicks workout from 9am and then afterwards we’d go and do some stretches to warm down in the garden. Listening to the birds at that point become a regular part of our day.

Life has moved on since that point. We’re back in lockdown, but there’s a distinct difference; more people out and about, more cars and less in the way of wildlife as a result. This all changed for a fantastic few minutes for me on a recent Sunday afternoon. The pictures tell the story, but I’ll fill in the gaps. I had been meaning to fill up our bird feeders for a couple of weeks, but just hadn’t got round to it. However, I had a bit of time on this particular Sunday, so I wrapped up and out I went. As soon as I’d done, I felt like I was being watched. And then I heard some beautiful birdsong. Closer inspection of our tree revealed a small bird and when I watched for a further few seconds, I could see it was a robin. What happened next was just lovely and the poem tell the tale for me.

Close Encounter

I hear you before I see you,
a bright chirping preceding your bright feathers,
and then, only feet away, fearless, your red breast makes you known.

The feeders full, you're first to the banquet,
yet it seems you want to pause a while to chat.
I move slowly, but needn't bother as you simply stand and stare,
perfectly relaxed about our meeting despite your vulnerability.

Perhaps you're thanking me for the food.
Perhaps you're just wondering why I'm still here and why this took so long.
I neither know nor care; you've made my day,
brightened a cold and gloomy Sunday afternoon.

Robin. Little bird not even the size of a tennis ball,
yet bold enough to sit within arms length and attempt to hold a conversation,
I could stay here and stare at you for hours.

It doesn’t seem like much happened, but it was just a lovely few minutes. I didn’t even think to write about it until I posted some pictures of the robin on social media and a friend suggested it. Thanks Ruth!

I can’t stress enough just how close this bird got. I think it comes out in the images, but, if it doesn’t it was about three feet away. Close enough to make itself known, but far enough away to show it was still a little wary of me.

At first, as I tried to take pictures, the robin jumped down from the tree and would settle on a branch of a shrub below just long enough for me to see it, and then jump off. It was like it was toying with me. Then, after a minute or so, it just perched on a branch just above head height and started to sing at me, allowing me to click away and take some pictures. Annoyingly, I didn’t think to video it, instead spending a few minutes just watching – and yes, alright, I talked to it as well – before heading back inside, content to leave the robin alone and go and tell my wife about what had just happened.

I’m hoping to see it again and have another chat this weekend. Let me know what you think of the poem in the comments.